Author: Ashish Shukla

India runs on Railways; So please be mindful Ms. Sonia Gandhi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Railways was in news for different reasons last week. It wasn’t rail-budget (that the NDA government did away with in 2017 after 92 years); any train accident or cockroach in your dinner tray. It was because Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of Congress, had opened her mouth and become a butt of joke.

Sonia makes few public speeches. But the other day, she spoke in Parliament and accused BJP of clandestinely “privatizing” Modern Coach Factory in Raebareli, Uttar Pradesh despite it producing coaches beyond its capacity. Her heart beat for thousands of employees who could be laid off. In perfect sync, All-India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF), with 1.4 million members, echoed Sonia’s fears.

Little had Sonia known of the muck it would invite on her own Congress party. Railway minister Piyush Goyal rose in reply and the skeletons of Congress regime began tumbling out. In 64 years, between 1950-2014, Congress had added only 13,000 odd tracks to its network; that Modern Coach Factory produced not a single coach since it was set in motion in 2007; and some unfinished projects in West Bengal date back from the 1970s. We would come to “privatization” bit in a while for a bigger Railways story awaits our attention.

India runs on Railways. Passenger services (11 million passengers per day) account for two-third of its operations; the remaining one-third is freight (6 lakh tonnes daily). In terms of revenue though the role reverses. Freight accounts for two-thirds of revenue. By 2050, India would account for 40 per cent of global Rail activity.

This is just a starter. India is poised to become world’s most populous nation by 2024.  Most of it would be young, needing goods and that too in double quick time. India would’ve 829 million Internet users by 2021. It’s a prospect which salivates E-commerce biggies. It also has the government drooling towards its 5 trillion-economy goal. Transportation infrastructure, along with energy, is the biggest economic growth driver for the country. A 7% or 8% growth is impossible without an efficient Railways.

The worry is most of India’s transportation business still runs on land. That’s because our railway tracks carry both passengers and freight. It slows up the goods movement to a crawl. It makes transporters wary; and the investors reluctant. They have good enough reasons too. The account book of Railways show that out of every rupee it earned, 93 paisa was spent just to keep it chugging and alive.

In comes Dedicated Freight Corridor. Demand for rail freight movement is infinite. It’s government’s priority too. Two corridors under construction are expected to be functional over the next two years. The Eastern and Western Corridor covers a total stretch of 3,360 kilometres. The Eastern Corridor stretches from Ludhiana (Punjab) to Dankunj (West Bengal) and the Western one lasts from Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Mumbai) to Dadri (Uttar Pradesh). Visit any of its sites and you would be stunned by the speed of operations in sorting out locomotive and wagon specifications, energy maximization, freight logistics, track safety, commercial and marketing plans and skill-enhancement centres etc.

Freight is a game India can’t lag behind. While inland waterways, coastal shipping, air and road transport are doing their bit, Railways has to be the prime mover to prepare India for its next decade. The matter is not just of economy, it’s of environment too. While jobs and revenue are paramount, the matter of environment is one of life and death.

Fortunately, Indian Railways has pulled up its stocks. Nearly 45 per cent of all our rail nework is electrified today and rest are running on diesel locomotive. No longer we are reliant on steam engines which are run on coal and its fossil fuel lay our environment waste. Most, if not all, of our superfast trains hav electric engines. More and more tracks are being electrified. Varanasi and Chittranjan manufacture all types of railways engines. Coach factories in Perambur, Kapurthala, Raebareli etc produce the compartments on which India runs.

And talk of passengers. Since 2000, the growth of passengers using Indian Railways has gone up by 200 per cent. It would only grow further. India needs more and more short-distance trains which are electric and power efficient. Superfast trains, lampooned by opposition, are critical too.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off India’s first semi high-speed train, Vande Bharat Express, earlier this year.  This plush 16-coach air-conditioned, self-propelled train doesn’t have a locomotive. It runs between Delhi and Varanasi with halts at Kanpur and Allahabad. The 780-km long journey is completed in eight hours and slices off three hours from it earlier duration. This is India’s fastest train to date. The looks and interiors of the train have the feel of a commercial airplane. Hold your breath, 130 similar semi high-speed trains are in the pipeline.

Sure, all this needs investment. Government is doing its bid to attract private players (General Electric is already there). Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is being sought. Public-Private Partnership is the need of the hour. Corporatization plan is mooted, like the one of Indian Railway Rolling Stock Company to hive off seven of its production units and associated workshops which Sonia Gandhi mischievously termed as “privatization.” Modernization drive has so far fetched Rs 1.21 lakh crore of investment. Indeed, the estimation is of $190 billion investment by 2050. High-speed trains could save India up to $64 billion on fuel expenses. The diesel cost presently is Rs 15000 crores per annum.

