Sunday, April 29, 2012


One decision the Union Cabinet is likely to take as per media reports has my whole-hearted support. I am sure the largest Opposition party will also back the decision. The UPA Government is thinking of introducing a bill in the Parliament to make sexual intercourse and even “contact with sexual intent” with a person below the age of eighteen illegal. I have always wondered why a PIL was not filed in the Supreme Court by some conscientious social worker or Women’s body to urge use of its special powers under Article 142 to make the “age of consent” 18, not 16 as now when for all practical purposes a person under eighteen is considered a ‘minor’. When parents marrying away a girl under eighteen invites prosecution, a someone who forces a girl of sixteen to have sex with him escapes the punishment for ‘statutory rape’ because clever defence lawyers manage to convince judges that the girl had consented more often than not with a retraction of the girl’s statement in the court under threat or offer of reward.

A girl under eighteen has no right to exercise her franchise for election to Punchayaths, State Legislature or the Parliament; she has to wait for attaining ‘majority’, meaning 18 years of age for property transactions; but is supposed to have come of age to give consent to someone for ravishing her virginity and unintentionally producing her own offspring in the process! Larger number of girl children is coming under the ambit of exploitation with their attainment of puberty down from 13-14 to 10 years. Adolescent behaviour characterised by raging hormones and physical changes are thus advanced to younger age-groups. This catapults such immature individuals to higher levels of physical and mental risks following their appearance in the catchment area of exploiters. It is in this very alarming context that certain judges and sociologists are asking for reducing the age of content.

In my opinion the above anomaly with respect to majority and age of consent being rectified is a great thing. Particularly with the lax morals thanks to the leakage of the worst of Western values into our society the youth find it adventurous and ‘modern’ to experiment with physical relationships. With so much contemporary literature including magazine-newspaper articles extolling the normality of gay, lesbian activities and sex with multiple partners as almost the norm we are facing an avalanche of uninhibited sexual behaviour that our cultural moorings would pronounce unbecoming. Incestual relationships are on the increase. Young people joke about relationships which were considered a taboo in the past. Consensual sex even in the Supreme Court chambers of senior lawyers is being defended these days as a right. Police officials and politicians are known to trap/lure minor girls using threats and rewards or both. Domestic helps of all ages are known to be routinely subjected to sexual exploitation. The earlier bill, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Bill (2011) had indeed a provision for consensual sexual activity between the ages of 16 and 18, but the new one drops the caveat, effectively incriminating under-age sex. The proposed law, very aptly include workplace harassment of women employees including domestic helps (who, I understand constitute 30% of the working women), and also sexual assault on male children.

It seems such a statute was under consideration since 2006, and a bill was tabled in Parliament in 2010 and a Parliamentary panel sat on it so far. Being moved by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the proposed act brings all sexually-determined behaviour including physical contact and advances, demand or request for sexual favours, sexually coloured remarks, showing pornography or other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature under the definition of “sexual harassment”.

There indeed are sociologists who oppose the proposal to make sex with the under-aged an offense making such sexual behaviour some kind of a teenage right. It is this type of sociology that invites trouble to the present generation in the name of psychological evolution and physiological changes. Their averment is that since puberty arrives early young people are getting sexually active at an early age. They say, “Charity begins at home” and rightly so. Similarly, such high thinking should be implemented at the homes of these sociologists over a period of time and studied meticulously, before they exhort the general public to approve it. Actor Rahul Bose’s The Foundation argues that when many boys will go to jail for under-age sex offenses, their partner girls are left back at risky sexual behaviour, and increasing health risks, whatever that means!  There are some psychiatrists worrying about the children “denied” teenage sex “using more dangerous ways of experimenting.” The cacophony goes on like a massed chorus, a campaign of course: “Are they going to punish young people for pre-marital sex?”, “will they now insist on girls wearing chastity belts?”... there are legal pundits quoting statistics since 1860 to 1973 showing the age of consent and consummation were much lower at 10 years, rising to 16. Don' they realise that the progression was due to greater awareness and evolution of human thought. You cannot oppose Rajastan’s child marriages as decadent, and support under-age sex, they  forget.

A Delhi judge appears to be the first to fire in favour of a lower age of consent in his anxiety to let off an Ashok Vihar boy (that has a particular connotation in Delhi – it is neighbourhood accommodating the rich and influential!) rules that he cannot take a hyper-technical view to punish a young man who has sex with a girl under 18 and punish him for statutory rape, agreeing with the defence lawyer that the girl had eloped with the boy and not abducted by him as the prosecution argued. The judge avers that the girl being happily married, though not with each other (!) exposing the culprit and the victim of October 2008 incident the future of both could be destroyed. Being not a High Court/Supreme Court judge, I do not thing this judicial officer has the right to go beyond the scope of the law as it exists today, the far-reaching consequences and visionary projections being not the prerogative of the lower judiciary.

Sadly, the day the report of this welcome statute made the news, the newspapers also reported that the former Haryana Director General of Police S P S Rathore, the classic example of a police official misusing his powers to subjugate a minor girl, Ruchika Girhotra to his sexual desires asking for his with-held pension ordered to be released by the CAT, while celebrating his wife’s birthday gifting her a Mercedes Benz car for which he paid Rs. 9,05,001 for just the fancy number plate CH 01 AM 0001! Rathore was awarded six months' rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 1,000 by the Chandigarh CBI court in December 2009 for molesting the 14-year-old tennis player on August 12, 1990. Sessions Court, which enhanced the sentence to 18 months imprisonment and on revision the Punjab and Haryana High Court confirmed the sentence. Rathore served his jail term from May to November 2010. He was released on bail by the Supreme Court on November 11, 2010. However, he was asked not to leave India and the case is still pending in the Apex Court. The girl committed suicide three years later unable to withstand his constant sexual harassment, using her brother’s plight as bait, booking him falsely under several offences. Rathore had in total 12 cases registered against the family which eventually moved out of Chandigarh. All that the heartless policeman had got as punishment for the most heinous crime committed was Rs.1000 fine and 6 months imprisonment!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When your shoe pinches...

