vol-LXXVI : September 3, 2010

Dear Colleagues

It seems that the rain gods have unleashed their fury in Asia—from China to Pakistan, everywhere floods and devastation. Better pray during this holy month of Ramadan.

Here is for your perusal:

1. In the continuing saga of gross mismanagement, corruption and chaos, a new procedure for monitoring the progress of completion of Commonwealth Games infrastructure in Delhi has been put in motion. Now, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India is personally visiting each stadium and site to review progress. Is this job of the Prime Minister of India? If he is the one to be involved in physically monitoring the progress, then all those ministers, officials and consultants should be fired? And, if it had to come to his level, alas he could have been involved from the very beginning five years ago? In the interest of ‘aam admi’ (ordinary folks), may I suggest that the Hon’ble Prime Minister starts monitoring the progress of every construction work being built under rural employment guarantee programme in the country?

2. The post-war Sri Lanka is a quiet place now; it is safe to go out in the night in Colombo; the tourists are returning, and political stability is in place. But, the voice of civil society is rather muted, as media and social activists under under huge pressure to ‘appreciate’ the political leadership. With most traditional international donors gone, and nearly quarter of a million of Tamils still in government-controlled camps, new donors (China & India) have stepped in; former is building the ports (with Chinese labour and investments); the latter is ‘planning’ to build homes for the internally displaced families. Neither is interested in asking any questions about the past; only look to the future? Is this the shape of ‘new’ ODA (official development assistance) in Asia?

3. Many tribals, their supporters, activists and others are celebrating the victory against Vedanta in India today; the ‘illegal’ bauxite mining project in traditional tribal habitats in Orissa has been stopped by the new crusade of Ministry of Environment & Forests. Victory sure it is, and the movement from Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa to boardrooms in London needs to be saluted. However, the question of culpability and connivance of politicians, ministers, officials in Delhi and Orissa has not been raised. Why was Vedanta project allowed, in the first place, violating existing laws (that we now discover)? Those who did so need to be brought to books with greater speed and assertion; otherwise, temporary decline in the stock price of Vedanta will soon be forgotten as the same officials, politicians and the machinery will be busy creating new incarnations of Vedanta in Orissa and elsewhere!

4. The current leadership in Thailand is trying to create a cohesive dream for all Thai citizens following the continued political divide that has led to massive violence over the past several years. The campaign for ‘Brand Thailand’ is going to ask Thai citizens to imagine their shared future. The divisions in that society are geographic and sectoral—rural/tribal north is the red shirt protest; urban/industrial Bangkok & south-centre is yellow shirt protest. The red shirts are asking for a greater share of fruits of growth; the yellow shirts are demanding ‘decent’ democratic politics from red shirt leaders; the divide is serious; will the new campaign be successful in overcoming it? Are there some lessons for others (India?) from this polarization and conflict in Thailand?

5. The biggest capital market story in India last month was the successful public offer of shares in SKS Microfinance; the IPO was hugely oversubscribed, and every one, including the founder, has made huge profits. The irony of public sale of shares of AKS microfinance can only be understood if its ‘lending to the poor’ at rates of interest reaching 36% per annum are kept in view. Was this the purpose of micro-finance? Were women’s savings and credit groups set up thirty years ago to merely integrate them in global capitalism? And that too at what costs? Is this the Grameen Way? This success of AKS comes at the same time when South Shore Bank in Chicago (set up with similar objectives to lend to urban poor) has gone bankrupt? Will all micro-finance NGOs in the developing countries now be consulting Goldman Sachs for their own IPOs? Is this the only way forward?

All the best


Rajesh Tandon