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Republic Day Doodling

It is quite interesting that Google has an India Republic Day Doodle! India has now arrived, and how – the Google Doodle says by riding elephants! I just hope Google doesn’t have new cases against it (like the censorship one wasn’t enough) for stereotyping Indians as elephant riders – ask Jeremy Clarkson of  TopGear [in]fame.

The conventional pen and paper [or should we say brick and mortar?] media – the newspaper offered some curious ideas on what Republic Day means to all of us – as in beyond Big Bazaar.  It was as if Mr. MK Gandhi’s PR agency had unleashed a ‘Gandhi Everywhere’ campaign. The Ministry of Minority Affairs, Panchayati Raj, Khadi Gramudyog  seemed to have kindly obliged with precious pages of newsprint dedicated to pictures and quotes of the Mahatma. While nobody can undermine Gandhiji’s role as a visionary, converting every public holiday into a celebration of Gandhiji undermines the importance of the day itself. Yes, we have the Republic Day parade with beautiful tableau from various states, but then Minority Affairs – Gandhi – Republic Day; it is too cryptic for me to connect. It seems to be but a cheap attempt at populism. Not to be left behind our media channels are playing Richard Attenborough’s  Gandhi to celebrate Republic Day.  In India, the term ‘an enlightened media’ has now become an oxymoron. [The only exception was an advert issued by the Karnataka Govt. which had pictures of the Chief Minister and Governor on top, but featured a quote and picture of Dr.Ambedkar]

So, what should Republic Day be all about. Of course, it is about celebrating ‘unity in diversity’ and India’s syncretic culture. Is it not also a day to remember the architects of the republic? There are many that come to mind beyond Gandhiji – C.Rajagopalachari, Sardar Vallabhai Patel et. al. But the one whose contribution is most exemplary is Babasaheb Ambedkar – Chairman of the Constitution drafting committee and independent India’s first law minister. Despite all our short-comings, time has proven that India’s constitution is one which is built to last. Look around at the way other countries in the sub-continent have swung in and out of anarchy. We have become fortuitous citizens of India and for this we must be grateful to the authors of our constitution for their fortitude and foresightedness.  The Constitution that has passed the test of time is perhaps the greatest legacy anyone could hope to leave behind. I wonder why today’s so-called Ambedkarites prefer others such as reservations and caste. While the Constitution has been ‘built to last’ ‘Reservations’ have been built for those those who come last and in today’s politics the Nation always comes last.

So why is not Dr.Ambedkar celebrated as a ‘Nationalist’? Why is it that he is relegated to a ‘Dalit Leader’ whose photographs must be hung up on walls of all Govt. Offices to show that ‘all are equal’. The constitution belongs to India and so does Dr.Ambedkar. The greatest travesty inflicted on his legacy is that it is restricted to ‘Ambedkar Jayanthi’ or at Chaitya Bhoomi. If ever a day was meant to celebrate Dr.Ambedkar, it is Republic Day. Ambedkar Jayanthi is about a personality cult which the man despised, while Republic Day is about the longevity of his work – it’s about what he did, what he created, what he left behind for his nation.

But I do understand why some people are uncomfortable with his legacy. He was a pragmatist- not a populist, and a man of principles. He resigned from the cabinet on account of differences with the government. As law minister, he sought to introduce the Hindu Code bill which would give equal rights to women in terms of inheritance and economy. It was an anti-populist move and obviously anathema to the Congress. This prompted his resignation from the Cabinet.When was the last time you heard the name Ambedkar in the media blitzkrieg over internet censorship, the Rushdie Ramayana or Hussain hooplah? For he was the man who pioneered the idea of civil liberties which was hitherto unheard of in India.  He also favoured liberal economic policies – which was tantamount to treason in the time of Nehru.

