Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dr Manmohan:Mukherjee!

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline By M.J.Akbar: Dr Manmohan Mukherjee

Since the question has not been asked seriously, it has not been answered properly. But it remains the dominant dilemma of this political season as the Left-Congress-Plus coalition government enters the fertile phase of its second year in power: Does the Left have a strategy?

A cat-and-mouse game is not strategy, even when roles change: sometimes the Left is the cat, and on occasions the Congress does the purring. That is tactical, and one can see such tactics extending into a love-fest. Since the Congress has no hope of even scratching the surface in the next Assembly elections in Bengal, we could very well see a Congress offer to stick to mock combat rather than opt for real hostility, an offer that the pragmatists within the CPI(M) will happily accept. Of course there are often regrettable casualties on one’s own side because of friendly fire, but commanders cannot be blamed for trivia.

It would be an error to believe that our Marxist Comrades would be content with Bengal, or that their politics is done without long-term thinking. If Dr Manmohan Singh, who again complained recently that economic reforms were no-hoper in the current arithmetic of the coalition, wants to get an idea of what the Left strategy could be, he should order a few pots of tea (a meal of hilsa fish and rice might be too distracting) and invite his colleague Pranab Mukherjee over. They should discuss another Mukherjee, Ajoy, who was as old in 1967 as Pranab is in 2005. They should discuss another Congress, the Bangla Congress, a flash in the history of our nation but one that had enduring consequences, because the Bangla Congress began the process of the disintegration of the Indian National Congress. Pranab Mukherjee was a young star of the Bangla Congress, and Ajoy Mukherjee was its chief.

In those turbulent days there was order in one respect: Assembly and Parliament elections were held at the same time. The curse of permanent elections had not visited the Indian polity. The elections of 1967 were dramatic.

The Congress monopoly over India was established in 1952, reaffirmed in 1957 and started showing signs of wear and tear in 1962. The Congress was fortunate that the elections of 1962 were held before the war with China or 1967 might have happened in 1962.

The well-preserved fa├žade, constructed since 1947 out of secure borders, internal unity and a socialist economic programme, began to crumble with the defeat in the war with China, as if it was symbolic of much more than political illusion and military incompetence that lost the war. Defeat made the whole of the Himalayas vulnerable; language and sectarian urges from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu created seismic rifts; rural neglect and urban stagnation were to burst into widespread disaffection, most startlingly in the form of a Naxalite movement, fully aided and abetted by China. (The official slogan of the Naxalite movement was: "Chairman Mao is our Chairman." How unpatriotic is that?) The 1965 war with Pakistan, a possible catastrophe that was converted by brilliant military panache into a stalemate, fuelled inflation and by 1966 huge swathes of the north, with Bihar as its epicentre, was in the grip of full-fledged famine. Bengal, then among the most industrialised states in the country, was in a rage, but its Congress chief minister, Prafulla Chandra Sen, behaved as if life had not moved beyond the 1950s.

The Congress split; and the Bangla Congress joined what became known as the United Front. It included the Left. Marxists who had been jailed for being potential traitors in 1962 were ministers of the Bengal government in 1967. Marxists do not take these things personally. Jyoti Basu, in jail in 1962, was home minister five years later. Ajoy Mukherjee became chief minister. The story of the UF is too sordid even for journalism. Suffice it to say that there was a moment when Ajoy Mukherjee went on a fast against his own government. Such cupidity had to be punished, and it was. Mrs Indira Gandhi revived the Congress, and it returned to office in 1972: how could it not? She could do nothing wrong. People danced on the streets when she nationalised banks and they danced in their homes as well when Bangladesh was liberated. Such euphoria proved to be Band-Aid when the country needed surgery for cancer, and the Emergency ended the credibility of the Congress for generation. The Marxists, in the meanwhile, had moved one scale up on the Marxist ladder of evolution. From the United Front they had graduated to a more logical, and ideological, Left Front. The Left Front won power in 1977, implemented the kind of land reforms that Nehru had promised in the 1950s and then forgotten under "bourgeois" pressure inside his party. The Left Front will win power in 2006, and there is no apparent reason why they should not be in office in Bengal, continuously, longer than the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (Who knows: if the CPSU had been forced to accept democracy, it might still be in office!)

