Heirs of hope

15 Aug

Heirs of Hope

Happy Independence Day, my dear readers!

Today, my country shimmers with the bright light of optimism, enlivened by the hues and harmonies of patriotism. More than 70 years ago, the struggle for independence preceded all other struggles. We were a people without a state. In the darkest time, the brightest light emerged from a subject race to cultivate courage, harvest hope, and fight for our place under the sun. It is up to us to carry this narrative of freedom forward to its desired culmination.

Our struggles are different today (fighting  bone-deep corruption, narrow nationalism, casteism, exploitative social and economic structures, and divisive politics), but they still demand a capacious commitment to the country, not indifference and cynicism. Indigence of the spirit serves a poor master. Do away with the deadwood of defeatism and engraft into the body politic the green shoots of constructive attitudes and actions.

To those mocking the celebration of our independence day either out of pessimism or despair at the years of malign neglect of the nation, yes, it is important to celebrate a day that symbolizes the values and sacrifices of the people who passed on to us the torch of freedom. Now it is up to each of us to keep this flame alive all year round.

 

“Historic Climate Change Accord at Paris!” Really?

14 Dec
Climate Change accord at Paris- Sinking Perspective

Climate Change Accord at Paris- Sinking Perspective

Image

Mouthy media: Bite first, think later

28 Aug

Media Talkies

I have often found panel discussions on news channels to be a dazzling stagecraft of sound and fury. Despite the same experts being present in any and all discussions- from Modi’s sartorial choices to  a celebrity’s wedding celebration, from food inflation to murder investigation- one can always count on them to provide us with a thespian act of bestowing opinions.  Prime-time news discussions remind me of what the Walrus told the Carpenter in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “The time has come to talk of many things- of shoes-and ships-and sealing-wax-Of cabbages and kings–And why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings”.  They are all-knowing, though not all-seeing. But that’s all right. There are no details to clutter the discussion; no boring analysis, and definitely no need to worry about torn reputations, frayed relations, or security ramifications. Field reporters can ask dopey questions while studio anchors can run over the same turf of questioning over and over again, making logic and patience, like a piece of abused earth, crack up. Sensation and snap judgement-yes, that’s the way we roll.

Just like there is a strange fascination to watching birds of prey feast on the carcasses of their victims, we tune in to these news channels to watch such rousing action live; to see those who would not see the other’s point of view, and listen to those who would not listen to others. And then, we too, become  experts, content in the rigid certitudes of our views as we grow deafer and blinder just like the mavens of our news media.

27 and counting: Modi “Looks West” with UAE

19 Aug
All that glitters is Modi.

All that glitters is Modi.

Just like everything else he does, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has elevated the Socratic dictum of “Let him who would move the world first move himself” into a practical paisa vasool policy. Discarding the ancient philosopher’s ho-hum peroration about ‘bettering oneself before bettering the world’, our Man of Action went second base by first moving himself all around the world.

In under thirteen months, Modi notched up 27 foreign trips with 9 more waiting to be quickly crossed off from his Filofax. But does he look wearied? Not on your life. With blazing eyes, glowing cheeks, and a 56-inch giving-Putin-a-complex chest, the Determined One (DO) is indefatigable in his quest to win over the world to his winsome ways. Who cares if his junkets, nay, “partnership building visits” are costing the exchequer, at the last count, Rs. 317 crore ($3.17 billion)! What he gets in return are loads of goodwill and yes, deals in billions. But can the mere mortals of South Block keep pace with the DO-gooder? Given the shotgun deals from ‘Neighbourhood First’, ‘Look East’ and now, ‘Look West Asia’, with their mountains of paperwork and the continuous pressure to follow-up, one might worry about the babudom not bucking up. Worry not. The DO’s yoga sessions would soon whip the South Block into shape.

