Posts Tagged ‘Anna Hazare’

One question I’m dying to ask Nandan Nilekani

10 March 2014

Like Arvind Kejriwal overshadowed Anna Hazare leaving the old man suitably stumped and stupefied, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani has taken a giant leap into electoral politics that should leave his former colleague, N.R. Narayana Murthy, moaning in his majjige-huli.

By joining the Congress a day after he was named the party’s candidate from Bangalore South, Nilekani has put his political money where his voluble mouth is, a far cry from Murthy, who after aiming to be the President of India, said he was happy to be India’s ambassador to the US, before finally returning to his parent—and sneaking in his son Rohan Murthy in a fit of meritocracy.

But parachuting in politics is the easy part, especially if you have the ear of Sonia Gandhi and the earpiece of Rahul Gandhi. The difficult part is landing, and in a few weeks from now, Bangalore South will show (and Nilekani will learn) if the “urban, educated, literate, middle-class” truly wants change, or if it is happy with Ananth Kumar.

On his YouTube channel, paid twitter messages, and super-soft interviews with business correspondents whom he courted in his previous avatar, Nilekani paints himself as a son of the soil, being born to a Minerva Mills employee, in Vani Vilas hospital, who lived in BTM layout, etc.

He even tries to speaks in Kannada.

But there is plenty Bangaloreans do not know of Nilekani. So, what is the one question you are dying to ask the Bangalore South candidate?

Like, have his number-crunchers already computed the victory (or defeat) margin on their computers? Like, will he run away, as NRN did from the Bangalore international airport project, at the first hint of criticism? Like, all Congressmen, does he too think Rahul Gandhi is god’s gift to Indian politics?

Like, does he see Rohini, Nihar or Janhavi taking over from him, should he win, in the best traditions of the Congress?

Also read: Not yet an MP, could Nandan become PM?

Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

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

Nandan Nilekani: The five steps to success

Why your TV couldn’t show you this ‘mega rally’

25 February 2014

yechury

Sitaram Yechury addressing the Left rally in Hissar, but without the “Jimmy Jib” cameras

The point has been made before, that the current political coverage, especially on television, is more than somewhat skewed, tilting unabashedly towards Narendra Damodardas Modi of the BJP vis-a-vis Rahul Gandhi of the Congress.

Now, the CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri explicates it a bit more in the Hindustan Times, comparing the TV coverage of Arvind Kejriwal‘s Aam Aadmi Party vis-a-vis the Left parties and unions.

“Two days ago, the Left held a Haryana-level people’s rally for a political alternative at Hissar. On the same day, AAP held a rally called much after the Left rally announcement at nearby Rohtak. The latter was widely covered by the corporate media while the former was hardly mentioned notwithstanding larger participation.

“This is not surprising. Earlier, when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement was on in the Capital, over two lakh workers organised by the central trade unions had converged at Parliament against corruption and price rise. While the former hogged 24/7 media coverage, the latter hardly found any mention.

“Clearly, for the corporate media, a so-called ‘morally’ upright alternative that does not adversely affect profit maximisation is always better than an alternative that aims at improving people’s livelihood while not excessively promoting profit maximisation!”

For the record, though, Kejriwal launched into the media at the Rohtak rally, inviting a statement from the editors guild of India.
Photograph: courtesy Ganashakti
Read the full article: Sitaram Yechuri in HT
Also read: Is Modi media biased against Rahul Gandhi?

 How Narendra Modi buys media through PR

Modi‘s backers and media owners have converged’

‘Network18′s multimedia Modi feat, a promo’

Is there a lesson for BJP in Barack Obama’s win?

7 November 2012

Reading newspaper reports, columns and editorials on the magnificent reelection of Barack Obama—and listening to his reelection speech full of hope and promise—brings home the stunning similarities between the current plight of the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s biggest democracy, in the year of the lord 2012.

There, like here, a man seen to be a reasonable, transformational figure was reduced to a divisive caricature by constant denigration. There, like here, the opposition put every hurdle in the path of the ruling dispensation, not allowing it to pass key legislation even if some of it may have been for the good of the country.

There, like here, the opposition stuck its head in the sand and pretended every problem was one man’s creation with no part of theirs or of the global economy. There, like here, sections of the media were skillfully used to spread the canards and the cock and bull stories reeking of self-righteousness and sanctimony.

There, like here, the opposition party allowed its agenda to be dictated by fringe elements from outside the boundary. There, like here, the opposition thought that the people would be fooled by the negativism and resentment, the intolerance and hate that they have made their leit motif.

There, like here, it was the single-point agenda of the opposition to get the ruling party out. There, like here, the opposition had no solutions for the travails, only more problems. There, like here, the opposition believed the fiction it had happily spun for public consumption.

Questions: Considering the glorious fate of Mitt Romney‘s Republican Party, is there a lesson in this for the BJP as it eyes the general election?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is this Congress’s Bofors-II?

8 October 2012

The grenade lobbed by the Arvind Kejriwal-Prashant Bhushan gang on Friday, accusing Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, of dubious deals with the construction company DLF, has sent the Congress camp into a tizzy. Over half-a-dozen Union ministers trooped into TV studios to defend FDI*—the First Damaad of India—even as Vadra maintained a studied silence, before breaking it on Facebook (he has since deleted his FB account).

To be sure, there was little of surprise: the same details had been carried by The Economic Times a year and six months ago, quoting Registrar of Companies (ROC) documents. At the time, the Congress had not seen it fit to respond. But the timing of the latest “expose”, after the Jan Lok Pal movement was tarred and tarnished, after the announcement of a new party sans Anna Hazare, and in the run-up to the Gujarat and general elections, gives the issue a whole new angle.

Questions: Will the charges against Vadra become a millstone around the Congress’—and by extension, Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi‘s necks—forever, like Bofors has? Or will they peter out because there is no foreign hand like Ottavio Quattrochchi‘s and no clear quid pro quo? Do the charges prove crony conspiracy at its worst? Or, has the Kejriwal-Bhushan duo bitten off more than they can chew by hitting below the belt?

*courtesy Rama Lakshmi/ WaPo

Will ‘Team Anna’ succeed as a political party?

3 August 2012

Revealing confusion and impatience in equal measure, Anna Hazare and his band of self-styled do-gooders have dropped large, king-sized hints of turning their nascent social movement into a political one, as early as the end of the day, today, after the end of their farcical “fast-unto-death”. After the media blitzkrieg last time, the attention was beginning to wane and the group realised that it was approaching the outer limits of santimony, especially after the Congress-led UPA government refused to play ball this time round.

The lawyer Prashant Bhushan has announced a “referendum” among “Team Anna” fans on whether the group should make the dive into politics, and all it requires for such a momentous decision to be made is a simple “Yes” or “No” on the India Against Corruption website. And this, just hours after their fasting compatriot Arvind Kejriwal had announced from a horizontal position to TV reporters that there was no, repeat no question of the movement turning political.

In getting off their high horses and dipping their feet in the political waters, Team Anna has shown an admirable ability to get their hands dirty in the hurly-burly of politics. But, at the same time, it shows a touching naivette about politics and realpolitik in a landscape littered with social activists who have met their comeuppance at the hustings.

Corruption is certainly a big issue facing the nation, but is it the only one in a vast pluralistic nation facing even bigger issues of poverty, malnutrition and worse? Can a party resonate across the nation only on the issue of corruption? Is Team Anna the only repository of integrity, especially when they are dealing with the likes of Vilas Rao Deshmukh and Baba Ramdev, and when its team members themselves face charges and insinuations?

Above all, will Team Anna—an urban, largely middle-class pheonmenon—be able to turn the SMSes into actual votes at the EVMs? Or in joining politics, will the USP of Team Anna disappear?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

2 February 2012

In its second term in office, the UPA government of Manmohan Singh has been dealt several body blows that could have completely ennervated and incapacitated a lesser man. Scam after scam, scandal after scandal has hit the Congress-led UPA regime, but like in a C-grade Bollywood film, the protagonists have found the energy to wake up from every thundering blow administered by the courts and the constitutional bodies like the CAG, dust off the rubble and prepare to fight another day.

But could 2 February 2012 be slightly different?

