Pakistani circus comes to town!

A Pakistani commentator has come up with a Pavlovian response to how Indians salivate over Pakistan’s misfortunes and are not all smelling of roses. To make this rather simple point, he moves from the dog in the science lab to sci-fi to Biblical metaphors.

Ejaz Haider’s column in The Express Tribune mentions his educational qualifications – a seemingly mandatory thing these days in some publications – which should tell us that he is all grown up and doing tickety-boo. So well in fact that he expects “scientific inquiry”, unlike aforementioned dog, from Indians in the World Wide Web. He forgets one basic tenet of the W word, and that is anonymity and the possibility of fake Indians and fake Pakistanis faking emotions to elicit fake critical faculties of columnists who are educationally well-hung.

His one-line tenet is that Indians pounce on any Pakistani for “putting things in a (sic) perspective”. He believes that his country is masochistic because while Indians can openly be critical of Pakistan, Pakistanis cannot do so in Indian newspapers. I think he should do a bit of research on internet behaviour. As I have already stated, Indians and Pakistanis rarely appear as themselves. Pakistani commentators are quite coddled in India, even if they write about some sidey actress and Nwaaz Shrif’s hair implant. All those Pakistan diary type items often talk the usual lingo of exotica which makes it rather charming. The same applies to Indians who discuss “daily life” or Bollywood or “peace initiatives”, the latter being the biggest-ticket event.

Before I am accused of doggie behaviour, I must add that Mr. Haider has rather magnanimously acceded that India does have its moments:

India has its strengths, without doubt. We need to emulate them, no gainsaying that either. But for Indians to embark on an exercise, every time a whistle is blown, to prove India is the best thing to happen this side of Eden is to ask for willing suspension of disbelief at a level that defies even disbelief.

Just a bit of semantics here: When you defy disbelief, you are a believer. Ergo, suspension of disbelief ought to be a dribble of saliva.

He then comes to the point:

There have been comments upon comments in this newspaper by Indians about, among other things, corruption in Pakistan. Something like the 2G scandal in Pakistan would have given the Indians a field day. Try placing a comment on the Radia tapes, a scandal which, alone in its spread, is enough to eclipse Pakistan’s collective scams over 63 years, or even offer to write on it in an Indian newspaper, and you would know what I am saying.

One moment. Corruption is endemic to our societies. However, it is a huge exaggeration to say that in 63 years Pakistan has not had a scam of this dimension. Is the reference only to the monetary aspect? How many tapes have been ever released about Pakistani politicians or Pakistani military leaders? India is also a larger country in every way. I don’t understand the need to compare and sound so insecure about being ‘eclipsed’ in this field. Having said that, who has stopped any Pakistani from writing about the scandal in a Pakistani paper? Why must a Pakistani write about this in an Indian newspaper? It might be noted that part of the scandal is the blurring of it in the mainstream media, so even if a Tutu columnist tried, s/he might not get in edgeways.

A few days ago I was asked by the people concerned when I would resume my ET column and the next sentence mentioned the Radia tapes. I was surprised that no one had written about it and when I said that I had already had my say on the subject, they told me they’d like to use a shorter version. I agreed, provided I could edit it myself and it would clearly state that it is an abridged version. It is still not up. It is about several lobbies, as I have often critiqued in both the Indian and Pakistani media about both India and Pakistan and several other societies.

However, while Pakistani newspapers might publish some views, are they open to ALL views? I have faced criticism for other opinions about ills in Pakistani society as I do from Indians. And, most amazingly, one reviewer of my book ‘A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan’ even mentioned that I had misused the hospitality! Pakistan or Pakistanis had not sponsored the book nor had India or Indians or even my publisher. This was an insult to the several Pakistanis I had met and they were the first to rubbish such a thought; it only revealed that when you talk to and quote real rebels, people who have been imprisoned, literally or otherwise, instead of part-time jingoists, you are not quite ‘with it’. These remarkable people are considered outsiders even today by their own smart-ass commentators.

On the flip side Pakistan, and India, choose their favourites. Interestingly, these ‘vocal critics’ become the flavour of the ‘opposite camp’. So, my criticism of certain aspects about Arundhati Roy sounds offensive to Pakistanis! Talk about co-opted cocoons.

Of course, Mr. Haider is all praise for the Indian’s pride in the state, unlike Pakistanis who talk about doomsday. That’s because they have been hearing the Americans go on and on about a ‘failed state’ so often that they feel like doing a little mirror job. But, when optimistic Pakistanis see the good side, they are considered wimps and fools. Besides, questioning the status quo is always good.

Finally, Mr. Haider sounds quasi ominous and forgets grammar:

Meanwhile, I have said India and Indians a number of times here; the circus is about to hit town!

