Posts Tagged ‘rediff.com’

Modi, BJP and a Telugu bidda called Somalingam

2 April 2013

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Even as BJP fans and fanboys go ecstatic at the re-entry of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi into the party’s parliamentary board, CPI(M) leader and member of Parliament, Sitaram Yechury, strikes a note of caution in the Hindustan Times:

“It is fairly certain that any government that will emerge following the 2014 general elections cannot be anything except a coalition. The question, however, remains over its composition and leadership.

“This context throws up the irresoluble contradiction that will plague any coalition led by the BJP.

“If the coalition has to be strong enough to command the numbers of a majority, then the BJP would have to put its core communal agenda on the backburner.

“On the other hand, unless the communal agenda is aggressively pursued as directed by the RSS, the BJP would not be able to either consolidate or expand its own political base.

“This contradiction is already reflecting itself in the choices being considered by the BJP for its prime ministerial candidate based on its illusory hopes of winning the forthcoming election.

“The BJP’s illusions remind me of a Telugu saying which loses its punch when translated but means: ‘Neither do I have a house nor a wife but my son’s name is Somalingam‘.”

***

On rediff.com, Vicky Nanjappa speaks to the psephologist Sandeep Shastri and asks him about the impact of Modi in the Karnataka assembly elections:

There is a lot of dependency on Narendra Modi. Will he be able to change the prospects of the BJP this time?

I have my doubts if Modi will actively take part in the Karnataka assembly election campaign. Modi is well aware that this is a losing campaign. He did not take part in the Uttar Pradesh campaign for the very same reason.

But you will see a lot of Modi during the elections in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, as the BJP will surely emerge victorious there. You will also see a lot of Modi in Karnataka during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Read the full column: More than just a front

Would Gandhi have condoned Kasab’s hanging?

21 November 2012

On the eve of the winter session of Parliament and with the Gujarat elections around the corner, the scam and scandal-ridden Congress-led UPA has stumped the scam and scandal-ridden BJP-led NDA with its early-morning announcement of the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist involved in the 26/11 siege of Bombay.

Within a matter of hours, a weak government is being seen as assertive by the lynch mobs which routinely bay for blood, and a “soft-state” is slapping its thighs in delight, although the implications of the hanging—on India-Pakistan relations, on the fallout in the country, on the fate of Sarabjit Singh, etc—are still to be weighed.

Above all, in the very week India refused to be a signatory to a United Nations resolution banning the death penalty, the hanging of Ajmal Kasab, almost as if to satiate the public and political need for revenge and retribution, throws a big question mark over India’s presumed humanism of the land of the Mahatma.

The former diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar writes on rediff.com:

The vast majority of world opinion abhors meting out death penalty for any crime. This majority includes countries such as Russia, Israel UK and Germany that have been victims of terrorism. But Indian stands with stony hearts like the United States, China, Pakistan and Iran.

India’s plea is that it is its sovereign right to determine its own legal system, that death sentence is carried out India only on the “rarest of occasions” and that too with great deliberation. But India parries the big moral issue, which is that execution by the state (or the community) is nothing but a barbaric practice dating back tp primeval times when the thumb rule used to be “eye-for-an-eye”.

For India, it is a particularly agonizing question because Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism,  three finest flowers of its ancient civilization, all equally forbid such killings. Indians needs to reflect. I wonder if Gandhi would have condoned Kasab’s execution.

Read the full piece: India snuffs out Kasab‘s life

Tweedledum-bhai, Tweedledee-bhai & vice-versa

24 July 2010

Sheela Bhatt on rediff.com:

“He is, obviously, a shrewd politician. He is a 24/7 politician. He also knew political management. He ridiculed Congressmen with his superiority complex and sharp observations—almost daily. He used information as a weapon. He is obstinate in his view that Islamic jihad has engulfed South Asia and it has to be suppressed by constant vigil, covert actions and intelligence.

“His arrogance is as legendary as Chidambaram‘s. He never entertained reporters. He had some terribly wrong notions about the functions of the media in Indian democracy. He never gave regular briefings. He kept reporters away. He’s a manipulative leader who knew his limitations very well. He found all the organs of democracy in New Delhi biased.

“His public image among his supporters was that of a bully, and that he would never compromise on Hindutva. He underestimated the power of men and women in khaki, and his total lack of judgment about the Supreme Court’s influence. “

That’s Amit Shah, Gujarat’s former minister of state for home, not his boss, home minister and chief minister, Narendra Modi.

Cartoon: courtesy Prasad Radhakrishnan/ Mail Today

‘BJP has not followed ‘Recognition for All’ credo’

12 May 2010

The All India Congress Committee also known as the Congress party is in its 125th year. In a two-part interview with Sheela Bhatt of rediff.com, the historian and biographer Ramachandra Guha, author of the much-acclaimed India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, discusses the birth and growth of the grand old party.

Sheela Bhatt: In the last many years, some of the Congress leaders have been seen as mocking Hinduism and sometimes even Hindu civilization while trying to attract the minority?

Ramachandra Guha: Lots of people have this view of the Congress. I wish we had a political party to challenge the Congress. That would offer the people of India a wider vision of how this country should be built. But we don’t need polarising issues. Such criticism comes from people who have a polarised vision.

I come from Karnataka. In the last election, the BJP put up 224 candidates but not one Muslim. Almost 15 percent of the population of Karnataka is Muslim. So you are telling 15 percent of Karnataka you don’t count for us. Then how can you blame them for voting for the Congress?

The BJP originally said, “appeasement of none, recognition of all.” But, they never followed it.

In Karnataka they attacked Christians after the Muslims in Gujarat. They had only one woman in the Cabinet and she too has been sacked. So, what message are they sending? Is this the alternative to the Congress? The Congress can be a cynical manipulator. It plays one community against the other, okay, but, what are you offering that is better?

Part I: ‘Historically, the Congress has been inclusive’

Part II: ‘Rahul Gandhi is not particularly intelligent’

Also read: ‘BJP is now just a B team of the Congress’

If death penalty doesn’t work, why thirst for it?

7 May 2010

Ajmal Kasab, the “killing machine”, has been pronounced guilty in the dastardly siege of Bombay. He is to be hanged and the state prosecutor Ujwal Nikam has held up the judgement copy with the cover screaming “Yes, you are guilty.”

Even responsible TV faces admit they have been a little discomfited by the tone and tenor of the television coverage, the blood lust in words and images, leading up to the judgement in the November 26 trial.

Admittedly, the sentencing will assuage some of the sentiments of the nearly 200 victims. And obviously Kasab is only going to get what he gave to the innocent bystanders at VT: death.

