POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 13, 2015 AT 19:08 IST ,  Edited At: Jan 22, 2015 23:30 IST

On Jan 11, PTI reported that a  Greenpeace India activist, Priya Pillai, was stopped from boarding a flight at Delhi airport to London, where she was scheduled to address British Parliamentarians on the 'infringement of rights of forest communities'.

On Jan 12, Pillai shot off a letter to the Home Ministry seeking an explanation for forbidding her from leaving the country.

However, when asked to comment on the issue, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami told reporters, "I have no idea (about the incident). Let me get a report... I shall seek a report."

An editorial on the incident in the Mint said:

"The substantial point is, should a government curb such freedom when a person plans to travel abroad and campaign against the country’s economic security? For example, activism against thermal and nuclear power plants that can imperil energy security of the Indian people? The answer is not clear-cut.

Denial of liberty may sound atrocious but endangering of economic security is a far worse proposition."

The piece created quite a stir on Twitter:

The Indian Express, in its Jan 14 editorial, says:

"A nation which wants to project itself as a serious power should have the confidence to tolerate dissent and deal with bad publicity...It should remember that if Bangladesh embarrasses India with better development indices, some of the credit goes to its flourishing NGO sector, which complements services delivered by government. The social sector should be seen as a partner in the process of development, not a political adversary paid in dollars to lobby for alien agendas and foment dissatisfaction in the countryside. Lobbying and activism are legitimate acts. The government’s response should be to negotiate. The puerile alternative of offloading inconvenient people mars the image of confident maturity that India is trying to project."

Another report in the Indian Express dated Jan 22 says:

"Days after Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was offloaded from a flight to London at the IGI airport in Delhi, it has emerged that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) used the "etc" category in an internal order of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to issue the lookout circular that stopped her from flying out. This was done as there was no criminal case against Pillai, officials said."

Mass organisations and concerned individuals issued a statement condemning state intimidation against activists and people’s groups:

"We, the undersigned, unequivocally condemn the ‘offloading’ of environmental activist Priya Pillai, associated with Greenpeace India, at the Delhi airport on 11th January 2015...It then appears that the decision was made solely by intelligence agencies on basis of ‘national interest’. Rather than an isolated case, it seems that the NDA Government and intelligence agencies are making a habit of preventing activists from travelling abroad for meetings."

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POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 13, 2015 AT 19:08 IST, Edited At: Jan 22, 2015 23:30 IST
POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 22, 2015 AT 21:00 IST ,  Edited At: Jan 22, 2015 21:00 IST

Suddenly, and a month before Budget 2015, the ghost of estate tax seems to be raising its head again. The tax was abolished by the V.P. Singh government in the 1980s and was generally opposed to by people across income groups. Now, in a piece in the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta makes a case for an estate tax in India.

The column in the Indian Express says:

Regulating inheritance was thought to be the central feature of a democracy: it would prevent the congealing of new undeserving aristocracies.

But is the Indian intelligentsia and super rich ready to accept such a tax? There are already murmurs of dissent. India Today Editorial Director Shekhar Gupta tweeted:

The estate tax — also dubbed inheritance tax or death duty — has been endorsed by a number of top economists, from Vijay Kelkar, to Deepak Nayyar. Successive Finance Ministers have talked about the need for introducing such a tax (The UPA's P. Chidambaram, most recently). Even the current NDA Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, in a previous avatar, talked about the tax in an interview with Outlook

"If you look at the Progressive Era that followed the Gilded Age in the US, they actually broke up all those great trusts and prevented the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a few. A very important structural reform—the estate tax—was also put in place. We need structural reforms like that in India. Anybody who has an estate of say, over Rs 25 crore, will pay an estate tax—so that it gets only the people who have accumulated very large amounts of assets. That's a way of making sure that the next generation has a level playing field. This is because the power of compounding is such that if you had a million rupees in 1900 in Mumbai, you would have become one of the great business dynasties of Mumbai that we see around us (today)."

