31.7.13

Insulting the broom: Kejriwal's uncommon man



It takes time for election symbols to permeate people's consciousness. These days it is more likely that the voter will recall a personality rather than what the person stands for.

Early this evening, the Election Commission granted the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) the broom symbol. Initial reports have commented about how its convener Arvind Kejriwal has emphasised that the "election plank of the AAP is to cleanse India of corrupt politicians and bring more transparency to the government".

Is an election symbol meant to work as a metaphor? The broom has connotations that need to be addressed.

Before that, think about the prominent symbols. The early Congress of Indira had a cow and calf. It played into the Mother India concept, as well as appealed to the rural population. In some ways, it might have worked for some devout Hindus too, since they revere the cow. Of course, it was easy to say that the government was milking the country dry. The current symbol — the upheld palm — could be seen as a promise or a stop sign.

The BJP uses the lotus because of its obvious religious significance. However, I doubt voters look upon it in the metaphorical sense of how the flower thrives even in the muck.

Then there are the hammer and sickle, the bicycle, the bow and arrow, not to forget the Bahujan Samajwadi Party's elephant.

BSP leader Mayawati is a Dalit. Just think about the sniggers had she used the broom as a symbol. They'd say she was either capitalising on the backward castes' situation or insulting them.

This is what I think AAP is doing, even if unwittingly. It's not enough to be smart about "sweeping". This is an elite symbol, given that Kejriwal found his political bearings in the maidans with Anna Hazare' People's Movement that drew a lot of celebrities who were so fed up with corruption. No, they did not pull up their colleagues for their unaccounted cash transactions. No, they did not feel any guilt as they wore their Fab India kurtas and 'I am Anna' topis to get back "our money" from Swiss banks, even as they returned from their holiday in the Alps.

We have seen some of these same people take to cleaning their posh localities with brooms and posing for pictures. Await another such drama.

More worrying is the AAP's main plank is cleaning corruption that completely alienates those who work with the broom. This is so reminiscent of Mahatma Gandhi getting his ashram inmates to clean toilets and calling those who had to perform such menial tasks Harijans, children of god. This implied that they were special in some way, special enough to continue doing this work.



It should bother us that only in February 2013 New Delhi banned manual scavenging. This is one reality of the broom we cannot ignore. These people are forced into sewers to clean up the filth, including night soil, that is the shit that accumulates after we flush down our ceramic toilet bowls. In some places, they still carry the excreta on their head. The basket and broom in the picture are about how we continue to insult a significant number of people.

They do not know about corruption. There is no development module for them. No Bharat Nirman.

Kejriwal's supporters have an easy symbol to walk around with to garner votes. By default, every sweeper in buildings, on the street, and working in the drains will become a sitting duck for promoting an agenda. Even the one object that helped them earn a paltry meal has been appropriated for the big picture.

And do spare a thought for those in some villages who had to drag a broom to sweep the road they walked on so as not to pollute the pure feet of the upper castes.

The AAP symbol looks like a mockery.

© Farzana Versey

30.7.13

Unfair! Does 'dark is beautiful' discriminate against the lighter-skinned?



If the idea is "beauty beyond colour", why does the campaign emphasise that "dark is beautiful"? This is a contradiction, and it happens when there is an overarching need to protest without any thought given to the subtext.

It propagates the beauty myth. But, what if dark is not beautiful? Will the acceptance be any less, if the purpose is to stand up against 'colourism'?

The face of the campaign is actress Nandita Das, an attractive woman. She can afford to say things like, "Don't add an adjective to make me feel different", when people refer to her as dusky.

This is most ridiculous. Adjectives are used to describe several aspects of a person, whether physical, or for emotive and intellectual qualities. Would she have a problem being referred to as an "intelligent actress", which seems to posit her against the unintelligent? Isn't she aware of the slanderous comments about bimbos, not to speak about dumb blondes?

Why does an adjective make her feel different when there are many women who don't analyse this?

Some of her other quotes from an interview to Mumbai Mirror are rather telling.

"Actresses who are wonderful at their work, but look unconventional, have struggled to make it. Men who are not conventionally good looking, had to try hard as well, but they still managed to be the hero in films. Do we want actors or lookers?"

She forgets the number of conventionally pretty women who are rejected every day in the film industry. The ones who make it have had to struggle, too. She is reducing the debate to Us vs. Them and in fact denigrating the achievements of those who are not dark, only to hold up a pennant for the "unfair" cause, a sad term considering it uses the benchmark of fair to find its feet.

Nandita quotes the example of Smita Patil, who apparently faced discrimination: "If you look at her more mainstream films and the independent art films, you will notice a difference in her skin colour."

Yes, but how many people remember her performance in 'Namak Halal' as opposed to those who recall her in 'Aakrosh', 'Manthan', 'Bhumika', 'Umbartha'?



In fact, let us take the example of 'Arth'. The more light-skinned Shabana Azmi played the wife of a man who strays into the arms of Smita. Director Mahesh Bhatt did not 'discolour' her, and his protagonist obviously found her attractive. She also happened to be vulnerable. Someone might say that a darker woman was used to highlight the jagged edges of the persona. In that case, most vamps in films have been fair. Wasn't Helen the perennial cabaret dancer? Was this colour discrimination?

The actress makes another blanket assertion:

"Whenever I have to play a middle-class or upper middle class woman, I am told: 'I know you don't like being white or fair but can you make your skin a little lighter? The rural, lower class women are dark but now that you playing an educated professional....' Do all educated people have to be fair complexioned?"

I am glad that this campaign has made her come out and give us the dope on the industry, where she was never mainstream — evidently out of choice. We do have the fairly recent example of Konkona Sen Sharma cast opposite Ranbir Kapoor in 'Wake Up Sid', and in the film both were unconventional in different ways. Nobody cared about or even noticed their colour.

Two songs from older Hindi films exemplify this attitude:

"Gore rang pe na itna gumaan kar, gora rang do din mein dhal jaayega" (Be not so arrogant about your fairness, for the colour shall fade soon) as against "Hum kaale hai tau kya hua dilwaale hai..." (I may be dark, but have a large heart). Which of these should be seen as conveying anything negative? In the first, the fair woman is assumed to be arrogant because of her colour and is told that this won't last. In the second, a man woos a woman by telling her that his heart is large, and presumably better than others, despite his colour.

Wooing people or consumers means prompting them about your qualities. It could imply using a flipside argument.

Nandita Das should ask herself why she is the face of the campaign, and not other educated women who work in either unconventional or non-visible professions. The reason seems quite obvious. The 'Dark is beautiful' movement is as much about stereotypes and eyeball-grabbing as what its proponents are fighting against.



