Monday, December 31, 2012

Couldn't the PM show some feelings in a time of strong feelings?

Of the many things that went wrong during Big Bad Year 2012, which was the most upsetting? That's not an easy question to answer because there were too many Big Bad Things that were disconcerting. Hopes were shattered and fears came true. Heroes developed clay feet, villains became kings. Politicians grew fat, mafia cronies fatter. Mango in-laws made jokes about aam admis.

Consider Mamata Banerji. A hugely popular leader, she was different from other politicians, living in a tiny house in a crowded area, a picture of frugality and honesty. Overnight she changed into an ogre. Her admitted hero was Rabindranath Tagore, yet she made Bengalis moan about the state

Where the mind
is full of fear
and the head held low.

Consider other let-downs. When young and educated Akhilesh Yadav became Chief Minister of UP, there was hope that at last that ravaged state would be free of criminal politicians. But it became free of only Mayawati's criminal politicians. Mulayam Singh Yadav's lot staged a triumphant comeback and the state continued to be the playground of thugs.

When Anna Hazare inspired people to protest against the corrupt political class, Home Minister Chidambaram, a man with no feel for the public pulse, could only think of beating up people and putting Hazare in jail. When women and students in their thousands rose against the brutalisation of a girl in a moving bus in Delhi, all that Home Minister Shinde could think of was beating them up and calling them Maoists. Ministers shamed India last year and this year.

Let us not forget the dynastic rulers of Punjab where well-connected politicians can kill and rape with immunity. One man who was shot dead was a policeman in uniform who had tried to protect his daughter being harassed by a ruling politician. In Mumbai, if it's a Pawar he gets clean chits. In Karnataka, jail or bail, Yeddyurappa is convinced that he alone has the right to rule. In Bengal, the son of respected parents and brother of a civilised lady goes bonkers and attacks women, discos, makeup, demonstrations, all at once. He probably had secret ambitions to get painted, but frustrations dented his mind.

Any of these could qualify as the Great Upset of 2012. But they must all yield to the performance style of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This might have escaped our attention because it was so quiet and undramatic. But think about it. Can anything be more worrying for a country than its Prime Minister becoming inscrutable?

It may be his realisation that politics is more than economics. It may be Soniaji's presence round the corner all the time. Whatever the reason, he has developed special techniques to cope. The expressionlessness of his face as he sits in Parliament is one of the wonders of the world. We know he is not sleeping because sleep gives an expression of its own to the human face. The Manmohan face does not have that either.

And he avoids speaking his mind. When did we hear him speak -- really speak -- after the war over the Indo-US nuclear treaty which he singlehandedly fought and won? So he can speak if he wants to. So the point is he doesn't want to. For three tumultuous days we did not know what our Prime Minister felt about the bus rape horror in Delhi. Then he came on television and delivered one of the worst speeches in the history of mankind. It was a one-minute speech. Could he not say those few sentences looking into the camera, into the eyes of people, instead of the paper on his table? As a father of the daughters he mentioned, could he not bring a modicum of human emotion to what he was saying? Even the Theek hai he said at the end was so meek and inaudible that it need not have triggered the fuss it did. His rape speech will be remembered as the grand tragedy of 2012. Perhaps he had no choice. The presence of the High Command is so overpowering that only an expressionless, opinionless, emotionless Prime Minister can be Theek hai.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Politicians are involved in rape cases. Is that why there's no action?

The nationwide eruption of anger over the Delhi bus rape can be seen as a silver lining, if indeed so horrific a crime can have a silver lining. It shows that public opinion is vigilant and assertive as was proved when a stunned nation responded to the Mumbai terrorist attack and, more recently, to corruption when Anna Hazare sounded the bugle. But in both these instances, nothing eventually happened. The Government did not put adequate, modern security systems in place except for VIP protection. Nor did it take corruption seriously, preferring instead to fight corruption-fighters.

Will it be different this time? It ought to be because what we are facing is not just a pack of animals attacking a young woman held captive in a moving bus; what we confront is an epidemic of rape. Across the length and breadth of the country, in urban centres and rural backyards, fathers are attacking daughters, neighbours are kidnapping under-aged girls and upper caste men are raping and then killing lower caste girls.

The present case, execrable as it is, attracted concentrated attention because it happened in Delhi. Several sensational cases of recent memory, such as the Jessica and Arushi murder cases, moved toward justice because they happened in Delhi and therefore were taken up by Delhi television channels. It is no compliment to our political, judicial and media systems that crimes have to occur in Delhi for them to be noticed, publicised, prosecuted, and pursued until the perpetrators are properly punished.

Naturally the media crowned Delhi with the title of the rape capital of India. Statistically Durg-Bhilainagar in Chattisgarh has the highest per-capita rape cases, followed by Bhopal. Men there should be happy that they can carry on undisturbed because they are beyond the range of Delhi's TV channels. The girls must be worse off for the same reason.

For that matter, how much national horror is generated by horror stories from Mumbai? A policeman on patrol duty in Marine Drive, of all places, got an attack of libido and just pulled a passing college girl into his bunker and raped her. Perhaps the worst tragedy of its kind in Indian history was that of Aruna Shanbag, the nurse who was sexually assaulted in 1973 by a hospital sweeper and has been in a vegetative state ever since. The man was sentenced to 7 years because the charges filed against him were "assault and robbery". Even if he had been charged with rape, he would have got 10 years, whereas the victim is lying in a helpless state for the 39th year. The Supreme Court rejected a plea to allow mercy killing in her case.

At the other extreme, we have the case of Phoolan Devi. She was gang-raped in her village and she responded by turning to a life of violence herself. She launched her life as a bandit by ordering the murder of 22 upper caste villagers, her presumed tormentors. Most of her attacks were in revenge, until she herself was shot dead by a revenge-seeking upper caste man. She was an MP when she was killed.

The involvement of politicians in rape cases must be one reason for governments to go easy on the subject. In UP the number of politicians booked for rape is high, and more must be escaping the law. The tragic case of Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan (1992) and of Anjana Mishra in Orissa (1999) involved high-ranking politicians. In Kerala, from the Suryanelli case to the icecream parlour case, ranking political leaders were involved. They went free, giving the rape industry a big boost in Kerala.

