Posts Tagged ‘Emergency’

Modi vs Rahul? Nah, more like Sanjay vs Rajiv.

27 July 2013

VIKRAM MUTHANNA writes: Recently, I was caught in the rain and I took shelter in a teashop.

Wet, and sipping on tea, I couldn’t help but notice the chatter of two older gentlemen who were sipping, puffing and professing. They seemed involved in an animated and heated discussion and I couldn’t help myself but eavesdrop.

Just as I got close to them, the discussion ended with the older man claiming, “None of the Congress fellows today have the guts of Sanjay Gandhi. If Sanjay Gandhi was alive, India would have been in a better state. I challenge.”

All that I could think of was “If Sanjay Gandhi had been around, I doubt this man would be a father and may be the word ‘nasbandi’ would have triggered an involuntary action of cupping his crotch and running for cover. I challenge.”

But was there any truth in the old man’s claim?

This reminds me of what Sanjay Gandhi’s son Varun Gandhi said to the media: “Wherever I go people say, if Sanjay Gandhi was alive India would not be what it is today.”

What they obviously meant was that India would be in a better state.

Better, how and why?

Because Sanjay had his own vision of what India should be and was authoritarian in pursuing them?

Well… if that’s the case, then it seems like we have a modern and better version of Sanjay Gandhi in Narendra Modi. True?

Well, we’ll know after 2014; until then we’ll keep our fingers crossed… well, had it been Sanjay Gandhi’s 1977, we’d have to keep our legs crossed.

***

The Narendra Modi and Sanjay Gandhi comparison crops up because they both are known to “get things done.”

In fact, the legendary journalist Khushwant Singh put a picture of Sanjay Gandhi on the cover of Illustrated Weekly of India magazine with a headline “Sanjay, the man who gets things done.”

Today, Modi is in every middle class urban Indian’s mind, and every time they think of him they see the same hope Khushwant Singh saw: “A man who can get things done.”

Fears that Modi will become authoritarian like Sanjay and will take us to the Emergency days of gag and imprisonment could be far-fetched because they operated at different times in our democracy.

Sanjay Gandhi was trying to find quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Sanjay was a Political Rambo in a young democracy and in a hurry to see change even if it meant mowing down slums or squeezing out manhoods.

The best example would be the unplanned execution of the sterilisation programmes. People were not educated about what it was and rumours spread that it was an operation that would render women unable to bear children and men impotent.

No one came, so they were dragged out and the rest is disaster as recorded in history.

Sanjay Gandhi had a five-point programme for India: tree planting, abolition of caste and dowry system, eradication of illiteracy, family planning and eradication of slums. All of them failed.

Sanjay may have been known as a man “who got things done…,” but if only he had planned them… Unfortunately he didn’t and he became a “man who got things wrong.”

Journalist Vinod Mehta concluded his book ‘The Sanjay Story’ by saying: “Had Sanjay possessed more finesse, had he not been in such a tearing hurry, had he been slightly more intelligent, he would have become ‘the national leader’ he so wished to be.”

Seems like Modi possesses the above qualities.

Also, Modi is more educated; he has a Master’s in Political Science. Sanjay was 11th grade pass and earned a course certificate from Rolls Royce.

Modi is a smart operator who plans and delivers. Sanjay and Modi have many similarities — both obsessed with development, both inclined towards technology. Coincidentally, both helped start the first indigenous Indian cars, a venture of “Indian pride” — Maruti for Sanjay, Tata Nano for Modi. Both have an image bigger than their party itself.

More importantly, both have used their party ideology partly to put themselves in a place of power from where they can force down their own vision of development.

For example, while analysts say Modi is a Hindu fundamentalist, no one talks about how when it was brought to his notice that 310 religious structures in Gandhinagar had encroached on government roads hindering road widening, he demolished them!

First, he demolished temples. This he did in spite of VHP, his party BJP’s strong arm, taking offence. VHP formed a Mandir Bachao Samiti and screamed “development cannot be achieved by demolishing temples.”

It did not stop him. Roads were widened, to be used by all. May be he came to power on his party’s Hindu ideology, but delivered on his Indian ideology.

Yes, of course, both leaders obsessed over infrastructural delivery and industrial development model. But what about the social aspect? Can Modi handle that? After all, this is where Sanjay failed ever so miserably and Modi too is criticised for his dismal social development record.

What’s he going to do when he has to deal with the whole nation?

For now, he is the CM of Gujarat where the only distractions for its citizens are supposedly Bollywood and stock market, makes it easier to administer. He also has to ask himself if Gujarat is truly democratic, then why are people drinking stealthily in Gujarat?

Why do non-vegetarians have to go all around the town looking to buy meat?

Why have minorities suddenly huddled in silence on the outskirts of urban Gujarat?

He has to answer these questions because soon he may have to deal with the booze-enjoying Bangaloreans, bar dance-loving Mumbaites, Fenny-loving Goans, meat-loving Punjabis, all perceived as sins in the puritan Gujarat.

Then there is the Kashmir issue, not to forget environmental and mining issues where his industrial friends have been known to run riot displacing indigenous people.

All these are important social factors. So far, Modi has been enjoying a saucer of dhokla; can his political palate handle the plate full of socially psychedelic India? Only time will tell.

***

But is 2014 election really about Rahul Vs Modi? It seems more like Rajiv Vs Sanjay.

Rahul, like his father, was a hesitant entrant to politics whereas Modi, like Sanjay, relishes it. Rahul plays by the rules set up by the old fogies in the party; Modi, like Sanjay, is feared in his own party for having a mind of his own.

Rahul, like Rajiv, perpetually seems like a political misfit; Modi, like Sanjay, looks like he was born to be in it.

Unfortunately, both have a disturbing streak of authoritarian model of work. This is where fear sets in and that’s why Vinod Mehta, comparing Modi and Sanjay said: “Narendra Modi type of leadership has a tendency to descend into authoritarian one-man rule.” Warning taken.

But even if the dark side of Sanjay manifests in Modi, is it possible to execute it in the 21st century democratic India where we have a hyperactive media, huge young population and technology at our fingertips? We doubt it.

Sadly in a way, the Indian middle-class is actually looking for an authoritarian leader.

They have tolerated a muted, submissive, incommunicado PM heading a government of inaction for so long that they seem ready to risk an authoritarian leader who can “get things done.” They feel Modi will get things done and if he doesn’t, they can always go back to the good old Indian National Comatose Party.

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

When Fernandes tried to blow up Vidhana Soudha

4 January 2013

Like him or loathe him, there is no ignoring U.R. Anantha Murthy. As an academic, as a writer and as a public intellectual, URA has towered over the political, social and linguistic landscape for more than half a century.

In post-liberalised India and in post-IT Karnataka, Meshtru (as URA is known to friends, foes, friends turned foes and foes turned friends) has tilted bravely and unceasingly at the windmills, taking up unfashionable causes that Mammon had stubbed out.

Now, the indefatigable Anantha Murthy is penning his memoirs, throwing fresh light on a long and colourful life among letters. Excerpts:

***

By U.R. ANANTHA MURTHY

We accept many beliefs without questioning them, and start propagating them. It is possible here to be a revolutionary and a part of the establishment at the same time.

When the Congress declared an Emergency, the CPI helped them along. One could simultaneously be a communist and a supporter of the ruling Congress.

Most Indian intellectuals are like that.

In those days (the 1970s), if you asked those talking revolution whether they would like to visit the US or the USSR, they would choose the first. That’s because there was no warm water in the Soviet Union. No room heaters either.

India’s biggest problem is hypocrisy. It has taken root deeper than we imagine.

When the Janata Party came to power in Karnataka in 1983, many of us found it possible to balance out our lofty principles with our proximity to authority. It is difficult to proclaim that our actions were free of selfish motives.

A good number who came looking for me, in the knowledge that I was close to Ramakrishna Hegde and J.H. Patel, no longer remain my friends. Thanks to my obliging nature, I became a vehicle for their vested interests.

