Thursday, 28 January 2010

Telangana, Naxalism, Green Hunt and a bad Kichidi

First up – The Rant

There has been a boom in manufacturing recently. The boomers are retired bureaucrats and police officers who have participated (with their fair share of collective negligence) in India’s democracy in the last 30 years. What do some of them manufacture? They manufacture superficial analysis with prolific proficiency. The manufacturing product of choice is analysis of terror, war, and security. It always comes without a warranty of being anywhere close to accurate. You get neatly packaged experts who are about to get celebrity status. Suhel Seth and Shobha De…WATCH OUT! You are not the only folks who believe that constables with automatic weapons are the equivalent of a solution.

Everybody has a right to an opinion. I just find some opinions extremely disagreeable.

Second – The Example –

The example is from the article “Telangana Liberated”. It appears in the January 2010 print edition of Pragati. Mr Ram Avtar Yadav, the author, “is a former director-general of police of Andhra Pradesh” (sourced from the original article in Pragati).

Here is a piece of domino style analysis that appears in the article.

Begin Quote --
Telangana is not only being formed with the support of the Naxalites, but will be encompassing the districts that are their stronghold. The security situation is bound to worsen further. It is likely to play out in the following manner.

During the next panchayat elections, the Naxalites will put up candidates and capture village panchayats and other local bodies in the fledgling state. Once the panchayats are under their control, they will have effective control not only over the people in the villages but also substantial funds from the exchequer. Then, in the assembly elections that follow, they will again put up candidates and win a majority—by intimidating and coercing the electorate—in the assembly and form a proxy government.
--End Quote

I am probably not the only one who fails to see the brilliance of this analysis. The following facts seem to be missing –
  • Every mainstream political party is fuelling the Telangana agitation including the Congress and BJP.
    E.g. - Chidamabaram has made enough U-turns to perpetuate a vicious cycle and Sushma Swaraj wants to table a bill in Parliament in support of Telangana. Based on the author’s logic ….both parties must be Naxal controlled. 
  • Naxals do not contest elections despite pleas to join mainstream politics from all sides. To theorise that they will not only contest (by proxy or otherwise) a Panchayat election but will win the legislature is like putting a truck on thin ice.
  • Let us assume that the first half of this far-fetched analysis is spot on. If they control the legislature, why would they need an armed rebellion within Telangana after that? Why have they not done this in other states already?
The analysis that A will lead to B and so on and so forth till we reach F (where state elections will be won by Naxal proxies) is naïve. The argument lacks logic. I just hope that the people who mange our intelligence have a greater understanding of complex problems and how they are likely to play out.

The police, bureaucracy and political parties through their collective negligence, brought about the current state of affairs. The lack of effectiveness in their past strategies is evident. After all, if they were effective, we would not have an armed insurgency within the country and there would be no need for a para-military intervention. I am confident that I am not alone in saying that the police and bureaucracy is in need of urgent reform. You will find people on all sides of the political spectrum saying this. So why should I take a doomsday prophecy from within their ranks seriously?

Third, driving the theory home

Mr Yadav and Pragati have their rights. They are allowed to say what they say and do what they do. They are not breaking any laws in the process. Mr Yadav can not be faulted for having an opinion. Pragati can not be faulted for publishing it.

That said, Mr Yadav’s article provides no supporting evidence for any of the domino theories presented in the piece. It is at best, an effort at fear-mongering that may catch the interest of a Hollywood director who admire's Collin Powell’s arguments on WMDs in Iraq.  So how do you make it look like a realistic prophecy?

A photo of a protest against operation green hunt is used as a visual in the article’s print edition.
  • There was no wording/caption to clarify the context of the image (in the print addition).
  • The article is about Naxalism and the creation of Telangana.
  • The picture of the protest was about green-hunt. In ‘green-hunt’ civilians get caught in the cross-fire.
  • Stitching the article and the image together and sliding it in as directly related is misleading,
The protest, according to this letter to Pragati, took no position on Telangana and/or Naxalism. Yes, they were on the left of the political spectrum – but they were protesting against violence.

The image fell into a trap. If they carry a red-flag … they must be plotting violence. This is a dangerous approach to take as we may end up pushing more people to the fringe.

