The Judeo episode and after
The food of paradise
Computer-men have nothing to lose but spam
An image that many
IT was a tidal wave that swept the ruling Congress off its official perch in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. That it had no clue about what was in store for the party shows how far it was removed from the common people. It is not that the voters were against the party per se. Otherwise, they would not have given the Congress one more chance in Delhi, though with a slightly reduced margin. If anything, the results show that the voters had shown remarkable maturity in making their judgement. They knew how to sift fact from fiction and distinguish between black and white.
Take the case of Madhya Pradesh where the Congress got the severest drubbing. When Mr Digvijay Singh first came to power in 1992 in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition and dismissal of the BJP governments, it was considered a fluke victory. But during his first term when he devoted his time and energy to decentralisation of power and experimented with new ideas, be it on primary education or watershed management, the people lapped it up and gave him another term. But he forfeited the people's goodwill when he found more time for petty politicking and earned the reputation of a loudmouth. He forgot that public relations can work only to a limited extent and it is not a substitute for development.
Whoever gave Mr Singh the idea that he could counter the BJP’s Hindutva by espousing soft Hindutva did not tell him that given a choice between the real and the fake, the people always opted for the former. If only he had checked with the Congress leadership in Gujarat, he would have known that the BJP's Hindutva could not be countered with soft Hindutva. What mattered more to the people were not the shades of Hindutva but the dismal power supply position and the worsened condition of roads. In other words, the voters laid greater emphasis on development on which front Mr Singh had little to show off.
In neighbouring Chhattisgarh, Mr Ajit Jogi tried to project a larger-than-life image of himself in the run up to the elections in the hope that it would tilt the balance in the Congress' favour. The voters found in him a street-smart, who could stoop to any level to hog the limelight. Had he used his energy to bring a measure of progress to the tribal-dominated, backward state, he would not have found himself in the pathetic condition that he is now. He must be ruing the day he hounded Mr Vidya Charan Shukla out of the party. Though Mr Shukla is for all practical purposes a spent force, his NCP played the role of a spoilsport and accounted for the defeat of the Congress in a number of constituencies. For the BJP, the sweetest victory is in Chhattisgarh, where the party was no better than a novice. Of course, the painstaking efforts some of the Sangh Parivar outfits have been making to make a foray into the tribal heartland seem to have helped the party in pushing the Congress into the dustbin.
In Rajasthan, trends were clear that the Congress was not in good shape. The government's performance was not all that bad but far from taking the people into confidence on the developmental needs of the state, the party sought shortcuts like widening the scope of reservations without realising that the people are no longer enamoured of reservations when government jobs are becoming fewer and fewer. The Ashok Gehlot government overlooked the fact that the BJP had been systematically wooing the electorate over a long period even as Congressmen were fighting among themselves.
Unlike her counterparts in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, who too had to face dissidence all through her first term, never lost sight of the developmental goals of the state. Her amiable nature and clean image added to the party's lustre enabling the Congress to win a creditable victory. The loss of three states from the Congress kitty is bound to dampen the enthusiasm of the party workers, who know for sure that party chief Sonia Gandhi is hardly the vote-catcher that she is touted to be. It will make the party's bid for power in the Lok Sabha elections due in less than a year tougher than would have been the case otherwise. As for the BJP, it has every reason to be satisfied with the outcome but to see the victory as an endorsement of its policies and programmes is to miss the wood for the trees. The BJP has certainly benefited from the negative vote. However, there is no guarantee that the voters would vote the same way if Lok Sabha elections are advanced as some sections in the party want. In any case, the results show that democracy has come of age and the voters cannot be taken for granted.
THE murder of a young engineer who tried to blow the whistle on the open loot of public money and poor implementation of the Golden Quadrilateral expressway project in Bihar is symptomatic of the collapse of administration in Lalooland. Mafia rules the roost and anyone who dares to raise his voice can be bumped off. Mr Satyendra Kumar Dubey, a 1994 civil engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur, made it bold to write to the Prime Minister last year about the sorry state of the project only because his entreaties had no listeners in the godforsaken state. Knowing the clout of the persons whose dark secrets he was revealing to the Prime Minister, he made a specific request that his name should not be revealed. But the letter was handed down without any attempt to protect his identity. The 31-year-old crusader was shot dead in Gaya on November 27. The murder is a chilling reminder of the octopus hold that the contractor-official mafia exercises in the area. Even as prestigious a project as the Golden Quadrilateral has been taken over by local goons and Naxalites. Mr Dubey is no more but his sacrifice should not go in vain. It is not only necessary to track down his killers but also to investigate the faults in the implementation of the prestigious project that he has pointed out.
