Archive for October, 2013

When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and the hotly debated topic was who could now lead the country in his absence, Sitaram Kesri, then the faithful Gandhi family retainer, and Congress president, insisted that Sonia Gandhi should take over as prime minister. I remember watching that press conference which he addressed where he anointed her as future prime minister.

A journalist asked him “Can you tell me how qualified she is to lead the country?” Yes, in those days some journalists still asked such blunt questions. Kesri replied that Sonia was qualified to lead a nearly billion strong country because she was constantly by Rajiv’s side when he travelled around the country! The journalist shot back “Then why don’t you make his peon the prime minister, since he also travelled with Rajiv.”

Kesri first looked completely pained by the question and then in a voice choking with (obviously faked) emotion made some comment about being “shocked and saddened” by the question and then asked how Sonia could be compared with a peon. But I think all those present there, and the millions watching on telly got the message loud and clear. She simply wasn’t qualified. That is where my problem with Rahul and not so much Sonia lies.

Rahul Gandhi has been in politics ever since he was old enough to understand it. He was a kid when his father’s mangled body was brought back in a casket from Sriperumbudur. I don’t think any Indian had anything but sympathy for the boy. Our hearts went out to him. He may not have understood the political decisions of his father’s government as a child, but surely he knew them by the time he was old enough to understand politics. He became a Lok Sabha MP in 2004 and could easily have walked into the government as a junior minister in any ministry of his choice, if he wanted to. But he claimed that he wanted to serve the people “from the outside” – which to me is a lot of bullshit. Has he really succeeded in doing that in eight years?

Instead of entering the government, Rahul has sat on the periphery and done nothing, even for his own constituency. In the 2012 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, for which he, his mother and his sister campaigned extensively, the Congress won 28 seats. So much for political lineage and charisma! And the Congress lost in nine of the ten seats in the family strongholds of Amethi, Sultanpur and Rae Bareli.

So what Rahul basically has been doing now, is what in the Army is called “shoot and scoot”. Make some cracks about his own government’s policies, blast the opposition and then scurry back in his hole. Then he emerges a few days later, again makes a few bizarre claims and scurries back into his hole. And he has been doing that in abundance lately. Of course, his supporters will justify anything. If he said he could ensure that every Indian would be able to walk on water if his party was returned to power, they might justify that too!!

As for Sonia herself, the whole farce conducted about the “Italian woman as Indian PM” when she announced her plan to lead the government was orchestrated by politicians who saw the only chance they had, of taking a shot at the top post, fading. It’s funny, isn’t it, that we cheer when an African-American becomes the President of the USA, revel in the appointments of people of Indian origin who become Lords, ministers or even prime ministers in another country, or an Indian American who becomes Miss America, but get uptight when it comes to an Italian, who has lived in India since her marriage to an Indian, becoming prime minister.

In all fairness to Sonia, maybe, just maybe, if she had contested an election, been in government and then taken over as prime minister after her husband’s death, we might have come to see what the lady was really made of. Responsibility with authority might have done her a world of good, unlike now where she sits on the outside and decides government policy or conducts an occasional farce on governance that fools no one. The usual one is the rise in fuel prices where she steps in and ‘forces’ the government to reduce it. The Congress party then cobbles up a motley crowd outside her residence chanting out their support for her! I guess people have seen through that ruse because it hasn’t happened in a while.

While I do make wisecracks about the Italian mafia, I am not too bothered with her Italian origins. She is as good an Indian as the next one. All the talk of her not giving up her Italian passport because she never believed in being Indian is so much sawdust. I mean, Indians living abroad don’t give up their Indian passports do they? They very often hold dual citizenship. So what’s wrong with Sonia holding dual citizenship? And anyway, I am sure the people of this country would have decided in one term whether she was capable of running the country.

So coming back to Rahul Gandhi and his loyal band of supporters, both inside government and on the streets, what they really need is not new leader. They need a lollipop, because all they are good at is sucking up.


Arvind Kejriwal must be wondering what he has stepped into. These past few years when he took centre stage with Anna Hazare, everyone told him that if he wanted to bring about change, he couldn’t do it from the outside through his brand of activism. According to them he could only do that if he was inside and a part of the system. Most of that ‘advice’ came from politicians, who didn’t think he would dare step into the world of politics.

Instead, he took that advice seriously, and decided to be a part of that system. Now everyone and their parrot, dog and grand pappy, has been writing reams about what is wrong with Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. Politicians from both parties have been running him down. Why? – Because, suddenly he is an unknown devil. I’ve also been reading about him and his plans. A student from a media college, where I used to teach till last year, sent me something written by some guy that was so long I could have made a curtain out of it.

