Garbage In, Garbage Stays

There is a lot of breast-beating over the disposal of 150,000  government files on PM Modi’s order. Alleged historians and self-styled history-buffs are outraged. Siddarth Varadarajan (of Gujarat crusades fame) called it “vandalism”. Even some Modi-voting Twitterati are upset.

The facts of the matter are as follows.

Like in any government office in India where large, decaying piles of paper get stacked up one over another without ever disappearing, a  large number of files accumulated over the years in the offices of North Block. They apparently spilled over into hallways and balconies. Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Modi, given his fetish for cleanliness, was appalled. He knew, like any good  people manager with or without reading his Maslow knows, that a pleasant working environment is an essential “hygiene factor” in employee motivation.  So he ordered the clutter to be cleared.

What sort of files were ordered to be destroyed? Every file, indiscriminately? Does government policy permit indiscriminate shredding in the first place? The detail is sketchy. Times of India, whose report is most widely quoted on the subject, offers no clue.   The New Indian Express’s story is slightly better, giving us a brief overview of MHA’s record archival and disposal policy, which is as under.

Category A Files: “General” documents. “Preserved” for one year.

Category B Files: “Important Decisions”. “On record” for 5 to 10 years.

Category C Files: “Most Important”. “Reviewed” every 25 years.  Material deemed in this review to be of “historical importance” is retained and sent to National Archives.

Clearly, the policy allows for retiring documents. A category-A file can be destroyed one year after closure, a Cat-B after 10, and a Cat-C after 25 years (with caveats). Destroying them earlier than their prescribed period of storage, (and additionally, in the case of Cat-C, not assessing historical importance), would be a policy violation. Nothing in press reports suggests that this violation happened.  In fact, NIE report adds: “Files of historical value will be sent to the National Archive as per procedure,” an official said.”  The Mountbatten TA Bill is illustrative:  it was found in a Cat-C file.

So what’s the ruckus about? If a document ended up in A or B category, it was already judged to be historically worthless. If it is in C, a babu will, presumably based on some criteria, take a decision if it should be archived.

There is a mindset issue here — the mindset not only of the rulers but also of the ruled. Policy paralysis happened in the UPA government’s later years because everybody, including bureaucrats, were unwilling to take decisions. The government was mired in scams and controversies because of vested interests driving decision-making. It put paid even to decisions that would be in national interest. I believe that junk accumulates government in offices partly for more or less the same reason, laziness not being the only one. Even though policy allows for disposal of expired documents, no official wants to stick his neck out and order shredding: What if some future court enquiry calls for an old file, the absence of which then may land the officer who ordered it be destroyed in controversy? “Let sleeping docs lie” (pun intended) is the idea.

If that’s the rulers’ mindset, the ruled have an attitude issue. Some of us believe (just the way NGOs do) that we have a veto on every minor decision of the government, especially if it happens to be a BJP government.

Modi did what he is admired for:  took a decision swiftly.  A few days earlier, in an interaction with senior officers, he gave them his assurance that he would stand by their decisions.  In other words, he assured them that unlike his blue-turbaned predecessor he won’t pass the buck, so they need not fear the Damocles’ sword of a future controversy. But what he cannot get around having to contend with is the likes of  Shri Siddarth Varadarajan  (not to mention the expert criticism of his own supporters) who know that Modi cannot be trusted to know better on an issue as important as disposing off garbage.

(Update: MEA’s record archival policy is here. Thanks to Prasanna who pointed it out).

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On an Old Shourie Article, and its Relevance Today


The following article first appeared as a syndicated Arun Shourie column in 1996. Mohammad Taslimuddin, the subject of the article, was (and is) an illustrious Bihar politician. In 1996, he had multiple criminal cases against him, including for such petty crimes as rioting and attempt to murder. Prime Minister Deve Growda had just then recruited Taslimuddin into his council of ministers. But within no time, because of the furor generated by Shourie’s article, Gowda was forced to drop Taslimuddin from the team. An embittered Taslimuddin complained against Shourie and his article to the Press Council of India. Press Council duly held a hearing. Shourie was absolved of the charge of mala fide writing, and Taslimuddin was slapped with a fine as the cost of Press Council’s proceedings for an invalid complaint.

Lo and behold, the same Taslimuddin was a made a minister again in May 2004, this time by the honest and decent Dr Manmohan Singh, and no doubt with the approval of the extremely principled Mrs Sonia Gandhi. And there still were cases on him at that time. BJP protested. The protest fell on deaf ears. Media called the protest a stunt. The Indian Express even declared that the BJP was unable to reconcile with its unexpected electoral defeat and was therefore behaving like a bad loser.

In August 2004, a court issued an arrest warrant against Taslimuddin. He evaded arrest by simply disappearing into the unbearable lightness of nothingness. I mean, he vamoosed. Media was outraged. I mean again, that the media was outraged that BJP stalled the parliament over this trivial matter of his vanishing act.

The context for this introduction to Shourie’s almost-two-decades-old article, and for reproducing it here, is the Nihal Chand case. As we go to press, Congress is all-outrage against his induction into PM Modi’s ministry. Sections of media are putting on a well-modulated outrage act too. Is that outrage justified?

Congress’s drama-baazi, of course, is just that: pure theatre. Given the Taslimuddin case, and many such others, it has no moral leg to stand on. But our fine media friends have this all-weather argument: “two wrongs don’t make a right”. Yes, they don’t. But is Nihal Chand’s case an identical “wrong” to Taslimuddin’s?

Even when an accused person is yet to face trial, the stand of jurisprudence is that he is innocent until proven guilty. Even so, a charge-sheeted person should not hold public office, till a court pronounces him innocent. On the other hand, once a person has been cleared of charges by a court, the burden of proof, doubly, and triply more so, shifts on to his accusers, till such time as a higher court may reverse the lower court’s order. Nihal Chand is in that stage. A lower court has already closed the case (investigated by a Congress government) against him. To hold his career hostage to further judicial process, which may go all the way up to Supreme Court, runs against the principles of natural justice. Our fine, outraging media pals seem oblivious to this nuance of the issue.

