(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
A case is filed on two deaths/suicides. The complaint is that the two deceased were driven to take the extreme step because some THREE didn’t pay up. After a while police gives up. Admits in court there is not enough evidence to incriminate the THREE. The case is closed.
A year later the case is reopened in May 2020 at state government’s behest. On November 4, 2020, that ONE is arrested. Manhandled and with policemen toting AK-47s in tow. A measure you and I would recommend for a dreaded terrorist.
But Arnab Goswami is no terrorist. He could be one in the TV news industry or for certain forces. He could have been an asset for the ruling dispensation in the Centre. You and I could be on one side or the other. But none of us would deny he is a media celebrity. Possibly the biggest name on our media firmament. It sends signals, right or wrong, across the country. It affects India’s millions and millions of citizens. If not now, then pretty soon.
I am for law to take its course. I am not here to argue Maharashtra government reopening the case. I am not too worried about Mumbai Police too. Arrests are made in India, there are courts who on the basis of evidence take a call. I am not worried too about missing Arnab Goswami in my evenings. I hardly watch him. But I have the option to go for remote. As everyone has. You want to watch him, watch him. You want to shut him out, do it.
I am not going hysterical on either of these two lines of arguments:
One says it’s a revenge for raking up Palghar, dogging the drugs-Bollywood connection, and pursuing the Sushant Singh Rajput case with relentless vigour. After months, Arnab didn’t let up on these themes. He also took Sonia’s original name with certain contempt which upset the Queen Dowager no end up. What more proof do we need against the fascist nature of present Maharashtra government when it beats up ex-soldiers, locks up ordinary citizens for social media posts and make a crane comfortable within the drawing room of a nationally acclaimed actress? And don’t we have multiple sting operations which reveal that “Arnab-would-have-no-option-but-to-commit-suicide”, such would be the ferocity from the state government? That you get Arnab and you take heat off Bollywood and Sushant Rajput?
The other side is driven to despair at Goswami not letting up on Palghar, Sushant Singh Rajput, Bollywood and Kangana Ranaut. They feel such attacks are motivated. That it’s Centre which is working overtime to sink the rather unholy alliance between Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. They argue what’s so big about Arnab when journalists are being hauled up all around the country, including in a few BJP states.
You and I could differ. Hindus and Muslims could differ. Political parties could differ. Ideologies could differ. But there is something we must not differ. And that’s about the nature of our Republic. We won’t be a democracy if media is under a siege. There is no gain showing me International Press Index which shows India very poor in freedom of press. That India is turning fascist. If it was so, NDTV’s alleged financial scams would’ve been taken to logical conclusions. The Telegraph won’t be so openly abusive. If people were under fetters, there won’t be open threats to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and more than just on their lives. Vilest language on social media goes unpunished.
A free media though doesn’t mean unfettered media. If Arnab is arrested or some journalist in Uttar Pradesh is, there are redressal mechanisms. One or the other would be shown up wrong. Law would take it’s call. But if you manhandle a media celebrity and bring in armed men toting Ak-47, this is more than justice pursued. This is criminal intimidation. The is State trying to send the message across: to media and to people. That even though we derive our power from you, our naked force is meant to terrify you. That if this could happen to arguably one of the 10 biggest names in the country, you could be the next.
There is no gainsaying that Mumbai Police has acted on its own accord. It’s answerable to State government who, by now, ought to have taken a public stand on the matter. I scanned the twitter-lines of Uddhav Thackeray (office), Sharad Pawar, Congress (Sonia Gandhi) and Rahul Gandhi. Blank. Shashi Tharoor? Blank. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra? Blank. Mamata, Pinarayi Vijayan, Ashok Gehlot? Blank. looked up for Shekhar Gupta and Rajdeep Sardesai. Bland. I could promise you they would be the next. And then you would go to town on the “fascism” of Modi government. And then you would be teased on your silence on Arnab Goswami. Be principled or drop the pretence.
In a jungle, might rules. Humanity was no better than jungle. But it was centuries ago. Since then, Magna Carta happened, Napoleon happened, Tocqueville happened, Voltaire happened. We all agreed to the way a society functioned. A cobbled-up state government today wants to tell us we were wrong. That a Genghis Khan or a Taimur still lives. No sir, they no longer do. Before long, your fate would be decided as its done every five years. You are too weak to fetter a billion voices. India would assert and show you your place.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
I sought out Deepak last morning. I hadn’t met him for long, at least since my daughters still used to hold my hand and walk into his teaching institute nearby. Always above the board, energetic enough to be suitable for a protein ad, and good enough in maths for Rahul Gandhi to figure out how he messes up his numbers on public platforms.
