Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore

4 February 2013

Why do more young people read stories titled “Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore“?

For the same reason that more young people are interested in knowing the pet name of Hrithik Roshan than in politics or policy. Which is, because “the stupidity and the villainy of human beings is overemphasised and the ignorance is underemphasised.”

Amarya Sen, the Nobel laureate, was in conversation with Sharmila Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore‘s descendant, at the Calcutta literary meet on Saturday.

He also said, among other things:

1. One-third of Indians don’t have an electricity connection. When the newspapers hollered last year that 600 million Indians were “plunged” into darkness, what they didn’t mention was that 200 million out of those 600 million never had any power. So they were not specifically “plunged” that night, they are plunged into darkness every night.

2.  India is the only country in the world that is trying to have a health transition on the basis of a private health care that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. We have an out-of-pocket system, occasionally supplemented by government hospitals but the whole trend in the world has moved towards public health systems. Even the United States has come partly under the so-called Obama Care.

3. India is a country where there is more open defecation than any other country for which data exists. Forty-eight per cent of households in India do not have toilets. That’s larger than any other country. Chad comes slightly close but no other country. The percentage of homes without toilets is 1 per cent in China, it’s only 9 or 10 per cent even in Bangladesh.

4. There is so much to be learnt from China in terms of economic growth. But not in terms of democracy… China spends 2.7 per cent of its GDP on public health care — governmental expenditure. We spend 1.2 per cent. When Jamshedji Tata was setting up Jamshedpur, he felt it’s not only an industry, it’s a municipality. He felt I have to provide free education, free health care for everyone, not only my employees but anyone in the neighbourhood.

5. China wouldn’t be a country to learn about democracy from but Brazil could be, Mexico could be. Good efficient public services with cooperation of the unions is very important for any country and since 1989 Brazil has transformed itself with that. In the same period, India has risen in per capita income but its position in living standards has declined. In South Asia, we were the second best, after Sri Lanka, and now we are the second worst, only ahead of Pakistan. I think Bangladesh has overtaken India in most of these categories, except per capita income.

6. In the 2011 February budget, the government had put in a very modest import tax on gold and diamond imports. And there was such a lot of protest that they had to withdraw that. Because that’s an organised group; a group of underfed kids is not.

7. When people say that this (rape) happens in India, it doesn’t happen in Bharat, they completely overlook the fact that Dalit girls have been violated, molested and raped over the years and there still isn’t adequate protection against that.

By the way, Hrithik Roshan’s pet name, which used to be Duggu, is H-Ro.

Read the full story: The Telegraph, Calcutta

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

Why can’t our ‘leaders’ speak like Obama?

10 November 2012

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Barack is back, and what a victory speech he gave us!

I say ‘us’ because the speech had something for all of us, in India too.

Like many of us Indians, as I watched Barack Obama’s victory speech on Thursday morning, I was left feeling envious — envious of Americans for having elected for themselves such an inspiring leader as their President.

I was left asking, “Why can’t I have a Prime Minister like him? A Prime Minister who inspires me, makes me feel like I matter, arouses a renewed sense of patriotism even in this severely fractured democracy that is India?”

Just a few days before Obama’s victory speech, our Prime Minister and our future prime ministerial candidate also spoke at a Congress mega rally. What a disappointment it was. No one on the dais could connect with the people they were addressing.

Rahul Gandhi’s ‘screech’ was full of sound and fury, at one point it seemed like he might collapse under his own vocal ferocity. But in spite of all the sound, in the end he shed very little light on any issue.

Instead, he showed us how dim he sometimes can be when he compared support for Kargil war to FDI! Neither did he inspire nor did he inform.

The only good thing about his speech was its timing. It was short.

Then our Prime Minister spoke. The content was repetitive, and like all his speeches, uninspiring. At best it could have inspired a few ventriloquists. Probably Robocop would have done a better job of connecting emotionally to us than our PM.

It is unfortunate. What use is intellect, if it can neither save us nor give us hope or produce words that will inspire us?

More importantly, what most of us would have noticed during the American presidential elections is the role of the family. We Indians never tire of saying that Americans are very detached from their families and add how we are such a family-oriented culture.

But every US President is judged by his family life. Every US President brings up his family in his speech, and never fails to mention the family values they imbibed in their formative years.

On the victory night, Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden both had their families on stage.

In fact, Obama said:

“and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly. Michelle, I have never loved you more.”

Then he acknowledged his children saying:

“You’re growing up to become two strong, smart, beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I am so proud of you.”

In fact, not only did Obama thank his family, he also thanked and praised his opponent Mitt Romney’s family when he said:

“The Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service. And that is a legacy that we honour and applaud tonight.”

Now we have to ask, for a people who claim to be so much more ‘family-oriented,’ how many of our leaders have ever brought their family to the public fore to feel one with the people?

How many of our leaders have thanked their wives for their success (may be they don’t want to create ripples by picking one over the other)?

How many politicians have thanked their children for tolerating their absence?

None.

Even if they do, it is a display to garner sympathy and not family values.

Every Indian politician’s family life is shrouded in secrecy and when their children join them in politics, it is for personal gain, or when they have learnt the dirty tricks of the trade. Or even worse their names surface only when their illegal property is unearthed or a back door deal is exposed.

So political families get involved to stay in power and loot together. It makes us wonder, is there any true patriot among Indian politicians? It seems more likely that they love this country like one would love their goose that lays golden eggs, that’s all.

While we were in envy, Obama’s speech also made us feel miserable, because he made us think about our own nation when he said:

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world.”

We were left thinking, what do our leaders want to leave behind for our children? A chaotic mess, that churns out black money and mediocrity, over which their equally greedy children can rule?

American Presidents care about legacy. But our leaders care only about power. And the only legacy they worry about is passing on their constituency and seat to their children. So they are either in power or forever in pursuit of it.

No wonder that yesterday Vijay Kumar Malhotra at age 80 won his 40th term as President of the Archery Association of India. It’s astounding that in 40 years, the members could not find anyone better than him.

When this is the case, it’s power that drives our leaders, not the vision of a better India or patriotism. That is why our election is based on promise of freebies, caste and money.

Not on agendas such as social justice, equality and prosperity.

Obama made us cheer for an otherwise arrogant America, when he said:

“We believe we can keep the promise of our founding fathers, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Can any of our leaders say that?

Have we ever heard our leaders say “no matter whatever you are, North Indian or South Indian, no matter if you are rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, abled or disabled, if you are willing to work hard and be sincere, you can make it in India?”

No. Instead, our leaders have created an environment where you have to be born rich or be crooked to make it in India. We have to be a certain vote bank to avail basic facilities and must be able to mobilise a mob to get justice.

Obama probably is the best thing that happened in recent times to the very idea of democracy. Because when we heard Obama’s speech, we felt inspired to be part of a democracy.

We felt we needed to be part of nation-building.

We felt we mattered.

