Monday, December 15, 2014


Old Delhi in 1955
In 1955 I was in my late teens and it looked like as if I had been somehow put on travel­­­­­ mode. I had just been to Bombay where I had spent most of my two- month long summer vacation. And now it was October and there was a chance of visiting Delhi. An uncle of mine was a touring officer of the C & E Morton, the confectioners, and he was going to be in Delhi for a week. He wanted my sister and me to visit him.

Getting into Punjab Mail that used to run between Bombay and Amritsar we were off for Delhi. In those early days the more important trains wouldn't go to New Delhi station for the simple reason that it was still in the process of coming up. Delhi Junction or the Old Delhi station used to be the scene of most of the railway action. Gwalior to Delhi was a distance of only 200 miles and the train used to take  a little more than 5 hours. As the train slowed down at Old Delhi a few coolies jumped into the compartment. Tall, well-built and fair, some with even thick beards with red turbans, were intimidating characters. The Bombay coolies were no patch on them. However, soon I spotted uncle. He got one of the coolies to pick up the luggage and promptly asked him to show his token number. It was only eight years after the partition which induced a two-way traffic of millions between the two newly-independent countries. Many of those who migrated this side of the newly created borders had chosen Delhi for making a fresh start in life and a large number had settled down as coolies to convey passengers’ luggage to and from the station. It was laborious work as we didn’t know till then of the concept of travelling light. Instances of disappearance of coolies with luggage of an unwary passenger had seemingly assumed alarming proportions and hence the need to check the token number.

Once outside we came across a veritable jam created by tongas (a horse-drawn carriage).  Looking for fare all had almost converged in front of the station exit. My uncle was staying in a hotel in the Old Delhi area. Those were early days  and most of the towns had only one or two really good ones, the star system had not been introduced till then. Delhi was no different and had The Imperial and the Maidens, the two reputed high-end ones and the rest being ordinary. My uncle had a biggish room in one of the ordinary ones in which three of us could accommodate ourselves pretty comfortably though it was nothing much to write home about. Surely there were better “ordinary” hotels in the same area.

Our first tripin the town was inevitably to Connaught Place. As soon as our uncle left my sister and I climbed into a Tonga and went there. Autos had not arrived on the scene yet and the tongas could go all over the town. Their movements were later restricted and they are now an endangered species, confined only in the Old Delhi area. Connaught Place was an immense largely vacant circular colonnaded market with very few cars running around. The
A Tonga
shops, however, were impressive - big and holding most of all the goodies that one could conceive of. We were happy to see the Scindia House, coming as we did from Gwalior – the erstwhile Scindia capital. On another of our excursions we went to Chandni Chowk which we found very dusty and crowded. Tongas in fair numbers were plying on the main road kicking up a lot of dust – not like the Delhi of our imagination. A few trams that looked ramshackle after the ones of Bombay were plying on the crowded street.

We had not been in Delhi for even a couple of days when we got a call from one of our Gwalior acquaintances who used to be the manager of Gwalior Potteries in Delhi. Promising to come and fetch us, he arrived one afternoon and much against the wishes of my uncle he had us piled into his car to be taken to his bungalow in the Potteries complex. It was far away in South Delhi and we had to go past the Red Fort, on to Darya Gunj, past Raj Ghat and India Gate through the leafy avenues of New Delhi and then had to wait at a level crossing. Curiously, the traffic of cars tongas and cycles was stopped here to allow an aircraft to land. The Safdurjung Airport was then the airport for Delhi and the one at Palam was still a few years away in the future. After going past the INA market we got into a dusty road that went past a government colony called Vinay Nagar (which is now Kidwai Nagar) running for about a kilometer and a half to get to the Potteries complex. It was a big complex with a pottery producing ceramic tea sets and other table-ware. At that time Gwalior Potteries was a well-known brand, particularly in North India. Now, of course, it is not to be seen or heard of. There used to be two bungalows one of which was lying unused. The whole property – quite a large one of tens of acres – belonged to the Maharaja of Gwalior, as did the Pottery. All of it was surrounded by what looked like a rural setting with a few scattered villages.

It is interesting to reflect back on this South Delhi area of 1955. The dust-laden road that we took has now virtually disappeared. There were no colonies on either side of it till it met its end at the Gwalior Potteries. There was no Sarojini Nagar or All India Institute of Medical Sciences or Safdurjung Hospital and there was no Ring Road. The road to Mehrauli continued as a narrow strip of asphalt and tongas used to ply on it right up to Kutub Minar and Mehrauli. Green Park colony was coming up a few kilometers down the road to Kutub.

