Mango Shakes Politics

The turnout at the rally to launch Aam Aadmi Party at Jantarmantar, held on the 63rd anniversary of the adoption of our constitution, was an indicator of popular sentiment prevailing in the country. That it happened on a day when the major political parties were busy imparting spin to stories justifying corrupt acts by their leaders and minor parties busier making a nuisance of themselves in parliament and state assemblies only underscored the need for an organization like what the AAP promises to be.

The groundswell of popular sentiment at Jantarmantar was quite obvious. In typical  political rallies  participants are transported by satraps and ambitious wannabes by busloads, each bus prominently displaying the name of the person responsible lest the credit gets missed out. Here, hordes of people reached of their own accord. There was a steady stream of people that lasted right up to late evening. People came, spent some time at the venue, and left. Their excitement and

enthusiasm was palpable. The long lines of people queuing up to sign up as founder members of the party resulted in the organizers running out of registration forms several times, only to be replenish them rapidly.

It is probably an indicator of the strength of the fledgling party that the participants could not be labelled. Rural, urban, rich, poor, middle class, old, young, students, professionals – there was a sprinkling of all. But what ran as a common thread was a sense of hopefulness – the belief that change may be possible, against all odds. It stemmed from the converse sense of hopelessness that everyone has started feeling about the existing political setup.

The great gap between the electors and the elected widens by the day. Politics is viewed as a practice of the special people for the special people by the special people. The ordinary people, or Aam Aadmi, are just incidental – a necessary evil required every five years to keep the wheels of this elitocracy turning. They need to be thrown a bone every once in a while, and the bone can easily be virtual. For the rest of the time, they can be looted, cheated, insulted, abused, lied to and generally taken for granted. Their intelligence is undermined – they are expected to believe that a ten fold increase in net worth of every joe politician is due to good investment decisions, nothing to do with influence wielded or favours traded.

This system has been almost insitutionalized, practiced by every single political party – either by active participation, or by passive inaction. There seems to be a tacit understanding between either ends of the political divide. Each side shouts and screams to derive maximum mileage off the others indiscretions, but when push comes to shove, they look the other way. Wink wink, nudge nudge. And guess who is at the receiving end as a consequence – yours truly, the Aam Aadmi.

  Another curious phenomenon is the complete lack of ideological integrity – particularly amongst the minor parties. Apart from hawking their wares on the roadside, they are doing everything else to capitalize the votes of their handful of legislators. So issues of national importance like FDI in retail are decided, not by the stated stance of these bit players, but by what mileage they can extract out of each vote. You also have the curious case of some of these minor parties who consistently remain on the treasury benches, irrespective of who forms the government.

What could the voter do? Come elections, she was faced with a choice between a thief and a dacoit. So the only choice was between whether to cast one’s vote or not. Either way she lost. Hence the disappointment, despair and finally indifference towards the electoral process. Thus the attractiveness of the Anna Hazare movement amongst the populace. And now, when an offshoot of that movement has decided to challenge the devil on its home turf, the response is overwhelming.

The media response to this emergence of a new entity ranged from lukewarm to indifferent. They continued to accord priority to the sycophantic rumblings of the ruling party and the brewing rebellion within the opposition. Oh yes, there was that ten minutes of token coverage for appearance sake, but that was about it.

And the mainstream political parties shrugged it off. One doesn’t really know what’s actually going on in the minds of their strategists and spin doctors. In case they aren’t, one would advise them to be scared – very scared. Because their cozy laissez faire days are about to come to an end. Even if the Aam Aadmi party doesn’t manage to win a single seat in subsequent elections – by its very being, it will force a change in the way the business of politics is being conducted.

Posted in Aam Aadmi, Agitation, Common Man, Corruption, Democracy, Elections | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Playing Neta Neta


Dear Rahul Gee,

I am sure you must be quite miffed with Salman uncle. What business does he have to try and force your hand (no, not the party symbol)? What does he mean by trying to imply that you need to take a more active role? Aren’t you doing enough already? What a party pooper.

We all saw your earnest efforts in the UP elections. So what if your party lost badly – at least you tried. And like they are going to say a million times in the upcoming London Olympics, which I am sure you will attend – its not winning or losing but playing the game that matters. And you are playing the game very well. You and your charmed circle of friends are playing ‘Neta Neta’ all the time. Go to dalit’s hut, go directly to dalit’s hut, do not pass Go do not collect 200.