That said, I am not comfortable that a person who got mixed up with a rape case, and also with such other characters as those involved in that case, is a minister in PM Modi’s team. He’d do better outside of the ministry than inside, not because the suddenly-oh-so-moral, 44-seat, Congress party is blackmailing the govt, or because the media is putting on sanctimonious airs, but because it will help us all if Shri Modi would set very exacting standards that a future (god forbid!) Congress govt can be held against — or for that matter, state governments can be held to right now.

Long introduction out of the way, on to Shourie’s article.]



(c) Arun Shourie, 1996

At page 118 of the report of the Special Committee constituted by the Bihar
Vidhan Sabha we read : “This time I came to meet Mohammad Taslimuddin about
12-20 days ago. I then went back. I came today. There is a servant in his
house whom I know. He must be about 18 years. About seven days ago when I
was also with them, this servant had brought a sanvali girl. She was 15-16
years old. That day Taslim Sahib and two other men took the girl and went
into the room. A man called Munna had brought two-three bottles of liquor
that day on a cycle. The three together did the wrong thing with her
throughout the night. That very day Mohammad Taslimuddin had taken the
Lindeer ( sic. ) injection from me. He suffers from the garmi suzak ailment.
She went away at four in the morning. Whenever I used to come I used to see
that after a day or two a girl is brought. And with her Mohammad Taslimuddin
as well as his associates used to do the wrong thing. Munna Sen used to
bring girls regularly. Apart from him others whom I do not know also used to
bring girls. Last time also when I had come 15 days ago I gave a Pinadeer (
sic. ) injection to him. When I used to come he would say, a Santhali girl
is good, you bring one and your work will get done. Taslim Sahib would ask
for money to fix persons in jobs also….”

On page 14 of the report we read the testimony of Mrs. Zulfa , “Taslimuddin
Sahib extorts money from persons.” On the same page we read the testimony of
Mrs. Bishonra, “Taslimuddin frightens people at the point of a dagger.” On
that very page the Committee reports the testimony of Mrs. Arun Jha : ”
‘Shri Taslim had our college raided by dacoits. My husband was not here. I
was alone. I was stabbed….’ Mrs. Jha’s husband is the secretary of the
women’s degree college….” On the same page we have the testimony of Mrs.
Vimla Devi : “Taslimuddin has done a lot of dhandli. Our daughters have
stopped studying in the school. They are disgraced…. Two or three girls
have been disgraced. We wouldn’t sleep at night out of fear….”

What had happened is as follows.

At the time Mohammad Taslimuddin was a member of the Bihar Assembly. On 16th
February 1986 his house in Araria, Bihar was attached and his property was
confiscated. He alledged that the police had been high-handed. Politicians
with whose parties he was then allied — Karpoori Thakur, even George
Fernandez — lent their name and voice to the protest. As a result in its
session on February 27, 1986 the Bihar Vidhan Sabha constituted a Special
Committee of five legislators to examine the veracity of the allegations of

After examining over seventy witnesses — Muslims and Hindus; women and men;
officials and non-officials; eye-witnesses to the events, victims,
neighbours…. — after examining the records of the police station and the
statements and records of several officials, and after some of the members
of the Committee had personally visited the place, the Committee settled on
a unanimous report on 13 July, 1988. The Committee held that the attachment
and seizure of Taslimuddin’s property had been done legally, that they had
been done on the specific orders of the Court. These orders, it turned out,
had been issued by the Judicial Magistrate after Taslimuddin had run away
upon the Court issuing non-bailable warrants for his arrest. It transpired
that police parties had been sent in search of him to his house in Araria,
in Patna, in Kishanganj. He had successfully evaded them. The police parties
had returned and their inability to find him had been reported to the
Magistrate. It was then that the Judicial Magistrate had issued orders for
the attachment and auctioning of the property so as to smoke the man out of

But why had the warrants been issued ? What did the witnesses and records
disclose about the man ? You will of course know that this Taslimuddin is
the very man whom the Prime Minister appointed as the Minister of State for
Home, and thereby gave him access to the most sensitive files and functions
of the Indian State. The evidence which the Special Committee of the Bihar
Vidhan Sabha recorded, and the documents which they obtained form the bulk
of , the uncontroverted bulk of the report of the Committee. Everything that
follows is but a précis ( and of course translation from the original in
Hindi ) of the evidence given by witnesses to the Committee, and the
documents which the Committee gathered. Everything is taken from the printed
text of the report, and in each instance I shall indicate within parenthesis
the page number of the report at which that particular point occurs.

In 1983 the house of one Dr. N. Kumar in Araria was raided by dacoits. His
daughter had been spirited away. “What was done to her was a shame.” She was
recovered the next morning [ p. 21 ] Taslimuddin was suspected to be behind
the crime at the time [ p. 10 ]. A police dog had been pressed into service.
He had been made to sniff around Dr. Kumar’s place. He had then been let
loose. He had made his way to the house of Taslimuddin [ pp. 16, 21, 25, 27
]. Taslimuddin had gone on a hunger strike ; this is his modus operandi, the
witnesses stated, to divert attention from the facts he makes such things a
political issue, and thereby gives them a political colour [ pp. 21, 25, 111

There was a spate of dacoities and other crimes in Araria in January and
February 1986. On 13 January the house of the Storekeeper of the
Sub-Divisional Hospital, Avinash Kumar, was raided by dacoits. The dacoits
made off with his belongings. They wanted to abduct the sister-in-law of the
Storekeeper, but she was saved. The karamcharies of the Hospital went on
strike. The goods were recovered, but the culprits were not caught [ pp. 28,
42, 104 ]. In view of the alarming frequency of the crimes, the local
Advocates Association convened an emergency meeting on 3 February, and
passed a strongly worded resolution demanding that the administration take
immediate action to stem the deteriorating law and order situation and
forthwith arrest those responsible for the crimes [ p. 97 ] Another dacoity
took place on the night of 5/6 February, this one at the house of one Ramji
Sharma [ p. 99 ]. The entire town was incensed. The next day, that is on the
6th of February the whole town closed down : the people went on a general
strike, and there was a procession asking the administration to immediately
apprehend the criminals and those behind them [ pp. 99,100 ].

