Sunday ka Funda

You go out for a meal and take a picture and post it. What are you really telling the world? You drive and capture the streets, the clouds, sunsets. Are any of these new to those who see them? You meet friends and one of the most important takeaways from this "wonderful evening" is to pose for a selfie, after taking picture of tea and snacks and of the interesting tree in the compound.

I can't say all of this is a recent phenomenon. I have done much of this, although I believe that taking a photograph of a meal you share with somebody is an intrusion into their space as much as yours. The same is true of wanting to capture any and every meeting.

This is not a judgment, for I am aware that I'd be guilty at some point in time of all of these. It points out to the utter isolation, so much so that even real interactions seem legitimate only when they are virtualised.

Like this very normal view of the balcony and from it. It is a wry comment on what we have become, the bareness of the room only highlighting disengagement with reality:


Should Modi Quit?

There are titters today when Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he would quit, if... Indeed, it could well be another drama queen moment, or even a well-orchestrated gimmick to take the heat off him.

He was reacting to hate-filled comments from his MPs and the Hindutva organisations that claim allegiance with the BJP by throwing up his hands:

"Modi, who held a meeting with the RSS leaders to express his disappointment, also said that he does not have greed to remain in the post if the image of the government is hampered by the leaders who keep making controversial remarks," a report in the Marathi newspaper Maharashtra Times said. The RSS, thereafter, gave a green signal to the government to take action against leaders who indulge in making controversial statements, it said.

Narendra Modi might not quit, but if he has said so and held it as a stick over the heads of his own party and its affiliates, then the rot is deeper. To brush it under the carpet with one-liners serves little purpose and in fact works in favour of the playacting.

There are a few things distressing about the report:

• The PM still consults the RSS about his government and his own role
• He appears helpless, and has no qualms about showing it
• The RSS gives the green signal for taking action.

This is "Modi Sarkar", and not Bharat Sarkar, according to most of the cadre. Are we foolish to believe then that he has no control over what the people he has placed in positions of power are saying?

The BJP-RSS combine has long practised such diversionary tactics, and it is understood that once a swayam sevak always one. However, having tasted power in the past few months and hobnobbed with world leaders he has probably become aware that hollow promises too need a level of statesmanship to appear less fake.

A while ago while addressing the MPs, he said:

"Please stop being my spokespersons because I don't need one. I am just a worker and speak for myself. Else, there is process which is laid down for the purpose and which everybody ought to follow."

If he really has no control, then he has no moral ground to continue in office. You take responsibility for your flock or act decisively against them. He has done neither.

Effectively, Modi's role has whittled down to being a benevolent dictator, the benevolence often arising from not doing or saying anything or by being propped up as the 'moderate' front as the RSS goes about its task of bulldozing. In the skirmish, partly out of design, Modi as public gainer is losing space. He is trapped in the conditionality of his situation. One is not suggesting that he is innocent; it is just that the demon he thought would protect him is hogging his position.

It helped him initially, but now he has been reduced to pushing the party like any ordinary worker. I am afraid, but he is more cheerleader than leader. The tired repetition of "development" on a loop is like a chant he intones more to himself than as a note of intent. Does it really bother him that the roadblock to developing anything are his own party members?

What has prevented him from sacking them? The RSS? Will he have the courage to jettison any such interference? He has been granted the licence, it would seem, to tweet to world leaders, address them by first name, and hold big glitzy and kitschy rallies in the United States and Australia. It looks increasingly clear that this is a deliberate strategy to keep him away from local pressing issues, and use him only for campaigning.

It does not help that he is willing to quote from a Nita Ambani speech at a function where he is the chief guest. It is not about standing on ceremony and political correctness. Such incidents convey that he is amenable.

That is the reason it is not difficult to imagine him in other roles were he to quit:

He could be a consultant to the Ambanis and Adanis
He could go on lecture tours
He could head a management institute
He could become a designer
He could write a script for a Bollywood film
He could bring out a dictionary of acronyms
He could train RSS pracharaks on how to keep up with the times
He could return to Gujarat as chief minister, something that still drives him.