Is Dr Manmohan Singh the Ajoy Mukherjee of the 21st century, on a national scale?

The last time Communists supported the Congress in Delhi was when Mrs Gandhi had declared an Emergency, and they were on the wrong side of history. Fortunately for them, only the CPI was with Mrs Gandhi. 2004 and 2005 is vastly different. The Congress is not much stronger than the Bangla Congress was in 1967. Dr Manmohan Singh, like Ajoy Mukherjee, is a very decent and very honest man without much personal political chemistry. There is nothing wrong with the coalition, as there was nothing wrong in 1967, except that while there may be a common minimum programme, there is no common political or economic agenda. It is a government that can last as long as it likes, but governance will be difficult to sustain. You do not need to be a soothsayer to suggest that the general elections of 2004 produced an accidental partnership, and were a penultimate stage in the evolution towards a stable coalition.

The Communists have consciously kept themselves out of office, while they make sure that they remain in power. They do not want to pay the price of being in office when the next stage of accountability comes. If the ballot carries them to office then they want to be sure that they can implement policies and create a cadre that will ensure that they remain there. The Congress will not be part of the Left Front for two reasons. First, because the party’s heart has moved to the right. Second, the Marxists will occupy the dominant space in any coalition of their choice, a role that the Congress cannot concede. It is possible that the next election could be a battle between three fronts: a UPA headed by the Congress; an NDA marshalled by the BJP and a significant alliance controlled by the Marxists. The Left will obviously hope to cash in on the disenchantment towards both the BJP and the Congress, after the voters’ experience between 1998 and 2008.

Dr Manmohan Singh can take comfort from one lesson of the 1960s. Voters do not reward any party that brings down a government arbitrarily, or for reasons that cannot be adequately explained. The Left is not going to risk an invitation to suicide. Security regulations prevent the Prime Minister from taking the normal roads towards the international airport in Delhi, but if he did he would find graffiti on some of them, put up by the Marxist youth wings. "The future is ours" they say. They don’t see the present as theirs. They are a serious political party, which means that they have the ability to wait. Hurry is the preference of those who think they might never become ministers again. Marxists view power in terms of generations: after two decades of Jyoti Basu, two decades of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The Congress and the Left alternate between cat and mouse to keep the government going. The Darwinian theory of Indian politics is waiting for one of the two to become a real cat: not just one with whiskers and a meow, but one with a mane and a roar.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Glass is Half Empty

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline By M.J.Akbar: Glass is Half Empty

In a democracy it makes much more sense to believe that the glass is half-empty rather than half-full. It is the empty part of the glass that determines election results. The half-full section chatters and pontificates. The other half votes.The best thing that Mrs Sonia Gandhi has done in the fifteen months of the present Parliament is to lead the passage of the rural employment guarantee scheme for 200 economically backward districts. It is the government of Dr Manmohan Singh which will pass this legislation and find the money for it. But the identification in the popular mind will be with Mrs Gandhi. Opposition parties have had the sense not to oppose the measure, and quibbles will not help them. It might mean only a meagre hree rupees a day, as Nitish Kumar pointed out, but it is three rupees more than he provided when in power for six years.

Facts don’t change. But the way you look at them makes a critical difference. The NDA gave wide currency to its claim that it had reduced the number of Indians below the poverty line from over 400 million to some 300 million. If, instead of advertising that as an achievement it had repositioned the fact as a challenge and as a national disgrace (which it is; try explaining the meaning of freedom to those who cannot find enough to eat), it might have connected better with the country. There is a difference between the constituency of a political party and the constituency of a government. The best politicians know the difference,and also know how to improvise a median between the two. A party’s political base is, very accurately, partisan; a government must reach out to the country, including those who did not vote for it. The disadvantaged, whether they be poor or insecure, cannot be sliced out of the safety net or the attention span simply because they do not support the political parties that form a government.

The rural employment guarantee restores populism to centre-stage. Ironically, it was Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister in 1991 who convinced the country that populism had extracted too heavy a price. He would have argued in the Nineties that before you can be paying for jobs, you had to create jobs, and that an exchequer cannot pay for mythical work. This is good theory, but not practical politics, except in a dictatorship. China can afford to be stringent because the party of the people doesn’t have to bother about the vote of the people. Even the most capitalist economies buy peace with their disadvantaged through fiction. What else is the dole, or the unemployment benefit, in the West? The state, using tax revenues, takes the responsibility for the inability of the economy to provide full employment. The government robs Peter to pay Paul to prevent Paul from turning violent and wrecking the peace without which neither Peter nor the government can survive.