In responding to pleas by Subramanian Swamy and Prashant Bhushan—cancelling 122 licences issued by the now disgraced telecom minister A. Raja; allowing the CVC to look at the functioning of the CBI and in giving a free hand to a lower trial court to adjudicate if home minister P. Chidambaram too should be made a party to the crime—the Supreme Court of India has virtually validated the Rs 173,000 crore 2G scam that had been described as a “zero-loss” scam by a fatcat lawyer in minister’s clothing.

And it indirectly validates the Anna Hazare campaign that has been floundering and looking for oxygen.

With the Uttar Pradesh elections around the corner, the SC verdict pulls the rug from under the feet of the Congress which has been going to town over Mayawati‘s corruption, even raiding her closest supporters. It also puts a big question mark over the future of the Manmohan Singh government, pending a judgment in the Chidambaram matter. With the budget session of Parliament looming and presidential elections around the corner, it also throws up interesting improbables.

Questions: Will the Manmohan Singh government survive? Or is it all over bar the counting? Or should the prime minister resign to protect what little credibility there is left to his once-clean image?

Also read: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—II?

Has the middle-class deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—I?

Can the paragon of virtue hear his conscience?

Was Anna Hazare campaign a media creation?

5 January 2012

With the MMRDA grounds in Bombay not quite turning out to be the Ram Lila grounds of Delhi, and with the Lok Pal bill floundering in Parliament, it is time for some introspection in the media of the media’s role in the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement.

***

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, at First Post:

“At the 2011 CNN IBN Indian of  the Year awards, Anna Hazare candidly admitted that it was the media which was responsible for his rise from a regional figure in  Maharashtra to a national icon. ‘If your cameras ‘had not followed me everywhere, who would know me?’ was the activist’s honest response.

“There is little doubt that over the last nine months, Hazare’s advisers used the media quite brilliantly. Prime-time press conferences, made-for-TV spectacles, social networking campaigns: Anna Hazare did benefit from saturation media coverage.

“Yes, some of  it was high-pitched,  and, yes, some journalists did become Anna cheerleaders. But to see Anna as purely a media phenomenon would be a misreading of  the mood on the street. Crowds were attracted to Anna not because the TV cameras were there, but because he appeared the antithesis of  a morally bankrupt political leadership beset with a series of  scams….

“In the end, both the state and Team Anna mistook the medium for the message. Team Anna saw the frenzied coverage as its main weapon, forgetting that democratic politics is not a repetitive television serial, but a tortuous process of  negotiation and conciliation. The state, on the other hand, failed to recognise that cacophony will be part of  a media environment in which there are more than 350 news channels and several hundred OB vans across India.

“The media will be a loudspeaker of  grievances, not just of Team Anna, but of  many other protest movements in the future. Strong leaders will not be swayed by the noise, a wise civil society will seek legitimacy beyond the camera lens.”

Manu Joseph, editor of Open magazine, in the International Herald Tribune:

“The Indian news media generate public interest through two distinct kinds of stories — the reporter’s story and the editor’s story. In 2005, when Parliament passed the Right to Information Act, it was the result of a long and difficult process of influencing public opinion by reformers and persistent reporters.

“The anti-corruption movement, on the other hand, was an editor’s story from the very beginning, from the moment Anna Hazare arrived in New Delhi in April, sat on a wayside with his supporters and threatened to starve to death if the government did not create the Lokpal.

“Television news quickly converted Hazare into a saint who had arrived from his village to fight the corrupt authorities in New Delhi. On the first day of his fast, there were no more than 300 people around him, but the cameras framed the fast in such a way that it gave the impression that something big was going on.

“The television news media, which are largely headquartered in New Delhi, had very little understanding of Hazare, who is from Maharashtra. Until last April, his influence was confined to rural parts of Maharashtra. By the time the anchors asked the important question — “Who exactly is Anna Hazare?” — it was too late. They had already proclaimed him a modern saint, and he had amassed millions of supporters in a matter of days. As it turned out, Hazare is not a man the urban middle class would normally call a saint.”

Also read: Anna Hazare: 17 interviews in 11 hours

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

The ex-Zee News journalist behind Anna Hazare show

Ex-Star News, ToI journos behind ‘Arnab Spring’

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Anna Hazare campaign dead?

2 January 2012

The dawn of 2012 looks very much like the dawn of 2011. A year ago, it seemed as if corruption was here to stay, as if “We, the People” didn’t care about the scams and scandals, as if there was nobody to take the lead, as if the political and bureaucratic class was united in its efforts to stall any form of institutional mechanism to bring the corrupt to book, etc.

If someone has just woken up from a year-long coma, it would seem as if nothing has moved or changed.

Except that “We, the People” did care; except that somebody did stand up; except that the nation went through an anti-corruption movement thrice if not four times; except that the government and the opposition successfully stymied every effort to put in place a “strong and effective” Lok Pal; except that the house of the people was used to mock the wish of the people.

But there is also one key difference. Thanks to a cynical year-long smear campaign aided by pro-establishment sections of the media—and the foolhardy partisanship of India Against Corruption which turned the campaign into India Against Congress Corruption—the crusaders  now stand as discredited as the crooked and the corrupt they sought to bring in line. And the long and tiring attempt to draft the legislation now seems to have taken the wind out of the anti-corruption sails and public interest in it, as can be evidenced by the meek reception in Bombay.

With last week’s televised theatrics by the “people’s representatives” in the Lok Sabha and the “states’ representatives” in the Rajya Sabha, a big question mark hangs over the battle against corruption. Will Anna Hazare‘s campaign ever regain the same amount of attention? Will corruption as an issue ever gain the same kind of traction? Will Lok Pal ever see the light of day? Or, is corruption as an issue dead and buried unless something truly mammoth and dramatic happens?

Also readCHURUMURI POLL: Has UPA fooled the people on Lok Pal?

CHURUMURI POLL: Citizens above Parliament?

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

UPA’s Hazare cock-up in 179 simple words

CHURUMURI POLL: Should PM be under Lok Pal?

Is the Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

Corrupt, communal, cynical and also casteist?

27 December 2011

Caste is back—and in your face. To pave the way for fixers seeking to stymie the Lokpal match, the Congress-led UPA has envisaged reserving half the nine-member institution on the basis of caste. And, a day before the Election Commission could notify the elections in Uttar Pradesh and four other States, the Centre created a 4.5% subquota within the 27% OBC quota for minorities.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes in the Indian Express:

“The Anna Hazare movement has rightly been castigated for the morally obscene use of the caste of children. Recently, it was reported that Rahul Gandhi referred to Sam Pitroda’s caste in an election rally. Is this really the party of Jawaharlal Nehru or even Rajiv Gandhi?

“We ought not to disguise the appalling realities of caste, where appropriate. But using them in this way? Someone remarked on reading this story, “Rahul ne to Sam Pitroda ki bhi jaat dikha di.” Even if the intention was benign there is a truth in this.

“Is it not appallingly diminishing when we create an institutional culture where the first thing we want to point to is someone’s caste? I thought the idea of India was to escape precisely this original sin. And now Lokpals, tomorrow judges, all will be identified through caste.

“Perhaps the Congress is in love with the “C” in its name. Corruption was not enough. It had to become corrupt, casteist, communal and cynical. India’s tragedy is that there is no national level challenger to this party that is diminishing us all.”

Read the full article: The C in Congress

Nine reasons why we should support Aadhaar

26 December 2011

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes from Houston, Texas: Hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent on it. Millions of Indians have stood in queues and registered themselves for it. One of India’s biggest corporate heads has staked his all for it. Now, the parliamentary standing committee on finance (SCF) has found problems, big problems, with Nandan Nilekani‘s unique identity project, Aadhaar.

To be sure, even before the publication of the parliamentary panel’s report, there was plenty of opposition to Aadhaar. Civil liberites activists asked searching questions on its constitutional status, its core objectives, its intrusion of privacy, and its benefits. Sections of the media were not far behind. Now that trickle of criticism has become a torrent.

It is understandable why the political class would oppose Aadhaar; they stand to lose the most. But one expected the NGO movement, especially the consumer protection and rural/slum development oriented NGOs, to show more support to Aadhaar.  These NGOs are familiar with the rampant corruption in the implementation of various government welfare measures and Aadhaar was conceived to help solve the problem.

The parliamentary standing committee report on finance has not advanced any new arguments or rationale to support the opponents of Aadhaar in opposing the conceptualisation and execution of the project. However critics have used the opportunity to put some old poison into a new bottle to kill Aadhaar by selectively quoting from the SCF report.

