Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Media & National Interest

N. B.: The two subjects broached in this article linked by a slim thread, should probably be posted separately as two articles.

In the normal course, one would have dismissed Vinod Mehta’s comments as the rants of a disgruntled hack. He is a self-confessed ‘pseudo-secular’ and a ‘chamcha’ of the Sonia-G family. Whether it was admirable self-deprecation or wily forestalling, the self-description fits him as a glove a hand.

During his years at Outlook, Mehta projected a carefully orchestrated image of himself as a bleeding-heart liberal, perhaps to lend credence to the magazine championing a specific political course. One suspects the political course the magazine charted could be as phoney as Mehta’s bleeding-heart liberalism. He loves his single malt (also perhaps, caviar to go with it) and he loves Swiss women, none of which come cheap. He opened his innings with a stint at Debonair, which was no Mainstream and did not exactly strive to put two square meals on the round plate of a hungry stomach. When Outlook debuted in 1995, India Today was eighteen. It was firmly entrenched as a national political magazine catering to the tastes of readers who believed in a market-driven economy. Rather than take on India Today in its niche, Outlook probably positioned itself at the opposite pole to fill the gap caused by the defunct Sunday of the Anand Bazaar Patrika group. In other words, it was purely a marketing strategy.

As an aside, the mention of Sunday brings to mind two unsavoury characters, both of which the magazine - if it had had a life – would like to erase from its history, even in death. One was Vir Sanghvi, a former editor who mortgaged his journalistic ethics to Niira Radia. To morph a phrase (rather than turn it), ‘you can’t buy Sangvi’s ethics; you can rent them’! The other is Mani Sankar Aiyar, who as a columnist, used to blacken its pages with foul bile and bilge, during the former’s tenure as editor. 

Whether left-liberalism (an oxymoron if ever there was one) is synonymous with anti-Hinduism is not known, but over the years Outlook became the stable for anti-Hindu, anti-RSS, anti-BJP and anti-Modi hacks. It has what may be termed as the ‘first ever anti-RSS, anti-BJP, anti-Modi editor of a national news magazine’ in Saba Naqvi!

What are the prime objectives of the media? Are they to inform, educate or entertain? The answer depends of course on what type of medium we are talking about. If it is the news media, it should inform, certainly; and after and only after that educate if it can and entertain if it must.

However, in democratic societies the news media has a more important role. It has a duty to its audience. And that is to highlight the failures – not sing paeans - of the ruling elites. It is in this role that it plays the role of an opposition, a devil’s advocate, a whistleblower, an ombudsman. It is for this role of the media as the voice of the people (VOXINDICA) that Edmund Burke hailed it as the fourth estate.

Media in India largely performed these roles during the struggle for freedom phase and for some years in the post independence period. Their output was occasionally coloured by their pet ideologies, as most of them were ideologically-driven. But media persons of the time pursued it as a noble profession, with a truthfulness of purpose.

The infamous emergency of 1975-77 was in a way, ‘an ordeal by fire’ for the Indian media. It separated the chaff from the grain. To repeat L. K. Advani’s pithy phrase, a majority of its members chose ‘to crawl when merely asked to bend’. On her return to power in 1980, Indira, the architect of the emergency used a different tactic to mould the media to suit her purposes. That time, made wiser by her emergency experience, instead of the proverbial stick, she used the proverbial carrot. The carrot was the advertisement revenue handed out by the Department of Audio Visual Publicity (DAVP) under the I & B Ministry.

Any media that is susceptible to either the proverbial stick or the proverbial carrot cannot be anything else but the proverbial mule!

Indira was largely able to succeed in her gambit because the older, ideologically fired media persons, who fought and lost, were passing from the scene. The new crop which replaced them was borne into a different milieu. Ironically, it was a milieu in transition, in which ‘Nehruvian socialism’ marketed by his daughter as a panacea for poverty was giving way to market-driven economy. The liberalised economy of the 1990s saw a proliferation of the media and billowing competition. The once noble profession became a business. Political interests and business houses jumped into the arena for the political clout, owning a media house gave them. The audience, to whom the media owed its first duty, was lost in the melee. The raison d’ etre of the media became singing paeans to the ruling elites. Editors of the national media no longer were ashamed to call themselves ‘chamchas’ nor were national media columnists to seek corporate lobbyists to dictate the content of their columns!