I am sure you have told us: the circus is about to hit town. The problem is that having said it so often, we mistook the messenger for the message.

PS: When you assume Pavlov’s dog is on your mental leash, it can turn out to be quite a bitch.


Attn: Mukesbhai Ambani urf Shahjehan

Dear Mukesbhai:

I am writing to you with lots of pain. I goat coal from friend high up…working in Kanchenjanga type place baba…saying I am useless. Niraben is not coaling me…I am telling him time to time that I love lowby. Nice free fres air in aircondisun looking at peepuls from all walks and talks of life. My favourite is Taj lowby but after tragedy and coming to know that terrorist also liking it, I am not pakka sure. You know newspaper is saying Ratan bhai is moving Supreme Court. My tongue in hanging out like Kali Mata that how gentle Parsi man who doesn’t hurt fly and move head too much like common man style nodding is becoming like Bheema and moving whole big fat court.

I did goggle search to find out full detail and moving means asking judge about leak. Again my tongue hanging out. Why judge must do sulabh shauchalaya work? So I read more report. It is leaking tapes. He is saying it is private matter between income tax and Niraben. I am saying maybe Niraben is adding extra ‘I’ in Nira because of ‘income’. That way I am intelligent. Ratan bhai also is going to say to judge openly he will want crime to be tried, like good man and good citizen. He is knowing this is not Gujarat where Nano and moto (not Motorola baba) problem can be solved with Narendrabhai Modi giving secular blessing.

You think I am saying all this only to get you to give me scoop? No, no. I went to Huggin Das thinking now this Bengali, like Mata Amritanandmayi, is giving hug with ice-cream scoop. I am really pain because my high up friend is laughing and laughing saying no one will coal you to lowby. I am saying maara sam, my swear, nice gentlemens meeting me in lowby many times, shaking hands, looking into eyes and then asking to have chai-pani as if I am havaldar or something. I am saying like Bollywood heroine of long time back that I live on love and fres air only.

But if Niraben coaled me my naak would be little up, my ijat little more. To put solt on my voond you didn’t ask me to come to Taj Mahal also. You are now becoming Shahjehan…arrrarrra…Nitaben 2 G-yo hajaron saal, may live long, long live Nitaben…by the whey, you look like twins now, only she is fair-fair like you done Michael Jackson type skin removal. She is good dancer and all time she does mudra pose newspapers talk about her tellunt. Look no, that day only your Ant Hill housewarming party was on front page of Times of India. I saying to myself, wah, wah, now why no one is coaling this lowby? This is double roti standard na? One day you are Shahjehan next day they saying, uff why media doing like this and why media doing like that? Why, you say?

But I am asking you why you call house Ant Hill, everyone wanting to know, even friend high up. I am saying him, first you tell I am not worth lowby then how I must know all this. Ratan bhai will move court about how it is all private, so what if little detail was in paper about chandelier, food, guests, lifts, garden…you wanted to avoid media so you had housewarming (it is so cold what?) before date, and then see it is in papers anyhow. What is happening to world? Everywhere lowby, lowby. Only no one is saying even inside lowby there is special lowby.

I am knowing little bit also. It is all in karma. Some peepuls will say, look that woman and that man openly writing against Vijay Mallya though they are friends. I am wanting to smile like Mona darling Lisa. Saying negative about Vijaybhai is like beating maasocheest – he is looking forward to whip! My Ingliss getting better, na? All Niraben’s kripa; after Rakhiben Sawant and her jeejus, Niraben is next fatafat.

I am writing to you also to say I talk too much on telephone. Niraben’s record I can break. But no one is coaling me, except friend from high up. I am going to tell him lies and say your house is like 21st century Vrindavan. Only instead Kokilaben is Krishna and has two mothers, you Mukesbhai and Anilbhai. She is doing running from one to other, I am reading like that in papers. She is sitting with dandiya-type flute and having to lagao makhan butter for smooth-sailing of family ship. You not having ship? Helicopter is also okay, sailing in sky and dropping on hell-paad.

I am having another little noting. Mandir is in bottom of house and you are on top of god. Thanks god I am calling it Vrindavan and not Taj Mahal otherwise those mahants and political parties will say, look we will get Mukesbhai for elecsun because he is doing sym-ball and telling world that below Agra Taj Mahal was also mandir, he is making point, he is lowbying for us.

I am only opening your third eye. I know, I know, only Shiva had third eye, but Telelka and all sting wallas having third eye. You don’t worry, be happy. My pain is gone after opening heart surgery with you. All is out of chest. Reminds me, I reading Paremeshwar Godrej was also at party? Nice lady carrying communist baraat many times on head. What? Beret? Haan, haan, how I am to knowing all this? They saying what story to carry. Arre, how anyone can carry story? It is not some bojh, burden, to carry inside sack on head.

