Archive for January, 2008

The buck stops here, here, here, here—and there

31 January 2008

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: Since the buck goes all the way to the top, those at the top cannot wash their hands off of what happens all the way down to the last man and woman. That’s the small but significant inference to make of a Supreme Court ruling, yesterday, permitting the prosecution of Hewlett-Packard managing director Som Mittal in the rape and murder of Pratibha Srikantamurthy.

When Pratibha, an employee of the BPO outfit HP Globalsoft had been abducted, raped and murdered by the driver of a cab hired by the company in December 2005, Mittal, then CEO of HP and now president of the industry umbrella body Nasscom, had arrogantly sought to behave as if neither he nor his company had any responsibility in the matter, since they had contracted out the transport of employees to an outside vendor.

“This has been a most unfortunate incident. It has nothing to do with the company. It is a stray, one-off incident. We are trying to strengthen the security for our employees in consultation with the police,” Mittal was quoted as saying by the New Indian Express.

When the metropolitan court in Bangalore, took cognisance of a complaint filed against Mittal, under sections 25 and 30 (3) of the Karnataka Shops and Commercial Establishments Act, 1961, for allegedly showing laxity in safety and security of women workers deployed in night shifts, Mittal moved the High Court.

When the HC ruled against him, Mittal moved the Supreme Court. With the SC ruling against him, Mittal will now have to appear in court where he will doubtless underline the watertight steps taken by the company to make the workplace safer but which had been unfortunately breached in the case on hand.

The apex court has not commented on the merits of the case, but in decreeing that the top man of the company cannot escape scrutiny even if the transport was being handled by lower lings and outside contractors, the SC has sent a silent but stern message: that companies and their helmsmen are responsible for the acts and actions of even those to whom they contract work when it involves their employees.

At one level, the SC ruling is a nice wake-up for BPO, IT and ITES companies across the nation which contract out non-core tasks to outside contractors. Diligent readers will fondly remember T.K. Kurien, the chieftain of Wipro BPO had chosen to similarly deal with the abduction and death of a young employee Jyoti Chowdhary in Poona.

At another level, it brings to the fore another touchy issue: where does the blame rest for the acts and actions of the hired goons of private banks, who physically rough up defaulters, mentally torture their relatives, and often times even cause the deaths and suicides? Like, for example, you-know-who.

Corporate chiefs detest being hauled up for acts of omission and lawlessness by their employees or agents but have no qualms in profiting from their actions. The SC ruling puts the onus of responsibility and accountability on the CEOs—something they are moving heaven and earth to avoid.

Also read: For Wipro, is rape and murder a Sigma Six number?

A bird in hand is better than two in the Bush

31 January 2008

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Indians don’t think much of Ricky Ponting for several reasons. His first tour was dogged by rumours of bad behaviour, his second tour was an embarrassment (he scored 11 runs). His on-field aggression strikes them as offensive, he spits into his palms and rubs them together (leaving desis to wonder how he gets people to shake hands with him) and not only does he look remarkably like George Bush, he behaves like him too.

“Bush invaded Iraq and then managed to get the invasion ratified by the United Nations. Anglo-American rhetoric about the legitimacy of pre-emptive war is similar to Australian cricket’s argument that bullying (so long as it wins matches) can be justified as robustness. ‘Hard but Fair’ in the world defined by Bush begins to read like ‘Shock and Awe’.”

Read the full article: Shock and awe

Stock brokers never wear bull bottom pants

31 January 2008

Brokers at the Bombay Stock Exchange are clamouring for vaastu experts to be brought in to change the direction of the bronze bull statue that has been erected at the footsteps of the BSE building on Dalal Street, reports the BBC. They say that the posterior of the five-foot-tall bull, installed on January 12, points towards the traders which makes it inauspicious. The installation of the statue has coincided with some of the worst falls in stock prices.

Photograph: courtesy Hindustan Times

***

“Angry when hungry”, AMAR NARAYAN forwards a picture of the Wall Street bull and brings some heartwarming, well, handwarming news:

“The New York bull’s rear end doesn’t seem to affect these happy tourists. I’ve even seen some over-enthusiastic tourists posing for photos with its brass balls in their hands.

“Directly behind this bull’s behind is a small park, beyond which is the beautifully constructed Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian (red ones, not brown). Earlier, it used to house the US Customs office. But I have no idea if they are/were suffering losses.”

Also read: Cheaper jet fuel at the Deve Gowda petrol bunk?

What the stars foretell for you—yes, you—this week

Bunt bird who soared from Manipal to Missouri

30 January 2008

She was born without hands and legs. She was just a day old when she was relinquished to a hospital in Manipal by her poor parents, Kalavathi and Shankar Shetty. She was rescued by an NGO, who called her Swapna. She was adopted seven months later by an American woman, who called her Minda Cox.

In Missouri, which became her new home, Minda rose above her disability to become an artist. Holding the brushes between her arm and cheeks, she showed that what you need to imagine and create is not what she didn’t have.

Nineteen years later, using the earnings from the sale of her paintings and accompanied by her adoptive parent Catherine Cox, she came in search of her biological parents, a reunion documented magnificently by Divya Gandhi and K. Gopinathan of The Hindu here, here, and here.

***

YOGESH DEVARAJ in San Jose, California, forwards a slideshow from the Springfield News-Leader that catalogues not just Minda’s art but her grit that’s helped her soar over her handicap.

“I like to draw because it’s a slow process and I can do it at my leisure. And I just love how I can kind-of just get lost in a drawing. It kind of represents me. I am resolute and I am growing, and I am getting out of all these stresses and all these barriers. And coming out and succeeding in reaching the goal. I am getting at the stresses, and getting at the I-can’t-do-it and proving to the world I can do it.”

View the full slideshow here: Artist Minda Cox

Photograph: courtesy K. Gopinathan/ The Hindu

‘Mahatmaji fell backwards, uttering Raam-Raam’

30 January 2008

G.N. MOHAN forwards an image of the original First Information Report on the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi this day, 60 years ago, as published by India’s first woman IPS officer, Kiran Bedi, on her website.

Written in Urdu and Persian, the FIR records the statement of Nand Lal Mehta, an eyewitness to the murder.

“Today I was present at Birla House. Around ten minutes past five in the evening, Mahatma Gandhi left his room in Birla House for the Prayer Ground. Sister Abha Gandhi and sister Sanno Gandhi were accompanying him. Mahatma was walking with his hands on the shoulders of the two sisters. Two more girls were there in the group. I alongwith Lala Brij Kishan, a silver merchant, resident of No. 1, Narendra Place, Parliament Street and Sardar Gurbachan Singh, resident of Timar Pur, Delhi were also there. Apart from us, women from the Birla household and two-three members of the staff were also present. Having crossed the garden, Mahatma climbed the concrete steps towards the prayer place. People were standing on both the sides and approximately three feet of vacant space was left for the Mahatma to pass through. As per the custom the Mahatma greeted the people with folded hands. He had barely covered six or seven steps when a person whose name I learnt later as Narayan Vinayak Godse, resident of Poona, stepped closer and fired three shots from a pistol at the Mahatma from barely 2 / 3 feet distance which hit the Mahatma in his stomach and chest and blood started flowing. Mahatmaji fell backwards, uttering “Raam-Raam“. The assailant was apprehended on the spot with the weapon. The Mahatma was carried away in an unconscious state towards the residential unit of the Birla House where he passed away instantly and the police took away the assailant.”

Read the full FIR here: KiranBedi.com

Also read: The greatest advertising guru of all time?

Heat, dust, haze, noise, fireworks & damp squibs

30 January 2008

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Breathless chatter and cacophony have become the leit motifs of the modern Indian media echo chamber, regardless of the issue on hand. But is there any illumination when the fireworks go off in the studios? Do we know anything more than we did? Or is it all dust, haze and hype?

A good example is what has been dubbed the paryaya row in Udupi.

