Archive for April, 2011

Free: Another killer idea for Sonia Gandhi’s NAC

27 April 2011

After prescribing austerity for “cattle-class” plebians, and proscribing SUVs for the super-rich, the national advisory council (NAC) has mooted “one dish per meal” at social functions like weddings and funerals to prevent wastage of food in a country that is climbing on the hunger index.

Surely, the 192 couples who tied the knot at the 40th mass marriage ceremony held in Dharmasthala on Wednesday should surely give Sonia Gandhi‘s fantasists some fancy new ideas? Like, how about all the eligible in every town doing the saat pheras on the same day every year?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Tipu Sultan & the truth about 3,000 Brahmins

25 April 2011

Supreme Court judge, Justice Markandey Katju, has used the example of Tipu Sultan to illustrate the point that Hindu-Muslim relations suffer from the rewriting of history to project Muslim rulers as intolerant and bigoted, whereas there was ample evidence to show that the opposite was true.

From a news report in The Hindu:

“Justice Katju said the myth-making against Muslim rulers, which was a post-1857 British project, had been internalised in India over the years. Thus, Mahmud Ghazni‘s destruction of the Somnath temple was known but not the fact that Tipu Sultan gave an annual grant to 156 Hindu temples. The judge… buttressed his arguments with examples quoted from D.N. Pande‘s History in the Service of Imperialism.

“Dr Pande came upon the truth about Tipu Sultan in 1928 while verifying a contention — made in a history textbook authored by Dr Har Prashad Shastri, the then head of the Sanskrit Department in Calcutta University — that during Tipu’s rule 3,000 Brahmins had committed suicide to escape conversion to Islam.

“The only authentication Dr Shastri could provide was that the reference was contained in the Mysore Gazetteer. But the Gazetteer contained no such reference.

“Further research by Dr. Pande showed not only that Tipu paid annual grants to 156 temples, but that he enjoyed cordial relations with the Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math to whom he had addressed at least 30 letters. Dr. Shastri’s book, which was in use at the time in high schools across India, was later de-prescribed. But the unsubstantiated allegation continued to masquerade as a fact in history books written later.”

Read the full article: Muslim leaders deliberately projected as intolerant

Also read: ‘Tipu Sultan left his last meal unfinished’

Did the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ really tame tiger?

CHURUMURI POLL: Tipu Sultan vs Kempe Gowda?

External reading: Girish Karnad, S.L. Bhyrappa, Tipu Sultan and others

5 things a journalist learnt from Dr Raj Kumar

24 April 2011

SAGGERE RAMASWAMY writes from Bangalore: In my 25 years as a photojournalist, I met Dr Raj Kumar in person five times and learnt five things from him: simplicity, punctuality, dedication, respect (for others)—and the knack of enjoying food.

Other than those personal meetings, I had the occasion to cover many events of Raj Kumar. My first “Dr Raj” shoot was during the Gokak chaluvali at the Doddakere Maidan in Mysore in the early 1980s, when he, Vishnuvardhan and other stars were taking part in the agitation for primacy for Kannada.

Our first personal meeting was at the Kalamandira in Mysore in 1986. I walked in to the greenroom with my camera and was stunned to see Annavru. He was humming a ‘Dasara pada’.

Me: Saar, Namaskara.

Annavru: Namaskara… yenu nimma hesaru? (What’s your name?)

Me: Ramaswamy, saar

Annavru: Ramuswamy na, Ramaswamy na?

Me: Saar, Ramaswamy, saar

Annavru: aah, haage heli. Yava patrike?

Me: Mysore Mitra, saar, from the Star of Mysore group.

I took just a few pictures of the varanata that day as my film roll restricted my shooting, but I had the presence of mind to request his long-time bodyguard Channa (of the information department) to shoot a picture of the two of us together.

When he was awarded the Dada Saheb Phalke award in1995, Chetan Krishnaswamy, K. Gopinathan and I walked in to his residence at Sadashivanagar for an interview for Frontline magazine. Director Bhagawan, who fixed the meeting for us, was already there.

Raj Kumar stood up and said: “Banni, koothukolli’ (come, sit down). Bhagawan introduced us to him.

Without any hesitation, Raj Kumar said: “Frontline aa? English patrike, nanage English odoke barolla.” (Frontline? English magazine? I don’t know how to read English)

Today, on Dr Raj’s birth anniversary, I remember two things.

One, that he stood up and welcomed us.

And two, as I watched this video clip from his 104th film Amma (1968), his statement: “Nanage English odoke baralla.”

(Saggere Ramaswamy, worked with the Indian Express, The Hindu, and the world’s first technology daily, Tech Mail, before launching India’s first web-based photo syndication agency, Karnataka Photo News. He is also on the faculty of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore.)

Also view: Dr Raj Kumar:If you come today, tomarrroww

Sai Baba’s teachings haven’t touched his Trustees

23 April 2011

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Satya Sai Baba is now reported to be in a critical condition and the battlelines to take over one of the wealthiest Trusts in the nation are being drawn.

The hysteria around Sai Baba’s health brings to mind an incident recounted in a book titled Begone Godmen! by the Sri Lanka-born rationalist, Dr Abraham Kovoor. He says when he once wrote an article mentioning about Sai Baba going through an appedicitis operation, many Baba devotees took offence.

Reason: they considered Sai Baba a godman who could not fall ill.

One devotee, who was a doctor, said that Sai Baba had not been admitted to the hospital to remove his own appendix but a diseased one that the Bhagwan had taken into his body from a suffering devotee.

Whether one believes such theories or not is immaterial because the fact is all men fall sick.

All men will die. And everyone is equal in death. Death does not discriminate, death does not disappoint. It will come. Be it godman or an ungodly man. Of course, supposedly, there are various types of deaths, but that is another matter altogether.

Then of course there is the soul, unseen, unexplainable, unbelievably overrated and exploited.

Before we go into the realm of the metaphysical or start talking of the netherland, we must notice the fact that while Sai Baba lies is in a critical state, so is the character of the people in his inner circle.

A few days ago, while Sai Baba was in the hospital, there were two groups having separate meetings the whole day. One comprised the family members of Sai Baba; the other were the trustees of the Satya Sai Central Trust.

It is being reported that there is a war brewing within the Trust.

The Satya Sai Trust consists of five Trustees—the Sai Baba himself who is the founder-Trustee; P.N. Bhagwati, the former chief justice of India; Indulal Shah, a chartered accountant; S.V. Giri, former central vigilance commissioner; V. Srinivas, former president of the confederation of Indian industry (CII); and Sai Baba’s nephew, Ratnakar.

There is so much distrust among the Trustees that electricity was cut off in Puttaparthi so people would not watch a particular programme on a particular channel relayed only by a particular cable operator as the programme being telecast was particularly critical of the Trustees.

Incidentally, Sai Baba’s nephew Ratnakar holds the cable rights to Puttaparthi!

But why this hullabaloo? After all, Sai Baba has said that he will leave his physical body only when he is 96 years old, that’s a good 11 years from now. Considering that people have put their complete faith in his hands, they should not worry. He should be back giving darshans soon.

During such trying times, it is disturbing to see a group of illustrious individuals, one of them a blood relative of the godman, indulge in mud-slinging.

Sai Baba once said:

“If there is righteousness in the heart,

there will be beauty in character;

If there is beauty in character,

there will be harmony in the home.”

Looks like there is trouble in Sai Baba’s home now.

It seems many years of exposure to the godman’s godly teachings has had no effect on the Trustees. Even more disappointing, these Trustees are closer to him than a regular devotee. So, one would think they would be much more righteous and immune to greed.

This is another example that God or godmen can never dictate morality.

We are taught that God is omnipresent and that God is always watching us and so we must be at our best behaviour at all times. But in spite of this 24×7 divine surveillance, the most God-fearing or religious nations in the world are the most corrupt, most immoral, most hypocritical and also most prone to violence.

Why?

Is it because religion has a provision for forgiveness? Is it because when convenient to us, God is all-forgiving? Is that why these nations have some of the wealthiest religious establishments? Forgiveness seems to be a big business.

While the Gods have gotten wealthy by dispensing forgiveness, godmen have gotten wealthy by peddling hope and filling the emotional void and indulging in spiritual reconnaissance.

At the same time, the equation between a Guru and his devotee is a personal matter, as long as it is within the legal framework of the nation.

When six boys were shot dead in Sai Baba’s residential area, the statement made by Indulal Shah was, “The matter is purely internal and we do not wish to have any law enforcement agency investigating into it!!!” Six people have died and an educated chartered accountant has the audacity and arrogance to say that law enforcement should not investigate? Even godmen are not above the law.

Yes, indeed many have questioned the legitimacy of godmen. In fact, Sai Baba who was termed Man of Miracles for materialising gold chains, rings and holy ash has been questioned many times. Most famously, for producing gold chains out of thin air which breach the gold bullion import regulations of India. That is, if he actually produced gold out of thin air.

Then there are questions such as, instead of producing gold chains and ash out of thin air, why doesn’t Baba produce food and water and save the poor?

Or even better, tie up with the Reserve Bank of India and pump up the national economy with gold.

We also ask, why don’t godmen, who claim to have telepathic abilities, communicate or visit their political and bureaucratic devotees in their dreams and tell them that they have to stop being corrupt and sadistic? Is it because all these acts are not miracles but well-executed stage shows?

In fact, there is the controversial footage of Sai Baba fishing for ‘something’ under a trophy that he was presenting to an individual and later that something turned out to be a gold chain! The controversial footage was never broadcast as back then Doordarshan was the only TV channel. Of course it is now back, thanks to internet and YouTube.

Whatever it may be, Sai Baba has found mortal ways to achieve what he cannot materialise. There is the water project that has provided water to 750 villages, and medical and educational establishments that have greatly improved the life of millions of people. His charity and tenacity has done what governments have not been able to do.

