Monday, December 14, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Today marks the 1st anniversary of the most blatant terrorist attack on Indian soil. The images from that horrific day are still fresh in our minds, although I doubt if the sense of outrage and activism that we all felt in the immediate aftermath of the
Its been an eventful year for the nation in general and
So what has the last year taught us? The fact that we’ve not had any other attacks in the last year isn’t really because we’ve corrected all the flaws in our security system. The disarray in the Mumbai Police, the first barrier in our security setup, is self-evident in all the in-fighting that goes on in the department. The Quick Response Team(QRT), which is meant to be the city’s answer to a slothful police force, has been abandoned even before it could gain a foothold in the security setup. The political players have done nothing more play the usual game of blaming everyone else. And the media is using the occasion of the anniversary to run up ratings and indulge in superficial schemes like NDTV’s Human Chain, which at the time of writing this post has managed only an abysmal 6115 participants. Even corporate
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Its funny season again in Indian politics. The latest controversy to preoccupy our television media is the fatwa issued by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind against the national song, Vande Mataram. The resolution asking Muslims not to sing the national song was passed at the national convention of the Jamiat, one of the largest groups of Muslim clerics in India, held at Darul Uloom Deoband, one the largest Muslim seminaries in South Asia. It was attended by Home Minister P Chidambaram. Now this is the kind of news that makes the nearly down and out BJP drool in anticipation. The BJP has condemned 2 different aspects of this bit of news. Obviously they have taken issue with the JEU for issuing the fatwa. And they are probably rubbing their hands in glee that no less than the Home Minister was at this convention. Mr Chidambaram has of course since distanced himself from the fatwa. The JEU however have taken refuge in the Constitution and the freedom of religious expression provided to every Indian therein. “Some of its lines are of course against the religious principles of Islam. We cannot bow before anybody other than the Allah. It is un-Islamic”, said Moulana Muizuddin of the Jamiat.
Written by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay in response to the British Government making the singing of God Save the Queen compulsory, Vande Mataram was so successful in inspiring freedom fighters at the time, that the British at one time banned the utterance of the cry in public forums. The song, in its later stanzas, compares Mother India to Goddess Durga and therefore was unacceptable as the National Anthem to some of
Now it’s a whole different story if, as BJP governments in the past have done, someone makes the singing of Vande Mataram compulsory. The whole idea of being a democracy is that one has the freedom to do or not do what one chooses as long as it stays within the limits of the law and does not impinge on one’s neighbour’s freedoms. I don’t think the singing of the national song should be made compulsory just as I don’t think a fatwa should be issued advising Indian Muslims that Vande Mataram is un-Islamic. Its offensive to the sensibilities of a large number of people who prefer to see themselves as Indians first. Javed Akhtar put it best when he said he would not sing a single verse of the song if the BJP made it compulsory but would publicly sing the whole song including its un-Islamic later verses if a fatwa is issued against it.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
President Obama came to power on a wave of hope and jubilation the likes of which has not been seen in world history. But the truth is that less than one year into his term some of that halo is beginning to fade away. Mind you, most of it is not his fault. He's an extremely talented and sincere man doing a near impossible job. And he's not been doing it for long enough for any of his much debated and criticized efforts to bear any real fruit. So the committee that praises his efforts to solve the world's complex problems needs to take a good look at the world again. I'm not sure which of those problems has become any less problematic than it was last November when Obama won.
As for the citation regarding his efforts to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal, America still has the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, still has not ratified the CTBT and has rewarded Pakistan's freeing of A Q Khan with more cash in aid. Yes, he initiated a debate on the subject, put non-military options with Iran back on the table and has not lashed out yet at North Korea. All very good, but Nobel prize good??!! Really!! It seems to me that someone on the Nobel Committee decided that they could use some of the rockstar like popularity that Obama brings to the table or they just decided to suck up to the USA. If it was rockstar appeal they were after, I submit Paul Hewson aka Bono as an alternative candidate. He's done some real good work, has been active for much longer than Obama has and here's the clincher, he's a real rockstar. If on the other hand they were just sucking up to the US Goverment, well then, all I have to say is, "Very good choice."
