Saturday, September 21, 2013

India of a thousand dreams!

I am from the North-East — a paradise unexplored as those grandiose “Incredible India” campaigns would spell. I belong to the land of the rhino, the national parks and the dances. But I also belong to the land which is on the wrong side of the “looks” discourse. Where I come from people don’t have long noses and sharp big eyes; we have flat noses and small eyes. Colloquially, my brethren from my home are lumped together as one big racial group, “chinkis.”

We, the people of India, have never had problems with sweeping generalisations such as the loud Jats and Punjabis or the silent Tamilians, good or bad generalisations adorn our social discourse. Yet, never are they so vivid and as socially offending as with the “chinkis” and very often it spills over to those who don’t have the “chinki looks.” I must admit that never in my life have I been referred to as an exotic breed unlike my friends — that is because I share a more “mainlander” look. So the question is: why this necessity for a mainlander look to be called an Indian?

Recently, a close friend visited the Taj Mahal. He wanted to see the beauty that made India a global tourist hotspot. He had his Afghan friend along with him. They had a minor altercation with the security guards over entry for the Afghan student. Soon, the guards demanded identification proof of my friend. When he showed them his identity card, they did the unimaginable! They asked him to take a foreigner’s pass. Imagine the surprise and disgust of my friend. He had studied in Delhi almost all his college life and now he had to get a foreigner’s ticket because someone decided that he was not Indian enough to be Indian; or, perhaps, he was on the wrong side of the country.

This is not just one story. We hear thousands like this everyday. We hear of Bodo students being harassed during the Tibetan monk protests (since they looked Mongoloid). If you are a Mongoloid and girl, Delhi suddenly turns dangerous for you because there is a popular discourse that “NE girls are cheap.” This negative perception is endorsed by even neighbourhood aunties who argue that these “thin girls with short clothes” are always on the lookout for “easy money.” Sometimes, I wonder if this is really concern or disgust or merely jealousy since most of the aunties got the wrong part of the deal in the weight debate! Yet, the question remains: what does this mean for my friend and many others like him who face harassment everyday? It seems the idea of “India” still does not include them or others like them.

On the other hand, there is no denying the discrimination that runs counter in the North-East. The recent declaration of a bandh in Meghalaya against a “non-tribal” getting the Speaker’s post in the Assembly points to the bias that exists in the “egalitarian” tribal milieu. If anything, tribal society today is not egalitarian — it is mostly an exclusivist society where anything non-tribal (non-Mongoloid) is seen with suspicion and contempt.

So the story of India is one of conjoining these two systems (mainland and NE) — one which thrives on discrimination and an idea of India which is either speaking in Hindi or a south Indian techie, and the other which is inherently distrustful and exclusivist in character.

When one looks at the root of the problem, it is not the clash of these two systems but one which has a “trust deficit” in essence. The problem is both sides have not been able to bridge the trust gap.

The solution will be found when someone from Uttar Pradesh/Bihar/Tamil Nadu stands up for my friend the next time he or she is stopped at the Taj Mahal and called non-Indian. The solution will be found when a non-tribal is declared Speaker of a tribal State the people rejoice. This is very much our India, an India of a thousand dreams they may come in all shapes and sizes but one whose destiny is shared.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The India-Bangladesh Land-Swap Deal

