Archive for the ‘What if…’ Category

How will media react if Emergency is reimposed?

29 June 2010

With  nearly 60% of India reputedly being under 25 years of age—in other words, with three out of five Indians having been born after 1985—it stands to reason that the 35th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government should have come and gone without creating a ripple.

That, and the fact that the news channels and newspapers were too busy celebrating panchamda R.D. Burman‘s birthday and the World Cup to be bothered of the more serious things affecting life and democracy.

Nevertheless, the press censorship during the Emergency is one of the darkest periods in contemporary Indian media history, when promoters, proprietors, editors and journalists quietly acquiesced to the firman of the government to not publish anything that was considered antithetical to the national interest in the era of “Indira is India”.

Censors sat over editors in newspaper offices and crossed out material (including cartoons and pictures) that didn’t conform to the official policy; criticism of the government was a strict no-no; over 250 journalists were arrested; 51 foreign correspondents were dis-accreditated, 29 were denied entry, seven were expelled.

In The Sunday Guardian, the weekly newspaper launched by M.J. Akbar, the veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar recounts life under censorship, names the pussies and lions, and says the media today is “too niminy-piminy, too nice, too refined” if such a disaster were to strike again.

***

By KULDIP NAYAR

L.K. Advani was right when he told journalists, “You were asked to bend, but you crawled.” Even then, the courageous part was that nearly 100 journalists assembled at Delhi’s press club on 28 June 1975 and passed a resolution to condemn press censorship. But subsequently, fear took over and they caved in.

They were afraid to speak even in private.

The press council of India (PCI), the highest body to protect press freedom, became a part of the establishment. The then chairman, Justice Iyengar, stalled a resolution to criticise press censorship by local members of the PCI. Justice Iyengar informed the information minister V.C. Shukla about his achievement in not letting the resolution of condemnation passed.

Except for the Indian Express, the leading light during the Emergency, practically all papers preferred to side with the government.

The two of the worst were The Hindu and the Hindustan Times.

Hindu’s editor G. Kasturi became a part of the establishment. He headed Samachar, the news agency that was formed after the merger of PTI, UNI and Hindustan Samachar. He obeyed the government diktat on how to purvey a particular story or suppress it. He could not withstand government pressure.

The Hindustan Times, owned by the Birlas, was always with the Congress. K.K. Birla, then its chairman, took over as chairman of the Indian Express and changed its editor by replacing incumbent S. Mulgaonkar with V.K. Narasimhan, who proved to be a tough nut to crack. Birla was the complete opposite of Ramnath Goenka, the owner of the Indian Express. Goenka fought the government tooth and nail and staked all that he had built in his life….

The Times of India was edited by Sham Lal, who had impeccable credentials. Girilal Jain, the resident editor in Delhi, too stood by the principle of free press. Both were pro-Indira Gandhi but against press censorhip. However they felt handicapped because the management wanted to play it safe. Not that Shantilal Jain, who owned the paper, was in any way pro-Emergency, but he had burnt his fingers when the paper was taken over by the government at the instance of T.T. Krishnamachari, then the finance minister, who doubted the paper on certain matters.

Leading regional papers were against the Emergency but did not want to face government wrath. Eenadu, under Ramoji Rao, refused to toe the government line but stayed within the contours of the Emergency to avoid trouble.

Ananda Bazaar Patrika owner Ashoke Sarkar was a man of courage and gave his blessings to his principal correspondent Barun Sengupta’s fight against the emergency. The paper, however, managed to escape the wrath of the then West Bengal chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was the author of the Emergency.

My friend K.M. Mathew, the owner of the vast empire of Malayala Manorama, stood his ground and despite the pressures on him showed where his sympathies lay when he invited to open a photo exhibition at Kottayam after my release from jail. The country was still in the middle of the Emergency. Yet, Mathew showed his annoyance in his own way.”

Text: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

If death penalty doesn’t work, why thirst for it?

7 May 2010

Ajmal Kasab, the “killing machine”, has been pronounced guilty in the dastardly siege of Bombay. He is to be hanged and the state prosecutor Ujwal Nikam has held up the judgement copy with the cover screaming “Yes, you are guilty.”

Even responsible TV faces admit they have been a little discomfited by the tone and tenor of the television coverage, the blood lust in words and images, leading up to the judgement in the November 26 trial.

Admittedly, the sentencing will assuage some of the sentiments of the nearly 200 victims. And obviously Kasab is only going to get what he gave to the innocent bystanders at VT: death.

Still, questions remain.

With 309 convicts on the bench, with the Afzal Guru case still hanging fire, with 29 mercy petitions before the President, when will Kasab’s turn come, if at all? And will it change anything?

Editorial in Deccan Herald:

“It remains a moot point if the practice of awarding death penalty really serves the purpose for which it is envisaged.

“Fifteen years ago, India had told the United Nations that death penalty was required to instill fear and deter future criminals from perpetrating grave crimes, including terrorist acts. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that these harsh statutory provisions have helped reduce crime.

“Nearly a hundred countries have abolished capital punishment, a dozen others have reviewed their statutes to preclude ‘ordinary’ crimes from their purview and over 30 others have undertaken not to invoke the harsh punishment though the provision for it continues to exist in their respective statutes.

