Posts Tagged ‘T.J.S. George’

They don’t make journos like VNSR any more

9 October 2012

churumuri records with regret the passing away of V.N. Subba Rao, the former chief reporter and chief of bureau of the undivided Indian Express—and a guru and mentor to hundreds of young journalists—in Bangalore, on Tuesday morning. He was 81 years old and had been ailing for a few months.

VNSR, as he was known to his myriad friends and colleagues, was brilliantly bilingual, churning out thousands of words each week in English and Kannada at frightening speed, from the intricacies of Karnataka politics, most of whose practitioners he knew on first-name terms, to the shenanigans of the Kannada film industry.

He wrote his weekly political commentary column “In Passing” on a typewriter with barely a mistake in the copy, the rhythmic sound of the carriage making music across the corridor of No. 1, Queen’s Road where the Express was nestled in its glory days. That column shifted to Deccan Herald, where he worked briefly.

Upon his retirement, VNSR launched a tabloid political weekly and a film weekly, both of which folded in quick time. Unlike modern-day political commentators, Subba Rao proudly wrote Kannada movie reviews with the zeal of an intern and attended every press conference without fail.

The New Delhi-based political commentator, A. Surya Prakash, who got his first job with the Express in Bangalore under VNSR in 1971, said: “The net value of all the journalists who learnt their craft under Subba Rao must run into a few hundred crore rupees.”

K.S. Sachidananda Murthy, the resident editor of The Week in New Delhi, who too worked under VNSR, sent this message to friends: “Let us remember his great leadership, quest for exclusive news, soaring prose, unquenchable curiosity and grooming of many of today’s stars of journalism. A life fit for celebration.”

For one who dealt with the high and mighty of Karnataka politics, VNSR had the unique ability to be surprised even by a small fire. His trademark reaction to every story and tip-off, big or small, was a simple “Howdaa?” (Is it so?) followed by a noisy hands-free swipe of the nose which seemed to suffer from a perpetual cold.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: T.N. Shanbag: Man who educated Bombay journos

Rajan Bala: cricket writer of cricket writers

Russy Karanjia: The bulldog of an editor

J. Dey: When eagles are silent, parrots jabber

E. Raghavan: Ex-ET, TOI, Vijaya Karnataka editor

Pratima Puri: India’s first TV news reader passes away

Tejeshwar Singh: A baritone falls silent watching the cacophony

K.M. Mathew: chief of editor of Malayala Manorama

Amita Malik: the ‘first lady of Indian media’

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K.R. Prahlad: In the end, death becomes a one-liner

M.R. Shivanna: A 24×7 journalist is no more

C.P. Chinnappa: A song for an unsung hero

How BJP allowed Yediyurappa to become Sonia

9 July 2012

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Crippled by corruption, Karnataka is now brutalised by blackmail.

Corruption was the collective contribution of all parties. What the Congress carried on quietly, the JD(S) took up with gusto and BJP turned into a celebration. Blackmail is the exclusive contribution of the BJP.

Congressmen can’t think of it because they shudder before their High Command. In the BJP, the High Command shudders before B.S. Yediyurappa. Yediyurappa’s victory is BJP’s tragedy—and Karnataka’s misfortune.

Look at the misfortune first. Historically one of India’s best-governed states, Karnataka witnessed audacious misuse of power from the day BJP’s first chief minister took office. He and some of his colleagues focused on illegal land transactions as a major activity of government.

The principal financiers of the party, the Bellary lobby, took to plain plundering of the state’s good earth in violation of many laws. Wounded by its keepers, Karnataka bled.

When half a dozen ministers, including the chief minister, were jailed, prudence demanded a moment’s pause.

The BJP as a party and the state government as a constitutional entity should have re-looked at where they were going. They didn’t. Instead, they mounted a show of defiance, politicians looking for loopholes in the law and the Bellary Brotherhood making a suspected bid to bribe a judge. The judge landed in jail in a demonstration of the ugliness of today’s politics.

The neglect of governance could not have happened at a more inopportune moment. The state was in the grip of a serious drought, but water resources minister Basavaraj Bommai had no time to bother about it. Farmers were facing starvation, but agriculture minister Umesh Katti was busy with resignation games.

A grand show was held a couple of months ago to attract big-ticket investments to the state. Industrialists were upset that not a file moved since the show because industries minister Murugesh Nirani was in the plot to topple the chief minister.

All this to satisfy one man’s ambition.

So all-consuming was Yediyurappa’s passion for power that even after coming out of jail, he acted as though nothing untoward had happened.  He spent his not-negligible resources to keep a few dozen MLAs on his side.

This support base was a weapon with which he threatened the party bosses in Delhi, knowing well that the bosses would go to any length to see that the BJP did not lose Karnataka. Although his threats were effective, Yediyurappa knew that he was too tainted to become chief minister in one go.

He had a solution to that problem too. He found in foe-turned-friend Jagadish Shettar the fittest person to become the Manmohan Singh of Karnataka, and let him, Yediyurappa, be the Sonia Gandhi of Karnataka.

The puzzle is that the BJP’s leaders in Delhi do not see that approving Yediyurappa’s scheme is equal to approving corruption. They are said to condone Yediyurappa’s record, including the jailing, so as to ensure the allegiance of the Lingayat community.

First of all, will the BJP really gain by doing what no party has openly done before, namely, split Karnataka into Lingayats (17 per cent), Vokkaligas (15 per cent) and others (68 per cent)?

Second, how do they know that the silent majority of Lingayats will accept the position that they have no leader other than the second most tainted politician in Karnataka’s history (after Janardhana Reddy)? This is a community that gave India one of its noblest philosophical creeds. It has a proud public record and several eminent leaders.

On the other hand, a principled stand against the threat politics of Yediyurappa could have given the BJP a swing in its favour. Yediyurappa’s flaunted support base is sustained by the feeling among BJP legislators that his bullying will put him back in power. Call that bluff and the support will melt away.

The Congress and the JD (S) are in a mess, which gives the BJP a reasonable chance to beat them at the next election. But the rivals have a propaganda plank that is powerful: that the BJP promotes corruption officially. The BJP could have demolish that plank. All it needed was some guts.

Cartoon: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

T.S. Satyan: The man, the memories, the awards

19 December 2011

The governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bhardwaj, with Mrs T.S. Satyan at the T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism, instituted by Karnataka Photo News and churumuri.com, at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Sunday

From left, veteran journalist T.J.S. George, governor Bharadwaj, Praja Vani editor K.N. Shanth Kumar, and KPN editor Saggere Ramaswamy go through a special booklet produced for the occasion

And the winners. From left, Nethra Raju, T.J.S. George, governor Bhardwaj, Yagna, 'Regret' Iyer, Bhanu Prakash Chandra, M.S. Gopal, K.N. Shanth Kumar, Saggere Ramaswamy

Images from the T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism, instituted by Karnataka Photo News in association with churumuri.com, which were given away at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on Sunday, 18 December, the birthday of the legendary photojournalist.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: The T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards for Photojournalism

And the winners of the T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards are…

T.S. Satyan memorial awards for photojournalism

14 December 2011

churumuri.com is pleased to associate with India’s first web-based photo syndication agency, Karnataka Photo News (KPN), for the inaugural T.S. Satyan Memorial Awards in Photojournalism, in honour of the legendary photojournalist—a well-wisher of both churumuri and KPN—who passed away two Decembers ago.

The awards in six categories (lifetime achievement, and best newspaper, magazine, online, freelance  and young photojournalist) will be given away by the governor of Karnataka, H.R. Bharadwaj, on 18 December, Mr Satyan’s birthday, at the banquet hall in Raj Bhavan.

The veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George, and K.N. Shanth Kumar, the editor of Praja Vani, will be the guests of honour. Shanth Kumar, who holds the unique distinction of having covered six Olympic Games as a photographer, will deliver the keynote address.

Nominations for the awards came from the Karnataka media academy, press club of Bangalore, Karnataka union for working journalists and the photojournalists association of Bangalore.

* Entry for the function is by invitation only. A few invitation cards are available on a first-come-first-served basis from the offices of KPN on Infantry Road in Bangalore. Contact Saggere Radhakrishna on 98450-16693 and 98452-47286.

‘Linguistic states doing more harm than good’

12 December 2011

The Marathi-speaking councillors of Belgaum City corporation recently conspired to pass a resolution not to honour the Jnanpith Award winning Kannada author, Chandrasekhar Kambar. Kerala and Tamil Nadu have gone to virtual war over the Mulla(i)periyar dam.

