Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Art of Hypocrisy

I am extremely appalled, ashamed, alarmed and shocked as I write this post.

A few minutes back, I got an SOS call from a close friend who is being "forced" to move out of her recently acquired flat. The reason? She does not belong to the dominant community in that locality.

What the hell is this?

Aren't we as Indian citizens are guaranteed "Equality of status and of opportunity" in our Constitution? Or are these mere golden words penned years back that we have conveniently forgotten in these 60 years since our Constitution has been adopted?

How can we still discriminate on the basis of religion, caste, creed, ethnicity, etc.? How can the State turn a blind eye to all this?

Isn't there a strong and valid case to delink governance and law enforcement from religion and all this stuff that creates differences? Isn't there a case for homogenisation of the population? Isn't there a case for adoption of a single law (Uniform Civil Code) to iron out any whiff of discrimination?

Perhaps, yes!

But as long as our politics as remains an art of hypocrisy, our politicians will continue to do lip-service to the lofty ideals of our Constitution, instead of following it in letter and spirit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Great Game ...

A few years back, the then Defence Minister of the NDA government, George Fernandes created quite a furore when he stated that China was India's enemy No. 1. Was he wrong?

On the face of it, trade between India and China is booming. Indian IT companies are entering the Chinese market. Indian manufacturing companies are poised to leverage on China's low cost manufacturing. We are too happy to import anything Chinese. We apparently crossed the Great Wall, ever since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's Beijing visit in 1988.

On the other hand, India remains the only country with whom China has not moved an inch for resolving the border disputes in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. China has still not recognised Sikkim's amalgamation into India. Every now and then, whispers are heard of Chinese incursions across the border and ensuing skirmishes. Very recently, there was a news on an evacuation from Nathu-la. A major skirmish was suspected. There was complete silence from officials.

And if you think these are small insignificant incidents, then sample this. China has followed a policy of encircling India, creating a "string of pearls". It is building a naval presence In Myanmar. It has set up a "listening" station in the Coco Islands of Myanmar, to snoop on India's missile test site in Orissa and ISRO facilities at Sriharikota. Not too much is known about the two deep-water ports being constructed by China at Kyaukpyu and Sittwe. Undoubtedly, these strategic assets can be used against India if the need arises.

Sri Lanka has been a significant recipient of Chinese military aid to help it fight the LTTE, while India looked the other way (though it is rumored that Indian military strategists and intelligence assets were readily made available to the Lankans). Further, the Chinese are building a port at Hambantota, in southern Sri Lanka. This is suspected to be a naval base and fuel bunkering facility for the Chinese.

Chinese involvement in Nepal is well known, so is their de-facto alliance with Pakistan. The Chinese have been heavily investing in the development of the Gwadar port in Baluchistan which is strategically located at the head of the oil tanker routes in the Persian Gulf and is rumoured to be a future naval base. Their investments in Gwadar would give them not only energy security but also an opportunity to choke oil supplies to India.

It is also suspected that when Pakistan decided to go nuclear immediately after their 1971 debacle, the Chinese not only did help provide (read: proliferate) nuclear technology to build the bomb, but also allowed the Pakistanis access to their Lop Nor nuclear test site in Xinjiang, much before India went overtly nuclear in 1974. Such support is continuing till date. Hasn't China signed the NPT?

Arming the Pakistani military was always a non-issue for the Chinese. The Chinese have apparently facilitated the transfer of North Korean missile technology to Pakistan, which was the foundation of the Pakistani IRBM programme.

The Chinese have also built the Karakorum Highway right from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir into Xinjiang. This undoubtedly is a strategic asset for both countries - China gets a road access to Pakistani ports in the Persian Gulf while all-weather road transport facilitates Pakistan's easy access to heavy-duty Chinese military hardware. China has very smartly propped up Pakistan, as a constant threat, a constant pin-prick to keep India occupied to further its agenda of dominance.

China is also focussing on building a strategic relationship with Bangladesh, along similar lines.

