It’s official. We’re now a banana republic. I had this sneaking suspicion that we were well on our way when Kapil Sibal started his machinations last year; no doubts remain now that a Professor at Jadavpur University has been arrested for “spreading” a cartoon that shows Mamta Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy in “a poor light” (sic)

Poor light? Really? Newsflash, Didi. Idolising their subjects is not the way cartoons usually make people laugh.

Arresting somebody for expressing his views to people on his email list? Is that the kind of country we have become? First it was obscenity or “offending religious sentiments”. Now it seems you can be imprisoned for cartoons that express dissent, disapproval or just a different point of view.

The way we’re going – corruption, institutional decay, rising intolerance in both the private and public spheres, the economy down the crapper – I seriously need to contemplate emigration. Perhaps a country which, over the next couple of years, might be in a place better than where we’re headed.

Quirkynorthkorean? Has a nice ring to it, I must say.

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As if all their other methods were not enough, the master strategists of the Congress have thought of a novel, fool-proof method to thwart public support for the Jan Lokpal bill movement.

They have got a female model to threaten to dance naked if the bill isn’t passed.

Brilliant! What better way of ensuring that all males, 14 and upwards, now actively start campaigning for the bill not to be passed?

Who says the Congress leadership lacks strategic depth?

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.

Indyeah has resurfaced with another long (no surprises there!), well-meaning post that asks why we seem to be Punjabis, Jats, Malayalis, Yadavs, Dalits and Kannadigas, but not Indians. A post written, I suspect, more in hope, idealism and perhaps frustration than anything else.

So, who is an Indian? Ask me. I really don’t belong anywhere – including the place where my ancestors lived. At any place in India, wherever I go, my identity and acceptance –and therefore my ability to function as a normal human – seem to hinge on my speaking a particular language, or my belonging to a certain caste, a certain religion, a certain ethnicity. The boundaries of identity that we have been drawing around ourselves seem to be getting tighter and tighter, as we discover reason after reason for some new fissure, a fresh fracture. Ironically, the only place within India where I will be labelled and identified (and therefore hated) as Indian is Kashmir.

I don’t see this changing. If anything, I see these fissures getting wider and deeper. Why, you ask? Well, for one, constitutionally-guaranteed-right-to-work-anywhere-in-India or not, migration will always happen. Both from within the country and outside. We might grow from 6 cities that are economic magnets, for instance, to 12 cities that attract the bulk of the migrants. But the flow of migrants is not going to stop – at most, it might ease somewhat. Then there’s this wonderful concept of identity, honed to a fine art in this country called India. The politics of identity feeds on the concept of the ‘other’. My thesis is that migration will not stop. Ergo, the conclusion is that neither will the politics of identity. Not here, not anywhere. But here’s what’s worse – even if I am wrong, and migration does stop, the politics of identity will never go away. If there’s no ‘other’ from ‘outside’, well, a new ‘other’ will be created, from the existing, deceptively homogeneous mass. There will always be new players who will want power and a piece of the pie – and they will slice and dice identities until, quite literally, there might come a day when the politics of identity will reach ridiculous levels. You know, when we have political parties like the Mylapore Dravida Nadar Catholic Kazhagam, or the Nizamuddin East Punjabi Hindu Khatri Janata Vikas Manch.

And don’t think I’m trying to be funny here. (Well, maybe a little…). But isn’t it true that we have moved into an era of even greater fragmentation, where everyone seems to be getting violently agitated about the same things – caste, language, religion, region – but in a more granular way? Witness the rise of the sub-categories: sub-castes, dialects, sects, sub-sects and sub-ethnicities.

Of course, we will have the usual apologists who dole out the same tired clichés about how great India is notwithstanding all this…their arguments (and that’s being charitable) seem to be in the form of ‘only 60 years, so much progress, growing economy, survived global recession, hum honge kaamyab, superpower’ without looking at either our trajectory or the direction in which we are heading.