We felt we had to vote.

We felt we had to be responsible citizens.

In contrast, our leaders have left us feeling deceived and helpless, so helpless in fact that we want to flee this nation the first chance we get. The only ones who are staying back are those who cannot leave due to financial or family constraints; in some cases, the inability to adjust to a new culture.

That is why so many of our young, unappreciated minds go there. They almost always do better than they would have here in their own country. They go there and become whatever they want. Some may disagree, especially our neo-rich, real-estate barons and corporate honchos who say that India is shining and no one wants to leave.

Well, then how come there is still a line outside the US Consulate offices all over India even today and there is no line in sight anywhere near an Indian Consulate in any part of the world?

That’s because India does not harbour an environment to facilitate the development of a decent and dignified citizen.

Instead we are engulfed in the smog of corruption, crony-capitalism, casteism and a lethargic justice system that has only helped the development of a crooked, greedy and self-centered citizenry.

When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister with Rahul Gandhi waiting in toe, we assumed there was hope. Instead, in these ‘hopeful’ hands, our nation has become hopeless.

And so today while we watch in envy the American President’s inspirational and touching address to his nation, we are left orphaned with no leaders to inspire us or lead us. The only thing holding us together is our collective sense of greed and insecurity.

We have no hope.

We have only God.

But he too seems to have given up.

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

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: Are we safer without Osama?

2 May 2011

Osama bin Laden is dead. The founder and leader of Al Qaeda was apparently killed in a “firefight” with American special forces in Abbottabad, 80 miles north of Islamabad in Pakistan on Sunday. The assassination throws many a hypothesis to the wind: that he was already dead; that he was hiding in the caves of Afghanistan; etc.

It also calls the bluff on Pakistan’s claim that Bin Laden was not on Pakistani soil. The fact that he had found safe refuge not in a tribal badland but in an urban pocket, not far from the Pakistani capital, will end up being debated forever. So, was he there all this while under the benign patronage of the Pakistani army and/or intelligence?

Also likely to be debated is the US President Barack Obama‘s primal statement of fact, that “Justice has been done” with the assassination. Is killing a terrorist by adopting the same means the terrorist adopts, the only way the world’s oldest democracy could find justice for the victims and families of 9/11?

But the key question is: will the death of Osama really bring an end to post 9/11 terrorism as we know it, especially since Osama was not the leader of a mass movement, but the brain and mascot behind an idea? Will the West be free of terror attacks with Osama gone, or will other terror organisations continue to find their inspiration from him even in his physical absence? Is the killing of Osama likely to provide fuel for demands that India too should pursue its terror-mongers and perpetrators and “smoke ‘em out” and hunt them down?

How the big O made our media lose its balance

15 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The visit of the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, was covered by the Indian media in a way reserved historic occasions like the sinking of the Titanic or the invention of penicillin would have been, if only there was 24×7 television.

Everything else that happens in our wide and wonderful land—and everything that is conveyed to us as “Exclusive-Breaking News-Flash-First On” in normal times—was summarily relegated to nanosecond bits before the weather forecast, or bunched together ‘in other news’.

As if nothing else mattered.

If ever there was an overdose of verbal and visual onslaught on, this was one.

Channel after channel, hour after hour, minute after minute, spewed forth raw and unprocessed data of every bit of the Obamas’ three-day trip as if there was no tomorrow. Thankfully, secret service didn’t allow cameras to record and beam footage after the couple retired for the night.

Studio discussions with a pantheon of “experts”—who were seeing the action on TV screens like the rest of us, normal folk, but who were duty-bound to say something wise and illuminating at the same time—only aggravated the national headache enveloping the country.

The newspapers were no different, devoting page after dedicated page.

Truth to tell, fawning over celebrities, especially visiting dignitaries, has been a national obsession for a long time, with ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ being taken to ridiculous lengths to make the visitor feel at home. But do we have to lose our head and bend our backs as if we have no spine?

When our prime minister visits foreign countries, especially the US, his stay and activities get reported on page 4 of section 2, in the sixth column, for a grand total of 150 words.

Even at the height of the East Pakistan war, prior to the formation of Bangladesh, when Indira Gandhi visited the United States to convince President Richard Nixon, all she was accorded was page 32 or something in the Washington Post.

Walter Cronkite on CBS news or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC would not give more than 60 seconds on their prime time news, and here we were covering what was essentially a trade trip by a Nobel laureate with vanishing aura back home, as if our lives depended on it.

Despite the gains of the renewed friendship being trumpeted by our networks ad nauseam, Manmohan Singh still barely gets a minute or two in the US media, both electronic and print media. Shouldn’t be there some kind of reciprocity, or a semblance of balance?

Every student in India knows by now that Michelle Obama can play hopscotch and that she studied in Harvard law school. And that she is a better dancer than he.

How many of us in India know that Gurusharan Kaur (that is the PM’s wife for you) is a trained teacher? That she can sing keertans and she has sung in All India Radio many a time? Do US networks ask her play hopscotch in Washington and make her sing on TV when the Singhs are visiting?

No doubt, the Obamas are well educated and enlightened and make a nice couple. But where is the sense of discretion from our media who went crazy for three days lock, stock and smoking gun?

Everyone has his own Gandhi to thank for

9 November 2010

Barack Obama‘s three-day visit sent the Indian media into a paroxysm of irrational exuberance. Pity the President of the United States was already in the air when some acid pens got working.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Graphic: courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta

What Obama missed by not coming to Bangalore

7 November 2010

PRASHANT KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: Looking at the wide-eyed, over-the-top coverage of US president Barack Obama‘s 100% sanitised weekend break to Bombay and Delhi,  you can only wonder what he and Michelle are missing by not coming to namma Bengalooru.

***

1) By not coming to Bangalore and meeting B.S. Yediyurappa, Barackappa, whose Democratic party has suffered a drubbing, has missed picking up a lesson (or 11) in political management.

2) By not coming to Bangalore and meeting the Reddy brothersulu, brother Barack has lost a manch powerful chance to know that all trade barriers can be easily surmounted by simply shifting the borders.

3) By not coming to Bangalore and meeting the geniushris behind ‘Operation Lotus‘, Barackshri will go back without the wisdom that that what he really needs to shore himself up is ‘Operation POTUS ‘.

4) By not coming to Bangalore, Barackgaaru won’t know that the Rs 900 crore per day bill he is running up during his visit, would have easily fetched the loyalty of a couple of dozen MLAs for three months.

5) By not coming to Bangalore and filling up at Deve Gowda petrol bunk, Barackgowdru won’t that there others like his pal, Rahm Emmanuel, who break into expletives at the break of dawn.

6) By not coming to Bangalore, Barackopal will understand that the government of Karnataka gives away Rajyotsava awards even more whimsically than the Alfred Nobel foundation did two years ago.