Please give Niraben’s reliancing number only. I will give missed call from Wada phone or air tell…most danger like telling in havaa. I am taking risk. I can hear phone is tapping like keyboard on leptope.

Today I made promise to self I will go to lowby. i don’t want my rape-u-tasun to be on stake like Joan ben of Arkansas.

Jai Shri Krishna!

Yours (Radia se kaise na jaley) censurely,

- - -

PS: While I cannot 'translate' this into regular English, I'd elucidate that part provocation for the post was the reference to Mukesh Ambani's new house as the "21st century Taj Mahal" by a media person and, when there is so much noise about the media, this private housewarming party made it to the front page of the newspaper.

Sunday ka Funda

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

Light my fire: The Doors


The Queen in Camel Town

Arab royalty looms behind and beside the Queen of England

Whoa! We hear about how the Queen of England honours people with the OBE and the Knighthood and other goodies. She is by far the most visible and prominent royal in the world; the British monarchy is.

Therefore, we were (sic) quite amused to read this news from Abu Dhabi:

Shaikh Khalifa conferred on Queen Elizabeth the Order of Zayed, the United Arab Emirates’ highest civil decoration. He also bestowed the Order of Federation to both Prince Andrew, Duke of York, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

It must be noted that the grand monarch of Great Britain got a civilian award. And no one is arching eyebrows?


The Media as Middle Man

India's "Paid News" Scandal

The Media as Middle Man 
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, November 24

The sudden interest in the involvement of some Indian media persons in what appears to be lobbying has posed the question about ethics, but it has a lot more to do with the cult of icons. Readers and viewers tend to blindly believe in taglines about ‘truth’ prevailing and ‘we were the first to go there’ with high-profile columnists and anchors; the audience now feels let down and covertly awkward for having propped up these news-bearers.

There is also anger that the exposure was not covered by news channels and only by some print publications. The media is a tightly-knit incestuous lot in India. They know that if they allow one head to fall, theirs will be next on the chopping block.

The story appeared relatively simple. A lobbyist, Nira Radia, working for industrialist Mukesh Ambani called up journalists and discussed ministerial portfolios. The media people offered to set up meetings with ministers and even revealed what stories could be run. There was loads of money - $40 billion - involved in the 2G-spectrum deals that would benefit the corporate lobby. The question is: did it benefit the journalists and how? The newspapers/channels get ads, the political party gets election funds and the media can carry convenient stories along the election trail with staged ‘objective’ moments. The media is the new fiefdom of the politician and political power – from the front door or the back entrance – is the journalist’s reward.

There have been conjectures that these conversations were to make the lobbyist give away information, a snoopy journalistic tactic. But has it been taken to its logical conclusion? Has there been an expose of a nature that could compromise the government which is culpable in this case? No. The man A. Raja who was a cheat got the same portfolio to cheat again. Are the journalists to blame? The motives and ‘real’ reasons are a non-sequiter when facts stare us in the face.

No one can call acting as conduits between politicians and corporate lobbies as part of journalism, but in the past the arrangement was tacit. Press conferences by business houses that handed out goodies were major draws. Does anyone even know about news reports that are paid for and often written by the PR departments of business houses? Does anyone care that such PR people carry press passes and are members of the press clubs? When captains of industry write guest columns for publications, this is advertising passing off as editorial content.

Journalists have often got prime posts in social organisations or are sent on junkets; many of the hugely respected senior names conduct all their ‘investigations’ over the telephone, which means they are fed information by interested groups. While opinions are by nature subjective, reportage ought to be objective. What is reported and how clearly conveys which side the person is on or has been asked to be on. What about owners of channels who get elected and become MPs?

To push the envelope (no pun intended) further, what about freedom of speech? Does the industrial house not have the freedom to lobby? Does the lobbyist not have the freedom to push her case? Does the journalist not have the freedom to act as a go-between? Great media stalwarts like Arun Shourie have played a role in bringing down politicians and governments. Why did they become heroes and why are today’s newsmakers considered unethical? The reason is that they appear to be co-opted, whereas a Shourie fought against the establishment. It is another matter that the fight could have been dictated by the opposition. This is the crux of the argument.

Sting operations get a whole lot of points by a gullible public that assumes those blurred video clips are done as an act of public good. No one bothers to check out the motives behind these moves. It is high time we made the mainstream media answerable, but the alternatives are not always as above-board as they appear simply because they too depend on the largesse of sponsors, advertising and benefactors.

