Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012: Links of the Month

* Hill, David (2012): 8,200+ Strong, Researchers Band Together To Force Science Journals To Open Access, URL -

* Etymology: Tikhana = Feudal holding of a Thakur!

* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): THE SIN OF LITTLENESS, IE 29May12 - URL -
- Contagion of small-mindedness...mismatch between responsibility and the character of those being called to exercise it.
- Behind every economic problem lies a political one...behind most political problems there is a psychological one, a set of inchoate sentiments that undrlie action: insecurities that warp judgement, fears that lead to inhibition, pettiness that leads to destruction.

* Subramanian, Samanth (2012): The Outlier - The inscrutable politics of Subramanian Swamy, Caravan 1May12 - URL -

* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): COMIC STRIPPED, IE 16May12 - URL -
- ...Reflects the ultimate triumph of sullenness over humour, cowardice over liberty, conformism over individuality.
- Part of the problem is that we become defenders of free intellectual inquiry only when someone else’s sentiments are outraged.
- There are several reasons:
(1) most community identities in our politics are constituted by a narrative of victimhood
(2) the things that unite groups are icons, not thought. Thought is dangerous, because it can potentially create disagreements...For icons to live thought has to die; for Gods to be worshipped their presence has to be abstract.
(3) we have a public culture that produces two different kinds of insecurities - The first is political insecurity...The second insecurity is that our intellectual cultures don’t have a shared basis for conversation. Like politicians, our authority has also been established by group think rather than shared protocols of professional excellence.

* Varshney, Ashutosh (2012): ARE THE STATES TOO STRONG? IE, 24May12 p10 - URL  -
- At the time of the French Revolution less than 50% of Frenchmen spoke French
- SL&Y - 'If states have strong teritorially based diversity, they need to internalise the state-nation, not the nation-state concept
- The simultaneous persuit of recognising diversity and building unity is not an easy task

* Raghavan, Srividhya (2012): Imprisoning the consumer behind a digital firewall, The Hindu, 23 May 12 -
- Digital Rights Management

* Sollo Chaudhury: The Indian who drove around the world in 80 days. Then, when the British Army beat his record by 40 days, he went to regain his GBWR title by driving around the world in 39 days!

* Kerala Budget 2012: Nearly Bankrupt But High Education Spends - Deccan Chronicle (12Jan12) -
-  total overseas remittance was approximately Rs 50,000 crore in 2011.
Unemployment rates in rural Kerala were as high as 15.8% in 2004-05 even though it eased to 9% in 2009-10. The corresponding figures for urban areas were 19.9% and 8.3% respectively.

* Tiwari, Shivanand (2012): WHAT IS YOUR CASTE?, IE 7May12 p10
- Bangau Laxman and K.Balakrishnan are being prosecuted because they are Dalits (article by Bihari Brahmin!)

* Nair, Karthika (2012): Poems -- Uttaraa- Life Sentences, The Caravan 5May12 -

* PIB - Trends in Unemployment -
> Urban highest - Tripura 17%, Nagaland 9%, Kerala
> rural highest - Chandigadh 24%, Nagaland 10%

* Desai, Megnad (2012): Respectfully Yours, IE 6May12, Indian Express Eye, 6 May12 -
- The British newspapers watch their MPs like hawks. It was they who discovered the scandal of MPs’ expenses and pursued the matter relentlessly till four MPs had to go to jail....They are mocked at, lampooned, reviled and treated like cases fit for the lunatic asylum. 

* Khan (2012): Symphony for Kabul, Indian Express, Sunday Eye -


- TED - Brenda Braithwaite: Gaming for Understanding

- TED - Joe Smith: How to Use a Paper Towel 

- TED - Larry Smith: Why you will fail your career

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Valorization of Expediency?

What on earth is "valorization of expediency"??

I always look forward to reading OpEd articles by Bhanu Pratap Mehta. In his latest piece, 'Sin of Littleness', he discusses a 'contagion of small-mindedness' in public life. He laments that ideas have been replaced by vendettas, the future with past resentments, constructive engagement with rank cynicism.

Without dwelling on specifics, he discusses the sense of insecurity among our leaders and their loss of authority. So far so good...but the subsequent analyses talks of 'formations of power', 'zeitgist which equates expediency with innovation...expediency redounding on itself', and, finally, the last straw - 'valorization of expediency'.

By now the newspaper in my hand feels like a heavy academic journal, and the big words remind me of Amitabh Bachchan in Amar Akbar Antony.

What was BPM trying to say?

If one goes back to the words with a dictionary in hand, it could mean, "to give a value to self-serving means".

That is some progress but I am not there yet...


NB: According to Google, this expression also figures in a literary article titled, Stephen Cope - As if Objectivist: Oppen’s Political Epistemophelia: "...Ezra Pound’s valorization of the expediency for poetry of ideogrammic script is only the most exemplary of High Modernist bids...". 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Birds

How many birds can be spotted on a Delhi summer morning?

