Saturday, 30 July 2016


   Mr. Modi takes no prisoners. He is not magnanimous in victory or humble in defeat, He is a bad loser and has yet to get over the whupping that Kejriwal gave him in Delhi last year: unlike seasoned politicians who take a defeat or two in their stride, Mr. Modi has decided to stake his all in swatting this impudent bacillus in his backyard, even if its the last thing he ever does: the irony is- it WILL be the last thing he does, or to be more correct, the last thing he ATTEMPTS to do.
   Forget, dear reader, the merits or otherwise of Kejriwal's government: there will be a time to discuss that elsewhere: there have been far worse state( and central) govts. in our sorry history. The whole point of democracy is that properly elected govts have a right to exist: this, quite clearly, is one lesson of democracy ( there are others too) that Mr. Modi has forgotten to imbibe, which is why he keeps flunking the test whenever the Supreme Court asks the questions. He failed the test first in Uttarakhand, and again in Arunachal Pradesh: he can't afford to flunk it again ( its bit like a doping test for international sports- three fails and you're out on your backside).
   And so Mr. Modi has devised a new SOP for Mr. Kejriwal and Delhi, against whom he has deployed more heavy artillery than he has along the LOC with Pakistan: the Home Ministry, the Lieutenant Governor, CBI, Anti Corruption Branch, Income Tax Deptt, Election Commission, the three Municipal Corporations. As I write this, of the 67 MLAs of AAP in Delhi, FIRs have been filed against 12 ( of whom 11 have been arrested), the 13th ( Rajesh Rishi of Janakpuri) will probably have been arrested by the time you read this, the 14th ( Kartar Singh of Chhatarpur) has just been subjected to an Income Tax raid at his office and residence, and a 15th ( of Narela) has been named in an abetment to suicide FIR even though the suicide note nowhere names him, and a 16th ( AAP leader, not MLA), Swati Maliwal, Chairperson of the Delhi Women's Commission has been booked in another frivolous case. A 17th, Naresh Yadav has been arrested by the Punjab police for desecration, simply on the statement of someone ( Mr. Badal is a quick learner), An FIR has just been registered by a dismissed AAP MLA, Asim Khan of Matia Mahal alleging death threats to him from Kejriwal, no less: I wouldn't be surprised if this is used to nail Kejriwal. If you think this is beginning to sound like an Agatha Christie murder mystery( " and then there were none...."), you'd be right, but wait- there's more. There's a legal John Grisham twist too.
   Another 21 MLAs of AAP are likely to be disqualified soon because they were appointed Parliamentary Secretaries without an enabling law. It was stupid of Kejriwal to have done so without ensuring that the legislation was in place, but then how was he to know that the law in India has more twists and turns than one of Baba Ramdev's yogic asanas, or India's Pakistan policy ? Why should his MLas be disqualified and not those of the 13 other states who also have Parliamentary Secretaries? Why was his legislation not approved by the Union Govt. when similar laws of other states have been approved? Why is the Election Commission picking on Delhi alone for examining this issue and not the other states? Why, for instance, does Himachal still have Parliamentary Secretaries when the High Court has ruled against the practice ? If the other states can hide their nakedness behind the fig leaf of a law then why deny this fig leaf to Kejriwal ?
   Because the others did not give Mr. Modi a whupping he'll never live down, even if he continues as PM for the next hundred years. Because he wants the Delhi govt. to fall so that elections can be held again and Mr. Modi can redeem himself again. Its a bit like Sushil Kumar, having lost out to Narsingh Yadav for the Olympics, insisting on a re-trial. Hell hath no fury like a pracharak scorned.