Perhaps the reason why the Ministry of Minority Affairs chose Gandhi over Ambedkar is explained in his essay ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ where he questioned if Indian Muslims could ever be trusted post-partition. Ambedkar also vociferously criticised Islam saying that as a religion it virtually legitimised polygamy, slavery, purdah etc. Of course, Ambedkar was equally vitriolic about the Hindu faith. But one must not forget his bitter experiences with Hinduism, reason enough for him to be hardened. While one would like to assume neutrality, it is but natural that some of this bitterness flowed into the formulation of his opinion. It was not so with Islam – his opinion could only have been influenced by cold logic. Unfortunately, logic and populism don’t always go hand-in-hand. We chose to ignore the very principles prescribed by our constitution of an open society and space for multiple opinions. What makes the Minority Affairs Ministry’s ad even more abhorrent is the fact that the minister in charge is also the Law Minister!

Dr.Ambedkar ought to be celebrated as a statesman beyond a social activist. He perhaps would be the ideal conservative. It is indeed ironical that the legacy of a man who once lost an election for his statesmanly approach is now being used by lowly Luddites to form governments. His so-called followers seemed to have been reading his message in reverse – “Educate”, “Organise”, “Agitate”! We would do well to take a similar approach with our national holidays. First ‘Educate’, then ‘Proliferate’ and finally ‘Celebrate’!

Pak’s Rehman Malik cites Lokpal debate as proof of match fixing in India

Pakistan’s Home Minister Rehman Malik cited the Lokpal discussion in the Rajya Sabha as evidence that India is the root of all match fixing. For Indian anchors Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt had ‘predicted’ that there would be a disruption in the functioning of the Rajya Sabha at 5-6 hours before the actual disruption took place. Mr. Malik argued that it is this very Indian media that has maligned the good name of Pakistan by trapping cricketers Salman Butt, Mohd. Asif and Mohd. Amir in the fixing scandal.

He said “We in Pakistan always knew of the existence of cross-border TRPism. India is blaming Pakistan and using Pakistanis as a tool to boost TRPs of Indian channels.” Mr. Malik also provided documentary evidence of this unholy nexus. He added “You can see Barkha and Rajdeep scheming together and also independently with Amir and Salman respectively. I will forward this to the ICC President.” However, some journalists did inform Mr. Malik that the pictures were those of Bollywood heroes Salman and Amir.  To which Mr.Malik retorted “Do not try to teach me ifs and Butts. Asif  I cannot make out. Amiretarted?” Saying so, in full public view he inserted the dossier into an envelope addressed to “SHRI. SHARAD PAWAR, MUMBAI, INDIA” and had it ordered his assistant to courier it. On being queried regarding the completeness of the address, Mr. Malik said that since all properties in Mumbai are now owned by Pawar with Kalmadi and Shahid Balwa in jail, he was confident that this was the most efficient way to reach the ICC president. When asked by a journo about his penchant for exposes, he replied with his trademark rhetoric “If Veena Malik can expose, why not Rehman Malik? But I hope Mrs. Shoiab Malik also follows suite”

However Mr. Malik placed on record his admiration for the efficiency with which the prediction was made and indicated his desire to appoint Lalu Yadav as a consultant to the Pakistan cricket team. He said “We still have hope. Kamran Akmal is still playing and has not been banned. While he has shown his reliability in the area of dropped catches, his strength has now become a weakness. Kamran dropping a catch is too predictable an event for any bookie to make money. I am confident that we can all use Laluji’s expertise in fixing and improve the situation.”

When Lalu was asked about ‘fixing’ developments in parliament after an RJD MP Shri.Rajniti Prasad disrupted proceedings by literally tearing minister Narayansamy’s notes, he replied “Yahi toh Rajniti hain“.

Anna & anarchy – who is profiting from it all?

The recent Anna-Government spat is symbolic of all that is wrong with our nation. All lines are blurred – between logic and whim, legal and illegal, democracy and autocracy. Congress spokespersons (M/s Singh & Tewari) spew venom at Team Anna on one hand and on the other, there is a stoic silence, a safe distance from these remarks by other party ‘officials’. In the morning, the government throws Anna into jail and then he refuses to be released in the evening! The result – dailies are filled with editorials admonishing the government on its high-handedness, citing this episode as evidence of a ‘second emergency’. But who benefits from these actions?

