September 1, 2014

Dear colleagues

Here is another round for your perusal:

  1. During these days of fun and festivities of Durga Puja, especially in West Bengal and much of the eastern region of India, it is somewhat out of place to remind ourselves about the long ‘tradition’ of Ponzi schemes of collecting ‘savings’ from the lower middle class families with the promise of ‘startlingly high’ rates of interest. Generally known as ‘chit funds’, the recent episode of Sharda scam has affected several million families who have just lost their savings. While the epi-centre of the latest Ponzi scam is Kolkatta in West Bengal, it has spread into Odisha and Assam with equal gusto. Top political and business leaders of these states are involved in this scam. The historical trajectory of such chit funds goes back to Peerless and others, having seen the jailing of Sahara ‘supremo’ Subrata Roy by the Supreme Court of India.
  2. The clarion call for democracy is now echoing all around Hong Kong these days. Hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong, especially the youth, are participating in marches and sit-ins to demand the right to elect their own leader in a free and fair democratic election. The political authorities in Beijing are now caught in a dilemma. The promise of ‘one China, two systems’ made in 1998 has come to its head now. As a free market financial hub, Hong Kong has been booming for the past 15 years; it has served to be the conduit for international economic enterprise of China, bringing its economy to stand next only to that of America today. As a consequence, the political aspirations of the young, professional, IT-savvy, upwardly mobile, globalized citizens of Hong Kong for the right to elect their own government are posing enormous challenges to the regime in Beijing. Viva Democracia!!
  3. In the Indian tradition, ‘Vishwakarma’ is the God of all craftsmen, engineers, architects and artisans; he is generally worshipped by all such professionals even today. In Guwahati, the Vishwakarma is worshipped with lots of intensity, his statues adorning all factories, shops and neighbourhoods. There is even a large temple of Lord Vshwakarma in the city. As a designer of the universe, and architect of the Heaven, the Lord Vishwakarma receives not enough respect these days. May be, his blessings can be invoked by the new government for its major programme of skills development, especially since the Minister in-charge himself hails from Assam? 
  4. Nearly 25 years after ‘freedom’ from the Soviet empire, Russian language is in full official use in most central Asian countries even today. The largest and most modern of these, Uzbekistan, has begun to adapt to the changing times, as its youth are English-speaking and tech-savvy. There is economic boom and some freedom in the air in Tashkent, its capital. However, the system of identity checks, a relic of the old Soviet era, continues unabated. Movement in and out of any public building requires an identity check. In addition, there is a system of ‘internal visa’ — Uzbek citizens can not move to different cities/regions within the country without explicit formal permission of the ‘authorities’! Imagine doing that in India?
  5. The new Prime Minister of India seems to be giving a thrust to better ‘representation’ of India in the global arenas. Indian culture, development/democracy trajectory and traditional, heritage sciences (like Ayurveda, yoga, cuisine of fruits & herbs, etc) are sources of great attraction to the citizens around the world. The south-east Asian citizens (specially from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos) find a sense of historical rootedness and connectivity when they travel to India. Yet, our approach to foreign visitors—from granting visa to internal travel & safety of women —continues to be a nightmarish experience for most of them. What will make India change towards such enthusiastic  international visitors?

All the best

Rajesh Tandon