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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review : The Nidhi Kapoor Story By Saurabh Garg

The Nidhi Kapoor Story
Last weekend I sat down with debutant writer Saurabh Garg's thriller "The Nidhi Kapoor Story" which had just arrived. I found myself putting it down even before I had finished the first chapter. A couple of hours later I picked it up again,without giving much thought and within 24 hours I was finished reading the whole book. If this sounds odd you could just order your copy and see for yourself but I had rather prefer you go through my review !

Posted By danish Ahmed 7:50 PM

Friday, October 10, 2014

Projected Path of Tropical Cyclone Hudhud

Posted by: danish Ahmed 4:54 AM

Projected path of tropical cyclone Hudhud  as of 10-10-2014, click on the markers to view details or visit my Google Maps page.



Data Source: JTWC ( http://www.usno.navy.mil/JTWC/ ) 

Last update : 10/12/2014

Here is another cool resource  for tracking storms - CIMSS Tropical Cyclones Groups 

Posted By danish Ahmed 4:54 AM

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Has India under Modi Finally Found A China Policy ?

Anyone who has visited this blog before or just takes a cursory glance at my previous posts would know that I am not really a fan of Narendra Modi. Some have gone on to say that I have a pathological hatred of Modi. What I know is that till now Modi hasn't really given me much reason to applaud him, although since assuming premiership he hasn't given me much reason to criticize him either. Before elections, one of the dangers I saw, in case of Modi becoming PM, was the threat to India's foreign policy. Leave alone experience, maturity and global recognition of statesmanship such as that commanded by Ex-Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and some others, Modi appeared as a complete stranger to the power corridors of Delhi.

Further, his devotion to an organisation known for its archaic values and worldview presented a rather bleak and eerie picture of the future of India's foreign policy. Fortunately, by inviting heads of Saarc countries in his swearing-in ceremony, Modi gave a very clear signal that India's foreign policy  was finally out of coma, his visits to Japan and renewal of ties with South-East Asian countries and especially engagement with China declared the new Indian government's resolve to take more proactive role in world politics.

Posted By danish Ahmed 3:03 AM

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Love,Sex And Jihad

FRight-Wingers are at it again, alleging a conspiracy called "Love Jihad" and I am not sure if I should laugh,  get irritated,amused, angry, indifferent, outraged, sympathetic or feel all of them at the same time. Both the words, "love" and "jihad" have beautiful connotations but now distorted into a grotesque shape. While the connotation of "love" is self-explanatory, the meaning of jihad has undergone changes, especially for those looking from distance. Jihad essential means "to struggle in the way of GOD", it can be an inner spiritual struggle called greater jihad  and fighting tyranny and persecution, through violent or nonviolent means, which is called lesser jihad.. Do note, the meaning of the word jihad is "struggle" which implies it is for self-defence and fighting against persecution. However, in context of this allegation of "Love Jihad", other political parties, members of civil society, journalists have exposed it as a lie but it perplexes me why women's rights organisations haven't launched  Jihad (non-violent kind) against those who manufactured this hoax. .    

Posted By danish Ahmed 5:47 PM

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mere Military Action Against ISIS May Not Be Enough

US defense chiefs saying ‘Apocalyptic’ Isis beyond anything we've seen' is bit alarming for two reasons (other than the alarm manifest in the headline itself). The first being, did it take the all pervasive, heavily invested (finance,skill, forfeiture of individual rights) US surveillance mechanism this long to arrive at a conclusion which by now known to anyone who keeps an eye on the situation in MENA region ? Or does it mean the US is once more contemplating a Gulf War like approach to handle this threat ? Although, unlike previous Gulf Wars, this time the US has far more legitimate reasons to intervene. The current state of affairs in Syria-Iraq is a direct fallout of the hare-brained ex-US President's misadventure in 2003 of ouster and execution of Saddam Hussein and destabilization of the entire region in its wake. Some bloggers and commentators seem to blame US for directly or indirectly creating another Frankenstein monster called ISIS, but I believe the US is responsible for creating the horrific mess in Iraq  from which this monster has arisen, but not the monster itself  (its Al-Assad's monster though, Frankenstein or not). Now the billion dollar question is, can US really clean up the mess without leaving behind a bigger mess ?

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:39 AM

Monday, August 18, 2014

Middle-East Crisis: The Symbiotic Relationship Between Assad And ISIS

As the self-declared "Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham" continues to slaughter hundreds, occupy and govern a vast swathe of land and come close to capturing Baghdad and Irbil, the Kurdish capital, one cannot but wonder how its emergence could not be foreseen. Another interesting development is that the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad seems to have lost steam. Is there a symbiotic relationship between them ? Are they hostile in one level and  interdependent on one the other ?