Not much has been discussed about the fact that there were three MPs who dissented with the majority opinion. While it is good news that there was no political infighting in drawing up the SCF report, the bad news is that the very political class that is showing extraordinary interest in fighting corruption has thrown away a foolproof weapon provided by Aadhaar to reduce graft.

Only the self-interest of politicians can be driving force behind such rare political unanimity! But Aadhar needs to be supported.

Here are my nine reasons for supporting Aadhaar.

1. Aadhar can plug massive misuse of subsidy: There is not one kind or encouraging word mentioned in the SCF report on how Indian society can use Aadhaar to deliver several welfare measures approved by the parliament to the poor of India.

This is because it is the political class which is the biggest beneficiary of black money generated by diverting PDS kerosene and residential LPG as well as from the misuse of several welfare measures like the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGA), etc.

I had predicted that politicians would try to kill Aadhaar  in a research report, Lessons learned from Attempts to Reform India’s PDS Kerosene Subsidy which I had for Global Subsidy Initiative.

It is a well known fact that there is a large amount of diversion of PDS kerosene to the black market and also to blend with petrol and diesel. The same is true in the case of highly subsidized residential LPG (which is a welfare measure of sorts for the rich and the middle class).

What is not often discussed or highlighted is the amount of black money generated by these illegal activities. Actually this is the mother of all corruption, generating more than Rs 45,000 crore per year. This scam is  shockingly far larger than 2-G scam.

Since the amount is shared from top to bottom, the wily political class is not interested in supporting a project which will result in killing the golden goose. Only recently the research on the misuse of subsidy is bringing such facts to public attention.

2. Aadhaar does not need Parliament’s approval: Aadhaar is a tool to deliver welfare measures: Therefore it does not require approval from the parliament.

Once a welfare programme like PDS kerosene, subsidized food, NREGA, access to high-tech facilities are approved by the government, is there a need for the executive branch to get approval as to how best to deliver such programs with minimum leakage?

Let me give an example of how the political class killed an efficient system of delivering PDS kerosene in Karnataka. In the mid 1990s, at the suggestion of Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), the Karnataka government had implemented a “coupon” system to ensure minimum diversion of PDS kerosene in Mysore.

It was so successful (dealers used to wait for consumers to come and buy their quota which was unheard of), that the government wanted to expand it to the whole state. However the dealers and all the political parties managed to kill the project, not just in the State but outside too.

At the suggestion of the Planning Commission, a few states introduced a smart card system to streamline PDS kerosene. Did any one raise an objection claiming it is unethical for the government to adapt it without getting the approval of the legislature?

Looks like history seems to be repeating itself the case of Aadhaar at the national level.

3. Aadhaar does not compromise privacy: Critics of Aadhar have raised the bogey of privacy. This is totally irrelevant as an issue.

An application for a driver’s license demands a lot more information than Aadhaar. Voters’ lists, provided to any one who asks for it, also have a lot more information on citizens than Aadhar. Private agencies which help Indian embassies to process passports handle a lot more information.

Has any one raised privacy questions? So why the hue and cry over Aadhar?

Many US Supreme Court findings (eg Schmerber v CA,384 US 757, 1966; US v Dionisio, 410 US 1, 1973) imply that the use of biometrics does not invade an individual’s civil liberties or privacy.

The Supreme Court of India has instituted a committee under the chairmanship of a former judge  to look at PDS. The Justice Wadhwa report has suggested a computer-based information system as well as the use of biometric smart cards to reduce leakages. The committee was, in fact, recommending an Aadhaar type programme even before Nilekani was entrusted with that task.

Why did the SCF fail to take into consideration the critical recommendations of a Supreme Court instituted committee which is also as mindful of privacy as any expert or activist?

4.Biometric technology is OK: Many including the SCF have pointed out the inherent problems of the biometric technology in accurately identifying individuals. But the truth is that the young technology, provides adequate accuracy and is in fact advancing rapidly.

While the government has admitted that accuracy may be no more than 1%, it has also suggested that there are in-built safety mechanisms not to deny any legitimate person the assistance approved by the government.

According to UK’s National Physical Laboratory, the probability of a false negative ( person not being recognized) using biometric is 1 out of 10,000. The probability of false positive is even order of magnitude less (1 out of 1,000,000).  As far back as 2003, NPL had accepted the feasibility of using biometrics (finger prints or iris) for identification of all UK individuals.

A report published by International Telecommunication Union in 2009should remove any doubt people may have about the use of biometric tool for individual identification.

That report has the following conclusions:

“Within a fairly short period of time, biometric recognition technology has found its way into many areas of everyday life. Citizens of more than 50 countries hold machine-readable passports that store biometric data–a facial image and in most cases a digital representation of fingerprints–on a tiny RFID chip, to verify identity at the border. Law enforcement agencies have assembled biometric databases with fingerprints, voice and DNA samples, which make their work more efficient and manageable. Commercial applications use biometrics in local access control scenarios, but also increasingly in remote telebiometric deployments, such as e-commerce and online banking, and complement or replace traditional authentication schemes like PIN and passwords.”

5. Aadhaar is ahead of its time: SCF has cherrypicked the UK example to argue that Aadhaar may not work because the UK decided to drop their national ID card. Why didn’t SCF discuss examples of several countries like Brazil, Australia, US and others  where biometric based cards/documents are in use?

There are many similarities between the social security number system in the United States and Aadhaar in India. A country like the US where privacy issues, human rights, etc are high on the agendas has not found any problem. Aadhaar is really a more sophisticated concept of SSN of the US.

If the US were to implement SSN now, more than likely they would have also developed a scheme like India’s Aadhaar. SSN is given to any legal resident of the US and so also Aadhaar. SSN has not created any security issue. The same will be the case with Aadhaar. It can be argued that India has leapfrogged the USA by implementing Aadhaar.

6. Aadhaar has no security issues: Some critics have tried to create a scare by suggesting that Aadhaar should be treated as a national security issue though the parliamentary standing committee did not discuss Aadhaar directly from that point of view.

In today’s networked society, there are so many data bases which should be of much higher priority in terms of national security than a data base containing biometric information on residents of India. On the other hand it can be argued that Aadhaar data base may serve the purpose in getting information on terrorists.

In some countries there are proposals to use biometric data bases to monitor the movement of terrorists. By being creative and through building enough safety features Aadhaar could make it very difficult for anyone to access Aadhaar data while it can serve the national security purpose by identifying terrorists.

7. Aadhar’s benefits outweigh its costs: It was shocking to find SCF referring to some newspaper article quoting a high cost figure of Rs. 1,50,000 crore while the total budget request of UIDAI is for about Rs. 12,000 crores for three phases.

The savings generated by using Aadhaar to better distribute welfare measures can more than compensate its cost. Even assuming that the actual cost may be more than what is budgeted, the avoidance of black money generation from the diversion of PDS kerosene and residential LPG alone of Rs 45,000 crore per year can easily pay for Aadhaar project.

In addition there is the additional money savings from improved welfare delivery systems like food, fertilizer, MNREGA etc for which Aadhaar can be used.

When SCF took the opportunity to scare the readers by quoting an unsubstantiated cost figure of 1,50,000 crores, it did not take any effort to find out the potential savings from the use of Aadhaar.  A recent Karnataka’s Lokayukta report estimated that the misuse of food subsidy alone costs more than Rs 1,740 crore per year for Karnataka.

8. Failure of bureaucracy cannot be held against Aadhaar: It is true that coordination between different departments of the government who are the stakeholders (Planning Commission, Registrar General Of India, Election Commission, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Urban Development, State Governments) has not been satisfactory.

It is also true that there has not been proper planning or coordination between different users of Aadhaar or agreement on using it for deriving maximum benefits out of it (NPR, MGNREGS, BPL,census, UIDAI, RSBY, and bank smart card).

The fact that the bureaucracy has failed or the government machinery has not done its job in coming with an efficient ways of making use of a new technology like Aadhaar should not reduce its usefulness. It is also true that prior to taking up a major project like Aadhaar, UIDAI should have conducted a cost benefit analysis and looked at all different alternatives. Unfortunately it failed.

Instead of taking a positive view of the study done by Ernst & Young, SCF was critical of it to send back the bill. The study did show that among all different alternatives Aadhaar is the best. Instead of making positive recommendations to improve the inner workings of the government department in exploiting a tool like Aadhaar , to throw doubts on the efficacy of Aadhaar is doing a disservice to the country.

