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Author: Bikram Vohra

Modi speech: Great expectations not belied but PM backs off from sharing details

It was Plato and Socrates more than Mark Anthony.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had this brilliant end of the year opportunity and he chose the sober road rather than raise the nation’s BP with shrill rhetoric.

It was more a lesson delivered than a soul-stirring speech.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTIPrime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

He did not get down and dirty and give us the brawl we wanted, the marching of the corrupt went missing. The script was far too mature and adult and cerebral to excite.

That is what his detractors will pick on.

As the sun slipped down for the last time in 2016 the tryst with India notwithstanding, a whole nation was more than just mad keen to know what he would say. This was the biggest show of the year.

But, in a lighter vein, Modi forgot to wish the nation a happy new year.

What magic did they expect at this fluid stage? Just because it was scheduled for new year’s eve does not give it a special dimension. Also, raising the pre-speech media hype was unfair and uncharitable.

Nothing changes tomorrow. People will live and die just like any other day. Consequently, to presume that Modi would give a road map with milestones was a bit much. He iterated the efforts of the past fifty days and heaped spoonfuls of praise on the public for joining in the battle.

Especially in assuaging the level of discomfort being admirably tolerated by his 1.2 billion mitrons.

He was unflappable. Chillingly blunt and so even-keeled that one wasn’t sure if it was the great orator or a subdued victor who has broken the back of corruption and is humble in that grasp on the laurel wreath.

Dropping the interest on low-cost housing was the first arrow to leave the quiver after the first twenty minutes of liquid sentiment.

We waited for more arrows and the praise for farmers came on the heels of informing us sans any date that the banks would get back to normal soon. How soon was left an open gate.

His new schemes were rural and based largely on reducing loan interests and giving the rural sector a boost with a 60-day payment vacation.

Modi segued from the praise phase into the rural phase with a call to co-operatives to ease their interest level and in the next 90 days three crore farmers would have the Kisan card changed to the Rupay card to make it easier for them to engage in transactions.

Several of the small scale industries would be given relief and those small businessmen would benefit loans on lesser interest.

If you add the several initiatives they come up to quite a bit. Women upliftment, maternity health schemes, senior citizens, all were given an honorable mention, each section of society being gently disarmed with gratitude and courtesy.

It was a great way to lay the groundwork for something more tangible after multiple references to marching ‘together’ and acknowledging the public agony for the past two months.

There was no glee, none of that public rally mocking undertone the Modi has begun to love so much.
Way ahead of the game without the theatrics he could have taken demonetization by the scruff of its neck and shaken the demon out of it.

It may have been a risk but an Act in which the monologue that covered the catching of the big fish, the bringing in of money from abroad, cleansing the corruption in the bureaucracy and the government, in politics and its nexus with the underworld, something for us to say, yes, the schemes are great and should have been there anyway, but what about telling us what tomorrow brings.

He set off on that angle with the announcement that only 2.4 million Indians earn 10 lakh plus a year and we thought okay, here it comes, the harsh stuff. But it did not. He warned bankers and officials indeed but non-specifically.

He could have shared with us why the RBI is being cagey and not transparent.

Shared with the people at least how exactly these lakhs of crores (different figures depending on who you are reading) have changed the fiscal landscape and what percentage of the underground, parallel economy has been wrecked.

This is it. We do not know. The media flings figures with dozens of zeros in them and yet nobody has told us in specific who is hurt, how many of the bad guys have fallen and has their nefarious system collapsed.

At the end of all this we want something to justify the long hours in the queue and the ongoing discomfort. And this was the missing vital element.

One Lodha, one lawyer called Tandon raided or placed in custody do not a summer make. These guys should have been caught anyway, not because of demonetisation but because they should have been on the radar of the authorities period.

Why were these income tax raids and all these sleuths not playing pink panther with the same gusto before 8 November.

Modi should have used today to come out swinging from his corner and telling the people of India that the sacrifice they made and are still making has begun to pay off.

And if he could tell them step by simple step how the exercise is paying off he could also have shared some of the dirt.

I think the figures are now becoming mythical and have no impact. Perhaps Modi felt the same way and decided to go for concrete steps he is taking rather than offer instant sops.

The abrupt ending and the sudden goodbye came as a surprise… we were looking for more.

But that is our problem, not his.

First Published On : Dec 31, 2016 20:49 IST

Bye 2016, welcome 2017: There are many good reasons not to have a new year blast

Why do we celebrate the new year with such vengeance? For the past ten days, the first question the human race asks is, what are your plans.

Don’t have any. Nature does not have any. Not the moon nor the sun nor the stars are the least bothered about it. Flora and fauna don’t care, it is just another 24-hour cycle.

Avoid a new year party. ReutersAvoid a new year party. Reuters

Avoid a new year party. Reuters

And what exactly are we celebrating? Self-indulgence? Escapism? One step close to the dark night, that much more dimming of the light and what are we doing, we are leaping about with little hats on our heads blowing little tweeters in each other’s faces.

Come to think of it, New Year’s Eve is so reflective of our values as people.

The deception. Making resolutions that only 1 percent actually keep.

The cold-blooded ruthlessness. 2016 is out, kick the blighter in the back side, let’s go curry favour with 2017, just like we do to the new boss when he replaces the old one, overnight change of loyalty, the king is dead, long live the king. We do it in our offices all the time.

The hypocrisy. Hugging people we don’t know in a false sense of bonhomie and frigid warmth that will disappear in two minutes. The rest of the year, kill and plunder and destroy with glee.

We must love one another and I hate people who don’t but go gaga over people we cannot stand the rest of the year, oh please, give me a break.

Wastage. Gluttony rules the roost and we waste money, food and drink and largely make complete fools of ourselves and this we call having a blast.

The competitiveness. Oh, we are going to see the northern lights. We are off to the Costa del Sol. Decided to bring in the new year in Greece in Santorini.

Bring in the new year???? What an arrogance. You are not bringing in anything. The earth will continue its daily revolution and another day will dawn and wouldn’t it be far more rewarding to do one good deed per person rather than having three for the road and turning into a statistic.

It is not as though the massacre of the earth will stop or mankind will wake up a better race or children will not be exploited and we will ride posse against the common enemies of mankind: poverty, disease and injustice.

Come Monday morning nothing is going to change.

So why do we do it, this dog and pony exhibition of great joy and enthusiasm that the well-heeled engage into the total eyebrow-raising surprise of the majority who just go to bed because tomorrow they go to work. Like they do every day of the year.

Think of it. January, as a month, only came into being in 700 BC. And 1 January was chosen as the new year because Julius Caesar realised the sun and the calendar were out of synch so he arbitrarily added 96 days on the advice of his astrologers and made it work for him. It was no party for the astronomers and January was chosen to please Janus, the god of beginnings. Old Jules wanted to be on good terms with starters.

And if all this hasn’t ruined your mood entirely think of five other good reasons.

You’ll be paying for cheap over-priced drinks, be stuck in a miserable crowd in a miserable place having to say ‘aren’t we having fun’ every few minutes because the service sucks and you are actually miserable.

The food will be like swill if you can reach it.

Somebody will scratch your car if you can get it parked for a start and valet service will cost an arm and a leg.

Getting reunited with your car will take ninety minutes as you freeze in the cold, and some idiot on your table will get maudlin and mushy and sentimental and there goes your evening in a basket.

You’ll have to suffer stupid comments, several versions of stupid ‘see you next year’ jokes accompanied by false laughter and the music will drown out any chance of conversation.

Stay home. You will save yourself a hangover.

First Published On : Dec 30, 2016 16:47 IST

Jonty Rhodes got thumbs up for naming daughter India, then why fuss over Taimur?

Now that Jonty Rhodes named his kid India in April this year we will give him the key to the country. While just a couple of days ago we handed the rusty ‘chain’ to Taimur because it drove so many of us into paroxysms of rage.

When the editor of Firstpost asked me if I could do a piece remarking on how this April announcement would largely be received like a benediction I burst out laughing and said half the Caribbean cricket team is of Indian origin, is it a big deal.

Jonty Rhodes. Getty ImagesJonty Rhodes. Getty Images

Jonty Rhodes. Getty Images

It is a nice thing, good show and all that, happy for the Rhodes (whose name might well have been given after Cecil of Rhodesia ) but not earth shattering in any way. We tend to get so carried away by names and associations that whether it is rage or praise, there is an out of bounds reaction. It is questionable but does it have something to do with a shortage of self-esteem. Why cannot all this be in the normal course of things instead of constantly looking like we are needy for approbation and endorsement.

Not that Jonty is the first. There have been some before him and Aussie star Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers) actually wanted to call his son Indiana (after Jones) but since the baby was a girl they lopped the ‘a’ off. That’s all.

And before we get too excited about it let’s take stock of the fact that as a favourite name it has dropped from 297 position in the Top 1,000 to nowhere on the list in 2011 and now supposedly at 927 or thereabouts.

It is a sobering thought that George Bush called his cat India which kind of puts things in perspective. And while we are on sobering thoughts India is actually derived from the Indus river most of which flows through Pakistan territory from its origins in Tibet.

I don’t think Jonty or anyone else intended to praise us as a people or extol our virtues, he just liked the sound of the name. Like the people of Dakota didn’t fall about because the Channings called their daughter that. But we will go overboard, make it look like we have been given a certificate of merit. Brooklyn, Camden, Austin, Alexandria, Sydney, Virginia, ask Paris Hilton or Savannah, it is not exceptional.

Famous people named India include India Hicks (English royalty and fashion model); India de Beaufort (British actress/musician) and that is about it.

This inclination we have to hug to our bosoms anyone with the Indian connection and set it to music like we had been awarded some accolade is pretty childish.

How quick we are to link up with someone who was remotely Indian in the distant past. VS Naipaul told us to buzz off and we still would not let up. We ran after Hargobind Khurana but we could not catch up. Vijay Singh putted us out and we still want to act as if he is Indian. Bobby Jindal won’t even admit it.

Oddly, Prince William, heir to the British throne has been found to have Indian ancestry and if he gets crowned one day we will have an Indian king in London and won’t that give us cheap thrills. Believe his DNA testing showed that the India part in his saliva is believed to originate from Williams’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother Eliza Kewark.

According to the Mail: “Although often described as Armenian, DNA analysis has revealed that she was at least half-Indian and is known to have lived in the country’s western region.”

Maharashtrian, Gujarati, khem cho, Willyum?

First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 21:45 IST

RBI and its broken promise: Is there no sanctity to the promissory notes?

The draconian punishments announced for keeping more than 10 notes of demonetised currency including a four-year jail sentence seems to be a defence mechanism to discourage any trigger happy Public Interest Litigator from suing the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for breaking its promise.

Every note carries the legend ‘I promise to pay the bearer the sum of…’ and the unilateral murder of these notes also leaves the RBI vulnerable to a breach of trust since the people were not party to the dissolution of the contractual obligation.

While illegally held notes or those that have been used for unlawful activities can be taxed and their holders penalised accordingly, the question that can be asked under the law is whether the promise still holds good.

Punish me as per the law but keep the written pledge.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

In purely technical terms, going by the written pledge, the RBI is obligated to exchange every one of the notes with those of lesser denominations including coins because that is what it has said it will do.

But, wait a minute. Does it owe us an explanation and while it can be accused of clumsiness, is it legally within its rights to ‘renege’ on its agreement?

The promissory note has its antecedents in the gold standard when a note could be exchanged for precious metals and is based on the Bank of England’s monetary system. In fact, at one stage, every note had the name of the individual to which it was given as legal tender.

Today, the note has the signature of the governor of the Reserve Bank and under his assurance the note per se is neither black, white, laundered or, in any way, reduced in value vis a vis the promise written on it.

As a legal conundrum how would the RBI defend itself? By citing the greater good? By underscoring the criminal element in its war on the parallel economy? By submitting that the pledge was initially broken by the people who misused the note and therefore rendered the promise null and void.

Perhaps the RBI’s best bet is to state that the Indian currency note is not a promissory note as it was in the old days but is money like the coins and, therefore, not accountable legally if the promise is not kept.

If that be so and this argument will be the mainstay of the government’s stand why have the legend on the note at all along with the governor’s signature? Doesn’t it have any sanctity?

The government will say that it is a convention with no locus standi in the court of law.

Consequently, since there is a ‘for’ and an ‘against’ argument, the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were demonetised each can have a day in court because its owner has had a pledge broken.

But it is a losing battle. Modern Indian currency is not officially seen as being a descendant of the old notes from the history books but just cash.

While most of us do not really care very much and will not do anything, one can question the premise that legally the RBI is duty-bound to honour every single note and see it as mutually exclusive from who owns it or what laws that the owner has broken.

The RBI, in simple terms, is not the police.

After all, if there is no value to the promise and the signature and the Indian currency is purely money why repeat this pompous commitment on the new notes.

Would this make for a stronger petition one cannot say but it is an interesting situation.

Problem there is that in no place on the note does it mention conditions under which this promise can be negated.

First Published On : Dec 29, 2016 14:05 IST

If Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive isn’t successful, it’s down to our cynicism

It’s misplaced, but it exists. We have this inordinate cynicism about the removal of corruption. With the central government’s demonetisation drive about to complete its second anniversary next month, the army of doom and gloom is increasing its numbers.

We hear people saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot eliminate corruption, and how his whole exercise is not worth a spit in the wind, because the crooks and the charlatans, the hundis and the hawalas, the gangsters and the hoarders will all be back collecting bribes in a couple of months, just wait and see.

The “wait and see” is said with a certain ill-concealed glee, as if we would be disappointed in case the fruits from the poisoned tree were actually squashed.

Narendra Modi. AFPNarendra Modi. AFP

Narendra Modi. AFP

I am not pro-Modi or anti-Modi, but I have just been thinking, what the heck, why are so many of us detracting from the herculean effort? No one else ever did it.

Though there are many hiccups and flaws, and we can point to all of them and exult in the mess, the fact is that the man has gone out on a limb and done something. Look at it this way: World War II lasted five years; many a battle was lost before the Allies pushed the Axis powers into a corner; many strategies were changed mid-way, campaigns reworked, troops repositioned. Nothing happened according to some preordained master plan.

Often they bumbled along, hoping for a break. England was one night away from considering surrender after the brutal Battle of Britain, Rommel thought his Afrika Korps would singlehandedly destroy the Allies, Japan blasted Pearl Harbor and let the US into a war it did not want to enter.

Modi too is at war. In a way, all of us are the troops. It is a massive undertaking and he needn’t have done it at all. But he has set the ball rolling and it is gathering speed.

That his PR machinery is weak and rickety and totally eclipsed by the mainstream media is a tragedy. Large sections of this mainstream media has found comfort in projecting Modi’s mission as having failed. If the prime minister has failed at anything, it’s in his inability to share the message effectively with the public. When you do something so drastic, you don’t put timelines on it. That was the one big mistake, because it was easily exploitable. Every time a correction has been made or a deadline reworked, we have screamed foul and mocked this as evidence of the BJP frontline groping in the dark.

“They do not know what they are doing, they have changed the deadline again!” This is now a mantra.

No one second guessed when the Vietnam War would end. Nobody in 1971 said we will have Pakistan surrender in the East by 16 December.

But we are doing the death dance over the 31 December deadline and getting all pointy fingered again.

Be fair. Public suffering and long queues have reduced; the discomfort is abating. Even at the worst of times, Indian resilience kicked in and the poor whose suffering has been sculpted into a sledgehammer hung in there. The anger that we, the media, showcase is only triggered by our highlighting scuffles. If things were indeed that bad, there would have been riots across the board.

The public took it on the chin; they are nowhere near being stirred into a rebellion, so lets not exaggerate their rage.

Point two: Millions of jobs have been lost. Really? Greedy bosses may have closed down their small scale and cottage industries and not paid their labour force by shrugging and claiming no cash, but they are going to open doors again and the slack will be pulled in because now that the cash flow has commenced, there is no cause to shut the companies. So, millions of jobs are not lost, just temporarily frozen.

Finally, point three: The filthy rich are happy bunnies. They have escaped the net. Not true. They may not confess it or even show it, but the underground is hurt, mortally hurt. The rich have been slapped in the fiscal face. This money did not fall from the skies, it belonged to someone who had concealed it. Hidden wealth has been discovered, so let’s not make it less than it is.

Oh, these guys are so smart they will make it again? Fine, let them start from zero, and if you want the truth, they can get going if you and I let them get going. If we become customers to the corrupt, what price on Modi or anyone else winning the war?

He will lose. Thanks to us.

Like I said, why are so many of us so confident that corruption is in our DNA and why do we speak of it with such misplaced pride.

First Published On : Dec 28, 2016 17:54 IST

Demonetisation deadline: Does govt has no plan to get back crores of NRI ‘white money’?

Despite all the love sprayed on NRIs and those multiple Pravasi Divas conventions held in various parts of the country for various ministers to iterate their love for Indians abroad the week of good cheer is a bit soured.

With good reason. As airlines hike up the cost of tickets by nearly 250 percent (from the Gulf for sure) and families largely opt to stay home there is also a tangible sense of loss from the enormous vat of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes lying around the diaspora.

Awash in cash? PTIAwash in cash? PTI

Awash in cash? PTI

Assessed officially at 30 million people but probably higher by another five million with about Rs 5,000 being taken as the modest average lying with each person it comes to a sizeable Rs 15,000 crore and running.

Most of us keep a reasonable amount in high denomination notes with Rs 25,000 being the outer limit as per law to avoid delays at Indian airports in making foreign exchange and simply pull out the wads that have been lying under shirts and saris or used biscuit and chocolate tins to take a cab home and, in case banks are closed, have enough for Day One and Two.

The stories of long queues and no money and cards not working have made for a change in touching the base.

Relatives in the home country already stretched to breaking point are also not too keen to having us descend upon them en masse.

Rumours and half-truths that the government is listening to last moment pleas from community representatives for a delay in the 30 December deadline for these notes to be vacuumed in don’t seem to have much grounds and the odds are the Not Required Indian will stay not required. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things the sum from NRIs is not astronomical but why lose it.

The Customs form allows us to bring in Rs 25,000 though most of us carry less on each visit. And we do not take back much, just the leftover financial debris of the holiday.

This year the stress level has a different texture to it. For one, there is this fear that carrying banned notes might cause hassles at points of entry. No one wants to be taken aside because they are carrying six or seven crumpled notes. There is no logic in the fear but it exists anyway…there have been enough scare stories on the social platforms to make everyone a little concerned…and hugely confused.

And it does not make sense spending Rs 30,000 per passenger and more for a Y class ticket to make the end of the year deadline when such a low cast carrier ticket usually goes for Rs 10,000 or thereabouts. The situation as it stands is that these Rs 150 billion will be consumed by the clock. Come to think of it, the total is probably much more.

That these crores are going to be largely lost to the exchequer seems to be of no concern to the authorities. Even blue-collar labour has a note or two, often placed in their wallets for good luck by tearful parents sending their sons and daughters to foreign shores when they leave home…a kind of ‘shagun’ that has now lost its meaning.

You would think that one of the mandarins in the Ministry of Overseas Affairs would say, uh oh, that is a lot of money let’s create a blueprint for getting it back and instruct all banks to allow these monies to be sent by courier to the accounts up to Rs 25,000 and let it be accepted.

After all, look at the delicious irony. It is not black money. it is bright, shiny, pristine white money that people want to return.

Allowed to be in our possession by law. So why are NRIs being penalised indirectly for not breaking the law. Echo answers who?

First Published On : Dec 23, 2016 19:37 IST

Was Gen Bipin Rawat’s appointment as Army Chief pushed by the influential Gorkha coterie?

The appointment of Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat as new Chief of Army Staff has snowballed into a controversy, once it emerged that Rawat was not the senior-most officer in the Indian Army. The officers who were bypassed to let Rawat become the new army chief were not only more senior, but they were also in command positions, placed there because they are capable enough and experienced enough to become chief.

They have been on the frontline as active commanders. You don’t get to become an army commander unless you’re ready and trained, as simple as that. It’s not just a question of seniority; hundreds of very senior people get bypassed, sidelined, passed over, and continue to serve “juniors” for several years if they wish to stay in uniform. In all these cases, the officers are competent field commanders, and have already touched the stars…literally.

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty ImagesLt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty Images

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat. File photo. Getty Images

But then, it’s no secret that there is a coterie at the army headquarters. The Gorkha Rifles are so strongly represented at the highest levels that it raises eyebrows even within army circles. The incumbent Chief of Army Staff, Dalbir Singh Suhag, is from the Gorkha Rifles, as is Bipin Rawat, the man who will replace him on 31 December. In April this year, five of the 14 major generals promoted to their third star were from the Gorkha Rifles. The director general military intelligence, Lieutenant General SK Patyal, is from the Gorkhas. The director general military training Lieutenant General AL Chauhan is from the Gorkha Rifles.

These, by the way, are the top jobs at army headquarters; they oversee all strategic matters. Another very important position is director general military operations, currently held by Lieutenant General AK Bhatt, again from the Gorkha Rifles. Even the adjutant general Lieutenant General RK Sharma is from the Gorkha Rifles.

What are the odds that in an army of over a million, with dozens of battalions and regiments, all with glorious histories, the top five jobs would be held by officers from the same section of the army.

None of this is rocket science. And it’s all available on the public domain.

Sure, the Gorkhas have a proud history, but so do the Sikh Regiments, the Maratha Light Infantry, the Rajputana Rifles, the Madras Regiment, the Guards, the para regiments, the Punjab Regiment, the Grenadiers, the Bihar Regiment, the Jats, the Dogras, the Assam Regiment, J&K Rifles, the Armoured Corps, the Mechansied regiments, etc.

Handing command to a Gurkha is not a flaw in itself, but it means one regiment will continue to hold sway at South Block. If it is happening at the expense of others is a question worth asking.

Retired Lieutenant General Ike Singha, as head of the Peacekeeping Mission in Golan Heights in Syria and Israel from 2012 to 2015, has seen more action than anyone else in the Indian Army. This is what he has to say about the controversy over Bipin Rawat’s appointment. “The NDA government launched a surgical strike on the Indian Army by superseding very competent generals and selecting Bipin Rawat as the next COAS. In the past, only once has the seniormost army commander been passed over; when Lt Gen. Sinha was overlooked and Gen. AS Vaidya appointed COAS by the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi. History punished the nation for this folly. Gen. Vaidya lacked the moral guts to tell Gandhi that the army, an apolitical organisation should not be dragged into storming a religious place like the Golden Temple. Gen. Sinha, a strong man, would have perhaps resisted and that is why he was overlooked. The BJP resurrected Sinha, and he was appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha. Unfortunately, the NDA government has made the same mistake and overlooked two very capable officers. I have very closely served with all three senior officers and we have grown together. All three are thorough professionals and Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz lacked nothing.”

