Matter of Choice
Lest We Forget
Our Preferred Tongue
I Came, I Saw, I Messed up
Matter of Record
Matter of Choice
I can, I’m sure, take a very safe bet that you have, dear readers, seen a Bollywood soap opera where the hero is a dashing, sword buckling debutante around. He is reputed to have a lot of wealth, both earned and inherited. And most interestingly, he’s, though well prime his youth, still an eligible bachelor. In the same town – I’m talking of course of a fictionalized Mumbai – there are two reputed beauties in search of a suitor. No, I don’t have in mind a film version of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. It is instead the case of what you may call An Eligible Bachelor.
If you’re a film buff like me, you can easily imagine what happens next. Each of the two heroines bends backwards to win the heart of her hero. Both are all out to do anything to win him. The only trouble is that either can win. Both cannot for two reasons. First, this god-damned institution of monogamy and secondly, as the Hindi proverb puts it, in picturesque imagery, two swords cannot fit in one scabbard. Hereafter, I leave it to your imagination as to who wins, and far more important, what does the loser do?
Allow me to move very fast forward. And move from the world of celluloid to the cruel cut-throat world of realpolitik. The heart they are vying for is that of Narendra Modi’s and the two damsels are Japan and China.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, so say those who’re in the know of things, follows only three personalities on Twitter. One is India’s newly minted Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Were you surprised when Abe dispatched a congratulatory tweet to Modi minutes after it became clear that the latter would move to 7 Race Course Road in New Delhi? Modi’s tweet in response read, “I am sure we will take India-Japan ties to newer heights.” It sounded as though the two politicians were continuing a previous conversation rather than forging a new relationship.
Much of Shinzo Abe’s economic reforms in Japan that he’s staking his future on, will not bear fruit without a significant emerging market driving the growth of Japanese industry. Japanese exports to China declined by 18% in the last year. Remember the controversy over the Senkaku (or Diaoyu, in Chinese) Islands!
Meanwhile, many Japanese companies well entrenched in India suffered at the hands of the previous outgoing UPA government. Mitsubishi and Honda were slapped with tax recovery notices to the tune of US$2.6 billion following a retrospective amendment to a tax law in India. All this makes Modi look like a white-bearded, kind Samurai savior in the eyes of Abe’s business-minded constituents.
Japan has been cultivating India as an export destination for a long time by funneling investment into big ticket infrastructure projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai corridor. Abe would like this trend to continue. Modi should consider inviting Japanese investment in its Northeast region in reply to China’s claim over what it calls South Tibet. Modi has already inducted a retired army general to supervise the impending boost to infrastructure in this region.
Modi is a self-confessed Ahmedabadi businessman. He has managed to cultivate an equally friendly relationship with China. More surprising is the fact that the Modi-China relationship is now burdened with exactly the same expectations as the relationship between Modi and Abe.
Chinese engineering, procurement and construction contractors are thirsting for a bigger slice of the $1 trillion infrastructure outlay in India over the next five years.
India too has spruced up its wish list. Last month, the country’s first ever service sector delegation to China reached Beijing making a case for Indian information technology and pharmaceutical companies that have been struggling to make headway in the China’s domestic market.
China is rushing this week its foreign minister to New Delhi to ensure that Modi does not overlook its interests as he gets down to business. With the India-China border dispute being tamed by a joint dialogue mechanism over the past several years, the stage appears to be set for a decisive barter where both parties are completely aware of what the other wants in the economic sphere. You’ll be surprised how, for the first time, the Chinese state media has provided an extensive coverage of an Indian general election. Interestingly, Modi has an unusual advantage. His name can easily be pronounced in Mandarin.
The courting of Modi by Japan and China certainly resembles a Bollywood plot. Watch it carefully as it unfolds.
Haven’t you, of late, been missing the foot-in-the-mouth statements of the new Hon’ble Ministers? I, indeed, have been. That is one of the entertaining attributes of democracy as form of Government that it provides free entertainment to public. I tried to ascertain why there have been no press conferences held by ministers and later the claims that they had been misquoted.
Insiders tell me that the ministers have been told by the PM that they cannot go to the press directly. The spokespersons of ministries get to hog all the limelight. Plus, this will insulate the Modi government from having union ministers turn into loose cannons with the potential of embarrassing the government, which was such an enjoyable fun in the good old days of UPA I and II when we really didn’t mind a Prime Minister on permanent maun vrat i.e., the vow of silence.
And what a pity the Ministry spokespersons, on their parts, speak in measured tones and that too from prepared texts.
