Archive for the ‘Churumuri Poll’ Category

CHURUMURI POLL: Who’s ahead in Karnataka?

16 April 2014

From a Karnataka perspective, the 2014 Lok Sabha election has been a roller-coaster ride.

After the Congress’s thumping return to power in the 2013 assembly elections, the party believed it would repeat its showing in the general elections, thus making up for what is certain to be a serious rout in the Seemandhra region, following the noisy creation of the Telengana state.

The populist decisions undertaken by the Siddaramaiah government was also supposed to help to add to the Congress tally in Karnataka (Congress bagged 8 of the 28 seats, against the BJP’s 18 and the JDS’s two).

But the return of B.S. Yediyurappa to the BJP, and the re-inclusion of B. Sreeramulu, has altered the conventional wisdom on top of the headwind that Narendra Modi brings to his high-voltage campaign. The opinion polls are divided in what is in store in the state, except to suggest that the Congress might not get as high as it thought it would and the BJP as low as many thought it would.

So, what do you think would be the final score?

The Talibanisation of Kannada cinema—Part II

15 January 2014

VASANT SHETTY writes from Bangalore: Bangalore is home to “Sandalwood”, the Kannada film industry.

The industry produces 120-130 movies an year and, like other major film industries in India, has about a 10% success rate.

Unfortunately, unlike other film industries, Sandalwood is known for banning dubbing of content to Kannada.

This unofficial ban on dubbing content effectively isolates Kannadigas who know only Kannada (approximately there are 2.5 to3 crore Kannadigas who know only Kannada and no other language) from the sea of knowledge and entertainment that exists in other languages.

We must note that the ban has no legal sanctity and is put in place by a private trade bodies like Karnataka film chamber of commerce (KFCC) and other similar organizations.

The private ban was put in place six decades ago in order to give boost to the then ailing Kannada film industry under the aegis of the legendary actor Dr Raj Kumar. The protectionist measure helped the novice industry to scale from less than 10 films a year to more than 100 films a year.

But like other typical protectionist schemes, the continued “PRIVATE” protection has resulted in isolating Kannadigas from receiving worldly knowledge in visual form and is fast turning counter-productive from the view point of increasing language’s reach.

Several past attempts by concerned individuals to debate the unconstitutional ban on dubbing was shot down in the guise of protecting of language and culture by vested interests.

Last year when the Hindi cinema actor Aamir Khan set out to do a social awareness program called Satyameva Jayate, he wanted to make this program available in most Indian languages using the means of dubbing.

In Kannada, the general entertainment channel Suvarna was planning to air this program in Kannada and as soon as the news broke out, sundry trade organisations affiliated to Kannada film and TV industry made sure that Suvarna channel backed off from that idea.

When Suvarna put the first episode of  Kannada version on YouTube, it received more than 30,000 views in 24 hours and strangely the very next day the video was pulled out from the internet too. Cartels from the film and TV industry were suspected to be behind this.

Amidst all this, Competition Commission of India (CCI) entered the scene after a complaint was lodged with it on the grounds that the ban violates the freedom of choice of a Kannadiga consumer from watching the best of entertainment and knowledge programs from across the world in his mother tongue.

The dubbing debate seems to have entered the last leg with recent media reports (Udayavani, 7 January) indicating that the CCI has come down very heavily on all associations affiliated to Kannada film and television industry for their blatant anti-consumer and anti-competition actions. This has triggered raging debates on Kannada TV and social media about pros and cons of dubbing once again.

On a serious note, is there anything to debate at all?

It’s an open and shut case. Whoever wants to see original content, they should have their choice, and whoever wants to see dubbed content, they should have their choice too.

In this context, we are running a petition requesting the chief minister of Karnataka and his administration to ensure that the citizens of Karnataka are able to exercise their freedom of choice.

I request all those individuals who believe in liberty, freedom of choice, democracy and rule of law to sign this petition and show your support for this people’s cause.

Sign the petition here: http://chn.ge/1izOkfI

Also read: The Talibanisation of Kannada cinema and television

An open letter to Aamir Khan, from a Kannadiga

What the Darshan‘s brutality says about Scandalwood

CHURUMURI POLL: Could Jayalalitha be PM?

20 December 2013

Counting the chickens before they are hatched, is a familiar human frailty. And, as elections draw near with intimations of the mortality of the Congress-led UPA, there are many who are rehearsing their speeches from “the ramparts of the Red Fort” in the not unreasonable expectation that dame luck may not just smile but wink at them at the polling booths thanks to a lame duck government.

The Usain Bolt of them is, of course, you-know-who, who shall not be named. But a not quite unlikely silhouette is emerging from the shadows: Jayalalitha Jayaram.

With poll after opinion poll predicting that virtually 250 of the 543 seats in the next Lok Sabha may be occupied by non-Congress, non-BJP parties—with Tamil Nadu having 40 of them—the straws are somewhat leaning towards the Mysore-born AIADMK supremo who is now that State’s chief minister for a second term.

In just the last week, H.D. Deve Gowda (who became PM with 12 MPs) has suggested her name:

“An inner voice tells me that Indian polity is going through a sea change, and as a believer in the Hindu dharma, let me tell you that someone from the south is going to become the Prime Minister,” said Gowda, a frequent visitor to the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, which also happens to be Jayalalithaa’s assembly constituency. “I wholeheartedly support the candidature of Jayalalitha for the Prime Minister’s post provided such a favorable political mobilization takes place.”

Now, the AIADMK general council has echoed Gowda’s sentiments:

“All the members of AIADMK want Jayalalitha to become prime minister this time and we have been working in this direction for the last three-four months. The federal structure of the country should give a chance to political leaders of other states to lead the country,” said M. Thambi Durai, an AIADMK leader in the Lok Sabha.

At a function held in Madras last year, Cho Ramaswamy of Tughlaq magazine said that Jayalalitha stood a good chance if Narendra Modi became unacceptable to NDA allies.

Obviously, this is speculation predicated on the assumption that neither BJP nor the Congress will be in a position to form a government on their own or with the support of their allies. But the fact that Jayalalitha has not met the BJP “prime ministerial candidate” Narendra Modi on three occasions, nor have her representatives been present at Modi’s rallies in Tamil Nadu, suggests that the flame of hope burns bright in more than just one Gujarati’s heart.

Questions: Does Jayalalitha, with her food schemes, her grasp of English and slightly understated demeanour in her latest term, stand a chance if AIADMK wins, say, 32-35 of the 40 seats? Is she a more accetpable bet than Narendra Modi? Will she be acceptable to other parties like Biju Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress, which are also likely to score heavily in Orissa and West Bengal? Will her proximity to the left parties (the CPI’s D. Raja won with AIADMK support) make her more amenable to Mulayam Singh Yadav‘s Samajwadi Party, just to spite Mayawati?

Is it time a Mysorean became prime minister? (Just kidding.)

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is Jayalalitha PM material?

CHURUMURI POLL: Are Volvo buses safe in India?

15 November 2013

Such is the hold of aircraft manufacturing giants over governments, politicians, administrators and over the media that few, if any, airline crashes are ever eventually pinned on the plane or its manufacturer. It is, almost always, “pilot error” or “human error”, never the machine’s or its maker’s fault. They are angels.

