Mrs Gandhi and the Delhi media

DelhiMediaWith newspapers reminding us of the 25th  Indira Gandhi death anniversary this is as good an occasion as any other to plug in this  vintage photo, dating back to early 70s. She is seen addressing members of the Delhi Reporters Guild on the lawns of the PM’s official residence on Race Course Rd., New Delhi.

Mrs Gandhi wasn’t particularly media friendly. In fact, many of us who went  through the Emergency days in Delhi found ourselves treated by the authorities with a little more respect than they would give to a doormat. But then  we have been accused of caving  in to intimidation  by Indira Gandhi’s media handler V C Shukla. As BJP’s L K Advani put it, the media under the Emergency regime ‘crawled when they were expected to bend’.

The photo here predates the Emergency.  New Delhi-based Journalists those days belonged to two distinct classes – 1) Press Association members, who were accredited to the central government ; and 2)  lesser beings in the reporters guild, accredited to the Delhi Administration.

The first was the favored class , entitled to official perks, notably, allotment of government flats in Sundernagar,  Pandara Road, Chanakyapuri and other prime government residential localities . When we took this up with the then I & B minister I K Gujral, he was candid enough to admit a quid pro quo in the arrangement. Press Association journalists were the ones ministers and senior officials dealt with. They  did the government’s bidding; published faithfully all official handouts. “They deliver,” said Mr Gujral, while humble reporters like us were not so amenable.

Mr Gujral, however, offered to set up meeting for us with Mrs Gandhi. And that was how the PM came to address the Delhi Reporters Guild.

Mallya brings ‘Gandhi’ home

What were  your thoughts  when you heard of  Mr Vijay Mallya’s  acquisition of  Gandhi’s metal rimmed glasses and a few other belongings? gandhi1I, for one,  wondered what the mahatma would have made of the Mallya deal. We have some Gandhiwadhis hailing Mr Mallya for bringing our ‘heritage’  back to India. Never mind, if Gandhi’s things were paid for with a liquor baron’s money.  Whatever happened to the Gandhian thought about putting ‘means’ above ‘ends’?  Does the end, however lofty, justify any means?  Of course there is a school of thought that believes there is no such thing as tainted money. 

Mr Mallya may be an honourable man,  but a businessman nonetheless, believing in making sensible investments.   Imagine the publicity mileage he can milk out of his Gandhian acquisition. Not long ago, he bought Tipu’s sword in auction, and brandished it during the last poll campaign ,when Mr Mallya was working president of the Janata Party.

We have another election round the corner.  It comes after another prized acquisition by Mr Mallya.  Is he  still with the janata Party ?

For the record, he is  reported to have paid  $1.8 mill to retrive  for India prized artefacts auctioned in New York.  The items that came under the hammer were Gandhi’s pocket watch, a pair of sandals, his metal-rimmed glasses, and a plate and bowl.

Rahul Gandhi on lal-batthi VIP

Rahul Gandhi has got it right ;  and  voiced it at the proper  place – Lok Sabha. He is cited as saying, public  outrage in the wake of  Mumbai26/11 was really about  prevelant perception  that the country had stopped valuing lives of the commoner ;  India only bothered about lal-batthi VIPs (the type that goes about in cars fitted with revolving red-light).

“We have to change how we view the lives of individuals,”  Amethi MP   said in Lok Sabha,  adding that the powers that be had to decide that not a single life would go  in vain.

Excellent thought;  which is best conveyed to people through official action.  They could decide,  for instance,  to review the system of providing state-sponsored security to politicians and other public figures facing threat to personal life.  Those in the Z category get  ‘black cat’  protection.   If someone were to seek details under RTI Act pertaining to  the number of our politicians who enjoy this privilege,  we can get a sense of how many among them deserve such entitlement, from the security viewpoint.  Z category shouldn’t be seen as a status symbol.  Besides,  one wonders if  those once  given black-cat protection ever think of surrendering the privilege after they retire or the official perception of  threat to their lives is  considerably reduced.

Rahul Gandhi who in his Lok Sabha speech is reported to have said some sensible things would indeed neutralise , to some  extent,  the public outrage  he referred to ,  if only he were to follow up his words with a demand for a case-by-case review of  security-threat status of  lal-batthiwallahs   under black cat cover.  And ensure that the home ministry takes a critical look at the security entitlement criteria.