7) By not coming to Bangalore and being interviewed by Ranganath Bharadwaj, Barackwaj won’t know that the biggest existential question on 24×7 Kannada news television is, “yaake antha” (why).

8) By not coming to Bangalore, Rockline Barack won’t know that Jackie, Tsunami, Y2K, Excuse Me, Psycho et al are actually titles of films in the language of the locals.

9) By not coming to Bangalore, change agent Barackaiah won’t know that BMTC conductors have always insisted on “change you believe in” before you board the bus.

10) By not coming to Bangalore, Barackanna has lost a golden chance to know that our darshinis serve better bisi bele bath than Bukhara. And that there is a resort near Yelahanka called The White House.

11) By not coming to Bangalore while worrying about jobs in Buffalo being “Bangalored”, namma Baracku won’t know that the jobs are actually being “Bengalurued”, thanks to U.R. Anantha Murthy.

12) And by not coming to Bangalore, Michelamma won’t know that for all our outsourcing prowess, pakkada mane Parvathamma still cannot find a maid when she wants one.

What other local specialities do you think Mr and Mrs O are missing by not coming?

What O-ji can learn from K-ji, C-ji and Rahul G

6 November 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Come Deepavali, most youngsters wait for the usual goodies: a new set of clothes, a box full of pataakis, and sweets, not necessarily in that order. But the essence is the same; everybody eagerly waits for presents in some form or the other.

This is also true to some extent when you have a relative coming from some other town to stay with you. As the aunt unpacks her suitcase after a hot cup of coffee, eager and expectant eyes hover around each and every move of hers as to when she will take out a packet of Bombay halwa or Dharwad peda.

So is the case with countries too.

When you have a visitor, who is also the most powerful person in the world, coming to visit your place, naturally there is some expectation about what he is going to unpack after he lands. So, when Barack Obama slips into Punjabi kurta and Michelle tucks into a saree, let’s see what goodies will pop on his teleprompter.

***

WHAT INDIA EXPECTS FROM OBAMA

1. To stay clearly away from making any references to the ‘K’ word, not ‘Kama Sutra’ but Kashmir.

2. To make repeated references to terrorism, not in smooth general terms such as Al Qaeda etc, but in specific terms such as 26 /11, LeT , Jaish e Mohammed, etc, and handing over perpetrators of Mumbai massacre.

3. To get permanent membership to India on the United Nations security council.

4. Not to make it difficult to Indian companies to get visa for their employees.

5. To recognize and praise Rahul Gandhi as the future leader of India and not keep on praising Manmohan Singh as an extraordinary leader of our times.

6. To specifically reduce giving aid and arms to Pakistan which, all three contries know very well, will be used against India.

WHAT PAKISTAN EXPECTS FROM OBAMA

Although our honoured guest is not visiting Pakistan, as a rich guest he can still give gifts to our neighbour in so many ways and they both know that.

1. Raise Kashmir issue and nudge India to solve the same quickly. Or else the Af-Pak policy is doomed.

2. Quoting interlocutor Dileep Padgaonkar and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah, they will want to be involved in dialogue with India.

3. Tell India to reduce their army presence in Kashmir valley and stop killing innocent civilians.

4. Tell India to solve the pending river water issues.

5. Tell India not to harass Pakistan cricketers implicated in match-fixing scandals through Sharad Pawar’s ICC.

6. Tell India and in particular home minister P. Chidambaram not to send so many dossiers every second day on 26 /11 as it has become difficult to find storage space for the same.

WHAT OBAMA WILL FINALLY DO

1. Praise India as one of the most important emerging nations in the world and since the time was not ‘ripe’ right now, he will ask India to continue its present great role and wait till time becomes ‘ripe’ .This is  for India’s permanent seat o the UN security council.

2. Will make a hair-rising, goose pimple-generating speech in Parliament quoting Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln. The 500+ MPs and their aunts will shake his right arm for an hour and almost yank it off. Hairs that dramatically rose during his speech will come back to the original position after sometime.

3. Will ask India to take over the leadership of Asia along with China; will praise India’s role in fighting terrorism. Same evening, the State department will praise Pakistan as ‘its strongest ally’ in its fight against global terrorism and announce another $3 billion in aid to a “valued partner”.

4. Will dance with school children of Mehouli and urge children from Mehouli and Minnesota to carry the torch of freedom to all corners of globe. Yes, they can.

5. Will call upon Bangalore software companies to share their knowledge with their counterparts in US by keeping their staff in Bangalore itself and not send them to US.

6. Will sing songs with adivasis in Connaught circus who have been rounded up outside Delhi and invite them to Alabama, US.

7. Will invite Suresh Kalmadi and Ashok Chavan, the emerging stars of the ruling party, for a White House luncheon and share their experiences for which they achieved their greatness.

In his eagerness to please the host, horror of horrors, he will forget to praise the emerging future leader which will create some kind of ‘cold war’ climate with the hosts.

Having realized this, he will send a message to the young leader before touchdown at Jakarta airport asking him to visit US as his personal guest and share his experiences of traveling in unreserved trains in India with full security around him.

Cartoon: courtesy Baloo‘s cartoon blog

Anna-sambar & the price of ISRO’s moon mission

22 February 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Two pieces of news concerning the Indian Satellite Research Organisation (ISRO) caught my eye recently.

Exhibit A: Former ISRO chief G. Madhavan Nair was quoted as saying that there were no takers for the voluminous data collected by the moon mission,  Chandrayan, which ultimately failed towards the end of its flight.

“We have a huge volume of data running into several terrabytes. Indian scientists have to wake up and chew on that,” Nair has told Deccan Herald. 80 Indian universities were approached by ISRO to respond to study grants that would have brought in the data analysis experts, but only four universities responded.

“We want to encourage Indian scientists to come forward to work on this, but there is a shortage.”

In other words, there is lots of data but not enough people to digest and analyse it and almost no interest from our so-called “oceans of learning” to get into the act.

Obviously, without meaningful analysis, all the data will be garbage.

***

Exhibit B: ISRO is planning to spend Rs 1,000 crore to set up a moon simulator laboratory on the outskirts of Bangalore near the new international airport.

“The 1000-crore facility will recreate the moon’s surface on earth which will help in getting a first-hand report of how a lunar rover works,” ISRO’S Chandrayan project director Annadorai has been quoted as saying by Bangalore Mirror.

“We are planning to create a small area which will look like the moon to test the lunar rover. With a simulator in place, it will be easy for us to understand the lunar rover’s path,” D. Sreekumar ISRO’s space astronomy group director says.

***

Many questions can be asked about both these pieces of news, but here’s just one.

With tur dal shooting beyond Rs 110 per kg, with the agriculture minister and the cabinet having no clue about how to combat rising food prices, with most of indices of health and education hovering at sub-saharan levels, do we need to cotinue with this moon exercise again?

We have made our point by setting out on a moon mission, but should it become our obsession?

US President Barack Obama has realised there are far more important things on earth to do and has cancelled their next scheduled manned project to moon.

