Aug 25, 2011

The real Thalaivar Anna stands up...

Wed, Aug 24, Special correspondents all over the place: South Indian, Indian, Global, Universal Superstar Rajinikanth had yesterday offered his support for Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill. As is usually the case with Rajini, the move had far-reaching repercussions that we summarize in this special report today.

Public reaction

Masses supporting the Jan Lokpal Bill erupted in celebration, knowing that the force was now with them, and there is no way the Jan Lokpal Bill could possibly be stopped now. People of all ages were seen dancing in the streets all over the country, to the tunes of "En Peru Padayappa", which is now the official theme of the anti-corruption movement. Responding to Thalaivar's call, the masses in Chennai also took to the streets, causing a 25-km-long traffic jam all the way from the Anna International Terminal  to the Anna Arch in Anna Nagar, via Anna Salai. The symbolism was not lost on anyone.

It is expected that the focus of the movement will shift to Chennai over the next few days. This might discourage a few people who are traveling from far and wide to join the protest. Harkishan Singh from Karnal said, 'I'd like to fast with Anna, but Chennai is too far and too bloody hot. Besides, if I travel there, I'd want to be eating a lot of idli-dosa and sambhar, not fasting'. However, people aren't really worried about the movement losing steam. After all, they now have Rajini.

Govt response

PM Manmohan Singh and his senior cabinet ministers held an 'urgent meeting' of the 'special working committee' formed to 'diffuse an extraordinary situation, while maintaining the sanctity of parliament's sovereignty'. (While some thought the verbosity was a bit over the top, others explained it was a Congress tradition.)

Kapil Sibal spoke to the press afterwards. 'The govt is not worried', he asserted, 'since there is no problem. I explained several months back that the 2G scam didn't really happen. The govt didn't lose any money. My friend Digvijay Singh also told everybody later that Kalmadi and Chavan had to be innocent as it was his opinion. So, you see, there really isn't a corruption problem. Without a problem, there can be no protest. Without a protest, we have nothing to worry about'. He signed off with his typical glib guffaw.

This didn't surprise the reporters present too much, since Sibal has been giving the appearance of a man living in a totally different reality for a while now. Some reporters were, however, heard inquiring if anyone knew what Sibal was smoking these days, and where or how they might be able to get their hands on some of that shit.

When asked what the PM felt about the situation, Sibal said, 'Oh yes, that ol fart. He was mumbling something in one corner, but you know - who listens to him anyway?! We advised the PM not to get involved in this situation, so that he can later deny any knowledge of what happened and escape all responsibility. That way, the party can stick to our stand that PM Manmohan Singh is a man of integrity, not a dirty politician'. More glib guffawing.

A lot of Congress workers were looking where they always look for direction - towards Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Congress leader Ajit Jogi made yet another attempt at reviving his stuttering political career by calling for Rahul Gandhi to become the head of the Lokpal organization. 'I've been calling for Rahul-ji to take over the PM's post for a while now. However, seeing as how the PM will probably be under the Lokpal in future, I now feel Rahul Gandhi should take charge of the Lokpal as and when it materializes'.

Sources, however, have informed us that Sonia and Rahul may not be returning to India at all. With Rajini on the opposite side, they don't see the point of continuing in politics. And since neither of them has a college degree, they see no future for themselves in a country where even restaurant waiters and auto-rickshaw drivers these days have at least a Masters Degree obtained through a correspondence course. There are rumors that one of them - probably Rahul - may be appearing on a Donald Trump show in the USA, or the next season of Bigg Boss in India.

Other parties' response

The BJP has not so far said anything of significance - just the usual rhetoric about how the current government is incompetent and should never have been voted to power, back in 2004. Sources inform us that they are trying really hard to get Rajinikanth to join them join Rajinikanth. All their slogans, brochures and campaign materials are being re-worked to talk about Rajini-raj instead of their historical slogan of Ram-rajya.

A Left Front spokesperson informed us that the Politburo was busy studying communist literature for guidance about dealing with the current situation. They're sure 'Marx himself' and 'Lenin himself' must have said something relevant - since they knew it all and knew better than everyone else, but they've not had much luck finding anything useful thus far. In the meantime, they're opposing everyone and everything.

Mamata Bannerjee has decided to abstain when the Bill comes up for discussion. She believes some parties such as the BJP will be voting for the Bill, and she can't be on the same side. The Left will probably be voting against the Bill - and she can't be on their side either. When asked what her own view was, she rambled incoherently and loudly for a few minutes. The reporter thought he heard the word 'Bongol' 27 times in those few minutes, but couldn't understand what she meant. We tried to reach out to other leaders of the Trinamool Congress to clarify the party's stand, but soon realized that no one matches that description.

