Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fate of Pakistan

Pakistan is at crossroads. Taliban is controlling a huge portion of Pakistan and have already introduced Shariat in those regions. They are armed to teeth and ready to fight. I do not see Pakistan being the same again. There is a chance that this country will be talibanized, broken up, or end up in a civil war.

Option 1

Pakistan will get talibanized if the moderates of Pakistan want to buy peace in the short term. If they don’t want any confrontation and want to put with another tyrannical authority, which they are quite used to in the last sixty years of their existence, the Pakistan middle class will have to swallow their pride and give up their freedoms to buy short term peace. For many Pakistanis the idea of united and single Pakistan is more important than their ephemeral and elusive freedoms. They may walk into an agreement that will impose Shariat law to form a perfect Islamic state. Many young middle class Pakistanis have an idealistic picture of such a state in their heads, especially those who have never lived through such a promise before.

Option 2

Pakistan will be broken up into few countries (at the most two) if the rest of Pakistan outside of Swat Valley and Taliban controlled areas refuse to cooperate with Taliban because they value their freedom more than the idea of a single Pakistan. It could happen if the bulk of middle class Pakistanis define themselves closer to a secular Pakistan without too much emphasis on the interpretation of Shariat and its imposition. They could take the route of Turkey or even the detestable foe and arch enemy India with whom they have a lot in common.

For that Pakistanis have to believe that this could be the only way to salvage the situation that has gone really bad. This also means admitting the mistakes of the past where Pakistan state fostered talibanization within Pakistan and created a monster next door in Afghanistan. The whole sub-continent could learn lessons here. When you try to meddle with a proud culture to take control, wield them and manipulate them, it usually backfires. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi paid the price with their lives for toying with such hegemonic thoughts when they tried to control Sikhs and Tamils, respectively.

Option 3

If the moderates of Pakistan, supported and aided by Pakistan Army, refuse to accept the rule of Taliban but at the same time try to wrest control away from them to bring Pakistan to its former state – united and free from rule of Taliban, then there will be a civil war. Guns are everywhere. Zealots are everywhere. Pakistan has all the fuel and ammunition to create and sustain a civil war. It just needs a spark. That can come from refusal of rest of Pakistan to concede to Taliban.

Fighting fundamentalism with fundamentalism

Some of the reasons cited by the proponents of aggressive brand of Hindutva is that their aggression is a reaction to Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism, forced conversion of Hindus into alien religions, unpatriotic actions by non-Hindus - basically a big list of issues they have against other religions.

These proponents will tell you again and again that Hinduism is a peaceful religion and that Hindus are peace-loving people. The only reason why they condone certain excesses perpetrated by certain Hindutva brigades against Muslims, Christians or Communists is because they think that a mild antidote to the poison that is vitiated by the latter groups is sometimes necessary, though unpleasant. 


Some of us who oppose the growing menace of Hindutva are branded ‘pseudo-secularists’. What these proponents mean is that while we denounce every action of Hindutva groups, we tend to condone and support many fundamentalist actions of Muslim and Christian groups.

In reality, 'secularists' like us do not support fundamentalism of Muslim or Christian groups. We do not believe in Sharia Law or its interpretations. We do not believe in Christian prerogative to proselytize everyone to save us all from eternal damnation. We do not believe in protecting the places of worship constructed on public property that cause inconvenience to everyone. We do not believe that school going children should be taught religion with an aim to promote one’s religion while denouncing the others. 

And yet, secularists like us seem to support the cause of Muslims and Christians many a times, as clearly indicated by many articles on this blog. Also, we seem to be targeting only Hindutva group consistently and vociferously. Doesn’t that make us pseudo-secularists?

Blindness does not fight blindness

We do not believe that growth of one religious fundamentalism is an answer to the menace of the other. We do not believe that chanting ‘Ram’ is an antidote to chants of ‘Allah-O-Akbar’. We do not believe bigotry of one kind can counter bigotry of another. Hatred cannot be fought with hatred. 

If ever, we believe that reason, debate, rational discussion, where logic prevails over blind belief, transparency, a fair judicial system that guarantees protection to all individuals and safeguards their rights, are the only tools that can be employed to fight fundamentalism either it is coming from Hindus or Muslims. Blindness of one religion cannot be fought by blindness of another religion.