The veteran editor, author and columnist T.J.S. George writes:

“It is becoming clearer by the day that the linguistic reorganisation of states has done more harm than good to our country. Instead of welding the nation into a functioning federalism like Canada or Switzerland, it is reminding us of the Austrian and Ottoman empires that came to grief because they could not turn their multicultural diversity into a viable unity….

Ambedkar was among those who warned of the dangers ahead. Nehru had his reservations too. Distinguished foreign pundits cautioned that linguistic division could encourage secessionist forces (See Selig Harrison, India, The Most Dangerous Decades, 1960). The chief argument was that India was different, from Canada and the Ottomans and every other case in history because in India “linguism was only another name for (caste) communalism,” as Ambedkar put it.

“Proving his point, new States became battlegrounds for Marathi Brahmins and Maratha peasant-proprietors, for Kammas and Reddis, for Lingayats and Vokkaligas. D.R. Mankekar, a prominent editor of the 1950s, said: “We find once again, on lifting the linguistic cloak, casteism and love of office grinning at us”.

Read the full column: Choices for linguistically warring India

Also read: Does Kambar deserve Jnanpith ahead of Bhyrappa?

Kambar and Karnad, Bhyrappa and Puttappa & Co

Everybody loves his own Jnanpith winner

CHURUMURI POLL: Too much democracy in India?

4 December 2011

The ultimate irony of the former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s statement in New Delhi last Friday—that India would have clocked much higher rates of growth than China had it been “slightly less democratic“—is that only in a democracy like ours could he have said so. Had he advocated “slightly less dictatorial” policies in a benign dictatorship (say, of the sort he headed or the one that exists in China) he would have been behind bars by now. Q.E.D.

Mahathir is not the first, nor alone, in seeing democracy as an impediment, not as an enabler, in the path to untrammelled growth that industrialists, businessmen, economists (and not a few politicians) are enamoured of. The former Singapore strongman Lee Kuan Yew, the presiding political deity in the “Sikkapatte Important Company of Karnataka” , has often said that “western concepts” of democracy and human rights won’t work in Asia.

“With few exceptions, democracy has not brought good government to new developing countries…What Asians value may not necessarily be what Americans or Europeans value. Westerners value the freedoms and liberties of the individual. As an Asian of Chinese cultural backround, my values are for a government which is honest, effective and efficient,” Lee is quoted as saying in a 1992 speech.

All of which is just a roundabout way of saying that “We, the People” do not know best, and that they, the leaders, are somehow the repository of all wisdom. Which is all very well if you are running countries the size of Malaysia and Singapore, but India? Indeed, positing government by the people against China’s growth in the absence of it, and pining for a “benevolent dictator” is the favourite sport of those tired of corruption, delays, bureaucracy, etc.

It can also be safely concluded that it is this very lot which thinks a) that things would have been far better if the British were still around, b) that Indira Gandhi‘s Emergency, all things considered, was a good thing for India at the time, and c) that Narendra Damodardas Modi is the next best thing.

And so it goes, that had “reformer” Manmohan Singh not been weighed down by the tugs and pulls of coalition politics, the FDI in retail decision would have sailed through. That the Lavasa lake district project in Maharashtra, the Vedanta mining project in Orissa and the Koodankulam nuclear power plant project in Tamil Nadu would not have been held up at the altar of public opinion. And so on and so forth.

The problem with this view is that it democracy is seen only as a means to an economic end; everything is a slave to numbers.

At the other end of the spectrum are the likes of Arundhati Roy, who believe that contrary to the Mahathir Mohamads and Lee Kuan Yews, India in fact is no democracy at all; that having elections every five years do not make a democracy. Which claim again, like Mahathir’s, is loaded with irony because she would have never been able to say so were India not a democracy.

Three and a half years ago, the veteran editor and author T.J.S. George wrote on churumuri:

“There is nothing that China has achieved which others cannot. The difference is that China has the national will to achieve it, and the leadership to turn that will into action. We may say that the authoritarian system facilitates quick execution of plans unlike in a democracy.

“Is that an argument we want to push when authoritarianism is so palpably constructive as it is proving in China, and democracy so chaotic as it has become in India?”

Questions: do we have too much democracy? Or too little? Is democracy becoming a hurdle to India’s growth and development? Is listening to all the “stakeholders” such a bad thing?

External reading: How to run a very b-i-g country by world’s greatest expert on everything

Do we have a right to know Sonia’s condition?

28 September 2011

The veteran editor, writer and columnist T.J.S. GEORGE weighs in on the secrecy surrounding the health of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi:

“Speculation and all kinds of gossip flourish around Sonia Gandhi thanks to her own addiction to secrecy. The contrived drama about her surgery in America could not have happened in any other democracy.

“She controls the destiny of every Indian but no Indian has the right to know whether she is in a condition to do so. Citizens are only entitled to dry titbits dished out by Congress spokesmen trained not to speak a word beyond what they are told.

“They have not even told us what her ailment is. How then do we believe what they say?

“How do we know that she is really back in India? How do we know that she is cured when curing is rare in cancer cases? Photographs are strictly no-no, so how can we not believe that she has lost hair through chemotherapy?

“By hiding facts, they feed rumours. This is not privacy. This is secrecy. Evidently Congressmen think that there are things about their ruling dynasty that must remain shrouded in secrecy. That is why they panic at the merest sign of a crack in the wall of secrecy. Unfortunately history shows us that walls crumble some day, somehow.”

Read the full article: Real drama is in secrecy games

Also read: What Sonia Gandhi‘s illness reveals about media

Why foreign media broke news of Sonia illness

 

A picture for the personal album of Sharad Pawar

17 May 2011

“The endosulfan controversy is typical of India, of Indian politics, of Indian corruption, of Indian morality. There were 173 countries in the Stockholm Convention that debated whether or not there should be a global ban on this notorious pesticide. Of these 125 had banned it outright. All 47 of the remaining 48 sat on the fence and generally kept quiet. Only one argued vehemently on behalf of endosulfan. That one-in-the-world nation was India….

“Eighty expert teams have reported on the victims of endosulfan in Kasargod in north Kerala (bordering Mangalore) where children have been born with horrible defects. Yet the Government keeps saying that expert studies were needed before a ban could be considered. Sharad Pawar was the sole fighter for endosulfan initially. Later the Prime Minister and the green warrior Jairam Ramesh joined him…. Scepticism is in order when decisions about poisons in our water bodies and soil and food chains are in the hands of people like Sharad Pawar.”

Thus wrote the veteran editor-author-columnist, T.J.S. George.

For the benefit of the likes of Sharad Pawar, who seems to run the agriculture ministry only if there is some spare time while running his various businesses and international cricket—and for the benefit of Manmohan Singh, whose government seems beholden to multinational corporations selling BT seeds and GM foods—the victims of endosulfan show what the pesticide has done to their children, at a protest organised by the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, in Mangalore on Tuesday.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: T.J.S. George on the endosulfan controversy

‘Ravi Varma’s models for a portrait of arrogance’

12 April 2011

T.J.S. GEORGE in The Sunday Express:

“Television has spawned many evils. One of them is the animal called ‘party spokesperson’, a species that is found only in India. By occupational necessity, they are motor-mouths; just turn the battery on and they go blabbering nonstop. They are also robotic; they see and hear and speak nothing except what their creators have programmed them to see and hear and speak.

“Spokespersons come in different shapes, colours and sizes. The only feature that is common to all is pompousness – the air that they know all that is there to know and those who disagree with them are blockheads.

“Look at the staring eyes of Abhishek Singhvi, the self-assured expression, the tilt of the head, and look at the laboured seriousness of Manish Tiwari, his tone, his style and you’ll know at one that if Ravi Varma were to do a portrait of “Arrogance”, these would be his models.”

Read the full article: People’s notice to crooks

The whore who couldn’t dance blames the floor

19 February 2011

T.J.S. GEORGE writes: Does the media distort facts? The Prime Minister thinks so. By “focussing excessively” on scam after scam, does the media spoil India’s image? The Prime Minister thinks so.

For the leader of a government that is neck-deep in scams, it is natural to think as the Prime Minister does. But that does not make it right.

In fact the Prime Minister is hopelessly wrong.

Manmohan Singh was in conversation with television editors. A great deal can be said in criticism of news channels. Generally speaking, they are amateurish, childish in their “me first” claims, irritating in their competitive sensationalism, more irritating in their loudness, superficial, repetitive and often plain unprofessional. But, like newspapers, they are essentially mirrors.