So, how should we score his recent run in Abu Dhabi? Just kidding. It is obviously A+. He got a joint statement out on counter-terrorism cooperation. That’s a groundbreaking deal in security cooperation. Those who view it with scepticism by citing other deals with the UAE like the 1999 extradition deal, the 2002 MoU on Defence Cooperation or the 2011 Agreement on Security Cooperation and Transfer of Sentenced Persons not being worth the ink they were written with, are simply naysayers who should crawl back into the dark hole they came from and eat worms. Okay, even Saudi Arabia gave us Syed Ansari connected with the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in 2012 while the UAE didn’t extradite Anees Ibrahim connected with the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts- not in 1996, not in 1999, not in 2002, not in…oh stuff it! Now the UAE will DO it!  It was not for nothing that the UAE’s crown prince with his five princey brothers greeted the DO.

Coming to the one word that makes the likes of Tata, Reliance, Wipro, NTPC, Larsen & Toubro, Dodsals, Punj Lloyd, Emaar, Ethihad, Nakheel, and DP World go round: Moolah! The DO did much better than what he had done with the US ( investment of $ 41 billion in 3 years), Japan ($ 34 billion investment over the coming years),  China ($ 22 billion worth of deals), France (€ 2 billion investment over the coming years) and 21 others…he got the UAE to promise $75 billion in investment and boost bilateral trade by 60 percent in the next five years. He said so in his speech to an ecstatic crowd of expats in Dubai. And he is a man of words…that is, a man of his word.  The UAE  is our every-weather economic friend, being our third largest trading partner after the US and China. It does help that India is its second largest trading partner with our non-oil trade amounting to more than $39 billion. If things continue as they are, the UAE might just pole vault from the eleventh to the top position as our largest FDI source. But let’s not get tangled up in numbers as much as these might make our businessmen go teary-eyed with happiness. There are joyful tidings for our oil guzzlers as well, with strategic oil reserves in the pipeline.

The man with the big chest, I mean, heart was also there for the more than 2.65 million expats. Remaining true to the word, he started the MADAD (meaning “help” in Hindi), an online platform, to help migrants. On a side note, India is the largest receiver of remittances in the world mostly due to the $12-15 billion remittance the country gets from its expats in the UAE. But this is not what guided the DO, it was all about helping the Bharatwasis.

For those worried about the spiritual salvation of Hindus in a Muslim land, relax, do anulom vilom; the DO has done the walk on the Ganges by getting the sheikhs to agree to a temple in their piece of earth.

So, the 27th trip of the DO was an “unexpected”, “pathbreaking”, “landmark”, “great”, “monumental” success according to our bashful media just as the 26th was, just as the 25th was, just as the 24th was ,just as the 23rd was, just as the 22nd was, just as the 21st was… … …

Well, the DO has moved the world and how. But if I may make one small point here: beyond the purple prose of joint statements, is the fine print, and beyond the fine print is the capability and intention to act. As Lacon said of the Minister in John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier,Spy: “… he’ll only believe what can be written on a postcard”. Beyond the grand gestures and stump speeches, are the deals that are brokered in secrecy, and it is these that may make or break diplomatic relations. But if we are to believe our experts in the media, and blessed be their flock, Mr. Modi has just created a new idiom of diplomacy where all that glitters is actually gold. Though India might see less of that gold.

R.K.Laxman: The Uncommon Man

26 Jan

R.K. Laxman Cartoon

The creator of the “Common Man” was anything but common! In an age of noise, R. K. Laxman could, in the words of William Blake “see the world in a grain of sand” and let his work do the talking, and what a statement it made! Through his cartoons, he stripped bare the hypocrisy of the government and the society with his quiet but observant Common Man becoming the “voice of the nation” (a master stroke of irony) and its conscience keeper. The country owes a huge debt of gratitude to Laxman for giving it a healthy and much needed dose of humour during seemingly hopeless times.

