WTF Just Happened: September 22 edition

Subramanian Swamy plays canary in the coal-mine in a recent interview,  where he said that the economy was heading for a “tailspin” and that the signs have been evident since May of last year when he first warned Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the possibility.

It is not a new message; economists have been warning of this possibility for over a year now, before demonetization, first, and then the hasty introduction of GST, struck further blows at the economy. Those warnings were deflected as coming from ‘anti-nationals’ and the ‘Lutyens media’ — criticisms that can hardly be leveled at Swamy, which is why it pays to listen to the interview in its entirety.

‘Tailspin’ is the leitmotif of an alarming number of stories/analysis in the media. A detailed Livemint analysis of the state of the economy has ‘tailspin’ right up there in the headline; the same paper details a UN Conference on Trade and Development report that warns of ‘serious downturn risks’. A recent State Bank of India report categorically refutes BJP president Amit Shah’s spin that the slowdown is for ‘technical reasons’. The Economic Times warns of a looming pension crisis; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has downgraded its forecast for the fiscal ’18.

Swamy makes the point that a series of planned remedial measures are urgently required if the trend is not to become irreversible. A series of news items from recent times indicates why:

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ATM thieves aka “terrorists”

The story received breathless play in the media: Pakistan’s NSA tipped off his Indian counterpart about 10 terrorists who had infiltrated into India. Manhunt launched. TV channels quote top officials to say three of the terrorists killed. Manhunt continues for the other seven. And so on. Turns out they were ATM thieves.

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We are like that only

The news in brief: Pathankot is attacked. The central government sends troops. And shortly after, sends Punjab a bill. No chance, says Punjab, we are not paying this, it’s your problem.

The BJP shares power in Punjab and rules the Center — so this unseemly squabble over who foots the bill for “our brave soldiers” battling terrorism is strictly a domestic matter, and no concern of ours. Or is it?

 

 

Because “something” must be done

A recent news report: (Emphasis mine)

A here on Saturday dropped charges against suspected (LeT) bomb maker Abdul Karim Tunda in 1998 case under the Explosive Substance Act – the fourth case he was facing.

Tunda, one of the 20 terrorists whom India had asked Pakistan to hand over after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, was chargesheeted by Delhi Police in four cases and with Saturday court’s order, he has been discharged in all.

On April 23 last year, another Delhi court dropped charges against Tunda in connection with two separate blast cases – the October 28, 1997 blast in Karol Bagh and October 1, 1997 explosion in Sadar Bazar.

Another court on March 10 last year also discharged the Tunda, accused under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, the Explosive Substances Act, the Arms Act and for criminal conspiracy.

A sessions judge on Saturday discharged Tunda, accused of waging war against India under the Indian Penal Code and under the various provisions of Explosive Substance Act, observing that there lack of evidence to prove the allegations against him.

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A word to the wise…

The BJP should really stop beating the drum about Afzal Guru, and banging on about how questioning his hanging is akin to anti-nationalism and sedition.

Because? It cannot continue down that road while simultaneously making kissy-face with the PDP in Kashmir — not when it is not even a year ago that said PDP was questioning the same Supreme Court judgment, with absolutely no reaction from the BJP.

“PDP has always maintained that late Afzal Guru’s hanging was travesty of justice and constitutional requirements and process was not followed in hanging him out of turn,” said a group of PDP legislators in a written statement circulated to media.

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Now *this* is anti-national

Hundreds of youth assembled across the rivulet at the site of the encounter in the Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) building, with clashes reported with security forces in their bid to cross the stream to try and physically prevent the security forces from launching combat operation against the terrorists. Sempora is a mere 15 km from Srinagar.

The story, here. Emphasis, mine.

PS: On social media, I notice some opinion makers conflating this incident with JNU. That is equally reprehensible — an attempt to tar with too broad a brush.

Anniversary blues

Tomorrow, we mark the first anniversary of 26/11. Today is an anniversary too, did you know/notice [clearly, this particular anniversary has escaped the attention of those interlocutors, both within the country and outside, now touting the need for more dialogs, confidence building measures, and such]? This is what happened on November 25, 2008.

Meanwhile: In New Delhi, the Public Works Department planned to build bungalows for its ministers that would include, among other things, four garages [not a garage for four cars, note] and six quarters for domestic help [not quarters for six domestic help, note].

Also in New Delhi, while various Federal ministers wait – some of them in five star hotels – for alterations and upgrading of homes allotted to them, others occupy two bungalows at once.

Staying with Delhi for a beat longer, the United Progressive Alliance is rocked not by issues of the magnitude of the nuclear deal or statements relating to peace talks with Pakistan, but over the non-allocation of a bungalow to ally Trinamool Congress.

Elsewhere a former ally is up in arms because a leader who has been progressively decimated in successive elections has not been allotted a home befitting his ‘stature’ [Unlike another ‘leader’ who had started the year in hope that she would be, if not queen, at least a king-maker in Delhi, the aforesaid leader has no holiday home in conducive climes to hide out in].

The ruling Congress party – and its chairperson – made a virtue of austerity and ‘set an example’ for the rest of us spendthrifts [never mind that the point of the example is lost on us: Sonia Gandhi was travelling on party, not government, work; it would be the party that paid the bill, so why would I give a flying f**k whether she travelled economy or business, or bought a special plane just for the trip?]. Hopefully, the money saved by Sonia madam’s economy class flight ticket and Rahul baba’s much-publicized train travels will offset expenditures such as this small matter of Rs 100 crore to ‘repair and renovate’ official bungalows.

