This appeared in the Asian Age \ Deccan Chronicle
Candid question: How many Indian citizens understand the implications \ ramifications of the Nuclear Liability Bill? Out of a billion plus population , it would be hard to find more than 10,000 super brains capable of figuring out the gol-mal…. the gobbledygook. And yet, when Manmohan Singh sought unanimous support from the Lok Sabha, he pretty much got it(through a voice vote), with an impressive majority of 252 members. Amazing! First those M.P.s pushed through a hefty pay hike for themselves in record time, now they’ve passed a bill that is maha controversial …to say the least. Simran Badal, who spoke right after the P.M., was the only person to make some sense during a heated television debate the same night , when she asked the sort of practical, commonsensical questions that any Indian – dumb or otherwise - would want comprehensible responses to. The answers, such as they were, made very little sense. It was more an exercise in theatrics and the sort of intellectual masturbation most smarty pants on tv indulge in each time they have to defend their party bosses on slippery issues. What can these motor mouths do, but resort to fancy language and that very obvious and intensely annoying ‘buying time’ tactic - “Please repeat the question…kindly give me an uninterrupted chance to respond…may I answer that question?” Yes, you mutt. That’s why it has been asked! Once that silly pantomime is out of the way, the debate rages on pointlessly, with at least three people talking at the same time. The hapless anchor is reduced to playing an ineffective traffic havaldar, waving his\her arms, raising his\her own voice above the din, scolding panelists by wagging a finger and pretending to be in control even as mayhem rules. This is exactly what happened on Wednesday night, as bewildered viewers wondered what the hell was going on…and why was everybody so worked up.
Next came press reports of the Prime Minister’s Stooge Speech. Hello? Who called you a stooge, sir???? Sacrilege! Manmohan Singh whispered softly and sweetly, “ To say that this ( bill) has been brought to promote American interests and corporations, I think, is far from the truth.” Hear, hear! Good news, guys. Our Prime Minister ‘thinks’ this is far from the truth. Maybe a few years down the line, we’ll ‘know’ the truth. And if India’s karma is good, that truth won’t hurt ,damage or kill us. As of now, we can only pray for the benevolence of Bhagwan that this bill is indeed in India’s interests. And even if some American companies make zillions and zillions from us, it will only be in the country’s interests. Never mind if the rest of the world ( America included) is looking for other energy sources – cheaper and less dangerous. We have now committed ourselves to going along with Obama. And no… we are not his stooges. When Manmohan Singh pleaded, “ I beg of this House to pass the bill with unanimity,” members promptly obliged. Yup. Even those BJP blokes. Jaswant Singh’s muted ‘protest’ was noted (Who are you calling a hustler, huh?) , not that it mattered all that much. Demanding the safety of nuclear power plants, is apparently not such a radical issue after all. It is amazing that it almost became a secondary one, given our recent tryst with the Bhopal bungling, where again, safety was the first casualty. The beauteous Ms. Badal pointed out several in built hazards and asked tough questions about India’s preparedness to deal with a nuclear calamity. Of course, she received no replies from the official spokesperson, who chose to be characteristically evasive and totally off the point. It was a little like someone quoting Shakespeare when the debate was on Tagore. But then again, that may have been the whole idea.
It is obvious that deals within deals have been struck across the board. It is equally obvious India will never know what those are. The principal players may or may not be around when citizens live through the contentious bill, hoping all the while that there is no accident in the future. When we cannot even construct a safe stadium for the Games, when nearly every aspect of our everyday lives come with a ‘Dangerous to your health’ sign, whether it is crossing pot holed, flooded roads, or risking plane collisions on the ground and in the air, sab kuch routine ho gaya hai - what is a mere nuclear disaster ? Another statistic? Even if thousands, possibly millions, are at risk, does that stop us from chasing ‘progress’…. sorry…n-commerce? God forbid, but if something horrific does take place – who pays? How much? A liability cap for the operator at $320 million, IMF special drawing rights at $450 million? In any other genuinely developed nation, these sort of concerns would have been directly tabled before citizens . Especially in a democracy. It is obvious from the way the cookie has crumbled during the past week, that the government is only concerned about protecting the interests of politicians and their influential allies. The height of insult to the people of India was Lalu Prasad Yadav justifying a pay hike when his own miserable record as a scamster who has done time, is known to all. It is this same level of brazenness and audacity that has pushed a potentially lethal bill through. But then, when Obama does show up in India later this year, we shall be ready with not just the red carpet, but also our contracts for American companies. Oh… did Obama really say all those rude things about desi techies? And has he also made it much tougher for Indians to get work in his country? Gee… that’s too bad. Let’s put all that behind us, and show him the true meaning of Desi Chamchagiri … err… hospitality. It was a former U.S. President (Nixon) who once famously declared, “ I am not a crook.” We know the rest. Now that our P.M. has said, ‘I am not a stooge,” shall we give the guy the benefit of the doubt? Sure. Why not? Do we have a choice?
I spent a really,really hectic day in Ahemdabad ... and may need a week to recover. I was there for the launch of the Gujarati editions of 'Spouse' and 'Speedpost'. I was lucky that one of Gujarat's oldest and most respected publishers , R.R.Sheth ( third generation now running the show, after the grandfather, a freedom fighter and Gandhiji associate, started the firm 126 years ago). It has been an absolute pleasure dealing with young Chintan Sheth and his team. Some of our high handed, arrogant English language publishers can take a leaf or two out of this book! Sheth publishes close to 125 titles a year, and has all the top names signed up. The chief guest at my function was the highly respected writer Shri Gunwant Shah. Also present were my translators, two attractive and feisty ladies - Kaajal Ojha and Sonal Modi. Over 700 readers turned up for the function, held in a large hall. They were responsive, respectful and raring to ask questions. But before that I had to pack in close to 20 interviews ( tv, radio, print), which left me a little dehydrated and drained by the time it was my turn to speak. I valiantly carried on , adopting my own brand of Gujarati-Hindi-Marathi-Bengali-English. The superlative sitaphal basundi I had enjoyed at lunch, gave me the much needed extra energy - though it could as well have been the hand churned chikoo icecream. Next time you find yourself in A'Bad, even for a few hours, head straight to the The House of Mangaldas Giridhardas, a 200 year old haveli , which is a magnificent urban heritage hotel ( highly recommended by Lonely Planet). Take a short flight of steps up to 'Agashiye' - the wonderful terrace restaurant which serves an authentic Gujju thali. It's worth taking a flight from anywhere in the word to the historic Walled City which takes you right back to the 15th century. More details on : www.houseofmg.com.