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.

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


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