Posts Tagged ‘Uttar Pradesh’

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dozens of fictitious Jan Dhan accounts have been opened by crooked bank officials in which money is being credited and withdrawn every month by nameless persons.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….”


The other day, someone asked me why I had stopped blogging, because he felt the present moment would be the right time to express one’s opinion on the numerous issues surrounding us. To be honest, I had developed an aversion to writing these last few months for quite a few reasons. One of them was the politics. I love writing about politics, but it had turned into a no-holds-barred slanging match between those who hated Narendra Modi and those who admired him. Just like the infamous Dubya quote (“you’re either with us or against us”) Indian politics had been reduced to a slugfest and anyone interested in a third option was ridiculed, insulted and hounded into silence!

Some of my pro-Modi friends thought I was a Modi fan, just because I argued that the Gujarat violence happened in 2002 (and just like the horrific events in Delhi post the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984). Secondly, since no court in the land had either held him guilty or responsible for what happened in Gujarat, I was willing to move on and give him the chance to prove whether he was as efficient as some people thought he was. And that is when my friends who make up the anti-Modi club went after me. And frankly, their reaction was pretty vicious. People who I thought were rational in their thinking had suddenly become strangers. They were spewing venom at me, and that left me extremely disturbed.  That is why except for the occasional tweet I fell silent. I have never been extreme in my reactions or views on anything except maybe Indian cricket (!), so I was even more shocked by the reactions from people I thought I knew well. It was an eye-opener.

I also noticed that whenever I tweeted anything against the Congress it was either re-tweeted or ‘favourited’ . Good for me, because it increased my followers, but it also helped me understand, to a little extent, the mind of the people,  My antipathy to the Congress party is obvious and while I am not going to get into that now, I don’t buy into the Congress argument that the development in Gujarat is just a mirage.  Maybe it isn’t as high as Modi followers claim it is, but it couldn’t be worse than Uttar Pradesh or Bihar – two states that make me feel ashamed of being Indian. I have lived in both these states and both are a grim reminder of everything wrong with governance and politics in this country.

What politicians have done in these two states is nothing short of criminal and some of these fellows should rot in a jail for their misdemeanours. Unfortunately they still flourish because they feed off the poor and illiterate voter. Look at Odisha. People are still selling their children and other family members because they don’t have enough money to buy one square meal. When people living in villages feed of rats and cockroaches instead of rice and dal there is something fundamentally wrong with governance in the country. Take Maharashtra for instance. Farmers have been dying in Vidarbha by the dozens but yet politicians like Sharad Pawar shrug it away as something of little consequence. When dams dry up and drought looms on the horizon, ministers like Ajit Pawar ask if they should pee in the dams.  Who do I blame for that?

There is a section of liberals, fundamentalists and Modi-haters who may rant on about the fact that he doesn’t deserve to be prime minister for the sins of Gujarat, but unfortunately (for them), Modi seems to be the majority’s choice and if majority opinions translate into votes then Modi it will be – whether we like it or not. In other words, we get the politician and the government we deserve.

To me, Narendra Modi is no better or worse than any other politician this country has had since 1947. There have been many others like him who have pretended that they had no hand in riots that erupted in their States.  There have been so many politicians and prime ministers who have either engineered caste and religious riots in the country or have done nothing when riots occurred, and have then shed crocodile tears for the dead. Modi is just another one of the same breed.

That is why my admiration for Arvind Kejriwal has grown. A year ago no one in his right mind would have thought that Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party would be taken seriously by the political class or the country’s media. Today he is being spoken of as a future prime minister – a bit far-fetched, I think, but what the hell – no harm in dreaming! Here have been many politicians who made a

Why has he suddenly become a political force, and more importantly, someone who is being feared by the political class? The feeling I get is they don’t really know what he’ll do next. They thought he would protest time and again and go back to governing, like they do. Instead, he spent a night on the street! They thought he would protest for his JanLokpal Bill and go back to his CM’s cabin. Instead, he put in his papers. How many chief ministers would do that? Heck, how many politicians would quit on principle on any issue in this country? When was the last time one did? Madhavrao Scindia, when he was civil aviation minister, following an air crash on December 5, 1992?

