Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Begin with a Respect for the Rule of Law

As this article makes clear, what happened in Mumbai was a tragedy of errors--an ill-prepared state security apparatus uncer the control of hidebound bureaucrats and politicians better known for breaking the laws than abiding by them, up against a group that was professionally trained and motivated to create the maximum amount of havoc. Playing the blame game with Pakistan is a waste of energy--we have to begin with ourselves.

Why are we such a soft target for terrorists? Is it because our criminal justice system barely functions, and is held ransom to the whims and fancies of whichever party is in power? Evidently, Afzal Guru's mercy petition, submitted to the President of India, is still with the Delhi government, which has yet to express its opinion on it after four long years. Why the delay?

As we have seen with the Aarushi and Rizwan cases, our police force is not known for its investigative skills. And now the various terrorist attacks we have faced prove that is is incapable of protecting the lives of citizens. A news item in Headlines Today described the bolt-action .303 rifles issued to Mumbai policemen--they do not know how to fire these and were hopelessly outgunned by the terrorists.

So why not begin by freeing police forces of political control? Why don't our politicians and bureaucrats let the cops conduct their investigations without fear or favour? Why not give them world-class training, equipment and living standards, to attract India's best and brightest, instead of her most corrupt? If we begin by cracking down on ALL crime, we might not require a special terror law.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

When will We Ever Learn?

There's been yet another terrorist attack in Mumbai, led by yet another outfit calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen. This is very different from the standard bombs in rubbish bins modus operandi and its target are British and American passport holders.

My question is: Why hasn't the Indian government woken up, even after the wake-up calls of the Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Delhi blasts earlier this year, not to speak of the Hyderabad blast of last year? Why don't we have a suitable intelligence apparatus in place? We need good, credible intelligence, which is based on facts and reasoning, not just the opinions of yes-men and time servers. We have had enough of people who will do and say anything to keep their political bosses happy.

As for our politicians, when will these worthies wake up? When the entire nation is up in smoke? They don't care about the number of people killed, not just in terrorist attacks, but in traffic accidents that could have been avoided. Can they at least work at bringing our police and fire services up to a level so that the army does not have to be called in at every instance? This way, the army is used most often to quell civil emergencies that the police and fire services should be able to handle. Our policemen and firemen need world-class equipment and training, and they should enjoy a standard of life that would attract well-educated and intelligent people to the service, not just the dregs of society, who treat a government job as an excuse for collecting bribes.

I feel the inaction of our political class--or their tendency to stand up for one Indian community against another--will lead to a situation very similar to that in the Balkans. We may not have broken up in 1948, but it could yet happen, if our political class does not wake up to its responsibilities and work in the national interest, not just in permanent election mode.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Needed: A New Politics in India

We have just seen the Tatas ousted from Singur by Mamata Bannerjee and her party, the Trinamool Congress. This, despite the fact that the Tata Nano project might have employed some of the farmers displaced by the creation of an SEZ in Singur.

There are two rights that clash here—the farmers’ right to retain ownership of cultivable land and the industrialists’ right to set up industries as and where they see fit. It is a difficult compromise to negotiate. The farmers feel that cultivable land is being taken over by industrialists, with the help of the state. And industrialists feel that politicians are using farmers’ real or perceived grievances to make it difficult for them to set up industries.

Of course, the ideal setup would be to let industrialists buy the land directly from farmers, and draw their labour from the locality itself. The state should only intercede to the extent that it indicates suitable uncultivable land that can be used for setting up factories. However, it is unlikely that politicians and bureaucrats will give up their power to this extent.

Indian politicians appear to live in a bubble—many of them begin their political careers while still in college. Very few have actual experience of holding down salaried jobs or trying to make two ends meet. There is no tradition of combining political work with regular employment—the lack of public transport and other civic amenities mean that most Indians, even professionals, concentrate on their work and home life to the exclusion of almost everything else. It is only in the last fifteen years or so that an alternative to the five-star culture of the preceding decades has emerged for a class of people who now earn a lot better than their parents. And the middle class has begun to acquire a certain amount of political clout, because of its involvement in demanding justice in landmark criminal cases, such as the Jessica Lall case or the Nitish Katara murder. It is likely that this might herald a return of the middle class to Indian politics, which was a field that it gradually abandoned after independence. This was because political work acquired a bad reputation in the seventies, because of its association with hooliganism and criminality. Several Indian politicians, including the CM of a state, have not only been accused of crimes but were actually let out of jail to vote in the recent confidence vote in Parliament. And the attitude that most politicians have towards criminal activity of any kind ranges from tolerance to outright encouragement—no less than a central government labour minister sympathized with a group of workers in Noida who had lynched their MD.

