Archive for August, 2007

Why the middle class is apathetic to politics

31 August 2007

Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, professor of comparative religion and philosophy at Lancaster University, in Prospect magazine

“The political apathy of the middle class owes something to the differences in the way 21st-century India and 18th/19th-century western Europe developed. Whereas the growth of free-thinking western bourgeois culture preceded universal suffrage, Indian democracy is nearly half a century older than the birth of an economically vibrant middle class.

“So, whereas fighting for political power was a crucial element of early western bourgeois culture, in India political rights were taken for granted and are now neglected by those who see their prosperity as a result of their own economic wherewithal. Politics for the middle class is an intellectual preoccupation, not an urgent ethical imperative. Polls routinely show that compared to poorer sections of society, the middle class treats voting and other political activity as low priorities.”

Read the full article here: India’s middle class failure

‘Who can give surety in life—or in death?’

31 August 2007

V. RAMAPRASAD in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, forwards a YouTube video for Camlin products, and asks: “Whatever happened to commercials such as these?”

‘Take big steps, urgent steps, fast-paced steps’

31 August 2007

SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI writes: Whenever I see P. Sainath walk, I am reminded of the opening line in the novel Bharatipura by the Jnanapeeth award-winning Kannada novelist U.R. Anantha Murthy.

Jagannath, the protagonist of the novel, is a young man in a hurry to implement his revolutionary thoughts, which he has picked up as much from his Marxist influence while studying abroad as from a sensitive observation of the ills afflicting the society around him.

The novel is set in that scenic part of Karnataka, which is lush green, receives plentiful rains and is criss-crossed by rivulets and streams. (Quite unlike many of the places that Sainath has written his stories of droughts and farmers’ suicides from.) Anantha Murthy, who has a vivid style of animating his characters, writes: “While walking, Jagannath does not negotiate the ponds; he hops across them.”

Anyone who has walked with Sainath knows that he does so with long and fast-paced strides, giving a clue to any gait-reader that he too is a man in a hurry, a man with a mission. When he types—and I have seen him do so with manic speed on his portable typewriter in the pre-computer era—it is the same thing.

It’s as if his thoughts, expressed in a distinctively combative method, cannot wait to appear on paper and impact the hearts and minds of the readers.

To tell them about widespread inequities in society, about rampant corruption in the system, about why ‘everybody loves a good drought’ (which is the title of his award-winning book, based on reports from India’s poorest districts) and why farmers are committing suicide in shockingly large numbers in Vidarbha, Telangana and other parts of India.

To tell them about how India’s agrarian economy, on which a bulk of our population still depends for its livelihood, is currently facing the worst ever crisis since Independence; and how successive governments aren’t doing much to face this crisis with sound policies and effective implementation.

Sainath does not write for the sake of writing, but to provoke the readers to think and to do something. Indeed, even to start thinking about the society around you is an important step in itself in the direction of ‘doing something’. And anyone who has read Sainath’s book or his subsequent newspaper reports from rural India would agree that there is an unstated message to the readers in all his writings: “Take big steps, take urgent and fast-paced steps, in doing something to change this unacceptable state of affairs.”

Sometimes Sainath exaggerates, overstates his point and all too often sees a complex reality purely in black and white terms. But this, too, I suspect, he does deliberately. Because the ‘black’ side of the reality hardly ever finds place in our print and electronic media.

For most newspapers and magazines, farmers’ suicides are no more than a statistic. They rarely ever tell the well-examined and closely observed story of the life of the poor and the dispossessed, of debt-ridden farmers whose despair reaches a point where life becomes unbearable, of the callous government machinery and the apathetic economic and political elite that smugly believes that it is not responsible for this tragedy.

The media are more interested in tracking BSE’s sensex than what Sainath has called the rising ‘Farmers’ Distress Index’. He argues, and rightly so, that this is happening because of the growing control over the media by the money power of corporate houses, both Indian and foreign.

It was Sainath who introduced me, in the mid-1980s, to the writings of radical critics of the American media. I was deeply influenced, in particular, by the power of a quotation that he frequently used to refer to—“Mass media without the masses”. It appears in the writings of Herbert Schiller, the acclaimed American media scholar, whose books (Mind Managers, Mass Communications and American Empire, Who Knows : Information in the Age of the Fortune 500, et al) are a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the deeply undemocratic hold of big business houses on the media and public discourse. It is this shared concern which prompted a small group of journalists and social activists in Bombay to come together, at Sainath’s initiative, to publish a journal called Countermedia. Brought out on a shoe-string budget, it sought to critique the writings in, and the internal functioning of, the big newspaper groups in India.

Sainath was then the deputy editor of Blitz, which was once the most widely read political journal in India. His room in the weekly’s office near Flora Fountain always presented a picture of chaotic order—full of books and paper everywhere, but suggestive of a person who used the facts, figures and ideas hidden in them to telling effect. Despite the pressure of deadlines, he always found time to interact with younger journalists from different publications in the city, guiding and encouraging them, something editors rarely do.

