Monday, February 26, 2018


Justice Katju is known for using language of the extreme kind. But his words hit the bull's eye last week when he spoke to a regional channel. India, he said, was in the hands of goondas; they must be shot. He recalled how the so-called "aristocrats" were guillotined in the French Revolution. We have to do the same, he said, because this great country is ripe for revolution. Without discriminating between parties and ideologies, he said "these politicians will not change their nature; they are enemies of the country; they must be shot".

There may be penal provisions under which Justice Ketju can be prosecuted for propagating violence. But that would invite derision because not only is his honesty of purpose beyond question; his views -- minus the guillotine part, perhaps -- are a reflection of public opinion. These politicians, be they in UP-Bihar, or Rajasthan-Gujarat, or in the South, are indeed taking the country to ruin. And they will not change.

Once upon a time corruption was the worst aspect of the ruination that politicians had brought upon the country. From Bofors we have graduated to the banking system with the glittering gems of Nirav Modi demonstrating how all-encompassing cheating can get.

Simple corruption has yielded to mafia corruption. Criminals have been in politics for a long time, becoming MPs and ministers during the glory days of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The south of the country was relatively free of this kind of advanced democracy. But the south made up for it with VIP fathers trying to promote their sons to VIP status by hook or by crook, preferably the latter.

Indira Gandhi ushering in dynastic politics led to the triumph of Parentology as the ultimate ideology in India. Kerala's self-anointed "leader" K.Karunakaran even left the Congress party and formed an outfit of his own in his attempt to make his son and daughter the political commissars of the state. With his manoeuvres failing to click, he finally returned to the Congress as a de-fanged "leader".

In Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister spent what was considered the biggest amount till then to ensure his son's election to Parliament. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, sons have already been elevated to positions of high responsibility. These Telugu sons are educationally and technically qualified people, even then the enforcement of Parentology has lead to criticism.

When the sons are unqualified, they make up by cultivating dubious affiliations. The party secretary of the ruling CPM in Kerala recently found his son caught in financial dealings running into many crores of rupees in Dubai. How did a communist leader's son get involved in big business with Arab financiers? What did he do that led to government actions like denial of exit visa? Did Kerala's UAE-based business tycoons help settle the cases out of court? Honest communists are puzzled -- the more so because the party secretary conducted himself more as a father than as a communist when the controversies hit the fan. Parentology is above Marxism too.

Worse was a display of brutality that shocked human conscience in Karnataka a few days ago. A man at a restaurant table had stretched his leg which was in a plaster cast. Congress MLA Haris's son was so irritated by this that he and accompanying goons assaulted the man savagely; nine chest bones broken, facial bones shattered, eyes left haemorrhaging.

The MLA's formal apology cut no ice because the son had been involved in similar incidents before and apparently nothing had been done to stop him. On the contrary, he was made leader of the Youth Congress and posters featuring father and son were put up in Bangalore as part of grooming the son for higher leadership in the party.

The latest gangster act, however, attracted so much publicity that the party suspended the son for six years. Was this a show because of the approaching elections? Why was this Youth Congress leader who shamed the party so unpardonably not expelled from the party and his promoter-father told that there would be no Congress ticket for him in the next election? Should minorities be cultivated by encouraging the wrong elements among them? Karnataka is not UP. If the Congress condones gangsterism, the Congress will be the loser.

In the circumstances, who can blame Justice Katju if he says that India has gone into the hands of goondas? Politicians have indeed become enemies of the country. But let us use votes to shoot them down.

Monday, February 19, 2018


Indian literature is the richer for the election of Chandrasekhara Kambar as President of the Sahitya Akademi. The sad part of the story is that the distinguished Oriya writer, Pratibha Ray, was put up as a political opponent and was defeated at the polls. A novelist and academician of international fame, her commitment to a classless, casteless social order had led to her being called a Communist at one stage. How such a person ended up as part of the Sangh Parivar's scheme to capture the Sahitya Akademi is symptomatic of our times.

The usual practice at the Akademi is to choose the vice president as the president -- and Kambar has been vice president since 2013. (Back in 1993 the redoubtable U.R.Ananthamurthy had become president through a contest. In 2003, a Leftist-Rightist confrontation developed with Mahasweta Devi competing against Vice President Gopi Chand Narang for the presidency. Despite her unmatched standing as a writer and champion of tribals' rights, Mahasweta lost).

What surfaced this time was a concerted attempt to take over the Akademi look stock and barrel. Even the convener's post was contested by BJP-backed candidates. But this time the swing did not favour the Rightists. Even card-carrying communists got elected, such as Kerala's Prabha Varma, an award-winning poet.

The iconic stature of Chandrasekhara Kambar must have been a contributory factor in this victory of the deserving. With 11 anthologies, he is a poet who ranks with the best. With 25 plays, quite a few of them masterpieces, he is dramatist of the first order. He is an admired folklorist. He is a film director with some outstanding productions. None of these achievements come anywhere near his feat as a visionary educationist. The Kannada University in Hampi is proof of that.