For close to a month, we were subjected to end-is-nigh coverage. Articles, pictures, interviews, piece-to-cameras, studio discussions, speculation, rumours, were all dished out in a dizzying flurry by newspapers, TV stations and websites such as this one. The day of reckoning, January 18, has long come and gone. Are we any wiser?

The paryaya row was and is a matter pertaining essentially to the Ashta mutt, the family of eight mutts in the temple town, who, according to a more than 700-year-old tradition established by the proponent of the dwaita philosophy Madhwacharya, get a turn by rotation every two years to perform the pooja of Lord Krishna.

The issue was whether Sri Sugunendra Swamiji of the Puttige Mutt, whose turn it was to assume the peetha in continuation of the tradition, had earned the disqualification to do so because of the foreign trips he had undertaken, which is a taboo for the ascetics belonging not only to dwaita but also to adwaita and vishisthadwaita schools too.

In a manner of speaking, it was a family matter. It was up to the family members to sort out the issue, since it involved the interpretation of the code of conduct for the ascetics.

Besides it concerned only one Brahmin community, namely the followers of Madhwacharya, since Udupi happens to be lone pilgrim centre where Madhwa traditions are followed. The resolution of the issue either way would have hardly impinged on the right of the visitors to have the unhindered darshan of Lord Krishna.

But wittingly or otherwise, the media went for the overkill and the proactive stand taken by it blew up a small matter into a major controversy, distorting it beyond imagination.

It got projected into a blazing controversy over the issue of foreign travel of the seers per se, and/or as a tussle between the Puttige seer and the venerated Pejawara swamiji, Sri Visvesha Teertha, who, as the seniormost of the pontiffs, was trying to voice the opposition to maintain the tradition.

Efforts were also made to paint the venerable nonagerian swamiji, the most visible face of the social reforms in the community, as the villain of the piece, who was trying block the Puttige seer’s ascension by sticking to outdated traditions. This was persisted with even after the swamiji made it repeatedly clear that sticking to tradition in the performance of the pooja at the Krishna temple had nothing to do with social reforms or modernism.

The upshot of all this was a public debate that raged across the State and beyond the seas, with everyone beginning to offer gratuitous advice to the swamijis.

May be the campaign was aided and abetted by the protagonists and antagonists of the Puttige swamiji. But was the media justified in swallowing everything hook, line and sinker, and allow itself to be used by the interested parties?

A few direct questions to the Puttige and Pejawar swamijis, could have put the matter in proper perspective, would have pricked the bubble of the controversy. But the media with its fetish for keeping the controversy alive was certainly not prepared to give up the opportunity, deliberately or otherwise.

When the Puttige swamiji suo motu assumed charge in wee hours of January 18, with the seers of the remaining mutts staying away, even as a couple of swamijis including the Pejawar seer ended the three-day hunger fast on the afternoon of that day, the media went to town describing the event as historic, and as a victory for the dogged Puttige swamiji.

But in reality it was not so. The Puttige swamiji has not been able to touch the idol, which was the bone of contention, and has been performing the pooja from a distance, with some colleague-seers pitching in to help him out in the performance of the duty. But you don’t hear too much of that in the media, do you?

The media has never been known to admit that it has tripped. Undeterred, it has now turned its spotlight on the efforts to bring about a written code of conduct among the swamijis. The outcome of such efforts has hardly any bearing on the people visiting the temple-town. But the media remains unwavering in its pursuit of one more headline.

Also read: Should swamijis go abroad?

Corruption OK. Massacres OK. Romance not OK?

29 January 2008

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Like a kaleidoscope, you can view the “revelation” of the half-century-old S.M. Krishna-B. Saroja Devi fling, and the spat at the book release in Mysore yesterday, any which way you like, and it will still make a lot of sense.

# Those who like media will say the messenger is being shot as usual. Those who dislike the media will see it (as Gagan K. already has) as a sign of the media going haywire in the mad quest for eyeballs and readers.

# Those who like Krishna will see it as an attempt to derail his reentry into Karnataka politics. Those who dislike him will see it as proof, full and final, that the man was up to no good even if it was 55 years ago.

# Those who like H. Vishwanath will see it as an attempt to prevent him from telling the truth. Those who dislike him will see it as a pre-poll stunt; just what the doctor ordered to boot him out of the Congress.

# Those who like the rich and powerful will see it as an attempt to tar brush them as being weak in the loins. Those dislike them will see it as a sign of how trophy wives and girlfriends have become an accepted norm.

# Those who like freedom of speech will see it as proof of how intolerant we are becoming as a nation. Those who dislike others using their freedom will say this is what happens if there is too much freedom.

In a way, each of those points of view, and possibly many more, are correct. But here’s a contrarian view worth pondering: is it just possible that the much reviled Janata Dal (Secular) is more tolerant of scrutiny and criticism than the much revered Indian National Congress?

***

To understand the irony, compare the reaction to the Krishna-Saroja Devi “romance” being made public with the reaction to the dalliance of H.D. Kumaraswamy with movie star Radhika being made public.

H. Vishwanath says he himself had the conversation with Krishna four years ago. Krishna’s wife Prema, and his brother S.M. Shankar, have both confirmed that there was talk of a marriage proposal for Krishna with Saroja Devi 55 years ago. Saroja Devi herself does not deny the affair. And Krishna has threatened to sue Mid-Day for the morphed photograph not the story.

In other words, there is more than a grain of truth to the story.

Yet, Congressmen owing allegiance to Krishna go on the offensive, without reading the book, without understanding the context, without verifying its veracity, and stall its release. Why is it so difficult to swallow a grain of truth for Krishna’s henchmen like D.K. Shiva Kumar and D. Made Gowda, when the chief players in the drama, Krishna included, are comfortable with it?

And this in a party that makes no effort to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru‘s dalliance with Edwina Mountbatten.

On the other hand, look at l’affaire Kumaraswamy-Radhika.

Kumaraswamy, at 48, is a full 28 years younger than Krishna. Unlike Krishna, HDK’s political future is ahead of him. For the better part of the last two years and more, there has been all manner of speculation in the Kannada weekly tabloids of his proximity to Radhika, the daughter of a Mangalore kabab-maker who acted in a few Kannada and Tamil films.

Did HDK buy her a house worth Rs 12 crore in Dollar Colony? Was he “relaxing” in the house, as chief minister, just before it was raided by income-tax men? Did he frequent her father’s house in Katriguppe? Did she get the Chamuni Hill temple manager transferred using her political connections? Did he make a midnight trip to a Mangalore hospital to call on her? Was she pregnant then? Has she given birth to a son in London?

These and other unsubstantiated tidbits have been merrily been thrown by a salivating media, including churumuri, even though Kumaraswamy has much more to lose by the negative publicity than Krishna. Yet, there has been no frenzied reaction from HDK or his JDS supporters. No blocking of roads, no throwing of flower pots, no manhandling.

What little protest has come has come via a series of defamation case filed by supporters of former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda at the film “Mukhya Mantri I love you‘ being made by Hi! Bangalore editor Ravi Belagere. There was a dharna at the offices of the tabloid, but none of the vandalism and hooliganism of the Congress.

What does it mean?

That Krishna’s supporters are more careful at guarding his image and perception than HDK’s? That HDK has given up hope of being chief minister again and doesn’t care about voters seeing him as being bigamous? That, for all their rough and tough ways, the JDS men are more open, democratic and tolerant?

Or is this a “class” thing?

Here’s an even bigger irony: Congressmen aren’t overly concerned about their leaders being held guilty of taking part in massacres and killings and riots; they are not bothered about their leaders charged of corruption, of hobnobbing with the underworld, of taking cash from counterfeiters.

