Archive for March, 2008

What your nela and what your jala says about you

31 March 2008

First Cauvery, now Hogenakal: Karnataka’s river of distrust with Tamil Nadu runs deep. After sparring over how to share water from the Cauvery, the two States have now locked horns over the Hogenakal Integrated Water Scheme.

Tamil Nadu’s plans to implement a Rs 1,334-crore Japanese-funded project to provide drinking water is opposed by Karnataka which says Hogenakal Falls is a “disputed border area” and no project can be taken up till the dispute is settled. The BJP’s Ananth Kumar raised the issue in Parliament in early March, calling it illegal; chief minister aspirant B.S. Yediyurappa took a coracle ride to oppose the project.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike has set a April 9 deadline for TN to drop the project, and has threatened to stop the airing of Tamil films and TV channels if the project goes ahead.

But Tamil Nadu’s local administration minister M.K. Stalin says the project would not harm Karnataka in any way as only Cauvery water that runs through TN territory would be utilised for the project. Its assembly last week passed a resolution urging the Centre to support the project and to stop Karnataka from opposing it. And chief minister M. Karunanidhi yesterday breathed fire: “This is just a spark, diffuse it at the very beginning so that it doesn’t turn into an inferno… Break not just our buses, but our bones.”

Just what is it about land, water and language that evokes such strong reactions in both States?

In his just-published book ‘Keeping Faith with the Mother Tongue‘ (Navakarnataka Publications), journalist, writer and translator Sugata Srinivasaraju looks at “The Tripod” of land, water and language that defines identity.



There is a quiet consensus that land and water are emotive issues. But why they become emotive often gets explained in livelihood, economic, environmental or political terms. These explanations undoubtedly reflect the most fundamental concerns of man, but they tend to overlook the fact that there is also a broad cultural element at play. This cultural element relates to the identity-imagination of the people. Who you are and where you come from are often described in physical terms of land and water.

Take for instance the drawing of the contours of the Kannada land in the earliest extant Kannada text, Kavirajamarga. It simply says that the land that lies between the Cauvery and the Godavari is the Kannada heartland (Cauveryindma Godavarivaramirpa nade Kannada tirul).

To this idea of land and water inexorably gets woven the aspect of language.

Identity is conceived on this tripod of land, water and language and therefore losing them in whatever measure is tantamount to losing identity. People may not make straight and stated connections between this tripod and their identity, but that is the cultural wisdom that governs them.

Therefore, when there is talk of sharing Cauvery water or conceding a few taluks to Maharashtra on the Belgaum border or when a mass icon like Raj Kumar who personifies standard Kannada speech dies, there is violence. The violence does not happen because there are some politically-motivated miscreants to do so, but because such violence is guaranteed amnesty under a well-perfected cultural logic linked to identity.

The violence is seen as an assertion of identity and not as a hooligan act. What in the jargon of law would qualify as crime, in this context turns out to be a ‘heroic’ act for a seemingly greater ’cause’.


Go back a little in history and see how India was reorganised post-Independence. The reorganisation of States was on cultural terms—on the basis of dominant language zones. They were not partitioned as economic zones, linking production areas with nearby markets. There is an argument that such an economic division was eminently possible and would have altered the destiny of India.

So, the very idea on which this nation is built supports an emotive identity struggle that revolves around land, water and language.

Therefore, invariably, river water tribunals can never give acceptable verdicts or border committees can never come to a conclusion. With the linguistic reorganisation of the States, there is also a rigidity that has been built into the conception.

The conception happens around the idea of dominance—which language dominates which area?

The most natural predisposition of the Indian people to be bilingual or trilingual is not taken into account in this conception and hence tension is inevitable and to an extent insurmountable. In this light, the demand for a seperate Kodava land or a Tulu Nadu, within a flat, homogeneous idea of Karnataka and Kannada is therefore perfectly understandable.

Land, could be an identity-marker, but at a baser-level it spawns a feudal idea. One often wonders if arrogance has its roots in the security of owning land. We are familiar with the argument that owning knowledge leads to oppression, to democratise that we innovated on the idea of reservations and created access to knowledge. Similarly, owning land too leads to arrogance and oppression, but that is something that we do not want to readily acknowledge.

Redistribution of land or land reforms has never been a continual programme for any government. Land has always formed a complicated relationship with power. At least, in the case of Karnataka the land reforms that was carried out in the 1970s was slowly, but significantly undone in the ’90s and not surprisingly by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda, a man representing a dominant community of landlords and claiming to uplift a constituency of farmers.

It is not surprising therefore that between April 2004 and October 2007, when his party JD(S) was in a power arrangement nothing but land was discussed and deliberated, leading one to think if the government had become a quasi-real estate agency. First, it was about the extra land that was given to the international airport; then it was the ‘land-grabbing’ by Infosys; the controversy over the Arkavathy housing layout; then of course the excess land acquired for Nandi’s Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor project; the contentious mining of the Bellary lands for manganese and iron ore; formation of SEZs; Bidadi and Ramanagaram townships; newer ring roads around Bangalore; acquistion and alignments for Metro rail and finally a joint legislature committee to look into encroachments of land in and around Bangalore.

In this context it is interesting to observe that a fledgling political party that writer Devanur Mahadeva and others have floated, Sarvodaya Karnataka, whose manifesto aspires to bring the landed and landless on a single platform, has not taken off significantly. At best it remains a captivating idea, but founded on a naive, utopian ideal.

In the same breath, it is also interesting to note that in the recent debate about the introduction of English in primary schools, the ones who were militantly defending the interests of Kannada were from the forward and traditionally land-owning classes. But the ones subscribing to a ‘pragmatic’ English curriculum, were backwards and the landless masses.


All this should establish that land in our mind is inextricably linked with a host of other powerful cultural ideas like water and language. It is intertwined with our nationalism and ultimately our identity and hence can never be perceived in isolation or independently.

This should explain why so much of resistance and violence surrounds the idea of land today. The conflict that we see either in Nandigram or Nandagudi, the proposed sites of SEZs, is largely because people are being asked to alter their idea of land.

