Archive for August, 2012

CHURUMURI POLL: BJP, responsible opposition?

27 August 2012

The people get the government they deserve, is an old political cliche. By the same token, the people also get the opposition they deserve. And what “We, the People” of India have got from the 2009 general election has been obvious on our TV screens and the front pages of newspapers for all of three years now.

An arrogant, powerdrunk government which has utterly and completely cut itself off from the reality and blithely buried its head in the sands of scams, scandals and other shenanigans. And an opposition which is hellbent on functioning like the fifth column; turning the institutions and procedures of democracy on their head.

There is little to be said about the so-called coal scam that has engulfed the Congress-led UPA government that hasn’t been said before in the 2G scam. While the latter saw a noisy boycott of Parliament, it eventually resulted in a joint parliamentary committee, the matter went to court, a minister was jailed, etc.

However, in the coal scam, the BJP seems to have, in the manner of Anna Hazare and his silly cheerleaders, decided that such well-laid procedures are not to be trusted. It doesn’t want Parliament to discuss the issue, it simply wants a summary resignation of prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Guilty until proven innocent.

Questions: Is the BJP right in such conduct? Is “obstructionism” of Parliament a right of opposition parties, as averred by leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley? Do opposition parties have no responsibilities? Is the BJP performing its role of opposition appropriately?

Or, is it trying to stymie debate, wary of what skeletons might tumble out of its closet?

External reading: BBC: Deja vu hits Parliament

Status Update: Shoot (or block) the messenger

23 August 2012

Mail Today cartoonist, R. Prasad, salutes the geniuses in the Indian government using the trouble in Assam to play around with Facebook and Twitter, including by reportedly blocking the IDs of journalists Kanchan Gupta and Shiv Aroor. The latter has put up this image on his Twitter handle.

Also read: Should Facebook be censored?

Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control Act

Should the censor’s tighten Savita bhabhi‘s hook?

‘Bangalore will be nothing without Kannada’

21 August 2012

S.A.P.” on his grand-uncle G. Venkatasubbaiah, the centenarian who edited the 9,000-page, 8-volume Kannada encyclopaedia and presided over the Kannada sahitya sammelana in Bangalore last year, in The Economist, London:

“To hear Venkatasubbaiah tell it, Kannada is threatened, but the situation is not grave. ‘Our modern literature is full of life. And Kannada has an ancient literature of great quality—especially epics and poetry. We are not going anywhere,’ he said. But if Kannada’s favoured position in Bangalore is at risk, he says, the state government is to blame. Most politicians in Karnataka speak Kannada as a first language, but their advocacy efforts are limp….

“He believes Kannada can be promoted alongside, and not to the exclusion of, languages like Hindi and English. He suggests that the government should strengthen primary education language requirements and sponsor more programs that instill in Kannada-speakers a sense of pride in their language….

“Venkatasubbiah recognises that his world is changing. But he is not motivated by the sort of aggrieved conservatism that characterises so many older linguistic commentators. He knows better: language changes. So even while he documents the influx of Hindi and English into the Kannada of his fellow Bangaloreans, he doesn’t despair.

“‘This trend isn’t of any evil consequence. Hindi and English borrowings have already been assimilated, welcomed into the local tongue,’ he wrote in an email.

“Yet he isn’t complacent. ‘Bangalore is changing. Hindi, Urdu, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, and Marwari are the languages heard on our streets,’ he said. His is, ideally, a Kannada city. ‘The multilingual quality of our Bangalore can be a great advantage, but no scheme would ever be complete without Kannada. If nothing is done, I am afraid that Kannada will be pushed back into second place here.’

Photograph: Prof G. Venkatasubbiah who celebrated his 100th birthday at his residence Jayanagar in Bangalore on 22 August 2012 (Karnataka Photo News)

Read the full article: Kannada, threatened at home

PAUL THEROUX: Idiots who speak an ideolect at home’

Five reasons Laxman was Very Very Special

20 August 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As the cricket ball swings or spins towards slip and gully after leaving the bowler’s hand, every batsman with a coaching manual in his kit either prepares to shoulder arms and let it go past to the wicketkeeper, or cut and drive it in the direction of cover and cover-point.