Still, questions remain.

With 309 convicts on the bench, with the Afzal Guru case still hanging fire, with 29 mercy petitions before the President, when will Kasab’s turn come, if at all? And will it change anything?

Editorial in Deccan Herald:

“It remains a moot point if the practice of awarding death penalty really serves the purpose for which it is envisaged.

“Fifteen years ago, India had told the United Nations that death penalty was required to instill fear and deter future criminals from perpetrating grave crimes, including terrorist acts. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that these harsh statutory provisions have helped reduce crime.

“Nearly a hundred countries have abolished capital punishment, a dozen others have reviewed their statutes to preclude ‘ordinary’ crimes from their purview and over 30 others have undertaken not to invoke the harsh punishment though the provision for it continues to exist in their respective statutes.

“Apart from the lack of empirical evidence to establish that the fear of death penalty reduces the incidence of heinous crimes in society, liberal democracies have generally accepted the argument that the state should desist from taking away an individual’s right to life as a measure of extreme punishment — death cannot be a punishment; it is its abrupt end.”

Read the full editorial: Life over death

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/ The Indian Express

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Will Ajmal Kasab be hanged?

Should Afzal Guru be pardoned?

What if Arnab Goswami were in jail with Kasab?

The curious case of the public sector showcase

23 January 2010

Shyamal Majumdar writes in Busines Standard:

“The Mumbai branch-head of a navratna public sector company wanted to replace a 10-year-old wooden showcase with something that occupied lesser space. He wanted to just dismantle the showcase, but stopped after his veteran secretary suggested that he should at least inform the administration department in Delhi.

“The administration head asked him to send a formal letter detailing the reasons for his inclination to get rid of the showcase. That is required, he was told, as none of his predecessors had any problem with it.

“Two months after the sending the letter, the branch head was told that inspections by the local administration and accounts staff showed that the book value of the showcase was Rs 1,900, and that he should ask for quotations from at least three interested buyers and send them for approval.

“The process of getting quotations took a long time, as the branch head found it difficult to get anybody interested in the rickety showcase. After much coaxing and cajoling, he managed three quotations from local furniture shops. The highest quotation was for Rs 700.

“The documents were despatched to Delhi immediately and the branch head hoped his ordeal was over. But, it took the headquarters another two months to send him a letter informing him that the quotations were considered too low by an eight-member purchase/disposal committee and he should advertise in a local newspaper asking for fresh quotations, according to office rules.

“The advertisements elicited four responses and, this time, the highest bid was for Rs 850. The branch head was told that the purchase/disposal committee was preoccupied with other work and he would have to wait for his turn. The approval came after three months.

“In the meantime, the owner of the furniture shop who was the highest bidder lost interest in buying the stuff. The branch head says he paid the money himself and somehow convinced the gentleman to give him a receipt. The showcase was broken down by the office boys as there were no takers.

“The branch head says he is unable to figure out why it took the eight members of the committee so long to decide on something that yielded the company just Rs 850. “The company spent much more on courier charges alone,” says the young man.”

Read the full story: Have time, will waste

‘Sushma Swaraj’s better bet than Narendra Modi’

2 November 2009

Professor Dipankar Gupta, a former profesor of sociology, currently fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum, in conversation with Sheela Bhatt of rediff.com:

Sheela Bhatt: One columnist wrote that the 2009 general elections was the ‘semi-final round’ and Narendra Modi has been knocked out. Do you agree?

Dipankar Gupta: Some people are good at the regional level and some at the national level. He has done well at the regional level not because of the BJP, nor because of its ideology. What he has done is maintain Gujarat’s position as the top economic state. It was not he who put it at the top. The state has always been ahead. Modi didn’t let it slip from its position. He inherited a functioning, economically prosperous state. Gujarat was at number three and is still there.

Narendra Modi has cleverly given Gujaratis the impression that the Centre is against Gujarat and he is fighting for Gujarat. He says we pay so much tax but what do we get back? You might remember in the 1970s Jyoti Basu played the same card effectively. He said Bengal is undermined by the Centre. For 10 years he did very well on that point.

In Gujarat, Modi’s winning card was that the ‘Centre is not looking after us.’ Outside Gujarat Modi was not a crowd puller. North Indians were not impressed as much as the Gujaratis. Modi’s identity as a Gujarati is very strong. He will remain in Gujarat. He will have a strong role to play within his party and will become the BJP’s longest surviving chief minister.

I think the BJP and he himself has realised his limits. On a national scale you need to have a national presence. Vajpayee and Advani had it, but Modi is too much of a Gujarati.

Sushma Swaraj is a strong candidate, she is difficult to handle and is much tougher to fight than Modi because she is a woman. She is articulate and has an all-India image. Arun Jaitley does not have that image yet. He is still very much an organisation man.

If you are talking in terms of going out and fighting an election I think Sushma Swaraj is a better bet than Narendra Modi.”

Read the full interview: ‘Sushma Swaraj is a better bet than Modi’

Also read: ‘Gujarat was vibrant long before Narendra Modi

A picture for the personal albums of the sangh

30 October 2009

mohan bhagwat

A picture tells a thousand words; in this case it encapsulates the hopes of a billion.

The sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohanrao Bhagwat, delivers his thundering addres to a near-empty audience in Delhi on Thursday. A photograph that must be framed and hung at the personal library of Arun Shourie, who only recently wanted the the RSS to take over the BJP.

***

S. Prasannarajan in India Today:

“Still trapped in the wreckage of two general election defeats, they [the BJP] seem to have no idea about the aspirations and attitudes of 21st century India. They have lost the culture war as well as the economic war—the two wars the Right has been fighting in most democracies. It invariably loses the culture war and wins the economy.

“The BJP still lives in a distant yesterday which is part mythology, part history, part nostalgia, and party fantasy. It doesn’t have the audacity to be truly “right” in the marketplace. And it doesn’t have the imagination to be creative in the social arana either.”

Photograph: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: ‘Brand’ blow to Bhagwat

Why are they Tamils? Why are they all Brahmins?

13 October 2009

A sample size of three spanning 79 years may be too small to even attempt a hypothesis.

But, thanks to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan walking away with the 2009 Nobel (after C.V. Raman in 1930 and Subramanyam Chandrasekhar in 1983), several commentators are asking why three of India’s Nobel Prize winners in science hail from Tamil Nadu—and why they are all Brahmins.

P. Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, in an interview with Shobha Warrier of rediff.com, says that there is no relation between community and scientific work, and suggests that what looks like a co-relation may be sheer coincidence; like many Nobel winners coming from a Jewish background.

Some of the salient points made by Radhakrishnan are:

# Brahmins have the benefit of cultural capital: “In a hierarchical society, cultural capital is concentrated at the top. Brahmins are at the summit of the social hierarchy. Cultural capital gets transmitted from generation to generation. Brahmins have cultural capital. The poverty of a poor Brahmin is only economic, but the poverty of an untouchable is both economic and cultural. That is the reason why where talent has to be used persistently and assiduously, Brahmins have been shining.”

# Social background of Brahmins is rich and aristocratic: “Except in Kerala, Brahmins lived an aristocratic life. Brahmins were the first to take to English education and gradually managed to monopolise it. Brahmins had a monopoly over indigenous education too. By taking to English education, they abandoned indigenous education and allowed it to have a natural death… [Except Kerala] serving society has never been part of the Brahminical mindset.”

# Brahmins picked and choose what they wanted to do: “Initially Brahmins refused to have anything to do with medical education as it involved physical contact with other castes. They took to English education and they were the first to take to literature and engineering which was not science education then. Brahmins were the “lotus eaters” and the leisure class. They had ample time to read, write and engage in cultural activities.”

***

The Nobel Prize scorecard of The Telegraph, Calcutta, reads 3-3: three Bengali Nobel Prize winners (Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Amartya Sen) versus three Tamil Nobel Prize winners. (Ronald Ross, who discovered the malaria parasite, worked in Calcutta besides Hyderabad.)

Calcutta’s spin-meisters however give the debate a more parochial edge. They take pride in the fact that their City, the capital of British India, was the cradle for science than Tamil Nadu.

Much of the research that C.V. Raman did to get the Nobel was done in Calcutta, where he spent 17 years of his life; that the genius of Srinivasa Ramanujam was discovered by a British mathematician, and that both S. Chandrashekhar and Venky Ramakrishnanan, although hailing from Tamil Nadu, did their research outside the State (and country).

But they acknowledge the balance has swung from East to South thanks to the quality of students, the quality of labs, conducive atmosphere for research, resource allocation, and the “Bose Effect”.

For years, Bengal’s gripe has been the stepmotherly treatment of the four Boses—Jagadish Bose, Satyen Bose, Subhas Bose and the cricketer Gopal Bose. The problem, scientists ay, continues  over the allocation of reseources, or refusal of it, for space technology.

“The [space technology] area has become a south Indian hegemony,” said Sandip Chakrabarti, a senior professor at the S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences. “All the institutes are located in the south, giving proximity to Sriharikota as an excuse. NASA, in contrast, has spread wings across the US. Whenever we go to seek grants for space research in eastern India, we are told there would be a clash of interests with Isro.

If tomorrow India is divided into north and south, it would take the south barely two-and-a-half days to conquer north India as it owns all our space and missile technology.

Also read: Just 4% of population but 7 Brahmins in Indian team?

Meet India’s newest toilet cleaners: the Brahmins

Brahmins, never quite top of the heap, now even lower

‘Hinduism cannot be saved without Brahminism’

BJP defeat is a defeat of BJP brand of journalism

23 June 2009

PRITAM SENGUPTA in New Delhi and SHARANYA KANVILKAR in Bombay write: The stunning defeat of the BJP in the general elections has been dissected so many times and by so many since May 16 that there is little that has been left unsaid.

What has been left unsaid is how the BJP’s defeat also marks the comeuppance of a certain breed of journalists who had chucked all pretence to non-partisanship and made it their mission to tom-tom the party, in print and on air, for a decade and more.

The Congress and the Left parties have had more than their share of sympathetic “left-liberal” journalists, of course. And for longer. But most were closet supporters unwilling to cross the divide from journalism into politics, or unwilling to be seen to be doing so.

However, the rise of the “muscular” BJP saw the birth of a “muscular” breed of journalists who unabashedly batted for the party’s politics and policies—without revealing their allegiance while enjoying its fruits “lavishly“—in a manner that would have embarrassed even the official spokesmen of the “Hindu nationalist party”.

Little wonder, Arun Shourie, the granddad of journalists turned BJP politicians, alleged at the party’s national executive meeting that “the BJP was being run by six journalists.” There are different versions doing the rounds on who the “Gang of Six” were, but some names are no longer in the realm of speculation.

# Sudheendra Kulkarni an assistant editor at The Sunday Observer and executive editor at Blitz, rose to be a key aide to both prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and prime minister-in-waiting L.K. Advani, even drafting the latter’s controversial Jinnah speech.

# Chandan Mitra, an assistant editor at The Times of India, editor of The Sunday Observer, and executive editor of Hindustan Times, found himself “mysteriously becoming the proprietor of The Pioneer, without spending a rupee thanks to the generosity of the BJP and more particularly that of L.K. Advani“.

# Swapan Dasgupta, the scion of Calcutta Chemicals (which makes Margo soap), rose to be managing editor of the weekly newsmagazine India Today, before emerging the unofficial media pointsman of sorts for Arun Jaitley and through him for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

# Balbir K. Punj, the sugar correspondent of The Financial Express, who churned out masterly theses on conversions and other sundry diversions for Outlook magazine, was nominated to the upper house of Parliament by the BJP like Mitra.

# And then there’s a motley crew of fulltimers and freelancers, including India Today editor Prabhu Chawla, Pioneer associate editor Kanchan Gupta, who did a spell in Vajpayee’s PMO, and weighty political correspondents and editors of The Times of India, The Economic Times and Dainik Jagran.

“Journo Sena” was what the tribe came to be called, an allusion to the “Vanara Sena” (army of monkeys) that helped Lord Rama fight the armies of Ravana in Ramayana.

However, in the unravelling political epic, the “Journo Sena” stands trapped in the crossfire of a party struggling to come to grips with a gigantic electoral loss, firing wildly at each other—or are being fired at by the big guns.

***

First, Sudheendra Kulkarni’s “candid insider account” in Tehelka, a magazine whose website was hounded out of business by the Vajpayee government, came in for searing criticism from Anil Chawla, a classmate of his at IIT Bombay, for blaming the RSS for the BJP’s plight.

“The patient is being blamed for all that has gone wrong, without in any way blaming either the virus or the team of doctors who have brought the patient to the present critical state,” he wrote in a widely circulated “open letter”.

Kanchan Gupta, who many believe was eased out of Vajpayee’s PMO by Kulkarni, took a potshot at his erstwhile colleague.