“Apart from the lack of empirical evidence to establish that the fear of death penalty reduces the incidence of heinous crimes in society, liberal democracies have generally accepted the argument that the state should desist from taking away an individual’s right to life as a measure of extreme punishment — death cannot be a punishment; it is its abrupt end.”

Read the full editorial: Life over death

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Will Ajmal Kasab be hanged?

Should Afzal Guru be pardoned?

What if Arnab Goswami were in jail with Kasab?

What if we had hunted for Veerappan like YSR?

5 September 2009

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: A very powerful chief minister of a very large State goes missing over a very dense forest reputedly infested with very vengeful Maoist elements. His very large party goes into a very large tizzy and pulls out all stops to trace his whereabouts.

The Indian Air Force is drafted. The Indian Satellite Research Oorganisation jumps in. Even the US defence department plunges in. Helicopters, fighter aircraft, low-flying reconnaisance aircraft, refuellers, river boats all join the hunt. Army men, CRPF personnel, anti-Naxal Greyhound cops and other security chaps come in.

Chenchu tribals on the ground work with spies in the sky. Night-vision goggles, thermal imaging devices are all used. Less than 24 hours later, Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy is revealed to have unwittingly fulfilled his promise of political retirement at the age of 60.

Seeing such electric inter-governmental efficiency and action directed to save one man (and his four co-passengers) from the thick of the jungles of Nallamalla, my mind raced back to the days of Koose Muniswamy Veerappan Gounder whose tragicomic show went on unhindered for all of 17 years.

Approximately 148,920 hours.

What if YSR-style force and might (and intent) had been used when Veerappan, to give the man his media moniker, was running riot in the forests of B.R. Hills and M.M. Hills, in Kollegal and Gundial, and challenging the might of three State governments—Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala—and of successive governments at the Centre?

What if the various governments and their home ministries, our netas and babus, had showed the same seriousness or purpose with a rampaging brigand as they did with a popular chief minister instead of allowing the “pursuit” and “hunt” look like a joke it had become till his death?

Would the lives of 184 people have been saved?

Would the policemen—Shakeel Ahmed, Harikrishna and countless others—and forest officers like P. Srinivas who walked into ambushes have been around? Would MLA H. Nagappa be alive today? Would the kidnapping of Dr Raj Kumar have been avoided? Would R.R. Gopal have become such a landmark figure in journalism?

Would the police forces of at least two States have been not reduced to caricatures?

Comparing 9/11 with the tsunami gets a world, which knew neither, all charged up.

Maybe we should get closer home and start comparing Veerappan and YSR, about both of whom we have seen, read and heard, to understand the difference.

The difference between action and inaction, between life and death, between comedy and tragedy, between VVIP and common citizenry. The difference, really, between 148,920 hours and 24, which, for the academically inclined, is 148,896 hours.

Graphic: courtesy The Telegraph, Calcuta

What if the BJP had actually won the 2009 polls?

15 June 2009

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The BJP’s poor showing in the 2009 elections after all the televised thigh-slapping, moustache-twirling, eyeball-flaring and chest-thumping has seen senior functionaries and factotums of the party wash their khaki cheddis in public.

Clearly much of this is post-facto rationalisation on the part of the “dissenters”, intended at positioning themselves, undercutting potential rivals, and carving out their own turf before the change of guard at the top, i.e. Lalchand Kishinchand Advani‘s exit.

In other words, rank opportunism.

But what if the BJP had won the elections and the NDA had formed the government? What tunes would these wise old men have been humming?

***

# “There is a growing tendency among party leaders becoming too self-centered to serve the public cause,” says former defence minister Jaswant Singh.

# “It appears as if some people in the party are determined to ensure that the principle of accountability does not prevail so that their own little perch is not disturbed,” says former finance ministerYashwant Sinha.

# “Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul made an essentially weak Prime Minister like Dr Manmohan Singh look strong by backing him solidly. In contrast, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar made a strong leader like Advani look weak, helpless and not fully in command,” says Advani aide Sudheendra Kulkarni.

# “BJP hasn’t been able to impress on peoples’ mind the purport of Hindutva because they found it narrow-minded or did not find it useful in ascending the throne of power” says RSS ideologue M.G. Vaidya.

# “Varun Gandhi’s speech in Pilibhit caused the greatest amount of damage to BJP,” says former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra.

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Also readThe only person to blame for BJP defeat is L.K. Advani’

CHURUMURI POLL: Did BJP miss a trick on Varun Gandhi?

What if Yediyurappa had lost the polls in State…

20 May 2009

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Is the phenomenal electoral success of the BJP in Karnataka the cause for L.K. Advani‘s dream of becoming the country’s Prime Minister to be shattered?

There’s nothing rational about it, but political tongues are wagging the superstitious way: that any party which fares well in Karnataka has no chance of occupying the gaddi in New Delhi.

In 1999 while Congress was voted to power in Karnataka, the party could not hold on to the reins in New Delhi, with a BJP government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee being installed.

It happened in 2004 when the Congress-led UPA was voted to power at the Centre, but met its Waterloo in the State. This led to the era of coalitions, which came to end within 40 months forcing the midterm poll to the assembly.