Political stooges have always existed, only the level of subtlety has altered their persona. You just have to spend some time in any of the intellectual hubs in Delhi and you will see a journalist supping with a politician or a bureaucrat. There are TV channels that have given preference to young recruits merely due to their proximity to and sometimes family connections with such powerful people.

The recent revelations have become such a talking point, ironically, because they have been exposed with much flourish outside the mainstream media in India. Internationally, the Washington Post mentioned ‘paid news’ and reported that The Foundation for Media Professionals plans to host a conference on journalists as power brokers. The organisations’s spokesperson said, “We are actually happy that these practices have come out in the open. It forces us to address the problem. We as journalists sit in judgment of others all the time. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

Journalists are fallible and their standards should be decreed by ethics and not morality and most certainly must not become a ruse for nobility. The self-examination should also raise questions about the media conducting kangaroo courts and making a spectacle of helpless common people.

Prominent anchors and columnists are deified only because their visibility, especially during crises and calamities, immediately imbues them with a halo of legitimacy. This gets further sanctity when a scam uses the name of one individual. This does not, in fact, work as a “lynch mob” but serves to buffer the cult. We live in times of short attention spans and shorter memories. Today’s flawed Twitter hero is tomorrow’s Facebook martyr, for the truth may lie not in what was said in the tapes but what was left unsaid.

- - -

Also published in Countercurrents and Khaleej Times


Remember Rajdeep...

How he used to often say, "Iss hamam mein sab nangey hai"?

The answer my friend is this: Iss haman mein sab designer clothes pehne hue hai jo aam aadmi khareed nahin sakta aur designer bechne ke liye sirf 'fit' models chunta hai.

Samjhe na?

- - -

To transcribe: This is an allusion to the 2-G/media/lobbying/blah controversy and how CNN-IBN's head Rajdeep Sardesai used the phrase that means 'All are naked in the 'hamam' (Turkish/open bath). My response is that in this hamam everyone is dressed in designer clothes that the poor can ill-afford and which designers find models that can 'fit' into.

The PM's Babagiri

The Prime Minister of India has every right to believe in whatever he chooses to in his personal capacity. This does not have to be flaunted. He was at Puttarpathi ostensibly for the convocation ceremony at the Sri Satyasai Institute of Higher Learning; it coincided with the Baba’s birthday. As the patron of the institute, Sri Sathya Sai Baba ought to have greeted the PM and such pictures would have been taken by the photographers. What we see here is the holy man sitting on his throne and the PM standing quietly like a bhakt or, worse, one of the assistants.

The caption in the TOI uses the phrase, ‘SAI SARANAM GACHHAMI’. It is used for the Buddha and in this instance would mean ‘I take refuge in the Sai’. I should hope this is tongue-on-cheek, but given the record of certain powerful media houses and their penchant for ‘speaking trees’ and ‘sacred spaces’, it might be quite literal.

This is an insult to the nation. He was invited as a public servant, not as Manmohan Singh, private citizen. I assume he is aware that there had been cases against Sathya Sai Baba. But then, the PM isn’t untainted either, is he?

I guess we should be happy that we at least do not have a picture of him touching the godman’s feet (which he could have done, as many politicians did) or carried his footwear.


Not just patriotism of a kind

Why the heck is it so important to be a patriot of any kind? This reveals the utter desperation and inability to deny a stratified concept completely.

Here is what the newspapers say:

Writer-activist Arundhati Roy on Sunday described Maoists as "patriot of a kind" and accused the prime minister and home minister of "violating the Constitution and Panchayat (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act by allowing corporates to use tribal land". "Patriot of a kind, they (Maoists) are. But here patriotism is very complicated. So at the moment what people are fighting for is to keep this country from falling apart," Roy said after addressing a meet on Cultural Resistance to War on People in Corporate Interest, organised by a magazine.

Patriotism is not complicated if you know your mind and the minds of the people on whose behalf you speak. There are indeed different kinds of fidelity – whether to the nation or in relationships or from your pet dog. The whole credo of ‘someone’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’ has been going on for years and it is understood as a complex theory.

However, to say that they are fighting to keep this country from falling apart is a stretch. These are insurgency movements and they are protesting against the policies of various governments and the establishment; they are not sewing patches and not one separatist movement has any alliance with another in any part of the country. All those verbal pebbles in Kashmir did not cause even a minor ripple in the Naxal forest lakes.

"The whole world has been intently watching the poor tribal people of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Lalgarh (West Bengal). Nowhere in the world have movements (against corporate invasion) so big, beautiful and successful been carried," she said.

