The Free Speech Cycle

Like with everything else in India, we have a way with our own style of discourse with regards to journalism and free speech, something that is as unique as a BJP supporter’s unrequited love for Narendra Modi which turns into multiple orgasms instantly (especially if he were to appear on the cover of a Time Magazine, you know) or  Viveik Oberoi having to claim in an interview that his wife is simple and down-to-earth, and doesn’t behave like a star’s wife. Because she probably isn’t one. But maybe that just skipped Oberoi’s mind.

Following Mint Candyman Aakar Patel’s outrageous diatribe attempting to Draw Something (I used that app and I guess the answer here is ‘Dividing Line’) between the North and South of India, the internet (and by internet, I mean Twitter and Facebook) erupted into fury with several Facebookers calling for petrol purchased from the state of Goa to be unleashed on Patel’s house in (where does he live?). Twitter, in particular, was gracious in awarding Patel the title of the World’s Most Annoying Troll given that he has written provocative pieces before too. They’d awarded him Most Annoying Troll before, but this North-South article just nudged them to add the word ‘World’s’ to the award. Also, nobody noticed that he would’ve got much more fame if the URL of the article was smart enough to incorporate the word ‘South’ in it. For that, Mint owners should probably just take the newspaper’s IT guy to a Roadies audition.

Not long then, before Mint Editor-in-Chief stepped in and tweeted something so pathbreaking-ly predictable that this changed the blood flow of humans and the retweets flow of everything else (including bots in bikinis). Because this is when India’s ‘Free Speech Cycle’ came a full circle. This is generally what happens, all the time. A provocative piece is published which people read and outrage between themselves. Soon, somebody steps up to quote what Voltaire (or Evelyn Beatrice Hall) once said thereby making him shudder in his grave yet one more time. Soon, there is a complete change of the flow and people will start waking up and agreeing that YES YES THERE EXISTS A RIGHT TO PUBLISH! That tweet gets torn to shreds with people either +1-ing it, or adding “TRUE!” or “This ->” before it.

Towards the end of the Free Speech Cycle, all that remains is for those who haven’t read the article in question yet to do so, like turning up late at a Suhel Seth party and having to do with the leftovers. The rest of us live to die another day, and will all get back to washing-rinsing-repeating before we even know it, because that’s what we do best. Soon, it’s sunset and everybody looks forward to alcohol, football on TV or sex (the general rule is that you only get to have two of the three, not all three at once).

The Free Speech Cycle is India’s greatest contributing factor to all the free time in the world that her people have (and no, Pratibha Patil spending 205 crores on foreign tours or the Indian military’s lack of preparedness to fighting even Sri Lanka in a non-nuclear war are not real problems), and is now a part of our national ethos. Like Kamaal R Khan’s kiss-tweets and Kapil Sibal waking up in the middle of the night at any mention of the words ‘Let’s censor’. So coming to the really important part – The question this article (this one, that you’re reading right now) poses is that the Free Speech Cycle notwithstanding, how does one get to have all three of alcohol, football on TV and sex on the same night?

Asking for a friend.


SlutWalk And Liberal Aberrations

In succession to the grand marches being held across the world,  New Delhi will host India’s very own Slutwalk. The idea of Slutwalk focuses on the belief that women have the right to wear what they want. As this Hindustan Times news piece says, women must claim their right to be sexy without being subjected to being called ‘sluts calling for being raped’. It is entirely understandable that the use of the word ‘slut’ is in poor taste. There is no doubting that.

Rape is one of the world’s most despicable crimes. So unfortunate are man’s urges, that they stand to ruin (in many cases) the life of those women who subjected to rape. Societies, the world over, must focus on providing maximum assistance to women subjected to heinous crimes like rape or torture. Instead, we pull the same old rabbit out of our magic hat of potential solutions – symbolism. Again, I must make a point here that women have the right to wear what they want, and irrespective – nobody has a call there, as it borders on subjugation of individual freedom. Moreover, it goes with the thought stream that people don’t know what’s good for them.

So, evidently, liberation is a great thing. Standing up for liberal values in a democracy, equally important. However, the problem lies with symbolism. The phenomenon of symbolism makes news once in a while, largely tends to create a lot of inconsequential hype and mostly ends up in the graveyard of public memory. The usual routine is followed – Twitter activism and retweets, Facebook pages and the Like button, TV studio coverage that creates the typical feel-good surrounding such events and email forwards coming from all directions, asking people to come out, take a walk and ‘be heard’.