It has happened for the third time now.

The BJP government had been in power in Karnataka for over a year. Just to prove that its victory in the 2008 assembly elections was no flash in the pan, the party pulled out all stops to ensure that it won 19 out of the 28 Lok Sabha seats.

The expectation of the B.S. Yediyurappa government was that a solid support extended by Karnataka for the formation of a BJP-led government in Delhi, would give an additional leverage to the party as well as the chief minister. But the party’s dismal failure to come anywhere near the throne, has overshadowed the euphoria of success in Karnataka.

Maybe, if the BJP had put in a flop show in Karnataka, the chances of Advani becoming Prime Minister would have brightened! But that would have certainly made the position of Yediyurappa more vulnerable.

The good show put up by the BJP has sent the party to cloud nine. But, sadly, it cannot enjoy it because of the poor show across the country.

In great IPL, what if Congress, BJP played cricket

25 April 2009

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E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: In a rare show of friendship and camaraderie amidst hectic campaigning, politicians of various hues got together and played a five-overs-a-side tennis ball cricket match in Mysore, thanks to the efforts of the district journalists’ association.

Never mind how good they were as players but they showed a bit of much-needed sportsmanship in a season of name calling and mudslinging.

In the great Indian Political League, what if the three main national formations played a cricket match?

***

In the Congress, only Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi would have batted all through without anybody getting a chance to bat since the kit belonged to them.

If one of them got tired and retired, Priyanka would continue the innings. In the mid-match “strategy break” as in IPL-2, the team would be shown a photo gallery of great Gandhis of yester year like Indira, Rajiv and Sanjay, and the future Gandhis in diapers.

Leaders like Chidambaram, Kamal Nath, Kapil Sibal, Jayanthi Natarajan et al would  run around the stadium all day fielding without as much as a whimper of a complaint. Manmohan Singh would be fully padded, ‘boxed up’ , and helmeted to take care of sudden bouncers from disgruntled elements.

Senior pro and coach Pranab Mukherjee would be present to make sure no one, not even Sheila Dixit, with her record, would be allowed to come near the wicket. Even the younger and talented lot like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia or Milind Deora would have to start from scratch and learn to play second fiddle!

The slogan for the team would naturally be: “One for all (Gandhi) and all for one (Gandhi). Jai ho!”

***

How would it be in the BJP camp?

There will be plenty of interruptions with the designated opening pair L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi taking a lot of time for strategic consultations.

Ostensibly, the discussions will be with the coach on the ground, but in reality the non-playing coaches will be sitting in Nagpur communicating to the players through a secret mike.

Although the game is supposed to start at 9.30 am, neither Advani nor Modi will come out to bat till the rahu kaala is over. The match start is further delayed because of confusion within the team over whether Rajnath Singh should open the innings with Advani or Arun Jaitely.

When there is no resolution in sight, Sushma Swaraj says she is game too, but Venkaiah Naidu says: “Arre baba, this is a cricket game, not a ticket game. This is a time for tricks, not chicks.”

Finally, Jaswant Singh harrumphs that he will open and Modi, given his pathetic showing in a previous match, can come one-down. But Modi says his previous record doesn’t count.

The overrate is reduced to six an hour since there will be regular and routine disruptions to take arathi of Advaniji after every over by all the district Ram Mandirs in India and because Advani likes to wring his hands after every ball to show that he is a man of action.

The knicker-clad openers find it difficult to counter the pace and fury, especially Advani who insists on wearing a guard made symbolically of loh (iron). When Varun Gandhi bowls an all-beamer over, the PM-in-waiting takes a toilet break and rushes to the pavilion, to sort out the mess between, well, all the pretenders—and to adjust his dentures.

Their slogan: “We may seem to be fighting, but that’s the reality. Jai Shri Ram”.

***

In the case of Third Front, the match never starts as the Left refuses to take the ground, if anybody resembling Manmohan Singh is seen near the ground.

H.D. Deve Gowda always has an eye on the next pitch where the Congress is playing, waiting for a nod from Sonia Gandhi to drop everything and run there.

Both Jayalalitha and Mayawati have a bigger crowd surrounding them in the pavilion than those waiting to watch for the match to start.  Before he can get his eye in and start scoring, Chandrababu Naidu loses his concentration when he sees Chiranjeevi walking across the ground.

Sharad Pawar who was seen driving into the stadium in an open car to loud cheers, mysteriously drives off after being included in the team. Amar Singh finds yet another ‘lost and found’ brother in Munnabhai, who to most people was not sure whether he was shooting or sobbing.

The slogan of third Front was:  “Take us seriously and don’t treat us as extras; or else, jaya he.

***

It was evident in chasing a score of 543,  no party would be able to escape the follow on and in the second innings, there will be large-scale fielding and umpiring lapses, to enable one of the teams with the help of ‘ extras’ to emerge as the winner.

What if the elections had been outsourced to SA?

26 March 2009

The poll dates clashed with the IPL dates. So, the Indian Premier League became the Non-Resident Indian Premier League. But, since cricket is religion, what if the IPL had been as scheduled in India, and the general elections had been held, instead, in South Africa?

