Space Travel, the Final Frontier

In India, when we have not yet figured out how to travel safely from Delhi to Kolkata, the rich and famous of the world are planning space travel. Australian billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, has started a company – Virgin Galactic, that will take tourists into space for 200, 000 dollar, close to one crore rupees. Travellers will experience weightlessness for 6 min. There is plan to construct a hotel that would orbit around the earth. A currency has been proposed for intergalactic trade.
Very soon, may be by next century, people may regularly travel to space. A big space ship, like Star Ship Enterprise, may be exploring different parts our our solar system, our galaxy and other galaxies. Like Eurpoean settlers, who colonized Asia, Africa, Americas, Australia, Earthians may colonise distant planets, say Moon, Neptune, Pluto and other distant planets in this and neighboring galaxies. This time, countries. like india and China, with active space program. may also participate. Colonied will become colonisers. Wealthy Earthians may buy a farmhouse in say Jupiter or Pluto or Neptune or Mars. 

All this may happen sooner than later. People with money and power, but unable to enforce their will in a democracy because of inadequate number, may like to create a homogeneous society again. Businessmen, like Mittals, Agarwals, Ambanis, Birlas, may mine moon or other planets for minerals and natural gas. Each can acquire a planet each for their business ventures. Away from Earth, rules and regulations, green laws may not apply. In Pluto, where one Pluto-year is equivalent to 84 Earth-years, BPO companies may open call centres. Imagine, how much work one can get done in a day and in an year..
Imagine, planned cities, no garbage, no traffic jam, no pollution, no poor and hungry. Every one will have enough space, no parking problem. University admission will not be an issue. Kids may apply to inter galatic University, in distant Andromeda galaxy. Who cares about Delhi University or IITs?

May be space travel will be as cheap as travelling to US. Make My Trip or Go Ibibo or Yatra may offer package tour of eight planets in fifteen days. Will it not be fun to sip your coffee and watch 67 moons of Jupiter! It will be a photographers delight and poets dream come true!

A few hitch, what will happen if our appliances, like TV, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, computer etc. breakdown? On say our drains get choked or toilet do not work? Which will invariably happen in Indian colonies. May be people from less developed countries will be allowed work permit as helping hand to do the manual jobs?
Earthians will take with them same old attitude, same prejudice, same set of beliefs. Everything will remain the same, only difference will be a different planet will become earth like.


Maya, the Illusory Nature of Experiences

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Often, tragedies, like what we experienced in Uttarakhand, remind us of the transitory nature of our lives and its experiences. In fact, hindu philosophies advocate life to be maya. Loosely translated, maya means illusion, some thing that “is”, yet  that “is not”. Understanding of principles of physics and neurobiology also point towards such illusory nature of things that we consider very real in our lives. Our sensory perception, as well as nature of things that we perceive are not what we think they are. According to hindu philosophy, prime objective of life is to transcend maya. In our fast paced lives, we tend to forget our actual purpose of life and get caught up in our daily grind.

In this context, I remember reading a beautiful story that couches important messages and gives a glimpse of maya. As the story goes, once bhagwan Vishnu was travelling with Narada, his friend and companion. Narada was in a chatty mood, and he asked Vishnu, “Lord what is maya”. Bhagwan Vishnu said “Narada first fetch me some water, then I shall explain maya to you”. Narada went to fetch water from a stream near by. There he saw a beautiful girl, who was also collecting water for her house. Narada,  enchanted by the beauty of this girl, followed her home. Narada asked the girls father for allowing him to marry his daughter. Narada was living happily a householders life with his wife. He had two kids from his wife. These happy days ended one day. Narada’s worldly belongings were lost in the flood. His sons were washed away. Narada was desperately clinging onto his beloved wife. Finally, in extreme tiredness Narada lost his grip of his wife. Narada, in a state of extreme sorrow, cried out “Oh lord! Why punish me so much? I lost everything one by one, now you take away my beloved wife!”

As soon as Narada cried out in the name of god, he heard lord Vishnu’s voice, “Narada how long will you take to fetch water? I am dying here of thirst”.

To me, this story gives three messages. First, we forget why we came here. We get enamored by glamor and glitz of the surrounding and live our lives. In exteme grief, when we call out gods name, he responds. Finally, gods few seconds, can be life time for mortals. This point toward relative nature of time and space.

