Posts Tagged ‘Indira Gandhi’

‘On TV evidence, Rahul doesn’t have it to be PM’

28 January 2014

Rahul Gandhi‘s interview with Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami has already led to a torrent of scrutiny and criticism, and there will be more tonight as the wise sages in Bombay and Delhi sit down to parse every paragraph and syllable.

But how did smalltown India receive Gandhi’s arangetram against the stylish backdrop of an M.F. Husain painting?

Here, K.B. Ganapathy, the erudite editor-in-chief of the evening tabloid Star of Mysore shares his thoughts.

***

kbg

By K.B. GANAPATHY

Last evening I had my sundowner early enough to be ready to watch the TV channel Times Now at 9 pm waiting for the soon-to-become prime minister of India, Rahul Gandhi. He was to appear before Arnab Goswami, that loud-mouthed Times Now anchor who loves his own voice more than those whom he interviews and tackles in a panel discussion.

I was ready with a writing pad and a pen to write about the interview.

This interview, Arnab claimed, was Rahul’s first since he won the 2004 parliamentary elections. Rahul’s response was a denial saying he had given many press interviews but dodged the crux of the question that it was Rahul’s first TV interview.

Now, after I laboured through a languorous interview of over an hour, I discovered that this was the way Rahul was answering every one of Arnab Goswami’s questions. I am sure many attentive viewers too may have made the same discovery as yours truly.

Rahul, apparently in a show of bravado, told Arnab Goswami, who was going back in time, “…draw me back as much as you want.”

Arnab grabbed the opportunity and asked why Congress was avoiding announcing the prime ministerial candidate. The answer was something like this: “Issue is how a Prime Minister is chosen. It is MPs who select the Prime Minister. We have respect for the process.”

Arnab Goswami: What about 2009?

Rahul Gandhi: There was an incumbent Prime Minister.

In fact, knowledgeable people know whenever there is a person available in the Gandhi dynasty to become Prime Minister, that office would go to the member of that dynasty only.

In 1984, Rajiv Gandhi was sworn-in as prime minister, soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination without consulting the MPs. It was the majority of CWC that chose the prime minister even though, left to the MPs, Pranab Mukherjee, being No. 2 in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet, would have been chosen.

In fact, that was the reason for Pranab Mukherjee to leave Congress. Rajiv Gandhi too ignored him after assuming power. Let it be.

Sadly, Rahul Gandhi was unable to explain convincingly about this contradiction in what he told Arnab Goswami and what had happened in the Congress Party in the matter of choosing a Prime Minister.

Rahul Gandhi, in his detour of an answer, denied there was ever any arbitrary decision taken in choosing a PM, whatever it meant.

Questioned if he would face Narerddra Modi in a debate, once again the answer was devious and said, ‘You must understand Rahul Gandhi. I want to ask you a question…’ For this, Arnab’s answer was, ‘I can’t be a half journalist. I ask this question because Narendra Modi is challenging you on a daily basis.’

Answering further questions, Rahul went rambling — people of honesty are destroyed by the ‘system,’ question of losing or winning an election does not arise, etc.

After the interview, Arnab Goswami invited Vinod Mehta, that veteran journalist and mentor of Outlook magazine along with another author for their opinions about Rahul’s interview. Vinod Mehta rightly said, recalling Rahul’s concern for correcting the ‘system,’ that all these years, all those who tried to fix the system got themselves fixed and threw up their hands in despair.

I thought of Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi to whom the ever helpful media gave the reverential epithet Mr. Clean. This Mr Clean went to Bombay soon after becoming the Prime Minister, delivered an India-shaking speech criticising the power brokers in his party and vowed to end this menace that was the cause for corruption.

What happened? Soon Rajiv Gandhi himself got mired in corruption scandal of Bofors gun deal, lost the election to V.P. Singh and the rest was tragic history.

Question: Narendra Modi calls you Shehzada. Are you afraid of losing to Modi?

The answer was again abstract and irrelevant. ‘Rahul Gandhi wants to empower women. We will defeat BJP etc., etc.’

Question: Is Narendra Modi responsible for Gujarat riots? Courts gave him clean chit. Congress wants to put Modi on the back foot on this issue. What about 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi? Was Congress responsible?

Here, Rahul Gandhi had a new take by way of answer. According to him, in Gujarat, the government headed by Narendra Modi abetted the massacre, while in Delhi the Congress government tried to contain the killings.

Arnab Goswami told Rahul Gandhi that while Narendra Modi got the army in 48 hours, in Delhi, it took 72 hours and many Congress leaders were arraigned in criminal cases in this Sikh massacre and the cases are still being dragged on.

Listening to this part of the interview, I was wondering why the learned media wizards and the smart politicians don’t see a distinction between 2002 Gujarat riots and 1984 Delhi massacre. The Gujarat violence was a communal riot. It is not important who provoked it because that will not justify killings at all.

The law of the land should prevail, not mass violence.

Here, both Hindus and Muslims died, but majority of people who died were Muslims. However, in Delhi, it was not a communal riot. It was a pogrom, like what happened to Jews during World War II in Germany.

Just because two Sikh security guards killed our Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, some Congress party members and admirers of Indira Gandhi allegedly massacred innocent Sikhs in a sudden, surprise attack. Now, 30 years on, our country’s legal system could not punish the culprits!

Will Rahul Gandhi, if and when he becomes the Prime Minister fix this ‘legal system’ so that aam aadmi gets justice without delay. Can he? I doubt.

To be honest, much as Congressmen would like to make Rahul Gandhi the Prime Minister of India, my gut feeling, after seeing him face the interview, is that he will not fit into the Prime Minister’s slot.

He was simply not clear in his mind what he wants to do for the country’s many challenging political, economic and social issues.

Yes, I must mention here that Rahul was asking Arnab Goswami why he was not asking questions about issues related to corruption, women empowerment, bringing youngsters into politics, etc. This was when Rahul was unable to face the tricky, difficult questions from Arnab Goswami.

Rahul did not seem a person with intellectual streak or with oratorical or debating skill.

Power of speech is what makes a leader.

History is replete with such leaders — Julius Caesar, Antony, Hannibal, Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Lenin, Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose…. At present Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

After seeing the interview, I don’t think, Rahul has what it takes to make one a Prime Minister or a great leader.

He was asked: If he wants to end corruption, how can he have alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav of Bihar who has been convicted of corruption? The clever answer from Rahul was that the alliance was with the Party RJD and not with Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Likewise, he was asked about the ‘dynasty’ of which he is the No. 1. His answer was again a clever one: “In every party one could see ‘dynasty.’ I did not sign up and say I must be born in this dynasty or family,” etc., etc.

He further clarified in his own rambling, inchoate manner, to a question, his opinion about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). It was a non-answer ! He was for opening the ‘system’ to end dynasty but there is no Abracadabra to do that.

I must appreciate here that for once that talkative, argumentative, belligerent Arnab Goswami was too condescending to Rahul Gandhi; too patient, too gentle and may I say too sympathetic to a person sitting before him, tensed up, with a smear of sweat on his pink visage, not sure of himself in answering the questions.

And I thought it was rather rude and even unkindly on the part of Arnab Goswami to ask Rahul Gandhi if he was prepared for a TV debate with Narendra Modi.

By now I had come to anticipate Rahul’s answer to such direct, taunting question and, as I correctly guessed, he said ‘his party would be ready for such a debate’. Now Manish Tewari, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Digvijay Singh… please get ready to face Narendra Modi.

