Tag Archives: India

The most clear, honest elections ever

This election has not been like any other in the living memory (my memory, obviously).

It is the bitter fight, with no clear favorites, that is usually the most absorbing. However, even though this one is a pretty one-sided contest (- with a clear Modi wave, a clear prime minister, a coalition government with a predominant party which clearly does not need allies, but will keep them along because of its large heartedness etc etc –) it is turning out to be like no other, as I said, in my memory.

The trailer to Polls-2014 was launched in December 2013 itself. BJP won three states, and was the single largest party in the fourth. The party that was supposed to win just 6 seats, spoilt the party, grabbing 28 and prevented a well-deserved clean sweep. And the party ‘was’ spoilt – there is no doubting that. Left a bitter taste, that result from the capital did.

But what it also did was to alert the rightful winners – that to ensure there is no slip between the cup and the lip, bitterness has to be sustained and kept alive in the hearts of the bhaktas. Only then will the poor sods be in the fighting fit mode, only then will the work be completed satisfactorily and appropriate result achieved. And so, although it is a clear, one-sided election, a pretense of a fight has to be kept up till the last round of voting. After which date, exit polls and celebrations can be uncorked.

The election has been good for the economy. It has generated lots and lots of temporary rural employment. For many, elections have been a boon – two square meals a day and some spirit to keep the spirit up. Election has recycled lot of black money in the system – not a mean achievement. Huge amount of ‘foreign’ investment into the election has ensured that the rupee, that was wobbling against the dollar, gained strength. There is an all-round cheer in the corporate board-rooms. District maps are being dusted and laid on the tables again for carving up the wastelands for development – something that will be a boon for a lot of God forsaken places in the country.

But the best aspect of the elections this time round has been the truthfulness of the campaigns. We are witnessing clear statement of priorities that will ensure there are no heartburns after the elections. It has been clarified, for example, who will, and who will not, get irrigation or drinking water, and why. It is probably only for the good that people are wearing their caste, religious, regional loyalties on their sleeves. No point in hypocrisy and pseudo talk – an unbecoming coyness that has dragged the country down since time immemorial.

And that reminds me of the foreign policy stance of the main parties. For the Jonny-come-late-lies, foreign does not exist. For the spent force parites, ‘foreign’ is an un-parliamentary word. But the rightful winners are clear in their focus – a potential superpower must behave accordingly – it must be muscular and imperial – or else it will not be taken seriously. They have made it clear – neighbours should not throw their weight about – the pecking order of the business of weight-throwing will be made amply clear by them once they start the serious business of ruling the great nation.

All in all, this one has been one of the most honest, clear and non-partisan election I ever witnessed. The coronation will be sometime in the last week of May, but the party will start on the 16th. Keep yourself free for the happy occasion.

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Another Independence Day: Where are the poets?

image

The poets cried
At the stroke of midnight
When the nation was born.

Since then no poet laureate has sung
The glory of its martyrs,
Or of the sacrifices
Of its youth
Or of its leaders.

Meanwhile,
The nation marches on.
Many still die for it
Many still have dreams for it;
Honesty and Godliness
Still burn like incense
In most hearts.

But the poets do not see
The smiles, or the statistics.
Their eyes are dimmed
By the tears of sworrow
At the sight of the children begging
In tattered clothes,
And by the tears of rage
At the million other injustices.

Let the poets be-
Let them weep and rage
For their perfect world;
Let them suffer, if they want,
Till all sufferings end.
Let us hoist the tricolour
Without the poets.

***


A day in the bazaar: Handicraft shopping in Delhi


The underachievers: Top five contenders

Nobody knows why The Time chose Dr Manmohan Singh as the Underachiever of the year. True to our US-loving psyche, our very own Outlook magazine has paid back the compliment, most graciously, by featuring President Obama on its cover with a similar title.

Now there is so much heartburn in the country that one wonders whether it was an American ploy to sow seeds of disunity with this move. The opposition parties like BJP and CPM say that their record of the last few years speaks for itself, and that it is not the business of ‘outsiders’ to decide who is the underachiever-est of us all. Meanwhile the leaders of these parties sulk and plan a counter offensive that would prove, conclusively, that the tag rightfully belongs to them. Ms Mamata Bannerjee has, it is widely believed, a natural talent and a head-start in the race.

But I seriously feel that the true under-achievers are to be found elsewhere, and that they must be recognized. Generally, we all know that the common man in India is the rightful owner of this coveted title, but to be more specific, I would submit my top five contenders for your kind consideration.