A bunch of businessmen getting richer and entering the global list of billionaires is great. The emergence of a middle class more prosperous than the previous generation is wonderful. A million or so bloggers having collective orgasms about India’s place in the world is fantastic. But we seem to forget that timelines have been seriously crunched in this age we live in. Each generation demands faster and quicker change. All this optimism – we shall overcome, we are the best and other such infantile fantasies – does not seem to have much basis in reality, unless of course the reality is that these optimists live in a mythical India far, far way from the dust, grime and poverty of the real one. The real India in which – depending on which definition you use – around a third of the population lives in poverty. The real India in which a great part of the country is wracked by a deeply-entrenched and violent Maoist insurgency. The real India where half the children are underweight. The real India where the forgotten millions live, struggling to make ends meet, without access to water or basic health care. Did I mention primary education? This cheery list could go on.

But Indyeah’s article was more an attempt to find solutions. Well, to be proud of being Indians, we first need to be proud of India. And we can be proud of a better India. So there we go. That’s the ultimate question, as far as we are concerned. Do you want Better India? Yes. Can we expect anything good from Our Great Rulers? No. So now it’s down to us.

I believe small things can make a difference. While Indians don’t give back to society and are not philanthropists in any sense of the word, we could – and should – guide the next generation in that direction. We can just start by behaving like good citizens. Let’s be courteous to our fellow citizens – in small ways, in the way that we dispose off our trash, in the way we drive, in the way we stand in queues and generally in the way we behave, especially in public areas. Let’s teach our children these small things. Perhaps they’ll be better people than us. Better People.

Pay for an underprivileged child’s education – fees, books, the works. Any child in your immediate vicinity. Ideally, as far as resources and time permit, do more than that – take an interest in her education. Monitor her progress. Interact with her. Hopefully, that child will learn something other than what is in books, and perhaps the India of 2030 might be a slightly better place than the one of today – and that’s not really a big ask!

I truly believe this is something small enough to easily do, but big enough to matter.

(The Original Cynical QI Will Be Back In The Next Post)

So the media circus around Kasab is hopefully about to get over. I, for one, might be accused of being callous for not understanding what the enormous fuss was all about. The man deserved a fair trial; our judicial system – aided, no doubt, by the fact that the accused was captured on camera – outdid itself in turning in a verdict in a little over a year’s time. Hallelujah!

Many people have already picked up the pieces of their broken lives and moved on, some will probably find some closure with this verdict, and some will never be able to move on. And that’s that. Still doesn’t explain the circus, but then, I’m slow.

But does the matter end here? Fuck no!

There’s the small matter of there being no hangman available. So here’s how things might pan out in the next few years, according to Quirky Indian’s Crystal Ball.

Q4 2011: Various appeals by Kasab for commutation of the sentence are rejected. Finally, the sentence stands.

Q1 2012: Ooops, no hangman.

Q4 2012: Still no hangman

Q2 2013: Government decides to fill the vacant hangman positions. Raj wants only locals to even think of applying. “Others who even think of applying will face action, MNS style.”

Q4 2013: 3 candidates have been selected from amongst the 1673489 applicants (including engineers, lawyers and MBAs). But some disgruntled applicant who was not selected filed a lawsuit alleging irregularity in the selection procedure.

Q2 2016: The courts finally throw out the lawsuit and lift the stay on the appointment of 3 selected candidates. But now there are only 2, as the 3rd candidate has become a ward boy in a BMC hospital.

Q3 2016: Another lawsuit filed by an NGO demanding that the hangings take place in the chronological order of sentencing.

Q4 2016: The government agrees that the sanctity of the queue on death row be maintained.

Q4 2020: The backlog is finally over, Afzal is still ignored, but Kasab’s turn is here.

Q1 2021: A leading TV channel exposes a scam in the procurement of the hangman’s noose and prisoner’s hood. Opposition demands the PM resign, stalls parliament for 6th day in succession, and the talking heads slug it out on TV. Couple of officials transferred. JPC constituted to look into this. Opposition is now desperate – tones down its demand – now wants somebody, anybody to resign. Nobody obliges.

Q4 2025: JPC submits its report. No concrete proof of irregularities found. The hangings can continue.

Q1 2026: Human right groups make a concerted effort to abolish the death penalty. Endless chatter on TV news convinces the government to dither on this issue.

Q1 2030: Government still undecided on death penalty.