Also read: Yum Ess Dee has the bat. Do you have the balls?

What if Ramalinga Raju walks out, Scotch free?

23 January 2009

KONDAVEETI DONGA writes from Cyberabad (with tongue firmly in cheek): Any dongamama who masterminds a scam and other such adventures to look good in the eyes of the world knows that his (her?) luck will run out, later if not sooner.

When Byrajju Ramalinga Raju (in picture, right) was pressure-cooking the PowerPoint at Satyam™ over the years, he would have definitely known that the broth would brim over one day. But surely it is not unreasonable to presume that the Telugu bidda would have also drafted a plan to protect him if the shittulu hit the ceilingulu?

The belief that the disgraced entrepreneur must have had a survival plan stems from one small piece of trivia: Raju signed and sent his confessional letter on January 7 in electronic form. Yes, it is said to have come from his email ID but is that signature really Raju’s? Is there a hard-copy letter with SEBI, BSE or NSE? Will it stand the test of the long legal arm in a court of law?

Why this sudden doubtulu?

While he painted himself as an ‘honest guy’ while admitting to the fraud, taking all the blame on himself and subjecting himself to the law, it slowly turns out that, in the best traditions of cost-cutting in these recessionary times, l’il Raju was being economical with the truthulu.

He claimed that he took no money himself, now it is almost evident that he systematically siphoned off obscene amounts of cash, drawing the salaries of thousands of employees who only existed on his rolls. He claimed the money had not been diverted, but it turns out it was used to buy up land, etc.

So, if he lied about his people, what won’t he lie about?

Looking at the way the investigation is going about, it is reasonable to presume that the whole drama of the confession, the arrest, the stonewalling, etc, was predesigned to minimise the impact. And that he also has a water-tight survival plan in place to walk out, later if not sooner.

What it could be?

We can only speculate, with a couple of scotches tinkling in our drawing rooms (and with our tongue still firmly in our cheek).

Possibility 1: ‘Main na hoon

Have the police arrested the real Ramalinga Raju? How can we be so sure that it isn’t a a lookalike who has surrendered to the police? With all attention on the Fake Raju, could Original Ramalinga Raju be elsewhere, enjoying his biryani and pesarattu as it unfolds? This possibility isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Several world leaders who feared a threat to their lives—Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein to name just two—were known to employ this ploy. What if some Telugu film producer or director, with their sophisticated sense of reality, has not done the needful and supplied a “double”?

Possibility 2: “Dubai se phone aaya

Can Raju claim that he never sent the letter and someone else did it by hacking into his account, or that someone else (the real estate/ land mafia, maybe; maybe politicians; maybe FIIs) coerced him? Since so much time has elapsed since the confession, is it impossible that critical documents have been destroyed, ensuring that investigating agencies fail to prove him guilty? Is everything all designed by his lawyers and clansmen to ensure he walks away scot-free? What if he says like the extortionist says in Ramgopal Varma‘s Satya: “Dubai se phone aaya.”

Possibility 3: All in the family

What if the Raju clan converges this Sunday afternoon for a gunta ponganalu brunch and decides enough is enough, the family name is being besmirched, and  decrees that the 70 top Rajus in Andhra Pradesh shall each write a cheque for Rs 100 crore each to rescue one of their own? Or else. Or if all the seven crore Telugus across the world, chip in with Rs 1,000 each against which they will be issued tea sops that can be encashed at a future date in the Satyam canteen? Or else.

Of course, the best case scenario is that Raju will be proved guilty, that he will pay a fine of Rs 21 crore and spend 7-10 years in jail in repentence for what he did. Maybe, if his behaviour is good, or his (genuine) doctor finds some serious ailment, the term could be cut short by a few years. Since maavadu is just 54, there will be a few years to enjoy the remainder of his life.

What do you think? What excuses and alibis could the conman and his lawyers come up with?

By the way, if Mohammed Ajmal Kasab should not get a lawyer for having gunned down a few in VT on November 26, should Ramalinga Raju get a lawyer (or 22) for having taken hundreds of clients, thousands of employees, and millions of shareholders for a ride?

Just kidding.

Happy Republic Day.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu Business Line

What if KaRaVe started doing this instead of that?

13 September 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: That Karnataka is rapidly sliding up the totempole of corruption is no more a surprise to anybody who follows the raids conducted by Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde and his team, and the booty seized by them and publicised with pornographic detail by the media the following day.

Starting from the lowly peon who lets you in to see ‘sahebru‘, corruption courses all the way up to the very top of our government departments, institutions and organisations—to the “concerned” clerks, section officers, assistant directors, joint directors, managing directors and who-have-you.

Not to put too fine a point on it, corruption seems to have embraced every aspect of life in Karnataka, and become a way of life.

Nobody in namma cheluva naadu is spared, as the latest Transparency International ranking Karnataka on top of the ladder shows.

Strangely, nobody seems bothered either after the initial hoo-ha.

Not the government, not our political parties, not our political leaders.

Not our NGOs, not our good samaritans, not our media.

At least not after a point.

Here’s a thought: what if the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KaRaVe) jumped into the vacuum and decided to redirect its energies to live up to its name—that is of defending Karnataka from the biggest threat facing it, namely corruption?

