Better Late than Never

It was 4.25 pm, 19th December 2008. I alighted from a Kalyan bound local train at the Kanjurmarg station and went to the newspaper shop at the platform and bought a magazine. In the meanwhile the next train towards Kalyan came and stopped at the platform. As usual, I was contemplating of jumping on the track to cross the railway line (am just one among many aamjunta who think of taking a short-cut) after the train leaves in stead of taking the flyover. Was just waiting for this train to leave after which would have taken the short-cut. I was also a bit absent minded and was doing multiple things at a time as usual– calling someone over phone, fidgeting with my magazine and gazing at the waiting train at the platform.

A moment later I heard a huge shriek and a loud commotion. Before could realize anything or take note of the circumstance, saw a person’s lower half of the body including his legs getting pulled into the track by the huge, monstrous iron wheels of the running train! This extraordinary scene was going on just around twenty feet away from where I was standing. Without a seconds delay I ran with whatever force could gather and pulled out that person with all my might. Many people had gathered around to watch the scene by that time. Fortunately, he was saved but a bit injured. However, he was frightened beyond comprehension and so was I.

People came running to us and tried to console him. Some patted him on his back and some thanked his stars to have protected him. He was so shaken that was shivering from head to toe. I supported him physically to the nearest platform bench and took a bottle of water out of my bag. I never usually carry a water bottle; it was rare that day to have one with me. Interestingly, I had not even opened that bottle yet. The gentleman took the bottle gratefully, drank some water from it and washed his face.

He was probably in his early fifties, short in height and slight of build. He said that he lives in Thane and is a teacher in a school in Powai. He travels back home usually by the train which just left and which he was trying to board. Even though he was not in a hurry and the train was not that crowded, he tried to catch the running train, and that had already started and picked up speed. His calculation was wrong, lost control and balance and fell down to be almost pulled into the tracks. It was only a matter of few seconds between life and death….

That was an accident and unwittingly suicidal. He could have avoided that incident with a little more restraint. Anyway, sometimes this happens with many of us. Without realizing the consequences we take some wrong steps either to board running trains, buses or cross roads or drive fast and every time look for some short-cut. Everyone wants to go fast, reach fast and achieve fast – fast, fast, fast. But, fast should not mean that we are so fast that it becomes fatal. I was drawing my own lessons from the incident that I will never try to cross the tracks just to save a few minutes.

The gentleman after being a little stable thanked me profusely and said in Hindi koi jivan lene mein tulla hua hai aur koi bachane mein. Na mein usko pehchanta hoon na mein isko jaanta hoon” (“someone is bent upon taking lives and someone is dedicated to save lives. I do not know either of them”). His statement reminded me of the terror-attacks – some had come to kill us and some died in the wake to save us.

Anyway, that is called life and death, beyond our calculation and beyond any short-cuts.

Aamjunta take care of yourselves…Better late than never!

Those Two Rupees…

Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.

Garrison Keillor

“Babu, will you please give me two rupees more than your usual rickshaw-bhadda (fare)?”

The poor rickshaw-puller innocently asked me on my way to Sheltar Chak from Barabati Bali Yatra (one of the traditional carnivals of Odisha) Maidan.

Before I could say anything, he added, “I’m just requesting, don’t give if you don’t approve it”

I retorted back with irritation. “But, you had agreed for six rupees as the bhadda, why two rupees more?”

He was mum for some time and then said, “I’m falling short of  two rupees”.

From what?”, I questioned him again threateningly…

I’m falling short of two rupees to buy a Milk Dabba (can) for my 6-month old baby. I’ve collected thirty-eight rupees only from my entire day’s rickshaw- pulling, and the Milk Dabba costs forty rupees”.

I tried to open my mouth to say something. Before I could say anything, he stopped the rickshaw, looked back, saw my face and said, “no problem, I just requested you, if you don’t want.. don’t give, will wait for some more time and by God’s grace, I hope I will be able to earn two rupees more”.

Then he started paddling towards my home. After a couple of minutes, he murmured to himself (addressed to his kid), “By the time I collect two rupees more, shops will be closed, and you (his kid) will have to sleep again in hunger tonight”.

