Monthly Archives: September 2014

Much Ado about nothing

An absolutely objective political analysis of politics is impossible. The analyst himself gets in the way. This writer included

The current by- polls too have drawn the ‘perennially embarrassed Hindu’ and the ‘permanently outraged secularist’ into beating themselves about ‘Hindutva’ or gloating ‘I told you so’ respectively

However politics works quite differently. It must be stated that the circumstances under which political events unravelled up until the 2014 General election are not replicated currently and therefore the context is important

A few pointers:

Narendra Modi’s election was not about a Hindu transformation into ‘Hindutva’. It was about a consolidation of caste vote to defeat the congress and its allies. People were bored of the UPA and did not see their larger interests being helped by the Congress old guard, the dynasty, Rahul, Akhilesh and Stalin.This general election was not about Hindutva

Hindu political groupings are ‘caste’ based for all practical political purposes and not religious. The so called Hindu consolidation was temporary.

However to assume that this phenomenon has ended forever and people have given a ‘resounding slap’ to such instincts is misguided. The Ram Mandir movement saw a similar consolidation(That was Hindutva) and the same may happen again for a different set of reasons. It would be wise to grow up and keep drinking coffee.

I argue that this by-election would have not have been won by the BJP anyway.

People who voted Narendra Modi for P.M are not all Hindu zealot-nationalists with a trishul just as people who vote congress are not all atheists or venal and corrupt brokers with black money stashed away. It would be silly to make such assumptions even as both descriptions may be true in some cases

The word secular, divisive and polarization have quite another meaning in India as compared to the rest of the world as these are BJP specific epithets which have little connection with what the oxford English dictionary intends for its readers.

I am ignoring secularism as enough has been said over it but politics by its very nature is divisive and it polarizes people in elections. Worldwide

Nobody checks all the boxes while voting. They choose one over the other. Politics is meant to divide people over their choices.

There are several impulses on which people vote. In general people make ‘sense’ out of the total inputs made available to them over a period of time against a backdrop of their existing prejudice or inclinations.

If Assembly elections were to be held in Delhi, the INC may not have much of a chance. But in Municipal elections several of their councilors will win. Why? Because locally people will vote basis established networks, which down the line promise regularizing or ignoring illegal construction, encroachment on public property, special benefits for different religious places and other ‘personal contact’ issues. Quicker access to licensing and other civic services, contracts and influence pedaling will come into play. Local Civil construction and development will play a role. The ‘rural’ voter in Delhi has a large say where ‘Lal dora’ considerations have their own dynamics. Many Posh residential complexes abut urban villages. So does the poorvanchal factor, the auto driver and the slum dweller. Alcohol plays a role too.

Corruption etc will no longer be that important and that’ wave’ for Delhi is over. This will, however, not mean that people are going to give a ‘resounding slap’ to Kejriwal’s Political ideas. It does not work like that.

Opposition gloating does not end every phenomenon

In Bihar the ‘sagacious voter’ has voted for a Lalu and Nitish combine simply to protect himself from being punished for voting the BJP and to avail local administrative benefits.  To read that he has become more ‘demanding’, ‘less divisive’ and ‘impatient’ for change would be naïve. Somebody impatient for change does not bring back Lalu.

A seasoned political party like the congress does not hesitate in resurrecting ‘Nehru’ as an icon, to lure ‘impatient’ voters? Never underrate the congress.  They have been there, done that. Things do not change much in reality and they know it. People are not impatient for change. People want more under the same circumstances.

73 out of 80 seats were won by the BJP in national elections in U.P. To extrapolate this victory into predicting assembly or municipal election results would be hasty and simplistic. This is why public posturing apart no hard core politician really believes it.  The defeat of the BJP in U.P has nothing to do with the population suddenly becoming ‘secular’ as some motivated analysts are gloating. It has possibly to do with the fact that Yogi Adityanath was never much of any significance outside his constituency. He never really mattered and it was the media that made him heard in the Metros but that’s about it. The local voter does not mess with the Samajwadi Party especially if the BSP and Mayawati are not in an aggressive mood to provide protection. The voter knows that the Central govt cannot do magic in 100 days. Nobody can.

In Gujarat the chances for Congress could possibly see an increase in the future as ‘Gujarati Asmita’ will not be seen as exclusively coterminous with Narendra Modi  who will be seen as  more of “ Bhartiya Asmita”.  His foreign policy initiatives point in that direction. He will steer clear of the secular-communal debate.

What makes us ‘city slickers’ discuss politics in the big city is not what makes the belly of the city & the country’s heartland tick!