“Kulkarni who undid the BJP’s election campaign in 2004 with the ‘India Shining’ slogan and fashioned the 2009 campaign which has taken the BJP to a low of barely-above-100 mark has written an article for Tehelka, the magazine which tarred the NDA government, causing it irreparable damage, and is now the favourite perch of those who inhabit the BJP’s inner courtyard, blaming all and sundry except those who are to blame,” Gupta wrote on rediff.com.

In a rejoinder in Tehelka, Swapan Dasgupta welcomed Sudheendra Kulkarni’s mea culpa calling it “a welcome addition to the ever-growing literature on the BJP’s 2009 election experience,” but couldn’t resist himself from sticking the knife in.

“Kulkarni has provided some interesting insights but has also cluttered the picture with red herrings. This isn’t surprising.

There are many in the BJP who insist that the problem with Advani was Kulkarni“.

When former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha resigned from party posts, ostensibly miffed at the elevation of Arun Jaitley as leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha despite leading the party to defeat, Dasgupta rushed to Jaitley’s defence, wondering how the resignation letter had made its way to NDTV.

“TV editors I have spoken to have indicated that there were two parallel points of leak. The first was through an associate of Pramod Mahajan (who hates Jaitley) and the other was was the unlikely figure of a cerebral Rajya Sabha MP.

“I gather that the follow-up was done by a disagreeable journalist (one who signed the 20-points during the Emergency) whose nomination to the Rajya Sabha has been blocked by Jaitley on two separate occasions,” he wrote on his blog.

At the BJP’s national executive meeting, the “cerebral Rajya Sabha MP” Arun ShourieMagsaysay Award-winning former investigative journalist and author who became a minister in the Vajpayee government—”blamed six unnamed journalists who, he said, were responsible for articles damaging the [BJP] party interest.”

Whether the journalists were all members of the BJP or merely sympathetic to it, Shourie didn’t make clear.

In drawing attention to the journalists in specific, the former journalist may only have been indulging in the nation’s favourite sport of shooting the messenger but he was also underlining the role his compatriots were playing in the BJP’s affairs.

In his column in the media magazine Impact, Sandeep Bamzai writes:

“Arun Jaitley and his band of journalists-turned-politicocs misread the ground realities and the tea leaves completely. Buoyed by several wins in key States, this core team thought that the mood in the States would be mirrored at the Centre when the general hustings came along.

“Price spikes, terror threats and fulminations against a decent PM Manmohan Singh were the new imperatives crafted by Jaitley and his journo boys.

“The entire strategy fell flat on its face and all the journos who hogged prime time on new telly in the run up to the elections turned into disillusioned critics immediately after the results.”

In the India Today cover story on the BJP’s travails, Swapan Dasgupta’s former boss, Prabhu Chawla, seen to be close to incumbent BJP president Rajnath Singh, found fault with Singh’s bete noire Arun Jaitley for being spotted at Lord’s, applauding a boundary by Kevin Pietersen during the India-England Twenty20 match:

“Jaitley, a hardcore cricket buff, was in London with his family on holiday while his party back home was imploding, just like the Indian team.”

On a yahoogroup called “Hindu Thought”, the former Century Mills public relations officer turned columnist Arvind Lavakare, attacked Swapan Dasgupta, presumably for urging the BJP to junk the “ugly Hindu” image engendered by its commitment to Hindutva.

“After quitting a salaried job in a reputed English magazine a few years ago, Swapan’s livelihood may well be depending on his writings being published in a wide range of prosperous English newspapers which are anti-Hindu and therefore anti-BJP. If that is indeed so, Swapan simply cannot afford to project and push the Hindu line beyond the Laxman rekha. Poor dear,” wrote Lavakare.

The comment would perhaps have gone unnoticed, but Dasgupta gave it some oxygen by responding in kind in a post-script on his blog:

“I have no intention of affirming my credentials. To do so would be to dignify Lavakare’s personal attacks as a substitute for an informed debate on ideas.

“I merely hope that the attacks on where I write, who went to college with me and who are my friends are not in any way an expression of envy. It is a matter of satisfaction for me that I get a platform in the mass media (cutting across editorial positions).

“Engaging with the wider world is daunting but much more meaningful than gloating inside a sectarian ghetto. I strong recommend Lavakare also tries earning a livelihood out of writing for “a range of prosperous English newspapers”. It could be a humbling experience.”

Among the few journalists to have spotted the travails of the “Journo Sena”, or at least among the few to have had the courage of conviction to put it on paper, is Faraz Ahmed.

He writes in The Tribune, Chandigarh:

“When the BJP lost power in 2004, all the branded BJP editors—Kanchan, Swapan, A. Surya Prakash and Udayan Namboodri—were pensioned off to Chandan Mitra’s Pioneer. Today, however, each one of them is finding fault with Advani, the BJP and some even with the Sangh.

“These are ominous signs of the demise of a political party and reminds one of the slow and painful death of Janata Dal in the early ’90s when the ‘Dalam’ was dying and BJP was on the upswing and everyone was joining it or identifying with it because that was the most happening party.

“To be fair to these people who naturally represent the rising middle class, they waited patiently for five years in a hope that the UPA government would be a one-election wonder and would die a natural death in the next round. So much for their political understanding.”

Obviously, everybody loves a winning horse and doubtless the antics of the “Journo Sena” would have made for more pleasant viewing had the election verdict been the other way round.

Still, their antics in the aftermath of defeat raise some fundamental questions about their grand-standing in the run-up to the elections: Are all-seeing, all-knowing journalists cut out for politics? Do they have the thick skin, large stamina, and the diplomatic skills required for the rough and tumble?

From the embarrassment they have caused and are causing to their party of choice, it is clear that there is an element of truth to BJP president Rajnath Singh’s statement that he can “neither swallow nor spew out” the journalists.

Then again, L.K. Advani started his career as a journalist.

Also read: How come no one saw the worm turn?

The sad and pathetic decline of Arun Shourie

How Chandan Mitra has his halwa and hogs it too

Advani: Prime minister maybe, but not a good sub

What did Pattabhi Jois have that PVN did not?

6 June 2009

Journalism, it is said in jest, is basically about letting readers who did not know that a certain somebody was alive that a certain somebody is dead. Even by that morbid yardstick, it can be said that our celebrity-obsessed, hit-and-run media does a pretty bad job of saluting the good and the great who pass into the ages.

The ashtanga yoga legend K. Pattabhi Jois passed away in Mysore on 18 May 2009 at the age of 94.

