Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lollipop Nation Wants Limited Offensive

जियें तो अपने बग़ीचे में गुलमोहर के तले
मरें तो ग़ैर की गलियों में गुलमोहर के लिये

It's remarkable that we have not forgotten Mumbai. The notoriously short public memory apparently isn't that short. But do not be too confident. This too shall pass. Mumbai 26/11 will eventually slip out of the front page and newspapers will mark its anniversary for the customary couple of years. Am I being too pessimistic? Well, if our past is any inkling of the future, this seems inevitable. We did forget Mumbai train blasts, Delhi blasts, Ahmedabad blasts and got back to our lives, each time, after a round of furious blame-game. Hindu hardliners blamed Islamic terror, Muslim hardliners blamed Hindu terror, conservatives blamed liberals, liberals blamed pinko-liberals, Arundhati Roy blamed India and India blamed Pakistan. Thank you very much, can we move on with our lives now?

So what has changed that we aren't moving on this time and insist on 'some action'? Some say that this is the first time terror came too close for the upper crust's comfort: Bombings in local trains were outrageous but South Bombay remained the heaven of fun. The rich could shift to five-star hotels if things got too hot in the suburbs. Now five-stars were not safe either. Hence, this outrage! This is too simplistic. The truer part is that Mumbai has shaken each one of us, irrespective of where we live. That is why this cry for action refuses to subside.

Nobody loves a war though everybody wants to teach Pakistan a lesson. Some people want it just to kill boredom. Some others say don't go for a full-scale war but go for a 'limited offensive', the latest entrant to our lexicon after the other side contributed 'non-state actors'. What if the 'limited' crosses the limit and turns into an all-out war? Few have answers to that because even God wouldn't want the so-called limited offensive to turn into the world's first nuclear war between two third world countries still struggling to feed over a billion hungry stomachs.

So it is better the limited stays limited. There is a chance of that happening. Take this scenario: India strikes at a few terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Those Lashkar loonies aren't that mad, they have left those camps by now. Some civilians and their goats are killed. Pakistan screams murder. We scream revenge. No harm done. Angry Indians are happy that something was done. The worried world pleads us to go back to the talks table. There is bonhomie of cricket matches and emotional speeches about how people of these two countries love each other and how politics is playing them against each other. Jhappis, pappis and candlelight vigils at the Wagah Border follow. So sugary sweet.

It doesn't last, however. Another series of blasts rips through the bonhomie. Another Mumbai, in another city. I do not believe the pop theory that Pakistani citizenry loves Indians and vice versa. I am equally wary of accepting that they want to kill and maim Indians and bleed us by a thousand cuts. The common man on both sides has no love lost for the one across the border. But he doesn't hate the 'enemy' common man either. The common man is busy building a better future for his family. It is the uncommon man, the military elite in Pakistan that has made hating us their business, the easy route to claim authority and share the booty in increased defence budgets and American billions. They also hold a grudge against us because they have had a bloody nose at least three times in the past. The ISI, part of the Army, hates us from the bottom of its gut, Kashmir-centric terror groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have been at war with us and the Osama-inspired jehad factory would love to see us writhing in pain.

Zardari's non-state actors write the script in blood and stage it in Afghanistan and India and even inside Pakistan, while the Pakistani political class watches the dance of death from the gallery. In the event of a limited offensive from this side of the Radcliffe line, the real India-haters will not be harmed. The state actors will get hurt while non-state actors will get new excuses to fool the common Pakistani into justifying their war against India. A jobless and desperate young man like Ajmal Kasab will even take up arms on their behalf and come to die in India. Since Kasab has lived to sing, the next Kasab will come with explosives strapped to his body to make sure he dies before he kills. We will blame Pakistan and Pakistan will promptly deny. And we will go back to where we began.

Some Indians love the Bush strategy: There has been no terrorist attack in America since 9/11. It's true that the US took the war to the enemy's territory to keep its homeland safe. The phrase 'Bush Strategy' is part oxymoronic and the strategy plain moronic. The result of the strategy is that more Americans have died avenging 9/11 than those killed on 9/11. Americans continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan almost every day.

Does it mean we will never be safe in our own country? Not at all. It is time we gave our internal security apparatus a thorough overhaul. The Prime Minister has just met state leaders to overhaul the security infrastructure. Some policies, including a new law, have been announced. The National Investigation Agency has begun taking shape. But we have had laws and investigating agencies before this. The key is implementation on the ground, strict and unbiased. It's simpler than limited offensive but needs unlimited political will and constant vigil. Are we up to it?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ion ionises, fertiliser fertilises, analyser analyses

Dear Diary,
The truth is there is not just one . There is a conspiracy here, and there, and there, and there. Oh my God! Do you see it?

You see, I did make that statement about a wider conspiracy behind Karkare’s murder. After all who sent Karkare to Cama when the Taj was under attack? Well, I myself there. Taj was not under attack then. Newspapers tell me that Cama was under attack when Karkare went there. They say it’s logical for Karkare to go to Cama. Well it is logical! Bmy question is: who sent him there?Obviously, someone sent him there to die as part of a conspiracy.

I am told that Karkare was the top officer of the Anti-Terrorist Squad and he gave orders, and did not need any. His department’s boss, he was. Well, heck, yes! Then it was Karkare who sent and it was Karkare who went. So, we can safely deduce that Hemant Karkare conspired to get Hemant Karkare killed. Why can’t people see this, the conspiracy?

Now they are saying I crossed the line, the one taken by my government. Do you see a conspiracy to malign me? I may have given that statement but who sent me to parliament that day to become a victim of this conspiracy. The opposition, the media and some of my colleagues are now attacking me. Thank god for some of my colleagues who are not. Like Digvijay Singh, who’s now sure that there is a conspiracy to malign me. He is not sure about the conspiracy to kill Karkare but he is halfway there. I am also halfway there. In the middle is this conspiracy to force me to apologise. I don't apologise. The home minister said in parliament that there was no conspiracy to kill Karkare, so I suppose I am convinced. That satisfies me.

People make all kinds of assumptions. They say I did it for Muslim votes. And Muslims are accusing me of maligning Muslims by painting all Muslims with the same brush. Am I the first to do so? People in politics do that all the time. The BJP leaders do it. The Muslim League does it. My own party has done it so many times. But when I do it, there is such a rumpus. Why is it so? It is, my dear diary, a grave conspiracy. They say I am divisive. How do you rule otherwise? Can somebody here illuminate me? What do Lalu, Karunanidhi, Sharad Pawar do? They divide people according to caste, is that lesser conspiracy? Bal does it on religious lines and I decided to try it.

Those South Bombay people are crying that I am politicising terror. Well, I am a politician. Am I not? An ion ionises, a sanitiser sanitises, fertiliser fertilises and a politician politicises. That’s my job. I am not asking Aamir Khan to stop acting then who is he to ask me stop politicising. I never asked journalists to stop editorialising, then why are they asking me to not do my job? Stupid townies of town and also of the suburbs, they have no understanding of politics. I am a minister for minority affairs minister. I have done just minor things for the minorities and the majority of the time lapsed in twiddling my thumb. I have to face an election and I have no face to show. Even a Sachar got more publicity than me. I have got my share now. Any publicity is good publicity. That’s one conspiracy I own up to. But must I apologise? They are saying yes I better. Well, how many times do I have to say that ion ionises, sanitiser sanitises, fertiliser fertilises and a politician politicises? I am not an apologiser or apologician or apolo-13. I am a politician.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Photography Prohibited & Other Signs of the Raj

Mumbai 26/11 was not the first time terrorists used technology to kill. And it will certainly not be the last. But every time there is evidence of technology aiding terror, hawks inside the government and outside it seek to wage their own war on technology.

On Tuesday, a Mumbai-based lawyer filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court demanding that Google remove maps of Indian cities or at least our vital installations from the popular Google Maps service. Reason: Police say terrorists sourced maps of Mumbai from the Google Maps service. “Even images of nuclear plants and defence establishments are available on this site. It is a security hazard,” petitioner Amit Karkhanis told the media.

In another after-effect of Mumbai, the government at the Centre wanted to crack down on Blackberry services. Mumbai 26/11 gave Delhi another excuse to mount a fresh offensive on the Canadian proprietor of Blackberry, Research In Motion. Blackberry devices are encrypted so strongly that even government agencies find it difficult to intercept and crack them. Terrorists in Mumbai were allegedly using this device to communicate with their bosses in Pakistan.

About a couple of years ago, there was a huge brouhaha after some people objected to detailed satellite maps of the Rashtrapati Bhavan available on the Internet for all to see. Google had then agreed to blur some strategic locations because the government prevailed. The images were back after some time and thank Google for it. It was stupid of the government to ask Google to comply. If some body wants to attack the Rashtrapati Bhavan, he or she will find other ways to get maps. There are books on its architecture, history and what not where the original maps of the whole Lutyen’s area are available.

This paranoia is grossly misplaced and misleading. Should the government ban kitchen knives because it can be used to commit homicide? Services like Blackberry and Google maps make life easier. Blackberry’s encryption helps corporations conduct business on the go without the fear of someone snooping on company secrets. Google maps, now also available on mobile phones, helps us find our way in unknown cities. It also helps us finding nearest ATMs, restaurants, chemists and other utility near any place we may be.

The move to demand a ban or even control on availability of GPS and other services smacks of the Raj days, the hangover of which refuses to leave. The Central government allotted phones to only a few privileged ones till the late Seventies. Till date, you cannot take photographs of random bridges, railway stations, airports and even some bus stands. This, in an age when satellites can spot every single brick used in such buildings with signs like “Photography Prohibited”.

If the terrorists need a map of Mumbai, they would find hundreds of other ways to procure one even if you ban Google. It will only make it difficult for the common man to use these services. Similarly, the terrorists would find alternatives to Blackberry.

Technology is a two-edged sword. When mobile phones became very popular, we feared that criminals would now use them to their advantage. The fears were not unfounded: the mobile phone made criminal enterprise quicker and deadlier. But the same phone gave them away. Today, a large percentage of criminals get caught because police track their phones.

