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.