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My Friend Sancho

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.


To buy it online from the US, click here.


I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.


If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho


Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.


And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.


Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

Category Archives: Politics

The Manmohan Myth

Aakar Patel has a piece in the latest Lounge where he compares LK Advani with Manmohan Singh. His analysis of Advani is spot on, and I’m with him on his opposition to the man. But he looks at Singh through rose-tinted glasses:

At 30, he understood the problem with Nehru’s economic model. At 59, he got the chance to set it right, and he did.

This is flat-out wrong. In the little I’ve read of his writings and speeches before 1991, Singh doesn’t say a word against against Nehru’s economic policies, and in fact seems to support the Fabian Socialist framework he built. I have the transcript of a seminar on price controls that was held in the early 80s, and Singh, in his speech, speaks just like a Nehruvian apparatchik. His reputation as a reformer came after 1991.

And the reforms of 1991 came about not because of the inner conviction of Singh or Narasimha Rao, but because there was simply no choice. We faced a severe balance-of-payments crisis, and the IMF loan we needed to save the country was conditional on reforms being carried out. And so they were, and worked wonderfully well. However, once that crisis passed, the pace of reforms slowed.

In his years as PM, Singh has carried out very few reforms. This is not entirely his fault: the government depended on the support of the Left for much of this time, and they blocked many of the reforms that we need. But he also supported schemes that Nehru and Indira would have been proud of, such as the NREGA—though one could argue that this was Sonia Gandhi’s baby, and he didn’t have an option. Regardless, nothing he has done in these last five years justifies his reputation as a reformer.

That said, I obviously support Singh over Advani as PM: the divisive politics of the BJP is a deal-breaker for me, though this is a matter of degree, as the nature of Indian politics dictates than any party that wishes to do well must be divisive. Such it is.

Also read: Profit’s No Longer a Dirty Word.

Posted by Amit Varma on 26 April, 2009 in Economics | India | Politics


It’s Not Varun Gandhi’s Fault

No, it seems that all the appalling things he said recently can be blamed on Rahu-Ketu.

I can imagine Mayawati’s cops landing up in heaven to arrest Rahu-Ketu under the NSA. Inspector Mishra, leading the police team, finds a boy in pajamas lying on a khatiya. ‘That’s him,’ shouts Mishra, and his men surround the boy.

‘We know who you are,’ says Inspector Mishra, ‘but just for the record, identify yourself.’

‘I’m Rahu,’ says the boy. ‘I had ordered a butter chicken a couple of centuries ago, is it ready yet? Man, service in heaven is so slow, the waiters take everything for granted.’

‘Rahu,’ barks Inspector Mishra, ‘I hereby place you under arrest for instigating Varun Gandhi’s poisonous words. You have a right to remain silent. Until beaten.’

‘Hey, wait a sec,’ says Rahu, ‘that wasn’t me. That was my brother Ketu.’

(Link via email from Girish.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 April, 2009 in Dialogue | India | Old memes | Astrology etc | Politics | WTF


Family Business

A classic example of how feudal our politics is comes from a Rediff Q&A with Veena Singh, Arjun Singh’s daughter, who is contesting these elections as an independent candidate after the Congress denied her a party ticket. See this bit:

Q You mentioned in your speech that you decided to contest because you were offended by the way the party has treated your father.

Ans Not offence. My father was hurt. Hurt that after 52 years of service to the Congress, both children were denied a Congress ticket.

See the sense of entitlement. Singh doesn’t believe that she has to earn her position in the party; instead, she thinks that it is hers by right because of who her father is. As if the party is family property.

Given how that party is ruled by a single family on the basis of nothing more than its last name, one can’t even blame her for thinking like this. Indeed, every major party treats politics as family business—consider that virtually all the young politicians we speak of these days, from the Gandhis to Jyotiraditya Scindia to Sachin Pilot to Manvendra Singh to Milind Deora got their positions because of their fathers. No wonder Poonam Mahajan kicked up such a fuss recently when she was denied a BJP seat in Mumbai. After all her father did for them, just think.

Earlier: Where is Inner-Party Democracy in India?

(Link via email from Abhishek.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 April, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Not To Divide People

Here’s an interesting question-and-answer from a Rediff interview of Priyanka Gandhi:

Q: What are your views about Mayawati? She has clearly evoked a lot of support and admiration, especially from the lower castes. Do you understand what she does?

Ans: Yes, I understand what she does. It’s true that certain castes have been oppressed for centuries, and she has tried to empower them. But the way forward is to take everybody along, not to divide people on the basis of caste and religion.

Do you think that means that Priyanka is against reservations? After all, our system of reservations does exactly what the caste system has done for centuries: It classifies people according to their castes and then discriminates on that basis. It perpetuates the divisions it aims to eradicate. So if Priyanka opposes reservations, and thus disagrees with her party on this issue, she should be brave enough to say so.

Otherwise her rhetoric is rather WTF, no?

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 April, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Jhappi + Pappi

The Hindu reports:

Actor and Samajwadi Party leader Sanjay Dutt was on Saturday booked on an obscenity charge for allegedly saying that given a chance he would give jaadu ki jhappi (magical hug), made famous by his Munnabhai flicks, to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

“A case has been registered against Sanjay Dutt for making derogatory and undignified remarks against BSP supremo Mayawati during an election rally on the K.P. Hindu College ground in Pratapgarh on April 16,” a senior police officer told PTI.

Mr. Dutt allegedly said he “will give jaadu ki jhappi and pappi (magical hug and kiss) to the people of Pratapgarh and given a chance I will do the same with the Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati.”

I find obscenity laws immensely silly, and it’s quite WTF that when politicians are going around spewing venom at the each other, this dude is getting booked for jokingly offering jhappi and pappi. Yes, Dutt has the brain of an infant, but unless he actually forces himself on Behenji and gives her a jhappi-cum-pappi, the law shouldn’t come into play. Are we such an immature nation that we can’t even talk of these things?