The issue of estate tax, or taxing the super rich, has been raised in some Outlook stories in recent years. 

The Outlook story said:

"At a broader level, isn't it time that India's super-rich contribute a fair share to tax revenues…? Two decades after liberalisation, this question is being asked with increasing frequency, within government, by economists, tax experts and social commentators. Many are convinced wealthy people and corporations need to be taxed more, plus several say they should also lose the big tax breaks."

Estate tax is particularly disliked in many countries though most of them have it in some form. In the US, it is 18-45 per cent, in the UK, 40 per cent, in France 5-40 per cent and in Italy, it is just 4-8 per cent.  

The debate in India is alive and relevant because the country has anywhere between 300 million to 500 million poor people. On the other hand, India has over 1.27 lakh people with minimum investible assets of $1 million and at over 50 people who are worth at least $1 billion each.

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POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 22, 2015 AT 21:00 IST, Edited At: Jan 22, 2015 21:00 IST
POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 22, 2015 AT 20:52 IST ,  Edited At: Jan 22, 2015 20:52 IST

The Sangh Parivar and BJP MPs such as Sadhvi Prachi and Sakshi Maharaj have added a ridiculous twist to the current obsession with the number of Muslims in India in some distant future, by insisting that Hindu couples produce more children. 

The Hindu reported:

Without naming the minority community, he (Sakshi Maharaj) said: "The concept of four wives and forty children just won't work in India but it is high time that every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion".

Many more hate-mongers have jumped in, obfuscating facts so that the real picture of Muslim and Hindu population dynamics remains unclear. The Badrikashram, Vasudevanand Saraswati, for instance, came up with a ten-child norm this week.

A report in Zee News said:

During a convention of Sadhus in Allahabad, Saraswati reportedly urged the Hindu couples to produce 10 kids, stating it will save Hindus race. "Produce 10 kids so that Hinduism does not become a minority," said Saraswati.

There are many issues with this fear-mongering. To start with, the growth rate of Muslim population in India in the past cannot be the basis to conclude how many Muslims will be India at a future date. In fact, judging by current trends, there will be far fewer than we suspect, as the growth rate of population has declined among Muslims. Statistically, one cannot divide the decadal growth rate by ten to arrive at the annual growth rate, simply because population grows exponentially. It sort of increases like compound-interest, gathering steam over time, but it's slightly more complicated than that, for fertility rates are involved too. 

Therefore, the recently-leaked census figures on how many more Muslims there are in India now compared with 10 years ago, conceal more than they reveal. The lower growth rate indicates perhaps the declining fertility rate among Muslims – if anything, this shows their population is growing at a slower rate than ever before. And, in absolute numbers, Muslim population has increased by a paltry 0.8 per cent between 2001 and 2011 in those intervening years, relative to India's population growth.

The Times of India reported:

The latest census data on the population of religious groups, set to be released shortly, shows a 24% rise in the Muslim population between 2001 and 2011, with the community's share of total population rising from 13.4% to 14.2% over the 10-year period.

While the growth rate of the Muslim population has slowed from around 29% between 1991 and 2001, it is still higher than the national average of 18% for the decade.

Another fear-factor pulled out of the Sangh Parivar hat is that bigamy leads to more children. This too, is untrue, for whatever the rate of marriage might be for males of any community, the number of women (who alone bear children) will remain a constant. 

What the numbers indicate though is that the growth rate of India's population has probably slowed down. Now, this is a result of better education and higher health standards but it is not something the BJP can take credit for – the years in which the change took place were all in the period when the Congress-led UPA was in power.

The repeated statements also give the impression that Hindus actually take the Sangh's leaders seriously and will promptly start breeding at faster. This is an incorrect impression, obviously, because having ten children is one thing – raising all ten entirely another. Ask the poor women.

The sad part is that in a previous National Family Health Survey, it was found that whereas the total fertility rate is 2.1 in urban areas, the total wanted fertility rate was 1.6, and similarly in rural areas: the TFR was 3.0 but the wanted rate was far lower, at 2.1. Herein is the tragedy and irony of inciting people to produce babies for communal reasons: Indians, rural and urban already want far fewer children than they have. (NFHS, 2005-6).

