Sunday, April 06, 2014

Do you know how to swim?

Sometime ago, I was having a chat with a friend who, like me, was learning to swim. “I’ve learnt”, she declared confidently on day two of her swimming practise. I was mighty impressed, and a tad jealous, since I had not made such sterling progress. “I can do a breadth”, she added. I congratulated her, and then, being curious how she had achieved this feat, enquired about what stroke she had learnt. It was the regular freestyle, she said, and she had mastered it all, except the little bit where she needed to pull her head out of the water to breath.

This was exactly where I was in my swimming lessons, and to me it didn’t seem like I knew swimming at all. Until I knew how to pull my head out of the water, I didn’t know swimming. It was the crucial bit that made the difference between knowing and not knowing.

Knowing something is a curious business. Do we really know something if we don't know the crucial bits? 

Saturday, November 02, 2013

KRRISH 3, my 1 min review

Krrish 3 is the SECOND part in the Krrish superhero series, and tells a familiar tale of good superhero fighting evil arch villain. Here’s the recipe. First, cook up a superhero, named Krrish. Take ⅓ Superman, ¼ Batman, ¼ Spiderman and marinate in Bollywood masala. Then pit him against villain Kaal, who is ⅔ Magneto of X Men (but looks more like Professor X) and ⅕ Iron Man gone nuts, marinated in 1980s Bollywood villain masala. Toss in a few more mutants into the mix. Add a dash of Bharatiya sanskriti and dollops of emotional melodrama. Garnish lightly with song and dance. Stir vigorously in Mumbai melting pot with plenty of special effects, ripped bodies, and smashing action. Your superhero film is ready.

Monday, October 21, 2013

More on "The Good Men of India"

A cyclone of outrage tore through the Twitterverse yesterday, like most other days. It is worth mentioning only because it had greater wind speeds than the daily outrage. It was occasioned by a piece in the New York Times titled "The Good Men of India".
Great fury erupted at the mention of the words "good" and "men" in close conjunction, because this is clearly a technical impossibility. Men must always be bad. We are all Shakti Kapoor in a B grade Bollywood film.
Some of the loudest outrage, however, came from men, so they must be the heroes in said film. These men are all rich, well educated, generally belonging to the upper classes and castes that for some reason like to falsely call themselves the middle classes. In India, they would be in the top 5 percent of the population. Last I checked, you get middle when you divide by two.
The heroes were upset that a positive stereotype was being propagated by no less than the NYT. A negative stereotype is fine. A positive stereotype? Are you fucking nuts?! It's a stereotype! Down with it!
Dude, if there are so many heroes, maybe the NYT is right. There must be a few good men, such as your most honourable selves.
I'd suspect, in fact, that there ARE. This is because I kinda noticed that the lives of women in South Asia have changed more in the last 100 years than in any comparable period in the last 10,000 years.

Let me say that again, slowly...lives of women in South Asia have changed more in the last 100 years than in any comparable span of time in the last 10,000 years.
This happened pretty much everywhere in the world, actually. France, the birthplace of liberty and equality, gave women the vote in 1944. Cambridge University, beacon of learning, admitted women for degrees in 1947 for the first time in 750 years or so.
The change has been especially sharp in our context, because we had more ground to cover. We were coming from a culture of Sati and such. Control over women is deeply embedded in our societies, across religions and languages. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian all do it or did it. So do Punjabis and Bengalis and Tamils and all others.
This is what is being changed at present. It is a work in rapid progress. Social change on this scale, affecting billions of people, has not happened in so little time, anywhere, ever. 
Clearly, we must be going too slow for your liking, because you'll are so mighty pissed off. Change the fucking society before I wake up tomorrow, or else I WILL BECOME ARNAB!
Heck, guys, you're already Arnab. Now stop foaming at the mouth and get a sense of perspective.
No one is denying the bad. To deny the good only reflects a negative mindset.
The rapid changes in women's lives in the past 100 years would have been impossible if a majority of men did not support it to various degrees. If you want to see male opposition to women's emancipation, look at what the Taliban are doing, quite successfully.
There are certainly a lot of men who are still in need of reform. Some are reconstructed to a degree that is not adequate by the standards of the Left Liberal elites with colonized minds who take all their cues from America or the United Kingdom. Many of these individuals do not speak any language other than English, though they live, in a manner of speaking, in India. Others have left for the great and glorious countries where they are more comfortable.
A few remain here, and rant endlessly. Their whole lives are laced in hypocrisy, but they are too dim to realize it. Worldviews come from templates which are easily imported like their perfumes, gadgets and favourite drinks. Approval for said worldviews comes from one another. They form mutual admiration societies and give accolades, and more, to each other.
They also form packs and excommunicate those who criticize them, because for all their liberal pretensions, they are actually just as rigid of mind as religious conservatives.
They display the same attitudes that they rail against. In the specific case of the NYT article with which I started this piece, I'd say that their evident need to bite off the heads of anyone who dares say a good word about Indian men is a good example of this.

Indian men are patriarchal bastards, and no one must dare say a good word about them.

Now, for the sake of a thought experiment, replace the words "Indian men" in the previous sentence with "Dalit men" or "Muslim men". Whoa! Horror! See what I mean?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Besharam: The 1 min review

Besharam is fully faltu. It is also, as it should be for its name, quite shameless. Director Abhinav Kashyap has made a film that is Dabangg lite minus Salman Khan. He also probably made it without a scriptwriter, because I saw no evidence in the movie that there was one. However there is indeed a lot of Bollywood's bright new hope Ranbir Kapoor making an ass of himself, with the encouragement and support of his doting parents Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, who play major roles in the film. You could therefore call it family entertainment, by and for the Kapoor family.

