Thursday, 26 January 2012

Vande Mataram

As India celebrates its 63rd Republic Day, a new version of "Vande Mataram" was launched to infuse a feeling of patriotism. The new video has been composed by the tabla player Bickram Ghosh and the video has been directed by Girish Malik while the video has been conceptualized by J.K. Srivastava. 

The new version of the national song brings in 21 eminent singers and musicians from different genres to create a fresh feel. The video infuses a feeling of patriotism as it features Sonu Nigam, Shubha Mudgal, Kaushiki Desikan and Ustad Rashid Khan, Amaan Ali Khan, Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt, Niladri Kumar, Sunidhi Chauhan, Manoj Tiwari, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, Mahalakshmi Iyer, Indian Ocean, Roopkumar Rathod, Palash Sen, Kamal Sabri etc. The video also features Bickram Ghosh playing the tabla, kanjira and percussions. 

India has one of the world's largest population of young people. The new video is an ode to India as a dynamic, vibrant nation and the India of the times we live in. The India of today is strong, serene and beautiful. Besides bring together a diverse ensemble of artists and music icons, the video has been shot in as many as 24 different sets across India which makes the video very vibrant and colourful. By bringing together the genius of various artistes cutting across genres, the new edition of "Vande Mataram" truly reflects India's secular spirit by celebrating the "unity-in-diversity" aspect.  

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Censoring Online Content (Part-II)

Geeta Seshu,
Columnist, The Hoot

In subsequent hearings, Google India maintained that it was not a service provider but was a subsidiary of Google Inc. Moreover, it was a separate entity distinct from its holding US-based firm. Advocate Rohatgi agreed that articles that may seem objectionable do keep cropping up on the Internet. "There are probably billions of articles and it would be difficult to filter them all. But, if you do have a grievance, under the amended Information Technology Act, 2000, there was a procedure for registering abuse and making a complaint to all social networking sites about the matter that may be "objectionable", he felt.

"Some solution can be found but this remedy is far worse than the disease," he said, adding that he had never seen any government so proactive on any issue. Google India, he had explained to the court, was only a subsidiary and did not have the werewithal to provide filters or block content or sites. In criminal law, there is no vicarious liability for the company, he averred. 

What is the genesis of the present fracas? Perhaps, it is in the objections raised by Union Information and Technology minister Kapil Sibal last December when he held meetings with the ISPs Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo! to screen online content. The move led to widespread condemnation, as netizens expressed fears of censorship of online content. The minister was forced to backtrack and clarify that he and his government were, in fact, committed to freedom of expression and were not in favour of censorship. (Interestingly, Vinay Rai has gone on record to state that he did not file complaints with the social networking sites and instead, pursued the matter with the IT ministry for over a year before the latter called for a meeting with the ISPs). 

Perhaps the genesis of the current fracas is in the IT rules framed in connection with the amended IT Act. For long, online freedom activists have pointed out that the rules are draconian and open to extremely wide interpretation. The intermediaries are expected to take down content within 36 hours of receiving a complaint of "objectionable" material. What is deemed to be "objectionable" is anything that is seen to be:

"grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever; 

c) harm minors in any way
d) infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary rights.
e) violates any law for the time being in force;
f) deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of such messages or communicates any information which is grossly offensive or menacing in nature;
g) impersonate another person;
h) contains software viruses or any computer code, files or programs designed to interrupt, destroy or limit the functionality of any computer resource;
i) threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or causes incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any other nation.

It appears that the complainant, Vinay Rai, decided to bypass this provision under the IT Act and directly seek the removal of the content by filing a criminal complaint under the IPC and CrPC. 

In this free-for-all, everyone gets to be censor and regulator--true democracy, anyone?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Censorsing Online Content (Part-I)

Geeta Seshu
Columnist, The Hoot 

A whole host of issues, from the definition of "offensive" content, the procedures to take down content deemed offensive and the responsibilities and jurisdiction of intermediaries are all at stake in the ongoing case against Internet Service Providers (ISPs) Google and Facebook. However, the crucial issue is how exactly a civilized society must tackle content that is seen to be "objectionable" at sites that poke fun at holy cows (political leaders included) and utterances or material that seem to be derogatory to different religions or castes or mischievous and defamatory, violative of privacy or hate-filled content that incites violence. 