Let’s leave aside why we met. Important for you folks is his Covid-19 experience which he contracted almost to the day when we responded to Modiji’s call to sound pots and ring bells. Every inch of his bones creaked, fever raged like a tropical storm and he thinks it was pandemic. “I didn’t know where to go, the tale of expenses was scary and here I was, in my one-BHK flat, with my wife, kids and old parents. I couldn’t separate myself from them, couldn’t afford treatment and left myself—and my family–in the hands of Gods.”
Well the Gods looked after him and his family. He is fine now but still complains of nagging pain in his ankles. He feels he avoided death not because he submitted himself to good hands but only because some die and some don’t to this scourge of our times.
Now we hear that Covid-19 is in retreat in India. But it is resurging in US and Europe. Ireland has reimposed a complete lockdown; Czech Republic, Spain and France have opted for similar measures; Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland are some of the worst hit. The United States is beginning to hit a lakh each and so it is with France. But India smiled on Tuesday with only 36,601 cases recorded the previous day. We might still touch 10 million by December but recovery rate is above 90%.
It’s the lowest in last 101 days, since July 17 that is. In September, we too were touching a lakh positive each. Now even Maharashtra is reporting its lowest in last five months. Asia’s biggest slums in its belly are beginning to chirp. Its another matter that Thackerays have now moved from one villain to Arnab Goswami and Kangana Ranaut but we would glean on it some other day.
Why Covid-19 is dipping in India? Before you scoff at India’s testing numbers, let me tell you its one million Tests a day done across India on an average for the last few weeks. Yet numbers are dipping. Hospitals which were overflowing with Covid-19 patients are beginning to have freer beds, oxygen cylinders and ventilators. The laudable healthcare workers are even shooting videos of their dancing footwork and have one Hrithik Roshan swooning. Nurses are without PPT cover and gossiping. Intern doctors are again longing for those night shifts when the male-female ratio in whites is abnormally skewed.
Would it last? Our prime minister won’t like us to entertain such a devilish thought. He knows he hasn’t allowed Covid-19 to get out of hand—the proof is that even Rahul Gandhi has let go an issue which he could’ve harped upon for nine months. But Modiji is worried for festivals are upon us, congregations would happen on a Tablighi Jamaat scale (well almost), fairs would abound and shops would overflow. None of them could be restrained, for it’s a moment of cheer and some well-needed finances would come the way of shopkeepers and businessmen. But festivals would also onset winter, which is playtime for viruses in colder weather. Modiji has even got an official body to warn Indians that 50 per cent of them could be infected by February 2021.
I suspect there won’t be an upsurge. For the “herd syndrome” has already taken over us. There are 10s of millions of Deepaks in this country who haven’t reported the Virus to public. They have either survived—like Deepak—or died. None have come in the official count. If around a crore are to be infected soon, there are at least 20-30 crores Positive who haven’t submitted themselves to scrutiny.
It’s just not my suspicion. You might have ignored the news of a few weeks ago that one-third of Delhi already has antigen bodies. Half of Mumbai’s worst slums were declared to have been in grips of Covid-19. Away from news, this is the truth of Covid-19 in India. That the pandemic probably has run its course.
India’s numbers are not dropping because they have hit upon a wonder drug, or because our admirable healthcare staff have acquired a midas touch (well, from inside PPT that is), or Modiji has done any surgical strike on the Virus. It’s only because you and me, or most of us, have already had our brush with the pandemic. And that this is a perfect moment when you could say: Ignorance is Bliss.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Is that what India has come to?
Most Indians are battling this conundrum.
This perceived breakdown, internal, is largely at two levels: (a) harmony between Hindus-Muslims; (b) Centre and state relations.
Both are interlinked. A power seemingly in perpetuity loses an election. And another. Both by a landslide. The winners are identified with majority. The losers with minority. The turfs have exchanged hands. It’s an existential moment for losers; like those countless in history where Czars and Caliphs came to rest in tomes and tombs.