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Anyway, imagine this: Mayawati hears of Sanjay’s comments, and expresses disgust. She finishes her work for the day and goes to bed. And then, lying alone in the darkness, turning with a heavy heart on a soft bed, thinking of all the sacrifices she has made for her people, she sighs softly. She remembers: Jhappi! Pappi!

Just then the doorbell rings. She waits, and the seconds seem like hours. Then the intercom buzzes.

Madam, her minion says on the other side of the line, A politician from the Samajwadi Party is here to see you. He’s a filmi kind of guy.

She pauses. Ask him to wait five minutes, I’ll just get ready.

She gets up, switches on the light, and in record time combs her hair, washes her face and brushes her teeth. She puts on her best silk salwar suit. And she applies a dab, just a dab, a subtle pappilicious dab of lipstick. Then she picks up the intercom and says, Send him in.

A few seconds go by.

And then Amar Singh walks in.

(Link via email from Archana.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF


A Smooth, Oily Mortgage Salesman

I’m a great admirer of Barack Obama, as regular readers of this blog would know. But I have to admit, Kunal Sawardekar has a point.

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Allow me to be anal here and point out that when I say I am “a great admirer” of Obama, I mean that I admire him greatly, and not that I admire him and I am great. Just in case, like, you thought otherwise.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2009 in Economics | Politics


Rich Men In Politics

I just love this headline in The Times of India:

Parties should give more tickets to rich: Wealthiest candidate

The article is about a gentleman named Deepak Bhardwaj of the Bahujan Samaj Party, who has a net worth of Rs 600 crore. Bhardwaj says:

It is good that political parties nominate rich candidates in elections. If you find a rich person as your candidate, he or she can help the poor better and look after development work. How can a poor candidate serve the poor? It only stands to reason and therefore richer candidates should be given more chance to contest elections

The reason I am amused by Bhardwaj’s defensive attitude towards his wealth is that he has no reason to be on the back foot to begin with. As TN Ninan points out, “virtually every member [of the Lok Sabha] is a crorepati.”

Ninan suggests that politics is “India’s most lucrative profession,” and there is no doubt in my mind that he is right. In India, we take it for granted that our governments are there to rule us, not serve us, and do not question the amount of power they wield over us. Politicians, like all other humans, are driven by self-interest, so obviously they will use this power to enrich themselves, and the interest groups that help them come to power. The problem is with the system that allows them so much power with so few safeguards. The problem is with all of us, for allowing ourselves to be milked like this. (For more, read: “A beast called government.”)

To go back to Bhardwaj, he seems to have made his money from his family’s real estate investments, not from politics. But his political career might just be the best investment he has made. If he uses his money to buy himself power, he can then use that power to make much more money. Such it is.

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 April, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts


Mai-Baap Circular

Rediff reports:

Sports Minister M S Gill on Thursday flayed the ‘casualness’ of India’s cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh for skipping the Padma Shri function and said the Ministry would soon issue a circular to ensure sportspersons treat national awards with utmost respect.

Dhoni and his India teammate Harbhajan were conspicuous by their absence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan [Images] ceremony, where they were expected to receive the Padma Shri from President Pratibha Patil.

[...] The Sports Minister… said he would not brook such casualness by anyone. [...] And to ensure it does not happen again, the Ministry would issue a new circular soon, he said.

I don’t get this crap about issuing a circular to “ensure it does not happen again”. Gill makes it sound as if Dhoni and Harbhajan thrive under the patronage of the government, and are therefore beholden to it. That is not true. On the contrary, the taxes that Dhoni and Harbhajan and you and I pay are responsible for keeping Gill’s AC running and the fuel tank of his official car full. He talks as if he is our master, but really, a minister is no more than the servant of the people. Our government is notionally there to serve us, but behaves as if it rules us.

In my view, Dhoni and Harbhajan bring honour to the country, and the Padma Shri, like other government awards decided by an essentially political process, do not bring any additional honour to these fine sportsmen. Their fidelity is to their sport, not to the politicians running the government, and that is how it should be. Sure, Gill is entitled to hold the opinion that it was tasteless on the part of these two to not receive the award personally. But a circular? Give me a break.

And do note that these circulars and awards are all paid for by the sacrifices you and I and my maidservant are forced to make. Do you think it’s worth it? I don’t.

PS. In case you’re wondering whether I’m against the government spending taxpayers money on sport, well, I am. The reasons for that are pretty much the ones I’d articulated against government spending on the arts in my piece, Nadiraji Wants Your Money. If you think Padma Shris and sports ministries are a worthy cause, you fund them with your money. Why force me to pay?

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 April, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | Sport | WTF


The Erection Commission Of India

The Election Commission of India has brought out a Handbook for Candidates (pdf link) this year that contains the following remarkable lines:

DEFACEMENT OF PUBLIC OR PRIVATE PROPERTY

Many of the State/Union territories have laws to prevent the defacement of property, which term includes any building, structure, hut, wall, tree, fence, post, pole or any other erection.

I hope you understand the significance of this. All these years you have believed that an erection is a natural event, containing no threat to democracy. But you were wrong. True, erections themselves are not illegal, but their defacement might be—and every erection carries within it the seeds of its own defacement. Furthermore, it could be argued that the thought of this defacement is what causes the erection in the first place, and thus there is no further need for the cops to prove intent.

I wonder if the government has Erection Commissioners to monitor such laws. If so, wouldn’t pretty buxom women in revealing clothes be the best candidates for the job? They could cause the crime they are out to punish, thus meeting their targets with ease. I can just about imagine one such erection commissioner striding over to me, her hips swaying, her chest thrust forward, her lips erotically apart, saying: “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you breaking the law?

Ah, I love life in the world’s biggest democracy.

(Link via email from Pratap Bhanu Mehta.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 April, 2009 in India | Politics | WTF


Dear Priyanka Gandhi

Dear Priyanka Gandhi

You have been quoted as saying today, “My brother is a capable and responsible representative of Congress and has every qualification of becoming the prime minister.”

Besides the family name, what other qualification does he have? Much curiosity comes.

Regards

Amit Varma

*

More open letters here. Also see: The Nehru-Gandhi legacy of shame.

