Sunday, September 30, 2012

Social media has clearly given people the means to stand up and speak their minds

IIPM Review MBA 2012 - Delhi Bangalore Jaipur Lucknow Admissions

What is the link between Anna Hazare and the Arab Spring? Apparently none but on closer look one finds that they are bound by social media. Twitter was a key means of communication for protesters in the Arab Spring revolts this year. Facebook and twitter are the signposts of the Anna Hazare movement in India. Little wonder then that Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal has bought a stake in micro-blogging site Twitter for $300 million. This could well be touted as the next ‘revolution’. The Internet and mobile phone have become the tool of the new wave of social activism. If Subranshu Chowdhury sitting in Raipur can use the mobile phone to give farmers practical information, so can Anna Hazare supporters use Twitter and Facebook to mobilise society in the ‘India against Corruption’ campaign. With more than 90,000 ‘likes’ on the India Against Corruption Facebook page and thousands of others lending online support via twitter and their website, Anna Hazare has become larger than life.

The lesson to be learnt from the social media scene this year is that it is a means of communication and it is a means of commerce. Seen another way, communication has become interactive, allowing participants to voice their feelings and opinion on the ether as also doing business. This is a phenomenon that could potentially change the nature of humankind interactions. Across India, small businessmen and farmers are using mobile phones to do their business. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak discovered that shutting down the internet to curb the protesters’ ability to communicate had disastrous effects on the economy.

True, social media is the in thing and even ‘occupy wall street’ movement is a creation of this media, but it does not mean that one can draw a straight line and predict its course. For social media to be a mass mobiliser other factors must be at play. As is seen in the case of Anna Hazare, social media helped in multiplying the sentiments of the urban populations across India who feel that Hazare is giving direction to their pent up feelings. People are not only taking to the streets in huge numbers but are taking to Facebook and Twitter to state their case. So those who are at work and cannot go to India Gate can at least tweet their support! Recent events demonstrate that even governments are worried about the rapid spread in the use of social media. Of course, it can be monitored or stopped like the Chinese have done. But the power of communication is strong and transcends national boundaries. The only worry is that all positives do not emerge from the use of social media. The racial riots in London in 2011 were evoked by the use of private Blackberry messaging. It was the most popular medium through which the rioters communicated. Keep in mind that social media technologies today mean more than just text messages and tweets. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther took the new media of their day – print – pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts, and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform.

Revolutions are of many kinds and the present one is indicative that technology can be a driving force. But it appears that in the Arab Spring, it was only a tool not the causative factor. Recent events in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere in the Middle East are eruptions of popular feeling whose symbolic beginning can be traced to 2003 when the Iraqi people pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein. In other words, causative factors vary from time to time but social media gives those in the midst of the revolution the means to articulate their views. In Egypt, out of a population of 85 million, only five per cent people use Facebook and one per cent use Twitter.

The advantage with social media technology is that it allows users to replicate a particular message or cause manifold by simply pressing a button. Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia can immolate himself in protest of a corrupt regime and impact his own people as well as neighbours in Egypt – thanks to the ways in which video was captured and transmitted via mobile phones before being picked up by non-State-run television channels. A repeat of Tiananmen Square protests today would have a different story to tell altogether. Therefore, at the end of 2011 when we sit back and look at the score card, we find that on the balance, positives emerging from the social media revolution are quite high and present the new face of democracy. That social media has given people the means to stand up and speak their minds is now clear. The past tells us that each time such media are used change has occurred. However, the verdict is still out on whether this revolutionary tool can bring about regime change. (The views expressed by the author are personal)


Friday, September 28, 2012

Bhagavad Gita controversy reflects the West’s inexperience in sustaining a multi-religious society

IIPM Review MBA 2012 - Delhi Bangalore Jaipur Lucknow Admissions

The controversy over banning of Bhagavad Gita by Russia came as a shock especially when this scripture has never been used as a tool, globally, to instigate any feeling of hatred or violence. Consequently, it was followed by a series of protests in India.