It's time we stopped fearing new technology. The modern communication tools have made the world a smaller place and a better place as well. Controlling their inevitable spread will not stop its misuse.

(The author has used mobile GPS to get back on the road at places with serious chances of getting lost.)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ready for the final exams? Some tips

Sheila Dikshit was a gone case, especially after Mumbai 26/11. Delhi, like every place else in the country, was angry at what was happening in Mumbai. Pundits wrote off whatever chances Dikshit had had as people queued outside polling booths on Novermber 29. Mumbai was still smelling of gunpowder as Delhiites were getting their fingers inked. The high turnout, analysts said, generally upset the ruling party. They were wrong. Dikshit has won the Congress a third term, a rare feat in these instant-gratification times. When Delhi voted on November 29, the Mumbai wounds were fresh and the Congress government at the Centre was being squarely blamed for being soft on terror. So what really happened that saved a Congress government in Delhi and pulled the rug from under BJP’s Vasundhara in Rajasthan while keeping it away from power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. There are lessons to be learnt here for both Congress and the BJP or for any party for that matter.

Change we can believe in
Facial change is farcical. Sheila Dikshit was not really strong when the poll bells rang. She was in pretty bad condition. The trading class was angry thanks to sealings and demolitions, the South Delhi upper crust was up in arms against the Bus Rapid Transit corridor and the poor were poorer because of the price rise in recent times. Delhi wanted change and was seriously looking for one. The BJP picked a relic from its cupboard as its chief ministerial candidate. Vijay Kumar Malhotra did not represent change, he was more of the same. Vijay Kumar Malhotra was old, regressive, rancorous and effete. The majority of young voters could not relate to him. Aunty Sheila was more progressive in spite of the occasional foot-in-mouth disease (She called murdered journalist Sowmya Viswanathan adventurous because she was driving home so late in the night). She was forgiven because BJP leaders could be worse with their brand of divisive politics and regressive rhetoric. My guess is that the not-so-high-profile Harshvardhan could inspire more people than Malhotra can. Delhi was not so much Congress’s win as it was Sheila Dikshit’s. It was however BJP’s loss. No one expected miracles from Malhotra.

The Congress failed to snatch the chair from Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh because it did not provide an alternative. It provided alternatives — Digvijay Singh, Sudheesh Pachauri and Kamal Nath. Any one of these could become the chief minister if Congress won. The voters chose to stick with Shivraj Singh Chauhan, whom they were only discovering and who came up as earnest. He also reflects change from the old-world politics of the relics like Kailash Joshi and Sundar Lal Patwa. People want real change, not just a change of face. Look at Uma Bharti. She may be out of BJP, but she was more of the same. And far more cantankerous!

Walk The Talk
Years of Congress rule in Madhya Pradesh (which then included Chhattisgarh) had failed to take the state out of the category called BIMARU (Bihar-Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh). It’s not that Shivraj Singh has worked any miracles since he took over as the third choice of the Bharatiya Janata Party in five years (Uma Bharati and Babulal Gaur preceded him). But Shivraj Singh was a breath of fresh air in a party rotting in the constant in-fighting and ill-will thereof. He was different and pretty unheard of outside his state, though he was a central minister during the NDA regime. He was not larger than life, so he got to work immediately. When the time came to seek votes, he went to the people of Madhya Pradesh with what he had done, which was very little. But that very little marked his sincerity. He was rewarded.

Compared to him Sheila Dikshit has done a lot of visible work in the last 10 years. Delhi’s air is cleaner, there are more flyovers, then there is the Metro, which will soon be the largest network of its kind in the world. The Bhagidari scheme is not only a popular buzzword but it works. A lot of babu work has now been shifted to the electronic route and it has brought corruption levels down. Sheila Dikshit comes out as an honest and earnest politician. She is pretty much clear of sleaze, something Vasundahara Raje in Rajasthan is not. Her regime was seen as corrupt. She was seen as tolerating all the misdeeds that her ministers and babus committed. People have little tolerance for corruption. People were thinking about development and a clean government while she went about talking of terrorism.

The Mumbai Message
That brings us to the shock and horror of Mumbai that both Vijay Kumar Malhotra in Delhi and Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan attempted to encash in this election. It backfired and how! These leaders miscalculated the anger in Mumbai and over Mumbai. You don’t need to be a political analyst to understand that the anger was against politicians in general. It was not about BJP or Congress. The angry outpourings were against the political system and not a party. The fact that a commercial featuring Vasundhara ranting against terrorism was repeated ad nauseam on TV channels only made things worse. It was disgusting to hear her while the encounters were on in Mumbai. No body in her party had the good sense to take it off air, because the bad sense of vote-greed prevailed. Look who has the egg on her face now!

The result of the so-called semi-finals is a clear signal to the political class: People dislike politics over dead bodies. They want action against perpetrators of terror and more protection for the common man, but empty promises won’t do. Get specific. People want more development and less corruption. They do want change but not for the sake of it. Ready for the finals?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Calling them cowards doesn't make you brave, Mister Minister!

We have been tested again and once again we have been found wanting. Wednesday night left us in tatters, almost naked in front of the world community. Two dozen boys defeated a country. Yes, politicians have called them cowards but let us not fool ourselves. Even if these guys are out of their minds and determined to commit suicide, the bitter truth is they succeeded in doing what they wanted to do and our security apparatus failed in what they ought to do. Wednesday night was shameful for us as inefficient, unfit and ill-equipped policemen fumbled as the terrorists sprayed bullets and walked the streets of Mumbai, from a railway station to a hospital, from a pub to the Taj Mahal Hotel. Of course, some brave police officers took them head on and made the supreme sacrifice but it also betrayed their level of sophistication in handling such situations.

Hours after the first burst rained out from their Kalashnikovs, one could see people carrying the injured with hands. Our disaster management system could fetch some stretchers to the spot. The hotel staff seemed more efficient in handling the situation that the police commissioner of India's shiniest metropolis. The excuse of intelligence failure works in case of timed bomb blasts. November 26 will go down in history as a direct assault on our resolve, with bullets and grenades. This is unprecedented.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad, the nomenclature explains it all, was busy unravelling the Pragya Thakur network. Just a few hours before he was killed on Wednesday night, ATC chief Hemant Karkare had told the press that 90 per cent of his resources are chasing the Malegaon case for over a month.His organisation did not have the foggiest that terror would paddle its way to the Gateway of India on a raft. Intelligence has become an oxymoron, thanks to the moronic ways leads are passed and pursued.

The home minister somnambulates to the waiting TV cameras at 2.30 in the morning but says few meaningful words. His soporific demeanour signals the inherent weakness of our system. Will we ever wake up? When will the policeman in megapolises, like Delhi and Mumbai, stop looking like mofussil havildar fiddling with his Raj-era .303? When will our ministers in charge understand the urgency to reassure a billion people by not appearing bored with blasts? These are clichéd questions but then so are talks about resilience; the spirit of Mumbai; terrorists are cowards; this is a conspiracy; and dastardly acts of violence against innocents. This Wednesday-Thursday India cried tears of blood. And Shivraj Patil was no comic relief, even if the country laughed at 2.30 am.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Top of the world

Being a man, I am genetically programmed to exess-ercise and develop muscles only marginally smaller than that of the Godzilla or alternatively protect them from minutest movements so that they decay in their little lethargical existence. I belonged to the second category and I do not blame it on TV alone. Chips, other chewies and myriad blends of Scotch share the blame equally.

I love nature, mountains and all. I have spent years watching Discovery and National Geographic to minutely study the flora and fauna of the world. I am in fact able to differentiate one from the other, well mostly. I have friends who love nature so much they go on hiking expeditions that comprises extensive driving through small towns of Haryana, Punjab and Himachal or Uttarakhand to reach the foothills of a mountain. After many drinks, the views apparently become more scenic. They also occasionally climb these hills and come down the mountains. I have had visual proof of all this thanks to the digital camera, which captures these nature-lovers making faces at the optical zoom lens while posing next to random rocks in the wilderness.

So when a friend suggested we take a hike to a place called Triund, above Mcleodganj in Himachal Pradesh, I was immediately dismissive of such an endeavour. Why drive 600 km to walk up a hill when you can walk about the same distance window-shopping at some of the XXL malls inside NCR? Everything at these malls is either crap or way too expensive. Hence, I decided to actually shop for a change and hopped on the bandWagon R.

The drive from Delhi is pleasant, more so if you started at night, lost your way after Ropar (which for some reason is called Rupnagar now) and did not know Gurmukhi. Road signs in interior Punjab, if you can find one, are in this script deceptively similar to Devnagari. The technological wonder called GPS in my mobile phone helped us at least thrice to find our road to Una, a town in the plains that thinks it's in the mountains. It is located geographically in Himachal Pradesh but is in a Punjab state of mind. You cross Una and go to Hamirpur via a road that the state government in Shimla should not be embarrassed about. The road gives you enough jitters to remember the state for a long time. Experts later told us it's better to go straight to Pathankot (take National Highway 1, shift to 1A at Jalandhar) and then turn right for Dharmsala (NH 20). There is another road: Take the Manali Road from Ropar and leave it at Bilaspur to turn left for Dharmsala. Well, even via Una managed to do Dharmsala in 10 hours flat. Just a little ahead of Dharmsala lies Mcleodganj, the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile. His Holiness The Dalai Lama stays in the Tibetan town inside India.

I would recommend you make this your base camp. You get magnificent views of the mighty Dhauladhar Himalayas from here. I could not because adrenalin had already kicked in inside my friend on the driving seat. He decided to drive up to Gallu Devi temple above the pretty village of Dharamkot. We checked in at Sagar, a five-room establishment, just where the tough part of the trek begins. We were exhausted, droopy eyed and crash-prone since we had left Delhi after a long day of work and had driven all night. So we decided to do the obvious: go for a hike down the hill to a glacial waterfall and freeze ourselves. The almost invisible track beneath our feet was pretty normal to begin with and got scarier, step by steep step. We had to crawl at places and walk on all fours at others. It ends at a waterfall. The water would freeze if it lost its furious momentum. We decided to give good sense a break and took a dip in an ice-cold puddle. The sun helped our frozen bodies get back into shape. Ravi runs a shack just above the waterfall and will serve you tea, coffee, chips and hot Maggi.

