Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lost objectivity

The Kautilyan Perspective
Lost objectivity
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

We the Indians have an attitude of running arguments endlessly. But seldom do we end it with agreements? At the end of discussion we simply return to our homes and lie on our beds with more feelings of vengeance and hatred towards people who disagree with our point of view and thoughts.
It is not easy to listen to something with which you are in total disagreement with. And it, obviously, seeks patience. Patience is a great virtue. Without it it’s absolutely up hilling to achieve something worthwhile.

People of our times are frustrated and there can be only little doubts about it. Frustration isn’t a healthy sign. It leads to confusion and ultimately to chaos. The only rationale for men to support insane and irrelevant acts against the ethical norms of a society, by goons, is this frustration.
Frustration is a sophisticated phenomenon. Should it be resolved there needs to be a timely attention. Given a frustration isn’t resolved it is sure to result in chaotic situation capable of causing destruction, beyond repair.

Couple of months back Mangalore was in news for all wrong reasons. Few people, obviously frustrated, lost their minds and attacked a pub for its ‘assault’ on their ‘faith and culture’. These men were frustrated, and truly. Their reason for frustration, it was clear, none was interested to know. Fellow members of the media fraternity took the matter head on. They were interesting in it for its tendency to increase their TRP and Readership levels.

‘Tablianization of Mangalore’ is how they began describing a truly petty issue. The Congressmen and Communists wasted no time to hurl their ‘criticism’ and abuses on the state government. It was a mad-mad run for settling political scores and it was chaos all around.

Amidst all, none, neither the media nor the politicos were interested in resolving the dispute. And a meagre incident was blown completely out of proportion. Who was at fault? If the media is to be believed it ought to be ‘Sri Ram Sena members’ who led the assault, the Congress and Communists blames it on BJP and BJP spits on all for the issue.

On 26th of March 2009, quiet a few months after the incident of attacks on Pub in Mangalore, I was invited to attend a panel discussion at UGC-SAP sponsored seminar at Mangalore University. The topic upon which I was supposed to speak upon was ‘Media, Culture and National Integration’. Other speakers on the panel had more or less similar topic to embark upon but somehow everyone was squaring upon the Mangalore Pub attacks. It was truly saddening. I was truly unable to understand the reason for this.

The student fraternity, I found, was completely disembarked and divided over the matter. The lecturer, moreover, I found, were completely one sided in their discussion – making the situation worse. I felt sad, absolutely; when a boy was completely sidelined for having spoken in favour of the men who led the Pub attacks. Not just was he sidelined, but also was abused. It was saddening. I intervened and protested. ‘Are you going to fight till eternity for your ideological supremacy or are you interested in resolving the matter?’ I declared. It worked, interestingly. I fought for that man, not because he supported the pub attacks but because the constitutional right he had to stand by them. He was a minority there and none were interested in supporting him. And everyone was tying to settle scores on him. They attacked as if he was one of the attackers. Fortunately, it seemed, as if my intervention worked. Was I lucky? Who cares?!

We the Indians have an attitude of running arguments endlessly. But seldom do we end it with agreements? At the end of discussion we simply return to our homes and lie on our beds with more feelings of vengeance and hatred towards people who disagree with our point of view and thoughts.

Every seminar is run with an intention of enabling people to understand the dynamics of any issue. But what I am witnessing off-late is something which is quiet in complete contradiction to it. Speakers and resource people enforce their thoughts and ideologies on those young minds. These seminars are being turned increasingly into places of settling scores and enforcing beliefs and even spitting venoms.

I am but impressed to imagine a stark and contrasting future of this nation. Our youth are in a complete paradox. Instead of applying their own minds they are spending more time in accepting ideologies of men, with glamour, – blindly.

Of what use is the freedom offered by the constitution if it is not used by men to think freely? Zilch!

Author is Director of Prabal Publishing and a Hon. Prof. and Visiting Faculty of Journalism.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Varun and the Ghost of Sanjay Gandhi

Varun and the Ghost of Sanjay Gandhi
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

What happens when the ghosts of a powerful past return to haunt a man whose father was the de facto prime minister of India in the 70s? Varun Gandhi could have learned a lesson history taught his father but instead he chose venom over the history. Varun Gandhi could have become the Rahul Gandhi of today had history been on his side. But alas, history is not a narration of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. History does not allow anybody to remain permanently powerful. Sanjay Gandhi, Varun’s father, was an extremely powerful politician and Indira Gandhi’s “favoured son.” He was a man in great hurry. On the fateful day of June 23, 1980, Sanjay was flying a single-engine plane for fun. He did three loops in the air but probably was not satisfied. He tried a fourth but lost control. The young dream came crashing down; so did the aspirations of his wife Maneka and son Varun Gandhi.

The fate of Sanjay Gandhi’s family can be summed up in one line: Power followed by powerlessness.

Indira Gandhi’s elevation of her son has been described as ‘feudal’. Eminent historian Ramchandra Guha has rightly remarked, “And just as sons of Mughal emperors were once given a suba (province) to run before taking over the kingdom itself, Sanjay was asked to look after affairs in India’s capital city.”