Yes, godmen or spiritual guides may be accused of manipulation and trickery which rationalists can prove and the law must deal with. But godmen deserve recognition for the work they have done for society. However, they will win us over completely only when they can change the character of their devotees, especially the high and mighty ones.

We wish they could convince their bureaucrat-devotees to work with the same vigour and whole-heartedness at government hospitals as they do at the “god’s” health centres.

We wish they could request their powerful devotees to bless public projects with the same pro-activeness and creativity that they so easily bestow upon holy projects approved by gurujis. After all, isn’t government’s work God’s work? Well, at least that’s what’s proudly proclaimed on the entrance of Vidhana Soudha.

Also, godmen will win everyone’s affection and trust only when they are open to enquiry, even by the highly critical, scientific and the most mundane.

For now, while praying for Baba’s health, we better start investing on real estate in and around Mandya. Why? Because in 11 years, Sai Baba is going to be reborn as Prem Sai somewhere in Mandya. This is going to increase real estate prices and after 11 years, it is going to be a fantastic return on investment.

For others who do not have money to invest in land, they need not be disappointed because with Prem Sai, we will have access to superior educational institutions and medical care. Of course, this will come with a heady dose of miracles and spirituality. But be warned. Take only what you need and only in healthy doses.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of the evening daily newspaper, Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Children take out a march for the recovery of Satya Sai Baba at Puttaparti, in Andhra Pradesh on Saturday (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Should a former president fall at a godman’s feet?

Should a President rub shoulders with godmen?

Can the Sai Baba make Shashi Tharoor win UN poll?

Do our gods sanction our politicians’ silly games?

Another good swami in the service of mankind

Why I’m slightly disappointed with Anna Hazare

22 April 2011

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Just two short weeks ago I, or for that matter most Indians, hardly knew that a man called Anna Hazare, a former soldier turned social activist, existed in our country.

Unlike most serving soldiers who achieve fame on the battlefield only after fighting hard battles, he became a hero, off the field, long after his service, without firing a single shot.

On the fifth of this month, when he launched his ‘fast-onto-death’ to press for the passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill that would enable every ordinary Indian citizen to hold the high and mighty rulers of the land accountable for any misdeeds, hardly anyone believed that his movement would cause any tremors in the echelons and corridors of power. But contrary to my own misgivings, I saw a mass uprising, the kind of which we have perhaps never seen in independent India for any cause, making the man seem like India’s modern-day mahatma.

The impetus this time, seemed to have come from the success people saw of revolting groups braving the bullets and bombs of despotic dictators in the Middle East, a region which is undoubtedly the most notorious example of repression of citizens’ voices and rights.

No town or city across the length and breadth of the country was left out, with every one of them seeing groups of people meeting or marching in support of Anna’s call.

Although most Indians had for decades given up any hope of successfully weeding out the monster of corruption that has been stifling the breath of our country, this time they seemed all set to pound their plowshares into swords in a dramatic reversal of the proverbial act.

The government at the Centre too seemed a little shaken if not completely jolted by the tremors sweeping across the country. But just when we thought that we had made a breakthrough in its resistance, came disappointment.

Our hero who seemed to be pressing for nothing short of complete transparency and accountability in administration at all levels, made a sudden volte-face by announcing his list of ‘exemptees’ that included the President, Governors of States and high ranking judges among a few others.

He also said that since the Parliament, which had stalled and rejected the Bill five times in the past, was supreme and therefore he would accept its rejection this time too if it chose to do so.

Now, my question is why should we leave out some posts untouched by our attempts to wipe out an evil?

Does an evil become an acceptable virtue when it is committed by a creamy layer of high-ranking public functionaries? What if they happen to be holding our highest offices? As human beings, they are not necessarily infallible and they too can do wrong as we have been seeing from time to time.

It is a well-known fact that quite a few of our Governors have demitted office in disgrace while two of our high-ranking judges are right now facing impeachment for acts of commission and omission. And the whole purpose of triggering off the mass movement that we all saw and supported was to pressurise the Parliament to pass a useful and workable Bill that would serve its intended purpose in full measure.

Now the net result of this softening of stand by Anna Hazare is that the mass movement that we all saw for a brief while as the final solution to our most disgraceful and shameful problem, seems to have lost all its fervour and momentum. It is perhaps because people have rightly begun to feel that having a much watered down and diluted Lokpal Bill is as good as a no Bill at all and is therefore not worth supporting anymore.

I am sure that the Bill that will eventually go through our Parliament after much hounding and pounding will only be of cosmetic value. In its utility, it will be no different from the many paper tigers in our long list of laws and penalties and will remain useless while the real man-eaters who continue to rule the roost, will remain untouched long after Anna Hazare and we who have stood by him are all gone.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Is Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

21 April 2011


PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The Indian Express of Ramnath Goenka is an unputdownable chapter in the book of Indian journalism. Unlike many of its English counterparts—whose grammar was constricted by Wren & Martin, and the Raj—Express was the archetypal desi bully.

“Anti-establishment,” was the Express‘ calling card.

Its reputation was built on stones pelted at the power elite: taking on dictatorial prime ministers (Indira Gandhi for the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi for the anti-defamation Bill), slimy corporate chiefs (Dhirubhai Ambani of Reliance industries) and corrupt chief ministers (A.R. Antulay of Maharashtra, R. Gundu Rao of Karnataka).

“Pro-people,” was the Express‘ middlename.

Unlike its servile peers who crawled when asked to bend, Express‘ founder himself took part in Gandhi‘s march from Champaran and led the protest against the anti-defamation Bill. The paper backed Jayaprakash Narayan‘s Bihar movement, and battled for civil liberties and human rights, some times at the risk of closure of the company.

Whatever its other motives and motivations (and there were a few), the Indian Express sent the unambiguous signal to Indians that the Express was theirs; a paper that would speak truth to power, a paper they could bank on in taking on the bold-faced names of the establishment.

An Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Goenka accurately calls him a “crusader against government corruption”.

On his birth centenary seven years ago, Express launched a website on the “man who had the courage to stand up for truth.”

So, how would Ramnath Goenka look at his baby today, as its editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta leads an extraordinary ad hominem attack on the Anna Hazare-led “people’s movement” against corruption, pillorying NGOs, the middle-class and “civil society”—and allowing itself to be become the weapon of first choice in what Express columnist Soli J. Sorabjee calls the “crude and disgusting character assassination” of its lead players, the lawyers Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan?

***

Since the day Anna Hazare sat on the fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on April 5, demanding the constitution of a joint government-civil society committee for the drafting of the Lokpal bill—and especially after he succeeded in his mission—The Indian Express has bared its fangs in a manner that few would expect any independent newspaper to do.

At least, few would have expected an “anti-establishment”, “pro-people” paper whose tagline is “Journalism of Courage” to do.

Over a 16-day period (April 6 to 21), through 21 news reports, seven editorials, 15 opinion articles, three cartoons and one illustration, almost all of them variations of the same theme, the northern and western editions of the Express (the southern editions are under a different editorial management after the Goenka family split) has left no one in doubt on whose side—and which—side of the debate it is.

Against the sentiment on the street and in the homes and offices of its readers—and with the political-business-bureacuratic-fixer-operator cabal in whose interest it is to spike the bill in whatever form it may emerge, by tarnishing its movers and shakers.

The only place there has been any space for the other side in the Express since the protest began and ended, has been in its letters’ column, with one letter (from a former Express staffer) getting pride of place on the op-ed page as an article.

Otherwise, it has been a relentless torrent of scepticism, cynicism, criticism, distortion, inneundo, insinuation and plain abuse in The Indian Express. Words like “illiberal”, “fascist”, “dangerous”, “self-righteous”, “self-appointed”, “authoritarian”, “dictators”, “Maoist” and—pinch yourself—“missing foreskins” have spewed forth from the paper’s news and views pages to convince the world why the movement is the worst thing to have happened for Indian democracy.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines, introductions and blurbs over the 16-day period:

***

# April 6, news report, by Maneesh Chibber, headline “Activists’ Bill calls for Lokpal as supercop, superjudge”, text “The Jan Lokpal Bill…. includes a set of highly unusual provisions….”

# April 7, news report, by Maneesh Chibber and Seema Chisti, headline “Cracks appear in Anna’s team”, intro “Justice Santosh Hegde objects to ‘certain’ clauses’, Aruna Roy warns: can’t bypass democratic principles”

# April 7, news feature, by Vandita Mishra, headline “Anna’s fast, main course: feed politicians to vultures & dogs”

# April 7, editorial headline “They, the people”, intro “Illiberal, self-righteous sound and fury isn’t quite the weapon against corruption.”

# April 7, opinion, by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, headline “Of the few, by the few”, intro “Lokpal Bill agitation has a contempt for politics and democracy”, blurb “The claim that people are not represented by elected representatives, but are represented by their self-appointed guardians is disturbing. Anyone who claims to be the ‘authentic’ voice of the people is treading on very thin ice indeed”

# April 8, news report, headline “First political voices speak: cause just, method fascist”, intro “Self-selected can’t dictate terms, says SP; who will choose 50% civil society, asks Raghuvansh [Prasad]“

# April 8, news report, by D.K. Singh, headline “UPA problem: NAC shoe is on the other (NGO) foot”, text: “…the anti-corruption legislation looks set to land in the turf war between competing gorups of civil rights activists.”

# April 8, gossip item, headline “Lady in hiding?”, text “When the fiesty retired IPS officer (Kiran Bedi) was not seen, it naturally set off talk, with people wondering whether she had quietly withdrawn from the campaign.”

# April 8, editorial, headline “Carnival society”, intro “There is nothing representative about the ‘civil society’ gathering at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar”

#April 9, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Jantar Mantar core group lost out last year, struck back with Anna”

# April 9, editorial, headline “Make it better”, intro “This anti-politics juggernaut is both contentless and dangerous”

# April 9, opinion, by BaijayantJayPanda MP, headline “Cynicism vs hope”, intro “How odd that we should undermine democracy in this year of pro-democracy movements”, blurb “The Jantar Mantar movement is now poised at a crucial juncture. It could get irretrievably hijacked by those of Hazare’s supporters who have scant respect for politics. If wiser heads prevail—those who respect the institutions of democracy like parliament and the courts—then we could well be at the cusp of a magical moment.”