A person who figures in the image in question is Dr. Ashley Tellis. His letter to Pragati is blunt and does not hold back any punches. I thought the letter was rude. But then, if my photo were to appear within the same article (because I am not comfortable with the idea of operation green-hunt) I would have probably used strong language myself. The use of the image was wrong because it was not relevant to the hypothesis that the article was making i.e. Naxalites will win elections in Telangana by hook or by crook. I do not blame Pragati. Finding something substantive to back the domino theory in the article is challenging.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Tourism and the art of murder

Some states are now bending over backwards and rolling out the red carpet to the tourism sector. This is a scary thought and sends a shiver down the spine. The tourism industry is a leading expert in exploiting natural resources for personal short-term gains.This is always done at the cost of local interests.

For starters the industry is an expert at green washing. We fly people halfway around the world for an eco-holiday and completely ignore the fact that long haul flights are probably one of the biggest culprits when it comes to pollution. We mow down a tract of pristine forest to construct a "luxury" camp-site so that a visitor can view wildlife through the comfort of an air-conditioned tent. We kick out the tribals from a core-zone in the name of conservation and macadamize roads inside forests in the name of infrastructure. To top it all off, we wear an armband that says we are “green”. Eco-tourism has become about as green as my car battery.

The tourism industry is one of the loudest proponents of neo-liberal policies. Crony capitalism has become an essential part of the industry. You can not succeed unless you have land. You do not have land unless you are well connected with folks in government (for e.g. forest officials). Once you are well connected you need to be willing to grease the wheels. If you succeed in doing so, land is yours for the grabbing. You can then be-rate all the small operators who work for “Indian” tourist.

It does not matter if the land belongs to tribals. It makes no difference at all that people were evicted to accommodate the dam that creates a reservoir where "water-sports" can be promoted. The words "eco-tourism", "adventure", "large-dams" and "Public-Private-Partnership" are now used in the same sentence to invite "investment". At who's cost are we doing this? Have 1000s of people not been evicted to build the dam that holds back a reservoir? Does the land in the valleys not belong to the tribals? Who gives a trans-national the greater right to this land? Who are we to waltz in and sign MoUs on hot-air balloons to declare that these national assets are for sale? Can we stop dancing on graves in the name of Incredible India!?

The Indian media loves the tourism industry. They have hours of programming and reams of supplements dedicated to the largest industry in the world. They will, as usual, not have the courage to upset their advertisers and launch into a critique of everything that is wrong with the industry. They will watch in silence as wild-life and experiential travel become a playground for the elite while locals suffer the burden of unwanted "guests".

Mining has been notorious for it's impact on locals. Maybe the PR guys in mining need to lift a page or two from the tourism industry. Their impacts are similar - environmental degradation, loss of local control over land and locals are never long-term beneficiaries. How does the tourism industry get away with it? I guess tourism goes where mining can't go.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Critquing the Media: Rules of Engagement

Firstly, there is ONLY 1 rule when it comes to critiquing the English print and broadcasting media.
Secondly, the one rule has three parts -

Rule 1a) The English media is ALWAYS right.

Rule 1b) If the English media is WRONG refer to rule 1a.

Rule 1c) If you question rule 1b you are: a socialist, a country bumpkin, anti-national, and a threat to freedom of speech.

Living Down Under: My experiences with Racism

Between Early 1997 and late 1998 I lived as a working-student in Adelaide. The town has a reputation of being conservative and is very different to Melbourne and Sydney.

I had Australian-Asian relations as one of my papers and I am aware of Australia’s history. It has a horrendous record - particularly the relationship between the white immigrants and indigenous Aborigines. There is also the infamous White Australia policy.

When I was in Adelaide, Pauline Hanson was active in politics. She is an Aussie version of Raj Thackeray and her claim to fame is xenophobia. I witnessed over 300 Australian students carrying out the equivalent of a “gherao” of Pauline Hanson.

To add some balance to the current discussion around racist attacks in Australia, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight 3 incidents.

The “Indian” Cook
I was qualified as a cook. I had worked in 2 luxury hotels in India and would have earned my Chef De Parte Scarf in a matter of months if not for my admission in the University of South Australia.

When I landed in Australia I went knocking on several Indian restaurants. Every one of the restaurants that I interviewed at was owned by an Australian Citizen. They were also all persons of Indian origin. They were unwilling to pay anything close to a market wage (15-18$/hr). They wanted to pay minimum wage (6$/hr). In exchange, they would allow me to cross my permissible limit of 20 hours a week. You do the math.

There were several Indians in my course. Some of them were working in such sweat-shop. These conditions were being encouraged by owners – all of Indian Origin. These owners would have never had the guts to make such an offer to a local.

