Sunday, November 30, 2008

Doves to The Slaughter

Over seven years have passed since those catastrophic attacks on the WTC towers. The paranoia that the holocaust had created in its immediate aftermath has long faded from the minds and hearts of Americans as the seven subsequent terror-free years have instilled renewed confidence in the security systems of that country. Contrastingly though, in India, attack after attack on the land and the people has managed to keep the fear of insecurity alive and has reinforced the notion that human life in India is more dispensable than ever before.

The impunity with which a handful of gun-toting and grenade-hurling radicals wreaked havoc on some of the prime landmarks of Mumbai, the Taj Mahal hotel, the CST railway station and the Oberoi hotel has exposed India’s security preparedness in a very poor light before the world. It is a humiliation for the entire nation. How can a citizen of a small city or town feel safe when a few young men with perverted minds come ashore unhindered on a fishing trawler, barge into some of the most prestigious hotels of the country and hold the most prosperous area of India’s most prosperous city to ransom for three long days? Does India not have the capability to protect even the heart of its financial capital from terror? How can a few terrorists occupy a hotel room for days at end, fill it with guns, ammunition and grenades, evading suspicion of the hotel authorities and security agencies alike? How can a couple of terrorists manage to kill three top police officers in cold blood at one spot? How can a few gun-toting men barge into the best luxury hotels of the city and move about so freely within the interiors without facing any kind of resistance? Why did it take 24 hours for the government to decide that special security forces need to be deployed? The answers to many such questions will continue to elude the common man in Mumbai and rest of India as long as the powers that control the safety and security of the country do not think of the nation and its people as their own. Everyone realizes but nobody cares that this horrific assault on India’s dignity is also an attack on its rising economic stature. Love for one’s own land is a trait sadly missing from the political circles. Politicians are busy devising hundreds of dirty strategies to garner as many votes as possible while terrorists plot to wreak havoc on the laity. Mumbai has seen the worst terrorist attack ever seen in this country freezing the entire city and the country as a whole into a state of shock. Yet, some individuals of the government have been treating it as just a one-off event. The statements by the various political leaders are enough to disturb the equanimity of the calmest of persons. Maharashtra Home Minister, R. R. Patil, has stated dismissively that such “incidents” are unavoidable in big cities. He calmly goes on to say that the terrorists had planned to kill many more people than they actually succeeded in doing so. What he means to say by these statements is that (1) the government cannot do much to prevent such “day-to-day” attacks, and (2) since the terrorists managed to kill “only” about 200 people (instead of 5000), the situation does not warrant too much concern. In fact, the minister just stops short of saying that the entire outcry over the incident is totally unwarranted and that “everything is fine”. The Prime Minister’s national address, too, has done little to boost the confidence of even his staunchest fans. At a time when people expected the PM to be aggressive in his response to the attacks and to outline a bold plan to counter future terrorist invasions of the sort, all he did was to mutter a few clichés from the government policy books – statements that contained the usual platitudes such as “we will have zero tolerance towards terrorism”, “we will not let foreign forces destabilize our country”, “I convey my codolences”, “I strongly condemn these acts” etc etc. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s comments do not even credit a mention. The total indifference of the political establishment towards the sufferings of the victims and their relatives only goes to show how hard core these politicians can be. It is a blatant exhibition of their insensitivity towards loss of innocent human lives. Raj Thackeray and his lot, the so called protectors of Mumbai, are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they do not see too much political mileage in commenting on such incidents. The honorable president of India, Dr. Pratibha Patil had nothing more than a sermon to deliver in response to the dreadful attacks. She hummed a few philosophical phrases like “we should realize that violence is not right”, “peace is the essence of life” and lots of ridiculous phrases of the kind.

