Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Of Manifestos & Congress Party’s Backward March

“Reaching for their grubby lecture notes, scribbled at the pre-war London School of Economics, the second generation socialists went into action. They produced between them, the Labour Party’s Manifesto of 1945. Under the inspiring title Let us Face the Future, its authors planned to solve the problems of the past.”

-      C. Northcote Parkinson in Left Luggage

Instead of the ‘second generation socialists’, the motley crowd of Naxalites and pseudo-economists that infest the NAC, have gone into action, with a similar backward vision to produce the Congress party’s 2014 Manifesto.

The grand document opens with a lie in its first paragraph, in the statement that the “Indian National Congress made seminal contribution to India’s unity, integrity, secular polity and democratic federalism.” Wasn’t it under the Indian National Congress that India lost 38000 square kilometres of land to China and 78000 squarekilometres to Pakistan?

And then, instead of telling the voter what it intends to do to solve the myriad problems that plague the nation, if it were returned to power, it gets down to bash its principal opposition, the BJP. Scroll down to the next page and you will have a surprise. Splashed in the centre of the page in large caps is the question, ‘CONGRE SS OR BJP’ without the question mark. The space you see between ‘CONGRE’ and ‘SS’ is not a typo in this article, but is as seen in the downloaded .pdf document.

The party’s report card informs us that ‘the Congress-led UPA has brought 14 crore people out of poverty in the last ten years.’ Oh, yeah! These people can now eat a sumptuous meal @ between `1 and `12! 

Whoever has written the manifesto is adept at fabricating history. The economic reforms were advanced by a decade to credit them to Rajiv Gandhi and the dynasty and to rob P. V. Narasimha Rao of his due:

“In the 1980’s, economic reforms were launched in response to new challenges, to modernise the Indian economy…”

There is this ‘Right to entrepreneurship’ in the ‘15 Point Agenda For Socio-Economic And Political Transformation’. Now, what the heck is ‘right to entrepreneurship’? Is it ‘entrepreneurship’ of the Robert Vadra variety or the crony capitalism of the A. Raja type? For the rest there is a ‘pledge’ in answer to every criticism levelled by Narendra Modi in his critiques of UPA’s 10 year misrule in his electioneering! The party pledges to achieve in five years what it could not in ten years! The pernicious Communal Violence Bill finds a place in this section.

Sonia Gandhi’s ‘tireless campaign and vision’ does not fail Parkinson! How does one reconcile [the resolve to] ‘promote a more flexible labour policy as needed for maintaining competitiveness’ (3 i. p. 10) with ‘strengthening collective bargaining’ (5. p. 14)? Was page 10 written by Jairam Ramesh and page 14 by the bots in the NAC?

Having run the economy into the ground during the last ten years the party seems to have woken up to the perils of its profligacy. It therefore slips this slice of wisdom into the fine print of the section, ‘An Economic Roadmap for 2014 - 2019’ (This section seems to have been written by a different hand, as evidenced by the fact that the articles in this section are not numbered with Arabic as elsewhere but Roman numerals.):     

vii. Subsidies: Given the limited resources, and the many claims on the resources, we must choose the subsidies that are absolutely necessary and give them only to the absolutely deserving.

And then there is the middle class which is the most pliant in conforming to economic laws. Having been conditioned to put up with abysmal levels of service in all public utilities for over six decades under its decadent rule, the Congress party feels it would not now mind being taxed to receive what is its due:

We will also consider introducing sensible user charges because many more people are willing to pay for better quality services, for example, uninterrupted power and better quality train services. We will use this money saved to expand health, education and infrastructure. 

The difficulty with this formulation is that it ignores the amorphous nature of the middle class. The middle class ranges from a call centre employee who draws a monthly salary of `10000 to a software engineer who is paid upwards of  `100000.