Aren’t we splurging good money on irrelevant things, when there are hundreds of causes and issues crying out for urgent infusion of funds, like education of children, child labour or upliftment of urban poor children who need support than anything else?

Hottege hittilla, juttige mallige hoovu?

Also read: ‘A modern Indian pilgrimage to another world’

Who would you like to see on moon mission?

CHURUMURI POLL: Padma Bhushan for BGS head?

25 January 2010

If Barack Obama being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize within a fortnight of taking office and eventually bagging it was a page straight out of Ripley‘s Believe it or Not, the Congress-led UPA government of Manmohan Singh has sprung an even bigger surprise by decorating Sri Balagangadharanath swamiji of the Adichunchunagiri Mutt with the nation’s third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan for “social service”.

While the swamiji‘s spiritual claims are relatively unknown, he has happily mixed religion with politics and business in his tenure. Once seen to be close to former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the two had a much publicised fallout with the H.D. Kumaraswamy regime slapping a criminal case on the seer on charges of encroaching government land. Gowda later went to the extent of seeking to split the Vokkaliga community by patronising a rival seer and mutt.

In openly batting for his caste at most times, Balagangadharanath Swamiji has perhaps been no different from most other swamijis in the State, he has been upfront in trying to make political capital out of it. In the field of education, which is the mutt’s chief claim to fame, the swamiji has, at best, a patchy record. In healthcare, the Apollo Hospital run by the BGS group has played a less-than-honourable role in eyeing prime real estate. Etcetera.

Question: Does Balagangadharanath swamiji deserve the Padma Bhushan? Or not? Does it raise the value of the honour? Who do you think swung it for him? And should the Congress-led UPA have obliged?

Also read: Should a chief minister fall at a godman’s feet?

What role should swamijis, religious gurus play?

Parantha, suji halwa, kismis and climate change

6 December 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The one-on-one breakfast talks between President Barack Obama and visiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were understandably held in top secrecy. Even the top aides were not present.

However, the omnipresent fly on the wall was capturing the talks for posterity.

***

Aapka swagath hai, Manmohanji,” welcomed Obama hands folded in a neat namaskar.

Dhanyavad, Obamaji. I bring greetings from one billion people!”

Lassi with pudina and kadi pattha surprised the visiting Prime Minister.

“Mr Prime Minister, if you don’t mind, I will straight away come to the point. Please tell your environment minister Jairam Ramesh to go slow in Copenhagen. He doesn’t want to accept any of our plans to reduce pollution and, instead, is taking aggressive postures.”

“He is only doing his job, Mr President. After the pollution of the environment by developed countries for a major part of a billion years, you can’t ask us, developing countries, now to  save trees, rivers and glaciers in the next decade.”

Is Dr Singh unusually aggressive this morning, thought Obama.

“Manmohanji! Aap ka phir swagath hai! Please have the aloo parantha with dahi. I oversaw the preparation of the dal myself. What do you think of our ‘Af-Pak’ policy?”

“Obamaji! When I heard it first, I thought ‘Af-Pak’ was a short form for Afghan Snow in a new card board packing! Please tell me what the policy is all about.”

“Manmohanji! It is not ready yet. Secretary Clinton is studying it for the last few weeks and once she understands that, she will make a presentation to me.”

“Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t involve arming Pakistan to its teeth so that the Government there and their terrorist friends do not launch attacks on India like they did last year.”

Did they put red chilly for decoration on dahi instead of cherry, wondered Obama? Was it Mexican or Andhra green chilly in my dal? Why is his face red all over?

“Manmohanji, aap ka phir swagath hai. Please have some suji halwa! I know it is your favourite sweet. Mrs Singh herself told this when Michelle called her up. The chef from Jalandhar flew in to Washington last night to prepare specially for you. Have some kismis and badam!”

“Thank you, Obamaji! You and Mrs Obama are as sweet as suji halwa! When you were in China, you made a joint statement with Prime Minister Hu  Jintao saying, China will oversee the South Asia region and will try to ‘solve’ India-Pakistan outstanding problems. I want to know how China is qualified to interfere in our bilateral issues.”

Did the chef put salt instead of sugar in the suji halwa, wondered Obama.

‘Did we say that? Maybe I said that in China. Please ignore that. I will have a clarification issued first thing in the morning Mr Prime minister, I have made sure FBI provides all details about Headley and Rana. Your police can question them. If you want, we will both question them. Right here, over a glass of beer, OK?”

“Thank you, Mr. President, for welcoming me so many times! I want to know when Pakistan will hand over their terror suspects to us.  I think Pakistan is running with the hare and hunting with the Hounds. This double game must stop.”

I think it is better to play the trump card now, thought Obama.

“Manmohanji!  I have a small present for you. Different shades of blue for your pagdi; if you don’t mind will you teach me how to wear one?  When I step down from the plane in Delhi, you will see me wearing one. Now regarding Copenhagen….”

“I will talk to Jairam.”

The beaming leaders were then ready for a joint ‘Meet the Press’ session.

6 proposals from (and 3 questions for) Lalit Modi

26 November 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has signed a contract with Nimbus Corporation for a jaw-dropping $612 million. The BCCI’s present sponsorship and sale earnings are around Rs 3,354 crore, the breakup being: team sponsor Rs 415 crore, kit sponsor Rs 215 crore and media rights Rs 2,724 crore.

With all this money, what is BCCI’s plan for cricket in the country?

Or for that matter, the Indian Premier League’s?

IPL czar Lalit Modi recently announced his plans at a media conference.

Since time is money, and although the Indian and foreign media were invited, only three questions were allowed due to paucity of time. The function was held in the Taj Mahal hotel’s crystal ball room. The television rights of the 2-hour programme itself were auctioned for $ 50 million.

The members of each team flew into Bombay in their own brand-new “Air IPL” plane and helihopped to the Gateway of India.

After the now-mandatory gymnastics show by Chinese girls, songs by rapper Eminem, belly show by Shakira, Modi took the stage. He was accompanied to the stage by cheer girls of Vijay Mallya’s Royal Challengers.

After receiving a standing ovation from the glitterati, the IPL commissioner read out his vision of IPL over the next 5 years:

1. In IPL-3, three paying spectators will be ushered into their seats by their respective club’s cheer girls. A token charge of $25 or equivalent in rupees will be levied. This would generate the IPL revenue of additional $200 million.

2. There will be two breaks of 10 minutes after every 7 ½ overs. This will enable the cheer leaders to change their dress. It will also take care of complaint from spectators that they are tired of seeing the girls in the same dress for the entire duration of the match. The dressmakers will add $ 100 million to the IPL kitty every 7 ½ months.

3. IPL-4 will be held in grounds of all countries that play cricket. The host cricket boards will pay IPL a royalty of 10 million for each match. At least $200 million is expected as some matches will be played twice in a ground in one season.