   In pursuance of his scorched earth policy- for the price is being paid by ordinary Delhi-ites( that is, those who don't live in Lutyen's Delhi)- Mr. Modi will just not let the Delhi govt. function. Kejriwal is not allowed any say in the postings of his officers ( always an accepted privilege of a Chief Minister): officers are shunted in and out of Delhi( mainly out) at the whims of the Home Ministry, and within Delhi by the LG. They have no accountability to the Chief Minister and are constantly looking towards North Block or the Raj Bhavan for their very survival. The Delhi Police are Mr. Modi's hit men, told to pick off one MLA or the other on any charge- it doesn't matter that the charges are trumped up and will ultimately fail: in our judicial system the process of proving oneself innocent is the real punishment, and the arbiters of this are the police, not the judiciary.
  The Delhi police will not cooperate with Kejriwal on any matter, the latest instance being the just concluded 3 day strike by auto and taxi unions. Instigated by the BJP, these goons employed violence and intimidation to ensure that even those autos/ taxis which wanted to ply were not allowed to, and the 70000 odd police force did nothing to stop this hooliganism. I myself witnessed this on the 27th evening, at Madhu Vihar in east Delhi. Autos were being forcibly stopped by gangs of ruffians, their drivers being roughed up and their keys taken away. Not 20 meters away stood a group of cops, watching benignly, splendidly indolent as the law was being beaten to a pulp within sight.
  The FIRs against, and the arrests of, AAP MLAs is far worse because these are law makers who are being intimidated and prevented from doing their job. It is no coincidence that, except in a couple of FIRS, in all the others the charges are of " molestation" , "intimidation" and " outraging the modesty" of women. There is a reason for this: thanks to recent badly conceived amendments to the law no evidence is needed to level this charge other than an unsupported statement of the complainant ( poor Justice Verma must be turning in his grave at maximun revolutions). We all know how adept the police are at extracting " statements", and this law has come in very handy for them in executing Mr. Modi's grand plan. In fact, its becoming a bit hilarious now: every second day we have some woman or the other coming out of the woodwork screaming, having just realised that she has been " molested" by an AAP leader and insisting that he be arrested. Meanwhile, of course, the real rapes continue unabated because our police are busy rounding up Kejriwal's supporters.
  Every single initiative of Kejriwal is being sabotaged. The Home Ministry will not clear at least twelve Bills passed by the Delhi Assembly relating to initiatives on health, education, land use, etc., on ridiculous " technical" grounds, because the BJP doesn't wish to see him deliver on any of his election promises. The DDA will not transfer land needed for public infrastructure( new schools, hospitals, bus stands) for the same reason. The three Corporations( all controlled by the BJP) will cooperate in NOTHING- they have already instigated three strikes by their employees in the last 18 months, hoping that the resultant civic mess will rebound badly on Kejriwal's administration. The LG will raise innumerable objections on every proposal of the Delhi govt. and accord his grudging approval only when he can squat on it no longer.
  What Mr. Modi is doing to a constitutionally elected govt. in Delhi is an affront to the people of Delhi. He should let the state govt. function and stand or fall on its own merits. If, as some believe strongly, Kejriwal is a charlatan who is taking the people for a ride, then let the electorate of Delhi decide his future. By misusing the coercive power of the union govt. to undermine Kejriwal's administration, Mr. Modi is only exposing his petty mind-set and a deep insecurity, which the people of Delhi ( and other states) are bound to see through sooner or later. This can only benefit Kejriwal.
  Mr. Modi is also making a big mistake by reposing so much faith in the arrogance of his position and power. Kejriwal is a fighter. The Prime Minister can do worse than ponder over the words of Mark Twain:
    " Its not about the size of the dog in the fight, its about the size of the fight in the dog." 

