Where There Is Noise, There Is Democracy

Parliament has been having lots of fun with the Lokpal Bill. And that’s how it should be. The name of the game is ‘Make Noise’. Before you read any further, let me clarify right at the outset that I am not going to talk about the Lokpal Bill or get into the merits of the position of any of party or any version of the Bill – Anna, Congress, BJP or any other. All I am looking at is the noises that are being made in Parliament. And trust me; so long as the noises are being made, the democracy is intact. Democracy does not drown in the noise; it dies in silence, complacence and obedience. So, those who are talking about the death of democracy because Congress is not willing to the proverbial ‘extra mile’ to enact a ‘strong’ – whatever that means – Lokpal Law to curb corruption must take a deep breath and relax. Democracy is going nowhere. It is here with us. If somebody as hellbent to encroach upon our rights as Indira Gandhi could do little to subvert Indian democracy, the dwarfish minions of her party, or, for that matter, her family or descendants are not capable of doing any real harm.

So far as the multi-party noise is concerned, it doesn’t have much substance, for it is aimed at being visible. The more you make noise, the better you are noticed, the more you are noticed, the better are your chances of being in the public memory for the upcoming elections. People might not know the kind of nonsense you splashed around in Parliament, but they would remember that you spoke. Here is the guy who spoke in Parliament for ‘us’. Us? What us? Who us? But the guy who spoke in the Parliament is here looking for votes so that he could cause better ruckus the next time.

Now, I cannot really say it holds good with all Indians because India is one country, but is too big for anyone to make generalizations about the way people make their electoral decisions. In India, one is perfectly capable of saying that a certain person is honest and is both willing and capable of making some real changes, but one is still not willing to lend him support by way of voting in his favour because the fellow does not come from one’s caste.

Okay, I guess it’s time for me to stop. I am beginning to seriously denounce the Indian electorate, and electorate does no wrong, like the British Crown, thank you.

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Hail Maggi! Save Tomatoes!

My heart went seriously out – not literally, or even in the romantic metaphorical sense; well, just in a manner of speaking – to the tomatoes in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara as the trio with strange love stories went prancing about in the juice and pulp of the lovely tomatoes. Come on! Leave the ‘zindagi’, save ‘tomatoes’! There are more people than tomatoes in this country! And yet, some crazy idiots thought we could celebrate ‘La Tomatina’ in this nation of tomato-less people! The government proved more sensitive to the tomatoes than it usually is to the poor and distressed who are not tomatoes. So, it ran head-on to save the cute, round, red things. Somebody in the government really liked Bloody Mary, I suspect. No tomatina! End of the story.

I am fine with Farhan, Hritik and Abhay going to Spain and playing with their tomatoes. Back home, they need to look at the tomatoes with greater reverence. Our students down here hardly get tomatoes for their late-night Maggi to go with Facebooking while the Spanish give it all to their cows and bulls, and then have the same tomato-fed bulls chase people down for fun! Somebody tell them to bring their tomatoes down to India, give them to our Maggi boys here and see how they chase all the Spanish folks right into the Mediterranean down to the bottom and back up. Hail Maggi!

Where did the ‘Dirty’ oranges go?

I am unsure and rather perplexed at my newfound fruit-friendliness. Whenever I watch the The Dirty Picture song ‘Ooh La La’, which keeps flashing every now and then on the TV screens of the cafes I frequent, I feel very concerned about the oranges – two-truck full! – rolled downhill while Naseer and Vidya Balan do their ‘thing’ on the green grass. Poor grass. Must be wondering what to make of the old Naseer and the young-flesh Balan rolling together.

Where did the oranges go after the shot, I find myself wondering, and come up with a new bizarre answer each time I ponder the question. They perhaps found their way back to the fruit carts, and were ‘resold’. But then, why would Ekta Kapoor allow the oranges to be resold when she had already purchased the whole lot? I am not sure if the producers are that generous. But then, it’s a bit difficult to imagine Ekta and Tushar selling oranges on the streets of a South Indian suburban town. And two truck-full oranges are difficult to consume for a Bollywood film unit, or can they really stomach as much?!

