Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Finally, one man says seer didn’t threaten his life, police investigating mutt link with marauding cows on Kanchi roads

KANCHEEPURAM: The police here said they have found a man whose life had never been threatened by the Shankaracharya of Kamakotipeeth here. The man, identified as Ranga Thangaswami, is a resident of this small town recently in news for the sheer number of people who have been murdered or were supposed to be murdered on the orders of the mutt.

Kancheepuram police chief Quickgun Murugan said: “We have not found any evidence suggesting the Shankaracharya had got him murdered. He is alive. Besides he has said on record that he never faced any threat to his life from anyone except the cows on the road that have regularly tried to crash into his scooter.”

Mr Murugan added that the police were looking for any link between the cows and the mutt.

Tamil Nadu state chief minister has however hinted at a link but did not elaborate. She was referring to the reports that said cows were often worshipped inside the temple complex and priests had been whispering something in the bovine ears.

“The cows used to nod after the priests used to say some words in their coded Sanskrit,” a police officer investigating the link said. “Though we have not seen any evidence of transfer of money to the cows or their bank accounts, but many witnesses have said they saw the cows being generously fed.”

Meanwhile the district administration was bracing for the deluge of women claiming to be sexually harassed by the Shankaracharya. A Tamil writer has gone on record and on TV claiming the Shankaracharya proposed to her. Another woman, Usha, who is being referred to as close confidante of the seer, may also claim harassment, which might bring about a series of such victims.

“We have seen the how soon after the Sankararaman murder case, every Pelu, Velu and Selvam has come out,” said an officer bringing a truck load of empty first information report forms. "We should have enough FIR forms so that almost all the population of Tamil Nadu can register their cases against the mutt," he said.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

For weddings and a numeral

Delhi will host 14,000 weddings on November 28, newspapers and television news say.

Wonder where this figure came from? I suspect the first news item about this day of marriages that appeared in a leading daily newspaper is the culprit. It said 28,000 people are getting married on November 28.

I did not wonder where that figure came from. Any reporter worth his Class 10 math certificate could do that. November 28 and thousands of marriages, so just put 28 and thousands together and, bingo, 28,000 people. Accuracy can go get married, he got to put a figure that gets the story on Page 1.

Now the other papers and TV channels were not happy about missing such big breaking news, so they tried to come up with something new. Some value addition. It takes two to make one wedding. So they divided 28,000 by two and arrived at a new figure: 14,000. Oh yeah! There are 14,000 marriages in Delhi on one day, November 28.

Then they went to the traffic police looking for a quote on how would they manage the traffic on road. The traffic cop, eager to be quoted, said "we have made adequate arrangements". Then the TV news reporter went to a pandit, who said he is handling two marriages on one day.

Then they went to the ghodiwala, bandwala, ladduwala, mehndiwala, sabjiwala and now we have a full-blown news programmes on marriages in Delhi. And every programme starts with a figure. Twenty-eight thousand people will tie the knot tonight in 14,000 marriages in Delhi. Another came up with a value addition: Twenty-eight thousand people, including 14,000 women, will tie the knot tonight...

"An average Rs 10 lakh was being spent on each wedding taking the grand total to more than Rs 1,400 crore," PTI went ahead and put these words into an anonymous wedding planner's mouth.

Everyone wants some value addition. After all the first newspaper did a value addition this year. Last year, the same newspaper was the first to give a figure: 12,000 marriages on one day (November 27). This year they raised it to 14,000 and everyone else is adding value.

If you are good at maths, you can easily predict the next year's figure.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Half at night, half day

Hindustan Times writer Archis Mohan had me in splits on Sunday morning though the story I was reading talked about was serious stuff. Writing about the Jumping Jacks (traffic signal-violators) at night, he gave an interesting statistics: “Driving in Delhi at night is just not advisable. Half of the 1,100 fatal accidents that have taken place till mid-November were a night.” Oh wow!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Pay or die

Since Laloo Prasad became the Union Railway Minister, he is trying to expand his profile in Delhi as his wife lords over Patna.

While the motormouth with views on everything goes around abusing the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Sangh Parivar, George Fernandes, Ram Vilas Paswan and George Bush in Delhi, the state that has made him what he is today sinks to the depths of anarchy.