The point is that the post of PM and he have not meshed. And if it is his MPs and the RSS that are the cause of it, then either he makes it clear to them by word and action that this is not what he will tolerate or he joins them. India does not need two centres of power, with one of them not even a political party.


This is what I wrote after he was sworn in as PM: Modi as Hindutva's Marionette


Vengeance against children? The Taliban in Peshawar

They were kids outside a school, running through the muddy roads. We walked for a bit and from a store one of the boys took out a candy and offered it to me. Then we took out lots of candies and shared them with other kids. There was much laughter and gaiety. I had written then that I was afraid of what might happen to them. Or what they might become.

Today, those kids in Peshawar are in my thoughts again. Because, six Taliban terrorists, murderers, barbarians, suicide bombers, soulless, gutless beasts, entered a school in Peshawar and shot dead kids like the ones I had met. The last reports mention 160 killed, 132 of them children. The reason: Revenge. They wanted revenge for their children being killed. Even if one tries hard to look at such twisted thinking, did the parents of these kids kill them? What does such vengeance achieve? Do the children know they are being used?

Would that infant nestled in the crook of my arm at a home in that city have grown up and attended that school? I wince. I avert my eyes as I look at frightened faces. But I know these faces will become 'adjectivised' and 'symbolised' and, in the process, dehumanised.

Children, teachers, parents don't know what happened. Or why. They will not have ready answers. How can they? So, why should they be asked, probed, prodded? How is a mother or father to tell you how they feel about their dead kid? How is a child, injured and bleeding, to explain how the gun was aimed at the students who were shot straight in the head? And when they tell you about the teacher set on fire, what do you tell them? How will such details add to the information when the TTP has already claimed responsibility for the attack?

I won't hold on to the sentimentalism for long here, for I've seen a lot of public sentiment ultimately become predatory. Social concern has been reduced to scoring points — by almost everybody.

Even at this time, some Pakistanis are more agitated about calling out Taliban apologists than pushing for action against terrorism. The anger is understandable, except that not many of them would step out or know the terrain they hold forth on. Pakistanis do not visit Peshawar or the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkwa as a normal thing to do. It is the alien and alienated land.

The Taliban grew in these parts and drew blood here, too. It was only when they began to make inroads into the metro hubs that the government woke up. People woke up.

And then they shot at a girl.

This attack on the school has also led to the predictable let's-hang-on-to-our-icons reactions. People are talking about how Malala received the Nobel Peace Prize and then this had to happen. It is so jejune; this is all they could think about. Had they forgotten that she too was shot at before she brought them the Nobel, their prized possession?

One expects some modicum of respect, if not sympathy, for the grief-stricken.

How are rightwing Indians responding? Does brutality of this kind deserve to be torn into by ideological scavengers? Everything from the Partition being right to how this was just desserts for Pakistani atrocities during the Bangladesh War (today India celebrates Vijay Diwas for our role in 'liberating' that country), to how the Taliban are yapping at India's doorstep to how this is a result of Pakistani army and government fighting in India to "Why are Muslims like that?", all of these are being pecked at.

They make fun of the #illridewithyou initiative (after yesterday's Sydney hostage crisis where locals offered to travel with Muslims who might fear a backlash). They ask, "What, no 'I'll ride with you' in Peshawar?"

Portions from the Quran are quoted. Yes, minutes after feeling sorry for the children this is all that they can think about. Just suppose that quote is there, did the Taliban or any terrorist specifically mention it as the inspiration? If there are passages against non-believers, can't these people see who was killed? Muslims, not 'kafirs'.

Children inherit faith. They also trust everything. To be betrayed.

Do not call them shaheeds, martyrs, you unthinking ones. They did not die for any cause, and it is disgusting that you imagine that cause is civil society - you. They did not want to die. Some hid and played dead so that they could live. They were betrayed. You are betraying them again.


