My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
Daniel Pepper of CMS has a worrying story up on how RTI activists in India are increasingly facing a backlash from the people they are trying to expose. He tells us about Ajay Kumar, who questioned “why a local politician had authorized the construction of private houses and shops on public land.” Consequently, Kumar was “attacked by a mob of two dozen” and “beaten in the head repeatedly by an iron rod, leaving him unconscious and bleeding profusely.”
At least he lived. On Valentine’s Day in Bihar, “well-known RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on motorcycles at the entrance of his home.” And in Pune, “another activist, Satish Shetty, was killed while on his morning walk.” I have no doubt that other RTI activists who are trying to expose the rot in the system must also be dealing with immense intimidation.
Shailesh Gandhi, once an RTI activist and now a commissioner with the CIC, hits the nail on the head:
It tells me that the rule of law is almost absent. The truth is that powerful people feel there is no law.
I’ve often argued that the rule of law is effectively absent in India for those without money, power or connections. But there’s more to this than even that. In most scams of the kind that these brave activists are trying to expose, private parties are actually in collusion with government authorities. Most mafias in the country are public-private partnerships, and the incentives of the men in power are obviously tailored to keeping these partnerships going. Thus, not only is the rule of law absent for the hapless RTI worker who chooses to challenge the system, the government is likely to actively work against him. The machinery he turns to for help generally has every reason to thwart him—and to look the other way when he’s beaten on the head with an iron rod.
That said, the RTI is a powerful tool, and it is precisely because of its power that there is such a backlash against those who use it. If the RTI was ineffectual, this backlash would not exist. These attacks, thus, demonstrate how much the RTI is capable of enabling. That leaves me both hopeful and worried. Perhaps a change is gonna come—but there will be a cost.
This sentence says so much about the level of parliamentary debate in India today:
Finally, marshals were called in to remove the unruly MPs.
Who elected these dudes and put them in parliament? We did. I would hang my head in shame if that didn’t mean I’d be staring at my paunch.
I have mixed feelings on the larger issue of women’s reservation. If I was a woman, I’d find it offensive. Implying that women can’t rise in politics on their own is terribly condescending, especially when so many counter-examples exist—strong women like Uma Bharti, Sushma Swaraj, Renuka Chowdhury and, um, Pratibha Patil. (And Sonia Gandhi, who may be at the top because of her last name, but then, so are so many male politicians.)
Also, it implies that there are fewer women MPs because women are discriminated against by political parties. I’m sure there is some discrimination, but it is not the sole factor. My hunch is that people enter politics because of their lust for power, and that men are biologically programmed to seek power actively, while women aren’t—at least not to the same extent. Thus, there are fewer women who seek validation in how much control they have over other people, and fewer women who are attracted to politics. (In saying this, by the way, I am dissing men and complimenting women, though Renuka Chowdhury, on an episode of We The People where I stated this opinion, attacked me because she thought I was disrespecting women. Quite the opposite.)
Having said that, I think the bill may have some positive unintended consequences. At the very least, parliamentary decorum is likely to improve, and MPs are likely to behave with somewhat more dignity. There might even be fewer instances of marshalls being called in to control unruly MPs. Who can complain about that?
The wonderful excerpt below from “Trail Fever” by Michael Lewis illustrates beautifully the nature of politics and public life. In it, Lewis recounts his experience of travelling with then-vice president Dan Quayle during the election campaign of 1992:
It wasn’t so much what Quayle had said that hooked me. It was what he had done—what the conventions of the campaign trail required him to do. Every few hours of every day, to take a tiny example, the vice president’s campaign plane, Air Force Two, came to rest on the tarmac of a military base on the outskirts of some medium-sized city, and Quayle appeared in the open door. He waved. It was not a natural gesture of greeting but a painfully enthusiastic window-washing motion. Like everyone else in America I had watched politicians do this on the evening news a thousand times. But I had always assumed there must be someone down below to wave at. Not so! Every few hours our vice president stood there at the top of the steps of Air Force Two waving to… nobody; waving, in fact, to a field in the middle distance over the heads of the cameramen, so that the people back home in their living rooms remained comfortably assured that a crowd had turned up to celebrate his arrival.
It is my case that most politics consists of waving to nobody. Someday, as the waving is going on, I’d love to see the cameras turn around and show the empty field. But nah, that won’t happen.
A Pakistani parliamentary delegation has cancelled its visit to India after none of the country’s cricketers found any takers at an auction for the third edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza made the announcement in the House on Wednesday after opposition members raised the issue, terming it a “planned conspiracy” to prevent Pakistani players from featuring in the cash-rich series.
Now, really, if you were in charge of an IPL franchise, what would you do? Your resources are limited, and you want to make sure that every player you bid for and buy actually turns up and plays. If there is a no-show, even if you don’t have to pay the player, you incur an opportunity cost, and there’s a gap in your team. And with India-Pakistan relations being the way they are, it’s quite possible that, like last season, there may be no Pakistan players. All it takes is one more terrorist attack like 26/11.
The rational thing to do—indeed, the responsible thing to do, from your shareholders’ point of view—is to play it safe and not bid for any of Pakistan’s players. As a cricket fan, I find this tragic, because I love watching Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi and Sohail Tanvir in action. But from a business point of view, there was really nothing else the franchises could have done.
All this speculation about government directives and collusion between teams is, thus, pointless. Each franchise looked to its self-interest and made a perfectly rational decision. Such it goes.
As for the anger in Pakistan about their players not playing in the IPL, it is entirely justified. But it should be directed at the Lashkar, not at the IPL franchises.