Only light is the cure for blindness and that light does not come from any religion, not even the most liberal ones – because at the heart every religion is a blind belief – in the form of ‘because it is so’, ‘because God said so’, or ‘because our ancestors said so’. The light comes in the form of rationality, where blind belief, superstition or orthodoxy has no place.

No support for fundamentalism 

It’s not like secularists like us are in love with Islamic or Christian fundamentalism. We do not believe in imposition of Shariat either on Hindus or on Muslims. It is an antiquated system of law, and a complete anathema to the modern society. Instead we would like to embrace the modern system of law that suits us in our current context which relies on principles of fair judgment, equal treatment, the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that a punishment is not to deter future criminals from committing crimes but as equitable justice appropriate to the severity of his actions.

We also believe in separation of state from the church. We do not believe in hearsay, blasphemy, sin, heresy, dreams, or miracles when it comes to meting out justice. 

We do not believe in a system where a child carries the burden of father’s sin or where a certain authority sitting in heavens dictates morals through a chosen interpreter. We do not believe in a system that criminalizes immorality – we leave that out of legality as a matter of taste.

And yet, many of us are called pseudo-secularists. Here’s a snapshot of my stand as a secularist on some of the controversial issues. 

Secularist stand on issues

I denounced the Supreme Court verdict against Afzal Guru because it sentenced a man to death to satisfy ‘collective conscience’. That is irrational. Each crime and criminal has to be judged by his actions, and punishment should be measured against that crime alone. It cannot be retributive to include the factor of satisfying the grievance of the suffering people. 

I supported certain Muslims right not to sing Vande Mataram. That’s because I believe no Indian should be forced into a singing a song to prove his patriotism. And moreover I believe patriotism is not a prerequisite to live in a country. 

At the same time, I denounced madrassa education where children are taught Koran, and also blamed Muslim parents for indoctrinating a vicious form of religion into their kids. Also, I ridiculed Indian government for paying Haj pilgrimage subsidies to Muslims. 

Secularists target Hindutva more

It is true that more of my articles and comments target Hindutva groups than the fundamentalist positions of Muslims or Christians. That’s because I believe, right now, the biggest threat to modern India is Hindu fundamentalism. It is the biggest threat not only because Hindus are in majority and hence pose a bigger problem, not only because the number of incidents coming out of Hindutva brigades are more than that of rival religions, not only because I am a Hindu and hence more concerned that my way of life would change if they ever win, but mostly because Hindu fundamentalism is equated with patriotism taking higher moral ground while Islamic fundamentalism is equated with terrorism falling into a contemptible position.

To almost everyone in India, patriotism is considered good. Most Hindutva brigands take the superior stance of being patriotic. Ram Senas of the South, Bajrang Dals of the east or VHP of the North believe they are more patriotic than those who they vilify and target. Even when apprehended while doing criminal acts, they walk proudly, head high, knowing very well that they are the heroes to a million other patriotic Indians.

However, to almost everyone in India, terrorism is considered bad. Only bad people become terrorists. Members of SIMI and other related outfits fomenting Islamic terrorism are not hailed as heroes but paraded as villains and traitors. There is no heroism in it.

This dichotomy is what concerns secularists like us the most. We fear Hindu fundamentalism because their association with patriotic symbols puts them in seats of power, making them the political leaders of this country, giving them the legitimacy they need. Their adherents and supporters are in the influencing positions in various fields – as academicians, businessmen, doctors, engineers, and bureaucrats. On the other hand, Muslim fundamentalist groups along with the rest of Muslim population are demonized to the outer fringes of the mainstream society. 

Hindutva affects us more

Hindu fundamentalists are poised to affect my life more than any other because they come with this position of strength – riding on the high horse called patriotism. The day Shariat is on its way to become the law of the land, I would be opposing Muslim fundamentalism more ferociously than Hindu fundamentalism, but I don’t see that happening, though Hindutva brigades would like me to believe that it is the case. Hindutva cause makes a case for its existence by instilling fear amongst ordinary Indian Hindus against many illusory problems - exorbitant population growth of Muslims, their propensity for terrorism, and the explosive problem of conversion. 