Yet all he got from the Star of Mysore was a couple of paragraphs and six from the newspaper of record, The Hindu. None of the others fared any better: The Times of India with an “edition” in Mysore and Bangalore ran an AFP screed; Deccan Herald had all of 247 words. Rediff.com had a slideshow.

Possibly because of his long association with the West, possibly because of the Hollywood actors and singers who were disciples, Pattabhi Jois got a fair deal from the foreign papers. The New York Times ran a full obituary as indeed did The Daily Telegraph, London, and there were six paragraphs in The Guardian.

Now, The Economist, whose obituary page is a must-read, has run a obit on Jois, which we publish here in full sans permission, to underline the point that if you do not where you come from, you will never know where to go. Then again, The Economist, despite being a mouthpiece of capitalism, did not run the obituary of P.V. Narasimha Rao.

***

One sure sign that yoga has entered the mainstream of Western society, or at least the urbane bits of it, is that its practitioners have splintered into separate and sometimes competitive tribes. In spas, resorts and studios from Byron Bay, Australia to Big Sur, California, and wherever else one might expect Priuses on the roads and organic kale on the tables, the question is less likely to be “Do you do yoga?” than simply “Ashtanga or Iyengar?”

If the answer is Ashtanga, that has everything to do with Pattabhi Jois—“Guruji”, as his disciples called him. The word Ashtanga, “eight limbs”, originally meant the eight stages yogis must traverse to reach enlightenment, only one of which, asana or “postures”, is the sort of thing Westerners associate with yoga. But used in Mr Jois’s way, which is how most Westerners understand it now, Ashtanga meant stretching, balancing and swinging to the relentless rhythm set by a little, smiling, potbellied man in an undershirt and Calvin Klein shorts, crying “Ekam, inhale! dve, exhale! trini, inhale! catavari, exhale!”, until every member of the class was breathing like Darth Vader and running with rivers of sweat.

This was just how Mr Jois liked it. The intense internal heat generated by his sort of yoga was meant to purify and cleanse the body. For him, yoga was “99% practice and 1% theory”, as he liked to say in his squeaky, mischievous voice. Though he was the son of a Brahmin priest, and knew the teachings, anyone asking him for deeper philosophy would get a smirk in reply, or a scrap of his famously broken English. Why, for instance, did he insist that one must enter the Lotus position right leg first? “Practice and all is coming,” Mr Jois would say, and leave it at that.

He disdained the fastidious and perfectionist alignment of postures that some of his rivals practised in chilly yoga studios. He scorned Iyengar, the careful and medicinal branch of the art which, like his, arrived in the West in the 1960s, in which middle-aged ladies spent an eternity studying how to spread their toes properly while standing, before building complex poses with straps, blocks and chairs. His Ashtangis were younger and fitter, more likely to have Om tattoos and rippling shoulder muscles, and to start their exercises with a chant of “Guruji!” to a portrait of him pinned up on the wall.

His yoga poses came in sets and sequences that never varied. Do the same sets again and again, Mr Jois believed, and the body would, over time, supply its own grace. The poses did not change when he taught his daughter’s son, whom he was grooming to carry on the tradition after losing one son to death and growing distant from another. Nor did they vary for new, pale, stiff arrivals from the West at his school in Mysore, in India; nor for the Hollywood celebrities, from Madonna to Sting and Gwyneth Paltrow, who made the pilgrimage to catch Guruji on one of his world tours.

What changed was only how many of the six sequences—in theory, one for each day of the yoga week—the student was able and allowed to do. Each set had a theme, and they got harder and harder. The first, with many forward bends, was cleansing and calming; the second, with lots of back bends, was stimulating, and so on. The later ones were otherworldly in their contortions. It was said that only a handful of people could do all six.

Mr Jois first saw these yoga postures performed in one connected sequence in the 1920s, when he was 12. He was watching a demonstration by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a charismatic guru who would teach all the principal yogis who later brought yoga to the West. Electrified, he became Krishnamacharya’s student the next day. His teacher made him start at daybreak, with sun salutations towards the east until he was sweaty and hot. Then followed postures, shoulderstands, headstands, deep breathing in the Lotus position and meditative rest. Strong, flexible and easily bored, the boy had found a discipline that challenged him.

After running away from his village with two rupees in his pocket, Mr Jois eventually managed to study at Mysore and then began to pass on what he had learnt. At first he taught in obscurity, in one small room with a grubby carpet, and only other Brahmin men. But from the late 1960s onwards, as the perfume of joss sticks drifted over Western civilisation, yoga caught on there too. A hippie fan brought him to California for a visit in 1975, and his fame spread.

Among his followers, Mr Jois inspired a cultish devotion. But his students were not unaware of their teacher’s contradictions. What had happened, for example, to the yogic principle of ahimsa, non-violence? A good number of Mr Jois’s students seemed constantly to be limping around with injured knees or backs because they had received his “adjustments”, yanking them into Lotus, the splits or a backbend. And what about the yogic principle of brahmacharya, sexual continence? Women followers, it was said, received altogether different adjustments from the men. Most mysteriously, why had Mr Jois himself apparently stopped practising his sort of yoga decades ago? Was that another instance of the wisdom of the East?

Courtesy: The Economist, London

Also read: Yoga guru Pattabhi Jois is dead. RIP.

Jois at work: ‘Bad lady, why forgetting Bakasana?’

At the pearly gates in dhoti, vibhuti, pump shoes

From Bhadravathi, the Bhimsen Joshi of cricket

12 February 2009

Indian cricket has seen a few stars and some more. But not one of them invokes the same beautiful feeling that Gundappa Ranganath Vishwanath does. Mention the name of the Boy from Bhadravathi and everybody—critics, contemporaries, friends, foes, rivals, relatives—break into an adjectival overdrive.

Five feet and two inches of timing. Team spirit. Style. Selflessness. Grit. Civility. And above all the gentlemanliness that lesser mortals can only aspire. What better way to mark the day Vishy turns 60 than to recount the genius in the words of his colleagues, compatriots and co-workers on the cricket field.

***

Sunil Gavaskar in DNA:

“Vishy played it tough without any overt show about it and played it fair. Look at the number of times he bailed out India out of a hopeless situation and took them to victory. He did it without thumping  his chest or jumping up and down on getting to the century mark but with just a quick look up at the skies and then raising his bat shyly to applause that the crowd most spontaneously give him. In fact, no Indian player has warmed the cockles of the crowd’s heart as Vishy did. Those at the ground or those at the watching it on TV or hearing about it on radio would feel a sense of joy on Vishy’s achievements before or since has done.”