Some of the members of our group, all working closely with the CPI(M), were: Anoop Babani, who later joined Business India and was excellent in documenting, sifting and analysing information; Sudhir Yardi, a pure-hearted, music-loving professor at Wilson College, who, sadly, passed away a few years ago; and Dr Vivek Monteiro, a former scientist from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and a leader of CITU, the trade union wing of the CPI(M). Vivek, who certainly must rank among the most dedicated and committed political activists on this planet, provided the inspiration and guidance for so many other activities of our group. From nuclear disamament to mobilising people’s support on working class issues, we were all the time busy with some progressive issue or the other.

In course of time, I moved away from members of this group due to ideological differences. The distance got wider after I joined the BJP in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, I have always had the greatest respect for the social concerns and commitment of my former comrades.

Countermedia didn’t last long. However, on looking back and comparing the state of affairs in the Indian media then and now, the conclusion is inescapable that the control of big money—through ownership and advertising—has grown immeasurably in the past two decades. As a result, the worst effects of American-style corporate-controlled “mind management” can now be seen in India, too.

Just look at how much space in newspapers and magazines, and how much airtime on our TV channels, is devoted to the issues, concerns, problems, life experiences and aspirations of the poor and middle classes, especially those living in villages and smaller towns. Clearly, they constitute the majority—the ‘masses’, if you will—in Indian society. But how much are these masses represented in the metro-centred ‘national’ mass media? How many newspapers, barring The Hindu, have rural editors and regular reportage on rural realities? The answer to these questions points to the validity of Schiller’s critique, and also to the unique importance of what Sainath has been writing.

Therefore, when Sainath won this year’s Magsaysay award, it was not only a well-deserved honour for him personally, but also a much-needed recognition for the kind of people-oriented journalism that he has been valiantly torch-bearing. At a time when our newspapers and TV channels have decided that their raison d’etre is chiefly to advertise and eulogise the wasteful lifestyles of the super-rich, the award for Sainath is a reminder that there also exists another India, a vast geographical and social section of our country, which remains deprived and neglected, battered and betrayed.

In writing this tribute to Sainath, I must confess that I do not always agree with everything that he writes. Like most people in the Indian Left, he is prejudiced about Hinduism in general and the RSS-BJP in particular. Indeed, a rupture took place in my professional and personal relationship with him in the early 1990s when he left Blitz and I was invited by its legendary owner-editor R.K. Karanjia to take his place. By this time, I had got disillusioned with communism and developed strong doubts about the Marxist antipathy for anything Hindu.

By a strange coincidence, Karanjia, the grand old man of pro-left journalism in India, had begun to appreciate my strong nationalist and pro-Hindu affirmations on several issues, including the most important issue then dominating the national scene—the Ayodhya movement. I supported the demand for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya—and I do so even today. (Similarly, I have condemned the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and continue to do so even now.)

Sainath’s views on Ayodhya, Ram and the Ramayana were radically different and, in one of our discussions on the issue, he expressed his views rather sharply. Since then, we have hardly had any interaction. But that has not in the least diminished my admiration for him as a great writer and, more importantly, as a writer whose heart beats for the poor and the deprived.

Russy Karanjia, one of the most kind-hearted and genial persons persons I have come across in my life, would have been elated at knowing about his former deputy’s dazzling accomplishment. He would have greeted Sainath with his moustachioed smile, hugged him warmly, and called all his former colleagues for a cake-cutting ceremony. And I can imagine how much this would have meant for Sainath. Alas, in his current state of health, Karanjia, a nanogenerian, can barely recognise anybody. I pray for him, with gratitude.

I convey my hearty congratulations to Sainath on the prestigious recognition that he has won for himself and for his genre of journalism. As he receives the Magsaysay award in Manila today, 31 August 2007, we must, however, recognize that the space and scope for transformative journalism continues to shrink in India.

The power and influence of big money is growing not only on the media but also on the political establishment. This must be resisted and reversed. Mass media must belong to the masses. For this, the media’s ownership, internal structure and functioning must be democratized. It is a difficult task. The Left often behaves as if it alone can succeed in this task. It is a baseless, fruitless and arrogant belief. We will begin to succeed in transforming the media—and society in general—only if this becomes a broader national endeavour, one in which democratic and pro-change forces from different schools of thought come together, talk together, and work together.

(Belgaum-born Sudheendra Kulkarni was an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004. Apart from writing a weekly column in the Sunday Indian Express, he works closely with the BJP. Comments are welcome at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com)

Also read: Magsaysay Award for P. Sainath of The Hindu

‘Conventional journalism serves the powerful’

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In picture, Sainath receives the 2007 Magsaysay Award for journalism, literature and creative communication arts from the Philippines Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban in Manila on Friday.

Photo courtesy: The Associated Press/ The Hindu

Should papers, TV publish terror suspects’ pix?

31 August 2007

The police in Hyderabad, have released the “sketch” of the suspect (above) who they say was behind the bomb blastswhich killed several dozen people at an auditorium. The computer-aided sketch was then carried by all newspapers and television stations to help solve the crime.

