When Hindi Heartland Encounters India’s Deep South.

Is the Modi Wave a hype after all? 

April 20, 2014: This is a photo from today’s Hindu from an election rally by BJP (India’s Hindu Nationalist Party) strongman Rajnath Singh in Tamil Nadu



Responding to Arvind Kejriwal: News Broadcasters Contradict Themselves

Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party has a knack for hitting the headlines. Usually it is because media love to provide airtime and space to someone who can call others names and Arvind dosen’t mince his words, except when his cough takes over. And true to his style, his recent tirade was against the media themselves .This put the media in a fix.

Although a small “evolved” section of the media , saw nothing extraordinary or alarming in the allegations, the “rank and file” of the media took exception and has decided to react more strongly. In a statement, The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has issued a warning to the Aam Aadmi Party to exercise restraint.  Here’s an excerpt from an article reporting on this:

NBA reminded Kejriwal and his associates that the electronic media is independent and discharging its responsibilities in a fair, transparent and balanced manner and asked the AAP not to hurl “unsubstantiated and unverified charges” on the electronic media

Curiously the statement goes on to say,

NBA requests the convenor of AAP to “immediately refrain” from making such preposterous allegations failing which NBA members would be forced to reconsider coverage of the activities of  the AAP (underline added).

The suggestion here implies that the decision to cover activities of a political party is based on the party’s favorable view of the news media in the first place. Doesn’t the media contradict itself, it’ s own core principles here? The News Broadcaster Association in other words has justified its own criticism.

Review of Swaraj by Shekhar Gupta: A misplaced critique

Review of Swaraj by Shekhar Gupta: A misplaced critique

his critique of Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party by Shekhar Gupta (SG) of Indian Express centres around what historical source is more accurate in providing historical “facts”. The following quote from the article reflects Shekhar’s core problem with Arvind’s historically inspired solutions from ancient India.
“But learning ancient Indian history from Chandamama or Amar Chitra Katha (Swaraj even has sketches) is even more perilous than knowing Mughal history from watching Jodha Akbar. Particularly for grown-ups”

My critique of Shekhar, Arvind and many others including those on the center right of the Indian political spectrum is the relevance of this method. In other words, I accuse them of being too “stuck in the past”, rather too “stuck in thinking the past is relevant” given the tectonic shifts in social,political and economic structures of our society from ancient times. Yes it may be instructive to learn from certain mistakes/experiences of the past. But in romanticizing how functional ancient India was, it is very dangerous to draw on that romanticism to provide solutions for modern India. Wish SG had at pointed that out as the main problem, than questioning Arvind’s sources for stating his philosophy.

Need to Calculate “Lexical Distance” Among Languages of India

Came across this very interesting network visualization of Languages of Europe based on “Lexical Distance” (details in original post). Basically, languages more similar to one another tend to cluster together and these different clusters of similar languages tend to be quite dissimilar.

Occurred to me that a similar exercise was done on languages used in India, the results could be quite insightful. For one, it could tell us that the idea of using English as a bridge language is neither a natural nor an ideal solution to managing our linguistic plurality. Second , these clusters of proximate (i.e. more similar) languages could offer solutions for second/third language instructions in different states.

The possibilities are endless. I would appreciate your help in spreading the idea, so that some computationally inclined linguistic researcher can do this and related analyses for India’s Languages.


Lexical Distance Network Among the Major Languages of Europe


This chart shows the lexical distance — that is, the degree of overall vocabulary divergence — among the major languages of Europe.

The size of each circle represents the number of speakers for that language. Circles of the same color belong to the same language group. All the groups except for Finno-Ugric (in yellow) are in turn members of the Indo-European language family.

English is a member of the Germanic group (blue) within the Indo-European family. But thanks to 1066, William of Normandy, and all that, about 75% of the modern English vocabulary comes from French and Latin (ie the Romance languages, in orange) rather than Germanic sources. As a result, English (a Germanic language) and French (a Romance language) are actually closer to each other in lexical terms than Romanian (a Romance language) and French.

