Friday, August 26, 2011
New Delhi, Aug. 26: Between television and the real thing lies a deceptive parallax. That insistent image — a portly frame shifting, screaming at the bottom of a cinemascope Gandhi, almost an appendage to the plastered muse of his mesmeric ventriloquism — is barely even accessible to the naked eye at close range.
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Monday, August 22, 2011
difference. Four professionals- a TV network owner, an offshore
construction company director, a tax accountant and a businesswoman-
will travel to 40 cities across 28 states in India, by road, on a trip
they’ve been planning for a decade. The difference is that all of them
are confined to wheelchairs. Apart from having the time of their
lives, they will also write a report on how disabled friendly India’s
tourist facilities are and will also sensitise tourism officials and
professionals to makes Incredible India inclusive too.
The Beyond barriers Incredible India Tour, which will take place from
September 28 to December 20, was formally flagged off by union tourism
minister Subodh Kant Sahai today. Sahai, who seeks to use their audit
to make India’s tourist facilities accessible to the disabled, dubbed
their trip as a “daredevil mission.”
“Incredible India (his ministry’s punchline) must have credible means
for the handicapped,” said the minister. “Their report will be an
asset for us as we are committed to implement UN Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”
He added that his goal is that disabled tourists in India should get
the same amenities as their counterparts in developed countries.
Throughout this year his ministry would focus on this aspect, he said.
The four travelers Arvind Prabhoo, Nishant Khade, Sunita Sacheti and
Neenu Kewlani are all from Mumbai and are associated with the Vijay
Merchant Rehabilitation Centre for the Disabled. At every stop they
will be liasoning with local NGOs and state tourism departments for
carrying out the access audit. They will also try to meet Chief
Ministers and Disability Commissioners of every state to sensitise
them on the travel needs of the disabled.
“We will collect data and will write to hotels, ministries and other
(tourism related) organizations with our findings. We will also follow
up the progress on the reforms we suggest to them,” said Prabhoo, who
The four will be driving in three cars with drivers and care-givers.
Their journey will take them to all the corners of India from Silvassa
to Imphal and Sawai Madhopur to Cooch Behar. People can follow their
daily updates of facebook and twitter and regular video uploads on
By the end of the 16,000 km drive they will publish a comprehensive
report which will also serve as a guide for the disabled. “Despite
being disabled we still have the will to travel. Being in a wheelchair
is not going to stop me from seeing Incredible India,” Prabhoo added.
New Delhi, June 23: East Bengal had retained the Calcutta Football League Super Division title and the Left had had won the assembly polls for a third time in Bengal, the previous year. Solidarity had not won in Poland and Tiananmen protests had not yet taken place. Partybaazi seemed like a safe career option for Madhusudan Baul- who had dropped out of Surendranath Law College to look for work in 1988.
He was staying at the YMCA Students’ Hostel, occasionally doing accounts for doctors and singing in trains to make a living, when the SFI called him to speak at a students rally against computerization in Scottish Church.
“They said I was a Baul and I could sing and make people understand why computers are bad. But I didn’t know anything about computers. I went on stage and asked that computers don’t eat our rice, dal, fish or milk like us so how could they harm us. I heard vehicular pollution could make us sick but I didn’t know if computers could,” says Baul who is now a renowned performer.
He adds, “The SFI was enraged that I went on their stage and spoke against their beliefs. They gave me the thrashing of my life and forced me to vacate the hostel. I roamed around the streets of Calcutta for two months looking for work until a friend called me to Delhi. I reached here on the Republic Day of 1989. It was no longer safe in Calcutta.”
Baul landed up at the Mahamukti Dham- a Baul hub in Lakshmibai Nagar in Central Delhi. The singer, who now stays in a temple near Thyagaraj Sports Complex with six other Bauls, says many of them came to Delhi for a better income.
“We Bauls are not accustomed to comfortable living, but we never starve as people always contribute. I have never got as much respect as I get in Delhi, when I was in Bengal. Delhiites had never seen singing and dancing babas,” said the singer who hails from Burdwan district.
