Archive for June, 2007

Is democracy India’s biggest hurdle to progress?

30 June 2007

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: Someone I met recently, and who had been in China for a long time in a senior corporate capacity, had this to say about the country:

“Language (English) is a huge impediment there. Although attempts are being made to learn the language, they have a long way to go before they can catch up with us. The Indian IT industry will always be light years ahead due to this fact.

“Language apart, the comprehension level of the average Chinese is quite abysmal. You explain to him one thing and invariably he’ll do quite another, even if it has been told in Chinese, forget English! The Indian in comparison is smart when it comes to understanding a technical situation and will put things into action straightaway.”

But, then, why is China far more international in character and so infrastructurally advanced compared to India, I asked.

“That is because they have no democracy,” declared he.

True or false? Too simplistic?

The sartorial difference between India, Pakistan

30 June 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: There has been much international speculation over whether President Pervez Musharraf would shed his military uniform by the end of the year.

As the issue was  snowballing into a major sartorial free-for-all, the General’s Personal Assistant who was in Delhi readily agreed to  shed light on the issue to show that President Musharraf had nothing to hide.

“What are the options available to the president? Is it the ‘end game’ as far as his dress is concerned?” I asked.

“No way. The West can never think in different layers as we do in the East. President Musharraf will never disrobe his Military dress as these clowns are hoping. He will be seen in a new spanking uniform and continue to run the country and the defence. Period. There’s no issue here.”

“In case he is forced to shed his military dress what will we see him in next?”

“It’s not as if he doesn’t have any dress in his cupboard. In fact, there is a possibility he might invite Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan to have an ‘understanding’ with him for Pakistan general elections. When that happens, you will see him in white flannels, blazer and Dhoni hairstyle. He might also do a bit of coaching/poaching in place of the late Bob Woolmer. If he takes this up seriously, as he does whenever he takes up anything new, he might take over from Sharad Pawar to organize 2011 World cup in the subcontinent. Like Pawar, who runs agriculture and cricket for you, President Musharraf will run the country and cricket.”

“I admire President Musharraf as a patron of cricket as he pays from his own pocket for his ticket whenever he goes to watch a game.  What if this too doesn’t work out?” I insisted.

“If the cricket angle fizzles out, he might invite Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for a one-to-one meeting. If an ‘Agreement’ is reached with him, the General might be seen in the company of lawyers and constitutional experts wearing black coat and white silk tie over his flannels. If worse comes to worst, I won’t be surprised if he starts rewriting our constitution wearing Chief Justice’s robe.”

I admired the choices in the General’s wardrobe which made him reinvent himself at the drop of a hat.

“In India, our leaders do not have so many dress options like President Musharraf. They are seen in a strait-jacket all through their career except when they jump parties at will.”

“Your leaders not only have poor dress sense but are also glued to their chairs till they are thrown out by people.”

I concurred with the General’s PA.

“‘You are right. This is one major problem with democracy the world over.”

Should Congress withdraw Pratibha nomination?

29 June 2007

The ongoing presidential campaign has been called the “dirtiest” in the Republic’s history. The Prime Minister and the Congress have called the digging up of Pratibha Patil‘s past as “mud slinging”. But drawing the American analogy, Swapan Dasgupta argues in The Telegraph, Calcutta, today that a thorough background check is the only guarantee against any president being either blackmailed or becoming vulnerable to extraneous pressure.

“Disreputable characters have routinely passed electoral tests with flying colours partly because the electorate is ignorant about the background of the person it is electing and partly because there are negotiable standards of morality.”

Besides her goof-ups on the purdah, sterilisation and spiritual communication with dead gurus, by inference and imputation, Pratibha Patil has been accused of protecting killers, diverting bank funds meant for women’s empowerment, siphoning off donations intended for Kargil victims, and nepotistically getting interest waived.

This aspect of her life may have been completely unknown to those who chose her to be the ruling coalition’s candidate, writes Dasgupta.

“If this is indeed the case, the Congress will not look diminished if it re-examines its decision before June 30—keeping in mind the fact that it is choosing a head of state. A last-minute change, if warranted, may well lead to momentary awkwardness, but this is nothing compared to the long-term institutional damage if Patil is found to be not quite what she appears.”

