Category Archives: Controversy

VYAPAM SCAM: IMPERSONATING DEATH ! AND DOING A GOOD JOB ABOUT IT TOO !

Even Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t touch the VYAPAM Scam with a barge pole. Simply because it’s likely it would be the last thing he would ever touch! With 48 deaths of accused or witnesses (mostly unnatural and mysterious) in its wake it would be surprising if anyone would stick his neck out in the case knowing fully well that he could well be – #49 !!! Read on at your own peril , lest you know too much as well!

Third term as Madhya Pradesh (MP) CM & Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan was riding the crest of the largest and strongest wave of his political career, until it hit a breaker named – VYAPAM -acronym for MP Vyavasayik Pareeksha Mandal or MP Professional Examination Board (MPPEB).

The MPPEB, has been responsible for the conduct of entrance exam for professional courses since 1982.In 2011, its scope was widened to include all appointments except the gazetted ones. Overarching powers, rampant unemployment and the lure of the professional courses, made VYAPAM a lucrative proposition for anyone who was wily enough to exploit its potential for generating ill-gotten wealth. It was too good an opportunity to be missed.

And it wasn’t missed.

In 2009,Paras Saklecha, a one term independent MLA from Ratlam and an academic first raised the issue of alleged irregularities in the conduct of exams by VYAPAM in the State Assembly. Soon, Anand Rai, a government doctor, filed a PIL as well as a police complaint on the same issue. Undertones transformed into overtones and VYAPAM was now mired in a full-fledged controversy. An inquiry commission was then formed and submitted its report in 2011.Subsequently,certain admissions were cancelled and numerous cases were investigated.

Intriguingly, the Government’s actions did not act as a deterrent. VYAPAM’s own records suggest the number of irregularities in admissions kept increasing from 42 medical seats cancelled out of the allotted number in 2008 to 85 in 2009, 90 in 2010, 98 in 2011, 286 in 2012 and 439 in 2013.If observed, though the figures are for the medical seats only, the irregularities saw a significant jump in 2011 when a massive number of departmental recruitment too were brought under the banner of VYAPAM, ostensibly for streamlining the process and to introduce transparency in the system. But all it did was add more lusture to VYAPAM and made the professional and recruitment exams a ripe ground for the conspirators to exploit.Their impunity obviously resulted from the fact that they were comfortable in the knowledge that their “patrons” would cover for them.

This state persisted till 2013, when the edifice of VYAPAM took a body blow.Indore Police on a tip off arrested 20 impersonators on the eve of the PMT. The subsequent investigations blew the lid over what is today known as the VYAPAM Scam and the Indore Crime Branch discovered that VYAPAM had been completely compromised.

The façade of fairness had crumbled completely and Shivraj Chouhan found himself in the middle of a raging fire, for it was under his watch as the Minister overseeing VYAPAM that it had degenerated into a corruption mired sloth which was playing with the futures of young aspirants and hollowing out the credibility of the departments it was carrying out recruitments for.

This coupled with sensational allegations from Anand Rai impelled the CM to constitute a Special Task Force (STF) to investigate the VYAPAM Scam. The STF found that the rigged tests were the PMT 2008-13, Pre-PG medical test for 2012 and recruitment exams for contract teachers, food inspectors, police constables and Ayurvedic medical officers. A total of 167exams were now under the scanner.And a probable Rs 10000 crores exchanged hands !

The modus operandi in the VYAPAM Scam was based on impersonation, where a brilliant student sat on behalf of another candidate after having duly affixed his own photo on the admit card. This photo was later changed after the exam. Favoured candidates were also made to sit within an “engine and bogey system” where a proxy candidate or another impersonator sat between two others (bogeys) who would then copy from his (engine) answer sheets. Lastly, targeted candidates were advised to leave the answers blank on the OMR sheets and they would later fill the answers based on the high grades they were awarded in the test !It was obvious that none of this was possible without the active collusion of students, parents,examiners, VYAPAM officials and a well-oiled network of middlemen and VIPs who were recommending the candidates. For the record, success at the PMT was guaranteed at Rs 15 lacs and for the PG seats at Rs 50 lacs.

Arrests of middlemen led to the revelation that the principal system analyst Nitin Mahindra could get any candidate selected at will. He was found to be in cahoots with the chief controller of exams and Chairman at VYAPAM, Pankaj Trivedi. The arrests of these bigwigs clearly indicated that there was more to the scam as these individuals could not have run such an elaborate scheme without political patronage and blessings. VYAPAM had been stinking all along only that the stench was ignored by the CM, how can such an elaborately layered scam be perpetrated without anyone getting a whiff of it unless fate intervened?

The STF hired a free lance and ethical hacker and forensic expert , Prashant Pandey, to recover data from VYAPAM computers and call data records. An Excel sheet conforming to meticulous details of the transactions carried out by Mahindra was recovered ,giving out records of the candidates, the amount paid by them and the name of the middleman and the VIP/ individual recommending these candidates. In addition, Pandey retrieved another 40 GB of incriminating data as well as Call Data Records (CDRs) wherein he recovered SMS trails between various middlemen and the ones promoting the candidates.

This was the turning point in the investigation for more than one reason.

Not only did it lead to numerous skeletons jumping out of closets but also set in motion a sequence events that would eventually lead to the demolishing of the Shivraj legacy.

Based on these details and findings and the excel sheet records the STF went on to file 55 cases and 45 of them for professional courses and the other 10 for irregularities in the recruitments. The arrests made were spectacular as well and demonstrated how deep set the rot was. Dr Jagdish Sagar, known to be close to the BJP was arrested with a list of 317 PMT candidates he was going to target, barely days before the PMT counselling. State Minister for Technical Education, Laxmikant Sharma, was arrested for fraud in relation to a case in the recruitment of contract teachers. His OSD , OP Shukla was arrested for taking 85 lacs from Mahindra and Trivedi, and his PA Sudhir Sharma was arrested for his role as a middleman and a facilitator. Numerous bureaucrats and their relatives were also arrested for their role and participation in the scam. Quoting the Hindustan Times, Dhanraj Yadav, former OSD to governor, is accused of being involved in the recruitment of a large number of candidates. and the biggest catch of them all, Governor Ram Naresh Yadav was booked for allegedly accepting bribes from five people for recruiting them as forest guards.The CM’s then personal secretary Prem Chandra Prasad was also implicated in a case involving his daughter but was, allegedly, never pursued seriously.Names of RSS Chiefs and other Sangh Parivaar functionaries also figured as the sponsors of candidates.

During this time Prashant Pandey turned whistle blower when he despaired that the STF was not taking action against the CM, to whom it was reporting, and against his wife Sadhna Singh , who had both purportedly figured in the excel sheet retrieved by him.He alleged that the STF had replaced Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s name with the letters “CM” and with the name of the former MP CM ,Uma Bharti. He handed over the data to the Congress Party’s Digvijay Singh, who in turn used it to file a case in the MP High Court, making a case against Shivraj Chauhan as the kingpin and arguing that the STF was deliberately going slow in the case and instead of going after the real mastermind was simply filing cases against parents and children and also harassing them.

The MP CM’s and his wife ,Sadhna Singh’s name also cropped in cases pertaining to their relative’s being recruited as well as ineligible candidates being recruited from their native districts (these candidates were later disqualified)The CM was also accused of changing the rules of VYAPAM to suit his interests.

Following various writs against the STF and for handing over the investigations to the CBI the MP High Court constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the work of the STF.

All this while a spate of deaths and suicides started. Namrata Damor, a student of Indore Medical College was found dead in 2012.Her death was termed suicide in spite of the autopsy report suggesting violent homicide. Two years hence her name figured in the list of fraudulent candidates. She was allegedly close to Dr Jagdish Sagar and probably knew too much about the unfolding scam. Similarly almost 40 others also died, including the Governor’s son , Shailesh Yadav, who had been named as an alleged recipient of bribes. According to the STF’s own records 23 of the deaths were unnatural (suspicious or a result of accidents) and most were of people in the age group of 25 to 30, yet these deaths were not being independently probed. With each death the pressure on the Shivraj government increased to call for a CBI probe of the scam and the STF came under fire for failing to protect the witnesses and others involved. But the MP Government did not relent and continued to repose faith on the discredited STF.

In a dramatic turn of events, the case filed by Digvijay Singh based on the details provided by Prashant Pandey was thrown out by the MP High Court on the grounds that the SIT had found the data on Pandey’s pen drive to be forged ! The SIT never commented on the fact that it was the same Excel sheet which was relied upon for arresting so many others then how is turning out to be forged now??? The SIT also claimed that the SMS details provide by Pandey were inadmissible as they were obtained illegally hence their worth as evidence was void! But it could atleast have clarified whether the SMS sequences were authentic or not irrespective of the source.Why discount his fact after all???Pandey was also arrested for the forged data and certain STF staff were booked for hiring private investigators in an ongoing government inquiry. This totally turned the tables on the opposition and the MP CM found some breathing space. The MP Governor too won a reprieve as he had in a separate case suggested that the data could be forged and hence the FIR against him should be quashed. The opposition though maintained the pressure but the fizz was out from its drive against the CM.

The situation changed dramatically between 28 June and 06 Jul 15, when four deaths of people related to the VYAPAM Scam, occurred in quick succession. Two amongst them were police constables who were allegedly accused of being the beneficiaries of the scam (though this was denied by the MP CM) and one was the dean of the Jabalpur Medical College ,Arun Kumar, who was assisting the CBI in the investigations.The most shocking was the death of TV Today Group journo, Akshay Sigh , who collapsed and died of a heart attack moments after interviewing the family of Namrata Damor as part of his investigations into her alleged murder and its connect with the VYAPAM Scam.

The almost daily sequence of deaths shook the entire nation and VYAPAM was finally and firmly on the national mind scape. The details started tumbling out and it became increasingly embarrassing for the MP CM, whose position was fast becoming untenable. VYAPAM had become synonymous with death. And Shivraj Chauhan was losing the perception battle at an alarming rate. The general impression now was that there was a systematic cover up and the manner of elimination suggested shielding of influential individuals.The taint on the CM and his wife now returned to haunt them.With the death toll at 48 (the government though claims lesser) the sensationalism around the scam was at its peak. And with each new dawn it seemed one more VYAPAM Scam accused or witness or anyone possessing information on it would bite the dust till there were none left to depose or provide information!!

In the aftermath of the turn of events, the Supreme Court of India (SC) took cognizance of the matter in response to appeals filed by Digvijay Singh, Kapil Sibal and three other VYAPAM whistle blowers including Prashant Pandey, Anand Rai and Ashish Chaturvedi,to hand over the case to the CBI.Faced with imminent handing over of the case, Shivraj Chuhan then proceeded to , belatedly, approach the MP HC for the same. The MP HC however deferred the hearing and the SC eventually made the CBI responsible for the case.