News journalism may have its weaknesses, but functionally it merely reflects the reality around it. It does not generate governmental corruption, it only reports it. If scams demoralise the nation and spoil the image of the country, the blame lies squarely with politicians and officials and fixers who produce the scams and benefit from them.

The Prime Minister must attack the scamsters, not the mirrors.

Actually, the media is doing an incomparably valuable national service by bringing corruption to public attention. After all, if the media had resolved not to do anything that would “spoil India’s image,” what would have happened?

The shame of India would have spread anyway as the world would have known that India was a country where a roll of toilet paper could be sold for Rs 4000, and where decisions on spectrum allocations were made in Chennai’s Gopalpuram area, and where there were billionaires with more illegal funds in Swiss banks than billionaires in the top five countries put together. It is the people of India who would have remained in the dark about the extent of their rulers’ criminalities.

Worse, India would have sunk deeper and deeper into corruption since the corrupt would have been emboldened by the fact that they would never be exposed. The media, for all its excesses, has put the fear of god into the hearts of the criminally inclined politician, bureaucrat and “crony capitalist”. That even their private conversations may someday become public property is one of the best disincentives we have against corruption. The Prime Minister would have been smart to acknowledge this instead of suggesting that the media was negative in its attitude.

It is true that the media also has developed a taste for corruption. It has a long way to go before it can be called mature and creative. But even in its present three-fourth-baked state, it performs the function of a conscientious opposition. Without the media playing this role, Indian democracy would lose much of its substance especially since the formal opposition in Parliament is playing a petty obstructionist’s role.

Both in Delhi and in the various states, the Opposition’s role is to oppose – oppose for the sake of opposing. If the Government says the sun rises in the West, the Opposition will say: No, it rises in the North. In no other democracy is Parliament’s functioning completely blocked as a form of Opposition politics. Even on urgently needed social and electoral reforms, they never show the unanimity they readily bring out when their salary increase bills come up for passing. When corruption cases come up, different parties take different positions as all are entrenched in corruption in different ways.

In such an environment the media becomes the only reliable forum for actionable information and democratic mobilisation. Even those who get the wrong end of the stick really have no reason to grumble. As Ram Mohan Roy explained: “A government conscious of rectitude of intention cannot be afraid of public scrutiny by the Press since this instrument can be equally well employed as a weapon of defence”.

Those who are beyond defence cannot of course use the weapon. But Manmohan Singh should have known that the real scoundrels who spoil India’s image are outside the media.

Padma Bhushan for namma T.J.S. George

25 January 2011

churumuri.com is delighted to announce that a friend, philosopher, guide and well-wisher—Thayil Jacob Sony George better known to the world as T.J.S. George—has been decorated with the nation’s third highest civilian honour, the Padma Bhushan.

Founder-editor of the now-defunct Asiaweek magazine and editorial advisor to The New Indian Express, Mr George is a genuine wordsmith, authoring several books including dictionaires, biographies and a critically acclaimed volume on M.S. Subbulakshmi.

To Mr George, we proudly say: “Well done, young man.”

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Photograph: T.J.S. George after he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award by the Press Club of Bangalore on 31 December 2010 (Karnataka Photo News)

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Also read: Padma Awards: Homai Vyarawala, T.J.S. George

The T.J.S. George blog

What if Indira Gandhi had been shown this pic?

31 July 2010

The cover of the 9 August 2010 issue of Time magazine. For a change, all four editions—US, Europe, Asia and South Pacific—have the same cover story.

Time‘s choice is doubtless provocative, one reason journalism exists.

Yet, such eagerness and such a desire to provoke isn’t visible on home turf, where squeamish self-censorship kicks into play each time news organisations ponder the possibility of printing the pictures of US marines killed while killing others , or the bodies of victims of 11 September 2001 attack on New York City.

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By T.J.S. GEORGE

The leakage of 92,000 secret military intelligence documents is sensational anywhere any time. When the documents pertain to the war against Taliban-Al-Qaeda, it is also disturbing because it shows (a) that America is in a trap and is unlikely to win this war, and (b) that India is in for trouble, big trouble.

Let’s not forget that the information now leaked is new only to us, the lay public.

To the top echelons of leadership in America, the facts were known all along. They also knew that the records had leaked. Two months ago, in May, the US Army criminal investigation command had arrested an intelligence analyst in the army and charges were filed against him early this month, well before the leaked documents hit world headlines.

The arrested man, Bradley Manning, is 22 years old. If he is indeed the man who leaked the secrets, he must have done so as a matter of conscience, appalled by the atrocities American troops were committing. This is a “problem” with American democracy. One man with conscience will always be around to do the unexpected.

Remember those pictures of Iraqi citizens being humiliated and tortured by fun-loving American soldiers? Earlier Vietnam war secrets were published by Daniel Ellsberg, another military analyst then working for the Rand Corporation.

The latest documents had much to reveal about Pakistan’s complicity in terror network in the region. This led to some patriotic drum-beating in India—as if Pakistan had been caught with its pants down and now America would be forced to act.

Nothing of the kind will happen.

America has been seeing Pakistan with its pants down for quite a while. For example, it said more than once in recent weeks that Osama bin Laden was living in Pakistan. Blandly Pakistan denied it. And America let it rest at that. Pakistan is for America a pill that is too bitter to swallow and too sweet to spit out, a classic diplomatic trap.

Pakistan’s military leaders, especially the smart strategists of the ISI, know this very well, hence their audacious policy of helping al-Quaida and the Taliban. Some of the terror outfits the ISI trains and equips are fighting America. Knowing this, America goes on giving Pakistan one billion dollars in aid every year. That is how smart the ISI is.

By contrast, India gives America everything America wants—nuclear treaty clauses as stipulated by the American Congress, favouritism to companies like Union Carbide, virtual immunity clauses in the event of future industrial accidents, even a false declaration to ex-President George W. Bush that the people of India loved him.

What does India get in return? Repeated verbal declarations that Pakistan must do more to contain terrorism.

Why doesn’t America do more to contain Pakistan?

The fact is that today’s political dispensation in India has no clearcut strategy about countering Pakistan’s known terror tactics. It does not know how to call Pakistan’s bluff or how to tell America and its allies that enough is enough.

There are unofficial strategic experts in India who have been proposing covert action to counter Pakistan’s covert action. This makes sense in a volatile theatre where everyone is engaged in shadow-boxing. If India can mobilise the kind of strategic brilliance the ISI displays, it can hit Pakistan where it hurts. It may even get the tacit support of the CIA and M16.

What is required is an iron will on the part of policy makers.

Perhaps Indira Gandhi would have found that will.

If softness and diffidence continue in Delhi, eventually the Taliban will replace the Americans in Afghanistan, then the Taliban will have a say in the running of Pakistan, then Pakistan will become the operational headquarters of al-Quaida and all allied groupings.

When someone finally scores a hit in New York or London, the West will wake up—too late of course. What of Bombay and Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad? The ISI’s singleminded focus is India and that’s where the maximum danger lies.

Photo portfolio: The Big Picture

Why is BJP backing Reddys? A: Sushma Swaraj

20 July 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Cicero was a Roman orator and statesman of the 1st century BC whose writings deeply influenced modern thought. He was once retained by Sicilians to prosecute the Governor of Sicily, C. Verres, who had become unbearably corrupt and cruel.

Cicero prepared the first of what was to be a six-part chargesheet against the Governor, analysing the evils of greedy administrators. That first part was so powerful in its logic that Governor Verres gave up his post and retired into exile.

That was the good news.

The bad news was that the same Sicily gave birth to a secret nationalist society called the Mafia which in the 19th century turned into a collection of hired thugs specialising in blackmail, protection rackets and murder. Marlon Brando etched it into the world’s memory with The Godfather.

So why bring it up now?

To remind us that good history does not repeat itself. There was a time when people could prosecute the head of their government for corruption. That cannot happen now.

There were heads of government who would be shamed into voluntary exile when people filed charges against them. That is unthinkable today.

Bad history alone repeats itself. People who once had the power to prosecute their political boss later fell prey to the mafia. This is happening again and again around us.

Consider Karnataka, once one of the best governed states in India and led by some of best political minds in the country. Can that history repeat itself? Far from it.

Go into ancient history and we find rajahs losing their right to rule if they violated rajneeti; Sri Rama himself chose to heed public opinion even if it meant losing his wife. How different it is today? A. B. Vajpayee did accuse Narendra Modi of violating raj dharma, but it was Vajpayee who had to swallow his words while Modi went on with his violations.

