Posts Tagged ‘George Fernandes’

An architectural beauty, yes, but user-friendly?

16 October 2013

Photo Caption

Back when it was built, the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore perhaps looked big and beautiful and daunting, and conveyed the full might of the “State”. It perhaps even inspired some of those who secured a five-year lease of occupation. But who can argue that it is the most the user-friendly, for the rulers or the ruled, in the 21st century?

Notwithstanding that, dozens of replicas of Kengal Hanumanthaiah‘s architectural legacy have sprung up all over Karnataka. If the districts have scale-models in the ‘Mini’ Soudha, in faraway-Belgaum there is a near-replica of the original one, the Suvarna Soudha, and it doesn’t look half as pretty when your gaze turns to the shepherd.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Bangalore’s best building since Vidhana Soudha

When George Fernandes tried to blow up Vidhana Soudha

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

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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’

Just vonne one question I’m dying to ask Ranjitha

1 January 2011

The single biggest contribution to civilisation of Jaya Jaitley, the socialite companion of the socialist turned saffronist leader George Fernandes, is to not just distrust what we read or hear, but also to distrust what we see with our own naked eyes.

Caught with her hand in the hundi in the Tehelka sting operation that also saw BJP president Bangaru Laxman smoothly slipping rupees into his drawer, Jaitley worked her South Delhi connections to convince an illiterate nation that every piece of video is fake until proven genuine.

A delusion quite close to that seems to have struck Ranjitha, the actress who was videographed providing daily bliss to Swami Nithyananda in the early part of 2010.

The godman has not disputed that it is he who is the recipient of godsent pleasures in the tapes but the actress who athletically straddles him, smothers him and massages him claims she is not the pleasure-giver we saw.

It is fabricated. I am not the person in it. In fact, at that time, I was in a room that I was sharing with another female devotee in the Dhyanapeetham ashram.”

She alleges that she was the victim of an extortion attempt, and that a Christian missionary was behind it.

What is the one question devotees of the scandal, who were not in the room, would like to ask the actress who starred a film called Jai Hind?

Like, is this is what is called the ‘missionary position‘?

Like, does she believe we are all suckers?

Please keep your queries short, dark and hirsute, “as demanded by the script”?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: Another good swami in the service of mankind

When the mountains spoke silently down below

Wanted: a uniform civil code for man and godman

Just one question I’m dying to ask Nithyananda

The truth, according to little Nithyananda

More truth, according to little Nithyananda

Now a major video: My experiments with truth

‘Initiator’ Nithyananda seeks spiritual seculsion

‘Male & female ecstasy, including sexual energy’

One question I’m dying to ask R.V. Deshpande

9 June 2010

Indian politicians and public servants are masters at making money off the living—and the dead.

George Fernandes played over the dead bodies of the martyrs of Kargil in the coffin scam. Money raised for the victims of the devastating tsunami were diverted in Tamil Nadu without batting an eyelid. Time magazine’s Asian Hero one month for flood relief, IAS officer Gautam Goswami was soon in the doghouse.

And so it is with Karnataka Congress president R.V. Deshpande who lists “service to mankind, especially poor” among his interests, and has just been exposed for misuse of funds collected for last year’s flood in Karnataka. The state Congress is alleged to to have used flood relief funds for buying air tickets, t-shirts and advertisemens.

What is the one question you are dying to ask Deshpande? Like, since the IPL-tained Praful Patel is his son’s father-in-law, does hera-pheri run in the family? Like, is this why he stalled the attempts to secure information about his assets and liabilities because they are “personal and confidential“?

Please contribute generously.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Must read: A 1,611 per cent jump in assets in five years. Hello!

By George, it’s pati, patni aur woh and some crores

“An appeal in the name of our friend, George”

16 February 2010

The following is the full text of an appeal/ statement in the matter of member of Parliament George Fernandes by his longtime friends and wellwishers, issued by former Union minister and ambassador, Ajay Singh.

