Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guards for White Elephants

Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati is an absolute dream come true for a blogger like me who believes that the biggest problem with Indian governance is the people who run it. She most accurately represents all the qualities that make up the modern Indian politician. She is blatantly opportunistic, almost shamelessly ambitious, has her own agenda that has almost nothing to do with the people who elected her but everything to do with her personal fortunes and legacy.
Never in the history of Indian politics has someone represented the hopes and dreams of so many as Mayawati has. Even Rajiv Gandhi's 3/4th majority in the Lok Sabha had to do with Indira Gandhi's assassination than any real identification with him or his politics. But Mayawati's ascent to the top post in India's most populous state was seen by so many as a sign of awakening of a people repressed for so long. To repeat an obvious but facetious comparison, her election and its ramifications for the Dalit people has been compared to Barack Obama's election and its influence on the African-American people. But Mayawati's tenure as UP's CM has not seen any dramatic improvement in the quality of life of millions of her die-hard Dalit supporters. But it has seen her personal fortunes go up dramatically.
But then, amassing personal wealth while ignoring the the very people who sent them to positions of power is written into the Indian politicians DNA. What makes Mayawati really different though is her single-minded determination to literally cement her place in Indian history. The 40 statues of Dr B R Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and herself that she has built since 2007 at a cost of approximately Rs.2000 crore has already been reproved by the Opposition, independent commentators and the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court even went to the extent of threatening her with contempt of court for continuing work on her statues. Pro-Mayawati commentators have argued in favor of the statues saying represent a talisman of Dalit pride that was absent before. I guess then that they believe Pride trumps hunger pangs or abject poverty. However the latest gambit by Mayawati to spend taxpayer's money on her statues is the proposal to create a special elite force at a cost of Rs. 67 crores to the exchequer with the sole task of providing security to her statues. This in a state with so many other obvious problems that could've used the money or the police personnel. Its imprudent, impertinent and irresponsible. Unfortunately Mayawati has the required numbers to pass the bill that will make this latest bit of wasteful bragging a reality. And unless the judiciary can somehow put a stop to this, Mayawati will only be emboldened by her success at cocking a snook at the establishment. When that happens God help the state of Uttar Pradesh and even more importantly the legions of Mayawati's faithful followers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Renewing Our Tryst with Destiny

Today India completes 60 years as a republic. It is truly a cause for celebration. At its conception the Indian nation was not given much of a chance of survival. But 60 years on here we are, a vibrant democracy poised to take our rightful place on the world stage. The Constitution of India is the backbone that has enabled this miracle. And while Dr B R Ambedkar has correctly been called the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, it was really the result of 3 year long debate by nearly 300 men and women who made up the Constituent Assembly.
It was at these debates that the very issues that we still debate today were first debated; debated by men and women who were more committed to the idea of India, more aware and passionate about their responsibility to the Indian people and certainly as a group a lot more representative of the ideal of India as it should be, of India as envisaged by our freedom fighters.
The debates of the members of the Constituent Assembly make for interesting reading. A quote in particular which I'd like to make the topic of this blog was attributed to Begum Aizaz Rasul during the debate on minority reservations. She said "Sir, those Muslims who wanted to go to Pakistan have done so. Those who decided to stay here wish to be on friendly and amicable terms with the majority community and realise that they must develop their lives according to the environments and circumstances existing here....To my mind reservation is a self-destructive weapon which separates the minorities from the majority for all time. It gives no chance to the minorities to win the good-will of the majority...To my mind it is very necessary that the Muslim living in this country should throw themselves entirely upon the good-will of the majority community, should give up separatist tendencies and throw their full weight in building up a truly secular state." Of course her comments were roundly criticized by those Muslims who were pro-reservation, but that these comments were expressed at that time and by a Muslim woman is truly amazing. The idea of reservation based on religion was was shot down then but we have still ended up with caste based reservation. What was initially meant to be a temporary step to reverse centuries of injustice to an oppressed people has become firmly entrenched in our lives. In the last 60 years there have been no real studies to evaluate the effect of reservation as policy. Meanwhile the groups of people who have demanded and been brought under the gambit of reservation has steadily increased. In my mind nothing can be a greater statement to the failure of the policy of reservation than that particular fact. All of which brings us back to the Begum's statement. Reservation is a self-destructive weapon which separates the reserved from the unreserved for all time. I've never been able to understand the dichotomy. If religion based reservation does not ring constant in a secular state then how can caste based reservation in a state that has outlawed casteism? Meanwhile our politicians have taken to heart the British policy of divide and rule and will do everything really to try and divide us along communal and casteist lines. Its time to re-examine and re-evaulate our entire policy of caste based reservations. But who will show the political will to take what will be such an unpopular step?
In this the 60th anniversary of the Indian republic my wish for India is a whole new breed of politicians who will show the kind of passion and commitment to India that this nation and its people deserve.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The 4th Idiot?

Being a die-hard Aamir Khan fan I had no intention of missing 3 Idiots. However the whole controversy raised by Chetan Bhagat's claims of being sidelined by the makers of the film has made the viewing of the movie all the more interesting. As far coverage goes, the media as usual is making hay while the sun shines. Media coverage has largely focussed on producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra's outburst asking a member of the media to shut up. But in all the sensationalism an important larger issue has been missed out; that of ownership and due credit.
Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone has been heralded as the biggest English language novel by an Indian author. It was definitely an entertaining read and all credit to Bhagat for writing a book that may have introduced a lot of young Indians to reading. But I saw an interview of Bhagat's last night on the telly where he compared his book to Harry Potter and Twilight. To me therein lies the central problem to this whole issue i.e. Chetan Bhagat seems to think he's on the same level as J K Rowling. The facts are these. The producers of 3 Idiots bought the rights to Bhagat's book and have held the the rights to make a movie of the book for some time. They've made that movie and from all reviews there are fundamental differences from the main story of the book and the plot line of the movie. The credits at the end of the movie mention Chetan Bhagat as the author of the book on which the movie is based. Nitpicking over certain scenes in the movie and comparing them to the book as is happening now through the media is just silly. Television presenters seem to be taking particular pleasure in bandying about numbers like 5% or 80%.
In the age of water tight prenuptial agreements its naive to sign a contract handing over rights to your best seller and then ask for credit through the media. To throw Bhagat's comparison right back at him, J K Rowling had complete control over every aspect of the making of the Harry Potter movies and a share of the profits. Now thats the way it should be done. Chetan Bhagat's previous experience with Bollywood happened to be with the exceedingly generous Salman Khan and involved the least entertaining of his 3 books which was translated onscreen into a flop movie. That exceedingly pleasant initiation into the Bollywood scene and his seemingly innate naivety probably upped his expectations. This whole episode should be treated as a lesson learnt and Mr Bhagat should remember it when he is in negotiations with Karan Johar and ShahRukh Khan for making '2 states- The story of my marriage' into 2011's biggest romantic comedy. Prominently upfront, above title opening credits and a share of the profits; all these should be written into the contract. As far as 3 Idiots is concerned, you know what they say Mr Bhagat, about spilt milk.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A new beginning

Another year has come and gone. 2009 was just as eventful as any other year with both good and bad. And most attempts at looking back at the year gone by tend to be negative; simply because the downs stick with us a lot more. Well as we usher in a new year I'm chosing to look forward. 2010 will in all probability have as many ups and downs as 2009. But atleast it wont be the same. And we always have hope; that somehow this year things will be better.
So here's hoping this year will bring us all happiness and also the strength to overcome the pitfalls life throws our way.
Happy 2010!!