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April 30, 2009

Is the Indian voter disgusted?

WELL, IT is quite a shocking statement on the state of affairs that obtains in our country given that it is 60 years since we achieved independence. It seems the people, especially the younger lot, simply could not care less! At the same time, some diehard pessimists among the young and the old believe that nothing will change in the country whichever party comes to power. On the other hand, there are diehard optimists too who are quite eager to bring about a change in society but are helpless. For example, in this election, a majority of the younger lot wanted to exercise their franchise but was not able to do so because most of them did not find their names in the voters’ list.

Now, who is responsible for this consequence? This is not surprising. We see this bungling every five years – like the floods and famine we get to see every year. Even some senior citizens, who have been religiously voting for the past many years, could not find their names in the said list – that too, after standing under the blazing sun in long queues for hours! It is apparent that the government machinery entrusted with preparing the list did not discharge its duty responsibly. Is there a conspiracy underlying the bungling? It is for the Election Commission of India to find out.

Take the case of Mumbai, the worst victim of terror attacks in recent history. The way the politicians reacted following the 26/11 attack on Mumbai led some people to decide against voting this time. Disgusted is the word writ large on their faces. It seems they have lost all faith in the Indian political system. The anti-North wave too may be one of the reasons. Talking about Gujarat, now that its Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, is in the dock for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim riots, it is a good enough indication of the state of affairs in that state. Obviously, the minority communities are angry with Modi and are feeling let down.

The situation in other States which went to the polls yesterday is no better. The need of the hour is for our politicians to do some soul-searching. Now that the country is getting ready for the fourth phase of polling, the people connected with the election process need to pull up their socks. They must check and re-check the list to ensure that the voters are spared of hassles on the polling day.

Now, what ails the voter in this country? The answers are not difficult to find. Today, the common man is reeling under the weight of unemployment, poverty and inflation. In these days of slowdown, a majority of the Indian population are worried about earning at least to afford two square meals a day. It is needless to say that the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. Then there are problems like religion and caste-ism. The common man is so preoccupied tackling his day-to-day problems that he does not have time to think about political parties or voting for them. Who wins or who loses is not something he will give a thought to, because he believes it is not going to change his life, anyway. Some people do try to take advantage of this situation but he could not care less. Thanks to the media, the man on the street is more enlightened today. He knows how to make use of his valuable vote since he is quite used to the hollow promises of the contestants and their parties. Though he feels cheated every five years, he is always hopeful that some day the winds of change will blow in his favour.

April 27, 2009

Pyari Mohan Mohapatra: A CM in making?

IF POLITICS is all about timing, then Pyari Mohan Mohapatra has an uncanny knack of seizing the moment. On March 7 evening, when BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik announced that the 11-year-old alliance with BJP had come to an end, it was the 69-year-old bureaucrat-turned-Rajya Sabha MP of BJD and Naveen’s chief advisor, who decided when to pull the plug.

If delaying the seat-sharing talks with BJP was one part of Mohapatra’s ploy, weakening the national party in Orissa was the other big idea. From the look of it, he seems to have succeeded in doing both with the rank and file of BJP cursing their own leaders for not backing out of the coalition soon after the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in August last year. A shocked BJP is now crying betrayal heaping blame on Mohapatra.

As Orissa keenly watches the next move by Mohapatra, the state is abuzz with conspiracy theories of how Biju’s one-time secretary may be doing to Naveen what Chandarababu Naidu did to NT Rama Rao in 1995. The once muted gossip of Mohapatra becoming the next chief minister in BJD circles is the centre of animated discussions in Bhubaneswar. “NTR was hugely popular may be more popular than Naveen in his State. But in 1995 it was Chandrababu who pulled the rug under NTR’s feet leaving the Telugu politician in tears. So, I would not be surprised if Pyari unseats Naveen in a coup,” said a BJD MLA, not wishing to be named.

BJP leaders who have no love lost for Mohapatra, prophesise that the former bureaucrat is all set to upstage Naveen once the elections are over. “In this assembly election, Pyaribabu is trying to distribute tickets to his own men and those people after winning the election may show their loyalty to him rather than Naveen. He is orchestrating the whole game that would make him the next chief minister. BJD may win the election using Naveen’s name, but he would not be able to become chief minister for a third term. Once BJD legislators propose Pyaribabu’s name for the post of CM, Naveen would have to go,” said Golak Mohapatra, BJP leader from Bhubaneswar.