I didn’t touch any money, but I am troubled that I watched corrupt acts without saying a word. A mind that hesitates to say what must be said becomes corrupt. The Janata alliance that took on Indira Gandhi was the creation of an affluent class.

***

Meeting George Fernandes

Before the Emergency was imposed, I had written a review of the novel Gati Sthiti (Progress and Reality) by Giri.

I received a huge envelope by post some days after the publication of my review. It contained another review of the book, and criticised some of my observations. I couldn’t figure out who had written it. The letter was in Kannada and English.

“Come and meet me in Bangalore at once,” it said.

I guessed it was from George Fernandes.

He had tried to organise a massive railway strike before the Emergency, and failed. The police were looking for him, but he had slipped away. All the other big leaders of the time were already in jail.

Shivarama Karanth told me: “Only those who have participated in the 1942 movement might know what to do in these difficult times. George is a follower of Jayaprakash Narayan, isn’t he? He must be active in the underground movement.”

It occurred to me that I should contact my friend Pattabhirama Reddy and Snehalata in Bangalore. They were inspired by the socialist leader Rammanohar Lohia, and had turned my novel Samksara into a film.

When I met him, Pattabhi took the envelope from me, winked, and said, “I will take you to George secretly”.

The two of us got into a car one evening. “Good not to know where you are going. Blindfold yourself. Even if the police torture you, you shouldn’t be able to tell them where you met George,” he said.

We drove for 45 minutes, and reached a decrepit church.

We walked into a dark room.

George was sitting on a cot. He was unrecognisable. He had grown his hair and beard long. I went up to him and touched him. He embraced me. George’s younger brother Lawrence came in. He looked older than George. He had a lunch box in his hand.

As we sat talking about his family and mine, worms kept dropping on us from the roof of the church. George was pulling out the palmer worms and scratching himself all through our conversation. He gave me a mission with these points:

Snehalata had to go to a rarely used lavatory in Vidhana Soudha. Making sure no one was around, she had to explode a bomb at night. I had to provide some young men to help her. The explosion had to bring down a portion of the Vidhana Soudha, but not kill anyone.

Our objective was to hassle the government, and not to inflict violence on anyone. The government was convinced it could get away with anything, and people wouldn’t protest. If such subversive incidents took place every now and then, the frightened citizens would feel reassured something was afoot to dislodge the government. It was our duty to protect the people’s will to resist. We had to find a bridge there, and a government building here, and bring them down with dynamite.

If none of this was possible, my friends and I had to undermine the government in the manner of those who had resisted Nazism in Hitler’s Germany. We had to drop burning cigarette stubs into post boxes. That would force the government, as it had in Germany, to post a constable at every post box.

We returned after this conversation. I blindfolded myself even on the way back.

A constable always stood guard at the toilet, making it impossible to place a bomb at the Vidhana Soudha. I returned to Mysore, and with friends like Devanoor Mahadeva, tried to drop cigarette stubs into the post boxes. The stubs burnt themselves out without causing any damage.

George showed the same courage as Subhas Chandra Bose, and is a big hero of our times. We believed he was fit to become prime minister. But what happened to him later is unpalatable.

He never became corrupt for money, but he went to Gujarat after the violence, and came away as if nothing had happened. I could never understand this. Perhaps the desire to remain in power had corrupted his revolutionary mind.

The central minister who refused police escort has now lost his memory, and lies in bed.

***

Esther and home tuitions

My wife was a little girl with two plaits when I saw her as a student in Hassan. She came over to my house for tuitions. When she sang a film song at some event, it brought tears to my eyes. She sings well even today.

I had given her class an assignment: ‘Describe someone you like or dislike.’ She had written about me, and made fun of my style of teaching and gestures. The girl with plaits who could write this way about her lecturer had ignited my curiosity and interest.

The first door of my romantic world opened when I realised she could speak about me with such abandon. I didn’t want a girl who’d adore me; I wanted a companion. I fell in love with the girl who came to me on the pretext of taking tuitions. She was then just 16 or 17. I developed no physical intimacy with her. She was at an age when she didn’t know enough about the world’s ways, or about rights and wrongs. She interacted with me in all innocence. When she invited me over to her house, I felt I was entering another world.

Esther was one among many students who came for tuitions. While the others paid me a fee, Esther gave me her guileless love.

In those days, I liked keeping fish. A student had brought me some fish, which I had placed in a glass bowl. I was often lost in watching their movements. This would make Esther livid. “What are you doing there? Can’t you come here and do some lessons?” she would snap. She was outspoken even in those days.

My sister wasn’t married yet. I knew it would be difficult to find her a bride if I married out of caste. I had to wait a long time even after I had decided to marry Esther.

I went to Mysore after teaching for some years in Hassan. My mother was with me then. When she came to know about my relationship with Esther, she was disturbed. She would suddenly lose consciousness and slump to the ground. She would also complain about some pain.

When we took her to a doctor, he diagnosed it as a mental illness. She was tormented during this period. As a little boy, when she went to the hills for her ablutions in the morning, I would scream, “Amma, are you dead or what?” and keep crying till she called back.

Her agony on my account was something I could not take. I was distressed.

***

Death of my mother

My mother died in September 1995. A month before her death, I had taken a break from my work, and shifted to my brother’s house in Shimoga, where she was bed-ridden. Initially, she was conscious, but towards the end, she lay unconscious most of the time.

I used to sit by her side, talking, while she was still conscious. Anil was her favourite son. Being a doctor, he had fitted her with pipes and tubes, and struggled round the clock to keep her alive.

One day, I told him, “Let’s not keep her alive this way. Take away those things.”

I had gathered the courage to tell him that, and Anil needed the confidence. He did as suggested. I sat by my mother, held her hand, uttered a prayer, and said, “Everything is all right. You may go.”

Since she knew about Esther, I guessed she was apprehensive I wouldn’t conduct her last rites, and said, “I will take the initiative and perform all your rites.”

She left us a couple of days later. I couldn’t sit on the floor, so I broke convention and sat on a stool. I performed her rites with my brothers, trying all the while to understand the mantras.

My mother treated everyone with affection, but had never given up her ritual sense of purity. She was not a modern shy about her Brahmin caste, or rather, her sub-caste.

When she heard the Pejawar swamiji had visited a Dalit colony, she was bewildered. I congratulated him as I felt he was capable of influencing my mother.

Oblivious of the depth of such beliefs, my fellow-writers ridiculed me. Such intellectuals have no desire to change the thinking of people like my mother. My mother wouldn’t give up her caste, but believed taking vows and praying to Muslim holy men would cure children of certain ailments.

***

The house that started a row

I didn’t have a house of my own. I applied for one in Mysore. Poet Krishna Alanahalli took me to someone he knew and said, “Give our teacher a site.”

He did. The site was like a lane. “I don’t want it,” I said.

Krishna took me back to the official and said, “Not this one, give him another.” I got another site. Krishna liked me a lot, and said I should keep the first one, too. Afraid I would give in to temptation, I wrote a letter returning the earlier site. Krishna laughed at my foolishness.

By then, I had decided to move from Mysore to Bangalore. Award-winners are entitled to sites, and I got one during chief minister Veerappa Moily‘s time. It was a good plot, opposite a park.

Since we were about to come away from Mysore, I thought it would be better if we could get a house instead. When I mentioned this to my friend J.H. Patel, then chief minister, he said he would allot me a house in a colony originally meant for NRIs who could pay in dollars. I live in this house now.

Once the house was sanctioned, I returned my site.

Several people, under P. Lankesh‘s leadership, pounced on me, ignoring the fact that I had returned the site. A story first appeared in Lankesh Patrike. My utterly emotional and dear friend G.K. Govinda Rao demonstrated against me.

I wrote to Patel, requesting him to take back the house and give me the site again.

