Archive for the ‘Caffeine-induced’ Category

2G or not 2G?

Over the past few months, very few things have evoked the writer and cynic in me as the 2G scam has. The 2G scam (which interestingly, I knew off much before it hit the headlines) is one of the biggest frauds in Indian politics. I call it a political fraud because I am not so concerned about the money involved. I am more worried about what the scam and its aftermath indicates. Before I get into that, let me try to put the figure into perspective so that you don’t think I’m condoning the crime. 1.7 lakh crores is 1.7 x 10,00,00,00,00,000. That’s 1.7 billion. India’s population is 1.18 billion, which means every citizen in this country has to shell out 1 rupee and 44 paisa to amount to that. That’s when I gave up and focused on what the scam implies.

Victory to autocracy

I am writing this hours after Raja resigned and when the opposition parties, lead by the most shameless of them all, BJP, are calling it a victory to democracy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If it indeed was a victory to democracy, Raja would have stepped down 2 years back, when the noises first emerged (admittedly only from economic editors of english dailies, but noises nevertheless). Or when Shashi Tharoor was kicked out over similar “baseless allegations”, “media-generated reports”, “opposition conspiracy” and “sub-judice matters”. Or after the CWG. Or at least after we finished shamelessly ogling over Michele Obama’s dance moves. But no. First he looted. Then he covered up. Then the less-cunning Tharoor fell. Then Modi (the one with the less powerful first name). Then Kalmadi. Then Chavan. Then a week of Sagarika Ghose’s decibel-defying nonsense, Rajdeep Sardesai’s self-adulation, Arnab Goswami’s monologues and Burka Dutt’s Oh-I-went-to-St.Stephen’s-so-I’m-right. Then BJP’s ‘Ram’ifications, Amma’s righteous-than-thou comments, coalition (a)dharmas, political calculations, pleads, threats, hopes, hints and prayers.  Finally he quit. Why? Because his party boss asked him to. In other words, the Parliament would have been held hostage till the Congress grew a pair or till another scam hit the scene. What kind of democratic victory is this? And think about it, none of the past “victories” were democratic either. Tharoor was a bakra asking to be slaughtered. Kalmadi would have survived if Congress hadn’t given CWG so much importance. Chavan messed with our holiest institution. Even so, they had to quit because of their party boss. None of these victories were democratic. None of them offered to quit on their own or invite an inquiry. All of them are victories that have been allowed. It reminds me of that Friends episode where Monica hires Joey just to fire him, to show her authority. Only here, honesty, transparency and all assorted nouns are pegged to the firing (since no one questioned Mrs Gandhi’s authority!) So for the next gazillion years, Congress can show these 3 as examples and continue doing bad or letting others do bad.

What we need is not what we deserve

Despite, or perhaps because of, my bias towards the Congress Party, I cannot help thinking that the biggest disservice that they can do to the PM is to tug on his honesty. Every chance they get, every answer they can meek out and every ‘powerful’ statement they issue is decorated with the PM’s clean image. Their 5-year plan is to have his clean image passed on to the entire party. Just as they had to work on their secular image in the 80s and harp on it when the NDA was in power, they are ‘working on’ their honesty next. With their austerity drive not going as far as they would have liked, they hope to kick out minister after minister to drive home the point. My admiration for the PM has never been sullied by the ‘weakest PM’ criticism because he has not let his ‘weakness’ get in the way of his governance. In fact, the message I took home from his was that his ‘weakness’ was that governance did not mean politics. He was a politician above politics. The problem is, the PM is far too lonely at the top to lift them all up. My fear is that he will be pulled down. The biggest service the Congress party can do to the PM (and itself) would be to disentangle itself from the PM’s personality and let him be admired and remembered as the only clean man in the crowd.

As always, I finish with an analogy from the new-age Gita – The Dark Knight. We don’t deserve a clean leader, need one. We need a Harvey Dent. Because sometimes… the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.

If it indeed was a victory to democracy

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I don’t believe in death penalty any more.