A high level committee consisting of elected representatives can be expected to take an unbiased view of a new initiative like Aadhaar. SCF report unfortunately is biased. The committee report quotes opinions of only the experts who are critical of the project. Did they try to find at least one expert who is in favour of the project?

9. Parliamentary committee raises irrelevant or inconsequential issues: There are several nit picking issues raised against Aadhaar in SCF to question its usefulness. For example is Aadhaar mandatory or not? For those who do not want to avail themselves of welfare assistance it is not mandatory. Human rights  and privacy activists should appreciate such a position.

Is ration card mandatory today? It is not. However for those who want subsidized food items or PDS kerosene it is mandatory. Is there any thing wrong in imposing Aadhaar on the beneficiaries to ensure there is no leakage? Aadhaar can definitely serve to identify but not as a proof of address. Is there any thing wrong with that.

Can driver’s license issued many years back or old water/telephone/electricity bills serve as address proof? The same is true with Aadhaar. Aadhaar is only to serve as identify from the beginning and not serve any other purpose. Only with the purpose of throwing aspersions of Aadhaar these nit picking issues are raised.

It is very unfortunate that the staff of SCF has not done a creditable job in advising its members of the real issues. There is nothing wrong in sending back the bill if only they had done an unbiased review and ended with some specific recommendations to make better use of Aadhaar.

Let us not throw baby with the bath water.

The parliamentary committee argued convincingly that UIDAI has failed to do a better job of coordinating with different departments, failed to carry out proper cost benefit analysis prior to starting of the project and failed to have a well laid out plan to exploit the application of Aadhaar for different uses.

But none of this can lead to dropping or even worse killing Aadhaar as many have assumed. If the committee had taken an unbiased view its conclusion would have been far more positive putting India on a different trajectory to fight corruption in a big way.

Just like the Lokpal can help reduce corruption, proper and well planned use of Aadhaar can reduce corruption and have transformational impact. Arvind Kejriwal who has fought against corruption in PDS should convince Anna Hazare to support the government in moving ahead with Aadhaar.

Just like Lokpal, Aadhaar has all the potential to be a game changer.

Also read: Nandan Nilekani: 6 things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nandan trounced NRN?

Dear Nandan Nilekani: Quit Infosys, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: The five steps for success

POLL: Has UPA ‘fooled’ the people on Lok Pal?

10 December 2011

The four-decade-old quest for an independent and effective Lok Pal has entered a crucial phase once again with the tabling of the parliamentary standing committee’s report and its immediate rejection of it by the Anna Hazare-led section of civil society as a “dupe” played on the nation by the Congress-led UPA government.

17 of the 30 members of the parliament panel have reportedly given dissent notes to the version presented by Abhishek Manu Singhvi, whose late jurist-father L.M. Singhvi is believed to have coined the word “Lokpal”. And of the 24 issues concerning the bill, the members agreed on just 13 of them.

Barring the creation of a Lok Pal, a cursory glance at the table above shows how little ground the standing committee  found with the demands of Anna Hazare, who has twice sat on a fast-unto-death. Little wonder, the man from Ralegan Siddhi says the government has “fooled the people of India” even as he prepares to sit on a fresh fast.

Questions: has the government fooled the people? Or is “Team Anna” stretching itself? Will a fresh agitation catch the people’s fancy again, or has the government discredited Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan and Shanti Bhushan enough to take the wind out of their sails?

Will the parliament panel’s recommendations find favour with parliamentarians? Or is the Lok Pal bill likely to run into serious trouble with the Opposition?

Infograph: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Citizens above Parliament?

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

UPA’s Hazare cock-up in 179 simple words

CHURUMURI POLL: Should PM be under Lok Pal?

Is the Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

Much better way of viewing a topsy-turvy world?

7 December 2011

The last time he sat on a widely telecast show of his powers and prowess six months ago, Baba Ramdev had to pack up his bags inside nine days and be admitted to the ICU of a hospital for days. (At nearly twice his age, Anna Hazare lasted much longer.) But that hasn’t prevented Ramdev from going around the country, hawking his questionable yoga  wares, as he did at the BVB college ground in Bidar, on Wednesday. And that has prevented the crowds from flocking to learn at the feet of the master,

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is Baba Ramdev‘s yoga bogus?

Pardon us, is yoga becoming a bit of a scam?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Yoga only for Hindus?

How a world-class yoga photograph got to be shot

‘Why Narendra Modi will never be India’s PM’

13 November 2011

Aditya Sinha, editor-in-chief of the Bombay newspaper DNA, in his weekly column:

“This week’s court conviction of 31 people for crimes including murder during the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat makes it clear that state Chief Minister Narendra Modi will never be prime minister of India. It would be foolish to try and channel even an iota of the prevailing anti-Congress sentiment around the country that shows no sign of abating in the foreseeable future towards this egotistical man.

“Each act by Modi demonstrates that he has no misgivings about the death of a thousand Indians during those riots; indeed he is contemptuous about making shows of generosity towards Muslims, as evidenced during his fast (an attempt to appropriate Anna Hazare’s effective anti-Congress tool) when he refused to wear a cap offered by a Muslim. Actually, what could be greater evidence than the fact that he hasn’t made the simple, no-cost political move of apologising for the post-Godhra riots?

“If Modi thinks that the lack of proof of a chain of culpability on technical grounds is going to be enough, he has another think coming. And no matter how compromised the credibility of police officer Sanjiv Bhatt may be, Modi’s government’s attempts to discredit him mirror the clumsy attempts by the Congress party to discredit Anna Hazare’s team.

“As much as Modi’s aggression and ruthlessness may appeal to that section of the Indian middle class which thinks it is high time India kicked into a higher gear, it does not appeal to most other Indians; and no one can become prime minister unless they appeal to a majority of Indians (we don’t have direct elections to the post, but even in pre- or post-poll tie-ups, regional leaders are going to think twice about hitching their fortunes to this man).

“India Inc can’t stop gushing about how Modi is the man of the future, and how he will be the one to take India to the next stage of rapid economic growth, but these are contestable claims. I wonder whether or not Gujarat, which has traditionally seen high economic activity in India, would have grown without Modi at the helm. I also wonder how many Gujarati industrialists are willing to concede that their rise and success is due to Modi….

“An apt analogy might be that Narendra Modi is the Rick Perry of Indian politics. Except that Rick Perry did not preside over the murder of nearly a thousand Texans.”

Read the full column: Why Narendra Modi will never be PM

Also read: Why Nitish Kumar, not Narendra Modi, could be NDA face

CHURUMURI POLL: Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi in 2014?

Why our silly middle-class loves Narendra Modi

Gujarat was vibrant long before Narendra Modi 

Why US is right to deny Narendra Modi a visa

CHURUMURI POLL: Citizens above Parliament?

10 October 2011

The Lok Pal debate has been a tragicomedy on a roller-coaster. One minute, civil society is up, the next moment the establishment is up, or some other section of civil society. One minute, civil society is screaming in agony, the next moment it is screaming in relief and delight. And so on.

If the original fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar by Anna Hazare was intended to convey that Parliament with all its infirmities was not the sole repository of all wisdom and that “We, the People” too could play a part in the law-making process, the second at Ram Lila ground showcased people power if the establishment forgot the rules of fairplay.

The Lok Pal smorgasbord remains as messy as ever, but both sides are losing no opportunity to shadow-box each other. The bureaucrat turned RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, who is part of Team Anna, has now said that Anna Hazare is above Parliament and so indeed is every citizen of India.

“Every citizen is above Parliament…. The citizen has every right to tell the Parliament that it has not done the job. Citizens are more important than Parliament. Anna Hazare and every citizen is supreme. It is in the Constitution,” Kejriwal told Karan Thapar in the CNN-IBN program, Devil’s Advocate.

Kejriwal’s new line does two things. It turns what has so far been a battle between sections of civil society and the government into one against Parliament—government, opposition, the whole lot.

And it seeks in an abrasive sort of way to redefine and redraw the role of elected representatives who generally give the impression of considering their election as a licence to to do anything till the next election.

Broadly, Kejriwal’s stentorian line tallies with the questionable attempt by Team Anna to gherao ministers and MPs’ houses, as if all those who disagree with the Jan Lok Pal bill are enemies of India. Nevertheless, placing the citizen above the representative he has elected and their collective, is fraught with possibilities.