He tore up my letter and said, “Everything is legal, whatever people might say. If you don’t want this house, there’s another in my name. Shall I get it registered in your name?” I declined. Many articles appeared in the papers.

After some time, my detractors began to see the truth. Lankesh called up my house one day and asked Esther, “May I visit you?” She said, “Ask him,” and handed me the phone. I called him over. He arrived with a friend.

Esther went out of the house the moment he stepped in. I got some tea made for him. “Saw the new house?” I said. He replied, without any embarrassment, “Never mind, Ananthamurthy. All that’s over now.” He didn’t say another word about it.

We try to show our integrity through our prejudices. I don’t like this practice, among Kannada writers, of flaunting their integrity. We must hide our integrity, like we hide our love.

My friend B.S. Achar was struck by cancer. Lankesh wrote about it in his paper and announced he was giving him some money. Achar was disgusted. He returned the money. It didn’t occur to Lankesh, whose aim was publicity, to reflect if it was all right to write in his paper about his own acts of charity.

***

The modernist debate

Our discussions at Coffee House with Gopalakrishna Adiga inspired many of my writings. We lived in a world of our own, amidst the shared coffee and cigarettes. We were busy ushering in modernism in literature when a juke box, which we thought of as a symbol of modernism, arrived at Coffee House.

Attracted by its loud music, young people thronged the cafe. Modernity had snatched away the comfortable cane chairs that encouraged discussions about modernism.

We went to the parks, looking for space under the trees. Without coffee, our discussions lost their charm. We didn’t have money for beer at the pubs. And in any case, Adiga wouldn’t drink even though he was a modernist!

Translated by S.R. Ramakrishna

Excerpted from Suragi, U.R. Ananthamurthy’s autobiography, due for release soon

***

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: The U.R. Anantha Murthy interview

The mahaan elastic buddhijeevi of the year?

CHURUMURI POLL: Smooth, smart, stupid?

URA: A people’s manifesto for the 2008 elections

Is Anantha Murthy‘s Samskara a little too sexy?

URA: ‘India is the loser if Hindus become communal’

A sacrificial pawn on Yediyurappa’s chess board

11 July 2012

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: Jagadish Shettar, who has been catapulted to the position of chief minister-designate in Karnataka, has been nothing but a political pawn in the game of political chess being played by the scam-tainted B.S. Yediyurappa.

He got a break in 1994 when, as a low-level party functionary, he was asked to take on Basavaraj Bommai, son of the former chief minister, S.R. Bommai, in the Hubli rural assembly constituency, a bastion of Janata Dal.

It was an impossible task by any standard for novice in politics like Shettar but he pulled it off thanks to the afterglow of the controversy over hoisting the national flag at Idgah Maidan, which had been carefully orchestrated by the BJP and had hogged national attention.

Shettar’s role in the controversy was of a subsidiary nature but he emerged a giantkiller thanks to the BJP strategy, and the hand of Yediyurappa was clearly seen in the gamble.

After that, what aided Shettar’s rise was the manipulative politics that Yediyurappa played to keep his rivals at bay inside the party. A one-term legislator like Shettar overnight became a leader of opposition in the Karnataka assembly, superseding many of the seniors in 1999.

The vacancy had been caused because of the shock defeat of Yediyurappa in his home constituency, Shikaripur. Yediyurappa was averse to the post going to anybody else, with senior leaders like B.B. Shivappa, former state party present from Hassan, being one of the main aspirants.

Yediyurappa preferred a rank junior like Shettar, who would be able to keep the seat warm when he would enter the assembly again, which he did in the next elections in 2004. Shettar quietly paved way for Yeddyurappa assuming the role of the Leader of the Opposition once again.

But in 2004 a new situation arose.

The post of the party president fell vacant with the incumbent Basavaraj Patil Sedam demitting his office after the expiry of the term. And Yediyurappa once again plumped for his trusted understudy and as a consequence Shettar moved up one more notch to become the state party president.

In the coalition government which BJP formed in 2006 with the Janata Dal (Secular), Shettar became a minister for the first time.

Shettar, who had seen the benefits of being faithful and friendly with Yediyurappa, soon experienced the latter’s ire. Thus, Shettar was deliberately denied a berth in the first full-fledged BJP government in 2008.

Shetttar sulked publicly and chose to stay away from the swearing-in ceremony when the national leadership of the BJP had descended on Bangalore to witness the historic occasion of the BJP opening its account in the South of the Vindhyas.

Thanks to the intervention of the national leadership, Yediyurappa, who had firmly set his foot against giving a ministerial berth to Shettar, was prevailed upon to make him the Assembly Speaker. Shettar was initially reluctant to accept but had to do so since there was no alternative.

What he did as Speaker is history.

He played a key role in “Operation Kamala” engineered by Yediyurappa with the connivance of the Reddy group of ministers to entice the opposition legislators into BJP with a view to help party gain majority on its own in the 224 member assembly.

He exercised the powers vested in him as Speaker in favour of Yediyurappa by quickly accepting the resignations submitted by the aspirants from the opposition much to the discomfiture of Congress and the JDS, in a manner reminiscent of what Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed did in the seventies in signing Indira Gandhi‘s proclamation of Emergency, despite the procedural flaws in the move.

On two occasions, Shettar very nearly became the Chief Minister but for Yediyurappa.

During the open rebellion by the Reddy group, Shettar emerged as their chosen candidate to replace Yediyurappa.

Later when Yediyurappa had to step down from office in the wake of his indictment by Lok Ayukta, Yediyurappa was unwilling to accept Shettar’s candidature as his successor and got him defeated by forcing the election at the legislature party meet.

Twice bitten, Shettar, who had in the meantime become Minister, was unwilling to take a risk this time. He made up with Yediyurappa as a consequence of which he was considered an apt replacement for D.V. Sadananda Gowda whom Yediyurappa was hell bent on pulling down and helped Shettar to make his dream come true.

A daunting task awaits Shettar as he steps into his new role. The party is a shambles; its image has taken a battering because .of the internecine quarrels and has a fresh election to face in less than ten months.

It remains to be seen how a grateful Shettar would oblige his friend turned foe turned friend, Yediyurappa, in his new avatar.  He has  two options left. He can hang on to the umbilical chord of Yediyurappa and kowtow to his every whim and fancy, especially in shielding him from the maze of the legal cases surrounding him.

If he wants to cut away the chord Shettar risks the fate that awaited his predecessor Sadananda Gowda, who as a friend-turned foe of Yediyurappa made it to the chair of the Chief Minister but lost it in 11 months.

File photograph: Jagadish Shettar with his wife Shilpa (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: Why ‘Oye Lucky‘ could be Jagadish Shettar‘s film

India 2012: happier and more relaxed than 1975?

18 May 2012

Media freedom in India id est Bharat has never been a more scarce commodity than in the year of the lord 2012.

The fourth estate is under concerted attack from all three pillars of our democracy—the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Organisations mandated to protect media freedom (like the press council of India) are happily chomping its heels. Every day the sound of some distant door closing echoes through the internet chamber.

On top of it all, or because of it all, the sparks of public cynicism about the media and its practitioners (thanks to paid news, private treaties, medianet, and this, that and the other) has become a wildfire, its faceless flames licking the very hand that feeds. Regulation and self-regulation is the mantra on every lip.

(Why, supposedly courageous practitioners of journalism themselves don’t hesitate to intimidate those who expose their warts.)

The illiberalism, the intolerance, the control-freakery that have become a part of the accepted discourse in 21st century India was most evident last week when parliament—the so-called temple of democracy—committed the ultimate sacrilege: a Harvard-trained poet agreeing to remove newspaper and magazine cartoons from school textbooks because they could hurt the fragile egos of faceless mobs back where they go out with their bowls every five years.

The ostensible provocation was a 1949 cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar, the Constitution framer and Dalit icon, drawn by P. Shankar Pillai, the legendary cartoonist, in his now-defunct magazine Shankar’s Weekly that had been included in an NCERT textbook in 2006.

