Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A tale of two cities

Mumbai and Bombay. Somehow the usage just seems to -- inadvertently -- denote the biggest difference between how people see the city.

Bombay, of course, is cosmopolitan. Open for everyone. BUT Mumbai is only for Mumbaikars. Raj Thackery (who finally someone, even if it was Lalu Prasad Yadav, called a mental case) has been arrested, and as I type, is going to be taken to court shortly.

As you all might know, Raj and his band of MNS workers have been attacking non-Maharashtrians in the city, claiming that they are taking away jobs that actually belong to Maharashtrians. The hysteria has been a multi-pronged strategy, which has included calls for all shop signs to be in Marathi, all state communication in the same language, beating up taxi drivers and so on. The sheer power of Raj -- his ability to lead other goons like him -- made the state government nervous about arresting him. Bombastic threats were made, to the effect that "watch what will happen if you arrest Raj Thackerey!"

This entire deal has been making me think of identity as an Indian. The fact that Raj has a following is most disheartening to me. But its not just as an observer. I'm half Kashmiri and half Maharashtrian. Since I wasn't born in Kashmir, I can never buy land there. (Consider this my pitch to change that law!) Chances are, especially since I can't speak Marathi fluently (and plus not a pure breed), if it was up to Thackerey & gang, I wouldn't be welcome there. Delhi is my home. I can't imagine what I would do if this state because some exclusive party too. But as my mother reassures me, I was born in the city! (Phew -- that has to earn me some brownie points!)

But then again, if I have to be fair, the Delhi CM also lamented a while ago about migration into Delhi. (Poor UP and Bihar). And the frustration stems from a real place, of course, because since movement within our country is a constitutional right, the government can never be sure of how many people will reside in a state on any particular month. So, resources are never enough. They cannot be planned well enough. Bigger questions about budgets follow.

Beating up people who are looking for a better life is not the answer. Many have argued that it is the fault of governments of backward states -- especially UP and Bihar -- that just do not have jobs and infrastructure to provide to their people. It's probably very true, and these states need to be developed with some long term aims. Bihar has been destroyed again, and I hope Mayawati is actually doing some good out in UP -- one mostly hears of her many statues and fights with Sonia, but I'm ready to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Our media, of course, is helpful as ever. Is this the face of urban terrorism, asked CNN IBN. I'm not sure exactly what the meaning of this new label is, and if that is really the point. Arnab Goswami, I was very happy to note, was holding representatives of MNS, Shiv Sena to task.

What will happen to Raj? Because I'd sooner go to Bombay for a visit than Mumbai.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

money matters

The closing statements said a lot. There was McCain, appealing to the American voters to let him fulfill his destiny, to serve Americans again, and Obama, focusing on how he wants to change policies to rescue America from this slippery slope.

You must have seen it all, read it all, how McCain sneered and rolled his eyes as Obama spoke; how Obama smiled as McCain criticized him. McCain was simply unpleasant. He wasn't always like this, go back and google his appearances on Conan, Leno or even The Daily Show. He spoke his mind. He was fun. But, I suppose as a Republican candidate (after all, he is not running as an independent candidate) he was taken more traditional positions.

But it all boils down to policies and the Republicans severe aversion to having the government involved in people's private lives. (Although, under Bush, the government was not only in their phones, but now is nationalizing banks, which for them, really, is a strict no-no.) Coming from India, we are well used to the government with its finger in every pie. In fact, over here we want more privatization. We feel that is more effective. But let's also keep in mind that if private companies were allowed to do what they wanted -- as has happened in the States -- one would need to government to come out and sort everyone out. Obama's basic argument is that private players have not always been able to solve problems, because they don't have larger policy issues in mind, but profits for themselves and shareholders. That's not wrong, but a country needs a long-term plan too. Even here, say the phone companies hiked up charges to insane amounts, we would expect the government to step in and tell them to calm down. Remember the common man, and all that. ((Same to same Obama.))

I won't bother recapping other arguments they have, you know them. But I did see something on BBC that is worth recounting. They reported, last night as I lay awake at 3am for no reason, that America has seen shopping sales drop drastically in this year -- and the trend seems to have started even before reports of a financial crisis. The country -- despite problems -- has always depended on the American consumer to spend, spend, spend, thereby reviving the economy. That's why, as I understand it, Republicans say taxing the rich doesn't make sense. Then they'll have more money to spend, and it will all go back into the economy and trickle down. Well, clearly, that's not the case.

So, is it worth taxing the rich so that government has the money that it must necessarily spend on some kind of reform, research, relief, instead of a jacuzzi?

