Saturday, August 20, 2011

On Anna Hazare’s Movement

This is a real torture when one cannot take a firm stand on a issue which is holding sway over the country for the last few days. I am still vacillating—sometimes on this side, sometimes on the other. And mostly in between. This happens when the facts are not available though there is no shortage of rhetoric on both sides.

I clearly remember this—when Manmohan Singh first became the Prime Minister of UPA-I, he promised to bring administrative reforms—reforms in administration, judiciary, police, military, everything. This was the much needed second generation of reforms. We believed MMS because after all he was the famed reforms man of the P V Narasimha Rao’s regime.

But sadly this did not happen, even though we are in the middle of his second term. We have not seen a single reform so far, not even much in his pet line of economic reforms. Whatever actions we have seen have been in the domain of the SG-chaired, extra-constitutional NAC crowded with the Harsh Mander types, which prescribed wasteful and corruption-breeding schemes. Why have the priorities changed? The reason is easily understandable. In the PVNR times, the PM was wholly backing MMS, in fact PV was the real reforms man. With UPA-I and II, it is Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi who call the shots and they are either not bothered about reforms or do not understand the need of it.

India has vastly moved forward since the socialistic days of Indira Gandhi. I still remember those days when to have a bag of cement or a scooter, one would either have to go to the black market or wait for many years. But though we have made some progress, reforms in India is only semi-done. Whatever happened has happened mainly in the economic front. Now India needs, badly needs, the other reforms promised by the PM. Had they taken place, they would have vastly improved the government’s functioning and reduced corruption to a great extent. Over-regulation is our bane which actually gives rise to corruption while pretending to tackle it. The promised reforms were supposed to reduce the regulations (particularly the discretionary powers in the hands of some as Swapan Dasgupta has so nicely explained recently) and create a free and competitive atmosphere.

But what has happened is that the level of corruption has actually increased over the years during the rule of this government. This has happened because politicians and bureaucrats have retained their vast regulatory powers to dispense/deny favours to industrialists. In India the situation is so bad that the industrialists who do not toe the dotted line would simply perish.

This is why I have been against bringing an additional and super regulatory authority like the Lokpal into the picture. We need to unshackle, not to put more shackles. Lokpal Bill appeared to me to be a movement in the exact opposite direction. Also, I cannot exactly comprehend how a few persons can root out both big-ticket and small-ticket corruption (considering the huge number of people involved in the latter). The pro-JLP intellectuals must explain these aspects to people before the latter is expected to form an opinion.

However, anger against corruption is something I do share like everybody in this country. This is why I respect Anna Hazare and his team and this is why watching Annaji’s movement unfolding on the streets and the TV screen brings tears to my eyes. These people have made us feel that there is still some hope left.

The imperious way with which the government has dealt with this issue so far has changed my perceptions to a great extent. Firstly, the treatment they have meted out to Baba Ramdev. In my own circles I know at least a dozen people who follow Baba Ramdev’s yog methods and they have greatly benefitted from it. To call this person as a ‘Dhongi Baba’ is equivalent to insulting all such people who have faith in him. No surprise India Today’s recent polls have shown a sharp decline of the support for Congress party in UP and an associated rise of BJP support there.

Well, Baba Ramdev was perhaps not fit for this fight. He obviously lacked courage that showed in his comic flight. He also prescribes solutions that are too simplistic. In other words, he does not have a proper understanding of the issues.

The Anna Hazare team comprises of much better intellect. To ridicule them will simply not do. Ordinary people have a remarkable wisdom and the huge popular sentiment pouring on the streets cannot be ignored. All this talk about being unconstitutional (which is a lie) and extra-parliamentary is mere technicality. Democracy is India is firmly secured. In fact this is also another face of democracy. When the government does not act, people have a right to bring pressure upon the government.