Alone among modern batsmen, Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman aka V.V.S. Laxman, had the unique gift to whip it to exactly the opposite direction—between squareleg and midwicket—as spectators and viewers ooh-ed and aah-ed while the bowler and fielders suddenly adjusted their field of vision.

Verily, he was, in a manner of speaking, the world’s greatest leg-break “batsman”, those supper wrists turning anti-clockwise as a matter of course.

If Hyderabad was famous for its biryani, so was it for V.V.S. Laxman’s silken grace while he was at the crease.

He lacked Rahul Dravid’s concentration, Sachin Tendulkar’s power and Virender Sehwag‘s devil-may care approach, but each time when the team was in dire stress he delivered. And how!

Granting every batsman will have to pack up and go one day, what made VVS the special player that he became, a legend in his own way?

#  Laxman had supreme confidence in his ability for he become the ‘Rescue Man’ time and again. He revelled in adverse and completely hopeless situations like the one in Eden Gardens in 2001. The tougher the opponent, the tougher the situation, it was more or less certain Laxman would deliver.

Australians by nature are tough as nails and never give an inch. It is this ability to take them on his terms that they came to admire in Laxman immensely. In him, they saw one of their own. That is why his 281 after being put to follow-on will rank one of the finest ever seen in Test cricket.

#  Laxman had to do the recue act most of the times with lower-order batsmen and more often with tail-enders. He gave them the confidence and it is in his company some astonishing draw or victories that have been achieved.

Ishant Sharma,  Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble all brought famous wins with Laxman at the other end battling the opposition and also battling his perennial back ache.

# Laxman ‘s batting was sheer poetry in motion. You could see Keats and Shelley guiding with him when he was on a song. Even when India was losing a match in Australaia, his 167  littered with boundaries, made the Aussies feel they had lost the match.

# Laxman right from his Ranji Trophy days had the habit of chalking up triple centuries in quick time. He never occupied crease for the sake of it, never doddered around eighties looking for the hundred, never clobbered a cricket ball. Yet runs came in quick time, sheer timing and placements doing the job.

# Laxman after Dravid was the best slip fielder in the side. Most of our fast bowlers had a reason to be thankful as they knew they had safe pair of hands in second slips waiting for the snicks.

Nobody will ever know why such a one-man rescue team, who represented India for 17 years was ignored when it came to the World Cup. Their reasoning was he was far too slow. Those who are singing hosannas of him today themselves saw to him he was dropped from side in favour of  Dinesh Mongia.

He had a poor tour in England and Australia but so did almost the entire team save Dravid in England. The so-called one-day experts hardly measure up to exacting standards of Test cricket and it would have been wiser to have Laxman  around to guide the youngsters at least in the home series.

What made Laxman who was selected to play against New Zealand and who should have played against Australia and England at home suddenly announce his retirement? Did Krishnamachari Srikkanth tell him he was required for only series against New Zealand?

Did any of the cricketer turned commentators question his usefulness to the team anymore?

Why did Laxman decide not to play even in front of his home crowd in Hyderabad and quit in a huff?

We will never know.

Now it looks like it was a farewell match he played in Mysore when he scored 169 just 10 days back while playing in Shafi Darashah Tournament  for Hyderabad against Karnataka.

Good bye, VVS. You brought that rare grace and charm that could have only come from the land of Jaisimha and Azhar. The days of wristy flicks are over in Indian cricket.

Also read: India’s greatest match winning batsman is…

Not bones, he has ball bearings in his wrists

POLL: What does Northeast ‘exodus’ suggest?

19 August 2012

Watching the sudden, mass exodus of Northeast Indians from some of the most hospitable cities in the South is a bit like viewing the many formations of a kaleidoscope. Whoever holds it sees a different pattern and there is, seemingly, little that connects any of them; almost nothing that makes sense.

Are northeasterners in the mainland so insecure as to leave for home at the first rumour of possible violence? Is taking a long, much-advertised train ride through several States the best way of staying safe? Is “home” at this juncture safer than Bangalore, Poona or Hyderabad, no offence intended? Or, because of their distinctive physical features, do we fail to understand the vulnerability of northeasterners?

