IndiBlogger - The Indian Blogger Community Vilakudy Days: March 2006

Vilakudy Days

Friday, March 31, 2006


Ratings don’t matter. He is the best Chief Minister in the country. Defying the sacrosanct politburo, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is trying hard to change the face of West Bengal through his pathbreaking policies. I don’t want to call him a reformer. Despite all the fast-track progress he has made, a small trouble is brewing in rural Bengal. The farmers are speaking up. A strong voice of dissent and dissatisfaction is creeping into the Writer’s Buildings. Like his many counterparts, Buddha can’t ignore such voices. The land acquisition for the Salim Group, an Indonesian firm, has ruffled many feathers in rural Bengal. Farmers are worried of displacement. The Salim Group, amid much opposition, is going ahead with four projects: a health city, knowledge city, an SEZ and an Express Highway. The investment will change the face of South 24 Paraganas- one of Bengal’s most backward districts. I completely back Buddha on the project. But on the way to development, he has to tread a cautious path. The controversy is brewing over the acquisition of nearly 5,000 acres of land in a compact block. Critics accused the state government of reneging on its pledge to improve the lot of small and marginal farmers and sharecroppers. It could prove disastrous. My memories went flooding back to Andhra Pradesh. Years ago, its then Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has learnt the rural lessons in a hard way. The media, especially English language ones, created a halo around him and termed him the best chief minister. Naidu, who had a humble beginning, rose to dizzying heights after his blue-eyed Hyderabad-centric projects hogged international limelight. In some interviews, he conveyed across a message saying that he would rather listen to Washington (US powercentre and World Bank headquarters) than New Delhi. He made more visits to the US and other countries than trips to New Delhi. His agendas were international. Hyderabad, not Andhra Pradesh, was gleaming on the world map. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, McKinseys…….all premier institutions and personalities came calling to Cyberabad. Undoubtedly, he changed the face of Hyderabad in 10 years. But there was another face of Andhra Pradesh, which everyone blissfully pushed under the carpet. About 77 per cent of the population fell beyond the poverty line. Jobless workers moved to Bombay in hordes. Hundreds of farmers committed suicide. The crops started withering. Naidu was busy entertaining the Other World. The media wishfully stayed away from the parched realities beyond City Limits. India Today rated him the best chief minister of the country. The other side was completely ignored. The farmers’ deaths and their million problems were dumped in brief columns. Only some “anti-development” journalists like P Sainath travelled beyond that 20-km dreamland. The Hindu, probably the only paper, devoted its space for the rural realities. Left in the lurch, the poor was waiting to strike. Waiting for the next elections to make their voice heard. Those who were basking in the glory of a Shining Hyderabad- mostly IT and corporate men- did not cross the road to vote. But just 20 km away from the bluechipp-ed city, lakhs of farmers, probably nothing else to do, did cross and exercise their franchise. The result was disastrous. The Indian Express, the country’s most vocal pro-reform newspaper, and a staunch Naidu supporter, flashed a sarcastic headline. Naidu= Cntrl + Alt+ Delete." The political requiem was complete there. So was the fancy story.
Naidu was thrown out by the people. In his moment of ignominy, no none was there. The English media quickly deserted him and wrote editorials on the way he neglected the rural AP. He was painfully alone. No Bill Clinton. No World Bank. No Tony Blair. Naidu quietly went to the US for a political hibernation. He paid the price. That was that.
The story is different, though in West Bengal. The biggest advantage for Buddha is that the Opposition there is in tatters. Mamata’s Trinamul is a joke. The Congress just exists. The BJP is virtually non-existent. Even a last-minute Mahajyot alliance- like the last time- were to be cobbled up, it will not be a force to reckon with. But Buddha should be careful. The people, the supreme force, are watching. No force on earth can stop the will of democracy. I don’t want Buddha to go Naidu’s way. Never ever. He is probably the most promising chief minister West Bengal has ever had. He is, perhaps, the only person capable of bringing back a declined Calcutta to its glorious past. But that should not be at the cost of rural development. Every farmer’s issue has to be addressed. If a farmer will not be addressed in a Communist Bengal, it is less likely to be addressed elsewhere. Buddha is a hope for not just Calcutta. Not for CPM. He is the guiding light of West Bengal and a prime-ministerial material.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