The five-km trip back to our rooms was refreshing. We slept well, dreaming of a new dawn. After a quick breakfast of eggs and toast, we started our long uphill walk to Triund. The rocky track is about two feet wide and steep to begin with. It took about an hour and a half to reach Magic Point, a small shop claiming to be the oldest tea shop on the route. Almost midway, this shop's unwritten motto should be: If we don't have it, you don't need it. Well, he sells everything from memory chips to Snickers and everything in between. After filling ourselves with water followed by a lot of caffeine, we decided to face our fears. From here, the climb needs determination. Your calves are already aching and city-bred lung huffing and puffing. You can see Triund, your destination, from here. Time to slay those naysaying demons inside your mind. That's what we did.

We cried, cribbed and cursed our sissy limbs and blamed the government for the condition of our sorry lungs. We also tried sado-masochism by screaming at our lungs: Take it baby, it's payback time, comeuppance, you lazy lung. We forcefed it so much oxygen I am sure they don't need air for another year. As a side-effect, our brains got a lot more oxygen than they are used to. The result was a heightened sense of clarity. Just a few feet from each other, we were walking alone. All the troubles of the world vanished and problems found solution as we got to the tortuous last leg (absolutely intended) of the trek. We were at Triund just about 2,975 metres above sea level but the feeling was the top of the world. The Dhauladhar spread in front of our eyes in full-blown beauty. With last year's snow still resting in its crannies, the tallest piece of stone there called Mount Indrahar was kissing the never-before-seen-blue sky as the half-shaped moon smiled. Yes, the world up there is so clear, the moon was visible at 3 in the afternoon on November 8 while the sun was still threatening enough.

Hindus of India manage tougher treks but it always ends in a mountain-top temple. Here, there was no temple but one felt with the gods. And of course dogs of the upper reaches are always around. Large, handsome dogs called gaddi dogs. There are a couple of shacks that serve soupy Maggi. We ordered some boiled eggs to begin with. Thanks to low pressure at that height, it takes a lot of time to boil things. We attributed to this phenomenon the out-of-the-world taste of those boiled eggs.

After soaking in the pure air, lazing on the flat meadows of the Triund ridge for a couple of hours, we began our trek downhill. By the time we reached Joginder Singh's midway magic point, it was dark. The moon tried to show us our way, but at curves and shades it could be misadventurous. But Joginder stayed open till we came back. He told us there are leopards and Himalayan bears, the most ill-tempered of the species this side of the world. "They don't attack humans but do not take chances at night," he was firm as he walked along us with torchlight. He told us stories of the jungle, the dogs, the firangis and the Israelis for the next hour till we reached our resthouse. I promised to come back. I will. And this time we will go to Laka Jot, the snow line where there is snow round the year. In Triund, snow is abundant only between December and March. More adventurous trekkers go beyond Laka and cross the Indrahar Pass into Chamba district. You start with Triund. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Wanted: An Obama for India

Till many years after India was born into equal suffrage democracy, the black minority in democratic America did not have voting rights. And today, a skinny black man is headed for the White House. Barack Obama vanquishing the Grand Old Party is about the common American slaying many demons cached in crannies of his mind. All nations of the world take interest in the American elections, for America is not just a country but also an idea, a dream surpassed only by India.

The idea of India is far more audacious than people anywhere else can possibly imagine. In spite of a Raj Thackeray here and a Lalu Yadav there, we stand as a country bound by that idea. Cynics had written us off soon after that midnight birth, preceded and followed by bloodbath. Sixty one years later, India has grown up to be a country that can now look into the eyes of most nations. It's no small feat.

Can India, the world's largest democracy, produce a Barack Obama? Can we find one leader who can inspire a whole nation? Can we ever again have a political revolution of the scale of Obama mania. Well, yes, we can. This is where Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru were born. Indira Gandhi stirred the nation after the Janata period. The Janata rule itself was the outcome of Jai Prakash Narayan’s clarion call. Rajiv Gandhi could do the magic. I would add even Atal Behari Vajpayee to that list for he enjoyed pan-Indian love and respect, in spite of his party.

But India never needed an Obama like we do today. The last decade has been devastatingly divisive for a nation tied together by just an idea. The gap between majority Hindus and minority Muslims and Christians has never been wider. The constant curse of caste refuses to leave us. The Thackeray brand of regionalism has brought mainstream states on collision course. India needs a leader who inspires its diverse people into burying these differences. Where is he? Where can we find her? The answer: we do not have a true leader in our midst and not even on the distant horizon.

When Obama overcame all obstacles including a very popular Clinton to run for the President, parallels were drawn with an Indian leader who has overcome bigger obstacles. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati's rise reflects the strength of our democracy as Obama's victory reflects that of America. Mayawati did not even have the privileges that Obama enjoyed, like growing up in a secure home, with prosperous grandparents, Harvard Law School and so on. What Mayawati has achieved is far greater than what Obama did. But then Mayawati is far, and I would go so far as to say too far, from being an Obama. Her politics is divisive in spite of the recent sarvajan cloak. Her politics is casteist at heart. Bringing Brahmins and Dalits together in itself is casteism. Her image is also of a vindictive and corrupt politician.

Sadly, no one from the present crop, young and old, shows any signs of ‘change’ we can believe in. Our politics is a game of numbers where parties take calculated risks. Obama did not win on black votes or white votes. Obama won because he made a better proposition to the American citizen. Obama won because he is inclusive, not just in what he wants for America but also in what he seeks for the world. Especially after George W's eight divisive years. America found a man who can save it from becoming a country universally hated. Americans hope Obama would take every American along and every country along.

Anyone here to take everyone along? Advani ji, aap to rehni hi do.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monkey on a tree

Here is an old-timey tale, folks. Tired of the frequent simian raids on their village, a group of villagers were chasing a monkey out. Fearing for his life, the monkey climbed a tree. So the villagers started throwing stones at the macaque. And then suddenly this Haryanvi gentleman, who was passing by, stopped to investigate this hullabaloo.
“Who's on the monkey’s side?” he enquired.
“Nobody. We all want this animal out of our village,” replied a villager.
“Nobody? Then I am on the monkey's side. Fight me first,” the gentleman said.
Well, the Haryanvi man was as much a worshipper of Hanuman as everybody else. He just wanted to support the underdog. It's a human instinct. For the longest time, Indians hated America not because Americans hated us but because America was the bully scaring underdogs like Saddam Hussein. The gun-toting Yasser Arafat was a hero for us even as he fit the description of a terrorist.
Dharamdev Rai is dead. He was leaving Mumbai for his Eastern UP home when a dozen Marathi youth wanted him to move from the window seat. He refused. Rai was a labourer and a bhaiyya to top that. His disobedience infuriated the local guys who beat him to pulp. Should we blame the Marathi mob? Should we blame mobocrat Raj Thackeray? Well for Dharamdev Rai's untimely death, I would blame the trio from Bihar — Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan.
The day before Diwali, Rahul Raj, a young man from Patna died in a shootout with the Mumbai police when he tried to take over a bus at gunpoint. Four police bullets felled him. It was shocking. A Bihari youth in Mumbai threatening Mumbaikars and then the police going for the easier option: shoot him up. But what followed was far more shocking. Bihar politicians, who normally do not see eye-to-eye were walking hand-in-hand to the Prime Minister’s Office, protesting against Rahul’s death and calling it a cold-blooded murder.
Raj Thackeray’s men had targeted Biharis (they are bundled with North Indians, because they speak Hindi-like language) and thrashed them before they could write the railways exams in Maharashtra. The country was outraged at this. The general mood was sympathetic towards the victims (Biharis). But things change quickly. A jobless Rahul Raj wanted to get some media attraction when he brandished a pistol and fired a couple of rounds in the air and one at a passenger's leg on the bus he was trying to hijack. He had made his intentions clear. He wanted to meet the police commissioner. If he believed he could kill Raj Thackeray from that bus, he was delusional. His death was an avoidable tragedy and so was the political attack on Mumbai police. The idea that the Mumbai Police murdered him in cold blood was grossly excessive.
Bihar politicians chose to defend Rahul Raj, who was armed and was ready to pull the trigger. That one tragedy and the political farce that followed turned the Bihari, until now the scared monkey on a tree, into villagers in a stoning mood. Now the common Marathi manoos who has little respect for Raj Thackeray no longer thinks Biharis are victims of the day.
The Lalu-Nitish-Paswan unity may end up helping Raj Thackeray more than anyone else. If Biharis choose to side with a gun-toting guy trying to hijack a bus, then Marathis may side with the venom-spewing guy trying to hijack Mumbai. If Bihar’s Raj can be the monkey in that tale, why wouldn’t a Marathi want to rise for the Marathi Raj now surrounded by ban-demanding Bihari politicians? By defending the pistol-flashing-I-will-kill-Raj-Thackeray Rahul Raj, the Bihari netas just drove Raj up that tree, at least in Maharashtra.
Soon after the Jamia encounter, the demand for a SIMI-like ban on Bajrang Dal picked up momentum. The Hindutva militants found a lot of support from common Hindus, who don't love them otherwise, because however marauding the monkey may be, when atop a tree fending off stones, it can enjoy the status of a victim. Even avowed secular Hindus were aghast at the Indian Mujahideen blasts across the country. The majority did not abandon their secularism but also wanted to see strong action against so-called jehadis. The cries for a ban on local-make Bajrang Dal when India needed to tackle international-make terror almost gave Bajrang Dal the status of the monkey in the folktale. A Pragya Singh Thakur changed that overnight. She proved that bomb blasts were not planned only in Muslim ghettos. The Hindu militant organisations are no longer the marauding monkey on that tree. They are hellraisers on the ground, no less sinister than SIMI or Indian Mujahideen. Rahul Raj and Sadhvi Pragya have given the game a level playing field. Expect a dirty fight.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Praful Patel, Raj Thackeray jealous of Ramkhelawan of UP

The morning after Jet Airways reinstated all 1,900 staff it sacked 48 hours ago, Ramkhelawan Pandey, the paanwala outside the airport, described it as victory for his relentless prayers that lasted more than 13 minutes in total.