Baul has made a name for himself here and has been sent on many tours abroad by the government. The artiste is associated with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
In Delhi, he met the late Guru Byomkesh Banerjee and began his formal training in music under Banerjee and his wife Neelima. For the first two years in Delhi he worked in factories, offices and schools, until he realised that he would only be happy being a Baul musician.
He began hanging around mendicants to learn scriptures and tapasya. “To sing from the heart you must understand the meaning of birth, life and death. The main thing to realize is that you are nothing, the person before you is everything. That is the essence of sanatana dharma,” he says.
He also met filmmaker Muzaffar Ali, who started the Jahan-e-Khusrau sufi music festival in Delhi in 2001. Baul says Ali’s son Murad helped him a lot and put him in touch with Sufi singers in Ajmer and other shrines. Now, he regularly sings along with sufi singers in Nizamuddin in Old Delhi. Known as the Bangali Baul Dada, he’s appeared in Ali’s 2002 film India, Garden of Saints.
“I met didi (Mamata Banerjee) when she was an MP sometime in the mid 90s. I used to land up in front of Bengal MPs houses and sing. Usually they ignored me. When I came to didi’s residence, I heard her tell someone on the phone that she had not come to Delhi to beg, but to fight for the rights of the people. I was impressed,” says Baul.
Mamata gave him letters of recommendation that helped getting him more calls for government functions in India and abroad. Soon his popularity grew and earnings stabilized. He’s married to another Baul singer now and his daughter is back home in Burdwan learning the traditional music.
“Bengal is filled with violence now and we can’t make music amidst violence. I never wanted to back to Bengal after I escaped because the CPM now controlled everything, even the life in my village. They don’t believe in God or tradition or the value of work. But now I miss the fields and jungles and I want to go back. After didi has won I am making plans to return.”
The objective behind this culture ministry scheme is to popularize Indian culture and encourage more people to buy and read books. Focused on non-profit organizations and small publishers, the scheme is open to varsities, book trade bodies and trusts which have been registered and functioning for at least three years.
“We didn’t have a scheme particularly for smaller publishers to participate in book fairs in India and abroad. Small publishers don’t have the resources nor the scope to raise more money to participate. By this scheme we hope to not only promote the book trade but also enrich our libraries,” a ministry official said.
While the ministry would finance 75 per cent of the cost, up to a ceiling of Rs. 10 lakhs per event, the beneficiary needs to prove it can afford the remainder 25 per cent and should preferably have prior experience in the field. While the advertisement for availing the scheme would be made once a year, the application can be submitted any time- with a recommendation from any of the national or state Akademis and government culture bodies.
Shakti Malik, honorary general secretary of the Federation of Indian Publishers, explains that most renowned bookshops largely stock books of foreign or multinational publishers. “We believe that every book has a buyer and every bookseller can sell at least 2 to 3 copies of any book. But if Indian publishers don’t get exposure our books will not sell.”
He adds, “We had approached Culture Secretary Jawhar Sircar saying that its becoming increasingly expensive for us to participate or organize book fairs. Strictly speaking this comes under the HRD ministry, but books also sell our culture to other countries. Literary works are more than commercial commodities. He then agreed to bring a scheme for us.”
This scheme will not only encourage more publishers to exhibit but also market Indian books better through literary events, he stated.
While Baldev Verma, Vice President (North) of the Federation of Publishers and Booksellers Association of India, welcomes the ministry’s manna, he expressed doubts over the way book fairs are run. “There’s no authority to supervise the way book fairs go on. The rentals for stalls go up every year at the World Book Fair in Delhi and now they want to have it from February 26 to March 4 next year- right in the middle of exam season. Which parent will bring their child now- subsidy or no subsidy.”
While Verma says that the scheme will definitely help publishers go for book fairs abroad, he was skeptical about getting the grant- which he fears may be caught in red tape.
It’s a fear that’s shared by varsities too. The Dr. Zakir Husain Library, of Jamia Millia Islamia university here, houses rare manuscripts. The scheme also covers exhibitions of manuscripts, but University Librarian Gayas Makhdumi prefers small in-house activities.
His reasoning is blunt: “Who will spend so much time and do the paperwork to get this grant to go for book fairs. We use our own resources. Besides, there are issues of security if we send manuscripts outside.”
