DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cricketing beards bend it their way

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Beards have ultimately won not one but two series against New Zealand this year. While the bearded team won all the five test matches, the one-day series was won by three matches to two. The last One Day International (ODI) at Visakahpatnam must have been very disappointing for the New Zealanders. They lost it by as many as 190 runs, a stunning defeat – all because of too many bearded men in the field?.

One was left wondering whether this superlative performance was because of the sudden growth of fizz all around in the Indian camp. New Zealand are actually not quite the push-over in so far as the game of cricket is concerned as they would seem to be from the results. To beat them so thoroughly, particularly in the five five-day test matches needed, one thought, much more than cricketing acumen. One wonders whether it was the new facial that the Indian brigade landed on the grounds with that did the trick. Never in the history of cricket in India had so many bearded men taken to the field to play the gentleman’s game. This time almost everyone barring one or two sported lush and well-cultivated black beards and luxuriant mustachios.

Out of the 19 named for the tests with New Zealand as many as thirteen sported beards – some shaggy and others really lush. There were some unlikely team members who also took to growing good, healthy looking beards. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, for one, was never the one who could be expected to raise that healthy growth. But he did and sported a good lush beard – probably inspired by the skipper Virat Kohli. Even Ravi Chandran Ashwin, that unlikely Tamilian, displayed the unexpected fungus along with Umesh Yadav who, not to be left behind, fell in line with the team spirit and could manage a kind of stubble, somewhat like a wild and widely-spaced under-nourished, draught-stricken growth. Murli Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, however, took the cake away being virtually unrecognizable in their thick well-groomed fizz that seemed to have been fertilized with heavy doses of urea and potash.

As an aside, one must mention the legendary Dr. WG Grace who used to display a massive flowing beard. A cricketing legend in more ways than one he excelled in batting, bowling and fielding. One wonders whether those superlative qualities were born out of the best beard ever witnessed on the cricket pitch. A 19th Century cricketer he used to represent England along with his two other clean-shaven rather undistinguished brothers.

Among the fresh faces for the final two ODIs Dhawal Kulakarni and Hardik Pandya also displayed facial hair. While Dhawal’s was sumptuous and made him look more like his fellow Mumbaikar, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik’s was no match. No wonder he was dispensed with in the final ODI having been rather undisciplined in his bowling in the fourth ODI. One wonders if it was because of lack of care in raising a good-looking growth that matched the heft and carry of a speedster.

A bearded team seems to have been a kind of a totka for Indians. Unfortunately, I could not get the English equivalent of the word. The online dictionaries have been of no help, frankly confessing that it is not yet on their database. In Hindi totka is associated with superstition. It suggests that if you did a certain thing in a certain manner you were more likely to do well. Many cricketers, including the God of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, believed in it.  It could mean putting on the left leg-guard before the right one or vice versa. It all depended on the player to determine which act of his before commencement of a match actually resulted in better performance. Perhaps, landing on the cricketing middle with beards, too, is a “totka” pushed by the skipper, MS Dhoni and his deputy, Virat Kohli, both of whom have lately given up their hairless visages.


If beards could win cricket matches, why have it against the players. It does seem to do wonders to them. Let’s all revel in beards and clap the team on to more and more successful exploits on the cricket pitch at home or abroad.

*Photo from internet

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bhopal Notes :: 41 :: Days are numbered for fancied Upper Lake

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Nobody seems to be overly rattled by the threat of the Upper Lake disappearing in the next twenty years unless proper care is not taken of it and its catchments. That the Lake was under this kind of a threat was mentioned by Saswat Bandyopadhyay, Professor in the faculty of Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), a reputed training and research institution based at Ahmedabad during an interview with a local vernacular daily. He was here in connection with a seminar on Smart and Resilient Cities Integrating Approaches. He has a number of years of experience in the field of urban infrastructure and environmental management.