“Modi, like Jawaharlal Nehru, feels that the country is not going to fight a war with any of its neighbours. Nehru showed Chou en Lai all our defence establishments, and the shrewd Chinese leader saw the chinks in our armour and annexed Tibet in 1959. India was stunned, but before it could recover from the jolt, China affected an embarrassing defeat in the 1962 war. Modi has a disdain for the Indian Army that I watched closely as General Officer Commanding in Gujarat. It seems he is going the Nehru way and has no inclination to learn from history. (Manohar) Parrikar is a technocrat and has been chief minister of Goa, a state with two districts. A novice in security matters, he thinks he has a magic wand and has a solution for all the complex problems and challenges facing the defence forces.”

He does not.

First Published On : Dec 20, 2016 15:26 IST

Bipin Rawat as next Army Chief: Superseding three army commanders sets an ugly precedent

Superseding three active General Officer(s) Commanding-in-Chief of three ‘armies’ has never occurred since 1947, so let’s stop talking about precedents. That is complete nonsense. Why are we so nice about the mishandled manner in which the new army chief (Bipin Rawat) was announced with 14 days to go instead of the customary 90 days? The only one precedent was the clumsy bypassing of Lt Gen Mani Sinha in place of Lt Gen Vaidya and General Sinha did what Generals do — he put in his resignation. As a protest. Hardly a high-water mark in the annals of military history, the way he was set aside.

Which is exactly what Lt Gen PM Hariz, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi and Lt Gen BS Negi will do — either retire or simply put in their papers.

Bipin_Rawat_380_GettyBipin_Rawat_380_GettyConsequently, we will have three top commands in Southern, Eastern and Central armies without leadership around the same time since none of these officers will serve a junior at this high level.

In army lexicon they have been bypassed, period. They will go home. Has anybody figured out that between these three Generals — who have not been made chief — commanded 70 percent of the active forces in the Indian Army? If they were so average, why were they in charge?

Yes, the government has the right to do exactly what it wishes in the selection, even if others find fault with it. In the ranks of this government is a former chief who fought hard to stay in the job by making an issue of his age thereby setting the most shabby precedent in the Indian armed forces.

The fact that the new chief is in South Block and his three seniors are in active command indicates a definite flaw. The vice chief like the Vice President is a goodbye gift. No one knows what he does. The job is largely a sinecure. So how exactly did he stand out?

To supersede three Generals commanding your armies is either an act of arrogance or such incredible military insight that even the famous strategist Sun Tzu would have been impressed. How do you, and why do you bypass three Generals in active command of your armies?

Not only does this cause dismay, it jump-starts the domino principle with at least 50 potential three-star Generals and two-star aspirants reworking their career paths thanks to this announcement. We suddenly have three degrees of separation and several three-star officers looking at retirement will now look at the possible fourth star and realign their priorities.

You cannot really believe for a moment that between bureaucrats and politicians, they have a clue as to how effective or of what calibre these three sidelined officers are. You have to be naïve to think they know who suited them most or was of the highest calibre. To put it bluntly, as a fellow Gurkha officer incumbent General Suhag probably advocated his brother officer’s cause — the fact that General Rawat was in Delhi gave him access or at least presence in the capital while attending meetings in these troubled times also helped. He was relatively familiar.

Unlike his three seniors who are commanding active armies. Compare their career records — all first rate.

All this said, the government exercised a right. Will it change the dynamics of the Indian army? For sure. The government has found a trump card to keep its top echelons pliable, pliant and obedient and, oh yes, politically non-ambitious. Today, the fourth, tomorrow who knows? (Maybe the ninth).

First Published On : Dec 18, 2016 20:31 IST

Baba Ramdev, stop making oblique suggestions about PM Modi; either spill all the beans or zip it up

You know the country is hurting when even the prime minister’s best friend turns against him. Actually, let me rephrase that — the best friend is hurting, and so friendship be damned, hang it out to dry.

Baba Ramdev has spoken out against Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s note ban, by hinting at a sinister conspiracy involving the banking sector, and even the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), saying that as much as Rs 3-5 lakh crores can be involved in this scandal.

Baba Ramdev. PTI file imageBaba Ramdev. PTI file image

Baba Ramdev. PTI file image

Ramdev has clearly shrugged off his long-time support for Modi, as he adds economic insight to his quiver of authoritative arrows. The yogi-turned businessman and ayurveda champion, as adept at being spiritual guru as he is selling edible oil, but is having a rough time with sales of his consumer products probably dropping. To add to his dismay is the Rs 11 lakh fine levied on him for misrepresentation in manufacture of his products in the Hardwar factories where the ingredients are falsely marked.

Good reasons, don’t you think, for Ramdev to get a bit teed off; so this man for all seasons now decides to interpret the downside of the demonetisation process.

But, according to him, it isn’t the prime minister who’s the bad guy — it’s the banks, and they misled Modi with their chicanery and gave him the wrong idea of what could happen. They did not tell him, for example, that Patanjali branded items would not fly off the shelf, and if they don’t do that with alacrity, then surely something is wrong with the killing of currency notes.

But, whoa, wait just a minute. Why has it taken Ramdev all of 38 days to figure it all out and share his incandescent genius with us? How quickly people change when their bottom line is adversely affected.

There is also another reason for this economic epiphany. Ramdev has probably been feeling left out of the loop at not getting his quota of media attention this past month or so. That anonymity irks, so why not make some outlandish announcement in the manner of a teaser trailer and say a lot without saying anything concrete.

In one shot, he indicts Modi, then absolves Modi, then blames the banks, and finally tells us there is a seamier undisclosed dimension, even venturing to place a huge figure on it, although he doesn’t tell us what exactly is going on.

Now, is that fair? If Ramdev knows what this Rs 3-5 lakh crore hanky panky is all about, then why be cute about it? Come out and tell us the details, so we can decide if the banking sector plotted this grand larceny on the Indian people and took Modi for a ride. Yes, we know the banks are flush with cash. Where else would the money go. But that is not an indication of their being corrupt or in on the scheming.

To play mind games and make provocative statements is not only uncharitable, it is also a cheap shot. You can certainly criticise the fallout from the ban on currency notes and have an opinion, but if you point your flinty little fingers in accusations and suggest more than obliquely that the underbelly is dirtier than we know, then you are duty bound to show us the dirt.

Till you are ready to spill the beans, it’s time to use your own toothpaste because you are just being foulmouthed.

First Published On : Dec 16, 2016 15:35 IST

Demonetisation: War on black money won’t be complete unless the top sharks are prosecuted

Are we now scraping the bottom of the barrel? A couple of crores in some old lady’s apartment. A relatively small sum in a hotel raid… all these are probably customary ‘finds’ based on snitches and inside information. A larger sum in Axis Bank in 20 false accounts, whatever those are… and if banks themselves are a string in the fiddle, what chance is there of winning this war?

Nowhere near the last month’s grandeur of so many lakh crores and 10 zeros and talking in trillions. Now, it is all common garden variety stuff, so does it mean the unearthing is largely over? Have all the ill-gotten gains been discovered and is black money a thing of the past?

Since no one can really put a finger on the figure of the parallel economy it is difficult to assess exactly how much has been dredged and who got away.

Suffice it to say that over these seven decades, corruption and the hoarding of wealth has been intrinsic to our lifestyle and our value system. It will come as no surprise to discover that the political-gangster-middleman-launderer-banker-underworld nexus is so well-entrenched that it will bounce back.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

I think it was Khalil Gibran who said if you have an enemy be sure that the blow you give breaks his back or else every blow will only strengthen it.

Black money and corruption have been twin enemies. The two inseparables have been given a blow, but has it broken their backs? That is a question that demands to be answered and as we wind down the ‘collection’ or the ‘uprooting’ or whatever you wish to label, it is necessary to ask what exactly have we gained, all of that mutually exclusive from anointing Prime Minister Modi for his courage or criticising him for his questionable execution of the master plan.

By that very token forcing a zipping of Rahul Gandhi‘s cavalier dismissal of the 8 November exercise and telling him to stop it, for heaven’s sake, at least some action was taken. Likewise, the Opposition parties who simply are against the demonetisation because they cannot be for it.

That not a single politician or high-profile businessman or leader of the gangster pack was apprehended is also a cause to be concerned about. One would have thought that just like the Chicago mobsters were targeted by Bobby Kennedy and decimated, the black market would have been raided in India and kingpins brought to book. In the thirties, they took down Al Capone and wiped out organised crime. In the eighties, the feds indicted the dreaded Joseph ‘Dove’ Aiuppa who allegedly planned the murder of Sam Gianca. In 2005, 14 bosses in the mob were locked up. ‘The Outfit’, as it was called, was mortally wounded.

A fed report says: A series of successful federal prosecutions over the years put many bosses behind bars and have forced mobsters and their associates into much lower profiles, practically destroying the mafia.

As far back in the 1920s Mussolini did the same in Italy and today the closest we see to the human element in the ‘clean up’ being placed on centrestage is the assault by President Duterte of the Philippines whose unprecedented war on drugs has him announcing that he has personally killed drug lords.

In comparison, not that one advocates that extreme, even nutty attitude, we have netted tiddlers and the tadpoles and no big fish.

The operation is still largely anonymous and we are no wiser who manipulates the strings of our black economy.

If they get away and the powerful nexus closes ranks then will this effort be a back-breaking exercise or one that simply replaces the old evil system with a fresh one?

It would be naïve in the extreme to assume that the bad guys are on the run. There is not just enough concrete evidence of that; more rhetoric than reality. By the same token so deeply ingrained is the chai pani to ‘kick back’ and ‘mark up’ concept that we must be conscious of an emergency plan the crooked have and one that is already in operation. The wall may have crumbled a bit but has it collapsed?

To ensure that the chapter is closed we need prosecutions of the top sharks, we need fast track convictions and we need to know that the underworld system is being dismantled and it’s back being broken.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 16:28 IST

Why denying armoured corps its importance would be an error in late announcement of new army chief

Whenever anyone criticises Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for either his intemperate remarks or his shabby sartorial inelegance and total lack of occasion there is invariably a group of people who rush to his rescue.

This is understandable because we are, as a nation, weaned on the equation that those who are ‘simple’ (read sloppy) or disheveled and scruffy are good people at heart. This is integral to our categorisation of the human race and any effort to be smart or display a level of is indicative of a certain corruption of values. Simplicity becomes a cloak for laziness, sloth, even casual indifference.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTIDefence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

The same sort of casual indifference that marks the attitude towards the announcement of the next Chief of the Army Staff. General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who himself, was appointed after much stress, retires at the end of the month and that is scarcely more than two weeks to go.

In a brilliant assessment of the subject of four-star appointments by Prakash Nanda in Firstpost on the inordinate delay, he has traced the frequent rocks strewn in the path of the handing over in all three services. The fact that the successor is announced at least 10 weeks before the date of retirement has been conveniently ignored because, of course, the defence ministry is clearly not cognizant of this fact. The thing is when the announcement is made automatically there is a shuffling at the Army Commander level and the domino principle kicks in. Immediately, the senior ranks know who the next leaders of their armies and Corps are going to be. The deck so to speak is reshuffled.

It is customary in India to give the fourth star to the seniormost army commander. After all, if his Annual Confidential Reports are without any negatives Indian convention follows the British model and it cannot find fault with that aspirant. After all, there is no further gauge to measure his caliber. In the US the president can appoint and leapfrog several Generals to announce a successor.

To keep the obvious choice in suspense is to inject politics into the issue and needlessly bring about speculation that is detrimental to the morale of the force and fuels rumours. At present Lt General Praveen Bakshi, GOC-in-C Eastern Command is the frontrunner and the automatic choice. The indication that since he is an Armoured Corps officer (tanks and missile regiments) there is uncertainty over his being the chief a position held usually by an infantry officer.

This is such balderdash it is unbelievable. We have had Signals officers who were Army Commanders. The Armoured Corps is not only held in the highest esteem it is an elite arm of the Service and has a history of over 250 years with regiments like Deccan Horse, Scinde Horse, Poona Horse, Hodson’s Horse, the 3,7, 8 Cavalries and Central India Horse that can display medals of gallantry in battle way back to the early 18th century. The much-touted battle of Basantar, the biggest since Rommel, was an Armoured Corps affair and if he denied command over the Army on these grounds it will be a huge pity.

If Lt General Bakshi is denied his legitimate claim to the fourth star it will also be a bruising of the huge store held in the capabilities of our men in tanks.

The black berets are the best.

Honestly, this is so indicative of civilian ignorance of how the armed forces operate that they would play tiddlywinks with such a sensitive matter.

Even the infantry would be appalled if that was a reason applied to the Parrikar decision to bypass the Eastern Command chief while appointing the vice-chief.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 21:41 IST

Demonetisation: Going cashless can give rise to online scams; we need to stop volunteering data

Sweet are the uses of adversity. And for most people in the country the slow start to the week in being reunited with their money has left them vulnerable to scamsters of all types. Despair does that, makes you reach out and cling to anything even though your mind tells you it is a lot of rot.

The latest one doing the rounds is a letter on an RBI letterhead ostensibly signed by Urjit Patel informing you that a sum of 5,00,000 pounds will be sent to your bank account if you fill in the form. It even has a dotcom address.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

It is a pretty neatly done piece of nonsense and in the current mood where there is this mental photoplay in the public’s mind that the Rs 2.5 lakh crores unearthed is supposedly going to fall like confetti into their hands and end poverty, the gullibility factor rises exponentially.

One would imagine it is a deft and swift way to create a database or get into something more insidious like using the details provided to create false accounts, copy credit cards and whatever other fiscal thievery one can engage in.

For the middle class that still falls for such stuff in considerable numbers, the need to believe intensifies when the survival factor kicks in. Gone is the first month’s warmth and togetherness and the neighbourly feelings. “We will overcome”, is being replaced by the sentiment, “we cannot take it any more”.

After the three holidays, the absence of enough notes prompted by the return of the snaking queues and a lower, much lower, patience level has people wondering what’s going on. Add to all this the information that the printing press cannot print enough notes for 195 days and that we have not even reached 25 percent of the target and we begin to wonder if the nation hasn’t been dug into a hole.

As I said earlier, the filthy rich don’t seem to be particularly unhappy. The underworld hasn’t yet been yanked off to face the consequences and the gap between Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 is just too large to make things viable in a 98 percent cash-oriented society.


A screenshot of the RBI letterhead supposedly signed by Urjit Patel.

More scams are likely to depart from social platforms. If it wasn’t for the princely sum and the fact that it is not Indian currency, this scam would have been a lot more convincing. Imagine if you, in your intelligence, had received such a well-crafted letter with all the bells and whistles attached to it, and it said Rs 20,000 was being deposited into your account as a government dividend out of the interest accrued from the unearthed black money, would you not be tempted to provide your details?

The ‘half a million pounds’ is a reflection of the contempt in which these scam artists hold the masses. If one could trace the source of this effort you would find that several thousand people would still have cheerfully handed over their details.

We are not yet trained to keep our details confidential. Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the US invasion of privacy into the man on the street, would have had a very easy time in India obtaining private data.

We volunteer it.

The government is duty-bound to inform the nation that no money is being placed in anyone’s account with reference to the black money hunt or the demonetisation initiative.

Till then do not send your information to anybody. That is the next big problem we will face. As the supporters of the cashless e-school tom-tom their online world, most of us won’t know the difference between a genuine document and a con.

First Published On : Dec 14, 2016 12:16 IST

Note ban: We underestimate the people and forget that transparency is a powerful sword

30 days after the knock-out blow delivered to two currency notes — Rs 1000 and Rs 500 — it comes to mind that all these lakhs of crores that were unearthed do not seem to have hampered or upset the filthy rich.

They seem happy as larks and are having a blast. That said, there is now a growing school of thought that seems to think the surprise element and the couple of hours notice that was given on the night of 8 November was unnecessarily dramatic.

All that hush-hush stuff made good headlines and projected the imagery of a crackdown, a word that conjures up scenarios of really catching the bad guys by the scruff of the neck and rises to heroic proportions.

So overwhelming is this belief that all the other flaws which followed the implementation are covered up and accepted as the price to be paid for a good thing done.

People line up at an ATM. PTIPeople line up at an ATM. PTI

People line up at an ATM. PTI

While confessing I am not an expert, let me lay this before you: What if a fortnight’s notice had been given to the country to say that as of 20 November, the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes will be defunct. In that period, the mints could have printed sufficient notes and a combined decision could have taken over whether the Rs 2000 note was actually a valid alternative and how a gap between Rs 2000 and Rs 500 was potentially rickety.

How much less money do you think would have been unearthed sans all the intrigue and secrecy and tension to grab the miscreants of our black money economy if there was this notice period.

Where would they have offloaded this money once it had been sentenced to death row? Logically, who would deal with them or the notes knowing they would be dead and done with inside fifteen days?

Would you have started collecting these notes or doing business with them knowing they were on a ventilator? How would the hoarders of black money have gotten rid of their ill-gotten wealth in a fortnight if there were no takers.

Gone out for five star dinners every night? Paid cash for a car. Flown first class with the maid? Retail outlets, service agencies, you name it would have all shut shop on the notes and the debit cards and PayTM options would have kicked in from the public’s side.

We underestimate the people, always. Sometimes, transparency is a powerful sword.

In fact, the more you think about it, by giving this time frame, the black market would have been in more of a tizzy and there would have been no concealing themselves or becoming users of proxies and camouflage. They would actually have been more easily exposed to the tax authorities and not even been able to misuse the Jan Dhan accounts because every citizen would have been party to it.

Much credit has been given to the suddenness of the surgical strike. Sounds awesome, but it is this suddenness that confused people and made them pawns in the hands of the manipulators who used them to filter and launder their money before they could figure what was going on and being cashless, it made them more vulnerable.

I think where the government went wrong was in not trusting the people. They should have been made integral to the process because we would had much less of a mess up and no great amount would have been lost. Economic experts may bust this theory with fancy buzzwords but purely as an individual I am thinking what would I have done in those 15 days to save even a thousand rupee note if nobody was prepared to take it. Nothing different.

Sometimes, taking the common man as a soldier in a just war provides a stronger army of righteousness than declaring hostility in his name but leaving him on the bench.

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 14:17 IST

Thirty days of demonetisation: The death of the Rs 1,000 note is a sad news for Indian economy

Exactly a month after the Rs 1,000 note, lovingly known as “Ek Hazaar” and its younger brother the equally loved “Panch Saw” were taken into custody by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), it is believed that the older brother has met its end under mysterious circumstances.

Tight-lipped RBI officials declined to give any details of what occurred and attempted to divert the attention by underscoring their success in releasing a slimmer and more robust avatar of the younger brother into circulation.

2016-12-08-PHOTO-00000001 (1)

Since Panch Saw has refused to make any statement, what transpired behind the closed doors is not known, but the sad, if yet unconfirmed demise of the highly loved Ek Hazar has sent a wave of sorrow through its supporter and fans.

A weeping businessman said that the bringing in of a muscleman twice the size of Ek Hazaar and then falling back on the weak younger brother of the deceased was a dreadful situation. Asking not to be identified, he confided that the inside story indicates there are irreconcilable differences between the newly inducted bully called “Do Hazaar” and the popular Panch Saw, the gap between them being literally unbridgeable.

“They are not even on speaking terms,” he said, “But don’t quote me on it.”

It is believed that Panch is deeply upset about the way his older brother was treated and sees Do Hazaar as an impostor and a nuisance.

Official RBI sources rejected the theory that there had been a bungling within its premises leading to the death of Ek Hazaar.

Even now the RBI spokesman was not prepared to confirm the passing away of the once powerful leader of the fiscal party whose influence had been all pervasive.

When confronted with the fact that not a single bulletin had been issued over the past thirty days with regard to the health of the Rs 1,000 note and the public’s right to know what exactly the position was, the RBI spokesman said Ek Hazar was in custody as a precautionary measure against corruption, and was hale and hearty and would soon be released.

But exactly thirty days after being stripped of its powers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi were seen making a beeline for the RBI main office. The RBI governor was closeted with them on the top floor leading to the speculation that something had gone wrong.

If Rahul Gandhi had gone there it could only mean the note had gone to its heavenly abode.

As people began to gather outside the RBI one staunch supporter of Ek Hazaar said, “If the news is true we now have no second line of defence. No economic pyramid. The people have been left in the lurch and no one is telling us what has happened.”

According to sources Ek Hazaar, once the bulwark of the Indian financial system was a victim of shortsightedness and poor medical treatment. Seeing as how the younger brother was resurrected it is pretty much inconceivable that the older sibling is allegedly dead.

A famous economist who had been flown in from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said he believed this was a case of eco-medical malpractice because nowhere in the world is the top currency followed by one worth 25 percent in value.

“The trauma is so massive,” he added, “That an amputated currency totem pole will forever limp along despite any prosthetic that may be recommended. If Ek Hazaar is actually dead, it is indeed a very sad day for the Indian economy.”

First Published On : Dec 8, 2016 13:36 IST

Mamata Banerjee flight row: Pilots’ suspension grossly unfair, only mollifies West Bengal CM

The suspension of six pilots, two each from indigo, Spicejet and Air India for allegedly endangering their flights as they hovered over Kolkata waiting for landing clearance makes no sense. Spurred by the accusations of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who was on one of them and believes this whole exercise was designed to have her killed, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) decided to investigate the issue.With ana alacrity it seldom displays.

On the face of it all three aircrafts were low on fuel and had asked for clearance or else they were to prepare to move to an alternate airport.

There is a fixed protocol in every commercial or scheduled flight. You go from point A to point B with thirty minutes ‘go around’ or ‘hover’ fuel over point B and enough fuel after that to reach your alternate airport (in this case, Bhubaneshwar) and hover there for thirty minutes.

If any of these parameters have been broken, then by all means charge the pilots and the ground crew and the dispatch for negligence.

But if they have not been broken and the fuel was sufficient to get to the alternative with enough to spare then becoming all holier than thou because a chief minister gets paranoid borders on the ridiculous.

Mamata Banerjee. File photo. ReutersMamata Banerjee. File photo. Reuters

Mamata Banerjee. File photo. Reuters

We have to understand that when you make the pilot community jittery and take punitive action like this you are more likely to compromise air safety that if you go off half-cocked into an investigation that requires a probe of what went on between the three flights and the ATC where there might have been a possible misunderstanding but you do not create such a furor and take these unilateral actions when there is no evidence of the rules being broken.

