Ideological Violence II

June 24, 2009

Ayyo! Alas! Alamak! My post on ideological violence in Delhi and other cities has provoked controversy in the comments, with various people accusing me of saying that everyday violence provides catharsis, or that I was trying to use twenty years of peace to play down the anti-Sikh riots, or that I was saying that Delhi was better than everywhere else or that Delhi was worse than everywhere else.

People, I was not trying to imply anything with that post. It was purely an observation, and I threw it out in a short blogpost. I did not give much thought to the why’s and wherefores of this. I am now paying the price for writing like Dilip D’ Souza and not stating what is a premise and what is a conclusion. So, to clarify things:

  • I don’t think that the everyday violence necessarily acts as catharsis or prevents large scale violence from happening. The presence of everyday violence and lack of ideological violence in Delhi probably spring from two different reasons.
  • One thing I didn’t write in the original post but mentioned in the comments was that there is mob violence in Delhi but it’s not ideological. Just yesterday a mob ransacked a police station and thrashed the policemen after they gangraped someone inside. In fact the thrashings by mobs happen regularly everytime some rich wanker runs down a kid. And back in the 1990s, when power cuts would go on too long, entire neighbourhoods would get together and start stoning transformers or Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking offices. So yeah, the catharsis thing is definitely untrue – there is mob violence – but it’s retributive, not ideological.
  • I am not trying to say that a high murder and rape rate makes Delhi preferable to places where these are lower but there’s a riot every six months. Or vice versa. That’s just stupid.
  • I am not trying to play down or be apologetic for the anti-Sikh riots.

Now that I’ve given some thought to this issue – I think the reason there’s very little ideological violence in Delhi is that in the other states ideological violence is usually caused by different identity groups jockeying for power and access to government machinery  – or if not directly to grab power, as a show of strength or threat on behalf of political parties.

In Delhi, everyone has access to someone in government somehow. A neighbour or relative or some connection will be anything from a political party member to a minor clerk to an IAS officer. There’s hardly anybody who’s totally excluded from the administrative or political process, and so nobody needs to join a mob to grab the spoils of government. Delhi’s corruption is very democratic. In other states, government servants’ class, caste or language biases could mean that they won’t do your work even if you’re ready to bribe them.

Chaand Sitaare

June 24, 2009

Mayank Austen Soofi performs a service to humanity, and informs us about Prince Kamakhya Singh, who in addition to having a psychic connection with Nicole Kidman, owns the sky and everything in it:

“I’m the single owner of the sun rays, the moon rays, the stars that shine in the night, and the entire sky,” the Prince noted as I was helping myself with buttered toast. “They all are individually owned by me and I’ve legal papers by the Rajasthan High Court as proof.”

(The Delhi Walla)

The implications of this are staggering.

Will solar plant operators have to pay him royalties for the use of the sunrays? If tidal activity causes damage at ports, is Kamakhya Singh liable as owner of the moonrays? Is it limited or unlimited liability?

And what about astrology? If he owns all the stars that shine in the night, can people who are going through Shani dasha appeal to him to help them out?

And all the lyricists who write songs about getting the beloved the stars or the moon – are they aware that they have been describing criminal activities?

But seriously, why did the man go to the courts to establish his claim? Is there an existing property dispute over the sunrays and moonrays? The idea that there are multiple people trying to claim ownership over the sunrays makes the mind boggle. And if there is no dispute, why the hell does he need the court to give its stamp of authority? It reminds me of the furore over getting the Central government to declare Kanadda a classical language – I mean, if it’s a classical language why does it need a Central government certificate?

Business Bestsellers

June 24, 2009

I am reading The Game Changer by the totally bonkers Ram Charan and AG Lafley, the (former?) CEO of P&G. (Once I finish, I’ll be done with my to-be-read pile, hooray.) So far it’s been totally uninspiring – they seem to have taken a bunch of different products and processes developed by different companies including P&G, Honeywell and LEGO and used these as examples for an innovation framework which Ram Charan must have come up with. To me, it just seems that they’ve taken random examples of innovation and force fitted them to a nice sounding framework.

