All posts by John P. Matthew

Johntext Author John P. Matthew is a famous blogger and author from Mumbai. He is Country Manager Johntext India.

Two Deaths

India’s premier city Bombay saw two noteworthy deaths in the past few days.

Firstly, the leader and founder of the ultra-right party Shiv Sena died a natural death at age 86 leaving his legacy to his son and grandson. (Here’s a link to his life and times.) Bal Thackeray founded the party after he resigned his job as a cartoonist in The Free Press Journal. He then went on to espouse the cause of the sons-of-the-soil in job allocations in Bombay, India’s premier business destination. Often he used strong-arm methods to force his policies on those who were recalcitrant, and those whose ideology was divergent from his own. But later in life many of his trusted generals deserted him. Still he carried on in spite of several cases being filed against his unconventional methods. He used bandhs (total closure of work) to force governments to accept his demands. His workers were not averse to using violence against the Communist trade unionists and workers of other parties. Ageing and infirm, another trusted aide Raj Thackeray, his nephew, deserted him to form his own party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has carved its constituency out of the Shiv Sena’s vote bank. The end came on 17th November 2012, and with that a chapter in Indian politics  ended.

Secondly, Ajmal Kasab, an extremist who came to India to kill people randomly four years ago in 2008 was executed in Yeravada jail, near Bombay. Allegedly he was trained by extremist outfits in Pakistan to carry out his crime. Ajmal was one of the nine extremists in his team who spread carnage inside the busy train Terminus named Victoria Terminus and two premium five-star hotels, Hotel Trident and Hotel Taj Mahal (where the cost of one night is equal to an Indian man’s one month’s salary). Out of the team of nine extremists he was the only one to be captured and was kept in a high-security prison for four years while his case was heard in courts and went up to the Supreme Court of India. After he lost all the cases his plea for mercy was sent to the president Pranab Mukherjee, who also rejected it. Ultimately the law had to take its course and he was taken to the high-security prison in Yeravada, near Bombay, secretly in the night. The end came on 21st November 2012 when the hangman put the noose around his neck.

Kejriwal Alleges Top Indian Businessmen Have Secret Swiss Accounts

The continuing crusade against corruption in India has entered a new phase. Arvind Kejriwal, India’s own Julian Assange (who had promised to publicise one case of corruption every week), has come out with more than one case. He has now accused a list of businessmen of hiding black money in Swiss banks. What is more, he has also revealed their modus operandi. See this article in the Times of India.

The modus goes like this. A rich businessman calls up a multinational bank (named in the above article) informing them he has to deposit a large amount in a Swiss bank. The bank sends its executives to collect the cash. The same day an account is opened in his name in a Dubai bank and then the cash is transferred to the bank’s branch in Switzerland. Everything is done without a hitch and the business man is safe in the belief that his money is in good hands. If he wants to withdraw he is given a contact’s name in Switzerland and with just a phone call the cash will be delivered at his door step. Isn’t that convenient? Some banks in India call it “Convenience banking.”

Kejriwal claims that his sources in government and the banking sector have seen a list of around 500 names of persons who held Swiss accounts released by the French government. This top secret document contained the names of the top-most Indian businessmen. The government was supposed to investigate these people and submit a report. However, investigations were done only in case of around a hundred small businessmen and the rest were let go with a wink and a nod. The big fish escaped the net and only the small fish were caught because the net wasn’t cast wide enough. Now, that’s Kejriwal’s claim.

Almost all the business houses have denied immediately that their owners do not hold secret Swiss accounts, of course. The spin doctors must have done their work in earnest. Bringing out such allegations have thrown the gauntlet at Kejriwal, since these are rich people he is messing with. They have their own legal departments and can bring defamation and libel suits against him. Will they do it and further expose themselves, or will they keep quiet. Let’s watch and see.

Kejriwal himself is waiting to launch his anti-graft political party. Will this help him in his crusade to make India corruption free? Remains to be seen.

Bombay Litfest Ends in Controversy

Literary controversies are nothing new to India. Last year when excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” was read at the Jaipur Literary Festival a lot of hackles were raised and the police had to becalled in. But has it become a staple of literary festival culture?
It seems likely when Girish Karnad, veteran actor and theatre personality took the stage at Litfest Bombay, Bombay’s own literary festival. Karnad was supposed to talk about his life in theatre and a number of acolytes had gathered to hear about his career and masterly performances. He both directs and acts in plays and movies. A few days earlier the Litfest had conferred the Life-time Achievement Award to Sir V.S. Naipaul, the famous expatriate writer of Indian origin from Trinidad & Tobago. Karnad, instead to speaking about his life in theatre launched into a diatribe on Sir Vidia, saying he is a muslim hater and that he knew nothing about Indian music. He also accused him of supporting the demolition of a Muslim Masjid in Ayodhya.
What must have been Karnad’s motivation for this outburst is known only to himself. But he has been quoted as saying that “William Dalrymple (Indian historian of British origin) has been attacking him for years. What I find disgraceful is that criticism came from Dalrymple and not an Indian writer.”
Obviously, the platform chosen to vent his grievance was all wrong. Karnad attacked the organizers of a Litfest on their own platform and got them into a tizzy. A lady from the audience asked him if he was jealous that Sir Vidia got the award and not him. What made Karnad take up cudgels on behalf of Indian Muslims? Does he want to get closer to Indian Muslims through this theatrical performance? Was he considered for the life-time award and rejected? Nothing is known as of now. Hope something emerges in future.