And I don’t get this whole business of auctioning players. Why can’t the franchises just negotiate with players on their own? Why do we need the BCCI in the middle, distorting price signals?
If I remember correctly, Lalit Modi had once argued that the auction system and the spending caps in place are necessary so that a franchise like the Mumbai Indians, flush with Mukesh Ambani’s money, can’t buy out all the good players, thus killing the competition. But such a state would be unsustainable—consider these two scenarios:
1. Assume that Ambani has way more money than anyone and can conceivably buy off all the good players. But once he has an XI full of superstars, the attraction of being part of his franchise diminishes for the others. No up-and-coming star will want to be part of his team because they need the exposure more than the extra money—that is where their long-term equity lies. And established stars not guaranteed a place in the XI will also have an issue with the tradeoffs involved, because their long-term brand value can only go down, not up, if they don’t play.
2] Make the far-fetched assumption that Ambani somehow pulls it off, and his team is by far the strongest, and is thrashing everyone else. What happens? Because the matches are one-sided, the crowds lose interest, ratings fall, revenues go down, and it is no longer sustainable for Ambani to be spending those big bucks. He scales down, the players drift to other teams, and we move towards an equilibrium again.
Also, the auctions harm the players more than they help them. A franchise may be willing to pay, say, US$80,000 for a player, but the base price set for him is $100,000. So they don’t bid for him, and both the franchise and the player suffer—after all, where he could have been earning 80k, he’s earning nothing. (At this point, you might want to listen to Milton Friedman on the minimum wage. Here’s the transcript.)
And this affects the superstar players as well, who might command much higher prices than the franchises are allowed to pay. In other words, players and franchises are all made worse off by this auction system—so what’s the point of it at all?
Just when you think the ultimate has happened, the absolute worst, something even more dire, comes along.
And yet. No matter how overwhelming the tragedy, how bleak the outlook, no matter what malevolent forces the fates see fit to hurl at this tiny, beleaguered, mountainous, sun-splashed portion of the planet, there is no quit in the Haitian people.
They rose up against the French and defeated the forces of Napoleon to become the only nation to grow out of a slave revolt. They rose up against the despotic Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier and sent him packing. Despite ruthless exploitation by more powerful nations, including the United States, and many long years of crippling civil strife, corruption, terror and chronic poverty, the Haitian people have endured.
They will not be defeated by this earthquake.
The overwrought prose and dubious insight here is more suited to a schoolboy’s essay than an NYT column. No quit in the Haitian people? That sounds just like the patronising remarks about Mumbai’s ‘resilience’ after each terrorist attack that we go through. Mumbaikars went to work on 27/11 not because they were resilient or especially brave but because they had no choice. They continued commuting in trains after the train blasts of 2006 because of the same reason. From outside it might look brave, but here, we see it as just getting on with our lives. Is there an option?
The people of Haiti, I’d imagine, are like people everywhere else—they make do with what there is, and respond to circumstances as they arise. That is a human quality, not a Haitian one. There is no quit across the world.
When he was 22, he [Brown] won an “America’s Sexiest Man” contest, the prize for which was $1,000 and a chance to pose naked in a Cosmopolitan magazine centerfold. One of his daughters — this is perhaps the best-known factoid in the campaign — came in somewhere between 13th and 16th on “American Idol.”
“For our family, especially me being on ‘Idol’ but my dad being in politics, there are always so many people who have something negative to say,” Ayla Brown told The Boston Herald this week. Her talent was singing, not sentence construction.
Now, how crass is that last sentence? When she’s writing about politics in these polarised times, one can expect her to get snarky and personal about the candidate from the party she opposes. But his daughter? I can imagine a tabloid going there, but an NYT columnist should surely consider it out of bounds.
I wonder, if Herbert and Collins left the awesome platform of the NYT and started independent blogs, how many readers would they have? That would be the real test, and I’m sure they’d be resilient if it went wrong.
The WTF statement of the day is the warning given by Chandra Shekhar, a politician in Bhopal, to local shopkeepers:
Your mannequins should wear sarees, not underwear. From now on, keep all undergarments inside. Show it to the customer when he or she asks for it. Five days from now if undergarments are still hanging outside, we will light a bonfire of the lingerie.
Yes, the culture police is protesting against the public display of lingerie now. In a country in which there are so many serious issues to tackle, this is getting surreal. But why, it must be asked, are they doing this? Is there actually a constituency that approves of this kind of behaviour?
My answer: Yes, there is. We are a country that contains around half-a-billion sexually repressed men. Many of these dudes, who don’t get the kind of action they desire, resent anything that reminds them of this. Like lingerie on mannequins. Like advertisements for coffee-flavoured condoms (another target of these thugs). Like the ubiquitous bogeyman of ‘Western Culture.’
And where there is widespread resentment, there will be a political party tapping into it. Such it goes.
Much amusement comes from the news of the sex tapes that allegedly show ND Tiwari “in a compromising position with three women.” The guy is 86. I didn’t even know you could get it up at that age. What a man.
I can imagine him being confronted by the president:
Pratibha Patil: Mr Tiwari, I have seen these sex tapes of yours. Amazing. I mean, disgusting. You are a governer, how could you do this?
ND Tiwari: He he he. Is that a rhetorical question?
PP: No, I mean, yes. But tell me, why three women? That is so perverse!
NDT: Well, I was told once that I should only be sleeping with girls my age. Or, at least, not more than 20 years younger than me. And the three of them put together…
I don’t get it. For the rule of law to mean anything, surely the law must take its course. Even you, as the home minister, cannot be above the constitution. How then can you justify this move?
