30-Jun-2005

The Old Crook

Why not? After all it is the truth! He was impeached wasn't he? Served him right I say. If you haven't guessed, I'm talking about Nixon - who else? - who is in the news for his caustic remarks in re Indira Gandhi and Indians. One of the original declassified documents here. The general attitude is a bit unsurprising I should say.

Update: Some interesting stuff should get unveiled when the current incumbent's official documents are declassified. He is the one who saw a NYT journalist at a campaign stop and muttered an aside to his running mate, Cheney, "There's that asshole from the New York Times." Only, the aside was audible to anyone who cared to listen since he was within range of a mike (or was wearing one).

29-Jun-2005

Time Running Out For Cong

Pratap Bhanu Mehta thinks so, according to this link, sent to me by a friend. Seems reasonable enough. And he writes as one in the know. Only electoral defeats lead to introspection apparently, while victories bring about complacency.

28-Jun-2005

Derogatory Terms

KMP writes in clarifying what Letter Rogatory means.
It probably means “derogatory” for politicians ;-)
A nice catch.
Anyway dictionary.com says: Etymology: probably partial translation of Medieval Latin littera rogatoria letter of request : a formal written request by a court to a court in a foreign jurisdiction to summon and examine a witness in accordance with that jurisdiction's procedures (as oral interrogatories) —usually used in pl.
My question was only mildly interrogatory. I think I was trying to cast aspersions on the whole thing, equally mildly and, as it turns out, quite ineffectually.

Derogatory Terms

KMP writes in clarifying what Letter Rogatory means.
It probably means “derogatory” for politicians ;-)
A nice catch.
Anyway dictionary.com says: Etymology: probably partial translation of Medieval Latin littera rogatoria letter of request : a formal written request by a court to a court in a foreign jurisdiction to summon and examine a witness in accordance with that jurisdiction's procedures (as oral interrogatories) —usually used in pl.
My question was only mildly interrogatory. I think I was trying to cast aspersions on the whole thing, equally mildly and, as it turns out, quite ineffectually.

24-Jun-2005

No More Domestic Violence

A bill against domestic violence. I get the impression from the article that harassment for dowry is legal as of now, since the bill seeks to 'also' cover 'harassment, by way of unlawful dowry demands made to the woman or her relatives'.

Update: Related question: will there now be more convictions for the people who let their wives and daughter-in-laws get accidentally burnt while cooking and the people who proactively seek to help the same leave this world much before their time is due?

I hesitate to hope for such a thing, Bill or no Bill.

Letter Rogatory

It's been a long time since I heard those words. It was much bandied about during the Bofors scandal I think and that's when I remember last hearing them. Now, those words are back as this IE exclusive testifies. And now it is the turn of South Africa to host our journalist-sleuths.

I wonder what the words mean.

Hungry To Bed

Hungry to rise. Makes you angry and dangerous. Says the Nigerian president here. He says 852 million people go to bed hungry everyday.

That's almost like everyone in India.

No Back-door Entry For Dance Bar Ban

The Mah Governor has sent back the dance bar ordinance without his signature asking the government to get it approved as a Bill in the legislature. Attaboy. Mr Krishna does his thing silently. Let all the people's representatives take positions on it - should be interesting to see who is for and against.

23-Jun-2005

We've Been BPO'd

That is what the customers of some banks in the UK might say with regard to this. One more BPO scam. I'm however finding it difficult to believe. Two niggling things. One, the level of detail in the information supposed to have been sold:
addresses, passwords, phone numbers and details of credit cards, passports and driving licences which could be used to raid unsuspecting victims' accounts.
Passwords, details of driving licence and passport - and all that information given to a bank's call centre? As to the possibility that the call centre employee who leaked the information would have access to the database which contains all these details - even that is hard to believe since information would surely be given only on a need-to-know basis? The second niggle is about the price of the deal, under five thousand pounds. Surely it could have been more?

Bahree also offered to sell American customer details. He need not bother. The Americans are managing id-theft just fine, without his help. The article quotes a study by Gartner. An excerpt:
Gartner researcher Avivah Litan, who led the study, said the survey results also suggested that more than 1 million consumers have been tricked into divulging their personal information to senders of so-called phishing e-mails, with financial losses totaling nearly $1 billion.
And some more:
Using those surveyed as a sample, Litan estimated that 1.2 million Internet users believe they have divulged their personal information to criminals, who eventually managed to steal $929 million from those consumers' accounts in the past 12 months. And those figures are probably low, Litan said.
The size of the group that was surveyed was just 5,000 however and involves lots of extrapolation. So the whole thing may be wishful thinking.

22-Jun-2005

Have To Hand It To Them

To the Americans I mean. Why? Here's why. We keep hearing about the contractor-politician nexus in our country. It sometimes appears to be a problem very unique to us, though it isn't. For instance, it happens in the US too, which has strict rules and laws about everything including politicians accepting money from others. But all those laws and rules just ensure that the people involved do things extremely ingeniously.

This story is doing the rounds in Democratic areas of the blogosphere. There is this Republican politician, call him Duke (his actual name). He is on an important government subcommittee dealing with Defense and another committe on Intelligence. (Government work in the US gets done by committees - instead of by ministries as in India - though this is a simplification.) Then there is this Defense contractor, call him Wade. The latter wants government contracts. Of course , that is his bread and butter.

Mr Wade seeks to influence Mr Duke, who is a sitting member on all those powerful committes. How to do it without raising eyebrows? Well, offer to buy his house for a certain sum of money. $1.65 million, in fact. The stated reason is to 'flip' the house - buy it for $ X and then sell it to someone else quickly for $X + y, y becoming his (Wade's) profit. But in this case, Mr Wade puts it back for sale immediately - for the same price. But the house lies unbought for nearly nine months. And when the house is finally sold, it goes for less than a million dollars. A loss of $ 700,000 for Mr Wade!

