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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Congress’ Communism & Empress SoniaG’s Upkeep

Cho Ramaswamy's Tuglaq (the protagonist in the eponymous movie) says, ‘It is not possible to make the poor rich. Therefore make the rich poor and all will be equal!’ It is an unstated dictum of the communist proletariat. The communist elite (vlasti in Russian) had a different take on Marxist philosophy as George Orwell so vividly depicted in his Animal Farm. Irrespective of how they live, quite often the vlasti echo the proletarian edict, more to show that their heart is in the right place rather than because of an ardent belief that ‘all men should be equal’. Therefore it is no surprise to hear Mani Sankar Aiyar often cavil about Antilia, Mukesh Ambani’s 27-floor residence in Mumbai’s southern suburbs. Flaunting his knowledge of the Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality of wealth distribution) he often cites Antilia as an example of the deep chasm that exists between the rich and the poor in India. He did so again in the television debate, ‘Is India ripe for a revolution?’ hosted by Tim Sebastian on Bloomberg / Headlines Today recently. (Indian television anchors have much to learn from Sebastian, but that is a different matter altogether.)

Antilia
One way to look at Mukesh’s opulence is to attribute it to his business acumen, hard work and intelligence. For, although he has inherited a large part of his wealth he must have worked hard to grow the rest. In a democratic society which at least theoretically provides equal opportunities to all, one should not grudge Mukesh his success. Much has been said about Mukesh’s father Dhirubhai’s business acumen. His life is the stuff that made it to case studies in business schools. The less uncharitable (but probably more accurate) view is to attribute Dhirubhai Ambani’s success less to business acumen and more to his ability to network with the ruling establishment. Even this may be characterised as business acumen, but to put it bluntly Dhirubai was able bribe his way through the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi administrations to tweak government policy to suit his business interests. Dhirubhai’s Reliance Industries was perhaps the first example of crony capitalism on a gigantic scale. It had all the ingredients: funnelling funds through invisible sources, stock exchange skirmishes and manipulation of government policy. V. P. Singh who took on Dhirubhai to alter government policy on import of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) lost his job as Finance Minister! (See For this fighter, life was a big battle). On hindsight one might even suspect that the Bofors scam could have been a decoy. This being so, why does Aiyar constantly invoke Mukesh as a negative example of economic distortions knowing fully well that the seeds of the Ambani empire were sown during Congress regimes? More importantly, the Ambani empire reached its exponential growth stage during the regimes of Aiyar’s deities, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Be that as it may, if opulent living reflects a ‘vulgarity of greed’ to use an expression coined in the Films Division (of the I & B ministry) documentaries of the emergency era, how much does it cost to put up MPs like Aiyar in Lutyen’s Delhi? How much does empress Sonia’s upkeep cost the people of India?

[N.B.: What follows are only ‘back of the envelope’ calculations based on certain realistic assumptions.]

According to a recent Economic Times report, bungalows in Delhi’s Lutyen’s Bungalow Zone (LBZ) cost between Rs 111 and Rs 170 Crore. (See Delhi's most expensive realty deal: Torrent Group buys bungalow in Lutyen’s Zone for Rs111 crore). As No.10 Janpath is in an even more exclusive zone, it may be safely rated at the top end of the scale, i.e. Rs 170 Crore, assuming of course that it is of the same area and not bigger! At 1% of the price as rental value the bungalow costs Rs 1.7 Crore a year (as rent) to the people of India. [A] One might safely assume an expenditure of Rs 30, 00,000 per annum on staff and maintenance. [B]

Her electricity bills come to Rs 2. 49 Lakh a year. [C] (See Sonia Gandhi's power bill: over Rs. 7 lakh for 3 years). We are relieved to know, that of the Rs 7.47 Lakhs incurred in three years, she herself has paid all of Rs 0.09 Lakh whereas the Lok Sabha Secretariat paid Rs 7.38 Lakh!

As an MP she is eligible to salary and perquisites of Rs 36. 45 Lakh, excluding house rent which is already computed above. [D] (See SALARYOF MP'S - Indian Parliament members salary)

She is entitled to Z+ security which consists of 36 personnel of the NSG. An NSG Z+ team consists of various ranks from IG to constable. Assuming an average salary of Rs 3 Lakh per commando, the team cost Rs 1.08 Crore per annum. [E]

The total of [A]+ [B]+ [C]+ [D]+ [E] = Rs 3.47 Crore per annum. Based on a similar computation, Rahul’s expenditure to the exchequer (only salary and security included) comes to Rs 1. 45 Crore.

