Friday, 30 November 2012

The State Of My State

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."
                                                                                                                                          Oscar Wilde

It seems that the politicians of this nation are keen on playing the game of "Good Cop, Bad Cop", with the general public. On the state level, they show an undue haste in implementing IT laws (read article 66A of the IT Act), while on the Central level they field Mr. Sibal to lambast the draconian elements of the Act.

The blatant misuse of IT act laws, makes it difficult to believe that I am not living in China. Internet censorship and media gagging are no hallmarks of a mature democracy. And yet we have instances, where tweet against a Minister's son, political cartoons or a passing comment on a social website can send you behind bars.

It is a welcome step that the Supreme Court has taken cognisance of the misuse and served notices to the AG and the culprit state governments. This is what happens to laws, which are passed without a lot of discussion on the floor of the house. It would be interesting to note that the dreaded section 66A was not a part of the original draft of the act, but included in the first amendment of the bill. The IT Act, in 2008, was passed within a day in both houses of the Parliament, which at any rate is not enough time to look and debate the clauses in it.

The undue haste is not only in the framing of the law. Even the implementation, which is often dictated to the local thana by the politicians, is a glaring loophole in the judicial system. It would only be appropriate, that the Maharashtra Government accepts the findings of the investigation report on the Palghar incident and punishes the guilty officials for the over-reach.

Until the time the act is modified to encompass the modern day realities, I have a few suggestions to every internet user in India. Each of us must make a deep study of the IT act, hire a full time cyber lawyer to monitor our internet activities, so that when the cyber cops come, we can explain them the law and why we cannot be arrested. Another suggestion is to have a video recording of clarifications that Mr.Sibal and Mr. Deora are busy pedalling on the various news channels.

The recent developments of blatant misuse of the IT Act clearly demonstrate that the activists have been right. The problem with many such misused laws is that they have been passed without adequate public debates and stakeholder consultations. Crony discussions by readymade elite committees are meant to override public scrutiny.

It is high time that our lawmakers came out of the utopian world and start making laws in consultation with the mango people. Else we are on our way on to becoming a banana republic.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A Short Man with a Tall Legacy

When travelling to my ancestral place in a train, I cross a railway junction by the name Mughalsarai. My father would point the station to me and ask, "Can you tell me which famous Indian was born here?".

I would proudly say " My favourite Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri".

His legacy has been conveniently forgotten by the political party that he belonged to. Great leaders and freedom fighters do not die a mortal death, they die when the public forgets them. On his birthday, which he shares with the Mahatma, let me tell you the story of this selfless, honest and brave leader.

Shastriji was born in a Kayastha family(His original surname was Sriwastava) at Mughalsarai. He lost his father at the age of 1 and was raised by his mother at Varanasi.

There was an incident that almost denied India it's best PM. Once when Shastriji's mother was bathing on the Ghats of the Ganges, she lost her kid in the teeming fair crowd. The child was found by a childless cowherd family, who took him as a gift of god. But the child was restored to his birth mother after the police traced the child.

This diminutive kid showed glimpses of his bravery and honesty, as he swam the swelling Ganges when he did not have the fares to give to the boatmen to ferry his across the ghats. Another incident that he recalled in an interview, was when he was caught stealing mangoes from an orchard. He was held by the chaukidaar and was slapped. A teary Lal Bahadur pleaded to stop the beating because he was an orphan. The chaukidaar's response stayed with him for his lifetime. He said "Because you are an orphan, you must be more responsible in the way you behave". It was a lesson well learnt.

He was awarded the title of "Shastri" by the Kashi Vidyapeeth, which stuck as a part of his name. He joined the freedom struggle and was heavily influence by Lokmanya Tilak and the Mahatma.

Once India got it's independence, he was invited by the first chief minster of UP, Govind Vallabh Pant to join his cabinet as the Transport Minister. He is credited for opening the post of bus conductor for women. He was later given the portfolio of Home Minister in the Pant government, where he introduced water jets to disperse unruly crowds, rather than the inhumane Lathi charge.

During this time, he was the General Secretary of All India Congress Committee, which selected candidates for general elections. He was urged by Panditji to fight the elections, but declined the offer by indicating a conflict of interest between selecting and fighting elections. Nehru was impressed by this behaviour.

Post 1952 elections, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a surprise move called Shastriji to join his cabinet as the Transport and Railways Minister. It was during his tenure, that the Indian railways went for a large overhaul and increased the comforts for people travelling in 3rd Class. During those days, there were 4 classes of seats in the railways. The first class was royal in nature, followed by the second and the intermediate class. But the third class was a hell hole, with no decent seating arrangements, fans or water facilities. Shastriji abolished the first class, made the second to the first class, the intermediate class became the second class and the third class was given proper seating facilities and other amenities.

