R. Prasannan http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan.rss en Wed Nov 02 11:35:51 IST 2022 stop-ruling-us-for-god-s-sake--start-governing-us-for-our-sake <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/06/08/stop-ruling-us-for-god-s-sake--start-governing-us-for-our-sake.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/6/8/24-Stop-ruling-start-governing-new.jpg" /> <p>In every election the voters elect a government. This time, they elected an opposition. They also elected a government—not to rule them, but to govern them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First about the opposition. Paul Harrington said, “Democracy can be measured on the existence of an opposition,” but India’s democracy has been working without one for a decade. Indeed we had men and women in Parliament who carped, cried and quarrelled with the regime, but rarely held the regime to account. They were mere critics of the regime, and not a parliamentary opposition. Now the voters have elected a formidable opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now about the government. For ten years, Team Narendra Modi has been ruling India brooking no opposition, save once from the farmers who didn’t like the laws that the rulers had made. Everything else—from note ban of an eight-year-old November night to the rejig of the penal laws in the recent months—was implemented or legislated with complete disregard to criticism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For ten years, India was being ruled. Now the people have spoken: stop ruling us, and start governing us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the election was an endorsement of the Narendra Modi regime. People want him to govern them and lead them into Viksit Bharat, but not by riding roughshod over the critics. Make the laws you want by all means, but make them through discussion, deliberation and debate—people have said. Voters have also cut down the personality cult that was growing around the leader. Often it had looked the election was being fought around one man. The opposition, too, contributed to this. If the BJP sought votes in his name and for what he has done, the opposition sought votes against him and for what he has not done or done wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wasn’t jobs an issue? Yes, but not whether jobs were created or lost, but whether Modi gave jobs or threw people out of jobs. Wasn't corruption an issue? Yes, but not whether there was more corruption or less corruption under Modi, but whether Modi hunted the corrupt or sent the corruption-hunters to raid his enemies. Farm distress was an issue—not whether farmers were better off now or worse, but whether Modi had sought to betray the farmers with his three laws. National security was an issue—not whether India has got strategically stronger or weaker, but whether Modi had short-changed the Agniveers into becoming short-term mercenaries. Constitution was an issue—whether Modi was seeking to uphold it or undermine it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi was the trumpcard for the BJP to seek a third term to rule India—his leadership, his reforms, his diplomacy, his economic management, his vaccine scheme, his reachout to the people, his running of the government, his vishwaguru status. He was also the sole target for the opposition—not the health minister for the Covid goof-ups, not the defence minister for the Agneepath scheme, not the law minister for the badly-drafted farm laws, not the parliamentary affairs minister for getting them passed without debate, not even the speaker and the upper house chairman for expelling the critics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The whole discourse was over—Did Modi this? Didn't Modi this? Was Modi this? Wasn't Modi this? Will Modi this? Won't Modi this? Modi this, or Modi that? Modi here, or Modi there? Modi then, or Modi now?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, the message from the people is clear: stop ruling us for god’s sake; start governing us for our sake. Talk to your allies, take the opposition into confidence, and make good laws through discourse, discussion, and debate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let parliamentarism prevail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/06/08/stop-ruling-us-for-god-s-sake--start-governing-us-for-our-sake.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/06/08/stop-ruling-us-for-god-s-sake--start-governing-us-for-our-sake.html Sat Jun 08 10:56:13 IST 2024 pronunciation-row-between-anshul-kumar-and-gayatri-spivak-ignites-debate <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/31/pronunciation-row-between-anshul-kumar-and-gayatri-spivak-ignites-debate.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/5/31/10-Spivaks-speech-new.jpg" /> <p>When Horatio Bottomley, MP, called in to see Lord Cholmondeley, he told the butler, “I wish to speak to Lord Chol-mond-ley.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The butler, without batting an eyelid, corrected, “Lord Chum-ley, sir.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Oh, all right,” said Bottomley, who would be a journalist, a journeyman and be jailed for fraud. “Tell him that Mr Bumley would like to speak to him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No scene from a P.G. Wodehouse story this, but a real-life encounter that took place in pre-war or inter-war England when old notions of social class and pronunciation were beginning to be challenged. By then Thomas Hardy of the Victorian world had woven a woeful tragedy in Wessex around the d’Urberville family, labelling the wealthy branch as d’Urberville, and the one to which the miserable Tess belonged as Durbeyfield. Wodehouse of a newer world had made Bertie a simple Wooster instead of a Worcester, and George Bernard Shaw, who would notoriously pronounce ‘ghoti’ as ‘fish’, had staged <i>Pygmalion</i>, which was all about pronunciation and social class.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Missed the play? No regrets. Its more delightful filmy version <i>My Fair Lady</i>, starring Rex Harrison and the ever-dear Audrey Hepburn, is still available for downloads and a few LoLs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Missed the plot? I guess many of you have, in all this talk about social class and pronunciation. All right, let’s get the speech right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How you speak may no longer determine your class, but pronunciation purists continue to haunt the groves of academe. On ‘elite’ campuses, where pronunciation is believed to mirror scholarship, Chumley-Bumley encounters are still being witnessed, giving mirth to most of us but mortification to its many victims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One such victim is the poor desi sociology scholar Anshul Kumar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, who had the temerity to mispronounce the name of the black civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois in the majestic presence of Columbia University professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Spivak, who was taking questions from the audience after her lecture, cut him down saying the name should be pronounced ‘do-boys’ since “he is an Englishman, not French”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a sociologist, Kumar would have read the 19th century French missionary Abbe Dubois’s <i>Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies</i>. The abbe had called himself ‘dub-va’, but hadn’t bothered when the people of Tamilagom called him Dodda Saami. And do pronunciations matter, as long as you have conveyed what you wanted to?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So Kumar went on with his question calling Du Bois ‘dub-va’, but Spivak wouldn’t budge. She insisted that Kumar pronounce the name right, and then only would she entertain a question from him. At which Kumar did a Chumley-Bumley act on Spivak, or what Eliza Doolittle did at the Royal Ascot. He uttered a few uncivil words, made his exit, and trolled Spivak tagging her influential work <i>Can the Subaltern Speak?</i> which critiques the silencing of marginalised voices by patriarchal and imperial forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar’s post ignited a debate on social media, setting the groves of academe on fire. Writer Meena Kandasamy, who recounted a similar mortifying encounter with Spivak, argued that correcting pronunciation should be done gracefully, without public humiliation. “To snub someone over their pronunciation, in a hall filled to the brim with people, shows insecurity, pettiness…,” she wrote. Many defended Spivak, saying she was right in insisting on proper pronunciation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What do we, the billion subalterns, do? Watch <i>My Fair Lady and The King’s Speech</i>, go to bed every night with a copy of Daniel Jones, and hope to get upper-classified some day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/31/pronunciation-row-between-anshul-kumar-and-gayatri-spivak-ignites-debate.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/31/pronunciation-row-between-anshul-kumar-and-gayatri-spivak-ignites-debate.html Fri May 31 12:44:35 IST 2024 searching-for-surjeet <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/25/searching-for-surjeet.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/5/25/10-Searching-for-Surjeet-new.jpg" /> <p>Ever since the British left us to our fate, freedom and franchise, many Indians have yearned for a two-party system like the way they have it in England—a neat polity where two parties contest for power, and the loser would shadow the ruler. They forget that we got our freedom when a third party came to power on its own in the UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few of us are also fascinated by the American way, where two parties fight for the top job in a neatly choreographed election where everything, except the winner, is pre-determined—the term of office, the date of polling, the date of counting, the date of inauguration, everything. The Ram Nath Kovind committee has prescribed something of that kind for us, boring to the core, but in a multi-party order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yearning for a two-party polity is one thing, but getting it is another. It ought to evolve. We can’t will it into being or wish it into existence. Why should we? Ours is a multi-culture society where our myriad political wills and electoral wishes can’t be force-packed into a bland political binary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, like it or not, we seem to be evolving into a two-front polity. West Bengal and Kerala had in effect been two-front polities since nearly half a century, though the warriors on the fronts have changed. Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have become two-party polities; Maharashtra has become a two-front polity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the federal level, we have been evolving into a two-front polity since the collapse of the Janata experiments of the late 1990s. This election has catalysed the process. Narendra Modi’s NDA has remained more or less solid for the last several years; now the opposition, which fought as disparate elements in the last two rounds, has consolidated over the last few months. There still are sulking truants like Mamata Banerjee, but it looks like the contours of both the alliances have more or less consolidated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would the fronts hold fast after the polls, especially if neither front makes it to the halfway mark, as many are predicting? The answer is difficult. It would all depend on who gathers more of the fortune-hunting freebooters, and who can lure more quislings from the other side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The early bird will get the worms. The Congress learnt it the hard way in Goa and Manipur in 2017, and in Meghalaya in 2018. By the time the final count was out, the BJP, which won fewer seats, had more MLAs to take to the governor. The story could be the same in Delhi this time, if neither front is sure of a clear win. The game could already be afoot. Who makes the next government will be decided after the last vote is cast on June 1, and the first vote is counted on June 4.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, moves made in such interregnums can go wrong. Political lore has it that, though fighting each other in Karnataka, H.D. Deve Gowda had assured P.V. Narasimha Rao of the support of his Janata Dal in case Rao fell short of MPs in 1996. But how the table turned! After the polls, Rao was forced to lend his many Congress MPs as outside supporters to Gowda’s few MPs who sat on the treasury benches. That was when Pramod Mahajan made the famous joke about how he had to tell his Chinese hosts about the largest party sitting in the opposition, the second largest party sitting outside the government, and the smallest of the three in the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That miracle was made possible by a crafty communist, one who spurned kingship for himself or any of his partymen, but loved making others kings. His name: Harkishan Singh Surjeet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does India or INDIA have one like him now?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/25/searching-for-surjeet.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/25/searching-for-surjeet.html Sat May 25 10:54:57 IST 2024 what-women-want <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/18/what-women-want.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/5/18/16-What-women-want-new.jpg" /> <p>The headline is the title of a turn-of-the-century Hollywood fantasy starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. The film was a box-office hit, but its 2019 loose remake, <i>What Men Want</i>, flopped. Who wants to know what men want?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So what do women want? Men of my generation, when we wanted to please our wives on their birthdays or our anniversaries, bought them a new mixie, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a toaster, some comfy bed linen or fancy table linen—depending on the size of our pay cheques. Those were the kind of stuff, we thought, would ease the wives’ chores, give them more time to spend with us and children, make our homes brighter, and bring cheer to all at home. Called MCPs today, we spent our youths in an age when utility weighed more in our minds than the lure of luxury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Men of my son’s or son-in-law’s generation are more focused. They buy chiffons, silks, handbags, shoes, dresses or diamonds for their wives—depending on their credit limits. The kind of things that are of her personal use, yet the possession of which would make her feel enriched, empowered and proud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To me, watching the elections from Delhi, Narendra Modi appeared like a man of my generation, the kind who wooed our women with goodies that we too wanted in our homes. Now, after a whirlwind tour of south Bengal, Mamata Banerjee appeared to me like a new-gen husband—one who woos the woman with what she covets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at what Modi is claiming to have gifted women in 10 years—his manifesto, aka guarantee card, lists free cooking gas to 10 crore-plus poor women, toilets to 11 crore-plus women, vaccination to six crore-plus mothers and children, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s on offer? Help for three crore women to become lakhpati <i>didis</i>, skill up the women self-help groups, seats for a few thousand in Parliament, state assemblies and panchayats, and so on. Pretty heavy stuff, but pretty useful, too, to society at large. Much like the gifts that my generation gave our wives—useful to all at home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And Mamata? Calling her regime Maa-Mati-Manush sarkar, she is putting money directly into women’s purses. Her Lakshmir Bhandar scheme puts Rs1,000 each into the accounts of two crore women—Rs1,200 if she is a dalit or adivasi. Close to 12 lakh old women are getting pension; 20 lakh women get widow pension. And she is offering Rs1,000 a year to every high school girl, and a one-time gift of Rs25,000 when she joins a college or a skills class, and more when she goes for her master’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What’s the difference? One is paternalistic and patronising; the giver thinks he knows what is good for her and gives. The other is entrusting and empowering. The giver trusts her with the money and empowers her to do what she likes with it. In this workaday world, nothing empowers a person more than money in hand which she can spend as she wills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that the BJP doesn’t know this. It was a similar Ladli Behena scheme that returned the party to power in the last Madhya Pradesh polls, just as the Congress had wooed the Kannadiga women with a Gruha Lakshmi scheme. However, unlike these schemes which target the deprived, Mamata’s ones are for all—rich, poor, privileged or deprived.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Will these win votes? Can’t say, but women throng her meetings outnumbering men three to two. She plays to their gallery, singing and dancing with them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Durga imagery is not to be missed. Mamata radiates energy. She doesn’t stand and deliver. With a cordless mic in hand, she sweeps the stage at a brisk pace, much like a new-age motivation speaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, shall we say, Durga at her war dance?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/18/what-women-want.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/18/what-women-want.html Sat May 18 11:38:04 IST 2024 sari-jahan-se-achha <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/11/sari-jahan-se-achha.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/5/11/10-Sari-jahan-se-achha-new.jpg" /> <p>Alia Bhatt wore a sari with a 23-foot train to Met Gala 2024 declaring, &quot;there's nothing more timeless than a sari&quot;. Naomi Campbell stunned everyone at the French Riviera wearing a lavender sari. Last week, about 500 ladies in saris dazzled the Times Square in New York with a walkathon, as had many in London’s Trafalgar Square last year. Indeed, they had modest trains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sari has come of age, declared the fashion press after the Times Square show. Wrong! In the south, girls in <i>pavadai</i> used to shift to half-sari after they came of age, and graduate to sari at the time of marriage. Wondered what <i>pavadai</i> means? Pav = legs; aadai = garment!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sari came of age yugas ago. Alia Bhatt knew it or not, the sari is mentioned in the Rig Veda. It is ageless; even in this metric age, it is measured in yards. A <i>vadhyar</i> once told me that stitched clothes are not to be worn at vedic rituals, because they have been ‘polluted’ by the touch of iron; that’s why certain temples don’t let you wear shirts. The sari—as also the <i>dhoti, veshti or mundu</i>—has thus survived yugas ‘unpolluted’. To each, his faith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To look elegant, other garments have to be made well; the sari has to be worn well. In the case of other garments, the tailor maketh the woman. In the case of sari, the wearer maketh herself. To each, her garment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to clothing, there is nothing more closely identified as Indian than the sari and the Sikh turban. Most of our lady leaders know this well—from the well-groomed Sonia Gandhi and Smriti Irani to the nearly unlettered Pramila Bisoyi who became a wife at five, and an MP at 75 after empowering the women of Ganjam to stand on their feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fashion press makes much of the cloth’s length, like Lady Diana’s 25-foot wedding gown train. That’s no big deal for our mothers, sisters and daughters. They wear six-yard-long (18 feet) saris every day and everywhere—to work, on travel, in the kitchen, to parties, running after their brats or buses, and now, in the election season, chasing votes. Kalpana Soren, who used to wear all kinds of clothes, has stuck to sari since she plunged into electoral politics, even wearing a green, the JMM’s colours, to her nomination. Phoolan Devi, who wore shirts, trousers, guns and bullet belts in the Chambal, wore saris to Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The love for the sari cuts across parties. Indira Gandhi looked the Bharatiya <i>naari</i> with the <i>pallu</i> over her head at political events in India, but charmed statesmen in sleeveless blouse and dapper hair-do when abroad. Daughter-in-law Sonia took after her with starched handloom saris and long-sleeved blouses, and got into <i>Vanity Fair'</i>s 2013 list of the world's best-dressed leaders. Sushma Swaraj looked charmingly motherly with her sari and <i>bindi</i> as did Margaret Alva and Jayanthi Natarajan with her Kanjeevaroms. Then there are Nirmala Sitharaman, Mahua Moitra, Dimple Yadav, Kanimozhi, Supriya Sule—some with <i>bindi</i>, some without—who would give our stylists and supermodels a run for their million-rupee garments when it comes to power dressing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The leftie ladies, too, favour the sari-and-big <i>bindi</i>. Look at Brinda Karat, Annie Raja, Jaya Jaitley, or Subhashini Ali who throws the <i>pallu</i> over her right shoulder like a Gujarati <i>behn</i>. Not to talk of Mamata Banerjee who wears her whites-with-borders carefully clumsily, and makes a style statement much like Mother Teresa’s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, many have spurned the sari and yet walked the power ramp in style—Mayawati for one. She wouldn’t be caught in a sari, even for a million votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To each, her style.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/11/sari-jahan-se-achha.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/11/sari-jahan-se-achha.html Sat May 11 11:38:54 IST 2024 we-the-people-caught-between-king-stork-and-king-logs <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/04/we-the-people-caught-between-king-stork-and-king-logs.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/5/4/10-King-Log-or-King-Stork-new.jpg" /> <p>Once upon an Aesopean time, an army of frogs living in a well thought they needed a king. They prayed to Jove, the king of gods, to send them one. Jove flung a log into their midst. The kupamandukas, terrified by the splash, scampered behind the rocks, but soon found the log to be harmless. In no time they were climbing and dancing over their king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon enough, they got tired of their lifeless king. They asked Jove to send them one who had life and vigour. This time Jove sent them a stork. He ate them all up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you listen to our political pundits, you would think we are caught between a King Stork and several King Logs. The BJP intellectuals (pardon the oxymoron) would have us believe that if the INDIA alliance wins this election, they would rule as King Logs—a new one every year, as Narendra Modi has been mocking. Those kings would look the other way when ‘others’ claim our family wealth, when terrorists strike, and would do nothing to boost economic growth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress intellectuals (pardon the oxymoron) would like us to think Modi would turn into a King Stork if he gets a big win. He would scrap the Constitution, curtail liberties, arrest professors, exile poets, raid merchants, jail leaders, and give India’s wealth to his tycoon friends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caught between the two, what should “we the people”, who gave to ourselves a Constitution, do? Press the NOTA button? Sorry, NOTA can’t make governments. So, hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Truth be told, the Log-Stork binary has been there in India’s electoral narrative ever since Modi stormed into the national scene in 2014. He had come in then scoffing at Manmohan Singh as a King Log—one who “wrote love letters” to Nawaz Sharif, was too weak to fight terrorists, and had looked the other way when political colleagues were carting away our coal reserves and downloading our 2G spectrum for a song. On its part, the Congress had then accused Modi of showing King Stork traits—having let Gujaratis massacre Gujaratis, let trigger-happy cops kill outlaws in cold blood, and helped crony capitalists to fatten themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This columnist had used the same Aesopean allegory to describe the voters’ dilemma then too. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress and co are now worried that Modi could actually turn a constitutional stork if he gets his 400-plus. He would turn a tyrant, they say, who would use the legislative majority to rejig the Constitution, or scrap it and get a new one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ironic it may sound, it was Modi’s own men who started the talk. First his handpicked intellectuals did a little loud thinking that got a bit too loud. Then as the polls approached, party MP Anantkumar Hegde called for a 400-seat target so as to amend the Constitution. Soon every party MP and his elder brother, every aspiring MP and his younger brother, and everyone who had flashed a saffron flag or shouted the Jai Shri Ram slogan was talking about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was then that the opposition sensed danger, and an opportunity. They turned the message around, reposted it to the dalit millions who swear by Constitution-maker B.R. Ambedkar, saying the Modi-ki-guarantees in the BJP manifesto would replace the constitutional guarantees of school seats, scholarships and job quotas. In no time, the BJP sensed danger, cried <i>“shantam-paapam, tauba-tauba,”</i> and stopped talking of 400.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, another problem. Many among the upper castes had thought, though without basis, that it was a matter of time before Modi and co scrapped the quotas lock, stock and barrel. Who would they vote now —Log or Stork?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/04/we-the-people-caught-between-king-stork-and-king-logs.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/05/04/we-the-people-caught-between-king-stork-and-king-logs.html Sat May 04 11:39:02 IST 2024 votes-notes-and-prison-terms <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/27/votes-notes-and-prison-terms.