Tuesday, January 31, 2012

National Pledge for these Slapping Times!

India is my country and all Indian cheeks are my slapping boards.
I love my slaps and I am proud of its rich and varied publicity.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it; taking it from 
“Bas Ek Hi Maara’ to ‘Tees Maar Kha’.
I shall slap my leaders, teachers and all elders and treat everyone with disdain.
To my ego and my publicity, I pledge my slaps.
In their live coverage and publicity alone, lies my happiness.

(With due apologies!)

Ack: The second line of the pledge is a contribution from @cyberpungi

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Freedom of Expression and Internet—Some Myths

With the increasing penetration of internet and social media, society in general and governments in particular are faced with certain new challenges.  More and more human interactions and activities are now getting transferred from the real world to the virtual world, dissolving the very distinction between the two. 

The regulatory regimes for the real world are more or less settled across the globe.   However, the border defying nature of internet and the associated technological challenges are making it tough for the respective states to enforce their laws on the activities conducted through or over Internet.

Any effort by individual states to extend the law of that country to the affairs of Internet is met with a very high decibel campaign and protest.  Any such attempt is condemned as an affront to the right to freedom of speech- a fundamental right in countries like India. Let us analyse the reasons and factors behind the call for regulating Internet and the opposition thereto.

Is regulating Internet a major issue for the general public in any country? Not necessarily; when they have to deal with much more serious issues on a day to day basis.  However, the beneficiaries of the Internet are also the most important group that has the education and ability to influence public opinion in any country.  So, they are able to make a huge hue and cry over the curtailment of freedom of speech over the Net, as if all other freedoms are intact and absolute in their countries.

Why are we selective in our outrage over denial of freedoms? In my opinion, it is only because you and I are the beneficiaries of the Internet, that we raise our voices. In most other cases it is the poor and downtrodden, who are objects of the denial of freedoms and therefore we can sit back and watch the fun.

Is our cries justified? Yes and No. Yes, when a Government try to use draconian powers disproportionate to the objective, it is indeed justified. However, it is not justified to decry each and every measure that government introduce to enforce the law of the land over Internet.

Such universal opposition smacks of an unwillingness to abide by the laws and a lack of respect for rule of law.  It is the same attitude as jumping a red signal at traffic junction, as soon as we realise that there is no police constable monitoring the traffic.

Do you have a problem with the laws of your country? Do you think some of the laws need to be changed? By all means... go ahead and ensure such changes. For example, if you think Section 499 on Defamation or Section 298 on uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person, in Indian Penal Code (IPC), are impinging upon your right to freedom of speech, then demand removal of, or change in, those Sections.  But, so long as these provisions are part of the law, it is not fair to demand their exclusion to activities over Internet.

If a person commit an offence under any of the Sections of IPC, by publishing an article in a publication, not only the writer but also the publisher and editor of that publication would be liable to be proceeded against, in a court of law.  Present laws, or even the fundamental principle of Right to Freedom of Speech, do not provide any immunity to the writer/editor/publisher in such proceedings. 

When that is the case with real world why such an article published in a social media or any other sites must get immunity?  It defies any logic to say that, because the medium of dissemination change, the offence must be treated any differently!

Same is the case with intellectual property rights.  If a patent or copyright is protected under the law, why should that protection be denied to rightful creators/owners, over the Internet? Merely because it is easy to download copy and disseminate contents over Internet, should we exempt it from the IPR laws of a country? I can't find a reason why it should be so; though if a country does not want to provide such protection to the creators of IP, then they may remove the laws relating thereto and suffer the consequences! No one claim a right to piracy, isn't it?

Here comes another self-serving argument from the advocates for absolute freedom of Internet-  that the Internet is a media that was designed not to have any control whatsoever and it is technically not feasible to have any censorship or editing of the content, like in the print media!  How convenient an argument! Police can’t catch me- so my act is not a crime.  Come to think of it, aren’t we using that argument in most spheres of life?

In my humble opinion, it is the duty of the state’s Executive to find suitable measures to ensure that its laws are abided to.  If there is no technology that permits avoidance of a crime, they just have to find one at the earliest!

Second argument is about the glorified self-regulation.  Scan through the Twitter or Facebook messages and you will see that for all the good social broadcasting that is happening, there is an equal amount of criminal content also being disseminated over these media.  Lot of people only use these media to abuse and defame their opponents.  Besides, Twitter itself clarified recently that the most number of messages removed till date fall into the category of disseminating child pornography.  Now, are you saying that we should ensure the freedom of expressions of paedophiles?   

Yet another argument is that the Internet is borderless and therefore, we cannot enforce the laws a particular country to the entire world.  Again, we must leave it to the service providers and State machineries to find ways to tackle that.  The least expected from us individuals is not to question when a service provider is introducing measures to make country specific adherence to laws, like Twitter is proposing to do.

