Saturday, July 30, 2011

Will follow Sachar's advice on minority welfare: Mamata


Kolkata, July 30:West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Saturday met Justice (retd) Rajinder Sachar and said her government will follow the suggestions of the former judge who earlier headed a committee for the development of Muslims in the country.

'Justice Sachar was here and we had a meeting for over an hour. We discussed matters and exchanged views regarding minority welfare. He has given us some suggestions which we will follow,' said Banerjee after the meeting.

'I am happy that we have been able to keep our commitment of seeking his advice. He (Sachar) expressed happiness over the work we have done so far for the progress of the minorities in the state,' she added.

Banerjeee also said that Sachar has asked her to keep a tab on the development projects relating to the minorities. 'We have already launched e-governance and along with the data bank we will be able to gauge the progress of all our schemes on this front.'

The chief minister Saturday announced economic sops for the minority community, including Rs.82 crore as loans and Rs.122 crore in the form of stipends, scholarships and other payments. Under the Indira Aawas Yojna, 37,300 houses in the state and 5,000 houses in Kolkata will be constructed for them.

She also said 6,527 tube wells and 7,200 Aganwadis will be set up in minority dominated areas, besides 717 health centers and 39 Urdu medium schools. More than 7.5 lakh minority community students will be given scholarships and the number raised to over eight lakh from next year.

Delhi all set for its first Slutwalk


New Delhi, July 30 : The virtual world was Saturday abuzz with last minute invitations, even as preparations were in full swing for the capital's first Slut Walk or 'Besharmi Morcha' Sunday -- a campaign to protest the random use of the word 'slut' and sexual violence against women.

The official page of the campaign on Facebook, with over 1,450 members, had the message loud and clear: 'All set for tomorrow.'

While the route of the walk has been shortened and the event will be a toned-down version of its international counterpart, the organisers have asked supporters to get creative and make their own slogans.

'Make your own slogans, bring colourful placards to the walk. Say what you want,' posted Umang Sabharwal, the organiser.

Slut Walks have become a global phenomenon to protest against sexual violence after a police officer in Toronto caused outrage by stating in a speech to university students that women should avoid 'dressing like sluts' to avoid being victimised.

'We have shortened our initial route and are now starting the walk from the Free Church to YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) all the way to Jantar Mantar (in central Delhi). We have taken permission from the Delhi Police,' Mishika Singh, one of the organisers, told IANS.

Slut Walks across the globe see women dress in skimpy clothing to challenge the mindset that victims of sexual violence should be blamed for the assault on them.

'The name Besharmi Morcha was keeping in mind the Indian target audience,' added Singh.

The supporters seemed excited to make the event a colourful one. The walk starts at 10.30 a.m. and ends at 12.30 p.m.

'Countdown starts! Sunday we will make our point clear. Full support to slut walk,' wrote one of the supporters Alexander Will.

2G scam will die its own death: Chandolia


New Delhi, July 30:The second generation (2G) spectrum allocation scam will die its own death like the mid-1980s Bofors gun deal scandal, jailed former communications minister Andimuthu Raja's ex-personal secretary R.K. Chandolia told a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) special court here Saturday.

Chandolia's counsel said in the beginning of the Bofors deal scandal, there was a huge 'hue and cry' but the case died its own death.

'Similar is the situation in the 2G case. It will also die its own death,' Chandolia's counsel told CBI Special Judge O.P. Saini.

He claimed that the probe agency gave him the choice of becoming a witness or an accused in the case.

Defending himself, Chandolia said he was not the decision making authority for spectrum allocation.

'I was assisting my minister. Can an assistant ask his lord what decision have you made. I am not concerned whether their decision is right or wrong. I am no one, just a pawn in the chess game. I challenge the CBI. Let them show one sign on a single document. There are a number of people who have signed on papers but the CBI has not called them in,' said Chandolia.

'I am like a child, who is asked to deliver the bag to someone. I have only done that, then what is wrong in it. Why should I be prosecuted?' defence counsel asked.

'I was used by the minister (Raja)...I used to carry out his instruction,' said Chandolia, concluding the arguments on the charges levelled against him.

'The CBI should prove where have I forged any documents to favour Swan (Telecom) or Unitech (Wireless,' said Chandolia.

