Archive for July, 2011

‘BJP has fallen prey to politician-entrepreneurs’

31 July 2011

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: The protracted and acrimonious power tussle in Bangalore, quite reminiscent of several episodes in recent years, demolishes Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim to be a party with a difference.

In fact, after taking office 38 months ago, the Yediyurappa government, has hurtled from one crisis to another – be it due to internal dissidence, scandals of abuse of power and corruption involving BJP politicians, repeated episodes of the infamous ‘Operation Kamala’ to bring opposition party MLAs into BJP and the efforts by the opposition parties to destabilize BJP and remove it from power – leaving no time for governing.

Any wonder Yediyurappa famously said any other person in his position would have gone mad?

Political analysts have thus far tended to see this as a failure of leadership and have often blamed B.S. Yediyurappa for his failings. There is some truth to this charge.

While Yediyurappa has been the key figure in BJP’s rise to power, his character flaws have also been obvious.

His street fighter instincts as well as perpetual campaign mode have been advantageous for BJP, the political party, but the same personality appears ill suited to handle the rigors of governance. He is short tempered, doesn’t listen to advice or contrarian perspectives, and is rarely challenged, especially on policy within his party.

Further, he seems to exist within a bubble, believes in his own rhetorical hubris of development and is very intolerant of opposition, which is surprising given that Yediyurappa spent many decades in opposition benches.

By all accounts, he wasn’t detail oriented and didn’t have the stamina or the patience to fulfill the innumerable tall promises he makes to all and sundry, everyday.

His well documented nepotism and authoritarian tendencies have not only alienated his own party men but far more significantly show a lack of understanding of how discretionary power should be used.

Yet, even if he had been a nicer person, more efficient administrator and accommodating leader, Yeddyurappa, and indeed the state of Karnataka, couldn’t have escaped from the current predicament – scandals and abuse of power, the loss to exchequer from mining, and widespread corruption.

Therefore, this personality oriented analysis misses the structural transformations that have taken place in Karnataka politics, leading to a fundamental change in the political culture of the state.

***

At the heart of this change is the emergence of a new politician – brash and covetous, with no inhibitions on the use of public policy as an instrument of personal profit.

He is rarely guided by any notion of public good – even one based on narrow considerations of religion or caste; rather business interests seem to motivate this politician-entrepreneur.

Despite Yediyurappa’s rhetoric about development, or for that matter the populism of his predecessor H. D. Kumaraswamy state policy has rarely had any notion of public good as its guiding principle in the Oughts.

On the contrary, there has been a substantial convergence of business and politics, a paradigmatic shift that not only explains the birth of this new politician-entrepreneur but also shows corruption to be a new form of activity that resides in his persona.

Note that caste and class backgrounds have been quite remarkably insignificant in his rise.

The principal focus of politician-entrepreneur’s business activity has been mining and real estate, the two land-based business ventures. Note that both require access to political power, in order to change or to seek exemption from or violate regulatory mechanisms.

Bangalore and Bellary have been the epicentres of this process.

As a significant beneficiary of globalization and ever expanding IT industry, Bangalore has grown leading to unreal profits for those engaged in real estate ventures. However, Bellary’s dramatic transformation, economically and ecologically, has made the Bangalore story seem less significant although similar processes are taking place in both places.

Bellary has been the harbinger of change not simply for the exploitation of mineral wealth and destruction of environment but for the new political culture that has taken root in Karnataka. It burst into national consciousness when Sonia Gandhi contested for Loksabha in 1999.

Ironically, it also marked the dramatic rise of Gali Janardhan Reddy, who managed the BJP campaign for Sushma Swaraj, Gandhi’s opponent in that election. Even though he ended up on the losing side, Reddy and his cohort filled the political vacuum in Bellary BJP and effectively challenged the hegemony of Congress.

Reddy took to mining, where the increasing global demand for iron ore, brought in unexpected riches, which were quickly ploughed back into electoral politics. Political analysts attribute BJP’s remarkable electoral success in this region in 2004 elections to outspending opponents by five to as many as ten times.

Four years later, Bellary repeated everywhere.

Janardhan Reddy is the prime example of this new politician-entrepreneur model. We estimate that there are at present at least 22 MLAs with substantial interest in mining related businesses and another 18 MLAs in real estate.

In addition to this, there are at least 40 MLAs with significant investments in real estate, hospitality, healthcare, education and agro-businesses. Thus more than one third of Karnataka Assembly today consists of what I have called here as politician-entrepreneur class.

Beyond the numbers what is significant is how they see themselves.

Consider Janardhan Reddy himself. Proposing a Rs. 30,000 crore project, as he did at the 2010 Global Investors Meet, isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. His proximity to power ensured he received the necessary permissions as well as land and water allotments very quickly.

It is reported that liquidity crunch has forced him to sell his company but the very audacity of such a proposal is striking. The new politician-entrepreneur thinks nothing of the financial requirement, managerial as well as technical skills necessary to run a massive business venture.

***

More than any other party, BJP has been open to this new politician-entrepreneur.

While a definitive account of BJP’s ascendance to political prominence is yet to be written, it is quite clear that BJP’s rise to power hasn’t come from the use of religion in politics, as pundits had anticipated.

Rather, under Yediyurappa’s leadership, BJP recognized the political zeitgeist (spirit) of the age and succeeded in integrating this new politician-entrepreneur into the structure of the older Sangh parivar activist based party.

Yediyurappa’s singular achievement has been to manage this transition in the short term, despite tremendous upheavals within the party.

He also shrewdly recognized that these new additions substantially expand the social base of the party, as they come from different under represented backward communities, and has created very effective local social (read caste) alliances by combining the traditional supporters of Sangh Parivar with these new comers.

His own Lingayat credentials have been a huge help in this process and perhaps, this is what makes him indispensible for BJP even today.

While the BJP national leadership doesn’t agree with this assessment, Yediyurappa himself relentlessly makes this point and so do his supporters. Even his opponents concede, especially in private, that if elections are held today Yediyurappa will comfortably lead his party back to power.

If my first proposition to explain politics in Karnataka today focused on the convergence of politics and business – and the consequent emergence of the politician-entrepreneur – we also need to recognize that no politician will survive in public life if his sole purpose is private profit.

Therefore, my second proposition notes the rise of a new form of populism as the relationship of the politician with his constituents too changes.

I have closely followed Karnataka politics for nearly three decades now, studying the personalities of politicians, their motivations and aspirations.

What I found surprising about the recent changes is how quickly the politician has become a benevolent royal patron, feeding hundreds – even thousands in some cases – of people everyday, distributing cash to people who need money for hospital expenses, for school fees, or funerals; some legislators have even posted a chart in their houses.

This is the kind of benevolence usually associated with an ideal king and I have noticed politicians frequently using royal metaphors to describe their largesse. While politicians in the past may have helped their constituents in this manner, the scale of this operation and the centrality to politics is new.