After an existence of 176 years, Indian Railways is getting the attention it deserves. No longer those railway budgets which were only meant to announce schemes and new routes and never saw the light.  It desperately needs investment and India is exploring all its avenues. To run it down as “privatization by stealth” is ethical debauchery.

 

World Cup final: Greatest game ever? My foot!

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Just think of the cricket stars who were there in the World Cup 2019.  I mean Tendulkars and Pontings; Akrams and Warnes; Kohlis and Roots; Williamsons and Warners. Pure galaxy.  You must have also seen Clive Lloyds and Dave Richardson, ICC’s honchos in the gallery. Those many cricketers, commentators, journalists, game’s guardians. None of them could spot the silliest of rules: A tied game being decided by the boundaries hit.

How did it happen? I mean now you won’t find a single person on the planet who is not beating the silly rule with the stick of his choice. But who do you hold responsible? ICC which regulates the game but borrows the laws from the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club); cricket boards who are bound to read and ratify the terms and conditions or the captains themselves who put their careers on line if not their necks to the knives of their countrymen? Who do we hold by the collar for the error of 9/11 scale?

This was cricket’s equivalent of 9/11.  A few box-cutters got into a few planes, took over the American skies, plunged the fuel-laden objects into two symbols of world’s capitalism and changed our world forever. We are still debating how they got into the cockpits when the CIA had forewarned White House of such a plan; when commercial planes were the preferred vehicles for terrorists of previous plots and when World Trade Center had been targeted before.

What do we tell the families who lost 3,000 collectively at ground-zero? The wars which followed in its wake? The destruction of Middle East, millions killed, raped and displaced? Refugees all over which has triggered the collapse of the Global Liberal Order as nations build walls around their boundaries?

Let’s rewind the clock and presume its September 10, 2001.  The world is in a preventive mode. Fighter planes are circling the Twin Towers and the airplanes have bulletproof doors. 9/11 thus never takes place. The guy who thought of bulletproof doors would get no mention in our consciousness. A line might appear in newspapers: “Joey, who helped avoid the 9/11 disaster, died peacefully in his sleep.” Instead, who are in our collective memory? Those fire-fighters, the New York mayor, the spirited bulls of New York Stock Exchange who are now stuff of legends.

Humanity has a way of presuming disasters won’t happen. The World Cup organizers didn’t account for such an eventuality. All those gurus and custodians with over a billion dollars under their belt couldn’t visualize what an idiot would they appear if a World Cup final was to be decided on boundaries hit. All those cricket luminaries. All those grave commentators. All our heroes. They refused to think, imagine. They were busy striking deals, making stands colourful, confetti and firecrackers were bought in truckloads.  A simple leap in imagination, a scenario imagined, would’ve warned them of a cricket’s 9/11 equivalent.

And we are still fooling ourselves. We are talking of the greatest game ever. Of a sage like Kane Williamson,  gladiator Ben Stokes and getting lyrical about the sleight of destiny. We are still in denial of our collective failure. Our inability to get beyond our comfort zones of matches played, won and lost; heroes found, villains emerged. Two imaginative kids in a room, playing a game of fantasy, would’ve warned us of such an equation.

So go beyond the spills and thrills of 2019 World Cup final. Engage a psychologist next time who would tell you we humans just never think of an unlikely situation. We protect ourselves with what we know; we never plan for what we don’t know. Look for those who take the reverse route and begin with what we don’t know. Only then we can transcend our follies which turn out to be catastrophic in hindsight.

Karnataka now, MP and Rajasthan tomorrow; Who saves Congress?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Critics are bemused; fans dismayed as Congress goes on a political ventilator. Vital organs (top leaders) and arteries (regional leaders) are giving up. Deep coma of a few decades, beckon. Can it survive?

When the patient is in ICU, it allows surgeons to do what is best. The trouble is these surgeons—Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra—can’t pick up the tools on the table.  All surgical tables have three types of instruments: (a) Cutting instruments like scissors, surgical blades, knives etc; (b) Grasping or holding instruments like forceps; and (c) Retractors, to hold the tissues and look at malaise which is beneath. Our surgeons, however, can’t feel a twitch in their frames.

One of the surgeons did make his move early. Rahul Gandhi resigned and resigned while an assortment of assistants wailed and vowed to prevail against his resolve. Priyanka Gandhi-Vandra was beholden to this virtuous man who was her brother. Mamma darling, meanwhile, pursed her lips and awaited for the inevitable offer to land on her shoulders which age and illness have slumped. What next?

Enter Congress Working Committee (CWC). This is the club of the comatose whose prime office-bearers are no other than our three surgeons. The rest are made up of walking corpses, ghosts too benign to affect a single voter and vultures who despite cleanest of clothes, trimmed beards and dyed pates, are only for interface with a servile media.