4. An international cheer girls training school will be started in London before IPL5 Season. Umpire Billy Bowden will be the director. Since this is an honorary post, IPL will incur no expenses in the appointment.

5. The US cricket association wants to have IPL-7 matches in their cities. IPL will directly negotiate the media rights with CNN, ABC and NBC networks and we hope to get revenue of $ 1 billion at least. If President Barack Obama agrees to toss the coin for the inaugural match and the finals, the revenues will be doubled.

6. By the time we reach IPL-10, using stem cell research and human cloning, IPL intends to have look-alike robots for leading players like Sachin Tendulkar and Andrew Flintoff so that they don’t have to field. This also opens the door for superlative Twenty20 players of the past like Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and Sanjay Manjrekar to stage a comeback.

With his proposals now laid out, Modi threw open the floor to the media and invited the three questions.

Question 1: Mr Modi, this is regarding fielding, a term used in cricket wherein the fielders chase the ball and dive to stop the ball making it difficult for the batting side to score runs. Don’t you think that had India fielded well and their batsmen run faster between the wickets they could have easily become the No. 1 ODI team? Wasn’t the sacking of fielding coach Robin Singh inappropriate?

Modi: I don’t know what you are talking about? My guess is, you must be talking about the 2009 one- day series.  We have already moved on. I am in the 2014 IPL planning stage. I also don’t deal with the nitty-gritty of cricket administration any more.

Question 2: Mr Modi, what will happen to Test match cricket, I mean the classic cricket one plays with white pants and white shirts and a red ball for five days. It already looks dead now in 2009. I am afraid you will have to re-enter circa 2009 and answer my question.

Modi: I think the problem is with the dress. Let’s face it. How many of us wear a white pant and white shirt these days? Even while playing maidan or gully cricket? Everything has changed around. Isn’t it? We need to take a hard look at the dress and decide something on this. But again this comes under trivia.

Question 3: After planning IPL-50, Mr Modi what will you do with your time?

Modi: It is not easy organising these events in Moon or Mars. I have to make sure the logistics is just right no matter where we play.

Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Why are they Tamils? Why are they all Brahmins?

13 October 2009

A sample size of three spanning 79 years may be too small to even attempt a hypothesis.

But, thanks to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan walking away with the 2009 Nobel (after C.V. Raman in 1930 and Subramanyam Chandrasekhar in 1983), several commentators are asking why three of India’s Nobel Prize winners in science hail from Tamil Nadu—and why they are all Brahmins.

P. Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, in an interview with Shobha Warrier of rediff.com, says that there is no relation between community and scientific work, and suggests that what looks like a co-relation may be sheer coincidence; like many Nobel winners coming from a Jewish background.

Some of the salient points made by Radhakrishnan are:

# Brahmins have the benefit of cultural capital: “In a hierarchical society, cultural capital is concentrated at the top. Brahmins are at the summit of the social hierarchy. Cultural capital gets transmitted from generation to generation. Brahmins have cultural capital. The poverty of a poor Brahmin is only economic, but the poverty of an untouchable is both economic and cultural. That is the reason why where talent has to be used persistently and assiduously, Brahmins have been shining.”

# Social background of Brahmins is rich and aristocratic: “Except in Kerala, Brahmins lived an aristocratic life. Brahmins were the first to take to English education and gradually managed to monopolise it. Brahmins had a monopoly over indigenous education too. By taking to English education, they abandoned indigenous education and allowed it to have a natural death… [Except Kerala] serving society has never been part of the Brahminical mindset.”

# Brahmins picked and choose what they wanted to do: “Initially Brahmins refused to have anything to do with medical education as it involved physical contact with other castes. They took to English education and they were the first to take to literature and engineering which was not science education then. Brahmins were the “lotus eaters” and the leisure class. They had ample time to read, write and engage in cultural activities.”

***

The Nobel Prize scorecard of The Telegraph, Calcutta, reads 3-3: three Bengali Nobel Prize winners (Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Amartya Sen) versus three Tamil Nobel Prize winners. (Ronald Ross, who discovered the malaria parasite, worked in Calcutta besides Hyderabad.)

Calcutta’s spin-meisters however give the debate a more parochial edge. They take pride in the fact that their City, the capital of British India, was the cradle for science than Tamil Nadu.

Much of the research that C.V. Raman did to get the Nobel was done in Calcutta, where he spent 17 years of his life; that the genius of Srinivasa Ramanujam was discovered by a British mathematician, and that both S. Chandrashekhar and Venky Ramakrishnanan, although hailing from Tamil Nadu, did their research outside the State (and country).

But they acknowledge the balance has swung from East to South thanks to the quality of students, the quality of labs, conducive atmosphere for research, resource allocation, and the “Bose Effect”.

For years, Bengal’s gripe has been the stepmotherly treatment of the four Boses—Jagadish Bose, Satyen Bose, Subhas Bose and the cricketer Gopal Bose. The problem, scientists ay, continues  over the allocation of reseources, or refusal of it, for space technology.

“The [space technology] area has become a south Indian hegemony,” said Sandip Chakrabarti, a senior professor at the S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences. “All the institutes are located in the south, giving proximity to Sriharikota as an excuse. NASA, in contrast, has spread wings across the US. Whenever we go to seek grants for space research in eastern India, we are told there would be a clash of interests with Isro.

If tomorrow India is divided into north and south, it would take the south barely two-and-a-half days to conquer north India as it owns all our space and missile technology.

Also read: Just 4% of population but 7 Brahmins in Indian team?

Meet India’s newest toilet cleaners: the Brahmins

Brahmins, never quite top of the heap, now even lower

‘Hinduism cannot be saved without Brahminism’

Don’t blame the Nobel panel for ignoring Gandhi

12 October 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Why didn’t Mahatma Gandhi get the Nobel Peace Prize?

To answer this question, the Nobel Prize Foundation has released documents to prove to the world how hard it tried to give the Prize to Gandhi but how unlucky he was to miss it each time.

Advising against giving the Prize to Gandhi, Dr Jacob Wormuller wrote in his diary:

“He is a freedom fighter and a dictator, an idealist and a nationalist. He is frequently a Christ, but then, suddenly, an ordinary politician.”

Over the years, members of the Wormuller family have made valiant efforts to make amends and somehow land a Nobel on Gandhi. All the time, fortunately, members of the Wormuller family maintained their own dairies, the collection of which is called Worm Papers.

A spokesman of the Nobel Foundation and an authority on the Worm Papers was in India on Friday shortly after Barack Obama‘s name was announced.

***

“I am happy you are here to clarify to the world about Gandhi and the Nobel Peace Prize,” I started off.

“I am glad we have this opportunity. You are aware he was nominated in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1942 and a few days before he was assassinated in 1948?” the spokesman said.

“Yes, of course.”

