Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

The other day, I was in the bank queue and standing behind me was a gentleman from Bihar, so we got chatting and he said “Bahut kathin hain, Modi jo koshish kar rahein” (It is very difficult, what Modiji is trying to achieve). I asked him to explain, and he said he had returned from his village in Bihar where no one wants Narendra Modi’s anti-corruption drive to succeed because they are happy with the corrupt way of life.

When you hear such things you know Narendra Modi is facing an impossible, nay herculean task, in ending corruption. His own party is neck-deep in it. It is ingrained in the system and some people don’t want to get rid of it. They will fight it to their last breath because for them, it’s a question of their very existence.

The Bihari gent said that in his village, dozens of fictitious Jan Dhan accounts have been opened by crooked bank officials in which money is being credited and withdrawn every month by nameless persons. The account holders, thekedars and bank officials take a cut and everyone is happy. Why should they want to change a system that fetches such returns without an honest day’s work?

When I told him about the cash being recovered from all over the country, he laughed. He said that schemes such as MNREGA were the biggest financial scams in independent India and even Mr Modi with all his good intentions can do nothing, because the rot has gone too deep.  And this is happening in Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, when he is backing the campaign against black money.

Like me, he too was despondent. “Chor hain sab. Is desh ka kabhi bhala nahin hoga.” (They are all thieves. The country will never improve).

The day before on Twitter I had an argument on the very subject with a journalist who said I could not base my example on one instance. Well, here’s another.

I am no economist, but as a middle-class Indian I see around me the willingness to change but there are three other groups of people who are fighting change. The first is the corrupt lot for whom demonetisation has been an avoidable disaster, and if they can’t save their money they definitely don’t want a system which won’t let them make anymore. Look at the way the bankers and lawyers have circumvented the system to issue trunks full of new currencies to all kinds of dubious people, while the common Indian frets and fumes in a queue.

The second lot is the so-called ‘left-liberals’, who share a visceral hatred for Modi. Irrespective of what he or anyone from his government proposes, they will close their eyes and oppose it. The gates are closed for any debate on the issue, and if there is one, it’s a monologue in which they are right, and everyone else is wrong.

For example. I hear people on TV channels trotting out the most bizarre reasons for not going digital. Some of the more absurd reasons I’ve heard by idiots in the garb of journalists, on why poor people can’t open bank accounts is, that poor people haven’t been inside a bank. Haven’t they been inside a post office or dak ghar as it is called in the villages? In a village in Uttar Pradesh, one man says no one in government told him he could open a bank account. In the past so many years if no one in government told villagers that they could open accounts even in post offices, who is to blame? If there are so few banks in villages, then who is to take the blame?

Then there is the absolutely bizarre justification from people against demonetisation. It would make me laugh if it weren’t so tragic. They will say that daily wagers have been the worst-hit because the small factory owner has been forced to shut down. Why the “small factory owner” was running a cash-and-carry business for decades, is something none of them have cared to ask that guy. And it’s not like he just started it. He’s been doing it for years and his father before him. Has he tried to open accounts for his workers in these last 30 days to solve their problem? No he hasn’t. He has preferred to shut down instead. It’s pretty obvious why.

Just go to some of the busy chowks in a city like Pune on any given day. Among the milling crowds are dozens of labourers. They aren’t all waiting for public transport. They, men, and women with babies, are waiting for a contractor to land up there and pick them out like cattle to herd them into a truck and take them to a construction site. Here they will work in the blazing sun and at the end of the day, they will get paid for a day’s work, from which they have to pay the contractor. You can guess what they end up with after paying that. That is, of course, not a concern of journalists churning out reports about the negative impacts of demonetisation. That’s not the angle they’re looking for in that story.

And finally, there is a fourth group – journalists – who are happy sitting in their air conditioned offices churning out stories from twitter feeds and Facebook updates and calling them ‘exclusives’. I remember joking years ago that some journalists could turn a press release into a byline story, but I never realised it would get so bad! They’ve gotten so used to sucking up to ministers and drinking subsidised booze at the Press Club that they’ve forgotten their primary responsibility – to question those in power, and keep questioning them, until they answer.

