Archive for February, 2007

‘DH board had nixed move to replace editor’

28 February 2007

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: The board of directors of The Printers (Mysore) Private Limited had rejected a move to replace K.N. Shanth Kumar as editor of Deccan Herald and Praja Vani five years ago, before a palace coup 15 days ago installed his brother K.N. Tilak Kumar at the helm.

The admission is made by Shanth Kumar himself in his writ petition (WP 20008/2007) before the Karnataka High Court, which comes up before Justice Abdul Nazeer tomorrow, March 1.

According to the petition, Parul Shah, a wholetime director of the company and wife of K.N. Hari Kumar, the editor whom Shanth Kumar replaced, moved the resolution at a 2002 meeting but the board rejected the proposal.

In his petition, Shanth Kumar questions the manner in which the change of guard, effected without the okay of the board, was authenticated by the district magistrate, Bangalore urban district, without inquiring into the validity of the change.


Read verbatim excerpts of the writ petition on sans serif

TOP SECRET: Who is that businessman?

28 February 2007

Who is the loud-mouthed Bangalore businessman whose marriage has reportedly run into big trouble thanks to his “incursions” into the deep, dark world of Kannada cinema?

‘Rich-poor divide could kill the growth goose’

28 February 2007

As P. Chidambaram presents the UPA goverment’s fourth budget, MARK BRADSHAW forwards a copy of the Goldman Sachs Report on India for 2007. After savouring the “fantastic optimism”, you are well tempted to ask, “What are they smoking?”

On the other hand…


India’s growth since 2003 represents a structural increase rather than simply a cyclical upturn. India ‘s potential or sustainable growth rate is projected at an average of 8.4% until 2020. This is significantly higher than the 5.7% that was projected in the original BRICs paper of 2003.

The implication of this is that India will overtake the G6 economies faster than envisaged in the earlier BRICs research. Indeed, India ‘s GDP (in US $ terms) will surpass that of the US before 2050 to make it the second largest economy. India ‘s contribution to world growth will aslo be increasing.

In India , labour is nearly 4 times more productive in industry and 6 times more productive in services than in agriculture, where there is a surplus of labor. Economic theory tells us that as labour moves from low-productivity sectors such as agriculture to high productivity sectors such as industry or services, overall output must improve.

Given that the movement from agriculture to other sectors (which in India’s case is roughly equivalent to the move from rural to urban areas) is still in its initial phase, the expectation is that the gains will continue to increase for several decades. Indeed, agriculture still employs close to 60 % of the labor force with negative marginal productivity.

After the onset of reforms in 1991, India began to unshackle its closed economy. Average tariffs have fallen to below 15% from as high as 200% as India began to reintegrate with the world economy. The impact of the opening up has been significant. Exports have risen 14 times as India has gained trade share. This development has been most evident in the past three years, when trade has grown 25% a year.

Increased openness has contributed significantly to increasing productivity. It provided access to superior inputs, ideas, and technology to domestic firms. Increased competition from actual and perceived imports has focused domestic firms on the need to improve efficiency as critical to survival.

It has rewarded the most efficient firms by way of access to foreign markets and larger gains, while penalizing the most inefficient domestic firms, thereby improving average productivity. It also encouraged a shift in employment from the less productive agricultural sector to more productive sectors.

India is well positioned to reap the benefits of favorable demographics, including an “urbanization bonus”, and a further rise in capital accumulation, in part from an upsurge in foreign direct investment.

Investment in highways is expected to reduce travel times by half, lower fuel costs and freight delivery times, and enable firms to leverage economies of scale, help ease congestion in cities, and attract activity.

Most importantly, the highways will open up, and out, the closed worlds of India ‘s villages. They will facilitate increased rural-urban migration, and when migrants return to their villages, they will bring back new views and aspirations, encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. The potential for productivity gains and boost to the economy are substantial.

India’s potential growth rates could increase further, given sustained productivity growth and favorable demographics, if it can significantly increase capital accumulation.

India would need to boost its investment rate by another 16% of GDP to achieve and sustain a growth rate of 10%. Thus, India would have to boost its savings rate by roughly 16% of GDP, through a combination of domestic and foreign savings, in order to finance the investment required for a sustained 10% growth.

The 21st century is set to become India ‘s ‘urban century’ with more people living in cities and towns than in the countryside. India has 10 of the 30 fastest- growing cities in the world and is witnessing rapid urbanization. The growth is happening not in the large cities, but in small and mid-sized towns. In 1991, India had 23 cities with a million or more people. A decade later, it had 35.

The projections show that another 140 million rural dwellers will move to urban areas by 2020, while a massive 700 million people will urbanize by 2050. This is because India ‘s urbanization rate of 29% is still very low compared with 81% for South Korea, 67% for Malaysia , and 43% for China.

The implications of urbanization for productivity growth are significant. Movement of labour across sectors, primarily from agriculture to manufacturing and services, adds 0.9% to GDP growth a year. Demand for urban housing and infrastructure such as electricity, health care, sanitation, and education is set to jump several folds.

