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Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Modest Proposal - III

The third installement of the "A Modest Proposal" series, below.
The references to the strife torn locales and the names of the new gods of the globalised order are a little outdated, but it is published as originally written.

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I was basking in the morning sun on my lawn when half a dozen sullen looking youngsters stormed in. A tall burly fellow with a week old stubble, grim, sleepless eyes and a distinctly embattled look-threw down a canister, matchbox and other incendiary material at me feet. As if on cue, the others also dropped their pick-axes, crowbars and plain bamboo stick. The man with the sleepless eyes swept ahead and spoke in vengeful tones (a straight take off on Om Puri's encounter with Gandhi in Richard Attenborough's film)

"Here, keep them. You have spoilt the party. All along we thought we were activists for a cause and now you come and knock the bottom out of our belief. From freedom fighters and satyagrahis we are reduced to being mere vandals. Now an eternity of purposelessness, inactivity and sheer boredom lies ahead of us. I have torched no less than twenty public vehicles, bumped off a few cops and decapitated many. But now I will be rendered effete, otiose, unemployed."

Another meek looking fellow screwed up his courage, sidled up to me and said in an accusing tone, “My record has not been as spectacular, a mere .000216 vehicle, but I am also destined to the same fate. A hundred questions were swarming in my mind but the uppermost was the great divergence of their personal tallies of burnt vehicles from the national average of 1.016 vehicles per citizen. I invited them to explain the appalling disparity in their achievements.

The embattled young activist had been in business for quite some time and in fact his youthful looks belied his experience. But still a stroke of sheer luck had helped him improve his tally. A fleet of public transport vehicles was abandoned to be torched - he could not believe his luck - to thwart some proposed inquiry into the purchase of substandard vehicles by the road transport corporation officials. This symbiotic arrangement contributed to the resounding success of the bandh while helping the smooth operators pocket their millions.
The other fellow's measly score in five decimal places still remained unexplained. He was a small towner and his area of operation didn't have a regular public transport system. After all, you can't burn private vehicles for public causes! The last public vehicle that they had burnt was during the 1974-75 agitations. It was still lying near the town hall as a relic of the permanent revolutionary struggle of the town's people. Now they ritually burn it over and over again during every agitation, bandh etc. The townspeople even collect funds and get it painted to look like the real thing. Everyone is allowed to have a crack at it. That is how is average has worked out to .000216 vehicle per person.

There was a rueful look of deprivation in his eyes as only the deprived can have. My heart went out to him and the likes of him. So much crusading zeal, such dedication and not enough buses to burn or public property to destroy! Never had the glaring inequalities of our system or the appalling state of our economy been apparent to me in such concrete terms. But the inequality apart, the immediate problem was that of millions of unemployed and unemployable youth, recently demobbed from the civil disobedience movement. Seething with so much latent energy!

But have no fear! In my scheme of things no problem remains unsolved. Roughly, these youth could be divided into a few broad categories on the basis of their skill and work experience. The likes of my friend - the elite of the corps -were experts at incendiary activities, sabotage and the body contact method of registering their protest. Their commitment to their karmic destiny - vandalism and destruction - was absolutely selfless and purposeless as well. (Nihilism is too philosophical, too abstract a word for such intense activity).

In the present global situation they could be profitably exported to the strife-torn, civil-war ravaged locales of Sarajevo, Serbia, Bosnia, Alma Atta, Tiblis, Kabul, Chad, and Nicaragua. Beirut has traditionally been a good market for some of our boys for making money fighting for this group or that and satisfying their innate destructive impulses. But now the export can be canalized in a planned manner to these new markets. Economic statesmanship demands that we plug in successfully the emergent markets with the abundant supply of the likes of our friends. With such vast reserves we can meet any future demands also. Of course we could charge the consumer countries for the services in hard currency.

I offered this deal to my friend. He was skeptical at first.
"Wouldn't we be overstretching ourselves"

"Far from it. Instead of rickety buses they will have the glass and chromium thing. Instead of crude homemade Molotov cocktails, they could handle sophisticated bombs and pistols, plastic explosives and shoulder launched rockets".

He was already salivating at his mouth. I plied him with the piece-de-resistance. "Since you are committed only to the cause of vandalism, violence and disorder, you can take a perfectly neutral stance striking at both the warring parties courting the minimum danger and maximum surprise."

He was now straining at the leash. Raring to go. I asked him to line up all those ready for export, so that ISO 9000 specification and sundry other papers were got ready. (Economic liberalization makes it easy but still it takes some time!)

But what about the others - the pacifist types - experts at the more sedentary type of struggle - gheraos and dharnas?

"The pity of it is that all these economists are armchair theoreticians. Their sophisticated visual and hearing aids makes them incapable of seeing things right under their noses."

The developed western countries are chockfull of dollars and causes. But while they made their dollars their causes went a-begging. Here we pursued non-existent causes and the deficit in dollars kept mounting. We will make a swap. We are good at pursuing causes. They are good at earning dollars. We will pursue their causes for them they can earn our dollars for us. So we will export all these pacifists to pursue - if need be, revive and reinvent - their causes.

Greenham Commons, Anti-whaling groups, environmental lobbies, anti-nuke demonstrators, feminist leagues, groups supporting children-seeking-divorce-from-their-parents, anti-and-pro-abortion militants, flat-earth society, the association of the admirers of skunk - the list is endless. All these have been active for quite some time without achieving anything very significant, largely because the groups consist of amateur weekend agitators. We could form some kind of an International Brigade, or Resistance from the ranks of these people and send them all over. This way it would work to the advantage of all concerned. The causes will find their activists, and vice versa and the country's forex reserve will soar to greater heights.

The left overs and lay abouts can be crated for export to Japan where the rich and busy Japanese keep hiring strangers to talk sweet nothings to their aged parent in geriatric homes. Good as our boys are at killing time doing nothing, they will mix business with pleasure. The grateful Japanese will compensate us suitably for salving their guilty consciences.

But this still leaves behind the psychophants, the stooges, the bootlickers and PR men. The nation could tighten its belt a little and even they could be dumped at a discount in Washington, Paris, Tokyo in the service of the new Gods: Lewis Preston(the then president of the World Bank), Camadasseus (the then chief of IMF), Calra Hills or Kimamaso Tarumizu( the then chief of the Asian Development Bank) to wash their feet with soda water and unguents in ritual worship and to sing in their praise day and night.

The activists were dazed at this marvellous package. But the meek one still persisted, "Wouldn't this body shopping demean us, in the eyes of the world".

