Thursday, September 21, 2017

Most welcome, dear turncoat journalist

Ratnakar Tripathy

Although decades ago I had some brief snatches of conversation with Aditya Sinha, the former editor in chief at DNA till some time ago, I cannot really say I knew him except as an exemplary crime reporter at the Times of India, Delhi office. This was decades ago when a journalist’s devotion to facts and his investigative urge won him due respect. Decades later he has made a strong impact not just on me but many others by switching sides – moving sharply away from the pro-Modi camp and turning to Rahul Gandhi with a look of hope. Those wont to psychoanalyzing on the basis of flimsy material may see in this shift traces of bipolarity. Although one has to admit that the switch is extreme since at some point Sinha was so fiercely anti-Rahul, using such strong language that he was threatened with legal action from Rahul’s side. And now he says – ‘My reassessment of Rahul is not because of the 'anyone is better than Modi' argument, though that is a given.’ The title of his recent article, mind you is equally strong and unambiguous Why I changed my mind about Rahul’. I have not underscored and used bold here for nothing.

It is easy to read the article as a sign of political fickleness or opportunism, although it’s rather difficult for anyone to make the accusations stick. I am not sure Sinha may gain much or indeed anything by choosing the timing for the shift that he has, having cut athwart the political spectrum so sharply. I am aware that in the cynical moral climate we today have, it is easy to dismiss the simple confession, a simple wearing of one’s heart on one’s sleeves or read obscure personal motives with pretense to insight, and I wish to leave this line of thinking behind. For me Sinha’s reasons for his action are entirely his business, and I wish to see him as bellwether case.  I believe he will prove a trendsetter in the next couple of years. Why am I encouraged to read him thus?

I do not wish to present here a nuanced analysis of specific policies of the NDA regime, since the series of disasters they produced is evident to everyone except the flippant TV spokesmen and presenters. I want to start by reminding that the UPA undeniably created a deeply anomic atmosphere through its political non-communication and policies. It did really feel like we are part of a political universe tormented by a sucking silence with no sense of anything happening anywhere. And then we found relief in Modi, or so some of the most sensible women and men thought. The relief came in the shape of a harsh din, menacing noises breaking the silence of a whole electoral term. The din has now escalated to a crescendo and the silence is filled with violence and gore. I am aware that this description is short on facts and perhaps just bad poetry. But how else does one even begin to describe the mood of the nation or at least its intelligentsia?  And where do you find dependable facts in the age of fake news? After all even facts require some minimal consensus and willingness to stare at the truth in its face.

I wish to wind up with a proposition that I want you to examine carefully. While for intellectuals and academics it will always be interesting to examine the ethical and ideological continuities between the Congress and the BJP, the time has now come to properly appreciate the fundamental breach between the two. Of late, there has been a talk of altering the Indian constitution radically and even change the colours of the national flag. All on the basis of a single electoral victory, however convincing? It would be tragic at this moment to focus on the historical continuities between the Congress and the BJP family, when the BJP itself is disowning the seven decades of our democratic heritage.  Except for the factories and the dams, the BJP is not willing to accept even an iota of all that has been achieved since 1947.

My guess is Sinha came to this conclusion with great clarity and we owe him a debt for sharing it with us.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sobering words on Hindi Day from our President Kovind

Ratnakar Tripathy

In times when nearly all the pleasant sounding news turns out to be fake and all the dependable news is getting unpleasanter by the day, it is so very heartening to hear our president give some sober advice to the Hindi zealots on the annual Hindi day at a function held recently! The president observed that the cheerleaders of Hindi are in the habit of antagonizing the speakers of other languages by their insistence on imposing their language on others. As a result, all the attempts at the promotion and advocacy by the Hindi supporters end up backfiring. This happened recently in Karnataka when protestors blackened signboards at a Metro station, earning the language avoidable hostility and a fresh stint of dislike among the local populace that had had no occasion for such anger till provoked. With a large population of the Hindi speaking population employed in Bangalore including a fairly significant labour population, the multilingual Bangalore society that was spontaneously taking to Hindi word by word, sentence by sentence may now show resistance that you often see in Tamilnadu.  

