Posts Tagged ‘P. Chidambaram’

NaMo, PaChi, chai, MaShAi and Mahabharatha

20 February 2014

Those who know Gujarat politics know that its chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s claims of having been a tea-seller at Ahmedabad (or was it Vadnagar?) railway station in his youth is a minor “fake encounter with facts”. Sonia Gandhi‘s man friday from the land of Amul, Ahmed Patel, has helpfully clarified that Shri Modiji was only a fafda-seller at his uncle’s shop.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped some Congressmen from revealing their upbringing.

Mani Shankar Aiyar with Doon school, St. Stephen‘s college and Cambridge in his curriculum vitae said Modi could sell tea at the Congress office, prompting the BJP (or its corporate sponsors) to do some “Chai pe Kharcha” to organise Modi’s “Chai pe Charcha“.

More recently, when Modi began doing some major fake encounters with economic facts, finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, with Harvard on his CV, stepped in to remind the world that what the BJP’s “prime ministerial candidate” knew about economics could be written on the back of a postal stamp.

The condescending comments revealed the class prejudice prevalent in Indian society and politics, writes P.M. Vasudev in Deccan Herald. But it is not something Aiyar and Chidambaram discovered with Modi on the horizon; we have grown up with it since the time of the Mahabharatha:

“With many of the negatives in contemporary India, it is possible to trace to the Mahabharatha the attitude underlying the statements of Aiyar and Chidambaram.

“At the display by the Pandavas and Kauravas on completion of their training in military skills, their guru, Drona, dared any person in the assembly to challenge Arjuna.

“When Karna rose to do so, Drona insulted and humiliated him about his lowly social position as the son of a chariot-driver and questioned how he could dare challenge a prince.

“Of course, in doing so, Drona brushed aside the main issue – namely, the skills of the contestants.

“Betraying deep-seated rank prejudices, he taunted Karna about his social position. It is a different story that Duryodhana, who had his own agenda to put the Pandavas down, stepped in and made Karna the prince of a small state, so he could compete with Arjuna ‘on a par.’”

Read the full article: Class prejudice, competence & spirit of democracy

Photograph: courtesy Daily Bhaskar

Also read: Do they teach this at Harvard Business School?

Not yet MP, could Nandan Nilekani become PM?

11 December 2013

On December 8, as the results of the assembly elections in the four States showed that opinion polls are not always wrong, and as the clamour for clarity on the Congress’s “prime ministerial candidate” a la the BJP grew in overheated TV studios, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said:

“I think people need not worry. At the opportune time, the name of the PM candidate… the name of him will be announced.”

Despite the ungrammatical awkwardness of “him”, the invocation of the male gender in her response triggered instant speculation. Was it going to be son Rahul Gandhi, or could it finance minister P. Chidambaram, or could it be a totally new face?

The Times of India, which broke the news in September that former Infosys man and UID chief Nandan Nilekani was being thought of as a potential Congress candidate from Bangalore South, now reports that Nilekani could be Sonia Gandhi’s “him” with a boiler-plate denial.

When TOI called him, Nilekani’s immediate and only reaction was, “Complete rubbish. This must be a figment of someone’s over-active imagination.”

Obviously, Nilekani’s candidature is predicated on several imponderables. That Rahul Gandhi may not want the top job, should he by a stroke of miracle become eligible for it. That other potential candidates in the Congress will quietly acquiesce should Nilekani’s name come up. Etcetera.

But the Congress moves in mysterious ways, often with some fingers of the left hand not knowing what the other fingers of the same left hand are doing.

In an interview with Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, for NDTV’s walk the talk programme, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah takes a few questions on Nilekani’s predicted candidature. The responses are mighty revealing.

Is Nandan Nilekani going to contest one of the three Bangalore seats?

He has not discussed this with me, but it is news which has appeared… Don’t know whether he is contesting or not.

Do you think it is a good idea if he contests ? Will you be happy?

I don’t know because I have not discussed it with him. And he has also not discussed it with me. About 15 days back we met, but he did not discuss it with me.

As a friend, will you advise him to contest, or not?

It is for the Congress to decide. If he wants to contest, then the Congress has to take a decision now.

But will you recommend his name?

Let him say whether he is interested or not. I do not know whether he is interested.

That’s the problem with your party, everybody has to go and ask.

If he comes to the party, I will welcome him. But I don’t know whether he is ready to contest or not, he is willing to contest or not. But ultimately the high command has to decide.

So, not yet an MP, does Nandan Nilekani stand a chance of being PM?

Dream on.

Photograph: courtesy Namas Bhojani/ Forbes India

Also read: Can Nandan Nilekani win from Bangalore South?

Dear Nandan, quit Infosys, join politics, start a party

Nandan Nilekani: the six things that changed India

CHURUMURI POLL: Has Nilekani trounced NRN?

MUST READ: 12 things no one is telling us about namma Nandu

Sirf dekhneka, or IPL will sue the hell out of you!

5 April 2013

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Most people think the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is a body that controls cricket in India. This is only partly true though.

