Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Art of Living (Irresponsibly)

The Art of Living Foundation decides to organize a World Culture Festival. The venue they choose is the the ecologically sensitive area along the banks of the Yamuna river, between Delhi and NOIDA.
The space required for the event - a staggering 1000 acres of marshland along the riverbank. The stage itself is expected to have an area of 7 acres. And an 3.5 million people are expected to storm into the Capital over three days.

The 1000 acres consisting primarily of shrubs and grass, is reported to have been reportedly  flattened, with most of the flora and fauna destroyed. This is in preparation of the event. What will happen when 3.5 million people attend the festival? All of them will eat, litter, use the area to urinate and defecate, and pollute the environment to an extent that is only left to imagination. What will happen to the already congested roads when the additional traffic burden related to 3.5 million additional people hits the City?

This scenario brings to focus many issues. 

One, is there any semblance of law enforcement related to environment in this Country? (If this is the state of affairs in the National Capital, one shudders to think what would be happening in smaller metros, towns and villages). Can any Organisation - Government or private take the liberty of deciding to upset a protected and environmentally sensitive area to organise an event of this scale, without fear of consequence?

Second is this Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's idea of the Art of Living? When environmentalists argued that using the floodplains of the Yamuna would cause irreparable damage, he called it "the biggest joke of the year" He has conveniently ignored that the event has no police or fire safety clearances.There are bridges, towers, dirt tracks and automobile parking areas in a "no construction"zone. For a Guru who preaches on the importance of moral and social values in life, such blatant disregard for the laws related to the environment (by the Guru's own admission - a few trees have been 'trimmed'), and the ethical consideration of putting to risk a protected zone, and inconveniencing the citizens and State agencies, for a private affair, just brings out the hypocrisy of the 'Guru' and his followers.

Last but not the least, is the issue of calling in the Army to help organize this event in the form of building pontoon bridges within the area, and conducting security related jobs. 
The role of the Army is to defend the frontiers of the Country. The Army Regulations state that the Army may be called for duties other than guarding the borders - like helping the civil authorities to maintain law and order, providing aid to civil authorities in times of a natural calamity or disaster such as earthquake or floods, and lastly "for any other duty that the Govt. may deem fit to call the Army". It is this last clause of the rule book that the Government has latched on to, and used, in this case. 

The other question is - why is the Ministry of Defence (read The Defence Minister) going out of this way to provide explanations that are 'lame' to say the least. The argument that it is only the Army that can be relied upon to ensure security of 3.5 million people is laughable. In other words, the Delhi Police, the CRPF, Rapid Action Force, the Provincial Armed Constabulary (a para military force of UP), the Home Guards or even the BSF, are collectively a bunch of incompetent Forces. If that is true, why do they exist? 

Exercising discretionary powers to call the Army to help organize a private event  is setting a very dangerous precedent.Tomorrow the Army could be called to organize political rallies or meetings, but the ruling Government. And this is just one example. The question then arises if the Govt. exercises its discretion to use this last clause, where is the line going to be drawn?

The damage caused by this event will be irreversible, and the extent will only be known in the aftermath. Who will be accountable? Can the damage be compensated by a fine of few crores Rupees paid by the Art of Living Foundation? 

And does the Government of the day have a moral stand on this serious issue? Isn't it serious enough for the Prime Minister to set an example, exercise his authority and come out openly rather than sit on the fence to see and decide on whether he inaugurates the event or stays away from it depending upon what the National Green Tribunal has to say?

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Friday, February 19, 2016

What is Ánti-National'






What happened in JNU a little over a week back, is unprecedented.

In independent India, for decades institutions like the JNU have fostered a culture that promoted free thinking and speech, anti-establishment voices, protests and so on. The thought process largely was, that in a true democracy, the voice of dissent must be not only allowed, but encouraged. There are numerous instances in World history, where such strong voices forced the establish to change not only National policy but even political changes at National level. The movement against the US involvement in the Vietnam war, for instance, began among peace activists and leftist intellectuals on college campuses. Later this movement gained national prominence in 1965, after the United States began bombing North Vietnam in earnest.