Cricket’s foul play

19 Jan
David Warner coaches Rohit Sharma on cricketing language

David Warner coaches Rohit Sharma on cricketing language

The phrase “it’s not cricket” is a nod to the spirit of the game carried out in the best gentlemanly tradition. What happened yesterday at the Melbourne Cricketing Ground is one of a series of incidents dismissed under the boilerplate of sledging. No, this should not be a routine and therefore, acceptable cricketing tactic. When Aussie opener David Warner asked the Indian batsman Rohit Sharma to “speak English” in a slanging match, the implicit racist slur seemed to be the only thing that came from his mouth that could be repeated. That speaks a lot about Aussie coach Darren Lehhmann’s airy dismissal of the incident as “just our aggressive style of play”. Indian cricketers in trying to beat the Aussies and the English at their own game, have also resorted to sledging. Now to ask them to pick one language in which to curse back when the country offers the choicest of options from 122 major languages and 1599 minor ones is to expect a bit too much from them. Can’t we expect both parties to forego this catchpenny version of the game and not curse? The World Cup is round the corner. Let the gentleman’s game begin.

Kejriwal in Pol-land

21 Jan
 
Arvind's Broom to Fight Dirty Politics
 
 
How doth Arvind Kejriwal
Improve the corrupt nation
And get his pols on duty’s call
To sit on dharna and demonstration!
 
How sincerely he seems to express
His anger at the entire system
And get the beleaguered BJP and Congress
To accuse him of anarchism. 
 
 
 
The Broom Brigade, otherwise known as the Aam Admi Party (AAP), a.k.a. “the giant-killer”, the “anarchist”,  the “protest party”, the “street fighters”, the… lets leave it at the “name-calling central” and we can all put in our two bits at the baptism of India’s latest entrant to the political scene, l’enfant terrible AAP. The mufflered master of the party, Arvind Kejriwal, has his broom ready to bring in sweeping changes to India’s political system. While it is nice to see the BJP and Congress squirm and deal a body blow to themselves whenever a leader of their party opens his mouth, it would be nicer to find a newbie party  swept in by an outlier election establish its position through good administration rather than remonstration. So, AAP continue to deliver the dirt on Indian pols, and if it is not too much of a bother, deliver on performance, too.
 
( With due respect to Lewis Carroll and Isaac Watts who have hopefully not turned in their graves).
 

Akhilesh Yadav’s Master Act

7 Aug
Akhilesh Yadav teaches IAS officers a lesson on the importance of being earnest.

Akhilesh Yadav teaches IAS officers a lesson on the importance of being earnest.

The young Chief Minister of UP is a harried man. His, as Shakespeare would have said, is the nobler mind that has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the whips and scorns of time, the thousand natural shocks, the…well, a lot of beastly stuff. But does he repine? No, my dear readers, he does not. Does he cower? No, he does not. Does he dither? Nope.  One would have thought, he would at least “grunt and sweat under a weary life”. But no, not for our Hindi Heartland Boy the Hamletian way.  In his suited, booted and scented glory, he plods ahead, trampling on the opposition, throwing verbal punches in the air and teaching  his state’s erring hirelings a thing or two about piety and public service.

Donning the suit of the political master, the head that wears the weary crown, roared during a public gathering, “There might be many children who would have received a beating from teachers and parents whenever they did something wrong….The government is also run like this. Whenever any official does something wrong, he is punished.” In this case, it was a “she” going by the befitting moniker of Durga Shakti Nagpal, who was found guilty of disturbing the peace in the class and was duly punished for her errant ways.  Now, one would have thought the matter would have ended there.   But the slings and arrows of fortune had another round ready for the suspiring souls of the Samajwadi Party (SP).

The first in line was the intemerate Narendra Bhati. As the SP MLA of Gautam Budh Nagar and the chairperson of the UP State Agro Industrial Corporation Limited, Bhati was often forced to face the errant one in her capacity as the Sub-Divisional Magistrate.  A politician of the old order, who wholeheartedly subscribed to the idea of bureaucratic anonymity being the same as “to serve in silence”, he was unnerved to find the lady talk back, and that too, with a decided bite in her tone.  Even then he would not have despaired had it not been for Nagpal’s high in the instep actions.