Losers now rally their forces. It joins hands with those it was in fight with all these years. All the parts must matter in sum. It doesn’t. Those who made a meal out of caste politics in India’s heartland are uprooted; those who swore by Maratha identity sound like a hag’s croon; elsewhere in volatile Bengal, the monster-slayer Didi stomps ground, flashes eyes and fingers, yet barely keeps her head above the surging water.
The Winners are surer after second win. They know they have come to stay. They won on planks of development and incorruptibility. On keeping India First. So out goes Jammu and Kashmir and its armour of special status. Minority wakes up to post-Shah Bano world in Triple Talaq Act; Ram Janmabhoomi arrived at an opportune time; and then the long-standing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is approved by India’s chosen representatives.
So Losers can’t win people’s confidence. The judiciary too doesn’t fall to their mechanisms. Prepaid media is doing its best but little is changing on the ground. Their Samaritans in movies, culture, academics have little traction. The echo-chamber in West is drowning in its own noise.
Anarchy thus is the last resort. It’s always two-faced: One is led by the system. The other by the people. As I mentioned at the start: Break it down at (a) people; and (b) governance level.
Anarchy at the people’s level is your anti-CAA protests, Hathras, Farms Bills, Reservation stirs etc, etc. Anarchy at the governance level is passing resolutions against the Central Acts in your State’s assemblies; refusing CBI a peek into your vice-dens; protecting your favourite police officers even against the judiciary’s strictures; and ridiculing Governors every alternate day.
Uddhav’s Maharashtra is taking it to the next level. Mamata’s police was bad on cartoons on their leader (Uddhav’s too as ex-navy officer Madan Sharma would testify); it would land on doors at different States; a journalist here and there; but Uddhav’s is booking the entire Republic TV network—claimed 1000 of them ! Kangana Ranaut was just a teaser it would seem. What next?
Some fundamental issues are stake in India. How far could this anarchy be allowed? The ruling BJP apparently has two choices. Let the masses know who are their enemies. It would teach them a lesson in due course. The other option is to exercise the power that the Constitution empowers it with: Dismiss state governments. The long rope which BJP has extended to Mamata Banerjee in the last six years conveys they would rather not do it and leave it in people’s hands.
BJP also knows what is noise and what’s substance. The noise is the ant-Farm Acts stir in Punjab led by its Congress chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. It could pass assembly resolutions but nothing would come out of it. The Punjab government is saddled with enormous debts and in the era of GST, you can’t trot your own horse when the whip is with someone else. You need Centre at every stage: Disasters and finances are one thing; telecommunications and security is another. More so in a border State.
It doesn’t mean that BJP ought to be at peace with anarchy. Mandate comes with responsibility. Anti-CAA protests led to Delhi Riots. They didn’t see Shaheen Bagh become what it did in the end. It made even Supreme Court helpless. The State must never be seen soft. India can’t afford it. All societies run on larger good. Those sloganeering “freedom”, “democracy” and “Constitution” don’t mean a bit of it. This chimera must yield to rule of law. Or it would persist in our lifetimes; and in our children’s. To horrific consequences if a malleable power was to come to Centre.
(Meanwhile, don’t fret on the welfare of Republic TV. Nothing would come out of it. Indians don’t like or even see somebody being browbeaten. More so by Powers. Brazenly. Mumbai Police has taken a bigger bite than it could chew. So, enjoy the drama but don’t miss your routine. The Karma would catch up with Mumbai Police and the rulers in Maharashtra).
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
India is worried on count of Maharashtra. The Western state appears to be losing the battle against Corona Virus. There are three matters which suggest we haven’t seen the worst yet.
One is a measure by the Mumbai Police. While imposing Section 144 till June 8, it prohibits any attempt on social media to incite mistrust against the government officials. It’s a loosely worded order which empowers the state machinery to take punitive measure on what it doesn’t like and considers as creating “mistrust” in public against it. It’s censorship otherly-worded.
Second is Rahul Gandhi going public in distancing himself from the Maharashtra government of which his party Congress is a part. In a video message, Gandhi said his party doesn’t have a say in key matters in running of the state.
Third is an Indian Express report which claims that there is “resentment in the cabinet” over Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s reliance on the bureaucracy who virtually are running the state’s Corona strategy and are “keeping ministers in the dark.”
Further, the Indian Express claims that the three partners in coalition—NCP, Congress, Shiv Sena—differ over lockdown. While Thackeray prefers an extension of lockdown, Pawar (NCP) “is keen on granting some relaxations.”