Finally, the argument about unfairness to the service providers!  The proponents of this argument says that unlike editors and publishers of print and electronic media who get a chance to preview the content before its publication, the service providers and hosting sites do not get a chance to preview the user posted contents. Well, it is a fair argument.  If I have to submit all my tweets for pre-scrutiny by Twitter staff and wait for their clearance, then I would rather prefer not to tweet.

But our State is also not that unfair, like many would like to portray.  When they realised this limitation of the medium, they have taken adequate measures to protect the service providers from any liability for posting third party contents.  (For those who are interested in knowing the Indian law relating to these aspects may kindly refer to my detailed post titled “Internet and Freedom of Expression- Other Side of the Coin”). Section 79 of India’s Information Technology Act, 2000 provides adequate exemption to the intermediaries for such liabilities. 

However, this exemption or immunity from liability provided to the intermediaries is subject to certain conditions.  These are:
  • Its function is limited to providing access to a communication system over which information is made available
  • It does not initiate transmission, select the receivers, or select or modify the information
  • It exercises due diligence and abides by any rules prescribed by authorities in this regard

Naturally, this exemption will not be available to an intermediary, if it has conspired or abetted or aided or induced, whether by threats or promise or otherwise, in the commission of the unlawful act.

 Further, exercise of due diligence would include that the intermediary, upon receiving actual knowledge, or on being notified by the appropriate Government or its agency that any information, data or communication link residing in or connected to a computer resource controlled by the intermediary is being used to commit the unlawful act, takes necessary action to expeditiously remove or disable access to that material on that resource, without vitiating the evidence in any manner.

So, the culpability of a service provider is restricted to offences in which it had actively participated.  In other words, passive provision of a media would not make them culpable.  For example, if I publish an offensive tweet of the Twitter or an offensive blog on the Blogspot, they will not be liable for that tweet or blog.

However, that immunity will be lost, if they refuse to remove an offensive content on being actually known about the existence of such offensive content in their site. From that moment on they become an accomplice with full knowledge of the offensive content, if they refuse to remove it within reasonable time. You may note that on acquiring such knowledge, they can review the content and take appropriate response- either to refuse the request if they consider the content not in violation of applicable laws or to remove it if they consider it offensive. Once a decision is taken, they cannot claim the innocence of an unknowing party!

In my opinion, the Intermediaries are required to use their judgement on reported third party content, in the same manner as print media editors and publishers do.  If they find the matter violating any law of any jurisdiction, remove that content from that jurisdiction. If they find the request unreasonable and illegal, just refuse it and face any possible legal action.   Same is with the third party who published that offensive content.  If he is aggrieved against a removal, then he can approach respective agencies including courts to get the removal nullified.

After all that little price we pay for benefits of a civilised society is to submit our disputes to an arbitrator; usually the courts!  Let courts decide what content is illegal or offensive as per law of the land.  Let the virtual world and the people behind that world also submit to the majesty of law, like all of us do in the real world, while constantly striving to reform the laws to meet the need of the changing times.

Lets us all be responsible for what we broadcast to the world.  Let the myth of absolute freedom of Internet be destroyed; lest the very Internet gets destroyed sometime soon, due to the weight of its anarchy!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Resurrection- The Book that changed my Life!

Can a book change one’s life?  When I hear the claims of people about the one book that changed their life, I often wonder!  Is our lives based on such shallow principles that one book and its ideas can change all that?

So, it was interesting for me to listen to a speech by the character of a superstar, played by the actor Mammootty, in one of my favourite Malayalam movies- Kadha Parayumbol (‘while the story being told’).  This was the same movie that got remade (not so successfully) in Hindi, by the name “Billu” or “Billu Barber”.  

While delivering a speech to children in a school, the superstar character spoke about the impact of art on the society.  Let me paraphrase the same from my not so good memory:

 “I don’t believe that cinema or art has so much influence on the society. There would not be many a mother in Kerala, who hasn’t cried listening to the famous poem of Vailoppilli Sreedhara Menon, ‘Mampazham’.  But even now, those very mothers would beat their children if they dare to break a bunch of flowers from the mango tree.  Nobody has stopped punishing or scolding their children, after reading Mampazham”.

The poem Mampazham (ripe mango) was about the tearful sorrow of a mother, on seeing the first ripe mango fallen from the tree in her courtyard, because she had scolded her only son, who is now no more, for plucking the flowers from that mango tree.  The child was upset and had declared to her that he would never go to that tree again; even to pick up the ripe mangoes.  Today, when the first ripe mango fell to the ground, she couldn’t control her tears as her son was not there to pick it up!

