Political dirty linen is beginning to be washed in public. And hung out to dry. Yet again.

The governments of the BJP-ruled states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have been caught with the smoking gun. They have no place to run, neither to hide. Sedition is the unspoken thought in many impressionable minds.

Only the state governments of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Uttarakhand (UK) have come out smelling roses, their patriotism and good intentions beyond reproach. Only the state governments of UP and UK have bothered to publish half-page advertisements extolling the central government and its efforts in rolling out the world’s largest free vaccination campaign. With a photograph of the Prime Minister (PM), apart from their own Chief Minister (CM).

One is published on the page facing the one where the central government has placed a half-page advertisement extolling its own efforts in rolling out the world’s largest free vaccination campaign. The other is published on the page just behind the central government advertisement. And I am referring to The Hindustan Times here, the daily newspaper I read. I cannot say which other daily they are not published in.

Finish reading the central government ad, spend a moment in contemplation of your blessings, after you have already read the UP government ad and spent a moment in contemplation of your blessings, turn the page and the UK government ad catches you smack in the face, forcing you to spend yet another moment in contemplation of your blessings.

Did I even turn the page? Am I seeing double? Or triple? The insecurities of advancing age also come rushing back as the same ad stares back page after page.

But I guess I am missing the point, as usual. After all, unless three government advertisements say the same thing in the same edition of the same newspaper on the same day, how is the common man to understand?

To make sure the common man understands, since they understand the common man so well, they have taken the trouble to ensure that not a shred of additional information is shared in either of their advertisements. The copy is exactly the same as in the central government ad. Except for the “Thank you PM Modi!” extra line over and above the exact copy of the central government ad that both the state government ads have.

Check it out for yourself.

Can the non-Indian readers identify the central government ad out of the three?

This is clear evidence of both the state governments, even the central government for that matter, having independently conceived the idea and worked on the creatives. One cannot even begin to imagine the senior leadership time that would have been spent in fine-tuning the language of these ads. Publicis, Dentsu, WPP, Omnicom, Ogilvy and Euro RSCG, your loss of creative advertising talent has been the Indian common man’s gain of political talent.

Coming as it does on the day the central government has told the Supreme Court that they cannot make ex-gratia payouts for Covid deaths, as provided in the Disaster Management Act of 2005, as it is ‘beyond fiscal affordability’ of the government, it has particular relevance for the common man.

Fiscal affordability?

The centre, as well as the UP and UK state governments, have risen above the challenge of fiscal affordability and issued these ads.

Are the other states trying to convey an impression that they understand what it actually means? There will be hell to pay. Central governments have rarely been bothered with such trifles.

Besides, not taking up opportunities for publishing advertisements with a picture of the PM, preferably preening with a peacock…sorry, with a preening peacock, when the opportunity presents itself, could well be made an act of treason soon. These state governments are not trying to become test cases, are they?

I heard from a cousin that his children have questioned his claims about graduating from a prestigious college in Delhi University. “But where is the PM’s picture?” they asked him when he proudly showed them his graduation certificate. The children, adults now, had just received their Covid-19 vaccination certificate with the PM’s mug. Never mind that in the early eighties when he graduated the PM was not the PM, not even the CM of Gujarat. He was probably not even an elected representative of a municipal corporation at that time. Poor chap has returned his degree certificate and requested the University to issue a fresh one with the picture of the PM.

I believe from the next renewal, all driving licences issued in India will have the picture of Mr. Modi, instead of the driver.

And silly me. I never realized that PM Modi is funding this vaccination drive out of his personal fortune. I am sure if that was not the case the ads would have said “Thank you, central government!” or “Thank you, government of India!” Simple man that he is, he has never made a hue and cry about his fortune. Messrs Ambani and Adani have much to learn from him.

But I must admit that I was caught off guard by the declaration of this being the world’s largest free vaccination programme.

If you have the world’s largest population, or thereabouts, how can you have the world’s largest free vaccination drive as well? Isn’t something amiss here? Should you not be having the world’s smallest free vaccination drive while the world’s largest free vaccination drive is carried out in Singapore, or Luxembourg, or Vatican City? Especially when the government that is implementing it has been elected by the largest voter list in the world.

It’s a bit like proudly claiming in a public-money funded ad and thanking the PM for India having the world’s largest number of children. Or the largest number of adults. Or the world’s largest number of employed people. Or the world’s largest number of unemployed people. Or the world’s largest number of construction workers. Or the world’s largest number of non-construction workers. Or the largest number of children in school. Or the largest number of children not in school. Or the largest number of, well, anything.

Wouldn’t you be surprised?