Secularists reject Hindutva

Hindutva is not an antidote but it is the poison itself. It does not fight Islamic fundamentalism and the conversions alone but it actually reverses the arrow of our civilization promising to take us back to the so-called Vedic times. That path demands that we surrender our rationality, our logic, our science to take up the Hindu elements of ignorance, blind belief and superstition. It would then go ahead and rationalize casteism, untouchability and sati. After mankind has struggled for thousands of years to emancipate woman, the goons in Karnataka want to roll it back – they want women indoors, cooking and clad in dress of their preference.

We have seen Dark Ages when Christianity spread around Europe extirpating every rational thought of Hellenistic Ages from the continent. We have seen Inquisition, persecution of people based on religion, hunting of witches, and heretics burning at stake. For nearly thousand years, there was no investigation into nature; Earth stood still while heavens moved around us, priests held sway, and whole of humanity was held under servitude, bonded labor, and slavery. 

Rise of Hindutva demands that blind allegiance and that irrationality to prevail once again. We don’t want that. We are NOT enamored by the promises of Hindutva. We reject it completely.

We are told that Hindutva has a certain good side to it – with a different interpretation. We are not interested in taking pains to look at your good interpretations while ignoring bad interpretations because we don’t want any belief system that holds anything sacred. The way we reject Shariat and all its good and bad interpretations, we reject Hindutva along with its good and bad interpretations. We don’t want any systems where only certain selected groups get to interpret just because they happen to be more irrational than others.

We have struggled hard as humans to wrest this civilization away from such religious zealots, autocrats, and monarchies to win our freedoms. We are not going to surrender them, not even for a lofty cause called Hindutva which promises Sanatan Dharma and a pan-Indian empire under Ram Rajya. 

I will define Hinduism the way I want. No thanks, we don’t your interpretations. Sorry. And we will fight tooth and nail before we surrender our freedoms to you. 

Links: Javed Akhtar [Added in 2013],

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sophistry in Indian media

Nietzsche said, ‘There are no facts; only interpretations’.

This is so true with the newspaper Times of India (TOI). For over three months they ran extensive Lead India Campaign urging and exhorting urban voters of Bangalore to come out and yet. Few days before elections, they even predicted a dramatic increase in the voter turnout because of their campaign. Voting took place yesterday in Bangalore and the results are out.

Bangalore records a ‘feeble 50%’ turnout. According to TOI,

The 50% average for the four Bangalore constituencies is lower than the 54% recorded in the last Lok Sabha polls before delimitation.

So, in reality, after the intensive campaigning we saw the turnout decreased by 4% from the last Lok Sabha elections. As again, the rural Bangalore compensated for urban Bangalore. Bangalore Rural posted 58% turnout while Bangalore South and Bangalore Central posted only 45% turnout.

However, that did not stop TOI from making the following claim. Their patted themselves back on the first-page lead-news story saying:

Call it the impact of the aggressive ‘go-vote’ campaign by various citizen groups or the sheer need to take charge of their destiny, Bangalore saw a 6% higher voter turnout…

‘What?’ you may think. ‘What sheer nonsense!’ you may say. How could TOI twist the facts around to suit their agenda you may ask! For that you have to read what Nietzsche said once again – no facts, only interpretations, and of late TOI has become very good at it. The next sentence tells you how they use the facts to promote their agenda.

…as compared to 2008 assembly polls.

You see – though the Lok Sabha turnout has actually decreased from 54% to 50%, TOI conveniently compared Lok Sabha turnout with Assembly poll turnout to prove that their campaign achieved success. Most often, the dynamics for Lok Sabha polls and Assembly polls are quite different, and that’s why the pundits keep the comparison separate.

TOI has mastered the art of sophistry, and their incessant campaigns on every issue are only becoming annoying – but my fear is that it will soon become the biggest propaganda machine, worse than Indian politicians, capable of brainwashing its readers to promote its vested interests and ideology. That day is not far away.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Numerology: another pseudo-science

The proponents of pseudo-sciences use the terminology of Science. They try to copy and emulate real science. That’s how they make naive people get convinced that it is indeed a science. Actually, these naive people are not really dumb. They are pretty ‘smart’ people who have consciously chosen to act dumb when it comes to certain aspects of life. These ‘smart’ people have gone to top schools, attended top colleges, got big degrees and now work for international companies. And yet, they believe in and follow pseudo-sciences to give them the much needed legitimacy.