The character in the movie was establishing that there is not much influence that any art form can impose on our lives!   I am not sure if it is entirely true.  Definitely, there can be some influence from what we read, observe and learn. 

Arts and books in particular, open up ideas for us to imbibe and the accumulation of those ideas is what defines our character.  In that sense books might change our life.  But again, to believe that a single book can change a person’s life is little too much for me, in most cases.

Yet, I have one book that really changed my life. It is the novel named ‘Resurrection’ by Leo Tolstoy.  This being one of the lesser known works of the master novelist was not even known to me when I came across this book.   Again, I only vaguely remember the story line of that novel (about the guilt, and attempt at redemption, of a Noble and the view of human miseries though his eyes), though the book is still in my possession!

It is not the content, ideas, or message, per se, of that book, but the book itself, that changed my life.  Let me explain how!

I was one of those many children from rural India, who were deprived of the English medium education.  I must say, being fortunate to be born in Kerala, the standard of education available to me was far better than in many other parts of the country.  The government aided schools strived to impart all-round education, including seeding of ideological preferences.  However, in the rare occasions when we had to interact with the students of English medium schools from the city, we realised the huge difference that existed between us. 

You, especially from the younger generation and those from the metros, may think it is mere childish inferiority complex to talk so. But you will realise how it was for a child from those circumstances, if you know that till the age of 17, he has not; (i) read an English newspaper, (ii) not seen a TV, (iii) not seen an English movie or cartoon, (iv) not used a telephone; or (iv) had electricity at home!

In the early 1980’s, English medium education was still a luxury in Kerala, like most parts of the country, except in the larger cities. We, as students of Malayalam medium, were always told about the virtue and importance of mother tongue etc. We even heard the politicians opposing English education in schools.  However, it was very easy for any child to make out the different classes that existed within society, on the basis of skills in English language. 

By the time I completed my Pre-degree (equivalent to Plus Two), with minimum pass mark in English, I was in a position to read and barely understand English, but nothing more.  Speaking in English was still a distant dream.  I answered all the questions in my Air Force interview in 'yes' or 'no'.  Though this interview was my very first real conversation in English, I must have done something right, with my 'yes' and 'no', for they selected me into Air Force!

At the age of 17, when I entered the Admin Training Institute of Indian Air Force, I was for the first time forced to interact with people who did not know Malayalam at all.  The interactions in early days were really tough and often funny.  But, Air Force with its emphasis on English got me the necessary exposure to this wonderful language. I started picking up the bits and pieces of conversational skills in English.

Time flew and our first vacation came in six months. We all left for our homes, feeling very proud to return as government employees; that too nothing less than soldiers of Indian Air Force!   At home, with one month leave, I began the pleasant task of visiting all the relatives at their homes.  The freedom, of not being a student any more, was enormous. 

In one of those journeys to relatives’ houses, while waiting for my bus, I noticed a book exhibition.  Books were always my weakness. I started by reading the bits of newspapers used to pack groceries brought home.  School libraries were not worth the name. There were no public libraries within accessible distance from my home.  But I still managed to find and borrow books, from all possible sources.  Though, I had to hide them from my father, who did not believe in the virtue of reading anything other than text books, I still managed to get and read them all the time that I could find!

So, when I saw the books exhibition it was only natural for me to walk into that.  Now with my own hard earned salary in my pocket, I was free to buy any book!  I looked around and saw that a lot of the books were in English.  The exhibition, arranged by one of the Leftist publications of those days, Prabhat Books, had a large collection of Russian books.  Those glossy papers, large prints, beautiful covers were all too tempting for me- but for the fact that they were all in English and not the Malayalam translations.

Then I saw the ‘Resurrection’!

Leo Tolstoy was already familiar to me through Malayalam translations and reviews.  Also, the price of the book was very minimal with the then Soviet Government heavily subsidising it.  So, I couldn’t resist the temptation.  I thought, ‘why not buy this book? Even if I can’t read, understand and enjoy it, at least I can hold it in my hand with pride.  At the age of 18, we didn’t have anything like mobiles or i-pads to show off.  For us in Kerala, it was still the books and magazines that we carried in our hands to show off.

So, I ended up buying it.  Once bought, I ended up reading it.  Once read, I couldn’t resist it. Though, I still did not know a lot of words in the book, it was easy to understand the general flow and believe me; I fell in love with Leo Tolstoy! When I completed my training and got posted to New Delhi, my love for Tolstoy got further expanded to Fyodor Dostoyevsky and many more Russian writers; with generous help from the Soviet Government’s policy of subsidising the overseas propaganda- the benefit of which was evident in the number of book exhibitions in New Delhi.