Be that as it may, whether he is a ‘pseudo-secular’ and a ‘chamcha’ or not, one has to agree with Mehta when he wrote in his Delhi Diary. Outlook. October 13, 2014:

Am I the only one who is a bit nauseated by the constant demand from the American side: “What can you do for us?” In all the discussions and debates with US policymakers and the media, only one question is being asked: “What does Modi bring to our table?” The list of requirements is formidable. They all revolve around India making life easier for US multinationals. As a result, on this visit our prime minister is always on the defensive­—he needs to “walk the talk”, “cut red tape”, “make environmental clearances instant”, “change the country’s laws to suit American companies”, “woo US corporate chiefs” etc. etc. Unfortunately, Modi has fallen into the trap. It would seem India is the supplicant. It seems India must go the extra mile for enticing Kentucky Fried Chicken to invest more. (Font colour changed for emphasis.)

One may not agree with Mehta’s ‘nausea’ (it could be because of an overdose of single malt the previous evening!) but one agrees with his substance. There are some important issues over which India and the US have conflicting interests.

CIVIL NUCLEAR LIABILITY ACT

The first is the Indian nuclear liability act that was enacted in the aftermath of signing the Indo-US nuclear deal. In simple terms, it is the amount of insurance that a US manufacturer is liable to pay in case of a nuclear disaster. The Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act as it stood in 2011 (applicable in the US) offers a ‘no-fault’ indemnity to be paid by the suppliers of up to USD$12.5 billion. Any claims exceeding it are covered by the US government. In contrast, after a lot of vacillation and much persuasion by the then opposition, the BJP, the Manmohan Singh government enacted the Civil Nuclear Liability Act 2010 which limits the liability of a US manufacturer to a paltry US$81 million and the rest to be paid by the Indian government within the overall limit of Rs 5 billion (note the figure is in Rs not $!). Thus a US manufacturer’s liability in case of civilian nuclear disaster in India is a paltry 0.65% of a corresponding liability in the US. Aren’t Indian lives cheap? Besides, the Americans are not willing to transfer the technologies either for Uranium enrichment or disposal of spent fuel. May one ask why would the Narendra Modi government like to go ahead with the Indo-US Nuclear deal instead of scrapping it and negotiating it de novo as the BJP had promised then?

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

The second important issue is concerning intellectual property rights (IPRs) especially in the pharmaceutical industry. Even in this case the Americans have double standards. They expect the Indian government to protect dubious practices like the ‘doctrine of inherent anticipation’, the ‘doctrine of double patenting’ and the ‘patent misuse doctrine’ (see NovartisVs. The People of India for an explanation of the terms), which give the patentee the right to extend patents indefinitely. This means the patentee continues to enjoy exclusive marketing rights and exorbitant pricing, for ever.

The subject of IPRs is complex, so much so there are some in India who believe ‘compulsory licencing’ is a bad provision. They do not seem to realise that it was the result of a hard fought battle. The provision gives poor nations respite against predators who would not hesitate to patent Basmati rice, turmeric and even yoga!

The Indian pharmaceutical industry was dominated by the multinational companies till the nineteen eighties with a market share of between 70% and 80%. Today the status is reversed. The Drug Price Control Order (DPCO) of 1970 has given immense fillip to the Indian industry and was responsible for its phenomenal growth. There is a flip side to it too. It is this rampant growth that vitiated the healthcare system by introducing unhealthy promotional practices, some of them bizarre.

But the competition benefited the consumer. As an example take the case of amlodipine a drug used for high blood pressure and heart problems. The multinational which claims its invention, priced it at Rs 26/- per tablet when it was introduced in India. An Indian pharmaceutical company introduced the same at Rs 13/- per tablet immediately afterwards. Others joined the pricing war and the medicine, which millions of Indians need, is currently available at as low a price as Rs 0.65/-.

It is nobody’s case that the IPR regime should be dismantled. But one would like to know why the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) was divested of its powers to fix drug prices just before Narendra Modi’s departure to the US? Is it to propitiate the powerful US pharmaceuticals lobby?

The NPPA does not arbitrarily fix drug prices. It collects pricing data across the industry and only fixes the ‘mark-up’, which in layman’s terms means the margin after costs. Should it be an exorbitant 300% or a reasonable 30%? As an example, take the pricing of cetirizine, an allergy medication. A costing exercise done several years ago showed that its costs Rs 0.30/- per 10 mg tablet. Commercially available cetirizine tablets, marketed by companies with reasonably expected quality control measures, range in prices between Rs 1.50/- to Rs 3.75/- As this is not an ‘essential drug’ the NPPA too does not intervene in its pricing.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Does Overkill Kill?

Book Review 

Sanghi, Ashwin & Patterson, James. (2014). Private India. London. Arrow Books. Pages: 470 (Genre: Crime Fiction) 

The first murder took place at Marine Bay Plaza a Mumbai five star hotel. The hotel called in Private India the Indian branch of Private, the world’s biggest detective agency. Marine Bay Plaza is Private India's regular client for investigative work as it did its job discreetly without the glare of publicity that inevitably followed when official investigation agencies were involved and which  is bad for business in the hospitality industry.