What do these party poopers know about having all the authority without any accountability? Such fun, isn’t it? Getting all the credit when something good happens – people bending over backwards to hail the move to give lokpal a constitutional status (not that it has happened, despite your assurance) – and have scapegoats like Diggy uncle to only too eager to take the blame when something goes wrong, like the in the UP elections.

Of course, if you were to take up a more responsible position, then you would have to be accountable too. How can you then take off on secret jaunts at the drop of a hat? You will then be accountable to the people of India. No – sorry. Scratch that off. After all, hasn’t Maunmohan uncle survived in office for almost two terms without a shred of accountability? You must take lessons from him , if you aren’t doing it already, on how to shrug off all responsibility and accountability even while in office.

Till then, please carry on the good work. Rahul Gee tum khelte raho, hum tumhare sath hain.

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Ctrl Z Cyberconstabulary

By a strange coincidence freedom of expression appears under serious threat in the two leading democracies in the world. Indian Government has given sanction to prosecute 21 internet companies, including Google and Facebook, for carrying material that could “instigate public enmity and even endanger India’s unity”. In the US, debate rages over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (or SOPA), which would impede free flow of information on the internet by placing massive restrictions on user-generated content like posts to forums, video uploads, podcasts or images, if passed.

In India, the move comes close in the heels of the hugely popular anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare, which owed a large part of its success to social networking media. The government, under severe criticism from all quarters for big ticket corruption cases, its mishandling of the Jan Lokpal Bill and various other major and minor transgressions, also finds itself on the receiving end of jibes on different online forums and blogs. Facebook groups and pages severely criticizing leading politicians – at times to the extent of being downright insulting – come up regularly and are circulated by users.

The US government was recently hit by the revelation of its diplomatic cables on Wikileaks – something that was “embarrassing but not damaging” as per the government itself. A stronger propulsive force behind the legislation is apparently the clique of companies and unions in cable, movie and music industries. Entities of the brick and mortar era, facing stiff challenge in today’s age of user generated content and peer to peer sharing.

It is nobody’s case that slandering others, writing communally inciting material, or infringing the intellectual property rights of another, are acceptable practices. Considering the difficulty in imposing such measures at the level of the actual perpetrators, the measures aim at shooting the messenger. They target the service providers. The concern of proponents of free speech over internet  is that such restrictive and repressive measures would impact the ‘white’ users of the internet as much, if not more, than the ‘black’ users who are the perpetrators sought to be reined in. These defaulters, who in any case represent a minority on the fringe, would be able to find workarounds to hide their identity, overcome barriers and continue with impunity. With the pace of evolution of technology, and the fact that the perpetrators of wrong tend to be more techno-savvy than the doddering law enforcement agencies, the former will always remain elusively ahead of the latter. They will continue to slander, pirate, share and whatever else they are doing now.

But in the bargain, such legislative and regulatory measures will severely impact the open environment of cyberspace. Imposing caution on the service providers will restrict the free flow of creativity of the users and simultaneously constrain the free entrepreneurial spirit of the internet companies.

Measures by China to regulate the free flow of thought on internet some time back did not raise too many eyebrows – but similar moves by two open democracies, votaries of freedom of thought and speech – cannot be construed as acceptable behavior. Let’s hope better sense prevails amongst the decision makers in both.

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Offensive or Defensive?


Dear Rahul Gee,

Are we fast moving towards an emergency like situation in the country, with the government getting increasingly intolerant of dissent or slights of any kind? The high handed manner in which the protest by Baba Ramdev was dealt with and the orchestrated campaign to discredit the Anna Hazare movement and malign the key players associated with it are some indications of the dangerous mindset the government is getting into. Recent statements by Kapil Sibbal Gee about the government’s inclination or desire to monitor content that is uploaded on social networking sites, and filter out the undesirable from it, also point towards this.

The latest in this sequence of events is the banning of a site called India Against Corruption which was being run by cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, for displaying “defamatory and derogatory cartoons”.

There are two observations on this – one practical and the other on principle – and I also have one doubt. First the practical observation.

