Sunday 1 January 2012

'India should not be like Italy' (Sunday Guardian)


Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI
nyone watching the nightly Q&A sessions on cable television knows that every office-holder of the Congress party adores Sonia Gandhi and seeks only to please her by implementing her decisions. Those who have been given executive authority — as ministers or heads of agencies and corporations — want to bring a smile to the Congress President's (CP's) face by ensuring that their own corner of India develops only in the manner that she likes. Naturally, this means avoiding any feature disfavoured by Sonia Gandhi, for to promote those may lead to that most horrible of punishments, a frown and removal from the job in which the party personage is working 24/7, of course in the service of the people, even if these be only himself, his relatives, his friends and those others who, for a miscellany of weighty reasons, he or she seeks to oblige. From panchayat member to Prime Minister of India, their mission is the same: to fashion an India that fits the wishes of the incomparable Sonia. That they are succeeding in this task is clear from the fact that they are still at their posts, in a context where even a hint of disapproval from 10 Janpath would be enough to send them packing.
The nation must thank Rani Singh, who has written a book, which is clearly the last word on Sonia Gandhi. In her biography, Singh has revealed that after her marriage, Sonia Gandhi turned her back on Italy to embrace the culture, lifestyles, culinary arts, attire and languages of our country, presumably abandoning those of her native land. Only after reading her biography of Sonia Gandhi has it become clear as to why, for example, Kapil Sibal is so frenetic about putting in place curbs on internet freedom, or why Ambika Soni wants dress and moral codes on television and in cinema to approximate those of Saudi Arabia or North Korea, both countries blessed with television programmes where little gets revealed. In the case of Saudi Arabia, that country is so evolved that it has done away with producing movies altogether, surely a desirable path to follow instead of the situation in Italy, where all sorts of movies get produced, and where even more "revealing" ones get shown. As Sonia Gandhi wants India to be as unlike Italy as possible, she is favouring policies that would ensure that the cultural distance between the two countries remains vast and unbridged. That there is much licence in the web world in Italy is clear to even a casual visitor. Intimate subjects get openly discussed in a way that would horrify Ambika Soni (and by extension, Sonia Gandhi). Even Silvio Berlusconi (who has spent a lifetime in the service of the Italian people in exactly the same way as our netas serve the rest of the population here) gets mercilessly lampooned in online fora. Unfortunately for Berlo, he did not have ministers as loyal to him as Kapil Sibal or Ambika Soni are to Sonia Gandhi. Had there been such bravehearts in Italy, they would instantly have called to account the managers of the offending websites and television studios, and ordered them to shut up or ship out. Clearly, in her not infrequent visits to Italy and interactions with the people of that country, Sonia Gandhi has clearly been so deeply affected by the licence, the liberty that they enjoy in the world of cyberspace in 2011 Italy, so different from the Italy of her childhood. India should be different, and such licence, such liberty should not be allowed
Speaking of Silvio and his habits, a television channel even showed clips of Berlusconi's moral twin Narain Dutt Tiwari (at that time a constitutional head of a state) having his daily session of aerobic exercise with other invisibly clad fitness freaks, each of them attractive females. What was intolerable to Sonia Gandhi's acolytes was not that an ageing personage had such a robust exercise regimen, but that his privacy be so wantonly violated by a news channel. Those within the Congress party speak of immediate threats of retribution having been made against those who dared to bring to Indian television screens an Italian-style transparency. Were such warnings the reason why the clip was killed by other channels? After all, how can Indians be trusted with the same freedoms as are enjoyed by the people of Italy? Sonia Gandhi must believe that the internet freedoms and television standards of Italy are incompatible with the comprehension levels of India's people. In this view, she is joined by the New Delhi magistrate who has just ordered dozens of websites (most of them international) to remove "offensive" material or else. The distinguished jurist has thereby gladdened the heart of two petitioners who sought to ensure that no one in the country be given the option of viewing material which they themselves have found offensive. Some would believe that the petitioners ought simply to have used their remotes to switch to other channels, or else give away their laptops and abjure the internet, rather than inflict their preferences on the entire country. However, judging by the stand taken by decision-makers in the Indian establishment, such freedom should be denied to Indians, who are apparently incapable of responding rationally to images and messages with which they completely disagree, unlike Italians.
o come to the much discussed telecom sector, Italians enjoy the facility of near-free roaming throughout their country. Reason enough to ensure that national roaming be kept prohibitively expensive in India, where permitted at all. In order to make India as different from Italy as possible, Kapil Sibal has ordered telecom companies to abandon national roaming altogether and thereby treat each state as a separate country for purposes of coverage. Those of us who believe that India is already far too segmented (just ask any truck driver) must be wrong, for in Sonia's India, such barriers apparently need to be not simply retained but multiplied, as witness the effort to deny 3G subscribers nationwide roaming. However, let it be said that this columnist does not agree with Sonia Gandhi that India should not be anything like Italy. Instead, he would like to see in India the internet and other freedoms enjoyed by citizens of Italy. He is among the many disappointed that Sonia Gandhi's India seems to be veering far closer to Afghanistan than to Italy in its freedoms and its culture-governance matrix.

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