Apparently, because of his close association with the preparation of the master plan for development and conservation of the Upper Lake on behalf of the CEPT that was given the consultancy for the purpose by the state government he was asked questions relating to future of the Lake. It may be recalled that the CEPT prepared the Master Plan after a detailed study of the Lake and its catchment areas and submitted the same to the MP Government in 2013. The report is stated to be under examination since then. One wonders how many years a government with its huge paraphernalia should take to examine the report and a plan submitted by the consultants whom it had appointed - what is under submission is, after all, not rocket science that is beyond the comprehension of the government. It must be something more than what meets the eye – something that smells very, very fishy.

Bandyopadhyay’s interview revealed something dark and sinister about the Lake. He said that if steps were not taken in accordance with the Plan submitted by CEPT the Lake could disappear in the next twenty years. In this connection, one recalls that three researchers from three different universities had studied the Lake in detail a few years ago and had opined that unless conservational efforts were made the Lake could disappear in around eighty years. Obviously, during the intervening period, the time available to restore the Lake has appreciably shrunk and it has now come down to only twenty years. Quite clearly it is terminally sick and given the government’s couldn’t-care-less attitude it could die within the lifetime of numerous of those who drink its waters (of course, after treating it) and haunt the Boat Club on its shores for entertainment and recreation.

While the Mayor, who is the chairman of the Empowered Committee for conservation of the water body, got rattled – but only for a short while – there has been no reaction from the state government. In so far as the state government and its concerned departments are concerned the words of Saswat Bandyopadyay seem to have fallen on deaf ears. There seems to be an ill feeling in the government against the CEPT represented by Bandyopadhya for the simple reason that his report refused to say what the government wanted to hear. Hence the report has been suppressed and is likely to be killed by sheer inaction. The government wouldn’t mind its money going down the drain if the political objectives are not met.

 Because of the unconscionable delay the Citizens’ Forum had appealed to the National Green Tribunal to issue directives to the government to make the report public. Though it has been shown to the NGT, and that was more than six months ago, yet it has not been made public. Clearly, the government does not like the report; if that is the case nothing prevents it from rejecting the report. But no, it has taken to the typical bureaucratic way of allowing it to gather dust and rot.

While Mayor has called a meeting of the Empowered Committee reportedly after 27 months the report seems to have provoked a reaction from the government’s Environment Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO). A so-far-unknown Wetland Conservation Authority functioning under the EPCO seems to have woken up and has called a meeting of all government stakeholders of the Upper Lake. One wonders where this Wetland Authority was all these years and why it was kept hidden from public view by the powers that be and what exactly it has done to prevent degradation of the Lake. Anyway, its meetings may hardly yield anything positive as it is the political head of the state that has to take a decision in respect of the CEPT report.

Saswat also seems to have said that the (ill) effects of inaction on the CEPT report will be visible in around five years’ time. Besides, the unrestricted construction and encroachments in the catchments of the Lake will also reveal their impact around the same time. That construction is going unabated is apparent as I can see new clusters of light across the shores little away from Bishenkhedi.  According to Saswat, natural flow of water into the Lake is being hampered and, obviously, unless this is checked its Full Tank Level (FTL) is going to shrink as also its catchment area. He also mentioned that since the Lake straddles the districts of Bhopal & Sehore it is difficult to coordinate action for its conservation. The people of Sehore do not drink its waters and, hence, they merrily carry on with their chemical farming.

The newspaper pointed out in brief some of the issues that are there in the CEPT report. From it, it seems, what got the goat of the government was perhaps the recommendation to ban construction and housing projects inter alia in Bhauri and Phanda where heavy constructions have already taken place. Bhauri was developed as an institutional area against the advice of Late Mahesh Buch who was against implementation of projects there as the place had no water. True enough, sometime back there was a proposal to supply water to Bhauri from the Upper Lake. In Phanda Aakriti builders were handed over a huge area of land where low rise housing is coming up. Similar allotment of lands was made to others too for housing projects knowing full well that the area fell in the catchment area.

The business of allotment of land and construction on them provide attractive spin offs for the greedy politicians, bureaucrats and sundry minions. And hence the CEPT report is just not acceptable, especially when the next election is round the corner. In making such an allotment some years ago to Chirayu Hospital and Medical College near Phanda the politicians, bureaucrats and municipal officials revealed their greed and exposed themselves to ridicule. The frontage of the hospital gets flooded even if the town gets below-average rainfall. It is situated plumb in the catchments of the Lake.

