Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ambedkar & Political Correctness

If in an open forum, had you made any of the innocuous remarks listed below, chances are you are likely to be pounced upon:

Ambedkar was the Chairman of the ‘Drafting Committee’ of the Indian Constitution; there were other members who helped him write it

Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee’ of the Indian Constitution but he alone did not write it

Ambedkar alone did not write the Indian Constitution

The only politically correct statement about the writing of the ‘Indian Constitution’ is, ‘Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote the Indian Constitution.’

Sometime ago I have posted the following in a WhatsApp discussion:

“The Constitution of India was not ‘written’ (as in writing a book) entirely by B. R. Ambedkar as popularly believed, nor was entirely ideated by Jawaharlal Nehru as some seem to believe. It was the collective effort of 389 of the best and the brightest minds of the time who toiled for about three years between 1946 and 1949. Nehru proposed the ‘Objectives Resolution’ and Ambedkar was the Chairman of the ‘Drafting Committee’.

While the 1935 ‘Government of India Act’ (needless to point out, of the British parliament) formed the basis of the Indian Constitution, the wise men (and women) who formed the Constituent Assembly incorporated parts of the British, Irish, French, US and other constitutions among others into it.”

Leafing through the index (some people have such weird habits) at the end of “The Makers of Indian Constitution - Myth And Reality” (Chavan, Sesharao. 2000. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), I stumbled upon the word plagiarism. Curious to know what ‘plagiarism’ has to do with the writing of the Indian Constitution, I turned to the relevant page. It appeared in Chapter 4, “Draft Constitution” (pp. 51-88). According to it, Sir B. N. Rau (an eminent jurist and adviser to the Constituent Assembly) prepared the draft constitution comprising 240 clauses and 13 schedules. Sir B. N. travelled to Great Britain, Ireland, United States of America and Canada to study their Constitutions before preparing his draft. He had discussions with President Harry Truman of the USA, Prime Minister D’ Valere of Ireland and many other Constitutional experts. It was his draft that was put before the Constituent Assembly to suggest suitable modifications to the “Draft Constitution”. The Constituent Assembly appointed the following members to the ‘Drafting Committee’ at its sitting on August 29, 1947:

Shri Alladi Kuppuswami Ayyar
Shri N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
Dr. K. M. Munshi
Syed Muhammad Sa’adulla
Sir. B. L. Mitter
Shri D. P. Khaitan

The Committee elected Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as its Chairman in its first meeting on August 30. From then on, it met on forty four days till February 13 1948 and the first draft of the Constitution was presented to the President the next day, February 14 1948. The draft was put up for the public to study for eight months. On November 4 1948 it was formally presented to the Constituent Assembly for clause by clause discussion, debate and amendments.

While introducing the Draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly Ambedkar acknowledged the role of various Committees whose reports formed the basis for drafting articles:

“The Drafting Committee in effect was charged with the duty of preparing a Constitution in accordance with the decision of the Constituent Assembly on the reports made by various committees, appointed by it such as the Union Powers Committee, the Union Constitution Committee, the Provincial Constitution Committee and the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, Tribal Areas etc.”

He then explained the rationale for using Government of India Act of 1935 as the basis:

“It is said that there is nothing new in the Draft Constitution that about half of it has been copied from the Government of India Act of 1935; and that the rest of it has been borrowed from the Constitutions of other countries that very little of it can claim originality.”

There you have it from the horse’s mouth. Ambedkar went on to say:

“One likes to ask whether there can be anything new in a Constitution framed at this hour in the history of the world. More than 100 years have rolled over when the first written Constitution was drafted. It has been followed by many countries reducing their Constitution to writing. What the scope of a Constitution should be has long been settled. Similarly what are the fundamentals of a Constitution are recognized all over the world. Given these facts, all Constitutions in their main provisions must look similar. The only new thing, if there can be any, in a Constitution framed so late in the day are the variations made to remove the faults and to accommodate it to the needs of the country.”

Ambedkar explained that while the Constitutions of other countries were used as the basis, appropriate modifications were made to suit the Indian context:

“The charge of producing a blind copy of the Constitutions of other countries is based, I am sure, on an inadequate study of the Constitution. I have shown what is new in the Draft Constitution and I am sure that those who have studied other Constitutions and who are prepared to consider the matter dispassionately will agree that the Drafting Committee in performing its duty has not been guilty of such blind and slavish imitation as it is represented to be.”