Hence at the core of this new populism (and of politician-constituent relationship) is personal loyalty.

What the politician delivers isn’t simply services that the state offers but largesse from personal fortune to meet with the everyday contingencies of his constituent.

Even building a political base is a project in cultivating personal loyalty: it might mean distributing thousands of sewing machines to women or sending thousands on pilgrimages to temples allover South India or distributing money to celebrate the birthdays of Basavanna and Ambedkar.

The constituent too seems to be fine with accepting these gifts, which he sees as redistribution of illegally gotten wealth from real estate and mining. You only have to watch Kannada news television channels for a few hours on any given day to find enough evidence.

Politics has become an expensive proposition and many old timers stay away from their constituencies unable to distribute such largesse.

In noting the transformations, I am not suggesting that the older political projects – to achieve social justice or equitable economic development are completely dead. But the space available for such is collective projects is shrinking and the prospects for building new ones are quite bleak.

Will replacing Yediyurappa or even the fall of BJP government in the forthcoming elections might change this new reality? Will a robust Lok Ayukta (ombudsman) institution or an activist, vigilant Supreme Court make a difference?

Possibly not.

While some sources of income, such as illegal mining, can closed, the new political dynamic is fairly well entrenched. Karnataka isn’t unique in this regard and similar trends are seen in other parts of the country as well.

***

Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi is on the faculty of San Francisco State University, specialising in medieval South India, and the cultural politics of contemporary South Asia.

The real hero of Yedi’s downfall: Kumaraswamy?

30 July 2011

One day he says he will “resign”; the next day his eyeballs glower in defiance. One day he is a “disciplined soldier of the party”; the next day he is a potential rebel. One day he says he built the party over 40 years; the next day he assembles scores of them in an open show of numbers.

And so goes on the disgraceful tragic-comedy of the party with a difference, even as a totally compromised “high command” that willingly turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption, casteism and destruction of the State’s fair name tries to assert its authority (before Parliament opens).

While B.S. Yediyurappa hangs on to his chair like dear life, a piece of furniture outside Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore shows where those who lose it could end up, on the cobbled tiles by the wayside.

***

While everyone is singing hosannas in praise of the Lok Ayukta, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, for finally bringing Yediyurappa to book, Saritha Rai doffs her hat to an unlikely figure, H.D. Kumaraswamy, in the Indian Express:

“In the noise surrounding the Lok Ayukta mining probe and Yediyurappa’s fall, what is forgotten is that the chief minister was not felled by one report. Rather, his defence was slowly but surely chipped away by a series of scathing attacks — led almost single-handedly by none other than his predecessor and one-time political ally H.D. Kumaraswamy.

“The mining report has singed Kumaraswamy too, but the Janata Dal (Secular) will still be celebrating the end of a successful ouster campaign…. During the course of his political career, Kumaraswamy has become adept at pulling the carpet from under his rivals’ feet; first the Congress and its chief minister Dharam Singh’s, and later the BJP and B.S. Yediyurappa’s….

“A confrontational Kumaraswamy, who only seems to get bolder and more aggressive with time, has relegated the Congress in Karnataka to the background. His father H.D. Deve Gowda may have branded himself “mannina maga” (son of the soil). His rivals may be wily and shrewd. But with his bulldog-like persistence, it is the opportunist Kumaraswamy who has ensured that he will be the reckoning factor in Karnataka politics.”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Read the full article: Karnataka’s real showman

The best Yediyurappa pictures on Planet Earth

29 July 2011

Forty-six months ago, in October 2007, churumuri.com began curating pictures of B.S. Yediyurappa with an outstanding KPN picture (left) during a protest in front of the Raj Bhavan after “the worst betrayal ever” by the JDS, in denying him the chief ministership as per the 20-20 agreement between the two parties.

Thirty-two pictures later, the day after forcing him to step down in the illegal mining scam in 2011, Yediyurappa’s bugbear, Lok Ayukta Justice N. Santosh Hegde, strikes a near-identical pose while clambering upon on to the stage for a meet-the-press programme at the Press Club of Bangalore on Friday.

Also seen in the picture are PCB president M.A. Ponnappa (extreme left), and Sadashiv Shenoy (right).

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News

***

The complete 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)hree 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

32) More proof that it will take a lot to get him down

From entry to exit, superstitious at every step

29 July 2011

This is the typewritten press release that was sent by the media advisor to the Karnataka chief minister, R.P. Jagadeesh, around midnight last night, announcing B.S. Yediyurappa‘s stand after the BJP parliamentary board directed him to “resign immediately” following the strictures of the Lok Ayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, in the Rs 16,000 crore illegal mining scam.

For an overly devout CM belonging to God’s Own Party—who had a near-permanent vermilion mark soldered into his forehead; who spent a substantial part of his tenure in visits to temples and mutts near and far; who was scarily afraid of the dangers posed by maata-mantra to his (and his government’s) longevity; and who even invited his arch-rival to swear before “God” at a temple to prove his innocence—Yediyurappa’s letter can be “Exhibit A”.

Also read: Do Yeddi & Co have no faith in State temples?

Should netas swear before god in secular India?

How the BJP raised witchcraft to statecraft

Do our gods sanction our politicians’ silly games?

Is Janardhana seve Janata seve in Kumaraswamy book?

CHURUMURI POLL: Black magic in Silicon Halli?

What the stars foretell for our avivekanandas

Will a change of guard change this man’s life?

28 July 2011

While one side acts as if it is the end of the world as they knew it with the exit of B.S. Yediyurappa, and the other side pretends that it is the dawn of a new era, a homeless man dreams of “development agenda” even as the train of corruption and inflation hurtles down towards him, in Seshadripuram in Bangalore on Thursday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Who will be the next CM?

And what happens to the indicted IAS officers?

CHURUMURI POLL: What next in Karnataka?

One question I’m dying to ask B.S. Yediyurappa

Do Lingayats blindly support the BJP en masse?

Has the BJP lost all sense of shame in Karnataka?

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will be Karnataka CM?

28 July 2011

The BJP central leadership’s stern instruction to B.S. Yediyurappa to resign immediately at least removes one possibility from the equation: that the party bosses might sit on the fence endlessly while a rebellion built up in the State leading to more embarrassment for the party ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.

But it also opens up the other part of the equation: who after Yediyurappa?

Having dislodged a Lingayat chief minister, should the replacement be a Lingayat like a Jagadish Shettar, to assuage hurt feelings? Is it time for a Vokkaliga, like D.V. Sadananda Gowda or Shobha Karandlaje, to blunt the JDS edge? Or, since Brahmins were supposed to have backed the BJP in the elections, should the high command look at the likes of perennial frontrunner Ananth Kumar, or V.S. Acharya or even Suresh Kumar?

Who do you think stands the best chance of becoming the second BJP chief minister in the South?