Sunday, 24 July 2016


   Generations of Indian politicians have pledged the obvious: Kashmir is an "integral part " of India. But how about the Kashmiris ? Are they also an integral part of India, or is our policy a real estate venture: the land belongs to India and the Kashmiris can shove off wherever they want to go? Right now it very much appears to be the policy of the NDA govt, Over the last week or so mainstream India- government politicians and spokesmen, the often obnoxious social media, news channels of the TIMES NOW and NEWS X xenophobic variety- certainly convey the impression that the Kashmiris  don't matter, they are collateral damage in our face-off with Pakistan, or, even worse, collaborators with the latter, and that they deserve what's coming to them. There is absolutely no sympathy for the more than 40 who have died, the 100 or so who have been blinded for life, the 1500 admitted to hospitals with serious injuries, the millions who have been locked up in their houses for the last one week. Their double standards are so disgustingly obvious: these are the same people who will bring the roof down if the Delhi police beat up someone at Jantar Mantar! For them, Kashmiris are not Indian. Why then should they be shocked if the ordinary Kashmiri has now started reciprocating this feeling?
   Kashmir is part of India, yes, but it right now resembles nothing more than an occupied territory where human rights have been mortgaged to the " security concerns" of the state. According to the latest available information there are almost 500,000 security personnel deployed in the valley, comprising 3,37,000 army, 60 battalions of CRPF and 80,000 police ( this figure was 41,332 in 1997). This does not include the scores of additional battalions that are pushed in whenever there is a problem ( as now). This is by far the highest per capita deployment in any state, except perhaps in the north-east, even after allowing for the army needed for the border with Pakistan. Such massive display of force for decades is bound to effect the psyche of the people. A recent report by Medecins sans Frontieres states that 45% Kashmiris suffer from mental illiness. Studies from other occupied territories in the past- Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Afghanistan- have shown that long term deployment of armed force in an area leads to feelings of tension and conflict in the local communities.
   Added to this is the complete legal immunity provided to the armed forces under AFSPA( Armed Forces Special Powers Act), the thousands of hectares of private land and buildings forcibly occupied by them; the constant beatings, mid-night raids, detentions, disappearances and the occasional rapes; the frequent curfews, suspension of the inter-net and mobile telephony, and even press censorship ( as was ordered last week for three days). No right thinking man would call this concoction the spirit of democracy or the lot of a free people. And the digiterrati of Delhi still wonder why the Kashmiris feel alienated?
   Mr. Modi had inherited a Kashmir on the mend. Post 2010 there had been no major disturbance in the valley, the economy was finally looking up, tourism was booming again. Even militancy was on the wane: militancy related deaths were consistently coming down- from 4507 in 2001 to 2542 in 2003 to just 174 in 2015 ( these are figures released by the govt.). Both the Panchayat elections in 2011  and the Assembly elections last year saw an overwhelming turnout in the face of threats by militants. The transfer of power from the NC to the PDP-BJP combine in 2015 was more orderly and smooth than in most other states. The queues of local youth lining up for recruitment in the army and police were growing longer ( even the army commanders were pleasantly surprised by this!). More young  Kashmiris have joined the civil services in the last five years than in the last five decades. Following the initiatives taken by Vajpayee and Advani Mamnmohan Singh had even reached out to the separatists leadership. The golden tree in our own Eden had begun to bear fruit, slowly and painfully, but the green shoots were visible.
   Mr. Modi and his NDA ( egged on by channels such as Times Now and NewsX) have squandered this legacy in just two years and taken Kashmir back two decades. In a fatal misjudgement Mr. Modi and his hawkish advisors have inexorably linked Kashmir with the Pakistan imbroglio, have failed to distinguish between terrorists and common protesters, and have refused to recognise that the alienation of the average Kashmiri is due to INTERNAL reasons and not to the festering problem of terrorism from across the border.
   The central govt. has refused to talk to anyone in Kashmir. It has arrogantly treated the separatists like lepers, and even called off talks with Pakistan on this churlish issue, forgetting  that far wiser statesmen from their own party like Vajpayee and Advani had engaged with them. One cannot choose one's adversary according to one's convenience, and the separatists are a force to reckon with in the valley: two separate Chief Ministers of Kashmir ( including the present one) have acknowledged this by secretly requesting them to persuade the people to call off their protests, but New Delhi persists in doing the Dhritrashtra thing.
It also forgets in the process that, historically, separatist agitations in the north-east have been resolved by TALKING to their leaders- with Laldenga, the ULFA, the Bodos. Ironically, the latter two are now the BJP's partner in govt. in Assam, and it has just signed a peace deal with the Nagas ! Does history have to be two thousand years old for the BJP to acknowledge it ? The separatists are a divided lot  in the valley, with extreme and moderate factions: by refusing to engage at least with the latter Mr. Modi has displayed exemplary arrogance and a hermetically sealed mind.
