Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Bedi-Tug of Kejri-War

The political scene at the Centre is posing stiff competition to the Delhi winters, what with its hotness quotient. For once, with a strong ruler at the centre, BJP has played its card carefully and has saved the best for the last. The sudden induction of Kiran Bedi was meant to be a master stroke. But whether it turns out to be a trump card or a damp squib remains to be seen. Kiran Bedi has been the symbol of substance, discipline, female power, integrity and everything one could hope for in a minister. She has experience and she is committed to her cause. For long, she has been sidelined and shunned by corrupt bureaucrats, who didn't see eye to eye with her owing to her straightforward, honest and effective ways of tackling law and order. From being thrown in remote areas to being demoted, she has seen it all. Having taken early retirement, she sided with Anna Hazare in the Lokpal movement but broke away from Kejriwal’s party.
But did BJP really need her? Did BJP really need an outsider to win the elections? The Modi wave threatens to sweep AAP away with its ostentatious Swachh Bharat and Make in India campaigns. But the party biggies must have realized that Delhi was a crucial election and if it failed to secure a majority in this, it would jinx the Modi magic in a way that might give the opposition fresh hope. The party needs to make hay while the sun shines and so it was exceedingly imperative for them to pit a diamond against a diamond. And that they did. Modi found someone like him, someone sans family ties and reputed to be authoritative and sturdy. Understandably, it created ripples in the party, as it upset the long standing members who felt unduly neglected in return for their devotion and long years of work for the party. It looks like a repeat of the LS polls, when Mr. Modi replaced the top brass like Advani and Joshi to become the PM candidate. Mr. Modi sure seems to be following his principle of minimum government, shrinking his cabinet and reducing it to a select few, whom he can supervise. It doesn't look like BJP at all, but MnM, Modi and Modi. Perhaps he feels that too many cooks spoil the broth, that too many ministers mean too many sops. He seems to have taken fancy to the hobbesian concept.
When the party realized that the Modi rally in Delhi did not achieve as high inputs as it could have expected, owing to the Modi effect, Shah put on his thinking cap and came up with a failsafe solution. Bring in someone untainted. Like Harsh Vardhan, the previous CM candidate from BJP, who was chosen precisely on such grounds. To match up to the concept of “change” and “new” and corruption-free, the principles that AAP espouses, BJP put forward a face that had no connection with scams or deals but had a strong reputation and influential record in the government. The consideration of Kiran Bedi for CM is a dream come true for many, especially the middle class, which formed a major vote base of AAP. After Mr. Kejriwal’s abdication of the Delhi chair, AAP lost a good section of this voter base which Ms. Bedi seeks to grab. If she does become the CM, atleast law and order ought to see a revampment. One can hope for more safety for women and a better response to heinous assaults on women than Mrs. Dixit’s “women should keep off the streets at night”.
But what happens when two hard taskmasters come together? Going by Kiran Bedi’s track record, she doesn’t brook any nonsense, any injustice. She might not be an eloquent speaker but she is a tough taskmaster. But will she tolerate the RSS’s communal agenda? Will she speak out against spurious speakers like Sadhvi and Sakshi Maharaj and incidents like church conflagrations, love jihad and ghar wapsi, thus inviting the party’s displeasure or prefer to take a euphemistic approach by sealing her lips and ignoring it all like light hearted banter in the light of big things like law and order and development on the lines of our PM’s course of action? What if Ms Bedi does not like some decision the PM takes? Or some order given to her does not resonate with her principles? Will she too abdicate her throne or will she last longer than Kejri’s 49-day stint?
Also, how healthy is it for a democracy to have the same party in the country and the same party at the Centre? Does it bode well when the string of ordinances threaten to choke the parliamentary procedure or when the media is hushed up and the detractors compelled to concede defeat? Or when industrialization and land acquisitions gain say over the displacement of poor farmers threatened by homelessness and displacement?
It looks to be a very tough choice between Ms Bedi and Mr. Kejriwal. One is former IPS, known for her impartial crackdown on wrongs and breaches of law and order. It almost looks like Ms. Bedi will host ‘AAP’ ki Kachhehri soon. On the other side of the fence is former IRS, known for his firebrand activism and (in)famous dharnas. He shot to fame with his humble weapon, and wielded more magic with his broom than a witch ever could with hers. The comparison cannot be based on qualifications or track record though, because if that were the case, then our erstwhile PM Manmohan Singh, with his noteworthy qualifications and impeccable record as the FM, would win a hundred times over our current PM, who had less education than you and me and the taint of communal riots on his trademark waistcoat.
The winner in all this may as yet be unknown. But the loser is pretty clear. In all this quagmire, no one seems to realize the ‘decongressization’  of the country. The supporters of Congress have been divided by the rise of AAP. Where BJP retains its right wing vote base, the leftists are confused between AAP and Congress. Chanakyaneeti or the concept of divide and rule has been played exceptionally well in this game of thrones.