The nephew of the manager, Vimal Majumdar, who passed away recently, and I used to move around in buses that we had to catch at the INA Market. Our favourite haunt was Darya Gunj which was always full of traffic of all kinds. Both of us also once took a tonga to go to the Kutub, supposedly a lonely place then and not quite safe. It was generally devoid of foreign tourists, who now flock to the place in large numbers. Bus and tonga fares used to be in annas and paises – the rupee had not been changed over to the metric system till then.

The October 1955 trip was rather uneventful apart from the fact that it was the first time I happened to be in Delhi. Soon, thereafter, in late December a friend, Ramesh Tiwari (now retired from University of Manitoba and living in Winnipeg) persuaded my highly-reluctant mother to agree to my my accompanying him to Delhi for the first Industrial Exhibition to be held at the then newly-built Pragati Maidan. While two of Tiwari’s cousins also came along, we were to put up at the house of another of his cousins who was working in the field of civil aviation and was living alone. One of Tiwari’s cousins, Suresh Dube, excellent at cooking, took over the kitchen and fed us all. Because of his innate talent he later made a career in catering after obtaining a degree from Anand in Gujarat. As everyone good in his calling looks for greener pastures, he too went away to America to work with multinationals and eventually ended with the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the UN. An excellent company; he used to make fantastic scrambled eggs.

 I had never before seen anything like the Pragati Maidan and the Industrial Exhibition held in it. It was a massive complex and there were numerous tall halls of fancy architectural designs housing the exhibits of several countries participating at the Exhibition. I remember stalls of two countries – of China and the US. The Chinese was perhaps the largest, exhibiting China’s rudimentary industrialisation. But there was practically a full display of their amazing crafts. I happen to remember their amazing kind of ceramic ware. They were just out of this world. We had never seen such beautiful bone china tea sets manufactured in India. At home, however, we used to have a few fine bone china cups with saucers made in Japan which were perhaps bought before the imports were banned during the World War. What was perhaps more remarkable at the Chinese pavilion was that the Chinese girls were not only friendly, they could also converse fluently in Hindi

 The other pavilion that was interesting was the one of the US where we saw a TV set for the first time. People would wave at themselves as they saw themselves on the screen. The camera would be kept pointed at the crowd and boys would try to muscle in into  view. Another interesting item was the Cinerama tent which showed on 11 television screens in a circular tent the films taken by a like number of cameras mounted on top of a vehicle as it moved through a street. One got a 3600 view of the street – of the two sides, and of the front and the rear sides – giving the impression as if you were moving down the street in a vehicle.

Those were the heydays of India when many world leaders used to come to visit the country. Pandit Nehru, the Prime Minister, had acquired a cult status as a champion of peace and the country still had a reputation of being an ethical force in the world where while
Bulganin & Khruschev arrive in Delhi in 1955
the ‘hot’ war had ended a “cold war” had  set in. With his socialistic inclinations he had naturally built up a good rapport with the leaders of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Two of its leaders, Nikita Khruschev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and Nikolai Bulganin, the Premier of Soviet Union, came on a visit to Delhi during our stay. A huge crowd had gathered on the then King’s Way (now Raj Path) lawns to welcome them. All of us also joined the crowd. It was a sight to see. Numerous trucks laden with people had collected on the lawns and, as happens, inevitably hawkers had flocked in large numbers selling roasted groundnuts by weight or Coca Cola (available then) at 4 annas (just a quarter of a rupee) a bottle.

Soon it was time for us to leave for home. As I remember it, Delhi was still somewhat primitive, not like Bombay I had seen a few months earlier – more glittering and glitzier. It looked more like a sub-urban town, with ramshackle buses loosely run and bus-stands generally non-existent. After dusk the streets would be dark with very little illumination from the street lights because of either low voltage or low wattage of the incandescent bulbs. The streets were not yet fully paved or asphalted – much like our own Gwalior, barring areas where roads had already been concretised. Nonetheless, we had a good time and came back home – but not before we spent a night unrolling our bed-rolls on the platform of the Old Delhi station having missed the late night-train – richer in knowledge and experience. At that time it never occurred to me that in the future not only would I be visiting Delhi several times, I would also live and work there for as many as 14 of my 34 working years. 

