Contemnor’s privilege

The summons issued by the privileges committees of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to Ronen Sen, India’s ambassador in Washington, to appear before them on October 29 and November 2 for breach of parliamentary privilege, is an indication of the exaggerated and unwarranted respect that New Delhi’s red pilot car light and VIP culture generates within the national capital’s establishment. Readers may recall that at the height of the national debate of the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement which is vehemently opposed by the communist parties, at a Washington press conference, Sen reportedly said that members of Parliament were running about like "headless chickens" over the issue.

This innocuous — and perhaps too accurate — remark generated widespread indignation within both houses of Parliament and particularly within the tightly knit fraternity of 66 MPs of the two communist parties — the CPI and CPM — whose support in the Lok Sabha is critical to the survival of the Congress-led 17-party coalition government which reigns in New Delhi.

But why this extraordinary sensitivity when every member of Parliament is well aware that because of their persistently unruly behaviour, disruption of scheduled sessions and marked inability to seriously debate legislation and issues of great importance, there is widespread disillusionment with Parliament, and perhaps parliamentary democracy?

For instance during the recently truncated monsoon session of Parliament, the Lok Sabha should have been in session for six hours daily for 23 days, but it worked for only  17 days averaging a mere four hours per day. Likewise the Rajya Sabha should have worked for five hours per day, but it averaged only three hours. And it’s pertinent to note that every minute of lost parliamentary time costs citizens Rs.20,000.Therefore the monsoon session of Parliament cost the public exchequer a whopping Rs.16 crore in time out.

In the circumstances, it’s somewhat ironic for MPs who don’t respect Parliament themselves, to be so quick to pull up others for alleged contempt of Parliament. But not a word more. Because while Sen will fly to Delhi at the taxpayer’s expense to answer before the privilege committees of Parliament, if hauled up for contempt, your editor will have to pay his own way.

Rajnikant’s response

The outrageous racial abuse directed at Australian test cricketer of West Indian origin Andrew Symonds by large contingents of spectators who packed stadiums which hosted the recently concluded Indo-Australia test series and ODIs (one day internationals), displayed the ugly face of Indian society — and education — to television audiences worldwide.

Although the country’s moribund socialism-inspired education system which doesn’t teach bourgeois good manners is largely to blame, the role of several heavyweight multinational companies which profit mightily by vending a plethora of skin whitening/lightening creams and potions countrywide, can’t be minimised either.

By arousing atavistic colour prejudice and plumbing deep insecurites of an inadequately educated population, a slew of high-profile but amoral MNCs including Hindustan Unilever, Beirdorf AG, L’Oreal and several indigenous me-too corporates such as Emami, Elder Healthcare etc have created a huge Rs.1,150 crore national market for fairness creams and potions.

Joining forces with the brain-dead badshahs of Bollywood who have developed great expertise in denying and disparaging the ethnic distinctiveness of Indians by carefully pre-selecting light-complexioned heroes and heroines and/or daubing them in white greasepaint, captains of Indian industry have kept their cash registers ringing with the promotion of placebo skin lightening creams and potions. Never mind that such potions — and particularly their racist advertisements — are banned in their home countries.

But there’s a sobering message from down south for Bollywood moguls and their counterparts in India Inc. The biggest mega star of them all with a huge following in Japan, is Tamil cinema’s superstar Rajnikant who isn’t inclined to camouflage his dark-complexioned Indian ethnicity. His huge popularity would be an opportunity for deep research, if only Indian academia had a tradition of research!

Literacy paradox

Although India’s most populous state (180 million) is also its most illiterate (male literacy 68.8 percent; female 42.2 percent), Uttar Pradesh is experiencing a major literary row.

A biography titled Mayawati — A Living Goddess is raising temperatures and decibels in political and academic circles across UP. The 40-page biography is notable for its rebuttal of every charge and criticism hurled at Ms. Mayawati, leader of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) who was sworn in for the fourth time as chief minister of UP in May. Authored by one H.I. Dusadh, a social worker, the book argues that the chief minister’s in-your-face affluence and sizeable diamonds collection are a source of pride for the Dalit community aching to break free from decades of oppression.

But while commissioned hagiographies depicting even blatantly hands-in-the-till politicians are par for the course in UP politics, this one has aroused widespread anger because of its cover illustration. The cover depicts a ponytailed Mayawati as Goddess Durga with four arms with one bearing a ballot box, another the BSP flag, the third a severed head captioned Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), and the fourth a politician marked Samajwadi Party whom she dangles by his leg. A demon captioned ‘Congress’ is shown prostrate at her feet. BSP leaders are falling over themselves to buy the booklet for distribution across the state to boost the brusque diamond-studded chief minister’s popularity further.

Meanwhile a second book making waves in UP is the late Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker’s The Ramayana: A True Reading, a Hindi translation of which titled Sachchi Ramayan, was also distributed to thousands of BSP supporters. Sales of Sachchi Ramayan, which paints the mythical hero Ram in less than flattering colours, are brisk as the BJP is also distributing the book to its legislators to take on the government in the forthcoming legislative assembly session.

Somewhat paradoxically in largely illiterate UP, book publishing is big business.