  He has committed another policy disaster by putting all his eggs in the Pakistan basket, effectively eschewing any initiative or action on Kashmir unless Pakistan plays ball. In other words, peace in the valley has now been made hostage to the issue of Pakistan inspired terrorism- this is an Indian decision, not a Pakistani one! Yes, cross border terrorism has to be handled firmly, and we have been successful in doing so: in the early years of this millenium there were at least 3000 foreign terrorists operating in the valley, the figure now is only 54. All the more reason, you would think, to finally provide the healing touch to this ravaged paradise- start implementing some of the recommendations of the Group of Interlocutors appointed by the last govt. ( gathering dust for two years), consider partial withdrawal of AFSPA, return their lands to the Kashmiris, start compensating the dead and dying in police excesses( as in other parts of the country), reduce the ubiquitous presence of armed forces in the valley, start talking to all influential shades of opinion ?
  The govt. thinks differently. It looks at Kashmir only through its Pakistan prism and keeps parroting the alibi most convenient to it, viz. that the Kashmir problem is exclusively Pakistan's creation. It was, to begin with, and still is to some extent, but more and more it has become a New Delhi created problem because the centre refuses to consider the valley as an " integral part of India" but as an occupied territory with a hostile population who have to be suppressed by force. It fails to see that the alienation and anger in Kashmir is no longer a Pakistani export, but home grown, and its roots lie in the  mounting distrust of New Delhi and its complete loss of credibility. For the first time, according to the army itself, the number of local terrorists has exceeded the foreign ones: of the 145 terrorists operating in Kashmir, 91 are local boys and only 54 are foreign. This former number will grow exponentially after the latest botch up. The writing is on the wall, written in the blood of generations of Kashmiris, but New Delhi will not read it.
   The reason is obvious.The BJP of today, with its strident and aggressive brand of a unilateral, majoritarian, religio-cultural nationalism, has painted itself into a corner. Kashmir, unfortunately, cannot be separated from the BJP's Muslim agenda. It is India's only Muslim majority state, and the DNA of the BJP will not permit it to make peace with the Muslim community. Any such effort , it fears, will alienate its own xenophobic vote bank with which Mr. Modi and the RSS hope to return in 2019. Hence, no concessions can ever be made to the community, no compromises, no give and take, no words of comfort from the PM for a suffering population ( only the dispatch of more battalions to the valley), no apologies in Parliament but only a proforma appeal. That is why obliging channels have been coopted to condemn the Kashmiris as traitors, trolls let loose on social media to stifle any contrary view. That is also why, in spite of being in power in Kashmir along with the PDP, the central govt has effectively emasculated the Chief Minister and constantly seeks to push its own agenda in the valley- raking up Article 370, beef ban, the issue of the state flag etc. periodically. In the myopic view of the govt. any hostile action by Pakistan is adequate justification for inaction in Kashmir.
   The BJP is genetically incapable of healing the wounds in Kashmir or of applying the balm of conciliation. This fatal flaw in its DNA is the cause for its inability to bridge the trust and confidence deficit in the valley. The consequences will be disastrous. Kashmir is being pushed into a Gaza like position where opposition to the Indian state can only become more entrenched. This oppression in the valley is creating space for ISIS and Al Qaeda to establish a foothold in the valley ( something which they have not been able to do in India so far), which can then become a launch pad for inserting terrorism into the rest of the country. The signs are ominous: for perhaps the first time, army and police stations and pickets are being targeted, grenades being hurled, police personnel being taken hostage and a vast store of arms have been looted. The state will retaliate with even more naked force, human right violations will increase and the international community shall have to take notice, which is the last thing India would want. Already even China has started making noises and cautioning India: it now appears to be making common cause with Pakistan even on this issue. The Muslim community in other states in India cannot long remain unaffected by this alienation and suppression in Kashmir.                                                                                                            Only Mr. Modi has the power to transcend the anti- Muslim baggage of the BJP and break this vicious cycle of history, to which all parties have historically contributed. What is needed from him is a Vajpayee like vision and statesmanship. He HAS to speak up and give up this sphinx-like silence. He HAS to realise that the time has come to break the old mould in which our Kashmir policy has been shaped all these years. The only solution now is to honour our 60 year old pledges to the people of Kashmir, to give them greater political, legislative and administrative autonomy, and eschew the majoritarian mind set with which we have been viewing Kashmir all these years. India must regard not only Kashmir, but also Kashmiris, as Indian. He has to create a new template for Kashmir. Is he up to it ? And are the other parties, all equally lacking in any vision, prepared to support him in the unlikely event that he finally shows some real statesmanship? I am not optimistic. Time is running out for the Indian govt.- soon there shall be no one to talk with: such is the anger in the valley this time that even the local parties- the PDP, NC and Congress-and even the separatists are a discredited lot and running out of influence to shape events. A revolution without a leader is the most dangerous, as history has repeatedly shown.
   In the meantime, of course, Pakistan is inching closer to its goal and General Raheel Sharif is no doubt laughing all the way to the bunker.  