In his letter the lone crusader mentioned that the process of procurement was completely manipulated and hijacked by the big contractors. They had been able to get all sorts of help from the officials in the National Highway Authority of India and even the notesheets carrying approval of the Chairman have been leaked. Ironically, even the Central Vigilance Commissioner has said that the problems and lapses pointed out by Mr Dubey were what the Vigilance Commission had found during its technical audit of the project. The least that the government can do for the slain engineer is to make sure that the clean-up operation that he wanted to be launched is carried out immediately.
Thought for the day
There are three classes which need sanctuary more than others — birds, wild flowers, and Prime Ministers.
The Judeo episode and after
UNTIL the advent of Mr Dilip Singh Judeo, erstwhile Minister of State for Forests and Environment, most simple people thought corruption was something to be viewed with abhorrence. No longer. None other than the Deputy Prime Minister has urged that it be viewed “sensibly” and not sensationalised. What precisely the sensible view of corruption might be is not vouchsafed. However, Mr Judeo must have been comforted by these words and has remained suitably unapologetic.
Mr Judeo has denied taking any bribe and disclaimed knowledge of an Australian firm seeking mineral concessions in Chhattisgarh and Orissa. He has likewise disowned any acquaintance with the mysterious middleman, Rahul, caught on camera in a hotel room, ostensibly with Mr Natwar Rateria, his Assistant Personal Secretary and close family friend, and himself enjoying a convivial evening. He has described the VCD as a fabrication and part of an international conspiracy hatched by the Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Mr Ajit Jogi, in connivance with Christian missionaries angered at being thwarted by his Ghar Vapsi Abhiyan or re-conversion drive.
However, Mr Judeo is also on record as saying that money was needed to provision the army he had raised to stop conversions. Further, in taking money for this cause he was only following the example of Mahatma Gandhi, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh who were funded by G.D. Birla. So, the taking of “provisions” should not be “misunderstood”. What is the sensible way of looking at these matters? Do we understand that the means justify the ends and that the “cause” is supreme? That is what the “victims” of the Tehelka tapes said or implied.
What else was said about Mr Judeo? According to Mr Advani, he has been the “victim” of a sting operation, and politics has been “polluted” by such operations. Mr Judeo was named a star campaigner for the BJP in Chhattisgarh and a sympathy wave was forecast in his favour. The BJP view is that Mr Judeo claimed the moral high ground by resigning office pending a CBI inquiry, and it is Mr Ajit Jogi who failed the test by not resigning as Chief Minister while being investigated on a charge of fraud.
The media has been blamed for playing up the sting operation. So, shoot the messenger, as was done over Tehelka and in Gujarat. In both the Tehelka and Judeo episodes, the strongest criticism is aimed at the sting operation. The media or any other party involved in such an operation must certainly be prepared to face the consequences of violating the law. But the media’s supposed guilt does not extenuate, let alone exonerate, those assumed to have been caught in the act. Nor can the “people’s court”, through an electoral victory, efface criminality if committed. A crime is a crime, irrespective of status. Mr Narendra Modi’s subsequent electoral victory in Gujarat has in no way diminished his responsibility for the gruesome genocide in which his government was complicit. He too was a star BJP campaigner in the just concluded polls.
In any event, is a sting operation altogether wrong? The police use the technique routinely. Personable policewomen in plain clothes are used to catch “eve teasers”. Similarly, decoys are employed to book pimps and touts of various descriptions. Marked notes are passed on to trap unwary bribe takers. Are those caught by such means to be regarded as “victims” worthy of public sympathy if they claim to espouse some glorious end?
The Prime Minister was fortunately quite clear from the start that Mr Judeo should resign his ministerial office and that a CBI inquiry should be held to get at the facts. The sequence thereafter is puzzling. The CBI is very properly seeking to establish the authenticity of the tape and discover who was behind the operation. But thus far there has been no report of Mr Judeo being questioned by the police, nor Mr Rateria, missing for some days. They should obviously have been questioned and their evidence recorded. Even assuming the sting operation was politically motivated, that does not diminish the onus of anyone who may have taken or sought money for prospective services.