Even after the Supreme Court threw the `10000 plus crore Aadhaar card scheme out of the window the following paragraph finds mention in the section, ‘Accelerating Job Creation and Skill Development’:

4. Aadhaar is a powerful tool for protecting the interests of migrant labour, as well as ensuring the smooth flow of remittances to their families. All migrant labour will be covered under the Aadhaar programme in the next one year, through a special campaign.

The party considers the Communal Violence Bill so important that it finds a second mention under the section, ‘Safeguarding Minorities’ in the ‘Detailed Action Plan 2014 - 2019’. There are several others, detailed elsewhere, which were repeated in the section, probably to make up the bulk.

The party does not bother to broach about terrorism (the section on Internal Security deals with Left Wing Extremism) but has a small paragraph tucked in the foreign policy section:

7. On Pakistan we will encourage the new government’s stated position to improve relations with India but calibrate the dialogue consistent with delivery on accountability for 26/11 as well as dismantling of the infrastructure of terrorism on Pakistani soil.

The manifesto, long on rhetoric and short on substance, ends with again cribbing and cawing about its principal opposition, the BJP.

It is for the people of this country to decide whether they would like to vote for a party that does not even wish to utter the word ‘terrorism’ in its manifesto. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

First Person Singular: ‘Thank You!’

This is to say ‘Thank you!’

VOXINDICA was voted BlogAdda’s ‘BEST POLITICAL BLOG IN INDIA’ in the Win14 contest.

This is to say ‘Thank you!’ to the eminent jury that voted VOXINDICA. 

This is to say ‘Thank you!’ to Blog Adda.  

But first and foremost, I would like to say ‘Thank you!’ to you, ‘Dear reader’, for your patience and patronage over the years.

A prime reason for starting VOXINDICA was the negation of space for the ‘right of centre’ views in the mainstream media.

As an aside, the word ‘mainstream’ is perhaps a misnomer. Indian Media, both electronic and print, is highly fragmented. Consider these statistics: India has 825 television channels which together command a television viewing universe of 500 million at an average of 6,06,060. Similarly, India has 82,237 newspapers, with a combined circulation of 329 million (2010-11) with a per capita of 4003. Each fraction of the MSM, at best, represents a partisan view, defined by a certain commerce-driven social and political code of conduct.

The reasons for the media to be dominated by the left-liberal crowd can only be surmised. John Storey’s observation that cultural studies’ is itself grounded in Marxism might be true even in the Indian context.     

Here is an instance of how intolerant can the mainstream media be: During late 2011 and early 2012, I was contributing a series of articles for an English language daily. The Op-Ed page editor was all praise for my work and was insisting that I should contribute at least one piece every week. Indeed, he had published 12 of my articles in about three months, between October 11, 2011 and January 8, 2012. However, realization dawned on him that I was not one of those card carrying members of the left-liberal club, when I submitted an article on the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. It was in the third week of January 1989 that the systematic cleansing of the Pandits in the Kashmir valley began. Therefore, I thought it would be appropriate to write a piece on their plight in the third week of January (2012). In my piece, I suggested that the humanitarian disaster that befell the Pandits was a genuine example of genocide, although the term genocide was used, abused and misused over and over again during the last decade with reference to the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. This was what I wrote:

Our intellectuals and media crib and caw about the settlements in West Bank and Gaza and the injustices done to the Palestinians, but not a whisper from them about the fate of the exiled Kashmiri Pandits. No group of prominent public figures had petitioned on their behalf; no celebrity authors cried in their defence. They were once the elite of the Kashmiri society. The community produced artistes and artisans, poets and musicians, doctors and lawyers of amazing wisdom. At the turn of the century there were about a million Kashmiri Hindus in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. At the time of independence the proportion of Hindus in the Kashmir valley was 15% of the population. By 1991 it came down to less than 1%. 

The word “genocide” has been worn out in popular usage during the last decade. It has been so freely bandied about in public discourse that it lost its original meaning. If ever there was a context for it to be justifiably applied, it was in the case of the Kashmiri PanditsGenocide’ means, the systematic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of an entire national, racial, religious, or ethnic group’. This is what happened to the ethnic identity called the Kashmiri Pandits. 