One can understand the ignorant dinosaurs in the ‘grand old party’ feeling that online content can be wished away by banning or controlled by censoring it – like books or newspapers in the good old days of 1975. But why doesn’t your tech savvy generation explain to these not so gentle men the realities of the information age. By banning the content you are attempting to suppress, you are only giving it more publicity and popularity. While this was not a major problem when physical access to the banned material was easy to control, today access flows through wires and air waves to and from all over the world. If you ban the content at one source, there will be hundreds of other sources where it will appear in no time at all. Thus the increased publicity by banning means many many more eyeballs searching for and circulating the content that was sought to be banned.In other words, by banning a particular content, the government is only helping it go viral (in case you don’t know what that means, ask Dhanush).

Second is the matter of principle. With citizens of the 21st century zealously treasuring their freedom of expression, even people who have no interest in the content per se, as also those who may not agree with it, will make common cause against its banning. “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it” – these words, though spoken by Voltaire more than two centuries ago, are ever more relevant today.

And my doubt – well its an old one. Who died and left you and your friends in charge of deciding what I should see and what I should not? How can you decide what is offensive and what is not? As it is, there is no dearth of offensive stuff on the net, and you don’t go about chasing and banning all of it. So why are Sibbal Gee and party so quick to take offense about some stuff in particular? What if I don’t find it offensive?

Offensive, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. So why not just let the beholders decide – if they do find it offensive, they will avoid it.But if they find it striking a chord – and you find it offensive – then you probably need to think deeply about  way you are doing things.


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What next common man?

It was a little ironic that the poster boy for the parliamentarians during the Lok Sabha debate on the Lokpal Bill was none other than Lallu Prasad Yadav. MPs cutting across party lines were probably nodding in agreement silently and internally when he spoke of the noose tightening around their necks. Fine role model of probity in public life speaking on a bill that aims at tackling corruption, Mr Lallu lost his Chief Ministership of Bihar when he was chargesheeted in the fodder scam. And clung on to power through proxy by foisting his wife into politics and directly on to the Chief Minister’s chair. One of Lallu’s remarks during the debate was, ‘laws are not made on the streets, they are made in the parliament’. And then, late night of 28 December, two MPs from Lallu’s party, Rajniti Prasad and Ramkripal Yadav, gave a fine example of the dignity of parliament by snatching papers from a minister and tearing them up before flinging them. It is for the people to decide whose conduct is more dignified – the ones protesting on the streets or the parliamentarians like Prasad and Yadav.

The manner in which the whole drama of the Lokpal Bill has unfolded in the last few days has, if anything, lowered the standing of the political class in the eyes of the people even further – possibly to an all time low. Whether it was muddying the waters by introducing reservation for SC / STs / OBCs and minorities in the Lokpal, or the panicked adjournment of the parliament at midnight – the reasons and motives behind each of these shenanigans has not escaped the eyes of the people.

If the government thinks that the low turnout of people during Anna Hazare’s fast in Mumbai indicates a loss in the popularity of his movement or message, it may be in for a rude shock shortly. The reasons for the turnout is being and will be analyzed dissected and debated at length in the comings weeks. But if the government thinks that it was because the anti corruption movement is on the wane, and if its bravado in parliament and on television arises from this belief, it needs to think again.

It takes more than a few statements twisted around by the media, attempts to dig up dirt against members of his team, or the alleged alignment with some elements, for the people to lose their faith. It has taken almost 60 years of constant abuse and misuse of power for them to lose faith in the political class. Popularity of the Anna movement arose from this loss of faith – a feeling of helplessness channelized into action by a straight talking mild mannered person who had no axe to grind. Coming after the phenomenal popularity of movies like Rang De Basanti and Lage Raho Munnabhai, which popularized peaceful protests by common people as a means to take on the high and mighty, the movement has demonstrated to the people that this is a viable alternative.

The fact is that people are fed up with politicians. Whether it is corruption, lack of development, dynastic rule, or the increasing arrogance of the political class – they have all combined to bring down the image of politicians in the country to a new low. And the happenings in parliament have only reinforced this.

So the people will definitely express themselves. Whether they do so by participating in the next round of activities by Anna Hazare, or whether they will rally around another Anna – but express themselves they will.

We, the people, await that moment with bated breath.

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Happier birthdays for some?


Dear Rahul Gee,

India has an excellent cultural practice of respecting our elders and ancestors. We all subscribe to that, observe the shraads  of our departed kinsfolk, and remember them on their birth anniversaries. There is therefore nothing wrong in our government doing the same – remembering our departed leaders on special days. So on the face of it, the fact that Rs. 7.25 cr were spent on ads on birth anniversaries of Rajiv Gee and Indira  by various ministries of the government does not seem too wrong. After all, we all agree that both of them were great leaders who contributed a lot towards the development of the country and it’s emergence as a leading nation of the world today.