And so it seems to be in the case of Volvo, the Swedish bus maker, which seems to be have conquered Indian roads and minds with its sexy looking but patently dangerous vehicles.

The fire which roasted alive 45 people in Mahbubnagar last month was blamed on the driver of the Volvo bus.

05_Bus-on-fire-in-Mahbubnagar-district-of-Andhra-Pradesh

And, sure enough, it seems the fire which roasted alive 7 people in Haveri will be blamed on the driver of the Volvo bus.

Photo Caption

Volvo claims its buses are safe, that drivers and bus staff are trained to deal with hazards and accidents, and that is overspeeding that is killing people. That rapacious bus operators have ill-trained, underpaid staff, who try to cut corners to reach destinations ahead of schedule.

Questions: looking at a large Volvo bus with a tiny door in the front on the road, does it give you the sense of being safe? Are the speeds it can do suitable for Indian roads? Why are mostly private buses falling involved in such horrific accidents? Will a blackbox or speed governor really make travelling safe?

Photographs: Karnataka Photo News and The Hindu

OPINION POLL: Should opinion polls be banned?

4 November 2013

Vinaasha kaale vipareetha budhdhi,” is a saying which captures the mood of the Congress-led UPA government very well. As it swerves into the final lap of its second term in office, as bad news swirls all around it, as the foreboding gets grimmer with each passing day, the 128-year-old party has turned its eyes, well, on opinion polls.

In a communication to the election commission, a party functionary writes:

“Opinion polls during election are neither scientific nor is there any transparent process for such polls… our party fully endorses the views of the Election Commission of India to restrict publication and dissemination of opinion polls during the election.”

Random surveys “lack credibility”, and could be “manipulated and manoeuvred” by persons with “vested interest”, is the Congress’ conclusion, which is broadly in line with attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati‘s legal opinion to the law ministry in which he said a ban on opinion polls would be “constitutionally permissible”.

For a government which has consistently trained its guns on free speech, the latest move is par for the course.

There is no question that many opinion polls are dubious exercises undertaken by fraudulent agencies with little no field presence; sponsors, sample sizes, date of polling, margins of error (all pre-requirements in reporting a poll) are opaque. There is also no doubt that many cash-strapped media houses are happily carrying polls with an eye on the future.

Still, is a ban the only solution? Would the Congress and UPA be in favour of a ban on polls if the Congress was doing well in them? Do polls really influence voters, who chose just the opposite of what opinion polls advised them in 2004 and 2009? Whether dubious or not, does a ban on polls restrict the media’s fundamental freedoms?

Above all, wouldn’t Indian democracy be healthier if a voter is exposed to what his co-citizens are thinking in other parts of the country, rather than being denied access to it?

POLL: Have Tatas, Birlas, Ambanis let India down?

17 October 2013

Hell hath no fury than an industrialist scorned. The naming of Kumar Mangalam Birla, the youthful chief of the Aditya Birla group, in the 14th first information report (FIR) filed by the central bureau of investigation (CBI) in the coal allocation scam, has set the cat among the pigeons of India’s business class, which suddenly cannot decide whether to run or to hide.

Birla has only been named in the FIR—not arrested, not convicted, not jailed. But from HDFC’s Deepak Parekh downwards, everybody who is somebody in Bombay is behaving as if the skies have fallen down and giving certificates of good conduct to the Hindalco chairman, whose company is accused of garnering a 15% stake meant for public sector undertakings.

Birla is, of course, only the latest businessman in a scam under the cavernous nose of the Congress-led UPA.

Before him, there was Naveen Jindal, the tricolour-waving head honcho of Jindal Steel, who is also a Congress member of Parliament, also in the coal scam. Before him, there was Ratan Tata and Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal and the Ruias of Essar and the Khaitans in the 2G scam.Before (and after) them, there was (and there is) Mukesh Ambani in the KG Basin ripoff. Add to that a Keshub Mahindra of Union Carbide, and you have the who’s who of South Bombay.

Considering that most of them are involved in allegations of usurping natural resources (spectrum, coal, gas), the question to ask is: have our industrialists and businessmen, who otherwise paint themselves as the heartbeat of the nation, let the country down with their greed and avarice? Do they even have the locus standi to talk of “policy paralysis”, when they have their hand in the till, and how?

POLL: What does Sachin Tendulkar’s future lie?

10 October 2013

Many of us, lesser mortals, cannot keep our feet on the ground and our heads on our shoulders after we “succeed”. A good job, a nice designation, a few accolades and some material acquisitions change our accents and attitudes, and pretty soon the fire of ambition in the belly burns out, as we are consigned to the dustbin of history.

Consider Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar who has known nothing but success all his life of 40 and 169 days: 

A Ranji Trophy century on debut, a Duleep Trophy century on debut, an Irani Trophy century on debut—and a magnificent, near-spotless 24-year career of 198 Test matches and 463 one-day internationals yielding 34,373 runs, 100 centuries, 163 fifties, 156 catches and 199 wickets. And millions of fans.

The cricketing achievements of Sachin are obvious: he brought hope and expectation to a nation short of heroes, he brought pride and prestige to the Indian achievement, strength and solidity to the middle-order. But it is the other side of his personality, his personal life, which is an object lesson for most of us, which is almost all of us, not blessed with his kind of talent.

Tendulkar brought middle-class decency and civility to the crease and beyond it. In his personal life, in dealing with fans and followers, in dealing with his superstardom, in dealing with his seniors, juniors and elders, Tendulkar showed a rare ability to not let his arrogance show and to yet carry on zealously.

Question: Now that Sachin Tendulkar has announced that he will end his international career two Test matches from now, where does his future lie?

POLL: Can Nandan Nilekani win Bangalore South?

18 September 2013

Kite-flying effortlessly replaces cricket as the nation’s favourite sport before every election, state or national, and so it is in the run-up to 2014, with “guided rumours” of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani suddenly but not unexpectedly doing the rounds as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South Lok Sabha constituency.

For the moment, there is no confirmation from the man, but he has certainly not denied the report which first appeared on the website of the business newspaper, Mint. “It’s speculative,” is how the Sirsi-born software mogul has chosen to greet the unattributed reports which clearly emanate from his “camp”, and all of which uniformally talk of his candidature having Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi‘s imprimatur.

On the face of it, Nilekani has plenty going for him. He is young (58), has a demonstrated track record as an entrepreneur and a technocrat, has ‘written’ an ambitious book on how he imagines India, and is a past-master at charming the pants off the media. On top of that, his wife, the former journalist Rohini Nilekani has pumped in crores into philanthropic projects.

Nilekani’s role in crafting “Brand Bangalore” is not insignificant. It is Infosys that largely put the shine back into Bangalore and made it the country’s unquestionable IT capital. Nilekani was also the brain behind the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) during S.M.Krishna‘s tenure. So, the Congress’s, if not Nilekani’s, calculation is: this is payback time.