India’s Circle of Political Deceit

Corruption is not new in India. Politicians who control the funds consider corruption as their birthright. Raising the bogey of corruption has been a constant endeavour in the press these days. Then what happens? Half-hearted investigations are done, a few names are bandied around and the powerful people buy their peace. How? Because Indian politics is according to columnist Minhaz Merchant collusive, where the ruling party and opposition, though they may be foes in parliament, collude when serious charges of corruption are raised against the political class.

Crusader for stopping corruption Arvind Kejriwal came out in public with allegations of corruption against the president of the main rightist opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The president is a gentleman by the name of Nitin Gadkari, a man with staunch Hindu credentials. He has been accused by Kejriwal of running a ring of companies registered in fictitious addresses. And who are the directors of his companies? One is his driver, another is his accountant, and many others. A ring of companies known as Purthi Group owns several other companies into which funds have been invested, the source of which is not known.

What is shocking and disturbing about the revelation is that Gadkari, a senior member of the opposition party, is in collusion with another party which is a part of the governing coalition. That would mean that both government and opposition are colluding on bleeding the country’s money and resources. More developments will come as the press unearths more murky dealings. Till then one can only wait and watch.

Why Yash Chopra, the Film Director, Was Important for Switzerland

Yash Chopra, the movie moghul, who died last week was important to Switzerland in many ways. When I say important I mean in cultural, tourism, and commercial terms. The king of romance, as he was known, was well known for his preference of the Swiss Alps for shooting the songs in his films. Now why is this important for Switzerland? The reason is that seeing the beauty of Switzerland, Indians chose it as their preferred tourist destination. Gradually, cultural exchanges also took place and it brought the people of both countries together. Till then Indians didn’t know where Switzerland was, or, had any experience of the beauty of this country. Now most film directors take their crew and actors there because they think that having the Swiss countryside in their films could bring certain success. And this assumption was buttressed by the success of Yash Chopra’s films.

It’s no wonder then that Switzerland conferred an Swiss Ambassador’s Award on him in 2010 which was handed over by  none other than actress Ursula Andress. Chopra excelled in the romantic genre of films and romantic feelings were given a fillip when conducted against the idyllic Swiss countryside. Fans loved his films and wanted more. He gave them the best and was preparing to shoot a song for his forthcoming film Jab Tak Hai Jaan in Switzerland when he caught the dengue fever and died. They say it was dengue but old age also was catching up with him.

He leaves behind a vast oeuvre of films including super hits like Deewar, Silsila, and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. He is also responsible for the rise to super stardom of India’s foremost actor Amitabh Bachchan, who played the lead role in Deewar. He is also credited with the rise of the heartthrob of young people, Shahrukh Khan through films like Darr and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.

He is also credited with upholding Indian moral values while flirting with bold themes. His heroines always wore the Indian sari, that too in chiffon. His films did reflect the aspirations of a newly created generation, willing to forget the trauma of colonialism and launch themselves into the world as computer programmers and doctors.

Known to be genial and popular, he will be missed by the members of the film industry who worked with him and his countless fans. He will also be missed by people of Switzerland as he was the one who had forged cultural ties between India and the country.

Yash Chopra Rest In Peace!

Why Indians Do Not Prefer to Go to Persian Gulf?

For the past half century the Persian Gulf meaning the Arab countries have been a source of employment for Indians, especially for Indians from the south of country. For a year I too was one of these immigrants earning a good salary, which I didn’t get in India. I was able to pay a mortage on my house with this income, but I did find the working conditions there – in the Persian Gulf – not to my liking. I worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, almost 84 hours a week. It exhausted me, and I remember becoming home sick and returning to India.

However, of late, this dream of working in the Persian Gulf has been losing its charm. Estimates find that in 2011 only 2.28 million workers went to the region for employment. The rate of growth has also dipped from 7.1 per cent in 2003 to only 1.4 per cent in 2011. The reason for this is not hard to seek. India, with outsourcing centres and call centres is becoming an attractive job destination. Those who had to bribe their way to the Persian Gulf can now easily find a job in India itself. Moreover, they can live with their families and are entitled to much more benefits and perquisites in their home country.