Bishen Singh Bedi in DNA:

“Vishy was a great team man and had an excellent sense of humour. I have not heard anyone say something bad about him. He was an artist and a gem of a batsman. He was like classical music of the highest order. I would say he was the Bhimsen Joshi or Ustad Allah Rakha of cricket. I remember the 97 knock against West Indies in Madras. What a knock it was. He is one batsman who cannot be compared to anyone else.”

Erapalli Anantarao Srinivas Prasanna in The Hindu:

“He has been one of the most outstanding batsman I have ever seen. It is also significant that in his birthday week, he was named for the C.K. Nayudu award.”

Anil Kumble in The Times of India:

“India has produced a number of profound batting stars, but I have often felt that Vishy never got his due, in spite of scoring over 6000 runs in Test match cricket. He did play during an era of former greats such as Sunil Gavaskar, and comparisons are never fair, but Vishy had carved his own niche among great batsman in India and around the world. Another prominent feature was his exemplary conduct and good nature, which has left a mark on anyone who has interacted with him, on or off the field. He constantly encouraged me during the period I was dropped from the Indian team, and guided me into maintaining self belief and determination.”

Rahul Dravid on rediff.com:

“He was a genius. All those great players who have played with and against him continue to rate him very high. I myself have seen videos and films of some of his outstanding innings. I must say he was an exceptional stroke-player. I think he was an artist with an unmistakable style of his own. He had terrific balance and you couldn’t find fault with his technique or shots.”

Anshuman Gaekwad in DNA:

“Vishy was a magical batsman to watch. We have had many partnerships. It was great to watch him from the other end. He could bat in any conditions. His most memorable knock was when Andy Roberts had come to India for the first time. India were 30 for 3 and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi got injured. Vishy and I were then involved in a 129-run partnership and in the end we won. It was a tremendous knock from him on a lively Eden Gardens wicket.”

Also read: The finest (English) passage on Karnataka?

Will NDTV and Barkha Dutt sue Facebook too?

1 February 2009

If there is anything that l’affaire Barkha Dutt versus Cheytanya Kunte holds a mirror to—besides media hypocrisy, thin skins, forked tongues, and such like—it is: a) the quality of legal advice media behemoths receive and act upon, and b) the mainstream media’s bottomless ignorance of the wired world and how it works.

Even the spitting-image puppets that NDTV hauls out of the cupboard a few times a day to generate a laugh would have counselled Prannoy Roy & Co (for free) against embarking on the petty path of picking on a hapless blogger sitting in The Netherlands.

The bomb-Shell™ (pun intended) had boomerang written all over it, and in more ways than one.

If Dutt and NDTV wanted to protect their fair name, etc, from the slander, what are they proposing to do about Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who repeated the libellous charge of the channel and the correspondent “endangering lives” in Kargil by asking a military officer to trigger the Bofors gun for their cameras, at a media conference?

Has the channel issued the Admiral a notice, like it did to Kunte? Has he clarified/ retracted his comments/ apologised? Why is his response not public?

Secondly, how far is NDTV, which has a “convergence” outfit, from achieving convergence?

Was NDTV unaware that NDTV.com had run excerpts from the blog item that their lawyers were suing Cheytanya Kunte for? And do the “tech” chaps who run NDTV.com have no idea that everything, including everything they remove, is cached by Big Brother at Mountain View?

Scaring a blogger to apologise was the easy part.

What do NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Barkha Dutt propose to do with the Facebook group that has over 4,660 members demanding that she be taken off air? Will they sue Mark Zuckerberg next?

Good luck, NDTV (third-quarter losses: Rs 120.8 crore).

Prem Panicker, the editorial director of India Abroad, the New York weekly newspaper owned and run by rediff.com, asks the best questions about Dutt’s (and NDTV’s) fundamental inability to differentiate between fact and opinion:

***

By PREM PANICKER in Bombay

“But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.”

That is Barkha Dutt, writing against the backdrop of pervasive criticism of her conduct, and those of her electronic media confreres, during and in the immediate aftermath of 26/11.

Admirable sentiments, admirably expressed.

One of the many critical voices Dutt and her media parent NDTV listened to was this blog post [From Google cache; scroll down to the post titled ‘Shoddy Journalism’]. And as a result of that careful listening to a critical voice, this happened.

Kunte’s withdrawal and apology, likely the outcome of a threat of legal action by Dutt and NDTV [Parenthetical aside: Can I be sued for saying this? If yes, I the undersigned do hereby, et cetera...], has created an even greater storm than the television media’s hysteria-tinged coverage of 26/11 did.

Here’s a round up of posts: Patrix; a DesiPundit round up; The Comic Project; Venkatesh Sridhar… [There are likely many others, but you get the picture].

The immediate temptation is to wear my blogger’s hat, and blast away at NDTV and Dutt for muscling Kunte—the classic reaction in a David v Goliath face-off.

It is not that simple, though—I also have a journalist’s hat, and with it on my head, some points occur.

My name is my brand—and as with any brand, its equity is built carefully, over time, through much hard work and careful attention to quality. Legitimate criticism of that brand is welcomed [and even if I didn’t like it, there is SFA I can do about it, provided the operational word is ‘legitimate’].  In this case, though, I am not so sure: While respecting Kunte’s right to his opinion, I would suggest that ‘opinion’ needs to be differentiated from ‘fact’.

It is my considered opinion that Barkha Dutt is as a television personality a borderline hysteric; most comical when she is attempting to be most serious; and far too prone to put herself at the center of every story [Among the many moments when, even in the midst of the mayhem, I found myself laughing out loud was the one where Dutt, during the climactic phase of the Taj operation, got into a major flap about a flapping window curtain and alternately spoke to the viewer and to the cameraman on the lines of There, see, look at it, the curtain is flapping… no no, focus on the curtain, zoom in… no, now pan to me… there, see, the curtain is still flapping...].

That is fair comment [and if Barkha doesn’t like it she can do the other thing]. I do not, however, have the right to state as fact that Dutt endangered lives, whether in Kargil or in Mumbai—because the causal chain of Dutt’s admittedly over-the-top reporting and loss of life has not been established.

I’m totally with Kunte when he opines that Dutt and her ilk are insufferable bordering on incompetent [Barkha, note, that is an opinion]; I’m not however able to defend his right to state as fact something that is not demonstrably true [Brief aside: No, it is not a defense to say that I was merely quoting someone else, and to ask why that someone else—in this case, a wiki entry—has not been sued.].