We do not know whether criminal investigations are outsourced to private agencies anywhere in the world except perhaps in crime fiction stories. Arthur Conan Doyle’s hero, Sherlock Holmes described himself as England’s first consulting detective. He used to assist the official law enforcement agencies and while sharing the product kept himself aloof from the limelight and honours. Mumbai police agreed to work with Private India on the understanding that the company should keep it always in the loop and share progress with it regularly. The novel has another similarity with Sherlock Holmes stories. Private India’s head Santosh Wagh has his own band of urchins as informants à la ‘Baker Street Irregulars’.

What is even more surprising is Private India helped Indian intelligence agencies solve terror related cases! This brought it on to the radar of international terrorist organisations. The July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings which killed 213 people brought Santosh Wagh, an officer of  the Indian government’s external investigation agency, ‘Research and Analysis Wing’ more popularly known by its acronym, RAW into contact with Private’s Chairman, Jack Morgan, himself an ex US marine.

Two years later tragedy struck Santosh in the form of an automobile accident that killed his wife and son. As a grief-struck Santosh was on a loose end, Jack hired him to head his company’s Mumbai operations. In no way did the new assignment lessen Santosh’s grief as it is aggravated by self-guilt, borne out of the belief that it was his carelessness that caused the fatal road accident. He has been seeking to anaesthetize his pain-filled nightmares with drink.  

If Santosh thought it was one murder that he had to contend with he was in for a surprise. It was not only one murder after another but also Rupesh Desai, ACP in the crimes division of Mumbai police, a former friend turned villain in his life.

Private India not only employs the very latest in backroom technology — forensics and pathology lab, cyber technology for ethical hacking etc — but also employs gorgeous female operatives like Nisha Gandhe to conduct its investigations. The employees of Private India, it appears — at least attempt to — speak in epigrams. If Santosh cracks, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’; Nisha calls, ‘one woman’s hobby could often be another woman’s hubby’.

The murders pile up. Blackmail, revenge, religious symbolism, underworld-terrorist nexus and a terrorist plot are thrown into the mixer. All in all it is a challenge to the investigative acumen of Private India and its ace-detective chief, Santosh. As readers try to second-guess the mystery by following clues sprinkled throughout the book, they are upon the terror plot.

The book could have done with fewer chapters. It has 116, the last one containing all of four lines, an epilogue and an appendix. Well, does overkill kill?  

This review is part of the Book Reviews programme at Blogadda.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Amit Shah, Rana Ayyub & Truth Fairies

There is an established practice in criminal jurisprudence according to which, if a witness is found to be unreliable in one aspect of his testimony then his entire testimony should be disregarded. That such a witness cannot be relied upon in any other case follows as a corollary. But the issue under discussion is not witnesses and criminal jurisprudence but the ‘truth fairies’ of the Indian media. We will revert to the link between the two in a moment.  

There was some outrage over DNA pulling out an article written by Rana Ayyub, a former Senior Editor of Telhelka. Her bio on the paper’s site says she had made her bones ‘investigating the Sohrabuddin Sheik encounter case’ as if it was the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize.

The bio uses the word fake to qualify encounter without bothering with the fact that it is for the courts to decide whether the encounter was fake or genuine. Wasn’t that the issue before the courts? Was there a possibility that the police had only returned the fire from a gang of hardcore criminals in which Sohrabuddin was killed? But the truth has never deterred the truth fairies of our intrepid media from passing judgements. Hadn’t they freely bandied about words like ‘genocide’, ‘holocaust’ and ‘progrom’ to describe the 2002 Gujarat riots but refrained from using them while describing what happened in Delhi and other places in 1984, an event which certainly befits the use of such words, or in 2013 in Muzaffarnagar?

Here was what Ayyub’s former comrade-in-arms, Shoma Chaudhury confessed in a 2011 article, entitled Tough lessons about truth-telling

“As far as the eternal dilemma of funding the journalism goes: if anyone knows of a pure fountain of money they are sipping at, do give us membership there too.”

The ‘cash for votes scam’ MPs would have surely agreed! In her article, Chaudhury tried her best to fob off accusations that she and her employers, (i.e. the Tehelka magazine), were ‘ISI stooges’, ‘stock-market scamsters’, ‘Dubai-funded gangsters’ and that the paper’s founder Tarun Tejpal owned a beachfront house in Goa.