He explained why, in writing the Constitution, it was not necessary ‘to reinvent the wheel all over again’:

“As to the accusation that the Draft Constitution has produced a good part of the provisions of the Government of India Act 1935, I make no apologies. There is nothing to be ashamed of in borrowing. It involves no plagiarism. No body holds any patent rights in the fundamental areas of a Constitution.” 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Understand Sabarimala, Your Lordships!


The prime reason for Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism, in English!) to be the most misunderstood creed in the world has as much to do with politics as a lack of understanding of its core philosophy. More people drop ‘Manu Smriti’ than they drop hats without being able to quote one line from it.

Amidst all the cacophony about temple entry and gender rights, the core philosophy behind a pilgrimage to Sabarimala is lost.

The rishis of yore did penance to realise (darsana or visualisation through the mind) godhead. In order to focus the mind solely on the paramatma (Supreme Being), body and mind control were thought to be necessary. Control of bodily senses was thought to be necessary for controlling the mind. Modern science recognises there is a physiological basis to personality.

A barefoot, forty mile hike across forest tracks strewn with pebbles and stones in bone-chilling winters and a seven-mile trek across a forty-five-degree mountain is not easy. (It was originally a forty mile hike across a forest, now limited to about seven miles.) It requires rigorous conditioning of the body. The devotee practises sleeping on cold floors and walking barefoot for forty days. If this is physical conditioning, what about mind control? Brahmacharya (celibacy) requires equally rigorous mind control. In order to aid this, the devotee has cold baths twice a day, eschews spices, meat and intoxicants. A pilgrimage to Sabarimala to visit Bhagawan Ayyappa is all about brahmacharya. Wearing saffron or black clothes is a constant reminder of the need for brahmacharya.   

The exclusion of women between the ages of menarche and menopause has another reason. It is not gender discrimination but gender sensitivity, intended to spare them the rigours involved in a pilgrimage to Sabarimala. In the philosophy behind a pilgrimage to Sabarimala as in every other religious practice in Sanatana Dharma, there may be other cryptic reasons not fully understood by the laity.

The ageless scriptures of the Sanatana Dharma are beyond the ken of the Indian Constitution, amended a hundred and thirty times in sixty-six years. The Constitution entrusted Your Lordships with the duty of interpreting it. There are thousands of mundane matters that need and deserve your attention better! 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tehelka Sting Comes Unstuck!

The New Indian Express, Hyderabad
April 14, 2016, p. 7
Remember the fanfare with which the SECULAR media went hammer and tongs highlighting the Tehelka sting operation against Defence Ministry officials in 2001? A certain Mathew Samuel was the hatchet.

We were shown a video of a related sting operation, in which someone handed over a stack of papers to Bangaru Laxman and Laxman shoving the stack in a drawer. We were told that the stack indeed contained Rs 1 lakh in cash. The clip and its screen grab were used over and over again by the said SECULAR media as a meme for political corruption of the NDA regime. No ladies and gentlemen, the Congress party is so lily white that it did not accept a farthing from anyone!

It later turned out Tehelka itself was a Congress front. Kapil Sibal grudgingly accepted in 2013, that he gave a donation of Rs 5 lakh to the start up. He denied accepting any shares from the company, but the company's records nevertheless showed him as a shareholder.

Well, the sting operation used by Congress' CBI to nail political opponents did not stand up in court. Narender Singh, Assistant Financial Adviser in the MoD was discharged for insufficient evidence.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

MANAGEMENT LESSONS FROM BIHAR ELECTION

Followers of VOXINDICA are aware that the blog analysed various elections in the past. They include Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka (in alphabetical, not chronological order), and the national election of 2014.  Each of these elections had a different context which was the reason why they were chosen for analyses. One or two articles broached the application of management and marketing principles and social psychology to electoral politics.

The following marketing management principles (listed after the introductory part) are well-known, at least for students and practitioners of marketing management. However they can be applied to politics as well, for after all, politics is very similar to branding. American politicians have long recognised it; therefore they rely on branding agencies, well, to build political brands. There is a saying that the American presidential election strategies are designed not in the political party offices but in Madison Avenue where America’s largest advertising agencies are located. Indian political parties too have caught up with the trend and we have seen the application of branding and marketing principles to electoral battles in the last decade or so. Every political party or candidate is akin to a brand. The broad principles are expanded here to draw lessons from the Delhi and Bihar elections.