Policy will, however, need to address basic infrastructure shortfalls in order to take advantage of the ‘urbanization bonus’.

To check the plausibility of the projections, it’s best to compare India ‘s growth projections with actual outcomes for its East Asian neighbors. Such high-growth phases during transition from low-income to middle-income are fairly common.

For instance, Japan increased its output eightfold between 1955 and 1985, while Korea increased its GDP by nearly 9 times between 1970 and 2000. More recently, China (starting from the same level as India in 1978) has achieved a more than tenfold increase in its output in the 27 years to 2005. By contrast, India ‘s growth transition, based on the projection of 8.4% growth from 2007 to 2020, do not appear implausible.

The risks to growth are: political risk, a rise in protectionism; supply-side constraints, including business climate, education, and labor market reforms; and environmental degradation.

A rapidly growing economy is often accompanied by an initial increase in income inequality (the famous Kuznetz curve), which in India ‘s case can manifest itself in a growing rural-versus-urban and an educated-versus-uneducated divide.

With rising aspirations, it is critical for the economy to have ‘inclusive’ growth, with employment opportunities for all. Education and labor market reform will be important. Otherwise, rapid growth could lead to rising social tensions, political pressure to slow down the reform process and increasing protectionism from reservations in education and jobs. If managed badly, this has the potential to kill the growth goose.

The old risk of sectarian disharmony is now supplemented with the new risk of political discontent spawned by dissatisfaction with the unequal distribution of economic growth. How effectively the political process manages these risks will be central to India ‘s economic performance.

Fortunately, thus far, there is wide consensus among political parties in India to enhance the reform process. However, there are considerable risks that India will not be able to achieve ‘inclusive growth’ without sacrificing average growth rates. The most direct manifestation of this risk is costs to the public sector of ‘populist’ policies which reduce public savings and the ability to finance the required investment growth.

In absolute terms India will remain a low-income country for several decades, with per capita income well below its other BRIC peers. But if it can fulfill its growth potential, it can become a motor for the world economy, and a key contributor to generating spending growth.

There are implications for India ‘s neighbors in South Asia, who also stand to benefit from spillovers, just as China ‘s growth aided its East and South East Asian neighbors. India’s influence on the world economy will be bigger and quicker than implied in previously published BRICs research.

The projections of India ‘s potential growth are based on growth-friendly policies continuing. In particular, policies to enhance financial sector growth, openness to trade, rural-urban migration, capital formation, education, and environment. These are “FORCE” factors critical to sustaining growth.

No wonder Al Gore finds the truth inconvenient

28 February 2007

The naughtily environmentally conscious E.R. RAMACHANDRAN forwards a picture that offers incontrovertible proof of what we have done to our environment, the only one we have.

Statutory Warning: The purpose behind this photograph is informational like mating monkeys are on Animal Planet. Churumuri is not responsible for any devious thoughts that might enter readers’ heads as a result of poring over it for more than 5 seconds.

Sudha, Mayura editorship in legal tangle

27 February 2007

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: The last word in the battle for editorial power between the “Kumars at No. 75” has not been heard. Yet.

K.N. Shanth Kumar may have been dislodged overnight as editor of Deccan Herald, Praja Vani, Sudha and Mayura by his elder brothers K.N. Hari Kumar and K.N. Tilak Kumar through an internal circular. But the Company Law Board (CLB) is learnt to have ruled that KNS should continue as editor of the weekly and monthly magazines in The Printers (Mysore) Private Limited stable for the moment.

Result: next week’s issue of Sudha, which comes out in two days’ time, will—or has to—carry the name of Shanth Kumar as editor although the putsch, without the consent of the TPML board, was aimed at removing him from the helm of all four publications in the group.

The Karnataka High Court has already admitted a writ petition filed by KNS questioning the manner in which the change of guard was effected at DH-PV arrived at. The case comes up for hearing on Thursday, March 1.

But the CLB, while refusing to intervene in the case of DH-PV, since the High Court is already hearing the matter, is said to have ruled, ex-parte, that KNS shall continue to head the other two publications.

Meanwhile, journalist Kuldip Nayar, who sits on the TPML board as an independent director, has been reportedly shown the door, after he was quoted as questioning the manner in which KNS was removed in a Business Standard story.

Nayar, a long-time friend of the K.N. Netkalappa family who does a column in Deccan Herald and Prajavani, has reportedly been told by the new bosses that his journalistic output will no longer be required.

Cross-posted on sans serif

‘Speed of Partition is one of the great crimes’

27 February 2007

Niall Ferguson, the controversial Oxford University historian, has given an interview to Arthur J. Pais of India Abroad, the weekly magazine published out of New York by coinciding with the American release of his latest tome, The War of the World: 20th Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. In it, Ferguson rakes up the evergreen story of Partition.