This Amul Advertisment on the VYAPAM Scam featured in the midst of the raging controversy and after the spate of deaths of individuals related to the scam.It depicts the Amul Girl as a student sitting in a class room and scratching her head in a bid to figure out what exactly was going on that led to so many suspicious deaths.The sequence of question marks is as much a take on the VYAPAM Emblem – ? – as it is on the big question mark the scam had itself turned out into.

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The Tag Line ….Dial M for Madhya?… is a spin on the name of the famous Alfred Hitchcock thriller  “Dial M for Murder” , which is about a perfect murder plot. And in this case is a not so subtle and scathing commentary over the spate of alleged murders that took place in Madhya Pradesh in relation to the VYAPAM Scam and ostensibly left no evidennce to prove them.

The Punch Line …Play Safe…. Endorses Amul Butter as a safe product but also echoes the dominant sentiment of the time that it is better the people who knew about the VYAPAM Scam played it safe than being sorry later. If they were around at all !

In this entire sordid saga, the MP CM emerges as the man who would rue his missed opportunities to unravel the scam when he could have. His slow start to the investigations in the initial years, ignoring the scam as something that would blow away while winning a third term, not going for the removal of the Governor when he was named in an FIR, not going in for independent investigations in the numerous suspicious deaths, not handing over the case to the CBI in the face of the STF’s incompetence and helplessness are some of the slip ups that he is directly responsible for. Naturally many would argue that perhaps he is himself involved which explains his actions or inaction.This has demolished his “Mama ji” image – a well-wisher for the youngsters – as also his claims for a clean and corruption free administration.

When every action of the ones responsible for the probe was evoking suspicion then why did the MP CM not hand over the case to the CBI? Chauhan’s claims at being the original whistle blower fall flat as the pace of the investigations and the many omissions and commissions of the investigators puncture his attempts at attaining the moral high ground. He is today a lame duck CM, a far cry from the wave rider days, and is badly mauled in the aftermath of the VYAPAM Scam.He proved ineffective in preventing it, prosecuting the accused and also in protecting the witnesses and the key accused. Most damningly, VYAPAM the institution transformed into a monster which epitomizes everything which is wrong with today’s India – rampant corruption, poverty, exploitation, greed, unemployment, political patronage, nepotism, poor governance, lack of moral authority and accountability. The MP CM was all the while content with holding on to power and was least concerned with the fate of the 77 million affected due to the VYAPAM irregularities since 2008. VYAPAM became a synonym for corruption and death under his watch. His legacy is destroyed and his days in the appointment are numbered as well. His fate now hangs in the balance till the time the CBI reports on the veracity of the data presented by Prashant Pandey.

Some may argue that the deaths are being made out to be what they are not as part of an inner party tussle within the BJP and that once adequate collateral damages has been inflicted on Shivraj Singh Chauhan, making his exit imminent, the news reports would die down After all, the media is but a tool in India.Even if this is true, this is also true that the scam happened, 48 people have died and not all of them were meant to die just because they were born (as MP Home Minister and foremer CM Babu Lal Gauur would have us believe), that the STF was impeded in its progress and probably was inhibited too and lastly that VYAPAM has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of MP. For all this alone the truth needs to be found out and accountability fixed.Its a sad commentary when , if it is true, political vendetta leads to scams such as VYAPAM being taken to their logical conclusion !

For having forsaken the well being of the people of MP the CM needs to resign. And now.

However, the rot in MP runs deep and the fact that the Governor Ram Naresh Yadav is an accused is symptomatic of the same. His continuance in the post is baffling when the very same BJP Government in the Centre went hammer and tongs against untainted UPA appointed state governors and eventually replaced them. Obviously, I would ask that is Yadav being handled with kid’s gloves since he knows a little too much about the ones involved???Shamefully, an appeal demanding that the MP Government be asked to seek the Governor’s removal is pending in the SC.Will someone move even now???

Alarmingly, the sequence of actions in VYAPAM have a common chord with some other scams involving the high and mighty. The fodder scam in Bihar saw more than a dozen people connected with it die unnaturally. .Accidents were the major cause then too. Subsequently in the National rural Health Mission scam in UP, two CMOs were shot, a Dy CMO was killed in jail, another was killed in an accident while on his way to meet CBI officials, and a clerk was found dead in a field.

Isn’t it all too convenient in  India?

A swift closure to the investigations, independent inquiries into the unnatural deaths, setting up of a new institution with adequate safeguards and speedy justice in the cases seems to be the only recourse towards setting the house in order in MP. Though this seems to be a tall order as with 2000 arrests, 500 absconders and many more to be accused in the future the CBI has its task cut out. Whatever be the measures taken, the long term damage has been done.VYAPAM has single handedly destroyed the credibility of the professional courses and those graduating in them in India.

This is one scam which has come to light and there may be many more VYAPAM’s already underway or waiting to happen. And its likely we may not come to know of most especially since with the way the whistle blowers are “protected” in India, who would put his hand up for the greater cause when his/ her life would be almost certainly endangered.

Play safe has to be the mantra after all.

But the underlying feeling is of despair and dismay that almost anything can be tampered with in our country and if you are connected enough you can get away with it and the money as well. Life is cheap and never more so than in the VYAPAM conundrum.

I would like to personally compliment the kingpins and the masterminds on their modus operandi that it is so perfect that the VYAPAM scam successfully impersonated death and did a good job about it too.

Have I learnt too much?

If my cell phone doesn’t respond hereafter, please dial M for Madhya !

 

 

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JAYALALITHA DA CASE: MUMMY RETURNS, IN STYLE, IN INCREDIBLE INDIA !

Jayalalithaa’s foster son was about to be married , when asked if he possessed a “bangla,gaadi ,TV, fridge, AC, and 1001 lungis, and 10002 bottles of coconut oil” required for leading a happily married life, he simply gave a knowing smile and calmly said uske pass “Ammaa” hai ! “Ammaa” too sponsored his wedding in style! And two decades later “Ammaa”, her moonh bola beta and a moonh lagi dost were still seen clearing the wedding dues in the form of a Disproportionate Assets (DA) case !

Jayalalitha first became the CM of Tamil Nadu (TN), in 1991, after her party, the AIADMK, swept the Assembly and Parliamentary elections. Fondly addressed as “Amma”, she found herself perched as the Prima Donna of TN politics. She progressed with her first term with equal mix of hits and misses and was known for her pro women policies and also the ablity to take a tough stand on contentious issues such as the Cauvery water dispute.

Amul did not miss the import and captured it in one of its first topicals on Jayalalitha ,which was inspired by the stand off between the Karnataka CM , S Bangarappa, and her.

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But Jayalalitha’s first term as CM was also conspicuous for her total reliance on her close friend Sasikala and some of the latter’s relatives.Sasikala emerged as the main power broker within the AIADMK. In time businesses and companies with Jayalalitha and Sasikala as stakeholders, went on a land and property acquiring spree and making huge financial transactions. It was at this time that Jayalalitha’s foster son Sudhakaran VN, Sasikala’s nephew, was married in the most ostentatious manner. The marriage found mention in the Guinness Book of Records for the maximum number of guests and the largest ever marriage banquet. The vulgar display of wealth and jewellery by Jayalalitha evoked a lot of negative publicity and curiosity. Her popularity waned tremendously in the wake of the controversial wedding.

Subramaniam Swamy, erstwhile Janata Party President and presently a BJP member, filed a case for investigating Jayalalitha for corruption to investigate the expenses of the wedding as well as other financial and land/ property deals involving her. She was accused of amassing assets worth Rs 66.64 Crores when her known income was estimated to be Rs 3 crore.

In 1996, “Amma” lost the State assembly and parliamentary elections.

The incoming DMK Government formed a special court and pursued the issues against its main political rival and charged her and her associates with corruption, acquiring income beyond their known sources of income, money laundering, benami transactions and land grab through dubious land deals. ”Amma” was eventually arrested in December 1996. The recovery of 28 kgs of gold, 800kgs of silver, 12000 sarees and over a 1000 pair of shoes from her residence was shocking in its mere scale and proportion. Jayalalitha and her associates had a lot of explaining to do.

Amul too was inspired to take out a topical on Jayalaitha’s arrest , which won the 1996 AAREN Awards.

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Following the furore Jayalalitha broke all ties with Sasikala and even disowned Sudhakaran as her foster son.She also vowed to abjure from wearing gold ever again.

The case was pursued vigorously for five years. In the interim Jayalalitha’s political fortunes swung once again when she with her 28 MPs.became a crucial partner in the BJP led NDA government of 1998. With waxing fortuneS, “Amma’s”  arrogance surfaced once gain and she exerted undue pressures on the coalition government to dismiss the DMK government in TN which was vigorously pursuing the cases against her.Important Income Tax officials investigating the cases against Jayalalitha were also transferred arbitrarily by central ministers belonging to the AIADMK .

The blatant misuse of power by Jayalalitha inspired yet another Amul topical way back in 1998.

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Eventually the situation came to a head and “Amma” threatened to withdraw support from the NDA as a sign of her political power. By now This too led to yet another Amul topical on her.

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 But in 2001 Jayalalitha, in spite of her conviction in the TANSI land case (which was later overturned) and all her histrionics she was back at the helm as CM (it happens only in India). Consequently, scores of witnesses in the DA case resiled and the prosecutors also faced pressure. The case was almost collapsing for lack of evidence when in 2003, senior DMK leader, K Anbazaghan sought and obtained from the Supreme Court of India (SC) the transfer of the case outside of TN. The trial was now to be conducted in Karnataka.

Cut to 28th of September 2014.

18 years, five judges, four Special Public Prosecutors (SPP), one senior counsel, 250 plus witnesses and innumerable dilatory appeals were consumed in arriving at the verdict in the Karnataka trial court of Justice John Michael D’cunha. Jayalalitha along with Sasikala and the other two accused was found guilty of amassing assets and wealth disproportionate to her known source of income, and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment. Jayalalitha was fined Rs 100 crore and the others Rs 10 crore each.

Jayalalitha earned the dubious distinction of being the first sitting CM to be convicted. She was unseated from the CM’s chair and stood disqualified from holding public office for 10 years, four years for the duration of the conviction and six years after its termination. “Amma” appealed against the judgement in the Karnataka High Court (HC) and also applied for bail, which was initially denied but later the SC granted her the same on the condition of a speedy disposal of her appeal in the HC.

All was over for “Amma”. Or so it seemed.

Jayalalitha had been unseated once before in 2001 when she was convicted in the TANSI land case. But back then the conviction was overturned and she was restored to the CM’s chair. And on 11th of May 2015, history repeated itself. Most surprisingly and unbelievably Jayalalitha found herself exonerated and acquitted in the DA case!

“Amma” was back; Mummy Returns! And how!

This Amul ad/ topical on Jayalalitha came out after her acquittal in the DA case. It shows a caricature depicting Jayalalitha, who is flashing her trademark “v” for victory sign and sweets in her hand. She is flanked by another caricature depicting a gleeful O Paneerselvam (again with sweets), who was CM while Jayalalitha stood convicted in the DA case. The Amul Girl is seen offering a bouquet to the elated “Amma”.Other supporters are seen joining in the celebrations in traditional Tamil attire.