But when you contrast this generous expenditure with the miserliness when it comes to any leaders that are not your ancestors, the complexion changes slightly. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for instance. The iron man shares his birth anniversary with the death anniversary of Indira Gee – 31 Oct. On that day, I counted 17 advertisements paying homage to Indira Gee, and one solitary one for Sardar Patel. And on his death anniversary which just went by on 15th December – not even a mention.What is more so, 16th December was Vijay Diwas – anniversary of India’s decisive victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war. A war in which 3843 Indian soldiers died and 9851 were injured.

In fact, while even Babu Jagjivan Ram and Chaudhari Charan Singh have real estate in Lutyens Delhi and along the banks of Yamuna dedicated to their memory, the poor Sardar did not merit even that. Nor does, for that matter, the Indian soldier who lays down his life for the country. One lesson you must learn from this, Rahul Gee, is that your children must follow your footsteps into politics. Unless of course, you can be like Maya Behan and take the onus of perpetuating your memory in your own hands.

But seriously, leads one to wonder what is the criteria that the babus or ministers of various ministries use to decide on which occasions will they use their ad spend? Why do we see such lopsided favour towards placing ads on the occasions pertaining to your family? Is it relative to the significance of contributions to the nation? If so, what are the parameters by which it is measured? And who does the judging?

The only reason that strikes me is that these ministers and babus are trying to be sycophantic to curry favours with you and Sonia Gee. Why don’t you tell them that you are smart enough to see through their pathetic attempts? You may also like to apprise them that like you, majority of the people are also smart enough to do so. In fact, they also get irritated and resent the skewed homages. The result is complete lose – lose. The advertisers don’t get to please you as you are too smart to see through them (you are, aren’t you?). And in the bargain, the voters get more and more irritated with the dynastic politics that such display smacks of. Guess the only people happy are the newspapers who rake in the moolah for publishing the ads.

Is it any wonder, Rahul Gee, that the Indian public finds Anna Hazare an attractive leader to follow? After all, he has no progeny to claim real estate and newspaper columns for him after he is gone.

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Orwellian Intentions – Goebbels Sibbal?


Dear Rahul Gee,

I know that you don’t have a twitter account – at least not a public one. And I also know that you are extremely busy with the UP campaign right now. But despite you preoccupation, do take out the time to go through some of the tweets doing the rounds since Sibbal Gee performed his latest foot in mouth procedure. Just search for #IdiotKapilSibbal – top trending topic of the day.

The tweeple are a cynical lot, but generally the collective cynicism is not without substance. The general belief is that Sibbal Gee’s misplaced attempts at becoming a cyber Goebbels arises more from sycophantic reactions to you and Mummy Gee being talked ill of in cyberspace. Not to mention the bad cyberpress he himself has been getting. And to use the crutch of ‘religious sentiments’ for this is so transparent that it is laughable.

Rahul Gee, being a progressive leader of the 21st Century, do you want to be associated with this hare brained scheme of trying to censor the Internet? If not, why don’t you try and talk some sense into Sibbal Gee? Your word might succeed where other voices of reason seemed to have failed. In fact, I think coming from you he will agree in any case.

Please do explain to him that even if it was practically possible for the Internet companies, or the government, to monitor and censor the huge volume of user generated content on social media sites (and impertinent blogs like this one) – to order and enforce such a move in 2011would be seen as a step surpassing the excesses of the Emergency in 1975. And, as the online reaction today has amply demonstrated, it would be futile – nay, counterproductive.

I do agree that cyberspace provides the freedom to even those not responsible enough to handle it. And there is no dearth of those who abuse this freedom to slander, spew venom and generally make a nuisance of themselves. But the beauty of the system is that these elements get taken care of by equally lumpen ones with opposing views, without right minded people having to concern themselves or lose sleep over it. To give undue attention to such people is playing right into their hands. And that is what Sibbal Gee seems to be doing. Do you have any idea how many people would have searched for the very content that he is trying to proscribe when this news broke. Obscure pages and blogs which would have died a natural death unheeded have been pushed into prominence.

So, please tell Sibbal Gee that it is futile to try and dam a stream with his fingers. At best he will end up with very swollen digits.

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