Monday, August 25, 2008

Public Policy Making in India

“Here is the policy decision – now find the data that supports it, and implement the scheme!” – This, in a nutshell, summarizes the attitude and approach of many policy-makers in India.

When we make a habit out of putting the cart before the horse, the outcomes are rather predictable – grand decisions that get needlessly mired in controversies; a demoralized bureaucracy; waste of precious time and lots of money down the drain.

Remember the VAT rollout, Conditional Access System fiasco, Fiscal Responsibility Bill, Parliamentary Reservation for Women, Telecom Inter-connectivity Charges, etc., Why do we keep repeating our mistakes? Does it come from the lack of introspection? Not quite – there are many of scholarly documents that pinpoint critical problem areas.

Take, for instance, the paper published by O.P. Agarwal & T.V. Somanathan – “Public Policy Making in India: Issues &Remedies”. Here is what it says about the process of policy-making in India –

“The process ought to produce a high-quality decision, made with a high degree of legitimacy, power and accuracy. Essential features of this process –

  1. Knowledge – up-to-date & relevant data processed with the right analytical tools, to create reliable subject-matter knowledge
  2. Awareness of Inter-Sectoral Impact – analysis of trade-offs, using analytical tools – policy analysis, program evaluation, cost-benefit analysis. Eg. transport policy impacts petrol consumption and the environment, environment policy (pollution norms) affects industrial development
  3. Assessment of winners and losers – crucial in a democratic set-up
  4. Legal authority - Legitimacy - procedural & substantive
  5. Execution – swift and successful
  6. Leadership – coordination, synthesis, integration, unbiased”

Agarwal & Somanathan also point out that in reality, policy decisions are often made without adequate analysis of costs, benefits, trade-offs and consequences. According to them, the underlying causes for this are -

  • Excessive fragmentation – too many ministries and departments, leading to widespread prevalence of the ‘blind men and the elephant’ syndrome;
  • Inadequate time spent on policy-making – excessive overlap of policy-making and implementation; over-centralization of implementation authority;
  • Inadequate professionalism of policy-makers and advisers;
  • Inadequate consultation of in-house specialists – ‘generalist arrogance’ (IAS cadre?), inter-service rivalries;
  • Mediocrity of in-house specialists – worsened by excessive dependence on ‘outside specialists’.

Ultimately everything seems to boil down to leadership. Is this the biggest challenge in our political milieu that encourages weak & pliable officers over those who are perceived to be strong & honest?

References / Links:

* Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
* Public Policy Making in India: Issues and Remedies - O.P. Agarwal & T.V. Somanathan (2005)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Malayalam Words of Foreign Origin

Growing up in a polyglot environment was quite confusing at times. During our schooldays, we used to look forward the summer vacations in Kerala - the two-day train journey from Hyderabad to Chanaganaserry; the endless hours spent in catching fishes, splashing in the pond, hunting for fruits, and playing with cousins. But after spending two months in Kerala, my Deccani Hindi vocabulary would get completely swamped by Malayalam, resulting in strange conversations as soon as we got back to Hyderabad:
Friend - कहाँ था बे? तेरेको इतना बुलारे थे..(Where the heck were you? We had been calling out..)
Me - में तो कक्कूस में था..(Oh, I was in the "Kakkoos"/Toilet)
Friend - कक्कूस?? वो क्या बे?(Kakkoos?? Whats that??)
And that would be the exact moment when a new nickname was born. I would be heartily called "Kakkoos" for a few days until all strange new words were badgered back into the confines of our home.

It now turns out that "Kakkoos" is not even a Malayalam word - it is originally Dutch!