Shakti Malik though is confident that once the word spreads, publishers will line up for the dole. The ministry’s also roped him in to publicise the scheme. The question however, from most small publishers was, “Will the ministry really subsidise us to go for book fairs. Can they afford it?”
A senior ministry official assured this paper that applicants would be screened and only the best would make it. If money runs out, more could always be transferred from other heads where it is unspent. If there are still deserving publishers, the finance ministry is always kind to culture.
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Historians welcome selection of Mahesh Rangarajan as NMML director, though objections over selection process persist
New Delhi, July 9: The chairman of executive council of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library- India’s premier institute for research on modern and contemporary history- Karan Singh told The Telegraph today that historian Mahesh Rangarajan would be its next director.
Rangarajan, a renowned environment historian and former journalist with this paper, was mailed his appointment letter yesterday, said Singh. He was chosen by a selection committee comprising of Karan Singh- a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, Balmiki Prasad Singh- governor of Sikkim and former home and culture secretary and, Nitin Desai- economist and former adviser to UN Secretary General.
The term of incumbent director Mridula Mukherjee expires on August 9. Her term, which began in 2006, has been plagued with controversies of flouting payment regulations, mis-utilization of funds and her alleged proximity to the Congress. In 2009, 57 scholars led by Ramachandra Guha had written to the prime minister against her being given an extension. Rangarajan was part of this campaign.
The latest controversy pertains to the selection of the new director. Historians Arjun Dev, Irfan Habib, Shireen Moosvi, Bipan Chandra and D. N. Gupta have filed a petition in the Delhi High court challenging the procedure of selection and the executive committee’s amendment of rules extending eligibility for director to even non-historians. In February, the Indian History Congress had unanimously passed a resolution asking the government to annul the changes amendment.
Speaking to this paper, Moosvi said, “The PIL has nothing to do with any individual. It is to highlight the malfunctioning of the NMML Society- which never met for a deacde… There were no historians on the selection committee. Besides, how can an appointment be made before the term of the present director is over.”
The petitioners have also alleged that Mukherjee has been restrained from her duties since May 2. The latter didn’t respond to repeated calls to her mobile phone from this correspondent.
Moosvi promptly pointed out that she had nothing against Rangarjan. In fact she was a visitor’s nominee with veto powers over his appointment to Delhi University, she claimed.
“I recommended him to DU despite him not having a single day’s teaching experience. Our fight is on principles. A premier institute of this country cannot run on the whims of former rajas (Karan Singh is the titular maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir). We want academics, not politicians, to run the place,” she said.
On Rangarajan’s selection, Ramchandra Guha said, “Finally, the government has got something right. Mahesh Rangarajan is the finest historian of his generation. He was chosen through an open and transparent process. Given proper support, he will certainly make the NMML a world-class institution.”
The appointment would be final only after Rangarajan and DU agree to his deputation to NMML. He said that he would only speak to the press after everything was finalized.
Modern historian S. Irfan Habib (not the Irfan Habib who filed the petition), of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, said that he saw no reason for litigation over the issue.
“Search Committees normally announce the selection before the incumbent’s term ends. This is not the first time. Anyone wanting an extension shouldn’t stop the government to proceed with the selection. Besides the result is that a fairly younger history professor- who has been using the institute for a long time and who is competent to carry on the legacy on the institute- has been chosen,” he explained.
Another senior Marxist historian said that Rangarajan fears trouble from Marxists as he is seen in the company of post-modernists like Guha. “But we need to see people in a broader frame beyond ideological positions. He is open, progressive and secular and that is what India needs.”
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Nagla Bhatona, Uttar Pradesh, July 5: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi began his four-day long march from Parsaul village near Greater Noida to Aligarh, where he will participate in a Kisan Mahapanchayat. Flanked by the Special Protection Group (SPG), state police and Congressmen, Gandhi is covering the distance of almost 130 km on foot- stopping at villages to convene public meetings over land acquisition.
He came unannounced for a panchayat at Parsaul village at 6 AM today, almost two months after he was whisked away by the police from the same spot. On May 11, he was forcibly evacuated to Delhi during a sit-in against alleged police atrocities on farmers opposed to land acquisition for the Yamuna Expressway.
