Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Struggle For Freedom

I am a logophile J

Yet, I do not fully understand, the meaning of freedom and independence, living in modern India. Let me write a line, to explain my dilemma.

We won independence in 1947.

Can we replace the word independence with freedom?

I am talking of freedom, not as a lofty ideal that our constitution proclaims or of the Ayn Rand variety, but a basic, bare bones and essential variety necessary for the survival of a functional society.
The freedom to sketch cartoons, without being afraid of jail term. The right to choose life partner irrespective of gender. The choice of meat and not being branded a criminal for doing so. The dress one can wear in public and not getting called a slut. The ability to browse the internet, without big brother monitoring it. The choice of books, movies, plays and every other choice that does not harm the existence of any fellow citizen.

Freedom should be a pillar of our democracy, yet it is being increasingly threatened by people, who take an exception to civilized way of life. And, we ( I mean the educated, sophisticated and arm chair intellectuals) are party responsible to it. We are selective in our outrage, when an essential tenet to freedom is knocked down, if it does not concern us. This leads to a situation, where divisive elements of the society think, that they can get away with any mischief.

Increasingly, I see that the younger generation (including mine) seems to be more polarized than the previous generations. I was having a discussion with a few acquaintances, about the freedom of speech. While I am for absolute freedom, I was told that it would, somehow not work in the Indian context as it does in the western countries, because our ‘sentiments’ get hurt easily, which can lead to law being broken.  Another discussion, lead to statements like ‘Pakistan was created for believers of a certain religion and they should all go there’. These statements come from literate people, who have prestigious degrees and work at MNC’s. Perhaps as a nation, we seem to be getting more literate and less educated at the same time.

A section of the media thinks that the coming of a right wing government at the center is the root cause of this decline and hatred. But, suddenly a large section of secular people cannot turn communal overnight. This poison tree of hatred has to be nurtured for a long time, to bear the fruits of destruction. No single political party is solely responsible for this, all of them have nurtured it with a lies and frenzy, while we as a society saw it grow by turning a blind eye.

We have a prime minister, who is a good orator and regularly speaks his ‘Man ki baat’ on radio or in front of cheering (and largely sympathetic) crown of NRI’s in foreign lands. If ever he finds some time, he can reflect upon the fact, that he can act as the moral compass for the 125 crore people, whom he refers to as ‘Mitron’. His condemnation of acts like Dadri, would go a long way in assuaging the fears and anxieties of the general populace, and send a strong message to the mischief makers.

As a society, we are not able to fully comprehend the meaning of these incidents.  People like us are increasingly losing the secular argument, on a regular basis. Young men, with half-baked sense of history and perceived injustices to their forefathers, are not ready to give up violent ideals and have a sensible conversation. Each such attack on freedom induces a bigger tear in the secular fabric of our nation, until a day will come, where we shall become a Hindu version of Pakistan.

Nature and life has a way of taking away from us, what we do not use. The question is whether we are ready to fight for our freedom or ready to meekly surrender it at the feet of anyone, who can outshout us.

Monday, 19 August 2013

A Greek Tragedy In India

What is the difference between a mistake and a crime?

A mistake is when your office, hoodwinks you to sell spectrum at throwaway prices. A crime is when you know a mistake has been committed and compound it by removing the evidence (read the coalgate files). A mistake can be condoned by an apology, but a crime must call for a befitting punishment.

 For UPA, spectrum allocation can be called a mistake (a crime by an ally), but coalgate is surely an offence and the jury of the public shall announce the verdict within 200 days, when they cast a vote during the next general elections.

The Prime Minister would be feeling like the hero of a greek tragedy (like Oedipus and Antigone). All his actions that he did as a Finance Minister, and which made him famous are being undone by his own inaction. He pulled India from the brink of bankruptcy, by the steps that increased the dollar inflows and the investor confidence into the economy.

On the other hand, the government’s inaction has led the rupee into a comatose state. When India achieved independence, a rupee was worth a dollar. Today after 66 years, a dollar is worth 63 rupees. The poetic justice does not end here. In fact, the statistics on the table are chilling. The current fiscal deficit is close to $175 billion and counting. The RBI has about 7 months of foreign exchange to cover our imports, after which we may have to go to the IMF with a begging bowl.