'In the Delhi circle, Swan was given preference as due to the Idea and Spice merger, they were not eligible,' he said.


Chandolia said his arrest Feb 2 was illegal as nowhere did the witnesses' statements recorded by the CBI in January and February showed his involvement.

'His name only figured in the statements in the month of March,' said defence counsel, adding that how was it possible that the same witness gave two different statements.

'The CBI manipulated the charge sheet with a predetermined mind to prosecute me,' Chandolia said.

He said the CBI showed a loss of Rs.30.000 crore to the exchequer in spectrum allocation but there was no word on the loss caused by him.

'I do not know the amount of loss I caused to the government of India, for which I am prosecuted,' said Chandolia, adding that since he had been charged with cheating he must be told about the loss allegedly caused by his actions.

Chandolia is currently lodged in the Tihar Jail along with 13 others involved in the case.

Swam Telecom promoter Shahid Usman Balwa would begin his arguments on charges Monday.

Arrest Swamy, rights body urges Mumbai police


Mumbai, July 30: Maharashtra's minorities commission Saturday called for the arrest of Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy for his 'extreme xenophobic right-wing thoughts' expressed in a newspaper article.

State Minorities Commission vice chairman Abraham Mathai wrote to Mumbai police chief Arup Patnaik, urging him to initiate criminal charges against Swamy under Section 153 (A) of the Indian Penal Code.

'I am writing to you following uproar and a feeling of insecurity among the minority community caused by an article written by Dr. Subramanian Swamy entitled 'How to wipe out Islamic terror' published in the DNA of 16th July 2011,' the letter said.

Swamy, a doctorate from Harvard, penned an op-ed that advocated denial of voting rights to non-Hindus with the goal of stemming terrorist attacks in India.

'The extreme xenophobic right-wing thoughts expressed in it are quite disturbing and the article is socially irresponsible and completely anti-Islamic. It is also alarming that Dr. Swamy is trying to incite Islamophobia using his freedom of expression to propagate hate through stereotyping,' Mathai said.

Mathai also said that there are 'Hindu terrorists' as well in jails who have equally perpetrated heinous acts.

'As a matter of fact, the Muslim community has as much stake as any in the progress, security and well being of India as a nation. Dr. Swamy's bizarre solution is converting Muslims into Hinduism, rather than allowing each individual to choose to live as he/she wishes as expressed in Article 25 of the constitution,' he said.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Internet Is ‘Modifying Our Memory’


A research in the journal Science suggests that computers and the internet may be altering the quality of our memory. Psychology experiments showed that when people were presented with difficult questions, they began to think of computers. When volunteers knew that facts would be available on a computer later, they had poor recollection of answers but enhanced recollection of where they were stored.

Researchers believe that internet acts as a “trans-active memory” that people depend upon to remember for them. Lead author Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University explained that trans-active memory “is an idea that there are external memory sources – really storage places that exist in other people. There are people who are experts in certain things and we allow them to be, [to] make them responsible for certain kinds of information.”

Co-author of the paper Daniel Wegner, now at Harvard University, first suggested the transactive memory concept in a book chapter titled Cognitive Interdependence in Close Relationships, finding that long-term couples trusted each other to act as one another’s memory banks. Dr Sparrow said, ”I really think the internet has become a form of this transactive memory, and I wanted to test it.”

The foremost part of the team’s research was to examine whether subjects were “fit” to think about computers and the internet when confronted with difficult questions. To do that, the team employed what is known as a modified Stroop test. The standard Stroop test assesses how long it takes for a volunteer to read a color word when the word itself is a different colour – for example, the word “green” written in blue.

Reaction times heighten when, instead of colour words, volunteers are asked to read words about topics they may already be thinking about. In this manner the team demonstrated that, after presenting subjects with difficult true/false questions, reaction times to internet-related conditions were visibly longer, indicating that when volunteers did not know the answer, they were already considering the idea of obtaining it through a computer.

A more assuring experiment allowed a stream of facts to the volunteers, with half of the volunteers told to file them away in a number of folders on a computer, and half told that the facts would be erased. When asked to remember the facts, those who knew the information would not be available later performed way better than those who filed the information away. But those who anticipated the information would be available were outstandingly good at recollecting in which folder they had stored the information.