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 April, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF


What Jagdish Tytler And Sajjan Kumar Tell Us About The Congress Party

Update (October 28, 2009): Jagdish Tytler has sent me a couple of letters regarding the events referred to in this post. You can read them here.

*

I’m glad that the Congress has withdrawn Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar from the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. I think Delhi 1984 was as much of a blot on the nation as Gujarat 2002 was, and it is a travesty that our government has never even attempted to ensure that justice is done. But the manner of their withdrawal raises the following thought.

If the Congress believed that the duo was guilty of being part of the 1984 riots, then they should have never been selected as candidates for the party at all. If the Congress believed the duo to be innocent (or innocent until proven guilty), then their names should not have been withdrawn just because some dude threw a shoe.

The way the Congress has handled this makes it obvious that they do not believe in principles, but in power. They will do whatever it takes to come to power, and right or wrong be damned. In our political marketplace, it is inevitable that all parties and most politicians will be like this, so this is hardly surprising. But it does mean that every time the Congress takes the high moral ground on any issue, I will snigger.

*

That said, I still prefer the Congress to the BJP. This is because the Congress stands for nothing, while the BJP stands for something pernicious. The BJP has, in its DNA, the politics of divisiveness. It is true that the Congress has also played such politics, but out of convenience, not belief. That makes their acts no less heinous, but, in my eyes at least, it makes them slightly less dangerous because there is less chance of things going wrong, of a repeat of 1984 or 2002.

And ya, it burns me up that I need to decide who I support on the basis of who is less dangerous. That totally sucks, but such it is, so there we go.

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 April, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts


A President’s Hunger Strike

In the WTF news of the day, we learn that Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, has gone on a hunger strike because Bolivia’s congress is not cooperating with him in setting a date for the next general elections. That’s the president, just think—if he has to go on a hunger strike to get something done, think of the rest of them.

Anyway, if he doesn’t get his way and someday loses power, there’ll be something good to come out of it all: He can become a model.

PS: As we’re on the subject of hunger strikes, here’s my favourite one.

(Newsvine link via Anannya.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 10 April, 2009 in News | Politics | WTF


A Real Bonus Outrage

Writing about the infamous AIG bonuses, Allan Sloan says:

If you want a real bonus outrage, consider this: The operation getting the biggest taxpayer subsidy of all - the federal government - pays bonuses to its employees too. This year it plans to hand out about $1.6 billion of bonuses, despite running more than $1 trillion in the red.

Ironically, many of the people who have cried themselves hoarse about how a private company is misusing taxpayers’ money have nothing to say about the astronomical wastage that takes place of the taxpayers’ money that is actually with the government—in any country. It is almost as if the government has a right to that money, for they are our rulers and we, their subjects—and not the other way around.

And here’s a thought—it’s much harder to bail out a government than an insurance company or two.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 April, 2009 in Economics | Old memes | Taxes | Politics


Jarnail Singh Is King

The Times of India reports that the journalist who threw a shoe at P Chidambaran, Jarnail Singh, has been awarded Rs. 2 lakhs by the Shiromani Akalai Dal for his act. And the WTF quote of the day comes from their national general secretary, Avtar Singh Hit:

Decisions are not taken by throwing shoes but this incident has showed our pain and suffering. Bhagat Singh had also thrown a bomb in the assembly. We have thus announced a reward of Rs 200,000 for his courage and bravery.

I understand the sentiment—but Bhagat Singh? I suppose it’s apt that the party in question chose a name for itself that would form the acronym SAD. I mean, really.

(Link via email from Swaroop Mamidipudi.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 April, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Throwing The Shoe

We all know what it means to throw the book at someone, and now it seems that dictionaries will soon have to make space for a new phrase—‘throwing the shoe.’ The origin would be the journalist who threw a shoe at George W Bush a few months ago, and it seems to be becoming a trend now that a journalist in a press conference has hurled a shoe at P Chidambaram. (In a PC, at PC, as it happens.)

The Home Minister was referring to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots when the journalist, Jarnail Singh, asked him a question regarding the CBI clean-chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler.

When Chidambaram averted the question, Jarnail Singh - who works with Hindi daily Dainik Jagaran - threw a shoe at him.

In case you were curious, the shoe missed, which might well lead to informal courses in shoe throwing being conducted in the canteens of journalism schools. Now, what would the phrase ‘throwing the shoe’ actually mean? One possibility: ‘An over-the-top act of protest born out of the frustration of the futility of other forms of protest.’ It could, thus encompass acts that don’t involve shoes at all—though if it involves throwing other things, it could lead to confusion. Like, imagine if a protester throws a TV at a politician, and a journalist reporting it files a report beginning, “In Hazratganj this morning, an irate protester threw the shoe at politician Jagdish Tytler.” And his editor hauls him up.

Editor: Your report begins by saying that some dude threw a shoe. But it turns out that he threw a TV.

Reporter: Yes, sir, that’s a figure of speech.

Editor: Figure of speech, my ass. Which idiot says it is a figure of speech?

Reporter: Sir, I read it on my favourite blog: India Uncut.

Editor: Well, now you will have more time to read your favourite blog. Much more time.

Reporter: [Worried that he’ll be sacked] Sir, please don’t throw the shoe at me!

(Link via email from Gautam.)

Update: I didn’t realize that throwing shoes at politicians has already become a trend, and Wen Jiabao and an Israeli ambassador have had shoes thrown at them recently. I hope this practice doesn’t spread to book launches.

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 April, 2009 in Dialogue | India | Journalism | Media | News | Politics | Small thoughts


Congress Murders

Two bits of news just in:

CBI clears Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 Sikh Riots case

Sanjay Dutt says the Congress Party killed his father

Do two WTFs cancel each other out?

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 April, 2009 in India | Politics | WTF


Munnabhai, MCP—Redux

In an earlier post featuring Sanjay Dutt’s neanderthal (or simply pre-modern) comments about women, I’d quipped that I wondered if he’s put a dog collar on Manyata. An interview of his in today’s Hindustan Times indicates that he has—and she’s tied to the kitchen. Check this out:

HT: Did your wife convince you to get into politics?