China has played quite a dubious role in promoting insurgency movements in the North-East as well as the Maoist and Naxal movements all throughout the mineral rich areas of eastern and central India. It is a clear attempt of weakening India from within, an act of war, which we have failed to recognise till date.

A few weeks back, on August 8, 2009, newspapers here covered an article, authored by Zhong Guo Zhan Lue Gang, which appeared on a Chinese website ( captioned 'If China takes a little action, the so-called Great Indian Federation can be broken up'. The article which been analysed on clearly talked about breaking India into 20-30 pieces.

Clearly, the Chinese are following Deng Xiaopeng's doctrine of "Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead - but aim to do something big." They appear to be overtly warm and friendly but do not spare any opportunity to undermine India.

Talking of undercutting, Chinese intentions became crystal clear when the Indo-US nuclear deal was being culminated and the Nuclear Suppliers Group was considering the US sponsored India-specific waivers. The Chinese all along indicated their support but started dithering just before the vote. It took a desperate phone call from the then US President George W. Bush to the Chinese President Hu Jintao at 1 AM Washington time to get the Chinese on board.

Chinese lobbies worldwide have been fairly active in supporting the grand objective that China has. Australia under Prime Minister John Howard was quite eager to start uranium supplies to India. However, John Howard was succeeded by Kevin Rudd, who has been experiencing an orgasm with China, as he has himself said!!!! Now Kevin Rudd had been a relative unknown on the Australian political theatre and his election was marked with controversies of Chinese funding benefiting him directly! Australian blogs have sarcastically been calling Rudd a Mandarin Chinese!

Now Rudd did a complete U-turn on assuming office - he stymied all attempts to sell uranium to India citing a stand of non-proliferation. He tries to project an image of maintaining a moral high ground, but his actions are quite suspect. On whose insistence is Rudd taking this stance? I think we have sufficient clues on this.

The scramble for resources has led both India, China and other powers into Africa. The Chinese have very often outbid all other competitors. Very often this has achieved by bribing successive regimes. If the incumbents do not oblige, the Chinese arm insurgents. The Chinese have had quite a success in acquiring such assets, but their subsequent actions and attitudes towards the locals have brought fears of a second round of imperialism. This has happened in Zambian copper mines and tin mines in the Congo, besides other African countries. Chinese "neo-imperialism" has been well covered in the international press, including the The New York Times.

Why is China playing the Great Game to outbid, outsmart and keep India on its toes?

The answer lies within China.

China is a multi-ethnicity rag-tag union held together with an iron fist. The recent Uighur unrest in Xinjiang and the Tibetan protests in 2008, which were spontaneous but heartfelt, indicate a very strong undercurrent which would erupt at any moment the fist loosens.

That is precisely what the Chinese establishment is scared of. It needs to keep the economic miracle running. This can be sustained only by gobbling up whatever resources are available.

India can possibly be the only challenge that China faces for dominance in Asia. "How can India (despite being a multi-"ethnicity" country still thrive?" is a question that bothers the Chinese establishment. It therefore has to prove a point that India is a horrible example to look up to. This is a point which has to be proved at any cost. And Pakistan, Bangladesh, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) do the job well for the Chinese establishment.

India, in a sense, can also be called a multi-ethnicity union. But the difference lies in the a benevolent governance here unlike an iron fist. While there is discontent from time to time, every "ethnicity" does get a voice, is heard and issues do get sorted out.

That is something which is hugely comforting, but is not enough till the Great Game is on. Sadly, few Indian governments have ever recognised the Great Game.

The Chinese philospher Sun Tzu had said "For, to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." China is doing just that.

The Great Game is an all out war, without combat, without war being declared. George Fernandes recognised this fact.

India needs to recognise that the Great Game is being played.

India needs to evolve a set of carefully calibrated strategies to play Great Game. I would be talking of some of these strategies in my subsequent blog posts.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Major Mistake!

