The desensitisation of the public in India

The notion of governance always fascinated me. In my early days, I was wide-eyed as I devoured the pages of the Amar Chitra Katha with their resplendent kings and queens who were either benevolent or barbarians depending upon the context of the story. Pretty two-sided characters whom we could identify with earnestness or despise with vehemence.

Modern kings translate to politicians with rather similar sang froid, who are as slippery as an eel in action or at least astute to stay the course.  Quite unlike the erstwhile era, where at least your enemy was defined and there was no unacceptable surprises to twist your logic on pelf, power or prestige, the present-era owners of the government are quite adept at identifying themselves, rather forcefully with the age-old adage that there are no permanent enemies in politics. Today’s opposition leader is tomorrow’s alliance partner. It is dirty and the players revel in it with absolute gusto.

India’s PM, one must admit, has the same sartorial sense as his ageless ancestors in action had, but whether he has inherited anything else is still in question. The demonetisation ogre has, after eating up all of the currency in circulation, steadfastly refused, till date, to either regurgitate or pass out the same in motion.

Nobody seems to have a sense of what was swallowed. Nobody is willing to speak. There is a sense of palpable fear that hangs about questioning the monarch’s diktat. And there is not even a court appointed jester to ease the situation for the miserable public. They have been scammed out of their hard-earned money and the government refuses to let go. The government who, by the way, is answerable to this self-same public. Only the public refuses to question. That is how smartly and conveniently the government has desensitised the public.

The public dance to the music of another orbit, where governance has no role. The presiding gods of those planets deal with much more serious topics. I could detail the topics, but that would be spoiling the fun. Suffice to say that when asked about what the head of the family dealt with in family affairs, he was supposed to have said that weighty matters like “should Israel and Palestine have peace” and “Is Global warming changing global weather patterns” were his domain, while less important ones like “which schools should his children study in” and “Whether the leaking pipe should be repaired now” were left to his wife.

Even today, the ATMs do not either work or do not dispense money. Not even Rs.500/-, forget Rs.24000/-. The truly herculean task of gathering currency for the morning milk is a daily struggle. A change of Rs.2000/- gives respite for a few days. Yet, the nagging prick at the base of the skull of why this situation has developed refuses to leave. I manage, but I keep hearing daily stories of struggle from my peers and friends who work with volunteers in villages just a few kilometres away from the shine of the city.

Every government blusters its way with bravado. But this government has taken it to dizzying heights. A certain tightening of the belt was expected, but it completely boggles the mind that the belt was around the neck. The pincers have clamped down on the soft sensitive skin, but because it has been there so long, the pain is beginning to evolve into a kind of dull sensation that has necessarily to be ignored for the remnants of sanity to remain. And the government revels in this desensitisation.

Lal Quila – The Red Fort of Shah Jahan

Lal Quila or the Red Fort was the official residence of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built about 200 years ago in 1628.

For me, the whole experience of visiting Red Fort was like peeling off an onion.   The more you move into the inner realms of the fort, the more beautiful and whiter the buildings and structures would get.   Finally, it came to the one building that I admired the most in the whole complex and Amir Khusraw had most aptly described it as the paradise on earth.   His inscription is written on the walls of this white marble structure- If there be a paradise on the  earth, it is this, it is this, it is this – Diwan-e-khas!  I am still wondering what resplendent, what exciting and what colourful life it would have been then.

The boundary of the Fort and some of its buildings are built with red sandstone and the name Lal Quila or Red Fort comes from there.   It is a well built, massive structure that encircles and secures the entire surrounding of the complex – the official palaces, mahals, gardens and the many other small and little buildings it ensconces.    There were trenches and channels of water all around to give the added security to the fort.  The gates are massive and built to protect the citizens inside the walled city.   The walls are built with holes in it for firing arms and ammunitions.  The four posts at the four corners were used for keeping a vigil.

The front façade is used right now during the Independence Day celebrations by the Prime Minister to address the nation.   However, the fort is just much much more than the front façade!   There is another huge and massive gate as soon as you enter from the front with a metal door called Lahori Gate.  This leads to a long covered path with arches and arched bays on both sides – more like a market place where you have shops on both the sides of the road.   It is called the chatta chowk which means covered bazaar.   Even today there are shops where people are selling all kinds of wares – jewellery, clothes, handicraft items.  It was said that this used to be the case even during Shah Jahan’s time.   He started this concept after he saw something like this in Peshawar.     During his times, the market would be engaged in luxury trade  of the imperial household and used to sell silks, brocades, gold, velvet and other expensive stuff.