From a cultural conception that constructed our identity and shaped our national and sub-national debates, they are being forced to view it as real estate. Land was always inheritance, even in the severest of crisis it was pawned, not sold, but today it is placed in a terrain of borderless economics. It is an easily transactable commodity without any emotional baggage. This is culturally shocking and would take a long time before people accept it. It will take at least as long as it took us to create the idea of borders and nations.

In the last decade or so, the imagination of our governments have taken a right about turn. From flogging the idea of ‘India lives in its villages,’ to the idea of expanding the cities so that they seamlessly integrate villages, everything has been turned on its head. Villages as autonomous cultural nuggets are facing extinction in government policy.

A good question to ask would be whatever happens to the idea of rootedness?

We always had this fond thought that our wisdom was all stored in the villages and when we faced a crisis in the cities we could go back to the villages to recover them. But what happens when such a civilisational treasure is now on the brink of being lost?

The result is violence, in all its physical and metaphorical manifestations. The governments now think that if you improve one City, then a hundred villages around it will automatically prosper. A result of such thinking is the thousands of crores of rupees being allocated to the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

Sometime ago, N.R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys demanded green cultivable land to build his campuses. At one point technologists like him even advocated the idea that Bangalore should be converted into a Union territory, which means delinking it completely from all local politics.

It appears for both the corporates and the political class, all emotional linkages to either land or language are roadblocks to economic prosperity. They see it as an important and legitimate function of democratically elected governments to acquire and redistribute land to big corporations. These ideas have caused anxiety among people. One hopes that the anxiety about the imminent loss of language and land finds a mature expression.

[Excerpted from Keeping Faith with the Mother TongueThe Anxieties of a Local Culture, Navakarnataka Publications, pp 288, price Rs 200]

Photograph: courtesy K. Ashwin

Also read: Cauvery, Cauvery antha badkothare

Is it a crime to break a marriage engagement?

31 March 2008

What is the legal status of a marriage engagement ceremony? Is breaking an engagement an actionable offence? In case there is no engagement and no ceremony, and the couple are merely going around as boyfriend and girlfriend, without any legal sanctity to the relationship, can the police and the courts intervene if one ditches the other? On what ground?

In what is clearly a personal matter between adult individuals (and their families), do the police have a role to play? Or, in a media age, has crying hoarse about broken engagements and dowry harassment become a handy tool?

MYSORE: Women police have arrested a youth and his mother for allegedly cheating a girl by breaking the marriage engagement. Mohankumar and his mother Devamma were arrested following a complaint by Susheela, who alleged that the duo were now refusing to abide by the November 26 engagement. The wedding was to take place after the Mudukuthore Jathre. But three days after the engagement, Mohankumar was said to have received an anonymous letter claiming from a person who claimed he was in love with the girl, prompting the change of heart. The complainant alleged that the groom-who-wasn’t had got married a couple of days ago.

BANGALORE: SV, the great granddaughter of theatre legend Gubbi Veeranna, filed a complaint against SR of Symbian software after the techie refused to marry her despite going around with her for nine months. SR met SV online last June, struck up a friendship, and evincedinterest in marrying her before having second thoughts. When he first refused to marry her, SV allegedly threatened suicide. When he refused again, she filed a complaint with Indiranagar police for dumpinghim, ostensibly with the objective of preventing other girls from falling into a similar trap.

BANGALORE: A woman has filed a case of dowry harassment under against her husband after 14 years of married life. When music maestro Vijay (name changed) refused to show the door to his aged parents as demanded by his wife (and the mother of their two children), Vidya (name changed), she approached Marathhalli police and filed a complaint of harassment under Section 498 A. The police picked up Vijay on the basis of Vidya’s oral version. In court, the matter has dragged on with the prosecution unable to provide any evidence to back the wife’s claims.

Top link via Nikhil Moro, bottom link via Sudheendra Muralidhara

When our politicians go strictly by the book

31 March 2008

“One party’s discovering India, and the other’s experimenting with the truth.”

E.P. Unny in The Indian Express

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

One-thousand three-hundred & ninety-four words

30 March 2008

In 1997, when Outlook crowned the then Congress president Sitaram Kesri as the Villain of the Year, the magazine’s managing editor Tarun J. Tejpal described why Kesri had been picked for the dubious honour by simply describing the three pictures that had been used to illustrate the article.

“Take a look at Exhibit 1. It is a moment of rare quality. Three men have reduced themselves to a classic abjectness in the face of the formidable Indira Gandhi. One in particular shines through, the man in dark glasses, with the Gandhi topi. He has hit the critical mass of sycophancy: one jot more and he is in danger of dissolving into a puddle of slime.

“Now flip the page, and assess Exhibit 2. More than a decade-and-a-half has passed. But with the stamina and resolve of the finest long distance runner, the man—topi still in place—has saved up enough sycophantic energy for a strong kick down the last stretch. His head is at P.V. Narasimha Rao’s knees, and Rao is holding on to his hands to keep him from plummeting to the ground. In glorious servility, in a total surrender of the self.

“Now check out the colour picture on top. The glasses are no longer opaque, and the slit eyes visible through them have the casual menace of an alligator’s. The liquid lower lip for once has coagulated into some fuzzy kind of determination. And the wagging finger has the authoritarian quality of an executioner, condemning those at his mercy to the electric chair.”

Much the same narrative technique can be used to describe this telling picture (shot by V. Sreenivasa Murthy of The Hindu) from yesterday’s Congress rally in Bangalore, where the Sitaram Kesris of the State were in obsequious attendance to a third-generation Gandhi, Rahul.

You can see a near-complete absence of clarity of vision or leadership on stage. You can see fawning elders with one foot in the electoral grave falling over each other. You can see faux camaraderie in the palms of the upstart. You can see cringing inhibition and reservation in the eyes of some others. And you can see the grandmother of all garlands being held up by the youngest of the lot.

Before the jamboree began, one of those on stage SMSed a journalist: “Ivatthu naavu evathu Rahul Gandhi avara habba maadtha iddeevi (today, we are celebrating Rahul Gandhi’s festival).”

‘First businessmen, now their agents in the RS’

29 March 2008

Anil Ambani‘s decision to hitch his wagon to the Samajwadi Party and become a member of the Rajya Sabha was generally seen to have been one of the contributing factors to his split with Mukesh Ambani. Like their father Dhirubhai Ambani, Mukesh was rumoured to have been of the belief that, while political influence was important for the group’s business operations, there was little to be gained by openly aligning with political parties.