While USSR did not succeed in converting me into a Communist (in fact, their subsequent Glasnost and Perestroika were catalysing forces for my turning into rather an anti-communist), their generosity definitely converted me into a voracious reader of English books. My interest soon grew beyond Russian literature and a large part of my still meager salary got spent in buying books.  The rich Air Force libraries also helped me in widening my reading interests.

In those days, I developed a habit of using the new words that I pick up from the books I read and using them in my conversations.  Air Force is one of the best places to pick up fairly good spoken English skills. In fact, I am indebted to my parents for giving me birth and to Indian Air Force for developing me into whatever I am today!  It was only because of my stint in Air Force, that I could undertake and achieve further education, beyond all my wildest dreams!

I left Air Force after completing 19 years of service and then dabbled for some time in writing law books and practicing law before entering the corporate world.   Today, I make a living out of my skills in English and I consider my journey as a great success both in terms of job satisfaction and in terms of monetary success (now drawing a salary that is 427 times of my first month’s salary). 

I know, I won’t remain for long in the corporate world and will surely seek other interests and new challenges, soon.  Today, I have the confidence to experiment with my life and my career, for I know I have that powerful tool– the English language, assisting and supporting me!

While I continue to love my mother tongue Malayalam, like I do love my parents; my respect for English is not any less than my respect for Indian Air Force or my gratitude to Resurrection for changing the course of my life!

PS: Most of this post came out in my ‘man-to-man’ conversation with my son, while explaining the need for, and the importance of, reading books.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to share it with all, through this post; for I believe I must keep attempting to write so as to spread at least some part of the wisdom that those numerous books introduced to me! One day, I hope I will be able to create a decent multi-lingual library in my village.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

E-Mail Tapping Controversy in Kerala – Some Questions

The Malayalam Weekly named Madhyamam, from Kerala, published an article which alleged that Kerala Police and the state Government were selectively targeting members of Muslim community, by tapping their email and profiling them.  It created a huge controversy in Kerala and was also taken up by the Opposition Leader VS Achuthanandan, to blame the Chief Minister and Government.

Facts however came out soon. Director General of Police inquired the matter and came up with explanation that the letter in question, written by the Intelligence Wing of Kerala Police to its own Cyber cell, was based on the email id’s recovered from a suspect who is under investigation.

When the email id’s were recovered from the suspect, what was Police supposed to do? Just throw them in the dust bin? Or verify those addresses and find out who the real persons are and what their connection with the suspect is? Presumably, the suspect is involved with the banned terror organisation, SIMI, and therefore his contacts become very important from intelligence gathering on terror activities. 

That was precisely what the Kerala Police did. They wrote a letter to the Cyber Cell to verify the addresses and Cyber Cell has since confirmed that they have not conducted any tapping of any of the e-mails.  Out of 268 id’s that were recovered 258 of them were of members of Muslim community. Police’ letter did not differentiate between the Muslims or others. They asked for verification of all.

While writing the letter for verification, the concerned officer (probably to justify the verification itself) wrote that the persons behind these id’s were suspected to be associated with SIMI.  Most likely he was referring to their suspected association to the SIMI activist under investigation. 

Madhyamam got hold of this internal letter of Police and published an article, stating that the letter was a proof of selective targeting of Muslim community.  In the process of strengthening their theory (or deliberately to create animosity among Muslims against the Government) they published extract of the list of id’s as proof; but not before fraudulently removing the Hindu and Christian names from that published part of the list and replacing them with other id’s of Muslims!

Madhyamam had the letter in their hand. There is no way Madhyamam can defend their action of fraudulent publication of a Police letter so as to deliberately give an impression that the Police was against Muslims only.

This action of the publication cannot be condoned on the ground of any freedom of expression. This is a criminal conspiracy and must be dealt with as such.  I am glad to know that, after initial reservations, Government is proposing to proceed against the publication. Right to Freedom of Expression does not include Right to Fraudulent Expression!

Whenever there is a terror attack, we all blame police and government for not being able to gather intelligence in advance so as to prevent such attacks.  How do you gather the intelligence, except by verifying and conducting surveillance over suspects and their contacts? Are our sentiments more valuable than the security of human lives?

When some media target the policemen who are doing their duty of gathering intelligence and investigating crimes in a legal manner, wouldn’t that affect their morale? Can we afford such deliberate intimidation of our officers?

Too many questions... I think it is waste of time to answer these questions as the answers are obvious to anyone who is interested in the welfare of this country and its people.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Being Digvijay Singh in today’s Politics

I never thought I would write a blog about a living politician!

It is not that I have anything against politicians; I refrain only because I don’t find most of them inspiring and I know no one would anyway, be willing to read with an open mind. Both the supporters and detractors of a politician have set notions about any him/her and any contrary views will not be accepted with openness.

