Archive for June, 2008

For Indian journos, April 1 comes 9 months early

30 June 2008

Infallible Indian journalists have been spooked by a delightful Da Vinci Code style hoax played on them.

On Sunday, almost every newspaper reported the arrest of Johann Bach, an 88-year-old Nazi war criminal, in the jungles of Khanapur, close to Goa, on Saturday.

A classified advertisement inserted by the “Waffen SS” fugitive to sell an 18th century piano was supposed to have led Perus Narkp detectives to the “senior adjutant” who reportedly had a role in the “extermination” of 12,000 Jews at the Marsha Tikash Whanaab concentration camp in East Berlin.

Bangalore based newspapers went to town with the news:

# “Hitler’s stormtrooper held in Karnataka,” headlined Deccan Herald.

# “World War II criminal arrested?” asked The Hindu

# “Cops stunned over Nazi man’s arrest,” said The Times of India

# “Antique piano ad leads police to Nazi colonel near Belgaum,” said the New Indian Express.

On Monday, the up-country papers went a step further.

# “Traced to Goa, Nazi war criminal tried to enter Karnataka, arrested on way and flown to Berlin,” said The Indian Express, Delhi

# “Goa piano ‘thief’ found to be Nazi war fugitive,” said The Telegraph, Calcutta, with a helpful graphic (above) of the flight of the Nazi criminal.

Wanted by Interpol, octagenarian Bach, it was reported, had escaped the Nuremberg trials and evaded justice for over half a century. On the German government’s “Most wanted list” since the end of WW II, he had spent time in Argentina, Bulgaria, Yemen and Canada.

Apparently, the Israeli media had reported his sighting in Calungute, Goa, though V.S. Acharya, Karnataka’s home minister, denied any knowledge. Hemant Nimbalkar, Belgaum superintendent of police, said he was unaware of the incident.

But the papers said Bach had been picked up by detectives of Perus Narkp who are part of the German chancellor’s “Core” team in collaboration with Indian intelligence.

Anil Budur Lulla of The Telegraph “exclusively” reported that “Berlin also had information from Tel Aviv that an old German had bragged about overseeing the genocide of Jews to an Israeli tourist couple in Goa during a rave party a few months ago.”

Deccan Herald quoted a press release issued by “Perus Narkp”. Times of India said the press note was circulated by email. DH had this telling line: “A brilliant musician like his illustrious 18th Century namesake, this eccentric Bach later rose high in the Nazi SS hierarchy.”

The Telegraph, quoting “sources”, said that “after further investigations in Goa, proceedings would begin to take Bach to Germany, with whom India signed an extradition treaty in 2004.”  Deccan Herald said he would “be facing trial at the International Court of Justice at The Hague.”

And on and on it went.

Well, it turns out, it was all a super prank, obviously played by someone with some taste in western classical music.

churumuri bravely deduces that it was played/devised by someone called Bhawana Shakti Sharma or by someone who knows someone called Bhawana Shakti Sharma, because it is an anagram of “Marsha Tikashi Whanaab”. “Bach” is obviously a bastardisation of Johann Sebastian Bach, with the piano thrown in for good measure. “Perus Narkp” is an anagram of “Super Prank“.

Considering that the story has Goa as its epicentre, churumuri also sticks its neck out to declare that the “super prank” was played by a Goan/ Goans who have had their axe for their local media for some time now. Indeed, one Goan blog says “The Truth Behind Perus Narkp” will be revealed tomorrow with the teasing tagline: “One of the most telling stories on the Goan as well as Indian media.”

Why the prank was played, is a long story.

Maybe to show how gullible journalists have become in this age of instant news and even more instant analysis. Maybe to show how little research and background checking goes into modern-day reporting populated by greenhorns barely out of their teens. Maybe to show what a bunch of cultural ignoramuses we are, with scarcely any knowledge of music, Indian or western.

Or maybe to show how smart the prankster is.

Whatever the reason, it’s a lovely prank for which all of us fell. We have been had. Lie back and enjoy—and spare a thought for those stung by us.

Cross-posted on sans serif

A wing, a prayer, and a few crossed fingers

30 June 2008

In this coalition era, it’s best to amend your symbol.

E.P. Unny in The Indian Express

The Rs 1,80,000 crore gift our communists gave

30 June 2008

The sky-rocketing price of crude oil sparking increases in fuel prices back home is a complex economic issue. Some blame rising demand in India and China; many blame speculators. As the Al Jazeera video (above) shows the media has been caught on the wrong foot in explaining what is happening.

Bhamy V. Shenoy (below), who has worked in the Indian and international oil industry for 40 years, advised several governments in the former Soviet Union, and is now a senior advisor at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas, Austin, says the situation is worse in India where the issue of fuel prices has become the pet poodle of populist politicians.

“While the international media blames India and China, we blame the government and our public and private sector companies. Truth is, the Indian government is transferring massive amounts of wealth through the vehicles of public sector oil companies to the rich and middle-classes by artificially keeping petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices below the cost price, and the intelligentisa is perfectly happy with this.

This is what the British did during the Raj, allowing landlords to take over the land belongings of the poor. We are critical of the Raj. But we seem to support the strategy of new rulers who are doing the same but in a different way.

***

By BHAMY V. SHENOY

The UPA government was finally forced to implement an increase in prices of petroleum products on June 5 as crude oil prices were setting a daily record. But it was too little, too late, and not well received. Worse, even after the price increases and adjustment to tax rates both by the central and state governments, oil marketing companies (OMCs) continue to bleed.

There is also enormous confusion in the minds of the public.

