THE SKILL INDIA AD – A POSER

The SKILL INDIA advertisement featuring Sachin Tendulkar credits skill at the expense of dignity.

One sees Sachin sit on a chair while the carpenter sits on the floor as they talk and have tea. Why could both not be shown sitting on a chair and talking?

Apart from skill, personhood carries value too. Why hold anyone down whether skilled or not?

A patronising attitude carries an arrogance of superiority  which shifts attention to the symbolic generosity of a patron from the worth of the patronised and re-enforces the very inequality which it pretends to redress.

And if an ascribed status will continue despite achievement, as the advertisement suggests, what merit will inculcation of skill attain?

The advertisement presents status as an entrenched power and fails to present skill as being versatile.

Skill is meant to be assertive and itinerant unlike status which is inhibitive and immobile. The advertisement focusses on the status of the carpenter not his skill.

Skill is dynamic unlike status which is sterile and moribund. Yet it is precisely that which the last shot of the advertisement displays.

Skill has to be achieved but any effort in this direction will be futile unless there is a corresponding correction in attitude.

It is the right attitude (Tendulkar making the other sit on the chair) alone which can facilitate social mobility (symbolised in the carpenter also so sitting) to improve our cultural capital (recognition of the innate worth of a human being aside from skill trumping status) and unravel the social stratification which the advertisement puts on display.

 

Of Queen’s Counsels &”Seniors”

I feel there should be no Senior Advocates only advocates.

Endowment not habiliment is the test of a lawyer. He should be recognised by his performance not his robes and his identity should lie in his work not attire. The gown does not make a lawyer. An incompetent lawyer will only disgrace it while the competent should not need it.

As long as the system remains it is liable to be exploited. A lawyer who is not designated can be run down as being incapable and be unjustifiably compared unfavourably with another who is designated aside from being denied priority in appearance in court despite superior capacity while the incapable can perpetually hide their incapacity in their robes and get undeserved preference when in fact they should be denied an audience altogether.

There is a hike in fees immediately upon designation despite want of any improvement in the quality of work. A non-designated lawyer has to explain (often without success) even a warranted increase in his charges. This not only shoots the cost of litigation up without any corresponding improvement in the quality of practise but adversely affects the quality itself as more effort is placed on the race for designation through networking rather than working.

Preference is often shown to senior advocates in courts and in some it becomes the very condition for practise. Aside from being anti-merit this is also anti-democratic as it not only stifles potential it entrenches established interests.

It is a little known fact that Francis Bacon was the first person to be so appointed and that too for reasons having nothing to do with his undisputed versatility. Till his appointment the Attorney General, Solicitor General and King’s Sergeants were Kings Counsel in Ordinary. Queen Elizabeth appointed Francis Bacon Queen’s Counsel Extraordinary. The reason for this extraordinary honour was only political and intended to prevent him from acting against the Crown. The appointment as Kings Counsel therefore had nothing to do with the admitted capabilities of Bacon – a trend which continues till today.

Distinction never needs any dressing up. It is self-evident.

Merit is always humble. It makes a place for itself without having to be ushered in.

Ability requires no badge of honour. It attracts attention without a formal proclamation.

And true recognition lies not in formal acknowledgment but in voluntary appreciation.

So where do we fit designation of Senior Advocates?

Prince William, Kate, Diana Bench & Taj Mahal

I wonder why a request was made to remove the scaffolding from the pillars of Taj Mahal for Prince William-Kate Middleton photograph. The scaffolding was as much a symbol of love as the monument itself. After all the sentiment behind fixing what needs repairs (whether a monument or a relationship) can be love only!

But it seems those making the request had a different sense of both history and love.

William’s advice to the royal photographer who took their picture thus was, “I hope you got the symmetry right”! So symmetry can prevail over chemistry and can still be love. It is interesting to know, as has been written by Anant Kumar in Case Reports in Women’s Health (Volume 1-2, January-June 2014), that Mumtaz Mahal died of complications from repeated child-birth from what are preventable causes of maternal mortality many of which continue till today. Shah Jahan chose not to spend money to address those problems but built the monument instead. I doubt William was aware of it but in a way Taj can be symbolised in symmetry even after the chemistry is over!

Perhaps thats why there is a Diana Bench at Taj. The solitary figure of Diana sitting on the bench hinted loneliness and isolation and Diana separated from Charles just a few months later. I am sure Mumtaz Mahal would squirm in her grave when she sees that bench. Appropriately(?) a photoshoot on it is with one’s back to the Taj Mahal. In any case the dead are history. Why bother about them! The monument stands and symmetry counts.