But everything that happens, happens for the good. For, Mr Wade, who was finding defense work difficult to come by till then, suddenly starts 'reeling in tens of millions of dollars in defense and intelligence-related contracts'. Now that is a coincidence! And Mr Duke cannot say anything about the contracts awarded, since they are in the areas of Defense and Intelligence - highly, highly classified. Thank god for terror and the communists and conspiracy theories.

Another cog in the wheel, the 'independent' real estate broker who arranged the transaction, contributed $11,500 to Mr Duke's election campaign in 2004! A nice, close, vicious circle. The latest here. There is a yacht in the picture too it seems - of course, the yacht belongs to Mr Wade and Mr Duke is renting it from him!

White Elephants

Only, they are cows. So these Chattisgarh tribals of Nagri village are looking their gift horses in the mouth, if you pardon the mixed metaphors.

Thanks To Liberalisation

Says R Akhileshwari in DH. But not for the usual reasons.

21-Jun-2005

Politics In Flux

Says this editorial from The Telegraph. Giving a bird's eye view of the state of Indian political parties as of now, it suggests that the BJP, reinventing itself, has the best chance going forward.

20-Jun-2005

A Temporary Slowdown

In the pace of posts on the blog. Need to catch up with some pending work. The slowdown may continue for a few weeks. I know the posts have not be too frequent for the last few weeks either - same cause and some personal stuff too.

Vote Hungry Politicians

Are blamed by the RSS chief here for projecting the organisation wrongly:
The RSS chief also spoke of the wrong projection of the RSS as an anti-Muslim outfit by ‘vote hungry’ politicians. “Muslims in India are not foreigners. They can pray in any manner they choose. Their roots lie in India, so when the nation demands, they should offer their lives for it,” he said while averring that they should not ask for minority status.
We all know what 'vote hungry ' politicians are capable of. But such a grievous injustice? One shudders at the very thought.

Splitting Heirs

The Ambani brothers have made up by splitting. Reliance Industries will be demerged - split, in old English. Anil Ambani has used the media relentlessly and gone about getting his share aggressively. Though the elder brother is left with a bigger slice of the pie, it must be painful to let go of Reliance Infocomm - a company that seems to be his idea. Anil Ambani, going by yesterday's press conference, is upbeat and relieved. How long?

19-Jun-2005

Cars And The Decay Of Our Institutions

Institutions continue to crumble. Look at this post from a Bangalore company's electronic bulletin board (sent by sj):
Law and order situation in Bangalore is really pathetic. Yesterday me and two of my friends went for the night show in Symphony theatre. We parked the car in the theatre parking itself. But when we returned after the movie got over the car was not in the car stand and even the stand attendant was also not there. The car is dark blue coloured Maruti 800 and the number of the car is XXXX.

If anybody sees the car somewhere please inform me.
Time was when a theatre's parking lot in Bangalore was as secure as a safe deposit locker of a PSU bank. No more. The former is no longer a stranger to theft, PSU banks are becoming more and more like private banks, and my wife refuses to believe that a safe deposit locker in either is safe enough for her comfort.

With due apologies to the aggrieved person, apart from the quick impulse to laugh triggered by the last sentence of the post, it set off a few more thoughts. The writer evidently does not overly count on the police to recover lost belongings. Like him, many more don't, probably. The writer does not believe people will put themselves out too much to help him. So all he expects is probably a simple phone call. No approaching the shady person and demanding justice or setting the police on him. Then the picture of the car and its owner - the one lost and zipping around the city with an alien hand at the wheel, and the other forlorn and pining away. And finally, why does he call it a car-stand?

The episode reminds me how my uncle lost his car. He had an old white-coloured Fiat. Since he was hardly using it, he decided to sell it. He put an ad in Ad Mag. It did not set the car market on fire, but sure enough someone eventually called him up and came home. After discussing the terms and related matters, he took the car for a test ride. He has not returned till date.

PS: Anyone who spots a white box-type Fiat please send me an email.

17-Jun-2005

Pep Talks To Governors

kmp writes in as follows:
Cool. A pep talk to few “senior citizens” to remain apolitical. I wish one of the Governors just asked them back - how apolitical was it to sign on a dissolution order at midnight and outside country? And how apolitical was it to dismiss the Governors (for no reasons – or for not hosting a tea party) and appoint a new set of “apolitical” (sic) Governors.

Do I sound cynical?
No you don't. The irony was evident to me too - that's why I asked if the PM said it with a straight face. In fact that was the reason I posted it in the first place! I think the President had fewer options since he had to agree to what his government was asking him to do. Rubber stamp and all that.

Just The Bare Truth, If You Will

Man seeking "cheap thrill" strips to interview a 25-year-old woman in London.
Akbar, a father of one, escaped jail after a court heard that the incident had had a catastrophic effect on his life. The police said he had been sacked, his girlfriend had left him and his friends had deserted him.
Italics mine. Note the italicised part. Obviously the job was boring and not providing him any thrills, and the same goes for the girlfriend and friends. So, he should have been doing the resigning, leaving and deserting not they.

Or maybe they just did not provide "cheap" thrills. Maybe he was a one for the sleazy side of things.

An Apolitical Role

Both, the President as well as the Prime Minister, have reminded governors of the apolitical role required of them by the Constitution and DH has an editorial on it here. It does not say if the PM said what he did with a straight face, but it is difficult to believe that he could have. Not after Bihar. While on the topic, look at this admonition:
Of all the faults of which a Governor can be guilty, the fault of partisanship is most reprehensible....A partisan Governor is no more fit for his high office than a partisan judge.
The President speaking? Or the PM? Or the NDA? Actually it was the Premier of Bengal (running a coalition government incidentally), in 1943, writing to the British Governor of Bengal. He had just been forced to sign a resignation letter drafted by the Governor and his rival, from the Muslim League, was sworn in shortly afterwards.