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/4/27/9-Votes-notes-new.jpg" /> <p>There is a sympathy vote in this election, too. No cause for alarm. No big leader has been assassinated. Perish the thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of us think sympathy votes come riding on waves of tears shed after assassinations, and that they take the ship of the departed leader’s party to the shores of victory. Won’t blame you, especially if you are of my age or older. We had the bad luck of voting twice over blood and tears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first was in 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Her son Rajiv called for early polls which he won with the largest majority ever. A case of tears turning into votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1991, Rajiv himself was murdered midway through an election. The Congress, which had begun to be marginalised in a ‘mandalised’ and ‘mandirised’ India, recovered in the post-assassination rounds of polling. It came up as the single largest party, and formed a minority government. Again, tears had turned into votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We Indians vote with the heart, and not with the mind. Passions sway us more than reason. Parties know this; so they seek to rouse fiery passions (BJP style) or evoke softer feelings (Congress style) in our minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As discussed in this column two weeks ago, the BJP hasn’t found any cause to rouse passions yet. But the Congress and the INDIAns seem to have found something to evoke sympathy. The good thing is—you don’t need an assassination for that. Play the victim card in a political or prosecution deal, and leave the rest to the kind-hearted masses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Would it work? It has. Remember how George Fernandes won the 1977 election when he was cooling his heels as an undertrial in a nasty dynamite case? His supporters plastered the walls with posters showing him behind bars and in handcuffs. The Mangalorean from Mumbai won with a huge margin from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, where none had even heard his name earlier. Since then there have been many.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not every jailbird gets the votes. You have to look the injured innocent who had got a raw deal from a cruel regime. Like Arvind Kejriwal. He had been playing the victim part in his tiffs with the lieutenant-governor and the Narendra Modi regime all along; now, though not a candidate, he is performing like a thespian after going to jail. There is no liquor bribe trail to nail him, he says; yet he has been sent to jail sans his insulin shots. His partymen are out on the Delhi streets with Fernandes-style placards and posters, and renting the polluted air with the slogan <i>“jail ka jawab vote se”</i> (counter jail with vote).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A jail term isn’t necessary either. Look at Rahul Gandhi. He was convicted in a defamation case which entailed him being barred from contesting for six years. Then on he was going from court to court, his prosecutors following him on every step, and taxmen slapping pay-up notices. Every dart has been hurting him, but also making him look revered as a young Bhishma on a bed of arrows, or a St Sebastian who was tied to a tree and shot with so many arrows that he looked like a pin-cushion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the poll campaign opened, and taxmen froze his party accounts, Rahul passed the hat around saying, “We have no money to buy even train tickets.” His men went around the streets and homes with buckets in hand seeking crowd funds, much like how Kanshi Ram built up his BSP in the 1980s seeking “a note and a vote”. Mind you, every note-giver is also giving a pro-note for a vote. Smart! Others spend money to get votes; these guys get money with votes!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, if every party in INDIA has got a sympathy card to play, the regime and its raiders have themselves to blame.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/27/votes-notes-and-prison-terms.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/27/votes-notes-and-prison-terms.html Sat Apr 27 10:32:18 IST 2024 of-patras-and-guarantee-cards <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/20/of-patras-and-guarantee-cards.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/4/20/10-Of-patras-and-guarantee-cards-new.jpg" /> <p>G.K. Chesterton said, “Every politician is emphatically a promising politician.” More so in an election season, when they hunt us in packs and flood us with promises that make us forget their performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parties are worse. They make a plethora of promises, and compile those into ‘manifestos’, a word that came to be dreaded ever since two 19th century Germans wrote one about a spectre that was haunting Europe—not of an election, but of a revolution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days, manifestos read like PhD theses, the opening chapter of a Thomas Hardy novel, the first page of a James Joyce book, or a statement drafted by our foreign office. Every reading left your mind foggier. And linguists say, ‘manifesto’ comes from Latin ‘manifestum’ which means ‘clear’!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s be fair. Manifestos, these days, are reader-friendly. The credit, if you ask me, should go to P.V. Narasimha Rao. The one that he drafted for the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress in 1991 read like a things-to-do list, a never-before attempt. It simply listed what the party would do in the first 100 days of government, in the first one year, in the first two years, in 1,000 days and so on. You could keep it on your desk as a checklist, and tick it every now and then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the simple checklist carried a political vision—the roadmap for the economic reforms that its regime would unveil in the next five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP took simplicity to the extreme in the next polls. Its 1996 manifesto promised, among other things, to add fruit juice to cold drinks, and get banks to update our passbooks!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manifestos have since matured. The recent ones are easy-to-read documents, yet containing the political vision that a party wants to share. The challenge for us is not to comprehend the content, but the titles. The Congress calls theirs Nyay Patra; that sounds like an Odiya name, or an affidavit filed in a court of law. The BJP calls theirs Modi Ki Guarantee Sankalp Patra. You may think it’s a guarantee card, styled as a palm-leaf scroll, that came with your new washing machine. Pun intended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding the content or titling. Parties can promise the moon, Mars or Mercury as long as they don’t violate the Constitution or the model code. The BSP plays it safe. More often than not, they don’t issue any manifesto, saying those are hollow promises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not true. Most of what governments do in the larger policy domain are things that would have been promised in manifestos. As said earlier, the reforms of the 1990s were laid out in the 1991 Congress manifesto. The Congress promised right to education in 2004, delivered it in 2009.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some may take a few years. The BJP promised to scrap Article 370 in its 1984 manifesto; it did in 2019. It promised a UCC in 1989; delivered it in Uttarakhand in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Manifestos ought to be taken seriously. Ask the CIA. They looked foolish when A.B. Vajpayee made the bomb. They wouldn’t have, if they had read the BJP’s 1998 manifesto where the bomb option was mentioned in plain English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What are parties promising this time? The BJP guarantees welfare—free health insurance to 70-year-olds, piped cooking gas, free ration for the poor for five more years, and more. The Congress offers to scrap Agnipath, make Jammu-Kashmir a state again (but no return of 370), give legal guarantee to crop prices, one-year apprenticeship to youth, Rs 1 lakh to one woman in every poor home, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not much different? Their political visions are. One guarantees regime stability; the other offers democratic liberties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Your choice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/20/of-patras-and-guarantee-cards.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/20/of-patras-and-guarantee-cards.html Sat Apr 20 11:20:09 IST 2024 voter-is-happy-bjp-worried <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/12/voter-is-happy-bjp-worried.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/4/12/8-Voter-is-happy-new.jpg" /> <p>Team Modi has been warming up for this election, claiming “jo kaha, wo kiya”—what was promised has been delivered. Jolly good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What did they promise, and what did they deliver?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A shrine for Lord Ram in Ayodhya; built. Scrap Kashmir’s special status; done. Citizenship to non-Muslim migrants; yes. A common civil code; kicked off in Uttarakhand. A scheme to hold polls to all legislative bodies in one go; ready. Quota for women in law-making forums; legislation done, execution next. The last two may not have been ‘fulfilled’, but the BJP can claim they are ‘half-filled’. Pardon my bad English, but the score card is not bad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there were those humdrum governance guarantees that are given by every party. Terror has been combated, the Pakistanis have been quietened, China is staying put, riots have been contained, the corrupt are being caught, the economy is doing well, farmers aren’t protesting, the poor are being fed, more roads built, more trains running, more money in pockets, more grain in warehouses, more gains from stocks, more homes with light bulbs, more kitchens with gas cylinders (though they cost a lot more), and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, the gods are in heaven, the deities in shrines, and all’s well with the Indians’ world. There may be more jobless in Modi’s India than there were in Manmohan Singh’s, but patience! There’ll be more jobs in the richer India that Modi is building in the <i>amrit kaal</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition may cry—what about crony capitalism? What about raid raj? Suppression of dissent? Abuse of poll bonds? Petrol price? Hate crimes? Chinese still on the border? Minorities? Manipur? Well, that’s their habit—to carp about everything. Carping is the pastime of the opposition everywhere. They would come out with black papers (a Congress innovation made during the last budget session) to shoot holes into the BJP’s white or saffron papers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the whole, thus, Modi and company would have us believe that there is a feel-good and a feel-big about India. Therein lies the problem. Feel-good or feel-big doesn’t fetch votes. Didn’t we see how A.B. Vajpayee went to town with a “feel good”, went to the polls saying “India shining”, and went down not knowing what had hit him? Much like Harold Wilson who claimed “we never had it so good”, and lost the next polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The truth is—the voters are an ungrateful lot. As Canadian thinker William B. Munro, often discredited for his support of eugenics, said, “The average man does not vote for anything, but against something.” He won’t vote for what you have done for him. He doesn’t vote with his mind; he votes with his heart. So, don’t appeal to his reason; appeal to his emotion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t we know? It was voter anger that brought down Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime in 1977. Anger and sympathy over the murder of Indira helped Rajiv win a brute majority in 1984. Hindu anger over a post-Shah Bano law, and Muslim anger over shilanyas at Ayodhya combined to bring down Rajiv in 1989.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or look at Modi’s own two elections. He worked the voters’ fear of terror and their revulsion with corruption to kick out the Manmohan regime in 2014. In 2019, he absorbed the voter anger over Pulwama, hit back at Balakot and made the voter walk with a swagger to the polls. Passions were roused; passions were channelled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2024? There is pretty little that can rouse passions. So we hear—why did you boycott the Ayodhya shrine consecration? Why are you mocking at Shakti? Why did you sell out Katchatheevu? Why is your manifesto reading like the Muslim League’s?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Are these enough?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/12/voter-is-happy-bjp-worried.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/12/voter-is-happy-bjp-worried.html Fri Apr 12 11:17:05 IST 2024 the-catch-in-katchatheevu <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/06/the-catch-in-katchatheevu.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/4/6/9-india-srilanka-new.jpg" /> <p>Would we like to get Katchatheevu ‘back’? I’ll bet half the fish in the Gulf of Mannar that every leader who wants a vote in Tamil Nadu would say yes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi, who is seeking a seat or two in the Tamil country for his BJP, says the Congress “callously gave away” the islet to Sri Lanka in 1974. In 2022, M.K. Stalin advised Modi, who was visiting Lanka, “that this is the right time to retrieve Katchatheevu”. The AIADMK moved the Supreme Court in 2008 seeking to get the 1974 treaty nullified. Naturally, all three, as also most other parties in the Dravida land, would like to preside over St Antony’s annual feast in Katchatheevu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now comes the real question. Has anyone done anything to get the islet ‘back’?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The leaders would scream yes, and cite a thousand statements they have made in courts (more than 30 petitions), in Parliament, in the public and in cyberspace. But as any schoolboy from the heights of Ladakh to the coast of Rameswaram would know, and as the Lankans have been scoffing from across the Palk Strait, the writ of the Supreme Court of India does not run beyond land’s end in Kanyakumari.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then which door should they knock at? Simple—the diplomatic doors in Colombo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Strange as it may sound, in the last 50 years since the Congress “callously gave away” the islet, nobody has asked the Lankans to renegotiate the boundary! The BJP has been in power at the Centre for 16 of these 50 years, the DMK shared power at the Centre for 17 years, and the AIADMK had good ties with several Union governments. Those regimes had illustrious foreign ministers like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I.K. Gujral, Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Tamil-speaking S. Jaishankar, yet none has asked Colombo to reopen the 1974 treaty. Let alone a diplomatic channel, none of them has opened a backchannel or even thrown a bottled message across the Palk Strait.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They know it will be futile. After all, it was Jaishankar’s office that put up a stiff diplomatic lip and told an RTI activist in 2015 that the 1974 agreement “did not involve either acquiring or ceding of territory belonging to India since the area in question had never been demarcated. Under the agreements, the island of Katchatheevu lies on the Sri Lankan side of the India-Sri Lanka International Maritime Boundary Line.” Period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One may say, the boundary line was based on an understanding reached in 1921-22 when Lord Chelmsford was ruling India and William Henry Manning in Ceylon and both were reporting to the same office of Lord Montagu in London. In the 1970s, Indira Gandhi, alarmed by the sight of the Lankans refuelling Pak war planes during her Bangladesh war and American jets playing war games in Diego Garcia, thought Katchatheevu was a small price she could pay to keep the Lankans on India’s side in her South Asian power play. She simply formalised an understanding that had been there since Chelmsford and Manning, but got Sirimavo Bandaranaike to let Indian fishers to dry their nets on the islet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, would we like to renegotiate the boundaries set by the colonialists and recognised by our own rulers? Two problems. One, expect the Lankans to say, go take a walk across the sea to the isle of St Antony. Two, that walk will land us in the Chinese trap. They are the ones who say that boundaries drawn by colonial rulers need to be renegotiated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gentlemen, there is a diplomatic minefield on that little isle. Keep off as far as possible, but join the Lankan fishers at the annual feast of St Antony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, as Jesus said, love thy neighbour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/06/the-catch-in-katchatheevu.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/04/06/the-catch-in-katchatheevu.html Sun Apr 07 10:03:56 IST 2024 hear-the-night-knock-and-seize-the-day <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/30/hear-the-night-knock-and-seize-the-day.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/3/30/9-Hear-the-night-knock-new.jpg" /> <p>Jayaprakash Narayan hadn’t expected his arrest on the night of June 25, 1975. Yet, when he saw two scribes, who were on a midnight prowl at the police station where he was quietly taken to, he told them, “Vinaash kaale vipareet buddhi.” The words proved prophetic. The imposition of Emergency, the midnight arrests of opposition leaders, and his utterance of that line of native wisdom contributed to Indira Gandhi’s undoing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>JP hadn’t prepared for the moment; he seized the moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arvind Kejriwal had been expecting his arrest for weeks. He had defied the probe agency’s summons nine times, and had been telling all and sundry that he would soon hear the midnight knock. Yet when ‘they’ came for him, he didn’t have even a one-liner to give anyone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nor did his INDIAllies. Tax sleuths and enforcers have been making midnight knocks on every major opposition leader’s doors over the last few months. Even that didn’t galvanise the hunted to pack together and fight back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, they have now rallied in protest, but a full 10 days after the AAP leader’s arrest. By then his persecutors had set a different electoral narrative, smearing him with Khalistani taint. The taint may wash off in the law courts, but by then much water would have flowed down Yamuna, and many million ballots would have been cast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of India’s opposition since 2014 has been one of such missed opportunities. Flashback to the autumn of 2016, when the regime banned high-value bank notes, sending millions into miles-long queues of misery. In any democracy, that should have been a godsend for the opposition to mobilise the masses. They would have taken to the streets, marched into town squares, organised rallies and held sit-ins. A few would have played guardian angels, sent volunteers with bottles of party-labelled water bottles and food packets to the queued-up millions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not in India. Our opposition netas protested in Parliament, tweeted trolls, and used their credit and debit cards to pay their bills. They made statements of sympathy, but were absent in action. For the first time in India, both the government and the opposition let the people down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came the spring of 2020, when the devil visited us in the form of an unknown virus. The government got vaccines made and sold, but goofed up the interim period playing Punch-and-Judy shows with plates and spoons and enforcing a short-sighted but long-lasting lockdown. Locked out of jobs and homes, thousands walked miles on bleeding feet to their country huts of misery, most of them starving, some fainting and a few falling dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anywhere else in the democratic world, politicians would again have been out on the streets, protesting or providing succour to the needy, running roadside food camps, offering short rides in party-labelled cars or carts. Sadly again, the Indian opposition was conspicuous by its absence, as was an indifferent government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months ago, every opposition member who opened his mouth in Parliament was thrown out of the house. The ousted 146 simply protested outside, and meekly walked back into the houses when called back. Contrast it to what happened on June 24, 1989. When the Rajiv Gandhi government white-washed the Bofors scandal with a parliamentary probe report, the entire opposition resigned en masse, and that became the rallying moment for an oust-Congress movement. They were just 73, yet enough to take on Rajiv’s 400-plus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition says, Modi has been crushing them. But haven’t they been allowing themselves to be crushed?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/30/hear-the-night-knock-and-seize-the-day.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/30/hear-the-night-knock-and-seize-the-day.html Sat Mar 30 11:11:57 IST 2024 your-vote-or-their-date <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/23/your-vote-or-their-date.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/3/23/13-Ram-Nath-Kovind-and-Droupadi-Murmu-and-Amit-Shah-new.jpg" /> <p>The Ram Nath Kovind committee wasn’t asked to check if it was a good idea to hold polls to the Lok Sabha, the assemblies, the town councils and the village panchayats in one go. The government knew it already. The charter given to them was to suggest how to do it. Rulers these days are like that. They know what’s good for us; they need advice only on how to do the good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As discussed in this column earlier, our current rulers think we are voting too often. We waste a lot of time, energy and money by being in poll mode constantly. Every year we have a round or more of polls to one or more legislatures. The PM and ministers get distracted, the model code freezes development governance, economy slows down, the police and the paramilitary get burdened, illegal money corrupts the polity and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the Yanks. They vote on the second Tuesday of every leap year November, come hell, highwater, world war or bin Laden; inaugurate the new president on the next January 20th; and let him rule or ruin them for the next four years. No questions asked, no no-confidence motions moved, no mid-term polls held.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kovind and Co didn’t copy-paste the US model, but worked around it. They say, in the next five years we should amend a whole lot of articles in the Constitution and hold polls to the Lok Sabha, 28 state and three UT assemblies together in 2029, and to municipalities and panchayats in the next 100 days. The President will decide a date on which the Lok Sabha should get constituted, and declare it sacrosanct. All future Lok Sabhas and assemblies will scramble to be constituted on that day every five years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What if spoilsports in one state blot the copybook, and pull down a regime in the fourth year? Simple. Ask the voters in that state to vote another assembly for the remaining one year. The same about the Lok Sabha. If a Lok Sabha sinks midstream, elect another Lok Sabha for the rest of the five-year term. In the fifth year, get all the voters all over the country to elect another Lok Sabha, 28+3 assemblies and a few lakh panchayats and town councils.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The status-quoists have fundamental counters. People elect an MP for one set of reasons, and an MLA for another. They may like one party to rule India, another to rule their state. The politics of both are different, so are voters’ priorities. A party that lost to the Lok Sabha may still convince the voter that it can rule a state well. That calls for a different campaign atmosphere. That way, the system gives choices not just to the party, but to the voters, too. The voter gets to hear several reasonings put to him in varying ways to make informed choices. Democracy should widen the choices, not limit them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But didn’t we start with same-time polls? Indeed, we did in 1952 and 1959, but by default. The dynamics of politics upset the pattern in 1959-60 when the Kerala assembly was sacked and mid-term polls held in 1960. Odisha followed suit. Since then assemblies and Lok Sabhas have been leading their own separate lives, cooperating, conflicting, and cooexisting, but rarely coterminating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tailoring the terms of assemblies to suit the central legislature's goes against the fundamental principle of federalism. Democracy is not a commodity to be valued in monetary terms or growth rate percentages. Elections are not a necessary evil, but an essential good by which deprived classes get politically empowered. Elections are part of the social <i>amritmanthan</i> for obtaining the nectar of social and political good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, which is more sacrosanct—the vote or a date?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/23/your-vote-or-their-date.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/23/your-vote-or-their-date.html Sat Mar 23 14:29:00 IST 2024 parties-on-hiroo-onodas-island <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/16/parties-on-hiroo-onodas-island.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/3/16/9-Parties-on-Hiroo-Onodas-island-new.jpg" /> <p>Heard of Hiroo Onoda?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hiroo was one of the several thousand soldiers of Japan’s Imperial Army who were sent to fight on the scores of islands in the Pacific against the Allies in World War II. Their orders were to fight till death, and never to surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Japan lost the war, and became an ally of its old enemies. The world changed, empires broke up, the Cold War began, hot wars broke out in Korea, Vietnam and West Asia, the Russians went into space, the Americans to the moon, women burnt bras, babies boomed, Beatles sang, Japan made cars—without Hiroo or his marooned buddies getting any wiser.