Saturday, 22 September 2018

TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO CONFESS DIVINE.



   Confessions are dicey things, as that poor lady from Kerala found out recently: she confessed her peccadilloes to her priest, who then used them to blackmail her into having sex with him. The police, I'm told, is now extracting a few confessions from the priest himself, without the benefit of any sex. They will presumably now have a freer hand to do so, what with Section 377 no longer being an offence. Notwithstanding this particular experience, however, confessions do have a cathartic effect on the soul. As Stormy Daniels said: " You have to get it off your chest." Now, she does have a lot on her chest, but CNN International and most of the Washington press are these days spending all their time attempting to find out what, or who, the "it" refers to. It can't be that intimate ladies' garment because she can't bear them. "It", therefore, could only refer to either that US$ 130,000 cheque or to Donald Trump: one is an asset, the other an NPA by all accounts if her forthcoming book is to be believed.
   So I'm going to take a leaf from her book, as it were, and make some confessions of my own. I hate going to wedding receptions, and it's not just because I know the couple will be divorced in " > 12 months but < 18 months" as my Axis Bank fixed deposit table would put it. There are other reasons too.
  Any reception in Delhi has to be held in a farm house in Chhatarpur or Jarokri, about a million miles away, and one has to spend the whole night on the road. The farm house itself is probably being used illegally for commercial purposes ( Tivoli Gardens was sealed on Friday) and the police could raid the bloody place at anytime. You may well find yourself on the front page of Hindustan Times the next day, your mug covered (unsuccessfully, of course) with a Blender's Pride napkin, referred to as " the suspect". So I'm generally tense  at these shindigs and hence spend all my time looking for the washrooms which are full of guys( and gals) smoking, since they are not allowed to smoke anywhere else. I haven't tried the transgender loos yet but I'm quite sure they would be shooting Malana Cream in there. The whole ambience is claustrophobic.
   I'm a stickler for punctuality: if St. Peter were to summon me to the pearly gates at 10.00 AM ( I myself would prefer the evening prime time slot so I can get a break from Arnab Goswami, the "news anger" as a Malyali friend puts it), I would be in his ante room at 9.45 AM, with my biodata, PAN card and Aadhar card. Those who don't know me too well may think I'm hastening to get away from my wife, but that would be unkind to her; in sharp contrast to Stormy Daniels she has always told me: " Don't be in a hurry, dear, I can wait." But coming back to wedding receptions, I always reach at the appointed hour, only to find that the bride is still at the hair dresser's and the groom at his bachelors' party. By the time they arrive I'm ready for bed and my wife sleep walks me through the rest of the proceedings. But what really gets my goat is the issue of the "gift."
   I never know what, or how much, to give: myrrh, incense, a Trojan horse, an Amazon gift voucher or what. In India no one gives out of love, the whole process is transactional- render unto Caesar ( or Mr. Moudgil) what he had rendered unto you when your son got married. This was a cinch in my parents' time: everyone maintained a little diary where such details were assiduously noted down and the givee returned to the giver the exact same amount, indexed for inflation as in the Capital Gains tax. Nobody in his right senses maintains a diary nowadays, however, after the Jain havala diary case, lest the CBI or ED get hold of it, tax you