And what happens to the indicted IAS officers?

28 July 2011

B.S. Yediyurappa is on his way out after the clamour following the Lok Ayukta report, and so will the politicians who have been named alongside him: G. Karunakara Reddy, G. Janardhana Reddy, B. Sriramulu and V. Somanna. On the Congress side, too, Anil Lad will be expected to show some repentence.

Say what you will of our politicians—they may be crooked, corrupt, criminal, whatever—but eventually in the temple of democracy, they pay a price for their transgressions.

Kicking and screaming, they step down, but at least they step down, before they are thrown out at the hustings. But what about the fatted cows of the bureaucracy—the “officers” lording over everything they survey—who aid, abet and do their master’s bidding while partaking of the loot, and still go on as if nothing happened?

Justice Santosh Hegde and his men have found 787 government officials, from clerks to Indian administrative service and Indian forest service officers, who had their hand in the Rs 16,000 crore mining scam that has spelt disgrace for Karnataka’s politics and environment for years now.

What about them?

And what about the industries and industrialists, like the Jindals, who were party to the daylight loot?

Cartoons: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today, Surendra/ The Hindu

CHURUMURI POLL: What next in Karnataka?

28 July 2011

While the opposition parties are unanimous that chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa should resign after the Lok Ayukta’s stinging indictment in the Rs 16,000 crore illegal mining scam, the BJP is caught between several stools, even as the incumbent strikes yet another note of brazen defiance.

Yediyurappa for his part has indicated that he will not resign, and asserted that everybody—his MLAs, his party’s “all India” leaders, everybody—is with him. But his party high command, alive to the continuing embarrassment of his stay ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, is meeting in Delhi to decide the next course of action.

Many options are before the BJP. The first is to let Yediyurappa continue in power, but that move risks exposing the party on the national stage every single day while it sits on the high horse on 2G, CWG and other scams. The second is to choose a less-divisive, cleaner successor; it will help if it is a Yediyurappa acolyte, it might hurt if it is not.

The third option is to recommend dissolution of the assembly and seek to come back with a bigger majority, but that move carries two risks: one, Yediyurappa’s stranglehold on the party could continue with attendant national risks, and two, the voters may not back the BJP as it thinks they do.

What do you think should the BJP do now?

One question I’m dying to ask B.S. Yediyurappa

27 July 2011

After a minor leak and much drama baazi, the Lok Ayukta report on illegal mining in Karnataka is officially out, and the facts provide the full and final proof of the manner in which China’s vociferous appetite for steel changed the political paradigm in the State, earning it the sobriquet of “India’s Most Corrupt State“.

The loss to the exchequer between 2006 and 2010 is estimated at over Rs 16,000 crore; the loss between March 2009 and April 2010 itself at Rs 1,827 crore. The chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa has been named, as indeed as his predecessor H.D. Kumaraswamy despite their “tearful” performance every now and then.

More to the point, the report indicates that the CM of god’s own party who spouts “development” like a stuck record, was a direct beneficiary, his family having been paid by cheque by the mining companies. Yet, while the BJP attacks the Congress in Delhi on corruption, its “gateway to the south” seems to be rotting to the point of decay.

What is the one question you are dying to ask Yediyurappa and the BJP?

Like, could Yediyurappa’s defiance cost the BJP on the national stage, just like Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s? Like, could Shobha Karandlaje as a potential successor to Yediyurappa mean it’s “all in the family”? Like, is it true that the silence of key members of the BJP and RSS, in Delhi and Bangalore, was purchased for a price?

Or, were all those visits to temples and mutts eventually of no use? Or was it a licence?

File photographKarnataka Photo News

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Yedi and Reddy

One question I’m dying to ask H.R. Bharadwaj

Has the BJP lost all sense of shame in Karnataka?

In death, as in life, is there a “class” bias?

26 July 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN: The Mangalore air crash in May last year was a horrendous tragedy in which 158 passengers and crew died.

The plane was just about to land and the majority of the relatives of passengers had even seen the plane touch down on the runway before the accident occurred.

The pilot unable to control the plane crashed on the tabletop runway.

After a dispute with regard to the quantum of compensation broke out, the Kerala High Court has awarded a compensation of Rs 75 lakh to the family of each victim, which is to be paid by the already cash-strapped Air India.

The compensation was based on the 1999 Montreal convention to which India is a signatory.

***

These days Mamata didi’s trains are getting into some accident, tragedy or the other. She even has a train called Durantho (Bengali for ‘end to long distance’).

Tragically more and more trains are becoming casualties of duranth.

To the victims of rail accidents, the government gives Rs 5 lakh as compensation to the victims’ relatives, Rs 1 lakh for major injuries and Rs 25,000 for minor injuries.

67 passengers died in the train accident of Kalka Mail on 10 July 2011 . The government announced compensation as per the above scale to the families of victims.

***

When an overcrowded jeep collided with a KSRTC bus near Tumkur on June 27 and 15 people died, chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs 15,000 for the injured.

***

The most obvious takeaway from these three accidents is that death is a great leveller in India: you may meet your end whether you are on foot, or in a bus, train or plane.

But why is there such disparity between compensation given to families of victims depending on their mode of travel? How does death on an aeroplane warrant such a huge compensation than death in a train or bus?

Is there a “class” bias even in death?

Does an air victim enjoy a higher “status” than a train or bus victim?

Is it because an air accident involving “people like us” gets more coverage, with glib relatives narrating their tale of woe on national television?

Death is death, regardless of the mode of accident but there is no comparison in the compensation handed out.

Are we applying different strokes to different folks?

Do Lingayats blindly support the BJP en masse?

25 July 2011

B.S. Yediyurappa has returned from the pristine sands of Mauritius to the urban jungle of Bangalore, only to say the most predictable thing with the most predictable scowl: that he will not, repeat not resign from the post of chief minister merely because some silly Lok Ayukta has shown his hand to be full of dirt and grease and slush.

With that, the Lok Ayukta, Justice Nitte Santosh Hedge, joins a long and continuing list of worthies whose efforts to show that the CM of a once-progressive State is himself upto no good, has come to nought. For the moment, of course.

How does Yediyurappa brazen it out time after time?

How does his party find him beyond reproach?

Indeed, how do the people forgive him so easily?

The hot money has been on “Lingayats”. Lingayats, so the conventional wisdom goes, were maha-miffed with the Congress for the kind of treated out to Lingayat chief ministers such as Veerendra Patil (who was unceremoniously given the marching orders by Rajiv Gandhi).

That the credit of winning over Lingayats to the BJP en bloc goes to Yediyurappa. That without their support (and that of the Brahmins), the BJP would have never come to power. That it is Yediyurappa who has turned Lingayats into a potent political force a la Vokkaligas. That the Lingayat mutts hold the key to the Lingayat voting mind.