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The post-war Japanese and their new American friends knew there were Imperial Army troopers left behind by time and war. They dropped leaflets on the islands to inform “anybody out there” that the emperor’s war had ended long ago. Hiroo and his buddies read a few of those, but dismissed them as enemy propaganda. They sat in the bushes through rain, shine and sounds of overflying airplanes, keeping their powder ready for an enemy who never came. Till an explorer found Hiroo in 1974, and convinced him that the war had ended three decades earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition in India is trapped in a similar time warp. Like Hiroo &amp; Co who continued to ‘fight’ the Yanks and the Brits after the latter became allies, they are still fighting their old enemies—the Congress against the communists in Kerala, the commies against the Trinamoolis in Bengal, the Aam Aadmis against the Congress in Punjab, and Jagan against who knows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress in Kerala are the worst afflicted. They are fighting the faction wars of the 1970s and 1980s, calling themselves I group (I for Indira) group and A group (for A.K. Antony who had once opposed her Emergency). Believe me, they still divide party posts (plenty) and spoils (little), evenly between the A and the I groups. But then, why not? It keeps them fighting fit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The allies are peeved that the Congress is not getting the coalition dharma right, causing many to leave. Nitish Kumar may have had axes to grind, but a bit more tact on the part of the Congress and the left could have prevented Mamata Banerjee from stomping out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are saving graces, though. Take M.K. Stalin. His DMK could have fought alone in all the 40 seats in his Tamil territory (including Puducherry), yet lent nearly half of those to allies including the communists who are fighting to prove they exist. Or Arvind Kejriwal. He had thrown tantrums in the early INDIA days, but in the end not only gave three of Delhi’s seven seats to the Congress, but has also hit the campaign road for all seven. Sadly, even one week after making the pact, the Congress couldn’t give him the names of their three guys for whom Kejriwal has started seeking votes! Indeed, he has spurned the Congress in Punjab, but that is to give the opposition space to the Congress, rather than concede it to the BJP or the Akalis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the BJP, whom they are supposed to be fighting together, is befriending foes, eyes closed. Having grabbed JD(U), and factions of Shiv Sena and NCP, it is wooing Naveen Patnaik whose government it was supposed to be opposing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to think of it, isn’t opportunity knocking on the Congress’ doors? As the Aam Aadmis asked them in Punjab, who will occupy the opposition space in Odisha if the principal opposition allies with the rulers?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does the Congress hear the knock? If yes, get into attack mode in the battle of Kalinga. If no, listen to Aristotle. Two millennia ago, the sage said, nature abhors vacuum. Even in political space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/16/parties-on-hiroo-onodas-island.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/16/parties-on-hiroo-onodas-island.html Sat Mar 16 11:06:05 IST 2024 a-film-star-and-our-star-trekkers <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/09/a-film-star-and-our-star-trekkers.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/3/9/12-Prime-Minister-Narendra-Modi-greets-Gaganyaan-Mission-astronauts-new.jpg" /> <p>From Mother Earth, she asked, “How does India appear from up there?” From the heavens, he replied, <i>“Saare jahan se achha.”</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several million Indian hearts went into seventh heaven watching the chat between prime minister Indira Gandhi and Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma who was orbiting the earth in a Russian space vehicle in 1984. For all you know, the dialogue had been scripted beforehand. No harm. It was played to perfection, and India had its moment of pride.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi’s Gaganyaan moment at Thiruvananthapuram last month too was played to the script. The four pilots, training to fly into zero gravity zones, took in the gravity of the moment. As they stood in smart attention, Modi presented them with astronaut wings, and later introduced them as India’s four shakti. A billion and more hearts flew to seventh heaven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ceremonies of the state are scripted to perfection. The names of the foursome—Group Captains Prashanth Nair, Ajit Krishnan, Angad Pratap and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla—had been kept under wraps for full four years when they were training in Russia and India. That added to the moment’s solemn suspense.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A good script lends dignity to the event. It has risks, too. The whole thing can end in disaster, if one player strays from the script. It happened once, delaying Rakesh Sharma’s flight by a few years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story goes that Soviet supremo Leonid Brezhnev thought he could make a grand offer of a free space ride to an Indian in a Russian vehicle. To make the announcement with a flourish, he chose the lunch he was hosting in visiting prime minister Morarji Desai’s honour. Prompt came the reply from the old man—“not a particularly good idea!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the hands of the Kremlin clock would have frozen. Brezhnev’s “unlit cigarette fell off his lips,” writes T.P. Sreenivasan in his book <i>Words, Words, Words: Adventures in Diplomacy</i>. Desai had a queasy logic: several boys would have to be trained, but only one would fly; why waste time and money? Only after the return of Indira in 1980 was the proposal revived, and Sharma flew in a Soyuz rocket to space, recalls Sreenivasan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, more had to train for one Sharma to fly. They were actually a gang of four. Ravish Malhotra was there till the final stage of training, but missed the bus. He would retire as an air commodore in 1995. Then there was a team B— few still know about them—who too had trained with Rakesh and Ravish. Sadly, the eldest of the four, Subhash Mittal, passed away in 1986.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fourth had a colourful career before and after his near-cosmonaut days. He had been flying the MiG-25, the world’s fastest (three times faster than sound) and highest-flying plane. <a href="https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2024/03/11/goodbye-mig-25.html" target="_blank">I had the thrill of chatting him up 22 years ago about his supersecret plane that had made legends in the skies over Europe, West Asia and South Asia (THE WEEK, Sept 29, 2002)</a>. He was then a radio jockey, and is now a film and serial star. Even after earning fame as Emperor Akbar’s uncle Bairam Khan in <i>Jodhaa Akbar</i>, Wing Commander Yogesh Suri likes to be called by his old call sign Yuri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time, too, all four are not likely to fly. Gaganyaan can seat only three; perhaps one might be sent to ride in an American vehicle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What would we call the four? Rakesh Sharma was called a cosmonaut since he flew with the Russians. The more common English word is astronaut, preferred by the Americans and the Europeans. The Chinese call theirs taikonauts. We in the media have already started calling our boys gagannauts. Or does Modi have another name in a script up his sleeve?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why not vyomanaut?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/09/a-film-star-and-our-star-trekkers.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/09/a-film-star-and-our-star-trekkers.html Mon Apr 08 16:13:28 IST 2024 spiked-guns-rigged-polls <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/02/spiked-guns-rigged-polls.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/3/2/11-Spiked-guns-rigged-polls-new.jpg" /> <p>There are two aphorisms about Pakistan’s army and its politics. One, that their politicians have been riding a tiger, the tiger being the army. Two, that the army has been losing all the wars, while winning all the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both aphorisms were proved wrong by events in the last two years that culminated in last month’s general election, the country’s 12th. For one, the army lost the election, though they managed the selection of the post-poll rulers. Two, the events showed that it is the army that is riding the tiger, the tiger being electoral politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It had looked like the politicians had been riding the tiger earlier, ever since prime minister Mohammad Ali Bogra invited General Ayub Khan to join his cabinet as defence minister in 1954. That proved to be like the merchant letting the fabled camel—or shall we say tiger?—into his tent. Since then Pakistan has had three coups, three constitutions, and 30 prime ministers, all of whom came to power on the pleasure of the generals and went out of power when the pleasure was withdrawn.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In between, the generals got into party politics, founding, funding, fashioning and sometimes finishing political parties. So much so, all the three leading parties of Pakistan owe their birth, growth or both to the army. General Yahya Khan nurtured Zulfikar Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party as a counter to Mujibur Rahman’s popular Awami League in East Pakistan; Zia-ul Haq nourished the Islamist Pakistan Muslim League to seek political legitimacy for his military regime; and the post-Musharraf generals funded and cheered the growth of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PPP and PML have been coming to power on the army’s pleasure, and losing power when the army withdrew pleasure. So it should have been with the PTI. That’s where the army lost the plot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The post-Musharraf generals, less Islamists than the <i>namazi faujis</i> of the Zia-ul Haq generation, had betted heavily on the handsome batsman who looked like a playboy, had had a Jewish English wife, looked harmless, and was called Im the Dim. They funded his party, got their ISI to do dirty work for him, and put him in the prime minister’s crease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But soon the batter started hitting it all off-side, and the umpires in khakhi withdrew their pleasure. Out went the batter, but unlike the Sharifs and the Bhuttos before him, Khan made a loud appeal—not to any umpires clad in white or khaki, but to the ill-clad masses in the galleries. As the galleries exploded, the outgoing army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa declared that the army would slowly withdraw from politics; his successor Asim Munir seemed to nod his peak-capped head.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was then that the army realised it had been riding the political tiger. Since last April we have been seeing things that were once impossible to imagine in Pakistan—mobs abusing the army, burning flag cars, ransacking flagstaff bungalows, looting command houses and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at what happened since. When the elections came, the generals got Imran arrested, his supporters booked, his party banned, his bat symbol frozen, his party’s meetings broken up, and finally the counting rigged. The masses still sought out his ‘batless’ candidates, and stamped the ballots on their myriad symbols in so large numbers that even the rigged results gave them more seats than the military-favoured Sharifs and Bhutto-Zardaris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the first time in Pakistan’s history, people’s will power prevailed over the army’s firepower. And the world came to know who was the tiger and who was the rider.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/02/spiked-guns-rigged-polls.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/03/02/spiked-guns-rigged-polls.html Sat Mar 02 10:58:11 IST 2024 a-charles-king-from-chandigarh <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/24/a-charles-king-from-chandigarh.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/2/24/14-Anil-Masih-new.jpg" /> <p>A picture is worth a thousand words; how many words is a video worth? Perhaps you can’t weigh their worth in words, but two videos will go down in India’s political history as speaking a million or more words. One showed us what we didn’t want to see; the other what we didn’t want to believe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first was a 2001 clip that showed BJP boss Bangaru Laxman taking a cash bribe from a purported arms dealer. Neither was the amount large, nor did it show anything that we didn’t know. Those of us who vote, don’t vote or press NOTA these days know that many politicians take money for themselves or for their parties, but we were willing to condone the sin if there was no quid pro quo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was one thing to know the evil was there within us; it was another to see that evil in person. Seeing the act on camera was like Dr Jekyll seeing Mr Hyde in a mirror. The sight of the president of the ruling national party, which had been claiming to be a party with a difference, getting his palm openly greased with a measly sum in return for granting an arms deal shocked our middle-class sensibilities. We had thought that men at that level were beyond reproach or carried a higher price; the video told us they could be bought cheap. Anyway, Bangaru paid the high price.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We continued to believe that politicians may be corrupt, but the system that elects them isn’t. Now another video has come out, shattering the myth and making us shudder. It didn’t catch any politician with palms open or pants down; it caught a petty electoral officer in such a blatant act of rigging as to give company to Charles King in the hall of electoral ill-fame. King, if you don’t know, was elected president of Liberia in 1928 by a majority of 60,000, though the country had only 15,000 voters. Graham Greene recorded this in his 1935 travel account <i>Journey Without Maps</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anil Masih of Chandigarh is a much smaller man, but his crime qualified him for a place next to King. This nominated member of the town council was asked to conduct the mayoral poll, but he was caught in a video marking the ballots on his own. The video went viral two weeks ago, shocking the moral, ethical, political and judicial conscience of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Bangaru video showed what most of us knew was happening, the Masih video showed us what we thought wasn’t happening. Therein lies a paradox. The players on our electoral stage carry little credibility, but the directors of the play have always carried a high degree of credibility. Despite all the charges of booth-capturing, ballot box-stuffing and scientific rigging, Indian elections have enjoyed a high degree of credibility. We may have elected scoundrels at times, but the process by which scoundrels were elected has been beyond reproach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is this trust that a petty factotum has shaken to our deep anguish. And it was this anguish that made the majesty of the Supreme Court to intervene in what otherwise would have been dismissed in a corner of a newspaper column about a mayor poll in a distant town.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP prides itself as an election-winning machine. Two years ago its national leaders went to campaign in Hyderabad’s town polls, saying they took even municipal polls seriously. Very good, gentlemen, that’s the way parties should conduct themselves. But some of your flunkeys are taking your words too seriously and too literally, and trying every trick in the book and outside it to ensure ‘victory’. Restrain them gentlemen, before more Masihs besmirch the good name of India, and turn it into a Liberia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/24/a-charles-king-from-chandigarh.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/24/a-charles-king-from-chandigarh.html Sat Feb 24 10:48:59 IST 2024 a-rao-deal-and-a-ratna <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/16/a-rao-deal-and-a-ratna.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/2/16/18-Narasimha-Rao-new.jpg" /> <p>This columnist had warned the Congress way back in 2018 that the BJP would hijack P.V. Narasimha Rao. They have, with a posthumous Bharat Ratna.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No quarrel. Rao deserves the honour, much more than L.K. Advani, Karpoori Thakur or Charan Singh, the other politicians whom Narendra Modi has honoured in a pre-election honour spree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many consider Rao next only to the visionary democrat Jawaharlal Nehru, the strategically far-sighted Indira Gandhi, and at par with or a notch above A.B. Vajpayee, among India’s PMs. He came to power heading a minority regime, 'bought' majority, gave us five years of stable rule, and got prosecuted for buying majority. No Congressman went to his aid when he was in the dock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s how politicos are. Congressmen turn spiteful when out of power; BJP men do when in power. Taken together, we are in the worst of times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao has much to be credited for. But for his political backing, Manmohan Singh couldn’t have got away with economic reforms. Pilloried in Parliament, Singh put in his papers twice in those five years. Rao tore up those papers and stood by him. Parallelly, he steered India through the tumultuous tides of the post-Cold War world, and pushed it towards economic growth and strategic might.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rao hasn’t got due credit for his Punjab miracle, the only instance in modern world history where a heartland separatist movement was defused with no damage done to the state or statute. He pulled off an election without going to Punjab even for a photo-op. His first visit to Punjab was more than a year later—for a hele-survey of floods.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enemy's enemy is friend; enemy's friend is enemy. Rao reversed the dictum. When the Army didn’t have enough men for militant-hunt in Kashmir, Rao 'truced' with Pakistan’s friend China, relieved more than one lakh troops from the China border and sent them to shoot the Pak-backed militants. That was Chanakya <i>neeti</i> upside down, or statecraft with a touch of Palmerston. The wily viscount had said, a country has “no eternal allies” nor “perpetual enemies,&quot; but only permanent interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Congress eyes, Rao committed a sin of omission—he did nothing when <i>kar sevaks</i> tore down the Babri mosque. But no Congressman would crucify Rajiv for his sin of commission—allowing <i>shilanyas</i> at Ayodhya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was only expected that the BJP would seek to hijack Rao. Facing a shortage of freedom fighters, the Indian right has been on the lookout for national icons. They had got K.M. Munshi and Madan Mohan Malaviya alive; one had joined the Jana Sangh, the other founded the Hindu Mahasabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seeking more, they have been eyeing anyone who had walked on the 'right' side of the national movement before independence, or of the nation-building movement after independence, as intellectually theirs to appropriate. Making much of Sardar Patel’s minor tiffs and Netaji Bose’s major tiffs with Nehru, they sought to appropriate both. It’s another matter that Patel had conceded ‘Jawahar’ was better suited to be PM than was himself. A bid was made to take Ambedkar, but the doughty leaders of the dalit movement are just not letting his legacy go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress did wake up, but too late. They put up Rao’s pictures on posters, perhaps as an afterthought, on the second day of their Udaipur conclave in 2022. Since then Rao has been appearing now and then in the Congress pantheon, but now Modi has moved swiftly, taking the wind out of the Congress’s drifting sails.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who next? Rajaji, G.B. Pant, Lal Bahadur Shastri are all candidates with rightist credentials, but protected with Congress-bestowed Bharat Ratnas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/16/a-rao-deal-and-a-ratna.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/16/a-rao-deal-and-a-ratna.html Fri Feb 16 14:28:39 IST 2024 check-castling-in-the-air <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/09/check-castling-in-the-air.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/2/9/13-Check-Castling-in-the-air-new.jpg" /> <p>Zugzwang is a chess term which, in simple English, is the situation when the player who has to make the next move would lose. The German word, pronounced ‘tsooktsvang’, means ‘compulsion to move’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looks like INDIA has been caught in a zugzwang. Whatever they do is getting them in a worse position than they were in before making the move. They thought they got a good acronym for a name, but now the rest of us say, INDIA is falling apart. Their Prince Charming thought that instead of spending his winter evenings in Delhi having chai-pakodas and feeding his Pidi, he should ride out to reconnoitre the field, and rouse his troops for the poll battle. Now allies are blaming him for going on a joyride when he should have been in the war-room crafting strategies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But why pick a chess term to describe political parties’ pre-poll predicament? It is just that our treasurer Nirmala Sitharaman gave me some food for chess thoughts in her budget speech. Hailing the prodigy Praggnanandhaa who nearly checkmated world champion Magnus Carlsen, she proudly claimed “today India has over 80 chess grandmasters compared to little over 20 in 2010.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the NDA’s many Herculeses—sports ministers from Sarbananda Sonowal to Anurag Thakur—have cleaned India’s Augean tracks and fields to Olympian standards. They got our sportspersons more funds, facilities and fields, and toned up many messy sports bodies, though a few Brij Bhushan Sharans are hanging around the rings as native versions of Vince McMahons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But does the government have anything to do with the making of prodigies like Praggna or Vaishali? Has the state, which may have patronised chess, spotted or nurtured chess talent?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chess had its beginnings in ancient India where it remained a courtly pastime till Satyajit Ray filmed a Premchand story in 1977, mocking at a few lazy Lukhnavis of the 1850s. Then came Viswanathan Anand as the knight in shining armour, self-made, self-taught, self-funded, and winning the global crown. His example inspired several thousand Indians to let their kids brood over the boards rather than mug up textbooks for school boards, or get torture-tutored for NEET, CLAT or CUET. We got our 80 grandmasters from those kids whom Anand inspired.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the political grandmasters in Washington, too, had hailed their Bob Fischer’s freak win over Russia’s Boris Spassky in 1973 as the free world’s checkmate on the state-controlled bishops, knights and rooks of the USSR. In truth, they had nothing to do with Fischer’s win. It was just that Fischer gave the Yanks a face-saver after their shameful defeat in Vietnam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so in Russia. They had been playing the game for centuries. Ivan the Terrible fell dead over a chessboard. Lenin’s love for the sport helped make chess a national pastime. By the 1920s, chess was established as a central tenet of the Soviet society, where it captured the fancy of the hawkers in Arbat as well the apparatchik around the Kremlin. Just like our drivers and hawkers playing cards in our car parks and street corners, you can still see lines of hawkers selling vegetables and cheap goods in Russian town streets playing chess on boards placed between them when no customers are around. No wonder, Russia produced seven of the eight world champions from 1948 till 1993, and more later. The US? None before or after Fischer’s freak win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The long and short of the story is: regimes have little role in making a Fischer, Carlson, Vishy, or Praggna, but maybe a bit in the shaping of Spassky, Karpov, or Kasparov.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/09/check-castling-in-the-air.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/09/check-castling-in-the-air.html Fri Feb 09 14:43:02 IST 2024 english-vinglish-and-nitish <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/03/english-vinglish-and-nitish.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/2/3/14-English-Vinglish-and-Nitish-new.jpg" /> <p>Many feared in the 1960s that Hindi was going to divide India. Not the language, but its imposition on non-Hindi states. Luckily, saner Nehruvian counsel prevailed, and India survived. With the result, India has two official languages for the Union, 22 recognised languages in the eighth schedule, 15 on currency notes, yet no national language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now again, language is threatening to divide INDIA. Not the country India that is fast becoming Bharat, but the political alliance INDIA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>INDIA, if you recall, was born at a conclave in Patna, midwifed or accoucheured by Nitish Kumar in June. Its naming ceremony was held in Bengaluru in July. This column had warned against the name then itself, pleading that we scribes wouldn’t like to give headlines as “INDIA loses” against our patriotic sentiments. No INDIAn listened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last week, the midwife walked away from INDIA to the more Bharatiya camp called NDA, leaving the baby’s many wet nurses bewildered. Some say, Nitish has fallen for Narendra Modi’s Jai Shri Ram chants which he thinks would get more votes than all the caste census figures. Others say, he has as much fear of retribution from voters as from the sleuths in the ED. Still others say, he had wanted to be the primo uomo of the INDIAlliance, but seeing so many warlords seeking to be <i>ek din ka sultans</i> in Delhi, he knew he stood no chance. Naturally, the honour of being the INDIA head went to Mallikarjun Kharge, a neta with a thick voice but with the thinnest dossier in ED’s and taxmen’s vaults.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My hunch is that it was English that got Nitish’s goat. Look at the INDIA crowd. Save for an Akhilesh Yadav here or an Arvind Kejriwal there, INDIA is essentially a motley crowd of southern, eastern and western leaders. Nitish had been feeling like a fish out of the Kosi in the largely English-speaking, rather non-Hindi-speaking, alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nitish had been showing his aversion for English for some time. Last February he slammed a farmer for speaking in English at a ploughmen’s conclave, telling him, “You are in Bihar, and this is Bharat”. Next month, he was upset with the upper house chairman after he spotted a house display board in English. In September, he lost his cool on seeing the signboard of a newly built digital library in English, and asked the officials to change it to Hindi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His last straw perhaps was a sheepish request from T.R. Baalu of the DMK for a translation of his speech at an INDIA conclave in Delhi on December 19. To the surprise of all, Nitish, who was known for his composure even in the company of a Lalu Prasad, lost his temper, and gave him a haranguing in Hindi for not knowing the national language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many would have wanted to tell Nitish that Hindi is not yet the national language but only the official language of the Union, a status it enjoys along with English, but held their English tongues in the interest of pax-INDIAca.