Saturday, 16 July 2016


    I am always fascinated by the manner in which genuine democracies respect the feelings of their people and hold their leaders accountable, no matter how much of a superstar they may be. One such event is playing out in Britain as I write this- no, I do not refer to Brexit ( which is a done deal) but to the Chilcot report on the Iraq war, more specifically on Britain's role in it. Vast millions in Britain had opposed this war but Tony Blair ( now known as the Bliar), the then Prime Minister and pet poodle of George W Bush, had rail- roaded the UK into it, resulting in the deaths of more than 200 British soldiers ( and 150,000 Iraqis who of course don't matter).
   In a remarkable report running into 3 million words Lord Chilcot has finally nailed the lie that Blair and Bush had been pedaling for the last 15 years. He has unequivocally held  that Blair had decided to go to war " come what may" in blind support of Bush, that he made no effort to verify or establish the authenticity of the reports that Saddam had developed weapons of mass distruction, that he deliberately disregarded the warnings of eminent and knowledgeable experts that these reports were false, that he was aware that the war would result in thousands of civilian casualties, that he had prepared no contingency plan for the post war phase, that he supported Bush in not waiting for a UN mandate before rushing in. The report just stops short of stating that he has blood on his hands- Muslim and Christian.
   It is a singular report in many ways. Not many countries would have commissioned such an inquiry, let alone make the report public. Few inquiry officers would have been so independent and forthright in their conclusions. Even more remarkable, however, have been the developments following the release of the report. For one Mr. Bliar who once described himself ( in an unwise but prescient moment) as " an animal" in bed, is now running for cover like said animal, trying to explain his position, but neither the British press nor the public are buying any of his self-serving bullshit, especially as he continues to make millions as an advisor to assorted dictators.
   The real significance of the Chilcot report, in my view, is that it will become a watershed in the process of sovereign decision-making and the accountability of those who take such decisions. In other words: can the citizens of a country challenge the decision of its government to go to war, and can they hold the Ministers of that government answerable and culpable for the consequences?
   Such a question has never been asked before ( legally, not politically) in any country. Till now the doctrine of eminent domain has preempted accountability, but by asking this question now the citizens of Britain are pushing the frontiers of jurisprudence to unfamiliar but welcome areas. There is no law in the UK which can validate such a challenge but demands are now growing for bringing in such a law, so that no Prime Minister in future can convert his personal prejudices or sycophantic fawning into state policy for declaration of war. This is a huge step forward in citizens reclaiming their sovereignty from their leaders.
    Secondly, there is a distinct possibility that the families of the British servicemen who were killed in the war may take Blair to court for criminal and civil liabilities. Legally, it will be a difficult struggle for two reasons: [a] the Chilcot report does not accuse Blair of lying or deliberately concealing or falsifying the facts advanced by him before declaring war, and [2] there is no specific provision of law that can be invoked against him to hold him personally culpable for the deaths. But law is a dynamic and evolving subject, its interpretations can be innovative, and the case itself( even if it is unsuccessful) can be another path-breaking warning signal to future leaders. It may even result in the enactment of a law for just such a contingency in future.
   And finally, a muted question that will be posed in the days to come is: should, or can, Bush, Blair et al be hauled up before the International War Crimes Tribunal ? It may be sacrilegious in the western world to even think of this, given that the Tribunal has so far hauled up only African and east European leaders, but the Chilcot report will force the world to ask this question. After all, there is no longer any doubt that the war, and the consequent destabilisation of half a dozen countries and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands, was a crime of the highest magnitude and its perpetrators should be tried for it. This is unlikely to happen, however, but the very attempt will be a victory for human rights. Some battles have to be fought, even though defeat is assured.

              *                                   *                                             *                                   *

   Indians take death too seriously, notwithstanding their spiritual faith that it is just a transition from the body to the eternal soul, a release- " Moksha"- from all mortifications of the flesh. We remember the dead with sadness and despair and ourselves descend into despondency, and relive the depressing memory every year by holding grim functions. No doubt, some of this is due to the Brahmin pundits who make a better living the longer they can keep you in this miserable state. But it is also due to our taking ourselves too seriously and refusing to lighten up or letting go.
   We lack the god-given gift of humour which is the best antidote to misery and sorrow. In a funny way it reinforces the love we had for the departed, and imbues our memories of them with fondness, which tempers the inevitable sadness, and makes the latter more bearable. This is not to decry the loss of a loved one but to remember him/her the way they would have liked us to: surely, they would like us to be happy, not moping all the time ? We should learn something from the western/ caucasian civilisations who can chuckle at themselves even in death- or at death. There is a whole genre of graveyard jokes and I would like to share some of them with the reader. For these I am indebted to my brother-in-law Colonel ( retired, but not hurt) Amit Shukla who has promised to relate a few at my graveside in the highly likely event that he out-lives me ( being a fauji, he has pickled himself in liquor from a very young age, and we all know the preservative qualities of hooch):

                                        EPITAPHS  TO  REMEMBER

[1]   In a New Hampshire cemetery:
                " Tears cannot restore her
                   therefore I weep."
[2]   In a London cemetery ( about a spinster):
                 " Here lies Ann Mann,
                   who lived an old maid
                   but died an old Mann."
[3]   In Kilmurry churchyard, Ireland:
                 " This stone was raised by Sara's Lord
                    Not Sara's virtues to record,
                    For they are known to all the town.
                    This stone was raised to keep her down."
[4]   A lawyer's epitaph in London:
                 " Sir John Strange.
                    Here lies an honest lawyer,
                    And that is strange."
[5]   On an auctioneer's grave:
                    Jeddiah Goodwin. Auctioneer.
[6]   On an Attorney's grave:
                   " John E Goembel. 1867-1946.
                     The defence rests."
[7]   In a Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery:
                   " Here lies the body
                      0f Jonathan Blake
                      Stepped on the gas
                     Instead of the brake."

   I am fairly inspired by these epitaphs to want to have one for myself when, in the goodness of time, the lord decides that I have inflicted enough misery on the reading public and orders me off this planet. But, knowing that my friends are too lazy to attempt anything but an SMS, I have prepared my own epitaph for my grave at Purani Koti, Mashobra. It goes like this:

      AVAY SHUKLA.  BORN- 1950.  BRAIN DEAD- circa 1995. LEGALLY DEAD- 20XX

                    " Here lies an unrepentant IAS soul.
                      One we were wary, but proud, of.
                      It was his boast
                      He could handle any post,
                      But he's now in a hole
                      He can't dig himself out of!"

