Posts Tagged ‘Padma Sri’

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

Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets a Padma for what?

29 January 2011

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: Unlike the Padma awards last year which had the media doing cartwheels over the inclusion of the controversial New York hotelier Sant Singh Chatwal for the Padma Bhushan, the 2011 roll of honour has barely created any bubbles in the champagne glasses.

The silence of even a committed partypooper like P. Sainath might make it seem as if the scam and scandal-tainted Manmohan Singh government has finally got something right. But has it?

Au contraire, we present item No.7 on the list of the 13 awardees chosen for the nation’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan.

No. 7: Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

Discipline: public affairs.

Stranger things have happened in India id est Bharat, of course, but it’s strange that the inclusion of a serving bureaucrat who is the serving deputy chairman of the planning commission should go uncommented upon in the business press that is currently lying in the lap of neo-liberal luxury in Davos.

Question #1: Is it a good idea for a serving babu to be elevated to the exalted status of a Padma Vibhushan?

A diligent user of Wikipedia will be able to see if pen-pushers have been similarly provided a “service lift” before sadda Montek, but that is not our beef with the career-bureaucrat”s selection. It is more primal. It’s like WTF is his contribution to humankind to deserve the Padma Vibhushan?

WTF, as in What’s The Funda, yaar.

Generally but not always, the preferred method of picking up a Padma Vibhushan is to carefully pick up a Padma Sri first and then even more carefully pick up a Padma Bhushan.

Take Azim Premji. The Wipro boss, who has provided employment to a few thousand people, got a Padma Bhushan in 2005 and had to wait till 2011 for get his Padma Vibhushan. Or take the actor Akkineni Nageshwara Rao (ANR), who has provided pleasure to a few million people, who went through the long route.

But our brilliant babu gets fast-tracked to Padma Vibhushan just like that—sans a Padma Sri, sans a Padma Bhushan—in fact his name preceding Premji’s, who’s ninth on the list? WTF.

WTF, as in Who’s The Fu Manchu, yaar.

Question #2: Are Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s qualifications so immense, his achievements so mammoth, and his contributions to his countrymen and women so extraordinary that he deserves nothing but the second best award the nation can give straightaway?

Even a cursory glance at Montek’s Wikipedia page tells you that there is nothing particularly out-of-this-world in the man.

Words and letters like DPS, Bishop Cotton’s, St. Stephen’s, Oxford, BA, MA, MPhil are littered all over. He apparently picked up one half of his strange accent as the youngest “division chief” in the much-abhorred World Bank; and the other half as a director in the even more abhorred international monetary fund (IMF).

But that’s typically the trajectory of most high-achieving climbers—creepers as some call them—and for that we decorate him with a Padma Vibhushan?

WTF, as in Wisconsin Tourism Federation, yaar.

Question #3: Is Montek Singh Ahluwalia the only officer among the 5,159 IAS officers in the country doing yeoman service in the year of the lord 2011?

However, it is the timing of Montek Singh Ahluwalia’s choice, given his record past and present, that is most baffling.

Montek’s role in the Enron scandal in fixing sky-high anti-consumer electricity charges that ultimately turned the Dabhol Power Company belly-up is much documented to be retold again.

As the advocate Prashant Bhushan wrote in 2004:

Jyoti Basu called him a “World Bank man”…. As revenue secretary and then finance secretary through most of the 1990s, Ahluwalia spearheaded the neo-liberal economic policies in India, exactly according to the prescriptions of the WB/IMF. But his enthusiasm for privatisation went beyond the most basic financial prudence that even the World Bank observed.”

In suddenly awarding the Padma Vibhushan at this juncture it is as if Manmohan Singh—the father of LPG: liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation—is fobbing off his blue-eyed boy with a piece of chikki having failed in accommodating him in the reshuffled ministry a couple of weeks ago.

(Montek recently figured in the Niira Radia tapes, courtesy his kinsman N.K. Singh, as eyeing a ministerial portfolio.)