What the zealots do not seem to get into their heads despite the several decades of violent protests is that a language grows when it’s needed or preferred and not due to policy dictats. Way back, I remember when my school authorities tried to impose a laughably silly policy of ‘afternoon conversations only in English’ among students, the school turned into silent graveyards during the entire duration. The purpose behind the move to improve our English speaking skills was thus given a quiet burial. The fact is Hindi has grown largely through its cinema and the media, apart from political communication, commerce and large scale migrations. Increasingly, with politicians and businessmen trying to make a dent in North India, Hindi is already inching closer to becoming a second link language in street terms, and even the first pan-Indian language among the quasi-literate who cannot speak English. This is leading to some interesting breeds of Hindi-dominated pidgins all over the country. Unlike earlier the Hindi speaking populace rarely break into contemptuous jeering at the most exotic of south Indian or north eastern accents and smug amusement is all we now show at these phonetic adventures of non-Hindi speakers. I feel the worshipers of Hindi should take satisfaction in this spontaneous growth instead of making so much ado over a lost cause.

The president had another point to make, a token one perhaps but of a great emotional import – the Hindi speaking people should learn the greeting words from the other languages such as ‘aadab’ in Urdu and ‘vadakkam’ in Tamil by way of creating general goodwill and a gesture of acceptance instead of derision. The Hindi zealots may have found such a generous gesture on the part of our first citizen somewhat out of place on a day when Hindi should have received all the devout attention, but I entirely agree that we, the Hindi speakers have been very small hearted in more than one sense. On the one hand we deign to believe that the growth of Hindi depends on our schmaltzy fantasies, and on the other indulge in what can only be termed ‘linguistic cruelty’ of imposing the language on others either overtly or sneakily.

The fact is that Hindi lovers suffer from anxieties that may be rather unique and require a deeper appreciation. First, Hindi is a language of fairly recent origin, going back less than two centuries. Second, although Hindi is now the first language for a very large population, till recently it was only a second language for languages and dialect speakers from Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Awadhi and Braj regions, a fact we are reluctant to admit pushing the entire matter under the patriotic carpet. Third, if that is not bad enough, the Hindi speakers may be among the least loyal linguistically, eager to switch to English fulltime as I have found while moving around the Hindi territories. To top it all, the Hindi regions are also known for their backwardness and low levels of literacy and urbanism. All these make a Hindi speaker much more insecure and jittery compared to let’s say the Bangla, Tamil or Marathi speaker. As we all know, aggression towards others is often an outcome of the fears emanating from within.

We should thus feel grateful to a president who is nudging us to come down a few rungs and assess the state of our language a bit more coolly instead of trying to rouse the primal passions often associated with the languages in our country.    

Friday, September 08, 2017

A Bad Week for North America

On top of Harvey, USA is getting Irma; Mexico is getting Katia and Jose is out there probably finding his landing spot. This all going when Mexico got 8+ Richter Scale Earthquake.

When it rains, it pours.....

Indeed North America is having the complete wrath of Mother Nature. Solace is, it seems mid-September is when these hurricanes crowd and historically are expected to wean down thereafter.

Meanwhile, many Americans are busy debating 'significance and validity of human contributions to global warming as well as the truthfulness of American Media'!

I guess eventually, just like everything else in Trump Era (repeal and replace of ObamaCare, shut-down Government for border wall) - "anti-Science and anti-Global Warming" arguments will reduce to "cultural identity rant" with no force in reality. What Congress is doing, we are definitely going in that direction and most Americans will appreciate that.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Commentary: The Rohingya genocide in Burma

Rohingyas: hounded by the Burmese state
The international community is duly shocked by the conduct of the Burmese government towards the Rohingyas, the Muslim minority community who live along the border with Bangladesh. The irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi being complicit hasn’t failed to evoke anger and disgust in the wider social media and there is now a vociferous demand for a revocation of her award. The tragedy with the Rohingya community seems to be getting worse as neither of the two neighbouring countries Bangladesh nor India is willing to let them in as refugees. There have been a series of reports of raids conducted by the Myanmar army on the remotest of Rohingya villages, clearly aiming to destroy them physically and uproot them without suggesting any alternative.

In Myanmar, we see the other face of Buddhism, a religion commonly associated with compassion and gentler sentiments. This editorial provides a synoptic account of the current predicament of the Rohingyas and the near complete indifference of the international communities towards them. The ruling elite, the military and even the Buddhist religious leaders seem to be intent on wiping the community off the map of the earth, a measure that now deserves to be described as ‘genocide ‘in the media.   