Read the full article: Beyond the silly season

Related link: BJP trap won’t snare Pratibha

Swami Vivekananda at the Chicago Conference

29 June 2007

V. RAMPRASAD, in Trichy, forwards us a YouTube video, which is actually an audio of a voiceover rendering the actual text of Swami Vivekananda speaking at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September 11, 1893.

Is corruption in our genes, yes, in our genes?

29 June 2007

New York (Press Trust of India): An NRI father-son duo in the United States have been charged with defrauding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of funds meant for victims of hurricane Katrina.

Ramesh Patel, 51, and Chirag Patel, 26, of Union City, Georgia, were arraigned on Monday. The defendants were earlier indicted by a federal grand jury on June 19.

“These defendants allegedly billed FEMA by claiming that hurricane Katrina evacuees stayed at their hotel on certain nights, when in fact they did not stay at their hotel,” said US Attorney David Nahmias.

“They took advantage of the chaos created by hurricane Katrina and bilked the taxpayers of tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for emergency housing. Such conduct simply will not be tolerated,” he said.

Since October 2005, Ramesh and Chirag Patel owned and operated the Comfort Inn hotel at 6800 Shannon Parkway in Union City. The hotel housed several Katrina evacuees in several pre-designated rooms.

Once the evacuee checked in, the defendants submitted periodic requests for payment to FEMA for housing the evacuees. FEMA paid the hotel by mailing cheques.

An investigation into the requests for payment revealed, however, that the hotel had billed FEMA for guests who either did not stay at the hotel, or had left the hotel and found a permanent residence, the report said.

The rooms that were supposedly occupied by these evacuees were rented out to non-evacuee guests, or were occupied by the defendants’ family members.

Of course, it is wrong to generalise because there must be millions of Indians who offer an exception. Of course, we are all in it for the money and money is what makes the world go round. And of course, there are bigger scams than these. But is the ability and determination to take people for a ride and the desire to get rich quick even in the face of death, despair and disaster a particular Indian trait?

Is corruption, pardon us for putting it so bluntly, in our genes—so much so that even if you take an Indian (or two or a million) out of India, it is impossible to take the essential Indian buddhi out of him?

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru: naive and romantic?

28 June 2007

India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has been called many things by his detractors—and he still is called many things by his detractors—who blame him for  most of India’s ills. But, on top of all that, was Nehru a “naive and romantic statesman” too?

Recently declassified documents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offer a snapshot of how American policy makers and intelligence officials perceived Nehru, especially in the light of the border dispute with China, and the adjectives are not very flattering.

“Hindi Chini, bhai bhai,” may have been the slogan on the lips, but the documents show that the Americans felt Nehru was being taken for a ride—and that he was either unable to see he was being taken for a ride or unwilling to concede that was being taken for a ride.

The documents make two chief points:

# That Nehru kept disgreements on the border dispute out of the public realm to maintain his friendship with China and its premier Zhou-en-Lai.

# That Zhou played on Nehru’s “Asian, anti-imperialist mental attitude, his proclivity to temporize.”

CHURUMURI POLL: ‘President’ Patil, a disaster?

28 June 2007

It seems unfair that the whole world should be piling on India’s first woman president to be, but here’s a simple question: Will Pratibha Patil as President prove to be an embarrassment to the country? Will the murder charges against her relatives and the defaultment charges against her bank cast a cloud over Rashtrapati Bhavan? Will her own gaffes on the purdah, on sterilisation, and her communicating with a dead guru steal the thunder from her? Will she forget the mudslinging and the shadow boxing? Will the Left have second thoughts on backing her?

Simply put, even conceding it was high time a woman was President, has the right woman been nominated?

A righthand legbreak ‘batsman’ bowls a googly

28 June 2007

Former Karnataka medium pacer Doddanarsaiah Ganesh joined the Janata Dal (Secular) on Wednesday in the presence of Mohammed Azharuddin, his first captain in the four Tests he played for India.

But it was Azharuddin who’s grabbing all the eyeballs. His sudden interest in the JD(S) and the promise of a Rs 10 crore donation to Ganesh have set tongues wagging as to whether there is more to this than meets the eye.

“Some national parties had invited me after I expressed interest in joining politics while announcing my retirement from the game. But it was “Ajju” bhai who advised me to join the JD(S),” Ganesh said.

He (Azhar) is like my elder brother… He has promised to give me Rs 10 crore for contesting the election,” Ganesh said. “I am a poor man. I have made name, not money.”

