Tag Archives: Politics

On adopting a dog, de-politicizing self and the question of P G Woodhouse.

Ok, I have been remiss in my duties as a blogger. Why?

Excuses excuses. That is really not the right note to begin a blog on. I have, however, recently found dog. That is, I am now the personal butler of a very adorable Chihuahua named Chirkut. (Picture enclosed). My north Indian readers may be surprised at the choice of name, because it isn’t very flattering in the North Indian context. However, Chirkut means a little slip of paper to Bengalis and that is what she was named after. While she is a delight in every way, what with the running around trying to catch her, the naps, the trips to the vet and plotting world domination with her, I have not had time to.. well.. write a post, as it were. For reasons to be explained later, I have taken to speaking liked a gentleman English dandy. (re Woodhouse, I am very impressionable).

Then there is the matter of verb conjugation in French. But we shall get to it later, after the dog question has been dealt with in detail. While I have always wanted a dog, I did not quite anticipate what it would make me feel to actually have one. The feeling of having a tiny little blighter depend on you entirely is kind of scary. But once the fear has worn of, it is a very rewarding experience. It is also a natural cure for the blues, and keeps one of one’s toes.

The other thing that has been keeping me on my toes, are the French lessons. Now let us acknowledge at the outset that anyone who can speak French sounds cool. No matter what they are like. It is a fact. The mere speaking of French can ‘shine a turd’ as they say. That is not, however, why I have been learning the language. Come September, this blogger, shall be heading off to Geneva for a three moth internship. I hope to see a bit of Europe while I am at it. Now I am kind of stoked about Europe, because a lot of the things I like came from there. (Mostly in the shape of ideas). I remember when I was little, I read a book about an American girl called Katy, who took a tour of Europe. Since then I have had a fascination for Venetian gondolas, the beaches of Nice, the streets of London and Paris. I shall, however, be taking a different trajectory and hope to glimpse Amsterdam and some of Germany. But those are castles in the air, and right now I am faced with the unenviable task of conjugating irregular verbs in French.

Languages have a strange power, irrespective of whether you speak them well or ill. They let you reach into a person and form an intimacy that would have been impossible if you did not speak their mother tongue. You absorb the history and culture of a place better if you have learned even a bit of the language. So in that those who urge the importance of Indian languages are right. Our generation is too steeped in its adulation of English, and in uprooting itself from its several mother tongues, is getting uprooted from a rich cultural life. I just have a problem when Hindi is posed as a solution to this cultural de-contextualization. But that gets me to the bane of my existence.

Did you notice how just when we were discussing travel, and my adorable Chihuahua pup, the political question raised its head. ‘The personal is political’ has been said, and yes, to me politics (not in the narrow sense of which party is less horrid, but in the broader sense of how society is ordered and organized, and how it ought to be) is a way of life. Hence, to me, most questions are political. Sometimes you can distill the political from the legal, and consider only the latter, but there it is, the P word. But sometimes I wonder if a person pondering politics (pardon the alliteration) is a happy person? When I see that the discourse around us has been reduced to either ignorant blithering or one-liners intended for one-upmanship, I wonder if an existence in which I scarcely contemplated the political would be a happy one. Or perhaps, books are the best conversationalists. Now if I have readers who have carefully followed me to this point, I would ask you to buy or borrow ‘India after Gandhi’ by Ramchandra Guha. Amazon (the otherwise usually irreproachable amazon) has bungled my order but it shall be getting here soon. Maybe I will do a review after reading it. I hear it is quite amazing.

But speaking of books, and I will wrap up after this, I must tell you a quick about your dear blogger. (Now to those who will accuse me of megalomania in referring to myself this way, I say, I am quite dear to those twenty odd people following me.) I had never ever read P G Woodhouse till 7/18/2015. Can you believe that? And no, I am not terribly ignorant, I just felt my nerves would not be able to take all those things going wrong. And was I wrong or was I wrong? I have corrected the state of affairs by purchasing a Jeeves omnibus. Spending all my free time reading the adventures of Messers Wooster and Jeeves has got me speaking this way. Hopefully, it won’t last. The next post, understandably, will take a while. As Bertie Wooster would say! Tinker-tonk!!