Friday, August 25, 2017

Panic in the city

Ratnakar Tripathy

It is difficult to get over one’s dismay at how the Haryana government deliberately botched up the security arrangements at the Panchkula court where Sant Ram Raheem was yesterday declared guilty of rape. The case goes back to 2002, when a local journalist published an anonymous letter addressed by an aggrieved woman to the Prime Minister of India among others, seeking justice and relief. The immediate outcome of the letter was the journalist was shot dead in front of his house. Ram Raheem has a large following of up to 5 crore devotees among the Dalits in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan and is seen as anti-Sikh. But perhaps the most visibly interesting part of the Ram-Raheem story is his persona – he is at once a rock star, an actor, a singer, a filmmaker and believe it or not, a stunt man to boot. Clearly, he is not a phenomenon easy to unravel in a hurry except on the surface.  

What is easier to see how the CM of the Haryana state failed in his duty to maintain law and order on the occasion when around 150,000 of Ram-Raheem were allowed to assemble in the town – they were ready to take to arson and bloodshed if their guru received a guilty verdict. In a rampage that lasted for several hours, the police stood helpless and above 30 people got killed. The reaction to this by the BJP politicians and ministers were bizarre to say the least - the president of BJP in Haryana. Here's what he actually said! "On such occasions, nothing can be done. The media should not have ventured into the vicinity of the mob, or provoked the people whose emotions were running high." If this is not bad enough, the I&B minister Smriti Irani tweeted warnings to the press not to spread panic and promised punishments for the so-called misdemenours. The warning couldn’t be more ill-timed as the press was at the receiving end for several hours and their OB vans were torched by the mobs. Of course, there is another leader Sakshi Maharaj who openly defended the guru and blamed the courts for yesterday’s incidents.

The fact is the police forces successfully evacuated up to 1 lakh devotees from Panchkula and Chandigarh on the same evening though only after the crowds were allowed to do the damage. It is not difficult to see that instead of tackling the problem boldly, the state government showed hesitation and according to some even connivance with the crowds. There are reports that clearly suggest that politicians from both the parties, in particular the BJP have been hobnobbing with the guru since he controls a sizeable body of Dalit votes. Politicians regularly queue up to seek the blessings [read votes] from the guru before the elections and have no desire to displease him.

The Indian judiciary has however yet again exhibited great clarity by issuing a warning to the guru – the court order states “It is made clear that whosoever has been instigating and inciting the crowd that has gathered to commit these acts of arson and violence, they would be sternly dealt with. The damages that are caused to public and private properties shall be recovered from them. Respondent No.7 – Dera Sacha Sauda shall submit a list of its assets and properties which can be attached in case it is found that they and their followers are responsible for the said acts. All Judicial Officers at Panchkula shall forthwith be provided security by Para Military Forces round the clock.” Now everyone waits for the dreaded day next Monday when the court will issue a sentence, causing further anger among the guru’s followers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Shah Bano - After 30 years

Those were the days of Longowala Accord and 400+ MP Majority for Rajiv Gandhi. Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi had ridden the Parliamentary Majority on the ashes of his mom, the majority which no Indian PM is likely to achieve ever. But alas that majority was not good enough to produce anything positively long-lasting. Apart from creating Environmental Ministry which focused India's attention to environmental issues (not necessarily solve though); there are few things I remember from Rajiv's Parliment (apart from presidential palace games of President Gyani Zail Singh to split the enormous Congress Majority...).

One of the things I remember from that era is how a socialist MP Madhu Dandavate tried in vain to argue against the misguided law of Rajiv Gandhi to overrule the Supreme Court decision of denying an easy way out for a Muslim male from his responsibilities in a marriage dissolution. I was in my college years then, still with dreamy views like how a debate in the parliament would change views of other MPs. Me and my friend Uday we wished that in the morning the law would not pass - the debate was for the whole night in the parliament. 

Looking back, the only thing good about that affair was there was at least some parliamentary debate! Given the tendencies of most democracies all over the world to either misguide the discourse or skip altogether any debate by skilled parliamentary machinations; it seems politicians then had at least some conscience left to 'argue and debate'. Definitely, likes of Madhu Dandavate have left behind a moral lesson for us - denying 'maintenance' to Shah Bano was wrong.

India took more than 30 years to recognize the basic rights of Muslim women here. Moreover, it needed Hindu Nationalist Government with lurking malice against Muslims to correct this imbalance. We had 3 Congress Governments in Delhi after Rajiv Gandhi, but none showed the courage to undo the non-sense of Rajiv's Shah Bano folly. These are the 'wages' of Indian Secular Polity in last 30 years!