Nitish Kumar, an Oppurtunist or a Pragmatist

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Seat of power in India resides in Delhi. Path to throne is treacherous and often bloody. Every thing is fair to capture power. Historically, here everyone is for his ownself. Son kills father, brother betrays brother, friend turns on friend, all to remain in power, to remain relevant. BJP led NDA realised this when Janata Dal United (JDU), a partner of NDA for seventeen years,  led by Nitish Kumar, decided to part company with NDA. This decision effectively delivered a body blow to NDA’s chances of coming to power in next general election, which is barely a year away. Mr. Nitish Kumar declared that Narendra Modi, much anticipated but  yet undeclared candidate for the post of prime minister from BJP, was not secular and not an inclusive leader. Mr Kumar also challenged growth model of Gujarat to be a failure. 

It is difficult to fathom the reasoning behind Nitishji’s withdrawl from NDA. Did he nurture prime ministerial ambition? Did Nitish kumar realize instinctively that NDA cannot come to power in 2014. With a view to remain relevant post 2014 general election, Nitishji created two options for himself. He may have a say in government formation by supporting UPA, directly or indirectly, or by forming Eastern block with Trinamool Congress, Biju Janta Dal, and other like minded parties. Block may not come to power on its own, but may have a say in government formation.
India needs to decide what does she wants. Is it a firm no nonsense government that actually governs and tries to deliver, or a government hides her ineptitude in the name of inclusive growth. Day in and day out, we see rules being flouted with impunity, those in the proximity of power getting away with murder, yet when we demand action against the corrupt, we are shown the book. Congress has ruled for more than 60 years in this country. They had ample oppurtunity to bring in a lot of systemic changes. Because, congress did not do her job, we see the state of affairs in India. Democracy does not mean inefficiency, corruption and misrule. 

It is written that Modi style of functioning may not succeed outside Gujarat. it is also said that only select few people namely corporates and middle class want Modi style of government. It is being deliberately projected that inefficiency that is ingrained in Indian system, corruption that is routine of the day are actually good. In the name of inclusive growth, if some one is snatching a poor man’s ration, his job, his livlihood we should not criticise.  Time has come for us to decide, do we continue in our lackadaisical manner, where no one cares a fig about country, or we try new idea and new process.

Himalayan Tragedy That was Waiting to Happen : Story of Poor Leadership and Administration

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The month of June every year represents peak summer with mercury touching 40 degree and above. This year was no exception. It was summer vacation time. Many families had moved to the hills with dual purpose of getting out of oppressive heat of the plains and to acquire holy grace by visiting abodes of god. Devout Hindus believe journey through life remains incomplete without vising four holy places – char dhams, namely Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.

In the second week of June, all of a sudden weather cooled a bit. Monsoon that was anticipated to hit North India by end of June, apparently came two – three weeks early. While plains experienced incessant rainfall for few days, the effect was devastating in the hills. There was flash flood that washed away men, material, houses like pack of cards. It was estimated that nearly70000 people were stranded in the hills. Most were from the plains, untrained, unprepared in the ways of surviving in the mountains. Weather was inclement, there was no food, many had accompanying elders and children. Shown below is damaged Kedarnath temple and Kedar valley.

As usual there was chaos after calamity. State administration was confused and devoid of ideas. National disaster management organization and their force were ill prepared to tackle the disaster of this magnitude. Ultimately armed forces, Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) were called in to rescue people. Rescue operation was ongoing round the clock for close to a week now. Army rescuing pilgrims stranded due to roads washed away.

When one tries to understand the cause of this disaster, many issues come to forefront. Firstly, was this a natural calamity or a man made disaster waiting to happen. There was a polarized debate between need for development and need for maintaining sanctity of the environment. Could state administrative response have been better? Being a hill state, should the administration not anticipate and stay in a state of preparedness? Was state administration working in collusion with businessmen and builders? Could death have been prevented with proper advanced warning? Could state administration not have regulated flow of tourists into different areas?

It is still not clear, why flooding happened. Is it because of unprecedented cloud burst, or the perimeter of a lake caving in or due to opening of flood gates of dam to prevent overflowing. If any one or all of these contributed to flooding and loss of lives, then is it not imperative for state government to intimate susceptible population and regulate tourist inflow? Who gave permission, if any, to open flood gates of a dam, if at all?

This disaster brings into focus debate between ecology and development. Chief minister of Uttarakhand tried to sound reasonable on television about need for a pragmatic approach between development and protection of environment. He sounded logical and emphasized the need for development for the benefit of local people. Uttrakhand has many rivers. Government is building dams to tap into hydroelectric power. However, many environmental activists complain that Uttarakhand does not have as many rivers or as much water as the number of dams its is building. Does this indicate a collusion between politicians and builders? Many people are complaining that building so many dams and restricting flow of river is irreversibly damaging ecology of Uttarakhand, especially so when electricity generated is being sold to states outside Uttarakhand.  Anti-dam protest shown in picture below.