on what you have received and ask you to explain what you have reluctantly dished out. So one has to untangle this historical thicket oneself, notwithstanding the onset of dementia: did the blighter give you Rs. 101.00 or a Rolex watch? I always get it wrong, but not as wrong as this leading Delhi lawyer some years and one divorce back. He arrived at my son's wedding at the Asiad, handed over a cheque for Rs. 15000, had himself photographed ( as proof, no doubt) and disappeared. None of us knew him from Adam. Discreet inquiries revealed that he was actually meant to attend the wedding of the son of  a Congress neta on the adjoining lawns, mistook the venue and unwittingly bankrolled my son! I hope he does better with the courtrooms.
   I always give cash, the recycled Diwali gifts having been exhausted since nobody gives me Diwali gifts after my retirement. The actual handing over of the envelope to the couple is a traumatic process for me, reminding me of the time I had to hand over an envelope containing the ( then) handsome sum of twenty rupees to the Excise inspector at the Tunuhatti barrier in Chamba in 1977 for allowing me to bring in some newly purchased furniture from Pathankot. I had just joined at Chamba as SDM on my first posting and the barrier, unbeknownst to me, actually came under my jurisdiction! The next day the Inspector bowed himself into my office, rear end first, and returned the twenty rupees, having no doubt been told that he had out- Heroded Herod himself. As Shakespeare did NOT say: the quality of the payola is not strained-it is twice blessed, blessing both the giver and the taker. And so I'm personally grateful to Modiji for his digital efforts: wedding hosts have now started keeping POS and swipe machines near the gates; one can quickly swipe the card and make a hasty exit. And things are getting better: some intrepid souls have now started giving QR codes on the wedding invitation card itself- one click with the smartphone and the deed is done! Nowadays, of course, the cognoscenti are giving jerry cans of petrol and baskets of vegetables, with pride of place occupied by the humble cauliflower which costs Rs. 120 a kilo. Scotch is out these days since most of what is available in Delhi is bottled in the Barapullah drain below the flyover. More innovations are reported to be in the offing: I learn that  Mr. Jaitley, not happy with Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad hogging the limelight on the Triple Talaq ordinance, is now proposing to do his own little bit for strengthening the matrimonial bonds. He is coming out with an issue of Matrimonial Bonds ( on the lines of Electoral Bonds) which can be gifted to the couple. They can only be encashed jointly, with a minimum block-in period of ten years, thus ensuring that the marriage lasts at least that long. Financial experts are of the view that a Matrimonial Bond is not a good investment because it will start with a rating of XXX ( like in the movies) but over time decline to SOB. Others, however, opine that they are a good investment as they will reduce the physical ( pronounced "phiscal") deficit and bring calm in the bedroom-oops, sorry, boardroom. Nonetheless, the BJP expects to win the 2019 elections on the dual plank of the TT ordinance and the M Bonds by hoovering up all the female votes, since nothing else seems to be working for them except Mayawati's tantrums.
  After this exhausting confession I 'm already feeling much lighter. I realise, of course, that I'm not likely to be invited to any more weddings but as Stormy Daniels, the budding poet, stated: " You win some, you lose some, but it's great for your bosom." Do excuse me now, I believe the Bishop of Jalandhar is on the phone, wanting some tips on confessions......
   