Two days later there was an even more serious dacoity. Armed men made their
way into the house of the doctor at the Sub-Divisional Hospital, Dr.
Salauddin. The doctor, his wife and little daughter were tied and
terrorized, as was a peon who happened to arrive to ask the doctor to come
to the hospital for an emergency case. The goods were looted. At last the
doctor was able to untie himself and call for help. As people from the
hospital rushed over, the dacoits fled. In the hurry one of them left a
plastic shoe he was wearing and a muffler.

The doctor filed an F.I.R. The police dog and his handler were called. The
dog sniffed the shoe and the muffler for twenty minutes. He was then let
loose, with the handler and a havaldar running after him. Sniffing and
smelling his way the dog went to the house of Taslimuddin. He made his way
to a room where Taslimuddin and a number of his people were sitting [ in the
accounts there are at all times a number of persons, including a number of
toughs hanging about at Taslimuddin’s place ]. Upon reaching the room the
dog sat down. The handler and havaldar reached after him. Which saalaa has
dared to bring the dog here, Taslimuddin shouted, thrash these damned
fellows. The handler and the havaldar were then thrashed thoroughly, they
were throttled till they almost suffocated. A gun was held to them. They
were told to write that the dog was actually an untrained one, that they had
been forced by Dr. Jha of the hospital to bring him to Taslimuddin’s house.
To save their lives they wrote whatever they were told to write. All this
happened on the 11th. Later the same day, that is the 11th a person rushed
to the hospital and told Dr. S.R. Jha that Taslimuddin Sahib wanted him
urgently. The Doctor explained that he was about to go in for operating on a
patient. The man said that it was an emergency case. Fearing Taslimuddin’s
clout and position — he was the local M.L.A. — the Doctor went to the
house. He was set upon. And told to sign a statement that it was he who had
asked the handler and the havaldar to bring the dog to Taslimuddin’s house.
Once he was able to free himself from Taslimuddin’s house Dr. Jha reported
the matter to the police. [ For the dacoity at Dr. Salauddin’s house, pp.
19, 27-29, 48, 127-29; for the events connected with the dog, pp. 39, 44-45,
124-25. ]

The Additional Supervisor of the electricity department, Vidya Sagar Sharma,
had been asked by Taslimuddin’s men to make over Rs. 5000 plus the amount to
get 200 liters of petrol [ pp. 17, 38 ]. He had not done so. On 9 February
he and the Junior Engineer, Tanvir Hasan were summoned to the house of
Taslimuddin. They were beaten black and blue, they were throttled with
lathis being pushed against their throats, they were abused. All this was
done by Taslimuddin and by his men at his orders. Eventually Taslimuddin
asked his men to tie ropes around the waists of the two. This was done. The
two were then pulled and dragged through the town. They were abused as they
were dragged and taken around, they were spat upon, they were thrashed.
Taslimuddin himself was at the head of the procession. Witnesses testified
that they saw him holding the ropes to which these two were tied. The Junior
Engineer, Tanvir Hasan fainted as the procession reached the Chandni Chowk
of the town. Persons from the nearby hotel brought water. That is how he was
revived. Someone shouted that the police are coming. Taslimuddin and his men
left the two and ran away [ pp. 17, 23, 25, 29, 120-21 ].

The incident shook the town. On the 10th all the Non-Gazetted Officers of
the town went on strike. They went to the senior officers at Araria and told
them that they were all feeling terribly insecure. Therefore something ought
to be done, and Taslimuddin should be arrested. They were given the
assurance that the police would do patrolling of the town [ pp. 36-37 ].

By now there were five recent cases against Taslimuddin [ pp. 41-42 ]. On
the 12th the Non-Gazetted employees held another meeting. They passed a
resolution in which they said, inter alia , that to highlight their demand
for the arrest of “Taslimuddin and his gunda accomplices” they would all
wear black badges to work from the 14th to the 20th February, that they
would go on strike on the 25th, and take out a procession on the 27th. After
the meeting the secretary of the Non-Gazetted Employees Association sent a
telegram to the Chief Secretary of the Bihar Government saying, “Government
employees unsafe (.) Arrest of Sri Taslimuddin, and his criminal associates
demanded for controlling crime (.) Employees would observe protest black
badges from 14th to 20th February, 1986 (.) Token strike on 25th if demand
not met.”

That same day, the 12th, the police took the happenings to Court. The
Magistrate issued warrants for the arrest of Taslimuddin. Knowing that there
are at all times fifty to a hundred persons at the house of Taslimuddin the
administration took the precaution of having a magistrate accompany the
police party also. Taslimuddin got word that he was to be arrested. He fled
by the back-door. There were 15-20 badmashes at the house. Chicken had been
brought for them. When they heard that the police was on its way, they also
fled by the back-door. One of the men however was caught. It was he who gave
the account with which we started [ pp. 118-119 ].

Learning that Taslimuddin was likely to be in Patna or Kishanganj, police
went to the establishments at these places where he was likely to be. They
informed and sought the help of the local police. They were unable to trace
him. They returned to Araria. The Court was informed. The Judicial
Magistrate issued the order on 15 February for attaching and confiscating
the property of Taslimuddin. That evening neighbours and others saw the son
of Taslimuddin and that of another M.L.A., Ajit Sarkar, remove things from
the house [ pp. 31, 33 ].