So why is English still considered a Germanic language? Two reasons. First, the most frequently used…

View original post 78 more words

Is AAP really giving water “Free”? No, Telescopic tariff removes mass subsidies.

The newly minted Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi has announced its water distribution tarriffs. First, it would make 20,000 litres of water available free of charge to every household of Delhi with a water meter. Second, to a household that exceeds the 20,000 litre figure by even 1 litre, it would charge them for every litre they use, not just the water used over and above the 20,000 litre mark.

Experts, bureaucrats and political rivals have all criticized the party for this “populist” measure. The principle argument is the application of a “mass subsidy” on a relatively inexpensive commodity.  In other words, why is everyone, including the  middle class and the rich being given free water. (There are other arguments about how this measure does not grant access to those without water connections, the poorest and the most needy. To be fair that is a medium term measure and the AAP has ideas to that effect in their plan document). Returning to the principal criticism.

The AAP decision is anything but a mass subsidy. It is a very targeted subsidy based on consumption. The assumption here is very simple. The poor would use water sparingly and try to stay within the 20,000 litre limit, whereas those better off would exceed those limits. The latter would then pay for even the first unit they consumed, and in effect subsidise the poor. This is in effect better than the tarriff structure we have today, where everyone pays a low per unit price for the first few units they consume, and then everyone pays higher.Till today, you paid more if you used more, for the excess you used, but everyone paid the same low rate for the first 10,000 litres (Rs 2 per 1000 litre for the first 10,000 litres used and Rs 3 for 10-20,000, Rs 15 for 20-30,000). Which then is a mass subsidy? The existing graded pricing, or AAP’s proposed telescopic pricing.

Not just water, mass subsides are applied in India today even in fuel and electricity. For instance, in Delhi, every households pays Rs 3.90 for the first 200 units of electricity, Rs 5.80 for 201-400 units, Rs 6.8 for 401-800 units and Rs 7.0 for greater than 800 units consumed. Here, everyone is being subsidized for the first 200 units. A house that runs Air Conditioners and water heaters (and crossing 800 units) is also paying the same 60% of peak tariff for the first 200 units as a house that only uses lights and fans (and stays within the 200 units per month). The LPG is priced similarly, where every household in the country gets 9 cylinders a year at a subsidized price.

A second argument being levelled is that people would tinker their meters to run slow, to not cross the 20K litre mark. Fair point, but in the current tariff structure, there is a 5 fold jump at the 20K litre mark. Isn’t this incentive enough to slow the meters? Enforcing the meters are a matter of political will, and given the anti-corruption plank of this government, my asumption is that they ‘should’ make efforts to enforce it.

A third perhaps valid criticism is that is level of water consumption may not be the right proxy for affluence. In electricity the link between consumption and affluence is more direct. Is it necessary that a rich or middle class family would really cross the 20K litre mark? For the most part yes. The use of washing machines, electric water purifiers, showers (as opposed to bathing with buckets), washing cars, watering plants/lawns and all such activities would most likely take their consumption to the level, where they would pay for every unit, rather than just the excess units used. It is possible that a few rich people don’t exceed this level? That is because they would choose to be conservative in water use, and in which case the policy rewards them for for being responsible. (A direct income based tariff subsidy is simply impractical in India, because the salaried poor would always bear the brunt of the rich farmer or trader who declares much less income than he earns). The 20K litre figure perhaps may need to be readjusted once the policy is implemented and revisited after 3 months.

Finally, the fact that water is available free to every household with a connection, would be an incentive for many poor households, currently without a connection, to want legitimate connections, than remain at the mercy of tankers.

In sum, I refuse to see this as a mass subsidy. Telescopic pricing is anything but that. It is ensuring that heavy consumers pay for making the basic usage of a fundamental (and scarce) resource free for all who use it responsibly within reasonable restrictions. It may need some fine tuning, but the principle of the policy is spot on.   