Well, who knows! Given our national tendency aptly demonstrated in ‘3 Idiots’ to line up or gatecrash wherever there is a whiff of free lunch – langar or wedding – nothing is really impossible. “Order no lunch! We have oranges today!” Ekta Kapoor might have gaily announced with North Indians muttering under their breath, “Thank God, no dosa, idli today.”


Back To The Blog With Thorough Nonsense

For the past one year or so I have hardly written anything for this blog specifically primarily because of the paucity of time. Nearly all of my posts in the recent past have been the articles that I wrote for the print media. That’s not all that bad, for publishing some of the articles here widens their reach and also provides them the longevity that I control.

The flip-side is that most of the posts tend to be very grim and long with majority of them dealing with thick legal issues that nobody – not even lawyers – would really like to get into for fun despite that some of the legal issues are actually funny. Of course not the one that I talk about in my articles. They are generally too dry on fun.

But that doesn’t mean my blog is going to be a circus now on. Okay, to face the truth, it’s not not because I don’t want to be entertaining; but because I am not really funny. So, as much as I want to be make people laugh, I just don’t have the required sense of humour to be entertaining enough. So, I would stick to being ‘serious, just a little less’. And that should make my blog readers hate me a little less for my monotonous writing.

Ultimately, it boils down to this that expecting funny posts of me is expecting an impossibly lot. But quite surely there is world outside the courtrooms and significant issues of non-legal character, some of which are quite entertaining. Also, the readers of my blog deserve a little more variety than my blog presently offers. With that thought in mind I decided to turn my attention to the blog, and write something for the blog alone; something to be found only here and nowhere else.

Next was the issue of picking up a topic to write on. Didn’t we learn that in the school about the essays? All essays have topics. So, you decide what you want to write on, and then begin. And ‘only’ then begin.

Often, there were topics served up to us to try our writing skills on. But that’s no fun really. Why write about ‘something’? Why think about ‘something’? Why is it so necessary to be specific? Why can’t the thoughts simply saunter around under the kind sun of a winter afternoon? Stream of consciousness? Not really. I don’t want to get that serious yet again. I did attempt to write nonsense on many previous occasions as well with little or no success. So, here I am trying yet again. And no, I am not serious about writing ‘nonsense’, for that would start making sense again. Where is the problem? No. Where is my problem with all this?

I guess the problem lies with the very understanding of what nonsense is. Nonsense, quite obviously, is something that makes no sense. And when does something stop making sense? When it appears disjointed and without reason. A man is crazy only when his behaviour is completely discordant with all patterns of behaviour that we are familiar with under the given circumstances. The same applies to all kinds of expressions, too. An expression is senseless only and only when it does not relate to anything that precedes or follows it.

Excessively rational minds find it nearly impossible to break the mould. And that’s because their consistent training prevents them from taking the plunge into the darkness of senselessness. Don’t mistake it for fear. Rational minds are not essentially cowardly. It’s not cowardice that stops them but the complete bafflement. They have no idea what it means to dive into meaninglessness. Where is meaninglessness? We have been told that the world is meaningless and there is no reason why we are here, why we are alive, why we do what we do, why we breathe and why everything exists and why non-existence is not the order of our world. So, there is no meaningfulness anywhere.

There is no such central meaning, central theme, central philosophy of existence to be found anywhere that runs across all things past, present and future. So, if there is no meaningfulness found, it has to be meaningless? That’s a harder question to ponder because we know how to look for meaning, but we have no idea as to what it is like to look for meaninglessness because we have always known that meaninglessness is simply lack of meaning and is thus opposed to meaningfulness. In other words, absence of meaningfulness is meaninglessness just like darkness is nothing but absence of light.

Do I make sense at all? No? Bingo! The nonsense would continue. Stay tuned!