Dr Sparrow said, ”This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored.” She explained that the aptness of volunteers to recollect the location of the information, rather than the information itself, is a sign that people are not getting less able to remember things, but simply organising vast amounts of available information in a more accessible way. ”I don’t think Google is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things… If you can find stuff online even while you’re walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information. It’s just like it would be with people – the skill to have is to remember who to go see about [specific topics].”

Choose colleges wisely, US tells Indian students


New Delhi, July 29 : Prospective Indian students should thoroughly research educational institutes based in the US before taking admission to prevent any fraud, the US embassy here said.

'The US government urges all prospective students to fully research their chosen educational institutes and have a firm grasp of what is and is not permitted under a student visa,' said the US embassy statement Friday.

The guidance comes on a day authorities in Annandale, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, raided on charges of fraud the offices of a university with 90 percent of the 2,400 students from India and a majority of them from Andhra Pradesh.

'All students must be aware that lack of physical attendance at classes (taking only online courses) is not acceptable, failure to maintain a full course load and unauthorized employment will result in an immediate violation of status,' the statement added.

According to the embassy, the number of Indian students who have applied for visas to study in the US increased by 20 percent over the same period last year.

'The embassy also is to provide accurate, free information that allows students and their families to research schools and to protect themselves from visa fraud rings,' it said.

It went on to say that violating the terms of a visa can result in deportation, arrest and even a bar on future travel to the country.

'It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that he or she is in accordance with the law,' it said.

According to the embassy, over one lakh Indian students are currently studying at universities across the US, and thousands more will join them in the coming academic year.

'Within the next months, the EducationUSA centre at US-India Educational Foundation in New Delhi is expecting to introduce a telephone hotline and virtual information hub for students,' the statement added.

Yeddyurappa to be consulted on successor: Rajnath


New Delhi, July 29 :) Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Rajnath Singh Friday said the new chief minister of Karnataka would be elected on the basis of consensus and the outgoing B.S. Yeddyurappa would also be consulted.

'We will be talking to all the senior leaders there (Karnataka), including Yeddyurappa ji and will try to select a leader based on consensus,' Singh told a news channel here before leaving for Karnataka.

'He is a senior leader of Karnataka and will definitely participate in the talks,' Singh added about Yeddyurappa, who was Thursday asked to quit by the BJP after he was indicted by the Lokayukta in connection with illegal mining.

When asked whether the new chief minister would be a legislator or an MP, Singh said, 'I can't say anything right now.'

Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde has sought Yeddyurappa's trial for graft in the illegal mining scam that has caused a loss of over Rs.16,000 crore to the state.

Over 12 hours after the BJP directed him to quit immediately, Yeddyurappa announced that he would resign July 31 and work for the party.

Court rebukes Kalmadi; asks why he wants to attend parliament


New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Thursday snubbed Congress MP and sacked Commonwealth Games Organising Committee chief Suresh Kalmadi, who asked for permission to attend parliament, and said the government would not fall if he didn't attend the session.

"There is no such important issue going to take place in parliament that if you (Kalmadi) do not attend the session then the government will fall," Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw observed.

The court also asked Kalmadi's counsel what his client would do attending parliament.

The parliament session is being broadcast on television news channels throughout the day, he said. Therefore, he may write a question on a piece on paper, which can be tabled before the house.

"What we notice here is that he hardly has any attendance..." the court observed.

The court supported Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A.S. Chandhiok's arguments that if a government servant was not allowed to attend any top meetings when they are in custody, how could Kalmadi.

The court also issued notice to the home ministry and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the petition by Kalmadi, who is in Tihar jail on charges of financial irregularities ahead of the Games.

Justice Endlaw sought the responses by Monday (Aug 1) and directed Kalmadi to file an affidavit of his attendance record of the last five years in parliament.

Kalmadi's counsel Ashok Desai said it would be difficult for him to get the attendance record of last five years. The court then said: "If five years would not be possible, then file the attendance record of the last session."

"The accused shall also file an affidavit containing information about the type of questions being asked during the parliament session in last five years," said the court.

"He has been parliamentarian since 1982. It his right to attend the session," Kalmadi's counsel argued, citing earlier court orders of different states that allowed former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda, as also Rajesh Ranjan of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), to attend the session while in police custody.