***

George Fernandes is one of the most influential of India’s political leaders of the last four decades. His entire life was dedicated to fighting tyranny, oppression, corruption, and for the upliftment of deprived sections of our society. His battles for equality, democracy, a free media, human rights and against all forms of injustice are well known.

“We, the long time friends of George Fernandes, are deeply distressed at the events of the last few weeks, which diminish this image of a great man who, due to a debilitating illness, is unable to defend himself or express himself publicly.

“We are also making this public statement to convey our deep concern for the well being, health and care of our friend George. We understand he is being moved from place to place and decisions on his well-being are being suddenly and arbitrarily taken by people who are not familiar with the particular aspects, past progress and treatment of his ailments. This is bound to have a severe adverse impact on his state of mind and body.

“A panel of suitable people comprising of his familiar doctors at AIIMS and his long time colleagues and care givers, including the immediate and extended family, should be constituted through a legal process to ensure a stable atmosphere for him to feel comfortable and at ease.

“All unseemly speculation and discussion being carried out in public view about his assets and relationships undermine the values that our friend George stands for.

“It is our duty as his friends and admirers to ensure him his dignity and to demand respect for what he has done and the choices he has made over so many years.”

***

Issued by

1.    Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah , former chief  justice, Supreme Court of India, former chairman national human rights commission, Padma Vibhushan awardee

2.    Farooq Abdullah, Union minister of new and renewable energy, former chief Minister Jammu and Kashmir

3.    Jaswant Singh, member of Parliament, former finance minister and defence minister

4.    Viren J. Shah, former governor West Bengal and arrested in the Baroda dynamite case with George     Fernandes, former Member of  Parliament

5.    Kamal Morarka, chairman Gannon Dunkerley group, former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and former Minister of State

6.    U.R. Ananthamurthy, renowned Kannada writer,  Jnanpith awardee, socialist, Padma Bhushan awardee

7.    R.V. Pandit, philanthrophist, film producer,  publisher

8.    Rahul Bajaj, chairman Bajaj Group, Member of  Parliament (Rajya Sabha)

9.    Uday Kotak, vice-chairman and managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank

10.  Ravi Ruia, vice chairman, Essar group

11.  Chandan Mitra, editor and publisher The Pioneer,  former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)

12.   Capt C.P. Krishnan Nair, chairman, Leela Group of hotels,  Padma Vibhushan

13.    Rajesh V. Shah, managing director Mukund Ltd, former president CII

14.    Lord Meghnad Desai, writer, economist, member of the House of Commons, UK

15.    Kishwar Desai, writer

16.    Vandana Shiva, writer, social activist, scientist

17.    Leela Samson, eminent dancer, writer, Padma Shri awardee

18.    Dr Beatrix D’Souza, educationist , former member of Parliament

19.    Dr. Sonal Mansingh, eminent dancer, Padma Vibhushan Awardee

20.    Ajay Singh, former deputy minister for railways,  former ambassador to Fiji, journalist

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: By George, it’s pati, patni aur woh & some crores

How the BJP government hounded Tehelka promoters

By George, it’s pati, patni aur woh & some crores

17 January 2010

Now enacting his final scene under the cruel directorship of M/s Parkinson and Alzheimer, George Fernandes is among the most intriguing actors to have lit up the political theatre.

# Born in Mangalore and trained in Bangalore to become a priest, he built his political reputation as a trade union leader in Bombay, taking on millowners. Elected to the Lok Sabha from Bombay and Bihar, the Dakshina Kannadiga was rejected by voters in Bangalore North.

# The Lohia-ite socialist who set up a co-operative bank for taxi drivers and drove out Coca-Cola and IBM as industries minister in the Janata Party government of Morarji Desai, he became a pillar of the BJP-led NDA government of Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose RSS membership he had earlier questioned.

# Once a supporter of nuclear disarmament, Fernandes, as defence minister, endorsed Pokhran-II. Forced to resign after Tehelka‘s Operation West End sting operation but exonerated later, the CBI named him in the FIR on the irregularities surrounding the purchase of the Barak anti-missile system from Israel.