Karnataka has hit national headlines for the wrong reasons. (Typical headline: Nataka in Karnataka). The Governor donned the battle dress, the Legislature became a war zone. All because of three ministers, the Reddy brothers.

A number of facts have turned public opinion against the Troika.

Fact: In 2008 a minority BJP Government was turned amorally into a majority with money provided by the Reddys.

Fact: In late 2009, under pressure of public opinion, the Chief Minister tried to curb the Reddys’ highhandedness; he transferred out of Bellary several officers who had been acting according to the orders of the Reddys and Reddys alone.

Fact: Within a month the Chief Minister cancelled the transfer of officers and withdrew criminal cases filed against the Reddys.

Fact: Under party pressure to placate the Reddy Troika the Chief Minister dropped one of his closest colleagues from the Cabinet, removed his capable and faithful Principal Secretary and withdrew a tax he had imposed on iron-ore trucks.

Fact: In the midst of the ongoing controversy, one of the Troika spends two hours in private conference with notorious criminals in a Bangalore Jail.

What gives the Reddys the power to run a state so haughtily? The obvious answer is their limitless “purchasing power” gained from the exploitation, without heed to laws and regulations, of the natural resources of Karnataka and Andhra. Less obvious is the unstinted support they receive from the BJP top brass in Delhi.

What motivates the BJP top brass when the Reddys are (a) not BJP-wallahs in any ideological sense and (b) an obvious liability to the party?

The short answer to that one is: Sushma Swaraj.

The Reddys publicly worship SS as their mother. Sushma Swaraj ignores their sins, ignores their unpopularity and gives them full support because perhaps she sees a day when brazen Reddy money can install a BJP government in Delhi as it did in Bangalore. No prices for guessing who will be the prime minister in such a government.

Thus does private ambition carry our country from misfortune to misfortune.

Jessica Lal verdict, proof that Indian media works

27 April 2010

The Supreme Court of India has upheld the life sentence awarded by the Delhi high court to Manu Sharma, the son of Congress leader and former Union minister Vinod Sharma, for killing Jessica Lal, who had declined to serve him a drink after the bar had closed in Delhi, in 1999.

Manu Sharma’s counsel, the noted criminal lawyer Ram Jethmalani, had argued that his client had been specifically targetted and maligned before and during the proceedings by the media, which proclaimed him guilty even after the acquittal by the trial court.

Rejecting this argument, the SC bench said:

“Certain articles and news items appearing in the newspapers immediately after the date of occurrence did cause certain confusion in the mind of the public as to the description and number of the actual assailants/suspects. It is unfortunate that trial by the media did, though to a very limited extent, affect the accused, but [was] not tantamount to a prejudice which should weigh with the court in taking any different view.”

The veteran editor T.J. S. George writes that in his “misplaced protestations against the media”, Jethmalani lost sight of the fact that, for once, “trial by media” achieved something good, beyond anything he could have achieved.

“The media in India today is not exactly a clean entity. It has become, generally speaking, dubious in its motivations, mischievous in its pretensions, and plainly guilty in many of its practices.

“Large sections of it are corrupt.

“Amoral ideas have been institutionalised by the biggest players with fancy labels like “private treaties” and “paid news.” The guilty in the media too should one day be brought to justice.

“It is a bit of a miracle that a media that has abdicated its responsibility is still able to do some public good. It is the nature of its work that makes this possible.

“Malpractices, misdeeds and criminalities dot the activities of our governments, our politicians, our businessmen, our film stars and even our sports bodies. A great deal of this is brought to public attention only because the media, by default or otherwise, dare publish information the guilty try to suppress. We only have to recall the numerous scandals of recent times to appreciate the value of this service done by the media.

“The Jessica Lal case shows how the media, warts and all, and public spirited citizens and alert judicial authorities can work in tandem to keep at least a few of our influential criminals out of harm’s way. Justice is higher than a lawyer’s interest in his client. “

Read the full article: ‘Media is amoral, but it works’

Infographic: courtesy The Telegraph, Calcutta

View: Karan Thapar‘s award winning interview with Jethmalani

Making capital out of Ambedkar, Maoism, cricket

20 April 2010

By T.J.S. GEORGE

We as a people have gifts no other people have.

Italy and New York, for example, are celebrated for their great mafia leaders. But those leaders could only think of routine stuff like kidnapping and smuggling and murder and protection money.

Only an Indian could think up the non-violent idea of making millions from the humble, rarely noticed stamp paper. Telgi never harmed a fly.

Indians have the rare genius to turn everything into an item of trade. Who else has turned God into such profitable commerce? We discovered early that this line of business required the least investment. And the returns are huge.

All it takes is the right kind of uniform—saffron robes or bishop’s cassocks or a neutral white that looks now like a saree, now like a winter shawl—and some kind of marketing mantra. Then you get enough believers around the world to keep you in eternal wealth, not to mention attractive fringe benefits provided by young devotees.

The God industry will remain by far the most widespread and lucrative of all business ventures in India. But ours is a vast and fertile land. There’s plenty of scope for all kinds of growth industries. So we have been busy developing the commercial potential of various other previously innocent ideas.

Like Ambedkar, Maoists, Cricket.

B.R. Ambedkar is one of the greatest, bravest men who shaped our country’s destiny. K.R. Narayanan becoming President and K.G. Balakrishnan becoming chief justice of India are 20th-21st century phenomena and therefore not altogether uncommon.

Ambedkar was born in the last decade of the 19th century into a family that was not only Untouchable but described openly as such. For such a boy to get a scholarship to Columbia University and then to London was an almost unbelievable feat.

Instead of hailing him as an Indian of supreme vision and value, we have reduced him to a convenient bargaining chip of Dalitism. Mayawati today claims exclusive proprietorial rights over him. Rahul Gandhi, on a mission to out-Dalit Mayawati, is not allowed to garland Ambedkar’s statue in Ambedkar Nagar area.

In this one-up-manship game, Mayawati and Rahul Gandhi may or may not score points. But Ambedkar will lose. Because Ambedkar is no more than an item of political trade in their hands.

The Maoists of Dandakaranya are not very different. Home Minister Chidambaram‘s hawkish policy has run into opposition from his own party colleagues who see the futility of a militaristic approach to what is fundamentally a social-economic problem.

Unfortunately for Chidambaram, his earlier association with Vedanta, one of the companies that will benefit hugely if the Maoists are suppressed, has brought his motivations into question. It won’t be easy for him to avoid the impression that the lives of tens of thousands of adivasis are being traded for the commercial advantage of mining companies.

Cricket, of course, beats all other trading programmes, almost challenging the God business in scope and turnover. So many lakhs of crores of rupees are involved in the cricket business that the IPL presents its numbers in dollars and millions. Confidentiality, another word for secrecy, has been its watchword.

Could such vast sums be clean? Could they include black money, terrorist money, underworld money?

It is amazing that such issues attracted the enforcement directorate’s attention only when Shashi Tharoor and the Kochi franchise got into the picture.

Tharoor is a natural magnet for trouble, as a playboy who wants to be everywhere doing everything. But he is a bumbling Batman before Lalit Modi‘s scheming Svengali. How many political VIPs are interlinked with Svengali? Will they ensure that any investigation is yet another eyewash?

Tragically cricket is no longer a sport. It too has become an item of trade, flourishing in a fish-market culture. May all the money-makers burn in hellfire in due course for destroying the decencies that made cricket cricket and the values that made India India.

* tweet courtesy Ramesh Srivats

Ramayana, Mahabharatha and the Women’s Bill

19 March 2010

Union law minister Veerappa Moily while receiving an award for his five-volume Shri Ramayan Mahanveshanam, yesterday:

“It is instances like Sita‘s fire ordeal which firmed our resolve for the women’s reservation bill.”

“In Sita’s ‘fire ordeal’, Ravan‘s wife, Mandodari, talks to Sita: “Are you not satisfied with the fiery ordeal of life we have tolerated and endured as women till now? Only a man of the epoch can put an end to women’s ordeal.”

Moily did not of course reveal who the “man of the epoch” was on 9 March 2009. Was it him, who moved the bill? Was it P. Chidambaram, who is rumoured to have said the dissenting MPs must be marshalled out?

Or, was it you-know-who?

Meanwhile, the veteran editor T.J.S. George too adds a touch of the mythological to decipher modern-day male chauvinism.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Draupadi had five husbands, each with unsurpassed capabilities. None of them came to her rescue when she was dragged into the royal court for disrobing.