Lord William Bentinck apparently felt the same way much before the Diana Bench. If he had had his way the Taj Mahal would have been dismantled in 1835 and its marble auctioned. Besides nothing that is native is important. Just like the 50 million lives lost to famines under British Raj. Bentinck had no qualms about dismantling the whole edifice. So William’s generation’s lack of concern for the minarets should not be much of a surprise.

In any event history does not necessarily mean going back in time! Surely not when you are a Royal.

A possible explanation  for the request is the distortion of the time-space continuum. It presumed we are still in colonial times and the Queen of England is the Empress of India. Or perhaps there was movement forward in time with Prince William becoming not only King but the ruler of India. After all Royals can do no wrong and in fact can do anything – time travel included.

There can be however another charitable explanation. Buckingham Palace, which is about 300 years old itself, was requiring urgent repairs for a long time but the the same were being deferred. It was reported that when a plumber entered the Queen’s bathroom to repair to the old-fashioned chain-pulled cistern he while trying to fix the problem leaned against the lavatory and part of the structure came away from the wall. If the former imperialist government can go slow on repair of the Palace why cannot the former colony do the same with Taj Mahal?

I wonder if the Diana Bench will be re-named now. Let Mumtaz Mahal ponder while we await the next generation of royals and another photo-shoot.

KANHAIYA – THE INTELLECTUAL

“No intellectual,” said Kanhaiya “is supporting the Modi regime.” I will not engage myself in any defending Modi (as he and his party are well equipped for the purpose) but will concentrate instead on the use of the expression “intellectual” by Kanhaiya.

There are two reasons for this exercise. Firstly there is a snobbishness in the comment which is in fact anti-intellectual and secondly the speech given by him displayed no critical nor a rational spirit of enquiry which is actually associated with intellectualism.

Kanhaiya ignores the difference between an intelligentsia and an intellectual. The former is a social class organised on the basis of shared beliefs and will include communists, socialists, conservatives and of course Kanhaiya’s favourite fascists. Disagreement with an alternative point of view will not make the holder of that point of view any less an intellectual. No one should know this better than Kanhaiya himself but his comment suggests he does not regard anyone not sharing his point of view to be an intellectual. This itself shows disregard of liberal values which he claims to espouse and a totalitarianism which he claims to oppose.

Kanhaiya makes a distinction between “emergency” and “fascism”which shows knowledge neither of history nor ideology.

Emergency, he says, is “goondaism of only one party” while “fascism” entails “using of state machinery for goondaism.” “State machinery” is ordained under the Constitution and Emergency was declared invoking Article 352 of the Constitution and the excesses of the Emergency were those of the government  which claimed to be exercising powers not of a party but of the state machinery as ordained by the Constitution. This was the use of state machinery for goondaism  which is how he describes (again wrongly) “fascism”.

Fascism, used in the sense Kanhaiya understands it, is not descriptive of any ideology but merely a pejorative term of abuse. Common ownership of means of production (envisaged by Communism) may be described by its critics as “goondaism” too and the subjective preference of one ideology over the other shows complete absence of any rational spirit of enquiry which is the hallmark of any intellectual. Is this not acting like a political commissar or an ideological administrator to control thought by using abuse not critical enquiry to deify one’s own and deride the other’s point of view? Is this not the “azadi” to impose one point of view over all others? Will this be “azadi” at all?

Significantly Kanhaiya impliedly concedes intellectuals continue to exist in India and express dissent and disapproval of what they find amiss in the system. How does this compare with Red Guards, the Chinese para-militaries who purged the country of those politically dangerous to Mao? Or the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Government. Or Lenin’s contempt for the intelligentsia apparent in his infamous comment “we have completed no academies.” Or again the preference of “bourgeois science” over the “proletarian science” in the old Soviet Union?

Yes, as Kanhaiya mentions, “it is important to understand history before we reach any kind of conclusion.” It is however obvious from Kanhaiya’s speech the examples he gave and the relevant examples which he ignored that he does not practice what he preaches and also knows little about what he chooses to preach!

A Reply to Afzal Guru’s Defense

Nandita Haksar in her article “Was Afzal Guru a martyr or a militant? JNU students were debating a question that law can’t” wrote against the hanging of Afzal Guru and justified the meeting at JNU protesting against the same.   It was tweeted by Ms Sagarika Ghose.