Posted By danish Ahmed 4:19 AM

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Hidden War In The Middle-East: Rise of Geopolitical Networks


Underneath the seemingly chaotic, ethno-sectarian conflicts raging on in MENA (Middle East and North Africa), lie powerful subterranean forces of regional powers contesting with the aim of establishing hegemony over the entire region. Of course, world powers are neither unaware nor uninvolved in this conflict but are not as proactive as they are when fighting with their own agenda. Arabian Peninsula ,Levant and North Africa now seem like a  huge board game littered with corpses and gunmen issuing whimsical orders. Since I cannot come up with a better term, I would call these forces geopolitical networks, comprising of nation-states as well as non-state-entities (including organised resistance such as Hezbollah and numerous small groups of militants) . In MENA, three such networks are active, each with eye on capturing the entire region. The first and most visible geopolitical network is Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezbollah and other Shia militant outfits. Its main rival is the Sunni/Salafi network of Arab countries-Saudi Arabia-UAE-Bahrain- various Sunni militant groups and believe-it-or-not Israel .  The third network in this bizarre game of power comprises of Turkey-Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted By danish Ahmed 5:50 AM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Palestinian Question: Gaza Is The New Auschwitz


In my last post I mentioned that Hamas was trying to inflict a strategic defeat on Israel in the ongoing attrition warfare by depriving Israel from taking  moral high ground. The global public opinion has changed drastically after the massacre of more than 1800 Palestinians, many of them children and women. The attack on UN schools and vehicles reveals a reckless Israeli war-machine trying to avert a disaster but it could well be a result of insecurity of its political leadership. Over the last two decades, two simultaneous strategies have been playing out- increase in number of new Israeli settlements in occupied territories and Palestinian bid to statehood recognition by the UN and international community. Whether Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu genuinely believes Israel faces unprecedented threat or is worried about his political career remains to be seen. The ongoing Gaza war is certainly his decision since both the charges against Hamas - kidnapping and murdering three Israeli teenagers and starting fresh violence- have been proven wrong.

Posted By danish Ahmed 7:24 AM

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is Israel Poised For Strategic Defeat in Gaza



From amongst the numerous Israel-Palestine skirmishes,clashes and wars, the ongoing conflict seems the worst one yet. Body count and infrastructure damage may have been much higher in previous escalations,but this time both actors have long term agenda in mind and domestic political pressure . Further, it is not a case of provocation by one actor leading to a escalation that neither side can avoid, as is usually in the case of India and Pakistan or China and one of its neighbour. In this case, both Israel and Hamas have all along had the option of de-escalating it but neither actor is willing, as they see opportunity to gain advantage by the time a ceasefire becomes imminent. This is after all a very unconventional conflict, fourth generation warfare is fought on a very different level, in this instance, the objective is not to capture the flag first but create conditions that can help develop better strategy until the next conflict. As opposed to other conflicts, war does not erupt between Israeli and Palestinian militants, it's been in a state of war since two decades, it is peace that occasionally breaks out.

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:55 AM

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gaza Crisis: Jews Shouldn't Pay Price For Zionist Chutzpah


The atrocities being committed on the Palestinian people during the Operation Protective Edge, makes one wonder how a civilized nation could go about killing hundreds of civilians, especially children and claim it is an act of self-defence. The graphic images, videos and individual testimonials paint a grotesque portrait of a genocide with racist overtones. Unlike other ethnic cleansing pogroms of recent times, such as Serbian genocide of Bosniaks, information of which wasn't available immediately, the IDF assault  is taking place in full public view. It requires remarkable chutzpah to continue pounding of Gaza despite international outrage and UN resolutions, especially since Israel came into existence through a similar resolution and  support of  global community. Ironically, the last racial global ethnic cleansing movement was carried out by the Nazi Germany under Hitler against  the Jews and as such the Jews would best understand the pain Palestine is growing through. Besides, the Arabs and the Jews have had relative cordial relationship for a millenia.  Even we were to disregard all these things,  it would still remain unanswered how God fearing Jewish people could indulge in such perversion  of their laws. ? But then Israel is a Jewish-majority secular state, not Halachic Jewish State. In fact, Israel is a Zionist state.