All the terrorists have been shot dead; one blew himself up.


Sunday ka Funda

Much as I detest crass ambitiousness – whether it be in the professional sphere, or the one-upmanship of social interactions, not to speak about the more damaging one of close personal relationships – I find some kinds of politically correct and syrupy assertions to the contrary examples of stepping on toes. They convey that by not doing so, someone will benefit from the munificence. It gives them a higher place to function from.

When this becomes cultural, it results in supremacist ideology. A slightly different view is expressed thus:

“Politeness is organized indifference.”
― Paul Valéry

The idea behind much indifference is also supremacist – it can afford to ignore others by faking concern or shielding real intent. 


An Uber Rape?

On the night of Friday, December 5, a young executive called for a cab from Uber, the international company's Delhi branch, via its mobile app. Such services are convenient and make it easier for women to go out and travel alone.

As per reports, she left office for dinner and then a pub, where she had a couple of drinks. Once inside the cab, she is said to have dozed off. The driver Shiv Kumar Yadav drove her to a secluded area, beat her and then raped her.

He has been arrested; Uber has been prevented from operating in Delhi. And this has taken up much space. Why ban Uber, they ask? And they could well be asking, why ban the uber? In its very first report, Times of India referred to the woman's foreign education. Others are talking about her MNC job.

If you notice, there is an absence of ground activists in this rape case debate. Since the crime was committed by an Uber cabbie on a passenger, it is assumed the discussions ought to be exclusive. Society high flyers are on panel discussions because the media is catering to the advertisers.

While they outrage, they also act as a buffer for the company. Banning a cab service may not be the answer, but why expend so much primetime emotion over it? Are they spokespersons of Uber? Would they stand up for the local black-yellow cabs were they to be banned?

This poshness has resulted in an overemphasis on unsafe cities. Do note that, again, the suggestion is that such crimes only affect cities, and not small towns, villages and tribal areas. This cocoon of making cities safe tends to ignore the rest of India.

It is not surprising, therefore, that they use the Nirbhaya case as the yardstick. Nothing before that registers, or exists. This is the city that only cares about itself. The news show used the tag #DelhiShamedAgain. It ends up dehumanising the personal assault on the woman as well as men who are not rapists. This is of particular importance because it gives the residents another reason to decry immigration. The Bihari-UP migrants are blamed for shaming Delhi.

It also serves to take away the onus from the city to protect itself and creates the image of a helpless place being devoured by outsiders. There is the caste and the class divide, and then the rural/town and metro divide.

Strangely, it is the city person who raises morality questions: Why was she out alone at night? Why did she drink? Why did she take a cab? Why did she doze off? All these queries lead to the conclusion that a woman who does all of these or some is likely to be raped. Men who otherwise like to decide on how women should behave now empower them with the decision not to drink or go alone anywhere.

Social space is getting crowded. Women are part of the same crowd as men. This creates insecurity. Men are territorial about such space and according to them the gendered space will have to afford them an advantage.

It does not work like that anymore. I do not want to sound too cynical, but when men start protesting for women's rights it is also part of the dynamics of colonising.

The political establishment has mastered this, and masculinised it. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) protestors landed up outside the Home Minister's house. Uber had brought them there. Does anybody recall them ever raising the issue of the rape of political prisoners, including of their member Soni Sori when she was in Dantewada prison? BJP members are patting their backs on the early arrest of the rapist, as though delays are normal procedure. They are also pointing out that theirs is a new government and all the licences are from the old dispensation. What is worrying is that all this urgency is because Delhi is going to the polls. They don't want to suffer the way the Congress did for the 2012 incident. At the time the Congress was forced to act, too.

However, it is not only politicians who are political opportunists. There are kangaroo courts repeating again about castration and capital punishment for the rapist. They do not have any answers for what happens after that.