I could not make out whether it was the first paragraph or the second or both that got the editor’s goat, but after the submission of the article he bluntly informed me that he would no longer publish my articles. He gave me some specious explanation as to why he would not accept the piece: ‘schools and colleges are reopening in Kashmir and the situation is returning to normal.’ Schools and colleges might be reopening, and the situation might be returning to normal but wasn’t it with an important segment of the society completely ostracized? I tried to explain the topicality and the human interest involved in the story, but he would not give me a chance to get in a word edgewise. He had already made up his mind. He dismissed me with the usual anodyne.

The newspaper later commissioned one of those dyed-in-the-wool left-liberal writers to write a weekly column on minority affairs. Aren’t Hindus a minority in Kashmir? Well, that is India’s mainstream media!

In his eponymous title, ‘Can We Trust The BBC?’, Roger Aitken pointed out that there is a tendency on the part of the mainstream media to screen out ‘inconvenient other versions of the truth’. This is what India’s mainstream media did in its coverage of the Gujarat riots of 2002. Quite a few readers of VOXINDICA were surprised to read in Gujarat riots and the ‘secular’ Galahads of justice that it was Eqbal Ishan Jaffri who precipitated the Gulmarg society seize by opening fire with his licensed revolver, killing two and injuring thirteen people.

VOXINIDICA debuted on June 30, 2005. Over the decade, a spectrum of issues and various genres were covered. It has a small, dedicated and - going by the comments posted on the articles - intelligent readership, not necessarily always agreeing with the viewpoints presented. Here is a comment posted anonymously by a reader. It points to the direction of reader expectations, especially from VOXINDICA.        

“I normally refrain myself from commenting on blogs … … … I am afraid I can’t hide my disappointment anymore over the fact that you have, of late, inclined more towards book reviews than commenting on current affairs.

At a time when there is a dying need for the articulation of the centre-of-the-right’s views on every issue, especially in the English language, we cannot afford to … digress and take the easier route of book reviews. I hope you find your zest once again … … … [to write] commentary on current media/political affairs … … …”


The comment was posted on June 7, 2012 on the article, Lies, Damn Lies & Reporting Gujarat.

I have posted several articles on the issue of M. F. Hussain’s paintings, which discussed the limits to freedom of expression and the secular polity’s selective demand for its application.

The articles, which quite a few readers disagreed with were, quite predictably, Indo-US Nuclear Deal Demystified, Foreign investment in retail, boon or bane?, Federalism and National Security and Temples, Toilets & Minority Politics. The four articles on the formation of Telangana, Telangana & Political Ploys, Formation of Telangana, Claims & Counterclaims, Murder of Democracy and Congress And BJP Gang Up To Derail Democracy, Shame Parliament quite appropriately evoked mixed responses depending on which side of the divide a reader is.

I take this opportunity to thank Mr. S. Kiran Kumar for contributing Gujarat riots saw many bloodier riots before 2002, the only article that was not written by me and one of the most popular posts on this blog.

U. Narayana Das

Friday, March 21, 2014

Asymmetric Warfare

Book Review

Someshwar, Manreet Sodhi. (2013). The Hunt For Kohinoor. Westland Ltd. Chennai. Pages: 425.  Price Rs. 295/-

In the aftermath of the event which has come to be known as 9/11 since then, the phrase ‘asymmetric warfare’ was popular and in vogue for about a decade. If for Carl von Clausewitz warfare was an extension of politics by ‘other means’, for the terrorist, asymmetric warfare was the policy. But there is a difference. For von Clausewitz politics was for national interest and nation building. For the terrorist, asymmetric warfare was a means to achieve an ill-defined cause, religion for example.  