Here’s on such interview with a noted numerologist. He is introduced as:

If someone thought of preparing a list of 'busiest persons' one cannot leave out the name of Pandit Ashokbharrati. His telephone numbers must be among the most accessed numbers in the country. It is said that several lakhs attempt to get in touch with him over phone every day.

While talking to a Nobel Laureate or the President of France, one does not say he is very busy or that he gets one lakh phones per day. Why? Because everyone knows they are important people, hence there is no need to actually say it. However, to prove that a numerologist is in serious business one has to go extra length to convince people. If you are trying to sell fake stuff, you really to work extra hard to prove it is genuine.

The numerologist, Pandit Ashokbharrati (note that there are two ‘r’s in his name), starts off:

I learnt this science from a Maharishi who was living in our place and when I was in the 11th standard…

How come a science is learnt from a Maharishi? Why do all these pseudo-sciences trace back to an illiterate rishi, sadhu, or a vagabond? In my region, most of these sciences originate in a koyavadu (a tribal), a kummarodu (a potter) or a sakalodu (cloth washer). Our aunts and uncles tell stories of a tribal they met on their way to some village, and how he has performed a miracle and gave some medicine which instantly cured a chronic ailment.

On asked if there is any difference between Astrology and Numerology, Pandit Ashokbharrati answers:

There is absolutely no difference. Astrology is based on the movements of planets and numerology is also based on the planets. For example, Venus is known as 6 in numerology. It is a simple way of understanding and practising Astrology.

If Numerology and Astrology are same, why have two pseudo-sciences instead of one? If I were to do a global-replace of all numbers with planets or planets with the numbers I should get the other pseudo-science, isn’t it? Just because one talks about planets while the other talks about numbers should we have two different branches of pseudo-sciences?

Or is it just another way of fooling people? More variants the more fools? May be some clever quack thought, ‘just because Science has Physics, Chemistry, and Botany, let’s have different branches in pseudo-science too’?

On asked whether there is truth in the belief that the numbers 8 and 13 are unlucky, he says:

Yes. These two numbers are unlucky and persons with the numeral value of their names adding up to these numbers would benefit by changing their names to eschew the evil effects of these numbers.

Hmm... Now you know why we get those weird names, like Hrrithikk Roshan, or Eiasha Khoppikhaar, etc. These movie stars keep adding alphabets to change their numbers till they get a hit in their films. That’s when they stop. The more letters they add, you should know more flops they must have got. (I wonder- why people only add but never remove alphabets from their names.)

This noted numerologist believes that Chennai should be changed back to Madras. He thinks there is an unfavorable effect on the city because it is christened Chennai. He gives his reasons:

The numeral value of the name Chennai is 25. You will recall that it was on a 25th that earthquake shook the city.

I just don’t understand these numerologists. How come they wait for the earthquake to happen to tell us why it is unlucky? If numerology was indeed a science, shouldn’t we have scientists telling us how we should name out cities? I have a very simple solution to get rid of earthquakes forever from history of mankind. Name all cities so that their numeral value is 32 or above. Since no such date exists, there will never be earthquakes. This way, numerologists can completely eliminate all natural disasters by just changing the names of the cities on the planet. Don’t you think we should invest in numerology instead of trying to predict earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, typhoons and hurricanes?

Next the interviewer asks him, ‘What is your opinion about removal of Kannagi statue, as per Vasthu?’

For a while, I though Pandit Ashokbharrati was a numerologist, how come the interviewer wants to know about Vasthu? Oh, I forgot. All pseudo-sciences are the same with just different names, isn’t? We can easily walk from one discipline to another without any problem. Of course, our hero does not even blink. He answers:

The numeral value of the name Kannagi is 17, which adds up to 8. No wonder that she faced problems when she lived and even now! (Laughs)

Actually he is laughing at the interviewer. He is laughing at all of us- all of us who keep listening to every word of nonsense that comes out of his mouth.

The interviewer is already mesmerized with this guy. He asks, ‘It seems that you have suggested that the name of our country be changed to United States of India (USI)…’

Yes. If the name is changed to 'USI', 'Gandhi Desham' or 'Bharath Desham' it would result in faster growth rate and better development for the country… If this is done, India would progress very well in agriculture, industry and general living as well and would be the 'number one' country in the world.

If the name 'Sri Lanka' is changed back to Ceylon, I tell you, peace would return within 30 days and it would grow up to match Japan. A change of name for Kashmir as 'Bharat Kashmir' would silence the guns in the valley.