It is interesting to note that (if our rental computation is right) Sonia exceeds her rental allowance by 700% and her electricity allowance by 400%.

Is it not pertinent to ask, how many households in India can incur an expenditure of Rs 4.92 Crore per annum, especially in a country in which the BPL is set at just Rs 11, 520? 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Krishna Key


Book Review

Sanghi, Ashwin. (2012). The Krishna Key. Westland. Chennai. Pages: 475. Price: Rs: 250/-

Indians do not have a sense of history. The ancient rishis did not leave a record of their scientific experiments and achievements. For them science was a philosophical pursuit, an eternal quest for truth and unravelling the mysteries of the universe, and aimed at improving the lot of mankind. (See SCIENCE INANCIENT INDIA).

If the youth of today does not have an understanding of the achievements of their ancestors, there are several reasons for this. One is that the nation was subjugated and ruled by aliens for nearly a thousand years. If the theme of the alien rule during the first six hundred and fifty years was inflicting physical cruelties, the British who ruled next for about three hundred years used a different tactic. Their objective was to keep the Indians physically and psychologically oppressed. By the time the British left in 1947, large numbers of Indians were oblivious of their ancient glory. They were convinced that they were always a backward civilization and that they were civilized by their alien rulers!

The history of India had been often a ‘made to order’ product commissioned to sub-serve the interests of those who did so. History was written to suit the religious and political interests of the rulers. The religious objective was to lower the self-esteem of the people and show India’s indigenous religion as a backward cult. The political objective was to cleave the society vertically and horizontally. It is as a part of this game plan that the ‘Aryan – Dravidian’ bogey and ‘Sanskrit is a dead language’ myth were created. (See Should WeRe-write Indian History?)

Any residual knowledge or achievements that survive were sought to be explained away as relevant only to the upper strata of the society. The caste system that plagues the nation today was in fact congealed into place during the two phases of alien rule mentioned earlier. Originally, it was merely a division of labour and social mobility permitted both upward and downward movement of people. The castes were no more different than the Anglo Saxon surnames like ‘Barber’ or ‘Carpenter’, which only connote the trades the ancestors of these people might have adopted in the past. Any hope that history written during the colonial rule would be corrected and rewritten in the post independence period to project the glories of the ancient civilization was shot down because of the political imperatives of the new rulers and their fellow travellers in the academia. Both the rulers and their fellow travellers, the ‘rootless intellectuals’ (to use Ernest Bevin’s phrase) who occupied the higher echelons of the academia failed to see the role of history as a unifying force and nation building. As a result, we are today not one nation but a loose conglomeration of states held together ironically, by a civilization which the rulers and the academia wish to airbrush. If the ‘official’ academia is unwilling to correct wrong history how do we educate posterity about the grandeur of their ancestry?

It is against this backdrop that ‘The Krishna Key’ assumes significance. The book discusses in great detail the history of the extinct Saraswati River and the civilization that shadowed its growth and decline. Thanks to all the scientific evidence that has come to light in recent decades, the politically motivated ‘Aryan - Dravidian’ theory can at last be laid to rest. (RIP Aryan Invasion / Aryan Migration Theory!) The evidence includes not only new archaeological evidence but dating historical events based on the planetary configurations described in our epics. It would be ridiculous to argue that the writers of the Ithihasas not only exhibited extraordinary skill in creating everlasting stories but went to the extent of calculating planetary configurations that predated them by thousands of years simply to include them in their works. It was not beyond the power of the rishis who created the epics to do so, but it would only be natural for them to describe the planetary positions as they were seen in their time. It is in this context, after demolishing the impugned ‘Aryan - Dravidian’ theory, the book pointed out the possibility of an ancient civilization spreading from east to west instead of west to east as always presumed. Ironically it bases its argument on the same philological logic on which the protagonists of ‘Aryan - Dravidian’ theory based theirs. If ‘Dalton’s atomic theory’ could be rescinded within forty years of its proposition, why should we also not discard the ‘Aryan - Dravidian’ theory in view of mounting evidence to the contrary? There is a lot of discussion in the book about the cryptic symbolism of numbers and various other practices of Hinduism which were originally initiated by the rishis in their scientific wisdom. It is for this wealth of detail that the book should be read by everyone interested ancient Hindu civilisations.  