For us Indians, Obama's prize also brings back that never ending question about the Nobel peace prize. Why was The Mahatma never given the prize? To which we can now forevermore add, " Is Barack Obama greater even than Mahatma Gandhi?" Well the committee sure seems to think so.
The Nobel prize announcements are always a source of much anticipation and eventually debate. But usually the controversies and debates involve the Peace prize or the Literature prize. For us Indians this year's Chemistry prize also provides much fodder for arguments and the Peace prize as well. Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan was awarded the Chemistry nobel along with Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath for their work involving ribosomes. As if this were not enough President Barack Obama has been awarded the Peace prize for his efforts to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal. For the average "argumentative Indian", to quote another Nobel prize winner, this is a bumper Diwali.
The Chemistry prize resurrects the age old debate about brain drain and its causes and effects. Sadly this is a question that really comes into focus only when someone of Indian origin achieves something substantial internationally, when ideally it is an issue that should be front and centre in India's plans to become a global superpower. Dr Venkataraman was born and brought up in Chidambaram, TN. Sure this gives a lot of Tamilians cause for immense pride and maybe the rest of India as well. In some part of our minds we are glowing with a sense of achievement. This is proof that we are as good as anybody else out there, if, we are given the right opportunities. And that if is the point of all the debate. That Indians are generally smart has been proved beyond all argument by our dotcom friends. So the real questions are these? Could the good Dr Venks have achieved all he has if he stayed back in India? Almost defnitely no. Will the current environment in higher education and research in India ever throw up a home grown Nobel in the pure sciences? Highly unlikely. And should the fact that Dr Venks is now an American citizen take away from our sense of achievement? I definitely feel it should. It should be a matter of great introspection and shame that our best and brightest still choose the greener pastures of American academia. Both in terms of increasing our R&D capability across all fields and in terms of increasing India's global visibility and soft power, we should plan to overhaul our structure of higher education. And it has to begin from top down. The bosses running higher education in India shouldn't be retired politicians looking for a cushy end. That job should be given exclusively to top academicians with proven record in research. There has to be a strong focus on enabling bold and cutting edge research work to take root in labs across India. And more importantly there has to be generous government grants disbursed through autonomous, non-partisan, qualified and meritocratic governing committees. Only then can we have our own Dr Venkataraman and when that time we can truly bask in his/her glory.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
I recently came to know of a health services scheme started by the late Andhra Pradesh CM Dr Y S R Reddy. Initially introduced on a trial basis in a few poverty ridden districts in the state and later on after it proved to be a resounding success, the scheme was extended to cover the entire state. The Rajiv Arogya Sri came into effect in April 2007. .It provides financial protection and the means to improve the health status of families living Below the Poverty Line for treatment of all the serious ailments. Under the scheme all white card holders(those deemed BPL) were entitled to free medical treatment at any of the corporate hospitals participating in the scheme. And to their credit quite a few of the big corporate names in the state are part of the scheme.
Now I have seen first hand how this scheme is transforming the access these poor people have to quality health care and in the process also their lives. The scheme allows anyone with a white card to simply walk in to a hospital and check if his/her symptoms match the diagnoses in a pre-approved government checklist. If it does, from then on they are eligible for the best care that the hospital can provide including cost of stay and food expenses without having to pay anything at all from their pockets. This is the sort of manna from heaven scheme that we hear of usually in oil rich Arab nations (although only for Arab nationals). They can afford it. But to actually try and implement it in an Indian state deserves special recognition of the man's intent to serve his people. Now I don't know anything else about YSR's or Andhra's politics but it probably helped that YSR was a doctor himself and because of that he probably understood better than most politicians, the difficulties India's poor face with regards to health care.