Saturday, 15 September 2018

HANDS OFF MY RELIGION-- WE HAVE A PATENT ON IT !


   Rolls Royce, I learn, not only has a patent on the iconic car but also imposes a condition on the buyer- if at any time it finds that the car is not being properly maintained it has the right to repossess it. The idea is that the image of the brand should not be sullied in any way. It is now apparent that the BJP-RSS combine believes it has a somewhat similar patent/ right on Hinduism. Only this conglomerate( it has more funds than most companies in India, in any case) has the right to decide the design and shape of Hinduism, the persons who can practice it, the form and substance of such practice, and the right to condemn unapproved practitioners as heretics and frauds. Competition from other brands is to be ruthlessly squashed.
   Nothing else can explain its pathological obsession with Rahul Gandhi's assertion of his Hindu credentials and the millions of bytes expended on his "janau" ( the sacred string), visits to temples, his claim that he is a "shiv bhakt". Why should this get the wind up perennially flatulent BJP spokespersons? Surely a person- dynast, outcast or iconoclast- has the right to assert his religiosity or even flaunt it during election time? After all, the BJP itself  invented this game. The BJP's paranoia with Rahul Gandhi's religion, however, plumbed new depths with its epileptic responses to the former's recent Kailash Mansarovar yatra. There appeared to be an air of panic about it, as if he had invaded their citadel. Which, in a manner of speaking, he had.
   Now, I am no great fan of Mr. Gandhi and I do believe that he occasionally does the stupidest things. Like posting the screen shot of his Fitbit to prove that he took 46000 steps on a single day on the yatra; this was to justify his claim that he completed the parikrama in just one day. This is an impossible claim, in the same class as Mr. Modi's 56 inch chest boast which even had the Great Khali trembling. The Fitbit claim was quite unnecessary and therefore naturally attracted derisive remarks on social media. Sample: the Fitbit was put on a donkey which did the parikrama. For the simple fact is that the parikrama of the Kailash is about 53 kms. over mountainous terrain, involving an ascent of 1000 meters to boot, and it would stretch the stamina of even an Iron Man athlete to do it in one day. It takes three days, provided you don't cheat. My wife and sister-in-law have just returned from there, therefore I have this information at first hand.
   But this simply betrays Mr. Gandhi's impetuosity and lack of maturity, not his lack of religiosity or an ersatz Hinduism, as the BJP has been tub-thumping. The yatra was a private affair and at no point did the Gandhi scion flaunt it as proof of his Hindu faith, or try to lend it a political colour. His initial photos on social media were also mainly about the landscape, not himself. It was only after the BJP commenced its rabid and wholly uncalled for attacks on him and started questioning the fact of the yatra itself- whether in fact he performed the journey at all, alleging that it was simply photo-op Hinduism- that he released pics of himself and his group. One erudite Union Minister, who has done his post graduation in scatology, even analysed the shadow of a walking stick in a photo to announce that it was morphed! One is, therefore, forced to conclude that the BJP will not share Hinduism with anyone else- a kind of religious oligopoly, as it were. And certainly not with the Rahul Gandhi.
   But there is more to it than just that. It is also a calculated, long-term strategy with three pincers. The first, of course, is to establish absolute hegemony over the Hindu religion- they are its sole promoters, protectors and arbiters. The second stems from its unapologetic policy of religious division of the country ( read voters). However, one of the occupational hazards of dividing an electorate as complex as India's is that you have to hang on to your share of the divided spoils for dear life and not allow anyone else to encroach on it. Even more so if in 2014 you managed to garner only 31% of the popular vote even though everything was loaded in your favour. For the BJP this means that, having spurned the Muslim and minority vote, now banking exclusively on the Hindu vote for 2019, it cannot allow the Congress any traction in attracting the Hindus ( albeit the more moderate and rational ones among them). Hence its constant endeavour to paint the Congress as a Muslim loving party- the second pincer- and deny it any Hindu space. It has been doing this relentlessly, without let up, for the last couple of years, its message amplified by a mostly spineless mainstream media, with some success. Falsehood always has the initial advantage over Truth: as someone said, the Lie was up and running even as  Truth was still tying its boot laces.
  The third part of the strategy is to demolish Rahul Gandhi's personal Hindu faith and his political secularism, not just in the eyes of the electorate but, equally important, in the eyes of the other Opposition parties. None of them want to alienate the 80% Hindu vote, the Samajwadi Party's downfall in UP still fresh in their minds. Rahul Gandhi is nothing by himself but he can be a force multiplier. If he can coalesce the others into a critical mass, that can spell trouble for the BJP. The personal attacks on him, therefore, are part of the larger strategy to discredit him as a Hindu, to turn him into a religious leper, a political untouchable no other party will want to associate with. It may work, it may not. But if it does then we shall have new gate-keepers for the Hindu faith in our country, who shall henceforth issue the bona fide Hindu certificates. What a comedown it shall be for the land of the Shankaracharyas and rishis! Did the poet foresee this?-