“The people of India should know that since Gandhi had made it a habit of missing the Prize so many times, we at the Nobel committee had decided to track him down wherever possible and give it to him no sooner an opportunity presented itself.  Did you know we were almost ready to give him one when he came to London to attend what you people call as “Round Table”conference? A small issue of dress code came between Gandhi and the award. Gandhi was dressed in a kind of tribal dress, a single loincloth large enough for two or a mob of three. Our chairman wanted to dress like Gandhi but it would have been too much in the cold weather. He would have caught pneumonia or something.”

“No point in taking such a risk.”

“We tried again in 1942. We came to India with the medal, prize money, etc. As soon as we landed in Bombay, we found signs of “Quit India” everywhere. Gandhi had ordered the signs to be installed everywhere. I think this was the “dictator Gandhi”, Mr Wormuller was talking about. Somebody told us that Gandhi was near some water tank in Bombay. Our chairman, who always followed the rules, felt we should obey Gandhi’s commands and leave immediately. We stayed long enough to crossover from Arrival to Departure lounges. Gandhi was again unlucky.”

“No doubt.”

“Then there was the time when he marched next to the beach in Gujarat.”

“That was the Dandi March,” I added.

“Gandhi would get up early morning and although he called it a March, he would literally run off with a walking stick. All his followers had a tough time keeping pace with him. Our chairman and his deputy, who had arrived in India, dressed in shorts and jogging shoes couldn’t catch up with him even once. Also it was quite scary to go anywhere near him because of the stick he carried. This was the “militant Gandhi” the world hardly knew. They had to carry the award back.”

“It must have been terrible. Perhaps this is what Wormuller had in mind when he wrote, ‘There are sharp turns in his policies which can hardly be satisfactorily explained by his followers’.”

“I am glad you understand. He was assassinated on January 30, 1948 just two days before the closing date for peace prize nominations. See how close it was again? If only the assailant had waited for three days more?  Gandhi still got six nominations that year but the Committee did not give the award to anyone in 1948 as per its own words, ‘There was no suitable living candidate. That’s the irony of life. It was heart wrenching.”

“Very very tragic.”

“Indeed. Which is why while giving the Nobel in 1989 to the Dalai Lama, our chairman mentioned that it is in a way a part tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi. We are still not satisfied. By the way, have you seen Gandhi, the film I mean?”

“Yes. Very nice movie.”

“Our Committee has seen it more than 20 times. Every time we see a photograph of Gandhi we are reminded of Ben Kingsley! That’s why we gave Kingsley the Oscar.”

“That would have pleased Gandhi no doubt.”

“Since we couldn’t give the award to Gandhi, we started giving it to those who followed Gandhi and struggled for peace and invoked his name. That’s why we gave it to Henry Kissinger. That’s why Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin got it. I am sure Gandhi would have liked that too.”

“No doubt, as they were all apostles of peace.”

“I am glad you are able to see our point of view. We are making amends for missing out on Gandhi.”

“That’s nice to hear, but what about Obama? How did he find favour”

“We gave it to him because he mentions the Mahatma in every grand speech he gives. Since he has given so many grand speeches in just eight months, we thought giving him the Prize could inspire him to mention it every time he stands up to deliver a grand speech over the next seven years. It’s almost like buying insurance.”

Also read: Maureen Dowd: Gandhi wuz robbed

So what if he couldn’t get Chicago the Olympics

10 October 2009

unny

At least he has got the Nobel Speech Prize.

Barack Obama‘s teleprompter reads:

“Wow. What I can I say. Wow. I’m honored….  If he’d known it was this easy to win a Nobel, he would have nominated himself for the Nobel Prize for Literature years ago for his 5th Grade essay on “Raisin the Sun”. Or his yeast science project from 7th grade for the Nobel Prize for chemistry.”

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

The half-naked fakir sits next to his brothers

9 October 2009

KPN photo

On the day when yet another global leader who quotes him at the whirr of a teleprompter coolly walked away with the Nobel Prize for Peace, the latest model for Mont Blanc pens ponders his fate at Mekhri Circle in Bangalore. Should he have, like, jockeyed for the award a bit more aggressively?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does Obama deserve the Nobel?

A chemistry Nobel, yes, but what about physics?

‘I  am just a luxury pen in the left arm of Dilip Doshi’

CHURUMURI POLL: Does Obama deserve Nobel?

9 October 2009

Nine months after becoming the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, has been awarded the Nobel speech prize. Oops, make that the Nobel Peace Prize.

The announcement is so startling that his own countrymen, like the good folk at the Wall Street Journal, are asking, like, why?

“Traditionally it has been standard procedure that winners of the prize do their peacemaking first and are only given the prize after they have achieved something…  a leader can now win the peace prize for saying that he hopes to bring about peace at some point in the future,” Iain Martin writes.

Reuters reports that Obama bagged the award for giving the world the “hope for a better future”. The Norwegian Nobel committee has spoken of Obama’s “extraordinary efforts” to strengthen international diplomacy and of capturing the world’s attention, attributes designed to impress the right wing loonies.

Simple question: Does Obama deserve The Prize? Has he done anything to warrant it? Does giving it to so young a man, in the infancy of his Presidency, devalue all those who worked long and hard to earn it? Or does it not matter at all, because the Nobel is such a political prize anway (as anybody who has read Irving Wallace‘s The Prize will know), given to Yasser Arafat and Menachem Begin?

Also read: Could the media end up killing Barack Obama?

Could the media end up killing Barack Obama?

25 September 2009

Al Jazeera’s media show, The Listening Post, on how 24×7 media is dangerously inflaming passions against US President Barack Obama with lies, untruths and rhetoric—a little like the way a newspaper advertisement greeted John F. Kennedy the day he arrived in Dallas in 1963.

Also read: How global media covered Barack Obama inauguration

The media’s obsession with Obama is worrisome

Why Sachin Tendulkar is stronger than Obama (?)

11 July 2009

barack-obama-looking-at-womans-butt-500x427

indianteam

Boys will be boys even if you are the 44th president of the United States of America given to grand rhetorical flourishes. At the G-8 summit in Rome being held in the midst of a global meltdown, Barack O-bum-a looks at the “stimulus package” of a Brazilian delegate while his French counterpart Nicholas Sarkozy watches on admiringly.

At  a similar opportunity in Delhi after the Indian team won the Twenty20 World Cup in 2007, Sachin Tendulkar demonstrates why he is cut from a different cloth while his younger colleagues Robin Utthappa, Dinesh Kaarthick and Yuvraj Singh inspect the evidence.

Video evidence has cast doubts on the Obama incident but rumours that the Brazilian delegate, Mayara Tavares, was a teenager have set right wing tongues wagging.

What is Obama’s excuse likely to be?

Photograph: courtesy Jason Reed/ Reuters

Even under Obama, can India trust the US?

10 July 2009

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met US President Barack H. Obama in Italy yesterday. A new opinion poll shows that more Indians think the United States abuses its greater power in its government’s relationship with this country’s.