You might say this is the only way to counter media-created images, mainly regarding the marketing of beauty products. Take them on at their own game with the slogan 'Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful'.

Instead of dealing with biases, they have latched on to a prominent ad featuring Shahrukh Khan. They've initiated a petition against the manufacturers of 'Fair and Handsome' cream. Their problem with the ad is this:

“...the actor tosses a tube of fairness cream to a young fan. In the next scene, the boy’s skin grows whiter, his smile brightens and his hopes rise. The message: Fair skin is a prerequisite for success."

Had this ad been for an acne-reducing cream, what do you think the message would be? The same. Does anybody want to sign a petition to fight those discriminating against people with acne? I can only hope that Nandita Das' commitment to the cause would make her refuse a film with Shahrukh Khan because he is endorsing the cream.

If culturally there is an obsession with lighter colour, then it is not merely advertisements or cinema that are to blame. In India, at least, darker skinned people too are attracted to the fair and, even though not as common, there are some who find the dusky woman or the bronzed man alluring.

I am most certainly put off by this campaign. It does not mean that I ignore that fairness is a valued quality with a premium attached to it. But, how much pressure is there really? I see it most in ads or when people from the glamour industry complain. Therefore, it is a cosmetic demand.

The 'DisB' people ask:

"Why this colourism? India is a nation made up of people with different shades and colours of skin - from yellow to light brown and darker shades of brown. Why not celebrate every shade?"

What is there to celebrate? Remember the Benetton ad that 'celebrated' models from different races? It just wanted to corner every darned market. If you make a noise about it, be sure there will be products that will cater to "unfair" skin. This is just giving an opportunity to the manufacturers by creating and forcing another demand.

And when you argue for one, you unintentionally demote the other. There are several traits or types we like. Does being attracted to tall people amount to discrimination against the short? I don't see why we need to be politically correct, which is really patronising.

Then, we have the 'fat is beautiful' idea that could completely ignore the real issue about the damaging effect of obesity, just as the trendy thin could be the result of anorexia.

And let us not even bring in the race issue here. We are not brown at home. Outside, we discriminate just as much, and it also means being obsequious towards the white. From personal experience, I know a few from our part of the world who, for example, are curious about what they assume to be my lifestyle based on how I express myself. They do not use the same standard to judge a person, especially a woman, from the West. Her openness is seen as 'normal', mine an aberration.

Their viewfinder can see only black and white concepts. And these are not colours, but the numbness that saturates all shades even as they jubilate in their rainbow affectations.

© Farzana Versey

29.7.13

Careless whispers: Kashmir, women, minorities




Omar Abdullah never disappoints. The people of Jammu & Kashmir may not think the world of this ski resort, tulip garden, motor sport promoter as chief minister, but his comments are either sharp or loose cannon. One such example of the latter is this:

“In closed rooms they (separatists) meet different people. They take tea with agency people in restaurants and five stars and hold secret talks. But they don’t want to talk with Centre in the open."

The separatists have no reputation to guard, but what is his source of information regarding the intelligence agency officers? What secret talks can they possibly have? Are Indian intel agencies not working for the GOI?

He is so completely confused about what relationship his government should have with the Centre, and to an extent his position is certainly not a pretty one.

• He wants the separatists to contest elections "in open instead of fielding proxies”.

Politicians too field proxies.

"They (Jamiat-e-Islami) give boycott call and use militants to threaten people who want to vote in free and fair manner. Then they ask their own people to vote for those parties (PDP).”

Is he not expecting a bit too much from militants? What about politicians rigging elections?

"It (Afzal Guru's hanging) has an impact on the minds of people of Kashmir. If someone thinks that there will be no impact, he is wrong."

As the CM he should hold his horses although, from whatever one has read, he is indeed expressing the prevalent sentiment. But the only people who would make it into an election issue would be the separatists. Surely, he cannot ride on this wave if he has to keep alliance partners in mind.

“The CBI has found evidences against the Army. If the Centre wants to win the hearts of people of Kashmir, they should punish the guilty. People have lost their faith in the institutions because of such issues.”

So, he has to deal with the army, opposition parties, separatists and the Centre, whose attitude he is questioning. And yet he expects the separatists to meet the political leadership, that too with their demands!

---

“Our party MP... is a Gandhian, simple and an honest leader. She keeps going from place to place in her constituency. I am a seasoned smith of politics. (name sau tunch maal hai."
— Digvijaya Singh, Congress leader

I find this comment objectionable for a simple reason — it objectifies a woman. Various reports have only added to it by explaining what the word means, from unblemished to sexy to pure gold. Given that he is a senior leader, such colloquial references will not be grasped by the media. Besides, the term 'maal' is about a thing. Anytime it is used for a person, it denigrates her or even him.

He used a public forum, so such a 'compliment' would amount to addressing all those who are exposed to it. We object to ads and film scenes and soaps. This is way more serious.

She has said she understood and felt it was not offensive. This would have been fine then had it been said in private. Also, if he could use the word "dabanng" for a male minister, could he not find a similar equivalent for the lady? That it has become a political issue, however, has to do with opportunism. Yet, I do not see why what a BJP minister says should work as a quid pro quo. We are discussing gender here.

Misogynistic comments are not relegated to politicians, and in some ways quite a few of those flaunting concern for such disgusting comments seem to get a vicarious thrill, which is why they make jokes about it and it permeates into their phraseology on unconnected issues. This is the unfortunate story of how news spreads and temporary morals rear their head.

That is the reason nobody in the public sphere can expect what they say by bringing in intent. Intent is invisible. Perception is what is seen or what it is seen as. Not everyone can be wrong, just as not everyone can be right.

I have not mentioned the name of the MP, even though most people know and can click and find it, because I want to make a point: Do not objectify her again and again.

---

"There is a perception among Muslims that IM (Indian Mujahideen) does not exist. Nobody knows what it is, who runs it, where it was formed and how it was formed. That is what the Muslims feel and they come and tell me."
— Union Minority Affairs Minister K. Rahman Khan

It is true that the majority of Muslims would not know what IM is and who runs it. Why, even the government is not sure. But to suggest that Muslims think the organisation does not exist and tell him about it is an utter falsification.

Although he has since expressed regret, I find this curious because he had specifically spoken about dealing with terror suspects a few weeks ago. According to a report:

Khan wants the government to form an all-powerful task force to monitor and review terror cases against Muslim youth, arguing that it is needed to ensure justice for “innocent Muslim youth” languishing in jails after being framed in terror cases.