29-year old Varun Gandhi’s life journey has been characteristically marked by a steep decline of his family. Varun Gandhi was barely three months old when Sanjay Gandhi died in the accident. Sanjay’s death marked the beginning of an era dominated by Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv’s miraculous rise eclipsed Maneka and Varun Gandhi. A feeling of loss must be etched in the memory of Varun Gandhi.

So what was Varun Gandhi thinking when he spew venom against Indian Muslims and Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation? How can a man – who studied in the liberal tradition of London School of Economics and Political Science – be communal? Perhaps he was following in his father’s footsteps whose obsessive preference was to be always in the news.

Sanjay Gandhi was the darling of Indian media in the 70s. Sanjay’s “chief cheerleader and trumpeter” was none other than Khushwant Singh himself who devoted pages and pages of photographs accompanied by flattering text in the famous The Illustrated Weekly of India. All India Radio (AIR) and the state-run television channel Doordharshan also used to pay much more attention to Sanjay. Facts would put AIR and Doordharshan to shame. In a single year alone, 192 “news items” were broadcast about Sanjay from the Delhi station of AIR. In the same period, Doordharshan telecast 265 bulletins about Sanjay’s activities. What more when Sanjay made a 24-hour-trip to Andhra Pradesh, the Films Division made a full-length documentary called A Day to Remember whose commentary ran in three languages!

Which media organisation will provide such coverage to Varun Gandhi today? Of course, none. Varun was trying to imitate his father in order to create news around himself. Varun had forgotten that the days of a golden bygone era are over.

Varun Gandhi’s only claim to fame is that he belongs to the Gandhi family. He joined BJP following in his mother’s footsteps in a mad race for power. His five years in BJP has been frustrating. In 2004, he could not contest elections since he was not 25; now he is eligible. Varun wanted to make sure that his debut electoral entry was akin to big bang theory. This is precisely for this reason that he intentionally opted for a provocative poll speech. Varun wants to be like his powerful father who was the centre of attention as well as attraction for even union ministers. It is a well-known fact that Bansi Lal, the then Defence minister, took the two candidates for admiral to be questioned by Sanjay. And When Sanjay Gandhi visited Jaipur; on his way 501 arches were erected in his honour! And at Lucknow airport when Sanjay stumbled on the tarmac and lost the sleeper, it was picked up by UP chief minister. He very reverentially handed it back to Sanjay. Today, Varun is trapped in such a political quagmire that his sleeper will not handed back to him even by an airhostess of a third class airline!

Varun Gandhi’s plight and stature is exactly opposite of Sanjay Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi wielded so much influence in Indian politics that anybody opposing his diktat was doomed. When Kishore Kumar refused to sing for programmes organised to raise money for Sanjay Gandhi’s notorious family planning, coercion and force were used by Sanjay’s men to boycott Kishore Kumar. Kishore’s songs were banned from Vividh Bharati, AIR channel that used to broadcast film music. The Film Censor Board was instructed to hold up release of movies in which Kishore acted or sang! Sanjay’s supporters also warned record companies against selling Kishore’s songs!

Sanjay Gandhi was a man of obsession: ‘The Man Who Used to Get Things Done’ by hook or by crook. Varun Gandhi is following the same path in order to carve out a niche for himself. There is a fundamental difference between the two: The father was arrogant and haughty but he had at least apologised once on the instructions of his mother, Indira Gandhi. In an interview, Sanjay had lambasted the Marxists and accused them of being corrupt. He later retracted his statement and said that leaders in Jana Sangh and Swatantra parties were even more ‘corrupt’ and that CPI must be saluted for its support to “progressive policies, especially those affecting the poor people.”

Varun’s unapologetic mood conveys that he is being backed by his mother Maneka and the BJP. Chief Election Commission must ban him from contesting the upcoming general election from Pilbhit.

In his press conference, Varun claimed to be a ‘Gandhi’ but he has forgotten the ideals of his own family, at least of his grandmother. “All my father’s works”, said Indira Gandhi in 1962, “have been written in prison. I recommend prison life not only for aspiring writers but for aspiring politicians too.”

Is there any message for Varun? Yes, prison is the only place where he can wear the mantle of political maturity.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cricket and cocktail terrorism

Cricket and cocktail terrorism
By Mubasshir Mushtaq

Murray Walker, the renowned British sports commentator who had once said – you can cut the tension with a cricket stump – should be thinking to retract his verbatim. Murray had probably said this in a South Asian context knowing well that cricket, the white man’s British burden, can unburden South Asian tension especially between India and Pakistan. Till March 3, his statement was considered a witty and convincing idiom in the dictionary of cricket commentary. The Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team will change the language of cricket commentary forever.

