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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

Mamata bats for Mum

13 Apr

Didi is watching you

When the artless Ambikesh Mahapatra, a chemistry professor of Jadavpur University, forwarded a caricature of Mamata Banerjee, little did he know that cartoons fell under the supreme leader’s category of conspiracy rather than culture. One can hardly blame the man of science for getting his art wrong. But to  ignore the basic survival rule of his trade- “Handle with care: volatile mix”…and that too, when dealing with Bengal’s big flame, M.B., the Queen of Hearts ?! Mamata’s minions rushed to cool her down by assaulting and then arresting the Forward Fiend.

While the mainstream media  erupted over the attack on the freedom of thought and expression, the  professor learnt an important lesson. In this topsy-turvy version of  democracy, he was not free to criticize  his elected representative while she was free to condemn him.

Just as another Queen of another Wonderland had once said, “All ways here are my ways”, so also is freedom what the party in power makes of it. In its zealous mission of “civilizing people” and stopping them from spreading “canards” (Bengal’s Transport Minister Madam Mitra),  Mamata and her party  blessed with the flexible forces of law justified taking liberties with liberty.

So whether it is a case of a gag order or gag at the order, the fact remains that in the rabbit-hole politics of West Bengal, the party can make itself heard loud and clear, but for the masses, mum is the word.

Heir & Spare: When Manmohan gives it to Rahul

14 Oct

A seat for two

Will he? Won’t he? When will he? For a party that loves to answer questions with questions, it is but natural to make a 21 questions game of naming its future prime ministerial candidate.  So will the heir of la famille de Congress, Rahul Gandhi sweep aside the endless twaddle of  Congress’ wink-wink, nudge-nudge brigade and come clean on the matter? Please do, oh please do. Either say yes or no but not for heaven’s sake “You will know it when it will happen, if it will happen”. We cannot bear to watch another cruciatus curse inflicting 24/7 TV news anchor hyperventilate over this indecision: “Hello, suckers! The news breaking at the moment: Rahul Gandhi  responded to a query posed by our ‘miss no trick’ reporter and told us exclusively during a crowded press conference that  he will not run for the prime minister’s post as there is already a prime minister in the country.”   What?! You don’t say!

Snarky, supercilious political commentators would tell us that we have a choice: You don’t like it, switch the channel! Oh, really? Really? We have heard that one before. There is a teensy weensy problem.  All the channels show the same thing. What do we switch over to? The sight of a man jumping off a cliff crying, “I am the king of the world”?  Well, at least, he is clear about his position.

English nobles had a practice of having an heir (elder son) and a spare (younger son). In the case of death or incapacity of the former, the latter would take over the family business. For India, being contradictory is its shtick. So for Congress grandees, we have the ‘chosen for being biddable’ spare holding the reins until the ‘chosen for his birth’ heir is primed enough to do so. But in all the hype and hoopla over Rahul, one tends to ignore Manmohan because of his placid nature, effacing personality and his surname not being Gandhi. Ask him about mega buck scams, terrorist attacks, land revolts, children falling into manholes, Salman Khan not marrying, the man will always blink and mumble he is “anguished”.  This is not a slur against his limited vocabulary but  his limited authority.The man has a lot to be anguished about. But happy days are round the corner.

Like all good thrillers, it is often the quiet man who turns out to be the fiendishly clever villain who piles it on the hero in the end. And so, we come to the curious case of the incumbent Manmohan giving it to the waiting in the wings Rahul. While we all thought that the benign prof was warming the seat for the party protegee, all along the sly old fox was making the seat too hot to handle. Bummer.

Plagued by corruption, scandals, double-digit inflation, rising unemployment, maverick social activists, hostile neighbours, fractious opposition, internal dissension, the desi grand old party’s HQ has started to resemble the seventh circle of hell. Assisted by the master mandarin whose  initials match his aspiration, instead of going slow and steady on reforms, Manmohan is going steadily slow on it.  Thus, goes his swan song: As the clock drags it feet to 2014, troubles are sure to mount that the heir won’t be able to surmount.

Oh, to be spared by the spare!

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