Other nations like Israel, and India had been victims of terror. But till 9/11, the US has been oblivious to the threat and convinced of its own invincibility might have been a tad patronizing to the victims of terror. By the time the US woke up to realize it was not immune to the terror threat after all, India had had several bouts of it, including separatist insurgencies in the northeastern states, Naxalite insurgency in the east-central corridor, the Khalistani movement and lastly the violence in Kashmir that forced 500000 Hindus into ‘internal exile’. In most cases the insurgencies were externally engineered and fuelled by exploiting internal fault lines but Kashmir was different.

Montgomery Meigs, a retired General of the US Army, reviewing ten centuries of jehadi terrorism, wrote in 2003 that “Actually, al Qaeda’s overall strategy is not new. … Today, only the mechanism of attack has changed. The mechanism of attack has indeed changed. It is to deliver a spectacular blow to the perceived common enemy designated as the kaffir (infidel). The destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001 falls in the category.

Saudi Arabia, home to the most radicalized form of Islam, known as Wahabism is generally known to be the financier of international terrorism, and Pakistan the supplier of operatives. However the nineteen member team that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 2001 was drawn from nine nations.

When Frederick Forsyth wrote The Afghan (2006), a second spectacular strike (after 9/11) was only in the realm of speculation. But it did take place, not in the west as everyone supposed it might be attempted, but on India. The attack on Mumbai, India’s financial capital in 2008 was achieved with the help of a number of ‘sleeper modules’.

Youngsters are indoctrinated to such an extreme degree of hatred (of the infidel) that they not only perpetrate mass murder without the slightest of qualms but are willing to self-destruct themselves in the process. These youngsters are infiltrated into the unsuspecting enemy nation where they merge into the mosaic of society so unobtrusively that it is impossible to detect. They lay in wait like a snake ready to strike when called to so. In intelligence parlance, they are known as sleeper modules. In his The Kill List (2013) Forsyth portrayed the indoctrination of ‘waiting snakes’ and how they were deployed to cause havoc among unsuspecting societies.  

It is not even whispered due to a skewed sense of political correctness, but Indian intelligence agencies are aware of the sleeper cells that exist in India and the availability of potential candidates to carry out terror operations.  

Apart from the international terror matrix that bedevils the world, there is an India specific threat that resides in its neighbourhood and engineered by its sworn enemy, Pakistan. The threat is ever present. It has been ‘bleeding India through a thousand cuts’. Deciding that it cannot wrest Kashmir through warfare, Pakistan has resorted to the more insidious mode of asymmetric warfare. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the deadly India-specific terrorist organisation is a creation of its intelligence agency, the ISI. However, as Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State advised Pakistan, she could not harbour a snake hoping it would bite only her enemies. While the asymmetric warfare unleashed against India is denting the economic progress of Jammu & Kashmir, which Pakistan, ostensibly professes to rescue, it is bleeding itself out.

It was in the reign of Atal Behari Vajpayee that an attempt to bring about a rapprochment between India and Pakistan was mooted. His opposite number in Pakistan at the time was General Musharaf. The aborted Agra summit (2001) between Vajpayee and Musharaf is too well-known.

In her novel, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar sets the summit in Kargil instead of in Agra. It was the culmination of ‘Operation Karakoram’ a series of high level talks designed to find a solution to the vexed, decades-old problem. As proof of his bona fides Gen. Zaidi, the Pakistani President was to hand over secret documents (which he codenamed Kohinoor) that would help the Indian Prime Minister avert the next big terror attack on India. However the summit was sabotaged from the Pakistani side and the general assassinated as he descended from his helicopter. In the attack, an ace Indian Intelligence agent, Harinder Singh Khosa, popularly known as Harry was seriously wounded.

Harry, an undercover agent of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was tasked to halt ISI patronage to Khalistani terrorists. As head of the CIT-Z (counter intelligence team Z, where ‘Z’ means Zamzama the large bore cannon mentioned by Rudyard Kipling in his Kim) team, he brilliantly carried out the operation forcing the ISI to call for a meeting with RAW. A little after the operation, as Harry was in a joint operation with the Afghan intelligence agency KHAD, he was wounded in the head by a rock splintered and dislodged by a mortar shell. The knock made him unconscious for several days, but when he woke up, he lost a part of his memory. He forgot about his family of wife and daughter. Harry regained the memory when he was wounded in the head for a second time at the sabotaged summit meeting between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President Gen. Zaidi. Although he regained his memory, he was critically wounded and in no fit condition to travel for a while and undertake a mission.