But the former bureaucrat, who was once principal secretary to Naveen’s father Biju Patnaik between 1990 and 1994, wishes off the speculation calling it 'laughable'. “Naveen and I are inseparable. Those who are trying to create misunderstanding between Naveen babu and me will never succeed. Nobody can create a division between me and him,” he said.

But despite Mohapatra’s loud protests of not being interested in the top job of the state, BJD leaders say the former bureaucrat now matters in BJD more than ever before due to his utterances and actions. In January this year, he gave the first signs of trouble in BJD-BJP alliance when he told a party meeting in Bolangir district that the regional party is trying to win all the 147 assembly seats and 21 Lok Sabha seats on its own strength. His idea of going alone in Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation and Cuttack Municipal Corporation also reaped rich dividends. In the last six months, he has been working overtime to rope in ex-BJD men as well as leaders from rival parties like Congress and BJP to BJD’s fold.

Partymen say if BJD wins the assembly polls in a three-cornered contest then Mohapatra’s stock in the regional party would be sky high and perhaps better than his protégé. “If UPA comes to power with the help of BJD, then Naveen babu may go to Delhi leaving Orissa at the hands of Pyari babu. After all did not Pyari babu once said political equations are always dynamic and never static,” said a senior BJD leader, who has been watching the rise of the former bureaucrat in the regional party.

The Battle for Orissa

IN THE second and perhaps most crucial phase of polling across 13 states in the country for 265 Lok Sabha seats, 55 per cent of the electorate across the nation turned out to vote, with Orissa registering a 62 per cent turn out, the highest in the country. Orissa voted for 11 Lok Sabha seats and 77 assembly seats today in the state’s second and final phase.

Naveen Patnaik, speaking to a TV News Channel today, predicted that regional parties stand to gain more from the polls than the BJP or the Congress. He said that no alliance with the Congress or the BJP was possible in Orissa citing years of corruption and nepotism at the hands of the Congress as well as the post-Kandhamal scenario where the BJP had rampantly followed an anti-secular agenda. Indicating his distaste for BJP's anti-Christian tirade, he said, ’Every bone in my body is secular.’ The BJP’s candidate for the Lok Sabha seat in Kandhamal, Ashok Sahu, was released from jail 5 days ago for making inflammatory speeches against Christians at an election rally.

In an indirect snub to many Prime Ministerial hopefuls, Patnaik also made it very clear that he has no prime ministerial ambitions for himself, saying he has not let his imagination 'run wild'. He said he would prefer a non-Congress, non-BJP led Government at the center while he concentrates on the development and welfare of the people of Orissa. Patnaik’s comments come at a time when coalition politics is an inevitable part of Indian politics today. In fact, his entire election campaign has been designed along the lines of Narendra Modi’s campaign in Gujarat’s Assembly polls last year. Patnaik has put forward the cause of Orissa, stressing how the state has been ‘done in’ by the center over decades of negligence and lack of economic support.

The mineral rich state has been at the center of protests against the South Korean steel giant POSCO’s proposed one billion-dollar investments that, if materialised, would be the single largest foreign direct investment in India. Such poll issues and much more have been the focus of Patnaik’s campaign in his home state. Whether the BJP-BJD fall-out will benefit the Congress is a ‘Catch 22’ situation for the BJP. Taking votes away from the BJD will benefit the Congress, further explaining the BJP’s anger on being abandoned by the BJD.

Speaking on the subject of seat sharing, the incumbent and much embattled CM said that he was ‘easy’ with the Left parties and the NCP and open to negotiations and alliances, contrary to what he said before, considering Sharad Pawar’s purported alliance with the UPA. Both the king-making parties,the Lalu-led RJD and NCP, recognise the importance of the Left in government formation and clearly, Patnaik is playing his cards deftly. Depending on the success of the BJD in the Lok Sabha polls, he could play a major role in the post-poll numbers game.

The polls in Orissa were relatively incident free, except for CEC reports of 3 cases where EVMs were stolen and booths were captured. An extreme heat wave with the mercury touching 43 degrees Celsius in the state capital of Bhubaneshwar claimed the lives of two election commission officials and a voter.

Incest and child sexual abuse: Our dark realities

LET US face it, how long can our society live in a denial of the fact that 53 per cent of our children are sexually abused, as revealed in a statistic from a survey done by the Government of India?