The police and others concerned came to the house on the 16th. They took
away the assets they could find, including some door and window frames.
Several witnesses, including the neighbours of Taslimuddin, testified that
they saw the sons of Taslimuddin and Ajit Sarkar break portions of the house
after the police had left [ pp. 15-16, 17, 21, 23, 25, 110-111 ]. To cite
the testimony of just one witness, Samiur Rahman told the Committee, ” The
S.D.O. and Overseer were being taken tied with ropes, and being thrashed. He
saw this himself at the Chandni Chowk. Shri Taslim Sahib was holding the
rope himself. The Overseer fainted at the Chandni Chowk. He fell down. He
regained consciousness after he was given water. He was then thrashed again.
Shri Taslim Sahib shut a darogha, the handler of the dog and a boy called
Jyoti in his house. In their case also noises of abuse etc. were coming from
inside. On the day of the seizure and attachment of the property, the police
were taking away the movable property. But the same day in the evening I saw
the sons of Shri Ajit Sarkar and Taslimuddin breaking the house” [ p. 25 ].

On the 17th the President of the Bihar State Branch of the Indian Medical
Association wrote to the Speaker of the Bihar Assembly. He registered his
protest at the manhandling by Taslimuddin of Dr. S.R. Jha, the Medical
Officer at the Sub-Divisional Hospital in Araria, and the way the assailants
had misbehaved towards the Doctor. “I fail to understand,” the President of
the Association told the Speaker, “why the doctors are being made targets of
manhandling and assault by Members of Legislature since recent few months (
sic. ).” he appealed to the Speaker to have the matter inquired into
thoroughly “so that truth may come out on surface and necessary action can
be taken” [ p. 109 ].

A week later Taslimuddin started making a big noise claiming that the police
had committed the most extreme excesses when they had come to attach his
property [ p. 111 ]. Other politicians with whose parties he was then
associated took up the chorus. And the Special Committee came to be

Even by then, Taslimuddin had been in jail nine times, he had been remanded
for theft [ p. 32 ]. Even by then he was involved in six criminal cases.
Among these were cases under section 148 of the Indian Penal Code ( rioting
armed with deadly weapons ); section 186 ( obstructing a public servant in
the discharge of his duties ); section 307 ( attempt to murder ); section
323 ( voluntarily causing hurt ); section 332 ( voluntarily causing hurt to
prevent a public servant from discharging his duty ); section 341 ( wrongful
restraint ); section 342 ( wrongful confinement ); section 353 ( assault or
use of criminal force to prevent a public servant from discharging his duty
); section 386 ( extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous
hurt ); section 419 ( cheating by impersonation ); section 420 ( cheating
and dishonestly inducing delivery of property ); section 467 ( forgery of
valuable security, will etc. ); section 471 ( using as genuine a forged
document ); section 504 ( intentional insult to provoke breach of peace );
section 506 ( criminal intimidation ) [ pp. 33-34 ].

Those are just a few things from just one report. The man’s career in these
regards has continued. As has his political career : he was for long an
M.L.A. in Bihar, from 1969 to 1989 : as a member successively of the
Congress, of the Citizens for Democracy, of the Lok Dal, of the Janata Dal,
of the Samajwadi Party, as an Independent. Since 1989, with one break he has
been a member not of a mere Assembly but of Parliament. This time round he
is not just any odd member, he is a Minister — as a member of the party
that swears by principles the most, that is the Janata Dal.

Several questions arise.

* Did the Home Secretary apprise the Prime Minister of the man’s
antecedents before the man was sworn in as Minister ? If he did not,
what does that tell us about the way our Home Ministry and intelligence
agencies function ?
* On the other hand , if the Home Secretary did inform the Prime Minister
and the Prime Minister appointed Taslimuddin Minister none the less,
what does that tell us about the Prime Minister and his priorities ?
* As Taslimuddin was appointed Minister on the recommendation of Laloo
Yadav, what does that tell us about Laloo Yadav ?
* Is it not a fact that once they include even such a person in the
ministry, governments are able to make out that they are “secular” ?
* What is one to think of our “socialists” who rush in to speak up for
such persons, and thereby shield them from the consequences of their
actions — and, I need hardly add, so long as person is a Muslim or
“Dalit” rushing in to speak up for him is an ailment endemic not just
to “socialists” but to activists in general.
* Can a country which surrenders the reins of governance to such hands
survive, even one in which the system has become so loose that, by the
permutations of chance and intrigue the reins fall into such hands ?

At the very least one suggestion is in order. Much is made by parties and
governments that they will have their legislators declare their assets. That
is all to the good, even though, the promise having been made, the parties
assume that enough has been done, and almost never require the legislators
to follow through and actually decare their assets. But I would urge an even
more elementary disclosure.

The Peoples Representation Act should be amended to require that each
candidate shall list in his Election Form the criminal cases in which he is
involved, giving in each instance the precise sections under which he is
charged . He should also have to declare the current state of each case. Any
false statement in this regard should be a ground for disqualifying the

And the law should make it compulsory for all election material of the
candidate — posters, pamphlets etc. — to carry a list of the criminal
cases in which he is involved — exactly as packets of cigarettes are
required to carry a statutory warning : “Cigarette smoking is harmful to
your health.”

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These middle-class fools…

A video is circulating on YouTube showing a conversation between Aravind Kejriwal and AajTak journalist Punya Prasoon Bajpai. This conversation seems to have taken place right after Bajpai recorded an interview with Kejriwal, after the later resigned as Delhi’s CM. The conversation obviously is meant to be off-the-record; it doesn’t feature in the original interview (not included here). Here is the video.

The gist of the conversation is this: Kejriwal says he didn’t want to criticize the private sector in the just concluded interview because it wouldn’t go down well with the middle-class. Bajpai applauds that decision, and goes on to say that he will highlight the “Bhagat Singh part” of the interview.
Both parties basically reveal their cynical politics.

Friend Vikas Saraswat has provided an English translation of the conversation.