Gaurav is doing a business PhD and will point out that actually the thinking behind those examples and the framework could be pretty rigorous and analytical, but there’s no evidence of that in the book itself. It just states that these particular things are examples of the framework, and doesn’t bother to explain why this is so. Now of course putting that kind of rigour into a popular business book will make it difficult to read and unpopular, so it makes no sense. But if you don’t have that rigour, the book is practically useless as a manual. This makes the popular business book the most futile form of writing ever.

Of course, that assumes that the point of the book is to be a manual. What if it’s advertising? Anybody who reads the book realises that there’s more to it and calls in Ram Charan for a full consultancy. But… Ram Charan bills 20,000 dollars an hour. There’s no way every chhappar who buys The Game Changer at an airport bookshop can afford his services.

So the only thing that makes sense is that the book is still an advertisement, but it’s not an advertisement targeted to its readers. Instead, the fact that it has so many readers is the advertisement, which is then targeted to Fortune 500 CEOs – the pitch is that Ram Charan is a consultant whose book on strategy was a worldwide bestseller.

The Cohen the Barbarian Theory of Health

June 24, 2009

I think that if you are unlucky in your genetic makeup or your early development, then your heart, liver, lungs or kidneys will probably fail by the time you’re in your sixties or seventies and you will die at that age. But if you are blessed with good health, then you will survive these dangerous decades and live into your nineties.

Basically the people who survive into their nineties do so because they are obscenely healthy and so stay obscenely healthy even at that age. And so they may have hearing aids or walking sticks or be on medication, but they aren’t bedridden or perpetually in and out of hospital.

This very unscientific theory is based on seeing all the 80 and 90 year old relatives at my 74 year old great-aunt’s chautha last week.

Subprime Borrowing

June 21, 2009

It all started because the UPA government was embarassed by Sainath blasting them for privatising Neyveli Lignite Corporation while farmers were dying in Vidarbha. They decided to show that they were doing something, so they passed a law making moneylending illegal and imposed stiff penalties on anybody who was collecting debts without a banking or chit fund license.

Unfortunately they didn’t count on Sweety Singh. Sweety Singh was rich, unemployed, always ready to stir up trouble, and enjoyed filing frivolous PILs. Once the bill had passed into law, he appeared before the Hyderabad High Court. In his affidavit to the court, Sweety claimed that he was appearing on behalf of a young man called Balaji Venkateswara who had a few millenia ago taken a loan from a moneylender called Kubera, and that Kubera was harassing Balaji for interest repayments to this day. Sweety claimed that Kubera had used most of the dirty tricks in the subprime lenders’ books – resetting interest rates, taking interest only payments and not letting the principal balance be paid down, and allowing negative equity – the loan had been taken for wedding expenses, and not the purchase of an asset.

To Sweety’s own great surprise, the High Court admitted the case and issued a show cause notice to the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Trust, asking why it should not be charged with illegal moneylending and harassment of borrowers. Things got complicated because the TTD trustees were actually appointed by the Andhra Pradesh government. YS Reddy immediately announced that the trustees would be sacked and that the hundi collections at Tirupati would be diverted to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund instead of going to pay interest to Kubera.

Naturally, there was a huge uproar. Hindus were aghast at this attack on tradition. Hindutvawadis alleged that YSR was doing this because he was a Christian and that the whole thing was a plot by Sonia Gandhi and the Catholic Church. In his Rediff column, Rajeev Srinivasan announced that the Indian cricket team’s latest series defeat was because of the attempt to seize the hundi collections. Because it was a rediff column, the commenters further suggested that it was a Chinese and Pakistani conspiracy – that is, the ones who weren’t bitching about how smelly Gults were. Murli Manohar Joshi was thrilled and mounted a simultaneous rath yatra and campaign for the BJP leadership. The whole nation was so preoccupied by the crisis that the news channels even stopped running stories about boys who fell down wells.