Photos: From Internet

Monday, December 8, 2014

A death caused by “chin music” of cricket

Phil Hughes
The funeral service of Phil Hughes was held the other day. A precious and promising career in cricket was lost to Australia’s own “chin music”.  “Chin music” is nothing but bouncing a fast ball to literally shave the chin, if not hit it, of the batsman facing him. Admittedly a difficult ball to bowl and also to play as the ball rises rapidly off the pitch. A batsman needs to have very quick reflexes and needs to be very quick-footed to put it away. Initial reports said that Hughes was quicker than necessary in negotiating the ball which proved to be lethal. He was playing in a Sheffield Shield match of Australia’s domestic tournament like our own Ranji Trophy.

“Chin Music” is also used in the game of baseball. The ball is pitched aiming at the batter or near about his face. The intention is naturally to intimidate the batter or to force him away from the ball. But in baseball there is a difference; if a pitcher overdoes it the umpire can eject him from the game. In cricket there is no such provision. There is only one provision that a bowler can bowl only two bouncers that are essentially part of “chin music” in an over in one-day cricket matches. In test matches there is apparently no such condition.

That reminds one of the “Bodyline” controversies that raged around eighty years ago when Bradman, the God of Cricket, was in top form. England having been defeated by Australia in the 1930 series mainly because of Bradman’s unfailing form while touring England, the English team devised a strategy for its Australia tour in 1932-33 to attack the Australian batsmen’s bodies. Bouncers were being directed at the batsmen and Bradman, as indeed others, were repeatedly hurt. Despite unavailability of any protective gear other than leg-guards and gloves it was a life-threatening situation that led to a diplomatic row between the two countries. Bradman seemingly was intimidated and his rate of scoring fell to an average of around 50 whereas in 1930 he averaged  100 per innings in England. Soon, however the laws of cricket were changed to ensure that “bodyline” bowling was made illegal.

Apparently, the changed laws seem to have now been given up, as in place of “Bodyline” we now have “chin music” that is as bad. With the untimely and unwarranted death of Phil Hughes there is now an international discourse going on whether to ban the bouncers or to restrict them. Many cricketers feel that banning bouncers will take the thrill out of cricket; after all, a pull off a bouncer is a delectable sight. Even Bradman as far back as in 1930s, though he got the ball several times on his ribs and back, soldiered on dealing with the short-pitched fast rising deliveries stepping back hitting them on the rise to the off-side, seldom giving a chance to the fielders in the leg trap set for him to hold any of his catches.. Besides, there have been very few fatalities because of the short-pitched fast deliveries and Hughes’s fatal injury was, apparently, of  a one off kind.

Nari Contractor
Even our own Nari Contractor having had two ribs broken in a Test against England in 1958 played on to make 81. While leading the Indian team to West Indies in 1961-62, he got a severe hit on his head by a beamer, not a short-pitched one but a ball that never touches the ground and is aimed above the waist, from the young fast bowler Charlie Griffith. Contractor collapsed in a heap on the pitch and later had to undergo surgery. And yet I recall seeing him only around two years later in Ahmedabad in 1964 opening the innings for India against England. Two severe injuries seemed to have made no difference to his psyche. He is still around celebrating the eighth decade of his life.

 Perhaps, cricket administrators expect from cricketers such guts, fearlessness and determination to prove themselves as world-class cricketers.

Photos from the WWW

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Earlier "noble" now a "heartless" profession

Fortis Hospital, Bangalore
In the midst of the ongoing controversy over deaths of 13 women in Chhattisgarh after their tubectomy procedure another massive case of professional misconduct by doctors was reported the other day from Delhi. For the common man medical treatment is increasingly becoming dicey, given the proclivity of medical professionals towards illegal gratification sought and taken from the pharmaceutical companies and prescribing medicines that may or may not be necessary but for which one has to pay unscrupulously hiked prices.

The two cases mentioned above show some similarities. The deaths in Chhattisgarh were initially reported to have been caused due to botched up operation by the surgeon who was otherwise a reputed professional. Since the entire blame was being heaped on him he went underground and was eventually arrested. In the meantime, however, autopsies revealed that the deaths were not really caused by the surgical procedure but by the post-operative medicines that were administered to these unfortunate women. They were given locally manufactured brand of ciprofloxacin, a commonly prescribed antibiotic, and ibuprofen, a pain killer. Analysis of the antibiotic revealed that it contained poison that is used to kill rodents. The other relevant fact that was revealed that there was no need to procure the drug locally as the same was available in the hospital stores suggesting some link-up between the local manufacturer and the hospital administration.