The Opposition should be opposing – but then… oh never mind.

Meanwhile in Mumbai: Home Minister P Chidambaram’s mea maxima culpa results most tangibly in the posting of some 30 CRPF jawans near the Taj Mahal Hotel, as part of his promise to beef up security in the one city that seems more than any other to have a large target prominently painted on it. Their residence address: the cobblestoned paving of the public space near the Gateway of India.

When news of this disgrace breaks in the media [video], the government reacts not with shame and an awareness of what is owed those whom we entrust with our security, but with embarrassment.

The jawans – all 30 of them – are hastily whisked out of sight in a fashion reminiscent of slum-clearance drives and, by way of adding gratuitous insult to injury, are reprimanded for daring to embarrass the government. Oh well – at least their new lodgings are near a public toilet; they no longer will have to use a police van for such basic private functions as changing their underwear, so perhaps we are making progress after all.

Excuse me, but I think I will spend this first anniversary of 26/11 following the cricket, while allowing the commemorative noise pollution to pass me by. Partly because tamasha as headline bait is not to my taste; partly because the bitter aftertaste of optimism remains strong.

A year ago, I had written this after the one-week-after rally at the Gateway. It was a particularly charged week, one replete with so many possibilities.

One friend asked me to help put together a national movement to turn the pressure on the government and keep it there until constructive, measurable action was taken to make this country safer for all of us.

Among other things, I was asked to help draft a manifesto that would in its final form be handed over to the government; the follow up, my friend said, would be weekly protest meetings outside Mantralaya – and an escalating national movement that would begin in New Delhi, Bangalore etc and then spread all over – designed to keep the pressure on, and to keep the issue alive in the minds of the public and the media.

Our trouble, my friend argued persuasively, is that when something happens we make some noise in the immediate aftermath, and then move on with our lives. Not this time, he vowed – we will unite, we will use every available tool at our disposal to hold the government’s feet to the fire and keep it there.

Catching fire from my friend’s spark, I worked late night on that draft manifesto, then spent hours nightly on email, trying – again at his insistence – to round up people who could help design and execute a web site that would serve as the home base of the nationwide protest movement [Incidentally, my apologies to the few dozen people who immediately volunteered their time, money and energy – and saw it all go for nothing].

On Thursday of week two, I called my friend, to confirm where the protest meeting would be. “Sorry, dude, I won’t be able to make it or take a hand in organizing it – have some urgent personal business to attend to,” he said. And that, as it turned out, was that.

Elsewhere, sundry groups organized the 26/11 version of the BJP’s famed chintan bhaitaks to ‘figure out what we do next’. Of the nearly half a dozen such that I attended, I most vividly remember one, hosted by a noted restaurateur/society couple. Two dozen people, representing every ‘society’ and ‘activist’ stereotype you can think of, attended; they sat in a circle in a very large hall and talked, appropriately enough, in circles, offering solutions that ranged from not voting in the next general elections [a suggestion I suspect all those who attended religiously followed, not that anyone noticed] to organizing a ‘Mumbai-to-Delhi march’ in a cavalcade of cars [No, don’t ask how you march in cars].

Oh well. The smoked salmon sandwiches served at the event were totally brilliant [not so much the tuna version – I suspect the tuna came out of a can; never quite the same as fresh tuna, as an attendee remarked].

Those two signposts — CRPF jawans crapping, peeing and bathing in the shadow of the Gateway and those divine smoked salmon sandwiches – perfectly bookend our response, as a government and as a society, to one of the worst terrorist attacks, worldwide, in recent memory.

The least we could do is avoid noise pollution, no? Especially when much of it is designed around commercial considerations: check out, for instance, Idea’s idea of donating all money made from calls in a one hour window to the police fund. And this thing that landed up in my mailbox just now, saying — no wait, the language is too good to paraphrase [and surely the least a media house can do is draft a decent press release?]:

India Pauses to unite at 8:58 P.M. on 26th Nov at Zee News Ltd.
New Delhi, November 25, 2009

As a tribute to the bravery of Indians, Zee News Ltd would create a Road
Block and pause transmission at 8:58 pm on November 26 for two minutes. All
channels under Zee News Ltd, with reach across the length and breadth of the
country and deep regional penetration, would come to a still. The roadblock
is an attempt by Zee News to acknowledge the undying spirit of Indians and
an appeal to stand up against terrorism and put “India First”.

In this endevour, Zee News had recently launched a special campaign under
the aegis of 26/11. Ab Aur Nahin’. It started with the objective of
highlighting the heroic stand and sacrifice of those bravehearts who lost
their lives. The iniciative also appealed to people to partner in the
mission to make India a terrorism free country.

This mission taken up by Zee News Ltd. initiative has received enormous
support from entire media fraternity. This will help spread the message of
uniting India for a peaceful country. Being a 360 degree marketing campaign
the word would be spread through Print, SMS, Radio & other interesting and
engaging web activities. Zee News has gained the support of various well
known personalities like Katrina Kaif, Kiran Bedi and Abhishek Bachchan in
its journey to fight against violence.

PS: On a totally unrelated note, the Indibloggies voting booth is now open. In a year where the single recurrent theme on my blog has been applications for leave of absence, I feel a bit false about asking for votes. But on the list of nominees are some outstanding blogs, including several that have time and again been linked to from here. Do vote; blogging in India is at that stage where it can use all the encouragement it can get.