The problem goes a long way back.

Update: The quotation is taken from this book.

16-Jun-2005

Rewriting Geography

Free textbooks given to government schools in Karnataka seem to be eager to readjust India's map a bit, as TOI reports. Mumbai, Mangalore, Marmagoa all seem to have been pushed into the sea to fend for themselves. A highly visionary and futuristic concept - reclamation on that scale.

The Principal Secretary, Primary and Secondary Education, clears the government printing press - that was given the job of printing - of any blame in the matter. It was a drafting error he claims.

Reminds me of a trip I made to a government school a few months ago, to apply for new voting cards for me and my wife. It was housed in a small building, on not more than a 30x40 ft site, in a visibly poor locality. It consisted of a narrow corridor of about 20-25 feet with a staircase leading up to the first floor, a staff room, and a class room, in that order, opening off the left side of the corridor. There was a black board with the day's headlines and thought for the day on the right wall and further along, a bulletin board.

The first thing that caught my eye was a group of ten-twelve year-old students huddled on the bare ground at the end of the corridor, and a young teacher, also sitting along with them, probably on a chair. Two students stood opposite each other against the walls holding the two ends of a map or some illustration. The teacher was pointing out details on the map with a long stick and the rest of the students were watching attentively. It was not very bright, but for the kids.

I didn't know whom to approach for my business. The teacher seeing me, got up with a worried look, and came up to me to find out what I wanted. When I told her she vanished into the class room to check with someone. Looking into the class room, I could see that two separate classes were being simulataneously conducted. The light was not very bright there either. The teacher came out and told me to wait since the person who would collect the application was in the staff room.

Soon I realised there was a fight going on in the staff room. About what, I could not guess. Two or three men seemed to be shouting at each other. This when classes were going on in the next room and in the corridor. After ten minutes or so, I was able to handover the application. The man who took it, probably the headmaster, seemed normal enough and showed no signs that anything untoward had occurred.

This is how we teach some of our kids.

Metro Frail

And getting frailer and frailer as the days go by. Deve Gowda, the former PM who slept through 11 months in office, has got a spanner firmly in the works, and now one of the funders - the Japan Bank for International Cooperation - is probably pulling out. (No links, since The Hindu has a split personality today).

Deve Gowda incidentally introduced the Re 1 BMRTL cess which is allowing the state government to pay up its part of the cost.

15-Jun-2005

Banerjee's Foreign Jaunt

Another mail from kmp, in response to Scratch My Back. He is referring to the Phukan affair in making this comment (as I did when I posted it):
He can’t be faulted until and unless he strays on a week-end. If he takes his wife, I think he will be violating the “Short term” travel policies.
Joking aside, I think the concerned people are being a bit brazen.

Spin And The Advani Episode

kmp writes in, in response to A Historic Trip? and the thickish smog of opinion surrounding the Advani episode, which includes many a post on this blog:
The spin doctors on either camp (for and against Advani) are busy spinning…

This spin doctoring is not a new concept, but, still time and again stumps the ordinary…For me, what Advani said was nothing more than ordinary. He just quoted some speech, and said he wanted “you” to be like this (tacitly saying, you are not that). That’s it, the event that followed remain totally unconnected (from the main context and among themselves)… Why should a debate on the character of Jinnah take place? And why should Advani be called a “traitor”? Why does he need to resign? Why does BJP have to make resolution (more than one) on not accepting resignation and Jinnah theory? Why did he take back the resignation? Why does that undermine his leadership skills?

Then people really started debating, now I don’t know who will be the referee and what will be the conclusion? They started comparing Jinnah and Advani himself, Jinnah and Savarkar, Jinnah and Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi etc…

Now a new twist in this Telegraph link…

But all this till the Bihar elections gains momentum and thereafter everybody (perhaps except VHP) will forget Advani (err, Jinnah ) and get on with the life. For us it is another instance of Soap on TV.
Bihar elections. Could it be...? Why hasn't anyone spun that angle? No, I'm just kidding.

Smoking Ban Consensus Reached

The Union Health and I&B Ministries have got together and arrived at a consensus on the smoking ban.
Diluting the government's earlier order, the ban on images portraying smoking will now be applicable only on films made after October 2 this year.
...
However, films that show an historical era or a historical personality smoking, will be exempt from the ban.
...
But smoking will be banned in all new television serials. Older television serials, which depict smoking scenes, will have to run a scroll conveying a statutory warning on the harmful effects of smoking.
I said so.

Salt Ban

No, this has nothing to with the freedom struggle. It has to do with goitre and preventing it. The government is considering a total ban on the use of non-iodised salt. There was a ban once upon a time. But it was revoked in 2000. I like the way Health Ministry officials dismissed the effect on goitre prevention then:
Ministry officials say there are different modes of administering iodine and iodised salt was only one of them. "Anyway goitre is found only in the hills and foothills,'' an official claimed.
And it goes without saying that people in hills and foothills don't count.

No Free Lunches

Even G8 magnanimity comes with attached conditionalities that are more like an extortion racket. Says The Hindu.

Scratch My Back

Indian Railways is sponsoring a four-nation Europe and Japan trip of Justice (retd) U C Banerjee. This is the man who debunked the conspiracy theory in the Godhra train burning.

Refinery Where None Needed

Says The Telegraph about a refinery being planned in Amethi, which no one will remember, is Rahul Gandhi's own. Will the idea be dropped? Let's see.

A Historic Trip?

This editorial from The Telegraphy by K P Nayar stumped me. It offers a unfamiliar view of the recent Advani trip to Pakistan. A small excerpt:
... those who deal with south Asia ... (in the major capitals of the world)... know that Advani’s visit to Pakistan will be remembered in that country for a very, very long time and that it will have an impact on Indo-Pakistan relations even if the BJP remains out of power.