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The Tag Line ….Chief Amma-inister again… is a play on Jayalalitha political sobriquet and term “Chief Minister”. It is posing the question which all had in mind whether Jayalalitha will now be CM again and how soon?

The Punch Line …Chennai’s choice… is an endorsement of the Amul Butter and is a subtle take on the popularity of Jayalalitha in TN.

In her own words, Jayalalitha had now emerged “like tested pure gold”.

What turned the tide and that too in such a dramatic manner that all it took was a mere 10 seconds for the HC Judge, Justice KR Kumaraswamy ,to announce “Appeal allowed. All charges set aside. All are acquitted.”

18 years of prosecution up in smoke, AND in 10 seconds???

The main constituents of the assets under the scanner were the Sudhakaran wedding expenses, construction costs in Jayalalitha’s Poes Garden residence, acquired properties and the ownership of the seized ornaments, apparels, sarees and footwear. The trial court had estimated the wedding expenses to be approx Rs 6 crore and attributed it all to Jayalalitha, the construction costs were estimated to be upwards of Rs 27 crores, the ornaments and items of footwear and apparel were all accepted as being owned by Jayalalitha and it opined that Jayalalitha had spent approx. Rs 20 crores on the acquisition of properties by paying hidden amounts over and above the sale deed and for this it had relied on the testimonies of various individuals.

And as regards the attributed income; the loans obtained, foreign remittances and other gifts received and assessed income from Jaya Publications and the Grape Farm were disregarded by the Trial Court either in part or toto to arrive at its conclusions and calculations. Most damningly, the documents forwarded by the defence counsel to support various claims of a subscription scheme, “Namadhu MGR”, were deemed to be r an “after thought” as well as “fictitious”. It also did not consider the delayed filing of the income tax by the accused as a clarification on the assets acquired.

The HC on the other hand attributed the wedding expenses to the bride’s side including Sivaji Ganesan, as well as Jayalalitha and its verdict stated that the Prosecution had exaggerated the construction and wedding costs by a whopping Rs 28 crores! The Court also stated that their was no evidence (disregarding the testimony of witnesses as “hearsay”) to prove that Jayalalitha paid over and above the sale deeds to acquire the various properties. And regarding the ornaments, sarees, watches and footwear it said that it wasn’t proven as to when the assets were acquired and also that attributing everything to Jayalalitha when there were three other residents in her house is a faulty premise and thus calculated the total assets to be approx. Rs 37.6 crores instead of Rs 66.64 crores.

For computing the income , the HC included the loans, gifts, remittances and assessed income (as per the defence counsel) from Jaya Publications (including the subscription scheme, where AIADMK party members deposed as witnesses and provided evidence by accepting the scheme) and the Grape Farm and arrived at a figure of approx. Rs 34.8 crores.

In the overall analysis it found that the assets exceeded the income by a “mere” Rs 2.8 crores and since it did not cross the threshold as laid down by the SC in its 1977 judgement on the Krishnanand Agnihotri case, which introduces the concept that disproportionate asset to the extent of 10 per cent deserves no punishment, Jayalalitha and all others were acquitted as the HC felt that the prosecution’s case is not proven beyond reasonable doubt

To add to the irony, the SPP, Mr Bhawani Singh was unable to present oral arguments as he was appointed at the fag end of the SC stipulated time frame for dealing with the appeal, as his predecessor was removed when his appointment was found invalid. What is alarming is that the trial court had ruled most documents forwarded by the defence as not being genuine and the HC has relied on the very same documents for its verdict! How can two judges differ so much on such a crucial issue?

The HC verdict has rendered DA as a grossly vague and nebulous concept. There is a school of thought which says that it’s the nature and social impact of the corruption which has to be taken into account and the auditor’s computing. The SC itself considers corruption as the “enemy of the nation” and has followed a “zero tolerance” policy towards such cases. An appeal against Jayalalitha in the SC is essential for her to not only establish her credentials firmly but also to settle the issue of how to deal with DA cases.

But if left to the politicians even this would not happen.

Karnataka Government dithered till as late as possible to follow the due process of law and file an appeal against Jayalalitha’s acquittal until its legal expert reminded it that not filing an appeal would erode the people’s faith as also of the SC which had entrusted the case to the Karnataka judiciary! By now however Subramaniam Swamy and a social activist, “Traffic” Ramaswamy had already filed appeals to challenge the acquittal.

Jayalalitha’s acquittal was sensational and unprecedented but it all seems so farcical that a conviction can be so easily overturned. It would be fine that instead of such complicated computing Jayalalitha and co. could have simply stated that the entire wedding expenses were on loan, the house was repaired and constructed by donations, the foot wear belonged to angry supporters who hurled them at Jayalalithaa, the land and properties were… well they were simply not theirs and the sarees and ornaments were all gift including everything else that they could not account for! This is how incredulous the whole thing appears today.

The signal this has sent is that the high and mighty can manage almost anything in the Courts of Law. The verdict came close on the heels of the Salman Khan trial where in the actor secured bail, after being convicted of negligent driving, within a mere half an hour of the listing of the appeal. Whereas the common man keeps on languishing under the infamous “tareeq pe tareeq” dialogue from Sunny Deol. After these acquittals it is time Dawood Ibrahim surrendered as he can now have faith in our judicial process. It will firstly drag along for 93 years and surely our “learned” counsels will find a way to keep Dawood out of prison.

In the meantime, “Amma” is back in the CM’s chair amidst tremendous shows of loyalty and sycophancy. She took over on 23rd of May 2015 and is now calling the political shots and there are speculations that she may even order snap assembly polls to ride the wave of sympathy, support and euphoria. The wheels of fortune have truly turned for her and we have to hold our breath till the final act in this saga is played out in the SC.

Mr Paneerselvam, in deference to “Amma”, had refused to use her CM office and let everyone know that he was just a chair warmer! This modern day Bharat will surely be rewarded for his loyal behavior as he went a step ahead of the original Ramayana protagonist. Unlike the original Bharat who ruled on behalf of Lord Rama just as the latter himself would have, Paneerselvam inflicted administrative paralysis in the State. Projects were delayed, no decisions taken, no schemes launched and in particular for Chennai – the metro rail inauguration was delayed till “Amma” won freedom, and all this at the expense of the very people of the State in whose name the likes of Jayalalitha and her cohorts come to power.

Politicians will after all remain just that – politicians!

Meanwhile , in a mere 48 hours of “Amma” returning as CM , the TN Government has announced social welfare and development schemes worth Rs 3000 crores. The administrative paralysis has miraculously disappeared.

Mummy Returns, in style !

Incredible India Indeed !

ARVIND KEJRIWAL V/S NAJEEB JUNG: GOD MUST LOVE STUPID PEOPLE. HE MADE SO MANY !

Some Delhi school, actually two, will need to come forward and make an exception for mid-session admission of two kids in the Nursery section – that of Master Arrvind Kejriwal and Master N’ajeeb’ Jung ! When the two are not tweedling and sucking at their thumbs they are also the Chief Minister (CM) and Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi NCT respectively .The two “toddlers have recently run amok and wreaked havoc with the Delhi Administration. And how!

When the Delhi Chief Secretary (CS), Mr KK Sharma, proceeded on a 10 day leave, little would he have realized that it would be the most talked about leave in the country (of course after RaGa’s disappearance).The LG appointed a stand in CS ,1984 batch IAS officer Shakuntla Gamlin (wife of former Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister and Congress regional satrap Jarbom Gamlin).

“Baby” Kejri soon opposed the appointment of Mrs Gamlin on the grounds that he had not been consulted and accused the LG of usurping the powers of the elected government , of not adhering to the ‘the Constitution, GNCT of Delhi Act and the Transaction of Business Rules’ . Now “baby” Jung (jaisa naam waisa kaam, so true!), took out his thumb, and claimed that he had acted under the provisions of Article 239 AA of the Constitution, and is the representative of State Authority in Delhi and that he is the authority on appointments and postings and his decisions will be binding on the government.

And hereon it was a veritable free for all.

Kejriwal shredded Mrs Gamlin’s public reputation by insinuating that she was close to power companies and had recently sought to influence government decisions in favour of the latter.Adding, in crass taste, that she (Gamlin) “might be in office for the coming few days, but rest assured the government will keep an eye on her every move and not allow her to misuse the power of her office.” After humiliating the officer in the Auto Samvad, Kejriwal then asked Mrs Gamlin not to take charge as her appointment was against the set rule. She however assumed charge.

The very next day, in an openly vindictive , brusuque and arrogant manner, Kejriwal removed his Principal Secretary (Services),Anindo Majumdar, from the position ! And this was meted out as “punishment” to the officer for simply having simply followed established procedures to issue the appointment letter to Mrs Gamlin, based on the instructions received from the LG. The other “baby” in the mix, Najeeb Jung, then attempted to bail out Mr Majumdar by declaring his removal as void on the grounds that the AAP government had failed to seek the LG’s sanction for effecting this change.

By now the entire saga had taken a sordid , comical and farcical turn.

And since kids love comics and make believe, both Kejriwal and Jung did not relent even at this stage. Shunning all possibilities of a consensus Kejriwal donned his “muffler man” suit and proceeded to defy authorities (isn’t he the authority now??). Reminiscent of his disconnecting – cables-from electric meter- days, Kejriwal ordered that Mr Majumdar’s office be locked and he be barred from entering it ! (Yes he did that !) Mr Majumdar , a senior bureaucrat, was humiliated in front of his own staff for simply following orders and procedures!

And the “AAP ka CM” was now back in his comfort zone, openly charting a confrontational course. By now I almost expected him to sit on Dharna. He did just that , but by other means available to him.

Following the “lock out” the AAP government defiantly appointed, the CM’s Secretary, Mr Rajendra Kumar, to look after the two departments which were previously under the charge of Mr Majumdar – Principal Secretary (Services) & the General Administration. This appointment too was promptly declared void by the rapier wielding Jung, who was also out to match fire with fire.

Mature handling, I must say.

And thanks to their respective attitude of seeking an eye for an eye, both Jung and Kejriwal were by now blinded by rage, arrogance and fury (all misplaced of course) and continued to blunder on. Kejriwal passed instructions that no bureaucrat shall initiate any action on the verbal or written directions of the LG without approval of the CM or the Ministers. Kejriwal was now openly challenging the Constitution while complaining that Jung wasn’t upholding it. This was simply preposterous.

And then in yet another escalatory action he appointed Mr Arvind Ray as the Principal Secretary (General Administration), and to really get everyone to ease out he added a dash of comedy by getting Mr Rajendra Kumar to issue the order in his capacity as Principal Secretary (Services), whose appointment, incidentally, had already been declared void!!!

Yes, fellas what you just read actually happened. And no points for guessing what happened next. This appointment too was declared void by the LG!