The problem in India is not populism but corruption and its first consequence, mismanagement. The carcasses of a dozen schemes similar to this lie in the files of the Government of India, waiting to receive an honest funeral. No one has the courage to inter them, and so they continue to increase the waste that clings to the annual budget. Money is siphoned off by middlemen, for the poor, by definition, are helpless. Once the initial euphoria wears off, the schemes join the long list of promises that failed and become counter-productive with the very voter they were meant to woo. Experience has made them cynical, and the poor hate being cheated, or patronised, or politically exploited: the anger against the free distribution of saris by the BJP before the last general elections was a spark from a much larger conflagration.

If the Congress therefore wants to convert populist measures into political capital, then it must do so while they remain popular, before time and venality have turned the sheen into rust. Logically speaking, if there is a guaranteed employment scheme in August, can general elections be far behind?

Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s window of opportunity is open. The once-lustrous image of the government has dimmed for the usual reasons, but its credibility has not yet eroded beyond repair. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remains the biggest asset of is government. But a few more controversies over tainted ministers, a rap or two from the Supreme Court over malfeasance in Bihar, some more horrific indifference while Mumbai drowns and its hinterland dies, and there won’t be much of a tale to tell. Moreover,there is still enough buoyancy in the idea of a coalition that keeps the BJP out of power.This is critical glue for the core to hold.The battle in the next general elections is not going to be for a simple majority.That is out of reach. The definition of victory this time is between 180 to 200 seats.The rest will fall in place.

Critical to Congress hopes is the fact that the BJP is in trouble wherever it is in power.This has very little to do with Jinnah.The weight of incumbency is a difficult burden for any party, and impossible to bear for a party that is floundering.The Congress can easily add to its numbers in Madhya Pradesh,Rajasthan and Gujarat if elections are held in the next few months. But the BJP’s problems cannot be a permanent fact. If a week is a long time in politics, then a year is a lifetime. Rebirth is a natural law of Indian politics.The Congress should know that much.

The economy is still in reasonable shape.The real voter does not measure the health of the economy by the share market, but by the vegetable market.The inflationary pressure of fuel prices cannot be controlled by unlimited government subsidies. Retail prices are already rising in the United States and Europe, and there is no hope of any downward turn in oil rates particularly since George Bush has decided that one Iraq is insufficient to cloud his presidency and he should goad Iran owards a confrontation as well.(If the United States does move against Iran,its war will be in a contiguous zone from the east of Damascus to the west of Islamabad.There will be spillover on all sides. Maybe defence minister Pranab Mukherjee was aware of this when he signed the defence pact with Donald Rumsfeld.) Why take a risk with the vegetable market?

Then there is the enormous value of pre-emption. A patch-up coalition government is always in a state of temporary truce. Mrs Sonia Gandhi not only has to worry about the sudden emergence of a Third Front, but also flakes from her own party floating towards new directions. (If Shankersinh Vaghela does unite with Keshubhai Patel to form a regional party in Gujarat it would finish, at least for one election, both the BJP and the Congress.)

The alternative is to let sleeping coalitions lie. If only they would lie in peace we might even accept the lies necessary to sustain that peace. This is what the seniors in the Congress, enjoying a late-life lottery win, would like. It is not a prescription for the future.Once the politics of Delhi would impact on the states; today the politics of every state impacts on Delhi. Whatever the results in Bihar, there will be ensuing tremors in Delhi. Pranab Mukherjee is trying to bring Mamata Banerjee back into the Congress, which will not endear the Congress to the CPI(M). A shift in Gujarat could echo in Delhi. Such rifts can be papered over, but they do not add up to sustainable governance. A window of opportunity does not remain open or too long.By this time next year the window could be shut by the force of tomorrow’s storms.The Congress has the chance of turning a fortuitous coalition into a stable alliance.It is up to the party to seize what is visible instead of wandering into a gathering fog.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Moral Code of Indian Democracy

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by MJ Akbar: The Moral Code of Indian Democracy

The BJP and the NDA will have every right to taunt the fulsome apology by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for 1984 once they have familiarised themselves with the letter "A". It is not only the first letter of most alphabets but also the first letter of the word "apology". They should then apologise profusely for the macabre riots of Gujarat on the last day of February and March 2002.