But somehow, a very normal, natural romance with a member of the opposite sex, one which both parties grudgingly admit, even if it was 55 years ago, gets them all hot under the collar. Why?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

An old flame ignites the media’s insensitivity

29 January 2008

The release of former Congress minister H. Vishwanath‘s autobiography Halli hakkiya haadu (The song of the village bird) was thwarted by supporters of S.M. Krishna in Mysore yesterday who took objection to the author resurrecting in the public consciousness a half-century-old story of the former chief minister’s soft corner for yesteryear actress, B. Saroja Devi.

The protest had been prefaced by a news report in Mid-Day, whose reporter B.V. Shiva Shankar gained access to the proofs of the book. The operative portion of the offending episode, as recounted by the tabloid on Monday morning, reads thus:

Krishna and Vishwanath were travelling in a car in 2004, when assembly and parliamentary elections were scheduled simultaneously in Karnataka. A newspaper lying on the car seat said Saroja Devi could get a Congress ticket to contest from Mandya.

“What do people think?” Krishna reportedly asked Vishwanath.

Vishwanath hemmed and hawed, but Krishna cajoled him to speak out.

Vishwanath then said: “Sir, people know what happened between you and the star when you were young. They say Krishna won’t forget his old number, and will definitely give her a ticket.”

Krishna reportedly laughed and said, “We should not forget old numbers. It is a sin.”

Vishwanath replied, “Yes, sir. I won’t forget my old numbers either.”

That seemingly innocuous admission of a long-ago romance, fondly remembered long after the ardour had dimmed, was enough for the 24-hour Kannada news channel TV9 to go all guns blazing.

Krishna Leele” read the “super” all afternoon, as anchor Gaurish Akki and reporters Lakshman Hoogar and Arvind Shetty hoogared on the “Breaking News”, and speculated wildly on the motives behind Vishwanath revealing it now, the possible impact of it on Krishna’s return to Karnataka politics, etc.

The result of the Mid-Day report and the resulting TV9 coverage, provided enough fuel for Krishna’s supporters to go on the rampage, jostling chief guest U.R. Anantha Murthy, destroying the property of the venue, and generally creating a nuisance, and eventually succeeding in the book not being released as intended.

GAGAN K. who was at the venue for two hours, from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm, jots down his impressions and observations. Krishna and Saroja Devi have been defamed not by Vishwanath, he says, but by Mid-Day and TV9. The protestors, he argues, should be directing their ire at the media outlets, rather than the author, a point echoed by Anantha Murthy who spoke of the increasing insensitivity of the media.

***

# I truly feel that S.M. Krishna has been truly defamed by TV9 and Mid-Day, not by H. Vishwanath. They have also misguided the people of the State. All of Karnataka now knows about this issue not because of Vishwanath’s book, but due to the wrong reporting of TV9.

# Without the book being released, how did the protestors come to know of its contents and how did they arrive at the venue to stage the protest? It was on the basis of the sensational, senseless, misinterpreted reporting of TV9 based on the Mid-Day report. The protestors need to protest before the offices of TV9 and Mid-Day.

# Actual defamation has been caused by Mid-Day and TV9 which have misinterpreted the contents of the book. What has been written has been taken out of context, twisted and sensationalised by use of words like “Krishna Leele“. The use of a morphed photograph of Krishna hugging Saroja Devi by Mid-Day is highly defamatory in nature though it has been mentioned below in a small font “image used for representation only”.

# TV9 is mainly responsible for the havoc. As a mass medium, TV9 needs to answer these questions first: 1) What is the source from which they got this news? 2) Did they get a copy of this book? 3) Did they go through this book? 4) What was the rationale behind sensationalising such a small issue for hours together?

# What Vishwanath has written in his book, among other issues, is based on a conversation with Krishna. If Krishna comes out and files a suit of defamation, then Vishwanath shall have to prove its veracity before the court. Otherwise, the author will be liable for defamation. In this case, Krishna has not filed a suit yet. Only Krishna or Saroja Devi have the right to claim defamation. But it is strange that Krishna’s supporters have taken matters to their own hands.

# Suchetana Swaroop, director of Sri Siddhartha Centre for Media Studies, Tumkur, who was waiting outside the venue to enter the hall, told me: “I don’t know why all this fuss. They have a right to protest. But let them protest outside the venue and allow us to release the book, read it, and discuss it. Have the protestors read a line from this book? On what basis are they protesting?”

# All the people of this country of this country have the freedom of speech and expression. but the freedom is not absolute. It comes with the rider of “reasonable restrictions”. Id est, a person may express his views, but he shall not express his views which are factually wrong. And the views shall not defame others. From yesterday’s incidents, it appears freedom speech and expression exists, but not for all.

***

YouTube video: courtesy Gagan K

How NRIs help India while desis crib about them

28 January 2008

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: If you write about India or Indian matters, and happen to be based outside India, it comes as no surprise to see a couple of “Why don’t you come back to India first…” or a “What do you know of the rural reality?” taunts pop up in the comments. Many of these come from the web 2.0 crowd that has embraced the IT boom and blogging, and are themselves an integral part of it.

We have come to accept, embrace and revere the beacons of India’s web 2.0 : the N.R. Narayana Murthys and Azim Premjis, who, as czars of Nasdaq and NYSE listed conglomerates, made their riches in dollars and pounds among a bunch of other currencies. The NRNs and Premjis are national heroes while your typical Non-Resident Indian (NRI) is a deserter who is pursuing his dreams outside the subcontinent.

Quite a few of these IT giants/heroes, rightfully praised for their entrepreneurship, have shied away from doing domestic IT business as the profits are shallow and it does not make business sense. On the other hand, a garden-variety NRI gets a jeer for the foreign association.

Why the different yardsticks?

Since the rupee-to-dollar conversion provides a 40x multiplication factor, a dollar saved is 40 rupees saved; hardly anything you did not already know. The factor is similarly attractive in some other foreign currencies as well. This has been a strong reason for Indian nationals, and companies alike, being interested in overseas markets—yours sincerely included.

I offer no other altruistic, untrue reason that intends to side-swipe this gospel truth. None is needed in my opinion, for it is not a crime to pursue your dream while being rooted deeply with the mother ship. Far from jeering, NRI baiters may have a reason to thank me and my ilk.

If you think this is another bored to death NRI spinning a tale, no, I’m not about to spin a tale, I sit on my tail thank you.

***

Get this:

India’s Foreign Direct Investment in 2007: $16 billion

NRI remittances: $29 billion, translating to $90 billion

India’s FDI has witnessed a startling surge. As compared with $16.5 billion over the whole of the 1990s at an annual average of $2.2-3.2 billion, the FDI for 2005-06 was pegged at $5.5 billion. In 2006-07, it touched $11.19 billion and for 2007, by Oct-2007, it was at $15.7 billion and climbing. It is downright stupendous when your current year investment (2007) is as much as the whole investments in the last decade pre-millennium(1990s).

In another seemingly unrelated yet relevant news, Western Union, a global provider of cross-border money-transfer services, proudly opened its 50,000th agent location in India on January 14 this year.

According to the Reserve Bank of India, India is one of the largest receivers of foreign remittances. How much is it anyway? And shall we compare that with the FDI that we are so proud of?

Sure, how does 200% of FDI sound? There is no typo there. The remittances were in the excess of $26.9 billion for 2006-2007. Now contrast $29+ billion with India’s 2006-07 defence budget as the fourth largest military on the planet: $20 billion.

By the time you have collected your jaw from the floor to retort about the urban-rural disparity in the flow, let me tell you that Western Union’s 50,000 agent locations in India span across 5,000 cities, towns and villages. This includes more than 8,500 post offices and more than 14,000 branches of leading banks. That’s clearly not just your major metros?

And it gets even better, $30 billion is more like $90 billion!

“If the World Bank is correct, every dollar remitted contributes 3 dollars to the GDP growth—which means that NRIs are contributing almost $90 billion to the growth of India’s rural economy…”

Shekhar Kapoor, the noted film maker, who pursues as much of his dreams overseas as in India.