At no stage were the aircrafts in danger or passenger safety compromised and it seems that all this controversy is predicated to the Banerjee’s impatience of her flight landing being delayed.

In fact she should be asked why she would scare 170 passengers and why an airline should be maligned by her causing distress and concern to future passengers.
When you accuse airlines of negligence, it has far reaching effects. Add to that a finger pointing at the pilots for not carrying out their duty and the carrier is literally placed in the dock.

You cannot seriously imagine that the crew colluded to endanger a flight complement of 170 passengers and place their lives at risk as an part of a conspiracy to eliminate Banerjee.

The more incredible part is how protected these politicians are that they can make such outrageous statements and get away with it. Any other normal passenger making such claims would either be taken away in a straitjacket or be placed into custody pending an inquiry.

Once having said it, Banerjee should be asked to explain exactly how and why she has arrived at this conclusion based on the flimsy perception that her flight was slightly delayed.

Imagine, if you will, if all of us on delayed flights were to see the a hand in glove plot what utter chaos there would be in the skies.

Seeing that no pilot on any of these flights called an emergency, hit the transponder 7700 code or said anything more than alerting ground control to facts on the fuel situation suspension for doing their job seems untenable.

After all, they had enough fuel to break the parameters and hover over Kolkata for another ninety minutes.

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 11:27 IST

Frigate INS Betwa’s collapse in a dry dock is beyond comprehension

Accidents happen. But ships, especially major naval vessels do not fall on their sides like beached whales.

Yachts collapse. Little fishing boats might keel over. A canoe can overturn. Ride the rapids and your rubber dinghy might flip.

But to have a 126-metre frigate topple over in dry docks is unbelievable. It is not only unbelievable, it is incomprehensible.

That two sailors were killed makes it manslaughter by neglect.

The frigate INS Betwa lies on its side. PTI

The frigate INS Betwa lies on its side. PTI

Does anyone know what the size and weight of a warship of this genre is? For one, it is over 4,000 tonnes when loaded and has a crew of 450 people officers and men and is literally a floating township with aircrew for choppers. The INS Betwa is a Brahmaputra class guided missile frigate.

That is no little ketch.

Now she lies on her side, like a crumpled can in the naval dockyard in Mumbai.

They say she slipped from her dock blocks. Technically, that cannot happen unless there was a change in the centre of gravity, the blocks were loose or malfunctioning or what should be a normal operation was so botched up that a lot of somebodies did not do the calculations and were cavalier about it.

We have lost ships before. The INS Khukri went down in 1971, ostensibly victim to an aided attack from Pakistan. We have lost several ships including the INS Andaman because she was not seaworthy. In 2014, there were a spate of incidents when there were 11 separate incidents resulting in the loss of 22 lives, forcing the then naval chief Admiral DK Joshi to do the most honourable thing and resign by taking responsibility like a good sailor should. It set a precedent in grasping the nettle in the truest traditions of the navy.

Clearly, it was a sacrifice in vain. For such an accident to occur, short of some bizarre genie coming out of a bottle and casting an evil spell there is just no reasonable explanation for such an unprecedented collapse of a vessel this size in a dry dock. While the eggheads can do their maths and figure out exactly what caused the ship to topple over, there has to be a thorough investigation of the strength and maintenance of the dock itself and whether procedures were followed.

Elements like docking position, docking drafts, docking displacements, docking conditions and shipyard docking plans are all integral to such an undertaking. All these should be really routine.

Most accidents that occur in dry docks are slips and falls because of worker error, fires and loading accidents or equipment malfunction.

But to have a whole ship that size fall off is almost unheard of in these hi-tech times.

The most generous explanation that can be given is: This is embarrassing, it simply does not happen.

Even freak accidents would not account for such an occurrence.

Clearly, this was not a singular error. Just like with most aircraft accidents that defy the norm, the INS Betwa fell victim to a series of slip-ups and goof-ups, not just one. It is always one thing that leads to the next and then the domino principle kicks in and you have a frigate on its side with no way of lifting her up.

And worse, two deaths as a result of incredible negligence.

First Published On : Dec 7, 2016 10:14 IST

Jayalalithaa’s final journey: How Chennai bade Amma a worthy and graceful goodbye

The people of Tamil Nadu, especially those of Chennai, said goodbye to their leader, mentor and ‘amma’ with grace and dignity and profound restraint.

Putting paid to the fears that there would be rioting and violence and that high rollers of emotion would lead to clashes in the city, the public was mature, well behaved and allowed the ceremony to be conducted the way it should be in a state funeral.

The mortal remains of Tamil Nadu's former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa kept for public viewing at Rajaji Hall in Chennai on Tuesday. PTIThe mortal remains of Tamil Nadu's former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa kept for public viewing at Rajaji Hall in Chennai on Tuesday. PTI

The mortal remains of Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa kept for public viewing at Rajaji Hall in Chennai on Tuesday. PTI

So much for a nation that has learned a reputation for idolising its stars and political luminaries and celebs and placing them on vertical pedestals a mile high.

What they did was greet the cortege with grateful acknowledgment and, for the most part, an eerie and telling silence.

If there was any annoyance it was the endless natter of the TV channel anchors all of whom completely failed to understand and appreciate the power of silence and could have just been quiet instead of flinging clichés as the solemnity of the procession moved onwards. Less would have been so much more.

That the military took over the ceremonies added to the poignancy of the moment and the playing of the Last Post always brings a lump to the throat. As the sound of the bugles died away Marina Beach and the stretch that led to it projected its sorrow through the throng’s courtesy and respect, both of which were tangible, the sun went down on an era.

Even the entourages of the VIPs were unobtrusive and did not meddle with the proceedings.

This was the right way to say goodbye. Done in the same style that personified Jayalalithaa, it shows we have as a people come a long way.

There was no pushing and shoving and all the concerns that people would kill themselves and that the city would burn were so totally misplaced that nothing can detract from this 24-hour cycle of exemplary conduct.

As histrionics rendered place to immense planning done at the last moment and a huge exercise in logistics and security it has to be said that from the moment the Apollo hospital announced the demise of the chief minister the system rolled out the ‘red carpet’ in grief without a falter.

Those who were expecting chaos must have been sorely disappointed. From the arrangements at her home to the cortege and the procession to controlling crowds and making sure that law and order was maintained, the government of Tamil Nadu did their fallen soldier proud in her final journey.

But it was left to the common man who opted to show his affection through the two finger V for victory sign, some party slogans and a wave and a fare thee well or simply a head bowed in silence.

We have a habit of letting ourselves down and always finding fault.

There was no fault to find. If the world was watching it saw a people stand together and it saw a nation who knew its protocol and its class in adversity and walked tall as a leader was put to rest.

Being alumni of Loyola College in Chennai myself I feel a certain kinship today and this state, even as it mourned, made the nation stand up that much straighter.

Even Jayalalithaa would have smiled and thought that the lessons in the discipline have taken root.

First Published On : Dec 6, 2016 20:36 IST

Jayalalithaa’s health: Lowering AIADMK flag amid rumours hits a new low of absurdity

After spending close to two days warning people not to spread rumours, AIADMK’s efforts proved to be in vain as false information caught fire and flared through Chennai on Monday that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was no more. That the party lowered its flag at its headquarters to half mast seemed like total proof that the worst had happened. It seemed to signal an end to this Marx brothers tragic-comedy, which sparked violence in areas around the town as folks rushed to supermarkets and groceries to stock up on fruit, vegetables, milk and other staples, because a spectre of violence masquerading as grief was very much on the cards.

Why would anyone lower the party flag at such a time, essentially sending out a false signal?

It seems to be absolutely absurd and serves as another reminder of how dangerous social platforms are in this hi-tech age and how tracking perpetrators is almost impossible.

Visuals of women and men crying over rumours of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's death were repeated on a loop on TV news channels. PTI

Visuals of women and men crying over rumours of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s death were repeated on a loop on TV news channels. PTI

Visuals of women and men crying over rumours of Jayalalithaa’s death being repeated on a loop on TV news channels only added to the tension. It is almost like the cameras want to generate a certain level of stress and drama, while mouthing unctuous concern about the chief minister’s condition. There is, at times, a palpable whipping up of sentiment through a clever use of denial and caution, expressed every now and then, before launching another audio-visual sortie high on emotion.

The situation seems a bit hypocritical and even the arrival of Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu at the venue seems uncalled for. What does the I&B minister have to do with a medical emergency? And what exactly can the Centre not find out over the phone, forcing VIPs to make this trip to Tamil Nadu?

In case she does not make it, the state is going to be in turmoil. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) seems to be totally lost without their shepherd and has shown no mettle or presence, except for a statement made by expelled AIADMK MP Sasikala Pushpa. The personality politics has made everyone, regardless of their fancy designation, utterly irrelevant and incapable of keeping things under control.

One can only hope that the people themselves will display restraint. Burning buses, rioting and looting in the name of the person one presumes to love so much reaps no dividend. Why hurt yourself or others or bruise the city itself? Surely, if one has to emulate a beloved leader like Jayalalithaa, it makes more sense to emulate her values and not to go against them.

This constant repetition of ’emotion’ and ‘churn of feelings’ on TV channels is only doing a disservice. Here, one can recall a similar premature treatment by the media when a statement about Jayaprakash Narayan’s death was released and newspapers began to print obituaries, only to later realise that he was still alive. But with no instant news in the form of social media platforms back then, the story was quickly retracted and the matter subsided within minutes.

But that is not the way it works anymore. Now, it seems that the need to take advantage of even matters of life and death and of keeping people’s sentiments whipped up to a level where they can be catapulted into the realm of a future frenzied pitch immediately seems to be the singular priority.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 19:48 IST

Jayalalithaa’s health: It’s time AIADMK takes charge and gets the state back on track

If you truly love her, then do the right thing by her.

The world looking at Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa’s fight for life in Chennai’s Apollo Hospital may be bemused to see the mass hysteria.

It is very difficult to explain her pervading presence in the lives of the people of Tamil Nadu and the cult-like affection and adoration for her to people who cannot fathom the extent and depth of the vigil.

They talk of such mass hysteria when John F Kennedy was shot, when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and when Indira Gandhi was gunned down.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. File photo. PTI

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. File photo. PTI

Those were all victims of violence and hence the outpouring of grief to the tragedy.

In Jayalalithaa’s case, it is an ongoing medical situation and the quantum leap to the fear that things are not getting better is tragic in every sense of the word and only underscores the AIADMK leader’s overwhelming influence and the almost demigod like status bestowed upon her.

It is for this reason that in the 75 days that she has been unwell, even governance has taken a back seat and no one has dared to be a pretender to the throne. The Cabinet meetings were conducted with her photograph in front of her empty chair and even her closest confidante Sasikala wouldn’t dare to presume.

These circumstances have been compounded by the deafening silence from the state government about her health and the bulletins from the hospital. The cloak of secrecy has allowed for rumours, for speculation and uncertainty that goes against the democratic grain.

People have a right to know their elected leader’s state of health, especially one held in such esteem. The concept of secrecy and the hush hush veil that was thrown on the medical condition is something that can be questioned and should be questioned. For the whole state, Cabinet to be camped at the hospital is not a sign of loyalty. Loyalty would be better served if, for the past two months and more, they had gone about their tasks with more diligence.

Jayalalithaa is an icon of the people and earned this sobriquet over for decades of selfless service and caring for her people. It is a moot point if her frontline had maintained that nexus instead of leaving itself vulnerable to being indicted for dereliction of duty.

In these circumstances, the Centre seems to have acted decisively and the presence of enough police and paramilitary forces in position to ensure that no untoward incidents occur is commendable.

We can all hope that a fighter like her keeps the solitary reaper at bay and cheats him once again. But it will be a long road to recovery and the gap has to be bridged by lesser mortals maybe, but whether collectively or otherwise, the party has to grasp the nettle and should honour her by getting the state back on track.

That the Centre has ended its own 75-day distancing of the political impasse by dispatching the governor back to Chennai to oversee any fallout is indicative that it has finally taken cognisance of the situation.

One would imagine that a lady of grace and dignity and possessing a certain sense of elan and generosity would be appalled that people, especially her team, are simply not doing their job. By that token, she would not want her city or her state to be bruised or its populace intimidated by a wave of emotion.

Even as her supporters and strangers pray for her recovery, the time has come to find a replacement, rally round and bring an end to political instability.

This peculiar belief that Jayalalithaa would be annoyed that there was a surrogate in her place is so wrong. She would be proud that her chariot of fire is moving up and onwards.

First Published On : Dec 5, 2016 14:31 IST

Heart of Asia summit: Is there any good reason to accommodate Sartaj Aziz in Amritsar?

Why did Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz arrive in Amritsar fifteen hours before schedule and why was it allowed? It is not even an hour’s flight so there must have been good reason besides the obvious one of putting Indians on the backfoot as the bureaucrats adjusted the accommodate him. Make them scurry around.

That is the operative word. Accommodation.

The Hearts of Asia conference is about Afghanistan and while technically the Foreign Minister of Pakistan is a delegate, weren’t we supposed to get some sort of traction from the other side of the border by way of assurances that terrorism would have to terminate its relationship with state sponsorship. Suddenly we have their Foreign Minster pop in prematurely and that kind of puts paid to all the outrage over Pampore, Uri, Samba, the mutilation of our soldier in Maalchi and our absolute conviction that Pakistan’s authorities were integral to all these acts of unbridled horror.

It was JFK who said we should never negotiate out of fear but we should never fear to negotiate.

File image of Sartaj Aziz. ReutersFile image of Sartaj Aziz. Reuters

File image of Sartaj Aziz. Reuters

To that extent one concedes that every opportunity to try and end the 70 years of distrust should be grabbed and an attempt made to work out a truce. But that said, why is it always India that has to be the bigger person. There is a depressing sense of déjà vu about this meeting in Amritsar because in many ways we have closed the chapter on all the incidents that occurred on the border till 4 December, 2016. Today.

Once you shake hands and break bread that becomes the latest milestone on this arduous and exhausting Indo-Pak journey and everything else liquefies and turns into water under the bridge.

However unpleasant the current equation we have shifted today from boycotting Pakistan across the board to suddenly playing host, reluctant, but still host. It is no coincidence that the Pakistan Cricket Board uses this very day to announce how it will not cut off ties with India and now we are like the bad guys who aren’t being sporting and largehearted. They always manage to twist the scenario and produce this ‘reasonable, balanced’ rationale while we are saluting martyrs.

And this is where one balks at the idea of giving in without some guarantees. The moment the wheels of the Foreign Secretary’s plane touched down on Indian soil the initiative became his to run with.

Perhaps it would have been churlish to say come back later but someone in authority has to quantify what exactly India has gained from Pakistan before igniting talks if they are an a multi-lateral forum.

One just feels at such times that we take the blows on the chin and create a major wave of promised retaliation that kind of disappears like the morning fog. We will talk, Sartaj will mumble the same stuff about co-operation and mutual trust and TV talk shows will analyse the same old, same old and all those attacks and assaults on our bases and the litany of the dead will be consigned to the history books.

At least get something tangible out of him before he leaves.

First Published On : Dec 4, 2016 10:16 IST

National Anthem: Stand up in theaters or buy yourself a DVD and sit at home

If the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has ordered the playing of the National Anthem in a cinema hall, the skies have not fallen.

There are many orders we take in life that we do not necessarily agree with. In fact, just in a given day in office, we surrender space, compromise honesty, lie barefacedly and let down colleagues and the so-called value system we believe we have. All this done to get through the day and save our mangy little skins. Sycophantic yes men and women nodding like celluloid dolls because freedom and rights are very fine but the boss is in a bad mood so better buckle the knee and bow the head, don’t want to be on his bad side.

Representational image. GettyImagesRepresentational image. GettyImages

Representational image. GettyImages

Then we scream blue murder about our rights being infringed upon because we cannot give two minutes to a rhythmic sense of belonging.

People get holier than thou and pound their chests as if they were being consigned to hell and their integrity impugned. It becomes a national issue.

I might personally hold the opinion that it isn’t really necessary at cinema halls and does trivialise the anthem. Fine. You might think that it is pointless and even hypocritical. Others may feel even more strongly.

But once it is a fiat and is established as just that then I am not going to enter that cinema hall and insult my anthem.

I will stand.

I see no reason not to because if you object to this ‘imposition’ then find out the address of the Chief Justice’s office and go stand and protest there.

Make your feelings known outside the Supreme Court. Take your chances.

But do not target the anthem. Jana Gana Mana has nothing to do with the controversy and is mutually exclusive from your liking or rejecting the command.

Not to stand or to take it out on the anthem during the rendition is not a badge of valour or significant of some grand gesture of independence. You are not striking a blow for anyone, so get over your over inflated sense of self.

You pay taxes you don’t like. You may have been against the demonetisation process but you are lining up. There is a bundle of laws that make no sense. Like filling up forms at the airport when it is all computerised, but we fill it. Under the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911, not more than 20 people can get together. And the Indian Sarais Act, 1887 demands that if you fall ill in a hotel, the owner or management must clear the place of all vegetation to prevent allergy. The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 allows the government to take away your land without giving a reason at any time so go fight that, not be loutish when your National Anthem is on.

It is not as if we haven’t done it before. Indians were made to stand at attention for the Union Jack under police observation and carted off to jail if they moved till 1947 in cinema halls. Ask your grandfather.

We had it on in halls and theatres after the 1965 war for some years then it faded away.

If we can play it for a sport and cry ourselves a river of emotion well, this is just another performance on a screen.

So stand or buy yourself a DVD and sit at home.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 14:46 IST

Demonetisation: Is India on the verge of bringing back the barter system?

The banks have just informed us on this foggy cold Friday morning that the money has not been delivered and their next quota is only Monday. So we have the profound sum of Rs 4000 for the weekend and shall be dramatically Spartan.

All for the good cause, right? After all, some people don’t even have Rs 4,000. So be grateful.

And I am wondering how Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and Arvind Kejriwal are managing? Since I am older than all of them I can risk being familiar and asking them for an answer. Like who is paying for your petrol, Arvind? And the groceries? Have you paid the salaries for the domestic help? And how did Arun get his TV subscription renewed?

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

I am not made for this Paytm, e-commerce and cashless scene, and since I have to twist like a pretzel in RK Puram to get a signal on the mobile and the net is, at best, intermittent as a stutter, I am a bit chary about being cyber-hacked.

They cannot even filter porn pop-ups for innocuous feeds into search engines how are they going to get my money to the other guy? My fear is not that most of it won’t go through but when there is an error or a mistake or a glitch then who do I go to for redress?

Unless there is a system in real time and state of the art that allows corrections to be made and errors to be rectified, I flinch at placing all my details in a public forum.

I don’t know if I am a minority or a silent majority just too exhausted to say, ‘look, we have no idea how it works and we don’t care how many ads you place on TV with the common man looking at the camera with wonderment like he just got the cheese because he has awakened to the excitements of cashless society and we don’t even have Arnab Goswami to tell the government the nation wants to know what buttons to press’, the fact is that Ladbrokes would give to 10 to 1 odds that 90 percent of us are inept.

Inadequate. Incapable.

The other 10 percent can laugh at us as much as they want but unless there is a conviction that we will get some safety shoulders on the information highway and there will be police patrols, I for one am not going to be convinced.

So I am sharing these thoughts with my uncle who is a Mahavir Chakra winner and he tells me we are going back to the old days when we were kids in Chakwal (now in Pakistan) and had a barter system. Our chacha would say ‘aaj ‘kukra’ khana hai’ (let’s have chicken), and a deal would be made whereby the chicken farmer would send a good, healthy chicken for five seers or atta and that’s it.

And the whole village worked on give and take. You want sugarcane, fine, send your mustard. Someone short on rice? Give us a goat.

Another couple of weeks of bankers telling people to buzz off and we should be facing much the same situation as we shift gradually but firmly into barter and begin exchanges.

Come to think of this, not much different from the geeks on their little magic machines celebrating their successful initiatives of transaction on small screens.

Maybe even better… you can see each other as you hand over the goat… because someone is taking ours.

First Published On : Dec 2, 2016 14:00 IST

Nagrota Attack: Army should hit terrorists harder and not celebrate prematurely

Despite what happened in Jammu’s Nagrota, the question is not just about lapse of security. Nothing is secure against a human bomb or a man whose mental brainwashing is so intense he is ready to die with his enemy and seek honour in it. Every time this sort of assault occurs, we fall about in trembling little heaps moaning about the breaches and how is it that the military camps cannot see these attacks coming?

That is like saying the revelers in Nice, France should have figured out that the truck driver, who went berserk, was going to mow them down and have a blast doing it.

The only minor defence uplift can be in creating a cordon sanitaire, around a camp, in that the 200-metres around the base is sterile and devoid of any cover or natural growth. Several major installations are just made a bit safer by being turned into islands so that any approach by an adversary allows for time to for reaction. Even then it is not perfect because a vehicle could navigate that distance in mere seconds.

Indian military security is touted as one of the largest in the world and the ability to actually stop the killers and bring them down rather than allow them to ‘shoot and scoot’ is in itself indicative of a major capability. Let’s back up a bit. The surgical strikes, conducted by the Indian Army in September after the Uri attack, were in isolation and we were so busy congratulating ourselves and making political capital out of this one day destruction of launch pads that we took the foot off the accelerator and eased the pressure on the terrorists. They were able to regroup and move on. And get back into business.

Security personnel take positions during a gun battle with suspected militants at Army camp at Nagrota near Jammu on Tuesday. PTI

Security personnel take positions during a gun battle with suspected militants at Army camp at Nagrota near Jammu on Tuesday. PTI

We should have, and probably do have, the intel to indicate more camps and training bases and arsenals and launch pads and we should have identified these locations and continued striking. There cannot just have been seven launch pads. Since India was not targeting Pakistani armed forces but the common enemy of mankind it would have made it very difficult for Islamabad to read these initiatives as acts of war.

After all, Pakistan officially wishes to wage battle against terror groups that target it. So India is only offering a helping hand. They would have made squealing noises but not raised the ante to an all out confrontation.

The complicity between Pakistan forces and terror groups and what we see as an glaring overlap is technically valid but since again Pakistan denies this support, the Indian strategy should be to use Pakistan’s selective stance over terrorism to advantage.

Elect to circle those suspected sites and continue to hit them. Activate your eye in the sky. Avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage but use the right to defend your own territory band your own people by eliminating the threat at the gate.

Whether we wish to ignore the fact or critique those who bring it up those seven strikes were misinterpreted as a major blow to the enemy which they were not. Set to music we danced away the opportunity to see the first seven as the start of an ongoing operation.