Finally the crisis was resolved by a young summer intern at Citi called Savitha Sundaram. By this time, the situation at Citi was so bad that senior managers actually had time to read their interns’ reports. When Savitha’s line manager read her report, he realised that it was a work of genius and worked madly to get her plan approved and implemented.

Two weeks later, Citi announced that it would be buying the original debt from Kubera. As a bank, it was entirely legal for it to lend money and collect debts from Balaji Venkateswara. Moreover, since Venkateswara was clearly a subprime borrower who hadn’t repaid the principal for centuries, the debt could be acquired for paise on the rupee. Vikram Pandit presented a cheque for 1 rupee to the Srilakshmi Kuberar temple in Ratnamangalam and so acquired the loan. Citi then created yet another CDO, this one with the hundi collections at Tirupati as the underlying, and sold it back to TTD.

The Tirupati temple kept getting the money from the hundi collections without actually being responsible for collecting on the debt, and the Andhra Pradesh government was no longer in the embarassing position of breaking the moneylending law. Citi also charged the temple a very minute fee on all the cash that poured through. It was less than 0.1%, but Tirupati got so much money that Citi flourished. Moreover, the value of the cash flows was enough to bring its balance sheet back to health, and it started repaying TARP money.

In this way Savitha Sundaram and Sanatan Dharam saved global capitalism.

The Chiranjeevi Metric for Success

June 19, 2009

I was reading the April 2008 issue of the Asian Institute of Transport Development’s Journal of Transport and Infrastructure yesterday. Yes, I am that far behind on my reading, and yes I do read journals on transport for fun. It was a special issue on Public-Private Partnerships, and had a paper on Hyderabad’s suburban rail system and its planned Metro.

Describing the efforts taken to design the MMTS network and the MMTS stations to make them as convenient and appealing as possible for commuters – bus bays for the feeder buses, seats on the station platforms, station beautification – it concluded with this line: Net effects of these stations and trains is validated by the fact that most of the Telugu movies have at least one scene shot in an MMTS station or train or both.

It was the first time in five years that inflight reading made me laugh out loud.

When Rivalries Go Out of Control

June 15, 2009

Last year, metal and punk fans ran amok in Mexico beating up emo fans. It got so bad that the emo kids had to get police protection. It seems that the metalheads got so pissed off at the emos constantly talking about how life sucked and suicide was better that they decided to help them along:

Via the Austin American Statesmen, several postings on Mexican social-networking sites, primarily organising spot for these “emo hunts,” have been dug up and translated. One states: “I HATE EMOS!!! They are not even people, they are so stupid, they cry over meaningless things… My school is infested with them, I want to kill them all!”

Another says: “We’ve never seen all the urban tribes unite against one single tribe before… Emos, their way of thinking is for crap, if you are so depressed please do us all a favour and kill yourselves!”

The whole thing has two important implications.

The first is that Richard Dawkins is wrong. Do you remember how after 9/11 he had an essay which said that religion is a convenient label for identity formation and so drives violence? But alas, identity formation doesn’t depend on religious indoctrination by your parents. People find ways to choose their own identities (metalhead, punk, goth, emo), and then cheerfully slaughter each other over them. So it goes. (Kunal also helpfully points me to this pertinent Penny Arcade quote: “Policing the output of our cultural apparatus for wrongthink is a pleasant occupation for young men with surplus energy.”)

The second implication is that we in India have dodged a major bullet. Can you imagine if the Lata Mangeshkar/ Asha Bhosle rivalry had spiralled out of control? If it was fought not between O P Nayyar and Naushad but gangs of fanatical fans, ready to spill blood (their own or others) over the issue of who had recorded more songs or whose pitch was more controlled? The result would have been sheer carnage.