Cricket is after all a game of cause and effect, in a manner of speaking, but BCCI controls all aspect of the game including how you should watch cricket, read about cricket stars or see their pictures. You just can’t ‘Eat cricket, Sleep cricket’ the way you want, unless BCCI has approved it.

In the 1980s, the Dutch introduced ‘Total football’ when the likes of Rudd Gullit and Van Basten moved all over the ground looking for the ball and playing every position.

In a similar manner, BCCI has introduced ‘Total Control of Cricket’.

The Indian Premier League ( IPL), only in its sixth year, has  already seen life in full spectrum. After a great start it was banished to stage its second edition in South Africa on the orders of then home minister, P. Chidambaram, himself an all-rounder having handled various positions in government. Subsequently it banished Lalit Modi himself.

The issue of cheer girls issue went all the way up to Parliament with the House equally divided as in every household.

Each year, IPL has to usher something innovative in the cut-throat TRP game of television.

Now, in its sixth year, IPL6 has introduced some edicts that would put Moses’  Ten Commandments to shame.

I had a chance to talk to the affable IPL director Sundar Raman who was ever ready to dispel any thoughts of control.
We were seated at the Wankhede stadium where, for a change, commoners can come in and the king of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan, is banned.

Farah Khan and party were practicing the moves for IPL-6’s theme song ‘Jumping Zapak’‘ whose tagline reads, ‘Sirf dekhneka nahi’.

“Mr Raman, why are you so possessive about photographs of cricketers. You don’t let anybody else take pictures. I can’t even ask you a question that has the word IPL in it.”

“Look. IPL is not an acronym or a sports league anymore. It is now an international brand name on which millions of dollars ride. We can’t let all and sundry use the name, can we?”

“‘I am surprised you don’t let even the media use pictures or quotes without being risking being dragged to court or facing an IPL firing squad. Don’t forget, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla was himself a journalist not too long ago.”

“You are referring to Shuklaji’s status long time ago. I doubt whether even he remembers that!. He is also a minister of parliamentary affairs apart from being close to the vice-president of the Congress party.”

“My apologies, I forgot to add his  recent qualifications. The 8-point edict you have released on IPL reads like the dos and don’ts of a military academy for cadets joining fresh from college! It would do tribute to the best legal companies in the world like Baker and Mckenzie, Latham and Watkins, or Weil, Gotshal & Manges. After seeing your commandments they might be tempted to come to you to draft a clause or two.”

“Thank you, that would be nice. We drafted these ourselves. I drafted quite a few of them myself, when I was in my bathroom.”

“There is a particular clause which I have taken from sans serif;  I hope you don’t have any objection to this,

ii. publish any photograph that relates to the Pepsi IPL or any previous seasons of the IPL that is sponsored by any third party, or contain catchphrases that refer to any third party (e.g, “Entity A’ Moment of the Match”),

“How come this covers even previous seasons of IPL sponsored by any third party?” I asked.

“We just don’t want to leave anything to chance,” said Mr Raman.

“What if a spectator clicks any player or a ball going for a sixer which Ravi Shastri would call a  Pepsier? Would that constitute a serious offence and come in the area of infringing your draconian laws?”

“Again, it depends. Offhand I can’t answer that without consulting our legal team.  If along the trajectory of ball there is a Samsung Galaxy blimp in the sky and the spectator knowingly or unknowingly catches it I am afraid he will be in a problem. In fact our skysweepers might arrest him.”

‘Great!  What about pictures of cheer girls? They don’t wear too much of clothing anyway.”

“True. To be on the safer side, it’s better you don’t catch even an alphabet of our co-sponsors in any part of the body!” clarified Sundar Raman.

As we finished Farah Khan was making the housewives from Marine Drive dance to Jumping Zapak.

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?

CHURUMURI POLL: Has India lost moral compass?

23 October 2012

In its 62nd year as a Republic, India presents a picture that can only mildy be termed unedifying.

Scams are raining down on a parched landscape with frightening ferocity. From outer space (2G, S-band) to the inner depths of mother earth (coal), the Congress-led UPA has had it all covered in its second stint. Meanwhile, Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of the first family of the Congress, has taken charge of scandals at or near sea level.

Salman Khurshid, the smooth-talking Oxford-educated law minister, thinks it is beneath his dignity to respond in a dignified manner to charges of pilfering Rs 71 lakh from the disabled. The Harvard-educated finance minister P. Chidambaram and his family is happily busy gobbling up parts of the east coast from farmers. Etcetera.

But what of the opposition?

The BJP’s president Nitin Gadkari is neckdeep in a gapla of his own,  one that threatens, in fact one that is designed to deprive him of a second stint in office. “Scam”, of course, was the middle-name of party’s Karnataka mascot, B.S. Yediyurappa. From Mulayam‘s SP to Mayawati‘s BSP to Sharad Pawar‘s NCP, from Karunanidhi‘s DMK to Jayalalitha‘s AIADMK, money-making is the be-all and end-all.

The less said of the corporates who have pillaged the country since time immemorial the better but Vijay Mallya presents its most compelling side as he shuts down his airline while his son hunts for calendar girls. The do-gooders of Team Anna and now Team Kejriwal are themselves subject to searching questions on their integrity levels. And the media is busy getting exposed as extortionists and blackmailers.