Dutt: Manyataji takes the decisions in the kitchen.. aaj biryani banegi ya phir kabab or chicken. That’s where she rules. In other matters I decide what’s to be done.

I guess Dutt thinks this kind of talk is very macho—‘See how I keep my woman in line, I’m a real man, asli mard, ha ha ha.’ And if he is elected as an MP, he will no doubt have the same attitude towards his constituents as he does towards his wife—he will rule them, not serve them. During elections, he’ll fold his hands and will show much concern towards their needs—like a man wooing his beloved. Once he’s elected, if he is, he’ll only see what he can get out of them, and not give a damn about what they need, or what he had promised on bended knee. ‘Biriyani jaldi lao, bhook lagi hai.’ That kind of shit.

Such irony it is that his father was so different in both regards. How far this seed has fallen from the tree…

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 March, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | Politics | WTF


Don’t Diss Eunuchs

PTI reports that Uddhav Thackeray has called Manmohan Singh “a eunuch”. The Congress has called this “perversity of the highest order”. Well, I have just one question here:

What’s wrong with eunuchs?

I’m serious. Why can’t a eunuch be a good prime minister of India? We’ve had non-castrated men in the job, and most of them sucked. We had a woman, and she was a disaster. Why should being a eunuch be a disqualification? Indeed, why should that label be used as a pejorative?

While I’m at it, one more question—since the Congress has clearly made a list of perversities, and calling someone a eunuch is one “of the highest order”, what are other perversities in that order? And in lower orders? For edification, one really wants to know.

(Link via email from Rajeev Mantri.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 25 March, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF


The Morality Of Zeroes

The WTF line of the day comes from The New York Times:

In a week when Mr. Obama scolded business executives for creating a culture of runaway salaries and bonuses, a disclosure form filed Tuesday showed that he signed a new $500,000 book agreement five days before taking office in January.

Does it even need to be said that the $500k that Obama got in his book deal is not taxpayers’ money? And that the AIG bonuses Obama has been pissed about are just that? The juxtaposition makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t see why Obama’s outrage over AIG even needs to be mentioned in this piece. Seriously, if I was paying anything to read NY Times, I’d want my money back just for this.

*

And while we’re on the subject, I agree with Michael Lewis that as a scandal, the $163 million that AIG paid in bonuses pales before the $173 billion (or $173,000 million, to put it in perspective) bailout that the US government gave AIG to begin with. Such large amounts, and the uses they are put to, boggle the mind, so taxpayers ignore them. Bonuses to fat cat executives are an easier target.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 March, 2009 in Economics | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Now Housewives Want Sops

This is quite the WTF headline of the week:

Kerala housewives demand pay from govt

Actually wait, on second thoughts, what’s so WTF about it? Why is this odder than any damn subsidy that the government of India gives? If the GoI can support failing businesses (for by definition only a failing business needs a subsidy), and pilgrims headed on pilgrimage, and all manners of interest groups, then why not housewives? If you take from Peter to pay Paul, and Prakash, and Pervez, and Pestonjee, then why not also pay Parvati?

Needless to say, that’s our tax money out there, and we’re all Peter. But we’re reconciled to that now, and apathetic towards it, so we’re never going to fight over the way it’s used. Also, some of us are fighting to be Paul and Prakash and Parvati, so there’s that. Maybe I should start a movement to subsidize bloggers?

(Link via separate emails from Shyam and Vineet.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 March, 2009 in Economics | India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


Rejoice, Ralph Nader Supporters

You can finally find someone who’s ready to date you. Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain, writes:

Here’s the biggest surprise: I am not only turned off by people who voted for Barack Obama, but I am also turned off by people that voted for my dad—or more so, obsessive supporters of my dad.

So really, if she’s going to stay in America, there’s not much left to choose from, is there?

(HT: Manish.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 09 March, 2009 in Politics


Animal Alchemy

Graeme Wood, in a feature on Lalu Prasad Yadav’s achievements as India’s railways minister, writes:

When Lalu presented his latest budget to Parliament on February 13, he bragged, “Hathi ko cheetah bana diya” (“I have turned an elephant into a cheetah”). What’s his secret?

“Cow dung,” he says. “I have 350 cows, including bulls. Cow dung—no need of gas.”

A few paragraphs later, Wood quotes a civil servant named Sudhir Kumar as saying, “If there is money lying around, we can smell it.” I wish these quotes had been used out of context, they would have made India seem so delightfully exotic: a land where you apply cow dung on an elephant to turn it into a cheetah, and where natives can smell money. Sadly, Wood sticks to responsible journalism and does nothing of the kind.

Still, that cow dung bit isn’t quite explained…

(HT: Arun. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105, 106, 107, 108, 109.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 05 March, 2009 in India | Old memes | Cows | Politics | WTF


Where Your Taxes Go: 37

Nobody knows.

One day I also want to vanish through the Great Black Hole that our money travels through, and build a life for myself in the parallel universe on the other side. Such affluence must be there, no?

(HT: Neel. For more on how our government loots us, check out my Taxes Archive.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 March, 2009 in Economics | India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF


The Nagaland People’s Cock

Reader Nikhil Apte writes in:

Speaking of offensive symbols, did you know that the Nagaland People’s Front uses a cock as a symbol?

Going by current logic, this should be offensive to all non-Naga people whose fronts do not have cocks as symbols.

Also, the cock they use seems to be, well, a somewhat small cock. But they’re not a big party, so that’s okay, I guess.

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 March, 2009 in India | Politics


Offensive Elephants

In the last few days, we’ve learnt that slumdogs are offensive, barbers are offensive—and now we find that elephants are offensive. The Times of India reports:

Hindu Jagran Manch and other Hindu organisations have objected to allotment of “elephant” as an election symbol to any political party and have urged the Election Commission to withdraw it.

[...]

“Hindus revere elephant as Lord Ganesha and its use in election provides scope to political parties to use it for sloganeering and its akin to degrading the god thereby hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus,” [HJM functionary Om Prakash] Misra said.