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, now in the midst of a raging controversy involving some sexapade on video that circulated on the Internet, particularly the most popular Social Networking sites, the Facebook and the Youtube, is no simpleton. Dr. AM Singhvi has one of the most impressive educational career I know of – Schooling in St. Columba's, college education in St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, Trinity College, Cambridge and the Harvard University, leading to B.A.(Hons), M.A., and Ph.D under constitutional lawyer Sir William Wade of Cambridge University.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi is no innocent in public life either. He is a highly successful and highly paid Supreme Court Lawyer. He must have been on Congress Party’s Legal Cell for a long time. Presently a he is Congress Member of the Rajyasabha from Rajastan, and Congress Party’s spokes person who wields the power of his legal acumen, political savvy and catch-as-catch-can argumentative skills fielding questions with an agility that is admirable and abominable at the same time if you happen to be on the other side of the political spectrum. I happen to have been on the other side, like his late father, Dr. LM Singhvi, a renowned lawyer, author, and India's former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, who belonged to Bharatiya Janta Party, and its Rajya Sabha Member too.

My dislike of AM Singhvi begins with his Ph.D theses, which was on the Emergency Powers. The expression ‘Emergency’ takes me back to the dark days of Indian democracy, 1975-77 (26 June 1975 – 21 March 1977 to be precise) I was working in Mumbai then, and went to Kerala for getting married in end-May 1976. As I was going through the process of inviting my friends, I got some “underground literature” of the period, brought out by the RSS. (How many people know that of the nearly 5000 political prisoners in Kerala 5/6th belonged to the RSS, and most of the remaining, to the Naxal movement. That was reason for The Economist to describe the movement as “the only non-left revolutionary force in the world”, I am told. I heard Panyan Ravindran, former CPI Member of Parliament often claiming that he started growing his hair during the Emergency as a mark of protest. His party had actively supported the Emergency and CPM passively opposed it!) When I went to my friend Raju (late P.Rajendran), the first thing he did was to snatch away the anti-Emergency stuff from my pocket saying “with this you will go the Viyyur Jail, not to Guruvayur Temple tomorrow for your wedding. So whenever Dr.AM Singhvi spoke unapologetically of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime, I used to feel like throwing a stone at the TV screen. His job indeed was to defend the indefensible Congress policies.

Now, he appears to have come on video screens across the world in some sleaze stuff. The picture that immediately comes to my mind is the famous lawyer casting aspersions on the leadership of the Country’s largest Opposition party on moral grounds when two or three Karnataka legislators were caught watching pornographic stuff somebody had sent into their mobile phones as MMS message. Those who had sent the stuff had obviously arranged videographers recording the proceedings of the Karnataka House to point their cameras on cue at the legislators curiously viewing the sensational clippings, forgetting for a while that they were being framed. The pity is that even later, their party and they themselves were frantically giving ridiculous explanations for their behaviour which is criminal according to the Cyber laws. They were not media-educated.

Now, I have not seen the video stuff implicating Dr.AM Singhvi, fortunately because I am not very active on these social networking sites, and they seem to have removed the video footage following complaints. As I have written earlier in one of my blogs, if only I had downloaded the said video or passed it on to someone for viewing, I too was liable for prosecution, because it is not just libellous stuff but also pornographic. Though as viewers many people may not be driven by any criminal intent as the affected person Singhvi would like to believe. But then who do you and I stand up against!

Now, I surmise that there was this a sex tape released of Abhishek Singhvi where (allegedly) he was seen having sex with a senior female lawyer in his Supreme Court Chamber. Singhvi claimed that such a CD either does not exist or if it does, it is clearly and obviously morphed, fabricated and forged. On 18th April, Congress Party, releases a statement declaring that the CD was a personal matter of the senior lawyer. In common parlance this is termed as “distancing”, if you ask me. It was only on 19th April the video went public on Facebook, YouTube and other social networking sites, after Singhvi got an injunction from Delhi High Court against its public airing.  Singhvi naturally blames social media sites for sensationalism On 23 April 2012 he quit as chairperson of Parliament Standing Committee on Law and Justice and as the Congress spokesperson. Dr.Singhvi, said as he resigned as Party spokes person and head of the key parliamentary panel, not because he admitted guilt. Then he said that if he had done (he did not) what he is alleged to have done, it was private and consensual affecting only members of the two familes (who luckily stood by him). He resigned because he did not want “even the slightest parliamentary disruption” which is stuff and nonsense he knows. Parliament will be disrupted seeking a probe into the authenticity and reliability of the video tape. It is gist for the mills of the Opposition because Dr.Singhvi used to be such a virulent upholder of moral and professional standards, and never restrained himself from those rapier thrusts against the Opposition. It si slightly intriguing that the Congress Party statement referred to the unpleasant event as a purely personal matter of Mr.Singhvi while understanding their relief that he has “taken the right step” to avoid embarrassing the Party.

Why did Abhishek Manu Singhvi resign as Congress spokesperson and from the prestigious Parliamentary panel on personnel, public grievances, law and justice? If only he had asked another famous lawyer who is now also a member of the Union Cabinet, he would have perhaps clarified that moral AM Singhvi’s turpitude (if any at all) and his professional/political integrity (or sex-life and professional and political lives) could be kept as water-tight compartments. Had he not told the Indian Parliament when asked for clarification as the Addl. Solicitor General of India in V.Ramaswamy case he told them that “personal integrity and financial probity can be separate”. Application of that logic with minor alteration of words here would allow AM Singhvi to walk head held high, chin up. Or, if there are similar tapes involving high profile professionals or politicians available, one could play that before higher judiciary as Kapil Sibal did when he played the tape of actor Sanjay Dutt talking to don Chhotta Shakeel in Court as journalists listened on, to convince the Court that his client (a richest diamond merchant who used to finance Bollywood movies in partnership with dons) was not the only one who talked to the underworld, if that is a crime! 

The Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Mr.Arun Jaitley, sounds highly restrained in his comments on this issue involving a colleague in the Supreme Court Bar. But Mr.Jaitly’s party has asked for verification of the video tapes at the CFSL. Ha! They do not know that Congress Party can get the report they want from CFS, if they could manipulate the CBI as they have so often done? Under the circumstances, the maximum negative publicity to the Congress is the only politically ‘usable’ outcome from this ugly episode. The Opposition should ignore Mr.Singhvi’s appeal to stop “gleefully watching, promoting or participating in a person’s natural and understandable discomfiture... respecting privacy issues” and go for his jugular! This is the Congress Party’s regular trick: they can milk every communal issue in this country during every opportunity in the most banal manner for political advantage; but when there is something the BJP can exploit, the Congress will shout from the rooftops “not to exploit communal issues for political purposes”. In the past they have drummed up non-issues and cooked-up stories to vilify Opposition politicians and parties for political purposes at will. As the lawyer (whose annual income is Rs.50 crores) understands, he is entitled to seek relief from the Courts. If the CD was doctored by his former driver Lal, he should have been booked under law and punished. Why did Dr.Singhvi go for an “amicable settlement” with such filthy people?

This is what Rajiner Puri writes in The Statesman: " Is it not fair to surmise that the out-of-court settlement was made on the basis of this petition and a certain sum of money exchanged hands between Mr Singhvi and Mr Lal? If not, what were the terms of the settlement? It is truly astounding that a role model for legal probity in Parliament should openly settle with his former employee after being blackmailed. Blackmail is a serious crime. Mr Lal even confessed to committing that crime by creating a fraudulent CD... What Mr Singhvi has accomplished therefore is the virtual legitimisation of blackmail as a weapon..."

There is a lesson for many of us in this. As long as other people’s shoes pinch, you “gleefully watch” and enjoy their discomfiture. When your own shoe pinches, even if you are the Ethics Committee of the Parliament...
Abhishek Manu Singhvi' last reported remark is This: "Either the CD is morphed or it is not. In either case, it raises no public interest issue." Matlab, "therea kya jathaarrey?" Public interest kya, how do you know the public is not interested, some way?

Monday, April 23, 2012

West Bengal's Didi deserves a chance

I have never been an ardent admirer of Mamta Banerjee. But I have respected her for her simple life. She is not corrupt unlike most from the political culture she belonged to. She is not good for administration, and had never done an honest day’s job on any position in the Union Cabinet. Like her counterpart in BJP, Uma Bharti, she is a professional agitator, good only while in the Opposition. She has not been a principled politician either, for that matter because her view is that end justify her means whether working against industrialisation of West Bengal or being in collusion with the Maoists and Naxalites in bringing down the Left-front Government or undermining the political base of her ally, Congress. Didi has enough political savvy and has learnt enough of vote bank politics offering loaves and fishes of office as alleged by her own party’s MP Kabir Suman. She has no qualms about recalling her senior colleague Dinesh Trivedi who in his recent Railway budget thought of economics more than populist politics. Look at this report on Didi’s largesse to the Muslim community in West Bengal: At a gathering of heads of mosques at Netaji Indoor Stadium earlier this month, Mamata Banerjee casually announced a monthly honorarium of Rs 2,500 to about 30,000 Imams of the state. She also promised to provide them with flats in the urban areas and land and financial help in the districts. Can Congress or the CPM complain? This is when similar policies by the earlier rulers had brought the State into an enormous debt trap of 2 lakh crore rupees, interest payment on which alone drains the State to the tune of Rs.22000 crore per annum. Interestingly she is arm-twisting the Manmohan Singh government to announce a debt relief for West Bengal with a deadline of just two weeks.

Now Mamta Banerjee is at the receiving end of lot of criticism for the arrest of a Professor lampooning her in a cartoon, and also for ordering that certain English language newspapers need not be distributed in schools and libraries in the State. This for many politicians on the Opposition and in the UPA which stays in power on account of her support too, is “draconian” and “undemocratic” action. Some cultural leaders also have jumped in the protest band wagon.

Nobody remembers that West Bengal Left-front government’s one minister in charge of culture had taken cudgels against Usha Uthup for singing and dancing vulgarly in hotels and restaurants in Kolkata. CPM had withdrawn a Tagore Primary text book ‘SAHAJPATH’ in 1977. Alexander Sokurov's film Taurus which was the first Russian movie in which reverence demanded by the creators of Lenin's personality cult was abandoned for the first time, was not allowed to be screened in Kolkata Film Festival. Lenin is shown in this film as a broken figure, crazed, rambling and unable to recognise even the distinctively sinister figure of Josef Stalin. CPM is a Stalinist party and its leaders who cry hoarse now against Did’s lack of democratic values openly said that such movies cannot be screened and should not have been made, in the first place! This was the party that sweetly welcomed Mira Nair to film her controversial ‘Water’ there when locals and the UP government objected to filming it in Varanasi ghats. As to the great lovers of “freedom of expression” in Congress Party, the less said about them the better with the party’s inglorious history of the nefarious Emergency which had not only the freedom of press and freedom of expression suspended, but even the fundamental rights of Indian citizens denied. Even the ever-smiling Rajiv Gandhi tried to curtail the press freedom because of the newspapers exposing the corruption involved in his government’s many deals besides the infamous Bofors one.

Congress Party and it’s government at the Centre had even secured a quasi-judicial report from two serving Supreme Court judges that averred that anything said or written about the leader who headed administration would destabilise the government! So one doesn’t have to look elsewhere to learn from where did Mamta Banerjee imbibed the theory that anything said/written/drawn depicting the Chief Minister of a State in a bad light, is treason and should be suppressed using the power of the State.