Arthur J. Pais: A central argument of the book is the role played by the dissolution of empires in the last century and the savage violence it led to. Would you say had the dissolution of the British Empire been delayed there would have been no violence—or perhaps less violence—during India’s Partition?

Niall Ferguson: Here we should speak with great care because feelings run very high. The argument I try to make is that when empires decline and fall, violence tends to peak. The Partition of India illustrates this point perfectly.  When the British left, violence in India reached its highest point.

“It was a catastrophe, but not a completely unusual one, historically. It’s the kind of thing that I suggest in the book happened a lot in the 20th century.

“In many ways, the British flattered themselves that their rule in India was to keep the peace, particularly between Hindus and Muslims. I’m not sure that was entirely an illusion or there was some element of truth truth in that…

“If the British had been able to slow down the transition to independence, it is conceivable that violence could have been reduced, if not avoided, but I think that Lord Mountbatten (the British viceroy then) was in a tremendous hurry. I think the haste with which Partition was agreed, the haste with which it was decided to establish Pakistan, seems to me to be one of the great crimes—if crime is the word—perpetrated by the British at the moment of decolonisation.

“I think many seasoned civil servants knew better than Mountbatten the dangers of communal violence. But Mountbatten was in a hurry and so were the politicians in London (because ‘by the end of World War II Britain was in a sense bankrupt’). I think the Partition of India is a very good example of a general phenomenon of things going horribly wong when something is executed in a hurry.”

Also see: CHURUMURI POLL: Are Indian Muslims better off?

‘Congress treated (and treats) India like its jagir’

CHURUMURI POLL: Is BJP on the way back?

27 February 2007

The results of the Assembly elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur are coming in, and the news isn’t good for the Congress in the first two States. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine has dislodged Amarinder Singh, bagging 70 of the 117 seats. And the BJP has gone past the half-way mark against Narain Dutt Tiwari. In Manipur, it’s still early days.

Two States do not a Union make. And, as every loser hastens to point out, assembly elections are about local issues. Still is this a referendum on the performance of the central government? Is it a rebuff to Manmohan Singh, the country’s first Sardar prime minister, who was projected as the electoral posterboy of the Congress?

Is the 9 per cent growth figure that the PM has been tom-tomming as its big feat bogus, a bit like the India Shining fiction? Have rising prices and growing inflation played a more decisive role, than just plain anti-incumbency or bad governance?

Given the beating the BJP took in the May 2004 elections, and the wounds it has inflicted on itself since then, has the tide begun to turn against the Congress-led UPA? Could the BJP come back to power in the next general elections? And will that be a good thing?

Life and death is a cycle—for a repairman

27 February 2007

BAPU SATYANARAYANA forwards a political joke that is, well, politically incorrect. Variations on the theme have been heard before, but it’s still worth a laugh.


Atal Behari Vajpayee and George W. Bush are sitting in a bar, spilling some beers. In walks a guy, spots them, and asks the barman, “Isn’t that Atal and Dubya?”

“Who else?” says the barman.

So the guy walks over to the two world leaders and asks, “Hello, what are you guys doing?”

Bush says: “We’re planning World War III.”

The guy says: “Really? What’s going to happen?”

Vajpayee butts in: “Well, we’re going to kill 18 million Pakistanis and one bicycle repairman.”

The guy exclaims: “A bicycle repairman?!”

Vajpayee turns to Bush and says, “See, I told you no one  would worry about the 18 million Pakistanis!”

‘Mother, do you think they’ll break my balls?’

27 February 2007

NISHANT RATNAKAR forwards the diary of Business Standard journalist Rajesh Kurup who is called to a cop station in Bombay to divulge his sources on a couple of queries he had raised in a story on a telecom company. Although written in half-jest, the diary shows how little things the perception of journalists has changed, despite the information explosion.

“I was given the impression I was supposed to help the Law, now I’m being given the impression I’m on the wrong side of the law. The inspector plays his trump card—I’m going to call a press conference and announce that you are one of the accused in this case� It doesn’t seem he will, but if he does”

Read the full story here: Prisoner of my conscience

If IT is so hot, why don’t IITians want to join it?

26 February 2007

SUNAAD RAGHURAM forwards a February 19 story from the Times of India titled ‘A myth called the Indian programmer‘ by T. Surendar coinciding with the annual fair of Nasscom meet in Bombay recently.

The article makes the extraordinary, almost unbelievable, claim that out of the 574 IITians who graduated last year, just ten—yes, 10—joined India’s top-three IT firms. Software giants like Infosys and TCS dangle giant salaries but find it difficult to woo IITians who gravitate towards firms like Google and Trilogy.

Reason: The Indian software industry is largely process driven, not product driven.

In fact, at the Nasscom event, which brought together software professionals from around the world, not one of the 29 sessions dealt with programmers, the posterboys of the success of software firms, especially in a city like Bangalore.

As Surendar quotes a senior executive from a global consultancy firm: “It is an explosive truth that local software companies won’t accept. Most IT professionals in India are not programmers, they are mere coders.”