One again, the Indian government hashit a roadblock in its attempt to introduce to parliament legislation that would enable a land swap deal with Bangladesh to take place. That is a shame, for the bill—the India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement—has implications not only for foreign relations but also for larger questions of human rights, the right to livelihood and even the larger contours of what constitutes foreign policy in India today.
The bill in question called for India to exchange 111 of its enclaves in Bangladesh in return for 51 Bangladesh enclaves in India. Under the agreement India would give up claims for just over 17,000 acres of land which will be transferred to Bangladesh. In turn Bangladesh would cede around 7,000 acres, which would then join Indian territory.
The deal would not only end a historical thorn in the bilateral side, it would also open a new era in the relationship. India often suffers a “perception problem” in the eyes of its neighbors, which often view India with suspicion because of its size, economy and military might. That in turn encourages them to turn to China. The land swap deal would go a long way to improving India’s local image.
A healthy relationship with Bangladesh would have other economic benefits. India could seek from Bangladesh as a goodwill gesture transit rights to its northeast, brining development to a struggling region. A deal could also revive the moribund South Asia Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ), comprising India’s north east, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. And a deal would give a pre-election boost to a Bangladesh government that has generally been favorable to India.
A land swap agreement would also give citizenship rights to close to 52,000 people: 37,000 on the Bangladesh side and close to 15,000 on the Indian side. These stateless people, often victimized, would finally get rights and privileges as citizens, to the benefit of India’s human rights record.
This deal could particularly benefit the North East and Assam. Resolving the land issues would enable borders in these areas to be secured. India would be able to talk officially about the issue of migrating Bangladeshis, a thorny problem for Assam for nearly three decades that will only grow with climate change.
Despites these benefits, the legislation has faced numerous hurdles, particularly accusations that India is selling off land to Bangladesh. Not unexpectedly, ground zero for the opposition has been the northeastern state of Assam. Any policy initiated by New Delhi towards Bangladesh needs to take the sensibilities of Assam into account. In addition to the historical immigration issue, there is Assam’s proximity to Bangladesh and the region’s own troubled history with India’s neighbor, extending back to the 1970s.
So the protests and marches against the alleged sell-out of Assam are not surprising, nor are they completely groundless. There is a genuine feeling in Northeast India that the central government often takes it for granted. Hence, there is a need to engage the people of Assam on a more direct level to talk about the benefits of the swap and any possible ramifications. Assam has a vibrant civil society, which should be engaged on this issue. In short, it is time for some public diplomacy.
On a broader level, this is an opportunity for India to adopt a new model for the 21st century, one that recognizes the changing nature of diplomacy. As their self-identity grows, India’s states and its people want a greater say in how India frames its relations with its neighbors. The land swap deal is an opportunity for India to adopt a new foreign policy discourse that engages the states and the public, while giving the Northeast a chance to participate in the rewriting of its own history.
(Appeared on The Diplomat on September 3rd 2013,Link to the article here

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A love called cricket

Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph…..Chaminda Vaas I recited to my friend when asked the full name of Chaminda Vaas. It was the heady 90’s and like any other boy growing up I had one religion –cricket. I wanted to be one thing a cricketer. From boomer stickers to Center Fresh and Big Fun cards cricket was what we drank ate and slept. Who could have forgotten the fact that exchange of 100 centre fresh cards gave us a cricket bat signed by the playing 11 of the Indian team.

The first memory I ever had of a cricket match was perhaps Sharjah in the mid 90’s .Indian bowling attack was lead by Srinath, Prasad and Kumble. I liked Venkatesh Prasad for he was tall and had a way with Pakistani players. I liked the aggression he espoused. But the Indian team had one major fault it revolved around Sachin Tendulkar. Although we were a cricketing superpower and a former world champion yet people prayed for Tendulkar not to get out .The moment he would get out people would switch off their TV Sets. And Tendulkar lived upto  every bit of praise showered on him ,who would forget his epic innings in Sharjah back to back in the semis and the finals when he single handedly took India to the winning podium. I remember the treatment he had meted out to the likes of Shane Warne and McGrath. Tendulkar even had a five wicket haul against the Australians.

And then there were the two giant teams Australia and South Africa. I remember the ten man slip position Australians fielded once. Under Steve Waugh they were a mercurial unit they played clinical cricket and looked every bit like the champions for fifteen years. South Africa on the other hand was the more disciplined outfit but a choker in the grand finale’s a tag which sadly they continue to be true to. When South Africa tied with Australia in world cup semis of 1996 and then South Africa went crashing out I was inconsolable. Not only because I loved the Proteas but because I hated the guts of the Australians. Then there was Lara of a fading West Indian team the Waqars and the Akrams of Pakistan and those who played extremely well against India.Andy Flower of Zimbabwe seemed to belong to the later category. It seemed that Flower had mastered the art of spin bowling like a Zen teacher and everytime a spinner came to bowl against Andy the ball would disappear all over the boundary.Then there were other amazing performers Nathan Astle of New Zealand ,Michael Atherton of England, Steve Tikolo of Kenya Akram Khan of Bangladesh and finally the Lankan tigers.