Azharuddin, while wishing his friend good luck, clarified that he has no plans to enter politics. “I request the media not to speculate anything.  There is nothing more or nothing less than this,” he said.

***

Question No 32 on the Election Commission’s FAQs reads, “What is the limit for expenditure for an Assembly constituency in the bigger States?”

Answer: The limit of election expenditure for an assembly constituency in the bigger states is Rs. 10 lakh. Even if H.D. Deve Gowda magnanimously puts up Ganesh from a Lok Sabha constituecy, the expense limit is Rs 25 lakh.

So is Azhar giving Ganesh Rs 10 crore to fight an election? Or is this advance booking for something else? What?

For the doyen of downtrodden, assets is all Maya

28 June 2007

The Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati has filed her latest declaration of assets and liabilities, and it provides conclusive proof—if proof were ever needed for something so conclusively proven—that Indian Politics was, is, and will always be a growth industry for its practitioners.

Before the 2004 elections, Mayawati had declared assets of a little over Rs 1.67 crore. These included Rs 42.44 lakh in cash, bank balance and ornaments, plus residential buildings worth Rs 1.25 crore. These buildings were all in Inderpuri colony of Delhi where her parents live.

In three short, sweet and profitable years, Mayawati’s assets have grown 30 times—3000 per cent!—to Rs 52 crore. The cash has grown to Rs 50.27 lakh, bank deposits to Rs 12.88 crore, jewellery to Rs 50.87 lakh, and property to Rs 36.84 crore.

If she weren’t Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Bangalore’s software companies would be falling over each other to have her as their CFO.

Mayawati’s new properties are all in posh areas. Two in New Delhi’s commercial hotspot, Connaught Place, another commercial property in Okhla, one house on New Delhi’s Sardar Patel Marg, and another on Nehru Road in Lucknow. The actual worth of these properties may be much more than that shown in the affidavit.

A career-politician is a career-politician for nothing. And Mayawati’s explanation for the jump in assets is proof.

These were acquired with money given by her party workers who were agitated after she was “framed” by the BJP in the Taj Corridor and the disproportionate assets case. She said her new acquisitions were in the record of the Income-Tax Department.

The doyen of the downtrodden is angry because the details have become public. Pity the poor lady: she can’t even blame an “upper class conspiracy” for it.

Also read: How poems can fetch a poet Rs 8.5 crore?

Congrats: Medicines were cured of your disease

28 June 2007


MADHUSUDHAN S. RAO
forwards an ayurvedic centre’s all-inclusive publicity campaign. OTOH, you can laugh at the fantastic claims and the imaginative use of the English language. OTOH, you can marvel at the durability of the ancient medicinal system and those who propagate its efficacy against great odds in this day and age.

Should a President rub shoulders with godmen?

27 June 2007

Either we are in the most well-directed campaign to derail Pratibha Patil‘s presidential hopes. Or the Marathi mulgi is truly gifted with a gab that will ensure that journalists earn every bit of the bread they make during what promises to be a long and colourful presidency.

First, her comments on the purdah caused a flutter among historians. Then, it was her Emergency-era statement that those who have hereditary diseases should be sterilised. But both those now pale in front of the big one, which CNN-IBN unveiled last night.

Apparently, three months ago, Pratibhatai claimed that she had a ‘divine premonition‘ of greater responsibility coming her way while communicating with her spiritual guru who passed away 38 years ago.

“I had a pleasant experience,” Patil told a gathering in Mt Abu in February recounting her meeting with the head of Brahma Kumaris World Spritual University, Hridaymohini, also popularly known as ‘dadiji.’

Dadiji ke shareer mein baba aye (Baba came in Dadiji’s body),” she said. Her reference was to Dada Lekhraj who founded Brahma Kumari sect. Lekhraj died in 1969. Patil claimed the late Baba spoke to her indicating that she should be prepared to shoulder greater responsibility.

“He also made me very lucky,” she added.

***

Maybe, it’s unfair to target Pratibha Patil for her links with the Brahma Kumaris or its chief. After all, if even a scientist like A.P.J. Abdul Kalam didn’t have any problems in rubbing shoulders with godmen and godwomen—Saibaba, Mata Amritanandamayi, et al—why should Pratibhatai be immune?

Maybe, also, it’s her personal belief—a question of faith—and no one has any right to question it. But the problem arises when, instead of observing them behind closed doors, it is put up for public display, which most godmen and godwomen are experts are turning into advertisements.