It was 11 P.M. at night in the month of November, quite late for the eastern part of India. He was pulling me in his cycle-rickshaw to my brother’s place in Cuttack. I was in my 12th standard at that time, studying at Ravenshaw College. That evening, I got late watching music and dance numbers in the famous Habib Melody. No one agreed to go for a fare of six rupees; all the rickshaw-walas (pullers) were charging ten to twelve rupees. I was bit surprised when this rickshaw-wala had agreed for six rupees after a moment’s thought. May be he was a bit calculative at that time and thought of losing the chance to earn four to six rupees more, just to get that Milk Dabba home in time. Even though he fell short of two rupees, he did not lose faith on his profession.

It is a 10-15 minute journey by rickshaw from Barabati Stadium to Sheltar Chak. In the entire conversation, I was silent for most of the time, thinking about him, his 6-month old baby, me, my friends and the society in general. I was not that matured at that time to understand everything. During Bali Yatra, I found some people throwing money on anything and buying trinkets indiscriminately. But the same people would have gone to any extent to bargain with a poor rickshaw-wala. I too had spent a lot from my pocket-money on eating and watching melodies and operas. Whereas the rickshaw-wala was struggling to save forty rupees by a whole day’s toil, in order to feed his small kid (forget about himself and his other family members).

The value of two rupees for him was the value of his kid’s life, whereas it had no meaning at all for some other people. Such is the denomination of money- something which has no value for someone might be a whole life for somebody else.

Those two rupees ….. aamjunta think about it.

“Mumbai Blues”- Aamjunta’s Aankhon-dekhi

With Food Security Bill pending in Parliament and debates over the implementation of it in real-life, I remembered an old story… This was there and now, it has perhaps become worse in most parts of India…

Life of an "Aamjunta"

It was almost quarter to eleven on a regular working day…

I had a tough day at lab and hostel trying to juggle with balancing my time and thesis writing. Additionally, summer seems to take toll on one’s energy level. That evening I got so irritable, stressed and exhausted that was unable to utter a single word. The demand and supply chain of the thesis writing was not matching. Demand was very high resulting in high pressure on the quality, quantity and the pace of my output. Anyway, I decided to skip dinner, had some biscuits instead in lab itself. Suddenly, my exasperation with the process made me think seriously of taking a break and I decided to go to either lake side or some where else and to sit there for some time by myself. I decided that I will not seek company and so did not ask…

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Chit Funds or Cheat Funds – the Recent Saga of India’s Investors

The recent Chit Fund fiasco in West Bengal has not only pushed the panic button for the Indian Investors, but also opened the Pandora’s box of our corrupt system and the state of awareness of the aamjunta. This is a case in which all the three parties are to be blamed equally – the Investors, the System or the Government and the investment Agencies. Though the issue of cheating and fraud came to light because of Saradha fiasco in West Bengal, Odisha is not far behind in any sense. More than 85 companies are operating in Odisha with a turnover of roughly Rs. 20,000 crore, and there are more than 100 Chit Fund companies (mostly Ponzi Schemes) operating in West Bengal alone with a turnover of roughly Rs. 75,000 crore.

With CB-CID investigations, the list and the amount of fraud and cheating is bound to increase in both the states. Interestingly, some of the Schemes /Companies are old, operating in multiple states, run by well known politicians or their relatives, with a huge capital investment. Coming to Investors – most of them are poor rural people, unaware of the Ponzi Schemes, and are lured mostly by the young unemployed Agents. On the contrary and surprisingly, a good percentage of the Investors are also well-educated, well-aware about the recent happenings or uncertainties. They too could not resist the temptation of becoming rich or richer over-night… and lost their money in the process. In many places, there are numerous reports of suicides both by the Agents and the Investors.

The Chit Fund empire is so complex and so big that it has forced the Government to consider scrapping the Chit Fund Act of 1962 in entirety. Though the pressure is mounting on the Government to order a CBI inquiry of the entire process, in my opinion, CBI inquiry may not be useful as the CBI’s reputation is also at stake in the wake of recent developments; some of their own Officers have been accused and sent to CBI custody for allegedly taking a bribe from a businessman regarding settlement of a land dispute case. In fact, one of these Officers was heading the Coalgate scam probe !

Moreover, why do we have the “reactive” mentality to each and every problem ? Can’t we adapt the “proactive” mentality ? Let’s check where exactly the problem is ? Is there any remedy for these in future ?