All of that said, the NDTV-Barkha Dutt action leading to Kunte’s retraction leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. In her earlier, lengthy defense, Dutt says two things that IMH opinion are contradictory:

But in journalism, we know that, praise and criticism are twins that travel together. And we welcome both and try and listen to both carefully.

And:

I believe that criticism is what helps us evolve and reinvent ourselves. But when malice and rumour are regarded as feedback, there can be no constructive dialogue. Viewing preferences are highly subjective and always deeply personal choices, and the most fitting rejection of someone who doesn’t appeal to your aesthetics of intelligence, is simply to flick the channel and watch someone else.

How does Barkha Dutt reconcile her stated respect for criticism and her intention to learn from it with the suggestion that those who don’t like what she does and the way she does it can say it with the remote? What the latter statement reveals is the hypocrisy inherent in the former—no more, no less.

A Barkha Dutt who grandly titles her show ‘We the People‘ [That title, factually rendered, should read ‘We the minuscule minority with access to cable TV who haven’t yet dissed you with our remotes], and who sheltering under that inclusive flag assumes the right to criticize the conduct of every politician, businessman, movie star and public figure in this country, needed to have shown more grace in accepting criticism directed her way.

So, we will now add this lack of grace, this intolerance for criticism, this tendency to the notion that you are immune to the searching examination you subject others to, to the already long list of reasons to reach for that remote.

Photograph: courtesy The Tribune, Chandigarh

Also read: The media is not the message

‘Like jehadis, ‘progressives’ love to spew hate’

14 November 2008

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes from Houston, Texas: When Houston’s Non-Resident Indians learnt of the selection of Sonal Shah (in picture, left) to the 15-member transition team set up by US President-elect Barack Obama, we were happy and proud of her achievement.

But we were quickly shell-shocked when we heard of the virulent attack on her choice by self-styled ‘progressive” groups such as Coalition against Genocide, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism, Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India.

These “progressive” groups seem to be intoxicated with their victory in preventing the grant of a US visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Though many of us did not fully agree with such an extreme step, we could appreciate the spirit behind it and even had some appreciation. After all, most of us were shocked and even shamed by Godhra massacre. However, with their latest attempt to discredit a reputed and highly accomplished Sonal Shah, they would have lost what little credibility they might have had with a majority of secularists, including yours truly.

How could they stoop down to connect Sonal with Godhra, or the recent killings of Christians, with Ekal Vidyalaya?

Sonal Shah, who graduated from Houston and whose parents live in Houston, is known to all those NRIs who are involved in contributing to India’s development, along with her brother Anand and sister Roopal. These three have devoted their considerable talents and time to work on various activities to contribute to India’s development.

Just two are illustrative of their dedication.

Exhibit A: Indicorps started by Sonal and Anand recruits young volunteers from the US to work with NGOs in India. Indicorps has accomplished a lot and has been recognized by many organizations. Sonal was honored by India Abroad as “Person of the year” for her contribution in 2003.

Will these “progressive” organizations boycott India Abroad as fundamentalist since their strategy seems to depend upon finding one harmful through guilt-by-association?

Exhibit B: Ekal Vidyalaya, an NGO dedicated to spreading literacy in tribal and remote villages through single teacher schools, is a great success. The Shahs have played a key role in its development.

It is true that it may not be as secular as other equally well known educational NGOs like Pratham or Asha. But the very fact of the association of Abid Hussein, former Indian Ambassador to the US, with Ekal shows that it is not a fundamentalist organization as is being portrayed by these “progressive” groups.

While Sonal’s professional contributions have been outstanding through her work at Anderson Consulting, Goldman Sachs, and the treasury department during the Bill Clinton presidency by working in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Indonesia and currently as Vice President at Google, her NGO work through the George Soros Foundation and the Omidyar Network during the 2004 Tsunami tragedy should be a model for the youth.

Her brother Anand after graduating from Harvard did not attempt to cash his credentials to earn a six figure salary like most of us. He went to India looking for opportunities to serve the poor.

Being a long term resident of Houston, I know Sonal’s family for the last 30 years. Her father is a good friend of mine and I have worked on various projects and organizations with him. I was always surprised by his affiliation with Vishwa Hindu Parishat and had argued about it. I was happy to learn that he was against Modi’s Godhra massacre and he wished that it had not happened.

I never found Ramesh to be a fundamentalist in his views. I have also had discussions with his children about their parent’s affiliation with VHP and was happy to learn that their involvement was marginal at best and they never looked at the problem from a narrow “Hindutva” point of view.

It has become a fad for “progressive” groups to show how they are the only groups who are broadminded and that others who have different opinions are narrow minded bigots.

It is ironical that they quote Mahatma Gandhi’s from his book My Experiment with Truth—“It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow-beings”—while they indulge in such humiliation, as in Sonal’s case.

The three “progressive” groups protesting Sonal’s appointment are not really concerned about the unintended consequences of their stand resulting in further divisiveness and hatred in NRI community.

The Mahatma, even while disagreeing with his opponents, was always humble enough to understand and appreciate them. On the other hand, these progressives have been trying to pour venom by raising unconnected incidents as background to create demonic personality of Sonal.

Obama’s Republican opponents also tried to create such an ugly view of him by giving guilt-by-association examples of his long time priest, Jeremiah Wright.

Perhaps this may be the beginning of the rapid end for this progressive movement when the NRI community consisting of a secular thinking majority sees their real design of sowing hatred and divisiveness like the fundamentalist jihadis.

Photograph: courtesy Rediff.com

Also read: Why the US is right to deny Narendra Modi a visa

CHURUMURI POLL: Ban the VHP and Bajrang Dal?

CHURUMURI POLL: Should US restore Modi visa?

‘Media shapes, sexes up, manipulates, distorts’

10 September 2008

Is the media playing with the tiger’s tail? Or is the tiger cub riding the media? In other words, just how much is the media responsible for the Raj Thackeray bogey?

Is the “demonisation” of Thackeray junior entirely the handiwork of sensation-seeking journalists trying to fill up the airwaves in the era of 24×7 news? Is the Maharashtra Navanirman Samithi (MNS) campaign against migrant workers, taxi drivers, and the Bachchan family, “a demon created by the media”?

Yes, say two people who should know.

Exhibit A: K.L. Prasad.

The joint commissioner of police (law and order), Bombay, blames the issue on profusion of reportage. In fact, he says there was “no issue at all.”

“I have a complaint against the media. You people make heroes out of zeroes. I would say, just neglect him [Raj Thackeray]. He will get asphyxia. Channels are constantly repeating the footage. One incident is shown 74 times. This is clearly [a way of] reinforcing it in the mind.”