The BSP seems fine with any version of the Lokpal, as long as at least 49% of the new Lokpal jobs created are reserved for SC/ST and OBCs.

Bad news for the Indian Cricket Team

It was being heard in some corridors that the BCCI was working on plans to have Rajini join the Indian Cricket Team to salvage some pride on the current tour of England the Indian Cricket Team take the field along with Rajini and watch him annihilate all those English (some of them, anyway) Rascallas. Rajini was expected to restore India's No 1 Test ranking through his performances in the ODI series. Rajini was also being tipped to score Sachin's 100th ton in the upcoming T20 fixture on Aug 31st.

However, Rajini is not a 100% fit, having had a kidney operation in Singapore recently. With all the criticism the BCCI has received for rushing half-fit Zaheer and Sehwag back into action with disastrous results, and with Bhajji, Ishant and Gambhir also getting injured - BCCI did not want to take any chances with Rajini's fitness. There are also rumors that Munaf is injured - in spite of not playing any matches on the current tour - but the team is hiding his injury to avoid further embarrassment. In the last practice session, Munaf was seen just strolling around looking lost and uninterested and missing all catches and ground strokes that came his way. The team physio when asked about this dismissed suggestions that it had anything to do with an injury. 'That is all Munaf ever does anyway.'

There have been suggestions that Rajini might play cricket several times in the recent past, but with India being no 1 in Tests and winning ODI World Cup - and Chennai Super Kings also winning pretty much every tournament they play - there has been no need. In the current situation, Rajini might be needed to save India when they travel to Australia later this year requested to crush those rude Aussie Rascallas later this year. When asked, chairman of selectors Kris Srikkanth told this reporter, 'Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain!' He then broke into an animated diatribe about 'gorrubtion' or something, but the reporter could not make out if he was speaking in English or Tamil, or what he was saying. After getting about half a liter of saliva on his face, he gave up and left.

There have also been rumors of Rajini competing in the inaugural Indian F1 Grand Prix later this year, but the superstar has denied this, saying the cars are too slow to compete with him.

International Reaction

With Rajini taking an active interest in politics north of Chennai, a lot of significant international activity was witnessed. Pakistani troops began withdrawing from the LoC and other border areas. The Chinese also started withdrawing from Kashmir, Arunachal and other areas - including Tibet - though they were asking for a few free DVDs of past Rajini hits in return.

The Af-Pak conflict has also been resolved. A Taliban spokesperson, wearing the look of a defeated man, told this reporter that 'We were basically just scared shit-less. We've never carried out a terror strike in Chennai, even though it is the most accessible Indian metro for us - we could just send people from the Gulf to Kerala, and they wouldn't be noticed amidst all the human traffic on that route. But we didn't want to provoke Rajini. We thought we were secure in other places due to the language barrier, but alas - that is no longer the case. Our activities are based on misrepresenting the word of God to gullible young men, and asking them to go kill the infidels. But this model doesn't work when they start hearing from Rajini directly. If we try telling them that Rajini is also an infidel, they just get disillusioned with the whole thing and leave.'

US troops shall be returning home soon, and having learnt about Rajinikanth and Hindu-ism, it is expected that Diwali will supplant Christmas as the biggest American festival this year.

The riots in England and other European cities have also ended. The miscreants realize Rajini may be watching and have decided to 'mind it their behavior', for their own good.

Greece and Portugal have requested Rajini to help them sort out their economy and finances, but the superstar has not yet responded.

Butterfly Effect for Businesses

Over the past few years, most businesses had grudgingly accepted that the US population was getting older and they would have to adapt to survive and grow. A lot of 'strategic marketing consultant' types had been making a killing in the process. However, with so many US troops - mostly young men - returning from Af-Pak all of a sudden, all alive, and expected to start to making babies with a vengeance, all the strategic business plans for dealing with the demographic shift have been thrown out of whack. America has reason to cheer, though. Sources tell us that President Barack Obama has requested Rajini for a meeting where he would be seeking Rajini's advice on the economy and several other matters. While this has not been confirmed, reliable sources tell us Rajini might agree to a 30-minute meeting with Obama in Chennai later this month.

(Legal-type Disclaimer - this post is just a very inspired work of fiction. While it is no co-incidence that the people and incidents mentioned resemble those in real-life, you would have to be out of your mind to take any of it seriously. I take absolutely NO responsibility for any idiot thinking any of this is real, or taking offense to any of it, or acting in any manner influenced by it - especially after I've put in this disclaimer!)

