Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Today's Thoughts

31 May 2006

I have committed myself to prepare proposals for organising conferences/workshops on Knowledge Management and R&D Management at IMI. I have downloaded a number of materials on these subjects from the internet, but still I find myself somewhat static. I need to do something about this. Perhaps this afternoon after lunch I shall start getting down to write at least one of the propsals. The problem is, Vekata ratnam, the Director of the Institute, and Ashoka Chandra, the Advisor, expect me to bring grants from some agencies in the Government (DSIR, DST or DIT, or CII or where ever). That means, first of all the proposals should be good and substantial, and secondly, I have to lobby with bureaucrats in these organisations, something I do not relish.

As yesterday, there are very few people in the Institute during the summer closing period also today. I saw Venkat in the groundfloor foyer while entering the buiding today. He is here, and ao are a few more, because some event of IIMA is on; also the PGPIM exam is going on. I wonder if I should spend sometime with Venkat.

This morning I was surfing the TV, and came to know that pre-monsoon showers have started in Mumbai from yesterday. That is a bit of a worry. We are going to Mumbai tomorrow evening for a five day holiday, and I am specially looking forward to this short escapade. Last year Mumbai had a deluge of rain, causing the city to shut down for nearly ten days, but that happened late in June. I hope we dont have to remain prisoners in Deepa and Swapan's Marine Drive residence for all the time, even though I am told it is right on or very near the beach .

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Diary of the first day plus My tete-a-tete with Tathagata Roy.

30 th May, 2006
Better late than never. I have today started a blog, which I intend to make into a diary, writing about my thoughts about what has happened in my life today or in the recent past and around me. I am sure most of it will be gibberish. But hopefully, something will remain for posterity.

The Institute today is almost deserted. The SummerVacation started a week ago, but today it seems to have caught on with most of my colleagues here.

O0ps! Arindam Banik, who lives in the Campus, has just come to his office, which is next to mine. Arindam is an old hand in academics - teaches finance to the Management Students. He spent some years recently in USA, returned home to IMI about nine months ago. Originally he was from the erstwhile Bangladesh. Right now his wife has gone to Finland(?) for a holiday(?) with his son. So he must be finding himself rather lonely, and so prefers to spend time in the Institute.

I have written to Bulbuli that we intend to travel to UK sometime this September. It is going to be quite an expense, but I am looking forward to it. It appears however that Bulbuli and Sambit are planning a holiday to Paris between 7th and 10 th of September, which means we can plan our holiday in UK to start only on 11th. Since Durgapuja starts on 29th, and Munia in particular wants to spend Durgapuja period in Delhi ( she apparently had a very good time last year with her friends in our Nilgiri Apartments), we can only stay in England only upto 28th. Bulbuli has already expressed her unhappiness about "such a short time" that we will spend with her. I do not think we can postpone the visit to October and beyond; a lot of people plan holidays during dewali and beyond, and the cheap ticket prices go up substantially (to Rs 120000/, from Rs 90000/- return in September). What a dilemma.
The following is not part of the Diary.
In April, I got a funny mail from someone in USA , which listed out some 70 items relating to Kolkata ( 70 good reasons to live in Kolkata). It was the Bengali New Year's Day, and I forwarded that mail to a number of people in my mailing list (Bengalis in particular, most of whom were Non Resident Calcuttans), that included Tathagata Ray, my friend from BE College days, and presently the President of West Bengal Bhartiya Janata Party. Tatha replied to my mail, and it started a chain reaction. Below are some the correspondance of Tatha and me in this respect, which I am copying below for posterity.
I call this
Tatha's Obsession and West Bengal Politics
Tatha's mail
Subject: Kolkata Sent: Wednesday, April 26, 2006 1:46 PM

My dear Arjo
It's all very well to be nostalgic or romantic, but take this from someone who has lived here all his life.Come here and look into the eyes of the listless young people who are the glorious unemployed of West Bengal, numbering some 7,200,000 (that's only going by records - the actual figure is said to be close to 10 million). All you here is -- "ekta chakri dite paren, Sir? Je kono chakri?" Kolkata is a great place for retired people looking for a cheap flat, with lots of time on their hands to eat phuchka and fulkopir singara (if their stomachs would allow it) and watch theatre and maro adda and gloat on the intellectual prowess of the Bengal that was. However, if you are trying to do business, find a job, or get from one place to another in a hurry, choose Delhi or Mumbai. Maybe you think I am talking politics, but I'm not, it's the truth. Best. Tatha
My reply, dated April 28, 2006

Dear Tatha
Your comments are well taken, and I totally agree. However, I had sent the earler email about "good things in Kolkata" more as interesting and funny anecdotes, rather any definitive comments on the state of affairs in our beloved city and the state.

