Friday, November 18, 2005

Glimmer in heart of darkness

Can’t say who will win this time but you surely can’t miss the first stirrings for a new deal in Bihar
Shekhar Gupta
Shekhar Gupta On the last day of polling in Bihar, the question you are asked, particularly if you are just back from there, is still the same that you would have been asked in the past many elections: is Bihar ready for a change?

Now, you can look at it in two different ways. Does change mean a defeat for Laloo and his RJD and the arrival in power of a new coalition under Nitish Kumar? Or does it mean a change of mindset and aspiration, from mere social justice, a voice for the lower castes to economic upliftment and dignity — or, to put it simply, bijli, sadak, paani and padhai (electricity, roads, water and education). If your spin is the first one, talk to exit pollsters. Howsoever large your sample, you have to be a real braveheart, or thoroughly reckless, to make a prediction in Bihar. The electorate is so split, so much vote is already committed one way or the other, so little can float and there is no knowing how much of this would swing how many seats. But stirrings of aspiration for a better life, better roads, a light bulb in my home, teachers in my village school, a doctor in my primary health centre may be, just may be, you have begun to sense that — this time around. Another thing you have begun to feel even more palpably is the belief that truly fair, fearless elections can actually be held even in Bihar.

We, the usual group of Limousine Liberals, a motley assortment of journalists, psephologists, bankers, executives and sometimes part-time politicians that trawls voting zones in each election, catches up with the real hero of this round in Bihar, the election commission’s observer K.J. Rao, in the circuit house of Bettiah, the district headquarter of West Champaran district. He is kind to us, but would say nothing on record. In fact, we can hardly hold him to a two-sentence conversation before his phone rings again, and while I would never violate my reporter’s ethic in never mentioning a word spoken off the record, I feel less queasy picking up snatches of his phone conversations, at least from one end. “OK, OK. I understand. No, please. I have decided. You will have a new SDPO before this afternoon. This one will be sent out.” I presume this is about some sub-divisional police officer who was not being compliant enough. Next. “Don’t worry. One company of ITBP will reach you this evening,” he says, gesturing to one of his aides to make sure it is done. Next. “No, no. No short cuts. Tell the collector to speak with me.” And so on.

What endure in my head are those three words, “no short cuts.” Once you get committed to that very short mantra you realise the power of one man. Just one man, a retired civil servant now re-employed on contract, not even an IAS officer, who has brought about a paradigm shift you never thought was possible in Indian democracy. A free and fair election in Bihar. You can ask whom you want. A villager from any caste, a local policeman or one among very alien looking patrols of Punjab Police, nine battalions of which have been deployed among a medley of central and other state police forces currently helping the election commission in Bihar. They tell this is the fairest election in Bihar’s history.

None of Laloo’s opponents have any complaints any more. In fact, they try hard not to compliment Rao so much that he begins to look partisan. We were witness to a particularly delicious moment. At his late afternoon rally in Motihari, L.K. Advani hailed the power of one man in ensuring a fair Bihar election and then bent sideways in mock pretence to ask what his name was. But he was far too rushed to wait for somebody to fill in and said something like, “what is his name... yes, K.J. Rao”, in such a hurry that you thought he needed to take some acting lessons from Laloo first. But he could perhaps be excused. It was well past four, all helicopters have to report back in Patna before 5 pm as no night-flying is permitted and, not to take any chances, his pilot had already turned on the rotors while he was half-way through his seven-minute speech.

But whoever wins will have the satisfaction of winning what is possibly the first fair election, or rather the fairest election in Bihar’s history. It is to this that many would ascribe the low turnouts this time. Nitish tells us not to complain about falling turnouts because Bihar no longer has booths that show more than 90 per cent voting, implying that these were captured in the past and ballot boxes stuffed. Laloo says the low turnout is because of the panic spread by Rao. But you ask the common man even in Champaran, bordering Nepal’s Maoist heartland and one of the most lawless zones in Bihar, and he will tell you the region has never been safer. The central forces are wonderful, they say. And you speak to district officials and local journalists and they tell you of the electrifying effect K.J. Rao’s firmness has had on the situation.

