The Lokpal debate has degenerated into a sinners versus saints debate. The bad guys are the government, the good guys are Anna Hazare & Co (I exclude Baba Ramdev because, as expected, he has shot himself in the foot). Actually, the situation is more nuanced. Let me hasten to add that I am on the side of the saints and completely endorse their main contention, that is, the government would prefer either the status quo or a toothless Lokpal—or something close to a toothless Lokpal.
Meanwhile, Arvind Kejriwal, Santosh Hegde and others need to look at their own negotiating tactics and more importantly, their charter of demands. Since civil society members are novice negotiators and novice communicators, and since their only constituency is the media, they are guilty of massive overkill. Talking too much is not a sin but talking too loosely is. Sure, hammering out a controversial and complex piece of legislation is not a tea party. Nevertheless, the crucial public relations war which the government demonstrably lost has to some extent been retrieved by the erratic conduct of Team Anna. We are now in a situation where people who were initially sympathetic to the team feel they have overstepped the line. “Unreasonable” is the word I most often hear.
The charter too has been presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Understandably, Anna and his team came to the negotiating table with their maximalist position. Alas, they have stuck to it. At least on the inclusion of the higher judiciary in the ambit of the Lokpal, even Team Anna is divided, as are those eminences, who, while they support the proposal of a strong Lokpal, feel judges should be made accountable through some other mechanism. On the prime minister’s inclusion, civil society had a real window of opportunity if it had accepted a few caveats. That was lost due to the all-or-nothing approach.
Now, with a change in the public mood, the government has hardened its stance. Messrs Chidambaram and Sibal feel disinclined to accommodate any of the demands because it is civil society which is on the backfoot. When Anna Hazare goes on his fast, I am not sure what kind of response he will receive. For the moment, most of the cards seems to be in the hands of the government. Pity.
Political Prose and Cons
In a television interview, home minister P. Chidambaram has expressed a very un-politician-like desire. He feels it is time for him to retire from politics. Considering he is 66 years old, he is a babe in the woods of Indian public life where people 10 to 15 years older than him run around.
What will he do? He wants to read, write and travel! Michael Foot, the scholarly British Labour party leader, maintained that a politician who does not read extensively is unfit for high office. Writing too is an option very few of our netas explore. Besides Jawaharlal Nehru and Inder Gujral, which other prime minister has left us a record of his time?
More good news. Mr Chidambaram not only yearns to put pen to paper, he wishes to write like Arundhati Roy—someone whose politics he loathes but prose he loves. I am not suggesting Mr Chidambaram should quit politics instantly and pursue his admirable passions. I am only applauding his ambition at a time when our rulers believe politics is the beginning and the end. Mr Chidambaram’s act of self-renunciation would come as a breath of fresh air.
A Suitable Buoy
Now that I have finished my autobiography, I and my publishers (Penguin) have been frantically searching for a suitable title. Since the book goes beyond my life as editor, I was keen not to stress the journalism bit alone. We played around with ‘Accidental Pundit’, ‘Interesting Times’, ‘The Vinod Mehta Tapes’, ‘The Vinod Mehta Chronicles’, ‘Vinod Mehta Unplugged’, ‘My Way’, ‘The Devil’s Trade’. Any one of these names which my editor Nandini Mehta suggested would have been perfectly acceptable. After all, it’s what’s in the book that matters, not the cover.
However, ever since I began writing last year, one title has been buzzing in my head. I can’t get it out. It is not inspired or brilliant or insightful or guaranteed to make the browser pick up a copy. So, what is it? ‘Lucknow Boy’. Okay?
Tyranny of Humour
Syria’s Hafez Assad was a brutal despot who ruled the country with an iron fist and a 65,000-strong secret police force for 20 years. When he died, his son Bashar took over and is today fighting a growing insurgency. A joke that did the rounds in Hafez Assad’s time seems pertinent. One of his aides informed him, “Mr President, you won the election with a 99.7 percent majority. That means only three-tenths of 1 per cent of the people did not vote for you. What more could you ask for?”
Assad’s reply: “Their names.”
Vinod Mehta, in his Delhi Diary (Jul 11), is right in his assessment of the future. The Lokpal Bill, as was expected, has been hijacked by political parties. These worthies would only like to draft a bill that’s ‘strong’ in name, but actually toothless—one that will lie in the administrative cold storage for decades before its quiet burial. The only option would be to legalise corruption. All politicians, irrespective of affiliation, will support it.