On the one hand, the view has gained ground that the oil companies are earning huge returns, as also the government. And, on the other hand, it has been suggested that the oil companies are not actually losing money; what they are suffering from is “under recoveries”.

Both views are far from the truth if we employ simple economics.

It is true that the state governments are indeed continuing to collect a higher amount despite the cosmetic adjustments. Just like the central government, it would be better for the state governments if they adopted fixed tax rates rather than continuing with ad valorem tax rates.

***

Since 2004 crude oil prices have had a gravity-defying rise. Experts had predicted prices would stay in a narrow range of $25 to $30 per barrel.

At the current high crude oil price of around $130 per barrel, US, Japan, Europe, China, India will transfer unprecedented amount of more than $1.5 trillion to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and other OPEC countries in 2008.

This must be one of the largest transfers of wealth from richer to developing  countries during the peace time.

India’s share in this transfer is not insignificant.

Thanks to coalition politics, and mostly influenced by the communist parties, the oil sector is likely to transfer more than Rs 1,80,000 crore from the poor to rich and the middle-class this year.

In this game of distribution of wealth, oil marketing companies are being used by our political system to the benefit of a tiny sector consisting of petrol and LPG dealers, and their political masters.

Let me try to unravel the mystery behind petroleum product prices using the example of diesel.

At crude oil price of $120 per barrel, the raw material cost to make one litre of diesel is Rs 31.70. When crude oil is distilled in a refinery, along with diesel, subsidiary products like petrol, LPG, kerosene, fuel oil, etc are produced. Products like fuel oil are discounted. This results in most products like diesel, petrol and kerosene commanding a premium over crude oil.

At present, diesel is able to get a premium of Rs 6.63 per litre which reflects the refinery fuel cost, operating costs, and refinery margin. In addition, there is also the cost of transportation to move the diesel from the refinery to petrol stations and the dealer margin. This adds up to Rs 2.30 per litre.

Thus the total cost of supplying diesel is Rs 40.63 per litre without any taxes.

At the current diesel price of about Rs 37 per litre, oil marketing companies lose Rs 3.03 per litre straightaway. In addition they have to pay central excise and cess of Rs 3.57 and state sales tax of Rs 8.38 per litre. Thus, the total losses amounts to Rs 15.58 per litre.

Based on this level of product prices, the profitability of the refinery is Rs 0.37 per litre only and can hardly compensate for the huge loss incurred by the public sector oil companies. (In more sophisticated refineries like Reliance, the loss could be as high as Rs 4 per litre.)

Similar losses are incurred while selling petrol (Rs 5.5 per litre), kerosene (Rs 30 per litre), and LPG (more than Rs 330 per cylinder).

The government claim of the oil marketing companies losing as much as Rs 15 per litre is, therefore, not true.

***

Some political parties have argued that the government should impose windfall profit taxes on oil and gas production. This is a sound argument. But this will not have any impact on product prices.

Most of the oil production in India is by public sector companies and they are already forced to share their profit with oil marketing companies. Thus we already have indirect “windfall taxes” on Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and Oil India Limited (OIL).

Oil production by private oil companies is only about 14%.

***

It is a misconceived policy to siphon off the cashflow from ONGC and OIL to oil marketing companies or to the government treasury to support lower product prices. These upstream companies are tasked with the mission of exploring and finding crude oil and gas all over the world.

How can they meet those goals if their profits are taken away by the political masters?

They could have used the additional profits to look for oil and gas reserves to contribute to India’s energy security. As a result the oil companies are starved of much-needed investment.

In the case of private oil companies, if the Production Sharing Agreement terms had been properly structured using the right kind of expertise, windfall profits would indeed flow to the government. PSAs are a better vehicle to divert greater cash flow to host-countries as oil prices go up. It is not correct on the part of any government to break the contract though many oil exporting countries do it all the time.

The government has eliminated customs duty on crude oil import. This will not have any impact on product prices since the oil marketing companies are expected to pay refinery gate prices based on international equivalent prices. This will increase refinery profitability only.

Reducing customs duty on petrol and diesel will also have marginal impact since India is in surplus with both these products. India is a net exporter of petrol and diesel.

***

During the protests against petro price hike, there has hardly been any informed discussion on the real winners and losers of not responding to higher oil prices. All of us should realize that in one way or the other India has to pay for higher oil prices since more than 75% of crude oil is imported.

There is no free lunch; the Indian economy has to pay for the additional cost of importing crude oil.

There are three types of stakeholders who have to pay for the increase directly or indirectly. These three are: the rich and middle-class who own cars and two wheelers and who have an above-average energy consumption propensity; very poor and lower middle-class who consume very little energy; and petroleum product dealers and PDS shop owners.

The first category of stakeholders can easily pay for any increase; they are the ones who consumer petroleum products directly and indirectly.

The last category is an even surere bet since they will be able to continue to adulterate the product they sell with subsidized products like kerosene and by diverting residential LPG to commercial sector.

The fact of PDS kerosene being diverted to the free market or being used to adulterate petrol and diesel is well documented. The same is true with residential LPG. When the same product is sold at two vastly different prices, it is just impossible to eliminate black marketing of products.

It is the poor who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of the subsidy largesse; unfortunately, they are the real losers in several ways.

The poor not only do not get their quota of subsidised kerosene, they end up being the victims of greater inflation caused by a higher oil deficit. The poor also do not use petro products directly for sure. Even indirect use of petrol products by them is insignificant.

***

All over the world, in all developed and most developing countries petrol products are heavily taxed to meet the budgetary needs of the government. In India also this has been the policy so far. However since the oil crude oil price increase, the government has come under great pressure not only to reduce those taxes, but even to transfer funds from other sources. This will reduce the amount of money available to meet the welfare needs of the poor.