Thus our surgeons and this august club are interchangeable. The club would only do what the surgeons ask them to do. So this club could accept the resignations of Scindias and Deoras but would dither on Rahul Gandhi. It would never say no to flying resignations in the room from Telangana, Goa or Karnataka.  Maybe both the surgeons and the club should quit and replant a new setup.

Easier said than done. The precedent itself is sobering. It was once attempted in 1992, the first Congress’ organizational elections in two decades. Narasimha Rao emerged as the party president. A new CWC and All-India Congress Committee (AICC) were constituted in Tirupathi. New office-bearers and committees were constituted for two years. However, two years later in 1994, nobody quit. No fresh elections took place. The posts and its occupants were given an “indefinite extension.”

So fresh organizational elections within the Party would fool no-one. It might encourage factionalism and multiple splits to occur. Young Turks already have their hat in the ring and are smelling blood in the pool. Older ones—sample Ashok Gehlot who says Rajasthan wanted him as CM—are drawing whatever strength they could from the imbeciles like them. Nobody is losing sight that four assembly elections are slated within next few months.

Meanwhile there are practical issues too. In case both Rahul Gandhi and CWC go in a limbo, who strikes alliances and keeps regional dissidence in check? Kerala and Tamil Nadu might not be immediate issues; but what about 16 other states where they have been hammered like nails into the wall. Even the loyalists like Navjot Singh Sidhu are making public their resignations to the Congress president Rahul Gandhi: the same man who once promised to quit if Gandhi lost in Amethi.

The dark clouds of Karnataka are portending something far more sinister. This is model which would replicate itself in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan soon. MLAs would quit and the nebulous hold of the Party would be evident. The same routine of assembly Speaker holding firm, “sticking” to Constitutional values, Supreme Court nudging him to the inevitable collapse, would occur.

Another step and Congress is off the cliff. A few self-serving individuals have driven the Grand Old Party to its moment of truth. It’s a sitting duck to the winds of change. It lied on Rafale and economy and the poor didn’t buy their “Nyaya” lollipop. It ranted and railed against Narendra Modi and it didn’t work. It’s cry on “democracy”; “idea of India” and “secular values” only earned snides. That’s why the patient is left with its final few breaths. It could be born again but for that it has to die first. The point is who pulls the plug?

 

Porn is bigger than Amazon or Netflix and that’s a cause for worry

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I recently did a piece in praise of India’s new Child Pornography Bill but the issue didn’t leave me and several related issues teased like a stripper does in a bar full of men.

Porn is one of those words which have a totally different meaning to me now than when I was in my 20s and I guess it’s true to most of the 1970s generation. But I wasn’t prepared to how pervasive it is to humanity once I got inside the sheets of reality and fumbled with its contours.

Do you know porn industry is bigger than Hollywood? Meatier than major baseball leagues, NFL and NBA, combined? That porn sites get more visitors than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined do in a month? That just one site, XVideos, is larger than New York Times, CNN and Dropbox combined?

And this is still just a foreplay and not the real deal. That is now laid bare by SimilarWeb.com, a data-mining gold standard, which tells us that two porn websites –XVideos and Pornhub—engage more visitors and their time than—hold your breath—even Google!!! Indeed, in terms of worldwide website rankings, these two are in the Top 8, bigger than Amazon, Wikipedia, MSN, Yahoo, Netflix, eBay, LinkedIn, PayPal or WhatsApp. Phew!

The net worth of Porn industry was $97 billion dollars two years ago which could feed up to 5 billion people a day. The profits are upwards of $15 billion which is one-and-a-half times more than Hollywood. So if you know Google and Netflix as behemoth bandwith-consuming companies, include Mind Geek as the third biggest for it owns PornHub, Brazzers, YouPorn and Reality Kings.

And how much do you think the pornstars are worth? Jenna Jameson was once rated to be worth more ($30m) than some of Hollywood’s top stars. Their one shot is worth bucketful of sweat to producers, and not just to viewers.

Lest you think this is a piece for titillation, this in reality is to stoke your conscience. With such figures (pun intended) involved, millions of girls—and boys—are lured into a cycle of exploitation where their personal and emotional orchard is laid waste for filthy bucks. Most find themselves unable to break-free of this matrix, transported from city to city, country to country, continent to continent. Those who watch inflict no less damage on themselves for sociologist confirm they are prone to unstable and aggressive behaviour. Lot of fantasies stoked by porn-clips actually are the seeds on which heinous crime such as rape grow.

A few other facts perhaps could let the terrible truth sink in our minds. A recent report has found out that (a) 35 percent of all internet downloads are porn; (b) 64% of youth in 13-24 age bracket are its biggest consumers; (c) teen videos are most watched and teen viewership is the biggest too; and (d) lesbian was the most searched porn term on world’s largest porn site last year.