However, Mr Digvijay Singh, the Congress General Secretary, changed that.  The reason is that, in my opinion, he stands out from today’s average Indian politicians!

Look at the amount of hate Mr Digvijay Singh manages to generate from a section of people. This section is thankfully not a majority, yet is very vocal and always striving hard to make sure other moderate views are not heard.

Let us see the factors that not only make him target of such negative attention but also earns my respect for him:

Grassroots Politics
In Indian politics, there are not many leaders who wouldn’t grab any executive positions that come across him/her.  So many out of job Chief Ministers have stopped working for their parties in their respective states and taken up ministerial positions in the comfort of New Delhi.  Digvijay Singh is an exception to this general rule. Instead of taking up any cabinet position that is his for asking, he has chosen to work for his Party in a state like Uttar Pradesh, where the Party stands completely decimated.

Compare this with other ‘tall’ leaders of Congress. When the stakes are down many of them go back to their primary careers like legal practice, only to come back and take up prime portfolios once the Party is back in power! Most of them do not believe in street level politics; that is below their inflated dignity!

Anti-corruption Politics
Consider Mr Singh’s position on Anna and his movement. Anna had in the past, closely worked with Mr Singh, when he was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.  Yet it did not deter Mr Singh to call the bluff of Anna’s movement, when vast majority of speaking India was still rallying behind Anna.  Time has proved Mr Singh right, with Anna and his Team not even knowing what to do next and more and more people now openly expressing their differences with the methods and demands of Team Anna.

Mr Singh was successful in drawing out the bad side of Mr Anna Hazare, when Anna demanded that Mr Singh be put in mental asylum for criticising the latter.  Many cheered Anna for saying that; but when he continued with “only one slap?” and “Flogging" etc, people generally understood the dark side of Anna.

Compare the stand of Mr Singh with the flip-flops of other Congress leaders. One day they arrest Anna; next day they beg him to go out of jail... One day they accuse Anna of corruption; next day they apologise... One day they refuse to talk to Anna; next day they send Cabinet Ministers as emissaries to him! 

Same was the case with Baba Ramdev as well.  Digvijay Singh was the only Congress leader to have consistently opposed Baba Ramdev and his so called apolitical movement.

Look at the quagmire that BJP President Gadkari has brought himself to fall into by challenging Digvijay Singh with a legal notice.  Digvijay Singh is still standing tall, having refused to apologise and expressing his willingness to fight Gadkari in court, while Gadkari is struggling to save himself from the avalanche of serious allegations.

Minority Politics
Digvijay Singh has been consistent in taking up minority related issues. In India, with experiments between soft Hindutva and hard Hindutva taking root among political parties and the general labelling of Muslims as proponents of terror, the silent India was finding it increasingly difficult to stand up for issues related to minorities, especially, Muslims.  Politicians generally are seen maintaining the equivocal positions so that they are not seen as anti-Hindu.  The interested parties have succeeded in branding anyone who speaks out for Muslims and their rights as anti-Hindu!

Against this backdrop, Digvijay Singh consistently takes up issues concerning Muslim community. I may not agree with some of those issues that he raised.  Yet I admire his willingness to take up those issues. Let me explain why.

In September 2011, the fiction writer Chetan Bhagat ventured into political writing and in an article titled “Don’t let them divide and rule anymore”  and asked Indian Muslims not to be ‘a hindrance in the change that the “significant part of population” is craving for. I found the Article highly accusatory and putting all the blame for Nation’s woes on the shoulders of Muslims, because they chose to vote in a manner in which ‘they have put their religion before Nation’! I wrote a post in reply, titled What Chetan Bhagat Actually Said to Indian Muslims? calling the bluff of Chetan Bhagat’s arguments against Muslims and the fallacy of his reasoning.  The overwhelming response I received from Indian Muslims and moderate Hindus was very heartening.  It convinced me that not all Indians are as parochial and bigoted as it was being made out on the social media and Internet by sections of ‘speaking India’.

That response made me think about the role Digvijay Singh is playing.  The Muslim community in India has been generally made to feel defensive, due to attacks on them for many reasons that include atrocities of Mughal rulers, partition, terror attacks in the name of jihad, Kashmir and so called appeasement of minorities by ‘pseudo-secular’ parties.  They are declared guilty, even for the Pakistan flags hoisted by anti-social elements from Sri Ram Sena and bomb blasts conducted by extremist elements from Hindu community.

It is unfortunate that currently, there are no credible leaders in Muslim community to defend their cause in public discourse. Mostly they are represented in these talks like Deoband type Mullahs or discredited politicians. Even the silent majority form Hindu community keeps mum due to the fear of being branded as pseudo- secularists or sickulars.  Therefore, when someone from Hindu community or mainstream politics dares to speak up, it comes as a great reassurance to those Muslims who are as Indians and loyal to India, as anybody else is. 