It will be a happy ending, of course, when the guy bearing a likeness to the guy in the picture is caught and found to be the guy who planted the bomb. But what if he isn’t?

What if the wrong guy has been sketched, and what if there is somebody, alive and breathing, with a similar face? How right is it for the media to give full flight to the imagination of a “police artist” without breaching the privacy and civil liberties of that innocent individual?

In Hyderabad, as indeed in several Indian cases, an “artist’s impression” (with the words computer aided design thrown in for good measure) provides a convenient escape route should the wrong person feel the heat, “any resemblance with any person living or dead being unintentional and coincidental”.

In July this year, Mohammed Asha, a doctor of Britain’s National Health Service became the “human face” of the (failed) attacks on Glasgow Airport and London nightclubs when newspapers printed his picture on their front pages.

Ironically, though, Scotland Yard emailed editors of media organizations not to publish photos or artists’ impressions of people involved in the case, saying that identification of the suspects could be an issue in any trials. But at least two tabloids, The Sun and the Daily Mirror (above), ignored the request. The Daily Telegraph printed the picture as-is on its front page, but the Times pixellated the face, just as the BBC did.

In the world before 9/11, the fear of contempt of court prompted news organizations to only publish basic information like an accused person’s name and age, as well as the charge against him or her. But in the age of terror, those parameters seem to have collapsed.

Earlier this week, in Seattle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer refused to print a photograph of two suspects provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were spotted by employees of a local ferry service for “acting suspiciously”.

This is what the editor of the paper David McCumber said in defence:

“We have no confirmation that these men’s behaviour was anything but innocuous, and to forever taint them by associating them with terrorism under these circumstances is not consistent with our policy.”

It can be argued that publishing pictures is a duty of newspapers and TV stations in the “War on Terror”. After all, journalists are citizens first, journalists next, and have a bounden duty to protect a country. But what is the hit rate with such pictures? How many sketches do really end up catching the culprits? How many are just face-saving tactics, intended to deflect the heat from the police to show as if they are on the right track?

The case of Mohammed Haneef should be a signal lesson on how the media might like to go easy.

Cross-posted on sans serif

CHURUMURI POLL: Are Sikh turbans a risk?

31 August 2007

Sikhs in the United States have complained of “racial profiling” after a Sikh businessman was made to leave the screening line at an American airport and forced to remove his turban for a security check. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) avers that Sikhs are not being specifically targetted and that they were only enforcing a new policy, launched on August 4, that allows them to subject travellers wearing headgear to additional scrutiny. However, leaders of the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group, say the US government has “equated our most precious article of faith with terrorism”.

Questions: Are Sikhs right in complaining about the new law which was enforced without taking the 280,000 strong Sikh community into confidence? Should security agencies have the freedom to evolve laws as they deem fit to fight the war on terror, regardless of religious sensibilities? On the other hand, if a white man wearing a hat can also undergo the same scrutiny, does the Sikh have any reason to complain merely because his turban is a religious symbol? Is nothing sacred in the era of terror, and is racial profiling here to stay?

MUST WATCH: The best stats you’ve never seen

31 August 2007

# Is the gap between the rich and the poor widening?

# Can there be a uniform solution for all the problems of Asia and Africa?

# Is the internet flattening the world of the haves and havenots?

Watch global health professor Hans Rosling of the University of Karolinska, Sweden, (also an accomplished sword-swallower!) demolish most of the closely held myths of the so-called “developing world” in this extraordinary 20-minute presentation at the Monterey meet in California.

“The developing world is no longer worlds away from the west. In fact, most of the third world is on the same trajectory toward health and prosperity, and many countries are moving twice as fast as the west did.”

Watch the video here: TED: Ideas worth sharing

How our commies have their cake and hog it too

30 August 2007

An indelible image of the Modern Indian Communist Leader is the royal spectacle of “Comred” Prakash Karat and his lovely wife “Comrani” Brinda Karat at Mysore railway station a couple of years ago. Madame Karat had snugly settled into her pushback seat in the Bangalore-bound Shatabdi Express, and was already on her tiniest-of-tiny cellphone.

With just a few minutes to go before the train left the platform, the soon to be CPI(M) general secretary—soon to be “India’s Most Powerful Man“—stepped off the compartment. He was, of course, in a neat pair of Nike shoes. Prakashji returned in a few minutes with two bottles of Bisleri or Aquafina, but bottled water none the less.

A deluxe train, a sexy chifon, a slinky phone, sweatshop sneakers, and “mineral water”… As they say, the only Marxism that will survive forever is Groucho Marxism.

It’s an image that comes to mind reading the master wordsmith Sunanda K. Datta-Ray on the editorial pages of The Telegraph, Calcutta, producing a damning examples of Communist doublespeak as they strive to block the nuclear deal by jumping on the shoulders of the “common man”.