After the Chatta Bazaar, there is yet another gate which takes you to a red building – the Diwan-e-Aam which means the ‘Place of Public Audience’.

There is a long rectangular lawn with a water body in the middle that runs across to the Diwan-Aam and paths cutout on both the sides.  This is a place was used by Shah Jahan to meet the common public and hear their grievances.  The structure was made in red sandstone and in the centre  is a raised platform with the Emperor’s throne with a canopy all made in Marble with exquisite handiwork of floral designs inlaid with semi precious stones.

After the Diwan-e-aam lies the little gems of beauty –  domains where Shah Jahan and other successive emperors used to actually live and spend time. You would be greeted with an expanse of garden and green lawns and water canals with white marble structures spread across the expanse.   The water bodies at that time was an important part as they provided the needed water and air cooling for the entire place.

Three white marbled palaces are placed in close proximity to each other at the other end of the garden – The  Rang Mahal (also called Shish Mahal), Khas Mahal and Shah Mahal (or Diwan-e-Khas).

These were like 3 little pieces of jewels in that whole area.   Built completely in marble, they are a sight to behold!

Rang Mahal was the place where Shah Jahan used to entertain and be entertained.   It was painted in different colours from the inside and therefore derives its name from there.  It also had mirrors fitted on the top and therefore it was called the sheesh mahal though right now there is neither colour nor the mirrors.  This one actually looks faded and is the drabbest one out of the three.

The next one is the Khas Mahal where Shah Jahan had his bed chambers and the dressing room.

Diwan-e-Khas next to it was the place where he would meet people close to him.  This palace was truly amazing in its architecture and the structure.  Though faded and greyish and yellow in colour, the structure speaks of the glorious past.   The peacock throne was removed from this place by Nadir Shah who attacked Delhi and it is said that this throne is somewhere in Iran right now.

The opulence and the extravaganza was clearly visible in the luxurious setting of the entire structure.  The richness of the designs and the work on the structure was truly marvelous.  I was wondering if these structures look so good even today after the wear and tear of the last 200 years, then what would it have been when it was pristine white colour of the marble resplendent with all the other colours the buildings would have been painted with, the coloured drapes, the carpets and all the precious stones that were embedded in the building design.  It would have been truly mesmerizing and therefore What Amir Khusraw said about this building would have been completely true at that point of time.  It would have been a paradise to behold!

It is said that Taj Mahal was inspired by the Diwan-e-khas and its architectural designs.

There are other buildings too like the Mumtaz Mahal which is now converted to a museum and does not look like anything that was in the earlier days though one can see the arches and the carvings on the roof that are reminiscent of a celebrated past.

Then there are gardens and pavilions which would have been used by the Emperor, his wives and sons to relax during leisure times.

Missing the proverbial woods

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a hard hitting speech to his lawmakers on demonetization. The hard hitting was all for the previous regime and none for his policy. This is truly a case of missing the proverbial woods for the trees.

His entire speech focused on eulogising the demonetization move, centred on the reluctance of previous prime minister Mrs. Gandhi, who ostensibly wavered on a long-pending demand for demonetization on the pretext of wanting to win elections. The narrative being that the GOP was interested not so much in the nation, as much as in their own party.

This has a peculiarly obnoxious smell to it. As with all other spins that the BJP puts on all their actions, this too has missed the point by a wide margin. It has become increasingly clear that demonetization as an idea on the one hand and implementation on the other have had no common connect. And the disconnect has been on so many levels that it is now slowly emerging that no worthwhile thought has gone into the exercise before plunging the country headlong into this mindless chasm. Neither intent, nor vision has had a loci that could rally the people together.

To top it, our venerable PM has stooped to pointing fingers at previous non-BJP PMs, without even even wanting to glance at the direction of prudence, which I am sure is bleating its head off trying to convince the PM to watch before he shoots his mouth off. The PM is convinced that there was no better solution to black money, terror funding, cashless economy and sundry other reason, none any better than the other, at either convincing or at least at feasibility.