" Is shahar ke had mein woh din bhi likha jayega,
  Ki jinda rahne ke liye kissi katil ki sifarish leejiye." 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

THE RED CARPET FOR MALLYA? MAKE HIM PAY FOR IT!



   So the Indian govt. has succumbed to the blackmail of Mr. Mallya and the British govt.'s exaggerated and misguided sense of human rights. The King of Good Times has now ensured that the good times shall continue in Arthur Road jail: he has been assured a separate cell, with TV and attached toilet ( western style, if you please), an east facing window and a private courtyard for his perambulations.  There is no mention yet of facilities such as order-in dinners, ACs or weekly trysts with bunnies but these will doubtless follow. Why on earth did our govt. give in to the British view that the upper crust are entitled to a higher standard of human rights than the ordinary citizen? Why did it not insist that a prisoner is not entitled to ask for anything more than basic and hygienic living conditions, decent food, access to health care, safety and security? Was it because the different standards for V.I.P inmates already exist in India and Mallya was simply asking for the obvious, or was it because of an eye on the 2019 elections- get Mallya back at any cost and use it to hoover in the votes? A bit of both, I suspect.
   The Jail Manual, folks, is for you and me; the VIPs are governed by another edition of the book which is not in the public domain. Sahara Shri is reported to have had a pretty free run in Tihar and was even provided conference facilities with his minions: so naturally he was in no hurry to pay up ( he still hasn't, I believe). I'm told( unconfirmed) that Mr. D Raja of 2G fame had a special block ( or cottage) where he was served bed tea on the lawns every morning, provided newspapers, and had dosa and idli delivered from his home. We've all read  Sashikala's Madam Pompadour like life style in a Karnataka jail: the plucky lady DIG who alleged that a few undemonetised crores changed hands to facilitate this was promptly shunted out. "Bahubalis" in Bihar, like Anand Mohan Singh and Shahbuddin have their own suites in prison with libraries, personal cook and gym. Mr. Lalu Yadav is allowed to spend most of his incarceration in various hospitals; currently in the Ranchi Medical College hospital post a fistula condition, he has now sought a private ward/ room because the general ward room has mosquitoes and is within hearing distance of various barking dogs . He will get his request, I'm confident- a fistula( real or imagined) will get you constipation but it can get a VIP prisoner an air conditioned ward. And all this is at the taxpayers' expense, naturally. They rob us when they are out of prison , and when they are in it!
   This is the reality of India, islands of affluence in prison for the affluent, amidst the most inhuman conditions for others.The British govt. obviously knows this, and it's not going to change in our lifetimes. So here's my suggestion: lets accept it, legitimise it, do away with the cloak and dagger opacity, stop bankrupting the state to serve these millionaire criminals, and allow the underhand crores to flow to the govt. coffers rather than to various jailors and ADGs( Prisons). Forget the concept of "punishment"- that's for( you guessed it first time) you and me. For the VIPs its all about scoring political goals or self-goals, mutual back scratching, a window dressing of "justice" to impress the voter: for them jail is only a temporary holding pen till the Rs. 20 lakh-a-day lawyers can spring them from the can. After all, we do have a glorious record of legitimising corruption: the "facilitation fee" for contracts, the "liaison officers"( usually retired senior govt. and defence officers), the "middlemen", the " agents", the exorbitant divali "gifts", Mr. Jaitley's electoral bonds and so on.
  In the days to come, now that the code of omerta among politicians has broken down, we will ( hopefully)see many Mallya clones go to jail- bankers, politicians, bureaucrats, fat cat industrialists, maybe even a well connected sexual offender or two. Many of them will have suddenly discovered the attractions of the UK, USA, Finland, Antigua etc. and decamp with the odd billion or so, and will need to be dragged back, screaming about their human right to loot and defraud. Why spend crores of our hard earned tax revenues on ( failing to) getting them extradited, or on engaging expensive lawyers to argue in the Supreme court that hydrocele is  not water in the brain but in the nuts and is not life threatening, and therefore does not entitle that crooked Chief Minister to be shifted from Gonda central jail to a Medanta luxury ward. There is a simpler solution, one from which the govt. can actually MAKE money: TIHAR REGENCY., an exclusive hotel in Tihar jail, on the lines of the seven star hostelry in Saudi Arabia where the crown prince Salman recently incarcerated his billionaires till they agreed to cough up part of the country's embezzled GDP.
   This is an idea whose time has come, and it is simplicity itself: Construct a five star hotel in Tihar jail itself ( the name Tihar Regency has a nice ring to it), with all facilities: suites, conference rooms, wi-fi, restaurants, health clubs for our VIP detainees and make them pay through their nose ( or fistulas) for it. There can even be special packages for them: "Corporate package" for private sector honchos, a "Nuptial package" for those who take their conjugal duties seriously, a "Law Maker's package" for the increasing umber of legislators with criminal cases against them, a "Serial Offender's" package for those who just can't help themselves. There could even be loyalty points for those who keep coming back to the jail, and discounts for family groups.The whole concept would be an advertising company's dream-- CONVICTED? NO PROBLEM- UNWIND AT  TIHAR REGENCY, or ACCHE DIN BEGINS AT TIHAR REGENCY or TIHAR REGENCY- THE DESTINATION FOR MOVERS, SHAKERS AND FAKERS.The hotel would be an instant success, for it would have a captive ( excuse the pun) market. Not only would the JTDC ( Jail Tourism Development Corporation) make crores but the other benefits too would be enormous: no more bribes to jailors, no more false medical certificates, no more court dockets clogged with parole applications, instant extradition of all 121 absconding fat cats now that their "human rights" to a luxurious life style would be assured. In fact, some of the inmate-guests may not want to come out, which has to be a good thing for the nation. Why, we may even have hordes of fugitives from other nations making advance reservations at the hotel, a reverse brain-drain as it were, preferring it to the hell holes of the countries looted by them. If offered to Mr. Mallya with a bottle of Kingfisher beer he may even agree to fund the hotel; if he refuses the govt. could always approach Nirav Modi or Choksi, if it can find them, that is.
   The idea would be a win-win for everyone, except of course the common citizen. But then who gives a damn about him in any case?