A large number of analysts carry ‘civil society ‘instincts through which they judge elections but on the ground politics is almost always about self interest. Voter included.

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From the Katho Upaniṡad

The Great Vājashrava Gautama decided to offer in sacrifice, many of his possessions to obtain heavenly pleasures. The Sacrifice sarva dakshina means giving up everything.

His son Nachiketas observes that his father is giving away only that which he can spare, and that which is of less use. The child disturbed by his father’s actions questions him thrice ‘Who will you offer me to?’ The enraged father says ‘To death I give you’

Legend has it that the little boy, Nachiketas, leaves home in that search and arrives at the door of Yama the God of death. Yama is not in his abode so Nachiketas waits for three days without food and water.

Yama is mortified on his return to see a young Brahmin boy waiting patiently for him. He apologizes profusely and asks the child to ask for 3 boons as compensation for keeping him waiting for three days. The first boon Nachiketas asks of Yama is for his father to be pacified and free from anger towards him, and that he is welcomed warmly on his return home. Yama grants him the first boon happily.

As Nachiketas asks the remaining two boons and his questions follow, Yama the lord of death, is bewildered by the child’s genius and the profundity of his intellect. He offers all the wealth in the world, riches and power but Nachiketas refuses. He only wants knowledge of the supreme Brahman(The word Brahmin comes from that)


Yama speaks thus:

अविद्यायाम्अँतरे  वतर्मानाः स्वयं धीराः पण्डितम् मन्यमानाः

दन्द्रम्यमाणाः परियंती मूढाः ,अन्धेनैवा नीयमानायथान्धाः( 1.2.5)

Steeped in ignorance, colossal fools living in darkness, who consider themselves wise and knowledgeable; thinking themselves as having an understanding of everything, run hither and thither like the blind leading the blind.

This phenomenal verse from the Katho upanisad is a reminder of the state of confusion we exist in. We are bound to our egos and unwilling to learn, and we do not see it. Dedicated to our fixed ideas and notions we go on and on discussing our problems, opinions and attitudes with our peers who are equally pompous and misguided. This makes our condition no different from the blind being led out by the blind lost in a maze.

Everyone is on the same level of thinking and at a certain age, having finished formal education, assumes that no further learning except that which we obtain through experience is required. The world appears to us through our senses and our understanding of it is limited to our own experience. We are microscopic as compared to the cosmos and we are microscopic as compared to billions of events yet we construct the worlds’ truths based on our experience

This of course is silly. Our minds are conditioned by sanskara ( metal impressions and brain patterning)to receive information not as it is but as we are!

The lenses that we view the world with colour the information coming in. This is only too obvious as we fail to have the ability to look at anything anew and go on and on believing falsehood.

Faced with turbulence we fail to examine, if at all, there is indeed another way, and take solace and refuge in blaming others or in another faulty assessment of our situation and lamenting our fate

How often have we ‘not noticed’, that when we talk to our peers and blame our circumstances for our problems our friends faithfully nod their heads and advice us accordingly and if any friend does not accept our faulty reasoning we abandon the friend instead of abandoning our faults. We seek confirmation and validation of our fixed ideas and not advice even as we sound like we are seeking it.

‘’The significant problems we face today cannot be resolved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”- Albert Einstein

This brilliant line by the great scientist is an astute understanding of the paradigm

In reality however we do not even think of ‘level of thinking’ and we do not question if there is something we need to learn. Even as we sometimes seek answers our brains trick us and all we get is old wine in a new bottle and we fall for it. We think we are ‘wiser’ when we have only replaced one faulty perception by another. We do the same thing differently and look for profound changes.

We are blind and so is our teacher.

Regardless of the level of our knowledge the intractable problems that confront us can only be solved by acting and practicing knowledge that is acquired from someone who can guide us out of the maze and not somebody who is stuck in the same maze

At every stage we must resist the arrogance of knowledge and be open to seeking a teacher. It is only the self realized sage who has no further need for learning.

The rest of us, living among the objects of the senses and buried under emotions, feelings and ideas, must never ignore the imperative of seeking higher knowledge.

SERIES ON VERSES FROM THE BHAGVAD-GITA

कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।  

karmany evadhikaras te
ma phalesu kadacana
ma karma-phala-hetur bhur
ma te sango ‘stv akarmani

Your right is in action alone and you have never any right to its fruit. Neither be (exist) for the fruit of action nor be attached to inaction

योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गमत्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय

सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते

yoga-sthah kuru karmani
sangam tyaktva dhananjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoh samo bhutva
samatvam yoga ucyate

 Steadfast in yoga, commit to action renouncing attachment to success or failure O Conqueror of wealth. Evenness of mind is called yoga.

