Saturday, 13 December 2008

Filmy Hypocrites

Sorry to go on and on about the hypocrisy of the swish set, but the following incident involving Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor was something that was niggling away in my mind when I wrote the last two pieces (What a Shame and After the Candles) but I couldn’t remember the names of the persons and the details.

Today the Hindustan Times carried a piece by Varghese K George where he juxtaposes Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor’s joint statement from the United States after the terror attacks (they said they were disgusted with politicians who provide no leadership while arming themselves with so many security guards) with this incident in October 24 (the incident I couldn’t remember). This was again a report in the Hindustan Times:

Recently, Film stars Saif Ali Khan and Kareena 'Bebo' Kapoor got a taste of the tight security at the domestic terminal of the IGI Airport in New Delhi. As they were about to step into the lounge, the CISF inspector on duty asked Kareena Kapoor to present identity proof. While the lady appeared a tad embarrassed, Khan asked the inspector, "Aap inhe nahin jaante, kis duniya mein rahte hain? (You don't know her? Which world do you live in?)" At this point, another CISF jawan on duty stepped forward and questioned Saif, "Arrey, aap kaun hain (Who are you?)," much to the amusement of the other passengers lined up in the queue. The security staff were all smiles when the other passengers told them that they were both film stars.”

The report had not mentioned whether Saif and Kareena finally showed their identity proof or not. But that is not the point. Why did they think that their face and fame should get them special treatment, especially on matters relating to security? How are they any better than Somenath Chatterjee and Anand Sharma who throw tantrums at being frisked?

Friday, 12 December 2008

An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi

Dear Rahul
It was nice to read about your speech in Parliament on the terrorism issue. Specifically your bemoaning the over-tight security for VIPs, and the near-absent security for ordinary persons. You are probably the only politician to have raised this issue and hats off to you for that.
But, Rahul, merely lamenting this is not enough. You have to walk the talk. This is a subject I had dealt with in an earlier post. I will not begrudge you your security. Your family has seen two assassinations, you belong to an important political family which deserves protection from the state. I am not even remotely suggesting that your security cover be withdrawn.
But can a start be made by listening to security forces who say that a large number of VIPs getting SPG and other protection don’t need it? Can our politicians stop letting their ego get in the way of a revamp of the security system? Can governments stop using SPG cover as a bargaining chip for support ( I refer obviously to Amar Singh’s security being stepped up after the Samajwadi Party bailed the government out on the trust vote)? It’s bad enough that the man is getting that security at all.
Some of this may be out of your hands. But can you start within the Congress by getting the government to withdraw SPG cover to people accused of leading rioters during the 1984 riots? And a whole lot of others who don’t deserve any security, let alone SPG security? You are the Gandhi family scion, but if you give an indication, the fawning Congressmen will fall in line.
Even within your family, you can make a start. All of you, including your brother-in-law, are exempt from frisking. Make a gesture and subject yourself to frisking. No, you are not a potential terror threat, but then nor are millions of us who are subject to frisking. If you take that initiative, minions like Anand Sharma who throw tantrums at being frisked, will hopefully get the message and behave more responsibly.
Maybe then you (and other young MPs, many of whom seem quite responsible) can go and make your point to elders like Somnath Chatterjee, who refused to go to countries on official trips unless he is assured that he will not be frisked. Tell him that sends out a wrong message and only increases resentment towards politicians.
So next time you get on to a flight, or attend a public function where people are being frisked, go stand in the line, Rahul (along with your security guards, of course) and get frisked. There will be people (mostly fawning Congressmen) who will be aghast at the idea. People will make you jump the queue and get you frisked (perfunctorily, of course) before others. But it is for you to stand firm and say if the life of every Indian is precious, I should not get special treatment beyond a certain point.
As a certain group on Facebook is titled, Be the Change. You will endear yourself to all Indians much more.
Give it a thought.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Section 49 O

Today, I have got a long comment from one Ganesh Kumar to my 2005 post `Is Negative Voting a Negative Idea' (I am providing the link to this and the comment comes at the end). The comments makes several important points about Section 49 O of the Conduct of Elections, which is suddenly being much debated today.
Few outside of Bombay had heard Section 49 O till the electronic media and the south Bombay crowd started this anti-politician campaign. Some in Bombay had heard of it since the Indian Liberal Group, which had been started by late Minoo Masani and of which I am a member, had widely publicised it before some Bombay municipal elections and the 2004 general elections and people have used it there. I had circulated this by email ahead of the 2004 elections.
I strongly support the idea of this section, but am wary of the frenzied campaigning around it in the wake of the Bombay terror attacks. I am not in favour of a blanket use of this provision to reject all politicians, which is what the current campaign is focussed on. We are a democracy and we cannot do away with politicians. In the last post, I had argued that there is nothing negative about negative voting and that it is a positive cry for change. But the current campaign for it makes it a negative idea. Let me hasten to add that I don't club Kumar's suggestions in that category.
Negative voting has relevance for individual constituencies. If, for example, in my constituency I am faced with a choice of only criminals or politicians who practice divisive politics (caste-based or religion-based) or are corrupt, then I should use Section 49 O if I feel strongly about not voting for them. I cannot believe that all 545 Lok Sabha constituencies and all the assembly constituencies will face that situation.
I also do not find anything wrong in small groups of people boycotting an election, if they find that is the only way to make themselves heard on an issue - whether it is cleaning of drains or some much larger issue. But, again, I do not believe that election boycott can be used as a general weapon.
It's easy for the swish set rooting for Section 49 O to do so. Mostly they don't have a stake in the system or they are influential and can get their work done, regardless of the political party in power or the bureaucrats in office. (But by saying so I am not belittling the contribution these people make to the country or say that their views don't matter at all or that they don't represent the `real India'. I find the last part totally ridiculous). The rest of us have a stake in the system, in the policies that are formulated, in the manner they are implemented. So we have to be careful about whom we vote for and how we express our dissatisfaction. Negative voting, election boycott, right to recall (I would like to study the details and see how it has been used in Madhya Pradesh before making more detailed comments on that or recommending it wholeheartedly) are all measures not just to express our dissatisfaction but to work for a positive change and to make the political system more accountable and responsible than it is today. But we have to use these powers and rights responsibly.
Footnote: Talking about individual responsibility, the subject of my last post, on voting day in Delhi - the operations in Bombay were still not over, mind you - a friend who lives in the posh Anand Niketan area of south Delhi was aghast to find a lady and her daughter throwing tantrums because they were not allowed to take their cellphones into the polling booth! Apparently in other parts of south Delhi, people were complaining about `being inconvenienced' by not being allowed to take their cellphones. I am willing to bet that these are precisely those people who, in drawing room conversations, be lamenting the sorry state of security! At my polling booth, it was a completely opposite picture. I had driven down and absentmindedly had taken my purse and cellphone with me. There was some confusion about my name on the voters' list and when I reached the booth I realised my mistake. I was quite prepared to ask the policeman outside or anyone else in the queue to hold on to both while I voted. But the policeman didn't stop me, even though he could see the cell phone in my hand. There was some further confusion about my name in the booth, the booth officials could see I had a cellphone. BUT NO ONE OBJECTED. Others were also taking their cellphones inside. I thought the ban on cellphones had been lifted but no, it is very much in place!!!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