Even more horrifyingly, it would eventually have resulted in a Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story sort of situation. A guy from the Lata didi fan club would fall for a girl from the Asha tai fan club. After five acts, they would both die, but not before Bappi Lahiri too perished in the violence, shouting “A plague o’ both your houses!” with his dying breath. Then finally the two fan clubs meet and their differences are mediated by a Kishoreda fan. But unfortunately by that time the plague would have incarnated as Himesh Reshammiya.

Zed’s Dead, Baby. Zed’s Dead.

June 12, 2009

India Uncut informs us that Rajan Zed is being enraged on behalf of Hindus around the world. This follows a long history of Rajan Zed being enraged by Sony launching a Hanuman game, Rajan Zed being enraged by Angels and Demons, Rajan Zed being enraged by Heather Graham putsing Tantric Sex, and Rajan Zed being enraged by Rihanna’s tattoo.

I pin the blame squarely on Rajan Zed for the fact that disaffected American teenagers who wish to rebel against Southern Baptism take up Wicca or Satanism or Buddhism instead of adopting Our Glorious Culture. If Zed is determined to run down the very things that make Hinduism fun – sex, superpowers, and celebrity endorsements – it is inevitable that new converts will be captured by cooler, hipper religions. A vital opportunity to conduct a harvest of faith is being lost.

I think Kunal and me should take over from Zed as Acclaimed Hindu Statesmen. After all we have come up with a plan that is much more likely to get Americans over to Hinduism – or to be accurate, Saivism.

Aadisht: Brotha Kunal
a question of great import
Kunal: bolo
Aadisht: has anybody ever mounted a religious freedom challenge against marijuana prohibition?
Kunal: i’m not sure if it was MJ, but some of the caribbean religions had tried to challenge one of the drugs
Aadisht: mmkay
anything come of it?
Kunal: nah
Aadisht: hmm
perhaps now is the time for Saivites to mount a fresh attack
Kunal: i think the court found that if it is banned for everyone, it does not violate religious freedom
Aadisht: hmm, but can’t you appeal that saying that a ban on it for everyone is an underhand way to persecute a particular religious mintority?
Kunal: problem is
the marijuana ban predates many of the religions that use it sacramentally
so maybe the saivites have a shot
Aadisht: sweet
collect the troops I say
Kunal: hmm
you know
i’m pretty sure they didn’t stop Catholics from doing the whole Eucharist thing during Prohibition
that might be a precedent
Aadisht: this can also be a cunning plan to expand our religion
Kunal: 🙂
Aadisht: once marijuana is freely provided as Shiv Prasad, the heathen Americans will line up to convert

With most of the American population turning to Saivism, the world’s only superpower will become a beacon of Saivite neo-Edwardian values. Thus we will have spreading prosperity, rising trade and cultural output, and fiscally responsible government. And of course, we will be able to slaughter the Vaishnavites. It is very pleasing.

Ideological Violence

June 5, 2009

This morning I realised something. Delhi is probably the most violent metro in the country when it comes to stuff like general rudeness, road rage, sexual harassment and rape, and beatings and brawls. But it has the least ideological violence.

So although Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai are more easygoing in general, they all have these bouts of ideological or political party sponsored violence. In Bombay you have the MNS beating up anybody who isn’t a Marathi manoos, in Bangalore the Kannada Rakshana Vedike goes about rioting against Tams and outsiders, and in Chennai you have regular outbreaks of either caste violence or anti Sri Lanka riots. If you insist on calling Calcutta a metro, they have Bangla bandhs.

Apart from the stain of the anti-Sikh pogrom twenty four years ago, Delhi has mostly been free of organised rioting and violence.

Some Public Transport Links

June 4, 2009

First up, the Times of India has a report on the Lajpat Nagar station of the Delhi Metro facing problems. While the station itself is being built, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is refusing to give the Delhi Metro Railway Corporation land for entry and exit points. If this situation is not resolved, then come June 2010, the Metro trains will stop at Lajpat Nagar, but passengers will have no way to actually get into or out of the station.