I had reached a situation where I had no money for my next meal and was a couple of weeks behind on rent. An Australian classmate who was working with the Adelaide police at the time, offered to lend me 400$ to get over my “settling down pains” .

I eventually landed a job as an orderly at the largest hospital in South Australia. It was a job nobody wanted because it involved working Friday and Saturday night. Because I was working during the night and weekends – the hourly wage of 12$ went up to around 22$. I grabbed the job with both hands.

A few months into the job, a patient was flown in on a chopper after a car-wreck. I was asked to move the patient (who had more than a broken bone or two), from casualty to X-ray and bring him back. When the patient saw me, his reaction took me by complete surprise. He said “I don’t want this blackie touching me. Get me one of my own!”

A senior nurse who was standing next to me (a tall and extremely well built caucasian woman) reacted instinctively.  She pushed his stretcher into the wall (ouch!). Gripped his wrist and swiftly yanked off a canula. She then looked him in the eyes and said “Oops! How can I send you to X-ray without getting painkillers into you?” She then nudged me out of the bay.

It transpired that he had to wait for the next shift which was a good six hours away to get his drip back, get the painkiller and be taken to X-ray. Both the nurse and I never mentioned it again. I never filled out an incident report.

Go Back to Your Own Country
One Sunday evening our entire shift from the hospital decided to meet up for a drink at the Exeter Pub on Rundle Street. It is normally a quiet place, not much noise and a great place to sip on a few -pints of Cooper’s Pale Ale. There were 6-7 of us and I was on my 3rd round when two of us left the table to take a leak. On the way out of the loo somebody said something. I didn’t catch what he was saying and kept walking assuming that it was not directed at me. My colleague (a Caucasian and a 3rd generation Australian) had heard exactly what he said. At the top of his voice with one hand blocking the loo door he called out to me and asked the person to repeat what he said. The person promptly turned and said “Go Back to Your Own Country”. My colleague showed him the middle finger and headed straight to the bar-counter. The red neck moved into the loo. I headed back to the table not knowing what to make of the situation. A few minutes later three bouncers were escorting the red-neck out of the premises. I was restraining my colleague from heading out onto the street to pick up a fight with the red neck.

In Conclusion

These were the three racist incidents that I encountered in Australia.

There was nothing in the environment that I studied in or worked in that made me feel I was living in the midst of racist people. Every country and city will have it’s crack-pots and racists. But the overwhelming majority are not like that (both in India and Australia).

The common man in Australia does whatever they can to nip racist behaviour in the bud.
Note to the media: Make your claims but please be balanced. This story has two sides. My personal experience does not allow me to say that Australia is a racist country.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A Note to NRIs who want to Vote

Some NRIs want to vote in Indian elections and the government is going to make it possible for them to do so. (?@#)

On 8th January 2009, at the annual NRI extravaganza (which is partly tax-payer funded) the Prime Minister of India said:
"I recognise the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India......
......We are working on this issue and I sincerely hope that they will get a chance to vote by the time of the next regular general elections”.

I have some problems with this.
  1. If a person does not live in India, how can that person participate in a process that decides who will govern me here in India? It seems unfair to me.

  2. An exercise of one’s franchise comes with consequences.
    * If a person is not living in the country, he/she does not have to bear the consequences of his/her vote.
    * If a person does not bear the consequences of his/her vote – why should they be given the privilege of a vote?
    Owning property in India does not bestow extra rights on a person under the representation of people’s act. In other words, a bank account or house does not entitle anybody in India to a vote.

  3. Voting is not an exercise in jingoism. Exercising one’s franchise is serious business. It’s about electing a representative who is responsible for delivering on governance. If somebody needs to find an armband that proves their ethnicity, they need to look elsewhere and not on a voter’s registration list.

  4. If you eat the cake – you won’t have it any more.
    An Indian has every right to settle in any country that will have him as a resident. One does not and should not lose his/her citizenship for that. They are also welcome to give up their citizenship.
    I have no issues even if someone was educated on government subsidies in premier institutions such as IIT or AIIMS and then took the first plane abroad. Good for them. They have every democratic right to pursue a path that they chose for themselves. We have enough and more people to make up for the folks who leave for greener pastures. Family and friends will miss NRIs. Not the country. Nobody is that indispensable.
    Indian democracy affects everyday life. Participation in Indian democracy is not about pressing a button once every five years.