I silenced him with a withering look. "For Camadasseus sake! Dollar is the new god. We must surrender everything in the service of him. That is the only way the poor shall inherit the earth."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Modest Proposal - II

Follow up to "A Modest Proposal", below.
Again, this piece is a little dated, especially in its reference to the TATA Safari advertisement in which Roshan Seth figured as a chauffeur. But I have published it without any changes.
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Ever since the publication of my Modest Proposal, my telephone hasn't stopped ringing. The calls - generally between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. - have come from places as far removed and distant as Ranchi, Agra and Bareilly. (I have learnt since that they have one thing in common - each of these places has a mental asylum.)

One of my correspondents wanted to know if the hedge separating his lawn from that of his neighbouring country should be considered as no-man's-land, or was he entitled to use half the width of the hedge for drying his linen. I wasn't prepared for such a query and mumbled some apology about "details being worked out".

I was racking my brains to get an idea to beat the sun to it because I was sure the blighter would call again. It seemed his linen couldn't wait! But misery, as they say, never comes alone. This other nation state dropped in to seek my considered opinion on maritime practices and international law in regard to the high seas. His problem was that he had accidentally dropped his slippers in a small ditch that flowed into another drain passing through his neighbour's compound. It had drifted away some distance and, according to his interpretation of things, it was beyond his maritime zone. Could he use a fishing tackle to retrieve it without violating the air space of the neighbouring country or should the area be considered high seas? Frankly speaking, I was bowled lock stock and barrel. The status of resident consultant on international law had been thrust upon me quite gratuitously. I told him that my proposal was still a proposal and he should deal with the problem under the existing laws and practices until such time both he and his neighbour were accorded full sovereign nation status. He looked doubtful, but left all the same.

But, there were some more visitors. Droves of politicians of various hues dropped in to plead with me to suggest something less drastic and revolutionary. The proposal had no doubt an element of visionary overdrive about it, but alas! The nation was not quite prepared for it. They had carefully calculated that for the present the people would be satisfied if the country were to be divided into, say, two hundred and fifty seven parts. All the ethnic, linguistic, religious minorities would be taken care of. But they assured me that, given some more time, they would certainly bring the nation to such a state of readiness as to be ripe for the arrangement set out in my proposal. I should intervene to stall agitations for further fragmentation. Therefore, until such time the nation is prepared, an interim proposal is being put forward to restore complete peace to our polity so that when D-Day comes we can split peacefully.

The country has been described as a functioning anarchy and it is often said that the nation has been on some sort of a permanent general strike. Not that one notices the strikes very much these days. The day things are open attracts our attention more pointedly. Professional sociologists, economists, intellectuals and all those whose job it is to issue bulletins on the state of the national health have attributed this to various causes – Unemployment, lack of a sense of discipline in the workers and the students, absence of commitment to socially acceptable values, so on and so forth. But I am afraid, even though the symptom has been correctly identified, the diagnosis of the malaise is wide off the mark.

My perception of the situation is that it is not an absence of discipline in our workers and youth that compels them to destructive activity. If anything, it is an excess of it. As for commitment to a cause, we have taken it to absurd limits. My survey reveals that the nation which was galvanized into decisive activity after the magic call given by Gandhi on the 8th August 1942 has continued on the path of civil disobedience ever since. They are doing their utmost of overthrowing the government of the day and driving away the alien power. (The way some governments behave, they could not be blamed too much for mistaking them for alien governments!) They rarely manage to overthrow a government but they certainly manage to obstruct the governance of the country. Students boycott their classes, if their teachers are not on strike already. If the teachers are persuaded to go to the college the lock out by the non-teaching staff thwarts their rare impulse. In fact, with so many groups committed to the task of destruction and vandalism of public property, many have to await their chance to have a crack at them.

Gandhi, poor soul, didn’t live long enough after independence and somehow it slipped his mind to call off the movement. So the nation, which was exhorted by its great leader on that fateful day of August '42, is still committed in a somber way, perhaps in a spirit of tragic self- sacrifice, to the civil disobedience movement. It is only natural that, after a long time, it has, at some places, evolved into an armed disobedience movement. We are not only breaking salt laws - we break all others as they come. Since the British have departed, the unstated part of the call "Quit India" has acquired a new and unforeseen meaning. In the current reading, Quit India has come to mean secede, quit the Indian Union. The zeal of the participant may have flagged on some occasions or the intensity of the agitation may have varied from place to place but, as a nation, we are still strongly committed to the idea of civil disobedience, of doing and dying. Soldiers, all of the Quit India movement! Like soldiers, we are obeying orders. Ours is not to question why? The reason for the national distemper was so simple that it nearly took my breath away. The opinion poll commissioned by me confirmed my suspicion. The nation hardly knew that there was no cause for civil disobedience or quit India movement.

As if the situation was not bad enough, the leaders appear to have made another faux pas. The policy of "divide and rule" may have been good for the British as a colonial and imperial power, but it wasn't good for us. So that part of the note to successor on good governance should have been deleted by the British. But they not only didn't delete it, they seem to have underlined it heavily, wicked as they were. Our gullible ruling elite walked into the trap with both feet. Ever since they have been dividing and ruling.

The first thing that our people should have done, after the British departed, was that they should have formally called off the movement. I don't know if they did. I wasn't around anyway, and old timers say that if they did, it was heard only at hailing distance. So, as a first step, we must rectify this mistake. We must get hold of as many transponders on as many satellites, as possible. The facilities of the S.I.T.E. should be utilized to the full. All the other media of dissemination of information should be harnessed to the cause of national enlightenment to beam the message across not only here in this country but to all the NRIs. After all, the only good Indian today is the Non-Resident Indian, scattered across the face of the earth.

There would be that small bit of a problem of credibility, because most of the original casts have departed. But don't lose heart, yet. The problem is not altogether insuperable. Well, if Gandhi is not around, Ben Kingsley will do nicely, thank you! Roshan Seth could be persuaded to shed his current chauffeur's livery and his TATA Estate to don The Gandhi cap and the rose in the buttonhole. In fact, the whole cast can be managed with suitable doubles. I don't know if the Aga Khan Palace is up for hire but these minor problems can be taken care of. With the able assistance of vision mixers and choreographers, the message that civil disobedience movement has been called off can be beamed across to every home. The British have quit-and quit India for good, so Quit India movement stands suspended for good measure. They may also add that the policy of divide and rule is being jettisoned and till something new is formulated by the think tank. That would be the signal for this bus-burning, train-looting nation of ours to cease fire, to desist, to cry a halt.

This simple solution should have occurred to the shamans of the nation-building industry but perhaps they are always looking for complicated models of problem with multiple variables. No wonder the solution eludes them.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Modest Proposal - I

This article which appeared in a news paper as well as ViewsUnplugged.com several years ago is being reposted here with no changes. A Modest Proposal to answer all calls for autonomy and nation hood

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It would be an act of ultimate folly for someone as undistinguished as yours truly to suggest remedies for the very intractable problems that beset this poor beleaguered nation of close to a billion. But, considering the fact that angels have given a none too brilliant account of themselves, there is no harm in fools rushing in and giving it a try!