If all goes well, Hindus will simply ignore these leaders, though if taken seriously, it will seriously jeopardise relations in society and put at risk the gains made so far in healthcare, girl child education and economic conditions. 

In any case, for anyone concerned with India's population growth rate, the largest majority should be the target of attention, not the minority. Here is what some number-crunching on the Hindu (as well as Muslim) populations in India (and the world) shows:

  • There are around 870 million Hindus and nearly 140 million Muslims in India. (Census 2001)
  • Hindu population in 2050 will be 2.7 billion if the rate of growth continues as it is. (With the growth rate increasing at an exponential rate, adding 0.125 per cent a year to the existing growth rate of Indian population, of 2.1 per cent). 
  • The Sachar report has predicted that Muslims will be under 20 per cent of India's population by the end of the 21st Century, and 16 per cent in 2030.
  • Projected world population in 2050 is 9 billion (Stephen Emmott). This means that Hindus will be 30 per cent of world population – three in every ten persons in the WORLD will be a Hindu.
  • Worldwide, according to Pew Research in 2011, Muslim population will increase by 2030 to 2.2 billion, from 1.6 billion in 2010. 

In conclusion, unless India wants Hindus to take over the world, literally, by having so many of them around that it becomes difficult to breathe, there's no point taking the hate speeches seriously.

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POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 22, 2015 AT 20:52 IST, Edited At: Jan 22, 2015 20:52 IST
POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 21, 2015 AT 21:51 IST ,  Edited At: Jan 21, 2015 21:51 IST

It is no secret that India's general elections are one of the most expensive in the world. Last year, India's General Elections that catapulted Narendra Modi from Gujarat to the national capital was considered the second-most expensive election ever after Barack Obama's campaign. The contrast between the two is evident: the US is one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world. In the eyes of many, India remains a developing nation.

Nevertheless, ho-hum was the typical reaction when the nation got to know about the high cost (Rs 60 crore) of Modi's 3D campaigns. 

The Times of India reported:

"The 3D holographic campaign, a novelty in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and a critical component of Narendra Modi's hi-tech campaign enabling him to address more than 700 virtual rallies, cost BJP over Rs 60 crore. The licence fee alone for two months during the campaign accounted for Rs 10 crore."

While many estimates were flowing in about how much India had spent in the 2014 elections, Outlook had done its own calculations and arrived at the conclusion that a mind boggling Rs 31,950 crore was spent in general elections 2014. That's a little over $ 5.2 billion, which is ten times the Rs 3,426 crore the Indian government spent on conducting the elections. 

The Outlook report said:

"Sensing a strong anti-incumbency 'wave', parties dug deep in their pockets and spent big money to ensure a victory. They paid for every trick in the book to lure voters — from huge publicity campaigns to attempting to buy their commitment via the age-old practice of gifts, liquor and food. Politicians also say that cash-for-votes is rife, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra."

Of the Indian total, the BJP alone is estimated to have spent two thirds — or over Rs 21,000 crore — in the elections that brought them to the throne.

Click on image to expand

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POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 21, 2015 AT 21:51 IST, Edited At: Jan 21, 2015 21:51 IST
POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 13, 2015 AT 19:12 IST ,  Edited At: Jan 13, 2015 19:12 IST

The New Indian Express reports:

The 18-day protests over controversial Tamil novel, Madhorubhagan, on Monday ended with its author Perumal Murugan tendering an unconditional apology for “hurting the sentiments of the people of Tiruchengode”. He also decided to withdraw all his novels, short stories, essays and poems published so far. He said he would compensate the publishers. He told Express that he made the decision fearing protests in the future against his published work.

The Hindu has a report saying that Murugan has decided to give up writing altogether.

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POSTED BY OWD ON Jan 13, 2015 AT 19:12 IST, Edited At: Jan 13, 2015 19:12 IST
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