Digvijay Singh has claimed that if the Congress were scared of Baba Ramdev, he (Ramdev) would be behind bars.

Interesting statement that. Digvijay Singh has said it all, and on many levels.

First, the fact that for many of his ilk, “Congress” and “Government” seem to be perfect synonyms.

Second, and far more revealing of the psychology of Digvijay and his colleagues, is the fact that dissent of any kind – even something as, well, “non-criminal” as a fast – seems to merit imprisonment.

Imprisonment? On what grounds? Isn’t there a well-defined, albeit often violated, procedure for imprisonment? And last I checked, no political party was given the right to decide that by our constitution – even if the offence was one that merited imprisonment and procedure was followed.

A Freudian slip. And a seemingly innocuous statement that reveals the face hiding behind the mask of democracy. A face that says “Agree with us or go to prison”.

So is Anna Hazare’s fast and movement something that will undermine democracy? Or is it simply the weapon of last resort left to a citizenry that has seen systematic weakening – and near dismantling – of many democratic institutions?

Over a year ago,  I wrote “Requiem for a Country”,  a post on some remarkable observations made by Dr. Ambedkar and Dr. Rajendra Prasad. One of Dr. Ambedkar’s points of view struck me as being very insightful: that satyagraha and non-cooperation are the “grammar of anarchy”. In the interesting comments that followed that post, I further stressed that in a constitutional democracy, one has to use the tools given to us to seek redressal, and resorting to other means is not desirable. Not everyone agreed, of course.

I still stick to the point of view. But one can’t help but be in awe of what Anna Hazare has done. He has managed to bring together an apathetic nation, and has managed to infuse a sense of purpose into the people. It is very clear that this man has struck a chord with a people desperate for some semblance of change, craving for a symbol and a cause that would enable them to forget their everyday priorities of caste, religion and language.  For that, and for the courage to take a stand, he deserves our honour, gratitude and support.

But where does this all end? No one really knows. Uncomfortable and distraught as I am at the fact that as citizens and voters we have undermined our own constitutional democracy by electing, time and again, the worst possible people to represent us, I am equally uncomfortable with the fact that some NGOs, Magsaysay award winners and activists would now dictate policy. I am terrified of the self-righteous who, in my experience, can be as intolerant and blinkered as the worst bigot you can find.

And is corruption such a big issue to the average Indian voter? I know it is big, but is it big enough to overcome the primary considerations – language, caste and religion, with some electoral freebies thrown in for good measure – of the people of this Great Country? We will find out soon enough.  Our fellow citizens in five states have the opportunity to actually make a difference in their states. They have the tools, the means and the opportunity to drive the change everyone says India wants. Let us see what they do.

Having said that, in all fairness I must also admit that all the commentators and observers who are wary of this phenomenon that Anna Hazare has generated  – and I include myself among them – have failed to come up with any alternative or even a half-way credible solution to set things right. All they keep talking about is how dangerous it is to bypass elected representatives, and undermine the electoral process. And such arguments, without any alternatives, simply reek of hand-wringing helplessness, and only serve to  add credence to the alternative of action. “At least we’re doing something” seems to be the dismissive rejoinder to our notes of caution – and I can’t really blame the people for making that response. After all, see where six decades of constitutional democracy and elected representatives have got us. Surely anything would be better than this lot.

Hard to fault that argument. Except on one count. Where did this corrupt lot come from? Did they impose themselves on us? No. We elected them. We chose them. We applauded them and cheered when they made other illiberal decisions, drafted other draconian laws and nominated some distinctly dodgy people to certain positions of power and responsibility. Yes, we got them there. We had the gift of universal adult suffrage, which other countries are still fighting for, and we systematically squandered it away. Half the population chose not to exercise the right to vote, and the other half elected the very people that we heckle today. What makes us think that a different bucket of water from the same well is going to taste any better? We traded a bunch of white-skinned exploiters for a bunch of dark-skinned exploiters, and we now want to trade in the latter for another bunch with the same skin colour, but with apparently more integrity. But we can never have the ability,  as Dr. Rajendra Prasad rightly said “…to devise any yardstick for measuring the moral qualities of a man, and so long as that is not possible, our Constitution will remain defective”. The wave of enthusiasm sweeping across this country has its hopes underpinned on the fact that activists and “award-winners” will prove to be of better moral calibre than our politicians.

So, will anything change for real? I don’t know. We deserved the governments we got, and I dearly hope I am wrong, but all precedents point to the fact that we will also get the NGOs  and activists we deserve.

I was feeling kind of left out. I had already missed two opportunities to save Indian democracy, and I was hoping that I’d have a chance to redeem myself.

And hey presto – I was suddenly assaulted by this rising tide of noise, this mindless chorus about Amitabh Bachchan’s presence at the sea-link inauguration, and the shrill and sanctimonious outrage over his decision to be the brand ambassador for Gujarat. It was a sign, all right. My time had come. Redemption was nigh!

I could now take another step closer to full membership of the “I-tell-people-what-they-should-think-and-do” Club for Loud Liberals, a membership accompanied by the perk of being able to pass off our smug, moral opinions as facts.