“Left Front members will go on posturing about the dangers of being drawn into America’s strategic embrace while its stellar characters play footsie with the US. I have mentioned before the Marxist mayor who approached the American consul-general to twin Calcutta with San Francisco so that he could officially visit his son who was studying there…

“Beyond that, the longer-term psychology of India’s complex about the US recalls William B. Saxbe, the US ambassador in the Seventies, saying, ‘When I call on cabinet ministers, the president, or governors, they all love to talk about their sons, sons-in-law and daughters in the US and how well they’re doing and how well they like things. The next day I read in the papers the very same people are denouncing the US as a totally different kind of country’.”

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Bonus questions:

1) Which couple, both communist party leaders, live in the unquestionably upmarket residence of a media mogul, whose company is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange?

2) Which communist party leader’s spouse works for the BBC?

‘Live’ and in colour, the sickness of a society

30 August 2007

NEW DELHI: A television sting operation has bared a lady mathematics teacher allegedly filming her girl students in a “compromising position”. The girls claimed that the teacher, Uma Khurana, was blackmailing them into prostitution by threatening to pass on the CDs to their parents if they did not cooperate with her.

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has barred the media from showing nude photographs of former actress Monica Bedi, said to have been taken by a camera hidden in the bathroom of the jail where she was imprisoned over a forgery case. Bedi, said the pictures shown by one TV channel violated her right to life and dignity.

CHANDIGARH: A former Congress minister’s grandson Ramneek Lal Sharma has been arrested for installing spy cameras in a house he rented to girls as paying guests. The first floor of the house reportedly had spycams installed in various places, including one in the bathroom. The cable of the camera was found linked to the television in Sharma’s bedroom.

Twice-bitten Sonia wants to catch ‘em young

29 August 2007

The first casualty of terror is trust. In this Indian Express picture, a security guard “checks” children who have come to tie rakhis on Congress president Sonia Gandhi outside her residence in New Delhi.

Photo courtesy: Anil Sharma/ Indian Express

God save IAS when a DC is as starstruck as a PC

29 August 2007

RANCHI: Bokaro Deputy Commissioner Praveen Toppo has been issued a show-cause notice after television footage showed him touching the feet of JMM President Shibu Soren when he reached Bokaro yesterday.

BOMBAY: R. Kalekar, a police constable has been suspended and eight others served notice for shaking hands with Bombay blasts convicted Sanjay Dutt upon his release from Yerwada jail in Poona.

CHURUMURI POLL: If there’s a snap election…

29 August 2007

The kerfuffle kicked up by the communists over the Indo-US nuclear deal has seen a flurry of opinion polls. While most respondents seem to think little of the left’s attempts to bat on their behalf, at least three polls have also sneaked in questions on how the controversy has changed the political scenarion in the country, and what might happen if there were to be a poll tomorrow or any day soon.

# An opinion poll (sample size 12,179) conducted across 120 constituencies by NDTV and GfK-Mode says Congress would win 185 seats, up from 145 in 2004; but its allies like the RJD would lose ground, so the UPA in total would only stand at 232 seats, up from the 2004 tally of 212. The BJP would win 116 seats, down 22; its allies would win 42, taking the BJP and its allies to 158, versus 180 in 2004. The Left would win 39 seats, down from the 64 it won in the last elections.

# A poll (sample size 6,500) conducted in 200 Lok Sabha constituencies in 20 States for The Week magazine by C-Voter says the Congress and the Left parties will lose big in the event of a snap poll, making it a neck-and-neck race between the two big alliances. The poll shows that the UPA is likely to end up with about 172 to 192 seats and the NDA with 178 to 198 seats.

# A poll (sample size 600) conducted by the Bombay newspaper DNA in association with IMRS says that in the event of a snap poll, 37 per cent of Urban India will vote for Congress and its alliance partners, while 27 per cent will vote for BJP and its alliance partners. 31.2 per cent of Urban India says it will vote for other parties. The Left Front bags less than 5 per cent (4.8 per cent) share of the vote, a majority of it coming from its traditional bastion of Calcutta.

Questions: Which party and which alliance do you think will benefit if there is a snap poll tomorrow? Will the Congress benefit as two of the polls seem to think? Has the BJP squandered a chance by being seen to be opposing the deal? Will it be a close race as another suggests? Will the N-deal be a poll issue at all?

Infographic courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta

Salman Khan & Ootaram. Pravin Mahajan & Dossa

28 August 2007

JODHPUR: Salman Khan is keeping himself busy in Jodhpur central jail reading the spiritual book God Speaks gifted to him by girlfriend Katrina Kaif. On Sunday, the actor met his parents, brother and sister, and Katrina, according to jailor Ootaram Rohin.

BOMBAY: Pramod Mahajan‘s brother, Pravin Mahajan, has meanwhile been giving English lessons to 1993 blasts’ accused Mustafa Dossa in exchange for good food and gutkha. Dossa complied till Mahajan asked him to facilitate a hot water bath. Dossa then had to show who the boss was.

CHURUMURI POLL: Is the “Indian team” Indian?

28 August 2007

The messy battle between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the Indian Cricket League (ICL) has entered the messy corridors of the judiciary, with the latter seeking to restrain the board from “intimidating” its players and interfering in its affairs. ICL doesn’t want the pensions of players who have associated with it to be affected, wants permission to conduct its matches in stadia across the country, and so on.