The other case that has been reported to the Medical Council of India has put as many as 300 doctors under investigations for prescribing drugs of a particular pharmaceutical company when cheaper alternatives manufactured by better-known companies were available. The doctors were, in exchange, being paid substantial amounts of money and were being gifted cars and flats and were also being offered all-expenses-paid foreign pleasure trips. The investigations have been initiated on the basis of an anonymous complaint from Ahmedabad. All the doctors have been asked to produce copies of their bank accounts and passports and present themselves with their originals.

Of late, the reputation of the medical profession – once upon a time considered noble – has taken a severe hit due to the indiscretion and the dishonest ways of many of its members. Perhaps increasing materialistic culture in the country has enticed even the best of medical professionals to cross the ethical line and forget the Hippocratic Oath. It was not so earlier. Five or six decades ago there were hardly any specialists; most patients used to go for succour to general practitioners – medical graduates or even licentiates. None ever recalls any ethical wrong-doing; the physician may have gone wrong in diagnosis but one never heard of commissions from diagnostic clinics or from drug manufacturers. In most cases, the doctor used to have an attached dispensary that dispensed medicines. The development of specialities and super-specialities, upgrading of investigative tools and surgical methods and equipment have, while promising far better healthcare, mixed a lot of poison in the curative potions. Modern hospitals are generally mammoth organisations full of specialities, super-specialities and their concomitant highly qualified physicians and surgeons. Not only the hospitals are exceedingly large, the salaries paid are also astronomical. In order to, perhaps, even to break even these hospitals, their physicians and surgeons tend to compromise on the ethical content of their profession, breaching the Oath that they were sworn to.

In India today there is a race to become (at least) a rupee billionaire (a crorepati). Half a century ago even a hundred thousand rupees were beyond the reach of many. In the absence of a rat race, the professionals retained and maintained the nobility of their profession. Today, in the highly competitive and acquisitive environment, doctors – physicians and surgeons – are also in that race. Armed with a degree obtained after maybe bribing his way to a medical seat, paying a huge capitation and other fees to go through a medical school, then spending years in graduation, post-graduation followed by studies for a doctoral degree a medical student is ready to enter his profession, mostly, deeply indebted. As practicing in government institutions does not quite meet the requirements to square off his commitments, the private, or even better, the corporatized healthcare institutions are found attractive. It is, inter alia, here that the ethical compromises commence.

Receiving a handsome package, he is asked to generate revenues for the corporate house that runs the establishment. The game starts when a patient is viewed not as a human needing succour but as a revenue generating medium. He is asked to go through several needless investigative procedures, he may be admitted as an in-patient quite needlessly and administered drugs that cost the sky, and occasionally gratuitously put under the knife or on the ventilator. I recall a case of a corporate hospital where a lower middle-class boy was kept on the ventilator even after he had died only with a view to claiming a fat bill. In another case a man was subjected to an angioplasty and a stent was placed at the site of the arterial blockage. However, a year later during an angiogram of the same patient in a public healthcare institution of repute the stent was not visible. Obviously, the stent in question was never implanted though the cost was recovered in full. A corporate hospital in the South was caught over-charging for a stent to be used on a patient whose relative knew exactly how much the hospital had paid for it. Reports have appeared of hospitals charging for hip implants that were obtained free on bargains such as buy-one-get-one-free. The hospitals seldom mention in the discharge certificates the particulars of the implants disabling patients from claiming damages in case the implants cause problems later, which they frequently do. Things have become so bad that even Pappu Yadav, a supposedly shady leader, has called doctors “executioners”.

Dr. David Berger, an Australian medical practitioner, writing in the British Medical Journal said that bribes and kickbacks oil every part of India’s healthcare machinery. He had come as a volunteer physician in a small charitable hospital up in the Himalayas. “A model of iniquity”, the healthcare system, he says, is highly privatised extending the facility of latest technological medicine to higher strata at a high price leaving around 800 million people in the hands of inadequately provided and ill-equipped sub-standard government hospitals or, worse, quacks. At 70%, the out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare in India is higher than even in the US. The editor of the Journal Fiona Godlee had recently urged for stopping corruption in healthcare or else other nations could turn away Indian doctors. A campaign against the evil is being launched starting from India.