Having soundly pinched, bitten, kicked and blinded each other both kids now walked up to the Principal (the President, Mr Pranab Mukherjee) to seek resolution to the impasse and paralysis that had taken over the Delhi administration. It was comical sight indeed and I hope the “Principal” gave them a sound thrashing, for being the truant kids that they were at the moment!

Some drama was still left in the story.Now both the kids carried out some letter writing practice as well. Jung wrote to Kejriwal and declared void all appointments made by the latter in the intervening period since the appointment of Mrs Gamlin.Mr. Jung said he alone was competent to approve transfers and postings of senior bureaucrats in consultation with the CM. He also added he had the constitutional authority to decide on policy matters of importance over and above that of the CM.

In his reply, Kejriwal questioned Jung’s moves and sought to know under what provisions the Lieutenant-Governor had exercised his authority? He also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi and urged him to allow the “Delhi government function independently,” and to not hijack it through the office of the LG..

The NDA government at the centre queered the pitch by issuing a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notification ( LG functions directly under the Home Minister) making it clear that it was not mandatory for the LG to consult the CM on matters like services, public order, police and land and the Delhi Assembly had no executive powers on the subjects.It would have been prudent to take a dispassionate and concilliatory position at this stage, to get both the CM and the LG to sit and talk things over.

Predictably, the notification led to the AAP government accusing the BJP led NDA of nervousness and seeking to protect the interests of corrupt bureaucrats as also of being the brain behind the confrontation. And with this the imbroglio turned into an impasse.

This amul ad / topical on Arvind Kejriwal and Najeeb Jung depicts the impasse in the Delhi administration which has resulted due to the ongoing feud between the two protagoists. The topical has two caricatures depicting the principal actors of the feud who are engaged in a duel, with Jung carrying a sword and Kejriwal carrying his party’s symbol – “jhadu” (broom)- in the backdrop of the Red Fort which gives a lively red hue to the ad.

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The Tag Line …Najeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh… is a play on the name of the LG, Najeeb Jung as well as a spin off an old Bollywood song – “ajeeb dastaan hai yeh” – which referred to life being a strange tale.And in this case it’s a take on the distressing tale of the clash of egos of Kejriwal and Jung.

The Punch Line …Feud Chhodo, Food Khao… is a subtle call to the feuding duo to bury the hatchet and move on !

Kejriwal’s reaction to the appointment of Mrs Gamlin triggered the entire fracas and farce of appointing and “discarding” bureaucrats. It was just a matter of ten days and Kejriwal could have avoided this ugly spat by seeking constitutional recourse and not by indulging in impulsive actions aimed at playing confrontational politics resulting in pronounced brinkmanship, which seems to have become the operational philosophy of Kejriwal and by extension of the AAP as well.

Importantly, Kejriwal has sensed opportunity and now, through this bizarre fracas, has brought to center stage the demand for full statehood for Delhi. His assertions are absolutely valid that the CM needs to have a say in the appointments and transfers of officials as after all it is the government which is responsible for governance. Otherwise he isn’t really independent and it won’t be democracy either. He also sought a clarification on the powers of the LG so that the limits of intervention or affirmation are well laid down especially when it comes to the jurisdiction over critical departments, failing which the elected government will face hurdles galore in implementing its people oriented policies. According to Om Thanvi, a veteran political commentator quoted by Firstpost, “Kejriwal wants to raise the question loud and strong to prepare ground for a new mass movement to press the Centre to give Delhi the status of a full-fledged state” as by now the AAP government has realized that it does not have the requisite freedom of action to deliver on the campaign promises and to provide the model governance the Party claims to believe in. Which will cost it heavily in the long run.

The discordant note is how Kejriwal has denigrated civil servants and made them scape goats at altar of his the self-declared constitutional crusade. He tarnished the reputation of Mrs Gamlin in the most inappropriate public forum and and humiliated her and Mr Majumdar..By this he has deflated the intensity and morale necessary to be possessed by bureaucrats.Humiliation and derision are seldom known to motivate.

It is no surprise that Mr Majumdar has since requested for leave as well as deputation out of Delhi. And also that a body representing the IAS officers has protested against this insanely disdainful disregard of the dignity, prestige and respect of a bureaucrat.AAP may claim that it is acting against the “transfer-posting” industry in Delhi, but in real terms Kejriwal has denigrated the civil servants by using them as pawns against the centre and Jung.

By taking on the LG, the BJP,the NDA and the bureaucracy – which represent the “ruling” class- the AAP and Kejriwal are panning to their core vote base which comprises of the youth and the socially and economically under privileged. To them , this spectacle is a sign of empowerment and they will cheer AAP through every “guillotine” that it organizes to decimate the oppressors. In essence, Kejriwal is et again relying on anarchy to whip up emotions and achieve his ends.

But deep down, hopefully, he too must know that the systematic denigration of every established pillar of governance will erode the people’s faith and render the tools of administration ineffective. And no AAP KI SARKAR or Kejriwal can ever rebuild the edifice from scratch. And indulging in arrogant behaviour as well as constantly alleging that the central government wants to rule by proxy wont help either. AAP and Kejriwal are paying with fire. They need to realize that politics is best when it is based on consensus and not confrontation. Failing which , the AAP is only betraying the trust and faith of the Delhi electorate.

5 Saal Kejriwal?Any takers if the preceding is what it holds within?

As for Najeeb Jung, he hasn’t shared a comfortable relationship with Kejriwal who has gone from describing him as a “very noble person” (source India Today) to an “agent” of the Congress and the BJP. Jung could have demonstrated maturity in the face of impetuosity. Instead he chose to be equally immature. Rather than declaring everything void and rendering or presenting the Delhi government as impotent he could have sought constitutional opinion, and though the process would have been long drawn it would have maintained dignity and prevented a complete beak down from taking place.

And in this vein, the MHA notification was a needless act which only added to the impression that it was actually the Central Government which was the master mind behind the fracas. Both Jung and the Central Government need to be cognizant of the fact that the the AAP has been given a mandate for governance by the Delhi electorate and any tinkering with that will only result in a severe political and social backlash. Hopefully, grandiose plans for imposing President’s rule are not being discussed.

The entire controversy was needless. And its handling lacked maturity. Not even once has any one amongst Jung, Kejriwal or the MHA sat down together to help resolve the impasse. Each one of them is simply pursuing their respective narrow agendas. The Central Government is probably hoping to create enough friction so that the AAP government collapses under the weight of expectations. And Kejriwal is hoping that he will keep getting these “ropes” to help him deflect attention and come out of the hole the AAP finds itself in the face of unfulfilled promises.

It is undeniable that from this fracas what emerges clearly is that Delhi needs full statehood and denying it will only imperil the BJP, it needs the powers to be clearly defined, the electorate need governance which is presently paralyzed and lastly it doesn’t need kids to be CM and LG –but mature people with some vision.

More drama as well as TRP motivated histrionics of all concerned can be expected especally as a special session of the Delhi Assembly has been convened on the 26-27 May 15 to discuss the issue of the Queen’s (NDA government) notification to its Viceroy (Jung)- as referred to them by Arvind Kejriwal.

And after going through all of the above, I realise that God really loves stupid people. Thats why he made so many.

Some with mufflers and coughs and some with a beard and name which implies war !

DEEPIKA PADUKONE & THE “IT’S MY CHOICE” VIDEO: MISFIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS!

“Vogue” roped in Homi Adjania & Deepika Padukone for its Vogue Empower video on women’s empowerment in India. A seemingly fantastic mix of editorial, production and marketing choices indeed, which were bound to spur skywards the prospects of all involved. But after 22 million hits on You Tube, strangely, none of them is sure if that happened. So what went wrong?

Vogue India decided to celebrate their 7th anniversary by launching a social awareness initiative, #VogueEmpower, with the aim of drawing attention to women’s empowerment issues which (as per the Vogue website) “touch and impact the lives of both urban and rural women”. As part of the campaign Vogue India planned to include features in the magazine, get its ambassadors to espouse causes, to tie up with Give India to fundraise for various women focused organistations and to finally be a “conduit of change and champion of women’s rights to empowerment of mind, body, thought and action.” The chosen medium were the magazine, social media, multimedia, digital and off line activities with a simple message “It starts with you.”

To reach out to the social media, Vogue made its first video on the theme on the issue of women’s safety, titled Going Home, a film by Vikas Behl, it featured Alia Bhatt and received wide acclaim and was an inferno on the social media.

Emboldened by the response the next video was boldly titled “Its My Choice” and was about a woman’s ability or inability to freely exercise her choices. It’s a slick 2min:35 sec video with a catchy back ground score which had a montage of Deepika Padukone and 98 other women, in various expressions from joy to anger, with Deepika providing the voice over. The art in the video is predominantly black, for greater impact and to also go with the aggressive theme.

The opening lines go along fine when it talks about letting women wear clothes they want to and whether they want to be size zero or 15, because after all these actually are personal choices.Few controversial issues follow such as whether the woman wants to marry or not, whether she wants to have sex before marriage, outside of marriage or not at all, and whether she wants to love temporarily or lust forever, or if she wants to not to love or love a boy or girl- and in all of this Deepika says -it’s her choice. And her (woman’s)choice alone!!! And when adulterous behavior is simplified as a mere matter of mere choice, devoid of sensitivity , then the video would naturally lose appeal.After all havent the men been accused of the same callous attitude?Then how is the same behaviour a sign of empowerment for the fairer sex?Something doesn’t quite click, isn’t it?

The confrontational and “me versus you” undertones become OVERtones when Deepika says “you are my choice, I am not your privilege”. The apparaent trivialisation of the male hardly wins the video support from the “oppressors”, ironically, this is what the video set out to achieve.Instead of thoughtful reflection most men would easily,and damagingly, end up construing that “women’s empowerment = women’s supremacy” !When the reality is just the opposite.

Deepika reveals naivete when she associates empowerment with freedom to return home late and the offensive tone bars the father, brother or partner from even being concerned !The best (or the worst) is saved for the last when Deepika says it’s “her choice”  (alone) whether she wants to have “your” baby or not, and if the male wants it then he is being “cocky” (pun intended?).Now what kind of logic is this??Since when has having a baby been an individual’s choice alone?Isnt it a collective decision?

Finally,Deepika delivers the coup de grace by stating that the women’s songs, order or virtues are essentially a man’s noise, anarchy and sins respectively !Mercifully,the video ends soon after and all that lingers is the scent of controversy.

This Amul ad / topical on the Its My Choice video shows the Amul Girl depicting the montage of Deepika Padukone with open and windblown hair from the video itself. Designed against a black backdrop it is consonance with the black setting in the video too.

deepika padukone

The Tag Line …Its My Choice… is a play on the theme of the #VogueEmpower video.The all yellow “O” is a take on the traditional “bindi” which has been chosen by Vogue as its symbol of women empowered.

The Punch Line … To Use a Butter Knife or to Use My Fingers… is a witty play on the theme of the video while playfully endorsing the inviting and delicious taste of the Amul Butter.