If the exodus is a testimony to the power of social media (which amplified the rumours), how come it didn’t have the power to dissuade them to stay? Does anybody seriously believe the government’s convenient explanation that the photos, videos and SMSes all emanated from Paksitan, like our fundamentalists are angels? And a country which has still not convinced Pakistan that it was behind 26/11 is going to prove that their websites did all this damage?

But, above all, the key question that the exodus raises is of “assimilation”, patronising as it may sound.

For long years, the “Seven Sisters” of the northeast have been treated by mainland India like step-sisters; starved, ignored, humiliated. It is only in the post-1991 era that their young men and women, with their proficiency of the English language, have ventured out to find jobs in BPOs, stores, malls, restaurants, etc.

Is the northeast’s Indian dream over? Or has it only just paused?

Western Ghats, UNESCO & Karnataka’s politicians

19 August 2012

D.E. Nizamuddin“, the gossip columnist who once adorned the pages of M.J. Akbar‘s now-defunct Sunday magazine, has resumed his column at Niti Central, the centre-right website.

His first piece has this telling item:

“This is a first even for our permissive politicians. In Karnataka politicians of all hues seemed to have joined hands to  spurn the UNESCO proposal to declare the Western Ghats a world heritage site. This is an honour most nations seek, nay, work behind the scenes to get because it bestows international recognition on ancient monuments, old cities, pristine ecosystems, etc. But in Karnataka there seems to be a conspiracy to reject the UNESCO offer because it would then prevent politicians from milking the Western Ghats through unbridled exploitation by friendly real estate developers, miners, etc. Can one rely on BJP president Nitin Gadkari to put drive sense into the heads of whoever in his party is in control of the Government at this moment?

Read the column: Olympians, politicians and babus

Lessons from Hungary 8 months into a centenary

19 August 2012

U.B. VASUDEV writes from Tampa, Florida: We went on a tri-country tour of Denmark, Germany and Hungary recently and as usual took a few photographs. Here are two photos of two illuminated monuments from Hungary, juxtaposed against one from our own: the main palace in Mysore.

Each of the three buildings have their own distinct architecture and a beauty of their own.

Our Amba Vilas Palace (top) is exactly 100 years old this year and I hardly see any mention of the centenary celebrations—and eight months of the centenary are already over! Politicians are busy filling their pockets and perhaps don’t have time to take any interest in celebrating a milestone in the history of Karnataka and India.

The Hungarian Parliament (middle) was completed in 1904, eight years before our Mysore Palace.

The Buda Castle, first completed in 1265, has been the palace of the Hungarian Kings and sits on the Castle Hill.

When it comes to maintenance, the two magnificent structures in Budapest have been maintained extremely well, with all their original tapestry and furniture. Our palace, though in no way inferior to any monument anywhere in the world, cannot boast of any attempt at a high degree of preservation.

I really felt so depressed when I saw the way the monuments and history have been preserved in Copenhagen, Berlin and Budapest. I felt the same when we went to Portugal, Spain and Morocco last year. We have such beautiful memorials built by all those who ruled India over the past few hundred years.

I wonder how they are going to be in the next few decades.

Also read: 400th year of Dasara and we can’t even remember?

On platform 4, the North-Eastern dream pauses

17 August 2012

Hundreds of Indians from the North East wait to catch a train back home at the railway station in Bangalore, on Thursday. On Friday, the Centre banned bulk SMSes and MMSes for 15 days after the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said rumours had contributed to the exodus.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

When the knicker lobby smells a nice opportunity

16 August 2012

It’s a strange political climate in Karnataka today.

While hundreds of young northeasterners “flee” the State, apparently in response to rumours of a possible retaliatory attack on them following the communal violence in Assam, the BJP government, which should be guaranteeing their safety, happily looks on; the home minister even providing an official number of those who left yesterday: 6,800.

On the other hand, dozens of knicker-clad, stick-wielding volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has convinced itself that the whole problem in the northeast is because of  “illegal migrants”, turn up happily at the Bangalore railway station to express “support” for the northeasterners.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

‘Both UPA and NDA will be routed in 2014 poll’

16 August 2012

The predicament of the Congress-led UPA, with scams and scandals raining all over it, has led many to conclude that it should be a cakewalk for the BJP-led NDA in the next general election. But a survey by a Delhi-based market reserch agency, published by Mint, the business daily of the Hindustan Times group, predicts a bad time for both alliances.