Saturday, 1 September 2018

DEBRIEFING A JOINT SECRETARY

                                         


   Before I joined the govt I thought “debriefing “ was something you indulged in with a lady on a lonely beach, a-la James Bond in DR. NO.  It was much later that I discovered that this unhappily phrased word is a standard bureaucratic technique, whereby the incoming babu pumps the outgoing one for as much  inside information as possible without giving away anything in return ( not that the departing babu is eager to impart any meaningful information either- after all, information is power these days). It requires great skill, particularly in the Ministry Of External Affairs, where esoteric words like “ non-paper” and  “demarche” and "note verbale" create an impenetrable wall of meaningless drivel for the uninitiated outsider. The Word was invented to convey meaning, but in the world of diplomacy it is used to conceal any meaning whatsoever. I once asked a senior American diplomat what exactly was meant by the phrase "free and wide ranging discussions" between heads of state. He answered with a smile: " Oh that; it means that there was blood and gore all over the floor!" As Will Durant observed: To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy. For, as I discovered for myself, the real secret about diplomats is that they are trained to say something when there is nothing to say, and to say nothing when there is something to say. Extracting any meaningful information out of a diplomat is like trying to squeeze a peg of single malt from Mr. Nitish Kumar.

In the year of our misguided Lord VP Singh 1990 I was posted as Special Assistant to Mr. IK Gujral who was then the External Affairs Minister. He instructed me, meticulous as he was, to obtain an exhaustive briefing from every Divisional Joint Secretary so that when their files started arriving in the Minister's office they would make more sense than the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are as nursery rhymes compared to the cabbalistic code which passes for notings in MEA files. Now, Joint Secretaries in the MEA are designated like latter day potentates- JS ( Americas), JS ( Western Europe), JS  (Africa) and so on, as if they had carved out the globe amongst themselves, in the manner of the British, the Dutch and the Spanish in the good old colonial era.  (Actually, they have, and woe betide any mandarin from any other Ministry who dares to trespass on their turf without the potentate’s say so !). Working my way through Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Africa I finally arrived in the room of South Asia, a slightly portly Bengali gentleman, clearly weighed down by the problems of his intractable empire. It was a post lunch session, and I got the distinct impression that he had secreted a “ rossogolla” in his mouth. " What," I asked him astutely, " is our geo- political strategy in our neighbourhood ?"
" Our long term plan," South Asia announced, " is to make the Indian Ocean a zone of piss."
That, I felt, was certainly a lot of piss. Moreover, since this was a couple of decades before Messers Ajit Pawar and Gadkari  made piss the fulcrum of all rural development programmes, I was non-plussed. " You can't be serious, " I protested,  "surely Sri Lanka and the Maldives wouldn't allow this !"
" They approve of our plan- after all they too are pissful nations."
" What about China?" I countered, drawing on my limited knowledge of geography.
He was ready for that left hook. " Ah! With China we have a different problem- it’s about a shit. They won't give us a shit!"
I wanted to remind him that China had indeed given us a lot of shit in 1962, some of which still stuck, but I let that pass. " Why would we want China to give us a shit ?" I ventured, " don't we already have enough of our own?"
South Asia finally pulled the flush on this inquisitive IAS Special Assistant. Triumphantly, he squared the circle and , cheeks still bulging with that infernal sweetmeat, proclaimed: " There can be no piss in South Asia until China gives us a shit in the Security Council."
I quietly left. This was one conversation I did not share with Mr. Gujral. And now we know why both peace in the Indian ocean and a seat in the UN Security Council has been evading us all this time, and why no Indian Prime Minister has ever received the Nobel Piss Prize. All because of a rossogolla in a Joint Secretary’s mouth, perhaps ?

                           





















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Saturday, 25 August 2018

WORSHIPPING FALSE GODS IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY.