Ms Haksar commented: “In India we do not have a jury system. So people will have to make their own judgements. Many Indian citizens have adjudged Afzal Guru a terrorist, while their fellow citizens in Kashmir honour him as a martyr. The meeting on February 9 at JNU, which was organised by both Kashmiris and other Indian students, was an important bridge between these two understandings. Such bridges can be built most effectively by the youth. Ultimately, our borders have to be defended not against our enemies but against disaffection and alienation within our country.”(emphasis mine)

I do not agree with Ms Haksar’s reasoning.

Firstly, while India does not have a Jury System it has Bench Trial which is as much a legal system as the former.

Secondly, notwithstanding the absence of Jury System judgments are rendered by Courts  and “Indians do not have to make their own judgments”.

Thirdly, Indians citizens did not adjudge Afzal Guru a terrorist the legal system did.

Fourthly, the meeting could build no bridge because it shut out the contrary point of view by taking a firm position that Guru’s execution was “judicial murder” and that too surreptitiously under the guise of “poetry reading“.

Fifthly, it is because the country has to be guarded against disaffection and alienation that dogmatic denunciation of the system and that too in a covert manner must be deprecated.

Strangely, Ms Haksar in an earlier part of her article had mentioned, “As it happens, there is so far no evidence to show that Kumar ever shouted pro-Afzal Guru or pro-Maqbool Bhatt slogans at the February 9 event at JNU, which was organised to protest the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.” (emphasis mine) One protests when one feels wronged. Whether slogans are shouted or not the organisation of the protest suggested an identity with the point of view with the more vocal of the protesters!

Guru, Haksar says, became a martyr because he was “hanged secretly by the Indian governmentbut as hanging follows a completed adjudication how can the hanging be “judicial murder?

And while Kanhaiya did mention Afzal Guru in the speech (reproduced in Indian Express) prior to his arrest, on his release he said Rohith not Afzal Guru is his icon! Even if we ignore Kumar’s fitfulness towards serious issues, if Kanhaiya (whom Haksar describes as a “national treasure“) has forsaken Afzal Guru, is Haksar’s espousing of Guru’s cause and that too riding on Kumar’s shoulders not utterly incongruous?

It is interesting what Nandita Haksar calls “incontrovertible facts” about the Afzal Guru case. She says, “According to Afzal Guru, it was someone in the intelligence agencies who asked him to escort Mohammad to Delhi and help him find a rented room and a car.”  (emphasis mine) The incontrovertible fact is Afzal Guru’s version which incidentally never mentioned who and in which intelligence agency told him to escort  Mohammad.

Ms Haksar goes on to say, “In the light of the controversies over Ishrat Jahan, it is not entirely unthinkable that Afzal Guru, a surrendered militant, was being used by the intelligence agencies. In the West, there have been many cases in which intel agencies used former militants and even allowed them to commit acts of terror. In this case, the intelligence agencies may have been following some intel and could not prevent the attack.” Surmises and hunches thus become “incontrovertible facts!”

As far as denial of a lawyer in the Trial Court is concerned what is important to note is that he was not given death sentence by the Trial Court (where the denial of lawyer is alleged) but by the High Court (where he was duly represented) which was upheld by the Supreme Court (where he was duly represented too).

Haksar concedes that Afzal Guru “was involved in conspiracy to attack Parliament” but says “he should not have got the death penalty.” because Azhar, Baba and Ahmed absconded ignoring that in cases of conspiracy the liability is joint and the act of others is imputed to the conspirators and because Azhar, Baba and Ahmed deserved death penalty Guru could not be treated differently. The accused who was convicted for 10 years was not convicted under Section 121 (as was Guru) but under Section 123 (for which the maximum punishment is 10 years).

The Supreme Court judgment in Guru’s case runs into about 200 pages and has 339 paragraphs but only one line from the entire judgment is reproduced which says, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.” This said Nandita Haksar angered the Kashmiri people. I do not know how all the Kashmiri people converged on this one line in the judgment and do not know the empirical basis for Haksar’s conviction that this line angered them. But Ms Haksar had earlier said, “The people in Kashmir started calling Afzal Guru a martyr only after he was hanged secretly by the Indian government without giving his family an opportunity to meet him a final time.” (emphasis mine) How then could the “Kashmiri people” react to the judgment which was many years earlier?? In any event the line reproduced was not the only reason given by the Supreme Court to justify dismissal of the appeal. The Court found that the conclusion reached by the High Court both with regard to “the applicability of Section 121 IPC (Waging, Attempting or Abetting War) and punishment is correct” and detailed reasons were given for the same. The judgment was not rendered by “random men” whom Haksar referred to in Chesterton’s quote and to whom she had objection but experts, specialists in the field of law.