And finally, it was interesting to hear in the beginning of the interview itself about Rahul Gandhi’s educational qualification about which that acerbic Dr Subramanian Swamy had some doubts. Surprisingly Rahul in turn asked Arnab Goswami if he was ever in Cambridge.

When the answer was yes, Rahul mentioned about an ‘affidavit’ he had filed etc., etc. about his having a degree from Trinity College.

Well, that was an insipid, boring interview, but I was left wondering, as I retired to bed, how could Vinod Mehta say Rahul’s was a creditable performance? Honesty in journalism may not always be the best policy.

After all, his own magazine Outlook has described Rahul Gandhi as ‘Sunset Prince’ and after watching this interview, I don’t think Outlook was wrong in its opinion.

(This piece was originally published in Star of Mysore)

CHURUMURI POLL: A third term for Manmohan?!

29 March 2013

When he was first sworn in in 2004 after Sonia Gandhi reportedly heard her “inner voice”, the less-than-charitable view was that Manmohan Singh was merely warming the prime ministerial chair for her son Rahul Gandhi, who was decreed even by the prevailing feudal standards to be too young to be imposed on a captive nation. All his first term, they teased and taunted the Silent Sardar. They called him “India’s weakest PM since independence“, they called him nikamma. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the Left parties.

By 2009, when the Congress-led UPA won a second stint in office, Singh, a mascot of the middleclasses for his 1991 reforms and clean image, had emerged as one of the three faces in the Congress’ aam admi campaign, besides mother and son, but it was said he would be kicked upstairs as President in 2012. We asked if he would survive in 2010, in 2011, in 2012. They called him “underachiever“. It didn’t work; he survived a pullout by the TMC and DMK, and every scam and scandal swirling under his very nose.

Now in his ninth year in office, longer than other Indian prime minister bar Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh has provided fresh evidence that he may be “an overrated economist and an underated politician“. Even as Congressmen, P. Chidambaram downwards, count their 2014 chickens before they are hatched following Rahul Gandhi’s expressed reluctance for the top job, Singh has refused to rule out a third stint for himself in the event of the UPA coming back to power in the next general election.

On the flight back from the BRICS summit in South Africa….

In the 2014 elections, If the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and your party request you to accept third term, will you accept Prime Ministerial nomination for the third term?

These are all hypothetical questions. We will cross that bridge, when we reach there.

Hypothetical yes, but certainly “India’s weakest PM since independence” has killed many birds with one stone. He has not ruled himself out of the race, if such a race were to take place. He has told his upstart colleagues to watch out. He has shown that the Rahul Gandhi vs Narendra Modi race is one he isn’t watching on his television set. And he has shown that he has greater political stamina and acumen than people give him credit for, despite the scams and scandals that have enveloped his regime and the repeated pullout of various parties.

Question: Could the Silent Sardar become India’s first PM to get three consecutive terms?

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

6 questions Rahul Gandhi still hasn’t answered

7 January 2012

If you listen closely to the breeze blowing through the capital’s vineyards, the year of the lord two-thousand twelve is the year when a not-so-young man will become the “fifth generation custodian of one of the world’s longest serving political dynasties of the world“.

But Rahul Gandhi‘s personal life has not been the bed of roses that pathological Congress-haters with Subramanian Swamy on their Twitter timeline think it is: he was 10, when his uncle crashed to death; 13 when his grandmother lay soaked in blood in the family garden; 20 when the call came from Sriperumbudur.

His political life, though, is not as touching.

Seven years since he set foot in the cesspool, few know where he stands on any issue. He speaks for FDI in retail after the bill has been torpedoed. He speaks for Nandan Nilekani‘s Aadhar project after the parliament standing committee has torn into it. He looks ashen-faced when his suggestion to make Lok Pal a constitutional authority is noisily defeated.

If the Congress wins anything, bouquets are laid at his door; if it loses, partymen magnanimously bat the bricks. If he speaks in the Lok Sabha, he is cheered; if he remains silent, his critics are jeered. For a digital generation politician, he seems to loves playing a stuck LP on his strange two-nation theory of India.

Yes, has heroically (and admirably) made the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections a test of his prowess, unlike his presumed rival from the BJP—Narendra Damodardas Modi, to give him his full name—who cannot even step out of his Vibrant State, but what after that?

On India Real Time, the Wall Street Journal‘s superb India website, Ajit Mohan asks the one question reporters on the Congress beat are loathe to asking:

“The question that has never been sincerely posed is what will he have to do to earn the right to lead the nation or even the party? Even the scions of established political dynasties have had to earn their stripes in recent history.

“While it was always a guaranteed outcome that Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew’s first-born son would become the prime minister some day, Lee Hsein Loong was battle-tested in critical ministerial portfolios and successfully led the country’s monetary authority during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s before he got anywhere near the leadership chair.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the Democratic party’s favorite president, John F. Kennedy, and descendant in a long line of family members who served in senior leadership positions in the government, failed to get the nod from her party for a US Senate nomination despite her legacy and support from a sitting president. North Korea may well be an exception to the rule, where the only criterion for the new supreme leader seems to have been that he happened to be the son who was not a full-blown lunatic.

“For Rahul Gandhi to earn the right to be the leader that he may be destined to be, he must prove his mettle on many fronts.

“Can he articulate a philosophy of political and social change that is compelling enough to chart the policies of the Congress for the next 20 years? Can he create a political strategy that is rooted not in the vote bank politics of the past — slicing and dicing communities and castes — but in appealing to the aspirations and energy of constituencies that have traditionally not even bothered to vote? Does he have the intent and the ability to reform the party’s governance structures? Can he win elections for the party? Can he build and sustain coalitions? Does he have the management ability to lead and govern a party as diverse as the Congress, or a country as complex as India?”

Photograph: courtesy The Associated Press via WSJ

Also readJesus, Mozart, Alexander aur apun ka Rahul Gandhi

What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

How different is Rahul Gandhi from MNS and KRV?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: A foregone conclusion?

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

After Manmohan who? Chidu, Diggy or Rahul?

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

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)

‘Appe Midi’, Julia Roberts and S. Bangarappa

26 December 2011

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: Even though Sarekoppa Bangarappa spent almost 15 years in the national capital New Delhi as a four-time MP—he entered the Lok Sabha on a different symbol each time—he actually did not like the capital and its politics.

Bangarappa lived at a sprawling British built bungalow behind the Prime Minister’s official residence for 10 years. This leafy bungalow, enveloped by rare and old trees and full of greenery, was a magnet for peacocks in the area, searching for food or water, and relaxing or dancing in the well protected, manicured lawns of the stately bungalows.

Bangarappa liked these peacocks and had built a pond for them in his lawn. He had instructed his long time secretary Chandrashekhar to arrange grain for the peacocks all through the year. He had also built a 5 foot high water fall built near the pond to enable peacocks to enjoy a shower.

He ordered his secretary to construct a night shelter to protect peacocks from New Delhi’s bitter cold. To his dismay, peacocks ignored his magnanimity and preferred to stay on branches of the tree during night.

Bangarappa used to sit in his lawn watching the peacocks for hours. Sometimes, he used to sing old classics and folk songs in his booming voice. I had the rare privilege of giving him company on many an occasion.

The former President of India Shankar Dayal Sharma had stayed in the same bungalow for over 20 years before Bangarappa. BJP president Nitin Gadkari now boasts the address 13, Teen Murti Lane.