Major Jaswant Singh has finally been expelled from the BJP. What a Major Mistake!

For nearly two decades, the BJP appeared to be the political party with a difference. The party stood for what many Indians wanted - opening of the economy, strengthening of the defence capability, a universal recognition for India's strengths. The BJP did all that just too well. They capitalised on economic initiatives taken by the erstwhile Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao and took India to a pedestal on the world stage, gave India a voice.

All credit for this goes to the statesman, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, who charismatically took alongwith him friends and foes alike. Mr. Vajpayee drew on the immense goodwill he had built over the years and weaved together a rainbow coalition of political parties, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and almost gave India the governance that we needed.

But off-late, we have seen a complete disarray in the BJP, the NDA is practically non-existant today. Why has Mr. Vajpayee's legacy been squandered away just like this?

Mr. Vajpayee, it can be concluded, had the knack for identifying the capable people for the right job. That's why we had seen several initiatives being taken in all spheres. And these were successful.

As long as success was there, there was power, ensuring that the different factions stayed together as one. A part of the "staying together" can also be attributed to the "Vajpayee factor".

Today, the BJP doesn't have the success, the power or the "Vajpayee factor". And the result - a complete chaos and disarray.

Jaswant Singh's expulsion points to that disarray. Do Jaswant's views on Jinnah really impact India? Does it really matter whether Jinnah was a nationalist or not? Isn't Jaswant entitled to his own views as an individual?

Despite Jaswant's statements that Jinnah was a nationalist, they would not solve the problems between India and Pakistan today.

The fact remains that India has a distinct national identity today. We are very different from what Pakistan is. We are a young, ambitious and forward looking nation and we have no place for retrograde thought.

Whether Partition was a good or a bad thing is another question. The "grandparent generation" is still nostalgic and romanticises about anything "sarhad paar". They regret the Partition and still fantasise about bazaars of Lahore, the culture and the prosperity that was left behind, etc. etc.

But, I have a question. Would you have ever wanted to live in one nation with millions of fanatics, share a border with the Taliban?

My answer to this question would be a big big NO!

So while millions of lives were lost in the Partition, a lot of blood was shed, the Partition was a blessing in disguise for India. We got rid of the baggage of an inward looking, crazy and regressive set of people.

We became a leaner and meaner nation. We got an agility to move on. And the result - today Partition is absolutely irreversible.

So why all this controversy on Jaswant's book?

And to top it all, when the BJP is looking for a firm grounding, it expels its global face.


What a Major Mistake!

(Caricature courtesy:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Amazing Indian Landscapes

This is the collection of some of my best photographs shot at different locations across the country, showing how beautiful India is!!!!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jan Gan Mann

India is celebrating its 63rd Independence Day today! I attended a flag hoisting ceremony earlier today, which was organised in a housing complex nearby.

As our Tricolour was unfurled and we sang "Jan Gan Mann", several thoughts were crisscrossing the contours of my mind.

I thought about what I had written on my blog last Independence Day - "Is India truly Independent?" I also thought about what we as a nation aspire for ourselves and our nation. And a lot of other thoughts came to my mind.

At the end of it, I felt that the freer we get, the lesser we think of what independence means to us. Let us compare ourselves to say our grandparents or even our parents. We have much more freedom than them, more choices in life and more opportunities. In our pursuit for the right selection for ourselves, we seem to have forgotten what freedom of this country really means to us, as Indians.

Today we think of self-actualisation (if I may borrow the concept from Maslow's Hierarchy). We have come up with the new age concepts of the world being one, the irrelevance of borders. Surely, this is a new fad.

Let's accept it, in all this we are forgetting what price our grandparents had to pay for this freedom. The freedom struggle and consequent Independence was not way back in the past - it was just 2-3 generations before us. yet we have forgotten all that happened?

We seem to worry more about the where the economy is headed, but we had forgotten the blood being shed by our armed forces in encounters every day on our western frontier, trying to prevent armed intrusions into India by so called jihadists who are threatening to destroy the Indian way of life.

