Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lest We Forget

Wednesday , November 26, 2008...

It was the usual winter evening, perhaps colder than today (November 26, 2012). There were guests in our house and the likes of those with whom i rarely had any interaction. Distant relatives. Sitting with my laptop, tucked under the sack, I was reading something irrelevant ( Its an insane habit), as i usually do. Clicked on the news website, for a second. Usual Process Again.

A blood red strip of Breaking News flashed on my screen, that read "Firing in Mumbai, Gunbattle On" Prompting me to stream the news. Out of shear curiosity, or otherwise (Its an insane habit, of course!) It was indeed a blood drenched story.

Those distant relatives , in a moment of truth, became instant acquaintances, and then friends.

As the news poured in. One headline after another and the utter chaos that followed, I could not take the agony of it. Perhaps Broke Down Too Many Times.

The Visuals were clear, The visuals were horrible. The visuals were heartbreaking.

I shall not mention any, and I repeat any particulars about it. Because We All know what happened. I shall not mention the utter depressing scenes, the sprawling fires, the sounds of gunpowder, the utmost chaos, the bloodshed, the emotive scenes.

Since then these visuals have been instilled in my psyche till date. If the 3 wars which India fought were something which were inscribed in the minds of my parents or grandparents, then this Wednesday 26-11-2008 is a War which will always remain is a "War" memory in my mind.

I was teary eyed the entire 3 day ordeal which followed, sometimes outraging about the pathetic preparation our security agencies had , sometimes crying in reverence on their shear grit and valour by which they saved lives. Sometimes for the innumerable loss they had to suffer, in terms of losing top cops, sometimes for the unknown unheard citizens who were helping those men in uniform to end the massacre

Today, Things have moved on. 5 days ago. The lone gunmen  who was arrested (out of 10) ,who mindlessly butchered people has been hanged under Indian law, with due process which took 4 years. This is the second fastest death sentence trial in the history of independent India.

India has also vigorously tried to pursue strategic diplomacy to get justice. Most International powers have supported India's case of Justice for Mumbai.
Shashi Tharoor in his book "Pax Indica" in an entire chapter dedicated to Pakistan tells us how India is pursuing this case diplomatically. Strategically without making much of a noise. He also explains to the critics ( who want India to attack Pakistani terror camps, like Israel ) why India, at the moment cannot pursue this option. However, this does not mean that India does not have other meaningful options.

Kasab's hanging is just a tip of the iceberg. A comma, not a Fullstop. India will have to work with renewed efforts to get Justice for each and every innocent that lost life in this horrible incident.

Let us rededicate ourselves to Truth. To Peace. To find meaningful closure to this. Every India must NEVER forget. NEVER forgive. NEVER experience this 

Jai Hind

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Misunderstood Silence

“Hazaaron Jawabon Se Acchi Hai Meri Khamoshi, Na Jaane Kitne Sawaalon Ki Aabru Rakhe”

The above couplet was recited by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to the media awaiting his word, when he was not allowed to speak in Parliament due to the constant slogan shouting and ruckus on the coal block allocation issue. Dr. Singh as a PM of the country had every constitutional right to make a statement on the coal block controversy in the Parliament. Later enroute to Delhi from the NAM summit, when asked about the opposition strategy of "paralyzing" the Parliament, he said that he has to maintain the dignity of his office and he will not indulge in a "tu-tu , main-main" duel with the opposition.

There has been a widespread impression in the Indian media that Dr. Singh refrains from giving his views on issues bothering his Govt and on daily issues of Governance! In an earlier attempt I had debunked this theory by proving through statistics that the PM was speaking atleast 2.5 times a month, which according to the standards of Indian heads of the state, was good enough. This was before, the PM came on Twitter

Since then a lot of water has flown, albeit bothways! The PMO got a new advisor as Pankaj Pachauri - A household name in the psyche of the Television friendly Indian middle class. There are regular newsbites by the PMO on Twitter, YouTube videos and also a Facebook page of 3 Lakh+ which has fairly regular updates.

The other side of the story is the constant controversies the UPA-2 has to face , which washed two parliament sessions - The entire Winter session was lost out last year, and in this washed out Monsoon session, the Lok Sabha has worked for 23 hours and the Rajya Sabha ( till now) has worked for 26 hours!

