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The people who died today taught us a very important lesson that its not only our job to remind our elected officials of their responsibilities but also see to it that, they actually do the work.

Name changes v.s. Foot Over Bridge construction

Unknowingly, Sachin Tendulkar, asked the most important question in Rajya Sabha under the circumstances - He raised a question in 2016 about the status of Foot Over Bridge (FoB) at the  Elphinstone railway station.

In response, the ministry stated that the work was sanctioned in 2016 and unfortunately, as we now know, nothing much happened. This is despite the umpteen number of tweets, letters and other forms of communication (pictures and tweets in the blog) , where the commuters had raised serious concerns about the imminent dangers.

On the other hand, the Maharashtra state assembly passed a resolution to change Elphinstone station to Prabhadevi in Dec 2016, which was approved by the center in April 2017. According to the news sources, the name change was to take effect in Sep 2017.

While the ministry was quick to announce the compensation for the kith and kin of the deceased and those seriously injured, it was anything but quick to begin the sanctioned work.

Below is a list of tweets sent to the authorites forewarning the imminent threat to their lives

Not sure how to do this, given that this is a data free hatchet job by Manu Joseph. So it isn't like he is claiming that his absurd claims are backed by data to begin with. Still, because I'm irritated enough, doing a limited take down of yet another attempt to trivialize the gravity and causes of farmer suicides with the Parliament in session (during or just before Parliament sessions is the season for hatchet jobs on farmers - probably to improve acceptance for anti-farmer policies coming up?).

All quotes from Manu Joseph's fantasy piece on farmer suicides in the Hindustan Times.

If an active cricket ground exists, it would be watered on most days, or it would die. So why this fuss before the tournament? Also, the calls for the cancellation of matches are comical for a simple reason — it is on the days of the matches that the grounds are not heavily watered.

Frankly, I agree with Manu Joseph that there are bigger problems than cricket in the face of drought. For example, the state allocation of water prioritizing industry over domestic consumption in blatant disregard for law or rights and a court limits (not cuts off, mind you) water to breweries long after people have spent months making careers out of seeking water to survive. However, the idea that a cricket ground consumes less water when there is a match is ignorance of the highest order, because he seems to think that facilities for a crowd of spectators and worse, media and teams camping out (who in our VIP culture won't be assigned a couple of buckets a day) don't consume water and all the water in a cricketing event is actually only the water poured on a lawn.

At this point, Manu Joseph dismisses the first veteran of his piece. Sunil Gavaskar.

Sunil Gavaskar, whose relationship with the BCCI, it is reported, has collapsed and whose lucrative contract with the board may end, wrote in his column, “The issue of drought is one such where many lives are at stake.” (True). “I am no expert on ground and pitch preparation…” (True) “…

What Manu Joseph does not realize is that Manu Joseph is no expert on ground and pitch preparation either and does not bother with any disclaimers about his lack of knowledge. Probably because it would involve not writing this absurd piece to begin with. Gavaskar may not be an expert on ground and pitch preparation, but Gavaskar knows cricketing events and probably realizes they are not as water free as Manu Joseph's piece is fact free.

This is a mystifying exaggeration — the suggestion that if matches are held in three cricket grounds in Maharahstra the lives of farmers would be at risk. But it is a popular view.

Absolutely no explanation for why Manu Joseph calls this an exaggeration. No mention of available water that people are ignoring and dying as a hobby. No mention of how much difference in water consumption there would actually be and what constitutes exaggerated. Absolutely no evidence anywhere that Manu Joseph has been to drought hit areas, studied so much as what drought means to reach his expert opinion. Manu Joseph has water in his tap and people are making too much of a fuss. And we actually have newspapers giving space to this entitled garbage. An interesting question of how editorial decisions happen in corporate media. Forget the stand taken by an article, but do newspapers no longer require claims to be backed by evidence?