 

बुद्धियुक्तो जहातीह  उभे सुकृतदर्शते

तस्माद्द्योगाय युज्यस्व योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्

buddhi-yukto jahatiha
ubhe sukrta-duskrte
tasmad yogaya yujyasva
yogah karmasu kausalam

 United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

Krishna’s advice to Arjuna follows when the warrior declares his intention of opting out of the war he himself had decided to wage. At the penultimate moment emotion takes over Arjuna’s intellect and he becomes incapable of fighting as a soldier and takes refuge in weakness and extols passive abdication as a virtue. At this moment of confusion Arjuna ceases to think of his objectives as a Warrior and a General and his focus collapses to dwell on his own emotions as a person. Dejected and demoralized he asks the Supreme lord to guide him out of this confusion.

Krishna says:

कर्मणयेवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।  

Your right is in action alone and you have never any right to its fruit. Neither be (exist) for the fruit of action nor be attached to inaction

‘Your rights are limited to action alone, but not on the result.’ The focus is on the word ‘rights’ or adhikaar. ‘Do not ever occupy your mind with the fruit of your action.  And neither should you attach yourself to inaction.’

The word karma like dharma has several meanings depending on usage and context. Karma is in some cases all encompassing wherein it refers to cause and effect together, and in some cases, as in this, it is used in a very limited sense to mean immediate action.

Now Krishna makes a statement of fact. He Says, ‘your right is to action alone’. The right to results rests with the laws of cause and effect. You can only act in the immediate present and no matter what you do it is not possible to predetermine the consequences of your action.  The only mastery anyone can achieve is to attempt a perfection of his current action.

The fruit of an action will always be in the future. Whether seconds later or years. Thus anxiety for something in the future will dissipate mental energy.

Having chosen your course of life on the basis of your swadharma (deep inner nature) you work with a goal in mind, you fix objectives, you plan your actions, you think of several impediments that can come your way and accordingly plan out your action. You accordingly work out a strategy. Then why does Krishna say ‘do not be attached to the results of your action’.

Let us suppose an archer participates in a contest. Obviously he means to win. On his turn he focuses on the target, summons his skills refined over years of practice, balances the bow, senses the wind direction and speed, loads the arrow, and aligns it to the target and fires. This is the best he can do. If he were to start imagining the consequences of his success and failure in hitting the target, if he starts imagining the expressions of onlookers were he to fail, if he were to begin thinking of the prize money in the future, his attention will waver. That is all Krishna is saying. Do not ‘be’ for the fruit of action once you have decided to act. ‘Be’ only for the quality of action.

Examine further in a complex action such as a manager or a general.

‘No strategy survives contact with the enemy’ these famous lines were said by Helmuth Karl von Moltke , German Field and the chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years. He is regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter 19th century, and the creator of a new, more modern method of directing armies in the field.

Once you have strategized to win on the battlefield, thinking of the spoils of war will divert your mind. Keep on with the struggle of completing the task at hand with constant focus on here and now.

As a politician, once the election campaign starts, strategize to win and not worry what comes after that. Why worry about your position when the results are announced. Give everything to the campaign and plunge into the contest.

Be mindful of action in the present at all times through total and conscious absorption. Do not give up on your objectives, keep trying and in that there is great joy. Never give in to inaction believing in fatalism and shun laziness to continue your struggle.

But how will this be achieved

योगस्थः कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गमत्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय

सिद्धयसिद्धयोः समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते

Steadfast in yoga, commit to action renouncing attachment and being the same in success or failure O Conqueror of wealth. An evenness of mind is called Yoga

Krishna declares that to achieve this kind of absorption with the task at hand it is required to renounce or give up the attachment to success or failure. To treat them as if they were just two sides of a coin. Krishna refers to Arjuna as Dhananjaya meaning conqueror of wealth suggesting that this doctrine is useful in achieving material success too. No philosophy or methodology is all encompassing till it is useful in being applied uniformly.

It is natural for a student to question as to how success and failure be treated alike. Success is likeable and failure causes misery.

But the Gita is insistent and uncompromising on this. It is reiterated in several verses across the text. Renounce entanglement, attachment, preoccupation with success or failure and only then it is possible to be engaged in working effectively.