“It should be the highest body with powers to review terror cases. I am finalizing the proposal and will soon write to the PM and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The existence of the panel will deter police from indiscriminate arrests in terror cases while ensuring that those arrested do get justice.”


This is most shortsighted. While it cannot be disputed that many members of the community tend to be hauled up on the slightest pretext of suspicion, this would only draw attention to the 'Muslim terrorist' as opposed to terrorists who might be from the community.

It is unfortunate that such an idea has come from a minister. Had it been human rights organsations one would understand. There are several pending cases against young people, and years later it has been found that they were innocent.

If only we had a justice system where people's faith did not even need to be mentioned.

End note

Talking about minorities, a survey suggests that in cities Sikhs top the unemployment rate. This chart explains the breakdown:



The report goes on to say:

"The high unemployment rate among Sikhs in urban areas may be attributed to the fact that they are more educated and also work with their hands and are vulnerable to economic slowdown..."

I don't understand this. The educated might find it difficult, but if they work with their hands, what do the rest work with? Almost all skilled and unskilled labour requires the use of hands and the economic slowdown affects everyone.

Interestingly, the Hindu rate of unemployment has remained static in rural areas, while all other communities declined.

Reminds me of a line from a song, "Look, ma, no hands..."

© Farzana Versey

28.7.13

Sunday ka Funda

"Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached."

— Simone Weil

I disagree. If attachment is only about illusions, then it pays the price for disillusionment too. We get attached to what is real, even if our emotions might be fabricating illusions beyond the reality. And therein lies the beauty.

And, indeed, one may get attached to what is superficial. That is attachment to the illusion. It does not even seek a reality.

One of the first lines of this song use word trickery to question the mind:

"O nirmohi, moh na jaane, jis ka moh kare..."
(Oh detached one, you fathom not the attraction of that which you are drawn to...)



Film - Chitralekha
Music - Roshan
Lyrics - Sahir Ludhianvi
Singer - Mohamed Rafi
Actor - Pradeep Kumar

24.7.13

Food for politics: a restaurant and a hug




Does anyone remember those Irani restaurants in Mumbai that had eccentric notes put up — no combing hair near wash basin, no loud chatter, and no talking politics?

The first seemed the prerogative of the owners, the second as a consideration for other diners, and the last must have been the result of some bad experience in the past. Or, perhaps the owners truly believed that eating and politics together are bad for the stomach. It is also possible that they had strong opinions and did not relish the idea that some contrary views would be expressed, leading to a 'rebel clientele'.

Likewise, when I eat out and check the bill, the last thing I want is the owner to give me political bhaashan, while cribbing about taxes. Even the grocery stores did not do so due to the LBT taxes. They went on strike. The humble vegetable vendor has no recourse and has to put up with haggling.

On Tuesday, a small eatery made news for its bill that had these words: “As per UPA govt eating money (2G, coal, CWG scam) is a necessity and eating food in AC restaurants is a luxury.”

Aditi Restaurant in Parel was forced to shut down by Congress workers for this "defamation". There is anger and there is mirth.

And with these two emotions, there seems to be no room for people breathing heavy about freedom of expression to ask:

• Who made this bill public and why?

• What are the political affiliations, if any, of the owners?

• Do customers have a right to protest against political and social messages at a place where they pay for the services?

• The bill has no tax visible. How much is it fattening the cost of the meal under the guise of taxation and keeping a bit for itself?

• Are customers of various products and services, who have chosen to pay up the extra amount, willing to put up with such a rant?

What made Narendra Modi jump in? Why was he concerned about a little eating place when he has shown scant regard for worse?

The desperation of the BJP is such that it raised the matter in the state assembly: "This is shocking. The ruling party does not want to give the people right to protest against their scams. Why is the Congress so intolerant?"

The Congress is intolerant. These scams are real. The ministers have been arrested and spent time in jail; some got away. We have courts, even if we may not agree with the verdicts. We have the Right to Information.

The restaurant owner has every right to protest against scams when there are protest rallies or through other means. He has no business sneaking in political messages only to complain about taxes. In fact, he has no business passing on his tax worries on the customer, unless a customer specifically asks him about an inflated bill.

A report said:

"The Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR) sources said that Aditi restaurant mostly caters to poor people coming to hospitals in the area, so there were complaints about high billing due to taxes. The owner, they said, had given expression to those complaints through a footnote in the bill."

This is lame. It is an aircondioned restaurant and the tax is specifically for AC ones. How many poor people visit such places? Would those coming from hospitals be bothered? And why should anyone? They do not know in advance what to expect and only later does the message hit home while paying.

What if instead of Congress goons a visitor had protested? Some can get rowdy. Would it have made news? Perhaps. If the owner had the instinct to smell an opportunity. On the day it was shut (it reopened on Tuesday) people had already been passing around the menu, planning home delivery and later it made it to their wish list.

The episode shows that anybody can print bills with a message and get instant popularity and martyrdom.

One report in The Times of India sourced its news story from social networks. It was painful to read this:

"Some took up the communal angle. It wouldn’t have been attacked had it been an Italian or a 'Muslim-owned restaurant serving ‘secular’ food', said marketing manager Jayesh Dewana, adding that the reason it had been shut was that it served 'Hindu, pure vegetarian' fare."

Unfortunate as it is, I am sure this is not an isolated opinion. What is secular food? How many vegetarian places have been shut down? Does a restaurant have a religion?

These are people fighting for freedom? Look at how chained they are. They are the ones who run down 'Muslim' eateries for their choice of fare and assume it is some Arabisation plot. These are the ignorant who do not know that in this same city such places were destroyed in the riots of 1993.

So, let us ask some questions:

1. Would Shri Narendra Modi's men permit Muslim-owned restaurants in Gujarat to have a message against 2002 riots on the bill?

2. Would an eatery in Chhatisgarh get away by announcing it sympathises with Maoist ideology?

3. Would a Sikh at his dhabha be able to seek the support of customers to petition against Sajjan Kumar?

You know the answer.

And despite my empathy for all the above, I would not like it. I am going to eat, not be saddled with problems, even though I am more than aware of them.

This would amount to misusing a client's space and proselytising.

Don't 'charge' me for it. Hand me a pamphlet separately, if you must.

This overarching culture of protest that is gaining currency to "reach millions" through short sentences is hot air. Those protesting against the shutdown of a restaurant are usually silent when people are rounded up on 'suspicion' for crimes they never commit. It is so easy to take up the cause of safe underdogs.

The holy hug




On Sunday, at an Iftaar organised by MLA Baba Siddiqui a rather normal greeting became an 'epic moment'. Two Bollywood biggies, reportedly not the best of friends, embraced. Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan made it to the front page of some mainstream newspapers.