I don’t know what to make of it. But there are millions of Indians who seem to make sense out of such stuff. Many educated Indians seem to be in awe of such men. Irrationality is being embraced consciously by arresting one’s mental faculties. We see Indians in very big positions, including those who run our governments and industries, believing in one pseudo-science or the other. And sitting next to him is some pseudo-scientist (if I may call them), a quack, a charlatan, who is making a quick buck feeding on his conscious naiveté.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

‘You did not vote!’: Part II

[This follows the first part, 'You did not vote!']

In my opinion, the recent hoopla about urging people to vote is a fringe movement that happens to be solely an urban and elite phenomenon. It concerns only the yuppie Indians who have had shown appalling apathy towards Indian politics in the recent past. Over the past few decades there has been a steady decline in the voter turnout amongst educated and elite Indians. However this apathy is more starkly identified and reflected in metros where there is larger section of educated and elite Indians. In towns of India, the elite comprise a smaller section and hence their apathy goes unaddressed.

Most of the poor and rural Indians have consistently voted in large percentages over the last many elections and that has not dramatically decreased in the recent past. There is no clear sign of apathy amongst these sections. If ever, there has been an increase in their turnout, especially the poorest and lowest sections of the society. Dalits have been voting more than upper caste Hindus. The rural Indian has been voting more than the cities. Therefore these campaigns do not make sense to the poor and rural India.

There is no steady decline of voter turnout as these campaigners want you to believe. Here is the graph which shows the voter turnout for each Lok Sabha election.

Since 1962 the turnout has vacillated between 55-65% showing no remarkable trend. According Yogendra Yadav, a senior fellow at CSDS [emphasis mine]:

Now to address the widely held misconception that Indians are indifferent to voting in particular and politics in general. If we examine turnout levels in Lok Sabha elections from a global perspective, India is among the lower middle category. The global average of turnouts among electoral democracies in the post-war period is about 65 per cent. At 57 per cent, India is way behind the established democracies in Western Europe, but substantially ahead of the U.S. and most of South America.

If we assume spurious names (of those dead, migrated or simply non-existent) make up 10 per cent of our electoral rolls, the real turnout figures would be at least five per cent higher. Now that the Election Commission has taken steps to prune the electoral rolls, there should be an improvement in the voter turnout this time, an increase that will put India close to the global average.

Therefore, if we see a higher voter turnout in this year’s Lok Sabha elections, it may not be a result of these campaigns. But that will not stop these campaigners from celebrating (I can imagine what the front page of TOI will be).

It is a myth that voting in large number is somehow going to bring a change in India. We have been addressing the wrong side of the issue where the problem doesn’t even exist. The problem with Indian politics is not that the voting turnout has been low. The problem with Indian politics is that we don’t have good candidates to choose from. Indian politician is not accountable to the people who voted him into power. Indian politician does not pay the price for being dishonest, for lying, for cheating, and for lack of dignity or integrity. Indian voters can easily vote back the most degenerate candidate into power after knowing very well that he is a criminal, a rapist, a murderer, a cheater, and liar. What is the use of a heavy turnout if all candidates are equally bad? Voting in more numbers only increases the vote pool – it doesn’t automatically convert a bad candidate into a good one. Many dictatorships record 99% voter turnout, but that doesn’t change things for the people living there.

India is not showing a decline in voter turnout. So why this hullabaloo?

According to me, voting in more numbers is a feel-good factor that is being imposed on urban yuppie Indians making them feel they are part of the grand design called India, taking some credit for what’s happening in India, and also trying in their inadequate ways, just like talking about garbage but not actually doing anything about it, to wrest control of Indian politics so that their selfish and vested interests are served.

Why a sudden realization and why this urge to vote amongst urban yuppie Indians?

Over the last few decades, the urban yuppie Indians have realized, whether they like it or not, that their lives are intertwined with the rest of India. They cannot escape into their islands of excellence and prosperity so easily. They need to come out of it for all their needs, when trying to get their kids into colleges, when trying to get SEZs for their businesses, trying to wrest sops and tax breaks for their industries, and even when trying to get a chauffer for the car or maid for the home, and so on. Indian yuppies have realized that they cannot do anything without bowing down to the imbecile, uneducated, uncouth and uncivilized politician who they have come to detest. Indian politician does not care for this software engineer, this businessman, this rich and elite Indian, because he gets his power from the masses, those very masses this yuppie Indian has been trying to distance himself from.