  5. There is an entire ministry that is dedicated to the affairs of NRIs and Persons of Indian origin. This is, in my opinion, adequate representation. NRIs should do whatever is possible either individually or collectively to increase the scope, power, authority and efficiency of the Ministry of NRI affairs.
    Don't ask for a seat in parliament. If you want voting right, you will have to show up at the booth like the rest of us.
Here is my solution:

Why should an NRI be any different to a migrant worker within India? An NRI needs to treat an election-day like an other migrant worker in India

  •  They need to comply with all the provisions of the Representation of People’s act. (citizenship, qualification to vote, age etc)
  • They need to reach the constituency in which their names figures on the voting list. Or they need to pre-register their name on the Voter’s list with all required documentation.
  • On voting day - they need to walk into the appropriate polling booth and show the appropriate Identity card (none of which are green) and vote for a candidate of their choice. 

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Narayanathe NaMo NaMo (Not in praise of Gujarat)

If listening to M S Subbulakshmi tapes was a part of your childhood then you are probably familiar with Annamacharya and/or his composition Narayanathe NaMo NaMo.

The phrase Narayanathe NaMo NaMo immediately came to mind when I heard that Gujarat's infamous NaMo (Narendra Modi) was inviting a Narayana i.e N.R.Narayana Murthy of INFY fame to advise the Gujarat Government on their recent electoral reform initiative to make voting compulsory. [Image from Indian Express]

I do not know if Mr. Murthy has accepted the offer or not... but both Mr. Murthy and NaMo were sharing the same dais when NaMo made the job offer. To be honest, I doubt if he will accept this specific offer. He will bide his time for something more grandiose than "advisor". That said, , if you can share a dais with the man who authored the Gujarat riots, you will not find it difficult to accept a job offer from the same man.

Mr Murthy's ex-colleague from Infosys is working with the UPA government on the UID scheme. It would make business sense for INFY to spread their bets between the NDA and UPA. Industry captains, have endorsed NaMo's genocidal credentials for Prime Ministership. Examples -

NaMo's exploits in the form of pogroms against muslims do not seem to trouble the conscience of these industry captains. [For more on Gujarat you can read this piece by Harsh Mander.]

Mr Murthy is not the only person working on a job offer from NaMo. It looks like Mr Amitabh Bachan, while promoting his film Paa to NaMo also offered to be a Brand Ambassador for Gujarat. I guess there is no harm in endorsing the NaMo's pogroms between his endorsements for Pepsi, ICICI, Parker pens, Nerolac paints, Reid & Taylor suits, and Dabur.

Mr Murthy is not media shy. He is an independent director in NDTV. Omkar Goswami, a well know journalist in India is an Independent Director in Infosys. There is no doubt that he will have some big names in the media batting for him whenever required.

It is a matter of time before Mr. Murthy makes a foray into respectable politics. Respectable politics is not the kind of politics that requires you to contest an election and win a democratic mandate. It is the kind of politics that allows you to use your media and industry connections to lobby for a constitutional office. It's about taking the concept of capitalism and converting it into crony capitalism. I hope I am wrong about Mr Murthy's goals.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Oil Slick along East Coast Road? Does the media care?

Picture of Oil Slick from

An unknown ship emptied bilge (which included oil from the engine) off the coast of Tamil Nadu. A 3KM stretch of beach along the ECR is now soaking in the oil. This is not just a health hazard but an environmental disaster as well. The Hindu and New Indian Express have both covered the slick that seems to have taken place around Jan 01, 2010. Unfortunately, it looks like that is where the coverage ends.

This incident proves that when it comes to the environment, lip-service is the preferred approach within the Indian media. An oil slick, irrespective of size, should have attracted a more vigorous response from the media. Where they hung-over with their coverage of 3 idiots and the New Year? What if the clean-up was sponsored and part of a media Green-wash...would the slick have provoked collective outrage?

We still do not know if the slick has had an immediate impact on local health and the environment. We do not know, from existing reports, if the government is doing anything about either cleaning the slick or tracking down the offending vessel. No spokesperson of the government either at the centre or at the state has been questioned by the English media. (I will be happy to stand corrected on this if somebody can provide me with a link).

The impact zone appears to be fishing villages dotted along the East Coast Road. Would the media response have been more pro-active if this slick had happened on the Worli or Juhu coast? 

  • G K Vasan is the minister for shipping in the central government and lives in Chennai (not far from the spill site). I wonder if he is doing anything about bringing the owners of the offending vessel to book? 
  • Jai Ram Ramesh our minister for Environment and Forests is probably still recovering from the COP15 disaster that he helped engineer.