In short, if he is thrown out, despite all this muck, the BJP will meet the same fate as the Congress. Etcetera.

Really?

James Manor of the school of south Asian study (SOAS) of the University of London, wrote these paragraphs in an article titled “The trouble with Yeddyurappa” in the Economic & Political Weekly three months ago:

“The chief minister often tells national leaders that his fellow Lingayats give the party an unassailable base. Those leaders, from northern and western India, do not understand that this is untrue. Lingayats account for only 15.3% of the State’s population as a survey by Sandeep Shastri (based on the third backward classes commission report of Chinnappa Reddy, 1990) points out.

“And even in areas where they are concentrated, many years have passed since they could influence other groups’ voting decisions. Devaraj Urs brought the non-dominant majority into play as a politically sophisticated force in the 1970s, and since then, caste hierarchies have lost much of their potency in rural areas.

“The BJP’s national leaders fail to recognise that when Lingayat chief ministers like S.R. Bommai after 1988 and Veerendra Patil in the early 1990s favoured their caste fellows excessively, as Yeddyurappa has done, the other groups have combined against them. Inclusive, diverse social coalitions have always been needed, since Urs, to win State elections.

“The national leaders also apparently fail to grasp that the BJP’s modest “success” in the recent panchayat elections—which Yeddyurappa has used to justify his continuance in power—actually entailed significant declines in the party’s vote share in several key sub-regions since the 2008 State election (at which the BJP failed to win a majority of seats).

“Most of those lost votes occurred among non-Lingayats, despite the BJP spending on the panchayat elections being much greater than that by rival parties. Crudely speaking, non-Lingayats have tended to combine in support of the Congress in most of northern Karnataka, and in support of the Janata Dal-Secular in most of southern Karnataka.”

Read the full article: The trouble with Yeddyurappa

Link via Prithvi Datta Chandra Shobhi

File photograph: Chief minister B.S.Yediyurappa at the 104th birth anniversary of former deputy prime minister  Babu Jagjivan Ram, at the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore in April (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Chetan Bhagat has some advice for Lingayats

Has the BJP lost all sense of shame in Karnataka?

Has the BJP lost all sense of shame in Karnataka?

23 July 2011

If a photograph is worth a thousand metaphors, this is it.

On the face of it, the cranes, the excavators and the barricades show the backbending work on the Bangalore Metro project that is going on quietly, relentlessly even while Bangaloreans blissfully whiz past it, unaware of the extent of the sweat and toil.

If you look at this picture differently, the mounds of soil, the deep trenches and the slush show how the mining scam is now at the doorstep of the temple of our democracy, the Vidhana Soudha, even while Kannadigas blissfully ignore its lasting damage.

The rape of the environment in Bellary, the role of the Reddys and other politicians in the loot, a complicit chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa (and a former CM H.D. Kumaraswamy), the shameless bid by BJP leaders such as Dhananjay Kumar to influence the Lok Ayukta to spare the CM, Justice Santosh Hegde‘s phone being tapped, an impotent BJP high command….

Nothing, it seems, shakes or shocks the Kannadiga any more as he sits down to watch his favourite murder-rape-kidnap megaserial after hogging a single idli-vade-sambar at the local darshini.

That is, after visiting his nearest mutt.

Which is why, perhaps, the tower named after a Kannadiga of unquestionable rectitude—Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya—seems to be hiding itself behind a christmas tree in shame and embarrassment, unable to watch what seems to be going on in the name of god’s work.

At the hands of god’s own party.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

***

The Namma Metro photo portfolio

Why on earth does Bangalore Metro look so ugly?

If only someone could do this to save our State

“No free left” for residents of a famous highrise

Remember the helmets when it rains (or shines)

At Anil Kumble circle, a sharp googly to KSCA

In the darkness of night, a ray of light at 19:12:30 hours

The biggest day in the history of Bangalore?

Do not try this at home (if you have a few bogies)

From the BEML end, right arm over the wicket

The giant violin-box hanging above ‘Parades’

It’s still not here, but it’s already kind of here

Yes, it’s for real, and it’s purple and off-white

4 cars, 3 SUVs, 8 bikes, and 16 autorickshaws

Oh God, what have they done to my M.G. Road

Saturdays, girlfriends, popcorn and other memories

Every picture tells a tale. Babu‘s can fill a tome.

Not a picture that will make it to Lonely Planet

Amar, Akbar, Antony. Or Ram, Robert, Rahim

Only a low-angle shot can convey its great girth

Lots of work overground for an underground rail

The unsung heroes in the dreams of Bangaloreans

On top down under, a tale of a work in progress

Take this, take that, take five with tabla & sitar

23 July 2011

The Dave Brubeck quartet’s jazz classic, Take Five, gets a Pakistani touch at the hands of the Lahore-based Sachal Studios orchestra.

So good, that The Master himself is reported to have called it “the most interesting and different interpretation of Take Five” that he has ever heard.

Do it at home: The piano version

And at the subway: The soprano sax version

Link via D.D. Gupta

And those who don’t respect the Constitution?

21 July 2011

After his suggestion that the Bhagwad Gita be taught for an hour every day to school children was resisted, Karnataka’s minister for primary and secondary education, Vishveshwar Hegde Kageri, has been quoted as saying that if “someone does not respect the Gita, they have no place in India. They should leave the country and settle abroad.”

Editorial in the Indian Express:

“Apart from ignoring the constitutional injunction against introducing religious material in public schools, Kageri has displayed the worst instincts and rhetoric of the right, publicly stating that those who disregard a certain Hindu religious text do not belong in India….

“It is the politics represented by people like Kageri that remind us how important it is that our state schools remain faith-neutral…. [His] words are a reminder of the still-real danger of those who would shape education to their own ends, and they undermine one of India’s founding values. If anyone has a problem fitting into this plural and secular nation, it is people like him.”

Editorial in The Times of India:

“Whether Kageri or the state BJP likes it or not, there is a constitutional issue around religious preaching by State schools. Article 28(1) of the Constitution forbids religious instruction of any kind in educational institutions wholly funded by the State….

“Kageri’s approach also sums up another common ailment of Indian education ministers. They still do not see their job as expanding the boundaries of education and promoting useful skills that will empower the young, but as prescribing what should be taught, using schools and colleges to disburse patronage, policing the boundaries of Indian culture, and turning education into a tool of political propaganda.”

Cartoon: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

‘Yediyurappa, not BJP, in power in Karnataka’

20 July 2011

The Bharatiya Janata Party increasingly resembles a franchisee operation like Nirula’s or McDonald’s. Its flag flies high in a number of States, but each of its regional satraps—be it Narendra Damodardas Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh or Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh—scripts his own story.

Prof Narendar Pani of the national institute of advanced studies (NIAS), Bangalore, extends the argument to Karnataka, in Mail Today:

“When the BJP formed its first government in Karnataka it was seen as a victory of the party’s ideology and the first step in a deep ideological push into the South. Halfway through its term that beginning seems a distant memory. The State government is in the news more for stories of corruption and defections rather than anything more positive.