14-Jun-2005

A Weekend Trip To The Hills

A friend vg wrote in with this succinct account of a recent trip to the hills:
This weekend went to a Lake in hills. Got lost and then found out an alternate and then had rally in hills exp. Steep climb, loose gravel road took me 2 hrs to drive 22 kms and at the end of the drive I had to drive the Innova thru a river bed. Was good fun except a cousin of my wife was crying when driving we encountered a Bolero coming up form other side and I had to back the car on a narrow road. While, coming back took the normal road from the lake, traveled 36 km in 1 hr.
I don't know about you but the first question I had on reading it was : why was the cousin crying? Was she ill or was it a bout of travel-sickness? Or was she scared stiff? So I wrote back to him asking for reasons and commending the Innova for taking it. And this is what he said:
Cousin was scared, a wrong move and we fall into a 100ft ditch. All others were silent for the first 20-30 minutes, nobody expected the kind of drive we had to go thru. The good or the bad part is once I was on the track there was no way to come back. So I had to go thru 22 kms.

Innova always showed immense control and predictability, probably because it is RWD unlike the sedans which are FWD except Merc and BMW.
I can imagine the initial hush in the car I would have given a lot to be there - and driving of course. But did the Innova slip at all?
No, it didn't slip.

At one point there was a minor hiccup , I had to switch off both the ACs, apply both hand brake and normal brake and quickly shift down to 1st gear before the car/van could climb up. There were 7 of us in the car and the climb was steep.

The learning is don't go by what the people in hills say. Before I went on this route I asked a policeman and local shopkeeper. Both of them said the climb is steep but your car can take it and even buses use the same track. While going towards the hills I saw a bus coming down, so I thought it will be a joyride. It was quite an exhilarating trip, my wife had 2 remarks at the end of it she will offer 50 bucks in local temple and her vacation needs for next 6 months are over. Which is fine, the next trip is in November to Mumbai from Delhi by road.
Smart work with the gears and brakes. As for going by what people in the hills say - I'd add people in the plains too. Finally all I can say is : I envy!

PS: Did you also wonder what "rally in hills exp." means? My vote is for "rally-in-hills experience".

Let There Be Information

Here is a suggestion worth implementing. Writing about the deteriorating roads, and money wasted on banners, and other things, Sakuntala Narasimhan writes in the latest Consumer Bytes:
What is needed is massive public involvement, through neighbourhood groups in every ward. Every road should have the local corporator’s name, address and telephone number displayed, alongside the road name. Details of officials holding responsible positions should also be available on a notice board, at the post office or neighbourhood service stations. Unless neighbourhoods wake up ... the administration is going to deteriorate further – and we will have to flee from the chaos that the garden City has become in the last ten years.
That's right. Let the people know whom to blame and whom to call and demand accountability.

12-Jun-2005

Spelling-bees And Indian-Americans

Why are they dominating the American National Spelling bee? Instapundit has a post about it here. An Indian-American Madhu Dahiya responds with a revealing email (italics mine):
As an Indian-American reader of your blog I'd like to point out that these are American kids after all. I am very proud of my Indian heritage, but I'm an American first and foremost. These kids are growing up here. They *are* part of the anglosphere - the 21st century globalized, American Anglosphere, and I think they are holding up to the challenge quite well :)
I'm sure many Indian immigrants share that sense of belonging to their adopted country.

11-Jun-2005

In A Spot - 110605

I've posted so many times on Tavleen Singh's On The Spot column that appears in Deccan Herald that I've decided to dedicate a series to her. I'm calling it "In A Spot" and will follow that with the date. Spot here meaning "A situation, usually a troublesome one".

Take the latest one. Writing about the L K Advani episode, she says this:
...why did he choose instead to speak?

Perhaps, because he knows that the time has come for the BJP to move towards being a political party that is not associated with Hindu fanatics. It is good that when the attack came from the fanatics he stood his ground and it is now time for his colleagues and fellow travellers to pronounce the end of the BJP’s relationship with the RSS.
This is one lady who is in for a big disappointment. "The end of the BJP's relationship with the RSS" - indeed. It may and should happen - but it did not happen yesterday.

The Aftermath

Status quo has ben restored and he stays. A small roundup of the resignation aftershocks.

IE asks for a departure from the prevalent method of evaluating historical figures in boolean values, towards a two-by-two matrix. I agree.

When I posted this, the parallel with L K Advani had not yet struck me. I got it later. The Telegraph notes the similarity here and adds a personal touch too - a bacon-loving Muslim and a Ram-temple man who does not have a puja room at home. The article discusses his possible reason for doing what he did and said in Pakistan and rejects the idea that the Jinnah remark was off-the-cuff.

The Hindu does something similar to the ideologies of Jinnah and the Sangh Parivar here. A separate opinion piece asks the question on everyone's mind: why did he do it? It provides two possible reasons : he was afraid of losing the trappings of power (Leader of Opposition is a role with cabinet minister's rank) or he wanted to live to fight another day. I think the first reason is highly improbable.

Editorial opinion seems to be unanimous in saying Advani is compromised. What do they mean - he is still the President of the party and the Leader of the Opposition. No alternative in the far distance. Collective bunkum?

09-Jun-2005

A Picture Speaks Louder

Than a million words. And all the dailies have only one. L K Advani looking grim and determined and apparently saying "Enough!". Here and here and here. The picture suits the story - of a leader angry and crestfallen at all the unkind words hurled at him and determined to stand firm. Anyone who saw the evening news yesterday would have seen him smiling and declining politely to answer any questions from journalists as he got into his car. So what is L K Advani really feeling and thinking?