Hence, the Upper Lake’s is a gone case. Its sources Kolhans and Uljhawan rivers will be exterminated starving it of water and eventually leading it to its death. The local government with its greedy politicians and bureaucrats in active collaboration with the real estate lobby will see to it that the Lake succumbs to the multi-pronged assaults made on it.


*Photo from internet

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Disappearing freedom of expression

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Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian
Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and a historian who has authored numerous books on Indian History and random societal matters, recently enumerated eight reasons why Indians cannot speak freely. He says India is a 50-50 democracy. It is democratic only in a few respects and it is not so in many other respects. He says the country is free in respect of conduct of free and fair elections and movement within the country. It is, however, only partly democratic in other ways. “The democratic deficit” that largely occurs is in the area of freedom of expression.

According to him, there are eight ways freedom of expression is being threatened. Analysing the whole gamut of connected issues, Guha cites retention of archaic British-era laws, a faulty judicial system where the lower courts, particularly, are too eager to entertain petitions seeking ban on individual films, books and a variety of works of art, the rise of identity politics, especially of the regional kind, behavior of the police force which generally sides with the “goondas”, pusillanimity of the ruling class in decision making, particularly when votes are at stake and dependence of the media on the government for advertisements as some of the ways in which freedom of expression has been brought under threat, even curtailed.

Guha’s analysis is unexceptionable. I have purposely not dilated on all the ways that he thinks freedom of expression is being denied in the following paragraphs only to keep this discourse short. I, however, wish to write about the last one as it has hit me, and I am sure many others, at a personal level. I find myself in tune with the last one as I have experienced the denial of my right of expressing my views on local and other wider issues.

 I am a casual writer and took to writing after retirement from the Government of India. To start with, the lack of civic amenities in Bhopal provoked me to write letters to the editor of the Central Chronicle, then the only English language newspaper in Bhopal with substantial local content but with limited circulation. In those early days I had no computer and I used to bang away on my portable typewriter the deficiencies in performance of the civic body. Twenty years ago the public bodies and other utilities were far more inept than they are today and there was much to write about. Most of the times the letters would not have any effect but some would go home and yield some results. That itself gave a great deal of satisfaction.

 The postal system was reasonably good in those days and my letters to the Central Chronicle on local issues would get published within two or three days. The ones that I used to send on wider issues to The Statesman in Calcutta would take five or six days to be published if the newspaper’s editor, the venerable Mr. CR Irani, happened to put his seal of approval on it. I was gratified to see that some of my letters would occasionally lead the letters column on the Centre Page of the Statesman. That was a huge matter for me, and I would indulge in some slapping of my own back. The electronic media had till then not made the kind of inroads in the area of journalism as it has done now. The Statesman was then in a healthy state and used to be published from New Delhi and Calcutta and its Centre Page occasionally used to carry letters of readers in two whole columns

Soon the Hindustan Times came to town. And, perhaps, simultaneously, I acquired a desktop that made writing far easier. The newspaper had a four page city supplement which used to cover political, social news as also news from the world of fine arts and sports. Its editor, Askari Zaidi was a fantastic journalist who had a different kind of take on journalism.  He once happened to tell me that he thought that the newspaper and the city would gain and become richer if the local thinking people were given a platform. And he did that and, as far as I am concerned, there was never an occasion when my piece did not find the light of day in the Supplement.

 He, therefore, published articles from Late Mahesh Buch, Kripal Dhillon, former DG Police who was hugely concerned about the deteriorating quality of life in the city, Prof. Zamiruddin Ahmed who has a flair for writing in English as well as Urdu, RJ Khurana, retired chief of Joint Intelligence Committee of Government of India and so on. I too joined them and my first article entitled “The Dying Lake”, a hard copy of which I left at Zaidi’s office, was promptly published. I had written the piece as somehow the Lake appeared to me to be degrading and decaying. Mr. Zaidi published it with photographs and all. It was an out and out criticism of the way the Upper Lake, a great asset of the city, was being managed.