Print media has had a long history of battles over content that is problematic, with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression being tested at every turn. In broadcast media, the struggle over self-regulation by the broadcast industry is still an open one, as the Indian government periodically speaks of the need to have stringent regulations but also affirms a commitment to self-regulation. The Internet has been a medium without borders, according a much higher degree of permanence to content, than say, broadcast media. Social networking sites and blogs on the Internet have been struggling to define the lines between the public and private domain and a good example of how Indian society has viewed this is the suspension of students who posted messages and status updates expressing their hatred for some teacher or the other on their own Facebook pages. 

Clearly, each instance will only our test our commitment to freedom of expression and help us refine our own understanding of the limits to free speech or of the legitimacy of restrictions that are sought by governments at different points in time. The unseemly rush to initiate punitive action against Google, Facebook and other sites illustrates our systemic inability to deal with "problematic" content. Our laws only fossilize this intolerance. What is more essential at this stage is an open debate and discussion on these issues instead of rushing towards punitive action or privately sponsored agendas that smack of vendetta or seek to crack down on dissent. Do we have what it takes for an open debate? 

The companies have challenged Metropolitan Magistrate Sudesh Kumar's summons in the Delhi High Court. The summons were issued on December 23, 2011 following a private criminal complaint filed by Vinay Rai, a journalist with an Urdu weekly "Akbari", that content on 21 sites, including Google, Orkut, Youtube and Facebook were objectionable and could promote enmity between different groups. The next hearing of the case challenging the summons is on February 2 in the Delhi High Court while the case in the metropolitan court is scheduled for March 13. The Delhi High Court has not given any stay on the summons issued by the metropolitan court. 

Senior Supreme Court advocate Mukul Rohatgi, who is representing Google told this writer that the summons were violative of Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. "We will not leave this matter. We are willing to go up to the Supreme Court if necessary," he said. Earlier, Vinay Rai had provided the trial court with "evidence" (in a sealed envelope) of content in 21 websites deemed offensive to Hindu and Muslim religious figures as well as Indian politicians. In his order, the magistrate maintained that the publication of these "offensive and inflammatory material which has a tendency to inflame minds' cannot be considered an expression of freedom of speech." The summons were issued under Sections 292 and 293 (obscenity and sale of obscene material) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. Furthermore, the order said that prima facie the accused are also liable to the summoned for offences under section 153-A (promoting enmity between classes), 153-B (assertion prejudicial to national integration) and 295-A (insulting religion or religious belief of any class) IPC but due to an embargo under section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the court cannot summon them under these offences without prior sanction of the Central or state government or district magistrate.

The petitions before the Delhi High Court from Google and Facebook challenging the summons received no relief in that no stay was granted by the court. Justice Suresh Kait, hearing the petition, has observed that there was no undue haste in hearing the matter and in contrast, it was urgent enough to be taken up promptly. The judge also expressed annoyance at the response of the company when asked for the URL of a website: "You are taking the matter very casually. When I have given you a website address, you are raising more questions. One of the articles shows a national leader in bad light. Such things could be posted about a family member of nay of us and maybe we will then act promptly." The Indian government also sanctioned for the prosecution of the companies for hosting obscene content and content that promotes enmity between ethnic and racial groups.  

Thursday, 19 January 2012

मराठी अभिमान गीत

"Marathi Abhimaan Geet" is a song written by noted poet-lyricist the late. Suresh Bhatt and composed by Kaushal S. Inamdar. The idea behind creating the "Marathi Abhimaan Geet" was due to the diminishing respect for Marathi in Maharashtra. When I met Mr. Kaushal Inamdar at a college function, he mentioned two incidents which is why he took it upon himself to record this song. The first incident was about how he was ill-treated at a retail chain in South Mumbai because he chose to speak in Marathi. The second incident was when he was working on a jingle for a radio station and he asked the RJ why the station did not play Marathi songs. He was dumbfounded when the RJ replied that the radio station considered it "downmarket" to play Marathi songs. Thus began the concept of creating this music video in October 2009.

