Tuesday, 26 July 2011

'It is your Destiny'

The line will be itched in any Star Wars fan. The execution of the line, and the importance given to it throughout the movie made certain we don't forget it. We would have used this word on several occasions ourselves, and heard it used even more. But what exactly do we mean by ‘Destiny’?

My search began while studying for an exam. As always my mind began to wander while sitting on my desk with the book with complex calculus in front of me. In one of its many expeditions my thoughts landed on this concept of ‘Destiny’ and the question: What is destiny?

I looked it up in the dictionary (anything to avoid the algebra). The first result I came across was, “The events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future.” I detested this definition instantaneously! If we presume this to be the true meaning of destiny, then from tomorrow I would rather sit at home sucking on my thumb and wait for the riches to come to me! After all, if I was destined to be rich, I will be. If not, what can I do? Moreover, we won't be able to blame Hitler for what he did either. Maybe it was just destined for him to kill over six million Jews and start the 2nd World War. It wasn't his fault!

No, this definition was just not good enough and my curiosity dictated that I find another. So, as I always end up doing, I started figuring out variations of the existing definition which could avoid these problems. One such variation was; maybe we do have a fixed destiny, but not a fixed path. Maybe Hitler was destined to rule Germany, but we can still blame him for the path he took. Perhaps our final destination is sealed, but our route isn't. This solved my second issue of 'pinning the blame' but it failed to address 'sucking my thumb'.

Upon further reflection I started questioning myself as to why am I presuming that 'destiny' exists in the first place? Maybe, as most people put it, we do make our own destiny. That solved all my confusion for a bit, but one conversation with my father and my mind was in turmoil again. My father questioned me, if nothing like ‘destiny’ existed, then why do people with roughly similar 'characteristics' and level of efforts end up with such different lives? Why after working so hard for my IB Mathematics paper, and scoring a 7 consistently before the actual exam, did I fail to replicate the results when it actually mattered?

Luck. I'm sure most of you would have thought of the exact same response. But that is exactly what my father was waiting for. He directed me to think along the lines that maybe this 'Luck', that we all curse and praise, is ‘Destiny’. I had never come across such a view, and I struggled to find fault. But the logic was as sound as it was simple. Destiny was simply Luck.

While tentatively accepting this version of ‘Destiny’, I began to consider it’s repercussions. I tried to consider as many examples of ‘Luck’ as I could and then replaced ‘Luck’ with ‘Destiny’, and it started making sense. So I was ‘destined’ to miss a 7 in IB Mathematics and thus end up at UCL. My uncle was ‘destined’ to win that lottery and have a comfortable life there after. I was ‘destined’ to be born in a well-to-do family. Sachin Tendulkar was ‘destined’ to have an amazing set of skills at cricket. All of the above cases we normally attribute to ‘randomness’ or ‘luck’. Maybe this randomness was Destiny.

My initial two objections, which I started referring to as ‘sucking my thumb’ and ‘pinning the blame’, were also resolved. This version of Destiny was no longer in complete control of your actions or your final destination. It allowed you to choose where you plan to reach and the route you want to take. It was now just one of the many factors that influenced the result. The role of ‘Destiny’ only comes into play when it, along with your chosen ‘path’, decides whether you will succeed or not. Thus now I can blame Hitler for killing those 6 million Jews because that is the path he chose to take. Pinning the blame: Resolved.

‘Sucking my thumb’ is yet a little complex. This is only partially resolved, but I was satisfied with the result. Most will agree, that the ‘path’ one chooses to achieve a particular goal can influence the element of ‘luck’ required. For example, (keeping it very simple) to create a successful business, I could get very ‘lucky’ without working hard, or work very hard and thus require just a little ‘luck’. The same way the role of ‘Destiny’ can also be minimised by your actions. Thus I may be very lucky (with a bigger role of Destiny) and inherit a vast empire while sitting at home and ‘sucking my thumb’. However, I can minimise the need for luck/destiny by choosing a path better suited to achieve the goal I desire.