I’m not even getting into the bad precedent set by your succumbing to blackmail and gundagardi. Already the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has announced “an indefinite hunger strike.” Who knows where this will end?
Mahatma Gandhi’s use of this particular tactic might have sanctified it, but in my opinion, threatening to fast unto death until your demand is met is a crude form of blackmail. Take K Chandrasekhar Rao, for example, the president of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, who recently announced that he would fast until he was given a separate Telengana state. In a democracy, there are constitutional ways to raise such issues—fasting unto death is just crude blackmail, and one that the state should not give in to. Rao was administered saline forcibly at a government hospital, an action that I consider a violation of his rights. If the man wants to fast unto death, let him fast unto death. It’s his life, his choice.
The TRS isn’t just about blackmail, of course—they’re also using standard political gundagardi. I find it delightfully ironical that after Rao broke his fast by having orange juice for health reasons, the “students who had attacked policemen and public and private property for two days to support Mr Rao did not take kindly to this sudden decision.” They might have suspected that Rao was not sufficiently dedicated to their cause, to which I’d respond that no politician is devoted to any cause other than himself. That’s human nature. Orange juice zindabad.
Via @saba_imtiaz, here’s a speech that’s surely going to become a YouTube classic: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari giving a speech to (presumably) his party workers in accented Urdu:
At the end of his speech, he’s like Rohit Verma and Vindu Dara Singh from Bigg Boss combined: Rohit’s hysteria, Vindu’s raw aggro. My advice to young Bilawal: try decaf. He sounds like he had 17 risterttos before breakfast, no?
Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2009 in
An RTI reply has revealed that Yeddyurappa has [...] spent a staggering Rs 1.7 crore to renovate his bungalow, Rs 35 lakh of which went into redoing his bedroom. [...] Renovation and fittings of the master bedroom cost Rs 34.55 lakh. This includes toilet works and interiors at Rs 10 lakh, marble flooring at Rs 10 lakh, a false ceiling and wall designs at Rs 4.40 lakh and Rs 10.15 lakh for gypsum board and wall panelling.
Since that’s our money, that’s our bedroom, and we should all be allowed access. How would you like to spend a night in Yeddyurappa’s bed? I’m sure he has silk sheets.
Hundreds of poor Hindu villagers in eastern India have refused to hand over a rare turtle to authorities, saying it is an incarnation of God, officials said on Tuesday.
Villagers chanting hymns and carrying garlands, bowls of rice and fruits are pouring in from remote villages to a temple in Kendrapara, a coastal district in eastern Orissa state.
“Lord Jagannath has visited our village in the form of a turtle. We will not allow anybody to take the turtle away,” said Ramesh Mishra, a priest of the temple.
Ok, my question to you: What does the Jagannath Turtle have in common with Naxalism?
Answer: They are both indicators of the fucked-up lives of so many of the people of rural India. There is no development, there is little chance of upward mobility, there is often no law and order. Their lives are so screwed that they actually derive hope from a turtle that they think is Lord Jagannath. How sad is that?
And Naxalism is born in that same well of despair and anger.
Needless to say, the state of these people justifies neither Naxalism (or Maoism, or whatever you want to call it) or such stupid superstition. Anyone who resorts to the kind of violence the Maoists have taken up must be crushed. Equally, a belief that a turtle is a reincarnation of a deity should be given no respect whatsoever. (Leave the turtle aside, anyone who believes in a deity to begin with… never mind.)
But while we crush the Naxalites and go WTF over the turtle worship, it makes sense to remember why people give in to such madness. It is because of how abject their lives are. And if we don’t sort that out, we’ll have more batches of Naxalites after this one is dealt with, and more turtle gods. (A leech deity makes much more symbolic sense, actually.) There’s no point boasting of our ‘soft power’ and our IT revolution while 60% of the population survives on agriculture. (The figure in developed countries is around 5%.) It’s like showing off a gym-toned body with much muscle while there’s a cancer in the liver and a farm of worms in the intestines. That’s fool’s vanity.
In a column in The Hindustan Times, Pankaj Vohra writes that Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, is making sure that the next leader of the BJP sticks to the RSS’s agenda. Vohra writes that “the RSS wants the BJP to return to its basic ideology,” and is “keen that a younger leader who works closely with the Sangh to further its ideology heads the party.”
What Bhagwat doesn’t get is that unlike the RSS, which doesn’t stand for elections or care about validation from anywhere other than its internal echo chambers, the BJP doesn’t function in a vacuum. The BJP is (like, duh) a political party. It is part of a political marketplace where its survival depends on getting the support of the people. Judging by recent events, voters across the country have rejected Hindutva. Indeed, most people seem to intuitively understand that Hindutva, a dangerous, divisive ideology, is not equal to Hinduism, an open-source religion.
What the BJP needs to do to survive, thus, is figure out gaps in the marketplace and cater to those needs. The Hindutva card only works for an increasingly small niche—and even in that virulent, nationalistic niche, there are local competitors everywhere, like the MNS and Pramod Muthalik’s goons.
What should their new direction be? I have no idea. I’d personally love to see them transformed into a secular-right party, but I don’t think that would work in the political marketplace either. Politics in India is mostly identity politics, and ideas have little place in it. Also, all politics is local, and the BJP would perhaps be best served by encouraging internal democracy and more importance on grassroots social work rather than elitist baithaks to discuss grand ideas. The question of who should be the next leader of the BJP should be a no-brainer: let the party workers decide that through secret ballot.
