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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

Leave Global Capitalism Alone!

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.

(Link via Kartikeya Date‘s Facebook status.)


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.

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

‘Tweet is a Very Lonely Man’

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.)


Posted by Amit Varma on 18 September, 2009 in Freedom | India | Politics | WTF

A Cattle-Class Country?

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.

(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, 110, 111.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 17 September, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Cows | Personal | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF


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]

And today, Stochastix points me to this news:

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.

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

Two-Headed Snakes (and the BJP)

The Telegraph tells us about two-headed snakes:

Such animals are often caught and preserved as lucky tokens but have very little chance of surviving in the wild anyway, especially as the heads have a tendency to attack each other.

And I straightaway thought of the BJP.


On another note, Mumbai Mirror tells us that Sonia Gandhi recently inaugurated a Congress office in Mumbai that is “neither legal nor austere.” It’s been named Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan.

(Snake link, in another context, via email from Aadisht.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 15 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Beer is Against Indian Culture?

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.

But beer? Who resents beer or beer drinkers?

Posted by Amit Varma on 14 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

The Third World War?

This is pretty bizarre. Reuters reports:

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.’

You know the rest.


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.

(Link via email from Luv.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 12 September, 2009 in News | Politics | Small thoughts | Sport | WTF

Who’s More Primitive?

Exhibit one:

Early humans may have taken a detour into Eurasia before embarking on their epic journey out of Africa, according to new fossil evidence.

Palaeontologists in Georgia have unearthed remains of five primitive humans that date back to 1.8m years ago, suggesting some of our oldest ancestors lived in the region at the time.

Exhibit two:

Squatting on his haunches, dhoti-clad and bare-chested, Mahendra Singh Tikait declares: “We live by a moral code where honour has to be protected at any cost.’’

As the chaudhary of the Baliyan khap, the 79-year-old farmer’s views matter. He presides over a system of justice that is almost medieval and disdains the laws of the Indian state.

Tikait’s moral code is simple. In his own words: [...] “Love marriages are dirty, I don’t even want to repeat the word… Only whores can choose their partners.”

To think this guy was once a politician with significant clout. Such it goes.

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

Where Your Taxes Go: 41

On a Rs 42 crore mansion, on “a sprawling 1,00,000 sq ft area”, for Mayawati.

Outlook reports:

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.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 September, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF

YSR Shock

The Times of India reports:

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.

(Links via Gaurav and Atanu respectively.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 September, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Editing Sarah Palin


(HT: Devangshu.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 July, 2009 in Politics

Prime Time Pogromming

Ramesh Srivats imagines a joint venture between Narendra Modi and Lalit Modi. Quite a riot.

Posted by Amit Varma on 29 July, 2009 in India | Politics | Sport

Where Your Taxes Go: 39

On a school for monkeys.

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.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF

You Gotta Do Sach Ka Saamna

Here’s the WTF headline of the day:

Politicians want ban on Sach Ka Saamna

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.

(Link via email from Arshdeep.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2009 in Arts and entertainment | Freedom | India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF

The Taliban In Karachi

Nicholas Kristof writes:

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?

Posted by Amit Varma on 24 July, 2009 in News | Politics

Criminalizing Zardari Jokes

IANS reports:

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.

(Link via separate emails from Mihir Modi and Luv.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2009 in Freedom | Politics | WTF

‘The Process Of Population Growth’

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.

For an elaboration on this, do read this old piece by me, The Population Myth.

(Link via separate emails from Ganesh Hegde, WrestlingMind and Luv.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 20 July, 2009 in India | News | Politics | WTF

Questioning The Astrologer

Oh man, this is delicious. AFP reports:

Sri Lankan police say they have arrested an astrologer after he predicted serious political and economic problems for the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse.


“The CID (Criminal Investigations Department) is questioning the astrologer,” [police spokesman Ranjith] Gunasekara said Friday, adding that they wanted to find out the “basis” for the prediction.

I can just imagine how the dialogue goes.

Astrologer: [Pointing to chart] See, here’s the basis for my prediction. Note where Rahu-Ketu are.

CID officer: We have outlawed Rahu-Ketu.

Astrologer: Eh? When did this happen?