Later events proved that on at least one count Chaudhury was short on facts. It was about Tejpal owning a beachfront house in Goa. Quite a few periodicals affirmed that he not only owned a beachfront villa in Goa but also bungalows in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh. If anyone had any doubts about how an ordinary journalist acquired property worth several hundred crores on his journalist’s salary, Chaudhury had willy-nilly answered it in her quote. She adds:

“At the best of times, it is difficult to find money for Tehelka’s work and it takes immense ingenuity to keep the flow going.” (Italics added.)

The key lies in ‘immense ingenuity’! It is like Robert Vadra’s business acumen. How would one yearn to acquire at least a fraction of it?  

If we are to believe Chaudhury, a hardnosed business corporation like Essar gave Tehelka money with no strings attached’. She was desperately but without much effect, tying to rebut an allegation that ‘Tehelka portrayed that Essar itself was a victim of Maoist extortion in Chattisgarh’.

(As an aside, wind up to the present to understand how ruthless Essar is. The company has ditched investors who stayed with it for long. It has been reporting losses ever since it went public. When at last its books turned green it is planning to delist from stock exchanges, forcing non-family shareholders to sell off their shares to it at a price determined by it.)

By the by, in her article, Chaudhury was fencing with Deccan Herald, The Hindustan Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She accused these papers of picking up a story that originally appeared in Khalifa.org and:

“…each lazily feeding on the story that had gone before, hyperlinking them and perpetuating them as truths without any independent verification…”

Isn’t this exactly how the truth fairies of the secular media have been subverting the truth? Here is the link between unreliable witnesses and truth fairies of Indian journalism. Not only Ayyub and Chaudhury were erstwhile comrades-in-arms at Tehelka but Ayyub resorts to exactly the same malpractices that Chaudhury accused the other newspapers of. According to Chaudhury the Khalifa.org story was ‘low on fact, argument and understanding’. What of Ayyub’s story on Amit Shah?

Ayyub who flaunts the ‘Sohrabuddin encounter case’ in her bio, copiously quotes from the CBI charge-sheet willfully ignoring the distinction between a charge-sheet and a judgement. She cites SIT ‘verdict’. She glibly pronounces a verdict on Shah’s ‘criminal past’. Picking up the label ‘dirty tricks department’ with which the social media described the CBI during the previous Congress regime she pastes it to the Gujarat home department under Shah. Snubbed by one judge after the other, the Congress party dropped the so-called snoop-gate enquiry but Ayyub resurrects it in her investigative article. The characters of Gopal Subramanian and Kamala Beniwal had to be woven into the story. Otherwise readers are likely to conclude that the piece was recycled from old waste.

And now we come to the curious case of the ‘outrage’ from other truth fairy journalists, on the social media. Sagarika Ghose had the cheek to criticize the ‘censoring’ forgetting her own past conduct, when she interpolated pre-recorded clips from an interview with Sri Sri Ravi Sankar into a seemingly live programme. Rajdeep Sardesai who killed telecast of the ‘cash for votes’ sting operation after receiving a phone call from Prithviraj Chavan was equally caustic!

It is not that there was no precedent. Here is Aditya Sinha’s plaintive account of how his paper courted the former Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambica Soni’s displeasure and lost advertisement revenues: Ambica Soni’s adventures in arm-twisting. Ambica Soni acquired her penchant for arm-twisting media during her courtship with the Youth Congress during the emergency regime.

Did Rajdeep Sardesai or Sagarika Ghose or any other journalist who is outraged by the present incident protested then or commiserated with Aditya Sinha?  Did anyone protest when Huffington Post removed the story about Sonia Gandh's wealth?

Over-reacting to something the Telugu news channels ABN Andhra Jyothi and TV9 telecast in jest, the Telangana government arm-twisted the cable operators in the state to stop their telecast. The channels approached the High Court and the case is pending. But they remain ‘banned’ in the entire state for over a month now. Not even a whimper in protest from any of the truth fairies including Rana Ayyub!  

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bharat NaMo Namah!

It was a vote of aspiration. It was a vote of hope. It was a vote for honesty, integrity and hard work. It was a vote for promise. It was a vote cast without recourse to caste and creed. It was a vote for democracy. It was a vote that resuscitates faith in democratic institutions. It was a vote for Bharat!

It was a vote against corruption and venality. It was a vote against greed. It was a vote against mendacity. It was a vote against sloth. It was a vote against dynastic rule. It was a vote against pseudo-secular India!

The first title mooted for this post was, ‘Modi Wave Delivers Indian Intellectuals, Free Omelets!’ Only a few days before, a bunch of mercenary intellectuals, appealed to the secular parties to come together to keep Narendra Modi out of power. How Mahesh Bhatt and Shabnam Hashmi could be labelled intellectuals is a secret known only to The Times Of India and the gang which included them as signatories. Earlier, a gang of charlatan film-makers whose movies have minuscule viewership, called upon the people not to vote Narendra Modi to power. The people of Bharat have made it amply clear that they could do without the advice tendered by these self-serving mercenary intellectuals. The people have thrown enough eggs on their collective face to make omelets for a long time to come.