It is not a popular view, BTW. Most people hate it. 60 kilometers from the heart of Bombay, I get half an hour of water - non-potable - a day. I earn enough to make ends meet and have the luxury  of home delivery for drinking water. Men, women, kids from our oh-so-posh looking society are routinely found at a water filtration gig round the corner, filling 10 liter cans for 3 rupees and ferrying the water home. I am nowhere near the officially drought hit regions of Maharashtra, where taps have run dry right after the monsoon and people have been ferrying water for MONTHS already. Perhaps Manu Joseph would like to ferry water for a week in an air conditioned car before calling these concerns exaggerated or merely popular opinion (as opposed to his fact free expert opinion, I suppose).

Perhaps the fact that many of the deaths from drought are from drowning may prove Manu Joseph's point that there is plenty of water and people are making a fuss? There are kids drowning in the silt in water reservoirs. Falling into wells. Kids who aren't in school to begin with, because they are needed to find and bring water home, right along with the adults. How many of these kids will need to search harder, walk farther? How many adults will die of heat stroke and heart attacks as the search for water makes them wander more in temperatures regularly over 40 degrees? There is already risk of water riots as desperation grows. How many of the quests for water will be made longer with tankers supplying water to desperate localities moved to lucrative providing for cricketing events? [link added because hours after I write this, an expose shows how water for the distressed gets sold to whoever can pay for it]

There is much veneration of farmers in India by those who are not farmers. These are the very people whose greatest fortune was that their grandfathers or fathers ejected their progeny from the agrarian economy.

There is also much dismissal of the plight of farmers in India by those who are not farmers. These are the very people whose greatest fortune is to be so comfortable in life as to see no difference in resources spent on entertainment and food. A lot of these overnight experts are those who find their agricultural know-how based on specific facts and arguments cherry picked and promoted by industries who would prefer to marginalize farmers. Who lack any basic knowledge on the subject to know when they are being fed handpicked bullshit or how they can verify it. Whose world view is so limited to their personal experience that they have little but contempt for anyone wanting attention or sacrifices or even inconvenience for problems that they don't face.

[Ignoring the exhibition of incompetence on diet except for one line, because it will derail the main track of this piece here. If you are interested, comment away and I'll do a separate piece on this other glorious piece of logic.]

The human body does not require rice and wheat. In fact it does very well without grain.

I challenge Manu Joseph to provide details of one meal that someone under our poverty line could afford that does not involve grains or meat (asked to give up just before this quote). Because dear friend, if rural India could afford a diet of nuts, they wouldn't be desperately running after water tankers, they'd order home delivery like you and me. And if you think people can survive without grains or meat or nuts - wait.... lemme guess. you're talking of a desk jockey lifestyle like yours without much need for energy? Cabbage your way out of that paunch? BTW, vegetable growing needs more water 🙁 Ask me. I have 3 balcony gardens for food and watering in summer is a pain. The grasses grow much easier than these lush beauties (I assume you know grains grow on grasses).

There is more, but I'm bored now. Ending with this masterpiece of propaganda (the art of repeating a falsehood till it starts sounding true)

Let me repeat an assertion this column made earlier while arguing that farmer suicides are primarily a depression story where poverty only plays a role:

“In a country where most people can be termed ‘farmers’, it is not anomalous that most people who kill themselves would be ‘farmers’. In fact, what is anomalous is that a huge majority of farmers who commit suicide are male. If both official and activist statistics are considered, it would appear that women in impoverished farming communities are among the least likely Indians to commit suicide. Activists who ascribe social, economic and political reasons for suicides would never be able to explain why.’ In most nations of the world, including India, the number of men who commit suicide is several times more than the number of women. this pattern is reflected in the gender ratio of ‘farmer suicides’.

Not just activists, any sane person can't get this logic. That depression is the cause of suicide, but not loans or policies and political maliciousness. I mean, why would you be depressed if your months of physical labour resulted in loss? Why would you be depressed if you couldn't repay loans? Why would you want policies to cover your risks? This logic can only come from someone living in a "normal" where hardwork is not necessary to survive, a good way of dealing with loans you don't repay is pulling strings to get them restructured and bailouts are necessary to save jobs, so not like you want any favors.