# Coders are like smart assembly line workers; programmers are plant engineers.

# Programmers are the brains, the glorious visionaries who create things. Coders just follow what they are told.

# Programming requires a post-graduate level of knowledge of complex algorithms and programming methods, coding requires only high school knowledge of the subject.

# Coding is also the grime job. It is repetitive and monotonous.

One candidate is quoted as saying: “The entrance test to join TCS is a joke compared to the one in Trilogy. That speaks of what the Indian firms are looking for.”

Coders feel stuck in their jobs, says the ToI article. “They have fallen into the trap of the software hype and now realise that though their status is glorified in society, intellectually they are stranded.”

True or false?

How many times can a city burst, yet survive?

26 February 2007

Another day, another site, and another author mourns the passing of Bangalore as we knew it.

“Comparison with Singapore has been an idee fixe with the people in Bangalore for some time now; this cavalier attitude to the vast chasm that exists between the two cities is laughable to say the least. And unless something radical is implemented with respect to the tiring infrastructure in the city, the future shall continue to look bleak for a city that was once tagged as the Silicon Valley of India.”

Read the full article by citizen journalist Aditya Gupta here: Has the bubble burst?

CHURUMURI POLL: What do our films lack?

26 February 2007

Deepa Mehta‘s Water fails to win Academy Award,” reads the ticker at the bottom of television screens, as another Oscar night slips into day. Thus, the “Canadian” film that wasn’t allowed to be shot in India by hoodlums joins a long list of Indian films—Lagaan, Jeans, Rang de Basanti, etc—that have failed to bag the golden statuette.

Yes, the Academy Award is not the last word in film appreciation. Yes, it is silly to expect Western validation of our cinematic sensibilities. Etcetera. But if we can appreciate their films, stories, accents, and more, just what is it in our films that puts off the white skins? What do our films lack to win the award that every filmmaker craves?

All hail the greatest sportsman on the planet

26 February 2007

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: It seems to be an unending rally. Finally, he sprints across the court, and from a position that defies the doctrine of physics, uses his back hand to almost sliver the ball, which responds meekly, keeps a low trajectory, drops into a gap, and drifts away from the confounded opponent’s outstretched racquet.

Even if it is on TV and just a replay of an earlier match, watching this guy can be nerve-wracking.

At 25, artistry and aggression combine to make tennis ace Roger Federer what he is: the planet’s greatest sportsman ever!

He has been ranked No. 1 in the world since February 2, 2004 and today (February 26) officially breaks Jimmy Connors‘s record for most consecutive weeks (160) as the top-ranked male player.

Let us look at Federer’s record (Courtesy Wikipedia): In 2004, Federer became the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three of four Grand Slam tournaments in the same year. In 2006, Federer repeated this feat and became the first man in the Open era to win at least ten singles tournaments in three consecutive years. He has won ten Grand Slam men’s singles titles in 31 appearances, three Tennis Masters Cup, and twelve ATP Masters Series singles titles. He is the only player to have won both the Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles titles in three consecutive years (2004-2006).

In 2007, when Federer won his third Australian Open title, he became the only player to have won three separate Grand Slam tournaments three times. He won the tournament without dropping a set, the first player to do so in a Grand Slam since Bjorn Borg at the 1980 French Open and the first to do it at the Australian Open since Ken Rosewall in 1971. Whew!

David Foster Wallace, the 40-something award-winning author-professor of several novels, short stories, and articles equated watching Federer to a “religious experience”. David has been called one of America’s most important young authors and this article that appeared in the New York Times of August 20 last year is one of the best pieces that I have read by any writer.

Says Wallace:

“A top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke. Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height. His serve has world-class pace and a degree of placement and variety no one else comes close to; the service motion is lithe and uneccentric, distinctive (on TV) only in a certain eel-like all-body snap at the moment of impact. His anticipation and court sense are otherworldly, and his footwork is the best in the game. As a child, he was also a soccer prodigy. All this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play. Of witnessing, firsthand, the beauty and genius of his game. You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or as Aquinas did with his own ineffable subject—to try to define it in terms of what it is not.”

Let’s send Roger Federer to Kensington Oval. Cricket desperately needs a superman.

Savour one of the greatest pieces of sports writing here: Federer as Religious Experience


CHURUMURI QUESTION: Are sports fans living in the greatest era in sport? When the greatest each game has known, have all been contemporaries. Federer, Tiger Woods, Garry Kasparov, Michael Schumacher, Brian Lara. Has any other 10 or 15-year era ever had so many greats at the same time? Or is this just media hype?

Jaya Prada isn’t a male stud farm owner. Sad.

26 February 2007

A dance recital by the former Telugu film actress turned Samajawadi Party MP, Jaya Prada, over the weekend has got the Congress all hot and het up in Uttar Pradesh.