My honeymoon with the Hindustan Times continued for more than five years till, sadly, Mr. Zaidi had to leave. Since then the editorial policy changed and the newspaper would not publish unsolicited articles. Even the Times of India, which later started publishing from the town, adopted the same policy. At that time it was not clear whether this posture of the newspapers was adopted of their own accord or the management received directions from the local government. Now, however, it seems the print media is under threat of losing government advertisements were it ever to publish comments and opinion pieces that happen to be against the government.

 So we, all of us who happen to have opinions of our own and can ventilate them in our writings were effectively gagged. For some time I was terribly annoyed and peeved but could do nothing about it. People who used to read my columns would ask why I discontinued writing. I could only shrug my shoulders and say that my lips were effectively sealed. Sadly, the healthy Bhopal supplement that Hindustan Times used to bring out was scrapped and in its place what they came out with was nothing better than a rag. The same goes for the supplement of the Times of India which goes by the name of Bhopal Live – having more of Bollyood news than of Bhopal.

Print media, whether managed by corporate world or run on their own juice, are financially very vulnerable. While private sector ads seem to be running riot these days yet most of the papers hugely depend on government advertisements. Government is, therefore, a great beneficent for the promoters of print media. Scarce is a newspaper that cares little for the government ads. The net result is that a reader has no way to have his opinion published. Most people would have noticed that even the column of “letters to the editor” has been scrapped.  What has been provided is space for a measly few words through what they call “feedback”. So, even if on an issue one boils within with rage or gnashes one’s teeth one cannot communicate it to the people through opinion pieces or letters to the editor


Guha very rightly says that the dependence of media on government advertisements is especially “acute in the regional and sub-regional press. The state and political parties can and do coerce, suppress and put barriers in the way of independent reporters and reportage.” Quite logically, therefore, the guillotine fell on us and we were all gagged, our freedom of expression flying out of the window.

*Photo from internet

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rahul, Sonia - Like mother like son


Plummeting standards of political discourse in the country can surprisingly be largely attributed to its “Grand Old Party”, the Indian National Congress. Some years ago, its current president, Sonia Gandhi, called Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death), hinting at his alleged role in the Gujarat communal riots of 2002. She, as the head of her supposedly secular party only had in mind the violence of Hindu “communalists” forgetting that they were reacting to the Godhra carnage that preceded and provoked it. If innocent Muslims were killed by the rioting mobs, the killings in the railway coaches were premeditated and had been preceded by elaborate preparations and were perpetrated on equally innocent travellers. When Gujarat riots are mentioned the killings in Godhra are hardly ever mentioned. In my opinion, these two tragic and unsavoury events should be mentioned in the same breath otherwise it wouldn’t be secular enough.

All that, however, is beside the point. What we came out to discuss was the plummeting standards of political discourse. Looks like, Sonia Gandhi threw the first stone, so to say. Now, years later, her son has made a similar goofy statement abusing the current prime minister in very crude terms. During one of his political campaigns in Uttar Pradesh he was reported to have said that Narendra Modi, the current prime minister, was hiding behind the blood of “jawans” (soldiers who were killed in the Uri attack). He went on to accuse Modi of indulging in “dalali” (brokerage) of army men’s blood – hardly anyone knows what that ment.

Apparently he could not, as usual, express properly whatever he had in mind. Predictably, all hell broke loose and soon thereafter a series of press briefings had to be conducted by his Party to clarify the matter and justify whatever utterances he happened to make. Presumably, in order to make the briefings more effective the Congress President asked Kapil Sibbal, a senior member and a highly acclaimed lawyer to boot, to meet the press. Briefings were just to put across what the Vice President  of the Party Rahul Gandhi had intended to convey which he apparently failed to do, giving rise to a barrage of barbs. Numerous statements were issued on his statements which were generally construed as insult of the Forces in an effort to politically attack the Prime Minister. His accusations were somewhat surprising in the background of his appreciative remarks earlier when he said that the surgical strike was the first PM-like action of Modi.

Nonetheless, the statements came in for adverse comments by political parties which condemned it as an effort to insult the “Army’s valour”. All round denunciation of his remarks came not only from Amit Shah, current president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, even Arvind Kejrival, no admirer of Narendra Modi, too criticized it. That the Army’s sacrifices and bravery was described as “Khoon ki dalali” was severely criticised by the Delhi chief minister. Also the Nationalist Congress Party president and a former Congressman, Sharad Pawar, too disapproved of Rahul Gandhi’s remarks about Modi Government “profiteering” from the blood spilt by the soldiers.