After the candles

So the drama over the chief minister of Maharashtra is all over. Amid another sordid drama, of course. Ashok Chavan became chief minister and promptly Narayan Rane revolted and was expelled from the Congress Party. Even at a time like this, our politicians cannot get over their own petty personal agendas and interests!
Equally disgusting is the reported behaviour of outgoing chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. DNA’s Arati Jerath writes in today’s edition that Deshmukh “made no secret of his frenzied efforts to keep his job. His meeting with Sonia Gandhi would have made his film actor son proud. According to reports Deshmukh was embarrassingly contrite and grovelled for forgiveness. He told Gandhi that he would never shame the party again and begged for one more chance.” I have no reason to disbelieve this. Jerath’s contacts in the Congress are formidable and this must be the truth. (Parenthetically, I wonder why DNA, a Mumbai-based paper, didn’t play this up as a story but let it remain as part of Jerath’s Sunday column).
She further writes “Deshmukh's mentors in Delhi worked overtime to save him. What may have tipped the balance for quicker action is Rahul Gandhi's intervention. Take a decision soon, he is believed to have told defence minister AK Antony who doubles up as the point person for Maharashtra at headquarters. The family scion was galvanised by phone calls from south Mumbai friends who warned him that the Congress would be wiped out unless Deshmukh is sacked. This was the PLU (people like us) connection at work.”
So if the south Bombay circle hadn’t kicked in, Deshmukh would have been allowed to continue? All the bomb blasts in which hundreds of ordinary people – middle class, lower middle class – died didn’t matter. How does one describe this – brazen? Callous? Words fail me.
Which brings me to the anger of the swish set. I hold absolutely no brief for Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s disparaging comments about lipstick and powder sporting women ("Some women wearing lipstick and powder have taken to streets in Mumbai and are abusing politicians spreading dissatisfaction against democracy. This is what terrorists are doing in Jammu and Kashmir."), but am getting a bit tired of the champagne set suddenly attacking our politicians and breast-beating about the chaos in a democracy, asking people not to pay taxes or exercise the option not to vote. The candles have been lit and extinguished. It is time for some introspection.
Sure the political class is to blame for much of our ills. But what about each one of us? I repeat the incident that ended my last post – about the lady in the chauffer-driven saloon who didn’t stop her car for checking at the Taj Mansingh in Delhi. She belonged to the same set that now wants to hold politicians accountable. It’s a noble enough cause, but what about each one of us, regardless of the socio-economic class we belong to? Aren’t we accountable too?
I was speaking to a former Research and Analysis Wing chief and told him about the Taj Mansingh incident. He said terrorists are sitting and watching such incidents. They are observing the culture and ethos of the nation, not just its intelligence and security set up.
Yesterday, I was driving and my 11-year-old nephew couldn’t understand (as probably a lot of others) why I had to drive 300 metres to take a U-turn and come back to a crossing which was only a 100 metres away if I chose to drive on the wrong side of the road. As a whole lot of other people routinely did. I tried telling him that if everybody broke rules, then it would be easier for criminals and terrorists to operate, since everybody’s guard would be lower. I doubt whether he understood. But he is 11. I wonder if adults would understand the point I am making.
Let’s face it – we are a law-breaking nation. It is not just the politicians and the criminals who don’t respect the law; each one of us is guilty of the same. We jump red lights, we overtake from the wrong side, we drive in the face of oncoming traffic, we keep our cellphones on during flights (some keep it in silent mode, not realising that the phone can still receive signals and this interferes with the plane’s communications), we make unauthorised alterations to our homes. The list is endless. And when we get into trouble for any of these, we simply bribe our way out. The swish set does it, the salaried middle class does it, the lower middle class also does it.
And if such indisciplined behaviour gets us into trouble abroad we scream `racial profiling’. Remember the incident some years back when a panicky flight crew got a Northwest Airlnes flight from Amsterdam to Bombay to turn back to Amsterdam because of the `suspicious behaviour’ of 12 Indians? They were simply being boorish Indians and not following instructions, but the flight attendants didn’t know how indisciplined we are as a nation. Thank God, they didn’t. If they had, they would have just shrugged their shoulders and left it at that. And some terrorist would have exploited that weakness sometime in the future.
Our security is as much in our hands as in the hands of our security forces and politicians. Sure politicians must take the lead – let all those who are exempted from screening and frisking voluntarily subject themselves to it. Of course, it is a moot point whether, if the Prime Minister or Rahul Gandhi says frisk me, our feudal mindset will allow anything but the most cursory frisking by the guards. But let them make a start. Let the lady who didn’t want her car checked because she was getting late for a meeting start by following all security-related rules. And let each one of us start by observing whatever rules there are, no matter how irksome or mindless they are. If they are mindless let us lobby to change them. But till they are around, let us follow them. Let us not provide any chink that terrorists can exploit.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

What a shame

It’s as if all the anger is futile. The tragedy in Bombay brought forth an outpouring of anger against our politicians. Let me quote just two, both by Sunil Varma on his Facebook profile:
“Sunil rejoices that the ordeal is finally over. Now, just watch out for the politicians...the disgusting, putrid, rancid set of people who're supposed to serve us.”
“But do we also have to live with our politicians? Just wait for the crap they will spew out from their cussed mouths in the days to come.”
Narendra Modi, R R Patil, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, V S Achuthanandan have made Sunil’s predictions come true.
As I write, there’s the NDTV scroll on the television, one person is saying hand the politicians over to
Pakistan, another saying let the terrorists kill them, another saying hand over the country to the military.
But has anyone learnt anything?
The usual blame game is on, albeit in a much more subdued manner. But what is even more disgusting is the drama in
Maharashtra over the chief minister. It is clear now that Vilasrao Deshmukh has to go. That should have been done within days of the end of the terror attack, the way Shivraj Patil was replaced at the Centre on Sunday itself. But Deshmukh continues to be Maharashtra chief minister. All because the Congress has not been able to decide on his successor. And the way his successor is being chosen is a slap in the face of all of us, and especially all those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists - across the country.
At the Centre, P Chidambaram’s reputation for efficiency and competence led to his being chosen as home minister to replace the very ineffectual Shivraj Patil, who finally had to go. There seems to be an all-round acceptance of his selection.
But in
Maharashtra, caste and other equations are the deciding factors in choosing Deshmukh’s successor. One view is that a Maratha should be made the chief minister in order to checkmate Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party. Another view favours Sushilkumar Shinde because he is a Dalit and his choice could help the Congress cut into the base of the Bahujuan Samaj Party in the elections! The name of Prithviraj Chavan, who is now in the PMO, was also being considered, but he is not favoured by the NCP, which is a coalition partner of the Congress in Maharashtra. Chavan himself is not keen on moving to the state. Where is competence and efficiency in all this? Is this what a state ravaged by terror attacks needs?
There’s talk that politicians are out of touch with popular sentiment. Are they? I doubt that. I think it is just sheer arrogance – they know people feel this way about them but they couldn’t care less.
NDTV had a discussion the other day asking whether we would be willing to give up a bit of our personal liberties in the fight against terror. My reply to that would be: yes, I will, but what about Somenath Chatterjee, who refuses to visit foreign countries on official tours if they cannot assure him that he will not be frisked? What about Robert Vadra who is exempt from frisking only because he is married into a particular family? Actually, what about all those who are exempt from frisking for some reason or another?
Sunil wrote on his Facebook profile: “The time to be lazy, apathetic and indifference is over now!” ” Yes it is. It is time for ordinary people like us to question why, as
The Times of India reports, 1700 out of 7000 National Security Guard personnel are guarding VIPs (some whose names we've never heard of, others with highly dubious credentials like Sajjan Kumar who was seen to have led mobs against Sikhs in 1984) but the rest of us have to depend on our good luck to escape terror attacks. Why Somenath Chowdhury should be exempt from frisking but the rest of us have to subject ourselves to it? So we are all potential carriers of terror just because we are not in politically powerful positions or are not born into or married into politically powerful families?
But why blame politicians alone? As I was watching the terror attacks on television , one image just kept coming back to my mind. It was after the attack on the J W Marriot in
Pakistan and hotels here had tightened security. Cars were being checked at the gate of the Taj Mansingh in Delhi. There was a small queue of three or four cars. The large chauffer-driven car immediately before mine was third in the queue and there was a lady sitting in it. As the car before hers got checked, her car moved forward. To my horror, the lady leaned forward and said something to the driver and the car shot forward and drove straight to the portico without being checked, leaving the guards with their equipment aghast. And as she got out of the car and ran into the hotel, I am reasonably sure, she was a member of a prominent media family from the south.
God save our country from such VIPs.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Our Obama Moment?

