Monday, November 9, 2015

Lalu 1.0, Lalu 2.0, or Lalu 3.0? 

The nation owes Bihar a huge thanks. What the liberals and intellectuals could not achieve in their protests was hopefully achieved by the Bihar electorate for India with their resounding rejection of the divisive politics of hatred.

Now that communalism has been rejected though, the focus will come back to development and corruption. And I would be most interested in seeing how Lalu performs in the upcoming 5 years.

Lalu v1.0, of course, was the epitome of corruption and misgovernance in the days of jungle raaj as the Bihar CM (1990-97). However, even his severest critics do concede two points: a. that he was able to improve the social (if not the economic) status of the backwards, and that he kept communalism and riots from flaring in Bihar during the 1992-93 era, and b. his appearance is deceptive and he is smarter and savvier than he looks.

After being rejected subsequently by the electorate, however, he seemed to have mended his ways, and Lalu v2.0 as the Railway Minister (2004-09) was the antithesis of the Bihar days. He performed well, and came up with innovative projects like the Garib Rath. Overall, his tenure was generally considered satisfactory to above-average. So-much-so, the IIM (at that time free of significant political pressure) invited him to give a pretty well-received lecture for its students.

What made him change? Perhaps he learnt his lessons, and realized that the caste card alone was no longer enough to guarantee victory as it was the national stage. Or perhaps it was because he was no longer the boss, but working in a larger group under a respected leader like Manmohan Singh (who was pretty good in his first term, when Lalu was the Railway Minister). Perhaps experience helped a bit as well?

Either ways, it will be interesting to see how Lalu will perform as a coalition partner in Bihar. While the stage is Bihar again, similar to v1.0, he has more experience, has burnt his hands with corruption (and facing a probable jail term), and has Nitish as his senior ally, similar to v2.0. Of course, he himself will play more of a guiding role this time, and it will be his party men and family who will be in the direct administration. Is there ground to hope for a more mature and statesman-like role, with him grooming the youngsters to learn administrative skills under Nitish, a v3.0? It will be very very interesting to watch, just like most of what Lalu does.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Negativity breeds negativity

A lot has been written on social media on the rise or the absence of rise of intolerance in India recently. Going from several comments, many believe that the rise of intolerance is a mere myth.

I personally disagree. Yes, there were incidences of intolerance and appeasement politics in India for a long time, as in banning Rushdie or Jaimes Laine or digging the Wankhede pitch for the India-Pak match, amongst others. But majority of such incidences were predominantly limited to political parties/ religious groups and protests/ rallies organized by them. Most of the general population was unconcerned or, at worst, only silently supporting these actions. But you didn’t see the average Indian gunning for blood.

Now however, intolerance and radicalism has gone beyond the fringe groups, and seeped into many an average Indian-a scary phenomenon. Cold-blooded murder is not something which is easy to commit psychologically; it needs a pretty extraordinary inciting factor. But now we are reading about innocent people being killed in a trifle due to mere rumors and text messages. Isn’t that a rise in intolerance? There was so much hatred bred in them by the incessant negative media they were exposed to, that the tiniest inciting factor caused them to explode.

The only other time I have seen something similar was during the height of Raj Thackeray’s anti-Bihari campaign. I could see hatred and anger in the average Maharashtrian on the street then. And manifest it did, with one innocent Bihari killed in the train because, well, he was from Bihar. But that incident opened everyone’s eyes; people realized they had gone too far and the average Maharashtrians (hats off to them) themselves stopped the hate campaign; they stopped talking bad things about Biharis and stopped sharing messages with negative connotations on social media, and turned their backs on Thackeray. And things did calm down almost immediately.

This time however the juggernaut is still rolling on and on. After three deaths (or maybe more), there is no remorse or regret. Unlike the Maharashtrians then, many of us who do agree that these deaths are ‘unfortunate’,  still fail to admit that this polarization is the result of ‘divide and rule’ politics bred by religious fundamentalists. We do not realize that every time we share another negative message or article, or speak aloud against the artists’ protests, against SRK, against ‘presstitutes and libtards’, instead of speaking louder against the needless deaths, the clamping of freedom of expression, or the beef ban, they are feeding the growing negativity, and such ‘unfortunate’ incidents will continue to happen as a result. Let’s stop sharing the negativity for a month, and I am sure things will improve.

I do hope good sense prevails again, and quick

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Je suis Charlie

1. Consider a lady who enjoys dressing up well. She loves looking good and getting everyone’s attention when she walks by. She puts on great make-up; wears just the right length of clothes. Now consider a group of men leering at her and announcing to everyone that this is against their culture, that if she continues dressing up this way, they will not be to blame if one of them raped her. She is indignant and refuses to lie low. She then gets raped by the men. Who is to blame, the girl or the ‘we told you not to do it; we are offended/ enticed to rape’ group?

