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The NDTV Davos Junket

Davos is an important mile stone in the global business calendar.

Every year the most powerful businessmen in the world hob-nob with equally powerful political leaders and discuss global economic policy. Fortune 100 CEOs become accessible to the media. Philanthropy gets discussed and the rest of the world is reminded about how policy decisions that affect their lives gets shaped without their participation.

The cream of NDTV – Barkha Dutt, Vikram Chandra and Sreenivasan Jain  along with a few others from NDTV were in Davos. A rich and creamy delegation indeed.

They spoke to George Soros (a man convicted of insider trading) about Commodity Trading and it’s links to inflation. *Bangs head on table*

They spoke to Melinda Gates on philanthropy and how wonderful it is that world’s richest people who have made billions will promise to give away a portion of their wealth after they die. How they made their money in the first place and why they can’t channel it back right now – did not seem to be pivotal to the discussion. One topic that should have come up in the NDTV interview with Melinda Gates – is their interest in vaccines – that are targeted at first world diseases but tested in countries like India. (e.g. the HPV Vaccine. Path International – an organisation behind the tests is a recipient of Gate’s benevolence. See open letter on HPV trials from Indian Journal of Medical Ethics here).

They spoke a lot about Good Governance with Indian business Tycoons. Why and how an Indian business Tycoon who gets subsidies in the annual budget would want to talk about good governance – beats me.

They interviewed Indra Nooyi of Pepsi Co. Of course it would not be polite to bring up (and play hard-ball) on the issue of water conservation with one of the largest water miners in the country no? The green theme is (obviously) meant only for viewers and not advertisers. (See this piece in ehmmm NDTV)

As the studio jockeys were having a field day or should we say “a day in the field”, the real stories were breaking in Nothern Africa. CNN and BBC were running non-stop coverage of Egypt and Yemen – while our crew from NDTV was giving air-time to advertisers in the name of economic policy.

If they had sent their journalists from NDTV Profit or their lifestyle channel, it would have made sense and been a fair investment of air time. But to send all their editors most of whom are political pundits seemed a little odd.

Maybe it was an internal business decision to start getting international exposure. Maybe it was an effort to become a news channel that looks beyond India. Maybe it was seeking out new funding and wanted it’s dream team on display. The coverage unfortunately ended up looking like a junket for journalists.They were all in the wrong place at the wrong time as North Africa was in the grip of a revolution.

It would have been nice if we could have seen Sreenivasan Jain on the streets of Cairo covering a rapidly breaking story. He once covered a US election very well…yes I remember the glory days of NDTV.

Many of us in India are waiting for Al Jazeera. Hopefully their entry will put news back into news rooms in studios with potential (like NDTV).

On a relevant side note, after the greenwashing of “Greenathon” and “Save the tiger”….
We now have the “Coca-Cola-NDTV-Support My School” campaign. My issue with this programme is once again the choice of partner. Why do I have to remind NDTV about Coca-Cola and the people of Plachimada? While the people of Plachimada and the toxins that they drink thanks to Coke will be forgotten – you and I will be told that they really care about our children. What about the children of Plachimada? I predict lots more of Suhel Seth on air (his company Counselage has Coca-cola and NDTV in their portfolio). We may also see a lot more of Shashi Tharoor (the man who batted for Coke as residents were complaining about toxins in the groundwater in Plachimada).

Yes or No?

1)      They say no to reservation
2)      They say yes to tax breaks and subsidies for corporates
3)      They say no subsidies for the poor
4)      They say yes diesel subsidies for their SUVs
5)      They say no to fertilizer subsidies for the farmers
6)      They say yes to biometric tagging
7)      They say no free water supply for the poor
8)       They say yes to tax payer money being used for airports
9)      They say no to tax payer money being used for power subsidies
10)  They say yes to import subsidies for agricultural produce
They then turn around and ask me why they shouldn’t criminalise poverty and lock up a destitute after labelling him a beggar. They create poverty, criminalise it and then want to hide the evidence. Do you still need to know why I have a problem with Dr Manmohan Singh, Dr Montek Singh and Dr Nandan Nilekani? 

Vedanta and Spin Doctoring

In spin doctoring timing is everything!

As the Saxena committee report on Vedanta’s violation in Niyamgiri goes public, Vedanta announces the acquisition of Cairn India – a player in the energy space.

A quick look at Google News. Searched for “Vedanta”

  • 976 articles related to Vedanta Acquisition of Cairns
  • 72 articles related to the Saxena Committe report

 The timing is too good to be true.
Saxena committee report getting buried 10:1 on Google news.

Wake up and smell the Shit!

64 years after independence we have scavengers who manually dispose of  human faeces for a living. If that is not enough (and shameful), these very same people, are being  intimidated, isolated and evicted because of their caste. Wake up and  smell the shit!

Savanur, in Haveri District of Karnataka, was  the site of a protest that should act as wake-up call for every citizen  and the government. Unfortunately, like every other warning signal that we  have seen about the issue of disparity, this too was either ignored or treated like  some shit on the road that we need to walk around.