08-Jun-2005

Mistaken Identity

I caught a headline scrolling across the screen two days ago which said that Jean Dreze had been attacked on the border of Chattisgarh. I also remembered that Dreze had been part of the National Advisory Council at one time. Wondering what gave I looked around for some more news. Nothing till today I came across this editorial from IE. Apparently CRPF jawans assaulted him and his colleagues thinking they were Maoist rebels. They were holding a meeting in a village as part of a 'Rozgar Adhikar Yatra'.

Did the police at least try to find out what they were actually doing? Doesn't look like it.

Blind Man’s Buff

An editorial that I found sensible from The Economic Times on the L K Advani episode. Points out that by taking his stand, L K Advani has forced others in the BJP to clarify their thoughts on the BJP's relations with the RSS. Also notes that no alternative has been presented by either Vajpayee or Advani.
...if the BJP were to break with the RSS, what would it become? Neither Advani nor Vajpayee has offered any clarity on the subject. Blind man’s buff is not the best way to rechart party ideology. The BJP needs organised introspection, never mind the growing pains.

Parking-free Bangalore

Parking lots are being steadily withdrawn to discourage use of private vehicles and de-congest traffic in congested areas. The report sounds slightly disapproving for no reason I could determine or think of. Pull all of them out immediately is what I say. Let the basements be cleared - greed can always find another way. Encourage gas-powered autorickshaws or taxis and also get the public transport system up to speed fast. Make it just a bit harder to jump into the car and zoom off to shop. Let sense prevail. Enough of the fumes of petrol and diesel and the interminable traffic jams.

And this I like:
As for the traffic police, they have no apologies to make. “The roads are meant for driving. Parking is only a privilege, not a right,” says Saleem.
That's telling it like it is.

A Political Muslim

This editorial from The Telegraph notes Jinnah's political journey from Western elite to a political Muslim. And how he used communal politics to create a secular Pakistan.

Speaking The Truth And Its Consequences

Speaking the truth never did anyone good. Look at the piquant situation L K Advani is in for calling Jinnah secular and for saying December 6 was the saddest day in his life.

For Jinnah was secular if one understands secular to mean that the state should not be concerned with religion. He could not be otherwise as this excerpt from the book Making Peace with Partition. The author is discussing why Jinnah and Nehru failed to anticipate the violence that accompanied partition :
Jinnah's city was the polyglot Bombay of Parsis, Europeans, Maharashtrians and Gujaritis; of mercantile, industrial and legal success, and of big anti-caste and labour movements, where everyone lived together separately. In such an environment it was not difficult for him to believe, as most cosmopolitans do, that communal vioence was a politically instigated occurrence rather than a deeply rooted historical accretion, even though Bombay, like many other developing world cities, had seen countless communcal riots since the 1920s.

Indeed, Jinnah appears to have been unable to even conceive that the Pakistan movement might end in an Islamic state rather than a republic based on citizenship and human rights...

...Jinnah's vision of a democratic and secular Muslim state has been one of the tools that Pakistani civil society has against the army's Islamization of the country.
But what about his insistence on partition? His fight apparently was for self-determination for the Muslim people. Unfortunately, as the above author of the book says, while partition was viewed by Muslims as a gain of self, Hindus experienced it as a loss of it.

L K Advani also chose the Pakistan trip to say that the demolition day was the saddest of his life. It must be true since he says it and he should know. However, the truth has been conceded so belatedly that it seems almost meaningless. And very few would disagree that partition is an "unalterable" reality of history. Reunification seems improbable, to put it mildly.

In the same report, DH report hints that the VHP may be thinking of floating a political party, though I seem to recollect reading/hearing somewhere that they are not thinking of any such thing. However, if it is true, then the scenario looks intriguing. The VHP floats its own political party. Come election time, the Hindutva followers who are far gone to the right vote en masse for it and it gets a significant chunk of seats. The rest of the BJP constituency give the BJP a good number of seats too. But the BJP, which is now shorn of strident Hindutva, gets the support of many currently non-BJP voters, who then give it a better tally than at present. And then? The BJP and the VHP-Political will coalesce at the centre if the numbers warrant it. Another way to the same end - power.

Will there be a new president? I don't think so. The BJP leadership is backing him. The problem is mainly with the rest of the family and such quarrels happen in families and can be worked out.

06-Jun-2005

Rootless Party Wins A Seat

From The Hindu. Discusses the effect of the drubbing on the coalition in Karnataka. But the interesting point is this:
Thanks to Mr. Bangarappa, a party without any roots in the State and representation even at the gram panchayat level, has won a Lok Sabha seat on its debut.
Voting was probably "along personal lines" - as the BJP explained its Goa losses.

05-Jun-2005

WYSIWIG

And you see an old city "preparing for its assignment with the future". The city is Beijing and Nandan Nilekani writes about his trip here. And how he deleted an email invitation to talk at a conference on urban infrastructure back home.

Results Out, Next Act Please

The Congress is drubbed in Karnataka. Will the rug be pulled out now?

How To Be Happy

Advice from an investment bank. Link via Instapundit. Sex enters into it strongly according to the footnote pointed out by Instapundit.

Times Of St Stephens!

Targeted recruitment by TOI! Link via Mall Road.

US Yes To Mumbai's D Bars Closure

Condaleeza Rice backs the Mumbai ban on dance bars.
An official report released by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice applauds the Maharashtra Home Minister’s order to close down dance bars. “Many of these served as prostitution and trafficking outlets,” the state department report said.

The US hopes that the closure of dance bars may check a new trend of traffickers favouring this “more sophisticated and concealed format for selling victims trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation over more blatant brothel-based trafficking”.
Obviously the US has neither prostitution nor trafficking.