In the very colonial circuit house’s drawing room, Rao spends no more than a half hour with us, much of which is consumed by his cellphone, then says a breezy goodbye and bounds down the staircase, like a Montgomery out to take on Rommel in Al Alamein. How does a man of 63 have so much energy, so much dash, asks one of the bankers. He could have also added, and what drives him to do it at a salary of no more than 30,000 rupees or so a month? Of course, like all men who make a difference, Rao has his critics, notably in the IAS. He was around the last time also, so how come you people did not hail him such a hero then, they ask. The implication is, it isn’t just Rao who has made the difference. It is also the absence or Laloo from power in the state for more than six months.

Can a fair election change people’s lives in a place like Bihar? If you drive, particularly at night, you could get very despondent. You might occasionally spot a signboard telling you this is National Highway 28 but it really is a moonscape where you manoeuvre your way from crater to crater. After a while your body even learns to adjust to it. As you get out of a crater your body is instinctively twisting itself to endure the next. This is really far in the east, so the sun sets very early. And then it is total darkness, barring your headlights. You drive past one village after another in complete darkness, not even one bulb anywhere for miles. People are mostly indoors, and by seven or so it is all so quiet you wonder if you are going past ghost habitations with endless elephant grass and sugarcane between them. And yet you see creativity and talent in ornate words of welcome, figures of animals and gods painted outside baked-mud-and-dung walls of people’s homes.

Surprise of surprises, we suddenly find lights. In fact an entirely lit village called Dumaria. We make a stop at the local zamindar’s home, straight out of a 1960s socialist movie, including ten tiger trophies on the walls of its main hall (“all shot before 1960”). Except that the current scion sounds as frustrated as the commoners of his village might. Rananjay Shahi is a graduate of St Stephens and says he came back to Dumaria fired by idealism. But that was in the past. Now, there is very little confidence anybody can change anything. This village is better organised. It got power lines because of political clout and now some of the better off families collectively maintain not just their power supply, but even the branch line from the Gandak canal, which turns Dumaria into an island of relative prosperity.

But you cannot fix everything. This region is infested with cobras and kraits and you hear about the sub-divisional magistrate of nearby Narkatiaganj who was bitten by a snake. The closest place you could find some anti-venom serum was Patna, at least eight hours away on roads which were mostly even worse than NH 28. But the IAS knows how to look after its own. The chief secretary intervened. A doctor started from Patna by road with the serum just as the stricken SDO started from Narkatiaganj. They made a rendezvous midway in exactly six hours and the serum was administered successfully. A life was saved though it must have been a rather gentle krait to have given the man a full four hours.

Drive through Bihar and you will hear tales like these at every mile. But they all add up to one basic fact. The state may have cradled JP’s total revolution in the ’70s and Laloo’s social justice revolution in the ’90s. What it needs now is a spell of half-decent governance. So the most vital question of this election is one that no pollster can answer: will this change this time? Will the idea of social justice evolve into a yearning for better governance? We, the Limousine Liberals, will surely check it out on our next trip to Bihar. Let’s only hope it does not have to come as soon as this one did after the last one.

Kerala leads the way in e-literacy

Kerala is again showing the way to India - in area of e-literacy.

In Mallapuram, they have made 500,000 people e-literate. Some of these people were just 3rd grade pass. Most of people in this area are dependent on the money which is sent by their folks in gulf. Now, people are exchanging emails as well as paying bills in these centres.

Read the story here.

Siwan MP D-link may be probed

Friday Nov. 18, 2005, Patna: More problems are in store for Mohammad Shahabuddin, the RJD Member of Parliament from Siwan. In what could invite further trouble for him, the Bihar police is planning to probe his links with infamous gangsters Dawood Ibrahim and Abu Salem. The Portuguese government had recently handed over Salem to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for his alleged involvement in the Mumbai bomb blasts case.
Salem, a one-time close aide of international gangster Dawood Ibrahim, is also claimed to be the mastermind behind several other terrorist strikes in India.
Mr Shahabuddin is at present behind bars in Bhagalpur jail in connection with more than two dozen cases lodged against him with the police in Siwan and other districts of Bihar. A senior IPS officer at the police headquarters in Patna told this newspaper that “they could reopen” former Bihar police director-general D.P. Ojha’s report on Mr Shahabuddin’s “anti-national” activities.