The Palestinian package, aptly titled ‘Dreams of a Nation’, came as a real humdinger at the ongoing Mumbai International Film Festival. The aspirations of a nation thinking of peace and a world without war and calamities were pictured in a poignant way by Rashid Masharawi and Michel Khleifi, two of the most-celebrated filmmakers there. While Rashid’s Curfew – the first-ever movie shot at Gaza Strip – narrates a 24-hour curfew period, his Haifa deals with the psychological and emotional impact of the Israeli occupation. The other movies were Canticle of Stones and Tale of Three Jewels. Though places like West Bank and Gaza Strip are always in news, the world will be shocked to watch the state of affairs there. The first shot of Gaza in Curfew left me dazed: it looked like Dickensian slums. From a top-angle shot, it looked like Dharavi. The films’ documentary narrative is fully justified as it throws open a hitherto unknown facets to the world. Cuddled under dilapidated structures, a generation lives and yearns for a country of their own. From the films, I learnt, the radio is the most important possessions of a Palestine family. Every crackling on the radio is being listened with hopes of a landmark peace deal in Tel Aviv or Washington. Not a day passes in the ‘self-administered’ Palestine without staccato of Israeli gunfire, which packs hospitals with paraplegics. Despite such lugubrious clouds hanging over their nationhood, it was heartening to know from the movies that they all have a common passion: football. And they all loved, respected and trusted only one leader: the late Yasser Arafat. Arafat has gone and Hamas has taken over the reigns. But the idea of Palestine, and the country, lies in ruins.

The ‘Indian Vista’ evoked mixed reactions. Though there were not many takers for
films other than Hindi, the regional movies presented a different picture. Achuvinte Amma, the first Malayalam movie to have screened, should not have screened at the festival. It is an ordinary, but popular film. Another Malayalam movie, Daivanamathil, directed by national award-winning director Jayaraj, deals with the contemporary state of Kerala Muslims. While a section of them has taken to terrorist activities especially in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition, many of them advocate a peaceful coexistence and root for a secular India. The efforts of a young educated Samira with the help of a liberal grandfather to bring her husband back from the brink of puritanical fundamentalism are reflective of the progressive outlook of most Muslim families in Kerala, where they constitute a major percentage of the population. Producer and scriptwriter Aryadan Shoukath, a Muslim himself, had earlier written for Padam Onnu Oru Vilapam (Lesson One: A Wail). And that was much powerfully conceptualised. In a land of Kunhalikutty (accused in a sex scandal) and Madani (accused in Coimbatore serial blasts), Kerala needs more Shoukaths.

Sunday, March 26, 2006



Again, the Peddar Road flyover issue is on the boil. A day after the Maharashtra Government decided to go ahead with the project, residents are up in arms. And unlike many voiceless citizens, an illustrious daughter of the place has taken the protest-chorus into a new pitch. Furious, Lata Mangeshkar has threatened that if a flyover comes up, she will leave the city soon. This happens when personalities grow higher than the State. Sachin Tendulkar did it when he sought tax exemptions to import his Ferrari. My initial impression was that she might lose her flat once the flyover came up. I was wrong. The maximum damage, it does, will be that it affects her privacy. Imagine this happens in a country where millions had been thrown out - euphemistically called displaced – when dams and such ambitious projects are constructed. When the poor get ‘displaced’ without alternative measures, there are not many voices in support. They are poor and voiceless; Lata is the Voice and rich. Incidentally, it was the same day a feeble voice called Medha Patkar met the Prime Minister seeking his intervention in the resettlement and rehabilitation and of those displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam across the Narmada in Gujarat. In a time where newspaper spaces are being sold, The Hindu front-paged the feeble voice.

Coming back to Peddar Road, it seems Lata had threatened to stop singing when the controversy happened last time. The project did not take off. And she kept singing. Now, she threatens to leave Bombay. But this time, the flyover is all set to take off. And Lataji, you can start packing the bags and cassettes. You may be a great singer and the Voice, but on a larger picture, you are another citizen of India. Just another citizen.