Freedom of Press: Is Regulation Encroachment?

Unhe raha gurez jis bewajah ke shor se;
Jamooriyat hai zinda un kehkahon ke zor se

Democracies are clamorous because people are noisy, and the senseless noises they make are generally not only of no consequence, but are also born of selfish motives in most cases while in some it’s plain malice at work. But, it is this baffling disorder that is the heart and lifeblood of a democracy.

It is the irregular, ugly rock that houses captivating statues waiting to be carved out. Destroy the rock, and the statues are gone forever. The lovers of order, discipline and propriety hate this side of democracy that is at its starkest in the way people exercise the constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. We talk more nonsense than sense, and our media feels no need for and makes no effort to turn into grandmotherly moralizer. And the reasons for this self-restraint is no nobler than commercial expediency in most cases. Our media believes that people must get what they ‘want’ and not what they ‘need’ because what they ‘want’ is what they ‘need’, and the people are best judges of their ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. They keep it simple, and carry on attending to ‘public demand’. Yes, farmers are dying. Yes, there is poverty. Yes, there is corruption. But then, Aishwarya delivered a baby ‘valiantly’, and she with her little one makes a better picture than any pictorial depiction of poverty or corruption. Beauty sells better than problems, and also better than Shahrukh for now. Why depress people when there are mood-elevators around. Call it ‘chocolate news’, if you like.

Newspapers have started selling spicy news and bikini girls while 24-hour TV channels sell anything from mysterious ghosts and Indian exorcists to the end-of-the-world prophecies and baby-in-the-ditch dramas. News is entertainment. It no longer is the useful information it once used to be. And that’s perhaps no such a good news.

The real question, however, is whether it is really as bad as it seems at first glance or there is a bright side to it. Has the Indian media really stretched, strained and taken for granted the constitutional guarantees to such an extent as to require an independent, regulatory watchdog keeping vigil over its activities? Has self-regulation really failed as Justice Katju feels? And when did that happen exactly? Is it time to bring electronic media under Press Council of India, like the print media? If not, what makes it eligible for a different treatment? And why is electronic media so uncomfortable with the talk of regulation by an independent body when Press Council of India has done nothing to curb the freedom of press, and the Judiciary has fiercely defended free speech against all encroachments at all times?

The issue of regulating electronic media by expanding the reach of the Press Council of India to bring electronic media within its purview came to the fore when former Supreme Court judge Justice Markandey Katju took over as Chairman, Press Council of India (PCI), and pushed for more effective powers and wider reach for the PCI so that the Council could monitor and regulate the media better. Justice Katju wrote to the Prime Minister regarding it, shared his views on the issue during several TV interviews and also reduced them in writing in an article published in The Hindu. A few days later, he also issued a clarification to make his point clearer.

Justice Katju appears unhappy over Indian media’s failure to bring into sharper focus the socio-economic problems of the people, and bemoans its overindulgence in things as inconsequential as private lives of the film stars, fashion trends and cricket milestones. But then, different TV channels and the different programs they broadcast have different audiences. One can easily watch serious news and heated debates on current issues of national significance on one channel, soap operas on the other, and cricket on the third. There is no reason or justification to interfere with individual preferences in this regard in any manner whatsoever.

Justice Katju’s comparison of the press during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe with the Indian media of the present day, too, is far-fetched because the societies under comparison are too far apart in time, culture and developmental stages to be compared. Back then, the press controlled the information that went to the people whereas today it is the people who decide what deserves their attention. There are dedicated business channels, sports channels, food channels, cricket channels, movie channels and also news channels. One watches what one chooses to watch, and one has every right to so choose.

Justice Katju laments in one of the articles mentioned above:

Many T.V. channels show astrology. Astrology is not to be confused with astronomy. While astronomy is a science, astrology is pure superstition and humbug… No doubt most people in our country believe in astrology, but that is because their mental level is very low. The media should try to bring up that level, rather than to descend to it and perpetuate it.