   They are still doing the maths in Kerala, and will for some time: the number of dead and displaced, houses and public property destroyed, quantum of funds/ aid needed for the restoration and rehabilitation. Once that is over the blame game will, as usual, begin in right earnest. Lost in the din of " experts", panelists and politicians will be the the admission that Nature is being blamed unfairly for the destruction and havoc. Yes, the rains in August were about 46% above the average, but Kerala's rivers could have handled most of it if the landscape had not been subjected to gang rape by politicians, administrators, mining barons and the builder mafia. There would have been some damage, certainly, but this kind of apocalypse could have been avoided.
   If only the Centre and the state govt. had paid heed to the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil report of 2011. After a painstaking, two year ground survey of the Western Ghats Gadgil had identified the main activities which were destroying the natural balance of the Ghats: mining, quarrying, illegal construction, deforestation and encroachment of the flood plains of the rivers. He noted that 25% of the 1,64,248 sq. kms of the WG had already been lost and recommended that 64% or 120,000 sq. kms be declared an eco-sensitive zone where none of the above activities, plus hydel projects, should be permitted. All six states trashed the report and the centre appointed another committee- the Kasturirangan Committee - to give a fresh report. The gentleman was a strange choice to begin with and it gave the game away- a distinguished space scientist he probably knew even less about environmental matters than Mr. Javadekar and Harsh Vardhan, the previous and current union Ministers for Environment. It was clear that what was expected from him was a "political" report and not a scientific one, and he obliged. He reduced the ESZ to 37% or 60000 sq. kms, half of Mr. Gadgil's recommendation. This was further reduced by executive fiat to 45000 sq. kms. by Mr. Javadekar and he also allowed mining, construction and hydel projects to continue. And here's the shocking clincher- even this eviscerated decision has not yet been implemented ! Is it any wonder then that Kerala's lovely rivers ( all of which originate from the WG and flow westwards to the Arabian Sea) have been choked with debris and landslides from denuded mountain slopes, its floodplains strangled with all kinds of unregulated construction development, its dams silted ? The correct nomenclature for the current floods is neither Man- made Disaster nor Natural Disaster but Politician- Made Disaster, with Virappa Moily and Javadekar being the presiding deities.
   There is a second cause for this calamity which has not yet been emphasised but will in the coming days: indiscriminate construction of dams and their incompetent operation. Kerala, I learn from reports, has 80 dams of which 39 are major ones. Of the latter, 36 opened their flood gates almost simultaneously precisely at the exact moment when the rainfall was at its most intense, releasing tens of lakhs of cusecs into rivers already drowning in their own waters. The contribution of these dams to the flooding of the state should not be underplayed or passed off as a routine operational hazard- by some estimates they may have been responsible for 40% to 60% of the floods. These dams were meant to prevent floods but have done just the opposite. The last great flood in Kerala was in 1924 when there were no dams at all, but the damage was much less than now. This one fact itself speaks for itself.
  Why does a small state, with abundant water availability, need 80 dams ? Second, why did the govt. or those operating these dams not heed the warning of the IMD that very heavy rains were expected in the second week of August ? The last intense spell of rains had subsided by the end of July and the dam reservoirs were already full to capacity. The New Indian Express has reported on 23.8.2018 that Tamil Nadu had warned the Kerala govt. both in May and June that the reservoirs were filling up and a phased release of water should be initiated immediately. This, along with the IMD forecast should have prompted the dams to gradually release some of the stored water during the ten day window of relatively fair weather in the beginning of August, if not earlier. Not doing so was a criminal error of judgment, and the panic driven opening of the floodgates later was an inevitability.
  Water is an inventory for dams, whether it is used for irrigation or for power generation, or both, as is usually the case. Dam authorities therefore do not want to waste this inventory, for every cusec of water has a monetary value. But water stored in dams is also a potentially massively destructive force if released in an unplanned and uncalibrated way ( as it was in Kerala). Scientific management of dams therefore demands that there must be proper, real time meteorological and flood forecasting data which could help in deciding on water releases. Unfortunately, Kerala has access to neither: IMD data is patchy at best and , even worse, the Central Water Commission or National Flood Forecasting network has no stations in Kerala. I believe they have NOW decided to set them up.
   The bare fact is that there was criminal mismanagement of Kerala's dams. A CAG audit report quoted in the 20th August issue of Down to Earth magazine pointed out that none of the dams have either an Emergency Management Plan or even an O+M manual. Siltation had hugely compromised the storage capacity of the dams. Kerala is naturally flood prone: the Rashtriya Barh Ayog has estimated that 8.70 lakh ha. ( or almost 25%) of its total geographical are of 38 lakh ha. is susceptible to flooding. Experts believe that the flash floods in Wayanad, Chalikudy, Palakkad and Raani are mainly attributable to the opening of the flood gates.
  Not that the mismanagement of dams is unique to Kerala alone. A 2016 CAG report reveals that of the 5254 dams in India Emergency Management Plans exist for only 7% of them; in 8 out of 17 flood prone states there are no integrated flood management plans for river basins either. Most dams are managed by State Electricity Boards, not flood control departments, and the former are naturally reluctant to release any water at all if it is not used for generation of power. There is a clear conflict of interest here, which has played out in Kerala with devastating consequences. The 72 hour weather forecast of IMD is not used to create simulation models for water releases; instead rule of thumb and gut instincts is the normal practice, which is incomprehensible when advanced scientific tools are available.                                                              The whole country and its policy makers should learn lessons from this calamity. There is no point complaining about " unprecedented" rainfall. Every shred of evidence about climate change indicates that EWEs ( Extreme Weather Events) shall now be the norm and we can throw the old logs out of the window. We need to prepare for these paradigm climate changes and not, like our Science and Technology Minister Mr. Harsh Vardhan, trash them because they are " carried out by foreign, not Indian agencies." We need to stop this corporate and mendacious assault on nature, if for nothing then for just the bloody economics of it. How much did Kerala earn out of all those real estate developments, mining, quarrying and power generation accruing from the serial rape of nature all these years? Whatever it was it wouldn't be a fraction of what the state will now have to spend on reconstruction, rehabilitation and lost productivity for years to come. And this does not even factor in the deaths and human misery, even if our rulers treat them as collateral damage in the cause of  "development." Tampering with nature is increasingly becoming a zero sum game.
  I hope Himachal and Uttarakhand are watching.