Aug 19, 2011

Response to comments on the Anna Hazare post

A lot of people have reacted to my last post where I presented my views on the Anna Hazare situation, and implored them to think twice about what they do. I have seen a few common themes among the negative responses that I shall address here.

1. 'Anna was denied the right of effective protest', 'How can govt dictate where and when he protests', 'The restrictions were unreasonable'...

Sorry to be rude - but stop parroting what you hear on TV and use your own heads. The restrictions were for one particular venue. 5,000 is a significant number. And no matter how retarded someone is - 3 days is enough to make them understand whatever point you're trying to make. If Anna had accepted these conditions, would his points have become less valid? Would people not support him, as they're doing now? Could protests not be held simultaneously at multiple other venues, with smaller crowds, as is happening now? Does this need to go on indefinitely for any good to happen? Going by what I've heard on TV, there hasn't actually been a gathering of more than 5,000 people in any single venue - yet the movement has been bigger and more effective than what Anna would've realistically expected. So why was that essential in the first place?

The Delhi Police says they'd suggested other venues where bigger crowds could be accommodated, but Anna & team wanted this venue - because of the symbolism of JP Narayan, and its proximity to the Parliament. Political reasons. Delhi Police told him how many people he could gather, and how long he could stay at that venue, based on logistical considerations - as they have the authority to. Their authority is a fact, who's orders they were acting on etc. is speculation, and doesn't change the fact anyway. While the rule of law exists, you cannot do what the police has told you not to do. You don't have the right to disregard the law. If you think the conditions are unreasonable - go to court. Better still, if your intentions are genuine, just try and find workarounds.

Moreover, this 'right to protest' also has to have reasonable limits. Anna protested earlier, got the govt to a discussion table, made his suggestions about the Lokpal etc. The govt. took his inputs, and went ahead with a Bill they felt was right. The proper process has been followed, and the govt. is now acting within its rights. Anna is free to say what he likes and doesn't like, talk to political parties, contest elections... but he cannot go on a fast-unto-death, call on the masses to court arrest, talk about a second freedom struggle and coerce the govt. to do what he wants if he disagrees. Right now he's protesting the govt's decision to not present his version of the Bill in Parliament. Even if it is presented, in pretty much every conceivable scenario, it will be rejected by Parliament. Who is to say he will not resort to the same tactics then? In fact, if he really believes in his version, and refuses to accept the govt's decision not to present it - he will have to resort to the same tactics when Parliament rejects it. Otherwise, the whole drama will all have been pointless and hypocritical.

It's not about whether people think what he wants is right or wrong - he must act within the constitutional, democratic framework. Protest cannot be allowed to impinge on the rights of the govt and the parliament

2. 'Why should Anna obey the law', 'People of India support him, not the govt', 'We can make an exception given the circumstances', 'Quoting constitution is for politicians, not citizens' ...

This set of questions genuinely worry me, and the reason I'm taking a stand is that I feel people are ready to cross lines that must never be crossed. In India we have the 'rule of law' - which' is the most basic feature of a democratic, free country. Not the rule of kings, or dictators, or an army, or a religious body... but the rule of law. It took a lot of effort for our forefathers to get us here, and no matter how cynical one may feel - our system of democracy and constitution are regarded as one of the very best in the world. Look at our neighbors. Most would rather be in the situation we are in, than their own. Our parliamentary democracy, and our constitution - things that people are speaking of so lightly now - are the firm foundations of India as a free country where an Anna Hazare can even attempt what he's doing.

We can't lose perspective and throw all this away over Anna & a Jan Lokpal Bill. The rule of law is a fundamental principle that cannot be compromised, no matter how much popular support there is for a cause. In this regard, we must be - and I choose the word deliberately, given the context - incorruptible.

Keep in mind - the only alternatives to the rule of law are slavery or anarchy. For a population of more than a billion, that is a scary thought. If you feel I'm over-reacting when I mention anarchy, please listen to Anna's first video message - where he asks children to skip school/college, working people to take a few days leave - and fill up jails to the point where they cant accommodate any more people. All this for Parliament to take up his draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill. This would be textbook anarchy.

3. 'Someone has to do something, and Anna is doing it... we must support it'

'Someone has to do something' is a valid notion, but not a sound reason. It does not absolve you of the responsibility of distinguishing right from wrong. It is irresponsible to say we all must support Anna just because he's doing something. You should only support him if you believe he's doing the right thing. Don't just follow the herd - you're human, not cattle.

Think about Germany in the 1930's. A country paying a heavy price for defeat in WW1. An economy where Jews - somewhere between 10-25% of the population, controlled somewhere between 75-90% of the economic resources. I don't remember the exact figures, but they were in the range I've quoted. German non-Jews were frustrated by unemployment, poor quality of life, bleak future etc. The 'someone needs to do something' sentiment produced Adolf Hitler. You know what happened then.