Gandhi has attempted a Dandi March, beginning his march from Parsaul at 630 A.M.- the same time at which the Mahatma broke the Salt Laws in Gujarat’s coastal village of Dandi on April 6, 1930. The Congress- which had planned a Kisan Mahapanchayat at Bhatta and Parsaul villages- was forced to shift the venue to Aligarh’s exhibition grounds due to pressure for the state government.
The initial venue was the place where police clashed with villagers who were holding three transport employees hostage, on May 7. Four people, including two policemen were killed.
From Parsaul, he moved to Rustampur and Bhaipur villages, meeting people, walking through fields and slush in the fierce sun. He kept rolling up his sleeves, deliberately showing off his biceps. After walking a distance of 16km he sat for a panchayat at Nagla Bhatona village.
The villager elders spoke over a megaphone one-by-one, all saying that the prices offered for their land to be acquired for the Yamuna Expressway was too low, on how MNREGA wages weren’t paid fully, on how their MP and MLA hadn’t visited them since May 7. The local MLA and MP are from the BSP.
“Every time farmers ask for their rights, they get shot at,” said Niranjan Singh- an elderly peasant leader- “You must lead a Congress government in UP next year. That is the only solution.”
Finally, Rahul took the megaphone and said, “From Delhi we can’t understand the land problem, that’s why I have come here… I haven’t found one farmer who will deny his land to the government. They only want a fair price. The rich will get a market, the poor need justice.” The villagers nodded in agreement.
Villager Subhash Bhati, who’s land yields him four crops annually said that all they want was for the government to negotiate the price with them, and not impose it. “There’s an atmosphere of fear and uncertainity. We don’t know when our land will be acquired,” he said looking fondly at his clay field with a standing maize crop.
His friend, hookah-smoking 70-year-old Jagbir Singh said, “Other parties just courted arrest at the border. After Rahul has come, it’s just one-way traffic for the Congress.” They begin to jeer at Mausam Khan a local BSP activist asking him, “Where’s your party now.” Mausam now denies the BSP, almost as vehemently as Peter denied Christ.
Many villagers said that even if they got a good price they wouldn’t know what to do with it. “All we know is farming. Our relatives in neighbouring villages who sold their land bought houses and cars. Now they are broke, their sons criminals,” said village elder Sundar Pal.
Congress sources said that the apart from getting inputs for amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, the march is also an attempt to win back the Gujjars who have drifted away from the Congress in the recent past. “Beyond Aligarh, it is the Jats who dominate and they largely remain loyal to Ajit Singh. This part of western UP- which is a Gujjar Belt- has great potential,” said a senior leader.
Gandhi rested for about 3 hours in a house in the village. As rain clouds gathered after a squall subsided by 5 PM, Gandhi continued his march, not speaking a word, towards Jewar 9km away- where Mayawati has been pushing for an airport.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Second round of French Presidential polls
Hectic politicking in Puducherry
PUDUCHERRY: France went to a second round of presidential polls today. The final contestants in the fray are Segolene Royal of the socialist party and Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for the presidential majority (UMP). The latter is the incumbent Interior [Home] Minister of France. The French Consul General's office here is the voting centre for Puducherry. There are more than 5000 voters on the electoral rolls of Puducherry. The turnout is expected to be lower than the first round which took place last week, in which Ms. Royal led with a slim majority in Puducherry but was second overall.
The electorate here is sharply divided and both parties have been campaigning vigourously for their votes. The UMP has even advertised in Tamil dailies and pasted posters declaring victory for Sarkozy. Most young voters appeared to be in favour of Royal, due to Sarkozy's alleged racist leanings. A young female voter, from Auroville, said, "He's [Sarkozy] racist. Look what he's doing to the country! I voted [for the] Socialist." Yet, there were other youth, like Vijayan from Puducherry town, who was impressed with Sarkozy's punch line, 'Everything is possible.' He supported Sarkozy's tough stand against illegal migration.
Many senior citizens, even those infirm, turned out to vote. Among them were Gaullists who owe their allegiance to the UMP. Most of these individuals are ex-service personnel. One such Gaullist, Thiru Bichat Balaraman said, that the Socialists are dividing the country on basis of economic status. With the UMP, everyone would prosper. He criticised the youth supporting Royal without having a proper understanding of history.