Not one journalist is asking this simple question of the politicians in and out of power – What was your party doing all these years?” Not one journalist is throwing up facts and figures in the faces of these politicians and asking them to explain the discrepancies. Some of the politicians have become millionaires and billionaires in five years. Not one journalist asks them how they made so much without any legal source of income, except their MP’s salaries. That is left to the analysts and opinion writers, who very few read anyway. So after a few hours of being stonewalled by the politicians, the journalists go back to the Press Club and order another drink, and move on to their next desktop exclusive.

I am sorry for being such a cynic, but I completely understand what the Bihari gentleman meant when he said, “Chor hain sab….”


There are a couple of students who keep egging me on to comment about 1.) Bal Thackeray and 2) the arrest of the two girls in Palghar and the subsequent furore it created.

Let’s take the late Bal Thackeray. I kept mum during his funeral only because I don’t believe in denigrating the dead – however, divisive his policies, his role in the Mumbai riots or his State funeral. The thing is, you may have hated his politics and his raving and ranting but the truth there were around two million out on the streets that day. I am sure they were not all there, just to make sure he was really gone. I did not always agree with Bal Thackeray’s brand of politics but a large number of Maharashtrians did – whether out of respect or fear – so why raise a hornet’s nest on the day of his death and subsequently his funeral?

The point is a lot of kids I saw calling Thackeray names on social networking sites, would not have had the guts to do that if they ever came face to face with him or even someone from the Sena. Secondly, many of the kids ranting were media students who are supposed to be objective in their writings. I did not see too much of objectivity, so it was not too different from the hooliganism of the lumpen elements that make up the rank and file of some political parties, including the Shiv Sena.

Strangely, some of the kids who were letting off steam were those who gleefully call the Pakistani cricketers or the Pakistani populace in general, every available profanity in the dictionary, and even question their parentage. So it was okay if they said it, but not okay when Thackeray did so or when he ranted against any community?

I am also quite cool when it comes to using swear words in public, but even I was embarrassed by the language used. I am afraid you can’t go around calling anyone a ‘bastard’ or a ‘fucker’ on a public platform. And Facebook or Twitter is as public a platform as television if not in reach per household, at least in terms of their growing popularity.  That is the language I heard and that is why I refused to get into a debate or argument on the subject.

This is one of the reasons the government is bringing in stricter IT laws. I sincerely hope they do that soon. If freedom of speech gives us the right to speak our mind without fear, it also tells us that there are restrictions on the language we can use in public. And as we saw during the Arab Spring uprising, it takes one comment on Facebook to galvanise a hundred thousand people, for a just cause. The last thing one wanted to see on the day of Thackeray’s funeral was riots breaking out because of some idiot with a keyboard and an itchy finger who wanted to be the first one in cyberspace to vent his spleen.

Then, there’s the issue of the two girls from Palghar who were hauled to the police station. It was frankly, disgraceful. The girls did not say anything that could be considered dangerous to public peace. Some overzealous cops goaded by politicians decided to act and ended up with egg on their faces. We know who controls the cops, so for them to be coerced by a mob led by some politicians is understandable.  What surprised me was that it happened under the control of a cop who I thought was quite liberal in his views and quite clued in to IT and cyber laws.

I’ve met this top cop on a few occasions and found him quite adept at public relations and knowledge of the Internet. Some of my students from the SIMC 2011 PG batch might remember him as the cop who I had invited to take a lecture on crime reporting. The lecture was supposed to be for 90 minutes but stretched to three hours because the kids had too many questions and he was such an entertaining speaker. I don’t know if I had to drag him away or he did so himself, but I do know that it was one of the most informative three hours I spent listening to someone on the subject of crime reporting.

But coming to 66A itself, that it is flawed is pretty obvious. Too many things in there can be twisted around by politicians in power and misused. For example what constitutes “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or “any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience”? Does a comment like the one left by the two girls come in that category? Frankly, I’ve seen worse and saw even worse on the days following Thackeray’s death, and those fellows had a free run in cyberspace.

