Uttarakhand

Gadkari has shown a mirror to We-the-Dodgers of traffic rules

(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.

 

Why nobody is allowed to criticize Sonia Gandhi

Take a deep breath and reflect who you are not allowed to criticize in India. I could think of no other than Sonia Gandhi, former Congress and UPA chairperson. Run the entire gamut, pore over the worksheet of honchos of Indian media, Shekhar Gupta, Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose etc; google as you might; dive into the archives of Lutyens Media like Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, The Hindu; Sonia Gandhi, much like Caesar’s wife, has been above reproach.

That’s astounding. I mean nobody has been the president of 134-year-old Congress longer than her (19 years); she got her party two consecutive Lok Sabha victories; a whole lot of scams were unearthed; yet not a word against her. I mean yes, BJP and her bete noire Dr. Subramaniam Swamy keep pelting her windows but that’s par for course for any opposition. But what accounts for no “black sheep” within Congress bleating ever? No media house opening its edit pages for trenchant views; no historian/academician offering critiques? No scholarly paper in JNU? No diagnosis on a person out on bail?

I do recall two embarrassing Sonia interviews, that is for any self-respecting journalist, by Rajdeep Sardesai (he kept saying “fought like a tigress,” both in 2005 and 2016), as it was for Aroon Purie on another occasion, coy and adolescent.  Yes Shekhar Gupta (“she keeps a formidable dynasty on her slender shoulders,”), Barkha Dutt (“she has made a public commitment to Women’s Reservation Bill”) have also interviewed her;  Vir Sanghvi has been profound in “Nobody-in-Nehru-Gandhi-Family-Has-Given-Kind-of-Authority-she-has-to Manmohan-Singh,” echoed by a gushing Sagarika Ghose ( “She never undermined Manmohan Singh, always backed him up”). Both Sanghvi and Ghose don’t touch upon how another Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, was humiliated, even in death. And these clowns happily go toting about “bhakts” to everyone else. Phew.

Two books on Sonia immediately come to my mind. One is a pathetic account by a sychophant;  another is “Red Sari” which was unofficially banned in India for six years due to machinations by Abhishek Sanghvi, as alleged by its author.

There was though one voice of dissent which was muzzled without much ado by this “deep state” in India. Margaret Alva, a former Union minister of state and Governor, was quite scathing in her autobiography: “Courage and Commitment:” Excerpts:

“While Pilot, Prasada and Scindia got all the honours due to them as Congress leaders—with shamianas erected at the AICC to receive their remains before the last rites—PV Narasimha Rao, the tallest of them all, was denied a state funeral in Delhi. His body was not even let into the AICC compound; instead, the gun carriage carrying the former Prime Minister and Congress President was parked on the pavement outside the gates, with chairs lined for party leaders. I was shocked…ever since, I have regretted not protesting and walking away.” – On PV Narasimha Rao’s death in 2004

Alva details that she played a peacebroker between Sonia and Rao: the latter falling out probably for deciding to appeal against the Delhi High Court’s decision to quash a complaint against the Bofors case. Sonia Gandhi once retorted to Alva: “What does the Prime Minister want to do? Send me to jail?”

Alva’s outburst about the unfair ticket distribution in Karnataka led to her ouster. She was asked to resign from the post of All-India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in 2009. In her resignation, Alva wrote thus:

“Times have changed and for the first time I have come to feel like a misfit in an organization that I considered as precious as my own home. A look at our recent candidates lists show a distinct patter of patronages to the wealthy and rich lobbies like mining, education and real-estate…”

Just reflect on the above in line of recent Karnataka assembly elections and ponder why no newspaper or media celebrity ever brought this book out of the shelves to examine Congress’ candidates in 2018? Why Congress’ demise in the state is not looked through the prism which Alva afforded us?

As per one reviewer of the book: “Alva’s book offers an amazing insight into the maneuverings of 10 Janpath—the home of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Without being too harsh, Alva clearly indicts Gandhi for lacking transparency in her manner of functioning, her penchant for surrounding herself with a handful of loyalists…”.

Alva was made to leave Delhi, appointed as she was governor of Uttarakhand. In her words: “Once I had made the mistake of saying: `The Alvas are the only political family to have a member in Parliament without a break for almost half a century.’ This statement sealed our fate.”

(As an aside, Alva was Governor of Rajasthan when Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Alva describes her meeting with Modi thus: `I told him I had come to pay my respects, not plead for an extension, adding `I am not prepared to quit anytime.’ “There is no question,” He (Modi) replied. “You are doing a good job please continue where you are.” She was subsequently given additional charge of Goa and Gujarat!).

Jan Dhan accounts to get Rs 5,000-Rs 10,000

Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared it in a public rally that so far Rs 5 lakh crore have been collected since the introduction of demonetization on November 8, 2016—that our mainstream newspapers chose to underplay this report is another matter.

NewsBred has reasons to believe that Rs 5,000 to Rs10,000 could be deposited in 25 crore Jan Dhan accounts in the country. It would cost the exchequer between Rs 58,000 to Rs 1.25 lakh crore.

The freebie could either be uniform or staggered given the balance in these Jan Dhan accounts. For example, the accounts with zero balance could receive a bigger free cash inflow than those with some balance in it.

This would be a politically astute move and could redress the grievance/frustration/anger of those citizens who have faced hardships and inconveinece in money transactions since the demonetization scheme was launched earlier this month.