Notwithstanding the incompetence and apathy emerging from the political establishment, tales of heroism and unselfishness galore has gone a long way in restoring the dented pride of our nation. The selfless acts of courage by civilians to save their fellow men, the brave police officers who fell to enemy bullets, the death-defying commandos who laid down their lives for the greater cause will all be forever entrenched in the minds of all Mumbaikars and Indians alike. Politicians who have created created hell for fellow Indians in Mumbai for their own upliftment will have to think twice before calling any Mumbaikar a “North Indian”, “South Indian” etc. Certainly not after bravehearts like commando Gajendra Singh and Sandeep Unnikrishnan gave their lives for the cause of liberating Mumbai from the clutches of the terrorists.

Apart from the few bright spots of valor and selflessness, there is little else to rejoice over. The sense of fear and insecurity in the country is proliferating fast. It is beginning to become more and more evident that the people of India have handed over the reins of the country to a bunch of weak-kneed louts. The country is in dire need of a strong-willed and intensely patriotic leader. We cannot wait and watch as the government continues to frustrate and the country continues to bleed. We have become a nation of sitting ducks for any Tom, Dick and Harry to kill and destroy as and when they wish. Drastic policy amendments, proactive security measures, crushing of divisive politics are the need of the hour. How long can we hope to stay safe when an impotent government talks of peace with its inimical neighbors when these countries take advantage of India’s softness to inflict injury upon injury on its hapless people? Subservient diplomacy with Pakistan and Bangladesh will continue to cost India dear unless it takes swift and decisive steps to neutralize its enemies, wherever they may be. The government spends thousands of crores of taxpayers’ money every year to arm itself against foreign attacks but it has been woefully incapable of protecting its people from the proxy warfare of neighboring nations. What is the use of such expense if it cannot ensure the safety and security of its citizens even in the heart of big cities? Why should India be any different from the US when it comes to protecting the security of its people? If the US can strike at targets in foreign lands on the pretext of American security, why does India go weak in its knees at the prospect of confronting its enemies across the border?
India needs to wake up to its threats big time. Its people must rise above all petty insularities and divisions and work as a mass against all factious elements, both at home and abroad. History has proven time and again that disunity and ineptitude have been the constant reasons for India’s defeat at the hands of foreign forces over the centuries. Today, India is again on the ascendance. We are again confronted with foreign invaders whose sole objective is to cripple our economy and shatter our unity. This time, the people of India will have to ensure that History is not allowed to repeat itself.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Bankruptcy of Faith?

It is said that whenever the going gets tough, the tough get going. However, the adage seems to be struggling to retain its validity at the present moment with the juggernaut of the economic meltdown threatening to leave no tough ones standing. The financial crisis has slowly morphed into a crisis of faith. The big financial institutions of the world, the providers of solace and security in times of monetary distress, seem to be fighting a stiff battle to keep faith in their own selves. People are running scared of the very institutions that they had banked on to secure their future. So far, people have relied on rating agencies and audit reports to gauge the health of any particular banking company. However, the implosions of banks and finance companies boasting of sky high ratings and infallible track records have left the common man in a tizzy. Today, he just doesn’t know who to believe. Sudden collapse of mega finance companies have become almost the order of the day. Panic has set in like never before as people scurry to banks and ATMs to withdraw excess money for fear of losing their savings at one stroke.

The reason for all this panic and chaos can be attributed to one big flaw in the entire world financial system - lack of transparency, and that eternal vice - greed. As it is, customers and depositors have started questioning the methods applied by the banking and finance companies to increase their profits. Yet, there are no answers to many such questions. All that people get are sugar-coated media statements insisting that everything is rosy. Such statements, however, do little to assuage the fears in the minds of people who have so far trusted banks with their life savings. A gripping paranoia that a bank or a finance company may declare bankruptcy overnight has overcome the laity. Although this wave of fear and distrust has wrought maximum damage mainly on the institutions in the western world, trepidations of the same have crept into India and the rest of Asia as well. In India, ICICI bank has recently been the target of “malicious rumors” as depositors made bee lines at its ATMs and branches to retrieve their money. Subsequently, the ICICI bank management and the government regulatory authorities came out in defense of the bank assuring investors of the “robust” health of the bank. Nonetheless, investors are a wary lot nowadays, and it needs just one spark to trigger their paranoia into panic reactions. In fact, the more the banks try to reassure investors, the more deeply the suspicion of something fishy afoot sets in the minds of the customers. The need of the hour is for the institutions in question to come out in the open about their investments and leverages and lay all the facts of their accounts bare before the public. Until that happens, though, this all-pervasive fear psychosis will continue to haunt the minds of billions of depositors and investors and the bankruptcy of public faith may well translate into an economic apocalypse.

