Monday, December 05, 2011

National security is of utmost importance

IIPM Excom Prof Rajita Chaudhuri

Anurag Thakur is the national president of BJP’s youth wing Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha. Lately in the news in connection with the Tiranga Yatra, Thakur believes the Kashmir issue is not religious but constitutional and that some political parties are fuelling separatist tendencies in the Valley for their own benefits

How successful was the Tiranga Yatra in achieving its goal?
The yatra was aimed at arousing the spirit of nationalism among the youth and inspire them towards nation building. We went to different states to tell make the youth aware of the Jammu and Kashmir issue and who is responsible for creating it in the first place. We have been successful in getting our message across.

When unemployment is the bigger problem for the youth of the country why not a yatra for that instead of the Tiranga yatra?
Unemployment is a big issue but national security scores over it. Why is it that in J&K the flag of a foreign country can be unfurled but not the tricolor? It is the right of every citizen to hoist the national flag, but citizens are being denied this right.

BJP President Nitin Gadkari repeatedly emphasises that BJP’s politics is development-centric. How is Tiranga yatra associated with development?
It is. The Indian government spends 10 per cent of its revenues on J&K. What can be spent on the development of other states is spent as subsidy on J&K. Do you know the state gets 90 per cent subsidy. An electricity bill of Rs 1,500 in any other state will come to only Rs 150 in the Valley. Crores of rupees are being spent in the Valley to fight terrorism. This money belongs to the common man and is being spent only because of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Till now, only senior leaders have been raising J&K issue. Now, it’s you...
We did not get to handle this issue overnight. Last year in October we ran a campaign by the name of “India First”, during which I held 39 public meetings in 20 states. During these meetings the Kashmir question kept cropping up. People wondered as to why was it remained unresolved even after 64 years.

The Congress is accusing the BJP of turning it into a religious issue.
The issue is not religious, it is constitutional and political.

Did the RSS instruct you to take up this issue?
The RSS does not interfere in any decisions of the BJP. It was Yuva Morcha’s decision to take out the yatra and hoist the flag at the Lal Chowk.

The Congress and the NC have accused the BJP of disturbing communal harmony and promoting a political agenda in the garb of nationalism.
If those who hoist the national flag are communal, then the whole country is communal. If there ever was a communal party, it is the Congress. It is dividing the country on the basis of religion and caste. Congress leaders dine at the homes of terrorists in utter disrespect to the martyrs. This is the communal face of the Congress.

How has the yatra benefited the party politically in terms of its vote bank?
Every issue should not be viewed through a political prism. This was not a political yatra. Vote bank politics was not its aim. Being a political party, if we don’t raise such issues then who will?

How much support did the yatra receive from the Muslims?
As I have said earlier, the J&K issue is not religious. We got huge Muslim support. In all my meetings, Muslim youth were present in large numbers. I would like to illustrate with a few examples how emotionally involved they are with the issue. The Muslim tailor in Lucknow who stitched the flag did not charge us for it. In Bihar’s Hazaribagh, we had tea at a small stall. It belonged to a Muslim who refused to charge us, saying it was his small contribution to a national cause. It is not the Muslims but the separatists who are opposing us while the Congress is giving it a political tinge.

You mean the yatra became a target of political vindictiveness?
It is distressing that the central and state governments buckled under pressure from the separatists. Instead of putting all their might into stopping us, they should have unfurled the flag at the Lal Chowk with us and sent out the message that all political parties are opposed to the separatist forces.

It is being said that the yatra was a vehicle for self projection of Anurag Thakur.
It saddens me when people try to give a totally different colour to the yatra. I ask why does a Congress leader not hoist the tricolor at Lal Chowk? It is said that the Lal Chowk can be ‘green’ but not ‘saffron’.

From the son of a chief minister to an MP, how has Anurag Thakur evolved?
Very few people know that I am Prem Kumar Dhumil’s son. I don’t want to be known through my father. That is why I do not use his surname. Earlier I was a cricketer and wanted to play for the country. Now that I am in politics I want to do something for the country.

Which is a more difficult game to play: cricket or politics?
(Laughs) Both cricket and politics are games of responsibility. I believe that politics should be done with a spirit of sportsmanship. Politics should be a contest of ideologies not of personal issues. The political game should be played for the benefit of the country.

You rode on Narendra Modi’s lucky rath. How lucky did it prove for you?
This is Narendra Modiji’s affection towards me. He said, ‘I have two raths, you can take one of them.’ It was his love for the party and the youth that he gave us the rath. The Yuva Morcha is thankful to him.

