Saturday, May 26, 2012

Should the best man remain a bachelor?

From BYLINE- Sunday Guardian

Margins cannot determine the fate of the text. At the moment, the story of the next elections to Rashtrapati Bhavan is in neither array nor disarray: it is blank, because the principal political parties, Congress and BJP, have not written anything down. The Congress refuses to name a candidate; the BJP is under no compulsion to hurry. It might seem, from environmental chatter, that a whirlwind candidate like P.A. Sangma is making some progress, but he is merely blotting the page with blobs of ink. In this phase the best candidates write in invisible ink, which is faintly visible under close scrutiny but should  disappear from view under the glare of too much attention.


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Shah Rukh Khan: The limits of destiny

From BYLINE- Sunday Guardian

Money is a strange aphrodisiac. It stiffens obstinacy and softens the brain, when the reverse might be far more useful. Add a bit of face recognition, which celebrities crave and idol-worshippers offer, and the cocktail becomes so heady it takes only a moment to explode in your face. Petulance is but a step away, since celebrities consider it injurious to their health to admit guilt. Not every superstar becomes victim of this syndrome, but few escape an occasional attack of mania.


Life in the Last Century

From Byword- India Today

Some very shortsighted cynics with cotton in their brain and dyspepsia in their disposition have been carping that Sachin Tendulkar and Rekha took their time before appearing in the Rajya Sabha to be sworn in as nominated MPs. Delhi’s caste of pundits is so used to drooling aspirants who rush into democracy’s gilded hall even before All India Radio has finished pronouncing their names that it tends to affix some mysterious theory to perfectly comprehensible reasons.Look at the situation from Sachin’s point of view.

I am not suggesting we write a condolence letter, but sympathy is certainly due to Sachin. Nomination to the Rajya Sabha is a prett desultory substitute for someone who has been promised the Bharat Ratna. There are consolation prizes which console, and some which char the soul. Sachin did not ask for this honour. Delhi’s politicians, ever eager to climb a bandwagon, led the clamour for Sachin’s elevation to jewel of India after he got his 99th international hundred. Perhaps Lady Macbeth’s insightful law for crisis management, that if it were done ’twas best ’twere done quickly, works as much for assassination of Scottish kings as for the coronation of Indian icons. If Sachin had got his 100th century in a Test innings against England at Lord’s or against Australia at Sydney, with style, and without dropped catches, the momentum for Bharat Ratna would have become irreversible. It is not quite as glamorous when you plod along till you finally reach Bangladesh, and then dither so much during the century match that India loses.

The hero did not arrive on a flashing steed, laden with battle honours; he trotted in on a mule, the faint outline of a hidden crutch visible from the baggage. By the time Sachin conquered his Everest all that was left was grey above and fog below. You could hear a nationwide snigger scrape against the applause. Sachin could also see what the rest of us did. The powers that be squirmed away from Bharat Ratna, leaving some sort of a thank you note behind. Membership of Parliament is a handsome freebie. But joy or depression is often relative; it depends on the starting point. Sachin also had to consider the practical side. The daily allowance of an MP is “Rs 2,000 per day during any period of residence on duty”, with an exotic entitlement of “Rs 16 per kilometre” as road mileage bonus. Don’t bother to ask what Sachin’s daily allowance from ipl is, and what happens to his bank account when he burns a few miles on the road. I wouldn’t know how to calculate ipl remuneration, with or without the extras you get for being in the company of lollipops. If Parliament had any sense it would not hold its sessions during an IPL season, at least not if it wants Sachin Tendulkar to take an oath. You will not, most regrettably, get paid for either pleasure, but where would you have rather been on Sunday the 13th of May, the 60th anniversary of India’s Parliament? In the company of Lalu Prasad Yadav as he barrelled through increasingly tired and tiring jokes; or in the stands as David Hussey smashed the ball with a pirate’s swagger? There was live and free coverage of both events. Which did you choose? If MPs want to find out the answer, they should sell advertising on Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha tv. A spot on Sachin’s bat would cost more than sail’s exclusive sponsorship of the Prime Minister’s speech. Why blame Sachin if he prefers being in Bangalore to check out if Kingfisher can still fly rather than in Delhi among birds in borrowed feathers. Parliamentary fundamentalists are upset that Sachin has not rushed to eat sugared toast and drink semi-sipid coffee in Central Hall. But no one has answered a basic question: What’s the hurry? His nomination did not come with a sell-by date. Nor is Sachin in any haste to shake the nation and wake the Government with fiery oratory on the impending collapse of telecom infrastructure. Svelte, buxom Rekha does not play cricket. That much is known. She took three weeks to appear before the decorous Hamid Ansari, chairman of the Rajya Sabha, to recite the few simple words that made her a distinguished member of India’s most august House. I discount totally nasty suggestions that this delay was prompted by discomfort about the company she would have to keep. Nor did she have any worries about the script for the occasion; an adaab before Hamid Ansari is an easy glide for anyone who has opened the scene in Umrao Jaan. Rekha is a big girl now. But do you have any idea how long it takes for a big girl to decide what to wear on her big day? Have a heart. And if you cannot have a heart for a heartthrob like Rekha, then you are utterly heartless.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Whiff of 1969

From Byword- India Today

There is a straight connect between the knee and the tongue: Through the jerk. When a political knee jerks, it smashes into your chin, cuts your tongue and produces garble that you can regret in the luxury of time. Mrs Sushma Swaraj is a veteran who has seen the seasons, and is careful with words. She must be wondering which slip of the mind persuaded her to describe Pranab Mukherjee, the leader of her House, the Lok Sabha, and Hamid Ansari, chairman of the Rajya Sabha, as men of insufficient stature for the post of President of India. To be fair, she possibly meant that her preferred candidate for President,
Abdul Kalam, had higher stature than Congress nominees. But that is not what the world heard.