There is no dispute India needs a lot of power. Hydroelecticity is a clean source of energy. However, to tap natural resource, should the government have transparent and tough regulation that is implemented unbiasedly?

Shown in the picture, a tunnel being dug for construction of a dam.

Chief minister, Shri Vijay Bahuguna, also stressed on importance of tourism for his state. It is important to note that most Himalayas were inaccessible to general public for a long time. People used to travel by public transport buses, which were few and far between. Only hardy and fortunate could travel into deep Himalayas. However, all these changed in last twenty years with boom in car sales. Nowdays, chartered buses and private four wheelers ferry people from the foothlls to the deep mountains. According to estimate, the hill state of Uttarakhand has a population of 10 million, while it gets a footfall of of 25 million tourists within a short span of 4 to 6 months.

Tourism brings money and well being for hill people, it also sprouts unregulated growth at the expense of the environment a to accommodate larger number of tourists. Many tourists have little sensitivity for environment, they demand comforts for their money. Business minded people want to cater to demands of tourists and expand their development work. As a result villages are become towns, towns change into cities, without any modern planning. Many places infrastructures are built on riverbed or on riverbank clearly flouting building regulations. Trees are cut to make way for resorts, without any effort to replant trees. In the best of times, most Indian cities are poorly designed and planned. There is never provision of sanitation, waste management etc. Floor after floor constructed bribing municipal officers and police. The same happened in Uttarakhand. Flash flood washed away houses and buildings like a pack of cards. This would not happen without collusion with authorities in power!

We can accept reasoning of chief minister of Uttrakhand about need for development and a balance between development and environment. It is also logical most cities of Uttarakhand were standing by rivers for centuries. However, point that is missing that most cities and towns did not experience as much footfall as it does today. So these cities are not equipped to handle pressure of accommodation, sanitation, transporation etc. Why government does not have rules of city planning and building bylaws that are implemented and violators heavily prosecuted? In disaster affected areas of Uttarakhand, a plate of rice selling for Rs. 500, and a piece of bread for Rs. 200. Rich people pulling strings to evacuate their relatives at the expense of old, infirm and sick. Where is law and order machinery? All these indicate that disaster was magnified, if not created, by man. It was waiting to happen and may happen again unless we learn from experience.

This disaster in Uttarakhand, indicates how weak and ineffective are our government machinery and their response. National Disaster Management Authority that is chaired by prime minister does not meet and remain unprepared. Only thing that really works is a disciplined work of army, airforce, ITBP and some social organisations like RSS. If these are not sign of  lack of leadership and poor governance, then what is?

L K Advani, Narendra Modi and Poll Prospects of BJP

It was an exceptionally hot summer day in the month of June, in Delhi. Mr. L. K Advani, the senior most and octogenarian  leader of BJP, was uneasy and angry in the cool comfort of his airconditioned living room. Reason for his unease was ascendancy of Mr. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, in party hierarchy. Like a prey mesmerized by a python, BJP cadres were apparently hypnotized by success of Mr. Modi as Gujarat chief minister, and wanted party leadership to project Modiji as leader of BJP’s election campaign, which may eventually lead to elevation to the post of prime minister, in case party comes out victorious. This,  despite Advaniji’s explicit reservation about Mr. Modi’s candidature and his not so overt praise of another BJP chief minister of Madya Pradesh, Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

“How ungrateful!” thought L K. Advaniji. His own party cadres and leaders  forgot how he worked to build the party from 2 seats of 180 seats in parliament. They forgot his tireless work to create a Hindu identify and a vote bank for BJP. His clever effort at Babri masjid demolition and sacrifices he made for the party, cannot be brushed aside. How can anyone for get that Advaniji was one of the architects of creation of National Democratic Alliance (NDA), that he gave up his claim on the prime minister’s seat in 1998 for Atalji. Now that UPAii led by Man Mohan Singh is at its weakest, should BJP and Narendra Modi not step aside and make room for L. K. Advani as prime minister!. Brushing aside any thought that party lost two elections under his leadership in 2004 and 2009, Advaniji felt his brightest chance at the top job in the country was slipping away from his grip.