We come into this world crying; lets leave it laughing.


Saturday, 9 July 2016


    I am a fairly obtuse but stubborn 65 year old. I've had a dumb ( as opposed to " smart") cell phone for the last ten years but have now come under intense pressure from my extended family ( extending, that is, to UP, Bengal,Mumbai, Delhi and assorted jails in these states) to acquire a Smart 4G phone. For me this is a major culture shock: the only Gs I know are G Force and G -string and how, when the former acts on the latter, new worlds are revealed. At this stage in my life I don't need any more Gs- I can barely cope with the afore mentioned two.
   To convince me my sons tantalisingly hold out the promise of new dimensions via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Linked- in, Whatsapp, and of how I would be connected 24 x 7 with everybody and can follow all their activities. I am not impressed: I can conceive of nothing more distasteful than " following" Subramaniam Swamy on his venomous ( character) assassination forays, or Salman Khan whose patently non-existent acting skills leave him sexually exhausted ( he should see a doctor pronto), or even Arnab Goswami and his Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder ( temper tantrums, for those who went to Hindu college). Furthermore, I have no interest in seeing photos of what the food on your plate looks like ( if you've seen my wife's cooking you'd understand what I mean), or of your adorable pooch  counting up to ten ( most IAS guys can do that too- well, at least the junior ones can), or of you pumping iron at the gym like Robert Vadhra before setting forth on his next land acquisition spree. I also don't want instant updates of " breaking" news, i.e. members of Ram Sena breaking heads in Pune, riots breaking out in some UP town, Kejriwal breaking bread with the Vice President at an Iftar party, an epidemic of infant deaths breaking out in a Malda hospital, Vijay Mallya breaking a bottle of Champagne as he arrives at Heathrow with a billion dollars of our money, or the BJP breaking governments in Uttarakhand or Arunachal Pradesh. Breaking news is invariably depressing, and it will reach me inevitably, smart phone or dumb phone- what's the hurry?
   "But Dad, consider the Apps( says Saurabh) they'll change your life!"
That's exactly what I don't want, son- after 65 years I've got kinda used to this life and don't want to change it now. I know Google store has three million apps out there, not counting the one which tells you when your bowel wants to move. but I can manage my remaining years on this mortal coil without them. I don't need one to tell me when I've done my daily quota of exercises- my gasping, monoxide filled lungs( I live in Delhi, see) signal that instantly. I also don't need one to turn on the AC or the fridge or the microwave- I keep them on all the time in anticipation of approaching Alzheimers. And I can count my calories without the assistance of another stupid App- the count never exceeds a healthy ten, which is the limit of my mathematical prowess ( I retired from the IAS, remember ?).
   I don't need a dating App either- these days I can't even get a date from my wife ! And in any case I disapprove of this particular App which searches out an appropriate date for you in a nano second. In my time we did the searching the proper way- by hanging around outside LSR or IP colleges( Miranda House was reserved for the dudes from St. Stephens, so help them God) every evening, revving up our silencer-less bikes ( equivalent to the mating call of the Silver-Back gorilla ) and offering to ferry the chosen damsel to Khyber Pass for an aloo ka paratha. It never worked, of course, but look at the brighter side- we didn't end up getting divorced, like the nano-second guys, on the first weekend after the nuptials. As the wise guy said: If you don't do the leg-work you'll end up doing the house-work.
    Then there's Ashley Madison ( " Life is short, have an affair"). Probably the best piece of advice since the blonde said " If you can't make it then fake it !" But who'd want to have an affair with a retired bureaucrat who's more comfortable in bed with files than women ?
   And finally, there are the issues relating to health and well being. I am in good health, all my organs are OEM grade original ( unlike those of Rakhi Sawant, I believe), I avoid doctors like the Zica virus, and my heart ticks along nicely, except for a little fibrillation whenever I see an image of Sunny Leone- but I'm told that's par for the course with Indian males who were deprived of sex education in primary school. And therefore I am alarmed by the new ailments and phobias that( international research has shown) are caused by the smart-phone. Here is a list of them:
* MOPHOBIA-------------- fear of losing your cell phone ( it is NOT fear of Mr. Modi)
*NOMOPHOBIA----------- fear of having no mobile phone.
* TEXTAPHRENIA-------- thinking a message has arrived when it has not.
* TEXTIETY --------------- panic attacks over not receiving or sending text messages.
* FOMO--------------------- fear of not being the first to read, share or comment on a tweet.
* SELFITIS----------------- an obsession with clicking selfies- at least five a day.
* IAD------------------------ Internet Addiction Disorder- living entirely in the virtual world.
* SMA----------------------- Social Media Addiction-urge to use social media, check updates, all day.
* PVS------------------------ Phantom Vibration Syndrome- imagining that your phone is ringing.
* DIGITAL POUTING----- avoiding all contact with others by playing games, listening to music or
                                        watching videos on your smart phone.
* FAD------------------------ Facebook Addiction Disorder: endlessly posting pictures and waiting for 
                                         posts from friends on networking sites.
  So wake up folks, its time to get seriously worried, especially if you are among the 20% who use their smart phone while having sex ( the Blonde again:"You're not the only thing turned on, honey !"), or the 84% who take their phones to bed, or the 15% who text while driving, or the 56% who check phones during meals. It looks like the human race is on course for another evolutionary milestone: it took us 7 million years to evolve from the Neanderthal man to homo habilis to homo erectus to homo sapiens, but it will take us just a couple of hundred years now ( thanks to the smart phone) to evolve into homo digitallis- a lump of protoplasm with two index fingers and two thumbs sticking out. Looks like God would have finally given us the finger!