The home ministry and CBI opposed Kalmadi's application saying he could influence witnesses while attending the session. The monsoon session of parliament begins Aug 1.

The court also directed Kalmadi's counsel to file his latest medical report. Kalmadi underwent a brain scan at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Thursday.

He dismissed reports that he was suffering from dementia and told reporters outside AIIMS: "I'm perfectly all right."

Kalmadi was arrested April 25. The CBI May 20 filed its first chargesheet in the corruption case against him and 10 others.

Cabinet drafts Lokpal bill, activists say too weak


NEW DELHI - The cabinet on Thursday finished drafting the Lokpal bill aimed at curbing graft in the government, but activists slammed it saying it was not tough enough to fight widespread corruption which poses a risk to economic growth.

The bill seeks to set up a Lokpal to investigate charges of corruption against ministers and lawmakers, but does not cover the prime minister, judges and bureaucrats.

The bill will need parliamentary approval to become law. It is set to be introduced in parliament next week, Law Minister Salman Khursheed said.

"It has been this government's agenda to bring greater transparency in functioning, this is an example of that," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said.

Slamming the bill as too weak because it did not cover the prime minister and judges, Anna Hazare, the social activist whose hunger strike in April forced the government to begin drafting the bill, said he would begin a second fast against corruption, raising the sceptre of a fresh wave of anti-government protests.

"They have not cheated Anna Hazare, they have cheated the country's people," Anna Hazare, an activist whose four-day long fast for the bill in April drew wide support from a public angered by a slew of graft scandals, told Times Now television.

"For this reason I, along with the entire nation, will sit on protest ... till I have no life in my body.

"People have to take this as another battle for independence and take to the streets to fight corruption."

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has taken on the government over graft, said it did not "appreciate" the non-inclusion of the prime minister in the bill.

Khursheed said bringing a serving prime minister in the Lokpal's remit would affect his ability to work effectively.

He added that the law permitted a probe after the prime minister's term had ended.

"Anyone who challenges this procedure is not challenging the government of the day, is actually challenging the parliament of our country. It is for them to decide if they want to challenge the parliament of our country or not," he said.

India ranks 78 on Transparency International's global list of corruption perceptions and global consultancy KPMG has said graft could stunt the country's economic growth.

Hazare's fast in April had struck a chord with tens of thousands of Indians fed up with a series of corruption scandals in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's second term, which have been linked to members of his government and party.

Last month, yoga guru Swami Ramdev and thousands of his followers staged a mass hunger strike in New Delhi to demand reforms, including the death penalty for corrupt officials. Dozens were injured when the government sent a phalanx of police in with batons and tear gas to break up their peaceful protest.

The corruption charges have eroded Singh's authority, paralysed policymaking, and weighed on India's growth potential.

Two ministers have resigned, one of whom is A. Raja, who faces allegations he caused a loss of $39 billion to the government by rigging the issuance of lucrative 2G telecoms licences.

Draft vetoes PM and Anna


New Delhi, July 28: The Union cabinet today approved the Lokpal bill after overruling Manmohan Singh, who again advocated bringing the Prime Minister within the corruption ombudsman's ambit.

The higher judiciary, conduct of MPs inside Parliament, and the lower bureaucracy too have been kept out of the Lokpal's jurisdiction.

Anna Hazare, whose civil society group had insisted on all these sections and the Prime Minister being included, termed the draft a "cruel joke" and announced he would go ahead with his threatened fast from August 16.

Asked about Hazare's threat, law minister Salman Khurshid said: "The bill will become the property of Parliament once it is introduced. The members can then make amendments. It is up to the Hazare group members to decide whether they want to challenge Parliament. In that case, those who handle law-and-order problems (home ministry)... they will address that."

Manmohan Singh had reaffirmed his stand at the start of the cabinet meeting but senior ministers, particularly those with a background in law, explained its pitfalls.

The Congress had already decided to keep the Prime Minister out of the Lokpal's reach.

Singh gave in to the majority view and the cabinet decided to allow the Lokpal to look into corruption charges against a Prime Minister after he or she has demitted office.

"We don't want to create an environment of instability in the country," Khurshid said, defending the decision.