Now, about Didi’s arrogance: tell me, which Bengali politician in power is/was devoid of arrogance. Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had their party’s “we own the truth” attitude written large on their faces as they spoke even in front of television cameras. While Buddadeb used to smile at times, Jyothi Basu did not ever. Pranab Kumar Mukherjee makes a weak attempt to be pleasant sometimes but generally snaps rudely at interviewers unless they are the “yours faithfully” type or pose that way during the interviews. A friend of mine working in the BARC used to say that Bengali Scientists there were the most arrogant people, and their rivals were the most conceited lot, Malayali scientists; and heads of departments belonging to these two groups were generally not on speaking terms with each other! I remember our legendary English Professor PS Venkateswaran telling us how as students he and his friends went to meet visiting Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who didn’t utter a word to them and just scowled at them as if they were intruders into his bedroom. The sanctified atmosphere of Pondicherry Aurabindo Ashram is sukkied by the thuggish behaviour of the Bengalis who run it. I wonder whether this arrogance is a mark of Bengali intellectuals and other VIPs. Mamta Banerjee is no intellectual and if one goes by an angry outburst of her illustrious predecessor in office, Comrade Jyoti Basu, she cannot even boast of any great education. I have never seen Mamta Banerjee in person, but in her pictures appearing on TV as well as the print media she has this mousy, unsmiling look oozing crudity if not arrogance. I do not understand Bengali, and I only hope she speaks well in her mother tongue because her Hindi is pathetic and English atrocious or banal.

I also think Didi has reasons to believe that her detractors in the Opposition as well as the UPA are busy hatching conspiracies to bring her into disrepute by creating untoward incidents in the State. Everybody except the parties belonging to the Left-front acknowledge that she has an immense task on hand to get the State out of the mess created by 34 years of continuous rule by CPM-led governments. This needs a lot of time and political niceties are likely to be of least interest to her as she comes across more and more problems in administration each passing day. The sporadic violence, cases rape and the like are perhaps rightly engineered by the erstwhile rulers who have in place the machinery for such activities in ever sphere of life in the State. The West Bengal CM had told a Press Conference in Writer’s Building that there was a deliberate attempt, a conspiracy, to spread communal disharmony in the state. She was referring to a picture of model Poonam Pandey which was earlier published in an English daily being morphed to hurt religious sentiments. Protestors had blocked roads in several parts of Kolkata and crippled the city. She claimed that the alleged gang-rape of a woman on a train in Angalgram near Katwa in Bardhaman District was just a fake story to tarnish the image of her government. The woman was a CPM cadre’s wife and medical tests proved the incident false. Take the case of the latest: one Anjan Bhattacharya, a close aide of former WB Left-front minister Gatam Deb, books a room in a government-run Circuit House in East Midnapore District, impersonating Mamta Banerjee’s brother Karthick Banerjee for a free stay. He was armed with a fake photo-ID card showing his name as Karthick Banerjee, a hooter-fitted car, etc. After a sumptuous meal he had the temerity to call the sub-divisional officer Sunit Gupta to request his stay in the Guest-house to be kept confidential. Something about the guy’s behaviour raised the officer’s suspicion and he verified the identity of this brother of the CM. Karthick Banerjee, fortunately was in Kolkata at the time and game was exposed, bringing police and judiciary into action. This is precisely what Marxists have done always, whether in West Bengal, Kerala or at the national level. They would cook up stories, create incidents and get the media perpetually looking for controversies to deplore the victims of their nefarious plots to politically exploit the negative publicity at will.

I feel Mamta Banerjee should be given a chance to run the administration of West Bengal for the full term of this assembly before tearing her image into pieces for her various insignificant acts of commission and omission. This lady will not swallow public funds. She will not erect her statues all over the State too. Even if her administration is not great, you are likely to see less corruption in West Bengal during her tenure. So the State could develop on its own, in spite of her, if not because of her! If Ambikesh Mohapatra, the Jadvpur University chemistry professor was detained by police and later released on bail for posting derogatory cartoons of Didi on social networking websites, let the law of the land take care of it. If he has indeed crossed the limits prescribed by Section 4 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, he has to pay for the infringement whether the Civil Society, Bengali as well as Indian, supports him for that.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Johnnie Walker and K Bala Ram

I was astonished to read in a tabloid, The Pune Mirror, a Times of India group newspaper (of 19.4.2012) a report supposedly quoting a web site NDJ World that the world’s largest Scotch whisky brand Johnnie Walker is being killed by its owner, Diageo Plc. I could not fish out the report from the source mentioned. So I browsed the Johnnie Walker website, registering as a visitor. I expected a farewell to the international customer-base of the most loved whisky brands in the world. Nothing of the sort.  

A couple of hours later came the press statement from Diageo, the owner of the brand Diageo Plc through its subsidiary, Diageo India Private Limited. (Diageo operates in 180 countries, has brands like Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, J&B, Baileys, Captain Morgan, Tanqueray and Guinness in its product portfolio.) The London-headquartered global alcoholic beverages company wanted to clarify that reports appearing in the media about the premier whiskey brand Johnnie Walker no longer being bottled or manufactured by a factory in Kilmarnock, Scotland, were completely inaccurate. The statement saiid: "Recent media stories on the 'end of Johnnie Walker' are completely inaccurate. The fact is that the bottling of Johnnie Walker has just moved from Kilmarnock to a new state-of-the art facility in Scotland."

"This is in keeping with an announcement that Diageo plc, the makers of Johnnie Walker and the world’s largest spirits company, had made in 2009, regarding the restructuring of its production operations in Scotland. With a view to upgrade and expand bottling capacity and in anticipation of future growth in demand for its brands, including Johnnie Walker, the plan included the closure of a bottling plant in Kilmarnock and an investment of 86 million pounds in a new bottling hall at one of Diageo’s other packaging plants at Leven in Fife," the company spokesman further said in her statement. Before the closure of the Kilmarnock bottling plant, 80 percent of Johnnie Walker was already bottled at Diageo’s other Scottish bottling facilities and the brand will continue to be distilled, blended and bottled in Scotland.