04-Jun-2005

Glossing Over History

Ms Tavleen Singh makes a valid point in this latest column in DH. Before getting to it, lets deal with some invalid (at least in my opinion) points.
The most damning proof of the bankruptcy of India’s political leadership is that an Italian housewife who despised Indian politics should have found it so easy to become India’s most important political leader. This she unquestionably is today and privately even she must sometimes wonder at how easy it was to get where she is.
Ronald Reagan was just an actor in B-grade movies, though he probably did not despise American politics, till he became the most powerful person on earth. It happens sometimes - that is how life is! One just can't ban mid-life transitions, can one?

As to the journey being easy, Ms Singh is glossing a bit over history I think. She probably does not remember that most of the media, including herself, wrote the lady off for quite some time after she assumed the presidency of the Congress party. And followed it up with a lot of, let's say, sympathetic advice. And there was the occasional big election defeat for the party.

Then she asks in anguish:
... what is wrong with India that we seem incapable of producing talented, indigenous political leaders? The problem, in my view, is that other political parties have tried to imitate Congress methods of anointment and appointment instead of recognising that the only way for good leaders to rise to the top is if good leaders are promoted from the bottom up.
Did Nehru, Gandhiji, and the rest rise up from the bottom? I don't think so. No sir.

And the valid point I mentioned above is this:
On my travels in ‘grassroots’ India I constantly run into men and women who are doing excellent work and who deserve to be elected to Parliament and the state legislatures but they never get picked up by political parties because all the way down the line these parties are infested with power brokers.
Is it true? I don't know. What did happen to T N Seshan?

DH Says Not Practicable

DH editorial asks the government to reconsider the ban. Reasons : the will creativity argument and impracticality argument. It adds one more impractical suggestion before it is done, however :
The Government needs to work on this angle and ensure that if at all smoking is shown in a film, it is only to depict a character and not to glamourise cigarette-smoking.

Why No Ban In The US?

Why hasn't there been a ban on smoking in movies in the US? Which brings me to one argument that has not been put forward so far here - freedom of expression. It is big in the US and I think must be the reason it has not been banned there. The 'creativity' argument is not the same - it just says the ban could crimp the creative scope of the movie makers.

Smoking In American Films

I think anyone with an opinion on the smoking ban should take a look at some of these links.

Look at this editorial from the American College of Physicians (ACP seems to be a respectable institution with a seventy five year history). It notes the close association between the tobacco and film industries in the US. It also suggests some solutions - banning of course is not one of them. I would have to quote the full thing here to drive home the point of the article. I won't do that, and will just give some excerpts.

On the depiction of smoking in the movies and its effects on kids (it provides links to the actual studies involved - I've removed them - they can be found on the actual webpage):
After a decline in the 1970s and 1980s, the amount of smoking in American movies began to increase dramatically in 1991 and now exceeds the amount present in 1960. In contrast to reality, smoking in the movies is usually associated with high-profile, successful figures. A teen going to the movies today will leave with the misimpression that smoking is widely accepted— that is, the "winners" smoke, and no health or social consequences are associated with smoking.

Smoking by high-profile actors is associated with favorable attitudes toward smoking and actual smoking among teens.
On the relationships between the tobacco and film industries :
The major goal of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Hollywood's political arm, is to protect the movie studios and the multinational corporations that own them from anything that would restrict their activities or profits. In response to efforts by the government to censor the content of films, the MPAA instituted a voluntary system of rating films in 1968 ... The MPAA does not consider smoking—the most widely used addictive drug that kills the most people—in assigning ratings. The fact that the MPAA does not consider smoking when rating a movie is very important to the tobacco industry because it recruits and retains new smokers—the children that the MPAA rating system is supposedly designed to protect—by associating its products with excitement, sex, wealth, rebellion, and independence.

... The tobacco industry has built its alliance with Hollywood for decades by working at every level, from payments to studios to distributing free cigarettes to the people who make movies ... the president of a production company wrote RJ Reynolds Tobacco reporting that all the characters in a suspense thriller they were producing smoked, then added, "Film is better than any commercial that has been run on television or any magazine, because the audience is totally unaware of any sponsor involvement."
As for solutions it suggests four.
  • Take into account the smoking content in a movie when rating the movie - lots of smoking gets an 'R' rating. Of course the movie industry is resisting since audience size is automatically reduced since kids are excluded (mostly) and thus profits decline.
  • Certify in the closing credits that no one involved in the film's production received anything of value—cash, loans, tobacco products, publicity, or anything else—in exchange for using or displaying tobacco.
  • Require strong antitobacco advertisements before any film that contains smoking (including those on television, videotape, and DVD) to immunize audiences from the pro-tobacco influences in the film.
  • Stop identifying brands.
An old review of the movie The Insider from Indian Express:
... no two industries have waltzed together as merrily through the years as tobacco and moving pictures. Films make cigarettes glamourous, and cigarettes lend that glamour back to generation after generation of chain-smoking stars. There have been stories of underhand deals to make sure actors smoked as much as possible through films, and actors who openly advertised cigarettes.
A report from ABC-KSAT TV on a study about the effect of smoking on kids:
"The positive portrayal of smoking in American movies is probably the single, most powerful pro-tobacco influence worldwide when you talk about children," said Stanton Glantz, a tobacco control advocate and the author of an editorial that accompanied the published findings in the Dec. 15, 2001 issue of the British Medical Journal.
Some points that arise from all that reading:
  • If Hollywood takes payments from the tobacco industry in return for showing smoking onscreen, then a question arises : does Bollywood do too? If not, why does the poster of the comedy Bunty Aur Bubli have just the face of Big B, lighting a cigarette. The movie shows shows the hero and heroine lighting up frequently too - that is what my 15 year old nephew says. The movie's audience includes kids in a big way - he was so desperate to see this movie that he was prepared to go alone.
  • The solutions seem completely and utterly reasonable and simple - will Bollywood accept them in lieu of the ban?
  • When was the last time a movie on TV was preceded by a clear certification - A or U or A/U or whatever. What will it take for the TV industry to start showing an age based certification like in the US? Parents would at least have something with which to stop their kids from watching a particular program.