When we were children, in the circus, the clown would invariably appear from somewhere under the stool, or table, or some such thing, and fiddle around for some time with the heavy formidable looking weights and, in the process, would topple over. Then, some muscle bound Neanderthal would appear and lift the weight with a big "humph" and dump it with a hyperventilated "haw"! As a child, I always thought that the clown had somehow, merely by touching it, facilitated the feat.

The clowns (alas! ) have all disappeared from under the big top to join politics and other professions, and things are far more solemn these days.

The contentious issue of fissiparous and divisive tendencies is bedeviling our polity and the professional nation builders seem to have bungled it. The more they talk of national integration, the more severely is the nation getting splintered. Ever since independence, one minority group or the other has been clamouring for some homeland or the other in order to maintain its separate identity. No sooner has some solution been found than some other group gets seriously affected by identity crisis. Precious resources of the nation have been squandered in either curbing or containing this movement. A careful and detailed consideration of the issue has led me to the conclusion that any compassionate democratic society committed to honouring the verdict of the majority as also accommodating the wishes of the minority, is faced with a serious dilemma. In trying to appease every shade of opinion it may end up killing the proverbial ass carrying both father and son. Moreover no arrangement will be an enduring one because the onset of minority consciousness or complex is an ailment of unspecified aetiology. In our politically conscious and agitationally hyperactive society, this is bound to infect everyone sooner or later. Therefore as a preventive or prophylactic measure, every citizen should be freed from all shackles and constraints. He should be unfettered and his rights made paramount. To this end it is being proposed that every single Indian should be accorded a sovereign nation status straightway.

Absurd? Fantastic? Ridiculous? I would call it just that little bit futuristic? The rate at which demands for autonomy, separate states, homelands (the latest, one hears is, the demand for an independent Muslim Bangobhumi for those few million who have sauntered across the border from Bangladesh - so much for their pains! ) are cropping up in every region of the country and in the heart of every citizen. It is only a matter of time before the number of contenders lined up would be catching up with the number in my proposal, take a few hundred million this way or that way.

After all, where is it written that a country has to be large? Or that it has to be economically viable, or even logically tenable? This here my desk or my study is my country. I am the president, the supreme commander of armed forces: the one man legislative body, so on and so forth. My kitchen is my wife's territory while the children's bedroom can be neatly partitioned off to settle their claims to territory for nationhood. The treaty for sharing the parlour and other common space, as also the minor issue of the decoupling of the resource (me) from the dependents who owe their existence to me can be worked out in good time. But an announcement must be made: impromptu and without further ado. A confederation of a billion sovereign republics (schizophrenic individuals are not being included in this proposal for the present) free from the bondage of this or that exploitative or imperial power, pursuing their avocations peacefully and happily.

If you speak to someone in Hindi your interlocutor would be perfectly free to answer back in American Sign Language. Or if your trading partner hands you an outmoded Reserve Bank of India currency note in some trading arrangement you should feel free to give back in exchange a handful of glass beads or trinkets. There will be the freedom to choose your own currency, be it pebbles or fish bones. International peace treaties would be simple and uncomplicated. If you don't like someone you either refuse to accord him recognition or just bump him off. The solutions are simple and permanent. No aftermaths of treaties or wars. Everything would be present - here and now. What is in my interest is in the national interest and no residual feelings of guilt about the divergence between self-interest and national interest would trouble the republics. Of course there would be some minor practical problems of corridors and rights of passage and the multiplicity of currencies and the relation between confederation and the federating units, but the billion nations can easily come to some understanding on the basis of Sarkaria Commission recommendations. In spite of this if some problems of multiplicity of view and failures of agreement on various issues relating to use of common facilities persist it should be considered as a taken price for the idylls of such political existence.

The oldest profession – politics – could be depended upon to solve problem as they come up. Some people may have their reasons for holding prostitution to be the oldest profession but the latest bit of research shows that the claim of politics is better authenticated.

As the story goes a Jesuit priest, a journalist and a politician were arguing and trying to settle with reference to the Holy Bible as to whose was the most ancient profession.

"In the beginning was the word", said the journalist.

The priest, not the one to lose out, declared, "And the word was God".

But it was the politician who finally carried the day, "God created order out of chaos! And who do you think invented chaos? ”

I am intrigued why this ultimate solution did not occur to the professional politicians. The scheme of things outlined above will forever end agitations, strikes and economic blockades. Nor will be there any demands for autonomy or liberation and the bedevilled problem will finally be laid to rest. And everyone will live happily ever after.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Science of Seduction


This article was written some time back for a web magazine ViewsUnplugged. com (now extinct)
It also appeared in a local news paper. The stem-cell debate was raging across the world and my light hearted treatment of the subject met with some spirited rejoinders from serious minded American Professors. I was compelled by my editors to respond with a seroius - and I believe, a boring piece. This  old  article  of mine  caught my fancy while I was rummaging thorough old papers. So here it is for those who may like it.

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The sedulous serpent, who urged Eve to taste the fruit of knowledge, is an unrepentant monster. After having engineered the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, he didn't look back in remorse, nor did he return to his abode in the tree of the primeval garden. In fact, he has pursued the human race with even greater energy and determination. Now of course, he is more persuasive in his respectable vocation, as the man of science. Instead of whispering in the ears of Eve, he now seduces statesmen, power barons, captains of industry and owners of capital. Knowledge leads to power, knowledge leads to wealth, and knowledge leads to happiness. And he himself? He is just a disinterested seeker after knowledge.

But be forewarned, he takes no responsibility as to the consequences. If Eve tasted the fruit of knowledge, well! She had the freedom to ignore the serpent's advice, says the Devil. If it led to her expulsion, it was no fault of his. This line has been the standard defense of Science, as well. Only now it has been codified, and made respectable, as the scientific neutrality thesis and the scientist would mount this highest hobbyhorse when in the firing line. Science is no more to be held accountable for its misuse any more than a piece of bread can be accused of murder. It can feed, but if it sticks in the throat, it can also cause asphyxia.

Jacques Monod's - of Chance and Necessity fame - remark can be taken to be the official view of the scientific establishment. "Science rests upon a strictly objective approach to the analysis and interpretation of the universe, including Man himself and human societies. Science ignores, and must ignore value judgments. Knowledge discloses and inevitably suggests new possibilities of action. But to decide upon a course of action is to leap out of the realm of objectivity into that of values, which by essence are non-objective and therefore cannot be derived from objective knowledge. There is strictly no way of objectively proving that it is BAD to make war or kill a man, or to rob him, or sleep with one's own mother".