But all these anachronisms pales in front of the unfolding catfight over Fernandes’ personal wealth involving his legally wedded wife Leila Kabir (whom he never formally divorced), and his friend and companion for a quarter of a century, Jaya Jaitly. (Sean Fernandes, the investment-banker son of George and Leila, is playing a bit role.)

Fernandes now suffers from both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and the two women are squabbling for the spoils.

While the grim details of the sequel of Pati, Patni, Beta aur Woh follow established lines, what is staggering is the kind of wealth that the “working class leader”—whose kurta-pyjama and economy class travel even as Union minister was made much of by spin-meisters—has accumulated and is now up for grabs.

# According to The Telegraph, Calcutta, “at the core of the tussle is immovable property worth Rs 7 crore in Hubli and a flat in south Delhi’s posh Hauz Khas.”

# According to The Times of India, the clash that has built up since November over who cares for George and “more pertinently over the keys to his known assets reportedly worth Rs 12 crore”.

# According to Outlook magazine, “three flats in the names of Municipal Mazdoor Union, Bombay Labour Union, party journal The Other Side, and a basement leased to Dastakari at 6/105 Kaushalya Park, Hauz Khas, New Delhi; rest of the money from the sale of a 10-acre plot in Nelamangala, on the outskirts of Bangalore, valued at Rs 22 crore, but sold for half that amount;  A property in Mangalore valued at Rs 2-3 crore sold a couple of years ago for Rs 60 lakh.”

# According to The Indian Express, the payment for Fernandes’ Nelamangala property, inherited from his mother Alice Fernandes, was received in stages and the final payment came after the affidavits had been filed for the LS polls and Rajya Sabha polls: “approximately Rs 15.6 crore for Nelamangala, plus Rs 60 lakh from the sale of an ancestral home, minus Rs 3.06 crore paid towards tax.”

# According to Ahmedabad Mirror, George’s (and Leila’s) son Sushanto “Sean” Fernandes acted when one of his uncles informed him that Jaya Jaitly had used the power of attorney to sell the 20-acre Nelamangala property, “pegged at 12 crore” which was subsequently deposited as fixed deposits in banks.

# According to Deccan Herald, Fernandes declared moveable assets of Rs 70,439,798 and immovable assets at Rs 25,000,000 while contesting the Muzaffarnagar seat in Bihar in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections: cash Rs 20,000; deposits in banks, financial institutions and non-banking financial companies Rs 70,359,798; and bonds, debentures and shares in companies — Rs 60,000.

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

***

Also read: By George, hamaam mein sab nange hain

Maywati: For doyen of downtrodden, assets is all maya

Kanimozhi: How many poems fetch a poet rs 8.5 crore?

Priya Krishna: One question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

H.D. Deve Gowda: A snapshot of a poor, debt-ridden farming family

R.V. Deshpande: A 1,611% jump in assets in five years? Hello!

Should editors and journalists declare their assets?

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

Do only Gujaratis have asmita? Don’t we Indians?

31 August 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As we speak, the “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” of India is moving heaven, earth and everything else in between to conclude a civilian nuclear deal with the United States of America.

Yet, how is it that the same “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic” of India is taking the disgraceful denial of a visa to one of its citizens by the same United States of America lying down?

The citizen I am referring to is Narendra Damodardas Modi.

The Gujarat chief minister, re-elected with a thundering majority by the people of Gujarat last December, has had to address the World Gujarati Conference in New Jersey by video because the US State department wouldn’t give him a visa, the second time this has happened following Gujarat 2002.

On what grounds can a visa be rejected for a person who applies for it through the proper channels on a passport issued under the seal of the President of India?

Judging from its silence, it appears the Congress-led UPA government of Manmohan Singh is “happy” that Modi has been barred entry into the United States. Else, it should have sent a stiff memo in private and raised hell in public for this insult to the democratically elected chief minister of a State.

So far, only Modi’s party, the BJP, has chosen to respond.

“Dictators can go there [the U.S.]… fascists, murderers can go there… but the democratically elected Chief Minister of a federal State of India cannot go there,” the party’s spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad has said. “Should America bow down to this kind of vilification campaign by a group of people whose agenda is anti-BJP throughout?”