For politicians even the massive outburst of public anger in the present situation is an occasion to cash in. The demonstration at India Gate was dominated by ABVP placards as though this was an ABVP event. In the Mumbai demonstration, the focus was on Sharad Pawar's smiling face. BJP MPs demonstrated as BJP MPs. Congress MPs did not demonstrate because the Government is Congress-led. We are a nation of opportunistic politicians as well as of rapists.

Monday, December 17, 2012

How important was the West's role in the Ravi Shankar phenomenon?

There is a big (896 pages) reference compendium called The Penguin Companion to Classical Music. Note that title again. It does not say western classical music, or Asian or African. Just "classical music". So we would think that this book, in convenient dictionary format, is about the classical music of the world.

But it isn't. In all those hundreds of pages, the word Hindustani does not appear, or Carnatic. There is no Tyagaraja. Not one of the great Khan Sahebs of Hindustani classical music figures anywhere. The word India exists, to inform us that Indian music had the same sources as music in modern Europe. In other words, what we have here is a companion to western classical music parading under false universal pretences.

There is one, and only one, classicist of Indian music who was found worthy of notice: Shankar, Ravi. All right, he gets only 5 1/2 lines, 3 1/2 of which are about his tour of Europe and contacts with Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison. But that is 5 1/2 lines more than what Muthuswamy Dikshitar, who re-invented the violin, got. The lesson to learn here is that recognition in any field of human endeavour assumes meaning only when it comes from the white west. This is of course no reflection on Ravi Shankar. His greatness was genuine and acquired through tortuous saadhana. But he became more equal than his peers because he was seen as part of the culture that the Beatles so brilliantly symbolised.

Let it also be remembered that Ravi Shankar did not go looking for western recognition as a shortcut to success. Far from it. His westward gravitation came naturally. His father was already settled abroad when he was born. At 10, "Robu" was in Paris with his other brothers helping Uday Shankar, the eldest, to set up his dance troupe.

It should be noted, too, that Ravi Shankar's counterculture fling with the hippies did not dilute his classical worth. He was versatile. He was activist enough to be a part of the communist-inspired IPTA movement and multifaceted enough to contribute to the musical substance of Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy and Attenborough's Gandhi. But a comprehensive look at his place in history cannot sidestep his combativeness and his flair for public relations. These played no small part in the stardom he achieved, and the way unhappy controversies were papered over.

The withdrawal into silence of his hugely talented wife Annapoorna Devi was a major loss to music. By available accounts, this daughter of the great Allauddin Khan was more talented than Ravi Shankar. This was probably true considering that her disciples included the likes of Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Nikhil Banerjee. She must have been devastated by whatever happened during the flareups between her and the husband she married when she was 14. Some who knew the couple said Ravi Shankar was jealous of her musical virtuosity. The wife's Bhishma-like resolve to remain silent only kept the chatter going.

It is a fact that Vilayat Khan felt eclipsed by Ravi Shankar. To a large extent the reason was Vilayat's acerbic personality and the contrast provided by Ravi Shankar's cultivated charm. But Vilayat Khan had reasons to be haunted by the feeling that his contributions to music did not receive the recognition they deserved. He was a prodigy who began performing when he was 6. He modified the sitar and developed a revolutionary style of his own, the gayaki ang, which won devotees and imitators wherever he went. But the limelight was focussed on Ravi Shankar. Vilayat Khan showed his resentment in small ways -- rejecting the two Padma awards offered to him and accepting an unknown group's title, Bharat Sitar Samrat.

As in music, so in dance. The debate is still on as to who served Bharata Natyam better -- Rukmini Devi who "cleansed it" or Balasaraswati who took abhinaya to unprecedented heights of glory. But in the celebrity circuit the upperclass wife of an Englishman reigns. To what extent can art go without the backing of the west? Who wins in the end -- the art or the glamour?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Modi has the Gujarati Middle Class; Beyond that, others have the edge

Ongoing debates about the Gujarat election are much ado about nothing. This is an election Narenda Modi will win without any difficulty. Manifestos, competitive promises of freebies and the bravado of speakers add up to mere poll-season tamasha. The only significance of the election is how it will affect the national scenario if at all.

There are many factors that make a Modi victory inevitable. The most obvious is that it is really a one-man race. There is no opposition party worth talking about. The Congress is decimated for the same reason that it is decimated in most other states: Its culture is so dynasty-centric that no credible leadership can come up anywhere. As for Kesubhai Patel, he was done little to widen his support base beyond sections of the Patel community. In any case, age is against him.

Modi, by contrast, is the very personification of power. Among urban voters his popularity is genuine and strong because they have benefited the most from his modernisation drive, especially in terms of infrastructure. There are neglected areas but they hardly hit the headlines. In Saurashtra, for example, farmer suicides have gone beyond 30 and all that the Modi manifesto promises is for the state to pay a portion of their debts. This will not help much. Economists consider it retrograde in principle.

But then, Narendra Modi has not expended too much energy this time talking about economics and development. There was a reference to the "neo-middle class" in the manifesto, but nothing substantive. Maybe too many worms have come out of the woodwork, such as new allegations about gasfield allotment irregularities and shelf companies of cronies. Maybe he felt safer to return to the original wellsprings of his strength, his passionate support base, the Gujarati Middle Class.

In a historically important essay in 2008, political psychologist Ashish Nandy had said how the Gujarati Middle Class "has found in militant religious nationalism a new virtual identity", how "the middle class controls the media and education which have become hate factories in recent times," and how non-resident Gujaratis, "at a safe distance from India", had become "more nationalistic and irresponsible". Those comments must have been as true as they were strong because Gujarat's police started criminal proceedings against Nandy. He was saved by the Supreme Court which expressed anguish at the growing intolerance over the free expression of people's views.

The perception that Modi feels safest with majoritarian communalism has been strengthened by his return to a trade-mark attack style this time. He said Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel was the Congress's nominee for chief ministership and then started referring to him as Ahmed-miyan. In the run-up to the 2002 election, he had won applause from the middle class by calling Pakistan's then President Miyan-Musharaf. When the Election Commission declined to change the polling date as Modi demanded, he had started referring to Chief Election Commissioner J. M. Lyngdoh as James Michael Lyngdoh. Modi obviously relishes the religious dig. And not one Muslim in Gujarat has got a ticket this time.