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came Narendra Modi, offering a Bharat Ratna to Karpoori Thakur, whom Nitish reveres for two reasons. One, Thakur was the pioneer social justice icon of north India, having implemented a Mandal-type quota in Bihar long before Mandal himself had thought of it. Two, Thakur was also the one who had banished English from Bihar’s schools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, a word in Baalu’s defence. There he was, attending a high-powered conclave which he thought had been called to discuss seat-sharing formulas for the upcoming polls. If he didn’t know whether Tamil Nadu’s seat tally is <i>unchalis or eiktalis</i> (most southerners don’t), how on earth could he have offered a few of them to the allies?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/03/english-vinglish-and-nitish.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/02/03/english-vinglish-and-nitish.html Sat Feb 03 11:08:49 IST 2024 baywatch-dreams-on-lakshadweep <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/27/baywatch-dreams-on-lakshadweep.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/1/27/12-Baywatch-dreams-on-Lakshadweep-new.jpg" /> <p>On his many visits to Dhaka in the days after winning the 1971 war, Lt.-Gen. J.S. Aurora used to drive from the airport flying his eastern command flag on the car, with outriders ahead, sirens blaring, and traffic cleared, straight to the old Pak army commander’s bungalow where he would set up his lodging. Once the war-ravaged city got a notional civil administration in place, Aurora was asked, with trepidation by the Indian mission, if he could cut the paraphernalia. He may wear his three stars on his car, but no command flag, no outriders, nor the command house, please. The mission staff thought the general would kick up a shindy that would bring the command house down. To their surprise, he gracefully agreed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though no longer waging wars for them, India has been doing much good to neighbours. But of late, we have forgotten to be graceful while doing good, telling them how good we are to them. Remember how the Nepalis were miffed with the self-congratulations on the Indian social and anti-social media after we sent them a few planeloads of food, drugs and blankets following the 2015 earthquake? The boastful posts cost us much of the goodwill that we had earned by giving.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now it’s the Maldives’ turn. We have been their friends in need and deed, saving their president from a coup, gifting them a plane, a patrol boat and two copters to watch their shores, airlifting their sick, building their coastal radars, sending them shiploads of food and drugs after the tsunami, and sending tanker planes with drinking water after their filtering motors conked off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We want them to be grateful, but we won’t be graceful. The neighbours are getting sick of our boasts. How else did an anti-India constituency develop in the Maldives, which made an anti-India Mohamed Muizzu their president? Triumphalism has crept into our virtuosity; it is earning us malice instead of goodwill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the recent baywatch farce that damaged Delhi-Male ties more than all the Chinese whispers that Muizzu has been playing. Three of his ministers, naive novices, tweeted some inanity over Narendra Modi’s Lakshadweep visit. Our diplomats protested; Muizzu fired the trio. The matter should have ended there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But no! Our keypad soldiers and YouTube influencers, the conscience-keepers of our nation, took to their arms in the palms, and called a beach boycott of the Maldives. That was naiver than what those island trio did, for three reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One, a boycott would hurt Male’s coffers, but not much. Indians form a tenth of their visitors, but we are not the biggest spenders. The Chinese have been promising to send plane-loads of tourists who have deeper pockets on their bermudas and—who knows?—bikinis, too. It was India’s patient diplomacy that kept Male from leasing isles to the Chinese till now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, with all its lagoons, Lakshadweep can’t be a match for the Maldives. The latter are 1,192 isles; 1,005 with no people and open to be made resorts. Lakshadweep are just 36 isles, of which 26 are unpeopled and can host tourists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three, Male has been earning millions from beach tourism which is all about blondes, bikinis, beers, and billionaires, yet have kept their all-Muslim population insulated from the associated 'sins'. They do it by ingeniously keeping tourists away from the isles where people live. Resorts are run on people-less isles where all orgies of Bacchus are allowed. On those isles where the twain may meet, like in capital Male, tourists shall wear nothing short of full-length trousers, and behave like monks. Can Lakshadweep follow the model?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/27/baywatch-dreams-on-lakshadweep.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/27/baywatch-dreams-on-lakshadweep.html Sat Jan 27 11:05:59 IST 2024 vote-for-an-indian-english-word <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/19/vote-for-an-indian-english-word.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/1/19/10-Vote-for-an-Indian-English-word-new.jpg" /> <p>English is a shameless language; it borrows from any language to get its vocabulary bloated. Several dozen words have been ‘looted’ from Indian tongues and paraded before the world as English—chappal, pyjamas, ginger, jungle, juggernaut, loot, bandicoot, curry and mulagatawny, to name a few. Then there are phrases like koi hai, which was once heard in planters’ clubs and officers’ messes and got morphed into a noun, but has gone out of use along with the Somerset Light Infantry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Noun, yes; it’s mostly nouns that have been accepted into the king’s tongue. When it comes to verbs, English purists act snooty. Why else are they still not accepting ‘prepone’, a fine verb we thought could be administered as an antidote to the ‘postponing’ poison that has entered our babu-ruled lives? We developed the word in our great middle-class laboratory so to avoid the delays of our postponement culture in the government and the bureaucracy. We offered it free to the English-speaking world, but they have been spurning it as an ‘ugly Indianism’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the Thiruvananthapuram MP, our knight in shining English armour, made a strong case for it four years ago. In the end, he was assured by the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary that the word had long been admitted into its hallowed portals. But it remains there, as an Indian artefact in the museum portal, and hardly used in Blighty or elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Why am I saying all this? Simple! Of late we have been hearing this Indian English word in our corridors of power and intrigue—that, boosted by the tailwind that thrust the BJP to power in the recent three assembly polls, Narendra Modi may seek to prepone the elections to the 18th Lok Sabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last general election was notified on March 10, 2019, the polls held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, and the results announced on May 23. That leaves another nearly two months for the whole rigmarole to start. But birds from Deendayal Upadhyay Marg say that Modi might advance—oops, prepone—the whole process by a month. He would have the two houses summoned on January 31 and get the president to address the houses, the interim budget presented on February 1, get all of the stuff voted before February 9, and tell the MPs to go back to their ‘seats’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the pluses of going a month early. The triumphal ride of the Modi chariot in the three Hindi-speaking states, from where the party has to win 65 seats, is still fresh in voter memory. Two, so is the Vishwa Guru image that he projected during the G20 jamboree. Three, J.P. Nadda’s party machinery is ready for battle with all systems in place, the pivot corps in the northern states ready to defend, and the strike corps in other theatres ready to shock and awe the enemy. Four, the Jai Shri Ram chants that are casting a spell of devotion across Bharatvarsh could be rendered into slogans for votes in the next few weeks. Five, the INDIAns are still haggling over seats and why should they get time to settle their bargains and firm up their seats?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six, and most important—the principal enemy commander is still on a cross-country jodo drive from the distant marches. Last heard, the gent is planning to get back by March 20 by which time, the whole country would have gone half way into the campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But why should Modi do it at all, if he thinks he can win even one month later? As Harold Wilson said, “a week is a long time in politics;” a month is still longer. You never know, whether the tailwind could turn into a headwind in a month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/19/vote-for-an-indian-english-word.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/19/vote-for-an-indian-english-word.html Fri Jan 19 14:45:26 IST 2024 an-unfit-case-for-mercy <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/13/an-unfit-case-for-mercy.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/1/13/7-A-woman-protesting-against-the-release-new.jpg" /> <p>I knew a judicial magistrate in Kerala who got a trifle upset when his parish priest was produced before him as a murder accused. He regained his composure in a minute, recorded the statements, and passed the custody order. All the same, his momentary discomfiture proved to be the undoing of his judicial career; it drew adverse remarks from the High Court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bench is no place for passion. “The law,” said Aristotle, “is reason free from passion”. Philosophers of law have viewed passion as subordinate to reason. Much so, when you are dispensing justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet there are times when judges get emotional, though not to the point of being moved to tears, as they show in Bollywood. When confronted with gross injustice and long-enduring agony, it requires superhuman effort to stay stoical.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Bilkis Yakub Rasool, Justices B.V. Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan have achieved that. They didn’t look at the woman’s plight, nor uttered a word of sympathy. Yet they delivered her justice, the greatest gift within their power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pardon the word play, but Bilkis Bano has been living a ‘court life’ for two decades. She was chased and mass-raped by men whom she knew as her neighbourhood <i>bhais</i> and <i>chachas</i>. They killed her kin in front of her eyes, smashed her child to death. Yet she had to go to the court to get a case filed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Twenty years on, she is still living out of court. It is the only arm of the state that heard her out when those raping <i>bhais</i> and <i>chachas</i> came out of jail to mock at her. In 20 years of her youthful life she had to wage half a dozen court battles, right from the local magisterial, through the sessions and high courts of two states, to the Supreme Court. The state, which was bound to protect her life and liberty under Article 21, was often aiding the other side. At the start, it aided them by refusing to file an FIR; in the end, it aided them by remitting their punishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naturally, the cold gaze of the court through 250 pages of well-reasoned judgement is on the state. The judges focused on three things—one, the condoning attitude of the state while one of the convicts was perpetrating fraud on the court; two, usurpation of one state’s power by another state; and three, the temerity of the state to even disregard a court order asking the convicts to pay a nominal fine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s take one and two together. Though the crime had been committed in Gujarat, the trial and the conviction took place in Maharashtra. It followed that the authority who had the power to remit the sentences was the Maharashtra state. As much was repeatedly told to the convicts by many an authority, yet Gujarat usurped the power of Maharashtra to order remission after one of the convicts misled the Supreme Court to obtain a favourable order. Indeed, it exposed chinks in the judicial armour, too—how easy it is to mislead the wise judges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third point is of pettiness. The convicts had also been imposed monetary fines, failing to pay which they would have had to spend a few months beyond their life terms, remission or no remission. The convicts failed to ‘remit’ even those few thousand rupees, yet the state agreed to ‘remit’ their sentences. Indeed, they hastily paid after the remission was challenged.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, Bilkis Yakub Rasool affirmed a new notion of law: when the state fails, the victim can step in to seek punishment for crime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, all’s well that ends well. Or, is it? The villains will be back in jail soon, and may next approach Maharashtra for remission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Your next battle, Bilkis!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/13/an-unfit-case-for-mercy.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/13/an-unfit-case-for-mercy.html Sat Jan 13 10:59:52 IST 2024 a-universal-adult-festival <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/06/a-universal-adult-festival.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2024/1/6/10-A-universal-adult-festival-new.jpg" /> <p>We Indians have more festivals than any other people. Yet, we have no national festival, only national holidays on I-Day and R-Day. Even Diwali, which many think is pan-Indian, is not celebrated in several corners. As a child who grew up in central Kerala, I knew Deepawali only as the day on which my grandfather had his birth star of Chithira (Chitra), a day plus or minus. I would bet a million banned notes at a Diwali card party that most revellers don’t know the <i>panchang</i> month and <i>tithi</i> on which Diwali falls. Leave it, let them have fun. Nor do I know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have a national festival, but it comes once in five years. It can be celebrated earlier, if our rulers will so. It is our elections, the festival of democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indians love elections. Most people do, but none of them has the kind of colour, melody and medley of an Indian election. The earth turns divine territory. Our ruling gods, as also the aspiring Asuras, come to the earth with folded hands, promise the most, smile the most, meet the most and fete the most.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sixty countries are holding national polls this year. That’s a number that will not be reached again till 2048, says a US thinktank. The list includes India the largest democracy, the US the oldest, Bangladesh our nearest, Pakistan the toughest, European Union the fairest, and many more. There will also be the warring Russia and Ukraine (if the latter chooses), the threatened Taiwan, the unstable South Sudan, the stabilised Tunisia, the oil-rich Venezuela, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political pundits, killjoys, say that democracy is not just elections. Indeed, democracy is also the way the people are ruled after elections. Most democracies fail in this. Tyrants have come to power through polls. Didn’t Hitler? All the same, elections are the best tests for a democracy. If people get to vote freely and fairly, it is half the votes won.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like success, democracy has many fathers. The Greeks claim to have developed democracy; the Romans soon copied it, as they did the gods. Of late, India has been claiming to have mothered democracy, having had republican <i>janapadas</i> in the fifth century BCE and earlier, the <i>sangams</i> in the south and more. Some say, the Harappans, whose ruins haven’t yielded anything royal or monarchical, might have been living in trading republics. Many tribes claim to have been practising democracy for centuries. Look at the Afghan <i>jirgas </i>and<i> shuras</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Were these democracies inclusive? The Greeks kept slaves who were denied political rights, as were women. The same with the Romans, copycats! India didn’t practise slavery, but Buddhist texts say our <i>janapadas</i> had a ruling caste (<i>rajas</i>) and a working class (<i>dasas</i>). Then there was the <i>chaturvarna</i> system that prescribed different rights for different castes. That goes against the democratic principle of equal rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The English claim to have mothered the elected parliament, but Iceland’s parliament is older. And it was when the Brits denied polls to own people in the colonies that the Americans set up what is now claimed to be the oldest modern democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Yanks trade in democracy. Their first export was to France. French troopers, who had gone to help the colonists against the colonialists, returned to France and told the masses about democracy. The masses got inspired, stormed the Bastille, and set up a series of republics. In the melee, a few hundred heads rolled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Export of democracy is an idea that the US tries when a tyrant somewhere turns against them. They put export curbs when the tyrant turns their friend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/06/a-universal-adult-festival.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2024/01/06/a-universal-adult-festival.html Sun Jan 07 11:43:48 IST 2024 guy-fawkes-gunpowder-farces <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/29/guy-fawkes-gunpowder-farces.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/12/29/10-Guy-Fawkes-gunpowder-farces-new.jpg" /> <p>On the evening of November 4, 1606, King James I’s guards searched the cellars of his parliament house, and arrested Guy Fawkes who was hiding with a lantern, matches, touchwood and barrels of gunpowder that would have blown up the building, the king and the lords at parliament’s opening the following day. No blood was shed—blue, red, noble or menial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India, too, has had its gunpowder day. On December 13, 2001, five men blasted into our Parliament house with machine guns in their hands and murder on their minds. Spraying bullets and blood all around, they raced towards the chambers with an intent to kill the ministers and members, before they were gunned down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>England remembers the event that took place five centuries ago though no lives were lost. To this day, they have a Guy Fawkes Day on which they burst crackers and children sing a rhyme:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember, remember, the 5th of November,</p> <p>Gunpowder, treason and plot.</p> <p>I see no reason</p> <p>Why gunpowder treason</p> <p>Should ever be forgot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though nearer in time and bloodier, India’s gunpowder day has been clouded out from our collective memory. Nothing else explains the farce that took place on its 22nd anniversary. Two crackpots, with little resources at their command for plotting perdition, walked unchallenged into the parliamentary galleries with smoke canisters in their shoes, and jumped into the chamber, while two others created a distraction with a Punch-and-Judy show in the town square outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the four johnnies were caught with ease, but the ease with which they had walked into the house and created mayhem raised several eyebrows. How did they walk in unchallenged? How did a ruling party member sign their passes? How secure is the new Parliament house? Who sent them? What will the state and its sleuths do to get to the bottom of the plot? Is there a fabled foreign hand which we discover behind virtually every country bomb blast in the country?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Parliament sought answers, for two reasons. One, sitting in the houses were the people’s representatives who had been sent there to ask questions. Two, it was their lives that had been at stake in the whole farce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No replies came from the regime. Instead, statements were made elsewhere disregarding a convention that such statements are not to be made outside when the houses are in session. As agitated members, feeling insulted after being nearly injured, created pandemonium, there took place what may go down in parliamentary history as a regulated re-enactment of Pride’s Purge. Pride’s Purge, if you don’t know, was a notorious event in the English parliament in 1648 when Thomas Pride got removed members who were opposed to his cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hon’ble speaker sir, and chairman, sir! Let’s not follow the purgatorial path of Pride. When the walls of the temple of democracy are breached, the pujaris and the archakas inside, and the billion believers outside, have a right to know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>King James and Atal Bihari Vajpayee recognised that right. The address by the king the next day ensured the survival of the regime in England; the assurance by Atalji’s home minister L.K. Advani triggered a national mobilisation to combat the evil of terror, politically and militarily.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In both cases, the rule of law prevailed; democracy survived; and people’s will triumphed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/29/guy-fawkes-gunpowder-farces.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/29/guy-fawkes-gunpowder-farces.html Fri Dec 29 14:43:39 IST 2023 cashiering-for-queries <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/15/cashiering-for-queries.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/12/15/11-Meenakshi-Lekhi-and-Mahua-Moitra-new.jpg" /> <p>Voltaire said, judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers. Mahua Moitra wouldn’t agree. She would want a person to be judged by her answers. Meenakshi Lekhi wouldn’t agree.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both have reasons. Mahua thinks she has been harshly judged by her questions in Parliament; Meenakshi says she was wrongly judged by an answer she didn’t give in Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meenakshi and Mahua are two of India’s most brilliant MPs, one an efficient minister, the other a dreaded debater. Their sins, alleged or real, aren’t similar. Mahua’s is mala fide; Meenakshi’s is lack of vigil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mahua tripped on questions. She shared her login ID and password (no big crime; most MPs lend them to aides) with a business house to post queries to ministries that would further its commercial interests (a crime). She is alleged to have got cash in return (a graver crime). Mahua says she didn’t, where’s the proof? Meenakshi tripped on answers. She found an answer tabled in her name which she hadn’t seen or signed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look trivial to us, but both are breaches of parliamentary sanctity—one by commission, the other by omission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Question hour is Parliament’s most sacred hour, when the very ordinary backbencher gets to question the majesty of the most powerful minister, when every minister is held accountable to every elected member. No query is treated trivial, even when it is about what the government is doing to stop the Himalayas from growing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The right to question the government in the house, even on matters of daily running, is the most envied as also the most dreaded aspect of the Westminster system. So much so George Bush Sr said, &quot;I count my blessings for the fact I don't have to go into that pit that John Major stands in, nose-to-nose with the opposition, all yelling at each other.&quot; Yet, while running for president in 2008, John McCain promised to ask Congress, if he gets elected, “To grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain” does. Thankfully, McCain didn’t make it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Questions are of two kinds—those answered orally, and those to which written replies are given. Aides burn midnight bulbs in ministries during sessions, drafting detailed answers to scores of questions, and making huge ‘briefs’ for ministers to check while making oral replies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ministers dread oral queries. A questioner is allowed two sub-queries after listening to a minister’s answer. That’s where ministers get caught. Unless fully briefed, or having done proper homework, they could falter and fail the grill. Aides sitting in officers’ gallery can send quickly scribbled notes, but those are of little help unless the minister has studied the matter. Many a mighty minister has made a fool of himself, having come without doing his homework.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For us, this provides not just amusement, but also a treasure trove of information. Believe me, eliciting info through Parliament queries is faster, more efficient and more thorough than through RTI queries. Diligent newsmen, who wade through the ocean of data that are being tabled and filed in records, are known to have stumbled on many a news scoop. I, too, have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now for some comic relief. A member once asked the defence minister about the nationalities of militants who had been nabbed or killed in Jammu &amp; Kashmir. The reply: it can’t be revealed in national interest. He sent the same query to the home minister. In a written reply, the minister gave the exact count of each nationality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That much for national interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/15/cashiering-for-queries.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/15/cashiering-for-queries.html Fri Dec 15 18:06:51 IST 2023 idea-of-india-bhavna-of-bharat <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/09/idea-of-india-bhavna-of-bharat.