October 1, 2014

Dear Colleagues

Here is another round of for your perusal:

  1. Twenty years after adopting a constitution for free South Africa,  freedom from hunger and disease for many of  its people is yet to be realised. On the streets of major cities and towns of South Africa, citizens are protesting every day in search of basic services. These protests are for employment, education, housing, welfare, etc. etc. A vast majority of the protesters are black people, though coloured’s join in as well. Why is this situation continuing? What can be done to alleviate such deprivation of the people of South Africa? Is the democratic governance in South Africa dis-connected with the daily struggles of its people? Whatever happened to the dream of ‘maliba’, Nelson Mandela?
  2. It is not often that political leaders talk about social issues; most of the time, political leaders talk about what their governments have delivered, or what their governments will deliver, as the case may be. Therefore, it was refreshing to hear the Indian Prime Minister speak about two major social issues of our times when he spoke on the India’s  independence day. First, he asked all parents to question their sons for their misbehaviours towards girls and women; after all, men who perpetuate violence against women are some parents’ sons. Second, he asked Indian citizens to change their filthy habits of throwing garbage everywhere, defecating in open spaces and urinating wherever; he asked Indians to take pride in cleanliness of their homes, neighbourhoods, villages, cities and country. After conceding Indian citizens a wide range of rights, it is high time they are asked to perform some duties as well?
  3. If you save money in the banks, and not under your pillow or in gold bars under your bed, you need to be worried. Almost all international banks — HSBC, Barclays, Credit Suisse, etc.— have paid huge fines running into billions of dollars to various regulating agencies in Europe and USA. If you save in Indian public sector banks, you better worry even more; three senior managers of these banks have been arrested for fraud last week; almost all defaulting companies (from Kingfisher Airlines to Bhushan Steel, and beyond) owe these public sector banks billions of dollars in debt, much of which is unlikely to be realised, because it has been siphoned off through connivance with bankers themselves. So, what to do? Why bother about savings, when you can also live on borrowings, way beyond your means?
  4. The conflict over control over land is perhaps universal; it has gained so much visibility today because growth-chasers are seeking to capture land traditionally owned or managed by communities. The classic situation is in South Africa; the customary land rights of its people, especially rural communities, are under threat as new legislations aimed ‘to manage’ such resources in public interest are being designed. There is universal challenge in balancing between multiple and competing demands on land use, from households to factories and townships. Traditional authority of chiefs and modern constitutional authority may have conflicting positions in such matters, as seems to be emerging in South Africa and elsewhere.
  5. There has been considerable recent debate about how the national government recognises contributions of its citizens; who should be awarded Bharat Ratna, various ‘Padmas’ and even Arjun awards (for excellence in sports)? Of late, every list generates a controversy. It is not a debate limited to India alone as recent controversies around certain ‘knighthoods’ in UK suggest. Many countries have gallantry awards for military personnel; it seems these do not generate such controversy? Why is it so in case of civilian awards? First, the criteria seem to be somewhat ambiguous when it comes to civilian recognition. Second, we just have a very large population, so merely a handful awards do not cover all those who deserve it. If the purpose of these various awards is to recognise contributions of citizens in various fields, it may well be to find more innovative and digitally contemporary ways to do so? Or the society today likes to show-off public recognition more than recognise quiet contributions of many of its worthy citizens??

All the very best

Rajesh Tandon