CID officer: Five minutes before this interrogation began. Hehehe. Bet you didn’t see that happening.

No, but seriously, the government is crazy, clamping down on free speech like this, even if it is the free speech of a charlatan. Even charlatans have rights.

(Link via email from Neel. And previously, in Rahu-Ketu news...)

Posted by Amit Varma on 27 June, 2009 in Dialogue | Freedom | News | Old memes | Astrology etc | Politics | WTF

More Than 100 Percent

Iran’s governing council needs a PR firm pronto. The political gaffe of the week comes from their spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, who said the following words in a TV interview on Sunday:

Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80-170 cities are not accurate—the incident has happened in only 50 cities.

In a democracy, if you can’t prove that there’s been rigging in a majority of the cities, then there’s been no rigging. So there.

(Link via FiveThirtyEight.)

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

Freedom And The Burkha

In world news today, Nicholas Sarkozy, the president of France, has announced his support for a ban on wearing burkhas. I think this is colossally wrong-headed, and goes against the very principles Sarkozy claims to uphold.

Classical liberals who believe in individual freedom, as I do, are appalled by some societies for the way they treat their women. The burkha is a symbol of this oppression, and obviously our hearts go out to women forced to spend their lives hiding their faces and their bodies from the world. But the operative word here is ‘forced’.

We are troubled by burkhas because they represent coercion. But not all women who wear burkhas, especially in the West, do so because they are being forced into it. Many women wear them out of choice, and we should respect that choice. We may disagree with their reasons for it—but really, once that choice is established, those reasons are none of our business. They have as much of a right to wear a burkha as to not wear a burkha, and to outlaw that option amounts to the same kind of coercion that Sarkozy is trying to position himself against.

In his speech, Sarkozy said, “The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue, it is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity.” I agree—and that is why we should respect their freedom and dignity by not trying to regulate what they wear. Sarkozy condescends to women who choose to wear a burkha by implying that the government is better placed to make those choices for them. If I was a burqa-wearing women, I’d be rather pissed off.


The issue of coercion is, of course, more nuanced than this. A woman may not be explicitly forced into wearing a burkha, but for a young girl born into a devout Muslim family, there may be subtle pressures that will take her in that direction. Non-conformity carries greater costs in traditional families and societies, and she may rationalize her wearing a burkha and represent it as her choice. I agree that this is problematic—but I maintain that in the absence of explicit coercion, it’s none of the state’s business.

Also, many women do make that choice in the absence of either coercion or any kind of pressure. Check out Shagufta Pasta’s excellent satirical post on this, “Talking to Someone Wearing a Headscarf: An Etiquette Guide.” (This link is via Chandni.)


Barack Obama, by the way, has spoken out against Sarkozy’s move, “saying the US values religious freedom and would never ‘tell people what to wear’.” Much props.

Posted by Amit Varma on 23 June, 2009 in Freedom | News | Politics

Dear VS Ugrappa

Dear VS Ugrappa

Deccan Herald reports that, in your capacity as leader of the Opposition in Karnataka’s Legislative Council, you have demanded that the government provides you with a Nissan X-Trail car for your use, which will cost the taxpayers Rs 25 lakhs. To justify this demand, you have said: “All I want is a diesel car which gives maximum mileage so that I can save on fuel.”

Sir, I applaud your sentiment, and I have a suggestion for you: ask for a Tata Indica instead. Diesel is there, and mileage is better.


Amit Varma


Link via email from Sreekanth Menon. More open letters here.

Posted by Amit Varma on 08 June, 2009 in India | Letters | News | Politics | WTF

Where Your Taxes Go: 38

On gold rings for all children born in city corporation hospitals in Chennai and given Tamil names. This is a move by the Tamil Nadu government to “commemorate the 86th birthday celebrations of chief minister M Karunanidhi,” who has been “working to promote Tamil language for more than 70 years.”

Meanwhile, it seems that since last September, 11000 newborns have been given “dresses, baby soap and baby powder.”

No doubt you are outraged at this use of your taxes. Perhaps you are thinking, Hell, if someone wants to promote Tamil or give baby powder to newborns, let him do so with his own money. Why mine?