The Rebuilding of Uttarakhand by AIF and UMA‏

On 25th July, I had posted about the death and destruction caused by torrential rainfall, coupled with human greed, in the pristine but ecologically vulnerable state of Uttarakhand nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The post is titled “Continuing Education” and can be accessed on:

Anoop Nautiyal, an old friend of mine, who hails from Uttarakhand, is actively involved in the rehabilitation efforts. I am enclosing an email I received from him a few days back, outlining some of the efforts and appealing for help to the global community:

Dear Ankur,
Hope all is well with you.
As you are aware I am actively involved in the rebuilding efforts of my home state of Uttarakhand. There are several initiatives with which I am involved but I will take the opportunity to mainly talk about one initiative in this mail. Sorry that I have taken some time to get back to you. We had been engaged with setting up the structure for our rebuilding efforts.
I am pleased to share with you that Uttarakhand Mandal of America (UMA, the Silicon Valley, USA based civic organization that I represent, and the American India Foundation (AIF have recently tied up to bring long term relief to the affected areas in Uttarakhand in India. Please see the details of the AIF and UMA partnerships on their respective websites and also the enclosed Joint Appeal from the two partnering institutions. I am the India Trustee for the UMA initiative.
AIF is one of the largest India centric foundations in the United States and was formed in the aftermath of the massive 2001 Gujarat earthquake. The former President of the United States Of America Bill Clinton is the Hon. Chairman of AIF. Many other distinguished US and Indian citizens are on the Board and hold trustee positions with AIF. They also have a solid presence in India through their office in New Delhi. During the past ten years AIF has put in approximately USD 100 Million Dollars in various projects across the country. One of the major features of working with AIF is that 100% of the funds that are donated are deployed in rehabilitation and relief since AIF separately raises funds for all administration costs.
On behalf of the AIF and UMA global effort I would like to appeal to you to make donations towards the rebuilding of our state to AIF. The American India Foundation Trust (AIFT) is a registered section 12A trust and also registered to receive donations under Section 80G of the India Income Tax Act (Registration No: NQ DIT(E)l 2011-12/1018). All donations made to AIFT are eligible for 50% tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act for Indian nationals/corporates.
I would also like to encourage you to spend some time looking at the AIF website. They carry quite a lot of information on the kind of projects that they have undertaken along with their partners in bringing about long term change in our country. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I shall get back immediately.
I will be grateful if you could kindly also forward this mail to your close family, friends and business associates in India and other countries who you feel would be keen to contribute towards the noble cause of the rebuilding of our state. The international donors can go to the “Donate in the US” section on the AIF website.
Many thanks Ankur for your help.
Best wishes!
Anoop Nautiyal
India Trustee, Uttarakhand Mandal of America (UMA)

Continuing education

More than a month after a deadly cocktail of unprecedented rain combined with human greed (what else?) led to a disaster of epic proportions, brunt of which was borne by the state of Uttarakhand, the dead are still being counted. There are slight differences in numbers reported by different agencies, ranging from “a few” of the state government to “tens of thousands” of independent observers and agencies. The disaster has cruelly exposed the fragility of this beautiful, yet ecologically vulnerable region, nestling in the lower reaches of the mighty Himalayas.

But what has happened has happened. It cannot be un-happened. What of the future? Is there anything we have learnt from this tragedy that will be of use?

Of course we have. We are a thinking, sensitive, caring people. Always hungry to learn.

We have learned that water flows downhill. In case of heavy rain more water flows downhill more rapidly.

We have learned that flowing water is unable to move out of the way of buildings that have been illegally constructed in its path. It is believed the same rule applies to legally constructed buildings, but since there were no leaglly constructed buildings in the path of the raging torrent, it has not been established as a learning in this instance.

We have learned that use of explosives for construction in ecologically sensitive areas makes them, well, more ecologically sensitive.

We have learned that dumping muck and debris on river courses in sufficiently large quantities can force the river to seek alternate paths.

We have learned that flowing water is unable to recognise the brand or engine capacity of a car, the nationality or religion of a human being, or even whether the building in its way is a brothel or a temple.

We have learned that the state government is an efficient body and uses resources judiciously. As recently as February 2013, the Uttarakhand high court had passed an order asking the state government to demolish structures that had come up within 200 metres of the river banks. But the administration did not act. When the floods came, many of those illegal structures got demolished anyway. Weaker governments may have capitulated and spent effort and resources on removing the identified structures.

We have learned that bribes don’t reach nature.

We have learned that Nature is unpredictable and uncontrollable (some engineers have contested this learning).

We have learned that even people on a religious quest are subject to physical laws of nature.

We have learned that there is a high level of preparedness amongst responsible agencies, to handle a disaster that might strike, immediately after disaster strikes.

We have learned that a natural event like a cloudburst can be converted into a national tragedy through some simple human actions.

What now? What do we do with all this learning?

Politicians are busy comparing notes and showing off their new-found knowledge. Even though it may jeopardise their political careers, some are openly wondering if they can finally get a High School clearance certificate with this new knowledge. Who knows, the next disaster might even enable them to complete graduation.

As an eager, learning people, we eagerly await the next disaster.