More interestingly, the ICL has hit the BCCI where it hurts most, by questioning its “national” credentials. It has urged the court to restrain BCCI from using the Indian flag as the board had admitted before the Supreme Court that it was a private body. In other words, ICL is seeking to suggest that the “Indian team” that the BCCI selects and sends out is far from Indian as it is only a team representing a conglomeration of private clubs.

Questions: Is the “Indian team” picked by the BCCI a truly Indian team? Are Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid representing India when they kiss the crest atop their helmets or are they only saying thanks to the BCCI? Should BCCI be barred from using the Indian flag? If BCCI’s team cannot be called an Indian team, what can be? Or is the ICL fishing in troubled waters, a bit like what Suresh Kalmadi of the Indian Olympic Association did a few years ago by threatening to send his own cricket team to the Commonwealth Games?

‘India is a nation of two planets: rich and poor’

28 August 2007

PALAGUMMI SAINATH, the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, who was recently named as a recipient of the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay Award, spoke to Sunil Sethi, the books editor of NDTV, over the weekend:

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What has changed in the last 10 years: “We are in the middle of the greatest agrarian crisis since the eve of the Green Revolution. We are seeing a collapse of agriculture; hundreds of thousands of people are leaving villages for cities in search of jobs which are not there; we are seeing a collapse and tanking of prices of cash crops which people were persuaded into growing; and we are seeing some of the largest numbers of suicides (112,000 in the last ten years) in our history.”

What is happening on the ground? “The ruled are no longer willing to be ruled in the old way, the rulers are unable to rule in the old way. People are far more conscious of their rights, and assert them more positively. The devolution of governance is a major advance as is the upsurge of the oppressed classes and castes. However, while there is a devolution of power at the village level, you have a huge centralisation at the global level. You have a WTO (World Trade Organisation) which makes sweeping decisions that crack at your agriculture. Your village sarpanch cannot handle that.”

The gaps are gigantic, and growing: “Who you are, where you are, and what you do matters a great deal in India today. If you belong to the top 10-15 per cent of rural India, or the top 15-20 per cent in urban India, you are experiencing a lifestyle you never dreamed of. If you belong to the bottom 40 per cent of either urban or rural India, you are experiencing a deprivation you never imagined. The gaps are just gigantic and they are growing. When the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGA) was launched, in Andhra Pradesh, in less than 7 days, 2.7 million people had queued up and given applications, included landed farmers.”

It’s not a cliche; rich are getting richer, poor poorer: “If you look at Forbes, the oracle of capitalism, India ranks 4th in the number of dollar-billionaires, after America, Germany and Russia. More recently, some gentleman paid Rs 15 lakh to get a preferred number for his cellphone. Yet, we rank 126th in human development, behind Botswana. The average farm household’s monthly per capita expenditure is Rs 503 out of which 60 per cent is spent on food, and 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear.”

Our definition of poverty is a farce: “Our definition of poverty excludes education, health and sanitation… Hunger keeps rising, food per capita available keeps falling, unemployment keeps rising, migration keep rising, but poverty keeps falling. It is as if poverty has a separate existence, independent of food intake, lifestyle, employment and education.”

We are eating less under liberalisation: “In 1991, the food grain available per Indian was 531 grams per day. In 2005, it had fallen to 437 grams. Meaning, the average Indian is consuming 100 grams less per day than he did 10 years ago at the cusp of liberalisation. On the other hand, you and I are eating better now than we ever did. It raises the question, what the heck are the bottom 40 per cent eating?”

The basic inequality of our society remains: “The four or five basic issues of Indian society have never been resolved. Today, we can get an SEZ (special economic zone) cleared in six months; we have not managed land reforms in 60 years, except in three States. We not have resolved tenancy reforms, regional issues, or caste. Basically, the unequal nature of our society has changed only for the worse. It’s like building a penthouse on the 50th floor without a foundation.”

Healthcare has gone for a toss: “Of the monthly per capita income of a farm household, which is Rs 503, Rs 34 is spent on health and Rs 17 on education. Over 200 million do not seek medical attention because they simply cannot afford it. This is the same country that boasts of medical tourism, and hands out of billions of rupees to corporate hospitals on the promise of reserving 30 per cent of their beds for poor people which they never do.”

Not two nations, two planets: “The urban poor are rural poor who have migrated. We are pushing people to cities but not designing cities to accommodate them. Those who come from the villages are neither farmers nor workers. They are the in-betweens, domestic servants and the like. It is no longer a two-nation divide, it’s two planets. Vastly different lifestyles, vastly different living standards, and vastly different levels of stress and distress.”

Photograph by Sadanand Menon

Also read: Will private agriculture colleges kill our farmers?

Death, be not proud at who you consume

27 August 2007

The father of Irshad Ahmed Shaikh, an engineering student who perished in Saturday’s bomb blasts in Hyderabad, vents his grief in Bombay.