That bit of conventional wisdom has come unstuck in the week gone by. At least three Mukesh Ambani men—two of them (Parimal Nathwani and Y.P. Trivedi) wholetime directors of the elder Ambani’s Reliance Industries, and the third (former bureaucrat N.K. Singh) a visiting fellow at the Reliance-sponsored thinktank Observer Research Foundation—have entered the house of elders, drawing the support of BJP, NCP, JMM, JD(U), among other parties.

There is even talk that a fourth Mukesh Ambani candidate may sneak through, although one news channel which did a story on the Reliance link has reportedly been served a legal notice. With so many businessmen sneaking into the Upper House—think Vijay Mallya, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Rahul Bajaj, M.A.M. Ramaswamy, the late Lalit Suri, et al—and with so many parties helping them do so for not entirely political considerations, there were obvious questions to ask. Now, with their henchmen doing so, the circle it seems is complete.

In Jharkhand, Parimal Nathwani stood as an independent. Yet, according to unconfirmed reports, a number of cabinet ministers were willing and, in fact, did vote against the official UPA candidate while the chief minister himself abstained.

Harish Khare writes in The Hindu:

“Whether or not there was a quid pro quo, the critical aspect is that the industrialists have secured their passage with the cooperation, indulgence and votes of the established parties….

“The role of money in our public life has had a deleterious impact on the policy choices and moral integrity of political institutions. Apart from the aberrant case when an odd money-bag deemed it expedient to try to suborn the loyalty of a political or bureaucratic executive in order to sabotage or promote a policy, the business houses have over the years acquired a quasi-institutional voice for themselves. As the electoral process has become very expensive, the role and reach of money power has become all too obvious.

“However, it seems that the industrialists are no longer content with acquiring leverage in the political process by donating large sums of money during and between the election times. They seem now keen to pack the Upper House with their “men.” They want to have their agents in the middle of the action.”

Read the full story: One more invisible line crossed

Also read: Why Narayana Murthy will make a poor President

Cricket’s cheap kicks and lingering hangovers

29 March 2008

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“In my opinion, Test cricket may be compared to the finest Scotch, 50-overs a side to Indian Made Foreign Liquor, and 20-20 to the local hooch.

“The addict who cannot have the first or the second will make do with the last.

“The pleasures of the shortest game are intense but also wholly ephemeral. There is no time to savour delights offered in such a rushed and heady fashion. The medium form allows one to take in the booze more leisurely…. After spending a whole day at the cricket one can, as it were, remember individual sips of the drink that one has consumed. On the other hand, after a Twenty20 game, all one remembers is that one got drunk, and one’s side won, or lost….

“So long as only hooch is on offer, I will not be seen anywhere near a television set broadcasting a cricket match. I will resume my drinking habits once the IMFL and the Scotch reappear on the menu.”

Read the full article: Varieties of the game

Also read: 7 reasons IPL auction is like prostitution

The beginning of the end of Test cricket is here

Twenty20 to promote 60-30?

What Vijay Mallya‘s team says about Vijay Mallya‘s mind

Ours is not to ask why; ours is to just do and die

29 March 2008

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: My colleague D.P. Das Gupta (all names changed) called and confirmed he would be coming to Madras by the next day’s evening flight. DP was coming with Mr. Roy, the director of a third-party manufacturing company, for discussions on the next year’s budget.

December is usually crowded in Madras. DP had an unusual request. Could we book two adjacent rooms in the hotel next to Apollo Hospitals as Roy was a heart patient and generally never ventured out of Calcutta?

DP and Roy talked to me after checking in to the hotel. Since the rooms were full, they had been requested to share a double room for the night with the promise they would be shifted to single rooms next day. They had cheerfully accepted the inconvenience. They wanted to retire early. I told them I would pick them up at 9 the next morning.

At about 1:30 in the night, I got a call. “This is Roy here. DP has had a heart attack. Please rush to Apollo.”

Roy, being a heart patient, had taken some tablets to steady himself. When he had got up to go to the toilet at night he observed DP gasping for breath. He immediately alerted the hotel and hospital staff before phoning me.While I called some of my colleagues, we learnt from Roy that DP’s family had left for Nepal for a week and he did not have their contact number or know their whereabouts. Now, of course, DP was in no position to communicate. Since DP’s programme was for a week, his wife and son along with her friends had left Calcutta for Kathmandu earlier in the day.

From the next day, our colleagues took turns to stay outside the ICU. Once DP’s condition stabilised after 72 hours, he was shifted to a recovery ward. Ladies from the office took turns to bring home-cooked food for their colleague. Meanwhile, Roy who went back to Calcutta succeeded in contacting DP’s family and they arrived a day before he was discharged from the hospital.

DP resumed his duty after a month of rest and rehabilitation. He continued the strict diet and regular exercise prescribed for him. During his meetings on work, Roy gave him some tips on life after a heart attack. Roy was himself a sportsman and played shuttlecock badminton regularly at the Saturday Club in Calcutta.DP fully recovered from the heart attack and had started traveling too. Once he came to Madras and visited Apollo hospitals to thank the doctors. We had lunch at the hotel where he had stayed the last time.

It was some sort of divine intervention that they had to share a double room when two single rooms were booked originally and that’s what perhaps saved DP’s life. Another coincidence was that the hotel was conveniently next to a hospital. It was chosen as Roy was a heart patient but it was DP who had the attack!


We had a year-end review meeting in Calcutta at Roy’s office. It was Christmas eve and the work for the year was almost done. We had dinner together and left.

DP was going on a short vacation to Varanasi. He told me: “There is a belief among Bengalis that if you die in Benares, there is no rebirth and you reach heaven. May be that is the reason why my forefathers built a house long back. But so far, very few of our family have died in Benares. I don’t believe in all that! I have to do some minor repairs, give a coat of fresh paint. I will be back in Calcutta before the new year. As planned, I will be in Madras in first week of January. Happy New Year in advance!”


I got a call from Benares from DP’s son saying his father passed away as they were about to leave for Calcutta. DP had suffered a heart attack at his renovated home and died before he could get medical help.

