Thursday, 30 April 2015

Time for Democracy? Brave New Isle after Lee Kuan Yew

Time for Democracy? Brave New Isle after Lee Kuan Yew 

By: Walden Bello Singapore's skyline. 
Published 29 April 2015

The problem with any one term to describe Singapore’s political system is that it does not adequately capture all key features of Singapore.

When Burma’s military took its baby steps away from dictatorship four years ago, it seemed that in a region where the merits of authoritarianism and democracy have been hotly debated for decades, democracy had finally gained the upper hand. 

Then almost a year ago, the Thai military threw out a democratically elected government, to the wide applause of the country’s middle class, and suddenly, people thought Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew might have the last word after all. 

The West’s Best “Man of the East” Lee, who passed away a few weeks ago at 91, was the most formidable critic of those who advocated liberal democracy for countries in Southeast Asia. Ironically, Lee was also the West’s favorite Asian, the “wise man of the East,” as the Economist put it in its obituary. 

For the Americans and the British, this Cambridge don’s fierce anti-communism and friendly reception of their corporations more than compensated for his authoritarian proclivities. Indeed, western investors had a privileged status under Lee, who championed a development model pushed by an alliance between foreign transnationals and the Singaporean state, with local businesses playing a subordinate, marginal role. 

Interestingly enough, when China’s communists began their march towards capitalism, they saw in Lee’s combination of controlled politics and capitalist economics a model in miniature of their vision for their society. Rather than authoritarian, some suggested that a more apt term for Lee’s project was “totalitarian,” given his justification of government’s imperial reach into the private sphere.   

As he put it in a 1987 National Day rally, ““I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens.  Yes, if I had not done so, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters—who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit…or what language you use.  We decide what is right.  Never mind what people think.  That’s another problem.” 

Reform cum Domination Others have wondered whether “fascist” might not be a better term for a hegemonic state that, according to the sociologist Manuel Castells, had mastered a process of promoting “social reform, social organization, and social control, to actually achieve at the same time political legitimation and political domination.” 

For instance, Singapore’s public housing program is extolled as one of the most successful in the world, with over 80 per cent of the population housed in government-financed flats, about 75 per cent of which are owner-occupied.  In the process, however, the slums and lower class communities that had provided the base of lower-class and ethnic resistance to Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP) were disaggregated and reconstituted into artificial highrise communities designed to facilitate technocratic and police control. 

The problem with any one term is that it does not adequately capture all key features of Singapore’s style of governance.  For instance, elections are unquestionably free, but gerrymandering and other intricate electoral rules that favor PAP constituencies ensured, for instance, that with only 60 per cent of the total vote, the party won 90 per cent of the seats in parliament in 2011. 

The House that Lee Built Lee was no stranger to repression.  After all, he once said that “repression is like making love.  It’s easier the second time around.” In recent years, however, repression has no longer your typical heavy-handed variety of arbitrarily detaining or torturing political opponents.  Everything is done under the “rule of law.”  

Critics are allowed to voice their criticisms, but once they cross a certain point, they find themselves facing charges of infringing tax, libel, anti-corruption, or business laws.  A prominent academic who showed signs of becoming a major opponent of the People’s Action Party was subjected to character assassination and discredited when the government presented evidence that he had used university funds to mail his wife’s PhD thesis to her university in the U.S. 

Far more effective in taming the country’s middle class Chinese population, the PAP has found, is the threat of closing off the path of career advancement should they not toe the line. Government initiatives often carry the prospect of reward and a hint of threat.  Thus prominent businessmen and professionals are often requested to run for office as PAP representatives.  

This is often presented as an honor, and is usually received as such.  However, those who are approached also know it an honor they can’t refuse since refusal would mean seeking to establish some distance from the government, something that would arouse suspicion of harboring private doubts or resentments in the totalitarian PAP. 

Indeed, the PAP has mastered the art of cooptation, and its success at this is often advanced as the reason Singapore does not need a two party system or a real opposition.  As former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong put it in a remarkably frank speech at the Fletcher International School of Diplomacy in 1985: 

Imagine the fate of the country if the outcome of every election were a cliff-hanger.  Picture to yourself the frenzied supporters, the jostling for power, the excitement, the uncertainty, the catastrophe.  

In Singapore, we have not worked a two-party system. Many people believe that such a two-party system, with two parties of equal but opposing strength, is a necessary feature of democracy…Unlike in the United States, our political talent pool is just too small for us to share equally between the two parties.  Better for us to concentrate our limited talents in the main party and have it represent the broad majority of the population.  It does not make sense to keep half of our best people in opposition all the time.  That is why we regularly comb the length and breadth of the country for suitable candidates to stand on the governing party ticket.  