That house of learning was his baby. He visualised its exterior forms as well as its soul-force. He picked the spots for the buildings, supervised the architectural forms to suit the culture the university represented, picked the stones and the colours and the shapes of the archways and gates. He worked out the intellectual contents of the courses on offer, decided how the graduate and post-graduate studies should mesh together. He paid meticulous attention to the selection of faculty and the organisation of academic activities. He functioned as founding Vice-Chancellor for two three-year terms. And then he handed over the reins to a scholar he handpicked, M.M. Kalburgi. Yes, the same distinguished thinker who was shot dead in 2015 by India's new-generation patriots.

Which gives a disturbing dimension to the Sangh Parivar's moves to capture the Sahitya Akademi. They did not succeed this time, but the danger remains real because capturing all cultural organisations has been a stated objective of the parivar. There is no attempt to conceal this objective. Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had said soon after he assumed power that cultural institutions in India "are in total ruins" and the BJP Government was determined to "give them a facelift".

He did -- and how! A new chairperson was appointed to run the Sangeeth Natak Akademi. The board of trustees of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts was disbanded and a former ABVP president was appointed its chief. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library was pushed around until its respected chief, Rangarajan, quit. It remains rudderless. The National Gallery of Modern Art, the National Archives of India are headless, run by government secretaries. The worst affected was the National Museum, perhaps because it was run with noticeable efficiency. The man in charge was removed by the Culture Ministry. Distinguished cultural leaders of the country protested and asked the Government to reinstate him. The Government ignored them.

This is Culture Minister Sharma's way of face-lifting our institutions. Remember, he is the man who promised to "cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised". (No wonder he recently asked tourists not to wear skirts). He is also the minister who was kind enough to concede that "A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, despite being a Muslim, was a nationalist".

When such are the minds that rule our country, should we be surprised if an undistinguished Gajendra Chauhan is made chief of Film & Television Institute? Should we be surprised if a Lokesh Chandra, named head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, describes Narendra Modi as an incarnation of God? Or if a Sudershan Rao, made chief of Indian Council of Historical Research, supports the caste system? That Chandrasekhara Kambar won is, in the circumstances, a surprise. Cheers for that.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Confidence, authoritativeness and clear warning signals echoed from China's published statements on the Maldives crisis. Keep off, it tells the UN. Any military intervention will be strongly resisted, it tells India. This is the new China rising to world leadership at a speed that is both remarkable and worrying.

Usually China does this quietly with no grand-standing. This was seen recently with deep-sea spying equipment in the Pacific Ocean. Powerful acoustic censors were planted in two strategic spots, one in the deepest point on earth at 10,916 meters beneath sealevel. Both spots are near Guam, the largest American military base in Asia. With listening range of more than 1000 km, the censors can track submarine movements and intercept underwater signals. A leading US strategic expert underplayed it by saying that such things were standard practice. But he admitted: "China has become a great power and is acting like one".

Two months ago China revealed a new intercontinental missile system that was to be deployed in the first half of this year. Able to carry upto ten warheads that can be manoeuvred separately and with a range of upto 15,000 km, "the missile can hit every corner of the earth" according to a Chinese military expert. "All targets in the continental United States", clarified an Australian strategic expert. China is also into building its third aircraft carrier with a new aircraft launching technology.

What deserves special attention is that China is developing its soft-power superiority with the same diligence it bestows on its military prowess. In 2013 it launched its ambitious One Belt One Road project. The visionary zeal that prompted it was seen again in 2016 when the Asian Infrastructure Bank was launched, reducing the importance of the US-influenced World Bank and the status of the US dollar as an international currency.

Add to this the success it has registered on the business front. Alibaba is now a household name around the world, and not because of the forty thieves. Xiaomi's 2017 growth was higher than that of Apple, Samsung and Huawei combined. Oppo (as new as 2004) and Vivo (2009) are shaking up the leadership ranks in the mobile world. As many as 19 Chinese phone manufacturing companies dominate India, unmindful of Jio.

America loves to talk of China being a copy-cat economy. Donald Trump has launched an investigation into Chinese "theft" of US intellectual property. In 2013 there were reports that China had successfully hacked 24 major weapons systems in the US. There may be truth in all these. But the ultimate truth is Success. And China is Success.

The political-business success China has already scored is prompting it to look into brave new frontiers of science. Beijing Government is putting more money into the Artificial Intelligence industry than any other government. By 2030 it wants an AI industry worth $ 150 billion. Intelligent video and smart cameras are being developed without the privacy concerns of democratic countries. The development of electric-car technology is going at a hurried pace. Beijing is also moving to end American leadership in the computer-chip industry. As much as $ 22 billion is already pledged to develop advanced memory chips.