All these issues need be discussed in public for porn is not a personal choice alone. When you watch such a video, you actually play your role in someone’s exploitation; and often eventual destruction. The society needs a robust debate on porn. It needs mass awareness. It’s the underbelly of humanity. So many lives are destroyed, crimes propped and it could all be happening with our active, sick contribution.

Take a call. Now.

 

Is Indian media hand in gloves with Arvind Kejriwal?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Since our newspapers don’t ask a few simple questions to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, could we the readers pose a few and then judge if the two could be acting in concert? Accomplices hidden in plain sight?

Indian Express is gushing today how effusive are 1000 pilgrims in praise of their CM for “sponsoring” a trip to Amritsar under the Mukhyamantri Tirth Yatra Yojana (Chief Minister’s Pilgrimage Plan); the second one is planned for Delhi-Vaishno Devi-Jammu route on July 20-24. The massive lead story on “The City” page also has a three-column photo, bettered only by a four-column image in The Hindu. These newspapers of course haven’t written a single line in a fortnight on the silence of Kejriwal since a 100-year-old Durga Temple was vandalized in the very Capital which mandated for his party. Couldn’t they see this man is protecting Muslim votebank on one hand and pandering to Hindu votes with the other? Anyone communal please?

(See this classic image with the piece, courtesy The Hindu. Red carpet welcome at the railway platform, images of “Kejriwal” (mask) carrying elders like Shravan Kumar did to his parents in a basket on a pilgrimage).

In the wake of 2019 Lok Sabha disaster where AAP won only one seat, a panicky Kejriwal mooted free rides to Delhi women on metro and buses. Our newspapers, page after page, had full-page advertisements on one side and screaming reports and interviews on the other, lauding the move. The bubble was first pricked by Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs (Hardeep Puri) and then by everyone’s metro man (E. Sreedharan). Kejri had apparently announced the scheme even without submitting the proposal to its partner, the Union government!

Without as much as batting an eyelid, Kejriwal’s revised pitch restricted itself to free ride for women in only Delhi buses before it too was deflated: But sir, what’s to your promise of CCTVs in buses to help women’s security? This litany of lies were exposed by government ministers/officials but elicited not a single comment from our newspapers.

AAP is gung-ho about what it has done to improve schools and education in the Capital. No newspaper has questioned: But sir what’s happened to your election manifesto of hundreds of schools in the Capital? How many have been built?

Have the newspapers questioned: Kejri sir, it’s alright you were making new friends with Lallu Yadav, Chandrababu Naidu; Akhilesh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee to save “freedom” and “democracy” but what do we make out of your tattered credentials as a credible friend when Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Ashutosh, Ashish Khaitan, Shazia Ilmi, CD Gopinath, Kumar Vishwas, Medha Patkar etc parted ways? We are not even talking of Anna Hazare.

Are you the same Kejriwal who once dumped his government because the people didn’t want an association with Congress and, now, was seen begging for an alliance for the 2019 Polls? The same man whose crusade against the “corrupt” ended in apologies to Gadkaris and Jaitleys? The same man who didn’t want the perks of VVIPs and is now deep into it?

Have our newspapers questioned: When your friends are distrustful of you what makes you think the nation would trust you? Isn’t it evident in results of assembly elections in Punjab, Haryana, Goa where a majority of your candidates lost deposits? Shouldn’t you be sent to a desolate island for such wholesome betrayal of people who gave Delhi on a plate to your AAP within two years of its formation?

But no, our newspapers are gushing. Readers can’t see the “deep state” which nurtures both but the telltale evidence of Kejriwal’s “dole” to newspapers in the form of government advertisements—around Rs 1000 crores on publicity in five years—is in plain sight. It has fallen foul of CAG but our newspapers are deaf to the uproar.

AAP had taken hold of everyone’s imagination because it catered to primarily urban voters who were disenchanted with the chicanery of political parties. It was seen as creating a parallel political paradigm. Parallel democracy, if you may. We now know better that it was a ruse to fuel the personal ambition of one man. But read our newspapers and you would get no sniff of such betrayal of masses.

 

Why Smriti Irani deserves our respect for Child Pornography Bill

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Paedophilia, or to treat children as sex objects, is rampant around you and please don’t be disgusted by the suggestion.

If you are a man, you are likely to troll me on twitter if I told you paedophiles are gender-specific and there is even a film, Are All Men Pedophiles, which has been critically acclaimed.

Still unconvinced? A fan of Michael Jackson? Go to YouTube and look for Pedophilia content available. Not only a few have generated millions of views but–put it to the disgusting times we live in–this content is supported by some of the biggest brands on the planet.