***

Bangarappa missed playing badminton in New Delhi. He hated the extreme weather of north India. He often used to complain that Delhi was not fit for human habitation, and would rarely step out of his bungalow, if he had no work at the Parliament.

Some of his old friends in Delhi like Ghulam Nabi Azad, V.C. Shukla, Kapil Sibal, H.R. Bhardwaj, R K Dhawan, Farooq Abdullah et al used to visit him at his house for filter coffee and idli or dosa.

He would regale them with all kinds of stories, especialy about the man he hated the most, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Sometimes, referring to PVN, he would mutter ‘that bloody bugger is still alive’.

Unlike most Congress leaders, Bangarappa hated sycophancy. He was ready to go only to Sonia Gandhi‘s house. He always expected other leaders to come to his house.

Dr Farooq Abdullah was Bangarappa’s neighbour for many years. They had a very good relationship dating back to their days as fellow chief ministers in the 1990s. Sometimes, they used to return home from the Parliament for lunch in the same car.

Bangarappa had no security and Dr. Abdullah had Z plus security. Sometimes Bangarappa used to joke that it was dangerous for him to travel with Farooq Abdullah as he was facing a threat to his life from Kashmiri militants and it was like inviting a maari home!!

***

When Bangarappa quit BJP to join Samajwadi Party in 2005, I was with him at the SP office on Copernicus Lane near Mandi House. After his induction, we drove to his Teen Murti lane house in his car.

SP chief and the then UP CM Mulayam Singh Yadav was also with him in the same car. Bangarappa did not a know a word of Hindi and Mulayam did not know a word of English. The job of acting as their interpreter fell on me. They discussed their initial days in the socialist movement in the 1960s during that 15-minute drive.

Bangarappa was not impressed by Mulayam’s intellect. Later, he told me in Kannada: ‘Ivanige thaleeli yenoo illa. Ivananthavarigoo UP jana vote haaktharalla (He is a dull head. Even a man like him get elected in UP).”

***

Bangarappa had a fairly big collection of books at his house. He had a wide range of interests. He was fond of books related to science and nature. Of late he had developed a great interest in nuclear science, as a member of parliamentary standing committee on defence.

He even wanted to address international media on India’s need for nuclear bombs and had asked me to introduce him to foreign journalists in New Delhi.

His other habit was studying trees and plants in his compound. He would spend hours talking about them. He even wanted to plant a sapling of the famous Anantha Bhattana Appe midi (a rare variety of tender mango from Sirsi in Uttara Kannada district) in his compound.

Bangarappa was very proud of his knowledge of different types of maavina midi and their taste.

***

He was fond of home cooked food. He liked idli, vada, dosa and pongal for breakfast. He preferred anna, saaru, sambar and curd for lunch and dinner. I was his regular guest whenever he was in New Delhi for the Parliament session or for some meeting. He had a special liking for the people from his place Shimoga.

He was also a huge fan of Hollywood movies. We used to watch movies of James Bond, Clint Eastwood, Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Julia Roberts and others at his house.

Once, a senior Congress minister from Karnataka also joined us. He was commenting non-stop on Julia Robert’s role in Pretty Woman. Bangarappa, who was totally engrossed in that classic, lost his cool and asked him either to shut up or leave.

He angrily told him that he was unfit to watch an English movie and he should restrict himself to the movies shown on Udaya TV. That minister later became a Karnataka chief minister!

***

Bangarappa had held all prime positions in the state politics. He was a senior minister holding major portfolios like home, revenue and agriculture. He was KPCC president and leader of the opposition. Later the chief minister of state. 7 time  MLA and a 4 time MP.

But, he was sad that he did not become a Cabinet minister at the Centre. He had joined the BJP with the sole intention of becoming a Union minister in 2004. But, fate had decided otherwise. BJP lost and Congress came to power. Bangarappa missed his chance.

I suspect he died with that regret.

During 2004-2009, Bangarappa rarely visited New Delhi. He was looking dull and unenthusiastic. His ego and self esteem never allowed him to admit that he was disillusioned. After he lost 2009 Lok Sabha polls from Shimoga, he visited New Delhi just 3-4 times.

During one of his meetings, he rued that dirty politics of Delhi was not for straight forward people like him and he had no hope left in his political career. He truly admired only two leaders Indira Gandhi, who made him KPCC president, and her son Rajiv Gandhi, who made him the Chief Minister. He had contempt for the rest.

He always maintained that he was not corrupt and used to hold his rivals in the party and state politics responsible for the charges against him.

May his soul rest in peace.

File photograph: Former chief minister of Karnataka, S. Bangarappa, who passed away in Bangalore on Monday, clambers on to a bicycle after joining the Samajwadi Party in 2005 (Karnataka Photo News)

It’s an ad, ad, ad world and it’s even official

20 December 2011

Rajiv Gandhi‘s 2011 birth anniversary: 108 ads across 48 pages in 12 newspapers surveyed by churumuri.

Indira Gandhi‘s 2011 birth anniversary: 64 ads across 32 pages in the same 12 newspapers.

Now, the Union information and broadcasting ministry has put a figure to the advertising blitz: Rs 7 crore in all; Rs 4.79 crore on Rajiv’s and Rs 2.46 crore on Indira’s ads.

The I&B ministry’s computation, which obviously includes other non-Delhi and non-English papers, does not take into account the death anniversaries of the two, or the birth and death anniversaries of Jawaharlal Nehru. In all, 393 pages of advertising were published on the six anniversaries, on the pages of 12 newspapers this year.

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Image: courtesy Mail Today

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

6 pages for Ambedkar; 393 pages for The Family

Stepmotherly affection for Father of Constitution

6 December 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For all the lip service it pays “dalits and the downtrodden”, for all the tokenism of a Dalit as speaker of Lok Sabha, and for all the buzz about a possible Dalit replacement for Manmohan Singh as prime minister, the Congress-led UPA government has issued a measly six pages of ads in 12 newspapers to mark the birth death anniversary of the father of the Indian Constitution—and the icon of Dalits—Dr B.R. Ambedkar.

In contrast, the State government of Uttar Pradesh, headed by Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, has issued seven pages in the same 12 newspapers surveyed by sans serif.

The Centre’s six pages of ads for Ambedkar is in stark contrast to the 393 pages of ads issued by various ministries and departments of the Union government and Congress-run State governments to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in 2011.

While various ministries were falling over each other to sing hosannas for the three ex-PMs, only the ministry of social justice and empowerment is in evidence for Dr Ambedkar. The only State government advertiser is the Delhi commission for safai karmacharis.

***

The breakup of the Ambedkar ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 2 Ambedkar ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 26-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

Indian Express: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 compact page

The Hindu: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 1 ad amounting to 1 broadsheet page

The Telegraph: 24-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 24-page main issue; 0 ads

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 0 ads

Financial Express: 18-page issue; 0 ads

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Photograph: courtesy Sepia Mutiny

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

Times, Express groups get most anniversary ads

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

It’s official, RG greater than IG greater than JN

19 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: For the final anniversary of the year of India’s “Family No. 1″—the birth anniversary of the nation’s first woman prime minister Indira Gandhi—there are 70 advertisements amounting to 32 published pages in 12 English newspapers that have been surveyed through the year by sans serif.

With this anniversary, the total number of government ads to mark the three birth and three death anniversaries of the three former prime ministers from the family—Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi—in the year of the lord 2011 goes up to 393.