Closer - at home, the Anti-Hindi agitation of 1965 in Tamil Nadu, where the Congress led Government tried to enforce Hindi as a language in Tamil Nadu, ultimately resulted in significant political changes in the State.The DMK won the 1967 elections, and the Congress was never able to recapture power in the State ever since. Amongst the many peaceful protests that Mahatma Gandhi led, as part of the freedom struggle, the 'Salt March' is a relevant example.

What began in JNU that afternoon, was a peaceful gathering until there were reports of anti India slogans being chanted amongst the protesters. What followed was immediate police intervention - nay - a crackdown, arrests and detentions, of which many people who were not even related to the gatherings or protests, were made victims.

As news spread all over the Country, the Nation seems somewhat divided in opinion on the merit of a police crackdown in an educational institution. Also the fundamental issue of whether chanting slogans which may be construed as ani-India, in itself amounts to sedition, is debatable.

The ruling Government, the BJP and its allied wings - the ABVP et all, have been busy defending not only the crackdown, and also linking the violence inflicted upon the media outside the Patiala House Courts, as if to say, because anti_India slogans were shouted the other day, this violence, and beating up of innocent journalists is justified. Many spokesmen of the ruling Government, and the BJP have made statements amounting to this justification, in the last few days.

Many questions arise. Who decides what is anti National. What acts of omission or commission amount to being anit-National. What is the interpretation of the law relating to sedition in the current context? Does nationalism equal to 'jingoism' that way we have seen? Are people who are taking the law into their hands and victimising the protesters for chanting anti-India slogans and assaulting even reporters who are covering news - are they Nationalists?

Mere symbolism and optics is NOT nationalism. Waving the tricolour, thrashing innocent people even those that had nothing to do with the protest gathering in JNU, does not amount to Nationalism.

According to me here's what truly amounts to being anti-National in the Indian context.

  • A Government failing to uphold the Constitution of India in course of its governance, willingly or otherwise – is anti-National. 
  • The Police allowing an innocent man (until proven guilty), placed under their protective custody, to be thrashed up by rogues disguised as lawyers (on whom is placed the responsibility of protecting and upholding the Constitution of India) – is anti-National. 
  • Denying an Indian the freedom of expression -his fundamental right – is anti-National. 
  • Suffocating free thought, and conflicting opinion and the right to protest peacefully is anti-National. 
  • Arresting with an ulterior motive, any Indian, placing him in custody, getting remand extended, and yet not being able to charge him with a crime or a violation of the Indian Penal Code – is anti-National. 
  • Policemen either acting as a catalyst to accelerate violence and a deteriorating law and order situation, or looking the other way – by choice, or on orders – is anti-National. 
  • Irresponsible baseless statements from senior Ministers of the cabinet (placed in a position of huge responsibility) linking students to heinous crimes and terrorism, thus misleading citizens, – is anti-National. 
  • Thrusting upon Indians - one religion, and marginalising those in minority who practise other faiths – is anti-National. 
  • Vigilante groups – self-proclaimed guardians of religion and Indian culture, storming into premises, thrashing up innocent young people without provocation and yet not being booked under the provisions of the law– is anti-National. 
  • Rape – and violence against women – is anti-National. 
  • Corruption – practised by anyone – whether the Government, politicians or a common man - is anti-National. 
  • Failing in one’s civic duty and responsibility as a citizen of India – spreading dirt, polluting, violating the laws of the land or even traffic rules is anti – National 
  • Evading taxes – anti-National. 
  • Farmers committing suicides – and the Government not bothering – is anti-National. 

The question is how many of the self proclaimed 'Nationalist' we have seen on TV screens, making jingoistic statements openly threatening members of the media, not in the least the students who were detained or are in custody, fit into the above definitions of being anti-National? The other question is how many of these types of anti-National activity listed above, has the Government paid attention to, to implement a change?