AK : That “corporate” thing you were suggesting is a bit theoretical. I don’t want to speak about that because middle class wouldn’t like it. They will go anti, if I broach it. They will think we are against privatisation and private enterprises. That is why I was deliberately not coming into that. Rest …
PPB: And the 80% marginalised section of the society…
AK: Yes this is what we will speak…
PPB: Yes you come to that because that is the real vote bank in the country…
AK: Exactly. Exactly … Yes I will speak about that. I forgot to say that…
PPB: Yes you speak about that. If we are doing something about them…
AK (in a hushed tone):  I do not want to say that all this is being done by Private (sector) folks and that whichever Government comes they take commission from them. If we say so we will antagonise the entire private sector- which is not a right thing.
PPB: Ok, ok..
AK (with a chuckle): These middle class folks…
PPB: Very revolutionary, very revolutionary..
AK: Run that footage a little more
PPB (standing up) : No, no that only will run more. We will Saala run that Bhagat Singh part … it will elicit very good reaction. It will get very good reaction.
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To venkat@tirumala.hills

This email popped up in my in‐box recently, when I was in the
middle of some work‐place tension. Please read and see for
yourself how inhuman some people can be.

* * *

>> From: <Spammerson Chainmailer>
>> To: auldtimer and 19 other victims
>> Subject: Fw:Fw:Fw: Tirupathi Venkatachalapathy
>> Hi,
>> Trust in God with all your heart and Venkadachalapathi
>> will light your way. This letter has been sent to you for
>> good luck. This original copy came from Thirupathi. It’s
>> no joke. You will receive it in a few months. Please send
>> 20 copies of this letter to people whom you think need good
>> luck. Please do not send money. Do not keep this letter.
>> It must leave you within 7 days.
>> An officer has received 2 million dollars after sending it.
>> Mr. Robert lost more than 21 lacks for not sending and breaking
>> this chain letter. Please send 20 copies and see what happens
>> in 4 days.
>> This chain letter comes from Thirupathi; written by
>> Lord Venkadachalapathi in Andhra Pradesh, South India.
>> This is true even if you’re not superstitious.
>> Mr. James from Ipoh received this letter in 1987.
>> He asked his secretary to type and send out 30
>> copies. He won a lottery for RM125,000.00.
>> Mr. Lim received this letter but lost it.
>> Therefor he lost his job. Later he wrote 20 copies and
>> send them out. He received a better job with better pay.
>> If you neglect this Venkadachalapathi chain letter your
>> GOOD LUCK will go away. So make 20 copies and send them.
>> You will see a miracle in your life.
>> I am sending this on the behalf of my family and myself.
>> I believe it is true and we’ll get what we’ve been wishing

* * *

I had to respond to this nasty. There was no way out. So I
responded immediately. Enclosed for your benefit is my reply
also. Kindly read with patience, and let me know if you see any
flaw in my logic.

* * *

From: auldtimer
Cc: <Spammerson Chainmailer>
Discontent-type: text/flame
Subject: Re:Fw:Fw:Fw: Tirupathi Venkatachalapathy

Dear Tirupathi Venkatachalapathy,

Howdy! Long time, no see! May I call you Venkat? Thank you!

Venkat, what have I done to warrant this threatening letter from
you, routed via your earthling agent, Mr Spammerson
Chainmailer? Have I not been leading a righteous life? Have I
not paid you my dues? Have I not earned your divine grace?

What?? Did you ask me what I have I done to earn your grace? Did
you? How can you!

Well, then, Venkat, please recall. I visited you at Tirumala long
long ago. I gave away all of my hair to you. I was a teenie‐
bopper then, and loved my hair. Mom forced me to donate my hair
to you. (Don’t moms always do that, pledging their son’s hair
away in cool sauveness without caring for the sentiments of the
son?) I was blackmailed into giving my locks to you, as otherwise
apparently you wouldn’t have intervened to save my ass in a hair‐
rising health situation. So I gave my hair to you and went home
with a clean‐shaven pate. And the next‐door teenie‐bopper cutie
stopped looking at me ASAP! A budding romance came to an
ignominous end, all because of *your* obsession with *my* hair!
Does that count for nothing, Venkat?

And then also, remember, did I not also put a cool grand in your
hundi, so that you may pay off your debt to Kubera? I was
pestering dad to put a cool grand in *my* hundi, so that I could
go watch India‐Australia world cup action in Madras. You snatch
my money from me, and compound the cruelty by ending the match in
a last‐ball thriller action. Does my sacrifice count for nothing,

You know well that I haven’t wavered in the path of righteousness
all my life. You know that I remain righteous as I speak. I am
the very picture of moral and ethical conduct. The torch‐bearer
of values. The role model for the younger generation. You know
all of this, don’t you?

What’s that again? Why are you singgering at me? Oh, I see. You
wanna know why I was looking up that gorgeous babe in Shoppers
Stop last week, right?

Alrightie. I plead guilty to some indiscretion. But hey, Venkat,
show some sense of proportion, OK? “Let him who did not sin cast
the first stone”, said late Jesus. You want to make big deal of
of the fact that us mortals even when happily married, tend
sometimes to admire the beauty of other women. No probs, that’s
a fair enough point. But then how about you, Venkat? You did not
stop at admiring the beauty of cowherdesses, did you? You
went right ahead and got physical with as many as 16K of them!
(And they say that you stopped at that number only beause
there was a register overflow on the old 8086, he he he). If
you could pull off that kind of stunt in the virtuous dwaparyug,
Venkat, I shudder to think what atrocities you’ll commit in
this sinful,anything‐goes Kalyug. Moreover, you’re even a
bigamist! Before poiting fingers at me you should know
that I’m famously monogamous. (That fact is the talk of the
town. At Jayanagar Shopping Complex the other day, I over‐
head one wide‐eyed girl tell another: “See that guy!? He is auld‐
timer! And he is famously monogamous!” She appeared to fall at
my feet any moment and start worshipping me right then and

So the key takeaway of this discussion is, you can’t really use
my so‐called indiscretions to deny me your favours, Venkat,
since you are guilty of far bigger indiscretions than mine.