An even bigger question is of propriety. Should the head of a State be seen sitting below a religious head? Should a President be seen in close proximity to godmen and godwomen, many of whom are sleazeballs using education and health as a cover for their nefarious activities?

Also read: VIR SANGHVI: The truth about Sabi Baba

An eleven-and-a-half point manifesto for President Kalam

Just because I’m a ‘tantri’ don’t expect me to…

27 June 2007

Kantararu Mohanaru, the controversial “junior” tantri (traditional chief priest) of the Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala—a man who has been linked to the Kannada actress Jayamala and who was barred from discharging his duties after being caught with a woman in a flat—has been appearing before a three-member inquiry commission inquiring into the irregularities in the Devaswom Board.

Today’s Deccan Herald has a captivating transcript of the proceedings:

Commission: Do you know Sanskrit?

Mohanaru: No.

Commission: Then how come you were an expert member in the board which interviewed priests?

Mohanaru: I gave marks only for the pujas.

Commission: Have you studied tantras and mantras?

Mohanaru: We have traditionally been…

Commission: Tradition and all are fine. Just because the father is king the son need not become king. Do you know the vedas?

Mohanaru: No.

Commission: Do you know the Veda mantras?

Mohanaru: No.

Commission: Do you know Bhagyasooktham?

Mohanaru: No.

Commission: Then how do you do pujas in Sabarimala?

Mohanaru: There, we don’t conduct pujas using these mantras.

Commission: Don’t you conduct Ganapathy Homam and other pujas there?

Mohanaru: I do it myself with some other mantras.

Commission: But isn’t Bhagyasooktham an essential element of Ganapathy Homam. OK, let it go. Do you know the star in which Ganapathy was born?

Mohanaru: No.

Also read: Should Yesudas be let into Guruvayur Temple?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should we purify temples?

‘Despite boom, Indian journalism is shrinking’

26 June 2007

The Indian media is getting bigger, fatter, richer, but is it getting any better? More importantly, does it have any possibility of getting better? These are evergreen questions. They have been asked before (recently by Martha Nussbaum) and will doubtless be asked again and again.

In the Columbia Journalism Review, Basharat Peer, a former rediff.com and Tehelka staffer and currently a fellow at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, weighs in with a scathing piece on the state of the media in India titled “Style over substance”.

And the ills he lists are all too familiar.

# The lack of space and resources for serious, well-researched long-form reportage

# The hollowness of the television bulletins with their anchors’ faux American accents

# The newspapers’ growing fixation with all things sexy, frivolous and glamourous

There aren’t too many to cover the grim suicides of farmers. But, says Peer, even the stuff that occupies the attention of Indian newspapers—the billionaires, the girls who win big at global pageants, the software success stories—they don’t do it well.

“It is no coincidence that foreign journalists produce much of the best journalism about the difficult issues facing India… Indian writers who are serious about doing in-depth journalism also must look to foreign venues to find a home for their work.”

Read the full article here: Style over substance

Cross-posted on sans serif

Should Karnataka review IT land allotment?

26 June 2007

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: The Andhra Pradesh government, according to a report in today’s Deccan Chronicle, has decided to stop rolling out the red carpet for Information Technology companies, as far as allotment of hundreds of acres of land goes.

Instead, the IT companies will be asked to put up units in existing IT Special Economic Zones.

“We suspect that some of the (IT) applicants have real estate interests and we are not going to encourage that,” an unnamed senior official has been quoted as saying.

“Small and medium enterprises need to invest huge amounts for bandwidth, network and connectivity, which they cannot afford in the initial stages,” said IT&C Secretary Shailendra Kumar Joshi. “They will get all these facilities on rent or lease in SEZs.”

Just what the provocation is for the move at this juncture is not known. Is it a fallout of the SEZ controversy in Nandigram and Singur? Is it a realisation that some IT companies have barely concealed real estate intentions? Or is it plain posturing on the part of the Andhra government?

More importantly, is it a case of locking the stable doors after the horses have bolted?

The Chronicle report suggests that some of the IT companies in that State were using land for arbitrage, especially in the so-called Tier-II and Tier-III cities. “Out of the 36 units which were given land in Vizag, 20 units started work only after the government threatened to take back the land,” Joshi is quoted as saying.