Questions: Have we as a country completely lost our moral and ethical compass? Are we going through an “unprecedented” phenomenon or is this what the US and other developed democracies like Japan have gone through in their path to progress? Or does it not matter in the greater scheme of things? Is all this leaving the citizenry cynical and frustrated or do we not care because all of us are in it, in our own little ways?

5 reasons Gavaskar’s wrong about playing Pak

20 July 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar has criticized the Indian cricket board’s decision earlier this week to revive cricketing relations with Pakistan with a three-match ODI series in December this year.

Reason: he feels Pakistan is not cooperating in the probe into the November 2008 siege of Bombay despite the mountain of evidence that has been piled at its door.

“Being a Mumbaikar, I feel, what is the urgency (to resume cricketing ties) when there is no co-operation from the other side?”

Gavaskar is a great cricketer and a weighty columnist and commentator to boot. His views carry enormous weight in the cricketing fraternity. He can make or mar ties between BCCI and PCB having been part of the BCCI and International Cricket Council (ICC) administration for a long time.

However, “Sunny” is plain wrong in questioning BCCI’s rationale for resuming cricket with Pakistan three years after the dastardly attack on his hometown?

First: BCCI would have dared to approach Pakistan with a tour proposal only after securing the government of India’s clearance. Perhaps it was Pakistan which came up with the proposal first.

Either way, Union home minister P. Chidambaram and external affairs minister S.M. Krishna would have discussed the issue threadbare with the Prime Minister and only after his (and/or the cabinet’s) clearance would the BCCI have made the first move to invite Pakistan for a tour.

It is the Indian Government that will decide whether Pakistan is cooperating in the Bombay terror attacks, not BCCI and definitely not Sunil Gavaskar. At least we haven’t reached that stage in the BCCI.

So far.

Second: While one certainly appreciates his views that as a ‘Mumbaikar’  for the tragedy that struck on 26 /11, he cannot decide whether there is cooperation from the other side. Not even BCCI. That is again strictly the job of the government.

Once the Government gives its clearance after satisfying itself of all the aspects and give its nod, the board and the cricketers should do their assigned jobs, as rightly pointed out by Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a media conference.

Third: I am sure every player would have felt terrible about the attack, irrespective of whether he was a Mumbaikar or not. So is it with every Indian. In fact it was with that spirit that the whole team played a match against Andrew Flintoff’s England and both teams came in for huge praise from all over the world for their fantastic gesture.

However well meaning, parochial sentiments on a national issue like terror are better consigned to the dustbin, particularly from a cricketer of the calibre of Gavaskar.

Fourth: Sunny is on firmer ground when he questions BCCI with regard to squeezing this tour in a year which is already quite packed.  Here again, if he is questioning the tour on cricketing grounds, he should have also questioned the wisdom of selectors’ acceding to Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘pick and choose’ policy, especially in ODIs,  a subject which has been dealt by quite of few cricket experts and commentators at length.

This affects balance in the team, creates uncertainty in minds of younger cricketers about their future as they have to make way whenever he ‘feels’ like playing cricket. One would have expected Sunny to question the selectors or Sachin in his weekly column regarding this but that did not happen.

It is only Sanjay Manjrekar who has rightly dared to question this in the past.

Fifth: Why should cricket and cricket alone be the barometer of ties between India and Pakistan? Despite 26/11, the two countries seem to have started finding ways of doing business. Its politicians meet happily, its bureaucrats do, there are growing trade ties, etc.

So, why should cricket be held hostage to terror? It is, after all, a sport.

Also read: Gavaskar: India’s most petulant cricketer ever?

Save Indian cricket: keep Sunil Gavaskar out

Are Gavaskar and Shastri India’s only cricketers?

Gavaskar of 2010 is the same Gavaskar of 1981

Why some of us just love to hate Gavaskar

Ajji: ‘The only thing to fear in life is fear itself’

27 April 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji was reading Praja Vani, once owned by Netkalappa, which was a favourite of Bangaloreans along with P.R. Ramiah’s Tayi Nadu, a long time ago.

She was unusually silent. Normally Ajji slices and dices reputations as well as she does vegetables.

“What happened, Ajji? You are quite different this morning,” I teased her.

I was reading about the renovation of Niranjan Mutt in Mysore where Swami Vivekananda stayed there once.”

“Yes. He stayed there before he went to Chicago to address the World Congress on Spirituality.”

“It seems he said there, ‘Be not afraid of anything. It is fearlessness that brings Heaven even in a moment’.”

“That’s right, Ajji.”

“Our Prime Minister also has advised the boorokrats.”

Ajji, adu bureaucrats not boorokrats. What was the advice?”

Yeno sudugaadu.  He has asked them to be fearless in their work.”

“Isn’t that good advice? What’s wrong with it?”

“If you ask somebody not to eat onions, first you must not eat onions yourself. So goes a proverb in Kannada.”

“What have onions got to do with his advice asking them to be fearless?” I demanded.

