Mar 092014

And, my column last week for the DNA – on the UPA retrospective 

Ever been to a theatre to watch a film that on paper sounded fabulous — great director, good casting, top-of-the-line banner, great promos? But when you get inside the theatre the film simply won’t get over.
Every moment drags; every dialogue in the film has the monotony of something you have heard before, and no matter what you do, you cannot escape from the highly intrusive soundtrack. Worst of all, you cannot get out of the movie hall.  Most of us have at least watched one such film, trapped inside the theatre for, what seems like, days, unable to get out, unable to move our eyes from the screen while asking the question “what  on earth were they thinking about, when they put this together”. And, when the end credits start rolling, you clap out of the sheer relief that the film is over, and you can get into the bright lights and fresh air outside, and scrub all memory of the movie from your subconscious. Think Ram Gopal Verma ki Aag or Kites. Know the feeling? It is pretty much the way that most felt while watching the last two years of UPA II — it just dragged on, and on, and on.

As the credits roll, this column takes a look at some of the characters and scenes from UPA II:

A for Anthony: The Minister for Defence. A man who confused inaction with integrity and took the old adage ‘if you don’t get out of bed and get on the road, you won’t get run over’ seriously. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee for the ceiling falling on your bed.

B for Bills: The trouble with leaving most of your key bills to the last minute of a five-year Parliament is that nothing is thought through, the sense of dissonance is high and like a bad film, certain elements are put in just to give a sense of faux completion.

C for CWG: The Commonwealth Games that really marked the begging of the end.

D for DMK: The key ally then, fence sitter now and the hands behind the 2G scam.

E for Elections: #Elections2014 and the UPA hoping for a sequel, ie. UPA III. But when a film is such a box office dud, will you really buy a ticket for the sequel?

F for Food Security: Nobody, with a conscience, will disagree with the concept of Food Security — the principle that no individual should go hungry, but as with all concepts, the devil is in the implementation. And, implementation in this particular case is fraught with internal opposition.

G is for Gandhi: The name that ruled the Congress for the best part of the last 45 years. And, it seems that the aura is finally waning, though Sonia Gandhi still has some of that aura. But for all his earnestness, it does not seem that Rahul Gandhi has that aura — the aura of wanting to handle power.

H is for High Command: See Gandhi above. All organisations need hierarchies, and a chain of command. But, if all power is concentrated in one set of hands , then currying favour rather than competence becomes the order of the day, leading to poor decision-making

I for Indian National Congress: The grand old party. It seriously needs to introspect and reinvent itself for the new millennium.

J for Janata: That is us, the people. The voters. Just get this over with seems to be the general sentiment all around.

K for Kaajneeti: That is on hoardings across the country, with voters looking at each other and asking “what is that”?

L for Leadership: Conspicuous by its absence through the five years, especially towards the end.

M for Mani Shankar Iyer: The architect of the Chai pe Charcha campaign. Enough said. M is also for Manmohan Singh, who didn’t say enough.

N for Narendra Modi: If politicians  in the Congress spent as much time in talking about what they did right, as they did about why Modi is wrong, they may have fared better in both  perception and the ballot box.

O for Ordinance: When bills aren’t passed, the route is ordinance. But, in Parliamentary democracy, bills are meant to be debated, deliberated on and passed. It is a good job that the last few bills were not passed via an ordinance, because…

…P for Pranab Mukherjee: He put his foot down and said ‘no’. A leading character in UPA I and in the first part of UPA II, his political skills would be sorely missed, even if his economic skills were not.
Q for Questions: That the people had, for which there were no answers. In fact, part of the UPA’s problem was the fact that it rarely spoke to the people or the press, and when it did it was either so stage-managed or so full of wordplay that it alienated.

R for Robert Vadra: The son-in-law. The man who could get away with everything, or so it seemed.

S for Sheila Dikshit: The Empress of Delhi, who is now the Governor of Kerala after losing her seat to Arvind Kejriwal.

T for Telangana: The disaster of the last five years. While smaller states are not a bad idea, pandering is.

U for UPA II: Coming to an end in a few months from now

V for Voter: That is us. Are you even registered?

W for Win: Winning seat by seat, state by state, to take the nation. From all accounts that is a tough one.

X for X: Marks the spot where we vote, and UPA II hopes that it is for their constituents.

Y for Gen Y: The first and second-time voter who cares less for the ‘isms’ of yesterday and more for how good their tomorrow will be.

Z for Zero Loss: Made famous by Kapil Sibal when confronted with allegations of misallocation of spectrum. If only humility was in action instead of hubris, this government may not have ended up in this state of being generally disliked.

Apr 242012

As a kid the mother used to have issues with me eating healthy stuff. (she claims she still does). For mom, healthy food included beetroot curry (ugh), carrot sambhar (double ugh), and some equally horrendous concoctions. Needless to say i used to protest. quite vocally at that. But the one thing I never did (and never do) is waste food. There were two reasons for that.

The first was, and this is where parents cause severe trauma to their kids :D, the story of Annapurna – the Goddess of food. Annapurna, loves, so the story my mother told me, feeding children. If children did not’ like the food she ‘created’ and provided, and waste it, she would be heart broken. She would then sit by the banks of the river and sob. And when that happens there will be no food for anyone. This image of the goddess crying was so overwhelming, I ate every terrible green that landed on my plate.

The second was, and used when i went past the stage of being impacted by Goddesses crying, the story of starving children. You can’t waste food, my mother would say,  think of all the starving children in India. That worked for a good two decades or more. One fine day I grew up. When my mother had cooked something obnoxious -boiled doodhi with basic tadka – i rebelled. Said No. I want tasty food. She said, think of all the starving kids in India (i was 33 or so) … and then the cookie crumbled, the tube light came on, conciousness dawned, and I asked he “if i ate the damn thing, how will they eat it”.

This morning, as news filtered in of the successful Agni V launch I had a sense of deja vu. The murmurs began.  I almost expect an issue long rant from Arundathi Roy – shouldn’t India be feeding her poor? Yes, of course. There are no questions about providing food security for the most disadvantaged. But, IMO physical security is equally important. The best periods of growth have been in an era of peace and stability.

But just because you won’t test launch the Agni or not launch satellites doesn’t mean you will feed more people. The two are linked the way everything is linked. But, is there a linkage between spending on science and tech and hunger? Are people going hungry because India is spending on moon missions and ballistic missiles?  Is hunger about lack of money or is it something else ? People aren’t going hungry because there is no food.

People are starving because the PDS system, storage facilities and the supply chain is wonky. NO matter how many curbs you put on expenditure on technology and defence, our people will still starve unless that is fixed. It is glamorous to bleed one’s heart over the cost of scientific R&D, but curtailing it will no more impact hunger, than me eating that terrible doodhi…

Bleeding hearts are needed, but leaky brains are quite something else…

Agni – courtesy NYT