Archive for April, 2009

Flowering democracy

April 28, 2009

A variety of multi-colored flowers strung together in harmonious patterns each complementing the other, distinct yet united in a single spectacular garland. Is there any more apt analogy for India’s diversity in unity?

Politicians of every stripe, hue, caste, religion and party affiliation are paraded in front of the voters with huge garlands adorning their relatively smaller physiques – the composite picture is a sight for sore eyes (the flowers are a soothing distraction from the mostly dull and drab personalities).

The size of the garlands has grown exponentially in tandem with the burgeoning egos of the politicians and in direct relation to the sycophancy of the star-struck supporters. Even most divine deities are not bedecked with such a profusion of flowers but the human versions, wilting in the arid and thorny political climate, seem to bloom in the cloistered company of family, friends and fervent fans.

The fancy flowering has continued in spite of calls by some political figures, with smaller egos (and probably on the receiving end of fewer garlands), to stop this garish garlanding and more significantly despite security concerns that the politicians could be sticking their necks out to face the concealed intentions of insidious individuals.

Elections are energizing times for the makers of garlands (both natural and artificial), providing a slightly different take on “flower power”. Business is brisk as hordes of enthusiastic, determined and politically savvy citizens clutch freshly bought garlands and then make a beeline for the candidates, each desperate to get their hand around the necks of the politicians and shower them with public displays of affection.

The politicians in turn take turns at garlanding each other, their living mentors and the statues of dead mentors and an ever increasing list of historical heavyweights. As history progresses, the wisdom of the bygone bigwigs seem to exponentially expand while their mortal failings fade into the distant past. A gallery of statues and a host of memorial monuments pay homage to the memory of monumental beings that trod this earthly soil, unsoiled and unsullied by the fate of lesser beings.

Lest ordinary people, inured to the constant presence of the stone structures, tend to forget or confuse the legendary leaders, present-day politicians ensure that the litany of the legendary lore is repeated in each public speech and meeting while erecting ever more statues to their mentors. Some rationalist politicians while decrying what they perceive as superstitions and idol worship of gods among religious Hindus, have no qualms about idealizing and idolizing their mentors – human beings possessing mortal frailties – who have in effect become deified in death.

Along with an ever expanding population, India’s pantheon of political idols is sure to keep proportionate pace and the urban landscape will be liberally littered with the statues and shrines of legendary leaders.

The dense crowds of living beings, who live a condensed version of existence, pay humble homage to their heroes – who occupy a larger space of history and geography both in life and in afterlife. The large garlands hanging from the statues are tributes to individuals who lived large from those who can only dream of a rosy existence.


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State of Head of State

April 25, 2009

The Congress Party’s choice for President and current occupant of the Presidency, Shrimati Pratibha Patil has commenced a state visit to Spain and then Poland. This junket is supposedly set to further cement the mutually strong ties between India and Spain as well as between India and Poland. Since there was already a strong foundation, the question that remains unanswered is whether it was really necessary for the President and her entourage to visit these countries in person at the Indian taxpayers expense.

Under India’s current political system, the Indian Presidency is largely a ceremonial post although the former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam managed to infuse the post with additional prestige due to his distinguished background and personal charisma. Mr. NR Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, would be a good candidate for the Presidency and would imbue the post with his experience and vision. The office of the Presidency should be occupied by leading figures in the public sphere representing business, science, the humanities or the arts.

Unfortunately, some of the office holders have been political appointees who did not necessarily fit the image that the public expects in a Head of State. When India is taking on a larger role on the world stage, it would also be appropriate for the Head of State to be a person, who is perceived to be above partisan politics and who also possesses the necessary background, experience, stature, personality and charisma.

The Prime Minister, as Head of Government, is already assuming more of the image and role of a Head of State on external visits. A radical approach that would save the taxpayers a sizable amount of money is by combining the roles of the President and the Prime Minister. The roles of Vice-President and Deputy Prime Minister would also be similarly combined. If this were taken a step further, there are some countries where there is a unicameral parliament and the Lok Sabha would serve the same purpose while the Rajya Sabha would become a part of India’s history like the erstwhile Raj.

Further savings for the taxpayers would result from scheduling elections at fixed intervals of every five years while limiting all politicians to two terms in office would ensure that the Indian populace would have a say in reducing the influence of dynastic families.

It is ironic that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was instrumental in ending the Privy Purse for the Indian royal families in 1971, is now considered the second in a dynastic line of rulers (Prime Ministers). The fact that Rahul Gandhi can be widely touted as a future Prime Minster, just because he is the scion of the Gandhi family, speaks volumes of how little the Congress Party has progressed in the post-Independence era. If the Congress cannot wean itself from the Gandhi family, Congress can become an acronym for Children of Nehru Gandhi Rule Essential Supporting Sycophancy (CONGRESS).

Reducing the number of politicians eligible for the Special Protection Group (SPG) security detail will save some additional money as well as probably make it safer for those being protected. The terrorists attacking individual politicians would most likely want to focus on high-value targets and those not having a large SPG detail or not having a SPG detail at all would not be considered a high-value target.

Implementing the radical suggestions mentioned above for starters would ensure that the head of state was serving as a model for the rest of the nation in conserving taxpayers’ money and it would also ensure that the state was utilizing the money economically and was headed in the proper direction.


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Shoe in politics

April 22, 2009

Nepotism, political patronage and vested interests (including religion-based, caste-based, sect-based support) have made many of the persons participating in the electoral fray shoo-in candidates for political office.  This is especially true where many of the supporters are barefoot, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence and believing that their sole salvation lies in electing their well-heeled candidates.


In constituencies where the electorate is more knowledgeable, many voters have put their foot down and refuse to toe the dominant party line.  Some of the bolder citizens (including a couple of journalists) have resorted to thinking on their feet as their unlaced emotions compel them to toss their shoes at the candidates running for office.  It is ironic that political candidates who reach out to impress the public and the press, now feel hard pressed to retreat and are expressing their views from a safe distance.  Some tactile politicians have tactfully increased their handlers while reducing their glad-handing contact with their voters to keep their candidacies intact.


Narendra Modi, the CM of Gujarat has resorted to protecting himself from free-flying footwear by installing a wire mesh around his podium.  There seem to be a number of souls in the state with a disdainful disposition who have taken a position on dispossessing their shoes.  A minority village in the Narmada area has strung up a line of old shoes at the entry point to the village.  The villagers want to ensure that most overreaching political candidates will understand the underlying message as they stand under the arch of shoes.


Mayavati, the UP CM has relegated the press to a safe location, beyond a “shoe throw” distance.   Mayavati has not discriminated in terms of the caste of the press but cast the press far enough to prevent them from casting their footwear or other projectiles and yet kept the press near enough so that they can broadcast her every word. 


As for the clutch of shoe throwers, they have not confined their throws to one political party but they have hurled their footwear on or near several candidates of their choosing.  If the incidence of shoe throwing proliferates, this could even become a national pastime and several voters might attempt to throw as many shoes as necessary to obtain an entry in the Guinness book of records. 


Some sure-footed politicians, ever ready to see the golden streaks in the silver lining of rusting metal, might even be inclined to convert these signs of disrespect into signs of approval.  One politician could boast that his constituents were not only ready to give the shirts off their backs but also the shoes off their feet.  Another might counter that he was on the receiving end of the most number of shoes and it was a definite sign that the electorate wanted to ensure he had enough shoes to go the distance in his run for political office.


The risk the politicians might face is that instead of “foot in the mouth” syndrome they might be stricken with a severe case of “shoes in your face”.  As for the electorate, some voters will have the satisfaction of literally giving the boot to their politicking politicians.


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