The preponderance of IT types in Bangalore South, the large sprinkling of Brahmins, and a five-time sitting Brahmin MP (Ananth Kumar) who is not on the right side of the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate”, Narendra Modi, makes the Sai bhakt’s candidature look all very rosy—on a spreadsheet.

But politics is not a zero-sum, page 3 game as the similarly qualified Captain G.R. Gopinath discovered not too long ago.

It is not only software engineers who go to vote, in fact they can barely get their backsides off a spa table on the weekends. Plus, Bangalore South has a sizeable Vokkaliga population, and who doesn’t know H.D. Deve Gowda‘s antipathy to urban, educated, rich, IT-BT types?

Above all, for all the friendly media coverage of Nilekani’s “Aadhar” card, the fact remains he has essentially presided over an unconstitutional scheme which does not have Parliament’s OK, and which has actually taken millions out of the welfare net, while precisely claiming to do the opposite, by stopping leakage and pilferage. These are the people who vote and, sadly for Nilekani’s and Aadhar’s backers, there are thousands of them in Bangalore South too.

So, does Nandan Nilekani, who can just about speak Kannada, stand a chance, if he gets the chance, or is he like so many billionaires deluded about what his billions can fetch? If he does, could he end up being a potential minister in the next UPA regime, if there is one? And, while we (and he) fantasise, could he even be the kind of quiet technocrat who could be Rahul’s Manmohan Singh? Just kidding.

(Or, tongue firmly in cheek, could Nandan Nilekani’s nomination papers get rejected because his date of birth does not match the DoB on his own Aadhar card?!)

Also read: Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

POLL: Do you believe Narendra Modi’s PM claim?

5 September 2013

The 2014 general election was supposed to be a head-to-head contest between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Damodardas Modi, the former ordained by the unspoken dynamics of dynastic politics; the other responding to the groundswell of popular support. Yet, could it be a no-show as the two conquistadors find one excuse more fantastic than the other to exit the ring?

The Congress vice-president reiterated in an interaction with the media in Parliament earlier this year (what he had privately maintained for a while) that becoming PM was not the sole ambition of his life. And now, the Gujarat chief minister has surprised even his fanboys by claiming that he was committed to serving his term till 2017.

“I never see such dreams (of becoming PM), nor am I going to see such dreams. People of Gujarat have given me the mandate to serve them till 2017 and I have to do this with full strength,” Modi said.

The charitable view to take is that both Gandhi and Modi are playing it safe, since neither Congress nor BJP looks likely, judging from opinion polls, to come anywhere near forming the next government. By seeming to be not interested in the race, they keep their options open, should the election verdict surprise them.

The less charitable view is that reality has hit home. Both Congress and BJP will require the support of allies to reach 273, and only Congress seems to be making moves as of now. Even if a non-Congress, non-BJP government comes to power, its longevity is far from certain. So 2014 could actually be a semi-final, with another general election around the corner.

Question: Is Narendra Modi being honest with his reluctance for the PM’s chair? Or is he being too clever by half and trying to exert pressure on his party to declare him the candidate?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL-I: Modi vs Rahul in 2014?

CHURUMURI POLL-II: Modi vs Rahul in 2014?

Why Narendra Modi will never be India’s PM

Modi vs Rahul? Nah, more like Rajiv vs Sanjay

Is Infy becoming Narayana Murthy’s property?

26 August 2013

For over a decade starting in the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy enjoyed a well-earned, larger-than-life, holier-than-thou persona through his various public interventions.

As politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen (and everybody else down the food chain, including the media) ran adrift in post-liberalised India, Murthy struck the right note, saying the right thing in just the right sort of way and at the right place, which made him the darling of the urban, literate, English-speaking, TV-watching middle-classes.

While his capitalist-compatriots hogged all the profits, there was Murthy making millionaires out of his own employees by giving them stock options in the company. While everybody shamelessly latched on to power, there he was resigning from the Bangalore international airport project because of a spat with H.D. Deve Gowda.

While everybody was hailing India’s education system, there he was pointing out the problems in them. Why, he was even credited with contemplating to revive Rajaji‘s Swatantra Party, which opposed socialism and rigid controls, as a way out of the morass that mainstream political parties and politicians had pushed India into.

Narayana Murthy was even spoken of as a possible President.

But of all things that Murthy said in his strange, American twang, the one that struck a chord among “People Like Us” (PLUs) was his defence of merit as the lifeblood of a country on the ascendant. As politicians rolled out reservations left, right and centre to protect votebanks, Murthy (who idolised Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew) bravely batted for meritocracy.

Merit is the lifeline of any organisation, he said.

“Infosys is an absolute meritocracy. Even in a meritocracy, other things being equal, you have to give opportunity to the more experienced candidate. Whether it was Nandan Nilekani, Kris Gopalakrishnan or Shibulal, they are absolutely top class and they have been running this marathon longer than some others. Their is no question of (any discrimination) between founder, non-founder. I have no hesitation in saying we are the most professional company in the world,” he said in a 2011 interview.

Which is why the drama surrounding Narayana Murthy’s 30-year-old son Rohan Murthy shows NRN in poor light.

First the 30-year-old (who is married to the heiress of the TVS group) was brought in as an executive assistant to NRN following Murthy’s return to Infosys, which in itself was something NRN did not advocate in public. (Rohan Murthy, who is “on leave” from Harvard, was paid a farcical salary of one rupee a month, apparently at his request.)

Now, less than three months of the appointment, comes a move to elevate executive assistant Rohan Murthy as vice-president Rohan Murthy although NRN had said just three months ago that there would be no leadership role for his son. Obviously, questions of corporate governance, a phrase that repeatedly tripped out of NRN’s tongue have been raised.

Does Narayana Murthy’s hypocrisy stand exposed with the latest move? Should the ministry of corporate affairs allow Rohan Murthy’s elevation to go ahead? Can a publicly listed company be so susceptible to the pressures of a founding family? Does NRN’s move to elevate his son show that blood is thicker than water?

Is something rotten at the Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka?

Or is it all OK because dynasties are a way of life in India?

 

Also read: Come again, in spite of government or because of…?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Infosys a ‘body shop’?

‘Indian IT does not benefit its own people’

POLL: Should FDI cap in media be enhanced?

22 July 2013

With the economic downturn threatening to turn into a full-blown recession and with the finance minister reduced to going around the world with a hat in hand, the Congress-led UPA government last week increased foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecom, defence, petroleum refining, etc, but…

But, not the media.

On the issue of enhancing FDI in media from 26% to 49% under the automatic route as proposed by a finance ministry panel, two separate ministries swung into action. First, the ministry of information and broadcasting sought the views of the telecom regulatory authority (TRAI) and the press council (PCI).

And then, the home ministry opposed the hike, favouring control of media houses by Indians. The Press Trust of India (PTI) quoted official sources as saying:

# “Opening up of current affairs TV channels, newspapers and periodicals dealing with news and current affairs may lead to meddling in India’s domestic affairs and politics.

# “Increase of FDI in broadcasting and print media may also allow foreign players to launch propaganda campaign during any national crisis as well as when interests of any particular country is harmed through any government decision.

# “Big foreign media players with vested interests may try to fuel fire during internal or external disturbances and also can encourage political instability in the country through their publications or broadcasting outlets.”