 2. Consider a Hindu girl loving a Muslin guy (or vice versa). Or consider a Jat in love with anyone from another gotra. The couple wants to get married. Their families oppose it and say they will rather kill tham than let them marry. The couple elopes and marries. Soon after, the families hunt them down and kill them both. Who is to blame, the couple or the ‘we told you not to do it; we are offended/ enticed to kill’ group?

 3. Consider Malala and her colleagues, bravely fighting for the right to get educated. The Taliban oppose female education and threaten to kill anyone who fights for it. They still fight for their right. Taliban goes ahead and shoots Malala and her colleagues. Who is to blame, Malala or the ‘we told you not to do it; we are offended/ enticed to slaughter group?

 All these three are examples of individuals fighting for their basic rights (right to safety and independence as a female, right to love and choose one’s life partner, and right to education). All these three examples have a group getting offended because of certain reasons and warning about dire consequences. All these three end with the individuals being the victims of heinous crimes. But I don’t see any difficulty in choosing who is right and who is wrong. None of the victims were ‘asking for it.’

 Now consider Charlie Hebdo, publishing cartoons lampooning all religions, getting warned by Islamist extremists, refusing to buck down, and ultimately getting attacked. It also involves an individual fighting for a basic right (to freedom of expression), someone taking an extreme view, and the result last week. Just as we ought to stand by the raped women, the killed couple and people like Malala, so should we also stand by Charlie Hebdo. Je suis Charlie.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Appeal to the Voters: Think before casting your precious vote

My appeal to the half of India which is yet to vote. Think about this before casting your precious vote.

Think about the past few months and indeed the last decade, all that happened Indian politics. And answer truthfully. Was anyone surprise when, after Anna broke his fast, the Parilament did not pass Lokpal for 2 years? Is anyone surprised that the BJP (or Congress) is fielding candidates like Yeddyurappa or Chavan in this elections? Was anyone surprised when parliament was continuously disrupted numerous times in the last decade? Was anyone surprised when Modi still refuses to apologise for the riots? Does someone genuinely believe that the election funding of BJP and Congress is transparent and there will be no give-and-take behind scenes? Was anyone surprised when BJP opposed decriminalisation of consensual homosexuality? Was anyone surprised when Jaitley and Rajeev Shukla decided to allow Srinivasan to continue as BCCI president when he could have been kicked out, or when politicians continue to oppose the Sports Bill? This is all that we expect of politicians. Our bar today, our expectations of the average politician, has fallen so low. Both the BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin.

Now think genuinely; will we be shocked if AAP does any of this? The AAP raises the bar for itself so high that we feel disappointed and betrayed by its surprise resignation in Delhi. Would it be preferable to be surprised by AAP resigning and fighting for re-elections to govern with a full majority, or do you want to continue to remain passive at what the regular politicians are making of our beloved country.

Which bar do we want to be set in India for the future, the one set by BJP/Congress or the AAP? As Trupti said, be ‘a part’ of the revolution, and not ‘apart' from it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A positive vote for the India we dream of!

My friends often ask- whom do you vote for if you know that AAP cannot win and AK cannot become PM. This is probably the most important question facing many of us today. So I have put down my thoughts regarding it.

Let’s say about two-thirds of BJP supporters are those hard-core people who truly believe in their hearts that Modi is the best man for the job and that Godhra was either something he cannot be blamed for or something that 'allowed us to show them who is the boss', depending on their Hindutva inclinations. And there are those who are Congresswadis and will vote for it. Let's leave them aside. My answer is for the remaining lot.

For the remaining people, there are two options, and it depends on what they want their vote to mean. Many feel that their vote is precious and the value of a precious vote comes only when it leads to a stable 5 year govt. Their main problem with AAP is that it might divide votes and lead to an unstable govt. They know that under BJP, corruption will continue, divisive politics will continue, 'the system' won't change, but they are willing to accept that consequence in return for what the BJP promises to provide- a stable govt under a strong and 'experienced' leadership.