A lapse lasts only as long as a news cycle. The hurry to name candidates is quite inexplicable. There are still six weeks left for nominations; and 10 for the actual poll. This is the time to ponder; judgment can come later.

Long used to filling Rashtrapati Bhavan by selection, political parties seem a trifle bemused by the prospect of a genuine election. Congress is merely repeating what it did in 2007: Throwing up names to check which will float, which will be punctured by pellets, and which will sink under their own deadweight. In 2007 Pranab Mukherjee was on the first Congress list. Mrs Sonia Gandhi sabotaged Mukherjee only after he shifted from probable to possible, after endorsement from the Left. She then pulled out Mrs Pratibha Patil from well-deserved anonymity, aware that a short deadline left little opportunity for debate. The early Congress bird does not necessarily get the worm. 2012 is different for at least two reasons. After five years of Mrs Patil, Indians want someone with dignity, calibre and honesty as their President. Another sleight-of-the-hand choice might, just conceivably, muster up numbers in the electoral college, but will be punished by public opinion.

In 2007, discussions were about candidates, not victory. Today, Congress is racked with uncertainty because it heads a coalition that is invulnerable on paper and vulnerable in practice. Numbers do not bring stability; governance does. upa 1 had focus and cogency, as well as allies who knew the value of questions. That partnership of the willing has degenerated into an alliance of the haphazard. Congress has destabilised itself; and this infection has spread to allies. If the axis of a coalition becomes unsteady, the rim cannot hold. Defeat in UP or Punjab or Delhi is only a symptom; the wasting disease is shrinking credibility.

Each week something happens, minor or major, to jolt a party already in grip of ceaseless tremors. Examine the catalogue of the past seven days. A former Maharashtra chief minister is indicted in high-rise corruption. A former national spokesman of the party is trapped in low-rise shenanigans. A court hears allegations of corruption against the Union home minister. Revolt begins to unhinge the most successful Congress CM, in Assam. Rumour gives the Congress CM in Andhra only a few more weeks in office. A frightened Government tries to frighten media with a private member’s “Print and Electronic Media Standards
and Regulations Bill, 2012”. It seeks to legitimise censorship and authoritarian coercion through familiar means, like an annual licence renewal and punitive fines for “unverified and dubious material”, a phrase whose elasticity could bankrupt most media companies through legal fees. Government, incidentally, never has a problem with lawyers’ fees: It pays them with your money. The author of this proposed legislation is Meenakshi Natrajan, whose fame rests on her
proximity to Rahul Gandhi. Congress spokesmen deny Rahul Gandhi’s role; but you could hardly expect them to confirm it.

Curiously, neither the Government nor the Opposition has a majority in this Lok Sabha. The Opposition is in disarray since the largest Opposition party, bjp, has not successfully negotiated the terms of reference for a viable alternative. The Government is not strong enough to govern; the Opposition is not strong enough to displace it. Government wafts along from crisis to crisis on this anomaly. The situation is reminiscent of 1969. Exploiting uncertainty with great skill, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi defied her own party and put up V.V. Giri against the official Congress nominee Sanjeeva Reddy. Presidential campaigns are conducted in silence. When 1969’s deals were done, every traditional line between left, right and centre had blurred. No one was certain which way the vote would go. Mrs Gandhi triumphed thanks to the Akali Dal and the second preference votes of a west UP leader, Chaudhary Charan Singh. In six years, the Akalis as well as Charan Singh were in Mrs Gandhi’s Emergency jails; in 1977, they routed Congress and made Sanjeeva Reddy President.

In 1969 Mrs Gandhi prepared two speeches on counting day. One of them was meant for defeat, in which case she would have resigned. Selection is tick-tac-toe. An election is a game with formidable stakes.

Spring comes to Malaysia

From BYLINE- Sunday Guardian (March 6)

Anyone can get angry. But to rise in anger, it helps to be young. The young constitute the heart of any uprising for two good reasons. They have not yet had time to compromise. Their mobility is still unhampered by the usual constraints, otherwise known as the litany of social security that keeps us locked into the conventional, of job, family, property. The second reason is more interesting. The most important stimulant in the complex mix that instigates a mass movement is hope, not anger.

Hope is the positive face of anger. The first two decades of the 21st century will be remembered as the season of volcanic rage across those parts of the world subdued into stagnation in the name of isms [faith, economic philosophy, patriotism] that were often nothing more than pathetic alibis for authoritarian exploitation by local elites. There is a frisson in the air that is reminiscent of the first half of the 20th century, when there was turbulence against colonial power. This time the post-colonial world is challenging those who have usurped authority and denied their people the essence of ferment: freedom. Freedom is not merely independence from foreign rule. It is, equally, freedom from local dictatorship.