These reasons have been touted for 22 years now and will surprise nobody. Last week, The Hindu (which was initially at the forefront of the opposition to FDI hikes in media) reported that the industry was divided on the FDI issue:

“While certain big networks like Times Television Network, Network 18 and NDTV are broadly supportive, others like India TV, Sun, Eenadu and Malayala Manorama group have objected to an increase in FDI caps.”

The Centre’s decision to not go-ahead with FDI in media in an election year will not surprise anybody. After all, it wouldn’t want to rub promoters and proprietors on the wrong side, especially when powerful corporates (potential election donors) have substantial stakes in the media.

Still, the question remains whether the media can be given this preferential treatment and, if so, for how long? Will the home ministry’s fears ever vanish? Or, will the media which talks of competition and choice as the great leveller in every sphere of life, seek the protection of politicians in power to protect its turf?

Also read: India opens another door for FDI in papers, mags

Everybody loves a good FDI announcement

Will Yediyurappa return change BJP fortunes?

11 July 2013

What goes around, comes around. Barely months after he left the party fuming and fretting, barely months after the party thought it had seen the back of him, B.S. Yediyurappa and the BJP—both chastened by the defeat in the Karnataka assembly elections—are apparently eyeing each other.

In one sense, it is a reality check for the BJP, which likes to think of itself as a cadre-based party, and for Yediyurappa, who thought that his standing was alone enough to carry him to power. With both the party and the individual realising their limitations, they are thinking of mending broken bridges.

In another sense, it is also a reflection of the changed if not changing reality in the BJP. With “two-time former future prime minister” L.K. Advani, who apparently played a key role in Yediyurappa’s ouster, no longer calling the shots, Yediyurappa sees an opening in the new scheme of things under Narendra Modi. And vice-versa.

Both sides are now playing coy. The BJP wants him to formally “apply” to rejoin the party. Yediyurappa, for his part, says the majority of his followers only want a tie-up with the parent body, not a formal merger. Either way, the path is being paved for the return of the prodigal.

Still, there is such a thing as political morality. When Yediyurappa walked out, the BJP painted all the excesses of his government—the corruption, the scams, the scandals—to him and his cronies. Will facilitating Yediyurappa’s return impact Modi’s national ambitions? Will the BJP emerge stronger in Karnataka with Yediyurappa’s return, or is this too convenient an arrangement which voters will see through?

Should there be reservations in higher judiciary?

2 July 2013

The incoming chief justice of India, Justice P. Sathasivam, has stirred the hornet’s nest by his comment that there should be reservation for members of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the other backward classes in the higher judiciary, such as Supreme Court and high court judges’ posts.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Calcutta, Justice Sathasivam says members of the SCs, STs and OBCs could be elevated to the higher judiciary by giving them certain concessions in the appointment process, provided they fulfilled minimum requirements.

“We need to have some sort of reservation and representations for SCs, STs and OBCs. But at the same time we cannot ignore the minimum standards which are already in vogue for appointment. It does not mean we have to select a person far junior or who lacks merit. But we have to give them some concession….

“They must satisfy the minimum requirements. It is in our (judges) mind. You can also say it is in my mind. I am anxious that persons from SC, ST and OBCs are appointed. Of course, there are members of the OBCs who are already in the higher judiciary,” the judge is quoted as saying.

Question: Is reservations for judges a good idea?

Also read: Why reservations in judiciary is a bad idea

So, how many Dalit or tribal friends do you have?

Any wonder private sector hates reservations?

Can Narendra Modi win friends, influence voters?

19 June 2013

A week is a long time in politics; a fortnight is an eternity. What seemed like, what was projected to be the penultimate stop in his march to his advertised destination, his elevation as the chairman of the election campaign committee of the BJP at the party’s national executive in Goa, has come quickly unstuck for Narendra Damodardas Modi.

On one level, the very public resignation of Lalchand Kishinchand Advani from all BJP posts the day after Modi’s anointment served to show that the divisions in the party on Modi’s acceptance wasn’t a media-created fiction, as the paid pipers on TV and the internet contend, but a reality.

That such senior leaders like Sushma Swaraj conspicuously absented themselves from the unctuous celebrations of Modi’s elevation was too obvious to be missed.

On another level, the withdrawal of support by the BJP’s partner, the JD(U), after 17 years of cohabitation showed that Modi’s acceptance within the NDA wasn’t assured either. And Nitish Kumar‘s dismissal of Modi as a “shortlived wave” created by “corporate houses” only underlines the obstacles ahead of the Gujarat chief minister.

Sudheendra Kulkarni, the aide of both former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani, has today described Modi as an “autocrat” and a “self-centered leader who has shown that he cares two hoots for the party organization and long-time party colleagues in his own state“.

Even prime minister Manmohan Singh has suddenly found the strength to say that “Modi is no threat. People of India know what he stands for… People of India have to draw their own conclusion what they stand for.”

What the developments of the last few days have demonstrated is that the knives are now out in the open. There are some in Delhi who smell trouble for Modi’s Man Friday in Uttar Pradesh, the former home minister of Gujarat, Amit Shah, in the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing case, and indeed some read the urgency with which the RSS and BJP ensured Modi’s elevation in Goa (sparking Advani’s resignation and the JDU pullout), in conjunction with it.

In short, the odds are getting stacked and it is going to take a strong heart, a chhappan ki chhaati, to weather the current and future storms. Can Modi still pull it off and become the BJP’s face for the next election? If he does, will he able to provide the kind of thrust and throttle that the party requires to get close to 200 seats? And if he doesn’t, does his personality inspire enough confidence to woo parties and partners?

Or have all these cards been played by Modi’s detractors too early, giving him more than enough time to recoup?

CHURUMURI POLL: BJP better off without Advani?

11 June 2013

Hell hath no fury like an old man scorned. With Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s nomination as the chairman of the BJP election campaign committee in Goa on Sunday, 86-year-old Lalchand Kishinchand Advani‘s fate as a “two-time former future prime minister of India” was finally and firmly sealed.

But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.

So, a dramatic resignation from the all posts held by him (except the crucial one of NDA chairperson), followed by the leak of the resignation letter, followed by the leak that he did not speak to Modi for six minutes after the nomination but merely 90 seconds. If age equals experience equals wisdom, Advani was showing little of it.

Indeed, the contents of the resignation letter showed a petty and bitter man, unable to come to terms with the reality that the party he had so artfully built on the trail of blood left behind by his rath yatras no longer found him useful. So petty and so bitter that he even seemed willing to destroy its immediate prospects.

So far, the BJP has refused to play ball. It wants him to stay on in his posts but has shown no indication that it will revoke its decision to elevate Modi. More resignations of Advani’s camp-followers may follow, but by all available indications, it appears as if the BJP and RSS (not necessarily in that order) have taken a calculated risk.

Questions: Is BJP better off without Advani? Will Advani’s absence impact the NDA and its prospects in the coming general elections? Is BJP’s (and India’s) future safe with Modi or has Advani shown the opposite?

Also read: Is Advani more acceptable than Modi?

‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

CHURUMURI POLL: Who should be IT minister?