Those are good questions, but why isn’t the government asking them? Why isn’t the Congress, which is not entirely populated by angels, not asking them? Why aren’t the non-BJP opposition parties, which too are not entirely populated by angels, not asking them? Why aren’t the media, which also is not entirely populated by angels, not asking them?

Do only Gujaratis have asmita?

Don’t we, as Indians, not have asmita?

Would the Chinese government and media react so sanguinely if one of its not-so-democratically elected leaders was denied a visa? Would the Japanese? If we are an emerging regional superpower, if we are supposedly getting close to the United States and standing shoulder to shoulder, how on earth does the US get away with such a stinging slap?

On the other hand, should this surprise us?

George Fernandes, as defence minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee team, was strip-searched and frisked down to his knickers, a fact happily reported by deputy secretary Strobe Talbott in his book, Engaging India.

If we could happily accept that national insult, obviously the “Rejected” seal on Narendra Modi’s passport is proof, full, firm and final, that while we as a nation bend backwards to please western countries, we crawl shamelessly, effortlessly when need be.

Especially if a nuclear deal is at the end of the road.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: The Economist calls Narendra Modi a ‘disgrace’

CHURUMURI POLL: Should US restore Modi visa?

Watch the video: ‘Like it or leave it, Modi will be PM’

Is the Kargil victory something to be ashamed of?

29 July 2008

At a little past 11.30 pm last Saturday, an SMS came from Sudheendra Murali, a friend in Bangalore: “Kargil Forgotten.” To a South Indian with not a single member of the family in the fauj, and therefore without that emotional connect with matters military, the message made little sense.

Truth to tell, with one beer too many at a restaurant called ‘It’s Greek to me’, the message seemed all too Latin.

A Google search the next morning cleared the haze in 0.13 seconds. The day gone by, July 26, was the ninth anniversary of the Kargil triumph—the day ceasefire was declared in the war against Pakistan in 1999; a day since then observed as ‘Kargil Vijay Divas‘.

What my IT friend was saying was that in between Blasts A and Blasts B—while we were selfishly, shamelessly, secretly wondering when and where a bicycle might knock us dead—an ungrateful nation had forgotten to salute a famous victory against Pakistan.

A victory in achieving which 562 soldiers had bravely, selflessly, unquestioningly laid down their lives for their country and countrymen, i.e. us, in the cold heights of Kargil.

Even for a “leftover liberal” with scarcely any militaristic sentiments, it seemed too obvious an event for the political class to miss, especially given the rap they had received for their disgraceful sendoff to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in June.

But the Sunday papers provided little proof that old habits die hard.

For starters, there was not a sentence about ‘Vijay Divas‘ in 78 pages of the world’s largest selling English daily. Not a word in its competitor with historic links with the Congress. Not a word in the house journal of the BJP. Not a word in the emerging (unofficial) mouthpiece of the CPI(M).

What little notice the Delhi media took, it took through the lens of its photographers.

The Asian Age had a single-column picture of BJP president Rajnath Singh offering a floral tribute to the martyrs at the party headquarters. The Indian Express carried a five-column picture of a solder in front of the flame at India Gate in its Delhi Newsline supplement. And The Hindu had a 3-column picture of the army chief, the navy chief, and the vice chief of the air staff paying homage.

Only The Sunday Tribune, had anything by way of text accompanying a six-column picture (above) of a Network18 cameraman filming naval officers lined up to pay tribute to the martyrs at India Gate, along with an accompanying story form Dehradun.

From a media point of view, the poor coverage was understandable, indeed even justifiable.

There was nothing newsy, nothing sexy about the anniversary, which had been overshadowed anyway by a dastardly attack that killed so many in two big cities. Television and newspapers cannot keep filling their time and space with something so maudlin, can they?

Yes.

But if, after 11 years, they can still squeeze their lachrymal glands enough on June 13 every year for the 59 who perished in the “Uphaar Fire Tragedy” in 1997, how difficult is to remember the 562 who died for cause and country In 1999?