A lot of the tomfoolery, dialogue baazi and action references other films, including Kung Fu Hustle.
Even the name of Rishi Kapoor in the film is referential; he is called Chulbul Chautala, to Salman bhai's Chulbul Pandey in Dabangg. The humour descends to scatalogical quite early in the film. There are also three cheap, peppy songs, one shootout and a car chase within the first hour.
As we all know, every hero in every such film must have a signature move; in this film, Ranbir's is adjusting his testicles in his always overtight trousers. Given all this, I am confident that the film will do really well at the box office. It could even hit the Rs 100 crore mark. The only reason I'm not sure of that is because it's a Salman Khan movie without Salman. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

On militant liberals, walking talking oxymorons

This was written in 2012 and first published in The Asian Age

There are intellectual fashions that grip a majority of educated people around the world at certain times. Staunch ‘Left liberalism’ is the prevailing intellectual fashion among India’s new generation of cultural elites. I admire both Leftist politics and liberalism, but the militancy of some ‘liberals’ astonishes me. 
A few days ago, I was at a friend’s place for a birthday party. We were having a philosophical discussion when one of the participants became agitated. He challenged another, a philosophy teacher who had dared to politely disagree with him, to a fistfight. It was ironical considering the intolerant man was espousing the more liberal view. 
The intolerance of liberals is a paradox I’ve been unable to fathom. If liberalism becomes a religion and is practised with similarly fundamentalist attitudes then it becomes a parody of itself. It ceases to be Left liberalism and turns into an intolerant faith.To practitioners of this faith, anyone who questions anything they say or do is an enemy who must either be silenced or converted. This was the attitude of the man who wanted the fistfight with the philosopher.
I’ve experienced milder versions of this on some occasions. There was one time when I made a comment, in response to a post on Facebook, about the Bus Rapid Transport system in South Delhi. This was on the day in March this year when the papers reported that the Delhi High Court had ordered the government to get a study done on the Delhi BRT in response to a public interest litigation suit. 
I thought this was a perfectly reasonable thing for the court to have done. There were two contending points of view on how well the BRT was working, and a fresh study by an impartial body seemed a fair way to arrive at a decision. I found myself beset by very vocal critics, some of whom are friends for whom I have great affection. The court had no business entertaining such PILs, said some people who otherwise root for judicial activism. This was the rich car users’ lobby shutting out the poor bus users, others raged. Newspapers had published unfavourable reports about the BRT because the journalists lived in South Delhi, fellow journalists said. Studies were never reliable. And so on, in the same vein, until I started to wonder whether my friends were prepared to bid goodbye to science, democracy, the judiciary and the press in order to save the BRT. Nonetheless, I clarified that I was only a BRT agnostic, not an opponent. I was curious to know if it was working as advertised, and if anything could be done to make transportation on that stretch better for all. This did not calm tempers. As the debate raged, it became clear to me that I was dealing with an article of faith. My agnosticism, and the court’s, was not acceptable.
A new report says the Delhi BRT is in fact a Rs 129 crore failure. “Lack of a proper bus route rationalization has meant that buses cluster on the BRT stretch, with only four-five passengers boarding or alighting per bus, but the government data shows a huge number of passengers plying on the stretch”, a report in Global Post quoting the fresh study by the Central Road Research Institute said on July 19. The report also mentioned that fatal accidents on the stretch had increased by 40 per cent, and wastage of fuel due to long idling times had shot up. 
It has been greeted with denouncements by the faithfuls. It is an unfair report, it discriminates against the poor, the methodology was wrong, etc, are being said.To me, this is worrying - not because of this particular issue, on which I retain my agnosticism - but because of the attitude on display. 
There is no doubt that these are intelligent people with their hearts in the right place. They were all educated in fine colleges, come from relatively wealthy backgrounds, and are eager to help those less fortunate than themselves. All this is admirable, but somehow some of them end up mirroring the attitudes of the fundamentalists they so detest. 
Like fundamentalists, these individuals cannot bear to have their certainties questioned. Their world is very simple, black and white. Corporations and their employees are evil, the police is always lying, the government is mostly bad, and politicians are abominable. The NGOs and rebels including Maoists and other terrorists are mostly good guys, but Baba Ramdev is not. The Right is always wrong. Rich people (excluding their family members) are rapacious capitalists. Development is awful except for electricity, the internet, the Mac and the iPhone or Blackberry, but sorry we need our ACs too. Air travel is evil but we can’t walk to London or New York, so it’s okay. Everything organic is good, too bad it’s so expensive. And so on. Such a worldview captures elements of the truth, but it is highly reductive, like this characterisation of the militant liberal. However, I may question my own characterisation, but militant liberals (an oxymoron if ever there was one) seem to harbour no doubts about theirs. They are creatures of certainties.
The progressive attitude is one that allows for abundant doubt. Science is based upon doubt just as religion rests on faith. In the scientific method, every theory is provisional, and subject to constant measuring and testing. You change the theory if the theory doesn’t agree with reality. The theory could be about universal gravitation or a stretch of road.This is the opposite of the religious attitude. In that, you believe something because it is the word of god. There is no altering views once you’ve accepted a faith; that would be apostasy. You might consider those who don’t believe in the same gods and books as you to be infidels. You would be vehement, even violent, in your denouncement of critics of your faith. This is the attitude I see in militant ‘Left liberals’. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Delhi gangrape and after: what ails us?

This is a piece I had written after the Delhi gangrape last December. I am reposting it now because the same problems still exist. Until we start to address them, rape after rape will happen, in one city or another, time and again. 

It is tragic that it took an episode as horrific as the rape of a young woman in a Delhi bus on December 19 to shake India out of its complacency over such crimes. 
This month itself, going only by cases that made the national news, there were three incidents on just one day, December 5. In Amritsar, an Akali MLA and his accomplices shot dead a policeman because he objected to their harassing his daughter. In Bangalore, a woman playwright was groped, harassed and slapped because she demanded punishment against a biker who ran into her car from behind. In Bombay, a boy of 19 was stabbed to death by a group of younger boys because he tried to stop them from harassing a girl.
 The terrifying lack of justice has been staring us in the face for years, but most people didn’t seem to see it until now. People were shortsighted; they saw proximate causes of problems, and clamored for easy fixes. So, for example, when Manu Sharma shot dead Jessica Lal, they marched to ask for his arrest. When terror attacks started to hit our cities, they called for hanging the occasional terrorist who was caught and convicted. When corruption began to pinch, they screamed for a Lokpal Bill. Now, when rape has crossed some invisible and inexplicable threshold of tolerance, they are calling for hanging the rapists. It is not as if rapes haven’t been happening all this while.

Stop the kneejerk

The kneejerk reaction is no use. 
Imagine a body that has chicken pox rashes breaking out all over. Every time one pox rash breaks out, some folks say put ointment on it, some others say put a pin through it, somebody else says something else. It’s all pointless, since the disease is internal, and the whole body is sick. 
India’s situation appears to be like that. The whole country is sick, and rashes are breaking out all over. Applying ointment or putting a pin through the rash is no solution. Entire systems have become rotten to the core, and need to be fixed from the inside out. 
From the Jessica Lal case to terror cases to corruption to rape, the two systems implicated in every instance are the police and the courts. They have to be fixed from the district level up, so that justice is available easily, quickly and cheaply to every Indian citizen. 
Fast tracking certain cases is the usual Indian response of VIP culture. It is not a systemic solution.
What we have now, because of our frightening police and courts, is a situation where people don’t even stop to help victims of road accidents, because they are so afraid of getting dragged into police and court matters. This happened with the Delhi rape victim too: she was lying on the side of the road where she and her friend had been thrown out of the bus, until the police reached. Meanwhile people drove past, but no one stopped.