“While this could be dismissed as a part of the preoccupations of the media, it is difficult to miss the defensiveness on the part of the party’s usually aggressive national spokespersons when talking of the Karnataka government. And, what is even more significant, the national leadership of the party appears to be unable to do very much about it. What began as a BJP government has somewhere along the way been turned into a Yediyurappa government.

“This apparently incomprehensible transformation may well have a very simple explanation. If we look at what has happened in Karnataka from the perspective of local grassroots politics, rather than national ideological concerns, it does seem that the BJP and others in Delhi may have exaggerated the ideological content of their electoral victory in the State.”

Also read: ‘How Karnataka is becoming Gujarat of the South’

‘India, not a rising power or an emerging power’

19 July 2011

Ramachandra Guha in a piece titled “India is too corrupt to become a superpower”, in the Financial Times, London:

“The Republic of India today faces challenges that are as much moral as social or political with the Mumbai blasts having only temporarily shifted off the front pages the corruption scandals that more recent dominated. These (scandals) have revealed that manner in which our politicians have abused the State’s power of eminent domain, its control of infrastructural contracts, and its monopoly of natural resources, to enrich themselves….

“This activity cuts across political parties—small and large, regional and national. It has tainted the media too, with influential editors now commonly lobbying pliant politicians to bend the law to favour particular corporations…. [The] current wave of corruption scandals will put at least a temporary halt to premature talk of India’s rise to superstardom.

“Such fancies are characteristic of editors in New Delhi and businessmen in Mumbai, who dream often of catching up with and even surpassing China.

“Yet the truth is that India is in no position to become a superpower. It is not a rising power, nor even an emerging power. It is merely a fascinating, complex, and perhaps unique experiment in nationhood and democracy, whose leaders need still to attend to the fault lines within, rather than presume to take on the world without.”

Agree? Disagree?

Photograph: courtesy Garima Jain/ Tehelka

Also read: India’s most secular religion has to be Corruption

‘Editors and senior journalists must declare assets’

Swamy, Diggy & the stereotyping of the innocent

19 July 2011

We live in an era of unabashed competitive communalism.

Behind every terror attack, Hindutva hit squads and “Internet Hindus” find the ghosts and stick figures of the Indian Mujahideen or other hyphenated Islamist groups, shortly after which Congress loose mouths like Digvijay Singh stand up to blame Hindu terror groups and clump the RSS with it.

The finger-wagging and tu-tu-main-main fills up a few hours on the 9 o’clock shouting matches before the nation settles down to await its next blast.

And so it is with the July 13 serial blasts in Bombay.

Neither the City’s police nor the anti-terror squad of the Maharashtra police, not certainly the national investigation agency have pronounced fully or firmly as to which direction the needle of suspicion points, but the usual suspects are already in full force pointing their fingers at, well, the usual suspects.

The Janata Party maverick Dr Subramanian Swamy, whose education at Harvard clearly seems to be an academic aberration on the way to the Jan Sangh and RSS, wrote an article in the Bombay newspaper DNA on Sunday. Titled “How to wipe out Islamic terror“, the piece was a typical rant, straight out of a dummy’s guide to Hindutva as may be delivered at an early-morning shakha.

Twitter was quickly ablaze, and the paper’s readers reacted in droves calling the article “irresponsible and Islamophobic”. Swamy—whose Twitter profile reads “I give as good as I get”— on the other hand thanked readers for the “tsunami of support” to his “reasoned article” while discounting the “stupid, moronic abuse hurled by those who stand to lose“.

Shivam Vij of the website Kafila has exhorted readers to send a note of protest to the editor of the paper, Aditya Sinha, for publishing such “bigoted views“. Now, Hindustan Times cheerfully reports that efforts are on to bring DNA to book, in much the same manner as the Shiv Sena daily Saamna was after the 1993 bomb blasts.

And pretty soon, you can be sure, someone is going to return the favour to Digvijay Singh for saying that “while it is true that not all Hindus are terrorists, those whose Hindus who are terror suspects are all linked to the RSS.” Or something to that effect.

Both sides claim refuge under the cavernous shade of “freedom of expression”; the freedom to express whatever unhinged thought buzzes between their ears on a given day. But in stereotyping vast, innocent millions, not one of whom had a role to play, both sides achieve massive success for their political puppeteers.

Meanwhile, the perpetrators stir up the ammonium nitrate for the next episode with a smile.

Image: courtesy Hindustan Times

Why Indian media can’t laugh at Murdoch’s plight

18 July 2011

SANJAY JHA writes from Bombay: Rupert Murdoch, the emperor of media leviathan News Corporation, shuttled on a transatlantic flight over a tumultuous week-end that saw a popular British Sunday tabloid bite the dust, never to rise again.

News of the World (NOTW) was founded prior to the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, but closed with a 72-hour notice period in tragic infamy on account of startling revelations about its surreptitious hacking of private mails and messages, in a manner both macabre and sleazy.

For Murdoch, the closure was not a generous act to protect the Holy Grail but a calculated trade-off for acquisition of the more alluring BSkyB.

Greed is a driving ambition, often meeting a ruinous end.

It could happen in India too.

Despite much heart-burning and pious pontification, the Press Council of India report on paid news accumulates dust in dark dungeons, like used files. It does manifest our questionable standards, the media’s inability to smother its own insuperable demons.

While we hyperventilate to the world, our own backyard emits a sordid stench. Paid coverage is stealthy advertising, which legitimizes self-promoting campaigns on unsuspecting readers posing as dispassionate reporting. It is indeed an ethical violation of astronomical proportions, but everyone seems nonchalant, blissfully blasé about it.

Dileep Padgaonkar once famously stated that The Times Of India editor was the “second most important man in India”. That was not hubris or a silly exaggeration , it was a near-factual assessment. But today no media big gun can make such lofty claims.

Multiple channels and news publishers have made mass distribution of news our new business reality.

Once I waited every Sunday morning to read Khalid Mohamed’s review of a Bollywood blockbuster. Now several experts miserly dole out glittering stars on Friday itself, even as thousands of faceless bloggers become the new film critic.

It’s literally first day, first show.

Media is now truly democratized; so truly there are no king-makers. With Facebook, Twitter and blogs gathering high-speed on the social networking highway, media activism has also assumed formidable power to influence public opinion, so far considered the sacrosanct preserve of an elite club.

India’s subterranean media revolution is underway.

Media organizations must also frequently take core ideological or strategic positions on sensitive issues, it will enhance their quality. That’s what often distinguishes the print media from television. The snarling watchdog needs to be just that; it can’t have a shrill bark, a toothless bite and lazily snooze when Rome burns, reacting only under extreme provocation.