Some of my fellow members saved democracy by watching a trashy film. Other members struck a blow for freedom by changing their chaddi-banian brand. I will save democracy by not using the sea-link, tainted as it has been by association!

I’ll also save a few bucks in the bargain, but my fellow frat members do realise that it’s not about the money, right? Let’s not trivialise my activist moment here. It’s quite a high!

I am loving it.

Saudi Arabia took the debate about beauty and the commoditisation of women to a whole new level this Friday.

Sample this surreal piece of breaking news from Riyadh: “Saudi beauty queen Aya Ali al-Mulla trounced 274 rivals to win a crown, jewellery, cash and a trip to Malaysia, and all without showing her face.

To win the title of Miss Moral Beauty, Miss Mulla had to go through three months of ‘tests’ to prove how much more dutiful than the other contestants she was towards her parents, and society.

While one of the organisers claims that “The real winner in this competition is the society”, what I found interesting was the fact that the only other pageants so far held in Saudi Arabia had as contestants “goats, sheep, camels and other animals, aimed at encouraging livestock breeding”. What a great list to be part of!

Well, after decades of struggle, Saudi women have finally been given their own pageant and now take their rightful place in that long and exalted list. Though I am very sure the aim – quite laudably – still continues to be socially sanctioned breeding.

Because that’s what women everywhere are for, isn’t it? That’s what moral beauty is all about – duty towards husband, parents and society. And fecundity. Let’s not forget the fecundity.

The celestial dam wasn’t the only one to burst over Roland Garros on Sunday. Federer’s tear-ducts, trigger-happy at most times, went into free-flow mode again – only this time, these were tears of joy.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be in Roger’s customised Nikes on Sunday. The burden of expectation, the weight of greatness and the sneaking suspicion that this was probably a heaven-sent window of opportunity must have had Roger gnawing at his fingernails and must have made Mirka’s pregnancy a very anxious one. Their child’s going to be one cool customer, having been exposed to quite a few rollercoaster rides these past two months.

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So congratulations, Roger. I am glad you’ve finally done it. Your 14th and the French Open. A triumph doubly sweet. I am firmly in the Rafa camp, but I have a healthy respect and high regard for you, and after Nadal, you’re the man!

I am happy you so comfortably beat the Sod, one of those flash-in-the-pan sportsmen who have a good run over a couple of weeks and then revert to their unremarkable form and inevitably walk into the shadows of history’s anonymity. The Sod beat Nadal – with help from a very partisan crowd – on one of those days when Nadal seemed to be in his worst nick ever, not moving and not retrieving. In hindsight, it does seem as if the knee injury that’s made him pull out of Queen’s and will probably keep him out of Wimbledon was a major factor – though Rafa being Rafa, not once during the match did we get an inkling that he was suffering from any physical discomfort, when – again, with perfect 20/20 hindsight – it had to be something really painful to keep him so immobile. Post-rationalisation, you ask? Still stewing over that shock defeat, you think? Possibly, but as a hurt fan, one clutches at some plausible explanation. And even though you have been at the receiving end of Rafa’s form, being the gentleman and the sportsman you are, I am sure you agree. Rafa is no Djokovic!

I have, on this blog, often mentioned that you are perhaps the GOAT, and you seem to have taken one step further in cementing that reputation. I hope you get your 15th – and then I hope you retire. Don’t get me wrong – I just don’t want to see the Federer I saw all of these last 12 months, post Roland Garros 2008. You are too good a player to suffer the ignominy of regular defeats to a host of Johnnies-come-lately, and you should go out with a bang, not a whimper. And at 27, without a few critical weapons like a whopper of a baseline shot or remarkable athleticism (it’s a wonder you’ve achieved what you have without these tools), you’re a target for all the young bucks out there looking for a famous scalp. And they won’t carry the burden of greatness. So whether it’s Wimbledon 2009, or the US Open later this year – for your sake more than ours, after you’ve shed a few tears upon holding the cup aloft, please please please – walk into what I’m sure will be a very prosperous sunset.

As for you, Rafa, I hope you recover, I hope you come back soon, and I hope you continue your scintillating brand of tennis. And while there will be a few losses and disappointments to go with the many wins, please go down fighting. Not as you did to Soderling. In all probability, you will lose your Number 1 slot to Roger this year, and while we agree you couldn’t lose it to a better man, we want to see you back on top. We want to see you bite the trophies again, and we want to see you as Number 1. And if you have to kick some Swedish ass on your way, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

One of the accused in the alleged rape of the American girl studying at TISS has apparently tried to bring in the old, tired “character-of-the-victim” defence ploy.

Regardless of the specifics of this case, why does anyone even entertain such a plea anymore?

When will we understand that it doesn’t matter if the victim is a prostitute? It doesn’t matter if a woman, at any time of the night, willingly accompanies six males with the intention of having sex with each of them; if she changes her mind before or during intercourse, and a man still persists, it is rape. End of story.