For example, Let us take the issue of Batla encounter.  We all know how Police version can be misleading in matters related to encounter killings.  I am not saying all encounters are stage managed or to be condemned.  Encounters sometimes become necessary and advisable.  However, if victims or any section of the society expresses doubt over a specific encounter it is the duty of the State to conduct proper inquiry and make sure the doubts are cleared, because fake-encounters are not uncommon and in the words of Supreme Court itself, “Fake encounter killings by cops are nothing but cold-blooded brutal murder which should be treated as the rarest of rare offence and police personnel responsible for it should be awarded death sentence“. For more on this, please read my earlier post “Encounters and Firing at Mobs: Can we take the Police versions at face value?” involving another encounter case from Delhi itself.

However, no main stream political leader worth mentioning, other than Digvjay Singh, took up the issue of Batla encounter, in spite of serious doubts being raised on the encounter as well as killing of one of the Police officers involved in that encounter.  Now for all I know Batla may have been a perfectly legal encounter. But don’t the relatives of victims have a right to raise doubts and demand an inquiry? If main stream leaders shun such issues, where will they go? To the unscrupulous religious leaders who are ready to milk the negative sentiments for their own agenda?

That is where Mr Singh’s taking up of the issue becomes important. He gave voice to the aggrieved people and thereby prevented their further alienation. Had government too responded with more empathy and instituted an inquiry into the incident (even if the inquiry ultimately found that the encounter was genuine) that would have acted much more positively in increasing the loyalty of people towards our State. Because "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." 

At the cost of repeating, it will be foolhardy to leave the minorities to the ‘minority leaders’ alone.   The Need of the hour is assimilation and that can only be achieved through empathy and support; not through confrontation and insults.

Sangh Parivar Politics
It is no secret that for RSS and its extended Parivar of Hindu right wing groups, Mr Digvijay Singh is the enemy No.1.  RSS even tried to discredit him by publishing photographs of their own meetings in which Mr Singh attended in the past!  Mr Singh also does not hold his punches when it comes to RSS Parivar.   This open tussle again makes Digvijay Singh different from other political leaders. 

We have seen lot of political leaders trying to show off their soft Hindutva side so that they are in the good books of the ‘majority community’.  However, no such ambivalent stand for Mr Singh.  He is consistent in attacking and exposing RSS parivar. Coming from a person who proudly declares that “I am a good practising Hindu unlike most of the VHP Leaders who have collected funds for Ram Temple and used it for political purpose”, the criticism hurts the Sangh Parivar most.  For them, Digvijay Singh represents that vast majority of Hindus who are not willing to surrender to their parochial agenda that is based on exclusivist ideology and in fact against the tenets of Hinduism itself. They know very well that this practising Hindu from an erstwhile royal family has enough credibility when it comes to speaking on Hindu’s matters, unlike minority leaders or other political leaders who are not Hindu enough.  They cannot attack Mr Singh on the ground of his ancestry, like some of them do against Prime Minister who is a Sikh, or UPA Chairperson who is a Christian, by birth. 

To add fuel to the fire, he is apparently the one mentoring Rahul Gandhi in transitioning from a Gandhi scion to a true grassroots leader and seemingly doing not so bad job at that (in any case a better job than what others would like him to do)!

My single most important complaint against Congress party today is that it depends more on lawyers and less on real politicians.  Mr Digvijay Singh is one exception to that.  He is a true political leader; therefore, he is able to speak and stand up for what he considers right and take up and deal with issues politically.  One may agree or disagree with what Mr Digvijay Singh may speak; but one cannot neglect what he is speaking.  All his detractors have learned that.  No wonder he is the Congress politician who is subjected to maximum abuse in the virtual world, even more than Mrs Sonia Gandhi herself. 

Mr Singh has had his failings as well but that is true for every human being including politicians.  I analysed only certain aspects of him that I value and that makes him stand out in the crowd.   I know some readers might disagree with me; but then we are all entitled to our own views!

Of late I have been told by many people on Twitter to stop mentioning him or even re-tweeting his tweets.  To them, always my answer is Digvijay Singh is one politicians from the Congress side whom I respect and also that it is not good manners on Twitter to tell others what to tweet or what not to tweet! 

Updated on 25 October 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

Love Vs Trust

One day, a friend on Twitter tweeted a question that triggered a conversation between us.  Let me paraphrase that conversation:

Friend: “Who is the man a girl should love most?” 

I: “The one who is dependable and whom she trusts most” 

Friend:  “I think a girl must love her father most”

I: “You mean, including that father from Kerala who raped his own minor daughter and then presented her to others for money?!”