As we all know, I don’t harm any of your creations. I don’t eat
meat. I have never ever hurt other living beings, whether they be
big or small, ugly or beautiful, even auto drivers or HR
managers! Oh, yes, if you insist that I must be very accurate,
yes, I admit to having snuffed out a life a while ago. But it
only belonged to a rowdy mosquito. Murder in self‐defence is
not a serious crime any where in your universe.

Yes, I also admit to liking my bottle of Kingfisher once in a
while. But then again, don’t you devatas drink sura and par‐
ty all the time? I heard that you get drunk and make passes at
other devatas’ wives. Chee chee. I just drink my beer and settle
down to read “Education and the Significance of Life”, by Jiddu

Therefore, dear Venkat, show mercy on me. SAVE ME FROM YOUR
WORSHIPPERS. Tell them to stop sending me these mails. Punish
them. Install in them “the Fear Of God”, Version 2. Cause their
mail clients to core‐dump indiscriminately. Bless them with a
billion BSODs a day. Make sure they see a null pointer exception
on every mouse click.

I don’t care what you do, but you must do something. Getting a
Tata lorry to run over Spammerson is not a bad idea, but I leave
it up to you how you’ll deliver me from this chain mail menace.

Yours respectfully,


(c) auldtimer, 2003-14

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The Humbuggery of the Modi-baiter

Is it a good idea to assume good faith on part of the Modi-baiter? Is Modi-baiter really a well-meaning guy?

Modi-baiter says his  monomaniacal, decade-long crusade against Modi is motivated by concerns of justice for riot victims. Is this claim true?  If a Mahatma Gandhi advanced it, we’d certainly not dismiss it out of hand. But then, a Mahatma Gandhi is also logical, rational and respectful of fact and evidence. What about Modi-baiter? Consider his disposition towards the SIT report.  The SIT was the result of  Islamists’ own campaign, was monitored by the highest court of the land and  was headed by a person whose reputation for integrity was never in question. The report is in the public domain. It collates  numerous facts, backs them up with lots of evidence and makes an elaborate case that there is no prima facie evidence  against Modi. If Modi-baiter is a reasonable guy, why isn’t  he deferring to the facts and evidence of SIT report?

Modi-baiter would then claim that SIT’s  conclusion is not the same as exoneration by any court.  (Actually, shifting of goalposts itself is not a good sign of good faith — it indicates slippery tactics to defend  a pre-conceived “conclusions”  with an elaborate, extend-as-you-go arguments). This line of “reasoning”  is devoid of reason too. Not being charged at all for want of basic minimum evidence is stronger proof of innocence than being charged and then acquitted. If that weren’t the case, X filing a criminal complaint against Y should in itself be reason enough for police to file a charge-sheet against Y.

This takes us to the Mod-baiter’s next argument: “political accountability”. (Third goalpost, already. And you still believe this guy is well-meaning?) According to this “political accountability” or “political morality” theory, Modi is “morally” culpable. He “presided” over a riot, and whether he is criminally culpable or not, he must owe “moral” responsibility and get out of public life, if not into a jail.

Remember how the debate started: with the bleeding of Modi-baiter’s heart for riot victims. But now he wants to halt the bleeding for a moment while he goes off on a tangent to argue a case for political morality. No problem, but before we indulge him, point must be reiterated to avoid circular arguments that suit our friend well:  justice for victims is served by punishing the perpetrators of violence, and we have just  dealt with the false claim that Modi is one of them. If anything, SIT report shows Modi’s actions were geared toward protecting life, not taking it.

Modi-baiter’s  standard of “political morality” is nice in theory, except for this troubling question: does Modi-baiter himself believe in it? What makes him invoke that standard only for Modi, but not for Tarun Gogoi?  Assam violence is still fresh in memory, having happened only last year, not in 2002. In fact, why is Modi-baiter stopping arbitrarily at 2002, and not going  all the way back to 1984? Does Modi-baiter want us to believe that Sajjans and Tytlers flourished without Sonia’s patronage? Recall, also, that none other than the Chief Minister of Bihar at the time of Bhagalpur riots alleged his own party’s, and Rajiv Gandhi’s, hand in the riots. Is there a campaign at all, let alone a campaign of one-tenth the intensity targeted at Modi, to enforce political morality on Gogoi or Sonia? The answer is of course a resounding No.

The inescapable conclusion is that Modi-baiter has just as much respect for his expressly designed standard of political morality as he has for the facts and evidence of SIT report.

* * *

Deep down, Modi-baiter’s real hate is not for Modi, but for those who elected him time and again, and for those who are now set to elect him to the Parliament.

Islamists and Hindu-baiters are angry that three times as many people from “their side” died in 2002 than from the “other side”. Since they project their crude, communal mindset on to their adversaries,  they also imagine that Hindus are gloating that “Muslims were taught a lesson”.  This self-inflicted sense of humiliation has fueled an uncontrollable lust for “revenge”.

Since the days of Jinnah, when  it was obvious that the course of India’s democratic politics would be influenced to a greater extent by its Hindu majority, Islamists and left-liberals had forged a power of veto that was to be exercised over Hindus in general and vocal Hindus in particular. This power of veto was supposed to deliver a political  pound of flesh in Gujarat too, and show Modi-voting Hindus who was boss. But alas in Gujarat it came to nought. Had Modi been defeated at the hustings at least once, the hate levels would have been several notches lower, because ‘revenge” would have been deemed extracted.

It is important to know the nature of the adversary to deal with him effectively. It is important therefore to know that the Modi-baiter is a moral-schmoral humbug motivated not by concerns of political morality or justice for victims, but by an atavistic human emotion called hate.

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Storm in ToI Cup Tells Us More About Media Than Modi

(Originally published here: )

A most unusual spectacle was witnessed on the pages of Times of India on June 26. No, it’s not female models in Bombay Times turning out fully clothed, if that is what you are expecting. The strangeness instead occurred on the op-ed page. The newspaper trashed one of its own stories. Yes, that is what it did, without ever mentioning the story, of course. In fact, the newspaper insinuated that the trashed story is — ho hum — “paid news”!