The government has successfully managed to obfuscate the debate from inflation, national security and corruption to civil liberties. Last time around [both with Anna and Ramdev], the causes were clear – Lokpal & Black-money in foreign shores. Today, ironically the nation’s protests are targeted against the unknown evil in front of Amar Jawan Jyoti & India Gate. Who are the protests against – The Government for its corruption or high-handedness, or against Anna’s arrest or is it against the loose-cannon Congress spokespersons whose eloquence is contrived and intellect conjured or is it against all those who are corrupt or is it against everyone ‘bad’?

The events of the recent past – beginning from accusing Anna of corruption and culminating in his arrest seems a carefully choreographed by the Congress. It is hard to believe that the Government / Congress’ key functionaries can make such elementary errors and lionise the enemy (Team Anna). It is too good to be true! How can a party whose leader hails from the hallowed land of Machiavelli commit such patent follies in Chanakya country? [You read it right – I am trusting the intelligence of a political party rather than questioning their arrogance.]

To put into context the events of recent past, the anger on the streets was palpable – rising inflation (especially food) has burdened the poor, a shaky economy spooked Dalal Street, and a middle-class who have borne the brunt of both. The elephants in the room –  all pervasive corruption corroding the very foundation of our society and  terror strikes which have added cruel uncertainty to civilian life – bringing parity between the barracks and Bombay. Thus leaving us longing for our own Tahrir square.

Like this was not enough, the youth at the forefront of Anna’s agitation is restless and disgruntled. This generation has not been part of those epochal moments of history – be it independence or the emergency. There is a restiveness to be part of history and a search for a sense of euphoric  change. A chapter in history titled ‘The Oriental Autumn after The Arab Spring’ – how alluring; almost poetic. Makes all the effort worth it – of going to JP, Freedom and many other such parks to get under the flash-bulbs.  Absolute pot-boiler material.

This simmering discontent may ultimately manifest itself in change – politically, as both Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have shown decisively. With the general elections some distance away, the Congress is perhaps looking to channel the edgy energy of the voters into something intangible – where the people are left with a feeling of achievement and liberation with Congress’ plans remaining unaltered. There couldn’t have been a better time for the Congress to dissipate the collective vigour of the masses and ensure that the long-term impact on the prospects of the party remains unaltered. An ‘ailing’ Sonia Gandhi is abroad for treatment and Rahul Gandhi is tending to his mother, as a ‘dutiful son’ should. Citizens of India are given to believe that the Gandhi family is blissfully unaware of the happenings at home. When they return Anna is a spent force and Lokpal would have been referred to the Lok Sabha Speaker’s sub-committee on Food Processing by the Rajya Sabha speaker’s committee on Surface Transport. Sonia Gandhi can then write to Team Anna that the Congress will dedicate its every breath to fighting corruption, but ‘law has to take its own course’ [Read: The Lokpal bill will then be forwarded to the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment before discussions with the Empowered Group of Ministers on Infrastructure Reform, but only after formulating  a joint-parliamentary-committee (with representation from Regional, National, Socialist, Communist, Nationalist, Forward Class, Backward Class, Most backward class and Dalit parties) to review their recommendations ]

So as Anna steals the Opposition’s thunder and the Government continues to blunder, only the Congress at its benevolent best can offer an alternative. The voice of the youth, the face of tomorrow – Rahul Gandhi – for Prime Minister. Fasts done, candles burnt-out,  it is now back to business as usual with a Gandhi at the helm of affairs. While this may be the most gregariously sinister of designs, the Lokpal fiasco certainly leaves me with as much anger as a feeling of paranoia and apprehension about the unknown – it is just too fishy. To sum it up:

Daal mein zaroor kuch kala hain, pata nahin Lokpal mein bhi kya ghotala hain

PS: The best outcome that I am hoping for is the absence of Singh & Tewari from the TV screens (even if it is temporary).

