Pork Biryani @ Ahom Kitchen

Biryani is an Urdu word perhaps originating from Persian word “birinj” which means rice. The food was first served to the army of Muslim invader Timur. Another story says that Mumtaz (adored by Shah Jahan but  not so acceptable to the saffron brigade)one day felt that the Mughal army was not looking fit and energetic. So she invented biryani which perhaps reinvigorated the army.

Biryani is the national dish of Pakistan, while in India we are thinking of giving the status to Khichdi.

No doubt biryani has Islamic connection.

But pork is banned in all Islamic countries, perhaps for the religious belief that flesh of swine(pig) is impure. Again there are contradictions. The founder of Pakistan, MA Jinnah ate pork. Also Pakistani businessmen supply boar (wild pig, as domestication of pig is prohibited in Pakistan perhaps pigs are found there in jungles only) to western troops stationed in Afghanistan.

Having skipped breakfast, I was hungry when I entered “Ahom Kitchen” restaurant at Srimanta Sankardev Path, Guwahati  in the afternoon. To see”Pork Biryani” in the menu was a mouth watering and thought provoking experience. But the price tag stopped me from devouring the pork biryani and I settled for more economical items.

Though the state is ruled by the saffron party, we are essentially secular and therefore pork and biryani can coexist.

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When Gabbar Singh Visited Madras

I don’t subscribe to RSS leader Tarun Vijay’s  view that South Indians  are black people. But I feel that South Indians are different from North Indians or East Indians in various attributes.

I  found it difficult to digest when I saw  my friend  from Chennai, Pradeep  enjoying curd mixed with onion. I had minor scuffles with Pradeep when I asked him why he can’t eat anything without coconut hair oil and why on his sister’s wedding day their father  was wearing a lungi (as per photographs shown to me). Pradeep was quick  to point out that it was coconut oil but not hair oil and his father was wearing a dhoti and not a  lungi.

A friend of mine told me that Madras (now Chennai) was coined by the British combining English words Mad and Race, based on their experiences with the people of east coast of south India. But I am unable to validate the story from any reliable source.

We must concede that among Indians ,Tamils have snatched the glory of intellectual superiority from Bengalis in recent times. Therefore someone like Subramanyan Swami can confidently say in a talk show that South Indians are more intelligent than the rest. South India presents the success story of post Independent India and South Indians have done it by virtue of their talent.

But what I find difficult to understand is Tamil Nadu politics and its mysterious connection with Tamil cinema. It began with Karunanidhi  in nineteen seventies when he became the Chief Minister of the state. Apart from being a Dravidian leader he was a screen writer in Tamil film industry. We learn that he used Tamil cinema to propagate his political ideas. Karunanidhi  in his nineties is still active in Tamil Nadu politics but I don’t know if his link with Tamil film industry is still intact. Today it is very difficult to defend him from allegations such as promoting dynasty, corruption and opportunism. In any case he is an undisputed leader of his party .

MG Ramachandran ,who  became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu  three times was primarily a hero in Tamil film industry. I am not sure if he is remembered as movie star or a Chief Minister.

J Jayalalitha who was the Chief Minister six times was originally an award winning actress. Till her death she was an unchallenged leader of her party despite serious corruption charges against her.

So  we keenly watch political moves by Tamil superstars Rajinikanth (another surprise, he is actually a Gaekwad) and Kamal Haasan—are they the future Chief Ministers of Tamil Nadu?

Why then another Tamil star Vijay leave behind? So he made “Mesral”  and  reportedly talked about dry subjects like GST, digital India and healthcare. But the unbelievable fact is the commercial success of the movie. Figures indicate that the business done by the movie is at least ten times more than the revenue generated by the most popular Assamese movie of our times “ Mission China”.

What I read in economic surveys is that Tamil Nadu leads many Indian states in providing quality healthcare. I am also sure people engage in high quality debates on GST or digital India in Tamil Nadu. I wonder if a commercial movie can give more insights on GST.