Jag Misra, head of the Pakistan desk in RAW and Harry’s boss recruits his daughter Mehrunnisa, an art historian by profession to stand in to finish the mission. Mehrunnisa born to a Sikh husband and his Iranian Muslim wife has drop-dead looks and is fluent in several languages. Eventually, consumed as much by patriotic zeal as he was by fatherly love, Harry overcomes the anguish of a pain-wracked body to join the ‘hunt for Kohinoor’. What follows is, as the blurb says ‘a spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the world’s most dangerous terrain’.

The Hunt For Kohinoor portrays a diabolical plot that is far more deadly in its sweep than the WTC bombing or even the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Congress And BJP Gang Up To Derail Democracy, Shame Parliament

When the last article on this site was titled Murder of Democracy, it was not foreseen that worse was to come yet.

The new state of Telangana (तेलॅनगाणा) is about to be born. Let’s us wish it and all its inhabitants all the best! The division of Andhra Pradesh is now a fait accompli. Therefore, this is not about the split. It is about the manner in which the exercise was conducted. The proceedings of the Lok Sabha were almost a throwback to the days of the infamous emergency. The only difference, perhaps, was that, during the emergency, Indira had sent all her opponents to prison, while her daughter-in-law Sonia had the opponents of the bill ejected from parliament. When the Lok Sabha met last week to pass the ‘Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill’, the Speaker used her powers selectively to suspend the bill’s opponents and barred them from entering the house.

During the emergency, quite a few bills were passed in parliament without following any procedure, discussion or debate. Legislators glorified themselves by their decibel power to say ‘aye’ vying with each other to shout the loudest hoping the Empress would notice! It was in such an atmosphere that even the Constitution was amended to insert two political clichés, ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ in its preamble. The amendment was perhaps a smokescreen to enact the other, notorious amendment (the thirty-ninth Constitutional amendment) that gave retroactive immunity from legal proceedings to Indira herself, which was enacted on August 10, 1975.

This time around, the issue at hand is not about making laws that would place an individual above judicial scrutiny or inserting political clichés in the Constitution. How did the clichéd, ‘world’s largest democracy’ go about legislative business that would have far reaching consequences? The legislation under ‘debate’ would affect a population of 8.5 crore of its citizens or, 7% of India’s population. The point is it was not debated at all!

The Bill No. 8 of 2014 as it was introduced in the Lok Sabha runs to seventy six pages, and has one hundred and nine clauses and thirteen schedules. The government itself has proposed thirty six amendments to the bill. What was the time allotted to discuss such lengthy legislation of a momentous and irreversible nature? It was allotted four hours for discussion in the Lok Sabha and all of two hours in the Rajya Sabha. Just to put things in perspective, reading the seventy six pages at the slow pace required to digest its contents would need at least six hours and twenty minutes.

Legislative business involves a rather lengthy process and it may be several months before a bill becomes an act. A bill is a draft proposal placed before parliament. It has to pass through several stages before it gets the parliament’s stamp of approval to become an act. Whereas a proposed legislation can be introduced in either house of the parliament, a bill that seeks to levy or waive off taxes (known as a ‘Money Bill’) could only be introduced in the Lok Sabha first. A private member (whether he is a member of the ruling party or the opposition) can introduce a bill. A bill so introduced is known as a ‘Private Member’s Bill’.

Here, in brief, are the stages that a bill passes through before becoming an act:

First Reading: Introduction in the parliament. It requires permission of the presiding officer, and the legislature. Ascertaining the will of the members may entail in voting.

Gazette Notification: A bill introduced in parliament is notified in the official gazette.