# April 10, news report, headline “[Baba] Ramdev attacks ‘nepotism’ in bill drafting committee: pita mukhiya, beta sadasya?”

# April 10, news report pointer, headline “Ally NCP speaks out: joint committee will be joint pain for constitution and democracy”

# April 11, opinion, by Mihir S. Sharma, headline “Not a very civil coup”, intro “Snuff out those candles: democratic society should trump civil society, every time”,  blurb “Let us not glorify middle-class anger when it is expressed as an antipathy to where democracy’s gotten us, as fury at not having more power than is gifted by the vote you share with a villager. That way lies the pain and disillusionment of a dozen cuddly dictators”

# April 12, editorial, headline “Rs 100, a sari, a bottle”, intro “That’s all Hazare says a vote means. Who gains from such disdain for democracy?”

# April 12, opinion, by Neera Chandhoke, headline “The seeds of authoritarianism”, intro “Democracy needs civil society. But not Anna Hazare’s version, contemputous of ordinary voters”

# April 12, opinion, by Madhu Purnima Kishwar, headline “Why tar all politicians with the same brush?”, intro “We need to reboot corrupt systems, instead of demonising our political class”, blurb “Politicians can be removed through elections, whereas we self-appointed representatives cannot be voted out when we exceed our brief”

# April 13, news clipping quoting New Age, view from the left, “Anna Hazare afterthought”

# April 13, opinion, by Seema Chisti, headline “We the bullied”, intro “Can our basic democratic procedures be so easily dispensed with?”, blurb “The quick and easy path in this case is also the more dangerous road, and it is one on which we have already embarked—all because there are some people around who talk loud enough to make claims about representing ‘the people’. We, the electors and those we elected, have just given them a walkover.”

# April 13, opinion, by Ashwini Kulkarni, “Governance comes before a Lokpal”, intro “For a Lokpal bill to work, you would need systems that create the paper trails necessary for prosecution”

# April 13, opinion, by Nityanand Jayaraman, headline “The halfway revolution”, intro “Am I wrong in suggesting that the candle-holding middle-class Indian is not very different from the Maoist in ideology?”

# April 14, editorial, headline “Over to the MPs”, intro “On the Lokpal bill, Veerappa Moily is falling all over himself—and could trip Parliament too”

# April 14, opinion, by Javed Anand, headline “Why I didn’t join Anna Hazare,” intro “In his post-corrupt utopia, we should look forward to leaders like Narendra Modi“, blurb “I do not wish to spoil the show for those celebrating the ‘second movement for Independence’ that Anna has won for us. But I cannot hide the fact that I, with my missing foreskin, continue to feel uneasy about the Anna revolution—for more reasons than one.”

# April 15, news report, headline “CEOs, banks, firms in list of donors put up on website of Hazare movement”

# April 15, news report, “Doubt your role as good lawmaker: SP leader to Shanti Bhushan”

# April 15, opinion, by Farah Baria, headline “See the spirit of Anna’s movement”, intro “Don’t nip our fledgling civic consciousness in the bud”

# April 16, news report, headline “Lokpal talks off to CD start”

# April 16, news report, headline “My view is keep judges out, says Anna, colleagues disagree”

# April 16, news report, headline “The other society: CIC, Aruna Roy, Justice Verma to hold parallel meet”

# April 17, news report, by Swaraj Thapa and Amitabh Sinha, headline “Lokpal should have powers to tap phones, prosecute: non govt reps”

# April 17, news report, by Seema Chisti, headline “Why the hurry, and do we really need more laws, ask legal luminaries, activists”

# April 17, opinion, by Meghnad Desai, headline “Which Hazare?’

# April 17, opinion, by Sudheendra Kulkarni, headline “MODI-fy the Lokpal debate”

# April 17, opinion, by Tavleen Singh, headline “Our sainted NGOs?”

# April 19, editorial, headline “law and lawgivers”, intro “So will Anna Hazare respect Parliament’s supremacy after all?”

# April 20, news report, by Pragya Kaushika and Ritu Sarin, headline “Bhushans get two prime farmhouse plots from Mayawati govt for a song”, intro “No lottery, no auction in allotment of two 10,000 sq m plots to Shanti Bhushan and son Jayant

# April 20, editorial, headline “Case must go on”, intro “The judicial process must remain disconnected from the Bhushans-Amar Singh spat”

# April 20, opinion, by A.P. Shah and Venkatesh Nayak, “A gigantic institution that draws powers from a statute based on questionable principles”, blurb “Clauses 8 and 17 turn the Lokpal into a civil court that will reverse the decisions of the executive such as grant of licences, permits, authorisations and even blacklist companies and contractors. This is not the job of an Ombudsman-type institution.”

# April 21, news report, headline “Mess spreading, Sonia washes her NAC hands of Lokpal Bill”, intro “Reminds Anna Hazare that he knew NAC was at work on Bill until fast forced the issue”

# April 21, news report, by Krishnadas Rajagopal and Tanu Sharma, headline “On plots allotted by govt, the Bhushans have high standards—for others”

# April 21, news report, by Tanu Sharma, headline “Shanti Bhushan may not have been in panel if plot known: Santosh Hegde”

# April 21, opinion, by Sandeep Dikshit, MP, headline “Whose bill is it anyway?”, intro “The fight against corruption cannot be appropriated by a clique”, blurb “The very reason why this committee was formed was because it was argued that we need more opinions and contributions to the Lokpal Bill. Having accepted this, can the protagonists then state that every opinion, every fear expressed by those outside this group is an attempt to sabotage this bill?

# April 21, opinion, by Dilip Bobb, headline “In search of civil society”, intro “Anna Hazare has given ‘civil society’ an identity card, but who qualifies for membership?”, blurb “Is civil society the preserve of groups predefined as democratic, modern and ‘civil’, or is it home to all sorts of associations, including ‘uncivil society’?”

# April 21, news clippings quoting Organiser, view from the right, headlines “Whose Hazare?”, “Check that bill”

***

It is no one’s case that the campaign for the Lokpal bill, or the clauses contained in the draft Jan Lokpal bill, is without its flaws. It is also no one’s case that those behind the movement are angels, who cannot be questioned or scrutinised.

But when viewed through a journalistic prism, the Express campaign raises two questions.

One, can a newspaper—notwithstanding its right to take a stand it likes on any issue—can a newspaper shut out the other side completely as if doesn’t exist? And is such a newspaper a newspaper or a pamphlet?

Example: on April 19, “civil society” representatives led by NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, condemned the campaign to malign Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan. The Indian Express ignored the news item that found place in most newspapers.

And two, whose cause is the Express championing in indulging in such a hit job on a campaign that has struck a chord with millions?

Express fires from the safe shoulders of “democracy”—a word that invokes titters among many ex-Express staffers. But is the Express really speaking for the people, or has it become a plaything of the “establishment” which was shamed into acting on a piece of legislation that had been languishing for 43 years?

***

None of this is to downplay the first-rate journalism that the Indian Express still delivers on most days of the week.  Even in as messy a story as the Amar Singh-Shanti Bhushan CD in the current anti-Hazare campaign, Express demonstrated far greater rigour than its compatriots Hindustan Times and Times of India, which fell hook, line and sinker for the “establishment” story.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that Express has begun to play a meeker role in exposing corruption in high places.

In the last three years, Express has been wrongfooted by its compatriots on all the big corruption stories that have gripped the nation’s attention and spurred the campaign for the Lokpal bill: the 2G spectrum allocation (The Pioneer) and S-band (The Hindu) scams; the CWG, IPL and Adarsh housing scams (The Times of India); the black money and Swiss bank accounts story (Tehelka); Wikileaks (The Hindu); and the Niira Radia tapes (Outlook and Open).

Simultaneously, Express, which increasingly shares a strange symbiosis with Indian and American thinktanks, has veered disturbingly closer to the government, be it in reflecting the UPA government’s thrust for the Indo-US nuclear bill; its muscular approach to tackling the Maoist threat in mine-rich tribal areas; in demonising the Chinese, or in plumping for road, airport, dams, infrastructure and nuclear projects, overriding environmental and social concerns.

Indeed, from being a paper deeply suspicious of big business, it has become the go-to newspaper for corporate honchos seeking to put out their story. Ratan Tata‘s first interview after the Radia tapes hit the ceiling was with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV‘s Walk the Talk show.

And for a paper deeply suspicious of power, the paper now publishes arbitrary “power lists”, without ever revealing the jury or the methodology behind the rankings. (Shekhar Gupta was decorated with the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan, by the UPA government in 2009.)

The question that arises is: are all these concentric circles somehow linked in the Express‘ astonishingly one-sided campaign against the anti-corruption movement and the people behind it?

***

Historically, in India, large publications (think Times of India and The Hindu), have tended to play along with the establishment because of the kind of business and other interests involved. But a small-circulation paper bending backwards to stroke the crooked and the corrupt doesn’t present a pleasant sight.

It doesn’t sound civil, but it is a question that must be courageously asked: has Ramnath Goenka’s bulldog of a paper become a lapdog of the power elite, luxuriating among the rich and famous, while peeing at the feet of the people it was supposed to defend?

In other words, has The Indian Express become a pro-establishment newspaper?

Illustration: courtesy C.R. Sasikumar/ The Indian Express, April 20

***

Also read: Arnab edges out Barkha on Express power list

The curious case of Zakir Naik and Shekhar Gupta

A columnist more powerful than all media pros

‘Editors and senior journos must declare assets’

When every cloud has a silver (and gold) lining

19 April 2011

A bolt of lightning strikes a nice continuum with the canopy of the Jayachamarajendra Circle on a cloudy evening, as the lights come on in the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore on Tuesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Once upon a time, at the Maharaja’s study circle

‘My daddy, His Highness, the maharaja, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar

CHURUMURI POLL: One dish, fewer guests by law?