The story goes something like this.  Gautam Budh Nagar and its border areas are something of a gold mine. Well, sand mine if we are going to be picky about it. One fine day, some enterprising folks decided that the sands around the rivers Yamuna and Hindon were making a poor show of it by lying there listless and not doing their stuff for the manufacturers of concrete. With a spit and a shovel, the enterprising ones picked up the lazy lot by the truckloads (250-350 trucks per day) and started a highly profitable business ( running to more than USD 85 million per annum) for themselves and for those who silently but sedulously supported them. Into this sunny state of affairs, marches in Nagpal, cracking the whip for the green lot, and seizing 24 trucks, impounding 297 vehicles and fining the sandmen right, left and centre. In  just three months,  she made the state richer and the enterprising ones  poorer by ₹80 lakhs. Such a thing was bound to sour relations between the sand barons and their silent but sedulous supporters. No wonder, another august member of SP, Azam Khan, was so shocked that he rushed to defend the aggrieved ones, “Ram nam ki loot hai, loot sako toh loot lo” (You are allowed to loot in Ram’s name).  After all, ours is an extraction-based economy. When we excel at it, why try something else.

Bhati decided to beard the lioness prudently outside her own den. Making a few phone calls and putting gentle pressure here and there, he managed to get Nagpal suspended. But then totally awed by his dexterity in doing so,  Bhati who found himself at a public meeting in Badalpur village, just had to share with all and sundry that it had been he, dear old Bhati, who had in “41 minutes” effected the speedy removal of Nagpal.  The media gleefully jumped  all over the story and aired it as Bhati’s 41 minutes of machination. Akhilesh Yadav was not amused. It didn’t help that most of his party members had the mugs of escaped criminals despite their hearts being in the right place. Yadav shouted. The media shouted back.  He refused to recall Nagpal and his bête noire, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP), decided to make matters more interesting by supporting Nagpal. Oh, the irony was delicious. BSP’s political symbol is the elephant but it was the SP that could very well fit the role of an elephant that had gone rogue, crushing  its opposition, the law of the land, whatever came in its way.

So, with the public opinion on SP taking a nose-dive and the media getting  riled by Akhilesh’s lord of the manner ways, one would have thought restraint would have been the order of the day.  One, like Nagpal, would have erred. Akhilesh and his Bicycle Boys , who so loved silence on the part of the bureaucrats, hated it when it came to their own exhortations.

They  happily hooted and hollered: “Nagpal is young and immature!  She should apologize to the government! She should be punished!  Let’s chargesheet her! Let’s arrest her! Oh, the IAS lobby is supporting her? Well, the whole lot of IAS officers can go to Siberia, er, New Delhi, for all we care as long as they don’t sully UP with their putrid presence!” The last priceless gem should not go unattributed. The honour goes to Ram Gopal Yadav, the Rajya Sabha MP belonging to SP.  UP’s Health Minister Ahmad Hasan, not to be outdone, joined the merry melee, “Yo, media! You blackguard! Woe to the lot of you Nagpal-worshiping, besmircher of all things good and pure. Shout-out to SP!  Nagpal, repent. I would never speak ill of anyone. Her family has a terrible past, only if you  knew! Terrible! Terrible!”  Dear readers, I might paraphrase what he said, but I wish I could convey the sheer conviction of a man who could look at the sun and declare it to be totally lacking in light and warmth.  What am I talking about? Well, here comes the nub of the story.

UP, the most populous state in the country, is ruled by politicians swinging to the siren song of caste and communal vote-bank politics. Bhati, who had flubbed up the 2009 elections, needed to shore up his Muslim vote base.  A Local Intelligence Unit report claimed that he had ponyed up ₹51, 000 to build the  wall of a mosque on a gram sabha land in Kadalpur Village of Guatam Budh Nagar. That made the wall illegal. The villagers did not ask for it and saw it as an encroachment of their land. The District Magistrate ordered its demolition and it was carried out in the presence of the SDM of Jewar, Bachchu Singh.  Not SDM Durga Shakti Nagpal. The SP had no choice but to dismiss Nagpal for fanning communal tensions by ordering the demolition of a mosque.  Only the last line is the truth and nothing but the unalloyed, unvarnished, totally factual, and no-one-can-tell-me-otherwise truth, according to SP’s Ahmad Hasan.