The larger issue is of the role of the Government. Instead of letting the University administration handle the matter and institute disciplinary proceedings if the situation demanded, the Government went out of the way to instruct the police to éffect' a crackdown, arrests etc. The Government then turned a blind eye to the blatant instances of local goons, disguised as lawyers, take the law into their hands, and indulge in violence. All allies - senior members of the majority political party the student wing etc. cried foul and recommended drastic punitive measures. One senior member recommended 'sanitising' JNU, as if the students, faculty and administration were insects and termites.

Is this what is priority for the Government? What about running the economy, driving growth through robust policy changes, improvement in law and order, dealing with violence against women, addressing the situation relating to the pathetic state of the Indian farmer (even farmers in an otherwise prosperous state like Punjab, are committing suicides), and last but not the least, the Indian soldier. These issues, and the numerous other ánti-National' activities that are eating into the fabric of India, is what the Government needs to focus on.

The Government of the day needs to be cautioned. They came into power not because they were the first preference of the citizens of this Country, but more because citizens were sick and tired of state of affairs the previous Government had created. But the mandate can change and change quickly. Anti incumbency votes that led to the fall of the UPA-II, can also topple the NDA. Only the reasons could be different.

So unless there is immediate course correction, this unrest that began with the JNU incident, could spread across the Country, and ultimately result in the undoing of the NDA.



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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Earthquake 2017

We've recently witnessed the tragedy related to the destruction caused by the earthquake in Nepal. An estimated 7000 people died in Nepal (official estimates are normally lower than actual numbers). The physical damage to property and infrastructure can only be imagined.

The impact of the quake with an epicentre hundreds of miles away, was felt in Delhi. Strong tremors, buildings swaying and people evacuating themsleves (in a chaotic arbitrary manner) - all of this was seen right here in Delhi. This happened because our Capital city happens to be in the earthquake  'danger zone'. This means earthquakes most likely can occur in Delhi and many other cities in North India.

Consider this - if an earthquake of intensity 7.5 happens under the surface of the Earth right underneath Delhi, about 80% of the City would be brought down. This includes most buildings in the NCR, including unauthorised and authorised constructions, high rises and so on. An estimated 8 million people would die. In short, a good part of the City and its people would be finished.

The scenario is all the more scary considering that an earthquake cannot be predicted. One wonders how many of the building designers while designing the structures even considered the likely impact of an earthquake with an epicentre under Delhi.

Most important of all, do we have a disaster management program and facilities in place to handle an event of this nature? Most likely not. Are we, as a City - that means the Government, citizens, experts etc doing anything at all to brace up for this calamity? We don't know.

Its like sitting on a time bomb, knowing it will blow on day, but not knowing when. We cannot even get up and run away.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lawless Delhi

So we saw two instances of violence in Delhi the last two days. One resulting in murder and the other related to a police officer actually breaking the law instead of enforcing it.

In the first case a young brash teenager was accidentally knocked down by a DTC bus. The resulting road rage was of such extreme proportions and further heightened by instigation by the kid's own mother, that he violently attacked the driver in the most gruesome manner, resulting in his death. The man was in his 40s, head of his family and the bread earner.

Obviously, the kid flew into a rage virtually losing his mental balance. His intent therefore was not just to hit but to kill. His actions partly were translated from a thought process that he could teach the victim a lesson, and get away with it, in a Country which is virtually lawless.

While he has been arrested, we all know how long it will take our criminal justice system to punish the murderer.

In the second instance, a lady scooterist is attacked by a traffic police officer with a brick, because the victim refused to give in to his demand for a bribe for letting her go scot free for a traffic offence.

Not exactly a case of road rage, the second case. But certainly a manifestation of huge, growing problem within the police force.