For instance, last year when Shiv Sena became a quasi-sarkar in threatening to black-out Shah Rukh Khan’s My Name is Khan, the conventional protocol of TV channels of giving both sides a voice was rather superfluous , even preposterous.

Even to a naïve outsider, Shiv Sena was indulging in unlawful transgressions exploiting media platform shamelessly to espouse its parochial claptrap. The worst indictment of the media is when it willingly succumbs to made for TV manufactured events.

Whatever happened to professional discretion?

Aren’t leaked reports also obtained often with at least moral illegality with an in-built clause of quid pro quo?

In a country bedeviled by innumerable scams, a deadly diabolical nexus between criminal elements, political leaders and business-builder behemoths, media is critical. But discharging that onerous responsibility is not a child’s play.

Like WikiLeaks, one foresees alternative mediums to emerge to fill the gaping vacuum created by status quo coverage these days . Investigative journalism has become comatose in a commercially dictated news content age. Something is gone missing.

Are we becoming tabloid-like, allowing any bearded spiritual free-agent, violent wife-beater or a just-released bone chopper to capture India’s attention? Can we then be so self-righteous as to take umbrage under “mere reporting”?

Oh, come on! For all the political faux pas of the government, the media should have used its own grey cells to fathom Baba Ramdev’s bona fides. The modern-media is society’s crucial “ influencer”, not a reseller of titillating tales. Media integrity is a non-negotiable instrument. We need to enforce it.

I hear several grumble ; why does the media never do a comprehensive follow-up to serious unresolved issues instead of chasing the next wife-thrashing maverick promoting his televised marriage? Whatever happened to several disproportionate assets cases against powerful CMs?

Who really covertly leaked the Radia tapes, and why?

How is Lalit Modi “ officially absconding” and purchasing large mansions in downtown London without a valid passport? Whatever happened to the Srikrishna report on the Bombay riots?

Narayan Rane had publicly stated that he was aware of powerful people who knew about 26/11 terrorist attacks—really? If so what happened? Despite singular success stories like Jessica Lal, the CWG and 2G scams, Gujarat riots and several successful petitions, paradoxically enough, media itself is losing the perception battle.

Aamir Khan’s Peepli Live! ridiculed media to atrocious levels but to appreciative applause.

In India, where our daily lives resembles a cacophonous collage of absurd and horrendous tales, news television often degenerates into infotainment category. The truth is that good news is boring.

It’s like breathing. It’s predictable, monotonous, rhythmical, but it is also bloody necessary.

Or else we have the kiss of death.

We are too often celebrating India’s unseen imminent demise, our own pornography of grief. It is time we appreciated that even thorns have roses. At least one channel has begun to share a daily dose of cheer.

Competitive journalism is natural marketing warfare, after all, newspapers and TV channels are not in the charity trade. But intent is pivotal. Phone hacking is unambiguously unethical. Bribery pay-offs of police personnel is contemptible. Killing news to protect favoured parties is equally lamentable.

But isn’t paid news also guilty of disingenuous, distorted presentation of facts?

In the long-run , media houses that practice quintessential consecrated ethical behaviour will survive. Others will flounder.

The editor is media’s conscience-keeper, its guardian angel. They are the ones who must separate the wheat from the chaff, and ensure that the chaff does not get headline attention. But the quarter to quarter pressures of EPS for the publicly listed media companies can result in editorial compromises.

The editors need to be sacrosanct, inaccessible to advertisers and CEO’s business plans, working behind a Chinese wall. Editors should have no employee stock options, and must not be on boards of these companies either; that will eliminate conflict of interest issues.

Instead, they should be compensated by equitable fixed salaries, benefits, bonuses, and given flexibility for research projects, reimbursed higher learning expenses and encouraged to author books and take up teaching assignments.

We need to de-link organizational bottomline numbers with editorial policy.

Editorial independence is a must; they cannot be the brand managers with brains. Also, celebrity editors could do with relative anonymity . Anonymity powers the personal brand. Proximity to suave glib talking industrialists or political power-brokers can be jeopardous as was evident in the Radia tapes.

David Cameron flushes crimson on his selection of the arrested former head of NOTW, Andy Coulson. Tony Blair too is red-faced. And more is still to surface.

Every media company must make public its own independent advisory board with an ombudsman , besides an industry watchdog. Ethical workshops are needed, as young recruits can be susceptible to short-cut methods for quick career windfalls.

Press, public relations , big business and the politicians will have to tread with circumspection as there could be grave overlaps on account of the vested , conflicting interest of each. The unholy nexus is no longer a well-concealed secret. The path is slippery , shaky and serpentine. It is easy to become the news of the world. Very easy.

Good night and good luck!

(Banker turned web entrepreneur, Sanjay Jha is the founder of Cricket Next. This piece originally appeared on the website Hamara Congress)

Image: courtesy Time

Why bother since it’s about soda and water?

18 July 2011

The start of a big series is three days away; the 100th ever encounter between the Coloniser and the Colonised. But guess what India’s skipper and his premier spin bowler are squabbling about as they prepare to face what seems like the more well-rounded Test team in the world today? McDowell’s No. 1 Platinum and Royal Stag.

Player No. 207 is the modern-day Vijay Hazare

16 July 2011

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“In the winter of 1947-48, the Indian cricket team visited Australia to play four Test matches. Australia, led by Don Bradman, were by some distance the finest team in world cricket. India, on the other hand, were greenhorns, having only played 10 Test matches, without winning any of them. To make matters worse, some of the country’s top players were not available for selection. These included three superlatively gifted batsmen: Vijay Merchant, Mushtaq Ali, and R.S. Modi….

“The loss of the three Ms would have hurt the team in any case; here, because of the quality of the opposition, their absence was catastrophic…. Only two Indians emerged with any credit from this unequal encounter. One was Vinoo Mankad. The other was Vijay Hazare…. To play a lone hand was not an uncommon experience for Hazare. He did that always for The Rest, his team in the Bombay Pentangular, then India’s premier domestic tournament….

“In the 1930s and 1940s, Hazare bravely bore the burdens of The Rest; in the 1940s and the 1950s, he oftentimes did the same for India. When India were 0 for four in a Test match in England, it was left to Hazare and his fellow Vijay, Manjrekar, to come together in a retrieving stand that restored some respectability to his side. In the first part of the 1950s, three Commonwealth sides toured India — in the 15 fiercely fought, albeit unofficial, ‘Tests’ that they played, the man that bowlers of the quality of Sonny Ramadhin and Jim Laker found hardest to dismiss was Vijay Hazare….

“No historical analogy can be exact, but still, it may be worth pursuing the question — who is the modern Hazare? One might say it was Sachin Tendulkar, who, for much of his career, has had to bear “this strange burden of popularity and responsibility”, to score hundreds upon hundreds to maintain his fame and keep his team afloat.

