Thursday, July 31, 2014

Road Accidents: Disappointing and Disgusting

I am now fed up reading daily about road accidents! Invariably, lot of news space in the newspaper is eaten up by the accident news. And, it is disgusting to read the nature of accidents. The life of people in India has become literally so inexpensive that no one other than sufferer's family care for it. Though, knowing not that anyone can be that sufferer one day-You, Me or Anyone!

As a law enforcer, I am bewildered at the insensitivity of the law keepers. For them it is one more case of accident, nowhere close to murder, hence of little investigative value. So, the inputs are minimal and disposed off casually without any interest paid to causes of accidents. Statistically, to some, every accidental death adds value to their research. However, those research papers remain insignificant, shelved for intellectual discussions, which seldom happen.

On highways, you can find some small temple or stone made to believe as deity, which is erected at vulnerable spots to check accidents. They call them accident prone zones, which is in habit of seeking human life as sacrifice, hence needs divine intervention for protection. The opportunist pious administrators or agencies, entrusted with road safety, stay happy for these proxy local caretakers. Hardly we see much done to ensure safe driving.

Getting driving license is contractual shopping. Anyone determined to earn license by following procedures hold a chance of remaining license-less for long.  To ensure quick honeymoon with the license the best way is to book through agents, who would take care of everything. Only issue you have to care about is money. So, virtually you don't earn but buy driving license. And, because you are buyer so you have choice of learning rules of driving or just stepping on the accelerator with impunity, and to society's dismay the latter is preferred.

One of my friend living in rural area mocked and laughed at me when I mentioned about driving license. He averred that he hardly knew any acquaintance holding license, though most of them drew. As per his version, it was free for all in rural areas. It did sound to me as an exaggeration, but honestly, still carried some merits exposing our callousness towards road safety.

The purchasing capacity of Indian has grown phenomenally in recent past, and to quench their increasing thirst, vehicle production units are throwing vehicles on road at unimaginable pace, and what has lagged behind by miles is the law abidance and law enforcement, causing irreparable damage to human life.

High time we think about it!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Paan Politics of Varanasi

Paan Politics of Varanasi

To theist, atheist and agnostic, Varanasi is still held with awe, for its variety of paan. The city, a unique cultural melting pot, boils down to common liking, irrespective of class, caste, creed and religion, for banarasi paan. Cutting across the state borders its popularity has spread to all corners of the country. Banarasi paan kiosks are source of income to migrants from UP and Bihar in and outside their respective state. Certainly, they cannot match the marketing strategy of multi-national eating joints, but still by word of mouth it has made its presence felt in all parts of the country.
Interestingly, there is no particular individual brand name for banarasi paan, but its geographical identity itself is a saleable brand. Hence, without patent/copyright hassles anyone can invest in banarasi paan and earn a living. For the residents of Varanasi, paan kiosks have more significance than chewing. Paan kiosks are center of community interaction.
I, fortunately, have landed up in Varanasi to witness the historic election contest going on. The high octane melodrama fueled by interesting situation with BJP prime ministerial candidate, the hot favourite riding high on new personality cult wave in BJP, AAP’s attempt to build a sizeable fight that still is in wanting for enough mobilization, Congress’s dilemma to go all out or not, due to internal challenge for having drawn flak for seeking support from person alleged to be contestant’s brothers murderer, and the regional satraps in BSP and SP having lost ground, has caught every ones eyes and ears, nationally and internationally. The parties and their stalwart leaders are indulged in mudslinging politics.
In such volatile situation the paanwalas’ of Varanasi are making hay. For them it is golden opportunity to cash on the culture of discussions at paan gumti (kiosks). The election fever clubbed with weakness of Varanasi people for their paan is right combination for political discussions at paan gumtis. Paanwala, at feverish pace keeps busy churning one after another paan for customers, though customer is hardly in haste. For them it political anaylsis has overtaken the taste of paan.

Some of the dialogues overheard enriched and breasted me with the current situation in Varanasi.
“AAP has succeeded in fragmenting the muslim votes. It is now divided into four sections- SP, BSP, Congress and AAP. This division of minority vote will go in favour of BJP”.
“Today Modi has made strong statement about Azamgarh. That has changed the situation overnight. SP boss may have to struggle to win his seat.”