03-Jun-2005

Aamir Khan Says No Please

Amir Khan weighs in (link via India Uncut). And jumps immediately to the big question: What about depicting characters who do drugs, beat their wifes, remain unkempt? Should they not be shown too?

Food For Work Programme Ailing

The Food For Work Programme launched by the UPA has issues, writes Brinda Karat in The Hindu.
.. visits to worksites in three backward districts of Yeotmal, Hingoli and Nanded in Maharashtra ... reveal a horrific picture of inhuman conditions at the worksite, extremely low piece rate wages for hard manual labour and, most shocking of all, women doing a nine-hour day of heavy work at public worksites entirely without payment.
She calls for an urgent "course correction". Will it happen?

Update: I wanted to mention two lines from the article which made me do a double-take:
1. There were at least 25 children at the site but there was no crèche.
Where does she come from? I agree there should have been a creche. But I would have to be a dreamer to actually expect one at a digging site.

2. Therefore, urgent course correction is required including militant mobilisation of the people. (Italics mine).
Militant mobilisation? Of the Maoist kind?

Ban Way Over The Top

Says The Hindu and calls for the immediate recall of the ban notification. Reasons?

1. Films need to depict everything human including weaknesses, depravities, excesses
2. The scope of the notification is too large and will be difficult to implement and
3. Freedom of the media will be infringed

Will a typical Bollywood movie suffer much if smoking is not allowed to be shown? I don't think so. That being the case, maybe smoking could be allowed in meaningful cinema - kids are not likely to see these animals anyway. Assuming the latter works with low budgets - allow smoking in movies with budgets below, say, 10 crores (or whatever). Won't work since the declared budgets of all movies will then plunge below that cut-off amount. Have a list of meaningful movie directors. Won't work. Even Karan Johar thinks he makes serious movies. Allow any movie without a big star (~ anyone charging more than 2 crores,say) to show smoking. Won't work. Star system will crash and smoking will still be everywhere.

All in all, a well-meaning but very difficult to implement notification.

And it may not be on sound legal ground.

02-Jun-2005

An Amoral Ban

sj writes in, in response to Smoking Ban Again. This is what he has to say:
If the govt thinks they can imbibe good moral in kids by banning smoking ads, consider this -

1. Do you agree reading newspaper daily help kids develop their general knowledge? Look at Times of India, especially the Bangalore Times supplement. Yes, it does help kids develop their General Knowledge - but of a different kind. Why not impose a ban on such tabloid newspapers.

2. Do you watch the "K" serials? Have you noticed the glorification of murders, rapes, teenage sex, conspiracy, extramarital affairs, divorce, infidelity etc.? I am sure kids think this is normal. How else do you explain incidents like Delhi Public School MMS? Smoking or not smoking is ones personal choice, but TV is something thrust on you and it is very difficult to escape from its influence, especially for kids

3. Ban or no ban, people will continue to do what they want to do. The number of Aids cases is increasing exponentially year after year. I have not seen any advertisement encouraging people to engage in more infidelity (or for that matter any other medium through which this disease spreads)

If at all government wants to do moral policing, they should probably first look at so called vehicles of social values - news papers, TV's etc. which are stooping to new lows every day purely for the sake of growing their business. Tobacco never had any moral obligation towards society. But Television and Newspapers do. That is what makes these more dangerous. I wonder if Ekta Kapoor ever thinks of Moral [ mail ends ]
Let me make myself clear: I do not think that the government is trying moral policing here. Smoking has moved beyond morality. It is now a public health issue. Kids are especially vulnerable - once hooked they are lifelong customers of the tobacco industry. The government is merely trying to stop kids from getting the idea that smoking is ok and even desirable while it is nothing of the sort. It leads to disease. Why would kids get the idea that smoking is ok? Because they see their favourite hero (and heroines nowadays too) smoking away with great satisfaction - in the movies and off the screen. Like Shah Rukh Khan. For good or bad Bollywood wields an uncommon influence on everyone including kids. One only has to look at the predominance of movie related programming on TV. Even the uptown Zoom has song-and-dance capsules. Adults may not pick up the smoking habit as soon as they see SRK puffing away. Kids may. As the report from IE notes:
Ministry officials said they took these steps after a recent WHO study ‘‘held Bollywood responsible for glamourising smoking’’. ‘‘Film actors have a lasting impact on the minds of children and young adults,’’ pointed out Dr Anbumani Ramadoss, Union health minister. ‘‘There are reports that more women and children are smoking these days,’’ he added.
So banning smoking in films and on the TV tube makes sense. Of course the premise is that kids are influenced by film actors.

There it is then : no moral policing. Kid sees favourite star smoking. Kid thinks smoking is ok. Kid becomes receptive to the idea of smoking and may even start smoking himself. Kid may then develop fatal tobacco-related disease sometime later in life. So don't let kid see his favourite star smoking. This may not stop him from ever picking up the habit, but it removes a positive reinforcement. As for developing a habit for murders, rapes, teenage sex, conspiracy, extramarital affairs, divorce, infidelity - it will be a difficult act to follow - at least more difficult than picking up a cigarette and lighting it. And not addictive except for those with a criminal bent of mind.

The third point is interesting and questions the premise mentioned above. Logically, we can then say that nothing is wrong in showing drug use, smoking ads, ads for alcohol, soliciting on TV. I don't think too many people would agree. Also, as sj points out earlier "TV is something thrust on you and it is very difficult to escape from its influence, especially for kids". A nice case for the ban. Moreover since we are already at a stage where we are banning certain kinds programming on TV - ads for smoking, alcohol, horse racing, soliciting - the ban on smoking in movies is just taking this to a logical conclusion. It prevents implicit advertisements for cigarettes.