If the government had not taken over the responsibility of fixing oil prices when the administered price mechanism (APM) was dismantled, we would not have been in today’s difficult situation. Yes the country would have faced the problem of managing the problem of high crude oil prices as most countries are facing today in the rest of the world. But it would have been in a different way.

Oil marketing companies would have implemented the price changes as crude oil prices changed in the world and would not have waited as the government was forced to. They thought that they could avoid the problem should oil prices fall as they have done it in the past. Unfortunately it did not happen. Making quantum changes to a strategically important commodity like oil is extremely difficult.

It is high time that the government decides to hand over the responsibility of fixing product prices to oil companies as intended when APM was dismantled in 2002. This will help the government to concentrate on tax policy. It can then continue to assist the poor by distributing subsidised products through smart cards as recommended by the Planning Commission.

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is the Dream Team exposed?

Will NRIs buy a used car from these gentlemen?

30 June 2008

Do Indians in America all vote for the Democratic Party? Will they all do so only if an Indian politician they trust certifies the candidates? And only if the politician belongs to the Janata parivar?

In January, when it seemed Hillary Clinton‘s star was on the ascendant, newspapers were deliriously reporting that Clinton’s campaign managers had approached Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and former minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh to canvass for the former first lady among Indians settled in the United States.

Kumar said: “We support the Democratic Party presidential nominee.”

“We have all sympathy for the party,” Singh added helpfully.

Well, the epidemic is spreading.

P.G.R. Sindhia, the former Janata Dal minister in Karnataka who left the party to join the Bahujan Samaj Party only to be summarily expelled by Mayawati last week, has announced that he is going to the United States to campaign for the Democratic Party nominee, Barack Obama.

The Hindu reports that “as he was a fan of the Democratic Party, he had informed the party in advance that he would campaign for Obama.”

Sindhia will be addressing meetings of the Indian community in the US for two weeks during July and August to seek votes for Obama. His itinerary will be finalised in a couple of days, please note.

Photographs: Nitish Kumar courtesy UNI via rediff.com, Digvijay Singh courtesy The Tribune, Sindhia courtesy Karnataka Photo News

‘Manmohan Singh sabotaged Iran pipeline deal’

30 June 2008

M.J. Akbar, who the grapevine says was ousted from the editorship of The Asian Age due to his staunch opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal, goes for the jugular in his column in the Khaleej Times of Dubai:

“The Manmohan Singh government has been unable to bear the burden of an alliance with George W. Bush. The Congress encouraged the illusion, with the help of a cabal of analysts, publicists and lobbyists, that the Left was a lapdog rather than a watchdog, and could be either appeased by a bone or silenced with a stick. When the moment came to choose, the Congress stood with Bush instead of Prakash Karat.

“The official excuse for this decision is energy. But this is deception.

Dr Manmohan Singh deliberately sabotaged a much cheaper and more immediate source of energy for the country when he deliberately undermined the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, raising one false spectre after another to mislead the country, so that it would seem that there was no option but to go ahead with the Indo-US nuclear deal.

“We have forgotten now that the first objection he raised, three years ago, was that financing would be a problem.”

Read the full column: War and consequences

Also read: ‘Never let your head stoop as a journalist’

Little kids fall into them. Big cats fall into them.

29 June 2008

All’s well that ends well for a leopard that had fallen into a well near Linganayakwada near Karwar on Saturday. The cat was rescued and released into the forests.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

If you have to die, can you please do so in Delhi?

28 June 2008

The passing away of the only Indian to be appointed Field Marshal when in active service has been remarkable for the warmth of the ordinary men and women who queued up to say meebeenamet to the adorable dikra who put his life on the line for them.

It has also been remarkable for the complete lack of grace and gratitude, civility and courtesy, decency and decorum on the part of the bold-faced names rapaciously grazing the lawns of power in Delhi and elsewhere, for the brain behind India’s only decisive military victory.

Sam, the Bahadur, had been unwell for a while now. From about 1000 hours on June 26, reports of his being “critically ill” had appeared in the media. Yet, when the “expected tocsin” sounded at 0030 hours till the guns were fired in salute around 1500 hours on June 27, “civil society” chose to show its uncivility.

Pratibha Patil, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces with all the time in the world: Absent

Hamid Ansari: Vice-president releasing books and writing reviews of books by fellow-travellers: Absent

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister who could do with a bit of the field marshal’s charisma and heroism: Absent

Sonia Gandhi: daughter-in-law of the woman the field marshal called “sweetie”: Absent

L.K. Advani: prime minister in waiting of the party which would like to do to Pakistan what Manekshaw did: Absent

M. Karunanidhi and Surjit Singh Barnala: chief minister and governor of the state which Manekshaw had made his home for 35 years: Absent

Politicians may have their reasons. They always do. Maybe, there are issues like protocol. Maybe, this is one way in which “civil India” shows the armed forces its place. Maybe, this is why we are not as militaristic as Pakistan. Maybe, the knees are just too old to climb the hills.

But what about the armed forces itself?

A.K. Antony: the defence minister “now behaving like the chairman of the confederation of the armed forces’ trade unions“: absent “due to prior political engagements”

The chief of army staff: absent (away in Russia)

The chief of navy staff: absent

The chief of air staff: absent

The fact that the defence minister was represented by his deputy Pallam Raju, the fact that the navy and air staff sent two-star general rank officers, shows that however high or mighty, however rich or powerful, civilian or military, if you should die as you must, you should do so somewhere in the victinity of New Delhi—or Bombay. Or else, they must have some use for you.

Or else, too bad.

As he rightly surmised once: “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla — although a great many of them in the past have resembled the latter.”