Mobs everywhere

The absence of justice is sapping us of our humanity. It is leading to public fear on one hand, and mob justice on the other. Different groups with their own ideas of what is right and what is wrong are trying to dispense their own justice. Khap panchayats in Haryana have one idea, the Ram Sene in Mangalore has another, the chap who slapped Sharad Pawar may have a third, the one who slapped Prashant Bhushan may have a fourth. And so on. This is dangerous for India.
 Even the police, brutalized as it is, has become a mob. Across the country, policemen are known to routinely extort money. They ‘solve’ land disputes, and sometimes kill gangsters or alleged terrorists in ‘encounters’. In doing so they insult the most fundamental of all fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution – the right to life and liberty.
 Article 21 of the Constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Wrongful arrests and imprisonment, to say nothing of fake encounters, are in contravention of this. The situation is worst in those parts of India where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in force, because it effectively denies citizens their rights to life and liberty. Some people think there is no other solution; actually, the solution is very straightforward. The police should honestly and efficiently do what they are required, by our Constitution, to do. No more, no less.
Otherwise the police loses its moral authority. This leads to situations where citizens lose respect for the police and security forces. 
Ask any average person on the street anywhere in India what they think of the police; the first word they will come out with is probably ‘chor’, which means thief. The moral right of the police to discipline people is thus eroded. This is a dangerous situation. Those who can overpower the police will feel absolutely no hesitation in doing so. That is starting to happen. There are random incidents of attacks on the police that are being reported as brief items in daily newspapers.
 Hearing a Public Interest Litigation suit on safety of women on December 13, the Bombay High Court observed that, “Something is seriously wrong somewhere. There was a time when the presence of a single constable was enough to deter crime. Now nobody is afraid.” The bus on which the rape in Delhi occurred passed through five police barricades. The rapists carried on with what they were doing.

State failure

The state exists because it promises certain things. Security and justice are among the foremost of these. The state, corrupted through and through, is failing in its duties, and is thereby losing respect. Its monopoly on violence is being challenged. Khaps, the Ram Sena and mobs of all sorts see themselves as moral forces, which is why they are often called ‘moral police’. They represent a challenge to the real police.
In more extreme situations, the absence of justice gives space to Maoism. The legitimacy of the state itself comes into question.
It is curious that all the moral police brigades have been involved in crimes against women they see as immoral.
 Back in 2002, Professors Pippa Norris of Harvard University and Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan in USA published a study testing Samuel Huntington’s famous ‘clash of civilizations’ hypothesis. This is a brief extract of what they had to say:
“Comparative analysis of the beliefs and values of Islamic and non-Islamic publics in 75 societies around the globe, confirms the first claim in Huntington’s thesis: culture does matter, and indeed matters a lot, so that religious legacies leave a distinct imprint on contemporary values.
But Huntington is mistaken in assuming that the core clash between the West and Islamic worlds concerns democracy…Moreover the Huntington thesis fails to identify the most basic cultural fault line between the West and Islam, which concerns the issues of gender equality and sexual liberalization. The cultural gulf separating Islam from the West involves Eros far more than Demos.”
Inglehart and Norris had focused on Islamic countries, but as I wrote in an article in the Hindustan Times several years ago, on issues of gender equality and sexual liberalization, all conservatives in India, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, actually hold very similar attitudes. The clash between all of them and the ‘West’ is also over Eros.
Why should whole communities get so worked up over who wears what, or who sleeps with whom?

A painful transition  

I suspect the answer may lie in modern social history. While human living has changed dramatically in the past 125 years because of sudden advances in technology, human societies haven’t adapted sufficiently, because society’s moral codes are contained in religion and tradition, which are resistant to change. 
Key inventions in this context are the condom and the pill. The biological need to avoid sex has disappeared. The social need, especially in traditional societies, has not.
 Modern Western and Communist societies have largely relegated religion and traditions to the sidelines. Those societies are therefore better adapted for modern living. In more religious societies, modern living comes into conflict with inherited mores and morals. In such places, the West, equated with modernity, is seen as immoral and sexually promiscuous.
Conservatives see the woman who does not dress conservatively as ‘loose’, and therefore asking for it.
 The standards vary from Saudi Arabia to India, but this is the broad conservative consensus: women should cover up, should not associate with men who are not their relatives, should not have relationships before or outside marriage.
 As many people have pointed out, all this does not guarantee that the woman will be safe from harassment. Women dressed in saris and churidars are raped too. In Egypt, women in burqas routinely report molestation.

Biology could provide a clue as to why. In brief, it is because we are still carrying our animal selves encoded in our genes. We invented civilization, but that is an artificial construct. The animal still survives beneath.
 Men are required by both nature and nurture to be the more aggressive in matters of love and sex. This is possibly a natural tendency, which is reinforced by a cultural code across societies, that says the man must pursue the woman and make the move. Failure to do so guarantees failure for the man in competitions for love. Who dares, wins. So the man must do the chasing. When he does it right, and reads the signs well, it’s called wooing. When he does it too aggressively, or reads the signs wrong, it’s called harassment.
Unfortunately, many young men in this country lack the social skills to woo a girl. They can do no better than gathering in groups and passing lewd comments.
 Rape is further down the same road from harassment.
Though rape statistics are dodgy, it is clear that it happens in significant numbers around the world in all kinds of societies. The US, South Africa and India are among countries that report high numbers.

Not just about police

The fact that the US is in this list means that good policing may make things better in some measure, but it won’t end the menace. The US has much better policing than India, but it has the highest rape figures in the world.
 There’s little that is common to the US, South Africa and India. The existence of groups of economically and socially marginalized men who have little respect in society is one common feature. The existence of cultures of machismo is another. A relative weakening of religions over time is a third.
 Lumpen, macho men fighting their own feelings of powerlessness and meaninglessness in life tend to behave in dangerous ways. If they find power and meaning through religion, it can be via the militant brand. Ajmal Kasab, the Mumbai terrorist, was an example.
If god doesn’t provide meaning, it’s down to the ‘good things in life’ as advertised by capitalism to make life meaningful. The same demographic then turns to crime. 
Of course there are psychopaths in all social classes, of whom rich brats like Manu Sharma are examples. The tendency common to the rich brat and the poor criminal is that both have no concern for other people and will stop at nothing to get what they want.