More than two years after the event, Tehelka and its financiers have been harried and ruined. The uniformed and civilian personnel involved have faced interrogation and preliminary action, but the politicians caught on film are yet to be subject to due process. Is the Judeo case to go the same way? To argue that the Congress has in the past or currently done no better when involved in similar situations is no answer.
The easy conscience with which the political class tolerates corruption, if not indulging in it, is deeply worrying. When the Supreme Court and the Election Commission initially ordained a full disclosure by electoral candidates of their assets and past criminal charges (not necessarily convictions), all sections of Parliament, without exception, objected. The grounds pleaded were laboured if not altogether specious.
The Judeo case has assumed the dimensions of an anti-missionary campaign, in which the RSS and Mr Modi have cheerfully joined to bait the Congress for the alleged sins of Mr Jogi and the handling of scams in Congress-ruled states. This “politicisation” of crime — on all sides — is greatly to be deplored and betrays a gross deviation from standards.
Then, enter Mr Modi as an official BJP mascot despite failing to restore credible governance in his state. The Supreme Court has again had to stay 10 Godhra-related cases apprehending possible mistrial and miscarriage of justice. Named murderers, rapists and other criminals are at large while their victims are terrorised and denied compensation and justice. Activists like Mallika Sarabhai, who have stood for justice, are being harassed. Yet Mr Modi said in Delhi as recently as November 24 that what happened in Gujarat “should not have happened in a civilised society”. But all citizens now had equal rights, and if any discrimination came to his notice he would correct it. When and how were “equal rights” restored in the state and how can this be sustained unless there is justice and reconciliation in Gujarat? As a star campaigner for the BJP in the recent polls, Mr Modi’s words, as reported in the Press, were regrettably laced with his by now familiar hate speech. However, the life sentences just awarded for the Godasar carnage indicate that the Gujarat administration may hopefully be in a chastened mood.
Surely, it is time to reject the invasive corruption of principles and standards one sees all around. It is corroding public life. Is the run up to the general election going to witness more of the same? Rather, there is need to unite to restore the centrality of integrity and good governance in India.
The food of paradise
IN his travel diary entitled “Delhi — Chunking”, the author K.P.S. Menon (who was India’s first ambassador to China in 1947) narrates an interesting incident regarding not China, but the delicious Bengali sweet, the rasgulla.
Menon’s father-in-law, the late Sir C. Sankaran Nair, used to live in Inverarm in Shimla. “The old bear on the hill”, as he was called due to his gruffness, once invited the then Viceroy to dinner.
I quote: “He (Sir Sankaran) had asked Sir Bhupendranath Basu in Calcutta to send some rasgullas for the dinner. Basu did so and sent him a telegram: “Bengali sweets dispatched”. In those days “Bengali sweets” was a nickname for bombs among the Bengali terrorists. The telegram fell into the hands of the police. It didn’t matter that it was addressed to a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council; had he not been President of the Indian National Congress? Nor did it matter that the sender was a Member of the Secretary of State’s Council; he too had been President of the Congress. And so the police set about making secret enquiries; and it was not until the dinner to the Viceroy was safely over that the telegram and the sweets were delivered to Sir Sankaran.”
Rasgulla, fit to tickle the palate of not only Viceroys, but of the kings and queens as well, is believed to have descended from the very heavens. Initially called baikunthobhog, the origin of rasgullas is as unique as the taste of these white spongy cream cheese balls, floating in sugary syrup and flavoured with ruh kewra or gulab.
More than 134 years ago, Nabin Chandra Das used to sell sweetmeats in Kolkata. He hailed from a family of leading sugar merchants of undivided Bengal. But over the years, business touched a low ebb. Indeed a miracle was required to come to its rescue. In the hope of making and selling a new sweetmeat, Nabin Chandra began to experiment with making rasgulla but was unable to hit upon the right ingredients and method.
It is said that in 1868, a voice from the very heavens spoke to him in a dream, giving him the correct recipe. And no wonder, the “heavenly” sweet which was prepared on earth, was named baikunthobhog (i.e. food of paradise), later handed down to us as the unique and popular rasgulla, relished both as a snack as well as a pudding. Indeed, it is claimed to be the choicest of Indian sweetmeats, doing honour to any occasion.