The rest of this post maybe moot since I too don't believe the government should get into moral policing. (It is already in the moral policing game though - running around naked, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, prostitution, suicide, euthanasia - are all illegal. But like Prakash Karat says - no more free power , but existing free power to continue).

One thing before anything else though - the line between acceptable and unacceptable is very thin. My sleaze might be someone else's beauty.

I agree with the points about Times's supplement and the K-serials. The Times supplements may be a complete parody of what newspapers should be and distasteful, but the regular dose of semi-clad women really has to be stopped. But much as I wish otherwise, I don't think the govt can ban it - until they actually start showing nude women or printing erotic writing. The line being thin the govt is sure to mess up.

Regulating TV is another tough nut to crack. What they should do is introduce certification for TV programmes and bring some pressure on the industry to spare a thought for the kids. Push adult serials to late nights and have good clean stuff during normal times. And it needs to be done fast since things are pretty bad. Every government makes polite noises about doing something but nothing happens. It is a shame. The onus is on the TV industry too - they should do a bit of introspection and come up with some standards on their own. We are a bit far from that. So yes, the government needs to do some prodding and pushing here even at the risk of crossing the line to moral policing. Till the industry reforms, parents would have to take care of their kids.

And I would go easy on the DPS MMS kid. Hot blood. Opportunity. And the latest technology. Did TV and tabloids push him to it or the old combination of the first two items? I don't know, but I favour the latter.

Smoking Ban Again

And editorials weighing on the smoking ban appear. At least in the ET. The ET editorial puts forward three arguments, all of which I find somewhat lacking.

Argument 1: The government is being hypocritical. On the one hand it helps tobacco farmers, and on the other hand it bans advertising, imposes heavy taxes on cigarettes.

What is the alternative - the government banning ban smoking completely - including cultivation and all? If it does, as the editorial itself notes, then a black market for cigarettes will arise and then the government anyway stands to lose a source of revenue. It might as well keep things legal and get some revenue too.

Argument 2: Will the government ban adultery, rape, corruption, violence, financial exploitation, all of which glamourise undesirable, hazardous behaviour?

1. Smoking is easier to do than each of the above
2. Smoking is addictive while none of the above are, as far as I know
3. Children are especially vulnerable to the influence of films and film stars: 'Film actors have a lasting impact on the minds of children and young adults.' and when film actors smoke kids might be tempted to follow.
4. The government is not trying to be moral here - it is more of an immediate public health issue (see below).

Argument 3: Alcohol is equally harmful. Will the censors ban all drinking scenes in movies?

1. Drinking is not in the same ball park - it has negative connotations in Indian movies. The hero rarely drinks as a sign of machismo or rebellion or bravado. It is usally when he fails in something that the bottle appears.
2. Again it is easy to light up a cigarette than to swig from a bottle - except at night perhaps.

One counter-argument I can think of is : since it is not possible to ban smoking, adultery and so? on, would it be alright to depict drug use regularly in movies? As something enjoyable?

Finally, it may be wrong to put a moral angle on the ban. It is also a simple question of lives and money. This column notes that 8 lakh people die every year in India as a result of tobacco-related diseases, and several lakhs are disabled. And the government spends Rs 15,500 crores on treatment on treating people with tobacco-related ailments. And 55,000 children join the ranks of the smokers every day as opposed to 3000 in the US. I am skeptical of the numbers - I'm not sure how they were arrived at - but they could be accurate too. Even if reality is half as bad the numbers would still be bad.

My crib against the ban is the scope of it and whether it is doable as proposed. For example, who will add the scrolling text to the old movies and foreign movies? Who will blur the cigarettes? I feel the ban should have been restricted to new and future movies. And of course TV. As for the ban stifling a film maker's spirit - I would say since they are creative people, they will find a way. Villains, in the absence of cigarettes, could be shown with horrifying hairdos, eye patches, scarred chins, half disfigured faces, and so son. As they have been shown many a time.

01-Jun-2005

No Smoke Without A Fine

The Health Ministry has issued a directive bannning smoking scenes on the silver screen and the cathode ray tube. India is now the first country to ban smoking on the screen. The ban is very comprehensive in its scope, including existing old films, foreign films, surrogate advertising, everything.

Question is : Can it be done? Looks like a huge task.

Smoking is losing ground in the developed countries, and gaining in the developing countries over the last several years. The huge damages awarded against the big tobacco firms some years ago in the US means the firms are looking for new markets. What better place than the developing world?

If the new order succeeds in making at least the new films and today's actors eschew smoking it should be a good thing.

It is interesting that in the US, the tobacco companies are actually spending money on advertising against smoking - kids smoking. Yet 3000 kids start smoking everyday.

Selling Books

Writing books is the easy part. Selling it is ... easier. How else to explain the controversy of the '65 war plans? Gohar Ayub Khan, recollects something which his father told him (he claims), probably during a nostalgic talk next to the fireside. About a Indian Brigadier selling war plans to Pakistan. By a coincidence this happens around the same time as a book that he has written. Dad is not around to correct or confirm it. So, who could it be? The author, tantalisingly, promises to reveal the identity of the person in the forthcoming book. He won't name names of course - "usually one doesn't" - but the older officers will "straightaway recognise him". A wild goose chase in other words. And Pakistan calls him a liar promptly.

Will people be curious enough to buy his book in large numbers? I doubt it. On second thoughts, more people now know about this book than a week ago. Hmm... good trick Gohar.

Buy-Elections Actually

sj sends in comments to Bye-Elections?:
Isn’t it evident that if by-elections don’t favor the coalition government, they want to “Buy-elections”, taking a cue from Bihar.
It is, I should say.

Irreversibility

Gen Musharraf and L K Advani assert that the peace process should be made irreversible. And here was the General on his recent visit asserting that the process is irreversible.

I just wish he made his statements irreversible.