Per above, the NRI funds seem to disseminate better into the rural areas than many a fancied FDI. The common-man -being-left-out card doesn’t hold water either. Yes, the IT boom and the ‘going abroad’ becoming a commonplace has created an economic imbalance. But the same has also led to the vast upwardly mobile bludgeoning middle class that has a better quality of life.

Per above the myth that this boom has not helped the poor, is well, a myth at best. The McKinsey group‘s detailed study takes a realistic note of the ground realities, the above included. Excerpts:

“Contrary to popular perceptions, rural India has benefited from this growth: extreme rural poverty has declined from 94 per cent in 1985 to 61 per cent in 2005, and we project that it will drop to 26 per cent by 2025.”

“The Indian middle class has already begun to evolve, and by 2025 it will dominate the cities. By then about three-quarters of India’s urbanites will be part of the middle class, compared with just more than one-tenth today.”

***

I have great respect for people who are driven enough to pursue their ambition, and go where it takes them. Likewise, I have profound respect for people who are grounded enough to seek those dreams from their home soil. The former vs the latter is more often than not a matter of circumstance with a million other influences.

To say one is in any way better or noble compared to the other is myopic and naive. In times when the world is getting flattened and global sourcing is an accepted norm, we need to get past denial and onto acceptance.

When was the last time you picked up something that did not have a foreign collaboration slapped to it?

From the Colgate that starts the mornings, to the Suzukis-Chevrolets-Volvos that ply you to software parks that cater to a largely foreign customer base, via the HP-IBM-Dell desktops running Microsoft’s Windows, to the Pepsis-Cokes to the Lay’s chips to the iPods, you are more of a global citizen today than ever before.

It is no secret that, given a sliver of chance, very many of these critics and jeerers would only be too happy to pack their suitcases and line up at the embassies.

That notwithstanding, if ‘Foreign Direct Investment’ and ‘Non Resident Indian’ investments are key to India’s growth, and NRIs, apart from re-investing in India do influence the FDI flow as well, we ought to treat them better—$90 billion is no chump change, and a similar phenomenon is not happening in China that is oft compared to India, and China has a bigger expat population.

***

NRIs have a very strong sense of bonding with the mother ship and this helps India.

If the remittances cannot make a believer out of you, just look at any popular site’s sitemeter. The diaspora that checks in is not all domestic traffic. Nostalgia, a sense of belonging or longing, sardarji jokes, Rakhi Sawant or Deve Gowda, all of the above that gets them there, is pure Indian. From the Bollywood movies to the temples-mosques galore, the Indian diaspora has kept in touch with the Indian culture, despite being away and in their own way.

The above is just my view point. I’m sure there are interesting, constrasting thoughts on both sides of the sea.

Let’s hear them.

CHURUMURI POLL: L.K. Advani versus ________?

28 January 2008

Politics is a bit like chess. Besides making the right moves yourself, it is also about catching your opponent unawares. Sometimes the other side notices and neutralises the risk; sometimes it mounts an aggressive counterattack; sometimes it plays along as if nothing has changed; some times it ignores the threat en passant and opens a completely new line of attack. Buoyed by the Narendra Modi experiment in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be pursuing a simple gameplan: to put all its eggs in L.K. Advani basket and get the Congress to play to its terms.

The BJP president Rajnath Singh today asked the Congress to reveal its prime ministerial candidate for the elections to the Lok Sabha: “It is a strange situation. They have a Prime Minister but do not have a candidate for the prime ministership (who will lead in the coming polls). I would like to ask the UPA, who will be their candidate for the post of prime minister in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections? I don’t think the Congress will be able to answer this question.”

Questions: Is the BJP being oversmart in demanding to know who L.K. Advani‘s opponent will be? Or should the Congress and UPA announce and endorse their candidate like the NDA has? In a parliamentary form of government, should the general elections be fought like in an American presidential election, where everyone elects the prime minister? Or, are we better off choosing a local member of Parliament who will then (hopefully) take part in choosing the prime minister?

If it is Advani versus Sonia Gandhi, who will win?

‘The first casualty of a cosy deal is credibility’

28 January 2008

The Times of India group’s decision to make strategic investments in mid-level companies, in return for guaranteed advertising and editorial exposure in the group’s publications and media vehicles, through the quaintly named “Private Treaties“, has had several other media houses following suit.

Hindustan Times is said to be well on its way to establishing a similar division. Television majors like NDTV and CNBC are following suit. And as if to show that language publications are not lagging behind, influential Hindi groups like Dainik Bhaskar and Dainik Jagran are also off the blocks.

SALIL TRIPATHI, the London-based journalist formerly with India Today and The Indian Post, whose work has appeared in Wall Street Journal, Far Eastern Economic Review, and International Herald Tribune, among other publications, writes of the damage these wheels-within-wheels deals cause.

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By SALIL TRIPATHI in London

Most serious and professional newspapers recognize the need to separate editorial and advertising. The Wall Street Journal goes further, separating fact and opinion. So do other major US newspapers, but WSJ‘s distinctness stems from separate management structures for both.

At the convention of the South Asian Journalists’ Association (SAJA), New York Times editor Bill Keller said that the management structure of the edit page and news pages at the NYT, too, were separate. Which is how it should be, but all newspapers don’t have the luxury of such a roster of writers and management structures.

When editorial and advertising blend, the first casualty is credibility. A reader simply cannot know if a particular company, product, or an idea being promoted is because there’s a mass base of support for it, or because some experts like it, or is it because of financial considerations.

The Times of India‘s new business concept, Private Treaties, is audacious, innovative, and breathtaking. And incredibly underwhelming. It trades advertising for equity in companies.

As described on its poorly-designed, shoddily-edited, and jargon-filled website, it creates intangible value for companies in which the TOI group has a stake, by highlighting its intangible qualities, through the medium of TOI‘s publications.

If all that it means is a promotion restricted to discounted rates for advertising in the TOI, that would be simple enough, and acceptable to most purists in journalism. But with the Times you are never sure. In the past, it has encouraged its reporters to go on junkets to tourist resorts, and not always revealed the nature of the hospitality received.

When the Times group has launched its own businesses such as music, entertainment and so on, using prominent Indian performers, the newspaper’s page 1 has to give way to stories about that event, as though it is the most talked about event in town, if not the only event in town.

I recall in the mid-1990s, there were days of reporting on a modern ballet called Yes!, being staged under the choreography of my classmate from college in Bombay, the gifted dancer Shiamak Davar. The editor-in-chief would call senior Times editors to get hold of writers who’d say nice things about Yes!

A tax raid on TOI‘s owners in the 1980s got barely a mention in the newspaper.

When things got tough, the Jain family’s tax battles with the Indian government were cast as a human rights issue. A writer on the TOI edit page went on a junket with a European pharmaceutical company, and wrote an edit page piece extolling the medicine. Nothing wrong with a story about health on the TOI‘s edit page, but something was rotten in the state of Bori Bunder, if such a story appeared out of the blue, and no rival brand got similar coverage, or even comparison in that piece.

Then, the Times went the whole hog, with features like Impact and Spotlight, when news articles appeared on news pages, which were essentially advertisements.

When a plucky blog, Mediaah! ridiculed some of the practices at the Old Lady of Bori Bunder, the Times‘s legal eagles threatened to sue the website. Pradyuman Maheshwari, the spirited journalist who kept it going, decided to close shop. It is, therefore, refreshing to see Times‘s Gautam Adhikari writing that his paper believes in publish-and-be-damned liberalism.

It is against this background that the Private Treaties are highly suspect.

However much the Times might claim that it keeps editorial and advertising separate – when we know that’s not really the case—there will be an impact. A reporter chasing a story against a company in which the Times group has an equity stake will feel obliged to go softly. A reporter chasing a scandal involving a film star whose music is marketed by the Times group, will view the release of the CD differently.

It is so obvious, that it does not even need stating.