Those who have followed my blog will know that I disagree with Leftits on practically everything. But there are times when I have to acknowledge that they have done or said something right. The latest being the suggestion from the CPM that governors of states should not be ex-officio chancellors of universities. This is part of a paper on Centre-State relations. There could be other suggestions in that which I may seriously disagree with, but on this particular point I think the CPM is right.

The immediate provocation for this is the incident where the vice-chancellor of Kanpur University having to resign following a rebuke from the Uttar Pradesh governor, T V Rajeshwar, for denying Rahul Gandhi permission to hold a meeting in the university premises.

A niggling thought - would the CPM have taken the same position if it was still on good terms with the Congress? It is now cosying up to Mayawati and the vice-chancellor's action in denying permission to Rahul Gandhi was said to be prompted by instructions from the Uttar Pradesh government.

But that still doesn't take away from the larger point - should governors be chancellors of universities, considering most governors are highly political. Would Rajeshwar have rebuked the vice-chancellor if Rahul Gandhi were not involved? He, after all, was appointed Uttar Pradesh governor by the UPA government.

That brings me to another point. Ever since Barrack Hussein Obama, all of 47 years old, became the President of the United States, we've had this chorus about when we will get our own Obama moment. And I wonder - will we ever?

Obama's win is the triumph of talent. Can we say the same about young people in politics? Do any one of them (barring Rahul Gandhi) have even a remote chance of getting to - forget the top job - even a job that is commensurate with their talent? If Rahul Gandhi is not holding any significant post, it is only because he hasn't taken it up for his own reasons. Otherwise, there are enough Congress leaders who insist he is Prime Minister material.

Maybe he is. Maybe I am wrong in dismissing Rahul Gandhi. Maybe he is learning from his father's mistakes and is preparing himself for the top job. But look at the difference between him and Obama. He is preparing for a job that he knows will be his one day. Obama dreamed what could have been an impossible dream and got there out of sheer dint of hard work.

I would have no issues if other young people in the Congress got the same chance as Rahul Gandhi. But they never will.

Take the other parties. Are they any better? No. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate is 80-year old Lal Krishna Advani. The so-called younger generation comprise a bunch of 50-plus year olds!

Take the regional parties. Sukhbir Badal is heading the Akali Dal because of his father Prakash Singh Badal. When Mulayam Singh Yadav steps down as head of the Samajwadi Party, his son, Akhilesh Yadav, will take over. Omar Abdullah heads the National Conference because his grandfather founded it. In the Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka, the people who reign are H D Deve Gowda and his sons. Ditto for the DMK.

Mayawati is often spoken of as the Indian answer to Obama. I disagree. She has come to where she is because she was spotted by BSP founder Kanshi Ram who recognised her talent and groomed her - the same way Rahul Gandhi, Sukhbir Badal, Omar Abdullah and Akhilesh Yadav were and are being groomed. Like Rahul Gandhi, she knew the top job was hers. She didn't have to fight her way up, struggle the way Obama has. Kanshi Ram didn't give the same opportunities to other young people in the BSP as he gave Mayawati.

Till Indian political parties start recognising talent - genuine talent - and giving it space to nurture and grow, I am afraid we will never have our Obama moment.

And quite separately, listening to Obama's speech gave me goosebumps. When was the last time any of our leaders has given such a stirring speech, outlining a vision for the country. The closest would be Rajiv Gandhi's speech at the Congress centenary celebrations in 1985, the famous one in which he lambasted the powerbrokers in the Congress. But that was a vision for the party. What about the nation?

I was also moved by John McCain's speech conceding defeat. How gracious and dignified. Again, when was the last time we saw such dignity in defeat in India? Leaders of parties that have lost promise to play a constructive opposition role and after that token statement, indulge in petty and absolutely graceless barbs.

We, as a nation, will have to address all this before we can have our own Obama moment.

Let's talk communal for a change

A wonderful piece in DNA.

R Jagannathan

Why does the emergence of terrorism in the Hindu fold come as no surprise to anybody? My answer: every community in India, at some level, has a sense of aversion or ambivalence towards the "other", whether that "other" is defined in religious, caste, racial or linguistic terms. We all know it, but pretend otherwise.

Raj Thackeray has Biharis, Hindus have Muslims or Christian as hate objects, secularists have their Sangh Parivar, the Marxists have their class enemies. Everyone has an "other" - real or imaginary foe - to fight with. Once we are sure there is no "other" within earshot, our true feelings emerge. Xenophobia, bigotry and insecurities emerge centre-stage.

We cannot be truly secular unless the unstated fears and insecurities of all our peoples are acknowledged and addressed. Once we let it all hang out, we can learn to be less communal, less sectarian. Bigotry thrives only when we fail to acknowledge our deepest worries and concerns, however unreal they may be.

If Muslims fear that their identity is going to be overwhelmed in a Hindu-majority India, let us acknowledge it. If Hindus are worried about conversions, let them say so without fear of ridicule. We can find ways to address these fears. Instead, what we have done is de-legitimise these concerns by branding it all as communal. This leaves the Sangh Parivar as the sole torch-bearer of Hindu concerns.

So how do we build a truly tolerant and secular society from here? I have four broad suggestions.

First, we should never accept any justification for violence by anybody. If Hindu extremists justify the Malegaon blasts as retribution for earlier acts of terror by Muslims, the latter can justify their handiwork as revenge for the post-Godhra massacres. Hindus can then talk about the Godhra train fire. There is only one way to end mindless violence - and that is by ignoring all rationalisations for it.