Nagrota has given us another opportunity to recognise the existence of more launch pads leading to larger training camps and bases and even extremist headquarters.
No lying back on laurels and making assumptions of intimidating the enemy that are dangerously naïve.

Nagorta, Uri, Poonch, Pampore, there will be more.

Unless we wake up to the reality that penetration has to be deeper and more decisive without the bunting and the backslapping.

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 13:43 IST

Demonetisation: If banks don’t have money, what’s the point?

Banks without money are redundant. In Delhi these past 48 hours have been a telling experience. We are an incredible people that despite the fiscal architecture being compelled to collapse like a condemned building, life goes on with very little change. The cab driver is stoic. The traffic is no less than it was in October, somehow, the social fabric is holding on.

A fellow passenger coming in from the US is carrying a few thousand one dollar bills. Says, it helps him avoid hassles and queues and everyone takes dollars as tips and payments and he will pay his hotel bill by card and he doesn’t need a single rupee in the capital of the country.

I tell him it is illegal to give people foreign exchange. He laughs at me. He has brought in below the legal limit and he will take back the rest. And no one rejects his bills.

Imagine if you will, thousands of NRIs swarming in to India with one dollar bills…we could be like Zimbabwe, kill the local currency and use dollars. I jest but the kernel of possibility is a thought.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

I go to the bank and I am told the money for the day has not arrived. It finally does and is greeted with cheers like one of those UN Relief convoys. This is a decent branch where they are not rude — they just cannot give you Rs 24000 because they divvy up the Rs 10 lakhs allotted to them for the day into maximums of Rs 10,000. This is a fortunate bank. Many others have got zilch.

Ironically, the right hand man of a BJP politician tries to cash his cheque and then moans about the limit and the bank manager tells him it is his Sarkar and there is nothing she can do. Good for her.

The crisis thickens as people complain they cannot pay their staff and that new cheque books will take ten days to get delivered.

One man has lost his father and has to feed the ‘baradri’ for three days. He is seeking loans from neighbours. History is kicking in. The collective spirit of helping each other and giving and taking to put it simply is what is keeping this nation’s morale at least at half-mast. Everyone is giving him a little…that is our magic potion Getafix.

Yes, indeed, the patience is impressive. There is still this over-riding belief that something magical will happen and this sacrifice will not be in vain.There has to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or moral rectitude. The rich have been unseated and poor will inherit the earth. This sentiment permeates the average man who firmly believes that the comeuppance of the wealthy is a wonderful thing.

Then why are the wealthy not unhappy. I know of people whose lifestyle stank of ill-gotten gains. Over seventy years of half open desk drawers and shady premium payoffs surely there have been several thousand colossal ‘victims’ of this cleaning up. None of them seem perturbed. Hasn’t anyone lost a fortune, aren’t there folks out there who had cupboards full of now pointless high denomination notes who should be in agony and writhing on the floor. Nto one of the few you would suspect had illegal hoards is batting an eyelid.

Either they are damn fine actors or they know something I don’t.

First Published On : Dec 1, 2016 13:33 IST

Avenge beheading of Indian soldier by hitting Pakistan where it hurts: The pocket

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand sparked the First World War. I am not saying we start the First World War, but the beheading of an Indian soldier in the Machil sector of Jammu and Kashmir with the complicity of the Pakistani-backed Border Action team (read terrorists) cannot be simply bypassed as ‘one of those things’.

The Geneva Convention forbids such acts of cowardly violence against prisoners of war or against those in uniform.

So, we must show that it is not acceptable. In a strong and tangible manner.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Do not rush to the home of the next of kin, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. No one needs that sort of nonsense. Get serious.

Do not make pious laden speeches, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar. Make promises you can keep. Don’t sell Indians dross.

Do not simply make a flurry of noise, all the Opposition parties. This calls for a total sense of togetherness beyond party lines, not scoring brownie points.

A beheading is a deliberate and horrific act against the human body and in that, the soldier was the symbol of the nation. They went for India.

Can this vilification go unanswered?

It is not enough to say that we condemn this sort of act. On the contrary, this soldier’s beheading is to be seen as an act of hostility in the extreme.

If the commander-in-chief of the Northern Command has gone on record that there is concrete evidence that Pakistani forces were involved in this grisly act one has to accept it as prima facie evidence.

What is unbelievable is that the code of honour which exists between men and uniform was so easily ignored and that if proven beyond a shadow of doubt Pakistani soldiers allowed this dastardly act to take place in their presence, it is a matter of profound shame. Not just to the individual but to the honour of his regiment or battalion and its history.

For us, in India, it is a time to wake up from this absurd slumber that Pakistan wants to extend a hand of friendship.

Get over this dream. They do not.

Let’s get this straight. They will provoke us at every opportunity. And they really do not care about a couple of surgical strikes which now have blunted their edge because there was no follow up.

It cannot be assumed that these were the only seven or eight launch pads… that is naïve and the fact that after the first assault we were too busy patting ourselves and letting the rope loose till that much vaunted surgical strike has become passé.

The cruel fact is that we do not grasp the nettle and see Pakistan for what it is. Not unless we hurt it in the pocket and send out a loud and clear message that it cannot be assumed there will be no retribution for this death so wait for it. Will we stop returning to the backfoot?

By the same token let’s stop depending on the United States and Britain for support. They will never back us against Pakistan.

Even Donald Trump will do nothing once he is swallowed by the system and like a stallion, tamed by the Hill.

For one day, our prime minister must put aside our relatively trivial travails over the demonetised currencies and speak out against Islamabad and this atrocity. In terms that have no ambiguity and are bound by time limits.

We have to act like this neighbour does not exist for us.

Do we have the moxie to do this?

First Published On : Nov 29, 2016 08:21 IST

Note ban: Having surrogates in the queues is superb Indian ingenuity

BookMyChotu is the quintessential example of Indian ingenuity. The same ingenuity that has the underground working on how to leap over the firewalls built as part of the assault on black money.

First off, anyone who gets insulted by the word ‘chotu’ is being silly. It is not demeaning and just about every family has one person called ‘chotu.’ It is just an expression of affection and there is nothing rude or nasty about it. To object to its use in the website offering you replacements on the grounds of this word is absurd. I am only sorry I didn’t think of something like this… it is a money spinner.

A file image of people queuing in the line outside ATM. ReutersA file image of people queuing in the line outside ATM. Reuters

A file image of people queuing in the line outside ATM. Reuters

It just means youngster and it is fair to say that most of the people who can surrogate you in the queues at banks and ATMs are young people. You will not see octogenarians opting for the job of standing in the cold.

Some suggestions have been made that the portal is illegal and the offer should be stopped because it is dealing with proxies in money matters and has to be banned and it underscores laziness.

How is it any lazier than online shopping… it simply takes the hassle out of things.

As for being illegal,why? Where is it written that you cannot stand in for another and wait the several hours on payment and then call the actual bank account holder as you approach the teller.

Not only is a very good way of percolating money from the well off to the relatively poor but it increases efficiency.

Young people without jobs are waiting anyway. Waiting for a call to a flurry of CVs, that like Father Mckenzie’s sermon never get heard or read, waiting for someone to mend the broken promises that litter their winding road of unemployment, just waiting because waiting is the core of hope.

So, if someone is paying them to wait, it is a kind of a job and at least they are getting a wage to shuffle along.

If I had no job and the postman never knocked and I was just standing at a street corner doing nothing and feeling the world was a conspiracy and someone came along and said, I will give you Rs 100 per hour to stand in the queue and call me when you are about to get to the teller, I’d load up my phone with music take a cold drink and a bite to eat and join that queue so fast it would make your head spin.

And this is so organised. Those who cannot spend hours in line are now productive. Those who were doing nothing are at least making money.

And if indeed, the customer does not come on time the honour system kicks in and you allow the person behind you to get his money and you keep saying ‘pass’ till your man arrives.

The people who thought this up are entrepreneurs in the extreme. Imagine, in all the noise and confusion and the heat and dust they sat around a table and said, hmmmmm, why don’t we offer a service and make money.

Because that is all it is… a service and a convenience and a heck of a good way to make everyone happy.

If you can get your pizza delivered why not this?

First Published On : Nov 26, 2016 12:16 IST

Note ban: It’s a lonely miserable life for the unloved Rs 2,000

I am a newly born Rs 2,000 note and I feel as rejected as one of those potential brides on display. You know, when the other side ticks the boxes after having met you and checked you over and then goes home and sends a message saying, oops, nii..ii.ce but sorry, something is lacking.



Something to do with my colour so there is clearly racial prejudice involved. I just don’t look like real money, more like I was sort of toy money in one of those shelves with “Age 6 and above” written on me. Of all the colours in the world who pointed to this garish, gaudy option and said, aaha, perfect complexion for this note, let’s go on for a bit. Hardly fair and handsome.

Spawned in a crucible of confusion and conceived more by mistake than intent I have realised that I am an unloved offspring and no one chucks me under the chin or ruffles my hair or shows me off.

I don’t think people hate me, they just don’t like me. I don’t spark affection, more like one of those babies on a plane crying through the flight. Nuisance value.

I am now noticing people shy away from me.

I am at the bank waiting to be part of some human’s life, to be cared and loved, a kind of financial orphan eager to be adopted and given a snug and cozy home in a wallet.

Along comes a young man with a cheque in his hand and I sort of mentally pack my bags and begin to say my goodbyes to my siblings when the teller bypasses me and gives the man Rs 1,900, not Rs 2,000, only Rs 1,900.

I feel desolate but still a bit hopeful when this old lady comes in and hands over her cheque and it is for Rs 1,900 again.

The teller asks he if she wants more and she says, not now I’ll come with another cheque for Rs 1,900 tomorrow and then again on Monday until she has pulled out her pension and yes, she also wants a fresh cheque book.

At this point, a retired General walks in and gives a cheque for Rs 1,950 and the teller says, General sahib why don’t you make it a round two thousand and I get this little flutter of hope.

The General says, “No,no,no, this is enough, I have to pay the laundry and he won’t accept that note. No one accepts this note.”

By now not only am I growing older by the minute but I am losing all hope when this newly-wed couple comes into the bank all lovey-dovey and they fork out these two cheques for… goodness Rs 1,900 each and I could cry, the tears are forming in my eyes. The teller is also weeping because he has run out of hundred rupee notes and he turns to the young couple and says, tell you what I’ll put in a hundred each from my side and you take a two thousand rupee note each, agree.

They don’t agree. They laugh that scornful laugh that young people laugh when they are in love and are beating the system and they leave me there stranded.

What’s going on? Do you know what will happen if all the bank customers trot in with Rs 1,900 cheques…this whole exercise will backfire.

Someone better find me a better ‘half’ pretty damn soon so we can beget little ones quarter my age or else I am going to be a bitter old bachelor, unwanted and sitting on the shelf.

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 16:54 IST

Note ban: When pizzas can get delivered, what’s wrong in having surrogates in queues

Bookmychotu is the quintessential example of Indian ingenuity. The same ingenuity that has the underground working on how to leap over the firewalls built as part of the assault on black money.

Surrogacy in the queue. PTISurrogacy in the queue. PTI

Surrogacy in the queue. PTI

First off, anyone who gets insulted by the word ‘chotu’ is being silly. It is not demeaning and just about every family has one person called ‘chotu’. It is just an expression of affection and there is nothing rude or nasty about it. To object to its use in the website offering you replacements on the grounds of this word is absurd. I am only sorry I didn’t think of something like this… it is a money spinner.

It just means youngster and it is fair to say that most of the people who can surrogate you in the queues at banks and ATMs are young people. You will not see octogenarians opting for the job of standing in the cold.

Some suggestions have been made that the portal is illegal and the offer should be stopped because it is dealing with proxies in money matters and has to be banned and it underscores laziness.

How is it any lazier than online shopping…it simply takes the hassle out of things.

As for being illegal, why? Where is it written that you cannot stand in for another and wait the several hours on payment and then call the actual bank account holder as you approach the teller?

Not only is a very good way of percolating money from the well off to the relatively poor but it increases efficiency.

Young people without jobs are waiting anyway. Waiting for a call to a flurry of CVs, that like Father Mckenzie’s sermon never get heard or read, waiting for someone to mend the broken promises that litter their winding road of unemployment, just waiting because waiting is the core of hope.

So, if someone is paying them to wait, it is a kind of a job and at least they are getting a wage to shuffle along.

If I had no job and the postman never knocked and I was just standing at a street corner doing nothing and feeling the world was a conspiracy and someone came along and said, I will give you Rs 100 per hour to stand in the queue and call me when you are about to get to the teller, I’d load up my phone with music take a cold drink and a bite to eat and join that queue so fast it would make your head spin.

And this is so organised. Those who cannot spend hours in line are now productive. Those who were doing nothing are at least making money.

And if indeed the customer does not come on time the honour system kicks in and you allow the person behind you to get his money and you keep saying ‘pass’ till your man arrives.

The people who thought this up are entrepreneurs in the extreme., Imagine, in all the noise and confusion and the heat and dust they sat around a table and said, “Hmm…, why don’t we offer a service and make money?”

Because that is all it is… a service and a convenience and a heck of a good way to make everyone happy.

If you can get your pizza delivered why not this?

First Published On : Nov 25, 2016 15:22 IST

Did Parrikar do the navy justice by wearing a pair of sandals while commissioning INS Chennai?

Is it really that difficult to understand that a dress code carries a certain sanctity with it? In the armed forces, how you dress makes a major difference. Each uniform has a role and is worn with a certain unquestionable elan. It has a meaning, a certain sartorial arrogance that is necessary for morale.

But it seems that Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar was not aware of this when he showed up to commission INS Chennai, an indigenously designed guided missile destroyer, in Mumbai on Monday. Photographs doing the rounds on social media highlighted his casual attire, saying that he was dressed in a ‘sloppy, slovenly rude manner.’

Defence Minster Manohar Parrikar and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba with other officers during the commissioning ceremony of INS Chennai in Mumbai on Monday. PTIDefence Minster Manohar Parrikar and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba with other officers during the commissioning ceremony of INS Chennai in Mumbai on Monday. PTI

Defence Minster Manohar Parrikar and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba with other officers during the commissioning ceremony of INS Chennai in Mumbai on Monday. PTI

Imagine, you go to commission a destroyer and end up ‘destroying’ the ambience of the occasion. There you have a group of Admirals including the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba, and a retired officer of high rank dressed to the hilt for a ceremony that ranks as one of the most vital in the Indian Navy’s history. In the same picture, we have Parrikar, dressed casually in chappals (slippers) as if out for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

What sort of a person goes on board a naval ship as the senior most VIP wearing chappals, with an untucked shirt hanging out of his trousers? Had he been dressed ethnically, one could have probably accepted the open-toed footwear; but sadly, that was not the case either.

When you go to a glittering ceremony where sailors are all lined up in their glorious best, proud to wear ‘INS Chennai’ on their caps and are cheering the commissioning of their floating arsenal and home, damn it man!, the least you can do is honour them for their brief, shining moment in the sun. Crisp marching, the sound of music and a chief guest in slippers!

Even the ladies invited on board were advised not to wear high heels or chappals.

This is not a grotesque version of the ‘see what a straightforward guy I am’ approach. It is actually an insult of the armed forces as Parrikar was conducting the ceremony to induct the third guided missile destroyer in the Kolkata class.

Didn’t anyone tell him about ethics, a code, a certain courtesy that you display to the officers who are honouring you. How can you not dress properly…or adequately.

This is not the first time he is doing it either. We have seen photos of him taking a guard of honour as if he was strolling down Miramar beach in Goa.

The point is that it is a big deal, it is really important and you are duty bound by the numerous perks and privileges you get as the defence minister – if nothing else – to rise to the occasion with grace and dignity.

Yes, there are those who will say, so what, it’s okay, there are bigger things in life. But disrespecting the armed forces cannot simply be ignored because we equate it with being spartan and spiritually ascetic.

You are shabby sir and it is not done. And it is not as if your prime minister is setting the low standard. On the contrary, Narendra Modi has become sartorially elegant and raised the bar ever since he assumed office. Suggest you do the same and follow your chief’s example before your ship sails away.

Until then, do not be derisive of our armed forces and their traditions.

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 19:05 IST

Demonetisation: To hell with cashless society, who’s going to pay the bai on 1 December?

This might antagonise the geniuses out there who find it simple to resolve their financial quandaries, I am tired of all the reports about the money being fed into banks and the money that has been recovered. Instead of all these zeroes being flung like snowballs, I need to know plain, basic things that many of us foolish ones need to juggle with to keep things going.

These numbers are too cosmic for me and have no relevance whatsoever to my daily life.

Some of the questions that beg answers and also receive a fair amount of ridicule if you ask them are actually quite relevant when you have to pay your bills. The smart people you know (all smarter than you) treat you with scorn because they think you have a two-digit financial IQ and they have all the answers.

How will you pay the salaries of your staff next week? Especially domestic staff, part-timers, and the group of people you are responsible for if you run a tiny company and have a payroll of six or seven. All of which was always cash.

Go ahead, transfer it their accounts, easy peasy, don’t be so dense.

Maybe your banker is one sweetheart of a person but have you tried getting through the queue and asking a banker to make the transfer while eleven other people are screaming themselves hoarse.

Then asking him to make another one and then another one and then another one. Smack. Have you even tried to locate the forms to fill for such a slew of transfers? And do you know how many people do not want a transfer into their accounts.

You think the part-time cleaning lady wants a cheque? Go ask her, see what she says.

People pay their monthly rent for housing by cash, contrary to the current happy little myth that all of India is tech savvy and on the fast track to a cashless society. For sheer tommyrot this one is hard to beat.

Just because you and a couple of well off buddies are into these new fiscal buzzwords does not indicate a sea-change. E-cash, cashless wallets, e-commerce, digital economy, online purchasing, yes sure, awesome, but the bai wants her thousand bucks in hundred rupee notes mate and she is knocking on the door. And the dhobi says we are behind in our payments.

That is life. Not these esoteric numbers and labels. The landlords probably do not ever show the true rental on their taxes. So what if they insist on the payment to be done in cash because suddenly where did this ‘income’ come from, Oh! rent on the house but you were showing much less all these years?

Okay, let’s say they agree to take a cheque. At the best of times getting a fresh cheque book is like climbing Mt Everest without oxygen. It takes days unless, of course you have a banker who is a teddy bear and darling and all my advisors clearly know people like him so they can sneer at my ineptitude. But I do not so I have to indent for one and wait.

How many cheques are we going to dish out?

Tried giving a Rs 2000 note to a shop to purchase cough syrup and somebody has very successfully managed to poison the mind over the ‘suspicious’ genesis of the Rs 2000 note and a whole surgical examination is done by putting it to the light and rubbing it and showing it to two other assistants then nodding sadly and returning it. There is a marked antipathy to the note and most folks do not want it.

If I take out Rs 24000 which I am told is the maximum and pay cash for the nursing staff we have, medicines, the cook and the laundry, electricity, water, the TV connection, the society conservancy and the running account with the grocery and the rental assuming that they do take a cheque we will be swimming in the red on the first of the month.

How do we then pay for milk, vegetables, medicines, in city travel, repairs, maintenance, and the string of ‘little’ expenses that all mount up like paying the newspaper vendor.

Think of it, every doctor I have met in a clinic takes cash. Will he accept my cheque or my Rs 2000 note. How I envy all the people in the cashless society who are so above these silly problems.

First Published On : Nov 22, 2016 15:45 IST

Demonetisation: Government must be vigilant over ‘first of the month’ pressures

It was very moving to hear BJP representative Sambit Patra give his word on behalf of his party that every single drop (sic) of the black money unearthed and sent to banks would be used for the upliftment of the poor.

All Rs 600,000 crores of it and counting.

He scoffed at the idea that it was money that would cover the losses suffered by the banks in their massive and ‘lost’ loans to corporations in what is now known as the Vijay Mallya syndrome.

I don’t know how this is going to happen and have no clue what the road map is or who will mount surveillance on the upliftment of the poor, but the patience shown by the people does indicate not just an ongoing strength of the national moral fibre but a probably ill expressed but core belief that the Modi initiative is worth believing in.

That something about the attack on the black money brigade is right, good, got to be done.

Representational image. Image courtesy: AFPRepresentational image. Image courtesy: AFP

Representational image. Image courtesy: AFP

Sure, as an exercise it has been flawed with fragments of clumsiness and absurdity, not to mention the shortsightedness reflected in the ATM fiasco make great grounds for accusations against the prime minister and his cohort. Indeed, there is little doubt it could have been better planned and executed — in hindsight, we are all so much cleverer and knowledgeable of how it should have been done. But the shrapnel that we nitpick over does not entirely betray the honesty of the intent.

Yes, every time a new angle rises up the Opposition picks it up and tries to fan the flames but it must say something for the public attitude of forbearance and patience that the flames have not caught. It has kept the faith.

Anti-BJP forces would like to generate rage and turn it into rioting and place the government on the backfoot as the discomfort turns into violence. With Day 50 still a murky distance away, the Opposition can still fondly believe that this patience in the people will wear off and they are probably hoping that financial logjams in the dawning of the new month could ignite the spark.

Delayed salaries, default on EMIs, fines on non-payment of loans and credit cards, a sudden surge for money to kick-start the month and a shortage of cash — all these elements are kindle that is dry and can cause a spike in anger.

But the odds are that despite the efforts to derail the Narendra Modi doctrine of ‘let’s do it’ the line will hold. Somewhere, in some fashion Indians have felt a spasm of sincerity from New Delhi and are prepared to make it their war, too.

He has struck a chord, one that says enough is enough and with every passing day the feeling that things are getting better intensifies.

Within ten days to go for the ‘first of the month’ pressures to build it would make sense for the authorities to be a little more vigilant. After all if it is everyone’s war then EMIs can be delayed without a fine by federal fiat, a fifteen day freeze by property dealers, car and motorcycle salespeople and especially banks and their loans and their credit card bouquet of charges even if there is a one day delay in payment. Rents can be put on hold, credit can be extended and a sense of community can prevail.

Why should anyone be exempt? These institutions are as Indian and should also do their bit, be it the bans, business enterprises or brokers in the property business. There will be so much relief for people at various levels if they get this sort of a breather even as more money is funneled into the public coffers and the queues reduce.

Don’t mess up the month end priorities and give the matchstick a chance to flare.

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 13:51 IST

Demonetisation: Dear Rs 100 note, please accept our apologies for taking you for granted

Dear honoured, esteemed, revered hundred rupee note sirji,

I have to say I am ashamed of the way we have treated you in the recent past. The way we have badmouthed you and sat around discussing how you were incapable of getting us anything worthwhile.