Go on and on with your work. Believe in yourself. Act with commitment and dedication. Why worry. Intense work is victory and joy and peace. Evenness of mind is karma yoga

Without evenness/equanimity sub optimal work will be produced.

A significant portion of time is wasted in brooding over past failure or indulging in past victory. The mind then proceeds to imagine the joys of future victory and thereby an anxiety about possible reversals. The present is ignored. S

The doctrine of karma yoga warns against this habit of the mind.

बद्धियुक्तो जहातीह  उभे सुकृतदर्शते

तस्माद्द्योगाय युज्यस्व योगः कर्मसु कौशलम्

United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

Most people mistake renouncement as a display of disinterest while in fact it is a consequence of mastery. Nothing can be ‘renounced’ in a vacuum. When a larger ideal occupies the mind the lower ideal is renounced. As a CEO your large ideal is the success of the enterprise and not your personal victory or defeat. The larger picture requires you to set aside your exhilaration and dejection at small victories and defeats. The larger picture requires that you can put your ego and personal likes and dislikes aside and make the best use of available talent in the organization.

Go for the big ideal of taking the organization forward. Once free from preoccupation with your personal victory or defeat you will without stress do your job.  This evenness of mind, this calm and collectedness is karma yoga

 United with knowledge one discards both good and bad deeds. Therefore commit yourself to yoga. Skill in action is yoga

In the Gita United with knowledge is having attained self realization. That is the ultimate state of perfection for a karma yogi. As skill in action advances, as you become more consummate good and bad deeds (sanskaras or mental impressions) are transcended and nothing disturbs your calm and therefore the lord says’ Skill in action is yoga’

Examine this: A soldier returning from war after having killed several enemies will carry no imprint of having done a bad deed since his motive and intent was driven by a desire to live up to his job. On the other hand a criminal who kills people out of purely personal reasons will carry an altogether different imprint of that action. In the first case the ‘action ‘can be discarded as it were, and in the second it will be carried as baggage. This sanskara or mental impression is good or bad deed and not action per se

United with knowledge is not the same as learning or studying. When study and reflection result in intuitive, instinctive and effortless skill you unite with knowledge. This skill in action is in itself, joyful.

Public spaces- A thing of Value must be Valued

Public Spaces- A thing of value must be valued.

 

A public space is a social space that is generally open and accessible to people. Roads (including the pavement), public squaresparks and beaches are typically considered public space. To a limited extent, government buildings which are open to the public, such as public libraries are public spaces, although they tend to have restricted areas and greater limits upon use. Although not considered public space, privately owned buildings or property visible from sidewalks and public thoroughfares may affect the public visual landscape, for example, by outdoor advertising. Recently, the concept of Shared space has been advanced to enhance the experience of pedestrians in public space jointly used by automobiles and other vehicles.

Public space has also become something of a touchstone for critical theory in relation to philosophy, (urban) geographyvisual artcultural studiessocial studies and urban design. The term ‘public space’ is also often misconstrued to mean other things such as ‘gathering place‘, which is an element of the larger concept of social space. – Wikipedia

 

The common refrain is that the Govt. and politicians are responsible for lack of pavements and playgrounds and that civil society groups are unable to influence an effective change in policy because of politicians and vested interests

My experience over the years and insights gathered from direct experience has brought me to the conclusion that the reality is very different from this assertion and that civic objectives cannot be achieved directly by lofty political will or by NGO moralizing and lobbying

I take up the matter of pavements and playgrounds

Pavements:  There are several claimants to this public space and they include house owners, hawkers, trees, shops, municipal utilities and lastly walkers. Of these Hawkers and Trees are protected through legislation. Except for trees all possible claimants can be walkers too. The question to ask is; who is really interested in walking?. There are those who like to walk and those who have to walk. In the first case I do not think people like to walk in Delhi’s climate and those who have to walk would rather not. In an aspiration filled society walking is passé. Never mind the cardio fitness or sport bike enthusiast.

The demand for walking is weak as compared for the demand for hawkers, parking, guard rooms, wayside convenience stores and decorative plants.  This is pure demand and supply.

Ask any homemaker if she wants the nearest rehri wala or shop removed so that she can walk far in Delhi summer, winter or humidity and you will face a barrage of protests.  The nearest mechanic is next door to provide instant service for small repairs.

For the working class, the driver, construction worker, office worker, plumber, electrician who come in for daily work, hawkers provide an economical lunch and a social gathering place to exchange views

There is a massive demand for vehicles and for parking. On the same plot there are many apartments or commercial spaces as compared to the one house earlier and therefore many more cars.