Two days after his death, I received the last letter posted by DP that his work was done in Benares and he was leaving for Calcutta.

If the bank can’t come to the customer, then…

29 March 2008

According to the 2001 census, 72 per cent of Indians live in rural areas. According to finance minister P. Chidambaram, he can’t do anything about farmers borrowing money from moneylenders. According to P. Sainath in The Hindu:

Number of rural branches of scheduled commercial banks in 1993: 35,389

No. of rural branches of SCBs in 2007: 30,639

No. of branches closed in 15-year period: 4,750 @ 26 per month


Number of metro, urban, semi-urban branches of SCBs in 1993: 25,671

No. of metro, urban, semi-urban branches of SCBs in 2007: 40,832

No. of new branches opened in 15-year period: 15,161

Source: Reserve Bank of India’s Handbook of Statistics on the Indian Economy (2006-07)

Who slaughtered the unsung zero of Karnataka?

28 March 2008

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: While Kiran Rao Batni was lamenting the birth of naan, malai kofta and chicken tikka masala as local food in Bangalore (Anna-sambaar to the American on the BlackBerry) ten days ago, I was silently mourning the death of an unsung ‘zero’ of Karnataka: the kodu bale.

The food fundamentalists of churumuri would like to believe that Bisi bele baath is the quintessential Kannada contribution to cuisine. In rare moments of modesty, they might even grudgingly nominate mavinakayi chitranna as the de facto delicacy.

But permit me to strike a discordant note.

Kodu bale, to my dark, deep fried mind, is Karnataka’s asli gift to humankind—if you leave out Kingfisher beer.

(Together, of course, they constitute the most potent Improvised Explosive Device (IED) invented to soften up targets. Permit me to drop a name. I once gave a box of home-made kodu bales to my then favourite Pakistan batsman Salim Malik the night before an ODI and he quietly did what match-fixers in their moments of madness must have paid him millions to accomplish: perish for zero.)

But we digress.

Something has happened to the kodu bale—as Shamala atthe and Leela dodamma used to make it.

Let’s call it The Great Kodu Bale Konspiracy.

At home, the missus can barely find the time or the inclination, and even when she can, her much-acclaimed culinary skills desert her when she starts rolling the dough for the dark dynamite. The first set turns out all right, golden-brown and perfectly round. It self-destructs in your mouth as if to leave no trace for investigators.

And, also, because you have been panting in anticipation like a hungry dobberman, because you have Vijay Mallya‘s wicked brew for company, it tastes darned divine.

But, like with Sania Mirza, the problem starts with the second set. It’s wayward, erratic, inconsistent. There are lots of double faults. Undettered, the wifey has packed about a dozen or so in a Tupperware® box for the morrow. But the next afternoon, the full scale of the disaster unravels itself: yesterday’s scrunchy runaway winner has become a soggy, rubbery runner-up.

What melted in your mouth last night, now shows no mercy on your ageing molars. It wants you to work at it. It wants you to do a million push-ups with your jaws. It wants you to pull it apart.

Suddenly, your favourite snack has become khara chewing gum. A slave of your palate has become its master.

Out of frustration, I have pursued readymade kodu bales from Kodambakkam to Kuvempunagar, and there’s plenty of it available. From the countless Iyengar bakeries to the Mylapore maamis, from the Shetty angadis in Chamarajpet to from the Wal-Mart of fried stuff, the Thindi Mane. But nothing works, at least not for too long.

Either it isn’t spicy enough. Or the colour isn’t inviting enough. Or the texture isn’t right. Or the shape is disgusting. Or there is a faint rancid smell. Or, the ultimate health warning, the wife detects “Dalda”.

Subversive desh drohis try to push rave kodu bale on me. When chakkuli is being made, a couple of faux kodu bales make their way. But they have no effect on me.

Is this the first sign of OCD, I wonder: Obsessive Codu-bale Disorder?

Goodness gracious me!—I thought I would never say this—but is there something unsurpassable about home-made kodu bale? Is it really true, what Nina Wadia says in Meera Syal‘s sitcom: “Why go out when I can make it at home?”

Because of our time-strapped lives or because of all those executive health checkups, or because we have all been watching food shows where all they make is macher jhol and mutton jalfrezi, has the craft of making kodu bale deserted all our homes, all at once?

Maybe, in the smaller towns and villages, kids want them as much as they do pizzas and burgers. Maybe, mothers and grandmothers still make them the way they used to although I am sure that’s an undeniably sexist thing to say. Or maybe, this is just a personal disaster.

Permit me, therefore, a moment of privacy in public to mourn the death of an unsung ‘zero’.

Photograph: courtesy

Cross-posted on Kosambari

Who really is benefitting from India’s IT boom?

28 March 2008

The economist Thomas Robert Malthus argued that “conspicuous consumption” was good because of the trickle-down effect. Once the affluent began to spend their money on engaging domestic servants, buying expensive clothes and jewels, building mansions, going on expeditions and so on, a huge quantum of purchasing power would be generated in the economy.

But the former West Bengal finance minister and economist Ashok Mitra argues in The Telegraph, Calcutta, that the “conspicuous consumption” sparked by the IT boom in India is not percolating down to the domestic system but have been largely dissipated on types of expenditure that create a spurt in imports.

“Way back in 1991-92, the first years of the so-called economic reforms, exports of IT-related services were only $ 2.1 billion; these exports soared to $ 11.6 billion in 2001-02 and further on to $ 58.4 billion in 2006-07.

“Now look at the import of petroleum and petroleum products. These imports were $ 8.6 billion in 1991-92, $ 20.3 billion in 2001-02 and $ 83.3 billion in 2006-07.

“Over the 15-year period (1991-92 to 2006-2007), while export earnings from the IT-related services have gone up by more than $ 55 billion, the import of petroleum products has shot up by nearly $ 75 billion.

“Will it be unfair to suggest that the steep increase in the import of petroleum and petroleum products has a direct connection with the pattern of expenditure that arise out of the sharply-rising export earnings from IT services? The demand for petroleum and petroleum products has skyrocketed, it can well be maintained, because a substantial part of the astronomical incomes generated in the IT-related units has been deployed to buy automobiles, which are great gas-guzzlers, as well as other luxury consumer goods for the output and marketing of which petroleum products are again much in demand.”