The whole world does not care and we should not be concerned about how the whole world is viewing movements within our country that are truly fighting for space and a say. I am quite certain that for Ms. Roy the world does not mean what Papua New Guinea or Burkina Faso or even Bangladesh and Nepal think; it is the huge conglomerate nations, the G-Summiteers who need to be impressed. That’s where the big-ticket seminars are held.

There is no doubt that the poor have raised their voices but it has come at a huge cost. There is nothing “beautiful” about it, unless you want to print glossy pamphlets that show up clotted blood in high resolution pixels. Quit romanticising the travails of the poor.

Was the magazine that organised the lecture a tribal one or sponsored by the poor? No. This is a business sector, and Ms. Roy is a part of it. Let us just say this too is corporatisation of a kind.

Marathons and men

Instead of filing a police complaint or refusing to run the race in a sponsored marathon event, actress Gul Panag has gone to the media. Or else no one would know that she was groped. Her reason for highlighting the incident ought to reveal the genuine problems faced by women everyday, but what we see here is a diatribe against Delhi culture and story of personal bravery.

Since she was brushed against in an inappropriate manner at the starting point of the race where the crowd took advantage, there are chances of other women participants having experienced something similar. Had she raised an alarm and alerted the authorities, it would have probably resulted in some arrests.

“Against which one of the 400 odd people I was stacked with at starting point shall I file a complaint?”

It would have at least sent out a clear message. These marathons are for specific reasons/causes and participants often include celebrities who are roped in for their fame. The point is that the organisers need to be careful. Many changes in civic law have taken place when people have brought such incidents to notice as examples. She says:

“Of course I’ll run again. I am a fighter.”

What exactly has she fought against or for? It is also a bit odd when she states:

"I won't advocate running around the city to women in Delhi. When you are at a busy junction here, you won't know who has touched your butt or pressed your breasts. It has to be the ugliest experience for a woman, but here you have no choice but get used to it.”

There are a multitude of women who need to use public transport and the roads to walk and run. They have no choice. And I think people know what groping means so this explanation of where women get touched is wholly unnecessary when dealing with a sensitive issue.

Then there is this thing about Delhi. I always love to hear someone lambasting the city!

"I am not at all shocked by the instance. It is most likely to happen if you are in Delhi. I just wonder when it's going to change, the typical north Indian male mentality. Just by having pretty roads and good infrastructure at places, you cannot sit back with a Capital city that's totally unsafe. It is difficult being a woman in Delhi.”

It is, but there are women living and working there. The local trains in Mumbai aren’t exactly havens if you happen to travel in the general compartment. Crowded places aren’t much different here. Our police chowkies have been rape dens and there is sexual harassment in the workplace here too.

While I detest Delhi as an idea, and having worked there for a bit to know it well enough, I dislike the branding of men and women in regional or race terms. The north Indian male mentality would be evident then even among those who live elsewhere. And if the South, West and East do not suffer from such a mentality, then we should check out the figures of women-related crimes in these places. No paragons of virtue in those.

I do not know what the expose has achieved and there is still time for her to register a complaint. Perhaps the organisers can be pulled up. Unless the organisers must not be?

End note:

"Pope softens up on condoms"

I thought TOI had finally come up with a rather lovely headline, till I did a quick check and found that it was not original. Hard as it gets, eh?


Sunday ka Funda

"Think how many blameless lives are brightened by the blazing indiscretions of other people."

- Saki

Venus and the Penis

The purists are puking. Venus has got a hand job and Mars can now boast of a nice little phallus. These ancient statues did not have the relevant body parts and had lived without them since 175 AD. Come end of 2010 and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has got them ‘restored’. This is not restoration. Any art work that had been altered from the way it was created is tampered with; restoration is a skill that stays pretty much loyal to the original.

The Italian PM is not known to be prudish, therefore these cosmetic additions seem surprising. Perhaps it has to do with the human idea of completeness. If he has to walk into his courtyard everyday, where the works are placed, and see a beautiful couple – the woman handless, the man penisless – perhaps it bothers him.

This raises the question about the perception of art in reality. What might be considered handicaps in life are often metaphorical or aesthetic statements in art. The license to distort is endemic in creativity. Unfortunately, such distortions in creation are looked down upon and rebuked.

Would the connoisseurs of such cut-off parts look upon people born with such disabilities as ‘complete’? I doubt it. I can claim to have an ‘eye’ and I understand at least to some degree the value of symbolism. My own conjecture about the handless Venus is to emphasise her beauty, exemplified especially in her other statue where she is lying in repose, curves accentuated, to concentrate on the feminine and only the feminine. A hand is genderless, so to speak. Regarding Mars, the god of war is probably considered so powerful that he can fight without a sword; his potency is not dependent on specific weapons.