We even coopt those who disagree with us on certain policies, provided they share our core values.  Many Singaporeans resent a system that denies genuine democratic competition.  As one of them told a newspaper reporter, “People just get tired of living in the sixth form [12th grade in the US system] the whole of their lives.”  

Instead of challenging what they see as a formidable system, however, they have preferred to vote with their feet and emigrate, along with those in search of better economic and professional conditions.  The city-state of 5.3 million has one of the highest emigration rates in the world, and over half of teenagers surveyed responded that they would move abroad if they had the chance.  

These are worrying demographics.  No wonder Lee reserved some of his worst epithets for emigrants, whom he called “washouts.” A Fraying Social Contract Still the PAP feels that what it views as its “social contract” with the population—we, the PAP, give you security, prosperity, and clean government in exchange for your tolerating our being your rulers in perpetuity—remains intact.  

But of these three commodities, it seems that the PAP can now only unambiguously deliver on one, that of providing physical security.  According to the Ministry of Manpower, the real incomes for the bottom 20% of Singaporeans barely increased over the period 2001-2010 while median real incomes rose by only 1.2% per annum.  

As for Singapore’s famous corruption-free political culture, it has been severely dented by several high-profile corruption scandals, including what the Straits Times describes as “a sex-for-contracts case of a top officer in the civil defense force and the misappropriation of funds by a head of a branch of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.”  

This has led to the city state’s being downgraded in Transparency International’s ranking of the world’s least corrupt societies and contributed to the perception of 38 per cent of Singaporeans that corruption has increased. Time for Reform Even as many in Southeast Asia wonder whether Lee might have had the last word on the region’s political future, the question that is on the mind of many Singaporeans, in contrast, is not if but when his legacy of totalitarian social engineering will follow the “Old Man.”   

Lee Kuan Yew always reminded his successors that he was ready to take back the reins of power if ever they strayed from the path he had charted.  With him no longer peering over their shoulders, will the current generation of PAP leaders have the courage to bring about what many of them already realize as the key to the renewal of Singapore: the genuine democratization of politics? Telesur columnist Walden Bello researched the “Singapore model” for his book Dragons in Distress: Asia’s Miracle Economies in Crisis (New York: Penguin, 1991)

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

A Man who made 30 crores from nothing - The Dosa Plaza

Prem Ganapathy

He could just pass 10th. He was jobless. Nothing too much in the name of assets.
He reached Mumbai is search of job. It was not a great start for him. He was looted outside the Bandra station for the only rupees 200 he had and other belongings. He lost everything excluding the clothes he was wearing.
The most unfortunate thing was that he was robbed by the person who accompanied him to Mumbai and promised a rupees 1200 per month job. Because he feared that his parents would not allow him work in Mumbai, he came to Mumbai without informing them.
Before coming to Mumbai, he worked in Chennai and earned rupees 250 a month. He would send the money to his family in Nagalapuram Village located in the Tuticorin district of Tamilnadu. His family included his parents and seven siblings.
Dosa Plaza
At Bandra station in the year 1990, a 17 year old boy who had nothing, except determination.
He did not understand Hindi. Feeling pity about his situation, a Tamilian took him to a temple and appealed visitors to contribute money and arrange a ticket for him to Chennai.
But the 17 year old boy, Prem Ganapathy, was damn sure that Mumbai is going to make his life.
After bit of effort, he got a job of washing utensils at Mahim Bakery. He would earn rupees 150 per month. He continued working at several restaurants to earn and save.

In about two years, he saved some money to start his own business of selling Idlis. He hired a handcart for rupees 150 per month rent and bought some utensils along with a stove for rupees 1000. It was year 1992, when he started operating his business outside Vashi railway station.
Dosa Plaza 2
After doing it all alone for some time. He felt the need for some manpower as his business grew. He brought two of his younger brothers to Mumbai. He ensured hygiene at the eatery and they all wore a cap. This was a surprise for his customers as roadside eateries did never care about this.
Local authorities seized his cart on many occasions and he had to pay penalty to get it back as such carts did not get a license. In few years, he saved some money and leased a shop by giving rupees 50000 as deposit. They paid a monthly rent of rupees 5000 and also hired two additional employees. His streetside cart was now a small restaurant.
Many of his frequent visitors were college students and he made good friendship with them. He learned using internet from them and started looking for recipes on internet. He started experimenting with dosas and in the first year itself, introduced 26 new dosas like Schezwan Dosa, Paneer Chilli Dosa and Spring Roll Dosa. By 2002, his restaurant had 105 varieties of dosa and earned a lot of fame.
However, he always dreamt of having an outlet in a mall. He approached many malls but his offer was turned down as they were reserved for big brand like McDonald’s etc.
But he got an opportunity to open his outlet in the Center One Mall at Vashi. He got the opportunity because the managerial staff at the mall were frequent visitors to his restaurant. His outlet in the mall was a big success and people started asking for business franchisee. He agreed to the offer on a condition that all the ingredients will be provided by them.
In year 2012, they had 45 restaurant across 11 Indians states and 7 at foreign nations like New Zealand, Dubai(U.A.E), Muscat(Oman). Everything under the name of The Dosa Plaza.
The man who was standing outside Bandra station without a single penny with him in 1990, had set up a brand and empire of 30 crores in 2012.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