I watched one such barf-inducing clip on TV two days later. This nonsense was still being talked about. Realising how important this was, the host called out to the photographers to capture it.

My views on political iftaars are not new. I abhor them. Worse, this one was at a five-star hotel. What sort of austerity is it? Then to make it into a photo-op. I was shocked when the host, obviously on asked how he felt, said he had nothing to do with it. It was all Allah, he was merely a means. I would like to know why, in that case, Allah did not intervene when they had that big fight.

Leave religion alone.

© Farzana Versey

21.7.13

Sunday ka Funda

"I don't like the term fight. I would rather say the high-quality treatment worked for me and I'm equally thankful for the prayers and blessings."

These simple words by Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala, who is recuperating after successful treatment for ovarian cancer, really struck me.

Why do we always expect people to be fighters when they are down not due to their own failings, but because circumstances have just turned against them?

There may be days when we have all wanted to give up. We don't even know if there is something to fight against. That we do not keel under the pressure or come out smiling is because we remember the times when we asked, "How can I go on?"

20.7.13

Desi Babu, English Maimed

The BJP seems to be in a mulligatawny soup, and that is as English as you can get.

India's literacy is not something to be proud of, so questions about language are less about parochialism than about power.

The BJP party president Rajnath Singh told ABP TV:

"English language has caused a great lot of loss to India. We have started forgetting our religion and culture these days. There are only 14,000 people left in this country speaking in Sanskrit. Knowledge acquired out of English is not harmful but the anglicization penetrated into youths in this country is dangerous."

What religion is he talking about? Do believers forget a religion only because they speak a language that the scriptures were not originally written in? Nobody quite knows what the good angels, apostles and sages conveyed via unknown means that today form holy texts. These are available in translation in regions where they are not even the prominent faith. It is part proselytisation, part academic interest.

In India, many religions are practised and many more languages spoken. Is the BJP, under the guise of lamenting for a language, merely pushing a faith agenda?

Then, we come to the issue of culture. Culture is lived experiences as much as what society might deem to be 'cultural aspects', in terms of heritage and creation of indigenous ethnic art and mores. People imbibe these and add to them along the way. There is no single culture that can be forgotten or remembered. What we broadly term "Bharatiya sanskriti" (Indian culture) is an amorphous entity made up of all of these.

I do agree with Rajnath Singh, though, on the point about anglicisation. It is not dangerous — we do know of the dangers from non-English speaking Indians only too well — but it is limiting. However, bringing in Sanskrit here is tactical. To revive a dying language is one thing, to use is as a political tool quite another. It is part of the reclaiming our heritage agenda that is always kept on the burner. This is dangerous.

Of the 14,000 people who speak in Sanskrit, how many consider it their primary language? Do they use it in personal and professional interaction, assuming their profession is not propagation or teaching of Sanskrit?

Should the BJP not helm this movement and promote Sanskrit among its target audience? Give electoral tickets only to those who have some knowledge of Sanskrit. Start a poster campaign in Sanskrit. Use it to at least begin their meetings.

We know this is only to rake up some cultural issue as a preemptive election strike. Oddly enough, it will not alienate the acolytes, who know no language other than English, because they are being sold a dream, and dreams come cheap.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had gone on to say the situation under Congress was worse than British rule (my full post here):

"Today, there is an insistence on education in a foreign language (English), instead of education in the mother tongue. As a result, the importance of the foreign language has increased to a large extent in the country.”

English is as much a foreign language as Hindi is to someone from a region not much exposed to it, as South Indian languages are to those in the North, the East...we can go on about these languages that people speak today and not in the past.

Having said this, I do believe that we are losing pride in our languages and look upon English speakers as superior. There is a neat divide between the English speakers and those who use regional languages, and this is manifested in almost every aspect. The hierarchy should bother us, and I say this even as I write in English and am more comfortable in it than with other languages that I do know and some I try to understand.

However, in diplomatic discourse I think a unifying language helps a country like India. Japan and China are supremely confident and get away with it. We might not, and unfortunately when we use an international platform with Hindi it is tom-tommed as something special, instead of the most natural thing.

---





This reminds me of The Times of India’s Teach India campaign I had mentioned earlier. Look at their promo. Why would someone ask “Englis aata hai kya?” and make a kid feel awkward? Does that person not know how to pronounce ‘English’?

I also don’t understand how a boy at the edge of opportunity will look for open spaces in walls. If he is at the edge, it would be a mountain or a ledge. Where do walls come in?

And all this is to get a working knowledge of English to open up “many little career opportunities” and help in the “surge forward”.

That’s really kind. No big opportunities for the little people, and are we not surprised that this would be a surge forward and not backward?

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End note:

In a debate, there is always room for some lighthearted moments. Madhu Kishwar had written in a piece: “The brown sahibs of today have made English their language for love making, talking to their infants and even scolding their pet dogs!"

I had no idea that infants could understand languages they were cooed in. And would dogs get a superiority complex only because they were scolded in English? Would an ordinary mongrel acquire a pedigreed halo if told to shut up, instead of "shanti"?

What language does love-making have? It is touch. It is visual and olfactory as well. Does moaning have a language? Yes, some words are used, but would it alter the intimacy if they were whispered in another language from the one the two people are at ease with?

For those who do wish to revive Sanskrit, I offer you two words that might help: 'siddha', achieving, could be used for climax; if the experience is overwhelming, you would be in a state of 'samadhi'.

Try it and tell me how it was!

© Farzana Versey

15.7.13

Wayward Thoughts: The Telegram

Why is it that only when something leaves we take notice? It was RIP the telegram in India after 163 years. In keeping with the subject, I’ll keep it short.

‘Mother ill. Urgent. Come soon.’

This, I was told, was sent to my khaala (maternal aunt) and my healthy, glowing, eyes-blazing Nani was put in the indisposed category. I don’t know how it worked, but my aunt unfailingly managed to get a visa to make the journey from Karachi to Mumbai. 

Five words. Covered distances.

A Mirage called Malala

A Mirage called Malala: Another Daughter of the East? 
by Farzana Versey, CounterPunch, July 15

Had Edward Snowden exposed the dirt of the Taliban, he would have been standing behind the lectern in New York at the UN hall on Friday, July 12.

The contrast, and irony, is stark.

  • A young man is hounded by the government of his country for exposing its sly mechanism, of its covert war against the whole world, not to speak of its own citizens. He waits at an airport in Russia that had fought a war against Afghanistan, which was backed by the CIA.
  • A teenager’s birthday was officially declared Malala Day by the United Nations. She addressed a well-heeled gathering in the United States that was one of the two countries to oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the other was Somalia.