A.K. Saxena, New Delhi
The discussion over Lokpal Bill is aimed at a solution to a problem, and only through debate can we come at an ethical and practical solution. Team Anna has failed to make much headway because of lack of administrative experience and an arrogant attitude. In fact, Anna has repeatedly showed his contempt for the voter.
Harpreet, New Delhi
I agree, Anna Hazare’s team should be more media-savvy. They are dealing with people like Kapil Sibal, Digvijay Singh and P. Chidambaram—people who would do even Dr Goebbels proud.
Bhagat Singh, on e-mail
Annaji and his team should make use of this opportunity to get the tactics of negotiation right. That the ‘saints’ are the novices can be surmised by all, and it’s no surprise that the ‘sinners’ will make use of the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to their advantage, effectively killing any such legislation.
Padmini Kumar, Noida
Why, Mr Mehta calls the 66-year-old PC a ‘babe in the woods’ and proposes to call himself a ‘boy’ in the title of his much-awaited memoirs. Surely, he is a journalist of the modern ‘age’ and overstatement is his birthright!
Nafay Kumail, New Delhi
The only, and obvious, title of Vinod Mehta’s autobiography is ‘Vinod Mehta’s Folly’.
Manish Banerjee, Calcutta
‘Lucknow Boy’ doesn’t say much. How about ‘Mumbai-bred Lucknow Boy’, Mr Mehta? Okay, you can substitute ‘Mumbai’ by ‘Bombay’.
Kiran Wadhwani, on e-mail
Some suggestions for your autobiography—My Own Malgudi, Vinod’s Version, Mehta’s Musings, My Turn Now, As It Happened-by Vinod Mehta, With A Bit Of Bias.
S.K. Bisht, New Delhi
On second thoughts, I would recommend ‘From Pindi to Delhi via Lucknow’ as the title for your forthcoming autobiography. Or how about ‘Editor is King’? As you know, a king is never answerable.
R.K.S., on e-mail
How about ‘Ek Vinod Kahani’?
N.S. Rajan, Bangalore
An alternative name for Mr Mehta’s autobiography (Delhi Diary, Jul 11). How about ‘Lookout Lad/Lookout Boy’?
Manohar Hegiste, on e-mail
Best wishes, Mr Mehta, for your book, which I’m sure will be unputdownable. Wouldn’t ‘Vinod Mehta’s Debonair Route’ be a more apt title?
G. Neelakantan, Bangalore
More suggestions for your autobiography: From Gomti To Jamuna Is A Long Way Off; From Gomti To Jamuna: My Sacred Journey; From Lucknow To Delhi: An Incomplete Pilgrimage....
M.W. Ansari, Ames, US
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
How about ' The Evolution/Journey of a Liberal Humanist' as the title for Mr. Vinod Mehta's autobiography.
Anna & his team needs a crash course in bargaining and negotiations with govt! Any school providing such course?
A pseudo secular's advocate....title for ur book...
My suggestions for your memoirs/ autobiography:
1) The "Editor's" Boss (and have a pictureof the two editors on the cover)
3) Look in, Look out, Have Outlook
5) My own Malgudi
6) Vinod's version
7) Mehta's musings
8) My Turn now
9) As it Happened- by Vinod Mehta
10) The way I saw- by Vinod Mehta
11) With a bit of Bias- by Vinod Mehta
civil SOCIETY ISSUE , WITH JUSTIFICATION . . FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS BEING DENIED AFTER PARLIMENT PASSES A DRAFT OF THE ACT . PENDING SINCE 8 YEARS AND NO ACTION OR RESPONSE .
RENT CONTROL ACT. DEBATED BY CIVIL SOCIETY AND PASSED BY LOK SABHA, AND RAJAYA SABLHA,2004. The procedure of the constitution has been followed as per law. But there is no process of accountability in the office of the president of India. the rent control act was sent for signature and has been lying with definite purpose in her office since the Last 8 years Now if the civil society wants to go on hunger strike, after loosing patience and the fact is non negotiable. Except, guilty and honest, compromised and in the office of the president of India or some vested interest Which the civil society wants to take up and needs media help and involvement. The rent act has been passed by both the houses still not been signed by the president and demanding the reasons best known to you This civil society is wanting a law to be drafted, in this issue the parliament has passed it and the matter is in the president office after spending more than 8 years awaiting signature for which we intend peaceful agitation and hunger strike, asking civil society help. Please need media assistance form of articles and debate ,. A house on rent in defense colony of a retired air force officer worth now 20 chores and getting rent of rs 1100/ for a 3 bed room in defense colony and the tenant demanding 5 crores to vacate . this is the state of affair .and the government is doing nothing . for more contact
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