The BJP, plagued by factionalism and with a president grievously wounded by corruption charges, is left with no star other than Narendra Modi. Hence the recent rush among BJP leaders, including those aspiring for prime ministership, to sing praises of Modi. Given the mess the BJP is in, there is little likelihood of it garnering the strength to form the next Government in Delhi. There will be a post-election scramble among parties to collect the necessary numbers through allies.

That will be the moment of truth for Narendra Modi. Parties that joined hands with A.B.Vajpayee's BJP will not do the same with Narendra Modi's BJP. Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik merely symbolise the many who feel uncomfortable with Modi. At the same time leaders like Mulayam Singh and Jayalalitha may have credentials as good if not better than Modi to head a collision. As of now, it looks like a safe bet that Narendra Modi will remain confined to his fortress base -- the Gujarati Middle Class.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Aam Aadmi is good for mango jokes; It's no name for a serious party

The name Arvind Kejriwal & Co has chosen for their political party will not run. Their cause is noble. Corruption has become a Frankenstein's monster and all Indians outside the political class want to see it destroyed. But in politics, details like names are important. Sentiments matter -- sentiments associated with recognised heroes and traditions.

Aam Aadmi is at best a slogan, like Garibi. It can be the title of a newspaper column or of a cartoon feature like Laxman's Common Man. But it does not have the gravitas or emotional connect a party name needs. We only have to look at the words Congress and Janata to understand this.

O. Hume and his Theosophical Society friends picked a name that consisted of three unimpeachable terms -- Indian and National and Union which was later changed to Congress. As a name, Indian National Congress had such a universal appeal that the Nelson Mandela movement named its party the African National Congress.

In Indian politics, "Congress" lost its Englishness and became a generic term that suggested a sort of political legitimacy. Hence the numerous parties that adopted the term, from the Nationalist Congress Party to the Trinamool Congress, not to mention the Karnataka Congress Party of the late Chief Minister S. Bangarappa, and a string of Kerala Congress parties identified by the initials of each group's leader.

The same logic worked for the word Janata, directly understood in every Indian language. Following the atrocities of the Emergency, when Indira Gandhi was summarily defeated, opposition groups came under the banner of the Janata Party led by Jayaprakash Narayan. But that party let the people down and Subramaniam Swamy hijacked the party's name on technical grounds. Yet the magic of the name remained.

So the Hindutva lobby that was part of the Janata Party now formed the Bharatiya Janata Party, quickly becoming the Congress's main rival. Others too took advantage of the word's popular appeal -- Janata (United), Janata (Secular), Biju Janata. Even B. S. Yeddyurappa, BJP's fallen star who believes that it is his right and no one else's to rule Karnataka, could think of only one name when he considered forming his own party: Karnataka Janata Party.

It is not for nothing that almost every party in Tamil Nadu has a D connection, legitimising its Dravida authenticity. Periyar Ramaswamy's original Dravida Kazhagam is politically nowhere. But the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All-India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam are in the forefront of the power game. Never mind what DMDK and MDMK and PDK stand for. As long as the D is there, everything else is secondary.

Ensuring the aptness of names is in the realm of creative minds. Look at the names Vyasa picked. The Du in Duryodhana was no accident. Several of his brothers also had names beginning with that inauspicious sound -- Dushyasana, Dhurmukan, even Dussala for their only sister. On the other hand names like Dhritarashtra and Bhishma, Shakuni and Shikandi hold a mirror to their respective characters.

In English, there was no one to beat Rudyard Kipling in this art. Consider the sheer genius of a name like Kaa for a python, Shere Khan for a tiger, Bagheera for a leopard. Vidyadhar Suryaprasad would have been a turn-off compared to V. S. Naipaul. His characters had names that reflected their identity problems: Willie Chandran, Ralph Singh ( a westernisation of Ranjit Kripal Singh).

Whether in literature or in real life, names that click win the day. The Americans, trying hard to break out of their two-party logjam, have been trying to form a platform that would emerge as a third alternative. Forget eccentric formations like the American Nazi Party and the US Marijuana Party. But the American Independent Party got 10 million voters for its 1968 presidential candidate George Wallace. Beyond that nothing. What chance then, for a humdrum, unimaginative, just-for-today-sounding Aam Aadmi Party that will only give operators like Robert Vadra a chance to crack cheap mango jokes? It's no answer to the millions waiting for salvation from the stranglehold of the corrupt Congress and the corrupt BJP.

Monday, November 26, 2012

China's congress and India's congress: Not all princelings are the same.

First, India's Congress party met, then China's party Congress met. Don't see it as just a nice coincidence allowing a nice play on words. The twin events demonstrated yet again how we go in circles while others go forward. The party Congress was a reiteration of China's capacity to impact the world. The Congress party  reiterated its -- and the country's -- incapacity to break free of one family's stranglehold.

Scions of political families, "princelings", are active in China too. New party chief Xi Jinping is himself the son of a former deputy prime minister. But he had to compete with other princelings since there is no dominant dynasty with a dominant princeling before whom others have no chance. In fact Xi is an example of meritocracy in China. He was not the preferred choice of outgoing boss Hu Jintao. Hu would have liked Li Kequiang to succeed him. But he couldn't persuade his colleagues in the caucus and Li had to settle for prime ministership.

That merit and consensus were taken into account for the third succession in a row is a tribute to Deng Hsiaoping,  perhaps the most visionary leader in Chinese history, not excluding Mao Zedong. Deng's commnonsense ("The colour of the cat does not matter as long as it catches mice") was a seachange from Mao's follies such as the Great Leap Forward which triggered a famine. The economic prosperity he ushered in made headlines because it marked a departure from communism itself. His blueprint to eliminate Mao-style personality cult was based on two concepts: The President and Prime Minister should only have two five-year terms each, and leaders should not hold office after they were 68.

The leaders Deng nurtured imbibed his spirit. Jiang Zemin who succeeded Den in 1992 was a powerful leader whose influence still counts. He could have manoeuvred  to stay on in office, but he did not. Hu Jintao who succeeded Jiang in 2003 also followed the 10-year rule.

There must indeed be fierce internal wranglings in closed-door meetings of the party bigwigs. It is a corruption-ridden country and stakes are high for power wielders. But the secret of their success is that they fight in private and unite in public. Once decisions are reached, a picture-perfect  harmony emerges for the world to marvel at. All 2268 delegates appear in identical black suits (fortunately  different styles of neck ties are allowed), all voting hands  rise in unison, and all announcements are endorsed unanimously.