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/12/9/10-Idea-of-India-new.jpg" /> <p>There is one electoral record that Narendra Modi wants to equal in 2024; there is another he aspires to break. Both are currently held by the Nehru-Gandhis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first is of Jawaharlal Nehru—to win three general elections in a row. Nehru led his Congress to victory in 1952, 1957 and 1962. Modi and his partymen, who won in 2014 and 2019, are pretty sure of equalling the feat in 2024. The BJP’s wins in the three assembly polls of the last one month have boosted their confidence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other record is held by Rajiv Gandhi; that looks harder to equal or to break. The Mr Clean of Indian politics won only one general election, but in that one he won 414 seats, the highest number ever won by any single party or alliance. Of course, as a commentator wrote a bit uncharitably at that time, Rajiv didn’t win the votes; his dead mother won them for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To borrow a line from a 1976 Dickey Lee song, “nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine tears” shed over the assassination of Indira Gandhi spawned several million more votes. In the end, every second voter in India stamped on the hand—the only time when a party got nearly half the votes polled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Converting tears into votes is no big deal. The tougher task is to convert the mandate of tears into a mandate for good governance, and get it endorsed in the next round. That’s where Rajiv failed. He wasted away his mandate in five years, and got voted out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi never traded tears for votes. His opponents say, he has traded fears for votes. They say, he banked on several fears, imagined or otherwise, to garner votes—fears about neighbours, fears about minorities, and fears about ‘the other’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe so. But Modi’s success has been that he converted the mandate of fears into a mandate for “a government that worked”, to borrow Indira’s slogan of 1979-80. That stood him in good stead in the second round when he bagged 303 for the BJP and 353 for the NDA. Now he hopes to improve on those for a Modi-3.0.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Easily wished than won, even with last week’s surprise wins in three heartland states and a better show in Telangana. Let’s get to the brasstacks. The three states that favoured the BJP in the recent assembly round had already given all or nearly all their Lok Sabha seats to Modi-2.0. Despite having voted the Congress to the assembly in 2018, Madhya Pradesh gave 28 of its 29 seats to Modi in 2019, Chhattisgarh 9 of 11, and Rajasthan 24 of 25. Simply put, these three states can’t give more for Modi-3.0 in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If he has to improve from the 303 and 353, Modi will have to conquer more of the coasts. The Saurashtra and the Konkan coasts are already his or easy picks. The Bengal, the Kalinga, the Carnatic, the Coromandal and the Malabar coasts are still eluding him, as Asoka found before he marched to Kalinga, and established pax Mauryana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In military battles, the terrain and technology dictate the tactics. In political battles, the times and the tide do. If the run-up to Modi-1.0 and Modi-2.0 were about exorcising the ghosts of the Ghaznis and the Ghoris, about showing a 56-inch chest to Pakistan, and about taking on or trading with the Chinese dragon, Modi-3.0 looks like more about his claims to statesmanship after hosting the G-20, about engaging the world leaders with a Nehruvian ease and felicity, about building a <i>viksit</i> Bharat or developed India by 2047.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Indian National Congress imparted the idea of India in the 20th century, Modi wants the Bharatiya Janata Party to impart a <i>bhavna</i> of Bharat in the 21st century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How can INDIA counter it?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/09/idea-of-india-bhavna-of-bharat.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/09/idea-of-india-bhavna-of-bharat.html Sat Dec 09 12:35:09 IST 2023 blame-game-over-foul-air <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/02/blame-game-over-foul-air.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/12/2/18-Blame-game-over-foul-air-new.jpg" /> <p>When it snowed in Shimla, Delhi used to catch a cold. That was in the olden days. These days, when a farmer in Ferozepur lights a fire, Delhi breathes hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days, we gauged the day in fahrenheit and centigrade. These days we gauge the day in suspended particulate matter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days, we in Delhi decided whether to sweat or to shiver after reading the weather column in the morning paper. These days, we decide to breathe easy or breathe fire at our neighbours, after checking the air quality index in newspapers and television news.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the olden days, we talked about the weather to start polite conversations. These days, we talk about the smog to breathe fire at the farmers in Faridkot and factories in Faridabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi had always put the blame for its discomforts at others’ doorsteps—the snow in Shimla for the cold, the weirs in Haryana for the Yamuna floods, the fires in Faridkot for the foul air in autumn. So it was this autumn, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The whole of Delhi—right from the judicial courts and green tribunals to pollution control boards and NGO busybodies—was cursing the farm fires in Punjab for fouling up the November air over Delhi. Arvind Kejriwal, who used to join the chorus till last year, was restrained this autumn; his party is ruling Punjab now. Indeed, they all conceded that Delhi’s crore and more cars were also to blame, but the worst curses were reserved for the farmers who had triggered the November air crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Isn’t the stinking shoe on the other foot? Isn’t Delhi fouling up the air over Haryana, Punjab and UP, and not the other way round? With all the smoke that a million and more farmers are emitting from their stubble-burnt farms, there is much cleaner air over most of Punjab and Haryana. Drive up the Grand Trunk Road from Amritsar towards Delhi, and you will notice the air gets fouler as you get closer to Delhi. Don’t take my word; ask anyone in those two states, or anyone in their pollution control boards. Their views hardly get printed or their voices hardly get heard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who taught the farmers bad habits? They had been harvesting with hand, which left shorter stubble that rotted easily. But machine-cutting, taught to them by Delhi's green revolutionaries, leaves taller stubble, which doesn't rot before the next crop. There are machines to pluck them out, but they cost more money than what the crops can fetch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi’s own scientific studies are now calling the bluff. A real-time source apportionment study, run by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, Delhi, and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), show that between November 9 and 25, auto smoke contributed 30 per cent to particle pollution, secondary aerosols another 30.88 per cent and biomass burning 27 per cent. Earlier in September, when farmers weren’t burning stubble, our cars, scooters and buses contributed to 35.66 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Simply put, throughout the year, we gleefully drive our cars and scooters and foul up the air. The farmers do it on any one day in a year; yet we wield the big stick on them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Delhi has a right to breathe free, Delhizens ought to do their bit to keep the air clean. We run more cars and scooters on our grand avenues than all the cars and scooters of Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata put together. We emit more particulate matter than at least two of those metros put together. We have India's largest metro network, but more of us drive to work than do New Yorkers. We don’t car-pool or pillion-pool; our buses run with vacant seats; but our roads get clogged with cars. When the air gets foul in autumn, we blame the neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/02/blame-game-over-foul-air.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/12/02/blame-game-over-foul-air.html Sat Dec 02 11:39:41 IST 2023 dread-the-dog-days <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/25/dread-the-dog-days.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/11/25/16-Dread-the-dog-days-new.jpg" /> <p>Who said, ‘dog bites man’ is no news? It was world news last week when Moldovan President Maia Sandu’s pup bit Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen’s hand at a tripartite summit with Slovenia, called to discuss Moldova’s entry into the European Union. Luckily, the elderly Austrian was no Hitler, Stalin or Dollfuss who, if treated so like a dog, would have blocked Moldova’s EU entry. He was forgiving, and gifted the excitable pup a toy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diplomacy is going to the dogs. Vladimir Putin boasted to visiting George W. Bush that his Labrador retriever Konni was “bigger, stronger and faster” than Bush’s Scottish terrier. He even set Konni upon Angela Merkel, who hated dogs. Joe Biden’s and Boris Johnson’s dogs have mounted on their guards and guests, though bites of the kind that van der Bellen suffered at Chisinau haven’t been reported from Downing Street or the Kremlin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unless on a tight leash, dogs can mar political ties. Among the many grouses that Deve Gowda had against Congress president Sitaram Kesri, which led to the fall of the Gowda regime, was that Kesri used to let his Pomeranian roam free in the room even when the two were talking matters of state. More recently, Himanta Biswa Sarma was peeved that Rahul Gandhi was paying more attention to feeding his dog Pidi when he called on the latter, than to his litany of grievances from Assam. Sarma walked out without even a canine whine, and smelled his way into the BJP. Since then it has been dog days for the Congress in the northeast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s current concern is not about such topdogs, but about dogs who bite people like us, the underdogs. Open the city pages of your morning paper, and you will see stories aplenty about street dogs biting morning strollers, neighbour’s terrier biting kid in a lift, a corporate honcho dying of head injury sustained while fleeing street dogs, and more. Every bite takes a few bytes on the news television, too, where you may even hear the cries of the bitten, and the barks of dog lovers who resist efforts to end the street dog menace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘Dog bites man’ is national news. A town council in Kerala, fed up with ill-fed dogs biting morning strollers and shocked by a stray dog mauling an autistic child to death, moved the court seeking to strike down Maneka Gandhi’s animal birth control (ABC) rules, and seeking powers to kill, cull or curb street dogs. The Punjab and Haryana High court ordered the state to pay Rs10,000 for every dog tooth that had entered the flesh of a man, and Rs20,000 for every 0.2 cm of torn flesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, municipalities were allowed to mercy-kill dogs so that town roads and parks could be kept safe. In 2001 Maneka, then a junior minister in the A.B. Vajpayee government, notified the ABC rules which disallowed dog-catching and mercy-killing, both of which had been allowed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act. Under the rules, amended minorly this year, street dogs who bite can at the most be caught and vaccinated, but have to be set back into streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six crore dogs—the “mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of low degree,” as Oliver Goldsmith put it in <i>An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog</i>—are currently stalking our streets, giving wounds “both sore and sad” to two crore Indians every year. Dog-bite rabies is killing more Indians than is malaria, yet animal lovers wouldn’t hear of even a mad mongrel being killed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The irony, says the kill-the-mad-dog lobby, is: it is lawful to kill a man-eating tiger in rare cases, but you can land in jail if you kill a mad dog.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/25/dread-the-dog-days.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/25/dread-the-dog-days.html Sat Nov 25 11:18:29 IST 2023 recycling-prime-ministers <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/18/recycling-prime-ministers.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/11/18/10-Recycling-prime-ministers-new.jpg" /> <p>Could we imagine V.P. Singh serving in Deve Gowda’s cabinet or Gowda in I.K. Gujral’s? They belonged to the same party and so there shouldn’t have been a problem had they so willed. Or P.V. Narasimha Rao in Manmohan’s team, or A.B. Vajpayee in Narendra Modi’s?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British, whose cabinet system and practices we have copied, don’t have any qualms about their prime ministers coming back as plain ministers. Look at David Cameron. The guy was prime minister from 2010 till the country voted to Brexit in 2016. One thought he had faded away to write his memoirs or go fishing, but here he is appearing in a lesser avatar in the Rishi Sunak cabinet—as foreign minister whom they call foreign secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian leaders are loath to accept constitutionally lower posts than the ones they had held. Many of them return as MPs, but are averse to accepting ministerial or even gubernatorial posts. A notable exception was C. Rajagopalachari, who had held the office of the governor-general of India—the last one to hold it and the only Indian—yet went on to serve in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet and then as chief minister of Madras.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there was Gulzarilal Nanda who was prime minister twice, but had no qualms about joining the cabinets of Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi after demitting office. One may say, he had been acting prime minister and had held the big office only for a few stop-gap days, and therefore there was nothing infra dig in working under persons who had worked under him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Constitutionally, there is no post as acting prime minister. For all purposes and intent, Nanda was full prime minister during those few days, and if he had conveyed any advice to his president as originating from his cabinet which was enjoying the confidence of the lower house of Parliament, it would have been fully binding on the latter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>V.R. Nedunchezhiyan and O. Panneerselvam were chief ministers of Tamil Nadu thrice, yet VRN went on to serve in Karunanidhi’s, M.G. Ramachandran’s and J. Jayalalithaa’s cabinets and OPS in Jayalalithaa’s. Both were aware that they were serving as political proxies for others when they held those high offices, and therefore had no problem in accepting lesser ministerial jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British, on the other hand, have often retreaded their prime ministers into plain ministers. Alec Douglas-Home who was notoriously ignorant of domestic politics and economics (he told an interviewer that he read only the sports pages in newspapers, and that he used matchsticks to make economic calculations) lasted one year as prime minister, but later served in Edward Heath’s cabinet as a successful foreign secretary. Arthur Balfour, who had a three-year stint as PM from 1902, served in three cabinets for 11 years during and after World War I. That was when he re-promised the Jews their promised land in 1917, double-crossing the Arabs who had helped Britain win the war, and thus starting all the trouble that we are seeing in Palestine today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 18th and 19th centuries were an age of recycling prime ministers as cabinet minsters. Downing Street irregulars say, 14 of their premiers since Robert Walpole have ‘come back’ to serve in governments led by others. That means, every fourth prime minister has returned as a minister in another’s cabinet. The list includes the celebrated Duke of Wellington who, after two short stints as prime minister, served as a minister without portfolio in the lesser known Robert Peel’s (who lent the name ‘Bobby’ to the London cop) government, and also as commander-in-chief of the army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/18/recycling-prime-ministers.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/18/recycling-prime-ministers.html Sat Nov 18 11:09:19 IST 2023 calm-muizzu-we-come-in-peace <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/10/calm-muizzu-we-come-in-peace.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/11/10/10-Calm-Muizzu-new.jpg" /> <p>Mohammed Muizzu has put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a spot with two demands. One, come into my parlour and attend my coronation, the Maldivian president-elect has told Modi. Two, get all Indian troops out of the Maldives asap.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first is easy to comply with or politely refuse. If he is inclined so, Modi can land in the Male airport, drive along the new bridge from the airport-island to the capital-island, and attend the swearing-in. If he doesn’t want to drive on a Chinese-built bridge, he can take a ferry from the airport to the capital, as used to be done earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The point is: there’s no harm in Modi going. After all, he had graced Muizzu’s predecessor Ibrahim Solih’s swearing-in in 2018.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a difference, many would say. Solih was a friend of India; Muizzu isn’t. Muizzu is a friend of Solih’s predecessor Abdulla Yameen who had hosted Xi Jinping as the first Chinese president to set foot on the atoll republic, evicted the Indian company GMR out of an airport-building job, and given the contract to a Chinese firm. Solih undid much of the damage that had been done to India during Yameen’s tenure, and steered the Maldives closer towards India again. Now we have to wait and see how Muizzu will redamage the damage undone by Solih.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s all the more reason for Modi to go, I would say. If Modi can befriend Muizzu by being there to bless him on the big day, very well, then. A long shot, but why not? After all, Modi had tried it on Nawaz Sharif in 2015 by air-dropping at Sharif’s grand-daughter’s wedding in Karachi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, if he is not so inclined, Modi can politely regret citing his preoccupation with the assembly polls, and send a cabinet minister or even the vice-president to represent India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second demand—to pull out troops—is truly a tough call. If Muizzu means combat troops, well, that’s tougher still. For, there just aren’t any Indian combat troops in the Maldives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian troops are the bogeymen of Maldivian politicians, just like the CIA was to many in the India of the 1970s, and George Soros is to many in the India of today. Many a political career has been made in the Maldives by citing Indian military presence, though no combat trooper has been sighted any time. Except those occasional officers who drop by to train their troops, or those few troopers who go for joint exercises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, combat troops had landed guns blazing in the Maldives in 1988. That was when a bunch of rag-tag mercenaries had staged a coup, and taken president Abdul Gayoom a prisoner. Rajiv Gandhi’s troops landed in planes and ships in Hollywood style, secured the airstrip, gave a thrilling boat chase to the ‘wild geese’, rescued the president, and brought the rebels tied up in ropes to face the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All other Indian uniformed men who landed in the Maldives have been non-combatants—some on warships loaded with food, fuel, tentage and blankets when the tsunami hit the Indian Ocean shores on Boxing Day 2004, others on huge tanker planes carrying drinking water for the four lakh Male townsfolk when their water plant was gutted in 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, a few have been flying in and out, training Maldivian troopers to fly an India-gifted Dornier plane and a couple of India-gifted Dhruv choppers, and to steer an India-gifted patrol boat. A few dozen engineers and technicians have been erecting a radar fence around their unpeopled isles to protect them from pirates and terrorists. At the last count, about 170 of them are on the isles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They bear no arms and mean no harm. You want them out, Muizzu?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/10/calm-muizzu-we-come-in-peace.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/10/calm-muizzu-we-come-in-peace.html Fri Nov 10 17:24:16 IST 2023 hush-cash-in-vote-banks <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/04/hush-cash-in-vote-banks.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/11/4/14-Hush-cash-in-vote-banks-new.jpg" /> <p>We have a right to know about the guys we vote for. They have to tell us if they have been accused of crimes, how much money they have in banks and stocks, how much gold in lockers and ornaments, how many homes, plots and shops they own, and even how deep in debt they are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s what we call transparency in democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The guys who are seeking our votes make it plain to us when they file nominations. If we find later that they had lied in those statements, we can get the courts to throw them out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not possible? Ask the voters of Hassan. Two months ago, the Karnataka High Court unseated their MP, Prajwal Revanna, for having concealed much of his money and assets from his nomination affidavit. Revanna has since got a stay on the disqualification, but can’t vote in the house till the Supreme Court decides the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s what we call accountability in democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of these guys seek our votes in the name of their parties, the policies that the parties pursue, and the ideologies the parties espouse. Parties lend them their symbols, manpower and money in the elections. Extending the logic of transparency and accountability, don’t we also have a right to know who gives money to these parties?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, says R. Venkataramani, our attorney-general. The citizen ought to know of the candidate’s wealth and crimes so as to make informed choices, but that doesn’t mean he ought to know who is funding the candidate’s party—the AG stated in a Supreme Court case that is challenging the anonymity clause in the electoral bonds scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As written in this column earlier, use or abuse of money power had always been the bane of Indian politics. Rich traders made and unmade kings and kingdoms in mediaeval India. Banker Jagat Seth bankrolled the battle of Plassey. For the next one century, we were ruled by or in the name of a company. The freedom movement was bankrolled by native corporates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post-independence, corporates funded parties that served their interests. When she found more cheques being issued in favour of the rightist Swatantra, Jan Sangh and Congress (O), Indira Gandhi banned corporate funding to parties. Funding went under the table. Campaign cash came to be carried in huge chests in chartered jets and express trains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv Gandhi lifted the ban on corporate donation in 1985, but the cash chest culture continued. Several venerable political figures were 'caught' with suitcases of currency, the most infamous being the claim by big bull Harshad Mehta that he had carried currency worth 01 crore in a suitcase into PM Narasimha Rao's home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came the hawala scam which singed several reputations. As a few leaders declared they would take money only in cheques, corporates floated electoral trusts. The Manmohan Singh regime gave legal sanctity to this in 2013 by amending the Companies Act so as to allow corporates to donate up to 7.5 per cent of the average of their previous three years' profit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Campaign costs soared in the Narendra Modi era of laser dazzle and data analytics. Arun Jaitley's 2017 budget unveiled a scheme by which Indian citizens and entities were enabled to buy bonds of Rs1,000 and above from designated banks, and donate the bonds to the parties. The parties can cash the bonds, and keep the money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clean and white? Indeed, but for one clause. If a donor wants to stay anonymous, his name appears nowhere in public domain. With neither the voters nor the auditors coming to know who donated how much to who, the scheme has turned out to be as opaque as the old treasure chests and suitcases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/04/hush-cash-in-vote-banks.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/11/04/hush-cash-in-vote-banks.html Sun Nov 05 17:47:28 IST 2023 feuds-over-birthdays <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/28/feuds-over-birthdays.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/10/28/10-Feuds-over-birthdays-new.jpg" /> <p>Brothers and sisters of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Andaman &amp; Nicobar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Lakshadweep and Puducherry! Greetings for November 1, your state or territorial day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all these states and territories were created on November 1, 1956; nor are all of them ‘creatures’ of the States Reorganisation Act. Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and a few of the UTs were created in 1956; Andhra Pradesh is older by three years (created in 1953); Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh UT are younger by 10 years (1966). Chhattisgarh was created on November 1, 2000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many believe that the old Andhra Pradesh was the first state carved out on the basis of language. Not at all. Odisha was created on language basis in 1936. Maharashtra and Gujarat, separated at birth on the basis of language, were created on May 1, 1960. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah fixed Sardar Patel's birthday, October 31, for making Jammu &amp; Kashmir a UT. If they had delayed the move by a day, J&amp;K and Ladakh, too, could have joined the November 1 birthday club.