Being an FSM bhakt, I hereby demand that no party is allowed to use pasta as its symbol. Otherwise my religious sentiments will be hurt, not to mention my culinary sentiments and, because I loved pasta as a child, my sentimental sentiments. No one should use pasta for sloganeering (or even catering). If my demands are ignored, I will collect a mob and we will boil all the rice in Bombay. So there.

(HT: Sandeip.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 March, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF


Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Parsi

Mumbai Mirror reports:

Recently, the [Maharashtra] government also asked the education department to start distribution of uniforms to students of Std I to IV. The uniforms are for Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Parsi students studying in government-approved all aided/non-aided primary schools.

Notice someone being discriminated against?

(Via Mudra.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 March, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


“Like Dogs Being Thrown A Bone”

Aakar Patel writes:

It is quite easy to manipulate India’s television news channels, because they are open to being used.

Imagine a criminal telephoning India’s television editors. He tells them of a violent crime he’s about to commit, where his gang intends to harm people. He tells them the location and the time of the crime and asks them to send their crews to cover it. His motive for calling them is publicity. What would the journalists do? Warn the victims and call the police, one would think. And stop it when they saw a crime happening before them.

Here’s what India’s TV editors actually did on January 24. A Hindu group named Shri Ram Sene told the editors they would attack a pub in the southern city of Mangalore, and that they could get the footage. The news channels scrambled their camera crews and went with the attackers.

At the pub, called Amnesia, the men manhandled the youngsters inside. The group said it was doing this because of moral reasons; that going to pubs was not Indian culture. The attack was savage and it was filmed in vivid detail. Girls and boys were slapped about, thrown to the floor, hit on their head, kicked as they fled. Their helplessness and their shock was deeply disturbing. Just as disturbing was the animal frenzy of the men attacking them.

The cowering girls in particular were humiliated as the men hunted them, with the camera crews following the men to get the right angle.

“Like dogs being thrown a bone,” writes Patel, “the television journalists have chased the stories that Muthalik has tossed in the air after that day.”

Now, I don’t really blame a dog for chasing a bone. (Or for being a dog.) The media chases sensational stories, and Muthalik gives them just that, as do the likes of Raj Thackeray. What really gets my goat here is the apathy of the police. If Mangalore’s cops were to beat up Muthalik’s goons just as the goons beat up the girls in the pub, and called the TV channels over to film that, the TV journos would be there as well, tongues hanging out, jostling to get the right frame. If the police arrested Muthalik, the channels would do anything to get footage of the man being taken away in handcuffs. But the problem is that when mobs go on the rampage with political backing, the rule of law ceases to exist. Blaming the media for covering that, then, amounts to shooting the messenger.

But do read Patel’s full piece, he makes some excellent points, and I fully agree with his diagnoses of what ails Indian journalism: “The quality of their journalists” and “internal integrity.” Such it goes.

Posted by Amit Varma on 01 March, 2009 in India | Journalism | Media | Politics


Pee For Protest

I suppose this is a form of Gandhigiri:

Vatal Nagaraj has challenged the Governor, Chief Minister, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court and Chief Secretary to find public toilets to relieve themselves between their offices and the Lalbagh.

Kannada Chalavali Vatal Paksha president has reiterated that he would continue his unique protest of “urinating” in front of residences of dignitaries to draw the attention of State Government to build sufficient number of public toilets, from March 7.

“The Governor, the Chief Minister, the Chief Justice and the Chief Secretary should leave their air-conditioned offices and join me in a walk to Lalbagh to find public toilets,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday. “On March 7, with all my supporters and citizens, I am going to pee in front of the residence of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa. I will also do it in front of the houses of all MPs, MLAs, MLCs and the elected members of zilla panchayats, taluk panchayats and other local governments,” Mr. Nagaraj said.

Cunning stunt, though if the dude tries it in Mumbai, people may not even realise that he’s protesting. Some would argue that simply voting is a better form of protest, but given the choices we have in the political marketplace, I can see why Nagaraj prefers peeing as political expression. At least some relief will come.

(HT: Girish SV.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics


Provocative Dressing And Wine

Remember Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice? (My posts about them: 1, 2, 3.) They famously inspired the Taliban with their enforcement of Sharia law in Saudi Arabia, and the Hindu now reports from Riyadh:

The chief of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice said on Saturday that his department would not impose any dress code, but was against “provocative dressing” by women.

Addressing presspersons here, he said that provocative dressing by women was responsible for various crimes, including rape and suicides. However, it was difficult to define what provocative dressing was, he said.

[...]

Moral policing was necessary to prevent illegal and unethical activities. This work could not be left to the Government and the police alone.

“It is the duty of every citizen,” he said.

To another question he said he was against both men and women consuming liquor in pubs. “Alcohol and wine have led to corruption. We want a wine-less society,” he said.

Oops, wait a second, I’m growing old—I read that report wrong. It’s not from Riyadh, it’s from Udupi. And it’s not about the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, but about Pramod Muthalik and the Sri Ram Sene.

Hmmm.

(HT: Vishwas.)

PS: If you took a plate of salad and put Thousand Island on top of it to form the shape of a crescent, what would Muthalik call it?

Ans. Provocative salad dressing.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 February, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF


Aquarium Fish Vs Piranha

Rediff reports:

The war of words between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress escalated today with the BJP leader in a veiled reference to Rahul Gandhi likening him to a “small aquarium fish” unlike leaders in the saffron party who are like “ocean fish” who can weather big storms.

[...]

“If Rahul is like a fish in the aquarium, then Modi is a piranha who devoured human beings,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said in New Delhi.

And while these marine creatures battle it out for our attention, we drown. Help. Gasp. Splutter…

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics


The United Chaddis Of Maharashtra

PTI informs us:

It may be a while before criticism over the quality of bullet-proof vests worn by the Mumbai police during the 26/11 attacks dies down but Maharashtra Home Minister Jayant Patil is busy launching a vest brand named after him.

