April 1, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

Writing random reflections on April 1 every year is somewhat squeaky; I always wonder if you would treat it as “April Fool” joke?

1.The new airport terminal in Mumbai is excellent, especially from the travellers’ point-of-view. The business capital of India (Mumbai) pays attention to consumers, not the political capital (Delhi). Three things stood out for me while comparing airport terminal of Mumbai with Delhi. First, the passenger cars have the first lane nearest to the terminal, not taxis and buses. Second, the security check happens before immigration, not after. Third, the GVK lounge has a user-friendly service; I was nudged by the serving staff to have more food and drinks. Wow!!

2.Corruption enquiry in FIFA, the world soccer association, is beginning to show some results. Indictments have followed arrests; great. But, most of those indicted and arrested are the ‘recipients’ of bribe; what about the ‘givers’? Why are those who give bribes not yet caught? Because, they are some very big and powerful businesses. A recent report from Kenya indicates how Nike paid ‘facilitation’ fees to officials of federations to secure sponsorship. Sahara’s sponsorship of Indian cricket team has been in the news for such reasons so many times over the past decade. Can we now shine some light on the ‘givers’ of bribes too?

3.A 1908 photo of Students’ Council of University of Alberta in Edmonton (Canada) shows 3 girls and 4 boys as members. More than a century ago, a conservative western province in Canada had significant presence of girl students in student union leadership. Wow! The recent headlines about JNU, Jadavpur and Hyderabad Universities in India showed that a vast majority of student union leadership in India continues to be male-dominated, in 2016. University campuses in India, and around the world, are witnessing an increasingly larger proportion of girl students with desire to study well and move ahead. When will that trend be reflected more authentically in students’ voices?

4.Centralisation of decision-making authority in the office of the President or Prime Minister is not a new phenomenon, nor uniquely Indian. Decisions about approval of international development cooperation and NGO programming is largely done in the office of the Prime Minister of Cambodia. While such a system ensures that centralised intelligence of activities undertaken by non-state actors is readily available, it also makes the process of securing permissions susceptible to corruption in various forms. Tendencies to centralise authority in any institution is inherently anti-democratic, more so in a political democracy.

5.Pot holes on all roads, leaking roofs of new stadia, and falling bridges (as in Kolkata yesterday) are symptoms of something deeply problematic in Indian society today—corruption. It is the same ‘disease’ (if it can be called so) that has led to indiscriminate poppy-growing and heroine manufacturing in Malda district, or smuggling of Pakistani terrorists in Pathankot or attack on security forces in Chhattisgarh— in each of these cases, public officials and leaders accepted bribes to act in ways contrary to the principles of their duty. When, and how, will this ‘disease’ ever be cured?

Sincerely

Rajesh Tandon