The novel is about the quest of a group of four scholars (a historian, an archaeologist, a marine archaeologist and a geneticist) to unlock the secrets of Krishna’s ancient kingdom of Dwaraka. The storyline is a broth of mythology, history, archaeology and theology cunningly intermingled with the current narrative that makes for compelling reading. The story of Krishna and Mahabharata is used as a backdrop for a story of murder and mystery. The cast of characters includes an intelligent, middle-aged, widower professor and a dutiful (and middle-aged), widowed woman police officer to pair him. There is a beautiful, clever, not so honest (again middle aged) spinster, research scholar and her unquestioning, criminal acolyte. There is a sharp, ruthless criminal lawyer who made his pot of gold representing the criminal underworld (imagine someone like ‘Raj Malhotra’ in the Govinda starrer, ‘Kyonki main jhut nahi bolta ’) and a gangland boss with a hoary ancestry dating all the way back to Sri Krishna. As the narrative picks up speed (it does so right in the beginning) the characters run about from Jaipur to Pune to Delhi to Jodhpur to Dwaraka to Chandigarh via Manasa Sarovar and finally to the Taj Mahal in Agra, the crooked on a murder spree and the righteous in pursuit. As in all virtuous stories, in this novel too good triumphs over evil and the culprits were captured. Giving away more details of the story would be spoiling the thrill of reading it. One can’t help recall Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code after reading all those twists and turns, allusions to mythological events and cryptic puzzles.

Though there are only a few errors in the book, some of them are significant and cannot be ignored. See these examples: There is a story behind Bhima’s slaying of Jarasandha. It was not about Sri Krishna's  desire to strengthen his Yadava kingdom by eliminating a potential enemy, as mentioned. (p. 187) According to the Mahabharata, five mahabalas (immensely strong warriors) were born at the same time under a single birth star. They were Bhima, Bakasura, Duryodhana, Keechaka and Jarasandha. According to a divine ordinance, the first to slay any one of the others would also slay the remaining three. Therefore for Bhima to slay Duryodhana at the end of the war according to his vow, it was necessary for him to slay any one of the others first. Yudhisthira’s first Rajasuya Yaga  was to make the kings of all those kingdoms through which the horse roamed accept his suzerainty; not as an equal. (p. 187). The raison d’ etre for performing a Rajasuya Yaga was correctly described when Yudhisthira performed it a second time after the war. In line 14, p. 189, it should be Sastra chikitsa or tantra (meaning surgery) and not Sastra karma. In the sentence ‘Some coincided, others differed’ (line 7, p 272), shouldn’t it be ‘concurred’? The Rig Vedic hymn (line 6, p. 293) should read as ‘ekam sat; viprah bahudha vadanti’ (not vidhaante). Isn’t it ‘Rahika and Saini’ and not ‘Priya and Saini’ in p. 301? Prithviraj Chouhan the last Hindu king was killed in 1192 AD and not BCE (p. 328). In line 9 page 330 the sentence should read as ‘… Indian blacksmiths had succeeded’, not ‘succeeding’. Is it necessary to repeat the story of ‘Syamantaka mani’ once told by Sri Krishna and a second time by Sir Khan? The event of Gandhari bestowing Duryodhana with vajra sareera with her fondling touch had occurred in his childhood, not before the war. Sri Krishna prevented Duryodhana’s whole body being bestowed with a vajra sareera by jeering at him for walking naked (p. 372). Sri Krishna thus ensured the upper part of his thighs remained vulnerable, to enable Bhima to hit there and so fulfil his vow which he made when Draupadi was insulted. It should be Saini and Radhika who put their hands up and not Priya and Saini (line 16-17 p. 389). The sastra that dictates temple architecture is the Aagama Sastra and not the Vaastu Sastra. (p. 402). A nerve does not supply blood. It should be a blood vessel (line 13, p. 406). Avoiding these errors would have improved an otherwise excellently researched well-written novel.