In between a new analyst would intrude. There are no prerequisite conditions to engage in ongoing discussions. Even acquaintance is not a necessity. Only convenient situation is to be a paan eater or a company of a paan eater.

“Varanasi is soon going to witness development, similar to Gujarat.”
“Congress candidate’s sister in law is moving door to door in the community asking to boycott him, as he is seeking support of his brothers murderer.”
There are all sorts of speculations regarding the margin between the winner and the closest second.

Through the discussion paanwala would get his instructions. “Meetha paan with chawan bahaar, laung, supadi and…”, “less katha, 320 jarda”, “peela jarda, baba patti…..” etc etc…
“Thoda supari aur dijiye”, “chuna dijiye..” etc etc…. would be asked with the fervor of discussion picking up.

Discussions would continue after short interventions. Motorcycles, bicycles, four wheelers would be zig-zaggedly parked. Interestingly, all through the long discussion none of the interlocutors would introduce themselves or seek introduction. Their contact would remain limited to this paan gumti.

In case one is not in consonance with others view, he would comment “Kahe Bhokaal deyat ho!” an interesting way of showing disagreement, to ascertain that the other one is bluffing.

“24th show of BJP was staged. People were hired!”- One view.
Counter view- “It is not possible to collect people of that magnitude. If BJP can buy people then why not Congress, which has more money for having ruled for ten years.”

Suddenly, after roadshow the comment was, “How can both parties, BJP and Congress, garner so much support for roadshow? Certainly they imported supporters from outside to show their strength."
“I don’t mind the vulgar road show. What interests me is that business has shot up this season.” This economization of politics.

“BSP and SP have become insignificant in this election in Varanasi,” was categorical statement for a shift from BJP vs Congress discussion.
“They have fielded their weakest candidates,” was another statement on these two regional parties.
Then there would be long discussions on fixing. “To give Dimple a cakewalk, BJP fielded poor candidate in her constituency. In turn SP is not interested in posing any challenge in Varanasi.”

Traveling in crowded Varanasi gave a first hand feel of excitement and enthusiasm and the paan politics is giving me pleasure of gossip.   

Monday, April 21, 2014

Informed Choice: How Realistic

Informed Choice: How Realistic

A healthy buzzword making rounds in this election is ‘Informed Choice’. The idea is to spread awareness amongst people about strengths and weaknesses of each political party in fray, and then expecting them to take their call. The environment created in the beginning of the season of elections, starting from assembly elections in Nov-Dec, 2013, was to contest elections on issues, particularly development issues. A tremendous zeal was witnessed amidst electorates for changed scenario of issue based politics in lieu of hitherto caste and religious fragmented politics. The new milieu generated lot of interest and excitement, particularly amongst the young first timer and rookie voters. Even the veterans appreciated and accepted the wave of change and, acknowledged and cooperated with the youths desire for informed choice, unheard for till date. The euphoria survived the assembly elections and has been carried forward into parliamentary elections.

Manifestos of political parties is widely debated, which is good sign of informing people as to what can they expect from coming government, either they vote them to power or not. The intention of informing in advance is to help them make their choice while casting vote. However, all is well and important only if the information provided is reliable and authentic. Nevertheless, even in this era of high-speed communication revolution, major chunk of electorate in India remains unaware of existence of any manifesto. They still rely on what is spoken from dais in the hustings. Only other source primarily making dent in mindset has been the social media revelations, which of course do not guarantee to be authentic information or devoid of manipulation.

For the first time (hopefully) lot of pressure was built on the political parties to inform from the electoral plank their stand on vital issues, which directly affected lives of citizens. The expectation rose beyond the conventional political game they had viewed for decades. And, perceiving this change in demand of electorate the political parties did start in unconventional voice. However, what has revealed in the course of days of campaigning is that impressionistic and exhibitionists are the real dangers. Paid news, falsehood advertisements and hyperbole image builders with concocted stories of well doing is turning out to be the malicious potent weapon to take the na├»ve and innocent people for a ride. Another aspect of campaigning that unfortunately picked up and is more damaging is besides own projection focusing on vilifying the opponents. This strategy, instead of giving informed choice confuses the voters beyond comprehension. The information provided to them to make choice has nothing to do with what they are going to gain, but rather is related to personal spicy character assassination of contenders. I don’t understand how intruding into someone’s personal life, digging out and exposing their private life are to that matter so important for national development. Certainly, strong character with transparency should be one of the prerequisite in public life, for they do impress on policymaking and judgments, which is vital while leading (or ruling) country. However, what form of private life has impact on public life has to be well defined. Corruption does have a meaning, but not about choice of food or any trivial family issues.