Read the full article: Trickling out

‘Indian media doesn’t cover 70% of population’

28 March 2008

The Magsaysay Award-winning rural affairs editor of The Hindu, Palagummi Sainath, continues his one-man crusade against the growing disconnect between mass media and mass reality.

At the launch of the website of Janashakthi, a Kannada weekly, in Bangalore on Thursday, Sainath said:

# Media is disconnected with 70 per cent of the population and is not talking to them. During elections, it is these 70 per cent who make news. During such time, all the opinion polls will be washed away due to huge under current of these voters.

# Except one TV channel and one newspaper in the whole country, not one media organisation thought Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar admission in Parliament that about 1.6 lakh farmers committed suicide between 1997 and 2007, was news.

# Mass media even failed to report the outcome of a house-to-house survey of farmers, conducted by the Maharashtra government, which revealed that 2 million farming families were in a highly distressed state

# Indian media is giving importance only for the “elite” section of society. 512 media representatives cover a week-long fashion show held every year in Bombay, while six representatives of the national media do not wish to stay in villages to study and report the causes of farmers’ suicide in the Vidharabha region.

# Budget announcement of waiving of farm loans of over Rs. 50,000 crore has been described as “unprecedented” in the mass media, when such concessions were being given to the corporate sector every year.

# While the media spoke about the farmers and there were panel discussion on television channels, there were no farmers or somebody who knew about farming on the panel.

Read the full stories: ‘Farmers’ crisis not represented in media’

‘Media is away from reality’

Also read: ‘A media politically free but chained by profits’

‘Take big steps, urgent steps, fast-paced steps’

‘Conventional journalism serves the powerful’

CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

27 March 2008

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani‘s “charm offensive”, courtesy his memoirs My Life, My Country, has run into rough water thanks to his breathstopping claim that he did not know of external affairs minister Jaswant Singh‘s plan to travel to Kandahar to swap three terrorists for the release of the 160 passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight, IC-814. In an interview with Shekhar Gupta for NDTV’s Walk theTalk programme, Advani claimed he was also not consulted and that there was no decision in the Cabinet Committee on Security on the matter. “I didn’t know about it…. I came to know when he was going… I was not happy with the decision,” claims Advani, and adds helpfully that there was no money involved in securing the release of the hostages.

At one level, the prospect of the then Union home minister, purportedly the second most important man in the country after Atal Behari Vajpayee, not being aware of what was happening in his own government is revealing. At another level, Advani’s admission places on record the divisions within the Prime Minister’s Office, despite his tearful claims of “feeling lonely” in the absence of Vajpayee at the book’s release. But above all, it punches a big hole in the BJP’s claims of its “tough stand” on terror. Little wonder, the Congress has pounced on Advani, saying: “All the good that happened can be attributed to him, and all the bad to Vajpayee.”

Questions: Is the “Loh Purush” lying? Or is he conveniently trying to divorce himself from the embarrassing issue? Is Jaswant Singh being made a scapegoat by Advani? Or is Advani’s revelation a reflection of what happens in individual-centred politics? Does Advani emerge with his halo intact? Or does he comes across as a schemer, willing to shed “collective responsibility” for a decision at the altar of “personal grandstanding”? Above all, is the BJP’s claim of being tough on terror as bogus as that of the Congress? Or does it not matter because the hostages returned safely?

All the money in the world cannot buy you…

27 March 2008

Some of India’s most visible brands have an incredible propensity to put out some incredibly inane advertisements. Coca-Cola continues to be the gold-standard. But whipper-snappers like Airtel are fast showing that money can buy everything in the world, except the happiness of a good ad.

One recent Airtel commercial of two boys across the India-Pakistan border playing football seemed like a poor copy of an “8PM” liquor ad in which two soldiers end their hostilities over whisky after nightfall.

In this TVC, currently on air, a father (possibly a railway engineer) plays “Join the Dots” with his daughter over the cellphone. Cute, yes, but where in India do they still have broad gauge steam locomotives running? And in which century India does an engineer have his cellphone delivered to him by a slave when there is a call?

Also read: Indian Railways Fan Club FAQs on steam

Announcement: Jeremy Seabroook coming

27 March 2008

What Rahul Gandhi can learn from Brad Pitt

26 March 2008

In Steven Soderbergh‘s Ocean’s Twelve, there is this brief interlude between Linus Caldwell and Rusty Ryan (played by Brad Pitt) at the railway station:

Linus: Hey, can I ask you something? You ever notice that…

Rusty: If you’re gonna ask if you can ask me a question, give me time to respond. Unless you’re asking rhetorically, in which case the answer is obvious – yes.

Rahul Gandhi may be no Pitt, but he seems to be mastering the art of asking questions for which the answer seems to be obvious to everybody but the heir apparent.

Exactly five months ago, upon his debut at the AICC, he said that if the Congress needed to become a party that represents the youth of the country, it needed to do two things, the second of which was to build a “meritocratic organisation“—oblivious to the fact that a first-time MP wouldn’t have made it to the AICC in a meritocracy.

Mystery repeats itself. During his visit to Chamarajanagar yesterday, he said:

“When there is democracy in the poll booth, why does it not exist in political parties?”

Which prompts PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI to write from Oakland, California:

Of all the people, when Rahul Gandhi asks this question, should we laugh or cry?

If he is being sincere, then Rahul is only demonstrating his ignorance and lack of intelligence. But then his father too delivered a famous speech in the 1985 Congress centenary celebrations in Bombay decrying corruption.

Still as questions go, this is an easy one to answer.

But who will tell Rahul Gandhi that the Nehru-Gandhi family is primarily responsible for the death of intra-party democracy in Congress, which has proven to be the paradigm for all the other political parties.

Funny. If only Congress had enough democracy to allow its leader to be told that his family is responsible for some of the ills that the party and the nation suffer from!

The day Ford said Tata to Jaguar and Land Rover

26 March 2008

David Kiley asks in Der Spiegel:

“Could Winston Churchill, or even the current Queen of England, have imagined a half-century ago that a pair of Britain’s proudest industrial icons would one day be owned by an Indian company?”