The others (including me) feel that for decades, all we did while voting was chose between one corrupt divisive party and the other. For the first time, my vote is not just for the next government but for changing the entire polity and the entire system of the country. TWO YEARS AGO, THE ENTIRE NATION WAS ON THE STREETS FOR LOKPAL AND STILL THE POLITICIANS DID NOT BUDGE. BUT A SIMPLE SMALL ELECTION IN A TINY STATE OF 7 SEATS WAS ENOUGH TO MAKE THE POLITICIANS TO PASS LOKPAL. MY PAPA SAID IN AN EARLIER COMMENT THAT HORSE TRADING CANNOT END IN POLITICS. BUT IT DID END IN DELHI, WHEN THE BJP REFUSED TO MAKE ANY DEAL FOR JUST 2 SEATS? IT WAS NOT A MAJORITY VICTORY WHICH BROUGHT ABOUT THE CHANGE DID IT? IN FACT IT WAS THE POSITIVE POWER OF THE DELHI VOTE. DID THE DELHI VOTER REALIZE WHILE VOTING THEN THAT HE IS NOT JSUT VOTING FOR AAP BUT ACTUALLY VOTING FOR THE LOKPAL, FOR BJP TO REFUSE TO HORSE TRADE, FOR VASUNDHARA RAJE TO STOP USING THE LAL-BATTI? I believe that our vote is too precious to be spent on just voting for the next government, that it should be instead used to vote for the next system of governance and politics, to cleanse India of the current filth. For decades we all believe that politicians divide everyone on caste, religion and region because that is the only way they can earn votes. For decades we have believed that nothing can be done about corruption in this country, both small level and big ticket. For decades, we have prayed to get one opportunity to somehow remove these flaws from India. We have this chance now; and we never know when it will come again. Irrespective of who is the next PM, the Indian progress will continue. It continued during Rao, during Gowda, during Gujral, during Vajpayee and during MMS. But if in this election the AAP wins 20-40 seats, if the Yeddys and Chavans are defeated, if honest non-divisive people are the ones elected, then we are sure that the 'system' will improve. Because our vote was not for or against a party, but against the old system. If Modi wins and AAP becomes a success, things will improve. If he does not win and is is a hung parliament, we are sure that the next election after one year will be a lot cleaner one, with a lot fewer corrupt and criminal candidates and lot more well-intentioned people who we truly deserve in the fray, and with perhaps an even humbler Modi who will finally have the humanity and character to apologise for his failure to protect people during the riots. Ultimately, I believe a vote for AAP will only lead to a better polity and future for the country.

Don't lose sight of the big picture

As a Cancer Imaging Fellow at Harvard, I often encounter cancer patients, and there is one thing which keeps surprising me. Many patients with advanced cancers still come and voice their concerns about ‘radiation exposure’ while undergoing a CT scan. Oncologists will similarly share multiple patients whose cancers have good treatments available, but patients will be more concerned about side-effects than hoping about being cured. I often wonder how can one lose perspective like this?

Seeing the current Indian election scenario nowadays makes me feel the same. You ask any Indian what ails the country’s politics- he will say corruption, the way they divide us on the basis of caste, religion, region, the lal-batti attitude, the intolerance towards liberalism, that people with honest intentions can never enter politics. They will all agree that BJP is equally corrupt as Congress, Yedyurappa is an equivalent of Raja, that corporates do fund elections for both parties and will get their payback later, that India should support gay rights, that they hate casteist politics, that it is strange that no party has started an anti-corruption helpline in any state inspite of the Delhi success. They all know in their hearts that AAP is non-corrupt and does not try to divide people. They know that learning governance is not easy and takes time and patience. They know that the highlight of Modi’s first 49 days of governance was Godhra riots while Kejriwal managed to significantly decrease corruption levels in Delhi in his 49 days despite his relative inexperience and lack of media support and patience. And yet, they not only not vote for AAP but actually criticize and condemn the only honest party in politics today.

I appeal to all to think of two things. 1. People accuse Kejriwal of running away from responsibility by resigning when given an opportunity. I agree even I was disappointed with his resignation. But he isn’t running away. He is fighting to get re-elected with majority in Delhi. It is we who are running away from responsibility by supporting the same old corrupt divisive system yet again when we have a chance to elect someone honest. A VOTE FOR EITHER THE CONGRESS OR THE BJP IS A VOTE WHICH SAYS THAT IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU PUT CRIMINAL CANDIDATES OR CORRUPT CANDIDATES, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU TRY DIVIDING US, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU OVERSEE A MASSACRE AND REFUSE TO EVEN APOLOGISE FOR IT, WE WILL STILL VOTE FOR YOU. A VOTE FOR AAP SAYS THAT WE ARE SICK OF THE CORRUPT SYSTEM, AND YES WE HAVE A CHOICE AND A HOPE FOR A BRIGHT FUTURE, AND WE CHOOSE THAT.

2. Many people are afraid they vote will go ‘waste’ if they vote for AAP. If the Delhiites thought the same, this hope for India where an honest simple person can actually politics and work for the country would never have been created at all. It doesn’t matter how many seats they win. When AAP won Delhi, other politicians were forced to improve- RaGa passed Jan Lokpal, Vasundhara stopped using lal-battis, Harshvardhan refused to horsetrade; until the politicians realized it is easier to discredit the AAP rather than go back to better politics. Irrespective of who governs the country, a good start for the AAP will force others to improve again as well. Furthermore, a tally of even 20 AAP MPs this time will let them create a base of experience MPs who know how to govern and how to behave like a responsible opposition. 20 today sustains the movement and can and will lead to 200 tomorrow, but if we fail them, then we defeat the movement and India’s hope right here, and then we will be the ones responsible when someone blames the ‘system’ in the future. Don’t lose perspective. Defeat the cancer, rather than worrying and nitpicking about the radiation exposure! Vote positively for India’s future today.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Defence of Anna

Yesterday was a landmark day. It felt great to finally see Parliament do what it should have done at the beginning of the session itself. And Anna and India finally winning.