I mean it was dripping sarcasm in some places and plain vitriol in others. That’s okay, it’s his view. I have no issues with that. One could fault Kejriwal for jumping into (what Amitabh Bachchan once infamously called) the cesspool, but did he have a choice? That is, if he really wanted to improve the system.

Kejriwal probably realised the futility of fighting this battle from the outside. He was dealing with the most dishonest, unscrupulous and cussed bunch of politicians since 1947, and they would run rings around him and the rest of the activists, before they would let him take a slice of their pie. And this includes both the national parties. The only way he would be able do that was with an EVM. So I don’t blame Kejriwal at all. Sure, some of his policies may be outlandish (I won’t call them bizarre, just yet), and some of the things he is proposing may look like harakiri, but you have to remember that he is battling against the odds and with very little help.

I went through his party’s Constitution. It says, apart from the usual stuff, that it envisions a corruption-free India. That might be a case of biting off more than they can chew, but it doesn’t mean there are NO honest politicians today. So if he is day-dreaming, why fault him? If he hadn’t added that, the same bunch of people would have ripped into him for not saying a word about it. And then, every five years politicians stand in the Central Hall of Parliament and swear by the Bhagwad Gita to do all that is enshrined in the Constitution. Do they all go by the Good Book?

All the eccentrics who still saw India through their rose-tinted lenses were there with him, till he announced his plans to enter politics. They walked out on him the minute he made his intentions clear. What were they expecting him to do? Hold street corner meetings, fast, fast and fast? In hindsight, Kejriwal should consider it a blessing in disguise that some of those eccentrics left him. Imagine having to put with a woman who addresses public meetings as though she were addressing a class full of mentally challenged children. And anyway, this grand notion of a movement against the State isn’t going to work anymore. The great socialist Jayaprakash Narayan tried and failed. You remember, the next time that Hazare tried to organise a public meeting only a few hundred turned up. And I am not for one moment, doubting his intentions.

Hazare and Kejriwal tried to agitate for a Lokpal Bill. But what happened? The government and their spinmeisters tied him and his activists up in knots, promising a lot but giving them zilch. Look at what this venal bunch of politicians did when their tribe was threatened. Since they couldn’t pass a Bill to overturn the Supreme Court verdict against corrupt politicians, they tried to bulldoze an ordinance through.  The point is, Hazare may have cast the first stone, but the government ensured that it would lie undisturbed at the bottom of the cesspool – until the court stepped in to put this government in its place.

Kejriwal may not win enough seats to form his own government in Delhi, but let’s cut the man some slack. He has said he will be contesting from whichever constituency Sheila Dixit does. He is already up against a formidable foe. She has sweet-talked her way into every other Delhiite’s home, while he still has to get a foot in the door. Most importantly, unlike most politicians and parties of today, is Kejriwal asking for a few khokhas in return for a party ticket? Thank God, for the electoral system of this great country that it throws up people like Kejriwal and who are ready to pick a fight for what they believe in. I don’t remember the last time I saw a person, with so few pretensions to being a politician, who could actually make people sit up and take notice of him.

He doesn’t seem like one of those eccentric candidates who files his nomination before every election and then ends up with just one vote – his. Let’s see what happens in a couple of months from now. The elitist Delhiites are turning up their powdered noses at the sight and sound of Kejriwal’s bunch of hopefuls trudging around Delhi’s streets.

Let’s call Kejriwal’s bluff when the time is right. Until then, let’s give him the benefit of doubt. Politics shouldn’t be the preserve of a select few, because of their lineage or their wallets. If a ‘pagla’ (my father’s words, since they were from the political party) like Raj Narain could defeat Indira Gandhi, I don’t see why someone like Kejriwal can’t take a shot at Dixit. And anyway, let the voters decide whether they want him or not. I am pretty sure, they will. and if he fails, they will dispense with him similarly.

In the days when my mother, unknown to her and to the rest of us, lived through dementia, otherwise known as Alzheimer’s disease,  she once got off at Raja ki Mandi station in UP, telling the station master that she was meeting a friend. She sat on a bench bare feet, waiting for the ‘friend’, as the train left without her.  It was around 2 am and had an alert station master not realised something amiss, she might have wandered off into the night and we might never have found her. She was 86 then, suffering not just from dementia, but near blindness and severe arthritis in both knees. And had that incident not happened none of us would have ever known that she was dying of the disease.