Indian politician is more in tune with real India than yuppie Indians. That’s why these yuppie Indians don’t understand why and how reservations-based-on-caste came to be. They don’t understand why and how sops and incentives are given to farmers. While the yuppie Indians are trying hard to carve their islands of excellence and prosperity, Indian politician is the one who mesmerizes the Indian polity, the Indian rural, the Indian small towns, and he continues to benefit from their ignorance, their petty differences, and their prejudices to stay in power. The apathy of yuppie Indians has only made the situation good for the Indian politician. He doesn’t have to come to yuppie Indians to ask them what they want - he doesn’t need to because they don’t vote. He will just concentrate on his poor and rural vote bank. Doling out free coconuts or rice, dishing out free TVs, or giving free liquor, are different mechanisms politicians use to lure an Indian voter. A yuppie Indian can only look at this awful spectacle and not do anything about it.

If you go to a small town in India, all the candidates are equally bad. Indian voters have to choose the candidate, not based on what the candidate can promise or achieve, not based on merit of candidate’s actions or achievements, not based on his stand on issues, but based on the party he represents, which party has doled out more incentives even if they are short term, which party represents their language, religion, caste, region, better. Most Indian voters are not influenced by the candidate’s capabilities or competence.

Yuppie Indians who are used to corporate India, and who delude themselves into thinking that meritocracy is possible, where a ‘deserving’ candidate can be voted into power purely based on his achievements, qualifications, and degrees, do their part by campaigning and urging other yuppie Indians to come out and vote. That does not change anything because candidates are still the same. [Only some metros field candidates like Captain Gopinath. They are an exception].

According to Yogendra Yadav:

The poor vote more than the rich, especially in urban areas. For the last four general elections, Dalits have voted more than upper caste Hindus. Ever since 1977, rural areas have recorded higher turnout than the cities.

The recent attempt to come out and vote in huge numbers is not to change things for India. Not to influence India in a way. It is an attempt by the yuppie Indians to be part of the action so that this imbecile politician concedes that they are a vote block so that he would listen to their vested interests, so that they can finish up their islands of excellence and prosperity that got started few years ago.

The current campaign is an attempt by yuppie Indians to play a role in achieving a modicum of political power which has gone out of their hands long ago. To do this, they do not stand for elections, but only raise voices to vote – which does not make sense. The real problem these campaigns are addressing is not to increase the total turnout, but to increase the turnout of other likeminded yuppie Indians to form a vote block (which is not a bad thing).

Related Topics: 'You did not vote!'

Sunday, April 19, 2009

‘You did not vote!’

For the last many weeks TOI (Times of India) has been running Lead India campaign urging people to come out and vote. Also, many citizen groups in various cities have been exhorting people to vote. There is a TV ad from TATA Tea, called Jaagore.com, which urges people to vote, accusing those who do not vote to be ‘sleeping’. During a discussion that ensued on TOI few months ago, many commenters suggested that voting should be made mandatory, and that people who do not vote should even be punished. Some suggested that certain level of education should be a prerequisite condition for voting since the riffraff seem to elect extremely bad leaders.

In many after-dinner discussions held within middle class Indian families, voters show a disdain for people who do not vote. Taking a higher moral ground, they say, ‘You don’t have a right to criticize the government if you have not voted!’ According to them, a person who has not voted has no right to complain if things go wrong.

At the outset, it almost passes as a very logical stand. But then, it is not!

A constitutional democracy is not just about elections though it seems to be the common perception. Though Elections, or adult franchise as we call it, is an essential tool in a democracy by which people exercise their right to form their government, it is not a sufficient condition for making a democracy. Even dictatorships and communist countries conduct elections but they do not make democracies.

A constitutional democracy needs to have many other tools to ensure it is a smooth working system. Rule of law, Freedom to its citizens or Bill of Rights, Independent or semi-independent Judiciary where every man is treated equal and is give due course of law, Legislature where any man can aspire to become an elected leader, fair representation of groups and identities, equal access to opportunity and education, and other institutions created for checks and balances make up a democracy.