As pointed out before, there are three broad parties associated in any kind of investment. They are:

1. The Investment Agency

As per the law of the land, the investment Agencies are supposed to be operating under RBI’s guidelines and State /Centre’s special Acts or Amendments. But in most of the cases, the Agencies are not even registered to offer the Schemes, which they simply roll out in the market. Apart from this, most of the Agencies are either owned by a family or a group of relatives or politicians. Sometimes the companies are created to transform the black money into white, without paying any heed to national economy or security. The investment Agencies select their Directors in such a way, that it becomes easy for them to hide the crucial facts to the people; most of the time the Directors of such Agencies are none other than their drivers, cooks, house-maids, and the like, even without their knowledge !

While India is struggling with unemployment, getting Agents at a low salary is not difficult. Hiring Agents is also tricky; first enrol them as Investors and then lure them with perks, AC train-tickets, gifts and sometimes air-tickets for holiday trips to work as Agents set with achieving a certain amount of “target” i.e., number of Investors and Investment.

I remember, some of my friends who were hired by a similar Agency in 2009 were taken to Malaysia and Singapore (with their family) for a free holiday trip. Not just that; some Agents were gifted with Maruti-800 cars by their Chairman !! Tempting ! Seeing them  make good money in a short span of time, other Investors get attracted and deposit their savings with them, without casting any doubt.

In the initial days, the Agents never fail giving back the monthly interest to the Investors; the payments are always in time and sometimes, even in advance. The one in advance is mostly to give an impression (false) to the Investors that their business has been doing extremely well or performing above expectations ! Surprisingly, the interest rates are almost 24 – 36% per annum; whereas the Post Offices, Life Insurance Policies, and other well-known deposit Schemes give interests not more than 8-10% per annum.  The greed of easy money and becoming rich / richer overnight are the prime factors for both the category of Investors.

Other than giving direct interests to the Investors, companies like Hi-tech in Odisha and Rose Valley in West Bengal later started providing lands/plots in the prime localities of Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack, Kolkata, etc., based on small monthly instalments. The Schemes are so attractive and the Agents are so adept in opening heart-to-heart conversations with the Investors, that no one ever has an iota of doubt while investing. And that too, even in obtaining a plot in the capital cities at a cheaper rate. Surprisingly, in the last raid on Hi-tech in December-2012, it was found that in Bhagya Nagar (outskirts in the city of Bhubaneshwar, Odisha) alone, Hi-tech had promised to give plots of 484 hectares while they actually owned only 4 hectares of land. They are not the only ones doing such business in the market !!

Other well-known companies like Rich Mind, Saradha, Artha Tatwa, Seashore, Safex Infra, Ashore, and many others – almost 200+ odd Agencies have been active in the states of West Bengal and Odisha. Their main target is always the border districts of Odisha, West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Assam, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh. As it happened in Saradha’s case of quick closure and disappearance, most of the other companies also simply shut down their entire operation over-night and disappear with the entire money, leaving behind many Investors and Agents on the cross-roads to awfully suffer at various personal levels, to bear public wrath, face legal charges, police harassment, etc.

2. The Investors

It is obvious that the high rate of interests in the range of 24-36% per annum offered by the Agencies are tempting to invest in such Schemes. In addition, more than 95% of the Investors deposit their savings on the face value of the Agents working with those Companies, without checking a single document. ‘You know he is like my cousin… he has ensured the amount and promised me by the name of God that his Company is genuine, and they have their local branch here in my town, where my niece is a clerk. Where will they go ? We will get the money without any problem, and everybody is investing… so what is the big thing here to check ?’ – is the usual reaction, if you ask the Investors at the time of making their investments, whether they have checked the credentials of the Company or the Agent !

No one checks the credentials even though all the documents can be apparently verified by a couple of mouse-clicks in this age of Internet. What surprises more is the mode of transaction ! Most of the times, the entire transaction is by cash only, without any proper receipts or deposit certificates. As long as the Investors get their returns, no one bothers (including Media and the Regulator bodies) to check the validity of the Schemes, the mode of incomes, the mode of operations, etc. Rather, Investors bring in more Investors, hoping that the company will flourish and will give more and more returns, gifts, free tours to Singapore or Switzerland, etc.