They could do it individually, with master baiter Narendra Modi leading them. Or they could orchestrate their efforts to include the Panchratna of the NDA: Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi, Sinha and of course the ubiquitous George Fernandes, who regularly charged in where angels feared to tread.

Of the five, Vajpayee, then Prime Minister, did sound apologetic but heckled mercilessly by the bright young things of his own party, retreated ceremoniously to the peace and comfort of his chair. There was no hint of regret from the others. After Modi won the Gujarat Assembly elections, even the need for regret was forgotten.

The three major sequences of barbarism in the last 21 years have been the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, the Babri riots of 1992 and 1993, and the Gujarat riots of 2002. Roughly the same numbers died while millions were traumatised. For the space of about three days mobs were permitted by a deliberately absent authority to kill Sikhs in 1984 and Muslims in 1992 and 2002. There was no official explanation offered for the barbarism. How could there be, for those in power were either perpetrators or abettors of barbarism. In each case the unofficial explanation, advanced through the party network (party is an obvious pun), was "spontaneity" before which the administrative machinery was apparently helpless. This was an utter, malignant, unforgivable, immoral and inhuman lie. In all cases the government deliberately fed the violence for political profit for a carefully calibrated period after which the same government ordered the violence to stop. The blood tap was switched on. And the blood tap was switched off.

God knows there was provocation in 1984. What could be more provocative than the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi after the seesaw of violence through which Punjab had suffered in the previous years culminating with the assault on the Golden Temple, known as Operation Bluestar? This was further aggravated by images of Khalistani Sikhs abroad — note the adjective, it is Khalistani Sikhs, not all Sikhs — celebrating.

But a government is not a mob, unless it chooses to become one. I was in Calcutta in 1984. Jyoti Basu was chief minister. The anger in Calcutta was no less than in Delhi, and incidents began to occur. Jyoti Basu did not choose to win his next election by washing his hands in Sikh blood. Instead he ordered the Calcutta Police to do its first and foremost duty, and protect every citizen of this country, just as he gave security and safety to Muslims in 1992 after the destruction of the Babri mosque under the watchful eye of P.V. Narasimha Rao (the same watchful eye presided over the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 incidentally, this time as home minister). The Calcutta Police is made up of the same Indians who man the Delhi Police or the Gujarat Police. They are not particularly angelic. They obey orders.

Jyoti Basu’s moral courage also gave the lie to the dangerous cynicism that has become a core philosophy of the BJP and the Congress, which insists that electoral victory justifies every immoral decision. The Congress victory in 1984 and the Modi victory later became "self-evident" exoneration. But Basu and the Left Front have won every election in Bengal without pandering to the barbaric impulse.

The irony is that the Congress would have won in 1984 without presiding over the "spontaneous" reaction. I cannot be certain but I daresay that Modi would have won Gujarat also without Godhra because he is an efficient administrator with little interest in the parallel disease of Indian politics, corruption. But both were tempted by the easy option since their backbone had been washed away along with any moral fibre that they may have once possessed.

Anger can be spontaneous. Organised violence is stage-managed. The Congress and the BJP, along with the Shiv Sena in 1992 and 1993, perpetrated deliberate violence against minorities. The system buys time for political parties through commissions. It bought the Congress 21 years after 1984. But those who suffer the truth and those who know the truth do not need commissions. One of the most wrenching moments of my life was to watch a Sikh being burnt to death in front of a gurdwara in Delhi. It happened on the second day of the 1984 riots, and not on the first "spontaneous" day. The howling mobs on that day were mobilised by Congress leaders who saw victory and ministerships ahead and got them too. Gujarat’s pogrom against the Muslims was ordered by local BJP leaders and implemented by local thugs.