Apparently India is not the only country where such unethical practices are rampant. Highly disappointed in the way the healthcare system functioning in the US an Indian-American physician, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, has, in a candid mia culpa, called it a “heartless profession”. For raising revenues of the corporate hospital doctors now have very little time for patients as they have to check many more than what was actually the practice earlier. He has blown the whistle on American medical practice which he says has “become pitiless, mercenary, money-ripping vocation where doctors treat patients as revenue generators rather than as human beings”. They keep patients in hospitals longer than necessary, order needless tests and cozy up with predatory pharmaceutical companies to sell dangerous drugs. In India it is not much different in the private corporate healthcare establishments. 

 Another Indian-American, Dr. Surya Prakash, has confessed that in the changed environment medical practitioners have increasingly lost that vital much-needed human emotion of “empathy” for their patients. If that is so in the US, perhaps, it is truer in India.

Photo: from the Internet

Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Unity Run" and the later controversies

After Modi’s lionisation of Sardar Patel the Indian National Congress sat up and tried to put the latter back to where he belonged – a high pedestal. In the latest issue of its official organ “Sandesh” it has paid homage to him.

 Modi must have been aware that he would be courting controversy if he gave pride of place to the Late Sardar Vallabhai Patel on the 31st October last. The 30th death anniversary of Indira Gandhi, the Late Prime Minister and the 139th birth anniversary of the Late “Sardar”, the first post-independence Home Minister, coincided on that date. All these years the Centre, marginalising the “Sardar”, had marked 31st October as “Martyrs Day” in commemoration of Mrs. Gandhi’s tragic death at the hands of two of her security guards in 1984. This year, however, Modi decided to celebrate the birth anniversary of the “Sardar” in a big way. Not only was it designated as the “National Unity Day”, a “Unity Run” too was organised in acknowledgement of Patel’s role in unifying India after the British left in 1947, amalgamating 600-odd princely states within the Indian Union. Mrs. Gandhi’s “martyrdom” was reduced to a sort of foot-note to the celebrations.

The inevitable happened and an unseemly controversy raised its ugly head. The Congress accused Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) government of not only marginalising Indira Gandhi but also appropriating a Congress stalwart like Vallabhbhai Patel only to “downplay the traditional Congress heroes Nehru and his daughter, former PM Indira Gandhi”. Congressmen voiced their anger at the lack of plans to adequately venerate the anniversary of assassination of the former PM. Prominent Congressman Shashi Tharoor tweeted “Disgraceful that government is ignoring the martyrdom of our only prime minister who was killed in office in the line of duty.” Officially though, the Congress had no objections to the government’s plans as they too revere Patel. However, a top Congress leader was quoted as saying “no one can overshadow the legacy of anyone.”

The BJP had, in fact, not exactly painted itself in a corner. After all, Narendra Modi, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, had already initiated plans for erection of the tallest statue ever to be erected anywhere in the world only to honour the “Sardar”. He, apparently, has enormous respect for Patel because of the latter’s role in unification of the country. The statue is going to be almost 600 ft tall and will be called “Statue of Unity”. On the latest controversy, however, the BJP says, “There is no question of anyone being pitted against anyone else”. Senior journalist, MJ Akbar, a new entrant in BJP, said on the controversy, “...the row is quite unnecessary. It is not necessary to forget someone to remember another...” He also said that there was a concerted effort to portray Patel as a leader who took anti-Muslim stand. Akbar said that Patel was against Muslim League for demanding partition and not Muslims. It is true, Patel was vehemently against partition but he agreed to partition only after the “Direct Action Day”, also known as the “Great Calcutta Killings”, initiated by the then Bengal chief minister Soharawardi.

 Patel and Mrs. Gandhi defy comparison. Both were, undeniably, great patriots but they lived and worked in different eras and circumstances. While Patel was an important figure in the national struggle for freedom, Indira Gandhi had very little to do with it. The simple reason was that she was much too young to participate in it.  However, the legacies left behind by each could be a basis of evaluating their respective contributions.