Friday, 17 August 2018

WHAT IS THE LEGACY OF ATAL BEHARI VAJPAYEE ?


   I'm no astute politician, nor am I a political commentator, just a retired bureaucrat who had the privilege of meeting Mr. Vajpayee only once. It was sometime in 1990, in New York in the UN Plaza hotel in the suite of Mr. IK Gujral, then our External Affairs Minister. We were there to attend a session of the UN General Assembly; as is the practice Mr. Gujral had taken along with him a group of MPs. One evening he had convened an informal meeting of the MPs to discuss his statement to be made the next day at the UN; Mr. Vajpayee was one of the invited MPs. We were all sitting around, the discussions in full flow, when he arrived, about fifteen minutes late. I immediately got up and offered him my chair ( all had been taken). He patted me on my shoulder, asked me to continue sitting, and went and perched on the window sill ! On being queried by Mr. Gujral on his unusual choice of a seat he said: " I can make a quicker exit from here!" His lack of ego and sense of understated humour were his abiding hallmarks.
  Much will be said and written about him in the coming days by people far more qualified than me to do so. But as a citizen who has as equal a stake in this country as the politicians, perhaps more so because I pay my taxes honestly, I can't help but wonder: what is the legacy of this great man? Is it the Pokharan nuclear blast, or the bus ride to Lahore, or the improvement of relations with the West, or the failure to dismiss the then Gujarat Chief Minister in 2002 ? These are certainly important milestones in his career as PM, but somehow they do not describe the man, only the politician. And that is inadequate to chronicle the life of a statesman. A colossus has to be remembered for what he was, not just what he did; for abiding values, not transactional achievements.
  Therefore, for me, Mr. Vajpayee's true legacy is that of a gentleman politician in an age when they had already started transmuting to a lower species; a sensitive soul with the heart of a poet; an aesthete who loved literature, fine wine, good food; an orator par excellence who killed with kindness, not invective and abuse; a gladiator ( he was that too, make no mistake) whose weapon of choice was the rapier, not the bludgeon; a man of rock solid principles ( ask the RSS) in an era of opportunists; a man who assimilated, not fractured; joined hearts and minds, not sundered them. His was the perfect fusion of head and heart.
  He left a second legacy too, unfortunately. This was his single handed achievement of making the BJP a mainstream party, giving it a respectability and acceptability it had unsuccessfully striven for since 1947. LK Advani may have got them the votes after his Rath yatra but it was Mr. Vajpayee who gave them legitimacy and brought the BJP to power, not only during his own tenure, but even after he was rendered incapacitated. Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah owe him this debt of gratitude: I doubt if they will concede this, however.
  It is a tragic irony that Mr. Vajpayee's first and preeminent legacy- that of a noble human being- has been squandered by those who followed him and all that is now left of it is a tattered rag or two, hanging limply in a Devil's wind. The second legacy lives on, and is perhaps even prospering. I do not think that would have made him happy for it runs counter to every grain in his DNA. On the sorry ruins of his first  bequest has arisen an ugly edifice cemented together by power, money, egos, invectives, vindictiveness, intolerance and worse. It is a cold, heartless and inhospitable  fortress he would not have been comfortable in, for it is dedicated to war and strife, not peace and harmony. And this is true of not only his own party but of all political parties in the country- the BJP is the Pied Piper and the others are rodents happy to follow the music of discord.
  Two legacies, then. One already dead, the other following the unintended course of Frankenstein's horrible creation. It must pain the great man's soul to see how his legacy is playing out.
  These were Mr. Vajpayee's words as a tribute to Nehru on his death:
" Bharat Mata is grief stricken today. She has lost her favourite prince. Humanity is sad today. It has lost its devotee. Peace is restless today. Its protector is no more... The common man has lost the light in his eyes."
  One noble human being recognizing another. Deja  vu ?
   

