Monday, March 12, 2018


It's miracle time in India. A tree with no roots and no leaves, nevertheless bears fruit in Tripura; the BJP, with a previous record of 0, wins 35 of 59 seats. The bigger miracle is that it does not matter who wins, it's the BJP that will form the Government. In Meghalaya it won only 2 seats against the Congress's 21. In Nagaland it won only 11 seats against the NDF's 29. But in both states the BJP took over, as it did in Goa a year ago with only 13 seats in a house of 40. At this rate, don't be surprised if Siddaramaiah leads the Congress to victory in Karnataka and Yeddyurappa forms a BJP Government. Sweet are the uses of power at the Centre.

It will be a mistake however to attribute BJP victories to political and money power alone. It has strategists who are not second to Kautilya and are adept at forging cynical alliances. The sharpness with which the likes of Ram Madhav, Sunil Deodhar and Himanta Biswa Sarma used these skills is unmatched in the history of elections. There are only a half dozen such brains in the BJP, but that is a half dozen more than other parties have.

The pity is that their intellectual vigour goes hand in hand with party apparatchiks' addiction to the vulgarity of hatreds. The Tripura triumph was followed by violence of a kind that turned triumph into shame. Mobs attacked not just CPM offices, but also colleges, houses, villages, markets and areas considered Leftist. The wrecking of Lenin statues led to an avalanche of chain reactions with statues of Periyar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Ambedkar and even Gandhi getting vandalised. The world must be laughing at our "democracy".

The mentality that condones criminality in the name of patriotism is dangerous. H.Raja symbolised this. This BJP leader in Chennai is good at discrediting the BJP with asinine comments. True to form, he said that the fate that overtook the Lenin statues must now overtake Periyar statues in the South. In that one stroke, the BJP lost whatever ground it gained by taming the AIADMK. For Periyar, with all his weaknesses, was a visionary who enthroned rationalism in public life, gave meaning to Dravidian ethos and put self-respect above Brahmin hegemony. Even his critics respect Periyar. Raja will not understand the nuances of such things. Small minds with big mouths never do.

Note also that neither the statue desecration spree nor the Tripura violence stopped after the Prime Minister's "strong" criticism of them. Like lynchings in UP and Gujarat, BJP's communal extremism has a momentum of its own, beyond the control of even the Prime Minister. For that reason, the northeast is going to be restive and violence-prone in the days ahead.

In Meghalaya, for example, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma plans to lead a "secular" Government with BJP's collaboration when the BJP does not accept even the word secularism; it only recognises "pseudo-secularism". Conrad is in for surprises.

And in Nagaland? Remember BJP leader Kiran Jijuju attacking his cabinet colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi over the right to eat beef? During the campaign the BJP uttered not a word about Nagaland's food habits or religion. But campaigning BJP and power-wielding BJP are separate entities. It is a certainty that there will be ghar wapasi efforts now in the beef-eating Christian-majority state. How will this affect a state already in the grip of insurgency and armed political groupings?

Continuing minority bashing shows that the BJP takes it as normal under its rule. Just last week Roshanbiwi in Gujarat's Gandhinagar district had her thumb, index finger and middle finger chopped off by Bhajrang Dal rowdies. Reason: She had disobeyed the gang's order to remain indoors when they were celebrating the anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition.

The late Christopher Hitchens, disgusted by the Iranian fatwa-givers' hunt of his friend Salman Rushdie, summed up the malady of intolerance in two words: "Religion Kills". The Ayatollah's call for murder was at last a religious edict based on religious beliefs. In India it isn't even that. It is merely the misuse of religion for selfish political gains. It is not Hinduism at all. It is a convoluted version called Hindutva.

So what are our tomorrows going to be? Will we have to say with King Lear: "We have seen the best of our time: machinations, hollowness, treachery and all ruinous disorder, follow us disquietly to our graves?" Or, will this too pass and sanathana dharma survive unscathed?

Monday, March 5, 2018


The funny thing about the banking fraud that is rocking the country is that no one is accountable for it. The Finance Minister remained silent at first and then blamed the supervisory agencies -- as though he was but an onlooker. His cabinet colleague, the ever-unconvincing Ravishankar Prasad, blamed the Congress for the mess. He was no doubt seeing Indira Gandhi's bank nationalisation as the reason for the mess. Being a fair man, he didn't blame the Italian grain merchants who invented banking in the Middle Ages.

