Thursday, August 20, 2009


God knows how many pundits and their barely concealed benefactors would have passed judgments on the issue. Frankly, as I write this, I haven’t read even one chapter of the book, nor have I done Google search to steal a few phrases, paraphrase or rephrase them and pass them on as words of wisdom. I have just seen a few snatches on TV and couldn’t but immediately think what if top BJP leaders go on 'Sach Ka Saamna' on this issue? I also saw a tearful Jaswant Singh describing how his book on Jinnah has transformed him from Hanuman to Ravana (Dr. Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu would surely object to the analogy). And then I faced the simple and stark question: Is all this hysteria not related to the persistent failure of the political class, the ivory tower academics and the ideologues to honestly deal with the question of Muslims in India? Or, for that matter, the world to deal honestly with the “Muslim” issue? Or to tackle the “delicate” issue of minorities across societies?

If honest efforts had been made, the following would not have happened: The French President Nicolas Sarkozy would not have denounced the veil; a swimming club in France would not have prohibited a woman from using a more modest bikini; half of India would not have forgotten about swine fl u and spent hours debating whether Shah Rukh Khan was humiliated by a racist immigration officer in America because he is a Muslim; American President Barack Obama would not have been forced to call for a beer summit to settle a hugely controversial racial issue.

But it is really India that one thinks about at the moment. If you ask yourself honestly and get honest answers, they will be one of the three written below: Sure people like Jinnah demanded partition and a separate homeland for Muslims; but who cares about all that when India is an exciting place to be in; Most Muslims did not follow Jinnah to Pakistan, but you know – though my best friends are Muslims – and think that there is something wrong out there with so many of them becoming terrorists; Or of course, Muslims are a clear and present danger to the ‘Indian Civilisation’.

I know, if you are honest to yourself, you will fall in one of the later two categories. And if you are in the third one, there is no point in having a dialogue with you in any case. But a dialogue the rest of us must have. More importantly, we Indians must rescue the debate from the crass opportunism of politics and the even worse opportunism of perversion in the garb of ideology. The Indian Mujahideen farce is just one example. The fact is, some Muslims from Azamgarh decided to become killers of innocents. One set branded all of Azamgarh as a terror area. The other set compared them to Red Indians being slaughtered by a fascist Hindu state. Surely, Muslims deserve to be described as human beings first and ideological labels later?

Perhaps it is time for Jaswant Singh – now that he will have so much time – to start research on another book that will describe how Pakistan descended from Jinnah to Jehad. Or, am I revealing my barely concealed prejudice against Muslims by using Jinnah and Jehad in the same breath? I really don’t know.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Three strikes for the Indian Fat Cats

In recent weeks, India Inc. has witnessed two resounding calls for 'strikes'. The first, the stillborn one, was masterminded and spearheaded by Vijay Mallya and Naresh Goyal. Their plan was to stop all flights by private airlines on August 18 to "highlight their demands". The second one is on even as this magazine goes for printing. This one is by employees of public sector banks who are demanding better salaries and perks. Being highly patriotic, the union leaders of the Bank strike have deemed that ATM machines will function during the two day strike. Similarly, a late upsurge of patriotism in the hearts of Mallya and Goyal made them cancel (Or defer?) their planned strike to 'respect public sentiments'. Of course, both the Mallya-Goyal duo and the bank union leaders insist that they are victims. But I would rather call them the fat cat aristocracy of India Inc. who are greedy, myopic and brazenly arrogant in their quests to protect their turfs and vested interests. And I think it is time the mainstream media shamed them into admitting as much; by persistently highlighting their willingness to blackmail.

Nobody asked Mr. Mallya to personally select air hostesses or buy out Air Deccan or offer 'gourmet' cuisine on full service flights to economy class passengers. Nobody asked Mr. Goyal to blithely ignore the danger posed by low cost airlines or gamble by buying out Sahara in an expensive and messy deal. And now that competition is beginning to hurt them; they are clamouring for government bailouts. The fact is, almost all their claims are specious. The charges imposed by new airports are paid by passengers; the high costs of fuel are paid by passengers. So why are they cribbing? Imagine a situation where manufacturers of TV sets, soaps and shampoos start demanding government bail outs when input costs rise while smarter and cheaper rivals eat into their market shares and margins. Have you ever heard small entrepreneurs – responsible for almost all the growth in jobs in India – making similar demands?

The 'strike' called by the public sector bank employees is something similar. They are part of the 'labour aristocracy', belonging to a tiny minority of the working class population of India. A newly recruited officer in the State Bank of India gets about Rs.25,000 a month as starting salary – not accounting for perks. How many workers in India without any professional degrees start their careers earning more than Rs.25,000 a month? There are youngsters armed with professional degrees who are struggling today to get even Rs.10,000 a month. Really, it is time the media started highlighting these facts again and again. It is really time for us to shame these fat cats.