Friday, August 29, 2008

India in Olympics : Its getting better all the time

India scored their first (& only) individual gold medal in Beijing 2008 Olympics when 24 year old Abhinav Bindra shot his way in 10 mtr. rifle shooting leaving the silver medallist Chinese literally breaking down in tears. Although India’s overall medal tally of 3 is way behind China’s superlative performance of 100, India’s relative progress over the last 4 Olympics has given the citizens a cause to cheer.

India’s ranking in medals tally has progressed from 77th in Atlanta’1996 to 50th in Beijing 2008 as given below.

1996 Atlanta 77th
2000 Sydney 74th
2004 Athens 67th
2008 Beijing 50th

Recently another chart is doing the rounds on the web,which ranks countries by total medals per population . Jamaica tops the list and India is ranked 55th not far behind China at 49th. Similarly in ranking by gold medals per population ,Jamaica tops the list , India is ranked 55th and China at 47th .

However, in another chart where nations are ranked by medals per "per-capita GDP" , India’s ranking shoots up to 11th just behind Jamaica at 10th with China at 2nd place & North Korea at top. When only gold medals are taken into account, the same ranking holds except that Jamaica is at 7th position.

Are these continuously improving results then a vindication of the fact that post-1991 liberalisation & subsequent economic growth of India is showing upon the Olympic medals tally too?

By 2020, if India manages to double its per-capita GDP ( with an annual growth of 8-9% & net population growth of 1.6 to 2%), will we be able to catch up China in medals tally ?

What do you think ?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Young, meritorious ,middle-class & want to be an IITian? Get out of India.

The reservation juggernaut in IITs seems to roll on continuously. The outcome of the recent meeting of the IIT directors in Kharagpur yesterday was to lower by 50% the cut-off marks for entry of reserved category students through all India Joint Entrance Examination. The idea ostensibly is to fill up the reserved category seats in the IIT.

But then merit? Who cares!

Read this with another recent incident in IIT Delhi, where 3 students admitted under the reserved category were allowed to continue their studies in spite of the fact that these students failed to perform in the engineering examinations. Mind you, engineering is a subject, where it is difficult to fail unless one is a complete duffer or a conspicuous consumer of mind-altering drugs . Presumably, the IIT director succumbed to the dictates of the HRD ministry led by a self-appointed social-reformer , a senile minister , whose only avenue for such reforms is corruption of carefully nurtured national institutions (like the IITs) through large-scale reservations .

What about a national policy for quality primary education for all & a policy for recruiting thousands of faculty to meet that demand to enable merit to come up across the length & breadth of the country? Where is the cess in income tax for primary education going to ? Who knows ? Maybe , its going to the subsidy of LPG or petrol or waiver of farmers’ loans or for buying MPs of other parties.

A few weeks back, the IIT directors had agreed to reservations in all categories (totalling 50%) , in all streams of engineering for faculty aspirants too. Although the reservation has been limited to the entry level ; for sure , the cut-off marks for selection of such faculty would have been reduced too.

One would have thought that the direction of social reform should be abolition of caste & not reservation of caste. This is indeed a warped way of thinking.

The directors of IIT, by nature of their appointment , are answerable only to the ministry . Gone are the days when IITs could be proud of personalities like Prof. Gyan Ghosh (first director of IIT-KGP, which was modelled after MIT) or Prof. Indiresan of IIT Madras , who had a mind of their own and took their job of institution-building seriously.

The present lot of Directors by the very nature of their pro-reservation actions are displaying their weak-kneed personalities and complete disregard for upholding the meritorious character of the IITs. With poor quality of students & faculty to dominate the population in IIT shortly; IITs are set for a rapid decline in standards.

Perhaps this is an eventuality that was waiting to come . For long, IITs have remained an exotic island of merit, known world over for their students & aspired by every educated middle class family having kids with above-average intelligence. Surrounded by institutions of average calibre , jealous non-performers, social-reform activists with the IQ of morons & politicians who pimp the prostitutions of poverty & misery ; it was inevitable that the walls of IIT will crumble under pressure. And what better way to do that than by putting agents of “social change” in the positions of Directors.

So, if you are a young student aspiring to study engineering and have merit with money ; do not waste your time in this country. Apply for the best in the world of universities in USA, Europe & even in China ; take a loan in case you are from a middle class background & short of funds ;get a scholarship and MOVE. Believe me, your pain today will be your gain in the future. The Grade-A university in a country which respects merit is meant for you.

The curse of the (Indian) middle class

Shashi Tharoor in his recent article in the TOI makes an important point about expectations of the people of USA & India, two of the largest democracies, from their politicians. He says
" 1. An American politician is expected to attain standards that American voters do not demand of themselves and their neighbours: would-be elected officials in America are simply not permitted to display the weaknesses that ordinary Americans suffer from...
2. the Indian middle-class expects politicians to behave in ways we would not tolerate in our own families or neighbours. Politicians are not merely assumed to be sanctimonious, insincere and hypocritical, but it's also taken for granted that they must be unprincipled, sleazy and venal. We do not seek a neat and ordered political world: we accept one that is messy, chaotic, devious"

Shashi's comment is almost echoed by Subroto Mukherjee leader from the Congress Party & ex-Mayor of Kolkata , who states in an article in Anadabazar Patrika that , " politics (in India) is all about increasing the vote bank. A pragmatic party will walk that path which would increase his votes ...politicians have not come to do charity........its all about a power game where power equates with mass support ......wherever the mass is , politicians will go there"

That was a reality check.

