21-27 May, 2013
small world
Curtains for Your Political Career

MUMBAI ~ A close link is being established between office renovation and the careers of some Maharashtra politicians. Despite taking the advice of the best Vaastu consultants, several ministers and leaders have lost their jobs post refurbishing. This theory is being fuelled by the ongoing renovation of Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the state which was gutted in a fire in June last year.

Those happiest with the renovation are BJP politicians. The party’s former state unit president, Sudhir Mungantiwar, feels that the days of the 13-year-old Congress-NCP led government are numbered and they will lose the 2014 elections. His analysis is not based on any prevalent anti-incumbency sentiment or opinion polls. It is the renovation, he believes, that will prove unlucky for this government.

To illustrate his point, Mungantiwar states his own case. After he took over as the BJP’s state unit president, he decided to get a new look for the party’s regional headquarters. This was undertaken to make the office more spacious for activities that would signal the countdown to the parliamentary and Assembly polls slated for next year. “I lost my job after the renovation,” he says. “When Nitin Gadkari was the national president of the party, he too got the BJP office in New Delhi redone. See, he too lost his job. Now Mantralaya is being renovated and it is time for this government to go.”

His theory finds many takers. Past examples reinforce his thoughts. When Narayan Rane was Opposition leader during his Shiv Sena days, Feng Shui experts were called in to ‘realign energies’ in his Vidhan Bhavan office. He lost his job and defected to the Congress. Some months ago, NCP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, in consultation with Vaastu experts, renovated his office at Mantralaya. Following allegations of kickbacks in irrigation projects, he resigned from all posts. But he did return as Deputy CM after some months.

It will now take a resounding victory by the ruling alliance to debunk this theory.

Take Two
The All-Seeing Eye
What cases of police personnel getting caught on camera hitting women say about a welcome new world in the making

This week a Sub-Inspector in Ghaziabad came face to face with technology much to his discomfiture. He was caught on camera slapping a girl. It was flashed on news channels and what was probably a daily casual deed became a talking point, with even the National Commission for Women chairperson issuing her ever-ready clichéd two-bits. The girl had been caught drinking alcohol with her boyfriend and according to the police, they were making a nuisance of themselves. She says the police abused her and called her a prostitute. Even if true, all that is corollary. The focal point is the slap. And since it is on TV, there will have to be repercussions.

It was also a slap that ruined the career of ACP BS Ahlawat. In his case, there were a couple of teenage girls protesting against the rape of a child in Delhi. The footage shows them shouting at him very close to his face until he loses his temper and allows the alpha male to take over. Disastrously, as it turned out. He has been suspended and will for a long time stir in public memory every time some policeman gets violent with another protestor. In March, Punjab Police constables were caught on camera while they were thrashing a woman on the streets. They too were suspended.

All these instances of police highhandedness might sound distasteful, but it is actually good news. Voyeurism has a bad name in India because of MMS scandals, but this is an entirely new breed in the making—MMS activism. There have been calls for police reforms for a long time and most people have given it up as a lost cause. But what these incidents show is that reform in another form is happening, whether anyone institutes it or not. The sly arm of technology is entering new dark territories, and before you know it, there is so much light that nothing is hidden anymore. When everyone has a mobile phone with a camera, there is nothing a policeman can do without fear of its going public. And then there are the institutional changes. In February this year, the Gujarat High Court ordered the state government to install CCTV cameras in all police stations in the state within six months. This will inevitably happen in every police station across the country within a few years because the world outside has already done it.

Someone who has taken a step into this new world is Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. There is a live CCTV feed from his office and chambers 24x7 and it is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. It would have been interesting if there was sound in it and you could hear the conversations, but still, whatever happens in that office in an ultra-boring silent manner is there for public review. Chief ministerial level corruption will hardly happen across the table but imagine a world where every government office is wired—an all-seeing eye keeping a perpetual check, the stuff of science fiction now becoming real and we don’t even comprehend the magnitude of the revolution.

Instead of asking for lokpals and police reforms, activists would be better served if they demand that CCTVs, microphones and electronic documents be put up for online feeds. But they will probably not do it because it just does not sound fashionable to go on a hunger strike for installation of cameras. Crusaders are also stuck at the imagination level of the corrupt or tyrannical.

There are of course issues with such a world. For example, in all the slapping incidents, what is missing is the context. By the time the slap makes it to the 9 o’clock news, the policeman is already damned. Nothing he says in his defence will be accepted. All events have a chronology, but if the image is powerful, then the moment becomes the story. But that is also a good thing at this moment in history. Earlier the onus of justice was on the supplicant, now it is on the authority. There will still be corruption and abuse of power. It won’t go away. But when there is an eternal electronic eye on you, it has to take more ingenious forms. Let the corrupt at least make some effort to be corrupt.

Till the Pips Squeak

On the evening of 14 May at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, actor-author Jayant Kripalani and author-columnist Shobhaa De were in a lively conversation about Kripalani’s new book of short stories set in Kolkata—New Market Tales. Over the course of the interaction, both came down heavily on India’s principal metropolitan cities. Kripalani said he felt people too often romanticise ‘the garbage’ about Kolkata. De said that Mumbai is like a lemon that has been squeezed dry by all and sundry. She observed that even Hindi movies, for which Mumbai was a muse for years, were now increasingly about Delhi. To which the effervescent Kripalani responded: “That is because all the villains are in Delhi.”