Now this is India after all and however noble the scheme, we will find ways to corrupt it. Like so with Arogya Sri. Some of the white card holders are simply too well off to fall in that unfortunate category called BPL, while some hospitals and associated health personnel are trying to make a fast buck by conning the poor patients into paying for services that they should be getting for free. But all things considered as far as a Government initiative is concerned schemes like Arogya Sri should be supported and lauded. Politicians at all levels should take note of the genuine outpouring of grief that followed YSR's untimely and tragic death recently. If you want to win elections and etch your name in history, dreaming up schemes like Arogya Sri is the better way to go about it, than building giant statues of yourself at public expense. Dr Y S R is no more but here's hoping that there are more like him because India's poor really need them.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
If ever an issue was created by the media for public consumption it is this whole brouhaha involving ShahRukh Khan and his alleged detention by airport officials at
But it doesn’t end there. News channels have been running this story with the breaking news tagline and with quotes from SRK camp regulars, Karan Johar and Farah Khan. Karan Johar somberly addressed the racist element of the incident and cheekily threw in the phrase “its all because his name is Khan.” And Farah Khan is under the delusion that SRK is the “biggest star in the world.” Of course SRK himself dominated all the airwaves with his extensive and in depth views on everything from racism to religious intolerance to international politics to the mental state of Americans as a people. All the while maintaining that he doesn’t want to make a big deal of the incident!
As an issue this couldn’t have been better scripted and that too on the Indian Independence day and most conveniently with SRK starrer My Name is Khan due to hit theatres soon. Anyone with even half a brain will stop to consider if this whole thing isn’t a publicity stunt. But apparently that does not include the editors running our news channels. Or considering the airtime this story is getting, most viewers are gullible enough to swallow this drivel that passes in the name of news.
The final word in this matter of course belongs to Salman Khan, who basically said that this has been happening to Asians, especially Muslims, for some time now and you have to just deal with it. My sympathies are with the Airport officials at
But seriously, its time that we as a people learnt to deal with the fact that people we deem VIPs here in
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Very often in modern sport superlative words of praise are loosely thrown about to describe flashes of brilliance. Roger Federer, even before his monumental achievement on Sunday, richly deserved every single adjective of praise ever attributed to him. But with this long overdue and much deserved French Open victory Federer has firmly put himself in the category of “greatest ever.” And for anyone who follows tennis seriously that’s a rather exclusive category.
But first, the facts. Numbers cannot do justice to the man’s achievement. But this is his 14th Grand Slam, tying him with Pete Sampras; even more significantly the French Open was the only slam he needed to win to complete his career slam, a feat that makes him only the 6th man ever to win all 4 Majors and puts his 14 titles ahead of Sampras’. But the most astounding statistic is the number 20; in the last 20 Grand Slams Roger Federer has made the semifinals or better every single time. That’s the kind of consistency even Tiger Woods hasn’t managed. But to put that achievement into perspective, Nadal who was beginning a streak of his own, was stopped in his tracks at 5 consecutive semifinals and that too at the clay of Roland Garros, easily his favourite surface. Federer has taken on all comers and found the mental and physical reserves required to keep winning even when he hasn’t played his best. After Nadal’s shocking and unexpected exit, the pressure on Federer to win was unbelievable. This was his tournament to lose. And he made sure he brought his A-game against Soderling. This victory at Roland Garros would’ve been that much more sweeter if it had come against Nadal. And it can always be argued that Federer might not even have won if Nadal was on the other side of the net. But the fact remains that at the end of 2 weeks of gruelling play both Nadal and Federer were expected to reach the finals and only one man made it. For all his abundant talent and never say die spirit, Nadal still has some way to go before he can be compared to Federer.
Its always a tricky thing, to compare players of different eras. And the arguments for or against any player as greatest of all time are always contentious. As things stand today, there’s really only one name that can compare with Federer; Rod Laver. But even the Rocket will concede that when he played the schedule was nowhere near as hectic or the competition as gruelling as it is today and he didnt play on 4 different surfaces. In terms of an all round game, consistency, adaptability, sportsmanship and professionalism Roger Federer is peerless. And tennis is richer for it and tennis fans who follow his journey know that each time he steps on court they are watching a master who’s creating his own script that will be the stuff of legend.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
The same however cannot be said of the performance put up so far by the Kolkota Knight Riders. Easily the most hyped team in the IPL and atleast on paper just as competitive as any other team on display, team KKR have displayed an amazing ability to lose the plot often from a position of certain victory as was evident in the match against the Rajasthan Royals. But the team has been plagued by controversy even before the a ball had been bowled. Coach Buchanan's 4 captain theory, the decision to strip Ganguly of his captaincy, Shahrukh's arrogant response to Sunil Gavaskar's sane counsel all added to the drama off the field. Unfortunately none of that has helped the team on the field. As a team KKR looks completely deflated and rudderless. Captain McCullum, going through a lean patch with the bat, has not been able to inspire the team. They look and play like they are just waiting to pack their bags and go home.