Bhagwat would no doubt argue that the BJP lost because their Hindutva wasn’t pure enough, and they should now get back to the basics. That is rubbish. In people’s minds, the BJP brand stands for just one thing—Hindutva. And that isn’t working any more. Smell the coffee, guys—and while you’re at it, please also ditch those embarrassing half-pants. Really, WTF?
Imagine if California’s famously polarized legislature included several smaller parties — Libertarians, Socialists, Social Conservatives — capable of forming coalitions with either the left or the right, so that every budgetary debate didn’t pit a bloated Democratic majority against an intransigent Republican rump.
I have just one word for Douthat: India. Sometimes a dynamic political marketplace leads to less things getting done, not more, negating the benefits of less polarisation. The UPA’s last term at the center, especially when they still depended on the support of the Left Front to stay in power, is a classic case of how a splintered parliament can lead to a logjam. Given human nature, there is no reason why a similarly fractured legislature would work better anywhere.
That minor quibble aside, I agree with Douthat’s argument—especially with regard to more local parties fulfilling “the promise of federalism.”
It might seem that India’s politics is much more dynamic than America’s, with so many local parties in action, but that is a bit of an illusion. India’s parties are mostly feudal and/or undemocratic, ruled by a small elite. The Democrats and the Republicans, on the other hand, have vibrant inner-party democracy, with much lower entry barriers for new politicians. (Case in point: Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency. Can any Indian who is not part of a political family rise so fast in our system?) It is common for a successful professional in the USA, say a lawyer or an MBA, to switch to a career in politics. In India, politics has become so dirty that an Indian Obama would never contemplate moving to politics to begin with.
And yes, that renders that common talk-show question from a few months ago, ‘Who is India’s Obama?’, completely moot.
Ashok Malik writes in The Hindustan Times that the BJP has hurt itself by chasing “straightforward capital gains” in a few states. He is right—but this is true of all parties in all states. People join the pursuit of power because they want the spoils of power. I would wager that not a single prominent politician in the country today gives a damn about public service.
This is not a problem by itself. We are all driven by self-interest, and that’s worked well for us. Human progress is based on individuals serving the needs of others for their own profit. In politics, this would work just fine if we held our politicians accountable for not serving us.
Sadly, in India we have retained the feudal mindset that our governments are there to rule us, not to serve us. With our apathy, we allow them to loot us—for their capital gains are really our capital to begin with. Our political parties are nothing more than competing mafia clans. If the BJP is down right now, it’s not because they are crooked, but because they’re not as smart as the other crooked players in the game. Such it goes.
Earlier today, in reference to this old post of mine, Jagdish Tytler wrote to me:
The news is incorrect and giving wrong information to the public. Congress never dropped me, I myself stepped down. Kindly make correction because incorrect information can do lot of damage to my reputation.
Journalism should always be backed by evidence. You can even ask the Party president Mrs. Sonia Gandhi about your article and even she will be surprised.
I hope you will understand my concern and will communicate with me in case you want any proof of my non-involvement in 1984 riots.
Intrigued by the last line, I wrote back and asked for the proof he offered. His response:
First I will reply about 1984, I have published quite a few proofs in my own website and blog regarding the conspiracy and concocted stories against me. Kindly go through them and feel free to ask for other documents. I hope you will publish those too.
Now coming back to the second issue that is either I have withdrawn myself or party told me to step down, I have never got any official order from the party to step down. It was my own decision because I was upset the way opposition tried to use me as scapegoat in order to target my party. Like I did before, I stepped down from union minister post myself, I did this time too. You can find my letter to the PM in one of my blogs.
I hope, you will change the headline of the article and will also make some adjustments in the article so that people can get the true information.
With warm regards,
Both these letters are published here with Mr Tytler’s permission, and I leave it to my readers to browse through the links he has offered and make up their own minds. My original post on the subject was written on the basis of reports such as this one. I shall update that post to direct readers to this one, so they can read Mr Tytler’s clarification.
For what it’s worth, my comment on the Congress remains the same: If the party believes Mr Tytler to be guilty, it should never have made him a candidate in the first place; and if it believes him to be innocent, it should have stood by him through that crisis.
I read your diatribe against “the Marathi manoos” yesterday with great interest. I have two points to make:
One: You say that the Marathi manoos stabbed you in the back. You are wrong. They stabbed you in the front. Could the election results be any clearer?
Two: Has it ever struck you how limiting the term ‘Marathi manoos’ is? There are many markers of identity for a Maharashtrian person, and Marathiness is just one of them. A Marathi person could also be a cosmopolitan Indian, a secular humanist, a death-metal fan and an India Uncut reader. We all contain multitudes. By trying to reduce people to just one of these, or by insisting on its primacy, you insult them. You might be hurt that so many Marathi people have not voted for you—but I am surprised that so many have.
That said, even if your party has lost ground, your brand of politics is still alive and kicking. Many of the manoos who stabbed you in the front went and embraced your nephew Raj, who is a true heir to the Shiv Sena’s divisive legacy. Congratulations.
I have always thought that the IITs are the glowing successes of India’s educational system. Equally, I believe that the regular schooling system, including the Class X and Class XII boards, are #FAIL.
That is why I am rather surprised at your ministry’s proposal that it be mandatory for IIT entrants to score at least 80% in their Class XII board exams. They already have to work hard enough for the JEE, which seems to have served its purpose for generations now. Why add to their stress?
