• New monks for old

    In the aftermath of the Baba Ramdev fiasco, spokespersons of the UPA government and the Congress have alleged the yoga guru and religious preacher is a proxy for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – India’s biggest Hindu nationalist socio-political conglomeration – and of its daughter organisation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP).

    Politicians and commentators have confidently predicted Ramdev will now join the RSS and consanguineous political parties such as the BJP in a political assault on the Congress. They have pointed out that some of the issues he harps upon – cow protection, cleaning the Ganga, and of course corruption in the UPA regime – are also issues that exercise the RSS and its family. As such, there is the conclusion that Ramdev is a tool in RSS-VHP hands.

    This assessment may be a little flawed. I would argue Ramdev is too independent and autonomous to be satisfied being a prop for the Sangh Parivar – as the RSS network is called – or indeed any

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  • Let me begin with two questions: Who is Pakistan's current Chief of Army Staff? I suspect General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's name rings a bell even for those who did not answer correctly. Now, who is India's current Chief of Army Staff? It's General Vijay Kumar Singh, and chances are you know nothing about him. This isn't because he has a generic name, the sort Amitabh Bachchan might adopt to play COAS in a Bollywood thriller, but because, unlike his Pakistani counterpart, General Singh rarely figures in the news. Which is not a bad thing at all. The firewall between India's civilian administration and its military is the single most important factor ensuring we continue on a democratic path. Unfortunately, since it is defined in the negative, as an absence of military interference in everyday life, it is the least heralded of India's accomplishments in the journey to a truly representative political system.

    India's parliamentary apparatus, which has functioned for sixty-five years with

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  • Crass Empiricism

    I recently came across (thanks to Dr Ajay Shah's blogthis marvelous op-ed by Professor Prabhat Patnaik, where he talks about everything that is right with the CPI(M). It is nine months old, and so was written well before the West Bengal election results. Even so, it is worth revisiting for reasons that I will explain shortly.

    Professor Patnaik explains that one good thing the CPI(M) has going for it is that it's anti-imperialistic, and that it's the only anti-imperialistic party in India. I suppose that is important for people who are concerned about imperialism. Personally, I wish that they had concentrated a little less on anti-imperialism and a little more on the healthcare system in West Bengal. As things stand, they seem to have neglected healthcare to the extent that every Bengali with a mild cough and cold has left Bengal and come to Apollo Hospital in Greams Road, Chennai, for treatment. I was there this week and I was surrounded by Bengalis. It was like being at Eden

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  • On the other side of the camera

    As a child, my efforts to understand a movie director's place in the scheme of things were thrown out of gear by Subhash Ghai's cameo in the "Ding Dong" song in Hero. You'll remember — or you should remember — that the shot has a cowboy-hatted Ghai standing next to a stalled car, looking for help. When Jackie Shroff, Meenakshi Seshadri and the rest of the gang race by him on their bikes, he shrugs stoically, deadpans the lyrics "Ding Dong, Oh Baby Sing a Song" and redirects his attention to the car engine.

    "So THAT'S what a director does!" I thought to myself in the pleasing glow of revelation, "he lingers about the set, waves at the actors as they pass, and hums the tune to make sure it's good. Fun job." I spent the next few years diligently refusing to exercise my mind any further on the subject, but then I learnt about the Auteur Theory, and things have never been the same since.

    In retrospect, that Hero scene was also my first sighting of a director in front of the camera. (Note: I

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  • Of Underreported Sensex P/E Ratios

    When it comes to stock indexes, the fact that they are based on a collection of stocks makes it difficult for us to understand their characteristics. I had explained how the Sensex and Nifty EPS (Earnings per share) were calculated, and how we weren't really seeing them grow quite as much.

    It turns out there is a problem with the way the index P/E (Price to Earnings Ratio) is calculated. What the index creators do, for both the BSE and the NSE, is to add up earnings of all the companies in the indexes to get the total earnings. They divide the total market capitalization — each company's total shares multiplied by its share price — by the total earnings to get the P/E.

    The figure that comes along tells us how richly or poorly the index is valued. For instance, even after a reasonably good earnings season and a drop in the indexes by about 10% from the January peak, the current P/E of the Sensex is reported to be 19.32. This is higher than the historical average of 17 to 18, and thus

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  • Beware the False Prophets

    "We are not righteous people, only they will go to heaven, the others will stay here on Earth to go through terrible sufferings."

    Written in her diary by a 14-year old Russian girl, convinced that Judgement Day would arrive on May 21, 2011. According to Harold Camping, a Christian broadcaster whose 'prediction' gained wide currency, Jesus would return on this date, and the righteous would fly up to heaven. Those, like the young Russian diarist, who didn't qualify for the flight, would be subject to five months of fire, brimstone and plagues. Millions would die every day.

    Camping seemed like he was channeling an earlier prophet of doom, who had said, "sea level rise, expanding deserts and catastrophic weather-induced flooding have already contributed to large permanent migrations and could eventually displace hundreds of millions."

    This false prophet was the UN University, declaring in 2005 that 50 million people could become environmental refugees by 2010, fleeing the effects of

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