So what is it that plagues this team, that boasts the likes of Ganguly, Gayle, McCullum and Ishant Sharma in its roster?
To answer that we need look no further than team owner Shahrukh Khan. For a man who's based his entire career on a hyped up star appeal, and has promoted that "Badshah" image at the cost of any acting prowess he displayed at the early stages of his career, its only natural that his team is the best outfitted, most hyped and has the most high profile fan base regardless of whether they actually play well enough to merit all that hype. KKR is the only team with a partner news channel, the respected NDTV! An inspired move one would have thought, but the channel has now been reduced to dissecting everything that has gone wrong this season for its team. Even the Bangalore Royal Challengers, owned by megalomaniac Vijay Mallya, has focussed on the players in their TV ads. But for team KKR, Shahrukh is front and centre everywhere, be it in the ads, the team anthem or the press conferences. Even the front page of the website has only SRK. One begins to suspect that this entire enterprise is just another one of the man's never-ending attempts at self-promotion. A very costly one. But as SRK himself said, he has spent the money and he can chose to do with the team as he sees fit. But any cricket team that goes by the name of Kolkota has to have Sourav Ganguly at its heart.
By the end of this edition KKR will have provided some of the best entertainment the IPL2 had to offer; the funniest ads, the coolest tean anthem video and the very entertaining, juicy and mysterious fakeiplplayer blog. Sadly not much of this entertainment will come from performances on the field. Much like Shahrukh Khan, this is a team that is more hype than substance.
The fact is that, despite its completely sycophant culture and dynastic obsession, the Congress is still the most acceptable national party. But time and again it fails to behave like one. The decision by the Law Ministry to recommend to the CBI to withdraw the Red Corner Notice against Ottavio Quattrocchi is the latest in a series of calculated moves by successive Congress governments to bury the Bofors case once and for all. But the timing couldn't be worse. It has brought the Bofors scandal, which was a complete non-issue at the beginning of this election season, front and centre. Various Congress spokepersons have been running from televised debates to press briefings, crying themselves hoarse that this latest decision has nothing to do with the Congress party or Madam Sonia and that various non-Congress governments have also not been able to bring the Bofors case to any sort of conclusion. But the fact remains that every single step taken to free Mr Quattrocchi from the clutches of Indian law has been taken during Congress rule, be it the defreezing of his London accounts or his much delayed and bungled up appeal for extradition in Argentina. And given that Mr Quattrocchi's connection with India is based entirely on his ties with Sonia Gandhi, its obvious where the pressure on the CBI comes from, whatever Abhishek Singhvi may say.
The BJP claim to be the only viable alternative to the Congress with pan national appeal. But the recent directive by the Supreme Court to probe Narendra Modi's role in the Gujarat riots is a slap in the face of those nationalistic ambitions. As long as the BJP believes they can get away with their rabid Hindutva politics as symbolized by Mr Modi they will have absolutely no chance of ever coming to power on their own. Obviously there is a need and space for a right wing conservative party in India's political spectrum. But not for one that denies basic fundamental rights to a section of our citizenry based on their religion. And definitely not for one that seeks to promote as a future Prime ministerial candidate, a man who failed to provide law and order during the worst genocide in Indian history; however much he may have worked for development thereafter.
Thus both these parties, have by their actions, opened the doors for the most lumpen elements of Indian politics to have a shot at power at the Centre. And given the current global scenario and India's slow but steady rise to a position of eminence in international affairs, a Third or Fourth front government ruled by the likes of Ms Mayawati or Mr Laloo Prasad is the last thing India needs.