Industrialisation and the emergence of a powerful middle class, with its own values and world views, are essential for the survival and further development of democracy in India, since the middle class emphasizes a reliance on equality before the law. Most politicians, however, tend to see themselves above and beyond the law, rather like modern-day equivalents of the maharajas they deposed a few decades ago. They also tend to see themselves, not as Indians but as representatives of their caste or their region. In part, this is to gain votes in elections—and most Indian politicians are in permanent election mode. So it is not surprising that it is Mamata Bannerjee, and not the left parties (who are in power in West Bengal) who opposes an SEZ in Singur, ostensibly because she supports the cause of landless farmers, but actually because it gets her the media and popular attention she needs to remain in politics.

Indian politicians need to develop a national perspective and they need to look long-term at various policies. We need industries to take surplus labour off the land. We have surplus labour on the land because the handicrafts were practically destroyed during the colonial era and the unemployed craftsmen had no other recourse but to become farmers or farm labourers. Hence, a viable policy needs to be worked out where the needs of industrialists and farmers are met fairly.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Countdown Begins

So, Dr. Singh has finally moved the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha. He's finally rid of an enemy posing as an ally and the Left parties have lost their chance to show what they could have done as part of a Central government. They've shown themselves to be petty-minded and unable to break out of a Cold War mindset, despite the fall of the Berlin wall over 17 years ago. Well, it's their loss, not ours--but what surprises me is the double-faced nature of the BJP response. They have worked hard to improve Indo-US and Indo-Israel ties while in power and have done their bit to end India's nuclear isolation, which began in 1998, immediately after the nuclear tests. But--and this is important, considering the fact that the party is ostensibly led by mature men like Vajpayee and Advani--they have chosen to come out against the deal. Are they now getting into election mode? Do they honestly think they will be able to make a dent in double-digit inflation, which has been caused due to a world-wide rise in petroleum prices? Don't they realise that India needs nuclear power for its energy security and needs to be recognised by the other nuclear states? Or do they want the honour of signing the deal for themselves?

Another interesting fact--none of the MPs who are supporting the UPA are doing so because they are animated by national interest--they all have their legal cases or petty little problems to be sorted out by the Central Government. So the law (and development) takes a backseat, while petty criminals exercise their power. Now that Mayawati is no longer persona grata in Delhi, plans for a Lucknow airport or the refurbishment thereof are on hold and ALL the cases against her have been handed over to the CBI. And since Mulayam is helping the UPA, cases against him have been dropped. If a professional dentist like Dr. Talwar or a factory worker like Mohan, the brother of his compounder, can lose their jobs because of the stigma of being involved in a criminal investigation, why can't our politicians be deprived of power unless they can prove themselves innocent in a court of law? If we abide by the rule of law, then that law should apply to all citizens, including Mayawati, Mulayam, Shahabuddin, Pappu Yadav et. al. And had the BJP been in this quandary, they would have also allied with the same people, despite ideological or electoral differences.

Monday, 30 June 2008

No Surprises from the Left

As usual, the Left stands firm against the 123 deal, and also against any Indian attempts to discuss safeguards with the IAEA. However, is their stand in the interests of the Indian people, especially the proletariat, whom they profess to represent? Considering the fact that the Indian public has to face double-digit inflation, much of it brought on by the rise in fuel prices, is it not a wise idea to look at nuclear energy as an alternative? I know most of our communist leaders live in the past--preferably the Maoist and Stalinist past--but if their parties have to follow policies that help the Indian people, then talking to the IAEA about safeguards and to the US (and the EU, Russia, and China) about using nuclear energy in the civil sector, is a must.

Let us hope Comrade Karat and Co. are at least prepared to give Mr. Kakodkar and other officials a hearing. After all, China, which is THE communist country in the world that Karat and Co. kowtow to, has also signed a 123 treaty with the US--of course, they had to agree to all kinds of conditions. If the Chinese communists can be so pragmatic, why can't the Indians?

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Hooligans in Politics?