The problem is the lack of solutions that such events bring out. It is classic Indian symbolism, that is becoming all too typical now. We ‘feel’ we have done a lot, but in reality we haven’t done anything significant. Symbolism, as we have seen with the Pink Chaddi and Pink Condom campaigns in the past (remember them?), does not solve the problems surrounding the oppression of women, crimes like rape and murder (a crime which follows rape in so many occasions). The need for better policing, rejection of ‘ultras’ and action against those engaging in these crimes is the need of the hour. And SlutWalk cannot bring these to the table, can it?

There is a strong need for understanding liberalism at it’s core. Mere raising of sound levels and generation of massive hype across civil society creates one more event that comes along and will be forgotten. What about working at the ground level? Are we doing that? What is the point of distant symbolism that may bring a smile to the face of a woman who has been subjected to rape, but does not improve her condition in any way whatsoever? Let us ask ourselves. What is the point of our activism? The point is action, followed by results. And why are we engaging in such symbolism? Simply, because it’s easy. And it’s fun, too.

It is the ability to research and implement solutions, that is difficult. And precisely that, is what is the need of the hour.

Chaos Minus Progress

Women and children.

There were women and children in the crowd that was attacked by the police at a peaceful protest by Baba Ramdev and his set of followers. And it was absolutely disgusting that the UPA ordered a crackdown on something that is a constitutional right of any Indian. What is surprising (or maybe, not) is how several UPA leaders have issued statements and remain completely unapologetic about the events of yesterday night. It is important for other influential national parties to react in strong opposition to the UPA’s actions. And that has at least happened.

While I primarily disagree with Baba Ramdev’s methods (why – read this earlier post), which I believe is nothing but another example of an unelected civil society member seeking power and influence that he does not have any democratic right to, it is deplorable that the UPA sanctioned the interruption of a protest purely based on it’s own deluded suspicions surrounding the influential sage. There is absolutely no call for any form of brutal suppression of freedom of speech (even up to the extent of it being against the Indian republic and it’s functioning), unless it directly harms the safety and security of the people.

Histrionics are a part of mainstream Indian life. Every other day, there emerges a new figure demanding change without understanding the core of how a democracy is supposed to function. Hence, we are left to endure unnecessary drama that isn’t even helping our cause as a country. First, it was Anna Hazare. He is an admirable public figure, but seems to miss the point. Now, it’s Ramdev and a repeat of ‘fast unto death’. And he has thousands of followers, mind you. Not only is there so much confusion, but there is likely to even be a delay in the actual cause that the anti-corruption brigade is pioneering! [Link]

The problem is clear. Current laws remain unimplemented. Reforms aren’t even talked about. Unelected and self-styled spokespersons of the ‘People Cause’ want more laws. More institutions. The result is likely to put more people in government, something that we could and should avoid. The situation ends up being a round-about, and people watch yet one more reality show unfold. It’s even unfortunate when peaceful protests are cracked down on, and innocent women and children are police targets.


The Burden Of Injustice

After penning a few thoughts on the Narendra Modi ‘situation’ (the apostrophe marks to describe this word are used because of it’s indescribable nature), I’d like to further share some views on how delayed justice is as costly to India as socialism was in the pre-liberalization era.

Now, this isn’t a post narrating the construct of the Indian judiciary or how it works. Cynicism aside, it has a history of delivering justice (albeit, there being a range of delay from a very short span to insanely long ones). It is the constitutional duty of any judiciary to deliver justice to it’s citizens. Not a doubt about that.

It’s about the burdens that pile up, when it doesn’t deliver.

Take the Narendra Modi scenario, again. It is unlikely that we will ever find the truth, and even if the truth is uncovered, it will be followed by a series of hurrahs and denials from various categories of opinionated people. In fact, the only things certain about the Modi situation are the responses of these individuals. Many of them will be so influential, that they will readily be able to influence the lesser-informed, the ignorant and simply the people who go by their every word.

Now all of this wouldn’t mean a thing if effective justice was delivered regularly, and the courts had the final word (while keeping the constitutional provisions of appeals in mind). But that hasn’t happened. So what we are left with is a country that doesn’t rely on justice, but relies on all the propaganda surrounding the injustice. We are, today, a bunch of clowns just waiting for *injustice* to be delivered.