Incidentally, I'm waiting for an App that will tell us when the next peg of single malt is due. I already have a name for it : GLENLIVITAPP. Live it up, right? Maybe I'll consider a smart phone then.

                     *                                        *                                     *                               *

    I did not want to refer to politics of any kind in this piece but I cannot leave the reader without expressing my quiet delight at Mr. Javadekar's exit from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. He has been, by a long shot, the worst Minister we have had in this Ministry. He was actually a mole representing the Industry and Power lobby and it will take years for our environment and wildlife to recover from his depredations. He sanctioned 90% of the proposals for Forest clearances put up to him: the rejection rate for him has been just 0.01% ! In just two years he has cleared 301 projects whereas in five years the UPA had cleared just 260; he has rejected only 4 projects as against the UPA figure of 68. He has done all this by wrecking the regulatory and oversight mechanism carefully built over the past decades, packing his Commissions, Committees and Boards with professional hangers on like Mr. TSR Subramaniam, aided and abetted by his Govt's repression of NGOs.
   Mr. Javadekar's successor, Mr. Anil Madhav Dave has been a river conservation activist and hopefully we can expect more sensitivity for the natural environment from him, and a reduced promiscuity in jumping into bed with industry. This remains to be tested, however, because it is the PMO which calls the shots and it is quite clear by now that the PMO is only interested in GDP figures. We live in hope, however, and would expect that the first issues the new Minister takes up would be the insidious move by his predecessor to dilute the Coastal Zone Regulations  and the attempt to allow corporates to enter forest areas for monoculture commercial plantations.