It appears that, even as the UP CM has asked one of her cabinet colleagues to resign because of his involvement in murder, yet another political career is being created in Maharashtra based on an attack on a journalist. It seems that politics is now a refuge for all the hooligans, scoundrels and lawless elements in India. All that Mr. Ketkar did in his Loksatta editorial was to ironically comment that Maharashtra had evidently solved all its problems, which was why it could afford to build a statue of Shivaji to arise out of the Arabian Sea. Evidently, one Mr. Methe thought that an attack on Mr. Ketkar was just what he needed to start his political career with a bang.

From the bending of rules to enable relatives of powerful politicians to get into business, to the attacks on and murder of activists auditing the NREGS programme in the districts of India--it seems our politicians are capable of any crime under the sun.

We cannot rely on any political party to be more honest than the last--the moment a party comes into power, it forgets the people. There are times when it even forgets the nation, in the interests of winning the next election. This is plainly the case with those parties that are organizing bandhs to protest against the recent rise in petroleum prices. Evidently, the nation’s coffers are to be sucked dry by politicians, who’d like everything to be subsidized, so that they can continue to win elections ad infinitum. Why on earth our 80-year-old prime ministerial candidates cannot show some maturity when discussing fiscal issues--especially when they have had a spell in power and know what it it is like to govern--is something that still causes wonder. Whenever there is a terrorist attack, the party in power is assailed. Why Indian geriatrics continue to act like juveniles when seeking political office is totally beyond comprehension.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Much Ado about Caste

So the Gurjjars have been on a rampage lately--evidently, they want to be included in the list of Scheduled Castes, so that they also have a chance to get government jobs. Rajasthan saw a lot of violence, and Delhi saw a strike the other day. There are indications that this agitation will also affect neighboring states--Punjab, Gujarat and UP.

I think we need to take a long, hard look at the system of reservations. Has it actually helped castes (or just select families of caste leaders) gain social mobility? Is this mobility greater in urban or rural areas? Has this mobility enabled castes to change status over the last three generations? Is reservation a substitute for a good system of primary and secondary school education for the working classes (urban and rural) ? Has the system of reservation helped people who got jobs in the reserved quota feel more or less professionally competent than their peers from the general category? And this is not something that can be left to the political class, because this class is quite content to throw government money and jobs to the people in an effort to retain power. This is a job that those who now ask for inclusion in lists of SC, ST or OBC groups have to ask themselves.

Based on their findings, they will have to then decide whether or not the system of reservations is working. If only the families of caste leaders have gained social mobility, then there will have to be a cut off from the fourth generation--only three generations of an SC, ST or OBC family can benefit from the reservation system and the fourth generation has to be included in the general category. If it is found that SCs, STs and OBCs based in urban areas benefit more from the reservation system, then the place of residence and education has to be given due weightage. And at the same time, people have to set up schools for their locality--there's no point getting a seat reserved if education itself is unavailable.

Why the CBI?

A young girl, the daughter of a dentist couple, gets murdered--and we not only see a media feeding frenzy, because of the plethora of 24/7 news channels--but we also see the Noida cops behaving abominably, with no reprimands forthcoming from the UP administration. So, as is usual with all cases that are bungled by the local police force. the CBI is called in.

Why is it that our politicians and babus are unable to bring the local (state-level) police force up to scratch? Why are policemen, especially at the lower levels, forced to live subhuman lives so that they have little or no enthusiasm to do a professional job? Our politicians--who are far too busy managing their constituencies and remaining in permanent campaign mode (rather the way Scott McClellan described his ex-boss, the present President Bush)--have little or no time to pay attention to improving the administration or the crime-fighting apparatus. They’re too busy using the local police force to take on their political rivals, or using the lure of jobs to get recruits to pay for jobs in the police (very French ancien regime--I’m sure Louis XIV’s valet would have recognized the procedure!)

When I look at modern India, I’m reminded of 18th or early 19th century Britain--the land of appalling maladministration (remember the novels of Charles Dickens) and political corruption (rotten boroughs--think of any political constituency in India). Also of the post-Civil War US, when corruption was a regular part of life, not only in the state government, but also at the federal level. However, all that changed with the gradual rise to power of the middle class, and on its insistence on law and order. Hence, you saw the setting up of the Metropolitan Police Force in the UK and Theodore Roosevelt’s support for the muckrackers (who exposed political and economic scandals) in the US.