Saturday, 11 August 2018

HANG ON GUYS, THERE'S A GOAT HERE !


    I guess it was bound to happen sooner rather than later, given the country's appalling  sex ratio and the increasing number of rapes. It appears that the country is running out of girls to rape and, in the true spirit of the Start Up India campaign, going in for innovations and diversification with some political parties providing the venture capital. It is entirely appropriate that a beginning has been made in Haryana which has probably the lowest sex ratio in the country- 834 girls for every 1000 boys. I refer, of course, to the news reports last week of six men having been arrested in that blessed state for having forced and "unnatural sex" with a she goat.
   The state govt. has promised to build a wool-proof case against them but I have my doubts. For one, the police have not been able to record the victim's statement ( a crucial piece of evidence) because, when asked to name the accused, all it says is "Baa-Baa". The usual prime time panelists have opined that this will not stand up in court because India, at last count, had 25 million Babas including Baba Ramdev and Baba Asa Ram. Identification, therefore, shall be a major problem: the ID parade would dwarf the Republic Day parade. Second, the accused will certainly claim that the sex was consensual, that the goat had opted for what is nowadays known as strategic promiscuity: a romp with these lusty lads instead of an appointment with the butcher. This is a reasonable defence, since such trade offs are common- nay, a sine qua non - in all walks of modern life : in films, politics, corporates, police stations, even in universities. As the blonde advised the neophyte: If you wanna go up, baby, you gotta lie down. Moreover, the suspects are also claiming that the goat specifically nodded its head when they popped the question to it. The fact that goats are always nodding their heads does not weaken this defence: a Delhi High Court judgement last year had laid down that the lack of consent has to be conveyed with a loud, unequivocal NO, otherwise consent has to be presumed. ( Please refer to my earlier blog on the subject dated 30.9.2017  : FIFTY SHADES OF NO) . Nodding and bleating certainly does not convey this sense of rejection. And finally, of course, there is the issue of  "corpus delicti" i.e. the goat itself which has to be produced before the court. I have it on good authority that it was converted into mutton biryani in the police station, and washed down with some of the impounded liquor borrowed from Bihar, kept for just such an occasion. No victim, no case, your honour. I suspect that the six accused will be released very soon and publicly garlanded: it was a goat, after all, not a cow.
    But wait! There is another defence for the accused if the judge happens to be a learned JNU type, steeped in history. These days in India, legal provisions and scientific evidence are of no avail when confronted with mythology: the latter prevails over everything. And on the basis of mythology the accused can claim that sex with the goat was not unnatural, but par for the course. Ancient Greek and Roman mythology abounds with references to the goat as a lascivious, promiscuous, over-sexed, lecherous animal. Part of the retinue of Dionysus, the god of fertility and merry making, it frequently caught hold of nymphs in forest glades and had sex with them. Their offspring were the fauns and satyrs of fables, half goat and half human being. Shepherds, miles away from GB Road and Sonagachi, had to make do with ewes ( hence the French word for "yes"- oui). There is even a fable related by the unhappily named Aelianus which records that the alpha billy goat of a flock, in a fit of carnal possessiveness, was so angered by this encroachment on its territory that one day he butted the shepherd to death over a cliff, literally nipping the problem in the butt, as it were. Even the immortal Picasso was so impressed with the goat's raunchy reputation that they are a constant theme running through his works- sketches, paintings, sculptures. He even kept a goat as a pet and used it as a model. One of his most famous sculptures- Le Chevre- is that of a goat, as too one of his better known canvases- Girl With a Goat. 
   Mythology, therefore, will be a stout defense to establish that sex between man and goat is sanctified by history and culture, that the antecedents of the goat establish that it is a lecherous animal, that it is fairly eclectic in its choice of sexual partners, and that what the six did was neither unnatural nor non-consensual. They were only continuing with the transhumant traditions of yore. They simply gave back what their female ancestors had goat- sorry, got.
They will, of course, be acquitted by our benevolent legal system, just as 76 out of 100 rape accused are as per NCR data. But I am still bothered by two questions. Will these six Haryanvi stalwarts henceforth be known as Mutton Buggers ? And if by some chance the goat had managed to escape their clutches, would it have been termed an Escapegoat? Maybe some of my readers can enlighten me, or else I shall have no other option but to approach Mr. V. Raja, the acknowledged escapegoat in the 2G case, for a byte or at least a nibble.