So, how do we make our choice? Whom do we trust? Can Ms. Bedi be the messiah who will solve all the problems? Or will she be disillusioned by the power play or the centralization of power in the hands of a few (read one)? Can Mr. Kejriwal deliver on his promise of ‘5 saal, kejriwal’ or will he quit within 5 days this time round? Whoever wins, let’s hope we, the people, are not the losers.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Martyrs of Freedom

What is it about the dichotomy between modernity and regression, the two forces running parallel today, one dead set on taking the world forward and the other even more determined to pull it back? The ban on Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, the imprisonment and then exile of the famed philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo from Iran for his revolutionary philosophies and criticisms, the self-imposed exile of the iconoclastic painter MF Husain from India, the furore over the recent release PK, the hullabaloo over the movie ‘The Interview’ mocking the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un are just a few examples of curbing freedom in an era of free men and women. It is disheartening to see that Maithripala Sirisena took over Sri Lanka’s presidency not on the grounds of development but on the basis of a promise to bring back democracy, that many countries still sag under the burden of their dictators’ whims and that, in fact our own PM tries to be the Big Brother (of the 1984 fame). Why are we still stuck on freedom in the age when environmental issues need more focus? Why do we still live in a society where freedom comes at an exorbitant price, where we get trampled in the wrestle between the polarising modern and retrograde forces ? Obviously where there is a positive, there has to be a negative to balance it. So, antiquity and forward thinking, left and right, north pole and south pole...coexist. In fact, one exists because of the other. It would be highly desirable and infinitely peaceful if a middle path existed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
So, what is it with dissent? What is it with saying things aloud? Why is there so much taboo? What do we fear? Do we fear that we will discover things and ideas that may change our established perspectives forever? Or do we fear that we will lose our way and digress from the truth? Well, if thinking and reasoning takes one away from the truth, then one might need to do a reality check on the truth itself. And if it is a universal and unchangeable truth, then it cannot be changed, least of all by caricatures and posts. Do we scold a child when he giggles or makes fun of a serious topic? I guess we do. Why? Because we do not have the innocence of a child whose mind is a blank slate, we cannot brook ridicule or defiance regarding the beliefs we hold dear. It makes us uncomfy, shakes us up, makes us take a relook at our belief systems.
Let’s question the concept of freedom. Does the freedom of expression include the freedom to offend? Does it include the right to defame people, institutions and belief systems? Does it include the freedom to incite, instigate and foment rebellion? Perhaps not. Perhaps that’s the reason why Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg got death threats over his refusal to ban content about Prophet Mohammed. Perhaps that’s why Saudi blogger Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes and ordered to pay a fine of about $266,600 after being convicted of insulting Islam for writing a liberal blog. Perhaps that’s why Charlie Hebdo was attacked and its editors choked to death. For their ‘insensitive’ and ‘fulminating’ content. The freedom of expression is a double-edged sword, a weapon more powerful than any other. When we talk about freedom of speech and expression, we forget that we do not live in a utopian society where individuals base their decisions on their conscience and good faith. We are required to coexist in a society where power play and ulterior motives direct the use and abuse of this freedom. But should we then make laws to regulate this freedom? After all, whom can we entrust its judicious use to? If not the public, certainly not the moral or the legal police. As for the victims of this freedom, there could be many ways of retaliation-taking the issue to court, going for a tit-for-tat act by perhaps coming up with a counter publication to quash a blog’s or a magazine’s ‘outrageous’ ideas or the easiest way- ostracization. However, the attackers resorted to violence. The most cowardly method, the worst way of saying that we are weak and our arguments don’t hold water. Charlie Hebdo made fun of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many other religions and political systems. It was a magazine which shouted It aimed to plant the seed of independent thought. But the extremists did what they did best. Silence them, snuff out their lives and hence, their voices, their thoughts. They probably tried to disprove that the ‘pen is mightier than the sword’. They probably did not realize that the power of the pen is such that the more you suppress it, the more it grows. Most of us did not even know about Charlie Hebdo but thanks to the terrorists, now every Tom, Dick and Harry would google the caricatures and articles relating to the Prophet that led to the horrific attack. The attackers have spread the magazine’s message farther than the publishers and editors ever intended or hoped for.
The question arises, what are we watchers supposed to do? Stay quiet and let it all happen? Or get mired in the mesh and run the risk of being flogged, banned or killed? If we are the Roman mob, then any Brutus, Caesar or Marc Antony can make us think the way they want. But every such Brutus and Marc Antony still have the freedom to speak their mind and every such mob has the right to reject or accept their ideas without any side fearing a backlash from the other.
Long Live the Martyrs of Freedom!