Twittering Classes

September 22, 2009

A witless retort by the witty and well-heeled Minister of State, Shashi Tharoor on Twitter that he would travel “cattle class in solidarity with all our holy cows” ended up as a costly mistake for him and for the Congress Party as the Congress Party High Command initiated a drive for austerity.

The Congress Party High Command had urged all its leaders, ministers and workers to adopt austerity measures at a time when drought is affecting several parts of the country.  The Congress spokesperson, Ms. Jayanthi Natarajan, strongly condemned Tharoor’s remark, saying “the Congress disapproved of it, as it was not in sync with the party’s political culture”.

Previously, the Minister of External Affairs, Mr. S.M. Krishna and his junior Minister of State, Mr. Shashi Tharoor had left their temporary five star hotels where each minister had run up a tab of almost one crore (ten million) rupees for several months stay. Although both of them insisted they had paid using their own money, it seemed unsightly that two public servants serving in a government which claims to work for the common man (“Aam aadmi”) should be living the five star life while tens of millions of poor people only see stars when they look up in the sky, often lying on their backs on the unpaved pavements of many of India’s overcrowded cities.

The opposition parties lost no time in grabbing the bull by the horns as they sought to milk Tharoor’s dairy gaffe. For the urbane former UN Under Secretary General, used to a lifestyle of the proverbial “peaces and cream”, the milk of human kindness must have seemed to curdle leaving him with sour cream, not to mention a bitter aftertaste of political indigestion.

The Congress Party leaders, ever since they coined the political slogan of “working for the common man” combined with their “austerity measures” lost no time and spared no expense to get their related and relatively younger generation of politicians scrambling on board private planes to fly to the corners of the country to meet the common man, and his cohorts, in his milieu. The leaders hope to keep the followers informed on how the Congress Party was austerely steering the ship of state, hopefully into flowing water (which would help with the drought).

Rahul Gandhi had already displayed his uncommon caring for the common man, by spending a night at a “basti” (the common man’s rural dwelling). Now he and his assistants and Special Protection Group security detail flew in a private plane and then transferred to a private helicopter to reach the remote locations where common men (and women) abound. Rahul Gandhi had already stated that “I generally tend to keep myself austere” and that was the case as he deplaned from his private plane wearing simple khadi that would have found favour with Gandhi (both Mahatma and Sonia).

The Hindu newspaper has established that “…at about Rs.1.5 lakh (hundred thousand) an hour for a helicopter, and Rs. 1.1 lakh an hour for the Beechcraft aircraft that Mr. Gandhi used for most of the long haul, his Tamil Nadu darshan would have cost the Indian National Youth Congress over Rs. 1 crore in helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft hire charges”.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing saga, the Union Finance Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukhergee, is conducting discussions with the Swiss government on the reported 1.5 trillion dollars secreted in secret Swiss bank accounts. To their credit, the secretive Swiss bankers have kept a tight lid on their coffers and their lips. The UPA government, without doubt, will probably forcefully demand that the Swiss bankers reveal the names and accounts of the high and mighty however close to home the foreign money trail leads.

Many Bollywood movies use Switzerland as their locale to film their escapist entertainment dance sequences. Wouldn’t it be worthy of a nice Bollywood film ending, if the UPA government leading men and women could make the Swiss bankers sing and then with all the money flowing into India and into the pockets of the poor, the Aam aadmi (common man) would be dancing to the tune of “Jai Ho”. Now that is something to make everyone atwitter.

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

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T is for…

June 18, 2009

Scientists researching the all important issue of trace elements in tackling terrorism have discovered that different levels and amounts of sulphur in a person’s hair can be used to trace a person’s travels and this could potentially and potently be used to blow up the alibis of terrorists.

Is this ground-breaking research really crucial evidence or has it been linked to the “T” word in order to obtain financing for research from the extensive anti-terrorism funding organizations?

This research could be as earth shattering as the day that the new breed of humans = terrorists – were discovered by the brain trust of the law and order agencies in the 1970s. Terrorists are thought to be human mutations with an extra “T” chromosome (T for terrorism) and are genetically programmed to upset the prevailing power structures and kill without compunction in pursuit of their objectives. A variant of the terrorist human is taught to be the suicide bomber and this mutation self-destructs while committing murder and mayhem without the slightest provocation or warning.