So, is Kejriwal right or is he playing with fire?

In BJP land, lone-ranger’s success has two fingers

3 October 2011

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The BJP in Karnataka finds itself in an unusual fix. It is not in a position to openly savour the victory in the just concluded by-election to the Karnataka legislative assembly from Koppal in north Karnataka.

It is not that it was an unexpected victory.

A victory was well and truly on the cards when the ruling BJP led by B.S. Yediyurappa, the then chief minister, enticed Karadi Sanganna, the sitting JDS legislator, to join the BJP,  as a part of Operation Kamala, the infamous game plan devised by Yediyurappa and the BJP to achieve their objective of mustering a majority in the House without attracting the provisions of the anti-defection law.

The haddi in the victorious kabab is that, in the interim, Yediyurappa has lost his stewardship of the State in the light of indictment made by the Karnataka Lok Ayukta in the illegal mining scam which has thrived under the BJP dispensation in Karnataka.

As a result, the by-election was fought with new chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda at the helm of affairs, albeit with Yediyurappa having a dominant voice and role.

Yediyurappa, as is his wont, went gung-ho in the campaign to prove inter alia that he is still the real boss of the BJP in Karnataka.

Result: there are already clear signs of the break-out of an internecine quarrel between the pro- and anti-Yediyurappa factions in the BJP on who should get the credit for the Koppal by-election victory, the first one to be held after Yediyurappa demitted office.

Even as the reports of the party’s success in Koppal reached Bangalore, the party president K.S. Eshwarappa, fired the first salvo saying that that credit should go to the “collective leadership”, a phrase which has come into vogue in the post-Yediyurappa period.

This was endorsed by Dharmendra Pradhan, the national party secretary, who is in charge of Karnataka. But equally quick with his reaction was M.P. Renukacharya, a minister of the BJP government and a maverick crony of Yediyurappa, who insisted and reiterated that the credit should indeed go to his mentor, Yediyurappa.

Truth to tell, ever since he was forced to quit, Yediyurappa has been in a petulant mood. He reportedly gave went to his anger at a party conclave over the manner in which he was eased out by the party leadership.

It is also clear that he is in the political dog house with the BJP leadership frowing upon his move to take out a state wide yatra. Earlier, it had scotched his move to join the anti corruption demonstration in Karnataka in the wake of Anna Hazare‘s crusade against corruption.

Both the central and party leadership of the BJP at the moment are not prepared to give the credit for the victory to the Yediyurappa for quite obvious reasons.

First, it would mean acknowledging the primacy of Yediyurappa in Karnataka, which the national party in the present mood is not prepared to concede because it would present the new chief minister and others in a poor light.

Second, it would also be interpreted as the endorsement of a regime, which had become a byword for corruption, scams and nepotism, which the BJP at this juncture, with assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the possibility of the early polls to Parliament due, cannot afford.

But Yediyurappa does not like any move to deny him with the credit. He may use this as a plank to pressure the central party leadership to restore his lost position in the Karnataka government, which he has said he will regain in six months’ time. The national leadership at the moment appears to be hell bent on keeping him away from the hotseat.

The fact of the matter is that the credit for the success in Koppal goes neither to Yediyurappa nor to the BJP as a party but to the person concerned, namely the victorious candidate Karadi Sanganna.

He is a locally popular figure and has figured in all the five elections held since 1994 including the present one and has been successful in four under different a political label each time.

Sanganna won his first election in 1994 as an independent candidate, the second one as a United Janata Dal candidate in 1999, the third as a Janata Dal (S) candidate in 2008 and the present one on the BJP ticket.

He contested the 2004 election on BJP ticket and lost narrowly.

It is Karadi Sanganna who has served the cause of the BJP rather than the latter doing him any favour. Yet, in the wonderland that is the BJP, the quarrel is over who should get the honours for the victory, in which neither the party nor its former figurehead had any major role to play.

Photograph: BJP candidate Karadi Sanganna (second from left), who won the Koppal bypoll, in a jubilant mood with ministers Basavaraj Bommai (right) and Laxman Savadi, in Koppal on Thursday (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: ‘BJP has fallen prey to politician-entrepreneurs’

Why does the BJP persist with Operation Kamala?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Operation Kamala OK?

How the BJP completely lost the plot in Karnataka

CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt State?

Getaway of the louts in the Gateway to the South

BJP’s lotus grows in muck, so do BJP’s people

CHURUMURI POLL: L.K. Advani’s ‘Antim Yatra’?

9 September 2011

There is nothing more revealing in politics than a old, doddering politician who buries his head in the sand and tries to gauge the prevailing wind of public opinion. And so it is with the “former future prime minister of India“, Lalchand Kishinchand Advani who has announced what many are derisively calling his “Antim Yatra“.

At one level, Advani’s impromptu announcement of a nationwide tour at the age of 84 is proof that the flame of ambition has flickered feverishly despite the renunciation of key posts (like leader of opposition and party president) at the less-than-gentle nudging of the extra-constitutional knicker lobby that really wears the pants in the BJP.

At another level, the “Antim Yatra” is proof that the BJP is now officially bereft of both ideas and leadership. That it took the success of Anna Hazare‘s campaign for the lead opposition party to take up corruption as an issue reveals plenty about what it has been doing these past two and a half years since the 2009 electoral defeat.

And that the BJP leadership thinks that it has the credibility to talk about corruption, when its own governments and leaders in Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttaranchal and Chhatisgarh are battling (or stalling investigation of) serious charges of corruption shows the hypocrisy of it all.

Above all, Advani’s announcement of a yatra throws cold water on the aspirations of almost the entire second generation of leaders in the BJP, all of whom privately envision themselves as national leaders and almost all of whom entertain dreams of becoming prime minister.

Questions: Will Advani’s “Antim Yatra” evoke any response? Is Advani’s “Antim Yatra” merely to save his skin now that the reprehensible cash-for-votes scandal has landed squarely in his court? Notwithstanding the Congress’s plight, does the BJP have the credibility to talk of clean, corruption-free governance? Will Advani be acceptable as the face of the BJP in 2014, when he will be 86?

Also read: ‘The only person to blame for BJP defeat is Advani

‘The man who spread the dragon-seeds of hatred’

Advani offers nothing creative, only resentment

The Great Debator ducks out of a TV interview

A lifetime achievement award for L.K. Advani?

 

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Chidambaram quit?

7 September 2011

It is an indication of the extent of internalisation of terrorism as a way of life that each new terror attack results in a markedly subdued response. While the United States takes pride in not having had a single terror attack since 9/11, and that was ten years ago, there have been over half a dozen since the 26/11 siege of Bombay in 2008.

Over two dozen people died in Bombay jus two months ago, and Delhi high court was the sight of a similar attack as today’s in May this year. However, the response of the political class, and indeed of the media and public, is substantially different depending on the city, the location and on the class of victims.

While each terror attack under the watch of the sartorially splendid Shivraj Patil would prompt demands for his resignation, the media-savvy Palaniappan Chidambaram goes about each terror attack like a second-division clerk, reading bureaucratic cliches with mind-numbing monotony that should leave terror-mongers stone cold.

Worse, there is scarcely any remorse with scarcely a mention of the “Q” word, and this while the home ministry uses up all the IQ of its Harvard-educated minister to dig up dirt on the Bhushans, Hazares and Kejirwals of the world. So, here’s the question neither Parliament nor the opposition, nor the media would want to ask: should Chidambaram resign, or at least make the offer, just at least to show where the buck stops?

Also read: Is Chidambaram a saboteur in UPA?

How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

31 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Six minutes and 20 seconds into his vote of thanks at the culmination of Anna Hazare‘s fast-unto-death last Sunday, the RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal heaped plaudits on the media for the support it had lent to the Jan Lok Pal bill agitation by “articulating the outrage of the nation”.

Pointing at the jungle of anchors, reporters, cameramen and crane operators in the media pen in front of the stage at the Ramlila maidan, Kejriwal said the “media weren’t just doing their job… they are now part of the movement”.

Verbatim quote:

Hum in saari media ke shukr guzaar hain. Yeh aap dekhiye, abhi bhi camera lekar, tadapti dhoop mein khade hain, yeh log. Yeh zaroori nahin, kewal inki naukri nahin thi.  Yeh log ab andolan ka hissa hain. Raat-raat bhar, chaubis-chaubis ghante, bina soye in logon ne hamari andolan mein hissa liya, hum mediake saathiyon ko naman karte hain.”