“Jet has been forced to take this decision due to the prayers launched by Pandeyji. This is a victory of his devotional tactics,” his assistant Raju told reporters. Pandeyji will make his stance clear over Jet Chairman Naresh Goyal's announcement tomorrow morning, he said.

Seeking to wriggle out of a financial mess, Jet on Wednesday had fired 1,900 probationary staff hired for proposed expansion plans, which have since been put on hold. The layoff decision was expected to help the airline save one million US dollars a month, but evoked strong condemnation from unions, politicians.

And as if that was nothing Ramkhelawan Pandey, who sold smokes and paan masala to the young guys and girls, immediately closed his eyes, put his janeu (sacred thread) on his left ear and asked God to immediately act. He asked God to influence Goyal’s dead, beloved, heaven-resident mother, the only person Goyal listened to. “In the press conference, Goyalsaab swore on his dead, beloved mother saying his conscience did not let him let his children suffer,” that’s the power of conscience,” Raju said as he closed the shop for the night.

At a press conference late on Thursday night, Goyal had said the reinstatement decision was “not under political pressure and and I have not met anybody... There was no internal or external pressure.”

“When there is no internal or external pressure it is clear that Pandeyji’s divine pressure has worked,” Raju said. He however denied that Pandeyji sent any ‘julab-laced’ paan for the chairman to add to the pressure.

In the meantime, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel attempted to take credit by saying he was happy that 1,900 people got back their jobs in Jet Airways, within a day of his asking the airline's boss to solve the problem.

"I called the Chairman (Naresh Goyal) yesterday morning to meet me in Hyderabad... I had also told him that in 24 hours, we must find a resolution to this problem otherwise we in the ministry would certainly not be very happy with the approach of Jet Airways," he told reporters here.

Raju said Patel is trying to ape Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, who earlier claimed to have forced the airline to take back the sacked staff. “Just 24 hours ago, Patel was saying the decision to retrench was as an internal corporate matter of Jet and government supported the idea of cutting costs. This man obviously wants to share Pandeyji’s well-deserved limelight,” Raju told reporters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ready to play

The coming Assembly elections in some states are being billed as the great electoral semifinal. The general elections next year will be the big final match. Agreed, these elections are being fought in some large states where the BJP and the Congress are in direct fight. The battle in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan will be interesting as the BJP has been in power in these states and would face not only a stronger Congress but also anti-incumbency. If the BJP loses these, it should kiss its dreams of recapturing New Delhi goodbye.

The state called Delhi may not be as big in size as the above three but the battle here will be no less interesting. Congress has been in power here for a decade. These is increasing discomfort in the masses with the way the government has handled basic issues — roads, power, water and hygiene — in the recent past. The all-new BRT looks like a terrible mistake, the rest of the roads are in horrible shape. Power cuts make mofussil of this mahanagar and water has been scarce, but not on the roads in this squalid city.

But then BJP chose an old, regressive man to lead the party in this state.
V.K. Malhotra may promise change but doesn't represent it. He is more of the same thing, only in different clothes. I am really not sure he can pull it off — the job at hand if he god forbid wins. A city poised for big things deserves better. So now I have serious doubts about the BJP's ability to be effective in the finals next year. Well, if the guys at Ashok Road couldn't find a better candidate for Delhi, this puts a question mark on their strategy.

As for Sheila Dikshit, she is better off with the oldie leading the opponents. She can be adventurous enough to fancy a third consecutive term, but that may not come. Even if she scrapes through, the Congress high command would anoint someone else this time. She has burnt too many bridges with 10, Janpath. Here is another incentive for her rivals within the party: help her win because she will lose the chair anyway. That means another Delhi leader will get a chance to play inside Players Building. Game, anyone?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pulling a Palin

Yes. The phrase is gaining currency after the Palin-Biden debate, the famous one where she started off on a different issue/tangent whenever she was faced with a difficult question. This not-so-original tactic is now being termed as 'Pulling a Palin' on someone. To think of it, the surprise candidacy of Sarah Palin can be this: John McCain pulled a Palin on the race by pulling the Alaskan out of his closet of running mates.
Alas, the presidential race has been overshadowed by the clouds of gloom hanging over the US economy. Suddenly the US voter wants myriad assurances and an answer to the question: How did it it come to this and who brought us here? The average American can't go into the nuances of the answer to the first part of that question. But the second part is simple: the Republicans. After all, George W. Bush has been managing the economy for the last eight years. Can the McCain-Palin pair pull a Palin on the American voter? The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. It's writing on the Wall Street.

Monday, October 13, 2008

National Dis-Integration Council

The National Integration Council has met in Delhi and agreed to disagree on whatever was on the agenda. In Orissa, Bajrang Dal mobs continue burning down houses and places of worship of Christians, raping, loot and even killing. In Karnataka, things have got better after the state government took some stern action. But in Andhra and Madhya Pradesh, two towns are burning in communal flames. The widening gulf between majority Hindus and Christians and Muslims were on top of the National Integration Council agenda. Nothing came off it. The agenda got lost in the din over whether to ban the Bajrang Dal. I had feared this result in an earlier post here.

Simplicity is the key here but politicians want to complicate matters to create a smokescreen. Both sides — the one demanding a ban and the one opposing it —are just seeking to extract political dividends as the national election draws closer.

Politicians need to ask themselves a simple question: What did we get out of banning Simi or Students Islamic Movement of India? The answer is simple: bloodshed. Simi offices were closed, its members went underground. Invisible, they could execute some of the deadliest terrorist acts. Indian Mujahideen would not have been born had we allowed SIMI to function in the open. If students were allowed to take part in its meetings, some students could expose their agenda, if it was so sinister. But the government loves banning stuff. And the result is there for all to see. We have laws against unlawful activities and if a SIMI member was found involved in such acts, the police could arrest him or her. But since law enforcement is not so dramatic, the government goes for a more theatrical tool called: ban.

India needs to value law enforcement, not just in Orissa but in every corner of this vast country. All citizens need the confidence that a single killing or an act of arson will not go unpunished. And that punishment must be swift. If it takes establishing a new force, a federal agency and special courts, we must get it done and get it done right now. Punish people who burnt Samarmati Express in Godhra and punish those who participated in riots thereafter. Catch the Bajrangis in Karnataka and Orissa, try them and punish them in six months. Don’t ban conversion but make it clear to the aggressive neo evangelists that the law will be after them if they were caught violating the basic tenets of conversion.

Muslims don’t need Sachar Commission handouts, they need integration. That integration will not come until they fear the law as much as a Hindu, a Christian or a Sikh does. Until they feel law will protect them as much as it protects a Hindu, a Christian or a Sikh. Banning Bajrang Dal to balance the ban on SIMI will only create a smokescreen the politicians would hide behind.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Stop you crybabies

Hindu radicals from Vishwa Hindu Parishad have filed an FIR against cricketer Harbhajan Singh for hurting what they call “Hindu sentiments”. His crime: he donned the getup of Ravana and matched steps with actor Mona Singh, she’s Sikh too, on a reality show where a cricketer is paired with a haseena.

Before this, Akal Takht, the supreme Sikh religious body, had blasted Harbhajan for the same dance saying he hurt Sikh sentiments by posing as a Hindu mythological villain and even sported a vermilion dot on his forehead. The Akal Takht also had some strong rebuke for Mona Singh, a Sikhni, for partnering with the villain of the piece. In one spin, the two ended up hurting both Sikh and Hindu sentiments, said the Takht. “I think it is unreasonable to mock at religious deities like this. Ravana is known as evil. How can Ravana and Sita dance together? That the dance was done by two Sikhs is condemnable,” Akal Takht chief Gurbachan Singh said.

Indians are a sentimental people. But are our sentiments so pansy they get hurt every time someone so much as sneezes? I watched that dance and found it funny in some parts and ridiculous in most. But my sentiments were intact. I do not know many people who take dance contests so seriously as to hurt their sentiments. But the VHP guys went out and burned effigies of Harbhajan Singh and even complained to the police.

These hardcore fanatics are actually softcore sissies when it comes to sentiments. Militant Bajrangis went on a rampage and attacked churches in Karnataka because they claimed their sentiments were hurt by pamphlets distributed by some evangelists. The same gang has forced into exile one of India’s greatest artists, Husain, because a painting apparently hurt their sentiment.

Muslim sentiments are hurt by Satanic Verses or cartoons published in some Danish newspaper. A newspaper here illustrated that story with a copy of one of those toons and its editor ended up in jail. The police encounter at Batla House has also hurt Muslim sentiments. Jamia’s sentiments are hurt because a couple of its students have been caught for being involved in terrorist events. Santa-Banta jokes never hurt Sikh sentiments but some innocuous statement from an insignificant politico would instantly hurt them.

In spite of being a secular country, we keep banning books and films lest we should hurt sentiments of some people. We also have official sentiments. A Tricolour sari or bikini hurts the sentiments of the entire nation as if we existed because of the flag and not vice versa. In this country, people were not allowed to use the Tricolour on their cars or houses. Even now you can’t have it fluttering at night. I have seen British films where they take off their Queen’s pants off, but our films don’t even show the President lest it should hurt the sentiments of the government. I remember many films just showing the back of the President. We worship the divine lingam and yoni but private parts of mortals are a strict no no.

Bong sentiments aren’t hurt when a mad woman takes the state for a ride and drives a car project to BJP-ruled Gujarat. But Sourav Ganguly’s retirement will surely hurt because “Sourav is a victim of regionalism in cricket”. The sheer scale of poverty and lawlessness does not offend the common Bihari but calling Bihar a lawless land hurts their sentiments. Raj Thackeray shows no signs of having a heart but his sentiments are hurt by a Jaya Bachchan saying she was from UP and would speak in Hindi. She is a Bengali from Madhya Pradesh, married to a UPiite and living in Mumbai for ages.