Should AP Govt’s decision be some sort of alert for other state governments? Should Karnataka, for instance, do a review of the land allotted to various IT companies in the past six years or so and see if the land has been used for the purpose they were meant for?

CHURUMURI POLL: Was Emergency good for us?

26 June 2007

It’s June 26. It was on this day 32 years ago that Indira Gandhi‘s government clamped the Emergency on the country. The excesses are well known: the suspension of democratic rights, media censorship, the forced sterilisations, etcetera. There can be little question it was/is the darkest period of the Indian Republic—when, in L.K. Advani‘s famous words, the media crawled when it was only asked to bend; when the high and mighty gladly played along with Sanjay Gandhi‘s goons.

But here’s a contrarian question to address: Is Indian democracy better off today because of the Emergency? Are we now more aware of our rights, and therefore more alert to any effort to circumscribe them? Are the judiciary and media more watchful because of the 1975 experience? Are our political parties and politicians more wary of exhibiting an authoritarian streak because of the fear of a backlash? Simply put, would we be as strong a democracy as we are today without having gone through those 22 months?

Related link: Where were you?

Are we talking of the President of India here?

26 June 2007

Bombay: The Shiv Sena has broken ranks with the NDA and pledged its support to the UPA’s presidential nominee Pratibha Patil. Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut said the party supported Ms. Patil as she was from Maharashtra. Sena chief Bal Thackeray said the party was constantly faced with the question whether it would support a “Hindu” or a “Marathi” candidate: “We are both Marathi and staunch Hindu.”

New Delhi: Former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh of the Congress was a surprise signatory to the nomination papers of Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekawat for the presidential poll. Singh said he backed Shekhawat because he was a “son” of Rajasthan.

Malayala Manorama is read by people who think…

26 June 2007

GIRISH NIKAM forwards the suspected reader profile of Indian newspapers. It’s an old list, sure, but still an interesting one if only because it shows how much some of the papers have changed—and how much some of our expectations from newspapers have changed—since the definitions were first thought up.

Please add new names and definitions to the list, especially of the language papers.

***

The Times of India is read by people who run the country.

The Statesman is read by the people who think they run the country.

The Hindu is read by the people who think they ought to run the country.

The Indian Express is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country.

The Telegraph is read by people who do not know who runs the country but are sure they are doing it wrong.

The Economic Times is read by the people who own the country.

The Tribune is read by the people who think the country ought to be run as it used to be run.

The Hindustan Times is read by the people who still think it is their country.

The Asian Age is read by the people who would rather be in another country.

Mid-Day is read by the wives of the people who run the country.

Wish good night to K.V. Kamath & his whizkids

25 June 2007

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: If a person is known by the company he keeps, how does one know a company?

Perhaps by the persons it employs?

Another day, another morning, and there is yet another story in the papers of an ICICI Bank customer, this time in Hyderabad, being mentally and physically roughed up by hired goondas of the Bank which, like so many other banks, outsources its defaults payment collection to a private firm and keeps its cost-conscious conscience clean.

Nothing surprising, maybe, to those who believe this is the only way of collecting dues in a land of compulsive defaulters like ours.

Nothing surprising, maybe, to most people who have become used to the strong-arm tactics of goondas who drive away defaulters’ cars at traffic signals.

And nothing surprising, maybe, to most people who have become helpless at the hands of the police and judiciary which conveniently look the other way.

Except…

Except that all the action of the white-collar thugs in this case was directed at Y. Yadaiah, a 42-year-old hapless Andhra government employee, who had borrowed a princely sum of Rs 15,000 from ICICI Bank, which last week collected Rs 20,000 crore in a Follow-on Public Offer.

And except—sorry to bother you with this small detail, Mr Kundapur V. Kamath—and except that the man passed away/ breathed his last/ died shortly after making a call to his wife stating that he would not be allowed to come home till he returned the Rs 15,000.

Yes, dead and gone. Probably because of the treatment meted out to him by the goondas. Probably out of humiliation. But yes, dead and gone.

ICICI Bank, of course, fantastically claims that Yadaiah himself had gone to the recovery agent’s office on his own to make the payment for the overdue instalments.

“We are informed that during the interaction with the representatives of the agency he felt unwell and requested to be accompanied to a doctor. We are further informed that the agency representatives had provided all possible support for his medical treatment.”

Yadaiah’s widow and the Police have a different story to tell. But no arrests have been made by the police despite the fact that the person died in illegal custody.