Yes, the political and social conditions out there is terrible, and the blame for the steady decline must lie without any doubt with the most inefficient propagandist self agrandising left front goverment that has ruled the state for the last nearly tihirty years. In all other parts of the country there has been regular repacement of the party in power through electoral process, but not in West Bengal. Perhaps this year there was a possibility of change, in view of the apparently strict actions taken by the EC. But alas, the political parties do not necessarily follow the logical routes to change of power. The Congress party could not afford to side with Trinamul Congress because that would negate the basis of the coaltion goverment at the centre, and Mamata would remain in the glass house knowing fully well that her compunctions with retaining ties with BJP can not win her the support of the "secularist" majority of Bengal electorate. I think we have missed a great opportunity of throwing out the so called Marxist Government in West Bengal this time, and that was only due to hot headed and egoistic attitudes of the leaders of the oppsition political parties in the state.

The solution to India's (and West Bengal's ) problems has to be found in politics of inclusion , and not of excusion by threats, revenge or hate. I have read a large part of your book (which thankfully you had put on the net), and again I am almost totally with you when you describe the pains and tragedies that have been suffered by my people (from erstwhile East Bengal). However the atrocities that are still continuing in Bangladesh against the remnants of the Hindu Community there can not justify creating an atmosphere of hatred and "blame all the ills" on one section of the population on this side of the border. Yes, there has been a large migration of people from Bangladesh, and it is continuing. And many of them are muslims by religion too. They are crossing over to this side mainly because of the prevailing economic conditions (which I understand is even worse than West Bengal), no jobs, no food , no security in their country, and not to take over or terrorise people in this country. Only way out, and we must agree it is a very long term goal, is through politics of development and economic growth in Bangladesh as well as in West Bengal and India.

In one of the interviews you gave to one of the TV channels, I heard you say that Bangladesh will remain poor for ever because the men there marry 4 times and thus breed like rabbits, and the illeagal migration will never end. I was shocked to hear this from a person of your intellect and erudition. At least you should realise that the children are borne by women, and the fertility of women is not dependent on how many wives a man may have. And the percentage of women per 100 people in that country is more or less the same as in India. These are pure statistical logic. Also, you must know that the number of men having more then one wife are miniscule even in Muslim society today in our part of the world. What you said in that interview , and I am sure that you must have repeated that in umpteen lectures and election meetings, only helps to create panic among a large section of people who unfortunately are uneducated and often tend to base their judgements from what they hear from the "leaders". Instead, please harp on the point that whatever happened before and after partition are tragic and unfortunate events of history which must be used to learn about how not to fall prey to the averice and evil designs a few power hungry people. Any recurrance of similar events need to be resisted, whether it happens in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq or, in India. The direct effects of such events are to retard development and to make poor people poorer.

The only way to change the sorry state of affairs in Bangladesh, and in West Bengal, is to ensure good governance, and total emphasis on implementation of rapid economic development. And it must be along with social change that can only be brought about by education, education, and education. Make people economically secure and truely educated, and all these divisive trends will become rare, if not disappear all together.

Sorry, I have made some political staements above. Hopefully, you will understand my views.
An Interjection from Subir Choudhury (Tutu), my nephew who lives in Geneva and Kolkata (part and part), dated May 5, 2006
I would wholeheartedly subscribe to the condemnation of the "Communist" Government of West Bengal that has, in quarter of a century, not only ruined the State's economy, but also practically destroyed the ethical fabric of Bengali society. Though lately Buddha-babu seems to be trying hard to get the economy back into the right track, he is tied down to a party that's morally bankrupt and ideologically as current as dinosaurs. But ultimately whose fault is it anyway? I am thinking along the following lines:
"Every society deserves the government it gets"
None other than Bongs could get into such a mess!
With head in the clouds and feet in deep shit,
Whether class struggle or BPO the better gambit
Bongs don't have a clue, nor they give a damn;
Enjoy arsenic with water, and toxic-air praanayam.
We sing Rabindra-sangeet, and rudely honk in the street,
We Keep Vivekananda on the desk, pass bribes under it.
We sit in five-star hotels, ignore squalor outside,
We listen to Amartya Sen, keep robbery and murder aside.
We have garbage-heap and filth, but what does it matter
As long as they serve Doi-Maach at "Oh Calcutta"?
Runaway buses a daily ritual, mangled bodies the perpetual
Scene of Kolkata - pitiless, senseless and infernal;
We blame the KMC, we bad-mouth "the politicians",
Then we cast our vote - to reinstate the villains.
And Kolkata thrives with its arteries blocked,
With its lungs choked, and brainwaves stalled.
B.t.w. I recently heard the following story (the veracity of which I leave to the reader to judge):
When Jyoti Basu handed over the reins to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the former told the latter: "Listen - you better clean up the mess I've created over the years, otherwise there's no future for CPM. And if you fail, I'll force you to get married to Mamata Bannerjee (Mamatar sange jor kore tomar biye diye debo)." Buddha since then have been very busy warding off a fate worse than death. :-)
Another interesting interjection, this time from Gautam Chattopadhyay, a friend from our Ranchi days, but who now lives in Australia, 8 May'06
I have been sitting on the side line reading the crisscrossing e-mails determined not to get involved in this, but Arjoda's cut and paste of the contribution from his Geneva based nephew really broke my determination. I have reviewed the names in the e-mail list and it is full of people who I know are far more intelligent, wise and accomplished than me, so I must be very careful about what I say.

Since I left college in 1974, I lived in Calcutta for about two years, but I keep coming back again and again. So I can describe what I see, and since I travel a bit these days I can compare a bit as well. I do not know how many of you read 'Wings of fire' but what I have been observing over the last four/five years convinces me that 2020 is a distinct possibility. I have been accused of seeing the glass half full more often than half empty, but I think this time I am right. Whether Bengal joins in or not is a different issue. But I must point out that some of the statements made in the e-mails are simply not correct.

A very recent story I saw in Times of India rated job potential in Calcutta higher than Bangalore and Hyderabad. About Tathagatada's complaint about transport in Calcutta. Yes there are problems but I travel from Church gate to Andheri a few times a year now. I am sure many of you have done that many times and how do you compare that with commute in Calcutta?. Let me give another example since many of you went to B. E. College in the sixties and I have a house in the neighbourhood so I make that trip once or more every year. It took 45 minutes to reach from Esplanade, little more from Park Street by bus, and may be 30 minutes to drive in 1965. Today it takes less than 20 minutes. Same from Park Circus. The best surprise was when I came back last December. I usually buy 20 korapak sandhesh from Ultodanga before I catch my plane hoping I will get it through customs in Sydney by telling a few lies. It always took 40 minutes to reach the Calcutta airport. This time I made that in 20 using the new road. I could go on and an about metro and many more pleasant surprises I get every time I go back these days.

But I am really upset with Arjoda's nephew particularly because he is from Geneva. The poem is very nice to draw attention, but let me give you some data I found in a book called 'India the next economic giant' presented to me by my good friend Mark Thirlwell who runs a think tank in Sydney called Lowy Institute for International Policy. Mark was trained at Oxford and Cambridge universities. In 2001, West Bengal's GDP contribution at 7.9% was third highest among 28 states and all the union territories. If I compare per capita contribution that is GDP divided by corresponding state population, West Bengal is at number 12 out of 28. I agree we should be 1 and 1 and probably mismanagement of CPM for thirty years has contributed to this, but I see changes and these are only brought in by CPM and that is really where I get foxed. When I lived in Ranchi in the early 90's I was a great fan of Kamal and fresh back from the US some of you probably know of my legendary faith in unadulterated capitalism in those days. Today I think how could I be so stupid. And people living in the West always talks about corruption in India. My good friend, who is also a university professor nearly got arrested for producing an Australian passport in a train not far from Geneva. His only crime was that he was born in Fiji. This is not a story, this is what I have seen with my own eyes. If this is not corruption what is. Everybody is not like this but corruption is there. Lately, I am having a lot of encounter with business people in India, and from what I hear and little I see, I think West Bengal is still relatively corruption free.

Anyway, I think my bantering will finally bring this e-mail activity to an end and I like to end with a borrowed line 'I know I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. And I hope some day you join us'

Tatha's Response, dated 11 May, 2006
I think this is getting to be an interesting discourse, so why should we want it to end? Let me react to Arjo and Gautam, but before that, let me inform you that the CPI(M) got a landslide victory in the assembly elections the results of which were announced today, decimating the opposition, and condemning my party to a zero-member existence in the state. Though I do not think this is the end of the world, I must admit that I am crestfallen and trying to figure out what happened.

As for Gautam's wonderment at the new road that got him from Ultadanga to the Airport in 20 minutes, it is nice, but should it have taken the state 30 years to have such a road? Let me tell you that West Bengal's GDP growth of 7.9% is highly suspect, because it is not consistent with its massive unemployment (7,200,000 and growing at the rate of roughly 300,000 per year) nor with its enormous public debt (Rs. 1 trillion).

I do not agree with Arjo's theory of inclusiveness, for two reasons. Firtsly, no one thrust on my head the divine duty to provide lebensraum for the Bangladeshi Muslims, more so when the very same people drove the bulk of the Hindus out of their country. If they want refuge why don't they go to underpopulated Saudi Arabia or Australia? Second, being inclusive with Muslims works so long as they are in a small minority, and/or they badly need the services of non-Muslims. The first is the case with India,the second with the gulf countries and present-day Afghanistan. And what happens when neither compulsion is present? For the answer look at Pakistan (19% minority population in 1947 reduced to 2% in 1948), East Pakistan-turned-Bangladesh (29% minority population in 1947 reduced to 9% today), Turkey (the Armenian genocide of 1913), Egypt (persecution of Coptic Christians) and the vale of Kashmir (now completely cleansed of its Kashmiri Pandit minority). Even relatively tolerant muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have now turned to Islamic extremism.

What conclusion does one draw from this? Not that we should harm the Indian Muslims in any way, but that we should never, never let them grow into a majority. This is not BJP politics or RSS doctrine, this is simple self-preservation.
What Arjo said about statistical logic is all right. Don't ask me why I said it, you know the answer. However, I am of the firm view that if we, out of indifference, negligence, misguided secularism or altruism or whatever, let the Muslims become a majority in West Bengal, our grandchildren will have to get out of West Bengal the way my ancestors had to leave our native Brahmanbaria or Arjo's their native Barisal.

There is no way I can ensure good governance in Bangladesh, because I am not a citizen of that country. Bangladeshi citizens will have to do it. However, while they are at it, I'll be damned if I let them export their surplus population or their Islamic fundamentalism into my country.

Tathagata Roy
My resonse dated 12 May 2006. Note WB Election results were out on May 11.

Dear Tatha
No hard feelings. The results of the West Bengal Elections have confirmed my fears and prediction that CPM is going to be back in the saddle, primarily because of the division of anti left front votes .This was all due to the monumental folly of the great "Didi" of Bengal, her insistence to retain her ties with the BJP. According to today's Ananda bajaar Patrika, in between 80 to 140 seats the combined votes of TMC and INC were more than received by the winning LF candidate. There was every possibility that the combined opposition (sans BJP) would have got arounf 150 seats in an assembly of 294 members. Just think of the opportunity lost in displacing the LF and end of their misrule. And the decimation of BJP in the state proves that the overwhelming majority of the people of Bengal do not subscribe to contentions expoused by your party.

So many things can be done in West Bengal, but will the now resurgent Communist Party of India ( Marxist) allow the developments in industry, education or health to proceed, even if the CM appears to be well meaning? I shall be the first person to work for WB full time, if the Party can control its unruly cadres and train them to look for a wider vision than the immediate short term gains( hafta and tola) that they claim is their divine rights. I doubt it. But as Gautam wrote, let us perceive the glass as half full, hope that Buddha will not only laugh but also fulfil the promise.
Final comments from Tatha, May 13, 2006
Dear Arjo, let me very politely remind you that in 2001 Mamata jettisoned the BJP, tied up with the Congress and lost 67 seats as a result of the division of votes. The trouble with you, and the fellow-travelling newsmedia in West Bengal (who have obviously influenced you in regard to current political situation, not your basic beliefs) is that you (plural) can't make up your mind about whether there is a BJP-RSS in the state or there isn't. Every now and then I read "BJP is irrelevant in the state. . . " and then in the same or next breath "beware of the communal BJP". We are there, pal, and there's no wishing us away, and we shall fight against the Commie-Islami nexus (more on this later) till we win. Didi is a flash in the pan.

Yours, Tatha