Reference to a Standing Committee: The presiding officer has the discretion to refer the bill to a Standing Committee either on her own volition or on the demand of a majority of members. Ascertaining the will of the members may entail in voting. The voting may be by ‘voice vote’ but if a member demands a ‘division’ the presiding officer is obliged to conduct a poll.

Second Reading: This implies a general discussion on the bill, but it has two or three sub-stages including reference to a Select Committee / Joint Parliamentary Committee of the two houses of parliament. Ascertaining the will of the members may entail in voting. The voting may be by voice vote, but if a member demands ‘division’ the presiding officer is obliged to conduct a poll.

First Stage: If the bill is not referred to the Select Committee / Joint Parliamentary Committee, it is generally discussed, debated and voted upon if a member seeks ‘division’.

Second Stage: In this stage a clause by clause discussion of the bill takes place. Each clause is discussed and debated upon. Amendments could be moved. Each clause is voted upon before being accepted either through a voice vote or by a ballot if a member demands a ‘division’. Similarly, any amendments moved should be accepted or negated by a voice vote or by a ballot if a member demands a ‘division’

Third Reading: The member who proposed the original bill moves the bill. The house then debates it. The bill requires parliamentary approval, which is sought either through a voice vote or a ballot if a member demands ‘division’.

Reference to the other house: A bill introduced in one house is sent to the other house for consideration and approval. It follows the same procedure there expect the introduction stage or First Reading. If the other house makes any amendments to the bill, which are at variance with the clauses approved in the first house, it will have to be sent to the first house again for re-consideration of the amended clauses and approval.

After a bill passes through the stages detailed above and after it satisfies the conditions set for approval of both the houses, it is referred to the President for approval and later a Gazette Notification is published again, this time notifying that the bill became an act.

How did our parliament go about enacting one of the most important legislations that would have far reaching and irreversible consequences? It gave a go-by to all established rules, norms and procedures and steamrolled its way in both the houses of parliament. And the principal opposition party, the BJP entered into an unholy nexus with the government in its act of daylight murder of democracy!

The ‘monumental’ exercise was finished in just twenty three – yes, twenty three – minutes in the Lok Sabha. The upper house or the house of elders, the Rajya Sabha went beyond the allotted two hours not because of any zealousness or propriety our legislators had for parliamentary etiquette, rules and procedures, but because the government wanted the business to be finished and done with.

By being receptive only to those ‘ayes’ and ‘noes’ which suited the government’s political agenda and screening out the others, the Presiding Officers did not cover themselves with glory.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Murder of Democracy

Legend has it that Bombay was given away as dowry for a Portuguese princess when she married an English prince in 1661. Thus was Bombay or at least a part of the original seven islands that comprised the city was transferred to the English. Those were colonial days during which the Portuguese, the French and the English were vying with each other to establish empires in the East.

But, would a democracy in the first decade of the twenty first century carve out a new state as a birthday gift? It would seem to be so! Haven’t the Indians willy-nilly brought back a type of colonial rule about sixty years after establishing a republic? Isn’t it ironic that they did so, especially because the republic was established after a fight with a colonial power for about sixty years?      

Things have begun to go wrong since P. Chidambaram made the fateful announcement that ‘the process to carve out India’s 29th state would soon begin’ on the chilly midnight of December 9, 2009. The issue had been contentious and saw see-saw battles depending on which politician was out of work, for forty years till it was renewed afresh in 2001. The demand for creating the Telangana state was only partly conceded by the Congress party just before the 2004 election when it agreed to set up a new ‘states reorganization commission’. It was a political ploy to trump the Telugu Desam. The party did nothing to keep its promise of even setting up a new ‘states reorganization commission’ for the next five years.

