Nature’s Fury Compounded by Human Folly

December 26 2004 saw an unprecedented disaster killing more than 150,000 innocent people, uprooting millions, and devastating the economy of vast regions in many nations in South and South-East Asia. It is impossible, with today’s technology to precisely anticipate an earthquake and know when and where it will affect people. Such unavoidable suffering is part of human existence, and we have to face it with courage and accept it with equanimity.

Social Capital, Trust and Development

There is a famous story, which goes something like this: An international exhibition of crabs was held in Japan. All countries sent their best and the most exotic variety of crabs. The representatives of each country were exhibiting crabs in sealed glass containers. However, in the Indian stall the crabs were on display in open containers, and the worried organizers asked the Indian representative whether the crabs would not climb out of the containers. Pat came the answer from the Indian: “Ha! Nothing to worry; these are Indian crabs.

People Power

Often times I am asked why I have embarked on this unusual journey – medical education, civil service and now governance reform. Born about a decade after Independence, I grew up in a village in coastal Andhra. My father was employed in a small town in Maharashtra, and an old aunt, a child widow who never remarried, raised me. These somewhat unusual circumstances gave me the different perspective of a participant/observer of public defecation, caste, hierarchies, superstitions, poverty and underdevelopment.

19th Century Politics – 21st Century Aspirations

Suddenly, the state of Andhra Pradesh and the whole nation are in turmoil. The tranquil climate, which is so vital for economic prosperity as a time of great global challenges and great opportunities, has been vitiated by the pursuit of vote banks arousing primordial loyalties. Politicians playing with fire have now opened the Pandora’s Box, and have sown the seeds of discord in many pockets of India.

Defining Moment – Challenge and Opportunity

dir="ltr">The gruesome murder of Satyendra Kumar Dubey could well turn out to be one of the defining events of our time. This ghastly incident and the circumstances surrounding it focused media attention on our governance failure and channelized middle-class ire as never before. Politicians and civil servants would do well to listen carefully to the public and respond constructively to address the crises underlying this tragic episode.

A Tribute to Excellence

Despite having one of the youngest demographic profiles of any country in the world (71 % are below 34 years), culturally we remain a geriatric society. Very rarely do we see youngsters rising to positions of prominence. They have to wait until their bosses/mentors reach their sunset years (running into 70s and 80s). Our revered elders hate to vacate their chairs even when they are losing control of all vital bodily functions. Placing the institution above the individual and planning for an orderly succession is something we are not used to.

Combating Criminalization

In response to Lok Satta’s call, a frail old man walked into our office with incriminating evidence against a prominent politician. It was deeply troubling that this old man, at the very fag end of his life had to approach Lok Satta for redressal of a grave injustice. It speaks volumes about the failing state apparatus. However, I was happy to see the old man’s determination to seek justice. There were many such persons who came forward with valuable information – some of them even braving considerable risk – about the criminal backgrounds of prospective candidates.

Globalisation and Cities

Noted columnists Thomas Friedman, with tongue firmly in his cheek, queried: “Was your grand-mother playing bridge with the Frenchmen on the internet in 1900?” This simple question encapsulates the world that we are living in. There is growing integration and the interdependence of societies and economies across the world, which we call as globalization. However much some of us may despise it and however much one may argue against it, we cannot wish away the fact that we are living in a globalized world.

Collective Action – Today’s Imperative

Elections are around the corner. The debate on the leadership qualities of the political party chiefs seems to have emerged as the favorite pastime for large sections of the society. Indeed, the leaders we elect to office will to some extent shape our future. However, it is we the people who have the power to determine our destiny. Examples abound which demonstrate that people through their collective efforts have changed the course of history.

Perjury and Criminal Justice System

The acquittal of the accused in the notorious Best Bakery case has once again exposed the weakness of our criminal justice system.  Swaminathan Aiyar in these columns made a strong plea for stringent action against perjury in order to restore the sanctity of the judicial process.

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