Only when the problem starts and Investors complain, the Media becomes active with their ‘24/7 breaking news‘, demands of CBI investigation starts with public strikes, dharnas, attempts of suicides, etc. With such an ignorance, greed and attitude, do you think any fool-proof solution can at all be provided to the Investors ? I doubt…

3. The Regulators

India of course has many Rules, Articles, legal Sections, Court rulings in place to handle these kind of problems. However, the implementation of such Rules is the key. As per the Government, Chit Funds are a traditional business, strongly regulated by the State Governments and Central Government, Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). If that is so, then why have so many issues cropped up, whether out of the blue or not ? There are definitely many disorganised, unregulated Companies operating right under the nose of the Regulator bodies. They mostly operate Ponzi Schemes or Chain Investment Schemes, and take deposits promising unrealistic rates of return- double return in 2.5 years, prime land or flat in a posh locality at a cheap rate.

As per an RBI study, Co-operative banks are more suitable and bankable for the poor. If that is so, tailor made Schemes should be implemented in the rural areas under the supervision of RBI, not the Ponzi Schemes. There should be a blanket ban on Schemes promising unrealistic returns. This can be done by the Regulators, and the Investors should inform the Regulators without any delay or fear, when they are approached with Ponzi Schemes or the like.

The other important point RBI, SEBI and other Institutions of the State and Centre should consider is the amount of moveable and immoveable property of the Companies operating in rural areas. If these Companies are merely collecting money and promising lands/plots or flats on the Investment, then they should have enough assets to honour those promises. Government should ensure that this provision is satisfied at all the times. But that does not happen, and most of the claims made by Saradha, Seashore, Ashore, Hi-tech, Artha Tatwa, and many others are simply a sham without any real assets. They just create an illusion, which the finance watch-dogs should have sensed in time. And now, the poor aamjunta (Investors and Agents) is suffering and repenting to the core !

The most surprising post-reaction came from West Bengal on Saradha fiasco when the CM wanted to levy more tax on Cigarettes and distribute the extra money thus raised, among the Saradha Investors. I do not observe any logic in it at all… Instead of curbing the cheat Chit Funds / Ponzi Schemes and forcing all the associated Companies to return the money to the Investors, if the authority takes a short-cut perhaps for sake of retaining or reinforcing vote-banks, then no doubt aamjunta will again suffer eventually. Vote politics does not work all the time. If Investors money is compensated in this way, then in crude terms it just means- someone (a duped Investor) is going to be paid from his own pockets and other’s also who are not involved in any way !!!!

Aamjunta…what do you say ? Planning to invest ? I strongly suggest- say no to Chit Funds unless they are properly regulated through transparent policies. In general, regarding any Scheme, be very careful and keep your eyes and ears open all the time.

Jai Hind.

On Everest alpinists and the Sherpas’ recent scuffle

I have been reading some news and interviews of famous alpinists who were involved in the recent scuffle with Sherpas while climbing Mt.Everest. The focus is on the ‘Sherpa-climber social contract’ (given the commercialization of Mt.Everest) and the ‘culture of the Sherpas’.

Reporters say that the climbers’ reasons to step on this greatest Himalayan expedition are manifold: escaping the commotion of daily routine, finding fun, getting a sense of personal achievement, understanding spirituality, accepting Nature’s challenge or even merely wanting a ‘bullet point on their resumes’. And undoubtedly, the climbers can very well afford to foot their bills. But the Sherpas’ only motivation to leave their families behind and take such huge risks numerous times in the climbing season is: to earn a livelihood ! The Sherpas whose generations have been born and brought up along one of the world’s harshest mountainous terrain definitely know the topography and the weather best. Moreover, there is the religious or cultural factor which, whether big or small, ought to be respected. Over the years, the expeditionists and the Sherpas have developed a mutual understanding, a synergy to work their way out to the once seemingly insurmountable summit. It is a multi-dimensional relation between spirituality, resourcefulness, guts, grit and technology. So, it is something beyond just ‘manpower for the sahibs, money for the Sherpas‘.

In the recent episode, the scuffle was related to an incident of rope-fixing. First of all, the fixation of rope (route) to trek the mountain or reach the summit is in itself a dangerous or intensely stressful job. This is usually done by the Sherpas as per commercial rules of mountaineering in Nepal. With regard to their extremely hard-earned job and culture, in my opinion, I believe NO ultra-modern technology or climbers’ experiences should interfere when they are doing this particular task and/or when any help is NOT solicited. Secondly, all climbers and teams even of Sherpas must ideally abide by the instructions of the “Leader” as the situation demands. This must be done unquestionably at that moment. An interference (including a passive example of not abiding) may be justified only when there is an imminent danger- either side ! Speaking on professional grounds, any interference or non co-operation whether made wilfully or non-chalantly, can easily distract their attention, thus endangering lives both of the Sherpas fixing the ropes as well as of those who are about to climb along it !!