Obviously, Nagpal was present in spirit if not in body. Further, the law doesn’t know everything, as an SP member pointed out during a prime-time show on NDTV, for the wall (also a mosque, according to SP) was not an illegal encroachment on village land but a cultural construction. The Muslim villagers and the Wakf members did not see it as such and called out SP for their communal tricks. The party might have allowed the demolition of the wall but as SP ministers stress, who knows when what might have happened if they had not handled the situation with such finesse and alacrity by punishing Nagpal. A communal riot can be such an unpredictable thing. Villagers who opposed the wall might have fallen in love with it. They might forget it was a wall and see it, as the SP saw it, as a mosque.  Communal harmony would have been disturbed between the wall lovers and the wall haters. This situation needed to be nipped in the bud especially when accompanied by an officer with an unaccommodating attitude towards sand mining.

To cap it all, the Central government, who like the bureaucrats had taken to silence,  found its voice.  It now had the temerity to ask SP for an explanation. So, what could SP do but not blackmail. The Food Security Bill was such a paltry thing compared to the brickbats SP had been getting over Nagpal’s suspension.  Congress and its buddies at the UPA, with as sterling a reputation as SP, could now decide whether they would like to gamble on their Below Poverty Line-votebank assuring Food Security Bill (given that  the 2014 elections are round the corner) or pin down SP with the juiciest political controversy du jour.

With the blessings of proud papa Mulayam, Akhilesh dug in his heels, sandbagged the opposition and gagged the public servants. If democracy means playing to the lowest common denominator, then  SP has the game in the bag. Even if they did allow illegal sand mining to take place, even if they did implicate a young and upright officer on the false charge of demolishing a wall, a.k.a. a mosque , even if they did illegally construct the said wall/mosque, even if they did accuse Nagpal of inciting communal tensions while raising the communal issue themselves…well even if they did all of this, and this is a big EVEN, then, I am sure, Akhilesh will listen to his inner voice (that might  sound like Shakespeare but with an Indian accent) muttering, “Conscience doth makes cowards of us all”.

So, to quell the callow voice of conscience and continue with the argument, how can we believe what an intelligence report says or what the media says or what the villagers who witnessed the demolition say? After all, when SP speaks, it speaks from the high-ground of  being, as its name suggests, “The Party of the People”. When Akhilesh lectures the class of IAS officers on doing their duty, his message is plain and simple: “To serve the public is to serve me.”

P.S. : To the detractors of SP out there, cease and desist in your vituperation. It, my dear readers, will be of no use. Given the communication skills of  SP, they will gladly agree with you and take “UP Yours, Mr. Yadav” to mean “UP is Yours, Mr. Yadav”.

Hacks and Cracks

23 May

When the headless attack the brainless

Ctrl

As a fitting tribute to its strange and obscure ways, the country’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology calls its executive arm  “DeitY” (Department of Electronics and Information Technology).  So, it makes perfect sense for Kapil Sibal to multitask as its minister cum missionary and take on the godless internet.

Putting Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and other social networking sites on notice for their content, he stated at a presser, “This is not censorship, but a check on online content.”

The uneducated laity, unable to distinguish between the two, harped on moralists running amok and attacks on the freedom of speech and expression. Undeterred, Sibal continued his soliloquy, “Religious sentiments of many communities and of any reasonable person is  hurt because of content, which is being put on the sites.” One could hardly accuse the minister of using vague, broad-brushing terms on defining the offended parties. The government would only intervene if some write-up/post was objectionable to any reasonable person. It is a good thing  our country is chock-full of such sensible individuals not  given to fits of outrage at the slightest pretext.