In plain terms, Corona is like a mad dog on the leash which is taking its master, the Maharashtra government, all over the place. There is no firm hand to keep the canine on its trajectory. The Maha Aghadi (The Great Development Front) is a grumpy house where a key partner has distanced itself, the cabinet is sore over the bureaucracy and there is bickering on the lockdown strategy.
A few side issues haven’t won Maharashtra government many friends. The harassment of media personality Arnab Goswami is viewed prejudiced. The Palghar Lynchings of Sadhus is hanging fire. Then we had a few barons in the Yes Bank scandal, sought by state agencies, moving without intervention in their caravans amidst the lockdown. We now have reports where Shiv Sainiks (Shiv Sena cadre) have vandalized shops of individuals who allegedly didn’t have complimentary words for Thackeray. A FIR against the owners, two individuals, has added insult to injury.
Predictably, BJP has mounted pressure. The Railways minister Piyush Goyal has run hourly tweets on how Maharashtra government is doing nothing to avail Shramik Trains for stranded migrants. Now there are reports that a few BJP functionaries have met the governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari raising speculation over the President’s Rule. Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, on his part, has stated that they don’t need to win over any sitting MLAs as “they (Maha Aghadi) would collapse under its own weight.”
Meanwhile Loksatta, a Marathi news outlet, ran a twitter poll on whether the state should have President’s Rule. Within five hours, the voters leaned in favour of dissolution of assembly. Though the regional newspaper promptly dropped the poll, the twitteratis went to town on the mood of the people in Maharashtra.
Politics and power is small price compared to the catastrophe which is unfolding in the state. Cynics would say that it perhaps is the reason why Corona is spiralling out of control. So far up to 40 per cent of India’s numbers and deaths to the pandemic are accounted by the state of Maharashtra. The prized city of Mumbai has been gripped by the curse. The commercial capital of the country is bleeding and no end is in sight. It’s not good for state, definitely not for India. Besides, there is this question: How long could you keep the people locked out. How long would they watch the rest of india limp back to life while they are sealed between their four walls?
The alliance of convenience in Maharashtra must show itself as an alliance of saviours. Or give way to those who could get the job done.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
These are bad times for jokes but the one by India’s premier health agency looks particularly awful when it says it’s “testing” less than it could.
India is doubling the count of its Corona Virus patients twice every week and 40 have perished in the last 24 hours but the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) simply hasn’t cast its net wide enough to assure an anxious nation of a billion plus.
India is dawdling at 190,000 tests put together as on Sunday which bears a sorry comparison with the United States (2,700.000), Italy (1,000,000) and Spain (350,000), three nations reeling the most under the unforgiving pandemic.
India today isn’t short of hands or testing kits. It’s good enough for 20,000 tests a day. It also isn’t shy of promising 100,000 tests a day soon. So what’s stopping it from showing its full hand to the growing footprint of the killer virus?
Specific and not random tests
It would seem India’s strategy is more by design than neglect. India has so far preferred to do tests only on those who have shown symptoms. Such information is either being relayed by patients themselves or a confirmed case is being followed up. In no case, suspects are allowed to visit nearby designated hospitals on own.
It appears there is a corollary to such caution. A nursing home in Washington made headlines for being the biggest harbinger of disease to nearby community. The Virus arrived on the host-patients and spread itself on staff, security and residents without distinction. Wuhan in China bears reports on patients calling up on routine health issues and ending up infecting those unfortunate to be around them.
The red flag of mass testing is obvious too. How do you do it? By rounding up people and allowing the disease to hop and spread to the last man in the queue? Instead, India’s healthcare is opting to swarm around hot-spots in the country of which they have identified a few dozens. It’s here that they are rolling up sleeves and getting into combat mode. Mass testing with lockdown in place doesn’t quite make much sense to them.
No community spread yet
India still maintains it’s in Phase Two of the spread, that it is still local and not communal which would’ve set alarm bells ringing. It went into a lockdown mode when there were still only 150 cases on the chart. Italy, Spain and France in contrast shut itself up at least 7-10 days prior but their cases–and fatalities–were already in thousands. The horse had already bolted.