In effect, the government has bought space amounting to 190¼ pages in the 12 newspapers.

# The Times of India is the biggest beneficiary of the ad blitz to mark the six anniversaries among the general-interest newspapers with 65 published ads followed by Indian Express 62, Hindustan Times 57, The Hindu 42, The Pioneer 41, Mail Today 36, The Statesman 25 and The Telegraph 18 ads.

# The Economic Times and Business Standard top the list of the busines dailies with 14 ads each, followed by the Financial Express with 11 ads. Mint (from the Hindustan Times stable) has received just one ad for the six anniversaries.

# As a group, the Times group has received 79 ads in all, the Express group 73 ads, and the Hindustan Times 58 ads.

While it is natural that ToI and HT should garner so many ads given their large circulations in the national capital, the second place for the Express group is revealing considering it sells less than five per cent of market-leaders ToI and HT in the Delhi market, which both sell in excess of 5 lakh copies.

The tabloid Mail Today, which has the third highest circulation among the Delhi newspapers, too gets fewer ads than the Indian Express.

***

The affection of various Union ministries, departments and State governments for the three departed leaders of the family is revealing.

While Rajiv Gandhi tops the charts with 177 advertisements amounting to 89 pages for his birth and death anniversaries, Indira Gandhi comes second with 134 ads amounting to 64 pages, followed by Pandit Nehru at a lowly 82 ads amounting to 37¼ pages.

***

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads today are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 10 Indira ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 32-page issue; 11 ads amounting to 4¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 28-page issue; 14 ads amounting to 5¾ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 42-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 5½ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 20-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 3 broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 18-page issue; 6 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 26-page issue; 0 ads amounting to 0 broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 16-page main issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 18-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1¼ pages

Mint (Berliner): 12-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, culture, water resources, statistics and programme implementation, north eastern region, micro small and medium enterprises, social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, there are ads of the national commission for women.

***

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Nehru birthday: 58 ads amounting to 26¼ pages

Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Rajiv death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Indira Gandhi birthday: 64 ads, 32 pages

Nehru’s CTC (cost to country): 58 ads, 26 pages

14 November 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: There are 58 government advertisements amounting to 26¼ pages in 12 English newspapers today to mark the birth anniversary of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. In contrast, there were 108 ads amounting to 48 pages to mark his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi‘s birthday in August.

All told, so far this year, between three death anniversaries (Nehru’s, Rajiv’s, Indira Gandhi‘s) and two birth anniversaries (Rajiv’s and Indira’s), various ministries of the Union government and Congress-ruled State governments have spent taxpayers’ money in buying 323 advertisements amounting to 158¼ published pages in the 12 surveyed newspapers.

The breakup of the Jawaharlal Nehru ads are as under:

Hindustan Times: 24-page main issue; 11 Nehru ads amounting to 4½ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 30-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 3¾ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 24-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 2¼ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 2¾ broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2¼ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1 broadsheet page

***

The Economic Times: 30-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ broadsheet pages

Business Standard: 16-page issue; 2 ads amounting to 1 page

Financial Express: 22-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ page

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the advertisers wishing the dear departed leader happy birthday this year are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, human resource development, micro small and medium enterprises, youth affairs and sports.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan and Delhi. Besides, there are ads of Nehru Yuva Kendra and the national book trust.0

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi death anniversary: 69 ads, 41 pages in 12 papers

Jawaharlal Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv Gandhi birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

Indira Gandhi: 64 ads, 32 pages; Vallabhbhai Patel: 9 ads, 3 pages

Vinod Mehta on Arun Shourie, Dileep Padgaonkar

7 November 2011

“India’s most independent, principled and irreverent editor” Vinod Mehta has just published a memoir. Titled Lucknow Boy, the editor-in-chief  of the Outlook* group of magazines, recaptures his four-decade journalistic journey via Debonair, The Sunday Observer, The Indian Post,  The Independent and The Pioneer.

With trademark candour often bordering on the salacious, the twice-married but childless Mehta reveals that he fathered a child in a tryst with a Swiss girl in his 20s, and that as a young copywriter in Bombay, he posed as a prostitute’s boyfriend to get her sister married off (and got paid Rs 500 for his services).

Along the way, Mehta also slays two very holy cows of Indian journalism, Arun Shourie and Dileep Padgaonkar, revealing their hypocrisy and duplicity in the way they dealt with colleagues while grandstanding in public as suave, softspoken, scholarly men of letters.

***

By VINOD MEHTA

Over the years, Arun Shourie and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues—something I don’t regret. Shourie, as editor of the Indian Express, had broken the big Antulay story, ‘Indira Gandhi as Commerce’ [in the early 1980s].

The expose revealed that the Maharashtra chief minister, A.R. Antulay, had started an organisation called the ‘Indian Gandhi Pratibha Pratishtan’ through which he collected illicit funds from builders. The corruption scandal forced Antulay to resign.

Arun Shourie and the Express, now implacably opposed to Indira Gandhi and the Congress, had bagged a big Congress scalp. Among journalists and sections of civil society Mr Shourie was flavour of the month—or shall I say many months.

A young reporter in the Free Press Journal with friends in the Express came to see me. He said he had a story, but was not sure if a recently launched paper like the Sunday Observer had the nerve to publish it. According to him, the chief reporter and several other senior reporters in the Express were sulking because Arun Shourie had hogged all the limelight.

While they acknowledged Shourie’s contribution, much of the legwork for the scoop had been done by the Express bureau, a fact which was never acknowledged in the story. Staff morale apparently was at an all-time low.

‘Shourie and the Penthouse conspiracy’ duly appeared. ‘Penthouse’ was mentioned because Mr Shourie allegedly sat in the Express penthouse with Ramnath Goenka and wrote the expose.

It did not take long for Arun Shourie to come back. He demanded a full rebuttal in the form of an extended interview with him. ‘Your story is a complete fabrication,’ he charged.

Kumar Ketkar, then a young and pugnacious Bombay journalist, jumped into the fray. In a letter to the editor [of The Sunday Observer], he noted: ‘The self-righteous breast-beating of Shourie is a fast spreading gangrene in the profession of journalism. If not checked in time, it could acquire the dimensions of witch-hunting and Macarthyism.’

And concluded: ‘Free from any constraint of veracity, Shourie is always able to provide exclusive stories.’ The debate on our letters page continued for many weeks.

***

On 19 October 1989, The Independent published an eight-column banner headline, ‘Y.B. Chavan, not Morarji Desai, spied for the US.’ For two days the story went largely unnoticed. Except for Mid-Day which carried our Chavan report almost verbatim, the rest of the media kept away.

That did not suit the perenially insecure editor of The Times of IndiaDileep Padgaonkar.

While the other editors in the Times group were troubled by my presence, Dileep had a special and urgent reason to feel troubled. I and my team were producing an English paper every day which looked infinitely better than the paper Dileep was editing, and on many mornings it even read better.

Mr Padgaonkar’s insecurities when word got around that, at a meeting with his senior managers, [Times bossman] Samir Jain mentioned me as a possible editor of The Times of India.

Dileep and the Maharashtra Times editor, Govind Talwalkar, got together to ensure the Chavan story did not go unnoticed. In an editorial on 21 October, the Times viciously attacked me and the Independent. It went so far as to incite physical violence against me, suggesting that if it did occur, it would be my own fault.