By logical extension of the rationale above, anybody who believes in anything other than ‘scientific facts’ or ‘scientifically established truths’ has ‘low mental level’. Scientifically, Pluto was a planet for decades; it no longer is. Scientifically, there was no vacuum in space; then, scientifically, the existence of vacuum was confirmed, and then again the position was reversed to no-vacuum status, scientifically. And we are quite prepared for another ‘scientific’ reversal in this regard. The fact is that even ‘scientific facts’ are not ‘facts’, strictly speaking, but are ‘scientific beliefs’.

Also, the most widely accepted unscientific and irrational belief is the belief in the existence of God. The belief is not only scientifically unverified, but is also considered ‘unverifiable’. Are we prepared to say that all those who believe in God have ‘low mental level’?

Justice Katju believes that among the media person “the majority consists of people who do not seem to have the desire to serve the public interest.” Shouldn’t the ‘public’ be allowed to determine ‘public interest’? Justice Katju further says:

To remedy this defect in the media I have done two things (1) I propose to have regular meetings with the media (including electronic media) every two months or so. These will not be regular meetings of the entire Press Council, but informal get-togethers where we will discuss issues relating to the media and try to resolve them in the democratic way, that is, by discussion, consultation and dialogue. I believe 90% problems can be resolved in this way (2) In extreme cases, where a section of the media proves incorrigible despite trying the democratic method mentioned above, harsher measures may be required.

Now, the proposed arrangement sounds much like a state-run ‘evening tutorials’ for the media with the provision that if the media fails to learn its lessons well enough, the state might choose to summon the stick. This also seems to be an attempt at forced homogenization of media’s approach to news and other content, which is nothing short of interfering with the constitutionally guaranteed Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. If media is wary of such measures, it’s not without justification.

Having said that, Justice Katju’s insistence on putting together a mechanism to check unethical practices in journalism by punishing the erring is not without merit. It is high time we had the legal framework to deal with those who use the power and influence of the Fourth Estate to pursue selfish and immoral personal goals. But it must be a negative, punitive check, and must not be directional in nature so that the freedom of press stands effectively protected against state interference or influence.

As for the failure of the self-regulation, it is not clear how and when did it fail. True, scandals like Radia Tapes and Paid News are alarming, but they do not necessarily indicate a failure of ‘self-regulation’ because even if there was an external regulatory authority, such scandals could have taken place, for the mere existence of a functioning regulatory authority does not guarantee desired results. For instance, Central Board of Film Certification or the Censor Board is such a regulatory authority, and it did nothing to prevent song videos like ‘DK Bose’ (Delhi Belly), and, more recently, ‘Jhak Maar ke’ (Desi Boyz) with John Abraham’s indisputably obscene gestures from not only being part of the movies, but also being cleared for television promos for universal viewership. 

Free Speech is a right too precious to be lightly meddled with. In this regard, it is worth noting what Chief Justice Patanjali Shastri said in Romesh Thappar v. State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124:

Freedom of speech and of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations, for without free political discussion no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of popular government, is possible. A freedom of such amplitude might involve risks of abuse. But the framers of the Constitution may well have reflected with Madison, who was the leading spirit in the preparation of the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution, that it is better to leave a few noxious branches to their luxuriant growth than by pruning them away, to injure the vigour of those yielding the proper fruits.

Originally written for and published as Cover Story in LAWYERS UPDATE [December 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 12]

No ‘clean chit’ possible, Mr. Modi

Modi’s ‘clean chit’ flag-hoisting followed by the pompous ‘fasting’ and the post-fast boasting was a three-stage tragi-comedy of no consequence and left me more disgusted than amused exposing my misgivings about my ability to go giggling even over the most ridiculously phony theatrics. 

Mr. Modi, who had maintained a ‘studied’ – rather, ‘tactful’ – political silence, finally found a bit of his voice when he came across what his supporters thought of as a laundered, disinfected, polished and ironed ‘chit’ of some kind somewhere in the Supreme Court to be held up as a symbol of victory with the victory bugle blowing prematurely in the background. 