Most Indian newspapers today have taken note of the new bill—Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Amendment Bill 2019—which would be introduced in the Lok Sabha this week. But the coverage is passing, a token display of news, rather than a 360 degree view and a standing ovation to Women and Child Development minister Ms. Smriti Irani whose initiative in this regard would protect your or mine child.

The new law is specific: “Any visual depiction of sexually expolicit conduct involving a child which include photographs, video, digital or computer generated image indistinguishable from an actual child and an image created, adapted or modified by appear to depict a child.”

So those who watch, possess or circulate animations or cartoons that depict a minor to satisfy their depraved cravings, do it at your own peril. The punishment involves five-fold increase in fines and even imprisonment.

So far, neither Section 67 of the IT Act nor Section 293 of the Indian Penal Code defined child pornography. This new initiative is borne out of the resolve of zero tolerance for child pornography.

Coming back to YouTube, type “Girl Yoga” and the auto-complete option is likely to throw up “hot”. Enter “twister girl” and the suggestion includes “twister girl in skirt.” These videos would have millions of views, thousands of comments, and hundreds of time-stamps recommendations for fellow sick individuals. Phone numbers are exchanged,  promises of WhatsApp video swaps are made. Jerks talk of how one such video makes his “wood” grow. The video uploaders make hay, so do YouTube, as there are pre-roll adverts from the likes of Fiat, L’Oreal, Maybelline and SingleMuslim.com. In essence, money made in filth.

Most videos are of little girls—doing gymnastics, eating ice-lollies are playing in the pool. Their exposed buttocks or nipples or crotch are getting tens of thousands of views and depraved comments. YouTube says it has zero tolerance for such stuff but neither their algorithms nor ingenuous uploaders are being reined in. Advertisers too say they are outraged but that’s about it. Further, if you watch one video, there are dozens similar recommended by YouTube. Same is the case with Microsoft “Bing” or WhatsApp though both assert they have zero-tolerance on the issue.

Innocent children are increasingly the target of these monsters in our neighbourhood. Psychologists say children are cognitively, emotionally and socially less developed than an adult and could face life-time scar.

A few statistics to drive home the sordid point:

  • Paedophilia, as per stats, is exploding in the United States and showing a 2500 per cent increase since last decade;
  • Two-thirds of sex criminals are paedophiles;
  • The US Justice Department feels there are nearly 3 lakh such vulnerable kids at the mercy of paedophiles/pornographers;

In India, hold your breath, paedophilia actually bloats up India’s tourism industry. Despite governments, NGOs and other bodies, child abuse is rampant in India. Over 35 million children are homeless in India. The National Women’s Commission is on record that almost 80 per cent of the child prostitutes in the country come from Bangalore. The coastal areas in Calangute, Candolin and Baga in Goa are paedophiles’ den. Kovalam in Kerala and Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu suffer from the same malaise.

It’s been a generation since Freddy Peats, an Anglo-Indian, caught headlines in 1991 for forcing young boys into homesexual activities. Investigations revealed he was running a paedophile den and catering mainly to German tourists. Nobody has forgotten Sunil Rastogi, allegedly world’s worst paedophile, who confessed to having sex with over 500 children and his fetish for “virgins.”

Would Indian Express not mind a communal flare-up?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

On a day when every mainstream national daily has lauded the message of “peace and brotherhood” in the Shoba Yatra at Hauz Qazi to douse communal animosity, Indian Express has chosen to flare it up.

Times of India clapped the “peaceful procession”; Hindustan Times extolled Muslims in reinstalling temple idols and even The Hindu put “communal harmony on show” in its headline. But you read Indian Express and it seems they were at a different event than the one being covered.

Beginning with its headline – “On day 3 BJP MPs visit, VHP leader says: Can turn Hauz Qazi, Ballimaran into Ayodhya” – to its content, Indian Express has insinuated “saffron terror” in the form of massive Hindu turnout and speeches by a couple of insignificant entities. Still undone, they inserted a completely unrelated mention with these words: “The issue also figured on the latest cover of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser, with the headline #Temple Vandalism Perils of Minoritarianism.”

Every reader who has read Indian Express today (July 10, 2019) would carry the impression of Saffron intimidation.  A reader would fear impending communal riots in an area where Hindus and Muslims have lived cheek-by-jowl for generations.  A reader would interpret the presence of 3 BJP MPs as a tacit acquiescence by the party leadership.

And what could be the consequences? Hindus and Muslims gulping this poison within them, and not just in Hauz Qazi. A temple vandalized here; a mosque desecrated there, riots erupting; lives lost, police and security overcome by mobs, government in limbo and the unrest in India bringing in sharks from Western shores at the smell of blood in the pool.