The problem with the Ravishankar Prasad brand of rodomontade is the self-conviction that they convince others. It is nobody's case that there was no corruption before his party's rise to power. Unforgettable scams marked the governments of all Congress prime ministers from Indira Gandhi's time. Manmohan Singh, personally respected for his incorruptibility, was finance minister in 1992 when Harshad Mehta triggered a Rs 4000-crore banking scam with an ingenious method of siphoning money from interbank transactions. As prime minister, Singh allowed some abominably corrupt ministers to flourish under him.

So, do Congress scams justify BJP scams? Only the sick can argue along those lines. There is no way the Government of the day can dissociate itself from the Nirav Modi scandal. Official bank records of LOU (Letters of Understanding that facilitates loans from other banks) issued by Punjab National Bank to Nirav Modi have appeared in the media and they show that the letters were issued during 2017-18. Ravishankar Prasad's contention that the jeweller's appearance in a photograph with the Prime Minister in Davos was "a coincidence" also stands demolished. Protocol governs such occasions and nothing happens without prior clearance. No "coincidence" is permitted.

According to PTI, the national news agency, Finance Minister Jaitley travelled to Davos with a "100-strong Indian delegation" of prominent businessmen. Among them was Nirav Modi. The attempt by apologists of the Government should be not to look at this banking scandal from a politically partisan viewpoint, but from the viewpoint of national interest. Whether under the Congress or the BJP, businessmen who cheat banks are cheating the citizens and the country. They should be handled from that defining angle.

Those who have eyes to see can see that scandals of this kind cannot happen without the knowledge and/or condonation and/or participation of politicians in power. Suspicions about the Modi style of operations had surfaced in the diamond business circles as far back as in 2015. A potential investor who had felt cheated had reported to the police twice, then to the CBI. Neither taking any action, the investor alerted the PMO which forwarded the matter to the Registrar of Companies who chose to close the complaint. Could this happen without the involvement of well-placed politicians and officials?

Equally relevant is the question: Could Modi have escaped from India in the nick of time without official collusion? In the immediate family he is the only one with an Indian passport. His sixth sense stirred when two senior staffers of the PNB who had the power to issue LOUs left India in November last year. In a measured manner thereafter he, business partner/uncle Mehul Choksi and some family members quietly and separately took flights out of the country. All that India could do was seize their assets within its borders and send look-out notices. Big deal.

What we see here is the old story of VIP offenders being helped by our law enforcers to escape from the law of the land. When the Bhopal gas tragedy, described as the world's worst industrial disaster, killed 4000 to 8000 and maimed countless others in 1984, senior ministers in Delhi helped Union Carbide chief Anderson escape from India. Ottavio Quattrocchi, Italian business agent who became so close to Sonia Gandhi's family that his four children, all born in India, and Sonia's children grew up together, finally fell foul of the law in 1993 but was helped to escape from the country overnight so to speak. And then we have our modern touch-me-not VIPs, Lalith Modi and Vijay Mallya living in luxury abroad beyond the reach of India's reluctant hands.

Nirav Modi has politely declined to cooperate with the CBI in its inquiries against him. Why not? Is Vijay Mallya cooperating with the CBI? Has anyone in our great country dared touch Lalit Modi? His pals are in high office in Rajasthan and Delhi. This is India that is Bharat -- and this is how it will be irrespective of which party is in power.

Monday, February 26, 2018


Justice Katju is known for using language of the extreme kind. But his words hit the bull's eye last week when he spoke to a regional channel. India, he said, was in the hands of goondas; they must be shot. He recalled how the so-called "aristocrats" were guillotined in the French Revolution. We have to do the same, he said, because this great country is ripe for revolution. Without discriminating between parties and ideologies, he said "these politicians will not change their nature; they are enemies of the country; they must be shot".

There may be penal provisions under which Justice Ketju can be prosecuted for propagating violence. But that would invite derision because not only is his honesty of purpose beyond question; his views -- minus the guillotine part, perhaps -- are a reflection of public opinion. These politicians, be they in UP-Bihar, or Rajasthan-Gujarat, or in the South, are indeed taking the country to ruin. And they will not change.

Once upon a time corruption was the worst aspect of the ruination that politicians had brought upon the country. From Bofors we have graduated to the banking system with the glittering gems of Nirav Modi demonstrating how all-encompassing cheating can get.

Simple corruption has yielded to mafia corruption. Criminals have been in politics for a long time, becoming MPs and ministers during the glory days of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. The south of the country was relatively free of this kind of advanced democracy. But the south made up for it with VIP fathers trying to promote their sons to VIP status by hook or by crook, preferably the latter.

Indira Gandhi ushering in dynastic politics led to the triumph of Parentology as the ultimate ideology in India. Kerala's self-anointed "leader" K.Karunakaran even left the Congress party and formed an outfit of his own in his attempt to make his son and daughter the political commissars of the state. With his manoeuvres failing to click, he finally returned to the Congress as a de-fanged "leader".

In Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister spent what was considered the biggest amount till then to ensure his son's election to Parliament. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, sons have already been elevated to positions of high responsibility. These Telugu sons are educationally and technically qualified people, even then the enforcement of Parentology has lead to criticism.

When the sons are unqualified, they make up by cultivating dubious affiliations. The party secretary of the ruling CPM in Kerala recently found his son caught in financial dealings running into many crores of rupees in Dubai. How did a communist leader's son get involved in big business with Arab financiers? What did he do that led to government actions like denial of exit visa? Did Kerala's UAE-based business tycoons help settle the cases out of court? Honest communists are puzzled -- the more so because the party secretary conducted himself more as a father than as a communist when the controversies hit the fan. Parentology is above Marxism too.

Worse was a display of brutality that shocked human conscience in Karnataka a few days ago. A man at a restaurant table had stretched his leg which was in a plaster cast. Congress MLA Haris's son was so irritated by this that he and accompanying goons assaulted the man savagely; nine chest bones broken, facial bones shattered, eyes left haemorrhaging.

The MLA's formal apology cut no ice because the son had been involved in similar incidents before and apparently nothing had been done to stop him. On the contrary, he was made leader of the Youth Congress and posters featuring father and son were put up in Bangalore as part of grooming the son for higher leadership in the party.

The latest gangster act, however, attracted so much publicity that the party suspended the son for six years. Was this a show because of the approaching elections? Why was this Youth Congress leader who shamed the party so unpardonably not expelled from the party and his promoter-father told that there would be no Congress ticket for him in the next election? Should minorities be cultivated by encouraging the wrong elements among them? Karnataka is not UP. If the Congress condones gangsterism, the Congress will be the loser.

In the circumstances, who can blame Justice Katju if he says that India has gone into the hands of goondas? Politicians have indeed become enemies of the country. But let us use votes to shoot them down.

Monday, February 19, 2018


Indian literature is the richer for the election of Chandrasekhara Kambar as President of the Sahitya Akademi. The sad part of the story is that the distinguished Oriya writer, Pratibha Ray, was put up as a political opponent and was defeated at the polls. A novelist and academician of international fame, her commitment to a classless, casteless social order had led to her being called a Communist at one stage. How such a person ended up as part of the Sangh Parivar's scheme to capture the Sahitya Akademi is symptomatic of our times.

The usual practice at the Akademi is to choose the vice president as the president -- and Kambar has been vice president since 2013. (Back in 1993 the redoubtable U.R.Ananthamurthy had become president through a contest. In 2003, a Leftist-Rightist confrontation developed with Mahasweta Devi competing against Vice President Gopi Chand Narang for the presidency. Despite her unmatched standing as a writer and champion of tribals' rights, Mahasweta lost).

What surfaced this time was a concerted attempt to take over the Akademi look stock and barrel. Even the convener's post was contested by BJP-backed candidates. But this time the swing did not favour the Rightists. Even card-carrying communists got elected, such as Kerala's Prabha Varma, an award-winning poet.

The iconic stature of Chandrasekhara Kambar must have been a contributory factor in this victory of the deserving. With 11 anthologies, he is a poet who ranks with the best. With 25 plays, quite a few of them masterpieces, he is dramatist of the first order. He is an admired folklorist. He is a film director with some outstanding productions. None of these achievements come anywhere near his feat as a visionary educationist. The Kannada University in Hampi is proof of that.

That house of learning was his baby. He visualised its exterior forms as well as its soul-force. He picked the spots for the buildings, supervised the architectural forms to suit the culture the university represented, picked the stones and the colours and the shapes of the archways and gates. He worked out the intellectual contents of the courses on offer, decided how the graduate and post-graduate studies should mesh together. He paid meticulous attention to the selection of faculty and the organisation of academic activities. He functioned as founding Vice-Chancellor for two three-year terms. And then he handed over the reins to a scholar he handpicked, M.M. Kalburgi. Yes, the same distinguished thinker who was shot dead in 2015 by India's new-generation patriots.

Which gives a disturbing dimension to the Sangh Parivar's moves to capture the Sahitya Akademi. They did not succeed this time, but the danger remains real because capturing all cultural organisations has been a stated objective of the parivar. There is no attempt to conceal this objective. Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma had said soon after he assumed power that cultural institutions in India "are in total ruins" and the BJP Government was determined to "give them a facelift".