Bhagavad Gita is a holy scripture for Hindus and a source of knowledge and wisdom for other communities in the world. Thus, the effort to malign it is not only an insult to a particular community but also displays feeling of religious intolerance. It all began when a petition was filed in June 2011 by a group associated with the Christian Orthodox Church in a court in Siberia’s Tomsk city to ban Bhagavad Gita on the pretext of it being an 'extremist' scripture that preaches war rather than peace. This comes as a contradiction to the Christian philosophy which is a widely practised religion across the West and is deemed as a religion of peace and tolerance by the followers.

On the hindsight, the entire scripture may be seen as a philosophy of war. But what the Russians missed out is that Gita is more about how an ideal life should be led and on the dilemma between the truth and the vice that a human faces in his daily life.

The West has always had a sense of disregard for other religions and relies more on half-baked reasoning. France has banned wearing head scarf for Muslim women. Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published the caricature of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The court has suspended the petition till December 28 and it has referred Gita to Tomsk State University for examination. But the University currently has no experts on Hindu philosophy, culture, and religion.

Needless to say, there is an uproar in India and there are valid reasons for the same. Russia is India's close ally for decades. Ironically, the incident occurred at a time when prime minister Manmohan Singh was on a diplomatic tour to Russia. This controversy raises concerns with regard to minority rights and religious freedom in Russia in the long run. The West has on and off taken such steps fearing minority uprising and to curb any potential threat. Religious tolerance and diversity is perhaps one thing the East can teach the "knowledgeable" West.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

MNREGA and social service

IIPM Review MBA 2012 - Delhi Bangalore Jaipur Lucknow Admissions 

MNREGA can be a cost effective tool for disaster management in India

MNREGA in its present form is confined to the work of bricks and mud only. The ambit of the scheme involves construction of roads and digging ponds and lakes. However, the potential of the scheme has not been fully explored as yet. Since India does not have a well defined disaster management mechanism, the cost effective measures of disaster management can be seamlessly synchronised with the existing policies such as MNREGA.

It goes without saying that disasters come with heavy economic and social losses. As per a World Bank report, by the year 2100, damages from such calamities in India may go up to one billion dollars annually. And, here we have not taken into consideration the losses due to climate change. One can imagine the plight of Indians especially in a scenario when most of the mitigation measures are found grossly inadequate – more so for the rural India.

Around 3.3 million deaths have occurred directly due to these hazards in the last three decade. Despite government's interventions, losses have tripled in this period. As per the ministry of home affairs, cumulative loss from such natural calamities was around $48 billion during the same period.

It is a clear case of misplaced priorities resulting in displaced outcomes since government expenditures on preventive measures are significantly lower than allocations on disaster control and relief. Thus, it becomes imperative to develop an effective mechanism for prevention that can eventually lower vulnerability from such calamities.

The technology intensive model of disaster management practised by the developed world is still not practically viable in our country due to inadequate infrastructure. This is where the MNREGA scheme could be extremely beneficial. We can exploit our demographic dividend in mitigation efforts in all rural areas that are prone to disasters. This would not only be cost-effective but also allow timely intervention.

Take for instance the coastal areas of Kosi river in Bihar that are severely affected by flood every year. The pool of workforce under MNREGA could be used for the construction of dams, water reservoirs and digging more ponds in order to prevent floods. Similar activities should be replicated all across the coastal areas of India under MNREGA programmes. Similarly, to counter drought, projects like creation of canals and interconnecting rivers under could potentially be a breakthrough. Moreover, the presence of such a workforce at the local level would minimise post hazard losses.

MNREGA has only benefited people economically through job creation. It can be put to better use by using it simultaneously for disaster management and community services like waste management that can be performed by unskilled labours.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Punjab's deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal proved his managerial skills..

Punjab's deputy chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal proved his managerial skills when he commanded a demoralised Akali Dal-BJP alliance to power in the 2007 Assembly elections dislodging the Congress government headed by Capt. Amarinder Singh. As the state gears up again to go to the polls in early 2012, he exudes confidence in a conversation with Jagtar Singh

You had commanded SAD-BJP to victory in the last Assembly elections. In the Lok Sabha elections, too, your performance was above average. How serious is the challenge to retain power?