Kejriwal’s general gratitude was for television whose frenetic and fawning coverage instantly took the message to parts of the country print wouldn’t dream of reaching in the next half a century. (A TV critic wrote last week that a survey of TV coverage of Hazare’s Jantar Mantar fast in April found 5592 pro-Anna segments versus just 62 that were anti-Anna.)

But if Kejriwal had to choose one English language publication in particular for rounding up “Middle India” in round two of the fight for a strong anti-corruption ombudsman, the honour should surely go to The Times of India.

From the day after Anna Hazare was prematurely arrested on August 16 to August 29, the day he ended his fast, the New Delhi edition of The Times of India took ownership of the story and played a stellar role in mobilising public opinion and exerting pressure on the political class.

# Over 13 days, the main section of the Delhi edition of The Times of India, covered the Anna Hazare saga over 123 broadsheet pages branded “August Kranti” (August Revolution), with 401 news stories, 34 opinion pieces, 556 photographs, and 29 cartoons and strips.

# On seven of the 13 days of the fast, the front page of Delhi ToI had eight-column banner headlines. The coverage, which included vox-pops and special pages, even spilled over to the business and sports pages, with the Bofors scam-accused industrialist S.P. Hinduja offering his wisdom.

In launching a toll-free number for readers to give a “missed call” if they wanted a strong Lokpal bill, ToIwas almost indistinguishable from the India Against Corruption movement behind Hazare. ToI claims that over 46 lakh people have registered their vote.

In short, backed by an online campaign titled “ACT—Against Corruption Together” plus the Arnab Goswami  show on Times Now, the Times group provided substantial multi-media heft to the Jan Lok Pal campaign.

In its almost completely uncritical coverage of Round II, The Times of India provided a sharp contrast to the almost completely cynical coverage of Round I by The Indian Express four months ago, the former batting out of his crease for for the wider constituency of the reader, consumer, voter and citizen.

Remarkably, also, for a publication of its size and girth, ToI took an unhesitatingly anti-establishment stand in its headlines and choice of stories, showing where it stood on corruption—an issue agitating readers in its core demographic—in a manner in which most large newspapers are loathe to do.

There were only token negative pieces like the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid calling the protest “anti-Islam”; Dalits wanting a Bahujan Lokpal bill; or Arundhati Roy calling Hazare’s stand “undemocratic”. On the whole, though, ToIcoverage was gung-ho as gung-ho goes, especially judging from some of the mythological, militaristic headlines.

Just what was behind the ToI‘s proactive stand still remains to be deciphered.

Was it merely reflecting the angst and anger of its middle-class readership? Was it taking the scams, many of which it broke and which brought the Lok Pal issue to the head, to its logical conclusion? Or, does the involvement of its in-house godman in the proceedings, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living, lend a clue?

Was it willy-nilly taking part in the dark rumours of “regime-change” swirling around Delhi? Or, was it just doing what a good newspaper is supposed to do: taking a stand, making sense of an increasingly complicated world to a time and attention strapped reader, and speaking truth to power?

Whatever be the truth, the fact that ToI took such a popular-with-readers, unpopular-with-government stand when it is involved in a no-holds-barred campaign to stall the implementation of the Majithia wage board recommendations for newspaper employees, speaks volumes of its conviction on the Lok Pal issue.

***

August 17: Coverage on 14 pages, 34 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 41 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Govt can’t stop August Kranti—Morning arrest turns into nightmare for Centre as Anna refuses to leave Tihar unless allowed to protest

Other headlines: 1) A million mutinies erupt across India; 2) Congress’s big blunders; 3) Emergency is the word for Gen Y; 4) Anna held, people hurt; 5) Intellectuals draw parallels with Emergency, JP movement; 6) Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Govt is being arrogant; 7) The Indian protester rediscovers Gandhigiri; 8) Emergency makes a comeback to political lexicon; 9) Annacalypse Now! Angry India on the streets; 10) Emergency redux, say legal experts

Editorial: Wrongful arrest—government action against Anna Hazare leaves it isolated and sans goodwill

Opinion: State vs Anna—Hazare’s arrest serious questions about India’s ‘democratic’ claims

Opinion poll: 92% say govt’s handling of Anna is undemocratic

***

August 18: Coverage on 10 pages, 36 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 56 photographs, 4 cartoons

Lead headline: People march, govt crawls—sledgehammered by nationwide outrage, UPA withdraws almost all its earlier curbs on Anna protest

Other headlines: 1) Global bank VP on ‘fasting leave’ from Hong Kong; 2) India Inc backs Anna; 3) Dabbawallas, NGOs building ‘Anna Army’; 4) This way or no way, says Anna; 5) Govt fails to move Mount Anna; 6) In Hazare and Baba Ramdev, govt has two powerful adversaries; 7) ’9 months to arrest Suresh Kalmadi, 3 mins for Anna’; 8)

Editorial: Anna wins the day—With public anger swelling, government must take a stand on corruption

Opinion headlines: 1) Have a referendum on sticking points; 2) Let an independent arbiter decide; 3) Are you an Anna dater, a Jokepalwalla or, worst, a piggyback passionista? 4) Civil society frustrated at lack of government action

***

August 19: Coverage on 9 pages, 26 news stories, 4 opinion pieces, 27 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: Judiciary out of Lokpal? Team Anna softens stand

Other headlines: 1) Brand Anna is a rage: youth wear him on T-shirts; 2) Protesters rename Chhatrasal stadium after Anna; 3) Sensing hour of reckoning, Tihar protesters give war cry; 4) ‘Gandhi’ takes world media by storm; 5) Indian editorials slam govt handling; 6) Fight to go on for generations, says Aung San Syu Ki; 7) Expatriates in south east Asia rally round Anna;

Editorial: Seize the day—reform is a powerful anti-corruption tool

Opinion headlines: 1) It’s the middle class, stupid; 2) 10 measures to reduce corruption

***

August 20: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news stories, 3 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: Anna rides wrath yatra, ups ante

Other headlines: 1) On fourth day of fast, 74-year-old outsprints cops; 2) He gives supporters a run for their money; 3) ‘I am Anna’s Krishna in the Mahabharata against graft’; 4) Cap fits: no weakening satyagraha—gives call for ‘second freedom movement’, will fight till last breath; 5) Amma Hazares join the cause; 6) Protest tourism: why Anna catches their (foreigners’) fancy; 7) ‘Parliament isn’t supreme, public is’

Editorial: When khaki met khadi—a confused cop learns about being civil, through agitation

Opinion headlines: 1) Which democracy do we want? 2) Reclaiming moral authority

***

August 21: Coverage on 8 pages, 25 news stories,  2 opinion pieces, 36 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Angry tide forces Manmohan’s hand

Other headlines: 1) 35% drop in crime during Hazare’s fast; 2) Parents bring kids to Anna ki pathshala; 3) Painter plans to capture ‘Anna legacy’ till passage of bill; 2) Parents want kids to see history being made; 5)  Over one million join ToI anti-graft drive;

Opinion headlines: 1) Arrest corruption, not those who protest against it; 2) Why I’d hate to be in Hazare’s chappals

***

August 22: Coverage on 7 pages, 23 news items, 1 opinion piece, 28 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: All roads lead to Annapolis

Other headlines: 1) Crowding glory—over one lakh throng Ramlila ground; 2) Protestors take metro, ridership at New Delhi jumps by 50%; 3) Religious lines blur for Anna’s cause; 4) Anna gives call for revolution to surging masses; 5) Lockedpal: earn our trust, team Anna tells govt; 6) Anna’s  army pickets netas’ homes

Opinion headline: Re-negotiating democracy

***

August 23: Coverage on 10 pages, 30 news stories, 2 opinion pieces, 46 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Govt may relent, put PM under Lokpal

Other headlines:  1) Gen Y  rocks to Anna’s beat; 2) At maidan, 80,000 celebrate carnival against corruption; 3) Behind the public face, a very private man; 4) Aam admi thinks bill is cure-all; 5)  Anna proves the power of the big idea: management gurus

Editorial: Start talking—dialogue and flexibility can break the Lokpal logjam

***

August 24: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 1 opinion piece, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: Govt bends 70%, Anna seeks 90%

Other headlines: 1) 22 newborns in MP named after Anna; 2) ‘Don’t let them take me’; 3) Unsung soldiers: they sacrifice daily bread for Anna; 4) Maidan doesn’t sleep, volunteers up at dawn; 5) Anna critic Aruna Roy briefs Rahul on grievance bill, calls on Jairam Ramesh; 6) Anger against plutocracy legitimate, saysPrakash Karat

Opinion headline: Beyond Anna’s India—is anger against corruption blinding us to other evils?

