Morality tale

For almost a year after the general election of May 2009 and his appointment as minister of state in the external affairs ministry, Shashi Tharoor seemed to be the new poster boy of the byzantine politics of the Delhi imperium. A suave metrosexual author, columnist and former under-secretary of the United Nations which he served for over three decades, following an abortive bid to become the first Indian secretary-general of the United Nations, Tharoor returned to India circa 2007 and was promptly given a Congress party ticket for the safe constituency of Thiruvananathapuram in the general election. Following a resounding victory, he was immediately appointed minister of state for external affairs. Eleven months later, forced to resign his office, he has been relegated to the back benches of Parliament with none except the Twitter community, so poor to do him reverence.

Almost three decades ago, the late Romesh Thapar, founder-editor of the enduring monthly magazine Seminar, described the new generation of youthful politicians including the late Rajiv Gandhi (1944-1991) voted into power in New Delhi following the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi, as the baba log — spoilt, molly-coddled brats of elite families spared no luxuries or privileges despite the ubiquitous shortages of everything worth having which defined Nehruvian licence-permit-quota socialism. Normatively the pampered offspring of top-rung bureaucrats who regarded the masses as lab rats for conducting cock-eyed social engineering experiments, the baba log (such as Tharoor) invariably went to the best private schools, the best heavily-subsidised undergrad colleges followed by manipulated scholarships to Oxbridge in the UK, or Ivy league universities in the US. The career paths of the baba log usually begin abroad in the World Bank, IMF, UN or the IFS, IAS back home. Dollar pensions secured, they parachute into the top echelons of the bureaucracy or the Congress party.

Likewise, Tharoor leapfrogged over thousands of patient Congress party workers and MPs into ministerial office immediately after winning his first election. Irreverent, and overtly contemptuous of party and parliamentary peers, Tharoor rubbed everyone the wrong way. Thus when the IPL Kochi franchise scandal broke, everyone piled on to him when he should have been commended for insisting upon cancellation of the first rigged bid for IPL’s Kochi franchise.  Nevertheless it offered the opportunity to bring him down, which the less privileged were waiting for. The meteoric rise and fall of Shashi Tharoor is a latter day morality tale from which baba log waiting in the wings for the big chance, can learn valuable lessons.

Mofussil mindset

A sex revolution in reverse is sweeping the 125-acre state-of-the-art campus of The International School, Bangalore (TISB), promoted at an estimated cost of Rs.100 crore in 2001. An entire batch of 14 senior class XII students of this co-ed school, ranked among the country’s top 10 international schools in the EW-C fore Survey of Schools 2009, was expelled on the eve of the critical final Plus Two International Baccalaureate examination. Their alleged grave offence: promiscuous behaviour resulting in their being caught in “compromising positions”. According to K.P. Gopalakrishna, TISB’s promoter-chairman, the management had not only caught the 14 students in compromising situations, but had also detected “object-ionable messages” exchanged by students through e-mail.

This explanation has failed to cut ice with educators in the garden city and several TISB parents. Over the past decade during which this internationally benchmarked ICSE and IB school has gained an excellent reputation for board exam results, Chairman KPG has also acquired a reputation for his authoritarian management style, and as a moral policeman hell-bent upon eliminating all interaction between boys and girls in this professedly westernised co-ed school. Way back in 2001, in the quest of campus purity, he sacked the first principal, Britisher John Macfarlane for being too liberal. Now following the latest contretemps, over a dozen angry parents have pulled their children out of TISB.

Liberal educators in Bangalore are unanimous that in internationally benchmarked co-ed schools, puppy love and teenage romances are inevitable — and perhaps necessary as they promote social graces, good manners and respect for women. “There’s an inherent contradiction between an international school and a mofussil mindset,” comments a top-rung education consultant who requested anonymity. “If natural interaction between boys and girls is anathema to Chairman KPG, he should convert TISB into a Birla-style single sex school.”

Good advice, given free.

Socialism Indian style

Several decades ago when this writer was green, I was persuaded to write a broadly sympathetic cover story on the Food Corporation of India (FCI) for Business India. At that time FCI was the country’s largest company in terms of assets, i.e the foodgrains compulsorily procured from farmers in the northern states and reportedly stored in massive godowns across the country, whose market value was reflected in its books.

Quite obviously, I was taken for a Soviet/Chinese-style conducted tour, because 30 years down the road, the television channel CNN-IBN has revealed that much, if not most, of the foodgrains purchased at ever-rising procurement prices by FCI for the country’s malfunctioning public distribution system (PDS), is stored on open plots of land where it is exposed to inclement weather and serves as a permanent feast for rodents and sundry pests. To this day 10 percent of national foodgrains production is damaged, spoilt or leaked, which adds up to a not inconsiderable 20 million tonnes per year. Add to that 40 percent of national horticulture produce lost because of infrastructure deficiencies, high costs of transport and omniscient babus of the Planning Commission who ‘forgot’ to encourage a downstream food processing industry.

The aggregate loss on account of foodgrains and horticultural produce: an estimated Rs.50,000 crore per year. Meanwhile after a decade (1998-2008) of PDS expansion, development, social inclusion etc, the percentage of under-five children suffering severe malnutrition has declined from 47 percent to 46 percent.

That’s socialism with Indian characteristics.