Should an honourable Member of Parliament be going around entertaining the masses in itsy-bitsy clothes? Is this why the people elected her? Isn’t she undermining the stature of the Temple of our Democracy? Should a State government be employing her services and paying her through the nose when there are other more deserving dancers? These are some of the questions that the Congress in UP, led by its MP from Aligarh, has lobbed in the air.

This is not the first time that Jaya Prada’s dance has run into trouble. A recital earlier, with the Taj Mahal forming the backdrop, too had prompted the same questions, but the latest performance gains an additional edge because of the ensuing elections in India’s largest State. And the Congress , as is obvious, will clearly go to any lengths to put the SP in some discomfort.

The Congress’ opposition to the dance recital prompts a more fundamental question: just what is the role “We, the People” expect our MPs to play?

They go to Parliament only for a few days of the year. What should they be doing the rest of the time, besides receiving petitions, cutting ribbons, sitting on the dais, and going abroad on study trips? Should an MP give up all her interests upon taking oath and not indulge any extra-curricular activity? Should an MP become a hermit?

But it is the implicit sexism in the rant against Jaya Prada that we should sit up and take note. The Congress has no problem with a Navjot Sidhu making a fool of himself on television every night. The Congress has no problem with a Vijay Mallya or Rahul Bajaj feathering their business nests even after being elected. Somehow, Jaya Prada (and Hema Malini on an earlier occasion) gets its goat. Why?

There is an additional element of stereotyping. The Congress had no trouble with Lata Mangeshkar singing while being an MP. The Congress had no trouble with M.F. Husain painting while being an MP. The Congress has no trouble with M.A.M. Ramaswamy racing his horses while being an MP. Or with Shatrughan Sinha acting. Somehow, it just doesn’t like women MPs dancing. Why?

At least Jaya Prada was doing Bharatanatyam. What would have been her fate at the hands of the self-appointed guardians of “Indian culture” if she were doing a cabaret?

Also see: Will those sick of Sidhu please put their hands up?

Can any batsman break this one-day record?

25 February 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Now that the World Cup is almost here, big hitting will become the staple for cricket watchers for over a month.

But is there anything to beat The Original Master who scored a 23-ball hundred 75 years ago?

On 3 November 1931, Sir Donald Bradman, while playing for Blackheath against Lithgow, scored 256 runs comprising 14 sixes and 29 fours.

The real beauty of that knock is that Sir Don scored 101 in  one ball short of three Australian overs! ( Earlier, they used to play 8 ball overs in Australia).

His partner Wenden Bill played only a ball during the onslaught and he took a single in the third over which enabled Sir Don to get back on strike. Wenden eventully ended up scoring 68.

The sequence of Sir Don’s scoring is as below:

First over: 6,6,4,2,4,4,6,1.

Second over: 6,4,4,6,6,4,6,4.

Third over: 1,6,6,1,1,4,4,6.

This knock was in an era of uncovered pitches when batsmen were not covered from head to toe with helmets, extra padding from ribs downwards, and hand guards right up to the bat handle!


Why hasn’t any batsman broken the record in 75 years? Will a batsman ever score such a knock ever again? Can it take place in this World Cup? Who among the current lot is most likely to rival this amazing innings? Tell us.

CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia behind Bofors coverup?

25 February 2007

The arrest of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in Argentina has been overshadowed by the delay in the news being made public. The leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, has asked four pointed questions: When did the CBI hear of the detention? When did the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hear of the arrest? When did the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi hear of it? And what was the rationale behind “suppressing” the news for 17 days?

The implicit charge is that the government knew of the arrest earlier, and that the news was kept under the lid because it would show the UPA government which defreezed Quattrocchi’s bank accounts in poor light and because it could have impacted the assembly elections The BJP would also like to believe that Sonia knew of the arrest before Manmohan, and somehow conspired to have her way, given her umbilical link with the Bofors controversy.

What do you think? Is Sonia Gandhi behind the coverup? Has Manmohan once again showed how spineless he is? Will the Bofors scandal bounce back into the national consciousness? Will it deal a body-blow to the Congress and in the UP elections? Is a desperate opposition clinging on to any straw it can find? Or will the latest developments only produce some more hot air?

19 ways to spot an Indian. What’s the 20th?

25 February 2007

Yes, India, as we knew it, has changed. But have we Indians, as we knew them (and ourselves), changed?

K.R. DINAKAR forwards a checklist of 19 ways to spot an Indian. What’s the 20th?


# When everything you eat is savoured with garlic, onions, coriander and chillies.

# You try and reuse gift wrappers, gift boxes, and of course, aluminum foil.

# You are standing next to the two largest suitcases at the airport.

# You arrive one or two hours late at a party, and think it’s normal.

# You peel the stamps off letters that the Postal Service missed to stamp.

# Your toilet has a plastic mug next to the commode.

# All your children have pet names, which sound nowhere close to their real names.

# You talk for an hour at the front door when leaving someone’s house.

# You load up the family car with as many people as possible.

# You use plastic to cover anything new in your house whether it’s the remote control, VCR, carpet or couch.

# You live with your parents even if you are 40 years old. (And they like it that way).

# If she is NOT your daughter, you always take an interest in knowing whose daughter has run off with whose son and feel it’s your duty to spread the word around.