But his tenure as a railway minister is remembered for the moral fabric that he showed. There was a railway accident in Mehboob Nagar, which saw 112 passengers dead. He resigned from the post after the accident, but his resignation was turned down by Panditji. Unfortunately, 3 months later, another accident at Ariyalur killed 144, and he resigned again, this time with a request to the PM to accept. A visibly glum Nehru explained to the Parliament that the acceptance was not a question on his ability and a lesson in Constitutional properiety.
(On the other hand, modern day railway ministers dispense some compensation and conveniently forget the resignation and give a lip service to the modernisation of railways)

1964 saw the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru, and  the re-emergence of a question---"Who After Nehru".
International newspapers and magazines wrote that the experiment of Indian democracy will die along with the death of Nehru. India was facing problems of hungry millions, neighbours ready for war and drought. The Idea of India was in serious danger of becoming a footnote in history.

There were two main contenders for the post. Nehru's daughter Indira and the Morarji Desai. The syndicate headed by K. Kaamraj(often referred as the Chankya of Indian Politics), did not like the loud ambition of Desai(Congress never likes loud ambitions, hence neither Desai nor Sharad Pawar ever became Prime Ministers of a Congress Government) and deemed Indira to be too inexperienced. An experienced Shastriji was given the reins of the government.

His first Major challenge was the persistent hunger that India was facing, which lead to the country standing with a begging bowl. He initiated steps to increase the productivity of wheat and milk in the country.

He was so impressed with Verghese Kurien's(founder of Amul) efforts that he decided to stay a whole night to see the working of a dairy in the morning.(Another very interesting story....but more of it sometime later)

Another major challenge was when Pakistan attacked the Rann of Kutch. He asked the Army to give a befitting reply for this mistake. But the war escalated when Pakistan, attacked Kashmir, by moving towards Chaamb. He met all the 3 military chiefs and asked for a breifing. The Indian army chief informed that once Chaamb falls, it will be difficult to hold on to Kashmir. He suggested that India must open a front and attack Lahore. Shastriji's instructions were clear....Get Lahore before they get Chaamb. He also involved the Navy (Karachi was under a naval blockade) and the Airforce to help the army.  

This response stunned Pakistan and it tried to wriggle out the situation by asking USA and China to help. China threatened to attack India from the Western flank, but did not after a sternly worded letter by Shastriji, by telling that they shall not be cowed down by this bullying. An international conference was hurriedly called at Tashkent, where both sides went back to the pre-war positions(which I think was a mistake).

But what happened after this is a real mystery. Shastriji was found dead in his hotel and it was initially suspected to be a case of poisoning. No postmortem was ever conducted and it was declared a case of heart attack(with out postmortem). Shastriji's wife, Lalita Shastri claims that the body had turned blue(an indication of poisoning) and there were certain cuts on the body that were not investigated.

Adding grist to the rumour mill is the extraordinary secrecy over the case. For instance, various RTI applications over the years have sought information both on what documentation is available on the matter and if the government could kindly declassify it. In 2009, the PMO had replied that it had only one document relating to Shastri’s death but refused to declassify it under a clause that would “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence”. (I never understood what the above lines meant)

11 years after his death, the Janata Party Government set up an enquiry comittee. Called the Raj Narain Inquiry, it never came up with any conclusions but began the process. However, no record of this can be found in the Parliament library—by itself not a sinister event as lots of vital documents have disappeared often due to carelessness.

But there is an even more curious series of events linked to the inquiry. Two witnesses were scheduled to depose before this parliamentary body in 1977. One was R.N. Chugh, Shastri’s doctor who accompanied him to Tashkent. The second was Ram Nath, his personal servant, who was also present on the day of his death. Chugh was travelling to Delhi by road to testify before the committee and was hit by a truck and died. Ram Nath came to Delhi and visited Shastri’s widow before the deposition. According to family members, he told her, “Bahut din ka bojh tha, amma. Aaj sab bata denge (I have been carrying this burden too long. I will shed it today).” Ram Nath left the 1, Motilal Nehru, residence to make his way to Parliament. He was hit by a moving vehicle, his legs crushed (eventually amputated) and he lost his memory.

To-date, the Shastri family maintains that his death was not an accident, but a international muder. We shall never know the whole truth, but surely know that India was robbed of a great Prime Minister at the peak of his abilities.

To the believers, God just exists. I am sure God exists, but in Shastriji's case he was not just.

P.S :: Can you name the Prime Ministers, who preceded and succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri???