In Dwaparyug, when dharma reigned unhindered, this would not have been unusual. It is dharmically natural that the media should report itself the way it reports the rest of the world: no holds barred, and with the same level of acrimony or affection, as the case maybe. In fact, American journalist Sydney Schanberg not only advocated just such a policy, but he also conducted a (failed) experiment in it. He argued that news organizations must have teams that cover the making of news by those organizations. (Imagine that. A totally independent camera crew tailing a Barkha Chaube or a Bhupendra Dutt, recording their every professional moment, including the stringing along of well-placed “sources”!). Needless to say, this is Kaliyug, and even in America, where journalism ethics supposedly are not plumbing the depths they are in India, the idea proved too radical. Schanberg’s experiment to embed such a team in, New York Times if I remember correctly, did not yield the desired results.

To come to back to the point, so it must be extraordinary that a newspaper which hyped up a salacious video clip (featuring school kids) until courts stepped in to whack its butt should so savagely clobber one of its own stories. “But why?”, is the cry going out in your mind. Let me dispense with the suspense and disclose  the mystery. It is in two words: Narendra Modi.

The shebang started with a story by Anand Soondas of Times News Network. As published in June 24 editions of Times of India, the story’s headline read: “Narendra Modi lands in Uttarakhand, flies out with 15,000 Gujaratis”.

Evidently, the headline conveys all the excitement of witnessing a floating Harry Potter deftly flick the Golden Snitch with his Nimbus 2000. Precisely because I am as big a Modi “fanboy” as they come, I believe justice is not done to Modi by such school-boyish headlines. Not even an A380 can transport more than a thousand people at a time, so it is impossible that Modi could have flown back with 15000. Perhaps the body of the story would be closer to the ground than the pushpak viman its headline imagined.

Sure enough, the text says: “(Modi) has .. managed to bring home some 15,000 stranded Gujarati pilgrims… has helped 15,000 Gujaratis get out of Uttarakhand…”. So Modi hasn’t really flown back in a crowded plane bursting at the seams with 15000 people, packed into all sorts of places including fuselage and  overhead baggage. He — or more accurately, his team — got stranded people out of wherever they were stuck at, and arranged for their transportation back to home state. That seems to be the heart of the matter. Had Soondas waived his journalistic privilege of hyperbole and headlined the story simply, “Modi’s team helps stranded Gujaratis get back home”, there would have been much less of what folks on Twitter call a “Burnol Moment” for Congress party and its activists.

But Burnol Moment there is. An unwritten rule of Indian journalism is that adulation on the “is-this-possible?” scale is reserved for the Royal Family only. It is perfectly okay for an objective journalist to write: “Listening to Rahul’s speech at Rudraprayag I shed so many tears that had I not applied hankie in time to my eyes there would have been another flood downstream in Devprayag”. In other words, you can make a fool of yourself praising the first family to skies and nobody would think less of you because everybody else is competing with you trying to make a bigger fool of themselves anyway. But ascribe virtue or heroism to Modi, you are in trouble. You have committed an act of heresy. So soon after Soondas’s unpardonable act, Abheek Barman swung into action.

Swung into action for what, you ask. Did he request the reader’s pardon for Soondas’s inaccurate story? Did he admit on behalf of his newspaper (at long last!) that it doesn’t often get its facts right? Did he urge the reader to exercise caution when perusing stuff hawked in ToI’s pages, including his own oped? Did he disclose that the paper’s “Singh is King” headline was also tosh, that in fact it is the son-in-law who is the king these days, and that he is also one, of a Congress minister?

If you think he did any of these, then, hahahaha. ROFLMAO.

Barman wasn’t there to apologize for the bloopers of his newspaper. He was there to do arithmetic involving the features of Innova car (it has 7 seats) and the distance between Kedarnath and Dehradun (221 kilometers). He was also there to QED triumphantly that the number of people rescued by Modi could not have been 15000. Simple and elegant  as the theorem and its proof maybe, the contrived endeavor is perplexing. Why did Barman subject all of ToI’s readers to a lesson in mathematics and geography, when it was only his own colleague who needed it badly? Couldn’t the matter have been settled simply by picking up the phone and calling Soondas!?

But on to the main point. Barman follows up his mathematical treatise with a long rant on APCO, the publicity firm retained by Gujarat government. The innuendo is inescapable: the story of Modi’s rescue act is APCO’s brainchild. In other words, APCO influenced Times of India — that is, the very paper Barman works for — to run copy favoring Modi!

Yes, folks, you heard it right. This is no Twitter-troll conspiracy theory. It is all there in a Times of India column by a senior Bennet Coleman & Co staffer.

I find this deeply troubling. Of the many plausible reasons a ToI story could be inaccurate, the one that Barman readily seems to settle on is manipulation; or what the rest of us call the paid-news angle. Is the Times’ credibility so low among its own senior staff? I can almost hear lunch-time conversations at newspaper offices going on like this:

“Hey, that guy, you know the one who compared Rahul’s dimples to craters on the moon? He got hard cash.”

“So unfair, man. For the Sheila story they only offered to refurbish my wife’s wardrobe!”

Jokes apart, we must all be concerned by this accidental revelation. Even journalists, when confronted with stories they don’t like, ascribe them to manipulation and planting. They know their industry is fertile ground for propaganda. APCO’s and Radia’s are outnumbering hacks, it seems.

We should keep that in mind every time we read a newspaper or watch a television channel.

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Can a Rs 100 Crore Campaign Change the Writing on the (Facebook) Wall?

(Appeared first on CRI: )

The rightwing (being clever and cunning) knew that social media was someday going to come into prominence. It positioned its activists strategically in places like Twitter right from the beginning. Soon enough, as social media matured, these lackeys of rightwing organizations are all over the place running their propaganda. They strut about as a dominant force on these media, with the larger aim of creating an illusion of being a dominant voice in society itself. (Which they are not, as we all know, because the Idea of India is solidly socialist and stubbornly secular). Moreover, these activists are abusive. Driving away neutral voices with abuse is part of their strategy.