His supporters and detractors both have unduly reacted to a simple, dispassionate Supreme Court order directing the trial court to proceed in the matter in accordance with the law. The apex court exercised restraint and did not touch the merits of the case in the interest of justice. Therefore, there is no question of its giving a ‘clean’, ‘soiled’ or semi-soiled chit to anybody. 

The investigation and collection of evidence was undertaken by two independent entities — the Court-appointed SIT and the ‘amicus curie’ — and the findings are now to be placed before the trial court, which is now compelled to also consider the amicus’ report together with the report of the SIT. It is for the trial court to convict or acquit on the basis of the evidence placed before it. Any Supreme Court observation, howsoever fleeting or moderate, on the merits of the case could be prejudicial to the trial and would also be uncalled for, the proceedings not being a trial, which is why the apex court restrained. If the Court did not say “prosecute Modi”, it did not say “don’t” either. There is nothing more to it. 

The question is not if Modi has been granted a ‘clean chit’, the question is whether such a ‘chit’ for Modi is possible at all. Are we supposed to believe that Indian state is incapable of protecting the innocents in the time of need? Like laymen, let’s ask the basic questions. Let’s leave Mr. Modi’s political calculations aside for a while for the sake of argument and also his thinly disguised emotions against the minority community. 

That done, are we to believe that while Gujarat was burning, Mr. Modi was so far off in some political meditation within a soundproof Hindutva cocoon that he could not be reached even in the emergency of such kind? If it was beyond the power of the police and other forces to control the situation, why wasn’t the army promptly called in? And if the police and other armed forces at the disposal of the state were sufficiently equipped to deal with the situation, how did so many people turn up dead? It could only be either a criminally culpabale negligence on part of the state or a willful and purposeful abstention. Either way, it was the state that ‘allowed’ the genocide, no matter how one looks at it. It being so, can the Chief Minister be absolved? Even if Modi is not the murderous monster he is sometimes projected as, he did look like an extremely inefficient and ineffective CM guilty of criminal neglect, if not wilful malice. 

But then, if the progress of Gujarat is anything to go by, Mr. Modi is not really ineffective or inefficient, and so far we have not been told that he was ill or otherwise rendered incapable of making sound decisions. So, what got into Mr. Modi when so many people were so systematically massacred? What made a man with a reputation of being ‘strong’ make such an obviously wrong decision of going soft on those who wantonly killed, raped and burnt? The ‘wrong decision’ could not be on account of such a rare bout of ‘Ministerial incapacity’ that was never glimpsed until or since. Modi’s projected innocence and his claim to fair-play makes no sense in face of the undeniable facts reported by multiple, independent agencies. The only version that talks of Modi’s ‘innocence’ is the ‘official version’.

From the national and international media to NHRC and Human Rights Watch, every single independent agency that looked into the pogrom found state complicity in the killings too glaring to be ignored even with closed eyes. So, the apparent lack of control of the all-controlling Gujarat CM was not a ‘failure’, but a daringly planned and systematically executed malfunction of the state machinery with political ends at its heart. That’s the only theory in which all pieces of the puzzle fit in perfectly. And all theories that seek to absolve Mr. Modi must necessarily reject all facts reported in national and international media, which, quite certainly would be an exercise in blanket denial of the undeniable truth. 

However, the worst part was not the pogrom but the fact that Mr. Modi, despite being clearly ‘unclean’, managed to find electoral mandate to be the CM, and the Secular India tolerated the dirty dance of number politics. The idea of democratic accountability thus failed to clear the basic morality test. Humanity hung its head in shame while we watched then as we watch now, powerless.

Originally written to be published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE in October 2011 Issue. However, it was found too ‘hardhitting’ and harshly critical of Narendra Modi, and the Editorial at LAWYERS UPDATE thought it prudent to withhold the piece.