In his seminal work Competitive Strategy (1980) Michael Porter identified five forces, - popularly known as the ‘five forces theory- which impact businesses. The five forces Porter identified are the bargaining power of suppliers, the bargaining power of buyers, the threat of substitutes, the threat of new entrants and competitive rivalry among existing players. Porter theorised three generic strategies to counter them. They are cost leadership, differentiation and niche strategies. To a large extent the five forces and the generic strategies are relevant and applicable to the world of politics too.

Applied to electoral politics some of the five forces are easily recognised: the bargaining power of the buyers is the voter power. One political party can always substitute the other if they have similar political ideologies. Tamil Nadu is a case in point. Both the DMK and its offshoot AIADMK have similar political ideologies. There is nothing much to choose between the two.

Quite often, new political entities have emerged out of realignment or fragmentation of the earlier national players, the Congress and the BJP. The examples are the many regional political parties which identify themselves based on regional aspirations. They are in addition to the two already mentioned, the more recent Aam Admi Party (AAP); the Biju Janata Dal (BJD); the Janata Dal United (JDU), the Nationalist Congress Party NCP); the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD); the Shiv Sena (SS); the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS); the Telugu Desam (TDP) and the Trinamul Congress (TC).

The bargaining power of suppliers comes into play when political parties have to form alliances. We have seen in the past how political parties demanded money-spinning infra-structure portfolios or immunity from corruption cases to join a coalition. The rivalry among the existing players needs no elaboration.

As for the generic strategies the Congress party has always adopted the cost leadership principle. In marketing it means offering a product at the cheapest possible price. In politics it translates as offering everything to everybody. The philosophy is summed up in Indira Gandhi’s ‘garibi hatao’ slogan. In Max Weber’s terminology this is also known as transactional leadership. The late Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy successfully employed the transactional leadership principle to capture power by offering something to every section of society.

In contrast, the BJP adopted the differentiation strategy to begin with. Remember the ‘the party with a difference’ slogan. It offered corruption-free, development-oriented governance. Again to borrow from Weber what Narendra Modi offered was transformational leadership. In his earlier stint as chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu adopted the transformational leadership principle. Though successive defeats at the hands of YSR seemed to have mellowed him a bit he has a godsend opportunity after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. In building the nascent state, he came back into his element of transformational leadership.

Transactional leadership obtains immediate dividends but is difficult to sustain in the long run. What will Jayalalitha offer in the next election after all the sewing machines, pressure cookers, grinders, laptops and all the other freebies she and her rival DMK gave away already? How will K. Chandrasekhara Rao fulfil his promise of two bedroom flats for all poor people and three acres of land for the landless farm labour? There is a limit to the state’s ability to offer freebies. ‘Robbing Peter to pay Paul’ can work only so far! Foreign-funded NGOs and sundry social activist groups try their best to thwart generation of wealth from the nation’s natural resources. Arundhati Roy would rather the Comrades of Dantewada sleep under the stars and shit under the trees rather than allowing governments to exploit the mineral wealth that lies buried under the earth in the forests.

On the other hand, transformational leadership is slow to yield dividends but is good for the nation in the long run. A transformational leader enunciates an ideal vision which his followers identify with and work for its achievement. As long as Narendra Modi governed Gujarat he adopted the transformational leadership principle. After becoming the prime minister, though he has been projecting a transformational vision (development-based economy, skill development, India as world guru, make in India, swatch Bharat, give up LPG subsidy et al) he somewhat diluted it by offering special packages for various states.

The Siromani Akali Dal (SAD), the AIMIM and the IUML are political parties formed based on religious ideologies. The may be described as niche players. The AAP debuted as a niche player claiming to champion the anti-corruption cause but seems to have somewhat lost the plot subsequently. There are quite a few other regional parties which have their influence limited to small niches.

And now we come to the crucial question of ‘what went wrong with the Delhi and Bihar elections?’ when viewed in terms of the application of marketing principles.

DON’T OVERSTRETCH A BRAND

In both Delhi and Bihar the party overstretched brand Modi. The voter recognised brand Modi but was unable to understand how it satisfies his/her needs.

