Friday, April 24, 2009

To hang or not to hang?

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

Prime Minister who?

The past month has witnessed a curious new trend in Indian politics. The BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani has challenged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to an American style televised Presidential debate. Obviously the Congress isn't biting. Their argument being of course that India's parliamentary style democracy has no place for presidential style theatrics and that the Government is run by a cabinet of ministers owing allegiance to the party in power and the Prime Minister is only the first among equals. Now coming from the Congress this is Hypocrisy with a capital H. Since Independence the party has tried to project its leader as the person with the greatest public stature and moral fibre. The Congress party today is simply a shell of the party it once was and requires the Gandhi surname at the helm to keep itself from imploding. Hence the large posters with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Madam Sonia, little Rahul and for some odd reason Mahatma Gandhi. I'm guessing the party thinktank believes enough people might think the Mahatma is also related. Funnily the Congress persistently ignores the one Congress PM who did show some spine and had considerable political stature, the late P V Narasimha Rao. But then he doesnt count as a family loyalist. 
All of this leads to the question what role does the PM play in a parliamentary system? After much dillydallying the Congress has finally announced Manmohan Singh as its PM candidate. It is a curious situation to have a man who refuses to contest the Lok Sabha elections as your top guy. But atleast we know that if the Congress manages to return to power it'll be Dr Singh who'll jump around to the strings pulled by Madam Sonia. And for all his political shortcomings Mnamohan Singh is a world renowned expert in his field and a gentleman. The same is the case for the BJP. L K Advani is there for all to see, all 82 years of him, with the Ayodhya warts and all. But still a man of some principles, his stand in the Hawala scam being a case in point. 
The third front is where the real action is. Between Ms Mayawati, Ms Jayalalitha and even H D Deve Gowda there are way too many egotistic heavyweights vying for the top job. And this does not even take into consideration that other coterie of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Between these names we have every single one of the worst traits in Indian politics. And the scary part is that, given the current scenario, they have a very real shot at the kursi. Of the lot Mayawati is being talked of as the prime contendor, not least because if things go her way, UP alone will ensure she has considerable bargaining clout. And the Left have already indicated that they dont have any issues with her Prime Ministerial aspirations. But I shudder to imagine an India where the prime aim of Government is to rename everything possible Dr Ambedkar this or that, and spend tax payers money on huge public parks housing statues of Dr Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and rather prematurely, Mayawati herself. The PM is the face we present to the outside world and the very idea of a summit level meeting with President Obama and Mayawati or her fellow aspirants in the Third Front induces waves of nausea. A billion people and is this the best we can find? 
The truth is this. For all the hype and hoopla about the power of democracy and the importance of voting, in India we vote for the party not for our choice. The names on the ballots are foisted upon us by the party apparatus. Maybe its time we change over to a Presidential system. Then out votes will really count.

Down and dirty.

Its still early days and this election season has thrown so much filth already. Beginning with Varun Gnadhi's vitriolic campaign speech to Lalu Prasad Yadav's reply to the same, its been a never ending spectacle of the depths our public discourse has plumbed to. All discussion so far has been about complete non-issues. No major political party has come out with a manifesto where issues of any significance has been dealt with. Instead we've had the BJP and Congress vying for top honours with regards to blatant populism. All thats left is for the third front to announce free rice for everyone below the poverty line.
But to begin at the beginning, whats sad about Varun Gandhi's speech is not that he said those things but that he said it. This is a young, articulate and educated man, one of the GenNext of Indian politics, with blood ties to Jawaharlal Nehru. For him to have said these things just shows how deplorable things have become. And the BJP did itself no favours among the voters, with the way the party tried to spin what is obviously a condemnable statement. Ofcourse, Varun Gandhi's immaturity has given every bit player in every other party to make hay while the sun shines. All manner of narrow minded, opportunistic politicians have jumped onto the bandwagon to protect the minority community from the communal saffron brigade as represented by Varun Gandhi. All this means that we will not have any meaningful debate in the near future about the definition of secularism or communalism as it is practised in our politics and by our Government. There would be no takers for the extreme right wing politics of the RSS/VHP if there had not been the kind of shallow appeasement and myopic vote bank politics displayed by the Congress vis a vis the Shah Bano case.
Meanwhile, the Congress has taken opportunism to new levels. Not only did they buy the rights to Rahman's Oscar winning song Jai ho (a legitimate election device some would argue), but they have also got the child stars from the slums campaigning for Madam Sonia after they were promised flats and other goodies. To complete this picture of complete chaos, we had the Samajwadi Party parade Sanjay Dutt as a possible candidate from Lucknow. Thankfuly the Supreme Court put that idea to rest. Now Sanjay Dutt is no hardened criminal and there are definitely far worse than him already in the corridors of power in our country. But for someone whose conviction is of such a high profile and for a crime associated with an event as terrible as the '93 Mumbai blasts, to become a legible candidate for the Lok Sabha will only open the doors for every underworls don with enough clout and money. Thankfully that has been averted for now.
But there a few silver linings in this dark cloud. The candidature of Shashi Tharoor from Trivandrum and Mallika Sarabhai from Ahmedabad along with many other upright individuals from society who are not stained by the muck that is Indian politics today is something to cheer about. More power to them and others like them.