The anti-Anna intellectuals have so far been mostly sarcastic and nothing much more than that. They should now come out more in the line of explaining the matters. They should explain better alternatives, if there are any. They maintain that the JLP is draconian, but why? For asking life imprisonment for the big-ticket corrupt persons? Well, I would rather like execution for them, China style. In fact I feel that punishment for crimes in our country is too mild. Corruption in the judiciary is perhaps the most alarming thing and I hear that there is an Accountability bill lying with parliament on that—these things are to be explained.

Personally, my greatest problem with team Anna is the presence of socialistic, anti-industry, anti-capitalism outlook (eg Prashat Bhushan, Medha Patkar) which, in my view, will only work towards retarding India’s growth.

The government could have discussed the issues threadbare with the Anna team, inside the parliament, and might have had interactions with the public through the media. But it has not done so. The utterances of people like Kapil Sibal, Manish Tiwari and Divijay Singh only strengthens public suspicion that the government is attempting to hide things and is not interested in tackling corruption.

The way I see the matter right now is that in our country nothing comes the perfect way and perhaps something better will come out of this ‘imperfect’ Jan Lokpal Bill. We always felt hopeless against corruption, terrorism, etc … now we can at least see some hope.

(Ultimately this post remains a confused babble—a mirror of the present working of my mind.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Changed Position—1 (On Sri Lanka)

In an earlier blog, I supported the military action taken by the Sri Lankan government against the LTTE and its leader Prabhakaran. I still hold that eliminating Prabhakaran and his army was the only way to achieve peace in that region. But the information that has come to light later on the military offensive has made me to change my views on some matters.

It is said that no less than 40,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in cold-blood by the Sri Lankan army in the conflict. The Tamil people were told to move to so-called safe places where they were then massacred. This is totally unacceptable; this is war crime of the worst kind. Also the work of rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils is moving at snail’s pace and their condition at the camps is horrible.

Obviously the government of SL have not been able or been willing to bring itself above the narrow mindset of ethnic chauvinism. It is therefore left to the rest of the world to bring justice to the whole issue.

Rajapakse and his team must be tried for war crimes and sentenced.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Babri Masjid

The day the Babri Masjid was felled, I was in the Konkan region. In the evening I made my customary call to our Cochin office to discuss the latest work-related issues. My Bengali boss took the call and he sounded very upset: “Whatever has happened is really bad; very, very bad.” Since then, I have heard and read this comment many times. In fact, the thinking class is totally unanimous in their opinion that the destruction of the mosque is a blot on the history of India. Somehow I do not agree totally. Or rather I would have liked a third path.

Many a times I have thought of writing down my views on this topic (and then to proceed to write another post on P V Narasimha Rao), but sheer laziness as well as my reluctance to take on a controversial issue of such magnitude has always stopped me. Finally, today, the time has perhaps arrived . . .

If you happen to visit the Qutab Minar in Delhi, you will discover that the pillars, beams and other members of the surrounding mosque and other structures were removed from some twenty-seven Hindu and Jaina temples after demolishing them. The noses and ears of the figurines of the various gods carved on the pillars were intentionally chipped off to erase their Hinduness. The grand mosque that came up after vandalising so many Hindu/Jaina temples was significantly named Quwwatul-Islam Masjid (Might of Islam), ostensibly to drive home the point. Travel down south to the temples of Belur and Halebeedu and there also you can find signs of vandalism at the hands of the Muslim invaders, albeit of a smaller degree since the invaders did not have much time to make a spectacular job of it.

But what pains the most is to discover how even the holiest places of Hindus were not spared the marauders’ hammers. The intention of course was to establish Islam as the subjugator and the Hind faith as the vanquished. Rama, Krishna and Shiva are among the most revered Hindu Gods, and Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi are considered their abode. And in each of these places there stands a mosque, at the very places where Hindus go for worship. What if the Kaba at Mecca was destroyed and a Hindu temple came up over its ruins? Would it not hurt the Muslims? Would they allow the temple to remain? To think of it, this will be the exact equivalent of what happened in Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, since these places are as holy as Mecca to the Hindus. But will the Muslim Umma accept it? Will they allow you to even discuss such a possibility, if only for debate’s sake? We know the answer, don’t we?