Tossed you into a dark and dingy corner of our minds with none to do you reverence. Ha! A hundred rupee note, what a cruel joke, how far does it go, not even worth peanuts.

Sorry for taking you for granted.Sorry for taking you for granted.

Sorry for taking you for granted.

We scoffed you for sure and you waited your turn. I always had a sneaky feeling you would make a comeback from the glorious days of the seventies and eighties and we could see a movie in ‘dress circle’ for Rs 4.40 and buy coffee at the Taj for Rs 10 and a whole family could live off you for a week in comparative luxury. A tin of pure ghee was Rs 6 and four of us could have Chinese dinner for one of you with tip included.

We joined the Times as journalists in 1969 on five of you a month and we lived damn well and three of you could fly us from Mumbai to Delhi. And a bottle of rum cost Rs 8. Ho! ho! ho!

I am not pumping sunshine (of course I am), but I always felt that after you had faded into oblivion and counted for nothing but chump change that you would make a comeback and what a comeback it has been.

Not even in your heydays have you been so coveted and so much in demand today what with everyone chasing you and wanting you to fetch up in their lives.

It must be a wonderful feeling and I am so happy for you.

Just to have you in our pockets is such a warm, fuzzy sensation.

Please do not see this as sucking up to you (which it blatantly is but I cannot admit it) but I have always been one of your well-wishers and I still give my sister only Rs 100 on Rakhi (in your honour, not because I am downright stingy) and you are always welcome to bring all your siblings and stay with us. Come in your thousands and we will find room for you.

In fact, so moved am I by your resurrection that I wish to publicly extend to you my humble apologies for the past misconduct and for treating you badly. It was entirely shortsighted and all I can say is may there be more and more of you — ‘phoolo jeeyo’ with abandon.

India needs you (I need you) and woe to those who were nasty about you and disrespected you. I have always been a fan and a supporter as you can see by the fact that I was always placed one of you in the donation box at the mandir as a sign of my respect for your glorious history.

Even as I conceal my transparent servility and abject, craven sycophancy beneath a cloak of goodwill, all I want to say is that you are worth more than your bigger brothers and I’d rather have twenty of you than one of them.

Once again, please accept my regret for the many times that I foolishly took you for granted and I confess that when in 2012 I lost one of you I did not mean to say ‘no big deal’ that was just a turn of phrase and if you come to our house in Delhi today we have made a garland out of you and greet you each morning with folded hands.

Please do not desert us in this time of need.

First Published On : Nov 20, 2016 14:01 IST

Demonetisation exercise becoming fractured? Too many theories, no clarity

Every time I feel I want to hug the Prime Minister for lugging $30 billion into the treasury in the first fourteen days of his turning big money into ruddi (garbage), someone rains on my parade.

I was sitting next to an economist on a plane, and he said that the Rs 2,000 note expedites the new black money surge by cutting the time to replenish it by half. By sheer volume, goes his argument, it will amass that much faster so what we should have done was bring out the Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes in the same size and different colour.

Look at the people in the queues, he said, they are not millionaires there, just staff being ordered to stand in line divvying up the spoils of the wealthy.

Money exchange companies are not giving out foreign exchange remittances, they are sitting on the money.

The Rs 2,000 note doesn’t work (because the colour runs) and no one is taking it at the common person’s level because no one has suitable change. Then he bites into a biscuit and says this whole thing has been done to infuse saline into ailing banks and raise their liquidity.

All this money they are putting into the banks will now be given as loans to the creamy rich so that the fiscal enslavement of the common man is guaranteed for another generation. The top ten loan takers have taken more than what’s come in and they are not standing in line.

People queuing up outside ATM in New Delhi. PTI

People queuing up outside ATM in New Delhi. PTI

That’s the beauty of it, he says, the people are grateful and they are running around like mice with their tails cut shoving money into the bank and getting nothing for it. But they don’t realise they are the targets, the next step will be very easy loans even for them on very harsh interest rates. Trap, trap, entrap, are you with me?

Am I? Are we? Everyone is making sense of some sort and every theory is bed-rocked in a kind of twisted logic and what has happened is most of us are so thoroughly confused we have lost track of what is good, bad or ugly.

I try to defend it all by saying the world has acknowledged it as the feat of a maestro, a stroke of genius.

He nods wisely. Why wouldn’t they, he smiles wryly like he is talking to a money moron (which he is) you think the US, Russia and China want us to be a superpower? No way. If this was such a stroke of genius they would have criticized it, they will praise it to the skies, it is a fiscal oligarchy, we will stay poor as a nation and finally point 5 percent of Indians will own 95 percent of the economy.

Tell me, he says, which western media organ praises India unless they wish to push us into the abyss?

He is now on a roll. Says, people are being hired to open accounts under Rs 2.5 lakhs, many of them are ignorant, illiterate, sent by dispatch, but they will feed the banks their master’s money through proxy because legally there is no stereotype, no line in the sand, you cannot be stopped because that would be racist and casteist and against our Constitution. The poorest of the poor can have a bank balance of that sum and it all adds up.

You could hire a whole village, truck in people from the slums, so much saved. As for the ATMs don’t be naïve, no government is so foolish they did not think of recalibrating the mahcines for a change in the size, it is part of the plan, don’t you see, you cannot withdraw from the machines so it is all controlled. You could take out Rs 25,000 a day now it is gone, more money to stack up the bank coffers.
But you cannot deny that people have thrown sacks of money into rubbish bins, I said, holding my valiant own.

He laughs the laugh of the learned and said, that is all the counterfeit stuff, who would throw away their notes regardless of how much they have, show me anyone who has flung even one note into the garbage, it is against human nature.

As we go into descent he says, the bankers are falling over with glee imagine nearly every Indian with lakhs in his account, no tax, just fields of green, lush clover to give to the big boys for loans they never return, it is the game of the century.

Yes, but we have sucker punched the gangs, the racketeers, blocked funding to terrorists, stopped hawala and hundi, come on, the underground mafia is in upheaval.

He agrees and then spoils it all by saying, by 30 December they will have made their arrangements.

We part with a sigh of regret from my side but I truly don’t get it. It has become so that you don’t know who to believe or which theory to run with. The moment I convince myself that the right thing has been done for the right reason and I feel that a warm embrace is warranted someone sends a message or writes an email or prints an indepth article dissing the whole thing.

The latest is that brokers have stepped in and become middlemen…just received one of those pass on messages. You have to pay them to jump the queue and they are taking Rs 1,000 notes. Another friend writes and says he ‘bought’ five Rs 100 denomination notes for Rs 600 using a Rs 500 note.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change the more they stay the same.

First Published On : Nov 18, 2016 21:11 IST

Demonetisation: Calm amidst serpentine ATM queues shows India’s resilience

I have no problem with prime minister’s choking up with emotion. See it as a sign of strength, not weakness.

It’s okay. Just not too often or else it becomes theatrical. Jawaharlal Nehru cried when Lata Mangeshkar sang, “Aye mere watan ke logo”. Lal Bahadur Shastri not only wept when he had to sign Tashkent Pact, he died of a broken heart. Even Chief Justice TS Thakur broke down over the stress the judiciary was under.

Here is a man who has put all his a notes in one basket. He can get choked up. He can feel the pain.

I also think we could take a step back from the flawed implementation of the current fiscal exercise, the rights and wrongs of it, and talk about the public and their conduct.

People queued outside an ATM. PTIPeople queued outside an ATM. PTI

People queued outside an ATM. PTI

We are a nation of good people. We are having a tough time, we are yelling a bit but, by and large, the line is holding. There is very little violence, not much looting in the greater sense and no mob frenzy.

That means we have a moral fiber, the so-called common man has enormous patience and maybe he can see the greater good fifty days ahead with more clarity than we give him credit for.

Even though there have been provocations, mostly unproven, about violence and death by despair linked to the wiping out of the Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes and an occasional scream for ‘vengeance’ and ‘outrage’, it hasn’t caught fire.

Good for the people.

I get a video of a lady leaping from the top of a building. No money and her wedding next week. Horrific but is it true. A baby dies in a hospital because they would not take a Rs 500 note. If that has happened, arrest the Dean. A farmer kills himself in Raigarh because he had no small notes to send to his two sons. Unverified.

Now almost every act of despair is linked to the demonetisation. But there is no spike in self-destruction. Indian are taking the punches, rolling with the blows, doing a heroic job of helping each other, walking together and showing the world what mettle they are made of, traits to celebrate.

We tend to let ourselves down very easily. At the very same time that we, the largest democracy in the world, loaded to the gills with poverty, unemployment, hunger, over-population and a hundred other warts are showing immense grace and patience and an almost historic fortitude, there is another democracy, far more advanced as a nation and seen as the leader of the free world that is engaged in rioting at this very moment.

And why? Because it does not like the outcome of a democratically held election done with total transparency.

Two democracies in action. One displaying a maturity that demands attention because it is so easy when there is no money in the pocket and the tinder is dry to light a match and let it go whoosh. And yet, despite the efforts of some professional political arsonists to ignite the keg, the people have not fallen for it.

On the other hand, a refusal to accept the constitutionally granted rights of the winner, an immaturity that compromises the dedication to fundamental rights as enshrined by their founding fathers and makes a mockery of the electoral process.

So even if we are suffering in relative silence and will continue to bear the hardships for a while longer let’s take heart in the starch in our spine and the calm we have shown under fire.

Imagine a nation of 1.2 billion hanging in there.

For once, Indians have conducted themselves in exemplary fashion and we should be proud of ourselves.

Perhaps because even the poorest, most illiterate are inwardly happy that the dirty money, hafta making, mobster-run parallel economy and the seeds of that poisoned tree are being crushed.

First Published On : Nov 15, 2016 08:13 IST

Narendra Modi in Goa: Will the PM’s chemo be enough to kill the cancer of corruption?

The crooked little man who lived in the crooked little house on a crooked little lane obviously lived in India.

The Great Modi Experiment, as history will record, was on track for becoming the finest hour in India’s search for fidelity and honesty and a new era. It might still be.

His speech in Panjim, Goa, this morning had the tone of a messiah and hit all the right buttons. He declared an open war on the venal and the corrupt and cancer in the system. After 70 years, give him due credit; a man stood up and said it like he meant it.

Narendra Modi PTINarendra Modi PTI

Narendra Modi PTI

But has the cancer reached the stage where even NaMo’s chemo cannot help?

The good intent has failed to factor in the power and the depth of Indian corruption and its tentacles. So widespread are the roots of this tree and overhanging are its branches that mere good intentions won’t let the sun through.

One example of this is enough to know that malignancy is still alive.

The very fact that a counterfeit Rs 2,000 note was in circulation and used to dupe an onion grower in Karnataka is indicative of how well-organised this sector is and in its monstrous hydra-headed avatar, the more heads you cut off the more swiftly new ones grow.

As a nation we are still willing to fight the good fight, but it is just that awful suspicion that some of the very people who are the ‘good guys’ have supremely overlap interests with the ‘bad guys’ and the ‘really bad guys’ and between hundi, hawala, satta, makta, deceit and deception and multi-functioning hierarchies in both private and public sectors (not to mention the political arena) that have made an art and science of corruption, I am beginning to doubt that the Modi government is going to win this war.

The Trojan Horse is within the gates and its troops will thwart the moves made by the authorities.

When the defenders of the faith are themselves party to the callous pact, can Modi’s strategies outflank these traitors in his midst.

How do you fight a political system that is the Fort Knox of corruption and built on black money and bribery?

Of course, we will have a few prisoners of war and pat ourselves on the back and fling impressive figures and what he said this morning will resonate and be thunderous in its ovation. In a perfect world it was a perfect speech.

You cannot criticise it even if you tried.

But will we say, hello, this is fine rhetoric so then why has the Punjab chief of the BJP not been asked why he had a photograph of the Rs 2,000 note in advance and who sent it to him. Ask him. Tell us.

Open up the investigation into the sale of those printing presses from Nasik with plates and dyes in tact. How did they get to Pakistan? Find out. Tell us.

When people can be happily interviewed and tell you they opened accounts for their domestic workers and divvy up what was in the cupboard, and social media is replete with helpful hints on how to beat the system, you wonder if the system is just shadow boxing and wants to be beaten.

Oh yes, Modi is absolutely on the right track and his juggernaut leaves tangible trails of righteousness. I am just afraid of his mechanics and the others in his legions who might set the chariot on fire. There are just too many of them deeply hurt not to conspire against this meddling chief.

Thing is, corruption has become a member of the family. We have espoused and accepted it. It is our lubricant and our weapon of choice and tolerated as chai paani until it has integrated into our DNA.

While we might cheer lustily, who amongst us can pick up the first stone? Cinema ticket in black? Bribe for a railway seat? Cutback to get a paper cleared? Paying for a gazetted officer’s signature. Using clout. Coughing up money to put traction on file movements. Lining a palm to jump the queue.

Jumping the queue… it’s our national sport.

First Published On : Nov 13, 2016 13:55 IST

ATM chaos: Who will foot the bill for recalibration, the banks, govt or the common man?

No one is in a critical frame of mind to offer Arvind Kejriwal ammunition to load up against Modi. At the outset, this brouhaha over some Punjab BJP party chief Sanjeev Kamboj WhatsApping a Rs 2,000 new note a couple of days before the surgical strike requires very little investigation.

He says it was a “sharing” of a picture gone viral, days prior to his passing it on. I have tried to track it but haven’t managed to find the original. Surely, Kamboj should be brought into custody and asked who sent it to him and it should be traced right back to the first guy and all them must be questioned for political affiliation. So then we know if key BJP members were forewarned and if old Arvind has a point. We also know who all were warned… if he is telling the truth.

Could this Sanjeev Kamboj be so stupid as to defy a party order if he was in the know? And if he was, why the delay in taking his mobile and starting the investigation?

Ranchi: An out-of-service ATM in Ranchi on Saturday. PTI Photo(PTI11_12_2016_000099B)Ranchi: An out-of-service ATM in Ranchi on Saturday. PTI Photo(PTI11_12_2016_000099B)

Representational image. PTI

Enough of that, just tell us who got the ball rolling.

As for Jaitley now telling us that the ATMs have to be recalibrated that is like buying bullets that don’t fit into the chamber of the gun and then saying oops, sorry, guys, hang in there, we’ll buy a new gun.

I am no expert on ATMs, but can they be recalibrated that easily? Which begs the big question: What was the need to change the size of the Rs 2,000 note and make it such a pointless venture? Just changing the colour of the note would have been sufficient. Also, the denomination itself is a sea change — twice the value — so if the note was the same size as the obsolete Rs 1,000, would the refit have become unnecessary?

Did anyone think of that?

Have not been able to track any company that remakes ATMs, but imagine if you will the enormous contract to do it. Every bank cannot hire a specialist (there just that many around, you cannot go to the Yellow Pages and find ‘ATM refitters, at your service whenever you demonetise’ or any category close to it), so we have to assume that all the ATMs will have to be carted off to some factory and made over or simply changed for spanking new ones.

A simple low level non-armoured ATM costs about Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 lakhs and need roughly Rs 50,000 a month to maintain and service. The top-of-the-range models can go for five times that price. There are 2,02,000 machines in India and another 40,000 more needed.

Do the maths yourself.

Also, is a new one cheaper than refitting an old one for size which may or may not function? There goes my card.

Manufacturers themselves will tell you they seldom if ever factor in ‘demonetisation’ upgrade facilities. These are not F16s or Su 30 fighter aircraft, these are machines made to go. The main manufacturers are Tranax, Triton and Hyosung.

Next question. Can they be refitted in India or will they have to be technically recalled and shipped?

If you talk to bankers, they will tell you that ATMs are a nuisance for them. The effort in keeping them stocked, often discovering not enough traffic at specific locations, repairs, maintenance, transportation, security, tampering, theft, the last thing they would like to do is send them back to the manufacturer to be reset and returned.

Which brings us to the big question. Who will foot the bill for redoing these ATMs? The government or the banks?

Or us? In the end the very people who are being saved from the scourge.

The way to hell is paved with good intentions, but however much a supporter you might be of the right thing to do and the call to sacrifice comfort temporarily for the greater good, there are just too many niggles rising that indicate things could have been better planned and that the umbrella of ‘secrecy’ cannot be used to keep away the soak of ineptitude.

Come Sanjeev Kamboj, start unravelling that ball of wool and let’s see where the strand leads.

First Published On : Nov 13, 2016 13:28 IST

Let’s wake up India: Donald Trump will do exactly what he threatened to do

Now that the world has figured out they are not going to wake up from the nightmare and that Donald Trump is actually President-elect of the US let’s get a few of the more important ducks in a row.

US President-elect Donald Trump. APUS President-elect Donald Trump. AP

US President-elect Donald Trump. AP

Many of us(myself included) have been dishing out scenarios these past three days where the crass, coarse clown suddenly enters the office and is imbued with a choirboy halo, soaked in good sense and turning into an overnight statesman.

Which is all very fine but what stops him from doing exactly what he said he would do?

There is no doubt he will dismantle Obamacare and bring it to a screeching halt. That it might make him unpopular loses out to toppling the Obama legacy, something he will do with determination and a certain rage which perhaps began when he was made the butt of biting satire at the White House Press Corps dinner not once but on three different occasions.

He may well order the building of a wall between the US and Mexico and send the bill to President Enrique Peña Nieto and also begin proceedings against 11 million Mexican illegals whom he believes are the fundamental cause of drugs and crime in the country, this being integral to a $166 billion ‘America for Americans’ package.

By the same token, he can up the ante against the Daesh and generate a miasma of fear and distrust against the Muslim community. What makes us think he will grasp sanity and differentiate between terrorists and a whole global entity.

The fact that his official website uploaded the call for a ban on the community from entering the US after it had been taken off for the better part of a day is an ominous sign.

We can hope he will not do it but hope is a weak and fragile defence and one should be ready to face the fact that he won on a platform of polarisation and divisiveness and he is not likely to see any further into the future than keeping his ‘so called’ election promises.

Yes, Indians and other Asians will be paying the price of their call centres being padlocked and if he takes the sledgehammer of immigration and locks the doors despite the long-term price he might have to pay in terms of intellectual loss and isolation there is no guarantee he will not bring maximum jobs back to America any which way.

Failure to deliver on the job front is something he cannot afford and he will make that the most important arrow in his quiver.

Getting into a university for Asians will be more difficult. Indians can keep kidding themselves that they are exempt from new rules but don’t put your money on it.

The one major advantage Indians have is they are not dependent on the US…not in deals where they have offered military bases, not in the purchase of arms that make them hostage to repairs and spare parts, not even in allowing US corporations over-leverage on Indian soil. As the two largest democracies in the world the possibility of Stand Up India and Start Up India have huge merit but will Trump see that…cannot be sure.

Indeed, locking horns with China in business and trade terms is very much on the cards. Beijing will be his first target. With him and Vladimir Putin best buds, there is a huge vacuum in the cold war sector and China is best suited for being the proxy.

You watch as he links up with Putin to create that ‘safety zone’ in Syria to stop the flow of refugees. There might even be boots on the ground and a pro-Assad agreement to which he will give a nod.

With Moscow, the first test of a newly reworked US policy will be reflected in Trump lifting sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. If he does that you can safely conclude the Big two are one.

He will definitely put the screws on the US companies that stash away $2.1 trillion to avoid taxes and tax those who manufacture through cheap labour abroad and sell their goods in America. Over 3,000 major companies are listed to be farming jobs abroad or getting work done in third world countries and saving on overheads.

Nafta is also on the ‘crushing’ list and cheap American grain moving to Mexico might just be the first commodity halted. We could also safely say that Nato may not retain its present shape for long and the Washington-Russian nexus would be sufficient military safeguard. If the other members don’t step up and cough up then the US won’t either.

The Trump administration will be inward looking and for a while, domestic policies will eclipse the role of global policeman. While that might be a relief since the expedient foundation of American foreign policy has ensured it has never been much of a success for nations who have unreservedly expected Washington to ride to their rescue when in peril may find themselves stranded and isolated.

Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold and Trump is likely dole out lashings of it.

There is also concern about his personal stands on social issues like the LGBT community, on abortion and racism including his now legendary status as a President whose ‘respect’ for women is suspect.

On all these issues he has dithered and swung more widely than a pendulum. He has been pro-choice (1999) anti-abortion (2016) anti-gay marriages (2011) then more conciliatory but still prejudiced (2016), pro-gun control (2000) and against further ‘check’ codicils (2015) so it is not easy to know what exactly he believes in at a specific moment.

Which is the scariest part of all? How do you make the meal if you don’t know which persona is coming to dinner?

First Published On : Nov 12, 2016 16:33 IST

Rs 500, Rs 1,000 note ban: Nation on fiscal vacation, not the promise PM Modi made

Bhopal: An out of order ATM machine in Bhopal on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI11_11_2016_000254B)

An out of order ATM machine in Bhopal on Friday. PTI

This should have been a military operation, planned on a computer programme by geeks of whom we have a veritable tribe. It should have been incremental and timebound.

The financial makeover should have been placed at the same level as an epidemic and the paramilitary and police should have been pressed into federal service to ensure delivery of notes to the farthest corners of India.

The new currency notes should have been seen like a vaccine being delivered against the pox just like bullets to a frontline army in battle.

Soldiers should have been stationed at every ATM, every bank branch to ensure the safety of money transfers so that ATMs were not damaged. The government should have pressed in private accountants and their staffs to augment the bank strength so that dispensation would have been immediate. The CRPF alone has 235 battalions. Then we have the BSF (2,50,000) ITBP, CISF, SSB, Assam Rifles and Railway Police, to name a few.

There should have been a national emergency for three days.

When euphoria was sky high on Day One after the midnight blow to black money hoarders and other nasties, any warning given that it must be backed by instant infrastructural hyperactivity or else rage would replace the hurrahs was assaulted for being too unreasonable and demanding.

We should all be glad to suffer for the greater good. Fine. Point taken.

Dozens of trolls dished out advice to columnists replete with what they thought of our lineage and the grotesque threats to sundry members of our families.

Since I do not live in India some of the trolls who know this fact screamed vituperative at such a shrill level that it actually worried me.

They told me that I had no right to comment, and to stay out because this was the best thing to happen to India since sliced bread.

Yes, I do have a right to comment. It is Day Four and I don’t have any money in my house in Delhi and a sister who is a patient confined to her bed. I have been fortunate to borrow Rs 400 from the young man who comes to clean the house. He has told me that he has a collection of Rs 10 notes, and that, I should not worry in case a catheter has to be replaced. The dhobi whose son I have helped a couple of times has sent me an SMS saying he is arranging money on a day-to-day basis.