Malala Yousafzai’s speech had a captive audience. 

Malala at the UN - Pic The Guardian

They wanted a cinematic moment. The gooseflesh groupies, including the mainstream media and urban Pakistanis, were not interested in going beyond the script of her address. They became the protectors of a girl who they could not protect in their own country. The legal imperative is not even considered to fight such cases. What bothers them is their pretty position would be threatened and questioned.  

Politician or puppet?

If we are to treat her as just a courageous 16-year-old, then perhaps we ought to disregard her role as activist. She cannot be hoisted as a symbol of resistance as a cocooned marionette.

In the very first sentence, Malala said it was an honour to wear a shawl of Benazir Bhutto. This was a political statement. From being a victim of the Taliban, she appears to be a “mind-controlled victim” of the elite. Like Benazir, Malala’s power comes from being wronged. Nobody will deny that they indeed were. However, the dynamics of power play are not about the literal, and this the souvenir dealers do not wish to understand.

When she was being treated at the hospital in Birmingham,  President Asif Ali Zardari visited her wearing a coat with a lapel that had her photograph on it; to honour her, he pledged $10 million for girls’ education to UNESCO because “sending girls to school was the best way to combat extremism”. While Malala’s school in Mingora, in the Northern region of Swat, was renamed after her, the President did not offer this money to a local organisation. To get legitimacy, it would appear the issue has to have global appeal.

The Interior Minister at the time, Rehman Malik, was quoted as saying:

"Until terrorism is over, she will continue to have security until we feel she is OK. You never know the circumstances, what will happen. The Taliban might be zero tomorrow. Still [while] we think or successive government feels she needs security, it is of no issue, to be honest, because she has become the icon of Pakistan, she has stood against terrorists and Taliban and she has become an icon for the education of young girls.”

Why do many Pakistanis refuse to see this as a convenient ploy by the leadership to put the onus on iconoclasm to deal with the issues, knowing well that this would work only as a mirage? Where are the political initiatives to tackle terrorism? Benazir Bhutto too supported the Taliban regime in its initial years to ensure that her position was not threatened. The progressive discourse overlooks the fact that she did not expunge any law that was anti-women.

Ever since she was shot at by the Taliban, the cheerleaders have expressed cursory concern for the “other Malalas”; the sidelight is brought out only as a nervous tic. Malala too made a nodding mention of her friends, now forgotten by everyone. They were also shot at, but not as grievously. Where are they? Are they protected? Any school named after them? No one seems to notice that despite her environment, she managed to learn, to seek peace, and to take on the militants.

The omission of any inspiring contemporary figure in her speech was startling. Yet, she managed to please the activists when she spoke about “hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality”. 

Students in Mingora (Pic: Pak Magazine)

It would have been politically incorrect for her to add that her sponsors and their allies not only kill civilians in the regions they occupy, but also employ child soldiers. In an earlier piece, I had raised these points: Is this courage or just canny marketing by consumerist consciences? Do we even pause to think about the consequences of creating or supporting such vulnerable ‘revolutionaries’? …Just think of the kids the US forces fought in Iraq and then took them captive to Abu Ghraib. Think about them in the Maoist Army in Nepal, as human shields in India’s Naxal groups, of them in Israel, of stone-pelting Palestinians now holding guns. These are representatives of their countries, not fringe groups.

Malala even sent out a message of forgiveness for the Taliban using time-tested figures: 

“I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa.”

This is what Barack Obama says. This is exactly what the West, specifically the US, has done with its neat division of good Talib, bad Talib. Besides, as America is due to exit from Afghanistan in 2014, it will have to deal with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Whoever drafted Malala’s speech was taking no chances, even carefully omitting Hinduism, aware that it is a touchy issue in Pakistan where the infidel is associated with the idol-worshipping faith more than any other.

Besides, what change did Jinnah bring about? His major contribution was before the Partition and in helping to formulate the idea of Pakistan. He did not live to watch it veer away from the avowed secularism he hoped for. Malala recalling Mandela and Gandhi seems like a staple politician-beauty pageant fortune cookie moment, but Bacha Khan? He did not want to be with Pakistan and had specified that he should be buried in Afghanistan, to retain the purity of his Pashtun dream. Violence of thought is not something to be shrugged off.

Who is educating whom?

Like the caricature of the Taliban frightened of a girl with a book is simplistic, the catchphrase at the UN that day –‘Education First’ – is restrictive, especially when you consider the number of school dropouts in the West. But American kids willingly emptied their kitties for a charity that turned out to not only misuse the funds, but also mislead. Greg Mortenson, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who wrote the bestselling ‘Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time’ set up the Central Asia Institute charity that funds schools in the Balti region. President Obama made a handsome donation, and the book compulsory reading for the forces in Af-Pak.

However, the greater crime, as I wrote in the Counterpunch article Fabricated Philanthropy was “one by default – of whitewashing the image of the US administration, even if to a small degree. It has come to light that he was not kidnapped by the Taliban. In one of the photographs of 1996, his so-called kidnapper turns out to be Mansur Khan Mahsud, a research director of the FATA Research Center.”

Those who oppose religious factionalism that the Taliban propagates have been using religious arguments against militancy. Certain clerics had issued a fatwa against those who targeted the girls; the liberals did not know how to negotiate this similarity. Pakistanis have lived with their Islamic laws, so they cannot ignore the mullahs.



Such lounge activists do not take on the Taliban or the government. They merely participate in the usual candlelight vigils and sex up the debate with their passive-aggressive act. Quite reminiscent of what Madonna did soon after Malala became a talking point. At a concert in Los Angeles, the singer had said, “This made me cry. The 14-year-old schoolgirl who wrote a blog about going to school. The Taliban stopped her bus and shot her. Do you realize how sick that is?” As reported: “Later in the show, Madonna performed a striptease, during which she turned her back to the audience to reveal the name ‘Malala’ stenciled across it.”

When Malala mentioned the problem of child labour, it did not strike her that she is now even more a victim of it, albeit in the sanitised environs of an acceptable intellectual striptease.  

© Farzana Versey

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Do read Our Guns, Children's Shoulders

14.7.13

Sunday ka Funda

Keichu, the great Zen teacher of the Meiji era, was the head of Tofuku, a cathedral in Kyoto. One day the governor of Kyoto called upon him for the first time.

His attendant presented the card of the governor, which read: Kitagaki, Governor of Kyoto.