Never mind distant history. Consider the Kashmiri people today. The region has been strife-torn for decades now, and life for them is nothing like the 'free, many opportunities...' story most of our lives have. A lot of them are disillusioned and disaffected. 'Someone needs to do something' is a widespread feeling there. A lot of people talk about a 'freedom struggle'. Some of these carry out terror attacks. Do you think they're justified in doing so?

Before anyone goes ballistic, let me explicitly say 'I AM NOT EQUATING ANNA WITH TERRORISTS'. Anna uses non-violent methods. So let's say, tomorrow, a large group claiming 'popular support' (locally within Kashmir, if not nationally) wants to peacefully fast-unto-death in New Delhi demanding secession of Kashmir from the Indian Union. I'm not being anti-national here. My father is an Army Officer - decorated for his contribution in Kargil - and I've witnessed the Kashmir situation first-hand. So, the scenario I'm sharing here is very realistic. How will you deal with that situation? Why should the standards be different?

My point here is not to equate Anna with Hitler or Kashmiri terrorists - it is only to say - support something for good, 'right' reasons. 'Someone has to do something' is not one, and without further considerations, can boomerang spectacularly.

4. 'We need a strong Lokpal', 'Govt is trying to pass a Jokepal Bill, we must ensure Anna's version goes through'. 

Again - stop parroting whatever the media tells you. The Lokpal is NOT a magic pill. Anna's version is NOT perfect. Whether or not the PM or MPs should be included should be debated - but within the framework of a constitutional democracy - and either way - your life is NOT going to change too much. So, please stop making this a bigger deal than it really is.

These are just my opinions - I want a Lokpal, but I prefer the govt's version. The Judiciary should not be included. And if the Lokpal is to be effective, it's focus should be limited to Grade A officers. To create a body covering all govt employees from grades A to D - as Anna wants - is simply not practical. Nor is it even desirable - we do not want to create a whole 'parallel system', when the police, CBI etc. already exist. Lokpal will be much more effective as a small, high-impact, focused task force, rather than a large, parallel police organization. Also, remember that we - the taxpayers - have to finally bear the costs. I already hate paying to keep Air India afloat.

5. 'Why is only Anna being targeted',  some points about Rahul Gandhi in UP and sec 144, and various arguments against the govts actions, questions about the legitimacy of the govt itself, including 'they only had 28% vote share'...

Let's be clear - I'm not endorsing all of the government's actions. Honestly, I was shocked when this govt came to power - in spite of the NDA doing good jobs in Pokhran, Kargil and with the economy. I was even more dismayed when they got re-elected in spite of a Lame-Duck PM, Mumbai 26/11, inflation etc. Keep in mind - most of the scams etc. that are coming to light now had happened during UPA-1. I am no fan of this govt, or the Nehru-Gandhi-Sycophant Party. But whether or not I like the govt, they have a mandate to govern and they have some powers - at least while they hold the majority in Parliament - and we all, inc Anna, have to respect that.

True, our elections may not be 100% free and fair, but the result does generally represent what the people want. Nobody has ever said that the process was so messed up that the wrong govt had come to power, against people's wishes!

It is also fallacious and irrelevant to use the stat that only 28% people voted for Cong. This does not mean the remaining 72% are all opposed to anything and everything the govt does. Whether or not this 'first past the post' system of electing representatives is the best or not - is a whole, separate discussion. All that matters right now is this is the way we elect governments, and unless the laws change, everyone has to work within this system and respect it.

In any case, even if I disagree or dislike some of the govt's actions, that doesn't mean I have to support Anna Hazare. My support and opinions are based on principles, not the people involved. My education has taught me to take decisions rationally.
As I don't agree with some of Anna's ideas or his methods, I refuse to support him. Whether others have been allowed to use similar methods elsewhere - these are the kind of arguments used in what we all call 'dirty politics'. We - the educated responsible citizens of India - have to set a higher standard, and not stoop to the same level of politics that we're disgusted by. Two wrongs do not make a right. We only support something if we genuinely believe it is right, not because someone else has done worse.

6. 'Armchair idealism achieves nothing', 'You're writing from an AC room. You should be out on the street', 'People like us never do anything, that's why things are getting worse'...