That memory was triggered off the other day, when I went to Maher’s Vatsalyadham which houses mentally challenged & destitute women and children. We went there to observe the first death anniversary of my aunt who had passed away on October 17, last year. She, of course, was completely lucid till the day she passed away, and because she didn’t want the usual religious practices followed after her death, we thought, we could mark her first death anniversary by visiting a Home for the elderly, where we could donate clothes, food and money (the last only if they would accept).

We met a woman who held my wife’s hand and told her that she wanted to return home. She said a lot of other incoherent things, which made it clear that she was having a few problems. The sisters there told us she had picked been picked up by them from near the railway station and could not give coherent answers to her previous whereabouts.

Another elderly woman was found lying at a bus stop. Whether she was mentally challenged or suffering from dementia is unclear, but when some kindly souls landed up at the spot, there she was shivering, muttering incoherently. She was then gently carried to a van and brought to Vatsalyadham.

After she had been nursed back to much better health, the volunteers traced her family. When they reached the woman’s home they were shocked to find her garlanded photograph on the wall. They were even more shocked when they heard that the family had declared her dead, because they didn’t want her anymore. Surprisingly, this was not a poor family, but an upper middle class one.

Sister Monica, who looks after Vatsalyadham, when Sister Lucy (who heads the Maher Group), is travelling to raise funds, says there are dozens of women, and even teenage girls there with heartrending tales about their lives. Maher was started by Sister Lucy, who always wanted to do something for the elderly women she would find sleeping on the roadside or on shop verandahs. She was already picking up mentally challenged women from the streets and housing them. With the help of donors and friends, she set up Vatsalyadham in 2004.

Sister Monica told us that they have 60 elderly women and just 33 beds. “The others have to make do with a bed sheet on the floor.”

There are countless other women who are now inmates of Vatsalyadham. They share the premises with teenage expectant mothers, who had either run away from their homes or have been abandoned by their families. Others had been beaten up and thrown out of their homes by their children. Not all women who live here are mentally challenged. Some have been abandoned by their husbands, and now live and work here. Some even reveal their names after medical treatment, but their families refuse to take them back.

“One of the women we found near a bus stop, had open sores, infested with maggots and lice. We brought here and she is being treated,” says Sister Monica. Sometimes they get calls from strangers telling them that there is some woman lying somewhere and they rush off in their van to locate her.

There are almost a hundred children living here in two separate rooms. They are either orphans who were taken in from the streets or are children of mentally challenged women living in Vatsalyadham. We met one such tot, who just sat and stared sullenly into space. Even as we ruffled his hair, he stared back expressionless.

For all the help that Sister Lucy brings in, it is never enough. The numbers of destitute women and children at this particular Home is increasing, but the facilities that need to be replenished are not always readily available, even with the funding they get.

But the most horrifying story we heard that day, was about a caller who told them about a woman lying on the street. When they reached the spot they found another woman waiting there, with the woman who was lying on the ground. They brought the sick woman back to the Home and nursed her. Once she was well enough they asked her about her family, and were stunned to hear that the woman who had made the call and waited with her was her granddaughter, who had thrown her out of their home.

This is the condition of the elderly in a State that has a law, which secures the lives of senior citizens, many of whom are abandoned by their families to die on the streets. Not all of them are as lucky to be taken to Homes run by NGOs, like Maher.

For all that they have done for their children, the least the elderly deserve is the security of a home and family, until the final journey on the shoulders of their loved ones. Can we not guarantee them that?

Mahatma Gandhi and the politicians who formed the first government of Independent India were the first and last breed of secular politicians this country has seen. Since then there have only been pretenders. Real secularism was replaced by ‘politics of secularism’. By the time Indira Gandhi became the prime minister secularism had become just another dirty word.

Which is where I come to the grand old party of Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand). Nehru, Patel and others, which claims to own the patent to secularism since 1885 or thereabouts, It has also allegedly claimed to have worked for the minorities and the downtrodden since then. If that is so, how is it that most of the minority communities and the downtrodden are still where they are since 1947? And even after being taken for a ride year after year, they continue to vote for the grand old party.

The amount of money that spent on them should have been enough to give them a better life. But has that happened? The fact that the government still has to give them food subsidies, free mobiles, write off loans etc, shows that the Congress party’s policies have, by and large, FAILED in their objectives to raise the living standards of the minorities and economically weaker sections.