There has been a spate of Media articles from the Foreign Media - Time Magazine has labelled Dr. Singh as "Underachiever" , A UK daily called him "Sonia's puppet" and now Washington Post has called him a "Tragic Figure"

As a votary of Free Media , I would say that all the National and International media outlets are well within the Right to question Dr. Singh's tenure - his media management , his demeanor , his governance and everything else in between. But what they cannot question is is his Silence!

Critics would be baffled by this argument of mine, they may badger this article by calling me a fool! But statistics and figures would prove them wrong. And as an admirer of an Economist, I will let the figures do the talking!

Since May 2009 to August 2012 - The Prime Minister's office displays over 340 Press Releases. So in 40 months of UPA - 2 tenure - the PM spoke 8.5 times a month ! This comes out to be 2.125 times a Week! Which in lay man terms is  Once in Every 3 Days! Which is a fairly good record!

The Prime Minister also speaks on Public Platforms such as University convocations, Ministry functions, Domestic and International Visits, his replies in the Parliament

This data if counted on the PM's website reveals that since May 2009 to Aug 2012, Dr. Manmohan Singh has given 430 Speeches! Which is 10.75 per month ! Which is 2.68 per Week ! Which is again once in 3 days !

Since both these interactions are different, the net figure is all the more astonishing! Our "media shy" PM has spoken almost TWICE in 3 days!

Since the PMO uses twitter since the past January 2012, and till this hour had 952 tweets- yes mostly those same press releases and speeches - But a lot more data too- like graphs- pictures- essential parts of his speeches etc ! We should take this data with a pinch of salt, but still!

In 198 days of PMO stay on Twitter till now, and 952 tweets ! It's Safe to say that  "PM" tweets almost 5 times a Day ! Which is again, an answer to all his critics who ridicule his Silence!

The Congress Party has had almost 20 Conventions till now, and the PM has spoken in each one of them. We have had numerous state elections and PM spoke addressed atleast 3- 4 public meetings for every state!

The PM may not have given many individual interviews, but has had press conferences for News channels, News paper editors and has been giving sound bites on many Govt functions such and regular ceremonies in the Rashtrapati Bhawan!

What we must introspect is that, due to influx of mass media and social media and our daily connectivity to the world, We expect our PM to talk everyday, and all the day!

In a Democracy, political leaders articulate their views in the Parliament , but if the PM of the country is not able to speak, due to obstructionist attitude of a few , and Parliament fails to function! Where else would he speak? Given a chance on atleast two distinct occasions - the PM has displayed his flair of public speaking when given a chance!

Dr. Manmohan Singh virtually lifted 350 million people out of Poverty , due to Liberalization of the Economy! He provided an average growth of 8.4 % to India during UPA -1 . He was re elected for this ! India under him became the 3rd Largest Economy in terms of PPP- GDP ! India is Still the 2nd Fastest Growing Economy in the World! Despite all the global slowdown and the Euro crises, despite all the internal mess, despite so many allegations of "scams" this Govt is dealing with!

I think the point is - Do we want to question the PM's "silence", Or Do we want to hear from him , what WE WANT to hear ?

Clearly, the "Silence" argument is debunked here by facts ! Rest you be the judge!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An Ode to India

India's First Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru  at the ramparts of Red Fort on 15th August 1947

An Ode to India - On the eve of India's 66th Independence Day - Miles To Go Before We Sleep ! 

India is a land of diversity and immense contradictions.

The land of several races, religions, languages, cults, castes, and people! India is the land of lofty sky-kissing peaks, mighty rivers, majestic forests, mesmerizing landscapes- of deserts, of valleys, gorges, of ravines, of unknown islands, and of the surrounding oceans.

India is the land of a billion desires.

India is the land of rich aspiring entrepreneurs as well as the lesser mortals who toil day and night in the vast farmlands to feed India,who lift bags full of building materials to create a better India, of hundreds and thousands of factory workers who work tirelessly to strengthen it. India is a land of millions of individuals who travel in thousands of buses and trains daily to earn their daily bread. India is the land of those young artists who want to add life to the mundane often repeated, idea of India.

India Is the land of those sportspersons who despite all odds against them, fight till the end, till the last bout, till the last shot, till the last strike! India is the land of people of high morality and undisputed greatness. India is the land of those unrelenting scientists who leave no stone unturned to take it to the heights of never attained scientific brilliance.