Assam - The Enemy Within

The series of bomb blasts in Assam on the black day of 30th October only reinforces one emotion in the heart of the man on the streets of Assam – fear. Innocent civilians have fallen prey to yet another wave of carnage and death perpetrated by the merchants of death. Terrorism seems to have become an inextricable part of our daily life. The most disconcerting part of the whole affair is that even the government machinery looks helpless in the matter. The Police appear to have resigned themselves to terror as a part of destiny that cannot be changed. The press conferences and expressions of condemnation by the various political leaders have done little to enhance the confidence of the people. The statements emanating out of the government chambers are beginning to sound more and more like perfunctory monotones rather than expressions of any real intent or determination. Does this then imply that we can do nothing but be sitting ducks as a bunch of perverted minds continue to plot and inflict pain and suffering on our land and people, as and when they choose to, that too with disdainful ease?

Notwithstanding the fact that terrorism is nothing new for the people of India, the terror problem in Assam is distinct from similar situations facing the rest of India. In Assam, the people are afraid of speaking out against the terror groups. This is because the common man is easy prey to and within easy reach of the home-grown terrorists, chief among them being the ULFA. Recent investigations have revealed that the ULFA has been providing active support to all the jihad groups in Bangladesh plotting to inflict pain and suffering on the people of Assam. The ULFA was and to some extent still is part of the Assamese society. The ULFA had started as a social reformist organization in the eighties. At that time, they were the darlings of the Assamese society. Social nuisances such as eve teasing, drug trafficking and alcohol addiction were the targets of ULFA wrath. As a result, Assamese society suddenly found a saviour in the ULFA in that the society was being rid of all the inherent evils and women found themselves safer in the cities and workplaces. Sadly though, all that is a far cry from the ULFA of today. They have long reneged from their original promises and instead started using their power for the fulfillment of their personal desires. They started collecting “protection money” from local people at gunpoint and used the money to buy more guns and ammunition. The top leaders of the ULFA sought safe haven in Bangladesh and Bhutan and continued to spread violence across Assam. Initially, the targets of ULFA aggression were the governmental security agencies. Gradually, however, they became more and more unscrupulous. They started planting bombs in public places and passenger trains. The principles of the ULFA reached their lowest point when they joined hands with anti-India forces in Bangladesh and began plotting the destruction of their own land and people. In fact, they provide support to terrorist groups from across the border (read Bangladesh and Pakistan) in killing Assamese people. The ULFA leaders in Bangladesh enjoy the full-fledged support of the government of that country. In return for these favors, ULFA continues to extort money from the businessmen and salaried people of Assam and uses that money partly for satisfaction of their worldly desires, partly for assisting the jehadi groups in Bangladesh plotting against India and partly for developmental works in Bangladesh. In fact, the ULFA has been forced to ignore the infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam for fear of irking the Bangladeshi government. This is the reason why the ULFA maintains a conspicuous silence whenever the issue of detection and deportation of illegal Bangladeshis from Assam comes into prominence. They want to maintain a façade of patriotism while plotting against their own people in collusion with foreign forces.