I made this point on one of the Independence Day messages on Facebook. Soon I received an avalanche of angry messages from some people identifying themselves as liberals and peaceniks. Sample this: "Borders only lead to bloodshed - first create imaginary lines, call them borders, fight over them, shed your blood and then rejoice at a unknown freedom."

So how about opening our borders, welcoming the Chinese in, the Taliban in, etc. etc.? Well the peaceniks who advocate a bouundaryless world will be shitting bricks in their pants like the rest of us. The free speech that they enjoy (and liberally misuse) today to rant out all this will be gone, gone forever! I am not talking of the torture and pain we all will face. For freedom is something you never realise you have till you lose it!

Agreed, we need to be open minded. We certainly need to open borders for trade, technology inflow, intellectual discourse, but certainly not at the cost of India's security.

We need to reinforce within us and in generations to come, the price that we paid for our Independence and how we could sustain it. We need a collective patriotic feeling for our nation.

Towards this end, small steps help in the long run.

For instance, in Bombay, all cinemas play the national anthem before the show begins. And voluntarily everyone stands in attention and passionately sings silently. And if there is someone whose cellphone is ringing or is standing at attention - this person would certainly have it - he would get angry glares, etc. which would force him to fall in line the next time and least think what Jan Gan Mann means to us, hopefully bringing within him, a change of heart someday.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Swades Moment

Last Sunday, Neeti and I travelled to Jambulwadi with a group of socially conscious people. Jambulwadi is a small hamlet nearly 80 kilometres from Bombay about 10 kilometres off the Nasik highway. Our cousin, Anshum, joined us for this trip.
Our objective was to help the villagers help themselves. We had organised a fruit tree plantation programme for them. The fruit trees would not only be a source of livelihood but also check soil erosion and help recharge the water table.

We left Lokhandwala at 7.45 AM in a bus - a cloudy lazy Sunday morning. We were a group of nearly 25 adults and a handful of playful kids.

Within half an hour we touched Eastern Express Highway, which in itself is a feat, given the reputation of traffic in this megapolis!

Each one of us were in very high spirits. We were all enthusiastically participating in dumb charades. For me, it was the first time - I had never done dumb charades before. But it was indeed a thrilling experience. All this proves only one thing - the city really sucks you dry. And every opportunity to get away does help, so to say, to recharge one's "batteries"!

Stopped at a roadside eatery for a quick breakfast and then continued on towards Jambulwadi.It's amazing how the countryside turns green on the onset of the Monsoons. The varied hues of green are a treat for the eyes. It's always wonderful to see the colors that Nature shows us. But do we have the time is the biggest question.At Jambulwadi, we were given a traditional welcome with a tikka, a wild flower bouquet and a welcome song by the tribal schoolgirls. We had taken biscuits for the village kids. The peels of glee and joy from little village kids was an expression of pure emotion, which is again so hard to find in the city.Our group then proceeded to the fields to plant the saplings. The children accompanying us enthusiastically participated in planting the trees. After completing the plantation, we trekked down towards the small rivulet. It was a wonderful steep trek down with birds chirping and the clean fresh air, that we all yearn for. Almost the entire group, kids and the elderly, took to the stream like ducks to the water. A few kids went about searching for fish in the rivulet.

The villagers told us that they had to fetch water from the rivulet at least three times a day. It must be quite a task to trek up and down the steep valley. We very often take water and electricity for granted, but it's a completely different matter in the countryside. Makes me think there are two Indias - one with plenty and the other which barely survives. I am told eastern India is worse off in that sense.
On the way back, we saw men ploughing the land and women planting paddy. Barely do we appreciate the effort that goes into growing the food that we consume. Silently, I saluted these hardworking men and women who toil for their existence.

Truly, a Swades moment, as Anshum had put it....

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hum Aise Hi Hain!

Last night I attended a talk given by a member of a social organisation who led a team of Indian professionals for a vocational exchange to Germany. The speaker shared his (and his team's) experiences of the 2 months they had spent in Germany.