The government has alibis but no solutions. In fact, it is selling dreams by making outrageous plans like food security bill. Somebody has to explain (Raghuram Rajan can be a good choice) that food security cannot come by making beggars out of hard working men.

The dreams of future have to be paid in the hard cash of reality. The poor, for whom UPA made schemes like MGNREGA, are at the receiving end of inflation. They may not understand current account deficit (CAD), but surely understand that the prices of goods are just not going down. The prices are up when there is a drought, but even a good current monsoon cannot make the prices go south. That is precisely their translation of the government’s economic record.

History suggests that change and economic lapse have a symbiotic relationship. Leon Trotsky suggested that people do not change governments, and consequently their lives, when they found an alternative; they did so when they were fed up. It is a season of revolutions across the world; I hope if there is one in India, it is one that is bought by a ballot and not by the bullet.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Policing the Dolls

It must be difficult being women, because it involves dealing with men.

Men, who the self-appointed judges of morality think are driven to criminal acts like rape, by skimpily dressed mannequins. Men, who get corrupted, by watching a silly act on Comedy Central , which again involves (guess what) mannequins.

The politicians of India took some much necessary actions last week, to reduce crimes committed against women. A corporator from Mumbai, got a resolution passed, which banned the public display of mannequins wearing lingerie. She was overtaken by an overzealous Information and Broadcasting Ministry(I&B), which banned Comedy Central for 10 day for showing offensive acts on the television.

I have doubts regarding both the actions. The resolution against mannequins says, that they cannot be displayed in public, but in private(read inside the shops). In effect, the perverts can get their curiosity amplified by just going inside the shops, and then committing crimes coming out of it. So much for the quick thinking of the BMC, that I now expect the crime rates to suddenly come down in Mumbai, thanks to the momentous decision.

On the Comedy Central issue, I must say that this is a David vs. Goliath fight. If anything should be controlled, it is the depiction of women in the Bollywood. But, the I&B would not take on the Bollywood, because it knows, that it is the underdog in the fight. I agree that the jokes were in bad taste, but banning it is an over-reaction to the issue.

The often touted reason these politicians give, to justify such bizarre actions include, protection of the fine sensibilities of the ‘Mothers and Sisters’ of India. Why can they just say Women? And why according to them are all women clubbed in the ‘Mothers/Sister’ category?  Perhaps, it is very difficult for these people to understand, that Women have a life to live, which does not get affected by such non-issues.

Last year, BMC sanctioned Rs.75 lakhs for construction of Women’s only public toilets in Mumbai, and all the funds were left unutilized. Can our leaders, who seem to be so worried about a serious issue, not get the point, that Women are vulnerable to sexual attacks, when they are relieving themselves in public, in the absence of basic amenities?

The mannequins have nothing to do with the criminal acts beast perpetrate against women. It is the belief that these criminals have, that nothing will ever happen to them, which gives them the confidence to commit such acts. The politicians have debated a lot about the quantity of punishments that should be meted out for crimes of sexual nature. But they must understand, it is not the quantity, but the certainty of punishments, that will act as a deterrent to the delinquents.

The mannequins do not have an IQ. I hope the political classes act in a way that show they do.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Human Rights for Inhuman Attrocities??

India has a population of 1.5 billion, which at any given point of time is mired into a thousand controversies. Another one was added on Saturday, when one of the perpetrators on the attack of the Indian Parliament, Afzal Guru was sent to the gallows.

This blog is in response to Arundhati Roy’s article in the Hindu, where she presents a case that Guru’s execution was a blatant disregard for human rights and he was in fact, incorrectly charged based on mere circumstantial evidences.

I, neither possess the flair of words, nor her wide reach of a supine audience. But, as an ordinary Indian, am amazed to ask, why intellectuals like her, come up to the defence of lumpen elements every time they are punished by the rule of law.

It seems, a section of metropolitan intellectuals seem to be fascinated by left wing rebels (read, the naxalites), terrorists(Afzal Guru in this case), brigands(Remember Veerappan) and all such anti-social elements. These anti-social elements have attracted admiring comments from such intellectuals living in posh cities(with perhaps an occasional visit to a dharna/protest), away from the actual realities. Because they live such a bourgeois lifestyle, in a country that is poor and which they claim to represent, they perhaps assuage their guilt by speaking on behalf of these elements.