Who ever thought that politics is about public service and every political party should at least have a stated ideology for serving the fundamental needs of the people of his land?

Shashi's article states that Indian middle class unlike their American counter-parts do not have higher expectations of their politicians. Shashi forgets that Indian middle class;though enlightened ,law abiding & tax-paying citizens of the country; has a very insignificant say in the politics of the nation. To the extent, the middle class is dispensable to the political elite. In the world of representative politics, this trend is only going to get stronger. Communities such as Dalits, Gujjars & Muslims will seize their opportunity for representation in National Institutions like the IITs, IIMs, IIScs & even MNCs through reservations. Marginalised & state-terrorised communities like the Kashmiris, Gorkhas, Nagas & Manipuris will demand rights of self-rule bordering on secession. So on & so forth.

The middle class be damned.

Reality check.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Table Tennis -a Chinese puzzle

Ma Wang Wang;
Zhang Wang Gou.

That's not a Chinese slang but the first names of the Chinese medal winners (men & women, 6 of them all) in Beijing Olympics 2008. China swept the top three medals in both the men and women sections of Table Tennis. While the results do not raise eyebrows anymore 'cos people expect Chinese to win them anyway; but what is amazing is that the dominance of Chinese is going on for last 4 decades. The penhold grip , open-backhand , amazing speed with spin & power still continue to dazzle & puzzle the top paddlers of the world.
Now its become a sustainable world-class sport in China where ex-world champions coach the next generation talents. The passion of a common Chinese for table tennis is enormous. I remember during my final year in engineering in Kharagpur, I use to practise with an owner of a Chinese restaurant,"Far East". We started knocking around a bit initially and then later it would be a daily afternoon affair at the IIT gymkhana. For two hours we never talked , just played TT and then departed. Again it would start the next day. And all through the initiative to sweat was solely his as I was more content to lay back the few remaining days in KGP.
My impression then was that the Chinese strive for perfection in whatever they do and will even die just striving for that. Their tenacity, hard work, punctuality, geniality and above all their love for the game is enormous.
Anthropologists should make a study on Chinese paddlers to discover the secret in their DNA that make them world beaters for last 40 years.
(In picture : Ma Lin, the gold medal winner in action in Beijing 2008 )

Friday, August 22, 2008

Singur Stalemate : Speed breaker hits Nano, Tata Motor’s “wonder” small-sized car

About 7 months back Ratan Tata announced to the world that the next technological revolution after Internet has come out of his company’s lab. A Rs.100,000/- ($2,500) small-sized, fully featured car (unique in terms of price/features ratio) is ready to roll out in October’2008 from Tata Motor’s new plant located at Singur, West Bengal. Every year around 300,000 NANOs ( brand name of the car) , will roll out from their plant , that has been built on 1000 acres of prime agricultural land , acquired (and later leased out to the Tatas for 90 years) by the communist government of West Bengal. The cost of investment : Rs. 15 billion.

Little did Ratan Tata realise that half a year hence the situation will be so different that he would have to call a press conference and threaten to quit the project from West Bengal, if his employees feel insecure and unsafe under the threat of continuous violence at Singur, where political equations have changed in favour of the opposition party , Trinamul Congress , since the last panchayat elections held in the intervening period.

The item of dispute at this point of time is the 400 acres of land which the opposition party leader, Mamata Bannerjee claims has been forcibly acquired by the state government helped by a stong police force and hence should be returned to the unwilling farmers. The Tatas claim that this 400 acres of land is meant for ancillary factories supplying components to the Nano mother plant and has been incorporated to reside next to the mother plant to reduce logistics & transportation costs. Hence, it is impossible according to the Tatas to return this land. It is better to quit.
The "apparently-benevolent" broker in this project is the ruling Left Front Government {a coalition of 7-8 left parties largely dominated by CPI(M) } led by its Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya . The communist government of West Bengal ruling for the last 3 decades have suddenly realised the importance of industrialisation in the last 2-3 years (having earlier forced out industries thanks to its militancy that it practised in the name of worker’s rights and trade unionism) & wanted to usher in a showcase project in the state to revive industrialisation as well as their dwindling electoral fortunes in the state. The government allegedly pulled out all kinds of sops (from low priced land to tax waivers) & forcibly displaced livelihood of marginal farmers ; in order to bring Nano, the “new wonder” of the world, to West Bengal. The state government having acquired the land is now citing the law to prove that land once acquired for "public purpose" can't be returned.

Thus the project has hit a stalemate. Trinamool Congress, which recently trounced the leftists in the local Panchayat elections, has threatened to launch an indefinite agitation at the plant-site from 24th August unless 400 acres of land are returned to its electorates.

While one can dispute Ratan Tata’s egoistic claims of a technological revolution in Nano or Buddhadeb’s forcible acquisition of farmer’s land at cheap prices under an archaic 1894 act or Mamata’s self-glorifying politics of exploitation of the farmer’s situation ; no body is sure how this stalemate will end .

Whether Nano will at all come out of Singur or whether West Bengal will see an end to politics of violence, Bandhs & road-blocks & return to prosperity ? Who knows?

For sure, this issue of forcible acquisition of prime agricultural land & consequent displacement of livelihood for the purpose of development , will change the history of India’s dealing with developmental politics.

As one creep quipped that the only solution, however improbable it may sound , is to get Ratan Tata married to Mamata Bannejee under the secular marriage act (both being unmarried, the first a Parsi & the second a Hindu ) where Buddhadeb Bhattacharya (being in the government) can perform the rituals of a marriage registrar.

Also read :The end of Singur stalemate over Nano