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Friday, May 30, 2008

Petrol shortage - tough days ahead

The situation is scary. There is every possibility of acute shortage of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. And, it's impact can be frightening. Already in Mumbai petrol bunks have put up "no stock" signs. I don't want to sound like prophet of doom, but we are looking at really tough days ahead. There could be massive queues for filling petrol, tempers could fray... The shortage of fuel can have a cascading effect -- food prices are already up, it could go further up. Vested interests who are looking for an excuse to create trouble might exploit the situation. Have the government and security agencies thought of this dangerous scenario? I have heard of food riots only African countries. (Source: Red Cross)
 
Why fuel prices are high and rising?
 
In India, we get petrol, diesel and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas or cooking gas) at a subsidised rate. With the price that we pay, the petroleum companies like Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum, etc will not be able to buy fuel from the international market. They currently sell petrol at a discount of Rs 13.97 a litre and diesel at a discount of Rs 20.97 per litre. They make up this loss with help from the government. This help is not available to private retail outlets. That's one reason, Reliance closed all its 1,432 petrol pumps. The IOC is said to losing Rs 320 crore every day, because of increased global fuel prices.
 
India is heavily dependent on imports. So, there's little we can do about it. The cost of fuel here will depend directly on the global prices. It's very difficult to pinpoint exactly why the fuel prices are on the rise globally. There is no unanimity among even the experts. Some of the reasons are:
 
1) Consumption of fuel has increased worldwide, especially among developing countries like India and China. China is expected to overtake the United States and become the largest energy consumer soon after 2010, according to the report's forecasts. In India, where more than 400 million people have no access to electricity, energy demand is expected to more than double by 2030. (Source: New York Times). But the fact is no country consumers as much oil as the United States. (Source: Planet Energies.)
 
2) The global oil cartel, comprising the OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) are manipulating the prices. There were 13 countries. Now Indonesia has decided to pull out. (Source: BBC, Economic Times)  
 
3) The global production of oil is on the decline. This group says that amount of oil in the earth is finite and of the 65 largest oil producing countries in the world, up to 54 have passed their peak of production and are now in decline, including the USA in 1970/1, Indonesia in 1997, Australia in 2000, the North Sea in 2001, and Mexico in 2004. (Source: Energy Bulletin
 
What can we do?
 
You and me can do very little to make any direct impact and remedy the situation. That's why it's all so scary. Our movements are going to get restricted: one, because of fuel shortage, and two, because everything else too is going to become costlier. It's impossible to stop consuming fuel. Perhaps we might be able to reduce by staggering our consumption. But, it will have hardly any real impact to ease the situation, as it is tied to a complex web of external factors.
 
Over a long term, may be a collective effort by people might have some marginal effect. We all might have to stagger usage. We all might have to cut down on our tendency to zoom off in the motorbike or car to wherever we feel like and for whatever reason.
 
Increase in oil price and cut in import duty are only temporary measures. They aren't going to sustain us over the long term. For that nationally our dependence on import itself has to be reduced.
 
There are reports Reliance Petroleum's Jamnagar refinery is getting ready for commercial production by the third quarter this fiscal. The 60-million-tonne export-oriented refinery will pump fuel to world markets including the US and Europe and ease supply crunch. (Source: Economic Times)
 
We can only keep our fingers crossed, have faith in the knowledgeable technocrats and bureaucrats; and considerate politicians to take the best possible decision that will make our lives comfortable.
 
I am just going out to get my tank filled, just in case...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's BJP in Karnataka

In 2004, BJP came on top. But, they ruled the least amount of time in a shameful circus of coalition theatre. And, in a tragic travesty of justice, JD(S) which had come third, ruled the most.

Now in 2008 -- today -- too BJP has come on top, but with more numbers, which gives it enough reason to claim the government. Quite understandably, JD(S), which played the villain all the past four years, has got a drubbing.

Congress made of a mess of their strategy; or was there a strategy at all?

I thought BJP deserved a chance to rule, especially the way they had performed last time. Like I said, even though they had the numbers last time, they were never allowed to rule.

Now, they have no excuses. They will have to fully justify the "pro-development" tag they always claim. Hopefully, now there will be an end to the total absence of governance -- that lasted four full years -- in Karnataka. Hopefully, Bangalore city -- the global show piece of modernity and technology -- and Karnataka as a whole will get on the path of progress and rapid development.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Why not Hillary as running mate?