But it was clearly a smokescreen to sneak in the scissors to cut out all cartoons about all politicians in all textbooks.

Shankar’s Weekly shut down on 31 August 1975, the very year Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, on whose back rode a beast called Censorship.

In circa 2012, as her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi thumped the desk when Kapil Sibal eloquently ushered in Censorship without the formal proclamation of Emergency, it’s useful to go through Shankar Pillai’s farewell editorial, which shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

***

FAREWELL

“We started with an editorial 27 years ago. We will end with another.

“The world was different in 1948. The Cold War had not taken the sinister overtones that it later did. The atom bomb was in our midst and there was scare of war. But there was no apprehension that life would be wiped out from the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

“The United States was riding high with sole possession of the atom bomb. Communism was to be rolled back by its strength and Time magazine’s brave words. But monolithic communism was already breaking up. In 1946 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform.

“Less than a year after Shankar’s Weekly was born, Mao Tse-tung took over mainland China, for ever changing the dimensions of international affairs. While Europe was still struggling to get over the aftermath of a ruinous war, Asia stood up for the first time as independent entity.

“Soon after Africa emerged from colonial darkness. The old imperialisms watched uneasily at Bandung and Afro-Asian solidarity. Perhaps there was something in Nehru’s non-alignment after all.

“The world of today is very different. The Cold War is still there but played according to already laid ground rules usually. West Europe has been integrated in a sense, although the sense of nationalism is still strong. Africa by and large has not steadied itself except in one or two countries.

“White supremacy is still unchallenged in South Africa and Rhodesia. Asian politics has become uncertain largely due to Sino-Soviet rivalry. Latin America seethes with unrest, but the CIA and multi-nationals are trying to contain discontent. Economically, the world is somewhat better off than 27 years ago despite runaway inflation and drought and so on. But the quality of human life cannot be said to have shown any qualitative change.

“This is what brings us to the nub of the matter. In our first editorial we made the point that the our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion.

“Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof. From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer.

“Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-cartoonists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language.

“It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and such-like.

“What is worse, human imagination seems to be turning to the macabre and the perverse. Books and films are either on violence or sexual deviations. Nothing seems to awaken people except unpleasant shocks. Whether it is the interaction of the written word and the cinema on society or not, society reflects these attitudes. Hijackings, mugging in the dark, kidnappings, and plain murder are becoming everyday occurrences and sometimes lend respectability by giving it some kind of political colouration.

“But Shankar’s Weekly is an incurable optimist. We are certain that despite the present situation, the world will become a happier and more relaxed place. The spirit of man will in the end overcome all death dealing forces and life will blossom to a degree where humanity will find its highest purpose discharged.

“Some call this God. We prefer to call it human destiny. And on that thought we bid you good-bye and the best of luck.”

Published on Sunday, 31 August 1975

Hat tip: D.D. Gupta

Image: A facsimile of the front cover of Shankar’s Weekly

Has anti-defection law strangled our democracy?

2 January 2012

From left, Ganesh Karnik, Sandeep Shastry, C.V. Madhukar, P.G.R. Sindhia

GAGAN KRISHNADAS writes from Bangalore: The centre for public policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM-B), recently organised a conference titled “Strengthening Institutions, Enhancing Governance”.

It  provided an opportunity for politicians to share the stage and their thoughts with academics and researchers about the changing role of elected representatives and its implications for legislative institutions.

P.G.R. Sindhia from the Janata Dal (Secular) and Captain Ganesh Karnik of the BJP represented the political class, while Prof Sandeep Shastri and C.V. Madhukar represented the academics.

It was interesting to see how people within politics and out of it viewed the proposition:

***

P.G.R. Sindhia of the JDS divided the political history of modern India into three distinct phases.

“In the first phase between 1950s to the 1970s, we had politicians who were role models, like Sardar Patel et al. They had complete knowledge of the country and their constituencies. The expectation of the people from these leaders was constructive community matters, not individual gains. People also had faith in these leaders and not to forget, we also had a stable government.

“In the second phase between 1970s and 1990s, we could see that the people were disappointed that their expectations had been belied. They voted against the Congress and we saw coalition governments coming into power and small political parties taking birth. Though I am totally against Indira Gandhi and was a part of the movement against Emergency, I have huge respect for her. She enthused the people with the 20-point programme and her Garibi Hatao scheme. She was able to gain the confidence of the masses with land reforms which was followed in Karnataka too by Devaraj Urs.

“In the third and the present phase between 1990s and 2011, the people have totally lost their faith in their leaders. People are disillusioned with elected representatives. Due to globalisation, the availability of money to the political parties has increased. Now, people expect money and personal favours from their elected representatives. Our MLAs most of the time are busy attending marriages, funerals and birthday parties.

“During my first election in 1983, Ramakrishna Hegde and H.D. Deve Gowda asked me contest and I won as a result of the anti-incumbency factor. I hardly spent Rs 30,000 and my supporters spent about Rs 1.5 lakh. My caste is microscopic in Karnataka and I did not win on the basis of caste at any time. I have defeated stalwarts like Deve Gowda and M.V. Rajasekharan. My winning margin used to be as high as 50,000 votes. When I contrast it with the year 2004, I spent about Rs 1.25 crore, but my majority was just a few thousands. Money and muscle power rule the politics today. To curb this, we need strong laws and it needs to be implemented through the Election Commission. Democracy is the best form of governance for our country and we need to strengthen it.”

C.V. Madhukar, founder and director of PRS Legislative Research, had his own take on what has failed Indian democracy.

He said that the anti-defection law introduced in 1985 was responsible for destroying state legislatures. He said that, from 1950s upto 1989, we had a maximum of 14-15 political parties. After the introduction of anti-defection law, the number of political parties had reached a peak.

Madhukar said that Indian legislative institutions were suffering because of four reasons:

a. The anti-defection law has silenced independent voices within a political party.

b. The poor participation of our legislators in the house.

c. Lack of adequate and expert research support to the legislators on various matters.

d. While the role of legislators is primarily to make laws, oversee working of the government and represent the voters, what they do in reality are the petty works of their constituencies and their supporters.

He said that during the 14th Lok Sabha, 1,400 documents were tabled. It was impossible for a member of Parliament to go through all the documents. He lamented that when an MP goes to the Parliament library and seeks for material on a particular subject matter, what he gets are the newspaper clippings from the last 60 days.

Madhukar asked: “Should our policy should be based purely on the opinion of a few newspapers?”

Captain Ganesh Karnik of the BJP read out the preamble of our Constitution and asked how many of these aspirations had been fulfilled.

There are three categories of voters. The first category whose choices are fixed; the second category who are intellectuals and vote on the basis of issuesl; the third category are the ones whose votes can be bought by the politicians. Unfortunately, the voters in third category are the ones who play the decisive role in every election.

There is a need to educate this section of voters. Though it is not the role of a legislator to go for marriages, birthday parties and do personal favours such as transfers; he is bound to perform these functions since these are the very people who have elected him and they expect him to do so!

Sandeep Shastri, the pro chancellor of Jain University, negated the views put forward by the politicians, Sindhia and Karnik, that the people voted on the basis of money alone.

Empirical research suggests that contestants who spent the highest amount of money never always win the elections.

Politicians have been in power all these years and they had all power to make changes in laws, change the mindsets of the people, yet they had failed.

At the end of the session, it was clear that the two politicians blamed the people for taking money for voting; the researcher blamed the lack of expert research support to leaders which failed them in taking proper decisions; and the academician said money power alone doesn’t work and that politicians themselves were responsible for the bad state of affairs.

Who do you think is right or wrong? Or do we need to take a holistic view and say that each group is responsible for the failure of our democracy?

(Gagan Krishnadas is a post-graduate student at National Law School of India University, Bangalore)

CHURUMURI POLL: Too much democracy in India?

