Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mush’s Comeuppance

I have no guilt in admitting that for a long time I was in awe of Gen Pervez Musharraf. I thought of him as a cool chap, not withstanding our mandatory neighbor bashing. After a spate of hard-nosed, wily politicians on either sides of the divide, who usually have a cloaked axe to grind, here we had a guy -- refreshingly candid -- who could deliver. Always thinking out-of-box, a catch phrase he made incredibly popular on his first visit to India, the commando was endearing. With his Mouser pistol firmly in the holster, grip always showing, and a military air, he would charm the media. The US swore by him. Pakistan’s economy began to steady. Peace with India, despite the oh-so-usual irritants, looked like a real possibility.

Ruling Pakistan is always an arduous task. The country simply does not have a democratic culture. Whenever democrats feel close to real power in that country, they have turned autocrats. Bhutto senior is a case in point. Recently, Nawaz won by landslides but soon slid to autocratic ways. No wonder the all-powerful Pakistani military has played an influential role in mainstream politics throughout Pakistan's history with military presidents ruling from 1958–69 (Gen Ayub Khan), 1969-71 (Gen Yahya Khan), 1977–88 (Gen Zia) and from 1999 onwards (Gen Musharraf). That’s roughly 32 years. Successive civilian governments in Pakistan have had to either eat crow or play second fiddle to its army. In our generation, Gen Mush has been the face of Pakistan and its army.

Until recently. How times change? And so swiftly. Musharraf is now a much reviled person in his country. If there were any popularity ratings in Pakistan, as there are in the US, he would fare lower than Bush Jr., his best buddy. But Crawford Ranch seems a long distance from Army House, Rawalpindi. Bronx cheered from the left and right, Mush has been cornered. The Islamists are out there to have his scalp. How Al-Zawahiri would love to see Mush skinned alive! Politicians across the spectrum – from Nawaz’s Muslim League N to Bhutto’s PPP – would like to see his back. Add to the chorus -- the plucky, retaliative CJ of Pakistan, a dodgy gentleman with dyed hair, who is passing order after order against the Gen in a pickle.

Mush must be licking his wounds. I wonder who the heck advised him to remove the CJ? That’s when it all began. Power misused is like a pet serpent that can lunge at you! The Gen set his own declension. Now even Mohterma Bhutto, despite a clandestine deal with the Gen – who once called her names – is bargaining hard. Nawaz seems set to return from exile. Adding to Mush’s woes are: Hold your breath -- the huge advocates lobby, the mad-mullah’s association, a former playboy cricketer-turned-politician, radical Pakistani media who think he is too close to the US, rightwing US media who opine he is not doing too much to fight terror, an angry judiciary, pro-Pakistan leaders in Kashmir who feel he betrayed them, tribal leaders because he’s tough on them, US presidential hopefuls because he’s not too tough in the border areas, the dreaded elusive Al-Qaeda, displaced Lal masjid students because he violated their den. Poor Mush.

The next few weeks are going to be snappy for Mush. He may have to quit as army chief. He may have to sleep with the enemy. He may even have to abdicate. He may well have a surprise in store. Only time will tell. Till then, it is going to be Hobson's choice for the dishy Gen. Let’s hope he swims through.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Chak De

Rarely does one come across a movie being made in India which blends sportsmanship, redemption and patriotism in just the right puckle. Frankly, I don’t think too much of our Bollywood because more-often-than-not the content is pretty pedestrian. Then there comes a flick which breaks free of the stereotype: No running betwixt the trees, no dialogue-baazi and no clutter. Simple story-telling. Done powerfully by some exceptionally talented actors. Shamit Amin is a brilliant film-maker. SRK doesn’t really need to be cheered. He remains, if I have my druthers, the King.

I won’t spoil the party for those who are yet to watch it. I won’t touch on the storyline. I was not scheduled to, neither had I planned to catch the movie, but I am glad an unexpected, split-second decision entirely changed my opinion about the game of hockey. Chak de is a very fine movie. Perhaps one of the best ever made on sports in India.

Chak de – I think it is a war-cry, slang for do it – is crisp, topical, sensitive and full of verve. The humor is unceasing. The actors are your neighborhood gals. And then there is the cerebral, stubbled Shahrukh. Who needs an item song!

For those of you who like their facts in figures:
Cost of the movie: 20 crore; Earnings first week: 20 crore.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why the haste?