No doubt it is easier to criticize the demonetization decision. But GST is through a consensus (except the ordinance, timing and event management part). Most of the opposition ruled states have opted for GST and are actively participating in GST council meets.  So if GST is flawed then the other political parties are also accountable. Rahul Gandhi is not absolved only because he says “GST is Gabbar Singh Tax”.

 

Hiren Gohain Disappoints

It is unfortunate that eminent intellectual Hiren Gohain has made some ad hock comments regarding “toll” just for the sake of opposing it in his column published in Assamese daily “Amar Asom” on 28th October 2017. He has given an impression that the government can use its printing presses to print money and fund highway projects.

Let’s understand that “toll” is a user fee levied on designated stretches and it is a system of funding the construction and maintenance of highways. Toll plazas are operational in most of the states including the left ruled Kerala. Even our neighboring Meghalaya has started successfully operating toll plazas. In Assam toll plazas set up by National Highway Authority of India or NHAI were closed down by the well know local “farmer leader”.

Mr. Gohain goes on to state that toll is meant to exploit the poor while it will enable the capitalists to raise prices. But without a single operational toll plaza in the whole state do we have any comfort level in prices? On one hand we complain about bad road condition and when it comes to contributing our bit we oppose, is it not hypocrisy?

Even more surprising is the admiration expressed by Mr. Gohain  for Rahul Gandhi’s comments regarding GST and demonetization and he further states that “toll” is another draconian measure being contemplated by the government.

The serious point is that Hiren Gohain is widely respected , has big following and his views contribute to opinion building in the society. We expect reasoned views from him else “farmer leaders” may take law into their hands.

Guwahati Stone Pelting Incident

I was shocked and sad. Near Saukuchi, an insane individual waited with a stone of sufficient weight in his hand for the bus in which Aussies were travelling. The moment the man saw the bus passing by, he threw it with sufficient momentum so as to break a window pane and then successfully ran away. “Perhaps” a cricket ball size stone was found inside the bus. The story is not so convincing.

Let’s replace the insane person with a cricket crazy person and obsessively men in blue fan. Still the incident is not so plausible. In another perspective let’s imagine the person to be an anti Indian, anti assam who was jealous of an international match being played in Guwahati, Assam. But I am still not convinced.

Then suddenly I remembered an incident. I was travelling in a bus along NH37. Perhaps somewhere near Krishnai , a window pane behind my seat broke into pieces. “Stone Pelting” some passengers screamed. All inside the bus got worried and the bus stopped. We could see agricultural land on both sides of the road and no miscreant was sighted. We tried to understand if there was any Assam Bandh, Rabha Hasong Bandh, Minorities Bandh or any other Bandh. But the unanimous conclusion was that there was no Bandh that day. We tried to locate the stone which might have landed inside the bus. But no stone was detected inside the bus.

I shared my experience and insight with wife.  I was surprised to learn that she also had similar experiences, that too on NH37  but perhaps near Teok or Sivasagar on two occasions while travelling in night service buses. In one occasion a window pane was broken and in the second incident the windscreen( front window) broke. Though she is sure that these were stone  pelting cases, she can’t recollect if any stone had landed inside the buses. But she is sure that there was no Bandh call by AASU, AATASU, AAMSU etc when the incidents happened.

Good news is that Guwahati police has apprehended the stone pelters on the Aussies Bus. The matter is perhaps closed as the culprits have confessed. But news tickers on local channels are again not convincing.

The motive behind stone pelting appears as

-Not getting entry tickets for the match. (Tickets  got sold out in a couple of hour . A very small minority of cricket enthusiasts managed to get tickets at the right price)

-Excessive Drinking. ( Assam is not a dry state and perhaps  we can’t call drinking an offence).

Deendayal Upadhyay Vidyut Chulha Yojana

I carefully listened to the Prime Minister talking about Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana or the Saubhagya scheme. Though Saubhagya has eluded me ever, I did not have the misfortune of not having electricity connection at home. Also I don’t have any serious complaint about the quality of electricity supply.