This piece of outrage has been triggered by the near total breakdown of whatever was left of the public health system in Bihar. Doctors, those who are alive and haven’t fled to Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore, are on a strike after another doctor was murdered a couple of days ago.

It’s not unusual to see doctors going in strike. They are regularly killed in the state notorious for a parallel ransom industry. In fact those who live have at some point paid ransom or continue to pay to stay alive. Many have migrated to place where they can stay alive.

That the kidnap-ransom-killing industry flourishes with the support of big-time politicians and agents in the state set-up is no secret. Ask engineers, doctors, teachers and other professionals. Ask traders. One was killed yesterday morning. A professor was killed the previous night.

Pay or die is the rule in the state Laloo’s wife rules, while he rules over the railway ministry.

Pray for Darfur

One of the biggest victims of the US action in Iraq has been poor black people of Sudan’s Darfur region. The Sudanese government-backed Janjaweed (devils on horseback) militia has either slaughtered thousands of blacks or drove them away to neighbouring countries like Chad.

These blacks — Muslims and Christians — are not of Arab origin and the fundamentalist Sudanese regime has supported this ethnic cleansing. Check out the latest from Darfur here.

The great spectator called the United Nations has been pleading with the Sudanese government for a year. The regime in Khartoum has promised many times to rein in the militia but on the ground the situation has worsened with young children being burnt to death, women raped and shot.

Those who escaped the Janjaweed are struggling to survive in the refugee camps with no roof above their heads, no food in their stomach, no water, no medicine.

So what’s the US’ fault? Nothing except being a strong country it could force the Sudanese to implement what the world wishes at the moment.

But since the US is busy fighting insurgents in Iraq, the Sudanese government has taken advantage of the situation. Rest of the world including the powerful European Union have strongly condemned the genocide and threatened Sudan with sanctions but the option to use force has not been even thought about.

The US could and has thought about that but attacking another Muslim country is not an easy option right now, especially when Iraq is still burning.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Is it Shinde time already?

Ram Babu Sharma is the new president of Delhi Pradesh Congress Comgress Committee. Who on earth is Ram Babu Sharma and why on earth should he figure in this blog?

Well, till a couple of days ago, Sharma was a municipality-level Congress leader. Today he is the symbol of a long Congress tradition: No leader shall be strong enough to challenge the party’s central leadership or the Family. And Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit was apparently getting bigger than the party, in Delhi that is.

Guess what Ram Babu Sharma did on the day he was elected? He said the state government has to be accountable to the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee, that is: him. He wants to know what the government has done, is doing and will do. And he thanked Jagdish Tytler, someone who has publicly expressed his respect or the lack of it for Sheila.

An adversary as party chief is not new for Sheila Dikshit. She has seen Subhash Chopra, Chaudhry Prem Singh et al.

But Ram Babu Sharma is different in that he comes at a very inauspicious time for Dikshit. And we are not talking about her fractured foot.

Difficult times lie ahead for the Sheila factor. Her beta political Ajay Maken has turned into her bete noir; sworn enemy Tytler has long been sworn in as a Union Cabinet minister and purana Madan Lal Khurana is the new man in the good old Opposition BJP.

Is Congress’ central leadership cutting Sheila to size? Is she no longer on Sonia’s favourites list? Is Sheila the next addition to the long list of charismatic politicians sacrificed at the altar of party interest?

Sheila Dikshit easily connects with the new Delhiite who in turn relates with her more than anyone else. She deserves credit for the Congress' success in beating anti-incumbency, twice.

Popularity is about perceptions. She is perceived as a caring and honest-hearted leader. Truth may be debatable. But her being a woman and a sophisticated one at that does help her and in turn the party.

So why would the party downsize her? because old habits die hard. But if you need a recent example, you can look at Sushil Kumar Shinde. The dalit leader revived the party in Maharashtra after taking over as chief minister. His predecessor, Vilasrao Deshmukh, was tainted by the Telgi scam and the party's image had taken a dive.

Shinde worked hard often racing against time to turn the tide in favour of the Congress and its partners. They got absolute majority in the Assembly. He was the natural choice for chief minister. But politics abhors nature. And guess who was chosen: the same Vilasrao Deshmukh. Shinde was made the Andhra Pradesh governor. In other words, "good job done. Now retire."