Elections are always a big challenge and I have always accepted challenges in my life. My strategy has always been based upon positive moves. In normal situations, I have distaste for negativism.

How do you view the situation?

In Punjab, it is a fight between pro-people and anti-people forces. Congress, ever since Independence, has been associated with excesses committed against Punjab and Punjabis. The list of excesses is long. On the other hand, SAD has always been regarded as a party of the masses, a symbol of Punjab and Punjabiyat. This is the cornerstone of the Akali Dal. Our party has always been in the vanguard of the fight to protect the interests of Punjabis. The present situation has to be assessed against the backgrounds of the two parties.

What would be the main plank of your alliance as you are also talking of Panthic issues like Sikh heritage memorials?

No community in the world can survive by neglecting its heritage. The history of the Sikhs, the most nascent religion in the world, is a saga of struggles and sacrifices. Our government took the initiative to preserve its heritage. We are going to the people seeking a mandate on our performance. The people should compare our performance with the five-year term of the last Congress government. We are much ahead in every sector of the economy.

Development during these five years has been unprecedented. 

Capt. Amarinder Singh has questioned both the vision of your government and performance.

It is ironic. It is his government that wrecked the education and health sectors. We inherited schools without teachers and infrastructure and hospitals without doctors. You may recall that the government used to openly talk of encouraging privatisation in these basic sectors. It used to be said people prefer private schools to government schools. We have reversed that situation. We have not facilitated private investment at the cost of public sector. We have tried to carry both the sectors along. We recruited doctors for dispensaries and teachers for schools. Our Adarsh school scheme has been emulated by the government at the Centre also. This would not have been possible had there been no vision and initiative.

The election campaign is becoming vicious and bitter with personal accusations and allegations.

We have always opposed such bitterness in electioneering. Campaigning has to be on issues. The problem with Capt. Amarinder Singh is that he and his party lack positive issues. My father has been in public life for more than 50 years and never has anybody heard any harsh word from him for political opponents. When our picture hugging each other appeared in a national newspaper, the signal that emanated was very positive. The people thought the bitterness was over and the next election would be contested on issues. However, Capt. Amarinder Singh thought it might weaken his campaign and within days, he reverted to his old style.

He has been accusing your family of corruption.

We faced court cases that were filed by Capt. Amrinder Singh’s government. It is the court which has discharged us. That only proves that the cases were politically motivated. After doing my Master’s in business management from the US, I ventured into business and succeeded. On the other hand, Capt. Amarinder Singh failed in business and defaulted on bank loans. The banks pasted a notice on the gate of his Moti Bagh residence in Patiala. It is he who owes an explanation to the people about the turnaround in his financial fortunes.

Do you perceive any threat from the People’s Party of Punjab of your estranged cousin Manpreet Singh Badal who has joined hands with the Communists and an Akali splinter group to form Sanjha Morcha?

Sanjha Morcha is no threat to the Akali Dal-BJP alliance. The support base of the Left has been shrinking over the years. None of these parties has representation in the outgoing Assembly. They are nonentities. Manpreet has no base of his own. Sanjha Morcha will be completely wiped out. Manpreet would not be able to retain even his own seat which he has won four times as the Akali Dal candidate. Going by past voting behaviour, his party might rather affect the Congress in the sense that the minuscule section of disgruntled Akalis, as is always the case with the ruling party, might vote for the Sanjha Morcha. They might have otherwise voted for the Congress.

How come you are so hopeful of breaking the pattern of the Akali Dal and Congress alternately returning to power in Punjab?

Our motto has been ‘Raj Nahin Seva’. The concept of Akali Dal has always been to serve the people and not rule over the state. Our government has provided dignified access to government services to the people through the all-encompassing Right to Service Act, which covers a total of 67 services which are now being provided to the people in a time-bound manner. No other state has enacted such a comprehensive legislation. There is a wave in favour of the SAD-BJP alliance.