That is my India, these guys are my family, so don’t you tell me what rights I have.

The man who looks after my sister is from Bihar. He stood for six hours on Friday at the bank and failed. He cannot read or write but he is savvy and he is my brother because he has taken out all the Rs 5 coins from a jam jar he keeps in his jhuggi to keep things going, so don’t you be telling me I have no right to comment.

These are the salt of the earth and every one of them has called me to say we will manage.

Even if they have to buy Rs 100 notes for an arguably Rs 140 the surcharge being in Rs 10 notes or coins.

The thing is, I have two thousand rupee notes with me. But I cannot fly to Delhi because I don’t have the money to reach home from the airport. A friend of mine tells me he landed in Delhi and was unable to get a cab and then a scuffle broke out between the cab rank and freelance drivers “misusing” their employer’s cars to make a buck in foreign exchange.

If you have dollars you can make it, I guess, otherwise just go back to the old days of trading. Another traveller got home by giving half a carton of cigarettes to the cabbie. A full bottle of Black Label would probably take you to Noida.

Talk about pharmacies. Show me one that’s taking the old notes.

There was no agreement between the citizen and the government that the limit being doled out would be Rs 2,000 or Rs 4,000 per day. You know what that gets you, meds included? It was supposed to the normal Rs 25,000.

We were told clearly that within 48 hours the Rs 2,000 notes would flow and the new Rs 500 note would be in abundance.

Where are they and when will these limitations end. No one is speaking up.

People say that it takes time for things to work out. Why should it? Either the operation is a success or it has complications.

All I hear are the bells. They ‘troll’ for thee.

First Published On : Nov 12, 2016 15:53 IST

Rs 500, Rs 1,000 ban: It’s our turn to play soldier; present discomfort a small price to pay

If the India Today report on the selling of a set of printing presses from Nasik in an open auction with the dyes intact has even 10 percent truth in it, it’s is horrific.

Although the Rs 1,000 note went into service in 2000, the first report that the Indian currency was being printed across the border came in 2003 and the presses were activated under Al-Qaeda control, and it is said that as much as Rs 30,000 crores have been generated. Over Rs 3,000 crores were being used annually to finance terror operations against India.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

There were vague arrests and some investigations, but how was it okay to sell currency and a stamp paper printing system when dismantling and destroying it and throwing the pieces to the winds was the obvious thing to do. How could good quality currency be printed in massive numbers across the border without these machines and who helped in getting them there.

When you think of the possibility that for over a decade we have had the mickey taken out of us, this decision to make these two notes illegal tender is actually a war of the 21st century and each one of us is a soldier.

Suddenly, we have an army of 1.2 billion men, women and children, and with the confirmations coming in that much of the money was being used to kill our people and our soldiers, our present discomfort is really a small price to pay.

My whole thinking has transformed in a day.

We’ll manage for a week, two weeks, whatever it takes and only hope that the infirm, the elderly and the very young are not denied medical facilities.

Here is our turn to play that soldier seriously and help the neighbours.

But that emotional outburst aside, it is vital, nay mandatory, that the whole gut wrenching, sickening slimy trail of corruption that led to the sale of the printing presses is focused upon again and every individual who was party to it called upon to explain.

I know India signed a deal with Komori, a Japanese firm after its agreement with Russia cracked up and created the first surge of counterfeiting as a cottage industry, but I don’t believe many of us had any clue that older machines had been auctioned.

If so, we need to reopen this investigation on all fronts and ask why, for 13 years, this awareness that imitation Indian money was being funneled through diplomatic pouches, from Nepal and Bangladesh and was of such great quality being printed on our supposedly auctioned presses that it was tough to detect their flaws.

It is so mind boggling to even consider that between the bureaucrats at that time and the governments and their collective awareness they actually allowed presses to be sold and not destroyed.

It is alleged there is a guy in a Bengaluru jail called Abdul Karim Telgi, who was one of the midwives for these deliveries. Let’s wake him up and begin to follow the clues and no matter who gets caught in the net or which party he or she belongs to we deserve to know how these presses were sold.

First Published On : Nov 11, 2016 18:14 IST

Rs 500, Rs 1000 note ban: Who will take care of pensioners and those with medical needs?

This is personal. I have a sister residing in RK Puram in New Delhi, who is confined to her bed for the past seven years because she is suffering from multiple sclerosis. She requires full time nursing and cannot sign any papers or mark her thumbprint on a cheque.

She is bright, cheerful and was a former teacher at Modern School. Ask her how she is and she will say ‘fit and fine’.

But her finances, following the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 note ban by the Modi government on Tuesday, are in a dire state. She is left with exactly Rs 200 in cash as of now, and the Rs 10,000 withdrawn in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations by her staff last week, is of no value and has to be returned to the bank. Even then, as I panic, she remains cool.

The Modi government put a note ban on the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations on Tuesday. ReutersThe Modi government put a note ban on the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations on Tuesday. Reuters

The Modi government put a note ban on the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations on Tuesday. Reuters

The bank just told one my staff that he would have to produce his identification in order to exchange the demonetised currency, so he has to stand in the ever-expanding queues once again. This particular bank has dealt with him more or less every day for the past six years. The bank wants my sister’s ID as well. If a new employee happens to take up my sister’s case, he might just ask that she be pulled out of her bed, shoved into a wheelchair and dragged all the way to the bank because, in his bureaucratic warren of a mind, he might reason that, ‘kya kare, government ka kanoon hain (what can we do, the government makes the rules).’

You can hear the words, that corrosive indifference that marks this clan. It has happened.

The queue of retired and senior citizens stretches for almost fifty metres outside the bank. Some of them can hardly stand.

I am no economist and am ready to agree with experts when they say that with this move, all the back money will be ferreted out and that we will dance into the sunshine; but, at this moment, living in another country, I really do not care a toss about the rose petals we shall strew en route. I just need my sister to get some money.

I have no faith in the bedside manner of the banking system, where the staff treat clients and customers like dirt and behave as if it is their money that they are doling out. They just say ‘kal aao’ and ‘Form C bharo’ and ‘yeh galat hai’. I truly believe that we as a society can never be seen as civilised until we start respecting our elderly and the infirm and those with special needs. In this case, we can start by at least letting them jump the queue.

I don’t know if Prime Minister Modi and his advisers planned this move well in advance or thought of the details along the way, but in the frenzy that we are seeing and the echo of the mutual backslapping between politicians and media since the announcement, I am not so sure about its efficacy. The bridge between the assurance that money will be disbursed in 24 hours and its fruition is a very rickety one.

Add to it the human factor (especially bank employees who don’t give a damn) and the permutations on how to eradicate the viral infection of black money are replaced by a sense of despair at the lack of options, and the absence of a back-up system.

The way things stand at the moment, I cannot see a smooth transition into the new currency anytime soon.

The corrupt and the venal will get the first shot at the exchange and must already be bending over backwards to thwart the new system. If there is a loophole, they will find it.

All I am thinking about is what of the medicines. The pharmacies are not taking the demonetised notes. You can say that they will, you can even tell us that you can die and the shamshan ghat will take your money, but what if they don’t?

If you call for an ambulance and tell them that you will pay in Rs 1,000 notes, don’t hold your breath for the sound of a siren.

Three pharmacies so far have refused to give medicines in exchange for the demonetised currency. With the general lack of knowledge and uncertainty, they won’t even take credit cards now and simply offer a ready made excuse: ‘lines blocked hain’.

How and where can we report such a pharmacy, that won’t take the money. To whom? How? What will happen after that? If we can post 10,000 cops on the road for a VIP motorcade, then why can’t we post them at hospitals, crematoriums, pharmacies and banks to ensure that the government’s grand pronouncements have validity.

By now, I must have spent a mini-fortune in making calls to Delhi. I shudder to imagine a scenario where someone who needs insulin for diabetes or cardiac medicine cannot buy it.

I am not whining, I am just stressed. It is wonderful to make in-depth fiscal comments and be interviewed on TV and have the media appreciate the note ban, but the sacrifice that people were asked to make in the process should not jeopardise those who are fragile or place the common man into a corner for no fault of his own.

At this moment, all those big buzzwords of the fiscal world like ‘asset value reserves’ and ‘collaborative consumption’ and ‘firefighting inflation’ mean nothing. Not that they ever did but really, the Rs 200 won’t last long. So, all that I want to know now is that when will my sister get her dues, and when will she be able to use her pension.

Orop suicide: Rewarding an act of madness and sends the wrong message

The award of Rs 1 crore to the family of Ram Kishan Grewal is absolutely absurd on several counts. For one it lauds suicide which is a criminal offence.

A file image of Ram Kishan Grewal. PTIA file image of Ram Kishan Grewal. PTI

A file image of Ram Kishan Grewal. PTI

For another, it makes a dead ex-soldier more important than thousands of live soldiers risking bullets.

For a third, it sends out a very negative evaluation of life and the price on it.

Why not Rs 2 crore or Rs 3 crore, how does one reach a figure?

One is aghast that in a nation where half a billion people living on less than $3 a day a sarpanch aged 70 with strong and hardy sons and getting a pension must now have his family rewarded with a fair amount of money because he killed himself.

By this token of appreciation, there may be many more contenders willing to sell their lives for a ransom so cheerfully paid up in applause for self- inflicted death.

People live lives of despair. Many millions live without hope nor health nor peace around but they carry on. They do not use life as a weapon and they do not self-destruct. You think living in poverty is a ball? You think being in debt is fun. You think being exploited is a gala. You think sleeping hungry is easy? But millions do it. This man was none of these.

He was not cast upon the waters. He just wanted more money like every other armed forces personnel.

The man was a soldier. He killed himself and you are making his family rich.

Ironically, he got it.

What is the message the Delhi government in its mad hurtle to embarrass the Modi government is sending out to the nation? That if you feel done down by the Central government then do us a favour and kill yourself and we will bleed it to the maximum in terms of political mileage.

If I had a disease and was dying from it I’d take them up on the offer… somebody will.

One wonders if there any other nation that actually gives financial awards to the families of those who commit suicide, an act that is a crime under Section 309 and one is still not sure how it is implemented or if it has been removed because assisted suicide and euthanasia are still not allowed.

What is most scary about this congratulatory fiscal windfall for those who are left behind is it’s not only making suicide a courageous act but it is telling schoolchildren that if you fail in your exams, don’t feel guilty, go jump off the building and Mommy and Daddy will become rich.

For a sheer grotesque message, this one is hard to beat.

Children are the most impressionable and in their minds suicide suddenly becomes a romantic option with lots of money at the end of it.

And if they grow into teenagers when we think life is forever and a day any step which acknowledges dying by your own hand as jolly good thing to do and worthy of emulation devalues the texture of life per se and calls upon the young to take risks, drive fast, drink and drive, go into drugs, life is cheap, only if you kill yourself it becomes expensive. And don’t worry, you die and the moolah rolls in.

There is nothing edifying about the act and the payment is ghoulish in the extreme. No one can make case for it because it sanctifies death.

If anything, paying his family a bonanza while our men face bullets on the border or freeze in sub-zero temperatures is to call them cowards and this man heroic.

Orop issue, SIMI encounter, India-Pakistan ties: News stories come, collapse and never end

Indian news stories often have no ending and no one cares to ask why?

Like has anyone found the missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmed, who disappeared three weeks ago? Worse, is anyone interested in getting to the bottom of it? It is already a cold case. Like it never happened.

Eight SIMI activists were killed in an encounter in Madhya Pradesh after a ‘great’ escape from a maximum security jail in which they killed a warder. And it would seem they were shot in cold blood. All SIMI activists were housed together, which in itself is astounding. Only these eight escaped and how do you create a ladder with blankets to scale a 20 feet wall if there is no one on the other side to hold the knotted blankets down. No questions asked. And then go in a gang into a one way gully. Don’t ask.

The story is dead in the water. We should have a clear policy on terrorists. If they belong to such outfits don’t keep them locked up in a happy togetherness…it is not a club, it is a jail.

If eliminating them is the just course in self defence then let Parliament pass the bill and document it — terrorists will be killed. Read the writing on the wall and take your chances. But this escape defies comprehension.

Representational image. TV Screenshot

Representational image. TV Screenshot

A former soldier, committed suicide as a protest against One Rank One Pay (Orop). He was a village sarpanch, in good health with three hatta katta sons doing well. OROP is almost a done deal why would he get up now when the 7th pay commission is being implemented and the three chiefs are for once on the same page. Will we ever find out if there is more to it than meets the eye? Orop is no reason to kill yourself.

Rahul Gandhi, Manish Sisodia and Arvind Kejriwal should not be stopped from visiting the former veteran Ram Kishan Grewal’s house because he committed suicide. Ironic that it was Rahul’s grandmother who killed Orop. And how come none of them felt it necessary to get to visit Ramashankar Yadav’s family the warden in the Bhopal Jail – too far to stretch their affection and shock. Wears out over the miles to Bhopal. See, what I mean, the sheer breathtaking opportunistic arrogance of these people is unmatched. You really think they give a toss?

But they love being stopped so why play into their hands? Having scored brownie points, they will disappear to the next ‘mourning’ circle and do more of the same.

Wasn’t this the same Arvind Kejriwal who said the surgical strikes never happened and soldiers are fibbers. This story will collapse very soon unless someone discovers it wasn’t a suicide.

Last heard, Jayalalithaa had signed a paper with her left thumb because her right hand was inflamed. A week has gone by and there is nary a word about her condition and even the media seems to have wandered away. Seeing as how she is still technically the chief minister of Tamil Nadu doesn’t anyone want to know what’s up and who is holding the hot, little buck?

And we will let them off the hook because we do not expect better.

The country is still no wiser about the Cyrus-Ratan spat and probably never will be. A few more theories will be flung about the scandal is dying on the vine and will soon wither into history.

India is lagging 3 to 1 in the ‘off you go, diplomat’ stakes against Pakistan but even though the 48 hour deadlines expired some days back there is no story about their homecomings or what exactly happened. Pakistan upped the ante with two dismissals Wednesday so why not just throw the whole lot out and stop the pretence?

The Yadav family feud in Uttar Pradesh ran its course for a few days then like a river drying up simply dwindled into a little rivulet of non-news.

And we won the Asia Cup in hockey playing Pakistan in the finals after playing them in the round robin but where cricket is concerned the BCCI has told the ICC to ensure we are not in the same pool and what has the ICC said to this absurd demand…we don’t know.

And we don’t even have Arnab to tell us the nation wants to know…more’s the pity.

Damn ,we don’t even know where he is going.

OROP suicide: Ram Kishan Grewal’s death is not a solution to pension struggle

Of course, it is emotional and difficult to critique it when an ex-serviceman commits suicide. You come off callous, harsh and come under attack.

Except that soldiers fight; they do not take their own lives. I covered the 1971 war in uniform and come from the only family in the world where four real brothers made the rank of generals. So I do have some right to say suicide is wrong.

It is regrettable that Ram Kishan Grewal took his own life. One does not know his compulsions or his level of frustration and while thoughtless political capital will be made of this by politicians like Arvind Kejriwal (he never misses a chance), I didn’t see the Chief Minister go visit our troops on the frontline.

File image of people protesting against OROP. PTIFile image of people protesting against OROP. PTI

File image of people protesting against OROP. PTI

At least Modi spent Diwali with them.

In the case of OROP, even the diehards who stood in the sun for months outside Jantar Mantar will have to agree that their pensions have risen with the latest promise of a further hike, retrospective from 1 January, 2016 having come last week. And if one of these frail old men (some of them octogenarians) had died while spending weeks on strike at least they would have died fighting for their cause. Not taking their lives.

Indeed, there are four outstanding issues before the Anomaly committee that was formed, after the three chiefs sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister last month calling attention to the four points: the discrepancies in disability pay, the lack of recognition for JCOs by equating their military pay with soldiers they lead, the inequality in the pay brackets with Civvy street and the absence of non-functional upgrades which the IAS cadres enjoy.

None of these are major mountains to climb. In all fairness, the lot of the retired service officer has improved but the increments have been given in so niggardly a fashion and yes, ‘incremental’ in the disbursement that the fractured increases have lost their value. It is the gracelessness that has led to the sense of despair. Like crumbs thrown at the hungry. As much as they have been hit in the bottomline, the services have been made to feel secondary.

The current concern that the MoD is going about it unilaterally without involving the forces could well be because they are doing the ground work. After all, the initiative hasn’t shifted. The drafts can be rejected by the three chiefs as they did the 7th Pay Commission, only allowing it to be implemented after they were assured the four points that were unresolved would be taken up.

If you ask the service officers per se who have retired they will cavil about being treated as country cousins to the bureaucrats and the police in the order of things and their agitation has distilled to a basic call for equality nothing more, nothing less.

But they will also agree, albeit reluctantly, that things are not that bleak. They are better off.

While the difference between the bureaucrats and the men in uniform is still a burr under the saddle, committing suicide is not the answer, and even if the ex-servicemen take up the cause and bellow their approval in their hearts they will know this is not done, this is not the solution.

Public regret and public remorse will follow the death as is the norm but it would not edify the armed forces to take advantage of one former soldier’s act, sad as it is.

Arnab Goswami’s error of judgment: The grass isn’t greener on the other side

Harold Evans, former editor of The Times had once said: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Despite his critics and the carping of those who found him insufferable, Arnab Goswami had found his rhythm and his audience and created an unchallenged niche for himself. He had established that chemistry across the screen, spilling the shrill audio into several hundred thousand homes.

You could love to hate him and hate to love him or actually even like the guy. It was fun to spite him, even more fun to sneer as the TRPs soared. Envy reared its head in his professional brigade often enough and praise was offered with deliberate stinginess. Many of us hated the phenomenon but would have given our eyeteeth to touch such lofty stars.

Arnab Goswami. Photo courtesy: Twitter

Arnab Goswami. Photo courtesy: Twitter

Noisy, brash, arrogant, uncaring, even absurd and nasty the Times Now slot under him was a one-horse race and the host and his masters made a great partnership. And then Peter stepped in. Most of you will not remember him. Peter came with a principle in the 1970s that said people move from levels of competence to levels of incompetence.

Ergo, they think this stage is too small, I have to move on and they move on (and as they believe upwards) absolutely convinced that their audience will willingly come with them, ballooning in numbers. Being a host and running a network are mutually exclusive. The changeover comes with no guarantee.

Doesn’t happen that way. Remember how even the queen, Oprah Winfrey found it tough when she stopped her show and began her own production…it never touched the heights and since 2011 slipped away. Joey went away from Friends and flopped. If the Kardashians do a makeover so is the party…over. Maroof is an awesome voice of sanity on the Arnab show but he got his own show and it lies there fallow. Pat Sajak was well loved on the Wheel of Fortune and then he went onto become a talk show host and was dropped first season. Magic Johnson went in front of the cameras and it was no slam dunk. Chevy Chase ranks as the most dramatic example of a comedian who sucked as a host.

The trick is that your audience has to identify with you and though Arnab is no Oprah he had invented a new formula that was truly his. Unique, flawed, full of mispronunciations and malaprops (just ten minutes ago he just said incredulous instead of incredible) but so lacking in apology that it came off courageous and pioneering.

His issues were hot off the plate, the research team utterly brilliant and real time, he must have made powerful enemies and his guests a drearily limited 30 people (representing 1.2 billion) which did not matter because they didn’t count, nor did their opinions since the two back to back five nights a week were 90% Arnab in their content anyway.

And the iconic and massive Times Now support and infrastructure gave him Y security against revenge.

It cannot get much bigger and changing midstream means a major risk for both Arnab and his new investor. I hear he is recruiting a ‘crack’ team of smart media icons which is cool and good luck to him but I would not place money on it. This sort of incredible success is a bus that doesn’t come around again.

There is no new global footprint and to call upon the faithful in your audience to actually look for another channel or to experiment with another format is fraught with risk.

Imagine Russel Peters mimicking the Chinese on a talk show, it would be offensive. As a stand-up even the Chinese laugh.

When you change the ferryman you often capsize.

People don’t like new things. They are comfortable with the familiar.

You can go off and get the best team of geniuses and still not bring the bacon home. The odds do not favour Arnab. Because he is not brilliant per se, has no humour, is shrill and loud and brash and it worked. It is just that he has chiseled out and sculpted himself into a living controversy and marketed that character with extreme success. There is no another dimension.

Those who didn’t like him will not like him in any other avatar. He has never packaged likeability.

Those who liked him will now draw comparisons and he does not have the talent to move away from the genuine limitations of his personae. The bully boy gets heavier he will topple over. Any louder and we will switch off. More intellectual, he will be a victim of his own image, no one will take it seriously.

You have to ask; why would you do this, Arnab? More money? Don’t be silly. A global audience? You already have it and your branding was so good and so strong it cannot get any stronger. You do not have a fourth dimension and you cannot manufacture it.

Why do so many of us go that bridge too far? We believe we are infallible.

That is how it breaks we want a bigger pot of gold and the rainbow vanishes.

Eight terrorists flee high-security prison, gunned down? SIMI encounter stinks of a set up

The most likely chain of events concerning the eight SIMI terrorists, who were gunned down in a gorge in Madhya Pradesh hours after their escape, is that this gang ‘executed’ a warder and needed to be punished. Not one of them was shot at to be wounded below the waist in an encounter where the return of fire is suspect.

Wouldn’t you want them alive so you could trace how they escaped and how they were helped?

Regardless of all the brouhaha about their escape from a prison and the incredible odds against that seeing as how no one knows yet how they accomplished this great escape, the eight terrorists would not have trotted 15 kilometres in a group and made themselves such an obvious target.

That is absurd.

Chief constable on duty who was killed during the encounter in Bhopal on Monday. PTI

Chief constable on duty who was killed during the encounter in Bhopal on Monday. PTI

Smart enough to get out of a jail and as this Firstpost article points out, they managed to get past every checkpoint and surveillance station including, watch towers and electric fences, these eight terrorists decided to lumber about in a state of togetherness and ended up in a cul de sac of a gorge from where there was no escape.

It defeats plain logic that they did not split up and go different ways. All forces, defensive and inimical, are taught that the first thing you do is split up. That is just plain common sense and these are not your run of the mill lawbreakers, these are active killers. Why would you stick together and funnel yourselves into a corner?

Eight strangers walking down the road in jail clothes? Why not just put up a neon sign? This is not a school picnic where you walk hand in hand.

You would take eight different routes to eight different places and use your network to find refuge and safety. They have a network. None of them would have been caught in ten hours. Okay, maybe a couple but the rest would have made good their escape.