In 2008 in Preview, I had written about the Bangalore airport being completed without a road to the actual city, and how passengers to Bangalore would have to take onward flights to Mangalore and then a Volvo to Bangalore from there. Now it looks like Metro passengers to Lajpat Nagar will have to go to Moolchand and take an auto from there.

Actually, metro stations that get built but where the trains that don’t stop exist/ existed in real life. Recently, there was Buangkok on the North-East line of the Singapore MRTS. The station was built, but not used for two years. Then, a chap had the bright idea of putting up cutouts of white elephants all over it. For his pains, he got hauled up by the police, shaken down and eventually let off with a stern warning. Singapore, eh?

The story doesn’t end there. The whole controversy meant that the station was finally opened to the public, and this was accompanied by a huge opening ceremony and party. Enterprising schoolgirls who were involved in social work decided to raise funds over there by selling ‘Save the White Elephant’ tshirts. They too were given a warning by the police:

On Friday, Jan 13, while preparations went into overdrive for the carnival to celebrate the opening of the $80-million station on Sunday, drama knocked on its doors yet again. This time, it was over some “Save the White Elephants” T-shirts that former Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were planning to sell at the carnival.

That day, the students and Punggol South organisers received a reminder from the police that they needed a fund-raising permit before they could sell the T-shirts to the public, in line with existing regulations. The 27 students were also told that they might break the law if the T-shirts were worn “en masse”.

Lawbreaking by t-shirt. Awesome.

Now, moving on to less bizarre matters, Governing magazine has a piece on proactive infrastructure planning (via). It makes the valid point that most transportation infrastructure planning is reactive, and consists of increasing capacity wherever there’s congestion. However, if you create capacity where none exists, the benefits to the places on that new route can lead to an economic boom there and change transportation patterns so that the old route gets decongested – everyone is going to the new places instead. The article uses the high-speed train line between Madrid and Sevilla as an example.

It’s an intuitively sensible concept, but the example given also made my inner skeptic sniff and ask the following questions:

  1. The Spanish economy has been having a general construction fueled boom for many years, right? So was the boom in Sevilla and Andalucia notably more than the rest of the country?
  2. What’s the boom in the region and city been? High-speed rail usually serves only commuters – and so the service industry. A manufacturing boom needs decongestion and faster speeds on cargo lines as well – did those get built or decongested too?

Also, the article doesn’t really give any pointers about which underserved route you should create your highway or rail line on. I mean, why Sevilla instead of say Granada or Valencia or Bilbao?

In fact (and this is where I come into disagreement with Atanu Dey), this is where small airports and low cost airlines score over high-speed rail – you don’t have to take expensive bets building an entire high-speed line only to find it doesn’t get utilised – just build a small airstrip and terminal, and let low cost carriers serve them. This was pretty much Captain Gopinath’s dream with Air Deccan, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for him personally. But he did use to make the point that the airstrips are already there – they just need to be served. And so the risk is entirely on the private parties who operate the routes – not on the government or taxpayers who have to build the rail lines.

Actually, making sure your new route is utilised isn’t as hit or miss as the last paragraph makes it sound. It’s been done successfully by the new ports in Gujewland – Pipavav, Mundra Adani, and Palanpur through private-public partnerships.

What has happened here is that the port operator has persuaded heavy industries to build new plants next to their ports and take advantage of dedicated terminals for iron ore or gas or finished products (don’t recall the details, sorry, and don’t have the paper this was described in on me right now). Then, the port operator, the industrial user of the port, and the Indian Railways set up a joint venture which is dedicated to linking the port to the existing railway network.

So merely building a route is not enough. You also need to ensure somehow that there are enough users for it. That is tangentially alluded to in the article when it talks about the Meteor line and the National Library in Paris, but never addressed explicitly. I know, the article probably had a word limit constraint, it only wanted to introduce the what instead of writing a thesis about the how, but I wish someone would address the how. Oh well.