One of the important components to make a democracy successful includes the essential pillar called free media. Democracy does not work without self-criticism, free inquiry, and free exchange of information. One of the founding principles of a making a democracy, where people get to rule themselves, iconized by the phrase ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ is to ensure no single person, a single group, a single class, or a single family becomes the wolf ruling over the sheep. In a democracy, sheep get to rule themselves ensuring nobody becomes the wolf; making sure their freedoms are not stripped off, a certain privileged class does not rule over underprivileged, or a certain majority does not suppress a minority.

In such a system, checks are balances form an important function. A person who criticizes the government and its actions exposing the flaws in the system is contributing as much to democracy as any other citizen who has exercise his right for adult franchise. To say that a critic does not contribute to a democracy just because he has not voted is a hollow argument.

If the person who has not voted doesn’t have a right to criticize or demand things from the government, how about a person who has voted for the opposition party? As far as the party in power is concerned, a guy who has not voted is better off than the guy who has voted for the opposition party, isn’t it?

If there is a degree of blame given to voters, what do we make of the guy who actually voted an inept and imbecile politician into power? Should he be blamed for the ineptitude of the government? Should the non-voters blame the voters for the current state of the country?

Voters do not take blame for voting a wrong leader to power and they do not take credit for putting a right leader either. Therefore, no single voter takes credit or blame for putting a leader in power. Instead, we take a collective responsibility where the blame and credit is shared by all including those who voted him, those who voted against him, and those who abstained from voting, and those who are ineligible for voting. Democracy is a system that ensures the above without going into the details of who voted for whom.

Can the elected leader dole out government backed incentives to voters in his constituency based on which party they voted for? Can he give preferential treatment through his government to the people who voted for him and discriminate against those who did not? A democracy should be built in such a way the elected leader works for his constituency irrespective of who voted for whom.

Though it is a prerogative for an adult to vote, it is not a duty that can be legalized or penalized, and not a duty based on which a preferential system can be enforced. A person who did not vote is not in any way less contributing towards a democracy. There are many ways he could be contributing – for example, doing his duty as a good policeman is good enough.

People get into moral discussions on voting – and I usually like to refrain from getting into those discussions. Who is a better citizen, the question is posed, a person who has voted or the one who has not? Not many people understand that voting is not mandatory, it’s a right you wish to use or not use. It cannot be enforced. It is not a matter of legality. It is not equivalent to paying taxes. We cannot treat voters as better citizens exactly because we cannot blame the voters of a certain party for things gone wrong.

This discussion does not mean I discourage people from voting. This discussion does not mean I do not support elections. Voting in large numbers is a good sign of a vibrant democracy. However, there is no clear indication that there is growing apathy amongst Indian voters. India has seen more or less the same voter turnout for Lok Sabha elections since 1962, ranging between 55%-65%.

The pressing problem for most voters in India is that there are no deserving candidates. This happens more often in small towns and villages of India than in metros. When all the candidates are criminals, when each of them is a blatant liar, corrupt and dishonest candidate, who do you vote? If the only reason is fielded by the party is that he belongs to a certain caste, certain religion, or that he has sucked up the best, or that he is easily molded by others, who do you vote? Is it just apathy or is it that indeed there is no genuine choice that can be made?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Exaggeration in Indian Reporting

Watch an Indian news channel for twenty minutes, especially in the regional languages like Hindi or Telugu, and you will think that the world is at the brink of a major disaster. Every news item is ‘breaking news’. It is flashed innumerable times with all kinds of jazzy fonts and colors accompanied with blaring and ominous music. Young anchors have their own take on each issue; their prejudice doesn’t come as insinuation but is directly embedded within report. Then there are chest-beating and table-thumping young reporters who make every news item an imminent cause for World War III. Indian way of stressing the importance of an issue is to shout aloud and repeat the same sentence over and over again.

Most Indian news channels are downright crappy. Their crappiness can be measured by the number of tickers that keeps floating around on the TV screen. Some of them have 5 lines of horizontal tickers at the bottom taking up nearly 40% of the viewing area. Some texts scroll across faster while some move slow – don’t know why. The text in the tickers has nothing to with the news item being discussed. There are additional boxes displaying ads and irrelevant messages, making the TV screen resemble an Indian road, where everything and anything goes- cars, lorries, mopeds, cycles, pedestrians, cats, dogs, cows, meandering through construction material, pot holes, garbage, and loads of shit. Trying to make way out of it is a painful task– same holds true for Indian news channels. Making sense out of them is an onerous task – you feel exhausted after few minutes of watching.

