July 26, 2007

Where is the citizen?

"We wanted only a Muslim candidate for vice-presidential elections", a daily quoted a senior Left leader on why they chose Hamid Ansari. And every other party fell in line.

It was not that everybody, just by sheer divine coincidence zeroed in on a Muslim, but all of them wanted it. It has become so obvious and natural to emphasise the need and assert the demand for a Muslim or anyone other than a Hindu that none found it pertinent to ask a question, even in a feeble voice, why sir, didn't you say, we need a deserving Indian?

Although personally I find all the three candidates good, people who have brought the vice-presidential election to a far superior and dignified level than the murky Presidential one, yet the reason behind the selection of "only Muslim" candidates is a disturbing one for India's secular fabric. It's nothing but a brazen manifestation of a reactionary secular-communalism being practiced by all – without even a face-saving exception.

Why has being an Indian become a matter of less significance than being a Muslim, Christian, Yadav, or a backward? This fragmentation of polity is a result of a fragmented society and weakening of a pan-national outlook. The thread that binds Indians and India together was never a political one but cultural and civilisational. That is being abused by political expediency so much that it has been strained to the limit of breaking up.

So far, a strong sense of nationalism, a pride in being an Indian, and equally in our Hindu identity - i.e. a majority that has woven the nation's extreme corners into a oneness of cultural flow -- from Parashuram Kund and Rukmini's Bhishmak Nagar in Arunachal to Hanuman's Andamans, Sindhu's (Indus) Ladakh and Krishna's Dwarka to Rama's bridge of victory over the wicked in Rameshwaram -- held us together. It's our grandmother's concept of unity in diversity that has survived the vicissitudes of millenniums, and the same is now under threat from those who do not have any feeling for the past, no vision for the future but try to earn their daily bread of governance walking present times with their sullied footmark.

July 25, 2007

Londonistan Calling

They say that the past is another country, but let me tell you that it's much more unsettling to find that the present has become another country, too. In my lost youth I lived in Finsbury Park, a shabby area of North London, roughly between the old Arsenal football ground and the Seven Sisters Road. It was a working-class neighborhood, with a good number of Irish and Cypriot immigrants. Your food choices were the inevitable fish-and-chips, plus the curry joint, plus a strong pitch from the Greek and Turkish kebab sellers. There was never much "bother," as the British say, in Finsbury Park. Greeks and Turks might be fighting in Cyprus, but they never lifted a hand to one another in London. Many of the Irish had republican allegiances, but they didn't take that out on the local Protestants. And, even though both Cyprus and Ireland had all the grievances of partitioned former British colonies, it would have seemed inconceivable—unimaginable—that any of their sons would put a bomb on the bus their neighbors used.

July 18, 2007

If We Don't Call Them Names, the Terrorists Win

After the terrorist near misses in London and Glasgow, British officials did the expected. They raised their nation's threat-assessment level. They weighed the balance between civil liberties and new, tougher security measures. They pondered the latest fold in the elaborate tapestry before them, the possibility of a privileged jihadist cell tucked into the country's National Health Service.

Finally, they produced the usual morally namby-pamby, logistics-heavy rhetoric about getting to the bottom of each case. They sounded deadly serious about investigating the attempts, deadly uninterested in morally judging what happened.

"We are on the trail," a senior Whitehall official immediately told The Sunday Times of London, and so, as subsequent arrests indicated, they were. London Mayor Ken Livingstone urged city residents to remain vigilant. Lord Carlile of Berriew, a top British terrorism official, upped the ante by admonishing Londoners to be "forever vigilant." New Prime Minister Gordon Brown declared, "We will not yield, we will not be intimidated, and we will not allow anyone to undermine our British way of life."

July 17, 2007

Young and Restless in Tehran

In one of her book's sillier moments, Iranian-American journalist Azadeh Moaveni recounts her attempt to totter home on the streets of Tehran after one too many drinks at a friend's party. Doing so, she explains, was a dangerous proposition: Had she been stopped by the Basiji, the regime's Islamic vigilantes, she might have been sent to the local precinct and subjected to a virginity check. Her friend, aware the situation was potentially disastrous, flags down a passing garbage truck and hauls them both inside. "We occupied the stinking, one-foot gap between the trash and the cabin," she explains. "Do. You. Realize. What. You've. Done? This is garbage! I'm being transported with refuse. This is madness. Why don't you people revolt or something?" But then, as the truck lurches along, she suddenly feels a warm sense of security settle over her. "With someone who knew the gaps in the rules," she muses happily, "there is adventure to be had behind the grim, rigid fa├žade of the Islamic Republic."

Adventure? To the outside eye, Iran looks like a monochromatic palete of law-abiding Islamic citizens, a place where drugs, partying, sex, and even romance appear not to exist. This is particularly the case today, a year and a half after the departure of President Mohammad Khatami from office. Khatami's initial efforts to shift the focus from an "Islamic" to an Iranian national identity, and to dissociate physical appearance from the character of the regime (he once stated that "just because someone shaves his beard does not mean that he is not a practicing Muslim") led in the early years of his presidency to a slackening of certain rules that had once defined the public sphere. For a brief yet buoyant historical moment, couples strolled down the streets hand in hand; hejabs revealed bare ankles, and veils a few inches of hairline; and boys drove their dates home late at night. True, the changes were modest, but many people, both in Iran and in the West, saw in them the first, faint glimmer of democracy to come.
The landslide election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005, however, just one year after the conservatives re-took the Majiles (parliament), revealed the Iran of Khatami to be little more than a prettier cage. On account of the discord and disorganization among the reformists' ranks, the fierce and underestimated determination of the mullahs to retain their grip on the state, and, finally, the United States' designation of Iran as one-third of the "Axis of Evil" after September 11–a move that allowed the regime to crush opposition in the name of "national security" Iran's homegrown democratic movement appears to have been stopped dead in its tracks.
At least, this is how it appears on the surface.


July 16, 2007

Indian Bureaucrats Make for Lousy Wheat Traders

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- If bureaucrats in New Delhi really possess the ability to predict wheat prices in Chicago, they should be given trading limits urgently.
They don't have any such clairvoyance, something proved last week when the Indian government reinstated a tender to import 1 million tons of the grain, less than a month after canceling it. At the time, it judged the price being offered by Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. to be too high.
Between then and now, the price of wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade has moved up to $5.7150 per bushel from $5.1075, a 12 percent jump. On 1 million tons, the difference works out to $22 million.
``This is sheer mismanagement,'' economists Sumita Kale and Laveesh Bhandari at New Delhi-based Indicus Analytics, a research firm, wrote this week in their newsletter. ``Surely the government should have learned from last year's experience?''
Last year, the government was caught napping.

July 13, 2007

Rise and fall of a comic genius

So now we know. Springfield, Vermont, has been named official home of The Simpsons. For this month, that is. The Simpsons Movie, it has just been announced, will get its world premiere there on July 21. The Vermont venue beat 13 other identically named US towns in the competition to host the event, having had to prove how similar they were to the fictional Springfield inhabited by America's number one animated family. Vermont citizens clinched the prize with their own video, in which a Homer lookalike gets pursued through the streets by a giant runaway pink doughnut. Having a nuclear plant nearby no doubt helped the town's bid.