While Khurshid hoped India would never have a Prime Minister who would need to be investigated, information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni rationalised Singh's stand, saying: "A leader of his personality and integrity will obviously want no protection."

Officers of under-secretary rank and above have been kept within the Lokpal's ambit though Hazare's team had insisted on covering the entire bureaucracy.

Khurshid said the higher judiciary had been kept out as the Congress wanted a strong and independent judicial system.

On excluding the conduct of MPs inside Parliament, he said: "The members enjoy certain constitutional protection and we were not rewriting the Constitution."

The bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, probably within the first two days after it begins on August 1. The bill is much stronger than the original draft proposed by the government.

Asked how many of the Hazare group's suggestions the government had accepted, Khurshid said: "They gave 40 principles and we have accepted 34."

He said the government had benefited through its interaction with the joint drafting committee's civil society members, who made constructive suggestions on a consolidated fund and autonomy for the Lokpal, and the need to free it from the requirement of sanction for prosecution.


The Lokpal will have a chairperson and eight members and can probe corruption allegations against ministers, MPs (sitting and former), Group A officers, chairpersons or members of boards, corporations, authorities, public sector companies, societies, trusts, autonomous bodies established by an act of Parliament, and NGOs wholly or substantially funded by the government.

It will not need sanction to prosecute and can attach any property acquired by a public servant through illegal means. But the government has rejected the demand for summary dismissal of officials, giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

"We don't want to give unreasonable protection, nor do we want to throw them to the wolves," Khurshid said.

The Lokpal will have its own investigation and prosecution wings but can draw manpower from the CBI till the full-fledged system is put in place. It cannot punish and will refer the cases to the high court.

Every investigation will be time-bound and the Lokpal must seek high court permission for every three-month extension.

There will be a seven-year limitation period for the cases to be taken up, which means a case will be alive for seven years since the date of cognisance of the complaint. In civil cases, there is usually a two-year limitation period.

Asked if the seven-year period was enough as some Prime Ministers can remain in office for two full terms or more, the law minister said a standing committee could look into this matter.


At least half the Lokpal's members, including the chairperson, will be from the judiciary. The chairperson will be a serving or retired Supreme Court judge while the non-judicial members will be eminent people with at least 25 years of service and known for "impeccable integrity".

The Lokpal can be removed only through a presidential reference to the Supreme Court. Anybody who has served on the Lokpal can neither join politics nor contest elections.

The selection panel will include the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, a cabinet minister recommended by the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, a high court chief justice, and an eminent jurist.

Hazare sees a 'cruel joke'


ew Delhi, July 28: Anna Hazare's team today said the Lokpal bill was a "cruel joke" on the country and warned that people would teach the government a lesson after the Gandhian begins his fast at Jantar Mantar from August 16.

The group also said the Supreme Court would strike down the legislation as unconstitutional if it kept the Prime Minister out of the ambit of the proposed anti-corruption ombudsman. "It is a deceit on the nation," Hazare said in Maharashtra, adding that he would go ahead with his indefinite hunger strike.

Hazare group members Kiran Bedi and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan warned that the bill, once enacted, would encourage state governments to keep chief ministers out of the ambit of the Lokayukta.

"I don't think it will be a very strong Lokpal bill," Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, a member of the joint drafting committee, said. Arvind Kejriwal said the bill would fail to address any kind of corruption ' high or low.

The activists said the government had proposed a "fractured Lokpal" to suit corporate interests and "fool" people. "The entire country will protest with me at Jantar Mantar on August 16.… This is not Hazare's protest but the entire country's," Hazare said in Maharashtra.

Bhushan said the ministers who were part of the joint drafting committee displayed "total illiteracy" of constitutional law. "This bill will be struck down by the Supreme Court within a minute if they give immunity to the Prime Minister," he said.

The group said "there was nothing for the common man" in the bill. Bhushan said exclusion of the lower bureaucracy meant corruption in everyday life, such as in the public distribution system or diversion of medicines from government hospitals, had been left out of the Lokpal's ambit. "This bill is a cruel joke on the people," he added.

Lokpal Bill row: Delhi Police denies Team Anna permission to hold fast


New Delhi, July 29 ): Delhi Police on Friday denied permission to veteran social activist Anna Hazare to hold an indefinite hunger strike at the Jantar Mantar here on August 16.