The only incorrect thing, in the hanging of Afzal Guru was the way in which his family was not informed. But so were the families of martyrs, who died defending the parliament about their imminent death. Did the terrorist speed post them (as the Government did), asking them to bid final farewells to the brave men, before attacking the parliament?

The easiest thing to do in India these days is to hurt sentiments. A prior intimation could have lead to serious law and order situation in the Kashmir valley and in other parts of the country. It could also have lead to a bizarre Tamilnadu like situation, where the assembly passed a resolution asking the death sentences of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination plotters be changed to life imprisonments, after the president had rejected their mercy petition. Perhaps, the veil of secrecy was the necessary course of action.

Another argument that Ms. Roy made, that the conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, which she then tried to demolish in her article. My understanding was that she was a writer and not a criminal lawyer, who could deconstruct and find holes into the judgement of the learned judiciary. Even a cursory reading of the evidence would have indicated to her, that though it was circumstantial, it proved without doubt that Guru was a close aide in the making of this macabre attack.

I have been pondering over a question for years now. Why do these intellectuals never speak when a police officer is killed in the ravines of naxal infected areas? Where did the high ground of human rights go, when 2 of our jawans were mercilessly beheaded by Pakistani army/terrorists (depending on your beliefs)? There was a brutal attack on CRPF men in Dantewada , around 2 years back, when these brave men were ambushed and then mercilessly shot. Did these people not have human rights, or perhaps, in your (and your ilk) eyes, these men are children of a lesser god?

In an earlier article in outlook, Ms. Roy had referred to naxalites as Gandhians with guns.  Such vanity of pseudo-intellectuals is damaging and misleading.  The ordinary Indian may not be an arm-chair intellectual, but he intelligent to understand the truth behind the canards and myths that get presented before him.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The State Of My State

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."
                                                                                                                                          Oscar Wilde

It seems that the politicians of this nation are keen on playing the game of "Good Cop, Bad Cop", with the general public. On the state level, they show an undue haste in implementing IT laws (read article 66A of the IT Act), while on the Central level they field Mr. Sibal to lambast the draconian elements of the Act.

The blatant misuse of IT act laws, makes it difficult to believe that I am not living in China. Internet censorship and media gagging are no hallmarks of a mature democracy. And yet we have instances, where tweet against a Minister's son, political cartoons or a passing comment on a social website can send you behind bars.

It is a welcome step that the Supreme Court has taken cognisance of the misuse and served notices to the AG and the culprit state governments. This is what happens to laws, which are passed without a lot of discussion on the floor of the house. It would be interesting to note that the dreaded section 66A was not a part of the original draft of the act, but included in the first amendment of the bill. The IT Act, in 2008, was passed within a day in both houses of the Parliament, which at any rate is not enough time to look and debate the clauses in it.

The undue haste is not only in the framing of the law. Even the implementation, which is often dictated to the local thana by the politicians, is a glaring loophole in the judicial system. It would only be appropriate, that the Maharashtra Government accepts the findings of the investigation report on the Palghar incident and punishes the guilty officials for the over-reach.

Until the time the act is modified to encompass the modern day realities, I have a few suggestions to every internet user in India. Each of us must make a deep study of the IT act, hire a full time cyber lawyer to monitor our internet activities, so that when the cyber cops come, we can explain them the law and why we cannot be arrested. Another suggestion is to have a video recording of clarifications that Mr.Sibal and Mr. Deora are busy pedalling on the various news channels.

The recent developments of blatant misuse of the IT Act clearly demonstrate that the activists have been right. The problem with many such misused laws is that they have been passed without adequate public debates and stakeholder consultations. Crony discussions by readymade elite committees are meant to override public scrutiny.

It is high time that our lawmakers came out of the utopian world and start making laws in consultation with the mango people. Else we are on our way on to becoming a banana republic.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Short Man with a Tall Legacy

When travelling to my ancestral place in a train, I cross a railway junction by the name Mughalsarai. My father would point the station to me and ask, "Can you tell me which famous Indian was born here?".

I would proudly say " My favourite Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri".