The political Yadavs of our time seem to have taken a self-serving lesson from this episode and resolved that women are unworthy of protection, let alone promotion. Either that or they have forgotten the double curse—pronounced by Gandhari, and then by Viswamitra, Kanva and Narada—that the Yadava race would destroy itself.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Yadav have already reduced their parties to tottering relics. Their opposition to the women’s reservation bill and, worse, the hooliganism of their men in the Rajya Sabha betrayed a 19th century mindset.

The hooligans brought such shame to the country that they would be better off under the waters that swallowed up Dwaraka.

But what do we see beyond the fossils of Yadu Kula?

Two realities are clearly visible. The first is the politics of the bill. The Yadavas talking about Muslim women’s quota is a desperate move to regain some of the Muslim support they have lost. Mamata Banerjee”s visceral hatred of Bengal communists made her an odd woman against women.

The Congress also put its internal politics on display. Singularly lukewarm about the bill on Day 1, it suddenly became determined on Day 2. In the Congress nothing happens until partymen know what Soniaji wants and once the signal comes, nothing can stop them from carrying out her wishes.

A parliamentary system is unhealthy when it adheres to the letter of the Westminster model, without heeding the spirit of it.

The other reality that looms large is that the women’s bill, even if it crosses the obstacles in its path and finally becomes law, will have only symbolic value. It will not by itself give women the human rights they have been denied for ages. That will require social reform and no social reformers are anywhere in sight.

If and when 33 per cent seats in legislatures are reserved for women, around 30 per cent of that will likely go to wives, daughters, nieces and girlfriends of male politicians.

Lalu Prasad himself put his unlettered wife in the chief minister’s chair while Mulayam Singh could only find his daughter-in-law to contest a Lok Sabha seat. The Kanimozhis and Supriya Sules will multiply when reservations become law.

And what will happen when they sit as law-makers?

Will it mean an end to the killing of newborn girls in the villages of Tamil Nadu and Haryana?

Will it stop crimes against women which increased by 30-40 per cent in recent years as against 16 per cent increase in general crime?

Will it bring down dowry killings which doubled in the last decade?

Will it make a difference to one-third of married women in India being children below 18?

In one sense India has already led the way in women’s empowerment. Women occupy top positions in corporate houses, financial institutions and in the arts. They have reached these positions through merit, not the favour of reservations. This will continue, making India an exemplar of women’s advancement.

But it will be foolish to close our eyes to the social debris that has collected over the centuries.

The tendency to treat women as beasts of burden is all too prevalent. Inside a family, discrimination is carried to the extent of feeding sons properly while daughters are kept on starvation diet. This has led to half the married women in India being anaemic.

The largest number of illiterate women is also in India—200 million. It’s all very well for Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat to forget ideologies and perform a celebratory embrace. But what about India’s social reality? Yaduvamsha still has a grip on that reality.

Also read: Goodbye democracy, say hello to Quotocracy

CHURUMURI POLL: Sonia Gandhi, smarter than Indira?

‘Women’s bill will only increase State’s power’

CHURUMURI POLL: Impact of women’s bill?

Why namma Gopi (almost) cried in January 2008

24 August 2009

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For news photographers life is one endless “assignment”. The ticking timepiece, the pressure to capture ‘The Moment better than the others on the beat, the boxing for space between “video” and “still”, leave little room for reflection, even less for poetry.

In staff-strapped Indian media houses, the sublime and the ridiculous—ministerial visits, seminars, crime scenes, “human interest”, celebrity photocalls, accidents, book releases, quarterly results, cricket matches—all jostle for equal attention.

Amateurs and shamateurs have discovered their ways of dealing with the pressures. The coscientious and professional keep their head above the water by organising themselves, by keeping personal emotions out, and by not getting overly sentimental.

In February 1989, K. Gopinathan (in picture, left), then as now, a world-class news photographer with his heart in the right place, received word that a baby abandoned the day after her birth, had been given shelter seven months later by a children’s home in Bangalore aptly named Ashraya.

“My first glimpse of the infant was a shock: a sweet-looking baby minus arms and legs. Suddenly I was battered by all sorts of feelings. I cried in my heart: “God, why did you punish this beautiful child?” I then pushed aside my emotions prepared for the shoot. That was when she looked at the camera directly, raising her torso as if to assert herself: “This is me! This is what I am!”

Gopi’s picture, frontpaged in the undivided Indian Express under T.J.S. George, attracted the attention of an American single-parent, Catherine Cox, who came forward to adopt her, named her Minda Cox, and took her to the United States.

***

19 years later, in January last year, Gopi, now the chief photographer of The Hindu in Bangalore, heard that mother and daughter were in Bangalore for the silver jubilee reunion of its adopted children.

In an article on The Hindu website to mark World Photography Day, Gopinathan describes the surreality of the experience:

“I looked around, foolishly, for a baby without limbs, not realising she was a young woman now…. Amidst much clapping and cheering, I was introduced as the first person to have taken her picture.

“She beckoned to me, grabbed my hand and held it under her chin. By now I was choking with emotion and parallely I was conscious of the fact that I had not shed a single tear when my father died.”

Then began a quest to hunt for Minda Cox’s biological parents, which Gopi documented magnificently with Divya Gandhi here, here and here.

The search took them to Kolekebailu, 30 km from Manipal on the west coast of India, to the village of Kalavathi and Shankar Shetty.

“As we neared the village, we saw villagers lining both sides of the road…. The crowd was getting restive and I had a tough time convincing them they would get their turn to see Minda. One man repeatedly tried to sneak in and I asked him exasperatedly why he was in hurry.

“‘I am her father, Sir,’ came the reply.”

mindaRead the full article: No more a question mark

Photographs: courtesy K. Gopinathan/ The Hindu

Also read: Bunt bird who soared from Manipal to Missouri

The 2008 India Press Photo award-winning picture

How a world-class yoga photograph was shot

In a democracy, prince and pauper beg together

From Subramanya Folly to Subramanya Revenge

24 June 2009

The decision of the B.S. Yediyurappa government to transfer the commissioner of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, S. Subramanya, has set tongues wagging.

Was it because of his “inappropriate” advice to the parents of Abhishek, the boy who was washed away? Or, because he had filed a defamation case against the Lok Ayukta, N. Santosh Hegde?

Or, was there some other reason like you-know-what?

The move has divided the rulers and the ruled. Good riddance say some, bad politics say others.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Don’t believe reports that our justly revered Subramanya is no longer the face, voice and soul of BBMP (Bada Bengaloorina Mukhya Pracharak). In the land where Indira was India, Subramanya is and shall always be BBMP.

Subramanya’s footprints cannot be erased, his legacy cannot be ignored.

For Bangaloreans, Subramanya is indestructible, imperishable, immortal.

True, Subramanya’s empire was not quite of Mughal proportions. But it did cover vast territories from Govindapura (which is somewhere in the Himalayas) all the way to Kengeri (somewhere near the Indian Ocean). Vast multitudes of people live in these territories. Among them there is not one man, one woman or one child whose life has not been touched and shaped by the genius of Subramanya.

Such has been the power of the Magic Boxes and the Tragic Hoaxes he invented.

A combined Akbarnama cum Babarnama will be required to record the major horizons he conquered during his short reign. Since no editor will allow the space required for such a compendium, let us confine ourselves to just one of his gifts to BB, the VIP road from Golf Club Circle to Mekhri Circle.

That short stretch of signal-free highway is a signal contribution by the visionary in Subramanya.

There used to be a police station at the Golf Club circle. In the lockup of this police station, a visiting lawyer was once beaten to death and his body dumped near the railway tracks. No doubt keeping that in mind, Subramanya had the police station demolished (yet another instance of the IAS correcting the wayward IPS).

Putting the opportunity to good use, another skill where the IAS excels, Subramanya also demolished the great-grandmother trees that had spread out majestically and made this area one of the coolest, most verdant spots in cool and verdant Bangalore. A great deal of fresh space was freed for traffic.

Of course there was no signal at the circle. There was no signal at the Windsor Manor Circle either. Between these circles Subramanya gave us a magnificent stretch of road making us feel like we were driving on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Unfortunately, at both ends of namma New Jersey Turnpike, traffic piled up in signal-free chaos. This was because of traffics unpatriotic habit of coming from different directions. The flow from one side has to stop for the flow from the other side to proceed.

How unreasonable!

This became quite a mess at the Windsor Manor circle. During rush hours, especially with KSRTC buses appropriating all the lanes, it was one big chaos. That is why citizens renamed the Windsor Manor Circle as Subramanya’s Folly. To enjoy it fully, go there in the evenings.