Extremely popular and progressive, S.M. Krishna did not win a clear majority but won enough seats to install a Congress chief minister in Karnataka. The Congress' leadership chose Dharam Singh. Krishna was becoming an icon. And in the Congress they need just one icon.

Sharad Pawar was being termed the Maratha satrap, and he began believing he was an icon. The Congress had no place for him. There’s no dearth of examples. Sheila was becoming this leading lady, a small satrap.

Ram Babu Sharma enjoys support in his East Delhi Assembly segment called Rohtas Nagar. Sheila’s son is an MP from East Delhi and whenever the next Lok Sabha election takes place, Sharma can prove to be more harmful than an average neighbourhood halwai. Sharma is a sweetmeat trader. Sweets tempt the tastebuds, but aren’t good for health.

Sheila Dikshit has entered what one can call "Danger" zone. She has to tread carefully. Very carefully. Because Shinde time may be around the corner.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Kofi right 2004: Shut your mouth

Iraqi minister berates Annan Thank you Mr Hazem Sha'alan. Somebody needed to.

I was just browing through fcuk T-shirts today, just to check out their latest slogans, I found an old one: "If you don't like oral sex, keep your mouth shut." Mr Kofi Annan needs to follow this to the T.

From being a bright and effective guy, the United Nations Secretary-General Annan has turned into a wimp with a limp agenda. Mr Annan has time and again crossed the limits. But asking the Iraqi government to not launch an assault on Fallujah is just too much to digest. The new Iraqi government's sovereignty is recognised by the UN Security Council, Mr Annan knows that.

We know that it's a puppet regime, but a puppet regime is better than no regime. Mr Annan did not do to anything effective to make Saddam accept the dozen or so Security Council resolutions. The US launched an illegal war on Iraq, Mr Annan did not do much to stop the US.

We all agree that Fallujah is a hotbed of terrorism and one huge impediment in restoring normalcy in Iraq. Then why let the country bleed. The sooner the occupying Americans leave the country the better. And since they can't leave when it is still bleeding, it is necessary to catch the terror network now active in the Baghdad-Samarra,-Fallujah traingle.

The Mahdi army in Karbala and Sadr City surrendered only after the use of force. So will the desperados in Fallujah.

And by the way the monsters of Fallujah can't hide behind the facade of being a force resisting American presence.

Resistance forces and freedom fighters DO NOT behead innocent people on camera. I can understand armed resistance, but executing a dozen Nepalis while they lie face down is not armed resistance. It's a massacre.

It's time the thugs of Fallujah and Samarra see some action since they are dying to see some action. And this operation, though it will result in bloodshed (including that of civilians, there are some 50,000 civilians still inside) is necessary and the sooner it is over, the better.

Mr Annan can take a walk. These terrorists attacked even the United Nations in Baghdad and we have not forgotten Mr Annan's reaction then. He hightailed it out of the place. Apart from a skeleton staff, the UN was out, leaving the US to do what it wants.

Iraq needs United Nations' support. It needs the world. If the world wants to resist the US' convoluted neo-con agenda, it needs to get involved at the ground level, and not just whine from a distance.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Fickle Finger of a Sickle-wielding Surjeet

It's an irony. The Left or the Communist Parties of India have about 60 seats in the Lok Sabha, just one ninth of its strength.

And just because it supports the coalition in power, it wants to dictate what direction India takes. It even wants to control which world leader the government should host, and where our leader go.

Foreign policy is one of the areas where the country has stood together, brainstormed together and decided together. We have a tradition of ruling parties consulting even the Opposition on international issues. Vajpayee used to involve bitter foe Sonia, her foriegn origin notwithstanding, in foreign matters. So does Manmohan.

The Left are party to the government, if not in, for god's sake. We always feared the Left would like to have its say in how the economy is run, but Surjeet wants his sticky fingers in every pie.

And the country's foreign policy is getting fingered.

Kitne Aadmi Hain?
, Sardar Manmohan Singh!

Sushil Kumar Shinde has just been unceremoniously transferred to a ceremonial post. The former chief minister of Maharashtra is the new governor of Andhra Pradesh.

Mr Shivraj Patil, who is India’s home minister and a former Maharashtra chief minister a la Shinde, is a fitter candidate for the gubernatorial job.

He has proved, in just about five months, that he’s incapable of handling the home affairs. And if Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa is to be believed, he is nastier than he is stupid.