Since this has become the norm, expectations for justice are zilch. A society that thrives on the prevalence of injustice in so many areas that it is mind-boggling to even imagine how it will redeem itself to ever convince the ordinary, expectant citizen that justice is not an impossible dream.

This is a very shocking predicament, for a country that aspires to influence the world someday. Because once millions of minds are accustomed to failure of duties, what are the chances they will themselves do their rightful duties? Less. It creates a society that lives on mistrust, with a burden of problems that are likely to remain problems. Problems are always accompanied by some form of acceptance. And what is to happen if we accept everything around us – as it is? History cites several examples. But continue to accept, we will.

Generations will live through these circumstances, accepting and imbibing the very alternative of certain beliefs (liberty, justice, truth) that a country is supposed to be founded on. The same generations will create similar circumstances because of the experiences from previous generations. It is a desperate situation, if one fails to notice it.

And I’m not sure if a mere screaming of ‘WAKE UP’ works anymore.

The Narendra Modi Conundrum

Two sides to a coin.

Narendra Modi – chief minister of a state that has recorded economic growth far greater than so many parts of the country, voted to office across successive terms, effective administrator, investment magnet, rose the ranks through a difficult system primarily on the basis of merit and genuinely works for the benefit of Gujarat.

Narendra Modi – alleged architect of the post-Godhra riots that killed hundreds of innocents, communalist, propagandist, pretends to be moderate center-of-right in politics and policies but isn’t.

Clearly, there may have never been so concrete ‘two sides of a coin’ than there are in the case of BJP leader Narendra Modi. He has firm admirers and staunch opponents. He has wild fanboys and blood-thirsty critics. None of the people in all these categories are ever likely to lower their stands, and will continue to create a lot of noise (a lot on Twitter, these days) when a Modi issue becomes a headline event.

Inherently, it can be very easily observed that fundamentalism prevails in their minds. Pro-Modi folks won’t glance an eye over any writing/commentary that attempts a critique of the CM, while anti-Modi folks continue to believe that he is a major threat to Indian polity and there is no second way about this. Once in a while, if these people read/understood opposing views, we might have a moderate and more composed (but unchanged) understanding of the Modi ‘situation’ rather than just wild rhetoric from either side.

Now, the point I’m trying to make from my writing here is the ‘price’ of delayed justice. India, clearly, has failed its people when it comes to delivering justice. The problem is that it takes so much time to deliver justice that enough rhetoric has been generated, resources lost and new topics born to take light away from the initial issue of concern.

Imagine this. The post-Godhra riots are avoided. Narendra Modi ends up being the man to deliver effective policing in areas which noted violence. He lives up to his constitutional obligations and morals. People don’t die. The perpetrators of the Godhra train burning are brought to book. Modi continues to administer the state effectively. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Imagine this. The Gujarat riots happen (as they did). Narendra Modi is proven to be involved. The court says, with ample evidence, that he played a direct role in whatever carnage occurred and pronounce him guilty on various counts. If this doesn’t amount to a serious sentence, he is freed after serving whatever sentence he was charged with. Nope. Hasn’t happened.

Imagine this. If he is proven to be innocent, he gets a clean chit and goes back to doing what he does best – politics/administration/governance. Nope. Hasn’t happened.

But he is still accountable for 2002, as any CM would be when in command during a major crisis and holding all constitutional powers to administer control and simply prevent loss of lives. He is still responsible for effective governance. He is still administering a state that is making India proud, in most ways. So, we are in a permanent fix with solutions to problems both happening and not happening. It becomes difficult to make any sense of the Modi ‘problem’ and one is merely left to endure two conflicting sides clash in the extreme of terms when the spotlight hovers over Modi.

The only sense I could make out of all of this – Whatever you think of Narendra Modi, it doesn’t change what he once did and it doesn’t change what he is doing today.

The rest, as they say, is history’s undoing.

The Indian Revolution

So, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is out. End of tyranny. Toppled by a no-matter-what-they-say-but-this-was-genuine peoples’ movement. The Army takes over. But is the future secure?

Probably, no.

Revolutions are characteristic of radical changes. And Egypt is certainly witnessing the best of one. While a whole country celebrates a triumph of a kind, the world watches on with great interest.