Friday, April 24, 2009
In all the media circus surrounding the elections one event not given its due was the farce of the Ajmal Amir Kasab's trial. Advocate Anjali Waghmare, assigned to the case after much drama and hoopla provided by the Shiv Sena, was replaced due to a conflict of interest. She hadn't informed the court about her role as counsel for one of the victim's of 26/11. Now none of the media coverage of this incident asked the most pertinent question, namely, how come a lawyer deemed by the Government to be competent enough to represent the accused of such a high profile case could display such ineptitude. The whole incident smelt of a cop out by Advocate Waghmare; a trick played on the general public to find an honourable way out. Instead of focussing on her incompetence, the media somehow seemed to be taking her view of situation as not just feasible but reasonable.
The truth of the matter is that Kasab needs to be tried as soon as possible and as fairly as possible. This trial is a test for our democracy and our society as a whole. A section of our leaders and society are saying the man was caught red-handed. Why do we need this long prolonged drama of a trial? We should simply hang him. But that would be a big mistake. India is a tinpot dictatorship. We are the world's largest democarcy and the only functioning one in our neighbourhood. There is enough evidence against Kasab; images of him firing away with that automatic gun are still fresh in the mind. But to deny him a fair and public trial, would put our judicial system and our society on the same barbaric level as Kasab and his ilk. It would be a rallying call for more misguided young men across the border.
But now Advocate Abbas Qazmi has been appointed as Kasab's new lawyer and already he has filed a petition claiming lack of jurisdiction because Kasab is underaged!! Ridiculous twaddle of course, but atleast he's being afforded competent legal representation, in our finest tradition. Let Advocate Qazmi bring it on; the prosecution must be ready with an air-tight case. Only then will justice prevail and only then will the victims and martyrs of 26/11 get closure. Our reputation as a democratic society is on the line and the world is watching.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Its election time once again. Although in
But cost and size aren’t the only comparisons that arise with the
The Congress party seeks to head the UPA back to power based on the track record of the Government. The UPA itself was cobbled together under the pretence of keeping “communal” forces out and they sought to govern on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme. Now if the blueprint for your Government has the word Minimum in it, I’m not sure there’ll be all that much to crow about. The one thing that Manmohan Singh’s government did achieve was the nuclear deal with the
The BJP now leading a constantly depleting NDA will be hoping to continue the momentum of several state level victories to the Lok Sabha. In L K Advani they have an able but aging leader now trying to reinvent himself as a moderate. But the problem with the BJP is that they just don’t get it. Hindutva does not resonate with the voters anymore and they should simply focus on the issues of the day.
The last few days has witnessed the rebirth of that pitiable entity called the Third Front. This is an idea that has been doing the rounds since the 90s and its member list includes every single party that has been aligned with either the Congress or the BJP. This time around what is definite is that the Leftist parties will not have the clout they had in the last Lok Sabha. So what remains to be seen is how the others will fare and how much they will eat into the vote bases of the leading 2 combinations.
So as usual its not an altogether exciting fare. The Congress has ruled
Monday, February 23, 2009
This from Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi, and I quote "We are proud that in the conducive environment of good governance by the United Progressive Alliance with special emphasis on inclusiveness, we have been an achieving India." This was part of his statement congratulating the cast and winners of Slumdog Millionaire. This has to be the most outrageously shameless attempt to bask in someone else's glory, ever. What has the UPA government done that could contribute to Slumdog's victory? I can only think of one thing. This government has done absolutely nothing to relieve the common man's poverty and misery and has thus perpetuated the slums in Mumbai maybe even contributed to its expansion. Besides how does a victory for Slumdog become an example of an achieving India? It is after all a Hollywood production and the fulfilment of director Danny Boyle's vision.