Therefore, irrespective of the expertise and number of expeditions led by an alpinist, it is definitely wise to respect the job and customs of Sherpas, especially at that altitude where so much co-ordination and co-operation is required. By such observation, one’s mountaineering skills do not get undermined. Let only professionalism and good cheer prevail, whether to maintain discipline or vis-a-vis religious beliefs of the Sherpas. After all, the Sherpas are there to guide, help, provide resources and warn or protect mountain climbers against possible natural disasters in such a treacherous region. Technology, yet does/may not predict everything or each time ! Mt.Everest is their pride based on both social and technical reasons… Without foreigners, Sherpas m-a-y find a different work tomorrow (as many have already opted as doctors, airline pilots, scientists, other professionals) but surely without the Sherpas, no one can climb Mt.Everest with the same wonderful charm.

What do you say, aamjunta ?

Indo-Bangladesh Enclaves – Beyond the Boundaries !

In 1947, when India got partitioned, the princely states of Cooch Behar went to India and Rangpur to Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan). With this, the people of these two princely states also became citizens of India and Bangladesh respectively. The border was marked by Sir Cyril Radcliffe in a haste and nonchalant manner, without  understanding the ground realities !! The line drawn in the map by Sir Radcliffe has many complexities, which are yet to be addressed by both the countries. There are villages, where the border is drawn in such a way, that sometimes the verandah of one house lies in Bangladesh, whereas the kitchen lies in India. Both the countries have owned the people living there but without providing them rights to live with dignity and as human beings.

Out of many villages in Cooch Behar and Rangpur, 162 were caught on the wrong side of the border; small Indian islands are surrounded by Bangladeshi villages and vice-versa; these 162 villages are the Indo-Bangla enclaves or chitmahals (paper palaces). Historically, these enclaves are the result of gambles between the Kings of the then Cooch Behar and Rangpur, which were never sought for clarification while drawing the border on the map. At present, about 100,000 people live in these 162 enclaves, without any basic living conditions. The worst part is their national identity ! No one has a clear national identity; neither Indian nor Bangladeshi – mostly known as the “nowhere people“. They do not have any identity, no passport, no voter-card, no water, no electricity, no hospital, no school, no sustained mode of income, no roads and no civil society. They are like foreigners staying in another country, without any link with their own country. Even, they are not entitled to get a birth and a death certificate, let alone access to medicines, healthcare and other facilities.

Out of these 162 enclaves, 51 Bangladeshi enclaves are inside the Indian territory and the rest 111 are Indian enclaves inside Bangladesh. Both the countries do not want to give up their rights on these enclaves so far as the land mass is concerned. The irony with the fate of these people is that their respective countries also do not treat them well; mostly, they are labelled as spies and harassed, or are branded with all types of anti-national tags and always looked down with suspicion. Due to the Indo-Bangla fences (roughly 2,400-mile) recently built by India, their lives became tougher. They can go to their own country only in the day time, and have to stay back in the foreign country in the night ! This, not without harassment at the border posts and or paying a bribe. Out of this 2,400-mile border, due to the enclaves, there are 21 miles (34.5 km) that cannot be fenced, cannot be flood-lit or gated and in many cases is simply not policed at all.

This has become a major diplomatic stand-off for the last 66 years, without any major change on the ground. Efforts are sporadic from both the sides, without any clarity of thoughts and political will, mainly due to vote-bank politics. India backs the people who want to stay in India, despite the fact that they are legally Bangladeshi. The same stand is also maintained by Bangladesh. But it is yet to be ratified by both the countries. After  1947, though there was a political desire to de-enclave this and both India and Pakistan (then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) agreed in 1958 for a political solution, it could not be ratified due to various reasons. Nothing happened again till 1971 when Bangladesh was formed, as both India and Pakistan were mostly at war. In 1974, both India and Bangladesh agreed either to exchange the enclaves or at least to provide easy access to the enclaves; Bangladesh quickly ratified but India could materialize only a little.

