Post the unprecedented Capitol siege in Washington on 6 January, the ugly rush to draw parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters and Donald Trump and his rowdy acolytes has assumed an accelerated pace. There has been a plethora of unfavourable commentary on the state of democracy in India with some questioning the resilience of Indian democracy in the event of a Washington-like crisis and others even suggesting that autocracy is already here in a subtle form.
Tavleen Singh, writing in the Indian Express (10 January 2021), wryly commented, “This has inspired me to draw for you a portrait of the ‘new Indian’ who constitutes the base of today’s BJP, which is as heavily stamped in Modi’s image as the Republican Party came to be stamped in the image of Donald Trump.”
She then went on to make a baseless and outlandish rhetorical surmise: “America may look really bad at the moment but let’s remember that its democracy just passed its hardest test and won. Would we be able to say the same in India about our institutions if put through such a test?”
How valid are these concerns? Or is this a deliberate attempt to create an illusion of impending autocracy to discredit the current government and put it on the defensive by traditional Modi baiters?
True, Indian democracy has been under siege for the last year or so, but not by PM Modi and his supporters. In fact, an objective appraisal of the current political scenario reveals that it is India’s liberal left, the political opposition and columnists like Tavleen Singh who are the ones testing the limits of our democracy.
First, in a democracy, change is affected by laws enacted in the Parliament, which people are supposed to accept. Over the last year, every effort has been made to derail this process. The CAA was a constitutionally legitimate law that was passed by the Parliament; it had a benign intent that did not impact any Indian Muslim. Nevertheless, duplicitous rumor-mongering created an atmosphere of distrust. The law was not challenged via the normal channels available in a democracy. Instead, mobs were provoked to descend on to the streets in large numbers and indulge in senseless violence to intimidate the government: a clear-cut case of ochlocracy or the rule of the mob.
The anti-farm law protest is another attempt to exploit misguided public dissent to discredit constitutionally enacted laws. The canard being spread is that the laws were rammed through Parliament without adequate discussion: A lie that flies in the face of facts. Not only have agricultural reforms been discussed for years, but in August 2014, the government had set up a high-level committee headed by Shanta Kumar to suggest agricultural reforms. I reproduce below an excerpt from the preface that clearly reveals that stakeholder suggestions were taken into account: “The Committee had wide consultations with several Chief Ministers, Food Secretaries and other stakeholders in various States. Their valuable suggestions were invited through various newspapers also. Almost 300 representations were received by the Committee and many of these valuable suggestions have been taken into consideration while finalising the report…”
Surjit Bhalla calls out this dishonesty (Indian Express, 12 December 2020). He writes, “All the above facts have been known, and discussed, by learned people for decades. Which is precisely why the intellectual gymnastics played by many learned people defending the farmers’ protests is so shocking. The “demand” by intellectuals that the farm bill should have been discussed before being passed is well beyond the bounds of conventional dishonesty.”
Deliberate misrepresentation to mislead the gullible public has been pivotal in the recent spate of protests. Dishonesty and violent blackmail are being employed as tools to undermine our parliamentary democracy and replace it with street politics.
It is even more outrageous when another commentator (Suhas Palashikar in the Indian Express, 12 January 2021) speaks of ‘mob politics’ to blame the BJP and not the Opposition. He writes, “In terms of constructing a constituency of the mob, the present moment is probably more dangerous than what India has seen so far for two reasons: There is a carefully orchestrated and sustained use of mobs which are excited prior to being unleashed … Thus, the “science” of mob politics is employed in a nuanced manner with a rhetorical discourse legitimating the mob as the people.”
Such statements warrant a reality check. The protestors taking to the streets are not BJP supporters—these are mobs unleashed by a desperate Opposition which has become even more desperate after the BJP’s massive victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and sees no future for itself unless it indulges in such unruly shenanigans. So, let us be clear about one thing: the danger to India’s democracy is coming from recourse to ‘mobocracy’ encouraged by the anti-Modi gang.
Secondly, there is the usual refrain that freedom of speech is under threat and with it the constant whining of being called ‘anti-national’. Tavleen Singh writes, “They make it clear that there is no room in India for people who do not share their point of view. Dissent of any kind is for them exactly the same as sedition and they see it everywhere.”
Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Indian Express, 1 January 2021) indulges in bizarre logic by making a distinction between abstract people (read: Modi supporters) and actual people who oppose PM Modi. “The people in this construction are an abstraction, unified and marching to the same drum beat. The minute any actual people assert their reservations, express their individuality, or pose pragmatic facts against wild prophecy, they are immediately branded as being outside of the pale of the people, they are the anti-nationals. So, the rhetoric of the people can be turned against groups of actual people, one at a time. It is an enemy of both freedom and fraternity.”