Reports suggest Jaya has taped a conversation with Mr Patil where he says he is sacking the state’s governor because he did not host a tea party for MLAs on Independence Day. Mr Patil should be sacked just for not maintaining the basics of decorum in Centre-State talks.

As I write this, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is holding a meeting with his ministers to assess the work they have done in the past six months. He should take to task Mr Patil and other senior leaders like him, who function independently of the Prime Minister and common sense.

We present the Top Three.

1. Shivraj V. Patil: Veteran politician. Elder statesman look. Sophisticated in attire and language. Minister of Home Affairs.

He was welcomed by eruption of violence and separatism in the Northeast. He fiddled as Manipur burnt. The talks with Kashmiri separatists came to a halt.

He allowed Andhra Pradesh to lift a ban on the People’s War, the mass-murder-maniacs, who are now freely brandishing their guns and terrorising people.

Can you imagine West Bengal allowing ULFA to operate from their territory? PW spells horror in Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and parts of Maharashtra. And Andhra is letting them operate freely.

PW believes in “Power Flows from The Barrel of a Gun.” And the state Congress leaders believe they can talk into that barrel and Mr Patil believes that.

2. K. NATWAR SINGH: Former diplomat and former external affairs minister. Now External Affairs Minister.

He barred the Chief Election Commissioner Krishnamurthy from going to the United States. The CEC was invited as an election observer.

Natwar Singh did not even consult the Prime Minister before doing this. The Prime Minister later intervened and cut the external affairs ministry to size.

Natwar is also in a time warp. The last time he was in the hot seat, the Cold War was not a distant past. So when he came back, he still hears ghosts of Cold War in the corridors of South Block. He is still in an anti-US propagandist mode.

He is also senior to the Prime Minister in politics, so presumes he can take his decision on his own. All our past governments, the Prime Minister’s Office has had the driving force in foreign policy matters, but this time the cart is wheeling on its own.

3. S. JAIPAL REDDY: Minister of Information and Broadcasting. The less said the better. Informed people call him the no. 2 in the Information and Broadcasting ministry. Guess the no. 1? Navin Chawla, I&B Secretary. Reddy is clueless about his job. At a time when any other minister would have had his hands full, he spends his time doing nothing. Well if he did something, we would know: Prasar Bharti is still in a bad shape, cable TV industry is a mess, censorship is bad case, foreign investment in media is hanging fire.

If you are in a generous mood, dear Prime Minister give the country a bonus this Diwali.

SHARAD PAWAR: He quit the Congress because he could not see Sonia Gandhi become the Prime Minister of India. But he is with her because she made Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India. And now that he is a minister in Singh’s Cabinet, he should better know who is the boss.

It has been unfortunate for the agriculture ministry that soon after Pawar took over, Maharashtra elections were announced. He got busy.

As if that was not enough, he fought the cricket elections. Though his party won, he lost his party’s claim to chief ministership, Jagmohan Dalmiya snatched the cricket bat from his hand.

And the agriculture ministry lost a lot of time in the year, it needed urgent attention. Last year was very bad for farmers across the country. The coming years looks worse. Mr Pawar looks ill.

Who the X is Laloo?

Americans are suddenly excited about the presidential elections, 2004. After learning that the whole world is excited about the Bush-Kerry match, the Average American Citizen said, “This is an American election, it’s I who should be excited. To heck with Bush and Kerry, I wanna know who on earth is Laloo Prasad Yadav.”

And now all of America is chanting the Smokie song Living Next Door to Laloo’s Gompie version.

The “Who the X is Laloo?” frenzy was apparently triggered by Republican candidate President George Bush, who asked the American voters to not vote for John Kerry and Laloo Prasad Yadav.

And the audience broke into an impromptu “Who the X is Laloo?” before they realised it was the Gompie version of the Smokie song.

President Bush said, “Laloo is Kerry and Kerry is Laloo. And you should all reject their policies and elect me.”

After jamming Internet lines for hours and breaking Google’s bandwidth bones, the audience returned to ask President Bush: “What’s Laloo got to do with Kerry?”

President Bush said: “Nothing. I am just taking revenge. When Laloo was fighting the Vajpayee’s NDA, he used to tell his electorate to oust Bush and Vajpayee. If he can drag me into Indian elections, so can I.”