I remember my days in Bangalore where it was sacrilegious to question the acting talent of then retired superstar Rajkumar. A group pf Kannadigas went berserk when he died. Not in Veerappan’s custody but a natural death at his home.

Time we behaved like a confident nation and learned to keep our sentiments in check. Powerful nations don’t behave like cry-babies.

Friday, October 10, 2008

God sends a car to punish your pampered car

For me, this week started with a bang. On a lazy, sultry Sunday afternoon, I was driving to Connaught Place to buy gifts for a friend who was celebrating her birthday that night. Not too many vehicles on the road, no metro madness, one could feel the laziness hanging in Delhi's busiest area. As I crossed the Super Bazaar subway on the Connaught Circus circular, the traffic got lazier as I could see cars slowing down to a halt ahead of me. The stereo was humming a lilting, slow-paced ghazal. I was close to stopping my car when my car was kicked by an unknown force. I don't know what speed the guy behind me was going at but the impact said it all and I quote: “Whoooooa!” The seatbelt stopped me from being thrown off the windshield. My car had hit the car in front of me which had hit the car in its front. It was a chain reaction triggered by a lazy radio taxi driver. I looked at my rear bumper’s mangled mass which was in better shape than the front bumper of the car that caused it all. My front bumper was pretty much off the chassis hanging by a couple of electrical wires.
In a normal Delhi situation, especially on a hot day, the owner(s) of the victim car(s) beat to pulp the driver of the accused car and equal the damage by physically crushing the accused (car). But then the damage the taxi had suffered looked like even stevens. The beating of the driver ritual however could not start not because the victim no. 1, your’s truly, is not a violent person but because the driver held on to my feet and would not allow me to call the police or the taxi company. “I am a poor man. I have already been hit because I have to get the car repaired from my own money. I have just 300 rupees to give you if you so desire. I have never been careless with driving in the three years of service. I will lose my job if you complain. Beat me if you want to,” he just did not stop pleading. It’s impossible to punish a willing receptor of punishment. I called the radio taxi number displayed on the taxi’s body and wanted to know who would compensate me for the damage. The man on the other end said: the driver, according to company policy.
I called up a senior executive who parroted the junior executive’s line: “the driver would pay, make him pay”. The other drivers were not really excited about the boring turn the accident took. Seeing no action in the offing, they left cursing the taxi driver, sympathising with me and then cursing their luck, the other victims left. Then the taxi driver and I stood in the sun. I told him to buzz off. He didn’t want to let me go unless I had forgiven him. In other words: “a promise that I would not press charges.” I made no promises but did tell him he was forgiven. He immediately got down to work and fixed the front bumper with a lot of effort. “The rear one will have to be replaced, sir,” he informed me. His taxi needed towing away. I could drive mine to the gift store. The small signboard was telling: SUNDAY CLOSED.

Moral of the story: Once your car decides to go to the bodyshop, you will drive to a shop which will be closed because it's a Sunday. But not before another car strikes it on an nearly empty road.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Don't Lie, Prick; We Are Already Bleeding

Amar Singh is full-time politician and part-time buffoon; hence people have little expectation from him. But his latest outburst against the police at Jamia Nagar has hit the bottom of vote-mongering. At a time when the locality is abuzz with doubts, both genuine and unfounded, he chose to use a lie to uphold the truism of politics: nail the vote. We already have one Parivar hell-bent on alienating Muslims by branding them as terrorists or terror-sympathisers, the capitalist Samajwadi has joined forces with them to do more harm than good.

He uses this dangerous tactic to distance his party from its new-found love: the Congress. For the record, Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma was not transferred out of the Special Cell on the day of the encounter. He was one of the key members of the team assigned the job of busting the network behind Delhi blasts. There is no dispute about it. He ‘could’ have been shifted had he been alive. But he was still there in the special cell and actively pursuing people suspected of involvement in the September 13 blasts. That he is dead doesn’t answer all the questions about the encounter, neither does it prove that those who were present at L-18, Batla House, guilty. But saying Mohan Chand Sharma was transferred and that he went there looking for death is not only a lie, but a lie that could vitiate an already charged atmosphere.

This lie came from a man who first sympathised and eulogised the inspector and sent a cheque of Rs 10 lakh to his family. Hypocrisy is not the word here. Delhi Police records say that Inspector Sharma was never transferred out from Special Cell’s New Delhi range.

Amar Singh jumped the gun again by accusing other police officers of bumping Sharma off. Well many say so. And it might well be the truth but Amar Singh wasn’t gos-sipping tea at a roadside stall with his buddies. It was a public meeting ostensibly to calm the people who are genuinely offended by the sheer opacity of such encounters. The police and the administration must, and urgently so, make these encounters a little more transparent.

He has every right to demand a judicial inquiry into the encounter. At present, every encounter is followed by a magisterial enquiry and a report is duly sent to the National Human Right Commission. But a judicial inquiry is imperative here because the truth, now up in smoke, must come out.

In his new-found zeal to distance himself from his new-found ally Congress, Singh also accused Home Minister Shivraj Patil of directing the raid on Batla House from the police headquarters. This could be a compliment for the man now notorious for his incompetence in handling internal security. The truth is Shivraj Patil was at the police headquarters to inaugurate the refurbished Police Control Room. Accusing Patil of competence, however backhanded, may actually sound like a compliment.

He is free to send love letters to Patil, but politicians must stop aping the Narendra Modi style of politics. It is time to find the truth behind the encounter, not murder our sanity in this encounter of words. Amar Singh’s shameless attempt to firmly put Muslims in a corner may end up alienating more young minds, already cornered by the virulent campaigns against them by terrorists of the Sangh Parivar kind. What has been more shameless is the Congress’ reluctance in telling him to shut his trap.

No monkey, no cigarettes

Bad news for monkeys who loved a puff or two. Zoos are public places and hence smokers will be fined.
People for Ethical Treatment of Animals wants the Central Zoo Authority to strictly implement the new anti-smoking law inside all zoos in India. Central Zoo Authority, which incidently is managed by human beings, has complied by asking all the zoos to comply. What's harmful for the goose is equally harmful for the gander. Passive smoking, according to PETA, affects the animals' health as badly as it does so to humans.

"Zoo is a public place. The ban will only provide a safer, healthier and more comfortable environment for visitors, employees and animals, of course," zoo authority member secretary BR Sharma was quoted by PTI as saying. There are around 180 recognised zoos all across the country. The animals in unrecognised zoos and domestic ones like your dog can still negatively benefit from passive smoking.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Pay suicide tax, but die in private. In public, you will be fined.

Congratulations. After importing cigarettes, we have finally imported a ban from countries that provide free, good-quality healthcare to their people. The ban is legal and constitutional. The morals, however, are questionable. But in a country of hypocrites at the helm, what else can you expect? It follows a law passed by parliament, hence is binding and smokers will do a lot of good to not only their lungs but also their budget because there will be these guys out there to penalise them. By the way, these guys are probably paid from the exorbitantly taxed cigarette packs. They make money by allowing you to kill yourself and then they make some more if you commit that slow suicide in public.

The health missionaries led by Anbumani Ramadoss are sure smoking kills. Medical research also says so. The cigarette pack says so. But Anbumani Ramadoss does not have the minerals to ban the stick that is responsible for 40 per cent of all deaths in India, his figure not mine. Nobody believes him. His fellow minister in the Home department has told the court to ignore his blather (Ramadoss says remove ban on gay sex, home ministry says Ramadoss is talking nonsense). His standing in the government apart, smoking, passive or active, is dangerous. Only that he doesn’t have the resources or morals to stand up and ban smoking. The government, knowing fully well that smoking kills, continues to earn money from killing people.

It is the same government that sells alcohol and also has a prohibition department run by babus getting fat on your taxes. All they do is put up hoardings and make C-grade commercials to discourage people from drinking. By the way, a lot of people die because of drinking, passively. Drunk men keep knocking down pedestrians on road. Some drunk men flash pistols and even shoot and kill. You don’t need examples. Drinking does kill people who have not been drinking.

The purpose of the ban is to protect non-smokers from cigarette fumes. This sounds so logical. No smoker has the right to smoke into a non-smoker’s face. But banning it in all bars, pubs and hotels is illogical. For example, a city can have smoking bars and non-smoking ones. That gives a choice to both who smoke and those who don’t. Not allowing office buildings to define a smoking area is also taking the ban too far. Those not into passive smoking, I know at least one, can avoid the enclosure meant for smokers.

Pan Masala may cause cancer, gutkha apparently will do so. They are packed in little plastic pouches that even rag pickers don’t find worth picking. These pouches clog our drains that cause diseases that kill people who may not be chewing tobacco. In eastern India, people chew tobacco in different forms — khaini, gul and gudakhu being the prominent ones. So people will kill themselves anyway.

Countries like the UK have banned smoking because the government takes care of the citizens’ health. In India, rural healthcare is a scam. In cities, those who can afford to stay away from government hospitals do just that: stay away. But then providing healthcare to every citizen is not a priority and will not be as dramatic either, so health hawks prefer bans that have more drama and less substance.
Congratulations, again, because the will of the non-smoking majority has succeeded. Only that we do not have the balls to even fathom the will of the majority in Kashmir. Numbers matter. Caste-based reservation has its merits but no politician worth his khadi undie dared opposing it, even for the sake of healthy debate, in parliament. Gender-based reservation invites furious debate and is never passed. The same goes for reservation for Muslims, who are joined by Christians now in experiencing how the majority ramrods its will.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apples and oranges

There is an eerie similarity between the agruments about an anti-terror law and the women's reservation bill in parliament.

Everyone agrees that we need to reserve a certain percentage of Lok Sabha seats for women, but someone or the other comes up with another valid argument that women from backward castes should get reservation within reservation. Then everything gets complicated and it's left at that.