Since I published my post yesterday, it has been visited by nearly 1,700 people across 270 cities in 31 countries- and more than 450 of them have shared it further on Facebook. Some have endorsed the ideas, some have countered them - 100s of discussion threads have started, and - hopefully - a few opinions influenced. I don't see how this can be dismissed as 'doing nothing'. I also don't see how I - as an individual - being out on the street, holding a candle or shouting slogans could possibly have achieved more. This is not to say that we don't need feet on the street when there is a worthy cause. But to say that is all we need is akin to saying armies only need foot soldiers, no commanders or generals, no intelligence agents, no supply corps, no medical corps... Being physically inconvenienced doesn't make your point more valid, and doesn't necessarily achieve better results - not for everybody, at least.

When there is a cause I believe in, I might take to the streets - if I really believe it will achieve something and is the best course of action. In this case, I DON'T support Anna's version of the bill or his methods - so the question of 'doing more' does not arise.

To say 'people like us do nothing' is also ignorant & irresponsible, especially if it starts getting used as a reason to justify wrongdoing. I quoted the example of Takhat Singh Ranawat in my original post. Another friend of mine from IIT,M - Supreet Gulati, an Elec engineer with good grades etc (anyone who has been to IIT will know a person with such qualifications can do anything he wants) - is also working with the government. My ex-manager, Sudarshan Gangrade, is also an engineer from IIT KGP and MBA from IIM,B. He quit his job to volunteer full-time with the UIDAI. This is 3 people just from my friends circles - who can do anything - and have chosen to be part of the system and do good work. So, please don't get carried away with one Anna Hazare and dismiss a whole generation, especially those with education and means as 'people doing nothing.'

Personally, I feel what these guys are doing is more meaningful than being an activist. Activists typically make noise about problems, rather than create solutions. Most of their rhetoric is protest against something, rather than working for something. When they do offer solutions, they aren't necessarily good ones, nor do these people own up all the responsibility - just like this Jan Lokpal case. Working within the system takes much more patience and courage - like forming a party, contesting elections, running a government with all its machinery and constraints. It's much easier to just proclaim 'the system doesn't work' and then do whatever you please - taking shortcuts and breaking rules - but it is not better for the country in the long run.

7. 'You lack clarity of thought', 'You are ignorant', 'You're just trying to be different'...

This section ONLY for those who, for reasons best known to them, decided to make this personal and/or presume they know or understand me.

First of all, I don't understand why this discussion should be about me at all. It's about the issues, and while you're free to agree or disagree and express your views about the issues/points, you have neither the right, nor the information - to pass judgment on me as an individual. But since you have, I will respond.

It's easy to pass judgment on someone, and write a smug, sarcastic comment. You don't need any basis, logic, arguments, reasons or vocabulary. It doesn't earn you any respect, though. If you care enough about what is being discussed, and have the ability to articulate your views on the subject, please do so. I'm ready for an open debate. Are you?

For those questioning my ability to think, knowledge of facts etc. etc. - let me tell you a bit about who I am. I grew up in an Army family. Not in Delhi or Mumbai - but small towns like Gurdaspur, Siliguri... and moved every two years with my dad. I saw people die for this country. I accepted the possibility that my father may one day be one of them. Then I received an education at IIT Madras, followed by IIM, Lucknow. I have an IQ of 140, and advise Fortune-100 companies on marketing issues based on complex data analytics and consumer insights. If you want to comment on me or my abilities, let's first hear your credentials.

For those who think I was just trying to be different and capture airtime - neither is true. I have mentioned the communities I belong to above, and I wear the badges with pride and responsibility. I think for myself, and express my views honestly, making my best attempts to justify them with facts and reason. I have no need or desire to just 'be different'. Also, my blog is usually read by only about 50 people - who are mostly from within my friends' circle. I did not expect this post to be any different. I just consolidated my views on my blog, because explaining the same ideas over and over in multiple facebook discussions was going to be tedious. I never planned or expected to get this much attention, and I certainly wasn't 'pretending' among my friends. The fact that so many people have shared the post - and so many of the readers agree - is proof of its substance. That's what you ought to focus on.

Aug 17, 2011

Think... before you 'Support Anna Hazare'

Over the last couple of days, it seems like everyone has decided to 'support Anna Hazare'. I find myself in a very small minority who do not want to support Anna Hazare. Let me explain why, and hope you will think this through as well.

What exactly is happening here? Anna wants his version of the Jan Lokpal Bill to be implemented. No problem so far. Anna wants to fast unto death in New Delhi if this doesn't happen. This is a problem. Fasting unto death is not permissible by law, because it effectively becomes suicide - which is not permitted by law.

Moreover, this method of protest is unconstitutional. I quote none other than BR Ambedkar here:

"If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us."

People are saying Anna is being denied his democratic right. That's Bullshit. He was never denied permission to protest - and that's all his democratic rights are.