The recent case in Mumbai where a father was raping his two daughters for several years is not a rarest of the rare case. It’s happening in our society and most of the time, it is the people close to the children who are doing it.

It is not all that possible that other family members do not know about it. Basically it’s a conspiracy. There is a silent understanding among the family members and in society to keep this secret inside the four walls of the house.

Frankly, those of us who just want to project an image of a happy family with high morals are all hypocrites. We just love the respect we have in our society and to withhold that respect, we are ready to sacrifice our children. We call it practical approach of living but is it not a selfish approach of living?

Children are innocent. They don’t understand the concept of sex, they crave for love, care and attention. The sexual predators master the art of manipulating the child to do sexually perverted acts under the guise of fun and play.

The children indulge in the activities thinking of it as a new game of playing with the body parts. By the time, children grow old enough to understand the moral part, they are deep into this mess. They cannot come out even if they want to. It’s a vicious cycle in which things become worse with time.

The victim lacks self-confidence and is always under a sense of guilt and denial. It’s not about the body. It’s more about the mind. Child sexual abuse is a rape of the mind and thought processes.

My humble question to our society: what should a victim do when she wants to stand against her own family member(s) for sexually abusing her since childhood? Let us see:

1. Going by the image of our law enforcing agencies, the police will be the last option for a girl to confide to.

2. Suppose the victim gathers the courage to disclose it to family members. Firstly, the whole family always knew it but they will pretend as if it’s news. This issue will be just a hush-hush. Relatives will give some condolences to the victim, blame it on destiny and de-motivate her from taking any action against the abuser.

3. Everybody has their own selfish interest. Nobody wants the world to know this ugly truth about their family.

4. Some clever relatives will advice the girl to forgive the abusers and forget about the incident. They will manipulate some religious philosophy to advocate their point.

5. Some will show their concern for the marriage prospects of the victim as if they will spend the rest of their lives to find a groom for the victim.

6. But inspite of all this, if the victim is not ready to close the issue, the victim will be outcasted by the family members.

7. The victim cannot approach lawyers because she needs money to pay fees and family support to understand the intricacies of law and redtape.

The crux is nobody stands for you because nobody else has been raped. One needs huge courage to stand for this cause. The victim is on the verge of losing everything. Her social rehabilitation is difficult and her marriage prospects are next to impossible.

We as a society have conspired to leave no other option to our children. Once they fall prey to a sexually perverted relative, they have to accept it and live with this reality for life. Once a victim is married, she becomes more vulnerable. Abusers have access to their houses, they meet them in family functions, and they are always there to ask for their share of her flesh. Now if anything comes to light, it’s all about her chastity and promiscuousness.

Sadly, we have no specific laws to deal with child sexual abuse and incest in our country. The cases are still tried under the IPC sections of rape. The conviction rate in such cases is too low due to obvious reasons. The relatives of the victim turn hostile and never turn up in the court to tell truth. Ironically, there are relatives who stand for the abusers in the courts of law.

There is also no medical evidence as it is not a typical case of rape by a stranger. The victim faces a lot of embarrassment and humiliation in the courts.

It’s my personal opinion that society will pay a huge price for neglecting their children. As per the citation from the Mahabharata, dharma eva hato hanti dharmo raksati raksitah (It is dharma that destroys when destroyed. It is dharma again that protects when protected.)

We as a society have failed to protect our dharma and we have failed to protect our children. When 53 per cent of our children are being abused, we can imagine the number of abusers roaming free in our society. There is nobody to check their moves and there is no one to stand against them.

Fashion to want to become PM: Sonia

ON A whistle stop tour of West Bengal before the first phase of polls, Congress president Sonia Gandhi not only castigated the Left Front but pointed a finger at the likes of Sharad Pawar, Mayawati and others and said that in Indian politics it seems to have become a fashion to want to become the Prime Minister.
Sonia said there were politicians who drift from one block to the other and keep expressing a desire to become the Prime Minister of the country. She said the likes of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh are not among such people. They had never eyed the PM’s chair because “our aim is to work for the people”.

Close on the heels of her son Rahul Gandhi putting the Left Front in West Bengal on the dock for non utilization of development funds and not being able to provide 100 days work for the people under the Rojgar Yojna, Sonia went a step further. She said the Left Front had not only misutilized the funds but had done so to serve their own interest. The benefits of Central schemes had not reached the people, she added.