Take away India, and Britain would become a second-rate power.
Lord Curzon

As India and Pakistan prepare to clink glasses on the 60th anniversary of their respective independences, a little galling detail juts out. Although it won’t quite spoil the party, it intrigues me. What was the urgent need to fast-forward the partition of British India? Why was the country midwifed recklessly over lunch, like the newborns won’t survive another day? Why did Lord Louis Mountbatten – uncle of Queen Elizabeth II’s hubby, Prince Phillip – allow the partition in such supreme haste? Even if Nehru and Jinnah wanted it quick. Mountbatten’s daughter, Pamela Hicks says her dad thought partition was a crazy, unworkable idea. So! So he better make haste.

In the process, Mountbatten advanced independence by a good nine months from June 1948 to August 1947. Partition happened. Pakistan was created at the midnight of Aug 14 and India on Aug 15, 1947. In the ensuing confusion, more than ten million people were uprooted. A million others perished.

Christopher Beaumont is daintily called one of the few people who knew the real truth about partition. He was a key figure in the partition of India. Beaumont was private secretary to the senior British judge, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was chairman of the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission. In short, the trusted inside-man in a team that was given a pencil – sharpened one – but no eraser and an assignment: Go out there in the plains of India and draw the consecrated line. The good Englishmen eventually drew the line, on a rather simple rag of map. The etchings, needless to add, still draw blood 60 years later. Some lines are too sharp to be blurred by time.

The viceroy, Mountbatten, must take the blame - though not the sole blame - for the massacres in the Punjab in which between 500,000 to a million -- men, women and children – perished, Beaumont says in his memoirs. Isn’t it strange that independence was declared prior to the actual partition and it was left to the new governments of India and Pakistan to keep public order! The infant governments clearly hadn’t anticipated the magnitude of mass-migration, mass-murders and the subsequent unrest. They flunked to control the mayhem. “The handover of power was done too quickly’’, Beaumont adds. The partition resulted in arguably the largest mass migration of peoples the world has ever seen. Mountbatten’s reactions to the bloody aftermath of partition were, according to his biographer, Philip Ziegler “at his most shallow”.

The British Military intelligence knew that the situation could take an ugly turn. Aware of this, Field Marshall Auchinlek -- Commander of Chief in India -- had wanted to keep British troops in India -- temporarily -- after Independence, but was over-ridden by Mountbatten. At any level, it was not a smooth transfer of power, as the Clement Atlee government in London wanted. With a royal megalomaniac at helm, who dismissed concerns from his own staff and other British experts far more knowledgeable than him about Indian communal tensions and politics, the bloodshed was inevitable.

So our guys who went out to draw those lines took some time. Exasperated, Mountbatten gave them a six-week deadline. “The trouble was that Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were an integrated population so that it was impossible to make a frontier without widespread dislocation,” Beaumont writes. While still at job – with no final boundaries, no clear demarcations of what belonged to whom – India was cut into two. The Indo-Pakistan Boundary Commission guys were so distraught that they refused compensation for their work.

The rest, they say, is history. Most historians agree that Mountbatten cajoled Radcliffe into making compromises in the border crafting. Beaumont remained an honest guy until his end in 2002, dubbing both Radcliffe and Mountbatten discredited. Mountbatten was blown up in an IRA bomb at his summer home in Mullaghmore, Ireland in 1979.

The British legacy remains -- despite the trains and roads they bequeathed us – that of a hasty retreat. An inexplicable haste that led to widespread misery, murder, marauding. The aftershocks still continue.

On the eve of India and Pakistan’s 60th annev. Cheers.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Karl Rove is gone

He was the alter ego of George Bush II. His shadow. The brain behind his political strategy. The man most vehemently protected by the White House in wake of the countless scandals and dirty odd jobs he did for them. He was portly but that didn't matter. He was the aide-de-camp to the most doltishly powerful man in the world. The Prez hugged him tight, last night, as he bade good-bye to a great friend. White house interns in their pink polka-dotted dresses must have sobbed, at least, a few of them. There goes the electrifying line. The Axis. The incredible colleague. I am happy, another conspirator exits.

Karl Rove is the third to leave. After Wolfowitz and Rummy. Ah, old boy Wolf was a sheer disgrace at the World Bank. He tried to give an out-of-turn raise to his Muslim girlfriend, and was done for. As for Rumsfeld – who often used to confuse journalists with his vocab peddling – he is busy denying things that he always knew and endorsed. Last heard, a week back, he denied a cover-up and rejected personal blame -- in the public deceptions that followed Army Ranger Pat Tillman's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan in 2004 – before questioning by a House committee.