The choreography is all to evident and unconvincing. Like the verbal choreography we see at home when Sonia-Rahul's role in the National Herald property is questioned or Robert Vadra's real estate deals are publicised. The Surajkund conclave might have seen no sartorial uniformity but the leaders' obeisance before the Supreme Leader was all too evident. And that, without prior fireworks; Congressmen would be as obsequious behind closed doors as in front of them.

The point is that we have the form without the substance. With power no less than Deng Hsiaoping's, Indira Gandhi could have established a healthy precedent or two, like a respectable retirement age for ministers. A two-or three-term limit for MPs would have helped bring up fresh talent. She had the power, but not the wisdom. so she went in the opposite direction. If Deng's objective was to put the country above personalities and their cults, Indira ensured that her family would be above the country.

Things can of course change. There is no guarantee that Deng's vision would live for decades to come. A leader may emerge who will see the enormous might of China and develop ambitions of his own. By the same token, the Congress party may realise that dependence on one family is not taking it anywhere while the country is slipping in its economic progress. India may yet discover its destiny. At the moment, however, what we see is an avowed democracy getting caught in the ways of dictatorship, while an avowed dictatorship benefits from the ways of democracy. Ironies never cease.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A cartoonist with a sense of humour, Thackeray went politically astray

Bal Thackeray was not meant to be a demagogue.  The elements were so mixed in him that Nature could stand up and say: Here was a gentle soul who found his fulfillment in a Sherlock Holmes-style pipe and a glass of beer. And yet,  he proved the elements wrong. He obliterated Bombay’s history by changing its name and altering its face and in the process became an apostle of urban violence leading a lumpenproletariat mafia. Bal was agreeable, decent. Balasaheb was virulent, pestilential.

It is easy to condemn Thackeray as a destroyer of peace and a promoter of petty chauvinism. But it would be wrong to ignore the forces, principally two,  that built him up as an agitprop militant. The Bombay Pradesh Congress Committee had an enemy to destroy while the city’s prominent industries had trade unions to tame. Both objectives called for unconventional  measures, but neither the BPCC nor industry associations could resort to actions that would dent their image as law-abiding entities. For them Thackeray became a convenience.

That was because the Shiv Sena had by then done some bashing of heads and smashing of shops. It was an accidental  confluence of factors that brought this about. Free Press Journal (FPJ) where Thackeray made his mark as an editorial cartoonist had passed into the hands of a new boss and he had  done what was then unthinkable: Publish a  soap company advertisement as the lead news story of the day. Half a dozen outraged members of the editorial team resigned in protest, Thackeray among them. They started a new newspaper, but it failed. Economic hardship faced Thackeray. As a desperate measure, he revived an old idea of starting a Marathi periodical.  It was a shot in the dark.  But it made headlines when it published a chance contribution by a chance contributor detailing how senior positions in big companies like Glaxo were monopolised by South Indians. The rest was history.

As it happened, the most prominent South Indian of the time was the popular MP from North Bombay, V.K. Krishna Menon. He was a Congressman, but the most prominent Congressman of Bombay, BPCC President S. K. Patil, detested him and was ready to do anything to banish him from Bombay.  Shiv Sena became Patil’s weapon and Menon was banished once and for all. Sena storm troopers were even more frenetic as they  went after trade union leaders. With patronage coming from both political and industrial godfathers, Thackeray grew into a godfather himself, lacking in neither finances nor clout.
Like company executives and Krishna Menon, several trade union leaders too were South Indians, with a  Mangalorean named George Fernandes at the helm. This and the fact  that Udupi restaurant  boys and moplah narielpaniwallahs were soft  targets made Shiv Sena focuses on South Indians in its early rounds of violence.

Spicy coffee house theories spread that Thackeray had developed a personal grudge against South Indians. There was talk that he was jealous of R.K. Laxman who started out in FPJ and went on to glory while he, Thackeray, was denied his due.

In fact, Thackeray not only had high regard for Laxman, but counted South Indians among his buddies in FPJ. There was a good deal of banter. Thackeray called the FPJ news desk the Malayali Club. The celebrated crime reporter M.P.Iyer constantly  showered friendly abuse on Thackeray. But Thackeray would not take offence because Iyer used colloquial Marathi with a brilliance Thackeray could not command. At least on one occasion, Thackeray paid public tribute to Iyer and S.Sadanand, FPJ’s founder, holding them up as models for young journalists to follow.

Thackeray was as much a victim as an exploiter of circumstance. The movement that gathered around him was unworthy of him. It deteriorated into a communal platform. Its fire passed to nephew Raj Thackeray, remarkable for his unsmiling mien, who further reduced it to a platform for social hatreds. Bal Thackeray deserved better for, essentially, he was a cartoonist with a  capacity for humour. A good guy. Now only the badness of his movement  will remain.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

They solve problems, make life easier; Why can’t we do what others do?

At a  businessmen’s conclave in Delhi the other day, Javed Akhtar described what he saw in a tiny village in Europe. It was at the back of nowhere, with no more than 50  households. Yet, the road was well tarred and everything was spick and span. There were  nice little lawns and flower patches, a small store and other conveniences. Peace and happiness filled the air.

But the visitor from India felt sad. He was burdened by the thought that there was not a village in India that was so neat and orderly, so good-looking and satisfying. Javed Akhtar is a poet,  so he was sensitive to the civilisational  contrast between what he saw in Europe and what he knew of India. We may take pride in the ancientness of our culture, but we have been irresponsible about our surroundings.

Look at what we have done to places like Shimla and Ooty, Darjeeling and Munnar. Land mafia and sarkar mafia combined to turn these beauty spots of nature into unplanned, unappealing commercial conglomerates.  Villages? How many are there with basic latrine facilities, let alone tarred roads and footpaths and garden patches? Many of our rivers are in their death throes thanks to the sand mafia. Many lakes have been filled up for their land value, many others have become  receptacles  for factory effluents and other poisons. Even the holiness of the Ganga does not inspire the authorities to clean it up.

Accident rates on Indian roads are among the highest in the world. While cars and bikes are liberally promoted, road development plans are in the hands of racketeers. In many cities there are major roads with no footpaths. How can speeding buses be blamed if they knock down pedestrians? There are roads with dividers that are invisible at night. How can oil tankers be blamed if they hit the dividers, turn turtle and set nearby houses aflame?