India is the land of those innumerable homeless destitute who have nothing but prayers to give to India. India is the land of countless right thinking people who daily fight battles after battles to make it a better place to live in. India is a land of thousands of teachers who imbibe values to usher in a better, more meaningful India.

Also India is the land of those special children, who may not be able to express themselves, but love it like no other! India is the land of those soldiers who sacrificed their very lives with a smile on their face, in the honor of their motherland. India is the land of those police forces who guard us day in and day out, with courage and conviction.

India is the land of those innumerable greats who created India. Those who nurtured the ideals and ideas of India, fought for it, established it, and nourished it. Yes, India is the land of contradictions,in the midst of this chaos, let us not miss the harmony in the chaos.

With this small ode, I wish India - all the glory in years to come.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Democracy Delivers it !

It has been an extraordinary intellectual journey as a student of politics. The charade has ended. Indian Democracy emerges victorious. Yet Again.

Winston Churchill  has been quoted in countless history books lampooning Indians (on the eve of their Independence) saying "Power will go to the hands of , rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles."

In Modern India of 2012, This is far from true. I have no doubt whatsoever that there have been shortcomings. Some Big, Some Small. There has been rampant Corruption, Communalism and Casteism
(The Big C's ) in our socio-politico-economic existence. But when one sees the larger canvas, there is undoubtedly a feeling of sheer pride. A small sense of achievement in the eyes of every Indian.

Democracy is Collective Co-existence with Diverse views. India is perhaps, one of the most diverse nations in the world. It is said in India - Culture, Religion, Ethnicity, Language, Creed - All changes every 10 villages. Imagine a country having 6.5 lakh villages. This is humongous diversity.

Indeed. At the heart of all democratic theories is the concept of popular power. It refers to a situation where power and authority ultimately rests with the people. A democratic government is contrasted with an authoritarian one, on the basis of consensus created by the people to take decisions. In an authoritarian regimes the 'will of the people' is not concerned. Periodic Elections are not held, with un-elected elites controlling the reigns of power. In India, its just the opposite. Elections are frequent - on each level of governance. India conducts on an average atleast 15 state elections per year, elections of urban local bodies are held in different cities throughout all seasons, elections are held at grass root level - Gram Sabha- panchayats to imbibe direct democracy. Infact,elections are so frequent, that it has prompted many critics of "India's low growth" to say that there is too much "Democracy" in India. Sometimes, People of India, do suffer from Election Fatigue. More so when democracy impedes growth. (That is however a deeper question to reflect on, and a separate discussion is required on it)

 No, wonder The world calls India - The Largest Democracy on Planet Earth.

Constitution and its ethoes, in India are credited to social reformers like Raja Ramohan Roy. One of the First Indians to speak his mind on socio-political issues concerning India. Later when the British Rule ended- Jawaharlal Nehru, C. Rajgopalachari, B R Ambedkar, K M Munshi, Rajendra Prasad, Maulana Azad and others gave a structure to the idea of India. Nehru, undoubtedly as the First Prime Minister of India is credited for the strong foundations of India's constitutional and institutional traditions. B R Ambedkar gave us the largest ever 'written' constitution in the world - which had all the basic ingredients of Equality, Liberty, Justice, Secularism essential for a Liberal-Socialist Regime. Later Ram Manohar Lohia, who had significantly different views than Nehru's model of centralized welfare democratic socialist state also had an indelible impact on contemporary Indian politics. Lohia's views assume importance because there is a renewed focus on decentralization as a way back to tackle bureaucratization and centralization of power.

The wheels of power started turning. Institutions were established. Institutions took time to deliver too, but nevertheless delivered, some still delivering, some trying to deliver, some did not deliver and so on.  Civil Society and Pressure Groups played their role from time to time. From Jyotirao Phule to Vinoba Bhave, From Baba Amte to the great E. V. Ramasamy 'Periyar', From Jayaprakash Narayanan to Swami Vivekananda.

The one social reformer which India will perhaps never forget was of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was truly original.