It was heartening to see that election preparation and campaigning at the onset took off with development as an issue of concern and slogan to woo electorates. Their high pitch statistical sharing of information on each other’s, ‘what have they done’, ‘haven’t done’, and ‘will do’ on developmental front was forerunner issue. Gradually, each one of the parties drifted away from their promised development agenda and pushed it as backburner issue, with below belt accusations steering the electoral rhetoric. As the end day of election campaigning is inching near the stakes have gone high and with that all attempt to polarize the voters by applying traditional divisive political instruments like caste and religious fragmentation have gained predominance. This is nowhere close to ‘informed choice’ as was designed and promised at the start. 

We must at any cost not lose the tempo that developed and caught up in the pre-start and initial stage of election process. Indian democracy is waiting for change, with looking for getting away from plutocracy, gerontocracy, casteist and pseudo secularist era. India should now be governed for good governance and not to be ruled for power. Let the electorates be informed on what they should expect by the fresh stock of leaders who should honestly commit to give this country what is due to her since independence. Let there be transparency in accepting the flaws with promises to correct and highlight strengths with enough evidence to prove. Time has lapsed when by browbeating and beating around the bush orators managed to trick the voters to toe their line. Even if they are living in fool’s paradise, plethora of other available sources should pass on right information to expose their vile intentions, so that ultimately electorate makes correct informed choice. There is no need to wait and watch for the interested parties to get transparent, but instead they can be forced to be responsible and accountable by sharing information through other reliable means. Whatever the means, what matters is to make informed choice and the day has come in Indian democracy when electorate is seriously seeking for it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Secularism: A destructive hype

Secularism: A destructive hype

Secularism has lost all its valued meaning in the present election. In fact, it has become a slogan for all wrong reasons. Secularity is being used for non-secular reasons, to polarize and create insecurity amongst communities, which otherwise would prefer to live a harmonious life. There is difference in the way secularism was viewed by our forefathers in India and other ideologues in the west. Our predecessors meant to give equal treatment and opportunity to all religions, and never manifested intention to san religious penchant of individual. Whereas, the western concept of secularism meant State above religion, with no matter what, State keeping at bay from religious demands for independent recognition. We have looked at State from inclusive angle but without actual integration, whereas secularism would have been meaningful as an integrated lot than sectionalized independent inclusion. The political parties have destructively reaped this politically favorable ideology, sowed in the past, which has gained new heights in this electoral clash.

Perhaps, this liberal idea of secularism has served more purpose to its exploiters than servers. Political parties, calling themselves secular or branded bigotry, all have served the same purpose of creating rift in the communities for electoral gains. They fight tooth and nail, either to woo or antagonize, with implicit and explicit intention to spread hatred and confusion amongst communities. So-called secular forces have done more harm to the national security, economic interest and social fabric. Their energy has for decades remained and channeled for sustaining rift and widening trust deficit between communities.  ‘Appeasement’ a term getting more vulgar day by day, is a tool to fan the belief of separatism. Unfortunately, ‘appeasement’ is not with the intention to mainstream, but rather to seal their fate as outsider, marginalized. Polarization, term which has found popularity beyond limits in the foregoing electoral rhetoric, has literally felt pinching strong this season.

Minorities have been forced to believe that they are different citizens of this country and they gain to stand aloof. Majority community is compelled to accept that fragmentation of Indian society is truth, irrespective of their humble intention to bridge out the gap, and their choice to lead a normal nationalist life is practical joke. The attempt of most of the political parties is to spread that the concept of ‘we’ as Indians is illogical and, instead ‘we’ from a particular community is a reality. Secularism in current usage means talking about divide and divisions, and not integration.