Now take a look at the present debate. Should we have a tiugher law as a deterrent to terror? Everyone and their uncles say yes we need one. But then somebody gets up and says what about mob terror? Should we ban Bajrang Dal and VHP? Then someone gets up and says ban conversion? Very valid arguments and very misplaced too. This is where things get complicated and we leave it at that.

Instead of bringing in specific laws to tackle both these threats, we are equating these too equally terrifying but entirely different acts of violence (see the post below).

So for the nth time I would say this: Communal violence targets a community. Terrorists target the state. Communal riots are deplorable (often more dangerous and deserving harsher punishment) because a large mob of one community rapes, kills and ravishes members of another community. We, however, also have history of communities living together. The legacy also forces them to live together again. And there is hope.

Terrorists, on the other hand, don't care who is killed. The kind of terrorism we are faced with today is entirely alien to us. Naxalites also target the state but they target the establishment, not common people. They will blow up a police station or kill a district magistrate but won't plant bombs in dustbins.

It's time we grew up and understood apples and organges as apples and oranges.

And yes I still believe we do not need new laws. We just need the will to strengthen and enforce the existing laws in a bipartisan manner. We don't need a tough law, we just need to be tough.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ban Bajrang Dal and stop this nonsensical debate. SIMI is different. Period.

The Delhi bombings followed by the arrests of young Muslim men from Jamia Nagar area has sparked a debate that involves a lot of uncomfortable issues. This discomfort in discussing challenges at hand has often sabotaged the possibility of a solution in the past and in turn given us the sobriquet Soft State.

There is a dangerous divide between our intellectuals and thought-leaders over how we move from here. Because move we must lest the country should bleed to death and disintegration. During various debates on TV this past week, I saw a lot of people fighting for words when it came to what to do with “the misguided Muslim youths” and “the gangs of Sangh Parivar goons”. And whenever a speaker demanded a tough, new anti-terror law to face the proxy war, his opponents sought that the same law should be applicable to the marauders in saffron rampaging through churches in Orissa and Karnataka. That a ban similar to that imposed on Students Islamic Movement of India be slapped on Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.

But what is more dangerous is equating these two ugly faces staring at us. Yes, I will stick my neck out and say Bajrang Dal and Indian Mujahideen cannot be equated and should not be dealt with under the same law. But before Mahesh Bhatt cries “Hindu fundamentalist” and dumps me in the corner of his mind occupied by VHP and Bajrang Dal, I would say hear me out. Bhatt has very valid question: Why don’t we treat mob terror as terrorism. The problem is his argument, and that of so many others, only obfuscates the issue and delays a solution.

Bajrang Dal and VHP, the sordid side of the saffron brigade, want a Hindu Rashtra and frequently foment trouble by demolishing mosques, desecrating churches and killing minority citizens. Most of the killings during the post-Godhra riots were executed by these elements or people sympathetic to their ideology. They are largely responsible for what is happening in Karnataka today. And though the Kandhamal tragedy has a lot of angles, the VHP and Bajrang Dal are guilty of spreading trouble in the region.

There is no agreed definition of terrorism. Etymologically, a terrorist act is aimed at frightening people. Many countries now have separated criminal acts from terrorist acts. SIMI or Indian Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the like may claim to be patrons of a community but they are essentially terrorist organisations. Apart from owing allegiance to foreign forces or jehadi ideology, they are also different from the VHP-Bajrangis in their approach to violence. They target unsuspecting, innocent people irrespective of their community or creed. If al-Qaeda was a pro-Muslim organisation, people would not be dying in Pakistan almost every day. The law and the common citizen have to differentiate between acts of communal violence and acts of terrorism. Terrorists do not target a community. Terrorists do not care who gets killed. The idea behind a terrorist attack to spread terror/fear/panic by killing randomly at random places. Many Muslims have died in the attacks by the jehadi terrorists. It’s always to shock and awe the common citizen of a country.
VHP and Bajrangi violence is communal violence, aimed at a certain community. It may be worse than terrorism but is not equal to. Hang those who use mob violence to terrorist a community. Make the punishment for communal violence harsher than that handed out to terrorists. Communal violence is not any less dangerous to our nation than terrorism. But they are not the same.

I would like to reiterate here that I do not think we need new laws to tackle either of these elements. All we need is the will to stop this nonsense by bipartisan enforcement of the existing laws. Stop demanding the same treatment not because we need to be soft on communal violence but because in this debate, we may end up not being tough on either.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dust to dust: The bomb's journey from Chagai Mountains to Margalla Hills

A week after India’s capital saw a Serial Blasts Saturday it was the turn of the Pakistani capital. A man wanted to drive a truck packed with as much as 1,000 kg of explosives into the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, the best and the hottest hotel in Islamabad's shiny Shalimar overlooking the pretty Margalla Hills. The guards at the highly-secured hotel stopped the truck. So the suicide bomber detonated his truck bomb right there. The explosion was so powerful the hotel caught fire and now stands as a devastated witness to the curse called: terrorism in the name of jehad.

This is what happens when you *****……. Those who want to repeat that famous line from The Big Lebowsky hold your Pomeranians. It’s true that Pakistan nurtured and nourished terror. It’s also true that Islamabad, in its blind passion to be seen as equal to the other child of that midnight, tried to bleed India by a thousand cuts. And it did succeed to an extent. But the Bomb, as yours truly wrote earlier on these pages, equalised the two for ever and ended the race. The atom bomb also killed their idea of an enemy, the enemy they lived for. Enemies give us a purpose to live. Poverty, fear, ugliness, ignorance, loneliness, envy and so on. All of us live to see the demise of our biggest enemy. And we toil day and night to rid ourselves of that enemy. When the very enemy you live for, the idea that sustains you, your raison d’etre dies, what do you live for? Disintegration/separation was the idea of Pakistan. Keeping it all together was the idea called India. That’s the story of the midnight’s children.

In Pakistan’s western neighbourhood, the Taliban, well-assisted by a well-equipped, well-educated tall lanky man with flowing salt-and-pepper beard, were mastering the art of suicide bombing. There was no point in getting inside the mind of a mindless suicide bomber. What mattered to the world was how to protect itself from dying young men and in cases women. They died and killed in the cold deserts of Afghanistan. Some went abroad and died to kill on September 11, 2001 other days. The promise of heaven and fairies is too simplistic for educated men to believe in. They wanted something in this world after their deaths. It was martyrdom, as eulogised in Palestinian rallies and al-Qaeda videos. The word Fidayeen has a positive connotation whether you like it or not. Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar did not choose to go fida. They found a lot of young men to do the job for them. Many elements in Pakistan were happy to see this fever catching on. They could use some of its spores in Kashmir. And they did. In groups of three or four, fidayeen would attack in Kashmir and die in gunbattle if they couldn’t escape.

But apart from Kashmir the fidayeen saw no point in travelling too far away to die, when all the ‘enemy’ ills they were indoctrinated with were in the neighbourhood. India has more Muslims than Pakistan but Indian Muslims are not ready to die in vain for fake martyrdom. There is still rule of Indian law and all those who tried, like any other Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Christian, have reached the top. In films and in industry, in corporate India and outside, poor Muslims in India face less discrimination than those in Pakistan. There is discrimination but it’s as true for poor or backward Hindus, Sikhs or Christians.

Pakistani society is caste-ridden and nearly tribal in parts. The Punjabi ruling elite has alienated large parts of the country. In areas bordering Afghanistan there is no rule of law. Many areas have not yet tasted the fruits of Pakistan’s recent economic leaps. In absence of a government, Wahhabis have taken over education and brainwashed a whole lot of youth into thinking how modernisation and urbanisation violate the basic tenets of Islam. Baitullah Masud finds recruitment easier. These young men come to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore or Karachi and find people watching TV, obscene mujras based on vulgar Indian songs, girls in jeans, conversations in coffee shops, booze in bars, hostesses in hotel lobbies and everything that they related depravity with.

Hence, the deafening Marriott explosion did not surprise Islamabad. Pakistan has an army of young men waiting to die. And going to America, Europe or even India is not easy. So they detonate at home. If Pakistan wants to escape its own children, it must stop cantonmentising the frontier provinces and start civilising them. Giving them tools for life will at least wean them away from martyrdom today. Those who are already matured for martyrdom will detonate tomorrow. But the day after may be safer. Inshallah!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What do you need a new law for?

All of us rabbit on when jolted out of sleep. What? Oh my God! How? Switch off the damn AC! Who died? Ouch! etc etc. In the cacophony that follows an earthquake at night, people rush out in their night-time negligee or the lack of them. That’s usual human reaction to sudden shock in deep slumber.

Take for example, the Bharatiya Janata Party. The party has been sleepwalking its years out of power. It wakes up to demand a new law against terrorism, every time it hears a detonation. “We want POTA back”. The Congress had revoked the BJP’s draconian law POTA because the BJP had scrapped Congress’s draconian but very tuneful TADA. The Congress says no to bringing back the draconian POTA but agrees to framing a brand new one. In a display of the “boys will be boys” behaviour the debate has moved from “my toy is better than yours” to “let us have one, a brand new one, yeah!”.

But do we need a new law? Shivraj Patil says no. In these troubled times, it’s difficult to agree with someone so handsome in handling terrorism or intelligence! But I say even Shivraj Patil can be right at times. Outside burping and farting, we have one law or the other against everything we can possibly imagine doing (you must have heterosexual sex even if you are homosexual). We are overburdened with so many laws that one law becomes the loophole for someone caught under the other. Why do we need another one?

Our law sanctions the ultimate: death by hanging. What do you want: skewer a terrorist to death? That bandhgala adorning a neat chamber in North Block said the terrorists behind the 13 September blasts would be handed out stringent punishment under the laws. To punish Terrorist X ‘stringently’ we need to first catch Terrorist X. To catch him, we need an intelligent intelligence infrastructure and well-equipped police officers. We have laws against unlawful activities and against treason, (both Shivraj Patil would like to slap me with), we have acts against carrying arms and explosives, we have MCOCA, which is worse than POTA (it at least had a clause against misuse by police). Our problem is not the lack of a law but the lacunae in law enforcement. India has a pathetic record in conviction. The conviction rate in murder cases in India is just about 7 per cent. So there is a 93 per cent chance of getting away with murder. There are people who blame it on weak laws. But the villain here is the shoddy investigation by an unprofessional bunch of unfit men in khaki. They have their own reasons: too much work, too little pay and little respect.