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Countries, too, have their national days. For most Afro-Asians and Latin Americans, it is the day on which they won freedom from European colonialists, formed republics, or threw out native tyrants. For Europeans, it varies. The French have their Bastille Day on which they revolted against their tyrant kings in 1789; the Germans have their Unification Day (October 3) on which the Cold War-separated West and East Germanys were reunited in 1990, the Russians have it on June 12, the day on which Russia was made a federal state in 1990 after shedding the Soviet empire, and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British, having no such revolutionary experience except a civil war and a bloodless revolution—both of which they try to forget as bad dreams—celebrate their monarch’s birthday as the national day. Even that is not fixed. The government decides which day the king or the queen would have his or her official birthday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bengalis, too, have been without a state day. Having been the original ‘nationalists’ who bore the idea of India long before the rest of India did (“What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow,” said Gopal Krishna Gokhale), they haven’t had a state formation day. Yet, the good people didn’t complain as long as they had their Poila Baisakh, Puja and other fests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of late the Union government and its BJP friends in Bengal have been telling the state government that they ought to have a state day, and that ought to be on June 20. Governor C.V. Ananda Bose celebrated it this year in the Raj Bhavan. No way, said Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamoolis. June 20, 1947, was the day on which members of their assembly voted for partition between West Bengal and East Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To Mamata and Co, the suggestion sounded like being asked to revere George Nathaniel Curzon as their state’s founder. That guy divided the state first between Hindu and Muslim regions. The state day, if they have to have one, ought to be a day of pride and not pain. After much sound and fury, the Trinamool-majority assembly resolved last month to celebrate April 14/15, Poila Baisakh, as the state day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Telanganis have been celebrating theirs on June 2, since the day on which the state was formed in 2014. Last month, Home Minister Amit Shah suggested that they also celebrate September 17 as Liberation Day to commemorate the Army’s police action that freed old Hyderabad state from the secessionist Nizam and his Razakars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which state next?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/28/feuds-over-birthdays.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/28/feuds-over-birthdays.html Sat Oct 28 18:11:55 IST 2023 we-miss-you-sachi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/21/we-miss-you-sachi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/10/21/22-Sachidananda-Murthy-new.jpg" /> <p>After a few successive budgets in the early 1990s that witnessed real-term cuts in defence spend, I wrote a cover story in THE WEEK headlined “no tanks, bombers, submarines in a few years”. For the sake of effect, I added a nasty line in the article that at this rate, the DRDO would have to sell its missiles to sustain further research. Friends in the DRDO told me that their chief, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was upset with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A few days later, my bureau chief Sachidananda Murthy told me, “I met Dr Kalam at a Rashtrapati Bhavan function yesterday. He will see you tomorrow at 11 in his office.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I walked into Kalam’s office expecting a dressing down, but the great scientist received me warmly. He didn’t say a word about the article or my comment, but gave me a one-hour tutorial on the several projects that the DRDO was pursuing, with an afterword—“All this is for your understanding, not for reporting. Call me whenever you want to know anything about what we do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in the office, I asked Sachi how he had worked the miracle on Kalam. With a smile he said, “He complained to me about the article and your comment. I admitted that the comment was uncalled for, but told him that the article had been taken seriously by the opposition parties in Parliament who quoted from it to demand hikes in the budget. He understood.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachi had a way with people. Scientists or sentries, bureaucrats or businessman, politicians or professors, actors or authors, dancers or dramatists, sportsmen or spiritual men, clerks or clergymen—he could charm them all. Listen to him talking on the phone and you would think there is a president, a prime minister, an ambassador, or, at least a governor, at the other end. For all you know, it may be only an ex-MLA or a middle-level bureaucrat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I once asked him why he was so polite on the phone even to ‘small people’. His answer: “The person doesn’t know whether I am smiling or grinding my teeth. I want him to know that I am approachable.” When a young colleague, who got his first interview with a cabinet minister, came back and told us how friendly Sharad Yadav had been, Sachi asked him, “Did you also chat with his PS?” When the reporter said, no, Sachi told him: “It is important to know not only Sharad Yadav, but also his PS. It is the PS who decides whether to transfer your call to the minister, or to give you an appointment.” Indeed, after meeting cabinet ministers and ambassadors in their plush offices, you would see Sachi worming his way into file-stacked cubbyholes of their personal aides, plonking himself into a chair and chatting them up, even asking about their kids and homes. Not as a formality; he had genuine interest in human affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sweet-talker could also be tough, especially when it came to protecting the dignity of journalists. Once, a very senior politician who had been close to him for several years, complained to Sachi about a story that a younger colleague had done. Sachi listened to his MP-friend for 15 minutes, but when the MP started telling Sachi that the reporter had been ‘influenced’, he put his foot down. “Sir, I know my colleague; I also know that he knows more about the subject than you. Tell me if he did something wrong, but don’t tell me that my reporter writes without understanding things.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachi was in the original team of editorial hands who joined THE WEEK when it was launched in 1982. He joined as the Bengaluru correspondent after about six years service with <i>The Indian Express</i>, and I as a fresh-faced trainee at the desk. Within days of his joining he met with an accident. He offered to leave, knowing that the newly launched weekly would need an active reporter in the state that was going for elections, but chief editor K.M. Mathew and others asked him to do his news-gathering on his bedside phone and file stories on a portable typewriter. As soon as he was up and about, he joined the hectic campaign trail, and even predicted that the moribund Janata Party was making a surprise comeback under Ramakrishna Hegde.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the desk I remember handling his stories ranging from serious political reports on following the ousted Andhra Pradesh chief minister N.T. Rama Rao’s motorcade through Karnataka, to climbing up the slippery slopes of Talacauvery in search of the ‘vanished’ Kanchi Shankaracharya, reporting on a hilarious dispute in a temple about whether the priests or <i>archakas</i> had the claim over broken coconut shards, and a controversy whether Bengaluru policemen should wear the London bobby’s helmet or the American cowboy’s slouch-hat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachi wore many hats. Posted to Delhi in 1990 as bureau chief (I joined him a few weeks later) and later resident editor, he ran the twin bureaus of India’s largest-circulated regional newspaper and what is today India’s largest-circulated English news weekly. For the next 32 years, I worked with him in the same office and under him, watching him closely as he carried the flag of <i>Malayala Manorama</i> and THE WEEK in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He never let the flag down. Even when lucrative offers came his way, he spurned them all, and always fondly recalled how Manorama had looked after him after his accident. When his old friend, prime minister Deve Gowda, asked him to be his media adviser, Sachi told him that he would remain his friend, but would like to remain an independent journalist. Despite all his closeness, the only favour he sought or got from Gowda was an exhaustive interview for <i>Malayala Manorama</i> and THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Getting interviews with prime ministers and presidents was a habit with Sachi. The joke in the office is that the laconic P.V. Narasimha Rao gave him his longest interview and then turned into a <i>mauni baba</i>. When the whole world was worrying about how India would survive the political instability of minority governments, president Shankar Dayal Sharma gave him an interview that nearly reassured the nation. The genial old man told Sachi: “We will muddle through”. That became a catchphrase in Indian politics during the uncertainties of the mid-1990s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachi had an interest in everything. If political writing was his passion, his incisive mind was in diplomacy and constitutional law. (“Read the Constitution,” he used to tell young political reporters.) People and cultures fascinated him. After every overseas trip with presidents or prime ministers, he would not only report on the diplomatic developments but also write a few laid-back features on the life of people in those countries. T.S. Eliot and Robert Ludlum captured his imagination in equal share, as did pop music, art cinema, Kannada theatre and Bollywood gossip.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A quintessential renaissance man!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/21/we-miss-you-sachi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/21/we-miss-you-sachi.html Sat Oct 21 13:04:47 IST 2023 eyeless-across-gaza <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/14/eyeless-across-gaza.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/10/14/9-Eyeless-across-Gaza-new.jpg" /> <p>Two millennia ago, the Chinese built the Great Wall to keep barbarian tribes away. In 1216, Genghis Khan bribed a sentry to open one of its gates for him, and he entered China with his marauding Mongol horsemen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Emperor Hadrian raised a wall in 122 CE to keep Roman Britain safe from the tribes in the north, and posted sentries to guard it. But when the Picts came in hordes, as a story goes, there was no sentry around, and they scaled the wall.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast forward to modern times. In the 1930s, the French cut back on making warplanes and tanks, and spent 6 per cent of their military budget on building the Maginot Line, a fortification on their border with Germany. Complete with underground rail tracks, recreation rooms and even air-conditioned sleeping cells for off-duty sentries, the line was declared the world’s most formidable border that couldn’t be breached with bombs from airplanes or shells from battle tanks. And the French proudly declared: “They shall not pass.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When they came four years later, Nazi Germany’s Panzer divisions didn’t ‘pass’ the line; they bypassed it. They spotted a thinly guarded stretch in the Ardennes forest, and crossed over. In six weeks, France fell to Hitler.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems to be the turn of ‘invincible’ Israel now. In the 20th century, Israel won three wars and several nasty battles; in the 21st century, Israel walled itself in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the facts. As <i>The Times of Israel</i>'s Lazar Berman wrote, after the 2002 Passover massacre in Park Hotel, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, building an improved fence on the Gaza border. Then they built a 245-mile fence on the Egypt border to keep off the Sinai-based groups. After the Palestinian protests in Syria in 2011, they built an eight-metre-high wall from Majd al-Shams. In 2016, they built a fence on the Jordan border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once the Hamas began pounding them with rockets from Gaza, they built an ‘Iron Dome’ of radars, sensors and rocket-busting missiles that has been saving their people almost every day. In 2016, they began building the world’s supposedly most formidable fence on the 65km Gaza border, which took five years and a billion or more dollars spent on sensors, cameras and booby traps. Even a desert rat or a giant lizard scampering up a pole would have set alarms ringing, sirens hooting, traps shutting and machine guns blazing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet a ragtag army of ill-trained militants, who knew nothing more about warfare than shooting civilians and launching inaccurate rockets into towns, breached it on last week’s Sabbath day and rode into Israel on jeeps and motorcycles. No cameras picked them up, no sensors sent signals, no traps snapped shut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What had happened? Simple. The enemy didn’t use electronic toys that emitted signals for Israel’s sensors to pick up. He walked in electronically naked, and there just weren’t enough sentries to shout, “Hey, who goes there?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently the walls and fences had affected the mindset of the soldiers, their commanders and Israel’s rulers. The commanders’ eyes were not on the horizon, but on the monitor screens. And the sentries? They had mostly been sent to protect Benjamin Netanyahu’s illegal Jewish settlers on the West Bank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Alistair Horne, one of Europe’s finest war historians, said, fortifications create a false illusion of security. Throughout history, rulers have erected castles, forts, fences and walls to safeguard their manors, fiefs, kingdoms and empires. But they have all been breached when the sentries left, slept or were compromised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/14/eyeless-across-gaza.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/14/eyeless-across-gaza.html Sat Oct 14 17:14:53 IST 2023 slips-between-cup-and-lipstick <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/07/slips-between-cup-and-lipstick.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/10/7/7-Slips-between-cup-and-lipstick-new.jpg" /> <p>Most men like the company of women, but RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui is averse to women who cut their hair and wear lipstick. The former finance minister of Bihar told a rally last week that such women will claim every third seat in Parliament and state legislatures that may get to be reserved for women from 2029.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tut-tut to bob cut and lipstick runs in the political bloodstream of many leaders. Years ago, while debating the predecessor bill to the present Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam 2023, Sharad Yadav of the Janata Dal (U) had said the same thing in much the same words.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blame not the two gents. Their words were crude, but the fear that women from elite classes and families will hijack the quota is genuine and widespread, and has been there since Nancy Astor walked into the House of Commons in 1919 and claimed the first seat by any woman in any Westminster-style Parliament. Ironically, the fear about elitism was aired first by a woman who had been fighting for women’s rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lady Astor was nominated by the Conservative Party to contest in Plymouth Sutton after her husband, who had been holding the seat, was elevated to the House of Lords following his father’s death. She won the byelection, but the radical suffragist Constance Markievicz mauled her for being &quot;of the upper classes, out of touch&quot;.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all you know, it could have been personal jealousy. Markievicz had been elected to the house a few weeks before Astor, but had been refusing to enter the house since her rebel colleagues in Sinn Fein had been boycotting the house. She finally took her seat, but missed her place in history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam 2023 has been passed, assented to, notified and has become the law of the land of Sita, Sati, Savitri and Sairandhri. Other things remaining equal, a third of our hon’ble MPs and MLAs will be women from 2029 onwards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But would the other things remain equal? Let’s see what those are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One, a delimitation commission has to decide which constituencies will be reserved for women. Two, for a delimitation to happen, there has to be a census. The census, that used to take place in the first year of every decade, was not held in 2021 because of the pandemic. Now promised to be held after the 2024 polls, it will take two years to yield a final report. By then we will be into 2026.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A delimitation commission then will have to redraw the constituencies and their boundaries based on the headcount of every square mile of India. The last delimitation, which did not create new constituencies, took five years to redraw the limits of the 500-odd constituencies. It might be easy with faster computers this time, but tougher on the terribly shaking political earth of today’s India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why? Unlike the last delimitation, the next one will have to create or cancel constituencies based on the number of people in every square mile. That exercise, of creating seats based on the population of each region, has been frozen till 2026 because whenever it was attempted earlier it was found that it would give more seats to states that have a larger population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sounds logical, but therein lies the third ‘if’. Think of the gross political, economic and social injustice it would entail. The states that have controlled their populations will get fewer seats, and the states that have been letting their people to procreate wildly will get more. Parliamentary balance and political ballast would shift to one region; the ship of the Indian state will tilt dangerously.</p> <p>How do we correct it, captains?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/07/slips-between-cup-and-lipstick.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/10/07/slips-between-cup-and-lipstick.html Sun Oct 08 13:49:25 IST 2023 see-some-evil-too-trudeau <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/29/see-some-evil-too-trudeau.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/29/10-Trudeau-p.jpg" /> <p>He was Michelangelo’s David dressed in a Saville Row suit—handsome face, sharp features, charming smile, “big blue eyes and a commitment to … democratic openness”; one about whom <i>Vanity Fair</i> warned people to “have a fainting couch on standby as you watch him in action”. He was also the ideal family man with the right pedigree, the kind whom the cold and conservative Canadians idolised—a devoted wife tagging along, two of the litter rubbing against his knees and one perched on his elbow.</p> <p>Justin Trudeau was all that and more, till two months ago when his wife of 18 years, who had borne him three angels, walked out on him.</p> <p>All that can go wrong have since been going wrong for the Prince Diana of Canada. First he didn’t get a bilateral with the <i>vishwaguru</i> who was meeting every Joe, Sunak and Erdogan at the G20 jamboree. When he managed a brief pull-aside, and tried to give Narendra Modi an earful on the Hardeep Nijjar murder, Modi gave him two ears full, asking him to be choosy about the Khalistani company he keeps, and not believe every spooky story that is told to him even if it comes from spies with five eyes. Stunned, Trudeau thought of flying home in a huff skipping a dinner, but his plane wouldn’t start.</p> <p>Once he reached home after warming his heels in Delhi’s tropical sun as an overstaying guest, things got worse. Instead of keeping quiet, he repeated his charge in his parliament that India had got a Canadian citizen killed on Canadian soil. Instead of getting outraged, the opposition mocked at him for being sissy; in a fit of rage, he expelled an Indian diplomat and blocked all trade talks. India paid back in the same coin, expelled one of his men (wisely), and blocked visas to all Canadians (unwisely).</p> <p>His 2018 trip had also been a disaster, with no deals to show and having been told that some of his friends were unwelcome to the presidential banquet. Yet he could go back filling a family album with snaps of visits to the right shrines and tombs in <i>veshti</i> and sherwani.</p> <p>This time Trudeau made it a mess, even putting his friends—those English-speaking allies who think that they are the guardians of the globe—in a spot. He wanted them to blabber out and clobber India; mindful of the delicacies of diplomacy, they hummed and hawed.</p> <p>The David in Saville Row suit is in a spot.</p> <p>All the same, let’s be fair. Trudeau is a nice guy, just as most Canadians are—be they Anglo-Saxon, French, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or of any race or faith. Most are nice and simple people, innocent of the ways of this bad world. They are conditioned to be good—not just genetically but geopolitically, too.</p> <p>Look at their map. They have no enemies around them who send in infiltrators, secessionists, terrorists or territory grabbers, as we have. Their only border, with the US, is the world’s longest unguarded border. No wonder they championed the world’s weirdest disarmament idea—they asked the world to give up landmines. Poor fellows didn’t know that armies might give up, but terrorists and the Taliban, who don’t sign Geneva conventions and Ottawa oaths, wouldn’t.</p> <p>In short, they see no evil in anyone or anywhere. The problem is that this blind faith in liberty and decency has blinded them to make laws that are too liberal that they let even Kanishka bombers roam free. They don’t know, or don’t want to know, that their goodness is being made use of by baddies like the Khalistanis, however few they are.</p> <p>Stay nice and good, David, but bear in mind that your goodness is hurting other people. Kanishka wasn’t an Arthur Hailey novel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/29/see-some-evil-too-trudeau.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/29/see-some-evil-too-trudeau.html Fri Sep 29 16:30:41 IST 2023 kharges-bhagirathan-tasks <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/23/kharges-bhagirathan-tasks.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/23/10-Kharges-Bhagirathan-tasks-new.jpg" /> <p>Is the Congress finally biting the bullet? After last week’s working committee confab in Hyderabad, general secretary K.C. Venugopal said the 2024 polls will be “a do-or-die fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not a happy phrase, I say. Alfred Tennyson used it while describing how the Light Brigade’s brave 600 rode into the jaws of ghastly death in the Crimean war. Looks like the Congress is biting the cannon shell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopal might not have had any such poetic or warlike association in mind. At the most, he would have been remembering a man of peace who popularised the phrase in India’s political rhetoric. Mahatma Gandhi, if you remember, had given out two calls from the Gowalia Tank (now August Kranti) Maidan in Mumbai in August 1942. He exhorted Indians to “do or die”, and the British to “quit India”. Hope the Congress’s current allies don’t mix up the two and quit INDIA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For most of them, the 2024 round will be another of those several elections in which they tie up with one or another party or go it alone. Most of them have done it time and again, winning or losing, or laying waste their fiefs. They have their pockets of political sway in one corner of India or another, and can survive to fight another day even if they lose the 2024 Lok Sabha round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so with the Congress. They have always fought their elections alone at the national level, and with or without allies at the local level. But they have never been part of a national-level pre-poll coalition in which they are just another piece in the mosaic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time they are joining a large mosaic of parties, many of them their rivals in their turfs, if not enemies. The Congress may still be the largest piece in the mosaic, but not the predominant piece as it has always tried to be when attempting coalitions. For Congressmen, therefore, this is a never-before election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even a good show by the party in the coming assembly round in five states is no guarantee for a stellar show in next year’s Lok Sabha round. Look at what happened in 2018-19. The Congress had won the 2018 winter round to the assemblies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but could win just three of the 65 Lok Sabha seats that the three states had in the summer of 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all you know, the party may not even get to contest all those 65 seats this summer. It has ambitious allies in INDIA, who may ask for slices of the pie that the Congress is baking. The Aam Aadmi Party is planning to contest all the assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, may deny Lok Sabha seats to the Congress in Delhi and, who knows?—it may ask the Congress to be a puny partner in Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies a double whammy for the Congress. One, it has to more than double or triple its seats in the next Lok Sabha if it is serious about denying the treasury benches to the BJP. Two, those double or triple number of seats will have to be won from half or even less than half of the constituencies which it contested in the last round. Last time the party contested in 421 seats and won 52. This time, the field will be smaller, the yield will have to be larger. No wonder Venugopal said “do or die”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No need to lose heart, Congressmen! Robert Burns also used the phrase ‘do or die’ in a poem to describe how Robert ‘Spider’ Bruce rode to victory in Bannockburn. Bruce is said to have failed six times, and won the seventh. You are hoping to ‘do’ in the third round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t like the Bruce imagery? Too many battles and too British? How about Bhagiratha, for perseverance? Verily from Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/23/kharges-bhagirathan-tasks.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/23/kharges-bhagirathan-tasks.html Sat Sep 23 11:10:05 IST 2023 rail-crosses-on-silk-road <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/16/rail-crosses-on-silk-road.