19 April 2011

Following the Bogus Austerity Drama of 2009, when ministers began flying “cattle-class” after S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor were caught in five-star hotels, the Union food and consumer affairs minister K.V. Thomas has floated the latest UPA kite: a one-dish law at social gatherings to prevent wastage of food.

“We have received many suggestions to control food wastage at social functions. A member of National Advisory Council (NAC) has recommended imposition of Pakistan’s one-dish law. We will look into that law and similar legislations of other countries,” Thomas told reporters.

On paper, few will deny the logic behind the move. Our weddings and social occasions are exercises in ostentation. Enormous quantities are made, eaten and also wasted. In a country where huge numbers of people go without food—India stands at No. 63 on the hunger index—it provides a sharp contrast.

Yet, is a new law with all its attendant issues the way to go about creating social conscisouness? Should the Guest Control Order, which also limits the number of people who can be invited, be revived? Or is this just pressure tactics, NAC-style, after having failed to convince the UPA government on the right to food clauses?

Also read: The Top-10 austerity moves India really wants to hear

Is that tap water the austere madam is drinking?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should SUVs be banned?

Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

Sure, austerity begins at home, but not at my home

Is the Indian media losing touch with reality?

‘Media standards not keeping pace with growth’

18 April 2011

Sanjaya Baru, editor of Business Standard and former media advisor to prime minister Manmohan Singh, delivered the second H.Y. Sharada Prasad memorial lecture on media, business and government at the India International Centre on Sunday, 17 April. This is the full text of his address:

***

By SANJAYA BARU

I first met H.Y. Sharada Prasad in 1982 in the very room in which I later sat in the Prime Minister’s Office. He knew me only as Rama’s husband!  I was in Delhi on a visit from Hyderabad where I was a University lecturer and went to call on him because Rama had asked me to.

I would meet him occasionally during my days at the Economic Times and Times of India and tried hard to get him to write for the editorial page of the TOI, when I was in charge of it in 1994-96. He always declined the invitation with a smile. Finally, when he chose to write a column I had already left TOI and it was M.J. Akbar who managed to get him to do so for The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle.

Perhaps as a consolation he called me one day and told me that he had informed Encyclopedia Britannica that he would stop writing the chapter on India that he had written every year for close to fifty years, and henceforth they should approach me for the chapter.

I was flabbergasted, flattered and honoured.

The editor of Britannica wrote me a warm letter saying that I must be someone very special because after a “life long” association with EB, “Mr Prasad has chosen you to inherit his annual contribution to the Britannica.” I have written that chapter since, every year.”

On 2 June 2004 I joined the PMO in the morning and called on “Shouri mama” (as Sharada Prasad was called by his friends and family) the same evening to seek his blessings and take his advice. He spoke to me at length about the office itself, and the significance of every nook and corner.

“You are sitting in the same room in which Jawaharlal Nehru first sat as Prime Minister,” he told me, referring to the corner room next to the cabinet room. Nehru had to wait for a month to move into what is now the PM’s room, since that room’s earlier occupant, Girija Shankar Bajpai, would not vacate it till the room assigned to him was ready, that being the present principal secretary’s room.

I too had occupied that very room briefly till I moved into the much larger adjacent room, the one Shouri had occupied with great distinction for almost two decades. After letting me know that I was sitting in Nehru’s first room in the PMO, he added with a mischievous smile, “of course Natwar (Singh) also sat there!”

He regaled me with stories about the various occupants of the PMO during his decade and a half there, about their egos and their foibles. He gave me valuable advice on how I should discharge my duties both as media advisor and speech writer that stood me in good stead throughout my four-and-a-half years in the job.

On a couple of occasions when I had difficulty convincing the PM and his senior aides about my media strategy in dealing with an issue, I would called Shouri and having received his endorsement of my plan inform the PM that Mr Sharada Prasad has approved my idea. The PM would instantly fall in line and allow me to go ahead, over ruling the dissenters. Securing Shourie’s imprimatur was enough.

For a man who wielded a powerful and elegant pen for the Prime Minister of India, who had the unquestioned trust and confidence of a powerful Prime Minister like Indira Gandhi, who had travelled around the world with her, hearing her read out his prose, whom generations of Indians had seen in Films Division documentaries and front page photographs sitting next to Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, here I was with him on my first day in the PMO in his two-room, Punjabi Bagh DDA flat.

Every day of my four-and-a-half years in the PMO, I would recall that first evening that I spent with Shouri.

Don’t fool yourself, I would tell myself, you may be here today, but one day you too will have a modest apartment to retire to. Shouri was among the very few who worked with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who had no Vasant Vihar or New friends Colony or Maharani Bagh house to leave for his children. It is the combination of his wisdom and simplicity, his prose and wit, his deep knowledge of both India and the world that makes him a truly unique occupant of that all powerful corner of Raisina Hill. This memorial lecture is dedicated as much to Shourie as to the values he embodied.

***

One of the things that Shouri said to me when I met him the evening of my first day at the PMO was that during his long tenure at the PMO he kept in regular, almost daily contact, with key interlocutors in just five newspapers – Hindustan Times, Indian Express, The Statesman, The Hindu and Times of India. That was a different world.

While India reported less than 500 newspapers in the years Shouri first came to deal with them, and only one television channel, by 1991 there were 923 newspapers and still only one TV channel. But Shouri regarded dealing with just the top five English dailies adequate to influence the rest of the media. These five, he presumably believed, set the tone and the agenda for all others to follow. It is also possible he believed having these five on one’s side is what mattered as far as the PM was concerned.

In 2008, the year I left PMO, the Registrar of Newspapers reported that 2,337 newspapers were in circulation in India. In 2004 there were already several news TV channels, but by 2008 the number had more than tripled. By the time I left my position in mid-2008 I would normally be dealing with at least a couple of dozen newspapers and TV channels every day.  The era when one could happily say that the PM’s media advisor kept in touch with just five top English newspapers was long gone. Not only had Indian language TV and print become more important, but even English language TV and print had burgeoned and the internet had arrived.

It was during my last days in office that I acquired a Facebook account and Outlook magazine put me on their cover, along with some celebrities, for being the first PMO official with a Facebook account. Twitter had not arrived by the time I left office. Today Shouri would not be able to recognise, much less relate, to the media scene in India. My 84-year-old parents take pride in letting me know that they neither watch TV news, nor spend more than a few minutes reading a newspaper. They have opted out of daily news.

But, the rest of India has not. Nowhere has there been a bigger boom in media than in India.

At the last World Association of Newspapers convention in Hyderabad in 2009, India was hailed as the great global hope for media, especially print. The WAN invitation to the Hyderabad convention said:

“Developing literacy and wealth are part of but far from all the story: Great credit needs also to be given to Indian newspaper professionals, who are re-inventing the newspaper to keep it vibrant and compelling in the digital age……. Although broadband and mobile are booming in India, print newspapers are growing right along with them. The country has more daily newspapers than any other nation and leads in paid-for daily circulation, surpassing China for the first time in 2008. Twenty of the world’s 100 largest newspapers are Indian. Newspaper circulation rose a further 8 percent last year.”

Salivating at the India numbers, News Corp top executive James Murdoch told a FICCI–Frames conference in Mumbai last month that “India’s media industry is a ‘sleeping tiger’  waiting to be awakened.” He described global media firms as “grey and tired”. “The impressive achievements of the last two decades have not even begun to fulfill the potential of this great land,” said the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

This boom is witnessed in every language, with Hindi’s Dainik Jagran emerging as the great success story in print media. But with growth have come its wages. The quantitative expansion of Indian media continues to outpace its qualitative development. Extreme inequality in compensation structures means there are some journalists who get world class compensation that would be the envy of even developed economy media, and there is a mass of under-paid staff, many of whom with low skills and lower motivation.

Speaking at the Silver Jubilee of the Chandigarh Press Club in September 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said:

“With the rapid growth of media in recent times, qualitative development has not kept step with quantitative growth. In the race for capturing markets, journalists have been encouraged to cut corners, to take chances, to hit and run. I believe the time has come for journalists to take stock of how competition has impacted upon quality. Consider the fact that even one mistake, and a resultant accident, can debar an airline pilot from ever pursuing his career. Consider the case that one wrong operation leading to a life lost, and a doctor can no longer inspire the confidence of his patients. One night of sleeping on the job at a railway crossing, an avoidable train accident, and a railway man gets suspended. How many mistakes must a journalist make, how many wrong stories, and how many motivated columns before professional clamps are placed? How do the financial media deal with market moving stories that have no basis in fact? Investors gain and lose, markets rise and fall, but what happens to those reporters, analysts, editors who move and make markets? Are there professional codes of conduct that address these challenges? Is the Press Council the right organization to address these challenges? Can professional organizations of journalists play a role?”

Apart from the problem of quantitative growth outpacing qualitative development, there is also the challenge of conflicting objectives and a clash of cultures. News media has become subsumed into the larger business of information and entertainment. This is in large part a consequence of the growing dependence of media, especially news media, on advertisement revenues, though India still has a substantial segment of the market that is still willing to pay for news.

One of the consequences of this growing dependence on advertising revenues, as opposed to subscription revenue, and the competition from competing media is that news media has become increasingly a mish-mash of news, views and plain entertainment.

A recent  FICCI- KPMG report, Hitting the High Notes on the Indian media and Entertainment Industry in 2011 not only unabashedly refers to ‘media and entertainment’ as one industry, but also points to the growing inter-linkages between the two sides of business. News is entertainment and entertainment is news! And, the stakes are high.

According to KPMG, the Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry stood at US$ 12.9 billion in 2009. Over the next five years the industry is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent to reach the size of US$ 24.04 billion by 2014.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report titled ‘Indian Entertainment & Media Outlook 2010’ predicts that the industry is poised to return to double digit growth to touch US$ 22.28 billion growing cumulatively at a 12.4 per cent CAGR to 2014.