Mahatma’s Sin

A paintbrush runs across the canvas drawing the bare outline of a bald head. A pause, and the brush returns to draw a pair of round spectacles. In two simple strokes with no facial features drawn the portrait is complete. “The greatness of this man lies in his simplicity,” declares the voice in the background carrying a ring of unmistakable and indisputable truth. 

“He is just one of the freedom fighters to me. Nothing more,” said one of my students on Facebook. Oh yes, there are some useful discussions on Facebook as well involving the teenagers. 

The reasons she had for disliking Gandhi are the same that I have heard countless times from countless people who choose to deride the man who was by far the most compelling Indian reason for the British to think of sailing back home for good. 

Her point was that the old man was responsible for the partition and was in some way responsible for the execution of Bhagat Singh and his extremist companions. Also, Gandhi did not get us freedom from the colonial rule. Many would naively say that it was the extremist violence, whereas some of the discerning lot would want to credit external circumstances just to take it away from Gandhi. So, going by that argument, could Britain not hold on to any of its colonies after the Second World War? Well, Singapore, for one? 

Could Gandhi save the extremists? Assuming he could, the hard question is: Why should he have?

Of course, Gandhi can easily be defended by history and additional facts can always be marshalled in his defence to nullify the naïve attacks. But I don’t think even that is quite necessary. For now, let’s leave history aside; and resort to common sense and depend upon the information that can be safely relied upon no matter which side of the fence one prefers. 

So, the basic questions are these: Could he want partition? Could he have genuinely believed that Hindus and Muslims were two nations? Although he was not a politician, and did not believe in ‘political pragmatism’, but even if that is conceded for a moment; could it serve any political end to alienate Muslim population? 

The Mahatma who believed in peace and brotherhood in a united nation could not have desired two nations, nor could he have thought that the people who had been living together for centuries and had fought the intruders together were so completely divided that they could no longer be one nation. Also, Mahatma’s goal was a noble society based on truth and non-violence and not a state based on any particular political ideology. The idea of two nations – one for the Muslims and one for the rest – simply doesn’t fit in Gandhi’s vision of India. So, partition could never have been his will. 

No doubt extremists like Bhagat Singh also wanted freedom, but they believed in violent means, which Gandhi was dead against. To Gandhi the means justified the end. Only just means could achieve just end to the old man. His unwavering belief in the virtue of truth and non-violence formed the core of his moral and spiritual being. Besides, a society founded on violence could only be violent because in such a society violence is legitimate depending upon the significance of end to be achieved. And significance is just a matter of valuing one thing over the other, which simply means anything can be significant at a certain point of time justifying the use of massive violence for reasons that might otherwise be insufficient to swat a fly. The Mahatma knew this, and considered it a battle worth fighting. Violence begets violence, and there is no end to the cycle of violence before at least one of the two sides is completely annihilated, which is why he famously said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” 

The rightness of means was central to Gandhi because to his mind all human actions produced consequences depending upon the nature of the actions. So, what you do, you must face its consequences as well. Violence was evil to Gandhi, and if the likes of Bhagat Singh were facing the foreseeable and painful consequences of their violent actions, why would Gandhi intervene? Was the mere fact that they were his countrymen striving for the same goal enough for him to try blocking the consequences that they had consciously brought upon themselves? Should he have allowed his moral judgment to be clouded by petty considerations of nationality and common objective? Violence was evil to him. So, should he have treated an evil practiced by his countrymen as noble or less evil? Gandhi considered violence so unacceptable that he would not tolerate if his successfully running movement was marred by violence and would be quick to withdraw it. Why would he condone anybody’s indulging in it no matter how noble the objective? He was true to his principles and valued his beliefs over all other things. The extremist freedom fighters themselves embraced death, for they too were true to their beliefs. To blame it on Gandhi is plainly mindless. 

Let’s toss all this talk away and consider just one thing. For all that the Mahatma did for this country, what did he take? A sheet of cotton cloth to cover half his body. And what did we give him? Bullets. Period. 

Originally published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [September 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 9]