His legacy has been conveniently forgotten by the political party that he belonged to. Great leaders and freedom fighters do not die a mortal death, they die when the public forgets them. On his birthday, which he shares with the Mahatma, let me tell you the story of this selfless, honest and brave leader.

Shastriji was born in a Kayastha family(His original surname was Sriwastava) at Mughalsarai. He lost his father at the age of 1 and was raised by his mother at Varanasi.

There was an incident that almost denied India it's best PM. Once when Shastriji's mother was bathing on the Ghats of the Ganges, she lost her kid in the teeming fair crowd. The child was found by a childless cowherd family, who took him as a gift of god. But the child was restored to his birth mother after the police traced the child.

This diminutive kid showed glimpses of his bravery and honesty, as he swam the swelling Ganges when he did not have the fares to give to the boatmen to ferry his across the ghats. Another incident that he recalled in an interview, was when he was caught stealing mangoes from an orchard. He was held by the chaukidaar and was slapped. A teary Lal Bahadur pleaded to stop the beating because he was an orphan. The chaukidaar's response stayed with him for his lifetime. He said "Because you are an orphan, you must be more responsible in the way you behave". It was a lesson well learnt.

He was awarded the title of "Shastri" by the Kashi Vidyapeeth, which stuck as a part of his name. He joined the freedom struggle and was heavily influence by Lokmanya Tilak and the Mahatma.

Once India got it's independence, he was invited by the first chief minster of UP, Govind Vallabh Pant to join his cabinet as the Transport Minister. He is credited for opening the post of bus conductor for women. He was later given the portfolio of Home Minister in the Pant government, where he introduced water jets to disperse unruly crowds, rather than the inhumane Lathi charge.

During this time, he was the General Secretary of All India Congress Committee, which selected candidates for general elections. He was urged by Panditji to fight the elections, but declined the offer by indicating a conflict of interest between selecting and fighting elections. Nehru was impressed by this behaviour.

Post 1952 elections, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a surprise move called Shastriji to join his cabinet as the Transport and Railways Minister. It was during his tenure, that the Indian railways went for a large overhaul and increased the comforts for people travelling in 3rd Class. During those days, there were 4 classes of seats in the railways. The first class was royal in nature, followed by the second and the intermediate class. But the third class was a hell hole, with no decent seating arrangements, fans or water facilities. Shastriji abolished the first class, made the second to the first class, the intermediate class became the second class and the third class was given proper seating facilities and other amenities.

But his tenure as a railway minister is remembered for the moral fabric that he showed. There was a railway accident in Mehboob Nagar, which saw 112 passengers dead. He resigned from the post after the accident, but his resignation was turned down by Panditji. Unfortunately, 3 months later, another accident at Ariyalur killed 144, and he resigned again, this time with a request to the PM to accept. A visibly glum Nehru explained to the Parliament that the acceptance was not a question on his ability and a lesson in Constitutional properiety.
(On the other hand, modern day railway ministers dispense some compensation and conveniently forget the resignation and give a lip service to the modernisation of railways)

1964 saw the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru, and  the re-emergence of a question---"Who After Nehru".
International newspapers and magazines wrote that the experiment of Indian democracy will die along with the death of Nehru. India was facing problems of hungry millions, neighbours ready for war and drought. The Idea of India was in serious danger of becoming a footnote in history.

There were two main contenders for the post. Nehru's daughter Indira and the Morarji Desai. The syndicate headed by K. Kaamraj(often referred as the Chankya of Indian Politics), did not like the loud ambition of Desai(Congress never likes loud ambitions, hence neither Desai nor Sharad Pawar ever became Prime Ministers of a Congress Government) and deemed Indira to be too inexperienced. An experienced Shastriji was given the reins of the government.

His first Major challenge was the persistent hunger that India was facing, which lead to the country standing with a begging bowl. He initiated steps to increase the productivity of wheat and milk in the country.