Ms Haksar says, “The law and the media have judged Afzal Guru as a terrorist. In defiance of this judgement, the people of Kashmir have called him a martyr. Who is in the wrong then? If sentiment overrules the law, law would require continuous speculation and would vary with personal whims. And what is the basis to primacy of any one section’s whim (in this case the Kashmiri people imagined by Ms Haksar) and will such an exercise not affect the principles of stability, fidelity and rationality which alone guarantee fairness in law?

We are not concerned with what kind of person Guru was but what Guru did. Ms Haksar does not set out the “historical injustices” which she alleges qua Guru and the random references to different thinkers is actually so, random. And they do not fit with the rest of the content.

It is good to build bridges, as Ms Haksar says, but it is not correct to create divides because those who create divides will never be serious about building bridges. When one is more serious about divides than bridges, law will always be a hinderance. And the only way to justify such extra-legal behaviour is to say, as Ms Nadita Haksar has said, that what one does is what “law cant”!

Bounty on Kanhaiya? Neither ADARSH & definitely SHARMAnak!

It is heartening to read that Adarsh Sharma has been arrested. His declaring a reward of Rs 11 lakhs to anyone killing Kanhaiya Kumar is abhorrent.

There can be no Final Solution in a democracy. It is for the same reason Pappu Yadav’s comment declaring reward for whosoever kills those responsible for  Rohith’s suicide is equally condemnable warranting similar action.

It is because law is supreme that Kanhaiya is sought to be prosecuted. And Kanhaiya can escape punishment by showing he is not in violation of law. The whole exercise re-enforces the rule of law and allows for a structured discourse which is indispensable for an ordered existence notwithstanding  conflict of ideas.

Abuse in language like violence in action symbolises want of conviction in one’s beliefs. And a belief which is held without conviction is just a passing fantasy, a self-indulgence for personal pleasure which has no creed or doctrine and is merely passing sentiment.

If we give credence to sentiment over belief mere offense NOT harm would be the basis of action and law would  cease being founded on norms but would captive to the dominant ideology of the day.

This is dangerous for democracy and if it is allowed to happen by supporters of a political party merely because that party is in power they will be defenceless when that party loses power because the criterion for action would be no principle but the dominant credo of the day. This is a very menacing situation because the stability and fidelity which gives credibility and worth to any legal system would be lost. 

Conflict of points of view makes for a robust society and the purpose with which freedom is granted to speech is NOT to obstinately hold onto one’s opinion but to correct it if in a principled clash it is found wanting. There is no hostility in such conflict ONLY engagement. It is only in this way that freedom of speech will NOT give way to “polarisation”.

I have serious disagreement with a few things which Kanhaiya has been associated with and the exchange with those supporting him has been sharp but there is no bounty at stake and the thought of violence to support my point of view has never crossed my mind.

I will object to the allegation of “judicial killings”, to the association with Kashmiri separatists and with the espousing of anti-India sentiment but I am assured in my belief that the established system will both address and correct what I believe are aberrant ideas because I will put them to a successful test according to settled norms. Even if I fail the established system would have triumphed.  No individual is bigger than the system.

For the same reason assault even by the lawyers was unacceptable – far from showing strength it displayed a weakness and embarrassed a person like me because the mode of protest discredited my point of view. The way in which one protests is an indication of character.

India today is engaged. This is wonderful. It shows it is different from Pakistan, China, North Korea and other countries. It also provides the assurance that every Indian should feel secure in it to make any thought of moving away from it unjustified. And it shows it rejects violence as the prop for any point of view. Physical attack and extermination show extreme scale of prejudice which is the reason we condemn Kashmiri Pandits being made to leave Kashmir. How then can the same method be adopted in a protest against what is believed to be an anti-national act? There is an inherent contradiction in the approach which exposes its utter untenability.

It is because we will not tolerate sedition we also NEVER tolerate any Adarsh Sharmas either.  And  if we do it will not be Adarsh and will definitely be Sharmanak!