While the citizens of the town need them for scavenging, they are not  willing to let them live in their home of 40 years. They are not willing  to let them access water – and if they do so – they are accused of  theft – or have to pay a fine of 2000 Rs – something that is beyond  their means. You clean the town’s drains manually …but are denied water to clean  yourself? A ‘commercial complex’ gets priority over their lives? 

Kannada papers did cover it, and one even dedicated an editorial. Vernacular news channels too touched upon it – but it got the treatment of something that came of the ticker. To Deccan Herald’s credit, it did cover the story.

What about the national media? Why the hell did they not editorialize it? Why did studios not discuss it?

Did somebody say the caste system is dead? Is India anywhere close to shining? Not when people have to cover themselves in human excrement as a mark of protest against being denied access to water and being displaced from their homes.

If India has to rise and shine, we need to wake up and smell the shit.

Guerrilla marketing and TATA (trying to manufacture an image?)

Wikipedia on Guerilla Marketing:

Typically, guerrilla marketing campaigns are unexpected and unconventional; potentially interactive; and consumers are targeted in unexpected places.

The Google Advertisement on a page that hosts a Petition against POSCO

My problem with this

  • The Internet remains relatively free from “manufactured consent” when you compare it with the rest of the mainstream media. 
  • We have many studio anchors posing as experts on TV who know so little about so much. A good example is how little they know about the tragedy of Kalinganagar.  
  • Mining is tearing into the lives of Indian citizens in many parts of the country. Getting news and information about the violations by mining corporates has been an uphill battle.
  • It is not strange that the mining lobby and the main-stream media  including the Tatas are bed-fellows.
  • NOW, we have PR spin doctoring creeping rapidly into the Internet and on forums where one could get some independent and factual information. It’s being hijacked by “advertising”.
  • Doesn’t matter where you pitch a tent – the spin doctors seem to creep up right behind you – and start screaming louder than you!
  • We need to start reclaiming some spaces. We will be foolish if we let every single space that we have be hijacked by people who have a horrendous track record like TATA
  • They may have the financial muscle to buy up google ad-space and bury the truth in Page 5 of a Google search and they are not afraid of using it. 
  • I would be naive to say that I did not see it coming. I was surprised to see it on the petition and the PR site that they have put-up.

Another example – search for “Kalinganagar” on Google

For folks who are interested in the other side of the story – and don’t need to be fed information from a PR spoon coated in unadulterated cow dung – I strongly suggest that you visit –

Aiyoo Rama!

Aiyoo Rama! Stumped Again!

The “liberal dharma” brigade is back with the Hindu Rasthra theme and this time it’s called “Ram Rajya”. I disagree with almost every one of their positions and this one in particular – that ‘Ram Rajya’ is an ideal to strive for.
The rare exceptions where I agree with them are in the area of universal themes (e.g. dynasty politics is bad for a democracy).

Circus tents pitched at different foras on the internet use the concept of “Hindutva” to ridicule the left. People in these circus tents drop conservative phrases like “liberal dharma” (which I have written about in the past) and “Hindu Rashtra”. The latter never fails to send a chill down my spine.

To borrow a phrase from their own lexicon, most of these circus tents are populated by “handmaidens” of the BJP. They chose to begin their critique of the Bandh call by first declaring the BJP guilty by associating itself with the left. This is not surprising as their definition of liberal makes them extreme conservatives – intolerant of anything/anybody that seeks to protect public wealth and resources from being exploited by private interests.

Now they are claiming that self-interest is in national interest and that we need to move towards a “Ram-Rajya”. They quote heavily from some scripture or the other on the rules that Lord Ram had for the his kingdom. Their argument for economic liberalization comes not from contemporary analogy but from mythology that did not consider both genders equal and all people equal.

They are welcome to quote from these scriptures and texts. These texts are not allowed to be disputed in discourse because of their religious status. This makes the quoting of these texts a dogmatic exercise.

We are on the brink of another Hindutva wave and the left (very worryingly) seems to be oblivious. The left response is weak because it suffers from a similar problem. Leftist political parties in India are also dogmatic. They discuss Marx and Trotsky but react to every critique of the two with an ad hominem response. Marx had a set of economic recommendations for a nation state– but to treat them as indisputable and as the only approach is dogmatic. A typical debate tends to slip into polemics and rhetoric faster than the blink of an eye. The Hindu Rashtra brigade says that the left uses dogma and they explain this by being dogmatic themselves. This is a game that the Hindutva brigade will win based not on content but on decibel levels.

My take on the bandh

  • Everybody has a right to dissent and protest. That said, one cannot be coerced or forced into participating in dissent. 
  • I refused to participate in the Bandh because Sanitary workers in Bangalore could not participate – they needed their daily wage. They have been fighting for fair wages for months now and I believe that it is India’s national interests for its citizens to align with their cause. When they go on strike – I will be striking with them.
  • Inflation is a problem across every state in India including states ruled by the BJP and the Left. We need to look at how we can manipulate fuel subsidies to reduce the burden on the poor. Inflation is about big business interests and BJP is aligned with those interests as much as the Congress is. 
  • The congress will not give a dam about the Bandh. Fuel prices WILL be de-regulated. MMS is from the Brentton-Woods school which means his polices are neo-liberal.