Chidambaram’s announcement on the chilly December midnight caught everyone by surprise. If it buoyed the spirits of the protagonists of the new state, the events that followed the announcement sent shivers down the spines of its antagonists. They too did not contend with the amount of public anger that surfaced in the thirteen Seema-Andhra districts. Some political analysts saw that there was more than meets the eye in Sonia’s ‘birthday gift’ that Chidambaram meted out. On the face of it, it was to arouse grateful feelings in the minds of the people of the new state for her forever. As a politician from a neighbouring southern state – one which competes with Andhra Pradesh for resources and in development – Chidambaram might have had more in his mind.

As things stand today, Andhra Pradesh shares the fourth spot with Bengal in the number of members it sends to parliament (after Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra) and is ahead of the other three southern states. After the division, Chidambaram’s state, Tamil Nadu, with thirty nine members packs more punch and power in the parliament. As a columnist in The Hindu opined, the group of ministers (GoM) constituted to chart a course for the division might have had the same ulterior motives to ensure it as they are from the southern states and Maharashtra which compete with Andhra Pradesh for resources and in development. They never set foot on the soil of the state nor did they deliberate much. The length of all their meetings could be measured in minutes, not even hours, let alone days! They did their job much as Cyril Radcliffe did some sixty years before, in 1946-47, chopping states to create India and Pakistan, drawing their lines on a map! The GoM did its job with appalling perfunctoriness. The entire sordid drama scripted from above and enacted by the servile GoM appears to have been done with a single objective: contriving electoral arithmetic to somehow bring back the Congress party to power and anoint the party’s Crown Prince as the King Emperor!

The principal opposition party has expressed its willingness to go along in the division of the state. It too might have had its cynical electoral calculations. The moot question is why was the Congress party in such an unseemly hurry to ramrod its way through parliament? Could it not have allayed at least some of the fears that the antagonists of the division harbour in their minds? The British drew lines in the sand (or on maps) to create several states when they abdicated their empire triggering conflicts worldwide, conflicts which are not resolved till today.

The blame for the ugly scenes that the Lok Sabha saw last Wednesday – described by the Speaker as a blot on our democracy - must fully lay with the Congress party. It was quite obvious that it was playing to a script that in the end murdered democracy in the nation’s vaunted legislative body. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath allegedly arranged about a hundred MPs who have nothing to do with Andhra Pradesh to block the protesters. Would any democratically minded government resort to such a nefarious game of fixing parliamentary proceedings? The government could have brought all stakeholders on to a common forum and fecilitated a healthy debate that would have settled the issue. But it didn’t! Instead, it reduced parliamentary proceedings to an ugly charade. 

The presiding officer has an onerous responsibility now to restore at least a part of the dignity that the parliament shed, by instituting an impartial enquiry, to identify the culprits who reduced proceedings of the nation’s highest legislative body to a gangland brawl, and punish them. Speakers (or presiding officers) of legislative bodies in evolved democracies renounce allegiance to the parties to which they belong, on election to the great office. They never take sides. One hopes India as a ‘vibrant democracy’ – as it is often described - will not find itself wanting in such high values. Fortunately the job of the Speaker or any committee she constitutes is made simpler by modern technology. The proceedings of the house are reportedly monitored by twelve movie cameras. All that is needed to be done is to review their footage – impartially ­- and make the report public. That alone is the test of a mature democracy. Will India stand it?   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rahul Gandhi, Arnab Goswami & The Big Grapefruit Interview

About half of the journalists who cover the White House in Washington DC are from the American media. There is a belief that each one of them gets up every morning with the conviction that the government was going to lie to them before sundown. The American media is relatively independent and objective because its members cultivate two important traits: a measure of healthy scepticism and irreverence towards people in authority.

However there is another aspect to American journalism. It is the planted question, and its cousin, the grapefruit. As an aside, a planted question asked in a parliamentary debate in Australia is called a Dorothy Dixer.

In American media parlance, a grapefruit is a seemingly tough question (a journalist asks during the course of an interview) but is in fact a scripted favour to the politician being interviewed. It is like a slow ball bowled in a cricket match which lands near the batsman’s feet. He can simply smash it beyond the ropes.