Our experts need to sit and discuss these issues threadbare. Secondly there is the political angle. The UPA government, at the Centre and Maharashtra condemned loudly (methinks too loudly), the action against the two girls. I would like to see their reaction if someone was to post something against the Gandhi family. Why were they objecting to all the cartoons morphing the prime minister and Sonia? After all, none of these were offensive. Let’s wait and see what Sibal does when that happens.

News just in is that the Prime Minister is planning a new ministry and it is going to be named the Union Ministry for Propaganda, to be headed by Dr. Kapil Sibal with Shashi Tharoor as his Minister of State. The job of this ministry will be to ensure that any online content that criticises the First Family and the Prime Minister will first be sent for screening to the ministry concerned, and heads of these portals will be put in jail for even accepting such stuff. Just kidding, just kidding….

But what is not one bit funny is the UPA government asking google, Facebook, Yahoo and others to censor content, to supposedly protect the ‘fair’ name of the Gandhi-Nehru family and others among their list of favourites, who are constantly being lampooned on the Internet. Even more appalling is Sibal’s very Goebbelsian remark that “They will have to give us this data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it.”

Sibal seemed a nice chap, so what got into him all of a sudden? Is he trying to upstage his good friend Digvijaya Singh, who till now had excelled in shooting his mouth off, or is he trying to ingratiate himself to the First Family or is he trying appease his and the party’s vote-bank? OR is he trying the age old ruse of diverting the attention of the public at large from ticklish issues like FDI in retail, Lokpal Bill, 2G, CWG etc? So he now wants to “define” what we can say and in the same breath says he respects the freedom of expression! Bit of an oxymoron isn’t it?

Does his ranting have anything to do with the videos floating around that question the financial dealings of certain members of the First Family? Frankly, if the people who find themselves in these videos feel they are being defamed or maligned they should ask the website to pull them off and sue, if they think that would serve the purpose. I think that is justified. But to do what Sibal is suggesting websites do, is stretching it a bit much.

Amitabh Bachchan sued a Swedish newspaper that published reports about his and his brother’s links with Bofors, and won. Whether people believed they were involved or not, the Bachchans believed they were not and sued. The paper retracted the stories, apologised and paid the Bachchans for the damage caused to their reputation. Let the people who feel they are being maligned do the same.

Sibal has also outdone himself by his latest harangue on what he claims is ‘objectionable’, ‘blasphemous’ and ‘derogatory’ comments on the Internet. Who decides what is ‘objectionable’ ‘blasphemous’ and ‘derogatory’ and how?

And can he define what is blasphemous? If he is so concerned about it, why doesn’t he also ask social networking sites to pull down all the anti-India – and more specifically anti-Hindu – rhetoric that’s floating around, most of which emanate from a few neighbouring countries. They have been around for ages, how come no one from the government thought of complaining to Facebook about them? Why has his government never attempted to block those sites? Is it because it suits them to drive a deeper wedge between the two communities, and in doing so appease the party’s vote-bank?

I thought this government had learnt its lessons from the Emergency, when the prince and his henchmen tried to subvert democracy and a free press, by having secretaries sitting in newsrooms of newspapers vetting copies or confiscating film reels. Even the great ‘democrat’ Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with his trusted lieutenant Brajesh Mishra was not averse to using strong-arm tactics to rein in the media when they wanted to. But Sibal has taken this quite a few steps higher.

In 1962 during the Chinese invasion the press roasted the prime minister for his decisions and his blind faith in his defence minister. He was advised to muzzle the Press, but he refused saying that a free press was the very essence of democracy and if he were to black out the press he would never know what the people felt about him and his government. That Prime Minister was Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, one of the founders of the Congress party that harps on his name and ideals even today.

To end on a humorous note, a Russian tourist, on his first visit to the USA in the 1960s checked into a hotel and asked his American host what the TV was doing in his room. The American told him,” We have television sets in every hotel room, which beam over 50 channels. And we watch all of them”

The surprised Russian remarked, “Back home in Moscow, we too have a television set in every hotel room. Only IT watches you.”