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
I don't really follow the Olympics, but it is difficult to miss stories when they are so shocking. The overwhelming perception of the Indian contingent all through the Olympics Games saga has been one of complete disinterest in sports performance. Here are some of the highlights off the top of my head.
Three out of four brand ambassadors for India had nothing to do with Olympic sports
Other than Abhinav Bindra (who, as India's only Olympics gold medalist till then couldn't really be avoided) India's brand ambassadors for the Olympics had absolutely nothing to do with Olympics sport. They are Salman Khan, Sachin Tendulkar and A R Rahman - for the record. They were apparently chosen to popularize Olympics among Indians. Though it is anyone's guess why any of the three would generate an interest in sports that they themselves didn't have any achievements in. If anything, it seemed like India was saying we don't have anyone notable in all these sports and if we are to sell enough ad spots for our pet media to make good profits, we'd better get selling faces on the screen.
Training funds diverted to election bound Assam
More than 100 crores from funds for training Olympics athletes were diverted toward hosting the SAF games in Assam as per the wish of BJP's CM candidate for Assam. The election was won, indeed, but the Olympics seems lost. The only medals so far appear to be from Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu - both established players and have long term dedicated coaches and whose training wouldn't be impacted as badly by whims in government spending. Contestants from less privileged backgrounds who had to struggle to reach the Olympics on the basis of sheer talent, notably didn't make it through. Dipa Karmakar lost by a fraction of a second. Could Lalita Babar (Indian Railways) or Dattu Bhokanal (Army), for example have a stronger showing if there had been more attention and spending toward getting them to peak performance?
Skewed priorities on who got sent to Rio
While we had all kinds of VIPs from Nita Ambani (how is she at all relevant to sport?) to random politicians and relatives parading as doctors gone to Rio in style and comfort, while the athletes who were supposed to deliver the results flew economy, had their supporting staff refused, etc. For example, it is only when Dipa Karmakar showed promise of winning a medal that her previously rejected physiotherapist was flown in to Rio in a hurry. It isn't like other athletes got their physiotherapists there either. Saina Nehwal, for example, sustained an injury to her knee in the run up to the Olympics. She had been injured 10 days before her match and as per her coach, had been given a dexamethasone injection after consulting IOC doctors at the clinic in the Olympic village on the day of the match, to bring down swelling and pain. It is unclear what other specialized treatment was available to her. Her injury worsened during her game and she had to bow out and be hospitalized on return to India. Would our contingent having adequate support staff have improved her prospects? It is anyone's guess.
Lack of sincerity among those inexplicable ones who went to Rio
Anil Vij, Haryana minister had gone to Rio for some obscure reason like observing sports with players from his state or some such. Once there, he didn't actually attend the events where players from Haryana competed. Sports Minister Vijay Goel brought embarrassment to India with his behavior. Whether it was endless selfies with exhausted contestants or angering Olympics officials with disregard for protocol when those accompanying him entered accredited areas without authority and got aggressive when confronted. If he had showed half the attention to his tweets wishing Indian players before their events, a lot of embarrassment would have been avoided as he merrily misspelled names, tweeted out images wishing sports people with his own photo featured prominently on them, used wrong photos or simply wished contestants the best heaping insult on injury after they had already contested (and not won). The radiologist son of the Vice President of the Indian Olympic Association is serving as the medical officer to our contingent. That is right. Our delegation to the freaking OLYMPICS doesn't merit a sports medicine expert, though there is no shortage of Page 3 paisawalas and bureaucrats and assorted opportunists.
Our boxing participants almost got disqualified because their vests did not have their country - India printed on them. The kits were replaced and there were no disqualifications and the coach dismissed it as a minor issue, but it seems rather stunning that our boxers arrived at the Olympics without our country's name on their vests and apparently no one realized that this would be a problem.
The Narsingh Yadav gamble
Narsingh Yadav had tested positive for methandienone on the 25th of June and 5th of July (this is a gap of 10 days). He claimed that there was a conspiracy against him and that his food/drink had been spiked. NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency of India) exonerated him, presumably believing his claims. As a result, he was representing India at the Olympics - and it isn't like we didn't have a choice. Our champion Sushil Kumar with two Olympic medals in the immediately preceding two Olympics (silver - 2012, London Olympics + bronze - 2008, Beijing Olympics), for example was a possibility. Perhaps it could be someone else. But the point was, whatever "evidence" NADA used to exonerate Narsingh Yadav in India, it didn't stand up to scrutiny when challenged by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). The CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) at the Olympic Games ruled against him.
The CAS Panel did not accept the argument of the athlete that he was the victim of sabotage and noted that there was no evidence that he bore no fault, nor that the anti-doping rule violation was not intentional.