“The ‘Jayant’ brand of banians and gents knickers would be formally launched on Monday by Bollywood hunk John Abraham,” said an official in the textile park promoted by Patil.

It’s natural for celebs to want perfumes or brands of high-fashion clothing named after them—but gents knickers? Our home minister is a man who always aspired to have underwear named after him? Pinch me, someone.

And if his private sector exploits function like the government does, you might well buy a box of Jayant Chaddis to find there are no chaddis inside. So you ask the company salesman wtf happened, why there are no chaddis. And he’ll say, “Of course there are chaddis, and they’re better chaddis than any chaddis opposition brands can provide. But just to satisfy you, we’ll set up a committee to investigate if the chaddi is functioning properly. Turn around please.”

(Link via email from Kapil.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 18 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Lollipop

Dhoomketu points me to the WTF lines of the day, spoken by Gurudas Dasgupta of the CPI:

After seeing Lalu Prasad’s lollipop, we have today seen Pranabji’s lollipop. The budget is simply a poll lollipop.

All politics, if you think about it, is about whose lollipop is the biggest. And whoever wins, we’re at the receiving end of it.

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF


It’s Not About The Chaddis

Sagarika Ghose, in her latest column, speaks out against The Pink Chaddi Campaign. “[S]ending pink underwear to perverts is pretty undignified,” she says, and argues that “[w]hile the ghastly cultural hoodlums must be dealt with sternly by the law, the lifestyle norms we choose, especially in public, must be attuned to our surroundings.” She writes:

Young people choosing urban lifestyles that are desi imitations of Sex And The City, is hardly a matter of celebration. Fears about ‘westernisation’ are so deep that with the exception of U.R. Ananthamurthy, few of Karnataka’s galaxy of public intellectuals have come to the defence of the young women drinking at the Amnesia Lounge in Mangalore on January 24.

Ghose misses the point here. What supporters of The Pink Chaddi campaign are defending is not an “urban lifestyle” that is a “desi imitation of Sex And The City,” but the right to choose our own lifestyle—any lifestyle. Ghose speaks with admiration of “the Nehruvians of the 40s and 50s” who “drank, smoked and romanced, yet were discreet”, and she is welcome to live as they did. Indeed, the members of the Sri Ram Sena should also be free to live their lives in a manner of their choosing—as should women who want to go to pubs and hang out with members of the (gasp) opposite sex. The issue here is not lifestyle choice—it’s freedom.

There are too many of us who support freedom only if they approve of what is done with that freedom. So when Ghose says that “the lifestyle norms we choose ... must be attuned to our surroundings,” I wonder at her choice of language. “Must be attuned to our surroundings?” Why?

I think the gesture of sending pink chaddis was a far more effective one than sending bangles or chappals or suchlike. It grabbed attention. And the support it got virally sent an unambiguous message out to both the bigots and the detached bystanders. “We will not let you terrorise us,” that message said. “Here, have a chaddi.”

Meanwhile, in unrelated news, the Sri Ram Sena has called off the protests it had planned in Bangalore in Valentine’s Day.

(HT: Aadisht, who also blogs about a bunch of fine gentlemen who, “[a]rmed with red chillies and pepper, ... have announced that they would be lying in wait across Delhi on February 14 to take on those opposing and obstructing Valentine’s Day.” Heh.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 February, 2009 in Freedom | India | Politics


The Lady Behind The Throne

Ok, question of the day, which female Indian politician said the following words recently?

Today, after close to five years in office, my government believes that it has acted on nearly all the commitments made to the people through National Common Minimum Programme.

Heh, you’re thinking, too easy. It’s a female politician, and she said ‘my government’, so obviously it’s Sonia Gandhi.

Wrong answer.

It’s Pratibha Patil who uttered the above words. That’s right, the president of India, who is supposed to be a neutral figurehead, was boasting about the performance of the UPA government. WTFness emanates from the highest offices of this country, it does.

(HT: Raja Agrawal. Earlier, on Patil…)

Update: The WTF is on me this time. Ravikiran, Mohan, Suresh and Shoaib write in separately to point out that the president’s annual address to parliament is actually written by the government of the day, and she has no say in what goes in it. She has to stick to the script prepared for her, and if a Narendra Modi-led government was in power, would have to boast about the performance of that government as per the script given to her. I suppose that custom is a WTF custom—but in this case, her speech isn’t. My bad.

But just think if the government gets mischievous here. If she has no option but to read out the script given to her, they could put in anything just for fun. Like, “My government has procured 8,824 pink panties for the state of Mangalore. We also plan to turn the Rashtrapati Bhavan into a pub. We want your body, body, we want your body.” The possibilities are endless…

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Eat Me Last

Neelankantan sends me the WTF news of the day:

The British Government will air ads on Pakistani television urging terrorists to not attack Britain.

Prominent British Muslims will star in the British Foreign Office-funded £400,000 (approximately Rs 2.9 crore)-campaign that is set to break on Pakistani television next Monday, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.

And in case you’re breathing a sigh of relief that Indians don’t grovel in this manner, read this:

A group of Hindu leaders on Wednesday appealed to Islamic religious institutions and scholars to come forward with an appropriate ‘fatwa’ (edict) to declare that Hindus were not ‘kaafirs’ (non-believers) and that there need not be a “jihad” (war) against them in India.

“The fatwa should say that India is not ‘Dar-ul-Harab’, which means it is not a land against which Islamists have to wage a war,” convener of the All India Acharya Sect Dayanand Maharaj told journalists in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Speaking at a seminar, Dayanand said our country is a ‘dar-ul-amen’, a land of peace, as here Muslims could practise Islam without any impediment.

As Atanu Dey, who sent me the second link, writes on email: “Appease the monster so that it will eat you last.”

I understand that it would be nice to counter the anti-West and anti-India propaganda that is brainwashed into terrorism recruits. But this will only make them laugh at us, and will convey the message that we’re running scared. The “Hindu leaders” mentioned in the piece above were speaking in their private capacity, and that’s fine—but the British government is spending taxpayers’ money to plead with terrorists not to attack them. What are they smoking?