Experts have by now pointed out that there is nothing new in the Saubhagya scheme and that it is a mere rephrasing of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana and the subsequent Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana.

But the major takeaway from the  PM Modi speech is the “electric cook stove”. He has exhorted the big Indian oil and gas PSU, ONGC to develop an electric cook stove. Clean cook stove is a serious subject and active government intervention is most welcome.

But I foresee the following things unfolding in coming days .

1).Power Ministry of Govt of India will approve Deen Dayal Upadhyay Vidyut Chulha Yojana in 2018. An estimated 30 crore households will be initially provided with electric cook stoves under the scheme.

All BPL families will get the electric stove free of cost. Others will get it at nominal cost. ONGC will be the nodal agency to implement the scheme.

2).ONGC will float an Expression of Interest or EOI for design, development, production, financing (for APL families) and supply of the cook stoves. The salient features of the EOI will be

 

a)A registered Indian MSME can submit the EOI

b )The cook stove cost to consumer inclusive of GST and delivery charges will not be more Rs101/unit. (Government  would consider waiving off the CGST& IGST components and respective states will take a call on SGST).

c)The MSME may have technological tie up with large Indian/foreign companies but necessary approval and certification has to be obtained from Ministry of Science and Technology, Govt of India.

d)Preference  will be given to solar/clean energy products

e) 99% components of the product should be indigenously developed.

f) MSMEs submitting the EOI should have sufficient technical /commercial /manufacturing credentials.

g) EOIs should be submitted within ninety days of notification.

3)Based on the EOIs submitted, two MSMEs from each region (North, South, East and West) will be selected and will be asked to submit Detailed Project Report (DPR) within ninety days.

4) DPRs will be evaluated by the competent authority for a maximum period of 180 days (extendable at the discretion of the competent authority). One MSME from each region will be selected to produce a prototype. Government will reimburse 90% cost of designing and producing the prototype.

5) The prototypes will be put to trial in not less than 1001 villages across the region for not less than 1001 hours.

6) On successful completion of the trial MoUs will be signed with the four MSMEs incorporating points such as delivery schedule, quantity, logistic, preliminary and final inspection, payment terms and financing the product for APL families.

7) Supply orders will be issued to the MSMEs within 30 days of signing the MoUs subject to pleasure of the competent authority.

This is what I foresee. But it is likely that by the time EOIs are submitted there will be a general election. Though  Modi may come back to power,there will be a different Power Minister and in all probability the EOI will be cancelled and a fresh one will be issued, but that will take time.

Stimulus Package,Twin Balance Sheet and State of the Economy

I am happy to believe a leading economist’s view that a large restructuring of the economy is underway and if implemented well this will lead to stunning growth of Indian economy.

Since the sudden exit of Arvind Panagariya  from NITI Ayog there has been no good news for  the Indian economy. RBI data on demonetization, GDP growth rates, inflation figures and even tax revenue post GST are all discouraging.

The latest proposed move by the government is a “stimulus package”. It is no doubt an admission by the government that “NITI” as well as “Ran NITI” are not working all. Interestingly economists  and intellectuals are shelving the narratives of fiscal discipline and low inflation target. But being away from the mainland we can hardly feel the difference between the highest GDP growth rate of Q4, 2016  – 7.9% and the lowest  GDP growth rate of Q1,2017- 5.7%.

Sometimes even the basic presumption that the government is doing everything with the right intention seems less convincing. The economic survey volume 2 talks about declining profitability of telecommunication sector exacerbating the twin balance sheet problem. The survey goes on to state that the telecommunication sector has experienced “renewables shock” in the form of a “new entrant” and the profitability of the sector is badly hit. The government seems to be backing the “new entrant” for short term consumer benefits ignoring long term economic consequences. The recent decision of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India regarding interconnection usage charges appears to favour the “new entrant” while adversely affecting the remaining players.