If you got past Subramanya’s Folly and thought that everything would now flow smoothly, you would have time to think again. For by the time you negotiate the Palace Guttahally Magic Hoax Flyover, you will resume your crawling pace, bumper to bumper. This is because the traffic has backed up from the Cauvery Circle a kilometre away.

Ah, the Cauvery Circle.

This is already in the Guinness Book as the world’s most stunning U-turn. You’ve got to see it to believe it. A straight road is suddenly made to turn left and then take a U-turn to reach the straight line again. What imagination! What originality! You should see the way the buses negotiate the U-turn and how all traffic pay homage to the planning genius as they move forward in slow motion.

Wonderstruck citizens have renamed the Cauvery Circle also. It is now known as Subramanya’s Revenge.

Look closely in the evening hours. You can see Subramanya on top of a flexboard hoarding, watching the tortuous muddle below and chuckling to himself about the unforgiving effectiveness of the punishment he has meted out to these goddamn Bangaloreans including meddlesome politicians and Lokayuktas.

The sheer genius behind the U-turn inventions has led to two marvelous developments.

First, Harvard Business School has taken it up as a case study. Second, the inventor is getting an international patent on the U-turn.

It does not matter where Subramanya is posted. Even if he is Secretary to the Department of Cockroaches, the twin glories of Subramanya’s Folly and Subramanya’s Revenge will keep him as the face, the voice and the soul of BBMP for ever.

Amen.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

The fault is not in our stars, but our film stars

5 May 2009

Why two of the southern States have had their political canvas consistently dotted by characters from cinema, while the rest of the Union have not, is one of the eternal mysteries of Indian politics. But that doesn’t stop bankrupt parties from trying to shine in the reflected glory of the stars.

On the strength of their recent legislative performance, T.J.S. George says box-office stardust as a ballot-box  commodity is quickly turning into dust.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Film stars caused their two-paise worth of nuisance in this election. A couple of them may win but it is clear that their appeal as netas is declining steadily.

MGR and NTR meant something in politics.

Hema Malini and Jaya Bachchan meant nothing.

Star-MPs in the last Parliament in fact disgraced the parliamentary system itself. Govinda failure to attend even one session showed an attitude of contempt towards Parliament. Vinod Khanna, once trumpeted by the BJP, attended only 5.5 percent of the sittings. Dharmendra‘s score was 1.5 per cent.

If these guys are so high and mighty, why did they become MPs in the first place? The parties who sponsored them must be held accountable by the people who elected them.

In the South, things are somewhat better.

Actually, film stars turning to politics is a South Indian phenomenon, more specifically a Tamil phenomenon. The reasons are historical. Cinema became an integral part of the Dravida movement and therefore a serious player in politics. It was not a case of roping in pretty faces to get votes.

The anti-Brahmin movement had started earlier in Maharashtra under Jyotiba Phule. But it was Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker who gave it an ideological sweep and a cultural (Aryan-Dravidian) dimension. The revolution he wrought was turned by C.N. Annadurai into a solid political platform. Because Annadurai was the most brilliant film writer of his time, Tamil cinema became a political instrument.

Fascinating details of this union between politics and cinema are marshalled in History Through the Lens, a new book by the greatest living authority on Tamil cinema, S. Theodore Baskaran.

From the 1920s, he tells us, drama artistes were involved in the freedom struggle. In 1958 the legendary K.B. Sundrambal became India’s first film artiste to enter the legislature. After independence, film actors as a community, who had earlier been backing the cause of the Congress, moved on to support the Dravidian movement. The Congress never recovered from that.

Dravidian assertion over Brahmins did not develop in other South Indian states as intensively as it did in Tamil Nadu.

Something else happened in Andhra when that amateur Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, publicly humiliated the then chief minister of the state, T. Anjiah. It was an insult to Telugu pride, but neither Anjiah nor the Congress party was in a position to do anything about it. N.T Rama Rao rose to the occasion and rode to power on the plank of Telugu atmagauravam.

That was a spontaneous response to a moment of challenge. NTR did not have the intellectual resources to turn it into an ideological platform. Even in Tamil Nadu the inspirational pull of the Dravidian movement has lately been diluted by caste and sub-caste politics. Hence the ambivalence of wannabe netas like Rajnikanth and the uncertainties of fresh entrants like “Black MGR”, Vijaykanth.

In Andhra, Chiranjeevi has serious handicaps and dissensions in his personal circle, the absence of an ideological agenda. Whether he can do an NTR will depend on whether the people see him as a credible agent of change.

In Karnataka even a god-like figure like Raj Kumar kept out of politics. The most glamorous Kannada heroine of all time, Jayanti, was defeated by the most unglamorous opponent of all time, Ananth Kumar, in 2004.

Ambarish (in picture) is an exception that proves the rule that stars don’t shine in the politics of Karnataka. He is a strange exception the only minister in the Union Cabinet who never attended office.

That beats even Govinda.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

The gritty, determined Italian middleclass woman

3 May 2009

The shortness of the public memory (and of the media) offers a brief explanation for the longevity of our politicians.

The Bofors scandal seems like so yesterday. The Rs 64 crore kickbacks that brought down Rajiv Gandhi‘s government looks like small change. And last week’s Indian Express expose that an “embarrassed”  government has got the Red Corner Notice revoked on Ottavio Quattrocchi, is already old news.

Editor, columnist, author and wordsmith T.J.S. George writes that we can forget at our own peril. The organised manner in which successive Indian governments have ensured that the guilty get away offers valuable lessons on crime and punishment, especially the lack of it when very, very important persons are involved.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

Since the dawn of Independence, no one has received from the Indian State more privileged treatment than Ottavio Quattrocchi. He is a business dalal, a middleman, a fixer of deals collecting commissions along the way. Usually when a fixer is caught in a compromising position, his patrons and beneficiaries drop him.

Not if you are Quattrocchi.

When he was caught, not only was he not dropped; the Indian State repeatedly went out of its way to protect him.

Consider just the landmarks. Following official disclosures by Swiss authorities about Bofors bribes, Quattrocchi’s escape from Delhi was facilitated by government ministers. When he was arrested by the Malaysian police in 2002, the CBI made such a hotchpotch of India’s case that the courts in Malaysia released him.

Exactly the same thing happened in Argentina five years later; the Indian authorities made such a pathetic show that the Argentine court was forced to set the man free. Quietly the Indian authorities also arranged to release the bribe money they had got frozen in Quattrocchi’s London account.

In a final act of grace, the CBI has asked for the removal of the Interpol warrant against him so that the spectre of arrest in strange lands will no longer bother this favoured apple of the Congress Party’s eye.

There is a further pattern in the way Congress leaders spring like wounded tigers to the defence of Quattrocchi and his protectors. Their main argument is that no court has found the man guilty. Of course not. No court will ever find him guilty as long as those whose duty it is to provide evidence decide not to do so.

Quattrocchi’s defenders also say that there is not a shred of evidence against him. Great quantities of evidence have in fact been made available by Swiss authorities, Bofors company officials and independent Swiss and Swedish and Indian investigators.

When Congress spokesmen ignore all this and ignore how cases are prosecuted shabbily with the intention of losing, they are assuming that Indian citizens are a stupid lot.

Alas, they are not.

Stranger still is the timing. The party is in the midst of a make-or-break election. Yet, it takes suicidal steps.

First, foolish selection of candidates in most states thereby consciously losing seats it could have won. Second, out of the blue, a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler thereby reopening the wounds of the Sikh community and losing tens of thousands of crucial votes. Then, out of the blue, a clean chit to Ottavio Quattrochi, a man either hated or suspected by most Indians.

Why?

Why the desperation? And why now when the electoral price to be paid is likely to be very heavy?

We can all guess the answers. We can also conclude that decisions of such momentous consequences cannot be taken by factotums in the CBI or this ministry or that. They can only come from a source of unchallengeable centralised authority, a wielder of absolute power whose resoluteness has the solidity of a rock and the immovability of a mountain.

Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren immortalised those qualities. They could set the screen on fire with their raw power and earthiness. Jean Renoir admiringly called Magnani the complete animal. Loren’s passionate portrayal of tragedy in war-ravaged Italy remains indelible in our minds.

Between them the two ladies made the world aware of a primeval force—the gritty, determined Italian middleclass woman. Before that primeval force the Indian State today bends and sways.

Let us hope it won’t break.

Also read: One question I’m dying to ask Sonia Gandhi—Part I

One question I’m dying to ask Sonia Gandhi-Part II

Can these venomous buffoons spell Bharatiyata?