Mr Chidambaram’s “Polarisation”: Blame-Game & Half-Truths

The country, said Mr Chidambaram, is “most polarised” comparing it to the time of partition of the country.

The comment was seemingly uttered with a sense of dismay at what was perceived as a deteriorating situation in the country.

Lose comments deny dignity to serious concern. Mr Chidambaram’s comment is a case in point.

Polarisation is understood as extreme divergence in opinions with distance between the extreme points of view so large as to deny any possibility of convergence. One cannot, however, talk about “polarisation” without addressing the issue of freedom of speech.

A misuse of the freedom implicit in mischievousness, distortion or obscurantism closes door to dialogue frustrating the purpose of communication and contributing only to noise and not public discourse.

Then again, not every polarisation of views is bad. In dealing with the subject of polarisation, to make the discussion meaningful, one must specify the issues on which there is extreme disagreement and further consider whether disagreement on those issues can justify apprehension of a larger discord as can threaten cohesion in society.And in dealing with the latter both discord and justification need to be considered. An unjustified discord will create polarisation only to create disorder and law will have to intervene to clam down on it.

Mr Chidambaram addressed neither the issue of abuse of freedom of speech nor specify what issues he had in mind while commenting on polarisation and did not also dwell on the question whether disagreement on those issues is justified as to label the matter disagreed with dangerous.

The comment was only an appeal to emotion and is mere prejudice parading as fact.

The immediate context for the comment was the JNU controversy. JNU became controversial because of comments about “judicial killing” of proven terrorists and emphatic demands of “self-determination” of Kashmiris. The former means courts in India murder and latter questions the integration of Kashmir into India.hero even for students

Strangely Mr Chidambaram mentioned partition of the country not independence which accompanied it and framing of the Constitution which followed establishing rule of law in the country with courts as its guardian and Kashmir as part of its territory.

It were those wanting partition who demanded Kashmir and rejected secular foundation for the new state they created. Mr Chidambaram’s comment shows his affinity with this group rather than those who fought for and established an independent India.

If an Indian objects to secession and to the undermining of a system entrenched constitutionally it is the point of view that the Indian opposes which is dangerous. As wide a disagreement as possible with this view is imperative for the integrity of the country. And using this as an instance of “polarisation” is mischievous.

Similarly if “beef” moves from being food to political weapon consumed not to satiate physiological need but make a political point the intent clearly being to spite another not satisfy oneself vociferous opposition is not only important but necessary for such hate will  feed itself till it consumes the country. Why no comment on celebratory beef binging? Is polarisation bad only if it entails a disagreement with your point of view?

Who made HCU debate Dalit issue? Afzal was a hero even for students of HCU and judicial killing flavour of the debate. Is this a discipline issue or Dalit issue?

And while the Asura tribe, constituting a minuscule part of the population may celebrate Mahishahsura, The Times of India reported, “Today, few Asurs, especially the younger generation, know who Mahishasura was and what he means to their community and the activists hope to change that. Soon after the gathering in Purulia, the tribals will congregate at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi on October 26 to raise their voice against the “centuries-old systematic repression of their culture and religion”. The students of JNU are more aggrieved than the tribals whose cause they claim to espouse to create a fractious environment where none exists. Who then is moving to the polar extreme and in this deliberate movement is there not the wilful  intent to create disturbance and will this intent not be impervious to resolution as a dispute has been raised for the sake of raising it without there being a reason for the same? Is this, again, not an issue of mischievous use of speech and can a legitimate objection to it be called a sign of polarisation?

Mr Chidambaram said, “University is a place where I have a right to be wrong!” If you claim such a right how do you justify rights or protest wrongs and use the medium of interaction to find common ground necessary for an ordered existence. And with such an attitude you, not those who oppose you, are responsible for the polarisation you claim to be so worried about.

The polarisation arising out of such abuse of free speech is not bad. The discord which follows exposes not what is wrong in the societal apparatus but who the miscreants in society are and the regulatory apparatus is then meant to intervene in such situations to discipline such reprobate behaviour. This is a sign of a functional not dysfunctional system. The disagreement on some issues is imperative for preservation of a polity and where there is justification for disagreement the disagreement cannot be cited as being pathological.

There is a contrary point of view to your world view Mr Chidambaram.That point of view is now equally vocal. Yes there is disagreement. But that is only half-truth. It is the unwillingness to see the reason for the same which is now causing the polarisation. Introspection will be better than playing the blame-game.