So why did the video not click with the audience?

Vogue went off target right from the start. It chose mostly bourgeois topics to raise awareness. It totally panned to its upwardly mobile clientele and overlooked issues such as equal rights to education, health, support for seeking employment, more representation in public services, work – life balance, dowry, domestic violence, safety and security and respect in public places. So what was covered was essentially the peripherals to the debate.It seems someone at Vogue did his or her studies on women’s empowerment from IIN and goofed it up royally!

Next, the meaning of empowerment is mutual understanding, trust and respect which should lead to equality between the sexes. Whereas the video reduced mutual coexistence between the sexes to the realm of imagination.It alienated its target audience and was rejected across the sexes for being offensive, insensitive, missing the point and portraying an untrue and incomplete dimension of the espoused cause.Instead of a “me and you” approach the video embarked on a “me versus you” trajectory.

The above was exemplified by the controversy over the two most contentious issuse in the video – adultery and child bearing.

The entire agenda got hijacked when the video was seen to endorse adultery – “sex outside of marriage”- as a matter of choice for a woman.The men ofcourse turned around and asked if it was open season for them as well, with no questions asked?Is this what Deepika had in mind when she says “my virtues, your sins”?

The line adopted on the issue bearing a child was another sticking point which exposed the flawed logic and the misplaced sense of empowerment being espoused by Deepika and Co.And here she rings the death knell for the compassion sought to be generated.Women’s empowerment cannot happen without mutual undestanding and factoring in of each others sensitivity.

 As is obvious, the arguments were vacuous and the lines hollow and this undoubtedly damaged the espoused cause substantially.

In the aftermath, the men now, gleefully, demanded that they be not judged when they exercise absolute freedom of choice to love temporarily, lust permannently, to be adulterous and to consider everything about a relationship temporary. This retort and the line of argument by the men not only turned the logic of the video on its head but also exposed its hollowness completely. Seriously, I think Rahul Gandhi did more for women’s empowerment in his disastrous interview with Arnab Goswamy, than this video. At least in his case there wasn’t any hostility associated with the concept! Only hilarity.

The lines on returning home at 4am totally obfuscated the intent behind the video. It was as if the woman was saying that I will do whatever and you, the guy, can neither question (still understandable) nor have the right to be worried. And this in a country where crimes against women are committed on the streets, in the by lanes, homes, neighbourhood, trains, buses, fields, public parks and of all the places – Police Stations! So is being genuinely worried about a woman mutually exclusive with her sense of freedom??? If yes, then for me this is – #VagueEmpower!

The topics spoken about in the video are hardly mirroring rural concerns. Was there any mention of female infanticide (it happens in urban India too) or of the necessity to provide proper ablutions to the women or about the atrocities of the Khap Panchayats? If not then Vogue failed in its stated intent as mentioned in the beginning of the Post.

If it’s about absolute freedom, then let everybody do what they want. Let rapists run riot, let murders be committed, let eve teasing be the norm, let wife beating and marital rape not be cognizable offences, then don’t drag boys to court on charges of rape when they walk out of relationships – as in all these cases it was all about “their” choices and they exercised it. So, whats wrong with it?

Everything.

There is a fine line between freedom of choice and absolute freedom. The latter will lead to chaos and anarchy. Choices have consequences and the ones who make them have to be accountable for it, as these always impact lives of those affected by these choices. Even the universe, which Deepika has alluded to, conforms to rules to maintain order and eschews chaos.

The utter gibberish dished out by Vogue led to numerous spoofs. The best amongst them was the one titled #DogueEmpower, where the cute little canine politely tells us about “his/her” choices. And believe me, the canine’s assertions for exercising “his/ her” choices are far more convincing than those of Deepika Padukone. The video has thus far received over a 100000 hits.

For her part in this charade, Deepika Padukone of course has proven that she is competing with Aliya Bhat for the “new blonde in town” title. She comes across as comfortably dumb, to have not realized the implications of the hollow lines she was parroting. And she can’t seek refuge in the fact that here she was merely in her “on screen” avatar. Doesn’t she add value to her dialogues and roles, in a movie, by sharing inputs with her director? Then we expect her to have exercised her discretion in this case too. Thus she is equally responsible for the fiasco and is also a poor choice as a feminist poster girl.She speaks of the uncaged female spirit and the expanding universe but then in reality does everything that signifies enslavement of a woman’s mind, body and spirit – just to stay on top of in the film industry, which happens to be the most exploitative of the women who are part of it ! Ironical, isnt it?

Padukone’s association with the #VogueEmpower campaign is extremely hypocritical as she is herself endorsing figure slimming cereals and skin lightening creams and perpetuating myths and stereotypes about the way women should be seen rather than want to be seen (choice.. Remember?) So, Deepika, see if you can differentiate between “real” and “fake” feminism!

As for Homi Adjania – “yeh hi hai wrong choice baby”. In the Bollywood flick “Cocktail” he has trashed the freewheeling “snowflake” (girl), in favour of the nice “snowflake” who is the exact antithesis of the “coming-home-at-4am-sex before marriage-sex outside of marriage” type endorsed by him as the poster girl for women’s empowerment. So, Mr Adjania, what do you have to say about this? After all, a director’s work also mirrors his beliefs.And yours appear as hollow as the video you dished out !

The in-congruence of the video also lay in the choice of the 99 women. Though successful in their own right, they are all from privileged backgrounds where they would have hardly ever experienced the denial of a choice. Vogue had hoped to carry out a marketing blitz and cash in on the latest big thing – Indian Feminism. And the fact that the video was a result of a marketing ploy rather than a reflection of the realities of women empowerment explains why it did not resonate even with the mere 30% percent (english speakng) of the population that it targetted.It also suffered due to the poor credibility levels of fashion and life style magazines as they are known to perpetuate trends and stereotypes which are totally against their professed stand on issues such as empowerment !

The video was an utter failure and i really wonder how much #VogueEmpower can do for women’s issues especially when the campaign is floundering and misfiring on all cylinders!

In the end, my heart goes out to Jiten Ram Majhi, who was pilloried when he endorsed the extra marital affair of his son as a consensual relationship. But here , #VogueEmpower wants us to believe that it is a sign of women’s empowerment.If this video would have happened a few months back Majhi could have cited it in his support.

Its never too late though.Makes for good copy and some more juicy controversy !

THE ADVENTURES OF JITAN RAM MANJHI: WHERE GOOFY AND GAFFES GO HAND IN HAND !

In politics neither are there permanent foes nor permanent friends. Those who follow this to the “t” form a league of extraordinary gentlemen excelling in the art of survival. Lalu Prasad Yadav was an icon of this league and Jitan Ram Manjhi, a seemingly daft and ridiculous politician, who shares the ex CM tag with Lalu is now carrying his legacy forward. And that too in style.

The advent of “Modi Sarkar” spelt doom for the Nitish Kumar dispensation in Bihar and Janata Dal (United) – JD (U)- faced rapid erosion of its support base. To assuage the disenchanted electorate, Nitish then played a “mastercard” and stepped down as CM and instead anointed Jitan Ram Manjhi , from the Mahadalit community, as his successor. The decision assured Nitish of the “sacrifice” tag and also underscored his credentials as a champion of the downtrodden.

The unremarkable and unassuming Manjhi, a party hopper from the Cong (I), to the RJD and then the JD (U) had helped draw the backward class votes for the JD (U). Nitish obviously considered Manjhi trustworthy enough otherwise a politician can only trust his wife to keep his “seat” safe as Rabri Devi did for Lalu (else a Chandra Babu Naidu is always lurking around the corner). It was also assumed that Manhji would be fed instructions by Nitish Kumar to do his bidding and be suitable “remote controlled”.

The new CM started his innings so slow, that the only thing slower than that was an Akash Chopra innings. He was the quintessential “ever-so-grateful-I-am-so-indebted” type of second rung leader who made the right noises about his political mentor. But he had a strange penchant for the foot in mouth syndrome.

Manjhi once, controversially, quoted a minister travelling with him to a Temple that the idol and the temple were washed clean after his visit, hinting at untouchability being inflicted upon him.He was later contradicted by the minister himself. Manjhi angered his own colleagues when he likened the upper castes to foreigners, implying they were essentially exploitative ! Coming close on the heels of this was the warning to the doctors in the state that if they denied or delayed help to the poor, Manjhi would “chop their hands off”! When informed of people in flood hit areas eating rats he retorted that in his childhood he had eaten rats many a times and they were very nutritious!! He then went on to admit that he had paid bribe to get his electricity bills reduced and that he had accepted commissions from engineers/ contractors and to underscore this he even suggested that small time traders can go about black marketing and it won’t be considered a crime !He controversially exhorted Dalit youth to marry out of their castes to perpetuate greater power.Eventually his family too contributed, his son was involved in a sex scandal which was defended by Manjhi and his son-in-law came in for undue attention when Manjhi appointed him his personal assistant, flouting government regulations.

By now Manjhi had developed a reputation for being a buffoon, bumbling along in the corridors of power. When a week passed without a controversy, JD (U) leaders probably felt underemployed as they weren’t defending Manjhi’s utterances ! The controversies created a negative image for the JD (U) and threatened to reduce the CM’s office to a caricature. He was fast becoming a liability for the party as well as Nitish. Rumblings for Manjhi’s removal grew stronger but it wasn’t easy to replace him as it would have sent negative political signals to the disparate but 30 percent strong backward class electorate.And also cause severe embarrassment to Nitish for the comical turn of events.

But the wheels of fortune were turning and for Nitish they turned for the worst.

Manjhi started coming into his own. He cited his bribe giving as an example of how corruption was rampant in the State in spite of the efforts of Nitish Kumar. He also blamed “powerful” politicians and “well connected”bureaucrats of stifling him when he tried to chart an independent course. The hint was strong and not-so-subtle and eventually he and Nitish drifted apart. The alarm bells sounded when Manjhi started taking action against bureaucrats and officials (known to be close to Nitish) for a stampede in Patna. Not only was this in complete contrast to Nitish’s way of functioning as he had seemingly shielded officials in spite of previous stampedes (chhath puja, Nov 12) and bomb blasts (Narendra Modi’s “Hunkar” rally, Gaya) but also signaled Manjhi’s inclination to dump the “remote control”.

Hereon, Manjhi took off.

He declared his ambitions to be PM one day and pushed aggressively for Dalit, Mahadalit, EBC unity to be powerful stakeholders in the State. He also claimed to have done more in an year for the poor,sociaaly backward amd against corruption than Nitish had done in his 10 years as CM. Manjhi was now eroding Nitish’s credibility and standing faster and more effectively than the BJP ever could. Manjhi had now gained political traction by posturing himself close to Nitish’s bete noire, Narendra Modi , and foe turned friend, Lalu Yadav.

Finally after months of dithering Nitish belled the cat and Manjhi was asked to resign ad CM. He refused. The JD (U) then became the first party to expel its own CM!Nitish was made the leader of the legislature party but Manjhi managed a stay order on Nitish’s election and both of them approached the Governor to be allowed to prove their majority.

The political narrative gradually transcended from the ridiculous to the sublime. The JD (U) now demanded the status of the Leader of the Opposition (?) to demonstrate its distance from Manjhi while it was still the ruling party its members would also sit on the treasury benches!!! JD(U) –united- stood disunited and Nitish who had once borne Prime Ministerial ambitions was now struggling to even be CM and the undisputed leader within his own Party!

Bihar plunged into political turmoil with the status of the CM and his administration being reduced to mockery. When Manjhi recommended dissolution of the Assembly and fresh elections an unprecedented two thirds of his Cabinet colleagues resigned in protest! Manjhi then pushed for a secret ballot during the no-confidence vote banking on the BJP’s support plus a substantial chunk of MLAs breaking away from Nitish. 

This Amul ad/ topical on Jitan Ram Manjhi came out at the height of his exploits and shows two caricatures depicting Nitish Kumar and Manjhi involved in a tussel. Nitish is shown trying to wrest the CM’s seat while Manjhi is shown desperately holding on while the Amul Girl watches in bewilderment. The strip shows Manjhi and Nitish in their trademark attires and also captures the disgusting spectacle of power hungry politicians squabbling in public.

majhi

The Tag Line…O, Manjhi re,Kaun Hoga Paar?…. describes the uncertain political situation and literally translates into asking the boatman who would manage to cross over to the bank from a rocking boat in the midst of the river.Manjhi is also hindi for a boatman.

The Punch Line… Utterly-Biharterrly Delicious… is a play on the famous Amul ad line as well as indicating the state of affiars in Bihar politics.

Eventually, the secret ballot wasn’t allowed and even more fortuitously for Nitish, the BJP lost the Delhi elections.To prevent further damage to its imageBJP drew its hand from openly supporting a split in the JD (U) and did not want to be seen as the ones rocking the boat. Devoid of his backers,Manjhi resigned without taking a floor test and in his own inimitable style announced thay he did so under rhreat to his and the lives of his supporters. Nitish Kumar was once again sworn in as the CM after 8 months of chaos.

Nitish had read Manjhi wrong just like Nawaz Sharif had read Musharraf wrong. Born in 1944 to homestead workers, Manjhi had learnt his political lessons way back in the 70s.While securing votes for others he realized he could do it for himself and did just that when he won his first elections in 1980.He simply applied the same theory when made the CM.A six time MLA and having always been with the party in power Manjhi wasn’t as pliant as he seemed. After all Clark Kent is seemingly harmless too!

Manjhi proved a deft judge of the political scenario.He correctly identified that to defeat the BJP the RJD, Cong (I) and the JD (U) will need the backward class votes.He being from the Mahadalit community (Musahar) could become the rallying point of this grand alliance in case he was able to posture himself as the undisputed leader of the downtrodden. This made his removal difficult as both Lalu and Nitish did not want to be seen as anti-backward classes. And his dalliances with the BJP should surprise none as Manjhi’s son is already a BJP member and way back in 1991 Manjhi had garnered the BJP workers support in his bid to win in the Gaya Parliamentary by elections. The BJP saw in him an opportunity to engineer elections in Bihar and to capitalize on the chaos in the JD (U). Manjhi too saw a great chance to be the CM in case the BJP backed him outrightly.

But for Arvind Kejriwal, Manjhi was almost home !

Manjhi in his brief tenure emerged stronger and his actions to increase quota for SC/ST in government contracts, appointing 45000 safai karamcharis, increasing land allocation for the landless from 3 to 5 decimals and hiking of government subsidies upto 80 percent for SC/ST farmers clearly presented himself as the last, best and only hope for the reinvigorated backward classes. His seemingly gibberish utterances were after all well thought out and had a subtle and telling effect.It is he who is the victim now and has survived his mentor. Clever indeed. After all, survivors are thinkers too.

In the end, Nitish Kumar emerged weaker and lost political capital. Lalu as lost as ever. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress totally marginalized (they may well consider joining Manjhi’s newly floated Hindustani Awami Morcha). BJP emerged devious but stands to benefit by this split in the backward class votes.

Whatever happened in Bihar shows us the ugly side of India’s caste based politics which trivializes development and governance at the altar of caste based politics. It’s always about vote bank. After all that’s why Manjhi could shout down protestors by saying that it’s not their votes that make him win. Simply means, if you matter you get benefitted otherwise languish right where you are and suffer goofy and gaffe prone clowns. Kashmiri Pandits and the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy are a case in point.

For those who want to be remote controls let me share an updated list compiled by a columnist, of those who defied the gadget,dumped their “controlling hands” and successfully charted their own political course – Pervez Musharraf, Suresh Prabhu, John Major and now Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Feom the chaos in Bihar what I have learnt is that politicians and diapers need to be changed frequently.

They stink.

POST SCRIPT  

11 March 15; Nitish Kumar expectedly and comfortably won the Confidence/Trust Vote in the Bihar Assembly when he garnered 140 votes.There was slight but predictable drama with the BJP staging a walkout and Jitan Ram Manjhi stay in away from the proceedings.

Manjhi had earlier sat on a dharna at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna to protest the revocation of 39 of his administrative orders by the present Bihar CM. Manjhi claimed that had Nitish persisted with the policy decisions they had the potential to rid Bihar of all its ills.

Mr Manjhi, pardon my ignorance but does this include politicians too ?

AIB KNOCKOUT: IF I AGREE WITH YOU,WE WOULD BOTH BE WRONG !

The AIB Knockout Championship from the comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB), sought to break new ground by introducing Comedy Roasts in India. Accused of obscenity, AIB and the format have faced calls for ban. The controversy pitches “Indian cultural values” and democratic tenets of free speech against each other. But is it simply about this or the issue straddles shades of grey too?

Comedy Roasts are shows where “peers trade insults albeit in a good natured way”. According to Wikipedia, the insults can be absolutely explicit hitting at personal habits and the public perception of the person at the receiving end, known as the “roastee”. The roastee’s friends too are subjected to a similar treatment. The host of the event is called the “roastmaster.” Anyone who is honored in such a way is said to have been “roasted.” The first roast is known to have been played out by the New York Friars Club in 1910, when it decided to counter “Toasts” (felicitations) of members. Later, Dean Martin and Comedy Central have made the format their own. The latter being a sought after privilege with Justin Beiber slated to be the roastee in 2015.

So “ROASTS” have taken 105 years to arrive in India (ask the Punjabis ), courtesy AIB which has been formed by four stand-up comedians — Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi, Gursimran Khamba and Ashish Shakya. The “roastees” were film stars Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh and the “roastmaster” was Karan Johar with a panel of 8 others deputed to take on the roastees including film critic Rajeev Masand and Roadies producer Raghu Ram. The event was exclusive at Rs 4000 per seat and had 4000 attendees. Later its video was uploaded on YouTube with a due disclaimer which had age restrictions stipulated along. The event collected Rs 40 lakhs towards charity and it got more than 8 million hits on YouTube and went viral on the social network.Since Indians are a little too tight on getting offended and everything from Alia Bhatt’s dumbness to Modi’s suits are sacred cows, this is a welcome change indeed. Then what was the furore about?

Nothing had prepared the larger audience for the sheer volume of abuses, cuss words and 4 letter hindi words for everything sexual in our lives, not even our raucous National Elections. AIB went through its routine firmly believing in the right to offend and its jokes on taboo topics such as rape, gang rape, gays, race, religion, and homophobia which formed the core content of the show led to complaints and criticism. Though Karan Johar was very much at home walking like a dog and rubbing bums yet a PIL was filed in the Bombay High Court by Sharmila Ghuge who was offended by it all and accused AIB of crossing the limits of morality and decency, of vulgarity,and obscenity and of affecting the minds of the youth. Brahaman Ekta Sewa Trust was the first to lodge a complaint. Btw just try deciphering what the Santha stands for ? The four words seem …seem like disjointed ideas ! Yet, the Santha had the right to be offended and it exercised it just like AIB exercised theirs.

AIB has since removed the video ,issued an apology in general and also to the Christian community but defended its right to offend, an FIR has been lodged on the orders of the Court against the organisers, participants and some in the audience such as Bollywood actors Deepika Padukone and Sonakshi Sinha (what about the remaining 3998?).Procedural issues too are being looked into to identify lapses and as of now the script submitted has been found to be at a variance to the one spoken by the participants.

This Amul advertisement on the AIB Knockout controversy has three caricatures depicting Arjun Kapoor (standing) and Ranveer Singh and Karan Johar. The chairs and the dresses and the poses of the caricatures resemble the details on the actual show. The Amul girl is standing behind the chairs with an annoyed expression and indicates to the trio to seal their lips.

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The Tag Line…Yeh Roasti Hum Nahin Todenge…is a play on the hindi son “Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge” from Sholay which translates into a friendhip bod never to be broken.This is a reference to the bromance between Arjun and Ranveer and the word “roasti” is a reference to the comedy roast hosted by them..

The Punch Line….AIBAll India Butter…gives out the identity of the comedy collective which scripted the show and also endorses the Amul brand.

Free speech advocates maintained that there wasn’t anything objectionable and that AIB had the right to offend and the objections were to do more with the perception of what’s appropriate or not and as such who has the right to decide upon this in a democracy. They labelled all naysayers as “pseudo moralists” and puritans who were objecting to cuss words and abuses as if they had never used them before.

The naysayers were generally amongst the political class and this time they were muted after a serious backlash over “ghar wapsi” and the Kiss of Love campaign . However the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena  (MNS) issued threats to the roastees of preventing their film from releasing if they did not apologise for their part in the event.  Actor Aamir Khan objected to the content and called it verbal violence only to be subjected to some himself and was lampooned for his hypocritical attitude over his defence of his expletive ridden production “Delhi Belly” and its lyrics such as Bhag Bhag Bose Dk, Bose Dk and Hole ***,Hole ***, Hole *** , famous college anthems in their own right.

Talking of hypocrites Deepika Padukone and all the “free speech” advocates too are the same as during the the cleavage row they fervently preached about female dignity, and promptly forgot it while guffawing raucously on the vulgar and hurtful jokes directed at women during the AIB show.

AIB apologized in the face of rising criticism and denied their supporters their very own Charlie Hebdo moment by not being the sacrificial lambs. They stated that it was all meant to make people laugh and not to hurt though they retained the right to offend and expected others to not get offended as it was all in good humour. The group also positioned itself as free speech crusaders and were standing up for thousands who felt gagged as creators or activists.

Touching indeed.But what exactly were they standing for?

As a concept the Roast was a hit and credit goes to all involved. It really broke through the glass ceiling and yes it takes guts to do this in a country where a man playing Lord Shiva indulging in a cigarette can offend people. Then to pull it of saying that the last good thing Ranveer was in was Deepika Padukone, in front of them and not on a WhatsApp or a FB joke train is definitely new ground in terms of comedy in India, where the ultimate benchmark is something as slapstick, sexist and laborious as Comedy Nights with Kapil!

But the good part ended there.

It’s true that abuses and cuss words are commonly used, but not in living rooms and nor at work or school by not even the “roastees”, or AIB collective or their 8 million (and counting) supporters even in jest. That’s because these are established indecent form of expression across cultures not because the levels of vulgarity and obscenity may vary for us all but because swearing and cursing are associated with perpetuating an insensitive and aggressive attitude towards the groups or habits the cuss words are directed at. And this is not my hypothesis but of reputed institutes all over the world. All abuses are mostly directed at women and no vacuous arguments in favour of free speech can justify their mainstreaming in any country or society. Many below 18 were exposed to the open use of expletives and this is objectionable, not because of culture vultures or “desi Voltaires”, but because of the propriety of the whole issue. Similarly advocating use of filthy 4 letter expletives for women or anyone else cannot ever be clubbed with a free speech debate.

AIB does not only have the right to offend but also bears a responsibility. The videos did not have the disclaimers till the Maharashtra Government objected. Age restrictions were in place but could their subsequent circulation on Facebook or WhatsApp be controlled? If not then AIB’s defence stands exposed that they put adequate safeguards in place. This certainly makes AIB responsible for the message it sends across to these young minds.To skirt this, is like seeking power to influence without accountability.When Yo Yo Honey Singh glorifies “sabki bajate raho”, “chaar botal vodka kaam mera roxz ka” and ladkiyon ka buffet” these do get picked up by starry eyed youngsters eager to establish themselves and the weak amongst them will adopt the very ways being glorified.The impact of introducing expletives in the average comedy act would also be on the same lines.

Right to offend cannot be wielded without understanding those likely to get offended. An intended message will always be lost if an equal opportunity offender demonstrates “cultural blindness” leading to the “heckler’s veto” will gaining ground. Just drawing from the gags on the show, for those who are surprised at people being offended let me clarify for you that contrary to the projection in the gags all blacks do not have Ebola, only blacks do not have Ebola, calling someone black is not a laughing matter, all priests are not gay, rape and gang rape are unimaginably painful experiences and for the families of those beheaded by the IS… its not a joke.

When AIB and the “everything free” brigade came out all guns blazing they finally stood for championing gross language ad obscene and explicit comedy.I am a supporter of free speech and expression for the right of an artist to create what he wants. But what was being created by AIB? They were just promoting a comedy form to make themselves popular (no social or larger responsibility here) and created an expletive ridden Bollywood focused cuss word infested show. Was the obscenity directed at driving home a lesson about the way Punjab or Haryana Police behave or was it just to cater to the larger audience aimed at achieving instant popularity?

Though I am okay with the audience and participants consenting to the obscenity but not all who watched it were comfortable. Yes, they would have switched off the video but then you cant say don’t be offended and then defend it for the sake of defending.Understanding has to be mutual.If it is not then both parties need to find common ground .Banning the show or insisting on producing more crass shows is an extremist position which is unsuitable for a considered discourse in a complex world. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre there was widespread support for free speech but then eventually issues of sensitivities and the debate on the larger situation of the muslims in France also gained steam. In the case of AIB too there’s a need to acknowledge the problem and neither the moral police nor the defenders of free speech should protest simply because that’s what they can do.This should instead open a debate on the acceptable norms of decency including movies and reality shows , regarding controlling the content being uploaded in YouTube in India and also regarding the hounding of comedians by the government by using legal provisions.

If it was an Aseem Trivedi like incident where a cartoonist is charged with sedition or if Mamata Didi is jailing professors over cartoons then I would say that’s about freedom of speech and expression. But here you cant defend AIB for its language content and insensitive gags. When jokes and satire are directed at groups which are at the receiving of society or not on the same page intellectually and socially as the humorist then the gags on them shall be lost in translation and the intended message is almost always lost. And in this case there wasn’t any message at all. If humour is not contextual then it’s just a hollow medium being exploited for promotional or professional purposes. And AIB did just that.

The “free brigade” and AIB in reality do not stand for free speech and expression rather for using expletives and obscenity in shows without wanting to accept the responsibility that goes along. AIB has a right to produce what it wants, and banning is not an option. But then AIB has to ensure appropriateness of the content as well for all the reasons discussed earlier. If AIB continues to defend for the sake of offending it will in the long run damage the cause of free speech and not benefit it.

 I too support freedom of speech and expression but for a cause and not for the sake of it and if I agree with AIB and its supporters then we are both wrong!

POST SCRIPT I

13th March 15; The controversy generated by the Censor Board banning 28 cuss words has got a new lease of life with Board Members Chandrashekhar Dwivedi and Ashoke Pandit registering their protest by way of correspondence and through the social media.They have attacked the Censor Board Chief Pahlaj Nihalani for following and autocratic and arbitrary style of functioning.They have spoken against the list of cuss words as they feel it will restrict artistic expression in films and have sought the formalisation of the same after due deliberations within the Board as well as the civil society.

Two prominent movies have been affected by the new directives.Anushka Sharma starrer and her home production “NH 10” was recently passed with an ‘adult’ certification and 9 cuts (30 were originally proposed).The release of the movie was delayed as earlier it failed to obtain requisite certification. Varun Dhawan’s ‘Badlapur’ was luckier and was passed intact but with three cuss words removed.The film industry is up in arms and termed the new guidelines as “suffocating” and fear that too many rules can be used to victimise producers and directors .

Nihalani has stressed that movies that have too much swearing ,bloodshed and objectification of women shall run the risk of not being granted a certificate for public viewing. He has come under attack for proximity to the BJP and for furthering the Party’s cultural agenda.

This Amul ad/ topical on the Censor Board shows a caricatures depicting Pahlaj Nihalani running with a net to nab errant movie makers and with a scissor to “chop off” the  objectionable dialogues and scenes.

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The Tag Line …Gaali Gaali Mein Shor Hai… is a play on a popular phrase in hindi and literally translates into- every cuss word (gaali) being objectionable.

The Punch Line …Swear By It… is a subtle play on the issue of the list of 28 swear words as also endorses the trusted quality of Amul Butter. 

One wonders if there was ever to be a biopic on Virat Kohli then with the present Censor Board directives it would most likely have to be a silent movie or one with a continuous beep tone !

POST SCRIPT II

Jerry Seinfield the celebrated American stand up comedian and creator of the most famous sitcom ever – Seinfield – was to perform live in Mumbai .His events were as part of a series of events being organised by the event management company Only Much Louder (OML),as part of the Stage42 festival.It aims at showcasing some of India’s and the world’s most celebrated artists and experiences in comedy, music, theatre and food. The events were to take place between February and March in 7 major cities in India.

Seinfield, the Emmy and Golden Globe winning comedian, was to perform on 14th – 15th March 2015 at the The Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium and the National Sports Club Of India (NSCI) in South Mumbai.This was to be his first ever performance in Asia.Lekin ho na saka….and he came face to face with Mumbai Police !The organisers were told to cancel the show as Mumbai Police did not grant the necessary clearances since they were’nt satisfied about the parking arrangements for the show (???) !

Ya, you heard it right ! Parking space !!!

Like all good things, the conspiracy theories too came free with the cancellation. After all whats life without a bit of spice? The grapevine went agog with the news that the event was cancelled because the venue, NSCI had been recently involved in two major controversies.Once when in a charity show hosted by BJP leader Shania NC the Police manhandled the club members wanting to make an entry.This had caused major embarassment for Maharashtra CM, Devendra Fadnavis.And the other was the hosting of the show “AIB Roast”.To add more spice, OML were the organisers for the “Roast” as well.Hence it was assumed that owing to these reasons Seinfield was “stood up” !

However, as OML was to announce the cancellation, in true filmy Police andaaz, the Khaaki topi waalas made a last minute entry and granted the necessary clearances, albeit barely 48 hours before the show was to take place.OML tried to salvage the shows but they got cancelled anyway as it was a classic case of “too little too late “!.

Facing brickbats for robbing the Mumbaikars of some serious “laughter” , Mumbai Police put the onus of cancellation on OML , that when the permissions were granted then why did they cancel the show? The official answer from OML was that Seinfield had already changed his travel plans once and changing now meant that he had lost a vital day and now with barely 48 hours to go for the show would be jet lagged enough to not park his a** let alone perform on stage  !!! So you see, it was actually a “parking” problem ! But there was this conspiracy theory too (not again) that the ticket sales had been too low due to their high tag (6k/12k) and thus the organisers were forced to take this step of cancelling the show.

This Amul ad/ topical on Jerry Seinfield shows a caricature, depicting the comedian, with a shocked and aghast look as he arrives with his baggage and mike to perform , only to be told that the show is cancelled! The Amul Girl is standing alongside the “no parking” board depicting the “official” reason for the cancellation.

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The Tag Line ……Stand -up fans stood up?… is a quirky statement as well as a question about the fact and reasons behind the cancellation of the show .

The Punch Line ...Sein of good taste.. is as much about the Amul butter , with a play on the word “sign”, as much as it is on the name of the protagonist of the topical, Jerry Seinfield .

So, it seems the AIB Roast continued to score unintended “hits” on its victim counter  !!!

My heart , though , goes out to the organisers OML when I imagine their plight as they had the onerous task of “belling the cat ” – to inform Seinfield that his show wasn’t going to happen because of , of all the reasons, lack of parking space !!!

Had someone told me that its cancelled because of the effect of sunlight on the menopause of the butterfly, i would have still beleived it. But  – parking space ??? Who would believe that ?

As for Seinfield, he surely got a “taste of India” !!!

POST SCRIPT III

25th March 15; The Supreme Court of India (SC) while considering a PIL on the provisions of the IT Act, struck down as unconstitutional the most controversial amongst them all, Section 66A. The Section provided for the arrest of a person, for up to 3 years, for posting allegedly objectionable content on the internet. The Sec had gained notoriety after its provisions were invoked seemingly arbitrarily and was perceived to be against the freedom of expression on the internet.

The PIL was filed by a young law student, Shreya Singhal , in 2012 ,when two young girls, Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan, of Palghar in Thane District were arrested for posting and liking a comment against the forced lockdown of Mumbai in the wake of the death of Bal Thackeray and the other liked it. The girls had done nothing to disturb public order and the comment and the “like: could never be in the realm of “objectionable” but for the availability of Sec 66A as a tool in the hands of the political outfit.

Numerous transgressions and misuse of the act forced the SC in 2013 to declare that arrests under the Section would be made only after obtaining permission from senior officials such as the IG or the DCP. However, these advisories ‘did not deter the likes of Azam Khan from getting a class XII student arrested under Sec 66A for posting “objectionable” material on Facebook.

Finally, the SC struck down Sec 66A, terming it “draconian” and “unconstitutional”.

The Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman said that Section 66A “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.” The Judges established the paramount nature of the liberty of thought and expression in the Indian Constitution and held that this involved three principles – discussion, advocacy and incitement. Further clarifying that mere discussion and advocacy of an idea did not constitute an act against public order and cannot invite penal action, howsoever unpopular the idea may be.

The Bench also ruled that the definition of offences under the provisions of Sec 66A was “open-ended and undefined” as well as “vague” and also said that “what may be offensive to one may not be offensive to another”. Further pointing out that a penal law is void on the grounds of vagueness if it failed to clearly define the criminal offence as that would then lead to “discriminatory enforcement of the law.”

The Government of India attempted to defend the provisions of Sec 66A by offering reassurances that it would ensure reasonable enforcement of the law. But the Judges rejected the contention saying that “If Section 66A is otherwise invalid, it cannot be saved” and that such reassurances would not be binding on successor governments. What is important here is that how the government of the day fights tooth and nail to curb the rights of the very people it is supposed to protect against any such infringement!!!!

This Amul ad / topical on Sec 66A shows the Amul Girl as an activist who is carrying a “Thumbs Up” sign with the insignias of Facebook and Twitter dangling along.It denotes the victory for the freedom of expression on the internet with our protagonist marching ahead with a clenched fist, symbolizing a sense of achievement.

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The Tag Line ….Free ‘dum’ of speech restored…. Is a play on the hindi word ‘dum’ which means power and while stating the obvious also says that in a democracy true power lies with the people and that is derived through the ability to express freely.

The Punch Line … com.’n get it… is an optic play with “com.” representing the internet and telling the reader about the domain in which the freedom of expression was in question. And it also invites the consumer to come and get more of the Amul butter.

The same Bench turned down a plea to strike down sections 69A and 79 of the IT Act which deal with the procedures for blocking websites and the exemption from liability of intermediaries.This shows that many questions remain unanswered about the regulating mechanism for the internet.Though freedom of speech is sacrosanct but there is no denying that the potential for using the internet against the national interests exists.

The alluding to what does or does not constitutes as “objectionable” will also have a bearing on the case against AIB. So should the internet conform to self-censorship or is there a need to regulate it and what about the famed “right to offend”? Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost….

And I am personally very relieved with Sec 66A not being in existence as otherwise by now I would have been behind bars for having referred to Azam Khan in my Post.After all he may have found it “objectionable” !

So,now you know just how thin the ice was while Sec 66A existed!!!!

 

FIGHTING TERROR IN THE TIME OF NAYSAYERS !

In the dying moments of 2014, there was a high octane drama unfolding off the Gujarat coastintercepts suggested that a suspicious fishing boat was heading from Pakistan towards India with not so noble intentions,relayed in real time to the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) it resulted in a high speed chase and eventually then a fiery end for the boat, its cargo and all aboard! Was terror plot averted? Or was it a maritime “encounter” with a “staged chase” at the centre of it all ?

Early on 31st December 2014 the National Technical Research Organiation (NTRO) intercepted Thurayya set conversations off the Gujarat coast, between a vessel and its Pakistani handlers who talked of unloading unspecified “valuable cargo” in the vicinity of Porbander. This possibly involved 2 other vessels, all from the Pakistani port of Keti Bander. The message was promptly relayed to the ICG and the Indian Navy (IN) and by evening two fly overs by a Dornier reconnaissance plane positively identified it to be a small fishing boat, which was 365 km off the Indian coast and heading towards Porbander. The ICGS Rajratna was launched to intercept this “uninvited guest” and an hour long chase ensued. A few warning shots and edgy minutes later the boat was set alight by four persons on board who initially hid below deck. Later a huge explosion destroyed the boat and its crew and no remains or debris could be retrieved due to weather and sea conditions.

 The ICG and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) recorded all of the above issues as part of their press release and that the boat was planning some “illicit transaction”. No mention was made of any purported terror plot as that was yet to be ascertained.

Since the incident happened in the backdrop of renewed firing on the Line of Control and the strained India-Pakistan relations, the media raised the pitch celebrated it as a foiling of a terror plot.

This Amul advertisement on the Indian Coast Guard depicts the Amul Girl standing alongside two caricatures depicting the Coast Guard personnel on the deck of an ICGS. A reconnaissance helicopter completes the picture of vigilance.A small fishing boat in the background is a reminder of the incident which which inspired the strip.

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The Tag Line…A Toast to the Coast Guard…is celebrating the prompt action of the ICG.

The Punch Line…Guard against uninvited guests !….is more a statement on the suspicious boat trying to breach Indian coastal security than for the Amul brand itself.

Then most interestingly we had naysayers coming up with their stories with an alarming regularity and conviction, which suggested they were perhaps amongst the 4 crew members of the star crossed boat.

Manu Pubby of India Today called this an “encounter” and Sunetra Choudhry of NDTV doubted as to how the MoD knew the boat was going to do some “illicit transaction”.Praveen Swami of the Indian Express was the most vociferous and he came out with a piece debunking the official version totally.

Swami doubted India’s claims of “destroying” a terror boat” as “highly placed government sources” told him there wasn’t any terror link at all”. He quoted more “sources” to state that the boat belonged to small time smugglers from Keti Bandar and was ferrying “bootleg cargo” from Gwadar to Karachi. Further “three naval officers” stated there could not have been a chase at all as the larger ICGS would have easily outran the hapless fishing boat. He finally insinuated that “disproportionate” and “lethal” force was used to “destroy” the boat and that the official line was a cover up of sorts. Swami doubted the inability to retrieve debris etc. by quoting an open source site to point out that the contrary to the official version the weather and sea conditions on that fateful night were perfect ! He also blamed the NTRO for violating laid down procedures in sharing information.

This “source and evidence” infested article evoked interest internationally with many Pakistani channels using it to stoke the embers of the “staged chase” theory. It contributed largely to the perception that the Indian Government was fabricating facts for ulterior motives and cast a serious doubt on the credibility of the ICG and created a needless controversy.

Swami tried to showcase his reach but in actuality was dishing out, as one observer has put it, stenography in place of investigative journalism.

Firstly,who said anything about a terror plot or the “destroying” of a “terror boat”? It was consistently stated that the boat was set alight by its crew and that it was out to carry out “illicit transaction”. This was vindicated when India Today and Aaj Tak accessed the transcripts and reported that the Pakistani handlers, including the Army, constantly monitored and instructed the ill-fated boat and two others, which were later ordered to abort mission and return. All actions by the crew were known to and approved by the Pakistani handlers, who even spoke about suitably compensating the families of the 4 dead.

Then, If these were smugglers on the Gwadar –Karachi route why were they 400 miles south of an obviously easterly course and into an unfrequented stretch of Indian waters? Any experienced hand will tell you that smugglers tend to stick to busy sea lanes to merge into the trawler traffic and not venture as lone wolves waiting to become headlines! And if it was boot leg cargo only why did the occupants of the boat set it afire when they could have simply dumped the cargo in the sea???

Swami claims a “staged chase” as the ICGS would have easily outran the fishing boat and also that the weather conditions were clear and the sea calm. But the Indian Meteorological Department (IMT) talks of disturbances and poor visibility for the period in question. Yes, an ICGS can easily outrun a small boat anytime but on a choppy sea the scenario is entirely different especially with the prey carrying out evasive actions too. It seems Swami’s “open source” web site was referring to some intergalactic as yet undiscovered sea on planet Z67TREW2 and probably the IMT too involved in a grand conspiracy hatched by the Indian Government to establish its robust security credentials? Seems Mr Swami watched “Knight and Day” and “Tomorrow Never Dies” just before penning his article.

He also paints the ICG as wanton marauders keen on using “disproportionate” and “lethal” force. But are the ICG so daft as to destroy the boat knowing that absence of debris and the culprits will leave them with egg on their faces? And is their 12.7mm gun so potent as to set alight plastic explosives and diesel, both of which are not known to burn easily. Rajnikant would accomplish this with his eyes but it’s beyond the ICG for sure.

Swami is partially right regarding the NTRO’s actions as the latter crucially left out the Intelligence Bureau and the maritime and coastal Police in Gujarat and Maharashtra from the info sharing loop.

However,the alacrity of the ICG cannot be faulted .In 1993 it was the same Porbander coast where the explosives for the Bombay blasts were landed. The 26/11 Mumbai attacks too were set into motion by the hijacking of a small fishing boat, Kuber. So what’s the harm if the ICG wanted to be doubly sure especially since the incident was happening in the backdrop of the Vibrant India Summit being held in Gujarat?

The Pappu led, Indian National Congress (INC) seemed all at sea in its attempt to  politicize the issue.It bemoaned “civilian” deaths at sea (now how were they so sure of it?) and then asked the government to “come clean” with the facts,as if it was the PM himself who was at the helm of the sunken boat! Manish Tewari coined a lovely term and accused the government of being “chaperones of terror” (which means?)Some even wanted to know which “terror outfit” was behind the incident and if the government failed to provide the name then they blame it for obfuscating facts.

In a world where terror can be wrought upon the public from air, sea and land and the internet,what harm will it do to initiate the preventive measures whenever there’s even an iota of doubt? And this boat and its crew were suspicious by any count,especially when seen in conjunction with the intercepts.Every lead is to be investigated and struck down otherwise the prospects are ghastly to say the least. It’s important for the media to behave responsibly and to neither prematurely celebrate nor denigrate matters pertaining to national security. All this eventually contributes towards developing uncertainty in the minds of the security forces, which can one day prove counter-productive for national security. Even politicians should shun petty bickering in favour of national security otherwise they  are only compromising on national interests.

It was a bizarre sequence of events with stenographers serenading as journalists and clowns masquerading as politicians. I don’t advocate that no scrutiny be carried out.But base it on considered thoughts. Journalists and politicians need to be restrained and not embark on personal glory hunting at the cost of the nation’s image and security. I don’t remember any one asking George Bush to “come clean” when conspiracy theories emerged regarding the 9/11 World Trade  Centre attacks.

At least something should be sacrosanct.

I wonder if Swami and the political lot would dare to try similar antics with the IS,if they were citizens in the newly established Caliphate ?

18 February 15; the ICG finds itself in more controversy when it’s DIG,BK Loshali was quoted from what he reportedly told a gathering of guests during th launch of ICGS C-421in Surat that he ordered the blowing off of the Pakistani boat as he didn’t want to “serve them biryani” after arresting the crew. 

This directly contradicts the government’ stance regarding the crew setting the boat alight . Loshali has clarified that he was quoted out of context and his comments have been blown out of proportion.He also says that he wasn’t in charge of  the operation hence could not have ordered the blowing up of the boat

This once again rakes up the controversy and Manish Tewari of the INC, not learning any lessons, has tweeted that he is worried about the civilian deaths if these were not terrorists.

I think expecting full time politicians to place national issues over their petty 2 bit hassles is a bit too much actually. And Mr Loshali too should be served some biryani so he would keep away from speaking out of turn.Lets all just wait for the final report an if there’s a discrepancy then the government should not dither in disclosing it so that vital lessons are learnt.

Till  then let’s just hold our horses or shall I say  -our  plates of biryani!