It’s been reported that your reason for doing this is “to squeeze out the hundreds of coaching institutes who thrive by selling hope to unrealistic aspirants.” But why do those coaching institutes exist in the first place? It is because students find the existing education system to be inadequate. So why not fix that first? The coaching institutes won’t have a reason to exist then.
You must have heard of that old cliché, If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Mr Sibal, what you’re trying to fix ain’t broken. Yet.
More open letters here. And some essays by me on our education system:
May I then assume that you don’t believe in reservations also? After all, by discriminating on the basis of caste, reservations perpetuate the same kind of divisive thinking that the caste system did. They don’t solve the problem—they make it worse.
Barkha Dutt tweets that she thinks Uddhav Thackeray is trying to refashion the Shiv Sena. Perhaps she is being misled by his cultured way of talking, because this recent interview of his does not indicate that his vision for the Sena is any different from his dad’s. Consider, in particular, this bit:
Mid Day: Has MNS hijacked Sena’s aggressive, street-smart agenda?
Uddhav: Sena believes where one needs to be aggressive, one must be aggressive. Where we need to request with folded hands, we will. When hands are to be used differently, we will use them differently.
That, of course, renders the folded hands pointless in the first place. It’s like saying, Please do as I say—or my thugs will thrash you and trash your office. Why even bother with the polite facade then?
Later in the interview, we discover Uddhav’s fondness for Boney M. One more reason not to vote for him.
HT reports that the I&B ministry has just given the go-ahead to the producers of a film called The Indian Summer to shoot in India. However, after going through the script, it wants four scenes deleted from the film—these show “a kiss between Nehru and Edwina; a dancing scene; one where Nehru says ‘I Love You’; and a scene showing them in bed.”
Normally, when two people have an affair, there is kissing, there are confessions of love (or lust), and there is carnal action. I don’t see the point of pussyfooting around all this—an affair without these would not be an affair, so why should a film about an affair have to avoid these?
The government also insists that the film carry a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Why not keep those scenes then?
The ministry says it is doing this because it doesn’t want anyone to “show Nehru in a poor light.” That is bizarre: I don’t think his alleged affair with Edwina shows him in a poor light—the guy was human, after all. (Most Indian men would probably think more highly of him because he scored with a white chick, but leave that aside.)
And even if it did show Nehru in a poor light, so what?
Anyway, as revenge on the Indian government for this preemptive censorship, I suggest that the producers get Salman Khan to play Nehru, and have him sing a Himesh song as Edwina runs around a tree. That will show them.
I’ve often made the point that parenthood is a massive responsibility, and way too many people become parents before they’re ready for it. Well, here are a few things that validate that belief:
Exhibit one: A Shiv Sainik named Kailash Patil had named his kids Uddhav and Raj after the now-warring Thackerays. Well, Patil is now pissed at the party because they denied a ticket to the candidate he supported. So is is renaming his son Uddhav to Anand. Who knows, if he later ends up in the Congress, he might change Anand’s name to Rahul. Imagine what all this does to the poor kid.
Exhibit two: An Australian baby of Indian origin gets eczema. Her dad, Thomas Sam, happens to be “a college lecturer in homoeopathy.” No doubt driven by hubris and dogma, he insists on treating her with homeopathy alone. Her condition becomes worse, and turns into a “severe skin disorder.” Her father refuses to change course. The girl dies. The parents are arrested—and I recommend that instead of getting a lawyer for themselves, they take Phos1M or Arsenic Iod. Anyway, what’s the point of my sarcasm now? The kid is dead.
Exhibit three: I’ve blogged about this before, but today was the first episode of Pati, Patni aur Woh, so I was reminded of it. What kind of parents would rent their babies out to a television channel? How can they live with themselves after doing that? What will their kids feel about it when they grow older? I’m baffled. Normally I’m a sucker for reality shows—but this one’s just a bit too bizarre.
He was a brawler and a courtier, a duelist and a conciliator, a warrior and a lover, a hothead and a cool calculator. Five summers ago, when I started reading deeply in the life of Andrew Jackson, I was struck by a seeming contradiction: he was at once the most remote of heroes and the most modern of men. He was the first truly self-made man to rise to the White House, the architect of the presidency as we know it and champion of democracy in an age of elites. Scarred and bloodied, wounded physically and emotionally, he carried two (that’s right, two) bullets in his body for much of his life; wracked by pain, he nevertheless persevered, enduring much in order to make America work for the good of the many. He was a candidate of change, and his White House—riven by passion, sexual scandal, political intrigue and fears of secession—was the first we would recognize as a presidency in action. But I should not have thought Jackson ’s complexities surprising: America is complex, too, and he was the consummate American. Not to be too grand about it, but if you want to understand America , you have to understand Andrew Jackson.
So here is my question to you—about whom could we say the following words?
India is complex, too, and X was the consummate Indian. Not to be too grand about it, but if you want to understand India, you have to understand X.
Well, yes, India is too varied for anyone to be a “consummate Indian”—but who comes closest? In my view, it isn’t Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi, LK Advani or Prakash Karat, even Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. Instead, I’d say the two politicians who come the closest are Mayawati and Narendra Modi.
IU readers know the contempt I hold both leaders in (most Indian politicians, in fact, but these two especially), but Mayawati and Modi embody the attitudes and aspirations of millions. They are both genuine grassroots leaders, and they’re chief ministers of their states because millions of people see in them the kind of India they want. Neither of them is a “consummate Indian”, for they are too divisive for that, but if you want to understand the India of 2009, you have to understand Mayawati and Modi.
You can’t say that about Sonia or Manmohan.
And to state the obvious, this post is not an endorsement, it is a lament.