Name calling does not make for civil discourse and must be avoided. But let me remind you that those complaining of being called anti-nationals today are the very same people who reveled in dubbing nationalists as extremists and ‘saffron looneys’ in the yesteryears.
These well-known columnists cry hoarse that dissent is under threat but appear to have the freedom to rant and rave against the government using choice epithets in their columns. Every week after I read their vitriolic vituperations, I sleep in peace knowing well that freedom of speech is alive and kicking in India.
With regard to the issue of corrosion of institutions, it is a matter of perspective. Charges are being bandied around with no real evidence. If a SC verdict is not to one’s liking, it does not mean that the institution is damaged. We need to be mature enough to accept verdicts with grace even if they do not conform to our ideology. That is the crux of a democracy.
Finally, let me remind the readers that despite all the charges of fascism levelled against the BJP and Modi, not a single action attributed to either Modi or the party stands out as undemocratic. In fact, the BJP and its leaders have always religiously conformed to the tenets of democracy.
In 2002, when Modi was subjected to overwhelming criticism for his handling of the Gujarat riots, he resigned prematurely, recommended dissolution of the assembly and sought a vote of trust from the public—a democratic gesture par excellence, and certainly not totalitarian.
Who can forget Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s magnanimous gesture which must go down as the finest moment of Indian democracy? In late 1999, after a successful tenure of 13 months, the BJP was forced to seek a vote of confidence as a result of a realignment of political parties. It was a test that the BJP lost by a single vote in a house of 540; a vote whose legitimacy was questionable, being cast by a Congress member (Giridhar Gamang) who had ceased, for all intents and purposes, to be a member of the august body after being elected to a state legislature. Yet, without a murmur of protest, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (the BJP prime minister) had put in his papers in the larger interest of democracy.
The current political situation in India is profoundly distressing. In their bid to pull down PM Modi, it appears that certain sections will stop at nothing, even if it means the destruction of our democracy. The rule of the mob is being encouraged as opposed to rule of the law, an illusion of free speech coming under threat is being created, and wild charges of national institutions being compromised are being thrown around. It is time that these sleazy machinations are called out for what they are.
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Celebrating India’s achievements at 75
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, India has channeled her civilizational strengths and cultural diversity into a brand new shared future, and opportunities for achievement, progress, and prosperity for its billion-plus citizens. Here is a list of what we have achieved since 15 August 1947.
Indian Premier League (IPL)
Indian Premier League (IPL) is an Indian professional T20 cricket league established in 2008. Lalit Modi proposed the idea of IPL and superheaded the IPL effort. It was founded by the Board of Control of Cricket in India in 2007. It is usually held between March and May of every year. In a high-profile ceremony in New Delhi, the first season was slated in 2008. The first season of IPL was won by Rajasthan Royals, captained by Shane Warne. To date, there have been fifteen seasons of the IPL tournament. Moreover, there are 10 teams they are; Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Capitals, Gujarat Titans, Kolkata Knight Riders, Lucknow Super Giants, Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings, Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, and Sunrisers Hyderabad. The teams representing different Indian cities compete against each other. IPL is the most-attended cricket league in the world which revolutionized the game.
Success of Unified Payments Interface (UPI)
India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has become the best-performing real-time ecosystem in the world with nearly 6 billion transactions a month. According to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, India’s digital economy could create $1 trillion in economic value in 2025. Earlier on 11 April 2016, NPCI conducted a pilot launch with 21 member banks by Dr. Raghuram G Rajan, Governor, RBI at Mumbai. On 25 August 2016 onwards Banks started to upload their UPI-enabled Apps on the Google Play store. These are the top seven UPI apps used in India; Google Pay, PhonePe, Paytm, BHIM App, Amazon Pay, BHIMSBI Pay, and MobiKwik. Meanwhile, from 21 banks in April 2016, the total number of banks linked to the UPI platform as of Feb 2022 is 304.
Vaccination Drive of India
The ongoing COVID-19 vaccine drive in India rolled out the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive. The COVID-19 vaccination drive in India was started on 16 January 2021 across 3006 vaccine centers in all its states and union territories. The vaccination drive in India has been initiated with two types of vaccines: Covishield and Covaxin, being manufactured by Serum Institute of India Ltd. and Bharat Biotech International Ltd. On the first day itself, 1,65,714 people were vaccinated and were administered to a sanitation worker at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. As of now, 2,08,25,13,831 vaccines have been administrated to the people. Earlier, on 30 January 2020, India reported its first case of COVID-19 in Kerala.
Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is a space probe orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. The Mangalyaan was launched from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre (Sriharikota Range SHAR), Andhra Pradesh. For the launch Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket C25 was used. Mangalyaan was the world’s cheapest mission to the red planet which cost just Rs 447.39 crore. “Unlike the Mars mission, which was a one-time project when cleared, the GSAT program envisages launching several more satellites. Therefore, the money saved from its launch is with Isro to be used for future satellites,” a senior official said. The spacecraft instruments which were used are Mars Color Camera, Lyman Alpha Photometer, Thermal Imaging Spectrometer, Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer, and Methane Sensors for Mars.
Statue of Unity
The Statue of Unity is the World’s Tallest Monument and is the most prolific creator in recent times. The Statue of Unity is dedicated to one of India’s founding fathers, and the country’s first Deputy Prime Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel with a height of 182 meters. It has been created as a tribute to the ‘Iron Man of India’. The Statue of Unity is divided into 5 zones out of which 3 are accessible to the general public. It can accommodate 200 visitors at a time and location at a height of 153 meters. It is located at Sardar Sarovar Dam, in Kevadia, Gujarat.
The battle of freedom
In the path of achieving freedom, there have been several instances that let us hold our heads high. Every day had been a battle to expel the anarchist Britishers. Here is a list of the days that helped make August 15, 1947, happen.
The British Viceroy, Lord Curzon, with the aim of weakening the unity and curbing the Nationalist movement, devised a scheme to separate Bengal and reorganise the territorial distributions dividing the Hindus and Muslims in 1905. The “Boycott” resolution was adopted at a conference held at the Calcutta Town Hall on August 7, 1905, thus establishing the Swadeshi movement and bringing its previously fragmented leadership under one leadership. A hartal and a day of sorrow were called in Calcutta on October 16, 1905, the day the division came into effect. People observed a fast, and the kitchen hearth was left unlit. Hindus and Muslims tie Rakhis to each other to symbolise unity. It was successful and the partition had to be annulled.
Azad Hind Bharat
On December 30, 1943, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the Indian flag at the Gymkhana ground in Port Blair and declared the island to be independent when the entire nation was clutched under British rule. He further renamed the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as Shaheed and Swaraj to mark the establishment of the Azad Hind Government, which also had its own currency and stamps. Upon raising the Azad Hind flag, Bose, the leader of the Azad Hind Provisional Government, also kept his word that the Indian National Army would be standing on Indian land by the end of 1943.
The peasants in the Champaran district of Bihar were made to endure unimaginable hardships when Europeans compelled them to plant indigo, a blue dye. They weren’t paid enough for the indigo, and they couldn’t cultivate the food they needed. Tired of the agony, the peasants turned to Gandhi. As Gandhi’s first Satyagraha movement in India, the Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 is regarded as a pivotal uprising in the history of the Indian Independence Movement.
Civil Disobedience movement
Civil disobedience, also known as passive resistance, is the act of refusing to comply with the requests or orders of a government or occupying power without using force or other aggressive forms of resistance. Its typical goal is to pressure the government or occupying power into making concessions. On April 6, 1930, M.K. Gandhi started the Civil Disobedience Movement by breaking the government’s salt law by picking up a handful of salt after finishing the illustrious “Dandi March” from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi. He served as the movement’s inspiration and helped to mobilise the population in the liberation battle. Due to the disregard for the salt law, the Civil Disobedience Movement expanded across the nation.
Quit India Movement
August Kranti or the August Movement are other names for the Quit India movement. Mahatma Gandhi began the “do or die” Bharat Chhodo Andolan, often known as the Quit India movement, on August 8, 1942. All of the Congress Working Committee members began to be arrested on August 9 as soon as the movement began. While being placed under house imprisonment, Mahatma Gandhi was brought to Ahmednagar Fort. Approximately 940 persons lost their lives as a result of the British’s harshness during this nonviolent campaign. There were also 1630 injuries. More than 60 000 activists were detained at the same time. However, this movement brought the nation together.
‘We Women Want’: Fitness on agenda
Clinical nutritionist Dr Ishi Khosla, Fitness Expert Vesna Jacob and Dr Rita Punhani IVF Specialist of Indira IVF appeared on ‘We Women Want’ to discuss fitness tips and bust some diet myths.
The panel stressed that it is important to monitor what you eat but also the timing of the meal. Diet such as intermittent fasting and Ketos were discussed with their pros and cons. An important point was also made regarding fitness that its best to exercise when you can even if its for ten minutes and not wait for the half hour – forty minute slot for a warm up. For as Vesna Jacob said our body is primed to be active, the primitive man did not see a tiger and then say wait let me first warm up before I defend myself. Dr Punhani pointed out how a good diet is essential for a woman’s health in various stages of her life from maturity to motherhood to menopause while Dr Khosla talked of the importance of gut health. The show was moderated by Priya Sahgal, Senior Executive Editor ITV Network.