And then there is the ultimate irony of it all.

When food inflation and fuel inflation are screwing the aam admi, when Maoist violence is shining a light on planning in the tribal areas, when farmer suicides are going on unabated, when bureaucratic redtape has made India the worst business destination in Asia, the nation decides to decorate the deputy chairman of the planning commission with a Padma Vibhushan!

For what, pursuing growth at all costs?

Question #4: By rewarding a fellow-traveller, has Manmohan Singh sent the clearest signal yet that he may not be around as prime minister this time next year to do the needful?

History might not give a rat’s posterior to the Padma Vibhushan, but it will surely remember neo-liberal Montek’s neo-conservative George W. Bush moment last week.

Just like the US former president blamed the global food crisis in 2007 on hungry Indians eating more, Montek observed that “the high inflation number points towards people eating healthier food, better lifestyles“.

As the food expert, Devinder Sharma writes:

“Montek Singh Ahluwalia has been at the helm of India’s planning process for quite some time now. It is during his tenure as the deputy chairman of the planning commission that India has been pushed deeper and deeper into the quagmire of poverty. With the largest population of hungry in the world, the Global Hunger Index 2010 has placed India in the pit.

“I wasn’t therefore shocked when I read Ahluwalia blame the hungry for the rise in food inflation. From someone who literally lives in the ivory tower of the Yojana Bhawan, anything can be expected. But what, of course, surprised me was the audacity with which he blamed the poor and hungry in the rural countryside for the rising inflation.”

And for this Marie Antoinette-esque moment, we decorate the deputy chairman of the planning commission with a Padma Vibhushan? WTF.

WTF, as in Who The Fuck is Alice, yaar.

Question #5: By goofing up with Sant Singh Chatwal one year and Montek Singh Ahluwalia the next, surely something is rotten in the Singh Parivar?

Of course, similar questions can be asked about some of the other business choices on the 2011 list: like, is there some rule that everybody on the Infosys board should get a Padma honour (as evidenced by the choice of “Kris Gopalakrishnan, for what?) Or, what really is ICICI bank chief Chanda Kochhar‘s stellar contribution?

It’s just that Montek Singh Ahluwalia gets our goat nicely, thank you.

Also read: A Padma Bhushan for K.V. Kamath?

A Padma Bhushan for the BGS swamiji?

Why Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt must decline Padma Sri

Has Twitter found Mark Tully character assassin?

2 April 2010

SHARANYA KANVILKAR writes from Bombay: Can a nearly spotless journalistic career of 45 years—30 of those for one of the most trusted broadcasters in the world—be tainted, tarbrushed and tarnished by a pathetic paperback written under a pseudonym?

If your name is Sir William Mark Tully, OBE, the answer has to seem, yes.

And the book that is causing all the damage to the reputation of the man India knows as Mark Tully is the 166-page Hindutva, Sex and Adventure written under the nom de plumeJohn MacLithon“, and published by Roli books, whose promoter once published the Sunday Mail newspaper from Delhi.

For 30 years, the Calcutta-born Tully was the BBC’s voice of India; his classic, halting signoff “Mark Tully, BBC, Delhi” as much a reassurance that all was right with the world as a stamp of authority of what we had just heard. After retirement in 1994, he settled down to write columns and books, many of them on the land of his birth (No full stops in India, India in slow motion, India’s unending journey, et al).

So much did Tully sahib endear himself to the establishment that he was decorated with India’s third and fourth highest civilian awards, the Padma Bhushan and Padma Sri.

Now, a nice little question mark has been hung at his door at No. 1, Nizamuddin (East) by a cowardly, scurrilous and unimaginative roman à clef that makes no pretence of hiding who it is based on and worse, hangs the entire body of work of a 74-year-old on his alleged political leanings without giving him the chance to respond in public.