Is this what Indian Express wants? Don’t they know that its 10 days to the horrible event and Hindus haven’t even picked up a stone? Aren’t they mindful that sensible Muslims of Hauz Qazi are coming out in droves to ensure no communal rupture erupts in the vicinity? Can’t they lend an ear to the temple priest who says “Today’s event (Shobha Yatra) was organized to stand up against such people (who desecrate a religious place.) We want to cohabit with all other communities.”

To be sure, newspapers seek different angle to make themselves distinct. Someone might choose to highlight Rahul Gandhi and his biggest win in 2019 polls from Wayanad, Kerala while others might find his ousting from family bastion Amethi, UP bigger news. Someone might droll over BJP’s remarkable Lok Sabha show in Karnataka; others might dwell on how Tamil Nadu and Kerala have shut the door on them in South.

But today’s Indian Express is not an interpretation. It’s insinuation. An insinuation, which could trigger something far more sinister. Which could affect our generation, our next generation, the unity of this country, the future of India. Another Partition; another horror; another vivisection.

This issue of vandalized temple is high on the mind of millions of Indians. What next? How would it play out? Am I in a safe neighbourhood? What do I do about my daughter who returns from college to our deserted lane late in the evening? Or my son who is back only when the dusk falls on the fields in Moradabad?

Those who want an “akhand bharat” (United India) want Hindus and Muslims to live in peace and amity. Those who want  a “dismembered India” want Hindus and Muslims to tear themselves apart. Today, I see Indian Express standing with the latter. It would be difficult for them to convince me that their report wasn’t projecting the fear of fundamentalist Hindus—when the rest of mainstream media has lauded the restraint of Hindus.

Am I overreacting to a “small incident” in a “small lane” at the backdrop of a “minor incident”?  Didn’t World War I begin only because a prince (Archduke Franz Ferdinand) was assassinated on the streets of Sarajevo; that a stray protest in Tunisia could herald “Arab Spring”; that Soviet Union would come apart only because Ronald Reagan, a continent apart, had made arms race too prohibitive; that a “Euromaidan movement” could bring down a Ukrainian government; that  American revolution could begin because the elites had refused to pay taxes?

Its time Indian Express opens itself to scrutiny. The governments and the press bodies would have their own reasons to shrink from hauling them up. But they owe an answer to Indians and their country. Come out and debate this issue with me in an open forum. When the country’s future depends on Hindu-Muslim relations, Indian Express can’t seek warmth in the glow of, god forbid, torched homes and burning pyres.

Prashant Kishor: Why this man has India’s political class in thrall

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has put Prashant Kishor on her burning deck. Everyone connected with the Trinamool Congress (TMC)—EVERYONE—would listen to the master poll strategist behind closed doors of Kolkata’s Nazrul Mancha auditorium on Thursday.

Just imagine: “Didi”, that giant slayer of Left in Bengal, would be all ears to a man who has lived fewer years than she has spent in politics. Not just she but all her generals—young or old, fair or dark, rural or urban—would look to know about their own Bengal from a man who wouldn’t move in Kolkata without a GPS. None of them is mindful that he, being a member of JD(U), is part of NDA-2 and thus from the enemy’s ranks. Who said politicians are cynical?

Mamata, like all of us, is beholden to Kishor’s track record. He drew Narendra Modi’s 2014 poll strategy and within six months had helped Nitish Kumar beat back the new Prime Minister from the gates of Bihar. He turned around Congress’ fortunes in Punjab as he has now done with YS Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, taking care of upstarts (Arvind Kejriwal) and seasoned (Chandrababu Naidu) as hounds do, completely impartial to their prey. There of course is Congress and Shame of UP in 2017 but this can wait.

We are all beholden to this spectacle where politicians, with all their hubris and enmity, treachery and ruthlessness, sit on stools like lions do to the crack of this ringmaster’s whip, tail between their legs. This ringmaster had never walked into a (political) circus before, was pathetic as a student, a poor reader of books, a self-confessed black sheep of the family, never stuck to a job yet now has these political animals on a leash.

And he does it on his own terms. He would only deal with the bosses—not even Amit Shah—and everyone must submit to his charter, no questions asked. He is least enamoured of any politician and could walk out of a room without as much as even a goodbye.  He calls out his own party head Nitish Kumar for not seeking a fresh mandate after dumping Lallu Yadav. He helped Capt Amrinder Singh only because he didn’t like Arvind Kejriwal mocking him in press. He would help Uddhav Thackeray and his Shiv Sena only if he is assured the security of migrant north Indians in the state of Maharashtra. He once didn’t answer the calls of DMK as he didn’t of political parties in Kerala.

It would surprise many to know that Prashant Kishor is almost disdainful of our governing class which includes both politicians and bureaucrats. It interests him little that he is snapped with high and mighty; that he is entrusted with hundreds of crores to put his plan in motion; that unlimited power could be his mistress.

What then drives this man?