Manmohan Singh needs to stop thinking about a new law, and start working on how to foolproof the implementation of the existing laws, and most importantly, how to make our police a force that criminals and terrorists fear. The terrorist must not find it easy to plant a bomb. In case, he manages to do that, he doesn’t get away with it. In case he does get away, he is caught. Law comes after that. A well-equipped police force should be able to prove it in the court of law that the terrorist is a terrorist. There are enough laws to hang the cretin. But if you insist on skewering him to death, please draft a new one. The BJP will support.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thank God for Him

Can't help it. I don't find time to update this blog. But sometimes there's a need. And unfortunately, in times of need, one Mr Patil becomes a target of this blog. So, now the nth time, a salute to the irrepressible man.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil has once again defeated the evil designs of terrorists. Soon after Delhi was rocked by five bomb explosions on Saturday, the handsome home minister made it clear to the terrorists that their dastardly designs were in for a shock, because he could do the impossible: ask people not to panic. Moments after that stupendously superlative thought struck him, he was there on TV screens. “It is a cowardly act by those who don't want us to live in peace. We have just overcome the difficulties and these cowardly people have hit us again. But I would appeal to people to stay together and not create panic,” Patil told the nation.

It worked. The nation rose in unison and saluted the saviour for revealing to them the real plot behind the bombs in dustbins. And to everyone’s pleasant surprise, he unearthed the evil designs in less than four hours. Of course, he looked into the mirror a few times to talk to himself. It helps.

This time he went a step ahead and spoke about punishing those who caused the blasts. “The people behind this act will be given stringent punishment according to the law,” he said. Now this is what we call a masterpiece. Punishments are according to the law, another new revelation to the nation. Apart from Afzal Guru, who’s being punished according to politics, every other person is punished by the book.

But one must not forget his successive successes in dealing with what he calls a “dastardly designs”. Since he has taken over people have understood the importance of what a home minister can do. The home minister can appeal for calm. He can foil the dastardly designs. By now everyone knows that who he calls “cowards” have already planned their next target, the modus operandi would obviously be the same.

No one can stop a terrorist attack, even Pakistan (which is supposed to control all this) has failed in doing so. What matters is that your leader delves deeply into the issue.

Yes, sir, it takes a lot of meditation. It’s after much deliberation that he finds the answer to the evil. It’s impossible to chase these bomb-planters. It’s equally impossible to police every nook and cranny of Connaught Place. We are not Israel for Moses’ sake. We are a huge country. Why waste energy in catching these designers before they unleash their terror when you can defeat their designs even after the blasts?

Mr Patil is also the first man to actually dissect the whole thing and understand its other hidden meaning: terrorists want to create panic. “Hey you wanna create panic. I ain’t panicking. You wanna scare me? I ain’t scared. You wanna spread fear, I ain’t afraid. How’s my hair?” He is brave in the face of such catastrophic cacophony crowding his mind, which for your information is far more powerful than an otter’s. Of course, the home minister has the unfair advantage of having intelligence agencies. However, it can be scientifically proved that even if these intelligence agencies start working for Mr Otter, the home minister would beat them when it comes to confidence in the face of terror, his colleague Sriprakash Jaiswal backs him up like before.

For example, an otter can repeat the same words for the nth time while asking the citizens to not panic. Otters have a very limited vocabulary consisting of just three words: hum bhartsana karte hain (We condemn). While our man has a better sentence: Hum nirbhartsana karte hain (which means the same but is kind of superlative). So even cunninglingusitically, we are in safe hands. Don’t panic. Don’t be afraid, people of Indore, Chennai or wherever the next blasts would take place.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Beauty vs Brains: How about both?

The beauty vs brains debate will never be settled, but hints that Home Minister Shivraj Patil has been a stupendous failure in handling his ministry are ludicrous. He is handsome, of course, but that does not mean he has no intelligence. He has not only his own intelligence but thousands of intelligence officers at his disposal. He doesn’t need to be Paris Hilton to prove he is intelligent. And he cannot be Paris Hilton in any case because Paris may be sexy but she is also shrewd. Do we like shrewd? We don’t. The home minister is as handsome as Jeetendra and his shoes are whiter than the Jumping Jack but then Jeetendra has never been a great actor, critically. Shivraj Patil can beat him especially in serious roles. If you have seen the TV footage of the all-party meet on Jammu and Kashmir, you would have seen Mr Patil was so lost in thinking of a possible solution to the problem, a problem he created with meticulous inactivity.
He is only making sure greatness is not thrust upon him. It’s fun to achieve greatness with your own grit and guts. One who creates a puzzle is best equipped to solve it. Indira Gandhi is often credited with creating the Khalistani problem. She died trying to solve it. Her son solved it later. Show us a big problem facing the world, and we’ll show you great leaders who created them for the benefit of human race. After all we must not forget the art of solving problems. Al Gore did not create global warming. We created it and we are solving it.
Some say Shivraj Patil slept through the first 30 days as a small fire sparked by a miscommunication over Amarnath turned into an inferno. Do you expect a 30,000-litre, sky-lift fire-tender to douse a camp fire? You don’t go to a world-class surgeon for flatulence caused by beer. You go and buy another bottle. It does not behove a person like Shivraj Patil to meddle in small problems like Jammu and Kashmir fighting over Amarnath. There has to be substantial damage to deserve his attention. Like when everything went out of control, he was called in by the Prime Minister to wear the Flash Gordon suit. And look, how the situation has changed. There are all party-meets happening all over the place and the Home Minister is presiding over them. With time and a little more bloodshed, the problem will be solved.
If you don’t believe this, just look at how brilliantly and firmly Mr Patil asked a problem to solve itself in the Northeast. Just over a couple of years ago, Manipur was burning over the issue of special powers to the armed forces. The expert and experienced minister silently rebuked the protesters in his sleep. Then when the state was adequately in trouble, he issued statements, which were contradicted by then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee. And Manipur burnt and bled till everybody pitched in and stopped the bloodshed. On the sidelines, Mr Patil’s exemplary patience was saluted by all and sundry. He reminded us all of the great Narasimha Rao in the PM’s Chair in December 1992.
He declared a ceasefire against Maoist marauders in Andhra Pradesh. The guns fell silent. Maoists waited for some kind of constructive dialogue to follow. Such fools they are. No talks happened. Our ministers had fooled them. Ha ha ha. Now they are waging a war again. Just wait for a smart move from our minister, he must be thinking of a deadly one. It will be funnier.
It doesn’t happen just like that. He has to think even when he is dozing off in parliament. His mind is always busy thinking of ways to get this country out of the magnificent mess of the multiple internal troubles: Maoists, Saffronists, Islamists, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Patience, please.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Home Minister is at home. Thank You!

A lot has happened since my last post. And I never thought I will have to repeat myself. But then the honourable home minister just got my goat again. He is a nice elderly fellow. I am sure I would not be rude to him if I ever meet him at an informal setup, his Jeetendra shoes notwithstanding. If he was a grand-daddy playing with his grandkids in a park, he would be a natural. But he is more than that.

He is also responsible for India's internal security, which by the way is the most difficult job. Because there is no credible external threat to this country. Our economy is doing well in spite of a slowdown looming over the world. That makes his the most important office in the country. Hence the discomfort. So at the risk of sounding repetative and speaking like an enemy of the great man, I would say what I have to. Because he is not only repetative, he is dangerously banal at a time when India is bleeding from a thousand cuts. He has just repeated himself on TV: "We are assessing the situation. We will defeat the nefarious designs of the terrorists. The nation is showing solidarity with the kin of the victims. We should fight it together. We will catch the guilty."

Union Home Minister Shivraj V. Patil has delivered his quote. His job is done. Splendid. The man who has presided over a sordid series of fatal failures is confident that he is at home in the government. The Bangalore-Ahmedabad blasts won’t cost him his seat because he is irreplaceable. If he was replaceable, he would have been gone a long time ago. His constituency Latur did that happily in 2004 elections, got rid of a vain relic of old world politics.

Only Manmohan Singh cannot. Sonia Gandhi can but she is paying this man off for his unflinching loyalty to her family. The country is paying with blood. Patil is not a political heavyweight. He could not win his own seat. I had suggested a win-win way during the Presidential elections: Make this Patil the President. He was fit for the job. The President’s role, in our parliamentary system, is a ceremonial one and this man would have loved every moment of it. He has the statesman-like looks and has mastered the art of ceremony. He wears bespoke achkans and has great gait on all occasions formal.

That wasn’t to be. Pratibhatai Patil became the President. But all is not lost. Soniaji can still make him the governor of Goa. He will really like that. The Raj Bhavan is fabulous there, where he can laze in the sun with tonnes of tan lotion. He should be given the privilege of giving quotes learned by rote to TV cameras. He can walk into the Goan sunset.

The country will love it too not because serial blasts would stop with his exit but because India will get a functioning home minister at least.

Because the one she got in 2004 started with confusing the security agencies about what to do with the Maoists. He declared he would talk to them and never did. The Maoists today are a bigger threat than they were in 2004. Even the Prime Minister thinks so.

We have seen minor sparks in the Northeast and Kashmir turning into infernos while the state and central machinery tried to decode the silence of the Home Minister. Every time the silence was not pregnant. And every time the firefighting started too late, when a lot had already burnt.

Let us not talk about Delhi, Varanasi, UP Courts, Malegaon, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad etc. He has given his quote already. Splendid.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Our Home Minister is so intelligent, he puts George Bush to shame

After 9/11, George Bush vowed that there would be no terrorist attack on the American soil, that terrorists would not be allowed to come and kill American citizens. So he sent thousands of American citizens to die elsewhere. In Iraq and Afghanistan. That's how intelligent he is. No single attack on American soil.