Dr Manmohan Singh was an economic bureaucrat in 1984, but he was finance minister in 1992, and therefore bears far greater responsibility for the events of 1992 and 1993. But at least he has apologised and done so from the office of the Prime Minister of India. An apology may not seem enough, and indeed it is not enough, given the horrors of the crime for which guilt is being accepted. An apology may mean nothing to the thousands whose world was ripped apart by lust of mob-evil. An apology does not exonerate the maniacs who fed on the blood of minorities. Such is the cynicism within the Congress that it actually thought it could get away without taking any action against the few that the Nanavati Commission thought fit to name. The Congress thought it could fudge its way with the help of a helpful report and Dr Manmohan Singh went along with his party instead of taking action at the beginning, instead of waiting for Parliament and media to place a mirror before his face. But an apology is something and something is better than nothing. An apology is the beginning of a process and not the end of the story. I do hope Dr Manmohan Singh remembers that.

Two decades have passed since 1984. A Sikh child born after those terrible riots has already voted once. More than a decade has gone by since 1992. Less than three years have passed since the Godhra riots. Dramatically differing time spans — with one thing in common. In each case the Congress or the BJP or the Shiv Sena won an immediate victory. And in each case the "victorious" party did not know that this was the last trumpet on the way to doom.

The Congress lost in 1989 and has lost its role as a national party. These days 145 seats in Parliament are advertised as a heroic victory. The Shiv Sena has lost its moorings, and is slipping into a coma. And within three years of Godhra the BJP, which thought that Gujarat was the base of a triumphant relaunch, has discovered that Gujarat was the basis of a defeat that has decomposed into an inner stench.

Time has its own law of justice. There is a moral law that operates in India’s democracy, a moral law whose judge and jury is the Indian voter and whose accused is the Indian politician. It is the same moral law that keeps the Left Front in power in Bengal and which will give it an overwhelming victory in the elections next year.

I believe that Dr Manmohan Singh apologised precisely because he is a deeply moral person. But this apology is only a first step. He should not confuse it with the horizon.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Prude & Prudence

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by MJ Akbar : The Prude & Prudence

How is a film song like Ishq ki gali vich no entry (No entry into the lane of love), currently being repeated ad nauseam by Indian music channels, conceived and written?

The first criterion is money. Amendment, the only criterion is money. The producer’s single motive is to cobble up a song that can become popular enough to carry the movie, and possibly make money on its own, for music can sometimes be a bigger earner than the film.

So the producer sits down with a versifier, if one can call the film-poets of the day even this, and opens the discussion with a three-letter word. It used to be a four-letter word in the old days, love; but now it’s a three-letter word, sex. Love in its infinite variety used to keep the whistlers in the theatre happy; sex in its finite variety keeps the punters going these days. So the producer lays down the first commandment. It has to deal with sex.

Then the supplementary: how far can one go? I don’t suppose they actually telephone Mahesh Bhatt to find out, but a pie chart, or a spreadsheet of statistics could be a useful management tool. X film had 12 kisses, six lip locks and two item numbers in which dozens of long-legged extras slipped down well-greased, aluminium, phallic poles. So that’s been done.

What do we do next? At which moment the versifier justifies his salary. "Don’t worry, boss. I’ll fill the song with salacious puns simple enough for Salman Khan and Bipasha Basu to understand. Every music channel will lap it up and every bar girl in Mumbai will make it her theme number. Just get me a tune."

"Tune? That’s no problem. There are hundreds lying in the same cupboard. We’ll mix bhangra beat in it, I think. That’s the rage now."

"Punjabi? I better put in a Punjabi word somewhere. Everyone sings only the opening line, who remembers a song after its 15 seconds of fame? Here you are. Ishq. Not true love, boss; true sex. Di galli. Love’s tunnel. Geddit geddit geddit?" Uproarious laughter all around. "Vich." That’s Punjabi taken care of. "No entry!" Everyone keels over laughing and a hit is born.

And when Salman Khan ends the song by pleading with Anil Kapoor to "Kar entry (Please enter)" the tunnel of Bipasha Basu’s love, he makes absolutely sure that even the dumbest idiot in the audience has got the point by acting out the process with a vigorous hand. You can’t blame the censor board. They thought this song was about traffic policemen.