White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrensis)

Indian Robin

Rosy Starlings??

Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus)

House Sparrow

Ashy Prinia

Crested Lark (female)

Purple Sunbird (male)

Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)

Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis)

Others in the spotted-but-not-shot category:
  • White-brown Bush Robin (Tarsinger indicus)
  • Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)
  • Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris)
  • Common Hoopoe (Upupa epops - wonder what the Latin means?!?)
  • Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopacea)
  • Rose-ringed Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)
  • Indian Swiftlet (Collocalia unicolor)
  • White-rumped Needletail (Zoonavena sylvatica
  • Hume's Owl (Strix butleri) --- not sure: to be confirmed
  • Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)
  • Yellow-footed Green Pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera)
  • Shikra (Accipiter badius)
  • Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus)
  • House Crow (Crovus splendens)
  • Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)
  • Asian Brown Flycatcher (Muscicapa dauurica--- not sure: to be confirmed

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nation-States vs. State-Nations

. India has always defied conventional definitions of a Nation-State. Accoording to Max Weber (Politics as a Vocation), a State is a "a sovereign entity (that rules itself), within a defined/specific territory (in defined borders), that holds a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in the enforcement of its order". Since it just about meets all the three criteria it qualifies to be called a "State". However, a Nation is a body of people who share a real or imagined common history, culture, identity, religion, morality, language, traditions, ethnicity or ethnic origin. It is here that things get a bit wobbly. There is not much that is shared across the whole subcontinent. And yet, it would be quite absurd to claim that India is not a Nation, let alone a Nation-State. So, if available theories does not match with existing realities, you need to have new theories and concepts. This is exactly what is being done by Alfred Stepan, Juan Linz and Yogendra Yadav through their book, "Crafting State-Nations: India and Other Multinational Democracies". The authors invert the common, hyphenated term 'Nation-States' into 'State-Nations' to explain the dominant role played by the State in forging national identities. It makes so much more sense, if you think about it: Otto von Bismarck used his guns & cannons to unite all the Germanic tribes into a State-Nation, and then went on to enforce a common identity through a common, compulsary education system and by creating new symbols of national identity. The exact same model was used by the Meiji oligarchs to unite Japan's warring factions. Ditto with Garibaldi's Italy.

In all these cases, statesmen forged states and then, nations. Once a national identity was ready, new 'nation-states' emerged. In India the process seems to be happening at a slower pace, without much of the internal turmoil or wars that accompanied the European and Japanese experience. The credit for this should perhaps be equally shared between the national civil & military services, Bollywood, the national-level universities and sports.


* Varshney, Ashutosh (2012): ARE THE STATES TOO STRONG? IE, 24May12 p10 - URL - 
* Wiki -

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Ambedkar Cartoons

What was the big fuss about a 60-year-old cartoon being published in a school textbook?

This illustration by Shankar had led, not only to the disruption of Parliamentary proceedings but also to widespread - and at times violent - protests across the country. Things cooled down after a quick, abject apology was issued by the concerned minister, along with promises to make some amends.

My own views on this issue were reflected in another cartoon put out by Manjul:

The matter ended there - or so I thought - until I came across a thought-provoking piece by S. Anand in the Indian Express (24 May-2012). He pulls out an interview published by WSJ in which Manika Sharma, principal of Delhi's elite Shri Ram School gives expression to some of the most deep-rooted, self-defeating biases in Indian society.

Anand's article clearly drives home the point that 'images and symbols tend to have a stronger impact than words'. Worth reading.



* Anand, S (2012): A Different Reading, Indian Express, 24 May 2012, URL -

* Anand, Geeta (2011): Class Struggle: India's Experiments in Schooling Tests Rich and Poor, Wall Street Journal, 4 June 2011, URL -

Monday, May 21, 2012

One Round

Today, after a gap of nearly twenty years, I found myself inside the Indian Parliament building. While walking along the pillared, circular corridor I wondered: How much distance would you be covering in one round?

It is exactly 490m, according to the measuring 'tape' available on Google Earth.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

UID Project: The Task of Verifying Authenticity

Under Budget 2012, the Finance Ministry has allocated Rs.17.58 billion for enrolling 400 million more people into India's Unique Identity Project (UID). If all goes well we hope to have a national database covering the entire 1.20 billion population of India. If it succeeds we expect to have a more efficient public distribution system (PDS) for those who need it most - the poorest of India's poor.

It is a big 'if' -  especially when you look at the challenges of validating such a huge database. Even if the state manages to reach out and persuade each citizen to apply for a UID card, how will the database be managed and maintained?