It will not be way off the mark if one says that if we are one big nation today it is largely because of Sardar Patel. Had it not been for him India would have not even been like the “moth-eaten” Pakistan that Mohammed Ali Jinnah cribbed about after the Partition. Patel went about meticulously and tenaciously persuading 600-odd princes soon after independence to join the Indian Union. On India’s independence with the lapse of suzerainty over them of the British Crown they had become free to decide either to remain independent or to join one of the two newly-emerged countries. Besides, had it not been for him we would have lost Kashmir as it was he who forced an indecisive Nehru to send troops to defend the state from Pakistani-supported marauders after its accession to India. Likewise, it was he who forced a vacillating Nehru for the so called “Police Action” against the Nizam of Hyderabad and his “razakars” led by Qasim Rizvi. Earlier, Patel had ensured assimilation of the princely state of Junagadh after its Nawab and Divan fled to Pakistan. With determination, tact and sometimes brute force Patel created a unified, monolithic India which exists until this day. But for him this would not have been possible. It was a gift of great significance to his beloved people who cherish it to this day as his most constructive, valued and abiding legacy.

Indira Gandhi’s legacy stands quite a distance away, at the other end of the spectrum. The foremost element of her rule that comes to one’s mind is corruption and its institutionalisation under her rule. Earlier too, there used to be corrupt politicians but those who happened to be corrupt then were milk-sucking kids when compared to her. Daughter of a well-regarded father, she took measures the fallout of which was copious corruption in public life. For instance, she banned as early as in 1969 corporate contributions to political parties. It opened the flood gates of political corruption. Over the years, corruption has got deeply embedded in India’s political and administrative psyche. Loot and plunder of national resources have become the norm regardless of the party in power. The “license-permit” “Raj” that she ran was a source of ill-gotten gains, as, indeed, foreign defence and other contracts. Every opportunity of making money was used to further her political clout.

The other significant legacy of hers is subversion of well-established institutions that ensured smooth functioning of our democracy. Ruthlessly ambitious as she was, she wanted to rule without any irritants like courts or the press or any public institution that happened to be independent of the government. The Emergency declared by her was an example of her relentless pursuit of power. She just bulldozed her way through subverting the parliamentary democracy with its cabinet system, putting the entire Opposition under arrest, amending laws with a brute majority to bend the courts and other institutions of the government to toe her line. Her party men lost all voice and were herded around like cattle. They even acquiesced to her dynastic ambitions and after she was gone sucked up even to her sons and daughter in-law. The political dynasts that later became prolific took the cue from her.

On an objective assessment, therefore, Patel’s legacy stands out as beneficent, while that of Indira Gandhi as baleful.

Photo: From the Internet

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thirty thousand and counting

Crowd at the Boat Club last Sunday
Last reports said that on the 9th edition of “Rahagiri” in Bhopal last Sunday the kilometre and a half stretch of the Lake View Road was busting with “rahagirs”. As many as thirty thousand and more had collected there and there was hardly any space to move. People, obviously, couldn’t walk, cycle, skate or play any games for want of space. The road seems to have been overwhelmed by “rahagirs” and this after the authorities opened the roads along the RCVP Narhona Academy of Administration and the Campion School on the banks of Shahpura Lake were also thrown open to them where around 15000 collected to enjoy the vehicles-free roads.

Doesn’t all this prove something? Well, it does. It proves how people are fed up with vehicles clogging the roads leaving hardly any space for pedestrians and cyclists. We have too many motorised vehicles while the roads are few and generally inadequate. It takes time and needles money on avoidable detours to cover short distances. Only this afternoon my auto driver (I don’t
At Shapura infront of eponymous Lake
drive in the crowded Old City area) had to take a long detour as there was a big jam near the GAD Square flyover. It was a great nuisance. I couldn’t but pity the students sitting in those yellow buses taking in in copious quantities the noxious diesel fumes. If this is the fate of people in a developing economy I would rather not have this kind of development. I wouldn’t mind going back sixty years when we used to walk or cycle to the schools and colleges. Perhaps, all those who collect for those six hours on every Sunday are harking back to those good old carefree days when life was simpler and less complicated – the roads were free of these miserable automobiles.

One has to admire the spirit of these men and women, boys and girls and of course the children that they, on the weekly day of rest, pull themselves out of their beds travel over long distances to be at the Boat Club or the Shahpura Lake. Had I been younger, perhaps, I too would have joined them – after all I am not immune to the herd mentality. But that is now not possible. Nonetheless, sitting at home I ruminate over what is happening to the Lake with such a huge pressure of people, given the sheer incompetence apart from lethargy of its custodian which is none other than the Bhopal Municipal Corporation. Reports had earlier indicated that trash in large volumes had collected after every session of “rahagiri” and hawkers of food are still around to cause littering. Indians somehow can’t resist eating whatever is available when they are on an outing.