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


Friday, October 05, 2012

Will Sonia Gandhi debate with Narendra Modi on TV?


Dilip Padgaonkar holds the televised debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as a lesson worthy of emulation for Indian political leaders. (Such glaring contrasts). Although televised debates between American presidential candidates were generally level-headed, their campaigns were not. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson’s supporters called President John Adams a “hermaphrodite, with neither the force and firmness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” In the 1828 campaign John Quincy Adam’s supporters called his rival Andrew Jackson ‘a murderer, his mother a prostitute and his wife an adulteress’. This year’s campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has been none too gentle. All the stories of nastiness in previous election campaigns are being dug up by the American media to tell the public that there was nothing new in it. Bob Schieffer cites Laura Brown (in News and World Report) as saying that ‘the role of the media in all this has not been exactly stellar.’ (Nasty campaign ads an American tradition)

In the 1960 election between the Democrat J. F. Kennedy and the Republican Richard Nixon (Eisenhower’s former Vice President), the Democrats put up a poster with the leering form of Richard Nixon holding out a finger and the caption ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’ It was also in the 1960 election that a televised debate between the candidates was first introduced. The candidate that was able to deliver a knockout punch in the debates usually won. It was so with the Kennedy election of 1960 when the nation saw him as confident and relaxed while Nixon appeared ‘shifty, sweating and badly under the lights.’ The debates too were not devoid of their share of wit at the expense of an opponent and knockout punches. In the 1980 election, Ronald Regan debated Jimmy Carter. Finding Carter’s penchant for manipulating statistics irksome, Reagan taunted him with the humorous line, ‘There you go again!’  (The 10 best US presidential campaigns)

Therefore, if we have nothing to learn from the US Presidential campaigns or the US media, what was Padgaonkar’s point in bringing up the Obama – Romney television debate in his ToI blog? A few minute’s trouble to google would have told Padgaonkar, who once held ‘the second most important job in India’ that he was on a sticky wicket. Well, he has to begin somewhere. But his objective was different. It was to rile Narendra Modi for raising the issue of the alleged expenditure of Rs 1880 crore towards Sonia Gandhi’s foreign travels. Narendra Modi did not refer to her treatment and has repeatedly said so. He tried to convince anyone who would listen that he did not make the statement from first hand knowledge but from newspaper reports that appeared in Gujarat, Haryana and even in the national media like The Indian Express and India Today. BJP’s Menakshi Lekhi who vehemently argued Narendra Modi’s case on national television pointed out that there was not one but several RTI petitions filed from various parts of the country. In spite of all this the media would have none of it. They buy into the versions of the Congress spokespersons, who flitted from one RTI petition to another in a clumsy attempt at bluff, bluster and subterfuge to shroud the issue in secrecy. They wouldn’t even hear the counter argument that if the GoI spent any monies on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign travels the people of the country are entitled to know about it. And that people in public life have to forego some of their privacy. Remember Sanjay Joshi and Abhishek Manu Singhvi? They had a right to their private lives but had to pay a price for being public figures.

It is a strange fact of life that in democratic India where all citizens are presumed to be equal, there is one family that is above the pale of the law and public scrutiny. It is a privilege that is not available even to rulers in traditional monarchies like Britain. Is it a hangover from our colonial past? ‘So be it’, would our Congress politicians with the skin of a hippopotamus, say, without batting an eyelid! The sad part of this drama is that the Indian media, which should have played its role as a bulwark against dictatorial mores has been not only abdicating its responsibility but is willy-nilly conspiring with the unseemly conduct of the ruling politicians.    

Now, let us look at a proposition that Dilip Padgaonkar, unconsciously (and perhaps unintentionally) put forth. It is about the televised debate between the two contesting rivals. America introduced these televised debates sixty years ago (with the Kennedy – Nixon debate as mentioned earlier) to enable the voters to understand who they are (or rather their electoral college is) sending to the White House for the next four years to rule them. It helps the nation understand what a candidate stands for, what his understanding of various issues of governance is and how he intends to cope with them. Could a leader who reads her Hindi speeches written for her in Roman script be able to cope with such a debate? Or would the Prince whose understanding of the complexity of Indian politics leaves much to be desired, do?

How would Padgaonkar like Sonia Gandhi to debate with Narendra Modi on national television?