Dr. Louis Fredrick Fieser was in charge of the team of scientists at Harvard University, which developed the Napalm bomb. He is reported to have said that he "felt free of any guilt". "You don't know what's coming, that wasn't my business. I was working on a technical problem that was considered pressing".

The tree of knowledge is laden with luscious looking fruits, ready for picking, promising a way out of the vale of tears. The information technology is egging the human spider to make a killing on the World Wide Web. Bluetooth technology is determined to usher us into the realm of science fiction. But foremost among them all is the entire gamut of research, designed to take charge of the orientation and control of human reproduction. Cloning and the stem cell research promise eternal youth. No more geriatric disorders. Good-bye to Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, cardiomyopathy, vascular diseases, stroke, cancer, craniofacial disorder and all that.

25 years back cloning and stem cell research was visible in the outline on the scientific horizon. At a seminar, Biology and The Future of Man, held at the University of Paris some of the kindred issues were discussed in their largest perspective. The issues that were debated were seminal, and it seems, the multiplicity of views made it still more difficult to arrive at any conclusion. The wisdom of Jacques Monod, Gunther Stent, Cyrus Levianthal, Theodosisus Dobzhansky, Prof. Lasagna and all such savants of the biological science could lead only to tentative formulations. The seminar concluded with the pious declaration a, universal Movement for Scientific Responsibility.

What constitutes human life? Is it a process, a succession of ordinal organization, a coded macromolecule, an unfertilized egg, an oocyte, a fetus which has become "quick", or a neonate that can survive independently? Or is it that at some point - some arbitrary point - in the succession of events it becomes life and continues to remain so until its termination. (Any views there Dr. Keruoc?) Is there a threshold, a magic line that divides the boundary of life and non-life? Is there a no-man’s-land? And who had the authority to eliminate it to decide the threshold?
That was in 1976. Exactly 25 years later those questions seem to have been decided by relegating them to the realm of the non-issue. The world Medical Association declaration of Helsinki had cautioned against research on identifiable human material. But the Donaldson Report winks at the recommendation and justifies the research in the interest of potential benefits to human beings, science and society. Which is perhaps just as well. Any idea which promises utopia can never be put on the back burner. The technological imperative takes over. If a thing is shown to be possible then it will become possible. But in the meanwhile, one may ask the question. Why was Jonathan Swift, in a manner of saying, carted away to the lunatic asylum for having put forward his proposal, that the rich could have the babies (of the poor) for breakfast. Why is cannibalizing for protein ethically repulsive but raising human embryos for organ harvesting a medical necessity? Dr. “Miracle” Severino Antinori may justly accuse me of being “intellectually Talibanised”. Perhaps I am speaking out of turn on matters of such arcane knowledge as stem-cell research, but even humbler folks have opinions. They experience the world as it impinges on them. In troubled times, and in times of doubt, they dip into their racial memories and myths.

The Indian tradition relates the story of the gods and the anti-gods churning the Ksheer Sagar for the elixir of youth and immortality - Amrit. Amrit they did get, but the unforeseen by product was Kalkut Vish, the poison which could annihilate death itself. Shiva, the great god, in his compassion, ingested the poison lest it destroy Creation. But even then the other problem of sharing the Amrit with anti-gods remained. A lot of ungodly deceit and chicanery was used to get out of the mess. This metaphor for the endless search of utilitarian knowledge and the disastrous consequences energizes the comparatively recent cultural myths of Faustus and Frankenstein.

The consciousness of the flip side of knowledge is implanted in the human memory like a bad dream. Many of us have learnt to distrust science and technology. But if myth is considered too old fashioned and dated, let us look back to the history of the last hundred odd years. When the allied powers - the self appointed guardians of freedom, democracy, human rights, harnessed the power of the atom to make the authentic thunderbolt of the Gods to vanquish the absolute evil of Hitler, did they but know that 50 years later the same authentic weapon will become the scourge of civilization in the hands of Bin Laden and his ilk. You can bring technology into being for very pious, very humanitarian, very utilitarian reason, but how can you deny access to people who want to use it for precisely the opposite reason. How do you prevent small minds getting hold of, and abusing these big secrets of nature? You can clone Mother Teresa, but there is a countervailing risk that the Ladens, Hitlers and Jack the Rippers may be crawling over the surface of the planet, through this same technology.

So let us tarry a while. Let us have a wider debate. Let us not put blind faith in a body of people who can’t decide for us whether it is bad to make war or kill a man, or to rob him, or sleep with one’s own mother. I for one, am prepared to terminate my subscription to eternal health and happiness, considering the risks. I know I am exposing myself to the charge of intellectual Ludditism but that shouldn’t deter humbler folks like us from asking silly questions, stupid questions, even inadmissible questions. It is a lot better than being dumb, driven, and mute.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fathers’ Day

This piece was written for the Patna edition of the Times India and it appeared in its magazine section on 28 June 2009.

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My children had already called me to wish “Happy Father’s Day”, when I was invited to write this piece. I was still wondering about this new convention, awkward as I feel, even accepting birthday greetings. But I guess we must be devoted consumers; must go and buy the greeting cards, flowers, short mail each other messages, Twitter all the time, see and be shown on Facebook. Which is perhaps just as well! It is a good idea to set a day apart for the old man, another one for the dame as well, who is very affectionate but sometimes insistent to the point of being obtrusive. The poor overworked creature, his mind bristling with a multiplicity of agenda, hauling his body from one meeting to another, navigating the traffic, always late on arrival, always late for departure, can not be bothered with filial concerns on a daily basis!

People of my generation - I was born in the 50s - celebrate Gandhi Jayanti, Prohibition Day, Vigilance Day (or week) etc. with the same meticulousness and in the same spirit. We remind ourselves, and each other, that we have not forgotten who Gandhi was, why is it important to shun corruption in public life etc. At the same time we go about our business, recognising that the claims of the real world have to take precedence. The younger generation have different sets of icons and rituals to lift their self esteem. They have their Father’s Day etc. The next generation - produced through IVF and cloned, may be - would perhaps wonder what parents are.

But remember him or not he lives there. The biological memory lurks secretly, in your bones, blood, and grey matter. He is there in every thing that you do, in your failings and your success. Nature and nurture together shape your character. But even otherwise, at the conscious level he is never too far away, and a trip to the ice cream parlour with your children triggers the memories of how it used to be when you were a child. “Memory is the zest of life.” The Nobel Prize winning novelist I.B. Singer once said, “It keeps the years together.”

However the memory that lies stored in the layers of your cerebral cortex is not available simultaneously, ready for instant recall. There are others consigned in some neglected corner in the attic of your brain. Still others are like a subterranean spring flowing just below the conscious stratum but scratch it a little and it breaks forth like a stream undulating and gushing forth.