Posted By danish Ahmed 4:29 AM

Friday, July 4, 2014

Modern Roots Of Sectarian Violence In Middle-East


The Middle-East cauldron appears to be on the verge of spilling over, presenting an unprecedented situation for world leaders. Unlike previous situations this is not a conflict between two actors,it involves numerous actors with varying agendas and objectives, with no clear statement of allegiance to any one ideological group or state. What began as the Syrian Arab spring soon turned into a civil war and gradually into a chaotic movement of bloodshed and strife. Although recent events have had a catalyzing effect in the flare up, the key to understanding the Middle-East jigsaw puzzle lies in history. To begin with, "the Middle-East" as such did not always exist, what existed was Arabia and then the Islamic empire. Although the entire history of the Islamic empire is rife with revolts,internecine feuds, it is the establishment of the Caliphate and its abolition that had larger ramification than others.

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:43 AM

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Aam Aadmi Party And New Politics

Posted by: danish Ahmed 7:54 PM

#ThankYouAAPians is one of the best hashtag I have come across this election season even if it is not that popular. In electoral-public discourse, we are used to winning candidates thanking their electorate (party workers mainly) but in this case, not only were the activists thanking each other, they were doing it on the day news channels were competing to project more number of seats Modi and BJP are expected to win and were particularly harsh on the Aam Aadmi Party. Yet the Aam Aadmi Party volunteers were as upbeat. The final results would be out two days later, but the AAP has already won the first battle. AAP is not a traditional political party, its success/failure should not be seen from the traditional perspective. Here are some of the things the established political class believed in and the effect of AAP's new politics.

They said, corruption has become part of our DNA, it cannot be fought on the strength of principles alone
 There is perceptible decline in petty corruption, government formation by nominees of corrupt corporates might buy them time but not a lot of it. But rest assured bribery is not going to be the same again.

The political class is too powerful, it cannot be challenged or made to change its ways by common folks through protests alone
 AAP decimated the Congress in Delhi and scared BJP to the extent that despite being the largest party it refused to form the government. In Lok Sabha election, AAP changed the rules of the game,supreme leaders of national parties no longer had luxury of safe seats. Kumar Vishwas in Amethi and Arvind Kejriwal in Kashi rattled Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, there is no ambiguity on who won the war of nerves.
Further, political power is defined as the ability to bring out desired behaviour in other actors without the use of force or coercion. From this perspective, the sudden decline in availing VIP privileges by politicians of all parties, taking up issues they were reluctant to take up earlier and ad hoc altering of well crafted political strategies to tackle the latest thrown by Aam Aadmi Party vindicates the stand that the seemingly invincible political class can be brought to its knees by a motley group of honest individuals.

In coalition era, taking the entire political establishment from leftists to right-wing parties, going alone is a recipe for disaster
 AAP went without a bookish ideology, focusing more on the actual problems people were facing and working out plans on how to resolve them. Its pan-India presence today (within 2 years) fielding 450 candidates proves that you don't need a comprehensive political ideology to find following, you just need to understand people's problems, their aspirations and speak their language.


One way or the other a political party cannot exist without resorting to identity politics i.e. have backing of a community, caste or ethnic, linguist group that vote en block.
 This is the biggest victory of AAP, unlike other parties it just did not address identity factors in political discourse. Rather it stuck to its agenda of cleansing the political landscape,so the basic needs of the people could be met. Do note, it did not, like the Sangh Parivar,demand or suggest abolition of sub-identities, AAP just did not address it.


Contesting election requires an obscene amount of money some of which have to be unaccounted for or black money 
 This is actually part of the vicious circle that has gripped Indian democracy like a snake and continues to squeeze it. If corporate donate money to the the tune of billions, they expect the party to dole out favors to them in return. During Delhi Vidhan Sabha election, AAP's entire poll expense was less than what is spent in a single rally of Narendra Modi.
 Since AAP represents the common people, it sought funding from the very same people. Contrast this with the fact that traditional parties dole out cash to people to vote for them. As for overseas fund collection, it is the only party to have undergone High Court probe related to its overseas funding and has come out clean while both the Congress and the BJP have been found at fault.  I suspect AAP has perhaps willingly de-prioritized fund collection.

Winning election is the only objective 
Of course winning election is an important objective but not the only one. A true democracy is a continous process, voting for a candidate/party every 5 years is meant to decide who leads the nation but debates and deliberations,decisions taken and enactment of laws in the Parliament and State Assemblies, is democracy in motion.  
True representatives of people present inside the legislature or outside it, play an important role in the functioning of the legislature. But democratic process should not be limited to that alone. Other elements  such as media, corporate lobbies and at times, even foreign governments (most pursuing narrow personal interest) influence the parliamentary process too.  However, leaders with mass following, even if outside Parliament are more central to democratic process. Let us not forget that the UPA government was forced to bring in Jan Lok Pal bill during the Anna Hazare led-India Against Corruption movement and was hurriedly passed right after AAP decimated Congress in Delhi Vidhan Sabha election. 