The planted question, the Dorothy Dixer or the grapefruit serves the same purpose: promoting one’s party’s policies and programmes and criticizing the opposition. Although George Bush, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been known to have used the ‘planted question’ technique in their campaigns, there is a perception in the West that it is more common in India. Bhagyashree Garekar of the Singapore Straits Times told John Dickerson, it was a common practice in India. See the penultimate paragraph of this article: HillaryClinton gets snared by a planted question

But the devices are usually employed as a small component – usually one or two questions in the question and answer session at the end of a speech or in a parliamentary debate or one question in an impromptu interview with a politician. Can you imagine a whole interview being stage-managed; or to put it simply the whole interview being a grapefruit? But that was what exactly Arnab Goswamy’s interview with Rahul Gandhi was! See its full text here: Rahul Gandhi'sfirst interview: Full text

Max Atkinson, a UK based communications expert says that news interviewers are paid to be neutral’. He goes on to say that appearing to take sides can get them into serious trouble’. It sounds surprising, doesn’t it? But Atkinson is talking about the media in Britain, not India. Atkinson suggests that the solution to compel evasive politicians answer difficult questions is to conduct the interview in front of an audience. If only Atkinson knew how the Barkha Dutts, Rajdeep Sardesais and Sagarika Ghoses conduct their interviews in front of studio audiences!

One expected Arnab Goswami who breathes fire, screams and shrieks, on his primetime show to be persistent with his questions, to pin down Rahul to take positions and at least seek to answer some pertinent questions. Instead Arnab served Rahul the biggest grapefruit that one can imagine, by querying about Narendra Modi and flogging the dead horse of Gujarat 2002. Atkinson would be surprised to know that Indian news interviewers who would be neutral on the subject of Narendra Modi are a rarity. Here is how Rahul’s view of the Sikh genocide of 1984 in which his father had a hand compares with the communal riots of 2002:

In 1984, RahulG was 13. Yet, he knew that ‘the government was trying to stop the riots’. In 2002, he was 31 but he heard that ‘the government in Gujarat was actually abetting and pushing the riots further’.

Rahul Gandhi’s inability to frame his replies in grammatically correct English, though he was presumably educated in England, is not a major issue:

I like difficult to tough issues. I like dealing with them.

Yes, we will be specific but if I would like to sort of explain things in a broader fashion, I think that will okay with you.

I think probably the Sikhs are one of the industrious people in this country.

What is surprising is his mendacity about the process of electing a prime minister, especially by the Congress party. By the by, Rahul utters the word ‘process 29 times in the interview; ‘issue’ 47 times, ‘RTI’ 71 times and ‘system’ 74 times!

Rahul of course doesn’t want to lose an opportunity to plug in his family history, especially the poignant aspects of it (‘as a child, he saw his grandmother jailed and later assassinated; and his father assassinated’). Then there is the invocation of Arjuna (‘he only sees one thing, he does not see anything else’)!

What does one make of this sentence: ‘I am here basically for one thing, I see tremendous energy in this country, I see more energy in this country than any other country, I see billions of youngsters and I see this energy is trapped’?

Here is a gem: because the judiciary and the press are not under the RTI, political parties should not be brought under the RTI as that ‘changes the balance of power’! He is however candid about one thing: in our parliamentary system as it stands today ‘an MLA or an MP does not make laws. He merely presses buttons.

This is how Rahul perceives how the economy works: ‘We are working on prices, as I said we have spoken to our Chief Ministers and we have reduced prices in states where we are in power.’

The nation certainly wants to know what Rahul proposes to do to grapple with the myriad problems the nation faces: spiraling inflation, unemployment, billowing current account deficit et al. The nation would want to know how he would deal with hostile neighbours like Pakistan and China; how he would tackle terrorism and what he intends doing to resolve a number of other problems that befuddle the nation. Sadly the net take away from the interview was that it veered our national political debate away from these questions and bringing Gujarat 2002 back to the centre stage. And that was the grapefruit that Arnab gifted to Rahul!