But our crib is not with the media, it’s with our netas. 

Where were our “leaders”, the people who, by the nomenclature thrust on them, are destined to lead us, to show us the way, on Saturday, July 26?

Where was the President and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Pratibha Patil? Where was the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh? Where was the defence minister, A.K. Antony? Where was the chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit?

Yes, there was a celebration in the BJP office with Rajnath Singh in attendance, but was there any commensurate celebration in the Congress office? Was Congress president Sonia Gandhi present? Was there any celebration in the CPI or CPI(M) headquarters? Were Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan there?

And so on.

If the leaders and their parties did observe Vijay Divas, their media minders have done a splendid job of hiding it from public view. If they didn’t, the nation is entitled to ask why: Has the Kargil victory become something to be ashamed of for most of our political parties?

The Ahmedabad blasts cannot be offered as an excuse because they happened long after sunset on Saturday. The Bangalore blasts cannot be offered as an excuse because it killed but one (or two). Even so, since when did “national pride” fall victim to “national mourning”?

Or, has the Kargil victory, like so much else, fallen prey to petty, partisan politics?

Those who cover the defence beat say the Kargil victory is now viewed as “an NDA/BJP victory” with which the UPA/Congress wants to have no part. “The Congress has its 1971, the BJP has its 1999,” says one award-winning reporter.

(That the Congress which does not want to remember 1999 could not even remember the hero of the 1971 victory properly tells its own story.)

But if true, how pathetic as a people can we be getting, that we view the triumph of the nation, the sacrifice of our soldiers, not through a wide, collective prism, but through a narrow, constricted aperture of the government of the day?

Certainly, critics, sceptics and cynics in the military, media and polity have plenty of questions over how the Kargil victory was achieved: The intelligence and strategic failures, the antiquated techniques in capturing Tiger Hill (the site of most of the casualties), etc.

Plus, there is the coffin scam over which the Congress walked out of the House each time then defence minister George Fernandes got up to speak.

Much as those questions may be important and need to be answered, how do they take the gloss away from a great victory? And how do they make a meaningful observance meaningless?

What kind of signal is such peevishness sending to the jawan in the field, and to potential recruits? What kind of impact does it have on their morale and motivation to be reminded that they are not fighting for the nation at large but for the coalition in power?

Is this something over which our parties should try to score silly points?

Is this how we show how much we value the armed forces?

This is not to suggest that the President and Prime Minister and Defence Minister and Congress president must drop everything and break out into a bhangra every July 26 for the benefit of the television cameras. But what do they lose by gracefully acknowledging Kargil’s place in our contemporary history?

Especially at a time when insurgency, homegrown terrorism and cross-border terrorism are on the up?

# At the first anniversary of the victory, the then President K.R. Narayanan, vice-president Krishan Kant, prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, defence minister Fernandes, and the three chiefs of staff were all present.

# At the second anniversary, in 2001, the vice president, Prime Minister, defence minister, minister of state, service chiefs and defence secretary were slated to pay homage at Amar Jawan Jyoti.

The gracelessness and tactlessness are obvious. What is not so obvious is the window something like this offers on our hopelessly polarised politics—and the manner in which the liberal-left is ceding ground to the right by turning patriotism and the national interest into the sole proprietorship of the BJP.

If TV channels can realise the benefits that can accrue to their TRPs by carting cinema and cricket stars for the benefit of the jawans, how difficult is it for our political parties and politicians to realise the jump their TRPs might see if they are seen and heard making a rousing speech or gesture?

Parties and politicians are divided the world over, and our country is no different. But does only the party which was in power in 1945 Britain celebrate V-E Day? Does the Labour Party boycott it because Winston Churchill was in charge?

Hopefully, this August 15, the BJP won’t return the favour and boycott Independence Day, just because that victory was achieved by the Indian National Congress.

This piece also appears on rediff.com

Photograph: courtesy The Sunday Tribune/ Chandigarh

When our politicians go strictly by the book

31 March 2008

“One party’s discovering India, and the other’s experimenting with the truth.”

E.P. Unny in The Indian Express

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?


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