The police force in Delhi is hugely overworked. Daily duty timings exceed 12 hours. Leave from work instead of being a right, is an unheard of luxury.
Analysis throws up and astounding fact - that if a norm of 8 hours work daily and availing leave as per entitlement was made possible, the strength of the police force would have to be augmented by a staggering 140% !

Long hours of work, under most challenging working conditions, no rest or absence from work for rest or recreation, and to top it all, the worst compensation amongst any Government job is bound to adversely affect the psyche of a policeman in the long run.

It's high time the political leadership of this Country owned moral responsibility for this malaise, and committed themselves to change the situation as manifested in the above tow cases.

Judicial reforms, a stronger, more effective law enforcement system, and finally police reforms are the immediate need. If we start work now the implementation will probably take a decade.

Or we have the choice of being a lawless Country where anyone can kill anyone else, and we become part of a jungle

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lesson that Pakistan should learn from Peshawar


Think of Pakistan today, and this is the image that comes immediately to mind.




A Country that harboured and bred terrorists of all kinds in the last many decades. And by Country, I mean those who matter - the politicians, and the military. 

The 35 terror camps that exist today, do so, because the intent was to cause harm through 'low intensity' and 'proxy' war against India - an campaign that commenced as a consequence of the vision of General Zia-ul-Haq when he was President and Chief Matrial Law Administrator of Pakistan. 
India was made out to be, and is still perceived as Pakistan's enemy No.1

Pakistani's were generally unfazed and not bothered till the time the terrorists kept attacking and killing thousands of innocents in Kashmir. The terror game was extended to other parts of India. Then 26/11 happened, perhaps the most bold and audacious attempt, that left 160 people dead. 
All concrete evidence pointed towards terrorists sitting inside Pakistan, who masterminded and directed the entire operation for three days. Six years later, not only has Pakistan not arrested or prosecuted these terrorists, they have shown no intention of doing so, not even at the risk of losing opportunities to build bi lateral relations with India by addressing the latter's concerns. Pakistan till date remains in a state of denial.

Then 16/12 happened in Peshawar








In the worst carnage in recent times in that country, seven terrorists entered  the Army Public School in Peshawar, a school run by the Pakistan Army, situated quite close to some Army formations in the City. Completely focused with a cold blooded approach typical of the most hardened terrorists, they went from classroom to classroom, and sprayed bullets on innocent small children and their teachers. Before the Army eliminated these seven men, more than 150 people died in the School, most of them children. 

This was the worst tragedy Pakistan ever saw, in supposedly peace time. India, till now the biggest victim of Pakistan sponsored terrorism, responded with huge gestures of compassion and empathy. Prime Minister Modi called on his counter part and offered condolences. Schools in India, and the Indian Parliament now in session, observed two minutes silence as a mark of respect. Candle light vigils were organised in Delhi, to express solidarity with the victims' families. 

India's symbolic gestures moved the Pakistani civil society. Thousands of messages went back and forth across the border on the social media, expressing solidarity with each other, and recognising that terrorism has not nationality, and that this was a war against humanity.

It is time the average Pakistani learns some key lessons based on these recent incidents and tragedies.

Lesson 1 : India is not your enemy. Neither does India bear any ill will towards Pakistan. India want to live in a peaceful environment with all its neighbours. 
Look at your neighbour as your friend. Many common problems that both Countries face today, can be solved through cooperation and sharing or resources. Recognise this. 

Lesson 2: Terrorism should be completely eliminated from the basic fabric of Pakistan. People like Haafiz Saeed and Lakhvi exist because they manage to garner support of anti India campaigns. Their existence is in no way going to benefit your Country in the long run. As they say, there is strength in unity. Unite together to pressurise the State to book these people for the crimes they have committed against Indians and Pakistani alike. The power behind an awakening and an uprising is only underestimated. 