The government is allowing the disruption by the “new entrant” to go on for consumer benefits but it does not seem to be much bothered about rising petrol prices.

But despite all these I would love to remain optimistic.

Murderous Violence has an Eerie Pattern

I agree with SitaramYechury that “such murderous violence has an eerie pattern”. Mr Yechury was talking about the killings of Gauri Lankesh, Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi.

I see a similar pattern in the killings of Parag Kumar Das, Dharanidhar Das, Rupjyoti Das and Dimbeswar Konwar. The point to be noted here is  that during the time of the killings the left was an ally of the ruling AGP and at the centre NDA was in power.

As I read about Gauri Lankesh, I see that she had strong anti establishment views and vehemently opposed rightist ideas. She had links with Maoists. Factional fight among Maoists is being considered as a reason for her death.

Parag Kumar Das, an alumnus of St Stephen’s, Delhi and Delhi School of Economics started supporting Assam insurgent outfits in later part of his life as a journalist. The irony is that Parag Kumar Das aspired to be a civil servant, made it to the interview stage of civil services examination but could not impress the interview board. He authored books such as “Swadhin Asomor Arthaniti” (can be translated as The Economy of Independent Assam) and “Sanglot Fenla” ( a novel  which romanticizes armed struggle against the state). He was killed in broad day light. The government chargesheeted some surrendered militants. But none could be convicted in a court of law due to lack of evidence.

Dharanidhar Das, Rupjyoti Das , Dimbeswar Konwar and many others were ordinary citizens like  us. But unfortunately they were family members of insurgent leaders. They were killed by armed and masked assailants and the government is clueless about the killers till date.

No doubt there exists a pattern.

Justice for Rohingyas, Chakmas and Hajongs

It is inappropriate to put the three groups of people together as given in the subject line. The only common aspect Rohingyas, Chakmas and Hajongs share is that they all hail from present day Bangladesh or pre independence Bengal province.

Rohingya /Myanmar Conflict  and Assam Immigration Problem

The term Rohingya is not accepted by Myanmar government. The government  call them “Muslims of Rakhine state” who had come from Bangladesh/Bengal. The citizenship act  1982 of Myanmar denies citizenship to Muslims of Rakhine state as they are termed as illegal immigrants and that they are not a “national race”.

There are Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam and in other parts of India. Numerically Muslim and Hindu immigrants pose a serious political threat to the indigenous population of the state of Assam, which is acknowledged by the government of India.

But the policy of  the government of India on immigration from Bangladesh has always been inconsistent. By way of Assam Accord the Government of India legalized all immigration into the state of Assam up to 24th March 1971. The cutoff date and the year is not valid in rest of India in my understanding. On the other hand the Myanmar government set a similar cut off year as 1823!!

Though government of India is bound to detect and deport immigrants entering  into Assam from Bangladesh after 24th March 1971, no tangible  action is seen on ground. Rather there were laws enacted to make detection and deportation an impossibility (please refer to IMDT act).

The present ruling party in India committed in its pre poll promise to grant citizenship to Hindu and Buddhists immigrants irrespective of their date of entry making the Assam immigration problem much more complicated.

The not less than 10 million strong immigrants from Bangladesh in Assam enjoy all rights as citizens and they are a formidable political force, excluding an insignificant 3 lac or so “D” (doubtful) voters.

Despite alleged “human rights violations”, “genocides”  and  “ethnic cleansing”  by Myanmar government against Rohingyas, it is not fully isolated in the global space. Even India, which is supposed to be a progressive, democratic and liberal country has sided with Myanmar government on the Rohingya issue.

 

Stateless Chakmas

Rohingyas are also described as “stateless” people. Two smaller ethnic groups –Chakmas and Hajongs are also referred to as “stateless” people by a section of the media.