The BJP is prepared to alienate even their traditional vote bank of traders and businessmen as long as they could secure the affection of poor and deprived. They are also prepared to drag down economy temporarily as “India Shining” is no guarantee to winning elections as former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee found out to his dismay on 2004.

The free cash deposits in Jan Dhan accounts are likely to happen as soon as the Demonetization window closes on December 31, 2016. The introduction of it early next year in January would surely take care of UP Assembly Polls.

As many as five state assembly polls are lined up in 2017 — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. But for Uttar Pradesh, all other assembly polls are in the month of March. The one in UP would take place in May.

Angoorlata and her oath in Sanskrit

Angoorlata Deka, the newly elected BJP MLA from Batadroba constituency in Assam, has made front-page headlines with her oath in Sanskrit language. The newspapers are shocked at her audacity for don’t we all have given up the language as dead?

Our ignorance deserves a reality check. Sanskrit is one of the 22 languages listed in a Schedule to the Constitution. It’s the official language in the state of Uttarakhand. Since 1967, Sahitya Akademi has been giving award for literary works in Sanskrit. It’s true of adult as well as kids’ literature.

In all, there are 15 Sanskrit universities, thousands of Sanskrit colleges. Features films are being made in Sanskrit, the ones on Adi Shankaracharya, Bhagavad Gita and Mudrarakshasa (a film on great emperor Chandragupta Maurya) instantly come to mind.

An animated film in Sanskrit, “Punyakoti” is scheduled for release in 2016. There are more than 75 dailies, weeklies and monthlies in Sanskrit. We have television news in Sanskrit. No less than our Prime Minister tweets in Sanskrit. In Karnataka, two villages of Mattur and Hosahalli has everyone speaking in Sanskrit to this date.

All the 125 major languages and 1500 minor languages of the country can trace its origin on Sanskrit. It’s not just India alone, Nepal’s motto is a pick from Valmiki’s Ramayana. There’s Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the word Angkor meaning “City” in Sanskrit.

Initially, Sanskrit wasn’t known by its present name. It was called Bhasha. This was a fact at least till the 6th century BCE. It was essentially a spoken language. When rendered into writing, various different scripts were used. The use of Devanagari is of a recent vintage. In its grammar, letters and words freely merge to form compound letters and compound words. Two of these principals are called sandhi and samasa.

The greatest proponent of Sanskrit language was poet Kalidasa. His classics, such as Malavikagnimitram (the love story between King Agnimitra and Malavika), Abhijnanashakuntalam (the famous Shaknutala story) and Meghadutam (Cloud as messenger) haven’t lost its lustre till this day.

It’s a fallacy to believe that Sanskrit was only spoken by Kshatriyas and Brahmans in ancient times. Instances abound where commoners were known to use the language. In the Rig Veda, 21 out of 407 rishis were women. There was no gender bias in the use of the language.

Since 2003, India has a National Mission for Manuscripts (Namami). Its task is to list, digitize, publish and translate manuscripts at least 75 years old. As of now, Namami has a listing/digitization of three million—the anticipated stock of manuscripts in India is 35 milion. There are at least 60,000 manuscripts in Europe and another 1,50,000 elsewhere in South Asia. Ninety-five percent of these manuscripts have never been listed, collated or translated. To give you an idea of the enormity of the task: Since the advent of printing only an estimated 130 million books have been published in all languages of the world.

We don’t know the treasure waiting to be rediscovered. Take the instance of Arthashastra for instance. The classic on political economy and governance was written by Kautilya (350-275 BCE). But it was rediscovered by R. Shamasastry in 1904, published in 1909 and translated into English in 1915. We don’t know how many Arthashastra we have lost in all these centuries.

Same is true of many variations of scripts of Sanskrit. The sharada script, popular in Kashmir at one time in history, is completely lost. Same is true of Paishachi language and a very famous work in this script, Brihatkatha. Both are lost to us. Many Buddhist and Jain texts were written in Sanskrit too. And lest we forget, Ayurveda, the treatises on medicine, the work of Charaka (2nd century CE), no longer survives.

And here is the surprise of all surprises: “A Companion to Sanskrit Literature,” authored by Sures Chandra Banerji, has an entire chapter on the contribution of Muslims to Sanskrit. This volume traverses 3000 years of Sanskrit literature.

Naheed Abidi was bestowed with Padma Shri in 2014 for her contributions to Sanskrit literature. Her first book in 2008 titled “Sanskrit Sahitya Mein Rahim” is an account of the Sanskrit leanings of renowned poet Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana. Another bookof hers, “Sirr-e-Akbar” is a hindi translation of 50 Upanishads, earlier translated by the Mughal prince, Dara Shikoh into Persian. Naheed has published a Hindi translation of Vedanta, translated into Persian by Dara Shikoh and also the Sufi texts by the prince.

There is no denying the crisis though. The last Census in 2011 still don’t tell us how many speak Sanskrit in our country. The Census of 2001 had put the number to 14,135. There is an initiative from the government for the long-term vision and roadmap for the development of Sanskrit. Angoorlata’s act of oath has brought the Sanskrit language into popular mainstream and we ought to be grateful to her.

(The background of this article is largely based on Dr. Bibek Debroy’s speech in Paris on the occasion of International Mother Tongue Day, organized by UNESCO on March 3, 2016).