 One can only hope the new Municipal Commissioner, who has actively encouraged “rahagiti”, will take care of this aspect of the movement which seems to be on a roll. The Lake is in his charge and he must take care of it. In my opinion, it is now time cap the numbers of “rahgirs”.

Photos: From the Internet

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


I am writing this only to convey to you the anguish of a large number of people and that of mine at the insensitiveness of your government. How could a responsible administration with hordes of bright bureaucrats could not think twice before conducting an hour-long session of fireworks from various sites around the Upper Lake the other day for which an unseemly crowd of a lakh or so had been asked to collect on the VIP Road? As if the Lake is not polluted enough; as if all the drains discharging pollutants into it have been plugged; as if the motorised boats plying on it have not been polluting it already; as if thousands who collect for the so-called “Raahgiri” days heaping litter on to the Lake were not enough that you had to go and shower enormous amounts of carbon on its waters. The Diwali fireworks this year had been prolonged and the government need not have indulged in another spell of fireworks in this ‘grand’ scale so soon spending massive amounts of public money, unless it was meant for mere self-promotion.

It was a kind of height of irony. Your own government had engaged CEPT in 2011 for recommending measures for conservation of the Upper Lake, the report of which has not been (deliberately?) worked upon yet. And, here was the same government going about polluting the Lake by its own indiscreet action. For God’s, sake, don’t you know that we use its waters for drinking purposes? With the heavy metals released from the immersed effigies of gods and goddesses, the waters are not what one could call potable, the Corporation’s treatment being hardly effective. And instead of improving the quality of water you take steps to needlessly pollute it more with loads of carbon.

You must have blown a crore of rupees, if not more, on the fireworks. Last year, as much as 5 crores were spent on “Jheel Mahotsav” but not a pie was spent for its conservation. The government refrain before the National Green Tribunal has been that for want of money its directions could not be acted upon. The heavily silted Lake bed needs to be de-silted but the government has no money for either buying or hiring a dredger. But there is enough to be blown up on activities harmful for the Lake. It is being exploited to the hilt only to degrade it every day by the thoughtless actions of your government. The Sports Authority of India and the Sair Sapata have already forced the birds to quit their traditional roosting place and damage the Lake’s ecosystem. Now your government is ensuring unmitigated harm to its waters.

 We, who feel for the Lake, agree with the three university researchers who had said last year that by the end of this century the Lake wouldn’t exist as we know it because of the way it is being degraded and allowed to decay. We, however, now feel that this may happen much sooner than that because, given the way your government is hell-bent in destroying it, the Lake will remain a couple of decades from now only as a shrunk and shrivelled small spread of filthy water, unfit for human consumption. A millennium old inheritance is going to be lost to posterity, thanks to your government’s uncaring and mindless actions.

Lastly, a city which is starving for basic civic amenities, where roads are in a shambles, where sewer and water pipelines constantly leak or overflow, where garbage piles up without being cleared and where the landfill in Khanti is burning polluting the environs rendering several people sick your government, according to us, had no business in staging this expensive show. These are only opiates it is trying to administer to the people to make them forget their otherwise miserable quality of life. Remember, people are not fools. They can and will see through these ploys.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Indian coalitions are treacherous

Prithviraj Chavan
Prithviraj Chavan, the erstwhile Chief Minister of Maharashtra, gave an explosive no-holds-barred interview to a Kolkata newspaper as the campaign for the last Maharashtra elections came to an end earlier this month. It was a tell-all interview and the revelations made presumably were born out of disappointment and frustrations of having been ditched by his seemingly corrupt coalition partners. The interview clearly reveals how unscrupulous have a field day in coalitions. It happened at the Centre and it also happened in Maharashtra, both being ruled till recently by congress-led coalitions.

Chavan agreed to be interviewed late in the night after campaigning ended during which he happened to confess that he did not take action against two of his predecessors, late Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan for allegations against them in the now (in)famous “Adarsh” building scam as, he thought, sending them to jail would have “decimated the Congress in Maharashtra”. Curiously,, he expected the Congress to be returned to power despite its wrongdoings – a hope that predictably proved to be false. The party has tumbled down to a miserable 42 seats from 82 it had in the outgoing Assembly. In protecting the two of his predecessors (the third was being probed by CBI) he hoped to save the Congress and expected to survive as chief minister. But voters seemed to have had other ideas and jettisoned Chavan and his Congress from the government. Only time will tell whether the party will survive in the state as a political entity