Why do we continue to allow a line of defence that seeks to allocate weights, based on this nebulous, indeterminate and totally subjective thing called “character”, to the categorical refusal of women to have sex? Especially in a country where a woman who wears skirts, smokes or drinks alcohol is either assumed to be no better than a prostitute, or worse, easy game. If that woman happens to be Caucasian, well, all she’s in India for is sex with desirable and sexy Indian men, isn’t she? “Desirable-and-Sexy” apparently being the self-image of every Indian above the age of 15 with a penis.

What a crock of shit.

I never thought this would be possible, but over the past few weeks, my cynicism has hit new highs! I have been observing the circus around us, and all I have to show for it is an increasing sense of dismay and dread.

For starters, here’s another brilliant example of Indian lawmaking: under-trials in India can’t vote. But what utterly confounds me is the fact that while an under-trial can’t vote, he sure as hell can contest elections and even become a minister. Go figure.

What about the fact that all candidates, across all parties, seem to be millionaires and billionaires? Some inherited their wealth. Some are self-made businesspersons and professionals. And then there is the vast majority whose net worth runs into many hundreds of millions, and no one has a clue about where this money came from. It’s such a cliché, this “impoverished-nation-rich-politicians” bit, but it seems to be the hallmark of Indian politics today. There can only be two explanations. Either only the rich become politicians, or all politicians become rich. Neither answer bodes well for the sham we’ve got going.

Then there’re these amazing news-blackouts that happen. Varun Gandhi is hauled over the coals, but Srinivas and Laloo’s peccadilloes are looked upon way more indulgently. The amount of coverage given to Modi in connection with the Gujarat riots is phenomenal. We are united in condemning, over and over, his acts of villainy and the many acts of commission and omission that followed. But when it comes to news reports that Teesta Setalvad coached, tutored and made witnesses lie in the Gujarat riots case, cooking up macabre incidents and concocting crimes that apparently never happened, the sense of national outrage is missing. The talking heads on TV maintain a studied silence, as do the pundits of print. And I fail to see any outpourings of rage in the many blogs that are so quick to judge, condemn and crucify otherwise. (Update: The CJP has questioned the veracity of the report, the TOI journalist stands by his story, and the SIT chief refuses to comment on whether the ‘leaked’ reports were true or not. We’re still no closer to the truth.)

Comparisons may be odious. But one can’t help recall how the US navy’s snipers kicked Somalian butt and rescued the Merchant Navy Captain held hostage. Would we ever have had the courage to do something like that? Will we ever be respected as a nation, forget feared?

When Harbhajan and Dhoni skipped the Padma Shri awards, our Impartial-Election-Commissioner-turned-Sports-Minister started foaming at the mouth. But some idiot has actually filed a lawsuit against the duo, alleging hurt and defamation. Hundreds of other issues to choose from, but this moron was offended because two cricketers found the opportunity cost of attending an award ceremony too high. Clearly, unemployment is a serious problem.

The first phase of polling saw a voter turnout of 54%. That’s it. Just 54%. Good going, India. And most of them would, predictably, have voted based on caste, language and religion. Everyone forgot the famines, the hunger, the suicides, the malnutrition, the desperate and unhealthy squalor that so many of our fellow citizens live in. Development, the criminalisation of politics, security and safety weren’t concerns. All that mattered was the surname and caste-certificate of the candidate. Was he one of us, or an outsider? Well done, people! That should see us change. That should ensure we prosper. Go India Go!

Did I forget to mention that I find it funny that most political parties in India are run like fiefdoms? They are autocratic – either autocratic-dynastic (most of the parties – Congress, DMK, NCP, NC, SP, SS etc), or first-generation autocratic (BSP, AIADMK). There is no such thing as intra-party democracy. Tell me, how can we trust any of these people to safeguard the country’s democratic institutions and systems when they clearly don’t believe in democracy in the first place?

To sum up, is there anything to smile about? There are criminals and law-breakers who will represent us and make laws. The increasing evidence of the unaccountable and immense wealth of candidates points to a rotten and hollow political system. Laws are modified and conventions broken to ensure politicians, as a class, proper and survive at our expense. With each passing session, individual freedoms and liberties are curtailed. The law and the police seem to have become instruments of oppression, used to subjugate the citizen. We naively join the happy chorus of the “we-are-a-democracy-and-an-emerging-superpower” song, forgetting that while the political parties themselves don’t practise democracy, when we deign to vote, we do so based on issues of caste, language and religion. We deserve each other.

A few years ago, I had taken a guided tour of the Louvre. The guide stopped in front of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”. As she explained the significance of the painting to us, one sentence really hit home. Pointing to the dead bodies Liberty was marching on, she said “Delacroix painted those to remind us that liberty does not come free. You have to fight to obtain freedom, and fight to preserve it. And perhaps die for it”.

Are we taking too much for granted? Is that why we, the people, are systematically squandering the most valuable thing we have as a nation – constitutional democracy? Is that what will finally hasten our transition into a failed state?

All we Indians have achieved as a nation is to prove to the world, that yes, you can fool all of the people, all of the time.