Sunday, June 29, 2008


The blurb for Outlook Magazine's cover story on Manmohan Singh this week reads: "With Manmohan Singh intent on pushing the nuclear deal when he should be worrying about inflation, many have begun to wonder if he's putting personal interest before the national one." Nothing could be further from the truth. It's decidedly against Singh's personal interest to pursue the nuclear deal, since it would mean losing his post and having to fight elections (which as a terrible politician, he is loathe to do). I seriously doubt that "many" of whom Outlook writes really exist.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, it is silly to link the two issues of inflation and the nuclear deal, since they have nothing to do with one another, apart from the fact that one may precipitate elections and the other may make it impossible for the Congress to win. Inflation, like all economic problems, is not easy to manipulate by the stroke of a pen, and it is likely that the PM is very worried about inflation but also very much at a loss about how to initiate a sudden reversal.

The bottom line is that this deal (as Shekhar Gupta correctly wrote earlier this week) is not about energy--the Left gets that right. It's about bringing India back into the fold after years of ostracism following its nuclear test. Any supposed limitations that it puts in place are already in place today--when India is still essentially under sanctions--so it is ridiculous to say that India should keep out of it to protect its autonomy. (Essentially, that is like a prisoner saying he doesn't want to come out of jail because if he breaks the law he'll be thrown back inside).

The Congress will have to face elections in April, regardless what it does now. And Manmohan Singh will be the de facto choice as its prime minister, since Sonia Gandhi has already demonstrated her unwillingness to take the post, Rahul Gandhi is too young (by consensus) and there isn't anybody else that Sonia can rely on to rule by remote control. With those realities, the more that the party hamstrings Singh and turns him into an emasculated figure of ridicule, the more it increases the (already likely) scenario that it will be thrown out of office.

Monday, June 23, 2008

making anti-incumbency work...

One thing that's always bothered me about India's version of democracy. The politicians keep claiming that they can't enact unpopular, but necessary, legislation because they're scared of being thrown out of office. The nuclear deal is the latest big-ticket casualty, but the argument applies to everything from parking tickets and more expensive licenses for cars (to curb pollution and congestion in Delhi) to raising the tariff for water for the middle class (to finance better supply and reduce waste).

The argument bothers me for two reasons.

The first is that it's patently untrue. Witness the BRT. It was fantastically unpopular from the beginning, and has only gotten more so, yet it's being pursued with vigor.

The second reason is that anti-incumbency virtually guarantees that you'll be thrown out, no matter what you do. Why not do something productive?

The "golden quadrilateral" highway project (justifiably popular) is an example here. It has been pursued by two successive governments, despite their traditional rivalry and the long-standing practice of bringing in your own contractors so you can shift the kickbacks from the old govt to the new.

Considering that the two largest political parties--and many of their allies--can agree on substantial parts of the agenda of what needs to be done for India to develop as a modern nation, this seems to be the way to make anti-incumbency work: Focus on projects / legislation where there is a broad consensus, and push forward regardless of party ties, while using other line items to try to differentiate the party. Leaving aside economic reforms--even though the Congress and BJP are basically agreed on what measures are needed, though they refuse to admit it--Everybody wants good roads. Everybody wants functioning sewers. Everybody wants clean water. If you're going to essentially take turns holding power anyway, what do you have to lose in actually providing them?

There must be another reason than anti-incumbency that nothing gets done.

unisex toilets

This Sunday I was entertained by a little gripe from a woman journalist about the unisex toilets in some of Delhi's popular bars. The bad news: The closet-sized space means that your face is inches from the urinal when you're seated on the pot.

Personally, I could never figure out why they have the urinal in there at all. If I'm taking a leak, I lock the door: The last thing I want is for some massive mustachioed marauder in urgent need to come barging in and flop down on the seat to take a dump when I'm midstream. So I (and other dudes) could just pee in the toilet like we do at home, unless there's some special cache in urinals that I don't know about. Incidentally, this is the case in ALL the men's toilets, not just the unisex ones.

Now that I know women are freaked out by the whole staredown with the soapcake thing, though, I'm thinking I may be more metrosexual than I originally considered. Then again, I'm also tormented by Delhi's other (more common) architectural faux pas--the light switches with so many toggles that coming into your house feels like firing up a 747, the canted rooms (everything skewed at a ten degree angle), the bathrooms that you have to walk upstairs into because they had to make room for the pipes underneath.... These guys really need to start hiring professionals.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

murder (al)most foul

My pal Andy Buncombe of the Independent has written an interesting piece on the Aarushi Talwar murders, arguing that the furor over the whodunnit has exposed the rift between Delhi's rich and poor.

Some highlights:

"While the media attention devoted to Aarushi's murder was exceptional, even the family's lawyer believes such servants are often responsible for crimes. Pinaki Mishra said there were many factors behind the phenomenon – increasing economic disparity, the increasing influx of rural people into India's cities and even mafia-style groups that force domestic servants to steal from their employers....

Yet while such killings made big headlines, official figures suggest that the problem is not as great as some may believe. Mr Bhagat, the Delhi police spokesman, said that five people in the city with a population of more than 16 million had been robbed or killed by their servants so far this year. Last year the total was six."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the crappening

It's confirmed. M. Night Shyamalan is in freefall.

The Happening is only marginally better than, and just as stupid as Lady in the Water. How does one explain his "crappening?" I think it all goes down with his childish and pretentious obsession with casting himself as an auteur--a concept so pretentious that there's only a word for it in French--which puts him in the disastrous company of Abel Ferrar (Bad Lieutenant to The Funeral and on downward) and David Milch (Deadwood to John from Cincinatti) as well as folks like Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman. It is entirely possible that Shyamalan cannot write--the Sixth Sense notwithstanding--and it is definitely proven by his last three films that his critical faculties are severely wanting. Delusional is the word that springs to mind. (I'm sure that the wise man at Disney who dumped him has been promoted way, way up the ladder). Filmmaking--like writing--is not really a solitary profession, it seems. You need people to tell you when you're doing something ridiculous, or pompous, or just plain dopey. My guess is that Manoj had about 100 projects in the trash can before he came up with The Sixth Sense, and that was a good thing. Unbreakable came next, and it was OK. But then the critical world (Newsweek and Time in particular) did him a colossal disservice by saying that Signs was a brilliant masterwork and enshrining him as the next Spielberg. Signs was stupid, too, folks. With badly drawn aliens and, again, that crushingly horrible whimsy that Manoj has patented in his post-Sixth Sense career: the aliens could be destroyed by tap water.

That's it. He's in the heap with Karan Johar and Abel Ferrar--I vow never to spend money on one of his movies again.

I guess this means UTV is not going to catapult itself into the realms of Village Roadshow etc--at least not yet.