It was 1996 and cricketing world was introduced to something new.The 1996 world cup was being held in India. There was tremendous heat going around Tendulkar was in his best and everyone thought that we would do the best .As expected we reached the semi finals .And then it hit us the Lankan tigers. Under a heavy man called Ranatunga this tiny team became the new relevation in World Sports. I was heartbroken that my team lost in the semis I even cried but I couldn’t help but admire this new phenomenon. It was nothing but pure power when Sanath Jaysurya went dancing down the tracks or  Aravinda Desilva played the hook.The opening over of Chaminda Vaas was nothing but havoc it often caught the likes of Ganguly on the backfoot. If anything this tiny island nation was Asia’s answer to the Australians. While the wily Australians relied on technique the Sri Lankans were like the calypsos they were free flowing,they were the first to break cricketing conventions. Sanath Jayasuryua took footwork and wrist movement to a whole new level.Cricket was at its premium best!

As time passed by India did win a lot of matches in between but somehow the World Cup eluded us. When Ganguly and Dravid made a record partnership in England in 2003 everyone thought that India would win again, but sadly our 2003 final performance was the worst ever. So much so that it permanently dissuaded me from cricket. I nomore swore by cricket. My team consistently broke my expectations I shifted my loyalties elsewhere and cricket no more impacted my life. No more bunking classes for matches no more analysis of footwork. Like any other man I jumped the sinking ship.This Indian team would never win the Cup they should stick to Babool advertisements.

And then the years rolled by Indian team was now a new India we had a new team and we were no more dependent on Tendulkar .This was a new India they argued a confident one. We became the maiden champions of the 20-20 format and soon a new slogan started in India IPL (Indian Premier League).My only interest in this format of the game was because my childhood friend Abu Nechim Ahmed played for the Mumbai Indians. That was all that there was to cricket.

2011 World Cup once again in the subcontinent. I was busy with my job and I gave very little chance to the team to win the Cup. The team progressed in the tournament yet I took no interest .Finally I realized that we were in an India-Pakistan semi final. And I was pulled back to the game and true to the records of never losing to Pakistan in the World Cup India stayed on that course.The D Day had finally arrived  and India extracted the revenge of 1996.We were the World Champions.MS Dhoni the gusty boy from Ranchi ,Captain Cool had done it.I was glad .And then life moved on.It was perhaps a 2 minutes blip.

It had been two years and inbetween Indian cricket rocked by the usual gambit of scandals and calls for removal. Dhoni was ridiculed for not speaking his heart to the media. The Ranchi boy had lost it.Mired by scandals Indian team arrived in England for the Champions Trophy. But this was not how perhaps Dhoni wanted his final frontier to be.This was a team mired by scandels there was a lingering doubt in everyone’s minds that this Indian team was not true to its religion anymore.There were open wishpers some doubting Dhoni himself.Everyone missed the likes of Tendulkar and Sehwag and Gnaguly and Dravid. Dhoni had  a frail Bhuvneswar Kumar as his strike bowler.He had a internet joke Ravindra Jadeja as his campaigner and then there were those who went on and off in form.Dhoni himself with a white beared looked haggled and tired.

But once this team went on field they transformed. A young team averaging 24 years this team played their hearts out like a champion. I watched  each and every match and with each passing match I became a greater fan of this team .The way Bhuvneswar Kumar swung the ball reminded me of Kumble,Shikhar Dhawan had the class of Sehwag but a much cooler head .And then there was Ravindra Jadeja it seemed he was out to prove there that he was truly the Rajnikanth of Indian cricket.A true allrounder .And all this lead by the man form the front MS Dhoni.This was no more a team of elites from Mumbai and Delhi this was a team which had players from the dusty lanes of Jamnagar to the paved roads of Chennai.And watching them play made me realize this was a team which played its hearts out.It didn’t matter what the world said to them ,they played for the game for their captain and for their team.Cricket they say is heading for a finish if anyteam can bring it back from this abysss its this Indian team.This team is a beauty to watch.So all those who had lost their faith in cricket its time to get it back !

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Interview as on 15-03-2013

 Date: 15.03.2013
Session: Forenoon
Board: Venkatreddi
Knock in the door .