The presence of Socialists in front of the Consulate was prominent. Thiru Bhupathi Bernard, the treasurer if their Puducherry unit said that the incumbent UMP's handling of issues like migration, racism and citizenship would prove to be its death knell. He added, "Over 1000 applications for citizenship for spouses of French nationals in Puducherry are pending in the consulate. This is due pressure from the French government to exclude those of non-European origin from France." Socialist youth were observed tearing off UMP posters pasted opposite the consulate.
The Muslim backlash against Sarkozy in France is absent in Puducherry. Even the UMP organiser here is Muslim, viz. Lieutenant Colonel Mouhamad Moustafa, a former intelligence officer in Armee de l'Air [French Air Force].
One voter, Thirumathi Camatchiammane complained of his lethargic attitude towards the campaign. As the fate of their presidency in far off France is decided, the French nationals of Puducherry will have an anxious night ahead.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
New Delhi, May 23: He’s angry, he’s hurt and he’s is no mood to chat. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi flew in to the capital today only to meet his daughter Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi, DMK MP A. Raja and DMK-backed Kalaignar TV’s chief Sharad Kumar. The trio is under-trials lodged in Tihar Jail for their alleged roles in the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
Kalaignar (scholar of arts) - as the 87-year old leader is addressed by his supporters- headed straight to Hotel Taj Mansingh from the airport. The wheelchair bound leader got into an ambassador, with deeply tinted windows, on the tarmac itself and sped out taking the press by surprise. All his party’s MPs, who were chatting near the ceremonial lounge, dashed off behind him.
The press smarting after the airport no-show got back with an incandescent vengeance at
MK as his car stopped at the portico of the central Delhi 5- star hotel. The leader, seated beside the driver had to be carried out by his staff to his mechanized wheelchair. But, not before the camera corps broke through the special branch cordon around the convoy and smothered him with flashes, leaving the old patriarch gasping and his eyelids twitching.
Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting S. Jagathrakshakan had to rush forward with National Security Guard black cats, shoving photographers aside, to save MK. Watching the commotion MP Dayanidhi Maran laughed out loud, but had to abruptly stop, when he realised no one else was.
Dayanidhi refused to answer any questions about the excerpts from wikileaks, published in an English daily today, in which he criticized his party for corruption and giving freebies.
The former CM remained closeted inside the Taj, with party faithful, before leaving for Tihar in the evening. Party leaders who met him described him as shocked. “He kept asking as how we would feel if our daughters were taken off to prison like this,” said former Tamil Nadu minister S. P. Sarguna Pandian who met him. His daughter’s incarceration perhaps it reminded him of his many innings in prison- innings that ironically contributed to his popularity.
Kanimozhi on the other hand encouraged supporters in court to continue party work fearlessly despite losing power in the state. “We are all so disturbed, but she kept asking us to be bold,” said former MLA Shankari Narayanan.
At the jail, he met Kanimozhi for 20 minutes in camera, along with her mother Rajathi, husband G. Aravindan and son 11-year old Adithya. MK met Sharad and Raja for 15 minutes after that. “We allowed the meeting after visiting hours because he is wheel-chair ridden,” said DG Prisons Neeraj Kumar.
MPs like T. R. Baalu who accompanied him stood outside the meeting hall, while others like Tiruchi Siva posed for pictures with Tamil Nadu Special Police personnel stationed at Tihar Jail. Neeraj Kumar clarified that he has no doubts on the loyalities of the TN cops.
Speaking to The Telegraph, a head constable with the TN contingent said that Kanimozhi and Raja were very courteous. “Raja’s lunch comes from Tamil Nadu Bhavan canteen (as he has a stomach ulcer). Akka (elder sister Kanimozhi) had the dal-roti in jail for one day, but now gets one meal from her family when he attends court.”
“Seeing such big persons of our state living in such a small room with an open bathroom, within the room, makes us feel sad,” said a constable. “She’s very friendly with women constables. Raja always asks us is we’ve had our meals on time. Once we were joking with Sharad that out timings are long. He said that your lives are easy. Look at me.”