Everyone’s talked about the rape that night in Delhi. What struck me most was the sequence of events. The story as reported goes like this.
 A group of men, all poorly employed, have an evening off. One of them is a bus driver, and they decide to go for a joyride. They drink some alcohol. Then they start to have fun. And what is it they do for fun? They pick a fight with a trucker who overtook their bus. They pick up a poor man, beat him up, and rob him. Then they pick up the couple, start a fight with them, beat up the guy and then rape the girl. They don’t stop at rape and sodomy. They also pushed iron rods into her body, injuring her critically.
 This is what they did for fun?
 Castrate them; they don’t have human rights because they cannot be considered fully human. What they did was pure evil. That cannot be tolerated.

Strengthen the police and fix the court system. Those are things that absolutely need to be done. 
Don’t leave it at that. The roots of this problem go deeper. They go into cultures, politics and economic systems that give rise to criminals and psychopaths.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Madras Cafe, the 1 min review

First up, there is absolutely nothing in Madras Café that any sane person ought to object to. As usual, the folks whose ‘sentiments are hurt’ by a film are the ones who almost certainly haven’t seen the film, and are likely looking for a bit of attention.
Madras Café is based on the events surrounding the brief war in Sri Lanka between the LTTE and the Indian peacekeeping force, and the later assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the prime minister who had sent the force there.
The things I like best about the film are the things that it is not. It is not melodramatic. It is not masala song and dance fare. It is not about John Abraham playing Rambo or his desi equivalent. Those things are fun to watch, too, but this is much, much closer to the real thing. It is a different pleasure.
If you want a Hindi film that shows you some glimpses of how covert wars are fought and assassinations plotted in our part of the world, Madras Café is a good start. Despite its tagline of "intercept the truth", it is fictionalized, but it does convey something of the way those things happen.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Time to remember a lost strand of India's political history

The recent incidents of attacks against Indian targets in Afghanistan and Kashmir were only to be expected. There will doubtless be more such in days to come. There is little point in stating the obvious; this piece is about a deeper issue.
Every time such a thing happens, most Indians react like Pavlov’s dogs to the bell. One lot always wants immediately to march to war, another always wants to pretend nothing happened, while a third keeps yelping ‘peace peace’ even as it is getting kicked.
This is because of their parentage, politically speaking. The inheritors of communal thinking, descendants of Golwalkar and Jinnah, see India and Pakistan in religious terms. For them, Kashmir is unfinished business from Partition, and that business can only be finished by continuing a fight that started a thousand years ago.
The descendants of Gandhi and Nehru’s political thought, with their ideas of an inclusive India at peace with its neighbours, are eternal optimists about human nature. Gandhi himself was shot dead, and Nehru died of a broken heart when his Chinese pals screwed him over, but the optimists are uncomfortable talking about such uncomfortable events. So they pretend nothing really happened.
The third lot is a curious one. This is the Martini Marxists and their friends, who do not recognize borders (but somehow recognize caste), who don’t see the need for security (but are always ready with candles after every rape/murder/terror attack), who don’t have clear ideas about anything (but nonetheless talk loudly about everything). They are what you get when you cross a Communist and a socialite. The Communist was traditionally opposed to India’s independence movement and tried to subvert the Quit India movement, supported the Chinese during the war with China, etc. Their loyalties always lie elsewhere.
This is why there is no clear response from India. The problem is one of a missing political gene.
That gene, which has been perhaps deliberately erased from our history, is the secular nationalist one represented by Netaji Subhas Bose. There was a man who was not corrupt, not wedded to communal identities for Hindutva or Pakistan or any kind of Ram Rajya, of modern temperament and egalitarian outlook, inclined towards boldness and action rather than eternal forbearance.
The country needs his political legacy to be brought alive again. It will help not only India, but all of South Asia, because the antidote to religious extremism cannot be administered by Jinnah’s and Gandhi’s heirs.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

D Day: The 1 min review

D Day is a spy action thriller about an unlikely event - a mission by the R&AW to abduct Dawood Ibrahim from Karachi and bring him to India. The film stars Rishi Kapoor as Dawood, and he is easily the best bhai to have graced Indian cinema in a long while. He fills the screen with his presence. Irrfan Khan does a fine job as a RAW agent, as do Huma Qureshi, Arjun Rampal and Akash Dahiya, but there is little doubt that in this film, Kapoor is the boss in the acting department.
The Cold War rivalry was the stuff of legendary spy novels and films. The intense rivalry between India and Pakistan has inspired surprisingly few of those, perhaps because of the sensitivities involved. However, there is now the occasional film that tackles the subject through genres other than war.
This film is arguably the best to have done so thus far. It manages to convey, with surprising humor, something of the complex, murky and violent world inhabited by spies and gangland dons, albeit with the dramatisation necessary for a proper Bollywood feature presentation. The characters, thankfully, are allowed to remain human; despite the genre, this is not a Bond film.
And although this is Nikhil Advani's film, there is a definite touch of Anurag Kashyap visible in the combination of humour and violence. It's the sensibility I noticed in Gangs of Wasseypur.
The pacing is uneven, but I have no complaints about that. Even when it seemingly dawdles, a thread to the narrative is being spun. The only loose end, finally, is the ending, about which I can't reveal more.
I could tell you, though, that somewhere in the movie, Dawood tells the R&AW agent who has come to get him, in a memorable dialogue, "Trigger khich, mamla mat khich". Wasn't the filmmaker listening?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Lootera (लूटेरा) my 1 min review

First things first. Sonakshi Sinha is beautiful, and in this film, has delivered a performance that marks her out as the best actress among her contemporaries. Ranveer Singh is suave and brooding by turns. The film itself has charms that are rare in today’s Hindi cinema. It harks back to a world of grace that is no more. There is quietness and slowness, restraint and melody. It is lovely to watch.

And yet, I left the theatre disappointed. 

The words ‘film industry’ speak of the conjunction of two very different worlds: film, which is art, and industry, which is technology and business. Most of the big new releases these days get the industry bit right. The parts are all manufactured to high quality and precision; the locations are perfect, the sets are excellent, the cinematography is just right, and the sound is appropriate, at the least.  

But you can’t manufacture soul in any factory. And that’s where film after film falters or fails.

Lootera tried to borrow its soul from one of the greatest short stories of all time, a little gem by O’Henry. This was grafted onto another story, about the lonely daughter of a Bengali zamindar in the 1950s. That is a world whose cadences were captured masterfully by Satyajit Ray in films like Jalsaghar and Charulata. 

Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap have managed to bring back some of those cadences into Lootera. They have managed to infuse the perfect body of their film with some borrowed soul. For this, I am more than happy: I am grateful. My disappointment is about the failure of imagination that drives Bollywood’s best talents to go about their business like the Thieving Magpie - also the name of an opera by Rossini whose music has been used in Lootera - to build their films.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Thane building collapse, and what's killing us

The problem of illegal constructions in Thane came to the notice of the Maharashtra government in the early 1990s. They did what all good governments do every time there is a problem: they set up a committee. The committee, under an IAS officer named Nand Lal, studied the problem, and submitted its report of 230 pages in December 1997. It mentioned percentages of cuts taken by politicians and municipal officials in Thane (37.5 per cent), names of 54 corporators and 36 civic officials involved, and indicted the then chief of the Thane Municipal Corporation, JP Dange - who was subsequently promoted to Chief Secretary. Speaking to my colleague Anand Mishra of The Asian Age after the recent collapse of a building that killed 74, Nand Lal rued that “no heed was paid” to his report.
It was ritually accepted, but is still gathering dust, more than 15 years after it was submitted.
This is the story of report after report of committee after committee. Every time something happens, a committee is formed, and the matter is buried. The report of the committee is rarely acted upon, and often kept secret.
Even the most high profile of cases get buried in this manner. Sometimes, crucial but politically inconvenient recommendations are neglected, as happened in the case of the Justice Verma committee report that was filed after the Delhi gangrape.
Even the police is a victim of this. Commission after commission has been set up on the subject of police reforms for decades, but no report has ever been implemented.
The Srikrishna committee report that was filed after the Mumbai riots of 1992/93 has been gathering dust for 15 years. The report of the Justice Reddy committee on Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been gathering dust since 2005. And so on.
It is not necessary that every report of every committee must be implemented in full, but every report of every committee should be placed in the public domain upon completion, and brought before Assembly or Parliament for open debate. Otherwise, the purpose of setting up the committee is negated and its efforts are wasted. 
An approach that focuses on the greater common good, rather than partisan considerations, is required of ordinary citizens.
At present, the nexus between corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and policemen has gamed the system completely, to the eventual detriment of all. Everyone is looking for his own little 'fayda', but the big picture is horrific. We are creating a gigantic mess.

A look at the Thane building collapse again shows this. It is a very small example, but the characters arrested all represent the usual stalwarts of our criminal society: one politician, one policeman, a couple of government officials, and a couple of crooked businessmen.
Those fellows got 74 people killed in just this one building, but actually, every city is full of people like that, and perhaps, buildings like that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Sanjay Dutt case

Looking at the debate over whether Sanjay Dutt should be pardoned or not, it becomes clear that the argument is taking place entirely because of who he is, not what he did. Had he not been the famous man he is, there would have been far, far fewer people speaking for him - or against. His case is being treated a certain way because he is famous.
So, let's accept that. And what result is it having? Well, on one hand you're hearing that he should be pardoned because he has been reformed. On the other, you're hearing that he should face the punishment meted out by the Supreme Court, because there should be no special treatment for the rich or famous.
I agree that there should be no special treatment for anyone regardless of fame. By that yardstick, he should not also be targeted because he is famous.
Let's for a moment forget his name, and see his story.

Dutt's story

A young man, growing up, encounters money, fame, and the loss of his mother to cancer. His father is a busy man. He himself is a troubled youth and takes to drugs. He becomes a drug addict and is sent for rehabilitation. He manages to clean himself up, and get married. He is turning his life around when his wife dies of a brain tumor. He is again shattered.
He tries to pick himself up and get back to work, but his money and fame bring him into bad company. Around this time, a mosque is demolished in a town in Uttar Pradesh, and riots start in Mumbai too. The initial fury of the Muslim community sees youth from that community in the role of aggressors. Then the reaction to the reaction starts, and with Balasaheb Thackeray and the Shiv Sena calling the political shots in Mumbai, it becomes a bloodbath.
Before these riots, Mumbai's famous underworld was largely secular. The big don of the day, Dawood Ibrahim, worked with his two lieutenants Chhota Rajan and Chhota Shakeel. He lived in Dubai, hobnobbed with visiting starlets and stars, and made the odd appearance at a cricket match in Sharjah.
The riots changed that. Legend has it that a box of bangles was sent to him at his Dubai house as an insult, because he had failed to protect his people during the riots, or avenge them after.
The revenge came in the form of the horrific 1993 bomb blasts. That was the start of Islamist terrorism in mainland India.
Sanjay Dutt is said to have met several of Mumbai's 'bhais' in Dubai during the shooting of a film. He is accused of allowing his house to be used for unloading weapons including the AK series rifle that eventually got him into trouble.
Eventually the only charge against him that was proved was under the Arms Act, for keeping that one rifle in his possession.

Equal justice?

Well, would anyone in this country have any idea of the number of 'kattas' and unlicensed weapons? Every villager in parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh has one. They should all be in jail. The law does nothing about them, because they are not famous.
Does anyone in this country have any idea of the number of assault rifles circulating around this country? Nope. Every insurgent group in the Northeast and Kashmir has them, the Maoists have them. When one of those guys surrenders, the Indian government gives them a shawl around the neck, a cash stipend, free board and lodging, and withdraws all cases except the most serious ones like murder and rape. They are not charged under the Arms Act.
So, let's say our man was a bad guy, a khalnayak. He clearly stopped being one long ago. He went to jail, spent a year and a half there, and was released after none other than Bal Thackeray wrote a letter to the Supreme Court on his behalf. After his release from jail, Sanjay went straight to Thackeray's house and took his blessings.
He started his career again, got married, had children, and was leading a completely normal life within the law until this judgment.
If the aim of justice was reformation, it had already been achieved. So, why should the man be sent to jail once more? He is already reformed.
Just because the Supreme Court has said it doesn't mean the calls for mercy are wrong. After all, the system of reviews and pardons is there for a reason, and it is a former judge of the Supreme Court who is speaking of them.
Every case should be treated on merit. To react to everything the same way is the logic of 'andher nagri, chaupat raja, takey ser bhaji, takey ser bhaja'. If a case under the Arms Act has a man who was misled in his youth and is now reformed, it cannot be treated like every other case under Arms Act. The particular circumstances and qualities of the individual and his life must be taken into account - without regard to his fame or wealth.
Don't punish him just because he's famous.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The problem in Northeast India that everyone knows, no one wants to talk about

This piece was written as an editorial for The Thumb Print, a web magazine on Northeast India, in October 2012. It was published in the November edition of the magazine. I am posting it now because I was reminded of it by the arrest of Nagaland Home Minister Imkong Imchen with Rs 1 crore in cash, guns, ammunition, and liquor, during election campaigning in the state