ARR--Sometimes one is constantly judging the music rather than enjoying it: AR Rahman

Sometimes one is constantly judging the music rather than enjoying it: AR Rahman

AR Rahman, mani ratnam, bollywood music, oscar awardDressed in a grey suit and seated in the green room of Stein auditorium at India Habitat Centre, Rahman is playing with his iPhone 6 when we find him.
Written by Suanshu Khurana | Updated: April 9, 2015 5:46 pm
India’s only Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman on coming to terms with fame, picking himself up from failure and building bridges through music.
The fresh and dewy vocals of singer Minmini arranged with synth and ghatam in Mani Ratnam’s Roja, in 1992, brought a new sound to Bollywood. In the times to come, Dil hai chhota sa, chhoti si aasha, became the soundtrack of our childhood, times when things were simpler and it has stayed that way. However, its creator AR Rahman has come a long way. “It’s been 30 years and I am still evolving,” he says.
This, coming from the one who has two Academy Awards, a Grammy and numerous National Awards to his credit. Now after a prolific career, the rather reticent musician finally seems to be getting comfortable being AR Rahman. He may be a sombre, emotional performer on stage, finding refuge behind the piano, the microphone or the metaphysical, but between all that is a quick-witted character. Dressed in a grey suit and seated in the green room of Stein auditorium at India Habitat Centre, Rahman is playing with his iPhone 6 when we find him. It’s nearing midnight, just before his rushed trip to the Nizamuddin dargah, and the musician agrees to talk. The composer was in the Capital on Tuesday to attend the screening of Umesh Aggarwal’s biographical documentary on him titled Jai Ho.
Almost nothing — extreme criticism or praise — has stopped the composer from experimenting with new sounds and tunes. “As an artiste, I want to be self refined. I want to see where else I can go, how can I surpass what I have done before. Sometimespeople say it’s (music) great. Sometimes people go, ‘what happened’,” says the musician, whose work at the 2010 Commonwealth Games met with much criticism. “In situations like these, I go back to the basics. I wonder, is it because of the music or is it because of the way they have portrayed it. In the case of the Commonwealth Games, it was leaked to the press that I took a certain amount of money for it. So the worth of the music was questioned. After every fame, there’s some blame. I knew something will come, like a tsunami, and it came. But, the experience helped me understand, and be careful about exposing myself. I need that buffer always. At that point, I had to leave many movies to do that work,” says Rahman.
Initially, he couldn’t wrap his head around why his music was not working in the first few months of its release, a discussion that brews in the music world every time he brings out something. “It’s all to do with over expectations. When I did Aditya Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan, everyone hated the music. Six months later, it became the most downloaded record. Music is also very simple. It doesn’t arrive from Mars. Sometimes basic things are important. The same thing happened to me when I was listening to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. I was like oh my god, everything sounds the same. Later I realised that there is so much packed within. Sometimes one is constantly judging the music rather than enjoying it,” says Rahman, who is currently, busy composing for Imtiaz Ali’s Tamasha. A couple of international projects are to follow soon. He divides his time between LA and Chennai these days, with a large part taken up at the KM Conservatory where children learn “qawwali and Porcini together”. “That’s the final aim: to have a child who regularly plays Indian classical play Beethoven and one fromforeign lands, who regularly plays western symphonies, play our ragas,”says Rahman.
It is this idea of bridging the world through music that led him to combine the oral legacy of Indian classical music with the written music sheets of the western classicalsystem, a blend that had worked at the hands of very few artistes. “I think you look at the purity so that it doesn’t sound cheesy. It’s not for the sake of mixing Indian with western rhythms. Sometimes you land on the right thing and sometimes you don’t. You have to be truthful to the art. It’s a process,” says Rahman, whose last internationalproject was Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom’s A Hundred Foot Journey. “The director never questioned that it doesn’t sound like western music. Then you realise that this prejudice of western and Indian, at the end of the day, it’s in people’s minds. It needs to be broken,” says Rahman, who now wants to experiment with a more ambient sound, one which works with silence and without the seven notes.