Chakmas, who are Buddhists, originally come from Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. Many of them had to leave CHT either due to religious persecution  or due to a hydro power dam. They were subsequently sheltered in Arunachal Pradesh by government of India.  Today they constitute 6 percent of the population of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Due to strong opposition from the indigenous people of Arunachal Pradesh, Chakmas are denied citizenship till date .But there has been no organized violence against Chakmas in Arunachal Pradesh  so far. Given  the insignificant population of Chakmas , the political class is not much worried about the community.

 

Hajongs from Hajo

Sometimes I see  Chakmas and Hajongs are put together and referred to as “stateless people”. This is because Hajongs living in Arunachal Pradesh are denied citizenship just like Chakmas.

Hajongs are followers of Hindu religion and there are sizeable number of Hajongs in Assam and Meghalaya and  they enjoy all rights as Indian citizens.

Hajongs speak a dialect which resembles dialects spoken in western Assam districts. Many Hajongs believe that they are originally from Hajo (near Guwahati).

Numerically their numbers are also insignificant. If  we put together  Hajongs living  in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Bangladesh (appx 50K), the total headcount will be less than 2 lac.

I have a suggestion.  Places around Hajo have substantial number of Bangladesh origin people. Can’t we have some exchange program with Bangladesh government through which immigrants can go back to their place of origin and Hajongs can come back to Hajo?

Demonetization Match Fixing

After rigorous counting for 8 months, the RBI has finally released data on the amount of demonetized currency back in banking system. The figures are on expected lines and the government despite its changed narrative regarding a less cash economy is finding it difficult to defend the demonetization decision.

The RBI states that 16000 crores did not come back. As per economists this is the amount by which the RBI gained. If P Chidambaram’s statement is correct then 21000 crores was spent in printing new currencies. So in simple arithmetic the loss due to demonetization was at least 5000 crores.

The government has not admitted the failure of the demonetization exercise. At least it can say that its assessment of the amount of black money in system was wrong. But black money back in banks does not make it white. Then why is the government not talking at all about black money?

But there are people who are benefitted by demonetization.

There are bankers and middlemen who bailed out the rich and made good money.  Then there are chartered accountants who continue to enjoy benefits of demonetization by offering consultancy services to the cash rich. Let’s recollect the rock star like felicitation to the Prime Minister in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India convention in New Delhi recently.

What I learn is that those who deposited big amounts in their accounts are now visiting Income Tax departments. They have assistance from chartered accountants/lawyers and perhaps some “negotiation” is in progress. It is not difficult to understand who is actually taking part in the negotiation.

So at the end of the day is there any doubt that demonetization was a fixed match?

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh & Ganganagar Connection

While studying in a college in North India I realized how strong, violent and polarizing caste feelings can be. A minor brawl could result in a full scale caste war within the college premises.

In a college election the leader from the most organized (in terms of “dadagiri”) caste lost by the narrowest of margin (of just vote).In a couple of month the winning candidate and his followers were bashed up in a planned manner, situation deteriorated to such an extent that security personnel had to be deployed in college campus for some days.

In the last few days followers of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh are on rampage. They can’t accept the fact that their spiritual leader is convicted of rape.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh heads Dera Sacha Sauda which is “a social welfare & spiritual organization that preaches and practices humanitarianism and selfless services to others”.

I googled to find the following details about Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh—spiritual leader, social worker, actor, director, singer and political influencer. I feel that all these traits just don’t add up.

History tells that religious sentiments can turn highly destructive, perhaps it can be more destructive than casteist emotion. But one common thing I found about Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh and the caste based student leaders of our college is that they are all from Ganganagar district of Rajasthan.

The aftermath of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh conviction is large scale riots, deaths, curfews, burning of public properties etc etc. Not sure if this can be attributed to what Karl Marx had said “religion is the opium of masses” or it is just a Ganganagar syndrome.

PS : I have not been to Ganganagar, Rajasthan. I have written based on what I saw, read and heard. Also due apologies to my dear friend Mr. Chaudhury from Ganganagar.