Alvo! He himself chickens out on every occasion. He refused to confront A. Raja on 2G spectrum; also Kanimozhi. Didn’t want to sack Suresh Kalmadi on CWG. Wasn’t that lack of guts?”

“You have a point there, Ajji. But he attributed his lack of fearlessness partly to coalition compulsions.”

Ajji took no notice of my interruption. She had compiled a dossier on the PM’s lack of action like our home minister on Hafeez  Saeed’s involvement in terrorism.

“Then there was S-band scam in the ministry of space which is directly under him. Then there were the file notings of P. Chidambaram in the 2G scam. The Prime Minister kept quiet in public and in parliament. He chose to answer everything in his customary eloquent silence.”

“What you say is true.”

“He didn’t take Kapil Sibal to task when he declared that the amount of loss to the exchequer from 2G scam was zero, instead of Rs 175,000 crores as calculated by CAG. He should have sacked Sibal if he had worked fearlessly.”

“Hmmm….”

Rahul Gandhi failed utterly in the UP elections. Why is he not acting fearlessly and sacking him?”

“Looks like he has deliberately forgotten how to act fearlessly,” I intervened.

“It’s not that he doesn’t know how to act fearlessly. During Narasimha Rao’s days as finance minister he took bold steps to liberalize the economy. The economy boomed because of that. He was only a finance minister then, not a Prime Minister.”

“That’s true.”

“Though he is the Prime Minister now, I think he is taking orders from somebody. That’s why he can’t act fearlessly.”

“Do you think he is taking orders from his wife as all men do?” I  asked.

“I wish it were like that. Then at least outside he would have acted fearlessly!”

“Then who is he taking orders from?” I challenged Ajji.

“I think he is hemmed in both at home and from outside. That is why he is helpless. When he is asking the borokrats to ‘act fearlessly’ he is expressing his own wish. He remembers he acted fearlessly once. He wants to be like that again but realizes he can’t; that is why he is advising the borecrats to act fearlessly,” Ajji surmised.

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

2 February 2012

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

But could 2 February 2012 be slightly different?

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

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

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

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

Also read: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

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

Has the middle-class deserted Manmohan Singh?

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

Can the paragon of virtue hear his conscience?

A free picture for your New Year greeting card

16 December 2011

“A free photograph for your New Year greeting card” is, of course, just a cheap search engine optimisation (SEO) technique to draw attention to a lovely view of the big ball of fire about to dip below the line of vision at the Kukkarahalli lake, in Mysore, 15 days before the end of the current year. –

All very appropriate, you might say, on just another usual news day, when nothing much is happening except that 17 BJP members of Parliament have sent a greeting card to their party bosses saying that the sangh parivar’s Santa Claus should shower B.S. Yediyurappa a really nice gift before Christmas, or else.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read an inhouse joke: God promise, the last silhouette of 2007

Ask not what your leaders have done for you…

15 December 2011

With the year drawing to a close and Christmas close at hand, E.R. RAMACHANDRAN is in an expansive mood, compiling a list of gifts that he would like to give out to our various performing and non-performing assets.

1. Asif Zardari: A permanent hospital room in Dubai

2. Imran Khan: A Pakistani political pitch to bowl on

3. BJP leaders in Karnataka: Sites in Bangalore + a room in Parappana Agrahara

4. Jayalalitha: A set of 10,000 sample questions for practice

5. Rahul Gandhi:  ‘India is UP, UP is India’ T-shirt

6. Sharad Pawar: Protective cover for the other cheek

7. Team Anna: ‘Scams within’ report

8. Virender Sehwag: Indore pitch

9. Mamata Banerjee: Fireproof hospital (scale model)

10. Anna Hazare: Jantar Mantar for fasting

11. P. Chidambaram: A pocket map of Tihar

12. Manmohan Singh: A mike

13. Sonia Gandhi: Calendar with a red marker

14. Subramanian Swamy: Permanent room in  Supreme Court

15. Kapil Sibal: Facebook without faces

16. Sachin Tendulkar: 100 centuries of 90s

17. L.K. Advani: Hidden agenda

What gifts would you like to give your favourite performing and non-performing assets, for services rendered or denied in the year gone by?

Check out what ERR gave in 2008: Gifts for some one you love and don’t

CHURUMURI POLL: Should S.M. Krishna resign?

8 December 2011

As the nation’s external affairs minister, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna knows that it is a small world he lords over—what goes around, comes around. So just months after he threatened to sue The Times of India, Bangalore, for suggesting that he was involved in the illegal mining scam comes news that he has indeed been named in a first information report (FIR) for issuance of mining licences during his tenure as the chief minister of Karnataka.

With all the faux sophistication he can muster, S.M. Krishna denies the charge. But for a Union government that is  trying to stave off a crisis involving another minister (P. Chidambaram) whom his detractors have tried to implicate in the 2G scam, the naming of Krishna comes at a particularly inopportune time. Krishna, for his part, says his “legal team” will take appropriate action at the appropriate time, but the Opposition has smelt blood.

With B.S. Yediyurappa having had to resign in the wake of the Lok Ayukta indictment in the mining scam, and having had to spend a fortnight in the cooler on the basis of a “private complaint”, the question is going to asked, why should not Krishna resign till he is proven innocent? Will Krishna’s protestations of no loss to the government, or no gains for himself, convince the BJP? Is a private compliant all it takes to bring people in power down?