Let taxpayers pay for ‘our’ treatment abroad – And let them rot in Government Hospitals

The Government of India has recently gifted itself a privilege. The state will reimburse the total cost of medical treatment for the three highest civil services officers (yes the IAS, IPS and IFS). And this entitlement is not limited to procedures that cannot be carried out in India. As this newspaper reports , these officers can decide to go abroad for even now routine procedures such as bypass surgeries. A privilege that is rather unfair, undemocratic and borders on institutionalized corruption. Here’s why.

First, the most obvious argument pointed out in the newspaper article itself, is the huge expenditure to the exchequer. However that to me is the beginning of why this is problematic. The following two concerns are perhaps more grave.

The first argument is that such an entitlement cannot be limited to the officers of the three Elite services.  Let me explain. India has a socialist public health system. In other words, our public hospitals treat every citizen according to their income. The poor are charged the least and so on. (Certain government jobs entitle all employees to treatment at government expenses). The network consists of primary health centers, district and state hospitals and more specialized referral hospitals  such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at New Delhi. Every patient irrespective of social or economic status can be referred upto AIIMS for treatment. So if treatment abroad has to be on government expense, why should it not extend to all beneficiaries of the Public Health system? Should it be based on your status in the government or on the complexity of your illness?  Readers familiar with Animal Farm may remember what the pigs did for themselves.

The second argument is that such policies will only lead to further degradation of the Public Health Infrastructure. I recently had written about how a state hospital was unable to treat a case of hydrocephalus, a rather common condition among infants and elderly. The IAS run our health ministry and hence ensure the functioning of this system. If they are allowed to avoid and escape the system for their own use, they will never empathize with the concerns of the infirm common man. An analogy can be found in public transport. India’s public transport is pathetic because those who oversee its smooth functioning are not its users. They ride chauffeur driven cars, which contribute to their apathy at the plight of those who ride trains and buses. Likewise for primary education and the state of government run schools.

This law needs to be immediately challenged in the courts. Beyond the most direct arguments of an expenditure the government should not incur, there are other grave concerns.

Such policies are based on flawed principles! I am willing to work with any individual or organization that wants to file a PIL, organize a protest and represent against this decision. Please email me/ comment here and I will be all ears.

Paradise Lost and Regained: The Common Man Only Lost

In a recent incident of Saturday, May 4, 2013, a woman street hawker outside the restaurant was beaten by a ‘bouncer’ employed at the  popular Paradise Biryani. A few customers got outraged and one brave woman, wrote a blog that went viral. Meanwhile, some called the city police. Hyderabad newspapers couldn’t ignore a story that had already caught the fancy of their English speaking reader base, so they reported the incident. The  ‘bouncer’ is being reported arrested. Many may think that’s a happy ending. I beg to differ.

First, consider the two eventual victims in the story. The flower hawker woman. Poor and Female. Thrashed. Scared away from her only livelihood? Need I say more. The ‘bouncer’ Prakash Yadav. Male, Lower middle class.Probably lives away from his family and works as a security man to make ends meet for many. Most likely will loose his job.

Now, consider who is really responsible. One, the Paradise management and two, many of its customers. Why did the bouncer behave in the way he did? Probably because it is the diktat of the restaurant management to keep the area around “clean”. Clean of irritants who the well heeled customers of Paradise potentially would find a nuisance. Such instructions to ward off such “troublemakers” (as this woman). are unarguably motivated by the need to provide a delightful customer experience.  An incident such as this dents their image for sure. But perhaps the news of the bouncer’s arrest, that too reported in newspapers within hours of the incident, is perhaps the best PR redemption exercise.

Of course the bouncer should be punished for inappropriate behavior. But what about the manager who instructed the bouncer to behave in this way? What about the owner who asked the manager to tell the bouncer to behave this way? What about the customers who probably scoff at the  sight of beggars and street hawkers outside the restaurant?

Another bunch of “people like them”  have been further sidelined. As for “people like us”, the blogger, the newspapers and Paradise Restaurant management and the customers, we have all reaped our share of gains.

In sum, the blog and the  resulting action is job well begun, but only half done!

I request share this one widely, so that people also appreciate the harder implications of such stories