As a result, Narsingh Yadav now has a 4 year ban from performing, and India doesn't have an entry where it could very likely have won a medal. A hard question that needs to be asked is how the NADA exonerated him, if there was no evidence and with a 10 day gap between his tests being positive; and whether the national interest is served in this manner.
And of course, there are many long term problems plaguing Indian sports (other than cricket). Lack of identification and training in any methodical manner being the top of the list. And it isn't like Modi sarkar didn't know what needed to be done. This is an excerpt from Modi's speech after the last Olympics explaining how India could easily pick up 5-10 Olympic medals, now sarcastically doing the rounds as his suggestion for 2016 Olympics.
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.
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.
In 2001, Tehelka did a sting operation called Operation Westend, where they pretended to be trying to sell thermal imaging binoculars and wanted to secure defense purchases. Recording all their interactions with hidden cameras, they ended up with an astonishing expose of some 34 people bought out on tape to sell a product to the country. A product that didn't exist at all. Among those caught were Mr. Bangaru Laxman (then president of the BJP), Ms. Jaya Jaitly and others.
Here is a sample tape they have edited out of their meetings with Bangaru Laxman.
So far, so good. We have proof of massive corruption in defense deals. Something which incidentally continues to date. What was chilling was the response of the government. At that time, there was a BJP government in power. Mentioning this, because the BJP takes high moral ground often, but here was a case of 34 people offered bribes and 34 people accepting. This is not to say the same wouldn't have happened with a Congress government, as Shoma Chaudhary rightly pointed out. The corruption is endemic and ongoing.
What was horrendous was that Tehelka was targetted by the government in an unprecedented manner with the government doing all it could to demolish them and their credibility entirely. From income tax audits to cases filed against individuals, it was a witch hunt that brought the paper down from 120 paid employees to one. It shut the paper down for all practical purposes. It was another two years for them to publish an edition.
The conviction of Bangaru Laxman that has happened after so many years is a vindication of the effort Tehelka put into that sting as well as a mark of their integrity, as Shoma says in this [remarkably polite - I wouldn't have managed it] video.
So all is well and good, Tehelka survived a nightmare, is credible and publishing again, culprits have been disowned by BJP and prosecuted, etc. All is well.
As a citizen of India and a person concerned with freedom of speech and freedom of media, this is an important moment for me. The government's witch hunt of Tehelka is now clearly visible for what it was. In my view, allowing it to stand in spite of being proved wrong is an undermining of free speech and a step toward state sponsored silencing of the media - or in other words, an invisible fence of paid media. Push the wrong buttons and get destroyed is the message.
This will not do.
I think this is a good time for Tehelka to immediately file a case against the government - ideally a PIL that safeguards truth seekers from persecution, but at the very least as a case by them against the government for persecution and demand compensation for the losses from going out of business as a result of it as well as the trauma to individuals.
Operation Westend may have been about defense deals, but what followed was about silencing anyone that challenged corruption in the corridors of power, and if that persecution is allowed to exist unchallenged, it stays as a precedent for others to fear when tackling erosion of the integrity of our country.
It is no coincidence that very few newspapers ever touch the cores of power of the government. No one will question Sonia Gandhi to ask for an explanation of the bizarre nomination of Sachin Tendulkar to the Rajya Sabha. No one will ask the president to explain her rationale for approving it. The RTI activists and journos of Moneylife had to face vague threats when they questioned the President's retirement bungalow - news comes in that she is no longer accepting it. At the same time, the threats did try to silence the truth seekers.
RTI activists are dying routinely anyway. Usually at the hands of people in power. This year we also had the inexplicable death of someone handling RTI queries.
In my view, unless the media strikes back and defends its constitutional rights vigorously, they, like all rights will keep eroding till a point in time where a journalist writing anything about anyone may send it for "prescreening" approval first for fear of losing his job, life or other things dear. News organizations may reach a point of running everything by people to prevent offense and retaliation.
The internet is fighting for its voice against the government as we speak.
If we are to survive as a democracy, then the right to free speech must be defended with all we have. In my view, Tehelka MUST sue the government for damages to business, reputation and health, so that it sets a precedent for taking the government to task in future silencing. On a larger scale, the practice of countering any challenge of wrongdoing with defamation must be destroyed for even Parliamentary proceedings to exit our paralysis.
Two questions answered before asked:
1. That was a different government.
So? It is the same country, same news magazine, same constitution, same government, even if the occupants changed. With this logic, if the BJP comes to power, the government shouldn't pay compensation for Sikh riots? They were harmed by the government, the government must compensate them. No one is stupid enough to think that the Congress would persecute anyone for nailing the president of the BJP. Unless they have individuals they know targetted them, they should aim for the Government of India.
2. What if they lose?
In my view, we shouldn't let them lose. But even if they do, the silencing must be challenged. And it must be challenged every time it happens. Every time, with every entity it happens with, because democracy is worth it.
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.