“Marketing and Development Research Associates (MDRA), which studied its own by-monthly sample surveys and other recent surveys across the country, said as of July 2012, UPA would decline to 130-140 seats if there was an election now to the Lok Sabha, losing 120-130 seats from its present tally of 266 that excludes outside supporters.

“Similarly, the NDA would see an erosion in its strength by about 25-35 seats, reducing the number to anywhere between 115 seats and 125 seats.”

Agree? Disagree?

Infographic: courtesy Mint

Andheri raat mein, Diya tera haat mein phone

15 August 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Freebies are the lubricants that grease the wheels of democracy in India—and the cranky old engine needs to be serviced at least once in five years. Wine and money have traditionally played a great role in ensuring that the cogs, also known as contestants, run smoothly for the next few years.

Of late, though, the traditional attractions have partly given way to other more persuasive and trendy modes in terms of sops. If DMK gave colour television sets, AIDMK promised free laptops in the last election. More recently, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister promised digital tablets.

Not to be left behind, the ruling UPA government reportedly hit upon a scheme to put a mobile phone in the pocket of every BPL ( Below Poverty Line) family before the next general elections. If things had gone as planned, this was to be announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his Independence Day address at Red Fort this morning.

However, the ‘Har haath mein phone’  project seems to have been abruptly put on the backburner, though it should surprise nobody if it is launched with full fanfare before you can say 2014.

Costing an estimated Rs7,000 crore, the project would have “empowered” every BPLite all over the country.  Unfortunately, there was some spoilsport who put a spanner in to the works.

Disputes broke out over the actual number of BPL families. While the government thought there were 6 crores of them, state governments put the figure at closer to 11 crores and our ever-correct planning commission put the families at a safe 8 crores. Problems due to distribution, power shortage, recharging, battery replacement etc were also envisaged.

Imagine ‘har haat mein phone’ scene would have created in the country. It would have brought back memories of Dada Kondke’s 1985 movie ‘Andheri raat mein, Diya tere haat mein’ movie of double entendres.

It would have met the double agenda of Congress to win the elections and decimating the opposition.

Apart from being a stepping stone for winning the election ‘hands down’, what other uses would this massive project have served?

# In India more food is wasted than consumed the day after any marriage. The number of dishes, the menu drawn up etc is measured on a social scale than actual consumption. When marriages are conducted over a week with mehendi, sangeeth, Bollywood song and dance acts, what are a few crores for unconsumed food thrown away after each meal?

Har haath mein phone’ would have precisely helped reduce wastage on a national scale.  Most of the BPL phoneites would already be present outside marriage halls even as saath pheres are being taken. The food otherwise that would have gone wasted will now at least fill BPL family stomachs thanks to their networking with phone in har haath.

#  Recently Indian Railways who are supposed to carry passengers safely were given an additional job; that of disposing tons of food grains which were not fit for even animal consumption.

The railways had dumped their merchandise safely near Jagatpur, Odisha. The poor with nothing to eat dug into the riverbed and carried whatever they could in their bags. People rushed into feast on food certified unworthy of even animal consumption.

Well, with ‘har haath mein phone’, the BPLites would not have allowed it to happen. They would have networked and tracked the movements of the train, kept each other informed at every station and swooped on the food before it was buried in the sand. At least digging to retrieve grains from riverbeds would have been avoided.

# And in Sharad Pawar’s Maharashtra had they introduced the project, farmers, instead of committing suicide would have watched Dada Kondke’s old hit in the powerless nights across Maharashtra on their mobile phones.

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Venky coach UP?

9 August 2012

Indian cricket is now an arena for astonishing conflict of interest. In the name of “making enough” in their prime years, players and administrators (and others outside the boundary) are involved so many kinds of wheels within wheels, deals within wheels that it no longer boggles the mind.

The chairman of the selection committee K. Srikkanth, for instance,was the man in charge of the IPL team Chennai Super Kings, which incidentally is owned by the BCCI president N. Srinivasan. KSCA chief Anil Kumble is also the “mentor” of Royal Challengers Bangalore, etcetera.