Look at what happened in the aftermath of the latest submarine disaster? The Navy chief quit, but the minister stuck to his chair like a leech, and what is worse is that the prime minister defended him. While he accepted that the Navy chief had done the right thing by resigning, he defended his minister for not resigning! But no one thought much about all that, because they were more interested in running down Kejriwal and his party.  And all these jibes and taunts from the media and rivals about his style of politicking have only given Kejriwal the publicity he so badly wanted to bring him onto the national stage.

To me, it is quite simple. Anyone who can make life miserable for the likes of Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Mulayam and the rest, gets my total support! Whatever may be the fate of Kejriwal and his fledgling party in these elections, one has to admit that he has brought in something different from the run-of-the-mill politicians we have been used to all these years. If he is showing them up for the crooks they have been all these years, good for the voter. So more power to the aam aadmi!!

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.

I thought ascension to the seat of power by members of one family as a birthright was only seen in monarchies. We are seeing it now in a democracy.

Watching Congress leaders shamelessly defending Rahul Gandhi after the party’s disastrous showing in Uttar Pradesh, makes me wonder whether these politicians have any self respect or dignity. I understand these are politicians and sycophancy is the only thing they know, but they were speaking at any moment I expected them to start hanging their tongues out and wagging their tails.

As one heard their spirited defence of the man who they believed was their (not the people’s) prime minister-in-waiting, one wondered whether these seasoned politicians had taken leave of their senses. I mean, it’s one thing to appoint a distinguished economist as prime minister even though he has never won an election in his life, and an entirely different thing to anoint an 30-something upstart as prime minister in waiting just because he happens to be from a family that believes this country is their personal property. It made me nauseous.

Speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of Rahul Gandhi even though his disastrous campaigning had given his party almost the same number of seats as the last time. That the Congress Party is in a shambles in a majority of States is a foregone conclusion and if responsibility has to be fixed, then the Gandhi family has to cop the blame. Yet the sycophants of the oldest party in the country were defending the scion like he had actually done the State of Uttar Pradesh a huge favour by stepping out of his ivory tower to mingle with the peasantry and allowed them to kiss his ring. And just for that they would have to vote for him? Thank God the people of Uttar Pradesh wisely decided otherwise.

Unlike his father who was thrust into the hot seat due to circumstances beyond his control, Rahul has all the opportunities to become a seasoned politician before he aims for the top spot. A suggestion by a news anchor that Rahul first become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh before looking to Delhi, was quickly turned down by the Congress party’s chief sycophant who said the Gandhi scion was a national leader not a State satrap like Jitin Prasada or Akhilesh Yadav! Both, incidentally are MPs not MLAs, just like Mr Gandhi and have as much opportunity to aim for the PM’s chair as he has.

But according to the Congress party that seat has been reserved for Rahul Gandhi, even if the man has so far failed in his attempts to lead his party to a victory in any state he has campaigned in. What is even better news for people who believe the Gandhis have been lording over the country like it’s their ancestral property and should be shown the door, is that their handpicked nominees got hammered in Amethi and Rae Bareli. Is there a more telling reminder to this family that they are not as loved or admired as they think they are.

If Rahul Gandhi wants to be prime minister he should learn the art of politics and governance before he thinks of applying for the most important job in the country. Running India is not the same as a day at the office. Even a distinguished economist has realised that working at the World Bank was a far easier job!

I lived and worked in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh from 2001 to 2005, where I saw three governments in power, one of the BJP under Rajnath Singh, then the BSP under Mayawati and the third of the SP under Mulayam Singh Yadav. My colleagues cautioned me to use a PRESS sticker on my vehicle or I could get robbed of my vehicle in broad daylight and no one would raise a finger to help me. I thought they were joking.

I realised the joke was on me, when on my first day at Hindustan Times, in Lucknow, sometime in November 2001, I was sitting at my desk reading the newspapers, when a headline caught my eye: “Amarmani Tripathi declared absconder”

Amarmani Tripathi is a politician-cum-criminal currently serving a jail term for the murder of a poetess. He knew the fine art of surviving in politics. He simply switched parties during every election! In 2001, he was a minister in the BJP Government and when he fell foul with CM Rajnath Singh, the cases against him were reopened and he was declared an absconder.