And no arrests have been made despite the tacit admittance of its guilt in the matter by ICICI Bank which, stung by the controversy—not genuine regret, remorse or other such human emotions—has announced a compensation of Rs. 15 lakh for the victim’s family.

Should not there be a law to tackle this goonda raj?

Is a loan—that is usually forced upon customers by credit card companies and banks—a ticket to torture and trauma (and death if one is less fortunate)?

And Mr Kamath and his whizkids who are so happy launching IPOs and FPOs and rubbing shoulders with the Prime Minister and other stars of the galaxy, we have just one question: do you sleep well at night?

Related story: Thugs’ recipe for loan recovery

‘Hi, I’m Deepak Thimaya, and I invite you to…’

25 June 2007

Deepak Thimaya, the man behind ‘Mysooru Utsava’—the “Fun for all, Mass entertainment, Unique variety artistic presentation,” as the ads shout—to be held from July 26-29, talks of the reasoning and rationale behind having an extravaganza so close to Dasara.

Thimaya, who hosts a popular interview-based programme on Udaya Television, also invites churumuri readers across the world to put on their thinking caps, and proactively contribute ideas and suggestions on how the four-day Utsava could be made even better.

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does Mysore need a Utsava?

‘Sterilise people with hereditary diseases’?

25 June 2007

The ink has barely dried on her nomination papers, but the UPA’s presidential candidate Pratibha Patil has shown that she has a fine ability to put both her feet in her mouth at the same time while seeming to appear unruffled.

First, she caused some palpitations in the hearts of historians and not a few secularists, by claiming that the purdah system had come into force because to keep rampaging Mughal eyes at bay.

Now, the Indian Express has produced assembly records to show that during the Emergency, Patil, as Maharashtra’s health minister, had endorsed a proposal to make family planning compulsory for all citizens:

“We are also thinking of forcible sterilisation for people with hereditary diseases.”

Admittedly, there is a bit of an agenda in all these quotes being dusted up, and sections of the media are playing along. And, maybe, the stories about her kin being accused of murder and the sugar factory of which she was a director defaulting on a bank loan, is part of the “dirty tricks”.

We could be speaking too early, of course, but could India’s woman president end up like George W. Bush, not quite known for her mot juste?

Not everybody is a loser in the Cauvery dispute

25 June 2007

Karnataka may have lost the Cauvery battle in the popular perception, but the lawyers representing the State won big because of the long-drawn dispute. A story by Chamaraja Savadi in today’s Praja Vani reveals that between 1990-91 and 2007, the State spent a grand total of Rs 22.10 crore on the 18 laywers who represented it at the apex court. That’s roughly Rs 1.22 crore per black coat.

Quoting documents procured by a Dharwad citizen, Krishna Joshi, using the provisions of the Right to Information, the story shows that, on the other hand, the State spent Rs 1.34 crore on the 10 advocates-general in the same 16-year period.

Anil B. Divan took home the lion’s share of the Rs 22 crore, with Rs 9.66 crore, followed by S.S. Javali (Rs 3.77 crore) and Mohan V. Kataraki (Rs 2.75 crore). Fali S. Nariman who has represented the State from very nearly the beginning of the dispute took Rs 2.08 crore.

The most inexpensive lawyer was Ashok Mathur whose services cost the State Rs 3,000.

The highest expense incurred by the State in the 16-year saga was in 2005-06 when it filed a review petition before the Cauvery Tribunal. The lawyers’ fees in that financial year was a grand total of Rs 5.19 crore.

Kataraki visited Bangalore 193 times to discuss the case with state officials, Javali 158 times, Shambhu Prasad Singh 138 times, Divan 46 times, Syed Naqvi 26 times, Nariman 19 times, Brijesh Kalappa 18 times, Ranveer Singh 14 times, and Sanjay Hegde seven times.

***

Rs 22 crore is small change for a dispute which has such wide-ranging ramificiations. Still, the usual questions pop up: for all the money spent, did the State get the best legal talent? Was it worth it? Did the five-star lawyers put their heart and soul into the case, or was it just another case for them? Judging from some of the numbers, was it in the interest of some of the lawyers to prolong the case?