4 December 2011

The ultimate irony of the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s statement in New Delhi last Friday—that India would have clocked much higher rates of growth than China had it been “slightly less democratic“—is that only in a democracy like ours could he have said so. Had he advocated “slightly less dictatorial” policies in a benign dictatorship (say, of the sort he headed or the one that exists in China) he would have been behind bars by now. Q.E.D.

Mahathir is not the first, nor alone, in seeing democracy as an impediment, not as an enabler, in the path to untrammelled growth that industrialists, businessmen, economists (and not a few politicians) are enamoured of. The former Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew, the presiding political deity in the “Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka” , has often said that “western concepts” of democracy and human rights won’t work in Asia.

“With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries…What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural backround, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient,” Lee is quoted as saying in a 1992 speech.

All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that “We, the People” do not know best, and that they, the leaders, are somehow the repository of all wisdom. Which is all very well if you are running countries the size of Malaysia and Singapore, but India? Indeed, positing government by the people against China’s growth in the absence of it, and pining for a “benevolent dictator” is the favourite sport of those tired of corruption, delays, bureaucracy, etc.

It can also be safely concluded that it is this very lot which thinks a) that things would have been far better if the British were still around, b) that Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency, all things considered, was a good thing for India at the time, and c) that Narendra Damodardas Modi is the next best thing.

And so it goes, that had “reformer” Manmohan Singh not been weighed down by the tugs and pulls of coalition politics, the FDI in retail decision would have sailed through. That the Lavasa lake district project in Maharashtra, the Vedanta mining project in Orissa and the Koodankulam nuclear power plant project in Tamil Nadu would not have been held up at the altar of public opinion. And so on and so forth.

The problem with this view is that it democracy is seen only as a means to an economic end; everything is a slave to numbers.

At the other end of the spectrum are the likes of Arundhati Roy, who believe that contrary to the Mahathir Mohamads and Lee Kuan Yews, India in fact is no democracy at all; that having elections every five years do not make a democracy. Which claim again, like Mahathir’s, is loaded with irony because she would have never been able to say so were India not a democracy.

Three and a half years ago, the veteran editor and author T.J.S. George wrote on churumuri:

“There is nothing that China has achieved which others cannot. The difference is that China has the national will to achieve it, and the leadership to turn that will into action. We may say that the authoritarian system facilitates quick execution of plans unlike in a democracy.

“Is that an argument we want to push when authoritarianism is so palpably constructive as it is proving in China, and democracy so chaotic as it has become in India?”

Questions: do we have too much democracy? Or too little? Is democracy becoming a hurdle to India’s growth and development? Is listening to all the “stakeholders” such a bad thing?

External reading: How to run a very b-i-g country by world’s greatest expert on everything

‘Arun Shourie: a Hindu, right-wing pamphleteer’

3 October 2011

There are few more polarising figures in Indian journalism than Arun Shourie.

For many of his professional peers, he is everything a journalist should not be: a wonky-eyed, hired gun of the Hindu right, selectively and deviously using facts to push its ideological and political agendas.

Arrogant, intolerant, abusive, dictatorial, .

For multitudes more, he is the proverbial Sancho Panza, tilting at the windmills of political correctness, shining light on the dark corners of Indian political and business life, with his exposes and editorials.

Saying it like it is, without fear or favour.

In his just released memoirs, Ink in my Veins, the veteran editor Surendra Nihal Singh, who was Shourie’s boss at the Indian Express, dismisses Shourie as a pamphleteer who thought “a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office… and used journalism to achieve his political ambitions.”

***

By S. NIHAL SINGH

My experience with Arun Shourie was not happy.

To begin with, he had got used to doing pretty much what he wanted because S. Mulgaonkar [who Nihal Singh replaced as Express editor at his recommendation] had been ailing for long and usually made only a brief morning appearance to do an edit if he felt like it.

To have to work with a hands-on editor who oversaw the news and editorial sections was an irksome burden for Shourie.

Our objectives collided.

My efforts were directed to making the Express a better paper, while he was basically a pamphleteer who was ideologically close to the Hindu right. Even while he oversaw a string of reporters’ stories, which drew national attention (for which he claimed more credit that was his due), his aim was to spread the message.

Goenka himself could be swayed by Hindu ideology. In one instance, he sent me a draft editorial from Madras full of all the cliches of the Hindu right. One of Goenka’s men in the southern city was S. Gurumurthy, a sympathiser of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a pro-Hindu organisation.

The issue was the mass conversion of Harijans to Islam at Meenakshipuram (in Tamil Nadu) in June 1981. I put two and two together and it added up to Gurumurthy’s handiwork. I threw the editorial into the waste-paper basket. And I did not hear a word about it from Goenka.

Shourie exploited his proximity to Goenka to terrorise the reporters and subeditors. As executive editor, he was the No.2 man in the editorial hierarchy but often assumed the airs of a prima donna. His office being twice as large as the editor’s room and far better furnished always puzzled me.

Shourie believe that rules were made for others, and our clash began when he took umbrage over my cutting his extensive opinion piece to conform to the paper’s style. On one occasion, I had to spike a piece he had written on Indira Gandhi, in language unbecoming of any civilised newspaper.

In an underhand move, he quietly sent it to the magazine section, printed in Bombay, without inviting a censure from Goenka.

To a professional journalist, some of Shourie’s arguments sound decidedly odd. He declared, “When an editor stops a story, I go and give it to another newspaper. I am no karamchari [worker] of anybody’s. Whether I work in your organisation or not, I really look upon myself as a citizen or first as a human being, and then as a citizen, and as nothing else. If I happen to work for Facets [a journal in which his extensive piece appeared as its January-February 1983 issue], I will still behave the same way. If you use my happening to work for you as a device to shut my mouth, I’ll certainly shout, scream, and kick you in the shins.”

Shourie told the same journal that he had no compunction in mixing his editorial and managerial function ‘because the Indian Express is in an absolutely chaotic state. Ther is no management worth the name. Anyone wanting to help it must also help solve the management problems.’

To give him his due, Shourie had many good qualities. He was a hard worker and often did his homework before writing. However, we could never agree on the paper’s outlook because, for him, a newspaper was a stepping stone to politics and political office.

For me the integrity of a newspaper was worth fighting for.

Goenka swayed between these points of view. He used to tell me: ‘Not even five per cent readers look at the editorials.’ He called Frank Moraes, a distinguished former editor of the Indian Express, ‘my race horse’. Shourie he once described to me as a ‘two-horse tonga‘ (horse carriage).

Shourie later distinguished himself in the political field under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); he even Goenkaachieved the position of a cabinet minister. In effect, he successfully employed journalism to achieve his political ambition.

***

(Editor of The Statesman, The Indian Express and The Indian Post, Surendra Nihal Singh served in Singapore, Islamabad, Moscow, London, New York, Paris and Dubai. He received the International Editor of the Year award in 1978 for his role as editor of The Statesman during the Emergency)

(Excerpted from Ink in my Veins, A life in Journalism, by S. Nihal Singh, Hay House, 308 pages, price Rs 499)

Also read: Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie: ‘Intolerant, abusive, dictatorial’

How Arun Shourie became Express editor

Arun Shourie: The three lessons of failure

Is UPA hitting back at media for Anna coverage?

19 September 2011

There has been plenty of buzz in recent days that the Congress-led UPA government has quietly begun hitting back at the media for the manner in which it has exposed the scams and scandals, and for the proactive manner in which it backed the middle-class led “Arnab Spring” under Anna Hazare.

There have been rumours, for instance, of the Union information and broadcasting ministry actually proposing a ceiling on the number of minutes a news channel can show a specific news event and so on. Now, as if to show that the messenger is indeed being wilfully targetted, these two stories have emerged in the last two days.

Exhibit A: Nora Chopra‘s item in The Sunday Guardian (above), which talks of the government making things difficult for cross-media groups like The Times of India and India Today.

