Democracy, Right to Reject, and Common Knowledge

Should there be a provision to reject all candidates during an election? I will explain why I support such a provision in the ballot using a logical puzzle and introducing the concept of common knowledge.

In India, a new option, None of the Above (NOTA) [link], has been introduced in the ballot in ongoing general elections. This gives the voter a choice of not voting for any of the candidates. Although NOTA is equivalent to an invalid vote, I believe that it can significantly affect the process. The voter exercising this option may not explicitly reject all candidates. Instead, he/she may simply be informing that they are not engaged in the political process. Thus, I believe that another additional option of rejecting all candidates should be present in the ballot. I will explain my reasons in this post even if they are treated being equivalent to invalid votes. First, I will talk about a logical puzzle whose solution is rather tricky. Second, I will present a follow-up question. The answer to this follow up question is explained by the concept of common knowledge. Third, I will relate this concept to dictatorships and revolutions. I will also explain why I believe Facebook, Twitter, etc. are really powerful media. It is not because protests can be organised through these tools, but because of something more fundamental that is also explained by common knowledge. Finally, I will provide my beliefs about how the right-to-reject initiative can help improve a process even in successful democracies.

The Blue-Eyed Islanders Puzzle:

Source [link, link]: There is a tribe residing in an island in which the religion dictates that a person should not know the colour of their eyes. If an individual learns the colour, he/she commits ritualistic suicide just before the next town gathering. People learn of the suicides only after they have taken place; it is announced at the town gathering. The town gathering happens every day at noon. Everyone in the island attends all the town gatherings. It has a small population; every one knows the colors of other people’s eyes, but they do not discuss it for obvious reasons. They do have reflective surfaces in the island so that people do not discover their own eye colour. An outsider enters the island, and he is ignorant about this practice. When he leaves the island, he tells the people at his last town gathering (after the suicide ritual is suppose to have been finished) that he was happy to see other people with blue eyes on the island.  He is telling the truth and everyone trusts him. What happens to the blue eyed people in the island in the following days? Assume that everyone in the town is logical and follow their religious duties sincerely.

This puzzle is tricky to solve. Do take some time to think about it if you are mathematically inclined. I will provide the solution in the next paragraph. If you have clarification about the assumptions in the puzzle, do google for the puzzle for more details or leave me a comment.

The Solution:

Source [link, link]: The trick is to use mathematical induction. If there is only one person with blue eyes in the island, since he know the colour of all others’ eyes in the island, he knows right away that his eyes are blue. He commits suicide just before the next town meeting on the next day. If there are two people with blue eyes, each of them assumes that the other person is only person with blue eyes and waits for the other person to commit suicide next day. When neither of them commit suicide, they both know that they both have blues eyes. Therefore, on the second day, they both commit suicide. This can be extended to n people with blues eyes, i.e, they all commit suicide on the nth day.

The Follow-Up Question:

Source [linklink]: If there are more than one individual with blue eyes, everyone in the island already know that there is at least one person with blue eyes. The outsider only said that there is at least one person with blues eyes in the island, and the islanders already knew that. What additional information did the outsider add that lead to the consequence? If the outsider did not add any new information, isn’t the solution above contradictory to the reasoning presented here?

Common Knowledge:

The answer to the apparent contradiction lies in the concept of common knowledge [link]. If a fact p is known to everyone, it is called mutual knowledge [link]. In this context, p is the fact that there is at least one person with blue eyes. If everyone knows that everyone knows p, and everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone knows p, and so on ad infinitum, then p is common knowledge.

In the context of the islanders puzzle, consider the time when the outsider had not yet visited the island. If there are two people, A and B, with blue eyes, both of them know that there is at least one person with blue eyes. A knows that B has blue eyes, and B knows that A has blue eyes. A, however, does not know that B also knows that there is at least one person with blue eyes. Similarly, if there are 100 people with blues eyes, every one knows that there are at least 99 people with blue eyes. Everyone knows that everyone knows that there are at least 98 people with blue eyes. Every knows that everyone knows that everyone knows that there are at least 97 people with blue eyes. Clearly, this does not continue up to infinity. What the outsider does is to make it a common knowledge that there is at least one person with blue eyes. That triggers the chain of events.