Apart from the phenomenal growth prospects, which have become the envy of media companies around the world, and therefore attracting many of them to India, it is important to also note that there has been a vertical and horizontal integration, along the technological spectrum, of news, entertainment and communication. Print, TV, radio, film, music, gaming, mobile telephony, internet and banking and finance are all getting integrated. New technologies will integrate the businesses and the markets even more.

The KPMG report adds, “While television and print continue to dominate the Indian M&E industry, sectors such as gaming, digital advertising, and animation VFX also show tremendous potential in the coming years. By 2015, television is expected to account for almost half of the Indian M&E industry revenues, and more than twice the size of print, the second largest media sector.  The contribution of advertising revenue to overall industry pie is expected to increase from 38 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2012.”

When news and entertainment become two sides of the same coin, indeed some would say the same side of one coin, with advertising revenue being the other side of the coin, and when the distinction between news and views gets blurred, journalism enters an uncharted territory where there are as yet no professional yardsticks to judge either purpose or performance. But it is not just the integration of businesses that is having an impact on media. It is the integration of business with politics and politics with business that is now shaping news media, and not just at the national level.

***

Tamil Nadu is a particularly good example of the complete backward and forward integration of media business and politics. The ruling political party dominates print, TV and film production and distribution. In Andhra Pradesh the Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy family was well on its way to achieving this kind of integration of business interests in media and politics.

The relative ease with which the Karunanidhi-Maran families in Tamil Nadu and the YSR family in Andhra Pradesh, to a lesser extent the Pawar family in Maharashtra have acquired substantial stakes in media, entertainment and politics is a pointer to trends at the national level. There have been reports that the Congress Party plans to start its own TV and print media businesses. The Left walked down this path in Kerala but was unable to achieve the kind of dominance that DMK has succeeded in acquiring in Tamil Nadu.

The FICCI-KPMG Report shows that while there has been a phenomenal expansion of the media business, in almost every major language segment and in most states 3 dominant players together control between 65 per cent and 75 per cent of the market. In other words, the media pyramid in India is highly skewed. A few newspapers/ channels at the top of the pyramid, controlling close to three-quarters of the readership and/or viewership and a large number of small players below sharing the rest of the cake.

Part of the problem in regulating the media business arises because of the growing links between politicians, political parties and the media and entertainment business.

In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the top two media companies, with print and television business, are Eenadu and Sakshi – the former owned by the pro-TDP Ramoji Rao, and the latter owned by YSR Rajashekhar Reddy’s son Jagan.

In Tamil Nadu the power and influence of Kalanithi Maran’s Sun TV is even more brazen. Indeed, the DMK as a party has acquired enormous control over the entire media business including circulation, cable network and film distribution.

In Maharashtra, every media company has its own political interests. Across the country in almost every State, including the North-East, the nexus between politics, business and media is very close and pervasive.

With such visible and known links between political parties and media companies, what is the kind of regulation that government qua government can impose? Indeed, in a democracy the question does arise whether government or even a quasi-official body should have any powers at all to regulate media.

This market structure is ripe for oligopolistic practices and it has been alleged for a long time that such practices have become all too common in India. Very often the intense rivalry and competition between professional journalists in rival media firms masks the implicit collaboration and non-compete clauses – including deals on advertising, circulation and hiring of journalists – between the firms themselves.

Indian media needs a framework of reference to define what constitutes a competitive structure, what policies amount to being restrictive trade practices, how can such practices be curbed and who curbs them? Has the time come for the Competition Commission of India to consider a framework for regulation of cross-media ownership, predatory pricing and other restrictive and unethical business practices, including the phenomenon of ‘paid news’, in the media and entertainment industry?

A few years ago when the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, G.N. Bajpai, convened a meeting of all editors and suggested that the media accept a SEBI code for journalists reporting on markets and companies, a majority of the editors gathered there opposed any SEBI imposed code and instead offered to come forward with a code of their own that media companies could adhere to. Nothing has been heard on the subject since.

Institutions like the Press Council of India have lost their élan, and the Editors Guild of India has become a club of former and future editors with little influence on those presently occupying the hot seat! The inability of the Editors Guild to reverse the phenomenon of ‘paid news’, which it campaigned against, even though many members of the Guild were in fact guilty of the crime, illustrates this better than any other example.

A related issue of internal governance that has profound implications for freedom of press is the nature of editorial control in media. Just as politicians have become media barons and media barons have become politicians, establishing a continuum between media, politics and government, there is a parallel continuum between media, business and editorial leadership, with publishers and CEOs becoming editors and editors becoming publishers and CEOs.

Time was when many professional journalists worried that the post of editor was being devalued with print and TV companies not naming editors and dividing up the editor’s work among several persons, both journalists and managers. As a consequence, today several print and TV media have no single editor and, therefore, weak editorial control and leadership.

As some of the conversations recorded in the famous Nira Radia Tapes reveal, senior journalists not only worry about the fate of politicians in power, but they also worry about their company’s bottom and top line. Given the unabashed blurring of roles, an increasing number of business persons and politicians are now quite blasé about using carrots and sticks to influence and brow beat the media.

But a far more insidious development has been under way – namely the integration of the positions of publisher/ CEO with that of Chief Editor/ Editor. The job of Editor has been under threat in Indian media for a long time, but today professional editors – who have no ownership stake in the media company – are becoming an endangered species.

Owners or CEOs are editors and editors have become shareholders or CEOs. Those who worry about content also worry about revenue. It is not difficult to see what this means for editorial freedom. It is also not difficult to see that the famed separation of powers between “Church and State” in the media no longer exists.

Owner/ CEO/ Manager/ shareholder- editors either impose corporate objectives or their personal whims. Editors who speak eloquently about the freedom of the press and autonomy of media are often the first to impose their dictatorial and arbitrary style on their own colleagues.

Editors, who demand accountability from elected representatives of the people, are often quite happy to censor dissent and straitjacket diverse opinion within their own organizations. When such tyrannical editors are also owners or CEOs of their media establishments there is no internal court of appeal for a journalist.

***

The burden of my song has been to draw attention to the fact that the impressive growth of Indian media in recent years has not been matched by a similar rise in professional standards, both on the editorial side and in business ethics and practices of media firms, and media accountability.

As a consequence, despite the phenomenal growth of the media and the high visibility of media personalities, the public regard for journalists has not in fact risen. A recent poll in the US and UK rated ‘nursing’ as the most ethical profession and ‘journalism’ as among the least ethical ones!

I have not been able to find a similar poll in India, but the result is unlikely to be very different.  Concerns about corruption in the media are just beginning to surface. When a couple of cases get exposed their impact on the credibility of our profession would be hugely destructive.

Because of all these trends, Indian journalism is presently facing a crisis of both credibility and competence. In the past few years we have witnessed increased public scrutiny of the executive, the legislature and even the judiciary. More recently we have witnessed some early signs of a similar scrutiny of the media.

The cynicism and anger that have come to characterize public criticism of the other three ‘estates’ will sooner rather than later be seen in the criticism of the media. Each of the ‘four estates’ have from time to time drawn public attention to the short-comings of others. Sometimes three of the four have combined to bring the fourth to heel.

So far we have not seen in India a coming together of the executive, legislature and the judiciary in a joint bid to discipline or rein in the media. During the emergency, when media was under attack, the judiciary was in fact an ally of the media. When the Rajiv Gandhi government proposed an anti-defamation law, the entire media stood as one and with support from other political parties resisted the move.

Today, the media will find it more difficult to defend itself against such scrutiny and regulation. The day may not be far when public opinion will demand more accountability and transparency on the part of media organizations. With public opinion on its side, the executive and/ or the judiciary may well begin to demand such accountability from the business and editorial heads of media organizations, and from prominent TV anchors and columnists, not to mention the regular reporters.

What is worrying, however, is that in response to such public anger and cynicism the media may be turning populist – a standard response of a politician – in an attempt to ingratiate itself to its critics. This too is a dangerous trend. Media populism is in part a response to public anger and, paradoxically, a response to public disdain and indifference.

To an extent this is the logical culmination of the phenomenon of qualitative development not keeping pace with quantitative growth. The ‘dumbing down’ of the media brings in its train disregard for it, disrespect for it, disenchantment with it. This makes the media ripe for greater regulation.

If Indian media wish to avert this threat, then it must look within, introspect and rediscover professional values. This is easier said than done. It is not because of a lack of will that this has not happened. There is often no incentive for such introspection and no reward for mending ways.

The good thing, however, is that we live in a society and a nation in which we have the freedom to debate these issues. In paying tribute to the memory of Sharada Prasad, my generation must pay tribute to his for the freedom they secured for us and for posterity.

Shouri was a freedom fighter, like Kamalamma [Sharada Prasad's wife], like my father and my grandfather and grandmother. Their generation was the architect of a unique experiment in human history – building a vibrant and liberal democracy in a diverse and stratified society, a backward and poor economy. Shouri epitomized by the best instincts of that generation, symbolizing the liberalism and pluralism of a generation that was inspired by Gandhiji to value High Thinking and Simple Living.

These values are under threat and the media is not doing enough to protect them. By encouraging those with contending view points to argue with each other, we are not doing enough to create greater consensus between conflicting views.

The greatness of the Indian people is not that we are argumentative, as Amartya Sen has celebrated with an eye to a global audience. The real greatness of the Indian people is that we are in fact consensual.  Merely because we invented the ‘Zero’ and made possible the binary 1:0 system, the foundation of the current information era, does not mean that the Indian mind sees the world in black and white. Thinkers like Sharada Prasad have always reminded us of the range of gray possibilities in comprehending the reality around us.

The day the Indian media moves away from its binary world view, its argumentative ‘me and you’ divides, and moves closer to the consensual frameworks of reference of a people who have always valued the idea of Sarva Dharma Sambhava – of Unity in Diversity – it will have created a new paradigm, a very Indian paradigm, in the world of communication.