India could also take comfort that out of its 707 districts, only 325 so far are in the infected list. It’s fatality roll of just over 300 isn’t cause for panic yet. The people have so far stoically borne the pains of a lockdown. Indeed, they are bracing for an extension of lockdown without quite throwing up.
It’s not to say India is out of woods yet. It’s a long summer ahead. Slums remain a major worry. Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest in Mumbai, is racking up patients steadily. Delhi, India’s capital, has sealed off at least two dozen of its infected pockets. The western state of Mahrashtra which houses India’s commercial capital Mumbai, accounts for nearly half of India’s total deaths. India hasn’t turned the corner yet.
India, for sure, would ramp up tests in coming days. It’s also almost given that more cases and more fatalities would show up. It would hope it’s still manageable. And that its’ strategy of testing visitors, and enforcing lockdown when the numbers were still low, was a clincher. Else, it would rue it didn’t test enough when the time was still on its side.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Yes. That’s the charge. A charge its’ readers like me are levelling: Why Indian Express doesn’t want to stay on the Tablighi story?
Express has opted for a banner headline (see the image) today which can’t get bigger even if World War 3 breaks out.
Only, this is not about Corona: It’s about four states “knocking” on Centre for extra funds.
(a) Who are the states in question? Anti-Modi governments of West Bengal, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab of course.
(b) Have they already asked for funds? Not yet.
(c) What’s the source of Indian Express story? An unknown official.
(d) And why states could be asking for funds? Now hold your breath: For returning migrants. Not for Corona victims but for migrants.
(e) And who are the states who should be in the forefront of seeking help even on migrants? Of course Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Indian Express conveniently doesn’t seek these two states out.
So, no funds have been asked, no written or spoken request made, questionable states, questionable source, and that too for migrants and not Corona!!! And yet Indian Express gives a kind of banner headline which most editors don’t give in their entire careers.
This when Tablighi Jamaat fiasco threatens to drown the country in the misery of Corona Virus.
The cases have doubled and crossed 2000 figures overnight.
One single person testing positive could potentially infect 10,000 people.
Many Tablighi Jamaat attendees have gone in hiding.
Official request is making no difference to them.
Could they be bio bombers?
But none of these thoughts prick the conscience of our “newspaper of courage.”
It doesn’t ponder if it could be “infiltrators” and perhaps justify CAA-NPR-NRC
It wants its readers to concentrate on funds a few anti-Modi states “could” ask. This when the Centre is constantly in touch with states to seek out remedial measures. Modi is holding meeting with states regularly.
This is not the sole reason for a reader like me to believe Indian Express is doing its best to bury the Tablighi Jamaat complicity in spreading the Corona Virus. When this news hit the Indians like scalding oil on Tuesday, Express chose to almost bury the story.
That sensational story was not even front page lead in Indian Express that day. Worse, it chose to put a “Delhi area” in the headline (see image), instead of squarely blaming Tablighi Jamaat for the distress it has plunged the nation into. And this I am talking about the Delhi edition of Indian Express.
Don’t you think readers of the city needed a more frontal, and not ambiguous, coverage from its newspaper about its own city? About a story which could put their lives in danger? And what about the residents of the area? They wouldn’t even have an inkling of human bio bombs exploding in their neighbourhood and their chosen newspaper trying to keep them in dark.
I may sound angry. But I am angry. It’s a gross betrayal of readers, if not country, from a national newspaper. It puts doubt in my mind for what could be behind such Indian Express’ coverage. If it’s only about their journalistic competence, it needs to shut its shop. If there is more to it, if there is an interest in spiking this sensational story, then not just Press Council of India but even law agencies need to move in. Tablighi Jamaat has not only cost 10 lives thus far, It has put thousands on the line as well. It could submerge India in political and economic tsunami.
Indian Express would be under my lens for the remaining days of this Corona misery. Forget about Express exploring the Al Qaeda angle of Tablighi Jamaat about which I wrote yesterday; I would look carefully if Express is even reporting the mishap truthfully. As should be their thousands of readers. And authorities.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Those looking to have new Arvind Kejriwals and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) replicated all across India are living in a fools’ world.
Delhi is unique in the sense that a ruling party doesn’t have to worry about law and order nor has a jurisdiction over its land as is the case elsewhere.
All it needs to do is look after infrastructure, health, schools, education etc and offer freebies without a thought in the world since its revenue is always in surplus compared to its expenses.