And now the Congress is also wising up and getting into the game. (Poor, naive, dumb-in-a-cute-sort-of-way Congress! It allowed itself to be beaten by the rightwing in putting technology to devious use!). Realization has dawned upon it that it has been outmaneuvered by the wily rightwing. So it is also injecting its activists into social media, who are successfully out-shouting the entrenched Right. If you have seen the Feku-Vs-Pappu stand-off, you sure understand what I mean.

The conclusion therefore is that social media is at best a battlefield of partisan and funded activists, and at worst a generator of random noise and abuse. (By the way, to contain this abuse, we need to start thinking about regulating social media). If you rely on social media for information, you’d only know what activists want you know, not what really is going on in our society. In contrast the mainstream media, whatever be its faults (and being reasonable I agree it has some), will always remain the bona fide barometer of public opinion.

Those who advance the aforementioned critique clearly believe that the apparent dominance of the rightwing on social media is the result of a conspiracy. I argue below that they believe so partly out of ignorance, and largely out of the need to live a comforting denial.

The conspiracy theorists are unaware that the rightwing had a strong presence in the Indian quarters of cyberspace from quite early on, from the time when the internet was almost unknown in India. Networks resembling social media existed even before World Wide Web came on the scene, except that the terms “social media” and “social networks” were not coined yet. One such pre-historic social network is Usenet, popular in the ’80s through early 90′s. It perhaps originated the “user-level publish-subscribe” messaging model that is at the heart of modern social networks like Twitter. This model meant that a user could publish content addressing no one in particular, and any number of subscribers could consume it.

The India-centric parts of Usenet buzzed with rightwing activity. Kashmir, Ram Janmabhoomi, Common Civil Code, secularism, communalism etc were the raging topics of the day. No prizes for guessing which viewpoints had the most backers: right-wingers trumped opposition, of course. (I believe journalist Chidanand Rajghatta, then reporting to Indian Express from Washington DC, observed and commented in Indian press on this phenomenon). Note that internet in those days, and therefore Usenet itself, was confined largely to universities and research institutions in the developed world. It would stretch credulity to argue that this early dominance of the Right on Usenet was the result of a deep conspiracy. The internet was hardly known in India, and it made no sense to “strategically” “invest” in it. But if one must set aside reason and argue thus nevertheless, then a bigger conspiracy must be proposed: that the rightwing coached and trained its members to infiltrate universities around the world. Obviously, it is an absurd argument.

Our conspiracy theorists, for many of whom internet is still a novelty, are ignorant of this history. Conspiracy does not account for this rightwing skew on Usenet, but relating it to the demographic that used it does. This demographic is the creme de la creme of urban Indian middle-class, for Indian students in foreign universities came from the aspirational section of this segment. By late 80′s, in the pre-economic-liberalization era, this class was disillusioned with the Congress party, its corruption-soaked socialism and divide-and-rule secularism. The BJP at that point in time was on the ascendant, at least as far as capturing the imagination of the middle-class is concerned.

Following this line of thought further, we must surmise likewise that today’s social media approximates the views of the demographic that patronizes it. This demographic as at the moment still the urban middle to upper middle-class. And evidently, it is disillusioned with UPA government. The question hence to ask is not why the online segment of the middle-class is beholden to rightwing views, but how is that mainstream media of the English language variety has no place for the sentiments of the market segment it sells into.

This leads us to the denial angle of the aforementioned critique. One of the means by which mainstream media tries to derive its legitimacy is by claiming to reflect public opinion. But for MSM to acknowledge that the views prevalent on social media are indicative of any significantly sized segment of population, let alone of public at large, is to contradict decades of its track record, to admit that journalists and social pundits were deceiving us all along. Cognitive dissonance therefore compels the ancien regime of opinion industry to persuade itself that rightwing dominance on social media is the result of conspiratorial activism.

Left-liberals are particularly stricken with this denial disease, because the stark reality of social media busts their long-propagated myths. Indeed, their denial borders on the schizophrenic. For example, they explain away Modi’s popularity on Twitter and Facebook as an optical illusion created by fake followers and (supposedly miracle-working) PR firms like APCO. They insist with great vehemence that the contempt for the UPA regime seen on social media is not the result of UPA’s poor performance, but merely the propaganda of rightwing activists. The Left particularly sets much in store by propaganda. It believes that people’s lived experience can be negated by sustained campaigns constantly blaring out a blatantly untrue message that contradicts that experience. (And, looking at opponents through tinted glasses, the Left also believes that they are on to the same propaganda mischief as it is!) But time and again such a belief was proved wrong. No matter how shrill is the campaign that Modi is “feku” and his development works are a myth, the people who voted him in a third time were not swayed by it because their lived experience told them a different story.

Social media, unfortunately for the propagandists, mirrors and approximates this lived experience. Those who do not have first hand experience develop perceptions on the basis of reports of those who do. Reports and perceptions reinforce each other in a positive feedback loop at the same time that falsehood and error are detected and filtered out. In the context of any piece of information, there is eventually a state of equilibrium, in which that piece of information is as accurate as it can get. This is not to say that crowd-sourcing of information does not have its pitfalls. Sure it does. For example, it is possible to succeed in propagating false or misleading information on social media for a short while. But in the end, the angularities cancel each other out. The net result is no poorer, if not superior, in accuracy and reliability to that MSM can achieve. Wikipedia is a good example of this phenomenon: the system is self-correcting and self-examining to the point of transparently discussing its own performance: .

All of this also does not mean that social media is not susceptible to manipulation. Networks like Twitter, after all, are commercial entities much the same way as mainstream media outfits are. If Twitter can be bought out, yes, why not, the game can be rigged. But then it may cease to be a credible medium. Moreover, at $10 billion valuation, Twitter is a less cost-effective proposition than buying out, with the same budget, approximately 5 crore swing voters at Rs 1000 apiece.

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