Berlusconi has meddled with a work of art, but it is not unusual if we see it from the perspective of how art is perceived. The manner in which certain goddess figures have been decorously draped in our own temple sculptures, there has always been a progression-regression battle as to what is considered timely and timeless. What about the attempts to destroy certain works, maim them? Aren’t ruins a testimony to it?

There is in the realm of art also the question of how the real are portrayed. It is different from mythological figures. Do portraits of royalty necessarily reveal them as they were? What about the many ‘subjects’ that get iconoclastic status simply because they have been given a buildup over the years? Who were the people in Picasso’s distorted images?

Isn’t truth fabricated when famous works are replicated? Why, when a canvas is put behind fortified glass it loses much of its texture and becomes a mere desirable object. So, the purists need to ask and answer a few such queries. Meanwhile, since these parts that Silvio has ordered to be added are detachable, is there any scope of them being enhanced or inflated? Just wondering…


George WMD Bush

"The reality was that I had sent US troops into combat based in large part on intelligence that proved false…No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find the weapons. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it, I still do.”

– George Bush

This might be a politically-motivated comment, but surely we cannot ignore its ramifications. The US troops were not sent into combat because Iraq was not fighting America. They were sent to combat a figment of imagination that purportedly claimed ot be ‘intelligence’. He sent out the army, he says, based in large part due to this information. What happened later? Why were the troops not removed? Why was Saddam Hussein done away with? It was not to restore democracy in Iraq. The WMD issue and the state of the population’s aspirations are different. Iraqis did not ask the US to save them.

George Bush had a sickening feeling – when? Immediately on not discovering and for not discovering the weapons? Or was it much later when he lost power? Or is it now when he needs to reassert his position to nullify the Bush in Clinton clothing, Barack Obama? Or is it, once again the old ruse, to help sell his memoirs?

Has anyone pulled up the intelligence agencies? And the world is supposed to not only look up to but trust what they 'suspect' happens in places they might never have heard of before. This is the former US President saying he acted on misinofmration. Can you imagine how many countries would be taken for a ride by such callousness and ignorance?


The Misinterpreters of Kashmir’s Maladies

Squabbling over the spoils

The Misinterpreters of Kashmir’s Maladies
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, November 12-14

Kashmir has gone. It has gone out of the hands of those affected – the ones who are killed, who have suffered for two decades, who are unemployed, and those who are victims of the state and of militancy. Today, it is a hothouse plant being nursed by activists and interlocutors. A state under siege has been taken over by ‘well-wishers’ that span the whole yard between talking the language of the government to talking the tongue of separatists, and there is no uniform separatist stand, a moot factor they completely ignore in their enthusiasm to be anti-establishment proponents.

They are mimicking the positions taken thus far with not a single new insight or solution. The theory of accession and dialogue with Pakistan have been mentioned by the local population and voiced by extremist groups for long. Why, even the Indian government has talked with Pakistan and brings separatist organisations to the table. Almost overnight the Valley has begun resonating with ‘packages’, sedition charges and cries of censorship. Instead of being a mirror to people’s aspirations, these moves are alienating the movement at the bottom and becoming a case for a Kashmir caretaker manoeuvre. Did you hear of sedition charges and hate-mongering when stone-pelters came out in the streets? People are indeed put behind bars, often for no reason other than suspicion. Did anyone take up their cause? Were fears expressed over their freedom of expression being curtailed?

Headlines like ‘Kashmir on the boil’ should be about the genuine dissent among the local population. Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s calendar of protest days is not the cause of Kashmiri angst; it is the result of it. It is Geelani who is capitalising on the movement. The holed-up seminar lobbies cannot incite those who have already suffered and been victims of gunfire. They are merely riding on the wave, as they often do, and the result is that the media creates pedestals for their verbal bravery, spreading rumours about their possible incarceration, sometimes prompting the state to act against them. They become the visible visage of a movement, a five-star concern industry that has no hands-on experience.

The urban media treats them as the legitimate voice, ignoring that they are merely employing smarter words, obfuscating them carefully with a general tone of being against injustice anywhere. No one is interested in the state of their conscience; this is a nuts and bolts issue and merely standing before ‘Azaadi’ banners means nothing. What is the freedom from and what is the freedom for?

The government appoints a team of interlocutors - journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, academician Radha Kumar and former Information Commissioner M. M. Ansari. What is their understanding of the Kashmir issue? I do not mean skiing down the Gulmarg slopes or even visiting Lal Chowk in a bullet-proof vehicle and then returning to write about ‘disaffection’. Yet, surprisingly, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pronounces, “In a small period that they have spent in the Valley, the views of interlocutors are attracting more attention than those expressed by the people who are staying away from them.” In a curfew-ridden place even loud bird sounds would draw attention. This reveals glaringly the government’s lack of confidence and acts as a diversionary tactic.