Yes, there was a time, not long back, when I was a proponent of capital punishment. I remember arguing quite vehemently, indeed abusively, with my good friend Iyer, about the Saddam Hussein case when he was being tried, though at that time we were arguing about his right to a fair trial. We deviated soon, as arguers usually do, and we were voicing opinions about the death punishment. I don’t remember what his stand was, but I was pretty convinced that death was the correct punishment for Hussein. I have changed my views over the last few years and I don’t support death punishment any more. I confess I don’t argue as vociferously against it as I did for it because some cases leave me in middle ground, though with my back against death punishment.

The underlying reason for this new stand is that I believe death is not the biggest deterrent – it’s the fear of of living in an unforgiving world. As kids, we have gotten into trouble often, I have. I used to lie, cheat in tests, steal money from dad’s drawer and conceal poor grades from my folks. And each time, the worst punishment I could think of was  varying degrees of reproach, insults or slaps. However, when I eventually did get caught, the imagined punishments would seem bearable, even mild, when my folks used to ignore me. Remember the time when you came home from school and found your mom solemnly pretending to read an old magazine, the food not ready on the table (or worse, when it was!), everyone unusually cheerful to everyone else, your dad being extra sweet to your siblings and they in turn being paragons of good behavior – the entire family being strangely perfect and you feeling like a stranger? That killed me. I broke down, then my mom, dad became Gandhian and my bro barely concealed his smirk. That feeling was a bigger deterrent.

Magnifying it to the death penalty vs life imprisonment argument, it may not be an exact fit, but the sentiment remains. My main contention against death penalty is that it vindicates the victim, but does not punish the criminal. I cannot bring myself to forgive terrorists and murderers and rapists and that’s probably why I don’t want them dead. Death is far too lenient and worse, doesn’t solve the purpose. They should suffer a punishment worse than death – the anguish of living in an unforgiving world. And as far as the purpose being solved, a person who is capable of being reformed, will be reformed, and the others – what better punishment of living in hell and facing the devil within themselves?

While most of the death row opponents agree with this sentiment, they seem to be non-committal when the argument turns to terrorism. And rightly so. I have been thinking about this for a while and I began to question myself during and after the Bombay attacks. I was horrified as I saw the attacks on TV and seethed when I read about the details of the attack. Like everyone, I was angry at everyone else – the terrorists, the security agencies, the ‘intelligence’ bureaus and both the governments. As TV channels banked on the misery of the victims and their families, I heard one particular girl on TV whose opinion put my vague ideas into words. She said our aim should be to kill terrorism and not the terrorists. And the fact that she in one of the ‘terror zones’ made me admire her conviction even more. That is our aim isn’t it?  Does killing Ajmal, a man who came prepared to die anyway, achieve that? I don’t necessarily say life imprisonment does, but it does something death does not. I don’t wish to bring religion into this, but from what I’ve read, these people are bred and made to believe in honor in killing and being killed. The Holy Wars, the Promised Lands, heaven, 72 virgins and many such promises are the driving force behind any form of terrorism. Killing them and in a sense validating their beliefs is, in my opinion, almost as heinous as advocating them.

I confess I don’t subscribe to the humanitarian side of the death row debate. Human rights are for the ideal world, and this world is far from being ideal. I don’t think death penalty is the only blemish on our otherwise unimpeachable humanity. Sorry, this argument does not convince me. Human right sympathies don’t apply to terrorists and rapists. But I do believe that there is a punishment that is far more insulting than abuses, far more painful than slaps and infinitely more torturous than death – betrayal. They should be made to realize that there is absolutely no honor in killing. They should realize that there is no heaven for terrorists, only the hell of Indian jails.

There was one particular comment that the judge made in the Kasab verdict  that I found extremely disturbing. He said one of the substantiating factors behind his verdict was that he did not want another Kandahar incident. I cannot think of a stronger argument against death sentence in this particular case. His verdict is driven, among other reasons, by terror! We all have a higher conscience to answer to, but is that terrorism? Have we as a country reached a point in history when we pass judgments, not because we want to punish our enemies, but because we fear them? This symbolic act of “sending a message” is actually on that is sent to us! I sympathize to many of the arguments for death penalty, but not this.