Departing from its pompous, lofty, measured tone, the Times launched a series of vituperative onslaughts targeting me, which observers found astonishing since the two papers were ‘sister publications’. One opposition leader told the media that while the (Chavan) story was indeed objectionable, it was the Times group which created the ‘hysteria’ around it.

I hold no grudges against Dileep Padgaonkar. He is who he is. However, the man who once claimed he held ‘the second most important job in the country’ can be legitimately charged with single-handedly opening the door for the denigration and decline of the Editor as an institution.

When Dileep’s bosses asked him to bend, he crawled. Since then it has been downhill all the way for other editors.

(Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta, published by Penguin Viking, 325 pages, Rs 499)

Illustration: courtesy Sorit GuptoOutlook

Read an excerpt: Vinod Mehta on Radia tapes, Vajpayee, V.C. Shukla

Buy the book onlineIndia Plaza offer prize Rs 299

***

Disclosures apply

***
Also readS. Nihal Singh on Arun Shourie: Right-wing pamphleteer

Why Khushwant Singh fell out with Arun Shourie

‘Lone Hindu’ Dileep Padgaonkar gets it from M.J. Akbar‘s paper

How Dileep Padgaonkar christened a Pierre Cardin model

How the Sakaal Times dream became a nightmare

Congrats, your taxes have helped buy 265 ads

31 October 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: After the advertising blitzkrieg to mark Rajiv Gandhi‘s birth and death anniversaries, and the death anniversary of his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru earlier this year, Union ministries and Congress-led State governments and departments have once again splurged heavily to mark Indira Gandhi‘s death anniversary today.

In the 12 newspapers surveyed, there are 64 advertisements of various sizes, amounting to approximately 31½ published pages to mark the assassination of the former prime minister on this day, 27 years ago.

In contrast, Vallabhbhai Patel, the late Union home minister, whose birth anniverary too falls on October 31, gets 9 advertisements in the same 12 newspapers, amounting to 3 published pages. While there are multiple advertisements for Indira Gandhi, no paper has more than one ad for Patel.

The breakup of the Indira Gandhi ads are as under:

Hindustan Times: 22-page main issue; 9 Indira Gandhi ads amounting to 4¼ broadsheet pages

The Times of India: 30-page issue; 13 ads amounting to 6¼ broadsheet pages

Indian Express: 22-page issue; 9 ads amounting to 4 broadsheet pages

Mail Today (compact): 36-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 2¾ compact pages

The Hindu: 24-page issue; 8 ads amounting to 4 broadsheet pages

The Pioneer: 16-page issue; 7 ads amounting to 3¼ broadsheet pages

The Statesman: 16-page issue; 4 ads amounting to 2 broadsheet pages

The Telegraph: 22-page issue; 5 ads amounting to 2½ broadsheet pages

***

The Economic Times: 26-page issue; 3 ads amounting to 1½ pages

Business Standard: 14-page issue; 2 ads amouning to 1 page

Financial Express: 20-page issue; 1 ad amounting to half a page

Mint (Berliner): 24-page issue; 0 ads

This computation is only for 12 English newspapers; many other English papers have been left, as indeed has the entire language media which are more numerous than the English ones, several times over.

Among the 13 advertisers wishing the dear departed leader are the ministries of information and broadcasting, commerce and industry, steel, women and child development, health and family welfare, human resources development, development of north east region, and social justice and empowerment.

The state governments advertising their love are those of Rajasthan, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. Besides, most newspapers carry an advertisement inserted by the Congress party.

All told, so far, this year, tax payers money have been spent in buying 265 advertisements amounting to 132 published pages in the 12 newspapers.

Last year, on the 19th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an edit-page article in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that on May 21, 2010, perhaps Rs 60 or 70 crore were spent by the taxpayer — without his and her consent — on praising Rajiv Gandhi. Since the practice has been in place since 2005, the aggregate expenditure to date on this account is probably in excess of Rs 300 crore.”

Also read: Rajiv Gandhi death anniversary: 69 ads over 41 pages in 12 newspapers

Jawaharlal Nehru death anniversary: 24 ads over 11 pages

Rajiv Gandhi birthday: 108 ads across 48 pages

‘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

What if India hadn’t gone into the 1971 war?

26 May 2011

Jaithirth Rao in the Indian Express:

“The ‘liberation’ of Bangladesh has been presented as a significant moment in the history of free India, in fact in the history of the entire subcontinent…. What if India had not helped East Pakistani secessionism? What if Pakistan had remained one country?

“As long as West Pakistani Muslims were continuing to persecute East Pakistani Muslims, secessionist leaders in our lovely Kashmir vale would have been on the back foot…. Unwieldy Pakistan would not have had much time and energy to devote to the Afghan frontier or to inciting saffron-growing Sufi farmers in Srinagar and Kupwara….

“If there had been no Bangladesh would China have acquired a naval base in Chittagong like the one they have in Gwadar? Would the Chinese “encircle India” strategy been more purposeful? The impartial historian would argue that the Bangladesh war actually did a disservice to Indira Gandhi. She may not have become arrogant and imposed the Emergency of 1975.”

Read the full article: It happened in 1971

External reading*: What if?

What one Yuvraj can learn from the other Yuvraj

17 May 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: In the second decade of the 21st century, India has two Yuvrajs trying to lord over all they survey.

***

The first Yuvraj is on the cricket field: Yuvraj Singh.

A brilliant fielder at cover-point and a batsman who can hit the leather off a cricket ball at will, he is every captain’s dream colleague.

This Yuvraj is a teen prodigy who came good despite a stormy upbringing: His partnership with Mohammed Kaif when India chased down England’s 326  to win the NatWest series, after being  147  for 5, is part of Indian one-day cricket folklore, second only to the win at 1983; make that third only to the World Cup win in 2011.

When he hit six sixes off a hapless Stuart Broad over  in a Twenty20 match in 2007, even  his critics had to sit up and say “wow”.

“Critics”, because Yuvraj Singh was not having the same success in Test match cricket. A nervous starter, he was vulnerable against both the short-pitched ball and the turning ball in the early part of an innings. Eventually he lost his place in the Test team to Suresh Raina.

To add to his woes, he was injury-prone, lost the vice-captaincy of ODI team, became overweight,  and  somewhat overbearing. He began making news off the field, even going after a pesky spectator who called him a ‘water boy’ because he was in the game only as a twelfth man.

From such a precarious down-in-the-dumps position, Yuvraj Singh rose like a Phoenix in the just-concluded World Cup. He worked hard on his fitness, lost weight and became the original mean and hungry looking man, batting and fielding like a man possessed.

He even sharpened his spin bowling to such a nagging length that he was difficult to score off and took  more wickets than the main spinner in the team, Harbhajan Singh. He was adjudged ‘man of the match’ four times, eventually being declared the most valuable player of the tournament when in the finals he took important wickets and stayed with his captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni to fetch India a famous victory after 28 years.

This is our first Yuvraj, who, despite a stormy childhood at the hands of his father Yograj Singh, started as a precocious talent, went into the doldrums and a period of uncertainty but bounced back and delivered when it mattered most and fulfilled his promise.

His aura is now firmly back.

The “water boy”, Clive Lloyd said, “was drinking from the fountain’.

***

Our other Yuvraj also plays in white, but in a different field: politics.

Quite unlike the other Yuvraj, Rahul Gandhi burst on to the scene with a “home” advantage.