And, tongue firmly in cheek, if Krishna quits, who is going to read the Portuguese speeches for the UPA?

Also read: Just one question I’m dying to ask S.M. Krishna

Our Man from Maddur is shorter than you think

CHURUMURI POLL: Will S.M. Krishna last his term?

Who is this man who has S.M. Krishna‘s left ear?

Can Maddur vade usher in peace in the subcontinent?

Forget Congress, what about the state of BJP?

26 November 2011

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

“Could it be that we have been so obsessed with the freeze in the UPA as to totally overlook the convulsions in the BJP?

“Over the past three weeks, the BJP has excelled itself in its own leaderless-ness, and rudderless-ness. Also, in its own ideological confusion. It’s been topped now by its totally knee-jerk opposition to FDI in retail. Having been a party of reform under Vajpayee, the BJP should have been at the forefront of pressing for not just retail FDI but other positive economic reform. On the contrary, it is using retail FDI to stall Parliament, as if another excuse was needed.

“Its comeback kid, Uma Bharti, is threatening to burn Walmart stores. It is still making noises against a national GST out of utter cussedness. Its threat to boycott P. Chidambaram in Parliament only underlines its lack of creative ideas in a political market that has exactly what a challenge the party needs: a power vacuum, an opportunity and a pent-up demand for solutions. But rather than come up with any ideas, vision documents, alternatives or solutions, it is borrowing everybody else’s nutty ideas.

“It has bought Baba Ramdev’s fantasy of bringing back “lakhs of crores” of black money. It has snatched the Left’s anti-Americanism, unthinking attacks on nuclear liability laws and instinctive opposition to all reform. That, when many of its own chief ministers are supporters of reform and are carrying out much of their own anyway.”

Cartoon: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

Read the full article: Self-opposition party

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Chidambaram quit?

7 September 2011

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

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

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

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

Also read: Is Chidambaram a saboteur in UPA?

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

26 August 2011

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

Cut to 2011, Anna Hazare’s fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHURUMURI POLL: Bharat Ratna for Anna Hazare?

16 August 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Sachin for Bharat Ratna?

Is India getting increasingly intolerant to dissent

May a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

Is it time for Sonia Gandhi to be prime minister?

3 July 2011

The diagnosis of the UPA’s chronic illness since the 2009 polls has been markedly conventional. Everybody agrees that prime minister Manmohan Singh has messed up big-time, and that there has got to be a change at the top sooner not later, if “young” Rahul Gandhi‘s hopes are not to be dashed.

As for the aspirants, the usual names do the rounds: finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, the senior most leader in the party, whom the family doesn’t trust, home minister P. Chidambaram, whom the party can doesn’t trust, and neither of whom trust each other.

But do either Mukherjee or Chidambaram or anybody else in the party at the moment have in it in them to pull the Congrfess out of the hole and give it a push? In the Bombay newspaper DNA, editor-in-chief Aditya Sinha challenges the conventional wisdom, by suggesting that Sonia Gandhi should disregard her “moral voice” she first heard in 2004 with 2014 in mind:

“Perhaps the only thing left to be done that would undoubtedly shake everyone up and energise the government is for Congress President Sonia Gandhi to take over from Dr Manmohan Singh.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?

“She is, after all, head of the dominant party of the UPA. If any of the allies threaten to walk out, she can walk them straight into jail. Imagine: if she throws Sharad Pawar in jail, she’ll become the Queen of Anti-Corruption (after all, Anna Hazare earned his crusading credentials by opposing Pawar).

“Rahul Gandhi won’t evade ministerial responsibilities for he’ll want to help his mother steer the ship of government through the choppy waters of global recession. Sonia at the helm of government will boost the Congress’s chances in UP. And she can smoothly pass the baton to Rahul in 2014.

“So, Soniaji, we beg you: rid us of this prime minister and instead of replacing him with one of the usual suspects, take matters into your own hands (before Sharad Pawar takes matters into his). After all, you have little to lose, and everything to gain.”

Read the full article: Time for Sonia Gandhi to become PM?

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh—III

28 June 2011

The irony is stark. The tenure of an acclaimed economist has seen galloping inflation running over the aam admi on whose shoulders his government came to power. Even while the mandatory references are made to his honesty and integrity, corruption has reached stratospheric levels while his party and government bury their heads in the hand and shortcircuit the Lokpal bill by seeking to keep the prime minister’s office out of it.

Now, while Congressmen with an ear to 10, Janpath light a fuse under his chair by announcing the readiness of Rahul Gandhi to take over, and others are bugging the offices of other pretenders to the throne, the battered and beleaguered PM is set to met the media scrum tomorrow, his third such interaction in 13 months since May 2010, after a national press conference and a meeting with print editors, followed by a pow-wow with the TV types.

What Manmohan seeks to achieve is clear—to convey to the nation that he is in charge, that he is doing his damnedest to put an end to all the troubles, and to show that reports of his prime ministerial death in the 20th year of reforms are grossly exaggerated. Underlying all this is the notion that the solution to the problems ailing him and his government magically lies not in meeting the aspirations of the people, but in meeting the media.