31 May 2013

What qualifications must an elected MLA possess to become a minister? Whose prerogative is it to nominate a minister?  Who decides what portfolio a minister must be allotted? Should ministers of certain specific portfolios possess some certain attributes? And should external inputs be given consideration at all in the ministry-making process?

These are evergreen questions and they gain currency in the light of the decision of the new Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah to name S.R. Patil as the State’s information technology minister—and the quite extraordinary intervention of former Infosys man T.V. Mohandas Pai and Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw.

# “Surprised at choice of minister for IT/BT. Need a person who can work with global companies and a lot younger. Sad day for us,” tweeted Pai.

# “CM can’t afford to be seen to be viewing IT/BT lightly — these are priority sectors for Karnataka,” said Shaw on her micro-blog account.

In a report for the Indian Express, correspondent Saritha Rai writes:

“Pai and Mazumdar-Shaw were only echoing the widespread feeling in the industry — though no one else said it openly and even these two later backpedalled — that a suave, urban-educated, technology-savvy minister would have better suited.

“The industry was backing choices such as Krishna Byre Gowda and Dinesh Gundu Rao — both dynamic, articulate legislators in their forties. Patil, from backward Bagalkot district, is a lawyer by training with a background in the co-operative movement and is not exactly known for his tech-savvy.”

In a report for The Telegraph, correspondent K.M. Rakesh writes:

“I thought either Krishna Byre Gowda (son of former minister C. Byre Gowda) or Dinesh Gundu Rao (son of former chief minister R. Gundu Rao) would get the IT/BT portfolio,” said a Congress lawmaker.

Rahul Karuna, crisis manager with a BPO, said the IT/BT ministry deserved a heavyweight. ‘We were expecting a big name or a young minister. It’s not about the age or looks of the man; it’s that this portfolio deserves a more powerful politician.’”

Obviously, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but implicit in these statements are stereotypes that boggle the mind and should shame the likes of “suave, urban-educated and tech-savvy” Pai and Shaw. That a 65-year-old man from Bagalkot (still very much a part of Karnataka)  is not cut out for the likes of them in Bangalore. That his age, language and tech skills, and mofussil background are all against him in the slick world.

But above all, the arrogant assumption that the IT/BT industry shall decide the choice of IT minister, not the chief minister. If the children and women of Karnataka (whose number vastly outdoes the number of IT/BT professionals) cannot decide who the next women and child welfare minister will be, what right does the IT/BT industry have?

Yes, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna did wonders for the industry. But do M/s Pai & Shaw know if he knew how to switch on a computer via UPS, send an email or write a blog before he took over as chief minister? And didn’t he come from Somanahalli in Maddur taluk of Mandya district? And where specifically have the dynamism of Dinesh Gundu Rao and Krishna Byre Gowda been displayed for the industry to be batting for their case?

Question: is the pampered IT/BT industry batting out of its crease?

Government is corrupt, what about corporates?

25 May 2013

T.N. Ninan, editorial director of Business Standard, in his weekly ruminations, against the backdrop of the IPL and Ranbaxy scandals:

“Pillorying the government of the day for pervasive corruption is the easy thing to do, whereas it might just be an escapist option. It helps those of us who are neither in politics nor in the government to pretend that we are not tainted, and therefore have the right to point fingers at politicians, who we assume are not. The truth, as recent events have brought home forcefully, is that corruption has permeated fields that have nothing to do with politics and government….

“If the canker is widespread, there have to be systemic solutions. An obvious step is to come down hard on anyone who is caught, as a lesson to everyone else. System legitimacy suffers only when businessmen find ways of avoiding being brought to justice. But perhaps the worst outcome would be to treat this as just one more kind of reality TV, for nightly entertainment. All troubling questions can be evaded if we just watch Arnab Goswami shout at, hector and pillory his “guests” for an hour every night, for thereby we’ve earned our absolution!”

The cricketer turned commentator Geoffrey Boycott suggests that it might have to do with our genes:

“We don’t seem to get it in other countries. It seems to be around in Asia. And that’s not me being against Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis. You know me, I love that part of the world. They are very kind and good to me, particularly the Indian and Pakistani people, where I’ve been a lot.

“But I’m telling you the truth, it seems to surface in Asia. And once you’ve got all this money floating around in a huge game with millions and millions involved, you’re going to get problems. It’s going to resurface again.”

The Hindu‘s sports editor Nirmal Shekar laughs at our hypocrisy:

“This is who we are, as Indians. While we need not be ashamed about it, let us not pretend that our own brand of neo-liberalism, which has produced a socio-cultural climate that makes it possible for the aspiring Indian middle classes — I use the plural advisedly — to unabashedly revel in the celebrity cesspool and pretend that we are squeaky clean is, at best, hypocritical, at worst, suicidal.

“For, cricket does not exist in a vacuum; it is not a cosy world safely tucked away from the dark, dirty, often cruel, and real, world in which we live, as Indians.

“A lot of us wishfully think that this might turn out to be India’s century or, in the least, an India-China century. But if you chose to do away with those rose-tinted glasses — a gift from opportunistic politicians and an acquiescent media — and mentally prepared yourself to stare truth in its face, then you will get an idea about where we really are.”

Also read: Question: which is India’s most secular religion?

India’s most secular religion has to be corruption

Corruption, religion, spirituality and the Dalai Lama

CHURUMURI POLL: Will you ever trust IPL again?

17 May 2013

To the surprise of all but those who have just arrived from Mars, the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) has been marred by the spotfixing scam involving players from the Rajasthan Royals. Three of them, including the former Test bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth, have been arrested, two more are to be questioned.

It was quite obvious from the very beginning that the anything-goes, anything-can-happen format of Twenty20 cricket was  tailormade for bookies and other forces beyond the boundary. The confluence of cricket, commerce and cinema was a deadly combo, especially with the underworld having a vice-like grip on the gambling scene and Bollywood.

While the players are still to be proved guilty and the Delhi Police is known for monumental cockups, the mere revelation that there could have been more than met the eye in some matches so far, is a letdown of spectators at stadiums and audiences in homes. Plus, it is a disservice to the many honest cricketers showing their skills.

Questions: will you ever trust an IPL match henceforth? Will you watch the “maximums”, the no balls, the wides, without wondering if there is something more to it?

Or will this too pass in the circus that the BCCI?

Also read: Are Indians endemically corrupt as a people?

CHURUMURI POLL: A pardon for Azharuddin?

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will be the next CM?

8 May 2013

Now that Congress has accomplished the easy part, it has to brace itself for the difficult part: choosing the next chief minister of the State.

Will the newly elected Congress MLAs really have a say, as they should, in choosing the leader of the legislature party? If so who will they opt for? Or will the high command impose its leader, who will be proposed and seconded, in true Congress style, by the other contenders? In either case, who is it likely to be?

Will Union labour minister Mallikarjuna Kharge get the green signal for his rock-like loyalty to the party? Or, will a younger aspirant like former deputy chief minister Siddaramaiah get the OK? or will his late entry into the party and the party’s less-than-impressive showing in the Old Mysore region prove a deterrent?