In Assam, the ULFA has indirectly become the protector of the Bangladeshi migrants. It is the indigenous people of Assam who have become the target of ULFA violence today. The ULFA cadres have absolutely no qualms in killing their own people. The common man is fully aware that the government security mechanisms are totally incapable when it comes to protecting the layman from the threat of extortion and terror from the ULFA. The paranoia is so pervasive in the state that even politicians, who hardly ever venture out of their security cordons are scared stiff of speaking out openly against the ULFA. None among the journalistic fraternity are brave enough to stand up against the ULFA. Societal elders tread with utmost reticence whenever they mention ULFA in their statements and speeches. As a result, the only words of resentment against the ULFA are spoken in whispers among close friends. Speaking against the ULFA to a stranger is fraught with danger, as the person being spoken to may well be an ULFA member himself. I have yet to come across one sentence of vehement condemnation of ULFA’s activities or one statement renouncing the terrorist group by any individual, be it from the political circle or from the journalistic media. Even the All Assam Students Union and other student organizations prefer to lambast the government than risk saying or writing anything remotely insinuating against the ULFA. It is this paranoia that the ULFA is taking full advantage of. Under the ostensible objective of creating an independent country out of Assam, the ULFA leaders lead a lavish life in Bangladesh and are contributing to the economic prosperity of that country with money forcibly extorted from the people of Assam. It has become very easy for the terror groups in Bangladesh to operate in Assam with the help of the ULFA who know the terrain and the hideouts in the state so well. While all this continues to happen, no Assamese worth his salt can defy the ULFA in spite of the fact that ninety nine percent of Assamese are alienated from the ULFA and its evil designs. The prime reason for this is that the common people, the journalistic media and the business establishments are helpless. They would rather stand and watch than risk their lives, and maybe rightly so. Businessmen prefer to shell out money to these mercenaries than face their wrath. What then is the solution to this endless scourge? A mass revolution? Possibly. People will have to discard their fear and move as a mass against these terrorists, primarily the ULFA, because it is the ULFA who is responsible for providing encouragement and support to all the foreign terror groups to wreak havoc on Assam and its people. They (the ULFA) have taken refuge in the very country (Bangladesh) which has been the parasite in Assam’s flesh for decades. ULFA should be treated as all traitors should – without mercy. We will have to root out the evil from amongst our own people before we can tackle the external forces.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Coronation of Hope

Change has come to America in a big way this winter. Barack Obama has finally scaled the pedestal of power that is perhaps the most coveted in the world – the Presidency of the USA. He brings with him the hopes of the people of America, hopes of restoration of the golden times that existed in America prior to the onset of the threat of the economic Armageddon that is staring the country in the face today. Obama’s historic accession to the country’s highest office perhaps heralds the beginning of a new era in America – an era of true equality and opportunity for all, the very prescripts upon which this great nation was born 232 years ago. Americans have shown tremendous character in rising above petty racial prejudices in following their hearts to choose what is right for their country. Barack Obama has achieved what many would have thought unthinkable, in fact impossible just a few months ago. A man shorn of parental care at an early age and brought up in a society where blacks have always had to struggle to stand shoulder to shoulder with their fairer counterparts, Obama’s speedy progress to become a senator to being nominated for the presidential race and finally to clinch the most coveted seat of power on the planet with overwhelming numbers is nothing short of surrealistic. It is truly refreshing to see a member of a community which has long been the pariah on the lists of the privileged and which has always been on the fringes of a society dominated by whites embed his place so firmly in the hearts of millions of Americans, black and white, young and old. The rapid progress of Obama from relative political obscurity to occupy the highest office of the world’s most powerful country is truly akin to the stuff fairy tales are made of. Obama’s achievement is a also a victory for the vigor and exuberance of youth, and for the millions of young Americans who feel that America needs the vivacity and boldness of youth to bail the country out of the crisis that it finds itself in. However, the loudest cheer for Obama will definitely emanate from the decrepit ghettos and gloomy alleyways of America where millions of black people still endure the throes of neglect even as the rest of the country moved forward. In Obama, these underprivileged millions will look to find a messiah for alleviation of the iniquity and despondency that their lives have been cast into.
Whether Obama can live up to the enormous expectations that he has been burdened with upon his accession as America’s most important individual remains to be seen. Whatever happens, his magical ascent to the top reinstates the cogency one fact beyond doubt – that no destination is unreachable and no obstacle insurmountable so long as strength of resolve and self belief prevail. Obama’s accomplishments will without doubt inspire many an individual to rise above all odds to make a mark in this world. Let us hope Obama continues on his wondrous journey and succeeds in rescuing America and the world from the economic maelstrom that has engulfed one and all. Let us hope that the blacks in America finally get their rightful place in the hearts and minds of mainstream Americans. After all, the world lives on hope, and in Obama America has found a new personification of the same. Hope is what Obama has brought to his nation, and the nation’s hopes are what he will have to fulfill in his sojourn as America’s first gentleman.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Mumbai's Trial By Fire