I urge you to stop protesting. This is all for the good of society. And I further propose, inspired by the legendary altruist Jonathan Swift, that we take a step further and use these newborns to end all starvation deaths in India. How so? Well, to quote Swift:

A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.

In an Indian context, you could have Tandoori Toddler, Baby Biriyani or Kadai Kiddo with naan. To promote Tamil culture, you could also have Infant Idlis. Boom, no more starvation deaths in India.

Yes, that’s disgusting. No, I’m not serious. But the Tamil Nadu government is, and the cup of the absurd runneth over.

(Link via email from Shyam. More on taxes.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 04 June, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF

Mr Das Munshi’s Medical Expenses

Rediff reports:

In the midst of hectic ministry making, the Congress leadership has taken out time to deliberate on the future of one of its senior most leaders who is ill in hospital, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.

Sources confirmed that his wife, first time MP, Deepa Das Munshi who contested and won from the Raiganj constituency in West Bengal is likely to be sworn in as a Minister of State when the Manmohan Singh council of ministers take oath.

An exception is being made for first term MP Deepa to ensure that Munshi is provided with the same level of medical care as he has been receiving for the last many months.

So, according to this report, Mrs Das Munshi is going to be sworn in as minister just so that her husband gets medical care at state expense. This is another illustration of the the party in power treating state resources as their private property, distributing largesse where they wish. Hell, the money being spent on these ministers did not land up from the sky, that is our money, taken from us ostensibly to serve our needs. The vast majority of the people who have coughed up that money—remember, anytime you buy something in India, you are effectively paying taxes—cannot afford the kind of health care Mr Das Munshi is getting. Why should our money pay for his health care?

The report says that “it was Pranab Mukherjee who sought that Deepa be made a minister for the sake of Munshi.” If Mr Mukherjee feels such compassion for Mr Das Munshi, he should pay for the treatment out of his own pocket. Why dig into mine?

(Link via email from Anand Bala. Click here for all my posts on how our taxes are misused.)

Posted by Amit Varma on 30 May, 2009 in India | News | Old memes | Taxes | Politics | WTF

The Cigarette Quota

The London Telegraph reports:

Local government officials in China have been ordered to smoke nearly a quarter of a million packs of cigarettes in a move to boost the local economy during the global financial crisis.

The edict, issued by officials in Hubei province in central China, threatens to fine officials who “fail to meet their targets” or are caught smoking rival brands manufactured in neighbouring provinces.

Even local schools have been issued with a smoking quota for teachers, while one village was ordered to purchase 400 cartons of cigarettes a year for its officials, according to the local government’s website.

Yes, that’s The Telegraph, not The Onion. Reality is reinvented as farce. The thing is, this is no less absurd than any protectionist measure. Think of any subsidy or tariff, and at its heart it amounts to forced cigarette smoking. We don’t laugh about most of that, though.

(Link via email from Aniket Thakur.)


I couldn’t help but remember Frédéric Bastiat when I read that news, so here’s a reminder that the Bastiat Prize, which I won in 2007, is now open for submissions for 2009. They have an additional prize for online journalism from this year, so all ye freedom-loving bloggers, go forth and enter.

Also read: Remembering Frédéric Bastiat.

Posted by Amit Varma on 21 May, 2009 in Economics | Freedom | Politics | Small thoughts

Missed Opportunity

If Sanjay Gandhi had given himself a taste of his own medicine, we might not have had to put up with this crap.

(Link via email from Salil.)


Also read: The Population Myth.

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

Can’t Vote, Can Lead

I love the irony in the fact that undertrial prisoners in India are not allowed to vote—but can stand for elections. As Ramesh Srivats, whose Twitter page I got this news from, puts it:

Shows that we don’t trust the judgment of potential criminals but respect their leadership abilities.

I don’t have an issue with criminals standing for elections. Government, the way it works in India, is itself a form of larceny—so it fits. But everyone should get a vote, no?

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

‘Never Seen A Weak Sikh’

ANI reports:

Taking a dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has said that he ‘has never seen a weak Sikh.’

Wooing Sikhs who form the majority in Punjab, Gandhi lashed out at the BJP for calling the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ‘as weak.’