Even the greatest sycophant of Sonia Gandhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad Yadav strongly criticized Rahul Gandhi’s remarks. He said Rahul failed to put across his views in a proper manner. However much Kapil Sibbal may have tried to justify the outburst of Rahul his pleadings did not convince anybody. He knew it and the Congress Party too knew it. Rahul had indulged in some shooting of the mouth out of his visceral hatred for Narendra Modi and that was clear. He hardly has any control over his thought process and much less on his expression. With his hatred for Modi and BJP he gets carried away when he occupies a pulpit and wants to hit both of them hard even if that happens to be uncivil and crude.

Attacking Modi seems to be a pastime with him. Modi, perhaps, presents a larger than life presence to him in front of which he finds himself far too diminutive – which, in fact, he seems to be. He is a reluctant politician and seems to have no mettle for it. His inferiority complex, regardless of the boost given to him by his mother and her sycophants, apparently, does not allow him to climb up to the political stature that his status in his party demands. All said and done, he is unequal to the job that has been chosen for him by his mother and the party over which she presides.

 Ever since Modi formed the government on his own steam, Rahul has been trying to nibble at him. With the kind of majority that Modi mustered at the hustings in 2014 he never had any worries and has consistently ignored Rahul’s jibes. Having no issues, Rahul started with the bogey of Modi’s suit worth Rs 10 lakhs (Rs. one million) that was a gift from one of his admirers. Modi wore it perhaps only once when Obama was in India and then had it auctioned where it fetched Rs. 4 crore (Rs. forty million). Then he started a campaign to run down Modi’s government calling it “suit boot ki sarkar” (a government of suited and booted gentlemen) and went to town telling people that such a government would do nothing for the poor. In the process, he would claim that he and his party men work only for the poor whereas this government worked merely for the rich. He clean forgot his grandmother’s slogan of “garibi hatao” (eliminate poverty) adopted more than forty years ago which was a fraud played on the people. Poverty continued to prevail as her government promoted nothing but corruption. Her daughter in-law much later had to initiate a poverty alleviation programme in 2004 through the newly installed United Progressive Alliance government which enacted Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

Rahul Gandhi had also been criticizing Modi’s foreign trips telling the people that while the prime minister goes visiting foreign countries farmers continue to commit suicide at home. He made it appear as if the farmers’ suicides could be attributed to the prime minister’s absences abroad.  This was nothing but another way of running down the prime minister. One does not know whether he found a corner to hide when the reports in the press indicated that messages were received promptly after the Uri attack from the heads of most of the governments of the countries that Modi visited. During his trips abroad he developed personal relations with the heads of states/governments particularly of the West. No prime minister earlier was ever able to forge such close personal relationships with the leaders of the First World as also those of the Third World.

Despite his illustrious lineage Rahul has never been able to attain the heights of his elders in the family. His grandfather, Feroze Gandhi, was a remarkable parliamentarian and he had such guts that he could take on even his own father in-law Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister. He could do that because of his political acumen, innate ability, tenacity and integrity. Somehow, Rahul lacks all that and yet he is being made to strut around in the country’s political firmament as a political leader. His is not politics; his forte appears to be in slinging mud at those who happen to be in power.

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*Photo from internet 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The "Surgical strike"

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Indian Army in action in Kashmir
As I came back home that afternoon, my wife excitedly told me as she opened the door that there had been a “surgical strike” across the LoC (Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir). The TV was on and I asked her whether there had been any retaliatory nuclear bombings or missile (tactical or otherwise) attacks. She didn’t know. She had just heard of the “strike” when I rang the bell. I was expecting the worst.

 Surgical strikes meant getting into the enemy territory and excising the cancerous infestations. However charitable one might be, such a strike also means breaching the LoC that was sort of the international border which was a serious matter. The Pakistani terrorists were being pushed across the LoC but did the Pakistani Army ever breach it? No, perhaps not always; they only fired across it to spread a cover in the darkness of night to facilitate the Jaish or Lashkar or Hisbul terrorists’ to infiltrate. India crossing the LoC has been very rare and if it happened this time it was very unusual indeed.