Second, we should abolish all politically-appointed commissions of inquiry and replace them with a permanent Truth Commission manned by people with impeccable personal credibility. Two enquiries were set up to look into the Godhra fire - one by Lalu Prasad and the other by Narendra Modi. Both gave out findings convenient to their political masters. If commissions have to have any credibility, they have to be citizen-oriented and depoliticised. A permanent Truth Commission that is charged with the responsibility of finding out the truth - and improving on it with more evidence - would be able to do this much better and with far less rancour.

Third, all histories must be recognised as partly true. Historians tend to think of history as their property. This is not simply true. Every history has a bias, and there are several ways of telling it. If histories are not told openly, they will be told subversively - feeding communalism. Just as there is a Marxist view of history, there can be Hindu and Muslim views. There can be Dalit and OBC views. There can be psychological and sociological renderings of history. In short, all history is a work-in-progress. History gets communalised when there is no space in it for alternative versions. The only way to decommunalise it is by giving partial legitimacy to all versions.

Fourth, all communities must take responsibility for violent elements in their midst. Hindus must deal with Hindu extremists and Muslims with Muslim ones. To keep saying "no Hindu/Muslim can be a terrorist" is a cop-out. It is also easy to take cover under motherhood statements like "Islam is a religion of peace" or that "Hinduism is the most tolerant" of faiths. There is no such thing as Islam or Hinduism outside the minds of the faithful. A violent Hindu makes Hinduism intolerant. Religions take on the hues of their believers. So it is we who make Hinduism or Islam tolerant or peaceable, not the religions themselves. No community can thus shirk its responsibility for people from their own faiths who turn violent. In the end, terror in the name of Hinduism can only be defeated by Hindus.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Politicising Encounters

After having driven Ratan Tata out of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee seems to have forgotten about getting acquired land back for the farmers of Singur. And she's now doing a good turn to Amar Singh who was there to lend her moral support on Singur. So Mamata-di and Singh are chorusing on the Batla House encounter and demanding an enquiry.

Mamata-di has said if the inquiry proves the encounter was not fake, she will resign. Singh was thundering in Azamgarh today that the youth arrested on terrorism charges were innocent and if it is proved that they are terrorists, he himself will shoot them.

The antics of these two is amusing but this entire debate over the Jamia encounter and the so-called branding of all Muslims as terrorists raises several issues.

One, are probes any use? If the findings don't suit a section, the report will be debunked. If an inquiry finds the encounter was a genuine one and the slain youth were actually terrorists, will Singh, Mamata, Mushirul Hasan and sundry others insisting the youth are innocent accept it? They won't. Just like the BJP won't accept the U C Banerjee report on Godhra and the secular brigade won't accept the Nanavati report. Each side will question the credentials of the author of the report, no matter how upright and honest he/she is.

Two, always questioning the police version on everything, if it doesn't suit us. I am no admirer of the Indian police force. It is perhaps the most venal, corrupt and insensitive force in the world. Yes, it has sullied its hands with fake encounters and some which are bizarre mistakes (like the Connaught Place shoot out, where it was just a case of mistaken identity). But to question every arrest or encounter is carrying things a bit too far. The media is also to blame for this. Every time a suspected terrorist is arrested, off it goes to interview the parents who then say their son is innocent, he wouldn't harm a fly, he is being framed. What else will a parent say? Regardless of what the charge - drunken driving or rape or terrorism - parents will always say their child is innocent. But whether it is the Jamia shootout or the arrest of Yahoo engineer Mohammed Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy for sending terror emails, the police is unearthing evidence, incriminating documents etc. Surely all this can't be fake?

It is a bit hard to believe that the police randomly pick up innocent youth without any leads and then put them behind bars or engage and kill them in an encounter. Why does the police zero in on only XYZ innocent Muslim youth and not ABC or GHI? These charges that the police are picking up innocent youth gives the impression that the police does eenie-meenie-mina-mo every morning with a list of Muslim names and then just goes and arrests/kills them without any proof. This is ridiculous.

That brings me to the third issue - this whole fuss about racial profiling and the lament that all Muslims are being viewed as terrorists. I think that is exaggerated. Ordinary people are not branding all Muslims as terrorists. It is the Amar Singhs and the so-called secular brigade who are giving terrorists and ordinary criminals a religious identity. A terrorist is a terrorist. Why, if he has a Muslim name, should it mean all Muslims are being targeted? If a terror suspect happens to have a Muslim name, should the police not arrest/question him? The counter to that may well be that how come only Muslims are being picked up? But if the terror is being unleashed in the name of Islam, are Hindus, Christians and Sikhs to be picked up? During the Punjab trouble, Sikhs were picked up, in Sri Lanka Tamils are picked up, in Ireland, Irish were picked up. That is natural. Terrorists are known by the cause they espouse.

These people who claim to speak on behalf of the ordinary Muslims are doing them a terrible disservice. By rushing to sympathise with a terrorist (instead of distancing themselves and saying the law must take its own course) just because he has a Muslim name, it is these people who are indulging in racial profiling.

Finally, it is not my case that the police don’t pick up innocent people or torture suspects. The human rights of all have to be protected. But the right way of doing that is not to rant against arrests, but ensure that those arrested get whatever rights are due to them. It was appalling that the police did not allow the families of the Delhi blast accused to meet them even as it allowed journalists to interview them. That is absolute nonsense and it is good that Prashant Bhushan and other public spirited citizens got a court order to allow a meeting with the families. That is a perfectly valid way to help the accused. But to say that all arrests are frame ups and all encounters are fake is a bit much.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Don’t get involved with this Tiger

It was quite distressing to read about the Prime Minister giving in to pressure from the DMK and making a statement calling for a negotiated political settlement in Sri Lanka and the need to respect the human rights of minorities, particularly Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka.

This came after an all-party meeting in Tamil Nadu where a resolution was passed giving the Centre a two week ultimatum to the Centre to stop the war against Tamils in Sri Lanka, failing which all 39 MPs from the state would resign from Parliament. DMK supreme Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi has already sent in her resignation to her father.

This is utterly ridiculous. Sri Lanka, these Tamil MPs need to be told, is not an Indian state that can be pulled up by the Centre. Even within India, the federal structure puts limits on what the Centre can do. Sri Lanka is another country altogether. The Indian government cannot do anything that will impinge on its sovereignty.

The government is treading on extremely dangerous grounds here. It is nobody’s case that human rights in Sri Lanka should be given the complete go by. Remember, however, that the country facing a separatist movement, which it is trying to address through a mix of political and military means. Remember also that the violence is not one-sided. The Tamil terror groups also have the blood of thousands on their hands.

India, coping with its own problems, cannot get involved in this. If it does, then it will have no right to get worked up every time Pakistan makes a similar charge about India in the context of Kashmir. Indians cannot get all hot and bothered when other countries ask us about Muslims killed in riots or attacks on Christians. India’s Tamil politicians will probably argue that the two cases are not similar, that what is happening in Lanka is far more serious than what is happening in India. But that is all a matter of perception.

We have already paid a heavy price for our involvement in Sri Lanka – Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Tamil militants. It is surprising that a government run by a party headed by his widow should go soft on Tamil terror.

More than that, the principle of respecting another country’s sovereignty has to be respected.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Politicising Development

I had, to take a dig at the Luddite leftists and tongue firmly in cheek, drafted the following press release the day the announcement of the Nano plant to Gujarat happened.