Photograph by Agence France Presse/ The Telegraph

CHURUMURI POLL: Should POTA be brought back?

27 August 2007

Saturday’s bomb blasts in Hyderabad, just months after a similar attack in that City and in Bombay, have resulted in our political parties taking their usual positions. The BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu has said the continuing terror attacks inside the country were a direct result of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) not being in force, and L.K. Advani has said the terror attacks could have been prevented if “tough anti-terror laws” were in place.

On the other hand, the Union home minister Shivaraj Patil has asserted there is no question of bringing back POTA, which was allowed to die a quiet death by the United Progressive Alliance government. “There is no guarantee that such incidents would not have occurred if this legislation had been in force. Such incidents, in fact, took place even after POTA was brought in, he pointed out.”

Questions: Should POTA be brought back? Did POTA play a role in curbing terror or is its utility being overstated? Was the UPA decision not to renew POTA politically motivated to “appease the minorities”, as the BJP claims, or was it a fair move given its widespread misuse? Is the introduction of “tough, anti-terror laws” which places individual freedom and civil liberties on the backburner OK if it makes India terror-free?

Nofors, Dumbfors, Looney, Moony and Sorryn

27 August 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I was watching the media coverage of Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan which looked like an overdose of Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes stories. The story was fascinating with one coming out and the other may be about to go in. It was all getting mixed up, as I dozed off…

The Indian Bureau of Investiagation (IBI) lawyer Nofors landed in Chile wearing a Mac in the murky weather. It was a long flight, his body weary to the bones due to lack of sleep. But what the hell, he was there to nab the most wanted man and it is well worth the effort. Nofors looked at his deputy Dumbfors who had packed all the papers required for the job.

Next morning before they drove to the Chilean High Court, Nofors enquired whether all the papers were in order. The deputy held out a small black attaché case. Everything is in there. While personally handing over the documents at the Airport, the IBI chief told Dumbfors not to mess up the case once again and get the Italian this time.

As the court was called to order, the judge asked the honorable Indian attorneys to present all the documents including the bond. Nofors motioned Dumbfors to take them out. Dumbfors opened the attaché case and handed over the documents to the Court Assistant to be passed on to the Chief Justice.

As he glanced at the papers, the CJ knit his eye brows shook his head and asked the Assistant to read out the contents. Since the Assistant had not seen anything like that before, the CJ asked the senior attorney if he could make some sense of what was written.

When Nofors looked at it, he found everything in Hindi. Naturally, Delhi had goofed yet again. They do it every time without fail. “I have to translate the whole damn thing to English. Let me start. What’s this? They are talking of murder. The papers are relating to Sorryn. Who is this chap, Sorryn? Why don’t we have the right papers for extradition of the Italian?”

As he was struggling to make sense of the whole situation, the CJ adjourned the court asking them to file the translated papers in the afternoon.

Meanwhile in a session’s court in Jharkhnad, IBI lawyers Looney and Moony were ready to file their investigation papers on Bambu Sorryn. Here too, Moony, the deputy, had received the papers from the Chief himself, as he was just getting in to his car to go to the court. They handed over the papers to the judge.

The judge after scanning the papers asked them why they can’t write in simple English. Papers back to court Assistant. Luckily, the court Assistant who was learning foreign language in his spare time identified the language as Spanish and said it was addressed to the Chief Justice of High Court in Chile and it related to some extradition case and not to the murder case which this court was seized with.

Here too, the judge adjourned the court with a warning to the lawyers to come back with right papers.

In the evening there were calls from the IBI chief to his lawyers in Chile and Jharkhand. He was mad at his lawyers and banged the table hard when informed the IBI had lost and the courts had thrown out the cases!

The TV remote had fallen off my lap.

I saw on TV Salman was on his way to Jodhpur for surrendering to the court. I marveled at the remarkable similarity between reality and my dream!

Why the Maruti Zen is (was?) India’s roomiest car

25 August 2007

The scion of the erstwhile royal family of Mysore Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar extricates himself out of his chariot in the run-up to the elections of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) in Bangalore on Saturday.

In the run-up to the 2004 general elections, Wodeyar, a former Member of Parliament from the City of Palaces, declared that all he had in his family garage was a Maruti Zen, J.D. Power please to note.

Also read: No car, no car, no car, yell nodi, no car

‘Trivialisation is the leit motif of Indian media’

25 August 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Trivialisation and dumbing down of news with the lowest common denominator in mind are becoming the order of the day in Indian media in the name of giving audiences what they like.

Given the ferocious competition for eyeballs, newspapers and TV stations seem bent upon extracting “tactile responses” by increasingly (endlessly and disturbingly) focusing on celebrities and their frivolous acts, actions and activities.

On the other hand, what can relatively be considered far more serious news—developments which could have a long-term impact on our democracy—are barely being given the same kind of push.

To understand, all we need to do is look at how differently the following two sets of events have been covered in recent weeks.