No correlation or connection between the atrocious actions of terrorists and the plight of human beings surviving without any hope for decades in a confined and pressurized environment has been officially established.

One of the major ministerial marionettes in a recent well-orchestrated performance gesticulated and articulated the prevailing position of zero tolerance for terrorism. This pithy and profound proclamation cannot be effectuated if there is also zero tolerance for innovative, incisive and independent thinking.

Innovative thinking would involve spending millions on development of communities in pursuit of peace rather than billions on weaponry and destroying neighborhoods in pursuit of militants. .

Incisive thinking would include identifying and addressing the problems and plight of those in desperation before the long festering problems develop into full scale insurgencies and terrorists take advantage of the destabilized situation.

Independent thinking would be not to blindly follow the herd by buying billions of dollars of arms and continuing to aid and abet reprehensible regimes in their commission of state-sponsored terrorism. Independent thinking requires boldly supporting human rights of all people under occupation and insisting on one standard to which all nations and peoples should be held accountable.

Too many innocent persons among the general population are trapped in the middle of various conflicts and numerous victims are blown up by terrorists and during anti-terrorism operations.

For defense contractors, some government officials, countless terrorism “experts”, terrorism researchers, security consultants, arms traffickers and militant outfits it is party time as they are all having a blast.

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

Course Correction

May 27, 2009

Following the horrific Mumbai terror attacks (around 200 dead and several hundred injured), that was staged by Pakistani based extremists, the Indian public and government reacted with concern and conviction tempered with caution – the hallmarks of a civilized society that was going to ensure justice was served while at the same time not bent on the blind and barbaric bombardment of the whole of Pakistan. The lone surviving Pakistani gunman was put on trial and India has demanded Pakistani cooperation in closing down the operations of the militant extremists.

Following a few rocket attacks from Gaza that killed three Israeli civilians and a soldier and damaged a couple of buildings, the Israeli Defense Forces, at the command of the Israeli regime, launched an all out aerial bombardment of Gaza followed by a ground assault with tanks and armored vehicles. At the end of the Israeli rampage, the resulting Palestinian death toll was around two thousand civilians killed (including many children and women) and widespread destruction of hundreds of buildings, major infrastructure, utilities, schools and hospitals. The Israeli government also blockaded Gaza preventing food supplies and medical aid for several days. The Palestinians in Gaza are still facing dire economic and medical hardship due to the unrelenting pressure from the rightwing Israeli government. More than thirty one Palestinian children (at last count) had been killed by additional IDF aerial missile strikes. Palestinians continue to be forcibly ejected from their homes in Jerusalem while Israeli settlements continually expand into Palestinian lands.

In this context, a couple of Mahatma Gandhi’s quotes are very appropriate: “Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.” and “The Roots of Violence: …Politics without principles”.

The United Nations, human rights organizations, peace groups (including Israeli peace groups) and many Jewish intellectuals around the world have all condemned the draconian Israeli response and labeled the invasion, extended blockade and continual occupation of Palestine as war crimes.

India was a long time supporter of the rights of the Palestinians and the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat inaugurated one of the first Palestinian embassies in New Delhi. Mr. Arafat had a good political and personal rapport with the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and he relayed intelligence reports to Rajiv Gandhi that someone was planning to assassinate him months before the assassination. Mr. Arafat attended the state funerals of both Mrs. Indira Gandhi (following her assassination) and Rajiv Gandhi (after his assassination).

Fast forward to the present day, as the UPA government of India took delivery of its first Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane, as part of a deal with Israel worth more than US$1 billion based on official estimates. According to new reports “The delivery is seen as part of India’s quest for air dominance over arch rival Pakistan as well as a milestone in growing military ties with Israel…The planes will also provide a deterrent to any threat from China on India’s eastern frontier, defense officials say”.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently theatres of conflict with external influences and some local elements fighting for control. Kashmir (both Pakistan and Indian regions) has experienced the destabilizing effects of the spillover from the Afghan and Pakistani wars. Over the past few decades, India has maintained a military presence of around two hundred and fifty thousand soldiers in Indian administered Kashmir to control the insurgency and external divisive influences. Thousands of soldiers have died and many more have been wounded. Some soldiers have been affected by the stress and become demoralized.