Remember the first principle of branding is identifying and satisfying apparent or latent consumer needs. In 1983 when N. T. Rama Rao formed the Telugu Desam party, the electorate was vexed with the centralised Congress governance (no Congress CM was allowed to finish his full term till then) and corruption. There was a political vacuum, which meant there was an unsatisfied consumer need. Chiranjivi could not replicate 1983 when he formed his Praja Rajyam in 2008, as there was no unsatisfied need when he launched his party. The electorate was satisfied with YSR. In the 2009 elections, Chiranjivi had to satisfy himself with just 18 seats in the 294-seat assembly, and in fact lost one of the two seats he contested!

In Delhi and in Bihar the electorate was unable to see a local structure which would translate Narendra Modi’s transformational vision  - even if they understood it - into action.

REMEMBER A BRAND IS A ‘PROMISE’

The second but most important principle of branding is it offers, nay it is, a promise. Beyond satisfying consumer needs, a brand promises to deliver value. If a brand does not deliver on a promise, no amount of packaging or marketing will help sell it. It has been sixteen months since the national electorate voted brand Modi to power. Brand Modi has many achievements: improving India’s image internationally; attracting foreign investments; foreign policy; revamping railways et al but they are all intangibles. Any achievement in bringing down corruption is also an intangible - at least in the short run - for the ordinary voter. It takes time for the effect to seep in.

What the voter hasn’t seen is the reversing of inflation, creation of jobs and the lofty promise of bringing back black money. The ordinary voter can neither understand nor care why the government is unable to deliver on the promises. He/she wants delivery. A voter who has to shell out Rs 180 – 200 for a kilo of tur dal does not understand highfalutin economic principles. World Bank classifications or elevation in IIP and GDP metrics do not fill the belly!

The BJP government also seems to be helpless in pursuing corruption cases against the previous government. Why could it not form special courts and transfer all corruption cases to it. The government, it appears, is handicapped by the ‘insidious networks’ of bureaucracy, judiciary and the media which the previous Congress government formed, cultivated, nurtured and left in place. The new government should have used its think tanks to find ways and means to dismantle the ‘insidious networks’. Alas, it does not seem to have a clue as to how to go about it. The ordinary voter neither understands nor cares why the government is handicapped but expects delivery on the promises of corruption and black money.

A prominent media company has been accused of indulging in money-laundering in collusion with some Congress politicians. Another media company which finished the career of a BJP president and all but finished a popular leader of an alliance partner has been accused of making tons of money out of activities not usually associated with media companies. The BJP government should have speed-tracked cases against these companies and made an example out of them. Both Indira Gandhi and her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi have effectively used the carrot and stick policy to make the media fall in line. Despite public posturing about freedom of expression the media both fears and respects them.

FOCUS MORE ON BRAND QUALITIES LESS ON COMPETITION

Every brand feature should relate to a benefit. The benefit defers from consumer to consumer. For a consumer who buys a Audi or a Bentley the benefit he seeks is not fuel economy. The benefit he seeks is the recognition that he made it big in life. For him owning a Audi or a Bentley is a status symbol. On the other hand for a consumer who buys a Hyundai i10, the benefits he seeks are comfort (seating, air-conditioning), speed manoeuvrability and economy. A consumer who buys an entry level car like Maruti Alto seeks only economy. Of course he aspires to ascend the ladder and be able to buy higher level cars.

A consumer would be more interested in knowing the better qualities of a brand he is buying rather than the poor qualities of a competing brand. Comparison with other brands may be necessary but beyond a point it would be counterproductive. Why do people watch television advertisements of brands they already own? The reason is they want to reassure themselves that their buying decision was right.

Instead of running down the JD (U) and the RJD, the BJP could have paraded the achievements of its own governments in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Chief Ministers of these states could have addressed public meetings and enumerated their success stories. It would have reassured the Delhi or Bihar voters what the party could deliver. Why the BJP did not think of this is quite frankly inexplicable.

‘POSITIONING’ IS THE KEY

‘Positioning’ is a key concept in marketing. It does not exist in the market place; it does not exist even in the brand. It exists in the consumer’s mind. It is a slot in the consumer’s mind that the marketer seeks to own. In the process a marketer may have to sacrifice a part of the market to obtain a larger share of the targeted consumer’s mindshare. As an example take the case of the beauty soap, Lux. For several decades (the soap is actually 90 years old), it has been marketed as a soap that would make women look beautiful by featuring popular female film stars in its advertisement campaigns. This means the company was ready to sacrifice the market segments of men, old women and children to capture as much of the ‘young women market’ as possible. A successful marketer knows that his brand cannot be everything to everybody.