Mr Ojha’s 70-page report, wherein he had alleged that the RJD Member of Parliament had close association with the D-company, is gathering dust in the police headquarters in Patna. “Shahabuddin has connection with Uttar Pradesh leader Mukhtar Ansari, Nepal leader Salim Ansari and other international gangsters,” the report had claimed.

It had been alleged by the former DGP, who recently joined the CPI(ML), that Dawood Ibrahim had received Mr Shahabuddin at Dubai airport when he was on his way to Mecca. he ex-DGP had quoted a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Mustaque Mohammad Aga and Bihar’s notorious Nand Gopal Pandey, alias Fauji, as claiming that the RJD MP received AK-47 rifles in 1996 from militants active in Kashmir Valley.

Alone in India - Not for Long

Just read this piece in washington post about Kate Crawford's India experience

The New Delhi train station seemed like a cross between a medieval army bivouac and a state park campground. It was after midnight. Family bands crouched around cooking fires or, curled in wool shawls, slept against mounds of luggage. People ate, bathed, brushed their teeth.

Traveling alone, I attracted a small band of followers as soon as I arrived at the station. The first enlistees, two red-smocked, officially badged suitcase wallahs, boarded my train before it stopped moving. Completely unbidden, one grabbed my suitcase, the other my tote. To carry the bags, they balanced them on their turban-wrapped heads like wacky hats.

"Where to?" one of the two, a slick dude, asked in TV English as he and several young followers fell in beside me. My hotel had told me to meet its driver at the train station's restaurant. So, like a savvy sahib, I commanded, "To the restaurant."

"Wimpy's?" asked the dude.

Wimpy's didn't seem enough like a restaurant, so I suggested one where people sat down. Our band of six embarked on a 10-minute march through the station's cavernous overpasses and out-of-the-way corridors. I wasn't worried, because my attention was fixed on the rapid growth of my retinue. Next, four rogue taxi wallahs, to whom I explained I already had a ride, joined our ranks. Each was followed by more tag-along boys -- a touts-in-training program, I guessed.

When the slick dude began to tell me how old my hotel was, I caught on. He was a go-to-another-hotel-where-he-collects-a-commission wallah.

My ride was not at the restaurant. Back we went to our starting point, where a long wait at the booking service elicited only a "Sorry, Madame."

Call me crazy, but I was having a great time. I figured this was the closest I would ever come to having my own entourage. Seven days into my three-week India trip had passed, and so far, exemplary ground arrangements by my tour operator had deprived me of this quintessential Indian travel experience.

A handsome, turbaned Sikh guide had met me at the airport. We'd eased down New Delhi's wide avenues, enjoying the lemon trees and sweet peas flowering in the roundabouts. Then an uneventful van ride on a smooth toll road had led me to Jaipur, from where I'd just returned.

Very nice, but this was India, land of the epic journey. India, where a 78-part TV series enacting the Ramayan -- which, along with the Mahabharat, is the Hindi Iliad and Odyssey -- drew 40 million viewers in the late 1980s. The India of the Mughal sultan's mobile palaces: dozens of tents, with silk-embroidered walls and Persian rugs, powered by hundreds of men, elephants and camels. Then there was Mahatma Gandhi's epic political journey, in which he walked 240 miles to collect sea salt to avoid paying the British tax.

Now, at the train station, my journey was about to attain epic quality. I was no longer taking it; it was taking me. My people -- I'd come to think of them that way -- decided I must call my hotel. We deployed to the fire-engine-red booth staffed by people who make calls for you, the public call office (PCO). My suitcase wallahs, however, nixed the PCO in favor of a cheaper pay phone nearby. I did not have the correct change, so my people enlisted a tag-along boy who disappeared with my 10-rupee note. When he returned with the change, I realized I had lost my hotel's phone number.