The notorious notion gaining ground that the poor/non-corrupt people are happy and that somehow the rich/corrupt are having sleepless nights is arguably one of the most wretched sentiments ever to be put on the public discourse. It demeans the poor in their condition, is downright dismissive of facts and flies in the face of reason. Demonetization as a measure to check black money or “bad money” can certainly be argued. It has its good and bad points. But to implement it without recourse to an alternative strategy is foolishness beyond compare and of gargantuan proportions. Sadly, the PM misses this. He fervently believes in the adage that time is a great healer. And that in the long run (which can swing between a few days and possibly months) all will be well. The disastrous effect this has had on small business is swept aside. The rural economy is in shambles, as it completely relies on a cash economy to transact. There are large swathes of land where ATMs come to life only in sheer emergencies and not as a regular hotspot of public discourse. In any case, where the govt. has put a brake on personal spending beyond 24000/- per week, the entire discourse has moved from a higher expectation of lifestyle to narrowing one’s options on survival tips and techniques.

The demonetization move has generated a fair amount of questions, and there are no clear answers. Reason has not had a say in these trying times of bravado riding the ship into some golden sunset. One sincerely hopes that there is some sort of sunrise beyond.

Why ONLY Lokpal?

After the brouhaha, and as is usual in such cases, some responsible people have started looking at other routes to tackle corruption. The concept of Lokpal is all very good, but in a system where there is no plethora of laws, but only of enforcement, the institution of the Lokpal would only have added to the number of existing laws without adding anything to the manner of enforcing the same. Add to that the fact that the Lokpal is pushing for the ability to call on the Prime Minister (the highest power in a Westminister democracy), it is a sure way to twist the arm of the PM, which is simply not allowable.
Though I cannot with any finality claim that the steps detailed by Mr. Athale are better than the concept of the Lokpal, the fact that another workable possibility to counter corruption has evolved, speaks much for the maturity of our nation.

Ramdev and Corruption – Where the twain meet

The civil society’s support for Mr. Ramdev’s adventurism disguised as fast against corruption has me worried. Don’t get me wrong. I am as much against corruption as you are. But if you are against the corrupt and want to take the legislative way to deal with it (since we are in a democracy), I suggest you get into the hurly burly of politics and do so. Being out of it and taking a lone ranger’s path to supposed activism against corruption is to see corruption from a very narrow viewpoint.

Corruption has many hues, and comes disguised in all kinds of shapes and sizes. To glibly put the onus of corruption on the black money stashed away in foreign banks by its owners is to trivialise the issue beyond redemption. The stashed away loot is only a visible manifestation of the malaise that grips our psyche. Don’t we pay off the MCD when they come to check our water cooler on whether it contains the aedes egypti mosquito larva? How many times have we asked the Chemist not to print out a legitimate receipt for the medicine that we have bought because it entails adding another 12.5% to the total cost? The neighbourhood doctor never gives us a receipt for the consultation that s/he charges. Do we crib? That isn’t corruption, right? The examples are just too many and the vista of their operation ridiculously large. We just need to watch our everyday life from a slightly more objective angle.
We are only corrupting our own body politic to the mire when we classify corruption as something that belongs to the political class. And the Ramdevs of this country would rather piggyback on that thought and earn even more adulation from an idiotic public!

Double standards?

Siva Sena MP Sanjay Raut has hit out against Shahrukh Khan for speaking Baba Ramdev’s proposed hunger strike. Why don’t you practise what you preach Mr. MP?
Dear Shiv Sena-ists,
I fully agree that those who are called to one profession should stick to that profession. I frankly don’t think Shahrukh Khan had any business talking about Baba Ramdev.
But equally so, I believe Baba Ramdev has no business meddling in politics and government. His domain is yoga. He should seriously sincerely stick to that.
Your tough stand against Shahrukh is commendable, but unfortunately it shows up your hypocrisy when you soo lap up Baba Ramdev.
We are all against corruption. But equally so we are all for freedom of expression too. Don’t take the aam aadmi for a fool.

The Godhra potboiler

There was a conspiracy. A bogie was meticulously burned and its passengers killed.
What should a government do? Try and get the situation under control, immediately, using all the available resources. Using all available resources, find the cause of the incident. It now having been confirmed that it was a conspiracy, hunt down the accused and put them on trial.
What did actually happen? And therein lies the tragedy.
And now 9 years later, internet-nationalists are outraged that 63 people were acquitted for no crime of theirs.
There is no denying that there was a conspiracy. I earnestly appeal for the most stringent punishment for the perpetrators of this heinous crime. I also appeal that the perpetrators of the Gujrat pogrom be also put on trial. Injustice should just not be tolerated in this great nation of ours.
The tragedy of Gujrat is not just Godhra. The tragedy is both Godhra and post-Godhra Gujrat. As long as this divide exists, Gujrat will always be viewed as a stigma. And that is an even bigger tragedy.
Life has continued and will continue. But at the next flare-up, and we are all fools if we believe that there won’t be a flare-up, the tragic consequences will even be greater.
Doesn’t Gujrat deserve better? Doesn’t India deserve better?