Friend: “I knew you will bring that worm as an example. Those are exceptions. But a girl should love her father most”

Conversation ended there.  But the subject refused to leave me, forcing me time and again to consider the inter se equation and relative primacy of love and trust.

What is more important in human relationships? It is Love or is it Trust? Is there a relationship, or should there be a relationship, between Love and Trust?  Can we love someone without trust? Or can we still love someone when we know our trust has been violated? 

I don’t have any definite answers to these questions. But let me share my thoughts on these questions so that, hopefully, we will be able to arrive at better answers (for I am sure there are no perfect answers to these questions). 

When I asked myself the question what is more important to me, Love or Trust, the answer came immediately.  For me the Trust is much more important than Love.  If someone loves me, it is more of that person’s business than mine.  But if the same person trusts me, it places an onus on me to live up to that trust.   In other words, Trust places a duty on me to reciprocate; Love doesn’t.

Same applies to the opposite too.  If I love a person it is a feeling which is internal to me.  I would love that person irrespective of what that person’s action/reaction is.   Love is a one way feeling.  If someone says Love has to be both ways, I will have to disagree with that.  If Love happens to be flowing both ways, well that is a lucky bonus for me.  We love many things without expecting those things to love us back. Then, why do we expect reciprocity in human relationships?

But Trust is definitely different.  The very concept of Trust involves a two way relationship.  Can we go one trusting a person if that person is not ready to live up to our trust?  Wouldn’t that be foolish if we go on trusting someone who has not lived up to our expectations?

It is also important in our life to understand and differentiate Love and Trust.  When we mix these two feelings, we might end up losing both.   In our conversation, I did indeed mix Love and Trust.  I suggested that a girl love the person whom she can place her trust.  But having thought through it more, I now believe my answer was wrong.  A girl (or a boy) will love a person towards whom s/he feels love, irrespective of that person’s reaction.  That has nothing to do with Trust.

For obvious reasons, the answer suggested by my Friend was also wrong.  To say that girl must love her father most is to try achieving Love through prescription.  Being a father or mother or spouse or child does not automatically make one object of love.  That feeling must rise in the heart/mind of the lover.

Loving someone whom we trust may still be advisable to trusting someone whom we love.  The latter could be a disaster in the making.  Living up to another’s trust has nothing to do with love. It is a matter of honour and duty than of Love.  A person who is perfectly in love may still cheat if he is not a person who is bound by honour and duty.  That does not make the person’s Love any less intense.   It only shows one cannot trust that person, though he may still be loved.

In my opinion, Love is an irrational feeling; it requires no reason.  But same is not true for Trust.  Trust must be based on solid reasons.  

We must have reasons (at least a judgement) for us to trust or distrust another person.  It may be based on our past experiences; feedback that we receive from others or even mere gut feeling.  We got to be conscious that while trusting someone we must make a critical choice unlike while loving someone we may just listen to what our heart dictates.  I do not agree with Ernest Hemingway when he says “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”. That way, it will be too late when you actually find out the answer. 

Love may come straight from the heart but Trust must arise from the mind

This Love-Trust dichotomy becomes more important when we move from family and personal ties to corporate ties.  Here, the Love is often termed ‘Like’. But the mistake of mixing the Love with Trust continues. I have seen many an otherwise astute businessman/entrepreneur/leader committing the mistake of allowing personal likes to dictate their business decision relating to other individuals.  Many of them even refuse to admit the need for entering into proper legal relationships because they like the other party and they confuse that Like with Trust.

When the realities of business subsequently affect the ‘Love’, the Trust becomes the first casualty. By then, there is no proper mechanism in place to deal with the relationship. The mistake continues to be perpetuated by confusing Like or Love with Trust.

Before I conclude, let me state that I am still not convinced about the concept of true love or unconditional love.  I am yet to see some.  The least (!) that most lovers expect from their loved ones is complete trust and we know meeting expectations of trust is not very easy.  But more on that in another post!

In personal and family relationships we must be able to give more emphasis to Love than demanding complete Trust; whereas in public/official relations we must emphasis Trust than depending on our individual Love or Like. That, in my opinion, is the best way to balance our relationships!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kanaran’s Message- Learn to Respect Capital

Cheriyerikkandi Kanaran is no more. This New Year arrived with the news of Kanaran’s death.

No...Don’t bother to search your memories. In all likelihood you haven’t heard of Kanaran, unless you are from Thachankunnu area of Payyoli, in Kozhikkode (Calicut) district of Kerala. As far as I know, the only person from Payyoli to be known outside Kerala is the Payyoli Express, Ms PT Usha.