AAP has done what other parties have not been able to do in decades (not even communists after nearly 100 years)  not because it had abundance of funds or was harping on ultra-nationalist sentiment or anything that other parties would count on. It has been possible only because AAP's call for anti-corruption,non-communal and transparent politics found resonance in like minded Indians who found the campaign worth devoting time and effort towards, even if it meant leaving high paying jobs, business ventures and comfort to walk in the hostile streets of Amethi and Varanasi, interacting with the people, no fiery rhetorics but plain talks. Others in lesser known cities and rural areas were spreading the same message, spending money from their own pockets and braving hardship and at times difficult terrain. A year back, AAP had hardly any network of workers outside Delhi, even today it doesn't, but what it has is an all India body of volunteers networked by the idea of Swaraj. By definition, AAP has succeeded far more than any other party can imagine and it was won by the AApians and for the AAPians. 
So #ThankYouAAPians        



Posted By danish Ahmed 7:54 PM

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Curious Case Of Modi Acolytes

Why won't you support Modi ???
That's a question my friend actually posed! The answer lies embedded in the question. In a democracy, anyone who believes support needn't be won over and can simply be demanded, doesn't understand the essence of democracy. This mindset has previously be seen in Bajrang Dal, VHP, Shiv Sena cadres (feel free to add Musim, Christians radical groups  to do the balancing act :P) but now it seems to be spilling over to the educated middle class who may have been rightists from the beginning but refrained from making these kinds the of demands publicly.

Now, coming back to the question of supporting Modi, lets go through his accomplishments apart from his failure in fulfilling moral responsibility during the 2002 riots (since in legal process, the SIT has found no evidence of him being party to the massacre of Muslims after Godhra train carnage ).
As the Chief Minister, he cannot claim to be absolutely clean after his minister, Maya Kodnani was held guilty of slaughtering innocent people, by the court and has been sentences for life. In Tehelka tapes based on which both Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi were sentenced to life, there is not a single BJP/VHP/Bajrang Dal activist involved in riot who has not stated involvement of Modi. The SIT may have found evidence insufficient but there is little doubt in even his biggest followers mind that he is really uninvolved.  As a matter of fact, it is his claim to fame.

Posted By danish Ahmed 4:10 AM

Monday, April 14, 2014

Decontextualized Discourse: The Clean Chit

The clean chit in current discourse refers to a unique certificate of accomplishment or rather non-accomplishment of sorts which has a lot of relevance in the political landscape but as a political concept, it belongs far more to the lexicon of  Orwellian dystopia rather than in the cacophony of our chaotic democracy. When common folks are exonerated by a court of law, the act is referred to as acquittal,  however, if the person in the dock happens to be powerful a
nd rich, especially, politicians and businessmen the term then used is clean chit (largely an Indian English word). The clean chit when issued to a person entrusted with constitutional responsibilities, originally meant that the moral and characteral integrity of the person was beyond doubt and the person has fulfilled her/his constitutional and moral obligation. It had very little to do with laws and jurisprudence.  Ordinarily, when a person is not found guilty of having committed the crime he is accused of , s/he is declared "innocent" but in case of high profile politicians and businessmen the term innocent is seldom used by their followers, may be because the word appears more suited to apply to weaker individuals. Interestingly, the term "innocent" is seldom used, most likely because it is loosely associated with weakness.

Now what better example can there be on the question of clean chit, other than that of Narendra Modi, except that the clean chit given to him isn't clean at all! A detailed reading of the SIT report reveals the fact that Modi was left off not because he had acted impartially or according to his constitutional obligation but because of lack of evidence against him. However, the SC appointed amicus curiae in the final report stated that prima facie a case was being made out against Modi for promoting enmity between communities and threat to national integration. Besides, how can a Chief Minister claim to be clean when his Women and Child Development Minister is convicted of massacring innocent women and children, his aide being charged for triple murder and senior IPS officers languishing in jail for fake encounters.