The years spent with my father – he died early by current standards – telescoped into one brief instant and provided me with a bench mark to judge my own experience as father. Anger, disappointment, frustration, disapproval of the ways of the children as well as undue pride in their achievement, the inclination sometimes to believe in them despite evidence to the contrary, is perhaps generational, and we play these twin roles in succession, speaking almost the same cue lines. My father would never tell me what to do. He was neither direct nor didactic. A trained lawyer who did not practice, he had nevertheless the reasoning skill and persuasive ability of the best in the business. His world of sober reflection and my world of cocky self assurance came into regular clash. He would never take me head on. He was a great admirer of Liddelhart, the British military historian, and followed his strategy of indirect approach. Gradually, insidiously he would immerse me in his moral, cognitive world. Sometimes there were arguments, shouting matches, but at the end of the day I was following his advice convinced that this was what I had wanted all along. I wanted to study Physics. My father said it was my fad; I would do much better in English. Several sessions, later I was wondering how I ever thought I could cope with regular classes and long hours in the laboratory! My father encouraged me to believe that I had taken the correct decision by opting for English.

The scenes were revisited a few decades later. Two of my children chose the career they wanted to pursue. We had as many sessions of discussions, perhaps a few more. There was less heat, more illuminating insights. Children were politely persistent. Their arguments were backed by compelling reasons. They had facts on their fingertips.

At the end of the day my children are doing what they wanted to do, but I am still convinced that they are doing my bidding.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is there room for honest politics?

The citizens are related to their governments in three basic ways. It is they who choose-and boot out - the governments and are thus theoretically the masters. But should the government prove to be irresponsible, inefficient or influenced by criminal elements, they become the victims. If the quality of the various public services and development activities is poor because of the inclusion of corrupt elements they are made suckers of. Whether the citizens shall remain masters, victims, or suckers depends on the correctness of their choice.


Politicians were subjected to a campaign of slander and calumny, in the wake of 26/11, like they had been never before in the history of independent India. The media amplified these voices several times over to make every household reverberate with the message “enough is enough”. It seemed that people would now take charge of their destiny and undertake a radical reform of the political system. But we are almost half way through the elections but if the low percentage of voting suggests anything we are more indifferent than ever. Many of the soldiers of the civil society of the ‘Mumbai march’ variety appear to have departed. Departed and have left behind no addresses. It is pretty much business as usual, and from the looks of it, this election is going to be no different from the many earlier ones. Criminal are as much in vogue as is the power of money and muscles. The manifest centrality of the primordial loyalties- of caste and religion- is very much in evidence. Those who have mastered the instrumentality of the electoral process, the social engineers who can graft, transplant, and repair fissures in the social groups for purposes of electoral mobilization continue to be leaders as they always were. As for their manifestos one can not tell one form the other.


Quite a few serving officers have sought voluntary retirement to join the fray. It would have been a bilateral issue between the political party and the civil servant, were it not for the fact that it leads one to make, mentally, a backward integration of his stay in the civil service. What led the civil servant to believe that a particular political party would chose him as a candidate in preference to a hundred other more committed, long serving grass root party workers? Was he, while in service, acting like a mole for that political party, while enjoying all the securities, immunities and privileges available to a civil servant. And how can a civil servant who earns just enough to keep the body and soul together hope to compete in an arena where the average electoral expenses would be more than the entire salary that he would earn during his career? Democracy is, above all, about equality. If money or caste or a privileged perch in the positions of influence becomes the deciding factor, then, per se, the election ceases to be representative and the inequalities deepen. The entire polity is seized of the fact that political use of money is eroding the solid ground under the electoral democracy and, with every new election, the cost of campaigning rises dramatically. But several utopian drafts to curb and regulate it have failed to see the light of the day


Proximity, nearness, approachability and ready availability of the elected representatives are the hallmarks of electoral democracy. In India, where local government is but fledgling and in formative stages of its evolution, a parliamentary or legislative representation commands great premium and clout in the power system. In this media- soaked age every glamorous toy- boy , dumb doll or smart alec, every well heeled political mercenary or power hungry capitalist feels he is ripe for this last privilege. He may mesmerize the voters by his charm or money but if he wins the seat he is bound to go back to his hugely profitable vocations only to play a few cameo roles in the parliament but leaves his people voiceless and powerless.


Why should a country of young men- people belonging to the 15–35 consist the largest group - be ruled by a geriatric leadership. Age not only leads to the weakening of muscles and arteries, but also the hardening of attitudes, fixity of opinion. The old tend to fight tomorrow’s war with weapons forged yesterday.


Consequently they seem better prepared to handle crises long past than coming challenges. The people of my generation put up with all this since they must, but how do the young take it?


The reasons for disappointment with contemporary politics are so many that it becomes difficult to see the way ahead. More than 50% of the voters abstained from registering their choice is the extreme gesture of withdrawl. Occasionally one may express enlightened opinion, on others, plain disappointment or impatience or some defeated mutterings in the approved manner of the times but rarely does this awareness take the shape of serious and sustained engagement.


The notion that politics is not what it ought to be has led many to cultivate a gentlemanly distaste to engage in this messy activity. The message has been in the air for quite some time that now is the time for all sane, right people to retire to the wilderness of passive armchair contemplation. Someone else must do the clean-up before we can engage in this. Therefore, a large number of us have opted for the role of mute spectators, like ladies up in a pavilion, watching the gladiatorial contest.


One has to be naïve to the point of stupidity to demand absolute honesty from politics and politicians. Granted, there may be some, but you would have to dig for them like an archaeologist or look for them like deep sea divers. So, the search for an absolutely honest politician is in itself a variety of escapism, an excuse for passivity and social disengagement. Talleyrand, the well known French politician, was no paragon of virtue. He was a mountebank and a mercenary; he befriended people only to betray them. An apocryphal story has it that he did not sell his mother only because he could not get the appropriate price. But, he put his country France, beyond the pail of contentious and partisan politics. One may not exactly deduce a set of high principles from his politics but one can certainly arrive at boundary conditions.


