Monday, December 9, 2013

Delhi Decides- hope from the AAP Phenomena

After many years I was keen to see the Election Results and Analysis for the General Elections held in Delhi. On December 8, the day of vote counting, I got up at 3AM (Paris time), streamed NDTV on the internet. Don’t remember the last time I had that much energy for an Election result that too for a state Assembly and one in which I myself couldn’t vote.

The drabbing that the two established political parties got from the new kid on the block pleased all people who like to see an underdog prevail. But this victory meant a lot more and the joy that these results brought to millions can be explained beyond the simple human instinct of backing a proclaimed underdog. For the first time in my living memory, people participated from their hearts in an electoral process and voted for the right causes. Fortunately they had an alternative.

I can write a hundred pages on why Mr Arvind Kejriwal and his team of gutsy men and women, are extraordinary people who challenged the arrogant and high headed professional netas in Delhi. Truly, their determination, courage and efforts are mind boggling. However, I wish to write my views about what could, this result for a party of upstarts, mean for the political discourse in India.

The doom predictors call is that this one-off victory of the people is an ephemeral phenomena that would die its natural death. How can you fight and win elections at a stage larger that Delhi where caste, religion, black money, language, family lineage and goodapower matters more than just lofty ideals and sheer honesty of intent for public service?

The ultra-optimists hope that AAP can replicate the success in places other than Delhi.

Well, the party may or may not be able to challenge the established players in the Electoral games in India but that is not the biggest hope I have anyway. What the AAP has proven in its phenomenal performance is even more monumental than its victory at the ballot box. It has provided a new book from which our established political Parties can surely read to few lessons.

The victory of AAP has shown that it is possible!

It is possible to fight and win elections with white money, it is possible to field candidates who are honest, it is possible to win popular support without the clutches of caste, creed, liquor and money power, it is possible to win without goondas by your side.

The people of India are fed up of the disconnected politics that doesn’t touch their lives. They are disgruntled with the VIP netas who behave like heavenly beings, born to rule. The common man is keen to have his problems solved but even more than that wishes to have leaders who are honest in their efforts and intent. They aspire to have people who give them a “he is one of us” feeling rather than “they are leaders and we are just common people” feeling.

So what could be the biggest contribution of the AAP victory?

To me, it was a large field experiment that proved that the right politics matters more than the politics of right and left. That it is possible to win elections with an honest agenda and intent, and that people are willing to be partners in a good effort.

As an optimist I hope that the right minded leaders of the established political parties will now admit that it is time to clean up the way their parties function. They must believe now that they can fight the elections without black money, they can win with clean candidates of honest intent, they can win with right intentions and without indulging in politics of narrow sectarian games.

There is a silver lining. The established parties do not lack leaders with the right intentions and credentials but their kinds seem powerless and voiceless in these parties. This movement must give courage to the honest and right thinking persons in the big parties to set the agenda right. The silent majority of such members in these parties should now let their voices be heard so that these parties can be transformed. Why not move to clean money, clean people and clean intentions.

No citizen minds giving hefty allowances and big bunglows to their elected leaders provided they use these assets to honesty serve the public. However, if the common person still perceives the distance from the main gate of the netas bunglow to the drawing room longer than a marathon and the darshan of these leaders continues to appear taller than the Mt Everest, people will sooner or later find a way to get themselves heard by means considered right or wrong. We can avoid such an Indian spring.

I sincerely hope that the AAP victory will set a real discourse for introspection within the established political parties and this time they will act with the right changes rather that trudging along the beaten track that continues to take them away from the life and aspirations of the Aam Aadmi.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Munnabhai Effect - let the law remain blind

Munnabhai is one of the most adored actors of Bollywood. The son of Sunil Dutt and Nargis is also known for some of his mistakes and follies. Be it his reported tryst with drugs or his life changing adventure with weapons.

Just days ago, the Supreme Court of India, sentenced him to prison for 5 years thus confirming his crime of illegally possessing the AK-56 assault rifle. In the same judgment, the Court upheld the death sentence to one of the Bombay blasts mastermind (or we may call it Mumbai blasts to satisfy the proud Marathis) giving a sense of closure to the victims.