The video consists of nearly 450 accomplished singers with 112 professional singers like Ravindra Sathe, Suresh Wadkar, Sadhana Sargam, Arati Ankalikar-Tikekar, Sridhar Phadke, Swapnil Bandodkar, Hariharan, Devaki Pandit, Bela Shinde, Uttara Kelkar, Swapnaja Lele,Vitthal Umap, Ajay-Atul, Hamsika Iyer, Shankar Mahadevan, Vaishali Samant, Avadhoot Gupte, Hamsika Iyer, Mayuresh Pai to 10 year old Mugdha Vaishampayan, Kartiki Gaikwad etc. and 356 chorus singers. Interestingly, the chorus comprised of many non-Marathi singers as well.

The actual recording of the song took place over a period of 15 months across 3 different studios in Mumbai, Thane and Chennai. Music composer Murugan Mohan employed the orchestra of veteran music composer Ilaiyaraja to contribute to the song. Sound engineers S. Shivkumar completed the Chennai leg of the song while Avadhoot Wadkar completed the Mumbai leg of the recording.

The song instantly connected with the Marathi populace and became a huge hit upon release. The music video succeeded in creating an awareness and instilling a sense of pride and love for Marathi in the hearts of listeners. Following the success of the Marathi Abhimaan Geet, leading FM radio stations in Mumbai bowed down to public pressure and demand by beginning to play Marathi music on air.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Bhumika: The Role

The 1977 Hindi film "Bhumika: The Role" is the journey of an actress named Usha/Urvashi (Smita Patil) which goes back and forth in time tracing her journey from childhood till she is in her late 40s. The film derives its inspiration from an actress called Hansa Wadkar from the 1940s. The English playwright Shakespeare famously remarked: "All the world's a stage and we are all mere players." Filmmaker Shyam Benegal was one of the few who understood correctly what Shakespeare said in entirety.

The film has a perfect title which documents the life of a film actor consumed by frustration. The film opens with a lavani dance sequence being choreographed and shot in a film studio. The film keeps alternating between the past and the present using black-and-white for the past and colour for the present. The past speaks on how the young Usha's childhood job was to learn singing from her grandmother, who was a famous singer in her times and to run between her alcoholic father. The past also speaks of how she entered the film industry following her father's demise and how the sycophant Keshav (Amol Palekar) brings Usha and her mother to Bombay and Usha beginning her journey as an actress.

To showcase the life of Usha as an actress, the filmmaker Shyam Benegal takes us to the sets of a mythological movie, period pieces, songs set among flowers, art films and adventure films. However, the real struggle for Usha begins when she gets married to the much-older sycophant Keshav who keeps reminding her of a childhood promise and how much he has done for her family in order to prevent them from falling to despair. There begins the actual struggle of a woman. I would personally like to view this movie as an essay of a woman who has been in pursuit of harmony in almost all roles she dons in her lifetime. Bhumika is an attempt to understand Usha's efforts as an actress and more importantly as a woman.

The screenplay and the crisp dialogues are brilliantly written by the late. theatre guru Satyadev Dubey. The use of background music efficiently, the use of folk drum beats to indicate the lavani dance sequence and the sound of news relayed by the All India Radio indicating a probable time frame proves that detailing has been cautiously worked since it traverses the period between the 1930s to the 1950s. No scene is irrelevant despite the film going back and forth in time.

Naseeruddin Shah as the rationalist film producer Sunil Verma speaks some of the best lines in the film like "Apne desh mein dimaag se koi nahi sochta. Dil se sochte hain sab." (In our country, no one thinks rationally. Everyone thinks emotionally). It is amazing to believe that the young age of 22, Smita Patil could play the remarkable role of an upright woman who believes in herself and also don the role of a frustrated 40 something film actress with the ultimate realization that she is the only person with whom she has to battle her loneliness. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Mumbai's Lost Relics

Fountains have fascinated and soothed mankind since time immemorial. In India, the first fountains can be traced back to the Mughal era. Most of the gardens founded by the Mughals in India date back to the 17th and 18th century. There are two types of fountains which are predominantly found in India: ornamental and drinking ones. The practice of establishing ornamental fountains has been the legacy of the Mughal and Rajput princes, they have also been symbols of water charities. Water charity was once considered as a noble deed and often water was donated in the name of a deceased family member. It was believed that donating water would allow the soul of the dead to rest in peace.  

The idea of drinking water fountains or pyaus, as they are locally known in Marathi,  took root during the 1860s when the then Governor demolished the ramparts of the old fort and opened up Bombay. The popular Flora Fountain is a relic of that era. Sadly, there are many pyaus across Mumbai which are being demolished in the name of development and road widening. Pyaus were once the oasis of Mumbai before piped water reached the city. Most of these pyaus provided potable drinking water for the general public and animals. It is interesting to note how most of these pyaus were situated parallel among the erstwhile tram lines and crowded business districts not just for human drinking purposes but also for troughs, cattle and tram horses.

A systemic study of these fountains help us in understanding the social fabric of the city. In other words, thse fountains help in recreating an era during which they created their own space in the artistic space in the town planning of the city. In most pyaus, there are plaques related somewhere narrating the reason behind the establishment of the pyau. The plaques and the data collected from archival and oral sources become essential pointers to the information of various communities that immigrated to Bombay. While most of these fountains not only indicate the religious and cultural leanings of the donors but they also blend with the style of neighbouring buildings.

Due to a fast-paced and always-on-the-go attitude that Mumbai is now famous for, it would be nice if you could probably pause for a minute and pay a silent tribute to the person who decided to donate water as charity for the benefit of the general public the next time you come across a water fountain while commuting to work.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Dead Men's Path

Chinua Achebe 

Michael Obi's hopes were fulfilled much earlier than he had expected. He was appointed headmaster of Ndume Central School in January 1949. It had always been an unprogressive school, so the Mission authorities decided to send a young and energetic man to run it. Obi accepted this responsibility with enthusiasm. He had many wonderful ideas and this was an opportunity to put them into practice. He had had sound secondary school education which designated him a "pivotal teacher" in the official records and set him apart from the other headmasters in the mission field. He was outspoken in his condemnation of the narrow views of these older and often less-educated ones. 

"We shall make a good job of it, shan't we?" He asked his young wife when they first heard the joyful news of his promotion. "We shall do our best," she replied. "We shall have such beautiful gardens and everything will be just modern and delightful ..." In their two years of married life she had become completely infected by his passion fir "modern methods" and his denigration of "these old and superannuated people in the teaching field who would be better employed as traders in the Onitsha market." She began to see herself already as the admired wife of the young headmaster, the queen of the school.

The wives of the other teachers would envy her position. She would set the fashion in everything ... Then, suddenly, it occurred to her that there might not be other wives. Wavering between hope and fear, she asked her husband, looking anxiously at him. "All our colleagues are young and unmarried," he said with enthusiasm which for once she did not share. "Which is a good thing," he continued. 
"Why? They will give all their time and energy to the school." 

Nancy was downcast. For a few minutes she became sceptical about the new school; but it was only for a few minutes. Her little personal misfortune could not blind her to her husband's happy prospects. She looked at him as he sat folded up in a chair. He was stoop shouldered and looked frail. But he sometimes surprised people with sudden bursts of physical energy. In his present posture, however, all his bodily strength seemed to have retired behind his deep-set eyes, giving them an extraordinary power of penetration. He was only twenty six, but looked thirty or more. On the whole, he was not unhandsome. 

"A penny for your thoughts, Mike," said Nancy after a while, imitating the woman's magazine she read. 
"I was thinking what a grand opportunity we've got at last to show these people how a school should be run."

Ndume School was backward in every sense of the word. Mr. Obi put his whole life into the work and his wife hers too. He had two aims. A high standard of teaching was insisted upon and the school compound was to be turned into a place of beauty. Nancy's dream gardens came to life with the coming of rains and blossomed. Beautiful hibiscus and allamanda hedges in brilliant red and yellow marked out the carefully tended school compound from the rank neighbourhood  bushes. 

One evening as Obi was admiring his work he was scandalized to see an old woman from the village hobble right across the compound, through a marigold flower-bed and the hedges. On going up there he found faint signs of an almost disused path from the village across the school compound to the bush on the other side. 