***

August 25: Coverage on 8 pages, 30 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: From breakthrough to breakdown

Other headlines: 1) Braveheart Hazare baffles doctors; 2) Judge follows his conscience, speaks out for Jan Lokpal bill; 3) Destination Ramlila maidan: get a free auto ride; 4) Critic Aruna Roy comes calling; 5) Aamir Khan is brain behind picketing MPs; 6) ’542 VIPs are making a fool of 120 crore people’

Editorial: The Lokpal moment—it’s a good time for Anna to end his fast and join the discussions

Opinion headlines: 1) Fasting as democracy decays; 2) Celebrities endorse Anna movement in large numbers—they are citizens too

Online toll: 22.7 lakh join ToI online campaign against graft

***

August 26: Coverage on 8 pages, 32 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 38 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: PM walks extra mile, Anna unmoved

Other headlines: 1) 5,000 cops to fortify PM, but Anna army sneaks past posts; 2) Witnessing power of people, says Army chief; 3) Hardliners holding up Lokpal resolution; 4) Angry Anna: UPA ministers take the hit in virtual world; 5) ‘Sonia Gandhi would have handled situation better’

Editorial: Seize this opportunity—Anna Hazare shows flexibility, the govt must do so too

Opinion headline: Finding the middle ground

Online toll: 25,30,251 votes

***

August 27: Coverage on 11 pages, 34 news items, 3 opinion pieces, 50 photographs, 3 cartoons

Lead headline: House hopes to send Anna home

Other headlines: 1) Downcast but steadfast; 2) Fast hits country’s financial health—reforms put off because of Anna stir, may take a toll on growth; 3) Sports icons one with Team Anna

Editorial headline: A carnival called India—from Gandhigiri to Annagiri, it’s dhak-dhak go

Opinion headline: Saintliness in politics cuts both ways

Online toll: 32,09,129 votes

***

August 28: Coverage on 9 pages, 35 news items, 2 opinion pieces, 64 photographs, 1 cartoon

Lead headline: Anna wins it for the people—To break fast at 10 am today as Parliament bows to Hazare’skhwahish and PM sends letter

Other headlines: 1) Anna’s next: India tour for clean leaders; 2) Anna superfast arrives; 3) Anna sets House in order

Opinion headlines: 1) Don’t mess with the middle-class; 2) How to reverse the trust deficit

Online toll: 39,74, 515 votes

***

August 29: Coverage on 12 pages, 31 news items, 4 opinion pieces, 48 photographs, 2 cartoons

Lead headline: Only deferred fast, fight goes on: Anna

Other headlines: 1) Can’t trust govt, have to keep watch: Prashant Bhushan; 2) ‘Battle is won, war has just begun’; 3) ‘This victory is our second freedom’; 4) Anna among top brands online

Editorial: Dance of democracy

Opinion headlines: 1) Has Anna really won? 2) Ways to fit the bill—accommodating Anna’s three key demands will require imaginative lawmaking

***

Also readIs the Indian Express now a pro-establishment paper?

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

CHURUMURI POLL: Right to recall MPs, MLAs?

28 August 2011

The “resolution” passed by both houses of Parliament last night that saw Anna Hazare accepting coconut water and honey from a Dalit girl and Muslim girl this morning, marks a defining moment in the brief history of the Indian republic. In having to give in to his three “sticky” demands, the MPs and through them, the government, have had to listen to the millions who joined him physically (and silently) in the outrage against unbridled State-sponsored corruption.

In a democracy that had become a one-way, top-down monologue, where “We, the People” had to meekly accept whatever “They, the Politicians and Political Parties” dished out, the conversation has been restored, even if at gunpoint and even if many in government and Parliament (and their paid pipers in the establishment media) do not like the sound of it. That much should be clear even to a school girl and should be heralded as such.

Still, as Hazare himself points out, it is half a victory, and a more treacherous road is ahead. But what even this half-a-victory—achieved without a drop of blood being shed, achieved without a gunshot being fired, achieved without a life being lost—shows is that there is nothing impossible beyond our reach if we want it badly enough. We only need to ask, and ask for it loudly enough across the country for the deaf souls of our democracy to hear.

Corruption is certainly not going to end with the passage of the Lok Pal bill, if and when that happens, but it is a step to put the fear of the good lord in the crooked. Hazare has indicated that electoral reforms are next on the agenda, and has spoken of demanding the right to recall representatives who do not measure up to our expectations, and the right to reject candidates put by political parties to represent us.

Questions: Will a right to reject or recall achieve the same kind of traction as the more secular, universal issue of corruption did among the people? Is it feasible? Will parties and politicians accede to such a demand as easily? Or are Hazare biting off more than they can chew?

 

Gandhi & Anna: a tale of two fasts and two rulers

26 August 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The ongoing fast by Anna Hazare to usher in a Lok Pal has entered the 11th day.

What is most striking with the manner in which Hazare’s fast has been dealt with by the current “rulers” in contrast to how the British handled Mahatma Gandhi’s numerous fasts.

***

Since they were the rulers  of an Empire where ‘the sun never set,’ the colonisers could have spirited Gandhiji out of India, thrown him into a jail in some far corner of the world, and made him totally irrelevant.

Worse, they could have fed him slow poison and got rid of him and by the time the news reached India, it would have been some months, if not years, especially since there was no ‘breaking news’.

In short, the British could have done anything to break the freedom movement. It is to their credit and to their sense of fair play that they did none of the above and allowed Gandhi his right to protest.

Result: the freedom struggle took root and finally they had to quit India.

***

Cut to 2011, Anna Hazare’s fast.

Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Ambika Soni and Manmohan Singh attacked Hazare’s movement in their interactions with the press and in Parliament.

The Congress party’s spokesman Manish Tiwari even declared that ‘Anna was corrupt from head to toe’ for which he tendered a meek apology later.

After inviting civil society members, the government resorted to dirty tricks to damn their character on some pretext or other. They even had the temerity to arrest Hazare and send him to the same jail where Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and Kanimozhi were lodged, only to release him when the public reaction got too hot.

Above all, we have seen a number of devious, duplicitous statements unbecoming of a government, which seems to have forgotten that it remains in power only at the pleasure of the people.

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 and the history books could well tell us a different story of how Gandhi was treated by the colonisers. Still, the question remains: were the British far more humane in their treatment of Gandhiji when an Empire was at stake than the Congress-led UPA has been of Hazare who is merely fasting for a tough piece of legislation?

Photograph: The front page of a newspaper in 1933 with news of Gandhi‘s fast

Should ‘media corruption’ come under Lok Pal?

25 August 2011

The more-than-just-a-neutral-observer position taken by sections of the media on the Anna Hazare agitation has clearly begun to rile politicians, and at least two of them cutting across party lines have argued in the last couple of days that the media too must be brought under the purview of the proposed anti-corruption legislation.

Exhibit A: Union minister for law and social justice, Salman Khurshid.

According to a report in The Hindu, Khurshid asked Headlines Today executive editor Rahul Kanwal as to why media corruption should not be investigated under the Team Anna version of the Lok Pal bill.

“Do I need to go back to the Niira Radia tapes? Now you are asking why the government has not investigated. If we go ahead with the investigation, we would be accused of being insensitive. If we do, there would be a mass moment for the media.”

Exhibit B: Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Again, according to a report in The Hindu, Mulayam’s demand that the media also be brought under the Lok Pal was met with thumping of desks by his colleagues.

“We [Samajwadi Party] suffered in the hands of media [during the polls],” he said during a debate on corruption. Even as a section of the treasury and opposition benche demanding that “media corruption” be also inquired into by Lokpal, Mulayam went on to state that it had become a practice for electronic channels to collect money during polls and air views in support of one party.”