Also read: Is ‘Made in India’ a problem in the West?

Manmohan Singh versus Lal Krishna Advani?

26 March 2008

Harish Khare, The Hindu‘s deputy editor based in Delhi, has termed Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar‘s suggestion that the ruling United Progressive Alliance should contest the next general election together as a collective entity, as “most practical”:

“First, it instantly resolves the Congress’ central dilemma: choice of the prime ministerial mascot. Under the Pawar formulation, the status quo re-constitutes itself. Manmohan Singh remains the prime ministerial mascot, Sonia Gandhi the UPA chairperson, and Rahul Gandhi gets another breather to get his act together. Above all, Sonia remains the captain, third umpire as also match referee….

“When all is said and done, the UPA represents a very acceptable moderate face of the Indian political opinion. It can answer the nation’s need for a centrist, liberal, middle-of-the-path, plural and secular governing arrangement. If the UPA holds together, as per the Pawar formulation, it can bargain its way into an expansion: with Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and possibly with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. Above all, a consolidated UPA group will be best suited to produce stable and purposeful governance in New Delhi.”

Read the full article: The Sharad Pawar formulation is workable

Is online matchmaking becoming a bit of a scam?

26 March 2008

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: At the dawn of the year of the lord 2008, Arvind Swaminathan collated a few news items to show how Information Technology whizkids in different parts of the South seemed to be in trouble on the road, in water, and in real life (Can’t drive? Can’t swim? Can’t behave?).

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics might have a good explanation, he wrote, on why we are seeing so many mishaps involving “software professionals”.

“Is it just a coincidence? Is it because there are so many of them around in the southern cities that the statistical possibility of their being involved in a mishap is higher? Is it because the media are beginning to take closer notice of their target audience? Or, cruel me, is it because, while they may be earning pots, they still haven’t mastered driving, swimming, sitting or behaving?”

I have a slightly higher regard for IT and what it has done for our City than Arvind. Still, as the financial year veers to an end, three news items, all datelined Bangalore, have caught my attention in the last three days. And to “Can’t drive? Can’t swim? Can’t behave?” I have been tempted to add “Can’t marry?”

# The first incident involves an Infosys employee Amit Budhiraj, 32, who allegedly smothered his wife Rinku Sachdeva, 28, with a pillow and then hanged himself on Sunday. The two had tied the knot last year after a three-year live-in relationship. In a suicide note, Budhiraj alleged that he took the step after he came to know that Rinku was having an extra-marital affair with a colleague at Standard Chartered Bank. But her father says it was just a clever ruse to protect the reputation of his family members.

# The second incident involves a techie who has reportedly been stalking his ex-girl friend. Apparently, Nisha met her Ajay (all names changed) three years ago. They begin dating each other. After a trip to the United States, Ajay suddenly decides to renounce the world and become a monk. Nisha tries to reason with her techie boyfriend but he has made up his mind. But a monk refuses admission to Ajay. Meantime, Nisha has married Nitin, who reportedly sends Ajay an email that his wife had not gotten over him. Soon Ajay starts bugging her.

# The third incident involves SR of a software company. He befriended SV, the great grand-daughter of theatre legend GV, last June. Impressed with her frankness and family background, he decides to marry her. But her smoking and friends’ circle gets to him. He decides against matrimony. But when she allegedly threatens suicide, he rushes back from the United States. When he again says no to marriage, SV reportedly starts blackmailing him, and even lodges a complaint with the police.

The common thread through all the three incidents is that they involve software types.

Which leads to the obvious questions: Are only SWEs having marital problems and boyfriend/girlfriend problems in Bangalore, or are we hearing more about them because we have trained our ears in their direction, because there are so many of them around? Or are the media reporting more and more of their travails, like growing suicides or rising divorces, because they belong to the socio-economic category advertisers love to reach out to?

But all that is old hat.

The new bit that is common to all three incidents is that all three couples who have been in the news in the last three days met through matrimonial websites like and

It stands to reason, maybe, that lap-top toting techies in Silicon Halli should have dialled up their life partners on the world wide web using the office broadband.

Maybe, given the amount of time we spend at the computer, this is just the easiest, most convenient way of finding our “beau” (or dovvu, as M.S. Sathyu learnt to his mortification). Maybe, it’s nice to be seen to be in charge while finding a friend or life partner of the same wavelength. Maybe, everything else is so old-fashioned.

Maybe, it’s hep to say you met online.

Still, what is the statistical possibility that three couples in the news all met the same way? And, what does it say about the efficacy of the online matchmaking progress that all three couples in the news are in the news for the wrong reasons?

Of course, three couples amounts to just three tiny drops in the mammoth ocean of matrimony.

There may be hundreds and thousands of couples more, couples who met online, who are living happily ever after. There may be hundreds and thousands of couples more who met the conventional way, whose marriages are on the rocks, who are silently swallowing physical and verbal violence, who are just living together for the sake of society, etc?

Still, you have ask: does the magic wear off once you switch off the modem?

Is online matchmaking what it is touted to be—easy, global, reliable? Or has it become a bit of a scam of those who have been there, done that, and are looking for a cheap thrills?

Is it better than arranged marriages or “love marriages”? Or, like classified newspaper advertisements in the past, has it become the last resort of those without social skills; a last throw of the dice for those who weren’t smart or lucky enough to bump into someone they would like to spend the rest of their lives with in reallife situations?

Maybe it is a sign of the new, confident, rising, shining India that men and women feel empowered and emboldened to unload the baggage of a bad marriage openly, without inhibition.

Maybe, but how likely when the weekend scoreline reads 3/3?

(Full disclosure: Palini R. Swamy has been happily married for 18 years. He met his match offline.)

We live in 21st century. Our minds are in 16th.

26 March 2008

Diptosh Majumdar, the national political editor of CNN-IBN, on the rape and murder of British tourist Scarlett Keeling in Goa:

“Keeling’s death nails a great lie that we try to perpetuate. Indians may flatter themselves into believing they are generous hosts but they actually aren’t. The much-touted principle of Athithi devo bhava applies only to domestic tourists, not to eccentric foreigners. Otherwise, Japanese tourists would not have complained of being harassed by a guide at the Sun Temple in Konark. Otherwise non-resident Indians would not have felt like running away from the clutches of greedy pujaris at Kalighat in Kolkata.