Such things make me very angry. Even Swami Vivekananda was enraged when he saw the extent of vandalism at the Kheer Bhavani temple at Kashmir. “Mother, your devotes of that time could not protect your temple… had I been there at that time, I would never have allowed this to happen,” – such went his thoughts. At that time he heard, as he himself later described, the divine voice of the goddess, “My child, what do you think?–You protect me or I protect you? This temple came up according to my wish and it was destroyed also due to the same reason.”

The above calmed down Swamiji, but we lesser mortals cannot grasp such reasoning easily. But that does not mean I would be wishing Hindus charging to destroy all the mosques that were built on the grounds of Hindu temples. A Hindu is extremely liberal in such things–he can appreciate the fact that such things were common in the medieval times and cannot or need not be undone at our times.

But one thing I earnestly expected of the Muslims at those turbulent times was to understand the hurt that a Hindu felt because of acts of such vandalism, and to let the Hindus know that the Muslims felt much sorry for that. The Vatican regularly does this. But that, sadly, was not to happen. It is not that there did not exist learned, reasonable and accommodative people among the Muslims (the best example perhaps is Maulana Wahiduddin whose knowledge of both Islam and Hindu religion is superior to most of the scholars from both sides) who could have engineered a win-win sort of reconciliation between both the parties. But alas, Maulana Wahiduddin was never heeded to, even discarded as a ‘BJP’s Maulana’ (furthest from being the truth).

Babri Masjid has historically been the rawest wound between the two communities—history is witness to many confrontations over it through the centuries. Here was a historical opportunity to heal the wounds only if the Muslim community decided to show an accommodative attitude—after all this was an unimportant and disused mosque whereas huge Hindu sentiment was associated with it. Such a gesture would have earned the Muslims tremendous goodwill from the Hindus. Why I expect an accommodative approach only from the Muslims is because, firstly, the Hindus were the aggrieved party and not the other way round, and secondly, being a Hindu myself (and here I may be biased), I am sure the Hindus, by their predisposition towards being accommodative, would have reciprocated the well-meaning gesture.

Since this did not happen, the alternatives left were either to maintain the status quo or to set the wrong right through unilateral action (by the Hindus). The first one meant the wound was left to fester, to go deeper, and to create an even greater division between the two communities than that existed. More riots all over the country to follow, more elections to be fought on this issue.

Well, it is the second alternative, of Hindus going on the offensive, is what has actually happened. The plus side of it is that this resulted in a sort of closure, albeit incomplete, in the Hindu mind, which is evident from that fact that even the BJP now acknowledges that the Ram Mandir issue cannot be stirred up into an election issue again. This is good for the country, because otherwise the development agenda of the country would have run the risk of getting derailed time and again. But the most important thing in my mind is the moral side--that a grave wrong was thrust upon the Hindus which they have had a right to redress and have finally done so, albeit in a belligerent manner.

This is of course not a perfect solution. It has left the Muslims to feel now as the aggrieved party. So for them there has been no closure. So there will continue to be more bomb blasts.
In any case, while choosing between two bad options, I think the country has chosen the less bad one.

My whole argument is based on the supposition that the Babri Masjid was built by destroying a revered Hindu temple and thus that act is the ultimate root cause--the original sin. I strongly believe that that there must be a lot of truth in the Hindu belief throughout the centuries that this is Lord Rama’s place of birth. Even if you discard this to be only a myth, there at least existed a ram Janmabhumi temple at that site. Archaeological evidence also point towards that, but given the so-called secular discourse of the country, such evidences are ignored in the domains of government and high-brow media (like NDTV).

Perhaps P V Narasimha Rao, the then Congress Prime Minister, also thought in this manner--that this was a thorn, and to allow the thorn to be removed was the best option that presented itself. So on that fateful day, he chose inaction. But more on him on another day.