I am hoping that the Tamil press would have done a far better job in giving the slick the negative publicity it deserves. Based on the way the English media (both electronic and print) are approaching the story it looks like the slick will be buried on the beaches.

On a side note - Dumping of bilge close to the coast line is illegal. Does this mean that ships can dump such toxic wastes in high seas?

Introducing Media Subbudu

Media Subbudu has promised to contribute occasionally to this blog.

Media Subbudu suffers from a permanent state of paranoia and is petrified of what his employers may think if they find him "blogging". I have agreed to keep his identity partially cloaked. His content will give his identity away to people who know him. 

It will be my privilege to host the scathing pen of Media Subbudu.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Outrage and then be outraged

The Kannada film world (a.k.a Sandalwood) lost two key family members in the span of two days.  

C Aswath 20th December 1938 to 29th December 2009  
  • To get an idea of why he was popular for his music take a look at Banthu Shravana on YouTube 
  • I have been a die-hard fan of C Aswath ever since I heard him perform at the World Spiritual Music Festival in Bangalore. That concert ranks as one of the best performances that I have ever had the privilege of attending.
Vishnuvardhan 18 September 1950 - 30 December 2009
  • I confess I have never seen a Vishnuvardhan movie.
  • I am very aware that that he was the undisputed heavy-weight champion of Sandalwood and he inherited the crown after the demise of legendary Rajkumar. [A YouTube link via @churumuri that has clipping of these two men sharing screen space]
  • Like Rajnikanth, Shivaji Ganesan and Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan would not have been able to reach such stardom without being able to connect to his huge fan-base through his films.
Media Coverage of C Aswath's demise:

In the National Press, the demise of C Aswath received less coverage than Amitabh Bachan’s birthday. But then, C Aswath does need the coverage. He does not support brands neither does he require a brand-building exercise. The people who wanted to mourn him did not need sponsored reminders that he was a precious gift to music fans. His music celebrates his life and his fans don’t need any other reminder (sponsored or otherwise). It does pinch that that the national media did not pay adequate attention to his contribution to Sugama Sangeet.

Media Coverage of Vishnuvardhan's demise

  • Vishnuvardhan’s death in NDTV was repeatedly announced with a two part headline (in the same breath). Part a) his death part b) The fact that schools and colleges were being closed.
    Note: most schools and colleges were already closed as a part of the Christmas/New Year break. Why the emphasis on the closure right at the very beginning of the announcement?

  • As rumours went around like wildfire around violence, one got the feeling that Bangalore was about to burn. Here is an example of how the news media were part of the rumour-mongering (courtesy Times Now)

    Elaborate police arrangement were made for the procession, however, protests erupted in large scale. Police even resorted to firing in numerous accounts, which reportedly could have lead to death of few. The entire city was brought to the edge, even as mourners continue to pour in numbers to pay their last respect to the legendary actor. 
    It transpires that there was no "firing" other than tear-gas. This incident took place near the site where the body of the actor was laid in state. Nobody was ever injured or killed by police bullets. Certain specific parts of the city were affected by violence but the entire city was NOT on edge. Bangalore was being pushed to the edge by media reports that were forcing people to "safety".
  • Incidents of violence were most common where the police failed to control crowds trying to get a last glimpse of their idol. A few trouble makers were mixed in with the crowd and it was proving difficult to control the crowds.

  • When I started getting SMS messages that Madivala in Bangalore was getting affected, I decided to take a walk. The vegetable market was it's usual self, Total Mall was closed (with signs saying mall is closed), half the shops had their shutters down and traffic levels were normal. A crowd was gathered around a poster of Vishnuvardhan and there was loud music blaring from speakers. Before I knew what was happening, cops had pulled up in a jeep and the crowd promptly dispersed. There was NO sign of "violence". It was not a tenth as bad as the rumours that were doing the rounds.

  • Three regional channels were relaying the funeral "live". We can be crtical of the fans, but I think the channels went overboard in their continuous coverage. Before we look down on the thousands that came to the funeral, I think we should also question the need for such a broadcast.

  • There WAS violence. Trouble makers were at work in Gandhi Bazaar and Jaynagar. But, media coverage and speculation around the city grinding to halt was perpetuating a vicious cycle.

There was a cameraman who lost his camera and the above image says it all. I condemn the violence, but I also see a role that the media played in increasing tensions.

That bring me to this last gem.