Faced with economic desperation, many Bengalis have crossed the Bangladesh border into India seeking a better existence and their arrival has led to tension and violence among the local inhabitants of several Northeastern states.

Out of a total population of around 1.1 billion people, the Muslims in India are the largest minority (nearly 13.5 % of the total) accounting for close to 140 million persons. This makes India home to the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. India is also the country with the largest Muslim minority in the world.

India is bordered by Pakistan (population of nearly 173 million comprising almost 168 million Muslims) and Bangladesh (population of nearly 154 million comprising almost 128 million Muslims). If Afghanistan (the other Muslim South Asian state) is also factored in (population nearly 33 million), this means almost half of the Muslims in the world live in South Asia.

India also has historical ties to Muslim countries in the Middle East, where many Indians earn a living and their earnings have contributed to the development of the economies of several Indian states. Indian and Asian Muslims outside South Asia have historical bonds extending for more than a thousand years in the past. Muslims have made significant contributions in many facets of Indian culture and the benevolent rule of the Muslim Moguls lasted for a longer period and predated British colonial rule.

Considering all the historical, religious, social and political implications, the UPA government has taken an erroneous decision to purchase AWACS from Israel and this is further compounded by the news, as reported in The Hindu, that Defense Minister A.K. Anthony opted for additional arms purchases from Israel over those developed indigenously by India’s own Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

In a recent speech the BJP leader, Mr. Arun Jaitley, has estimated that the government of India spends around Rs.45,000 crores (roughly 9.5 billion US dollars) annually on combating terrorism. According to AFP news service, Israel replaced France in 2007 as India’s second-largest arms supplier after Russia and is likely to grab the number one slot through a vast array of defense agreements it has already signed with New Delhi. The huge amount spent on anti-terrorism with the billions of dollars spent on defense purchases from Israel, which is almost universally criticized for atrocities against Palestinian civilians, is staggering when it is taken into account that India is still a developing country in many respects.

Despite sustained high GDP growth in India, a World Bank report has exposed the hype surrounding India’s success after liberalization. The World Bank report provides new estimates stating that not only is India home to roughly one-third of all the poor in the world, it has a higher proportion of its population living on less than $ 2 a day than even sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, the policy that Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand – the one Gandhi of truly iconic stature) advocated of “Be Indian, Buy Indian” has been consigned to the waste bin.

The longstanding moral principles that India pursued as a leader of the non-aligned movement have become tarnished by the government of India’s buying Israeli arms.

To reduce the risk of a repetition of external terrorism like the Mumbai massacre, the government of India needs to follow the following course of action:

1. Cancel all arms purchases with Israel and lead an international coalition to boycott all Israeli products until Israeli war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon are tried by the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and the long overdue state of Palestine becomes a reality.

2. Strengthen the strong ties with Arab countries and forge stronger ties with the Muslim countries in Asia. That will go a long way towards preventing disaffected elements in those countries from perceiving India as inimical to their way of existence.

3. Reduce the troop strength and scale back the operations in various Indian states and redirect the savings towards improving the welfare of the military service personnel.

4. Freeze all defense purchases of billion dollar sophisticated weapon systems and all other unnecessary offensive ballistic programs.

5. Cut back on the exorbitant spending for anti-terrorism and monitoring of citizens currently in effect – a lot of the money is wasted on bureaucratic oversight.

6. Spend the savings from anti-terrorism and defense cutbacks on improving the lives of lower segments of society and minorities (including Muslims). A prospering minority community is the best deterrent against external misguided militants searching for disaffected citizens to assist them in creating havoc.

7. Allow self-rule for all regional conflict areas. The onus to dissipate any violence or protests will fall on the shoulders of the local politicians and the central government will not have to spend time, money or resources in unfamiliar terrain.

8. India needs to ensure that South Asian countries all work towards the peaceful development of the region and do not engage in the aggressive and ruthless campaigns like the Sri Lankan regime waged against Tamil civilians. Nearly a hundred thousand Tamils have died over three decades and nearly three hundred thousand Tamils have become refugees in their own land. A separate state of Eilam should be promoted to ensure that the atrocities against Tamils are ended for good and Sri Lankan leaders must be held liable for war crimes.