The introduction to this passage talks about the 3C's that confront India. Corruption being the most relevant today, since we have started witnessing an Anti-Corruption Movement- A First of its kind. Sections of educated Indians were on streets when last year in August - Anti-Corruption crusader Anna Hazare was taken into preventive custody. The story that followed is well known. More known via the media- the 24x7 news channels that flashed every detail of it. Newspapers reported it in kilometres Suddenly a sense of detest crept in.

Every institution was mocked and criticized by a bunch of 6 people branded as - 'Team Anna'. There was some genuine anger against the disproportionately big scams by the Govt of the day. Some Allegations, Some Real ones. Also vested interests in the opposition- started actively supported the movement. Initially, some opportunistic politicians wanted to share stage with this "Gandhian" crusaders, but were shunned.

Some members of the team, never failed to entertain us too with their Anti Politician angst. Some called MP's as looters, rapists, thieves. Media was vehemently covering and showing every little act of this team. Their sound bytes got in the TRP's. Suddenly a Nation had awaken to this new magic wand called "Jan Lokpal" which was touted as the cure of all its problems of corruption and loot of taxpayers money. The cacophony began louder and louder and a helpless (almost leaderless) government engaged with them.

Rest story, if repeated- would make this passage too long to read. To cut the long story short.

Lokpal passed by the Lok Sabha, got stalled in the Rajya Sabha ( the one adopted by the sense of the house resolution and recommended the Parliamentary Standing Committee)  Presently it is with the Select Committee of the Parliament. Every person, who was unhappy with any politician or institution was painting the entire political class in one single brush - CORRUPT !

Gandhi used fast as a socio-political statement. He used fasting as a method of self purification.
He says "Fast, as an instrument, must come from the depth of one's soul. It is, therefore, always rare. A Satyagrahi should fast only as a last resort when all other avenues of redress have been explored and have failed. There is no room for imitation in fasts"

Anna Hazare fasted for several times during the past one year, and have been covered by the main stream media as the "Modern Gandhi".

As a student of political science, I watched every action of Team Anna and their supporters. I realized that in all this noise- some essential points were being forgotten. Particularly the Lokpal Bill. Most sections of the media had failed in their prime responsibility of educating the people about the bill. When Parliament started debating the provisions of the "Lokpal", media slowly followed, but got people confused. There were deals within deals- between Govt, between Opposition and of course with Anna on key provisions. Some climbdowns, Several changes. This to my mind still portrayed that Democracy prevailed.

To my part as an upright citizen, I created a website - to create awareness in whatever small way- I could contribute to the cause. As a citizen of this Nation- I too wanted a Lokpal for this country, Not supporting the Anna version - But clearly a practical version. I created presentations listing comparisons between various versions of the Bill - Team Anna's Bill vs Aruna Roy (NCPRI) vs Lok Satta (JP) version vs the Govt's Lokpal Bill

In the summer of 2011, Team Anna started their direct indulgence with electoral politics, in the Hisar Bye-Elections. Hisar is a dusty town in North India. It was founded by  Firozshah Tughlaq of the Delhi Sultanate. Now Hisar became the rallying point of Anti-Ruling-Party forces, supposedly used by Team Anna to flex their electoral muscles. They pleaded to the people to defeat the ruling party, had letters signed by the president of the opposition party, in favour of the Lokpal. The opportunistic opposition gladly obliged, giving a written assurance that if their candidate won- they would support Lokpal. The Opposition alliance candidate won. The drama played on.

Reality was different , Team Anna got bitten by one of the "C"'s of Indian Politics . "C" - For Casteism. Hisar voted for the pedigree. Kuldeep Bishnoi retained his fathers seat - Bhajan Lal - One of the most prominent Non-Jat leaders of that area.

Subsequently, when the Lokpal went to the standing committee. Another "C" of Indian Politics, gradually and incrementally started biting Team Anna. That Team Anna- for whom every Indian Politician- was corrupt. Got bitten by "C" for - you guessed it right ! Kiran Bedi was allegedly found inflating travel cheques. Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan in a bribe CD and for evading stamp duty. Arvind Kejriwal for not maintaining the accounts of IAC, and for not returning his IT dues. Anna Hazare- Himself -indicted in the Sawant Commission report, and on several statements - like "I support Flogging for Drinking", "Sirf Ek Maara" ( when  someone slapped Sharad Pawar ) etc.  In Aside, I should also mention their partner in crime - Baba Ramdev whose story I have explicitly mentioned in my previous blogs)

Systems and Institutions were clearly catching up. Team Anna kept on using fasts and anshans as an instrument to keep up the pressure. Pressure for what? Pressure for getting - Their and Only THEIR Version of the Lokpal Bill passed. Democracy too was catching up. Politics clearly is and was the centre of this entire movement. They invited some politicians across the opposition ( no-ruling party member was reportedly invited ) to share stage with them.