Mr Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and Ms Hillary Clinton, the Vice-President... -- imagine that scenario on January 20, 2009 -- that will be an amazing combination.... But more about that a bit later in this post.

First, I don't think any time in the recent past a US presidential primary has generated so much interest. Whoever becomes the President s/he will create a record as the first Black, woman or the oldest President.

The Democratic primary now very much resembles the final stages of a cricket match (the sport that arouses as much passion and interest in India as baseball and basketball does in the US).

Who is good for India?
It's generally felt that Republican policies are favourable to India. Last time it was John Kerry who spoke out against outsourcing jobs to India. Even this time, both Hillary and Obama have tried to win over middle class Americans by raking up outsourcing. I am not quite concerned, because, in such issues, my gut feeling is irrespective of Republican or Democratic views, it'll be what the American businessmen want that will prevail rather than what the ordinary American would want.

Personally, among the candidates, I'd rank my choice thus: Hillary, Obama and McCain. I have read a lot about the Clintons -- Bill and Hillary -- more than about Obama; and may be because of that I am favouring her. But Obama is as much impressive -- I've completely fallen for his oratorical style; a great communicator he is. His speeches are definitely worth listening to.

Hillary's attractiveness is the amazing experience she has behind her; and the family exudes an exceptionally remarkable charm. It's pretty certain that Obama has made it, but Hillary has surely let it be known that she is, nevertheless, a tough fighter the Americans can rely on. I haven't been able to relate to McCain at all, though I guess he too has a great record mainly for fighting in Vietnam.

Hillary: from First Lady to Vice-President?
Now all the focus will be on who will be Obama's running mate. I think it should be Hillary. The double-engined Democratic bandwagon will have more than adequate muscle to see through the race. But for that first Obama and Hillary will close ranks as fast as possible.

Unlike the Republican campaign, Democratic race has seen debates on the lines of Black and White; Man and Woman. There is a lot of scratching of the head happening to determine why Hillary, in spite of being a woman and with loads of experience, didn't come through clean. Or, did those very attributes go against her?

Similar questions are being asked about Obama as well. In spite of being Black and inexperienced how did he steal a march over Hillary? Some are talking of the how the number of delegates is hardly an indicator of one's actual popularity. Of course, it'sn't that the American electoral system is anywhere near perfect.

My take is this: Obama is ahead simply because he has been been able to connect to the masses much better. His communication skills have undoubtedly helped him; enormously. Ronald Reagan is another politician who worked his communication skills to great advantage -- arguably it played a big role in the beginning the end of the Communist empire by engaging Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. And, Obama is miles ahead of McCain as far as connecting to people is concerned, if video clippings of their campaigns are any indication.

Imagine this in January 20, 2009 -- Mr Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and Ms Hillary Clinton, the Vice-President... that will be an amazing combination.

She shouldn't worry that she wouldn't be in the limelight, that she would have just a back-up role. Coming to think of it, actually it wouldn't be a role totally unfamiliar to her, for that's what she had been doing for eight long years when hubby Bill was in the White House. So it's perfectly possible for Obama and Hillary to have a perfect understanding regarding the roles they have to play. During this term, Vice-President Dick Cheney has played a no insignificant role in the post-9/11 engagement of his country with the rest of the world, mainly in Iraq.

Of course, this wouldn't be the same as she being in the White House itself. But so what? There was a time when things had hotted up so much in Bill's Oval Office, it didn't really matter if she was in the White House or not. She carried on her own administration of the United States as its First Lady. She is quite used to this sort backseat driving, with help of the actual driver or not, I guess.

But if Hillary is indeed chosen as Obama's running mate and goes on to become the vice-president, a possible problem will be Bill. Remember how he had almost wrecked Hillary's campaign recently? So what will Bill's role be? I am sure both Obama and Hillary will factor that in their plans.

Imagine, another driver, behind the back-seat driver, driving both Hillary and Obama! Bill is quite capable of that!