Yadav threatened the woman with a December 16 like assault. What lessons has anybody learnt? Did the protests, the media coverage, and government action make any difference to the way men have thought and acted in the many rape cases that have taken place in India, and not just the cities?

A day before this crime was committed, there was a report about an astrologer who predicted how women could be sexually abused according to their zodiac signs and offered remedies.

His predictions include age at which abuse would take place, location and by whom. He offered mantras for safety. This appeared in a newspaper; he has a show on TV. There was a Facebook page questioning him for encouraging superstition.

This is not only superstition. He is messing with women's lives as much as any criminal is. This sends out the message that women will be raped and abused. There is no room for a response from the women, except to recite some mantras.

Such charlatans and the media create paranoia instead of trying to alter the way people think and behave.


The cement man: A R Antulay

The perennial brat

A. R. Antulay reminded me of the cartoon character Dennis the Menace. He looked like the brat that popular tales about him in the media reported. His death only brings to the fore the realisation that in his last years his life was fairly invisible.

He was the first victim-villain of an exposé. Long before sting operations, there was Arun Shourie. In the 80s, he, backed by the owner of Indian Express, went all out to unravel what came to be known as the Cement Scandal. All constructions of that period, with peeling plasters and shaky banisters, are attributed to one man. Antulay was the kickbacks man. He gave out-of-turn permits for more cement to builders who then 'donated' to the Indira Gandhi Pratishthan he had set up. To even a casual observer, it would be evident that you cannot start a trust in the name of the prime minister and get away with it unless the PM knows about it.

Cemented ties: with Indira Gandhi

Ramnath Goenka detested Indira Gandhi. Unlike media owners today, he did have an ideological reason. Arun Shourie was to be his hitman. In a series, he built up his case. It became a sensational piece of journalism in the truest sense of exposing the chief minister. The courts pronounced him guilty for the extortion of Rs. 30 crore. It sounds like peanuts today, but was a huge amount then. He, a barrister from Lincoln's Inn, could not defend himself. He probably knew that his only defence was that he was a 'loyalist', a word that encompasses all the flaws of chamchagiri but also possesses a kernel of genuine loyalty.

In Maharshtra, as one from the Konkan region he knew the terrain. It was his territory. But he would only be remembered as the man who gave cement a bad name, and of course as the man Shourie vanquished.

But he was not quite done. A little after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, he was back in the news. Unfortunately, even as he spoke out those words — “I said a man like Karkare is born among millions... Who pushed him into the trap of death? Who sent him there to be killed by the Pakistanis?’’ — I had a queasy feeling that he would be used.

Suddenly, Muslim leaders came out of the woodwork; maulanas stood up for him. That is what bothered me. To question something ought to be a part of democracy and civil society. Antulay had never been a Muslim leader. So, for him to be anointed the “Muslim messiah”, even though he had mentioned Pakistan terrorists, was reducing the argument to the lowest common denominator which we as a society are so good at doing.

Why did he speak out? “Nobody spoke. But I did. I said so because it has been found that a number of things are pushed under the carpet in the name of a state subject. A federal agency is being made... I said it at an opportune moment as a reminder of duty.’’

Many people want to know about Hemant Karkare. Many people were interested that the probe into the Malegaon blasts must not stop. Some wondered about bad timing. If anything, that was the only time to talk.

Antulay was planning to resign. He said so: “I am a self-respecting person... forget the resignation. That is a very simple thing. I had resigned from chief ministership of Maharashtra...when 100% of Congress MLAs were with me.’’ Asked about clarifications, he said, “A clarification is sought when something is hidden.”

I thought then, that whatever be his agenda if any, he should at least stick by his decision. He copped out, instead, with the take-home package of "too err is human" from the UPA-1 PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh for his rebellion. Antulay forgot all about what was pushed under the carpet. He returned to that wonderful portfolio of Minority Affairs Minister, the totem to beat all totems,

Was he an extortionist or a contortionist? A victim or a villain? Or will Antulay now be just the grey of a RIP?