Kanaran was the biggest capitalist known to me in my childhood.  Fed on an overdose of Communism, I was very much conscious about the evil called bourgeoisie, even in my primary school days.  For me, capitalism and capitalists were suckers of human blood and their hard work and therefore supposed to be hated by every ‘progressive’ human being.

Kanaran being owner of the largest grocery shop in our area was the only bourgeois known to my eyes; Tatas and Birlas being mere names that I kept hearing. 

Kanaran wore impeccable white dhoti (Mundu) and white shirt made of Khadi cloth.  His shop did not only retail trade but also wholesale supplies to the smaller traders in and around our place.  Some of the items that we used less frequently were available only in his shop and therefore I had to visit his shop occasionally (mostly during the festival days when my family prepared feasts).

It was during one of those visits, that I overheard Kanaran speaking some basic truths about Kerala’s political and economic scene of those days (not much different even today).  He, in his beaming voice said to some customer, “You speak of tyranny of capitalists (Muthalitham), But I say it is all about tyranny of labourers (Tozhilaitham).  Go to Valiangadi at Kozhikode (the famous of wholesale market of Calicut) and see for yourself. If you have money and a room you can, any day, go and set up a shop there and start trading. There is no monopoly in trade at all.  But if you have to start working as a Head Load Worker (coolie) in that market, you have to pay tens of thousands as fees to the labour unions functioning there, just to get you the permission”.

I was shocked to hear that.  Even to work as a labourer, one needs to pay bribes? That too, to trade unions who are supposed to protect the workers? While I was still sceptic about the truthfulness of those words and wanted to believe that they were mere allegations of a class enemy, the thoughts refused go out of my mind and made me more alert to the hard realities of life and society.  It made me reconsider the stereotypes that are deliberately injected into our thought process.

Later, I had a firsthand experience when one of my schoolmates ended up being a Head Load Worker in the very same Valiangadi of Calicut by paying Rs 40,000 to a Trade Union controlled by a Left Party. Rs 40,000 was still a huge sum in 1980s! He confirmed to me the monopoly over the labour market and how Trade Unions made huge money by merely selling the right to work!

Time changed. I moved out of Kerala. More exposure to life and a pair of open eyes and an open mind taught me much more realities of life.  Perestroika and Glasnost in Russia destroyed the last standing ‘Promised Land’. 
I realised Man, Machine and Money have equal importance in any human endeavour. The more I worked, with start-ups and small & medium sized enterprises, the more I learned that behind the success of any human endeavour are Man in the form of labour, Machine in the form of technology/ideas/tools and Money in the form of capital.  Many a great idea could be merely wasted in the absence of any of these three factors.

Can we discriminate among these factors of human endeavour and hold one as evil and other as godly? I do not think so.  Each of them has its own role to play and the interdependence is complete.  In fact, my experience shows that, if at all, the primacy is for the capital, as capital is inevitable for attracting and retaining the other factors. 

Our society has a peculiar relationship with capital.  Deep inside we seem to be jealous of those who are controlling capital and wanting to acquire the same control, yet in public we only have disdain towards them.  Most of our social leaders and politicians do not miss any chance to hold the controllers of capital as the reason for all the ills of the society, and therefore to be kept under tight leash.  The whole philosophy of our license raj stemmed from this and we all know how that retarded the economic well being of this country for so long.

I don’t know if Kanaran was a capitalist; but I know I am not one.  I believe in the welfare role of the State and the efficacy of measures like state funding, subsidiary etc in development of the society.  I also believe that unbridled free enterprise will not be suitable for a society with unequal inhabitants and therefore there is a need of a role, as an umpire or regulator, for the State.

But I do strongly believe, that like most other matters in life, this aspect is also not in black or white but in some shade of the grey.  The interest of the human beings as a whole will not be served, either by surrendering to the absolute control of Money (thereby neglecting the other factors- Man and Machine) or by vilifying the Money as evil.

We must learn to respect Money as an essential ingredient in the development.  While checks and balances are welcome to ensure its proper use, we must ensure that impediments, in the name of narrow political or ideological preferences, are not placed in the way of genuine capital flowing into or within our society.

I don’t think Kanaran would have minded if another trader set up a new shop in the vicinity or increased investments in an existing shop. He was not seeking any monopoly in his trade.  But our collective fear of capital, for whatever reasons or agendas, is preventing our endeavours reaching their full potential; be it in retail, airlines or insurance, to name a few sectors.

Hope our leaders would show enough wisdom to throw away their ideological baggage and accord the Money, a respect that it deserves.  Capital should be welcome so long as its use is not detrimental to the objectives of our nation. State’s role should be that of a facilitator and an umpire than mere gate keeper.

Kanaran is dead. But his words will keep reverberating in my mind whenever I hear of anyone talking about the inter se primacy of labour and capital or anyone vilifying capital.