It is said that you are well liked by party stalwarts like Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley. How much benefit do you derive out of it politically?
Every party worker receives the affection of senior party leaders. Being in the Parliament, I know more people and vice versa and this proves beneficial for me.

Let’s talk of Rahul Gandhi. Youth are being attracted to the Congress because of him….
(Interrupts) The youth’s inclination has been clearly demonstrated in the Bihar elections. Even Gujarat, Himachal, Rajasthan and Jharkhand’s local elections give a pointer towards that. In Delhi, Uttarakhand and Gujarat, the NSUI has been sidelined by the ABVP in student body polls. Wherever Rahul Gandhi goes for campaigning, the party’s position worsens.

How much importance does your party give to youngsters?
The greatest number of young pradhans, sarpanchs, mayors, MLAs and MPs are from the BJP. Within the governments and the party organisation, the average age of our members is lesser than that of other party members. The NDA cabinet under Atalji could boast of the youngest ministers till then.

Factionalism is rife in the party. Senior leaders are fighting for posts and power. Don’t you feel there is no ideal leader to attract the youth to the party?
All this is media speculation. At our Ekta yatra leaders of the Opposition from both the Houses came together on the same platform. Many big leaders joined the yatra. As for an ideal, Advaniji is a source of inspiration not only for party workers but for the entire youth of the country. In the next generation of leaders we have Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari.

This is your second term as MP. You have seen from close quarters how Lal Krishna Advani works in the Parliament and how Nitin Gadkari manages the organisation. What are the differences between the two?
Both are unique in their ways. They cannot be compared. Advaniji has served the party for six decades and helped it reach this position, whereas Gadkari has risen from the ranks of a party worker to become its president, which is no ordinary achievement.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

The three-time national award winner speaks to spriha srivastava about breaking away from old patterns with his new film Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji

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Reinventing Madhur Bhandarkar

When did you begin to aspire to be in the film industry? Was the desire of being a filmmaker always in your heart?
I have had a passion for cinema since I was a kid. I used to be very fascinated when I used to go and see the shooting of various movies. Even when I was a delivery boy at a video cassette library, I used to be thrilled to be surrounded with all those videos of great cinema, and to also deliver to some of the hot-shots of the industry. Then, when I finally got a chance to work as an assistant director with Ram Gopal Varma, I knew that this is my calling, and I have been dreaming of a journey that was always meant for me. I have not just been a crazy viewer of cinema, but I have also been an avid reader when it comes to cinema. I have learnt filmmaking from the great makers like Guru Dutt saab. My classroom was always cinema halls and shooting locations, and my syllabus was the cinema that I watched with great passion.

You have always made films that represent a slice of real life. What made you decide to try your hands at comedy? Did you fear the risk associated with attempting a new genre?
Humour has always been a part of my life. Those who know me well know that I have a good sense of humour, without being very modest here. For a filmmaker, there are so many genres in cinema to explore. I know people expect serious, realistic and hard-hitting films from me because that’s what I have been making for more than a decade now. But I have always had a flair for comedy. I have wanted to make a comedy for quite some time now, but somehow things never fell in place, and I too wasn’t in the right frame of mind to make one. Post Chandni Bar, my whole life changed and a series of realistic cinema followed. Now, I think, is the right time to reinvent myself.

You have worked with very fine actresses. Please share some memorable moments spent with them.
Yes, I have been lucky when it comes to that. I have had the privilege of working with some very fine actresses of Hindi film industry. Tabu, Konkona (Sen), Priyanka (Chopra), Bipasha (Basu) and Kangana (Ranaut). If I was to start narrating memorable moments with them, then you might end up writing a book here, and I can’t just narrate a few because that won’t do justice to this talented bunch.

Ajay is considered to be a serious intense actor. Why did you choose him for Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji?
Though Ajay is considered a serious actor, he has done enough comic movies to know the trick behind comedy. I too am considered a serious filmmaker, but I have made a comedy as well. Being an artist is all about breaking and changing the clich├ęs. I know that Ajay is a fine actor, and he is capable of reinventing himself with every movie he does. His comic timing is perfect. Yes, the type of movies that he has done in the past have type-casted him as a serious actor, but he is making an effort to change that and I appreciate his efforts. I chose him because he was perfect for the role of Naren. He did full justice to the role.

Jail is one movie which won critical acclaim but not commercial success. What do you think went wrong?
I really don’t understand what went wrong when it comes to Jail. The film is very close to my heart. It was a very difficult film to make. I got a lot of critical acclaim for it, but somehow it didn’t work commercially. I am as bewildered as you are! But then this is not an excuse I am giving you for the movie. Some movies work and some movies don’t.