One accident flip of remote, sometimes I land on such Indian news channels. If I linger for more than five minutes, my blood pressure starts to rise and I feel restless. I suddenly realize that I am doing something really dangerous, take immediate action and flip the channel to a saner channel and take a deep breath and vow never to tread into those troubled waters again.

According to me maturity of a news channel can be directly measured by the number of tickers floating on the TV screen. The less the tickers more mature the news channel. Take BBC or CNN for example. The news is delivered in a calm tone, even when it is the gravest of the issues. The tickers are minimal. They are one or two of them, relevant to the news item discussed – not very different from the roads in the West.

Indian news channels report an event in lofty words, making it poetic, using outlandish analogies right from Indian Cinema and Mythology. The news report is no longer a report, it is a piece of art, an epic, a saga, where a hero has to save a princess in distress from fiery dragons, slaying elephantine serpents, while scaling huge castles, and so on.

Indians are quite comfortable with such exaggerated, fictitious and flowery language. In fact, they encourage it. When I was a kid in a school, teachers used to praise the student who used bombastic language to describe something. If you used ordinary language, it was not appreciated. Ostentation is a virtue. When writing a speech for an event in my college, a girl used thesaurus to make it look sophisticated. So, she took a sentence which goes like, ‘with a vision to make our college more competitive…’, and substituted the word ‘vision’ with something that sounded more pedantic. The result came out as, ‘with a clairvoyance to make our college more competitive…’ thereby making the sentence meaningless and complete nonsense.

When I participated in college debates in my fourth year of college, I had to face a bunch of students who were quite well versed in the art of debating, some of them winning awards from President of India. I was new to debating. I had never done it before in an organized way, and it was my first time ever (though we had extensive and lengthy debates in college hostels). To my utter surprise, these veterans of debating carried Roget’s Thesaurus with them all the time. We had few minutes to prepare the speech, and during this time, these guys would consult this tome and embellish every sentence substituting ordinary and easy-to-understand words with sophisticated but hard-to-understand words, sometimes resulting in loss of the purported meaning. They were so caught up in making their speeches bombastic that they did not concentrate on the essence of the topic. [Thankfully, the judges of the college were not impressed by the flowery language.]

Poetry or fiction writing in India is always a challenge. Many young writers get caught up in trying to use unnecessary and out-of-place metaphors, analogies, phrases and hard-to-understand words making the writing incomprehensible. What is the point of communication, I asked myself many a times? Is it to impress the other person, or is it to be well understood?

This fascination with such pompous language is not something new to Indians. Here’s a snapshot of an Indian chronicler of history from Harsha times (500-700AD) [1]:

Instantly on hearing this [the news of his brother’s murder] his fiery spirit blazed forth in a storm of sorrow augmented by flaming flashes of furious wrath. His aspect became terrible in the extreme. As he fiercely shook his head, the loosened jewels from his crest looked like live coals of the angry fire which he vomited forth. Quivering without cessation, his wrathful curling lip seemed to drink the lives of all kings. His reddening eyes with their rolling gleam put forth, at it were, conflagrations in the heavenly spaces. Even the fire of anger, as though itself burned by the scorching power of his inborn valour’s unbearable heat, spread over him a rainy shower of sweat. His limbs trembled as if in fright at such unexampled fury…

He represented the first revelation of valour, the frenzy of insolence, the delirious of pride, the youthful avatar of fury, the supreme effort of hauteur, the new age of manhood’s fire, the regal consecration of warlike passion, the camp-lustration of day of reckoning.

No historian can take such documents seriously. It’s very hard to figure out what is fiction and what is a fact. A historian trying to reconstruct Indian history finds a report on war sheer fantastical [1]:

[Meanwhile his] enemies were best by all manner ill omens: jackals, swarming bees, and swooping vultures terrorized their cities; their soldiers fell out with their mistresses while some, looking in the mirror, saw themselves headless; a naked woman wandered through the parks ‘shaking the forefinger as if to count the dead’.

Indian politicians, news reporters, and Indian speakers tend to use such language all the time. Maybe Indians find reality too discomforting, and hence find solace in such grandiose and fantastic world made up by their imagination and grandiloquence.


[1]. A History of India, John Keay. Harper Collins.