Johnnie Walker is a brand of Scotch whisky owned by Diageo and originated in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland and being bottled since 1820. Its range of Scotch whiskies are Red Label, Black Label, Green Label, Gold Label, Blue Label. Johnnie Walker is the largest Scotch whiskey brand in the world, selling over 18 million nine litre cases per annum.

I have not just watched the short film Johnnie Walker – The Man Who Walked Around the World but I have learned about Scotch, Champagne, beer and such beverages because I happen to be a former sales person of a couple of the famous Scotch brands (Black & White, Bells) in India to the Duty-Free business and the licensed importers like First Class Restaurants and Five Star Hotels in the nineties. I have tasted Scotch, like most other drinks, and fortunately never liked any of them. Well, I liked the Campari, with orange juice and also the thick beer, Guinness Stout. I have sold Heineken the Dutch beer and Tuborg, the Danish one and Martini without ever tasting them. Years later, I used to get imported Heineken in cans in the port town of Kandla in the dry Gujarat. Menon Impex Limited, of which I was a Director, had an export unit in what was then Kandla Free Trade Zone. Indian brands were under surveillance, the duty-free stuff like foreign beer Heineken came smuggled from ships, obviously with the help of Chief Stewards who falsified stock registers on ships. A couple of years back I consumed the Danish beer I used to sell in the nineties from the remote Mumbai suburb of Vasai. In Pune occasionally I buy Tuborg and Carlsberg on these hot summer days.

I was tempted believe in the death of Johnnie Walker because of reading about questionable business practices of its owner. Sometime last year the US market regulator  SEC charged  Johnnie walker owner with paying bribes worth more than $1.7 million (Rs 8 crore) to government officials in India between 2003 and 2009 to push sales of its famed Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky. The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Diageo had made the illicit payments that led to an unjust enrichment of the London-based liquor giant by over $11 million through increased sales. The charges against Diageo (formed in 1997 through the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan Plc) stemmed from many violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a US federal law designed to stop illicit payment to a foreign official, foreign political party or a candidate for political office in order to obtain an unfair advantage in the conduct of business. Of course, Diageo was in august company for unfair business practices, with Daimler AG, Siemens, Monsanto and BAE Systems.

Diageo had distributed more than $2.7 million to government officials in India, Thailand and South Korea — with more than 60 per cent of the money going into the hands of Indian babus, for securing import permits and other administrative sanctions, and to CSD employees (Canteen Stores Department in charge of supplies to the armed forces).  Diageo’s wholly owned indirect subsidiary called Diageo India Private Limited based in Mumbai making the payments recording them as legitimate expenses for third-party vendors or private customers, or categorising them in false or overly vague terms.  Johnnie Walker is the biggest-selling Scotch whisky brand in India. Diageo agreed to pay more than $16 million to settle the SEC’s charges without admitting any guilt.

Johnnie Walker’s Malayali connection
Not many people would know that Johnnie Walker’s Indian agent for a long time (before Diageo came in the picture and its Indian subsidiary was established) was a man from Mundur,(Thrissur) in Kerala, K. Bala Ram, who also used to sell Heineken beer, Courvoisier Cognac and brandies and Kraft Cheese in India. I was sales manager in his company that represented these exotic products (he got Johnnie walker after I quit) and also did an indenting business in pharmaceutical fine chemicals for which we represented the Hungarian firm Medimpex and the French giant Roussel Uclaf, among many others. Bala Ram, alias Balaraman Menon was the most brilliant sales person I have come across in my life. Though not very tall, he was a stocky, handsome man with an impeccable style close to that of his friend RK Karanjia, owner-editor of the Blitz. A brilliant conversationalist and a great communicator in writing, he could produce a market report on any product his company sold, whether beverages or chemicals in a jiffy and dictate to his secretary, Rosebud in sparkling English. That is what put him in charge of marketing such world renowned brands representing great companies. Mr.Bala Ram loved the long distances, I used to say (much to the annoyance of his three brothers who were my junior colleagues and who considered their Unniettan a demi-god for good reasons); and was abroad 300 days in a year. The remaining days if he lived in Mumbai, he had tickets booked for his national air travel, and clocking no-shows more often than not.

Big Boss Bala Ram and I had a love-hate relationship because of our political views. He was a die-hard supporter of Indira Gandhi even during and after the infamous Emergency. We used to have arguments in the office where some of us used to sit late to communicate by telex with the companies in Europe. He would say something nasty or brilliant against my views and I would retort immediately as he walked towards the lift and he would be back with another argument; and this walk back and forth will continue delaying his other engagements outside. I still remember him calling Justice JC Shah, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, a “damn fool” for indicting the Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi for the unconstitutional undemocratic excesses of the PM and her younger son who was an extra-Constitutional authority in those black days. I had bought a copy of the ‘Shah Commission Report’ from a roadside old books market and happened to have it in my briefcase, because i had not finished reading it and wanted to complete it during the Church Gate-Borivli train journey. So I asked him: “have you read the report?” He agreed he had not. So I suggested that he should read it, and took it out of my brief case. Then came the classic retort: “You keep it; you can use it to wipe your ass!” As I said that was making faces when you lose an argument, he walked off, roaring in laughter
My memories of K.Bala Ram have been always fond, though a little bitterness crept into our relationship thanks to one of his relatives who was senior to me in the company. Well, Bala Ram lived to see the fellow ditching him too. I saw him at Chennai Airport where both of us were flying to Mumbai, and in Executive Class too. He did not see me. I thought of paying my respects, and backed off worrying how he, a strong-willed man and ill-tempered when he chose to be, would react to my overture. He passed way in diabetic coma, before his friend Russi died.

So as Diageo asserts, the death of Johnnie Walker was a highly exaggerated news story. Good that Johnnie Walker walks on. Those who drink it tonight can say a toast to its long life!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A tele-shock on account of Vishu

I had a strange experience on the 15th. The previous day or late in the night on the 13th I must have sent more than 50 messages wishing Happy Vishu to my relatives, friends, former colleagues and so on. (A day later I remembered I had missed some but there was nothing much to do about it.) Most people reciprocated the greetings. I do not keep count of those who didn’t.