He was so impressed with Verghese Kurien's(founder of Amul) efforts that he decided to stay a whole night to see the working of a dairy in the morning.(Another very interesting story....but more of it sometime later)

Another major challenge was when Pakistan attacked the Rann of Kutch. He asked the Army to give a befitting reply for this mistake. But the war escalated when Pakistan, attacked Kashmir, by moving towards Chaamb. He met all the 3 military chiefs and asked for a breifing. The Indian army chief informed that once Chaamb falls, it will be difficult to hold on to Kashmir. He suggested that India must open a front and attack Lahore. Shastriji's instructions were clear....Get Lahore before they get Chaamb. He also involved the Navy (Karachi was under a naval blockade) and the Airforce to help the army.  

This response stunned Pakistan and it tried to wriggle out the situation by asking USA and China to help. China threatened to attack India from the Western flank, but did not after a sternly worded letter by Shastriji, by telling that they shall not be cowed down by this bullying. An international conference was hurriedly called at Tashkent, where both sides went back to the pre-war positions(which I think was a mistake).

But what happened after this is a real mystery. Shastriji was found dead in his hotel and it was initially suspected to be a case of poisoning. No postmortem was ever conducted and it was declared a case of heart attack(with out postmortem). Shastriji's wife, Lalita Shastri claims that the body had turned blue(an indication of poisoning) and there were certain cuts on the body that were not investigated.

Adding grist to the rumour mill is the extraordinary secrecy over the case. For instance, various RTI applications over the years have sought information both on what documentation is available on the matter and if the government could kindly declassify it. In 2009, the PMO had replied that it had only one document relating to Shastri’s death but refused to declassify it under a clause that would “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence”. (I never understood what the above lines meant)

11 years after his death, the Janata Party Government set up an enquiry comittee. Called the Raj Narain Inquiry, it never came up with any conclusions but began the process. However, no record of this can be found in the Parliament library—by itself not a sinister event as lots of vital documents have disappeared often due to carelessness.

But there is an even more curious series of events linked to the inquiry. Two witnesses were scheduled to depose before this parliamentary body in 1977. One was R.N. Chugh, Shastri’s doctor who accompanied him to Tashkent. The second was Ram Nath, his personal servant, who was also present on the day of his death. Chugh was travelling to Delhi by road to testify before the committee and was hit by a truck and died. Ram Nath came to Delhi and visited Shastri’s widow before the deposition. According to family members, he told her, “Bahut din ka bojh tha, amma. Aaj sab bata denge (I have been carrying this burden too long. I will shed it today).” Ram Nath left the 1, Motilal Nehru, residence to make his way to Parliament. He was hit by a moving vehicle, his legs crushed (eventually amputated) and he lost his memory.

To-date, the Shastri family maintains that his death was not an accident, but a international muder. We shall never know the whole truth, but surely know that India was robbed of a great Prime Minister at the peak of his abilities.

To the believers, God just exists. I am sure God exists, but in Shastriji's case he was not just.

P.S :: Can you name the Prime Ministers, who preceded and succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri???

Friday, 21 September 2012

An attempt at reality check

" I do repent. But heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel only to be kind. "
----Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV

The Prime Minister's speech was a 21st century equivalent of an often quoted soliloquy from Hamlet(above). On the one hand he explained his cruelty (hike in diesel prices) and on the other hand his kindness (by allowing reforms), in a speech that must have taken even his harshest critics by surprise.

First things first, let us give the Prime Minister some credit for taking decisions, which may not give either him or his party any political mileage. The reforms come on the back of a series of scams and hence lack the credibility that generally accompanies such actions. He could have sleepwalked into the autumn of his political career and not be any worse that he is now. And yet he took those decisions.

He must now walk the talk. The middle class may well be ready for paying more for fuel and gas cylinders, but will not tolerate half baked reforms. The situation is not as drastic as it was in 1992, but we were well on our way to achieve the economic armageddon. The reforms must continue, the subsidies should be well directed and governance must be made more transperant to restore a semblance of credibility.

The PM told the nation that money does not grow on trees. If he squanders away this chance of improving the nation's fiscal health, the people will surely reply in 2014. The reply may well be, money does not grow on trees, but surely it does multiply in the dark recesses of coal mines and thin air of telecom spectrums. The reply will not be palatable.

Mr Singh likes doing shayari on occasion. He will perhaps know this line “Khud hi laga ke aag tamashai ban gaye”. It is difficult to translate the nuances of Urdu into English, but let me give it a try—We have become the spectators of the fire we ourselves lit.