The actual announcement from Goa, venue of BJP national executive meeting, Mr. Advani heard on TV. Mr. Rajnath Singh, the party president, flanked by important party functionaries announced that Mr. Modi has been chosen to be chairman of election campaign committee for 2014 general election. In impotent rage, Advaniji drafted a letter to party president about his decision to resign from all party posts. Like a child who has been denied his favorite toy, Advaniji intended to hurt and embarrass a party he worked to create.
Mr. Advani’s announcement was akin to setting cat among the pigeons. Although, Mr. Advani was eventually persuaded to take back his resignation, but the damage was already done. A principal ally for last seventeen years, JDU, was contemplating breakup of alliance at the centre and at the state level. This apart from all the snide remarks that came from rival parties and parties with different ideological inclination.
It is highly unlikely BJP leaders did not expect a strong reaction to the elevation of Mr. Narendra Modi. Opinion polls conducted by different groups also predictied that seat tally of BJP in 2014 election would unlikey to improve beyond 140, despite congress doing poorly. For BJP led NDA to cross the halfway mark in parliament, BJP would need help of supporting parties. It would be easy to get such support, if Mr Nitish Kumar or Ms Sushma Swaraj or Mr L K Advani led NDA to poll as prime minister.
Several factors guided BJP leadership in their decision to project Mr. Narendra Modi chairman of campaign committee. Firstly, it was probably felt that JDU can be persuaded to stay in the alliance of NDA, sighting the mutually beneficial role of alliance to the poll prospect of both parties. BJP was further emboldend by the fact that JDU lost the recent by election to its rival RJD, led by Shri Lalu Yadav. At the same time BJP lead by Narendra Modi won all the seats in Gujarat. Significance of this observation cannot be missed. It is important to note that state elections may have less bearing on national election, and BJP also lost state election in Karnataka. Nevertheless, win is a win and loss remains a loss, whatever may be the cause.
Second factor in decision making was the view that Mr. Modi, with his oratory, with his track record of development, his success as chief minister, can be a game changer with urban and young voters in the next election. Loss of alliance partners like JDU can be compensated if Modi can bring in close to 200 votes for BJP. In such a scenario, BJP leaders felt other parties will come towards NDA. Muslims, around 20 % of voters may not vote for Modi led NDA. Although in Gujarat, muslims have voted for Modi led BJP. Youth, which may be around 10 –  15% of new voters may vote for Modi. For Mr. Modi to bring additional votes for BJP, I think Hindus have to vote overwhelmingly in favor of BJP. It is important to note that Mr. Amit Shah, Modi’s chosen campaign manager for UP, has started reviving Ram Mandir as an election issue.
Finally, rank and file BJP cadres have pressurized leadership for anointment of Mr. Modi for a significant national level position. Many believe strong leadership of Mr. Modi may enthuse the party workers before next election.
For Mr. Modi to be successful, NDA must get close to majority on its own. I do not see a great prospect for India shining, if NDA would need support of other parties for passage of major bills. Given that NDA had made most parliament sessions almost irrelevant in last couple of years, they should expect to be paid back in same currency by congress and her UPA allies, if NDA happens to come in power.
Question remains can Narendra Modi lead BJP to victory in next election with enough numbers? BJP does not have a great presence in south and east. If BJP can get alliance with AIADMK and TMC, it may get a foothold in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. TMC, however, is not interested to ally with BJP or congress. It is dreaming of creating an eastern front with BJD in Orissa and JDU in Bihar.
Is Modi the game changer? Has Modi done miracle? Can one man do miracle in a vast country like India? I do not know. When Modi speaks, it appears that he has a different idea for running the country. He wants people to reject dole and stand up on their feet. He believes, people should ask for development in their area. Government must empower people to get what they want by providing good governance. Modi is considered to be pro big business. This is probably in line with his philosophy of empowering people. If people get job they no longer need dole from state. Revenue generated from industrial output can be ploughted back to social welfare. Industrialists are happy with Modi. People from abroad and home flock to Modi’s vibrant Gujarat summit. However, a country that is as diverse and as India it may take time for Mr Modi’s ideas to take root. Also, I have seen parts of Gujarat undeveloped with road broken, dirty villages, no electricity. I have seen people defecating in the open in Ahmedabad. So more than 10 years of Modi rule Gujarat has not become a paradise.
Modi is a person who is not corrupt. Benefits of chief ministers office do not percolate down to his family and friends. This is in sharp contrast to corruption ridden UPAII. Modi is a man with strong dislike and likes. With Modi, will come Amit Shah a man being investigated for riots. People whom Modi does not like, he destroys them. Areas that do not vote for him do not get development funds. Can such a person lead diverse India? Modi also brings stigma of Gujarat riot. He may not be directly involved, but he did not reach out to people that suffered when he was the chief minister. For last ten years or so, Modi has been attacked relentlessly for Gujarat riot. However, he has come out victorious in three elections. This may be a testimony to his will power to withstand opposition. Of late, muslims in Gujarat have started supporting Modi led BJP.  This may be far cry in rest of india, where hatred for Modi still persists and real.
All said and done, it appears Mr Modi’s turn has come to fight an election for BJP and deliver. He speaks the language of youth. Common people can relate to him. He has idea of a different type of India. Time will tell if Modi will be able to convince Indian of his vision and lead BJP to power.