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Sarees For Chaddis

Pramod Muthalik has chosen to respond to the Pink Chaddi Campaign by buying sarees as a return gift for the chaddi-givers. He also wants to debate Indian culture with them.

I suggest the saree recipients wear those sarees without a blouse or petticoat when they next go to a pub or kiss in public. After all, stitched clothing came to India relatively late—much later than kissing—and must surely be against Indian culture.

On another note, I was planning to send a pink chaddi myself, l’that only. What on earth will I do with the saree I get in return?

(HT: Sumant.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 11 February, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF


Pramod Muthalik, Master Satirist

Until recently, I thought that Pramod Muthalik was a right-wing bigot, much like the Thackerays and Togadias of the world. But I have changed my mind. It is now obvious to me that he is really an artist of the highest calibre, exposing the silliness of the right-wing bigotry around him with satire that would do Jaspal Bhatti proud. Consider his recent announcement that his men will “forcibly marry off couples found dating in public” on Valentine’s day.

Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a mangalsutra on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage.

What outstanding satire! We are lucky to have such a powerful artist in our midst, commenting on the world around him not in an artistic space, but in a political one. What an idea!

PS: Of course, if Muthalik really is serious about this, then think what a boon it is for young lovers whose parents oppose their marriage. All they have to do is be caught by Muthalik’s ‘activists’ on Valentine’s Day, get married, and then go home and tell their parents, “But Daddy-Mummy, we were forced into it by those scary men, it’s not our fault. But now that the deed is done, we must live up to our responsibilities. Aashirwaad please—and hurry up with it, we have a train to catch for our honeymoon.”

PS 2: Married couples can kiss in public, says the Delhi High Court. And lovers engaged to be married can blow kisses. (Ok, not that last bit.)

PS 3: Check out this protest being conducted in Delhi to protest such moral policing.

(Muthalik link via separate emails from Balakrishnan, Unni, Arjun and eyefry. Kissing link via separate emails from Dev and Neelakantan.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 06 February, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Politics | WTF


Dalit Child

Here’s an interesting headline:

Policeman sacked for beating up Dalit child

If you read the piece, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that those cops deserved to be sacked. No one should beat up a kid in that manner. But I’m curious about one thing: Nothing in the story indicates that the girl’s caste had anything to do with the beating she got. So why does the headline find it important to specify that she is Dalit?

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 February, 2009 in India | Journalism | Media | News | Politics | Small thoughts


The Call Of Nature

It’s dangerous to go to the loo sometimes—you never know what you might be accused of.

Exhibit 1: Veselin Topalov vs Vladimir Kramnik.

Exhibit 2: N Gopalaswami vs Navin Chawla.

And now if you’ll excuse me…

Posted by Amit Varma on 02 February, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Sport | WTF


The Sponge

In the analogy of the day, Ashley Tellis tells the US Senate:

Given the juicier and far more vulnerable US targets in southern Asia, LeT has simply found it more convenient to attack these in situ rather than over extend itself in reaching out to the continental United States.

India has unfortunately become the ‘sponge’ that protects us all. India’s very proximity to Pakistan, which has developed into the epicenter of global terrorism during the last thirty years, has resulted in New Delhi absorbing most of the blows unleashed by those terrorist groups that treat it as a common enemy along with Israel, the United States, and the West more generally.

So how much more can this sponge absorb, you think?

(HT: Neelakantan.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 January, 2009 in India | News | Politics


“The Systematic Use Of Terror”

Reader Ila Bhat writes in:

I don’t know if this comment will ever make it to your blog but I’m writing it anyway in the hope more of your readers will understand that terrorism is not just that which comes from Kasab’s gun.

Someone I know was ill-fated to be at both the Oberoi on 26/11 and the Intercontinental last week, when the SS attacked the hotel. He recalled breaking out in a sweat thinking it was happening all over again. he thought he was the ultimate resilient Mumbaikar and was most gung-ho after 26/11, but after this latest incident landed up having to visit a shrink. He recounted the horrors of those first minutes when the Sainiks started their assault. He is a 3rd generation Marathi Mumbaikar and has voted in the past for the SS. Never again, says he.

In a city still scarred by 26/11, the Thackeray cousins have been granted taxpaid security to wreak havoc and terrorise. How different are they from Kasab?

On the one hand, I’d be wary of drawing a moral equivalence between the Shiv Sena and the Lashkar: The Sena doesn’t go around shooting people with machine guns, or setting off bombs in crowded marketplaces. (Well, not yet.)

On the other hand, let’s look at the definition of terrorism according to Merriam-Webster: “The systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

What else do these loony right-wing groups, the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal and their offshoots, do if not this? In the last few days, we have had:

1] Women beaten up in a Mangalore lounge-bar because drinking and spending time with boys was considered un-Hindu.

2] Vandalism on the Mumbai University campus “over a perceived injustice to the Marathi language.”

3] An attack on a Pune theatre for showing a Kannada film.

4] An attack on North Indians in Nashik for daring to sing Bhojpuri songs.

5] The forced changing of a shop’s name from Karachi Sweets to Jai Shri Krishna Sweets.

Is this not “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion”? And in all these cases, some of the accused might get arrested, but are released in no time and are back in business. As I’d once written, mobs in India have the license to do as they please if they do it under the banner of politics or religion. If you and I go and vandalize a hotel lobby or beat up women in a lounge bar, you can bet we’ll be thrown into jail, and rightfully so. But if we do it under the pretext of defending our culture or our religion, then anything goes. The rule of law, in such situations, is a joke.

It has become clichéd to talk of the ‘Resilience’ of Mumbaikars. I think that’s the wrong quality to speak of. Shall we talk ‘Apathy’ instead?

Posted by Amit Varma on 28 January, 2009 in Freedom | India | News | Politics | Small thoughts


Manmohan Singh = Lord Buddha?

These have to be the WTF opening lines of the day:

Prince Siddhartha took sanyas to eventually become Lord Buddha when he confronted misery due to old age, sickness and death. Even as the Congress party plays down Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cardiac bypass surgery on Saturday, his absence from the Prime Minister’s office cannot be ignored.