People are now fighting violently, even shooting at each other over ownership of parking spaces that do not belong to them in the first place. Are people fighting for the right to walk?  Clearly No

Vested interests are not few but all encompassing. The, educated,  socially aware resident who buys vegetables or services off a mechanic is a ‘vested interest’ as he is getting an unauthorized convenience for free and at the cost of a shopkeeper who is finding it hard to survive in an authorized market place

The desire, demand and the right for parking and convenient shopping and services is manifestly far more acute and pressing as compared to something as simple and benign as walking

The usage of pavements and parks is a representation of what our people want from their public space.  

The RWAs know this, the local municipal councilor knows, the MLA and MP know this.  They are elected and know the ‘real stuff’ as compared to the’ postured stuff. ’Privately all elected representatives say that they can do nothing about this as it will annoy their constituents. Privately bureaucrats tell me that the local politicians and RWA oppose any attempt to clear these spaces as this is what people really want.

If at all people want pavements, I would like to come up with a few solutions but first some observations.

  • There is a demand for a strong implementation of the rule of law. Let me assure you it will fail.
  • Walking is a fundamental right even if very few exercise it, and to begin with we must give precedence to those who have to walk and cycle, as compared to those who want to walk or cycle.
  • Comparisons with the west should be totally avoided. It is not helpful at all
  • For a society diverse in its language, caste, religion, ethnicity, political belief and ethics, an effective common currency for communicating is currency itself.
  • There is no respect for something that is free and can be used freely. That to which a value cannot be assigned and measured is of no value at all.
  • India has the highest retail density per capita in the world. So shops are not in short supply.
  • Parking is in short supply
  • Public transport is inadequate and last mile connectivity to the Metro is absent
  • The economic need of vendors cannot be exploited to provide free convenience to residents

 Objective:  recover walking and cycling spaces and promote public transport

Assign a value to the pavement equal to the commercial value of land prevailing in an area

At this point in time the state is subsidising the car owner, the luxury car owner, the multiple luxury car owner and the usurper of pavement. The state is subsiding the wealthy by providing crores worth of land free of cost. This is land which has been taken away from the pedestrian.

A simple calculation will show that each car owner parked on public land occupies land worth 50 Lakhs to 4 Crores in Delhi. This is the figure for 1 car.

I suggest that massive rentals should be charged from people who are parking on pavements and used in turn to subsidise those who need pavements the most. The last mile walker. Like carbon credits money should compensate and enrich the ‘environment helper‘ at the cost of the ‘environment damager’

The details have to be worked out and are matter of basic math, computer Algorithms and RFID technology.

For hawkers/mechanics and vendors charges should be fixed keeping in mind the commercial value of land and the nature of hawking. This will ensure that residents looking for ease and convenience pay much more to a hawker as they would to a shopkeeper in the vicinity who bought his shop legally and is subject to municipal, state and central taxes. The Hawker is really vending convenience to the consumer. The consumer who is again being freely subsidised through the pedestrians land should be made to pay. This too is possible

Would people agree ? Of course not. But since this will become a matter concerning state revenue, officers will deal with it far more seriously as compared to ignoring encroachments over land that has no revenue implications.

Playgrounds: 

The situation in Delhi is that municipal lands are in control of Senior citizens. The RWA are in control of senior citizens, the voters in an RWA are senior citizens and the Municipal councilor works mostly with senior citizens as municipal elections draw few voters and senior citizens are critical to the survival of the councilors. In their local area kids do not stand a chance. Parents do not have the stomach for a conflict and themselves prefer academics to sport.

Now I believe that when kids and teenagers play together they acquire skills that go beyond their immediate school and academic life.  Apart from fitness and motor coordination, kids who play have much better management skills; they deal with people better and are healthier in later life. However a social lecture on this will not work simply because the bedrock of our school and college education is ‘marks’. The media has in the past carried out many campaigns but at the basic level nothing has changed.

I suggest the following:

Ensure that municipal guidelines statutorily earmark 30% of total parks for play in such a manner that the biggest single piece is first allocated for football, cricket, kabaddi etc, the next 30% for Tennis, badminton, basketball and the remaining for senior citizens.

A full 100 marks for sports and fitness up to class 10th board exams as an option vis-a vis languages. This may prod parents to become more accepting of sports as ‘marks’ come into play. Add to this ‘play’ homework where video reports of regular neighbourhood play is submitted to school. This will be the most important sport promoting measure.

Stop LAD fund deployment in a colony which does not follow this guideline and the RWA will be encouraged to see things in a ‘progressive’ manner.

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