He did -- and how! A new chairperson was appointed to run the Sangeeth Natak Akademi. The board of trustees of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts was disbanded and a former ABVP president was appointed its chief. The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library was pushed around until its respected chief, Rangarajan, quit. It remains rudderless. The National Gallery of Modern Art, the National Archives of India are headless, run by government secretaries. The worst affected was the National Museum, perhaps because it was run with noticeable efficiency. The man in charge was removed by the Culture Ministry. Distinguished cultural leaders of the country protested and asked the Government to reinstate him. The Government ignored them.

This is Culture Minister Sharma's way of face-lifting our institutions. Remember, he is the man who promised to "cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised". (No wonder he recently asked tourists not to wear skirts). He is also the minister who was kind enough to concede that "A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, despite being a Muslim, was a nationalist".

When such are the minds that rule our country, should we be surprised if an undistinguished Gajendra Chauhan is made chief of Film & Television Institute? Should we be surprised if a Lokesh Chandra, named head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, describes Narendra Modi as an incarnation of God? Or if a Sudershan Rao, made chief of Indian Council of Historical Research, supports the caste system? That Chandrasekhara Kambar won is, in the circumstances, a surprise. Cheers for that.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Confidence, authoritativeness and clear warning signals echoed from China's published statements on the Maldives crisis. Keep off, it tells the UN. Any military intervention will be strongly resisted, it tells India. This is the new China rising to world leadership at a speed that is both remarkable and worrying.

Usually China does this quietly with no grand-standing. This was seen recently with deep-sea spying equipment in the Pacific Ocean. Powerful acoustic censors were planted in two strategic spots, one in the deepest point on earth at 10,916 meters beneath sealevel. Both spots are near Guam, the largest American military base in Asia. With listening range of more than 1000 km, the censors can track submarine movements and intercept underwater signals. A leading US strategic expert underplayed it by saying that such things were standard practice. But he admitted: "China has become a great power and is acting like one".

Two months ago China revealed a new intercontinental missile system that was to be deployed in the first half of this year. Able to carry upto ten warheads that can be manoeuvred separately and with a range of upto 15,000 km, "the missile can hit every corner of the earth" according to a Chinese military expert. "All targets in the continental United States", clarified an Australian strategic expert. China is also into building its third aircraft carrier with a new aircraft launching technology.

What deserves special attention is that China is developing its soft-power superiority with the same diligence it bestows on its military prowess. In 2013 it launched its ambitious One Belt One Road project. The visionary zeal that prompted it was seen again in 2016 when the Asian Infrastructure Bank was launched, reducing the importance of the US-influenced World Bank and the status of the US dollar as an international currency.

Add to this the success it has registered on the business front. Alibaba is now a household name around the world, and not because of the forty thieves. Xiaomi's 2017 growth was higher than that of Apple, Samsung and Huawei combined. Oppo (as new as 2004) and Vivo (2009) are shaking up the leadership ranks in the mobile world. As many as 19 Chinese phone manufacturing companies dominate India, unmindful of Jio.

America loves to talk of China being a copy-cat economy. Donald Trump has launched an investigation into Chinese "theft" of US intellectual property. In 2013 there were reports that China had successfully hacked 24 major weapons systems in the US. There may be truth in all these. But the ultimate truth is Success. And China is Success.

The political-business success China has already scored is prompting it to look into brave new frontiers of science. Beijing Government is putting more money into the Artificial Intelligence industry than any other government. By 2030 it wants an AI industry worth $ 150 billion. Intelligent video and smart cameras are being developed without the privacy concerns of democratic countries. The development of electric-car technology is going at a hurried pace. Beijing is also moving to end American leadership in the computer-chip industry. As much as $ 22 billion is already pledged to develop advanced memory chips.

President Xi Jinping's timeline for China's superpower status is 2049. He seems well on his way despite China's notorious weaknesses -- pollution, the internal contradiction between free-market economy and communist controls, political tensions in border provinces, even overpopulation. It is the Government's no-nonsense approach to social control that keeps the problems under the lid. What worries the outside world is the brusqueness with which Beijing enforces its will over the weak.

South China Sea is the most disturbing example of this. China used its military force to get control of islands off Vietnamese and Philippine coasts. Some shoals in the sea have been developed into military bases. The International Court's ruling against Chinese claims has been ignored. American warships testing freedom-of-navigation routes have been warned against entering "Chinese Waters". Indian vessel en route to Vietnam's ports have also been cautioned.

Where's India in all this? Delhi did make a show of friendship to ASEAN countries on Republic Day. But these are countries unnerved by Chinese assertiveness. Delhi's alliance with the US and Japan has come unstuck with the US virtually giving up on Asia and Japan turning into an active negotiating partner with Beijing. India in fact looks blissfully out of the picture. Perhaps it will get back into it after achieving its priority objective of getting Hindi recognised in the UN.