The contrast couldn’t be starker:

# When Amitabh Bachchan was ill after being socked in the stomach during the shooting of Coolie, Indira Gandhi flew down to Bombay to show her concern.

# When Dhirubhai Ambani died, L.K. Advani cut short his Gujarat tour to pay his respects to an “embodiment of initiative, enterprise and determination”.

# When Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother, vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekawat had the time to attend the funeral.

Our VIPs and VVIPs have time for dead and dying celebrities, crooks, charlatans, fixers. Not for a field marshal?

***

In his biography of K.M. Cariappa, the only other field marshal India has had (and who too died at age 94), air marshal K.C. Cariappa writes of his father’s cremation in May 1993:

“Honouring him in death as they did in life were Field Marshal Manekshaw, the three service chiefs all of whom belonged to the same course and at whose passing out parade from the joint services wing father had presided, the gracious chief minister M. Veerappa Moily and C.K. Jaffer Sharief, Minister for Railways representing the President as the supreme commander of the armed forces.”

Somebody should have told the geniuses in Delhi that Sam, the Bahadur, passed away in Wellington, Ooty, not Wellington, New Zealand. The nearest civil airport is Coimbatore, just 80 km away.

If this is how we say goodbye to our only Field Marshal, any wonder why Rang de Basanti could successfully tap into the angst of an entire generation?

In picture: (left to right) Admiral L. Ramdas, General S.F. Rodrigues, and Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri in their final farewell, 43 years later, to the reviewing officer who took the salute at their passing out parade in December 1950 (From the book Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, by Air Marshal K.C. Cariappa, published by Niyogi books).

This piece also appeared on rediff.com

Also read: 93 seconds to knock 93 years of a hero’s life

Sam Manekshaw: hero or villain?

Is narco-analysis test only for poor & illiterate?

26 June 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The murder of Aarushi Talwar and the man-servant in the Talwar household, Hemaraj, has been an extraordinary episode in Indian criminal history.

A month and ten days after the two were found dead in Noida, the case is nowhere near being cracked. And this, after a police officer claimed that the case would be solved in 24 hours.

What the nation is seeing, night and day, is the true state of the criminal-justice system.

Policemen and CBI officers bumbling around like buffoons. Abysmal expertise in evidence collection or protection. Bogus theories of motive being merrily floated around. Private SMSes, emails being randomly leaked and planted to besmirch perpetrators and victims. And so on.

And a media that has completely gone haywire.

First Hemraj himself was suspected, then found dead. Then the needle pointed at “doctor or butcher”. Soon the dentist-father of 14-year-old Aarushi, Rajesh Talwar, was arrested. Then it swung in the direction of the other servant, Vishnu Sharma. The dentist’s compounder Krishna was picked up. Krishna said Rajkumar, the domestic help of the Talwars’ partner Anita Durrani, did it. Then the name of Shambhu was thrown into the ring.

The murder was said to be done with a surgical tool, then with a khukri. It was said to be an “honour killing”. The father was said to have done it to hide his extramarital affairs. The father was said to be enraged at his daughter’s proximity with the servant.

Etcetera.

If this is how a crime is investigated in a satellite town that is a stone’s throw from the “happening” capital of a rising, shining, incredible nation, what must be the true state of victims in a poor, illiterate, god-forsaken village or town, away from the media glare?

However, if there is one issue in the Aarushi-Hemaraj case that still sticks out after all these days and from this distance, it is the selective application of the narco-analysis test to ferret out the truth.

Why, for instance, has the “truth serum” been injected on the compounder Krishna alias Kishan, and not on Rajesh Talwar or his dentist-wife, Nupur Talwar?

Obviously, it is the investigating agency’s prerogative on what tests and methods of interrogation it wants to employ on the accused.

Still, what does it suggest that the father (arrested on May 23) on whom so much of the attention was focused in the initial days should only be put to lie detector tests, whereas the compounder (arrested on June 13) is injected with the truth serum almost immediately after being picked up?

Even today, while successfully opposing his bail plea, the CBI has said that Rajesh Talwar is not off the hook in the “blind murder case”, and indeed that there is “reasonable doubt” to believe that the father was involved in the murders.

Why, again, has Aarushi’s mother Nupur been put to two lie detector tests, while Krishna has been put through lie detector tests, psychological tests, and narco-analysis?

As it is, narco-analysis tests have been under the scanner of human rights groups. The evidence obtained through narco-analysis tests not admissible in a court of law. Nevertheless, what does the selective administration of the truth serum in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case imply?

That lie detector tests are for one kind of people, and narco-analysis for another?

‘NRIs embarrassed by Indians and Hindus in India’

26 June 2008

Ashis Nandy, facing criminal charges for a think-piece he wrote in The Times of India on Gujaratis after the victory of Narendra Modi, tears into non-resident Indians and their support for Hindu nationalist “causes” back home, in an interview with Sheela Reddy of Outlook:

“There is huge support for Modi among First World Gujaratis and that support also often translates into money for Hindu nationalist causes. It is guilt money. The more they and their kids make a beeline for McDonald’s and KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), the more they feel that they have to donate for “Hindu” causes.

“Moreover, NRIs are defensive about the status of India in the outside world because that status impinges directly on their self-respect in their adopted country. Indians and the Hindus back in India always seem to embarrass them. They are ever ready to fight to the last Indian in India for the glory of India outside India.”

Read the full interview: ‘Democracy is now psephocracy’

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom’

‘Intimidation won’t help restore Gujarati asmita

Zero to one-eighty in nine seconds (& stitches)

26 June 2008

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY three very fine examples of public service advertising. Against overspeeding, for saving the girl-child, and against chewing tobacco.