President Xi Jinping's timeline for China's superpower status is 2049. He seems well on his way despite China's notorious weaknesses -- pollution, the internal contradiction between free-market economy and communist controls, political tensions in border provinces, even overpopulation. It is the Government's no-nonsense approach to social control that keeps the problems under the lid. What worries the outside world is the brusqueness with which Beijing enforces its will over the weak.

South China Sea is the most disturbing example of this. China used its military force to get control of islands off Vietnamese and Philippine coasts. Some shoals in the sea have been developed into military bases. The International Court's ruling against Chinese claims has been ignored. American warships testing freedom-of-navigation routes have been warned against entering "Chinese Waters". Indian vessel en route to Vietnam's ports have also been cautioned.

Where's India in all this? Delhi did make a show of friendship to ASEAN countries on Republic Day. But these are countries unnerved by Chinese assertiveness. Delhi's alliance with the US and Japan has come unstuck with the US virtually giving up on Asia and Japan turning into an active negotiating partner with Beijing. India in fact looks blissfully out of the picture. Perhaps it will get back into it after achieving its priority objective of getting Hindi recognised in the UN.

Monday, February 5, 2018


Now that the budget has assured Devaloka by 2019, we can return to more mundane things: How the opposition parties can unite against the BJP. The attempts made by some leaders last week were natural. Given the proliferation of parties that distinguishes our long-suffering democracy, electoral alliances are the only way to put a brake on the BJP's increasingly aberrant concepts -- from writing a whole new constitution to discriminatory orange passports. But dreams are not reality. Our opposition parties are so inward-looking that it is difficult for them to join hands in any meaningful way. The BJP's real strength is opposition disunity.

So it was no surprise that last week's efforts proved non-starters. CPM leader Sitaram Yechury's call for an impeachment of the Chief Justice of India proved a bit too radical to get traction. Sonia Gandhi's "brainstorming" session was an open-ended idea. Sharad Pawar made some concerted moves to float a broad platform: a Republic Day rally in Mumbai to "save the Constitution" and then a get-together of non-BJP leaders in Delhi. In attendance were the Congress, CPM, CPI, the National Conference, rebel JD(U) Sharad Yadav and also Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Ram Jethmalani.

That such disparate elements could collect under one umbrella was an indication that the parties recognise the importance of uniting against an opponent who freely uses governmental power to its advantage. But their intentions betray them because they are leader-oriented and the leaders are self-oriented. The Pawar initiative, for example, didn't click when it became clear that what he had in mind was a national alliance with him as the supreme leader, to wit, the prime ministerial candidate.

Pawar will inspire no confidence, given the NCP's record in office. The party's twin stars, Pawar and Praful Patel, were known as protectors of lobbies. When the poisonous pesticide endosulfan caused widespread and pathetic birth deformities in Kasargod-South Mangalore areas, Food Minister Pawar remained unconcerned, saying that further tests were necessary to prove endosulfan's culpability. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel handled Air-India in such ways that even a Rs 30,000 crore bailout has been unable to save it. The CAG and the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament had found evidence of doubtful financial decisions in the purchase of 110 aircraft in one go at a cost of Rs 50,000 crore.

A party led by such men can only be expected to put their interests above the country's. Hence the rejection of the Pawar move by other parties. The Trinamool Congress indirectly suggested that Mamata Bannerji was the only leader deserving to be an opposition prime ministerial candidate. There are others who swear by Chandrababu Naidu. And yet others by Naveen Patnaik.

The opposition infighting is the BJP's joy when it is facing trying times. The Shiv Sena has already walked out and Chandrababu Naidu has openly complained about being neglected. The BJP, in a spirit of defiance, is making overtures to Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra and Jaganmohan Reddy, Naidu's staunchest enemy, in Andhra Pradesh.

It's a replay of the Kautilya doctrine of sama, daana, bheda, danda. Where conciliation and bribes don't work, it is open to the use of threats and assaults. Was the recent raid on Karnataka minister D.K.Shivakumar's premises part of a plan to scare him into joining the BJP? After all, Shivakumar had helped the BJP's candidate win the Mysore Parliamentary seat in the last elections. Was there an understanding with Sharad Pawar in the last Gujarat elections? The BJP had become weak with the rise of the Jignesh-Hardik tide and the results showed that seven districts in the state had become BJP-mukt. The party managed to retain power only because the NCP fielded a large number of candidates and thereby split opposition votes significantly. Perhaps the NCP, too, has reasons to stay on the safe side of the BJP.

A sensible opposition can indeed find a solution to the leadership problem that is now obstructing their unity. If Rahul Gandhi is too young and too inexperienced, Mamata Bannerji too unpredictable in her moods and Sharad Pawar too tainted, they can still narrow down to someone like Naveen Patnaik who is at least non-controversial although his commitment to meaningful governance is open to doubt. His ability to avoid the limelight is no mean talent. If Rahul Gandhi sees the wisdom of biding his time till 2022 and others see the apparent harmlessness of Patnaik, a united opposition is not impossible to replace a party that allows lynching to become a patriotic pastime.