Your dream project?
Every project for me is a dream till it releases, and then I go on my next one! I am human and I dream a lot. Two things that you learnt from your struggle and you would

like to share with upcoming filmmakers?
Never lose hope and always believe in yourself. The passion that has got you to come into the industry to be a filmmaker should always remain in your heart, no matter how many failures you have. But also learn from your critics and your failures. It will always help you in the long run. And please don’t ape anyone. Have your own identity!

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji: Love Me Do

IIPM Mumbai Campus

Well begun and half done
Expectations are usually high when a National Award winner releases his new film, and they soar even higher when its title is taken from a beautiful composition by Gulzar.

Madhur Bhandarkar’s romcom Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji starts off on an interesting note, with a divorcee (Ajay Devgn), a womaniser (Emraan Hashmi) and a virgin (Omi Vaidya) sharing the same roof. The three protagonists meet the ladies of their dreams, and each tries his best to woo them over. So, while Ajay’s character Naren tries to look young and dapper to appeal to his 17-years-junior love interest played by Shazahn Padamsee, Omi’s character Milind falls for a radio jockey (Shraddha Das) who merely ‘uses him’, and Emraan’s character Abhay, who is involved with a Miss India turned socialite (Tisca Chopra) for her money, tries to clean up his act when he falls head-over-heels for an NRI social worker (Shruti Haasan).

Emraan is at home in his lover-boy role, though Ajay is not at his best, while Omi, with his accent intact, is amusing still. Barring the lead characters, the others ham through their dialogues, with the exception of Tisca, who delivers a laudable performance. Some of the jokes though refuse to crackle, and the film does seem a bit ‘oversexed’ at times.

The man who has won awards and acclaim for his hard-hitting reality-based cinema has this time tried to work his Midas touch on a new genre. But though his latest offering doesn’t carry his usual masterful signature, it does carry promise. Madhur Bhandarkar and the romantic comedy – that’s yet another unlikely pair, but one with a definite and fascinating future – after all, Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji!

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Higher FDI for stronger defence

IIPM Mumbai Campus

An increase in the FDI cap in India's defence sector will not only bring revenue and state-of-the-art technology, it will also pave way for India's self-sufficiency in defence production.

For a country such as ours which spends billions of dollars every year to import nearly 70 per cent of its total military equipment, the Indian government seems stuck with the country’s defence establishment still reluctant to lift the 26 per cent cap on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the “sensitive” sector of defence production. Despite India being one of the biggest users of conventional defence equipment and the cumulative defence budget growing at the rate of over 13 per cent annually since 2006-07, we continue to depend on imports for all our major requirements with domestic production limited to low technology items and based on purchased

In a discussion paper floated last year seeking stakeholders’ views, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), under the Ministry of Commerce, had favoured 100 per cent FDI in defence in order to attract foreign technology. It further called for an urgent need to enhance the deterrent and the operational capabilities of the armed forces. The paper stated that almost 50 per cent of India’s defence equipment was suffering from obsolescence while merely 15 per cent could be called state-of-the-art.

The government, however, now seems to be keen on allowing greater participation of the private sector and expert players in the defence sector to invite higher technology in the sector. With strong backing from both the Finance and Home Ministries, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is learnt to be preparing to move a Cabinet note on increasing the cap on FDI in the defence sector to 49 per cent.

The case for a firm government stand on increasing the FDI cap is backed by the fact that it is of vital importance to the defence sector which is highly capital intensive where technology requires frequent upgrading. FDI is not just a subject of getting funds, but also facilitates access to the latest technologies and provides for a long term commitment between the foreign and local enterprise. It creates a sort of a cycle where the foreign investment upgrades local technology which, in turn, attracts more FDI with higher technology.

“Defence sector needs huge investments and anyone doing so will not be looking for 26 per cent of stake,” observes senior Defence analyst Maroof Raza. “If we really want path breaking technologies to come to India, we will have to raise the stake of Foreign Direct Investments up to 74 percent,” he adds.

Despite the presence of such alluring factors, Minister for Defence A. K. Antony has registered his stern disagreement with the said proposal on the ground that the Indian defence sector was not mature enough to absorb higher FDI. The reluctance of the defence establishment, sources say, is also based on the rather conventional belief that defence is a sensitive sector and that opening doors to foreign players could lead to security concerns.