MacLithon doesn’t, of course, take Tully’s name in the book, but in discussing the life and times and adventures of “Andrew Lyut, a radio journalist who is posted to India because he was born there and speaks a smattering of Hindu”, reviews and reviewers are doing the damage:

# In his India Today review, Dilip Bobb writes “the book is so obviously based on Mark Tully, the ex-BBC bureau chief and media star who spent almost his entire career in India, covering the region.”

# The Times of India‘s Crest edition says the “protagonist Andrew Luyt has plenty of similarities with Mark Tully. Luyt can be an anagram for Tuly. Like the famous BBC correspondent, he is born in India, works as radio journalist and quits his job over a disagreement with his boss.”

# The tabloid Mail Today newspaper remarks that “the author’s bio is both impressive and suspiciously familiar: he has interviewed six Indian prime ministers, dodged bullets on the India-Pakistan border and has covered the Mumbai riots (Is he Mark Tully? Or [former Fortune correspondent] John Elliot? The speculative list just gets bigger.)

# All three items in the gossip column of Outlook magazine’s books pages this week are devoted to the book with Mark Tully‘s name finding mention eight times, without a single mention of the name of the pseudonymous author.

So, who is causing the damage to Tully more—the book and its author and publisher, or the reviewers of newspapers and magazines, for most of whom Tully has written before—is a fair question to ask.

***

An equally good question to ask is which part of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure is causing discomfiture to Tully: the Hindutva part, the sex part or the adventure part?

It surely can’t be the sex. A 2001 profile of Tully on BBC reveals unabashedly that he “womanised and drank to excess” as an undergraduate at Cambridge. He considered becoming a priest at the Church of England but dropped out after two terms.

Reason?

“I just knew I could not trust my sexuality to behave as a Christian priest should. And I didn’t want to be a cause of scandal.”

And then, there is the small matter of his girlfriend Gillian Wright, with whom he stays while in Delhi, and his wife and mother of his four children, Margaret, with whom he stays when in London.

It can’t also be the “adventure” part of the title. From the wars with Pakistan to the Bhopal gas tragedy, from the Emergency to Operation Bluestar, from the killing of Indira Gandhi to that of her son Rajiv Gandhi, Tully saw plenty of adventures, upclose and upfront.

What probably rankles Tully, or perhaps, what really the pseudonymous author wants to irritate Tully with, is the veiled accusation that he was a closet Hindutva supporter all along without letting the mask drop before his listeners, readers, employers and other benefactors.

Here are three of many quotes from the book that the author uses to underline Andrew Luyt’s veering towards a soft Hindutva vision:

# “I am an Anglican and some of my clergy think yoga is very un-Christian, but how can you dislike something born in your country, that has taken the world by storm.”

# “The first question he asked Benazir Bhutto was about Kashmir, since she was the one who had called for ‘Azad Kashmir’, a Kashmir free from India, which had triggered ethnic cleansing of most Hindus of the valley of Kashmir.”

# “He had expected a rabid fundamentalist, a dangerous man. Actually, Andrew discovered over the years, L.K. Advani was a gentle soul, who would probably be unable to hurt a bird.”

If this is proof of Tully’s leanings, it is old hat.

In fact, in 2003, seven years before John MacLithon’s book was published, the political commentator Amulya Ganguli wrote this in the Hindustan Times:

“For several years now, the BBC’s Mark Tully has provided indirect support to the BJP’s Hindutva cause. His contention, as reiterated in a new TV documentary, Hindu Nation, is that secularism is unsuitable for India. The reason: it is a doctrine which keeps religion out of public life, an attempt which is bound to fail —and has failed—in a country as “deeply religious” as India. Hence, the Congress’s decline and the BJP’s rise.”

Much earlier, in 1997, the remarks reportedly made by Tully while addressing the National Hindu Students’ Forum in Britain had created a big buzz.

According to the Asian Age newspaper reporting it, Tully said:

I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it.‘ And for Hindus to be able to say with pride that they are Hindus.””