# What if KaRaVe’s workers and supporters decided to keep an eagle eye on corruption across the State? What if they carried out a Statewide campaign? What if they decided to bat for the common man and woman trying to get things done in government offices? What if they helped the media to expose the corrupt at every level; in every village, town, city and district?

# What if KaRaVe peacefully agitated in front of offices and officers who are stripping those whom they are supposed to serve? What if they peacefully agitated in front of Vidhana Soudha for action against MLAs, ministers, officials, departments making things difficult for the average Kannadiga?

# What if KaRaVe staged a dharna in front of the Chief Minister’s office till such corrupt ministers and officials are sacked, not just cosmetically suspended, even if it means we may not be left with much of a ministry or bureaucracy in the end?

Etcetera.

One is not advocating vigilante justice, where anybody with red and yellow slung around his shoulders takes the law into his hands and become judge, jury and executioner if something or somebody, somewhere, does not meet his standards/ expecations.

That can be dangerously anarchic, and one is aware of the possibilities.

What I am advocating is channelising the simmering energies of young and proud Kannadigas to good, positive use for the State and its five-and-a-half crore people. Not because they are the only ones capable of doing so because no one else wants to do anything about it.

When corruption is so rampant, and the general attitude towards combating it so blase, somebody needs to plunge into the cesspool head first and get the hands dirty.

Why can’t Karnataka Rakshana Vedike walk the talk, if they mean good for the State?

In doing so, KaRaVe will be doing yeoman service to the people of Karnataka and bringing about effective change. They will be ushering in a real revolution the likes of which one has not heard of but only seen in the movies.

An entire nation will sit up and take notice.

What the courts cannot do, what the Government is not interested in doing, KaRaVe can probably get done in about six months, and take the efforts of the Lok Ayukta to the logical conclusion. In so doing, KaRaVe will earn the undying gratitude of the people, in whose name they are fighting.

Do KaRaVe’s leaders, supporters and followers have it in them to rise to the occasion?

KaRaVe: Nimma karadinda athava keradinda Karnatakadalliruva corruption odisabahudu—neevu manassu maadidare.

Photograph: courtesy Karnataka Rakshana Vedike via Flickr

What if Kalavathi lived behind Rahul’s house?

28 July 2008

Each time they open their mouth, Indian politicians try to show how much they are in contact with the aam admi and aam aurat.

On election tours, they hop off their Z-plus security cordons and press some flesh. On the road, they stop by and eat at dhabas and thrust a 500-rupee note. And in their policies, they are forever trying to show that their heart is in the right place.

It takes a blast in Ahmedabad to show how insecure the life of the common man and woman is in the country. And it takes another 36 hours for a story like this to emerge:

New Delhi: Delhi Police wants a slum cluster located in the high security Tughlak Road area, where the home of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is located, to be removed as they pose a security risk to the high profile residents there.

Read the full story: Slums behind Rahul’s house, a threat

What if parties had not issued a ‘whip’ on N-deal?

18 July 2008

Four days to go, and there is still no clarity on which way the trust-vote will go. At least not on TV. The 9’ o clock news contradicts the 8 pm prime, which will no doubt be smothered by business breakfast. 

“Close call…” “Touch and go…”, “Nosing ahead…” 

The race course terminology has an eerie echo with the horse-trading that is supposedly taking place. And with the stable owners cracking the “whip” on the mute but not necessarily dumb animals, the comparison is complete.

But here’s a counterfactual question: what would the fate of the Indo-US nuclear deal have been if individual Members of Parliament were allowed to vote as guided by their conscience—not as their parties are dictating, warning, bullying, threatening them to?

Would all Congress MPs have been voting for the deal? 

Would all the BJP and Left members have been against it?

Would the government led by a man from the “House of States” have earned the trust and faith of 272  representatives from the “House of the People” to go ahead?

These are hypothetical questions, of course, but there are some cheap thrills to be had in imagining the possibilities. Because, barely a fortnight ago, the nuclear debate was about transparency, about technology, about “national interest”.

But as we approach the middle of the nuclear end-game—or the end of the nuclear middle-game, depending on whether you are buyer, seller or broker—it is plainly obvious that it is no longer about any of that. 

It’s about ego, survival, self-interest and an iota of ideology.

Which is why wondering how our MPs would have voted if they were free to vote as they wished—or as “We, the People” would wish them—becomes interesting in the context of a deal that is supposed to provide our bijli and through it our sadak, roti and broadband.

At his meeting with editors in Delhi on Wednesday, according to one TV channel, prime minister Manmohan Singh is supposed to have hinted that all was not well within the BJP camp; that there were dissonant voices within the BJP camp. 

And on Thursday, Rahul Gandhi gave the rumour some more oxygen in Amethi. “Every right thinking person favours it. Every youngster is clear about its advantages. This includes young politicians in the BJP and other parties, too. They are 100 per cent for it.”

A subedar-major of the BJP’s shouting brigade popped up on the channel in question to deny the claim. “I know how your first story [on Manmohan making a similar claim] was withdrawn. Do not make me say things on live TV,” he thundered and shut up the young things.