Cities in other countries also face serious traffic problems. But they take effective remedial measures. The footpaths in  boulevards  like New York’s Fifth Avenue and Paris’ Champ Elysees are the envy of the world. The current trend is to take city traffic underground, along with high-footfall activities like mall shopping. Montreal and Boston have already done this and Singapore and Beijing are going ahead with their plans.
In other words, there are doable solutions to modern traffic and transport  problems. The will to do it is what makes the difference. Central and state authorities in India lack the will. They find it easier to ape others. Cities like Singapore and London levy special fees on cars that enter the central business district. So Bangalore said it would do likewise. But Singapore and London imposed the fee after making public transport pleasurable as well as convenient. In Bangalore the bus service is a pain while the metro is at best an exercise in minimalism.

But it is Bangalore’s garbage politics that exposes the shame of our urban governance. The Garden City is today a Garbage City. Not because the system broke down, but because the mafia put its foot down. Landfill, being part of the land-construction business, was a subject close to the mafia. Garbage lorry operators constituted another mafia. All of them have close links and working arrangements with corporators, MLAs and ministers. The rest is obvious.

In all cities garbage is dumped in areas where the poor live. But sometimes the poor revolt. That was what happened near Trivandrum when the entire population of a locality objected to garbage trucks entering the area. The way they protested, the police was unable to move. Even orders by the court could not be carried out. The Government is now looking for alternate dumping grounds.

Actually household garbage is a small problem (compared to industrial waste). There are localities where it is converted to biogas for heating purposes. Garbage does not have to rot on roadsides causing dengue and worse if there are authorities with a  modicum of responsibility. Difficulties arise only when seats of power are occupied by political garbage.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Their fathers' sons are rising, but look elsewhere for the real India

From Nitin Gadkari to Mamata Banerji, all politicians describe controversies surrounding them as media creations. Which is like looking at a pimple on your face and calling it a mirror creation. There are other things which are indeed media creations. The idea of the “Rahul Stamp”,  for example. First, media mandarins said the cabinet reshuffle was going to bear the Rahul Stamp. Then they said the Rahul Stamp was missing. Then they found that the Rahul Stamp had in fact worked and brought the average age of the cabinet down from 65 to 64.

The advantage with the media, especially the variety that shouts from inside boxes, is that it is concerned only with the moment. What happens the next moment is another headline and another shout. There was no logic in creating a hype in the first place about a Rahul Stamp on the cabinet.  A stamp is put on things by those who have outstanding ideological and philosophical convictions that influence others. Jawaharlal Nehru put his stamp on the  post-war world with  concepts like non-alignment. Jyoti Basu and E.M.S. Nambudiripad imprinted their stamp on their states by the power of their personalities. Annadurai engraved his stamp on Tamil country, Narasimha Rao on India’s economy.

Rahul Gandhi does not belong to this league. His true asset is that he seems to realise this – assuming  that that is the reason he has declined to become prime minister. In terms of grand convictions that influence others, he has betrayed none so far. No notable speech stands in his name. No policy initiative has stirred up popular imagination. No electoral campaign he led has  met with success. Only fawning sycophancy is there to sustain the hype. As The Economist put it:  “Nobody really knows what he is capable of, nor what he wishes to do should he ever attain power and responsibility. The suspicion is growing that Mr Gandhi himself does not know”.

He doesn’t have to. Not when he is his father’s son. To appreciate this we must look at something the media played up with a more appropriate phrase, the “Rahul Brigade”. Headline writers went effusive about the freshness and promise of the Brigade. They actually meant Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitendra Singh, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora.  Accomplished young men who deserve to do well. But that was not why they got prominent positions in the cabinet.
This is where the real stamp imprinted on today’s India emerges into view: The stamp of dynasty. If it were simply a matter of the Rahul Brigade, at least two others should have been somewhere in the limelight. From 2008 what was known as Rahul’s core team at the Congress headquarters comprised Jitendra Singh, Meenakshi Natarajan and Ashok Tanwar. They were closest to Rahul, strategizing every move of his, united in their  devotion to him. When the moment of truth came, however, the differences among them came to the fore. Jitendra Singh was the scion of  Alwar royalty, Meenakshi was a Madhya Pradesh grassroot worker, Tanwar a dalit. The one who fitted into the dynastic framework moved up to join his kind – Scindia and Pilot, Prasada and Deora, all of them their fathers’ sons.

When sons and daughters, on their own, are unable to climb the steps of leadership, democracy is diminished. Our democracy was subverted when dynastic rule followed the Emergency. Two factors since made it worse. First, the idea spread to other parties reviving the spectre of hereditary rulers.  Secondly, Sonia Gandhi emerged as a more formidable wielder of power than Indira. A surprised nation watched  with awe as she tore into L.K.Advani in the Lok Sabha recently, bristling with rage, shouting, gesticulating and repeatedly goading her party men to shout down the opposition. For the first time the nation understood why Congressmen were terrified of her.

This is the real India, beyond  the make-believe of democracy. In this India only two forces can decide matters like cabinet appointments. And the Prime Minister is not one of them. Ask Jaipal Reddy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

As egos clashed in India, China won. The untold story is told again

Who were the guilty men of India’s China war? This year, for the first time, the Defence Ministry paid homage to the soldiers who perished in that horror 50 years ago.  But official reluctance to face facts  continues. The Henderson-Brooks inquiry report is still deemed secret although it leaked to Neville Maxwell, the Englishman who wrote the most anti-India account of the war. Even China has declassified its documents till 1965.

Generals who took part in the action like D.K.Palit (War in the Himalayas) and especially J.P.Dalvi (Himalayan Blunder) provided valuable perspectives. There were studies by western scholars as well. A real surprise however is a new book, Dividing Lines: Contours of India-China Conflict.  Surprise not only because the writer examines the colonial background with the authority of a historian, the politics of the conflict with the expertise of an academic and the nitty-gritty of military manoeuvres  with the mastery of a field commander  -  and yet author K.N.Raghavan is neither a historian, nor a professor, nor a military man; he is  Commissioner of Customs who doubles as a cricket umpire for BCCI. The book is surprising also for its dispassionate tone. While not hiding his sympathy for India and admiration for  Jawaharlal Nehru, he has no hesitation in dissecting Delhi’s blunderers, including Nehru.