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Why I reluctantly began to like Kejriwal

So here is the thing.

I am a snob. I am not proud of it. But I can’t help it. I was born this way.. when it came to choosing a baby formula, I am pretty sure I told my mother that ‘cerelac’ was too mainstream (actually I don’t think I was fed formula, but I am trying to make a point here). A shiver runs down my spine when Chetan Bhagat or Salman Khan are discussed.  I can only watch ‘Jab We Met’ if I tell myself that I am being ironic. I could go on and on, but I think that you have got the picture, dear readers.

So you can imagine what my feelings would be about Arvind Kejriwal when he first became popular. To everyone, he was the new messiah (and I don’t believe in messiahs). His ‘dharna’s’ caught the imagination of the masses, his persona enthralled them. Kejriwal was going to change Indian politics. He would fix corruption. It was a recipe I was doomed to dislike.

And let me be clear here, it was not just my snobbery that made me suspicious. I don’t believe that deep rooted practices can be changed by one man or party calling for honesty (though yes, one party can be a catalyst for change). I do not think women’s safety is ensured by sitting on vigils after high profile rapes (though yes vigils are important to show solidarity). There needs to be much plodding in terms of policy implementation. Much introspection in the general population about why we live in a society with endemic corruption and gender discrimination .  During the 49 days AAP was in power, I was concerned with the conduct of the AAP law minister in relation to the Khirki raid, which if not racist, was certainly authoritarian.

So you will wonder why I am writing this? Is it some long drawn plan to diss Kejriwal? No. I actually began to like him. A lot. And this post is about explaining it to myself as much as to my dear readers. So this blog post may have a bit of a dear diary vibe, and I hope you will forgive me for it.

Kejriwal had a brief lull in his popularity after he resigned as the Chief Minister of Delhi. While the core volunteers of AAP must have remained loyal, there was an exodus of some of the more visible faces. For a brief while the media had written off the AAP, in its Narendra Modi frenzy. At that time people began to snicker about how Arvind Kejriwal had been slapped on the campaign trail. People found this hilarious, and it became the fodder of SMS jokes.

When I heard these jokes, I began to wonder whether I knew any other present Indian leader who was approachable enough to the people to be slapped. It made me sit up and think. I did not know of any other leader that dealt with the people as an equal: as an aam admi. Of course Kejriwal has a carefully crafted persona, just like any other leader. But he has also given a great deal of deference to the experiences and wishes of the people he is supported by. His tendency to sit on dharna even as the Chief Minister was annoying, but also showed that he was not going to go anywhere. People would be a central part of his scheme of things.

Then came the Supreme Court’s judgment upholding S 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes ‘unnatural sex against the order of nature’ (read non-hetero-normative sex). I was astonished that the AAP made a statement which expressed disappointment with the Court’s judgment.  This was a party with a primarily north-Indian middle class base. A backlash was foreseeable, but they went ahead and made this statement. I was pleasantly surprised.

But I was the most surprised by the fact that after the media wrote him off, Kejriwal did not go into a self-destructive spiral. He went back to his base. He worked on consolidating his position in Delhi. He addressed the Delhi debacle head on. He apologized for what he did/ or failed to do by resigning as the Chief Minister. Again something very refreshing. A politician apologizing for a mistake, and asking for a fresh chance. I don’t remember seeing something like this in the 12 years that I have followed Indian politics.

So here is what I realized about Arvind Kejriwal. He is not perfect. But he has humility. He is willing to call his mistakes what they are: mistakes. He is willing to  learn. He does not eddy around in currents of megalomania.  He does not get so carried away by populism that he forgets the mandate of the Constitution (though of all his faults this is the one to watch). He brings up his volunteers almost all the time, and never hesitates to give credit.