A property scandal, or a scam, involving a company that advertises in the newspaper may be problematic for some editors; how much more complicated it can get when the Times group has an equity stake in that company? And wouldn’t the negative story drive down the value of the investment?

There are sound reasons why across the world, editors try to keep editorial and advertising separate, to enhance the credibility of the editorial matter. When I worked with a US-owned magazine (Far Eastern Economic Review) and wrote an extensive piece on conflict of interest within some leading US investment banks, even though those banks were prominent advertisers in my magazine, at no stage did any editor tell me to go easy on that story.

At the Dow Jones group, reporters cannot own stocks in companies they write about. Other major US papers have similar codes.

In my reporting days in Bombay in the 1980s, I’ve seen, with great dismay, financial reporters of several leading Indian dailies rushing out of a press conference where a company has declared its results, to make phone calls to their brokers to buy or sell shares (there were no cell phones then).

Mint, the new business daily launched by the Hindustan Times group, has transparently placed its code of conduct on the web. It also recently declared to its readers how it would publish advertorials, and how they would be distinct from edit pages, and how edit staff would not be involved in preparing them. (The International Herald Tribune and other American publications do likewise).

Unless the Times institutes similar safeguards, it would seem that Private Treaties marks another step in the journey the Times—”the leader [that] guards the reader”—has taken, transforming the nature of journalism.

In the late 1980s, the Times group had begun distributing promotional products in a plastic bag, together with the magazine, Illustrated Weekly of India, which the Times used to publish. We used to throw those products away, preferring to read the magazine. Now the magazine is gone; the toothpaste remains.

Hopefully, the Times, in its drive to enhance the value of companies it invests in through this innovative mechanism, will also attach some value to its readers.

Disclosure: I write frequently for Mint, and the Wall Street Journal‘s international editions; often for the International Herald Tribune, and on rare occasions for the Times of India. But this is not a case of sour grapes.

Photograph: courtesy saliltripathi.com

Also read: SUCHETA DALAL: Forget the news, you can’t trust the ads either

‘Middle & upper classes are in their own country’

28 January 2008

Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

“Ironically, the era of the free market has led to the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in India—the secession of the middle and upper classes to a country of their own, somewhere up in the stratosphere where they merge with the rest of the world’s elite. This Kingdom in the Sky is a complete universe in itself, hermetically sealed from the rest of India.

“It has its own newspapers, films, television programmes, morality plays, transport systems, malls and intellectuals. And in case you are beginning to think it’s all joy-joy, you’re wrong.

“It also has its own tragedies, its own environmental issues (parking problems, urban air pollution); its own class struggles. An organisation called Youth for Equality, for example, has taken up the issue of Reservations, because it feels upper castes are discriminated against by India’s pulverised lower castes.

“It has its own people’s movements and candle-light vigils (Justice for Jessica, the model who was shot in a bar) and even its own People’s Car (the Wagon for the Volks launched by the Tata Group recently). It even has its own dreams that take the form of TV advertisements in which Indian CEOs (smeared with Fair & Lovely Face Cream, Men’s) buy over international corporations, including an imaginary East India Company.

“They are ushered into their plush new offices by fawning white women (who look as though they’re longing to be laid, the final prize of conquest) and applauding white men, ready to make way for the new kings. Meanwhile, the crowd in the stadium roars to its feet (with credit cards in its pockets) chanting ‘India! India!’”

Read the full article here: Listening to grasshoppers

A farmers’ bugbear trumps a farmers’ bandhu

27 January 2008

ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: Artists and artistes have angled for it; bureaucrats have gone on bended knees for it; industrialists have moved mountains for it. Lobbying, self-promotion, chamchagiri, proximity, friendship, favouritism, nepotism, caste, region, religion, language—everything counts in the Great Padma Race.

Sometimes, when none of that works, the truly deserving get it.

So, let’s not bury ourselves in the burroughs of our mind pretending that the Congress-led UPA government has done something new or unheard of. If, for all its sanctimony, the BJP-led NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee could hand it to the surgeon who operated on his knee, it shows that there are no angels in the nanga hamaam.

Still, a nation subliminally reveals itself in the kind of people it chooses to drape the tricolour around. And, in the process, a government reveals how its mind works in the way it goes about it.

So, whilst we may blow hot air over whether N.R. Narayana Murthy should have been chosen for the Padma Vibhushan the same calendar year he “insulted” the national anthem, and whether a one-hit wonder like Manoj Night Shyamalan should have got the Padma Shri, there is one unmissable irony in the UPA list.

And it is this: P. Sainath, the pioneering journalist who implanted the plight of our farmers on the national consciousness, has been ignored. And K.V. Kamath, whose ICICI Bank has played a stellar in the deaths of so many debt-ridden farmers, has been recognised with a Padma Bhushan.

No to Sainath, yes to Kamath: how’s that for a cocktail coalition that came to power on the aam admi‘s shoulders and is forever announcing farmers’ packages!?

As it is, the omission of a journalism giant like Sainath from the honours’ list is surprising when relative gnomes in the profession like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt are on it. It reveals the kind of visibility that the mandarins of New Delhi prefer, despite all the pre-poll rhetoric about “reforms with a human face”.

But even if that can be explained as a savvy, politically correct move to give television its due with elections around the corner, it is the Sainath-Kamath disconnect that is the more striking.

True, Kamath has been a visionary banker, who in the space of a decade has created a global giant that is snapping at the heels of State Bank of India. But what is ICICI Bank’s record and reputation despite all its growth and profits? It is the byword for banking thuggery and each day it sets ever lower standards.

It hires goondas and criminals to recover money from loan defaulters. It employs thugs to flex their muscle and take away cars at traffic signals if they miss an EMI. Its foul-mouthed “executives” call customers in the middle of the night and mouth obscenities to housewives to break them down.

Government workers with a Rs 15,000 loan have died, unable to bear the physical torture. And dozens of debt-ridden farmers have eaten pesticides, unable to bear the humiliation. No single bank has prompted the Supreme Court and Reserve Bank of India more in issuing fresh guidelines than Kamath’s ICICI.

For this, we decorate him with the Padma Bhushan?

Is this the Manmohan Singh government’s way of running with the farming hares and hunting with the banking hounds?

In the opposite corner is Palagummi Sainath, whose reports in the last decade and a half on the plight of farmers and the myriad issues confronting the farming community, post-liberalisation, have shamed governments, exposed the bureaucracy, and stirred the conscience of the public.

A man whom Amartya Sen describes as “one of the world’s greatest experts on famine and hunger.”

In 2006, when Manmohan Singh was going to Vidarbha to announce a package for India’s worst-affected farming belt, he invited not his agriculture minister or some IAS officer but Sainath to brief him. Yet, when it comes to a civilian honour, a bugbear of farmers gets the nod over the benefactor of farmers.

Maybe, Sainath was asked, but he said no.

Maybe, but how likely considering that he has had no qualms in receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award among several others?

Still, a civilian honour for a CEO whose bank has institutionalised criminal ways for loan recovery reveals more than a little on how the “system” works. And the lack of civilian recognition for a missionary journalist, whom the world honours, for writing about the trials, troubles and tribulations of those who feed us, tells its own story.

But, maybe it’s a good thing Sainath is not on the list.

On a list dotted with bold-face corporate names like Ratan Tata and Lakshmi Mittal, Suresh Neotia (Gujarat Ambuja) and Shiv Nadar (HCL), Baba Kalyani (Bharat Forge) and Vikram Pandit (Citigroup), Amit Mitra (FICCI) and Colette Mathur (World Economic Forum), Sainath would have looked very odd indeed.

Maybe. But how likely?

Photographs: courtesy The Hindu (Kamath); Sadanand Menon (Sainath)

Also read: Wish good night to K.V. Kamath and his whizkids

SUDHEENDRA KULKARNI on P. Sainath: ‘Take big steps, urgent steps, fast-paced steps’

Does death not count if it is not due to terrorism?