This is where I have reached so far in my search for ‘Destiny’. While I am content for the time being, the complex idea that this is, I await for the time when someone points a flaw in this version of Destiny and I am forced to restart my hunt.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Cash for Votes: Diabolical?

For the uninitiated; this was a scandal that broke out in 2008. After Congress’ determined efforts to pass the nuclear deal with the US resulted in the left parties leaving the coalition. Lacking the majority, Congress needed to sway a few MPs to their side before the vote of no confidence. One of the means at their disposal, naturally, was bribing the opposition MPs. This came back to bite them with 3 BJP MPs bringing the exorbitant sum of money to the Parliament for all to see. Naturally an investigation was initiated, and quite naturally they didn’t make too much head way. Naturally the Supreme Court intervened and thus naturally all the parties are now trying to fling some dirt at Congress.

The details of the investigation and what actually took place is not relevant to my argument here so I shall skip them. What I really question is whether Congress was wrong in this particular instance. Don’t get me wrong, I do not for a second believe that the Congress didn’t bribe. I’m sure they did. But was the bribe ‘wrong’? For those who know me, and have listened to my idealistic lectures, this may come as a surprise. But as I have grown and learned about my friends and their family businesses, I have come to understand the practicality of everyday life.

Bribing is done at all levels of our society. From bribing the traffic police at the signal to bribing the netas for business tenders. In the book ‘A Fistful of Rice’, Vikram Akula describes his numerous struggles with our bureaucrats to set up a micro finance firm which would actually benefit the poor. In businesses people complain that even actions which will benefit our country are stalled till a bribe is handed over. We have all heard numerous examples of such situations and have now reluctantly accepted it as part of our ‘culture’. At the micro level, we Indians bribe, and then sleep peacefully in the night telling ourselves that ‘we had no choice’.

But then we come at the macro level. A whole new set of rules are applied. At the basic principle level, this is rightly so. They are the leaders of our country and should hold themselves to a higher standard than the masses. Their scandals have a wider and more prominent effect, than our micro level scandals. Additionally it is our money that they use for such selfish activities. Yes, they must be judged more harshly.

But now lets step back for a moment and examine this particular case. The problems we deal in a micro level is of the exact nature our leaders deal with at the macro level. Being at that level, its probably a lot worse. So let us suppose Manmohan Singh had  no ulterior motive for passing the nuclear bill (this being a very safe assumption). The bill, most would agree, was definitely benefiting us. BJP was hustling to gain some political points; we have seen the wikileaks letter where BJP promises Washington that if they come to power they would sign a similar deal. The left parties simply don’t like the US. Both reasons are stupid, and such stupidity may have killed this bill. After months of negotiation with the parties, Congress finally resisted giving into the blackmail and went ahead with what was right for our country. This cost them several MPs and the loss of majority, which in effect would kill the bill and would send our country in a period of confusion and uncertainty. So Congress did what they deemed required.

When our business deal is blocked due to some stupidity - we bribe. Congress had a business deal which was benefiting us all. When it was being blocked due to stupidity - they bribed.

This article may seem as though it is justifying bribing (and to be fair, so far it has done exactly that), but that is not the aim. Being an idealist, I loath bribes, but I have come to understand the people’s perspective, and when I applied it to our government, it didn’t feel much different. I would like to stress, that my argument only applies for this instance, because it is a rare occasion where the government bribed for the benefit of its people.

I have thrown a lot of ideas in here. There is however an easy way to sum up this debate. Just ask yourself: Does the end justify the means?

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Lokpal Bill

The Lokpal issue first began with humongous fanfare. The youth specially showed a great interest and support for the movement started by Anna Hazare. However as time has passed, and articles have been published, people aren’t as sure anymore. My belief is that people jumped to support a movement which was ‘anti-corruption’ without understanding the details. In the numerous debates and articles the main points have been jumbled up, a situation the government adores. It is clear to any half-wit that the numerous spokespersons on the TV debates just want to divert off the topic and hurl dirt at each other. My aim out here is to outline the points of arguments on some of the issues raised.