Saturday, March 25, 2006



I am seeing the world. From South Asia to West Asia to Europe to Latin America. Film festivals offer glimpses of world culture. That is why I love International Film Festivals. It is your door to the world. It gives you the humanity on a platter. Not just places. Every country comes calling. Not just nations. Its culture. Its life. Its idiosyncracies. Its foreign policy. And, more importantly, the way a country presents itself to a world beyond its shores.

That is why I don’t want to miss International Film Festivals. The Bombay International Film Festival is finally (that is a different story and a different piece) here. This is my fifth such festival and the first one in Bombay. Having seen four world-class festivals in Trivandrum, its Bombay counterpart offers nothing much. It may be a harsh comment, but if one goes by the first three days' movie list, it is palpable. The packages and the audience speak for itself.

Even the opening film, The Chorus, a French Film, was a damp squib. The film, which narrates the story of a proctor at a correctional boarding school – something like our juvenile homes- failed to portray the chemistry between the ‘supervisor’ and students. Stuffing the movie with top-angle shots and camerawork added to the misery. In any case, it does not deserve the feat of being the opening film. An awful beginning, indeed.

The second day offered nothing more. If ever a movie can be judged by the first 10 minutes, then Ruchi Narain’s Kal was a big disappointment. I walked out in a huff and was relieved to learn from the audience later that the movie was a flopshow. My media friends told me Dombivli-Fast, a Marathi movie, that captures the city's lifeline (should I explain?), had taken them on a nostalgic trip. But I missed the train.

My search for a meaningful cinema ended with Bar Mitzwa, an Israeli film. A diligenty meshed film, it narrates a middle-class family's- which lives on the Israel-Lebanon border- troubled existence in harrowing circumstances. The camera travelled with the movie, unobtrusively. A football-crazy boy, sporting a Ronaldinho-style hairdo, turns out to be the best character in the movie with his visionary outlook. Maybe, the director wanted to show the world that there is hope in the GenNext of Israel, at least.
I hate Israel for everything it does. Or whatever it does not. Though occasionally I tried to understand how it could survive amid such unfriendly neighbours. And I always looked to that country through the hazy prism of its foreign policy. Never did I think about such families, who bear the brunt of any policy decisions. That is the impact a film can have on you. The boy's Bar Mitzwa celebration sermon left me in tears. The concluding line was visionary: “Let Israel be the most peaceful place on earth.”
I wish it were. If that happens, not just Israel, the entire West Asia, will embrace peace. Let violence come down from the Golan Heights and takes its stripes off at the Gaza Strip. Thousands of miles away, I burn a small candle for that ever-lasting peace. Amen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006



It is a sad end to a great career. I shed a tear or two for Mr Verghese Kurien, who was unceremoniously booted out of an institution which he had nurtured and literally made from the scratch. If India is the world’s largest producer of milk, then the credit should go to him. Inspired by him during my college days, I even wrote the entrance of IRMA (Indian Institute of Rural Management) at Anand. Needless to say, I failed. I still remember one incident where he tore apart the high-flying IIM-A pass-outs. He told a stunned IIM audience, where he was an invitee for its annual convocation, how uncommitted and useless the students passing out from the institution were.
He said, “You talk of service. I will give you more salary than what you would get with a multinational. My only rider is that I will not let you see the face of a city for a year. Will you see the country, where it exists.No, not at all.” That was Mr Kurien.
Coming to the headline, when a reporter asked him if he felt like Ganguly or Tendulkar after the ordeal, Kurien said, “Tendulkar."
No Mr Kurien, you are not Tendulkar. You are Ganguly. Both had been given the boot by their own institutions (Team India was an institution and an idea Ganguly almost single-handedly made) by their own protégés. I know very well that the two can't be compared. Mr Kurien achieved more than what Ganguly did, by any means. But it is an attempt to compare. If anyone objects, I agree with them.
Rahul Dravid can’t be entirely made responsible for Ganguy’s exit from the team. But he was a silent party to it. When Chappel was hell-bent on removing Ganguly from the team, Rahul Dravid did not do anything to prevent it. He could have. He was shrewd enough to not to take a stand: he wanted Ganguly, but was afraid of Chappel to speak up for his long-time friend, and his trusted captain for many years. In Mr Kurien’s case, Amrita Patel has backstabbed Kurien. At least, Patel, told a hurriedly called press conference that it was a SAD end. In Dravid’s case, it was left with a deafening silence. Even when Chappel told Guardian that Ganguly clung to captaincy, Dravid kept his silence.
We have to learn to respect our heroes. Today, people forget yesterdays with an eye on “their better” tomorrows. Behind every success, there were days of hardwork. It is high time we remembered our old heroes. Like Ganguly, Kurien was very cautious when he met mediapersons. In an interview to HT, he said he did not want to involve farmers in the controversy because he felt the situation might get volatile. That shows his sincerity.
When Kolkata called for a bandh and series of protests after his ouster, Ganguly was firm. He said, ''Indian cricket is bigger than players and coaches. Let us not rake up controversies."
Both really care for their institutions, no matter whether they are in or out. Mr Kurien, you will be remebered as long as milk is there. You have changed many lives, and created a revolution. Now you sit back and relax. Take this as a blessing in disguise. Now the world, particularly our neighbours, need your expertise.Contribute to a Milky Way.