However, I digress,in the original context, taint implied allegations only, it had more to do with morality than legality. When the allegations are proven, they become facts and the person is penalized. However, today "the clean chit" implies immunity from further legal prosecution, moral responsibility is no longer a factor. And worse, it also acts as a gate pass to climb to higher echelons of power using past wrongdoings as stepping stones. Again, Modi's political career encapsulates the essence of this contextualization. What is his claim to fame ? Even if we attribute the so-called "economic and infrastructure development in Gujarat" entirely to his leadership, the fact remains that he is known more for the allegations made against him related to Gujarat  riots of 2002. Ask yourself honestly, when did you first get to know his name ?   The answer most likely would be , in the aftermaths of the riots. By neither apologizing nor shedding his hardcore Hindutva avatar Modi keeps his hardliner support base intact. When talking with others he totally ignores the 2002 riots issue to give out the impression he is completely business oriented,

While it is apparent why he poses as a pan-Indian business friendly leader, Modi 's refusal to apologize for 2002 killings,  fake encounters (of alleged Muslim terrorists), his puppy remark and the like are aimed at ensuring support of ensuring that the traditional Hindutva votes which catapulted him to forefront remained with him. The "clean chit" is only supposed to silence his critics and attempt to get the top job without too many objections being made.

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:19 AM

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Decontextualized Discourse: The Curse Of 49

The avalanche of information this election season is not just diluting the political discourse but is also decontextualizing events, altering their meanings completely. The Aam Aadmi Party's phenomenal rise has been affected negatively as electoral campaigns reaches a feverish pitch, with personality cults, controversial statements and general mood of festivity drowning the more earthy issues taken up by the Aam Aadmi Party. As of yet, traditional parties, being unable to counter the very real stands taken by the Aam Aadmi Party had been attacking it for its lack of experience in governance and impracticability of its demands but now AAP government's resignation on 49th day of it assuming power in Delhi Assembly is being touted as vindication of their claims. It is nauseating to find even editorials of India's largest selling newspapers' mention AAP's 49 day stint as failure and abdication of responsibility.

Government Formation
The Delhi 2013 Assembly elections results not only threw a hung assembly but also a unique situation n which the three parties were so ideologically opposed to each other, that any genuine understanding between them was out of question or so it seemed then. Later on it transpired that Congress and BJP had unsaid agreement over several issues.


BJP on Friday asked Aam Aadmi Party, the second largest party in Delhi assembly with 28 seats, to form a government while assuring it of constructive cooperation in fulfilling its promises such as slashing tariff by 50 per cent and providing free water upto 700 litres daily. [Indian Express Dec 13th 2013]

  • AAP faced a dilemma; if it refused to form government, the two parties could accuse it of running away from responsibilities and also for having promised things in manifesto which couldn't be implemented. If AAP formed government, it wouldn't be able to bring sweeping changes without majority and thus still be discredited. Though both the Congress and the BJP promised to help AAP fulfill its pre-poll promise, there was little doubt on it being false promise.
  • Support for AAP's 18-point agenda was agreed upon by the Congress though the response bordered on ambiguity. 
  • Further, Arvind Kejriwal sought people's feedback through SMS campaign. In a political culture where people have to be paid money for even participating in a rally, 5 lakh Delhites SMSed in response to Kejriwal's call referendum and overwhelming majority was in favour of government formation.

Right after Kejriwal was sworn in, the BJP began a malicious campaign accusing AAP of going back against their pledge of having no trucks with the Congress, conveniently forgetting that even the BJP had offered issue based support at that point in time..

While the BJP's attack was from the front, the Congress had a more insidious agenda. Given the unique nature of NCT of Delhi's administrative structure, the AAP government was left with very little room to manoeuvre, leave alone bringing systemic change. With the high level of expectation from the AAP government and Union government tightening the shackles of technicalities, the situation was similar to being thrown into a boxing ring with your hands tied behind your back.

Resignation
That the AAP government had a limited lifespan was a foregone conclusion but the manner of it going out was still a matter of speculation. Arvind Kejriwal quit on his own terms after the Janlokpal bill was defeated in the assembly. However, with a sustained campaign by various stakeholders in the present order managed to bury AAP's achievements in those 49 days, only the resignation of Arvind Kejriwal was allowed to live in public memory and that too in a perverted form.

The media's focus is too short and too enamoured by sharp and vitriolic sound bytes made by popular political personalities to dwell on the way things played out after the Delhi elections and decisions taken by parties in view of constitutional propriety. The fact is that the Aam Aadmi Party had formed the government on assurance given by the Congress that it would support the passage of Janlokpal bill, the issue on which the movement had begun. After blocking the bill the Congress not only went against its commitment, it also proved that the AAP did not command confidence of the house and its constitutional obligation was to resign. Minority governments functioning through horse-trading or jugaad during the test of strength on the floor of the house may have been the norm in last two decades but AAP cannot follow the path and occupy the moral high ground that it does. 