Sir may I come in ?Yes come in .(I go inside and wish everyone and proceed to take my seat. I forgot whether they asked me to take a seat or I took it straightaway ,in the heat of the moment).There was the Chairman(hence called CM) and 4 members M1,M2,M3 and M4.The atmosphere was very cordial.
CM: So you are Ibu Sanjeeb Garg?
Me: Yes
CM: So you completed your degree in 2010 and since then working in Assam Gramin Vikash Bank (Before I could reply he signaled M1 to take over).
M1: So you are from Assam? What is the major problem in North East?
Me: Sir the problem is of a trust deficit.
M1: What is this trust deficit?
ME: Sir even though Centre in the last 10 years have contributed a lot in the form of say 90:10 special arrangement yet results have not been tangible .That is because the system has not been harmonized yet. There is a certain gap that has to be travelled by both sides. The recent elections in the 3 NE state where there was a voting of an average of 85% I think NE too is internalizing the democratic process. But a lot of road has to be travelled in both tangible and intangible forms.
M1: So are you hopeful than in the future this will become better ?
Me: (with conviction) Absolutely Sir
M1: So what steps can Assam as the Big brother of NE take in this regard?
Me: Sir as you have correctly pointed out that Assam is better integrated than the rest of the North East. This process must be carried forward and it can serve as a model for the rest of North East. The youth of Assam will play a major role in this regard.
M1: So you think the youth in Assam is capable to take this role?
Me: Yes sir.
M1: So you are from NEHU? Are there students from the rest of the country in NEHU?
Me: Sir not much.
M1: Why, isn’t this through a common engineering test?
Me: No sir it’s a separate test of the university.
M1: Is it? Consults with Chairman? Chairman agrees.M1 says OK.
M2 takes over
M2: So Ibu you are from North East. Would you be willing to serve anywhere else in the country given an opportunity?
Me: Yes Sir(with conviction!!!)
M2: Coming to your service preferences, you have filled IAS,IFS right?
Me: Yes Sir
M2:What do you think about India’s stand on Myanmar?
Me: General gyan about how we must engage with both sides and how it is of strategic importance to us.
M2: As a foreign diplomat would you take the same approach and why?
Me: Yes sir and general gyan again.
M2: Is there a problem of illicit Chinese made goods smuggled through Myanmar in Assam?
Me: No sir
M2: Coming to today’s newspaper .You must have read that Age of consent in the Anti Women Violence bill has been reduced to 16.Do you agree to this move?
Me: Yes sir. Here I would like to support the stand taken by the various women organizations that 18 years can be used as a tool by some parents to force their wards into listening to their dictums and also it runs contrary to the prevailing Age of Consent.
M2: Is there a problem of immigration in Assam? Will border fencing solve it?
Me: Yes sir there is a problem in Assam. Sir border fencing cannot act as the only measure. Many a times the border is separated by hills and sometimes by the Brahmaputra. Unlike the western border the eastern border is not continuous terrain. Hence border fencing can be one of the solutions but not the only solution. Rather we have to look at the pull and push factors.
M2:What are they?
M2: Sir for example land records are a major problem in Assam. There is certain collusion among lower land officials and also the issue of miyadi and patta land in Assam is not resolved hence this acts as a major source of worry. Often the local officials issue miyadi documents to the undocumented migrants whereafter they get a stamp of genuinity on their identity. This lower level collusion and corruption is a major pull reason.(Before I could complete…)
M2: What about political gains?
Me: Definitely political patronage is definitely extended in some levels.2 years ago 10000 people tried to cross over from the other side of the border in Orang National Park . It was repulsed due to the joint action of local people, DC and DFO. On investigation it was found that there were some local political elements which acted as an impetus. So yes political gain to some respect does add to this problem.
M2: Why has Tarun Gogoi emerged as such a loved figure? Why has he come back to power again and again?
Me: Sir peace and development. Assam has witnessed relative peace in the last 10 years and there also has been development, new roads new colleges universities infrastructure has been built.
M2: I have travelled through the length and breadth of Assam? So why is Assam so underdeveloped in agriculture, when it can be the bread basket for half of this nation?
Me: Sir it’s a question of Awareness. Farmers used to indulge only in cropping once a year. There was no though no action about multicropping. But in recent times it has started changing. Recently in Kamrup an initiative was taken to introduce double cropping and it has started showing results. Such initiatives if taken forward will undoubtedly give better results.