Allow me to leave you with a small take on “Ram Rajya” -
Disclosure – I have used this poem in another post as well.

जो पुल बनायेंगे,
वे अनिवार्यतः
पीछे रह जाएंगे
सेनाएँ होंगी पार
मारे जायेंगे रावण
जयी होंगे राम
जो निर्माता रहे
इतिहास में
बंदर कहलाएंगे।

- ‘अज्ञेय’  |

Life as a Pedestrian (or living with urban development)

There was a tragic traffic accident yesterday between the State Bank of India ATM and entrance to CPWD quarters on Sarjapura Road [Koramangala II block]. A pedestrian who was trying to cross the road succumbed to injuries at the scene of the accident.

  • There is a traffic constable posted at the entrance to Kudremukh colony, but I am not too sure how much that person can handle things during peak hours. The constable was posted after a neighbour visited senior officials of the traffic police a few weeks ago.
  • Another tragedy waiting to happen are the median blocks that keep getting moved onto the road by two wheeler drivers who want a short cut into/out-of III block Koramangala.
  • Ambulances keep getting stuck in the jam thanks to the diversion for the underpass. It takes an eterinty for the traffic to be moved for the ambulance. 

    Crossing Sarjapura Road on foot or on vehicle between II and III block Koramangala is life threatening. It’s not a hypothesis any more.


    The Bhopal Verdict Presents an Opportunity for Reform

    For over twenty years now, most of us have been outraged by the lack of justice for the victims for the Bhopal Gas tragedy. The judgement, which was on expected lines if you were watching the story closely, was a bitter disappointment. Other cases that are being dragged at a snails place like the 1984 riots or Bofors case also come to mind. 

    The Bhopal judgement has triggered a groundswell of outrage cutting across party and political lines. The condemnation is almost universal. This decision, if used intelligently, could turn out to be the straw that will break the camel’s back.

    Judicial reform has been on the back-burner. Nobody has had found the right opportunity to take on the system, clean it, and give it the infrastructure and support it needs to dispense justice and uphold the constitution. Any sweeping change, targeted at such a key institution,  needs to have a massive groundswell of public support. There is no time like now to build that support!

    The Bhopal case presents us with an opportunity to clean out the stables and strengthen the system. We can use it as an opportunity to reduce political interference in the dispensation of justice, reduce the misuse of law, reduce the backlog burden, and address the large number of under-trials waiting for a day in court.

    The moment has presented itself. It will be difficult to oppose reform that will make justice more accessible to victims. Can parliament unite, cut across party-lines and drop hidden agendas? Will the law ministry seize the moment? I hope so.

    Call to action:
    Let us use our anger and outrage constructively. Let us force the Indian media to start asking about Judicial reform. Let’s dig up reports made at the behest of Parliament and the Law Ministry on Judicial Reform. Let’s start getting our elected representative to demand a reform in the judicial system. Anything that can add momentum to the call for sweeping reform should be don and done before the issue fades from public memory. 

    Hopefully folks on the left, right and centre of the political spectrum will see eye-to-eye on this one.

    Final Solution

    One of my Favorite Blogs – The Idea of India, had a documentary embedded in this post. I am embedding the documentary “Final Solution” at the end of this post. It is a well known documentary about Godhra and it’s aftermath. This was the first chance that I had to see it and it lived up to it’s reputation. I am not surprised that the censor board (at the time) wanted it canned.

    The last 30 minutes had me scared. I am sure that it will scare you too (unless of course you are a religious fundamentalist, in which case you will be salivating at the prospect of more death and violence)

    Allow me to leave you with a poem that appears at the end of the documentary
    Mandir bhi le lo
    Masjid bhi le lo
    Magar tum hamare
    Lahoo se na khelo
    mandir se gar jo
    khuda hai nadardad
    aur masjidion mein
    nahin hai jo ishwar
    to phir aadmi ke liye dharm kya hai
    jahan aadmi ke liye uthne hain khanjar
    khuda ko bhi le lo
    ishwar ko bhi le lo
    tum ram le lo
    babar bhi le lo

    Build your temple, have your mosque
    But don’t play with our blood for it

    If a muslim god has no space in your temple
    If the Hindu God doesn’t reside in your mosque
    Then why have a religion that preaches murder

    You can have all our Gods
    But don’t play with our blood for it

    You can have Ram and Babar
    But don’t play with our blood for it

    Final Solution – the complete documentary


    There have been some subtle changes on some right wing sites recently. Probably an attempt to whitewash their Hindu Rashtra leanings. This leaves me stumped. Have they been stumped? Has the “liberal dharma tag” been buried? Have they realized that they are far from liberal and extremely conservative? The circus tent still seems to be around. That said, I have not seen any new circus tricks lately. The only exception was support for Israel in the name of ‘real politics’ or some such thing. Journo sena folks seem to be less engaged with them as well.