Does the state Congress president G. Parameshwar stand a chance at all after failing to hold on to his seat in Koratagere, which he unbelievably first won by nearly 90,000 votes? Or will the high command fall back on dark horse, like former chief ministers S.M. Krishna and Veerappa Moily, to tide over potential dissent?

Will the next five years see just one CM or will the Congress change horses mid-stream?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

12 ways Karnataka politicians con EC, buy votes

28 April 2013

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: No longer are elections spectacles.

For the uninitiated, everyday life in Karnataka appears to be no different except for two things. First, Bangalore’s notorious traffic is manageable these days, as the political types have been camping in their constituencies.

Second, police chowkis along the highways, especially closer to towns and cities where all the private vehicles are checked for cash and gifts for the voters. According to the most recent estimate, the money confiscated across Karnataka is more than Rs 16 crore.

So, there is this reality constructed and maintained by the Election Commission.

Its rules have taken the pageantry out of elections. No longer nominees can take out a procession to file nominations or strut around with thousands of followers or hundreds of vehicles. In fact, any vehicle used for campaigning will have to be registered.

It’s simple these days: there are severe restrictions on visible campaigning.

Missing are the auto-rickshaw mounted loudspeakers. The norm today appears to be occasional rallies featuring star campaigners especially national leaders, and more frequently, road shows featuring state leaders and cinema stars in open vehicles.

More significantly, each candidate is restricted to spending only Rs 16 lakh.

Perhaps, there isn’t a single constituency wherein a candidate will have a reasonable chance of competing and retaining his deposit if he were to stay within this farcical limit.

However, that doesn’t stop any candidate from officially submitting accounts, which will be far less than sixteen lakhs. The average spending by each winning candidate across Karnataka will be at least one hundred times more.

So, that creates an alternative, parallel reality, the one political parties, candidates, and indeed, even the voting public inhabit. Here notionally the EC’s authority is recognized but the only way to earn the trust of the electorate is to blatantly violate most of EC regulations.

Professional politicians will not complain against each other for obvious reasons. They are all playing the same game.

The smaller players say the leftist groups or the anti-corruption warriors like the Loksatta don’t have the capacity or perhaps even the commitment to document violations and lodge complaints with the EC.

Consider this second reality for a moment.

For the past month, newspapers have been reporting on all the freebies distributed surreptitiously by every politician.

Money is the obvious good and we all know that large sums will have to be spent to pay for campaigners, voters and everybody in between.

Since 2008, politicians have had to be very creative in transporting cash. So, there are numerous stories about motorbike riders carrying money or professional donkey/ black sheep herd owners being couriers transporting cash from one place to the next.

Then there are services and goods that are offered and accepted.

# Tankers carrying water.

# JCBs and tractors to do any kind of earth work in your field, either freely or at heavily subsidized rates.

# Borewell rigs to dig borewells.

# Books for students.

# Access to government welfare programs and services – from old age pension to various subsidies that the state government offers; from subscription to Yashasvini medical insurance scheme to free ration from government ration shops.

# Clothes.

# Pressure cookers.

# Set-top boxes for televisions.

# Gangajal.

# Pilgrimages and trips to constituents.

All kinds of groups and associations too are rewarded liberally.

# Temples are built and renovated during elections if only because all the candidates will make contributions.

# Travel across the state and you will find hoardings for sports tournaments sponsored by politicians. We estimated that the budget for some of these events could run into tens of lakhs since the top prize in a cricket tournament in Shimoga was Rs. 75,000.

Obviously our list isn’t complete and the reader can add more.

However, here is the important point to note. Election results are determined in this second reality. The Election Commission has little sway over this reality and one could even argue that an efficient money spending operation precedes everything else.

The presence of star campaigners – be it Rahul Gandhi or Advani or Narendra Modi – does very little to actually sway the electorate. At best, these stars rouse the party base and raise the enthusiasm of the party cadre.

Politics has changed in this regard in the last two decades. Without this efficient ground level operation that distributes gifts, makes compelling local arguments and mobilizes voters, no candidate shall win.

And that’s true for a political party winning elections as well.

In another significant respect, a politician shows his prowess during the elections. His ability to break rules and distribute as much during the elections is actually an indicator of his ability to manipulate rules and government machinery once he is in power.

While we don’t want to sound cynical, the voting public actually considers that quality an essential trait for a leader.

The Election Commission can’t do much about the second reality. It has never had much control on that reality anyway.

***

2013 election coverage

Why Modi will address only one rally in Karnataka

When a wife-beater campaigns for the Congress

Rahul Gandhi fails five tests in Karnataka poll

They cry before the polls, so we can cry after

‘Diminishing returns from aggressive Hindutva’

Why is corruption not an issue in Karnataka?

POLL 2013: Can the Karnataka opinion polls go awry?

POLL 2013: Has A. Ramdas not supplied ‘henda‘?

It’s unofficial: our democracy has a bribe future

POLL: Is Advani more ‘acceptable’ than Modi?

16 April 2013

In politics, like in cricket, nothing is in the realm of the impossible. And it is not over till the last ball is bowled (and sometimes not even that, if it is a front-foot no-ball). So, what was projected to be a head-to-head faceoff between Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi for the 2014 elections is showing signs of becoming anything but.

In other words, it’s time to dip into the Kuala Lumpur Police Department manual.

On the one hand, the “young yuvaraj” seems to have presumptively developed cold feet about wanting to take over the mantle, as if the people of democratic India were dying to hand it over to him. Result: prime minister Manmohan Singh feels emboldened to answer hypothetical questions on a third term, if Congress wins, if UPA comes to power, if….

But it is what is happening in the other corner that is even more captivating.

After prematurely building himself up as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi is coming to terms with reality outside TV studios. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar‘s comment, among others, that “only one who can carry with him all the diverse sections of people can become the leader of the nation” is proving to be the spark.

Suddenly, a bunch of people within the BJP are finding virtue in L.K. Advani.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has realised that he is without doubt “our tallest leader“. Former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh finds him the “seniormost“. And former finance minister Yashwant Sinha says, “if Advani is available to lead the party and the government, that should end all discourse.”

The BJP’s allies too are piping in. Naresh Gujral of the Shiromani Akali Dal says “nobody can have any objection to Advani’s candidature. He is a senior and respected leader.” K.C. Tyagi of the JD(U) says, “We contested under Advani’s leadership in 2009 and will have absolutely no hesitation in doing so again.”

So, could Modi vs Rahul in 2014 become a Manmohan vs Advani battle?

Does Advani have the backing of the RSS or of larger BJP for the top job? Is the “man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred“—the brain behind the bloody rath yatra that led to the demolition of the Babri masjid—really “more secular” than Modi? Or, are his BJP colleagues and NDA allies firing from his shoulders against Modi?

Could Advani, 84, gracefully make way for a younger aspirant, like say Sushma Swaraj (who has the OK of Shiv Sena), or will he throw his hat in the ring? Does he have the carry that Modi enjoys?

Or is the “man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred“—the brain behind the bloody rath yatra that led to the demolition of the Babri masjid—destined to become a two-time “former future prime minister of India“? And is the next general election a semi-final before another election in 2015 or 2016?

