Vol- CXIX : May 1, 2014

Dear Colleagues

On the occasion of May Day, here is another set of for your perusal:

  1. There is a new trend in international conferences; plenary sessions are conducted in TV talk show format. Typically, TV journalists—anchor-men and women with personality– from English -speaking  TV channels are contracted to ‘conduct’ such panel presentations in plenary sessions of international conferences. Wonder why? Perhaps to ‘reduce’ mindless reading of pre-prepared texts by senior leaders of government and business? Or to give an impression of ‘extempore’ conversation? Or to engage the audience such that it doesn’t ‘snooze’? Excellence in ‘presentation’ of a talk show form cannot, however, substitute for substance?
  2. In the heat and dust of parliamentary elections in India, growing focus on urban voters inevitably draws attention to the towns and cities of UP and Bihar. Many of these towns have been dynamic urban centres for trade, commerce, knowledge and pilgrimage, not to mention protests and revolutions, for centuries. Recall Benares and Allahabad as centres of knowledge, spirituality and pilgrimage. Meerut and Kanpur triggered the mutiny of 1857 against the empire. Patna and Muzaffarpur have been known for trade and culture. The list is enormous, and many of these urban habitations go back centuries in history. However, they all suffer from social, economic and infrastructural decay today. Why?
  3. The resurgence of social and economic reforms in Mexico under the new president seems to have provided a new sense of national hope. The violent conflicts with Zapatistas seem to have subsided recently. However, the gap between the urban Mexico city and rural indigenous population seems to have increased substantially. The process of ‘gentrification’ in many old parts of Mexico city has led to increased homelessness and displacement of urban poor. The richest person in the world today is a Mexican; progress marker indeed?
  4. The ‘globalisation’ of American culture is generally viewed as a one-way process—destroying traditional culture of older civilisations through hamburgers, jeans and rock music. However, there are several noticeable reverse influences too. Holistic health, yoga, massage and Ayurveda are the new growth industry in America. Yogurt has become a part of most cuisines due its recently discovered pro-biotic values (as champions of curd would vouch). Full page advertisements are eulogising the ‘healing’ powers of Tea-Chai, and black tea in its myriad flavours is readily available everywhere.
  5. India is not only the largest democracy but is also the ‘longest’ democracy, it appears. The current parliamentary elections are being conducted in 9 phases of voting spread over 7 weeks. If the nomination filing period is also taken into account, it is nearly three months long. While it is being argued that ensuring free and fair elections requires massive deployment of security forces and independent observers, the long period doesn’t necessarily help in ensuring a responsive government. No government agency is working for the past 2-3 months under the guise of ‘code of conduct’ enforced by the Election Commission. Despite all this, filthy and abusive language is being used by candidates, senior politicians are asking their followers to fudge by voting repeatedly, names of hundreds of thousands of serious voters are missing from electoral rolls, and local election officers have been found to be favouring one or the other candidates in several constituencies. These need to be fixed, and a shorter time span for conducting elections may indeed help?

All the best


Rajesh Tandon