Let us hope--after the successful conclusion of the Nitish Katara, Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases--that the middle class gets ready to fight for an efficient state police force, which can not only fight crime but also stave off terrorist threats, with federal help if required, but on its own if necessary. Such a police force should be able to use the law and scientific investigation, not just the lathi and third-degree methods, to win against crime.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Two Faces of the Left

Does the Left have a coherent policy vis-a-vis the US? On the one hand, they’re ready to end support to the UPA government over the 123 agreement, which will finally see India acknowledged as a member of the nuclear club. This has led many others, some of them the good and the great and many wiser than yours truly to wonder if our communist parties are acting as a Chinese fifth column. Evidently, the Left is unaware that China has already signed this agreement.On the other hand, the West Bengal government welcomes a trade team from California. Are policies that are good for West Bengal or China not good enough for India?

This kind of blinkered vision is not restricted to the Left--it also operates elsewhere in Indian politics. It appears that, 60 years after Independence, some people have now decided it is time to break India. They would like a status that is similar to that of our founding fathers, but alas, they lack vision!

International Women's Day

On this International Women’s Day, we should really try to understand what the entry of women into the political and economic lives of their nations has meant. Many have reached the heights in their chosen professions and many women have also lead their countries. Others are trying their best to fight gender biases through education. Many more have taken up careers hitherto confined to men, that too in traditional milieus. This, in a society where there is little, if any, protection for women within the law. However, the very fact that most people now see the raising of children and the running of a home as being equally important as being a breadwinner is also a victory--these often thankless tasks have been solely a woman’s preserve. But men, too, feel a need to spend time with their children--they have no wish to be as distant as their grandfathers 60 years ago. Hence the demand for work-life balance and the need to spend more time with the family. The fact that more women choose to work from home is also a victory--they not only do the unpaid labour of managing the home and the children but are also economically productive. This issue has already become important in the West, where women retirees face a steep fall in their pensions because of time taken off to have and raise children.

Taking a Leaf...

Yesterday, I saw an interesting documentary on the History Channel, Bollywood mein Hindi, which documents the impact that the use of Hindi in Bollywood movies has had on the status of the language worldwide. This documentary has been screened as part of the 8th World Hindi Conference, in New York. Of course, the Hindi used in Bollywood movies varies widely, from flowery Urdu, to down-to-earth Bhojpuri, Bihari and Mumbaikar-speak, to Hindustani--this is not really the Sanskritised Hindi popular with Doordarshan newsreaders of yore. While watching this documentary, I could not help but think over what Shyam Benegal had to say--that rather than make movies in a regional language, he preferred to make movies in Hindi, because the market was larger. I wonder why film-makers, who make movies in the regional languages, do not take this comment to heart. They should do what Rajiv Menon, director of Kandukondain Kandukondain, did--make a movie in the language of their choice but use subtitling so that it can be seen all over India. As it is, those of us living in the Hindi-speaking heart of India do not have easy access to facilities to learn regional languages--there are no school programmes to teach Gujarati, Tamil, Punjabi or Bangla to schoolchildren that I know of, nor do the various state governments fund Sahitya Sabhas to teach or propagate their languages outside their state boundaries. The only other method we can use to learn or understand regional languages is through music and films. If music companies were to issue music tapes and CDs with translations thrown in, that would also help. In fact, why don’t the makers of movies in languages other than Hindi get together and set up a channel on the lines of World Movies, which shows non-Hollywood and non-English language movies with subtitles?

Friday, 29 February 2008

Left Hand vs. Right Hand

Why can’t our MPs and politicians act like adults? Yesterday, they allowed the Finance Minister to table the Economic Survey in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, then spent the rest of the day raising Cain in the house, which led to Parliament being adjourned. The excuse? They wanted their various electorates to know that they had raised the issue of waiving agricultural loans in Parliament, before the issue was raised in the Budget. If they expect their electorate to be impressed by their childish tactics, they’re sadly mistaken. Those who have TVs will have seen the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr. Somnath Chatterjee, reprimanding his charges, rather like an exasperated headmaster with a bunch of unruly children. However, comparing our not-so-honorable MPs to children is an insult to the latter--even the most unruly child would not deliberately behave so badly!