Many in India's Secular Wing are likely to see this result with a suspicion. It is understandable that one would doubt secular credentials and motives of RSS aligned Indian PM Narendra Modi. But India's Left and Secularists need to avoid a knee jerk reaction to this verdict. Indian Supreme Court has got it right and PM Modi's Government has created the necessary 'political space' for justice to prevail in this case.

Debates in Parliament may not win arguments, as I learned from ages back heroics of Madhu Dandavate; but in the end, people get it 'right' in the land of 'rule of law'. No wonder, Indians; especially Indian Muslim Women are rightfully relieved at this ruling. 

These are exactly the foundations of a long lasting republic and Indians are marching well. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Immoral Trump Presidency

With a devastating press conference, Donald Trump has revealed few more things fresh:

1) He is an incompetent leader. Fundamentally, any good leader needs to understand an import of a moment - which aspects to 'highlight' and which aspects to 'downplay' for the larger and longer term good of the country. In this case, for Donald Trump to equate White Supremacists with those who oppose it; is politically damaging in the short term as well. But still, he went ahead and pulled down every anti-Nazi American to the same level of David Duke. What an incompetent leader!

2) Secondly, Donald has no morality; there is no 'moral compass'. He is a ship wandering this world shamelessly, responding to his animal spirits and it goes wherever his 'inner beast' takes him. Forget the Presidency, as a 'man' he is not the person anyone wants to be a friend with or anyone wants to work for him. He is a failed personality with no place in a decent society. Imagine this is 2017 and we have an occupant of Oval Office justifying Racism in a press conference! What Lincoln legacy he can be expected to continue?

3) Finally, he has exposed his complete lack of qualifications as a law upholding elected leader. This is because he is simply refusing to see the 'party which broke the law' - a Fascist who plowed the car killing an innocent bystander exercising her political rights peacefully. There cannot be any comparison and you cannot simply accord a blame when none belongs to Americans who were peacefully opposing Racism.

This is an unbelievable moment in American Politics - the President justifying racists in some form. 

As some have rightly said, those who 'voted' Donald Trump knew this was the risk and realistic possibility with his candidacy, but they still did so (just because Hillary's Candidacy was not up to the mark). Equally those Bernie Brothers and Sisters are guilty for this mess when they failed to overcome their frustration with the Bernie Loss to Hillary and did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. 

But that is all water under the bridge. What is needed is 
- Republicans in Congress wake up and start pushing back Donald's nonsense; and
- Civilians in America start participating our politics to remove Donald Trump.

Because otherwise, Donald is likely to grow into an existential risk to our Republic and the way we live in this country. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Commentary: the indignity of dying in the sewers

Even as the nation mourns the death of over 60 children in a Gorakhpur hospital and even as ordinary citizens feel outraged by the suspension of Dr Kafeel Ahmad at the hospital who made super-human efforts to save the children, there is another kind of tragic death that deserves our attention too. As if living a life of indignity was not bad enough, the death of sewage workers in India due to toxic gases has become a routine. According to this report, ‘The tragedy happened six days after three sanitation workers died inside a Delhi Jal Board-managed sewer line in Lajpat Nagar. Before that, four labourers were trapped to death in a sewage tank in south Delhi’s Ghitorni in July.’ While it is not our practice to maintain data on such deaths, according to an estimate in the report, around 100 people die in our sewers every year, which seems a very conservative figure looking at Delhi alone. It is not clear why this task cannot be partly or fully mechanized to keep human beings at a safe distance from the poisonous filth. The safety gear listed by the report includes gas masks, safety harness belts, helmets and mechanized equipment at dangerous sites such as clogged underground sewers – all of which must be provided by the employer. The incident took place at a shopping mall in east Delhi and one fails to understand why the resourceful employer failed to invest in some basic safety measures. There is even a law entailing imprisonment when the employer fails to fulfill his duty. But like many other instances, who is there to enforce such laws! So let us add to our long list of cries in the wilderness as governance at every level gives in to nonchalant indifference!