To expand on a confession I made earlier, I am still hesitant in putting forth my views against death punishment, especially when I realize that I speak with the comfort of not being a victim. Unfortunately, terrorism (and in fact rape or murder or anything as heinous) is not limited to an unfortunate few. It is global and it is very real. Would I still retain this ideal if, (ironically) God forbid, I become a victim myself? I don’t know. Which is probably why I’m trying to convince myself early on.

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I surprised a few friends by not becoming an SRK fan after the recent clash with the Sena. While it is true that the entire episode has not particularly made me respect SRK, I still laud him for standing up against Thackrey (though he needs to be a lot more forceful). It has also made me realize why I will never ever respect Shiv Sena and its ilk.

I will not go into why I don’t like SRK, but it is important for anyone getting into an argument with me after reading this to know that I don’t hate him either and I have not allowed either to influence my view on the topic.

Why I have not become a fan of his after his comments is simply because I do not agree with his view point. I honestly believe India should put all non-political ties with Pakistan on hold till we ease the political tension. Now, many of you may argue that this is precisely why arts and sports should carry on, I think not. I believe that cultural ties (broadly speaking) with Pakistan will not heal the wounds of the past, instead, will numb it. To draw a line from The Last Lecture, treat the disease, not the symptoms. I understand the need to nurse the symptoms and it seems logical – when the disease is finally cured, these symptoms may trigger a new disease altogether.

Sorry, I just love analogies. What my euphemism implied was that, these cultural connections will help ease the tension on a people-level (the symptoms); they wont stop terrorism or solve the border problem(the disease). So when finally the latter problems are solved, we may find that the people still hate each other and the cause is lost. While this seem logical, I feel this is insufficient. The problems are over 60 years old now and do not seem to improve. Cricket has helped argue some, but I doubt it. I honestly think sports and arts are far too insignificant when the flip side is carnage. And boycotting miscreants is not new to sports – South Africa was banned from a majority of the sports during the apartheid regime, the Moscow Olympics was boycotted during the Afghan invasion and many more such instances. Unfortunately for my argument, but positively overall, art has no boundaries and it is not practical to ban one country’s art in another, though even that has been done in the past by oppressive regimes (which I do not support). Having said that, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s contribution to ARR’s Vande Mataram did not endear us to Pakistan. We applauded Nusrat’s nice gesture and enjoyed his music, but were very clear where we stood a couple of years later during the Kargil War. So, my point is this, arts and sports and trade and cultural exchanges are amazing and I fully support them, but not when the sincerity of the target government is in question.

So am I profiling all Pakistanis unfairly and saying that the players are to be treated hostile? Hell no! I am just of the view that governments of both countries are using non-political contact in the wrong sense. They should be used to promote and maintain good relations, not be used as a cover for political incompetence. The bottom line is that these ties are not helping the big picture. And let’s face it – IPL is not a cultural endeavor by either governments, and to debaters who say peace talks need not be government initiated, let me say not for a moment do I think IPL is a any form of peace talk between the two countries. It is just a big, starry, fun-filled show out of which people make huge sums of money. I don’t think Modi or any of the team owners or the players themselves think of it otherwise. It’s no more a contact building endeavor than the Oscars.

All this could have been avoided had the Indian government been bold enough to take a stand on the whole Pak players in India. None of the politicians had the balls to say Pak players are banned or for that matter assure them and the teams that they are safe were they to come to India. The government was and still is an embarrassment in this particular aspect. Things were not helped by the slimy BCCI either. And who can blame the team owners for not taking Pak players? Imagine they pay dear money to buy a Pak player and there are visa issues or Sena tantrums and are not allowed to play. I mean, they are businesspeople and nothing more should be expected of them. But we needn’t have humiliated the Pak players by taking them in for the auction and not picking them. That is unforgivable.

