Monday, December 28, 2009


The government in a stinging rebuke has pulled up Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor for using twitter to post his comments on a new Visa guideline issued by his colleague and union Home minister P Chidambaram. In fact, Tharoor's boss Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna has asked him not to comment on government policy on Twitter.The diktat presumably because the government fears it ends up blurring the lines between what's public and what's not. Predictably the govt's action has sparked off a debate with several people coming out on the net in defence of Tharoor citing freedom of expression. While no one can deny Mr Tharoor his freedoms there is cause for concern when a matter of the national interest is blithely 'trivialised'. And when a complex policy issue is discussed on a platform that is not formatted to allow for exhaustive or even reasoned debate. There would have been no problem had Mr Tharoor used a suitable forum to debate or even criticise the government's new visa norms. And as minister he would have had several of those platforms available to him. At the end of the day Mr Tharoor presumably forgot that the medium is not always the message.

Friday, December 4, 2009


The debate around ULFA supreme commander Arabinda Rajkhowa's 'surrender' has inevitably moved beyond the development's impact on the fortunes of the terrorist organisation to how the Indian govt should deal with him. For instance, should the Centre talk to Rajkhowa? And if so, about what? Sovereignty? Autonomy? With each passing hour the dilemma plays itself out in the Centre's policy circles. But for many outside the government the answer is clear and simple - throw Rajkhowah into jail and charge him with the mass murder of 10,000 Indian citizens. Anything less, is to send out the wrong message, set the wrong precedent and serve as a slap in the face of thousands of patriotic Assamese that have pledged themselves to the service of the nation. It's important to note that there hasn't been a whimper of protest in Assam over the capture of Rajkhowa, no mass outrage, no bandh calls. Is this an indication of the Ulfa's dwindling legitimacy? Perhaps. But in any event it is a point to take into consideration. With a majority of ULFA top leaders (barring commander-in-chief of its military wing Paresh Baruah) behind bars, with several others eliminated or on the run, there's never been a better time to shut the door on the ULFA. Acting out of a misplaced sense of righteousness and engaging Rajkhowa now will only end up glorifying his cause not to mention legitimising his nearly two decade long reign of terror in the North East.

Monday, November 23, 2009


It has taken the Ghost of Babri to get the fractious BJP to band together. A newspaper report claims that the (till now carefully mothballed) Liberhan Commission report has indicted the BJP top brass including, rather surprisingly, the party's moderate 'mukhota' (mask) Atal Behari Vajpayee for the demolition of the Masjid. Incensed and dismayed by the inclusion of Vajpayee the BJP has suddenly found a cause to rally around. A cause handed on a platter to it by the Cong-led UPA. So complete was the closing of the ranks in the BJP that even L K Advani and Rajanth Singh spoke from the same pulpit, like the good old days, to defend the sullied honour of their patriarch. If the Congress was testing political waters by orchestrating 'the motivated and selective leak' as some claim then it now knows what to expect. But that is not likely to deter the party. Congress strategists calculate that the electoral benefit of polarising the polity; winning back the minorities and finishing off the BJP in the cow belt far outweigh the political cost of uniting the saffron outfit. For the BJP the report presents an opportunity to resurrect its own saffron agenda and breathe life back into its deflated rank and file. But tactics apart isn't it just so tragic that once again our political representatives are picking at one of the country's deepest communal fault lines to profit at the hustings. In a sense it is 1992 once again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


So it took a four page letter written by the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb A Q Khan to his wife and leaked by a British journalist to confirm the world's worst kept secret: That Pakistan the most 'dangerous place on Earth' is a nuclear proliferator. Till the letter, written in a loose scrawl by AQ Khan, wasn't made public the world was made to believe the Pakistani nuclear scientist was a Dr. Strangelove running a basement nuclear Walmart unbeknownst to the ruling establishment. Former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf even went on record to describe Khan as a nuclear entrepreneur working in complete secrecy to line his own pockets. But that theory now lies in tatters. If anything, the letter blows the lid off a Pakistan government nuclear nexus with a number of countries (Iran, North Korea, China and Libya) that have defied international convention and even law in their pursuit to acquire nuclear weapons technology

As is to be expected Pakistan has quickly dismissed the letter as pure fiction cooked up by A Q Khan to blackmail the country. But that claim doesn't stand to reason. After all, why would Khan want to antagonise Pakistan especially after he's been let-off by the courts and is effectively a free man? And why would he want to risk extradition to the United States? That A Q Khan is equally shaken by the leak is underscored by the fact that he has hurriedly brushed aside questions related to the veracity of the letter.