We, the self-appointed upholders of the secular fabric of India, strongly condemn the decision of Tata Motors to shift the Nano plant to Gujarat. This is nothing but a victory for communal forces in the country. It is shocking that industrialist Ratan Tata who is a member of a minority community - perhaps the smallest minority community in India - has decided to shake hands with Narendra Modi, that unrepentant butcher of minorities. Ratan Tata's ancestors may have hailed from Gujarat but that is no mitigating excuse.

This action of Ratan Tata is doubly damned because it came after he spurned the abject pleadings of a communist government and preferred to go along with a communal government instead. He also did not seriously consider the offer from a relatively secular Maharashtra government, which is the state where Tata Motors head office is located.

It also puts a greater burden on all secular socialist forces to fight this evil combination of capitalism and communalism. We will not be found wanting in this fight. Our failure to get Modi out of Gujarat will not dampen our spirits. We got Tata out of Bengal, we can drive him out of Gujarat too.

To continue our struggle, we allocate the following work to the following persons - Medha Patkar to sit on dharna at the Tata site, with her ragtag bunch; Arundhati Roy to write a cover story in Outlook on the capitalist-communal conspiracy, Teesta Setalvad to devote an entire issue of Communalism Combat to ranting about this unholy, oops sorry, un-comradely nexus, and Tehelka to reveal previously undisclosed footage on Modi, Tata and Mamata planning a grand conspiracy to keep Bengal in a de-industrialised state.

When I wrote this, I had stopped watching the news, so didn't see Sitaram Yechury's reaction, when he said it was sad that Tata had shifted to a BJP-ruled state! So I was bang on, as it turned out.

Would it have been better for Bengal if Tata had chosen a site in a non-BJP state? Yechury's reaction is understandable; he is in politics and politicizing development is second nature for our politicians.

But how does one account for journalists writing about the Nano plant shifting to Gujarat giving credibility to Narendra Modi? When I had emailed the above press release to some friends, one of them wrote implying that I was trying to convert people into a Modi fan!! After that there have been edit page articles bemoaning how Modi will use this to his advantage.

I have a few questions to all these people.

# Must business decisions be based on politics? Shouldn't business environment and infrastructure be the guiding principles?

# Assuming that politics must be a factor, then, if industrialists should shun Gujarat because of Modi's inaction during the 2002 riots, should any industry go at all to China, where state-sponsored genocide in Tibet is no secret? Why shouldn't all countries boycott China and snap all economic ties with it? And why should new businesses be set up in Delhi, where hundreds of Sikhs were butchered in 1984, and which now has had a Congress government for 10 years?

# If industry doesn't go to Gujarat while Modi is chief minister, who will suffer? Modi? Or the people of Gujarat? Or is it the case that the Gujarat public deserves to be punished for electing Modi?

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Rajiv Gandhi's Legacy

Haven't had time to write though there are so many issues I want to comment upon. But am taking the easy way out and posting an excellent article on Rajiv Gandhi's legacy by historian Ramachandra Guha in Hindustan Times.

Rajiv: The other side

Ramachandra Guha

Hindustan Times 14 September 2008

I think it was Voltaire who said that while we can flatter the living, the dead deserve nothing less than the truth. I recalled that injunction when reading Vir Sanghvi's tribute to the late Rajiv Gandhi (Remembering Rajiv, Sunday HT, September 7). This praises Gandhi as a compassionate visionary who helped heal the wounds of a divided nation and then gave it a charter for the future. Gandhi's achievements are marked and celebrated. At the same time, no failure or flaw is admitted.

Sanghvi's one-sided approach is (as I shall presently show) at odds with the historical record. But it is also at odds with his own record as a political analyst. I have long admired Sanghvi for the elegance of his prose and the independence of his opinions. He refuses to see the world in black and white. Unlike many other Indian liberals, he is honest enough to criticise Muslim bigots as harshly and as often as the bigots of his own faith.

In this particular instance, however, Sanghvi has shown a conspicuous lack of historical judgement. Consider this statement, which appears early in his column: "It was Rajiv Gandhi's five years in office... that showed the world that India was here to stay. We had our problems. But our survival was not in doubt."

This is an audacious claim, that does serious violence to our history, and gross injustice to those who actually assured India's survival as a free and democratic nation. These were our first generation of nation-builders, Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar, and others, who forged a nation from a thousand different fragments, against a backdrop of famine and civil war, and then gave it a democratic constitution and a plural political culture. By the time India held its second general elections in 1957, it had successfully confounded the Western sceptics who claimed that it was too diverse and divided to survive as a single nation. At this time, if memory serves, Rajiv Gandhi was playing with his Meccano set.

Sanghvi makes much of Rajiv Gandhi's modest means. "He was the first Prime Minister to have ever held a job," he writes, "to have watched with alarm as his provident fund deduction went up and to have struggled to make ends meet." This he contrasts with "the unexplained wealth of political families". Once more, one is obliged to remind him that Indian history did not begin in 1984. Rajagopalachari, Patel, Ambedkar and many others gave up lucrative legal careers to serve the nation. Then, speaking of Prime Ministers, there was a certain Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was so poor that he had to swim across the Ganges to college since he could not afford to pay for a ticket on the boat. Austerity and integrity were for a very long time the very hallmark of Indian politics. If Rajiv Gandhi is to be compared to the politicians who followed in his wake, then he must also be compared with those who came before him.

Sanghvi exaggerates when he says that "the only reason India is a software power today is because he [Rajiv] had the vision to see the future" (other reasons include the emphasis on technical education in the 1960s, the nurturing of domestic capability after IBM was kicked out in the 1970, and, of course, the entrepreneurial drive of the 1990s). However, the most remarkable thing about his column is not what he says but what he is silent about. Among the words missing from his assessment of Rajiv Gandhi's record in office are Shah Bano, Ayodhya, and Kashmir.

In April 1985, in awarding alimony to a divorced woman named Shah Bano, the Supreme Court called for honouring the constitutional commitment to a Uniform Civil Code. The Congress had a two-thirds majority in Parliament. However, instead of taking the Court's verdict forward, Rajiv Gandhi had a Bill passed overturning it. Less than a year later, the locks of the shrine in the Babri Masjid were opened. As the political analyst Neerja Chowdhury wrote at the time, "Mr Rajiv Gandhi wants both to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds." Chowdhury remarked that "a policy of appeasement of both communities being pursued by the government for electoral gains is a vicious cycle which will become difficult to break".

This was a prophetic warning. A quarter-century later, Indians are still living with the consequences of those altogether disastrous acts. The BJP won a mere two seats in the 1984 general elections; helped by the appeasement of the mullahs and the concession in Ayodhya, they marched on to become a national party. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism encouraged the Muslim fundamentalists, leading to the cycle of riots, bombs, and more riots that is now apparently a permanent feature of the Indian political lansdcape. The religious polarisation has been hastened by the rise of the insurgency in Kashmir, in whose making, too, Rajiv Gandhi's government played a part, by its rigging of the 1987 elections, among whose defeated candidates were some future leaders of the jihad.