"It amazes me," said Obi to one of his teachers who had been three years in the school, "that you people allowed the villagers to make use of this footpath. It is simple incredible." He shook his head. 

"The path," said the teacher apologetically, "appears to be very important for them. Although it is hardly used, it connects the village shrine with their place of burial." 
"And what has that got to do with the school?" asked the headmaster. 
"Well, I don't know," replied the other with a shrug of the shoulders. "But I remember there was a big row some time ago when we attempted to close it." 
"That was some time ago. But it will not be used now," said Obi as he walked away. "What will the Government Education Officer think of this when he comes to inspect the school next week? The villagers might, for all I know, decide to use the schoolroom for a pagan ritual during the inspection." 
 Heavy sticks were planted closely across the path at the two places where it entered and left the school premises. These were further strengthened with barbed wires.

Three days later the village priest of Ani called on the headmaster. He was an old man and walked with a slight stoop. He carried a stout walking-stick which he usually tapped on the floor, by way of emphasis, each time he made a new point in his argument. 
"I have heard," he said after the usual exchange of cordialities, "that our ancestral footpath has recently been closed...." 
"Yes," replied Mr. Obi. "We cannot allow people to make a highway of our school compound."  
"Look here, my son," said the priest bringing down his walking stick, "this path was here before you were even born and before your father was born. The whole life of this village depends on it. Our dead relatives depart by it and our ancestors visit us by it. But most important, it is the path of children coming in to be born...."  
Mr. Obi listened with a satisfied smile on his face.

"The whole purpose of our school," he said finally, "is to eradicate just such beliefs as that. Dead men do not require footpaths. The whole idea is just fantastic. Our duty is to teach your children to laugh at such ideas." "What you say maybe true," replied the priest, "but we follow the practices of our fathers. If you reopen the path we shall have nothing to quarrel about. What I always say is: let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch." He rose to go. "I am sorry," said the young headmaster. "But the school compound cannot be a thoroughfare. It is against our regulations. I would suggest your constructing another path, skirting our premises. We can even get our boys to help in building it. I don't suppose the ancestors will find the little detour too burdensome." 

"I have no more words to say," said the old priest, already outside.

Two days later a young woman in the village died in childbed. A diviner was immediately consulted and he prescribed heavy sacrifices to propitiate ancestors insulted by the fence. 

Obi woke up next morning among the ruins of his work. The beautiful hedges were torn up not just near the path but right around the school, the flowers trampled to death and one of the school buildings pulled down... That day, the white Supervisor came to inspect the school and wrote a nasty report on the state of the premises but more seriously about the "tribal-war situation developing between the school and the village, arising in part from the misguided zeal of the new headmaster."

Friday, 6 January 2012

You Know You're From Mumbai When....

One of my friends was telling me that the contents on my blog are mostly serious. It got me to try and improve my sense of humour and I finally decided to work towards creating something.  I thought I'd begin with Bombay for a change. The song "Yeh Hain Bombay Meri Jaan" from the 1956 Hindi film CID wonderfully captures the spirit of Bombay and the lives of the people here. Yet, you have these You Know You're From Bombay When... moments, so I thought of listing them out. Though this post is not something I'd like to claim credit for but these pointers are something which would resonate across with anyone who has lived or has had friends from Mumbai. If you know more mannerisms typically Bombay, please do add more in the list.. So, presenting the list I know:

You Know You're From Mumbai When:

*  You take a taxi to get to your health club to exercise
* Your idea of personal space is no one is actually standing on your toes
* You have a minimum "worst auto/cab rides ever" stories and yet you travel by autos and cabs
* You speak in a dialect of Hindi called "Bambaiyya Hindi", which only Mumbaikars can understand
* You call a 8' x 10' clustered room a "hall"
* You have 14 different menus of "free home deliveries" next to your telephone
* Train timings like 09:06, 10:27, 5:17, 6:12 are really important events of life
* You actually care about trains 
* You consider yourself as physically handicapped if trains stop working due to some reason
* Cabbies and bus conductors think you're from Mars if you call the roads by their Indian name as they are more familiar Marine Drive, Warden Road, Pedder Road, Altamount Road, Carter Road
* Stock market quotes are the only other thing besides which you follow passionately
* You love wading through knee deep mucky water in the monsoons
* You curse the monsoons but cannot get enough of the romantic appeal of the rains
* You call traffic policemen as "Pandus" or "Mamus" and expect outstation tourists to understand that
* You have eaten a Chinese Dosa and Jain Chicken at an eatery in Mumbai
* You have mentally blocked out all thoughts about the city's air quality and what it's doing to your lungs
* You spend more time commuting than spending time at home
* Your door has more than three locks.
* You consider beggars, homeless and hookers as invisible
* You compare Bombay to New York's Manhattan instead of any other city in India
* You insist on calling CST as VT and Sahar and Santacruz airports instead of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport
* Your life's ideology "gheun tak"
* You look at the street and say, "Why are they digging the road again?" after every three months
* You know Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan's homes are nothing less than landmarks 
* Townies think they need a visa to go past Worli to the suburbs
* You say "town" and expect everyone to know that this means south of Churchgate
* You call onion as "kanda" instead of pyaaz and potato as "batata" instead of aaloo.
* When "chalta hain" is the most commonly used word
* You always count the distance between two places in terms of time instead of kilometers
* You  land up at your school/college/office the morning after the city is ripped apart after a bomb blast 
* You famously invoke the resilient spirit of Mumbai after every disaster
 * You insist on calling Mumbai as Bombay despite the name change of the city.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Stars in their eyes

Markandey Katju,
Chairman, Press Council of India

Bol ki labh azaad hain tere
bol zabaan ab tak teri hain
(Speak out for your lips are free,
Speak out for your tongue is still yours)
                                  --Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Recently, a journalist asked me about my opinion on journalists in India. Instead of asking me, I told her, she should ask people selected at random the same question without disclosing that she herself was a member of the tribe. The truth is, the majority of opinions may not be very palatable to journalists. In a panel discussion on television, the senior journalist Madhu Kishwar said that journalists in the country are "bribable" and "manipulable" through freebies involving land, accommodation, etc. I don't agree entirely with Madhu. There are many honourable journalists doing their job excellently. But there is a different public perception about many journalists.

Traditionally, there were two roles of the media: one, to inform the public and two: to entertain. In the transitional "feudal to modern" period India is presently passing through, there is a third role of the media--to provide leadership in the realm of ideas. When it comes to the first two roles, the media, no doubt, should inform and entertain. But when 90% of its coverage goes into the entertainment zone and only 10% pertains to real, socio-economic issues, clearly the media is found to have lost its sense of proportion.

Some 80% of Indians are still living in horrible poverty with massive problems of unemployment, inflation and healthcare, education and housing shortages. Social evils such as "honour killings" and dowry deaths have not been wiped off. Yet 90% of media coverage, especially the television media, obsesses about filmstars, fashion parades, music, reality shows, cricket etc. If I had not raised a hue and cry earlier, I am quite sure that the recent birth of a filmstar's child would have been front page headlines in every paper instead of being relegated to the inside pages. 

Millions of farmers lose their livelihoods and flee to cities for jobs that are not there. In Britain during the Industrial Revolution, the displaced peasants got jobs in the newly arising industries. In India, in recent years, there has been a manufacturing decline and many factories have turned to real estate. Many of these displaced peasants end up as domestic servants, hawkers, criminals, beggars and prostitutes. Farmer suicides due to indebtedness have crossed a quarter million over the past 15 years; 860 million Indians are living on Rs. 25 a day and 47% of our children are malnourished, a much higher percentage than in sub-Saharan African countries like Ethiopia and Somalia. The gulf between the rich and the poor has been dramatically widened in India in the last 20 years.

This being the sordid picture, is the media justified in devoting most of its coverage to flimsy issues? Is the media not deliberately seeking to divert the attention of the people from the real issues facing the nation? Is the Indian media not being like the Marie Antoniette, telling people to eat cake if they don't have bread? By promoting superstitious bunkum like astrology, instead of rational and scientific ideas, is the media not playing an anti-people role? As regards to the media providing leadership to the people in the realm of ideas, this is almost missing. During the European Enlightenment, the media had played a glorious historical role and helped in the transition from feudalism to a modern society. Great writers like Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Junius and John Wilkes attacked feudal ideas such as religious bigotry and despotism and propagated the (then) revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity and religious freedom. I would like the Indian media to play the same glorious role in today's India.