Between 2 am and noon, that is a ten hour head start to catch trains, buses, cabs, motorbikes, hot wire cars, maim and rob strangers of money and clothes and food and vanish.

None of the eight commit a single act of violence in those ten hours or make any effort to obtain funds, steal clothes, attack civilians despite being high on adrenaline and born to kill. What do these “terrorists” do? They go into a conveniently located and relatively deserted canyon where they are easily tracked by the police and then shot and killed.

Consider this. Does it not call for a major conspiracy to have them get away from the jail itself? Not just one warder on duty but the several rings of security and the fences and the inexplicable silence and lack of awareness that seems to have permeated the correctional facility in those morning hours. Certainly, they were no paragons of virtue and a threat to the nation but the worrying part is that this encounter is so clumsily choreographed, that one is hard-placed to understand who directed it. Since they were terrorists, people in the country may let the splintering of the rule of law slither past. But what if tomorrow it is another far less dangerous undertrial who offends someone in the jail and is taken for a ride?

India, Pakistan expel a mission staffer each: This posturing is intrinsic to art of diplomacy

Declaring each other’s representatives persona non grata is a bit of posturing intrinsic to the art of diplomacy. India and Pakistan do it frequently and feel good about themselves and it is a gentler option in exercising hostility than firing bullets at each other.

On your bike mate, off you go, give you 48 hours to pack.

The choice of the selected individual is rather like the random double security check at an American airport for foreigners from specific countries. By doing so everyone feels the system is working and the nation’s security apparatus is in good nick.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

In actual fact it is more window dressing and when India dropped Mehmood Akhtar and gave him a one way ticket, then its official at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad Surjeet Singh was dispatched by Islamabad to make it one all.

After a fashion it is a bit of a lark and follows a procedure steeped in self-importance. The Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi is summoned to the External Affairs Ministry and he remonstrates predictably and gets all hot under the collar. In a few hours, the same scenario will be played out across the border and a diplomatic family uprooted. One wouldn’t be surprised if they have a bit of a raffle and take out a name arbitrarily.

The Indian accusation that Mehmood Akhtar works for the ISI is a bit disingenuous. One would have concluded that most of the Pakistani civil servants do exactly that and you don’t have to be John le Carre to know ‘cultural attaches’ and ‘commercial attaches’ are just covers for espionage. Isn’t that what diplomats do…all those cocktail parties and honey traps and taped conversations and packets of moolah in wrapped up newspapers and cold drops and stuff…seen that movie.

You just have to look up on the roof of some embassies bristling with antennae and satellite dishes and a noodle soup of communications cabling to know that they are not watching reruns of Friends.

Snooping is something which comes with the job.

Thing is that after WWII, the freedom given to diplomats have begun to border on the absurd. Diplomatic immunity has become a nuisance and misused from wrongful parking of cars to acts of violence and even murder.

Here are some doozy examples, courtesy the Virtual Bureau of International law.

Alhaji Umaru Dikko, a member of the ex-Nigerian government, was kidnapped from his London house and was drugged and hidden in a diplomatic crate bound to Nigeria in 1984.

In 1987, Karamba, a commercial attach of the Zimbabwean mission to UN, was accused of severely abusing his children. The US did not charge him with any crime due to his diplomatic immunity.

In 2004, Christopher van Gothem, an American marine working with the embassy, collided with a taxi and killed a musician in Bucharest, Romania. His blood alcohol content was higher than the permitted limits when tested from a breath analyzer. He refused to provide a blood sample for further testing and rushed back to the US before charges could be framed against him.

Surely, in all these cases immunity should have been lifted.

Diplomatic pouches carry contraband from drugs to guns and are a smuggler’s aspiration. One wonders sometime why these mutual privileges should not be revisited. There have been cases of bringing in weapons, shoplifting, blocking traffic, avoiding arrest for criminal acts and finding sanctuary in the confines of their embassy grounds.

A critical reworking of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961 and the Convention on Consular Relations in 1963 are well overdue. Murderers have got away and the returns from such missions in a hi-tech age have become an expensive self-indulgence. Even when there are blatant breaches of local law nothing can be done because every nation has its citizens in that country and they are then at risk if action is taken against an individual and relations turn inimical. Also, diplomatic activities in protecting these citizens and offering them consular services makes it necessary to have these mutual territorial rights.

Why these cannot be continued after serious reconsideration of the privileges to the individual not connected to his or her job which now border on a free pass to do whatever you want with impunity courtesy the immunity is a matter that needs to be addressed.

India might be sending a message to Pakistan by its tough stance but this letter has been delivered so often that the traffic of dismissed diplomats cuts no ice.

The postman doesn’t only knock twice…it is an endless rat-a-tat. And no one really cares.

Quetta Carnage: Dear Pakistan, don’t blame India; stop offering hospitality to terror groups

It won’t be too long before media and political leaders in Pakistan begin to find tenuous links between the terror attack in Quetta and Indian machinations or the ‘foreign hand’ behind it.

But if they do go down that ho hum route (and someone will because it is sort of mandated in the ping pong equation between the two countries), they will know from Karachi to Lahore that India does not have any sort of infrastructure even remotely capable of creating a launch pad on the outskirts of a cantonment stronghold like Quetta and then going in for such an attack or finding the ‘right’ people to do the dirty work.

Quetta is where the prestigious Command and Staff College is located, that being the equivalent of the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Nilgiris. It also has two airbases in Samungli Airbase and Khalid both of which were attacked by militants in 2014. It is also X111 Corps headquarter.

There is just no viable Indian fifth column and besides it being a populist talk show subject using that excuse will resolve nothing. Also, while it might be tempting to incite rage by saying that the Baloch police academy was placed in the cross hairs by Indian design to foment more trouble in that region the fact is that Indians don’t need to up the ante and certainly not through carnage.

A file photo of relatives waiting to hear about the victims outside the police academy in Quetta. Reuters

A file photo of relatives waiting to hear about the victims outside the police academy in Quetta. Reuters

The issue is already on the global stage.

Pakistan should also understand that there is no one in India who feels even a sliver of exultation over the death of 60 young men setting out on their careers. It would be safe to say that the condolences are extremely sincere and only underscore the Indian intention that terror cannot be an export and if you store it at home the risk of the ‘ammo’ depot blowing up in your face is very high. There is no such thing as selective extremism and it only points a sharp arrow to the article in The Dawn that the civil administration has warned the Pakistan army to stop giving succour to outfits that target India while hunting down those that place a red dot on the home front.

Placing restrictions on journalists like Cyril Almedia don’t resolve anything either. He had hit the nail on the head.

If at all, against the backdrop of multiple terror groups, affiliates and breakaways the outburst from ex-cricketer Imran Khan about India ‘imploding’ Pakistan seems superfluous. There are so many of these hydra heads now that even Pakistan is hard placed to keep track of them. Nor can it be an easy task to figure out who is for or against the country and at which juncture. By that token even if there are similarities between the Pathankot assault and this one, what difference does that make and how is it a mitigating factor? As far as India is concerned the only relevant common factor is that both attacks emanated from the same territory. There is nothing so complex about shoot-and-scoot tactics if you are prepared to die.

At present count, across the border there are officially 12 homegrown outfits that see terror as an option and 32 internationally linked groups that have no qualms about choosing soft targets. There are also four extremist trusts whose doctrine calls for violence. That is 48 active terrorist cabals in Pakistan.

By now there may be twice as many undocumented mini-groups that have started as off shoots of these organisations and formed their own AK 47 and suicide vest clubs.  The writing on the wall is simple. Dismantle the infrastructure for offering hospitality to groups that espouse violence and do it right across the board.

Najeeb didn’t just vanish: Why are JNU authorities not showing any sense of urgency?

It is tempting to pillory Kanhaiya Kumar and the other four high profiles of his tribe namely Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya, Rama Naga, Anant Prakash and Ashutosh Kumar for being relatively insipid in their role to find Najeeb Ahmed the student who has disappeared from JNU. But the higher priority would be to ensure his safety and get him back from wherever he is.

Former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. PTIFormer JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. PTI

Former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. PTI

While Najeeb’s sister is playing the dominant role in the search or at least the call for it and in between slogan shouting and a few sundry gheraos and protest marches there is a sluggish texture to the usually vociferous JNU crowd who made headlines earlier this year with their controversial seminar at the Press Club in New Delhi, the general slowness of the investigation is patently obvious.

There is also the needless rant from Shehla Rashid a former vice president of the JNU Students Union who asks Kanhaiya why nothing is being done by him?

In parts, like the curate’s egg, it is a good question. How much is being done by anybody to find a young man who was seen being beaten up by a mob of ABVP goons, then dragged to the vice chancellor’s office and roughed up again as no one intervened.

Where did he go from there? The odds that rubbernecking students did not hang around to see what would happen next are very low. So when Najeeb came out of the office did he walk to his room, run to the gate, get into a car, be kidnapped, where were all the brave souls that inhabit this especially green grove of academe? Teachers, students, security staff. Did his friends not help him out at the time of his distress? Simply demanding to put more pressure on the police hardly comes off as concerted action.

Who were these ABVP guys, they are not incognito, surely in this huge span of time their post-mob frenzy period should produce cast-iron alibis. Where did each of you go next?

Najeeb could not just have vanished into thin air. One would opt for the scenario that he has gone into hiding for fear of his life but then at least in this hi-tech age he would have communicated his whereabouts to his family and the sister’s stress factor does not indicate this. And that makes it worrying because he could be incapacitated.

Is there any specific reason why the police have not been able to follow the trail despite having 12 suspects in custody?

With ten days since the young man vanished the trail, so to speak, is cold as ice. One can only conclude that Najeeb is either in another city with friends and relatives and has sought refuge and has got in touch with his immediate family but pushed them into silence. If that does not work for you has he been abducted by more goons and, if so, from where…his room, from under a tree, the hospital or clinic if he went there to have his wounds dressed, it is just not possible to have others involved in the scenario and go missing without leaving some eyewitnesses behind.

After you have been thrashed you either go for comfort, refuge or medical assistance. You don’t walk off into the wilderness without anyone knowing.

Certainly, the macabre thought comes to mind that the silence is ominous and God forbid does not indicate a much worse development. Until there is a body this option must lie on the side of the table.

I don’t think most people care whether the student is Hindu, Muslim or zebra striped. He is missing and he has to be found. Letting this mystery stay unresolved is not acceptable and there seems to be a lid on the outrage.

I watched the former spearhead of the JNU Kanhaiya Kumar give a sort of limp wristed speech to a crowd of farmers where he has supposed to have made the first mention of the disappearance. Wrong crowd, not much zest.

Curiously, even the media seems to be dragging its feet on this one and with the second week nearly coming to a conclusion since Najeeb was last seen the story for lack of a feed is slipping off the pages.

It will be a cruel shame if the Najeeb saga has no ending.

Come on, people, somebody saw something, somebody knows what happened…time to end the agony.

Jayalalithaa’s health: Respect of privacy is justified, adulation bordering on paranoia is not

With over 50 cases registered against individuals for spreading rumours, discussing or commenting on social platforms about the state of health of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, fear is certainly the key that shuts the lock on the public’s lips.

Retribution is swift and arbitrary. Even water cooler conversations are open to police action and you could possibly get even with an adversary by just calling up the cops anonymously and giving them a name. That is how skittish the state is over this issue and it is just not defensible that New Delhi has not stepped in. This is not North Korea, this is democratic India and Jayalalithaa is the chief minister of one of the states, so her health is a matter of public concern.

The tangled web being woven in the utterly absurd bulletins and the obvious deception entailed in them, feeds rumours and speculation and is harmful to everyone.

Representational Image. ReutersRepresentational Image. Reuters

Representational Image. Reuters

What need is there for such a major operation in obfuscating the details? Fine, we do not want to know the intimate blow by blow account, but surely the updates can have some factual information and not babble on about ‘progressing gradually and ‘interacting and taking time off respiratory support’.

You don’t need to be an Einstein to figure out that this cover up is flimsy and silly and insulting to not just her followers and fans, but to public intelligence as well.

If the Governor (and why is he the spokesman) were to tell it like it is, what could possibly be the adverse effect? What about the Cabinet, why are they keeping it a secret?

What is inconceivable is that between ward boys, nurses, doctors, lab assistants, cleaners, specialists, their families, their friends, their colleagues and the whole Apollo hospital hierarchy, there must be at least a thousand people in the loop and nothing has leaked out. In a nation where secrecy and privacy are impossible, it clearly indicates that the need-to-know basis is being severely restricted, and there must be a major effort to prevent access to patient or the patient’s papers.

Not only has the state’s business of the day come to a halt, but no one is prepared to take charge and stand in for the indisposed leader in case it is misunderstood by her when she returns.

This closed door policy is now not only bordering on the absurd, but it is also the fuel for a hundred disturbing rumours and half-truths based on leaps of imagination and the presence of specific kinds of medical specialists.

If one is brutally honest, by bending over backwards in what they seem to be doing to earn her gratitude these political luminaries are actually doing their boss a disfavour.

Bu all means penalise people who send out malicious reports or use social platforms to generate incitement and outrage but stop being so claustrophobic about her medical condition.

The public of Tamil Nadu, especially, and the country at large have a democratic right to know what exactly the situation is and that the treatment being given is the best possible one. If they do not know how unwell she is, how can they be comforted that all care is being taken and there have been no errors in judgement. What if it is to deflect from just that?

What possible advantage is there in keeping all this under covers? It is just baffling. And one cannot think of any precedent even close to this.

Respect of privacy is acceptable. Adulation for a publicly elected leader bordering on paranoia is not.

Indian electorate ‘castes’ its common sense away: When will our priorities change?

Caste-based politics. The very phrase makes you want to look for a bucket and be ill in. The more we deny it the more it strides onto centrestage and takes over.

Indians just don’t seem to be given the opportunity to exercise franchise for good governance or the credit for voting for a right candidate. I would even go as far as to say we rob ourselves of this right with such pathetic ease.

Not because he or she is good for the job, but because we invariably marinate it in caste and communal syrup. I am reading about Rita Bahaguna Joshi’s departure from Congress to the BJP and it is being seen as a clever ploy to win the Brahmin vote.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

We are all party to this conspiracy. Politicians thrive on it. Media propels it with gay abandon and not even the least bit of concern that it perpetuates what it critiques with such indignation. The public takes the bait every single time and fragments like a grenade, allowing the shrapnel to divide and rule with a fervour that even the British could not match.

Seventy years down the road, caste politics thrive and run our lives. Take UP and the 2017 elections. The arithmetic in the break-up of the numbers is all caste-oriented.

Here are several statements on record.

The BJP wants alliances in eastern UP with the Janvadi Party so it can get the MBC castes, including Lonia, Nonia, Gole-Thakur, Lonia-Chauhan and Dhobhi to vote for it. The aim is to target the non-Jatav Dalit vote and the non-Yadav backward class vote.

The BSP wants to capture the Dalit-Brahmin bloc and the Dalit-Muslim alliance.

The Rashtriya Lok Dal has lost its base in the Jat-Muslim enclave after the Muzaffarnagar riots and is now an also-ran unless it links up with the SP to lure the Jat vote.

One can break all this up to an even further sickening level. For example, the BJP is believed to be wooing castes such as Maurya, Murav and Kachhi by naming Keshav Prasad Maurya as its State unit president. Whether Maurya, bless his little heart, is a good administrator or not is not even a factor in the distant horizon.

Who thinks of all this? There must be an affection for it that questions intellect but obtains legitimacy from its popularity. Caste counts.

And when will the priorities change?

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And it is not just UP. The same nonsense is the icing on the Punjab cake, too. Mayawati attacked the SAD-BJP alliance as anti-Dalit, called Arvind Kejriwal a ‘baniya’ and this was par for the political course.

Today, the BSP is trumpeting a 10 percent reservation for poor upper castes (and that is not an oxymoron) in the hope of closing in on the leaders.

AAP is marking the Sikhs and backing reputed human rights activists HS Phoolka in the hope of lifting the scab on 1984 and making that wound bleed into votes.

The BJP will fall back on the Khatris, Aroras, and Banias who are mainstays of the Hindu segment. But it will also try to win back the 30 percent Dalit population that it has alienated with its cow protection hostility and violence.

Everyone now loves the Dalits, and AAP will also hope to sweep enough of them up into its fold.

The SAD hopes to keep the farmers on its side (they being traditional voters) but, as an incumbent party, have been hurt by the zeal of the BJP partnership that has declared a bovine war on Dalits.

Into the mix where Kejriwal might well break the pattern, comes cricketer-comedian Navjot Singh Sidhu with a promise to splinter the vote banks further as he shakes the current political tree.

You read all this and you think, are we that stupid or, worse, do these political entities and their spin doctors believe that the electorate is that stupid and can be emotionally manipulated with such consummate ease?

Yes, we can be that stupid. This is the saddest and most dispiriting response one can get and it is valid. We love caste, we espouse it, feed it, grow it insidiously in our minds and let its vines creep into our psyche and control our thoughts and actions.

Caste overwhelms every other consideration to an extent that we can only watch stupefied as this virus mutates and resists all treatments based on common sense and the fact that we all bleed red.

So sit back, rub the fur of your caste and admire our rampant stupidity.

Going easy on love affairs in armed forces could be an error

It is a cornerstone of military life. Your being an officer and a gentleman. And intrinsic to that carriage is the codicil that you will not steal the affections of a brother officer’s wife. It is not done.

Not being done has been a historical code in all armies and the judgement this week by the Kolkata bench of the armed forces tribunal on extramarital affairs kind of knocks the grace and dignity that came with this code of conduct for a bit of a loop.

Love tangle. ReutersLove tangle. Reuters

Love tangle. Reuters

The tribunal has said that acts of infidelity should be treated with a lot more leniency and the penalties for misconduct should be less punitive. In the case of Flt Lt Ishan Sharan accused of having an affair with the wife of a colleague who outranked him she being a Squadron Leader herself. It has been decided that rather than being dismissed from service and losing all his emoluments he should be ‘released from service’ for his indiscretion in shacking up with the lady concerned.

Imagine how tacky and tragic. Squadron Leader Dasgupta committed suicide after her affair fell apart and Sharan got married later. The husband was cuckolded and in the close-knit society of the forces, would always be known as the guy whose wife duped him. The whole squadron must have been in gloom, sides were taken, no winners, only losers.

The tribunal’s cavalier approach is clearly predicated on the new world out there and the fact that even the forces have to move on with the times. For some unfathomable reason, it also adds that what with more women joining the forces the mindset has to undergo a change.

He first indicates a flexibility indeed and may sound logical if it wasn’t made so mutually exclusive from the genesis of this fiat. The second makes no sense whatsoever and is thoroughly irrelevant. Women do not join the army, navy and air force to have affairs. I guess what they are trying to say is that women are not chattel or property and if a wife strays she is intelligent, educated and knows the consequences so why should only the man pay such a heavy price. That’s fair enough but it again misses the mark.

No one is talking about chastity belts when everyone marched off to war, leaving their women behind, unguarded. Though that is exactly why the code was made sacrosanct. It was always in times of combat that you honoured each other by saying ‘hands off.’
And when you are not in combat you are preparing for a bit.

When a brother officer went on furlough or was injured and sent home from the frontlines he became a postman, a of information for the families of his regiment and a welcome visitor to their homes. Abusing that hospitality was unthinkable. He was the SMS, the Facebook, the mobile phone for families thirsting for updates.

In India, we do not regularly have a war but thousands of officers and men are posted in non-family stations, their wives in military cantonments living alone and bringing up children. At this very moment.

Officers in the rear party or on leave who take advantage of the loneliness are what is a called a cad. Perhaps in the 21st century it is a bit of prudery to think like that but in the armed forces stealing those affections is not only unbrotherly it is also a direct slap on the esprit de corps and morale of the regiment or battalion.

Everyone is bruised. And shamed. And embarrassed.

Imagine if these two men were pilots in the same aircraft or flying in formation. Would you want to be the wingman to either of them? Imagine one commanding the other on a ship. Being part of the same armoured formation.

Regardless of the genial softening of the attitude to affairs in uniform by this tribunal’s recommendation, it will still be seen as the second worst offence after cowardice in battle.

No one is being naïve. Affairs will happen. But if you get caught, pay the price. GOING EASY ON LOVE AFFAIRS IN ARMED FORCES COULD BE AN ERROR.

It is a cornerstone of military life. Your being an officer and a gentleman. And intrinsic to that carriage is the codicil that you will not steal the affections of a brother officer’s wife. It is not done.

Not being done has been a historical code in all armies and the judgement this week by the Kolkata bench of the armed forces tribunal on extramarital affairs kind of knocks the grace and dignity that came with this code of conduct for a bit of a loop.

The tribunal has said that acts of infidelity should be treated with a lot more leniency and the penalties for misconduct should be less punitive. In the case of Flt Lt Ishan Sharan accused of having an affair with the wife of a colleague who outranked him she being a Squadron Leader herself. it has been decided that rather than being dismissed from service and losing all his emoluments he should be ‘released from service’ for his indiscretion in shacking up with the lady concerned.

Imagine how tacky and tragic. Squadron leader Dasgupta committed suicide after her affair fell apart and Sharan got married later. The husband was cuckolded and in the close-knit society of the forces, would always be known as the guy whose wife duped him. The whole squadron must have been in gloom, sides were taken, no winners, only losers.

The tribunal’s cavalier approach is clearly predicated on the new world out there and the fact that even the forces have to move on with the times. For some unfathomable reason, it also adds that what with more women joining the forces the mindset has to undergo a change.

He first indicates a flexibility indeed and may sound logical if it wasn’t made so mutually exclusive from the genesis of this fiat. The second makes no sense whatsoever and is thoroughly irrelevant. Women do not join the army, navy and air force to have affairs. I guess what they are trying to say is that women are not chattel or property and if a wife strays she is intelligent, educated and knows the consequences so why should only the man pay such a heavy price. That’s fair enough but it again misses the mark.

No one is talking about chastity belts when everyone marched off to war, leaving their women behind, unguarded. Though that is exactly why the code was made sacrosanct. It was always in times of combat that you honoured each other by saying ‘hands off.’

And when you are not in combat you are preparing for bit.

When a brother officer went on furlough or was injured and sent home from the frontlines he became postman, updater of information for the families of his regiment and a welcome visitor to their homes. Abusing that hospitality was unthinkable. He was the SMS, the Facebook, the mobile phone for families thirsting for updates.

In India we do not regularly have war but thousands of officers and men are posted in non-family stations, their wives in military cantonments living alone and bringing up children. At this very moment.