He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His bloodline was impeccable. His parents were happily married. Being the son of the most powerful and influential Congressman, Sonia Gandhi, he didn’t have to work his way up into the “team”. He was captain material from the day he entered the park.

The crown prince: if not Royalty itself, he was the closest to Royalty in a democratic context.

With his great grandfather (Jawaharlal Nehru), his grandmother (Indira Gandhi) and his father (Rajiv Gandhi) having all been prime ministers, the trajectory was clear for this Yuvraj from the day his mother heard her “inner voice”. Congressmen openly admit this Yuvraj has to only choose the time and day when he would like to become PM and the incumbent will readily make way.

This Yuvraj doesn’t have to bother about critics who criticise him, because they don’t.

This Yuvraj’s teammates doesn’t have to bother about the taunts of rivals and teammates, because they don’t.

This Yuvraj doesn’t have to bother about spectators who make fun of him, because they can’t get close to him.

Sure, he works hard like the other Yuvraj, travelling extensively in his continuing ‘Discovery of India’, campaigning in constituency after constituency. He even tries to get down from his ivory-tower SUV and mingle with the aam janata especially the young. And, he hasn’t shown any undue haste to become prime minister.

Sure, he says the kind of things people like to hear. He says he is against the pomp which most Congressmen fall prey to such as  motorcycle outriders and the “lal batthi” (red-light) syndrome. He admits that he had it easy but wants to democratise the party to allow youngsters to enter politics.

Still, success eludes this Yuvraj unlike the other Yuvraj.

Except for the childlike enthusiasm of the ‘Amul Baby’, the nation doesn’t know where he stands on the key issues of the day. Be it talking about “Kalavathy” or joining protesting farmers, the only arrow in his quiver seems to be symbolism.

His stand on substantial issues like Maoism, poverty, inflation, terrorism, etc, are unknown.

He holds on to his two-nation theory of India as if no other thought passes between his ears.

Worse, he has  exhibited a  penchant to put his foot in the mouth that exposes his limited knowledge of the Indian political system and the freedom struggle. His statement that ‘his family had made sacrifices’ to the country was met with strong criticism, perhaps deservedly so. The WikiLeaks cable that showed that he felt the growth of radicalised Hindu groups posed a greater threat to Indian security than Islamic terror groups, evoked guffaws.

So far, this Yuvraj hasn’t done anything spectacular to show that he has it in him to lead the nation despite the red carpet laid out for him. Indeed, if he was the other Yuvraj he would have been dropped from the team.

If this Yuvraj doesn’t come up with the numbers, doesn’t show leadership qualities soon, his ascendency to the throne will be regarded as a pure dynastic ritual rather than as any achievement that propelled him to that exalted position.

Whereas the cricketing Yuvraj changed his work ethic for the better which got him handsome rewards, the politicking Yuvraj is still only gardening the pitch, after taking guard nearly a decade ago.

Surely, it is time the crown prince Yuvraj took a leaf out of the commoner Yuvraj and belted some sixes and announced himself in the IPL—the Indian Political League.

Else, “We, the People” will be entitled to ask, why and not why not.

***

Photograph: Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi watching the 2011 World Cup semifinals between India and Pakistan in Mohali (courtesy PTI via The Times of India)

***

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Has Rahul Gandhi blown it?

What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

In one-horse race, Rahul Gandhi is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander and apun ka Rahul

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: a foregone conclusion?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

8 April 2011

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The fast-unto-death by the social activist Anna Hazare in New Delhi and the nationwide support it has elicited for cleansing the system, has enormous relevance to Karnataka especially in the present context, where the air is thick corruption.

One thing is clear. Politicians, cutting across party lines, are opposed to any measure to rein in corruption in public life. They have successfully evolved ways and means to torpedo any such attempts, or to emasculate the system which is put into operation, to ensure a free run for themselves.

While New Delhi has a history of dragging its feet on the Lokpal bill in general and on the question of bringing the Prime Minister under its purview in particular, Bangalore has a track record of dragging its feet on the question of strengthening the hands of Lok Ayukta with suo motu powers to investigate charges of corruption.

***

The common thread that runs in the attitudes of the central and State governments towards corruption, is the marked reluctance on the part of the the political parties, be it of Congress or non-Congress hues, including the BJP, to hold the bull by horns.

The intention is very clear: they don’t want to create any fetters which come in the way of their untrammelled enjoyment of power.

At the Centre, the main question which has been endlessly debated is whether the PM should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal bill, in whatever form it may be brought in.

The solution was/is simple: Had those who held the high august office voluntarily declared that they would subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, the matter could have been resolved in a jiffy and a suitable law could have found a place in the statute books.

But none of the worthies, from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, and including Rajiv Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee, Deve Gowda, and Chandrasekhar, could volunteer to suggest that persons holding high office should not only be honest but appear to be honest too.

For all of them, the authority and status of the PM’s office appeared more important than the need for probity in public life. It is the cumulative mess created by the Cassandras of corruption, which has resulted in the 2G spectrum scam, which has made the current Prime Minister squirm in his seat.

Manmohan Singh’s image as a clean and honest politician has taken a severe beating. He has paid a big price for his  vacillation.

If the prime minister of the country is unwilling to lead from the front in the fight against the corruption, how do you expect the lower minions in the political hierarchy like the chief ministers and the State governments down the line to act otherwise?

If  the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, could be investigated for the Watergate scandal, or the high and mighty be proceeded against for tax evasion in America, it does not stand to reason as to why the busy  bodies in India tht is Bharat should be placed above the law.

***

In Karnataka, there is a twist in the tale.

Since 1984, there has been a law and an institution to fight corruption. But it has been deliberately made ineffective. The Lok Ayukta has not been given suo motu powers to initiate action.  Such powers given when the Act was enacted by the Ramakrishna Hegde government, were subsequently withdrawn two years later for reasons not clear.

The Lok Ayukta, as an institution, was almost unknown (and unseen) for nearly one-and-a-half decades after its inception. The first time it caught the public imagination was when Justice N. Venkatachala, who was appointed during the S.M. Krishna regime in 2001,  became proactive in the discharge of his duties.

It was Justice Venkatachala who focussed attention on the lacunae in the law and took them up with the government. For all the sound and fury, his five-year term ended without his dream of the grant of suo motu powers being realised.

His successor, Justice N. Santosh Hegde, too has vigorously pursued the pending issue with the government, even going so far as to submit his resignation in the period. His five-year tenure is coming to an end in a couple of months and like his predecessor he has to retire with a feeling that the government ignored his plea.

None of the governments that have held office during the period of the present and previous Lok Ayukta have been able to restore the suo motu powers to the Lok Ayukta, which is a felt need.

And these include, the Congress government led by Krishna, the Congress-JDS coalitions headed by Dharam Singh, the  BJP-JDS coalition headed by H.D. Kumaraswamy and the present BJP government headed by B.S. Yediyurappa, which has been in office from 2008.

The message is quite clear: none of them is keen on doing it despite the public protestation of their commitment to fight corruption.

The Upa Lok Ayukta enjoys suo motu powers, which can be exercised over the lower echelons of the administration. The other higher-ups do not come under its purview. More often than not, the post is kept vacant.

When Venkatachala, started exercising the powers of the Upa Lok Ayukta in his crusade against corruption, the government woke up after a long gap to and felt the need to fill the vacancy. This was done more with the intention of reining in Justice Venkatachala than to strengthen the functioning.

