Monday, 26 September 2016

Wagtail Words & Sackcloth Sentences


Soar or sink,words always return to haunt.

Narendra Modi’s utterances were honey to hungry indian ears as he tore into the UPA government to secure a resounding mandate to rule the country. Two years at the helm and the very same words are boomeranging with a scarring tenacity. Moreso after the Uri unfrocking.

Words are heady nectar on the way up and poisoned darts hurtling down. The social media, though open to manipulation, remains a fair barometer of the ebb and tide of mass mood.

Masterful with words Modi would mock the reticent Manmohan with sarcastic chivalry after every border incident or terror onslaught during the decade long UPA rule. Singh is silent but the social media has taken on itself the job of showing him the mirror. Whats app and facebook are choc-a-bloc with clips of the present prime minister’s myriad feisty posturing of how to deal with the Pakistan promoted terror machine. A TV interview jibe where he spoke of answering the neighbour in his own language is getting more eyeballs than ever before on the social jungle clicks.”Every time there is a terror incident in India we either write ‘love letters’ or go running to America wailing Obama,Obama!.Get back at Pakistan, don’t go flailing the world over”,said the then Gujarat chief minister who was chasing national dreams. 

Today the same space is replete with jokes and jibes, punctuating the same interview.”What’s the latest on chest chants and bulging biceps ”,goes a particularly pithy one following the TV talk clip with a laconic ”what say you. Why is hefty hercules complaining to China now”, goes another .Even the social media, once a Modi domain is now under the scanner by its own users.’Twitter audit’ disputes his following and a u-tuber unveils the modus operandi of scammer set ups working to drive ‘traffic’ on pre-determined issues and it’s monetary implications. But that is obfuscating the main issue.

National leaders aspiring for power need to abide by norms of public conduct. Extravagance, whether in claims, language or poll promises may help rain the ‘manna’ from heaven but opens you up to ridicule later on. Foul language and wild promises may be the order of the day in other parts of the country but that was not the legacy Modi inherited .Besides the Mahatma, Gujarat has cradled numerous icons from Indulal Yagnik, the man who took on Nehru to the austere but temperamental Morarji Desai and Congress president Jaisukhlal Hathi to the intellectually inclined Madhavsinh Solanki  and the earthy Keshubhai Patel,to name a few .The discourse in public domain was always one of mutual respect.

Initially subtle but later there were  gross changes after Modi took over as the chief minister in 2001. A man of strong likes and dislikes, he introduced an aggression in demeanour which grew noticeable with the passage of time. Usages like ‘cow and calf’ to describe political rivals  alluding to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul  during election campaigning may elicit catcalls but went to lower the level of electoral morality. As did the ill-disguised attacks on the minority community during his controversial  ‘gaurav yatra’that followed the statewide communal riots in 2002 after the Godhra train carnage. ”hum do,hamare do’(us two and ur two children) hum kahete hai, woh kehte hain’ hum panch hamare pachees’ (us five and our twenty five)and references to ‘Miyan Musharraf’ were ill-disguised attacks on the minority community. 

Similarly reference to the then Chief Election Commissioner as James Michael Lyngdoh alluding to his Christian lineage to create the impression that he was favouring  fellow ’christian’ Sonia Gandhi and by implication the Congress were not only in bad taste but contributed majorly to the fall in standards of public morality. Nevertheless, cleaving communities paid rich electoral dividend and Modi swept the polls. The ‘hindu hriday samrat’(Emperor of the hindu heart) had no qualms about playing the messiah of the majority until he developed national aspirations  and held the three day sadbhavana sammelan(communal amity meet) at Ahmedabad in September 2011 to announce it. No wonder the boss is hard put to control verbal absurdities voiced from time to time by elements within his own party!

The future cannot be foreseen delinked from the past and it is in this context that moderation in language truly deserving of a country that claims to lay premium on it’s rich culture is highly advised of it’s leaders. Now in the hot seat, it is squirm time for most of the present ones who, while in the opposition, chose to indulge in high voltage verbal calisthenics .Whither the bronchial bravery of Modi’s retaliation advice ,of another of his ministers mouthing ‘aapki baar,seema paar’ :of  Smriti Irani speaking in Indore during the UPA days offering her bangles to the Centre to try them out. This was in the wake of a terrorist attack on the army. Were there no terrorism incidents in Gujarat during Modi rule? On july 26, 2008 there were 21 bomb blasts in Ahmedabad within two hours leaving 56 dead and 200 injured. Pathankot has followed Uri but there are no bangles on offer from Ms. Irani now. Examples abound but the shoe is on the other foot and the BJP ministers are making sickeningly similar noises that the present opposition did when in power. Times change but responses remain the same irrespective of who is in the top seat.

For those familiar with the response reflexes of the present ruler ,one can anticipate  a heightening of poster patriotism at home and a slew of international diplomatic ‘manoeuvres’ ,   tons of posturing coupled  with stepping up of defence related statements. There will also be a lot of diversionary announcements at the precise moment when attention needs to be deflected from the issue. The intention would be to regulate indigenous responses. Proof of it lies in the fact that soon after news of the Uri attack reached the top, one of the first few meetings at the prime ministerial level was on how to break the news to the media through calibrated, unattributed leaks. Bad luck that minister Venkaiah Naidu goofed up through a tweet and the cat was out of the bag. Already the ‘build up’ has begun in the social media to whip up nationalist sentiments. Disinformation of a cross-border raid by special forces of the army killing ten terrorists was pushed up ,then denied officially but continued to be force-fed. Those monitoring the social media knew the source of the promotion. 

