Showing posts with label Manmohan Singh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Manmohan Singh. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Open Letter to Anupam Kher: I Come in Peace


Anupam Kher at the Tata Literature Fest (Image: Huffington Post)



“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” 
George Orwell 

Dear Mr. Kher,

Like many of my peers I grew up seeing you grace our screens, playing everyone from a closed-minded father to an incorruptible cop and a lovable scoundrel. So I write to you as someone who genuinely admired your on screen characters and also looked up to your generation of actors.

Incidentally, I also agree with you that India needs Modi at this moment, to champion development, cut through red tape and reduce corruption in order to usher in phase two of the liberalization that the brilliant Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh birthed, championed and shepherded. I too want Modi to succeed so that India can succeed; it is in this context that I would like to better understand the motivations behind your recent off-screen antics.

Granted India is a free country and nothing stops a person from speaking his mind, however mindlessly he may choose to do it. But there is good reason why we are not aware of the political or religious beliefs of most public figures. Unless you are an activist, self-proclaimed Godman or a politician, sharing these views has no bearing on your profession; one could argue that public figures who use their fame, beyond raising social issues, are taking advantage of the goodwill we have given them.

To be clear I have no problem with your speaking out, even though I find your interpretation of free speech nauseatingly narrow and your defense of the current government glaringly one-sided.

What offends me is the fact that you are making the world believe India is a weak and cowardly nation. A nation filled with wimps who are offended at the drop of a hat, and led by such a weak Prime Minster that he needs an actor to defend him. Beyond this, I confess I am also truly confounded by your goals for the following reasons. 

First, I am sure we can agree that the level of national pride China (or North Korea) touts its citizens have for their country is unquestioned. But we all know that it is forced nationalism, driven by brainwashing and fear. Here is the startling proof of China’s nationalist lie: by one estimate more than $1 trillion in capital left China in 2015 – a foreign education for a child can serve as a first step towards capital flight, foreign investment, and even eventual emigration.” (Source: Economist article). Similarly, if we continue down this path, the pseudo-nationalism you are now touting in India will cause the brightest and best to flee. We see the same in Pakistan, Iran, Russia and every other ‘deeply’ nationalistic nation.

Don’t you think that India has suffered enough over the last few decades of brain drain? Now under Modi we have a real chance to make progress by bringing back the brightest and best minds – do you really want to become the catalyst and poster child for another exodus?

Second, I have no doubt that you were offended by the words of a few students at JNU, as you claim. For me here is the bottom line - it does not matter what the purpose of the student gathering was or what slogans were chanted; even if it was convened to question the death penalty of a terrorist or if they called him a martyr, I am willing to allow it and here is why.

I agree that it is heinous to glorify a convicted terrorist, but mere words cannot shake my belief in the strength of India. More importantly, it is only through debate and dialogue that we can challenge and change views we disagree with. I prefer to know what people think and feel, rather than forcibly stifle their voices, only to have them bottle it up and then vent it in more dangerous ways. 

Granted, my line of thinking requires having the courage to hear what we find most offensive, and also requires a deep belief in the fundamentals of our democracy, the power of our nation and our current leadership’s ability. So I can only surmise that you do not share the same faith in the power or fabric of our nation, the deep roots of our democracy or in our current Prime Minister’s 56 inch chest (Source: NDTV article).

The point is that irrespective of how you or I felt about what transpired at JNU, do you honestly believe the solution is to jail our young minds, misguided as they might be, using a law our British rulers created to silence our dissent?

All I ask is that you show some faith in our nation, and our Prime Minster. Give him time to do his job, and stop making it harder for him by causing unnecessary division and strife. Most of all please stop making us Indians look like wimps who are offended at the drop of a hat.

Because if we continue to choose to take offense to words, if we choose to stifle anger and forcibly suppress dissent – we will fuel the anger and find we are responsible for turning once harmless words into much more dangerous actions. 

Sincerely,

A Fellow Indian

p.s. On a more personal note, you seem to be a rather sensitive chap. One who gets offended quite easily and regularly. Instead of wasting taxpayer money on public defenders, lengthy trials and diverting precious few police resources from fighting crime, you might want to consider hiring a psychologist. I am sure you can afford the best shrink in India and if these sessions help you grow a slightly thicker skin, you will also have the gratitude of the small minority of citizens who pay all the taxes in India.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Open Letter to India

“The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference.”
Bess Myerson

A social revolution is afoot around the globe. People, who have been stepped on, downtrodden by top-down economic prosperity that never trickled down to them and brow beaten into years of giving up their hard earned wages to corrupt officials and wretched politicians, are saying no more. Granted all the current unrest is restricted to the autocratic and dictatorial regimes in North Africa and the Middle East but mark my words that this phenomenon will spread to India, China, Russia and Brazil. I know people will consider it sacrilege that I would dare to compare the deeply democratic systems of India and Brazil to the shams that mask the authoritarian ones of Russia and China. But I feel compelled based on the extent of corruption that exists in all these countries today. The lack of rights of the common man is equal in all, and justice is an ideal that seems confined to the pages of history books or gathering dust in law journals, for all practical purposes. Today, money can buy whatever kind of judicial outcomes one seeks, if one can pay. I understand that I paint this picture with very broad brush strokes but such is the need of the hour. In my mind this crisis in India is dire, and it is a crisis. Unless we wake up and take control of this cancer, it will destroy our country and everything that our grandparents shed their blood for and died giving us.