Then there is the Kashmir Committee headed by BJP’s Ram Jethmalani who is back in the TV studios issuing statements like, “We had a written agreement with the Hurriyat on five key issues. The main points are — violence and terror were to be totally outlawed; the solution must be acceptable to all parties and sections, which means it included people of Ladakh and Jammu. Extremist positions like scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution and the demand for secession were to be abandoned, displaced Pandits have to be rehabilitated with full dignity; and that the new dispensation will be a democracy of equal rights.”

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the Hurriyat Conference immediately declared there was no such agreement. Besides, these five points do not offer anything concrete. How can terror be outlawed when on paper it is a crime? Does he expect that the people will just give up their demands? And who has stopped the Pandits from returning to the Valley? If equal rights are of such great import, then he might like to take a look at the displaced Pandits and the Muslims in the Valley and see the difference in their levels of rehabilitation. Only because he agreed with the viewpoint regarding dialogue with Pakistan, his party is reportedly gunning for him.

The problem is that there are many martyrs-in-the-making in the Tower of Babel that the Kashmir issue has become. Activist groups are squabbling over the spoils but they cannot decide Kashmir’s fate. The shoe-throwers are different from the stone-pelters, although the victims of the former get more mileage. Each group will claim that it is speaking on behalf of the people, conveniently forgetting that the ground-level protestors remain faceless and small media sections in the Valley are constantly under threat. It makes all blabbering about freedom of speech hollow and ironical. But, for the urban angels on their tourism with a purpose agenda, these real voices do not count. It is all about their democracy, a most dictatorial position to take.


Obama and young India

I got this note from a well-respected and well-placed member of one of our rightwing political groups. It was sent to ‘undisclosed recipients’ but on occasion in the past we have disagreed with civility.

Reproduced is an excerpt from his letter followed by my rather long response:

Enclosed is a link to a video of two questions that were asked of Obama in his interaction with the students. One girl, from Xavier's College, asked him about his opinion on jihad, and a boy, from HR College, asked him a question on spirituality and materialism. I thought the questions reflect very well on the young generation of India. The first would indicate that issues like jihad are being discussed by the youth, and perhaps they are not carried away with the negationism being indulged in by the supposed intellecutals. The second was put forward in an intelligent manner, and also a topic that one may not associate the youth to be so involved in.


   - - -
Dear Shri X:

Thank you for sharing your views. Barack Obama, like most of the US leadership in the past, tends to be not quite upfront and dangles carrots while using the stick.

I do not agree at all with your views on the young generation and their concerns. Is this the representative sample of the youth of India – the urban kids who get to spend quite a bit of money, go on annual vacations, are clued-in to trends and hanker after, if not possess, the latest gizmos? Is this the representative youth that will not mind working at KFC and McDonald’s but would titter at the local vendors of essentials? This is the Americanised young generation and their curiosity is US-centric.

Asking Mr. Obama about his opinion on jihad is playing to the gallery created by the President’s predecessors and backroom boys. Did those young people ask him why he has chosen selected people in his cabinet with what is referred to as Hindutva leanings? Why does he choose a minister to deal specifically with the Islamic world as though it is a conglomerate of Dirty Harrys? Did this section of ‘aware’ youth bother to question him about terrorism elsewhere and of other kinds? Does discussing jihad necessarily mean that “they are not carried away with the negationism being indulged in by the supposed intellectuals”? Can one assume, then, that they are being carried away by another sort of intellectualism that strives to thrust one version of cultural hegemony over another?

Jihad is a most discussed topic, so for young people to talk about it is not unexpected. It is the new soccer. I’d have said cricket, but it is so third world for this young generation.

I fail to understand how you believe that questions about materialism and spiritualism reflect well on the youth only because it is not a topic you associate with them. There are a few factors here. Growing up includes dealing with internal turmoil and it does spark off interest in what may be termed a spiritual quest. It has been a constant since ages. Besides, these queries have also become part of money-spinning feel-good and how-to books, again not a recent phenomenon but more sharply evident of late. Then, there is the influx of pop spiritualism on the web and on the airwaves, the mode being of American televangelism. Gurus speak the language of Now and their celebrity devotees ensure that they become immensely desirable. The young generation is likely to be enticed by this as they are by social networking sites.

The point is they are not interested as much in real issues or, if they are, they do not voice it. When I write about the Sikh riots or the 1993 Bombay riots, there is ennui and a disdainful attitude towards what they deem to be obsession with history.