“But one can also make a case for Rahul Dravid. For one thing, his style is more akin to Hazare’s, sound and orthodox — coming in at 5 for one, which soon becomes 10 for two — he seeks to patiently rebuild the innings, whereas Tendulkar would seek rather to play some flashing shots and immediately take the initiative away from the opposition.

“These past few weeks in the West Indies, Rahul Dravid had indeed been the modern Hazare. As in Australia in 1947, three of India’s finest batsmen — Sehwag, Tendulkar and Gambhir — cried off from the tour. Here, as then, there were only two experienced batsmen left to carry along a bunch of novices. Laxman, like Mankad in 1947, has batted bravely on occasion — but the Hazare of this tour has been Rahul Dravid. That India won the series is owed largely to the magnificent hundred he scored in the second innings of the Test match in Jamaica.

“Like Hazare, Dravid is a man of courage and decency, content to play — and live — in the shadows of his more glamorous team-mates. Like Hazare, his contributions to Indian cricket have been colossal, and probably under-appreciated. It is time that one of the present, and very gifted, generation of Indian writers treated his achievements and his character in a subtle work of fiction. I suspect, however, that its ending will see its hero living not with animals in a farm, but among books in a library.”

Read the full article: The modern Hazare

Also read: India’s greatest match-winning batsman is…

Been there, seen that & bought the bloody shirt

15 July 2011

 

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Taat, tedaat, taat….

It takes three loud sounds to start the train of events so well known to everyone by now.

First, a flashing ticker breaking the news on TV screens. Then the images of blood splattered torsos, and broken arms and legs lying all around. Eyewitnesses jostling for space as they narrate the events. TV reporters screaming their reports; sumg Twitterers suddenly sounding a little less self-important.

It takes little to realise that urbs prima in Indus—the most priced piece of land in India, as the plaque calls Bombay at the Gateway of India—has been hit again.

Yet again.

And again.

Now starts the replay of a much-watched and scratched video disc.

Wailing ambulances finding it difficult to make their way into the crowded gullies; photographers blithely taking pictures as lives ebb away; police desperately looking for clues and hints in tiffin carriers, cycles, trains and even umbrellas; intelligence “experts” giving rumours on possible casues the required oxygen.

Soon, in Delhi, the Prime Minister breaks his silence to thunderously warn terrorists that India will not tolerate such dastardly acts; the UPA chairperson asks people to maintain peace and harmony; and assorted celebrities asking Bombay to shrug off the latest calamity off and get back to life once the next local train comes.

Very soon, the words “Spirit of Mumbai” will slip out of some Page 3 tongue.

Hyper-nationalists on wi-fi swing in to point out how tiny Israel chases its pursuers and smokes them out. President Barack Obama, whose troops chased and hunted down Osama bin Laden in a foreign country advises restraint even as the New York Times commends India for its maturity.

Two days gone, sketches of the suspects are drawn on the basis of eyewitness accounts.

An intelligence establishment which didn’t have a clue about what was coming now suddenly knows every little detail of how the LeT or IM planned the latest blood bath. Helpful journalists on the payroll push out the story without batting an eyelid and even appear on television to belt out their number.

“Hindu fundamentalists,” says the Congress party’s Idiot-in-Chief in response with an eye on the ballot box.

With the heat on, some mandatory arrests are made; more are promised. And when the charge sheets are about to be filed comes the news that our new best friend and well-wisher across the seas knew about the attack all the time.  “Betrayal” is the new cry of the media and opposition.

A few months later comes a WikiLeak cable on how our new best friend and well-wisher knew all along as to what was happening; that it even had a copy of the blueprint but, strangely, was not sure when to give the information or to whom, but had ‘generally’ warned India about the impending catastrophe.

More breast beating.

The security experts go ballistic about how our forces are poorly manned and equipped. This is assuaged by the announcement of some gigantic plans for new offices, new security cameras, new interceptors, new this, new that, not too many of which will see the light of day.

God’s Own Party conveniently forgets that it was its foolish and hasty action in pulling down an old and decrepit mosque that singularly changed the communal atmosphere in Bombay and indeed across India forever, and that the nation continues to pay a price for fit every few weeks and months somewhere.

Finally, the police file the case, the hearings begin and the public prosecutor proves the State’s case beyond doubt. The guilty are named and shamed. The people in general and the victims’ families in particular feel vindicated that justice has been done.

But is it?

After the verdict comes the competitive politics. If we hang the guilty, what are our chances in the next election? If they don’t hang the guilty, what are our chances? And so the guilty sit on the long bench of those seeking a presidential pardon?

United States had only one incident of terror attack and they called it 9/11.

We copied even the way they write a date and called it 26/ 11.

There is now a long and list of months and years of terror attacks to be remembered; 13/7 is only the latest. Which ones shall we remember which ones shall we let pass, before another one is added to it?

Photograph: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

When swamijis decide a State’s industrial policy

14 July 2011

The role that swamijis, religious gurus and mutt heads should play in society has been much discussed and debated in the tumultous times of god’s own party, the BJP. Should they cross the seven seas and go abroad? Should they be batting for politicians of their own caste and slugging it out on the streets? Etcetera.

In the past week, that role has been expanded to decide public and industrial policy almost at gunpoint. First Sri Vishvesha Teertha swamiji of the Pejawar Mutt delivered an ultimatum to his friends in the saffron party, on the issue of notification of land for a special economic zone in Mangalore, and had his way.

And no sooner had that objective been accomplished, Sri Siddalinga swamiji of the Tontadarya Mutt was taking up the cudgels on behalf of farmers whose land had been taken for the Posco project in Gadag, and indeed on bahalf of citizens whose lives, he said, were at risk because of the steel project.

On Thursday, a day after the State government of B.S. Yediyurappa beat a hasty retreat first on the Mangalore SEZ and then on the Posco land acquisition after grandstanding on its commitment to the “development” agenda, seers of various mutts convened in Gadag on Thursday to discuss the fallout.

The questions that arise are obvious: what is the expertise of the swamijis in such worldly matters? How does their word become more important for a chief minister than that of other “experts”? What happens to the division of labour betwen “Church” and “State”? And indeed, what happens to a State when swamijis get into other messy areas of public life?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: ‘Hunger for publicity is hallmark of new swamijis’

What role should our swamijis, godmen play?

CHURUMURI POLL: Padma Bhushan for BGS head?

Madi, mutt head and the hand that helped

Should swamijis travel abroad by air?

A worm’s eye-view of the high-flying neighbours

12 July 2011

With the roofs over their heads suddenly and cruelly removed by excavators, residents of an unauthorised construction hang out against the backdrop of a multi-storeyed building, on Sampige Road in Malleshwaram in Bangalore, on Tuesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

About time we stopped cribbing about cricket

11 July 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Now that the B Sample of Ashwini Akkunji & Co has also turned out positive, from an Indian perspective, the Commonwealth Games (CWG) of 2010 can be summed up by two simple words.