What is the Lokpal bill?

The bill aims to setup a constitutional authority that deals with corruption cases. It will not have the authority to pass judgement or hand out punishments. It will undertake investigations and prosecutions and put forth its case to the courts who will adjudicate on the same. Rest assure that they will not be an all-powerful committee who might over-throw democracy!

Is the bill too undemocratic?

In India, the constitution carefully balances power between the Executives, Legislature and the Judiciary. Many express concerns that the establishment of the Lokpal will topple this balance. This makes no sense. The Lokpal Committee should only have investigating and prosecuting authority and not to adjudicate. If this is adhered to, the status quo shall remain.

The Lokpal committee is just another anti-corruption investigative authority. Why not just correct the CBI instead of creating a whole new department?

This is probably the most fundamental question. Is there a need for the Lokpal bill at all? The CBI is governed by the very politicians they are expected to investigate. There is a clear conflict of interest and obviously they cannot function effectively. Furthermore, correcting the faults in the CBI is easier said than done. We have been aware of their deficiencies for decades now but have been unable to change them. There comes a time when it is more burdensome to correct the faults in an existing project as compared to starting a whole new one.

Other arguments include the fact that Lokpal authority will not have to seek permission to investigate the top politicians, which is currently mandatory and they can take up issues on suo moto, thus addressing incidents that no one is brave enough to complain about.

Should the ‘civil society’ be allowed to draft bills?

This has recently been heavily debated with claims that this is ‘undemocratic’ and that only the elected representatives have the right to draft and pass bills. While the latter is correct, the former isn’t. Being a democratic country, everyone has the right to state what exactly they would like from the bill. If the civil society is giving their version of it, I see no reason to stop them. There are many other ‘non-elected’ committees and departments that help our government design bills, then why simply stop this one?

Threatening to ‘fast till death’ if things aren’t done their way is too undemocratic.

Rubbish. This civil society is basically a bunch of lobbyists who are trying to bring change. The only difference is that instead of representing a particular industry or religious denomination, they represent the general people. All lobbyist put pressure on the government. An industrial lobbyist will threaten to not sponsor the next election or shut down factories; a religious lobbyist may even threaten with violence. But no politician will call them undemocratic (God forbid  something happens to their vote bank!), only the relatively peaceful form of protest is picked upon. Do I even need to say why?

The other point the government throws in is that this is a relative minority making a lot of noise. Swami Nigamananda died after fasting for more than 100 days. Until his death, did anyone even know he was protesting? Did the government do anything to address his concerns? It’s really quite simple: If Anna Hazare was fasting for something only a minority wanted, the government would not even address the issue. It would make no difference to their votes. And if their vote banks are unaffected, so are they.

How will the Lokpal Committee be selected?

The government naturally wants to hold onto the ability of putting their favourites in the position of power. However this has to be avoided. If the committee is governed by the very people they must investigate, they will never be able to do the task any justice.

Should the PM office and Top Judiciary also be covered in the Lokpal bill?

The argument goes that if the people in the top have to explain each and every decision of theirs, how will they function. I don’t see why this must be the case, however the argument still holds weight. The PM’s office has to discharge lots of sensitive issues. Questioning some of their decisions may not be in our countries best interest.

Should the CBI be taken under the Lokpal?

This has some good reasoning behind it. If the CBI and the Lokpal both fight corruption cases, then the 2 government agencies may have jurisdictional conflicts. By placing CBI under the Lokpal this can be avoided and the Lokpal will then be a concrete anti-corruption investigative agency. It will have a strong goal and clearly defined authority.

Anna Hazare and his team have already accomplished a lot and should be  congratulated for their success so far. I stand by the Lokpal bill and hope you see its potential after reading this article. Politicians have digressed onto smaller issues of ‘undemocratic means’ for bringing about the change, but we must not forget the bigger picture: the change itself.