Has personality-centric politics so diluted civil discourse that following the ethical and constitutional path is now seen as folly even by intellectuals ? Or has too much real-time information decontextualized events of  recent past, allowing them to be reinterpreted as part of the media wants it to ?


Posted By danish Ahmed 5:40 PM

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

SSPG For Modi

Congress leader Imran Masood's desire to kill Narendra Modi, which he expressed in a private gathering is alarming but what I accidentally came across is much more disturbing than the ranting of an ambitious but ill-educated political leader. If Google Search's auto-complete feature reflects the sentiment of large number of its users then what I found is scary indeed.












Combining this with reports of various terrorist agencies planning to assassinate him, raises serious concerns. Despite being the most protected man in India with his elite Gujarat police,  NSG security cover, and most importantly his own 56" chest, non-availability of SPG coverage might have negative impact on the morale and especially on those dimensions. The Union Government says that SPG Act restricts its duty to be extended to a Prime Ministerial candidate or anyone other than the Prime Minister of India and the former Prime Ministers and their families.

However there is no reason why another legislation cannot be made to make Modi more protected! There is an urgent need to create a force, SSPG for the security of the person more important than the Prime Minister and even the state of India. The Snooping Stalking Protection Group should use the very techniques and procedures that Gujarat police under the instruction of the then Home Minister (now murder-accused out on bail to engineer er....campaigns in UP ) Amit Shah followed to protect the lady architect ( from what?) .
In case you are unaware or have chosen to forget it,  a Cobrapost-Gulail joint expose of audio tapes few months back revealed that an 24x7 surveillance had been carried out against a young lady architect for a month or two. The operation was monitored by then Home Minister Amit Shah and involved officers from anti-terrorism squad, state intelligence, CID and even the Chief Minister Narendra Modi, referred to  as Saheb in the conversations. Not only where her phone conversations recorded, she physically followed and the operation involved spying upon  not only her but also her family members,fiancee and even a senior government official.
Interestingly, after the expose the BJP did not deny the allegations at all, instead it produced  an undated letter by the girl's father that the surveillance was being carried upon his own request, for her personal safety! The implication that
However, preposterous it may sound, that still remains the argument put forward by the BJP in response to questions related to this. So to ensure safety and security of such a great leader from threat - however real , exaggerated  or even imaginary they may be, it is of paramount national importance that an identical security apparatus be put in place. Since, Modi is already the most protected person in the country, the SSPG would have  to be much bigger to function covertly  but it would be a small price to pay for the protection of a leader who would simply wave his wand and we would be ridiculing China for its slow economic growth.

Of course, the great leader should never have any idea of the security system deployed or the very purpose would be defeated.

Fool's Day Special

Posted By danish Ahmed 2:00 AM

Friday, January 31, 2014

Are Gov 2.0 and E-Governance Synonymous ?


Picking up the thread from my last post, it seems , Indian politicians do see the tremendous power of the Internet but only for self-propaganda. That would explain the huge amount of money they spend on social media campaigns but not an iota of grey matter to think how the same technology can be leveraged for strengthening the democracy.  It reflects the attitude of the political class of viewing the electorate as subjects to be ruled, herded through carrot and sticks and not as the collective sovereign they are part of and represent. Even when information sharing becomes imperative, it is done in a manner so as to make its consumption, a bland and difficult experience. Visit any government website and you are likely to find the interface incredibly outdated. It almost reminds you of rows of somber looking, bespectacled babus tapping keyboards monotonously, almost like the machine they are staring into.

However, the websites exist, exist like numerous contradictions that make India unique. Another example would be the $35 tablet Aakash that the Ministry of Human Resource Development promoted and got global fame, even if there have been hiccups. But at the same time the ministry's websites itself isn't mobile compatible. As a matter of fact, for the first time, in 15 years, I have come across a website that restricts others from linking to it ! The National Portal of India website is quite  upto the mark and does encourage linking and solicits feedback (I don't think they would like this feedback :p) but ironically links from it to detail information on e-governance either returns "page not found" status or a security alert by Firefox (the reason could be that the pages have been moved from National E-Governance Plan to Initiatives but the links have not been updated).



 Now is e-governance the same as Gov 2.0 ?