I guess my point is that a mixed economy seems to make the most sense.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

All about the trigger

What Bal Thackeray said today, that Sonia Gandhi’s attempt to de-link terrorism from religion is wrong, made me think really hard about some issues in front of us. One the one hand she is correct – by making terrorism a purely ‘Muslim’ issue (instead some some very, very angry people who just happen to be Muslim), we put the entire community at risk. People don’t trust them, the police give them a hard time, and their lives just suck that much more. But then again, de-linking it from religion is also kind of a Sarah Palin answer to global warming: she says it doesn’t matter whether it is man made or not, but of course it matters, if you don’t know what caused it, how will you prescribe the right cure? So, and especially so, after the Indian Mujahideen (responsible for the latest series of bomb blasts) claim in an email that they are angry about anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, about the Babri Masjid and Mumbai riots, which were clearly Hindu-Muslim issues, how can we dare to frame this entire problem outside the purview of religious problems? Now, I’m not a total retard and of course by linking this recent spate of terror activities to Muslim extremism, I don’t mean to link every Muslim to terror. But, unfortunately, the Catch-22 is, this happens.

But at the same time, in the light of Hindu-Christian strife, there have been calls to ban the Bajrang Dal. This is a clearly religious problem, and again, by lashing out at Hindu extremists, it doesn’t automatically mean all Hindus are extremists. (There are just so many more Hindus in India, the same rules do not apply.)

See, the entire problem (and of course I’m not pointing out anything new here) is that politics takes advantage of the religion, and then any normal, rational discussion is lost. For example, in the news are reports that Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Yadav would like the Bajrang Dal banned because that would help their minority vote bank. Now, their reason for supporting the ban should ideally be that the Bajrang Dal has been proved, without a shadow of a doubt, to be an extremist organization, and for the safety of its targets and for the national peace, it should be banned. The same goes for extremist Muslim groups – the reason we should go after them is because they kill people and create chaos, not because it would excite a Hindu vote bank.

But, my point is, if people are using religion to perpetuate violence, then we should call them on it. As all non-extremist Hindus should denounce extremist Hindu organizations, so should Muslims do the same with their rouge outfits. And we should not become too political correct (or incorrect) and not do the right thing.

The world is what it is.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Modi to the rescue

So, is Narendra Modi a national hero for rescuing the Nano -- the car for the common man? The one lakh car? How does one feel about the fact that Ratan Tata, known to be one of the most honest businessmen in India, is sharing the stage with Narendra Modi, one of the most villified politicians by the educated elite (a crowd that ironically, Tata belongs to, although I have no idea if he ever vocally criticized Modi). Are we to forget Modi the communal evil now, since he has recently been exonorated from some communal carnage in the state? Is his new avatar the saviour of capitalism? Even his toughest critics will have to praise him for this move.

This story is as much about the Nano, capitalism and industry in India -- as much as it is about Narendra Modi, the good guy.

Mind boggling.

random house

Was meant to go to Orissa for a shoot, but with the violence and flooding, things came to a standstill. That's when I started writing -- aimlessly at first -- a book. Now, there's no telling if I will finish the book, I can't make out if its interesting to anyone besides me (although the two people who've read it seemed to enjoy it). Plus I'm more racy novel than anything deep and insightful, but who cares! As long as its fun and you learn something. (What is it about, you ask: all in good time!)

Anyway as I started to lift my head and watched news, I was as disappointed as anyone with what happened with the Tata's in Bengal. And whats more, they have now decided to go to Gujarat with the Nano, which makes me wonder how Modi, villified for violence against Muslims, has proven to be a good CM in terms of business and industry. I guess this experiment with democracy is all good, but when you need something done, a firm hand is the best?

Meanwhile, a fellow journalist gets killed -- murdered -- on Delhi roads late at night and the CM thinks she was being "adventurous". Just makes you realise how out of touch Old India is with New India, where travelling at night is quite routine for many women -- and men. Did our CM not know this? That's what I'm shocked about. On my own, I've seen this city at all times of the day and night, thats for sure, and I've been lucky; nothing has ever happened. I was stopped at a police check near the PM's house once, all the cops were drunk, misbehaving. Luckily one was sober and told me to just drive off. I know that unless a female cop is present they can't stop me at night, but there was a barricade -- I had no choice. But thats almost all of my misadventures.

Recently I attended a do where there were many of my ex-collegues from the Indian Express and I was asking them what the deal was with this Indian Mujahideen. The emails said the bombs were for Gujarat, but to me, its still baffling how bombing Delhi aimless really helps their own lives. It's a pretty retarded strategy was strategies go -- unfortunately, a very dangerous one. So thats my new project for myself; following the terror trail more closely. I remember when the Indian in Australia was suspected of terror -- I forget his name right now -- India boasted of the fact that there was not one single Indian Muslim terrorist. Now they seem to be everywhere. What is it then?

We had this conversation about stereotypes last night. I won't repeat much of it since it was politically horribly incorrect, but at the end of the day my thought was that stereotypes are based on behavior patters, and then blown out of proportion. But, as far as my understanding is, the best part about stereotypes is that they can be broken.

So, to things we believe are so not true and how we can prove that. And aimless racy novels. Cheers.