If there are those from such communities and castes who have overcome obstacles and risen to make a name for themselves, they have done so because of their own desire to succeed. Just today I read about Yusufalli, a Malayalee businessman in the UAE, who has been voted the most powerful Indian in the Gulf for the fourth year running. That’s a fantastic achievement. The Indians in the Gulf are a good example of people working to make a living instead of depending on the sops thrown to them by government.

In journalism, there are two sides to every story. While I completely understand that Narendra Modi’s past with reference to Gujarat in 2001, makes him suspect, I am also aware that Congress politicians are equally guilty of engineering riots in the country and worse. If I tell a Modi-hater that neither the courts nor the security agencies have been able to pin anything on him for the riots, there are howls of protest, and they allege that he has manipulated the courts and the legal system. Fair enough. However, when I ask them why people like Kamal Nath, Tytler and others are still walking free for their alleged roles in various riots; about people like Lalu who walked free for 17 years until recently, then there is studied silence. There’s more, but let’s leave that for another day.

Why are the same secular people and media, who rail against Modi for his divisive politics and his riot-tainted past completely silent when someone like Shinde or Sonia waxes eloquent about being on the side of the minorities. Or is it a case of selective knowledge? Or is it that they are so blinded by hate for the BJP or Modi or whoever that is anti-Congress, that they turn a blind eye to any nonsense that is said in the name of secularism? It’s almost as if, anyone is against the Congress or Rahul, then he must be pro-Modi!

Then some of my good friends think that by ridiculing Rahul Gandhi and his antics, I am inadvertently making Modi a hero, which he is not. Then, of course, there are those veiled suggestions that I am, in fact, a closet Hindu fundamentalist or worse a Modi supporter. To be honest, my religious inclinations are quite a joke among the members of my family. In my home, during every festival, my wife, who believes in observing most festivals, has to drag me most reluctantly to the puja corner in our house, even to spend a few minutes in silence.

Yes I do carry a Hanuman Chalisa with me. It is usually in the glove compartment of the car. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. It started after I once found that I felt a little calm after reading it. I had to ask my wife and son what the words meant, though! So now one copy lies in my glove compartment. Call me silly, superstitious or whatever. So does that qualify me to be either a closet fundamentalist Hindu or a Narendra Modi fan? I hope not, otherwise a lot of people who read such books would also be labelled fundamentalists!

To be honest, I would rather be anything but a supporter of a government whose Home Minister demolishes the credibility of his own police force and intelligence community; where an upstart MP can ridicule his own prime minister and government on a public forum because he wants to indulge in theatrics to garner some brownie points; where the entire government machinery closes ranks to protect the son-in-law of the first family who they claim is a ‘private citizen’; where MPs accused in corruption cases can get re-elected to the Rajya Sabha with the backing of the ruling party, and where a Congress-ruled State government announces that loans taken by Muslims will be underwritten. So what crime have the others committed to be excluded from such munificence?

If this is how secularism is to be defined, thank you, but no thank you. And I am sure my Muslim friends understand the point.

This is a short one.
‘What in the world is a social network’ is the title of the piece I read this morning. Rhetorical as it may sound, I really wonder how effective these sites really are. Some of them claim to bring you and your friends and family closer. Sometimes I wonder whether every person on your list even knows you exist or you know about them?
Take my own Facebook list. Two days ago while going through my list of ‘friends’ I discovered that I had four people on my list who had passed away, two of whom had died over a year ago. One had been in the news recently for the family first wanting her body exhumed and then rejecting the move. I didn’t even know she was on my page, till she died in mysterious circumstances. Two were students who had committed suicide. The fourth was a well known journalist for whom I had proofed a novel he had written. Why didn’t I delete them? Just too caught up in too many things, I guess, to even notice that they had migrated to another more heavenly social networking site. My fault entirely. And then that morning I got fed up of scrolling through the stuff posted by one of the 1278 people on my page, to look for something I was interested in. Which is what got me thinking.
Would anyone even notice if I dropped out of sight from their pages. I wondered how many would even notice or really care whether you’re there or not. At least the vast majority don’t. And in the last 48 hours I’ve proved it.
I deleted 800 people from my Facebook page on Tuesday morning. That left me with 478 friends.Today is Thursday and just one person – a student of a media institute where I no longer take lectures – messaged me to ask (demand), why I had inadvertently deleted her from my page. Nevertheless,, I explained why and her question was “but why me?” Needless to say she’s back on my list.
So this could mean one of two things. Either, they don’t really care for having me in their social network, or they haven’t even noticed I am missing. Which says a lot for ‘staying connected’!