Also read: Who could be the NDA’s PM candidate?

Will Narendra Modi lead Karnataka BJP campaign?

3 April 2013

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: “Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi“: It makes for a sexy headline. And for an audience drawing shouting match on television. But as an analytical frame to understand the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, it just doesn’t make any sense.

Let me explain.

Neither Modi nor Rahul is on the ballot in Karnataka. They aren’t likely to lead the government if their parties are voted into office. Nor will they be difference making vote gatherers, and to say otherwise is to misread democratic politics.

Narendra Modi’s spectacular success in Gujarat is neither unique nor is it solely based on claims of good governance and absence of corruption allegations. In fact, Shivraj Singh of Madhya Pradesh, Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Naveen Patnaik of Orissa too claim similar track record of both electoral success as well as efficient administration.

If anything, all four of them (Modi, Singh, Kumar and Patnaik) may have in common is the social alliance they have managed to create in their states, which has enabled them to triumph in the electoral arena. Sure good governance and a clean image always help.

But elections are fought and won based on caste equations, finding the right candidate and moving the right pawns. Modi has done exceptionally well in building that combination, in addition to economic development of Gujarat.

Astute political observers have always pointed out that the secret of Modi’s success in Gujarat is not that he is a practitioner of Hindutva politics; but he has rebuilt the old social alliance (of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim known popularly as KHAM) Congress relied on for electoral success until the 1980s.

Admittedly, Muslims aren’t a key element of Modi’s social coalition but there is evidence to suggest that he has secured significant Muslim support in the last few years.

Yet the point is Modi has turned out to be an exceptional political strategist within Gujarat, and his administrative acumen has only helped in consolidating these political gains.

Does that make him a star campaigner outside Gujarat, especially among people who haven’t benefited from good governance? No one is suggesting that BJP invite Shivraj Singh or Nitish Kumar to campaign in Karnataka!

This is where Rahul Gandhi may start out with a small advantage, which accrues to any Gandhi-Nehru dynast, and that gets him the initial name recognition nationally as well as some loyalty of Congressmen. That may have been enough in the past even until the 1980s when his father entered politics. But Indian democracy has changed and has become more competitive since then.

Political loyalties are only skin-deep these days even in a High Command centric party like Congress.

Rahul gives the impression of being a reluctant politician, who given a choice would do something else. He hasn’t shown the commitment or stamina of a professional politician who will breathe politics every waking moment.

Can he be the adept strategist and star campaigner that Congress party, and indeed even the media expect him to be?

I remain skeptical. The voter has gotten better at seeing through masks and evaluates his self interests in ways that media or political scientists do not recognize.

What Rahul and Modi will accomplish, if they campaign vigorously in Karnataka, is bridge and/or raise the enthusiasm gap for their parties. That is their appeal will be limited to committed supporters of Congress and BJP respectively, who will be energized to vote for their candidates instead of staying home.

A recent survey by Suvarna News and Cfore media bears this out: more than two thirds of likely BJP voters admit that Modi’s support will make them vote for BJP.

What neither will be able to do is to convert the undecided voter or the opponent. Hence their impact will be limited and marginal at best.

So, why do we still see stories like this in prominent newspapers?

Is it because the media is lazy and cannot come up with better explanations?

***

IAS – KAS conflict:  Are only direct IAS recruits efficient and capable of running fair and impartial elections?

The Karnataka Election Commission seems to think so and has replaced twelve deputy commissioners, who are IAS officers but promoted from Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS).  Sashidhar Nandikal reports in Vijaya Karnataka on April 1 that this has created a rift among direct recruits and promotee IAS officers.

Majority of the direct recruits into IAS are non-Kannadigas and therefore lack deep roots in local caste politics or personal / family connections to leading politicians. That’s the not case with KAS recruits, whose initial selection will largely be because of their powerful connections.

Still, we must file this question among the inexplicable mysteries!

***

On Actresses and Politics: Recently, I was asked to explain why actresses are getting into politics in Karnataka. While the elders in the business, like Umashri, Tara and Jayamala relied on MLC nominations or an Academy chairmanship to launch their political career, the younger lot like Rakshita and Pooja Gandhi is sweating it out, traveling across the state and taking part in party conventions.

Lest the reader mistake their political activism to the tireless campaigning of a Mamata Banerjee or a Mayawati, I hasten to add that these actresses haven’t offered a compelling reason for entering politics. In fact, we don’t hear much about their political commitments or track of social service.

The talk in Bangalore revolves around the money they are being paid. Pooja Gandhi is supposed to have received Rs 2 crore for joining BSR Congress and when asked by Vijaya Karnataka, she strongly denied that rumour. Yet in a political career spanning a little over a year, she has been a member of JD (S) and KJP.

To my questioner, a journalist-friend, I suggested that for someone like Pooja Gandhi a political party is no different than a product or a business she endorses. I suspect she looks at herself as a brand ambassador for a party, and taking a fee for that work isn’t the worst thing in the world.

CHURUMURI POLL: A third term for Manmohan?!

29 March 2013

When he was first sworn in in 2004 after Sonia Gandhi reportedly heard her “inner voice”, the less-than-charitable view was that Manmohan Singh was merely warming the prime ministerial chair for her son Rahul Gandhi, who was decreed even by the prevailing feudal standards to be too young to be imposed on a captive nation. All his first term, they teased and taunted the Silent Sardar. They called him “India’s weakest PM since independence“, they called him nikamma. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the Left parties.

By 2009, when the Congress-led UPA won a second stint in office, Singh, a mascot of the middleclasses for his 1991 reforms and clean image, had emerged as one of the three faces in the Congress’ aam admi campaign, besides mother and son, but it was said he would be kicked upstairs as President in 2012. We asked if he would survive in 2010, in 2011, in 2012. They called him “underachiever“. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the TMC and DMK, and every scam and scandal swirling under his very nose.

Now in his ninth year in office, longer than other Indian prime minister bar Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh has provided fresh evidence that he may be “an overrated economist and an underated politician“. Even as Congressmen, P. Chidambaram downwards, count their 2014 chickens before they are hatched following Rahul Gandhi’s expressed reluctance for the top job, Singh has refused to rule out a third stint for himself in the event of the UPA coming back to power in the next general election.

On the flight back from the BRICS summit in South Africa….

In the 2014 elections, If the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and your party request you to accept third term, will you accept Prime Ministerial nomination for the third term?

These are all hypothetical questions. We will cross that bridge, when we reach there.

Hypothetical yes, but certainly “India’s weakest PM since independence” has killed many birds with one stone. He has not ruled himself out of the race, if such a race were to take place. He has told his upstart colleagues to watch out. He has shown that the Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi race is one he isn’t watching on his television set. And he has shown that he has greater political stamina and acumen than people give him credit for, despite the scams and scandals that have enveloped his regime and the repeated pullout of various parties.

Question: Could the Silent Sardar become India’s first PM to get three consecutive terms?

If Munnabhai is pardoned, is Chulbul Pandey next?

25 March 2013

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: After two decades, it is said that justice has been served in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case.

No, it hasn’t. What we have got is just a good balm.

