Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Mirage called reservation

After showing a mirage of reservation to Indian Muslims immediately after independence, the political parties continued to lure this 'minority' community by promising reservations of a different kind, especially before elections. Time and again we have seen political parties playing the minority card. The Congress party promised 5% reservation to the Muslim community in education institutions and government jobs before 2004 general elections. Though the YSR Government after coming to power tried to fulfill this promise, however, the policy was struck down by the courts in 2005.

Later, it referred the matter to a Backward Classes Commission which recommended reservation for 15 economically and socially backward 'castes' of Muslims. On 23rd July 2007, the Andhra Pradesh Government passed a legislation giving 4% reservation to the identified 'castes' under BC-E category. However, a seven-member constitutional bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down this legislation too on three different grounds.

Now, the West Bengal Government is showing a similar mirage of 10% quota in employment for the Muslim community under the OBC category. Since the government is still in the process of identifying the educationally, socially and ecumenically backward Muslims, it is not yet certain whether this promise would be fulfilled before the 2011 assembly elections. While the Andhra Pradesh Government is preparing to contest the High Court order in the Supreme Court, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi came up with a bigger mirage of promising 12 per cent reservation to Muslims in the proposed Telangana state.

There is no dispute that a majority of Muslims are still backward, but they should stop chasing such mirages. The 4% or even 10% reservation would only confine the Muslims, and owing to this, they would not try hard to get a share in the remaining 96 or 90 per cent of share that they deserve to get as Indians.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The T Company

Just before the Assembly elections, the current leadership of Shiv Sena was determined to shake off the party’s legacy of violence. He spoke of the need for welfarist politics, of how rural Maharashtra was being left behind. It was impressive though to see the farmer rallies the Sena organized, by the fact that they documented farmer suicides in the state. I thought that Uddhav Thackeray was serious about effecting a change in Maharashtra's political landscape.

I was obviously mistaken. Farmer suicides still continue, the after-effects of drought are still being faced in several districts, but the focus is now squarely on finding high profile hate figures. They claim to have a vision for Mumbai. Yet, on the day the Sena-controlled city's municipal corporation's annual budget revealed an alarming financial crisis, the party mouthpiece, Saamna, was running banner headlines seeking an apology from Shah Rukh Khan. They asked their Shiv Sainiks to agitate against Rahul Gandhi's visit to Mumbai, but why have they not asked them to wage a war against the water cuts that have made life so difficult for millions in the city?

At one level, I can understand the reasons for their frustration. The Congress-NCP government in the state has been thoroughly incompetent: the last decade has seen Maharashtra decline on most social and economic parameters. Yet, the Shiv Sena has been unable to capture power in the state. The war with cousin Raj has proved to be self-destructive. The Assembly election results showed that a united Sena may have offered a real challenge to the ruling alliance. In fact, the Sena and the MNS together garnered around 43 per cent of the popular vote in Mumbai-Thane, almost seven per cent more than what was obtained by the Congress-NCP combine. Yet, because Sena’s vote was split, they won just nine of the 60 seats in the region, a result which proved decisive in the overall state tally.

Ironically, the Shiv Sena, who claim to be the guardian of Mumbai or Maharashtra and Marathi Manoos, has never offered a serious social or economic agenda for the future. Setting up the odd wada pav stall in Mumbai is hardly a recipe for addressing the job crisis. Why hasn't the Sena, for example, started training projects to make Maharashtrian youth face upto the challenges of a competitive job market? Why doesn't the Sena give regional culture a boost by supporting Marathi theatre, literature or cinema? The wonderful Marathi film, "Harishchandrachee Factory", nominated for the Oscars, has been co-produced by Ronnie Screwvala, a Parsi, who like millions of other 'outsiders' has made Mumbai his home. They just used their energy in bullying others which kept doing for years, and they will never change their stripes. Hopefully, their coming generation who are studying English literature can change the T Company in the coming time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dynastic politics in Indian polity, will never end …

The expulsion of a seasoned politician, Amar Singh from Samajwadi Party once again proved that another political "outsider" had fallen a victim of dynastic politics. While he too claimed that his departure is only because the Samajwadi party has become a family empire. Though, Mulayam Singh Yadav, grassroots leader, UP's ultimate political prizefighter, once a fierce critic of the Congress dynasty, has not only created his own ruling Yadav dynasty in the Samajwadi party but also made sure that, irrespective of whether or not it makes political sense, son Akhilesh will be his chosen heir. After all, Amar Singh, despite being branded a political fixer, was a resourceful, energetic, Urbane English-speaking face of a party which needed to build bridges across UP's caste and community divisions. It was in the Amar-Mulayam era that the Samajwadi party emerged as a dominant force in UP, increasing its vote share and emerging even ahead of the formidable Mayawati in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

The more complex case is, of course, of the original grand old party, the Indian National Congress. Born of the freedom movement, during which millions of Indians lined up to become members, the post-independence Congress was expected to symbolize the heartbeat of the new-born democracy and literally bring power to the people. Instead, particularly in the last decades, the Congress leadership, both at the states and centre, has been monopolized by the khaas admi or the Holy cows: defined as those who belong to privileged political families.