He does NOT have a right to fast unto death. He also does not have unlimited rights to protest anywhere he wants, for any duration of time, and with any number of people. It is a free country, but freedom does not mean you have an unconditional right to do absolutely anything you please - you have to behave in a responsible manner. By refusing to comply with any conditions whatsoever, Anna is not trying to exercise rights that exist, he is simply breaking the law. It is especially ironical that he is breaking the law, to achieve the objective to getting his Jan Lokpal Bill being included in ... the law! This is sheer hypocrisy. And, everyone is supporting this?!

Anyway, let us ignore for a moment the fact that it is illegal, and consider the reality that most people want him to be allowed to carry on with his fast unconditionally. What happens then? The government either lets him die (which they can't, realistically), or submits to his demands about all aspects of the Lokpal Bill. What will this mean? The government - which is properly elected by the majority of the people of India through free, fair elections - will not have the final say when it comes to making laws. Law could be dictated - through blackmail - by any individual or group that seems to have 'popular support'.

This issue is not about the contents of the Bill. The issue is - who has decision-making authority? The government has a formal mandate from the People of India, and operates within the law. Anna Hazare does not draw his power from any formal, organized process, and is not accountable for his actions or their consequences to anyone, through any mechanism. Can he allowed to over-rule the government? Once the precedent is set, who is to say it will not happen again, or be misused? Do we really want to weaken the parliamentary system that is the very cornerstone of our democracy? Who takes responsibility for the consequences?

The media is calling the government's actions 'murder or democracy'. But actually it is Anna who is trying to subvert the democratic process. They are likening him to Gandhi. Gandhi fought for the freedom and dignity of all Indian people. Anna is only being stubborn about his version of the Bill. Gandhi was always willing to have constructive discussions with the Govt of the day. Anna is not - he just wants to dictate terms. Finally, Gandhi fought against foreign rule that was against the wishes of the Indian people. Anna is fighting a govt. elected by the people of India. Likening Anna to Gandhi is absolute nonsense.

I understand the people are frustrated and want to make a stand against corruption. But this has to be done in a proper, thought-out manner and will take a lot of time and concerted effort to achieve results. Taking to the streets shouting slogans in support of Hazare and his methods is NOT the solution.

Let's now consider the root cause of this whole thing - the Jan Lokpal Bill and the contentious issues. The myth being perpetrated is that a new institution, with the PM and MPs under it's ambit is going to be some sort of panacea against corruption. And getting the PM and MPs and the Judiciary included with the Lokpal's ambit is a cause great enough to court arrest and die for.

Horseshit. Corruption is not limited to a few hundred politicians. In a broad sense, it encompasses anyone doing something 'wrong' for personal gain. Anyone can be corrupt, and the truth is that most people are. To really reduce corruption - all of us need to have much stronger civic sense and value systems. In a country where most people don't respect queues, and votes can be purchased by offering a saree, a color TV, or some such little incentive - fighting over whether the Lokpal covers the PM and MPs is a matter of mistaken priorities.

Dealing with corruption, in any case, has never been about setting up institutions - it has been driven by the integrity of a few good men. TN Seshan did of lot of cleaning up of the electoral system. How many other election commissioners can you name? Santosh Hegde brought down a Chief Minister and took brought other ministers to the law. How many Lokayuktas - before or after him - in Karnataka or other states - can you name? Anna Hazare & India Against Corruption itself are not institutions, they're just people with integrity. Good people don't need designations to do good work. And designations or institutions don't guarantee good work either.

The CBI has - in the past - unearthed various scams and punished the guilty. The CVC - another authority - has in the recent past investigated the 2G scam, the Commonwealth Games and so on. Maybe having one more institution - the Lokpal - will help, but it is NOT a one-shot solution to the corruption problem. Unless it has the right people, it will become as ineffective as all other bodies.

Another major bone of contention is whether or not the Judiciary should be within the ambit of the Lokpal. And here I disagree with Anna - I feel it shouldn't. The Judiciary is - at least on paper - independent, impartial, and comprises men of the highest integrity - all the things that the Lokpal is supposed to be. Why, then, should we not trust them, and trust the Lokpal more? An independent judiciary is an imperative for any sovereign democracy. If we are going to be cynical about them too, why not the Lokpal then? Where do we draw the line? The challenge is ensuring that the existing bodies work the way they are supposed to. Creating new bodies is not the solution.

But then - I forgot - I don't have a right to disagree with Anna. He's on a fast unto death. Everyone must accept his Bill as is, or go flash yourself. Democracy, discussion et al be damned.