 

  1. The Indian corporate: Taking manufacturing growth into negative territory at a time when there is a growing demand from the middle classes – can only be the work of a hard-working underachiever. Moreover, the image and political management of the Corporates is in tatters, and they have lost their grip over the polity. What sort of an aspiring capitalist society is this where the propaganda machine of the private sector cannot rule the mindscape?
  2. The Indian Voter: With a catchment area of over a billion people, the Indian voter is unable to choose a handful of good leaders for the Parliament and Assemblies! Their sheer dedication in choosing some of worst odd-balls from the society must be recognized as the handiwork of a dedicated underachiever.
  3. The Indian cricket team: At a time when the Indian captain M S Dhoni has the probably the most talented set of players in his team, it must have taken special strategy to lose series after series since our World Cup victory. For the consistency shown in under-performance, the team needs to be recognized.
  4. The Indian Geek: Blessed with brains and an IIT degree, the Geek has disappointed by being always the follower, never the leader, in the field of big ideas; an ideal worker rather than a conceptualizer, or a brand creator.
  5. The Indian Media: So much freedom, so little result. All the ideal settings going to waste, like the grains that are rotting in Indian go-downs. The pathetic performance of Indian media is recognized and commented-on by all, and they are definitely the top contenders for the title.

 

The competition is tough, and it is not likely that there will be a consensus. Therefore the lucky Dr Singh will continue to rule – and that is as it should be. If I missed out on a contender who is more worthy than the above five, do to submit the name/category, at least for the record. I have no doubt that history will judge them better.

***


Top ten (and more) psychological advantages of being an Indian

Mind boggles at the sheer advantage that one gets from being an Indian. It is a pretty comfortable culture to be a part of, provided you can tolerate all the other crack-pots around you, like they tolerate you. Consider this randomly thought-of list of psychological advantages:

(Warning: Ultra-nationalist, ultra-patriotic, ultra-sensitive Indians need not waste their time reading the list, for you guys already know everything.)

  1. You will never feel lonely or an alien, anywhere in the world – nay, even on Mars. (When you get down from your rocket, there will be an Indian taxi to welcome you.)
  2. Even if you are dumb, wherever you go people, by default, will think you are an IIT-an, and a geek. An early advantage always helps.
  3. You can always be on a high moral ground, being from the world’s largest democracy, though you may never have cared to vote in your life.
  4. You are not bound to follow laws and rules. Traffic rules or traffic lights are an example – here you are the master of the road. Another benefit is the thrill that you get on reaching home in one piece, for it is always a gamble.
  5. You can lecture the world on the greatness of Hinduism, of family values, of spirituality, of Gandhian thought etc etc….while being ignorant and intolerant at the same time.
  6. You can be proud of things people did thousands of years ago, as if it was you (or your grandfather) who was directly responsible.
  7. You can be a full-grade male chauvinist but still flaunt your Goddess-worshipping culture and claim to be the most liberated-advanced-enlightened race.
  8. You can give a few rupees to the nearest beggar, have a dip in holy Ganga or recite a holy mantra, and all your guilt (for your cheating, lying, exploiting, corruption, thieving etc) gets erased, as if by magic. Great therapy is available for free.
  9. You can always flaunt being a part of a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-race, multi-linguistic society – though you may never have learned any of the other languages of your own country, and may even be bad-mouthing other  communities on the internet social sites.
  10. You can lecture the world on the half-baked ideas on Vedanta that you have read from English text-books. It is pretty satisfying to know that all what the scientists of the Western world are slogging to discover was already known to YOU.
  11. Pray to a God of your choice (from an assorted set of thousands of them) or even remain atheist or agnostic (for those are also valid religious streams in Hinduism), fanatically follow from any of the ideologies ever propounded (all have popular pockets of influence in India), do nothing in life except argue and criticize (Amartya Sen approves)….
  12. Have a great family support, with parents feeding and supporting you for virtually your entire lives, till they live that is. Feel pretty superior about your joint family traditions, though you may not even remember the names of your first cousins. Have the psychological support of a huge family (which acts like a New York gang in times of trouble) to support you in bad times (i.e. when you have really messed up your life being selfish and careless). It is, indeed, a great advantage.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. No wonder Indians love to create ‘mini-Indias’ wherever they go.

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Let them stone Gandhi

The hatred for Gandhi is brimming,
once again. But,
where will they find Gandhi
to stone him?
 
Let them form a society
to stone Gandhi, or his legacy,
and begin thus:
 
How dare he tell us
to clean our toilets?
 
The man is a humiliation.
He sets such a bad example.
He spreads canards
about our great nation-
is poverty
our only reality?
 
We are of an ancient culture-
proud, undefeated in spirit.
Does he not remember
the Vedas, the empires
Aryabhatt?
 
Hunger, caste, naked urchins-
can he not see beyond this?
 
He rants of religious harmony
ignoring that injustices were done.
Sensationalizing the plight
of the widows,
and of untouchables
and what not – bah!
Imperialist stooge!
 
Is he trying to unnerve us?
Humiliate us,
undermine our manliness,
sap our will to rise
once again?
 
Gandhi had heard all this
and would hear it again
if he bothers.
 
But he does bother those
who dream the American dream,
and wish to tell their American friends
about our great nation.
 
He bothers those in smart suits
who roll up the windows of their BMWs
when the urchins press their noses
against the glass.
 