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/16/10-Rail-crosses-on-Silk-Road-new.jpg" /> <p>Xi Jinping sold the belt-and-road dream to much of Asia, Africa and Europe invoking imageries of the ancient Silk Road. In his 2013 lecture at a Kazakh university, he recalled how the travels of the Han dynasty envoy Zhang Qian made 2,100 years ago had opened the Silk Road linking Asia and Europe. He told them how he “could almost hear the camel bells echoing in the mountains and see the wisp of smoke rising from the desert”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, ‘silk road’ invokes images of wealth, trade, travel, adventure, exchange of knowledge, refinement, and more. Xi has been invoking all those. Yet, India withstood his silk spell, even as most of Asia fell for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly for Xi, the spell of the silk seems to be wearing off for most of them. Many who attended his Xanadu durbar of 2017, and invested in Xi’s big yuan loan dreams, are beginning to see nightmares of wasteful spend, unliveable towers, rusting infrastructure, draining coffers and debt traps. They are seeming to hear not “camel bells echoing in the mountains” but the terrifying trots of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian warhorses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 11th century, India alone had managed to ward off the golden horde, thanks to the deft diplomacy of India’s wise rulers then. So, too, in the 21st century. Thank Iltutmish, thank Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike what most ultra nationalists believe, pasts have not been all golden—neither China’s, nor India’s, Egypt’s, Greece’s, Rome’s, nor anyone else’s. On the contrary, most pasts have been leaden, ugly and bloody. Empires were not built with just silk and gold; they were built also with burning coal, smelting iron and flowing blood. Invoking pasts can backfire on the peace dividends from connectivity that we are seeking to reap now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was perhaps why Modi, Joe Biden and other leaders, who announced the India-Middle East-Europe corridor from the sidelines of last week’s G20 summit in Delhi, refrained from invoking memories of the coal-fired rail engines and coaches that criss-crossed the Middle East, Central Asia and north Africa till the end of the World War I. Built by the Ottoman Turks and their European rivals, they had linked three continents and three conflicting faiths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many are being rebuilt now. Only <i>The Economist</i>, known for its neo-liberal brashness, invoked the Ottoman past three years ago. In a picturesquely written Christmas special article in 2021, the magazine’s unknown writers built upon Agatha Christie’s <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i> to describe how rail lines that once criss-crossed the Middle East (Near East to the Europeans) and connected Europe with Asia and north Africa, are lying bombed-dead in the sands after two world wars and several dozen smaller wars. They are being rebuilt, the writers noted, by successor states that are realising the folly of wars over faith and territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hejaz railway, dynamited by the legendary Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouin buddies to break the backbone of the Turkish empire in World War I, is now being rebuilt. Iraq is planning a line from Mosul to Turkey. The Saudis, on a rail-building spree, should soon link Jeddah with most of the emirates and Haifa in Israel where India is investing heavily. Soon a line shall branch off north towards Damascus and Istanbul, from where the Orient Express used to commence its journey. India hopes to ship goods to Dubai, Kuwait, Jeddah and Haifa and rail them across to Europe down the Orient Express route, or ship them further to Cairo, Alexandria and Tripoli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Smooth as silk? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/16/rail-crosses-on-silk-road.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/16/rail-crosses-on-silk-road.html Sat Sep 16 11:14:10 IST 2023 no-woman-no-southerner <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/09/no-woman-no-southerner.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/9/11-No-woman-no-southerner-new.jpg" /> <p>Are we voting too often? The government thinks so. It has asked a committee of wise men headed by former president Ram Nath Kovind “to examine the issue of simultaneous elections and make recommendations...”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We started the democratic process in 1952 with simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and to the assemblies. The cycle got broken after 1967, says the law ministry resolution appointing the committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wrong. The pattern had got upset in 1959 when Kerala’s 1957-elected assembly was dismissed mid-term, and polls ordered. By the end 1960s, as new states took birth, as governments lost majority, as more assemblies got dissolved before time, the pattern got disrupted. In 1971, the Lok Sabha was dissolved before time; in 1976, it got an (Emergency) extension. In the chaotic late 1980s and the 1990s, legislative life expectancy got so low that president R. Venkataraman mooted ideas such as security of tenure for legislatures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then several statesmen—L.K. Advani, A.B. Vajpayee, B.S. Shekhawat to name a few—and several commissions and committees have talked about it, but found no consensus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s make one thing clear. Nobody is complaining of too many polls, but of too frequent polls. The pro-changers say we are wasting administrative time, political energy and economic resources by being constantly in a poll mode. Every year we have a round or more of polls to one or more legislatures. The PM and ministers get distracted, the model code freezes development governance for two months, the police and the paramilitary get burdened, illegal money corrupts the polity and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the Yanks. They vote always on the second Tuesday of every leap year November, come hell, highwater, World War or bin Laden; inaugurate the new president on the next January 20; and let him rule or ruin them for the next four years. No questions asked, no confidence motions moved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we can't do it like the Yanks, why can't we copy the Brits? In 2011, the British legislated that every motion of no-confidence in a PM and his regime has to be paired with another motion of confidence in a new guy and a new regime. Thus, the legislature gets to complete its term, even if the governments don't, and thus avoids mid-term polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The status-quoists have more fundamental counters. Tailoring the terms of assemblies to suit the central legislatures goes against the fundamental principle of federalism. Democracy is not a commodity to be valued in monetary terms. Elections are not a necessary evil, but an essential good by which deprived classes get politically empowered. After all, it was during the chaotic late 1980s and the 1990s that the backwards and the dalits of north India got politically empowered and assertive. Elections are part of the social <i>amritmanthan</i> for obtaining the nectar of social and political good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Narendra Modi told an interviewer that we are “trapped in a cycle of elections”. In his 2017 Republic Day-eve address president Pranab Mukherjee said, “The time is ripe for a constructive debate.” Successor Kovind told the joint session of the houses in 2018 that, “A sustained debate is required on the subject.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No debate has taken place since, but the government has made up its mind. The Kovind team’s job is not to find out if same-time polls are desirable or not, but how to hold them. Let the wise men find out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two questions linger. One, why no wise woman in the committee? Half the voters are women. Two, why no one from the south? Nearly half the voters are in the south where the poll cycle got broken first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/09/no-woman-no-southerner.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/09/no-woman-no-southerner.html Sat Sep 09 11:04:50 IST 2023 missing-a-dalit-messiah <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/02/missing-a-dalit-messiah.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/2/17-Missing-a-dalit-messiah-new.jpg" /> <p>Thrown out of a first-class train coach by a white man despite possessing a ticket, Mohandas Gandhi resolved to fight the notions of racial supremacy that were prevailing across the globe. The ordinary attorney’s struggle metamorphosed into history’s most remarkable civil and political struggle that would culminate in the end of the mightiest empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat for white passengers on an Alabama bus. Her prosecution for disobedience of the American state’s segregation laws kindled a landmark litigation and a non-violent movement led by Martin Luther King that led to the establishment of civil rights in the world’s mightiest nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Attorney Gandhi and seamstress Parks were shamed because of their skin colour that revealed their birth in a particular race. Both fought back in their own ways and prevailed against the mightiest empire and the mightiest nation, even when the racial numbers weren’t favouring them. The coloureds in South Africa and the blacks in America didn’t constitute even a tenth of those nations’ populations then, yet they triumphed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so in India, inhabited by Gandhi’s own browns, where a learned and wise dalit gave us the most civilised constitution so that we would rule ourselves fairly and justly. Racism manifests in Ambedkar’s India in its most barbarian form that would make the face of an Attila cringe. Forget being thrown out of trains or buses, many dalits continue to be refused water from community wells, denied entry into shrines, made to dismount from bridal horses, made to lick boots, spat upon and peed upon, the last being the newest pastime with quite a few incidents being reported lately. A dalit was bashed up and peed on by an upper caste politico’s son in Madhya Pradesh a few weeks ago. Dalit boys were hung from trees with their hands and legs tied together in Maharashtra last week. A starving tribal youth was lynched to death in fully literate Kerala a couple of years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every time an incident is reported, politicians and keypad activists in the world’s largest democracy get outraged on X, WhatsApp and what else is up. A few may move courts and tribunals where the matter would get tied up in SC-ST atrocities act, human rights laws, criminal procedure code, evidence act, penal code and soon in <i>nyay sanhitas</i>. By the time the courts and tribunals decide on the matter invoking the codes and <i>sanhitas</i>, much water would have flowed down the Ganga, the Cauvery, the Mahanadi and the Narmada carrying the ashes of many of the culprits, victims and witnesses. Law, like our rivers, takes its own slow course.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dalit consciousness in India is more vibrant today than ever before. There are fine writers, artists and dalit thinkers working up a vibrant intellectual culture, but dalit politics seems to have ended. The last hurrah was heard from Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, but her roar is no more terrifying politically than a tame meow these days. By simple inaction, she is losing her political mass, and her politics is gathering dynastic moss, as had happened to several Mandal parties. Last heard, she is busy seeking a successor to her subaltern throne, and is said to have zeroed in on her nephew.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The few young firebrands like Chandrasekhar Azad seem to have burnt down themselves like comets. At best, they roam around as lone rangers, unable to mobilise the masses or launch mass movements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There may not be another Gandhi, Luther King or Ambedkar. But can we have at least another Jagjivan Ram, Kanshi Ram, or at least a Ram Vilas Paswan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/02/missing-a-dalit-messiah.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/02/missing-a-dalit-messiah.html Sat Sep 02 11:02:04 IST 2023 team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/26/team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/26/11-Team-Kharge-new.jpg" /> <p>Remember how Hillary Clinton became US secretary of state? She challenged Barack Obama’s bid for the Democratic ticket in the 2008 presidential poll, and lost. But when he became president, Obama chose her to be his secretary of state. That’s grace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mallikarjun Kharge has shown similar grace. Shashi Tharoor had put up a passionate and principled challenge against his bid for the Congress presidency earlier this year. Tharoor failed, but Kharge has now inducted the younger challenger into his core team, the working committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s good politics too, to have your critics inside your camp rather than outside. Good old Lyndon Johnson explained the rationale a bit crudely when asked why he was keeping troublesome fellows like Edgar Hoover, his notorious FBI chief who had a dossier on everyone, in his team: “I’d much rather have that fellow inside my tent pissing out than outside my tent pissing in”. That’s common sense, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is lesson in the Tharoor episode for the younger ones too in the Congress―that you can rise in stature by challenging the authority rather than by acquiescing to authority. Another who did so and has prevailed is Sachin. The young Pilot had been playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship, but has finally got more than his due by getting inducted into the working committee. Sachin apparently inherited the challenger trait from his father, Rajesh Pilot, who had run against Sitaram Kesri for party presidency in 1997 and lost, yet survived and prevailed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge has been as graceful as possible. He has found room for almost every group and section in his team―forwards and backwards, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, majority and minorities, loyalists and dissidents, men and women, elders and youth―much like how Noah picked passengers for his ark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, by trying to be even-handed, hasn’t Kharge overlooked one factor―the electoral ballast that each one carries? The core team―minus the invitees―is packed with Delhi leaders, starting with three from the same exalted family. No harm! The Congress can’t do without the family. But what about the rest, starting from Abhishek Singhvi, Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma till the grand old Manmohan Singh? Indeed, most are wise men worth more than their weight in votes, yet many of them lack the earthy touch of dusty politics. Most of them are drawing-room busybodies of Lutyens’s Delhi, save for an odd Gaikhangam Gangmei, Tamradhwaj Sahu, Gourav Gogoi, Charanjit Singh Channi or Lalthanhawla. Even they, despite their roots in their political earth, can hardly be called titans in their turfs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that the Congress has no titans. The party has native netas like Bhupinder Hooda, Siddaramaiah, D.K. Shivakumar, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, but they had to be kept out because of the one-man one-post rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Team Modi presents a picture in contrast. Once lorded over by capital creatures like A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, the BJP has over the years packed its top rungs with regional leaders. Take their 10-member parliamentary board headed by J.P. Nadda who still has his roots spread on the Himachal hills. The list starts downwards from Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, both still strongmen in Gujarat, to men like Rajnath Singh, Satyanarayan Jatiya and B.S. Yediyurappa, all drawing their political sustenance through their roots in one region or another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has brains; it badly needs some brawn now, so that it does not meet the CPI’s fate―a party with fine leaders but few followers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/26/team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/26/team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn.html Sat Aug 26 11:20:28 IST 2023 macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/19/macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/19/16-Agonies-over-Macaulay-new.jpg" /> <p>Thomas Babington Macaulay was endowed with an encyclopaedic memory—could recite Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress eyes closed; recalled 40 years later the entire lines of two poems penned by a country versifier that he had read at the age of 13 in a weekly paper on way to school. As a child he was precocious, and had a hunger for books and words. Once a servant spilled hot coffee on his legs; when the hostess asked him a while later how he was feeling, the four-year-old replied, “Thank you, madam; the agony is abated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone would agree that the longest-lasting legacies of British rule in India, good, bad or ugly, have been two Ls—the law and the language. Both were legated by this man who had an elephantine memory, a liberal mind (he, father Zachary, and uncle Colin, who had played a key role in defeating Tipu and was resident in Travancore, were all passionate campaigners against slavery in the colonies), but a mulish contempt for oriental scholarship as his infamous Minute on Indian Education would show. Ironically, a social media post doing the rounds in India portray him as a grudging Indophile! That much of our WhatsApp scholars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone would also agree that one of his 2 Ls has become obsolete. Now Amit Shah has come with three sets of laws that seek to replace Macaulay’s Penal Code, as also the obsolete Criminal Code and the Evidence Act. The new laws, assures Shah, should abate our legal agonies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No quarrel. Some of us may disagree with a clause here, a section there, or a provision elsewhere in Shah’s laws. Those are matters of detail which we can discuss in the next few weeks in seminars, TV studios, and media columns. The bills are now with a standing committee of Parliament, where a few members from both houses will agonise over every section, subsection, clause, comma, colon, and semicolon, and will come out with suggestions. The houses will draw points from these discussions, and will debate, dissect, delete, dump or pass the laws when they meet in winter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law-making is an agonising task. More so when the laws that are being made are not plain acts, but entire codes that can decide whether a man goes to embrace the gallows or his girl. Therefore, Speaker Sir and Chairman Sir, allow the houses ample time to debate. Laws made in haste will be regretted in leisure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about the other L? That’s where M.K. Stalin and many more have raised a point. Why are the laws titled only in one language? Why not in English too, as all other bills have been? Stalin thinks Shah is imposing Hindi, but Shah says the titles are not Hindi. The words are Sanskrit, but then Sanskrit has no higher status than Santhali or Sindhi, Telugu or Tamil, or any of the 22 languages listed in Schedule 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike what many believe, and even a Supreme Court order nearly misled us recently, Hindi is not ‘the national language’ of India. It is “the official language of the Union”, but the Constitution says that English too shall remain in use alongside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And like it or not, English remains the language of the law, whether the law is Macaulay’s or Amit Shah’s. Article 348 says, “the authoritative texts” of all bills and amendments moved in either house of Parliament or state legislatures, of all acts passed by them, and of all ordinances promulgated by the president or the governors, shall be English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hon’ble Members, please bear this in mind while you debate, discuss and dissect the laws. We agonised over the language in the 1960s. Let’s not throw our beloved India that is Bharat into another bout of linguistic agony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/19/macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/19/macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit.html Sun Aug 20 13:37:18 IST 2023 the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/12/the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/12/16-The-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords-new.jpg" /> <p>Who can forget Alec Guinness as Colonel John Nicholson in <i>The Bridge on the River Kwai,</i> going around with a twisted twig in his hand as if it were a cane of command? We see him swinging it with a swagger, using it as a pointer, holding it in his right hand and tapping its other end on his open left palm with a “well, gent’men!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was the thespian at his best. That jungle stick turned into a baton of authority in his hand, rendering an officer-like dignity to the miserable character that he was playing—a tortured but proud British colonel in a Japanese PoW camp. I believe, and I know many in the armed forces would agree, that Nicholson and his fellow-PoWs wouldn’t have got that bridge completed but for that twisted twig that he carried as an officer’s cane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s what a stick, a cane, or a baton, does to an officer. As old drill sergeants in the military academy are said to have told young cadets who were being primed to receive their commission, “the cane in your hand is not for knocking off flowers on the walkways, nor for poking at comely maidens; it is to be carried in your hand so that you bear yourselves like gentlemen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mao Zedong said, power flows from the barrel of a gun. Maybe so in old ragtag revolutionary armies like China’s. In civilised militaries like India’s, power flows from the end of a commanding officer’s baton.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly, in the name of decolonisation, we are decaning our officers these days. Through an office circular two weeks ago, the Navy ordered that batons be dispensed with, since “the symbolism of power or authority portrayed through the holding of the baton is a colonial legacy.” It may be kept in the office and ceremonially handed over to one’s successor, but not be shown outside or swaggered with!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pray, my sea lords! Since when has a baton become colonial, and come to be carried as a cross of shame? Well, in that case everything in the services, right from your peaked cap to the spit-shine shoe, is colonial—the medals, the accoutrements, the brass buttons, the battle honours, the shoulder badges, the rank insignia, the cummerbands, the epaulettes, the gorget patches, the leather belts, the lanyards, the double-breasts and ties, and even the rank terms like ‘commodore’ and ‘captain’ are colonial. Scrap them all? Very well, sirs, start with ‘admiral’; the term came into English and other European tongues from the Arabic ‘amir’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Commanding officers have always carried batons, canes, swagger sticks or riding crops in their hands while visiting the lines, inspecting barracks, giving briefings, pointing to maps, or for calling out backbenchers, “hey, you, lieutenant!” Remember how George Scott swaggered into the troops’ barracks in Patton, and tore down a girlie picture from a trooper’s bedside wall with a swish of his riding crop? The effect wouldn’t have been half as stylish if he were to use his hands, gloved or bare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military lore has it that legendary commanders of yore had even used their long tobacco pipes for the same swagger effect. Cut the reels; let’s get real. Korean war accounts say Doug MacArthur poked on the map of Korea with his corn-cob pipe to show his staff officers as to where he would make his surprise landing. That landing at Inchon, made along with an afternoon tide in September 1950, would turn out to be the world’s greatest amphibious landing after Normandy. Try making a masterstroke like that after briefing your officers with your bare hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember, gentlemen! The Kwai story turned into a tragedy after the proud colonel lost his cane!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/12/the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/12/the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords.html Sat Aug 12 11:04:08 IST 2023 countdown-to-the-finest-hours <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/04/countdown-to-the-finest-hours.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/4/12-Countdown-to-the-finest-hours-new.jpg" /> <p>Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, said Alexander Pope. It looks like INDIAns are doing that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t mean the billion and more who inhabit the landmass of India that is Bharat, but those who have rallied under the acronymic banner of INDIA to take on Narendra Modi. Hardly had they come together and put up their banner when they delivered their first volley: a no-confidence motion on the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A no-confidence motion is the brahmastra in the opposition’s parliamentary armoury. It can be moved only with the support of 50 members of the lower house. Once defeated, the next motion can be moved only after six months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No-trust motions have been dreaded by rulers ever since the British parliament voted in 1782 that it could “no longer repose confidence in the present ministers” led by Lord North who had lost the war of American independence. (We know that war too well, don’t we? The loser in the field, Lord Cornwallis, came to India and saved his face by defeating Tipu and taking his sons hostage.) Though it didn’t set a convention immediately, the fall of North’s government after the motion was carried has been cited as the first precedent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A no-trust motion brings out the best in Parliament. Even when they know the outcome of the vote, both sides field their best debaters who come after painstaking research over the successes and failures of the government, its policies and conduct. The speeches acquire a certain level rarely witnessed in the humdrum debates of every day. Even a coarse debater would appear to have acquired a certain diction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So it will be in the Lok Sabha next week. Other things remaining equal and Om Birla remaining even-handed, the house will debate the motion for three days. Given the numbers on either side, the outcome of the vote is predictable. The government has 331 MPs plus or minus a few, against the opposition’s 144 assured votes, not counting the neutrals. That’s no match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why then is the opposition rushing in with the motion if it is all going to be sound and fury that would end in nothing? Simple. They feel that unlike Jawaharlal Nehru or any of his successors, Modi has been keeping away from Parliament as far as possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like in England, the first motion in India too was moved after defeat in a war. The opposition moved one against Nehru’s government after the humiliating defeat at the hands of China. The motion was defeated, but Nehru loved it. “Personally, I have welcomed this motion and this debate. I have felt that it would be a good thing if we were to have periodical tests of this kind.” Nehru loved being in Parliament, and every moment of the pandemonious life there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the whole country and the house have been agitated over the two-month-long murder and mayhem in Manipur, yet the PM has avoided speaking about those. The only statement he made was before the media, minutes before the monsoon session of the houses was to commence. The oppositon treats it as an affront to Parliament—that the ruler of the country, who can talk about everything under the sun and above the Balakot clouds, has avoided talking about mayhem in a border state. They want to draw out the ruler of India and remind him that he is answerable to the elected representatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With good reason. The northeast where a hundred tribes remain restless is not just another region. It is the eastern gate of India. It was with the help of these restless tribes that the last attempt to conquer India was beaten back. Remember the gravestones of Kohima and Imphal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/04/countdown-to-the-finest-hours.