9. China is not a threat to India – it is decades ahead in terms of development and is focusing its attention on expanding its influence around the world. India needs to let China, USA, European Union and other prosperous nations take care of aid to third world countries outside South Asia.

10. India should focus all its development aid on South Asian countries. Charity begins at home and as the World Bank has noted in its report many of the poorest persons in the world reside in South Asia.

Security is neither obtained by building walls with watchtowers bristling with weaponry, sensors, alarms and continuous monitoring nor for that matter by purchasing overpriced AWACS planes from immoral regimes. The best security is to be surrounded by prospering neighbors.

The Indian public and the Indian government need to press for war crimes charges against Israel and Sri Lanka thereby sending a strong message that aggression and genocide will not go unpunished.

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

Minding of the Meet

May 21, 2009

I attended a “soft skills” seminar some years ago. The purpose of the seminar was to reduce confusion and any potential disagreements by being aware of and making concessions for differing viewpoints. All attendees were asked to describe what various chronological terms meant to them personally and to assign a percentage to each of the terms. The instructor provided an explanation saying that the term “sometimes” might mean 20% to some persons and 40% to others. That seemed logical enough. The instructor then asked us to provide a percentage to the term “always” and most of the attendees automatically assigned the term a value of 100% while some assigned values ranging from 10% to 40%. After a spirited debate, the instructor ended the discussion by noting that “always” could mean 100% of the time to some persons and 40% of the time to others. After many years of trying to understand the concept of “Always is 40% of the time to some persons”, the meaning became obvious thanks to being an observer to events in India.

“The trains always arrive on time” is applicable to some nations (Japan, Germany, etc.-always is taken to mean 100% of the time). In India everything is relative (with apologies to Einstein and not in any way alluding to the quasi-national and regional political dynasties in charge). “The trains always arrive on time” is a broad guideline which may not be enforced all the time (always in this case is less than 100% and might even be 40% at times). This same laissez-faire philosophy pervades many other areas.

Taxis and auto rickshaws are always supposed to run based on the automated meters – this rule is almost always followed in the breach rather than in the observance. The fares will always (as in 100% of the time) fluctuate based on the time of day, the state of the weather and whether the driver is in an amenable and amicable frame of mind.

Quite a number of smaller local businesses may state that they always deliver on their promises and signed agreements – always in this case is always less than 100% and more likely 40%). The same small businesses will always (as in 100% of the time) demand and receive full payment from the customers – in this case the customers are not always right but always left in the lurch having fulfilled their side of the bargain.

The common rule that customers should always wait in queues is always (as in 95%) of the time disregarded – many persons understand the concept of queues to mean parallel queues (crowding shoulder to shoulder in solidarity) rather than serial queues (waiting at arms length in solitary). The customer service representatives should be commended for their patience and prowess in handling the multiple insistent and irritating interjections and interruptions when they are supposedly always (as in almost never) handling one customer at a time.

With the ordinary citizens having to face so many inconsistencies and uncertainties on a daily basis in almost every public and private transaction, it is a wonder that the vast majority of them are always (as in 90% of the time) so grounded. It might be a defensive reaction to living in a chaotic environment not conducive to punctuality and discipline, that most persons have adopted passivity and detachment to get them through the barriers and roadblocks en route to their destinations and dreams. While everything may always function (40% of the time), the enlightened philosophy will keep everyone balanced and focused on their quests in an uncertain world and that is a good thing always (100% of the time).

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

Belief Relief

May 9, 2009

Two of the smaller member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), are Sri Lanka and Bhutan.  Sri Lanka and Bhutan are both majority Buddhist nations.  Most of the ethnic Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka are followers of Theravada Buddhism.  A majority of the Bhutanese are followers of Vajrayana Buddhism.  However, the similarities end there as Sri Lanka and Bhutan offer two very different visions for society.    