When a Major gets less than a real estate broker

27 January 2008

Matt McClure of Al Jazeera reports on the emerging crisis in the armed forces of an emerging global power, which is slated to spend $30 billion over the next five years on new armaments, but finds that a Major makes half the money that he would as a real-estate consultant.

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Compulsory military service?

Don’t gift them fish. Teach them how to fish.

27 January 2008

While the State loses sweat over “transfer of power”, over whether swamijis should go abroad, over whether locals have a birth right for railway jobs, the key issues of the day—the state of our schools, the state of our hospitals, the state of our roads, etc—attract abysmal attention from the elected (and self-appointed) soldiers of the language and the land.

Nikhil Moro threw light on Karnataka’s pathetic showing on the Annual State of Education Survey here a few days ago. Shruba Mukherjee, in yesterday’s Deccan Herald, reports that Karnataka is slipping so rapidly on the Composite Education Development Index that it is now ranked lowest among the four southern states, excluding Andhra Pradesh, which is not saying much.

While the State soars over the national average in the enrolment of scheduled caste, other backward castes, and minority children, it is not doing much else well. Access is stationary as the number of primary and higher primary schools remains constant.

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Karnataka’s position on EDI in 2005-06 at primary level: eighth.

Karnataka’s position on EDI in 2006-07 at primary level: twelfth

Karnataka’s position on EDI in 2005-06 at higher primary level: sixth

Karnataka’s position on EDI in 2006-07 at higher primary level: ninth

Karnataka’s overall position in 2005-06: sixthKarnataka’s overall position in 2006-07: eighth

Muslim enrolment at the primary level across the nation: 9.39 per cent

Muslim enrolment at the primary level in Karnataka: 13.54 per cent

Karnataka: 44 per cent of primary schools do not have boundary walls

Read the full story: State slips in education ladder

Also read: Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

If Delhi was a batsman, it would be in the IPL

26 January 2008

One of the miracles of the mobile phone is that it has replaced a concern for the human condition with a question about his physical location. So, no longer does anybody ask you “How are you?” when you answer a call, but “Where are you?”

This year’s civilian honours is a bit like that. It’s not about who you are or how you are doing, but where you are, and by extension, who you know and hobnob with.

K. Subrahmanya reports in today’s Deccan Herald that five of the 13 Padma Bhushan awardees are Delhiites (strike rate 38 per cent); 13 of the 35 Padma Bhushan awardees are Delhiites (strike rate 37 per cent); and almost a quarter of the 71 Padma Shri awardees are Delhiites (strike rate: 25 per cent)

Read the full article: Proximity to Delhi helps

Rajdeep and Barkha must decline the Padma Shri

26 January 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Now that CNN-IBN’s editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai and NDTV’s managing editor Barkha Dutt have become the first television journalists in the history of independent India to get the Padma awards, they must do three things.

1) They must revel in the high honour. They must thank everybody including the viewers who silently saluted their successes and withstood their excesses, and not forget to include Prannoy Roy in their prayers.

2) They must send thank-you SMSes to friends and admirers who have been greeting them, send sweets to their guests and interviewees, and thank their colleagues and employees.

3) And, thirdly, then they must call up Rashtrapati Bhavan and politely decline the Padma Shri: “Thank you for recognising us. We mean no disrespect to the honour or to the other awardees, but we have to say no.”

Make no mistake. The Padma Shri is not be sniffed at. It’s the nation’s fourth highest civilian award. For Rajdeep to get it at 43, and for Barkha to get it at 37 making her “the youngest journalist to receive it,” as her channel has been crowing since last night, is a significant feat in their very fine, individual careers, whether you like them and their channels. Or not.

But they must still say no.

Reason No. 1: They must say no, because working journalists who are still at the peak of their careers must decline any kind of honour from the government of the day. Yes, the Padma Shri comes in the name of the President, but it is the government which tells her who she should give it to.

Rajdeep and Barkha may argue that the Padma Shri is not a freebie, that scores of print journalists, many of whose contributions are a mystery even to this day, have walked away unquestioned. So, why should we decline? Answer: to stray off the beaten print path, set a TV trend, and tell the government that journalists are only doing a job.

Journalists are not hermits. But if they must accept prizes, awards, and honours, it must be from professional organisations, not from the government. And if they must accept it from the government, it must be after they have hung up their hair blowers, and are no longer in positions of power as journalists.

A bit like Vinod Dua, the third television recipient to get the honour this year.

Reason No. 2: Both CNN-IBN and NDTV have borne the brunt of a relentless attack from the BJP and the rest of the right wing, who have parodied the alleged pseudo-secularism of the channels. The attack has been petty, baseless and has usually come from those who have no understanding of the true role of journalism and journalists.

Rajdeep and Barkha must say no not to spite the saffron brotherhood but to show that they were not hankering after awards while reporting what they did.

The Padma Shri comes from the Congress-led UPA government in its final if not penultimate year in office. What the honour does is to expose them and their channels to the unfair charge of being recipients of the largesse of an outgoing “pseudo-secular” government.

You can very well imagine the shouting brigade of the lunatic fringe dining on this crumb for days and months to come, especially in an election year.

Neither Rajdeep Sardesai nor Barkha Dutt can prefix their names with Padma Shri, but even if they could, they are better off declining it. Since both are television people, they will realise the TRPs that the heroic act of saying no will fetch them not just in tonight’s bulletins but for a long time to come in the eyes of the viewers.

Photographs: courtesy Indian Embassy, Greece; CNN-IBN

Cross-posted on sans serif

Why January 26 is more important than August 15

26 January 2008

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Hyderabad: The dominant image of Republic Day that tends to stick in one’s mind is that of soldiers marching in step, tanks and artillery rumbling down the Raj Path, and aircraft flying in formation over our heads.

While some would question whether this is the appropriate way for the State to commemorate the day India became a Republic, I would like to ask a different question: How do we commemorate the day we became the citizens of a Republic?

Honouring those who risk their lives on our borders, and those who have given their lives defending them, is a noble thing to do. However, while soldiers defend our borders, protect our lives and, on occasion, keep the nation together in times of crisis, they cannot ‘defend’ the Republic.

The Republic of India requires far more numerous and vigilant defenders: us.

While on the 15th of August 1947, we made a clean break from the past, on the 26th January, 1950, “We, the People of India,” charted our course for the future. Our Constitution, which came into force, then, is not just about what the Government of the day should or should not do.

It is about what “We, the People of India,” must not give up or lose, at any cost: our freedoms.

A brief look across the world shows that many peoples have gotten Independence without getting Freedom, or have gotten Freedom and lost it at the hands of tyrants and oppressors. It has been robbed in the name of various gods, divine or otherwise, and even today; there are those who are still trying to rob it from us. We rarely lose our freedoms in one go, but let them go gradually, one by one, until we wake up one day and realize they have been taken away from us.

So, on this day, my humble request, to you my fellow Indian citizens, is to honour and commemorate that which gave us our freedoms: the Constitution.

Yes, it has been amended and modified, and parts of it deleted and routinely neglected. Yet, we can celebrate this day with a simple exercise that re-acquaints us with the Constitution and its ideals:

Read aloud the Preamble to the Constitution, as it stood on 26 January 1950. Read it carefully and slowly. And if you know someone who can’t, read it out to them, or better yet, teach them to read it and remember it.

The Preamble as it stood on 26th January, 1950:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

The bulltaming that the Supreme Court can’t ban

26 January 2008

P. Mahmud has an excellent cartoon in today’s Deccan Herald, in which he marries two continents, two cultures, and two different situations. He appropriately calls the taming of the bull, Jallikattu-Part II.

An ungrateful ant wails before a mountain of aces

26 January 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: On 20 January 1961, in his inaugural address after taking over as the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not what your country do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Forty-seven years later, one of the ‘stalwart’ leaders of our disunited states has turned this statement on its head and seemed to ask, “Ask not what I have done the State; ask what the State has done for me!”