I sent a simple 'Happy Vishu' message with my name. One of the numbers is listed in my mobile as MR Rajan’s. Rajan is currently Assistant Vice President, Asianet. A graduate of the prestigious Pune Film and Television Institute, and an acclaimed documentary maker, Rajan was one of the two Chief Producers at Asianet when I used to be there. The number came in to my new mobile instrument along with my Kerala Vodafone SIM card, and again to my Pune Vodafone SIM card. I must have just prefixed a zero to many of the Kerala numbers. After my retirement I think I had met Rajan during former Asianet colleague Balalchandran’s daughter’s marriage and later and/or after the demise of Shobhana Parameswaran Nair/Chintha Ravi, both Asianet’s illustrious contributors during my time. 

The last time I had called MR Rajan was in April 2008, after my trip to Mumbai following my daughter Neelima’s marriage, for the reception there. I called him to tell him that I met Jyothi Basu, the painter who used to do our sets a couple of years back. We met in a restaurant where our two families, my son-in-law’s and mine, were having dinner. Jyothi Basu was there with a Malayali photographer from the Times of India who came to take his snaps to go with an interview. He lives in the Mumbai suburb of Borivli (West) and in the colony I used to live, which is very close to where Neelu’s in-laws stay. Jyothi Basu and I were astonished and happy to meet each other far away from where we got aquainted. Jyothi Basu fondly remembered Neelu as a small girl because we used to live in the Asianet Guesthouse for a few months. He gave me his calling card. I told Rajan all this, and transferred Jyothi Basu’s address and mobile number to Rajan though he had not asked for it. That is my nature. I want to get connected, and wish others too to keep connected. It was Rajan who told me then that Jyothi Basu’s paintings fetch now Rs.1 million and above. (Neelu checked and told me a year back that they went for Rs.5 million plus at Sotheby’s auctions.)

Now, on 15th April, 2012 afternoon when my daughter and I were shopping at the Spar mall in Hyderabad a call came to me from the number that I have as MR Rajan’s. The caller asked me who I was. Because the place had music and people chattering, I couldn’t recognise the voice and I said, Rajan, this is TMMenon. What followed was a series of pernicious and aggressive questions on how I got the number, when did I call earlier, and so on. I explained patiently my story, and asked him why he was so agitated over a greeting when I had never called the number which I thought was my former colleague’s. He told me the number was his for 12 Years. He then gave me this stiff and rude warning which only a third-rate Malayali can give under the circumstances: “no further calls or messages to this number!” I meekly agreed and immediately delete the number. Ever since I was wondering why the bugger was so peeved over a simple greeting. Early this morning it dawned on me, the number could be a woman’s!

Well, it is not unusual, to have two people having the same number, if you ask me. My wife received a call from DySP, Ernakulam South Police station to appear before him with her Reliance Telephone handset and SIM and she went straight from the airport on her arrival from Hyderabad. There was a complaint against her (!) for using a number that belongs to someone in Kannur. She explained to the Officer available since the DySP was missing, that she had this number for more than eight years. She was asked to present herself once again, with a letter and documents pertaining to the connection. My wife being a bit careless about these things had no paper except a receipt for paying a recent bill. And I fished out the electronic bills from her e-mail box. Armed with this we went. I did not go in to the Station. But I had my wife ask the DySP how come he didn’t feel like investigating at the Reliance Telecom first instead of calling a woman customer living some 50 Km away to come like a criminal to the police station? He agreed she had a point and was only too happy with the documents and close the ‘case’!
My son-in-law, who is Sr.Sales Manager of Vodafone’s Enterprise Division does not understand how two people can have one number though.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