Will bark turn to bite on evening of reckoning?

25 June 2008

On the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Emergency

25 June 2008

The dictionary defines “atrocity” as “the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. If that is an acceptable definition, what constitutes an “atrocity” against the scheduled castes and tribes?

Is a Lok Ayukta raid against a corrupt SC/ST official an “atrocity” against dalits? Is sacking or suspending an incompetent SC/ST employee an “atrocity” against dalits? Is questioning, criticising , shouting slogans against, or burning an effigy of an SC/ST public figure an “atrocity” against dalits?

Can the media dispassionately write about or comment on individuals and institutions of the scheduled castes and tribes, as they should any other community, without attracting the charge of “harassment”?

In other words, are dalits above the laws of the land? Or are the scheduled castes and tribes taking advantage of the special status that the Constitution of India confers on them?

The answers are blindingly obvious to most, but to the Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, they are not so. Last night, AP police swooped down on the offices of the Telugu daily, Andhra Jyothy, and arrested its editor (K. Srinivas) and two journalists (N. Vamsi Krishna and N. Srinivas) under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.

Section 3 (1) (x) reads:

“Whoever, not being a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe… intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or tribe in any place within public view.”

Their crime?

The Maadiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga had lodged a complaint with the police on 28 May 2008 that the staff of the newspaper had abused him by his caste when they had taken out a protest march the previous day. According to one report, Krishna Madiga “showed the photos where the editor and others were present when the agitators were beating his effigy with chappals”.

The reason Andhra Jyothy staff had taken out the protest march?

Activists of the MRPS had attacked the offices of Andhra Jyothy in Hyderabad, Warangal and Vishakapatnam on 27 May 2008 and vandalised them in protest against an article it had published on 26 May 2008. Two cars were also damaged.

Without naming any Dalit leader in particular, the article in question referred to “hired leaders” and “saleable commodities” who  were only pandering to their interests rather than working for the interests of their community.

MRPS leaders claimed Andhra Jyothy had published the news item “with the specific intent of tarnishing the image of leaders who were crusading for the uplift of the weaker sections for decades”.

Almost a month later, on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Emergency, the police came knocking and took away the editor and the two contributors. The charge against the reporters was that they had burnt the effigy of Krishna Madiga and slapped it with chappals during the rally on 27 May 2008.

A police officer is quoted as saying, prima facie, there is “clinching evidence” against all three.

The arrest of the Andhra Jyothy staff comes in the middle of a surcharged media atmosphere in the Congress-ruled State, and the journalists’ bodies are smelling more than a rat.

Ramoji Rao, the proprietor of the State’s largest daily Eenadu, has been the subject of a sustained legal and financial scrutiny. The chief minister’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, has just launched a multi-edition, all-colour newspaper called Saakshi to take on Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi. And the film star Chiranjeevi, whom Andhra Jyothy is seemingly backing, is slated to announce the launch of a political party soon.

Photograph: Andhra Jyothy editor K. Srinivas being taken away in a police jeep upon his arrest (courtesy Andhra Jyothy )

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom

Cross-posted on sans serif

CHURUMURI POLL: Land for the Amarnath shrine?

25 June 2008

The decision of the Congress-led Jammu & Kashmir government of Ghulam Nabi Azad to assign 39.88 hectares (approximately 100 acres) of degraded forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) for construction of facilities at base camps leading up to the Amarnath shrine for pilgrims, threatens to snowball into a full-blown Muslim-Hindu communal conflict.

Critics say the move is a mischievous attempt to alter the demographic character of the Muslim-majority State; a “conspiracy to settle non-local Hindus in the valley with a view to reducing the Muslims to a minority“. They say giving away forest land, despite the objections of forest authorities, is illegal and will adversely impact the ecology of the adjacent Thwajas wildlife sanctuary. They say there is no need for land for structures for a shrine which attracts devotees only two months a year. And they say the SASB has been functioning as a parallel government, collecting taxes, not answerable to the legislature.

Supporters claim the land has only been assigned, not transferred. They say the proprietary status of the land will remain unchanged even when the shrine board complex comes up on the land. They say there will be no permanent buildings, only prefabricated huts and toilets. They say the valley’s politicians are playing politics on the eve of assembly elections slated for later this year.

The outgoing governor S.K. Sinha (the board is chaired by the governor of the State) has been accused of making inflammatory speeches. One person has been killed in clashes with the police. The BJP has threatened to cut off food and other essential supplies to the Kashmir valley if the land is not allotted. And the sangh parivar has been accused of seeking to “destroy Kashmiri ethos” while the SASB has been accused of trying to create “a state within a state“.

Questions: Is the move to transfer land right or wrong? Is it wrong to create facilities for pilgrims? Are Kashmiris wrong in fearing a threat to their land? Is the Congress playing electoral games by raking up this issue at this juncture? Is the BJP playing with fire? If the “BJP rails against subsidies to Muslim religious institutions, is it right to support public land being committed to facilitate a Hindu pilgrimage“? Does the Amarnath issue have the potential to take Kashmir back to the past?

What makes you rich needn’t make you better

25 June 2008

Jaithirth Rao in The Indian Express:

“Oil has been at best a mixed blessing for its possessors. Consider Venezuela, once a shining democracy true to Betancourt’s legacy, an economy on the make, a net exporter of rice till the ‘60s. The oil bonanza has made them a country that imports everything and encourages profligate, even bizarre, governments.

“Consider Nigeria. Under Tafawa Balewa it was moving to become a shining exemplar for Africa. But then, oil struck. Without oil there would have been no ghastly Biafran war, there would not have been the enormous corruption that is endemic to rentier societies, there would not be the anarchy that now passes for a country.