Maybe the PM and the late PM’s son are foolishly presuming that all their partymen are behind the deal. Maybe they are doing some kite-flying about their rivals, to sow some seeds of doubt. Maybe, Rahul baba is only positioning himself by bestowing greater wisdom in younger MPs. 

Maybe they are nervous, scared.

But it’s scary to imagine that in a supposedly mature democracy of 61 years, all members of Parliament have the same thoughts and opinions on the deal as that of their parties—for or against, and not a parliamentarian in between! 

Scarier that anybody should say that a couple of them might have their own minds. 

Scarier still that somebody should deny any such a possibility.

During the entire nuclear drama, the Left has tried to insinuate that the prime minister, somehow does not have the legitimacy to push through the nuclear deal because he doesn’t have an electoral base. 

Can a prime minister who is only a Rajya Sabha member, and not an elected member of the Lok Sabha, they ask, really override the opposition of the people to the deal?

But are the people necessarily opposed to the deal because the parties are? Did we vote for the party or the candidate in our constituencies? Has the time come re-examine the legitimacy of the “whip”—an archaic, anti-democratic, colonial legacy? 

Merely because the parties issue a “whip” to our representatives that they should vote for or against the deal or face disqualification if they violate it, will what happens in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday really reflect the voice of the people?

So, what if there were no whips? Would Manmohan have sailed through, or would he have got burnt?

Deal or no deal?

The piece also appears on rediff.com

Also read: Should the PM always be from Lok Sabha? 

What if Microsoft, not Apple, had made the iPod

17 July 2008

They do things differently at Redmond. VINAYA HEGDE forwards a much-watched but always watchable YouTube video of what would have happened had Bill G‘s people had packaged the iPod.

Also read: 11 similarities between iPhone and Rajnikant

What if BJP backs the Congress on the N-deal?

4 July 2008

SHRINIDHI HANDE writes from Madras: It may sound absurd, of course. But I see great benefit to the BJP if it chooses to suppress its political rivalry with the Congress for a few months and support the Manmohan Singh government on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

For months now, the left parties have been holding the UPA government to ransom on the n-deal. The differences between the two has even brought their relationship to break point. The Congress is desperately hunting for prospective allies, like the Samajwadi Party, to save the government.

What we are seeing right now is political opportunism of the obnoxious kind. But…

What if the BJP came to the Congress’ rescue?

After all, there’s no rule that an opposition party shouldn’t support the ruling party. After all, it was the BJP government headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee that had given flight to the nuclear dreams the second time round in Pokhran, a decade ago.

If the BJP can bury their animosity for the Congress, I believe this will help create history.

Here’s how:

1) It would send a strong message to the nation and the world that the BJP will not its political rivalry with the Congress come in the way of “supreme national interest”.

2) Such a move would surely impress lots of voters who may not see the BJP the way the BJP would like to see them. This could be encashed by the party in the next general election.

3) The general elections are less than a year away. So the timing would be just perfect, and the BJP’s magnanimity will be fresh in the minds of voters till that time.

4) The BJP will earn the applause of the electorate for putting national interest above its own interests, for saving the government, and for avoiding a mid-term poll.

5) Backing the Congress will help the BJP clip the wings of its arch rivals, the left parties, who have been contributing nothing to the nation’s progress, but setting hurdles in its path at every opportunity. The BJP’s move will drastically reduce the importance of left parties altogether.

6) Manmohan Singh was never able to think and act on his own, as he always had to bow to the demands of his allies. By saving his government and allowing him to complete his term, the nation and the world will be able to see if he is capable of doing anything bold and effective. If he succeeds, good for him and good for the country. If he fails, good for the BJP.

Do you see any harm in the BJP backing the Congress on the nuclear deal? Does the BJP have the large heart required for this? Does the Congress have the humility to accept such support? Will such a move help restore the trust of the people in politics and politicians?

What if India had done to Kashmir what China…?

17 April 2008

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The controversy over Tibet is a controversy about pluralism. The main allegations against China — that it has tried to alter the demographic balance of Tibet by settling Han Chinese there, that it wishes to assimilate the religious and cultural distinctiveness of Tibetan identity into a larger Chinese identity — seek to highlight the Chinese State’s intolerance of difference.

“The main difference between the Indian attitude towards its borderlands and the Chinese State’s attitude towards Tibet is that India has made no attempt to change the demographic composition of its troubled peripheries through forced settlement. The reverse, in fact, is true.

“The argument, long made by sections of the Hindu Right, that the Kashmir problem ought to be solved by changing the demographic facts on the ground, is not a monstrous argument in purely democratic terms. There’s a reasonable justification for it: in a democratic republic, every citizen ought to have the right to buy land and settle in any part of that state.

“To limit that right on account of local sensibilities or grievances is, it can be argued, to pander to parochial prejudice…. The reason the Indian State is willing to weight its laws to accommodate particular sensibilities is because Indian democracy, from its inception, has been leavened by pluralism.

Read the full article: Pluralism and Tibet

What if this painter hurts ‘religious sentiments’?

2 April 2008

So you hated drawing and painting classes in school? U.B. VASUDEV in Tampa, Florida, forwards a YouTube video that provides full and final proof that others members of the animal species aren’t taking their art lessons so lightly.