Exhibit B: DNA editor Aditya Sinha‘s column, in which he links a 10-day stoppage of government advertisements to his “mass-circulating” paper to the paper’s stand in the Anna Hazare episode.

“We advised ad-sales to seek an appointment with I&B minister Ambika Soni. It was a pleasant surprise when the ad-sales executives immediately got a slot to meet the minister.

“Soni was pleasant enough. She told our guys she was unaware of any DAVP action; but in any case the government was rationalizing the flow of ads to English and language newspapers.

“Her body language, according to the ad-sales team, suggested otherwise. And then, during a general chat about the newspaper, she came to the point: she said that DNA ought to look at its coverage over the past few weeks and introspect….

Soni’s statement led us to infer that our Anna Hazare coverage was being punished by a suspension of government ads, and that Soni met our ad executives just to ensure the point was driven home.”

For the record, a point Sinha artfully sidesteps, DNA has been in the government’s crosshairs for an incendiary and imbecilic column written by the Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy after the July 13 bomb blasts in Bombay.

For the record, DNA is part-owned by Subhash Chandra‘s Zee group, some of whose journalists (present and past) played a key role in the media management of Hazare’s fast.

And, also for the record, Ambika Soni traces her Congress origins to Sanjay Gandhi, whose role in ushering in press censorship during the Emergency in 1975, has been long documented.

Image: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Read the full piece: Ambika Soni‘s arm-twisting

Also read: How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

Is the Indian Express now a pro-establishment newspaper?

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: Bharat Ratna for Anna Hazare?

16 August 2011

For months, a country utterly lacking in genuine heroes has been desperately groping around to find somebody, anybody, deserving of the nation’s highest civilian honour. The name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is on most lips, not least because he does something very well which many understand, because his stellar feats will never ever be repeated by anybody who ever plays the great game again, and because everybody loves a winner.

But Sachin is still 38. Sure, he hasn’t put a foot wrong in his long, luminous career, but he has a lifetime ahead of him and he might yet do many things after hanging up his boots that might take the sheen off the Bharat Ratna to everybody’s regret. Moreover, decorating a sportsman who has doubtless provided hundreds of hours of entertainment to millions but changed nobody’s life but his own and that of his family is fraught.

Allow us therefore to propose an alternate, unlikely Maharashtrian: Kisan Baburao Hazare.

At 74, Anna Hazare, as the small man who speaks Bambaiyya like Sachin might when he is that old is known, is not everybody’s favourite public figure, especially of those who see a tinge of saffron in his white attire. Still, in bringing corruption to the national centrestage when neither the Congress nor the BJP were interested, in jumpstarting the movement for the Lok Pal bill which had been hanging fire for 38 years, in resolutely even if obstinately sticking to his convictions, he has been a revelation.

And after today, when his early-morning arrest evoked shades of the Emergency a day after August 15, Hazare has united vast sections of urban, middle-class India; his release by the end of the day a standing testimony to the power of the people against an arrogant, repressive regime, whose Harvard-educated ministers (Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram, if you have to name them) show what they don’t teach at Harvard about democracy with their every word and deed.

Make no mistake. A brazen, scam-tainted government with much to hide might yet bury its hand in the sand and bulldoze its way on the Lok Pal bill; the great protectors of our democracy who can do anything for cash may shamelessly back it in the name of parliamentary democracy; Hazare’s own struggle may yet peter out like so many have before; and high corruption of the sort we have seen over the last few months might be here to stay.

Still, in his stamina in sticking to an issue, in his single-mindedness to achieve his dream, and above all in his desire to change things which has the potential to change the lives of millions of Indians—all traits most Indians will happily agree they do not possess—does Anna Hazare qualify, even if only notionally, to be crowed Jewel of India ahead of SRT? After all, he has some practice, having received the Padma Sri and Padma Bhushan earlier.

Photographs: Protestors in Bangalore wear masks of Anna Hazare demanding his release (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Sachin for Bharat Ratna?

Is India getting increasingly intolerant to dissent

May a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

What M.P. Prakash told Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul

9 February 2011

“Multi-faceted” is a word that is loosely uttered in obituaries when somebody of significance dies. But the former deputy chief minister, M.P. Prakash, who passed away today after a battle with cancer, was truly a multi-faceted one. Politician, yes, but also a man of letters: author, theatre personality, and social activist.

Towards the end 1980s, the renowned author and Nobel laureate, Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul, met Prakash for his book India: A Million Mutinies Now, in the company of then Indian Express reporter M.A. Deviah. Below is an excerpt, published without the permission of the publishers, Minerva, in tribute to M.P. Prakash.

***

Prakash, a minister in the non-Congress state government of Karnataka, invited me to breakfast one Sunday morning. The minister’s house [in Bangalore] was near the hotel, and Deviah came and walked there with me.

Prakash wasn’t among the top crowd-pullers. He had a more sedate reputation as an educated and competent minister, a shrewd and serious politician, yet capable of detachment: someone a little out of the ordinary in state politics.

Prakash, true to his character, didn’t keep us waiting.

Almost as soon as he had been told we had arrived, and before I could pick up one of the papers, he came in from an inner room to greet us, a small, brisk, confident, humorous-looking man in his forties; and he immediately led us to the room adjoining, a dining-room – this part of the house now quite private and personal, quite different in its atmosphere even from the sitting room – where a big table was laid for a most serious kind of Indian breakfast.

And almost as soon as we had sat down at the table, Mrs Prakash appeared, in a fresh blue saree, and began serving us: the ritualised duty of the conservative Hindu wife, personally to serve food to her husband: a duty, but also now, considering what her husband was, a high privilege.

How many of the people waiting outside would have envied her that familiarity with the minister, that attending on him; to how many would she have appeared blessed….

***

We got up from the breakfast table to go to the State Guest House. Prakash had thought he would have more privacy there, and not be troubled by suppliants.

We went to the main [Kumara Krupa] guest house. It was a big stone building in the centre of the tawny grounds. When we were settled in the wide verandah on the upper floor, I asked Prakash about political power in India.

How did people come by it?

What were a man’s qualifications for power?

Caste, he said, was the first thing of importance. A man looking for office or a political career would have to be of a suitable caste. That meant belonging to the dominant caste of the area. He would also, of course, have to be someone who could get the support of his caste; that meant he would have to be of some standing in the community, well connected and well known.

And since it seldom happened that the votes of a single caste could win a man an election, a candidate needed a political party; he needed that to get the votes of the other castes. So the whole parliamentary business of political parties and elections made sense in India.

It encouraged co-operation and compromise; the very multiplicity of Indian castes and communities made for some kind of balance.

Power achieved here, Prakash said, was very great, in the surroundings of India life, the surroundings of struggle and making do. And the fall, the loss of power, was equally great, and could be very hard to bear.

Prakash said, “When the average politician falls he will have nowhere to go, and no cushion. He may be an advocate in a country area, or a son of a peasant or landlord, or son or brother of a petty merchant; but not a man with a lot of money. And many may not come from a movement.’

‘Movement?’

‘Movement would be the independence movement, or the movement against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, or the peasant movement here in this state, or the labour movement, or any people’s movement. When you don’t come from such a movement, and you have nothing to fall back upon when you lose power, you are in a hurry to make money.

‘The power gives so much of comfort, perks, and status – a bungalow, all fully furnished, all personal attendants and secretarial staff. A chauffeur-driven car, and facilities to stay in government bungalows and guest houses when you travel out, and air tickets – you can fly around at the expense of the government. But when you come out of power, if you have no means, you may have to go back to the semi-urban area from where you came. There you can hardly afford to have a secretary or servants. You may have one servant, but not the bunch of servants you had as a minister. Or the free telephone calls.’

Prakash appeared to be speaking against these things, but I thought I could detect a certain lingering over the details of privilege. He had been a minister for six years, and now his government, from what I could decipher in the newspapers, was in some trouble.