On the subject of mass protests, the world’s most famous community organizer has this to say:
I was always a big believer in - when I was doing organizing before I went to law school - that focusing on concrete, local, immediate issues that have an impact on people’s lives is what really makes a difference and that having protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally, is not really going to make much of a difference.
I’d say that applies to candlelight vigils and online petitions as well, two forms of protest that more and more urban, middle-class Indians seem to be taking to. In general, they’re useful only as far as they make the participants feel good about themselves—and give randy young men a chance to hook up with pretty Leftist chicas. Apart from that, if you really want to be useful, get the municipal corporation to clear up the garbage outside your housing society. I doubt lighting candles will achieve that.
An example of an online petition that does address a specific local issue is Vishal Dadlani’s petition against the new Shivaji statue. The petition states that the statue, “estimated to cost Rs.350 crores, is an unnecessary expense for the exchequer of the Government of Maharashtra.” This is a very good reason, but I’m sure that Ashok Chavan, our chief minister, travels economy class, just as his boss Sonia Gandhi does. Honestly, that’s all the austerity you can expect from them.
I was on Times Now yesterday defending Shashi Tharoor in this ridiculous Twitter controversy, going over pretty much the same points I’d made in my post, “A Cattle-Class Country?” The videos of that debate are embedded below the fold. I didn’t get too many chances to speak, but that’s okay, because Tom Vadakkan, the Congress spokesman, did—and he was hilarious. Check out this bit, which comes in the third video clip below:
Let me tell you something: I did a little research after you phoned me, to find out what is the basic cause for this tweet business. Some of the survey reports that I received was Tweet is a very lonely man, and he needs counselling.
There was much else that was WTF about the discussion, and I leave you to discover the rest of that for yourself! (Videos below the fold.)
This is a bizarre controversy. A couple of days ago, in response to a question about whether he would be travelling economy class, Shashi Tharoor tweeted:
... absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!
It’s always nice to see a minister be light-hearted. Sadly, his party isn’t. He’s been rapped on the knuckles for this act, and the party spokesman, Jayanti Natarajan, said:
We totally condemn it (Tharoor’s comments). The statement is not in sync with our political culture. His remarks are not acceptable given the sensitivity of all Indians.
Certainly the party does not endorse it. It is absolutely insensitive. We find it unacceptable and totally insensitive.
We do not approve of this articulation. Thousands of people travel in economy class.
Firstly, the lady desperately needs a thesaurus. She is being insensitive to her readers/listeners by going on and on about ‘sensivity’ and how ‘insensitive’ it all is. Once was enough, no?
Secondly, her party needs a dictionary. The term ‘cattle class’ has not been coined by Tharoor, but is a commonly used term for economy class. If it is derogatory to anyone, it is to the airlines that give their customers so little space, and not to the customers themselves. So whose sensitivity are we talking about here? Air India and Jet?
I’m a bit bemused, actually, by what the Congress is up to these days. An austerity drive means nothing when the government continues wasting our taxes on the scale it is. And berating someone for using the term ‘cattle class’ is needlessly sanctimonious when, after six decades of mostly Congress governance, we have hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford the basic necessities of life. Hell, most people in this country live cattle-class. And here we have the Congress strutting around and talking the talk.
Oh, and showing rare unity in WTFness, the BJP’s also condemned Tharoor’s tweet. Is there not one political party in this country that understands English and can take a joke?
On another note, Times Now has asked me to appear on their show, “Newshour”, to chat about this topic. It’s supposed to be tonight, and while the show runs from 9pm to 10pm, I’m told this segment starts at 9.30. They said it’s titled “A Tweet Too Far”, and if they imply that Tharoor should not be tweeting, I will defend him with as much gusto as I can manage. We all ask for transparency in government, and here you have a minister who’s actually in direct contact with so many of his countrymen, and everyone’s getting all het up. If I was in the Congress, I’d recognise this as a good thing, and encourage more of my ministers to go online. Anyway, such it goes.
A couple of weeks ago, when news spread of people dying of shock or killing themselves after YSR’s death, I wrote:
It’s quite possible that many of these deaths, if not all, randomly happened around that time, and YSR’s people are building this narrative around them to embellish his legend. Why would a 19-year-old, with his whole life in front of him, kill himself because a political leader is dead? Fishy.
This could be the subject of a great farce. Imagine a novel that begins with the death of a political giant. His successors want to ensure that more people die on hearing this news than did for his predecessor. So they use the government machinery to set each district a target. Officials in those districts fan out looking for random deaths. [etc]
Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s death earlier this month sent shock waves across the state that reportedly claimed lives of
457 people, including 40 who committed suicide. Now, what appears to be macabre “dead body politics’‘, overzealous Congress workers are allegedly offering money to the families of the dead many of whom died natural deaths or committed suicides for other reasons to claim that YSR’s death pushed them into taking their lives.
Rule of thumb: any farce that appears too outlandish to be true probably is. Such it goes.
That, at least, seems to be the implication of the BJP’s recent behaviour in Jaipur. Apparently, a minister attended a “beer-promotion party”, and the ‘BJP Women Front’ protested. Their president was quoted as saying:
This is a shame for the minister who being a lady and holding portfolio of woman and child development attended the beer promotion party.
This reflects why the BJP is losing support everywhere. The constituency of anti-beer people isn’t very big, and most people reading this news will surely go ‘WTF?’ Sure, many women have problems with alcoholic husbands, but a beer promotion bash at what was reportedly a “posh hotel” has nothing to do with that. If the BJP Women Front wants to take up issues that matter to women, surely there are a hazaar other things at the grassroots they could focus on.