Some people say that the media should supply the people what they want. I disagree. The media is not an ordinary business that deals in commodities. It deals with ideas. Hence instead of pandering to the lowest tastes of the masses, who are still very backward and steeped in casteism, communalism and superstitions, the media should try to uplift their mental level by spreading rational and scientific ideas and thus make the Indian masses part of an enlightened India. This will win the respect of the Indian people for the media.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Midnight Sham

Discord, disruption, derailment--are some of the most prominent words which we have come to associate with parliamentary proceedings in the recent debates that take place in the Parliament. While we certainly witnessed an intense debate marked by rationality, dissent and even dialogue between Arun Jaitley and Abhishek Manu Singhvi on the floor of the Rajya Sabha which recently took up the Lokpal Bill for discussion. The impassioned debate rose up magnificently above the largely trivial cacophony of recent months, restoring a sense of respect in the highest lawmaking body which appeared to be manned by people of political acuity and intellectual rigour. The proceedings in Parliament brought back memories of a time when towering orators like Jawaharlal Nehru, Piloo Modi and later Atal Bihari Vajpayee who added lustre to debates and discussions through their reasoned arguments by engaging wit and humour. 

However, by afternoon it could be foretold that the Government was not really keen on having voting as it realized that it lacks a clear majority to pass an effective Lokpal Bill. In the night, nearly two hours before the actual drama that unfolded on the floor of the house, CNN-IBN mentioned a possibility of having a "bitter exchange" which would disrupt the house and lead the proceedings to extend till midnight. It even mentioned Rajniti Singh by name. 

While the Opposition was ready to sit through the night considering there have been instances in the past where crucial bills were legislated at 04:00 a.m. in the morning but the Government claimed almost on the stroke of the midnight hour that it needed more time to consider the proposed 187 amendments moved by the Opposition which eventually caused the house to be adjourned sine die without the bill being put to vote. 

Indian democracy witnessed a new low with the adjournment of the house which confirmed the prophecy predicted by CNN-IBN. I believe initiating a few policy changes would not amount for a collapse of democracy but the actions of the Government showed that party interest takes a higher precedence over national interest. While Trinamool Congress MPs came out siding with the Opposition that the proceedings were "choreographed", if a government which cannot introduce new key measures if its own allies reject them, then it is probably is not a government that is fit to govern and nor is it its leadership fit to lead.

As the popular English saying goes: "Actions do speak louder than words" proved the accuracy of the saying. The buck must begin and come round to stop with the UPA government for choreographing a needless controversy which eclipsed the many hours of rational debate.When the hollowness of its confidence was finally exposed on the TV channel, it behaved with a complete lack of grace. There is no shame in losing a vote while it does show incompetence on the part to have strutted into the house without getting adequate support. A defeat in the Rajya Sabha does not amount to resignation and is not something which has long-term consequences. 

When it became clear that the Congress could not get a majority for its bill, it should have behaved with grace and dignity with the Prime Minister rising up to the occasion and stating that there were differences and that he would withdraw the bill in order to bring other parties on board since it was a promise to the nation that an effective Lokpal Bill would be in place by the winter session of Parliament. It would have been graceful enough had he taken a lead by reassuring the nation that it is not difficult to forge a consensus and the commitment for an effective Lokpal remains undiminished and that it would have been the first bill to be introduced in the next session. I agree that we would have been disappointed but at the same time we would have appreciated the Prime Minister's sincerity because he is also the leader of the house. Instead, we saw the Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee slouching on the first row of the Rajya Sabha witnessing the drama like silent spectators.

It is not hard to recall the dubious means that the Congress had employed in order to win support during the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in 2008 and we had our MPs showing neatly bundled notes at the television screens. This time around we had the graceless spectacle of chaos at midnight. The problem as always is that this is a government in which the leading party deludes itself into believing it has a mandate. When the allies refuse to go along with the Government and its whims, it responds with the worst behaviour possible. Sadly, this was true in both the terms of the UPA Government as history repeated itself in 2011 the way such an incident occurred in Loksabha in 2008.