Q2 2035: Kasab chokes to death on a piece of his mutton biryani. He was also high on drugs, which is why he could not call for medical assistance on his cell phone. Turned out he called a stripper by mistake. Her services were not needed – he was quite stiff by the time she got to his cell.

Q4 2040: Afzal’s still waiting…..

(QI consults by appointment only)

It’s been a commonly held – and cherished – belief of those of us who live in an India far removed from reality that much of the rot in Indian politics stems from the predominance of uneducated, uncouth and ‘unlike-us’ politicians, and that the entry of more ‘people-like-us’ into politics would – almost magically – change everything.

News flash, people…..there ain’t no magic, though it seems there’s been considerable sleight of hand.

Take the good diplomat-turned-conjurer, Shashi Tharoor. He was everything we hoped for in this new breed of saviour-politician that we so desperately craved. Educated, erudite, intelligent, cultured, professional, progressive, independent (in the sense of not belonging to a political dynasty)…..the adjectives could go on and on. We gave him a long rope and looked on with amused indulgence when he used Twitter almost like a policy forum…..at least he could spell twitter correctly, we thought to ourselves. Finally, we tittered, someone of class amongst the cattle.

And then the man goes and does something stupid. He lobbies for a team on the grounds that it represents his home state, and does not disclose that his girlfriend gets a free equity stake worth a very substantial amount of money in the same team. It reeks of quid pro quo, and when this point was raised – albeit by a man who has quite a few skeletons in the closet himself – it seemed the easiest thing in the world to resort to an ad hominem argument. So we had some smarmy aide of Tharoor implying that all allegations made by Modi were false, because – get this – the accuser was charged with drug possession while a student in the USA, and entered into a plea bargain later. Well, we know that. He may be all that you say he is, and more. But there’s a difference between discrediting the man (an easy enough job, when you consider whom we’re talking about) and discrediting the argument. And the fact is, the allegation has not been refuted. It has been denied and then it has been ignored.

Shashi Tharoor denies any impropriety, but has not bothered to explain how his girlfriend –also referred to as his fiancée – coincidentally, some would say almost magically, happened to get free equity in the very team he lobbied for. And why was this very relevant detail not disclosed in the initial protests of innocence? The lady in question claims that the payment was made in lieu of her ‘marketing expertise’, and that she had also been approached by KKR for similar services – something SRK promptly denied. So if it all seems murky, underhand and tiresomely déjà vu-ish, there’s good reason to believe it probably is. And I’m sorry Shashi, but calling your accuser names and questioning his admittedly ambivalent integrity do not make his accusations false. Though one has to admire the neat side-stepping and evasiveness on your part. One can see why you were such a successful UN employee.

Of course, the Congress spin doctors, aided by the usual suspects in the media, have very competently swung this around. By bringing The Other Modi in, they have ensured the debate about Shashi’s impropriety and possible misuse of power and position gets completely sidelined. Because, as we all know, the moment The Other Modi is brought into the picture, it’s all his fault, blah blah blah, from Dantewada to the Iceland volcano, yada yada yada. And so Shashi Tharoor, like so many before him, and undoubtedly like so many more to follow, survives and lives to lobby another day.

Speaking only for myself, though I have no doubt that others share similar sentiments, I think the ‘who’ is more galling in this case than the betrayal itself. Hell, the ‘betrayal’ itself is so commonplace and pedestrian in post-independence India that we would be surprised if a politician did not take advantage of such opportunities. Only in this case, we were hoping to be surprised. I think what we are most upset about is that our fondest hope – the idea that the ‘right kind’ of person in politics would make a difference – has died a very public death. We were hoping that our fantasies of politicians with integrity would be validated by Shashi’s performance. For wasn’t he almost like our own Clean-Sweep Ignatius? And which is why this incident really rankles. Because it tells us that educated or drop-out, social worker or criminal, professional wrestler or professional diplomat, our politicians are all the same. They are well and truly taking this country down the tubes, and there’s bugger all we can do to stop it.

*

Let’s also take a minute to examine our own biases – whether based on caste, gender or class. Many people panned Mayawati for accepting a garland of currency notes. But are we looking the other way now because this time it is a well-groomed, well-spoken man from the right caste and the right political party who is involved?