Saturday, 2 July 2016


    The Pawan Mukt asana is one of the better known ones in the Yoga portfolio: it is intended to expel the noxious gases in one's body. It is probably also the inspiration behind Mr. Modi's war cry of a " Congress mukt" Bharat in which he has cleverly implanted the notion that the Congress party is nothing but a cloud of foul vapours which has to be voided from the country's body politic. The International Yoga Day has internationalised this message. But its not a good idea, and Mr. Modi should stick to the Pawan Mukt variety.
    A healthy democracy needs a strong ruling party to govern; equally, it needs a strong opposition to keep a check on the government. With either of these mutually balancing elements missing a country would soon descend into either authoritarian rule or into chaos. In the mid seventies it was the latter, today it will be the former if Mr. Modi's modified asana is successful. In fact, it would probably have happened already if the NDA had had a majority in the Rajya Sabha.
   Some would argue that the country already has plenty of opposition in the states led by regional parties like the AIADMK, TMC, JD[U] +RJD, SP, CPI, BJD . Yes, these are powerful regional leaders and groupings, but they do not fulfill the need for a national opposition. For one, they are focused only on state centric issues and more often than not their interests clash with national interests: Jayalalitha is constantly seeking action against Sri Lanka on the fishermen's issue, all Tamil Nadu parties are sympathetic to the LET; Mamta Banerjee is not willing to concede an inch of land or a litre of water to Bangladesh; no Chief Minister( except Kejriwal) is agreeable to an all-India entrance exam for medical colleges; not one state has any concept of foreign policy issues; they all want power but no one is willing to give land for a nuclear power station; preservation of the environment does not even feature anywhere in their party manifestos, and so on. Regional parties live in their own silos and can rarely appreciate national or international concerns.
    Secondly, they are vulnerable to the strategems of a determined central government which can both, offer a carrot or wield a stick. To win over support it can suborn the state parties by financial inducements, allocation of mega projects and other appropriate interventions. It can also intimidate them by withholding  assent to legislation, by use of its coercive apparatus of police, prosecutorial and tax agencies, by destabilising them politically, by manipulating the offices of the Governors, etc. Each one of these tactics has been employed time and again by every party which has come to power at the Centre.
   Thirdly, regional parties can play the role of a national opposition only if they unite to present a joint front in Parliament. But this rarely happens- it has happened only twice in our history, and on both occasions it was a dismal failure- because their mutual rivalries, differing support bases and competing egos ensure they can never sup at the same table. In short, therefore, they can never offer a national opposition.
   There is no regional political party in India today which rules in more than one state. The only party which does so ( other than the ruling BJP, of course) is the Congress, led by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. It is the only party,- tattered, beaten, humiliated, discredited as it is- which can play the role of a national opposition and act as brake on a resurgent BJP. It is not in the country's interest to exterminate it, as Mr. Modi wants to do. If the Congress were to disappear into the mists of history there would be no restraining influence left over the BJP. And the last two years have shown how badly this restraint is needed,
    The BJP is a vigorous, well organised, focused and strategy driven political outfit ( everything the Congress of today is not), but it is Janus faced: development oriented on the one side and culturally revisionist on the other. The former drives its strong economic agenda- power, roads, FDI- which is beginning to show results. But its other face is not so pretty: it projects religious, cultural, social and intellectual intolerance; it loves to confront rather than assuage; it dictates rather than debates; it alienates rather than coopts. It comes across as hard hearted and dismissive of the marginalised, the environment, civil society- no more proof of this is needed than the indifferent budgetary allocations for health, MNREGA, MSP, Sarvshiksha Abhiyan, or the dismantelling of laws that protect the natural environment and tribal communities, or the harsh crack down on NGOs, or the packing of national institutions with ridiculously unqualified individuals. It thrives on divisiveness as Muzzafarnagar, Dadri, Kairana and the PM's studied silence on these incidents show. It is suspicious of those who can think independently and prefers ideological compatibility, not talent, when appointing key functionaries, as the Raghuram Rajan episode displays. The BJP is efficient but not compassionate, ideological but not intellectual, theological but not spiritual, righteous but not  scrupulous, xenophobic but not nationalistic. It has created too many fractures in our social edifice and has widened those fissures which already existed. It cannot keep this country united though it can, perhaps, deliver 8.5% growth rates.
    These antagonistic and negative qualities have to be kept in check, for the long term good of the nation. Only a national party can do so, which, by default, is the Congress. The Congress is dynastic, corrupt, excessively centralised, lacks focus and at the moment no match for Mr. Modi. But it has to step up to the plate.
    Historically, thanks to the founding imprint of Nehru and its legacy of having ruled in practically all states for many decades, the Congress has been a liberal and eclectic party. It has been a synthesiser of conflicting demands, religions, cultures and political aspirations: it does not denounce or demonise them, as the BJP does, but has learnt to coalesce them into a collective ideology which means different things to different people but is accepted by all. At the risk of further offending the BJP faithful, I would go so far as to say that it is a lot like the Hindu religion itself- accepting all shades of opinion and beliefs and coopting them into itself.
   Never was this catholic and inclusive quality needed more than today when the fault lines of religion,caste, regionalism, gender, economic classes, are getting more pronounced each passing day, even in Mr. Modi's own home state. The inflexible ideology and mind set of the BJP and the RSS cannot reconcile these differences. Nor can the regional parties who, in fact, are widening these fault lines. What is needed is a healing touch, not fire and brimstone from a pulpit in Nagpur.
   Let us not forget that the basic groundwork for a compassionate  and responsible society and government was laid down by the Congress through forward looking legislation relating to tribal rights, rural employment, universal education, nutrition for the poor, access to information, minimum wages, environmental protection, and so on. In these areas the BJP has done little else but to either repackage them or bleed them dry. These legislations, and others similar to them, were not mere legal parchment, but the codification of the essential values of a civilised society. By discarding them or minimising their importance the BJP is taking us away from a humane and inclusive society.
    The Congress has lost its way in these last few years and has mired itself in corrupt practices and nepotism. It is not the only party to have done so: barring the Communists, ALL political parties in India wallow in the same mire, including the BJP ( as Vyapam, Chattisgarh, Khadse, Vasundhara Raje's sons' exploits, Sushma Swaraj and Poonam Mahajan exemplify). But it has to find a way of resurrecting itself for the good of the nation for it still is the only party which can counteract the BJP's authoritarian and uncaring agenda. It has the breeding and the DNA for it, if only it can remember its glorious past.
    Mr. Modi knows this and that is why he has he has let loose his dogs of war and embarked on a campaign of personal revenge against the Gandhi family and has resorted to public vilification through innuendos and ( so far) unsubstantiated accusations. Cut off the head and the body will wither away. But revenge is double edged and he would be well advised to heed Confucius: " Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."