Figures show that Kerjiwal’s government has surplus money of over Rs 5000 crores. It’s education budget is 25 per cent of its revenue. The subsidizing of electricity has gone up by 6 per cent.
This enables Kejriwal to stuff Delhi’s mainstream corrupt media with advertisements worth tens of crores which in turn ensures that not a line in criticism appears in public domain.
Kejriwal also has the unique advantage of practically having an urban political party which can’t be compared with any other local, state or national party in India.
It’s no secret that Urban India gives the nation its growth and economy compared to rural folks but India’s cities don’t control its own revenue. All the money earned through local bodies in urban areas goes to state governments who divert it in the hands of farmers, poor etc in order to secure its vote-bank and remain in power.
Just look at ministerial portfolio distribution in the Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra: The urban ministry has been retained by Uddhav Thackeray and it gives him control on most of the revenue earned in Mumbai and elsewhere in the state.
As per data, 32 per cent of India is urban while the rest is rural and hence it makes sense to divert a significant portion of your revenue towards rural areas and reap the benefits in elections.
In contrast, a Delhi government retains control of its landscape and its revenue and doesn’t have to divert its money anywhere.
Sure there are other Union Territories (Delhi is neither UT nor state but has a special status and hence enjoys legislative assembly) but nobody has the scale and depth of Delhi. Just consider: Delhi National Capital region and Mumbai metropolitan region, alone between themselves account for 9% of India’s population.
So for other Kejriwal and AAPs to emerge, a hopeful must have the (a) size of Delhi; (b) No rural vote-bank obligation; (c) no law or land obligation; (d) no subservience to a state party. No other place than Delhi in India can claim to have this advantage.
On a larger note, it’s also a sign that sooner or later tens of urban political parties would emerge in India’s growing cities who would seek independence from the yoke of state governments.
At the moment, India’s Constitution doesn’t support such a division between power and responsibility between state and local levels but a change can’t be stopped in coming decades.
For one, India is increasingly growing urban. Surveys show that nearly 70 per cent of India would be urban by 2050. Already, from sky above, larger part of India appears to be towns, mini-cities or cities but the “definition” of “Urban” vis a vis “Rural” limits its numbers to 32 per cent only.
The definition of “urban” as per Indian laws is that the area must have its own municipality, cantonment and corporation board and must have a minimum population of 5,000.
Sooner than later, the state governments would have to cede control of their big cities in the hands of “mayors” since a great deal of rural India is moving towards cities in any case. This migration is unstoppable due to the lure and opportunities in big cities.
These mayors would be like Presidents of their cities, looking after its infrastructure, water, electricity, health, education etc and managing its own budget. Diversion of its funds would not be feasible for state governments as most of their vote-banks would’ve moved to the towns and cities anyway.
Besides, badly managed cities where health, water, electricity, policing is ignored could lead to large-scale riots which would burn up the remote controlling powers in its own flames.
Hence, there is one Arvind Kejriwal, one AAP and one Delhi. Hoping a duplication of this format elsewhere in India is plain day-dreaming.
And hence brace yourself for BJP don’t ceding control of India’s political landscape in 2024 and beyond.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
A typical day when I hit roads in my car in the Capital. The roads themselves have three types of variations.
One is in the neighbourhood which teems with shops, cows, pedestrians, vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Here you could find our Virat Kohlis and Saina Nahiwals of future under the benign doting glances of their parents on the balcony. Schools-buses come every afternoon in the weekdays; alien cars make a stop in front of floors which rent young lives that celebrate weekends with booze, music and dance. Navigation requires yogic-contortions. Baring smiles on ladies who occupy a patch of lane for their daily round of gossip is a daily act. Here are no traffic lights.
Out of my sector are the big, bad roads. Traffic here is always slow, a bane of our municipal corporations who hadn’t accounted for a future of burgeoning cars, lakhs of flats and millions of residents. Now there is a scramble to collect the daily waste, roads dug to wire our homes with competing WiFis, multiple gaps in dividers for vehicles to switch over from left to right and vice-versa. Not that it matters to we the citizens: We simply opt for wrong side of traffic flow, braving ugly glances, gesticulating hands and showers of curse. How does it matter when a second of time and an ounce of fuel has been successfully saved?