If you expect the mercenary intellectuals to learn any lessons from the people’s mandate you are in for a shock. Consider what this fount of wisdom, Zoya Hassan had to say on NDTV. The trends in UP were up for analysis and Ajit Singh of the RLD was trailing. All Hassan would say was that it was the result of communal polarization in western UP’s Muzaffarnagar. At the time, the BJP was leading in about 50 constituencies and Baghpat was no surprise. The full magnitude of the UP vote was yet to manifest itself. Hassan is a Dean at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which mass-manufactures mercenary intellectuals, and also a signatory of the letter calling people to vote against Modi. For the super-secular NDTV, she was an independent, objective analyst!

In his victory speeches in Vadodara and Ahmedabad Narendra Modi has repeatedly spoken about the onerous responsibility that the massive mandate brought with it and his duty to his ‘125 crore people’. Yet P. Sainath and Ramachandra Guha (another set of mercenary intellectuals analysing the election on CNN-IBN) had to look askance at his sincerity in saying it!

During the long election season English language news channels have repeatedly analysed Muslim votes and votes on caste lines. If candidates should not canvass for votes based on religion and caste, should pollsters be allowed to analyse votes based on religion and caste? An important point these analysts seem to be missing is whether a minority should be allowed to hold veto power over majority decision-making? Is it not against the core principles of democracy? For over six decades pseudo-secular parties assiduously worked for consolidation of the principal minority vote, countervailing it by dividing the majority vote into castes and linguistic groups. In their greed for power they did not bother to consider the havoc it wreaked to the minority itself. The principal minority was oblivious to the fact that its interests were best served by aligning with the majority, the clichéd mainstream of society, rather than gloating over an illusory benefit, a veto over majority decision making gave them. What would happen, if the majority were to decide enough was enough and resort to counter-consolidation? Would it be good for democracy? But sooner or later it was bound to happen, for you can’t fool all the people all the time!

Another aspect of pseudo-secularism is its tolerance for corruption and criminality as long as they were perpetrated by secular politicians in the name of secularism. Thus, for both N. Ram and Prannay Roy, Y. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s alleged corruption was a non-issue. Both are honourable men! Therefore, their business links with Jagan do not cloud their judgement on his alleged corruption!

The YSRCP downloaded enormous amounts of money into its electoral campaign for bribing voters and flowing liquor rivers. It unleashed violence on a large scale on the polling day in many Seema-Andhra districts. Two senior police officers received grievous injuries in stone pelting by its hoodlums, in Jagan’s home-district of Kadapa. In another incident, media persons were not allowed into a village where its hoodlums resorted to poll rigging with the active connivance of the police. Media persons of two Telugu news channels were attacked and their vehicles and cameras damaged. The YSRCP shares some of these electoral malpractices like unleashing violence, booth-capturing and rigging with other secular parties like the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal and the Samajawadi Party in UP. Such practices only enhance the secularity of these parties and are routinely airbrushed in their reportage by the national media. Another interesting nugget relating to the YSRCP was that, the General Secretary of the secular CPI unit in Telangana accused his secular CPM counterpart of selling out to the YSRCP for crores.

During all those months and years during which B. S. Yeddyurappa was hounded by the same media channels for his alleged corruption, there was not a whisper about the monumental corruption and the acquisition of wealth by the late Y. S. Rajsekhara Reddy. The Karnataka High Court’s dismissal of the Lokayukta case against Yeddyurappa did not matter to them. They were sympathetic to Jagan and blamed the Congress for hounding him! Their election analyses gave his YSRCP parity with the Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. The people of Seema-Andhra however, rejected their profound wisdom and voted the TDP to power and sent its MPs to parliament in large numbers.  

For the reasons mentioned in the earlier part of this article, it was a landmark election, culminating in an equally landmark verdict of the people. The people of Bharat have high expectations of the new government headed by Narendra Modi. Isn’t it time the media moved on?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Is there a ‘winning formula’ for writing a novel?

Book Review

Singh, Soumitra. 2014. The Child Of Misfortune. Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd. New Delhi. Pages: 327. Price: `350/-

There is a belief that more people bought Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History Of Time than read it. For although the good professor tried to simplify the mysteries of the universe as much as he could, there is so much science embedded in the subject that it is difficult for the ordinary reader to follow. Did the readers of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (2003) read it through without skipping pages? Had the book become so popular because of the controversies it created?