That would be the best tribute we can pay to a great Indian, a truly renaissance man, a liberal scholar, a non-argumentative Indian like Sharada Prasad!

Also read: When editor makes way for editor, gracefully

‘Go to bed knowing you haven’t succumbed’

CHURUMURI POLL: Why did Mohandas Pai quit?

17 April 2011

In normal circumstances, the exit of a lone individual from a giant company would not have attracted too much attention. But then, T.V. Mohandas Pai is no ordinary employee; he was chief financial officer (CFO) of India’s bellwether information technology company, Infosys, and a director on its board.

Pai claims that it was not a sudden decision; that he had decided to leave a year ago; that he discussed his exit with Infy chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy nine months ago (a conversation Murthy remembers), and that he had said “no” when asked if he was looking at a higher position like a COO or CEO.

However, most media reports hint at the opposite: that he was indeed piqued at the possibility of never becoming CEO in the normal course of things.

Rumours that Pai, the most visible face of the company after the departure of Murthy and Nandan Nilekani with a view on everything under (and beyond) the Bangalore sun, wanted to enter politics, have been shot down by Pai himself, saying he wants to devote 30 per cent of his tie to higher education.

Pai, 51, says he never had aspirations to be CEO and that he had left the company to pave the way for youngsters, although just a week earlier, he had featured in an Economic Times lead story saying he was “front runner” to be chief operating officer (COO). In other words, the claim that it was not a sudden decision or that he wasn’t looking for a bigger role are both bogus.

However, most media reports on Pai’s resignation also overlook the enormous activity that’s been building up on the human resources (HR) front, an area Pai was directly involved in as director.

Attrition rate continues to be very high. A controversial HR initiative called iRace that resulted in the demotions of 4,000-5,000 staff has attracted much criticism. An Infosys employee (a Muslim) fired from his job after the 2008 Jaipur blasts, has been ordered to be reinstated by the courts. And, above all, Infosys is facing plenty of heat in the United States over misuse of H1B visas and age discrimination.

So, why do you think Pai left?

More proof that it takes a lot to get him down

16 April 2011

As he gets off the stage at a convention of areca nut growers in Sullia taluk, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa—whose has artfully survived efforts to dislodge him by his party MLAs, by his party high command, by the opposition, by the governor, by the media, by the courts—shows that it takes a superhuman effort to get him down.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

***

The B.S. Yediyurappa photo portfolio

1) Is it an idol? Is it a statue? Is it a mannequin?

2) One leg in the chair, two eyes on the chair

3) Yedi, steady, go: all the gods must be crazy

4) Kissa Karnataka chief minister’s kursi ka: Part IV

5) Why did the chief minister cross the road divider?

6) Sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down

7) Dressed to thrill: Yedi-Chini bhai bhai in Shanghai

8) Survival of fittest is a great photo opportunity

9) Drought relief one day, flood relief the next

10) How a chief minister should drink tea. (Or not.)

11) Let the rebels know, the CM will not bow one inch

12) Even four pairs of hands can’t stave off the flak

13) Yediyurappa regime slips into yet another sandal

14) Behind every successful cyclist, there are a few men

15) Life’s a cycle. What goes up must come down.

16) A leg up for the one is a leg up for the other

17) The emperor’s new clothes has a loose button

18) Why does this poor, selfless soldier cry so much?

19) The great Indian rope trick adds inches to a giant

20) Even Alan Donald would quiver at such a glare

21) One sanna step for man, one giant leap for anna

22) A party of loafers, thieves, liars and land-grabbers

23) Three years in power = three rings, or is it four?

24) Say hello to the sarsanghchalak of the ‘ling parivar’

25) Why you didn’t this picture in today’s papers

26) Across, the line, feet wide apart, head still high

27) A matador takes the bulls by their horns (almost)

28) Relax, it’s not the dress code for namma Metro

29) And how a famous head looks after the ’2G’ scam

30) Oh fish! How he feels for the poor animal’s plight

31) Every good picture is worth a 1,000 volts

Don’t ask us what it is, but it sure costs a bomb

15 April 2011

What is it with actors and actresses—Akshay Kumar in Hindi, Shivraj Kumar and his brother Puneet in Kannada, Prabhu in Tamil, etc—so readily endorsing jewel stores, exhibitions and exchanges? Is it just a gold and glamour thing? Or are they just unavoidably susceptible to the lure and lucre of the advertising rupee? Here, the actress formerly known as Divya Spandana, at the inauguration of a jewellery show, at the palace grounds in Bangalore on Friday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also view: One more example of commodification of women

Another example of commodification of women

Another example of commodification of examinations

Like, bombers get scared looking at bombshells?

Now, what will those fools do with these kids?

Surely all that glitters is more than just gold

The best ice-candy melts before nice eye-candy

What it takes to smoothen some rough blades of grass

Denims, diamonds, Miss India and the Mahatma

See, a brand ambassador always gets good press

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear

You are almost tempted to say ‘Intel Inside’

Can the paragon of integrity hear his conscience?

13 April 2011

A South Indian view of national politics is largely, if not completely, missing from Indian media, including and especially South Indian media. It is almost as if all wisdom on what’s happening in the national capital has to flow, aided by the inevitable force of gravity, southwards from Delhi.

While reporting and analysing Delhi from Delhi makes geographical sense, the truth is it also makes it easy for news and views to be susceptible to the inevitable forces of lubrication. Additionally, there is the danger of the news atmosphere being congested by a set of usual suspects.

Deccan Herald senior editor Ramakrishna Upadhya, who writes a weekly column on topics not always concerning Karnataka, is one of the rare exceptions.

RKU, as the veteran journo who has also served at the Indian Express, Sunday Mid-Day, ETV, Vijay Times and The Telegraph is known, has now put together a collection of 112 columns over an eight-year period columns in a book titled ‘Natak Karnatak‘ (Prarthana Books, 343 pages, Rs 290). Below is an excerpt, first published in November 2010.

***

By RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

It is a strange paradox that Independent India’s two biggest scandals —the stock market scam of the mid-1990s, and the current telecom scam—have occurred under the benign superintendence of the man who is universally hailed as “one of the most sincere and honest” leaders that this country has seen.

As the mind-boggling, head-reeling telecom saga continues to unfold, the nation will await to see whether this turbaned paragon of integrity is also capable of listening to his conscience and acting decisively to uphold the faith of a billion people.

We are living in difficult times. Constitutionally-mandated personalities, who are expected to work as trustees and uphold public interest at all time, compromise with principles and bare themselves as men with feet of clay, completely unmindful of the exposure.

Here in Karnataka, we have a chief minister brazen enough to justify corruption and nepotism as part of his ‘power package’ and, at the Centre, we have a prime minister who willingly turns a blind eye to all the muck around him, wallowing in the belief that as long as his personal reputation is white as a lily, he doesn’t have to care a damn.

It was the same Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister in the Narasimha Rao cabinet, who, when the Harshad Mehta-engineered scam broke out, remarked that he “would not lose sleep” over it.

After the Joint Parliamentary Committee investigated into and exposed the dubious activities of a handful of share brokers who milked the economy of crores of rupees illegally, Dr Singh’s diagnosis was that it was “a systemic failure.”

Dr Singh is now the prime minister of the country and considering the magnitude of the scam, he simply can’t get away with vague and wholly excuses. As the comptroller and auditor general of India’s report has revealed, the former telecommunications and information technology minister Andimuthu Raja arrogantly discarded the advice of several ministries and the prime minister’s own counsel in arbitrarily awarding the 2G Spectrum in January 2008 and yet Dr Singh maintained ‘silence’ till it exploded in his face.

In a stunning disclosure, the CAG has confirmed that 85 of the 122 applicants for 2G licence were ineligible, that they suppressed facts or gave fictitious information, that the cut-off date for licence letters were advanced arbitrarily, that most of these companies were created barely months before they were issued licences and that the owners of these licences after obtaining them at throw-away prices, in turn, sold significant stakes to Indian/foreign firms at high premium within a short time.

The CAG has estimated that the presumptive loss to the exchequer is of the order of Rs 1.76 lakh crore and of that, two dubious entities, Unitech and Swan alone made Rs 1,27,292 crore from the sale of equity to other players. Even major telecom players happily participated in the loot as Raja appeared to be the king of all that he purveyed, with the prime minister being a mute, disinterested spectator.

The scam had surfaced in January 2008 itself and the Left parties, to their credit, had raised a stink before the May general elections that year, but the UPA’s “resounding” victory in the polls and the principal opposition BJP’s intra-party troubles ensured that the Manmohan Singh government was able to sit tight over the mega scam.

After the elections, Dr Singh made only a feeble attempt to take away the telecom ministry from the DMK and no more than that: After all, he was only a ‘mukhota’ for Sonia Gandhi and her parivar who conducted negotiations with the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi on ministry formation. With the lid on the scam still firmly in place, Raja came back with a bigger smirk on his face.

What is mystifying is that Dr Singh, who seems to love the label of ‘Mr Clean,’ never bothered to take a second look at 2G Spectrum allocation nor ordered an investigation. Is it possible then, that the amount involved in the scam being so huge that the DMK was only one of the players and the other hidden ‘hands’ must have been too hot for the prime minister even to contemplate taking any action?

But the truth could not be supressed for too long and here, the officers of the CAG must be complimented for a job thorough and meticulous. When some portions of the report inadvertently leaked out, a cocky Raja kept insisting that he had done no wrong and whatever he had done was with the ‘“knowledge” of the prime minister.

For the image-makers of the prime minister and the UPA, Raja had now become a hot potato and he had to be dispensed with. The Congress head honchos conveyed their ‘decision’ to Karunanidhi, who had no option but to accept it with the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly only months away and his bete noire, Jayalalitha always lurking in the corner.