But as with all such gatherings, the PM will only be addressing “select” editors, each of whom will only be allowed to ask one question (no supplementaries, please), which means any attempt to pin him down will be impossible. Result: the prime minister who has a face for the radio, will reel out his answers in his trademark deadpan, monotonous manner that is unlikely to set the Yamuna on fire.

What is the one question the gentlemen of the media should ask Manmohan Singh because “the nation wants to know”?

Illustration: courtesy Xavi/ Toon Pool

***

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh-I

One question I’m dying to ask Manmohan Singh—II

Have the middle-classes deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Manmohan Singh still “Mr Clean”?

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh be PM till 2014?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should PM be under Lok Pal?

31 May 2011

The hurried efforts to draft a Lok Pal bill, propelled by Anna Hazare‘s fast unto death in the wake of a slew of corruption scandals, has run into seriously rough weather, with civil society members at odds with representatives of the government on a very fundamental issue: just who should (or shouldn’t) come under the Lok Pal’s purview?

Should members of the higher judiciary be left out? Can members of Parliament be excused? Officers below the level of joint secretary? Should various anti-corruption bodies like CBI and CVC all come under the Lok Pal? Will such a Lok Pal with overwhelming powers over the executive, judiciary and legislature be such a good thing for a democracy? Etc.

The key emblematic issue, however, concerns the prime minister of India: should he or she come under the purview of the Lok Pal?

Home minister P. Chidambaram says the civil society members are themselves not in agreement on some of these issues. His HRD counterpart Kapil Sibal says whatever is done has to be in consonance with the Constitution of India. And Chidambaram has now written to the State governments and the MPs on the contentious issues.

All of which is shorthand for just one thing: there is desperate backpedalling going on after the attempt to stymie the panel through insinuations failed. After all, if the government’s own draft (according to the RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal) included the prime minister in it, why is the PM now being sought to be kept out of the Lok Pal’s loop?

Question: Should the PM come under the Lok Pal’s ambit? Or will his august office be sullied by frivolous charges, as is the fear?

Also read: Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom

Why I’m slightly disappointed with Anna Hazare

CHURUMURI POLL: Do we like ‘single’ icons?

‘Media only bothers about the elite, eductated, middle-class’

‘Cash for votes is a way of political life in South’

16 March 2011

Cable sent by Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate-general in Madras, to the state department in Washington D.C., outed by The Hindu through Wikileaks.

“Bribes from political parties to voters, in the form of cash, goods, or services, are a regular feature of elections in South India. Poor voters expect bribes from political candidates, and candidates find various ways to satisfy voter expectations. From paying to dig a community well to slipping cash into an envelope delivered inside the morning newspaper, politicians and their operatives admitted to violating election rules to influence voters. The money to pay the bribes comes from the proceeds of fund-raising, which often crosses into political corruption. Although the precise impact of bribery on voter behavior is hard to measure, it no doubt swings at least some elections, especially the close races.”

Kaplan sent the cable after meeting Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram, of the Congress, M. Patturajan, confidant of Union minister for chemicals and fertilizers M.K. Alagiri and former mayor of Madurai, and member of Parliament Assaduddin Owaisi of the Majlis-e-Ittenhadul Muslimeen.

Read the full story: ‘Cash for votes a way of political life in South India

Also read: How The Hindu got hold of the Wikileaks’ India cables

CHURUMURI POLL: Is South India in a big mess?

Kapil Sibal and the CAG’s ‘notional atyachar’

10 January 2011

We live in a strange, revisionist era. Nothing is what it seems, at least not for more than a few blinks.

For instance, the much-ballyhooed Pokhran II tests under Vajpayee‘s watch, we are told a decade later, was actually a damp squib. Many of the recent blasts that have were supposedly masterminded by Muslim terror-mongers were actually plotted by high functionaries of the RSS, by the admission of one of their own.

The saint of the Indian Premier League, Lalit Modi, was actually a sinner; the former saint-turned-sinner Jagmohan Dalmiya is now again a saint. The Bofors scandal that seemed properly dead and buried just last year with the closure of the case, is now back with a bang to haunt Sonia Gandhi.

Etcetera.

The 2G spectrum allocation scam that just a month ago seemed like India’s largest ripoff ever is now firmly in that revisionist realm, thanks to the new telecom minister, Kapil Sibal‘s exertions. Sibal says the “presumptive loss” of Rs 173,000 crore that the comptroller and accountant general was way off the mark.

In fact, claims “India’s greatest poet since the Bhakti movement“, with the kind of pugnacity only a Punjabi accountant can muster, that the allocation made telephony cheaper, took it far and wide, and that indeed the revenue loss was actually zero. Which, if this were a chess game, could have been called the A. Raja defence.

Little wonder, the Harvard-educated lawyer gets it left, right and centre.