We returned to the PCO, where I shouted my hotel's name at the official telephoner. It was hard to be heard over the other shrieking telephone users. He put through a call and handed me the phone, but after a half-understood conversation, I gathered that whomever I was speaking to was not at the hotel. I wrote out the hotel's name. The telephoner recognized it right off and gave me one of those pity-the-verbally-challenged looks.

I was having trouble with English. The elegant, lyrical English spoken by many Indians bears little resemblance to my Midwestern twang. My last name, Crawford, is quite common, but at each hotel, the desk clerk would look at his reservations book with puzzlement and say, "Sorry, Madame." I'd point to my name and repeat, "Crawford." "Ah, Crawford," they would say. I started saying, "Crawford, as in Cindy, only shorter." In India, everyone knows Cindy Crawford.

Finally, I connected with my hotel. The driver, who had been waiting at Wimpy's, was coming back to the train station for me. PCO telephoner paid, suitcases aloft and ranks reduced by one hotel tout and his followers, we returned to where we had begun. When more calls, waiting and trekking didn't hook me up with the driver, I decided, hotel name written down, to grab a cab. A feeding frenzy began among the so-far-well-behaved rogue taxi wallahs. I headed for the prepaid taxi kiosk across from Wimpy's to purchase a set-fee voucher for a legal cab.

The rogues blocked my path, shouting, "I give you better price," "It's only for taxis to distant places like Agra" and the oh-so-Indian, "It's not working." Stunned, I froze. Then a man in a three-piece suit and matching turban broke through the swarm. He took my money, bought a taxi voucher, saw me into my cab and admonished me not to give the suitcase wallahs 200 rupees (about $4.50.) He said 50 rupees was sufficient. I gave them 200 anyway; I'd promised it to them. Later, however, I realized that holding up two fingers meant they wanted to bum a cigarette, not negotiate a price.

Fearing I might not be ready for Delhi, I took inspiration from what I'd learned of India's women. They suffer everything from virtual slave labor to dowry deaths -- the killing of a bride because her dowry was not large enough. But India also has a long tradition of powerful female figures -- women endowed with Shakti, feminine power.

Mythically, the warrior goddess, Durga, embodied Shakti. Historically, Queen Lakshmibai, the Warrior Queen of Jhansi, who died in 1858 leading her troops against the British, had it. More recently, Indira Gandhi twice led India's unruly republic, and in 2004 her daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, carried the National Congress Party back to power.

Earlier on my trip, I'd met some not-so-famous female powerhouses. They exuded grace, smarts and serious authority. They wrapped their gorgeous power saris, hand-loomed cloth in muted colors, in the modern fashion. Unlike other women, they used few or no pins to keep the long swaths in place, thereby demonstrating their effortless mastery over every situation. Surely, I reasoned, emulating such women might help.

Lacking a power sari and the skills to wear it, I tried to dress for success in Delhi in an ankle-length khaki skirt, a long-sleeved blouse and a floral silk scarf swept over my shoulder. I used the woman-alone street smarts I'd been taught by an Indian woman: Walk quickly with firm purpose, look straight ahead, make no eye contact with touts or beggars and, most important, don't say anything. In India, even a firm "No!" is considered an encouraging word.

* * *

My next expedition, crossing Delhi's main Janpath Road, may not seem epic, but as I stood on its curb with traffic flowing in six lanes like the Ganges in flood, the other side seemed unreachable. Every lane had at least one bus, one truck or two cars. All remaining square centimeters were filled with bikes, scooters, auto-rickshaws and motorized carts. From the slowest bicycle with three passengers to the fastest Mercedes with just one, every vehicle moved as fast as it could whenever it could. Traffic slowed for cows, not people.

My plan was to cross from the luxe hotel where I'd lunched to the government-run crafts store. In hindsight, asking the hotel guard to point out the store was my first mistake. Whammo -- bring on the touts. As drivers bid against each other, the price of a cycle rickshaw fell from 50 rupees to 5 -- to be augmented by commissions from the stores where they would take me.

Then I made my second mistake. I said, "I'll walk." This elicited shouts: "There are better government stores," "It's a holiday -- the store is closed" and, closest to the truth, "It's not safe." Striding to the nearest intersection, I lost all but one tout, who continued to yell that I'd die crossing the road.