All this was a clear demonstration that Team Anna was highly political in its purpose. And It had lost all its rights to act as Pressure Group of Civil Society. It also lost the right to abuse the system and the politicians, because slowly and surely Democracy and Constitutional Institutions were catching up with them.
There cannot be 5 people dictating a duly elected government- pressing for their own law. Using fasts to blackmail it. Interesting to note that, in all these fasts- Young members of Team Anna never fasted- They only made 73 year old Anna Hazare to fast ! (sic)

In the monsoon of 2012, Team Anna has politicized its agenda. Now it wants a SIT (Special Investigation Team) to probe charges of "corruption" against 15 sitting ministers, including the Prime Minister and the President of India. That too with 3 eminent jurists of their choice. This decision by them, didn't surprise me, but  has surprised his supporters. The movement which they had supported so zealously by buying all these "I Am Anna" Gandhi caps had let them down. Team Anna launched a fast yet again, this time an "Indefinite One" for their demands. Lokpal, for the time was kept aside.

 Flashback - Mahatma Gandhi. He said - " Fasting cannot be undertaken mechanically. It is a powerful thing but a dangerous thing, if handled amateurishly. It requires complete self-purification, much more than what is required in facing death with retaliation even in mind. Ridiculous fasts spread like plague and are harmful"

Young members like Arvind Kejriwal fasted. No sizable crowds came at Jantar Mantar, this time. Ramdev was roped in for a day ( a cameo with his supporters indeed- he did get some supporters)  Supporters started misbehaving with the media, alleging that this time they were not given due coverage. Team Anna supporters and actor - Anupam Kher told Karan Thapar- "Media should consider Anna as their friend, since both benefit from it" This meant that Team Anna and the Media had a symbiotic relationship last year, which they could not enjoy this year. So the Media Charade got exposed.

Anna Hazare also plunged in. Desperate, Disgruntled and Directionless the movement had become. Supporters pelted stones at PM's Residence. Maligned its walls with the word "Chor", demonstrated at other residences too.

Meanwhile, Another "C"- Communalism came to bit Team Anna. Albeit, in a different kind of a way. On the day - Baba Ramdev (Now a collaborator of Team Anna- a marriage of convenience) shared stage with the mascot of Communal Violence- Narendra Modi in Ahemdabad, Team Anna retaliated against him. Abused Modi and said that they would never support him. This was the last "C" in their "C" -Coffin !

When a Fast unto Death is withdrawn without either objective being achived it becomes a Farce. Now Team Anna has promised to break their fast tomorrow ( 3rd Aug 2012) at 5:00PM and Anna has announced that they are now open to the idea of forming a political party.

I whole heartedly welcome this decision.

They were in Politics from Day-1, But were calling themselves Apolitical and "Civil Society" crusaders. All the fundamental "C"'s of Indian Politics bit them. The phrase "Team Anna" crafted by the media should be extinguished by it too, so that a New "Anna Political Party" could come up. An Alternate which people of Hisar also aspired for. Despite being an active participant in that political campaign, they failed to provide that alternative. This proved the adage "Those who live by the media, die by the media", True.

Indian Democracy triumphed. Now it will have another political party with some strong ideas to benefit from. If Indian Democracy can bring dreaded insurgents and their leaders in states like Assam and Mizoram to join mainstream politics- Anna Hazare was pretty easy. Indeed

Several Questions Still Remain Unanswered.

Fast unto Death was a political ploy to garner publicity for their action? Did they abuse the pure and Gandhian ritual of fasting for their political purposes?  Why did they fast if they knew that a duly elected Government would never investigate its own PM and President?

Some even deeper questions.

Will the 3 "C"s that bit Team Anna - Corruption, Communalism and Casteism be ever defeated. The answer is yes.

If calibrated reforms - Social, Political, Economic are carried out- that is possible. But When and How?  

Let Democracy Be The Judge !