The descendants of N.C. Das i.e. K.C. Das will be opening outlets — carrying the taste of this “heavenly” sweet over many lands and waters to Canada and Australia as a gourmet’s delight for both Indians and foreigners, as English cookery has no parallel to the classic and exquisite Bengali sweet, the rasgulla.
Today the rasgulla has acquired a new look and taste. In keeping with the latest trends of food fads, herbal rasgullas whose key ingredients are either beetroots or carrots are being made in Kolkata. Perhaps the time is not far when the health or figure conscious will gorge upon this sweet prepared from low calorie sweeteners and be labelled as diet or sugar free
Computer-men have nothing to lose but spam
ANYONE who knows what e-mail is also knows about its flip side, spam. One of the most common uses for the Internet has been e-mailing, which allows computer users to communicate with others sitting at their terminals far away within seconds. E-mail has been a revolutionary way of communicating, but like any technological advance, this one too is subject to being misused.
This is done by sending a deluge of unsolicited messages which can clog computers, and worse. According to various online dictionaries, the word spam was coined as the winning entry in a 1937 competition to choose a name for Hormel Foods Corporation’s “spiced meat” (now officially known as “SPAM luncheon meat”).
Monty Python’s Flying Circus a BBC comedy also used the word in a song by that name.
However, Bob White, a journalist, claims the modern use of the term predates Monty Python by at least 10 years. He cites an editor for the Dallas Times Herald describing Public Relations as “throwing a can of spam into an electric fan just to see if any of it would stick to the unwary passers-by.”
This is precisely the kind of use that spammers subject computer users to. They literally throw spam all over the Net, with the fond hope that some of it will stick. Spammers bombard hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers hawking everything from prescription drugs to pornographic images to Russian brides. They are relentless and play a digital version of cat-and-mouse with companies that seek to block their messages and target them.
One of the most significant ways of doing so to remain undetected is to infect a computer and use it without the owner being aware that the computer has been hijacked. According to Sophos, an anti-spam and anti-virus company in the UK, nearly one-third of all spam mail circulating the Web is relayed through computers that have been compromised by malicious programs known as Remote Access Trojans.
Such Remote Access Trojans (RAT), are types of Trojan-horse programs, that are able to get into an Internet-connected computer and take control of it, as long as it is connected to the Internet. By using RAT, programs can steal information, read files, write files, send e-mails from that user’s login id. This will probably explain why you have been getting all kinds of stupid mail with your friends’ name as a sender.
E-mail providers have been fighting spam by using adaptive filtering techniques and other tools of the trade. Yahoo! has a product called Spam Guard, which was launched in April this year. Other e-mail providers have similar software.
However, mere technical solutions are not enough, though Microsoft, which has often been the target to spammers and virus attacks, has floated an award fund of $ 5 million.
On the other hand, governments are also getting into the act now. The Australian government has recently passed a law that means unwanted junk e-mails will attract hefty fines. It is a stiff fine. Any organisations that are found to repeat the offence can be hit with fines of more than Australian $1 million.
Anti-spam legislation is being considered in the USA and in many other nations, it is a subject of debate.
However, given the international nature of the Internet, which is used for spam, no one nation’s initiative can make a difference. Industry experts say the law is unlikely to make a dent in the bulk of unsolicited commercial e-mails, which originate overseas.
According to some estimates, about five billion spam messages are sent daily and about half of all e-mails are junk.
The Australian Communications Minister, Mr Daryl Williams, is right when he says the new law won’t combat the global nuisance of spam. But he says it will help when combined with international negotiation, public education, industry codes and technical counter measures. “The Australian Government does not pretend that legislation alone will be the silver bullet to address this global nuisance,” Mr Williams said.
The latest twist in the spam muddle is the spam that has started coming on mobile phones. Though in India, most customers are saved the hassle, since the user has to pay for sending an SMS, as opposed to e-mail where the user does not have to pay anything, there is mounting concern for the misuse of mobiles and the US-based Mobile Marketing Association has released a six-point industry code of conduct for North American wireless marketing campaigns, hoping to stop a spam epidemic before it starts.