“Tourism is about opening up your own culture with due tolerance and utmost respect for the culture of the visitors. Indians are too immersed in their medieval ethos to understand the worldwide cultural crosscurrents of the 21st century. There’s an old Chinese adage that says a closed mind is like a closed book, just a block of wood. We are indeed the wooden people.”

Read the full article here: Where athithis fear to tread

Also read: Taslima, Fiona, Tibet… and we don’t give a shit

Why the Queen sold her diamonds and jewels

25 March 2008

The Wodeyars of Mysore are at once mighty and mysterious.

Mighty, because they ruled for close to 550 years from AD 1399. Mysterious, because despite their long reign and the wealth of their contributions, they occupy so little of the national imagination, quite unlike other royal families like, say, the Nizams of Hyderabad or the Scindias of Gwalior.

Result: Visitors and tourists have to mostly depend on myth, legend, hearsay, gossip, word-of-mouth and plain fiction.

It’s a vital literary blank that Vikram Sampath tries to fill with “Splendours of Royal Mysore: The Untold Story of The Wodeyars” (Rupa & Co). Bangalore-born Vikram’s interest in the Mysore kings was sparked when he was 12, thanks to the “comical portrayal” of the Wodeyars in Sanjay Khan‘s TV serial Sword of Tipu Sultan. The 800-page tome is a worthy labour of love for the 29-year-old Citibanker, who is also a student of Carnatic classical vocal music.

In this video (above), Vikram speaks about the book, before the main Amba Vilas palace in Mysore. Below, he throws light on little known facts about the Wodeyars.




The Wodeyars of Mysore claim their descent from the lunar dynasty of Lord Krishna. The foundation of the dynasty in AD 1399 is attributed to one Yaduraya, son of Raja Deva of Dwaraka in present-day Gujarat. Guided by divine dispensation, they supposedly were driven by dreams to leave Dwaraka for the Mahabala mountains, cradled between the Cauvery and Kapila rivers, and worship the presiding diety, Goddess Chamundeshwari.

By the time the young Yaduraya and his brother Krishnaraya reached Mahisuru (as it was called then), catastrophe had struck the tiny principality. Its chieftain Chamaraja had died and a vile upstart Maranayaka threatened to abduct the pretty princess and usurp the kingdom. These two young men were approached by the helpless queen and after a valiant battle, the villain was killed and Yaduraya was crowned chieftain. This event in the summer of 1399 marked the birth of one of India’s longest reigning houses.


The term ‘Wodeyar‘ signified the humble beginnings of the family. It was a title bestowed on anyone who held sway over 33 villages—which is all that the early “rulers” had command over. But unlike other contemporaries who were content with their position of eminence, the Wodeyars by virtue of their characteristic valour and the benign influence of lady luck, emerged as the inheritors of the traditions of the glorious Vijayanagara empire.


In the course of the power struggle with Vijayanagara, Raja Wodeyar skirmished with the empire’s viceroy Tirumalaraya and his subsequent tiff with his wife Rani Alamelamma led to the supposed suicide of the Rani in AD 1610. She threw herself into the Cauvery with the famous three-line curse which is said to be the reason for the submergence of Talakad in sand, a whirlpool at Malingi, and the childlessness in the Wodeyar lineage.


With the kingdom coming under the spell of weak rulers, a common soldier in the Mysore army—Haidar Ali—rose in the ranks and in 1761 usurped the throne. He and his chivalrous son Tipu Sultan were among the first Indian States to offer a spirited resistance to the British East India Company. Tipu inflicted the most humiliating defeats on the British in the First and Second Anglo-Mysore Wars. But the let-down by all his principal officers and the negotiations with the British by the lingering royal family under Rani Lakshmammanni proved to be Tipu’s ultimate nemesis. He died fighting his kingdom and his honour on 4 May 1799 in the fort of Srirangapatna.


One of the biggest peasant uprisings in India took place in the Mysore kingdom in Nagar (in today’s Shimoga district). It was a first of its kind and led to a mass movement that shook the very foundations of the Mysore kingdom. The movement was ruthlessly squashed and Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was deposed by the British in 1831 and the kingdom passed under Commissioners.


Under the later Wodeyars, especially Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (called as Rajarishi or saint among kings by Mahatma Gandhi himself), Mysore witnessed tremendous economic, social and cultural progress. Mysore State had many firsts to its credit and was hailed as the model State by the founding fathers of independent India. Mysore was the first state to have a democratic system of governance. Local self-government was encouraged as far back as 1918. Mysore was also the first State to provide reservations for the weaker sections of society in government jobs.

Under the amazing Dewan quartet of Rangacharlu, Seshadri Iyer, Sir M. Visveswaraya and Mirza Ismail, industries sprung by the year. Irrigation and power received great priority. The Marihalla project across the Vedavati river, started by Iyer, created the Vani Vilasa Sagar (or Marikanave dam), which was the biggest reservoir in India at the time of completion.

The KRS dam, completed in 1931, created the biggest reservoir in Asia, second only to the Aswan dam across the Nile in Egypt. Since the outlay for the dam exceeded the state budget’s, Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (then a mere teenager) and his sagacious mother Regent Queen Kempananjammanni sold costly diamonds, ornaments, gold and silver plates of the royal family in Bombay to provide seed capital for the project.

The Shivanasamudram hydroelectric project was the first of its kind in India, implemented in 1899-1900. Electricity was provided to the Kolar Gold Fields in 1902, and Bangalore became India’s first City to be electrified in 1905. The transmission line was also the first and longest one in the world then.


Mysore developed its own style of playing the veena, called the Mysore Bani. The very name of Mysore evokes memories of great vainikas like Seshanna, Subbanna, Shamanna, Venkatagiriappa and others. Veeneya bedagidhu Mysooru—a line from a popular Kannada poem describes Mysore and the splendour of the veena. Many great classical musicians like Vasudevacharya, Muttaiah Bhagavathar, Chowdaiah, Bidaram Krishnappa and others were patronised.