Karuna gets more lebensraum, while cadres catfight
New Delhi, May 24: Perhaps feeling as stifled as his daughter Kanimozhi- who is in a 150 square feet cell with an open toilet within it- Karunanidhi shifted out the two rooms allotted in Taj Mansingh to a presidential suite at ITC Maurya in Delhi’s Diplomatic Enclave of Chanakyapuri.
His supporters and security detail kept funereal huddles in two other executive class rooms of the hotel, which has a known South Indian restaurant called Dakshin.
A source said that it was uncomfortable for Karuna to eat and sleep in two different room. The two-lakh-a-day presidential suite was large enough to accommodate him and his wife Rajathi Ammal.
“He hasn’t spoken much today,” a former DMK MLA said. “He only says he’s missing his daughter.”
Karunanidhi stayed perched up in his spacious suite all day, while Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Jayanthi Natarajan called on him. Even Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah who stopped to say hi, after his lunch at the hotel, couldn’t recharge the Kalaignar.
MLA and DMK Deputy General Secretary M. K. Stalin, who came here last night, left this afternoon after his sister Kanimozhi and party colleague A. Raja in court. As Karuna prepared to leave for his 440 PM flight to Chennai, Kanimozhi’s mother Rajathi Ammal- her eyes red and moist- came to the lobby accompanied Kanniyakumari MP J. Helen Davidson and other women leaders of the DMK.
Looking at former state minister K. Ponmudi she said in a tearful voice, “What injustice is this (imprisonment of Kanimozhi)?” He pacified her by saying that it’s all for greater good.
“In jail, Kani asked me to be courageous. She said she didn’t know when she would come out. What could I say to her,” said Rajathi to The Telegraph before her voice choked up.
On the sidelines, an ugly verbal duel broke out in full media glare between Helen and Rajya Sabha MP Vasanthi Stanley in front of a visibly shaken Rajathi. Helen is believed to have commented that it wasn’t proper for a DMK MP to wear salwar-kameez. All other women leaders wore sarees. Incidentally, Kanimozhi also usually wears salwars.
Rajathi tried to pacify an agitated Vasanthi who replied, “If senior leaders like her (referring to former state minister S. P. Sarguna Pandian who was also present) tell me how to dress it is fine. But who is she (Helen)? Since when is she in a position to teach me?” Ponmudi had to step in and take Vasanthi aside.
Helen and her husband have been driving Rajathi to and from the Patiala House Courts where her daughter is being tried. She is considered close to Kanimozhi while Vasanthi is believed to have drifted away for the “daughter of the party.”
Karuna soon came down with a simple white cotton towel on his shoulders, instead of his trademark yellow shawl. The womens’ brigade switched from their drama over Dravidian sartorial sensibilities to slogans offering their lives “to protect to Kalaignar of the Tamil-speaking world.”
A pall of anxiety prevailed over Tamil Nadu House, this morning, before Kanimozhi left to court. An old issue of Deccan Herald headlined “CBI raids Kalignar TV office” lay at the temple-chariot like entrance of the building. Tamil Nadu government drivers spoke in hushed tones under a streetlight bearing a tattered DMK banner.
Tight-lipped DMK-cadre in trademark black-red bordered veshtis, led by Ministers of State S. Gandhiselvan, S. S. Palanimanickam and D. Napoleon, diverted the press to the main entrance as Kanimozhi exited from the back door. Scribes who got the wind of it rushed to the back, even as she shielded her son Adithya from camera flashes with her dupatta.
Her school-going son had come down the stairs to wish his mother luck, before she left to court. She immediately whizzed out with her husband G. Aravindan in a Toyota Corolla.
DMK supporters huddled at a tea stall in Patiala House Courts Complex, as the trial dragged on inside. Most of them were Ariyalur, a district bifurcated from jailed DMK MP A. Raja’s home district of Perambalur.
“Party seniors have told us not to talk to the press. You people have created all this trouble. We do not want to be misquoted,” said an elderly DMK town secretary.
Another party elder added that they had primarily come to Delhi to see “their son Raja.”