Stories of corruption among the high and mighty have shaken India in recent weeks. Even the first family of India, the Gandhis, have not been spared, for once. However no news of that size and shape has emerged from the Northeast. If anyone is saying anything on this it has certainly not made a splash. It seems as though the only honest politicians and bureaucrats left in the country are in the pristine seven sister states.
What a joke.
It is popularly believed by all and sundry that pretty much the entire government machinery in every state is corrupt. There is bribery from the clerk to the minister level. In the past, when insurgency was at its peak, several ministers in the region were also reputed to be profiting from the extortion rackets run by militant groups. An investigation by the National Investigation Agency in Assam even proved complicity between senior officials and insurgents.
Thousands of crores of rupees in development funds disappear into the ever open jaws of the state governments, which do little to justify their existence. The bureaucracies are bloated and there are seemingly three people for every task, but none of the tasks get done efficiently. Ministers whiz around in cars with red lights on top and bodyguards in tow, acting important. When they are not doing this they presumably occupy themselves by doing destructive politics and trying to pull each other down. Or fixing crooked deals.
There is no outcry about this because everyone is part of the system. The contractors are of course profiting from it. The insurgent groups, who are often linked to contractors, also get their cuts. They take the money and thereby join the corrupt system.
The bureaucrats, politicians, even security force personnel, from every state capital all the way to Delhi are already part of the system.
The local media is in many cases owned by political interests, or dependent on them for advertisements and favours. They play along.
Even local NGOs often get funding from the system. They are also compromised.
The local youths are largely in the pay of one or another of these interests. If they are not, they have no power and no voice.
So, no one says everything out loud, though everyone knows what is happening. Sometimes, rarely, some proof emerges in public.
The Indian government doesn’t really need to bother about the money because most of it finds its way back into the Indian economy. In any case, Indian politicians are stealing thousands of crores from the public themselves, so it’s no difference to them.
The Northeastern public mostly don’t pay tax so they don’t care either. It’s not their money. Yes, so they were supposed to get roads, bridges, schools, healthcare facilities and so on that never see light of day, but they are trained to believe whatever the neta of their ethnic group or tribe says.
The neta, like the insurgent, always says only one thing: “It is Delhi’s fault”.
If everything is Delhi’s fault, and the state governments are merely decorative,  then they are a pointless drain on the economy. It would be far better and more productive to downsize them drastically and give the funds straight to people’s banks in cash. It would still be money for nothing, which everyone loves, and it would be more honest and direct. Why this charade of running offices for the benefit of local people?
And don’t let it be said that it is outsiders who are to blame for all this. The outsider may have had some portion of the blame. But for years now it has been the local elites who are cheating their own people. It is the local elites who control governments and hold power. They’ve cried wolf about outsiders for decades but they are the biggest wolves in their own areas. They just dress in local sheep clothing.
The region’s backwardness is not the fault of Bangladeshi rickshawallahs or Bihari chana wallahs, or even of Bengali clerks and schoolteachers. The blame for that lies squarely with the region’s rich and powerful leaders, including insurgents. They have had great power for decades. What of the responsibility that came with it? Have they fulfilled their responsibilities?
The fact that a good chief minister can transform a state is being proved by Nitish Kumar in Bihar. Why has no CM in the Northeast done anything constructive?
If the Northeast, or any part of India or South Asia for that matter, is to progress, it HAS to sort out the issues that plague development.
As long as the wealth of the people is being looted by a corrupt elite (who divert attention by pointing to outsiders) the people will remain poor. They must understand that it is in their interest to have clean systems that work work efficiently. It will lead to development for all.
The people must also be wary of obscurantist forces that impede development out of fear, just as they must be wary of capitalist forces that try to loot the region’s natural wealth.
The world is racing ahead, with or without Northeast India. Even Myanmar, after all these years of being closed and backward, has started to race ahead now.
The choice is simple. Join the race, or join the list of places that no one cares about until guns or bombs go off and people die. Think Afghanistan. Living in such places is hell on earth.
Respect has to be earned. It cannot be gotten by beating up weak or poor people, or permanently going around with a begging bowl asking for money. There is no glory in that. If the Northeastern economy prospers, if there are fine institutions and great infrastructure in addition to its stupendous natural beauty and rich cultural mosaic, people will actually give Northeasterners respect. Now all they give it is a mix of curiosity and sympathy at best, and active denigration at worst. The only real respect for the region at present is for its musical and sporting talent, which are the only positive things to have come out of there in years.
If you are a person who cares about your region, the first thing you need to do is look at it honestly. Don’t let false pride or insecurity prevent you from admitting the truths you know in your hearts to be true. No illness can be cured if the patient denies that he needs medicine.
Our systems are sick. They need fixing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why I am upset by Afzal Guru's hanging

An old college friend, perhaps surprised by my reaction against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru, asked me why I am adopting this position even though I have borne the brunt of militancy in Northeast India. My answer to him was that I am adopting this position precisely because I grew up as a ‘mainlander’ in Northeast India. I know both sides of this situation more closely than most people, who are only acquainted with one side or the other.
The situation in Kashmir is different from the Northeast, for a number of reasons. However there are certain things that are common to both. Both places have seen long spells of insurgency and protests against the Indian state, and the brutal response of the state in return. Both have areas under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the presence of army and paramilitary forces to ensure security.
In both places, the multitudes of security agencies based there over decades have failed to ensure security for anyone including themselves. The fact of the matter is that militants, spies and security men all operate in the same spaces, without any one of them displacing the other. In fact, the presence of one actually ensures the presence of the other. If there were no militants, there would be no deployment of security forces, right? But if there were 20 militants, and 2000 security force men from somewhere else got deployed, and then they raped a few local women, beat up a few random men, and generally made themselves unpopular, you would probably see MORE militants, and then more security forces, and then still more militants, and then still more security forces...
The worst sufferers are the common people of the place.
This is roughly what has happened in various parts of India. Everywhere that central forces have been used to try and crush militants, the number of militant groups have grown year on year. From one or two groups in Kashmir and Manipur, now there are 10 or 20 at least. The pehelwans of the security forces, who are trained to think in terms of violence alone, have kept increasing the levels of violence in conflict areas from the start until they reach a point where they realise it is all one huge mess. This is because, in an attempt to create confusion, the Indian intelligence agencies start to prop up their own militants as counters to the actual militants, until no one knows who is working for whom and it all gets very confusing.
Everyone in that bizarre matrix who is not protected by a militant group or an agency of the state becomes a potential target for extortion or exploitation.
Humongous amounts of money are made by some people among both security forces and militants. A war economy comes into being in which everyone with any real power (which in such areas flows out of the barrels of guns) becomes a stakeholder.
The average constable or militant has a really miserable and hard life, and is usually honest to their respective causes. They are expendable pawns in much, much bigger games.