These personal qualities of Mr Kejriwal aside,  AAP also occupies a crucial place in the scheme of things in India. It can use the popularity it enjoys to become a healthy check on the party in power. No matter how good the BJP leadership is, absolute power corrupts.The AAP can be a force that keeps a check on the great power that the BJP enjoys.  Further, through five years of solid governance in Delhi (if it wins the elections) AAP can instill values like transparency and accountability in the institutions it controls. This will be far more effective than ‘Dharnas’, because it will be slow institutional change. Change of that kind is really hard to kill.

I think Arvind Kejriwal has what it takes to be a leader who can bring about that change. I think he can work to be a credible and stable force in Indian politics. But he needs supporters who disagree with him. Who have problems with some of his discourse. He needs supporters (like me perhaps) who don’t think he is the best thing since sliced bread. But he is pretty good, and I hope he proves me right.

Kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai- Why Corruption stays.

Recently a friend and I were traveling by a ‘premium’ train, a new offering that takes you from New Delhi to Bombay (and back I presume). While this train does guarantee you a seat, and gets you to your destination quickly.. there is nothing premium about it.

Anyway, the story I want to relate has nothing much to do with the quality of services on the train. When we got there, we realized that all the other people in that unit of 6+2 seats were men. (And very nice accommodating men, I must say). Nevertheless, given the absence of curtains and other women, I felt I would be more comfortable if we upgraded our seats to the 2nd AC, or changed the seats.

We learnt that upgrading could be really easy as more than half the 2nd AC was going empty. Since it was my idea, I asked my friend to watch the luggage, while I went and spoke to the TT.

The TT of our coach had previously told us that we needed to speak to the TT in charge of up-gradation, and when I asked the train staff they told me he was near the pantry car.

I went and found him and told him that I preferred a lower seat, and was willing to upgrade to 2nd Ac etc etc. Would he please grant my request..

Mr TT told me that this train had no official method of up-gradation of tickets, but if I wanted I could ‘unofficially’ get it done by paying Rs 1500. On seeing the look of confusion on my face he asked whether I was traveling on  ‘company money’, and would need to claim the same. I said no, it was my own money. He asked me ‘then what is the problem?’.

I was still trying to process the fact that someone had asked me for a bribe. (Yes, I have had a somewhat sheltered life).

He then continued smugly ‘dekhiye madam.. kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’. (to gain something, you have to lose something)

He even asked a couple of other colleagues of his, about this arrangement and the colleague agreed. By this time I was just curious more than anything else, about where this was going.

A couple of times I requested him whether he could find us different seats in the 3rd AC coach that were going empty, to which he said, I needed to do that myself by requesting other passengers. (A fair point I think)

I mumbled something about asking for my friend’s advice, and left the pantry car. I then went back to my friend and discussed the situation. We agreed that it was unnecessary to pay the bribe.

We managed to travel comfortably enough on the seats we were given, especially since the other passengers were quite accommodating.

So what was the point of telling you this story, given that it is not very extra-ordinary? Indians are routinely  asked for bribes by various functionaries, and pay the same.

The point was, that at the moment the smug man told me ‘kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’… I felt like it threw the past few years into stark relief for me. So much had happened in the country, and yet so little.

When the Anna Hazare movement started, people in my peer group went mad. A lot of people wore those ‘I am Anna’  caps, and talked of how this movement was as big as ‘Gandh-ism’. There was a genuine people’s involvement in the movement, to be fair.

Demands were made by people about the Lokpal Bill without quite understanding what they were demanding, and members of Anna Hazare’s team described all politicians as thieves.  (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/all-political-parties-are-thieves-says-team-anna-member-manish-sisodia-148065)

I was quite unmoved during these protests, not because I did not think corruption was not an issue, but because I thought the protests were a passing fad. They did not echo any real sentiment against corruption, because they essentially looked outside.