CHURUMURI POLL: If 1958 had happened in 2008?

1 April 2008

India’s decision in 1958 to provide refuge to Tibetans fleeing their country is seen as one of the biggest humanitarian acts any country could have made. Fifty years ago, when there was a rebellion in Lhasa, the Chinese cracked down. As many as 2,000 people perished in three days of fighting between Tibetans and the People’s Liberation Army. The then Indian government of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was criticised internationally for not condemning the Chinese crackdown, but the 80,000 Tibetan refugees were accommodated in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

The “scrupulous silence” of the Manmohan Singh government to the uprising in Tibet 50 years later is therefore not very surprising, especially in the context of the vastly changed geo-political scenario where pariah China has become a belligerent, even arrogant, tiger on the poise. Still, India’s meek response to the human rights assault opens up a delightful counterfactual question: If the 1958 uprising had taken place in 2008, would post-liberalised India’s political and ideological alignment have accepted the refugees as welcomingly as socialist India did?

Would a Congress-led government, dependent on the Left parties for support, have turned the Tibetans away? What would a BJP-led government’s response have been? Or is the CPM’s general secretary Prakash Karat right in saying that Indians who want to join a chorus for an independent Tibet today are doing a great disservice to India: “Are we going to support a free Nagaland? Or a free Jammu and Kashmir?”

***

Photograph: A 2003 picture of Chinese soldiers who put on monk’s robes when the monks refused to play as actors in a movie, forwarded Thejas H.K..

Also read: Beijing orchestrating Tibet riots

What if Imran Khan were Prime Minister of India

17 November 2007

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: Deve Gowda’s flip flops, the CPM’s hypocrisy, the squabbling and snivelling of the Sangh Parivar, the likes of Arjun Singh and the rest of his gerontocratic ilk, all combine to make the figure of a politician in India a much hated and reviled one. And this is just at the national level.

Criminalization, corruption, communalism and casteism—the four Cs (and I hereby assert copyright over that) seem to dominate Indian politics and political leaders at all levels. There are some honest, upright, decent and hardworking individuals among them, sure, but they either fade away into obscurity or get upstaged by the not-so-honest-decent lot (cue Ramakrishna Hegde and a very harassed Manmohan Singh).

As always, we Indians feel a bit better about such things when we look at Pakistan and find things are worse. At least we are not under martial law, at least we have a Constitution, and our options apart from martial rule are not Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif who, between them, can’t run a village panchayat to save their lives.

At least we don’t find our most capable and charismatic leader, marginalized and alone, in jail.

Arise, Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi.

Cricketer, fund raiser, playboy, politician, human rights campaigner, democracy activist, he has done them all with panache (though not entirely with the same degree of success all the time). As a cricketer, he is one of the greatest all-rounders the game has produced, definitely the best cricketer Pakistan has ever produced, and also one of only seven men to have laid their hands on the cricket World Cup trophy as captain.

Being captain of Pakistan and leading a Pakistani team to World Cup victory also usually guarantees one for a Nobel Peace Prize for conflict resolution. While many of his contemporaries turned their cricketing success into lucrative television careers, hastily written books, very bad movies and cricket punditry, Imran Khan used his cricketing fame to build Pakistan its first (and only) speciality cancer hospital.

Then he took to politics. He didn’t take to politics in the Kirti Azad or Manoj Prabhakar way (using contacts and influence to ingratiate themselves with major political parties). If he so wanted, he could have walked into any one of the major political parties in Pakistan (Nawaz Sharif is a close friend and fellow first-class cricketer), enjoyed a cabinet post for a while, and taken a dip at the trough like the rest of the lot.

Instead, he decided to take on the system and start his own party. Tehrik e Insaaf, struggled to find its feet and only won its first seat in the national assembly seven years after its formation in 2004 (Lok Paritran, take heart!).

Unlike other parties, he didn’t appeal to religion, region or race (the three Rs that form the crux of most political campaigns in South Asia—I hereby copyright that too) but, of all things, for a reform of the judiciary and the army! In most places that would send people at a political rally to sleep before you finish saying it, more so in South Asia, but he stuck to it.

Unlike Sharif and Bhutto, whom Pervez Musharraf caught in compromising positions (not with each other, you sick perverts), Imran Khan was squeaky clean and his campaign against Musharraf’s rule was the sole constant in the shifting dunes of South Asian politics (even India has never been so consistent in opposing Mushy).

Now he stands alone. Benazir is running around still trying to cut a deal, unable to make up her mind if she is a mortal enemy or mon ami of Musharraf. Sharif wants to know how he can come back and avoid prosecution for corruption, and the mullahs want to blow up anything that remotely resembles another human being carved in rock (not to mention, anyone who opposes them).

Imran Khan, on the other hand, was arrested, escaped, hid, yet came out to lead a march, was betrayed, and arrested again… under terrorism charges. It is a measure of how much Musharraf & Co fear the man that he has been detained under terrorism charges, possibly facing the death penalty.

Of course Musharraf can’t and won’t make a martyr of him. He won’t be able to find pilots to take him out of the country fast enough if he did so. What we have seen of Imran Khan’s life story so far could be the stuff of at least three or four best-selling autobiographies (Monty Panesar has two already and Ian Botham turns out one every five years) and double that many Bollywood movies (not to mention a fast-paced Hollywood flick starring George Clooney called the “Lion of Lahore”).