Catch-22’ has become a catchphrase so much so, it is possible many people do not remember that it is a book title. How many of those who bought the book, which is hailed as a ‘classic bestseller’, were able to read through Captain Yossarian’s adventures? Those who read it through probably include literary geeks interested in writing itself. In his preface to the 1994 special edition Joseph Heller confesses that initially it ‘won no prizes and was not on any bestseller list’. Reviewing it in The New Yorker, Mitchell Goodman tore into it, saying ‘… what remains is a debris of sour jokes …’ and, [Heller] ‘wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it.’ But a year after its publication something strange seems to have happened.

In Tipping Point Malcom Gladwell tells the story of the shoe brand ‘Hush Puppies’. The brand was all but dead by 1994 and its makers were about to phase it out, when it suddenly perked up. A few New York kids who wore the shoes to the clubs and bars in downtown Manhattan set the trend. Why did they wear them? They wore them because no one else wore them. Something similar happened to Catch-22. The book sold 300,000 copies in 1963 and the publishers had to go to the press eleven times in all in that year.     

The moot question is, ‘is there a ‘winning formula’ that makes a novel or other literary work a success? It is difficult to answer the question. But even the most popular of writers were tempted to repeat a winning formula they stumbled upon. For example, thematically, Geoffrey Archer’s novels Kane and Abel (1979) and The Fourth Estate (1996) have many similarities, although their plots and settings were quite different. Novelists like P. G. Wodehouse, Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace replicated winning formulae of their earlier novels many times over. The same practice may be seen in the publication of non-fiction books too. Spurred by the success of Is Paris Burning (1965), Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins published two more books in the same vein, history told in an easy to read, casual style: O Jerusalem (1972) and Freedom at Midnight (1975).

A favourite theme of novelists from the 2000s is terrorism. The Child Of Misfortune deals with terrorism in its early stages, but moves on to internet hacking, drug running and money laundering. The whole plot is set with chess as a substrate with the two protagonists playing their moves and counter moves as in a chess game. However, dabbling in too many subjects makes the novel muddled and complex.

The novel centres on three schoolmates Amar Singh Rathore, Jonah Michel and Maansi Agarwal. Amar the son of a ruling politician and Jonah an orphan French expatriate have a running feud throughout their lives, playing moves and countermoves as in a chess match and with Jonah often besting Amar. Maansi who ends up as a journalist with The Times Of India, is in love with Amar. Jonah lures Amar to Ladakh, where he murders a Buddhist monk resulting in Buddhist–Muslim riots. The Al-Qaeda steps in to destabilise Kashmir assisted by Indian Mujahideen volunteers. There are quite a few terror groups operating in Kashmir, but Indian Mujahideen? The plot meanders from Ladakh to Srinagar to Seoul to London with Jonah playing advanced chess moves and Amar and Maansi who has by now expressed her love for him, following. In Seoul they pick up an ace internet hacker, Kang, who joins the plot. He can, not only hack into any computer and website in the world to steal data, but can photographically trace the movements of the villains on his laptop. It is as if the whole world is wired, something the dystopian world of Nineteen Eighty-Four did for sound!

The novel abounds in ‘computer typos’ like her for hair and principal for principle. What is dividistic? Did the author mean divisive? Surely, those who have the runs cannot go for jogging! Does a ‘grassroots example’ mean every day or commonplace example? Is a ‘debate opposition team’ an opposing team in a debating competition? What is ‘second-kinds’? After a time one gives up noting errors in language, grammar and syntax. The novel could do with editing and thorough rewriting.  

Isn’t it a given that a novelist should not name existing political parties in the interest of strict political neutrality? 

This review is part of the Book Reviews programme at Blogadda.com

Friday, May 09, 2014

Blogadda Interview

Following the award of Blogadda’s best political blog of the year (Win14) to VOXINDICA Blogadda interviewed me. Here is the transcript of the interview:

Q: From where did your interest in Politics generate?

A: As a college student, I used to assist my father who was a ‘newspaperman’. In those days, the dominant themes of newspapers were politics, followed by sports and culture. For youngsters like me there was another attraction, of course: ‘wanted columns’. I could have probably followed in my father’s footsteps, but circumstances determined I choose another career. But the urge to write was there; it never dried up. A few years after I could find a firm foothold in the chosen profession, I tried my hand at writing and began submitting pieces to newspapers, but the pressures of work had a limiting effect. Writing remained at a hobby level.

The first pieces I tried my hand at were not political articles, but what in the Indian newspaper parlance are called ‘middles’. The idea of the pieces is to rib human foibles and tickle the funny bone. Emery Kelen and Art Buchwald were masters of the genre also known as ‘loose sally’. The genre is probably less read than political opinion pieces, but writing them involved a lot of creativity. It appears, today space is at a premium and you rarely come across a loose sally that has the quaint Kelen or Buchwald quality.