But the bigger questions persist. Why then has the letter been leaked now, six years after it was written? And who stands to gain from it being made public? The answer could have been provided by British Journalist Simon Henderson who 'leaked' the letter in the Sunday Times. But he isn't talking so questions abound: Has the Obama administration (which is in zealous pursuit of non-proliferation) orchestrated the leak to get a universal treaty to ban all nuclear testing passed in the next 12 months? This remains a not too far fetched possibility. Especially when one considers that on September 23, 2009 Obama spoke at the United Nations warning that "countries that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences".

Administration insiders say Obama is particularly keen to act against Iran and North Korea and the Khan 'letter bomb' helps the U.S build a case and approach the United Nations or other multi-lateral forum to act against the so-called rogue states. Aside from the answers one hopes to supply to the questions raised by the ‘letter bomb’ expose there is little doubt that A Q Khan is once again the crucible of a 'fission' reaction that could have far reaching geo-political consequences.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


If the Law Commission has its way the punishment for rash and negligent driving will be increased from two to ten years and most importantly the offence will be non-bailable. In other words the police will have no power to release on bail a person accused of causing death by rash and negligent driving.

It is quite apparent that the proposal is a result of the worthies at the Law Commission becoming greatly exercised by the fact that in recent years several accused have walked free after mowing down pedestrians and other commuters. And they should rightly be.

The statistics suggests that only four per cent of all accused of rash and negligent driving in tens of thousands of cases in India ever get convicted.

But the proposal that putatively looks to steer rash and negligent drivers onto the right track is raising concerns in many quarters chiefly because it could spawn a law that could easily become an instrument for harassment in the wrong hands.

For one, it unduly tilts the balance in favour of victims, witnesses and most worryingly the traffic police. The proposal injects a degree of subjectivity - an extra judicial dimension - if you like to the whole process of assessing if the driver was rash or negligent. Can the 'friendly' traffic constable be trusted to take that call? Given the propensity of traffic policemen to act arbitrarily, to extort at the drop of a hat and to blackmail, one shudders to think of the consequences. Even a witness may be motivated by other interests to trump up charges against the driver, once again to disastrous consequences.

Then again on closer examination if the Law Commission's proposal is motivated by the need to enhance the conviction rate it may not serve that end as it doesn't do anything to guarantee justice.

A person can, after all, only be awarded a sentence after he is convicted. Denying bail to the accused won't make a difference to the outcome of a trial. In case after case where the accused has been let-off it is because witnesses have turned hostile, the forensic evidence has been destroyed or there has been large scale collusion. The Law Commission therefore needs to address the problem at a more fundamental level.

In any case the new proposed amendment will only add more clutter to what is already a fairly inscrutable penal code. A driver that runs over a pedestrian or is involved in a car crash that has resulted in a fatality can always be booked under any number of laws that already exist on the statute books to deal with such eventualities. What’s the need to add more?

Instead, the Law Commission would be better advised to look at a system that makes it difficult for witnesses to retract their statements or even at introducing steps to overhaul the system so that justice isn't delayed or denied.

History shows the fear of conviction more than anything ensures compliance with the law.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Just like most heavy weight boxing bouts, the build-up to a 100 meters race is everything. The actual event, the race itself, is over before you can blink. In fact at the rate Usain Bolt is going the only way to watch a 100 meters race will be to play it back in super slow motion.

In June last year Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters in 9.72 seconds. A professor of kinesiology (the science of human movement) interviewed by The Independent predicted he could run faster. But he added a provisio only if Bolt sprinted right to the end of his races rather than slowing down to see by how much the competition was trailing behind him.

On Wednesday Aug 19, Bolt shaved another 0.11 seconds off his own record and took it down to an incredulous 9.58 seconds. Incidentally, the cameras caught him once again looking back at his rivals as they trailed yards behind him.

By now Usain of course must know he's not competing against anyone. There simply isn't any other human on the planet in his class.

From here on Bolt will compete against time and his own body to push the limits of what's humanly possible.

So just what's humanly possible? How fast can the human race be able to run a 100 meter race? Could humans run as fast as Cheetahs that quite literally tear up the Earth at 70 mph. At the moment an average athlete runs a 100 meter at about 27 mile per hour and Usain Bolt has excited the imagination of kinesiologists who are queuing up to predict where Usain Bolt could land up. The athlete, ever the optimist, has backed himself to stop at 9.4 seconds. This means over the next few years Bolt will become faster by 0.18 seconds. It may seem like a fraction but on the track it translates into many yards.

Skeptics however believe Bolt's height could limit his aspirations. Apparently smaller athletes have a better chance at eclipsing Bolt as they generate more force to body mass. But the manner in which Bolt keeps disproving his critics only a pocket dynamo on steroids seems capable of beating him to the ticker tape.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


The right-wing BJP has sacrificed its senior leader Jaswant Singh at the altar of political expediency. His views that the founder of Pakistan M. A. Jinnah was a great and secular man and one who had been wrongly projected as the villain behind partition proved to be too much for the 'saffron party' to stomach.