Yes, more Indians have managed to get on the winners' list on Sunday, than in all the previous years put together. And our Hindustani hearts beat with furious pride in the light of our fellow countrymen's achievement. But make no mistake about it; this is their achievement and theirs alone. Neither society nor government has played any part in it. So while we savor their moment of glory, let's also remember that this is after all an award... for a movie. Nothing more.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Slumdog Millionaire continues its relentless march to Oscar glory. After astounding critics and experts at the Golden Globes and sweeping the BAFTAs, after a long time we now have true Indian representation in the Oscar nominees list. This fact alone makes the 81st Annual Academy Awards due to be presented next week more highly anticipated than it usually is. But for a movie that has so thrilled the West,
The arguments against the movie are many. It exploits Indian poverty. It portrays
So that’s how it must be judged. Slumdog Millionaire is a rollercoaster ride and it’s easy to see why the Western audience would take a liking to it. It’s like nothing seen before in
So this 22nd I will be cheering for Slumdog and hoping that the musical genius of Rahman will be rewarded with a statuette. What could be a bigger validation of our style of movie making? And that would be something that should cause all of us to shout out, “Jai ho”.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Rafael Nadal is now the new Australian Open champion, the first man since the legendary Andre Agassi to win Grand Slams on 3 different surfaces and, it seems, the undisputed number 1. His 5-set victory was typical of his style of play; unrelenting and brutal. That it came after an even more exhausting and thrilling semi-final victory, only shows how strong Nadal is, both physically and mentally. But what of his opponent? Roger Federer was on the cusp of history at the start of Sunday’s final. He would’ve equalled Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles had he won. But in the end the Spaniard prevailed, and convincingly so. So is Federer now on a downslide? Can he be written off in the face of a bullish Nadal?
Nadal’s game has all the brute force of a bazooka. He can outrun and outhit just about anybody on a tennis court. And he never ever gives up. His current number1 ranking is a testament to his impressive run last year. But he still has some way to go before he can be compared to the Swiss maestro. Federer on song is a delight to watch. His game is nothing less than poetry in motion. The grace of his backhand, the accuracy of his forehand, the effortlessness of his court coverage all of this and more has been eulogized many times. But the man’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency. He has spent a record 237 weeks as world no.1 and has every appeared in at least a semi-final or more in a Grand Slam tournament for the last 19 attempts dating back to Wimbledon 2003, winning 11 of those. Even in 2008, the year most critics say he had his biggest slump in form; Roger reached the semis at
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Terrorist attacks all over the country, a looming economic recession, corporate scams, corruption at all levels of government plus the usual poverty, illiteracy and disease. All of these mammoth problems and yet the “patriotic nationalists” of the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Rama Sene decided our most pressing problem was a bunch of young women having a drink or two in a pub. The recent attacks in a pub in Mangalore are particularly hard to digest, because having spent a considerable part of my formative years there; I do not remember ever having to deal with anything similar during my time there.
There are so many things wrong with this horrendous attack. The so called protectors of Indian culture didn’t just attempt to close down the place, but hit at, abused and molested a bunch of young women. From all accounts, it seems, these hooligans could have been beaten down by the sheer number of people present there at the time, but who only stood by watching, all except one man. And to top it all the state BJP government’s response to this incident has been nowhere near as condemning, hard and immediate as it should have been.
These attempts to impose on society one particular set of moral/cultural values are not new to us. Every year around February we hear of various nationalist/ Hindutva groups denouncing the degrading of Indian culture and threatening possible Valentine’s Day revellers with loss of limb and more if they attempt to celebrate. In a nation as diverse as ours who are these people to decide what constitutes Indian culture? Why does society let them get away with these acts of vandalism when they shouldn’t even be allowed to give out these threats? Why do we have politicians of various hues from the Congress’ Ashok Gehlot to BJP’s Yeddyurappa mouth off on what we should and should not be doing in our private lives without any fear of public reprisal? The truth is that if society stays silent in the face of these kinds of attacks, then it only emboldens these hooligans to carry out more attacks. It is time we stood up and declared that this sort of moral policing will not be accepted anymore. It is time we declared that ours is the land of the Kamasutra and a few young couples choosing to celebrate Valentine’s Day does not in anyway threaten our national/moral fabric. It is time Hindus all over this country shouted down the so called Ram bhakts and declared that the Lord Ram we worship respected women and would never raise His hand against them. It is time we firmly asked government or anyone else who nurtures moral policing ambitions to stay out of our private lives and that what we do within the confines of our homes and within the limits of the law should strictly stay there. It is time we reclaim our right to live as we choose, with whomever we want and how we want to. It is time to impose our own brand of moral policing.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Every generation has at least one epochal event in their lifetimes when they remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when it occurred. Ours seems to have more than its fair share and most of them not positive ones. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the destruction of Babri Masjid or the events of 9/11 are just a few. But on the 20th of January 2009, the inauguration and swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the
As an Indian who has never had to face racial discrimination of any sort it’s hard to imagine the thoughts or feelings of the millions of African-Americans for whom the colour of their skin decided where they studied, or what they did for a living and at what wages, or where they lived. In a nation where up until 1965 black people could not vote, it must be a truly remarkable and inspiring feeling to watch a black man lead his successful black wife and kids into the White House. But Obama’s presidency also marks the end of the Bush years. How
Barack Obama has had a meteoric rise from small-time state level politics to the most powerful job in the world in the span of 5years. In that time he has been put under the scanner and given the media spotlight like no other politician before him. He has been honest, in a spectacularly articulate manner, about his origins, his influences and his political ideologies. He is probably the first President to be elected after admitting drug use in college. With a white Texan mother, a black Kenyan father, a part Indonesian step-sister and brought up in Hawaii by his white grandparents he truly brings a touch of the exotic to the White House. But make no mistake about it; Obama is where he is today not because his is a compelling story, which it is, but because he is a very smart politician.