He is someone who comes closest to being a “hero” in the fullest sense of that word. Yet, he can hope to be, at best, a marginal, yet vocal player in the treacherous and dangerous world of Pakistani politics.

Imagine, for a moment, Partition never happened.

Imagine, for a moment, an Indian cricket team with Imran, Javed Miandad, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, in the same XI.

Imagine a born-leader like Imran taking to politics in India.

Imagine an Imran Khan using his charisma, his mass appeal, his vision and his leadership abilities and climbing up, to the post of Prime Minister of India.

A truly secular politician, mature enough to lead, young enough to work hard, with undeniable leadership skills, total commitment to the values of democracy, and unafraid of taking on the system. He could be a male version of Indira Gandhi without a Sanjay Gandhi to cause trouble.

Think about it.

Imran has consistently opposed US support of Musharraf, so the Communists would love him. He is a non-fundamentalist Muslim with great name-recall in the minds of middle class Indians, so the BJP would welcome him with open arms. And since Sonia Gandhi deflected attention from her “foreign origins” by appointing a Pakistani-born PM, she would also have no problem making Imran Khan PM.

He could well lead a National Unity Government and end up being the most popular and successful of all Indian PMs. Leaving aside small constitutional matters, I say he would be the best candidate to be PM of India. Being in charge of a vast, chaotic, yet undeniably energetic and developing country like India would be the perfect outlet for his talents.

What say you?

Photo courtesy: Brisbane Times

What if they told us what we should think about?

14 May 2007

Chandramohan, the Baroda art student in the eye of a storm for “insulting” gods and goddesses has been let off on bail today after five nights in the cooler. But the dean Shivaji Panicker is still suspended from his duties for standing up for the student’s freedom to draw what he wants. Thankfully, this moral dadagiri has been restricted to Narendra Modi‘s asmita-laden Gujarat.

But what if…?

1) What if moles start leaking to tilak-toting goons what is being written, spoken and drawn by students and teachers in classrooms, seminars, and examinations?

2) What if self-appointed tilak-toting, trishul-weilding goons start going around schools, colleges and universities driving the fear of god—their notion of god—into our skulls?

3) What if students and teachers especially those in the arts—painters, poets, singers—start “learning” lessons from Chandramohan’s case and start self-censoring themselves?

4) What if vice-chancellors begin showing as little spine as the Baroda one and allow the tilak-toting, trishul-weilding goons to play moral police and run riot on campuses?

5) What if the police everywhere, out of fear and reverence, begin arresting students guilty of possessing a sense of imagination while letting the goons who only have a sense of indignation go scot-free?

6) What if governments, out of their own sense of power, begin sponsoring these tilak-toting, trishul-weilding goons and look on happily while they try to run our lives? (And what if the judges hearing the case conveniently go on leave when they have to hear the case?)

7) What if we let the tilak-toting, trishul-weilding goons decide what is offensive and insulting?

8) What if these tilak-toting, trishul-weilding goons say they will decide what we should wear, what we should see, what we should hear, what we should read—and what we should think?

9) What if we let these tilak-toting goons to decide whom we should worship and how He or She should look?

10) What if every State became a Gujarat—and what if you didn’t speak up?

What if a mad gunman entered our colleges?

18 April 2007

It is considered insular (and selfish and alarmist) to always look inwards at each and every event in the world, and wonder what if it happened to you or yours. But the gruesome massacre at Virginia Tech does precisely that.

What if a crazed gunman, touch wood, what if a crazed guinman, student or otherwise, entered our nurseries, montessoris, schools, colleges, Universities, campuses, and hostels?

1) How many fit and able and real “security” men will he meet on our campuses, who have the physical, mental or technical wherewithal to stop him in his tracks?

2) How many closed circuit cameras and alarms and public address systems have our institutions installed to help spot action of this nature before it gets out of hand?

3) How many of our institution have a running hotline with the nearest police station so that they can respond in time to deal with situations of this nature?

4) How many of our police officers have the expertise to deal with shooters and shootouts?

5) If it occurs in the wee hours of the morning, it is one thing. But how long will it take for the first ambulance or fire brigade to make its way through our congested roads to reach the scene of the crime?

6) How many of our schools, colleges and institutions have installed metal detectors and fire extinguishers and water sprinklers that are working 24 x 7? How many staffers are trained in first aid or have dispensaries close at hand?

7) If it happens on a large campus, how many of our institutions have email facilities to inform every student? And how many of them even maintain cell phone directories of all students to send a mass SMS?

8) How long will it take for our institutions with their archaic documentation systems to find out who are the victims and who is the victimiser?

9) How many of our teachers and lecturers and professors will try to shield their students, like one of the teachers at Virginia Tech did?

10) How many of our institutions have the counselling facilities to put disturbed young minds at rest?

11) Do we have the means to trace where the weapon was procured?

12) Are our faculty smart enough to spot disturbing behaviour in their overcrowded classes like one of the faculty at Virginia Tech did?

Questions, questions, questions. The answers, sadly, are few.


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