In the poll conducted by World Public Opinion, only one in three Indians think the US plays a positive role in the world although two out of three think Uncle Sam is cooperative with other countries.

The Indian leg of the poll was conducted by C-Voter:

“While Indians widely express confidence in Barack Obama to do the right thing in world affairs, they only lean toward seeing the US as playing a positive role in the world. Like most nations polled, Indians see the US as respectful of human rights and cooperative with other countries. However, a growing number say the US is hypocritical for promoting international laws and not following them itself, and Indians are now divided on whether the US treats their country fairly or abuses its greater power.”

# A majority (80%) says they have confidence in Barack Obama to do the right thing in world affairs.

# Half of Indians (50%) see the US as respectful of human rights and a majority (61%) believes the US is generally cooperative with other countries.

Indians are divided over whether the US treats their country fairly (45%) or abuses its greater power to get India to do what it wants (47%, up from 32% in 2008), and a majority (61%) believes the US uses the threat of military force to gain advantages.

# A majority (62%) see the US as promoting international laws for other countries but also as hypocritical because it often neglects to apply the same rules to itself (up from 51% in 2008).

# A slight majority (53%) approves of how the US is handling climate change, while 35% disapprove.

# A plurality (47%) says that the US is playing a mainly positive role in the world, while 31% see its role as mainly negative.

Read the full article: Much criticism of US foreign policy

Best-dressed man in Indian politics since Nehru?!

2 June 2009

 

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I had the fortune of eating Masale Dose around the same time that he ate his at MTR, except I ate mine at Udupi Krishna Bhavan in Chikkapete just a couple of kilometres away.

This unique experience was good enough for me wish good luck for the most well-dressed man in Indian politics after Jawaharlal Nehru and equally as well-read, India’s newest external affairs minister.

Using this badarayana sambandha, I sought Shri Krishna’s help for an interview with Timothy Roemer, the new US ambassador to India.

Roemer is a member of the Center for National Policy, member of the 9 /11 Commission, and member of the famous ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ team.

If he were in India I would have taken Roemer to MTR or Udupi Shri Krishna Bhavan, equivalent to Five Guys, for a Dose. However, he graciously agreed to do the interview over the phone.

“Congratulations, Mr Roemer, on being appointed as Ambassador,” I started off.

“Thank you. I look forward to the work ahead in India. Go on, shoot.” Ambassador Roemer was crisp and to the point.

“Mr. Ambassador, as Pakistan’s immediate neighbour, we are concerned with what’s going on in Pakistan. How do you read the situation there?”

“Well, let’s see. There is the Taliban, militant organizations like Al Qaeda and LeT, ISI, the Pakistani government, Baluchis and the tribals. What’s happening there appears to be an interplay of multiple elements operating independently or sometimes collectively but criss-crossing edgeways. This is a polynomial equation of nth degree with indeterminates floating all over and I wonder if any mathematical solution exists for this at all.  A simple answer would be: we don’t know what’s going on there. Period.”

“I thank you for the insightful clarity on the subject. The new Government under president Obama has identified ‘Good’ Taliban and ‘Bad’ Taliban. Could you elaborate on that?”

“They are similar to good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, I guess; which means you try to reduce the bad Taliban and increase the good Taliban like you do with cholesterol. But the problem is how to identify the good eggs from the bad ones? That could take years and any egg, good or bad, starts smelling after sometime making the whole package stink.”

“Your Af-Pak policy hasn’t taken off yet.”

“It has been a bit of a Fak-Ap so far, isn’t it? We coined the term as it sounded good on the ear, but we have yet to prepare the ground to bring the Afghans and Pakis together. It is quite difficult to make Pakistan agree to anything.”

“Most of the aid you have given to Pakistan has been used to buy arms. They have nothing done to stop militants acting against India from their soil.  We don’t even know who is in charge in Pakistan.”

“We face the same problem too when we want to give them money! I would advocate patience here. Patience is India’s virtue since the time of the Vedas. You must also remember they are fighting our terrorists—the Al Qaeda—with all seriousness. Pakistan gets easily upset and distracted when we mention the word ‘India’ to them. Our advice to India is:  maintain a low profile, so that Pakistan can concentrate on the job at hand.”

“Your ‘Congressional Report’ quotes Admiral Mullen saying Pakistan has stacked up 60 nukes pointing towards India and many more in the pipeline, whereas you want a low profile from India?”

“Did they publish the report? I’d be damned! Our administration has been mule-headed to make the Report public.”

“Mr Ambassador, just share with us what exactly is your policy if you have one? Fight only Al Qaeda and leave other terrorists to do as they please. Fund Pakistan to the teeth so that they stack their nuclear arsenal to fight India?”

“I wish I could answer that. Within our own administartion, there are as many indeterminate layers operating like in Pakistan. The Senate, the Congress and their congressional committees, the State department, the White House and the DOD all have a say on our policy. We have no clue who is forming the policy, what it is, and who is implementing which policy. That is what I hope to find out by the time I leave India!”

“Thank you for your illuminating replies, Mr Ambassador. We understand your policies much better now!” I replied.

Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, as chief minister, had an unsuccessful wild goose chase involving the one-man army or terrorist that was Veerappan. At MEA, I hope he has better luck fighting an army of terrorists partly sponsored by government with lavish funds from abroad.

Will he succeed in the first 100 days, say before Gokulashtami?

Photographs:  S.M. Krishna in his many moods. Top left, yesterday; right, on the day he took over as Union minister for external affairs, and bottom, during the election campaign in Karnataka last year.

‘Advani offers nothing creative, only resentment’

29 April 2009

advani

Aakar Patel does an excellent appraisal of Lalchand Kishinchand Advani in Mint, the business daily owned by the Hindustan Times group, on the basis of his memoir:

“If Advani has such a poor record on security [on Kandahar, Kargil and Gujarat], why do his supporters refer to him as strong? Sadly, this image comes from his willingness to do violence to India’s Muslims.

“Having had only eight years of executive experience, the same as the average 32-year-old, Advani has no long view. He does not understand strategy.

“He thumps his chest and warns Pakistan to behave after taking India nuclear, but is taken aback when Pakistan’s generals immediately use this as an excuse to weaponize their own programme. This has destabilized South Asia for generations.

“He opposes the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why? Because America does not treat India as “equals”. He views strategic policy through honour and emotion.

“Of his autobiography’s 48 chapters, not one is on economics. Muslims, Kashmir, terrorism, Pakistan, Musharraf, Kargil, Shah Bano, Naxalism, Godhra, Assam, Ayodhya. These are his concerns. His passion is all about what other people should not do.

“Under Advani, the BJP’s three policy thrusts were all negative: Muslims should not keep Babri Masjid; Muslims should not have polygamy; Kashmir should not have special status.

“He offers nothing creative, even to Hindus, only resentment….