Anyone who understands the way Indian publife life works knows that corruption is  not limited to the bastions of power where high profile scams happen. Those high profile scams, while terrible, take out attention away from the moral decay of our society. We have become a society that promotes and revels in corruption, by taking and giving small bribes. But not just that.. often we do not see corruption as corruption.

I was once talking to a rather dim gentleman who was going on about bribes as corruption, when I happened to mention that there can be other forms of corruption where money does not change hands.

What do you mean he said, frowning at a thought that did not quite fit his scheme of things.

Nepotism, I said. Or quid pro quo.

‘Oh that!’ The gentleman replied. ‘I would call that a cultural issue. That is not corruption.’

So there we are. A cultural issue.

But now that we have brought up culture and nepotism, I must tell you the story of Ekalavya.  This can be found in the Mahabarata. Ekalavya was a Bhil boy who was keen on learning archery. Given that fighting was what kshatriyas did, Ekalavya did not find a suitable teacher. Drona (the royal teacher) refused to teach him. But Ekalavya was stealthy. He built a statue of Drona and began considering the staute a teacher. He would go and observe Drona teaching the princes, and began learning. Gradually Ekalavya became so good, that his skills surpassed that of Arjun (the teacher’s favourite). When Drona saw this, he asked Ekalavya who his teacher was. On learning that it was Drona himself who had inadvertently ‘taught’ Ekalavya, he asked his student for what is called a ‘Guru-dakshina’ (teaching fee). He demanded that Ekalavya cut-off the thumb  of his archery hand. Ekalavya complied.

He did later learn how to shoot from his other hand, but that was that. He was not as skilled as he would have been had his thumb not been cut-off.

So here we see a clear case of corruption don’t we. Drona was not merely favouring his pupil, but he forced a more skilled young man to mutilate himself in order to allow his favourite to get ahead. Is that corruption or is it a cultural issue?

Why did Ekalavya face the disadvantage he did? The most specious answer is, because Drona liked Arjuna.

But why did Drona like Arjuna? Caste was definitely relevant here. A Bhil, i Drona’s eyes, could not beat a warrior prince, and he could simply not allow that to happen. This is similar to why another talented warrior Karna, was never allowed to challenge Arjuna, as Karna belonged a supposedly lower caste of Charioteers.

Some of you will be rolling your eyes now. Am I really ascribing the failure of the Anna Hazare movement to stories in the Mahabharata?

Certainly not. I am just trying to show through these examples that there are several factors that have made our society rigid. The caste system has played some sort of a role in our rigid conception of society and the resultant decay in values. And yes, that has lead to corruption in the form of nepotism and quid pro quo.

Also, on another side note, the Mahabharata does give you a lot of parallels across the ages. When a certain party leader can not look beyond their incompetent son, are you not reminded of Dhritarashtra? (this, my dear non-Indian reader, you will have

With that there is the culture of ‘adjustment’. Taking bribes is not really a big deal for a large amount of service providers, and not all of them work in the Government.

Lift boys in hospitals, university staff, our corporate honchos, or aunties keeping money stuffed in a mattress. Everyone practices a kind of corruption or the other.

Most importantly, being asked to pay a bribe is not a big deal to most people. In fact, in certain cases people prefer paying the small amount of bribe money rather than following the due procedure of law. (Such as during traffic violations).

I have been asked for bribes rarely. On all occasions I have refused to pay, and played dumb. Sitting around till I was given the service I needed. This approach is okay sometimes, but not really when bribes take the form of extortion.

For bribes that take the form of extortion we have legal remedies, and social remedies like shaming (though how well these work is open to debate).

But what about corruption that does not bother people? What about acts of quid pro quo that we practice and condone, or the bribes that we think are okay because it saves us time? These chip away at the core of our moral values, making our society empty.

This article turned out to be more preachy than it intended to be. Many of you will have problems with a lot of things that I say, and correlations I make. Correct me where you feel it is necessary, but I firmly believe no Anna, no movement can save us till we decide to save ourselves.