Coming back to Karl -- the dancer who surprised the media with an impromptu jig to a hip hop tune at the annual dinner for TV and radio correspondents in Washington this year: He was some performer. His closeness to George Bush II was famed. Always an inner circle guy, an influential electoral strategist, he brought the Republican party lasting dominance by bringing Protestant evangelicals and Hispanic Catholics together under the amorphous banner of "moral values" through their shared antipathy to – stuff like -- abortion, as Guardian puts it.

Then came the tumble. The downfall was swift and disgraceful. Rove was in complete know and perhaps hand to the sacking of eight federal prosecutors by the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, a move seen largely as politically motivated. Mr Gonzales admitted he had had conversations on at least two occasions with Mr Rove about the sacking of a prosecutor in New Mexico. Rove could have been hauled but Bush used his executive privilege to prevent his man Friday from testifying at investigative hearings on the Capitol Hill. They grill you bad there, Bush knows.

Like a true wily old Republican, Rove went on to slyly reveal the identity of CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to a journalist Robert Novak. Rove had long insisted he was not responsible -- for the leaking of the identity of Plame, an undercover CIA spy – an act that was unlawful and could have landed him in some serious trouble. What followed was a three-year investigation, a 30-month jail sentence for the vice-presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby and a huge embarrassment to the Bush establishment. Rove, by then, the all-important in charge of White House policy, got off.

As a young rookie, age 22, hired by George Bush Sr, Rove was first assigned the rather petty job of handing over car keys to Bush Jr whenever he went to Washington. After a lifetime -- 35 years -- in servitude to a once-alcoholic, twice-stupid Prez, Rove finally found himself completely out of key.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mistaken Man

It has all the makings of a Greek tragic tale by Phrynichus. Only that it is playing out in India. In the last few days the entire nation has been debating whether Judge Kode was right in sending one of India’s most popular film stars to prison for six long years, for possessing a gun. It looks like a very harsh, hard-nosed sentence and has left a majority of people divided and immensely sad. Though not a great Hindi movie buff, I felt very bad.

Sanjay Dutt is not your average film star. With a reputation of being a thorough, kind gentleman, he is son to the legendary Sunil Dutt -- an iconic star, parliamentarian, human rights activist, philanthropist and a hugely secular figure. His mom Nargis, a very successful actress in the 1970’s married Sunil Dutt in what is still called the ultimate fairy-tale love story. A Hindu-Muslim union in the 1958 India underlined the pluralistic ethos of good old days. And then suddenly tragedy struck!

Nargis died of cancer, only a few weeks before her favorite son Sanjay Dutt's debut film Rocky was released in 1981. Somewhere Sanjay -- of rock star looks, of high profile society, of distinguished pedigree -- lost it. His wife succumbed to tumor after a protract illness in US. Sanjay did drugs, mishandled relations, divorced his second wife, went to a rehab and famously rode around the bye-lanes of Bombay at night on his Harley. He was dubbed the original bad boy of Bollywood -- India’s dream film industry.

Everyone in media and the film industry will vouch for one thing though: At heart Sanjay Dutt is the golden guy of Indian cinema. Something that was not lost to even the tough, no-nonsense judge. Sanjay is humane. He is loving but unfortunately a little naïve. Perhaps his gullibility became his undoing. He bought a gun, one fine morning in 1993. Apparently for self-defence. The rest, they say, is history. According to the great Aristotle, "The change to bad fortune which he undergoes is not due to any moral defect or flaw, but a mistake of some kind.” He here denotes the Greek tragic hero.

Sanjay was arrested in1993 for procuring the gun from the underworld. The same gangsters blew Bombay up sometime later. He spent 16 months in jail. Again a first for any major Indian filmstar. His father’s ordeal to extricate him from the legal mess mellowed the star. Post jail, he was a reformed man. Modest and unpresuming than ever before, he delivered some of the biggest hits of his career. Sanjay’s stature rose. He was again a superstar. A brand. The corporate world wooed him. The media was flattering. There was a new female in his life. The sky was blue. Then again tragedy struck!

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, the American writer, author of The Great Gatsby once said. Sanjay is one such bloke. While sending the gentle giant to jail with a stringent sentence, the judge was being a little too tough on him. Perhaps this is the underlying exactness of any tragic tale. Some would argue that the law is equal for all. But the moot point remains: Can we view criminal intent and a simple mistake with the same lens? Can we lump them together! The answer in any civilised society would be a big 'No'.

In hindsight, I reckon all of us make mistakes in life. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment. The highest form of self-respect is to admit our errors and make amends for them. I think Sanjay Dutt has already atoned for his mistakes.

I hope Dutt is given some relief by the Apex court. No more Greek tragedies for the kindly hero.