The Delhi Police referred to the Supreme Court's 2009 order to deny team Anna permission for the indefinite strike anywhere in Delhi, the Times Now channel reports.

The police, in its letter to Hazare, said that as Parliament would be in session, no group could be allowed to capture the entire space at Jantar Mantar, as many groups come out on protests during that period.

The letter further states that if team Anna wished they could hold their strikes in Delhi's outskirts, or give a definite time limit during which they would be allowed a sit-in protest.

Charging the government of bringing a fractured Lokpal Bill, Hazare had said on Thursday in Maharashtra's Ralegaon Siddi town that he would protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on August 16.

"The entire country will protest with me at Jantar Mantar on August 16...This is not Hazare's protest but the entire country's. The people need to look at this as a second fight for their freedom and they should all come out on the streets," Hazare said.

The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the official draft of the Lokpal Bill and trashed the key proposals moved by Team Anna.

The Bill provides for the establishment of the institution of Lokpal to inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The Bill envisages setting up the institution of Lokpal consisting of a chairperson and eight members with the stipulation that half of the members shall be judicial members.

It will have its own Investigation Wing and Prosecution Wing with such officers and staff as are necessary to carry out its functions.

The Lokpal shall inquire into allegations of corruption made in respect of Prime Minister, after he has demitted office; a Minister of the Union; a Member of Parliament; any Group "A" officer or equivalent; Chairperson or member or officer equivalent to Group "A" in any body/ Board/ corporation/ authority/ company/ society/ trust/ autonomous body established by an Act of Parliament or wholly or partly financed or controlled by the Central Government; any director, manager, secretary or other officer of a society or association of persons or trust wholly or partly financed or aided by the government or in receipt of any donations from the public and whose annual income exceeds such amount as the Central Government may by notification specify.

However, the organisations created for religious purposes and receiving public donations would be outside the purview of Lokpal.

The Lokpal shall not require sanction or approval under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, in cases where prosecution is proposed.

The Lokpal will also have powers to attach the property of corrupt public servants acquired through corrupt means.

The Rorschach Effect in Indian Politics

Amit Varma

Consider this man: He runs a village in rural Maharashtra as if it is his personal fiefdom, like an authoritarian feudal lord. He is a fan of Shivaji, and admires him for once chopping off the hands of a man who committed a crime. In that vein, he passes an order that anyone found drinking alcohol will be tied to a pole in front of the village temple and publicly flogged. Several men undergo this, one of whom, a vice sarpanch of the village, says: "I was drinking. I was ... tied to the pole and flogged two-three times. It is normal. [He] will try to make you understand once or twice and thereafter, he will beat you badly." He believes in "rigid implementation" of family planning, including forced vasectomies. Male labourers in his village are paid Rs 50 a day, while female labourers get just Rs 30. He supports Narendra Modi, and is politically active, routinely resorting to a form of blackmail known as threatening to fast unto death until his demands are met. He believes that corrupt people should be hanged -- literally hanged to death. He is Anna Hazare.

In the last month or so, the 71-year-old Hazare has become a middle-class hero and a "youth icon" in India. This is baffling, given the biographical details in the above paragraph. (I got them from Hartosh Singh Bal's article for Open magazine and Mukul Sharma's piece in Kafila.) Hazare is popularly described as Gandhian, but, as Bal points out, if the forced vasectomies are anything to go by, he brings Sanjay Gandhi to mind more than Mahatma Gandhi. Sure, he is fighting against corruption, but both his method (of blackmail via the hunger fast) and his remedy (creating an alternative center of power and discretion instead of tackling the root causes of corruption) are dubious. Then why has middle-class India turned him into such a hero?

I believe it is because we are lazy. It is true that we are disgusted by corruption. We are sick of reading about the telecom scandal, the Radia tapes, the Commeonwealth games. More than that, corruption has become a virus that plagues our everyday lives, and we're appalled by it. But we're too damn lazy to go out and vote and actually participate in our democracy. We're apathetic, and believe, perhaps correctly, that our feeble middle-class vote won't make a difference. And yet, we want to express our disgust at the way things are, take the moral high ground, and feel like we really are doing something, because hey, that helps our self esteem. Then along comes this venerable activist who wears khadi, lives a spartan life, speaks out against corruption in high places, and goes on a hunger strike to influence the implentation of a bill that aims to tackle corruption. Naturally, we make him the repository of our hopes and our values, speak out in his defence at parties and cafes while hanging out with friends, and even light candles in his support. And there, our job as citizens is done.