Exhibit B: Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Longtime Bombay bureau chief of The Hindu, he writes that the media has on three separate occasions missed the woods for the trees and distorted Raj Thackeray’s statements.

Irving Wallace was bang on target in his 1982 novel The Almighty in which the power-hungry media-owner Edward Armstead‘s obsession was to shape the news and then manipulate and control it with disastrous consequences to the world.

“The Indian media’s obsession to shape—or sex up?—a story to its worst distortion has come to the fore. And without anyone even batting an eyelid in concern.

“What further mischief lies ahead? Can we trust the mass media? The reader believes the printed word and sees television, despite its limited depth—or actually, the absolute lack of it—as real because he sees live images….

“The media has lost its head and plunged the region into trouble, jeopardising lives and property by its irresponsibility.”

Cartoon: courtesy E.P. Unny/The Indian Express

Read the full story: How the media created the Raj Thackeray bogey

‘The Chinese think India is a Buddhist country’

1 July 2008

China dominates the Indian discourse in ways seen and unseen. We are in awe of the speed and scale of its reforms. We wonder about the efficacy of its dictatorship and compare notes with the limitations of our democracy. But how does the aam admi there view us?

Pallavi Aiyar has been The Hindu‘s Beijing correspondent for four years now, and is out with a book Smoke and Mirrors (HarperCollins India). In an interview with Krishnakumar P. of rediff.com and India Abroad, she answers the all-important question, showing how little they know of us as we of them.

How does the comman man in China see India?

“There is far more interest here in India about China than the other way round. For the common man there, there are two very strong sources when it comes to India: religion and movies.

“They see India as this very spiritual place, just like the westerners, but in a different way. Since Buddhism originated here in india, they still see India as a predominantly Buddhist country. Most people were surprised to learn that I am a Hindu. They think the whole of India practises Buddhism.

“They also know a lot abot Indian movies, especially of the 1950s and then the late 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution…. The younger crowd has a lot of awareness about India, mostly due to the information and technology boom. Then, there are the policy circles where India is seen as a country with potential, but not a threat to China.”

Read The Hindu review here: China through a smoky lens

T.J.S. GEORGE: Why we can’t do a 40-km trip in 8 minutes

What you should if you catch a cold in China

Will corruption end if we hang the corrupt?

How shlokas, mantras put Bee in Akshay’s bonnet

27 May 2008

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: Anurag Kashyap, Sai R. Gunturi, Pratyush Buddiga, George Abraham Thampy, Nupur Lala.

Do these names ring a bell?

They are not up-and-coming scientists; well, not yet. These are the names of Indian-American kids who snared seven of the seven ‘Scripps National Spelling Bee’ contests between 1999 and 2005. In 2005, the top four finishers in the Spelling Bee were kids of Indian descent, including Anurag Kashyap, the winner.

To a query, “Cochabamba is the third-largest conurbation in what country?” by Alex Trebek of Jeopardy fame, your answer may have been “Huh?” but 11-year-old Akshay Rajagopal answered “Bolivia” to clinch the 20th annual ‘National Geographic Bee’ on Wednesday last.

The Geographic Bee is on the same lines as the Spelling Bee, but covers geography to the latter’s English spellings. Akshay not only won but he did so without dropping a single question—only the second time that’s ever happened in the Geographic Bee’s 20-year history. Nikhil Desai, Milan Sandhu were in the final 8 as well.

“Conurbation”, by the way means “a metropolitan area”.

In recent years, descendants of Indian immigrants—less than 1 per cent of the US population—have dominated some of these academic contests, snatching top honours.

In Spelling Bee, for instance, they made up more than 30 of the 273 contestants in 2005, not to mention hogging the top-four spots. Seems like Kenyans running away with marathon medals? This is not short of amazing. Amazing, especially given the history—spelling bees games were toyed with to help improve English in Indian-American kids.

The epiphany that is believed to be a corner stone of this success was a realization that Indian-American were not good at—hold your breath—spelling.

In 1993, a group of influential Indian-Americans noticed that children of immigrants from India were doing very well in the math section of the SAT, but finishing only average in the verbal category. They wanted to fix that, and came up with this idea: Hold spelling bees.

The idea caught on and how ; the results are there for every one to see.

In 2005, everyone from Wall Street Journal to New York Times to rediff.com lavished praise on this mini-phenomenon. 2006 – 2007 have been a relatively calm time for the desi speller, but with Anurag’s win a week ago in the Geographic Bee, the spot light is back on.

What’s the secret to this amazing success story?

It ought to be more than just the diligence post the epiphany?

Education is a big part of the Indian culture. It comes first. Many a movies have parodied how Indian-American parents push, rather aggressively, to ensure their kids strive to become doctors and lawyers than pursue other avenues. A vast majority of them, do end up becoming lawyers and doctors and this is reflected in how Indian-Americans as an ethnic group are positioned. Per TIME’s 2007 almanac, they are the richest ethnic group with above average median incomes in city after city.

Secondly, many of the Indians who come to America have had the luxury of a good education and a sound grounding in academics. They’re smart, focused and driven; and that rubs off on their children. Thanks to US Immigration laws, doctors, engineers and researchers have formed the vast majority of the immigrants over the last few decades. So these children are the kids of parents who themselves competed––probably at a ferocious level––to get into the best Indian schools, and then to get to the US.

Another factor could be the way India children have been schooled over the generations. According to an article in Language in India, a monthly online journal, memorization and recitation are big components in the education process. We all remember the multiplication tables from well before we could comprehend its actual meaning and use. This is touted to have its roots in the age old gurukula system where a lot of the learning was vocal and by repetition of shlokas and mantras.

Whatever the reasons, the achievements of these Indian-American kids is nothing short of spectacular.

So how does one sum up the possible reasons for this success?

How about one from the horse’s mouth?

The 1985 winner Balu Natarajan, now a 33-year-old doctor of sports medicine, describes the contest as a “a bridge between that which is Indian and that which is American” — that’s quite simple and easy for all to understand?

Photograph: courtesy Huffington Post

Can parties be sued for unfulfilled promises?

29 April 2008

U.R. Anantha Murthy in an interview with Vicky Nanjappa of rediff.com and India Abroad:

Q: Do you think we need to introduce a law wherein political parties, which do not live up to the promises that they make in their manifestos, can be sued in the court of law?

A: Remember, this is not a legal matter that can be taken up in a court of law. This should be decided in the peoples’ court. We need to wait patiently for the people to respond. However, in India, the tolerance level is rather high.

Read the full interview: ‘People living in Karnataka should learn Kannada’


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