A priest and a teacher in a study of contrast

25 June 2007

Jaipur: The decision of Mahant Gosvami Achutanand Maharaj, the high priest of the much-revered Baneshwar temple in Rajasthan’s tribal district of Dungarpur, to end his brahmacharya has sparked a row. The traditions of the over 200-year-old temple do not allow the heads to marry or lead a family life, although the founder of the Baneshwar dham Mavji Maharaj is said to have married four times.

Ranchi: After staging a novel protest for four years, a school teacher in Jharkhand has shaved his beard, cut his hair, and agreed to end his self-imposed celibacy. Shamim Barehar had vowed not to solemnise his marriage in 2003 demanding the construction of a road in his village. His protest bore fruit recently and construction of the Bade Thkurgaon road began last fortnight.

“Surely, you must be joking, Mr President?”

24 June 2007

The outgoing Indian head of state, Avul Pakir Jainulbdeen Abdul Kalam, has been a darling of the media. His hair, his “repeat-after-me” routine, his air and submarine rides, his telegenic effervescence, and not least the relatively easier access journalists have had to his little hut on top of Raisina Hill have endeared the cameras, in particular, to the People’s President.

It’s now the turn of Kalam to return the favour. In an interaction with editors and journalists of the newsagency Press Trust of India, the missile technologist has sought to convey that journalism is no rocket science by suggesting that the rapidly vanishing pocket cartoon be put back on the front pages of our newspapers.

“On the first page, when you see a cartoon, it puts a smile on your face. The rest of the news is about things like rape, theft and killing. The man or the child or the woman is happy to see the cartoon. You must bring back the cartoon on the first page,” Kalam said.

“A man or a woman should smile in the morning. Don’t make him or her unhappy.”

No one will grudge the Commander-in-Chief batting for the “Man from Matunga” epitomised by R.K. Laxman‘s pocket cartoon. At least we don’t. But notice that Kalam’s accent is not on the hard-hitting barbs of political cartoonists like Unny (The Indian Express) or Keshav (The Hindu) that takes the pants out of those making a monkey of us, but on the juvenile jokes that so many illustrators have been reduced to churning out at the behest of weak-kneed editors and publishers.

No one will find fault, either, with some of the other eminently logical and reasonable points he makes. That the media should not think that the world begins and ends at the geographical borders of Delhi, that more stories should be reported from the rural areas, that politics is not the be-all and end-all of journalism, that there should be greater accuracy. Etcetera.

But it is Kalam’s key point—made at other gatherings too in the past to the usual starry-eyed applause—that somehow the media is intentionally, deliberately, obsessively, subversively negative, and that it has to play the role of a rocket booster in making the reader feel good every morning that makes you wonder if what he is advocating isn’t a wee bit naive if not downright dangerous.

Something that could propel the rest of the media in the same, unfortunate direction of some newspapers that have made the gung-ho, India Shining, India Rising story their editorial policy, turned their publications into advertising tipsheets, and squandered the mandate and power to make a difference that their reach brings.

The PTI story of the interaction with the President quotes Kalam as saying success stories and positive news should be highlighted and that the media should act as a a motivator for people, particularly those hailing from rural areas.

“When atrocities, problems or misgovernance are reported, efforts also may be made in larger public interest to provide positive direction for improvement,” he said.

Sure, the President isn’t saying we should ignore death, disease, despair, corruption, crime, ineffiency and incompetence. But he is also saying that we should consciously make an effort at making the reader feel nice and good and happy.

Surely, that’s entertainment, not journalism?

And surely, that’s the job of advertising, not journalism?

No editor wants to turn his paper into a boring, “bad news” paper. No journalist ignores happy, unusual things—if and when they happen. And, truth to tell, the evidence of newspapers and journalists deliberately ignoring “good news” is thin, if not non-existent.

Indeed, on current evidence, can anybody argue that our papers are getting hopelessly frivolous?

Given such a situation, should we all be consciously, purposefully splattering sweetness, and an all-is-well-with-the-world view on our front pages every night just so that the reader wakes up nice and early and manages a smile, howsoever artificial, ephemeral and manufactured it may be?

Surely, the President of India knows better?

As it is the embrace of market-friendly, feel-good news has turned some of India’s biggest newspapers into an effete bubble in which venal politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, businessmen and other crooks and criminals eating into the vitals of our country safely, happily and incestuously cohabit.

Should the rest take Kalam’s advice seriously and turn their publications newspapers into entertainment? And at what cost to our democracy?