Friday, 21 September 2012

An attempt at reality check

" I do repent. But heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel only to be kind. "
----Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV

The Prime Minister's speech was a 21st century equivalent of an often quoted soliloquy from Hamlet(above). On the one hand he explained his cruelty (hike in diesel prices) and on the other hand his kindness (by allowing reforms), in a speech that must have taken even his harshest critics by surprise.

First things first, let us give the Prime Minister some credit for taking decisions, which may not give either him or his party any political mileage. The reforms come on the back of a series of scams and hence lack the credibility that generally accompanies such actions. He could have sleepwalked into the autumn of his political career and not be any worse that he is now. And yet he took those decisions.

He must now walk the talk. The middle class may well be ready for paying more for fuel and gas cylinders, but will not tolerate half baked reforms. The situation is not as drastic as it was in 1992, but we were well on our way to achieve the economic armageddon. The reforms must continue, the subsidies should be well directed and governance must be made more transperant to restore a semblance of credibility.

The PM told the nation that money does not grow on trees. If he squanders away this chance of improving the nation's fiscal health, the people will surely reply in 2014. The reply may well be, money does not grow on trees, but surely it does multiply in the dark recesses of coal mines and thin air of telecom spectrums. The reply will not be palatable.

Mr Singh likes doing shayari on occasion. He will perhaps know this line “Khud hi laga ke aag tamashai ban gaye”. It is difficult to translate the nuances of Urdu into English, but let me give it a try—We have become the spectators of the fire we ourselves lit.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Similarities and Differences Between the Neighbours

India and Pakistan are divided by the bloody past, but are united in the corrupt present.

The Pakistani PM, Raja Pervej Ashraf, or Rental Raja, as he is often referred by the Pakistani media has, for the moment avoided getting booted out of office by the Supreme Court, for not reopening a old graft case against the President.

A few hundred miles away, the Indian Prime Minister finds his hands and image blackened by the soot of corruption in coal.

The political class of India and Pakistan are divided by a hundred factors, but they come from the same school of corruption. The only difference is that the Indian politicians cannot cripple democracy with the sort of unlimited power that their Pakistani counterparts enjoy. They can hire the best lawyers to postpone the accountability to the judicial process, but would not dream of hampering the electoral process(Kudos to the Election Commission). On the other hand, in Pakistan, ballot is often subdued by the bullet.

The general public of both the nations(they are much better than the politicians) are utterly disgusted by the stench of corruption. Hence, every time somebody raises his voice against it, they automatically become eulogized and hero-worshiped.  Justice Iftikaar Chaudhry galvanized the general Pakistani to eventually oust the General(pun unintended). Across the border, India saw the rapid rise of Anna Hazare who caught the mass imagination to make the politicians shake in their boots.

Last time the Pakistani President visited India, I received a witty SMS. The President met the Indian PM and was asked to curb terrorism. The President replied, 'I am as serious on the issue of curbing terrorism as you are on the issue of curbing corruption'.

The Pakistani Prime Minister and the President are a joke in their nation. I hope the same is not the final eventuality of the Indian Prime Minister.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Unspoken in PM's Speech

Is it possible for two nations to live in the same country?

The PM's speech, spoke of a nation having a few problems and a bright future. He spoke of challenges, which he was confident of surmounting within foreseeable future.

Alas, I am not a citizen of the sunshine nation the PM so fondly spoke about. In fact, not many can claim the citizenship of the promised land. I live in a nation, where this independence day has bought ominous signs of foreboding, which fills us with gloom and despair about the future of this great country.

The PM spoke a lot and meant very little. The speech was laced with the names of  programs, the government had undertaken to improve the living conditions of citizens. What it did not have, is the description of the magnitude of failure these flagship programs have been.

He spent a lot of time talking about creating new jobs for the youth of the country, but did not answer the basic question of  "How was he going to do it?". Policy paralysis may create an air of denial, it certainly does not create jobs. When the rating agencies predict of a slowdown, it essentially means lesser jobs on the factory floors and more angry people on the streets. Europe is too fresh a lesson in this regards for any short/long term memory loss to erase.

The highlight of the speech was, off course, the promise of providing electricity to every house of the country in the next five years.  In fact, every time I sit down to write a blog, I pray that booting my laptop does not trip the whole of western grid.  Forget FDI in retail, even if you ensure electricity in every house, you would kickstart the economy, create jobs and ensure a next term in the parliament.

Another issue touched upon in the speech was the need of having transparency and accountability in public life, and the good progress the government had done in the area. This was like a student writing an exam, and then giving himself a 100% for the answers. The conduct and seriousness of the government in bringing an effective ombudsman(or lokpal) is no open secret. The speech could have outlined a road map for the plausible future rather than dwell upon the improbable past on this matter.

The speech finished with a comment that no power in the world could stop India from achieving greatness. I agree, we do not need world powers to stymie our growth when the government is doing an excellent job at it.