"I have no business with such a fellow," said Keichu to his attendant. "Tell him to get out of here."The attendant carried the card back with apologies. "That was my error," said the governor, and with a pencil he scratched out the words Governor of Kyoto. "Ask your teacher again."

"Oh, is that Kitagaki?" exclaimed the teacher when he saw the card. "I want to see that fellow."

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(Calling Card - Zen stories)

A newspaper mortified?

“When we hear news we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation."

- Voltaire

I understand that sometimes newspapers, in a rush to be the first, might not do a thorough job of reporting. In times of crises and calamities when giving out news is more important, a reader or viewer could take this with a pinch of salt. Often, the sources the media consider above-board could just be feeding them half or misleading news.

Among the most talked-about aspect of the Uttarakhand floods was “Modi in Rambo act, saves 15,000.” It was so obviously exaggerated that all it deserved was sarcasm. Not debate.

But that does not happen. People moved on to this sideshow. It was opportunistic for both sides – the BJP and its opponents.

Now, after three weeks we get a clarification on Page 7 of The Times of India:



It seems obvious that someone enjoyed the piggyride while it was in the news and later decided to do damage control. However, why did the newspaper not issue a straightforward correction instead of this dramatic and obsequious one? The “largest-selling newspaper” regrets inconvenience caused to the individuals concerned, but not to the readers who were misled. Worse, it ends with, “We are mortified by the controversy surrounding the report.”

Why would such a huge organisation be mortified, unless it is threatened? Why did this fear of controversy set in only now? Will the media group’s channel Times Now, whose “most-watched” news show has the anchor demanding of his panellists, “The nation wants to know”, conduct a debate on this? This time the nation is concerned as to why and how its favourite newspaper is mortified.

We’d be happy to help in this hour of distress.  

PS: I have deliberately not cropped out the 40% off from an ad above in the image...after all, it is a matter of discounted news and other rebates! 

13.7.13

And life dies...Pran




Pran means life. The actor is gone. Age 93. What we would call a full life.

I am hearing words like legend, complete actor, good human being in the few obituaries telecast. It was recently that he received the Dadasaheb Phalke Award for his contribution to cinema.

His most talked-about role remains the one in 'Zanjeer'. I found the character of the Pathan a caricature. However, it was it a departure from his villainous roles.

And a full-blooded villain he was. Just the other day they telecast an old film in which his character is a village bumpkin with a limp, desirous of marrying the beauteous heroine. I just could not accept him as the character. Therefore, I do not quite go along with the 'complete actor' theory.

He was way too suave, the bad guy version of Dev Anand, if I may say so. Best suited to the urban and urbane milieu, or the regal one. He was meant for large mansions, leather whips, armours, gladiator-like stance.

He killed softly.

There were times I wondered why the rich spoilt woman he liked chose the pink-lipped, rosy-cheeked heroes over his swarthiness.

It is said that no one named their children Pran because they did not want their offspring to have his traits. Was he fearsome?

His voice was grating to listen to, and whether by design or a natural ability, he managed to use it to devastating effect. 'Chewing words' was not a phrase; he seemed to chew and taunt with every line. A tad bit dramatic, as those films were. But loud he wasn't.

With only a crooked smile and a glint in the eye he could convey his intentions. And top it with a most stylish flick of ash from his cigarette.

If we can remember those ashes, would we forget him?

I am sharing a song not from his villain days, but his first 'positive' role in 'Upkaar'. For, this image represents finality...



The song from Upkar has been composed by Kalyanji-Anandji, sung by Manna Dey, written by Indeevar.

A rough translation of the lyrics follows:

“Kasme waade pyaar wafa sab baatein hain baaton kaa kya
Koi kisee kaa nahee yeh jhuthe naatein hain naaton kaa kya

Hoga masiha saamane tere, phir bhi na tu bach paayega
Tera apna khoon hee aakhir tujhako aag lagayega
Aasmaan me udane waale mitti me mil jaayega

Sukh me tere saath chalenge, dukh me sab mukh modenge
Duniya waale tere bankar teraa hee dil todenge
Dete hain bhagwan ko dhokha, insaan ko kya chhodenge

Kasme waade pyaar wafa sab baatein hain baton kaa kya"


promises, vows, love, trust are all words in the wind
no one belongs to anyone, bonding means nothing

a prophet might well be before you, but saved you shall not be
for your very own blood will burn you, in the pyre's flame
your flight in the sky will end only in meshing with the soil.

In your joy who walk with you will in your sorrow turn away
they who claim to belong to you will your heart break
they who deceive god, why would they spare humans?

10.7.13

Bodh Gaya attacks and political 'terrorism'




The Dalai Lama laughed a short laugh. Then, he said such small small things happen...few individuals are involved.

He was asked to respond to the bomb blasts in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. On Sunday evening I tuned in to Headlines Today. It had been over 12 hours since the attack in the early hours. The reporters had reached there. The verdict, however, was out way before that. We'll get there.

First, let me tell you about this amazing reportage. A Nepali woman and a Bhutanese man were being interviewed, and the questions contained the answer. Essentially, that this was bound to happen, there was not enough security. There was such a barrage of implication in the queries, with the emphasis on "the seat of Buddhism...of peace and tolerance", that the woman was forced to say, "What harm has the Buddha done?"

And later it was the Dalai Lama who laughed. He is the head of the Buddhist community the world over. But, apparently, our news anchors and TV reporters are the holinesses.

Politicians are playing politics, resulting in terror tourism, and we are not talking about the recce by the culprits. Most senior leaders have visited or are planning a visit, mainly to score points.

In his enthusiasm to not jump the gun over the Indian Mujahideen, one of the main suspect organisations, the Congress Party's Digvijaya Singh got tangled in a web:

"Amit Shah (BJP general secretary) promises a grand temple at Ayodhya. Modi addresses Bihar BJP workers and asks them to teach Nitish (Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar) a lesson. Next day bomb blasts at Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhgaya. Is there a connect? I don't know."

If he does not know, then he ought to keep quiet. Instead, he gave a lecture to the opposition:

"BJP also gave statements linking the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar to this incident. They are clearly targeting Muslims and I want to say to all that for god's sake, let the NIA complete the investigation."

He was repeating what has been implied and stated by the usual suspects. Even if the Myanmar angle turns out to be true, on what basis should this permit "targeting Muslims"?

There is absolutely no reason and basis for any such acts to be committed anywhere in the world. Terrorists, of extremist organisations as well as establishment machinery, have no business to target innocent people. However, 'civil society' has taken on the mantle of mimicking the attitude it abhors by using language as a tool. The hate speech and insinuations, quoting from ancient religious texts, seems to have become a lucrative pastime. Therefore, it is not surprising that the verdict was pronounced.