Now let’s see who are all the people who have made our State proud. And who are all the people the State is proud of.

We have to go back to the early days. There was Krishna Devaraya, was the greatest king ever who ruled Vijayanagara, much bigger than the present Karnataka; the architect of Bangalore Kempe Gowda; the Tiger of Mysore Tipu Sultan; the builders of modern Mysore, the Wodeyars. All of them fit in the category described by Kennedy.

What about Purandaradasa, born as Sheenappa, the founder of Carnatic music?

If we go back even further, the literary greats Ranna, Pampa, and Kumara Vyasa, the German author Kittel who compiled the first Kannada dictionary. Along the way came Masti Venkatesha Iyengar, Da Ra Bendre, D.V. Gundappa, T.P. Kailasam, U.R. Anantha Murthy and Girish Karnad with their contribution to literature.

No doubt we would have missed several names as we span centuries. Sorry. No disrespect meant to anybody. Put it down to plain ignorance on the part of yours truly. Or just a playful memory.

Can we forget the Karanths—Shivarama, B.V., and Ullas? The R.K. brothers—Narayan and Laxman, famous with their pen and brush. Then there was the father of the bomb, Raja Ramanna.

Surely they too must have been proud of their birth in Karnataka too?

What about Raj Kumar who sang Huttidare Kannada naadalli hutta beku, and Kuvempu who sang Elladaru iru. Enthadaru iru. Endendigu nee Kannadavagi iru’? D.S. Kirkee who wrote Hacchevu Kannadada Deepa? You don’t get truer sons of soil than these. Did they bother how much credit they got for their efforts? Did they carp in public?

What about AaNaKru, ThaRaSu, Thriveni and S.L. Bhyrappa?

May be some of them were not born in Karnataka at all and yet did the State proud. We don’t even know where they were born, but proud they did of the State.

Who can forget the architect of Karnataka, Sir M.Visveswaraya, Veene Seshanna, Bidaram Krishnappa, Diwan Madhav Rao and Sir Mirza Ismail? Did they ever feel their efforts have not been appreciated enough?

Why only men? What about Rani Kittor Chennamma, Sanchi Honnamma and Salumarada Thimmakka? And Shanta Rangaswamy and Soundarya, whom we lost so tragically.

M.N. Srinivas, Kengal Hanumanthiah, Dr. H.Narasimhaiah, Ramakrishna Hegde, Devaraj Urs, S. Nijalingappa all made the State proud in their own ways, and indeed the State was thankful of their deed.

What about the musicians, T. Chowdiah, Mallikarjuna Mansoor, Gangubai Hanagal, Bhimsen Joshi and now R.K. Srikantan, whose melodies lifted souls of generation of listeners. Were they not happy doing what they did?

How can we forget Erapalli Prasanna, Gundappa Viswanath, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, Javagal Srinath, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Syed Kirmani? What to say of Prakash Padukone and even Pankaj Advani? And the greats of hockey Deshmuthu, Peter and Rajagopal who played for India ?

Did they ever regret why they were born in this State?

In fact generations of citizens, unknown and unsung, have toiled over centuries to make the State what it is today without cribbing for recognition and acknowledgement for their efforts.

Nobody seemed to have regretted that they were born in our State—call it Vijayanagara, Mysore or Karnataka. In fact they were proud, honest and kept their promises and wished to be born here again and here alone.

Only a few seem to be ashamed to have born in Karnataka, only a few wish not to have been born in Karnataka, and only a few carp that the State has not appreciated their “efforts”.

Few? Come to think of it. It’s actually, only one!

Abraham Lincoln, nearly 150 years ago, in his famous Gettysburg address, said: “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Sadly, at least for some, at least for one, the running of Government has come to mean ‘of the family, by the family, for the family.’ All this in the name of service to the people!

One woman speaks up for five crore Kannadigas

25 January 2008

As the loose-tongues of the mother tongue flap around like cracked canines, with scarcely any debate on what such vigilante justice could be doing to Kannada, Kannadigas and Karnataka, one woman has chosen to kick them where it hurts most.

After a media conference called by her to divulge details of how she had spent her Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds was disrupted by the loudmouths of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, Kanakapura MP Tejaswini Sriramesh has responded in kind at being labelled anti-Kannada:

“I do not need lessons from those who do roll-call in the name of Kannada; from those who do goondagiri with the Kannada flag in their hands; from those who destroy public property; and from those who assault a woman in the presence of senior citizens. Nobody has the right to take matters into their hands.”

Also read: Karnataka Rakshana Vedike: Good, bad, sad?

Sign of an alive democracy or a sad mobocracy?

M.S. Sathyu vs Karnataka Rakshana Vedike

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

When did a Rs 10 crore bribe stop shocking us?

25 January 2008

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes from Oakland, California: Two stories have been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. These stories aren’t unusual. Nor is the response (or lack of it) to these stories.

Still, we have to ask: why there is no outrage?

I don’t need to recount the first one, for Yashica Sitaram shares her travails with a private builder here on Churumuri. The target this time isn’t a politician or a bureaucrat, but a respected businessman (and his company), whose callousness and unprofessional attitude elicited this response from Mysoreans:

“When we enquired with our neighbours, they just shrugged it off saying their houses leaked too but they had no recourse since the builder had shut them up by saying, “You got what you paid for.” This was short hand for an extraordinary form of price speculation that the whole enterprise was being run on.

“We, and all those who enquired, were told that all the apartments in our block, and the other blocks under construction, had been sold. In reality, this was just fiction. The builder, it appeared, was exploiting his social and other Rotary Club contacts and connections in a masterful way, to jack up prices and make a killing.

“All along, I’ve wondered about the greed driving such projects. And the gluttony, unappeased and insatiable. Perpetuating such perversity is unbecoming for projects which nurture lives, kids, families who plan for lifetimes to purchase homes.

“The response I received was: “Why did you live there? It’s only an investment. You pay something down, you get an apartment allotted. You wait and don’t register until you find an unsuspecting buyers and palm it off at a hefty profit. Why stay there? Everyone knows not to stay so far… so far from progress”.”

Indeed. Everything is an investment, especially for Non-Resident Mysoreans, who can afford to invest in Mysore real estate, which could be palmed off to an unsuspecting buyer. Do unto someone else what you wouldn’t want to happen to you.

If the callousness of the businessmen is abhorrent, what is more reprehensive is the quiet acceptance and indifference displayed by all of us, Mysoreans.

***

Anyways, equally disturbing was another story involving a corrupt Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS) officer, Mari Gowda. Here is what I have reconstructed from reports in the Star of Mysore; I must add that I didn’t find anything in either Deccan Herald or The Hindu, a sad reflection of the priorities of the Press.

So, this person (who was the Land Acqusition Officer from Hoovinahadgali, Bellary district) apparently took a ten crore rupee bribe from farmers, who lost their land to the Hulikatte Irrigation project. Mari Gowda promised to categorise the farms owned by these farmers as irrigated land, thus ensuring higher compensation; the bribe was also to guaranty a smooth payment of compensation. Anyways the officer was transferred to Bangalore and so he left, without delivering on his promises.

When all efforts to get their money back failed, the farmers showed up at his farmhouse near Srirangapatna and threatened to commit suicide, unless their money was paid back.

Some farmers’ leaders appear to have helped them, along with the seer of a local mutt, who fed and housed these visitors from north Karnataka. While they insisted on meeting with the officer in person, and waited for several days, nothing happened.

Well, not entirely. Mari Gowda’s son threatened the farmers, while the Mandya elite regrouped quickly to mediate and save Mari Gowda. G. Made Gowda, senior Congress leader and former Mandya MP, even blamed the farmers for committing a crime by bribing an officer and advised them to return quietly.

Many things are striking. Let us start with the amount mentioned here. A junior KAS officer commands a bribe of ten crore and that doesn’t surprise anyone! Even if he is sharing it with others, it still is a staggering amount.

