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.