Sunday, March 19, 2006



16, 23, 19, 14, 23, 26, 16, 28, 4, 1……….This is the world’s best batsman’s scores after that world record-breaking century. Ganguly was under fire for not performing. Then what about Sachin? And finally, the pressure is now on Sachin. He was booed off by his own Wankhede crowd. Unimaginable, that is the word. Will they drop Sachin? No. Ganguly was given the boot by More and co with the blessings of Greg. Sachin will stay as long as he wants. That is Indian cricket for you.


To say the least, Slobodan Milosevic died a dog’s death. History will record him as a Butcher of the Balkans. Whether he deserves to be called like that is a different story and argument altogether. But, it is interesting to know from Sunday Express that he loved India and Indians. In fact, he named India as his second choice—after Russia—for treatment for his ailments. That is India for you. Known outside as the land of Bapuji, we are considered as one of the most-peace-loving countries in the world. Our hospitality is well known. Ask Dalai Lama and a million others. Only Express can spot such stories and then front-page it. Kudos.

Saturday, March 18, 2006



Kerala, they say, never exists in the country’s political map. Kerala shares its 15 seconds of limelight in the National media through ayurveda, tourism, the tag of the most-literate state (no more it is). And it is one of the states where the Communists still have a strong presence. A correspondent of a national daily tells me that he is “tired’’ of doing stories on the same topics again and again. Then, for the last two months, there is Sreeshant (not Sreesunth).
Now out of the blue, the media has found a whipping boy in Achuthanandan, the 83-year-old Marxist warhorse, which was tipped as Kerala’s next chief ministerial candidate. Suddenly, things changed. VS, as he is fondly called, had lost out to the Pinarayi Vijayan group and the party has decided not to field him in the elections. There comes the story: as many as three National dailies have written editorials on the issue arguing that a hardliner like VS has been thrown out of Kerala’s CPM’s poll race by a reformist Pinarayi Vijayan. The Lutyen’s Delhi’s armchair journalism is at its best here. The English media is known for taking stands without bothering to find out the ground realities. The Express, which usually carries reliable stories and still remains one of my favourite papers, has compared Pinarayi Vijayan to West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. This will be the biggest insult- the insult by US ambassador David Mulford looks much smaller- on Buddha in his life. Those who follow the Kerala politics seriously know what Pinarayi is made of. VS, for that matter, has toured across the state and knows the state like the palm of his hand. Whereever there were serious issues where the common man was affected, VS was there. From Wayanad to Parassala, he was in the forefront of not just party’s agitations, but problems faced by the common man. Cutting across political lines, he has been termed the most sincere leader in Kerala now. And his palms are not greased. Pinarayi was always considered as a party strongman in the politically volatile Kannur. There his job was to take the RSS, a very strong force in Kerala, head-on in the political battles. Let there be no doubt about it, there he was highly successful. That was limited to Kannur alone. But there ended his contributions to CPM and Kerala. And there are various allegations against him over the years: a Congress leader himself has accused him of taking Rs10 crore from K Karunakaran, now out of the Congress and formed a new party, to include him in the Left Front. And then the Lavlin case. Calling Pinarayi a reformist of Buddha’s credibility and stature is blasphemous. The reformist tag could have been attributed to S Ramachandran Pillai, Thomas Issac or MA Baby. (But Buddha is class apart, one can’t draw comparisons from Kerala). But they should have checked. And it was silent on the widespread protests by VS followers on Thursday and Saturday. Even channels like CNN-IBN carried such protests extensively.
The HT was no better. It labelled VS as a dinosaur. At least, its Kerala correspondent has been writing very balanced reports since the controversy erupted. Not that he is the perfect candidate. Not that VS will become the best chief minister Kerala has ever had. But given the options and names, he is the best and only man to do the job in CPM now. If he can't, then no one can't.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Yes, it can be. According to BJP's new president Rajnath Singh, Israel can be a role model for youngsters. Why? He should have explained. Was it because it is a permanent threat to Muslim countries in West Asia? What does he mean by cultural nationalism?