The intellectual laziness here is obvious. We make him our hero though we know little else about him, and when his weird history comes to light, we rationalise it away. We ignore the fact that the Lokpal Bill, which he is fighting for, does nothing to tackle the root causes of corruption, and might actually be a step in the wrong direction. We treat attacks on our new hero -- if the behaviour of some of his defenders on TV is anything to go by -- as personal attacks on us. We start dealing in absolutes, as if anyone against Hazare must, by default, be a supporter of corruption and the status quo.

The Anna Hazare phenomenon is what one could term the Rorschach Effect in Politics. A couple of years ago, Barack Obama wisely pointed out, "I am like a Rorschach test." During his presidential campaign, his supporters saw in him whatever they wanted to: an anti-Bush, a liberal messiah, a pragmatic and non-partisan moderate, and suchlike, some of it without any evidence, some of it contradictory. (Similarly, his opponents projected their fears or fantasies onto him.) Needless to say, when he did come to power, he disappointed many who had voted for him, because hey, he couldn't possibly live up to being everything to everybody. (For example, lefty pacifists were disappointed that he stepped up the war in Afghanistan, even though that's exactly what he said he'd do while campaigning.) He was a blank slate no more.

Hazare is a similar beneficiary of the Rorschach Effect. Although he has been an activist for decades, he's exploded into the national consciousness in just the last few weeks. And a politically powerless middle class has projected its hopes, its self-righteousness and its sense of moral superiority onto him. But Hazare is no Mahatma Gandhi, and I think disillusionment, both with the man and the Lokpal Bill, is bound to set in sooner or later. Unless indifference and apathy precede it.

* * * *

Another of Rorschach's children is Rahul Gandhi. He's been hailed as a youth icon and the face of new India, and Page 3 celebs routinely describe him as one of their favourite politicians. But apart from the fact that he's good looking and belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi family, we know very little about him. What are the values that he stands for? What are his views on economic freedom and the license raj? What are his views on freedom of speech? (If he supports it, is he then in favour of repealing the ban on Satanic Verses?) What does he feel about reservations? (He has spoken out against the caste system, and reservations do, after all, perpetuate discrimination on the basis of caste.) He has spoken out for inner-party democracy, which India needs so badly, but is he doing anything to drive the Congress towards a system where party leaders are elected from below, not anointed from above? Does he hope to be prime minister one day? If so, why? What kind of a person is he, really?

Gandhi is as blank a slate as you can get, in the sense that he won't address any of these issues, and most of the public pronouncements we hear from him are platitudes that express good intention, which is meaningless. If that is a deliberate political strategy, it is masterful. Whether it will work, in this age of identity politics when votebanks are fragmented and all politics is local, is uncertain. But I guarantee you one thing: he'll have middle-class support.

* * * *

My column today is meant to address the nature of middle-class support for Anna Hazare, not the folly of it, but if you're interested in checking out some of the arguments against it, do read these pieces by me, Mohit Satyanand, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Shuddhabrata Sengupta and Salil Tripathi. A common response to these has been: At least Hazare is doing something; what solution do you offer?

My response to that is that firstly, as the pieces above argue, the solution he is offering could actually make the problem worse, and are a step in the wrong direction. That is reason enough to oppose it without needing to propose an alternative. Secondly, the alternative is obvious: if we are to tackle the root cause of corruption, then we should campaign against excess government power and discretion, starting with any particular domain that grabs our fancy. That said, I don't think I'll see Anna Hazare go on hunger strike anytime soon protesting against the license-and-permit raj or all the redundant rent-seeking ministries in government. And while I will continue writing about these issues, as I have for years in the only form of protest most writers are capable of, I will not be going on a hunger strike anytime soon. Why risk acidity?

Amit Varma, the winner of the 2007 Bastiat Prize for Journalism, is the author of the bestselling novel My Friend Sancho. He writes the popular blog, India Uncut.