***

“At the G-20 this month, London’s Financial Times put Manmohan Singh on its masthead next to Barack Obama and sent three editors to interview him. All Indians who are ashamed of the quality of our leaders must try to read this interview: www.ft.com/indepth/g20.

“First question: Do you agree with China on the failures of the global monetary regime and the case for a new reserve asset in place of the dollar?

“It’s not the question they would ask of Advani.”

Only comments from valid, verifiable email IDs will pass muster

Read the full article: Advani or Manmohan Singh?

Also read: The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred

A lifetime achievement award for L.K. Advani?

Tarun J. Tejpal on the uber babu: Manmohan Singh

A civil servant or a very civil servant?

Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Can he?

22 April 2009

americas16

The official White House caption for this picture reads, “World-famous cricket legend Brian Lara shows President Obama how to properly swing a bat”.

What would yours be?

***

Editorial in The Indian Express:

“So what does that photograph tell us? Does that determined jaw betray impatience with the paces of a game that unfolds over five days? Or does it convey parallel thoughts about how to harness America’s soft power with its own sports? Perhaps it’s just as simple as Obama concentrating as hard as a person must in the presence of a master.”

Photograph: courtesy Pete Souza/ The White House

Almost like Obama, but kinda unlike Obama, too

20 April 2009

Newsweek magazine has Mayawati on its cover in its Indian edition, calling her “The Anti-Obama“.

There are plenty of parallels, it says, between behenji and Barack: both are young, come from a long-oppressed segment of society, ar underdogs and outsiders.

“But unlike Obama, who promised a new politics that would transcend not only race but traditional ideology and corrupt Washington ways, Mayawati has built her power on demagogic class warfare. As her national ambitions have grown, she recently began reaching out to upper-caste voters—but by playing on their fears of the upwardly mobile middle castes, not by appealing to their better, caste-free angels.

“She has accumulated a suspiciously ostentatious fortune, and is dogged by corruption charges. She is admired by many Dalits, but often more for her power and jewels than for her limited accomplishments on their behalf. Her victory, if it comes, may be seen as a great leap forward for India’s oppressed—but, ironically, will end up bolstering the caste system that has kept them in chains.

“Mayawati would likely be a highly divisive national leader—an anti-Obama—and not only domestically. With his Kenyan father, Indonesian stepfather and inter- national outlook, Obama appeals across national borders and has already begun to steer the U.S. away from George W. Bush‘s unilateralism. Mayawati, by contrast, is parochial in the extreme. She almost never speaks about foreign policy, and when she does, her pronouncements are so vague as to be practically meaningless.

“And where she’s been specific, the substance is worrisome: she has decried U.S. efforts to secure Indian support for sanctions on what she’s called “our old friend Iran,” and has promised that a BSP government would renegotiate the nuclear deal India signed with Washington last fall. On trade, she’s sounded sharply protectionist notes, promising to safeguard “the interests of small shopkeepers” and “not to make any policy to benefit capitalists.” She would be—at the least—a wild card at the international summits attempting to repair global capitalism.”

Photographs: courtesy Sindh Today (left) and Weekly Standard

Read the full article: Rise of India’s caste warrior

Also read: A leader whose time has come to cross her legs?

For doyen of dalits, assets is all maya

What’s so wrong with wooing voters with sarees?

12 April 2009

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Oxford: Whoever else wins or loses in an election, saree makers, liquor manufacturers, flag and poster makers always seem to have a field couple of months during election season.

If a Sensex listed company manufactured any of these things on a large scale, you can imagine erudite analysts on CNBC telling us that the stock has just spiked on the announcement of election dates by the EC.

Every other day brings us news of so many bottles of liquor seized here, or this many sarees confiscated there. It is supposed to make us feel better that the authorities are doing their best to conduct a lawful election. Yet, I cannot shake away this unease whenever I hear the glee with which these confiscations are publicized.

For one thing, I think we should really thank elections for putting black money into circulation in the real economy. This seems a far more cost-free and efficient way to retrieve black money than penal taxation or “let’s-go-to-Switzerland” bravado.

It is a direct transfer of wealth from the incredibly haves to the desperately have-nots. What’s wrong with that?

You say liquor is bad? Sure, it is. But, we haven’t banned the trade of liquor have we (save for Gujarat)? Even if liquor is bad, what’s so bad about sarees? Or televisions? Or any other totally harmless product (like, oh say, Modi-masks) handed out by political parties during election time?

In fact, I think soon all parties will cut out the middleman altogether and just hand over bundles of notes to the voters, thus sparking a burst of economic activity that works better than any “job creation scheme”.

I don’t know about you, but this law (and its implementation) smacks of middle class paternalism where the masses are not supposed to be able to make a reasoned decision when tempted with material goods.

Apparently they should vote on the basis of, I dunno, religion maybe?

Or caste?

No, no, you say, they should vote on the basis of the manifesto, the content of the character of the candidate, the familiarity of the name, or some such noble and “democratic” ground. Of course they should, but why can’t they accept a gift or two in the process?

It’s not like any of us would stop working if we stopped getting bonuses (unless of course we are investment bankers, in which case Thank God!). If the regularity with which incumbent governments are thrown out for non-performance is any indicator, we know that the voters are not stupid or blind to such issues.

But wait, you say, you haven’t dealt with the problem of money power in elections. Surely, you point out, we don’t want elections to be determined solely by money power alone. Of course I don’t. I want elections to be determined solely on the grounds of who has the better mike throwing arm. But we all can’t have what we want all the time.

It is a fact of life that running for elections costs money. You need money to organize rallies, to get your message out to the masses, to print posters of your Photoshopped face, copies of your manifesto, and, believe it or not, getting people to come out on a holiday and cast their vote for you (obviously).

Issues are important of course, but how do you get your viewpoint across if you are not willing to spend money to tell anyone?

Let’s face facts here. The average Lok Sabha constituency size in India is more than a million voters. You need to convince at least 500,001 of them to vote for you, or even accounting for low turnout, 300,001. The current level of spending caps leaves a candidate about Rs. 2.50 per person in the constituency.

Let’s face some more facts here. The reason why crooks, liars, cheats, rapists, murderers and Pappu Yadav (who is in a category of his own) keep getting elected is not because they have a superior fund raising or spending capacity, or some secret tap of inexhaustible funds. It will not even do to blame just caste calculations since pretty much every party (except the Communists) know how to appeal to which caste (nominate a member of that caste) so they cancel each other out.

At the end of the day, it is still the refusal of middle class India to do the work that is necessary to get elected to the legislature.

The “work” is not a fancy CV or a college degree or any of the typically middle class markers of “success” (or for that matter winning a game show called �Lead India�). It involves actually being involved with the community and working with the people at the ground level.

Despite the disparaging remarks of the Republican Party, “community organizing” got Barack Obama started off as the fine politician he now is. If middle-class India refuses to contribute at ground level governance, how can it expect to be given the reins of power at the highest level?

And how will seizing truck loads of liquor or sarees get us there?


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