Officers in the rear party or on leave who take advantage of the loneliness are what is a called a cad. Perhaps in the 21st century it is a bit of prudery to think like that but in the armed forces stealing those affections is not only unbrotherly it is also a direct slap on the esprit de corps and morale of the regiment or battalion.

Everyone is bruised. And shamed. And embarrassed.

Imagine if these two men were pilots in the same aircraft or flying in formation. Would you want to be the wingman to either of them? Imagine one commanding the other on a ship. Being part of the same armoured formation.

Regardless of the genial softening of the attitude to affairs in uniform by this tribunal’s recommendation, it will still be seen as the second worst offence after cowardice in battle.

No one is being naïve. Affairs will happen. But if you get caught, pay the price.

Indian parents should nurture children’s talent, not display them on TV shows

Have Indian parents lost it? These multiple series on TV showing off little boys and girls in a song and dance orgy that borders on the gross is no way a search for talent.

The reason for that is there is no innocence of childhood in most of the performances. Just because top stars sanctify the nonsense and set it to some sort of grand odyssey doesn’t make it either attractive or strike a note of splendour.

On the contrary, what these stars are doing is giving a long leash to precocity and allowing and encouraging children to imitate adults and utter sentiments of love and romance that they have no business doing. Just because there is a lot of bowing and scraping and feet touching and salaaming does not make it cultural so let’s not even go there.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Culture is not even a tendril of hope in this window. And between the beaming parents in the willing conspiracy and the tears of joy and the frightfully gaudy costumes one does wonder (and not idly) if we haven’t noticed that talent in children is a wonderful thing, need to be nurtured and allowed to flourish not made crass and commercial and, yes, sorry for being a prude, ugly as sin.

If these kids have that flexibility to gyrate, let them go to the gym. If they want to dance go to proper classes. But not be put on display like in scenarios that are so adult.

Cheeky spoilt kids, being brought up by dull witted parents, are engaging in repartee way beyond their age and getting nationwide kudos for it. If that was my kid, I’d smack the little blighter for being rude. Go take part in the school play.

These kids are riding for a fall. We are playing with their feelings, crippling them with fifteen minutes of fame and giving them a totally wrong notion of what’s out there. Not one in hundred is going to be famous, all that will happen is the dream, the parents in their pushiness have built, will collapse and the children’s studies are most likely to deteriorate.

Kids should be into sport and creative arts and even dance and song but commensurate with their age not so grotesque an option as we are seeing exercised now. This is a nation that banned Jungle Book, what is more junglee than parents who parade their little kids to strangers with an energy and determination that is frightening in its intensity.

To be brutally honest, I sat through three weekend shows to make sure I hadn’t seen a one-off of this audio-visual drivel and was told that this genre has hugely high ratings and thousands are glued to the set watching stars and kids gambol about creating intellectual havoc.

With the kind of attention that these shows get and no one (or not enough folks) really concerned of the corruption of children in full view being pressured to perform by mummy and papa who are seen weeping in the background one wonders really that we can still categorise it as harmless fun.

Not, it is not. I may be wrong but on one of the shows I saw Ajay Devgn looking distinctly out of place and uncomfortable and wishing he was elsewhere.

Anyone with kids, grandkids and a modicum of common sense will know the difference between protecting, preserving and maturing youthful talent across the board and putting a price tag on them.

You are destroying these children.

Sorry to be harsh, but this is like selling your kids for cheap.

Send Arvind Kejriwal and co to Pampore so that they can find proof

Even as Indian troops take on holed up terrorists in Pampore and try to flush them out, Kejriwal, Chidambaram, Nirupam and Alok must be deeply concerned that it is not happening and is just another sidetrack by prime minister Narendra Modi to shift the attention away from showing evidence of the surgical strikes that they so vehemently disbelieve.

And if they are meeting in conclave to discuss the honesty quotient of the ongoing Pampore assault they can always find comfort in the fact that why is it always Pampore. Suspicious, what…maybe the BJP has a movie set there. It happened in 2013, then it happened again when a bus carrying soldiers of the 161 battalion were ambushed so isn’t there something fishy about it all. Right?

This can be their basis for attacking the BJP government for not doing enough to strengthen our forces and their security in Pampore and allowing these militants to enter the Jammu and Kashmir Entrepreneurship Development Institute (JKEDI) where suspected militants have taken refuge.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

After all, if the media can chance it and go there to cover the attack, why can’t our politicians do much the same. Give them a flak jacket and let them get a taste of what it feels like to hear the ping of bullets flying around and the stench of cordite bruising their tender nostrils.

That way at least we will not have to hear them tell us it never happened or that they have to seek proof that it did.

This is actually not facetious as a suggestion. These people have embarrassed us so much these past few days by spreading doubt and even making our armed forces come off as liars that there have to be consequences which go beyond merely criticism.

You do not believe the militant camps were attacked well then, next time, come along and join the party. You have nothing to fear since you don’t accept it is occurring anyway so no worries.

It is one thing to lacerate the BJP government for behaving as if they were some embodiment of the Dussehra spirit and had personally gone out to slay Raavan and other sundry dragons and make political capital out of things but quite another to suggest that a three star General would hold a post operation press conference in full uniform and lie about what was done.

That is the part which galls.

If there is anything to cavil about it is the use of the phrase ‘surgical strike’ in its purest military sense. It is a sudden pre-emptive attack that wipes out the enemy completely and ends that chapter. In this case we destroyed several camps but we have not eliminated the threat or dismantled the hostile infrastructure. The attack on Baramulla almost soon after indicates that the operation was a successful raid on specific targets but not truly surgical in that nothing has changed.The threat is still a clear and present danger.

Time the government stopped bleeding the issue to its advantage and strengthened its front-line. That government building in Jammu and Kashmir currently occupied by militants. Get rid of it. Now, that might qualify as surgical.

Pakistan’s high profile PR is alive, well and thriving in India

Why should Nawaz Sharif even bother to call the surgical strikes into PoK a fake when there are enough Indians doing his job for him? And high profile ones at that.

While every one of them is from a non-BJP political party (no great coincidence), the Narendra Modi government is no less at fault for making this operation look like India has taken over Lahore.

Put in perspective, similar strikes happens in Syria and Yemen multiple times a day. There is a great difference between the highly limited military initiative on 18 September and the political message of intent that it sent across the border. Our politicians have mixed up the two. Which is why Mohan Parrikar drinks deep of mythology and struts about making inane remarks like he was the inspiration behind the strike.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTIDelhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

It is also why good old Arvind Kejriwal is a current trending hero in Pakistan and has the crust to question the armed forces and send out smoke signals of doubt that it ever happened.

Then we have Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress bleating about the secrecy with no concept whatsoever of why classified information is classified and P Chidambaram chiming in and Ajay Alok of the JD(U) putting in his two bits. In Islamabad, the trinity of command must be rolling on the carpet with mirth.

These Indians are hilarious.

And since these specific gentlemen are so popular in Pakistan at the moment for turning a military action into a political football and kicking it around, would the Pakistanis be so kind as to invite these four and any other of their ilk to come and see the ‘lack of evidence’ in the seven places that were marked as terrorist camps and whom we targeted. Let them see the lush green grass undisturbed, the complete lack of any proof that the military went in, talk to the villagers, visit the cop station at Mirpur and chat with the cop who spilled the beans. Our politicians love fact-finding missions so why not?

Tell you why… for one, they won’t have the guts to go across the border.

For another, these self-appointed PR agents for Pakistan won’t even know where Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa sectors are and they will follow their Pakistani hosts like sheep to whatever spot they are shown and see nothing but cornfields waving in the breeze. How about some daffodils, too? Please go tell your Prime Minister, nothing happened, have some chai with our happy, happy villagers.

None of this questioning has anything to do with freedom of speech, our democratic rights or any of those parameters. No one should be allowed to make political capital out of national security. It hasn’t been two weeks since the strikes and these types want to be invited to the premiere of the uncut movie.

One day, Modi will show them the evidence on the promise that they will publicly eat crow, allow themselves to be tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a donkey.

Till then ask this lot to stop doing Pakistan’s work for it.

Monika Ghurde’s murder coverage highlights cruel biases in Indian media

If you are destined to be a murder victim, and God forbid you are not, just hope it is not in Goa. For some inexplicable reason, the tragedy intrinsic to an action of violence or violation in Goa is always slathered with sleaze and there is no dignity or privacy given to the dead.

Monika Ghurde

Monika Ghurde. Instagram

Take the case of well-known perfumer Monika Ghurde who was murdered on Friday in the reasonably upmarket town of Sangolda. Within minutes the media has all the information about the manner in which she was found; where the ligature marks were, the absence of clothing, and the way she was tied up. It is concluded before any autopsy that she was raped. Imagine the sense of shock and horror for the family at loss, compounded by the ugly invasion of the crime scene and the ghoulish display of details.

Isn’t there a need to maintain the sanctity of the cordoned-off area where the crime took place? No one even thinks that it is wrong to contaminate the scene and make public the sordid features.

This information should be confidential and kept away from the public while the investigation is on. It is unbelievable that such graphic data is freely handed out. Imagine, if you will, the condition of those who loved her, knew her and cared for her.

Unfortunately, because of a caricatured packaging of Goa over several years as a place where licentious conduct is the norm, and drugs, sex and raves a nightly routine, no one thinks that it’s wrong to probe a victim.

Ah! Goa! It must be a drug thing. Was the person who was killed in such a grotesque fashion into something funny? Has to be. It is Goa. Hanky-panky? Certainly. Can’t be just a normal killing?

It is so grossly unfair, especially since the victim cannot fight for herself. Also, the people of Goa are not violent. On the contrary, they are almost placid and tolerant but the impact of outside influences, often the misuse of their easygoing susegad (cool it, we can do it tomorrow) lifestyle has left them vulnerable to exploitation. The huge percentage of the non-Goan population has brought with it wrong priorities and a new level of greed and insolence that was never part of Goa. I ran a newspaper there for years and violence was not part of the pattern. Ever.

This is a grotesque and immediate coverage of an act of extreme violence. And the arrogance of the attackers could well have been fed by the 23 September verdict that freed the two suspects involved in the murder of an eight-year-old Devon schoolgirl, Scarlett Keeling. The two accused, Samson d’Souza and Placido Carvalho, had allegedly plied Scarlett with drugs, raped her and left her unconscious on the beach, where she drowned.

Was the case botched up by the prosecution leaving the judge no choice but to let them go? Has this verdict sent out a message that in Goa you can get away with it, no sweat?

And this is where it goes wrong. It promotes cruel perceptions like a white girl must be promiscuous, and a Christian name must be ‘fast’.

Tourists from the rest of the country come to Goa to ogle, indulge and misbehave. They feed the dark underbelly of Goa. Must be taking drugs, kuchh toh hoga.

Rich perfumer murdered in her upmarket town. Must have been having a booze party. Toking up. It cannot be just a cold-blooded killing for her money.

Poor Goa. She pays a big price for the past and a handful of hippies and peaceniks who roamed her beaches in the 70s and 80s, and did very little harm.

Poor Monika. She is now a gruesome grist for the media mill.

Because it’s Goa, anything goes.

Damn the lack of grace.

Surgical strikes: There are good reasons to believe that CNN-News18 made the call to Mirpur SP

It is difficult to imagine any journalist with a modicum of integrity, especially one in a senior position like Manoj Gupta would fabricate a conversation with a Mirpur SP and of questioning him on India’s surgical strikes.

True, journalists are not always the picture of probity and have their fair share of bad eggs, but the fact is that even as Pakistan’s foreign ministry dismissed the CNN-News18 story, its acknowledgement that there is a policeman named Ghulam Akbar in the Mirpur station in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), kind of pulls the ground from under the ministry’s feet.

Representational image for India's surgical strikes. AFPRepresentational image for India's surgical strikes. AFP

Representational image. AFP

And, as much of a fount of knowledge that Gupta might be, the odds of him personally knowing the name of a policeman in the hostile territory of PoK are incredibly low; thus, we have to assume that he got the name through someone.

I have no idea how good an impersonator Gupta is, but, if he pretended to mimic the IGP of Pakistan’s Punjab, there is a fair chance that a mere junior policeman in a station would have had his heart in his throat when he found that IGP Mushtaq had called. There is in fact an IGP Mushtaq.

If it is anything like we see in India, Akbar would have probably stood at attention over the phone line and saluted, and yes, inevitably spilled the beans. It is highly unlikely that he would have had the courage to question the bona fides of the voice on the other line or make out the subtle differences in the accent. How many SPs posted in remote areas would be familiar with the IGP’s voice pattern?

I remember once going through the security check before taking a flight from the Mumbai airport and this burly man was stopped because of something suspicious in his handbag. A policeman asked him to open his bag, but instead of complying, he flashed his credentials – he was the commissioner or something. About twenty cops rose as one and stiffened up. His bag was not opened. So much for that.

Ditto the reaction across the border, where authority is even more feared. Regardless of Pakistan’s hot denial and accusations that the voices on the recording are forged and do not belong to Akbar, who now obviously suffers from memory loss and insists that no such call was received, the truth is reflected in their protests sans conviction.

Argument: There is no percentage in concocting this exercise. You are not going to put your career and credibility and your station at stake for a stunt that can easily be found out as false and blow up in your face. Imagine the horrific embarrassment if you conjured up a conversation for a moment’s delight.

Besides, the SP Akbar confessions, so to speak, are not particularly revealing of any new evidence. In fact, he just kind of tells the big boss how many casualties there were, that some Pakistani soldiers were lost and that seven places were attacked by India in the surgical strikes.

India already knows that. And more.

Which is why this little conversation has the scent of reality about it. There is no drama, no exaggeration; it’s just a normal talk. We all are creatures of habit. If the boss calls we go into mental handsprings. It is the way we are.

Let Pakistan whine as much as it wants and disregard the call. It happened and we really don’t need to prove it.

And yet, there are Indians who say, it could not have happened. Why not? Why would he divulge details, they say; he would want a proof that it was his boss… yeah, sure. You do that right? Have you seen how we curl up like worms and bend into question marks and sit on the edge of the chair, if we sit at all, when the big boss summons.

Our part of the world has the most servile body language in the world; we call it respect but it is, actually, a deeply ingrained sense of survival.

We do not need this cabal in India – demanding proof of the surgical strikes. Why would we make it public? Why would we let the terrorists watch a grand episode on India’s military modus operandi, and tell them about the drone models we have, the weaponry used, and the route we took to get in and get home. There is no need for that.

I think Gupta took a shot and was dead on target. For any journalist, it’s wonderful, it’s thrilling, it’s what it is all about.

Surgical strikes: Not trusting the Indian Armed Forces make us look weak

It is an unbelievable hubris that we would doubt our own military and howl for evidence of a surgical strike following the 18 September Uri attack.

That the government and the Indian Armed Forces have to be dragged into petty politics is even worse. It’s almost like it is more exciting to disbelieve them than to accept that the teams went in, dismantled eight terrors camps, and got home.

Representational image.

Representational image.

Occasionally, one gets the feeling that the need to ‘scoop and sell a story’ is so overwhelming that we dredge for doubt. And are dismayed when we don’t find it.

Also, if this is the sort of ‘dog in the manger’ attitude the media is going to display in its quest to corner the government on a single four-hour operation and send off little salvos of ‘shak’ because it is nice and competitive to do so, what will we do during a war?

Days have passed since the ‘surgical strike’ but we seem incapable of moving on. In purely military terms, it is done and dusted, and was, itself, not such a massive action. In tactical terms, it was an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny beautifully timed incision, and it is over.

The strikes were ordered to respond to the blatant attack on an army camp in Uri and to show Pakistan, India means business. Period. It was a message and not a major conflagration. It was neither the Battle of Britain nor the landings in Normandie.

As far as the fight against terrorism goes vis-a-vis Pakistan allowing them refuge on its territory, this is not even a start and a lot more will have to be done to rid ourselves of the menace.

If we cannot accept a singular strategic move on trust without having politicians and others hogging the limelight by scratching doubts on the surface, we are in danger of becoming our worst own enemies.

Frankly, many of us in the media and without, are heartily tired of the browbeating and the time and publicity being given to the naysayers. This phrase ‘surgical strike’ like some heady new wine has become a mantra and it seems we cannot get enough of it.

Danger: we will lose sight of the bigger picture by focusing attention on a corner of this canvas.

Bigger danger: our troops will look at each other in wonderment and say, why are we risking our lives for these people who don’t want to believe us. @#$% them.

If I was one of the guys who had gone in that night, and this is what I was hearing and seeing I’d be thinking: What the bloody hell do I have to do before these ###wipes believe me?

Biggest danger: we are giving Pakistan so much comfort and so much fodder to feed their media cannons and ridicule us.

The nonsense we are witnessing over the blaring TV channels and echoing on websites and blogs and newsprint is largely bed-rocked in ignorance and a false sense of entitlement fueled by pro- and anti-Modi factions.

The Army does not owe us the showing of classified material, contrary to our arrogant conclusion that anything which happens has to be shared with the press instantly, or, you are covering up.

It does not. The government will decide what military matters are to be shared, and when.

Seriously, let this surgical strike become a page in military history. A one-goal lead in a game that has only just begun is not the time to scratch the scab or jump up and down with joy.

The Indian Armed Forces themselves will tell you: Get over it.

Om Puri should feel lucky that he is in India after taking freedom of speech to a whole new level

I watched Om Puri on a TV panel discussion with awe and admiration. Awe because never have I heard such gibberish in my life. Admiration because the man underscored the Indian madness over film stars. If he wasn’t a film actor, he would have been indicted for sedition with twenty times the evidence we flung at Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU Students’ Union leader.

Om Puri. News18

Om Puri. News18

Om Puri did not cross the LoC of common sense. He trampled it with contempt and derision for Indian soldiers and talked such utter nonsense that it was difficult to grasp at even a tendril of common sense.

There wasn’t even a hint of the threadbare ho hum stance of intellectual pretension like we see in Salman Khan and Karan Johar and their tribe…here is the Defence Minister of Pakistan saying he will fling nuclear bombs at you and a cricketer like Javed Miandad telling the world that every child in Pakistan will rise up against India and if we could just keep a dignified silence, that would be fine but no, we have to denigrate ourselves and babble on about our being nice guys and art being separate.

So is sport, Sport, and I do not see the Miandads playing by the rules.

But this is all small beer compared to the drivel spouted by Om Puri. It was so breathtakingly anti–Indian that only in democratic India could he be in a position to go home, have a drink, eat dinner and sleep peacefully without being accountable to the state.

Some years back, he acted as General Zia Ul Haq in a film called Charlie Wilson’s War. Clearly, he hasn’t stepped out of his role.

After this absurd display of hubris and conceit, I think it is time we told Bollywood and all its other ‘…woods’ to put a sock in it.

To an extent, their excesses and their pretensions to grand intellect are our fault. We put them on the pedestals, venerate them, come out into the heat of the night to pay obeisance, turn them into demi-gods, carry their photographs, want to touch them, make huge posters and cutouts and give them space to believe they are philosophers who eclipse Socrates and Plato.

No wonder then that they believe they can afford to be outrageous and still be loved.

Take this Om Puri guy. Great actor whose self-delusion borders on the ridiculous. He babbles on about the armed forces, repeats some nonsensical litany of turning the subcontinent into Palestine and Israel like he had discovered the cure to cancer and embarrasses himself beyond belief.

If Bollywood is truly the great free spirit and vat of grand thought it pretends to be, let’s have the Salman Khans and the Karan Johars come out into the open and tell us that Om Puri had egg on his face and made a laughing stock of himself while indicting the whole film industry.

Will they do it? I doubt that very much. We live in perilous times and our nation is under attack. Wake up and smell the coffee, bitter as it is.

We do not need opinion, we need solidarity.
We don’t need placid pacifism, we need alertness.
We don’t need to kneel, we need to walk tall.

And we also need the Om Puris of India to zip it.

Seventy years later and the Brits still haven’t got the Kashmir handle right

What’s with the Brits? Have they got this wrong or have they got this wrong? And why are we doing nothing about it?

Kashmir is not administered by India. Kashmir is integral to India. So how come the United Kingdom is still getting away with it.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. PTIUK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. PTI

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. PTI

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s promise to have his nation stand shoulder to shoulder with India in the fight against terrorism was sincere and touching, coming as it did from a man known not to pull his punches. Boris Johnson, it is said, says it like he sees it. Rough and tumble is fine but get it right.

The UK, he said, condemns all forms of terrorism and supports all efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.This was 18 September.

I would like to cry us a river at this flow of sentiment if the Uri incident Boris refers to was not labelled as having occurred in ‘Indian-administered Kashmir.’

It dried up my river pretty fast and it says very little for our foreign policy that we have allowed our former colonial power and current supposedly good friend to continue this parody and make it look like Kashmir is not an integral part of India. Oxford Street, Bond Street, Madame Tussauds, Big ben, Trafalgar and Southall and Tooting. Like our second home, what?

It is time we took up this issue and perhaps the new High Commissioner Yash Sinha is just the man to set the ball rolling or speed it up.

I am confident, knowing the diplomat these past forty years, that he would be equally surprised that in its official statements the UK allows this phrase to be bandied about against all norms of diplomacy.

In the cosmic sense it does not matter I guess because India can rise above it but I wonder how Boris would respond if India’s official or demi-official correspondence began to say England administered Scotland or English administered Wales. The Scots fought their first battle of independence in 1296 (which they won) so it has been a pretty decent whack of time and the sentiment to leave the UK was brought again to the fore during the Brexit movement.

As for Northern Ireland they pretty much echo the Scottish stance and not just on Brexit. As Ian Bremmer wrote in July in the Time magazine: “Brexit has exposed the fault lines dividing the U.K.’s four constituent pieces: Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. Add London to the mix, and Brexit makes clear that there’s nothing inevitable about a “United Kingdom” going forward. Disunited is more on the mark.

By that token, it wouldn’t go down very well would it if India began to follow the Whitehall line and there seem to be a lot more grounds for it then there are for Boris Johnson to fling that prefix at India. Seventy years down the tube they are still fiddling around with our borders.

It is also politically and diplomatically inaccurate. There is no dispute about Kashmir being an integral part of India and is not to be equated with PoK which is an anomaly and open to debate.

Perhaps the time has come for New Delhi to see the categorization as downright offensive and to officially protest against its use by a friendly country. Whenever, for example, Israel reads or sees the phrase ‘Occupied territories’ it makes a right royal song and dance about it.

The support from London would be a lot more appreciated in India without the present characterization. So come on, Boris, get with it.