Likewise, Chavan also confessed that he did not initiate action against Ajit Pawar, his deputy chief minister from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), only to save his coalition government. Pawar, also a nephew of his party chief, Sharad Pawar, was involved in a serious irrigation scam that is yet to be properly investigated. Chavan said, “I did not order a police inquiry, I did not ask for a judicial commission report — all for the sake of keeping the alliance intact…” It is such a nice repeat of what Manmohan Singh did, who too remained a mute and blind spectator to all the shenanigans of several of his ministers, saying his inaction was because of the “coalition compulsions”. However, despite Chavan’s good turn, the NCP walked out of the coalition, pulling down the state government. Curiously, this happened almost simultaneously as the years-old compact between the BJP and Shiva Sena, too, broke down. Perhaps, the NCP had sniffed an opportunity for foraging in new pastures.

The Congress, especially its President, Sonia Gandhi, has always been accusing its political opponent, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of having an acute hunger for power (satta in Hindi). But the revelations of Manmohan Singh a few years ago in front of the national media and now Chavan’s confessional interview clearly indicate that the lust for power is more evident in the Congress than in any other political party. As has become evident, the Congress permitted loot and plunder of the nation’s resources without any qualms just for the sake of wielding political power and authority. The loot need not only be by its party men; even its allies could help themselves and make unscrupulous money. Manmohan Singh’s regime was exposed doing it in Delhi and now Chavan has gone and confessed doing the same in Maharashtra. A very poor commentary for a party that has wielded power at the Centre and in the states for most of the post-independence period! Presumably, whenever it had to relinquish power it probably bequeathed its expertise to its successors who also made merry. No wonder the political class is so rich today. And again, unsurpringly ambitious people would give away their right hands to be in politics only for its power and consequential pelf

Although Chavan expressed regrets for the interview, yet its candidness was remarkable. Politicians are generally circumspect with journalists and mouth inconsequential inanities, taking care not to be offending anybody, especially a political partner with whom a government was run till only the other day As they say, there are no permanent friends and foes in politics and nobody knows when today’s enemy becomes a political supporter tomorrow. And, yet the interview was marked by its forthrightness, actually calling a spade a spade. Perhaps, hereafter the Pawar clan and its NCP or even Ashok Chavan, another of Prithiviraj’s predecessors, will think hard before associating themselves with the likes of the latter in the Congress.

Admitting during the interview that the “Adarsh” probe had brought as many as three of his predecessors, viz. Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushil Kumar Shinde and Ashok Chavan under the scanner, Prithiviraj said that if he had sent all of them to jail it could have hit the Congress organisation leading to probably a “split”. He also said that as the Central Bureau of Investigation was already looking into Ashok Chavan’s role his government could not have possibly instituted another inquiry.

He literally nailed Ajit Pawar, his deputy in the government. The great Irrigation scam had been festering for quite some time – actually ever since Ajit Pawar got the charge of water resources department. Curiously, he was in charge of the department for as
Ajit Pawar
many as 15-odd years, apparently first as a minister and then as deputy chief minister during which, according to the government’s Economic Survey, there was nothing to show for the Rs. 42000 crore that were spent during his long tenure. Chavan, instead of ordering a probe, seems to have asked the department to produce a white paper with all the facts. This was construed as a charge sheet by Ajit Pawar. Then, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) comprising, inter alia, all parties was set up the findings of which, too, were scuppered by Pawar. Chavan said, “
I could have been proactive and I could have insisted that it was a judicial commission and that Pawar should be summoned and questioned. But I was running an alliance… my hands were tied.” Pawar found setting up of SIT obnoxious and resigned but, as an afterthought, quite shamelessly rejoined the cabinet. “I could not have put my foot down. The government would have come down at that moment. I was also the leader of the alliance”, said Chavan.

NCP is known to be a corrupt party. Narendra Modi has described it as a “naturally corrupt party”, which is largely true. Sharad Pawar holding the Food portfolio for two terms of five years was never investigated for his wheeling and dealings. Even Prafulla Patel, allegedly the killer of “Maharaja” of Air India, too, was never investigated. Perhaps, at the Centre, too, the same considerations, as in Maharashtra, prevailed and the Congress too helped itself to part of the loot. After all, Congress has been a big-timer in corruption! The evidence that is, however, compelling  is that in India corruption is always embedded in coalitions and junior partners make hay keeping the major constituent under constant threat.