Political observers believe that the process of turning India into a dynastic democracy began with Indira Gandhi, whose decision to virtually hand over the Congress to son Sanjay in 1975 resulted in not just the imposition of Emergency, but also in the institutionalization of family rule. The seven year reign of PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri must now be seen as an aberration, with the rise of Sonia Gandhi and her incredible success in holding the party together, only reconfirming the belief that the Congress is best run by single family control.

Rahul Gandhi has indicated that he would like to change the power equations, that he would like to 'open up' the Congress to new talent. But a majority of the 'young' MPs who have emerged as the party's next line of leaders are the sons and daughters of prominent Congressmen. Congressmen must beware of the Dhritarashtra syndrome: political legacies may not be best served by political bloodlines.

Rann is just a tip of the ice berg

In the mad, mindless rush towards self-gratification, are we somewhere sacrificing those values that brought us, kicking, dragging and sacrificing from a hard-earned freedom from colonialism to the new millennium where we, the collective civilization, are now poised at the brink of a moral disintegration? Rann is that rare cinema about the collective conscience which we often like to think has gone out of style. Rann shows how tough it is to hold your head high up in dignified righteousness in a world where ethics crumble faster than cookies in a wide-open jar left out too long in the sun. Cleverly, Ram Gopal Varma situates his morality tale in the cut-throat world of the electronic media where the TRP is God, and deadlines the devil. The film was straight, and without really wasting time, introduces us to the plethora of characters who colonize the bowel of a declining channel run by the idealistic Vijay Harshvardhan Malik(Amitabh Bachchan) who believes there’s room still for the straight and narrow path in a business where grabbing attention is the murder of all invention.
Varma plunges us into the world of the characters that he knows only too well. The glistening sweats on ratings-challenged eyebrows are captured through tight close-ups of worried faces that the camera that give nothing and yet everything away. The swirling swarm of characters reading, reporting creating and even manufacturing news, are so normal in their workaday concerns we almost miss the underbelly of moral anomaly that has become a way of life in present times. Rann takes us into a world where right and wrong are more financial than moral issues, where the people who make news conveniently forget that the source is often the nadir of the conscience. Rann is a razor-sharp bitter and biting look at the real world of rapidly-moving moral issues. As expected, Amitabh Bachchan as the conscience of the plot, presides over the speeedened proceedings with a thoughtful and gentle performance. His climactic speech makes all of us sit up and think about the quality of work we do in order to keep up with the competition. Rann defines the role of the electronic media in today’s context with remarkable virility and dramatic force.

IPL fiasco

In one voice the rich and wealthy IPL franchise owners pleaded ignorance to the well-orchestrated and pre-planned move to keep the Pakistanis out. However, a claim of having a consensus of not bidding the Pakistani players according to Mallya is nothing but plain rubbish which he remarked through a pair of astonishingly bad shades. And one franchise owner went beyond bizarre, proclaiming there was "cricketing logic" in the decisions made. Parnell over Umar Gul? Roach over Aamer? Martyn over Umar Akmal? If there was indeed "cricketing" logic in the decisions, one could wonder why cricketers like Ganguly or Kumble weren't allowed to offer it? Words such as 'conspiracy' and 'insult' wouldn't be used. The lure of a piece of the IPL cake would dissuade Pakistani players from saying what they are saying now. And there would be no need for Lalit Modi to appear on prime-time television and claim "he knew nothing about this". While the fact of the matter is, here not a pencil sharpener changes places in the corridors of the IPL unless Modi approve it! And finally, Modi screeched "Availability, of Pakistani was the issue" however, what are Pakistani players doing? Nothing at all. Their players are available for all six weeks and can certainly play T20 cricket. So it was the presumption that they might become "unavailable" that led to this decision. And since the team owners are pumping in the money, they have every right to put it where the investment returns. If they choose not to risk it, that's fine too. All we ask is that instead of skirting the issue and hiding behind shallow words, they let us know. What's that line about honesty being the best policy?