# You only make long distance calls after 11 pm.

# If you stay away from home and your parents call, they ask if you’ve eaten, even if it’s midnight.

# When your parents meet any Indian (especially of your caste) for the first time and talk for a few minutes, you soon discover they are your relatives.

# Your parents still don’t realize phone connections to foreign countries have improved in the last two decades, and still scream at the top of their lungs while talking.

# You have bed sheets on your sofas to keep them off from getting dirty.

# It’s embarrassing if your wedding reception has fewer than 600 people.

# You list your daughter as “fair and slim” in the matrimonial column no matter what she looks like.

Kotigalu saar kotigalu

24 February 2007

C.B. SWAMY forwards us a digitally altered picture that needs no explanation.

Is “press freedom” a licence to do anything?

23 February 2007

GIRISH NIKAM writes from New Delhi: “Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of any democracy,” is a well-worn cliché though it has stood the test of time as a universal truth. No one in a functional democracy like ours can deny the importance of the freedom of the press. It is also a fact that this freedom has not come about easily.

People in authority have a tendency to undermine this freedom, whenever it comes in their way. And therefore eternal vigilance of the people and the media is an essential requirement to maintain this freedom. And to protect our democracy.

It is also a fact that many a time this freedom boils down to freedom of the proprietor, more than the freedom of the journalist. And this is a subject which attracts very passionate debates within the media circles.

No wonder when distinguished media persons like N. Ram of The Hindu and H.K. Dua of The Tribune, intervened on behalf of the Eenadu newspaper group, the other day during the seminar on the relationship between the legislature and the media, in the Parliament Library complex, the issue became a hot topic of debate.

The two editors, one a proprietor-editor (Ram) and the other editor of a group run by a unique trust (Dua), pitched for Ramoji Rao and his newspaper, and sought to make out a case against the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekara Reddy for trampling on the freedom of the press. The two warned the journalists that these attempts should be fought as they spell danger for the entire media.

These passionate appeals in the normal circumstances would have had the desired response as Indian media have by and large stood up against any assault on the freedom of the press.

The facts and circumstances of the present “war” between the Eenadu group and the Andhra Pradesh government however has a different dimension, which needs to be understood, before any hasty conclusions are drawn.

The tussle started when a Congress MP from Andhra Pradesh revealed that Margadarsi Financiers (not Margadarsi Chit Funds) had started dilly-dallying about repaying its depositors, after the deposit period had expired.

He also came out with its balance sheet which clearly showed that till 2005, deposits of Rs. 2, 200 crore had been collected, on which a loss of Rs 1,100 incurred had been incurred.

Moreover, the MP established that Margadarsi Financiers was a Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) company, of which the karta was Ramoji Rao, the owner of the Eenadu Group.

The RBI laws strictly disallow any HUF from collecting deposits from the public, and it has listed out 21 relatives from whom deposits can be collected. Margadarsi Financiers had however collected Rs.2, 200 crore from lakhs of depositors.

The performance of this company as well as how these funds are being used is entirely another matter.

What is pertinent here is that the collection of deposits from the public is illegal. It is quite possible that the public deposited their funds, thinking that they were doing it in Margadarsi Chit Funds, which has a good reputation for decades. However, Margadars Financiers is a different entity and not as old as the Margadarsi Chit Fund.

When this issue was raised, Ramoji Rao used all the might of his TV channels and the vastly circulated newspaper, Eenadu, to refute these charges—not convincingly is another matter—and charged the Government of launching a witch-hunt.

He also made out a case of freedom of press being under attack.

It is no secret that Ramoji Rao has openly taken an anti-Congress stand in his newspapers for years and is also seen as a friend, philosopher and guide of the Telugu Desam party chief, Chandrababu Naidu, having been close to his late father-in-law and TDP founder N. T. Rama Rao.

It is also no secret that the present chief minister and Ramoji Rao have no love lost for each other, considering the years of targeting both have done of each other.

It is also no secret that what began as an exposure of Ramoji Rao’s “dubious” financial company activities, has now been expanded to his “dubious” land deals involving hundreds of acres of prime land in and around his dream project, Ramoji Film City.

YSR’s decision to give notice to Ramoji about his lands, led to YSR himself being exposed with his excess assigned lands. In a fit of over-smart thinking, he surrendered the lands, only to face the allegation that he had kept the holdings under wrap all this time.

Be that as it may, Andhra Pradesh is now undergoing convulsions with every other big politician, industrialist, newspaper baron, among others getting exposed and charged with holding illegal lands.

Coming back to the issue of freedom of the press, now would we be fair in defending Ramoji Rao for all the acts of commission and omission in his other business activities, which have nothing to do with his newspaper or the news TV channels?