The audacious broad daylight attack on Sri Lankan cricketers marks the beginning of cocktail terrorism in South Asia. The so-called ‘Jihad’ merged with modern day accessories popularized by Hollywood culture: sneakers, backpacks, big guns etc. The attack was the Pakistan’s Mumbai moment. The Mumbai syndrome has finally traveled to the place from where it had actually originated. The syndrome has spread like epidemic among a few home-grown bedbugs that have begun the task of eating up Pakistan; making it hollow from the inside.

Pakistan has suffered the fate of United States of America. It has been struck by the men with whom it had mushroomed and sympathized for years. The bad boys in the backyard have gone out of control. The parallel with United States is strikingly similar. The world’s lone superpower has a history of sympathizing with ‘bad boys’ all across the world.

In 1970s and 80s, United States, armed and funded Muslim militants fighting against 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan; popularly known as Afghan Jihad. The American money and arms were directed and canalized through Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency ISI. Osama bin Laden is the American product of Afghan Jihad. The concept of jihad was legitimized and widely propagated as long as it suited America’s foreign policy. Afghan jihad was merely an extended exercise to contain America’s only rival: Russia. America’s love for mujahideen diminished the moment Russia withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. The point worth-noting here is this: Muslims still call this war as jihad while in American lexicon this was merely a cold-war exercise!

America’s understanding of the word ‘jihad’ improved with the 9/11. The men who allegedly flew planes into World Trade Centre followed a tradition long supported by the America. This was the first time that Americans experienced the biting of the feeding hand. Pakistan is undergoing the same phase for quite sometime now.

Cricket is a unifying game; the antithesis of the word ‘Partition’, an Afro-Asian phenomenon. Pakistan was always famous for the two things: Cricket and hospitality. These two assets were some of the positive elements that bound Pakistan to the rest of the world. A single attack has eroded the credibility of both. Jinnah (the Qaud-e-Azam) would have wept over this; Asif Ali Zardari does not even have tears. Pakistan is not a failed state; it has been paralyzed by its leaders. It neither became an ideal Islamic state nor a model secular nation. Isn’t it a classical paradox of the Indian subcontinent? Pakistan has always dangled between autocratic theocracy and corrupt democracy.

Pakistan was born on the basis of a divisive idea called Partition. Partition has been the fate of this Indian blood brother separated at birth. 1947 was merely the beginning whose end is not in sight. 1971 saw the second partition of Pakistan which resulted into the birth of a new nation called Bangladesh. Pakistan has witnessed many partitions after the creation of Bangladesh. The third quite partition took place in North West Frontier Post where tribalism is the order of the day. The fourth partition began among murmur and metamorphosed into an uproar when Pakistan entered into an agreement with Taliban in Swat valley. If the first four partitions were physical, the fifth partition is ideological in nature. It is taking place inside Pakistan; implemented by the men carrying Kalashnikovs on their shoulders.

The crisis of failed leadership has plagued Pakistan for years. Pakistanis are fed up of new promises of the old faces. Corrupt leaders have provided vacuum for not only fundamentalists but also Army Generals. General Pervez Musharraf was tolerated for 8 long years because patriotism comes easily to army uniforms. The current political dispensation is not led by pious men. Pakistan is the world’s only country headed by “two former convicts.” It was the crisis of failed leadership that forced Fatima Bhutto to remark that “Pakistan remains a rich and diverse country held hostage to a government chock full of ill-equipped and unqualified carpetbaggers.”

The Lahore attack will have far-reaching consequences notably in South Asia which is witnessing a stream of violence. A cursory glance on the map of South Asia will make one’s blood freeze. Sri Lanka is engaged in a dangerous war against LTTE; an organisation dubbed as “terrorist” by United States but yet long supported by India. Bangladesh has just awakened to the horrors of an army rebellion unparalleled in the history of South Asia. Nepal has been a victim of Maoist violence. India faces a real threat to its internal security from Naxals who control at least 140 Indian districts. Pakistan – which should have become a land of the pure – has become a nightmare for men of purity. It has become “an international migraine” to borrow Madeline Albright’s words.

The body of South Asian does not merely suffer from a minor injury. It suffers from the cancer of violence which threatens to paralyse the entire body. The US and UN – famous for administering injection of reform – have done very little to restore the confidence of people in South Asia.

Coming back to cricket, one question that has baffled security experts and analysts is this: why did terrorists choose Sri Lankan cricket team which took a bold initiative of touring Pakistan amidst grave threat? Sri Lankan cricket team had gone to Pakistan perhaps to prove that law and order still reign supreme in a feudal country. They have been permanently proved wrong by a bunch of ‘bad boys’.

So why did terrorists target a cricket team?

The answer is truly European. The terrorists were perhaps inspired by the 18th century Irish poet called Oscar Wilde who breathed his last in the year 1900. Oscar Wilde didn’t like the idea of playing cricket because of the “indecent” cricket postures. He had once said, “I never play cricket. It requires one to assume such indecent postures.”

Both Oscar Wilde and the terrorists who fired at the Sri Lankan cricket team shared the same point of view. The former employed his wit to express it while the latter believed in the weapon.