So there I was staring at the headline in front of me, and as I looked up from the newspaper, I saw a man dressed in all white approaching my cubicle, followed by a couple of armed policemen, who were obviously his security personnel. As the man swaggered past me, he smiled and I too gave a polite smile. I looked at him and then again at the picture in the newspaper. It was “absconder Amarmani Tripathi” and for someone who was allegedly running from the law, he seemed totally unfazed. He went to the Hindi Hindustan editorial department to meet the editor. When I told some of my colleagues about this, they had a hearty laugh. For them, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. For me, however, it was an eye-opener.

A few months later, I read a report that said a man could not prove in an UP court that he was alive even as he stood there in flesh and blood because his relatives had declared him dead to usurp his property. I was told by a reporter, who was also a lawyer, that he could declare me dead or prove that my car was stolen! I believed him.

A few days after that Mukhtar Ansari, a dreaded mafia don, who was serving time in jail, was supposedly brought for a medical check-up to a local hospital. I say supposedly because I remember how my reporter Manish Chandra Pandey, rushed in excitedly to tell me that Ansari was strolling through Hazratganj, Lucknow’s shopping district, exchanging pleasantries with shopkeepers and then proceeding to his flat where he held a ‘durbar’! Policemen who were supposedly guarding him were strolling along behind him, quite unconcerned by the stir the don’s walkabout was creating. The next day when the pictures appeared in all the newspapers the government defended the inaction by the cops and packed Ansari off to Tihar!

Then, on another occasion, when a very powerful business tycoon’s son was getting married, one of the reporters told me how goons from a political party walked into the showroom and drove away with new cars, as the staff stood by silently. If you value your life you keep your mouth shut. And also, how an entire housing society was asked to vacate because it overlooked the home of a business tycoon, who was celebrating the marriage of his children. They claimed it was “security” but no one reported these stories because you don’t report such stuff if you value your advertising revenue!

For a State that wallows in crime, poverty, communal violence and crooked politicians, nothing that happens there surprises me anymore. But, on Monday, even I, like a million others who must have watched the news, was totally aghast at the manner in which UP Chief Minister Mayawati was garlanded with 1000 rupee notes and was photographed posing under it for posterity. In this show of opulence, what I find surprising is not that people can go to such absurd lengths to pamper a politician, who doesn’t care a fig for the people she lords over, but the fact that not a single government at the Centre, in all these years, has had the guts to pull her up for looting the state and accumulating cash, properties and diamonds.

It’s not the first time that the lady has been given this ‘honour’, so why no one in government really bothers to ask her what she’s done with all that cash, tells us a lot about the crooks (and that’s putting it mildly) who masquerade as honest politicians to enact legislation to curb black money, and then keep stashing their’s away in banks abroad! And when such announcements come from the mouth of a respected and supposedly honest prime minister, it makes one wonder. What’s even more frustrating is the fact that year after year it’s the honest taxpayer who gets screwed (there really is no other word) and silently bears the burden while the scumbags in their dhotis or safari suits get a free run. Otherwise, can you tell me, how politicians like Mayawati and Laloo have survived for so long?

For example, everyone knows that Mayawati’s assets jumped by Rs 500 crore in five years. We heard reports during the last election that the CBI was going to question her on how this miracle had happened. But it never went beyond the ‘heard’ stage. She was also an accused in the Taj Corridor scam, where she allegedly sold off large tracts of land behind the monument to private parties for the construction of commercial complexes! Heard anything about that from the CBI lately? All these cases are in the news only during an election or when MPs are required to vote during a no-confidence vote. Then these cases are used to force them to fall in line with the government’s line of thinking.

During my stint in Lucknow, I also watched a CD which showed a powerful politician of an equally well-known party, bluntly tell ticket hopefuls that they needed to deposit a specified amount of cash “towards a personal fund” if they wanted tickets for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections! The politician is seen explaining that since these hopefuls would anyway, recover this “loss” once they were elected, there was no reason why they should not pay this amount! The CD did the rounds of all the newspaper offices, but nothing came out of it because no newspaper owner wanted to incur the wrath of this vengeful politician. They were more interested in securing government contracts and keeping their factories running smoothly.