Who is a militant?

This is just a very sketchy outline of the approximate situation in the conflict zones of Kashmir and Northeast India. It was necessary as background to start answering the question on Guru.
There is no doubt that he had at some time in his life been a militant. What does the word ‘militant’ mean? It can mean “engaged in warfare or combat” or “aggressively active for a cause”. While the first meaning, of engaging in combat, is illegal, the second one is not. It is possible to be a militant feminist or environmentalist, for example; both would be considered not only legal but even socially laudable. Similarly, it is possible to hold strong political views that may not accord with those of policemen, and still stay on the right side of the law.
Guru was a militant alright, but his period of engaging in warfare was very brief. There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when a lot of Kashmiri youths took up arms to fight for freedom from India. Guru, who wanted to become a doctor and had just got admission to an MBBS course, was among those who were swayed by the prevailing air of rebellion.
Such things have happened elsewhere in India at other times. Our country has seen a rebellion in Punjab, at least 15 such movements across various states in the Northeast, a Naxal uprising in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, occasional rumblings in Tamil Nadu, and an ongoing Maoist and tribal rebellion against the state through a vast swathe of India from the Nepal border down to Karnataka. In fact, if you take a map of India and colour out the bits that have one form of rebellion or other going on against the state, you’ll realise that the only bits of India you can safely leave out are the big cities. Everywhere else in this country, there are multitudes of people who are seriously pissed off with the state for one good reason or another.
In the cities, you don’t have insurgency, but the people who are not part of “India Shining” are often lured into crime or political violence. Go meet the cadre of any political party. They are not investment bankers and engineers. They are more likely to be vada pav sellers or auto wallahs.
The search for power is therefore common to people everywhere. Nor is the mere fact that someone or some group is protesting against the state unusual. A country as ‘multinational’ as India has to deal with it as a matter of course. 

The trouble with Kashmir

In my humble opinion, India has dealt with it very badly when it comes to Kashmir. The situation of Kashmir is complicated by its history and geography. It was a Muslim majority state with a Hindu king who wanted independence from both India and Pakistan when the British left. So the genesis of the ‘azaadi’ movement in Kashmir starts in significant measure with Maharaja Hari Singh’s reluctance to join India. His reluctance was shared by his bitter opponent Sheikh Abdullah, who was the popular people’s leader among the Muslims of the the Kashmir Valley. The Sheikh had launched a Quit Kashmir movement in 1946 that was opposed to the unpopular king and also called for the abrogation of the treaty by which Kashmir had become part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The valley of Kashmir had fallen to the rule of the Dogra kings after the Sikh empire of Maharaja Ranjit Singh collapsed and his satraps became independent. The Dogra raja, who stayed on the right side of the British by keeping out of their wars with the Sikhs, struck a deal with the British after they defeated the Sikhs. He bought Kashmir from them for Rs 75 lakh. Kashmiris ask whether he bought all of them and their descendants too.
Further examination of this complicated history will get in the way of taking the story forward, so I will leave it at that. I am not writing a history book here; I am merely trying to make a few quick points en route to the present topic, which is Afzal Guru.
The Maharaja was forced to join India by the action of Pakistan, which sent in raiders to take Kashmir by force in 1947 itself. They would probably have succeeded if the people of Kashmir themselves had not resisted the invaders, who came expecting to be welcomed as liberators.
At the beginning of that first war of 1947, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir officially became part of India, pending a plebiscite which was promised by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the United Nations. That promise has never been kept. The Pakistani forces had taken about half of the state of J&K before they were halted. They did not withdraw their forces, and neither did India, and both kept saying “pehle aap, pehle aap”, so neither side withdrew.
That is where matters have stood since then. India and Pakistan have stayed their ground through two wars and many skirmishes. The Kashmiris have been rumbling on about the promised plebiscite. The people of Jammu and Ladakh, who differ from the Kashmiris in ethnicity and religion, have thrown in their lot with India.
Despite all this, life in Kashmir went on quite peacefully for years after 1947, through all the wars with Pakistan, in each of which the Kashmiris largely remained true to India. They had a sense of their distinct history and identity, which was as Kashmiris. They were not looking to become Pakistanis. And so, writers including the very perceptive and caustic Sir VS Naipaul went and stayed in Kashmir, and wrote a book largely set there, without mentioning any militancy. Movie after movie was shot there by Bollywood stars. The tourists flocked. Life went on.
Things took a sudden and drastic turn for the worse only after 1984. That year, Maqbool Bhat, a founder of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, was hanged in Tihar jail. The JKLF itself had little presence in Kashmir at that point. It had been founded in Birmingham in England, and the murder of an Indian official for which Bhat was hanged had taken place in England.
In 1987 a state election was held. The National Conference and Congress parties which were in power faced rising unpopularity. Kashmiris allege that the elections were rigged, a charge that has been made by writers on all sides of the political divide. Those elections were the turning point. Till there, perhaps, matters could have been controlled.
One politician who stood for election to the legislative assembly and came second decided to chuck democracy and pick up the gun instead. His name is Syed Salahuddin, and he joined the Hizbul Mujahideen. Another young man, Yasin Malik, who had been radicalised by Bhat's execution, started the local units of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. Entire political parties with their cadres and supporters left the democratic process in disgust after the 1987 elections. Militancy in full earnest started by 1989.
Many idealistic young men joined the fight against what they perceived, with some cause, as an unjust Indian government. They were convinced that the only way to get justice was through violence. The Indian government threw in the army and the killing started on both sides.
Afzal Guru was among many who joined, and later, surrendered. They became disillusioned with militancy and tried to return to the mainstream. Some of them were able to do so, but some of them were denied a second chance in life. Guru has consistently maintained that he was in the latter category. The police never stopped harassing him and extorting money from him, he claimed. He wanted to live a normal life but was denied the chance.