We would have to go back to 2011 when a paper of his on malnutrition caught the eye of Modi’s government in Gujarat. He was invited to visit the state and correct his impression. One day, he contributed to a speech of Modi; another day he drew a sense of a data and soon he was drawn into the inner circle. 2014 polls beckoned, he drew up a charter, and if you have heard of “Chai pe Charcha,” credit our man for it.

He left Modi because he wanted his dream of CAG (Citizens for Accountable Governance) to happen overnight. This CAG has now metamorphosed into I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee). It’s this I-PAC which is key to understanding our man.

Prashant Kishor is troubled by the fact that only 7-odd per cent in India’s parliament are below 40. Almost 70 per cent of this small percentage belongs to political dynasties. This leaves only 2-3 per cent of bold and beautiful to chart their own cut. He is upset that a health secretary, previously in transport and due to be a telecom secretary tomorrow, could decide on technical matters and overrule professionals who have spent a lifetime in mastering the issue. He credits five biggest reforms of independent India–  food (M.S.Swaminathan), milk (Verghese Kurien), telecom (Sam Pitroda), space (Vikram Sarabhai) and atomic energy (APJ Abdul Kalam)—to the men who were not part of governance or bureaucracy.

I-PAC is one that dream where Prashant Kishor wants to draw tens of thousands of India’s young and competent , train them to take over panchayats, parishads, mahapalikas of the country,  practically draw a parallel political ecosystem and transform India. It made him impatient with Modi; it makes him dismissive of coterie—“Can’t be mindful of what the ecosystem thinks about me”—and it made him reject Rahul Gandhi post-2017 UP debacle.

The UP debacle still singes Kishor. He had drawn up a 14-point charter for Congress but only two were implemented—Sonia Gandhi launching the campaign from Varanasi; and Rahul Gandhi’s yatra from Deoria to Delhi on farmers’ loan-waiver issue. “I have no option but to accept the blame since I didn’t quit on not being followed,” remembered Kishor in an interview. He feels let down when politicians use his charter but don’t implement them when in power.

There are all telltale signs that Kishor wouldn’t do politicians’ bidding any longer. He would remain with JD (U) because he wants Bihar to be a top state on all indicators of progress.  Personally, Nitish Kumar has afforded him the freedom to nurture his I-PAC and make Bihar his political laboratory. So what accounts for his present engagement with Mamata Banerjee?

In all likelihood, Kishor might have been “loaned” by Nitish Kumar so as to send a not-so-veiled a message to Modi on denial of ministerial berths in the Union Cabinet. If Kishor could stop BJP’s juggernaut, it could lead to new alignments in Indian politics. It might allow Nitish Kumar to project himself as an alternative to Modi in 2024 polls.

In the last month or so, West Bengal has thrown up two rising political stars. New MP Nusrat Jahan, with her oath in the Parliament and participation in Jagannath rathyatra, has caught the eye even of Hindus. Then there is rabid Mahua Moitra who is lip-syncing Mamata Banerjee and appealing to Muslim and “pseudo-sickulars” of the country. Both, without doubt, are acting on Prashant Kishor’s script.

How BJP would love to eavesdrop on the closed-door auditorium on Thursday.

 

Remind US they once wanted Iran to become a nuclear power

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

United States keeps harping “on the gravest threat to world peace” if Iran is to become a nuclear state. The truth is different, as enunciated by one and only Noam Chomsky in a piece.

  • According to the leading western polling agencies (WIN/Gallup International), the prize for “greatest threat” is won by the United States. In second place, far below, is Pakistan. Iran is ranked below those two along with China, Israel, North Korea and Afghanistan
  • Iran’s military aggression isn’t borne by facts. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014. It’s a 57% jump since 2005. Largest share is of US allies, Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in US weapons deal between 2010-2014).
  • US Congress knows that Iran has very low military expenditures. The US intelligence community has reported that there is no evidence of Iran pursuing an actual nuclear weapons programme.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) finds a “conclusive case that the Arab Gulf states have…an overwhelming advantage on Iran…”
  • Iran’s military spending is only a fraction of Saudi Arabia and far below even the spending of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Altogether, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—outspend Iran on arms by a factor of eighth, an imbalance that goes back by decades. CSIS implies that Iran’s weapons are virtually obsolete.  Israel in contrast has the most advanced US weaponry and of course a huge stock of nuclear weapons
  • Another protestation against Iran is the grave human rights violations. Indeed the gravest human rights violations happened under the Shah who US and Britain had hoisted to power, overthrowing overthrown Iran’s parliamentary government in 1953.
  • Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as “the world’s leading supporter of terrorism,” which implies its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of these movements emerged in resistance to US-backed Israeli violence and aggression. Hezbollah is guilty of compelling Israel to withdraw from its occupation of southern Lebanon which took place in violation of UN Security Council orders dating back decades. Hezbollah and Hamas have the popular vote in the only free elections in the Arab world. Iran hardly ranks high in support of terror worldwide.
  • Iran is accused of fuelling instability in the region. Indeed, Iran was the only one to come to the aid of Kurds defending themselves against the Islamic State (IS). If anything, the US invasion of 2003 killed hundreds of thousands and generated millions of refugees. Iraqis have compared the destruction to the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, leaving Iraq the unhappiest country in the world, according to WIN/Gallup polls. Sectarian conflicts have been ignited, laying the basis for creation of the IS. And all this is called “stabilization.”
  • The five-year Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended in failure when the US, joined by Canada and Great Britain blocked efforts on a WMD-free Middle East. Former President Barack Obama blocked it in 2010 and 2015 at Israel’s behest. A nuclear-free Middle East you would think is the easiest way to get rid of the Iranian threat.