Set A

1. Actor Sanjay Dutt sent to jail for possessing an AK-56.

2. Actor Salman Khan likely to go to jail for killing black bucks.

3. Actor Amitabh Bachchan forced to return land since he is not a “farmer”.

In all three cases, the reactions from the media has been to overreact and go overboard. There has been 24×7 coverage in front of their homes, at workspots, courts, and outside jails. There have been interviews with their friends and relatives. Media barons and shark-like editors have been yelling: get the story, the scoop and the shots.

Set B

1. Former Union minister Shibhu Soren released for lack of evidence of murdering an assistant.

2. Italian business Ottavio Quatrocchi slips out yet again in the Bofors case because the wrong papers were filed by the CBI, because of lack of incriminating evidence.

3. Sonia Gandhi‘s daughter PriyankaVadra is to buy ‘farm land’ in Shimla next to the mansion of a former President Of India after the Himachal Pradesh government bent all the rules.

In Set B, the media response has been low key. Sure, they have covered the news, but where are the reactions from media stalwarts such as Vinod Mehta, Shekar Gupta and M.J. Akbar? Where is the analysis? Where are the biting editorials? Where is the blanket coverage of what these issues mean? Why the ‘studied’ silence?

It may well be that audiences relate well to news about people they “know” than those they don’t. It may also be that audiences are more interested in knowing what happens to them. But it’s a chicken-and-egg syndrome. Would audiences have known as much about their travails if the media hadn’t covered them the same way in the first place?

What are we coming to as a media democracy?

Cross-posted on sans serif

Say hello to the chief, the Hindu Hriday Samrat

25 August 2007

CNN-IBN aired a programme last night on the findings of the Justice Srikrishna report into the Bombay “riots” of January 1993 being put in cold storage despite the mountain of evidence available against its perpetrators. And the accompanying story by Ruksh Chatterji of a brave journalist who stood up and deposed against the commander-in-chief of the pogrom, Bal Thackeray, is telling.

Bombay: The role of the Shiv Sena is clearly proven in the 1993 Bombay riots, but there is one testimony that proves that Bal Thackeray coordinated much of the January carnage that Bombay Mumbai witnessed in 1993.

Says witness Yuvraj Mohite: “Balasaheb baithe they aur jagah jagah se unko phone aa rahe the aur woh halat poochke bolte the , ‘Maro unhe, kaat dalo. Unko Allah ke pas bhej do’. Balasaheb was sitting and he was getting calls from various places. He would ask what was happening at that particular place (from where he got the call) and then he would say, ‘Kill them. Send them to Allah’.”

 

On the night of January 8, 1993, when the Sena chief Bal Thackeray sat in his home controlling the mobs that set Bombay on fire, journalist Yuvraj Mohite was present at the Thackeray residence.

Mohite watched as Thackeray ordered his Sainiks like a commander, to riot, burn, loot and commit mass murder.

This is what Bal Thackeray said in February ’93 after the riots: “I am proud of what my boys have done. We had to retaliate and we did. If it was not for us, no one would have controlled the Muslims.”

What he saw at the Thackeray home, left Mohite stunned.

“Main yeh sab sunke baukhla gaya tha (I was stunned after hearing all of this),” says Mohite.

And Yuvraj Mohite wasn’t alone. Another man, Chandrakant Handore, then Mayor of Bombay and now social Justice Minister in the Congress-NCP government, is the one who took Mohite to the Thackeray home, and then told him to forget what’d he’d seen.

“Handore ne mujhe bola ki tum yeh sab bhul jao. Balasaheb to aise hee hain. Aur maine bola ki mein yeh kisi bhi halat mein nahin bhool sakta (Handore asked me to forget it all, Balasaheb is just like this. I said that I can never forget this under any circumstances.)”

However, Handore now claims he never saw Thackeray giving orders.

“Jab kuch hua hi nahi tha to main kaise kuch bolo sakta hoon. Aur maine kabhi Mohite ko nahi roka (When nothing of this sort happened how could I have said anything? I have also never stopped Mohite to speak),” says Handore.

With Handore claiming he had seen nothing, it was left up to the journalist to stand his ground. In his deposition before the Srikrishna Commission, Yuvraj clearly spelt out what Thackeray ordered:

# That not one Muslim be left alive to stand in the witness box.

# Asked his men to send the additional police commissioner, A.A. Khan, to his Allah.

# Ordered his men to retaliate to the Hindu killings in Jogeshwari.

It was this testimony that made the Commission indict the Sena chief.

Justice Srikrishna writes: “Even after it became apparent that the leaders of the Shiv Sena were active in stoking the fire of the communal riots, the police dragged the feet on the facile and exaggerated assumption that if such leaders were arrested, the communal situation would further flare up.”

And it’s Mohite’s testimony that helped the commission prove the Sena involvement. But what made him stand his ground?

“Jo maina dekha tha us se mein shock hogaya tha aur maine bola ki aisi baat jo maine dekhi hai use dabne nahi de sakta hoon (I was shocked at what I saw. I decided that something that I have seen I will not suppress it).”