He went to say that initially they were impressed by the efficiency, precision and timeliness of the Germans, but soon got a little tired of it.

The speaker spoke about how they were amazed initially, and later bothered, by the punctuality and discipline of the Germans. The group kind of found the emphasis of punctuality of the Germans a bit unnerving.

The food, he mentioned was a major issue - they found it particularly difficult to adapt to the local cuisine. He recommended carrying packs of MTR to anyone travelling abroad! Can you beat that?

And then came the amazing part - the speaker mentioned his elation on landing back in the grime and sweaty heat of Bombay. He mentioned how he enjoyed driving his car back home from the airport - in his own admission, he was carefree - a bit of indisciplined driving chalta hai!

And then to top it all, he, says, 'saare jahan se accha hindustan hamara' and went on to wax-eloquent about about the Indian-way!

These descriptions are symptomatic of what ails us as a country. These attitudes gives us clues why despite having a billion industrious people we are where we are, down in the dumps and love it down there.

If one studies the history of the world, every superpower of the world has had one thing in common - the willingness to look outwards, out of their set ideas, hunger to explore and to take on the world.

From ancient times till now, great powers have had this common thread running through generations, right across various civilisations - from the ancient Greeks and Romans to sea-faring Spaniards, Portuguese and the Englishmen. Even the Frenchmen were quite inward looking till the Napoleonistic-expansion.

The Chinese who inward looking like us were at the receiving end of the then Western superpowers, from Genghis Khan in the Middle Ages to the British in modern times - remember the construction of the Great Wall to ward off the Mongols, to the Opium Wars of the 1800s. The result - each successive generation of Chinese got weaker and weaker.

However this changed when Deng Xiaopeng not only opened China, but took China on an expansionist and exploratory path. And only then Chinese took to the world like ducks to water!

India lacks that very instinct. We think we are modern, but we are inward looking. Having Guccis, Armanis and Pradas within our reach at a stone's throw doesn't make us modern. Do we really understand the world of today? Do we really know how the world thinks?

It is said that inbreeding weakens the gene pool. A similar analogy would apply to thought. Reinforcing generations of thought, accepting "our way" as the only "way" and "hum to aise hi hain" are perfect examples of that weakening, debilitating, paralysing process of an "inbreeding" of thought. It was precisely the same reason why India had historically been weak - remember that it was considered against the Hindu religion to travel across the seas. It was precisely for the same reason ancient-medieval India never had a navy till the era of the Mughals and Shivaji, leaving us vulnerable to invasions.

We want an "India" wherever we travel. A simple example is food. Travel agents selling tour packages to the West or the Orient proudly advertise they would have an Indian cooks with them and the tourists would be served Indian meals all through the day! How the hell would these tourists experience, say for instance, France, if they were to have tandoori chicken or theplas over there?

I have experienced this first not only in India but also abroad. Travelling to Kerala for a conference about 7 years ago, I was surprised to see our very own North Indians demanding dal-roti. Similarly, I have also seen Indians travelling abroad abhorring the thought of having local cuisine, settling for bread-butter. One Indian couple travelling was crazy about finding a KFC outlet, which they thought was closest to familiar Indian food, though I wonder how?

And then we say, we love our food - that's the way we Indians are. Sure we do love our food. Who doesn't? Surely the Americans miss their beefy burgers when they travel abroad (Am reminded of the movie Outsourced where the protagonist, a call center head, Todd Anderson, misses American junk food in India and goes so crazy when he sees an advertisement of a McDonald's clone in a newspaper, that he travels 40-odd kilometers to have a burger!).

Similarly, the Scots miss their Haggis. The Japanese their Sushi. The Aussies, their beer! What makes us Indians different is our unwillingness to experiment even for a short period of even a week.