 

The Sri Lankan government of President Rajapakse has adopted the worst practices of the genocidal Israeli regime.  The Sri Lankan government has received arms shipments, including weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) like mines and cluster bombs, from Israel.  The Sri Lankan government has employed the same reprehensible tactics that the Israeli regime has ruthlessly and illegally used in committing war crimes against Palestinian civilians.  The Sri Lankan air force, like the Israeli Defense Forces, has conducted numerous air strikes on civilian populations in the Tamil ethnic minority area of Eilam.  The Sri Lankan regime has destroyed infrastructure (hospitals, bridges, utilities, homes, etc) and killed thousands of fleeing Tamil civilians, ostensibly to free the Tamil ethnic minority from the grip of terrorists.  This is a variation on “fighting fire with fire” and can be termed “fighting terror by terrorizing”.  Tens of thousands of ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils have been displaced, wounded and crowded into makeshift refugee camps.  The erroneous and morally indefensible methods of the Sri Lankan regime will backfire and ultimately result in the formation of a Tamil state of Eilam.  Sri Lanka is a Buddhist state that has turned its back on the Buddhist principles of peace and non-violence. 

 

The Bhutanese government has transformed itself from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy with the active consent of the former monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term “Gross National Happiness” which is a reference to the Buddhist notion that the ultimate purpose of life is inner happiness.  Bhutan’s former ruler felt the responsibility to define development in terms of happiness of its people was more relevant and important than the economic indicator “Gross National Product”.  Pursuant to aligning with the philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” and to preserve Bhutan’s pristine nature and unique culture, the Bhutanese government has limited tourism, mass media and foreign investment.  The Bhutanese want to be a model society where all citizens enjoy a quality of life based on respect for nature and culture, rather than consumption and production of materials.  Bhutan is a Buddhist state that has inculcated the Buddhist philosophy into daily existence. 

 

As the largest nation in SAARC, India is also the land where Buddhism originated.  India has a moral obligation to condemn, constrain and convict genocidal regimes like Israel and Sri Lanka for war crimes.  Consequently, India needs to assert its influence to prevent the atrocities against Tamil civilians by the Rajapakse regime (a government that only pays lip service to Buddhism).  India should also felicitate and assist the Bhutanese government in its lofty aims of living a moral existence based on Buddhist ideals.   

 

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

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.

 

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

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.

 

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

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.

 

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)

Going Gandhi Gone

March 24, 2009

 

From Mohandas Gandhi to his unrelated namesake Varun Gandhi, the Gandhi name has suffered a reversal of fortune.  From Mohandas who was willing to give his life for the sake of Hindu-Muslim amity to Varun who – based on the remarks on the publicized CD – would be willing to harm a Muslim life in a case of mistaken Hindu enmity, there has been a sharp erosion in the value systems of our leaders. 

 

The Gandhi family has paid a steep price for their dedication and political service and suffered the loss of two former Prime Ministers – Indira Gandhi (daughter of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru) and Rajiv Gandhi (the elder son of Indira Gandhi).  Both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were the tragic victims of assassins (killed in 1984 and 1991 respectively) associated with two different independence movements (Khalistan in Punjab, India and Eilam in Sri Lanka) that perceived the former leaders as inimical to their respective causes.  Varun Gandhi’s father, Sanjay Gandhi (the younger son of Indira Gandhi) who died in an untimely plane accident, was in a prominent position within the Congress Party and en route to becoming a potential Prime Minister.

 

Rahul Gandhi (son of Rajiv Gandhi) is slated as a future leader and potential Prime Minister while his sister, Priyanka Gandhi, currently actively campaigning for the Congress Party, may have possible future political ambitions in her own right.  Rajiv Gandhi’s wife, Sonia Gandhi is the current leader of the Congress Party. 

 

Maneka Gandhi (wife of Sanjay Gandhi) a BJP Member of Parliament from Philibit, UP was a Minister in the former BJP Government and her son, Varun is now campaigning to become the next BJP Member of Parliament from Philibit.

 

While many Indians are supportive of the public service and prominent political roles of the scions of the Gandhi (Jawaharlal Nehru) dynasty, one family should not be burdened with the onerous responsibility of having to produce the nation’s leadership for successive generations.  This applies not only at the national level but also at the state and local levels where a few families have assumed the lonesome legacy of leadership. 

 

The public needs to assist the feudal families to ensure that alternate avenues of employment are available to upcoming family members and to spare them the pressing pressures and trying tensions of having to take care of their ancestral aspirations in their “family fiefdoms”.