No matter how many times you repeat it, fact is, most people in India are not farmers. This bogus statistic is based on some expert claim made by another columnist on economics who found his agricultural gene just before a Parliamentary session with a GM food decision coming up and has been copied by every overnight agricultural columnist whose sole agricultural writings come when policy decisions are up for grabs and have never spoken to the family of a farmer who committed suicide or, for that matter, laid feet on agricultural soil for their journalism. Not seen a single person who actually has knowledge of the subject ever buy this nonsense.

The reason for that is that the IDIOT interpreted 54% of Indian population being sustained by the agricultural SECTOR (this includes everything from distributors of pesticides to tractor mechanics and wholesalers of grain) as farmers. Whereas, the fact is that the farmer suicide problem is largely between small and marginalized farmers, whom we are losing rapidly, even as the number of suicides increases in a shrinking population. But this bogus argument remains popular among subsequent idiots who don't verify the bullshit they are fed with when they have propaganda to peddle. You are not the first, and you will not be the last. The activist types don't give a fuck, but bogus data pisses me off, so I suppose I must call this out every time I see it.

Disclosure: Not commenting on the comment about P. Sainath because conflict of interest. I am happy to share that since yesterday, I am on the payroll of the People's Archive of Rural India founded by Sainath, which sadly now will seem like I am defending him in situations like these, when it would just be objecting to rubbish before.

Note: I normally reference and provide data for my posts, but I believe a fact free article at least requires a rebuttal where you have to do the hard work yourself to verify things I say and discover a hundred more horrors I didn't say.

3

I think Sachin Tendulkar's Bharat Ratna is a milestone in Indian history. A time when the Indian government has finally stopped its politics of denial and stood up for what it stands for. It is a feeling of great relief, verging on euphoria. A clear statement that the government respects most those who fleece the country and ignore its laws. This is a beginning, in spite of the national shame. A beginning of being truthful, if not acting in the best interest of the country.

This post is not about Sachin Tendulkar, the cricketer. It is about the Sachin Tendulkar who casually took the country for granted. Over and over. It was probably his only real qualification for Rajya Sabha.

A serial tax evader, Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna this year.
A serial tax evader, Sachin Tendulkar got the Bharat Ratna this year.

The Bharat Ratna is a farce. A farce perpetuated at the cost of the dignity of this country. A clear statement that Sachin Tendulkar may deliberately evade custom duty on a gift Ferrari that he later sells for profit. Sachin Tendulkar may register his car in Navi Mumbai where he doesn't live to save the higher tax of Mumbai - a measly 4.5 lakh more on a BMW M5 mega luxury car. Sachin Tendulkar may disown that profession he is getting the Bharat Ratna for, by calling the endorsements because of it "acting" to avoid paying taxes. And Sachin Tendulkar will get the highest honor in the country for becoming famous for a career that paid him well, and rewarded him aplenty in any case.

This has to be worth some mega recognition in a country where the finance minister expresses regret in a budget speech that the country has only 42,800 people with taable income more than a crore. Bharat Ratna for sure. Never mind the cricket, it should be for creative accounting.

Sachin Tendulkar may casually see himself over legal procedures like obtaining an occupation certificate for your home before doing a puja in it and prevent queries under the RTI about it. Or inaugurate an elite Mumbai Cricket Association club named after him, built on leased land beyond permissible limits, ignoring plea after plea by activists to refuse, because it was built on land that should have been a playground for local children. Or perhaps local kids need a bar, restaurant and card rooms? At least the lack of occupation certificate was consistent. Probably embarrassing to look like he had to wait for it like common people.

The highest honor of the country conferred on someone who repeatedly violated it for grandeur or profit. And this is after decades of completely legal opportunity to amass money, honor and mega lucrative advertizing contracts by playing in India's name. Some days it seems there is no end to the humiliation this Bharat mata must endure at the hand of her rogue children.

Sachin Tendulkar is perhaps representative of the ordinary entitled elite who see having plenty as the reason to feel entitled to even more. The rogue children are those who add insult to injury by conferring the nation's highest honor with such little regard for the nation's honor.