Lastly - I am going to question the man himself. Anna does not seem to have any faith in our institutions, and wants to use methods that are not permitted by the law. And his aim is to pass a law to create an institution. Am I the only one who sees the inherent contradiction here? Should we really pose so much faith in a man who own actions seem to be contradicting the very ideals he's ostensibly fighting for? He may be a good man, but is he qualified to do what he's trying to?

Also the TV channels are screaming themselves hoarse 'Why can't the govt. let a 70 year old man fast in peace?', portraying Anna as a harmless, innocent victim. Then they play the video message where he uses rhetoric such as 'second freedom struggle', and exhorts everyone to court arrest. This message is very provocative, and the fact that it was recorded well before his arrest, proves that there was a lot of planning & premeditation. Hardly consistent with the 'harmless, innocent, old man' image the media is trying to portray.

Sadly, people like Dr. Subramanyam Swamy, who do real good like taking the 2G case to court, receive little support from the media. Perhaps because Dr. Swamy - a Harvard professor who offers cold, hard logical arguments rather than the ill-considered, emotional rhetoric of Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev - simply doesn't sell with Indian TV audiences. The media would rather show you an interview with a teenage boy who's bunked school to join the 'support Anna movement' - because it resonates well with their story about how 'all of India is with Anna' - even though the kid isn't possibly qualified to understand all the complex issues involved here, and should really be told to go back and attend school. They won't tell you about Takhat Singh Ranawat - a batchmate of mine from IIT Madras, who joined the IFS and was one of the 5 officers on the Lokayukta team that prepared the report on illegal mining - because he's actually doing good work, and his story won't feed the emotional frenzy that gets TRPs like Anna does.

So, the next time you are asked to click a button, or go out and carry a candle to show your support for Anna Hazare, just think twice.

Response to most common comments etc.  in followup post here.

Aug 11, 2011

Of God. And Man.

Act 1

22 April, 1998. It's a hot summer afternoon in Sector 15, Chandigarh - at a relative's place where I'm spending my summer holidays. Everyone's settling down around the TV. Being Punjabi, the uncles are making the customary jokes about the new Sardar kid called Harbhajan Singh.

India are about to take on the mighty Aussies in Sharjah. They must play well to qualify for the finals - either a win, or a loss by a small margin. "Gilchrist, Ponting, both Waughs, Warne... vs. Ganguly (a noob then), Mongia, Azhar, Venkatesh Prasad... Man to man, Australia are a much better side", comments Ravi Shastri, "but India have Tendulkar." He says it in a rather deadpan manner (not quite the 'mera paas maa hai' style most Indians usually prefer), as even he has no idea just how prophetic those words would prove over the next few hours.

Sachin single-handedly takes India to the final. Two days later, everyone's hoping for another miracle, but not really expecting lightning to strike twice in the same place. But it does, and Sachin goes one better this time. He actually wins it for India, inspite of another horrific umpiring error.

A couple of years earlier, Sachin had top-scored in the '96 world cup. In the semi-final vs. Lanka, India need 252 to win. It looks very get-able. When Sachin gets out, India are a healthy 98/2, looking on course for the win. They collapse to 120/8 before the match is abandoned due to crowd trouble.

I wasn't around when a conceited PM claimed 'Indira is India'. But I was around in the early 90's, and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar WAS India. Or at least that's what every Indian wanted to believe.

Our lives sucked because we lived in India. We were a poor nation. We had bad roads, erratic power supply, generally poor quality of life, and - worst of all - very few opportunities to create a better life for ourselves. Everything 'abroad' seemed like a dream - pretty landscapes, good roads, fast cars, nice clothes, air conditioning, soaps that actually felt and smelt nice. If we could, we would ALWAYS buy an imported product - they were invariably of a higher grade and better quality. Somehow, where they came from - they were actually cheaper than the shit we got here! All of this affected the nation's psyche. While the British ruled India, they told us we were inferior. Even 50 years after they left, we'd not been able to prove them wrong. As a nation, we didn't quite believe in ourselves.

Our cricket team - which we followed passionately, and believed represented the best of the nation - actually strengthened this feeling. Whenever they traveled overseas, they'd simply be blown away by opponents on fast, bouncy pitches. They were physically dominated by their opponents, and just looked sad and hopeless. Of course, when teams came to India - we were able to beat them. But watching the likes of Narendra Hirwani or Venkatapathy Raju turn slow deliveries on crumbling pitches didn't make up for the body blows our batsmen took overseas. It was like watching a Mercedes struggle on a country road. Far from being a source of pride, one almost felt apologetic about the means being used to win.

Then Sachin came along. He attacked fast bowlers. He scored hundreds on bouncy pitches, collaring hostile bowling attacks. It wasn't just the runs - it was the way he dominated the opposition. He looked calm, confident and let his bat do all the talking. Nothing could faze him. Whatever the circumstances, Sachin could win. And Sachin wanted to win.