On a broader note, much politics in India is, unfortunately, the politics of resentment. All identity politics is based on this—‘the other castes or communities have gotten ahead, vote for me, I’ll look after our interests.’ So is the communal politics the BJP exploits—there are, sadly, enough Hindus in India who resent Muslims for the BJP to have a vote bank there. And moral policing—if you’re not getting much action, you’ll resent anyone who is, and moral policing plays nicely to that constituency.
South Africa reacted angrily on Friday to a report that tests on its world champion runner Caster Semenya had found she was a hermaphrodite, threatening a “third world war” over the affair.
Athletics’ governing body declined to confirm the report in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, which said the 18-year-old runner had both male and female sexual characteristics.
The IAAF said medical experts were examining the results of gender tests on Semenya, who won the women’s 800 metres at last month’s World Championships in Berlin. No decision would be taken until late November.
“I think it would be the third world war. We will go to the highest levels in contesting such a decision. I think it would be totally unfair and totally unjust,” said Sports Minister Makhenkesi Stofile.
That’s totally the wrong choice of words, and I bet the Taliban dudes are scratching their heads wondering who this new player in the game is. ‘We fight the West for so long,’ I can imagine Wali-ur-Rehman telling Hakimullah Mehsud, ‘and South Africa is in the news for threatening the third world war. WTF?’
‘I know what we can do,’ says Hakimullah Mehsud. ‘Let’s turn you into a woman, and when those filthy Americans question your gender, we’ll also declare a third world war. He he he.’
‘You insult me, fool,’ roars Wali-ur-Rehman, ‘and for this you must die.’
No, but really, the issue at the heart of this is quite complex. Reportedly, “tests had found Semenya had no womb or ovaries, but that she had internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone, and her levels of the hormone were three times that of a ‘normal’ female.” This led Pierre Weiss, the secretary-general of the International Association of Athletics Federations, to say:
It is clear that she is a woman but maybe not 100 percent.
This brings up the thorny philosophical question of what makes a woman a woman. Do you have to have a womb? Is there a level of testosterone you cannot go over? Do men have to find you inexplicable? What is the meaning of a conclusion that someone is “maybe not 100 percent” as a woman? What’s the pass percentage?
And ya, sure, these peculiarities do give Semenya an advantage over fellow athletes—but there is no level playing field in sports anyway. Top sportspeople are often physically abnormal in some way or the other: Lance Armstrong’s heart is one-third larger than normal, for example, and his his aerobic capacity is twice that of a normal human. So is he more than 100 percent man, and therefore at an unfair advantage? If you start barring sportspeople for biological advantages they are born with, you’d cut down on a lot of the excellence and thrill of sport.
Anyway, I don’t care one way or another about the Semenya controversy. As long as Barack Obama doesn’t shift his troops from Afghanistan to South Africa, I’m okay.
Mayawati’s latest mansion is to be seen to be believed. With 18-ft high stone walls and matching copper and brass gates, it looks more like a fortress on Mall Avenue, the most prized address in Lucknow. With every second house here having been taken over directly or indirectly by Mayawati—be it in the name of the Bahujan Trust or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) office—her detractors, including Mulayam Yadav, have taken to calling the street ‘Maya Avenue’.
The chateau-like bungalow betrays Mayawati’s weakness for pink Dholpur stone and expensive granite.
‘Maya Avenue’ is a suitable name in more ways than one. The nugget I found most delicious in the report was that to make room for her bungalow, “Behenji ordered that the Sugarcane Commissioner’s office shift out from next door.” A sugarcane commissioner? Why the fug do we need a sugarcane commissioner anyway?
Mayawati has featured in the Where Your Taxes Go series before, here and here. I’m no longer surprised at the scale of her excesses, though. The way our political system is structured, it is entirely rational to enjoy the spoils of power after you get to such a post. We elect governments not to serve us, but to rule us. As long as that is so, our rulers will take full advantage.
(Link via email from Noor. For more on how our government loots us, click here.)
Shocked by the sudden and tragic end of their leader, 14 people died in different parts of Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. Six people died in East Godavari, five in Chittoor, while another YSR fan got a cardiac arrest in Vishakhapatnam. Two others died in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam.
A farmer from Kadapa, Narsaiah (75), who came to Piler on personal work along with his wife and children two days ago, died of cardiac arrest after hearing the tragic news. In Durgasamudram, Shankaramma (37), a daily wage labourer, who recently underwent a heart surgery under Arogyasri, died at around 6 pm.
A degree student, Laxminarayana (19), studying in Chittoor Government Degree College, consumed pesticide. “My son could not take the sad news and resorted to the extreme step,’’ his weeping mother C Lakshmamma said.
Quite bizarre. YSR was no MGR that people would kill himself over his death. It’s quite possible that many of these deaths, if not all, randomly happened around that time, and YSR’s people are building this narrative around them to embellish his legend. Why would a 19-year-old, with his whole life in front of him, kill himself because a political leader is dead? Fishy.
This could be the subject of a great farce. Imagine a novel that begins with the death of a political giant. His successors want to ensure that more people die on hearing this news than did for his predecessor. So they use the government machinery to set each district a target. Officials in those districts fan out looking for random deaths. Except in one thinly-populated district where everyone is in the pink of health. But the targets have to be met. So what to do?
Someday if I have the time…
On another note, the eulogizing of YSR feels a bit weird. Listen, he was a top political leader who rose from the grassroots. Given the political system in this country, there is no way he could be anything but a thuggish megalomaniac. (Check out this old article by Swaminathan Aiyar about YSR’s rise to power.) Still, that’s how it goes.