In December 2011, United States District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez created a stir by seeming to suggest that bloggers are not journalists as defined by Oregon’s shield law protecting the famed 'freedom of the press'. The ruling came in a case involving a self-described “investigative blogger,” Crystal L. Cox. She was sued by Kevin Padrick of a Finance Group for defamation because she had written that he and his company had engaged in a wholesale fraud in a bankruptcy case. In his ruling denying the appeal for a new trial, the judge said that he never intended to suggest that bloggers can’t be journalists, only that Ms. Cox did not fit the definition: “In my discussion, I did not state that a person who ‘blogs’ could never be considered ‘media.’ I also did not state that to be considered ‘media,’ one had to possess all or most of the characteristics I recited.”... “The suggestion was that defendant offered to repair the very damage she caused for a small but tasteful monthly fee. This feature, along with the absence of other media features, led me to conclude that defendant was not media.”
I must say I am relieved. My status as a journalist is finally established! What I lack is the Press Card to flaunt and peddle influence with. In retrospect I regret the opportunity to have one slip from my reach in the nineties by sheer petulance. Well, that is an old story.
I agree with many others in the view that Judge Hernandez was indeed right to draw a line, and where he drew it leaves a lot of room for even the most casual blogger to find protection. Hernandez’s ruling does not say that bloggers are not journalists; it merely opines that Crystal L Cox is not a journalist. But being a journalist with ample protection under the freedom of the press laws do not always take away the danger involved in libellous reporting or writing. To the best of my knowledge, freedom of the press is not specifically mentioned in the Chapter on Fundamental Rights in the Indian Constitution. But Dr. Ambedkar emphasised during the debates in the Constituent Assembly that it was included in the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression and therefore it was hardly necessary to provide for it specifically. Subsequent Supreme Court rulings have ratified the view. However, no fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India is absolute. Freedom of the press also can be restricted as specified in Article 19(2), namely, (a) security of the State, (b) sovereignty and integrity of India, (c) friendly relations with foreign States, (d) public order, (e) decency or morality, (f) contempt of court, (g) defamation or (h) incitement to an offence. I do not think Indian freedom of expression provides the defence of truth coupled with public interest as it does in some other countries. Well it does not also seem to provide for imposition of stiff civil and criminal penalties upon a person who fails to substantiate his/her allegations too!
I had picked up some details of LIBEL when I was a broadcaster for a few years and sort of guide, and philosopher for our news team (they would never consider me their friend though!) – 1) It is slander when it is oral in broadcast. 2) It is direct libel when you report someone as child-abuser, gangster, corrupt or any other undesirable type. 3) It is libel by propagation when you repeat something nasty that someone says about a person or a group without giving the person a chance to respond. 4) To escape from libel suit one could use anti-libel wordings such as ‘say’, ‘alleged’, ‘reputed’, ‘suspected’, ‘claimed’; or use attributions: nearby residents say… police claimed; or paraphrase: “He said that if A Raja wanted to prove himself innocent, he might have to go through the Biblical eye of the needle...” 5) In the US they say, successful libel suits against media are as rare as penguins in Arizona.
Going back to electronic/social media, let us take the case of Lalit Modi who was indicted by a London Court recently and ordered him to pay Pounds Stg. 90000 as damages and another sum of Pounds Stg. 400000 on account of legal costs to former New Zealand cricket captain Chris Cairns for a Tweet in January 2010 alleging that an earlier match-fixing was reason for not including him in IPL. Modi wouldn’t have perhaps made a public speech mentioning the same allegation, because it is generally known to end up in defamation/libel suits. But in legal reality a public speech would have been difficult to prove in a court that needs corroboration of Cairns’ version though. In this case, while tweeting, Modi put the material on electronic media, where it could be proved easily using technology that it was shared, joked about, and debated in public domain, causing obvious mental stress, pain and loss of reputation. A tweet about an issue involving the most popular game in India is read by lakhs of people in India alone.
Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court advocate says that a tweet, a Facebook post or a blog post is data in electronic form, which has been granted legal status under Section 4 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. They can be used in an Indian Court as evidence, once it is proved that it represents accurate information.
I understand rather belatedly that no online content is truly private though like many people I too had this false sense of security when I communicate online, in seeming anonymity of the amorphous zone of Internet. Knowledgeable people tell me now that if my idea is registering a complaint or protest, it is safer to use the e-mail instead of going to a public forum like Facebook, Twitter or even a blogsite. Professor (a media law and ethics researcher and teacher at Bond University in Queensland, Australia) Mark Pearson’s book ‘Blogging and Tweeting without getting Sued’ says that you make somebody’s mistake your own by just re-tweeting it. It appears that every time you blog or tweet you may be subject to the laws of more than 200 jurisdictions around the world! In recent history many bloggers and tweeters have discovered that they could be sued in their own country, or arrested in a foreign airport they were heading off on vacation - just for writing something that wouldn't raise an eyebrow if they had said the same stuff in a bar or a cafe anywhere in the world.  An information put on a website remains, even if it is altered or deleted later too. One’s rant against an individual is available to the posterity while it is in the public domain. That is likely to create some unpleasantness for some of us.