If anything, Kalam should be directly his barb at the party of the second part—namely, the politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, businessmen and other crooks and criminals eating into the vitals of our country. He should be exhorting them to do their job properly.

Then, maybe then, the media will have no incentive to highlight their graft and sleaze, their inefficiency and incompetence. And then, maybe then, there is a case for spreading some cheer. Till such time, Mr President—repeat after us—the Indian media is doing fine, thank you.

If anything, we must be doing more of what we are doing, not less.

Also read: ‘Why is Indian media so negative?’

Cross-posted on sans serif

Somewhere in the sovereign republic of Mandya

24 June 2007

SUNAAD RAGHURAM recovers in the nick of time to write: Having logged more miles on the Mysore-Bangalore highway in recent times than I can manage to remember, I inevitably drove past Mandya the other day.

The blinkered vision while at the wheel, and the ensuing boredom, intermittently driven away by ‘Raaaadio 91 Efffem’, never allowed me to really take in the sights and sounds of life around, beyond the immediate ten feet of asphalt in front.

But on my way back from the City which the world thinks is the panacea for all IT-related problems, the signal turned red on the main road in Mandya, as I negotiated my way through mindlessly strolling pedestrians, dogs, pigs and cows, not to speak of a variety of vehicles whose drivers seemed to think they ancestrally owned that stretch of road since the days when the foundation stone was laid for the dam across the Cauvery in Kannambadi!

Amidst the general chaos, I noticed a man riding a two-wheeler without a helmet. “Does he not have any respect for the helmet rule,” I muttered to myself. Then I noticed another. And another. And yet another.

It didn’t take long for me to conclude that two-wheeler riders in the entire “city” were going about life without a helmet on their heads.

As you can recollect, the helmet rule came into force in the four metropolitan cities of Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore and Hubli-Dharwad recently after much debate and discussion on the role of the metal fitment on the head in saving the skull in the event of an accident.

But by the looks of it, either the H.D. Kumaraswamy government is sure that the skull of the average ‘Mandyan’ has a reinforced cranium or the Mandyan himself thinks his brain has an extra set of neurons that scoffs at and pooh-poohs any time tested law at any given point of time.

There is surely something about the psyche of the average man on the streets of Mandya which makes him show scant regard for the rule of law. Be it not wearing a helmet or holding up the highway for hours on end for the most inane of reasons. A type of insouciance that is irritating, a kind of attitude that speaks so many things about the debased mental make-up of the citizenry in general.

It is so glaringly absurd and tragic too, that the law enforcers are turning the other way when a whole army of two wheeler riders move about town and criss-cross a dangerous highway without a helmet on their heads.

My mind goes back to the time when a childhood friend of mine did a year long stint as a civil engineer in Mandya. Tongue firmly in cheek, he once told me that he was rudely waved down by a policeman on the main road for having made the cardinal mistake of taking just one man on the pillion!

Mandya that is in India… tujhe salaam!

ps: I read somewhere that India will host a Formula Racing event some time in 2009. To paraphrase QSQTpie Juhi Chawla, ‘Kya country hai!’

Reality’s an illusion caused by alcohol deficiency

24 June 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN does everyday party birds like Sunaad Raghuram et al a favour by alerting us to the side-effects of you-know-what and the possible remedies for them in this made for you-know-what weather.

**

1. Symptom : Cold and humid feet.
Cause: Glass is being held at incorrect angle and you are pouring the drink on your feet.
Cure: Manoeuvre glass until open end is facing upward.

**

2. Symptom: The wall facing you is full of lights.
Cause: You’re lying on the floor.
Cure: Position your body at a 90-degree angle to the floor.

**

3. Symptom: The floor looks blurry.
Cause: You’re looking through an empty glass.
Cure: Quickly refill with your favorite beverage.

**

4. Symptom: The floor is moving.
Cause: You’re being dragged away.
Cure: At least ask where they’re taking you.

**

5. Symptom: You hear echoes every time someone speaks.
Cause: You have your glass on your ear.
Cure: Stop making a fool of yourself!

**

6. Symptom: The room is shaking a lot, everyone is dressed in white and the music is very repetitive.
Cause: You’re in an ambulance.
Cure: Don’t move. Let the professionals do their job.

**

7. Symptom: Your dad and all your brothers are looking funny.
Cause: You’re in the wrong house.
Cure: Ask if they can point you to your house.


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