In India, as perhaps in any other country, the inhabitants of any town, city or village are usually very proud of the culture and characteristics of the particular place of habitation. When viewed by a neutral observer, however, the same values that are loftily vaunted by the local residents may not appear that attractive, and rightly so. In this context, the super large cities (or metropolises) of India have unique characteristics of their own. Residents of each city proudly boast about the distinct cultures of their cities. Again, a dispassionate examination of these cultures may leave a lot to be desired and may also be mildly repulsive in certain cases. For example, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Bangalore have grown into great centres of cosmopolitan culture. Yet, most of these cities have some peculiar and inextricable characteristics that may put a new visitor in a state of unease on certain occasions. New Delhi is infamous for its notorious cabs and treacherous streets. Kolkata’s raw ethnicity may cause one to feel at sea. Chennai is known for its dislike of people unfamiliar with the local language and culture. Bangalore, too, has still not been able to totally rid itself of the ubiquitous ethnic flavor. That leaves us with just one more metropolis– Mumbai.

Without any disregard for the other great cities of India, Mumbai is distinctly disparate and with a unique charm of its own. It has that nondescript magnetism that has left many a visitor longing to return to the city over and over again. As I perceive it, the aspect about Mumbai that makes it so uniquely lovable is the amount of freedom it allows every person to spread his wings, live a life of his or her choice in the city. Mumbai is a city of the Mumbaikar, in every sense of the famous euphemism. It is not unusual for a newcomer to feel a bit edgy in an alien city but Mumbai is one city that makes you feel at home immediately with its air of friendliness and hospitality. Right from the moment a traveler lands in Mumbai, he or she gets taken in by the inescapable air of enchantment that pervades this great city, from the friendly cabbies to the hurrying masses, the unique local trains, the gaiety in the beaches, eateries and pubs. The city is so unobtrusive that it makes one feel at ease almost immediately. It is a celebration of life in its truest form. A resident of Mumbai has always been proud to be called a Mumbaikar. People living in the city have long forgotten their roots and have embraced the Mumbai way of life in its totality, in keeping with the immortal adage, “once a Mumbaikar, always a Mumbaikar”. It is virtually impossible for a Mumbaikar to imagine himself as anybody other than a part of the Mumbai culture, irrespective of his ancestral roots. Therefore, the recent violence in Mumbai on the lines of racial origin has come as a total shocker to one and all. Mumbaikars and tourists alike have been subject to a kind of apprehension and fear that is so very alien to this gregarious city. Mumbai has always stood up with remarkable defiance against all anti-social elements attempting to spoil its harmony and vivacity. Not even the deadly serial blasts and cataclysmic riots had succeeded in disrupting its rhythm for long. Today, Mumbai is facing a challenge of a different kind – a challenge from its own people. Racial demarcations hitherto unknown in this city are at this moment threatening to divide the city into insular pockets. The footfalls on the sidewalks are still as brisk as ever but somewhere deep in their minds, people are a bit apprehensive of what lies round the corner. Each Mumbaikar is now being reminded of his or her racial origins. The streets of the city have never been so treacherous as they are today. The minds of its citizens are being deluded into believing that not all people deserve equal treatment. In short, Mumbaikars are falling prey to politics of the ugliest kind without even being aware of what all this might lead to – destruction of the very fabric of the city. In spite of everything, I am confident that my Mumbai will ultimately emerge out of this examination as a much stronger and wiser city. It will take much more than a few deranged souls to undermine Mumbai’s resilience. The citizens of this great city will have to ensure that the spirit of freedom that has made Mumbai the most lovable city in India is protected. Should they fail, India will have lost more than a city. Mumbai symbolizes India’s exemplary success in preserving unity in diversity. Impairment of Mumbai’s culture in any way will mean decadence of that image, and the country will be that much the poorer for it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cartelization of Cricket