Raghavan exposes officials who mistook their egos for the national interest, politicians nursing personal enmities and army leaders who were now incompetent, now irresponsible. Two men top the list, though Raghavan does not say it in so many words. B.N.Mullick, chief of intelligence, interpreted Nehru’s instructions to suit his own line of thinking and sent armed patrols to challenge the Chinese. At one point, he sent policemen on patrol. They were wiped out.

No less provocative was the bravado of B.M.Kaul who, despite zero combat experience, was put in charge of the war.  He quickly developed mountain sickness and spent the days of action in bed in Delhi. After the initial defeats, Kaul was relieved of his command, only to be reappointed soon;  Nehru wanted him to have an opportunity to redeem his reputation. The man blundered again. Disgraced, he wrote The Untold Story which took his story from the ridiculous to the absurd. Nehru still wanted to rehabilitate
him with a political post, but gave up when informed about people’s anger against Kaul.

Mullick and Kaul got away with unforgivable mistakes because they were favourites Nehru encouraged. Doesn’t that make Nehru just as culpable?  And when Nehru is guilty, can Krishna Menon be far behind? Menon backed the blundering Kaul because Nehru backed him. Menon’s strong likes and dislikes had a disruptive effect on the army brass. “Brusque and impertinent behaviour” and “cavalier manner” and “brazen” are terms applied to Menon  in this book.

Raghavan’s criticism of Menon is severe. Some related factors he mentions should have softened the attack. India had never taken Defence seriously, giving the Ministry to lightweights like Baldev Singh. When Kailasnath Katju was transferred from Home to Defence, he took it as a demotion. At another level, Finance Minister Morarji Desai denied to  Defence every rupee he could just because he detested Krishna Menon.  At the same time, opposition leaders like Acharya Kripalani disapproved of military spending by nonviolent India which, he said, “would disturb the soul of the Father of the Nation.” The generals in China must have noted all these details and rejoiced.

So, what happened in the Himalayas in 1962 stands clear. On the one side were quarrelling politicians and quarrelling generals under a prime minister blind to his blue-eyed boys and a defence minister who delighted in making enemies. On the other side were a recognized military genius like Mao Zedong and a prime minister like Chou Enlai, perhaps the finest strategist of his generation, with no parliamentary or media pressure to divert their attention. It was a textbook war of the prepared out-generalling the unprepared. The real tragedy is that 50 years later, the quarrelling and the unprepared still remain quarrelling and unprepared.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The right to privacy does not mean the right to do wrong in private

The bad news is that there seems to be no end to the plundering of India.  Sign any deal, there is kickback. Auction any resource, there is quid pro quo.  Spot any stretch of land, there is hanky-panky. Worse, where  there is hanky-panky, there are namby-pamby ministers grovelling to justify it.  Two gems came up last week. As scandals swirled around the nation's son-in-law, Salman Khurshid said : “Sonia is my leader and I would defend her till my last breath”. Jayanti Natarajan said: “Sonia is our president and we are ready to give up our lives for her”. We knew that life was cheap in India. But this cheap?

The good news is that The First  Family (sic) is being directly named and charged. This was overdue. It was anomalous that a family enjoyed powers to take decisions  affecting the lives and fortunes of the people and yet a conspiracy of silence was built around it.  The otherwise unstoppable television channels asked no questions. Even the BJP, ever alert to attacking the Congress, turned deferential before The Family.

The Congress justified everything in the name of privacy. But those who exercise  power have their right to privacy limited by the imperatives of democracy. Today A. B. Vajpayee has full  right to privacy;   his physical condition must be bad, but that is not the public's business. However, when Vajpayee as Prime Minister had to undergo knee surgery, his right to privacy was superceded by the people's  right to know how  he would take the strain while still heading the Government. Vajpayee and his Government respected the people's right and information was provided including details about the surgeon attending on him.

By contrast, the people do not know to this day what exactly is Sonia Gandhi's illness, what treatment she underwent and what the medical prognosis is. People do not know when she is in India and when she is not. Privacy considerations can in no way cover these issues as long as she wields power exceeding the power of the prime minister.

The right to privacy completely vanishes when it is used to do what ordinary citizens cannot do under law. Ordinary citizens who are not natives of Himachal Pradesh cannot buy land in that state. Priyanka Gandhi broke that law with assistance from both Congress and BJP governments; see how enemies unite to serve The Family. Ordinary companies with a paid-up capital of Rs 1 lakh cannot get an overdraft of Rs 7.9 crore from a nationalised bank. Robert Vadra  got that and several other facilities  for his companies. The Government has no responsibility to look into these matters? The people have no right to know the truth?

A surprised nation learned that Robert Vadra enjoyed  exemption  from checking at the country's airports. An official explained – whether truthfully or not,  we do not know –  that the exemption applied only when he was accompanied by a person entitled  to Black Cat security, no doubt a reference to his wife. No one objects to the lady having all the protection she needs. But why was no such consideration extended to Lt. Gen. K. S. Brar despite seven assassination attempts on him for his services to the country? (The London attempt was the eighth).
 It's obvious: The Family's members are more equal than all others. The belief is widespread that they enjoy prerogatives not compatible with democracy, and that these prerogatives are often used for self-aggrandisement. Congress leaders make it worse by saying that Vadra is a private individual and therefore his business activities do not call for any inquiry. That is like saying that suspicious  transactions are beyond the purview of the state as long as they are carried out by private citizens. Then why was Hasan Ali Khan investigated?

In a democracy perception is more important than legality. The  Chidambarams and Digvijay Singhs only add to  the negative perceptions of the Congress by trying to justify what are obvious irregularities. The Congress will go down in  history  as a  party that was destroyed by loyalty.

Monday, October 15, 2012

As religious hardliners gain ground, civilisations have cause to worry

The clash-of-civilisations theory basically said that religion would be the cause of conflicts in the modern world. Liberal intellectuals disagreed. They wanted to believe that the multiplicity of cultures and the human instinct for decencies would disallow religious wars of the mediaeval kind.

Can that optimism survive the resurgence of religious fervour we see right before our eyes? Hardline Islamists and hardline  Christian groups in America have been gaining political ground. And these are the two combatants the clash theorists had in mind. (We should see American Christianity as separate from European Christianity in this context. European Christianity and civilisation matured through a long period of wars, internal upheavals and  intellectual revolutions such as the Reformation. By contrast, the dominant trend in American Christianity has been an emotional approach to faith).