If the Congress thought that the Opposition would be satisfied with Raja’s ‘head’ and Parliament would return to normal business, the supreme court’s embarrassing questions to the prime minister and the full disclosure of the CAG report have put paid to any such illusions.

Just as the land scandals involving B.S. Yediyurappa, his family members and cabinet colleagues, have reached a stage where the BJP Central leadership will perforce have to step in to lend credibility to their campaign against corruption at the national level, Dr Manmohan Singh will have to step out of his facade and initiate credible action to show that in the evening of his life and career, he has no reason to be “used” by anyone, any more.

(Copies of the book are available at Gangaram book depot, and Sapna book stall)

Read a review of the book: An insightful look at Karnataka

‘Ravi Varma’s models for a portrait of arrogance’

12 April 2011

T.J.S. GEORGE in The Sunday Express:

“Television has spawned many evils. One of them is the animal called ‘party spokesperson’, a species that is found only in India. By occupational necessity, they are motor-mouths; just turn the battery on and they go blabbering nonstop. They are also robotic; they see and hear and speak nothing except what their creators have programmed them to see and hear and speak.

“Spokespersons come in different shapes, colours and sizes. The only feature that is common to all is pompousness – the air that they know all that is there to know and those who disagree with them are blockheads.

“Look at the staring eyes of Abhishek Singhvi, the self-assured expression, the tilt of the head, and look at the laboured seriousness of Manish Tiwari, his tone, his style and you’ll know at one that if Ravi Varma were to do a portrait of “Arrogance”, these would be his models.”

Read the full article: People’s notice to crooks

The Mahatma in the eyes of Deve Gowda’s son

11 April 2011

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: I was shocked to read a news item in today’s Deccan Herald—“If Gandhi were alive, he would have been corrupt: HDK”—in which the former chief minister, H.D. Kumarswamy, is quoted as saying that it is impossible to not be corrupt as a politician in today’s India.

While doubting the strong moral underpinnings of the Mahatma, HDK categorically states that “he (HDK) was never involved in corruption” while implementing government schemes and projects as CM, but had received “donations from friends and well wishers” for strengthening the party and fighting elections.

If HDK could be as non-corrupt as he claimed, why did not the media ask him as how could he have doubts about the Mahatma?

“Corruption has become inevitable. Contesting elections and pursuing politics without corruption is impossible in today’s context.” Going a step ahead, he made his quip about the Mahatma.

Two kinds of contemporary people can come to the conclusion about Mahatma’s capacity to be in politics without compromising his principles based on India’s current rampant corruption scenario.

One is the kind that might not have read the Mahatma’s his autobiography “My experiments with truth” or any other book/s on Gandhi and thus do not know anything about him. The other is the kind that is so corrupt that it is impossible for them to think that there could be others in the world who can be honest.

Is it possible that our former CM meets both the criteria?

In this world, there are hundreds of political leaders who are not corrupt. Even in India, though their number may not be huge, we can still find some who have not been compromised. But political leaders like Kumarswamy do not have the time nor the interest to learn about those honest leaders.

They are like the frogs in a well and for them, their well consists of corrupt leaders.

What have Kannadigas done to deserve leaders who do not think that it is impossible to be honest? Can we find some honest leaders like Anna Hazare amongst us?

Also read: Nothing is what it seems when scoundrels meet

A snapshot of a poor, debt-ridden farming family

Everybody’s stark naked in the public bathroom

External reading: Evil empire of JDS triumvirate

How Facebook resolved a Kannada movie scandal

11 April 2011

The Kannada cinema industry is, well, an industry. Dubuious producers put money in an obscene number of films, only a few of which even recover their money. Nepotism is the middle name when it is not conformism. Every few years, it breaks into a predictable fit about “remakes”. And so on.

Last month, the actor Ramya got into a kerfuffle with a producer, who accused her of skipping the music launch of a new movie as she had gone furniture-shopping for her new home. It turned out the producer owed her money, that her complaints to the film chamber had gone in vain, that he was whipping up publicity for his film, that Gandhinagar’s MCPs were targetting her. Etcetera.

Eventually, the matter was resolved. But thank Mark Zuckerburg for it, writes Saritha Rai in The Indian Express:

“Kannada filmdom’s reigning diva, Ramya, aka Divya Spandana, has demonstrated that social networking can no longer be dismissed with a flick of the wrist…. By using Facebook and Twitter, Ramya took on the stodgy, male-dominated Kannada film industry and triumphed.

“Ramya’s outpouring of woe, 140 characters at a time, travelled at the speed of light. As her tweets gathered momentum, the feud escaped the tweetosphere and became the talk of Sandalwood’s gossip networks and newspaper columns.

“Livid at her tweets, the Karnataka Film Chamber, a hoary, clubby group — where wives of producers and actors represent the meagre female presence — said they were banning the actor for a year. No producer would work with her, they declared.

“Not to be cowed, Ramya tweeted that there was no sense in banning somebody who had already renounced her career. And, she tweeted cheekily, she had received five new film offers within hours of the ban. Ramya’s micro-blog escapade threatened to blow up into a full-fledged war between Sandalwood’s actors’ lobby and its producers’ group. Sensing the embarassment, veteran actor Ambarish stepped in to mediate.

“The ban against Ramya is revoked, [producer] Ganesh has promised to repay her money and all is well, at least on the surface between Ramya, the Film Chamber and the producers.”

Read the full article: Tweeting for grrl power

50% can’t read, 75% can’t be hired, 100% bull

9 April 2011

Every third lie is a statistic, and the provisional figures of the 2011 census brings home the truth. In the decadal account book, literacy is up by 9.21% in India that is Bharat over the previous ten years, to stand at 74.04%. Time to bring out the sherbet?

Not quite, writes Geeta Anand in The Wall Street Journal:

“India projects an image of a nation churning out hundreds of thousands of students every year who are well educated, a looming threat to the better-paid middle-class workers of the West…. But as India liberalized its economy starting in 1991 after decades of socialism, it failed to reform its heavily regulated education system.

“Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension. Government keeps tuition low, which makes schools accessible to more students, but also keeps teacher salaries and budgets low. What’s more, say educators and business leaders, the curriculum in most places is outdated and disconnected from the real world.

“Muddying the picture is that on the surface, India appears to have met the demand for more educated workers with a quantum leap in graduates. Engineering colleges in India now have seats for 1.5 million students, nearly four times the 390,000 available in 2000, according to the National Association of Software and Services Companies, a trade group.

“But 75% of technical graduates and more than 85% of general graduates are unemployable by India’s high-growth global industries, including information technology and call centers, according to results from assessment tests administered by the group.

“Another survey, conducted annually by Pratham, a nongovernmental organization that aims to improve education for the poor, looked at grade-school performance at 13,000 schools across India. It found that about half of the country’s fifth graders can’t read at a second-grade level.

“At stake is India’s ability to sustain growth—its economy is projected to expand 9% this year—while maintaining its advantages as a low-cost place to do business.”

Read the full article: India graduates millions, but too few are fit to hire

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

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

Can Azim Premji do what the government can’t/ won’t?

Do our netas, parties really care about education?

When will our kids start questioning? Don’t ask

11 reasons Right to Education is not what it seems

Water, water nowhere & not a drop to drink too

9 April 2011

Mid-day meal workers who took part in a rally in Bangalore on a hot Friday afternoon, peer through the gates of the Maha Bodhi Society in Gandhinagar, looking for someone who will help fill their empty bottles with drinking water.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

8 April 2011

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The fast-unto-death by the social activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi and the nationwide support it has elicited for cleansing the system, has enormous relevance to Karnataka especially in the present context, where the air is thick corruption.

One thing is clear. Politicians, cutting across party lines, are opposed to any measure to rein in corruption in public life. They have successfully evolved ways and means to torpedo any such attempts, or to emasculate the system which is put into operation, to ensure a free run for themselves.

While New Delhi has a history of dragging its feet on the Lokpal bill in general and on the question of bringing the Prime Minister under its purview in particular, Bangalore has a track record of dragging its feet on the question of strengthening the hands of Lok Ayukta with suo motu powers to investigate charges of corruption.

***

The common thread that runs in the attitudes of the central and State governments towards corruption, is the marked reluctance on the part of the the political parties, be it of Congress or non-Congress hues, including the BJP, to hold the bull by horns.

The intention is very clear: they don’t want to create any fetters which come in the way of their untrammelled enjoyment of power.

At the Centre, the main question which has been endlessly debated is whether the PM should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal bill, in whatever form it may be brought in.

The solution was/is simple: Had those who held the high august office voluntarily declared that they would subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, the matter could have been resolved in a jiffy and a suitable law could have found a place in the statute books.

But none of the worthies, from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, and including Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Deve Gowda, and Chandrasekhar, could volunteer to suggest that persons holding high office should not only be honest but appear to be honest too.

For all of them, the authority and status of the PM’s office appeared more important than the need for probity in public life. It is the cumulative mess created by the Cassandras of corruption, which has resulted in the 2G spectrum scam, which has made the current Prime Minister squirm in his seat.

Manmohan Singh’s image as a clean and honest politician has taken a severe beating. He has paid a big price for his  vacillation.

If the prime minister of the country is unwilling to lead from the front in the fight against the corruption, how do you expect the lower minions in the political hierarchy like the chief ministers and the State governments down the line to act otherwise?

If  the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, could be investigated for the Watergate scandal, or the high and mighty be proceeded against for tax evasion in America, it does not stand to reason as to why the busy  bodies in India tht is Bharat should be placed above the law.

***

In Karnataka, there is a twist in the tale.

Since 1984, there has been a law and an institution to fight corruption. But it has been deliberately made ineffective. The Lok Ayukta has not been given suo motu powers to initiate action.  Such powers given when the Act was enacted by the Ramakrishna Hegde government, were subsequently withdrawn two years later for reasons not clear.