 

Some Indian filmmakers have had a fascination for decades with copying the attitudes and cultural norms of Western nations in many films and a few business houses have been aping some of the failed financial practices and questionable business methodologies along with encouraging their workers to adopt Western suits and ties in a tropical climate.  Now even politics is following suit and has adopted the Western obsession with ever younger leaders in politics as if youth alone is the answer to all problems.  The British author and savant, George Bernard Shaw noted that “youth is wasted on the young” and this is especially apparent in Indian politics today.  Instead of increasingly younger “Turks” /   leaders chanting the overused and shrill “change” mantra and committing “Varunesque” gaffes, there is a dire need for experienced, mature, wise and steady leadership (with a knowledge of our shared history and distinct cultures) that will focus on resolving the nation’s problems and improving the standard of living.       

   

In a mature democracy with a growing middle class and an increasing number of people who are upwardly mobile and educated, there is a greater pool of qualified and experienced candidates who can become prospective leaders, without special interest backing, without the benefit of being hand-picked star candidates and without nepotistic nurturing.

 

(www.embar.net – for additional articles) 

(A)ward(s) to the wise

March 15, 2009

The Oscars went slumming – one might even be tempted to call it a “slum dunk”. Down and out in Hollywood, the celluloid elite shared the red carpet with the dwellers of the streets of Mumbai. After Slum Dog Millionaire won eight Oscars including for Best Picture and Best Director, Danny Boyle, the film’s British director was understandably elated – the film has raked in millions of dollars and will ensure that Danny Boyle is recession-proof and out of the slums, unless he decides to make a sequel.

What is the forecast for the numerous cast of characters who constitute the cast away extras of Slum Dog Millionaire? Millions of slum dwellers in Mumbai doggedly waited the return of the few fortunate cast members who temporarily took flight on a pilgrimage to the altar of “make believe” in the land of [fading] dreams.

From the heads of political parties, from cultural and civic leaders to the general public and down to the marginalized millions residing in slums, this has been a time of pride and recognition. When all the pride and recognition eventually dies down, as the bright glare of the reel camera fades away, one recognizes that the rude reality is far from an appealing vision.

Very few persons would willingly choose to live in squalid tenements that are crammed in close proximity with precious little privacy and filled with all the sensory experiences of congested human and animal existence. Along with lack of any if not most civic amenities, the escalating effluence is a frontal assault on all the senses while the teeming evidence of growing generations must be a daunting challenge for officials responsible for the census.

In the mad rush to unbridled market capitalism, the proliferating slums are a growth industry. The area of Dharavi, burdened with the questionable (questionable not as a matter of fact but rather of taste) moniker of the “largest slum in Asia”, has temporarily morphed from an unwelcome civic blight to a reigning celebrity delight.

Dharavi, besides being the setting for “Slum Dog Millionaire” is a thriving market place with revenues estimated at close to a billion dollars. This huge investment is music to the ears of politicians and special interest backers who stand to benefit from the status quo. The unhealthy political-economic combination makes it all the more difficult for civic-minded detractors to push for the denizens of the slums to be relocated to other areas with better standards of habitation and for the demolishing of the urban blight to make for greener public spaces for an enhanced quality of life.

In a related story, the residents of slums in order to supplement their meager existence and to cash in on the interest sparked by the Oscar winning film are offering tourists tours through their neighborhoods. The only way that this could be viewed in a favorable light is if the slum dwellers were showing the tourists a disappearing way of existence.

India is currently making preparations to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. New Delhi, the venue of the games, has the same problems as Mumbai in terms of slums. Now is the time for the government of India to take decisive action in relocating slum dwellers to better and permanent housing in all urban areas. The removal of the abandoned slums and the conversion of the slum land to urban parks will enhance the quality of living of all Indians.

India will continue to be a nation grounded in its aspirations for a higher standard of living unless its soaring population is kept under strict control by a disciplined national population strategy. India can only become a superpower of the people when the proverbial man on the street neither lives on the street as a “slum dog” nor as a “millionaire” in a personal ivory tower. Indians can lead the way in under-populating and under-polluting their region as they live healthy, frugal, sustainable and productive middle-class lives.

 

(www.embar.net – for additional articles)