Iranians recall that not a day has passed since 1953 in which the US was not harming Iranians.  When the Shah was overthrown in 1979, Washington threw its lot behind Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein who would in 1980 launch a war against Iran.  After the war, President George H.W. Bush even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the US for advanced training in weapons production, an extremely serious threat to Iran. Sanctions against Iran were intensified, actions were initiated to bar it from the international financial system In recent years, the hostility has extended to sabotage, the murder of nuclear scientists, and cyber-war.

Indeed, under the Shah, top US officials—Dick Cheney, Ronald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger—were urging him to proceed with his nuclear programmes. Asked later, why he supported such programmes under the Shah but opposed them more recently, Kissinger responded honestly that Iran was an ally then!

Why then such blatant disregard for truth? Under the Clinton Doctrine, the US was entitled to resort to the “unilateral use of military power,” even to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources,” let alone alleged “security” or “humanitarian” concerns.

(This is a piece from our archives).

 

 

Rahul Gandhi, your resignation is fooling no one

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Rahul Gandhi is going nowhere. His resignation is an exercise in power without responsibility. True to his lineage, Mr Gandhi feels that he could fool all the people all the time.

His letter leaves no one in doubt that Rahul Gandhi has quit as president for good. It also leaves no one in doubt that like a loyal worker, he would continue to work for the Congress against BJP and RSS who are in conflict with his idea of India.

He may or may not be president till July 10 when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) is likely to be dissolved and a new one formed. An interim president, Sushil Kumar Shinde or Mallikarjun Kharge, both nearing 80, would be asked to usher in a new Congress. Nobody gets a penny for predicting that Sonia Gandhi and her kids, Rahul and Priyanka, would be a part of it. Nobody would receive a dime too for predicting that the likes of Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad, would still be doing the errands for them.

For a month and half, since the 2019 results came in and a Congress-mukt bharat became a reality—they don’t have a single seat in 16 states—the resignation drama has been an attempt to trade ridicule with sympathy. To hide the stink of a rotting corpse, a whiff of nostalgia has been floated. The young prince charming, all of 49, a bachelor who forsake good things in life and fought for his idea of India. The one who took on the might of Modi, BJP and RSS; who fought even as one by one all institutions were taken over, who traded hate with his brand of love, was an individual against the entire system.

Sure, the drama is well orchestrated. Before you could blame him for his party’s defeat, for his own humiliation in Amethi, for believing anti-Modi tirade would make up for the deficit in vision, for refusing allies only because a few states fell in his lap before the 2019 polls, for courting Hindus and losing his Muslim votebank, Mr Gandhi took the sting out of the horde at his gate by showing he is disarmed. How could you now punish a man who has swung an axe on his own neck?

Make no mistake: Gandhis are only worried about themselves, not about Congress or India. It’s only a bail which is standing in between Gandhis and jail. Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra has the additional worry on her husband, Robert Vadra meeting the same fate. They are pariahs even to Mamata or Mayawati or Akhilesh Yadav. Muslims no longer trust them. Shunned by public, ostracized by politicians, they can only worry about their skin.

Gandhi’s letter would’ve been hilarious if it was not tragic. He claims every institution in the country—judiciary, press, election commission etc—has been taken over by the Modi government. That’s not music to the ears of judiciary who intervened at midnight to allow Congress the batons of Karnataka. Which suffered the indignity of impeachment. Mainstream press which never wrote a single word against Gandhi. Election Commission which was reluctant to allow repolling in West Bengal.

“It’s now clear that our once cherished institutional neutrality no longer exists in India,’ Really? Was judiciary or press neutral during the Emergency? Or the august office of president? Who overturned Supreme Court on Shah Bano case? Who had taken over India’s institutions in the past?

In many ways Rahul Gandhi is inconsequential. He is an individual busy saving his skin. The bigger question is who saves Congress? Who saves the Grand Old Party when its’ very saviours are busy digging up its grave.