The global wireless marketing trade group said it developed the code to protect a fledgling medium that is extremely vulnerable to abuse. The code stipulates that advertisers must allow people to opt in to each mobile marketing program separately. It also says every message sent must provide an easy opt-out mechanism, and consumers should be offered something of value in each wireless communication they receive.
The troubling thing is that often spammers and virus-writers work in tandem. Though the former are seldom caught, yet this year there have been a number of high profile arrests of virus-writers from the USA, the UK, Spain, Italy and Romania.
An image that many
WHEN you are in Lahore, in the north-east of Pakistan near the Indian border and the main city of the country’s dominant Punjabi ethnic group, it’s possible to feel remote from Peshawar along the country’s north-west frontier — barely 300 km away.
For many of us, though, opinions about Pakistan are largely formed through TV footage from that fabled frontier dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan, and all the more so since 9/11 and the US-led war on the Taliban. It’s an image, however, that some Pakistanis have come to regret and resent.
‘Peshawar at the moment is like another country,’ Ahmed Rashid, author of a best-selling book on the Taliban, told me recently in Lahore. ‘You really get a sense that it has little to do with this part of Pakistan.’
Lahore’s self-confident Punjabi elite class seems preoccupied with shopping, eating out at fast food restaurants and attending fashionable weddings. Peshawar is altogether grittier, and the border with Afghanistan — which is both very near and very porous — contrasts strongly with the impermeable Indian border near Lahore.
The longstanding presence of Afghan refugees has also affected Peshawar’s character.
‘There was a time when there were 3.7 million Afghan refugees in the North West Frontier Province,’ local journalist Riaz Khan told me. ‘When they came here they brought their traditions, their culture, their crafts, and also their negative things.’ Traditional Afghan carpets in Peshawar, he noted, used to be decorated with images of ‘flowers and things. Now you see them with the images of Kalashnikovs and helicopters.’
In Islamabad, I met Awais Ahmed Chaudhry, a former travel agent and fixer for international journalists. The word ‘former’ is significant. ‘I’ve basically given up hope,’ he told me.
During the Afghan war, normally sleepy Islamabad was ‘swarming with camera people and reporters,’ he said. ‘The Marriott [Hotel] was full to the brim with journalists. And you could not find a room in the Pearl Continental [hotel] in Peshawar. You couldn’t get a guest house in Peshawar that had a room. Journalists were forced to rent houses.’
Mr Chaudhry himself had the temporary good fortune during the war of being hired by a Korean television team. The opportunity was well-timed because his usual business sending groups of trekkers and mountaineers to the Himalayas in northern Pakistan had abruptly dried up.
‘But it wasn’t really 9/11 that affected things,’ he adds. ‘It was the aftermath, the fallout. The Afghan war, the Indian and Pakistani border tensions that lasted about a year, the eleven French people who were massacred in the Sheraton Hotel bomb in Karachi in 2002. We got emails from seven French groups. They just said, “We’re not coming.’’’
In the collapse of Pakistan’s tourist industry, the no-show tourists were one thing, but there are those who feel the Pakistan government itself did not help.
Mr Chaudhry is particularly bitter about the way the government in Islamabad handled the run-up to the US invasion of Afghanistan.
He recalled that in the 45 days between the World Trade Centre attack and the start of the US bombing of Afghanistan, the Taliban were giving daily briefings to the Press of the world.
‘And from where? From the Taliban embassy here in Islamabad,’ he said. ‘It made my blood boil. Every day on BBC and CNN it would say, “Taliban briefing from Islamabad’’. That was so stupid of the Pakistani government. That’s the single thing that ruined the tourism industry in Pakistan.’
— The Guardian
It is the power of Brahman in man that causes the mind and the intellect and the senses to perform their functions; and when that power ceases to act, these also stop work.
— Sri Ramakrishna
One realises God in proportion to the intensity of one’s feeling for Him. He who is really eager to cross the ocean of the world will somehow break his bonds. No one can entangle him.
— Sarada Devi
He who loves lives, he who is selfish is dying. Therefore love for love’s sake, because it is the only law of life, just as you breathe to live.
— Swami Vivekananda
Religion is simply an attempt to explain and expose the Self within you. There is a thick veil of ignorance covering the Self. It is called maya. All religions help to remove this evil. Vedanta does it too.