But much to the chagrin of those who had planned the move, the new Upa Lok Ayukta Justice Patri Basangowda proved to be a good foil rather than hindrance to Justice Venkatachala. After Mr Patri Basangowda retired the post in 2009,   the post has remained vacant.

The absence of suo motu powers has not been the only problem faced by the Lok Ayuktas in Karnataka, who have taken their job seriously. The government of the day has been blutning the efficacy of the institution and efforts put in by it, to trap cases possession of assets disproportionate to the known source of income.

In some cases, the officers trapped remain without being suspended and some of them have been quite powerful enough to wangle promotions and get good posting too. The government deliberately delays the question of granting permission for the Lok Ayukta to prosecute officers who have been nabbed.

The list of the governments acts of sins of omission and commission is quite lengthy.

***

A major development, which has occurred during the BJP government. stressing the imperative necessity of strengthening the Lok Ayukta, has been the surge of the scams.

The most important one has been the one pertaining to the illegal mining of iron ore, involving powerful politicians, in and out of office. The report given by the Lok Ayukta, which probed the matter, has been gathering dust.  The report has been relied upon by the Supreme Court but has not opened the eyes of the State government.

The inference is quite clear. But for the Supreme Court’s persistence in a case before it at present, the controversy over the illegal mining in Karnataka would have been pushed under the rug.

The second development is the scam over the denotification of the land, which during recent years has been openly regarded as a money spinner for politicians in power.

Going by the open charges being hurled it looks as if this has taken place one way or the either during the regime of almost all the CMs especially in the last one-and-a-half decades. A powerful minister of the BJP government has also been caught in the act. And chief minister Yediyurappa and his bete noire Kumaraswamy have been openly trading charges against each other.

Had a person like Anna Hazare been here, perhaps Karnataka would have witnessed the kind of  uproar that one is witnessing in Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

Also read: ‘BJP’s lotus grows in muck, so do BJP’s people’

CHURUMURI POLL: India’s most corrupt State?

Why has corruption become such a small issue?

GOOD NEWS: Karnataka beats AP, TN, Kerala

How China changed the politics of Karnataka

CHURUMURI POLL: Karnataka, Bihar of the South?

 

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)

Narayana Murthy and the Netaji Bose fixation

25 January 2011

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: Cutting across all ideological colours, many of us seem to enjoy playing an occasional game of counterfactual fantasy.

It’s called, “If only we had the right leader!

Socialists, for example, like to fantasise on how India would have turned out had Jayaprakash Narayan been Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s choice, first to assist him in creating a new India and thereafter to succeed him as the undisputed leader of India.

What inspires such fantasising is not only JP’s impeccable moral core but also his leadership for nearly two decades of the socialist faction within the Indian National Congress, which enabled him to build a stronger left-centre alliance by bringing in stalwarts such as Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Narendra Dev into a governing coalition.

Admittedly, JP, Lohia and Narendra Dev were Nehru’s ideological cohorts rather than any of his cabinet colleagues. At the heart of this fantasy is also the fondest hope that such a move would have eliminated the need for Indira Gandhi to have entered into politics.

Many to the right of the socialists fantasise how India could have overcome many of our security and development related issues, if only Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had led India instead of Nehru after India attained independence in 1947.

To these, Subhash Chandra Bose would have been even better.

I am a professional student of history and yet, many a times, I do not understand this never-ending ‘man-crush’ on Subhash Chandra Bose.

On Sunday, Bose’s 114th birthday, our beloved Infosys chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, delivering the annual Netaji oration “If only Netaji had participated in post-independence nation building” in Calcutta, suggested that Netaji Bose could have taken ‘India past China’.

The Economic Times quotes Murthy as saying the following:

# “I believe India would have been a powerful exporter much before China if only Netaji had a frontseat in our policy making along with (Jawaharlal) Nehru… India would have seized the opportunity the world offered and would have become the second most powerful economy in the world…

# “Netaji was one of the most courageous leaders in India. Netaji was a real bold Indian leader who could have stood up to anyone… courage is one attribute which is more important in leadership than any other quality…

# “India would have embraced modern methods of scientific agriculture and made us food surplus year on year. India would have embraced industrialisation better and become more export oriented than relying on import substitution which has led to all kinds of problems.”

# “He would have continued and perhaps would have accelerated our efforts to control population through fair and transparent method.”

There’s no denying that the muscular, aggressive centre-right nationalism of Netaji Bose will always be appealing to some. Bose also famously differed with Gandhi throughout the 1930s, and that too makes him an attractive character for the Gandhi–haters amongst us.

His prison break, and the subsequent travels all over the world in search of allies and arms to fight against British imperialism is an absolutely romantic story, although one could say there is nothing romantic about joining hands with Nazis and Fascists, even if it is to liberate one’s homeland.

Still, I don’t get the love for Bose.

Narayana Murthy seems to believe that the courage displayed by Netaji Bose is an indicator of leadership qualities, and more importantly, the kind of public policy he would have advocated.

How could we surmise, as Murthy does, that had Netaji been part of the post-independent leadership, India would have benefited “in areas like economic progress, population control and adopting modern agricultural methods”?

Here is the danger in the kind of lazy thinking Murthy seems to be indulging in: that we reduce all the great problems faced by humanity—be it poverty and hunger, sickness and general well being, inequality and oppression—to the absence of the right kind of leadership.

Our corporate titans, in India and in the west, are often guilty of exaggerating the role of leadership. All that is required is the right, aggressive, problem-solving leader and humanity would be better off!

Our politicians too seek to cash in on the Netaji. Karnataka’s beleaguered chief minister, B.S.Yediyurappa found time to promise a one crore rupee grant so that a book on the Netaji could be written and distributed to the school children of Karnataka.

Now, this is something which the historian in me finds worthy of backing. Only if I were to get the contract to write and publish the book. And why not? I am a credentialed historian and very, very eager to serve my State.

Photograph: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on the cover of Time magazine in 1938

Also read: Narayana Murthy to revive Swatantra Party?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is it all over for socialism?

The sad truth is Netaji Bose would be 109 years old today

More demcoratic India gets, less the Congress does

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?

An open application letter to Prannoy Roy, NDTV

19 December 2010

Respected Dr Roy,

I am writing to apply for the post of Group Editor, English News, NDTV.

I am a journalist with 26 years’ experience. Throughout my career I have made innocent mistakes. I have been silly, I have been gullible and I have been prone to making errors of judgement.

Frequently, when I am “desperate for khabar” I also fib to sources. I string them along so much that I have often tied myself up in knots.

In short, I’m just the right guy to lead the nation’s most reputed English news channel.

I am aware, Sir, that you already have a silly, innocent and gullible editor prone to making honest errors of judgement. Those credentials were so clearly established on national prime time news the other day. Only an extremely innocent, very silly and highly gullible editor can do it with such aplomb.

Admittedly, Dr Roy, that’s a tough record to beat. But the silly are never daunted by the odds…recall that stuff about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

I take heart from two facts: One, that you are perhaps the only editor-in-chief to value such sterling qualities in a group editor, and two, while you might be pretty happy with your in-house options, there are some good alternatives in the market you might want to look at.

It is your faith in and commitment to the cause of the ISGs (innocent, silly and gullible), Dr Roy, that has emboldened me to give the job a shot. I want to convince you that when it comes to these sterling qualities, I dig a lonely furrow… it’s actually a deep trench because I have been at it for 26 years.