Another piece of news that appeared in the Delhi edition of yesterday’s Statesman--it appears that the Kashmiri migrant families camped on NDMC land (the community hall at Bapu Dham in Chanakya Puri) have been asked to move, to their one-room DDA flats in Dwarka. Now, you may well ask--has the Delhi government been kind enough to give these flats gratis? Evidently not--the migrants have paid Rs. 72,000 and are supposed to raise sums of Rs. 2,000 a month when they receive no more than Rs. 2,400 a month as relief. No wonder, then, that Panun Kashmir, the organization that voices the grievances of the displaced Kashmiri Pandit families, has criticized the government’s move to rehabilitate the kinsfolk of terrorists. However, it appears from this report that not all internally displaced people (IDPs) are equal in India--the Kashmiri Pandits are better off than IDPs from Tripura. In fact, the Sikhs displaced due to the 1984 riots are demanding compensation levels equal to those given to Kashmiri migrants.

Which brings me to the issue of de-sealing commercial establishments in Delhi’s unauthorized colonies. Evidently, the Supreme Court has issued an interim order to this effect. I hope this leads to a coherent policy on land use in the capital--we don’t want sealing and de-sealing operations to be carried on because of poll compulsions and not because of policy considerations.

In fact, why can’t our politicians understand that the people want change and mature leadership? They are no longer interested in leaders who raise a ruckus in the legislature, but in people who can get work done in an organized and efficient manner. And the bureaucracy should also enable the creation of well-thought out and coordinated policies by getting various central and state agencies to work together. For instance, why not create a well-thought out policy on IDPs, whether they are from Kashmir, Tripura or any other state? Ensure that displaced people have access to housing, healthcare, welfare/work and education, and can participate in elections. And the same goes for land use--instead of the party in power changing its mind every time it faces the electorate. If such a policy is seen to be good and to produce results that benefit the people, it should not be changed just because the party in power changes. If we can come up with fairly consistent policies for economic development, surely we can come up with consistency on land use and the treatment of IDPs?

Monday, 25 February 2008

Irresponsible Car Advertisements

We’ve had the great and the good from the Mumbai film industry refuse, frequently, to accept responsibility for encouraging violent social behaviour, smoking and other vices through their doubtless well-performed appearances in films and advertisements. However, there are certain car advertisements that should be given a second look,keeping in mind the car accident near India Gate early this morning. I’m referring to the car ads in which Shah Rukh Khan is shown racing against a female driver and another in which Saif Ali Khan tries all kinds of driving stunts to persuade Rani Mukherjee to join him for a coffee. Car makers should remember that:

  • India has the world’s worst drivers--they don’t follow rules and use the horn indiscriminately.

  • India also has, or will soon have, a high traffic density on its roads.

  • India also has a large group of young drivers, who think nothing of drinking and driving. Look at the four young people involved in the accident early this morning--all of them college students!

Hence the need for car manufacturers to advertise responsibly. Please include a disclaimer (similar to that shown in the Coca Cola India ad.) advising drivers not to follow the stunts shown in television advertisements. Although I quite agree with the young lady in the ad when she hits the injured driver’s broken leg--he’d driven very dangerously indeed to lay his hands on a Coke bottle.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Balkanizing India

So now Raj Thackeray wants the Indian constitution to be rewritten, to allow for both provincial and national citizenship. He now claims to be an Indian Thomas Jefferson fighting for states’ rights. In my not-so-humble opinion, Bal Thackeray resembles John C. Calhoun, whose greatest claim to fame was as the inspiration for the secessionist Confederate States of America, whereas Raj Thackeray resembles Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy in the US Civil War. His diatribes against north Indian migrants working and living in Maharashtra have seen factory workers in Nashik voting with their feet. The fact that so many people flock from all parts of India to work in Mumbai or in Maharashtra should be a matter of pride--it means that there is more than enough work for everyone. And frankly, I for one support the contention of our founding fathers that provincial citizenship should not be a part of the Indian constitution. Unlike the US, where the people were originally migrants from Europe, Africa and Asia, and where balkanization is not so likely, the people of India have very strong cultural and social ties to their province. If provincial citizenship became a part of the Indian constitutional set-up, it might well lead to the balkanization of the country. The policy of allowing Indian citizens to live and work wherever they please can only strengthen the country and add to the richness of its cultural heritage. Of course, the fact that Raj Thackeray was let off after posting bail makes one wonder if the Congress-NCP government is not trying to use the MNS to increase its vote bank at the expense of the Shiv Sena. Maybe the Congress has not yet learnt its lesson from the Punjab insurgency--encouraging a secessionist force can only lead to a cycle of violence, which can destroy lives and nations.