This is from Sheela Bhatt’s piece on Rediff, Why the Congress will miss Dr Singh. The rest of the piece is political analysis, and Buddha makes a reappearance only in the last paragraph, in an equally tenuous way. Many writers often try too hard to find clever ways to begin and end their pieces, and this is a great example of that. The piece is strong enough to stand on its own, and the reader is looking for substance, not cleverness. A simple beginning would have sufficed. Bringing Buddha into it was most unnecessary.

Maybe I should take sanyas from reading Indian publications…

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 January, 2009 in India | Journalism | Media | News | Politics | WTF


Macho Navnirman Sena

The MNS decides it wants to be all nationalistic and macho—but how to show this? It can’t actually go to Karachi and hunt for the Lashkar, so it does the next best thing—it terrorizes Karachi Sweets in Mulund.

A signboard carrying a Pakistani city’s name is the latest Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) target after Pakistani books, songs and comedians.

The owner of Karachi Sweets in Mulund has received a one-page note, written on MNS letterhead by local activist Rajendra Deshmukh, asking him to change the name of the shop or face the consequences.

The letter, a copy of which was shown to TOI, says, “We want to disassociate ourselves from anything related to Pakistan. Using Karachi name on an Indian signboard is inappropriate. We demand that the name of the shop be changed and the board removed. If you do not comply within 10 days, we (the MNS) will agitate.’’

Karachi Sweets is a well known brand in Mumbai, so obviously the owner isn’t very keen on this. You’d imagine he’d turn to the cops for protection, and they’d help him out. See what happens:

The local police were informed but, instead of assuring protection, officials said it would be “better’’ if the shop changed its name and avoided any confrontation with MNS activists. [...] “We suggested that the owner should rename his shop as Mumbai Sweet House,’’ a Mulund police station officer said. “That will attract more customers to the shop.’‘

When our cops are scared of handling local gundas, how do you think they’ll face greater challenges?

As for the MNS, I think their cadres should be stuffed on boats and given GPS systems to find their way to the real Karachi. Then we’ll see how macho they really are.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 January, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


“Manoos And Womanoos”

Check out this fine collection of Indian election speeches, painstakingly compiled by Ramesh Srivats.

More and more, with every passing Srivats post, I realise that puns can be more brutal than huns, and even Hans Raj Hans. So click at your own peril.

Posted by Amit Varma on 22 January, 2009 in India | Politics


Anointing Rahul Gandhi

Salman Khurshid says of Rahul Gandhi:

It is very obvious that one day he is going to be prime minister, I hope he becomes a very young PM, why not? I think it is very clear that he is amongst top leaders and it is also very clear that he strongly believes in a sense of propriety and democracy.

Let the appropriate time come, he will be anointed or he would step forward to take (up) the responsibility.

The choice of the word ‘anointed’ is interesting, if one considers its various meanings:

1. To apply oil, ointment, or a similar substance to.

2. To put oil on during a religious ceremony as a sign of sanctification or consecration.

3. To choose by or as if by divine intervention.

I think we can rule out the first two definitions—though I shall take back my words if a YouTube video emerges of the Congress party rubbing oil on Rahul. (Will butter do, maam? I can imagine Khurshid asking Sonia G.) So “as if by divine intervention” it is. Who would think we’re a 21st century democracy, when we speak of the prime ministership in this manner?

PS: I wonder what Rahul himself thinks of this, given his previous statements on the subject of inner-party democracy. Sycophancy towards the Gandhi family is in the DNA of the Congress Party, and may not be something that Rahul encourages or approves of. If so, I’d love to hear him come out and say it. His family name alone makes him a likely prime minister, whether by anointment or election, and yet we know so little about his worldview. Maybe he should start blogging?

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 January, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


The Call Of Conscience

Lasantha Wickramatunga, the chief editor of The Sunday Leader, a Sri Lankan newspaper, was shot dead last week near Colombo. He had survived earlier attempts at murder, and had known that further attempts were likely. So he wrote an editorial with the instructions that it be published in case he was killed. Here it is.

All of the essay is remarkable, and it seems unjust to quote just a bit of it, but this excerpt seemed particularly relevant:

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Contrast this with The Times of India, whose editors, according to a memo from their boss that I got to see recently, were instructed last month not to focus too much on depressing news. Do you think anyone there would lay down his life for you?

(Link via separate emails from Rishab, Arun and Kevin.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 January, 2009 in Freedom | India | Journalism | Media | News | Politics


Mayawati, Superstar

My reaction to this: I hope there will be songs, and dancing around trees.

Posted by Amit Varma on 16 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | News | Politics | WTF


The Life And Times Of Sarah Palin

John Crace offers us a digested read of a Sarah Palin biography. An excerpt:

At school, Sarah stood out as one of the brightest children. “I could tell she would go far,” remembers former geography teacher, George Bush. “She was the only one who could identify Iraqistan on a map.” Sarah’s potential was realised when she came seventh in the Wasilla Miss Congeniality competition in 1979.

Before the Indians among you laugh and mock the USA, do note that they rejected Palin, while we elected Patil. So there.

(More on Palin: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 January, 2009 in Politics


Love In Kashmir

All hail the picture of the day:

image

In other mushy political news, notch one up for the like-we-care department.

(Image link via email from Vineet, via Rediff. Picture credit: Reuters.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 January, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF


Politics And Culture

Gaurav Sabnis, in the course of an email conversation, points me to this superb speech by Pu La Deshpande, and kindly provides a translation. An excerpt:

Maharashtra and Karnataka are political entities, whereas Marathi and Kannada are cultural entities. What you have between political entities are borders that keep each other out. What you have between cultural entities are meeting places and common grounds where cultural exchange takes place, enriching each other.

Politics divides us; culture brings us together. So obviously there’s always a simmering conflict between the two. And while the likes of the Thackerays may have louder voices and big dandas, I hope a voice like Pu La’s will find more resonance in the long run.

Am I being too optimistic?

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 January, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | India | Politics


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