A politician is expected to provide sinecures for his caste men and cronies, even bless complete strangers form his constituency, or settle scores on behalf of his supporters. So in a situation like this the question that needs to be asked is not whether politicians are honest; the relevant question would be whether they would be allowed to remain honest, once they are elected to office. One may be accused of moral relativism, even cynicism to suggest that politics is a most precarious vocation and we must not grudge the occasional rewards he picks up, provided his moral and political compass is fixed in the direction of the goals that the nation sets for it. While indulging in small compromises or making course correction, it must always have the ultimate goal in mind. Abraham Lincoln, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves , I would do it; and if I could save the Union by freeing all the slaves I would do it; if I could save the Union by freeing some and leaving some alone, I would do even that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe that it helps save the Union and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union …” We, as citizens , must set the ultimate goal and then judge the performance of our elected representatives with reference to these goals. But can we arrive at a consensus even on a basic minimum of issues? It would be interesting to have a peep in the minds of gen next on this issue.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Politics and political afflictions

A former Chief Election Commissioner observed sometime back that “politicians are the cancer of society”. It is indeed possible to build further on politics as a metaphor for the disease - a familiar literary device from Homer’s Iliad to Camus’La Peste –that is responsible for the many of the dysfunctions of our society.

Politics owes its current morbidity to the original sin of cohabitation with crime in order to gratify its desire for electoral success and subsequent generations have acquired this illicit lust, which is both indiscriminate and indiscreet. The criminal element in politics has metastasized over the years and has now become firmly implanted in the bone marrow of politics. Cancer evokes a feeling of helplessness, of resignation and an existentialist terror in those who are condemned to watch it take its toll of their loved ones. Despite our ritual expression of horror, people accused of murder, rape etc are being courted by all the political parties for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The civil society finds itself less and less able to count on its antibodies – the institutions, whether formal or informal- because the sentinels themselves have deserted or stand compromised.

On the eve of elections to the various legislative bodies the political arena almost presents the scene of an asylum for victims of senile dementia. Old friends pass each other by as strangers, while implacably hostile enemies hug each other; promises of eternal friendships sours in three days flat, and alliances are made and unmade several times during the course of one electoral season. The consequences of this promiscuity could be perceived as comical were it not for the fact that it concerns such a vital aspect of our lives. In the manner of seasonal transfer of players of the professional soccer league, newly inducted political players are inaugurated on the prime time. In its naiveté or diabolic crookedness –politics believes that the itinerant travelers of the whole political landscape – many of them have traveled from extreme right to leftist extremism and vice versa -are like so much malleable putty, capable of being moulded into any shape, or so many tabula rasa on which you could inscribe any ideology. Like so many robots they are programmable for any performance. The baptismal waters of their new faith debugs them instantly and their memory is erased for being formatted anew.

When confronted with basic issues politics tends to look side ways in an uncomprehending manner or ramble in an incoherent muddled sort of way. How does politics justify the expenditure of such astronomical sums of money on these gladiatorial contests called elections, seasonally and sometimes unseasonably as well, while 300 million of our people live below poverty line? Where do the funds come from? The financial status and criminal antecedents of the contestants, the performance report in respect of earlier promises are issues that are recognized but evaded with cunning and disingenuousness that sometimes characterizes the patients of schizophrenia. Or it resorts to some singularly idiotic arguments. Charged with financial misconduct or corrupt practice its stock response is that worse immorality has been seen. Popular verdict is accorded a sacerdotal value and electoral success is touted as exoneration from guilt as well as investiture with civic virtues.

Political discourse, consequently has itself acquired a hothouse atmosphere. Critical debate has given way to bellicose gestures. Incantatory formula does regular duty for a detailed and rational exposition. Insinuations, innuendoes and invectives are the weapons freely used to occupy the moral high ground. Each one of them has a “secret plan” which the other is somehow aware of - whether to destabilize the government, fracture the unity of the country, or subvert the cause of social justice; (Foreign hand is a flavour that is out of favour this season! ). It is impossible to list out all the insecurities of a paranoid mind. Unsure about the most vital points of their self-definition they define themselves in terms of opposition to the other. So a secular alliance is the one, which does not have anti-secular elements in it. Some other alliance may declare itself to be the sole custodian of both ideology and memory precluding the possibility of any debate. Very often no party is in a position to frame clear issues of public policy, which can be debated without reference to the a priori culpabilities of the Other, or categories of exclusion. It is much easier to catch people’s attention by appealing to their prejudices ignorance or insecurity rather than their reason. So these weaknesses are not only pandered to but also systemically inculcated in its particular constituency. The illusory, irrational quality of political debate becomes deathly real only when elected representatives sometimes get physical in the august precinct of the house.

Myopia again is the easiest affliction to manage. One can get a suitable pair of glasses. But the debilitated contemporary politics, finds itself unable to walk to the nearest optician. Instead it chooses to reduce the world to its myopia. The perspective on future is condensed to the next election and on many an issue of grave importance, its thinking shows the same tawdry, Lilliputian character. No wonder that politics fails to read the writing on the wall, clear to even someone with a vision of 6/60, that prohibition against cohabitation with crime is no longer a moral injunction but a medical necessity.

The Age of Reason recognized the relation between social environment and physical well being which revolutionized our thinking on hygiene and cleanliness in our personal lives as well as our physical environment. It is to be hoped that the widespread disaffection with criminal politics will be similarly translated into some activism in the realm of moral and intellectual hygiene in the public sphere. The hundreds of millions of the voters of the country could certainly impose an effective quarantine against crime, fumigate the contaminated public spaces and start all over again. The new millennium justifies this millinery hope.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bihar – the siege within

Migrants from Bihar have been served urgent notices from time to time, in many states of their own country, to pack up and go home. After Assam, Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, Goa and Tripura which other state is going to discover that it is these Bihari migrants who carry the bacillus of dirt, filth, disease and crime and infect the host state and hence it is not safe to have them with in their borders?

The Biharis are subject to persecution which is both random and routine because the mere label of Bihari seems to have become a necessary and sufficient cause. Snide remarks if they are lucky, and savagery if they run out of luck, are constantly at their heels. They are the Jews without the redeeming and comforting assurance that they are God’s chosen people. George Steiner once said, “When he is pelted in Argentina or mocked in Kiev, the Jewish child knows that there is a corner of the earth where he is the master, the gun is his. ”

But Biharis know that they have severed their umbilical chords with their homes. They must rough it out and resist the strong emotional tug, especially in times of crisis, to go back home. Because for many of them their home is only a country of the mind, without the wherewithal to sustain all its inhabitants.

Migrants in search of livelihood or better opportunities are often viewed with suspicion, because they do not fit the cognitive, linguistic or the cultural map of the world they migrate to. They also compete for jobs, sometimes drive down wages and hence arouse hostilities of the local people. But in our times, the politically produced xenophobia by parties like the MNS is the most common threat. Mumbai has seen sporadic campaign against outsiders and currently the north Indians are at the receiving end. One does not know how real is the threat of cultural inundation but in view of the recent delimitation of parliamentary constituencies the concentration of migrants in urban areas does raise anxieties of the political kind. Levi Strauss who has spent a lifetime studying the strategies of various groups in coping with the threat by groups designated as the ‘other’ or ‘stranger’ suggests that alternative but complementary strategies of assimilation, exclusion or extermination have been resorted to in order to tackle the problem of aliens, and strangers. The Biharis have seen a mixture of all the three strategies resorted to against them.