The process of authentication would require each and every applicant to be cross-checked for duplications amongst all previous records. With each individual's biometric data taking about 5MB the entire database is expected to have at least six petabytes (6,000 terabytes, or 6,000,000 gigabytes), making it among the world’s largest databases.

The dairy industry provides an interesting analogy. In large collection centers, milk is stored in vertical silos. In order to avoid wastage of storage-space to froth & foam, milk is pumped in from the bottom of the tank .With each additional liter pumped in, you have to deal with the pressure exerted by the weight of milk already in the tank. Thus it takes a greatest amount of power to pump in the 99999th litre into such a tank.

How much computing power - and time - would it take to verify the authenticity of the 1,199,999,999,999 UID applicant in India?

Context of the UID Project:
  • India has a population of about 1.2 billion,  spread across 32,87,263 sq. km.; more than 35.16 per cent being illiterate (2001 census) and speaking 22 different languages, and following various religions
  • The cost of the project without considering the recurring cost at around INR 15 lakh crore (US $33.33 billion) (Hindu, 2009)
  • A guesstimate as reported by the  Frontline magazine put the cost of the project without considering the recurring cost at around INR 15 lakh crores (US $33.33 billion)
  • The Indian government is expected to spend as much  as $250 billion over five years on programmes aimed at the poor, including subsidies for food, diesel, fertilizer, and jobs. But 40 per cent of the benefits, as the system now stands, will go to the wrong people or to "ghosts" with fake identification papers.
  • The estimated cost of the Phase-I and Phase-II of the project spread over five years is Rs.3170.32crore. Of this amount, Rs.147.31 crore comprises the cost of Phase-I of the project and Rs.3023.01 crore is the estimated cost of Phase-II of the project.
  • Around five megabytes of data will be required to store the compressed fingerprint images (of all the 10 fingers) of each individual, requiring the size of the entire database to be at least six petabytes (6,000 terabytes, or 6,000,000 gigabytes), making it among the world’s largest databases

Dass, Rajanish (2012): Unique Identity Project in India: A Divine Dream or a Miscalculated Heroism? IIMA Working Papers, 4 March 2011

Jebaraj, Priscilla (2012): Double boost for Aadhaar: funds and PM's endorsement, The Hindu, 17 March 2012, URL -

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nilgai & Shades of Grey

A Nilgai (Litt. 'Blue-Cow'- Boselaphus tragocamelushas been foraging in our neighborhood for the past few week. Every time I see I see this magnificent wild animal, I wonder if I am color blind.

I see shades of grey, brown, black and white (on the hoofs) but at no point during the day or night does it look blue in color...why then is this antelope called a Nilgai??

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Taking-off on Development Fees

Starting today passengers at Delhi airport will see a  346% rise in 'tax' in the form of User Development Fees (UDF). Who exactly is the 'user' here? How did we come to have such a huge hike?

The story starts in 2003 when the Airports Authority of India (AAI) was permitted to levy a 'Development Fee' under the AAI Act 2003 (Sec.22a). The funds thus collected were to be used for creating newer airports and developing facilities at existing ones under AAI. Three years later, in 2006, AAI signed an agreement with GMR for renovation of the international airports at Delhi and Mumbai by DIAL and MIAL respectively. Under this agreement, revenue was to be shared on a 46:54 basis between AAI and DIAL/MIAL.

Then came the Airports Authority Regulatory Act (AERA) in 2008. Even while AERA was finding its feet, the private developers complained that they were unable to make ends meet with the 54% revenue-share. The Ministry of Civil Aviation sympathized with this view and decided to permit DIAL and MIAL to collect a fee from passengers to make up for the alleged shortage of revenue.

In the two years that followed (2009-2011), DIAL and MIAL collected Rs.1481 cr and Rs.800 cr respectively. This move was opposed recently through a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by two NGOs challenging this 'tax collection' by private companies and the Supreme Court responded with a ban on the collection of DF. The judgement clarified that the DF could be collected only a a rate decided by the regulatory authority (AERA). Also the DF could be used only for upgrading existing facilities.

In response, the civil aviation ministry has brought out an amendment in the subordinate legislation, authorizing AERA to collect and deposit the money into an escrow account.

So, the 'use' who needs to be 'developed' in this case is the private company which has managed to extract favorable terms from the government. The government, in turn, has passed on the burden to all passengers landing or taking-off from Delhi.

But what exactly is AAI doing with its 46% share of revenues?....This continues to be a mystery for now.


Balagopal KN (2012): UPA Subverting Role of Parliament (India Current Affairs, 8 May 2012) -

Rajya Sabha Opposes Hike in Delhi Airport User Charges (First Post, 18 May 2012) -

Jigeesh AM( 2012): Government wants Rs 1481 cr airport development fee back from DIAL, India Today 5 Jan. 2012, URL -

AERA raised airport charges by 346 per cent, airlines protest (Economic Times, 25 April 2012) -