Yuvraj Mohite’s testimony is a damning indictment of politicians like Chandrakant Handore and the then state government, which not only failed to save over 900 lives, but also didn’t have the will or the guts to put Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray in the dock.

Read the full story here: Balasaheb commanded rioters

CHURUMURI POLL: Have neutral umpires failed?

25 August 2007

In the second Test match of the ongoing series against England at Trent Bridge, Sachin Tendulkar was adjudged lbw by Simon Taufel even as the ball appeared to go well over the stumps while Sourav Ganguly was twice at the receiving end from Ian Howell. In the second one-day international at Bristol on Friday, Sachin was given out caught behind to Andrew Flintoff when the ball seemingly had only flicked the inside of his elbow.

Admittedly, cricket is “a game of glorious uncertainties”, and the fact that even the world’s best umpire can make mistakes—Taufel says he knew he was wrong the moment he saw the Sachin replay—is proof that human frailty can be, should be, one of them. But with so many mistakes now dotting the landscape, hampering individuals and teams, the question is: has the whole concept of an ICC elite panel of umpires become a joke?

Questions: Is India in particular being targetted by poor umpiring or is it just one of those things? Should we crib about lousy decisions or should we accept them in our stride as part of the game because, after all, it is just a game? Is there any better option available to ensure better umpiring? And, please will somebody reassure us that it is just a coincidence that India gets the rough end of the stick when Sri Lankan umpires (Ashoka de Silva) and referees (Roshan Mahanama) are in the middle?

‘To Save India, start with her hon’ble MPs’

25 August 2007

Mallika Sarabhai in The Times of India:

“The only thing that can make an impact is throwing 80% of those in Parliament into the sea,” said Mallika bluntly. “What ideology or integrity are we talking about? There’s hardly anybody who hasn’t been touched by corruption. India must be the only democracy where neta after neta and babu after babu has been publicly exposed as corrupt but not one has been stripped of his ill-gotten crores.”

Read the full article here: ‘Throw 80% MPs into the sea’

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Left withdraw support?

24 August 2007

Although they have been breathing fire and brimstone for a fortnight now, the first signs of a softening of the Left stand on the Indo-US nuclear deal have appeared. CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury has said that the Left wants to make sure that the terms of the deal are reworked so that no government—this one or any other—operationalises it in its present form. In other words, the party’s priority is not to pull down the government but the terms of the deal which it deems detrimental to India’s interests. And the CPI(M) central committee meeting has said it doesn’t want the “current crisis” to affect the Manmohan Singh government.

Questions: Will the Left withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government if the Manmohan government goes ahead as the prime minister dared it to, or is it merely posturing? Is the Left really batting for India’s interests by opposing the deal in its present form or is it blinded by its ideological position? Are the Congress and the Left parties merely trying to buy time since neither is ready for mid-term polls? And is the BJP, which initiated the deal, opposing the deal merely for the heck of it?

In the era of 0% interest, a bribe of Rs 0.0

24 August 2007

From Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad:

Coimbatore: Fifth Pillar India, an NGO set up to fight corruption, has printed over 200,000 zero-denomination notes that resemble Indian currency and has begun distributing them around the country. It is asking people to give the notes to anyone demanding a bribe.

The NGO launched its 30-day-30-district campaign, called “Freedom From Corruption”, on August 4 in Chennai and will end it on September 9. It consulted leading lawyers in Chennai before printing the “zero rupee note”, which resembles a Rs 50 note in colour and is slightly bigger than a Rs 1,000 note.

“Instead of the usual ‘I promise to pay the bearer a sum of x rupees’ pledge on a currency note, the replica will carry the pledge ‘I promise neither to accept nor give bribes,’” Fifth Pillar India president (operations) M. Vijayanand said.

As the note is being distributed across the country, the pledge is printed in the respective State languages. “The notes are aimed at sending across the message that enough is enough and we are not willing to pay any more bribes,” he said.

A software professional from the City who founded the NGO in Madras many years ago conceived the idea as he felt corruption was a big issue and the zero currency notes would drive home the message. He is currently working in the US and visits India now and then.

The zero rupee note does not carry any government symbols or emblems. The watermark, which is characteristic of a currency note, is absent and the notes are devoid of the signature of the RBI governor. A distinct circular seal on the notes states: “This is not a currency note.”

The notes are already in circulation in Visakhapatnam and Mumbai. A 24-hour call centre will be set up in Chennai to help people who need assistance dealing with corrupt officials or authorities. The call centre will empower the public to use the Right to Information Act. The service centre will register complaints on corruption and make sure that justice is served, Vijayanand added.

Role reversal: The captain & the prime minister

24 August 2007

T.V.R SHENOY on rediff.com

“It is a pity that Rahul Dravid and Dr Manmohan Singh couldn’t exchange places last week. The prime minister might have gone for the kill at the Oval, and the Indian captain might have left room for the Left to save face.

“The difference, of course, is that a Test series is little more than a sporting encounter, but the face-off between Prakash Karat and Dr Singh threatens utter paralysis in Delhi for at least the next two years…”

Read the full article: The left’s death of a thousand cuts


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