Lesson 3 : Support India from within, in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book. If this happens, this would be the singularly most significant, sincere act of friendship by Pakistan, towards India. And this in turn would benefit Pakistan the most.
There is no greater power of influence than the peoples of the two Countries uniting for a cause. 
Wouldn't you want less hostility and hawkish stands between the two people?

And more friends across the border?










Monday, December 01, 2014

JUMBO MAJUMDAR

Wing Commander KK (Jumbo) Majumdar was one of India's first decorated air warriors. 
After completing his training at the RAF's flying school at Cranwell (UK, 'Jumbo' was posted to the No. 1 Squadron, in the mid 30s.

While commanding No 1 squadron as Squadron Leader, Jumbo saw action in the Burma campaign. For his personal acts of bravery, Jumbo was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. During the Allied campaign in Europe, Jumbo volunteered to fly with the No. 268 Squadron in Europe. For his acts of valor in the European theatre, Jumbo was awarded a 'Bar' to his DFC.
Jumbo was the only Indian Air Force Pilot to have been awarded the DFC twice. 
In 1945, while flying a Hawker Hurricane in an air display, Jumbo's aircraft crashed and he was killed. If he had survived then, there is little doubt that Jumbo would have moved on to the very top position in the Indian Air Force.

The story is not so much about highlighting Jumbo's exploits in the 2nd World War. It's about how we as a Nation treat its brave soldiers.

Some personal property of Jumbo, particularly his medals and flying log books were put up for auction in England recently by Jumbo's son. It's a different matter that the medals failed to get a bid even for the reserve price of GBP 20,000 (Rs 20 lacs approximately). The point is - these medals should have been the property of the Indian Air Force who should have even gone all the way to spend this money to buy the medals.

The sad part is - the Air Force has cited some 'policy' related reason why it cannot bring these medals to its rightful owner - the Nation. It's  commendable that an ex Air Force officer - Air MArshal (Retd) Anil Chopra, also from the same No.1 squadron, has offered
to pay the required sum of money from his personal resources, to get the medals back. While this is commendable, it's also a sad commentary.

What does this exemplify ? This story is  another pointer towards the fact that we as a Nation not only don't have any respect our brave soldiers, but are simply apathetic to their contributions to the Nation, and the sacrifices they made while they were in uniform.

The present Air Force Chief should own this responsibility and present a case to the Government to spend this money - not a big sum, in the larger scheme of things, to get Jumbo's medals to the right place. The political leadership of India - be it the Defence Minister or even the Prime Minister should intervene to break all bureaucratic entangles created by the 'Babus' in the Defence Ministry and ensure what is correct is done - which is to bring back Jumbo's decorations to their rightful place - which is India. 





Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Back to School !

School mates.....

People who grew up with, since you were less than 10 years old. Boys with whom you sat in class, played hockey, cricket and soccer in the school play field. Friends - with whom you teamed up to play pranks in class, and remained firmly united in not letting out who the culprits were.

Imagine being connected to most of them, even after three decades have passed since you left school!

This is the Class of '79 of Mt. St. Mary's School, Delhi Cantt, where I spent 11 of the most enjoyable yet significant years of my life.



I belong to that lucky group of friends who have remained connected all these years. Better still, this group of friends meet regularly - now with spouses, every once in a while.

For those few hours when we meet, each one of us goes back to that day and age, when we were 15, 16 years old. With the old bonds firmly in place, we connect to each others' present lives, and the trials and tribulations each one of us is passing through. We lean on each other's shoulder secure in the belief that each one will stand behind a class mate when he is in need of help.



Since this was an 'all boys' class, all spouses are women, who through this extended family, have connected to and befriended each other in many ways.


We look forward to every get together, and various excuses and occasions to organize one. The countdown starts a fortnight before. Till the final day arrives. We meet once in two or three months, but we meet like long lost friends. What follows is much laughter and joy, leg pulling, back slapping and 'what have you' - till the wee hours of the morning, when it is time to part. 

Then, we wait for the next opportunity to meet.