So who are the ones working in the Persian Gulf now? Actually, with the collapse of the financial markets, Dubai, a prime destination for job-seekers is now in a big recession with scarcely any jobs being available. Saudi Arabia is still a good place to earn a living, however, salaries have been slashed. This has made the Philippinos, Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis as the main players in the job markets there. The Indian presence has diminished over time and who knows in future India may be a big destination for foreign jobs.

Girl Children Bear the Brunt of Parents’ Ire

Like many of its religious fundamentalist neighbours, India is not a good place for women these days. So it might seem from recent events. I mean a lot of progress has been made in various fields but still women, especially children, are abused by frustrated parents and men. The government has made education free for girls and there are a lot of facilities available for female children. However, the illtreatment of little girls persist. The reasons are many as I have written on my blog. In the Indian system, a women has to be paid a dowry while she gets married and goes to her husband’s house. Therefore she is considered a liability than an asset. Besides, a boy can earn a livelihood but employment opportunities for women are few. These may be some of the factors contributing to atrocities against women.

Recently, in my city of Bombay Dharmista, a housewife, battered her baby named Ahuti who died on admission to the hospital. It was said that Dharmista was frustrated that she couldn’t give birth to a son and her husband used to harass her because of this. Earlier on January 12 this year, another two-year-old girl was admitted to hospital with severe head injuries and died. Both her arms were broken and Falak was beaten for no fault of her’s.

In February a seven-year-old girl by name of Menaka Thakur was admitted to hospital with injuries and fractured limbs. This girl was beaten by her step mother Aarti Thakur. Then there is the case of Tanaz who also was beaten by her parents and died in hospital. Such examples abound in India, many go undocumented.

Why are these atrocities against girl children committed? What have they done? Do they deserve such cruel punishment from their own parents? Poor innocents have been sacrificed for their parents greed and insecurity. The situation can be remedied by joint action and a campaign to change mindsets of the people. However, this is a huge task ahead for Indian society in the days to come.

How Money Meant for Irrigation Disappeared

A few days ago we wrote about the government’s new economic policy. It came as good news to us, waiting for something to boost the economy and recharge the process of development. However, what we saw in the newspaper today is quite disappointing, no, quite depressing. What is depressing is this:

Around Rs 200,000 million has gone missing from the government’s allocation for irrigation. Now let us explain. Most of India face shortage of water and a drought is usual during the summer months leading to famines and extreme misery for farmers. The irrigation department was supposed to build dams and canals for the above amount so that farmers can cultivate throughout the year. It has been found now that Rs 200,000 million was given but no dams and canals were built. Then where did the money go? Did it disappear like a stream in the desert? Obviously it went into the pockets of contractors and bureaucrats. It’s only now it has been found out that a certain minister had approved several projects which have not yet been completed. What is more hurting is that some projects have been given additional funds without showing the required progress in construction.

So that’s the depressing news. Awful isn’t it? How can we be upbeat when such incidents are brought to our attention? The warning signs had appeared long ago when an official of the irrigation department had pointed out that the minister had signed on projects without the required aapprovals. Why wasn’t any action taken at that time? Will they nail the real culprits? We can only wait and watch as the story unfolds.

Indian Government Faces a Test of Strength

I am John P.Matthew, a writer from India and I will be writing a regular column for Johntext from today. I thank Hans-Jurgen John for inviting me to be a part of Johntext.

Well, to be frank,  India is as yet a poor country where millions of its citizens live below the poverty level. Only recently the economy has improved because of the influx of funds into the business outsourcing and software development industries. Even then the country has a problem maintaining a growth rate of 8 per cent it needs to keep up with its neighbour China. This year the growth rate is much below the 8 per cent target and is lagging behind at 6. So the government has unleashed a number of reforms among which are: raising the price of diesel (which is already very high), increasing the price of cooking gas, allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand malls and shopping chains. People here feel this will further drive up the inflation rate.

However, these reforms haven’t been accepted by all Indians. Trinamool Congress, a party supporting the coalition that rules the country withdrew its support and the country erupted into strikes and bandhs (bandh means a stopping of all work) by the leading opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The beleagured government is adamant about its resolve to go ahead with the reforms which should see a considerable improvement in growth rate, almost up to 8 per cent.

Now what remains to be seen is what the corruption-tainted government will do to pacify the opposition parties. Already there is talk of early elections by the opposition since a poll now will favour them. The ruling party of Manmohan Singh is reeling and a blow could bring the government down. So all eyes are watching what this taciturn former bureaucrat would do to save the economy and, at the same time, keep the government’s allies happy.