India’s sophisticated, suave and intelligent home minister Shivraj Patil has time and again proved that he possesses a great mind, almost twice the size of that of the President of United States, which by the way is the greatest democracy in the world. According to Patil, India, too is a democracy and not saamantshahi, which means feudalism. He said this in reference to Vasundhara Raje’s remarks that Patil had not helped the state in stopping the influx of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

Patil believes in the rule of the people, where they come from does not matter.
But his greatness does not lie in that truth. The truth of his greatness lies in his equal love for people from the other side of the border. Pakistanis are now sitting across the table with Indians in Islamabad to discuss Kashmir, militancy and Sarabjit Sngh. Singh has been on the death row there and India has been requesting Pakistan to not hang him because his is a case of mistaken identity.

Another man is on death row in India, convicted in the Parliament attack case. His hanging has been hanging in balance for many years now as Patil and his government battle imaginary ghosts of Muslim backlash. The presumption that Indian Muslims sympathise with a terrorist is an insult to the common Indian Muslim, but then Patil wouldn’t know that.

What Patil knows is gifting an ace to Islamabad after Indians thought all cards are open on the negotiation table. But now Patil’s faster-than-Intel processor brain has had a wave: If you insist on Afzal hanging, Sarabjit would die. Now no Indian wants Sarabjit to die. So he has killed three birds with one stone? Put India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee in a spot in Islamabad, silenced those Indians who have been hankering for Afzal’s head and gave Pakistan a handle it was looking for in Sarabjit case.

“In Pakistan, we say don't hang Sarabjit and here we say hang Afzal?” thus spake the minister in bespoke bandhgala. If Sarabjit has to live, Afzal must not die.
Now people jealous of his ridiculously sharp mind are criticising the home minister’s linking of Sarabjit-Afzal hanging cases, saying he’s mad to compare apples with oranges.

How can they criticise the home minister here but not criticise the home minister of Pakistan? It’s such a simple thing they do not know, these BJP people and some newspapers including this newspaper.

So next time Indians demand the removal of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, they will also have to demand the removal of Pakistani home minister, who is also the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. Else, our eloquent and extremely sharp Home Minister Shivraj Patil will rebuke them with: “People are saying that remove the home minister here, and then they are saying why remove the home minister there... this is not fair,”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thackeray's surname stinks of hypocrisy. It should be spelt as Thakre, the Marathi way

Numbed by Raj Thackeray’s rise, Shiv Sena is as clueless as those bimbos in blonde jokes. Only that these bimbos are not funny because they form a zombie army ready to rise and whine within seconds of a signal from Dadar.

Since Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has appropriated the plank of Marathi pride and every kind of assholism that Shiv Sena treated as its intellectual property, Sainiks are back scavenging for ideas in the detritus of dirty tricks dumped by Balasaaheb when he rode rough through Mumbai’s conscience for nearly three decades. Last week, Sainiks found an old, over-used trick called “Bombay To Mumbai In 10 minutes Flat.” Since Bombay turned Mumbai a long time ago, it was time to remove the word Bombay from our dictionary.

They splattered a publicity sign of textile brand Bombay Dyeing, which for God’s sake, is a brand name which does not belong to the city. It takes a lot to build a brand and cannot be changed because a political party hopes this change could change its electoral fortune. Next, they would want customs department to replace the label of Bombay Sapphire gin with that of Mumbai Sapphire. Sainiks vandalised the school Bombay Scottish and painted Mumbai Scottish on its walls. They betrayed their hidden hatred for one of their own. Raj Thackeray’s son went to Bombay Scottish, so did children of many other politicians who want Marathi kids to study in Marathi-medium schools. But that’s another story.

Then they went on to demand Bombay Stock Exchange be renamed Mumbai Stock Exchange, ombay High Court Mumbai High Court.

Sainiks also burned copies of Bombay Times, Times of India’s Mumbai city supplement. Their ire and fire was misplaced as even Bombay Times is datelined Mumbai and, like Bombay Dyeing, is a brand name; a masthead that came into being much before Mumbai came into circulation. But then Sainiks have never understood or believed in reason.

We have seen Bangalore, modern India’s brightest brand (one that went on to become a verb in the English language) turning into Bengaluru, Madras into Chennai and Calcutta into Kolkata. Most of these changes have been smooth, even if some people were not comfortable with this superfluous, mostly politically motivated idea of change. But no one ever forced New Calcutta Tailors to change to New Kolkata Tailor, or Madras Café to Chennai Café, or Bangalore Software Systems to Bengaluru Software Systems. Mostly because few cities in India have ochlocratic sick Sainiks.
That last name change: Orissa has become Odisha, thanks to Chief Minister Navin Patnaik, who could hardly pronounce Odisha or any other Oriya word till just a couple of years ago.

Charity begins at home. Amid this foofaraw of Mumbai getting messed up in this battle between two Senas, may I suggest a change beginning from the Thackeray home? Why not change the anglicised Thackeray to Thakre. After all, the main argument for changing Bombay to Mumbai has been a revitalised reassertion of Marathi pride and removal of the relics of Anglicisation of our culture. Thackeray is to Thakre what Bombay is to Mumbai. So dear Thackerays, become Thakres or sod off.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Anbu gets the Supreme Slap. Good!

On Thursday morning, newspapers carried a report about how India fell behind strife-torn countries like Ghana and Eritrea in providing healthcare to children. It was a tight slap on our long-held claim to being an emerging superpower. Consecutive governments have allotted meagre amounts to healthcare, especially rural healthcare, and watched as even that was palmed off by middlemen, corrupt officials and politicians. In urban areas, healthcare is dominated by private hospitals and is increasingly becoming out of reach of even the middle classes.

It is in such delicate times that a man called Anbumani Ramadoss took over as Health Minister and his publicity gimmicks scared the nation. Instead of ensuring spread of affordable healthcare to every individual, he went after individuals like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan because they smoked or drank or ate potato chips on screen. These were rubbished by all as antics of a desperate publicity seeker. But his one act of rank assholism shall remain etched in history as the man almost caused a conflict between Parliament and the Supreme Court. Thank the Supreme Court.

On Thursday morning, India thanked God for the Supreme Court as its judgment on Dr P. Venugopal, the sacked director of AIIMS, signified more than just his reinstatement in the director’s chair. It showed that if one wayward, parochial, prejudiced and anal-retentive politician can force the ruling coalition to bring in a law to remove a doctor from his chair, then the courts, and our Constitution, can stand by a man who might seem too weak to take on a government. It signified that one pillar of democracy cannot behave like it owns the building.

It is not necessary to love P. Venugopal and side with him in this case. It’s not necessary to hate Ramadoss either. But the sad facts of this sordid drama show that the egotist minister wanted Venugopal out at any cost. He did not even wait till the courts gave their verdict. Fearing the judicial verdict may go in Venugopal’s favour, he brought in a bill in Parliament. The bill was passed because the ruling coalition did not want to embarrass itself by not voting for it. The President signed it late in the evening and in two hours, he removed Venugopal from his chair. Barely months before the cardiac surgeon was to retire, the minister defenestrated him.

Complaining about brain drain is all fine, but if this is the way we treat icons, and professionally Dr Venugopal is certainly an icon, we should just forget about doctors staying on in public hospitals. Dr Venugopal’s hostility towards Ramadoss is understandable because Ramadoss had brought the Tamil Nadu caste war to the heart of India’s premier medical institutions. Dr Venugopal’s overt and covert support to the anti-quota resident doctors widened the rift. What was plain shameful was the distance Ramadoss was ready to go in this battle. Thursday’s judgment shows he went a little too far.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rama don't preach

The health minister wants you to be healthy, wealthy and wise. According to the latest Alcohol Atlas he released on Tuesday, urban Indians spend as much as 32 per cent of their income on boozing. The figure for rural India is about 24 per cent. Alcohol is anyway related to so many diseases, so a life minus alcohol will be healthy. Alcohol also affects your brain and affects the parts of brain which act as memory cards. So if you don’t drink, you may end up wiser. So Ramadoss wants to save your wealth, health and wisdom.

What he won’t save you from is the man himself. The doctor from Tamil Nadu is on a mission to drive us crazy. When large parts of rural India do not have access to a basic health centre, he has been fighting imaginary evils like smoking in films, an IPL team named after a whisky brand, junk food and the administrators of AIIMS.
At this point in time, half of India cannot afford dal-rice thanks to prices hitting the roof. But guess what occupies the minister’s mind? A minuscule number of rich Indian kids having a burger or two after school. We have had unhygienic junk food like samosas and kachoris at roadside stalls where house flies are often part of the filling. All deep fried in same adulterated oil in the same kadhai for days on end. The chef and the servers all dressed in white ganjis untouched by detergent powder till they melt into their skin. But that’s the junk food that the poor in India have and Ramadoss doesn’t bother about it. It doesn’t get him the kind of publicity that attacking a Shah Rukh Khan does.

What gets his goat is filmi protagonists drinking on screen. He gave another self-righteous lecture to Bollywood on Tuesday while sipping water from a mineral water bottle. He also lectured people about the ill-effects of liquor. It’s a different matter that the likes of the Righteous Ramadoss have failed to provide clean drinking water to majority of people in the last 60 years.

Gandhiji lectured us about ill-effects of alcohol but Ramadoss is no Gandhi. Gandhi lived by what he preached. Gandhi did not play one caste against another. Gandhi did not lead the five-star life Ramadoss lives. Gandhi did not have double-standards like the joke called excise department.

If alcohol is bad, why not ban it? Why should the government make money out of selling alcohol and then its ministers lecture us about the ill-effects of drinking. Babus make profit from selling booze and then also get cuts in producing films and other propaganda denouncing alcohol as the root of all evil.

Ramadoss wants all surrogate advertising banned. What about the surrogate prostitution of policies, dear health minister? Since you have the messianic zeal to fight the evil spirit, stand up in the next Cabinet meeting and demand a complete ban on spirits, cigarettes, smoking and drinking in films, filmstars eating junk food etc etc. And just watch the reaction of your Cabinet colleagues. If you can’t do that, don’t play a joker. Please.