Dictators, Revolutions, and Common Knowledge:

Although the primary reason for the revolutions in the Arab world is believed to be rising food prices [link, link], Wikileaks is considered a major inspiration for the Arab spring [link]. Wikileaks exposed the extent of corruption in the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorship. It is very unlikely that people of the two countries were unaware that their dictators were corrupt. They may have not known the extent of the corruption, but they all must have known that their dictators were corrupt. Due to the absence of  strong media and public discourse, they probably did not know that everyone knew that the dictators were corrupt. Wikileaks made the mutual knowledge of the corrupt rulers a common knowledge. As the diplomatic cables were published, everyone knew that everyone knew that (and so on) their dictators were corrupt. That kick-started the revolution. I believe that the real power of Facebook and Twitter lies in this phenomenon where mutual knowledge becomes common knowledge more than facilitating the organisation of protests. Dictators hate public gatherings at town squares [link]. A part of the reason for that is the evolution of mutual knowledge to common knowledge happens quickly during public meetings. Of course, common knowledge is not sufficient for revolutions to occur.  The underlying factors such as public dissatisfaction, leadership, unity among the people, etc. have to be given their due credit. A condition stronger than mutual knowledge, however, is necessary for a revolution to take place.

Common Knowledge in Successful Democracies:

The concept of common knowledge is applicable in a democratic setup too. People strategically vote for the party they least hate and has a good chance of winning the elections [link]. It is possible that they may not really want to vote for the party. Some may chose to abstain from voting in such elections. It is very hard to determine how many people have abstained from voting due their lack of faith in the system and how many have abstained due to their ignorance or apathy towards the political process. As a result, the established political parties cyclically exchange power in the electoral cycle. Although people may prefer a fresh face in the elections, no one really knows how many people want a fresh face. Many may not be happy with the choices presented to them, but it is not a common knowledge. The provision of choosing none of the candidates (the NOTA option) or rejecting all candidates makes the displeasure a common knowledge.  That will allow a fresh face, who would have otherwise been reluctant, to enter politics.

Many are apathetic towards the electoral process. They are not going to vote. There are many who are ignorant about the political process, but not apathetic to it. If the NOTA option is provided, such people would cast the NOTA vote. This informs the political parties and candidates that these votes are up for grabs. An incumbent candidate would have the incentive to carry out and advertise their work, and other candidates would have incentive to politicise them for their benefit. The NOTA option can also prevent impersonation-related voter fraud in developing countries.

A vote to reject all candidates informs aspiring politicians of their chances in the subsequent elections. That may enable a dynamic system in which the established political entities cannot be complacent with their support and new people show up when the establishment fails to deliver.

Does it Happen in Practice?

My interest in these options are philosophical/theoretical in nature. They many not actually translate to a significant change in the electoral process, but it does have the potential, and the cost is insignificant. We will have additional information by implementing the system, and it is up to the people to use this information well. It would be interesting to see if there were improvements in people’s satisfaction with their elected representative before and after NOTA was implemented. I am not aware of such studies.

In the Delhi election late last year, a new party, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), was voted the second largest party. It was agreed upon in the social media that if another elections happens soon (because of the hung parliament), they could become the single largest party. This is an example where “AAP can win” became a common knowledge, and thus, had the potential to change the outcome of the subsequent election. Thus, another party could become a mainstream party. More choice is good, isn’t it [link]?

UPDATE: The NOTA option did affect Russian elections [link].

Casting Aspersions

Is it right to question the integrity of people of a country based on what their democratically-elected government does? My opinion, based on the current global context, is that it is not correct. In this post, I will explain why. This is mainly in response to Great Bong’s post (link), in which he holds the opposite view. I respect his opinion as long as he is consistant. I will also relate this to blaming every bank employee (in Goldman Sachs etc.) for the banks’ role in the global economic crisis.

A view held by many is that the citizens on the country are ultimately responsible for the actions of the government. Thus, any state-sponsored activity, including terrorism, can be blamed upon every individual from the country. In theory, the government is suppose to reflect the views of the majority in the country, and therefore, the actions of the governments are indicative of the mass opinion in the country. I respect this view, but do not agree with it.

I question that basic premise of the argument that the government reflects the views of the majority. I have seen overwhelming evidence off-late that most democratically-elected governments today are plutocracies. First, there was the plutocracy memo (link) by the Citigroup. Second, I read this Al Jazeera article on the power of lobbying in the US (link). These pieces, among others, make me believe that common man has absolutely no voice in the governance of the country because he does not belong to the elite. Is my vote really worth a billionth of the value of all billion Indian voters put together? Regardless of what most of the country thinks, it is the wealth-driven lobbies, which dictate the domestic and foreign policy. That is disturbing.

Also, when we accuse a nation of being immoral, we should be willing to accept similar, well-reasoned aspersions on us. Let’s take Kashmir and the Northeastern India as examples, where our lawmakers have wrecked havok. We have rigged elections in Kashmir (link) and misused Armed Force Special Provision Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir and the Northeastern India (link) (Also look my post on Kashmir (link)).Based on these irresponsible acts, a Kashmiri or a Manipuri can easily label the rest of the nation as traitors. I am personally not responsible for these acts by our government. We all blame it on factors beyond our control such as the politicians and their vote-bank politics. Just like how I am not willing to take criticism for the atrocities my government commits (maybe, I ought to accept those criticisms), I do not want to blame another nation in entirety for actions of a few individuals of their government.