Addressing rallies in Lalgola, Shamsit, Malda and Raigiunj, Sonia asked the Left to go in for introspection. Pointing out that winds of change were blowing in Bengal, she appealed to the people to vote for Congress candidates because it was only the Congress which could provide a strong and stable government at the Centre.

She also lambasted the CPI (M) led Left Front on the Nandigram and Singur issues and said atrocities had been committed on people in the name of development.

In what seemed to be a gesture to tell the electorate how much the poll alliance between the Congress and Trinamool Congress mattered to her, Sonia pulled the chair, where Mamata was about to sit, closer to her in Lalgola in Pranab Mukherjee’s constituency in Jangipur, Murshidabad district. She leaned across and conferred with her. When she took the microphone she said she was happy that Mamata was on the dais with her. She welcomed her decision to have an electoral pact with per party. The last time the two women were seen in a public rally was in 2001.

Mamata too pitched in with a brief speech where she repeated her familiar tirade of the CPI (M) led Left Front.

A security blanket was thrown over the venues which Sonia Gandhi went for the rallies. The police and security agencies were extra cautious because the Congress president was touring areas which border Bangladesh.

Sonia also addressed rallies in Shamsit, Malda North in support of party candidate Mousam Benazir Noor and in Islampur in North Dinajpur district to campaign for Congress candidate for the Raiganj seat Deepa Dasmunshi - wife of ailing Congress leader from Bengal Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi.

Six people were injured, two of them seriously when a branch of a mango tree broke and more than 30 people fell to the ground and on top of other people standing below. A large number of people had climbed the tree to catch a glimpse of Sonia in Shamsit.

After addressing the rally at Islampur, Sonia headed for Bagdogra airport. However, she had to wait at the airport for quite some time before boarding her special aircraft because a MIG of the Indian Air Force had to make an emergency landing.

April 14, 2009

Think before you vote

CERTAIN POINTS are relevant while we, Indians, cast our votes.
My Indian brothers and sisters, I suggest you consider the break-up of our population by wealth and educational accomplishments, before you cast your vote, as a senior citizen of India, for the benefit of our youngsters:

Rich and educated people: They account for 5 per cent of the population; they are industrialists and businesspersons; they are an affluent class
Rich but poorly educated: They account for 10 per cent of the population; they are traders, businesspersons and politicians; they are an affluent class.
Poor but educated: They account for 25 per cent of the population; they represent the middle class; they are job-holders, professionals, politicians, army personnel and teachers and so on.
Poor and uneducated: They account for 60 per cent of the population; they are semi-skilled and unskilled workers or labourers; they work in factories and farms or they are self-employed in villages, towns and cities
Upon review of the foregoing break-up, I conclude and suggest as follows:

Categories 1 and 2 represent a profit-oriented people; they are not concerned with religion, class, family and friends.

They are concerned with money alone
Category 3 represents people who respect religion, family values and the welfare of fellow Indians
Category 4 represents people who work hard for their survival and the survival of their children. They enjoy no security in life and all the time they are at the mercy of other people, in particular people belonging to category 2.
Secularism or its opposite is of no consequence to categories 1, 3 and 4.
So, while voting, we should ensure that the candidate has:
No criminal background
Good educational background
Exposure to the job he is required to handle
A good reputation

Give legal status to election manifestos

COUNTRY’S TOP political parties Congress and BJP have released their respective poll-manifestos with usual gimmickries. But what if the concerned political party fails to fulfill its poll-promise authenticated by election-manifestos after coming to power?

Unfortunately, present is an era of alliance politics and every political party finds an easy excuse of not reaching consensus amongst allied partners to fulfill promises.

Election-manifestos should be given some legal validity.
Election Commission should de-recognise political parties failing to fulfill poll-promises highlighted in their election-manifestos after coming to power.

It will be advisable that political parties may clear their position before the voters ahead of polls by having two types of poll-manifestos, one if the party succeeds to form government on its own and the other if it has to form a government in alliance with other political parties.

How can BJP go ahead with its poll-promises like Ram Temple, Common Civil Code and abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution etc, when its other NDA allies are openly speaking against these aspects? It is evident that BJP making same promises at 1999-elections, could not fulfill during NDA regime headed by BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee.