Category Archives: Media

It’s not about being clean, it’s about the country

Phew! Scam after scam and now journalists-businesspersons-politicians wheeling dealing: we have a roller coaster society going on here. There is “outrage” and this is really stupid, I mean, who are we fooling? We have always been in the list of the most corrupt developing countries in the world (and this is what keeps us “developing” and not developed).

The problem is not with our businesspersons, politicians and journalists: they have always been the way they are, and the nexus has always existed.  It’s just that due to the Internet and social networking websites the news spread like wildfire and people no longer have to depend on newspapers and electronic media to get news and exchange opinions.

The 2G scam (4G is already out, by the way) is one of the biggest scams the country has ever endured, and so is the Commonwealth Games scam (1,70000 crores – approximately $ 37570000000 — and more than 35000 crores, respectively). There has been a litany of scams under the present government and even the most tolerant are forced to point fingers at the Prime Minister who quite undeservedly enjoys a clean image.

What is clean?  Cleanliness can be of many types:

  • You just wear clean clothes but underneath you never wash your body
  • You wash your body but wear dirty clothes
  • You neither wash your body nor wear clean clothes
  • You appear very clean but from the inside, spiritually and mentally, you are unclean
  • You are totally clean, from the outside as well is inside but you operate in an environment that is totally unclean

Manmohan Singh probably falls under the last two categories. He has the saintly image and he draws a very miniscule amount of salary. But what is the reality?

The country witnessed a deluge of scams when he was the Finance Minister and now when he is the Prime Minister.  Of course the sudden gush of liberalization could have fuelled the corruption engine of the country, but what is the use of you being clean if everything and everybody around you is dirty? Are you really clean if people around you are unclean and you mingle with them and allow them to run the country knowing all the time what harm they are causing to your country?

In today’s The Pioneer column Swapnadas Gupta has written about how Nehru and Indira Gandhi tolerated, if not encouraged, corruption as a necessary evil bi-product of socialism. Is Manmohan Singh perpetuating this string of misguided philosophy? It sure looks so. But at what cost?

This mentality has cost the country billions of dollars. According to an international report discussed by Kanchan Gupta in the past 60 odd years the country has lost more than 20.85 lakh crores, and that’s a conservative estimate as most of the data is unavailable. Some excerpts:

The outpouring of moral outrage over Raja’s crime may have served the purpose of forcing one of the most corrupt Ministers (by no means was he the lone wolf in the Cabinet) in the present regime to quit office in disgrace although he remains defiant as ever. But it has also swamped a revealing report on Global Financial Integrity that was released last week. The details of the report indicate the extent of corruption in India and confirm what we refuse to accept: We are a corrupt society with a corrupt system; a nation that silently indulges in corruption while raucously protesting against it, as is being witnessed at the moment.

The GFI report says, “From 1948 through 2008, India lost a total of $213 billion in illicit financial flows (or illegal capital flight). These illicit financial flows were generally the product of corruption, bribery and kickbacks, and criminal activities.” Illicit financial flows pertain to the “cross-border movement (or transfer) of money earned through illegal activities such as corruption, transactions involving contraband goods, criminal activities, and efforts to shelter wealth from a country’s tax authorities”. The total of $213 billion is a misleading figure because “the present value of India’s illicit financial flows is at least $462 billion,” the GFI report explains, adding, “This is based on the short-term US Treasury bill rate as a proxy for the rate of return on assets.”

The GFI report provides some other interesting insights. For instance, contrary to the claims of successive Governments, more vociferously by the UPA regime, India’s underground economy, which is “closely tied to illicit financial outflows”, continues to expand with each passing day. The present value of illicit assets held abroad ($462 billion) “accounts for approximately 72 per cent of India’s underground economy — which has been estimated to account for 50 per cent of India’s GDP ($640 billion at the end of 2008)”. Just above a quarter of illicit assets are held domestically.

Go to his link for more juicy data.

Corruption has seeped into our very psyche. In fact people who are not corrupt are looked down upon. “Ooper ki kamayi” is a given. You’re termed as silly if you don’t pay a bribe and get your job done faster. Breaking rules and then getting away by bribing corrupt policemen has become an act of bravado. corruption has become a part of our daily lives and people have given up on the ideas of an upright society ruled by a principled government.  The common citizens have started following the philosophy of “if you can’t beat them join them”.

Well, that’s the problem, but what is the solution?

The solution against corruption is not a mystery, we all know what needs to be done.  As of now our politicians, businesspersons and bureaucrats will never let the rampaging dinosaurs of corruption go extinct. Too much money is involved.  Just imagine having 170000 crores stashed away somewhere in your account.  It will be mad to think that they will deal with the putrefaction when almost everybody is involved. People like Raja and Kalmadi are not so powerful that they could orchestrate scams of such proportions.  Some bigger people are involved and somehow our media and intellectual commentators are avoiding taking their names (understandable, actually). Even we know their names, but I’m not going to name them here for obvious reasons.

If ever we are going to see a resistance against corruption it is going to be as monumental as the independence struggle. Or by a miracle we may get a person at the helm  who follows a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to dealing with corrupt individuals whether they are in politics, bureaucracy or business.

Twitter, Shashi Tharoor and Cattle Class

It all started with this innocuous exchange between Kanchan Gupta, a prominent columnist who writes for the Pioneer, and Shashi Tharoor, Minister of State for External Affairs, an avid Twitter user and the current media blue-eyed boy (my wife’s expression).

tharoor-gupta-twitter

One tweet and from a media darling he has become a pariah, and this was bound to happen, and I wonder why he, or anybody else for that matter, never saw it coming (I’ll explain later). And the most appalling aspect of all this is, "cattle class" wasn’t even his expression, he was simply replying to Kanchan Gupta’s tweet: it was a simple exchange between two individuals that was blown out of proportion by the media as well as politicians. Go through various online links of newspapers and TV channels and nobody mentions even once that the expression did not originate from him.

Of course this could be because of the fact that unless you use some extra Twitter tools or a JavaScript addon you cannot see the tweet he had replied to. But before jumping the gun, at least the media dudes should have checked the entire chain of the tweet exchange.

About cattle class, 60 years of Congress governance has made sure that a majority of Indian citizens live like cattle. May be the expression touches a sore spot. May be the party has a ghost of a conscience by a freak chance.

Anyway, back to why they should have seen it coming. The days of individual politicians have gone. Most political parties in India thrive on the halos created around particular families and individuals, and all other members have to operate from under their shadow. Just look what happened to Jaswant Singh. After writing the book, he became an individual and moved outside of the shadow.

Similarly, the Congress party workers have to work within the shadow boundary of the Gandhi family. By using Twitter, by articulating his thoughts, by directly interacting with the common folks Tharoor is building his own mass base — people have begun to adore him and perhaps in the process, have begun to neglect the other blue-eyed boy, Rahul G. Now how can this be tolerated in a party where sycophancy is religion and the 3 Gandhis at the helm are no less than gods?

So in the guise of austerity and an abstract tweet, he is being targeted by his own party men and women, and soon they will be competing with each other just to show how loyal they are to the real blue-eyed trinity.

According to his latest tweets Shashi Tharoor has apologized, and in a country where words and rhetoric matter more than reality, he has done the right thing. Ours is a strange country. Speak truth and people will lunge at your throat; feed them with pleasant lies and they will fall on your feet.

Is it really a revolution on Twitter?

The world of social media is agog with the way the Iranian protestors are using Twitter to send streams of updates from various locations. Some have even gone to an extent of calling it a revolution. On the other hand, social media experts like Gaurav Mishra say that more than a tool to trigger a revolution, Twitter is acting as a medium to organize meets and disseminate related information all over the world. But the importance of Twitter can be gauged from the fact that many from Iran protested when Twitter had to shut down its services due to scheduled maintenance, and there was so much pressure from Iranian Twitter users that the company decided to postpone the maintenance schedule. Twitter users like @StopAhmadi have been featured in Washing Post and New York Times. In fact, according to another buzz, it was the US government that requested Twitter to postpone the scheduled shutdown so that the Iranians could keep on interacting with the international audience at this critical juncture. This NYTimes.com article says:

The request, made to a Twitter co-founder, Jack Dorsey, is yet another new-media milestone: the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.

“This was just a call to say: ‘It appears Twitter is playing an important role at a crucial time in Iran. Could you keep it going?’ ” said P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

I feel Twitter is a great empowerer. In just a few words, less than 140 characters to be precise, your message can reach thousands, and even millions of people, and for that you don’t even need thousands of followers. You just need some people who will be eager to retweet your message to their followers. Remember that American student who was arrested in Egypt and he sent a tweet about his arrest from his mobile phone and the news spread like wildfire? There was so much diplomatic pressure that the Egyptian government had to release him. No news agency or media house could have achieved that so fast.

The use of social media tools seems disorganized sometimes, but I think this is the beauty of it. I would love to see NGO’s and activists in India using Twitter to gather and spread information and awareness. Even the normal public. Not just to update your friends on what you have for breakfast or what film you just watched, but also updates on what government officer is demanding bribe, what police person is misbehaving, who is eve teasing a girl at the bus stop, etc. The greatest power, of course, will come from people transmitting Twitter streams from their mobile phones, from rural and far flung areas.

Is it really a revolution on Twitter?

The world of social media is agog with the way the Iranian protestors are using Twitter to send streams of updates from various locations. Some have even gone to an extent of calling it a revolution. On the other hand, social media experts like Gaurav Mishra say that more than a tool to trigger a revolution, Twitter is acting as a medium to organize meets and disseminate related information all over the world. But the importance of Twitter can be gauged from the fact that many from Iran protested when Twitter had to shut down its services due to scheduled maintenance, and there was so much pressure from Iranian Twitter users that the company decided to postpone the maintenance schedule. Twitter users like @StopAhmadi have been featured in Washing Post and New York Times.

I feel Twitter is a great empowerer. In just a few words, less than 140 characters to be precise, your message can reach thousands, and even millions of people, and for that you don’t even need thousands of followers. You just need some people who will be eager to retweet your message to their followers. Remember that American student who was arrested in Egypt and he sent a tweet about his arrest from his mobile phone and the news spread like wildfire? There was so much diplomatic pressure that the Egyptian government had to release him. No news agency or media house could have achieved that so fast.

The use of social media tools seems disorganized sometimes, but I think this is the beauty of it. I would love to see NGO’s and activists in India using Twitter to gather and spread information and awareness. Even the normal public. Not just to update your friends on what you have for breakfast or what film you just watched, but also updates on what government officer is demanding bribe, what police person is misbehaving, who is eve teasing a girl at the bus stop, etc. The greatest power, of course, will come from people transmitting Twitter streams from their mobile phones, from rural and far flung areas.

A. R. Rehman, Slumdog Millionaire Get the Oscars

AR Rehman
A. R. Rehman

Finally, the Indian movie and music talent gets recognized by the International audience, screamed almost all TV news channels and people are falling over each other to get sound bytes from various artists. Aside from all this cacophony, I’m not sure about A.R. Rehman, but Slumdog Millionaire did deserve the Oscar. A.R. Rehman is good, in fact the best among the current lot of Indian music directors but as some commentators rightly said, we have had exceptional music directors and singers, it’s just that, previously there was no international exposure for them.