Photograph: Television reporters deliver their piece to camera at the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi on Tuesday, against the backdrop of the stage on which Anna Hazare is fasting for the Lokpal bill

Also read: The ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

CHURUMURI POLL: Anna Hazare and the media

21 August 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from Delhi: The media coverage of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, like the movement itself, is a story in two parts—and both show the perils of the watchdog becoming the lapdog, in diametrically opposite ways.

In Act I, Scene I enacted at Jantar Mantar in April, sections of the Delhi media unabashedly played along with the establishment in a “crude and disgusting character assassination”, discrediting civil society members in an attempt to strangulate the joint Lokpal drafting panel, without  showing any remorse.

In Act II, three scenes of which have been enacted in the past week at Tihar Jail, Chhatrasaal Stadium and now the Ramlila Grounds, there has been no need to invoke Armani and Jimmy Choo, after the government’s spectacular cock-ups at the hands of high-IQHarvard-educated lawyers who recite nursery-school rhymes to wah-wahs from unquestioning interviews.

On the contrary, it can be argued that the pendulum has swung to the other end this time round.

The Times of India and Times Now, both market leaders in number termshave made no attempt to hide where their sympathies lie in this “Arnab Spring”, when the urban, articulate, newspaper-reading, TV-watching, high-earning, high-spending, apolitical, ahistorical, post-liberalised, pissed-off-like-mad middle-class gets worked up.

When the market leaders go down that road, the others are left with no option but to follow suit.

Obviously neither extreme can be the media’s default position. However, unlike last time when there was little if not no criticism of the “orchestrated campaign of calumny, slander and insinuation“, at least two well known media figures  have found the courage to question this kind of wide-eyed, gee-whiz reporting.

Sashi Kumar, the founder of India’s first regional satellite channel Asianet and the brain behind the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), in Outlook*:

“In the race for eyeballs, a section of the media—some TV channels in particular—give the impression of sprinting ahead of the story and dragging it along behind them. What defies imagination, even as it stretches journalistic credibility, is that the messengers become the lead players, directing the route the story will take, conjuring up twists and turns where there are none, and keeping the illusion of news-in-the-making breathlessly alive….

“The relationship between such media and their essentially middle class consumers is becoming uncomfortably incestuous. When respondents cluster around a camera for a vox pop, they are not so much required to offer their independent view on an issue as add to the chorus of opinion orchestrated by the channel. A photo op masquerades as a movement. Dissident voices get short shrift. It is more like a recruitment drive than a professional journalistic exercise to seek and purvey news.

“Increasingly, the channel’s role seems to be to trigger and promote a form of direct democracy by the middle class. Politics and politicians are routinely debunked; even representative democracy doesn’t seem to make the grade.”

NDTV group editor and star anchor Barkha Dutt too strikes a similar note in the Hindustan Times:

“Critics of the Hazare campaign have questioned the media narrative as well, accusing wall-to-wall TV coverage of holding up a permanent oxygen mask to the protests. It’s even been pointed out that Noam Chomsky’s scathing commentary on the mass media -‘Manufacturing Consent’ would be re-written in TV studios today as Manufacturing Dissent.

“But again, if the TV coverage of the protests is overdone, it only proves that the UPA’s perennial disdain for the media — and the diffidence of its top leaders — has given its opponents the upper hand in the information battle. There is something so telling about the fact that 74-year-old Anna Hazare made effective use of the social media by releasing a YouTube message from inside jail and the PM of India’s oldest political party is still to give his first interview to an Indian journalist.”

Questions: How do you rate the media role in crafting the Anna Hazare movement? Has it been too unquestioning, or has it played the role expected of it? Has it tapped into middle-class sentiment with an eye on circulation and TRPs?

Also readThe ex-Zee News journo on Anna Hazare team

Ex-Star News, ToI journos on Anna Hazare team

The ATM generation that’s backing Anna Hazare

18 August 2011

R. Jagannathan, the editor of First Post, says there is a “new” middle-class propelling Anna Hazare‘s anti-corruption movement. It has five distinct traits, it can dump you as easily as it pumps you up, and it is here to stay:

1. The new middle class knows that you can’t get anything done by being reasonable. Just as the Dalits or OBCs get their reservations and caste-surveys done not by reasoned debate in parliament but through an exercise of street power, it has learnt that you get what you want when you are unreasonable enough.

2. The new middle class has discovered its spending power and wants goods and services made to order. Politics, for it, is not about democracy and constitutionalism. It is about delivering governance.

3. The new middle class is impatient and self-obsessed. It is the ATM generation, where you put in your card and get your money. It does not believe in negotiating with people, with bureaucracy, and with the political establishment. Corruption and bribery are obstacles to its progress.

4. The new middle class has a consumerist view of democracy. It will vote if voting is made easier. Its ideal of democracy is something you can give your opinion on through a website poll or a tweet or a Facebook post.

5. The new middle class is a product of the decline of the public sector and the rise of the modern private sector.

Read the full article: Why Anna’s middle-class is different

Photograph: Activists of “India Against Corruption” at a dharna at Freedom Park in Bangalore on Thursday in support of Anna Hazare. (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Is only urban middle class backing Anna Hazare?

The UPA’s Hazare cock-up in 179 simple words

17 August 2011

India’s self-proclaimed “national newspaper” The Hindu has long invited barbs of twits and critics who conflate the masthead with the religion and abhor its secular stance. It has been seen to be pro-establishment, afraid to ruffle feathers of the government of the day, unwilling to say it like it is. And, after the 2G scam, members of the Hindu undivided family have themselves levelled charges of duplicity if not complicity.

The first 179 words of an editorial in today’s paper, titled “Corrupt, repressive and stupid“, should slay many of those demons:

“A corrupt government devoid of moral authority is ill equipped to deal rationally with legitimate public anger. By ordering the illegitimate detention of Anna Hazare before he began his fast in support of stronger anti-corruption provisions in the Lokpal Bill and the arrest of a large number of peaceful protesters in the national capital, the United Progressive Alliance government revealed its ugly, repressive face.

“No representative government in a democracy can deny citizens their fundamental right to dissent and peaceful protest. Insisting on unreasonable, inequitable, and suspiciously contrived conditions that everyone knows the protesters cannot accept is tantamount to denial of the democratic right. Instead of honestly dealing with the issues raised by successive corruption scandals, the UPA government chose to cover up.

“When that became unsustainable, it resorted to slurs and dirty tricks, and incrementally raised the level of repression to smother voices demanding accountability and corrective institutional measures. It is no wonder that from time to time such a government gets into panic mode, miscalculates, and commits acts that everyone outside the regime recognises as politically stupid.”

Read the full editorial: Corrupt, repressive, and stupid

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Is only ‘urban middle-class’ in love with Anna?

17 August 2011

It might appear blindingly obvious that corruption affects every Indian, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Parsi. Yet, to the credit of the status quoists, they have succeeded in painting it as an urban middle-class issue (id est “minority”), from which the rural underclass (id est “majority”) is somehow magically disconnected, even uninterested if not complicit.

The burgeoning, in-your-face Anna Hazare phenomenon too suffers from the same optical illusion, as sections of the political establishment (and their drumbeaters in the media) paint his campaign as an “urban middle-class” fixation, something that apparently only leaves tech-savvy, TV-watching, non-voting, candle-lighting “people like us” (PLUs) frothing at the mouth.

Vinay Sitapati, a former journalist who is currently a graduate student at the department of politics in Princeton University, expands the logic some more in the Indian Express:

“The answer lies in a fundamental shift in the middle class, starting with economic liberalisation in the early 1990s. The pre-liberalisation middle class was typically from professions that grew around the state — such as lawyering, accountancy, medicine, and of course, government service.

“This relationship mattered: it meant that the earlier middle class understood the Indian state; they were less ignorant of the processes of democracy that characterise parts of the Anna Hazare movement.

“The opening of the Indian economy in the ’80s and early ’90s dramatically changed this. A 2005-06 study found that of India’s current middle-class, 56-62 per cent is privately employed. This is significant. It indicates the growing ability of Indians to imagine social mobility in private ways, outside of the state….

“The new corporate middle class has little patience with the politics of dignity and identity that are — for better or worse — central to Indian politics. For them, the state is about providing services for which they pay with their tax money. Representation and social justice have little meaning. Consequently, they have contempt for electoral politics….”

Read the full article: The blind spots of India Shining

Photograph: Nursing students take part in a peace march in support of Anna Hazare in Bidar in north Karnataka, on Tuesday (Karnataka Photo News)


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