In reality, neither India nor Bangladesh have allowed the people of the enclaves to choose a side (nation) solely on their own conviction, though there are accords signed recently (September,2011) between both the countries. The reason – India gets less land and more people as compared to Bangladesh which gets more land with less people. With major political parties opposing in India, the impasse is understandable. Moreover, it is yet to be ratified by the Indian Parliament also, which is mostly non-functional these days due to huge corruption issues. Referendum is also completely ruled out due to other demands and political or social or legal implications.

Then, what should be done to bring justice to these long-neglected people ? Don’t you agree that it is a humanitarian issue, irrespective of Indians staying inside Bangladesh or Bangladeshis staying inside India ? One ought to visit the enclaves to realize how awfully unconcerned or inhumane we are, by not taking a firm decision and not giving them their basic rights. It is definitely not a matter of patriotism, or a political win or loss, or a country’s win or loss. Rather it is an issue of delivering basic human rights to people living in abysmal conditions and to set them free from all sorts of burden, bondage, slavery, suspicion, hate, and rights violation. Moreover, with this cul-de-sac, both the countries are also violating the very essence of their respective Constitution- failing to guarantee the fundamental rights of their people.

Aamjunta – what is your opinion ? How long can we impose this political embargo on our own people ? By doing this, we are also encouraging criminal activities through Maoism, Terrorism and Fundamentalism in these enclaves that has already started spreading its vicious tentacles to other parts of the Indian subcontinent. Therefore, with utmost sincerity, I urge the politicians, bureaucrats, social-activists and citizens of both the countries to look into this matter with a big heart and resolve the issue of the enclaves for the sake of humanity at least. Otherwise, our future will never forgive us. Let us live and let live beyond the boundaries.

“The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border ?” – Pablo Casals

-Jai Hind

Election in Karnataka: a Semi-final or Practice Match before the next General Election!

It is Election Day tomorrow (5th May, 2013) for the State Assembly of Karnataka, India.

The country as a whole is struggling with corruption, rape and murder cases. One should not be surprised to know that Karnataka too is not far behind from the national average. The significant rise in criminal cases particularly in the city of Bangalore and mega corruption, mis-governance, routine in-fights in Parties and poor infrastructure are the major worries of the common man or aamjunta. Election in Karnataka is also important due to IT-industry’s presence in Bangalore. Every political party is definitely looking for a share – major or minor, that time will say. With General Election due in 2014, remember, the election in Karnataka may be the semi-final or a high temper practice match for all major political parties. No political party wants to lose; their fate lies in the hands of aamjunta.

Lets see how the major political Parties are talking about this Election-

Congress: Party chief Sonia Gandhi in an election rally at Gulbarga said that the “BJP Government has looted Karnataka and incited communal feelings”. In addition, she further lamented the BJP’s record on communal harmony by saying “we have always believed in communal harmony and are against forces which disrupt communal harmony.”

BJP: Star campaigner of BJP, Narendra Modi blasted at the UPA’s foreign policy and  criticized the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi. Apart from this, the other campaigners of BJP including the current Chief Minister Jagdish Shettar have been talking about the level of good governance the Party has delivered in the past and deploring the UPA for its corruption at the central level and step-motherly treatment in case of distribution of  Cauvery water and allocation of central funds to Karnataka.

JDS: Both the father-son duo, ex-PM Deva Gowda and Kumar Swamy have been talking about a clean and transparent government, ruling out dynasty in politics.

KJP: B S Yeddyurappa formed the KJP with two aims – to ensure BJP’s loss and be a part of the next government if the situation arises, such that  legal cases against him can be handled without any major drama or hassle. He too has been promising for a clean and transparent government and is ready to provide financial support to all religious places; all, which he could not do while he was in power.

But, what is ultimately going to rule the election?

Simple answer to most of the questions – “MCR” : Money, Caste and Religion PowerCritics and analysts say that any thing in the range of Rs 700/- to Rs 10,000/- is being spent per vote by many of the candidates. On an average, some of the candidates are reportedly spending more than Rs 30 crores per constituency.

This kind of bribing existed in the 2008 election too. After analysing the affidavits of 347 candidates who contested the 2008 Karnataka elections and are contesting this time too, the recent report disclosed by the Karnataka Election Watch indicates that in the last five years, their average asset increased over 72% (Rs 12.62 crore or so) !! It clearly shows that indeed politics is a very profitable business.