Shock.

And shame.

Shock, because the fat cats who were in charge of organising the games (like the bearded dude on the left, above) are cooling their heels in Tihar jail for having succumbed to their natural instinct to loot the exchequer.

And shame, because some of the athletes who brought laurels to the country (like the smiling girls in the picture) have now been revealed to have artificially boosted their performance.

Only the swanky stadia, swimming pools and velodrome—and the  spit and polish that was provided to the nicer parts of Lutyen’s Delhi—stand testimony to the games. If they are still standing, that is.

The Great Indian Dope Trick past shows a deep-rooted malaise afflicting the non-cricket sports scene in our country.

The cliched question is, where have we gone wrong? The short answer is: from the very beginning.

For decades satraps have usurped powers befitting nabobs and run various sports bodies like their own fiefs with the sports ministry having little or no teeth to discipline them. More often they have colluded with officials in looting the public money, as is evident in the CWG scam.

Most athletes, till recently, didn’t have decent training facilities or equipment, either in terms of boarding and lodging or sports gear.

Who can forget the badminton coaching camp for an international event that had to be abandoned and the shuttlers sent back because they had not arranged for the shuttlecocks?

Or that some sarkari babu sat on the files and forgot to buy the bullets for our shooters?

Or the time when an athlete had to run around to get his visa stamped, make it to the airport just in time to board the flight, and stay on measly allowances, while the officials accompanying them lived in five–star comfort?

Indian politicians and officials are keener to rub shoulders with Bollywood stars during gala opening and closing ceremonies and keep themselves busy arranging free passes and souvenirs to their friends and relatives.

Recently eight, that’s right, eight hockey players were cramped in room participating in a major tournament, and this while a meeting of the Indian hockey federation was in progress to discuss the future of Indian hockey.

Cricket is often blamed for all the ills that are plaguing other sports. But the least the officials can learn is how cricket is being organised and marketed, how the past cricketers are taken care of, without letting them die on streets uncared for, and how the team continues to perform, throwing up superstars and icons every now and then.

The plight of most non-cricket sports in general and athletics in particular only shows that there is a lot of catching up to do.

The single most important facility created by the Board of Control for Cricket in India is a giving pension to cricketers who have played for the country.

Eastern Europe has always been a haven for athletes taking drugs, with nations themselves being involved in promoting drug abuse. This was before the World Anti doping Agency (WADA) came into being. And our national coaches are mainly from there. Any surprise that the CWG story has ended first in corruption and then in shame.

Doping is a menace that has come to stay.

Like hacking in computers, the more firewalls and security systems that is put in place, the more hackers will find thrill in breaking into such systems that have all the security. The more drugs are banned, more and more athletes will use them under a masking agent which will cover the main drug used or abused.

Athletics, in future, will become a match between chemists wearing white coats and coming out with drugs and keeping a step ahead of the chemists working for anti doping agencies like WADA or NADA.

It is for the International Olympics Association to make sure the evil of drugs is rooted out of the system once and for all and keep a vigil it never resurfaces.

Otherwise, the Olympic movement through sports is truly over.

Photograph: Commonwealth games organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi congratulates Ashwini Akkunji and members of the gold winning India 4 x 400 women’s relay team at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on day nine of the Delhi 2010 CWG on October 12, 2010 (courtesy Getty images)

The loud and noisy Punjab-ification of India

8 July 2011

RATNA RAO SHEKAR writes from Hyderabad: I am not sure if you have noticed this, but in our country, the higher the decibel level, the easier it is to get noticed. While Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev were in the media glare because of the noise they created and received the government’s attention, Swami Nigamanand died unsung.

Because, unlike the other two, he was protesting quietly against illegal sand mining by the Ganga.

Or, who has paid any attention to Irom Chanu Sharmila who has been fasting  silently for over a decade in the Northeastern most part of the country?

We, as a country, thrive on cacophony and drama irrespective of whether it is a protest or a party, a wedding or a funeral.

So many Indians I know for instance thought the wedding of Prince William and Kate, while being elegant was more funereal than celebratory. They felt let down because the ceremony lacked the band baja of Indian weddings.

Here, we like to celebrate weddings with bonhomie, noise and crackers. The robustness of the Punjabi wedding is a case in point. At one stage, South Indian weddings were dead-serious affairs until the Punjabi wedding (propagated through Hindi films) cast its spell. The mehendi and sangeet with their colourful costumes and over-the-top Bollywood music and dancing is a shining example of how we think a wedding should be conducted.

Not just weddings, but our cinema too is loud.

The quietness of Rashomon is not for us. And a Satyajit Ray film is all right for the festival rounds. The popular choice is the Bollywood film with its gaudy costumes and inane song-and-dance sequences, epitomised by the item number which makes or breaks a movie.

And we love the fact that all this is given to us in the full throttle of Dolby Digital sound which the new multiplexes come equipped with.

Why, even Indian classical music and dance concerts are noisy affairs, whatever sublime levels the musician or dancer may take us to. The majority of us are not moved by the quiet of a Beethoven symphony played in the precincts of a concert hall.

We would rather have the informality of an Indian classical concert, so that we can talk between each rendition, clap spontaneously when a dancer has performed a particularly difficult varnam, or talk across aisles, comparing notes.

Even our family get-togethers, office picnics and outings with friends are characterized by loud jokes and louder games of antakshari, or what is worse these days, the karaoke. To prove that all is well in the family or among colleagues we like to chatter simultaneously and laugh out loud at every Osama or other joke.

How many times has the family member who does not participate in the general revelry, but prefers watching television or reading a book in seclusion, been dragged to be centre stage to cheered up? For Indians, silence is synonymous with social deviance, or worse, depression.

When you come to think of it, our funeral ceremonies too (loaded though they may be with grief of the family) are noisy affairs, too. We are so noisy, we will not let a dead Indian go to his grave in peace and silence!

In this country we have to prove we are not deaf or social psychopaths by turning on television sets full blast, talking loudly on cell phones at public places, and honking during a traffic jam even if everyone can see the cars are not going anywhere.

Most of us are so used to the chaos and noise of India that we feel nervous with the deathly silence of some European countries where we hardly see people, and even the few we do seem to feel no compulsion to talk on cell phones or strike up a conversation with complete strangers.

Even the children in these countries, it would seem, don’t cry too loudly.

I believe we as a nation need a crash course in quiet. But for this, we need to shut off the cacophony created by TV anchors, honking cars, ringing cell phones, politically minded god men and gurus—and learn to listen to that sound of silence.

(Ratna Rao Shekar is the editor of Housecalls, the bimonthly published by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories. Her book of short stories, Purple Lotus and Other Stories is forthcoming)

Also read: Not this or that, this and that is the real zeitgeist

Gutter chicken: the Punjab-ification of food


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