The way the Pakistani Defense Minister was talking during an interview over a Pakistani channel just a day earlier I thought Delhi, independent India’s capital that was so seven times over and had melted away in the hoary past, had once again become history. He must have ordered a “jawabi mooh tor hamla” (a strong jaw-smashing retaliatory attack).  But this did not seem to have happened till then. No, it had not materialized; at least the news channels were not talking about it. They did not show any mushroom cloud over Delhi or for that matter, over Mumbai or any anywhere else in Indian territory.

Even after 72 hours there was no “jawabi hamla”. In fact, reports published say that the terrorist camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) had been shifted away from near the LoC after the army carried out the surgery despite the assurance of the Indian Director General of Military Operations to his counterpart in Pakistan that there was no plan for another such strike for the time being. However, while some terrorists fled away from near the LoC, a fidayeen strike took place near Baramula where an Indian soldier was killed and two of the unknown numbers of terrorists were gunned down. Others in the party seemed to have fled away. Though his proxies continue to be active in the Kashmir Valley, PM Nawaz Shareef, playing the victim, has been cribbing that a war is being forced on Pakistan.

That India decided to walk across the LoC was something that was unthinkable. For years we had observed the doctrine of “strategic restraint”. Of late, it appeared that the ISI proxies could march across the Line, inflict mayhem and get back with impunity. But we would stomach it all. Even the transgression in Pathankot did not elicit any reaction. We seemed to be playing by the rules: inquiring, collecting evidence and compiling facts that could prove Pakistan’s complicity and hand the dossiers to Pakistan. But Pakistan, or rather its Deep State, always procrastinated to respond if not rejecting the reports and evidences handed over to them. Even the 26/11 dossier handed over years ago has not been acted upon.
During Kargil conflict, the fourth attempt by Pakistan to wrest Kashmir away from India, too, our soldiers died but they were prevented from crossing the LoC. What is more, even the Indian Air Force when it was brought on to the conflict zone was asked not to cross the Line of Control. It was a full-scale war and yet there was this “restraint” in force. Perhaps the government was under compulsion as it was under the US sanctions imposed after the 1998 Pokharan nuclear test and did not want to attract the odium of being an aggressor

 This time, too, the Uri invaders had expected the same lukewarm response and had not factored in the anger that had been provoked as a result of the loss of as many as 19 of our army men in their cowardly attack. It not only broke the patience of the people as well as that of the Army and so, despite the threatened use of tactical nuclear weapons or whatever, the country took a calculated risk and the Army, supported by the strong political will, lunged into the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir which, in any case, is Indian territory grabbed by Pakistan, to neutralize the terrorists in their camps. That it did not hold on to the area says much about the grace with which the country acts even in the face of immense provocation. One might recall that after the 1965 War the strategic Haji Peer Pass practically overlooking the Uri town captured after a hardly fought battle was returned to Pakistan as a sequel to the Tashkent settlement.

But, despite the Indian Army’s one of the rare breaches of the LoC the nuclear toys of Pakistan seemed to have remained mothballed. And why wouldn’t they be so well preserved? Reports have been circulating that the North Korean atomic tests were, in fact, Pakistani bombs. Another report, I think of the Guardian, said the talk of use of the “tactical nuclear” weapons of Pakistan was premature as these were still not ready. While writing about it in the Guardian the correspondent forthrightly said that since its creation Pakistan had mastered the art of using bluff and bluster. The repeated threat by its Defense Minister and Security Advisor were nothing but hollow threats. After all even if they had them in their arsenal, their use would have entailed their country’s practical extinction with only some damage to India, mammoth as it appears and actually is when compared to their country.

That explained the absence of the mushroom clouds over India. But Pakistan’s Army is kind of a never-say-die character. Surely, they will keep trying some trick or the other in pursuit of their unfinished agenda of inflicting thousand cuts and bleed India dry. One cannot come across perhaps a more sadistic nation.



 *Photo from internet