I do not stand here to evaluate and comment on the merits of the claims of either parties or any hyped model of inclusive growth and development or high pitched shameful slugfest between parties or rhetorical appeasement policies and following kiddish backlash. However, it pains to see the stalwarts, in the name of ‘secularism’, putting at ransom the national interest, ploys hatched for short term gains threatening and jeopardizing secular interests, short sightedness exposing communities to be manipulated and eventually playing into the hands of subversive forces. Destructive politics in the name of constructivism is possible just because majority of us, voters, are gullible enough to believe the full throttle vows of our political benefactors, and fail to read between lines because of un-empowerment to analyze in right perspective; for perspective we hold is what has been created by these benefactors through rigorous persistent efforts. ‘Divide and Rule’, a colonial strategic plan and action finds relevance in this distorted application of ‘Secularism’.

Friday, April 18, 2014

NOTA- is it time to write obituary!

NOTA- is it time to write obituary

NOTA (None Of The Above- option), which created lot of fuss and anxiety during assembly elections, few months back in the fag end of 2013, has become a lackluster entity in the current parliamentary election, 2014. Much acclaimed and proclaimed carte blanche to the voters, as a right to deny support to all candidates by voting NOTA, if necessary, became a non-entity in no time. What contributed to its early death is a million dollar question. Can this be attributed to deluge of promising candidates in the fray or something missing in conception and implementation of NOTA?

I am strong supported of the latter idea. Last time when NOTA was being popularized and publicized as a healthy alternative choice to the voters, it was hard for me to keep my optimism alive. Somehow, I had strong feeling that it was wrongly constructed and designed to ensure its untimely demise. I did not mind thinking loud in whatever possible forum. I argued vehemently with NOTA protagonists that they must question its effectiveness before engaging in popularizing it or else they will land up frustrated. There was still chance to raise voice calling for some amendment. However, they argued that it was beginning and not the end, and onset obviously is fraught with challenges- to perceive the concept and comprehend its utility. But, I begged to differ posing them unequivocal questions, asking them to convince me the validity of NOTA.

NOTA was no better than invalid votes, which are mercilessly rejected due to foolishness of a voter to fail in the process of casting it properly, by following the most simple voting procedure. It was no better than stamping the archaic ballot paper and throwing it in a dustbin, which would be documented as used paper but without relevance. Only difference to this analogy of brute unconstitutional act was that NOTA was relieved of any legal hassles. NOTA was no threat to any candidate, whatsoever, to prove impeccably that they honestly meant business. ‘Mind your business’ mockery shifted from candidates to voters, due to improper application of such a powerful tool in a vibrant democracy in India. What could have been an enviable mechanism to compel parties to pick upright and trustworthy candidates went regrettably waste. Philosophically, even if all but one voter in a constituency voted for NOTA, the candidate with that ‘one vote’ would be adjudged as winning candidate. What else could be more mockery of the voters’ power to select and elect in electoral system. The significance of NOTA remained confined to numbers, as an experiment to evaluate the disenchantment of voters in the contesting candidates. The numbers were to be used for further research to bring change in future.

Globally, dragging the voters to polling booths is a compelling challenge. In India it has cost public exchequer huge amount in advertisement to woo.  In such dry situation it was mistakenly presumed that people would be self-motivated to drag their feet to booths to press EVM button on NOTA option to stamp their discontent. I always wondered the optimism entrenched in the decision makers, in either of the pillars of democracy, who over-ambitiously banked on enthusiasm of group who cried aloud for additional option of NOTA, and overrated its spillover to all sections of voting community. Unless, a voter believes that his participation is meaningful and contributes for change for better, personal or national, they would no way like to engage. And, rightly they proved their point, by debating vociferously on the importance of choice on streets and forums, but abstaining from taking pains to vote for irrelevant experimental option. And sadly, this parliamentary election had no NOTA option enlisted for debate. It will lie low and vanish as irrelevant if no thought is given to its utility. The bus is not yet missed, and we need not write obituary and lay it to rest, but instead amend folly and reconstitute its importance to be tested in assembly elections coming in near future.

Well! I can be blamed here for spreading cynicism by whole-heartedly promoting NOTA, which  some consider to be negativism. However, in reality I am inviting people to participate, but with a call to provide level playing ground. My above critical discussion is to depict that the choice given to voters is not equal, which is unethical, illegal and unconstitutional. I believe that the percentage of voting will swell once the voters are convinced that their choice, irrespective of what, in favor of a candidate or totally rejecting all, is valued in this democracy. Let absenteeism be not a substitute to denial of acceptance of a candidate, as NOTA clearly mentions- Choice for None Of The Above.