This and many other surprises tumbled out of a PDF file that Dr. Jayathilak sent me sometime back. The file is an appendix to an unknown book and contains a long list of Malayalam words from European languages. Here are some of the more commonly used borrowed-words:
Malayalam words from the PORTUGUESE language -
  • Alumaari - അലമാരി - Cupboard - "Armario"
  • Amara - അമര - Mulberry tree - "Amora"
  • Aaspatri - ആസ്പത്രി -Hospital - "Hospital"
  • Chaavi - ചാവി - Key - "Caave"
  • Govi - ഗോവി - Cabbage - "Couvre" (also in Hindi)
  • Iskuul - ഇസ്കൂള് - School - "Escola"
  • Istri - iസ്ത്രി - Smoothing iron - "Esterar"
  • Jennal - ജെന്നാല് - Window - "Jenala"
  • Kamis - കാമിസ് - Shirt - "Camiso" (also in Hindi, Urdu)
  • Kurisu - കുരിശു - Cross - "Cruz"
  • Laelam - ഈലം - Auction - "Leilac"
  • Mesha - മേശാ - Table - "Mesa"
  • Maestri - മെസ്ത്രി - Foreman - "Mestre"
  • Naranja - Lemon / Citrus fruit
  • Paadhiri - പാധിരി - Clergyman - "Padre"
  • Paappa - പാപ - The Pope - "papa"
  • Pena - പേന - Pen - "Pena"
  • Pera - പേര - Guava - "Pera"
  • Pikkassu - പിക്കാസ് - Pick-axe - "Picao"
  • Tambloor - തമ്ബ്ലൂര് - "Tambler"
  • Teila - റെഇല - Tea leaves - "Tea"
  • Tuuvala - തൂവാല - Towel, handkerchief - "Toalha"
  • Vattakka - വട്ടക്ക - Watermelon - "Pateca" (can also mean "the round fruit" in Mal.)
  • Vatteri - വട്റെരി - Battery, a set of guns - "Bateria"

Malayalam words from the DUTCH language
  • Kakkoos - കക്കൂസ് - Latrine - "Kakhus"

If so many common words have been borrowed from the European traders and colonizers who came a few centuries ago, there must be a much bigger collection of words that came from the Arabs. Wonder where I could find some papers on this...

Related Links -
English words with Malayalam origin

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Catching Up

So much to read, so little time! :(

I had been so busy chasing the TsukubaU documents that I now find myself with a pile of untouched reading material. Sunday "Eye's" from Indian Express, Tehelka magazines, EPWs, and many newspapers folded inside out, waiting with news of the ongoing Olympics; of the sudden eruption in J&K; of roads and houses ravaged by the extended monsoons and SIMI's alleged expertise in serial bombings...

The first magazine I picked today was the Tehelka of 16/08 and two pieces struck a chord. The first one was an article, "Guardians of our secret hometowns" by Sudhir Mishra, director of the amazing Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisi. He writes about his childhood in Sagar and the friends he grew up with, one of whom turned out to be Dr. Binayak Sen who "embraced what everyone wanted to escape". An excerpt -

"Because he is not from Bollywood, he would not have been able to give his opinion on all subjects, from public toilets to higher education, but then life is not perfect and the paychecks would have compensated. Instead, he chooses to go to a place where instead of appreciation he gets locked up in jail!...where the people who run the place are using him as an example to all those who dare raise their head that if they don't retreat, they will face the same fate as him...".
The full text is here.

The second article was the interview of Richard Castra. I had not heard of him or his books before, but his opinions made a lot of sense. I have been reading the much-talked-about "Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh and I found myself grudgingly agreeing to Castra's view that most of Indian literary output is controlled by the West -

"You cannot be a professional writer unless your main focus is on the Western market. That's how they end up ruling us. Another method: the Brooker.The Brits always give prizes to well-behaved brown boys who served their purposes. Rao Bahadur and Order of the British Empire. Who the hell are they to give us prizes? Why don't we give then prizes? "The Cooker Prize for Docile, Well-behaved Brit Writers" and "The Order of Lalu", whose recipients will have to kneel while Lalu knights them

Now, where can I get my hands on "The Revised Kamasutra"?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Etymology of "Ferenghi"

The first time I remember hearing this word was in the movie "Junoon", a movie based on Ruskin Bond's novel, "A Flight of Pigeons". In a scene where anxious relatives rush out to meet the warriors returning from Delhi during the 1857 revolt, a wounded, haggard Sarfaraz Khan cries out in despair, "Feranghi jeet gaye! Hum Dilli haar gaye!" (The English have won! We've lost Delhi!).

In Asia, why were the English or Europeans in general, called Ferenghi's?

Last year I came across this word again in Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red. The story revolves around the Ottoman Sultan's attempt to create a book of miniature paintings that would stun the 'Venetian infidels' or Franks into accepting that Ottoman art was much superior to their own. While reading about 'Frankish' master's and 'Frankish' kings, it had sounded so much like Ferenghi...

In Kerala, cashew nuts which was brought in by the Portuguese is called Parangi Andi or 'Foreign Kernels'.

The word for a 'foreigner' in modern Thai is farang, which according to one version, is an abbreviated form of farangset, meaning 'French'.

So is there is common link between Franks, France, Farang and Ferenghi?