Sir, I suspect you will be extremely upset at the completely unconventional way in which this application is being framed. So, let me quickly give you three examples of the work I have done so far.  Please judge me only by my work, not what I say about it on tape.

1. When I was just a few months into the profession,  Akali Dal leader Sant Longowal was assassinated. His assassination followed Indira Gandhi’s who was killed just a few months earlier. I had just subbed the copy when my chief sub asked me, “what’s the headline?”  “Longowal calls on Indira Gandhi,” I read out loud and proud.

The chief sub leaped out of her chair in horror and grabbed the copy. She called me silly and stupid. She even proclaimed me “dangerous” and banished me from the news desk.

You see, Dr Roy, I was editor material even then. Just that I was in wrong hands. Where were you, Dr Roy? I can’t help wondering, “why just Barkha, why is she so lucky”?

2. Once when I was editor of a small Delhi afternoon paper, we ran an expose on upcoming illegal structures in Connaught Place. We illustrated the story with a big picture of a multi-storey building shot stealthily. Next morning it turned out the building belonged to the newspaper’s proprietor.

Error of judgement is passé, Dr Roy, I have monumental blunders on my hand.

3. More recently, I was in the middle of writing Counterfeit, my most most-read weekly column on notional affairs. Two big corporate houses were warring over some goddamn national asset and I wanted to get to the bottom of things. Who better to get an insight from than the PR persons on both sides?

The first guy took me out to lunch and explained his client’s position. I was fully convinced he was right till the other PR took me out to lunch and explained her client’s position. I was convinced she was right too.

But I was two full, two convinced and too confused. So, I wrote about the food instead.

But then word got out. As you well know, our strict code of ethics lays down that a journalist can have only one free meal per topic. Fellow journalists were livid. But since nobody could prove quid pro quo, they pilloried me in public for being unethical and accused me in private of selling the profession cheap.

I am however convinced most of them were just jealous of the extra meal I managed…but that’s beside the point, the pillorying continued because they said “joh pakda gaya wahi chor”.

I had to take matters into my hand because the cat seemed to have gotten my channel’s tongue. I agreed to be grilled by my peers in full public glare. Four white haired gents turned up. For the first time the channel made a departure from the policy of not putting out any raw material on air and played the full unedited tape.

On air I made a clean breast of things.  “I may have been greedy, I may have been hungry, but nobody dare accuse me of corruption,” I said, clearly setting the contours of the debate. “But of course, it’s been a learning experience. Looking back now with all that one now knows about dirty lobbyists,  I have no hesitation in saying that it’s perhaps best to carry one’s own lunch box to work. I have since bought a Milton electric lunch box.”

“No journalist is lily white,” the oldest and gentlest of them all began, “I don’t know of many journalists who carry their tiffin to office….” but I cut him short.  ”Nobody is lily white but all that you will discuss is one spot on my kurta? Why only me,” I thundered. I wanted to punch all of them in their holier-than-thou faces but for form’s sake I just bit my dry lips and somehow held my temper and my hand.

Many close friends upbraided me for appearing on the show. They told me I looked angry, sounded pompous and arrogant. They advised me not to mention the incident in this application because it would look rather silly trying to get an important job on the evidence of this show.

But that is the point I’m trying to make, Dr Roy. I am silly. And I did not stumble on silliness, innocence and gullibility “inadvertently” after 16 years of blemish-less journalism.  I worked at it for 26 long years.

In other qualifications, I must point out that I am a damn good political reporter, even if I say so myself. In the thick of things such as the UPA’s cabinet formation, all kinds of people call me to carry messages to the Congress party. Sometimes there are problems of non-delivery such as that message I did not give Ghulam Nabi Azad but I believe, because I’m a good journalist, even if this were about the NDA forming its cabinet, I would still be a busy courier boy.

I would have loved to attach copies of my work as a political reporter but sadly, Dr Roy, I have none. That is because I have never reported politics.

I know, I know…that is not consistent with my claim to being a good political journalist. I was just stringing you along, Dr Roy.

When can I join?

Yours sincerely

B.V. Rao

***

B.V. Rao is the editor of Governance Now, where this piece originally appeared

***

Photograph: courtesy Governance Now

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Rahul Gandhi blown it?

17 December 2010

For weeks, the bush telegraph in Delhi was abuzz with rumours that the Wikileak cables on India would contain something damaging about Rahul Gandhi‘s proclivities. But when it arrived this morning, it showed that it is not just his mentor Digvijay Singh who sees a Hindu ghost whereever he desires to.

The “former future prime minister of India” if things continue to go as they are for the Congress, it showed, has another pet hypothesis besides his two-nation theory of India.

The son of Sonia and Rajiv, the grandson of Indira, and the great grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, allegedly told the US ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, in August last year that he felt that the growth of “radicalised Hindu groups” which create religious tensions in India could pose a bigger threat to the country than activities of groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba.

“[Although] there was evidence of some support for (Islamic terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba) among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” The Guardian quotes him as saying.

Rahul Gandhi has since clarified, saying that he considered terrorism and communalism of all types as a threat to India.

While the alleged involvement of fringe Hindu groups, bordering on the lunatic, is something that has come up in various bomb blasts, is certainly an uncomfortable thought, the very fact that a man who is perceived and projected as the next big hope, could even be holding such a worldview is astonishing. And that he could be broadcasting this that to a newly arrived American over lunch.

Questions: Is Rahul Gandhi right? Or is he merely appealing to the minority “vote-bank”? Is the “wikileak” on Rahul a conspiracy, as suggested by the Congress spokesman? Will his charge go down well with voters? Or will it blow his prime ministerial dreams to smithereens?

Also read: What Amethi’s indices tell us about Rahul Gandhi

In one-horse race, Rahul Gandhi is a two-trick pony

‘Politics is about solving problems, not evading them’

‘Most opaque politicians in the democratic world’

Jesus, Mozart, Alexander and apun ka Rahul

A functioning anarchy? Or a feudal democracy?

Rahul Gandhi‘s ascension: a foregone conclusion?

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Rahul Gandhi—Part II

Only question anyone should ask Rahul Gandhi

Is it time to think of a new kind of government?

1 December 2010

Ashok V. Desai in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The British invented, and gave to India, a bureaucracy that was selected on merit, paid well enough not to have to be corrupt, and financially secure for the entire lifetime so that it did not have to worry about old age. That did not suit her nefarious designs, so Indira Gandhi subverted the Indian civil service.

“The Americans invented a confrontational, powerful and intrusive parliament; but from time to time they run into corruption amongst members of their two Houses, and their procedures for keeping it in check are laborious. The French, after the revolution, created a powerful central government with a rigorously selected and trained bureaucracy, and severely limited the domain of the legislature.

“The Chinese execute anyone found corrupt, define the tasks of their bureaucrats, and reward performance. They have thereby created an efficient government and driven corruption underground, but the concept of government as a service to citizens is quite foreign to them. The European Union recognizes and registers lobbyists, and has drafted a handbook of rules for them.

Paul Romer has suggested that countries should create provinces consisting of major cities and their hinterland, and ask the world’s best governments to come and administer each province. We could experiment with these models, or we could adapt them and work out our own variant. It is not an entirely foreign thought. The Bharatiya Janata Party wanted to review and revise the Constitution; but because it came from the Hindutwits, the idea never had a chance. But the idea of junking our government and starting anew is an idea whose time has come.”

Read the full story: Business sans ethics

Also read: Scams, scams, scams. Has liberalisation worked?


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