It gets more people to salivate than discussing the security lapses. If agencies send warnings, why are necessary precautions not taken? Are most such warnings red herrings or the result of paranoia?

To specifically talk about the Maha Bodhi temple, the statue of Buddha was not damaged. The terrorists used low intensity bombs during a time when few people would be there. Two monks were unfortunately injured, one seriously.

What message were the terrorists trying to convey, given that they are usually clear about their intent?

Sushma Swaraj said, "India is the land of the Buddha. We will not allow a Bamiyan here."

It is a good sentiment. One hopes that at least in contemporary times Buddhists, and not only Tibetans, are in safe hands. It wasn't so in the past, the same past that the Hindutva parties love. This quote might put things in perspective:

According to the historian S. R. Goyal, the decline of Buddhism in India is the result of the hostility of the Hindu priestly caste of Brahmins. The Hindu Saivite ruler Shashanka of Gauda (590–626) destroyed the Buddhist images and Bo Tree, under which Siddhartha Gautama is said to have achieved enlightenment. Pusyamitra Sunga (185 BC to 151 BC) was hostile to Buddhism, he burned Sūtras, Buddhists shrines and massacred monks. With the surge of Hindu philosophers like Adi Shankara, along with Madhvacharya and Ramanuja, three leaders in the revival of Hindu philosophy, Buddhism started to fade out rapidly from the landscape of India."

And it isn't all quite a nice scene that it is made out to be. This is beyond politics and recent. Buddhist monks have been demanding control over the Bodh Gaya shrine against the Hindu majority in the managing committee as per the Bodhgaya Temple Act, 1949. They had to take the matter up with the Supreme Court.

More from this report:

"The Gaya district magistrate is the ex officio chairman of the panel while other members are nominated. What has been deemed ultra vires of the Constitution by many legal experts is a provision that empowers the state government to nominate a Hindu as the chairman of the committee if the DM of Gaya is not a Hindu."

There is a Shiva temple within the precinct, which seemed to give it some legitimacy. How it got there is a different matter.

The report further states:

"Buddhist monks have gone on indefinite hunger strikes demanding that the community be handed over control of the shrine. NCM had passed a unanimous resolution in 2005 that the Act needs to be amended. However the demand for full control has never cut much ice."

So much for concern for Buddhists. Meanwhile, the latest news is that no one has been arrested. Indeed, this ought to be news too. In October, Delhi Police had handed over information. On July 3, a DIG reviewed security with local administration. It is impossible for any security to be foolproof, but if 10 of 13 bombs go off within a small radius, should not the government be more transparent?

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said:

"Arresting anyone in a hurry is not right. Investigations should go into detail and catch hold of the real culprits...There are so many complex problems. Infiltration from other countries is there, Naxalites are there, local communal disturbances are there. We have to see all angles."

He was asked about the Naxal angle. The infiltration problem is a concern always. As regards communal disturbances, I hope he and everyone realises there are more than two communities in India.

And in what has become a mandatory requirement, Muslim organisations in Mumbai have condemned the blasts. I dislike this defensiveness. One day, though, peace-loving Buddhists too will speak out against the killing of Muslims in Myanmar. They constitute five per cent of the population.

Until then, politicians can continue to run our lives and protect places of worship. They are the new gods feeding hate.

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." (The Buddha)

© Farzana Versey

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An earlier post on the stony reaction to a Buddhist nun's rape

6.7.13

Arrogant Voices Muffling Silences




I learned my lesson many years ago as I walked out of her hut, her children trailing behind me in the narrow gully where my elbows grazed against the tarpaulin sheets. She followed slowly; she knew these children would go nowhere.

There was a small store outside. It sold cigarettes, beedis, paan masala, and in one jar there were sweets. I asked the shopkeeper to pack the lot. He wrapped them in a soiled newspaper. I handed it to the oldest child. The mother had reached us by then. "Iski kya zaroorat hai (Why the need for this)?" she asked. I merely said I felt like it. The kids held the open packet but did not touch the sweets.

Was I insulting her? Did I assume she felt no pride in her small home, in the life she lived with as much dignity as poverty could afford? I urged her to keep it, I had not brought anything earlier, I did not know where she would be, her house, her family. She was only a story, a post-riot followup.

She knew that. I knew that. I was not doing her a favour; she was granting me her time, opening up her wounds again. Those sweets would last for a week, two weeks. Then what?

There are people who call you brave, who think you are giving voice to the voiceless. At some point, you begin to believe it. Until you realise that sweets don't last. I am glad this happened early for me. I am glad I wept and felt guilty enough not to imagine I could change anything, that touched as I was by the feedback I was aware that it was from people like us.

No work — in films, in art, in music, in writing —can bring about radical change. If you need to get 'artistic' legitimacy for your beliefs, then you are just a riff, a mute painting, scattered words. None of these forms reaches those most affected. Award-winning photographs from war zones and disaster areas do not make us more aware, although they could potentially have an emotional impact.

Who has the time to understand issues when pictures from, most recently, Egypt show massive crowds with captions stating, "It wasn't the army that toppled the government, it was this." It is not even amusing. Where in the world do armies operate by popular mandate? Is a crowd at a square revealing of a popular movement?

The same can be said about the Delhi gangrape protests. Why no such protests later, especially when people in authority, like armymen, are involved? Is it because there is no president's mansion to break into? The right to dissent has been appropriated by a few, who are then built up by the mainstream media. This is ironic considering they have reservations about this same media.

So, do I go along with the accusation of 'armchair critics' and 'ivory tower intellectuals'? No. Not only because according to some I possibly belong to the category (even though no stories have come on a platter to me) but because my issue is not with opinion and analysis — it is with the arrogance that believes it is speaking on behalf of a group of people. It is arrogance to believe that those who do not express concern about what is being hammered into them are any less sensitive, knowledgeable or worthy.

This arrogance assumes the role of the 'other', and in that arrogates to itself an objectivity that implies those closer to the subject might not possess.

Is it true? Views by their nature are subjective. One is not a sitting judge at the court or an investigating officer that one can or even needs to be impartial. One can be fair by understanding the facts first before forming an opinion.

What I see more often these days is an opinion is formed based on others' opinions, riding on the back of populist movements. Some might say these are ideological beliefs and those espousing them would naturally lean towards them. An ideology is not static and it is arrogance again that relies on such pigeonholing, which some of these people snigger about.

A few issues are picked out and they become the template for pitching the voice.