I don't think so. E-governance is about using the electronic medium to extend governance, typically governamental stuff, a one-way route. Gov 2.0 concept is about participation of private players, innovation not authority should determine the course of action. Transparency and access to information the poorest as well as those living in the remotest corner of the country should be the first step forward. Smart phones, tablets, Internet may seem luxury items used mainly by the urban middle class and higher, but the same applied to mobile phones too, Initially, the mobile phone was a rich person's accessory, gradually the middle class adopted it but it was only after those in lowest rung started using mobile phones that a change in livelihood, lifestyle and outlook came to be perceived. Ironically, despites its numerous advantages cell phones were and are cheaper, require less resources, investment and even effort in procuring one.  Similarly, providing Internet enabled devices and providing coverage in remote areas can much cheaper if done in the proper manner. If EVM can be taken to the remotest part of the country, kiosks offering other information can also be installed to provide better access to people.

 Further, the major milestones in the history of technology have always been invention of newer means of transport and communication. The ark, wheel, papyrus, Gutenberg printing,railroads and metalled roads, the telephone and the Internet, gave mankind the power to take quantum leaps, every time covering several times more ground than before but spending much lesser. Perhaps the government should prioritize extending Internet accessibility even the remotest corner of the country and wait upon instead of concentrating on e-governance initiatives.  In instances such as soliciting bidding from contractors online has been great tool in fighting against corruption. But devoting money and resources for certain public welfare measures, using the Internet, it could let the new breed of social entrepreneur do it. Concern for security of data shared, is futile as long as those very data are available as public data in hard copy or is dynamically served on web. During the ongoing election in India the web is being used for endorsement only. I haven't come across any information specifically related to leveraging Internet to help the poor and  marginalized communities, instead what comes across chest-thumping, back-patting and  appealing for votes.

In my earlier post I wrote about Election Commission of India's bid to tie up with Google and how the idea was crushed by politicians. True India based-companies may be given priority when outsourcing such projects but is there a single Indian company which has a user-base that is even remotely close to Google, Facebook or Twitter ?  Even a cursory glance at Google Civic should reveal the fact that there is no scope of secretive or partisanship in the proposed services. It is aimed solely at empowering voters and even leaders as long as they are for the people's benefit. Check this out.

https://developers.google.com/civic-information/docs/us_v1/elections/voterInfoQuery

Posted By danish Ahmed 8:10 PM

Sunday, January 26, 2014

ECI-Google Deal Failure Points To India's Contradictory Open Data Policy

Talks of collaboration between the Election Commission of India and Google to provide voter facilitation services ahead of Lok Sabha polls have fallen through with the Election Commission declining to go ahead with the plan. Opposition to the proposal by the Congress and BJP, two parties stuck in their own time-warps is understandable but so-called cybersecurity experts raising security concerns is intriguing.  The fact that Snowden expose has been referred to as one of the arguments in the context is more than ironic. In information age, being cautious while sharing data with foreign-based companies is natural but knee-jerk reaction can be very counter-productive.

Posted By danish Ahmed 8:20 AM

Thursday, January 16, 2014

AAPidemic: The Socio-Political Epidemic of India

Not a day passes by without any of the leading newspapers of India not carrying a column on AAP by one intellectual or the other. While overwhelming number of these news columns hail AAP as having surpassed expectations and for making a positive impact on political culture of India, these statements usually end with a "but" clause followed by an advice,apprehension,warning on how a particular party line could damage its future prospects. Right from the day AAP was formed to this very day, nearly everyone in the habit of writing, articulating personal opinion to the public, from political pundits to part-time bloggers (including this one) have been speculating self-convincingly that the "next" step of this new party is too risky and may boomerang, yet nothing of that sort has happened. The AAP phenomenon is truly unprecedented but perhaps there is something more, something that doesn't fall into any of the categories we know.

Is it epistemic contempt ?   AAP's successes continue to prove that the experts, who have been studying all the equations, examining the numerous variables so painstakingly are being proved wrong continuously. Electoral results turning out contrary to the psephologist's predictions are indeed victories for democratic system but the entire methodology being proved wrong is quite embarrassing. So despite genuine admiration, a bit of skepticism, cynicism and even hostility continues to creep into columns and  statements on TV. One has to presume that lot if not most of these mixed messages are genuine appraisal. But this too raises another question, why would rational and intellectually honest people hold the opinion that they do.

There may not a a single, satisfactory answer to this question, it is a fact that Kejriwal has continued to represent himself as a common person through symbolic gestures, oration and his government's policies, but there have always been people like him, perhaps it is because Kejriwal has offered less and not more that sets him apart and also triggered a phenomenon that most people find difficult to define. A flashback into the genesis of the movement, may shed some light.