I apply the same moral compass in blaming bankers working for big banks for the sub-prime crisis. The contempt against the big banks for their hand in the crisis is well justified (link). But are we right in holding every individual who work in these firms responsible for the chaos? I assume that it is an “elite few” at the top who made those decisions that led to the downfall. Most worker have had no role in the crisis. Thus, I do not hold every banker accountable for the crisis.

There is one point for which I don’t have an answer. You may argue that the bankers have a choice to quit their job and work elsewhere. I think that’s a fair point. But I also think about the reality of their choice. After a fairly-long career, changing domains is not easy. The real choice is between a great lifestyle and being unemployed for a long time. Should one’s values be strong enough to punish oneself by being unemployed for no fault of their own?

This post appeared as a column in The Viewspaper (link)

Happy, Hopeful or in the Dark

My brother and I visited Tunisia two weeks before their revolution. Though poverty and economic inequality were quite evident, public utilities were plenty. My brother remarked that the facilities and infrastructure in Tunisia are surprisingly good despite being ruled a dictator. I responded saying, “It’s about keeping people just happy enough.” Although there were small uprisings a few months earlier, signs of mass uprising were absent. Three weeks later, however, the iron-fist regime collapsed. It was partly due to 25% (link) youth unemployment.

What does it take to successfully run an oppressive regime? Is it necessary to keep the oppressed “just happy enough,” is it sufficient to keep them “just hopeful enough,” or is it safe to keep them “in the dark” about the world outside? For each of the ways, I found historical and contemporary attempts.

To keep the people “just happy enough,” the rulers have to provide the basic needs. Many religions had authorised slavery. Islam, in particular, had strict rules to follow (link) to possess slaves. Though slaves were considered inferior beings, cruelty was forbidden. They were entitled to receive food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. It was oppression, but the slaves were kept “just happy enough.” Slave revolts were uncommon; they happened only when the owners did not follow the Islamic laws.

A contemporary example that keeps people “just happy enough” is Iran. Iran’s 2009 revolution was unsuccessful not only due to a crackdown, but also due to the absence of workers’ support (link). Inequality in Iran is less severe than in other countries. Progress in labour laws and women empowerment have created ways to move up the social ladder. Despite the oppression, the regime has managed to keep the people “just happy enough.”

To keep people “just hopeful enough,” a promise of a good future is necessary. The British Raj in India followed (link) every major demand from the Indian national movement with political and economic reforms. They managed to diffuse the tensions, but did not make efforts to alleviate the plight of the country.

Today, Egypt and Tunisia are good example where economic reforms kept people hopeful, but not happy (link). Egyptian economic reforms helped many, but not all. In his Time column (link), Fareed Zakaria explains that reforms and revolutions go together. Economic reforms are the most dangerous phase in an autocratic regime. Reforms expose the people to new possibilities and create demands for better governance. Failure to meet the demands result in a revolution.

To keep people “in the dark”, access to education and information have to be denied. For instance, after Nat Turner’s slave rebellion (link), the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation making it unlawful to teach slaves, free blacks or mulattoes to read or write. Other restrictions were imposed to keep them uneducated and uninformed. Thirty five years later, after the civil war, the slaves were still illiterate.

Syria and North Korea are current examples of regimes that keep people “in the dark”. Reforms have never been carried out there. Fareed Zakaria’s column, referred above, says that they are not in danger of collapsing because the people have not been exposed to better options. Leaked Citigroup “Plutonomy” memo (link) also highlights the importance of keeping people uninformed. The memo talks about plutocracy in America, and how rich grew richer in capitalist-friendly countries. It emphasises that if the “rest of us” were in the dark about the existence of the plutonomy, it can strengthen the “plutonomy.”

Only time can tell which regimes are ticking time bombs waiting to explode. I also wonder how the army remains on the dictators side and obliges to kill its own people during a revolution. I guess I will never have a satisfactory answer to that question.

Note: This appeared as a column in The Viewspaper (link).

The English Food, Mexico’s Central Heating, and the Egyptian Uprising

Paul Krugman wrote (link) about the “stubborn persistence of bad food in England.” Paraphrasing the article, the quality of food in London dropped significantly due to rapid urbanisation that preceded good transportation system that brought fresh food from the farms. This created a big demand for canned food-based diet, and soon the demand for quality food dropped. This resulted in London being stuck in a bad equilibrium, where good food was not supplied because good food was not demanded. Enough critical mass needed to demand good quality food was created only after many Londoners were able to afford frequent foreign trips.