I also remember a cross-over desi movie about Indian students in the US. One of the characters had a drinking binge with, obviously, other Indian pals, gets totally sloshed, pees in the lawn and shouts out loud - "This is freedom!". We love our freedom to pee anywhere, to drive the way we want to, to intrude into the personal spaces of others, to show scant respect for privacy and of being loud and brash, and the chaos all around us. Has our new-found openness taught us anything?


Another example that completely paralyses the Indian minds and reinforces "our way" is a complete lack of fraternising with the natives. How many of us strike a genuine conversation with say a cab-driver or a waiter or a hotel front-desk manager when we are abroad. We have conversations that are absolutely essential. Indian co-workers and students would hang around with each other instead of being with peers of different ethnicities. This makes the natives hate Indians. No wonder Indians are least understood, hardly respected and most hated the world over. This is not a new phenomena.

The expulsion of Asians from Uganda in the 1970s, "dot buster" crimes in the US of the 1980s, expulsions of Indians following the Fiji coup of 1989 and the recent hate crimes in Australia all point to that.

A budding superpower needs to understand the world and look at it from a position of strength. It cannot afford to lose its goodwill, yet we are doing just that.

We've given the world spirituality, yoga, Bollywood, back-office services, etc. but that's hardly anything. We, as a people, need to change our attitudes, we need to explore the world, we need to get aggressive, we need to press the reset button now before its too late.

Till then, hum aise hi hain!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Next Step

Looking back at the last few years of my life, I am getting increasingly convinced of what a lot of people around me had been telling me.
Nothing in life ever has an enduring permanence. I have had quite a few failures and a few successes in life. On failing, I have so often felt that failure has brought me to the end of the world, and that heavens had fallen. But slowly life creeped in and I looked at the possibilities around, trying to make the best out of the worst. Gradually, things changed for the better, leading to the next success. What a waste is all that worry and depression? It only slows down the process of recovery making the journey a lot more painful and drains the energy levels. Yet it becomes so hard to realize all that when one is in that situation.
The other side of the story is that during periods of success, one doesn't even contemplate failure. But that's the way we like it. Rather, we should be preparing ourselves to face the worst, when we are enjoying the ecstasy of success.
In all this, it helps if we realize that nothing in life is permanent. Things change, scenarios change, environments change. Only we don't. We have had successes in the past and we will in the future.
Don't we worry too much about tomorrow that we forget to live today? We all know that the ultimate truth in life is death, but that doesn't stop us from breathing, does it? So why worry our guts out about what tomorrow will bring. Live the day, make the most of today, make it a success. Surely, if we were to start doing that, we would certainly start the next day on a high note, which becomes the stepping stone for the next success.
In everything one does, there is certainly a Superior Power guiding us, a hand to guide you to the next step. I have felt that more than once in life, when one success follows another, when I beat the expectations that I had of myself. Yet we fail to see the Hand when we are successful and we yearn for it when we fail. The Superior Power, the Hand could be one's faith, something one calls God. Why shouldn't we thank the Hand for being with us at each step, when we are successful? Such gratitude does help in keeping the focus, that life is, by and large, good and interesting.
So often, we all crib about the pathetic people we have to deal with each day, the unkind, mean, abrasive attitudes. Yet for hundreds of such people we meet aren't there a handful of people who make our life worth living? In all our complaints about the nasty guys, we fail to reinforce the positivity we get from these nice guys. Shouldn't we cut out the crap from the nasty guys? Perhaps, the best way to do it is to assume that such guys merely exist in today, but matter in the long run, because what matters tomorrow is the positivity radiating from being around a few nice guys.
I have made all these mistakes at different points in life. Yet each time someone in life guided me to the positives, the other side that I failed to look at, which according to me, at that point of time, didn't make any sense. Thankfully, I was wrong each time, I am happy to admit this. I believe everyone goes through these moments.
Let's accept it, no matter what life brings us, it remains the most valuable possession we have. And we get from life what we give it. So if we look at life with hope, patience and gratitude, we will get a lot of peace and calm, which is required for the Next Step.
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