Photo captions and credits:
  • Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., speaks to the media in Brandon, South Dakota Friday, May 23, 2008 as she apologizes for an earlier statement to the Argus Leader's editorial board in Sioux Falls, S.D. citing the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in defending her decision to keep running for the Democratic presidential nomination despite increasingly long odds.(AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Source
  • U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks at a rally in Sunrise, Florida, May 23, 2008. Reuters/Joe Skipper (United States) US presidential election campaign 2008 USA. Source

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Evening showers in Bangalore

Bangalore has been getting heavy showers in the evenings. Yesterday around 5 pm it rained so heavily it looked like actual monsoon showers. The rain comes down suddenly. In Bangalore if it's pouring like mad in one place it could be as dry as parched land just 5 or 6 km away. The night now is cool with the sudden burst of rain. It is so refreshing to be on the balcony looking at the falling drops. The starless sky is illuminated intermittently by streaks of lightning.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why alert only after a blast?

This is something I haven't actually understood.

Whenever there is an explosion, there is a nation-wide alert. Policemen and other security personnel descend on the streets, set up barricades, carry out widespread, actually very intrusive, inspection of everything that we carry, peering into cars and what not. There is intense screening of people and baggage in railway stations and bus terminals. We have always seen this after an explosion in some city. We saw it again after the Jaipur explosions on Tuesday, May 13th.

Just wait for a few more days, all these police personnel would have retreated to the comforts of their offices or barracks or wherever. Everything would seem normal. Media will scream: "Normalcy returns to Jaipur". There will also be complimentary articles extolling the virtues of a society that is resilient. "Jaipur bounces back to life..." It is a different matter, there is no option but for people to bounce back.

Until another day.... God forbid...

We have lived with terrorism... Have we ever seriously wanted our society to be safe and secure... India had a violent and bloody birth... But does that mean we have to always live with terror? Do we need to be on "nation-wide alert" only for a few days after a blast?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Why we hate politics, yet I voted

The following is the first draft, the longer version, of the article that appeared in The Times of India, Bangalore, today under the headline "Why I voted on Saturday". 
 
It's election time in my state, Karnataka. It's a three-phase polling, and among the places that went to polls day before yesterday, May 10, was the capital city, Bangalore. The second phase is on May 16 and the last on 22nd. The counting of votes is on 25th and by evening on that day, we will know who will be the state's new chief minister. Or if it'll again be an indecisive mandate; hopefully not.
 
The big surprise day before yesterday was the city recorded a very low percentage of voting -- only 44 percent. Poor turnout is actually no news -- not even in the US of A. But here it was a surprise because there was unprecedented mobilisation in the run-up to the polls. There was a virtual carpet bombing of messages -- by the resident welfare associations, voluntary organisations, business houses, IT companies and media -- enlightening citizens about the need to -- not just vote but to -- vote for the right candidate.
 
There were very explicit detailing of the reasons on why the educated middle class should vote. One of them was it is the only way the vote-bank politics (here it's a euphemism for buying of poor voters by politicians) can be smashed. The messages even worked out clear numbers saying how the educated middle class easily outnumber the poor in Bangalore city; and how we really have a say; how we -- by taking a conscientious decision -- can dictate the state of Bangalore. These messages, in fact, just stopped short of telling all of us whom we should vote for.
 
So, on polling day, Saturday, I expected a huge carnival of the youth brigade, long queues of computer software engineers and other professionals. All that crowd -- what we refer to as the jing-bang crowd -- that we are used to seeing on M G Road and Brigade Road; I thought they would have all enthusiastically jogged, trekked or picnicked their way the nearest polling booth; buzzed each other on the fun they were having. After all, it is they -- we all actually -- who are the victims of bad politics.  
 
Ultimately, it turned out that -- forget voting for the right candidate -- few even turned up to vote.
 
There are umpteen theories doing the rounds on why very few turned up. I don't think we need to commission a scientific study to know the reason -- cynicism and indifference to politics and politicians must surely be among the most common reason. Politics is low on priority for many people. If someone thought that majority are Bangaloreans will put off every things else to make sure they voted, then they were -- (and are?) -- mistaken.
 
Why politics is so low on priority levels?
 
1) We have taken democracy in India for granted.
 
We know nothing will go wrong. Sixty years of Independent India has seen some of the worst moments, but we all have seen how the political system is strong enough, to make sure that it doesn't get worse than what it already is. We know that even if we don't pay much heed, the political system will run; in such a way that won't make our lives more miserable than it already is.
 
2) Politics and politicians aren't worth our time and attention.
 
They are in a world of their own, we are in one of our own. Both are mutually exclusively, most of the time. They make their money, we make ours. They look the other way (to my convenience) most of the time, and so we too look the other way (to their convenience).
 