Indira Gandhi was once reported to have said she did not have to bother about the middle class voters as they do not go and vote in numbers. Her market was the poor voter; therefore she positioned her party as a party for the poor. Hence the ‘garibi hatao’ slogan! But the market is dynamic. There has been an increasing upward mobility in the society since Indira’s time. The middle class voter today is not as apathetic as in the 60s and 70s. He wants a say in governance. It was into this aspirational class that Narendra Modi was able to successfully tap in Gujarat since 2002 and nationally in 2014.

However, ‘positioning’ can’t be frequently changed. It is for the long haul. It has to be constantly claimed and the claim reinforced. BJP has a core constituency. The party should not let it go. It should retain it while trying to gain a share of the rest of the market.  

COMMUNICATION KEY TO EFFECTIVE BRAND BUILDING

In a successful company everyone from the managing director down to the girl sitting at the telephone switchboard should be committed to brand building. There is a simple reason for this. The day to day consumer comes into contact with the telephone operator, the service mechanic and other low level employees but rarely with the managing director. It is they, who should impress, win over and reassure the consumer. They all should speak in the same language to convey the company’s commitment to delivering brand value. It can’t be achieved by speaking in multiple voices.

It was probably the low level BJP politicians who did the party in. Congress and other secular-labelled parties do pretty much what they want while mouthing platitudes about the idea of India. By talking in multiple voices the low level BJP politicians have created a negative buzz which the competition has successfully exploited to its advantage. The low level BJP politicians should take a leaf out of Congress book. They could pursue their Hindutwa agenda without making a song and dance about it.

DEVELOP & FOCUS ON LOCAL LEADERSHIP

As has been mentioned earlier the voter in Delhi and Bihar did not understand who would deliver the brand promise if they voted the BJP to power. The BJP did the mistake of parachuting Kiran Bedi as the chief ministerial candidate in the eleventh hour, ignoring workers who had toiled for the party for decades. It antagonised its cadres while not impressing the voter.

Could the BJP not have projected Sushil Modi as the chief ministerial candidate in Bihar? He matches Nitish Kumar’s image in being soft-spoken, in being low profile and has an impeccable record of delivering as finance minister. Britain has the tradition of the principal opposition putting in place shadow cabinets. It is like target-marking in rugby football games. There may be a worthwhile lesson for Indian political parties in it. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Random reflections on the Delhi election 2015

There are lessons to be learnt from every election. What of the February 7 Delhi election? There have been non-stop dissections and analyses on ‘what, why and how’ it happened in what is called the ‘mainstream media’ since yesterday morning. The analysts’ spiels, informed by personal and political predilections, were marshalled over time, tested cautiously after the exit polls and screamed in a crescendo of rising pitch as the results appeared. The underlying theme of the analyses ran true to form – reflecting their pathological hatred for Modi, the BJP and Hindutwa. The adage ‘an enemy’s enemy is my friend!’ couldn’t be more truly applied to any other case than to their approach to Mr. Narendra Modi. The difference this time is the willy-nilly contribution of the subject (the BJP or sections of it) itself to its own torment.

The reasons too have been thrashed threadbare and there is no need to go into them. But some arguments are incongruous. If the voter couldn’t care less whether Arvind Kejriwal flies economy class or business class or even in a chartered jet, would he be put off by a suit worn by Narendra Modi?

If the voter voted for the BJP, ‘he inexplicably fell prey to the machinations of the Hindutwa forces’; if the voter votes out the BJP, ‘he voted wisely to defeat communal forces’. If Baba Ramdev canvasses for votes, ‘the BJP is communalising the election’. If a Fr. Frazer Mascarenhas or a Imam Bukhari issues a fatwa calling for the defeat of the BJP it is ‘a valourous attempt to defeat communal forces’. Don’t they have freedom of speech?

There however appear to be two key determinants in this election that the pundits either did not notice or did not articulate because it is politically incorrect to do so. If they did, it would not be possible to sing paeans to the ‘sagacity of the ordinary Indian voter’ and ‘the triumph of Indian democracy’ in the same breath.

