Vol-XCVII : June 3, 2012

Dear Colleagues 

Here is another set of reflections for your perusal:

1. In the past few weeks, shareholders of several multi-national companies in UK and USA have protested against the huge salary and compensation packages of their CEOs during the annual meetings; in some of the best known companies like Citi and Xastra, the angry shareholders have even voted against the new compensation packages of the CEOs. Following the financial meltdowns in 2008, there is now a legislation in place in UK & USA which gives the shareholders a right to ‘vote for pay.’ When will such measures be introduced in rapidly growing economies like India?

2. In Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia, the use of information technology in the daily life of citizens seems to be working well. At the airport, Malaysian citizens can scan through their passports without any immigration formalities; every driver—private or taxi/lorry—has an electronic swipe card for toll taxes which are valid across the country; the toll charged is reduced from the balance in the card. Even student hostels in universities have electronic keys for their rooms, libraries and labs. Now, that is IT for everyday life. What about such innovations in the land that propagates, exports and claims superiority in IT worldwide—India?

3.  When global media attention remains focused on Greece and Euro, it is amazing to witness huge protests by citizens in countries like Spain and Portugal. In Madrid and Barcelona, millions of citizens are coming out on the streets to demand employment and social security. The economic crisis in these southern European countries has come about barely a decade after their relentless economic boom in the 21st century. The voice of civil society in democratic Spain is making waves these days. Should civil society from southern countries (like Brasil, India, Kenya, etc) not be acting in solidarity with the Spanish? Or civil society remains divided across the traditional OECD fault-lines where south is recipient of aid, and Europe the provider? May be southern civil society can contribute to running of soup kitchens in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, etc?

4.  In a recent conversation around civil society interactions with academia in Germany, it appeared that the domestic system in Germany is pretty much the same as it was a few decades ago. There is an innovative mechanism in Germany that brings all the various companies together to collectively support, fund and promote ‘scientific’ research in academia. But, the relationship with German civil society is not that well developed. In a recent initiative of this association, higher education institutions were invited to show-case their innovative work with local civil society; the response could have been better. Interesting trend in Germany that corporates are more interested in promoting linkages between academia and civil society?

5.  While there has been a growing trend of shrinking of political space for civil society in rapidly growing economies (like India and South Africa), the intolerance towards any form of dissent or criticism of the ruling elites has reached farcical proportions. In India, ministers are criticizing cartoonists and theatre artists; simple questions by students are being labeled as ‘malicious’; there is open mention of ‘regulating’ social media and internet. The latest in this trend is the storming of an art gallery in South Africa. It is becoming abundantly clear that any resistance against the present economic growth model is likely to be met with political retaliation and intimidation; the lesson: rulers are always right!

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon