Thursday, January 18, 2007

Depressing Politics

Many times in the last few weeks, something in the news has made me want to turn to my keyboard to vent out my angst. Yet I kept pushing it back, afraid that thinking about things would make me feel worse, all the while aware that I was being cowardly. Let me start the change today.

I am almost ashamed to admit that I had had high hopes from this government. I was disappointed when the BJP was turned out of power, saddened that we as a country chose to be governed not by the party who was trying to lead us to development but the one that had chosen to leave us wallowing in squalor for a half-century. Yet, I dared to hope, hope that an educated Prime Minister who was, as the media proclaimed, more economist than politician, and a savvy, pro-reforms Finance Minister would lead us further towards a liberated economy.

I was not merely disappointed but have been repeatedly shocked by the appalling decisions this government has made. Decisions which seem aimed at keeping India mired in poverty and helplessness. Just as a young generation is stepping out of schools with the confidence in themselves that an availability of jobs and liberal incomes brings, the government has come out with decision after decision that seeks to cut at the roots of that confidence.

The decision to impose quotas in private colleges and institutes was of course the most controversial of them all. Even the feverish protests by students all over the country could not affect the government’s decision. The only concession made was that institutions expand their capacity so that students who do not have seats reserved for them on the basis of caste or tribe still have an equal number of seats to aspire to. And who is to pay for the huge increase in capacity? The taxpayer, of course.

Then the Andhra Pradesh government decides to offer funding to madrassas – being quick to assert that there would be no interference in internal matters. Translation: you do as you please, give your children as little practical education as you like, we’ll give you money just because you are not a mainstream school but a Islamic school. That’s how secular we are. And where do those funds come from? From taxpayers, from funds meant from development of the state.

Now the government has directed banks to ensure 15% of priority sector lending to Muslims – the minority community. Wait a minute, priority sector lending was meant for agriculture, small industries etc. (which are generally not considered profitable but the government wants to subsidize). Now in addition to supporting farmers with your money (and mind you, you and I, as taxpayers, ultimately pay for all this – for any subsidies the government decides to dole out), you are also forced (having no say in the matter until the next elections) to subsidize the “minority community” so they can get the loans they want.

Mind you, I am the last person to speak against Muslims – or any religion or race or community. But I mind that, first, the government is fuelling discrimination through its decisions, and, second, it is taking my money to buy votes for itself. Worse, it is encouraging feelings of entitlement and dependence when it should encourage hard work and initiative – with the economy doing so well, it should not be a difficult lesson to learn if only the government was not so bent on teaching something to the contrary.

But, as the BJP proved to their cost, strong and good decisions do not win votes. Populism and mudslinging do. Which seems to predict that the Congress will remain in power forever. The worst part is, even if we manage to throw it out, the next government will find it impossible to reverse these appalling decisions. The very “backward” sections of society who are unable to get into schools or get jobs without government help are manifestly capable of turning into the streets and going on a rampage in whose path no government dare stand.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Review: Babel

After a long time we heard of a movie that tempted us enough to watch it. And we were not disappointed.

I wonder why the movie is named Babel. I was intrigued by the name before watching the movie, pondering the word’s Biblical undertones and wondering if it was related to a clash of civilizations. But well, not really. There was the confrontation of individuals with unfamiliar cultures, but the conflicts were underplayed. The Guy suggested it's so called because there's so much "noise" - so many incidents that seem significant, even ominous at the time, yet nothing much really happens. You get this sense of foreboding throughout the movie that's never completely borne out...

The movie is very stark and intense, in its scenery, its music, its depiction of pain and emotions. In some ways, it’s the most “artsy” picture I’ve ever seen. Yet, in another way, it doesn’t seem artsy at all… It's a sensual picture, not an intellectual or even emotional one... You see, hear, almost smell and feel... It doesn’t make you think – it assaults all your senses and blocks your thoughts. It doesn’t raise questions or supply answers, rather depicts things which are, or might be...

There’s nothing entertaining about the movie. It is likely to keep you on the edge of your seat, clutching on to the armrests and waiting avidly for the horrors every scene seems to forebode…

Friday, January 05, 2007

My Hometown

This is a view of the sun setting over the Brahmaputra, taken from well within Guwahati city limits. I lived for nearly two years very near where this picture was taken, and walked down to the banks every evening to watch the sunset...