Indian Culture, Politics

A shameful day for India

A country that can not welcome writers like Salman Rushdie must not expect high hopes of intellectual achievements coming out of the country. Government’s refusal to provide security to him is very condemnable but totally expected. No government will touch this issue in the election year.

Indian Culture, Politics, Science

History of IITs

Here is an academic article about History of IITs and computing in India. I found this article via blog of Dheeraj Sanghi. This article chronicles the creation of IITs and their subsequent impact on establishment of IT industry in India. IITs were created by direct patronage of US(IITK), Britain(IITD), USSR(IITB), and West Germany(IITM). Indian political elite were able to convince the major powers of the time to contribute in creation of IITs. The article also notes that

Not building the IITs would not necessarily have insured that those resources would have been spent instead on an effective mass education system, but if India’s IT industry is one legacy of Nehru’s policies, so too are its generally low levels of education and persistent poverty.

Indeed, IITs has been acting as an elite and exclusive club that can be joined by seemingly fair process of entrance exam. This club can catapult one into the world of highly skilled professionals.  The destination of such professionals is US. IITs are only good at producing export quality undergraduates, which is by no means a bad thing. The problem is that IITs have failed to do high quality research. In the same time,  public imagined IITs to be like a ‘fairy palace’ that is not accessible to normal human being. IITs can not hope that their status as government funded elite club is sustainable. One day or another, Indian polity will challenge its structure. Given that their research record is ‘international zero’.

Indian government has been attempting to change IITs and sometimes in very foolish ways. Recently, a massive expansion of IITs has been started. Now they are expanded to 14 from 6 IITs. This is very interesting experiments in many ways. No one can deny need for more high quality technology institutes. Yet, there are many objections on this expansion. Many IITians are worried about dilution of their brand name. Some are worried that there will not be enough qualified faculties willing to join IITs, given the salary levels. Quality control of these many IITs will be increasingly hard.

In my opinion, time is ripe for the expansion. Lets hope that the new IITs will succeed.

Indian Culture

Book: Sea of poppies

I do not normally read fiction books. I was recently bored by reading many technical papers and one day I got ‘Sea of poppies‘ in my hands and I couldn’t stop reading it.

The story in the novel is situated in 19th century British india,  which was addicted to opium trade.  The story attempts to bring together all kinds of people of the time on a ship traveling to Mauritius. The author has crafted a marvelous story to illustrate  views of these people about the world around them. The story is full of drama and planted with many historical facts and circumstances. I am very much impressed with the author’s understanding about the 19th century India.

An Indian can see nothing but evil in the British empire and a Brit tends to engage in cost benefit analysis. The Brit will ask you if there are no benefits of the empire to India. Certainly, we can count some benefits. For the Brit, this is sufficient for not calling the empire as absolute evil. In my view, nothing is absolute evil, but the British empire was work of some very nasty people and their perpetual pretense of building a virtuous empire.  This pretense still continues in the minds of many people, like Andrew Roberts. Sea of poppies very well exposes this pretense.

Indian Culture, Politics

Jan lokpal bill

The Lokpal of the “Jan Lokpal bill”  sounds like  the guardians of Plato’s Republic; not very democratic institution.  It is hard to predict compatibility of the proposed Lokpal institution with the Indian democracy. The criticism of Lokpal  institution as anti-democratic has to be taken seriously.

In any political system, there are power centers. In an ideal Democratic system, one may argue that all the significant power centers must be elected. There are many difficulty in implementing such system. One of them is the power jobs that require  sophisticated technical  understanding of some subject. For example, supreme court judge. Almost all democracies in history didn’t elect their supreme court judges. So, we need to relax the condition of the ideal democracy. A practical approach is to only try to maximize the number of power centers that are democratically elected. Therefore, I think that creating Lokpal as a non-democratic institution is not necessarily a bad idea according to my understanding of the nature of democracy. Many times, the devil lies in details. The details have to be worked out. This institution should be powerful but not too powerful like constitutional courts of Turkey. Checks and balances are key to democracy. This is good that both ministers and activist have joined the drafting committee. Hopefully some thing balanced will come out.

Now about the man himself. People have doubts about Anna Hazzare’s political philosophy. As some have pointed out, his style of doing social work has been quite authoritarian and full of moral idealism. For example, he preaches against film music, uses lots of religious symbols, and incites militaristic nationalism. He has been called Gandhian therefore in the popular mindset he can not be bad. Gandhi’s politics was not much far from Anna’s style. Gandhi was highly religious. His ashrams were not democratic place and he some times referred himself as a general of a Non-violent army. So watch out where Anna may lead us.

Indian Culture

‘New deal’ in coaching mafia!

These days I am visiting my hometown Kanpur. This time I planned to meet a few school time friends. These are a few people whom I know and they have nothing to do with technology. They told me many things which I couldn’t have known otherwise. One should remain in contact with old friends. 🙂

One friend told be me about the new dealings in coaching mafia.

First a little bit background. IIT/Medical entrance preparation coaching centers  have been the place to make career in Kanpur. Students from all over the state UP come here to realize their dream. And, Government does not like it. Government has been trying many failed tricks to break the back bone of this coaching mafia for a long time. For example, changing exam patterns every year.

Now this coaching mafia has realized a new opportunity. They noticed that students pay them because students live a dream to have a degree of B. Tech. So, why to depend on these government colleges? Let’s start our own colleges and start stamping degrees. In last 5 years, more than 35 new engineering colleges have been started in Kanpur, which are magically getting government recognition. These new institutes have close ties with the coaching centers. That is a dangerous mix which leads to deception and potential exploitation of new students.