Catch fresh episodes of ‘We Women Want’ every Saturday at 7:30 PM on NewsX. The program will also streamed live on major OTT platforms- Dailyhunt, Zee5, MX Player, ShemarooMe, Watcho, Mzaalo, Jio TV, Tata Play and PayTm livestreams.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
When we reach our late twenties and early thirties and realise how much we miss good television, we tend to go down the nostalgic path. Growing up, with summer vacations lasting a full month and shorter school days, picking a show to watch was perhaps the most challenging assignment. Our TV schedules were quite set, and included everything from Disney cartoons to Indian comedy. This edition includes a chart of five programmes we watched over and over again as children and would gladly reserve time in our work calendars to watch.
TOM AND JERRY
Everyone has heard of “Tom and Jerry”, the only well-known programme where a mouse routinely outwits and humiliates a cat ten times its size. Tom and Jerry had the most straightforward stories, but you never lost interest in them because they were so humorous and snarky. You were eager to learn what new scheme Tom had in mind and how Jerry was going to thwart it. Even though the show ran under a different name and with different studios in each decade, Tom and Jerry continued to air in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and even the 2000s.
For a generation raised during the Pogo and Nickelodeon periods, watching “Takeshi’s Castle” meant seeing people fall into mud puddles. This programme will return in more than 240 markets in 2023 thanks to Amazon Prime. Takeshi’s Castle, an Indian adaptation of a Japanese programme, became well-known for its entertaining chores and Jaaved Jaffrey’s hilarious commentary.
COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG
The majority of cartoons from the early 2000s were often highly joyful and heartwarming. However, “Courage the Cowardly Dog” was a show about scary monsters that looked like they could be straight out of some Steven King book or an old horror movie. It wasn’t really the most kid-friendly show, but it had to be one of, if not the all-time popular cartoon of the 2000s.
How we wished we were three magicians who lived in a house where they could make anything happen. For us, that was “Shararat”. This childhood show was almost like a fantasy world for Indian children—a mansion with three generations of magicians living in “Muggleland.” Therefore, we had this tiny region of Indian magicians long before the world had Harry Potter and the country of Hogwarts. It was seasoned with sweetness, spice, and just the proper amount of vice.
Everyone who was born after the 1960s has seen “Scooby-Doo” at some point in their lives. In essence, Scooby, Shaggy’s talking dog, and four youngsters (who appear to be in their mid-20s) look into numerous crimes that happen around town. The twist is always that the crimes were perpetrated by some type of monster, ghost, spirit, beast, or pretty much any extra-natural entity. The characters on the programme were Fred, who was slick and sophisticated, Velma, who was nerdy, Shaggy, who was laid back and easily scared, Scooby, who loved scooby snacks, and Daphne, who played a sort of damsel in distress role.
A SPRAWLING PIECE OOZING WITH LOVE FOR EVERYTHING INDIAN
Every 10 minutes during the first half, the movie keeps switching its genre, undergoing brilliant tonal shifts with the assurance of a master conductor at work.
The long-awaited Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor starrer “Laal Singh Chaddha,” which has finally hit the theatres this week, is an adaptation of the 1986 novel titled “Forrest Gump” by the American author Winston Groom. The novel was famously adapted by Eric Roth for the 1994 Hollywood film of the same name, directed by Robert Zemeckis, which bagged 6 Academy Awards. Directed by Advait Chandan, Laal Singh Chaddha also stars Naga Chaitanya (in his Hindi film debut), Manav Vij, Arun Bali, Mona Singh, and Aaryaa Sharma.
Given the narrative’s sprawling nature, making a film like “Laal Singh Chaddha” is like making 15-20 films. That’s how herculean the task would have been for Aamir, Advait, and the team. Remaking a film like Forrest Gump is no kid’s play. I don’t think anyone but Aamir Khan could have delivered a film of this scope and scale. It’s heartening to see the kind of respect that the film pays to historical accuracy as well as getting the different aspects of Sikhism right.
Every 10 minutes during the first half, the movie keeps switching its genre, undergoing brilliant tonal shifts with the assurance of a master conductor at work. Credit must also go to Atul Kulkarni for beautifully adapting “Forrest Gump” to an Indian setting and for seamlessly weaving the important historical events of the last 40 years into it. When it does the Kargil War, it seems to do it better than ‘Shershaah.’ When it does sports, it seems to match “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.” When it does comedy, it seems to do it better than most. And as a drama, it really excels in terms of cinematic storytelling for the most part.
“Laal Singh Chaddha” comes across as a breath of fresh air at a time when the Hindi film industry needs it the most. Aamir Khan’s innocence personified as Laal Singh Chaddha, and his chemistry with Kareena Kapoor is the major highlight of the film, along with his bromance with Naga Chaitanya and Manav Vij. There are some beautiful segments of magic realism that are beautifully crafted. Like a boy who walks using crutches, suddenly starts running like P T Usha when subjected to bullying. The colour grading is so good that the movie looks stunning visually, and honestly, I haven’t seen a more beautiful looking period film made in India.
Aamir Khan transforms into ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ in no time and brings the character to life as only he can. Chaddha’s simplicity, to go with his honesty and a sense of contagious optimism that he carries with him at all times, lights up the screen. Whether he is narrating some story, trying to save lives on a battlefield, or making an effort to sell undergarments, Aamir’s Chaddha always makes us root for him.
Mona Singh is wonderful as Chadda’s loving mother. It’s easily the performance that will take away all the accolades. I was in school when ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi’ used to air on TV and having seen Mona Singh all these years, I have always known that she is a fine actor, but seeing what she achieves in ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ made me realise that she is actually one of the finest actors working in the country right now.
But the biggest surprise of the movie is Kareena Kapoor. Who would have thought that a wafer-thin character that Robin Wright played in “Forrest Gump” would become the centrepiece of the Hindi adaptation almost three decades later. This is Kareena Kapoor’s finest performance since ‘Jab We Met.’ It is a layered performance, and we can see the character’s dichotomy throughout the film’s running time.
It can be said with absolute certainty that technology has been put to use to de-age Kareena (and Aamir) for this. But the end result is so good and it makes me particularly happy that we have aced the use of this cutting-edge technology better than what Hollywood did with, say, ‘The Irishman’.
I also would like to praise both Naga Chaitanya and Manav Vij for their wonderful cameos. For me, their characters’ bromance with Laal Singh Chadda is one of the film’s major highlights. It’s a masterstroke to make Manav Vij’s character a soldier from the enemy ranks, as opposed to ‘Forrest Gump’, where Gary Sinise’s Lieutenant character was Gump’s compatriot. I would be remiss to not mention Pritam, Arijit Singh, and Amitabh Bhattacharya, who have done wonderful work with the film’s music, songs, and lyrics. Overall, I must say that Laal Singh Chadda has reinstated my faith in Hindi cinema. It’s not a perfect film. It suffers from pacing issues in the second half. It’s probably not even Aamir’s best work. But it is cinematic storytelling at its purest. Here’s a sprawling period piece oozing with nostalgia and an abundance of love for everything Indian. The naysayers can denounce him, but so long as we have stalwarts like Aamir Khan working in the Hindi film industry, Bollywood is here to stay.
In the blink of an eye
Gallery Dotwalk is all set to organise a group exhibition show titled “In the Blink of an Eye”. The show, curated by Shruti Ramingaiah, has already started and will be held till 10th September 2022. ‘In the Blink of an Eye’ considers the states of transcending into sleep and being awake as a metaphor to reflect on time as extended, indefinite, and nonconsecutive happening, event, and passage.
The show features ten artists from different cities in India with the diverse practises and approaches they bring to this exhibition. Each artist in this exhibition explores events from the past and even recent times. They reflect on the many meanings of memory, from personal to collective. Going back to their roots, a group of artists revisit their relationship to a site, place, and events.
The ten artists are Bhisaji Gadekar, Chandan Bez Baruah, Jyothi Basu, Kundan Mondal, Midhun Gopi, Rachana Nagarkar, Prajakta Palav Aher, Saju Kunhan, Shruti Mahajan, and Sneh Mehra.
In a candid conversation, curator Shruti Ramingaiah said, “This curatorial is interested in the idea of transition and how we understand the element of time in our everyday and the changing world around us. This show is an attempt to reflect on time that is non-linear. It asks us how we connect with the past, present, and future that are taking place, overlapping simultaneously. The exhibition considers a brief state of transcending into sleep and being awake as a metaphor to explore the possibilities of going beyond our preset notions of time in our daily life. The exhibition probes the viewer to rethink, what it means to be constantly on the move. At the core of all this, how then do we make sense of reality? “
The show will be on view from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 8 pm.
Headquartered at Delhi-NCR, Gallery Dotwalk is an art gallery committed to building an art space that pivots on integrity and genuineness that converses with art enthusiasts around the world, utilising the prowess of technology and positive contributions to the art milieu.
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