“Consider Iran, or Persia, if you will. Without oil there would have been no meddling by the Anglo-American Oil Syndicate, Mossadegh would not have been overthrown by the CIA, a megalomaniacal Reza Shah would not have started a nuclear programme with the support of President Nixon, a programme that now President Bush would love to shut down, there might not even have been an Islamist dispensation and Iranian women might have made steady progress towards freedom and the pursuit of happiness.

“One could also speculate whether, without oil, maximalist positions would have been abandoned by the Arab side and a more stable peace with Israel would have been worked out. Without oil, the world would certainly not have seen the ubiquitous spread of Wahhabism across the globe. Maybe a gentler Sufi persuasion would have prevailed. Without oil Saddam would not have survived so long and there would almost certainly not have been a US intervention there.”

Read the full column: Those empires of carbon

Who decides what we should/ shouldn’t watch?

24 June 2008

News has not been in short supply in the global village in the satellite age.

There are the “Indian” English news channels: NDTV 24×7, CNN-IBN, Times Now, Headlines Today. And the Hindi news channels: Aaj Tak, Star News, NDTV India, IBN 7, DD News, India TV. And the language news channels: Udaya, Sun, Suvarna, TV9, Teja, IBN Lokmat. And the business news channels: CNBC-TV18, NDTV Profit, UTVi. And the “foreign” English news channels: CNN, BBC, Fox.

Why, in this veritable welter of vaartha, do we not receive Al Jazeera?

The ground-breaking Qatar-based Arabic channel launched an English version more than a year-and-a-half ago. Staffed with big names, not short of resources, and not short of good ideas, “Al-Jazeera English” provides a much-needed respite from the stuffiness of its western competitors and from the itsy-bitsyness of their Indian counterparts. Yet, few Indian homes receive the Arab view of the world.

And so, it transpires, don’t homes in the land of the free and the independent.

America’s ultra-patriotic cable networks have steadfastly refused to carry “Al Jazeera English”. Result: the channel is only available to those who choose to sample its fare online on YouTube, or buy a dish antenna.

The channel has been accused of “hate-mongering” towards Americans; of inciting “violence, hatred and murder” against Israelis and Jews; of waging a “soft, subtle, cultural jihad”; of being a propaganda tool—charges that could be flung on those making them with equal efficacy. Nonetheless, the manner in which Al Jazeera English has been blacked out in the United States raises the simple question: who decides what we should watch, and what we shouldn’t?

The tiny town of Burlington (population 39,000) in “liberal” Vermont is an exception (along with Toledo, Ohio). There, the City owns the cable network, and has been offering subscribers “Al Jazeera English”. After complaints from pro-Israeli groups, public hearings have been held, where those in favour of the channel outnumbered those against 6-1 and a decision will soon be made.

“Al Jazeera is an opportunity for us to learn more. If anyone doesn’t want to learn more, there is a simple solution: they can switch to a different channel.”

“There is a cable news network that I personally think if full of hatred, full of propaganda, full of half-truths, and that is Fox News.”

Cross-posted on sans serif

In rising, shining India, the great leap backward

24 June 2008

Andre Beteille, professor emeritus of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, in The Telegraph:

“Politics in India is coming to be driven increasingly by the competition for backwardness. The principal contenders in this competition are not individuals, households, or even classes, but castes and tribes. Even the religious minorities, whose proud forbears once ruled much of the land, are learning to recognize the advantages to be gained from being designated as backward.

“Sociologists of an earlier generation had drawn attention to the wide prevalence of ‘Sanskritization’, whereby a caste of middle or inferior social rank claimed a higher status by adopting the habits, practices and rites of the twice-born castes and calling themselves Kshatriyas or even Brahmins. Today, such castes are less eager to represent themselves as Brahmins and Kshatriyas than to claim that they are backward….

Read the full article: Tribes and castes

What’s in your name? What’s in your namam?

24 June 2008

R. Ramaswamy Iyengar in a letter to the editor of Praja Vani:

“Some 58 years ago, N. Keshava Iyengar was the mayor of the Bangalore City Corporation. A staunch Congressman and Nehruvian, he was a firm believer in secularism.

“Some citizens needled him: “Sir, you follow secular principles. How come you still retain the ‘Iyengar‘ in your name?”

“Finding merit in the citizens’ argument, the mayor dropped his surname and soon came to be known as N. Keshava.

“The reason I bring this up is because so many of our secular titans continue to retain surnames that denote the name of their communities and sects. For example, H.D. Deve Gowda who heads the Janata Dal (Secular). Doesn’t this run counter to their secular credentials?”

***

The late economist and Member of Parliament Prof K. Venkatagiri Gowda would angrily telephone editors and reporters if he was referred to as Prof Gowda. “My name is Venkatagiri, not Gowda,” he would holler.

Lalu Prasad Yadav has long become Lalu Prasad, but Mulayam Singh Yadav continues to be MSY.

So, should Mani Shankar drop the Aiyar from his name? Does “former prime minister H.D. Deve” have the same ring as “former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda?” Would B.K.S. Iyengar have been as famous as just “B.K.S.”, or K. Pattabhi Jois as K. Pattabhi?

‘There is no God, none, not one, never was’

23 June 2008

churumuri records with regret the demise of George Carlin, the irreverent, anti-establishment, gold standard for standup comedians, in Santa Monica, California, on Sunday. He was 71.