So why the hoo-hah about a nanny state?  Like its citizens, GoI is not thin-skinned. Pre-screening site content or asking Google to remove 358 items out of which 255 were criticisms against it was just its way of teaching netizens the virtue of civility. The law just helped to speed up the process.

The Information Technology Act of 2000,  believing the devil to be in the details, decided to leave it altogether. Its revamped avatar in 2008  allowed the government to punish the sender (including those whose servers were being used) and the consumer of messages regarded as “offensive” or causing  “annoyance” and  “inconvenience” while being false (Section 66 A).  There is nothing subjective about this.

The government could also block  any site it wanted without stating the cause (Section 69 A).  So in 2011, Typepad, Clickatell and Mobango were banned without any warning. This month, Vimeo, The Pirate Bay, Dailymotion and torrentz were blocked by the internet service providers Reliance Communications, Airtel and MTNL to supposedly stop piracy. This was done at the behest of a private company. The fact that Vimeo allows for legit file sharing among many indie filmmakers and provides a lot of useful tutorials does not detract from the discerning powers of our cyber guardians.

We need respite from spams, cyber criminals and phishing sites. Blanket bans on peer to peer sites or domains that share the same DNS  as the targeted site is simply collateral damage. The higher powers know what is best for us and try to shield our impressionable minds. The CERT-IN (Computer Emergency Response Team-India), seeing evil where we can’t, can block any site without revealing the cause,the name of the site or the mechanism for redressal. And, it is a good thing because…well, one of the blogs it shut down was scarily called Princess Kimberley and comprised of the musings of an American teen.

Alt

Oh, stop your government schmoozing! You think you can jackboot our freedoms? We will protest. We will hack. We will destroy. You are going down, baby, down!

You want to know who we are? We are the slacks and the hacks. We ignite the flames of rebellion in the hearts and minds of the netizens. We fight tirelessly by image-boarding our protests, posting it as wall updates, signing long petitions and forwarding it to our friends. Some of us wear strange masks of a man synonymous with a failed rebellion. But that’s besides the point. It’s the intention that counts. That Guy had the right idea. Blow up the freaking establishment.

You try to block us, and  our sidekick sites provide helpful instructions to bypass the block. You check our servers, we find proxies.  You shut us. We shut you.

What? You talk of piracy? What about the daylight robbery by multiplexes and companies hyper-inflating costs of film tickets, music CDs, tech softwares…? I am so sorry that your actors, producers, fat cat company bosses and the rest of the deprived lot are losing out on an extra zero in their payment in crores.

Well, they need to change their way of doing business. Lower the costs of goods and services. Technology is revolutionary. It can level the playing field. But it has no worth if it is inaccessible.

You are fighting a rearguard action in trying to stop us. Be in step with the times. The US tried to turn back the clock on our freedoms through SOPA and PIPA. These may sound like silly nicknames but were Congressional acts that stemmed from an irrational fear of public criticism. The pols tried to use the excuse of piracy to pass it.  But we slacked and hacked these acts down.

Now you, GoI, can stop trying to play rock-paper-scissors with censorship-regulation-filtering. They belong to the same hand, the same supercilious control freak of a body! We will fight for a free internet by blocking your sites!

Delete

To the hactivists: How are you being a Mr. Fix-It? One cannot fight a shutdown with a shutdown. It is easy to get swept up in the drama of being virtual vigilantes; to rail against the government and talk of rebellions from the comfort of anonymity.  But where are your solutions for balancing freedom with a check on cyber crime? You closed many government sites that had necessary information for citizens. What makes you that different from governments that do the same and forget the costs of such measures? Aren’t you helping the government to hype the threat of a free internet?

To Mr. Sibal & Co: Why can’t the IT ministry ever think through its policies rather than come out with sweeping measures that shut sites randomly or place gag orders?  Your government’s proposal at the United Nations General Assembly for a Committee on Internet Related Policies is less about improving internet governance and more about policing. What is your yardstick for what gives offense? Why can’t the government countenance criticism? What are you so scared of?

ANSWERS: PAGE NOT FOUND

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