 Now M3 takes over
M3: Why does flooding occur and what can be done?
Me: Why??(Thinking) sir due to rains and….
M3: No no tell me why does flooding occur?
Me: Smiling again sir rains …….and the steps that can be taken…
M3: No floods occur due to some gibberish didn’t understand.
Me: Thank you sir .smile
M3: Ok tell me what can be done?
Me: Sir better embankments , better accountability dyke model of Denmark can be studied( he didn’t seem interested in my answer!!)
M3: Assam falls in Sesmic zone..How will you use your knowledge as an IT engineer to mitigate responses?
Me: Sir using GIS I will map out the vulnerable areas. Then with data analysis we will be able to zero on the first response centers and how they must be equipped .Apart from this awareness.(he stopped me midway or I stopped sensing another question I don’t remember)
M3: What are the problems of big and small tea gardens in Assam?
Me: Sir big tea gardens I have no idea. Small tea garden I can answer.
M3: Go ahead!
Me: Sir 3 reasons:
·         Competition from China
·         Climate change( he gave a disapproving look)
·         Using old plants which reduce productivity
M3: China produces only green tea?
Me: ( I didn’t know how to respond!!!Suddenly M1 says no its competitor in black tea as well .Pahh am relieved)
M3: Ok ok ,what about labour problem in tea gardens?
Me: Sir labour condition are quite improved
M3: (Restless) No no labour problems tell me?
Me: I don’t know what to say again M1 comes to rescue he says “ no he must have something to say.”(I smile )
Yes sir infact conditions of tea garden workers are much better compared to the rest. Although they have a lower wage rate than the rest of the workers they have a social security net.
M3: What about small landholding? Thats the major problem of small tea gardens?
Me: Am sorry sir I didn’t know about it.
M3: Ok tell me why Assam lacks soft power!!!!?(Assam –soft power???)
Me: Sir I didn’t get your point.
M3: Why has service industry not picked up inspite of good English speaking crowd?
Me: Sir it’s the problem of awareness .But in the last two years things have changed. Last year our Chief Minister invited doyens of industry to come forward and invest in Assam.TCS has opened an incubation centre in Guwahati. Tatas have pledged a TISS in Guwahati which has started functioning as well .A lot needs to be done but the process has started.
M3: But all of them have big tea gardens !!hahahaha
Me: Smiled seephsihly
Now M4 takes over:
M4: Gave some quote? Do you recognize this quote?
Me: No sir.
M4: I will give you a hint ,its from tourism? Have you heard of the World Tourism Mart …Berlin?
Me:(wanted to make a guess…..didnt)No sir
M4: When is tourism day celebrated?
Me: No sir
M4: You know about the organic products that are being cultivated in Assam?
Me: No sir(4 in the row failed now !!!)
M4: Smiling ok let me ask you an easy question. what is the meaning of Ibu?(aha saved !!!)
Me: Sir it’s a Apatani word which means an earthen lamp!!
M4: So what is this Bodoland issue?
Me: It’s a demand that is based on genuine economic grievances. There are three regions in Assam which are even less underdeveloped, NC Hills, Bodoland and Barak Valley. And this economic underdevelopment is the reason for the demand.
M4: So how do they think Bodoland will solve the issue?
Me: Sir people in Bodoland accuse Dispur being as distant to them as Delhi. Hence they believe that administration coming to Kokrajhar will bring the local administration will come closer to the people. It will be on the ethos of the Bodo identity.
M4: So Ibu what are the major tourist attractions in Assam?
Me: Kaziranga National Park,Manas National Park,Kamakhya Temple ….( M2 interjected me )
M2: What was that river island ?
Me: Sir Majuli
M2: Yes yes Majuli !!!:P
M4: Suppose I make you tourism secretary what steps will you take to promote tourism say in Assam?
·         Build a campaign around Facebook to reach the aspiring middle class who can travel now.
·         Innovative steps like printing an Assam campaign behind railway tickets, plane tickets etc
·         Building a river safari in Brahmaputra like Bangladesh has done !
M4: This river safari that you talk about? Where will you take it?
Me: Sir whole of Assam!!!(everyone laughed!!!)
M4: Are you married?
Me: No sir.
M4: Suppose you marry and you have to divorce a character of yourself what would that be ?
Me: Thinking for sometime….sir Anger!
M4: Smiled !!!Yes yes Anger J
Now baton passes to Chairman!
CM: So Ibu your dad was a credit analyst?
Me: Yes sir and now he has taken VRS.
CM: What does he do now?
Me: Sir business!!                                                                      
OK Ibu thank you .
I said thank you to everyone and came out!