Justice will never be served until Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are caught and sentenced; like what the Americans did with Osama Bin Laden who was also hiding in Pakistan like Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon. But unfortunately, no one is really interested to know how our authorities plan to bring to book these “India’s most wanted.”

We wonder if there is even a plan at all. Instead, our Parliamentarians are busy trying to get a pardon for Sanjay Dutt.

Yes, it is indeed heartbreaking to see a now mellow-fellow Sanjay Dutt, father of two young children and also an older girl, go to prison. It is clear that he was not involved in any terrorist activities. But he has been booked for illegal possession of weapons under the Arms Act.

However, the fact remains that he committed an illegal act knowingly; and there is a law for punishing such offences and he has been sentenced for it. The law has taken its course. But, Dutt sympathisers must think, had Sanjay Dutt informed the Police about his “friends” smuggling arms, maybe today 257 of his countrymen would be alive?

But we want to know, why are our Parliamentarians going overboard in seeking a pardon for him?

Asking for early parole is one thing but complete pardon!? Former MP Jayaprada declared, “he is innocent!” Jaya Bachchan said, “Where was the government all these years? Suddenly you have realised he has to go to jail? This is rubbish…”

Yes! Our own lawmakers think that our judiciary and laws are rubbish.

Does that mean that Jaya Bachchan’s Samajwadi Party colleague and minister Raja Bhaiyya, if his case goes on long enough and is finally held guilty, must he be pardoned because “suddenly the judiciary realised he has to go to jail!”

Yes, indeed today, we feel for Sanjay Dutt.

We have softened as we think of him as the jhappi-giving Munna Bhai. No wonder, the first official support petition was put forth by former Supreme Court Judge Justice Markandey Katju.

But interestingly, the former Justice repeatedly said in his many interviews on TV channels that he does not watch movies and added, “I have not watched a movie in 40 years!”

Yet the former Justice wrote in his petition for pardon that Sanjay Dutt had “revived the memory of Mahatma Gandhi through his films”! and we believed Justice Katju when he said he had not watched a film in 40 years!

Also, we assure our former Justice that Sanjay Dutt didn’t do Munna Bhai for free so he could propagate Gandhiism.

He got paid for it.

Katju further stated that Sanjay Dutt had “suffered a lot and had to undergo various tribulations and indignities.”

Yes, we are sure he did. But isn’t that one of the objectives of punishment?

Justice Katju, justifying the tribulations suffered by Dutt, added: “He (Sanjay Dutt) had to go to court often, he had to take the permission of the court for foreign shootings, he could not get bank loans, etc.”

How can visiting courts often, taking permission to go abroad for shooting, inability to get bank loans and propagating Gandhiism through a movie written by someone else, produced by someone else while getting paid for acting in it be a justification to be pardoned on moral and legal grounds!?

Yes, Sanjay Dutt did go to jail for 18 months. But then he has also lived a happy life, he made movies, made money and made babies.

Now, if we remember rightly, wasn’t it the same Justice Katju who said that 90% of Indians are idiots…?

So now, many idiots would ask, that while the former Justice surely is not an idiot like us, has he not become a sentimental fool?

Going by Katju’s logic, can the former Justice also write a letter asking pardon for thousands of criminals who have committed petty offences which are bailable but are languishing in jail because they are too poor to pay for the bail amount?

Maybe Salman Khan can help. After all, it was his NGO last year which paid Rs 40 lakh for the release of 400 prisoners who had committed petty offences and were too poor to pay bail money in UP.

According to a 2011 report, nearly 70% of the total 3,00,000 inmates in India’s 1,356 prisons have not been convicted of any offence. They are undertrials. Of them, nearly 2,000 have spent more than five years behind bars without being convicted of any crime.

Will the people asking for Sanjay Dutt’s pardon, help these people?

While the Parliamentarians are asking for pardon for Sanjay, maybe they can mull over the Right to Justice Bill… if they know what it is.

In 1982-83, the All India Jail Reforms Committee had called for quick trials and simplification of bail procedures.

In 2011, it was the same M. Veerappa Moily who, as Law Minister, said, “the government is planning to introduce a Right to Justice Bill, whose highlight will be a time-bound justice delivery system”.

Nothing has happened.

Maybe Jayaprada and Jaya Bachchan can take it up? That way, next time they won’t have to be “startled” by judiciary’s sudden need to send Sanju baba to jail.

Also, if people should be pardoned without even completing 20% of their punishment, then why don’t the former Justice and the Parliamentarians rework the Indian Penal Code and say that possession of illegal arms will be punishable by just 18 months in prison, the one served already by Sanjay Dutt?

Why keep a form of punishment if you are not going to use it or if you can pressure a pardon out.

At this rate, Salman Khan may be getting his Public Relations machinery in gear. Carefully choosing powerful sympathisers and pardon-petitioners, keeping them ready, in case he gets sentenced.

After all, he has been charged with culpable homicide for driving over a man and killing him. The case has been going on for 10 years now. He is also charged in the Black Buck shooting case where he was sentenced to five years, for which he served three days in prison.

So, are we to expect that if the court sentences Salman to prison for five years for killing a black buck and a human being, we must pardon him for he has an NGO like “Being Human”?

Must we pardon him for paying for the release of 400 poor prisoners? and because he is our beloved Chulbul Pandey?

Yes. Emotional it is. But rational we must be.

As the saying goes, “You do the crime, you do the time.”

Sanjay Dutt has committed a crime and he has to do the time. At best, he can get an early parole for good behaviour and come out and continue his Gandhian work.

We don’t live in the movies where emotions rule. We live in a real world and in a real world it is the rule of law that keeps some semblance of civility.

Yes indeed, there is the theory of repentance and reformation.

Yes indeed, there is a need to see the spirit of the law, not just the word.

If that is the case, let us see the spirit of the law applied to all the petty cases — from the poor pickpocket to the sex-worker. After all, Sanjay Dutt did it to be a Macho Man. These people do it because they are human and they have to eat to live.

(Vikram Muthanna is the managing editor of Star of Mysore, where this column originally appeared)

CHURUMURI POLL: Can Dhoni & Co beat SA?

18 March 2013

The smiles are back on the faces of Indian cricketers, if not cricket fans. After a 0-4 drubbing against England in England and a 0-4 defeat at the hands of Australia in Australia, followed by a series loss to England at home, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his boys have finally sealed a 3-0 series win against Australia at home, with one Test still to come.

Minus Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, the young guns (from Murali Vijay to Shikhar Dhawan to Cheteshwar Pujara to Virat Kohli) have scored runs by the bucket. Suddenly Ravichandran Ashwin is taking wickets and Ravindra Jadeja is being spoken of as a match-winner.

No cricket victory is to be scoffed at, although critics will point at the advantage of home conditions, turning tracks, an inexperienced opposition, dissent in the ranks, etc. But there is such a thing as a reality check, too. So, the question is: is this just a chimera or could Dhoni & Co come up trumps against South Africa later this year?

Can the young batsmen stand up to the searing pace of Dale Steyn, Mornie Morkel and Vernon Philander? Will the bowlers run through a batting order that comprises Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, A.B. de Villiers, Faf du Plesis? Or is winning at home enough?


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