Now, B.K. Venkatesh Prasad, the former medium pacer, who is an assistant coach with RCB, is testing the conflict law to its limit. He has taken up coaching the Uttar Pradesh cricket team, which is run by the BCCI vice-president Rajiv Shukla, who is also a minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet.

Problem is Venkatesh Prasad is a prominent functionary on the Karnataka state cricket association (KSCA).

Which means, a player who has won an election to manage Karnataka cricket is going to be coaching a rival side, which may face his home-state. Prasad can argue that this gives him a chance to hone his coaching skills, etc, but are our cricketers having their bread buttered on all sides, including the edges? Or is the great game above such parochialism?

How Sonia has taken Congress beyond sloganism

6 August 2012

Prabhu Chawla, editorial director of the New Indian Express, in the Sunday Standard:

“It’s a perfect picture of perfect politics—a Sikh Prime Minister accompanied by a Christian defence minister and a Dalit home minister.

“When the monsoon session of Parliament starts this week, an erudite Sikh economist and a former Dalit police inspector—the new home minister—would occupy the first two seats in the first row of the Treasury benches. It will also have Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

“The two Houses of Parliament are presided over by a Dalit—Meira Kumar (Lok Sabha)—and an articulate Muslim—Hamid Ansari (Rajya Sabha). Never since Independence have the top legislative and executive posts been held by a combination of minorities and socially backward leaders.

“It was not mere political accident that led to the creation of a hierarchy, which was heavily loaded against the upper classes who always claimed to be born rulers. From Jawaharlal Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi, the Gandhi parivar was the darling of the minorities and the Dalits. It lost most of this support after the 1984 Sikh massacre and the Babri Masjid demolition.

“Ever since Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress in 1998, the party has been undergoing an invisible social transformation. Both Indira and Rajiv believed in sloganism. However, for the past 14 years, Sonia has been silently working according to plan to change the social character of the government and the party.

“She may have allowed the urban elite to dominate the Council of Ministers, but her long-term agenda to create and promote new leaders from the minorities and Dalits is finally acquiring shape.”

Read the full article: Sonia’s new umbrella

Will ‘Team Anna’ succeed as a political party?

3 August 2012

Revealing confusion and impatience in equal measure, Anna Hazare and his band of self-styled do-gooders have dropped large, king-sized hints of turning their nascent social movement into a political one, as early as the end of the day, today, after the end of their farcical “fast-unto-death”. After the media blitzkrieg last time, the attention was beginning to wane and the group realised that it was approaching the outer limits of santimony, especially after the Congress-led UPA government refused to play ball this time round.

The lawyer Prashant Bhushan has announced a “referendum” among “Team Anna” fans on whether the group should make the dive into politics, and all it requires for such a momentous decision to be made is a simple “Yes” or “No” on the India Against Corruption website. And this, just hours after their fasting compatriot Arvind Kejriwal had announced from a horizontal position to TV reporters that there was no, repeat no question of the movement turning political.

In getting off their high horses and dipping their feet in the political waters, Team Anna has shown an admirable ability to get their hands dirty in the hurly-burly of politics. But, at the same time, it shows a touching naivette about politics and realpolitik in a landscape littered with social activists who have met their comeuppance at the hustings.

Corruption is certainly a big issue facing the nation, but is it the only one in a vast pluralistic nation facing even bigger issues of poverty, malnutrition and worse? Can a party resonate across the nation only on the issue of corruption? Is Team Anna the only repository of integrity, especially when they are dealing with the likes of Vilas Rao Deshmukh and Baba Ramdev, and when its team members themselves face charges and insinuations?

Above all, will Team Anna—an urban, largely middle-class pheonmenon—be able to turn the SMSes into actual votes at the EVMs? Or in joining politics, will the USP of Team Anna disappear?

Once upon a time, how a sound proof bus looked

1 August 2012

At the all India institute of speech and hearing (AIISH) in Mysore, the mobile audio assessment lab (known to ordinary mortals as a sound proof bus) stands in a state of disrepair after being decommissioned.
Photographs: Greeshma Raghunath, Mala Sridhara