The Lok Ayukta, as an institution, was almost unknown (and unseen) for nearly one-and-a-half decades after its inception. The first time it caught the public imagination was when Justice N. Venkatachala, who was appointed during the S.M. Krishna regime in 2001,  became proactive in the discharge of his duties.

It was Justice Venkatachala who focussed attention on the lacunae in the law and took them up with the government. For all the sound and fury, his five-year term ended without his dream of the grant of suo motu powers being realised.

His successor, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, too has vigorously pursued the pending issue with the government, even going so far as to submit his resignation in the period. His five-year tenure is coming to an end in a couple of months and like his predecessor he has to retire with a feeling that the government ignored his plea.

None of the governments that have held office during the period of the present and previous Lok Ayukta have been able to restore the suo motu powers to the Lok Ayukta, which is a felt need.

And these include, the Congress government led by Krishna, the Congress-JDS coalitions headed by Dharam Singh, the  BJP-JDS coalition headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy and the present BJP government headed by B.S. Yediyurappa, which has been in office from 2008.

The message is quite clear: none of them is keen on doing it despite the public protestation of their commitment to fight corruption.

The Upa Lok Ayukta enjoys suo motu powers, which can be exercised over the lower echelons of the administration. The other higher-ups do not come under its purview. More often than not, the post is kept vacant.

When Venkatachala, started exercising the powers of the Upa Lok Ayukta in his crusade against corruption, the government woke up after a long gap to and felt the need to fill the vacancy. This was done more with the intention of reining in Justice Venkatachala than to strengthen the functioning.

But much to the chagrin of those who had planned the move, the new Upa Lok Ayukta Justice Patri Basangowda proved to be a good foil rather than hindrance to Justice Venkatachala. After Mr Patri Basangowda retired the post in 2009,   the post has remained vacant.

The absence of suo motu powers has not been the only problem faced by the Lok Ayuktas in Karnataka, who have taken their job seriously. The government of the day has been blutning the efficacy of the institution and efforts put in by it, to trap cases possession of assets disproportionate to the known source of income.

In some cases, the officers trapped remain without being suspended and some of them have been quite powerful enough to wangle promotions and get good posting too. The government deliberately delays the question of granting permission for the Lok Ayukta to prosecute officers who have been nabbed.

The list of the governments acts of sins of omission and commission is quite lengthy.

***

A major development, which has occurred during the BJP government. stressing the imperative necessity of strengthening the Lok Ayukta, has been the surge of the scams.

The most important one has been the one pertaining to the illegal mining of iron ore, involving powerful politicians, in and out of office. The report given by the Lok Ayukta, which probed the matter, has been gathering dust.  The report has been relied upon by the Supreme Court but has not opened the eyes of the State government.

The inference is quite clear. But for the Supreme Court’s persistence in a case before it at present, the controversy over the illegal mining in Karnataka would have been pushed under the rug.

The second development is the scam over the denotification of the land, which during recent years has been openly regarded as a money spinner for politicians in power.

Going by the open charges being hurled it looks as if this has taken place one way or the either during the regime of almost all the CMs especially in the last one-and-a-half decades. A powerful minister of the BJP government has also been caught in the act. And chief minister Yediyurappa and his bete noire Kumaraswamy have been openly trading charges against each other.

Had a person like Anna Hazare been here, perhaps Karnataka would have witnessed the kind of  uproar that one is witnessing in Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

Also read: ‘BJP’s lotus grows in muck, so do BJP’s people’

CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt State?

Why has corruption become such a small issue?

GOOD NEWS: Karnataka beats AP, TN, Kerala

How China changed the politics of Karnataka

CHURUMURI POLL: Karnataka, Bihar of the South?

 

It takes a billion hands to not grease the palms

7 April 2011

All kinds of trippy adjectives have been used since Tuesday. That he is the Mahatma of the 21st century. That this is the second freedom movement. That this is India’s “Egypt Moment”. Etcetera. The TV channels, as usual, bring breathless voices and feverish images as if it’s the end of the world as we knew it.

Does ‘Anna Hazare‘s “fast-unto-death” in support of the Lokpal bill drawn up by NGOs and c-soc (civil society) mark a tipping point in the battle against corruption? Or is this another passing cloud, much like the “citizen’s anger” after the November 26, 2008 siege of Bombay?

Over as soon as the candle light goes out; as the OB vans move out?

The answers will be known the next time you offer (or are offered) a bribe, but make no mistake, across the country, the shared anger has ignited bushfires of hope, gasping for oxygen against the cynicism that a million scams and scandals have bred. Like in these bright eyes in Bangalore, on Thursday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Scams, scams, scams: Has liberalisation worked?

‘Cash for votes is a way of life in the South’

‘A cradle of civilisation, at its peak or its nadir?’

CHURUMURI POLL: How corrupt are you, yes, you?

CHURUMURI POLL: Karnataka, India’s most corrupt State?

When the boys are imported, why not girls too?

6 April 2011

When the “good doctor from the University of Southern California University” outsourced a cheer leading squad from the Washington Redskins for the first edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the hope was the usual entrepreneurial one. That in the months and years ahead, the pom-pom weilders would be indigenised.

But IPL-4 is around the corner, and it turns out, the desi dhamaakas are still not upto it. Result: supporters of Royal Challengers Bangalore, will have to make do with mischief makers from South Africa, who showed their wares to the pop of the flashbulbs, at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore on Wednesday.

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Vijay Mallya‘s RCB: Desi or IMFL?

The girls promise mischief. Are the boys upto it?

Bangalore boys get a thumbs up from global girls

CHURUMURI POLL: Are T20 cheer girls obscene?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should cheer girls be banned?

CHURUMURI POLL: BDA sites for Dhoni & Co?

5 April 2011

Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa‘s alacrity in announcing the allotment of 50’x80′ house sites to each member of the World Cup winning cricket team is not surprising—nor is the tepid reaction to it. Politicians revel in making grand gestures, and a sentimental public applauds silently.

Still, with due respect to the achievement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys, the question must be asked: should a bunch of players who will not have a shortfall of anything for the rest of their lives be gifted this largesse, especially when not a single member of the team hails either from Bangalore or Karnataka.

The other question to ask is: is 4,000 square feet of land the only way to honour an achievement?

The charitable view of such a gesture is that Yediyurappa is not the first CM to see “returns” in it. Ramakrishna Hegde gave away plots to a whole bunch of artists and artistes, including a TV newsreader, to encourage them to make Bangalore their home and add to its cultural lustre. Closer home, S.M. Krishna gave away dozens of plots to journalists, obviously not for winning the World Cup.

But that was in another era; this is 2011. Land is at a premium. Bangalore is a magnet for all comers, but is not the only one. So should the cricketers be gifted land without question, especially if they do not use it for their own purpose?

Also read: What’s the best way to say, well done, keep it up?

Swalpa bevu, Swalpa bella and a happy new year

4 April 2011

churumuri.com wishes you and your family a very happy Ugadi. May all your dreams, hopes, prayers and fantasies come good in the year ahead. And may the best kaayi holige of your life come your way today—or a 50’x50′ site for 50 rupees if it doesn’t!

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

***

Ugadi 1940: A 50’x50′ site for 50 rupees only!

Ugadi 2010: Deepavali in the skies of Ugadi below

Ugadi 2008: Greetings to the world’s youngest CEO

Ugadi 2007: The solar eclipse on the new year day

Ugadi 2006: Mavinakaayi chitranna in 5 easy steps

On this day, 70 years ago, a magazine was born

4 April 2011

R.K. Laxman may have made his name after a lifetime at The Times of India, but it was for a small Kannada humour monthly called Koravanji that the Mysore-born cartoonist drew his first works.

The magazine had been inspired by the British satirical magazine Punch. The first issue of Koravanji saw the light of day on Ugadi, 70 years ago, and shut down 25 years later, in 1967.

A CD containing 300 past issues of Koravanji (which refers to fortune-telling tribal women) was released in Mysore last week, and a website has been launched to keep the jokes going.

***

Prof A.V. Narasimha Murthy, former head of the department of ancient history and archaeology of the University of Mysore, recounts the origin of Koravanji in Star of Mysore.

“The editor of Korvanji was Dr R. Shivaram, popularly known as RaShi. He was a medical doctor but his stethoscope could detect humour. It seems that he was a regular reader of  Punch, the internationally known humour magazine.

“The college in which RaShi was studying auctioned all the old magazines including Punch. Shivaram managed to collect Rs 3 to buy them. But the Principal of the college himself purchased the lot at Rs 4.

“The boy was highly disappointed. But the understanding Principal presented all the volumes to Shivaram as a gift. This precious gift from the Principal was a turning point in the career of young Shivaram and years later he started the monthly magazine Koravanji.

“The first issue appeared on Ugadi day of Chitrabanu Samvatsara (1942). Each issue was sold at 4 annas of 25 paise. Newspaper agents purchased the copies but did not pay the Editor/MD. The doctor who had made a good name had no cure for these agents.”

Koravanji‘s editorial menu comprised humourous skits, light hearted poems, parodies, gossip, limericks, cartoons, etc. The absence of obscene lines and double entendre was a stand-out feature, according to the professor.

Links via E.R. Ramachandran

***

Also read: Laxman & Narayan: How one family produced two geniuses

Look, who inspired R.K. Laxman‘s common man!

Making all of us smile can make one of us cry

EXCLUSIVE: The unpublished doodles of R.K. Laxman

Has namma R.K. Laxman drawn his last cartoon?

Yesterday once again, so you know how it felt

3 April 2011

BELLUR RAMAKRISHNA forwards a collage of today’s newspaper from heralding India’s magnificent triumph in the 2011 World Cup (click on the image for a larger view). You can see an assemblage of English, Hindi, Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada newspapers, and the odd Sri Lankan paper.

If nearly 60% of the country is below 25 years of age, the collage is a reminder of what 1983 was to nearly two-thirds of the country that wasn’t born when Kapil Dev and his men did ditto—in pre-liberalised India, an age before satellite television, when one-day cricket was played over 60 overs.


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