His legacy worries those
who write great columns
on how the nation is forging ahead
on how to act like a superpower
on how to check slum-tourism
on how brain drain is great
on how it is imperative
to invite the top pastry makers
to invest
in our great nation.
 
Why does he pop up
like bad conscience
at wrong times?
 
Let them make a society
to stone Gandhi.
 
It is long overdue.
 
***

The first reform: Do away with the kursi (chair)

At a time when many proposed reforms are being floated in the air, both by the government and by those who oppose them, I propose the abolition of big offices for Ministers and Secretaries as the first and most essential administrative reform. All others will follow. Let me explain.

People have noted the difference between meeting a high dignitary in his office, and meeting him/her at any other place on the planet. In the former setting, s/he is the king/queen. Here the visitor/petitioner comes out of the meeting without saying what he had intended to, when s/he had sought an appointment. The dignitary has, let us say, the home-advantage.

But this is not a small advantage, and the implications are not small. People wanting to petition a dignitary, stand a fair and equal chance if the meeting is held outside of their office. (Hence the concept of people’s darbars.) Outside their offices, the dignitaries look (….gasp…) humans.

The air-conditioned environs of a sparsely populated innards of the office of a dignitary is designed to lend an aura to the owner, as well as confidence. The Assistant sitting outside, letting only one person in, at a time, has a role to play – he has to add to the grandness of the occasion. The sullen faced peon, who may be called in to serve tea, is trained to look at the visitor in a manner that men would look at cockroaches in their kitchens. This is designed to sap the confidence of the visitor and to put him off.

It has also been noted that if the visitor is an important guest, or ranks higher than the dignitary, the meeting does not take place at the huge work-table – they meet at a separate sofa-set, on an equal footing, as it were. This is because the visiting party also knows the ‘game’ and is likely to feel offended at the naked display of power. This display is meant only for the hoi-polloi.

In a democracy, these offices are occupied for most of the five years that ministers are in office. They venture out of it for short periods before the elections. That is why democracy is said to be the best form of government. It forces them out at least once in a while. For the bureaucrats, this rule does not apply, for their operating procedures were defined by the colonial rulers, way back in the nineteenth century, when these rules were found to be fundamental to ruling a foreign country. (For the bureaucrat, the countryside apparently remains a foreign country.)

The insulation given to a President, with the aura of a Viceregal Palace, is extended to all the senior dignitaries in government in various proportions – this is called ‘order of precedence’ in officialese.

I wrote this ‘Revolutionary’ poem ‘Let’s try something stupid, for once’ a few months ago-

 
Let our offices have no doors.
Let it be a free for all; let people
Just walk in for tea or gossip.
The sanitized, air-conditioned offices
The multi-national air, the aura of a CEO
Sits ill on our leaders.
 
Let us reclaim the areas
Where our leaders sit,
As public places. Let us do away
With the guards and the red-lights
Along with the doors.
Let no one bar our entrance.
 
Let the world laugh at us
As we hold offices under the trees
(In local dialects, with cheap stationary.)
Let us frame stupid policies;
Let us hear out the village bumpkins.
Let us shock ourselves with sanity.
 
We always remember Gandhi
When everything else fails –
The poor pick up the guns
When even the last door is slammed shut.
Let us ban all doors –
Let us try democracy, for once.
 
 

There is little evidence, however, that the revolution is around the corner. The Congress Party chief keeps on reminding the leaders that they have lost ‘contact’ with the people. The middling Congress leaders say that it is difficult to meet the Ministers. The Chief Ministers, when they come visiting the Union Home Minster, leave the office with their heads drooping and demands unconveyed, except in form of pre-written petitions. Some Chief Ministers even refuse to come to Delhi, when summoned, terrified of the ‘offices’. It is other matter that the same CMs have even more lavish offices in their states, and are the masters of this game themselves.

There is a beautiful scene in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, where Hitler and Mussolini jack up their chairs to dominate the other in a one-to-one meeting. I wish the visitor’s chairs in the offices today also had the provision of cranking-up and elevating the chair. But that would only be a partial solution. The solution lies in altogether abolishing these offices. There are good ‘open-office’ designs to choose from and adopt, with glass doors and smaller furniture.

Team Anna (the activists calling for administrative-political reforms in India) feels more comfortable on a public platform than in the office of the Finance Minister. Last year they came out of the office of that dignitary sad and subdued – their bravado evaporated at the first sight of the magnificent oak table and chill in the room filled their hearts. Since then they prefer the open air summer heat of Delhi.

Much of the same things happens to the farmers and the common-man in the small towns and villages. They would much rather bear the heat and deprivation of their villages, than go to the city to meet the dignitaries in their AC rooms. They know that the meeting would be futile. They would rather wait for the next elections, when the Ministers would come, in spotless-clean kurtas, sometimes with the bureaucrats in tow, and assure them of reforms if they were voted back to power.

***


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