3) Politicians hardly inspire.
 
During elections, we elect legislators, the law-makers. They are supposed to discuss, debate and administer our society by enacting suitable laws and making sure that the laws are strictly adhered to. But, we have seen the way they behave in the place they work. It is so demotivating, that we prefer not to pay any attention. Many lawmakers are actually law breakers. We are any day better than them, aren't we?
 
4) Why we must cover up for politicians' failures?
 
Tasks are cut out. We all know what our corporators and legislators should do? When they aren't doing even a few percentage of what they actually should be doing, why must we spend our valuable time, effort and energy to cover up for their inadequacies and failures; especially, when ignoring politicians works quite well for us? Do, these politicians need to be hand-held, and told what to do, how and when? Instead, doesn't it make more sense to use our time and energy more productively for other activities -- need not always be personal, but other community and voluntary services? That's actually what ultimately most of us are doing -- disassociating ourselves from politics and politicians; working publicly in our own private spheres.  
 
5) Politicians aren't visible.
 
Vote? For whom? Why must we go through the rigmarole of getting a voter ID card and vote, when we don't even know whom we are voting for; never seen them, never heard them. Instead of voting, we might as well talk to the mountains. Anyway, many people who had voter ID cards themselves couldn't vote. What system are we talking about?
 
6) Good politics is desirable, but bad politics doesn't matter.
 
Mercifully, we are all gainfully employed. We have enough income to reasonably make both ends meet. We can all travel abroad, at least on work. Even for pleasure actually, if not every year, at least once in two or three years. Things what our parents couldn't even dream of. If there are no roads it's okay, we can have a modern (may be luxurious) car that won't make us even feel that we are on bad roads. Traffic jams? So what? We have wi-fi-enabled laptops that will virtually bring my office into my car. In way good that there are lots of traffic holdups, our car is stationary more often than it is moving.
 
But then why did I vote on Saturday?
 
Even though I very much agree with the half a dozen reasons that have been mentioned above, on polling day, I told myself, I must vote. We are blessed to be in India, a democratic country where we all have absolute freedom to choose the ruler. It's completely beside the point that our rulers aren't up to the mark. Politics and politicians in India need a complete makeover.
 
However, in a democracy, if the politicians' duty is to take care of people and administer the society, our duty is not only to obey the laws of the land, but also to take part in the due process that puts in place a good administrative setup. If politicians shun their part of the work, should I shun mine too?
 
I voted because in the political arrangement of democracy my job is the easiest -- to vote; I didn't want to fare poorer than the politicians.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why women should have cooks?

Women are supposed to cook -- or so some people think -- so, why on earth should they have cooks at home?

Recently, at a friend's house, we were discussing the growing trend of women, especially working women, going in for cooks. A case of a young family who appointed a cook is what started off the debate.

''When she can cook so wonderfully well, why should she keep a cook?'' asked one. ''Her work timings are convenient and she has enough time to prepare food for the small family."

Said another, "There are so many busy women with bigger families who manage without cooks...'' The arguments went on.

I found this reasoning horribly flawed. It missed the changed circumstances in which many women, and also men, work. Priorities have changed.

Earlier, many women worked primarily to supplement the hubby's income. Her priority was the kitchen. That's also the way she had been brought up.

Today it's not so, may not be in all families but in many families. Women supplement not the hubby's income but the family's income. There is a thin line of difference here that needs to be understood.

Today, even a middleclass girl grows up with dreams of a career and being independent. Many struggle with the stereotyped traditional idea that placed women in the kitchen.

Today the gender gap has narrowed. A working woman is no different from a working man. Eight to ten hours of work in the office leaves her -- just as her hubby -- with hardly any energy to do work at home. She is just like a man who would prefer to watch TV or just sleep rather than do any work at home.

It's not that women can't cook. She is employing a cook, only like a man appointing a driver or a cleaner for the car. It's not that the man can't find some time to wash the car himself.

There is also the issue of money. The family has to have enough wealth to afford a cook, or even a cleaner for that matter. If there is no money, there is neither a cook nor a cleaner. If there is money only for one; then it depends on the priorities, often determined by gender equation.

Unfortunately, this is not a point many guys, especially elders, easily understand or are ready to accept. I am an optimist. May be there is a change happening; too slow to notice perhaps.