“We saw him in the jail van. He waved at us,” he added. “Many North Indians ask us if we gave voters a lot of money. I can assure you that I haven’t given anyone a paisa in my ward.”
At noon, North Chennai DMK MP T. K. S. Elangovan stepped out of the courtroom for tea. He wore the same calm smile that he sported at the counting centre after trouncing CPI stalwart D. Pandian in the previous parliamentary polls.
“This case is not a political issue for us,” said Elangovan coolly. “We are all here in solidarity and are ready to face whatever comes.” His words seemed to calm the jittery DMK faithful present.
Back at the Tamil Nadu House canteen, waiters discussed the bits of news on the case that they were getting from text messages. They too had been advised against indulging journalists. Any case related query was replied with an offer of more filter coffee.
A Tamil Nadu bureaucrat came in with his wife for lunch. After speaking to a junior official, before entering the canteen, she exclaimed loudly, “You know the media is here because Kanimozhi may be arrested.” “Shut up!” her husband muttered under his breath.
The case which was expected to wind up after lunch dragged on till sunset. When news that she had left court came in, scribes split up in two teams guarding the front and back entrances. True to instinct, Kanimozhi’s Corolla went straight to the back entrance. She stepped out, visibly shaken up, as party leaders pushed TV cameras aside to make way for her.
Later, a DMK MP came out of a huddle with Kanimozhi and called a few journalists aside. “Everyone says what they want without thinking about the party, “the MP said on condition of anonymity. “Just yesterday she (Kanimozhi) said that she doesn’t want any concession for being a woman; now her lawyer asks leniency in the name of motherhood. The blame of the scam has now been shoved on the party, to save her.”
On being asked whether the DMK would break their alliance with the Congress if Kanimozhi was arrested, the MP said that it was all up to the Congress now. “We knew we are in trouble when that drunkard (referring to actor-politician Vijayakanth) joined the ADMK alliance. But even if we lose the election or the Congress leaves us, the party can still face it.”
“I saw a govtservants.com sticker in our ministry toilet. It is not normal for me to use online forums. But I posted a message on the site, and Ustad Vimal came to my house within a month to meet my son.”
Funda’s online message didn’t mention his son’s medical condition. “After Vimal ji spoke to my son, he offered to teach him for free. He had heard about my message from his bureaucrat friend. I had to force him to take some honorarium. I am so grateful to this website.”
Govtservants.com was the brainchild of a Mines Department section officer, a Supreme Court advocate who retired from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office and, a deputy secretary of Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution- all of whom didn’t want to mention their names. The Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules prohibits babus from managing publications or electronic media without sanction.
The website, which started a couple of years back, allows anyone to post messages for car pools, furniture, medical needs, queries on service matters and almost anything under the sun. The site made primarily for government employees also filters messages according to the building the bureaucrat works in.
No unionizing is allowed though. A few weeks back an under secretary at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting requested the site to have a small box with notices of the Central Secretariat Service Forum. His request was declined. “We want to be in the good books of the government. This will not be a lobbying platform,” said a founder who has been sticking bills with the site’s URL near lifts and toilets at government buildings.
“There was no platform for government employees to interact. The site makes our lives happier and we will never charge users a paisa. We got to host the site for only Rs. 3000 for nine years and will look for ads only after five years,” said a founder. Initially they were helped by staff from the National Informatics Centre. The site is now managed by IT professionals Gaurav and Sudhanshu Tyagi in the United States.
A founder added that babus are generally trustworthy. “Even for a car pool we like to have some safe person. This site doesn’t allow ads from any agencies. Only users post messages and we vet them.” He adds that real estate companies have already been approaching the site to advertise.
The site, which was re-launched with a user friendly interface last week, gets around 200 hits a day. The owners plan to expand it to other metros as well.
For the women in men working in behemoth-like tube-lit offices, this forum is also connecting them to employees in other departments who’ve probably been working on the same floor for years without exchanging a glance. The site’s moderators don’t mediate and users can directly contact each other.
Coming soon on the site is an option for home-stays as well. “An officer in Udagamandalam can offer to host the family of his compatriot in Delhi, at a nominal rate. That way we can go for holidays which we can’t afford otherwise,” said a founder.