I spotted a woman in a power sari on the curb and positioned myself next to her. When she stepped off the curb, I stepped off the curb. When she slowed, I slowed. When she sprinted, I sprinted. And when she made it across, so did I. Encountering more touts on the other side, I remained tight-lipped and plunged on -- right into someone's private office. It belonged to a kind gentleman who directed me to the store next door.

Two days later, at 5 a.m., I was back at the train station. Fewer people slept and more washed as commuter hordes stampeded for jammed trains. This time, I'd managed to hire just one suitcase wallah and felt confident that he would get me to the right track, on the right train and into my assigned seat.

Imitating other women on the platform, I sat on my suitcase to wait. Even though I was covered like a nun, a dozen men stood around staring at me. This, I knew, would not be happening to a genuine powerhouse.

So, using a different approach, I pulled my scarf over my head and looked down at my right shoulder. The pose constricted my view, but I could still see the men's shoes turn and walk away. All except one. Curious about this persistent fellow, I inched up my head and recognized my loyal suitcase wallah.

Meek women might not inherit the earth, but I found out that if they play their scarves right, they can at least lay claim to a small portion of an Indian railway platform.

Kate Crawford is a freelance writer in Sebastopol, Calif.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mysterious Silence of Commies on Naxal Attack

Barring BJP, No other major political party has criticised the Naxal Attack in Jehanabad.

CPM- Prakash Karat is silent and is busy in UP.

CPI- A B Bardhan - Silence

CONGRESS - No Reaction

Why are they all silent? Why are they not condemning it? You can derive your answers :)

Punish the Ministers at Centre and State Level for Naxal Menance

Recently, in our Biharigroup, we are having some discussions about Naxal Memance.

Someone demanded that Govt should fire the officials! Why?

I think that it is time to fire ministers. Reason - These Politicians are the ones to gang up with Naxals to buy votes and secure their power. Due to their support only, Naxals are still growing when IB and RAW have warning GOI to take actions.

So, why should we blame poor officials? When police does not have Automatic Weapons and Vehicles then how can we expect to counter Naxals?

It is high time that we call the bluff of politicians.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Naxals attack Jehanabad - Display of their increasing strength

Naxalites have been a menance to Bihar and Jharkhand for long time and their merger with PWG has already made them stronger.

Yesterday's audacious attack on Jehanabad proves their might and failure of State Govt.

It proves that they are a real danger to INDIA and we need to crush them sooner than later. Of course, Congress is repeating the same tune which they played in Andhra.

Prakash Karat and Commies are all silent! they are Curse on India.

Read this indian express report to get more details.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Why Bihar still Matters?

Rajdeep Sardesai has done us, Biharis, a great service by writing this article:
Why Bihar (still) matters

He points out some interesting facts about Bihar:

1) But there is also another side to this out-migration story, which doesn't conform to the stereotype of the Bihari as a lower-end labourer or paan-chewing taxi driver. Whether it's institutions of higher learning like JNU or IIT, symbols of old power like the IAS and IPS or totems to the new information age like Infosys, Biharis today constitute one of the largest groups of skilled manpower in the country.

2)Indeed, Bihar today reflects a strange paradox: on the one hand, the literacy rate in Bihar is a woeful 48 per cent, well below the national average. On the other, Bihar's demographic profile shows a large population, especially in the creative age group of 15-34, which is benefiting from higher education and a sense of social empowerment.

3) Take another statistic. Bihar just accounts for four per cent of the national market with eight per cent of the national population. However, its foodgrain production is higher than the national average. Bihar's poverty level remains well above the national average at 42 per cent. However, annual remittances disbursed by the Patna general post office alone account for a substantial Rs 1,000 crore.

Thank YOU Very Much, Rajdeep.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Shahabuddin’s Arrest - Was it a surrender?

RJD MP Shahabuddin has been on the run for last 3 months and Suddenly, Police arrests him in Delhi!

Most likely this is a part of political game by Laloo who has got JPN Yadav to resign as well. UPA is also part of the game.

Read this story to get some more insight..