Stunningly, or perhaps not, the author introduction on the back cover of the book and on the website of the publisher has the exact same line as the Asian Age quote.

“Some of John MacLithon’s admirers were shocked when he declared a few years ago: ‘I do profoundly believe that India needs to be able to say with pride, ‘Yes, our civilisation has a Hindu base to it’.”

So, in a sense, the book doesn’t tell us anything humanity didn’t know or had not suspected about Tully’s political leanings; it just packages it for posterity especially with two imputations: a) We should take Tully’s overall “objective” output with a pinch of salt, and/or b) that somehow he has done Hindutva some disservice by not aligning himself openly with the cause” (as perhaps the pseudonymous author has).

# In its short review of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure, The Times of India writes that the “Hindutva bits are quite forgettable”.

# Dilip Bobb says in his review that after quitting his job, MacLithon’s protagonist Andrew Luyt settles down “with a ‘partner’ to write books which go soft on Hindutva and Hinduism.”

# An unnamed reviewer in the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle writes that Luyt’s “very protestant upbringing and secular outlook shapes the way he views the events around him and with every passing episode his stance on Hindutva softens.”

Whether Mark Tully dislikes the Hindutva hint no one knows for sure, although one editor who has known the BBC correspondent, says the Tully’s views on Hindutva and Hinduism “do not in any way reflect” Luyt’s; in fact, he says, he would “disagree with them profoundly”.

But it is quite clear that the pseudonymous foreign correspondent’s motive is to throw mud at Tully and to draw him into the debate on his “soft Hindutva leanings”, which Tully has resisted so far. At least in public.

***

So whodunit? Who could be behind the book on Tully?

According to the Outlook bibliophile, while signing the contract with Roli Books 18 months ago, the pseudonymous author took great pains to protect his identity, even inserting a clause that treated the “divulging of his real name as a breach of contract.”

But unnamed friends of Tully are quoted by the magazine as saying that the “strangely written” prose and the hero’s “unusual sex” antics are a giveway.

“Mark’s friends say the man behind the book is a French journalist and avid Hindutva supporter, who, like Tully, has been based in India for decades but unlike Tully, is married to an Indian. This journalist published an autobiographical novel in French in 2005.”

Mail Today, which has run two items on the book, claims that after the first piece appeared, the author got in touch with them.

“After we reported the guessing game set off by the soon-to-be launched book, the author chose to ‘come out’ in a manner of speaking and get in touch with us on email: ‘It should be absolutely normal to defend Hindus in a country where 80 per cent of the population comprises Hindus and which has shown throughout the ages that it is pluralist and tolerant. But unfortunately ‘ Hindu’ has become a dirty word in modern India.’

“The mysterious author says that he has spent many years working on the novel—which has lots on the sexual peccadilloes of a Hindutva-loving foreign correspondent in India—but had always known that his peers would brand him immediately after the publication of the book.”

If nothing else, the phraseology of the Mail Today-John MacLithon correspondence suggests that the pseudonymous is obsessed with two of the three elements in the title: Hindutva and sex.

One editor claims he received an email out of the blue from the suspected author asserting that Mark Tully was the author but that he had written it under a pseudonym “because he is scared of coming out openly…. But I have not and I am much more radical than Tully.”

But, surely, if Tully wanted to out himself, he would have chosen a more dignified way of doing so, at least by writing a book in better English with a better publisher?

On his Twitter account, the editor-in-chief of the Madras-based New Indian Express, Aditya Sinha, asks this question:

Already, in its short life, the book has kept the gossip mills active, but in the long term, is it likely to end up besmirching the BBC and its voice in India?

Then again, the Hindutva herd, uncomfortable with the idea of independent journalism, is likely to ask another question: has it become a crime for a journalist or a journalism organisation to be associated with Hindutva?

Photograph: courtesy Outlook magazine

Also read: MARK TULLY: The 7 habits of highly effective journalists

‘In India, we realise nothing ever dies finally’

‘Learn to take the rough with the smooth’


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