#Should the conflicts with law and its violations by the media magnates in their other business activities be treated with kid gloves, just because they control media?

# Should any Government take action or dare to take action, legitimate of course, if there is a prima facie case of illegality on the part of these media barons in their other businesses?

# And should such legitimate actions be dubbed as an assault on the freedom of the press?

In the Ramoji Rao vs YSR battle, which we are witnessing, does Eenadu or ETV figure in any of the Government’s actions? Has any journalist of these outfits faced any difficulty in performing his legitimate duty, and has any government machinery been used to come in his way?

While all these questions need careful scrutiny and answers before we jump to any conclusions, one also needs to look at the dangers of any blind support to cries of “assault on the freedom of the press”.

It is no secret that dozens if not hundreds of fly-by-night operators and businessmen with dubious track records start media organisations, only as a cover for their illegal activities.

Ramoji Rao does not come under this category as he has displayed stamina, strength and commitment in running his newspaper for over three decades and his TV channels for nearly a decade.

Yet, can he claim clemency for any illegal or illegitimate actions in his other businesses, on the ground that he has been a committed media man?

Is this an assault on the freedom of the press?

It is for each one of us to judge, before we scream, “there is an attack on the freedom of the press”.

First published in Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore

cross-posted on the sans serif


23 February 2007

On the eve of the first anniversary of churumuri, we are pleased to unveil a new address:

The easy-to-remember, easy-to-recommend address eliminates an obvious problem. So the next time you want somebody to check us out, you simply have to tell them to click and an HTML redirect will bring them here.

Not to worry if you’ve bookmarked We will continue to be available on the WordPress platform which has served so well, till we can crack that bit of the maze.

Is a kabab-maker’s girl easy meat for IT men?

22 February 2007

The residence of Kannada film actress Radhika, who has also starred in a few Tamil movies, was raided in Bangalore on Sunday by officials of the income-tax department. According to Deccan Herald, quoting “highly placed sources”, Rs 3.5 crore in cash and undisclosed income worth Rs 8.5 crorew were seized. For her part, Radhika maintains that nothing has been seized as she files her returns properly.

The IT raid came in the backdrop of reports in the tabloid Hi Bangalore! among others last week, which speculated upon the source of funds for a two-bit actress, allegedly the daughter of a former kabab maker in Mangalore, to buy a house with five bathrooms worth Rs 12 crore in the rather obnoxiously titled Dollar Colony.

How is it that our IT men are so quick in raiding actors and actresses, and why are they so slow off the blocks in dealing with politicians and bureaucrats playing around with more money than their known sources of income?

It’s been months since Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and his family members were exposed by the former minister D.K. Shiva Kumar as buying up commercial complexes, agricultural lands, etc, complete with proof of bank transactions.

It’s been months since minister C. Chennigappa was caught on camera by the BJP’s Janardhan Reddy taking oodles of cash in the mining scam. It’s been months since a serving police officer  Narayana Gowda was shown on CNN-IBN bragging about his ability to swing deals thanks to his proximity to the CM’s family.

Why didn’t we have the tax men knocking on their doors then? Why is a kabab-maker’s girl such easy meat?

Surely, you can spare 3 hours of your life?

22 February 2007

MOHAN KUMAR writes: Samarthanam, a school for the visually impaired in Jayanagar, Bangalore, is looking for volunteers this examination season. A number of students belonging to Samarthanam are taking examinations next week and next month. But they are short of scribes—people who could write the examination on behalf of the students. In this connection, people who are interested to provide their service as scribes, can register their names with Vijaya Madam on cell phone 9449864771. Volunteers will have to spare three-four hours on the day of the exam. There are pre-final examinations next week and finals in March. Volunteers who can write in Kannada are especially welcome.

Going fast nowhere on the Cauvery crisis

22 February 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: While I was walking around the Vidhana Soudha, I saw the veteran politician of the State of the last 50 years.

Rajyosthava, Veerappan, Sarojini Mahishi report—you name it, he had seen it all. He looked like a Congressman. But from close quarters, he appeared more like a Janata Dalite. At hand-shaking distance, he resembled a BJP man.

In short, he would have been a kosambari, if he were a dish! A mixture of every dal; a man for all seasons. He knew every event that shook Karnataka like the back of his hand and could narrate any event adding spice to the spin.

I thought here was a chance to get his sound byte on Cauvery as it is generally perceived unanimously that there is a ‘Thunderous Silence’ from politicians on this subject.

“What do you think of the Cauvery Tribunal Report, Sir?”

He wanted to ‘Walk the Talk’ between Vikasa Soudha and Vidhana Soudha under the protection of the Police and BSF from the milling protesters outside.

We started the padayatra.

“It’s a voluminous report. I am told it’s more than 1,000 pages… We have to read it carefully.”

“Do you think Karnataka has been done in and its interest thrown to the winds?”

“While I may agree that Karnataka may have been done in, I am not sure its interest has been thrown to the winds, as you say.”