Less than a year back, the media was rife with speculations on whether the 2014 election would take place in the shadow of Narendra Modi or of Rahul Gandhi. Loyal Congressmen anticipated their reluctant messiah to finally lead them to deliverance. Sangh cheerleaders sang of a Modi wave, even tried hard at manufacturing it and therein lay the fault. Waves are laud,powerful even spectacular but have a relatively tiny lifespan and ultimately crash on meeting the shore. In the information age, ideas are contagious. More importantly, positive, constructive ideas are more contagious than highly emotive but shallow ones. The ideas of the Aam Aadmi Party spread like a highly resilient pathogen creating a social epidemic as Malcolm Gladwell would say. As a matter of fact, I believe Modi's campaign managers have tried to create strategy keeping Malcolm Gladwell's best seller, The Tipping Point in mind (but can't substantiate in this post), but can say it didn't turn out that way at all. People joining the AAP in droves without any incentive or even persuasion is symptomatic of spread of a contagious disease rather than political movement.

Gladwell lays down three characteristics of an epidemic-
Contagiousness - This is quite different from carefully thought over behavior, when newspapers describe the idea of AAP going viral, it can also be read as a phenomenon of ideas spreading like jungle fire but travelling beneath the surface. Isn't that  similar to how a biological virus works.

Small is Big- Little causes have big effects. The AAP grew out of IAC, the movement launched to
pressurize the government to pass the Jan Lokpal bill. In itself, it wasn't even tackling corruption in all forms. Anna Hazare's immediate call was to pass a particular bill, no one believed it was a magic pill that would eradicate corruption from the country. Arvind Kejriwal's electoral plank wasn't building India a military superpower or promise of billion dollar schemes nor was it about eradicating poverty at one stroke. He talked about cheap water, electricity, on diverting resources meant for the lavish lifestyles of the VIPs
towards welfare of the poor. These promises also had "Stickiness Factor" but to a  lesser extent. Corrupt politicians storing their ill-gotten wealth in Swiss banks, is big, it does infuriate the public but mostly in that instant or later when there is a context. Kejriwal laying down documents describing how water/electricity price is high because of endemic corruption remains in public memory persistently.

Change Happens in One Dramatic Moment - This doesn't need explanation. The AAP's phenomenal rise began with its impressive performance in Delhi Assembly poll results. Once the party had shown its capability to win election, there has been an avalanche of support, people from every section of population are lining up to join the party.

Epidemics have a limited lifespan too but they also have a way of reshuffling our priorities and restructuring society, thus leaving their marks behind which can be a blessing in disguise. Something similar to epidemiological transition, except that diseases and sickness can replaced by government policies and general social behavior. The biggest epidemic in human history was the the Black Death in  14th century Europe and parts of Asia,which claimed lives of a significant portion of global population. The Plague killed about 30% to 60% of European population but the social upheaval in its aftermath also contributed new thoughts,reforms and ultimately Renaissance. Thankfully, social epidemic is about ideas not diseases and hopefully the deaths will be those of undemocratic practices, corruption and discrimination and the aftermath bring about systemic change.

That would explain why the AAP effect defies conventional wisdom, it may appear chaotic but there is an order that we are able to perceive but not understand (at least I am unable to). Perhaps it is some sort of collective consciousness, not spiritual or metaphysical but purely anthropological with cyber space being a part of it. While similar phenomena are taking place across the world from Cairo to Manila,the happening in Delhi and rest of India is bit different in that there is no precedence to it. The two national parties are making every  effort to discredit the AAP but the most important part they forget or rather, never noticed is that this is indeed a movement of the common people. Established political parties are known to bribe and ferry people in trucks or dumpers to showcase support. Today, lakhs of people from diverse sections of the society are lining up for membership of the Aam Aadmi Party. Parties  distribute TVs, laptops and other freebies for vote but after the Delhi Assembly election results, 5 lakh people actually sent SMS in response to Kejriwal's call for referendum.

What this really means is that Kejriwal is correct when he says even if CM, he is still a common man, representing other common people. The Congress and the BJP attacking the AAP government in Delhi, attempting to bring down top leadership of the party may be a futile exercise, Arvind represents the movement, he  doesn't take credit for it. Before the AAP was formed, Anna Hazare was phenomenally popular during the protests against corruption but he disassociated himself from the newly formed party, the party did not go down but Anna's media coverage decreased but the party's popularity increased. So its time that other politicians, intellectuals, media person understand that this is a socia-political epidemic, it may not last for decades but regardless of who is in charge it will run its full course.    

Note: This post was composed nearly 2 weeks back but wasn't published, it doesn't take into account recent events. But nonetheless, my opinion remains the same :)

Posted By danish Ahmed 9:03 PM