22 March 2009

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A distressing feature of Indian public life today is the ease with which “hate” has become an integral, almost acceptable, part of the discourse. A thick cloud of hate—on the basis of region and religion, caste, culture and creed, language and sex—now hangs heavy.

In this churumuri.com exclusive, T.J.S. GEORGE, founder-editor of Asiaweek magazine, editorial advisor of The New Indian Express, and the author of the acclaimed biography of M.S. Subbulakshmi, writes on the ground that is shifting beneath our feet.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE

In one respect this election season differs from previous ones: Incitement of religious hatred has become cruder and more reckless than before. Perhaps politicians see this as an easy way to win populist votes.

It certainly helps some pygmies to appear like giants.

Remember, till yesterday Pramod Mutalik (in picture, left) was an unknown frog in an unknown well. Today, he is a national figure, his face gracing every front page and every channel. That is the power of vulgar religious politics.

Similar is the case of Varun Gandhi (right), the spoilt son of a spoilt father.

When the boy was enrolled in the Rishi Valley School in Madanapalli, he wouldn’t eat for three days because neither the food nor the atmosphere suited the privileges he was accustomed to. Only because the staff and fellow students ignored his tantrums, and because hunger has a logic of its own, the privileged Gandhi reconciled to the culture of Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Kids born with a proprietorial attitude to everything around them rarely shed their air of superiority. Even his mentors in the BJP found Varun Gandhi to be egoistic and lightweight; his only “merit” was his surname. Then he came up with this new message of venomous religious hatred. Suddenly, the immature bambino was on every front page and every channel. Another Nobody turned into Somebody.

This is a political game where the players do not lose because they have protectors behind them. The citizen loses because he was no recourse when laws are broken at his cost.

Mutalik’s thugs could beat up citizens and walk proudly away because those who were supposed to protect citizens were inclined to protect the thugs instead. The court has banned this illegal moralist from entering certain areas. What if the police does not stop him? The system collapses when the state is party to evil.

The game, as played, is full of humbug and internal contradictions. Varun Gandhi announces that Pilibhit is a “violence-prone” constituency where Hindus are subjected to injustices. This is a serious charge against his mother, Maneka Gandhi, who has so far been representing Pilibhit in the Lok Sabha.

Clearly, the son is looking for what the original Gandhi, the Mahatma, called “the hasty applause of an unthinking public”.

He will not succeed, for never in history have hatemongers won the day. Three centuries of religious crusades by European Christianity gained nothing despite all the bloodletting, murders and cruelties. Hatred between Palestinians and Israelis continues to sacrifice generations without helping the cause of either. The mutual antipathies of Shias and Sunnis hold back the progress of all Arabs. Nazi Germany’s pogrom against Jews eventually destroyed the Nazis, not the Jews. Even the bond of Islam could not unite the Sindhi-Punjabis of West Pakistan with the Bengalis of East Pakistan.

Those who spew venom in the name of Bharatiyata are unworthy to speak of India’s civilisational greatness, let alone defend it. They take Rama as their mascot without knowing that Ramayana begins with a call by Valmiki in defence of two love birds.

When a hunter shot down one of the birds, the poet cried out Ma nishada. Brahma himself then appeared and urged the Adi Kavi to compose the story of Rama in the same poetic form.

Who represents Bharatiyata‘s beauty and greatness: Valmiki, who was outraged by the tragedy that struck two birds in love, or today’s petty men who hate love itself in the name of morality?

Ma nishada!

Photographs: courtesy Outlook (left), The Hindu

Also read: ‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

How Karnataka is becoming the Gujarat of the South

How girls pissing in their pants protect Hinduism

‘The Chinese think India is a Buddhist country’

1 July 2008

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

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

How does the comman man in China see India?

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

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

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

Read The Hindu review here: China through a smoky lens

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

What you should if you catch a cold in China

Will corruption end if we hang the corrupt?

Will corruption end if we hang the corrupt?

20 June 2008

Corruption is India’s most secular activity. Hindu or Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Jain, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, urban or rural, all of us practice it, lap around in it, in some form or the other. Either in giving or in taking, or in watching it helplessly.

Year after year, the “secular” republic slides up the totempole of sleaze, but stunningly no one is caught, no one has ever been punished. Worse, in poll after opinion poll, “We, the People” seem to indicate as if corruption does not matter in our mind’s eye.

Corruption is no better in China. But as “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George writes in the fifth of his six-part series, there seem to be two key differences. One, the administration sends strong signals when it wants to, when it suits it. And two, despite the corruption, China has something to show for it.

But does corruption not matter if it gets the work done?

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Beijing

Everyone knows there’s corruption in China. It’s serious and often widespread. The motivation is money rather than power. Modern China confirms yet again that when market economy rushes in through the door, corruption slips in through the window.

But, unlike India, China metes out punishment to several highprofile bribe-takers.

Occasionally it can be of the sensational, example-setting variety. The biggest example set in this new century was the execution last year of a top official, a food and drug controller. In return for bribes, he allowed eight drug companies to flood the market with substandard products. The international scandal about Chinese toothpaste proving harmful in foreign markets must have shamed the authorities into giving the drug controller the severest punishment.

Political leaders get caught too. A court case early this year involved a former chief of the Shanghai Communist Party who was senior enough and powerful enough to be a member of the Politburo as well. He was sentenced to 18 years in jail for bribery and abuse of power.

The recent earthquake in Sichuan showed that the tendency to make a fast buck is prevalent among ordinary citizens as well. Earthquake relief materials that poured in from all over the world were misappropriated on a large scale. Bottled water, instant noodles and sausages, even tents and sleeping bags, meant for distribution among the quake-hit, were found on sale in shops. Some “modernists” also used SMS to collect money in the name of quake relief and pocket it themselves.

Again, the authorities were quick to take action when the people in the affected areas rose in protest against racketeers. Fines of up to 10,000 yuan (more than Rs 60,000) were imposed on shops found with stolen goods. One shop was ordered closed.

Interestingly, the authorities urged both the people and the media to continue exposing wrongdoers. Sichuan’s civil affairs department chief said: “We hope the media can strengthen their supervision” so
that the Government can “investigate immediately and punish (the culprits) heavily.”

A more serious aspect of corruption unearthed by the quake may prove vexatious for the Government. Many of the schools that collapsed and caused large casualties belonged to the relatively poorer segments of the population. Schools attended by the richer kids stood erect. Clearly some buildings were put up by contractors in an irresponsible manner while some others strictly adhered to building rules.

This was further underlined when all 61 schools built by a Hong Kong-based charity organisation remained intact in one area when hundreds of other schools nearby completely collapsed. Again, the authorities immediately understood that the stricter construction codes of Hong Kong made a difference to their schools while shoddy construction in other cases led to tragedy. Obviously there is a contractor-official collusion in many parts of China that can no longer be denied.

However, it will be wrong to look at corruption in China without looking at the progress of China. Appropriately enough, it was an Indian who brought this to my attention.

A professional banker who has been living in Hong Kong for more than 40 years put it succinctly when he said that corruption had not prevented China from notching up some of the greatest economic achievements of modern times.

From the biggest airport in Asia (Pudong) to the longest sea bridge in the world (36 kilometres), from the most daring architectural wonders to an astonishing system of crisscrossing flyovers—the way urban China has developed must be some kind of a historical record.

“If a country can achieve so much in so short a time, I won’t crib about corruption,” my banker friend said.

Infographic: courtesy Transparency International via The Economist

Also read: Why has corruption become such a small issue?

Is corruption in India really coming down?

Tomorrow: Lessons from Hong Kong and Macau

What you should do if you catch a cold in China

19 June 2008

The world talks of India and China in the same breath. Yet, no two neighbours could be more different than “Chindia”.

While we are weighed down by seemingly intractable socio-economic problems like poverty, ill-health and inequity in the era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, China seems to have sidestepped them despite its communism, or because of it.

In the fourth of his six-part series, “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George writes of how a sore throat that afflicted him during his recent trip to the Middle Kingdom brought home a vital lesson difference between “us” and “them”.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Beijing

You don’t see poverty in the urban belt of eastern China.

There is an occasional beggar, blind or otherwise handicapped, who may extend his hand for alms. One or two impoverished men may also be spotted looking into garbage bins for half-eaten food items. But you don’t see slums and ill-clad children and starving women.

Extreme poverty and overwhelming filth of the kind that hit you again and again in Indian cities seem to have been abolished in urban China. This is a big leap forward from the massive poverty of the imperialist era and the famine days of Mao Zedong‘s experiments with permanent revolution.