One such voice appeared in last Sunday's newspaper. Those who claim to never read the writer had all read him on that day, which turned out to be the day of judgment. The poor jokes about his lack of penmanship aside, I found the whole discussion that exulted in rejoinders doing precisely what was done in that piece: patronise.

I had no intention and have none to post a riposte to the article by Chetan Bhagat. All I can say is that the reactions to his piece revealed the hypocrisy I have spoken about in the previous few paragraphs. This has become a good test case.

I should ideally have been hopping mad. "How dare he speak in the Muslim voice and run down the community with stereotypes?" was the tenor of the anger. Few realised it was his elitism in conflict with theirs. If he used the first person narrative to make Muslims into backward creatures, the opposition created the caricature of a liberal Muslim that satisfied them. It was Us vs. Them in which neither was the Muslim who they were speaking about. Yet, they too spoke for these people.

The P word was tomtommed. Privilege. It is privilege to speak, anyway. It is double privilege that they take up the rights of the market-driven groups and not those within their own communities, cliques, coteries. So, essentially, it was once again the voices who were telling people, in this case Muslims, who was the better outsider, the more sensible objective voice.

They were doing a Chetan Bhagat on Chetan Bhagat, and their sophistry just made it a bit smarter. It is unlikely that they will question the elite flag-bearers of causes, who not only become spokespersons but also make a joke of the problems facing those groups by seeking martyrdom. "Put me in jail, I won't stop my dissent" they say. Ask the people who are already in jail for crimes they have not committed what it is like. Ask those who cringe in corners not knowing when they will be picked up by the authorities or, worse, are just shot dead. They do not have the luxury of hunger strikes, marches. Their anger is leashed, so they cannot even run hopping mad about sedition charges.

The voices become self-promoters, whether they do it unwittingly or not. Their argument for being in the limelight is that the issue will get mileage. So, do we need to bring out the popcorn? Does mileage result in change? I understand that many of the issues are too entrenched, they cannot change overnight. But do notice it is mostly prominent, eyeball grabbing causes, preferably those with international appeal, that draw them. And, amusingly, it is the champagne set they look down upon that finds them utterly charming.

Post the Mumbai attacks, a discussion was organised. I was invited to be on the panel. It was a perfect intellectual setting. But my instinct was rebelling at: "Would love to have you, let us know soon. There are a lot of people who want to be on the panel ever since news of this has gone out."

Like who? I asked.

Prominent names. I could foresee something akin to a wine-and-cheese evening without the wine and cheese. "Look, where I am...look, what I am doing"...

I had opposed some of these people's stand and the last thing was to fight over the spoils of lost lives. In some ways, I accept this as my arrogance. But, I really do not want to be either anyone's voice or anyone to be my voice.

Many years ago, I learned this from a slum dweller, whose children carried a packet of sweets that would not last. Just as many concerns do not.

© Farzana Versey

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Cartoon: Huffington Post

1.7.13

Tooth vs. Dentures: The Modi Bite



How do you deal with the hype? The answer is simple: You don't. It is already reaching saturation point. Having 7,200 "e-soldiers" is a sign of desperation. The Gujarat chief minister is looking for someone to head the minority cell, "but the BJP is finding it difficult to find a recognizable face to head its minority front in Gujarat". His soldiers who think the 2002 riots are old and it is time to 'move on' will never have the courage to come forth with a plea that Muslims need not vote for the party. If they did, then one might give them some credit for at least lack of hypocrisy regarding their persistent whining against vote bank politics.

I am often surprised at the naïveté of those who believe that the cyber world can win elections. This report in The Times of India gives us a few details about how it works:

"Try criticizing Gujarat CM Narendra Modi on social media and you will be ambushed by a cyber army. Praise him, and there will be hundreds joining the chorus...The sharp quips against Modi-baiters on the net are the coordinated effort of these youth, who use specialized software to add friends and ‘Likes’ to Modi pages on Facebook and Twitter and also send mass messages."

Getting urban youth is not difficult. Modi should give credit for this to Anna Hazare. His crusade brought out the Nike generation to embrace the Gandhi topi in the day and drown their new-found angst later in the usual haunts. Nothing has changed, except a new-found purpose that I have already talked about in the I Mislead India post.

So, he had a ready 'army', and it was not difficult to brainwash them into believing that all would be right and what was wrong was not the fault of Modi, but of those who were out to demonise him. The youth who were shouting for justice against rapists and scamsters have been silenced into believing in legalistic justice where foot soldiers take the blame and you need 'concrete evidence' to pin down leaders The dissent that they proudly claimed has been bought with a fake ideology. The recent history they are asked to forget is dragging them to the ancient past of Mughal conquerors. Irony cringes.

The group is incestuous and sharp, though. They will target novices with no known baggage. Try a red herring (RH) with them. They will not bite. The fear factor they use against others is really their own fear of any strong opinion. Watch them on TV shows and the moment they face an argument, the response is, "Look at you, you are getting nervous", even as they muffle their own nervous laughter. They cannot handle anyone who has a contrary viewpoint.

I have not come across a single person who is a Modi or a BJP person being critical of the way of functioning (no, L.K.Advani does not count!). If they cannot question anything, then how will they critique others? How different is it from the dynasty they abhor? It was this Narendra Modi Army that took out a morcha to Mr. Advani's house after he spoke out. Forget cohesiveness, it reveals bad taste and insecurity.

The electronic media has given way too much attention to these "Internet warriors". The unfortunate negative fallout is a response by the Congress camp of mimicking it. It ought not to be difficult. Prop up one individual, discuss achievements, rubbish the opposition. However, they have not been as successful. If the relatively secular forces (not just the Congress) have any sense they'd see that as a compliment,

They have a wider variety of supporters, not all creditable, but yet. They are not in denial mode about any of the riots during Congress rule. They are not in a desperate hurry to accept the words of disgruntled NDA allies, even if some politicians do. A Digvijaya Singh, a Sanjay Jha, an Abhishek Singhvi are often pulled up by their own even as they remain anti-BJP. One does not ever hear about any Modi bhakt criticising their spokespersons for speaking out of turn and, by Jove, they do.

In the superficial oneupmanship, where it is clear that the Modi army outnumbers, it is the loss of sensible debate.

Contrary to what the social media believes about the social media clout of the man, a war cannot be fought with invisible weapons and hydra- headed monsters with multiple accounts. This is an insult to the vast population of India. And it ought to be a lesson for every political party.

Ruling a country is not a hashtag you can latch on to. You can fool a few lakh followers — many talking to themselves — but not the millions.

© Farzana Versey

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Also read: Advani and Modi:No Exit

Image source not available