They were probably an inspiration, but the inspiration was rather limited to the format. My early pieces, which were in the loose sally format, though, had politics as an underlying theme. The editors of The City Tab, a Bengaluru tabloid which published them gently reminded me to move away from politics as it was not essentially a political paper. In that phase I have also contributed a piece or two to The Indian Express. For a time I edited a house magazine for a local chapter of the Indian Junior Chamber (then known simply as JC or Jaycees). I titled it Credo and it was a hit.

The answer to your first question has probably become too long, but I must mention about the next phase of my writing, which too had nothing to do with politics at all. I came back to writing after I quit a regular job. This time I was into academic writing. I wrote in various disciplines including sociology; literature and language teaching; management and marketing. I have also for a time edited a magazine for HIV-AIDS professionals. It was a science magazine, published by a reputed pharmaceutical company for medical doctors, paramedics and counselling staff.

Finally, although a major part of VOXINDICA’s content is political, there are other subjects in it including creative pieces and book reviews.

Q: Presently, how would you summarize the political condition of India on the whole?

A: Today politics is at its lowest ebb. The independence struggle attracted the cream of our society. People joined the struggle with an altruistic motive. For them, politics was a noble pursuit. For leaders in the post-independent India power has become an end in itself. The high ideals of the freedom fighters have evaporated.

Q: What is it that inspired you to start a blog with politics as its backbone?

A: If there is a monumental failure of the Indian polity – it includes the political class, the intelligentsia and the media – it is its inability to bring about national unity, forge a national spirit and inculcate a national pride. It is a misfortune of this nation that even sixty years after independence, we still think of ourselves as belonging to a caste, creed or linguistic group and not as Indians.

A nation that does not have pride in its ancestry and achievements will be doomed to fall. During their 250-year rule the British did their best not just to downplay the splendour and grandeur of our civilisation, but to ridicule it and negate it. The achievements of our ancient civilisation were portrayed as external imports. The Aryan Invasion Theory was invented and all achievements are credited to it. Only negatives – social ills – were credited to us.

First the Brits and then the left-liberal social thinkers who came to dominate opinion-making bodies were/are responsible for this. Other nations have recognized the greatness of our civilisation, but it cannot be whispered here in India. There is a concerted effort to transpose a fabricated construct called the composite culture. All this is to placate one section of our people who vote en bloc. In the end it is down to vote banks and electoral politics; the pursuit of power. Nothing else matters! VOXINDICA is a small attempt to correct the imbalance. See Why VOXINDICA and First PersonSingular: ‘Thank You!’ (The latter was a thanks-giving piece written after winning the Blog Adda award.)

Q: You have been blogging for almost a decade now. Tell us your whole experience and let us know 5 things about blogging that are most beneficial according to you.

A: I am aware of my limitations as a blogger. For one, I cannot compete with the mainstream print medium. Therefore, I have to be choosy about what I write. Then, I remember my father’s advice to writers: ‘read more; write less and write only when the urge to write is overwhelming’. 

There would be no point in writing about a subject that is thrashed threadbare in yesterday's newspapers. Your readers would be interested in what you write only if you have something new to tell them. So I research and try to find evidence that supports my viewpoint to present it to the reader in an angle he hasn't already viewed elsewhere. 

As an example, please see my articles on the subject of freedom of expression. I critiqued both the issue of freedom of expression’ and court judgements in the M. F. Hussain case. When I researched the subject, I've found a similar case that was adjudged by the Austrian courts and which went up to the European Council of Human Rights.

While on the subject of ‘freedom of expression’, I haven’t seen any other writer point out that while the American First Amendment strengthened freedom of speech the first amendment to the Indian Constitution did the opposite: placed limitations on the ‘freedom of speech’. The amendment was piloted by Jawaharlal Nehru just eighteen months after the Constitution was adopted.

Similarly, while researching on some subject for an article I was writing for a newspaper, I thought I would look up to find out, which article in the Constitution enabled the institution of the Planning Commission. To my surprise, I found that it is not there in the Constitution at all. It is another of Jawaharlal Nehru’s quirky imports from the erstwhile Soviet Union, along with its Five Year Plans. Has anybody in the mainstream media mentioned that the Planning Commission is an extra-constitutional body? I don’t mean to say that I am the first person to discover the fact, but just that nobody mentioned it earlier. If Jawaharlal Nehru himself instituted an extra-constitutional body that diminished the stature of the Union Finance Minister, can anyone blame the present political leaders for instituting the office of the Chairperson of the UPA and the NAC?

In my various pieces on the Gujarat riots of 2002, on how the Gulmarg Society seize came to a head where there was no turning back, on the Naroda Patiya case judgement et al., I have brought to light details which were not discussed elsewhere in the mainstream media.