Caste is also playing major role in Karnataka politics. All political parties are busy in appeasing the voters of two major castes in Karnataka – The Lingayats and the Vokkaligas, comprising nearly 18% and 13% of the state’s electorate respectively. This divides Karnataka into northern and southern power bases.

Religion too plays a major role in Karnataka politics. Both the majorities and minorities are being lured in the process. All parties have promised to give special packages to religious activities; however, in reality it may not be true in future. Appeasing the minors or the other backward classes is quite apparent.

Muscle power too is holding some of the reigns of this Karnataka election. While the Congress has filed 55 candidates with criminal charges, the BJP is not far behind with 48. When the entire country is struggling with rising rape cases and sexual abuses or harassments, there are 2 ‘contesting’ candidates from the KJP with pending rape cases against them !

While every candidate is fighting for a win, political analysts term this election as the “Semi-final for 2014”. A win by BJP in Karnataka will definitely boost the morale of Narendra Modi’s candidature for the next Prime Minister, and a loss by BJP will augment the doubt on BJP’s ability to retain power outside its traditional political base in the north and hence, become a stumble for its run up to the 2014 National polls.

If Congress wins tomorrow’s election in Karnataka, it will definitely brush up the party’s image ahead of 2014 National elections and lift its sagging spirits; it may also alleviate an anti-Congress mood prevalent in most parts of the country mainly because of rising corruption, incidents of rape and meek or poor bilateral issues with our neighbouring countries. It may lead to early National elections too.

On a different note, a win by JDS will definitely increase the speculation of the formation of a 3rd Front in the next National election.

Irrespective of whoever comes to power, all the above factors will play major roles in the government and the governance. With rising corruption at the Centre and in many States, it looks like there is no solution of this particular issue in a single day. Like cancer, it has already spread to the roots of our system, our existence, our daily lives. Very often, we do not have an option but to pay bribes, small or big, if we need to get our work done smoothly or quickly, or done at all ! Such bribes are sometimes labelled in sugar-coated terms like ‘commission’ or ‘chai-pani’ (refreshments), mostly to stay away from legal implications. Though it is hard to accept, it is a fact. With corruption largely being a moral issue, Law Enforcement agencies have always found it hard to eradicate it through either use of force or preventive surveillance.

The worst thing happens when the common man, the aamjunta or the voter becomes corrupt. If our votes are sold to these corrupt leaders for a selfish, baseless favour or meagre cash or a bottle of wine or freebies, then whom can we blame ?

Jaago aamjunta, jaago… the wake-up call to the electorate…

This is the right time to show our strength, and make the system clean and strong. Let’s cast our precious vote not under the influence of “MCR” – Money, Caste and Religion, rather on our own conviction – a conviction that is largely based on morals and right knowledge. We need to do something substantial, which will make our life rewarding and us worthy aamjunta; not an useless and corrupt aamjunta. Let’s respect our dignity, our state and our country. The choice is definitely ours !!! It is not that far … just couple of hours more!!

Jai Hind!

Cloud Computing, its present and future in India

Aamjunta on Cloud Computing, its present and future in India.

What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is a mechanism in which applications are served over the Internet, instead of traditional means of serving on the desktop computer or LAN. In cloud computing, the hardware and software are placed in a distributed manner and the applications or services are served as Software as a Service (Saas). All the processing and file-saving will be done “in the cloud” of the Internet, and the users will plug into or access that cloud to do their work. This can be done strictly on a usage-basis.

In cloud computing, the various data center hardware and software are connected to form a “cloud”. When this kind of cloud is made available to the users on a “rent basis” or “pay-as-you-use basis”, then the cloud is called as “public could”. Similar to public cloud, we define “private cloud” as cloud formed by hardware and software of various data centers which provide services to a particular organization, instead of general public.

Fundamentally, cloud computing provides a thin separation between the resources used and personal computer of an user. In this mechanism, as explained above, the resources (such as applications/software as services) may not exist locally in the personal computer of the user or the LAN. Instead, these services are physically present at different places/data centers over the Internet. The physical and logical separation between the users and the service providers (the data centers) allows the users to simply use the services even without owning them in their PC and get benefited.

In addition, cloud computing also allows the service providers (vendors) to create/develop new applications/services and to expand their business. By providing services over a “cloud” in the Internet, this technology reduces the complications of copyright, licensing and AMC to a great extent. However, there are a few downsides to it.