[odeo=http://odeo.com/show/9956813/]

Also read: George Carlin quotes

New York Times’ obituary

Nuclear Vajpayee vs nuclear Manmohan Singh

23 June 2008

Sudheendra Kulkarni in The Indian Express:

“Several decades from now, history will remember Atal Behari Vajpayee as the prime minister who took the bull by the horns and announced India’s emergence as a nuclear weapons power by ordering nuclear tests in May 1998…. Ask any Indian living abroad, and they will tell you that India going nuclear was what compelled the world, especially the West, to start viewing India with greater respect. The “Can Do” spirit, or the “Hum kisise kum nahin” spirit, that we now see among Indians in business and other spheres of life was, to a significant extent, made possible by the “Can Do” decision that Vajpayee took within two months of assuming office in 1998.

“Now ask yourselves how history would view Dr Manmohan Singh’s adventurism on the Indo-US nuclear deal…. Would India in 2020 or 2030 recall with pride that Dr Singh was the prime minister who ended India’s “nuclear apartheid” and heralded India’s “nuclear renaissance”?… History will also put to the test Dr Singh’s claim about ending India’s “nuclear apartheid” since the Indo-US nuclear deal is, self-evidently, less about liberating India from its chronic energy needs and more about bringing India within the US-dictated global non-proliferation regime.”

Read the full column: Applying the posterity test

Also read: Manmohan Singh: good, bad, sad?

Pyaare Manmohan… where the bloody hell are you?

Mirror, mirror, who is the reddest of us all?

23 June 2008

SREEKANTH V. NAIR catches a theyyam artist in Uduma, in Kasargod district, doing a vanity-check.

Do people like us deserve politicians like them?

23 June 2008

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Over the years, Indians have yearned for lots of things American. Everything from American money to American education to American movies and sitcoms and not least of all, an American lifestyle.

So it should come as no surprise that the latest fad in India seems to be, of all things, American politicians.

Rajdeep Sardesai wonders “Who will be India’s Obama?

“Captain” Vijayakanth shouts, “I will do an Obama here.

Shashi Tharoor is the latest in the line of commentators who have enviously eyed the pool of candidates running for what has to be the longest and best publicized American Presidential election, and wonders why “we” couldn’t get a Barack Obama, or even a Hillary Clinton as prime ministerial candidate.

Indeed Shashi Tharoor ends with the oft repeated lament, “Why don’t we get the politicians we deserve?” but prefers to blame middle class Indians for not taking to politics for all the good spitting into a cyclone would do.

The problem with that question (and his recommendation) is the word “we”.I say this in relation to the other term used to denote a collective in the first person “us”.

At first blush (and a quick dictionary check), the two English words seem to mean the same (with small differences), but their usage in our political discourse shows that they in fact mean almost opposite things.

For instance, the Constitution of India does not begin as “Us, the people of India”. Nor are community conflicts usually painted as “We v. Them”.

This gives a clue as to what “we” and “us” actually mean in the context of political discourse.

“We”, for instance, when used in the context of the “people of India”, seems to be used in the context of a wide inclusive definition. The people of India, as against just the citizens of India (itself a pretty inclusive definition) is broad, all encompassing and general, trying to do away with the millions of differences between the actual individuals, putting above all else, their identity as Indians.

Even the UN Charter (from which the preamble to the Constitution seems to be clearly inspired), begins “We, the peoples of the United Nations” much to the same effect.

Yet, when caste, class and race conflicts are discussed, the phrase almost inevitably invoked is “Us versus Them”. Here, the “us” is narrow, limited and confined to a set group of people with the same inflexible identity. By the very nature of the conflict, a loosely defined “us”, would mean that eventually “them” would become superfluous if there is no difference between “us” and “them”, signifying that there is in fact no conflict at all.

Pretty much all definitions of race and caste, legal or simply societal, have been exclusionary definitions to make sure people don’t forget who exactly the “us” are, and who the “them” are.

Think of all the caste prohibitions that make one lose one’s caste (marriage out of caste, eating “prohibited” foods, drinking from “prohibited”wells, travel across seas), but remember that there is only way to gain membership of one, birth.

But coming back to our earlier question, “Why don’t we get the candidates we deserve?”

The “we” here is definitely the “we” of “we, the people of India”. Yet, if voting patterns in the last 57 years of electoral politics is anything to go by, the question in election time, utmost in the voter’s mind has always seemed to be “Who is the candidate who represents us?”

The “us” here is ethnicity, tribal affiliation, caste, sub-caste, linguistic identity, religion, you-name-it-you-have-it-division in India.

This trend has in fact accentuated as even the national parties field candidates in each constituency based on caste and religious configuration. So much so that a national election in India turns out to be a combination of 500+ local elections where the whole is lesser than the sum of the parts.

So the question “Why don’t we get the candidates we deserve?” is about as relevant to electoral politics in India as say, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”

The fundamental question still remains, “Who best represents us?”

Depressingly, that answer is the current crop of politicians, H.D. Deve Gowda included.

Photograph: courtesy sneakerobsession

Where were you on the night this took place?

22 June 2008

Twenty-five years ago—a quarter of a century ago!—India won the World Cup of cricket.

It all seems like a millennium ago, and it is. The matches were 60 overs a side. The players wore white clothes; the balls were red; and the television sets were black and white. The matches were all played during the day; in the event of rain, they were completed the following day. There was no 15-yard circle, no fielding restrictions, no one-bouncer-an-over rule.

In the finals—at the Tirupati of the Game, Lord’s—India scored 183 in 54.4 overs and the West Indies were bowled out for 140 in 52 overs.

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN was in Bombay on the day of the finals: “After the match, I remember going with a friend on his scooter in Chembur and getting  drunk at a Sardar’s pub. The sardar’s son every now and then was doing a ‘Kapil‘ by opening a beer bottle and spraying it everywhere. An indulgent father was showing him how to do that correctly by opening another bottle!”