PERHAPS, the CPM in Kerala is going through its darkest phase.
VS Achuthanandan, the common man’s quintessential leader and long-time chief ministerial candidate, has been given the boot by the party politburo. To say the least, the decision to deny him a seat in the Assembly polls is shocking. The party should have faced the polls by projecting VS, as he is fondly called, as the CM candidate. The party may argue in a cadre-based party like CPM, it is party ideology that does matter. But here the ideology has been sent for a toss. The 80-plus leader is considered as the most sincere leader of the CPM in Kerala now. People, across party and caste affiliations, admire VS. He is a man known for his stern (if this is hardline, then let it be) stands: he was against forging an alliance with old warhorse K Karunakaran; he was against including the Muslim League; he was against incorporating R Balakrishna Pillai into the LDF foray. He basically stood with the common man. And he was omnipresent: he travelled through the breadth and length of Kerala for cementing the party.(All the THREE elements can be put into one basket called opportunists to the core and no character of their own). He is definitely not a hardliner as Express wanted the rest of India to believe. Express, known for its courage of journalism, is 'manufacturing images' against a grassroot leader. He remains the party’s most sincere leader. By this move, the CPM has dug its own grave in the coming elections, which could have been a cakewalk for the Left. Keeping VS away from the poll scenario will be disastrous. There have been unprecedented violence and protests across Kerala since Thursday against the politburo decision. The "reformist" (Pinarayi a is a joke; what does he reform?) Pinarayi Vijayan, the man behind the ouster of VS, may be laughing. But at what cost? Paloli, the party’s chief ministerial candidate, is a nice man, though. But he will be remote-controlled by Pinarayi. And that is what he wants. But not the Keralites. They may opt Chandy again. That will be suicidal for CPM.

Friday, March 10, 2006


India is basking under the world spotlight of the nuclear deal which it has recently signed with the US. But the euphoria may not last long as it needs to be cleared by the Congress. More and more persons and media organisations are coming out against the deal and urge the Congress not to "pass the test". Read what the most- revered The Economist has to say:

Thursday, March 02, 2006


From under-arm bowling to below-the-belt comments on Ganguly, Chapell stoops to conquer.

It has been a long time since I blogged. Not that it is something earthshaking. But there are lot of things happened which I strongly felt about. Like the Bush visit, and the subsequent nuclear deal. Sad, but India is getting dangerously close to the US, especially after the UPA Govt came to power. But Bush says times have changed. So do things. But when it comes to Pakistan, things have not really changed for the US. Its Cold War ally remains still an ally. That, too, despite being ruled by a dictator like Musharraf. When it comes to Israel also, things have not really changed for Uncle Sam. It is all double standards. Nothing else. There is no character.

For Bush, at least, he says the times have changed. But for a man, who is obsessed with Ganguly, he is showing that nothing has really changed. Again and again. Though he really achieved what he wanted: removing Ganguly from a team he has nurtured and made. Still the man, who has asked his brother to bowl under arm in an international match, shows the real character now. In an interview to Guardian, a paper revered across the world, he says Ganguly stuck to captaincy for his financial gains. This is really the limit.

Again, Chappell is ignorant. He does not know Ganguly's financial positions. Of his royal background. Of his family. And of course his talent. And that he owns Asia's biggest printing press. If exaggerated, he can buy Chappell himself. It is high time somebody (BCCI, Indian Government) gagged him. There is a LIMIT.