Monday, August 07, 2017

The politics of painting the victim as the perpetrator

Ratnakar Tripathy

I have never heard of a historian who complained of too much factual material to build a story. But these days I keep hearing historical and contemporary narratives that seem to not simply keep a safe distance from well-known facts but to even reverse the story on the basis of wild theories and postulates that reflect the beliefs of the narrator and no more. What is striking here is the apparent lack of conviction that starts on a note of denial and posits completely white lies as facts. As human beings, we are equipped to deal with situations when there is some minimal consensus on what may have happened. We are ill-equipped to deal with situations where a blatant lie is presented in front of us as the obvious truth. It is worrying for some that they are unable to prove the existence of Unicorns, but isn’t it even more worrying that its definite non-existence cannot be demonstrated either? In brief, faced with a white lie, we get stumped and begin to stammer incoherently and perhaps even consider plain yelling if not physical assault!

That Mughal and western history seem irrelevant to syllabus-makers in Rajasthan is a serious enough matter but it doesn’t hurt with the same immediacy as the lies that attempt to turn a victim into a perpetrator – recently when a lady named Varnika Kundu was driving to her home in Chandigarh at around 12 AM, a vehicle tried to aggressively block her path though she managed to reverse her car and report the incident to the police. I first got this piece of information from Facebook through an elaborate post by her father, an IAS officer. I saw it as a horrifying incident that was duly aborted and forgot about it. But the very next morning it made national news when the stalker was revealed to be the son of a senior BJP leader in Haryana.  The lady in question, a career woman took matters in her hand and managed to get help from the police, largely I feel since she is the daughter of an IAS officer and couldn’t be dismissed lightly. The offenders however were faced with extremely light charges by the police and let off in no time. The offender perhaps comes from a family of warm-blooded men and women who take it for granted that men will assault and that it is the girl’s onus to keep out of the way. If a woman is unlucky enough to fall in the way, well, she has just been unlucky and must get over it soon. All these matters are what we call ‘cultural’, a distortion from the feudal days which is why a BJP leader from Haryana demanded an answer to his question – what was Varnika doing on the roads at 12 AM in the night.  

What is not cultural however is when a BJP spokesperson N C Shaina, a highly educated person demanded justice for the perpetrator Vikas Barala instead of showing sympathy for the victim or just plain keeping her trap opportunely shut. She has since deleted her tweet more out of shame than remorse, although Nidhi Razdan, the famous TV presenter scrupulously copied it and preserves it, engraved as it is forever in the digital stone.

I am of course moved by the plight of the gutsy young lady from Chandigarh who claimed that like many other victims, she doesn’t care to stay anonymous and since as a victim rather than a perpetrator, she has no reason to hide her name and face. But I also feel concerned by a general tendency to paint the victim as the perpetrator these days – the media does it and so do the politicians on the right. The farmer, the tribal, the villagers asking for rehabilitation, the conscientious teachers, the whistleblowers and the suffering students are now the new villains of a society that has lost its moral compass. Such reversal can turn our entire vocabulary toxic and snap the last straw of human decency, forget the higher ideals of goodness and rectitude.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Commentary: NPAs show a jump of 41% in current year

In recent years in India, the banks have failed to curb a steady rise in the Non-Performing Assets [NPAs], the term NPA just being a euphemism for defaulted loans. The reason behind this is however neither the small businessman nor the farmer but the major behemoths. The bigger industrial groups are often in a position to argue that further loans will enable them to repay the loans incurred earlier – this logic can, however, go altogether awry as the loans pile up and the financial system is drained of resources. The question the ordinary citizen may ask here is – where will the money come from and how will the vacuum get filled up? The answer is a long story of banking mismanagement and political interferences in the financial sector that amounts to what is often called ‘crony capitalism’.

According to an earlier report ‘The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is moving to resolve the bad loan crisis with an Internal Advisory Committee (IAC) of the RBI having identified 12 accounts of corporate borrowers who owe over Rs 5,000 crore each — and overall involve an amount of close to Rs 175,000 crore — for insolvency proceedings under the newly enacted Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (IBC).’

The present report provides little analysis but is a surely an update for 2017 – it seems that the NPAs rose by 41 per cent in the current financial year despite the government’s professed attempts to curb such growth. Part of the same logic is the argument that there are businesses and banks that are too big to be allowed to fail. This ensures that the taxpayer is eternally committed to shoring up these entities lest the resulting turbulence upset the financial system in some fundamental ways. The interesting thing about the modern state in India and elsewhere is while it withdraws from sectors like education and health and to some extent even from infrastructure, it turns pro-active in securing loans for certain business houses presuming them to be growth leaders and creators of jobs. The NPAs are thus indicators not simply of a persistent policy blunder but also reveal some deep fault lines within the state apparatus.