In the cosmopolitan Mumbai, it is being decreed that the bhaiyas must now adapt themselves to the local ways, learn the local language, and adopt local customs. The topical bone of contention is the festival of chath, which is celebrated with great devotion and fervour by many Biharis. In short amnesty would come their way only on condition that they cultivate voluntary amnesia; abdicate their right to be themselves, slough off their Bihari identity and grow a new skin. So when a couple of hundreds of them are harassed, or dozens of their taxis are burnt, even a few of them are killed to feed the media beast, the mobs goaded by the upwardly mobile politician are only advancing the cause of cultural assimilation. If the bhaiyas do not deliberately court amnesia of the mental kind, the amnesia of the physical kind can be induced by obliterating and consigning to the memory hole the means of their meager sustenance, be it their taxi, their thela or small shop.

Those who are spearheading the campaign know it only too well that it is these migrants, who live cheek by jowl in the congested areas, who are so undemanding and are largely cut off from municipal services, keep the city going by their taxis, thelas, khatals, and dhobi ghats. But the political mind is also aware that the mob impulse of hatred is the surest glue to keep their flock together, as also the easiest method to enlist many more to their fold. So long has it occupied itself with the mathematics of fracturing society into viable total of fractions that the political mind has become obsolete and incapable of devising capacious and inclusive policies. On occasions like this a call to solidarity against the common enemy helps displace the awareness from intractable problems. The misfortune of the migrant Biharis serves to keep the political pot boiling for their reluctant hosts, as well as well as their champions back home. Ideally such occasions should compel deep and honest introspection in Bihar, and reinforce the determination to pull Bihar by the bootstraps. But all that it does is to unleash jingoism of the worst kind and we tend to overlook the fact that the poor cannot afford to have too much pride. The fragile political consensus witnessed in the aftermath of Rahul’s killing was but transient and spent itself in a mindless agitational violence. In the end all that it achieved was the destruction and vandalisation of its own meager resources instead of some constructive activism.

The civil society in Bihar appears to have abdicated all responsibility towards it self by delegating power in the hands of politicians. The more there is a perceived need for concerted action in the realm of civil society, the more socially disengaged we seem to become. To take just one issue which has become a trite and timeworn cliché –the creation of a Bihari identity- would indicate our commitment to our state. It has been in wide currency for quite some time now and yet how many strides have we taken towards extinguishing all other loyalities to forge this identity?
The Bihari fleeing from his persecutors is reduced to his casteist identity no sooner than he enters his own home state. It seems that the landscape of Bihar itself, the cultural environment educes a different but deeply internalized sense of identity and belonging. It is the caste, which is the whetstone upon which he sharpens his sense of himself. Neither distance, nor cultural separation could obliterate it. Even in distant lands and foreign countries the Biharis are reported to have separate caste associations. For in the view of a large part of Bihari society, the existential question is defined solely and squarely in casteist terms: who are you and what is your justification for being? To answer this question means that you recognize not only your privileges and obligations, entitlements and opportunities but also position yourself in, however subtle a manner, on the chessboard of caste alignments. There are no exemptions from this fate, whether you are a career politician, academician, doctor, or a civil servant. It must be reiterated that in Bihar the ‘political” necessarily means a no holds barred competitive casteist struggle. In its wake it has brought the political way of doing every thing. So it is no surprise that universities and colleges turn out to be casteist outposts and the struggle to wrest them out of the control of rival groups witnesses the whole hearted involvement of every appurtenance of the polity. (The author had an occasion to investigate, under the orders of the Patna High Court the award of a fraudulent and bogus degree to the wife of a senior IPS officer. His report running in more than 70 pages, which deals with the rot in universities, is available in the Patna High court library. Brief references can be had in the following

http://www. indiatoday. com/itoday/20010806/education. shtml
http://www. liberalsindia. com/freedomfirst/ff457-03. html

Recruitments to public services often carry vague insinuations of casteist preferences. If the various reports that appear, from time to time, in the local news papers were to be believed, the caste composition of officers is also delicately factored into their transfers and postings and requirements of professionalism sometimes take a back seat to maintaining the caste balance. There is a popular perception that the administration in Bihar during particular regimes has been characterized by a colossal waste, because in these dispensation there are always some elements who have to be suffered but kept out of action. A deliberate retrenchment of the available human resources is by now an accepted method of personnel management. So at any given time there is a significant body of public servants, - sulking, alienated and withdrawn- because they think they do not belong to the winning combination, therefore, are either indifferent to the prospects of project Bihar, or are secretly longing for its failure. When the administration becomes so polarized, public policy problems get bogged down in a mental swamp, and a severe governance deficit is the inevitable outcome. The traditional merit based methods of governance faced with a problem like this, finds itself stumped, because these have not been dealt with in the standard literature on public administration. To break this impasse a new public sphere needs to be created where non-partisan, apolitical body of people could engage in critical debate, build mutual trust and a sense of commonality to counter this pre modern mindset. The point needs considerable elaboration and shall be taken up some time later.

But should these proposals appear to be too optimistic or too impractical to carry out, it would be well worth referring to the original provocation to the MNS- the celebration of Chath by the Biharis in Mumbai. Those who have observed the Chath celebrations in Bihar would agree that it appears as if human nature had changed on those three days. The mutual good will, fellow feeling, spirit of volunteerism and the culture of compliance shown by the people, transports Bihar into idylls of an existence where police, municipal services, and even the government seem to have become dispensable. Only if the Biharis could learn the formula for this magical transformation, and make these three days last three months or even thirty days! They would then have people queuing up to come to Bihar and not otherwise

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Letter From The Grave is a compelling document .Lasantha is-was - not such a well known figure outside his own country, but this one letter has become a testament of courage- whatever his politics or affiliation.A reaction to his letter. The link to LETTER FROM THE GRAVE is provided below:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/stevecoll/2009/01/letter-from-the.html#entry-more
DESTROYED BUT NOT DEFEATED
With all the violence and counter violence, taking place in Sri Lanka an uninformed bystander is hardly in a position to judge the case. Lasanta Wickramatunga’s letter published posthumously states the truth of the Sri Lankan situation, as he saw it. What he says is pretty much the standard critique of regimes caught up in the sorry spectacle of fighting terrorism on their soil; his absolutist defence of freedom, human rights, his mixing up of ethical concerns on issues related to war and peace, run counter to the global culture of common sense which insists that liberal democracies can not fight terror through a strict and legalistic adherence to the liberal values. But Lasantha’s words bear the stamp of a rare authenticity and sincerity; their truth is attested, by the extraordinary career of the man, who lived and died for what he stood for. He played his part with great conviction and élan. By courting his death the man himself towers so much above the controversies that he created that it would be impertinence to quibble about them today.