AMIT VARMA was nine at the time, and hadn’t yet begun following cricket. “I vaguely remember being in a room with many family members, all of them rather excited. When they began jumping up and down at the fall of the tenth West Indian wicket, I looked at the screen and sagely remarked: “But they still have one batsman left.”

Where were you when India did what it has never done again? Did you have a TV set at home or did you go to a neighbour’s to watch the proceedings? Colour or b/w? If you had gone off to sleep, what was your first reaction when you were told the next morning that such a thing had happened?

What is your finest, most abiding memory (besides Balwinder Sandhu bowling Gordon Greenidge)?

Where were you on Twentyfifth June Nineteeneightythree?

‘Imperialism is knocking on India’s doors again’

22 June 2008

Amitav Ghosh, author of the newly released Sea of Poppies, in an interview with Amrita Tripathi of CNN-IBN:

“The age of imperialism is not over. It’s actually now starting all over again. It’s really starting in earnest. Just yesterday, we saw the American army attacking the Pakistan army on the borders of Pakistan. I think recolonisation is a real prospect for Pakistan. The age of imperalism is not only not over, it is knocking on our doors again.

“During the Iraq war, during the George W. Bush presidency, we saw imperial historians literally saying ‘We want Empire back’.

“It’s important for us, people who have our histories, who lived through histories, to stand up and say no, this is what your history did, what you are thinking about your history is a myth. We Indians, as writers and intellectuals, we do have a large presence. In this debate, we were able to anything at all; we were completely ineffective.”

View the video: Reading between the lines

Also read: Imperial instincts

If God wanted to be an MLA, he’d be Independent

22 June 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Indra jumped off his simhasana as if struck by a million volts. He had just been told that somebody in the southern Indian state of Karnataka was out to usurp his seat in Amravathy.

“It’s not a joke. In his name some 30,000 temples in this place will start doing puja daily. That can only mean he is trying to topple you and take over. Even if he stops the mass puja due to objections, he reeks of incense doing hourly puja in his office, at home and on tours. In short, everywhere. Before doing anything, he does a quick puja. This includes daily chores like bathing, eating and sleeping and other things I cannot mention. That is very ominous.”

That was Deep Eye, Indra’s earth watcher.

“Indeed it is. It looks like he is eyeing my seat. How can I stop him? Can I give him say 100 elephants and 200 horses as a gift and make him my friend?”

Indra sounded desperate.

Deep Eye shot down the proposal: “With inflation reaching 11% there, prices of horse gram and coconuts going through the roof, how will he feed the brood? He will consider your gift an insult. It will create the opposite effect. He might start serial pujas. There is only one way. He is a Chief Minister, equivalent to a Maharaja. He is heading a rickety government propped by some independents. If we can get the independents away, his government will fall and you are then safe.”

“How can we get the independents to ditch the government? Can I send Narada to create some trouble?”

“That won’t work. There are persons who are equal to 1,000 Naradas down there. On the other hand, we should send Narada some other time to get some advanced training.”

“What can I give these independents? Ruby, Sapphire? Can I send Menaka, Urvashi and Rambha? Can I loan  them my Airavatha?’

“I don’t know in which yuga, you are living in, Raja,” said Vishwamitra who joined in the discussion. “My divyadhristi tells me they have all these and much more. They have mines which are more than all these things put together. Some of them have helicopters which can carry your Airavatha!”

“Can’t we do something? Anything?”

The Deep Eye came in: “We can’t, Maharaja. I understand that as per the local custom, the two political parties usually take the independents to a ‘Resort’ and do ‘Political Churning’ with the help of local Naradas. It is somewhat like our ‘Samudra Manthana‘ done by Devathas and Rakshasas. I can’t guess who is who here. After continuous churning, the colours of independents change when more and more mines and lands are added to their kitty. When the independents are satisfied with the size of their kitty, the Government will fall and the new Government takes over. Till that happens your seat won’t be stable. Further, even when a new Government is formed, the same independents, now richer many times, will play a key new role. This goes on and on and is very popular in Karnataka.”

“It’s amazing to see the power of these Independents! We should have some of them here.”

Vishwamitra replied, “Raja, if we get them here they will create an imbalance of power that is hard to comprehend. First they will side with Shiva and later ditch him by joining with Vishnu. They will even combine with both and take on Brahma.  They are capable of creating havoc in all the Lokas and Swarga will become Naraka in no time. But they will do all this by first invoking Gods’ names!”

Indra by now had decided what should be the next course.

He left for the forest early morning without telling any one. They searched him all over and finally found him in the Himalayas.

To a sobbing Shachi Devi, Indra’s wife, Vishwamitra comforted thus: “It’s too late. Nothing can stop him. He is praying all Gods to make him an Independent!”

Never do tomorrow what you can do day after

22 June 2008

M.J. Akbar in the Khaleej Times, Dubai:

“No Government of India has been as minimalist as the UPA regime. For over four years now it has survived on a simple basis: Do nothing, and nothing unfortunate will happen. There are some good reasons for this.

“The central motivation of the UPA coalition has been fear of failure. It wanted to survive in office above all else. It knew that the alliance was brittle, and so compromised on two basic elements of power. No action was ever taken on the corruption or misrule of ministers, for fear that it would break the alliance….

Dr Manmohan Singh learnt what little he knows of politics from P.V. Narasimha Rao, a Prime Minister who perfected the art of doing nothing, and flaunted indecision as a decision….

“Singh’s mien was never very colourful, although he could be brisk. If he began as a grey man, he has deepened towards an ashy pallor. The price of power was visible in his eyes. You might imagine that if you do nothing, nothing will happen to you. Your eyes betray you.”

Read the full column: The fine art of doing nothing


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