The defence sector in India, which was initially subject to 100 per cent monopoly of the public sector, saw the government open doors to private participation and allow 26 per cent FDI following a policy change over the last decade. However, the policy move did not really help matters as it failed to amuse both the domestic private sector and the Foreign Direct Investors. Over-dependence on the public sector has been cited as one of the major reasons for this failure. Also, the complete lack of enthusiasm by investors, both Indian and offshore, failed the basic aim of allowing FDI in the defence sector, which was to pool capital and foster technology partnerships to manufacture defence equipment for the armed forces and also register its presence in the export market on a significant scale.

On a global front, India’s defence exports have ranged between 1.5 and 2.4 per cent of the total production. It is disappointing to note that ever since the introduction of FDI in defence in 2001, the grand total of investments in defence through the FDI route have been a meagre $15 million. As per the Budget Estimates (BE) for the year 2010-11, the defence sector has been allocated Rs 1,47,344 crore, an increase of 3.98 per cent over the BE of 2009-10. The expected defence spending over the next five years is $50bn.

Another case for strong legislation in favour of the proposed hike is also based on the fear that our vast dependence on imports can be stifled in times of crisis, leaving India defenceless. Considering that India needs to import even basic stuff, FDI can be kept out of areas which are really sensitive. In fact, the DIPP discussion paper had allayed concerns that India-based fully foreign-owned companies may not be in the county’s security interests, arguing that the concerns remained even in case of direct imports and hence could not be cited for opposing higher FDI.

Maroof, on the other hand, believes that there is no question of security being compromised. “Whether it is the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft or the Artillery Guns, we are procuring them from outside,” he says, adding, “Once the companies set up their base in India it will benefit the country.”

With India emerging as a major economic destination for several sectors, the efficient management of funds allocated in the defence budget will be of vital importance keeping in view its targets of reducing dependence on imports. What India needs today is a dedicated and technology specific policy which is flexible enough to attract frontier technology within the broad regulatory policy framework. It is vital that in the case of cutting edge technology, FDI limit be increased to 51 per cent to instil a sense of confidence in the foreign entrepreneur that he would continue to own the enterprise by holding majority stake.

An FDI cap of 49 per cent may prove totally unfruitful and could also pose as a major hurdle towards attracting high-end investments. Supporters of higher FDI say foreign investors will set up units in India that should lead to cheaper prices of defence equipment, secure supplies and steady jobs for Indians.

For India to sustain its steady economic growth and support it with a robust defence base, we need to offer opportunities which are more striking and attractive than other Foreign Direct Investors (FDI) competitors. In order to have a strong defence industry base in India, it is vital to recognise the peculiarities of the defence sector with investor facilities in line with prevailing international standards backed by proper policy support which override the dissuasive incongruities present in the sensitive sector of defence production.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

'This land is ours'

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Chandrasekhar Bhattacharjee travels to Haripur, west bengal where a proposed nuclear power plant sparked off protests. It inspired the people of singur and nandigram. The project has not been shelved and people are keeping a vigil.

Sushanta Bhunia of Haripur may be aged but his spirit is unwavering as he narrates the tale of the people of Haripur, a conglomeration of 19 odd villages in Contai of East Midnapore, resisting the Centre and the state government's attempts to set up a nuclear power plant. “Dr S. K. Jain, chairman and managing director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCI), had come to inspect the area but had to retreat as early as on November 17, 2006. He returned the next day under heavy police protection. Around 18 police vans carried armed policemen but we matched them with thousands of villagers. Then, Jain tried to sneak in riding pillion on a motorbike. We recognised him and stopped him. Since then, no government official has dared to visit Haripur in connection with setting up of a nuclear power plant.”

In fact, Haripur showed the path to Nandigram. Three months before roads of Nandigram were dug up, Haripur erected a barricade at Junput Bazar, the main entry point to the area. Villagers converged behind the barricades to prevent ‘anyone unwanted’. Even the police and the district administration were not allowed. The message was loud and clear: “This land belongs to us, not to the government”. Supporters of the ruling Left Front’s partner West Bengal Socialist Party (WBSP) united together with Trinamool Congress, Congress and Paschmbanga Khet Majur Samity and Matsyajibi Unnayan Samity (unit of National Fishworkers’ Forum). Although Jain, chairman of the site selection panel for N-Plant, could not even enter Haripur, forget inspecting the proposed site, he nonetheless informed chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on November 19, 2006, that ''Haripur has a good potential for setting up a Nuclear Plant''.