Godhra on the eve of elections

The Supreme Court has finally got down to getting justice for the Gujrat carnage vicims.

On Monday (Apr 27, 2009), it directed the Special Investigation Team (SIT), which is headed by the CBI ex-Director Mr. R K Raghavan, to probe the alleged role of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and his administration in aiding and abetting the 2002 riots.

This is the first time that Modi, has come under the scanner for one of the worst riots in recent years. Often in the past, accusing fingers have been repeatedly pointed at him, his cabinet colleagues and top state officials for their alleged complicity. Mayaben Kodnani, who was a minister in his cabinet, is already under arrest for the Naroda Patya carnage.

This, at a time, when he is being projected as the BJP’s future prime ministerial candidate. Though it remains to be seen whether he will work it to his advantage or not. The aura that once surrounded him following the pogrom in 2002 may be diminishing, however, there is no denying that he is still a force to reckon with in Gujrat politics.

If the SIT is able to crucially dent the image of Mr. Modi, that will put paid to his wishes to be the PM of India. For all his anti-minority rhetoric, that may be a good thing. But if his development of Gujrat is anything to go by, that seems to be a bad option!

But this way or other, it is absolutely essential that his tacit, covert or overt complicity on the Gujrat carnage needs to be comprehensively investigated. He may either be acquitted or convicted. Which ever way the pendulum swings, Modi will need to open his mouth and speak up for the whole of Gujrat. His silence on the matter is too suspicious for anybody’s (least of all the nation’s) good.

One doesn’t really want to pronounce judgement on Mr. Modi. But if his body language is any barometer, then he is bloody guilty as hell.

Anyway, jai ho!

Whatever for credible governance!

Over the years one has seen that the “party with a difference” gets into the news for all the negative reasons.

Even for Elections 2009, we have the Varun Gandhi hate speech, followed closely by the Rajnath Singh – Arun Jaitley spat. This was preceded by the straining of relations with the BJD.

Today, Maya Kodnani was cancelled her anticipatory bail. Tomorrow Varun Gandhi would court arrest at Pilibhit.

Thank God for leaders like Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh, BJP can stand tall. The others are a sheer embarrassment. Even their national leaders are a fractuous lot.

What, however, takes the cake, is their utter unwillingness to take up a positive agenda for governance. Mercifully, this time their slogan at least is positive.

But if they are constantly going to hark back on their Ram Sethus and Ram Janmabhoomis and Article 370s and Uniform Civil Codes, then I seriously fear that they are headed the Congress way.

It will take a much more stronger leader than Sonis Gandhi or Rahul baba to get the Congress back in shape. As is evident from the emerging political arena, the Congress-is are simply unwilling to shake off their inertia and get going. They find it extremely hard to digest the fact that it is no longer a predominant political force and is facing extinction in many of its past bastions.

Their only positive is that they stand for a pluralistic society in a secular framework.

If a viable third front would give a credible alternative, I assume both the Congress and the BJP would be finihshed.

The idea is to accept/elect the lesser of the three evils!

Major Gains for Indian Government

Among the many governments that India has had, everybody is well aware which has been the bootlicking government. The present dispensation, though nothing to write home about, is still better in terms of protecting the interests of this country, and putting pressure on Pakistan to get its act in order. A whole lot of talk does not protect anybody’s interest. Nor does getting the army upto the border in a show of strength. It must not escape anybody’s attention that Pakistan after a very very long time has finally admitted that the terrorists that attacked India were of Pakistani origin. Howsoever much it tries to backtrack after this admission, the truth of the matter is that our government has been able to put the pressure on the Pakistani government to react to the pressure that has been building up.

Without doubt, US and other countries have also been putting pressure on Pakistan. But daresay, they have been putting pressure on Pakistan from early on for getting their work in the region done. It speaks volumes for the present government that their persistence has paid dividends, petty though they are.

It can safely be stated that the noose is inexorably drawing tighter for Pakistan.