A ton that was destined for Dravid

In the melee of the modern world it is said that change is the only constant. Phrases like disruptive innovation, creative destruction comprise the lexicon of the language which is today used to describe positive developments. For it is unfashionable to ‘remain the same’, which is sometimes euphemistically interpreted as being a ‘prisoner of the past’ or ‘unwilling to accept change’. If ever there was an exception that proved this rule, it is Rahul Dravid. While Dravid’s innate ability to adjust and adapt have earned him success in all forms of the game, re-invention and Dravid have seldom been used in the same breath. He is special because ‘adjust’ is all he needs to do to thrive in alien conditions, not revolutionary change. The idea has always been to contribute in the best possible way and not showcasing of one’s personal novelty. This approach seems almost vedantic –  the belief that an individual needs to only be concerned with his efforts and intentions, and the result will take care of itself. The century at Lords on Saturday (23-July-2011) seems to have brought to Dravid the destiny he always deserved.

Dravid’s India debut was greatly anticipated in the mid-90’s. He was in the list of probables for the 1996 World Cup. Unfortunately, he didn’t make the team. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be, for Dravid’s debut at Lords in 1996 will for always remain an epochal moment in Indian cricket history.  This test match is the equivalent of Jesus’ birth on the calendar of Indian cricket and has become the reference point for events in the past and the future. Of course, like many other of Dravid’s milestones, his début match too had many a reason (apart from his performance) to be remembered – Sourav Ganguly and the emergence of Venkatesh Prasad (start of the Prasad-Srinath era).  Dravid’s début innings was indeed special – everything about it was proper, tight forward defence, elegant square-drives and finally walking back on 95, caught-behind of the bowling of Chris Lewis. If his entry into the national scene at Lords was poetic (albeit with a slightly anti-climatic, perhaps even tragic ending), the journey since has flowed like precise prose.

When Dravid strides out with a bat in hand he brings along a calming reassurance that everything is in order. His batting leg-guards tucked behind the tongue of his shoes, velcro on the arm-guard neatly folded and fastened, crisp clothing – the shirt always tucked in fully with the leg-guard neatly wrapping flannels down to the ankles. The batting gear always in fine fettle with no rough ends or scraggy tapes hanging out. No oversized thigh-pads jutting out or chest-guards which make the wearer look like the vulcanised rubber version of a mascot of a nondescript multi-disciplinary sporting event. This is a far cry from modern Indian superstars, who have managed to reach the pinnacle in limited over formats, yet fail to earn a permanent slot in the Test team. Today being unkempt is cool – one such ‘superstar’ is especially guilty: his shirt floating around his burgeoning waistline (and sometimes above) and his trousers knotted up at the knees with the batting leg-guards! It seems that his unwillingness to make the journey from brash boyishness to matured manhood has taken a toll – he is not yet a test regular despite being the most fluent batsman since Tendulkar. Fortunately for Dravid he never had to make this transition, for he was always an assiduous thinker rather than a swashbuckling stroke-maker and knew the value of doing things correctly, beyond doing the correct thing.

While there has been a lot of hype around Tendulkar’s impending 100th ton, it is Dravid’s century that seems more righteous. For it was the 24-year old Dravid who on début at Lords walked after the faintest of edges through to wicket-keeper Jack Russell. In his mind, he only did what was right and in the process embodied the ‘spirit of cricket’. The home of cricket provided a fitting venue to this act of civility and gentlemanliness. Through his recent ton, Lords is now even with Dravid – for he was the lone centurion in the innings on Saturday, letting him take the newsprint reams he deserved, for even if the 1996 Lords test had had a fairy tale ending for Dravid, it would be remembered as much for Ganguly as for Dravid.