It helped that he came from a middle-class family, and remained level-headed in spite of all his achievements. He set the standard all of us aspired to. As the Indian economy opened up, and Indians started coming across new opportunities in every sphere - he provided us self-belief, and taught us to be ambitious. He was the role model for the new India.

Over the next few years, he would go on to achieve one record after another. His hunger was insatiable, and the consistency of his performance at the highest level was unmatched. He earned the title of 'God of cricket.'

Act 2

Ritesh Sharma shares an article titled 'The Truth about Sachin Tendulkar' on Facebook. The article asks some tough questions. I 'like' and 'share' it further, as does our friend Shreyas Gopinath. A lot of people get pissed. "How dare you say anything negative about Sachin?", they ask. It's not the first time this has happened. I've been critical of Sachin on several occasions in the last year or two, particularly during all IPL seasons. Here I shall try and explain why.

To really get what I'm saying, you first have to accept that Sachin is not God. He may have earned a title some years back, but he is very much a mortal - just like you and I. When he walks out on a cricket field, he is there to do a job and he has responsibilities - just like you and I.

Unfortunately, in Sachin's case, that responsibility is to be a role model, and perform miracles, and set a standard that everyone can aspire to. To keep the legend alive. If Sachin regresses to mediocrity, he will not just let himself down - he will break the hearts of hundreds of millions who have looked up to him and worshiped him since the 90s. He cannot become ordinary. Not fair to the man, you may say. But when the alternative is letting down hundreds of millions - the concept of 'greater good' comes into play.

Sachin is just not up to that responsibility any more. He is no longer the Indian cricket team.

There was a time when teams spoke of their plans to get Sachin before a series with India. Today, if there is one man they consider the 'big threat' - it is Virender Sehwag. Ironically, Sehwag was inspired by Sachin, and even looked and played like Sachin early in his career. But today, Sehwag is the bigger phenomenon. He's become the aggressor - the one who tries to dominate opponents and entertain the public even in the toughest circumstances.

In the Indian ODI team these days, there are usually 7 batsmen - and at least 6 of them can win matches single-handedly. Sachin is one of them, but he is no longer the only one.

Some may say Sehwag is unreliable, or inconsistent. Fair point. But Sachin isn't Mr. Reliable either. While the likes of Sehwag, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Pathan have been the aggressors in ODIs recently, the likes of Gambhir and Kohli have provided the solidity. Far from being the cornerstone, Sachin doesn't even play in all ODIs.

In tests, Sachin's average is on par with others like Kallis, Dravid, Ponting - yet his reputation is much bigger. Why? The aggressive, match-turning innings have mostly been played by Sehwag. And when the going gets really difficult, and someone has to grind it out - it's usually been Rahul Dravid, and often VVS Laxman, but rarely Sachin in recent years. Whether you look at his records in ODI finals, chases in knockout games, or the second innings in test matches, particularly batting fourth, Sachin's record is weak. He's never got a 300 in tests. I could go on.

When Sachin was put on the pedestal by Indian cricket fans, he was the first (often only) line of attack, and the last line of defense. Hell, he even took a few wickets and won matches with the ball once in a while! But today's Sachin is none of these things. He's just a good batsman who accumulates runs carefully, and piles on the records, some of which are rather meaningless.

What irks me the most is the feeling that he could have done so much more if he really tried. I remember a 175 he scored against Australia in an ODI not too long back, when everyone else struggled. A couple of times in the last World Cup, he was able to out-pace Sehwag's scoring rate. So, there isn't much doubt in my mind about how destructive he could be, if he tried. But more often than not, he is happy to play second-fiddle to Sehwag. He plays well within himself, for records, rather than giving 100% to try and win. Nearly every time he gets close to a 50 or a 100, he slows down and plays for the record, and this sometimes costs his team. Case in point - his two 100s in the recent world cup were scored against England and South Africa - and these were the only two matches India did not win! Coincidence? Not entirely. Certainly not if you start noticing patterns - his maiden century in the IPL was also scored in a losing cause, batting first.

For me, whether or not Sachin is a match-winner today, whether he plays for the team or for personal records - none of these is the point. The fact that his ability and motives are being questioned is what disturbs me. I do not want to see his legacy tarnished. I would rather see him retire gracefully, and leave us with the memories of the '98 Sharjah Desert Storm, the upper-cut six off Shoaib Akhtar, the century with which he revived India's faltering world cup campaign in '99 - right after returning from his father's funeral, his ODI double-hundred and so on...

Indian cricket no longer needs the player, as much as India needs the legend to stay alive.