Samuel Huntington identified half a dozen reasons for the clash he saw coming. Among the most important was the fact that differences between the civilisations were too basic. He also argued that developments like economic modernisation  led to a loss of traditional local identities and people turned to religious identities as a substitute.

The gist of it all is that fundamentalism has grown in all religions making believers in one intolerant of believers in another. That certainly is a primary influence in the Arab region and in America’s Republican half. That is also the reason why current political trends in those areas are somewhat disturbing.

The Arab Spring, a spontaneous rebellion by ordinary people against dictators, struck the world as a victory for the spirit of democracy. But democracy necessarily leads to  elections and election in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen led to Salafis gaining the upper hand. This newly popularised  term has a soft sound, like Sufis.  But if Sufism was philosophical and intellectual, Salafism is fundamentalist and anti-intellectual.

The traditional Islamist movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, was considered extremist enough to be suppressed during the Mubarak dictatorship. The present Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsy, is a Brotherhood candidate. He in turn is trying to figure out how to keep the Salafis under control. Governments in many Muslim countries are scared of Salafis’s  ability to whip up mass emotions.  Behind the multination violence against the recent US-made movie on the Prophet were Salafis.  In the forefront of the war in Syria are Salafis; they hope to be in a controlling position should the Assad regime fall. Add to this the financial backing the Salafis receive from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and we have a real problem on hand.

Christian groups in America gained ground during the George Bush years;  he publicly claimed that he listened to a “higher authority” when confronted by war situations.  Umbrella organisations  flourished: The Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council. They were powerful platforms openly calling for a war to defeat secular  society, and for constitutional changes to turn American democracy into a theocracy.

It is against this background that  we should see a hitherto unknown Mitt Romney running neck to neck in the US presidential race with a still popular Barack Obama. Romney is an activist of the Mormon church  which wants all Americans to conform to “the laws of the God of this land who is Jesus Christ”. Mormons believe that Christ’s second coming will be in Jackson City, Missouri.  Their tradition is to marry and multiply because the church needs more members.  Mitt Romney’s  granduncle George Romney Sr.  had 35 children from three wives. The Mormon practice persuaded Abraham Lincoln to ban polygamy in 1862.

Mormons and George Bush’s Born Again evangelicals  dream of a world that will adhere to their line of faith, with no exceptions. The Salafis and the Wahabis of Saudi Arabia see even other Muslims as heretics and want a world that will have only one faith – theirs. The Christian Right wants the Ten Commandments as the law of the world. The Salafis want Shariat as the law of the world. We will need a miracle from God to avoid a clash between such civilisations.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We honour Gandhi only with tokenism, but his cult status keeps growing

 It has become quite easy to celebrate Gandhi Jayanti. Order nationwide newspaper advertisements, sport a white cap for a photo op or two, then go home and enjoy the holiday. When ritual replaces duty, life becomes simple. It becomes simpler still when celebrating Rajiv Gandhi is more rewarding than remembering the real Gandhi. Notice the way advertisements increase in size, number and effusiveness when the dynastic hero's birthday falls due.

The contrast is natural. Rajiv Gandhi is alive because praising him is an investment that yields dividends. The Mahatma is dead and singing hallelujas to him will not fetch even a panchayat membership.  One symbolises  today's kind of politics and privileges. The other stands for yesterday's  kind of values. One stands for taking, the other for giving.  Godse only killed Gandhi the man. The rest of us killed Gandhi the idea. In the India of coal blocks and 2G spectrums, one will have to be either  foolish or incompetent to follow Gandhi's idea of frugality and service.

But in the wider world, Gandhi lives. At the time  of independence, Gandhi was a defeated man, seeing his country divided and his people killing one another in the name of religion. Dejected, he kept away from Delhi's celebratory limelight and spent his days  fighting communalism and leading group prayers. By contrast Jawaharlal Nehru ascended the pinnacles of power and glory, his glamorous  figure winning international prestige for himself and for India.

How ephemeral that glamour  turned out to be. Even before the China war reduced him to a pitiable figure, Nehru's wisdom had come under a cloud. The main reason was his succumbing to the advice of Mountbatten and his wife on Kashmir even though it was clear that they were promoting Britain's interests and not India's. Then came Indira's   dynastic concept and the Emergency, two blows to the very root of Nehru's legacy of democracy.

Bookshelves today tell an instructive story. Nehru is hardly a subject of study for modern scholars and historians. His own books are of the classic kind because of their scholarship and the elegance of language. But he does not inspire writers, film-makers and the like the way Gandhi does. Stuff coming out on Gandhi is amazing.

There are serious research studies like Jinnah vs. Gandhi, The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence and Gandhi's  Religion. There are serious yet unconventional studies, like Joseph Lelyweld's Great Soul. There are compendiums from Gandhi without tears to Epigrams from Gandhiji and from The Bhagwat Gita According to Gandhi to The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi.
 There are many movies from Gandhi and The Making of the Mahatma to Hey Ram  and Mein Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara. Munnabhai contributed a new word – Gandhigiri. The Mahatma also figures in pop culture garbs – as a tap dancer in Cartoon Network, a stand-up comedian in a TV series, as an element in a video game. There was a poster competition in Cairo: Gandhi in Tahrir Square.  This Gandhi Jayanti day, vandals put a garland of glass bottles on a Gandhi statue in Simla. That too was a kind of recognition.
Gandhi's appeal has become universal.  By influencing the thought and actions of people like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, he influenced  the course of world history. Ultimately it was the originality  and daring of Gandhi's mind that made him a world force.  Just think of the concept of non-violence, or the technique of civil disobedience . We take these for granted today,  but Gandhi invented them out of nothing. It took time for the world to grasp the significance  of what he had done. Once it sank it, the world stood stunned at the vastness of his imagination.

Gandhi of course had numerous weaknesses. Perhaps the most paradoxical one was that  he was an unkind father who once wrote: “Men may be good, not necessarily their children”. But the negative side of his personality has simply added spice to his cult status. Our sarcar will never succeed in containing him in annual advertisements.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Manmohan & Co.'s subservience to US is what makes FDI such a bad word

Opposition to the  FDI-in-retail idea is  genuine and widespread. The main reason is people's distrust of politicians including, in this case, Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister is seen as an American camp-follower. Remember his telling the very unpopular George Bush that the people of India loved him. When he and “experts” like the World-Bank-branded Ahluwalia say that FDI in retail will do no harm, people just don't trust them.