Strange are the ways of the world – match after match Dravid has stayed in the shadows of the Laxmans and Gangulys to steer India to safety (32 out of his 34 test centuries have ensured that India come out unscathed in the end), yet today’s defeat cruelly means that in Dravid’s mind, this will not be the century that was truly meant to be.

God and Glitter: role of wealth in modern religion

Modernisation: think out-of-the-drum

The recent discovery of wealth purportedly worth Rs. 100,000 crores at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Tiruvananthapuram has got journalists from across the world to report on the happenings in  God’s Own Country! There have been views and counter-points on whom this wealth belongs to and what should be done with the money.  It is interesting that in today’s desperate-to-appear-secular (read anti-Hindu) polity, the majority opinion seems to be that the money belongs to the temple or Lord Padmanabha himself.

Coming back to faith and money, while The Vatican may have a budget of less than half a billion dollars, the value of it’s real estate holdings and exquisite artwork (courtesy: Michelangelo & Co.) is not accounted for. The value  of these works have been humbly recorded as 1-euro each! I haven’t even started talking about real estate ownership here. In India, with even optimistic estimates indicating an under 10% Christian population, the Church is next only to the Indian Government in terms of land ownership! The Waqf’s land holdings ensure that the Muslim community is also not too far behind. In a nutshell, an assessment of all the religious institutions on the same valuation parameters of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple would only show that all of them are rich; very rich.

So the question that this enormous wealth begs is simple – what can be done with this wealth? Should it be used for public welfare or for religions; in the country of origin or to grow the religion elsewhere? While there can be no correct or ideal answers to these questions, the Church has clearly been the savviest in managing its finances. While the larger conversion strategy of investing in the poor through education and healthcare and then reaping the rewards of their affluence has been a mutually beneficial strategy between the Church and the believer, enormous revenues are generated from rentals, education and healthcare. Thus the Christian enterprise has been able to successfully penetrate every corner of the globe (barring perhaps – Bhutan!). Albeit less successfully, Muslim organisations have also been able to generate income through real estate. Most of this money though is used to sponsor mardasas or support the Hajj pilgrimage. The Hindu faith is has fallen off the map in terms of non-donation revenues.

All of us hear of politicians donating (guilt-induced?) significant amounts of money to the Gods in India. What do the Temples do with this wealth? We have resplendent crowns and immaculate jewellery alright, but surely there is more money than meets the eye in terms of ornaments. Being a non-proselyting faith, Hindus actually do not explore different options in terms of investments or expenditure, for the Hindu balance sheet is karmic and physical wealth is put away for a rainy day. Unfortunately, history shows that there are no rainy days for religion – only hurricanes (as the Somnath temple proves), which leave behind such irreversible devastation with the wealth of generations being dissolved in the mayhem.

The whole Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple episode should be seen as a wake up call for Hindu religious institutions to ensure better planning of finances. It shows that Hindus can find the necessary resources to protect and propagate the Hindu way of life. With a combination of deceit, guile and  terror or the allure of westernisation, Hindus are being weaned away from a civilisation which is at harmony not only with different religions, but with modern notions of justice, equality and fraternity. Some ideas:

1) Reach-out: To the under-privileged in India: Go beyond Education and Healthcare (which are definitely necessary) to imbibe a sense of pride in being an Indian and in the ‘Hindu way of life’.

2) Research & Education: Build awareness among the larger population on the ‘Sanatana Dharma’ through socio-cultural programs. Celebrate diversity and encourage research (through grants) on different strains of the Hindu faith.

and lastly,

3) Reform: It is imperative that the Hindu religious order adapts to the modern world. Hindus need not take the Judea-Christian pop culture route,  but should celebrate Indian classical music instead of being locked away in nondescript by-lanes in the Hindi heartland or along the Cauvery. (both metaphorically and literally)

Like the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, Hindu religion has gems hidden away in different philosophies – no new books are needed; a good librarian will do the trick.

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