Cricket is no longer a game of bat and ball that is played for the sake of enjoyment and entertainment. Today, it is being transformed more and more into a game of money and politics. The game itself and the players are being relegated to the background. The controllers of the game, the ICC (International Cricket Council) has attained the status of not just a manager of cricketing affairs around the world but the very owners of the game itself. The players have been reduced to slaves of the governing bodies. They are not allowed to play in any other match or tournament which does not have the blessings of the ICC or the domestic cricket boards. Any player who dares to defy the ICC risks losing his right to play cricket for his country. The right of the game to spread and flourish is thus being held to ransom by the greed of a few individuals who may well have difficulty in spelling the name of the game, let alone play it. The bureoning parallel cricket body in India, the Indian Cricket League (or the ICL) is out to provide more opportunities for cricketers who have otherwise been given the cold shoulder by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India). The emergence of the ICL has caused a major flutter in the ranks of the BCCI and the ICC. The BCCI is already having nightmares of having to share the spoils of cricket extravaganzas with the ICL. It also means that the BCCI and the ICC can no longer sleep on their money and let the quality of player welfare languish as they are now. With competition from a second organization, the players will definitely prefer the organization which offers better pay packets and better welfare. In keeping up with such competition, the BCCI, which has so far been enjoying an unquestioned monopoly over cricketing affairs in India, may well find itself in a position where it has nobody left to control. This nightmarish vision has unnerved the BCCI and the ICC and propelled them into action. Through an autocratic decree, the BCCI in collusion with the ICC imposed a ban on all players playing for the ICL. In their desperation to protect their monetary control over cricket, the BCCI in collusion with the ICC is trying its level best to nip the ICL in the bud. It has even resorted to egregiously cheap tactics such as stopping the pensions of retired players who have joined the ICL. However unjustified it may sound, the ICC and the BCCI have been allowed to get away with their inequitable stance thus far.

Now, the flagrant politicisation of the game by the self styled "lords" of world and Indian cricket (read "ICC" and "BCCI") makes one ask a few pertinent questions. Should the ICC and the BCCI be allowed to get away with such unwarranted high-handedness for their selfish ends? Should the right t0 play cricket for one's country be the preserve of solely the affiliate boards of the ICC? Should not the players have the right to decide who they play under and still retain the right to play for their country? Is it the birthright of the BCCI to decide who is going to play for India and who isn't? I am sure that the ICC or the BCCI won't have any answers to these questions but to everybody else, the answers are very obvious and simple. It cannot be the prerogative of a single entity to control the laws and the future of a game. The game is much bigger than any individual or organization. Every organization and individual of this country and for that matter, any other country, has the right to contribute to the betterment of the game. The game cannot be slave to the whims and fancies of a few tight-fisted individuals. The objective of every game is to progress and to attain more and more popularity. To achieve this, it is essential that more and more cricket be played and more and more players be given the opportunity to blossom. So, rather than try to obstruct the progress of the ICL, the international cricket fraternity should welcome the creation of the ICL. In fact, more such organizations should be encouraged to come up. Alas, greed for money has muddied the game with subversive politics and unscrupulous individuals. As of now, it seems that the ICL will have to fight long and hard before it can earn its rightful place in the cricketing world. Of course, what is right will definitely prevail in the end, and when eventually that happens, and the ICL gets its due, more such organizations may come into the fray, and the game may finally be able to spread its wings lot faster than it is today.

Trapped in The Web

With the turn of the century, I graduated from inland letter cards to email; from landlines to mobiles; and from social visits to socia...