Lest We Forget
And talking of gags look at how China chose to report the 25th anniversary of what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
You remember the protests began in April 1989 as a demonstration by university students in Beijing to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, the reformist Communist Party chief who had been ousted by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. They grew into broader demands for an end to corruption as well as calls for democracy.
The student-led popular demonstrations received broad support from city residents, exposing deep splits within China's political leadership. The protests were forcibly suppressed by hardline leaders who ordered the military to enforce martial law in the country’s capital. The crackdown that was initiated on June 3–4 became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or the June 4 Massacre as troops with assault rifles and tanks inflicted casualties on unarmed civilians trying to block the military's advance towards Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing, which student demonstrators had occupied for seven weeks.
The Chinese government condemned the protests as a “counter-revolutionary riot”, and has prohibited all forms of discussion or remembrance of the events since. No wonder estimates of the death toll range from a few hundred to a few thousand.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi firmly decided to address everyone in Hindi and Hindi alone. He obviously had arrived at this decision long before he took over as PM. All through his campaigning he used Hindi alone as a vehicle of communication with the masses. During his widely telecast TV interviews he patiently replied in Hindi what he was questioned often enough in English. And all through his rather elaborate swearing-in and parleys with heads of SAARC nations, the P M’s chosen language was Hindi and Hindi alone. Surely, like A B Vajpayee he would, in September, be addressing the UN General Assembly in Hindi.
Let’s not forget the Indian constitution, in 1950, declared Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. Originally, it was stipulated that unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e., on 26 January 1965. The prospect of the changeover, however, aroused misgivings in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, especially Dravidian-speaking states whose languages are not related to Hindi. As a result, Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act, 1963, which provided for the continued use of Hindi for official purposes along with English, even after 1965. This Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not end until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language. The current position thus is that the Union government continues to use English in addition to Hindi for its official purposes.
English is more than an imperial hangover, however. The language has been the linguistic bridge of choice in our diverse country. It has value as a language that belonged to no one and thus could belong to everyone. But it also imposed its own hierarchy. It’s been used not just a language of communication but also as a language to silence others, scoring points on basis of accent rather than content.
All that Modi is signaling is we cannot forever continue communicating to each other in a foreign language. Even Sonia Gandhi Hindi is preferable to the Bara-Babu-style-your-most-obedient-servant-English. The perceived danger is whether in shearing English of its privilege, Modi is ushering in a linguistic triumphalism. Far from that, in my opinion. The way everyone chose the language of his choice during the oath-taking ceremony, is an encouraging reminder that diversity has nothing to be afraid of.
I Came, I Saw, I Messed up
He came, he saw, he messed up. That’s the story of Arvind Kejriwal. And also of the Aam Aadmi Party. The resounding defeat at the polls barring some seats in Punjab has sent out the message – loud and clear – that the public is no longer ready to be taken in any more by political extravaganzas. All those who had clambered on the AAP bandwagon are deserting one after the other.
One of first to desert the sinking ship was V Balakrishnan, the former Infosys CFO who will live to rue the day he declared AAP to be the “most successful startup by an IIT-ian ever”. He’s today, understandably, mum. Capt. G R Gopinath, whose own start-up Air Deccan lost its footing seven years ago, read the writing on the wall and quit the party. That seasoned political opportunist and the founding member, Shazia Ilmi has also exited. So have Anjali Damania and Yogendra Yadav.
What lesson does one draw from the rise and fall of AAP? The common man is still prepared to look up to any new god to show the path but has by now matured enough to get disillusioned pretty fast.
Matter of Record
It seems PM does mean business and he’s in a hurry to get things moving. One of his latest measures to streamline our proverbially slow-paced bureaucracy is his 11-step program to help make babus work better. Government offices have also been given a week to remove unnecessary files that clutter offices.
This drastic step reminded me of a story that a senior bureaucrat at Kolkata’s Writers’ Building told me years ago. He narrated how a young British ICS officer had his first posting in Siliguri. He was appalled – anyone will be – at the sight of thousands of files stacked in the store rooms with a few inch thick layer of dust. Bara Babu, the senior most member of the Establishment, confirmed that never in the last forty years had any one of them been ransacked. It was all useless decades old stuff. The young man in his fit of enthusiasm sent a proposal to Calcutta as my beloved town was then called, to shred the old record.
The matter remained under consideration for a few months. Our friend’s persistence converted that into active consideration. It was then followed up vigorously. Consequently, orders were issued. The operative part of the order read: “the old records may be destroyed after making a copy of the same.”
Modi or no Modi, long live bureaucracy and its ways!