In my latest piece, I have panned Congress party’s 2014 election manifesto. I felt it my duty to point out to my readers that for a party that boasts of a 125 year history, terrorism was no issue at all!  

Q: What are three important changes that you wish to see in India's political scenario at the earliest?

A: The Constituent Assembly which was responsible for writing the Constitution envisaged reservations and Article 370 as temporary measures. Similarly very few people today remember that ‘Uniform Civil Code’ is a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution. Addressing these issues will go a long way in fostering national integration. The UCC is unfortunately viewed as a religious issue, but bringing it about will be in the interest of gender equality.

Minimum government; maximum governance. Government should exit business and focus on administering. The polity should work for the eradication of corruption and crony capitalism. Parliamentary oversight committees should be appointed to monitor the performance of industries.  

Most important, we must find ways and means to do away with dynastic rule in politics. A family (the definition of HUF as clarified by the Supreme Court should be the unit for this) should not have more than one member at a time in public office. And limit the tenure of public office. No person should be allowed to more than two terms in public office.     

Q: Tell our readers 5 things that they can do on a personal level to improvise the present situation in India.

A: Take politics seriously; don’t fail to vote. Vote for the right candidate.

Don’t tolerate corruption in public life.

Demand accountability from governments and government servants. It is your right. Remember Mahatma Gandhi’s dictum that you are not dependent on a business or government; on the other hand they depend on you. They exist to serve you. Government servants are paid to serve you. They are your servants.

Express your views as vigorously and often as possible. Writing letters to newspapers is not enough. Even the most liberal newspapers screen them and publish them only if they suit their political philosophy. Organise local committees to voice public opinion.

The only way we can make the media accountable is by withdrawing patronage. Social media has done much to tame wayward, self-centred commerce-oriented media.

Q: For all the wrongs happening in the nation, the blame is conveniently put on the politicians. Is this right? What are your thoughts on this?

A: The politicians are only a part – although a major part – of the problem. It is the society that throws up the politicians. There is truth in the adage that a ‘people get a government they deserve’.

It is for the society to reform itself. There must be an overhaul of our education system.

Q: Do you agree that Social Media would be able to play an important role in the change that India requires since it gives freedom of speech a whole new meaning?

A: The social media plays an important role in bringing social transformation. I have written about it: Are Sonia & Rahul more venerable than Sita & Saraswathi?

Q: Do you think newspapers and other media channels are becoming biased, vehicles for advertising, etc. forgoing their main duty of providing credible news? What is your take on this?

A: Absolutely. This is VOXINDICA’s raison d’etre!

Q: What is the funniest thing or comment you have heard about politics and from whom?

A: The left hemisphere of the brain helps us to think logically and the right brain about the artistic / emotional parts of our thinking. I have heard this quip about the leftists/communists: ‘For the leftists there is nothing right in the left and nothing left in the right!’

Q: Do you agree that blogging as an important communication tool should be used more effectively by the political parties? Not many politicians are willing to come out and talk to the common people. What do you have to say about this? 

A: No. I don’t want the blogosphere to become the propaganda arm of political parties. Let blogs and bloggers be!

Q: What other genres do you like to experiment writing about?

A: I have experimented in the following genres: biographies, book reviews and creative fiction. There is an indexed list of posts on the left of my blog. At the moment I am writing two non-fiction books, one educational and another, a biography.

Q: What according to you is the future of politics based blogging in India?

A: There will be politics based blogging as long as there are politics! J

Q: You won the Best Blog Award for the Politics Category by BlogAdda at WIN. How did you and your loved ones react to this?

A: It was a very happy and proud moment to win the award. I have written about it, as I have mentioned above.

Q: What new and special can we expect from your blog in the near future?

A: I strive to bring novelty in every post of mine.

Hey, this is for us. We would love to have your feedback about BlogAdda.

Q. How would you rate BlogAdda in terms of design, usability and features?

A: It is quite reader-friendly and informative. It’s a great idea to bring bloggers in various categories from across country onto a common platform where they can interact and improve their work.

Q. We are not sure if you know that BlogAdda.com lists all blogs that update every hour. What other features will make you visit BlogAdda often?

A: Yes. I have seen that.

Q. Any other suggestions/feedback/criticism or something good about BlogAdda? 

A:  You may consider publishing a compilation of articles from various blogs.  

Q. Your feedback on the interviews we had till now, your interview and the format of questions. We would love to have your suggestions on it and do let us know if you would like us to interview any particular blogger(s). We do not promise we will interview them, but will surely consider! :)

A: I have read some of the interviews you have published and quite like them. They are not only informative, but educative.