Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Republic Day is so Important

Because almost every achievement that India can claim as a country, rests on the bedrock of an amazing document which came into force today—the Constitution. It might seem simple enough now, but India could easily have blundered in the type of polity it chose. Just to compare, these are the words that Pakistan’s Objectives resolution (it lays the framework for the constitution to be framed) starts with:

Whereas sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust;

As compared to, “Wherein all power and authority of the Soverign Independent India, its constituent parts and organs of government, are derived from the people” from the Indian Objectives resolution.

Best to keep God away from matters as prosaic and boring as running nations, as India occasionally forgets and Pakistan is learning the hard way.

Not to say that the document is perfect—in my opinion, too much power is concentrated in the Centre. For example, Residuary powers—powers that do not exist on either the Union, Concurrent or State List—are given to Parliament, which is absurd given India’s size and diversity; even a relatively smaller country such as the US, vests residuary powers with the states. Of course, given the way power shapes itself to ground realities gradually, we have seen a decrease in the influence of national parties, as states increasingly vote for smaller, regional parties, thereby blunting to some extent, this constitutional tilt in favour of the Centre.

Of course, the other, and vastly more significant reason why this day is so important is that it’s a holiday. Woo Hoo!


Also, just to add a We-Are-Like-That-Only section to this Republic Day post, The Telegraph reports that Modi held a Samvidhan Gaurav Yatra where he "led a march through the Saurashtra town [Surendranagar], followed by a decked-out elephant carrying an oversized replica of the Constitution, in an attempt to showcase his respect for the statute and its best-known architect, Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar."

Yes, a human-sized replica of the Constitution was put onto an elephant and paraded through a city. No, seriously. Here's a picture:

Picture courtesy The Telegraph

My IPL is Bigger Than Yours

The glee that quite few Indians have shown over the IPL saga is understandable—to quote from one of India's most popular bloggers, Great Bong, the reasoning goes something like this: “Now since we are talking about a country who about a year before butchered our citizens and who allow the perpetrators of that crime against humanity to walk their streets amidst adulation and approbation” what the IPL has done is perfectly allright. Hell, it’s super.

Which is a fine sentiment.

But the thing is, does this, in any way, actually help in preventing further instances of terror, or even punish those in Pakistan who are responsible for this sort of thing?

Well, no.

Hiring or not hiring 5 or so cricketers from a nation of 170 mln is going to make no practical difference to anything, least of all the foreign policy of that nation.

Of course, not all foreign policy need be purely practical; India might make a symbolic point. Fair enough, other than the fact that India did not make a symbolic point. A symbolic point would have been made if the Pakistani cricketers would not have been allowed to participate from the outset and it would have been made clear as to the “issue”, in Shahrukh’s words , behind the ban. In fact the Government made in unequivocally clear that there was no “hint or nudge from the government ” in this matter.

Even explanations such as “it is business decision” do not stand up to scrutiny. As Offstumped explains:

IPL as a private business has the right to do what it wants but that right is not beyond the ethics and values how any business must conduct itself. Tacit collusion by a cartel to discriminate against individuals based on origin doesnt speak highly of IPL’s ethics and values as a private business.

This whole episode was an exercise in bad judgement—no two ways about it.

Of course, not be left behind in the stupidity stakes, some in Pakistan have erupted in near-hysterical rage, as if 5 players not earning some money in a private league is a national disaster.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Aman ki Asha - Amen

The two leading media houses of India and Pakistan - The Times of India and the Jang Group - have come together to develop a stronger Track 2 in the diplomatic and cultural relations between India and Pakistan. "Aman ki Asha: Destination Peace" looks beyond the confines of a 62-year-old political boundary to the primal bonds that tie together the two peoples.

That’s how the ToI describes Aman ki Asha—an initiative which will, of course, amount to nothing. Don’t get me wrong, though—I’m not against the aims of Aman ki Asha. Peace is critical when it comes to a region as poor and wretched as the Indian sub-continent and anybody who thinks otherwise is just plain deluded. It’s just that by playing on the cultural similarities that the two countries share, as this project does ("primal bonds that tie together the two peoples"), you’re going to get nowhere.

It’s a common refrain, though—just ‘cause the two twins share a whole lot culturally, the two should be at peace. Well, the fact of matter is that culture-shulture never stopped a good, solid war. The two main protagonists of the Word Wars, Britain and Germany, shared religion, race and royalty (in an episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, a sitcom set in WW I, when Captain Darling, on being accused of being a German spy, protests that he’s as British as Queen Victoria, Blackadder replies, “So your father’s German, you’re half German and you married a German!”) but that didn’t stop them from trying to flatten each other.

Of course, it might not even be accurate to say that India and Pakistan share a common culture. While North India would, I guess, fit the bill, the people of East and South India share little, if anything, culturally with the people of Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is that India has to deal with Pakistan as a neighbour, plain and simple. Wildly oscillating between the extremes of treating the country as a long, lost brother and, then, as India's mortal enemy isn't going to help in the least.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The City Never Dies

What do you do when your city is dying? Do you feel sad like when a person you know dies? Do you tell others, “don’t worry, everything will be all right”? Maybe even go for the “inhe dawaon kee naheen, duaon ki zaroorath hain” line.

Well, if the city’s Calcutta, you eat. Calcutta might be dying (it’s been dying for the longest time, really—Rajiv Gandhi thought it was dying even back in the 80’s) but there’s always a huge variety of interesting food available in the city to take your mind off that sort off stuff. And while cities that are not dying might offer, on paper, a lot more, much still remains to be said for Cal’s cuisine which is a part and parcel of the city unlike, say, Korean food in Delhi.

Eating out in Calcutta consists largely of three cuisines: Chinese, Mughlai and Continental (a British Raj relic). There’s also “Indian”, which is a euphemism for Punjabi, but it doesn’t make sense to sample that on a trip to Cal when you now live in Delhi. There are hardly any Bengali restaurants in the city, although this is changing now.

Tangra, Calcutta’s main Chinatown, still bustles; had a tough time getting a table at Kim Fa on Christmas day. Calcutta’s other Chinatown, Tiratti Bazaar, though, I was told has shrunk down.


It’s amazing the way the political graffiti, flags and other paraphernalia has changed in favour of the Trinamool Congress. Just by looking at Calcutta, you can make out that the Left Front is on the back foot--which is pretty much the same conclusion that you’ll reach on talking to Calcuttans. From Taxi-drivers to book-sellers to commuters on those new-fangled, low-floor buses, everyone I spoke to felt “it was time for a change”. Of course, it must be kept in mind that the city has never been a great Left supporter anyway, but this time around people aren’t wishing for a CPM defeat, they are, or so they feel, prophesising it.

Of course, you never know with the temperamental Mamatadi. This sort of rise can induce a number of mistakes—spelling, for one.

Might be a pun, although it’s highly unlikely. For all its warts, Bengal’s politics, unlike the rest of the country, has little to do with caste.