One person who would certainly have disapproved of Rajiv Gandhi's twin capitulation was India's first Prime Minister. After Partition, Jawaharlal Nehru's principal aim was to ensure that India did not become a "Hindu Pakistan". In the country's inaugural general election, his party's main plank was the safeguarding of the secular fabric of the Republic. The tone was set by Nehru's first election speech, at Ludhiana, where he declared "an all-out war against communalism". He "condemned the communal bodies which in the name of Hindu and Sikh culture were spreading the virus of communalism as the Muslim League once did...". These "sinister communal elements" would if they came to power "bring ruin and death to the country".

As the leading liberal born in a Hindu home, Nehru keenly understood the importance of encouraging liberal tendencies in traditions other than his own. He had hoped that Sheikh Abdullah would be the voice of progress and reason among Indian Muslims, but the Sheikh had other ambitions. Then Nehru put his faith in the brilliant, Cambridge-educated scholar, Saifuddin Tyabji. Tragically, Tyabji died in his early forties, just as he was making his mark in Parliament.

In the 1950s, Ambedkar, as Law Minister, and Nehru, as Prime Minister, reformed the personal laws of Hindus, allowing Hindu women to choose their marriage partners, to divorce, and to own property. They believed that when Muslims were more secure and had developed a liberal leadership of their own, such reforms would be made to their archaic laws, too. The conjunction that Ambedkar and Nehru had hoped for finally arrived in 1985.

Rajiv Gandhi had 400 MPs, a Supreme Court verdict, and a liberal Muslim willing to bat for him (Arif Mohammed Khan). That he still flunked it may be attributed either to a lack of a sense of history or a lack of a robust commitment to liberal principles - or perhaps both.

I do not want to make the reverse mistake, of seeing Rajiv Gandhi's record in office as wholly flawed. He did reconcile the Mizos, he did encourage technological innovation, and he did promote panchayati raj (a contribution strangely unmentioned by Mr Sanghvi). At the same time, his policies encouraged the most reactionary elements among Hindus and Muslims, whose rivalry has since promoted a huge amount of discord and violence, the very discord and violence that Sanghvi himself, in other columns, has tried bravely to combat.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Disgusting Churlishness

What can one say about Sushma Swaraj’s remark that the blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad were to divert attention from the cash for votes scandal, and that it was a ploy to raise a bogey about the BJP to woo back the Muslims whom the Congress had alienated because of the nuclear deal. Bilge, as a friend, Sunil Varma, describes it. When, in 2004, she threatened to shave her head and sleep on the floor if Sonia Gandhi became Prime Minister, it was just very funny (not the least because she became the butt of ribald jokes by journalists even as they were waiting for the BJP briefing to start at the party headquarters). But this is not funny. It is disgusting. It is sickening.

What it brings to mind is the United States immediately after the 9/11 attacks and former President Bill Clinton immediately declaring all support for incumbent President George Bush. No finger pointing, no blame game. Dignified support. Bush’s post-9/11 policies may be attacked by the Democrats but at the time of crisis, there was no name-calling.

What’s surprising is how the BJP is not distancing itself from her remarks, with its top leaders preferring to keep quiet. Are we to believe, then, that the party endorses her views?

But why blame Swaraj alone? She has only taken to an extreme and disgusting degree what all our politicians are adept at – blame the other party, especially the ruling party, for everything that goes wrong. So what if when your party was in power you did exactly what the present one is doing. We are all reacting now because of the words she used, but after every blast in any state, there is an immediate cry from the opposition in that state that the government has failed in its duty and should resign. So every time there is a blast the BJP will accuse the Congress of going soft on terror (forgetting what it did in the Kandahar hijack case) and every time there is a communal riot when the NDA is ruling, the Congress will blame the BJP for it. This cuts across politicians and parties. What can you do with a bunch of politicians who politicise even the Nithari killings and the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case?

Look at economic policy. Economic policy has a strongly political angle to it, but how can stands change depending on where a party is sitting –the ruling or the opposition benches? But that is precisely what happens. The NDA is now saying it will not support the pending economic reform legislation in Parliament. This is absolutely ridiculous, especially since the BJP-led NDA had done the groundwork for many of the legislations.

There are so many examples of opportunistic flip flops. The BJP opposed the opening up of the insurance sector when it was in the opposition. When it came to power, it passed the required legislation. Yashwant Sinha, as NDA finance minister, worked really hard to get the VAT system in place. He couldn’t complete it for various reasons. But minute the NDA loses the elections, he starts opposing the implementation of VAT. When the NDA makes a success of the privatisation programme, Manmohan Singh, as an opposition member, questions the ideological basis of a policy that he himself initiated when he was finance minister. As opposition leader in Punjab Amarinder Singh lambasted the Akali Dal’s freebies, especially free power to farmers. A few years after becoming chief minister, he himself did the same. One could go on and on with similar examples.

There’s another curious phenomenon – don’t take the same view as your opponent, even if the view is something you believe in. Take the dilemma of the Left in the run up to the trust vote. They were worried at being seen as voting with the BJP. If you strongly believe in something, does it matter that your arch enemy also believes in it and will you stop fighting for it just because of that? So the issue on which you withdrew support to the government suddenly became less important than being seen to be on the same side as a party you hate?

That is the only problem I had Omar Abdullah’s otherwise stupendous speech, especially his statement - `they (the left) want me to side with the BJP and bring down this government’. Does that mean that tomorrow if the BJP does something which is right in his opinion, he will keep quiet about it or oppose it just because the BJP is also on that side?

This is childishness, nay, churlishness. And when it plumbs to the level Swaraj took it to, it is. . . . words fail me.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Reforms RIP

So the Left has finally withdrawn support. In any other circumstance, that would have been reason to celebrate. But if its place is going to be taken by the Samajwadi Party batting for one industrial house (see my previous posts below) then there's not much cause to cheer. One blackmailer has been replaced by another. The latest is that Mulayam Singh wants his nominee for the post of CBI Director. The more things change, as they say....

What's amusing is the unanimous reaction that this will help revive the stalled economic reforms process. True, the Left has been the most strident of the opponents of economic reform, but it would be wrong to say that the Communists the only opponents of liberalization. There are many others who will not allow crucial reforms to be effected. These sections are not just ideologically driven political parties but a slew of vested interests - politicians (cutting across the political spectrum), bureaucrats, middlemen (who operate through politicians). The Left has been stupid in revelling in the label of anti-liberalisers. It has generated all the sound and the fury, but its opposition has been less effective than that of these groups, who have operated quietly in the background and let the Comrades take all the blame. To that extent, the Left has allowed its principled opposition to be used by manipulators.

The Left was hardly in the picture during the six years of the BJP-led NDA rule. But still a lot of reforms were stalled (though that government did manage to get far, far more done than the UPA has). Some of the stalling was done by parties that are part of the UPA now.

Remember also, that there is a sizeable section within the Congress that is opposed to any liberalisation. The socialist lobby within that party - Arjun Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar, are its more well known members - can hardly be discounted.

The process of economic liberalisation reduces government meddling in the economy. In doing that, it also removes the power of patronage from politicians and bureaucrats and reduces the scope of corruption. It also reduces the role of middlemen. So all these groups are hurt by economic reforms, far more than the poor are (actually reforms are the only way to help the poor, but how and the costs will have to be the subject of another post). But it is in the name of the poor that the reforms are stalled. Then, of course, there is industry. Every established player in a business wants to restrict competition - the essence of market-driven economic policies - so that it enjoys a monopoly.