His message of change and hope resonated with American voters, during a time of crisis the likes of which has not been seen in the last two generations. And that, along with his electrifying oratory, rock star appeal and a brilliantly run campaign has brought him where no other African American has gone before. But at the end of his term if that is all President Obama will be remembered for, it would be a massive disappointment. He has been accused often enough of empty rhetoric and inexperience. He has also, with some justification, been accused of being vague on the details. But the time has now come to walk the talk. Most commentators agree he will be given an extended honeymoon and that his initial efforts will be directed towards the ailing American economy. And that is but expected. But he would do well to remember that in the run up to the November elections, polls showed him ahead of McCain almost worldwide. That is a testimony not only to American influence on global issues, but also to the weight of expectations his candidacy has aroused. He has already brought to fruition the first of his campaign slogans; “Yes We Can.” The world waits for him to realize the second; “Change we can believe in.”
Monday, January 19, 2009
It is both depressing and ironic that a company named “Satyam” is involved in the biggest corporate scam of recent times in
A book I read recently, Games Indians Play by V. Raghunathan, uses game theory and behavioural economics to understand the reasons behind the way we do things. It raises some interesting observations. Occurrences and behaviours that we consider part of modern Indian society, when put under a scanner, should really shame us. For example, our complete lack of public hygiene, the impunity with which we cross red lights at traffic signals, our complete disregard for corruption at all levels in our society. Mr Raghunathan in this delightful book suggests that the problem lies in our inherently selfish nature. His theory is that most Indians use their famed intelligence to assess any situation to see how it can be beneficial to them. Now this by itself is not a problem, the problem arises when it is associated with a complete disregard for the rule of the law. The author in his book says most Indians have a low degree for self regulation and will take the easy less painful solution to any problem. Thus urinating in public or littering is simply done because we can and we know that everyone else does it with no real personal consequence. We totally disregard how this behaviour affects society at large. Similarly cutting a red light is alright because we know that cop most likely will not be on duty, or even if he is will not be bothered enough to catch and fine us, or even if he does apprehend us will accept a bribe lower than whatever fine we would be required to pay. So its a win-win situation over all. Here both the cop and the person cutting the red light are behaving selfishly and ignoring with impunity their larger responsibility to society.
While we may disagree with the basic premise of the book that most Indians are inherently selfish, it is hard to ignore the fact that all of these behaviours are part of our daily lives. In some way or other all of us have at one time or other done some of these things, thinking that its not our individual responsibility when no one else seems to bother. Surely some of these problems will be controlled if only we had effective implementation of the law. But that is again passing the buck. If on the other hand each one of us decided we will follow the law, in letter and spirit, or that we will not litter, or display better traffic etiquette, imagine how much of a difference it would make almost immediately to society.
Most nationalities are associated with a derogatory adjective; the prudish Brit, the snobbish Frenchman, the arrogant/ignorant American. Generally for us it has been the sly Indian which all things considered isn’t so bad. It would be infinitely worse if that became the selfish Indian.