***

Minister’s Point, says The Telegraph:

“If Kapil Sibal has chosen to take issue with the CAG’s performance audit of the issue of second-generation licences for spectrum, the explanation must be sought in three factors. First, the Supreme Court has chosen to take interest in the issue of the licences, and has in the process implicitly indicted Sibal’s predecessor in the ministry of communications, A. Raja. Second, the Supreme Court’s investigation of Raja’s questionable activities has raised questions about the inexplicable inactivity of the prime minister while Raja ruled the roost. Finally, Sibal happens to be a lawyer of some experience. The prime minister’s last encounter with the Supreme Court, when he used executive privilege to defend a possible error, was not very astute; a more expert response was called for.”

Kapil Denial Sibal, says the Indian Express:

“Sibal’s assumption of the telecom portfolio was a sign of hope. With his reformist credentials, he was supposed to ensure transparency in the investigation, and help the ministry, and governance, move on. That is why his Friday press conference is so disturbing….

“Brazenness won’t help the political climate. Nor will it aid in ending the stalemate with the opposition. Indeed, it strikes an odd, arrogant note precisely when the government is backing the PAC as an investigatory mechanism, and that committee specifically examines the CAG report. It’s silly to score points on the weakest part of the CAG report when the Supreme Court is monitoring the situation, and the CBI is still in the process of filing a status report to the court.”

A pyrrhic win, says DNA:

“Sibal has unwittingly tried to discredit the CAG, which could turn out to be a great disservice. It would make the beleaguered UPA government far more vulnerable than before. The brilliant lawyer that he is, Sibal picked up what was the weakest point in the report and went on to clinically decimate it. But if he believes that the 2G spectrum scam would vanish into thin air because of his legal acumen, then he may have to think again….

“It is clear that Sibal is fighting a political battle on behalf of the Congress and prime minister Manmohan Singh. But politics is not just about winning debating and legal points. It is much more about images and perceptions. The image of UPA2 in the public mind at the moment is that this government is caught up in too many scams. It has much to atone for. Instead of belligerence, this government should display is a sense of penitence and do what it can to clean up the mess.”

Don’t quibble over figures, says Mail Today:

“Even if the CAG’s figures are inaccurate or speculative, it does not acquit the government — and former telecom minister A. Raja in particular — from the charge that the process followed in the allotment of 2G spectrum was fraught with irregularities. The moot issue has always been that certain entire process — and this is a question Mr Sibal has sought to deliberately obfuscate.

“It is unfortunate that the telecom minister has to make a statement that the figures stated by the CAG have “embarrassed government and the nation” as the government has no one but itself to blame for embarrassment that has been caused. It’s unfortunate that a minister has to raise questions in this manner about a constitutionally mandated watchdog.”

Subversive Sibal, says Deccan Herald:

“The minister’s arguments are those of a clever lawyer, trying to obfuscate issues and facts and create confusion. He also adopted a posture, aggressive and theatrical enough to make people believe that there was substance in the argument. But cleverness and drama do not help strengthen a case. What Sibal has done is in effect supporting the case of A.Raja, who has also advanced the same arguments. Then why did Raja have to resign?”

When a lawyer becomes judge, says The Sunday Guardian:

“If Kapil Sibal believes what he says, he should send in his resignation immediately so that Raja can be reinstated. Why was Raja dropped from the Cabinet, at such political cost, personal anguish and Karunanidhi family heartbreak if he was innocent? At the very least Manmohan Singh owes Raja a grovelling apology. Raja should in fact sue Dr Singh and Sonia Gandhi for libel, since their decision to wrench him out of the office he coveted amounted to, by Sibal’s interpretation, defamation and humiliation on a national scale.

“Obviously, Sibal was either on holiday or so immersed in his public service duties that he was totally oblivious of media when the Radia tapes took complete control of airwaves and print. Or, perhaps, again like a good lawyer, he had no interest in any fact that would be relevant to the prosecution. Since Sibal will still need a job after resignation, he can easily step into a vacant home ministry. P. Chidambaram will surely now have to resign. Chidambaram, after all, sent a letter to the Prime Minister accusing Raja of malpractice, not mere “procedural lapses”.”

Cartoon: Shyam Jagota/ Cartoon Chaupal

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: The most corrupt government?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still “Mr Clean”?

Is Yale turning India into a “dynastic democracy”?

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

6 November 2010

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

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

So is the case with countries too.

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

***

WHAT INDIA EXPECTS FROM OBAMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT PAKISTAN EXPECTS FROM OBAMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT OBAMA WILL FINALLY DO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cartoon: courtesy Baloo‘s cartoon blog

CHURUMURI POLL: Arundhati guilty of sedition?

25 October 2010

The author turned activist Arundhati Roy has been a compelling and contrarian voice with her views going against conventional wisdom on Indian elections and democracy, Maoism, the nuclear bomb, poverty and so on. Even by her yardstick, has the Booker Prize winning writer bitten off more than she can chew on Kashmir?