Let's look at a few pending economic reforms.

Agriculture. The economy's largest private sector is also the most regulated one. Sure the sector needs a heavy dose of public investment, but it also needs an equally strong dose of market-oriented economic reforms. The current policy regime, the large farmers benefit more than the small and marginal ones, who are in a pitiable state. One of the key reforms is the relaxation of the state-level Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee Acts to allow competitive markets to come up. But that will significantly reduce the clout of the arthias and get farmers a fair return for their produce. So movement on this is slow. The arthias and the large farmers are the ones with money and clout in the rural areas. They are the ones who can bankroll politicians; not the small farmers in whose name the politicians act.

Privatisation. Why the government needs to be running a whole lot of businesses - airlines, hotels, to name the more ridiculous ones - is beyond understanding. The opposition to privatisation comes from powerful employees' unions (many of them affiliated to communist parties, yes) as well as politicians and bureaucrats. It is no secret that politicians and bureaucrats milk PSUs. The existence of PSUs also gives them power and patronage. All these will disappear once they are privatised. Recall that the so-called liberaliser Chandrababu Naidu had no compunction in opposing the privatisation of Rashtriya Ispat during the NDA regime because the PSU is located in Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and he didn't want to face the political backlash of people being rendered unemployed (never mind that a handsome VRS package was built into all privatisation deals).

Retail. Don't for a moment think that only the Left is opposed to the entry of foreign retailers. Large domestic retailers are working behind the scenes to ensure that Walmart and Carrefour and Tesco don't come in. There is also the small retailers lobby which is now opposing all organised retail. Small retailers form a large chunk of the BJP's support base, so opposition will come from there too.

Freeing up petroleum pricing. The NDA initiated the dismantling of the administered pricing mechanism in line with the Kelkar committee report. But it was NDA petroleum minister Ram Naik who started meddling in pricing again. Of course, Mani Shankar Aiyar carried it further. Petroleum products pricing is a highly emotive issue and few politicians are willing to see reason on this. Opposition to this will come regardless of who is in power and whether or not the Left is supporting the government.

Aviation. Foreign airlines cannot invest in Indian airlines (though foreign funds can) or operate in the local market. Yes, the Left is behind this. So are powerful Indian airlines owners.

Foreign investment in media (my industry). Again something the Left is vocal about. But powerful media groups will not allow this.

But above all, remember, this is an election year. Despite clear evidence that sensible economic policies reap political dividends, no party is prepared to take hard decisions in the run up to elections. In the mid-1990s, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh stopped the reforms process they initiated in 1991, because the Congress lost several state assembly elections and this was blamed on reforms. The NDA in its last year in government removed a sensible finance minister like Yashwant Sinha and stalled reforms. This government will do the same.

So it hardly matters if the Left supports the government or not. Reforms will go into a limbo till the next general elections.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Nuked by Ambanis

DNA today has a story on the three demands of Amar Singh – an immediate ban on export of petro-goods by private oil companies; a “fair and transparent’’ policy regime to make spectrum available to telecom companies; rework the dollar-rupee exchange rate.
The first is designed to hit Mukesh Ambani and the second to directly benefit Anil Ambani. This only reinforces my belief (see the previous post) that the nuclear deal is not worth this kind of compromise. What’s the point of saying the government won’t be held hostage by the left and then agree to be held hostage by a corporate house?

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Hypocritical compromising

Vir Sanghvi is bang on when he says in his column Counterpoint today, “there is a certain paradox involved in saying that you are taking a moral stand on the (nuclear)deal and then going, cap in hand, to those paragons of virtue Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh.” The Samajwadi Party is not supporting the government because it feels the nuclear deal is in the national interest but because it wants a whole lot out of the Congress.

Finance minister P Chidambaram’s second tenure as finance minister may not have been as great as the first (I am not very knowledgeable about the petroleum ministry, so can’t comment on Murli Deora’s performance) but to sacrifice them or to take decisions on taxing certain industries at the asking of a regional party just to save the government is ridiculous. I am fairly sure that the SP has struck some unholy deal with the Congress if not these specific ones. If Manmohan Singh wants to take the moral high ground on the nuclear deal, this is hardly the way to go about it.

I did not have very strong views on the nuclear deal but I feel if this is the price we have to pay for it, then Indian public life is better off without it.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Our Venal Politicians

I though M K Pandhe’s remarks about Muslims and the nuclear deal was the desperate rantings of a rabble-rouser from a party full of them. And that others would refrain from such outrageous statements. But clearly our politicians love disappointing those who have any expectations of them. Now others are also picking up the refrain. First, one newspaper reported an anonymous Congress leader worrying about the Muslim fallout. Then Mayawati goes to town about how the nuclear deal is anti-Muslim. And now the Samajwadi Party (which, incidentally, told Pandhe that it didn’t need a certificate of secularism from the CPM) is supposed to be worrying about the Muslim reaction! All the television channels are going on about how the SP is trying to find a via media between saving the government and not alienating its Muslim votebank.

Has anyone asked the Muslims what they really feel? But this is the problem with our political parties – they just assume the role of spokespersons for entire communities. So the BJP decides that it is the sole protector of Hindu interests and the Left, the SP and Ram Vilas Paswan’t Lok Janshakti Party and Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal claim to be the only ones speaking for the Muslims and the poor, while Mayawati has assumed the role of saviour of the Dalits, even though many Dalits may be cringing at her tactics and a lot of it is about uplift of her own family than of Dalits in general.

What is also worrying is the SP cosying up to the Congress. If it does save the government in the event of the Left withdrawing support, it will want its pound of flesh. What will it be? The ostensible reason will be keeping `communal forces’ at bay (though why all those playing the Muslim card escape the `communal’ tag beats me). But the SP is hardly a party which functions on the basis of principles and ideals alone. There will be some hard bargaining on personal issues as well – not raking up cases, protection from Mayawati’s harassment, remaining a silent spectator to corruption by SP leaders. Let no one be fooled that this is about the nuclear deal alone. Amar Singh going to meet the National Security Adviser to understand the deal is all drama.

Today’s Times of India reports that among the SP’s wishlist is removal of the finance minister, petroleum minister, Reserve Bank governor and India’s ambassador to the US. This is downright ridiculous and I hope Manmohan Singh has the courage to say no. The problem is this time he may be under a lot of pressure from within the Congress to succumb. This is a small price to pay for a few more months in power. A stray thought – in making these demands, is the SP really acting on its own or is it somehow putting forward demands from the Left?

Why only the SP? What can one say to Ajit Singh, head of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, who was on television saying the opposition to the nuke deal is not on merits but is political. Does he think no one sees through the fact that his belated support is also political – with an eye on garnering Congress support? This is a man who goes along with every coalition government that comes to power at the Centre (and always becomes a minister) and he wants us to believe that he is in favour of the deal because of the merits. There’ll be some hard bargaining on his part, be sure.

Everybody is just fishing in troubled waters for their own gains.

Like it is happening in the case of Jammu and Kashmir over the land for Amarnath yatra pilgrims. Yesterday, I got an SMS about how Muslims are opposing the temporary shelter for Amarnath pilgrims, so why should Hindus put up with a Haj terminal at the Indira Gandhi International Airport as well as Haj subsidies. It was sent by a friend but it must have been a forward and must have had its origins in some radical Hindu group. Anyway, that is neither here nor there.