Modi could do well to remember Alan Watts who said; the menu is not the meal!

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Booze Benchmark :Gujarat's Hype & Hypocrisy


If pride and prejudices are pesky, both hype and hypocrisy hurt.
 Gujarat  and it’s ‘model’ have been the toast of the Indian season ever since it’s Chief Minister , Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014.This includes it’s liquor prohibition policy which has  adherents like Bihar now where Nitish Kumar came to power after knocking the wind out of  Modi’s sails!
Billowing in the political clouds ever since, are propounded perceptions of a ‘dry’ India. Kumar could do with a closer look at adversary Modi’s ‘model’ state before giving wings to his national vision.
Proud and boastful  of the fact that it has been the only state in the country which was born ‘dry’ and continues to remain so till date, Gujarat’s much hyped liquor ‘totalitarianism’ took a humpty-dumpty like fall last week when over 20 people died after consuming hooch near Surat. What has now become a standard drill after decades of practice,is in place. Newly anointed Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is making all the right noises .Top cops-regional and district heads-transferred, smaller fry suspended .The anti-terrorist squad (ATS)chief   takes charge of investigations. A three man top cop panel headed by additional director general of police (ADGP),also looks into the matter and submits it’s report to the state home department head. Within 24 hours over a thousand country liquor cases are registered. Carton loads are being seized at entry checkpoints into the state. A full blooded search for the culprit methanol is under way. Blah, blah, blah and the farce goes on.
Consumption or possession of liquor without a valid permit is a non-bailable offence in the state. A person arrested on either count has to be produced in court to be bailed out. And yet it oozes Bacchus brew from every nook and cranny of its ample frame.
Booze, as the upwardly mobile call it, is lucrative business and according to conservative estimates, a Rs 30,000 crore  annual turnover, pure black money spewing industry. While Prime Minister Modi may have pulled out all the stops to unearth indian black money stashed abroad, his decade and a quarter year stint as chief minister of the state,failed to dent the business. In fact, to be fair to him, no chief minister who held office in the state was ever able to stem the flow.
The business has three components. At the bottom of the pyramid is the poor man’s drink-hooch, lattha or moonshine. Then follows the desi or country liquor which is the preferred drink of  rural Gujarat followed by brewery liquor at the apex(rum, whisky, gin, vodka etc).Hooch is the preferred drink of the urban labour class while ‘desi’ distilled  largely for captive consumption in villages ranks safer and a notch higher. The fruit liquor ‘mahua’ ranks in this category .With a consumer base of the middle and affluent class in cities and towns, Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) as brewery made liquor is called in official parlance, holds sway. Country liquor is a cottage industry but brewery liquor flows into the state from MP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra even Punjab and Haryana.
Lets take the case of Gujarat’s biggest city Ahmedabad. A network of about 1000 bootleggers  sell anywhere between 1.5 to2 lakh litres of moonshine per day. Women outnumber men in this business. This is besides the IMFL business where the brand of your choice is home delivered to you. The trade is techno-savvy and ‘whats app’ and other such applications come in handy. Surat  is reported to guzzle 50,000 litres per day and almost 70 per cent of the 18,000 villages in the state brew their own country liquor. All major cities report high consumption and rural areas are no exception. There are 61,000 health permit holders in the state and the average daily consumption of alcohol to permit holders is put at around Rs 75 lakhs worth.
No bootlegger can operate in Gujarat without police connivance and every ‘point’ of operation has to be properly negotiated for the amount to be paid to the cop which goes right upto the top and from there to the political top brass. The cops may be sloppy in policing but would be the envy of management experts in planning and distribution of ill-gotten spoils.
Thus it is the huge amount of unadulterated black money greasing the administrative-political system in Gujarat that  ensures  a high decibel sound and light show only for the benefit  of the masses with little or no follow-up action. Take the case of the 2009 hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad where 150 people lost their lives. Modi, then the chief minister, made all the appropriate noises. A Commission of Inquiry was instituted with former High Court judge K.M.Mehta as the chairman. The panel submitted its report in 2011 and pin drop silence thereafter. The Gujarat Vidhan Sabha was quick to amend the pertinent Act provisioning for even death penalty for those convicted in spurious liquor cases. The Bill was cleared by the then Governor Dr Kamala Beniwal. Not a single person has got life imprisonment thereafter, let alone terminal punishment.
The whole business of prohibition in Gujarat is a big charade in which everyone is happy and no one emerges the poorer except the people. Gujarat is soggy wet so those who want to drink,get enough of it but for a price. The cop is happy,he gets his cut and the politician in power moreso because he gets a fair share as well besides the rip off from transfers and postings for playing favourites. Right from the sub-inspector to the DGP, the transfers are all at the behest of the Home department and the politicians who preside over it. The bootlegger is happy because he still manages to make money for himself despite all the pricks and cuts. It is only the honest tax payer  who gets fobbed  because the state  loses a huge amount of money in excise  and allied duties. Never mind this common man, he was in any case, born to bear the burden of the cross. Moonshine for the earthy, sunshine for the dirty!