I guess lacks(.1M) of students come to Kanpur with the dream of getting selected in some respectable institute. They join these coaching places and spend their 1-2 years. They eventually make good relations and trust with the coaching teachers. Many students get selected with very bad ranks in UP state entrance exam. Then they need advice to select a good enough career making degree stamping college in the lot to rotten colleges. Now! These coaching teachers are cutting deals with engineering colleges for recommending the college to their coaching students. This is a sad scenario where new students purely helpless and do not know what to choose and whom to trust. They never know who has eaten money. Even engineering college students are paid to came and praise certain engineering colleges.

This coaching mafia should be regulated like any other trade. Instead of Government trying to break backbone of coaching mafia, it should attempt to make sure that coachings are free of corruption and work for benefit of their clients, namely students.

Indian Culture, Politics

Why British dismantled their empire?

  • Rise of America?
  • Ruins of second world war?
  • Rise of nationalist movements in many colonies?
  • Empire became too big for Britain?
  • Change of British heart ?
  • Empire became unprofitable?

British left their colonies but not thrown out by force. There are many puzzling facts about the last half century of the empire. There were not strong forces inside Britain which were driving towards dismantling of the empire. No nationalist movement was strong enough to over throw the British rule. At the international stage, which was Europe, Japan, and America, there was not much pressure on Britain against the Empire. Americans were looking for to have their own colonies. Europeans were more busy in their own empires and wars.

I just read the book Empire and the English character. This book analyzes the typical thinking of British Colonial Officers of the empire.  The book shows that different officers had different conception of the empire. Each colony was created and run with different objectives. So, each officer can have his own justification of his actions depending upon his circumstances. The officer, who was posted in some outpost in a jungle, thought that he was in a civilizing mission of the natives. Native people need to learn the governing art by watching the great example of British. The officer, who was posted at economic gold mines, thought that his main interest was trading with some necessity to govern.

The British long debated and analyzed the right mode and means of governing. They ran the empire impromptu. Just what ever works. Various events shows that they could never figured out the good solution to run the empire and more importantly the moral justification. They knew one clear goal or a dream, that is, they deserve all the economic benefits of the empire and they do not want to harm anyone in the process. They seem to never realize that this goal is almost impossible to achieve.

There were many strains of thought. Some suggested to place an autocratic bureaucracy over the colonies, which will make sure the ‘civilized behavior’ in the colony, and let the day to day matters be handled by a native elected legislature. Another idea was to create a commonwealth (A super nation organization, some thing like EU ). In which, colonies will be sovereign states but their international issues, such as disputes and trading, will be handled by British. There were many other variants for the organization of empire. But, essential feature in all of them was that the British wanted to keep their hands on the pie (economic benefits of the colonies). This lead to many restructurings of the empire during first half of 20th century. Meanwhile, the war was looming over Europe which lead British to be less ambitious over their plans. Some times they are forced to negotiate with the native leaders to gather support for the war. Meanwhile, Americans were getting more and more powerful and they wanted a share in the British empire.

Also the troubles due to the nationalist movements. The most powerful nationalist movement was in India. It was lead by Gandhi and it was very hard for British to call leaders like Gandhi as uncivilized savage. They kept doing concessions with Gandhi and his congress. One day they found that the most of administration was actually Indian and it had became unprofitable to run India(due to some 1920 tax reforms). So, they decided to let India go.

There were series of complex events which finally led to the fall of the empire. I don’t think that one factor can be singled out. The whole lesson to be learned is that to kill beasts, like British empire, one has to do the groundwork to create conditions in which it can not sustain itself.

Indian Culture

Satanic Verses: I actually liked it.

I got Satanic Verses around 6 years back. I couldn’t read it beyond few pages. The same reason which made it the most unread bestseller. Hard English. His allusions move all over the planet. You need to know a lot of history and literature to catch-all those allusions. I recently found this source, which listed all the allusion made in the book. Finally, I was able to read it from front to the back, without skipping boring chapters.

The book is about immigrants in London, mostly Indian, who came there around 60s-70s and living there in 80s. It paints a good picture of 80s. Margaret Thatcher in London and Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi. People loving film stars like Sri devi, Vinod Khanna, etc. Many events described in the book were actually happened. I learned many facts about India. I feel that the story attempts to point at certain hippocracies and behavioral clichés of the people–both British and immigrants–and its effect on their own life. I think that this book has done it well.

The fatwa. The controversial part was dreams of a character called Gibreel, who was very successful film star in India. He was very religious man. Once he started having series of dreams, which lead him to lose faith, and by the end he goes mad. These dreams were not random. They are closely related to some real events. One of them was controversial. It was based on Prophet Mohammed’s life. In this dream, story takes satirical look at prophet´s life. Some part of it simply makes fun of the prophet. Rushdie’s main crime was not that he made fun of the prophet but he seriously challenged the legitimacy of the prophet, which lead to the fatwa.He wrapped it all in a fiction, which many say obscene. There has been serious criticism about weakness of plot. It is hard to make sense out of the fiction.

All in all I liked the book. I wish to meet someone who has read this book and disliked it. I want to discuss what makes this book bad to some people, except fanatic muslims.

( You may find this video on youtube (In 12 parts) interesting. It is a talk by some Muslim cleric to explain what is wrong with Satanic Verses. Noticed that he is speaking in London. So, he is only focusing on the obscene part of the book rather then the blasphemy part. Quite smart of him. Here is another video by the same cleric speaking in South africa. Here, he deals with actual blasphemous material. He waste lots of time in saying random things but it is worth watching it if religion interest you in anyways. )