Indian politicians’ obsession with vote banks and wealth is the reason why so many young people have no respect for politics. There was a time when politics was synonymous with self-sacrifice and nation-building--now, it is seen as a refuge for scoundrels or criminals, who use political power to amass unaccounted wealth for future generations or as a cloak for illegal activities. Why on earth should politicians expect to be looked up to by Indian youth, who are far more interested in working hard to better themselves? They, like Voltaire’s Candide, are busy cultivating their own gardens, doing their own little bit to make this country better. Where can we find the vision of an Asoka or an Akbar to create a united and prosperous country? As the movie makes clear, both Jodhaa (never mind if that was not her real name) and Akbar have to work hard to create the Ganga-Jamuni culture that our grandparents spoke of with pride and that our politicians are bent upon destroying for their narrow, selfish ends of setting up an unbeatable vote bank.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

End Goonda Raj

The Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra arrested Raj Thackeray and then released him on bail.This did not prevent the departure of many non-Maharashtrians (10,000 at the last count) from Nashik and other cities in Maharashtra. It also failed to prevent the death of one Maharashtrian and the destruction of public property, such as buses, which were burnt, as is the ritual with ostentatious demonstrations of anti-government, if not anti-constitutional sentiment. Anti-constitutional, because the Indian constitution does not prevent a citizen of this country from settling in any part of this country. As a Punjabi from Delhi, I have every right to go to Chennai and take up a job there, as does any other Indian. We do not have a system of dual (national and state) citizenships, as exists in the US.

Let’s be very clear about a few things. The Thackerays, far from being the preservers of Marathi culture, are its worst enemies. They have done much to make goonda politics the politics of Mumbai. And they have done much to bring about an association between their brand of uninclusive Marathi culture and the goonda method of achieving a goal.

To bring an end to goonda raj, not just in Mumbai but all over India, those political parties that encourage their cohorts to damage public property, such as buses, hospitals and other buildings, should be made to pay for the replacement of said public property. Therefore, Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, and not Vijaypat Singhania, should pay to replace the hospital at Thane that was destroyed by Sena goons when one of their leaders died there. And Raj Thackeray’s MNS, not the Maharashtra government, should pay compensation to the man killed in the riots that took place yesterday. He was, after all, a fellow Maharashtrian!

Talking of an inclusive Indian culture reminds me of this interesting article on the impact that Malyali women, who have married Haryanvi husbands, have had on their marital homes. As the author points out, these women are well-educated and employed. However, they are unable to find suitable matches in their home states due to the demand for heavy dowries. Many are able to negotiate terms to suit their needs. They have refused to participate in polyandrous arrangements, live in a joint family set up or follow the practice of female infanticide. Small steps, but let us hope that this is enough to bring about a change in Haryana, which is famous as the state where the buffaloes are better cared for than the women.

Maybe this is what our great regional satraps need to think about--that the creation of an Indian identity will bring about the union of opposites to create something better and richer than that which existed previously. If we think only of Maharashtra or Gujarat, Haryana or Kerala, we might very well end up with a disunited country--a situation very similar to the one that existed before Mahmud Ghazni’s or Mohammad Ghori’s invasions. It appears that the Thackerays, amongst others, believe with Henry Ford that "History is bunk"--if they inflict their belief on us, we will be forced to relive our history of repeated invasions and colonization.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Need for IPLs in Other Sports Too!

So BCCI has managed to get the rich and famous all over India to bid for the favour of owning their cricket teams. Maybe this is a trend that other sports organizations in India should follow--it might help the Indian women’s hockey team to free themselves of government control and state patronage, which is sometimes extremely irksome. For instance, team members were not told of a dedicated grant of 5 lakhs given to the Indian Hockey Federation to purchase equipment. And members of the women’s team had to spend an extremely uncomfortable night in the Karnail Singh Stadium dormitories due to sheer negligence. One is aware that the Ambanis, Mallyas, Juhi Chawlas and Shah Rukh Khans of this world do not patronize cricket out of a spirit of altruism--owning your own sports team does wonders for their image in the media--but it would be wonderful to see some of India’s rich and famous patronize our weightlifters, swimmers, tennis players, footballers, athletes and hockey players. Cricket might be the most popular sport at this moment, but other sports could also do with much public, not state, patronage and coverage by the media.