The only good thing about the speech was that it was over. But, at the end, I had a lingering doubt--- Should the Independence Day speech not be made by a person who is truly Independent?

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Politics of Politics

There was no Democracy during Mirza Ghalib's time, but he understood the ever persistent threat of betrayal in politics through the following couplet.

"Humne ki unse ummed-e-wafa, Jo nahi jaante wafa kya hai"

Anna Hazare made the mistake of trusting the opposition, to get the Lokpal bill passed. He corrected it by calling off the fast and deciding to clean up the cesspool of corruption himself. The passion and oratory seen in the budget session of the parliament, while opposing the formation of Lokpal was matched only by the debate for a self approved wage hike. Trusting them to get the Lokpal bill passed, from a government which has been singed by passing RTI, was living in a fool's paradise. And they have been rudely evicted from the paradise.

Now that Anna has decided to form a political party, he must understand that his fight will not be against NDA or UPA but against a system allergic to transparency. His party will have to withstand threat, coercion, pressure and inducement, including temptations aimed toward both ego and bank balance. It will also have to be given that politics, is long process of constant struggle and not instant results. More of Patience and perseverance(the Atal Bihari Vajpayee type) and less of rhetoric(Mamata Banerjee variety) will serve them well.

But this endeavour would need active help from the masses. One must remember, that urban India participates both in corruption and the fight against it in equal measures. We, who claim to be victims of corruption, never hesitate to make a side deal, when it suits us. When we break a law, instead of paying the fine, bargain with the authority for corruption rate of escape. We cannot pray for divine providence against corruption, if we are willing slaves to the same demon. 

Another piece of advice for Team Anna. Your conduct and character would be under intense scrutiny from the classes(i mean the ruling classes) and the masses. Any slippages and you shall be pilloried in the public and ridiculed in private. In fact, Ghalib had a couplet for your situation too, and you shall be well advised to keep it's counsel .....

"Hum aah bhi kare to ho jaige badnaam, woh Katl bhi karde to iss shehar main charcha hi na ho"

Thursday, 12 July 2012

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Respected Sir,

Hindsight, often acts as an antidote to flights of fancy. In hindsight, we sometimes think that our prayers should not have been answered by the higher authority. As a youngster, I often prayed that India should have a Prime Minister like you for at least 10 years, but the last 3 years of your leadership have given me enough reason to lament my prayers.

The aam-aadmi, that your party claims to represent, may never have the opportunity to read the Time magazine, which dubbed you an underachiever, but comes face to face with your actions (or rather inactions) on a daily basis. He may laugh off the occasional inaction, but do not confuse this laughter with amity, because behind it may be a seething anger that may turn into rage. That rage will be evident on the political day of judgement - the voting day, where the janata may order you to go to the saltmines of the opposition, from where position of power is just a distant mirage.Your party is ruled by masters who act dumb in their lofty silences, in the hope that the people are dumb not to see through it. It is a hopeless hope.

If someday you decide to act, you may find that you will have a luxury to choose between the problems to solve. Not many in your government can claim a moral ground in the quicksand of corruption, and a clean up seems to be a dirty job. Your allies seem to do a better job at stymieing your initiatives than the combined opposition. Each passing week seems to unearth a new scam and while the old one's never seem to be bought to justice.

As if this is not enough, your ministers seem to be running for the top prizes in a foot-in-the-mouth contest. Salman Khurshed publicly abuses your inaction and then tries to privately pacify you. P Chidambaram had his Marie Antoinette moment when he chided the middle class for buying ice-creams, when in reality they find difficult to put 3 square meals a day. The statements by the defence minister during his spat with the army chief did not add any halo to the aura of this government.

It is ironic that a prime-minister who has claimed that his life is an open book, heads the government that has nothing to offer but a series of closed books, unsuccessfully hidden from the glare of the omnipresent media. You had a track record in 2009 to campaign upon. You still have 2 years add to the credit section of goodwill and reduce the overdraft of credibility.

We know that you have many academic honours to your name, yet there is one that is not mentioned in your CV. The graduate degree that you have earned in the P V Narsimharao School of procrastination, has come with a fee that the nation is paying for. Your government seems hesitant to make decisions. The latest instance of this ill was manifested during the Presidential nominations. The decision was not taken when you had options to mull, but when your allies had plunged a dagger into the coalition.

History seldom provides the same person with two opportunities to achieve greatness. You made the best out of it in 1992, and 20 years later in the summer of 2012, the opportunity beckons again. If you decide not to take it, in 2014, the congress will be defeated not by the opposition, but by itself. Because in politics, death seldom comes by murder but often by suicide.

Yours Faithfully (Only if you act),
A concerned citizen.