An India beyond recognition
AT a time holy men are accused of robbing banks and businessmen of cheating stranded victims of the Uttarakhand disaster, it would perhaps be churlish ~ even unrealistic ~ to expect the party that rules the country to be feel shame for supporting for a place in the Rajya Sabha a person accused in the 2G scam, or mortification at the charge of its own minister that it sold party tickets in last year&’s elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly. Such is the degeneration in public life that even these seemingly indefensible acts are vigorously defended. The Congress claims its support is to a political party ~ the DMK ~ and not its nominee ~ Ms Kanimozhi ~ who spent months in jail after being arrested in the 2G scam. If that sounds hair-splittingly hilarious, a party spokesperson&’s easy dismissal of senior minister Beni Prasad Verma&’s accusation on UP mocks our intelligence. Mr Verma it must be said is not the most distinguished member of the generally undistinguished Cabinet that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh heads. But he is an experienced politician, having been in and out of ministerial office for some two decades; it must therefore be assumed he would have weighed the import of his words. For him to allege therefore that an election campaign directly supervised and conducted by Mr Rahul Gandhi was marked by sale of party tickets and clandestine support to an opponent party is serious. Certainly it begs a more robust defence than a statement that such contrarian views must be aired within the party, and not in public. And certainly these two incidents have somewhat diverted attention from the utterly fantastic statement a few days ago from Mr Narendra Modi&’s camp that the Gujarat chief minister had personally rescued 15,000 Gujaratis from Uttarakhand and air-dropped supplies to those stranded in the hills.
Even a few years ago, standards in public life were higher. People would rally around a cause, and show they could be humane and caring when faced with crisis. Politicians could rise above themselves to be bipartisan. Uttarakhand isn’t the only crisis India faces; it is only the most dramatic one. Our political class however has shown it is immune to adversity and committed to business as usual in the most grubby and opportunistic fashion. Is it any wonder then that “lesser” Indians cheat stranded travellers and steal from undefended banks? It isn’t only the rupee that has crashed during the nine years under Sonia Gandhi and Mr Singh; in no other time-span of similar length since 1947 have moral standards fallen, and only fallen, in the manner they have since 2004. That is the legacy Mr Singh will leave.
COMPARATIVELY easy it was at the recent all-party meeting to attain broad political endorsement of the two-pronged strategy and a strongly worded statement condemning Maoist violence, though the Left parties thwarted the use of “terrorist”. Translating that into practical tactical plans, however, continues to prove illusory. Theoretically the role of the Central and state governments is complementary: yet much fine-tuning remains and an effective coordinating mechanism has to be created. At one level the home ministry would seek to take the lead, although on ground it shifts the onus to the states since law-and-order remains within the latter&’s domain. While there are few takers for suggestions to induct the Army to restore the authority of “India” in the red zone, there is also recognition that the paramilitary and police are not fully geared-up for the task. Although the home ministry&’s adviser, Veerapan-hunter K Vijay Kumar who is also experienced in tackling the Maoists, feels there is no need for military intervention, others in North Block seem to be thinking somewhat differently. And in typical “babu” fashion a half-way compromise is being explored.
Those garrulous “home ministry sources” have been talking about drafting retired Brigadiers of the Infantry into the exercise, saying they will be seeking out such ex-officers with counter-insurgency experience and will select a number of them to hone the skills of the forces already deployed. Why Brigadiers specifically? North Block&’s logic stymies the move even before it has been made: it explains that inducting former Major-Generals (experienced in higher-level command) would not go down well with the state governments! Could there be any more ridiculous nit-picking? It would also be a fallacy, with due respect to those “one-star generals”, to believe that they would automatically ensure a quality-upgrade in the forces. Military-efficiency is attained by a body of men functioning in unison, trained in a particular fashion with a clear chain of command and designated tasks down the line. There is a singular ethos, an officer-man equation that has evolved over a period of time. There is no magic wand that will overnight create that kind of professional and emotional bonding between olive green and khaki in an operational environment. It might provide the veterans with a bit more in their hip-pockets but will they be able to command, and be “accepted” by the paramilitary? And such a potentially-complicated arrangement will hardly instil “fear” into the Marxists. Indeed this confused thinking could have them chuckling all the way to the next ambush.
A SLIP TOO MANY
Spotlight on Wimbledon&’s grass
HALF-WAY into Wimbledon&’s first fortnight the premier tennis tournament of the world looked set to break the record for the most retirements and withdrawals in its history, a situation brought about by what players describe as uncharacteristically slippery courts. The elegant Maria Sharapova appeared to spend nearly as much time on her derriere as she did on her feet whilst crashing in a second-round upset to a qualifier. She slipped thrice at the same spot on Court 2 and reportedly muttered that the surface was dangerous, a sentiment echoed by her opponent. Among the others to leave the field in heart-wrenching circumstances was Steve Darcis, the man who stunned Rafael Nadal but was forced to withdraw because of a shoulder injury sustained in a fall during the match. Tournament officials are loath to admit any deficiency in the surface, and well may they be right in insisting that surfaces tend to be lush at the start of the event, and are actually as dry and firm as they should be and always have been. But that does not solve the mystery of why so many players are finding it difficult to stay on their feet this summer.
One respected former pro believes the problem might have to do with the number of pimples permitted on the soles of tennis shoes, a theory that seems credible until it is realised there has been no change in these specifications for at least a few years. The other explanation of course is that players used to artificially perfect surfaces might no longer feel affinity for the imperfections that only Nature can offer. Whatever be the cause, tournament officials would do well to investigate; the last thing fans want is for Wimbledon to slip ~ literally ~ into obscurity.