Like you I am more interested in what our young people think rather than what the US Prez says; the difference is that we are on different sides of the spectrum. I see it as a good thing and wish the youth would be able to stride across thought processes rather than follow tried-and-tested paths. I am not too sure if the so-called intellectuals that you hold in contempt would want a blinkered following. If they do, then their vision is as narrow, and I believe it is so in many cases. But let us not tar every segment with one brush.

Jihad and spiritualism are gainful, and some instances opportunistic, pastimes for such youth. Curiosity ought to lie in the details, not mere chatter of the times.

Namaste and best regards,

- - -


There has been further correspondence from the gentleman. Here follows the exchange in dialogue form:

Dear Farzanaji,

Thank you for your message.

The negativeness that I see in your message does not make for pleasant reading.

Dear Xji:

Thank you for taking this further. It was not meant to be pleasant, but I do not see ‘negativism’ the way you do. One may wonder why they asked negative questions about subjects like jihad and did not concentrate on positive subjects. I am not suggesting that they ought to have done so; it is only to emphasise my point about negativity.

There were six questions that were asked. Given that ALL of them were what I consider to be mature and intellilgent ones, and not frivilous that one would normally associated with what is called the MTV generation, it is only correct to conclude that more questions would have been of the same quality.

I do not know how the colleges were chosen and how the students within each colleges were chosen. I would like to know, and perhaps you could use your journalism contacts to find out.

It seemed to me that Obama chose the students who asked the questions quite randomly. I have seen a video at:
where two of the questions and their answers are available. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that at least some of the questions were of a nature which did put him on the defensive. If the organisers made a show of randomness, then they surely botched the whole exercise.

I think maturity and intelligence can be selective. You have not noticed that I specifically alluded to their NOT asking certain questions. I hope you agree that these same young people will not question the US establishment or any other forms of terrorism, subjects you too have avoided in your response.

While there is a frivolity in the MTV generation, those who stick to MTV and its allied ideas can be granted some honesty. I am afraid but I do not have journalistic contacts of this nature, but it isn’t merely about the choice of college; it is the whole urbanised movement that has taken over. In this case, it is what India sees as important to deal with the outside world that is disconcerting.

It really does not matter that Obama was put on the defensive. He might have been so even if they had asked about the US policies in Iraq, Afghanistan or its history of slavery or of him being the totem Black President. The more important factor is that India is dependent on US goodwill and many other things, which I wrote about in Obama’s Hawk Policy in India.

To say that they were NOT representative of the thinking of the educated youth in Mumbai trivalises the sincerity of those who asked the questions. The nature of the questions tells me what are the issues that the youth are discussing, apart from holidays, latest gizmos, KFC, etc.

I reiterate that they are not representative of the educated youth. Of course, we will then have to question what education is. I have already stated that such ‘interests’ work as much as trendy talk. It does not trivialise anything but seeks to examine the mindset beyond the trivial.

Let me tell you an incident from Mahabharat. One day, Yudhishtar was asked to go into the town and come back with one bad person, while Duryodhan was asked to go into the same town and come back with one good person. Both came back empty handed. Yudhishtar found at least one redeeming quality in every person he met, and Duryodhan found at least one bad quality in every person he met.

Thank you for this enlightening anecdote. But, as you are aware, it was Duryodhan who sought to make the ‘outsider’ Karna king and an equal of the Pandava, Arjun. Therefore, the good and bad are perceptions, not necessarily real.

And please do use this exchange, too, in your blog, without mentioning my name.


It has been an interesting exchange. And you shall remain anonymous on the blog.



Can the Congress tick off the RSS?

It needs to be said, but political expediency is not the right reason. The AICC session is meant to be a forum for the Congress to pat its own back, for stock-taking is not part of our national psyche.
Therefore, amongst issues of price rise, Kashmir, Naxals, the statement circulated to members said:

"Recent revelations through detailed investigations have exposed the true character of the RSS and its sister organisations. The investigations indicate the involvement of its members in terrorist activities.”

Fine. What is the point in distributing these papers to members? The true character of such organisations has been known, and the Congress conveniently mentioned the RSS by name knowing well that it is not an electoral political party. Did the Congress issue such statements when it was in the Opposition? The bravado appears vacuous. The party will conclude its session with a vow:

"The Indian national Congress will fight against all such sources that spread religious hatred, prejudice and bigotry and that seek to polarise our people along religious lines.”

What has this got to do with terrorism? While communalism and terrorism often feed each other, the former is a social evil that manifests itself in more subtle forms of prejudice and is not easily recognisable. So what exactly will the Congress fight when its own party members squabble over caste and communal votes? Will political leaders stop visiting all kinds of holy shrines in a public display of fake pluralism?

Unlikely. This is just to score points. It is for the citizens to wake up to the fact of terrorism by the establishment and its agencies in almost every part of the country.