The point is that these kind of sentiments are bound to grow given the mishandling of the entire issue and its exploitation by unscrupulous political groups. General S K Sinha, the former governor of Jammu and Kashmir, who is credited with the proposal to use forest land for facilities for the pilgrims, has said in an interview today that this was supposed to be a temporary facility for two months only, but that this fact is being ignored. He says the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) created trouble for its own political ends. Sinha is seen to be a BJP sympathiser. But keeping that aside, has anyone bothered to check if what he said is true. If it is, then shouldn’t that be explained to the people? Surely, ordinary Muslims in Kashmir, who have never been hostile to the yatra, would have understood? If he is lying, then surely he should be exposed. But nobody has bothered to do either.

The role of the PDP is not above suspicion. The marriage between the PDP and the Congress in Kashmir was always an uneasy one. So I have little doubt that the PDP has played some mischief here. So has the BJP, which has no doubt instigated the Hindu protests. But the BJP wouldn’t have had to work too hard for that. The spark had already been lit and it only had to do some clever and cynical fanning.

As we head for elections, these are extremely worrying signs.

Friday, 27 June 2008

My second blog

I have started another blog - - where I will be posting stray thoughts about what disturbs me about the media and journalists. I will be cross posting some of them on this blog as well, like the one I have done below.

Dadagiri by Journalists

I was aghast to see in today’s Pioneer a report about how journalists are demanding revival of CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme) facilities for them. Apparently at the cabinet briefing, they gheraoed the minister of state in the PMO, Prithviraj Chavan, and forced him to assure them that he would take up the matter with the Prime Minister. But they were not satisfied with that and said they would not let the briefing start without a satisfactory answer. They were finally persuaded to allow the briefing to proceed.

This is nothing but dadagiri. One, journalists have no business demanding health facilities from the government, especially those meant for government employees. An unrelated point: the CGHS facility for government employees (which is hugely corruption ridden) is itself being pared down because of the financial strain. Secondly, they have no business holding up a press briefing on a cabinet meeting for these kind of demands.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Beyond Reservations

This article in Outlook Business is a must read. Chandrabhan Prasad, the well known Dalit commentator, has always had a sensible approach to the issue of Dalit uplift and now he is engaged in some serious on the ground work about how this can only be possible in a free market environment. The study - Occupation-Food Habit-Lifestyle Changes amongst Dalits since 1990” - covers 20,000 Dalit households in two blocks Bilariaganj in Azamgarh district in east UP and Khurjain Bulandshahar district in west UP- both having almost ten thousand Dalit households each.

I have a PDF of a study he has done, Market and Manu, as well as some questionnaires etc. Till I figure out a way of posting them on the blog read the article.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Communalising Foreign Policy

So CPM general secretary Prakash Karat has been forced to come out and say that politburo member M K Pandhe’s warning to the Samajwadi Party that an overwhelming majority of Muslims are opposed to the nuclear deal and that it should therefore not support it do not reflect the views of the CPM. This follows outrage among Muslim groups as wonderfully reported in the Indian Express ( They told the CPM to stop firing from their shoulders and using them for its political ends. Mulayam Singh’s lieutenant Amar Singh also snubbed Pandhe.

But who started this communalisation of foreign policy? Prakash Karat himself. In November 2005, when India was caught in a dilemma about how to vote on Iran’s nuclear programme at the IAEA, Karat while addressing a rally in Lucknow said “there is a close link between Lucknow and Teheran”. At the same rally, a Shia leader Mukhtar Anees claimed that after Ayodhya, Iran is the biggest issue for Muslims. It will go against Congress.”

That time only the Indian Express had written an editorial against the communalising of foreign policy. This time almost every paper has hit out against Pandhe’s remarks. But I think it was the reaction of the Muslim organisations that has forced Karat to distance the party from Pandhe. But make no mistake; this is only a tactical retreat. The Left will not stop playing the Muslim card.

And these are the defenders of secularism!

That’s another bogey being played out amidst this crisis over the nuclear deal – that secular forces should stay together. So the BJP and its allies are communal forces and the UPA and its allies who are cynically exploiting the Muslims with meaningless tokenism are secular!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

A failed promise

So Raj Thackeray has finally been arrested, after much pussyfooting by the Congress government. It says a lot about the lows to which politics in this country has gone when a simple law and order situation is viewed purely politically. Here is a man who is fomenting hatred and inciting violence and instead of arresting him, the political ramifications of his arrest are being calculated.

There’s another larger issue here – how our younger generation of politicians, far from bringing in a breath of fresh air to our politics, are content to carry forward old ways. Raj Thackeray is only the latest example.

Why do we lament the fact that our political parties are dominated by leaders in their sixties and seventies, if not more? Why do we sneer at the BJP for selecting an 80-year-old as their prime ministerial candidate. Because we expect the younger generation to bring in a more modern vision, a new kind of politics, shunning the identity-based and outdated appeals of the older generation, and a new style of functioning, eschewing the patronage politics of yore.

We remember fondly the political greenhorn Rajiv Gandhi, who held out a hope for the country, never mind that he wasn’t able to realize it and became a prisoner of the old guard.

But today’s younger lot of politicians appears to be letting us down. On the face of it, they’re suave, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, liberal. But to what use? Dayanidhi Maran, 42, appeared to be the ideal telecom and IT minister – a young man who understood technology and the power of Indian entrepreneurship (he and his brother had built up a cable and television business). He was doing all the right things – wooing the private sector, further opening up the telecom sector, bringing in huge investments into the information technology sector etc. But scratch that veneer and he wasn’t any different from the older lot. He demanded and got the telecom and information technology ministry even though it involved a conflict of interest because of the business his brother ran. He wanted an independent regulator overseeing the telecom sector to toe the ministry’s line on a range of issues, even if this meant backtracking on telecom sector liberalization. He tried armtwisting the Tata group to add his family’s television channel as a joint venture partner in a proposed DTH venture. The list could go on.

Take Anbumani Ramadoss, just short of 40. His crusade against AIIMS director P Venugopal was all about being denied patronage rights over the country’s premier medical institute. His interventionist campaigns against smoking and fast food smacks of an outdated mentality where it is alright for the state to dictate people’s choices.

Sukhbir Badal, 45, has been educated abroad and when I once interviewed him when he was minister of state of industry at the Centre, came across as a young man with modern ideas. But he has not given shape to those ideas, even though he has been the virtual chief minister when his father Prakash Singh Badal was ruling Punjab.

So are Raj Thackeray, just a few months short of 40, and his cousin, Uddhav, 48, any different? Sadly no.

Why has the younger generation not been able to strike a different path? Some of it has to do with the way they come into politics. All the examples given above are from regional, family-run parties. That is the only political culture they are familiar with. So they see no contradiction between their otherwise cosmopolitan, modern lifestyles and the feudal style of operation.

But then how do you account for Sachin Pilot, otherwise a sensible young man. Yet he couldn’t stay away from jumping into a caste-ist fray when the Gujjar agitation broke out in Rajasthan. So you had a Wharton-educated young man making patently identity-based appeals.

The younger generation is not living up to its promise. What a pity.