Coming to the Seniacs (note my word play on maniacs). I think they are unreasonable, undemocratic, regressive people who should be banned. Although I may seem to agree in principle to what Thackrey has been shouting about, as far as this issue is concerned, I have nothing but disapproval in response to the kind of tactics he employs to convey it. What has the country come to when a Minister has to go to a thug and give a presentation for his ‘approval’ for playing in a state that he does not govern in the first place? He is not in power, he is not a cricketer, he has not invested in the League and more importantly, has done absolutely nothing for him to label an Indian unpatriotic. I respect democracy far too much for me to ever support his ways. I am not a Maharastrian, so cannot say how legitimate his ‘fight’ for the Marathi  manoos is, but whatever the justification, I cannot digest autocracy. A big no to moral policing, a big no to regionalism, a big no to racial profiling and a huge-ass no to Shiv Sena and its ilk.

So what do I feel about the whole episode?

  • The Pak players should have been treated far more courteously.
  • The disease needs to be treated and the symptoms will treat themselves.
  • The governments have to get a pair of balls each.
  • The Shiv Sena and MNS (to name a couple) have no right to tell the rest of the country (or other countries) what to do.
  • The entire episode should not be confused with patriotism, or the lack of it.

Phew! So, who do you think is gonna win the IPL this year?

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Inspire the next

I have taken to late-night talk shows off-late (in the U.S.) and feel extremely sorry for the state of news channels in India. In an extremely moving episode just after the 9/11 attacks (voted the Best TV Moment of 2001 by Time), David Letterman made me realized what India and Indians need now – an inspiring leader (besides a good TV anchor).

An uncharacteristically grim and poignant Letterman lauded the then-New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani and his efforts in maintaining semblance in the chaotic city following the attacks. This praise was not a propaganda to say everything is well and green in NYC and the administration had done its work. It was not adulation meant to score brownie points with an influential politician. It was not even a word of thanks on behalf of fellow New Yorkers. It was an unreserved, unconditional and highly personal mark of respect he had for Guiliani. He went on air and personally vouched for the greatness that was Guiliani.

Flattening the goosebumps, I sat thinking what Guiliani must have done to have The Cynic worship him on one of the most-watched shows in the world (being the first late-night show to go on air after 9/11). Then a more pertinent question came to my mind. Where was our Guliani during our 9/11?

Yeah, I am talking about the sickeningly Bollywood name given to the Bombay (and it will always be Bombay to me) attacks. Vilasrao Deshmukh was nowhere to be seen and when he finally was, I don’t remember him saying that would have made me or any Bombayite feel safe. I try very hard to recollect any piece of news or personal recount that acknowledged the CM positively. In fact, the first ever post-attack news I heard from/of the CM was during that hideous and highly insensitive gaffe with his son and RGV.

India has never had a Guiliani, not since Gandhi I would say. We have never had any one to turn to when we were unsure. Our best answer has been a Vajpayee and to say that he was the best we had, shows how uninspiring our leaders are. He was a grandfather figure who did not ask us to fight, but was nevertheless there to nurse us when we got hurt. But he is not enough. When my house is burning or my family is being butchered or my country is at war, I need someone to say “I’ll kill those bastards for you”, not someone who sang poems and put me to sleep. I don’t want a Deshmukh, I don’t want a Modi, or a Karunanidhi or a Soren or even a Singh.

I want a leader who can stand before the TV camera and deliver a speech that gives me goose pimples. When I look back, he should be there and say “You can do it kiddo”; when I fall down, he should say “Get up and move on champ”; when someone hurts me, he should track them down and skin ’em alive! I want a father-figure up there. I want a leader who can inspire us, not to join politics, as has become a favorite catch phrase, but to simply go about doing our daily work. I want a leader who is respected by fellow politicians. I want a leader who talks to me, listens to me, fights for me. I want a Gandhi. I want a Roosevelt.

I want a Rudolph Guiliani.

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