It now stands revealed that America in fact had a major role in Delhi's recent reform package. When Time magazine put Manmohan Singh on the cover with the title “Underachiever,” India was shaken. We have a colonial mentality towards western criticism/praise. When an arbitrary list of “most influential” people is put out by an American publication, we treat it like an event of great significance. In fact, it is just routine commercial tricks by market-savvy publications, but because it comes from the west, we stand up and salaam.

Then came the Washington Post report calling the Prime Minister a tragic figure. That saw India going crazy. The Prime Minister's Office issued frantic statements, apologies were demanded, the Post's correspondent in Delhi was cursed and loud TV anchors held loud discussions on the topic. Can we imagine the White House moving a little finger if all the newspapers and magazines in India splashed Obama's picture and called him an Underachiever which he certainly is? Can we imagine China caring a damn if the Washington Post described Hu Jintao as a tragic figure? Can we imagine the Post daring to do that in the first place?

Reports now say that the Time and Post stories were part of a concerted American campaign to force the hands of the Indian Government. The US Chamber of Commerce claimed some time ago that its pressure tactics had made the Indian Government take some key policy decisions.  A specific example cited was the raising of FDI in single-brand retail from 51 percent to 100 percent. What Time and the Post did  this time was the American equivalent of “Paid News”, the money part of it perhaps waived because it was patriotic service for the American Flag.

Our country  is easy for foreign  lobbies  to conquer. Look at the zeal with which Sharad Pawar is fighting for endosulfan  even after it is banned in the US.  FDI in retail has become suspect  because people do not like  America arm-twisting the Indian Government. This is a pity because, in itself, the idea has merit. An alert Government focussed on the benefits of the local economy and the local people can take advantage of it. This is what China did. Even Walmart became a tool in the hands of the Chinese authorities instead of the other way round.

China rejected the FDI-in-retail concept until its economy reached a certain stage of development. Even then it moved cautiously, putting a cap of 26 percent initially, raising it to 49 percent later and finally to 100 percent in 2004, that is, 25 years after its economic reforms began. By then China had achieved phenomenal progress in the manufacturing sector and in transportation infrastructure. Big-ticket retailers who came in found that in their own interest they must participate in the local economy. Walmart with more than 350 supermarkets in the country has 15,000 Chinese suppliers. More than 90 percent of the merchandise it sells in China are Chinese products. Export of these products to the US has risen too.
 The gradual opening of the retail sector gave time to Chinese small and big retailers time to adapt. Walmart and Carrefour may be the giants in other countries. But in China the retail giants are Chinese companies like Bailian, Suning and Gome. China of course had some advantages, not being the riotous democracy India is. But this is one case where democracy is not the villain. The villain is a Government – and a culture – that is scared by American press criticism. We can hear Walmart laughing.

Monday, September 24, 2012

We are back to the numbers game again: Sonia – Mamata + Mayawati = Democracy

We have had good governments and bad governments since independence. This is the first time we are having a government suspended in midair, unable to go up to heaven or come down to earth. In modernistic terms, it is comparable to the weightlessness astronauts experience inside space shuttles, a sort of floating, drifting existence.

 Is democracy punishing us for playing tricks with it? We pretend, and tell the world, that the Manmohan Singh Government is in power in our country. But it is the Sonia Gandhi Government that is really in power and – here comes another trick – Sonia Gandhi is neither accessible nor accountable. The result is confusion about where, what, which is the Government.

According to insiders, the Government is made up of advisers.  And they come in different shapes with different ideas. One version is that Sonia Gandhi heeded the advice of her trusted A.K.Antony and took a stand against reforms like FDI. So the Manmohan Singh Government took a stand against reforms. Then a new Minister took over the Finance portfolio. Now Sonia Gandhi heeded the advice of her trusted P. Chidambaram and took a stand in favour of reforms like FDI. So the Manmohan Singh Government took a stand in favour of reforms. Half of India cheered, the other half took to the streets.

Now one ally has left the Government  in a  huff. In normal circumstances, this should have been a relief to the Government because Mamata Banerji is not meant to be a democrat, let alone an ally. She is a banyan tree under which nothing else can grow. But these are not normal times, so politicians are out with their calculators to play addition and subtraction games.

This is the tragedy of our lives. After 65 years of adult franchise, politics has been reduced to a game of calculators, of pluses and minuses. Sonia minus Mamata plus Mulayam plus Mayawati minus Patnaik plus three gas cylinders minus Walmart equals democracy. The tragedy becomes farce when we realise that one set of permutations is as cynical as another set of combinations. Mayawati against whom charges are pending, becomes the saviour of the Union Government. What charges will matter in such a situation? What justice will prevail?

The BJP cries hoarse about the omissions and commissions of the UPA Government. Quite right. But what about its own omissions and commissions when it was in power? Today it calls for a nation-wide hartal against FDI in retail. What was its position on FDI when it was leading the NDA Government? Do the country's interests change depending on which party is in power? Democracy fails when there is no real choice before voters.
One advantage of the Government suddenly becoming reformist – FDI in retail is to be followed by FDI in pharmaceuticals, which is another can of  worms – is that headline writers have forgotten the so-called Coalgate. This  confirms ruling politicians' view that the fuss about corruption will go away if you ignore it long enough. The economy is slowing? The desperate are turning to crime on the one hand and communalism on the other? The borders are restless? Ignore them all, they’ll go away.

The attention of all the players is now elsewhere. The  BJP's focus is on whether a no-confidence motion would be more effective than a vote on the FDI bill in Parliament. Mamata Banerji's sole focus is how to keep the  Communists away in West Bengal whatever happens to the country. Mayawati's focus is on avoiding an election until the euphoria over Mulayam's victory in UP passes off. Mulayam Singh’s focus is on having a general election immediately.

In the midst of this merrygoround, prices of everyday necessities rise to record levels in direct response to petroleum price increases. Voters and taxpayers are caught in a pincer movement – between self-serving politicians and the unalterable laws of economics.  When privations mix with frustrations of this kind, explosive situations  develop in normal societies. Are we a normal society?