Mysore also developed its own distinctive style of the classical dance of Bharatanatyam. Many Banis or styles of Kittanna, Nanjangud Rajamma, Mugoor school, Jetti Thayamma school, etc, flourished. Abhinaya was the main forte this style, and was performed seated. Yakshagana was nourished by the Wodeyars and great exponents like Basappa Shastri and Parti Subba were encouraged by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Mysore school of painting was also a distinctive one from the Tanjore style. The ganjifa cards were the characteristic Mysorean cards with elaborate paintings.

Thus, in a long and chequered history, Mysore acquired a distinct social and cultural ethos. For this, and the sound economic foundations on which the modern State of Karnataka were built, we need to give due credit to the rulers of Mysore—the Wodeyars.

Read an excerpt here: Spendours of Royal Mysore

‘What’s the Left’s vision of India i.e. Bharat?’

25 March 2008

Editorial in The Indian Express:

“What is it that the Left really wants? That the clock be turned back? Increase taxation, renationalise privatised PSUs, bring back the controller of capital issues, resurrect industrial licensing. It is hard to think that at least the major Left leaders would have implemented that agenda even if they were in power. Or would they? These are scary thoughts and they go right to the heart of the big question over the Left’s role at the Centre: what vision of India does it have?

“It is not as if the Congress or the BJP has an economic vision that is always intellectually coherent. But we know roughly what to expect, given the political exigencies of the time they are in power. But what of the Left? Is that why the CPM never wants to join a government in Delhi? Because then it loses the luxury of affirming economic progressiveness by only having to oppose — no need to propose anything that you may be measured against.”

Read the full editorial: Sixty something

Is this the democracy our founders fought for?

25 March 2008

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes: For nearly a week now, newspapers in Karnataka have been devoting an obscene amount of space for the visit of an ordinary Congress MP from the North to the southern part of the State. Pictures of where he will land, where he will stay, the food he will eat, the meeting hall he will address, have all been published to great fanfare.

But for one single fact—of Rahul Gandhi belonging to the Jawaharlal Nehru family—is there any one standout reason why he deserves such a lot of attention? In a mature democracy where leaders are supposed to be elected on the basis of what they stand for and what they accomplish, what does such interest suggest?

That, as the general elections approach, the hereditary composition of the great grandson of Pandit Nehru, the grandson of Indira Gandhi, and the son of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi has begun to excite the very elastic chromosomes of Congressmen—and a starstruck media is showing exaggerated interest in it.

Aside from being reasonably young and good looking, and an eligible bachelor to boot, what has Rahul Gandhi done to deserve such five-star treatment?

He has been a member of the Lok Sabha since 2004. The one major speech he made in Parliament, he read from a prepared text, flouting parliamentary norms. In the Uttar Pradesh elections, he led his party to a resounding defeat. He has shown an extraordinary ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong place.

Has he written one article expounding his views on various problems the Indian political system is facing today and what he would like to do? Does anybody know what his vision for India is? Has he shown any ability to attract the educated young (besides children of older Congressmen) to take up the cause of nation building?

Has he taken one small step to root out corruption, nepotism, casteism, favouritism, communalism?

Yet, we fawn over him and fete him like he is God’s personal gift to India?

As a result of his visit to Karnataka, will there be any impact on grinding poverty? Can such a flying visit spending few minutes in so many places give him an insight into the problems poor of H.D. Kote and Chamarajanagar face? Why then is such a tamasha getting such wide press coverage?

The reasons are obvious. Should there be a victory for Congress in the forthcoming general election, Rahul will be the nominee of Sonia Gandhi next time and not Manmohan Singh. Sonia’s “inner voice” will be loud and clear this time. There will be no sacrifice on her part.

Is this the democracy our founders fought for?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Next change, Rahul Gandhi?

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

If you can’t win ’em, beat ’em with your prices?

25 March 2008

CHANDIGARH: The Punjab government is offering Rs 1.5 crore per acre to farmers of Jhurheri village in return for land for the Chandigarh international airport. In addition, the government is promising to waive off registration fee and stamp duty if these farmers buy land in the State with the compensation money within two years. The government hopes to acquire 306 acres for approximately Rs 460 crore by the end of this month. The farmers had sough Rs 2 crore per acre.

CHURUMURI POLL: Is Left an enemy of the poor?

24 March 2008

In pre-liberalisation India, Left parties had a well-earned reputation of being the bugbears of industrialisation. Striking work at the drop of a hammer, making unreasonable labour demands, employing violence to have their way, forcing lockouts… left-backed unions had emerged as a major stumbling block. In post-liberalisation India, the Left parties have targetted their sickles on the stock markets, on the privatisation of public sector units, on land acquisiton for dams and special economic zones, on executive salaries, on petrol and diesel prices, on the nuclear deal, and such like.

Yesterday, in an uncharacteristic outburst, finance minister P. Chidambaram lashed out at the Left, indirectly accusing them of enjoying power without responsibility, for criticising and opposing everything being done by the UPA government of Manmohan Singh, including the Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver. “Those who say market growth is irrelevant and those who say the growth only helps the rich are the worst enemies of the poor. It is because of the growth, the Government is able to do many development programmes,” Chidambaram had said on Saturday in Madurai.

Question: Is the Left an enemy of the poor, or is it a necessary evil, a tempering factor, in the face of rampant liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation? Is the left making friends of the poor and underprivileged by batting for them, or is it condemning them to a life in the trenches? Is the Left opposition making India a better, more conscientious country, or is it dividing the nation between them and us, the haves and havenots? Is the Left adopting double standards by cheering China for the very sins it accuses India of?

Are the Left parties which are in power in just three States, and with 60+ MPs in the Lok Sabha, holding an entire country to ransom? Or is it reminding the nation that in the midst of all the progress and development, the glitz and glamour of Incredible India, there is a need for social conscience without which Atulya Bharat will perish?

Announcement: P. Sainath lecture on media

24 March 2008

P. Sainath, the Magsaysay Award winning rural affairs editor of The Hindu, will deliver a lecture on the media in Bangalore on Thursday, 27 March 2008. The lecture has been organised by the cultural tabloid Janashakti.

The venue is the Senate hall of Central College. The time is 4 pm.

Also read: ‘A media politically free but chained by profits’

‘Take big steps, urgent steps, fast-paced steps’

‘Conventional journalism serves the powerful’