The truth about Guru

Is this true? Well, only his immediate family and the policemen involved can tell for sure. But it is a fact that there is rampant corruption in our police forces. It is also true that police routinely pick up the ‘usual suspects’ for any crime, whatever the crime. It is also true that many a time, police wrongly fix someone in a case for their own reasons, which can range from media and political pressure to personal scores. The rate of convictions in Maharashtra, for example, is below 10 per cent, meaning 90 per cent of those in jail are eventually found innocent by courts.
So if Guru was suspect, the police isn’t squeaky clean either.
They picked him up within three days of the Parliament attack. The men who investigated the case were from Delhi Police’s Special Cell. They were ACP Rajbir Singh, a famous ‘encounter cop’, and his colleague Mohan Chand Sharma.
How many of those encounters were real has been moot for years now. There was an infamous one in Ansal Plaza in Delhi, for example. If you Google that you can find for yourself that it was dodgy, to say the least.
Rajbir died in March 2008 after he was shot with his own service revolver by a real estate agent in Gurgaon with whom he had some shady ‘business dealings’. By then, he was said to be an alcoholic, and quite unhinged.
Sharma died after the Batla House encounter. He was killed in a shootout with terrorists, but there were questions after a photo of him walking out of the encounter surfaced. He was clearly wounded but also conscious and walking with support from two men.
Guru has now been hanged.
With his hanging, one chapter is closed, but a darker one may now be opening. His involvement with the attack on Parliament is not in dispute. However he was not among the actual attackers. He was charged with helping the actual attackers find a house in Delhi. He also helped them buy other things such as clothes and a bike.
The police said he did it on orders from a Jaish terrorist nicknamed Ghazi Baba. Guru claimed he did it on orders from a man named Davinder Singh from Kashmir Police’s special cell. Ghazi Baba was killed in an encounter with BSF in Srinagar 2 years after the Parliament attack, in 2003. The operation was lauded by BSF chief Ajai Raj Sharma, who was Delhi Police chief at the time Parliament was attacked. He had taken charge as BSF chief in 2002.
Here one may pause to wonder what the Border Security Force was doing in Srinagar, which is not on the border. However all manner of forces get deployed in counterinsurgency operations in places like Kashmir, so let that pass.
Anyhow, after Guru’s arrest, two other men, SAR Geelani and Shaukat Hussain, were also arrested and charged with the conspiracy to attack Parliament. The trial court sentenced them to death. Their death sentences were overturned by the higher judiciary, which found no merit in the case against Geelani. He got out of prison, and was shot at by an unidentified gunman. He took three bullets but survived.
Guru was sentenced to hang purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. 

Why I opposed Guru’s hanging

This finally brings me to why I am upset about this hanging. The Supreme Court passed a judgment, and it has been honoured, but as an individual citizen I continue to have misgivings.
The reasons for my misgivings are as follows. Firstly, I am wary about police versions as I am of militant versions. I know that both sides commit excesses in their fight against each other. They see it as all being fair in war. I disagree with both. I think they often make problems worse with their extremism and their wrongdoings.
The courts pass judgment on the basis of evidence and witnesses. I think that the process can be manipulated by those with influence. Remember a film called Damini that had Sunny Deol playing a lawyer with a “dhai kilo ka haath”? That was about how the court system can be manipulated. It happens in real life too, but there is no Sunny Deol to the rescue.
I don’t question the courts, but I do wonder about whether all the evidence is true or manufactured, and whether all the witnesses are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. These are misgivings I have on most occasions, so I am not making an exception for Guru’s case. On the other hand, people who will freely curse the police and doubt the court system for every other type of case suddenly develop great faith in them when it comes to terror cases. That makes no sense.
Even if the police version is believed in entirety, there remains the question of whether a man should hang for helping some people rent a house and buy a bike. Whether he knew what they were planning to do cannot be proved one way or the other. Those men died in the attack, on the spot, so only Guru himself would know whether they had told him of their plans. In court, he consistently denied he knew, though he had said something else in his police confession.
Given all this, I feel he should have got the benefit of the doubt.
After all, the killers of Rajiv Gandhi, whose guilt is beyond doubt, are still alive for a crime they committed 10 years before the Parliament attack. And in Punjab, the terrorist who killed a serving Chief Minister, Beant Singh, is still alive even though he proudly admits he did it and is refusing to ask for mercy. His date for hanging was fixed at March 31 last year, but he is still not hanged.
So, why the double standards? Why are older cases still held back while a more recent case was dispensed with?
The answer, it would appear, lies in politics. The President is a political appointee, and his decisions are political decisions, not purely legal ones. Tamil Nadu is electorally important to the Congress, and hanging Rajiv Gandhi’s killers would be unpopular with the Tamil extremists who are backed by mainstream politicians including both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. So, no can do.
Punjab is a tricky case. The Akali government in the state is openly allowing Sikh militants to regroup and fanning identity politics, but no one dares touch them. The BJP is in alliance with them and conveniently looks the other way.
There were no such compulsions in the case of the Kashmiri, Guru. His state politicians including the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah were against his hanging, but they didn’t even get to know about it until it was a done deal.
Such things can’t and don’t go unnoticed. The reactions from across the political spectrum in Kashmir have been uniformly angry.
The anger is giving a chance to terrorists to fish in troubled waters. Yasin Malik and the JKLF surrendered arms many years ago, in 1994. Now, Hafiz Saeed landed up to share a stage in Islamabad with Malik, in protest against Guru's execution. Saeed, who is a nasty piece of work, has also met Syed Salahuddin and promised revenge.
Meanwhile, President Obama has announced the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The ball is in play there. Expect a Taliban resurgence there. Also expect a lot of jihadis to arrive in Kashmir. That is what happened last time a superpower withdrew from Afghanistan. That was the Soviet Union, in 1988...after which some of the fighters made their way to Kashmir to look for employment. Yes, jihad is also a job.
So what India has very stupidly done is create a situation in Kashmir that is exactly the same as the one that started the whole militancy there in 1989. Back to square one, with a vengeance. Except, this time it is worse in many ways.
Every intelligence officer, politician, academic and journalist who knows anything at all about all of this has therefore condemned the hanging of Afzal Guru. AS Dulat, the former chief of RAW who was Kashmir adviser to AB Vajpayee, is one of them. B Raman, former deputy chief of RAW, is another. Pravin Sawhney, a former army officer who now edits the military journal Force, is a third. Prof Radha Kumar, who was one of the three interlocutors appointed by the government of India for Kashmir, is a fourth. And so on.
The only people convinced the right thing was done are those who are clueless about Kashmir, or politically blinkered, or both.
Until a majority of Indians start to learn a little more about the stories behind the rhetoric, there is no hope of things getting any better, in Kashmir or anywhere else. Things will only get worse.
Until we realise that Kashmir is not a barren piece of land, but a land with real, living, breathing people we will continue to make mistakes in our Kashmir policy. Those mistakes will return to haunt everyone. The Kashmiris will suffer most, but so too will mainland India. The divides will deepen and the worst fears of each side may come to pass.
All this can be prevented. What is required is wisdom and empathy, on all sides.