And talking of cricket, it appears to be losing its lustre as a sport for gentlemen, as seen during the recent Bhajji-Symonds spat. It’s unusual to see grace, such as that displayed by Brett Lee and Alan Glichrist, who congratulated the Indian team on winning a test match. Aggression and competition have their place in sport, but so does the admission that your opponent is playing well and deserves to do as well as you do. I hope the Indian team and Indian players emulate the behaviour of Lee and Gilchrist when possible, not just the agression of Ponting, Clarke and Hayden.

Provincialism vs. Nationalism

Raj Thackeray, formerly of the Shiv Sena, now of the Maharashtra Navnirma Sena, has chosen to criticise Amitabh Bachchan’s interest in Uttar Pradesh,even as he demands that festivals celebrated in North India and Bihar not be celebrated in Maharashtra. This is all of a piece with the Shiv Sena ideology of the 1970s--Maharashtra for the Maharashtrians. However, this kind of provincialism goes against the spirit of Indian nationalism--unlike the US states, the Indian states do not have a separate citizenship. An Indian is an Indian, never mind where he comes from and where he chooses to live and work. Moreover, Thackeray’s statements could lead to bad blood in Mumbai, between its Maharashtrian and non-Maharashtrian population. It seems that both uncle and nephew feel they can only come to power on the back of a divisive ideology. They both appear to suffer from the Lucifer syndrome--better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Elevated Roadways and Railways in Delhi

It appears that not only will Delhi get an elevated roadway from the Akshardham temple to New Delhi Railway Station, but that South Delhi will have the doubtful joy of an elevated corridor of the Metro running through the Lajpat Nagar-Nehru Place stretch of the Delhi-Badarpur line. However, the resident's welfare associations (RWAs) of South Delhi have yet to hear from the High Court, although the Group of Ministers, headed by Pranab Mukherjee, has insisted on the elevated corridor, due to time and budget constraints. They say that construction of an underground link will take too long--the Metro link to Badarpur must be ready by 2010. This despite the RWAs' concerns regarding noise levels (which will be heeded) and other health hazards, and despite the support of Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit. Let's see what the High Court has to say about this.
About the Akshardham-New Delhi Railway Station link, there are worries that the entire road would be elevated, with few options for those who wish to travel to points between the two terminals. These worries need to be addressed. Another issue that faces those of us living close to the roadway selected for the high capacity bus service--which part of the roadway will the bus service occupy? It's normal for buses to take the lanes closest to the pavements or kerbs on the roadside, but I've actually seen bus stands being constructed in the middle of the road! Will there be enough road space for the cars that travel from South Delhi to Central Delhi? I understand that there has been no feasibility study done for the project, since everyone was in a tearing hurry to get things ready for 2010.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Another Year--but the Same Old Problems

So the New Year arises from the ashes of the old--what with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination and the appointment (or the anointing of her son Bilawal as her successor as PPP Chairman). If the Americans congratulate themselves on their comparative woman-friendliness and their democratic credentials, they should look at this analysis of Hillary Clinton’s victory by Susan Faludi--she shows how Clinton exemplifies the competent care that Hillary Clinton and women of her generation exemplify, the kind of care a mature state such as the United States requires. My dream team would be Clinton-Obama--let us hope it does come to pass and does not remain a dream.

Looking homeward, it was good to know that twelve people were convicted in the Bilquis Bano case in Gujarat. However, it was horrible to read about the schoolgirl who was raped in Unnao in UP. It is appalling that a teacher would use a position of trust in such a manner. No wonder UP figures as one of the BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) with these kinds of attitudes prevailing amongst those of its inhabitants who are fortunate enough to have an education and a job. Fortunately for the girl, even though her family hesitated to go to the police, her friends at school did not hesitate to beat up the perpetrators, which led to the police being called in. Of course, one of the accused claims that he has been arrested on false charges.

The right wing, too, does not seem to have changed its tactics--it seems to feel that might is right, witness the ransacking of NDTV offices in Ahmedabad. Evidently, the right cannot use words and logic in place of bricks and fists to make a point. And until it does learn to use words and logic sanely to make its point, the right will not be taken seriously by the middle class.

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I work as a freelance editor and writer in New Delhi. 


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