This is to cover three issues at which people continue to find fault or fear with the campaign and my take on them.

Firstly, that there is too much politician bashing going on. If you actually look at it, there was basically one event in which Om Puri called all politicians gavar. I don’t know whether he meant it literally illiterate or gavar in the sense they seem to be illiterate of the people’s needs and demands. Either way, it was wrong, and I think that the Anna team has already apologized for any wrong or derogatory language used. But somehow people forget that while Om Puri’s comments were his personal opinion and not that of team Anna, less than 2 weeks ago the spokesperson of the Congress had called Anna ‘steeped into corruption from head to toe.’ Digvijay Singh’s language like ‘nachaniyon ki party’ for BJP etc are not entirely parliamentary either. If the politicians cannot hear their criticism, they should refrain from using derogatory terms themselves first.

Besides, the deep-rooted mistrust which team Anna and the common man had for the politicians is only natural. In April, after Jantar Mantar had ended, the government actually had a golden opportunity. Everyone who’s read the demands which were accepted yesterday by Parliament will agree that there was really no two ways about them being unconstitutional or unnecessary. They were in fact essential for the Lokpal to succeed. Why were these not included in the original government draft? Imagine the frustration of the people when it sees eminent and supposedly honest politicians like Sibal and Khursheed to say that the lower bureaucracy will not be covered, because you cannot expect Lokpal to cover so many people effectively; but ya, we will cover each and every NGO!!! Imagine what they felt when Sibal and co insisted on punishing those guilty of corruption for minimum 6 months but the accuser of minimum 2 years if he fails to prove his accusation! Imagine their disgust when they realized that the government wants to nominate 60-70% of Lokpal members itself and also have powers to suspend Lokpal on its own without the Parliament’s/ Court’s consent! How can you expect people to trust the government after all this? It is but natural that they will not agree to breaking the fast on mere promises but only after seeing some concrete action. If the government had included all these demands in its own draft, the Jan Lokpal movement would not have taken off at all in this fashion. But they have now lost the moral right to sermon us or expect our trust. Manmohan Singh states that no one can say that he was ever corrupt. I also totally trust his character. But the fact remains, that when he had 3 names in front of him for the post of CVC and only 1 of them had a history of an alleged involvement in a scam (and the Leader of the Opposition opposed his name as well), he still chose Thomas over the other two. Can he explain that?

Secondly, that Anna team should have shown more grace and stopped the fast long ago, viz when the PM wrote that letter, or when the debate started etc. And that their demands were draconian and arrogant et al. These people must understand the art of bargaining. When you go shopping at Fashion Street and the vendor asks for Rs 1000, you don’t say 500 even if that’s the price you are willing to pay, you say 200. Then he comes to 750, you go to 400, and the bargain is struck at 500. Most people who supported Anna (including probably part of the Anna team itself) also did not expect or support a law in which MP’s conduct in Parliament would be covered or phone tapping for everyone would be allowed. But that’s what bargaining is all about. If the fast had ended when the PM wrote that letter, there would have been no debate in Parliament in which every party was forced to clarify their stand. Team Anna did an absolutely fantastic job, which makes my Marwari heart swell in pride. Those clamouring for the fast to end never realized how no party had categorically clarified their stand on these issues at the time of the PM’s letter.

Thirdly, the ‘dangerous trend setting’ theory. This doesn’t cut much ice with me. The Telangana dispute, the Kashmir dispute, Iron Sharmila all have widespread local public support. People have fasted, they have set themselves on fire, they have committed suicide, they have committed even murder for many such issues. That has not forced Parliament to act on them. The point is, national support and legitimacy is won by a movement only if is morally correct for everyone. And anyway, you cannot not do something correct because of the perceived danger of something wrong happening in the future. Rahul Gandhi said something stupid. ‘Today it may be an all-encompassing demand like corruption; tomorrow it may be something which violates the fabric of basic Indian society and constitution.’ Well then, support today’s demand and oppose tomorrows if it ever comes to that, Mr Gandhi! That’s why we elect you.

And finally, will the BSP ever improve? It managed to get reservations into this issue as well!! Thankfully, its demand was hardly supported, with caste, creed and religious barriers being broken for the cause of India, and the likes of BSP and Shahi Imam being given a befitting reply this time.

PS: Notice that no party has still committed to any sort time frame for the Judicial Accountability Bill. Hopefully it too will see the light sooner than later, and without another campaign required for the same.