Medical tests and treatment

My encounter with the medical profession has been, fortunately, only a few and far between; and always satisfactory, more or less, that is. I had a medical insurance for the entire family when I was younger, and had no occasion to claim even a few hundred rupees. So I decided to disregard medical insurance as one of my concerns. Occasional news of someone getting seriously hurt in an accident, a friend or relative being hospitalised for expensive treatment, etc., used to give me a momentary worry about my uninsured status. By the time I crossed sixty, the concern hardened and I also found that medical insurance at this stage involved cumbersome medical tests. I went through them, and was told that I had passed them all. I paid the rather hefty premium and waited for the policy document which did not come for a long time. The agent started avoiding my calls and told me after a couple of months that I had to go through more tests. Out of disgust I took the money back. Later, another insurance company happily covered my wife and me. We are yet to make any claims.
Before this happy ending, I went through some hellish moments. I slipped and fell on the terrace where I went to scrape off moss in a rainy July, and broke my wrist. I used to be scared even reading about somebody else suffering a bone fracture and here I was at the receiving end for the first time in life. The trauma was terrible. My friend took me to a hospital managed by our former classmates. I found myself in an Intensive Care Unit, and believe me, heard doctors asking about my chest-pain. I said there was some misunderstanding, there was no chest pain. There was this monitor there, showing my heartbeats faster than normal. I was told my blood pressure was very low when I was brought in. When the senior orthopaedic came, I told him that I had no history of angina, no issue with my BP, and possibly the dangerous ‘numbers’ came from trauma. He agreed, fixed the time for my ‘procedure’ the next day, took me out of the ICU and allotted a room where I rested two more days after the cast and sling were put in place.
Next came two serious accidents, one involving my wife which destroyed our car and put her in the ICCU for over five weeks. It cost us Rs.6 lakhs in all. A few months later the car my daughter was travelling from Pune to Mumbai hit the median somewhere on the Express Way killing the driver on the spot, and injuring a friend, my daughter and her 9-month old daughter. They had come to visit us soon after we took residence in Pune.  My daughter had her femur and nasal bone broken, lacerations on her face; the child had a fore-arm and a femur broken, and our friend had her hip joint, and femur broken and three fractures on the arm. Our friend had a medical insurance though it was inadequate to cover the treatment. My son-in-law had this family health scheme in which his employer pays eighty per cent of the costs.
Apart from the traumatic situation, I was getting first-hand experience in paying medical bills, the main subject of this article. The hospital that took care of my people who suffered in the car accident was meant for highway accident cases. It was very efficient, well-equipped and well-staffed. It was also moderately-priced; but it had no paediatric ICU, mandatory for admitting a child involved in an accident. So my little grand daughter had to be taken to a super-speciality hospital run in the name of a big name in Indian industry. We realised from the grading of patients, the rental for the ICU, ward, and bystander accommodation, and the cost of tests and treatment that the hospital named after the late tycoon was no charitable hospice, but a ‘five-star hospital’ in common parlance. We had the comparative costs in the other place for every head of account!
And there was this condition in which you never ask questions. The life and limbs of your dear ones are in danger and you are also not really hard-up too. The latter aspect is a great boon from the Almighty who ordered the suffering for whatever reason, for sins of the previous life or whatever. I had occasion to sit next to people who worried like hell in conversation with others or on soliloquies how and from where the money for the medicines and the surgeries was going to come. One realises how fortunate one is, under the circumstances and thank God. However, I too had often wondered whether some departments in the moderately priced hospital were considering themselves as ‘profit centres’ and taking me for a ride. The radiography chap gave me so many bills for X-Rays that I never came across. Having paid in advance for an MRI scan, I was astonished to receive an instruction from him to pay Rs.2000 for “emergency” scanning. But the cashier raised some doubt, asked somebody-else’s concurrence and I obtained a 50% cut immediately. The pharmacist once told me the chief nurse in the ICU was asking me to pay for the ‘kit’ I had already replaced after the surgery, and he would handle it. He probably took pity on me in my unkempt appearance and worried look besides the amounts he was collecting himself, day-n and day-out.
It was very heartening to read in the New York Times that several major physicians’ groups in the US have identified 45 tests and procedures (five for each specialty) that are commonly used but have no proven benefit for many patients and sometimes cause more harm than good. Dr. Howard Brody, Professor of Family Medicine and Director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston (US), published an article in The New England Journal of Medicine in sometime in 2010 in which he criticized the performance of medical groups, observing that they were too concerned about protecting medical professionals’ incomes while refusing to consider measures (apart from malpractice reform) to reduce health care costs. That article initiated a conscientious relook by American medical professionals at the procedures. It is hoped that in India also such an awakening will take place among the medical fraternity before too long. The tests and treatments that being questioned in the US include, for example, annual electrocardiograms for low-risk patients and routine chest X-rays for ambulatory patients in advance of surgery. Dr.Brody’s article had urged each specialty to develop “top five” lists of tests and treatments whose elimination for main categories of patients would cut medical expenses quickly without depriving any them of meaningful medical benefit. American Board of Internal Medicine established a foundation which financed a successful test of the scientific approach in three primary care specialties first and further encouraged a broad range of specialty groups to develop their own lists. The review by cardiology, oncology, radiology and primary care, prepared the “top five” and their list included cardiac stress tests for annual checkups in asymptomatic patients; brain imaging scans after fainting; antibiotics for ordinary sinus infections caused generally by viruses, imaging of the lower spine within the first six weeks after suffering back pain; and bone scans for early prostate and breast cancer patients at negligible risk of metastasis. Radiologists now admit they could limit various tests performed earlier and gastroenterologists are prepared to limit the frequency of colonoscopies.
I am told by a veteran Indian practitioner of medicine that our doctors order these un-necessary tests for one or all of the following three reasons in varying degree: 1 - Wanting to feel they are "doing something" concrete for their patient (often at the request of the patient or relative) 2 - Poor training; and/or 3 - Financial incentives. In the US, apart from the above three, there is a fourth and very important one which is professionally christened “defensive medicine”, which is the practice of diagnostic or therapeutic measures employed, not to ensure the health of the patient but primarily as a safeguard against possible malpractice liability. Fear of litigation is the driving force behind defensive medicine in the US is known to increase cost of medical treatment higher by 79%-93%, particularly in emergency medicine, obstetrics, and other high-risk specialties. According to surveys by Jackson Healthcare and Gallup, an estimated $650 million plus is the additional cost of "defensive medicine," on account of ordering more tests.
In India things are not that bad for the medical profession. A physician can be charged with criminal negligence when a patient dies from the effects of anaesthesia during, an operation or other kind of treatment, if malicious intention or gross negligence could be proved as cause of death of a patient. In such cases, a doctor has to prove that he used reasonable and ordinary care in the treatment of his patient to the best of his judgment. He has immunity for an error judgment. The law expects a qualified physician to use a degree of expertise and care which an average person of equivalent qualifications ought to have, and does not expect him/her to bring the highest possible degree of skill in the treatment of patients, or to be able to guarantee cures. Gross/total lack of competency or gross inattention, or wanton indifference to the  safety of patients, arising from gross ignorance of the science of medicine and surgery or through gross negligence, either in the application of procedures, use of equipments, selection of remedies, and failure to give timely and adequate attention to the patient are a different issue. The Indian Courts have been wary of holding qualified physicians criminally liable for patients’ deaths on account of errors of judgment in the selection and application of remedies or in inadvertent deaths. So defence medicine is entirely rules out in our country.
Look at the other side: if nothing is found in the medical test report, it is deemed a waste of time and money. If there is something indeed that requires attention, then it was worth it. Isn’t it therefore true to assert that these decisions must be made on medical grounds, not economic? But then can we ignore there indeed was a time when doctors didn’t have the MRI, CT the colour Doppler/ultrasound, and the ultimate imaging tool was the scalpel/knife which however, was never used casually? The older generation among us remember those days nostalgically. They also observe that technology appears to have usurped the history-taking, physical examination and critical clinical thinking, for the worse, more often than not. I would add here that an important thing many of us over 50 or sixty ought to consider is having an attitude starting with age not being an illness, and exercise/diet being our core responsibility.
Doctors’ awareness and ethical conduct alone is unlikely to ease the situation whether in the US or in India. Patients have a responsibility understand that just because they can afford or because the health insurance scheme will bear the financial burden, they should not insist on or request for procedures that have little or no value. Their attitude is likely to decide the general cost of health care in the country as well. (Because lower costs of health care will immediately improve the availability of health care to the larger population as it becomes more affordable). Besides, there are serious health consequences resulting from unnecessary treatment, including excess radiation, adverse drug effects, and exposure to germs in medical institutions thanks to scans producing false positive resulting in exploratory surgery, biopsies and so on.