The Letter From The Grave is bereft of any rhetoric. Stark in its simplicity, frugal and almost pared to the bone, it betrays no trace of emotion, there is no straining after effect, no dramatization of self pity, even though the occasion provided for memorable last lines. His account as to why even the President, who is his personal friend, would be compelled to connive at his death is stated in a deadpan tone of reportage and is almost sympathetic in its explanation of his motive and compulsions. Lasntha’s stoicism in face of the imminent death- the two abortive attempts on his life had left him in no doubt- and the quiet certitude and detachment with which he pursued his normal vocation, reminds us of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, waiting for his assailants to come.
“Death will come to me when I am worthy,
And if I am worthy, there is no danger
I have therefore only to make perfect my will.”
T S ELIOT: MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
Bravery in face of death is a rare attribute .The brave warrior who casts derision upon death is always chancing his courage and his combative skills against the opponent, where should he succeed, power and material gains are on offer. If not martyrdom and a pace in the hall of fame is always reserved. The jihadi terrorist courts death and thereby nullifies the strategy of counter terror. What kind of a threat do you hold out to some one who himself comes seeking it, in order to advance his goal of hatred and polarization of opinion .The Jihadi is no longer a conscious, rational, moral agent but an automaton who is controlled by his handlers. He seeks his reward in the hereafter. In both the cases there is something in wager. The one is pursuing power the other glory.
The friend of none other than the President himself, Lasantha certainly knew the rewards of conformism and the perils of independence. But he chose to wage a relentless campaign against the establishment, heeding to his call of “conscience” , because, “if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted.” Lasantha reminds us of the deep alienation from our own truths, because in a world concerned exclusively with power and advantage, our consciences have long since become equal shares, or at least a sleeping partner, in all our activities. The poignant urgency of the letter and its disturbing import, is on account of the fact that Lasantha makes it appear, as if renouncing a life of power and advantage is the easiest thing to do and dying in the defence of these cherished values is only normal human decency, thereby denying us the comforting thought, that heroic deeds are not for every one. His courage, commitment and public spiritedness have to be measured against the petty concerns for security and self preservation, the extraordinary passivity and indifference of many of us, in face of issues of urgent concern. It is the death of people like Lasantha that keeps the human enterprise going, sustains our belief in the values that we cherish, and renews our belief in the profession of journalism, as one of the most important, in an open society.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Intellectual Terrorism

These are the first thoughts on reading Ms. Roy's article 9 is not 11 .

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Every time the Indian state is in the cold glare of international publicity, whether it is its nuclear explosion, its difficulties in Kashmir etc, or the massacre in Mumbai, Ms Arundhati Roy author of God of Small things and intrepid writer of polemical essays discovers her moment of glory. Predictably enough she has chosen to engage in her favourite pastime of berating the Indian state on the Mumbai terror; to remind us that the comeuppance should hardly surprise any one. Ms Roy locates the root of the problem in the specific policies followed by the Indian state, the injustice and discriminatory treatment of its minorities, its callousness towards its own poor etc. As a creative writer of repute she brings no original insight into the unyielding dilemma of terrorism but only "restate(s) a case that has, over the years, already been made …. passionately, eloquently and knowledgeably" in several thousand words. Ms Roy knows "it's all been said and done before" yet she feels compelled to "say our line". Before we engage with her Mumbai Was Not India's 9/11 it would be useful to locate Ms Roy herself in the context of the global discourse on terror and why she says the things that she says. "If protesting against having a nuclear bomb implanted in my brain is anti-Hindu and anti-national, then I secede. I hereby declare myself an independent, mobile republic…. I own no territory. I have no flag. I'm female, but have nothing against eunuchs. "(The End Of Imagination). So Ms Roy is not speaking as a sympathetic Indian grieving at the things that have gone wrong and need to be righted, but as a secessionist, as a hostile alien indulging in virulent propaganda. No wonder there is such a congruence of views between her, the Lashkar-e-Tayaba and the hawkish opinion in Pakistan. She marshals pitiless evidence only to subtly, subliminally degrade the fetish objects of her hate-the Indian state, its security apparatus etc. But at the same time she provides a platform for the views of people like Hafeez Saeed, and goes to great length to explain the extenuating circumstances for the diminished responsibility – if at all they are responsible for their acts-of the fidayeen destructive and self destructiveness of the terrorist and their handlers. "What we are experiencing now is blowback, the cumulative result of decades of quick fixes and dirty deeds". The Mumbai attack has ushered in a new civilizational threat wherein soi disant stateless intellectuals, take it upon themselves to explain and contextualize the acts of mass murder and wanton destruction of terrorists disowned by their own state. There is another reason why Ms Roy can not find herself at peace with herself. The self confessed "fame junkie" that she is, suffers from withdrawal symptoms, if she is denied "the applause, the flowers, the photographers, the journalists", for any length of time. These essays which stir a great deal of controversy act as the much needed 'fix' for the publicity addict. But we still have this essay to contend with. The ugly communal incidents of the recent past have certainly been some of the worst in our political history. But these are local environments of oppression and injustice and can not be conflated over the whole body politic, to tar by the same brush the entire country to an extent that we have even "forfeited the right to our tragedies". Justice to all its citizens and the protection of their human rights are worthy goals no doubt for every state to pursue, and our record has certainly not been flawless, but which state as a model has she in mind while handing her damning indictment. Does she fancy the standards set by the Taliban, the achieved utopia of the army of the pure, where decapitating and dismembering people according to whatever jurisprudence is in vogue, or the summary punishment of death, decapitation, or externment handed out by the left extremists in the areas –liberated – they hold sway, to the "class enemies" Chastised perhaps by the example of Mohan Lal Sharma, Karkare and the two other police officers did their dying in the full public view under the eyes of the camera. But in her secular enthusiasm Ms Roy exchanges one form of extremism for another and insinuates some foul play because Karkare had unraveled the Malegaon case against Hindu terrorists. A rhetorical shape shifter that Ms Roy is, she has one voice for the terrorist and the other for the defenders of the Indian state. Justly proud to be a woman, she has nothing against the eunuchs but does that lead her to harbour such a deep seated prejudice against all the brave and committed members who bear arms to defend the state and society to take on these apocalyptic terrorists, so as to deny them their humanity and all that goes with it – the dignity of an honourable death, the glory of martyrdom.

Ms Roy will not give up though. "So already the neat accusation against Pakistan is getting a little messy ". The problem lies not with the evidence but her disposition because she can not bring herself to believe that the Indian state has a case or that its enemies can ever be wrong.