Bhunia, over 70 years old, says, “The plant’s core area would eat up 15 villages in a 1.6 km radius. More than 20,000 people would be deprived of their land and income. Apart from that, 75,000 recorded fishermen, whose only source of income is fishing and related activities, will be forced out of their livelihood.” The proposed N-Plant has annoyed even school children like Anu Samanta. “There are three high schools and 14 primary schools and about eight child education centres in this area. Where will we go? Is it that the government does not want us to be educated,” are her words.

A 25-km-long sea dyke was built during British period to protect this area from sea waves and hurricanes. A few prominent sea beach resorts like Digha, Shankarpur and Mandarmani exist in the vicinity. Shankarpur is also an important fishing harbour. Most of the three million people living in the entire region are dependent on the sea for their livelihood which will be affected if a nuclear project came up. The Haripur area is also rich in agriculture Rishikesh Giri, another resident, says, “Haripur produces rice twice a year, including that of the Dhudheswar (a high quality fine rice) variety. Apart from that, we produce wheat, mustard, tomato, eggplant, sesame, green chilli and various kinds of vegetables. We don’t need artificial irrigation. We have our ponds which store rain water and serves our fields throughout the year. Of course, the ponds give us sweetwater fish too.” The per acre yield of rice here is 2,400 kg, much higher than the national average. The hay serves as animal fodder, firewood and roofing material. Giri, whose landholding is modest, has three sons and a daughter who is married. One son is a farmer, another one is an employee of Reliance Industries while the remaining one is a Vaishnavite sanyasi.

Local state Assembly legislator Dibyendu Adhikari admits, “Haripur and the adjoining area is the main source of vegetable supply for the Contai sub-division.” Haripur is dotted with betel vines, coconut trees and banana trees. One cannot count the number of betel vines here. “It may be 7,000 or more. We supply betel leaves to the whole of India,” Ananta Bera, a farmer proudly claims.

Sukumar Bhunia, block Panchayat chief and head of the Committee against Nuclear Reactor to save rights to Land and Livelihood, recalls the legacy of struggle here, “People of Midnapore marched to Haripur at the call of Mahatma Gandhi during Salt Satyagraha.” Even today, about 1,000 villagers live of salt processing.

Prabhuram Dalal is the chief of the fishermen's body here. According to him, there are 42 jetties in the first circle of 1.6 km. Each boat employs around 18 people. The Haripur jetty alone has 95 hand-pulled and 50 mechanised boats. More than 2,750 fishing huts dot the coastal line of Haripur and the adjoining 19 villages. Prabhuram is candid: “If the nuclear power plant is built, about 1.5 crore fishermen, from Kakdwip in West Bengal to Paradip in Orissa, will be directly affected.”

Energy scientist Professor Sujoy Basu, ex-chief of School of Energy Studies, Jadavpur University, corroborates Prabhuram’s anxiety. Scientists of the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kolkata are anxious too. Basu says: “It seems we have not taken any lesson from past disasters. Haripur is at the confluence of a river. During high tide, sea water rushes up the rivers and even reaches Farakka in Maldah. If the plant is built, sea water will carry nuclear waste up to that distance. Now, can you imagine the situation?”

The nuclear plant, if it comes up, will displace more than a million people. According to the blueprint, a 1.6-km-radius area forms the core area where none are allowed to settle. Then, there will be an ‘inner ring’ of 3 km radius as a buffer zone. This is specially meant for forestation. The ‘outer ring’ will be of a five km radius, where only 5 to 10 per cent of the present population would be allowed to settle. If the line is drawn, the distance intrudes into Contai (Kanthi) town and the populated areas of Henria, Egra and Nandigram blocks come into this ring.

But what gives Haripur the courage to defy the Indian State? They have even demonstrated outside the Russian Consulate in Kolkata. Sushanta Bhunia says, “The Russian authorities listened to us and then said, ‘We came here as your government has asked us. You please talk to your government'.” He continues, “Medinipur is the land of revolutionaries. We have sacrificed our lives but have never lowered our head in front of oppressors. We are their sons and daughters. We will not leave our land may what come.”

Nandigram let out the same warning in 2007. Subhendu Adhikari, MP from East Midnapore and leader of the Nandigram movement, admits: “Haripur taught me how to fight for the cause of the people. It helped me to stand beside the people of Nandigram. So, Haripur is the mother of the struggles in Singur and Nandigram.” Hrisikesh Giri goes on: “During the Freedom movement, Gandhi and the revolutionaries taught us one thing. There will be no let up in our movement till the proposed
bill is scrapped. Till then, we do not want any development work. We don’t want relief and ration. Land is our mother. If our land is lost, we will die.The government has to understand that this land is ours.”

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