I said, ‘Servants. You talk a lot about servants. Are servants very important to these men from the country areas?’

Prakash was a lawyer, ironic, bright: he detected my drift.

He said, ‘In the good old days too many servants, for the big landlords, the zamindars, and the feudals, gave a status. Today it is the power. Servants are there to make your life comfortable. If you are a minister, and you travel on an aeroplane, there will be somebody to buy you a ticket. There will always be a block of seats for the government, and these will be kept till the last minute; so there is always a chance that you will get a ticket. And your PA, your personal assistant, will come right up to the airport to see you off’ – Prakash again lingering over the details, savouring the things he still enjoyed – ‘and at the destination somebody will come and receive you. There will be a vehicle at your disposal, and your reservation of accommodation has already been made.

‘But as a man without power’ – and now, as a preacher painting a picture of purgatory, to balance the heaven of success, Prakash began to darken the details of Indian air travel – ‘many a time you will not know where to buy a ticket, where to stand in a queue, how to get your baggage checked. In a western society, which is so very orderly, between a man with privileges and a common man there won’t be a big gap in the physical arrangement of life, arrangement of travel and comforts and stay.

‘Even in western countries it is an innate thing in a man to look to be in power. And it is all the more so in India, because the power means everything here. When an American president leaves the White House, it makes no difference as far as his lifestyle is concerned, and his physical comforts. Many a time in India it wouldn’t be like that, unless you have a will to live in austerity, like the old gods of the Gandhian era.

‘Our new-generation politicians don’t have that spiritual power, and they feel the difference. They try for a while, after they have fallen, to capitalise on their so-called contacts with the authorities. They undertake ertain commissions for people who want things done. But those contacts very soon go away. And the industrialist who courted you drives by in his big car to his rich house in his nice area, and he doesn’t even look at you.

‘Because of industrialisation, and the green revolution in the rural areas, a new class of nouveau-riche persons are emerging, and these people are being exposed for the first time to university education, comfortable urban life, stylish living, and western influences – materialistic comforts. During this transition period, we are slowly cutting from the moral ethos of our grandfathers, and at the same time we don’t have the westerner’s idea of discipline and social justice. At the moment things are chaotic here.’

***

I would have liked him to talk more personally. But it wasn’t easy. The political crisis in his government, the glimpse of the possibility of the end of things, was encouraging him to put a distance between himself and the delights of power.

It was at the same time bringing out his political combativeness. It was making him moralise in an old-fashioned way (almost as though he had already left office) about Gandhianism, materialism, and the dangers to India of the super computer the people in Delhi were talking about.

At last he said, ‘I wasn’t rich, but I wasn’t poor. My family could live in comfort and with security. This was in Bellary. I have land there, and much of what I needed was produced on my land – millet, rice, tamarind, chilli, vegetables, and fuel. I can go back any time. But after six years in office here I can notice a change in my children. Their formative years have been spent in this opulence and status, and people giving so much concern and attention to them. Now they don’t wish to go back to the village. For me it’s nothing.

‘Bellary is very hot. And many of these relatives and friends of mine feel a little awestruck when they come here. The friends may have a little jealousy, friends from the village, or people who worked along with me in the old days and have seen me walking the streets of a small place. Now they feel I’ve become all important, and there is a jealousy – and this is apart from the ruthlessness of the system, where my own colleagues are pulling down my legs when I am climbing up fast. This is innate in the system, but the jealousy is different.

‘Even my voter, he will be more comfortable to talk to me when I am there, in my abode. But when he comes here and sits on a sofa’ – it was interesting, getting this idea of the world as it appeared to Prakash’s voter, seeing even the drabness of the State Guest transformed – ‘when he sits here, with this big garden, lawn, police people, attendants, it makes him ill at ease, and immediately he feels I am too far away, and that personal equation goes away or changes.’

Prakash said, ‘Our people, because of the long tradition of the rajas and maharajas and feudal lords, they always look with awe and fear on the seat of power, and at the same time they nourish a dislike and hatred towards the seat of power. But there is a dichotomy. They like an accessible, simple, compassionate, benevolent man in the seat of power. But at the same time they have a mental  picture of power – of pomp, pageantry, authority and aristocracy,. These things don’t go together many times.

‘In a case like me, they would like to see me as their good old humble country lawyer – as before 1983, when I came to power and became a minister. But they will respect my authority only if I’m surrounded by a group of officers, and if I myself assume postures.

‘On the 16th of February 1983 I took the oath of secrecy and office as a minister at Bangalore. On the same day there was a communal disturbance at Bellary – with a police firing, seven deaths, arson and looting. I immediately that night left for Bellary by car, 200 miles down. And I immediately assumed the authority there, and started directing the District Inspector of Police, the Deputy Commissioner of Bellary, and other officers. And I was able to control the disturbance in a day.

‘As a lawyer, I had appeared before the Deputy Commissioner of Bellary in several cases, where I used to address him as “Your Honour”. But, as a minister, there was a transformation. I started giving him commands. Within a day there was a change in me. And people wouldn’t have liked it, and the situation wouldn’t have been controlled, if I had just been a mofussil lawyer. It’s a very strange society we’ve created. Democracy has made it possible for people like us to have a different role.’

***

File photograph: M.P. Prakash on stage (Karnataka Photo News)

Did Indira Gandhi have no role in the Emergency?

30 December 2010

First Maneka Gandhi was unceremoniously kicked out of the Indira Gandhi household in an episode that presaged the saas-bahu TV serials by about two decades. Now, her late husband, Sanjay Gandhi, it seems, is himself being sent to the doghouse in the Congress.

The description of Indira Gandhi’s mercurial younger son as “arbitrary and authoritarian” in a two-volume official Congress book, holding him responsible for the controversial family planning and slum clearance measures, can be seen either as setting the record straight, or as convenient white-washing.

According to the book, while vast sections of the population welcomed the moves initially since general administration improved,

“…civil rights activists took exception to the curbs on freedom of expression and personal liberties. Unfortunately, in certain spheres, over-enthusiasm led to compulsion in enforcement of certain programmes like compulsory sterilisation and clearing of slums”.

While the acknowledgement of Sanjay Gandhi’s role is welcome, it begs the question: was Indira Gandhi really a puppet in her son’s hands? Did post-independent India’s “strongest prime minister” have no say in any of the controversial measures of the Emergency, including press censorship?

Was she that amenable and vulnerable to an extra-constitutional authority even if he operated from her own house?

Equally, while fixing the blame for the Emergency, 35 years later, might seem odd, the fact that no such effort is being made for the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 reveals a bit. Would Sanjay Gandhi have suffered this fate at the hands of Congress hagiographers if he were still alive? Or if his widow and his equally execrable son, Varun Gandhi, were not on the other side of the political fence?

Also read: ‘Middle-class will never understand Indira Gandhi

CHURUMURI POLL: Was Emergency good for us?

Such sweet lies you could’ve missed the truth

3 November 2009

indira

The 25th anniversary of the assassination of Indira Gandhi has produced reams of fawning tributes, leaving you to wonder how low today’s supine, profit-hungry, ratings-driven media would have crawled had “the only man in her cabinet” reimposed censorship in the year of the lord 2009.

In an era of austerity (remember?), the Congress-led UPA government splurged shameless millions on newspaper ads; Doordarshan began live coverage from the very moment she received the first bullet that morning on October 31. Magazines produced thick special issues. And television was a hagiographic bore.

In The Pioneer, Delhi, Arkalgud Surya Prakash strikes the right note of dissent:

“All those who value democracy must challenge the contents of these advertisements for the following reasons: Mrs Gandhi turned a vibrant democracy into a dictatorship and presided over a fascist regime that jailed political opponents and independent journalists when she imposed Emergency in 1975. Her Government was responsible for many despicable acts, including forcible sterilisation of citizens, bull-dozing of Muslim-dominated localities like Turkman Gate in Delhi, and incarceration of Government employees who failed to obey her illegal orders. These are just a few of the most horrendous, inhuman and undemocratic acts committed by her regime. All these terrible deeds have been fully documented by the Shah Commission which probed the Emergency excesses.