Jaswant Singh's praise for Jinnah the BJP's leadership concluded undermined one of the Sangh Parivar's key organising principles. In the 1940s the development of the RSS (the BJP's ideological forbearer) was 'fuelled by a desire of some Hindus to organize themselves in reaction to the growing mobilization of Muslim separatist movements', like presumably, the Jinnah led Muslim League.

With Jaswant questioning this basic hypothesis in his book(Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence)he has in a sense questioned the RSS's and by extension the BJP's raison d'etre. No wonder senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley justified his expulsion by saying, "Jaswant questioned BJP's core beliefs''.

The expulsion prompted Jaswant Singh to self-righteously lament that his ouster signifies the closing of the Indian mind and he chose to portray the BJP's decision as one that militates against the best democratic tradition of intellectual discourse. "I think, in Indian polity and political parties, if aspects like thinking, introspection, discussion, reading and writing end, it will not be in the interest of the country."

Rhetoric aside, the sentiment behind Jaswant's parting shot is unexceptionable and his expulsion could well prove to be a point of inflection for the politics of the BJP and should be a point of debate for those who are concerned that the space for reasoned debate in India's political culture is rapidly shrinking.

Dialogue and inquiry are vital to political institutions, especially political parties because they are in themselves a means to an end. A means through which people express themselves to ensure the democratisation of governance.

By expelling Jaswant Singh without even the pretence of a trial the BJP has signalled to others within its ranks that debate is at par with dissidence and therefore won't be tolerated. The consequence is easy to see: The party will crustify ideologically. An ossified BJP is in danger of drifting that much further away from the fast changing political reality of today's India. In such a censorious environment one wonders whether there is any real point to the 'Chintan' (brainstorming) that is supposed to be going on in the 'baithak' (meet) in Shimla.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


That Shah Rukh Khan allegedly invoked the name of U.S secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an attempt to 'soften up' immigration officials at the Newark Airport is of far greater significance than the debate currently raging over the rights and wrongs concerning the star's detention.

By trying to invoke 'status' to seek exemptions, SRK has instantly turned from victim to transgressor and has relinquished the right to protest.

Of course back home SRK's supporters, some of whom are in government, have missed the point completely. The majority that has examined the issue have chosen to focus on the merits and demerits of U.S immigration protocol and the transgression that is social profiling. Few have asked the more basic question: What made SRK think that by dropping a name or two he could get a government official to ignore his duties or bend in compliance?

In 'our' part of the world people's actions are informed by what we routinely refer to as the 'baap ka raj' attitude. Status in 'our' part of the world is everything.

The upper caste believes his status grants him the right to subjugate, the cricketing icon believes his celebrity elevates himself above the game, the politician thinks his seat of power exempts him from the laws of propriety and the 'backward' thinks it is his right to expect privileges.

Consider this, on the day Shah Rukh Khan landed back in India, elsewhere a former minister of the realm and a serving member of Parliament, theatrically indignant, threatened to launch a 'militant movement' against the nation. K Chandrashekhar Rao's grouse: The Union government hadn't lent a sympathetic ear to his impassioned calls for separate statehood for Telangana a region in Andhra Pradesh.

And on the same day across the border in Maharashtra the state's agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat was arrogantly dismissive when it was suggested that he had violated the law of the land by entering the cage of a Tiger cub for no other reason than to ostensibly amuse himself.

Like KCR and Thorat, SRK's genuinely hurt because his experiences have conditioned him to believe that a 'nobody' cannot question a 'somebody'. His celebrity status, like it is the case with other stars in India, has guaranteed him the license to disregard rules that apply to the lesser mortal. Recent history is replete with examples too numerous to list.

KCR, the former Union Minister believes his status as a Member of Parliament accords him Constitutional immunity and the privilege to say whatever he feels like, however outrageous even if it verges on sedition or inciting violence. KCR's thinking has been conditioned by what he sees around him. All too often his ilk have flouted the law - killed, raped, robbed, bribed but seldom brought to book. Had any other ordinary citizen stood on a street corner and preached sedition he would have been thrown into jail no questions asked. No one would have stood up in support and quoted from the charter of rights.

If this is true of KCR then the Maharashtra State minister believes his status allows him an automatic right to help himself to the state's resources. If a Minister or bureaucrat can run up millions in unpaid bills and never brought to account then Throat, the minister in question, has a right to think he too can help himself to any state resource.

SRK’s sob story hasn't gone down well with the global media because the rest of the world is flat. Status doesn't automatically open doors, buy privileges or guarantee exemptions. It may masquerade as a calling card, a coat of arms or an old school tie but it certainly isn't treated like a badge of honour or a license to dodge rules.