And so does India.

The peoples of this republic will certainly be wondering, while glued to their TV sets or chatting away in coffee shops, what it would be like to just get together on the streets of thousands of cities and towns, waving the India flag with much joy and calling for the ouster of hundreds of those corrupt, senile office-bearers in this supposed-to-be-great institution called the Government of India.

And that is even our right. We have a right to protest, which must be used. We have a right to speak our mind against the perennially erring, which must be used. We, however, do not possess a ‘right to revolution’ simply because this is a constitutional democracy that calls for sorting out all of our problems through constitutional means. There is absolutely no need for a revolution, which may cause loss of lives, time, public money and property and even bring the nation to a halt.

So what do we do, one asks. Reforms. In a democracy, reforms is the way ahead. And while we may have a set of people (in Government or otherwise) entirely dedicated to ensure reforms don’t go through, we must persist. And there are solutions. Corruption? Cut government spending and reduce the size of the institution. Scandals? Firmer implementation of the Rule of Law (which in my opinion, must be linked directly to growth), and consequently the implementation of punishments handed out to offenders while respecting their democratic right to appeal.

In a democracy, a ‘revolution’ may be slow but it mostly always is for the better. In a dictatorship, one cannot predict which way the ‘swing’ will happen. And many countries around the world offer opportune examples of failed ‘revolutions’. Structure must be maintained, and for that the idea of a revolution is redundant. And that is what makes it entirely absurd to consistently maintain a thought like ‘People must topple the Government’. What, even when the people themselves are responsible for the Government? And if there does actually exist a sincere willingness to change leaders – Vote.

The republic must be protected from a revolution by firmly implementing exactly what our cynical selves struggle to believe these days – that politicians (who are elected representatives of the very same people who complain again and again about the lack of change) can work for good and the ones who don’t must be shunned entirely when elections come calling, that the problem of corruption can be overcome by reforms implemented with speed and conviction, that the Constitution of India has all the solutions and can bring in more solutions through civilized, democratic means.

That there can, and will, be change.

Maintaining An Edge

When I read editorials detailing China’s power indicators with respect to India, I tend to appreciate the fact that our eastern neighbours are indeed way ahead of us in terms of infrastructure, growth and in providing basic hygiene and a higher standard of living to her citizens.

But the attempt made by some commentators to establish Chinese authority (just because of those factors) doesn’t really appeal to me. Obviously, actually. Similarly, jingoistic pieces from India (or Indians abroad) that turn a blind eye to China’s genuine rise are a turn-off too. The faster we accept this fact, the better it could turn out and eventually benefit us.

All emotions aside, India must maintain the edge that it holds in various sectors vis-a-vis China. The Chinese are quick learners and will certainly will have marked out areas where Indians are ahead. I have visited China in the recent past, and here is what I made of the Chinese (a very informal piece, that one).

However, there are certain areas where India clearly holds the edge. The fact that Indian outsourcing giants like TCS are looking towards China as a market [Link] suggests that the Chinese market is rather fragmented. India’s firms, on the other hand, have been posting consistent profits and rise in growth. TCS, themselves, have grown by 8-10 pc this year. It could take China a while to even contemplate capturing the IT services sector. And there is a second factor that comes into play – the English language.

India has the largest number of English speakers in the world, outside the United States. China, as of now, does not even appear in the Top 7. But it is an advantage that could possibly end (considering China’s dedication to increasing the versatility of her workforce) and India must hold on to it, at any cost. English speaking directly increases employability and plays a huge role in attaining professional success in various streams. Add to that, the opportunities Indians get to work and live abroad.

India offers protection to intellectual property, that is way better than China. Although the Chinese are working hard to end their piracy issues, the CEO of Microsoft himself has stated that it is India, and not China, that attracts software companies. [Link] There was also the recent censorship issue between Google and China, that hasn’t worked in Chinese favour.

Finally, we have our principles. Yes, India is more principled than China (democracy, rule of Law, transparency) and there is not a shadow of doubt about that fact. But India must not use that as an excuse to garner international opinion in support of it’s potential superpowerdom and must focus on giving her people a life that is worth living.

There is no ‘greater greatness’ than ensuring the prosperity and well-being of Indians in India and all over the world. And that is what India’s leaders and policy-makers must aspire to do.