The two factors are apathy towards corruption and a penchant for freebies, which are interlinked. It is quite simple. Why should the voter bother whether a leader travels economy class or business class or uses the executive jet provided by a businessman whom he bashes in carefully choreographed press briefings? All he is interested in is the promise of free electricity, free water and if possible a free colour television. Hasn’t it worked in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh in the past? There may be long power outages in the hinterland of Andhra Pradesh but it affects only someone who has an air-conditioner at home or someone who runs a factory. Colour televisions given away in Tamil Nadu may have only ornamental value (because of power outages in rural areas) but recipients can always sell them in second hand shops and await the next election. Government employees in Uttar Pradesh may arrive late and exit early but it affects only those who have to visit these offices.

Any attempt to discipline this privileged class will adversely affect the electoral fortunes of those who attempt to discipline them as Jayalalithaa and Chandrababu Naidu found out in the past. They not only form a large electoral block which can make a difference to an election but more importantly they administer – and possibly can manipulate – electoral processes.

It takes time to fix an economy mired in inefficiency and an administration steeped in corruption. It takes time to put in place basic infrastructure – like electricity, roads and water, and contain inflation. It is not possible to distribute wealth without first generating it. 

But these are concepts the ordinary voter neither cares nor understands. Why should he? For him subsistence today is more important than a vague promise of tomorrow. He is really not bothered whether a leader lives in a large villa or a 200-crore palatial bungalow. Let a neta embezzle 1000 crores or even 10000 crores. It is a perquisite that comes with the profession! The ordinary voter is neither awed nor shocked by the ostentation or the vulgarity of greed in Delhi where there is a millionaire under every brick and where Audis and Bentleys could be seen crawling like ants at traffic intersections. The poor man would be happy to get the little trinket that is promised to him. The poor man is really not bothered whether AAP has received huge moneies from shell companies whose address does not exist as long as he gets a 500 or 1000-rupee note along with his voter slip. This time around the AAP is sitting pretty. It could claim credit for fulfilling its promises, if it does. It could also wring its hands and plead helplessness for failing to do so, pointing fingers at an un-cooperative centre. It is a win-win situation! For it the next battle is five years away. 

In 2009 someone pointed out that to fill all the promises made by the Congress party or its rival the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, the state budget would not be adequate. Competitive populism of offering freebies is like riding a tiger for the political parties. None dares desisting it, lest it gave an advantage to a competitor. Just as they all ganged up to resist being brought under the ambit of the RTI they would not come together to legislate to restrict electoral promises to what is feasible. What is the way forward? Why, judicial activism so abhorred by the cynical politicians. For that some public spirited citizen must approach the courts with a PIL. 

P.S.: A little bird in the social media forums says that a war chest of Rs 7-8000 crores was deployed to defeat the BJP in the election! There are also dark hints that certain interests inimical to India’s majority religion have unleashed an insidious campaign.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Charlie Hebdo Massacre & Indian Intellectual Chicanery

Two demons barged into an editorial conference at Charlie Hebdo in Paris and gunned down ten innocent, unsuspecting human beings. While making their retreat they gunned down two security officials. It was a barbaric, act. It was a heinous crime against humanity. Two of their possible accomplices shot dead a policewoman; held a Jewish grocery store hostage and killed four innocent shoppers. The macabre acts were not done in the heat of passion. They were cold-blooded and premeditated. They cannot be justified no matter what the provocation was. They should be condemned in no uncertain terms. There should be no equivocation. There can be no alibis and no ifs and buts.

The international media has condemned the Charlie Hebdo massacre in unequivocal terms. Any right thinking individual would do it. Any right thinking individual in the media or public life would do it, not just because those in public life or the media thrive on ‘freedom of expression’ but because it is the morally right thing to do.

In its editorial on January 7, The Guardian opined that the gruesome incident should be condemned without equivocation:

“Events in Paris today were beyond belief, indeed beyond words. The adjectives are simply not there to capture the horror unleashed by weapons of war in a civilian office. The hooded thugs trained their Kalashnikovs on free speech everywhere. If they are allowed to force a loss of nerve, conversation will become inhibited, and the liberty of thought itself will falter too. […] The targeting of a weekly editorial conference implies a ruthless concern to maximise the toll, pursued with chilling preparedness. […] All those who are appalled by these crimes must use the free speech which the killers sought to silence – and use it to condemn them, without equivocation.”

In its editorial, The Washington Post (January 7) lamented that:

“SEVERAL PUBLISHERS in Western countries have disgraced themselves in recent years with self-censorship to avoid being targeted by Islamic militants. […] Media in democratic nations must also consciously commit themselves to rejecting intimidation by Islamic extremists or any other movement that seeks to stifle free speech through violence. […] Such acts cannot be allowed to inspire more self-censorship – or restrict robust coverage and criticism of Islamic extremism.”