October 2 in New York

My investment banker friend Mr B R Ramaprasad and his wife Shyamala take time off every oct.2 to be at New York’s Union Square Park to pay homage to the Mahathma. Son of a Mysore school headmaster, Mr Ramaprasad has been in the US since 1970; and a regular at the Oct.2 prayer meetings since 1986 when the Gandhi statue came up in the park. Indian consulate, along with the Bharatiya vidhya Bhavan, host the solemn, if thinly attended,ceremony marked by bhajans and meditative silence.

India Abroad, referring to the unfailing attendance of Mr Prasad, of Millington, NJ, once quoted him as saying he  came there to remind himself of Gandhi’s  sacrifice for India and to celebrate the cause he upheld – peace with freedom. Mr Prasad reckons that the freedom that most of today’s generation has come to take for granted can be valued more, if we remind ourselves of the strife, struggle and the sacrifices that had gone into the battle for Independence.

Mr Prasad, in reference to his adopted country, cited the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where America’s Freedom Rising is articulated with sound-light effect that relates to the digital era citizenry. Mr Prasad believes we could emulate the technology to tell the story of our freedom struggle. Raj Ghat in New Delhi would a natural venue for a Philadelphia-type Liberty Bell complex.  And NRIs in the US could help India with know-how and funding for the audio-visual presentation, says Mr Prasad, adding that the proposal could be taken up for discussion in the next Pravesi Bharatiya conference.

A funny thing happened on our way to Philadelphia. Driving from Millington, New Jersey, Mr Prasad keyed in the GPS device in his car for direction to the Liberty Bell complex in downtown Philadelphia. A recorded voice from the gadget kept telling us when and where to exit from Freeway; talking us through a series of turns and crossings before announcing that we had made it to the destination. But we found ourselves in a market area with no sign of the Bell in the vicinity. As it turned out, the GPS had led us to a Taco Bell, not the Liberty Bell.

P S: Reacting to the above Mr Prasad e-mailed, “Just one correction; I am not an investment banker, just an ordinary old fashioned (dumb ?) banker”.

Clothesline ‘satyagraha’

Didn’t think, did you, that hanging out your laundry in the backyard or balcony is such a big deal. It is, for residents in Aurora, an upscale Ontario suburb, where outdoor-clotheslines, seen as an eyesore, are banned by law. The New York Times reports that a local citizen group there has taken to hanging laundary to dry out in people’s backyards, as an act of ‘civil disobedience’.
Not, perhaps, in the same league as Gandhiji’s Dandi March,  but a ‘satyagrah’ it is nonetheless, to assert citizens’ right to do their own thing with their laundary, within the confines of their own homes. Their fight for the ‘right to dry’ their laundary is no small matter, considering the ban on outdoor clotheslines has been in place in North America and parts of Europe for over three decades.
Homeowners and real-estate developers in the West reckon clotheslines on home fronts are not in keeping with the upscale lifestyle. Houses with no clothesline are inconceivable in middle-class India.  I haven’t been to Palm Meadows or other dollar-driven townships in Bangalore’s Whitefield. It is understandable if people’s thinking there is in line with the Western mindset on matters of lifestyle esthetics.
At our apartments complex in Mysore the estate developer has provided clotheslines on the terrace, in a bid to discourage residents of flats from hanging their clothes to dry in balconies facing the road. But I don’t see how he can enforce his wish on those who see nothing strange in putting their laundry out to dry.
Anyway, the clothesline satyagrahis in the west seeking to overturn the ban have an enviornmental agenda. Their point is electric dryer uses up as much energy as a fridge; and clothesline isn’t just energy saving, it effects a sizeable cutback in carbon emission. In developed countries household appliances account for a quarter of their total carbon emissions.
If pro-clothesline activists get the legal ban overturned, half the battle would be won. But victory over the other half, and a more significant half of the battle, can come only with behavioural changes. Those who put esthetics above environment; and continue to opt for electric dryers, rather than the clothesline, ought to pay for their carbon emissions. Proceeds from this should be spent on eco-friendly projects in the developing world, where clotheslines are the norm and electric dryers have not been  as an option for even those who can afford them. Washing machines sold here don’t usually come with an electric dryer.