All this before you hit your first traffic lights of the day. They usually take offs half a week. You can’t blame them either: We the traffic are colour-blind to their signals. It’s indiscreet to press on accelerators when it’s Green; It’s too idealistic to stop on Reds unless and until shrivelled beggars and their acrobat sons and daughters fulfil your idea of charity; or desperate men with fake editions of Sidney Sheldon and Irving Stone in your face reflect your educated background.
The next hour is a tribute to your ever-growing vocabulary on abuses. English swear-words are too polite. They are no match to our Punjabi and Hindi lexicons. The worst ones are reserved for the two-wheelers who swarm around your vehicle; darting from left and write, brushing your bumpers, navigating a gap you thought didn’t exist between two cars. Invariably you are forced to move out of right-most lane where the slowest of vehicle is lording over the lane meant for the fastest. There are three-wheelers who couldn’t care less if their iron frames scratch your newly-painted car or goods carriers who move slower than a bicycle and make you swerve wildly to the hail of abuses in the background.
The irony is, all of these troubles could actually be your work to the others. You too jump traffic lights; you too speak on your mobile as you drive; you too drive against the traffic once in a while and it’s been ages since you submitted your car for a pollution check. You too subdue the traffic police with your rank and position if a folded 100-rupee note isn’t a good-enough grease to his palms.
So you too are part of the problem. Other traffic violators have turned you into one. Or it could be you who has turned others into traffic violators. Daily we hit the roads, daily we come back cursing the jungle that is out there on the roads. We are not wrong too when we curse the rogue mobike-rider who you nearly killed or one who ran a scratch across the length of your car. You also swear at the governance which leaves huge potholes and unmanned traffic lights out there. Submerged roads could test out the lungs of your car; or worse you could’ve an idea how a submarine floats under the water.
So, on the terrifying jungle out there which could maim or kill you and your dear ones, all the stakeholders- people, traffic planners and regulators—are guilty. Planners don’t have a vision for future; Enforcers are corrupt and we the people have turned monsters on the road. Like millions of gods we have on different aspects of our lives, we need to invent a traffic Ganesha too for our wellbeing.
Let’s now view the new whip which has angered most in this country. Most of us are either dipping deep into our pockets or crowding the Pollution Control centres on gas stations. We find the measures too draconian what if our registration, insurance and pollution papers are not in order. We aren’t counting the benefits which discipline would bring on our roads and provides umbrella against pelting hefty medical bills.
At the outset there is every reason to applaud the transport minister Nitin Gadkari. He has been vocal on the Motor Vehicles Amendment bill for more than two years. He spent months in consultations with the states before finalizing and winning the ascent from the Parliament. He has shown a bloody-mindedness ignoring populism and discomfiture within his own ranks.
Three states go for elections in next three months and are all headed by BJP—Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. But for Haryana, the other two aren’t willing to face people’s wrath. Gujarat has brought down the fines by almost 90 per cent; Karnataka and Uttarakhand would implement the Act but reduce the fines to just a slap on the wrist. Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura haven’t even implemented it.
Non-BJP states have only poured scorn on the new Motor Vehicles Act. Congress, which runs Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Punjab have put the new Act on hold. Rajasthan would implement it but the fines would be reduced to a minimum.
There is no second-guessing the “non-BJP” states of West Bengal, Kerala and Odisha. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is vocal that she wouldn’t implement the Act and burden her people. Kerala initially implemented the bill but now has put it on hold. The Odisha government of Naveen Patnaik has announced a three-month moratorium on the new Act. Interestingly, the Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal is all in support of the Act.
It’s clear populism and politics would finally prevail over prudence. Our dharnas, noise and cribs matter to politicians. Asking us to wear seat belts, ride with helmets, follow zebra-crossing is too much of an ask. As it is to the tilted-heads on mobikes, using shoulders to attend calls on their mobile-phones.
Is this the entire truth? Doesn’t a couple with two small children, an old mobike and a few thousand rupees for a salary have a compulsion of their own on roads? Don’t we have faulty traffic signals? Don’t poor people buy a spluttering vehicle for a pittance only because it’s without papers? Don’t we have bus-stops right after the traffic-lights? Does the new Act take into account the last man on the road?
Good governance is one thing; populism is another. One leaves us with standardized conduct out on the streets; the other leaves us with chaos and anarchy. Good governance is never a zero-sum game: A few would always suffer in a society of extreme disparity. We have always longed for a government which governs for the good of the people. Now that we have it, we should strengthen and not weaken it.