To be prudent is not the same thing as being a prude. Television controls the mass idiom and this idiom, along with popular mythology, shapes mass culture. Let’s leave good and bad out of this. Yesterday always dismisses today as immoral, and today doubtless will have the same thing to say about tomorrow. The relevant point is that mass culture creates its own set of consequences, upon attitudes, thought processes, politics and the economy.

The print media still abjures the use of an unmentionable four-letter word, which is why it is not being used in this column. But its absence is a fiction. It has become part of everyday conversation, among all generations, and no one is particularly shocked. Certainly no one is ignorant of its meaning.

All mass communication has found space for high and low language. Theatre was the medium of Shakespeare’s age: he created the movies of his time. And so while Macbeth could fantasise or tremble in sonorous iambic pentameter, the jester would complain or joke in the earthy language of a mean pub. In journalism, till recently, it was quite common for the language of the editorial to be different from that of the news, not just in pace (which is necessary) but in attitude (which may not be). Bengali newspapers used what might be called the priest’s language for editorials and maidan-speak for news.

The most powerful, if not the most important, mass medium of the moment, television, speaks in just one language, with the bar being constantly lowered. Some of it must be driven by the democratic urge, the need to be explicable to all men. Most of it is driven by the compulsion for higher ratings, which we cannot condemn. But if as Marshall McLuhan noted, the medium is the message, then the message is bacchanalia. Salman Khan, Bipasha Basu and Anil Kapoor’s entry theme on MTV is followed immediately by an advertisement warning a middle class family about AIDS, and no one sees the irony.

This advertisement is part of a strong campaign being conducted by the government of India against AIDS. It is aimed at the middle class, the people next door who, 20 years ago, hinted to their kids, in the unlikely event of the subject coming up, that sex was something that Rekha did. The worried mother is thoroughly unglamorous, protective, loving and concerned about children who are just entering their teens. She recognises that the environment will have more impact upon her children than all her homilies, or religious morality, or indeed Dad’s threats if there is any Dad left who can successfully browbeat his children anymore. She knows that there is only one way to reach her children today, by appealing to their self-interest. Self-interest is the governing philosophy.

Equally important, the practical age of consent has collapsed in India. Or perhaps it would be more relevant to say that it has returned to the arranged-marriage era, when love was permissible at the age of 16 and girls were married by the time they were 18. You do recall Dev Anand’s classic film with Asha Parekh, Solva Saal. The sixteenth year. A girl was considered a woman at 16. In fact, the children in the anti-AIDS government advertisement are below 16, which is refreshingly honest. Sex is happening in some schools at less than that age; and awareness about its perils needs to be communicated early. (They are aware of its joys.) Government advertising tends to be as boring as government. It is unusual to see a professionally-crafted campaign that does not get tempted towards flashiness and misses the point.

If sex sells for the moviemakers, then it must also sell for the Tatas. The image of the giant House of Tata is synonymous with integrity, and may that never change. That integrity was not the least bit besmirched by the Titan ad for a new range of watches aimed at students. A teacher is taking a roll call, and calls out "Siddhartha". In response, a number of pretty girls, not together but sequentially, answer "Yes!", each "Yes" more orgasmic than the other until the crescendo reaches late-night movie pitch, and Mr Siddhartha hides his reddening face. All very contemporary and modern. Women are at least as aggressive as men in the battle of sexes, as long as the battle is treated as one between equals and there is no brutish physical aggression involved. There is absolutely no reason why they should not ogle as freely as men once did, or demand satisfaction, or shrug off the one-for-one approach of traditional true love.

Half a dozen girls were getting orgasmic about one Siddhartha after all. What upset me a great deal was not any collapse of morality, but the collapse of grammar. The sign-off line of the advertisement was "How many you have?" Excuse me? I know the line of watches is called Fastrack. You can fast-track a "t" from the word on an agency’s advice, but you can’t fast-track a verb out of a sentence. One expects certain standards from the Tata House. The protection of correct English is among them. Incidentally, this is not good economics either. How?

Television language slips easily into conversation. I can hear giggles across college canteens as a first year student gurgles to another, "How many you have?" Let that young man get a job as an outsourced voice, relapse into "How many you have?" and the company will lose the contract.

Every new layer in a language is welcome. Language has to be flexible, procreative to survive, and English has always lived in a virtuous cycle. But change needs the yeast of good sense. Don’t throw the prudent out with the prude.