Post-revolution France is given to democratic freedoms (her motto is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) like the ancient Indian empires such as Magadha, Maurya, Gupta and the more recent Vijayanagara et al. Unlike contemporary India where secularism is a political tool France is a truly secular republic which in its original sense means that the church and government should remain aloof from each other.

Charlie Hebdo has not singled out Islam in its criticism. Indeed, in the past it ridiculed the Catholic Church and the Pope himself. The role of the Indian media in condemning the massacre is none too edifying. It could not whole-heartedly condemn the massacre, consumed as it is by dhimmitude and probably chastened by past experience:

The 1986 attack on Deccan Herald, Bangalore  is a case in point. The provocation was the English translation of a short story the paper published  the original of which was published a decade earlier in a Kerala newspaper. In the violence that followed sixteen people were killed

The Bangalore offices of the The New Indian Express came under religious fire over an article it published on the New Year Day of 2000. It was written by senior journalist T. J. S. George who merely referenced a seven-hundred year old work of the Italian poet/philosopher Dante. He had to go underground for several days to escape the wrath of lynch mobs. 

According to a 2002 article in India Today ‘[a]ll four English newspapers in Bangalore [Deccan Herald, The Hindu, The New Indian Express and Times Of India] have had their offices vandalized by Muslim mobs on the flimsiest of pretexts’ at one time or other.

The violent reactions might not have been spontaneous. They might have been instigated by the zeitgeist of competitive secular assertiveness. (Here the word ‘secular’ must be understood in its skewed Indian sense.)

There are other violent instances perpetrated in the name of Islam such as the 2007 attack on Bangladeshi writer Tasliman Nasreen in Hyderabad.

In another gruesome instance T. J. Joseph, a Malayalam professor at Newman College in Thodupuzha, Kerala had his hand cut off as punishment for blasphemy. According some reports the punishment was awarded by a Taliban type kangaroo court (Darul Khada). Intimidated by the barbarity of the attack, rather than defending its professor, the college dismissed him from service. Four years later, daunted by the financial difficulties faced by the family, the professor’s wife who was an eye-witness to the macabre incident committed suicide by hanging herself.

Sadly, none of the Indian intellectuals – a tribe which rushes to petition all and sundry on behalf of convicted criminals – condemned the Paris massacre. Congress politicians, Mani Sankar Aiyer and Digvijay Singh justified the horrific incidents by finding alibis for the killer demons.

The Indian media tried another tack to soften the blow by finding false moral equivalence with some real or imagined protests by the majority religion. Invariably the protests against M. F. Hussain’s paintings (some of which desecrated Hindu goddesses) and the recent movie PK (which ridiculed Hindu god-men) were cited. None of these incidents are even remotely comparable with the Paris massacre in scale or gruesomeness. They were protests by a section of people who were offended. Equating the two is bizarre. It amounts to intellectual and political chicanery. If right to offend as a facet of free speech is an acceptable democratic right, so should be the right to protest.

The Indian media would do well to heed Eric Wenkle (Washington Post, January 7) when he said that it is inadvisable to describe Charlie Hebdo as a ‘satirical magazine’ or a weekly ‘satirical newspaper’ as it would be distracting from the magnitude of the crime committed on its editors:

“The magazine famously deploys satire and art to convey it message. Yet the label, at least on this occasion, carries a distracting and diversionary impact, which is somehow to distinguish or distance the work of Charlie Hebdo form the work of a regular old magazine or newspaper. For the purpose of what happened today, however there is no distinction: These were journalists who died because of what they produced.”

The Indian politicians who found alibis and the Indian media which drew false moral equivalence with past Hindu protests are – it appears – attempting to somehow diminish the diabolical nature of the massacre.

There would be no point in arguing that these were only ‘reactions brought about by provocations’ or in any way rationalizing the incident by trying to ‘put it in context’ as the politicians sought to do. As Padraig Reidy (The Telegraph, January 7) put it:

“Jihadists kill because that is what they do. It does not matter if you are a French cartoonist or a Yezidi child, or an aid worker or journalist: if you are not one of the chosen few, you are fair game. Provocation is merely an excuse used by bullies to justify their actions, while ensuring the world bows to their will.