No, no, I’m not being rude, I mean that literally. The Punjab government has sanctioned Rs 1 crore “to set up an ultra-modern facility to tame, train, rehabilitate and teach manners to rogue monkeys.”
I agree that rogue monkeys are a problem—no Varun Gandhi jokes here, please—but I don’t see why so much of my taxes should go towards teaching them manners. What next, finishing schools for stray dogs? Reservations for all of them in government posts?
That said, I wouldn’t have minded it if they’d started this school a couple of years ago. They could then have sent a graduate or two to Rakhi Ka Swayamwar.
(Link via email from Varun. For more posts on how our taxes are misused, click here.)
Sach Ka Saamna is the recently started Hindi version of The Moment of Truth, and is riveting once you start watching it—even if it does overlap with that other reality show, Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao. So what problem do our politicians have with it? Well, Kamal Akhtar, a Samajwadi Party MP, doesn’t like it that “obscene questions are asked by the anchor of the programme.”
“The host asked a woman in the presence of her husband if she would have physical contacts with another person to which she said no,” he said. “But her polygraph test said the answer was wrong. What kind of impression would it have created?” He sought a complete ban on the show.
I don’t get it—on whose behalf is Akhtar complaining? The participants of the show take part in full knowledge of the risks they incur, and that’s a choice for them to make. As for viewers, well, Akhtar is being hugely condescending when he assumes that we impressionable folks will be swayed by the show into infidelity, or suchlike. Listen, we already know what the world is like; we already know what human beings are like; we understand our urges, and know the consequences of giving in to them. Akhtar may want to foist a fantasy world upon us where nobody has anything to hide and everybody speaks only the truth—but that world does not exist, and is faker than the fakest Ekta Kapoor serial.
If anything, Sach Ka Saamna drives home the truth that most human relations contain some element of deception. In a viscerally direct way, it reveals the human condition. That can only help us become better human beings—to begin with, it might make us a little less sanctimonious.
That’s a matter of opinion, of course. Some people may hate the show, and are entitled to do so. But that is where the matter should end—not in calls for a ban. If Akhtar is so disturbed by Sach Ka Saamna, I have a suggestion for him—change the channel.
Or actually, no. He might then catch Is Jungle Se Mujhe Bachao and demand a ban on that because it reminds him of parliament.
Even here in Karachi, the pragmatic commercial hub of the country, extremists have taken over some neighborhoods. A Pakistani police document marked “top secret,” given to me by a Pakistani concerned by the spreading tentacles of jihadis, states that Taliban agents sometimes set up armed checkpoints in one such neighborhood here.
These militants “generate funds through criminal activities like kidnapping for ransom, bank robbery, street robbery and other heinous crimes,” the report says.
The mayor of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal, confirms that Pashtun tribesmen have barred outsiders from entering some neighborhoods.
“I’m the mayor, and I have three vehicles with police traveling with me. And even I cannot enter these areas or they will blow me up,” Mr. Kamal said, adding, “Pakistan is in very critical condition.”
Truly scary. And what is even scarier is that all the solutions Kristof offers at the end of his piece are long-term solutions, which may likely take years to play out. What about the short-term? What about now? Is there hope?
It would seem that in Pakistan, there is nothing you need to watch out for more than making a joke about President Asif Ali Zardari by SMS (Short Messaging Service).
If you mistakenly, or just for fun, share with a friend one of the hundreds of derisory jokes about the leader floating around electronically, you could get a 14-year prison sentence.
Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik announced last week that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been tasked to trace SMS (or text messages) and e-mails that “slander the political leadership of the country” under the vague Cyber Crimes Act. In addition to facing up to 14 years in the jail, violators could have their property seized, Malik said, adding that the government would seek Interpol assistance in deporting foreign offenders.
I think whatever the jail sentence announced for each accused person, Zardari himself should be made to serve 10 percent of it.
I particularly like this Zardari joke from the report above:
Robber: Give me all your money!
Zardari: Don’t you know who I am? I am Asif Ali Zardari!
Robber: Okay. Give me all my money!
Oops, wait, I’d better watch it, or there’ll be an Interpol notice out on me for having a Zardari joke on my blog. Maybe Pakistan will suggest a Lakhvi for Varma swap. We’ll give you the terrorist mastermind, they could say, if you hand over the blogger who dared to joke about our esteemed president.
Speaking of euphemisms, here’s a masterful one from a WTF quote by India’s health and family welfare minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad:
Electricity in our villages can help control population growth. Electricity will lead to television in houses, which will lead to population control. When there is no light, people get engaged in the process of population growth.
So the next time you want to ask someone to get in bed with you, don’t be crude, don’t say something like Let’s bonk or I want to get into your pants or Let’s make laowe, baybeh, or suchlike. No, just look serious and wonkish and say, Would you like to engage in the process of population growth with me?
Doesn’t that sound much classier? No? Okay, never mind.
And while on Azad’s quote, it’s WTF for two reasons:
One, the government has no business regulating what consenting adults do in their bedrooms, whether this relates to sexual practices or procreative choices. How many kids a couple wants to have should be that couple’s decision alone. Anything else is a violation.
Two, despite what we’re taught in school, India’s problem is not its population. Every new child born anywhere is an invaluable resource, and in the right sort of environment, this resource produces more than it consumes. We don’t need to control population growth; instead, we need to work at creating an environment where every person has the scope to unleash his or her full potential.