‘They call our prime minister weak, the lion of Punjab, who has earned a name to the country in the world. I have not seen a weak Sikh in my life,’ Gandhi told an election rally at Barnala.

Now, I admire Manmohan Singh, and I agree that he is an upright man, and certainly not a weak prime minister. But isn’t Gandhi insulting the intelligence of the people at the rally with his talk of never having seen a weak Sikh?

There are two ways in which his speech could work. 1, it could piss off the audience with its patronising tone and silly generalisation. 2, it could please them, make them swell their chests with pride, and cause them to like Gandhi even more than they already did.

So how mature do you think our democracy is?


And tell me, is there really a significant difference in silliness between these two generalisations: 1] All Sikhs are strong. 2] All Muslims are terrorists.

The latter is obviously more odious. But in logical terms, leaving aside intent and context, is there a difference?

Posted by Amit Varma on 07 May, 2009 in India | News | Politics | Small thoughts | WTF

The Middle Finger

Isn’t the picture below, of Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan and his wife, marvellously illustrative of our politicians’ attitudes towards us?


The Chavans aren’t expressing their inner feelings here—they’re showing us that they have voted. The election commission has mandated that in these elections, indelible ink is to be applied to the middle finger of every voter. So if your sleazy neighbourhood politician accosts you in the street and asks you if you voted for him, show him the finger.

(Link via email from Salil. Picture courtesy ToI.)

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

Throw Me A Shoe

Manmohan’s been there—and Advani too.

I think every Indian politician must now aspire to have a shoe thrown at him or her—and, indeed, to plant a shoe-thrower if necessary. Otherwise it could be argued that one is not important enough.

Indeed, imagine if a planted shoe-thrower is caught via a sting operation, and it erupts into a national controversy termed Shoegate. (Or The Sandal Scandal.) Given the pettiness of our politics and the trivialities that our media chases, that would be apt.


Earlier, on throwing shoes: 1, 2.

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

Political Lampposts And Independent Candidates

Meera Sanyal, an independent Lok Sabha candidate for Mumbai South, has some interesting pieces up on her website. I like this bit, from a piece about why she has chosen to be an independent candidate:

It used to be said in Jawaharlal Nehru’s time that such was his charisma, if even a lamppost stood in the Congress’s name, it would win an election. Today, we have no Jawaharlal. But we have many lampposts.

I don’t need to elaborate on how true that is—though it must be said that charisma, by itself, is not a qualifier. Hell, Narendra Modi and Bal Thackeray would count as charismatic, and I’d rather vote for a lamppost.

And what about the lampposts standing against Sanyal? In another piece, she writes:

And what about my opponents? Two of them have criminal records, and want to make the city assume a narrower identity, with its doors closed and walls built higher. They go about terrorising Indian citizens who come from elsewhere in the country in search of a living. And another opponent, the sitting MP from this constituency, stays silent when gangs threaten bookshops in this city because they have displayed, and sold, novels by fine fiction writers from Pakistan. His party has even banned books and films in the past; he has nothing to say about that. How could he? I’ll tell you why: Since he is not independent of a party, he is not a free thinker.

Again, she is right, and I applaud her. If I lived in South Mumbai, a pathetic fate no self-respecting Andheri resident would wish on anyone, I would certainly vote for her.


I’ve heard the argument put forth, by friends such as Ravikiran and Gaurav, that parliament is really just an electoral college, and the utility of members of parliament is restricted to choosing the government that rules at the center. They don’t actually legislate on anything—and MPs don’t govern their constituencies, which makes their promises of better governance just rhetoric.

This is true, but I see more pros than cons to independent candidates such as Sanyal. Thirty years ago, an independent MP would be inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. But the political marketplace today is deeply fragmented, and every fragment counts. In this era of unsteady coalitions, every Lok Sabha MP can command a price, and whereas some candidates may use this power for personal gain, others may choose to make a difference, however small, to policy-making.

Also, the larger the number of people who vote for the likes of Sanyal, the more seriously other parties will take these voters, who vote on the basis of issues and not caste or religion. This can only be a good thing.

Also see: My friend Salil Tripathi’s piece on this issue, Independent Politicians.

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


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.


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:


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.


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

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