Then, while most of us were indifferent to the fate of these hapless farmers, many ‘eminent’ leaders were prepared to act to save Mari Gowda. But no “sons of the soil” showed up to fight on behalf of the farmers.

We know that corruption is out there and that there is no shame in soliciting and accepting bribes. Still, why isn’t there any outrage, not just at the quantum of the bribe, but that it can be asked and obtained?

Mari Gowda himself seems to think that there are no consequences to his actions. He even told the farmers that their best interest lies in not raking up this controversy; otherwise, the reclassification of their land as irrigated land would come to light and they would loose out on higher compensation.

Star of Mysore reported yesterday that Mari Gowda and his sons have been arrested for an unrelated case. Apparently, they had failed to reimburse a contractor for building a house in Mysore and had no intention of doing so. Mari Gowda himself had been arrested a few months ago and had been out on bail.

Brazen-ness has no bounds.

With regard to both these cases, the question for me is simply this: why isn’t there any outrage? Why is it that all the parties concerned here—be it the builder, or the bureaucrat and mediating politician—think there are no consequences for their actions? Why a cynical acceptance of the state of affairs?

If you want to go back, go all the way back

25 January 2008

The Bharat Ratna debate continues to simmer in the television studios. On CNBC, Karan Thapar pointed out how 30 of our 40 State-registered jewels have been politicians, and how some got it long after they had left their imprint on this wondrous land: Vallabhbhai Patel got it 41 years after his demise; Gopinath Bordoloi 49 years later.

At which point, the sociologist Ashis Nandy chipped in and delivered a bon mot:

“Why not just give it to Gautama Buddha this year and end all this debate.”

CHURUMURI POLL: Bank strike, right or wrong?

24 January 2008

Bank work will come to a stop on Friday when over a million employees of public sector banks, including 17,000 bank officers, embark on yet another strike to press their demands. The employees are opposed to the merger of banks that they believe would lead to the shutting down of branches. At the moment, there is one branch for every 16,000 people; the bankmen’s unions say that ratio should be 1: 8,000 in a country where half the population is outside the banking net.

The striking bankmen are also demanding the lifting of the freeze on recruitment of new workers in the banking sector. The unions believe that the banks would need over 500,000 new recruits in the next three years. But the government is apparently talking of retiring 300,000 employees. The public sector bank unions say private banks and foreign banks are also expected to down their shutters in solidarity with their demands.

Questions: Are bank men (and women) right in striking work so regularly and inconveniencing customers? Or is biting the hand that feeds the only way of bringing their demands to the notice of the powers that be? Is there no other way in which public sector employees can drive their point home instead of conveniently striking work on the eve of a Republic Day holiday, effectively turning it into a two-day holiday? Are the public sector banks still caught in the socialist mindset in opposing merger of banks which is the only way to take on the private sector giants?

Once upon a time in Bangalore (as we knew it)

24 January 2008

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: With an undeniable laidback charm, not so long ago, Bangalore was your quaint old south Indian city—a pensioner’s paradise and a garden city.

Misty mornings heralded the start of beautiful, often sunny days. Laden with rich aroma of filter coffee, crisp morning air soon displaced this misty blur. The tune of suprabhata would fill the neighbourhoods from someone’s old transistor radio. Close on the heels of milk and newspaper delivery, the ubiquitous darshinis (eateries) readied their fare for the morning commuters. As the suprabhatas turned to news, a steady stream of traffic would fill the roads and the eateries.

Good Morning Bangalore.

Passing the baton, the short-lived ‘peak hour’ bustle, would lead into a warm mid morning calm. As the postman did his rounds, retirees perused the newspapers on their patios, soaking in the morning’s tender sun. Ladies bartered sugar, coffee and gossip standing across the compound walls in the shade of the omnipresent coconut trees. Selling his interesting wares, a hawker or two would often lead to an emergency session of the street Parliament—cartels formed, deals negotiated, decisions made and the news of a good buy reaching the other end of the street in seconds!

Life was easy. The whistle of the pressure cooker, often the spoiler of such fun, ushered the lunch hour. Fresh cooked anna, saaru, palya would fill the noon air. Bon appetite. Lunch made way for a calmer afternoon good till the kids came running home.

Evenings were never dull either: kids playing at street corners; teenagers chatting away endlessly at the front gates; walks on Sampige or Margosa roads; idyllic meetings of seniors in Jayanagar 4th block complex; savoring pani puri at Ramakrishna Ashram or Seshadripuram; the street market bustle of Malleshwaram 8th cross or Gandhi Bazaar, evenings had their share of simplistic fun before a staple of TV and dinner.

There was much to be happy about in this predictable, chaos free simplicity.

Though a generalization, Bangaloreans have always loved simplicity. They take great pride in their simple happiness pursuits. Simple, polite, family oriented are some qualities that are a commonplace in Karnataka as the Bisi bele baath, kodu bale and akki rotti.

Do not let the unassuming simplicity fool you, for quite a few successful people hail from Bangalore—after all, the software boom did not happen by itself.

Even in the most famous of its sons, Kannadigas have a sense of obeisance to an inner discipline and simplicity. To me, a prime example is Anil Kumble: while playing, he is one of the more grittier and determined cricketers our country has seen (remember his fractured jaw strapped into place by a thick bandage, an injured Kumble, returned to claim Brian Lara‘s wicket in the Windies tour of 2002 ), while off the field, he is possibly the nicest, most unassuming person you will meet. Kannadigas bring that attitude and charm to what they do.

The non-stoic stance, the welcoming nature, beautiful weather, abundance of scientific brainpower and the cost arbitrage to outsource led to a steady flow of traffic—of MNCs and software companies, people who wanted to be in these companies, their vehicles and their baggage in tow (emotional and cultural), made a beeline for Bangalore— cumulatively changing it for ever.

This influx led to the software wave, crowning Bangalore as the numero uno of the Indian software hubs—’The Silicon Valley of India’. This gold rush had not gone unnoticed and there was a huge stream of people trickling into Bangalore from various parts of India. Local businesses and non-local job aspirants alike benefited from this growth and wealth. Seemed like a win-win situation—till it got out of hand. With the crown and the wealth, came woes: uncontained traffic, soaring real estate prices, failing infrastructure and, last but not the least—a melange of people.

Per reliable estimates, only 30 per cent of Bangalore’s residents speak the local language, Kannada, today. The last decade of IT boom that put Bangalore on the global map, also made it a city dominated by non-localites. There is, of course, no justification for saying that any region of India be inhabited by members of one linguistic community only, in case of Bangalore, the Kannadigas (and all its flavors). But often the reality is too twisted to be framed to such idealistic frameworks.

Very many of the new entrants did not do much to help the situation either. For most parts, they chose to live in their own groups, often not blending with the locals or picking up basics of Kannada ; thanks in part to a lack of need for it and, in part due to a misguided sense of linguistic pride — picking up Kannada tantamounting to reduced allegiance to their mother tongue. When in a new city, there is hardly any bad in seeking people who hail from your hometown—it is almost second nature. The problem started when these groups became vocal and abrasive to the extent that it made the locals feel unwelcome in their localities.

Early 1990s set the stage for the future things to come when the discontentment poured into the streets during the Cauveri water disputes . The water dispute was the last straw and a reason. Violence marred the city. Madras returning the favor, just added to the fire. The tension is very much alive even today and flows in the moment water levels in Cauvery recedes.

Like I have stated, many a times: “Politicians are like diapers—almost always full of crap; if not, it’s just a matter of time.” Among these politicians, Karnataka is blessed with the worst of their ilk. Add to this, the woes of traffic congestion, rising real estate prices, bridges and flyovers built where one was not needed and eventually ending up impeding the traffic flow (after construction dragging on for years), IT czars threatening to walk out on the city and the state.

It was chaos.


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