In the first instance, at a seminar on “Azadi-The Only Way” in Delhi on Friday, Roy said Kashmir should get azadi from “bhookey-nangey Hindustan“. “India needs azadi from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs from India,” she said, sharing airtime with hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

“India needs azadi from Kashmir and Kashmir from India. It is a good debate that has started. We must deepen this conversation and am happy that young people are getting involved for this cause which is their future. Indian Government is a hollow super power and I disassociate with it,” Roy said amid great applause from separatists. “Earlier we used to talk about our head held high and now we lay prostrate to the US. Kashmiris have to decide whether they want to be with or get separated from bhookhey-nangey Hindustan where more than 830 million people live on Rs 20 per day only”.

And on Sunday, in Srinagar, Roy went one step further, stating that Jammu & Kashmir was never a part of India and that India was a colonising power in the State since Independence.

“Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. It is a historical fact. Even the Indian government has accepted this,” she said.

The comments, testing the limits of liberalism, have drawn criticism. The BJP has slammed the Centre for allowing the azadi meet in Delhi, with the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, saying: “The right to free speech enshrined in the Constitution cannot be used against the country.”

The Union home ministry is said to be considering the charge of “sedition” with legal experts, and the Delhi police is likely to register the charge against the speakers.

Question: Has Arundhati Roy crossed the line with her Kashmir comments? Or is does free speech include the right to offend? By making the comments when the Centre has despatched its “interlocutors” after the recent round of violence, is Roy playing the Hurriyat line? Or should a mature democracy be able to face such criticism?

Arundhati Roy: ‘India is a corporate, Hindu State’

‘What Muslims were to BJP, Maoists are to Congress’

‘India is not a democracy’

‘Elections do not make a democracy’

‘Middle and upper classes are in their own country’

Also read: Azadi advocates should be tried for treason’

Eight reasons why we should just let Kashmir go

Is media resorting to self-censorship on Ayodhya?

22 September 2010

The run-up to the court verdict on the title suit in the Ayodhya dispute has seen plenty of activity built around the media. The News Broadcasters’ Association—the body representing private television news and current affairs broadcasters—has issued a set of four guidelines to all editors of member-news channels:

1) All news relating to the High Court judgment in the case should be verbatim reproduction of the relevant part of the said judgement uninfluenced by any opinion or interpretation.

2) No broadcast should be made of any speculation of the judgement before it is pronounced ; and of its likely consequence thereafter which may be sensational, inflammatory or provocative.

3) No footage of the demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be shown in any new item relating to the judgement.

4) No visuals need be shown depicting celebration or protest of the judgement.

Citing the size of the court room, the media (print and electronic) have been kept away from the compound of the Allahabad high court, and the court has gone so far as to say that the media must not speculate about the verdict till it has a copy of the operational part of the order.

Now, the Union home minister P. Chidambaram has urged the media to “reserve judgement and not make hasty pronouncements.”

While the precautions are no doubt understandable given the preciousness of human life, a good question to ask is, is the Indian media resorting to self-censorship in order to present a better face? In the process of doing so, is it allowing itself to be told what to do and what not to do, thus depriving viewers of what they should know?

If all this passes muster in the name of “self-restraint”, where does this self-restraint vanish on normal days? Is the NBA’s call for self-restraint now an admission of the utter lack of it on regular days?

Was the killing and mayhem that followed the demolition of the Babri masjid by Hindutva goons, while BJP leaders watched in 1992, squarely a fault of the media? Conversely, if the media weren’t around for this and other stories, would India be a land of milk and honey?

Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu

What do they know of India who only Hindi know?

15 September 2010

KIRAN RAO BATNI writes: At a Hindi Day function on Tuesday, 14 September 2010, Union home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram apparently gave the following as the reason why (central) government departments must increase use of Hindi in their day-to-day work:

“For effective implementation of developmental schemes, it is necessary to reach out to people in their own language.”

I’m dying to ask Mr Chidambaram one very simple question: Who are the “people” you’re referring to, and what is their language?

Are you referring to the people of the Hindi-speaking States only?

Is your definition of India limited to those States?

Have you grown blind to the rest of India which speaks ever so many tongues?

Have you forgotten that your own tongue speaks Tamil at home?

How can anybody sane use the singular noun “language” when refering to the different tongues that Indians speak, the different tongues in which they need to be “reached out” to?

What do you know about that India which you call home, minister?

CHURUMURI POLL: Blackberry, Google, Skype?

1 September 2010

After extending the deadline to Blackberry™ to open up its servers to security agencies to monitor data flowing through it (or else), the Indian government is now threatening Google™ and Skype™. Orwellian home ministry officials have demanded “access to everything” from “any company with a telecoms network”.

Such insecurity passes in the name of security. Having access to “encrypted data”, the mandarins believe, will thwart terrorism through the telephone and internet, as if the terror-mongers cannot find newer ways. That fear is being happily used to write off privacy and personal liberty, as if they no longer matter in a democracy.

Although the moves will affect millions, there has been little opposition or aggression from the people’s representatives, media or industry bodies, even as Blackberry’s competitors like Nokia™ have used the Chidambaram-sent opportunity to tout their new security-compliant systems.

Questions: Should Blackberry, Google and Skype open up? Are you willing to open up every facet of life in the name of security? Will these measures stop terrorism? Just because other countries have allowed similar monitoring, should we too? Or is this just another figleaf that the Union home ministry is using to pry into out lives?


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