Not surprisingly anyone who can speak English would rather talk about Deng Hsiaoping than Mao Zedong.

Anna, for example. She was born in post-Mao China and is today a manager in a serviced apartments company.

When I asked about living conditions in China, she asked me whether I had heard of Deng.

I said yes but what about Mao’s days?

Her response sounded typical of modern Chinese youth. She said: “My parents and grandparents had a hard time during Mao’s days. But he was a great leader. He made China free. Deng Hsiaoping made China happy.”

I said thousands in the big cities must be unhappy because their houses had been demolished to make way for modern buildings. Anna’s family was one of those who were affected. But they were not complaining, she said. “We are a family of poor farmers. Our land was taken away to help developers build highrise residential blocks. But we were given good prices and new houses. Most people who were displaced got a good deal. Some complained but they had to agree when all others agreed.”

An electrician who works for Anna’s company lost his job when his factory was demolished to make way for a park. He was without a job for a few months until he got his present job which gets him a little over 3,000 yuan a month (approximately Rs 20,000). That’s about the earnings of a taxi driver and of other ordinary workers.

For college graduates at the entry level, the starting salary is also about 3,000 yuan though skilled graduates from some outstanding universities may start at double that salary. You need about 5,000 yuan to live quite comfortably in the cities, so a supplementary income is welcome in most ordinary families.

It’s a very different story at the top. Leading financial companies have been doubling and trebling the salaries of their boss officers. Many big executives in the big private companies earn more than 25 million yuan a year after taxes. (More than Rs 15 crore.)

That explains why shining Rolls Royce cars are on display in automobile showrooms. Flats in Shanghai’s highrise residences were selling last month at 15,000 yuan per square metre (about Rs 1 lakh). Luxury villas sold at 25,000 yuan per square metre. The world’s most expensive jewellery names like Cartier do good business in China. This must be what Deng Hsiaoping meant when he talked about socialism with a Chinese face.

The booming economy means also a galloping population of expatriates. But unlike in India, there is a marked differentiation between locals and foreigners in China. The visible example of this is in housing: there are some buildings and some areas that are exclusively for foreigners.

A less visible but more interesting example of the divide between locals and foreigners catches our attention if we go in search of medical assistance. Urban China is notorious for bronchial illnesses like cold and flu and breathing difficulties. If you are a foreigner and develop a soar throat, you better know where to go and what to do.

A local friend took me to a big hospital in Shanghai. At the gate, the watchman told us that the locals’ wing was on the right and the foreigners’ wing on the left.

We decided to go to the locals’ wing.

The verandahs were full of patients lying on stretchers and cots with tubes and bottles attached to them. But the service turned out to be prompt. The local friend got me registered (10 yuan), a young doctor examined me (no charge, waiting time only 5 minutes), a routine blood test was done (50 yuan, completed in 20 minutes on the spot) and a prescription made out for vitamins and parasetamol (50 yuan). Very efficient and economical procedures, I thought.

Very different was the story when my host had the same sore throat complaint attended to.

He works for a foreign company which has an insurance tieup with what are known as expatriate hospitals in China. He went to one of these hospitals. He too got himself registered, a Chinese doctor examined him, called for a routine blood test and chest x-ray, then prescribed the same vitamins and paracetamol. He then got a neatly printed bill. The blood test and x-ray cost 990 yuan and there was an additional doctor’s charge of 1,000 yuan. Plus the cost of the medicines. That is, 2000 yuan (15,000 rupees) against my 72 yuan (about 500 rupees).

He could have gone to the same locals’ wing of the hospital that treated me. But his company has this insurance arrangement, so what does he do? Who is taking whom for a ride? Whether it is food or medical services, you are better off in China if you have a local friend to guide you.

Photograph: courtesy kanzhangguao.com

Tomorrow: Why China’s corruption is different from India’s

There is a new garden city, and it isn’t Bangalore

18 June 2008

First impression is the best impression, goes the old jungle saying. And China, with its pitiable reputation for the environment, is making ultra-sure that television audiences and spectators don’t get any other impression but the very best in the manner in which they are pulling out all stops for the Beijing Olympics.

In this, the third of a six-part series, “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George describes the green revolution that took place on red soil when he stepped out of his hotel room for a few hours one day, last month.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Beijing

In this bestirred capital city, the Olympics began long ago.

The official approach to it has also brought out one commonality between China and India—faith in numerology and vaastu, in what is auspicious and what is not.

The most auspicious of all numbers in the Chinese tradition is 8. Therefore the opening ceremony will start precisely at 8 seconds past 8.08 pm on the 8th day of the 8th month of 2008.

Actually the manner and scale in which the Olympics is being organised say a great deal about the national character of the Chinese people—their pride in China, their vision for the future, their planning genius, their organising capabilities, their aesthetic excellence, above all, their intense desire to be liked and
appreciated by the rest of the world.

All nations hosting the Olympics use it as an occasion to display national glory. China has followed the tradition by putting up some futuristic buildings as the main venues for the Games. The central stadium is already a topic of discussion around the world as the “bird’s nest” (in picture). The swimming events will be held in a structure that looks like it is made of water.

For the Chinese, though, all of Beijing is an Olympics venue.

That is the kind of attention they are paying to every nook and corner of the place and to every nearby attraction, from the Ming Tombs to the Great Wall. And they are doing it with a speed that is astonishing.

I stayed in a hotel close to the Bird’s Nest. A large area nextdoor was being levelled by excavators, apparently for landscaping. One morning when I left the hotel, a “JCB” was digging some holes. In the evening when I returned, the whole area had become a beautifully laid-out garden with fully grown trees and large flowerbeds. The flowers, big hydrangias and azalias and petunias in bright reds, yellows and violets, were swinging in the wind.

All over Beijing instant forests and gardens are coming up. Big trees, their trunks wrapped in gunny bags or tightly wound ropes, are transplanted from faraway places. Roadside landscaping and medians are living works of art, miles of roses and chrysanthemums beckoning you as you drive past.

They don’t call Beijing a Garden City. But it is.

The greening of Beijing is part of the environmental policy adopted as part of the Olympics commitment. In all 28 million trees have been planted in the city. All Olympics buildings are lighted by solar power. All factories in the city centre have been closed and inhabitants of three lakh odd houses rehabilitated outside the city. There were no protests as there was in Delhi when the courts ordered closure of some old factories in the inner city.

Communism has its uses, especially when it is purposeful communism accepted by the people as such.

Beijing’s notorious pollution is said to be already under control. They have announced plans to allow only one-third of the city’s registered vehicles to be out on the road on any given day. From July 20, the massive construction industry will stop, not just in Beijing, but in nearby areas as well, to ensure good air quality for the athletes.

The cigarette industry is also dislocated. Smoking is a national habit in China. Paramount leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Hsiaoping were chain smokers.

The supreme sacrifice of curbing smoking is already under way. Even in the restricted rooms where smoking is permitted, they have fitted nano air filters have to break cigarette smoke down to harmless particles before it is released into the atmosphere.

They have another national habit—spitting. The traditional belief is that phlegm is evil and must never be retained in the body. Singapore ended the habit by imposing heavy punishment on offenders. China is currently trying persuasion. What is called the Capital Ethics Development Office has distributed to local people two million booklets on how to behave in public places.

It is all about smiling, queueing, not littering and of course not spitting.

Perhaps no people who hosted Olympics in the past were as eager for the Games to succeed as the Chinese now are. More than with any other people, it is for them an issue of national pride. They want the Games to proceed without a hitch. And they want the visitors to go back with happy memories. They want the athletes in particular to remember the Beijing Olympics as something special.

The medals this year will be more precious than any that were presented in previous games. The gold medals for example will have gold only on one side. On the other side will be white jade, the finest and costliest of China’s most precious gem. A usual Olympics gold medal costs around $200 (approximately Rs 8,000). This year’s gold-and-jade medal will cost $800 (Rs 32,000).

To the world’s greatest sports stars that will be a permanent reminder of China.

Nearly two million visitors are expected to visit Beijing for the Olympics. If you are planning to be one of them, think again.

A city tour that now costs 500 yuan will cost 1000 yuan in July-August. Hotel rooms will be three and four times more expensive. Tickets for the opening ceremony have already hit record levels in the black market. One taxi driver in Beijing told me that the going rate was $20,000 for a ticket. That is about nine lakh rupees.

No Olympics is worth that.

Tomorrow: What the service apartment manager Anna told me


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