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/04/countdown-to-the-finest-hours.html Fri Aug 04 15:07:06 IST 2023 mystery-of-the-red-diary <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/29/mystery-of-the-red-diary.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/29/11-Rajendra-Singh-Gudha-new.jpg" /> <p>The 1978 Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Don had an edge-of-the-seat stunt scene set in a Christian cemetery, where the villains try to snatch a red diary from the hero. The diary, we are told, contains the names of all the baddies inhabiting Mumbai’s underworld. The fight ends with the baddies throwing the diary into a burning car. (If they had shot in a <i>shamshangarh</i>, they wouldn’t have had to burn a car.) Bachchan then delivers the knockout line—that the diary that is burning is a nakli; the asli one, also red, is safe with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajasthan assembly had an equally exciting red-diary scene last Monday. Its hero Rajendra Singh Gudha, dropped two days earlier from Ashok Gehlot’s cabinet, produced a diary of the same colour as Don Bachchan’s, and claimed it contained damning data about the crimes of his CM. The CM’s loyalists tore it from his hands, but Gudha claims to have a fairly good part of it still with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gudha says he had sneaked into the house of party colleague Dharmendra Rathore in the middle of a tax raid in 2020, and had slipped out with the diary to save the CM from infamy. That is much in Bachchan style—sneaking into a building that is swarming with armed guards, and leap-frogging from floor to floor with a diary tucked into his trouser waist!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diaries in the olden days were about chronicling history. Samuel Pepys’s diaries chronicled the plague and the Great Fire of London, as also his own sexcapades. Then there were the gripping diaries of that pristinely pure kid Anne Frank who lived in an attic in Nazi-conquered Amsterdam. In India we had Anandaranga Pillai of Puducherry, the 18th century <i>dubashi</i> (interpreter) who chronicled his days under Francois Dupleix.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These days, diaries are about secrets rather than chronicles. But what fogs me is why all mystery diaries are red. Gudha talks about a red diary, and flashes one in the assembly. Last month the police seized three red diaries from the Haryana home of BJP leader and actor Sonali Phogat whose death in Goa remains a crime mystery. Last September, the anti-corruption bureau found an incriminating red diary from the home of an associate of Delhi’s AAP MLA Amanatulla Khan who was being probed in a waqf board scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vanished diary of Sudipto Sen, the main accused in West Bengal’s Saradha scam, was said to have been red. The diary of Italy’s mafia-hunter Paolo Borsellino that went missing after his death in a 1992 bomb attack was red. I would bet all my Swedish kronor and hawala money (if I had any of either) to claim that several of those unseen diaries that have mystified us from news reports over the last few decades were red—Bofors boss Martin Ardbo’s diaries that carried the names of his kickback payees, the Jain hawala diaries that nearly ruined the careers of a whole generation of politicians from L.K. Advani to Sharad Yadav, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one knows what is there in the Gudha diary—the snatched part or the retrieved part. That is much like Julius Caesar’s will, which the wily Mark Antony flashed before the mob, but not revealing its full content. No one knows whether that was actually Caesar’s will or something as worthless as toilet paper. The same with the Gudha diary. Show it, sir, if you have it and if it contains what you claim it does. Shut up, sir, if you don’t have it. With elections round the corner, we have better political thrillers to watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The million-rupee question is: why did Gudha bring the diary into the assembly? Had you or I been in his shoes, we would have kept the original in a bank locker and brought a photocopy. Right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/29/mystery-of-the-red-diary.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/29/mystery-of-the-red-diary.html Sat Jul 29 11:33:24 IST 2023 made-in-india-dilemma <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/21/made-in-india-dilemma.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/21/10-Made-in-INDIA-dilemma-new.jpg" /> <p>In his secret July 1971 meeting with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger made the Chinese premier choose a Friday to announce Richard Nixon’s forthcoming China visit. Zhou suspected some yankee superstition, but Kissinger said he wanted to give US newsweeklies, which were printed on Friday night, time to cover the news in detail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of it, two of the world’s most powerful men had magazine deadlines in mind while scheduling the Cold War era’s most epoch-making announcement! My tribe of scribes, working in newsweeklies, would give our right arms for such indulgence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politicos these days are far less indulgent. Time was when they fixed even routine press meets in a way that theirs didn’t clash with others’. Now? They hardly bother. Look at how the BJP and the opposition put us in a spot last Tuesday. They held two of this year’s most crucial conclaves on the same day, some 2,000 miles apart. Newspaper and channel editors had a tough time deciding how to cover the NDA’s Delhi durbar and the opposition’s Bengaluru jamboree, giving deserving time, space and bytes to both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blame the BJP this time. Mallikarjun Kharge and co had announced their Bengaluru jamboree long ago, and J.P. Nadda and his men had been calling it a conclave of the corrupt. The latter had even boasted that their one Narendra Modi was enough to take on all the Kharges, Pawars, Thackerays, Banerjees, Stalins, Yechurys and others singly or collectively. Then Nadda caught us off guard, calling a Delhi durbar of allies and potential allies on the same day, spoiling our day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge says Modi’s men called the conclave because they had lost their nerve, and needed allies. Partly true. Since its massive 2019 win, the BJP has been treating allies as liabilities. Why not? The party was getting bills passed, its leader has been getting more fans and followers and also riding high on the world stage. It looked he was poised to get more votes than ever before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the party has also been losing allies like the Shiv Sena (UBT), Akali Dal and Janata Dal (U). It hasn’t won many in their place except a faction each of two Maharashtra parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In elections, allies are as much assets as they are liabilities. Even the ones who can’t win a seat on their own may still command a few thousand caste or community votes that would have given the winning edge to the BJP’s candidate in the last poll. Now that polls are round the corner, the BJP needs them to make the winning difference again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s leave Nadda to sort out his issues. Look at what the opposition has done. Taking a leaf out of Modi’s book of acronyms, they named themselves INDIA—Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. Imagine what happens if the alliance loses the next Maharashtra election. We in the media, poor drudges, would have to give headlines as “INDIA loses Maharashtra”. God help us from such patriots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala’s Gandhiji experience should have guided these INDIANs. In a fit of adulation for the father of the nation, the state set up a Gandhiji University in 1983. Soon Malayalis woke up to read headlines as, “Inter-university football: Gandhiji beaten by three goals” and “Gandhiji loses the trophy”. Soon wiser counsel prevailed and the varsity was renamed MG. Nobody bothers if MG loses a match by three or thirty goals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The acronym also suffers from a bad order of adjectives. There are thumb rules in English regarding placing of adjectives in a row. The proper order would have been ‘inclusive developmental,’ not the other way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We don’t say ‘old good daddy’, do we? We say ‘good old daddy’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/21/made-in-india-dilemma.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/21/made-in-india-dilemma.html Fri Jul 21 15:24:13 IST 2023 a-capital-crisis-in-kerala <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/15/a-capital-crisis-in-kerala.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/15/6-A-capital-crisis-in-Kerala-new.jpg" /> <p>Capital comes from the Latin capitalis, which means ‘head’. The head ought to be on top of the body. But look at the map of Kerala. The head, the state’s capital, is where the foot ought to be. No wonder, Malayalis—that includes this columnist—are at loggerheads with most other Indians on most issues. They still vote the left, and tuck their dhotis to the right. Even the Tamils, their first cousins across the ghats, do neither.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hibi Eden, the Congress MP from Ernakulam, thought he could try make a change. Not a change of the Malayali heart which still beats for Castro and bleeds for Cuba, but a change of their political head. He has given notice for moving a bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to shift the state’s capital from Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kochi, which falls within his constituency in central Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Capital idea!—most non-Malayalis would say. For four reasons. One, Kochi is better air-linked to the rest of the world. Two, Kochi is better road- and rail-linked to the rest of Kerala and to all its god’s own and god-forsaken places. Three, Kochi offers more business. Four, Kochi yields easily to any non-Malayali tongue, unlike Thiruvananthapuram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, three quarters of a century after the British left, and three decades after the Englishman’s Trivandrum became our Thiruvananthapuram again, most Indians find the place name as unpronounceable as floccinaucinihilipilification or quomodocunquize. Don’t know what those two words mean, or how to pronounce them? Ask Thiruvananthapuram’s own MP who gets votes with his vocabulary videos that have been going viral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the Eden idea has sent his party into a tizzy. Worried that it would cost them votes in Thiruvananthapuram where the Vamanas from the north have been seeking to get a foothold and send Kerala’s socialistic asuras into the netherworld, his party bosses have come down on Eden like a tonne of coconuts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What do Malayalis in Kerala’s Clapham Common think of Eden’s idea? Most have dismissed it as Tughlaqian. (Sad, we laugh at Muhammad bin for his disastrous Delhi-to-Daulatabad capital shift, but forget that the illustrious Akbar built a dream city in Fatehpur Sikri and abandoned it after 15 years finding it didn’t have enough water.) Malayalis would rather let things remain as they are—political power and all its paraphernalia with Thiruvananthapuram, leaving Kochi to mind its business, literally. Kochi is already bursting at its seams, and the people of the city wouldn’t want another 140 MLAs and ministers, hundreds of babus, and thousands of hangers-on coming in to claim their few houses, hostels, narrow roads and shrinking parking spaces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, they know that Eden’s is only a private member bill. Though all MPs are law-makers and any MP can move a bill, laws are actually made from bills introduced by governments. (Not so in the American system where the government is not part of the legislature. All bills in the US Congress are presented by private members.) Private member bills in the Westminster system are those which have been introduced by members—ruling or opposition—other than ministers. In India they are gracefully taken up for discussion on Fridays, and usually withdrawn over assurances from the government that the principle and purpose contained in them have been noted. Hundreds of such private member bills have been presented in the two houses of Parliament since 1952, but only 14 have finally been made into laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What capital assurance is Eden seeking from the regime?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/15/a-capital-crisis-in-kerala.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/15/a-capital-crisis-in-kerala.html Sat Jul 15 14:55:53 IST 2023 early-election-to-lok-sabha <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/08/early-election-to-lok-sabha.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/8/10-Early-election-to-Lok-Sabha-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi had been a votary of same-time polls to the Lok Sabha and the assemblies. Seven summers ago he said, we are “trapped in a cycle of elections” and that it was time to go for simultaneous polls. True to style, he called it “one India, one election”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you want it done statutorily, it would call for a few Constitution amendments. For starters, however, Modi can try with a few of the states through practical politics. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram have to go to the assembly polls this winter. Why not call a snap Lok Sabha poll too, which is due in summer, along with them? Many in the BJP, and some in the opposition, believe Modi might do it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But why? Wouldn’t he want to equal Manmohan Singh’s record on the hot seat?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He would, but political pragmatism may compel otherwise. The going over the last nine years has been that voters in most states want Modi at the Centre, but many may choose non-BJP regimes in some of the state capitals. Why not avoid the scenario by reworking the electoral dynamics?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi would be riding high on the G20 glory as a global statesman this autumn. If the voters are to choose their MPs and MLAs together in winter, the Modi magic might work on both. They would very likely press the lotus button on both the voting machines. Then why wait for the summer, by which time cares of governance would have dimmed the shine?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is more. The opposition, with all their conclaves in Patna and elsewhere, are still in disarray. Strike now, before they regroup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you thought all these have got the opposition worried, you are wrong. They are the least bothered. The AAP and the Congress are busy with their own little feuds; Sharad Pawar is counting the losses he suffered in last Sunday’s castle coup; K. Chandrashekar Rao is on a Bharat Rashtra <i>paryatan</i> on his own; the rest are going around like headless chicken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only Nitish Kumar is worried. The guy, who is trying to be another Lok Nayak from Bihar seeking to weld an opposition alliance, said a few days before the Patna conclave: &quot;It is not necessary that Lok Sabha elections will be held next year only. It is possible that it may be held before time, that is, this year itself.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early polls have worked for incumbents, and also backfired. Indira Gandhi went for a mid-term test crying “garibi hatao” in 1971 and reaped a never-before majority. A.B. Vajpayee sought an early mandate in 2004 claiming India was shining, and lost incredibly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statutory case for simultaneous polls has administrative merit, but little political merit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First about the plus side. We are wasting governing time, political energy and economic resources by being constantly in a poll mode. Every year we have a round or more of polls to one or more legislatures. The PM and ministers get distracted, the model code freezes development governance for two months, the police and the paramilitary get burdened, illegal money corrupts the polity and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the minus side, that is political. Tailoring the terms of assemblies to suit the central legislature's is fundamentally un-federal. Democracy is not a commodity to be valued in monetary terms. Elections are not a necessary evil, but an essential good by which the deprived classes get politically empowered. Elections are part of the social <i>amritmanthan</i> for obtaining the nectar of social and political good. We have to have more of them, not less.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Your choice?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/08/early-election-to-lok-sabha.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/08/early-election-to-lok-sabha.html Sat Jul 08 15:32:45 IST 2023 killers-opera-ends-in-farce <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/01/killers-opera-ends-in-farce.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/1/14-Fighters-of-Wagner-private-mercenary-new.jpg" /> <p>Russia witnessed a Wagner’s opera last week. Richard Wagner, if you don’t know, was a German composer whose musical dramas were noted for their massive scale and intense emotions. The owner-commander of the private army that threatened to march on Moscow is said to have named his band Wagner Army after his radio call sign during his service in the Chechen war. Luckily for Russia, Europe and the world, what would have been a tragedy ended up as a farce, thanks to Belarus supremo Aleksander Lukashenko.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia and Belarus are like Hanuman and Jambavan. Hanuman was cursed by Rishi Trnabindu to forget his strength till someone reminded him. Jambavan performed this role with a pep talk when Hanuman was hesitating to leap to Lanka across the sea. This columnist wrote so a quarter century ago, when Lukashenko was urging Boris Yeltsin to stop being meek before the west and show Russia’s strategic heft. The mythological metaphor earned me a vodka drink with Belarus’s first ambassador to India Vladimir Sakalousky, who patiently listened to my drunken drivel disguised as puranic punditry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at how those morale-booster doses from Belarus have worked on Russia. Russia is now on a rampage in Europe, much like Hanuman in Lanka with his tail afire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do we have lessons from the farce of force that was staged in Europe? We don’t have private armies today, but had quite a few during the Mughal decline in the 18th century, raised by fortune-hunting freebooters like Walter Reinhardt, his more famous wife Begum Samru, James Skinner, Paolo Avitabile, Benoît de Boigne and more. They roamed across Hindustan like the Pindaris, renting out their battalions to the feuding native princes. Some of them carved out little kingdoms and reigned over them, as did Irishman Raja George Thomas in Hansi, Haryana. With the rise of the British as the paramount power in India, the mercenaries lost their relevance and withered away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well-armed groups rose similarly in some of the ex-Soviet republics after the break-up of the USSR, when the rule of law broke down in many of them. Oil, banking, mining, manufacturing and transport tycoons began hiring armed private guards to protect their assets from jobless brigands that roamed the hinterland. Some of them gradually grew into private armies, armed with even cannons and tanks, with backhand support from the state, as the Wagner wild bunch did under Vladimir Putin’s patronage. Putin is said to have been using them to get done those dirty jobs that decent armies are loath to do, or Geneva conventions prohibit them from doing—killing civilians, torturing captives, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where do they get their troops? Easy. Russia has a huge number of ex-troopers who have served their draft term, got demobbed in the prime of their youth, and found themselves jobless. Most of them know only one skill—that is to kill—and end up enrolling in private armies. Four months ago, Putin announced a scheme to upskill and absorb them in arms factories where he needs more hands to cast more guns for the war in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That should be cause for concern for us. Our Agnipath scheme too will churn out thousands in their prime of youth into the civil street. Luckily, our government is making provisions to skill them in non-kill trades, keeping jobs for them in the police and para-military, getting arms factories and PSUs to absorb them, and is promising them hefty severance purses with which they can open small businesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the Wagner warning should act as a wake-up call, in case anyone in the government is sleeping over these promises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/01/killers-opera-ends-in-farce.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/01/killers-opera-ends-in-farce.html Sat Jul 01 18:30:56 IST 2023 a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/24/a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/6/24/9-A-seat-in-the-south-for-Modi-new.jpg" /> <p>Is the BJP going south? A hackneyed news headline, you’d say. All of us in the print and visual media, and our wayward younger brothers on the social media, have been headlining so for the past nine years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apologies! I didn’t mean the line literally, but figuratively. ‘Going south’ also means ‘being on the decline’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before brigades of bhakts pounce on me, allow me a bit of linguistic indulgence. No one is sure of how the usage began. A few tongue-tracers say, it started from some Red Indian mumbo-jumbo by which ‘going south’ meant facing death or misfortune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why Red Indians? We brown Indians, too, have similar beliefs about the <i>dakshina disha in lakshana sastras.</i> In Agastya’s Ramayan, when Khara asks Shurpanakha as to what had happened to the 14 demons whom he had sent to slay Ram and Lakshman, she says the brothers had packed them off to the south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My hunch about the idiom is more prosaic, and many linguists would agree—that it had its origins in the modern world of cartography and corporate governance. Since the south is shown at the bottom in maps, and since profit charts were hung like maps in boardrooms, falling fortunes came to be described as going south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s leave linguistics, <i>lakshana sastras</i>, cartography and corporate affairs; let’s talk politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is going strong in the north, the northeast, and the west, but its leaders feel the party had peaked in these regions long ago. All the seats that are available and possible are already in the bag, save perhaps a few in the east. So, if the party doesn’t go southward literally and geographically, it may go southward figuratively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But where in the south? Much of the marches stretching from the Vindhyas till the shrine of the Virgin Goddess at land’s end is virgin territory for the BJP. Indeed it has 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka and four of the 17 from Telangana, but the recent assembly polls have hinted that those can’t be taken for granted. The rest of the south, where Stalin, Jagan and Vijayan are ruling the roost, is to the BJP what Mount Rishyamooka was to Vali—forbidden territory. No curse from any <i>rishi</i>, but there seems to be a bad spell that the party has to break.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has been trying to break the spell with Gangajal—stressing on the cultural and political motifs that point to civilisational links and shared heritage. Thus we saw a month-long Kashi-Tamil Sangamam last November in Narendra Modi’s own Varanasi, followed by a Saurashtra-Tamil Sangamam, then a Kashi-Telugu Sangamam, and finally a re-enactment of the sceptre ritual of 1947 as a state ceremony of 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even those don’t seem to be enough. The latest thinking is said to be to field Modi, the party’s champion vote-catcher, somewhere in the south. But where?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bets are on three seats—Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. All three have the right religio-cultural elements for a Modi to work his electoral magic. Ramanathapuram hosts one of the 12 jyotirlingas at Rameswaram, and overlooks the fabled Ram Setu. The Kanyakumari seat is at Bharat Mata’s feet, where the Virgin Goddess is enshrined guarding the southern frontiers of Bharat Varsha, and is sanctified with a rock where another Narendra performed a <i>tapasya</i> for India’s redemption. Thiruvananthapuram hosts the great Vishnu shrine, whose untouched riches speak of a line of selfless rulers who ruled as servants of the divine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of the spell of electoral eloquence that a leader like Modi can cast all around the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/24/a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/24/a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi.html Sat Jun 24 11:02:58 IST 2023