I long ago gave up the notion of getting rid of corruption in this world. Where there are human beings there has and always will be corruption. Even the Western world is not immune to corruption. So having corrupt people is not the issue but the degree to which corruption has increased, in India, with liberalisation is what gravely concerns me. I have been away ten years and in that time the level, depth and pace of corruption has not only increased dramatically but more frighteningly it seems to have become acceptable and almost legalised as a means for not only doing business but going about day to day life. It has spread from politicians, public servants and the bureaucracy to a societal cancer that is rapidly destroying our soul, blinding and eroding our essence. I no longer believe that economic prosperity will help lift the poor and instil a sense of patriotic duty in the rest of us. I can no longer close my eyes and bury this harsh and ugly reality under some fantastic rate of economic growth or the hype the media feeds us every day. We can no longer justify it simply because we are told that this has been our way from time immemorial and that is why we should accept it. We can no longer stand idly by while we sell our country to the highest bidder.
 
My critics will point to the 2005 Right to Information Act and even the social audits that have been instituted as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) but I argue quoting Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, India’s Chief Information Commissioner; when he told the Wall Street Journal that people requesting information have been threatened and even murdered to protect the culprits. "The number of murders has been mounting, and that's a cause for grave concern." (http://on.wsj.com). Even during the NREGA audits there have been numerous instances of intimidation and official interference like a senior Congress party politician in Nagarkurnool, elbowing his way onto the dais to try and take control of audit proceeding to defend local politicians and contractors (http://www.nytimes.com). Ultimately, it does not matter how many transparency laws or right to information acts are passed if there is no protection for the people trying to exercise this right. And when the people meant to uphold and enforce the law can also be bought then where is the recourse for the aam aadmi? If we believe that by simply passing more laws we are making progress towards a cleaner government, then I contend that our democratic ideals are no longer high enough or worse yet we are deluding ourselves.

I am also fully aware of the realities and know that is easy for an NRI to say we should stop bribing the policeman, the motor vehicle department employee or the electricity board. But I believe that if a person in India is to stand on principle, today, they would have to live without electricity, the ability to drive and probably without food and shelter. It is fast becoming impossible to be an honest person. I am told you even have to bribe someone to receive your tax refund! If this is progress then we were better off living in the era prior to liberalisation. Today, not only are the politicians amassing vast amounts of wealth but also cutting every corner on the delivery of projects simply to make even more money. They are not only looting the nation but raping it by delivering sub-standard services and infrastructure. The recent Commonwealth Games, 2G and now the ISRO's spectrum scam are examples of how corruption has now grown into a nexus with the private sector. Even our great army has been sullied by the Adarsh Housing scam where flats meant to be allotted to widows of the Kargil conflict were given to everyone but a single widow. This Congress government has demonstrated that they are without a doubt the most corrupt in our history. It seems our current leaders have taken a page out of Machiavelli’s book when he said, in the Prince; “since love and fear hardly exist together if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

If 2010 was the year of uncovering scams, as the Times of India and Outlook have declared, then it is equally the year of our politicians no longer displaying any fear, shame, or professing any sense of remorse because they are all complicit and all above the law. If the Congress party is serious about prosecuting corrupt officials then why did it take Sonia Gandhi more than a month to say anything on the 2G issue? And why was Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, silent? In my book only the guilty stay silent because the innocent have nothing to hide, and therefore no reason to wait to proclaim their innocence. Why are the accused, other than having resigned their posts, still smiling? Because they know that there will be a prolonged investigation by some agency whose chief has been appointed by the government and it will drag on just long enough for the public anger to dissipate and people’s attention to move onto the next scam. Nobody will ever be prosecuted and life will go on. This time we should all say no more - and demand real transparency and meaningful accountability. Nobody should be above the law.

I still believe the vast majority of our country is honest and hard-working, but there is a small and very powerful majority that has become completely corrupt. Consider this a plea from India’s most vocal cheerleader, her greatest admirer, optimist, and eternal patriot. I believed in her and saw her potential much before anyone else. I believed she would become a global economic powerhouse during her darkest days and the lowest ebbs of the license Raj. And never stopped believing in her despite the tremendous odds and the contrary viewpoints of every expert. Today I feel she is dying. If we do not act now then it will soon be too late to act. Because GDP growth rates, new highways, bullet trains, a rising SENSEX, industrial productivity and the number of Indians on Forbes rich list won’t matter - when the aam aadmi decides that he would rather die fighting for justice and equality, than let his hungry children watch the corrupt official slap him one more time.