4

Yesterday, there was a bizarre news. It hit in two parts. One news headline was Sachin Tendulkar going to meet Sonia Gandhi. The other was the President nominating him to the Rajya Sabha.

The gaga media immediately mentioned him as the first sports person to be nominated to the Parliament. Well, there is a reason for that. No one had noticed that there was an area of the  constitution left unsullied until now. This has now been taken care of. As Rohit Bansal quotes the Election Commission of India, in his article on Governance Now:

"Article 80 (3) of the constitution of India provides that the members to be nominated by the president to Rajya Sabha should have special knowledge or practical experience in matters like literature, science, art and social service."

But that is just one part of it. I suppose, like Sachin called himself an actor for tax purposes, he could call himself one for Parliament purposes as well. The real questions are, who is Sachin Tendulkar as a whole person beyond the sportsman, what is his utility to the Parliament, and what does it mean for the country.

Sachin Tendulkar is a cricketer. He is the world's best batsman. He has a clean image in cricket so far beyond a 2001 accusation of ball tampering, which is rendered irrelevant at this point through sheer performance. So far, so good. His image as a citizen took a solid trouncing when he claimed duty exemptions for the Ferrari he received as a gift. It is true that the customs duty was 120% which kind of defeats the idea of a gift, but the whole point is that this is what it is for all Indians. Please note that he also sold it.

Further shameful evasion was on display when he used his celebrity endorsements in ads to call himself an actor and pay less tax, under section 80 RR of I-T Act. Then, he violated the MOFA (Maharashtra Ownership Flat Act) when he performed the "grihapravesh" of his home without an Occupation Certificate from the builder. Considering that we do have MPs with far worse cases filed against them, this is not exactly earth shattering. However as a public personality, it is a visible disregard for the laws of the land and the spirit guiding them.

What would Sachin Tendulkar contribute to the Parliament is an important question with no real answer. He has shown no particular interest in the well being of the country beyond the occasional messages for vaccinations or autism awareness tweet - which pretty much everyone does. He hasn't shown any particular opinion on politics or development in the country. He hasn't had any particular affiliations in politics either.

However, the idea of the nominated posts is presumably so that non political influences of excellence in areas needing development in the country are available in the governance of the country. Sachin's career as a cricketer is still on. When is he going to attend the Parliament? Even if he did, cricket has to be among the most well spread influences in the country already - in fact, to the point of crowding out other sports, including the National sport hockey - not something that particularly needs further reinforcement in government policies as such.

With this information in mind, it becomes difficult to ignore the more cynical view of his neutrality and lack of outspokenness as well as his tremendous crowd pulling capacity being the real assets in this nomination. That this nomination has been suggested by a party floundering in both politics and credibility makes this look like a "match fixing" move on the National level, rather than any particular contribution to the country.

What do the people get? Nothing in particular. Sachin is not a National hero for anything related to politics, and unless he does an Imran Khan, the nomination is unlikely to damage his fan base across political parties. On the other hand, his popularity is going to make opposing anything he supports difficult for reasons that will have nothing to do with good or bad decisions and everything to do with popular hero having a mass following - the question really is if he manages to retain autonomous opinions, or if he becomes part of endorsing political stands - a reasonable apprehension seeing as who suggested his nomination. Looking at where we are in our journey toward evolving as a democracy, we have had a year of turbulence related with corruption, disillusioned with people in power writing their own rules, and dazzled by the aura of a National hero, we are still supporting the same traits to power. Still turning a blind eye and excusing them selectively in the name of popularity. After all, isn't popularity how the corrupt politicians got elected too?

Perhaps this move of the politicians is brilliant only because it subtly psychological-pushes citizens back in the direction of a status quo they briefly tried to fight, where you get some "good qualities" pointed out and the erosion of National interest is the "acceptable price". If we swallow this, then the next pill will be slightly bigger, and slightly bigger till we are back to swallowing the entire Parliament again.

On a personal note, he should be made Prime Minister, because he speaks about as much as our current one. He should be made president because he followed the great con man promoter of blind faith - Sai Baba like our previous president, and thinks nothing of bending rules for personal profit at the expense of the country like our current one.