The court's judgment came two decades after the blasts ripped India's financial capital and claimed over 200 innocent lives. Yet the Court's delayed but welcome pronouncement has been discussed in the main stream media only for its impact on one man, Sanjay Dutt, our Munnabhai.

There is an outpouring of support for the veteran film star, with the news media choosing to present only his side of the story. His emotional statements about being a good human being, a lover of the country and his suffering over last two decades is being played out in a manner that virtually shows the judiciary like an insensitive monster. Fellow actors, politicians and former judges too seem to reflect upon the Court's judgment as a grave assault on the fine man called Sanjay Dutt.

What is happening on the 24X7 TV screens is however a far cry from the complete truth.

I do not doubt one bit that Mr Dutt is a brilliant actor and perhaps a fine human being. Even I would have been happier had the courts found him not guilty. I suspect even the judges who delivered the judgment would love to see Mr Dutt as a free man but they had a duty to perform and could not let boisterous and ill-couth TV anchors interpret the law.

The Courts don't work to please me or the personal preferences of even the judges. They have a larger purpose to defend. Fortunately, they are also deaf to the ill-informed cacophony on India's well marketed News Channels.

The discourse in the News Channels wants us all to believe that Mr Dutt did not in fact possess dangerous weapons illegally? They wish to sideline the simple fact that it is a crime to possess an AK 56 from an underworld don and that there is a law that defines the punishment for it.

It will indeed be dangerous if laws are interpreted by courts taking into account the perceived humane-ness of the culprit in their general life demeanour. The goodness in any domain does not give a license to violate the law of the land.

There may be hundreds of persons in jail today, rightly so, for similar or even less heinous crime. Have be bothered to look into their pedigree and their humane-ness before sentencing them? No. A crime does not become any less if the person committing it happens to have a million followers shedding tears or is known for a million good things. If court judgments infer guilt based on the popular perception of the guilty then anyone can claim immunity from punishment for misdeeds.

I heard one film personality on a news Channel yesterday saying that Mr Dutt's should not have been given such a punishment as he is not a terrorist and that the court too had not declared him as one. Very true indeed. The gentleman did not realize that had Mr Dutt been found to be a terrorist he would have got a much harsher punishment and not what he got. The court sentenced him for the misdeed he did and not for more or for less. Another film industry friend of Mr Dutt's friend seemed to indicate as if securing an AK56 from an underworld don is just like stealing a candy from a friend and Mr Dutt was punished too harshly for that. It is amazing to see how their proximity to Mr Dutt and their knowledge about his everyday fine demeanour seem to have blinded them to the act Mr Dutt indulged in. Being a Bollywood star doesn't entitle a man to possess dangerous weapons without the threat of possible punishment on getting caught.

I am relieved that the courts rejected the marketed perception and upheld the rule of law. A democracy doesn't give the News Channels a right to air only the sentimental and sensational viewpoints but indeed to also present the bare truth. The facts are much simpler than the histrionics on the TV channels. Mr Dutt has been found guilty for a crime he did.

On a personal note though, I am an admirer of Mr Dutt's acting and hold his family in high regard. Yet, I can't see why that should be the basis for judging all his acts in life. I too wish the court had found him worthy of lesser punishment but it didn't and that for me is the end of the story. I am least competent to be a super judge discussing the merits of the case. Let each institution do its own job. It is time that the TRP crazy news channels learn something from the courts and do their job impartially rather than act as the pseudo conscience keepers of the society.

At the same time, if Mr Dutt is granted pardon by the Governor, I shall be a happy man. Again, he should be pardoned if the Governor finds it a fit case for his mercy. The pardon would not make the court judgment wrong- as I fear many high headed journalists will conclude. It will only be an outcome of the considered view of the Government in this specific case and shall be an outcome of a legally exercised authority. Again, the institutions have to do their job.

While the fear of the holy News Channels and erudite Editors likely description of the pardon as “Government’s favour to the rich and famous”, should not work against Mr Dutt, the Governor’s rejection of the mercy plea too, should be seen as an outcome of a due process of law. Let anyone's stardom or the lack of it become an irrelevant factor in matters of law.