Krugman also noticed (link) that Felix Salmon attributes (link) a similar reason (among others) for lack of central heating units in Mexico. A given Mexico dweller (including the rich) does not have central heating because other Mexico dwellers don’t have central heating. This “path dependency” creates a bad equilibrium, where one gets through the short-spanned Mexican winter without central heating.

Time columnist, Fareed Zakaria, explains (link) that reforms and revolutions often go hand-in-hand in oppressive regimes. He says that the most dangerous phase in an autocratic regime is when the dictator decides to reform the economy. Reforms expose the citizens to new possibilities and create a demand for better governance. When the government is not able to meet the demands, revolutions occur. This account (link) articulates the line of thought expressed by Zakaria. Zakaria also states that stagnant countries like Syria and North Korea have remained more stable. Thus, a lack of knowledge creates a bad equilibrium.

So, what is common among the English food, Mexico’s central heating, and the Egyptian uprising? They follow a demand-driven economic model, where a bad equilibrium is possible.

Bill Bennett’s Islam-Bashing Speech

Update: One of my friends thinks that Islam-bashing may be too harsh an adjective for the speech. There is a possibility that the speaker may not have intended the speech to be assessed in that manner. I acknowledge that. Apart from the questions I have below, I mostly agree with the rest of his speech on media-hyping and their biased reporting.
This is a youtube video of some Islam-bashing speech. Here are some questions I have for the speaker. It is a 11-minute speech. Please listen to it completely before reading the rest of the post.


a) 65% of hate crimes are antisematic.
b) He does not see Muslims condemning jihad.
c) If it (jihad and other bad things) were being done in the name of his beliefs, then he would be out on streets marching to Washington.

Then, why does is he not on the streets protesting antisematic crimes??? Why is he not on the streets for gitmo (where torture is carried out in the name of America’s security)?


Muslims are not victims because only 8% of crimes are anti-islam. By the same logic, America is not a victim because only a small percentage of people who have died of terrorism are Americans (link). Does he believe so?


He says he opposes the ground-zero mosque because the imam behind it is has not opposed Hamas and cannot not condemn America. Will he support the mosque if it were being constructed by someone who opposes jihad and says he loves America?

On Kashmir Issue

There are many articles on Kashmir without the viewpoint of an average Kashmiri. This post assumes that the protests in Kashmir today are not a product of the terrorist movement, but by average Kashmiris who are trying to make ends meet. I have seen a few points by media, friends, and few bloggers on this issue. In this post, I don’t plan to make judgements, but present some flaws in the arguments. I will end the post with an empowering-based solution rather than a secession-based solution. I am not willing to debate on who is currently taking part in the protests as it will rely on circumstantial evidence.

I present the question first, followed by arguments, followed by counter arguments. If you have some answers, the comment section is open. Do not get personal; the comments will be moderated.

0. Can we question Kashmiris’ demand for Independence?


India is a democratic nation and the constitution does not allow secession. Any grievances they have should be addressed within the framework of the law. They have to do that in a democratic way.

Counter Argument:

If one believes in the ideals of democracy, there is a fundamental hypocrisy in questioning the demand for independence. The point, however, that is open to debate is whether or not there is wisdom in Kashmiris making such a demand. We will examine that in the rest of the post

One of the ideals of democracy is to be able to establish a government that is accepted by a group of people. Thus, there is no justification necessary to demand freedom if one believes in democracy. Freedom is an inalienable right. Therefore, from a philosophical standpoint, demanding freedom requires no justification, only the will of the people demanding it. Therefore, arguing about whether Kashmiris should be allowed to demand secession invalids the moral principles behind democracy and republicanism.

1. Is Kashmiris’ demand for freedom without reason?


a. Independence struggle is fought by those who are oppressed against the oppressor. India has not oppressed Kashmir.

b. Kashmir faces several issues today. These issues are faced by many others too. Bomb blasts are a regular occurance in Kashmir. Bombay, Jaipur, Bangalore etc. have all witnessed them too. Elections were rigged in Kashmir in the 80s. Elections are rigged all the time in Bihar. AFSPA is misused in Kashmir. Even in the north-east, AFSPA is misused. Corruption has caused havoc in Kashmir, but corruption is common everywhere in India. When Bihar, Bombay, and other are not demanding secession, why should Kashmiris?

Counter Arguments:

a. That is not entirely true. Massive rigging (allegedly) of elections (more than Bihar and other states) (link) and denial of justice to Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) victims count towards oppression (link). Rigging elections was a concerted effort by the central government to force-feed their agenda. Misuse of AFSPA is also a form of oppression. You only feel it when you lose a loved one. In Karnataka or UP, you know that the guilty is going to get punished some day. There is statistically more chance of accused facing a court of law in Karnataka or UP (for some crime) than in Kashmir (when an army officer misuses AFSPA). This adds to the loss of hope in the Indian administration.

To say that Kashmir is needed for India’s protection is to say that we are using Kashmir as human-shields and that we are using Kashmir for our own good. That is exactly what the British and the rest of imperialists did to its colonies. They used them for their own good.

If you are looking for regions fighting for Independence with reasons that resonate with Kashmir, Chechnya (link) is good example. Torture was used against separatist forces and the elections were allegedly rigged. Inter-ethnic and separatist conflicts have led to 150,000 people being displaced. In both cases, terrorism (only few people involved) has diluted the legitimacy of their demands. But the plight of the common man in both the regions is similar.

b. In isolation, each of those individual issues do not necessitate secession . But is there a place where all of them have happened at the same time? In Kashmir, all misfortunes have happened. That’s why Kashmir is an exception. Let us also look at the magnitude of each of the issues before we say that their demand for freedom is an over-reaction.

Firstly, bomb blasts have happened at the frequency of once a month for last twenty years. What Bombay, Jaipur or Hyderabad have witnessed is not close to that. Secondly, elections are allegedly rigged in Bihar and few other states too. They are mostly restricted booth capturing and bribery. In Kashmir, the entire legislature was allegedly chosen to represent people favoured by the Indian government (link). Thirdly, there have been reports of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) being misused by army officials. The culprit goes unpunished (link). I am not sure of the extent of misuse in the north-east.  We have been neglecting north east and I wont be surprised if we do see a big rebellion there. Fourthly, corruption to rest of India is having to wait for 30 min more in traffic or pay Rs. 500 more to get your passport. In Kashmir, it is a matter of life and death. Don’t expect Kashmiris to tolerate corruption like we do.

Demand for secession is born only when people lose hope of having a better life being part of the parent country. In Kashmir, there is no hope. If you go to market, there is no guarantee that you will come back home alive. In other parts of the country, people are hopeful fora better future. NREGA and farmers’ loan waiver are two examples where even the poor are able to see a better future. You cannot say the same about Kashmir. For 20 years they have only seen violence and there is no indication of the war subsiding.

I am only opposed to the insensitivity with which their protests are viewed. I am not talking about what actions need to taken by India. To be insensitive is to further alienate the Kashmiris. That does not bode well.

So, where is the threshold for justification of demand for secession? Is 10 bombs a year a good enough reason? Is it 15? or 100? I think the answer lies in the answer to the following question: when do the people lose hope in the administration? Do you believe Kashmir will be peaceful in next 10 years as part of India? I am guessing the answer is ‘no’. Does a Kashmiri believe his place will be peaceful in 10 years? The answer is definitely ‘no’.  This also poses another question: When to take these demands seriously? Next part will shine some light on that.

2. Will Balkanisation of India happen if Kashmir secedes.


If Kashmir secedes, the rest of India will also split up thanks to some lunatics who will demand independence for frivolous reasons.

Counter Arguments:

Demands for secession  comes when there is a deep discontent and loss of hope. I am sure that if a poll is conducted in Punjab, Tamil Nadu, or Bihar today, integration with India will be preferred over secession. Even farmers in India have hope. Their loans were waived. They have seen India prosper in other avenues. If there is security and economic prosperity, small uprising against the establishment will not enjoy mass support.

Let us examine some examples of fragmentation of nations in history. Aceh insurgency (link) and Khalistan (link, link) movements are examples of revolts without mass support. There is plenty of evidence of countries breaking up when they are militarily or economically deprived (Yugoslavia: link). Some other fights for secession involve oppression by the parent country (Sri Lanka: link, Ireland: link). The break-up of Czechoslovakia is one example which was carried out peacefully. Czechoslovakia held their first election in 40 years in 1990 (link). The rate of decline of employment also played its role.

None of these examples apply to India. Except in Kashmir and north-east, there is no alleged state-sponsored oppression in India.  Our military is very strong. I need historical evidence that shows fragmentation of an emerging economic power.  Only a historical evidence will make me think of this threat of Balkanisation seriously.

Kashmir protest today is an exception and cannot be seen as just another act of Khalistan-like violence. As argued before, their plight is far worse than an average frustrated Indian. Small revolts in other parts of India will not have mass support and they can be handled easily through dialogues or military action. If there is an mass uprising against the government, it means that the government has failed miserably. It is too naive to assume India will get fragmented if Kashmir breaks off. Demands for secession do not crop up over night. People must be willing to give their lives for it.

3. Why can’t the status quo be an option for Kashmiris when India is doing all it can to satisfy them?


Kashmir is important to India for its strategic location. If India withdraws from Kashmir, India will be put in a vulnerable position. That, however, does not mean we are using Kashmiris as human shields. In our absence, Kashmir is going to face attacks from Pakistan and China for its strategic location (link). Knowingly leaving Kashmir will make us as guilty of genocide that will follow as using them as human shields. Because of Kashmir’s inexperience in dealing with an existential threat on their own, it is imperative on our part to govern Kashmir for both the good of Kashmir and the rest of India.

Counter Argument:

Kashmiris are demanding independence mainly because India is unable to protect them even with our best efforts. Status quo is not working. As India believes Kashmir is an integral part of the nation, we ought to restore confidence in them. If it means we must give some power to Kashmir police, we should be willing to so that.  They trust their own police more than they trust the Indian Army. India armed forces can man the peaks near theb order for its security. This is not an overnight effort. There should be a five-year or a ten-year roadmap built that will empower Kashmiri police to be able to protect themselves from insurgency. Because of the precarious state of the valley and the trust of the Kashmiri people in their own police, the police can be given more powers than the police in the other states. I am almost certain that such a roadmap to peace will be accepted by Kashmiris. A sincere promise of peace can stop the protests.

To say that we are doing everything we can, and Kashmiris are incapable of protecting themselves is akin to the missionaries and the British doing a favour to Indian by bringing civility to idol worshipping Hindus (link).

More autonomy is a point on the continuum between status quo and complete independence. We should look at that option. Kashmiris claim that they can better protect their land with more autonomy. Why shouldn’t we give them a chance? They know the terrain better; they know the people better. We ought to be of good assistance and enable Kashmiris to protect themselves. When Kashmiris are shown a roadmap to peace, the hope will be restored and the protests will stop. Status quo does not present hope.

4. Are their means of protest legitimate?


a. Kashmiri Pundit were systematically massacred in late 80s and early 90s. Kashmiris do not have the moral right to demand freedom as they themselves are guilty of breaking the law and order. They have skewed the demographics.

b. The protesters are violent.

Counter Arguments:

a. I assume that it is the common people of Kashmir who are fighting today. It was the terrorists who killed and drove away the Pundits. We are talking about two different sets of people here. Putting them together is as bad as claiming every Muslim is a terrorist.

Side note: I believe that any referendum that is conducted should include all the pundits who were driven out. It is their land too. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, also believes the same (link).

b. All Party Hurriyat Conference (link) has a peaceful agenda. They have been working towards this in a peaceful manner since 1993. Though election have not been rigged since then, AFSPA misuse has not declined. Peaceful methods have been tried. To resort to violence indicates an average Kashmiris’ frustration with the Indian administration.

Protests are targeted against the armed forces, police and CRPF.  They are not making innocent civilians victims. I assume that it is the general population of Kashmir who are holding the protest and not radical Islamists. Their means are justified except for some stray incidents of burning government property. That is wrong. Then again, it the government they are fighting, not the common man.

5. Why can’t American-civil-war-style forced-action work?

Arguement: US was divided into two, and yet The Union managed to restore it to a single country. Though there may be a popular uprising against the Indian government,  the lesson from the US civil war is that there can be solutions that don’t result in Kashmir being separated from India.

Counter Argument: In the US civil war, two armies were were fighting. There were some slaves who were fighting against their own interest. But just because America did it then doesn’t make it right for us to do the same. In the current Kashmir protests, we will be fighting the very people we call our own. They are willing to give their lives up for the cause. Any forced action upon them with incur the wrath the rest of the world. War against Pakistan or China will cripple the economy (not to mention the nuclear weapons). We all know how the war against the terrorist insurgency is going. Forced-action is not an option. Secession-based solution won’t work either. I think an empowerment-based solution will work the best.

Acknowledgement: I’d like to thank Semanticoverload and Karthik Swaminathan for their contributions to this post.

Capitalism: Couple of points

Imagine a situation where there is a wealthy businessman, and he has an excellent B-Plan to make more money. He opens a mall in few villages, and offers low prices for an extended period of time enough to drive the mom-and-pop stores out of business. He makes loss over the period but, as he is wealthy, he is fine. As he monopolizes the villages. He then raises the prices to values higher then before. Is this legal? Yes. Ethical? Thats a different debate. Should the govt protect the small time investors and prevent this situation? Obviously. But How?  Please comment on that after reading the rest of the post.

Just note few of the things which make the situation tricky. The wealthy businessman are few in number. So the competition is that much less. Even if there are a little too many for comfort, it makes economic sense for all of them not to compete against one another. There are better off looking at different villages as market or selling different products. As the govt is obligated to protect the interest of all its citizens, what laws should be implemented to prevent rich business from growing richer at expense of village folks?

All the controversy and walmart bashing that you see is because of their tactics. In US, which is run on the ultimate form of capitalism, huge chains like sears, circuit city, walmart, target, sports academy are present everywhere. But single-shop owners are not present in that large a number.

During our fortnightly lab meetings, another issue came up. It was possible that any of there stores, sometime in future, record the stuff a person purchases, and charge each of them accordingly, i.e., different price for different costumers for the same product. More frequently you buy a product, more you are willing to pay for the it, and hence by a capitalist principle, more they are gonna charge you for it. As scary as it sounds, it not something to be scared about (From my limited knowledge of economics, correct me if i am wrong). Price rises for everyone. And hence the inflation. And so you currency will lose its value. Consequently, your employer will raise your salary. No harm done!

If you are wondering how is the previous case different from this one, remember that the in the previous case, only a part of the population is affected. So raise in inflation is not significant. And so only the village folks get poorer. We need a solution in capitalist domain. If we venture into socialist/communist form of governance we do have some solution. But, get you creativity going in solving this problem in capitalist domain.

I had put this for discussion with a group of friends. Here are some of the points that came up.

A study has shown that  “kiranas” can  coexist with big time retailers. But I am not sure if it talks about India alone or all over the world

Few solutions:

One of the  plausible solutions is moving towards socialist form of governance specifically for food grains, cereals, oil and basic amenities is a govt controlled efficient Public Distribution System. India had a decent network of Fair-Price Shops (nyaya bele anagadi in Kannada) or Ration Depots all over the country. But of course, govt interferenace has its drawbacks of corruption among others. As the Govt gave up it’s exclusive procurement rights, the system died out. Govt no longer has access to sufficient food grains. The private companies are quick to approach the farmers and get the produce at a lesser cost and once they have it, they can import/export or process it depending on the market needs. This can lead to hoarding.

Another solution that was tried (targeted at walmart) was to restrict the area of shopping area to a certain value. In India, too, such a law was tried. They were aimed at stopping tata-birlas from running more business. But it was circumvented by opening business under proxy names.

Charge large taxes on goods sold at higher rates elsewhere. This again is some kind of regulation which might not work too well owing to transportation cost etc.

Capitalism on Waitresses and Waiters:

Tipping culture exists in US because some people are paid less than minimum wage. They are paid less than minimum wage because it is a tipped job! When waitress or waiters earn less then minimum wage even after tips they dont report it because it becomes an excuse for the employer to call them incompetent and fire them. More on that here (via desipundit).

I am a capitalist too and love the idea of free market, but it is quite cruel at its fullest level. Do comment on possible solutions to the problem I described above.

Happy new years to all my readers!

Photographs that Shook the World

This has been one of my most difficult posts to write because of the gore image the photographs portray. I have been eager to write this post for a quite a long time. A couple of hours of googling and wiki-ing was good enough to collect all the information I needed. Almost all the pictures here can easily convince you that a picture paints a thousand words.

The photograph above, by Steve McCurry, can easily be recognised as it was much hyped by National Geographic Channel. The haunting green eyes of the girl haunted the whole world since the time it appeared on National Geographic Magazine cover in 1985. It is the first picture that come to our minds when talking about refugees. Torn apart by civil war, the plight of refugees was brought forward to the rest of the world through this very photograph. More info. here

The Pulitzer prize winning photograph above was taken by South African photographer Kevin Carter. The shocking picture of a sever year old girl ‘resting’ for a while before going to the refugee shelter for food being stalked by a plump vulture brought attention to the gravity of Sudan’s famine in 1993-94. The photographer managed to shoo the vulture away, but no one knows what happened to this little girl. Burdened by the sight of so many sufferings in Africa, the photographer committed suicide 3 months after the photograph was shot. In his note, he says “I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners…I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.” More info. here

This pic. is in the forefront of all anti-war campaigns. This was June 1972 when a South Vietnamese plane “mistakenly” dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese This girl was also found and she is fine with image being used to discourage war. Unfortunately no one’s listening.

South Vietnamese National Police Chief Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executes a Viet Cong officer with a shot to the head, one of the most chilling images of the Vietnam War. Photographer Eddie Adams, who won a Pulitzer Prize for this photograph, said the execution was justified, because the Viet Cong officer had killed eight South Vietnamese. The furor created by this 1968 image destroyed Loan’s life. He fled South Vietnam in 1975, the year the communists overran the country, and moved to Virginia, where he opened a restaurant. He died in 1998 at age 67. Loan ‘was a hero,’ Adams said when he died. ‘America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him.’ (Source)

When LIFE ran this stark, haunting photograph of a beach in Papua New Guinea on September 20, 1943, the magazine felt compelled to ask in an adjacent full-page editorial, “Why print this picture, anyway, of three American boys dead upon an alien shore?” Among the reasons: “words are never enough . . . words do not exist to make us see, or know, or feel what it is like, what actually happens.” But there was more to it than that; LIFE was actually publishing in concert with government wishes. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was convinced that Americans had grown too complacent about the war, so he lifted the ban on images depicting U.S. casualties. Strock’s picture and others that followed in LIFE and elsewhere had the desired effect. The public, shocked by combat’s grim realities, was instilled with yet greater resolve to win the war. (Source)

LIFE photographer Margaret Bourke-White was with Gen. George Patton’s troops when they liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. Forty-three thousand people had been murdered there. Patton was so outraged he ordered his men to march German civilians through the camp so they could see with their own eyes what their nation had wrought. (Source)

Finally a glimmer of hope. This is Tiananmen Square 1989. A hunger strike by 3,000 students in Beijing had grown to a protest of more than a million as the injustices of a nation cried for reform. For seven weeks the people and the People’s Republic, in the person of soldiers dispatched by a riven Communist Party, warily eyed each other as the world waited. When this young man simply would not move, standing with his meager bags before a line of tanks, a hero was born. A second hero emerged as the tank driver refused to crush the man, and instead drove his killing machine around him. Soon this dream would end, and blood would fill Tiananmen. But this picture had shown a billion Chinese that there is hope. That’s the power of ONE. (Source)

I really don’t know what effect Live8 concert had on African Debts. But I do know that the cries of Darfur is falling on deaf ears because of lack of oil in that region. UNO has declined to call it a genocide. Perhaps we dont know how many deaths will take till they know that too many people have died. I hope it will not take a disturbing photograph like above to divert the world’s attention to Darfur.


In the material world, any economic decision taken, the environment ends up being the victim. Ecology is seldom a concern when it comes to ‘development’. In one of my previous blogs, you may have read about the course I am doing called ‘environmental and resource economics’. Some of the facts here are straight from the course content.

I don’t know how many of you know about endosulfan poisoning in Kerala, here’s what happened there. Have a look at the link . Kerala govt. had ordered aerial spraying of endosulfan pesticides in mountainous terrains of Kasargod district. Unknown even to scientists that drastic consequences were inevitable in 20 years, the program was welcomed by every segment of the population. Villagers looked at this as signs of progress. Coupled by biological food chain and the natural soil movement, endosulfan tracked its way into human metabolism. People were taken aback by the extent of damage it caused. Economists were reluctant to stop the aerial spraying (it was started in 70s; effect was seen in the late 90s). The damages included physical and mental deformities, diseases of central nervous system and many more. After a long fight, Kerala govt. did impose a ban on spraying but all this was in vain. A private agency claimed endosulfan wasn’t the cause and successfully lifted this ban. The people continue to suffer even today. Please look at these links too.

Many of you would know about the Minamata disease caused by slow mercury poisoning. This link will provide the necessary information. Mercury was disposed off into the sea by Japanese industries. As in case of endosulfan, it penetrated into the human system and caused havoc. The symptoms here included (I quote from the web site) “Individuals began to have numbness in their limbs and lips. Some had difficulty hearing or seeing. Others developed shaking (tremors) in their arms and legs, difficulty walking, even brain damage. Others seemed to be going crazy, shouting uncontrollably.” Thankfully, Japanese are more sensible (or responsible) and took the necessary action.

Any decision that favours natural environment is taken only after much hue and cry. All of us are aware of the decision by UP govt. to close down industries around Taj Mahal. This came after persistent warning from experts and only after the damages on Taj Mahal were visible clearly. Why is it that Delhi buses were forced to CNG only after the city became infamous for being fourth most polluted city in the world? Even today more than 20 year old vehicles are running on roads. Victims of Bhopal Gas tragedy are yet to receive their compensation. Country like USA, which consumes maximum share of resources, and still hungry for more, refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol!

Frankly, I am quite impressed by India’s ambitious project on interlinking of rivers. But I have a strong concern for the ecological impact it can have. It is a simple rule that when you are unsure about the consequences of an action, do not execute it. I wonder how many have actually thought of its influence on natural river flow. Can it end up drying some of the bigger rivers in the country? In every lecture on this project, engineering challenges are dealt with. But environment is forgotten practically every time.

Here’s an encouraging fact, eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats are included in 18 biodiversity hot spots of the world. Sadly, I guess, these are two of the very very few natural pockets of forest reserves we have.

With this blog I wanted to bring the plight of Kerala’s people to attention. I hope concerned authorities take the appropriate action