Architecturally, there are various layers: at the top, Cloud Computing (SaaS -Software as a Service), Cloud Software Environment (PaaS -Platform as a Service), Cloud Software Infrastructure, Software Kernel and at the bottom, Firmware/Hardware (HaaS -Hardware as a Service). The Computational Resources (IaaS -Infrastructure as a Service), Storage (DaaS -Data as a Service) and Communications (CaaS -Communications as a Service) units are part of the Cloud Software Infrastructure layer.

With the rise in deployment of cloud computing, quality of services of cloud computing in terms of (i) security, (ii) reliability, (iii) application response time, (iv) availability and (v) scalability, etc. become major concerns in the operational and deployment level. The service providers must ensure that there is seamless connectivity to the “cloud” for users across the globe. Since all of the users’ documentation/data is in control of the service provider, security and protection system of the files becomes highly necessary. If PC crashes, data is still out there in the cloud but if the reverse happens, then the user faces tough without any other back-up!

Therefore, security of data is equally important when an organization switches from a conventional system to a cloud computing system – it must choose the vendor carefully. While this robust technology reduces administrative costs dramatically, the risks lie in areas of service disruption, connectivity and online security! Similarly, application response time and scalability also pose a major problem in the design of the cloud. In addition to the above, care needs to be taken in terms of usage, cost of deployment, and complexity before bringing one service from the PC world to the cloud world.

Job opportunities for students in Cloud Computing
Looking at the benefits of cloud computing most of the organizations are venturing into the world of cloud computing. In many cases, organizations are moving some part of their services from the individual user level to cloud level, resulting in provision of public cloud or private cloud to users. This kind of technological transformation requires a need of “expert group” in the organization not only to create the cloud, but also to sustain the cloud. This is a new technology and hence bring careers to many. With the increasing trend to bring more and more services to the cloud, there exits many job opportunities for fresher as well as experts. Like the developers, could computing also generates more employability for test engineers, as the testing requirement of cloud based services are quite different from conventional local services.

Expertise required to study cloud computing?
Expertise in terms of idea on a working knowledge of computer networks is handy. However, it is not mandatory. Since most of the services or applications can be provided through Internet or through web services, software development skills such as web services, AJAX and SOAP, etc. provide more job opportunities. Unlike conventional services or applications provided through a local PC, cloud based services requires thorough architectural design to simultaneously provide many services to the users. This requires specific skills in the development process.

Though an engineering background is not mandatory, development skills such as AJAX, SOAP, Web services like .Net, Java, Testing skills will be handy to sustain and grow.

Possible research interest among students their career options in India
Cloud computing is becoming a hot research topic and attracts students at the level of Masters, PhDs and at other levels. Prominent research areas include Quality of Services in cloud computing, virtualization, resource sharing, multi-threading, licensing, pricing models, etc. Academic organizations as well as private and government organizations are showing more and interest in these fields. There is a group (faculty and students) at Computer Science and Engg of IIT Bombay, India actively working in cloud computing, and are involved in R&D related to various aspects of cloud computing. Other than IIT Bombay, IBM India Research Lab (IBM IRL), Bangalore, TCS Innovation Lab, HP Labs India are some of the major R&D organizations working in cloud computing.

Cloud Computing and IT Industries in India
IT companies in India as well as abroad are showing interest on professionals with cloud computing background. This is because most of the IT companies are moving their applications from the user PC to their cloud. This helps in obtaining quick access to software services and products, lowering license, infrastructure and maintenance costs, providing instant software updates (version controls), increasing computing power (perform supercomputing-like tasks by utilizing power of thousands of computers and servers), providing unlimited data storage capacity, increasing data safety (if PC crashes, data is still out there in the cloud), improving compatibility between operating systems (in “clouds”, data matters ; not operating systems), improving document format compatibility, easing group collaborations, enhancing productivity and high utilization factors (leading to expansion of business).

Almost all IT companies are recruiting people with cloud computing as a skill. However, service industries such as TCS, Wipro, Infosys, CTS, GSS Infotech are becoming the major recruiters. Companies like Google, Mirosoft, Amazon, etc., also provide job opportunities as these companies mostly provide and maintain the infrastructure of the “cloud”. Other major commercial cloud providers are Yahoo, Verizon, HP, vmware, b-hive, 3tera, Q-layer, CYCLECOMPUTING, MOSSO, Engine Yard, Joyent, etc,

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