“What do you think the State should do now? It’s more than two weeks since the tribunal announced its verdict.”

“You know, it took 17+ years for the tribunal to give its verdict. We shouldn’t be in a tearing hurry to voice our opinion.”

I was getting impatient like the farmers in Mandya district who need water for their crops as also the residents of Bhagamandala who don’t get enough drinking water, despite Cauvery taking her birth on their lap every year!

“I am not asking for an opinion. What action should the State take?”

“Nothing should be done in a hurry. It might boomerang on us. We must consult our lawyers and appoint new lawyers, if we feel the present team did not present a watertight case. Then we must collect all facts and before that, we must study the report thoroughly, including fine prints, loopholes etc. I always maintain these loopholes are smaller than the loops they provide for belts and hence can easily escape our attention! We must collectively take a stand. Before that we must know what our present stand is so that we could gauge the shift.”

“You were one of the firebrand politicians of our State. You have, on many occasions, literally climbed bus-tops and rooftops, shouting for action on various issues that confronted the State. Why can’t you come out with it now? What should we do?”

“If we can put our Ministers and Opposition leaders together and have an all-party meeting along with farmers, irrigation experts lawyers and intellectuals, we will surely come out with a clear stand, with various options at our disposal. Then, keeping in mind the compulsions of coalition politics, we can announce our Stand with one voice.”

The senior Pro kept walking as he expounded his theory when I decided to stay back.

We had already done ten rounds of Vik/Vid Soudhas.

Then it struck me what “Political Will” is all about. It’s a jigsaw puzzle which will never fall in place. It will only fall on its face taking with it the public’s fate.

CHURUMURI POLL: Who will win World Cup?

21 February 2007

Cricket’s quadrennial showpiece has been thrown into major turmoil in the last three weeks. Suddenly, Australia is facing major injury problems (Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden) and is not looking invincible after losses to England and New Zealand. England after being wiped out 5-0 in the Ashes suddenly seems to have discovered its bearings in the shorter of the game, thanks to Paul Collingwood, et al. New Zealand, always the perennial pesk, is looking like a champion side chasing totals of 300-plus with seeming ease, with the old (Craig McMillan) and the young (Brendon McCullum) showing the way. South Africa is suddenly No. 1 on the tables, but both India and Pakistan have socked it to the proteas on their soil in the last two months. Result: total and utter confusion, and a tournament which is wide open.

What do you think? Who do you think will win? Why?

EXCLUSIVE: Sun TV eyeing stake in The Hindu

21 February 2007

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Is The Hindu‘s uneasy relationship with the government of the day in Tamil Nadu rearing its head once again?

First, Jayalalithaa‘s decision to clamp down on the paper created a national furore. Now, comes hot speculation that a section of the ruling Karunanidhi family may be trying to pick up a stake in the Mount Road Mahavishnu.

The Sun conglomerate, which started out with a single Tamil channel has steadily branched out into various other media ventures over the past decade. It picked up Kungumam, a weekly magazine, and then bought and turned around Dinakaran, a Tamil daily.

Two years ago, before the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle set foot on Tamil soil, there were rumours, substantiated by Kalanidhi Maran himself, that the group was planning an English newspaper, to occupy the No. 2 slot, between The Hindu and The New Indian Express.

But the success of Sun’s Initial Public Offering (IPO), which has spurred its promoters into the league of the superrich, and the reported success of Chronicle in building up a 200,000 circulation in less than two years, has reportedly spurred a change of plans.

Media circles are abuzz that influential representatives of the Maran family have already sent feelers to Editor-in-Chief N. Ram for a stake-sale in The Hindu. (For the record, Sun is flush with money. Its scrip issued at Rs 875 through the book-building process is now hovering around the Rs 1,700 mark.)

Well placed sources say Sun’s initial overtures have been grandly rebuffed by the family owned newspaper. But given the manner in which the group muscled its way into the cable TV market with Sumangali, and the impunity with which it used Dayanidhi Maran‘s position as Union Information Technology minister to obstruct the Tata DTH project (because the Tatas refused to give a stake to Sun), observers say the last word on the subject has not been said.

It is difficult to see The Hindu doing business with the Sun group. There will be the caste factor at play. For all its progressive pap, The Hindu is still an I-Iyer-Iyengar fiefdom. More importantly, if The Hindu needs funds for growth and expansion, it has the reputation to go for an IPO itself or to sell a stake to a more solid and credible partner, maybe even a foreign player, than Sun.

Already, there are murmurs over the delay in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the formation of The Hindu union. Those who put one and one together and end up with eleven, believe the two events—the stake bid and the delay—may not be unconnected.

The Hindu union has traditionally owed its allegiance with the ruling DMK, and the grapevine is that Karunanidhi wants a full fledged DMK man at the helm of the union before the goodies are distributed to the employees.

Also see: Under N. Ram, Hindu becomes a ‘sorry’ paper

The Hindu responds to Churumuri, we do too

Cross-posted on sans serif