“Once this infrastructure for dictatorship had been laid, other things followed. Her government suspended Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21 (no deprivation of life and liberty except by procedure established by law). With the passage of these orders, citizens of India lost their fundamental right to life and liberty. They were also prohibited from moving courts. The Attorney-General virtually conceded the fascist nature of that regime when he confessed in the Supreme Court that if a citizen was shot dead by a policeman, the victim’s family would have no right to seek relief before a court.

“Here is a short recapitulation of some other things Mrs Gandhi did as Prime Minister: She bamboozled the judiciary, superseded judges and repeatedly amended the Constitution to protect herself. The 39th Amendment was meant solely to prohibit the Supreme Court from hearing the election petition against her; the 41st Amendment declared that no civil or criminal cases could be filed against her; even more reprehensible was the 42nd Amendment which abolished the need for quorum in Parliament and gave the President the right to ‘amend’ the Constitution through an executive order. With this amendment, Parliament allowed the President to tinker with the Constitution when ‘necessary’. Further, since there was no requirement for quorum in Parliament, Ministers could push through anti-democratic laws in late night sittings of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in the presence of just a handful of Congress MPs. These were ideas which were taken straight out of Hitler’s book.”

Read the full article: Travesty as tribute

Cartoon: courtesy The Economist, London

Also read: The people, not the press, are the real Fourth Estate

A single shoe is mightier than a pen and a sword

H.Y. SHARADA PRASAD: Middle-class will never understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real Fourth Estate

28 June 2009

The press in India, like the press elsewhere, holds on to the belief that it is the Fourth Estate of democracy, after the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, although the press in India, as much as the press elsewhere, finds its institutional and individual integrity increasingly under question.

In an article on the Open Page of The HinduRadheer Mahendrakar uses the results of the recent general elections to argue that the people are the real Fourth Estate, acting as a more effective countervailing force than the press, especially when they perceive a threat to democracy.

Mahendrakar says the collective wisdom of the people—the “miracle of aggregation“—showed up when Indira Gandhi clamped the Emergency, when V.P. Singh indulged in social re-engineering, when the BJP made religion an electoral platform through Hindutva, and when regionalism threatened to get ahead of nationalism.

“For generations, we have accepted the ‘press’ as a vital element of democracy….

“In politics, it is fair to say that the Indian voter is the Fourth Estate representing a counterbalance to the political parties of different ideologies—the left, right and centre. Time and again, the Indian voter has drawn the contours of do and don’ts in politics and chastened the parties when our democracy showed signs of dilution.”

Implicit in the point is the suggestion that a profit-hungry media in its quest for eyeballs and bottomlines, has forgotten, abandoned or is ignoring some of its fundamental duties. In other words, despite the press, the people as a group seem to be able to reach a decision that is very likely the correct decision.

Read the full article: How the miracle of aggregation works

How the BJP govt. hounded Tehelka promoters

10 February 2009

First Global, the brokerage promoted by Shankar Sharma and Devina Mehra which had a 14.50 per cent stake in the webzine Tehelka, has scored a major victory with official documents reportedly showing that the firm had been harassed by market regulators on trumped-up charges, after the Atal Behari Vajpayee government was shamed by a Tehelka expose that caught the then BJP president taking a cash bribe on camera.

According to a story in Business Standard, official documents obtained from the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act show that First Global had no “advance knowledge” of the stock market crash of March 2001 that followed the Tehelka story.

Titled “Operation Westend“, the investigation by journalists Aniruddha Bahal and Matthew Samuel resulted in the resignation of the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman, defence minister George Fernandes, and plenty of egg on the BJP’s face.

The expose resulted in a massive witchhunt against the webzine and its promoters although First Global did not attend the editorial or board meetings, wasn’t in the know of Operation Westend, and was in fact in the process of exiting its investment in Tehelka six months before the story aired.

Documents obtained under RTI show that the brokerage—the first Asian firm outside of Japan to become a member of the London Stock Exchange —had no role in hammering down the stock markets. In fact, it did not figure in the list of the top-50 sellers from mid-February to mid-March 2001, and was in fact a net buyer of Rs 37 crore in the period between the Union budget and the Tehelka expose, a fact not contested by SEBI.

But, because of its links to Tehelka, First Global was stripped off its registration; Shankar Sharma and his wife and partner Devina (a former Business India journalist) were arrested as they were about to board a flight to London (Shankar was arrested two more times); and hundreds of cases were lodged against the duo in an extraordinary act of political vendetta that eventually resulted in the closure of Tehelka before its resurrection as an offline magazine.

First Global, which “paid more taxes than companies like Proctor & Gamble, Ranbaxy, and Titan“, was also forced to shut shop. Worse, the promoters were served over 200 personal summons, raided 25 times, banned from trading, forbidden from travelling abroad, and their accounts frozen.

The assault on Tehelka resulting in its closure, was one of two standout cases of media harassment by the former BJP government, whose prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani was recently decorated by India’s leading English language broadcaster NDTV with a “lifetime achievement” award.

“Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister,” read the citation. Advani is also credited for his Emergency era comment on the Indian press: “When you were only asked to bend, many of you chose to crawl.”

Photograph: courtesy rediff.com

Also readThe witch-hunt against First Global

‘Don’t believe everything that’s in the papers’

2 January 2009

And what better way to start the new year than with a neat poem?

SHIVANAND KANAVI forwards a poem written by his father, the poet Chennaveera Kanavi, during the 1970s—”either during the Emergency or just after”—that has an eerie resonance in 2009, thanks to the speedy despatch of footwear by an Iraqi journalist to US president George W. Bush towards the end of the year gone by.

***

“LISTEN TO ME, I AM TELLING YOU”

By CHENNAVEERA KANAVI

For God’s sake, why do you spread false news?
Honestly, nobody threw chappals at me in the recent meeting.
I am speaking absolute truth!
Even if they did, I never saw it.
This is the really real truth.
No. they didn’t hit me at all.
Please don’t believe what they say.
simply because it appears in the papers.
Read the stuff and then consign it to flames.
Are these paper-fellows, are they lily-white?
They announce the happening of what could have happened!
Never mind if it happened or not, it is news all the same.
Yes, it is true that I saw someone wave a black flag,
because black stands out amidst white caps!
But what’s wrong with it?
wasn’t there a huge audience that day?
After all, my speech is not dirt-cheap, is it?
In such a commotion,
don’t you think it is but natural
if someone were to transfer what is on feet to the hand,
and then transfer it from hand to the head?
If I am right, why all this hullabaloo
about the chappals being aimed at me ?

All right, granting that they threw chappals:
why not assume that they were playing a game
of throwing and catching chappals ? Tell me.
You may insist
I was the target.
may I then ask you a question?
Did they get the chappals specially made for them?
They were bought in some shop,
and worn out after so many days’ walking,
now apparently tom, and flung with force. All right.
please, what is the point of taking out anger here
whereas its cause lay elsewhere?
If they opened fire in Gujarat, why should they hiss angrily here?
The price-rise, the decline of self-respect and dignity
and double-talk
they belong everywhere and still occur.
Are they our exclusive property ?
Look at Bihar, how they, sealing their lips with cloth bands,
joining hands behind their back, took processions.
Well, even the papers reported all this.

Following them, we should shut our mouths and keep mum,
and there lies smartness.
Just one more word, please listen: the chappal-throwing is over-
wouldn’t it be fair if they were presented with new chappals ?
What do you say?

(From Inviting LifeChennaveera Kanavi’s Poetry, Translated by Prof. K. Raghavendra Rao, Sahitya Akademi)

Photograph: courtesy geek-o-logie


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