Avantibai who? Read the NCERT textbook

Rani Avantibai rose in revolt against the British during 1857, much like Rani Laxmi Bai

In yet another example of the role played by political pressure in shaping school curriculum, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has found merit in the demand to include Rani Avantibai Lodhi in school textbooks.

Last year, following an uproar engineered by MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in the Rajya Sabha during the monsoon session, the HRD ministry had advised NCERT to consider the inclusion of the 19th century freedom fighter in textbooks. The protest had led to two adjournments in Parliament.

The council, apparently convinced by the ‘sentiment’ of the House, has made Rani Avantibai Lodhi a part of popular recall. The freedom fighter has been mentioned in NCERT’s social science textbook for Class VIII – on pages 58 and 59 under chapter five called ‘When People Rebel’ – from the new academic session that began last month.

Rani Avantibai rose in revolt against the British during the country’s first war of independence in 1857. She ruled over the Ramgarh state, today in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh. She is known to people in the state through folklore and, that apart, there isn’t much information available. The story of her battle with the English has often been likened to that of Rani Laxmi Bai, a must-read in history curricula followed by schools across the country.

(courtesy: MailOnlineIndia & Ritika Chopra)

Read the full story: Avantibai who? Read the NCERT textbook

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Oldest Indian Parliamentarian Rishang Keishing says, It was so quiet and peaceful then!

For Rishang Keishing (92), the world of Indian Parliament had opened up through the window of a train. After getting elected from Manipur in the first Lok Sabha in 1952, it took four days for him to reach Delhi. He is the oldest parliamentarian in India.

“I had to board an overcrowded train to Delhi at Katihar. The police somehow pushed me inside it through a window,” Keishing, now a Rajya Sabha member, recalls.

For the first time, the man from Bungpa Khunou village saw India beyond Assam.

“I was awestruck when I entered Parliament. I entered the Lok Sabha and saw stalwarts like Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad sitting across me. I had only seen their pictures in newspapers. I thanked God for the day,” he tells HT.

Three other MPs of 1952 Lok Sabha are alive: Resham Lal Jangade (Bilaspur constituency), Kamal Singh (Shahabad-North-West) and Kandala Subrahmanyam (Vizianagaram). But they are leading retired lives.

Keishing is politically active and his memory remains razor-sharp. He recalls his first meeting with Nehru: He spotted the Prime Minister in the Parliament corridor and called out to him. The Prime Minister turned back. Keishing asked if some emissaries of Zapu Phizo (the secessionist Naga leader) can meet him.

“No, No, No” Nehru snapped back and questioned why a handful of Naga leaders refuse to accept India’s authority. Keishing, a die-hard Indian nationalist, hit back: “Why are you shouting at me? I have just come to hear ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

“Nehru followed me and caught me by my arm after a few minutes. He said they should first meet the home minister,” Keishing recalls.

His closest association was with Indira Gandhi. Keishing, then a minister in Manipur, came to meet her and she said, you become the chief minister.

“I said I belong to a small tribe and she replied, ‘In democracy, the size of your community doesn’t matter. What matters is the confidence of people’.”

After his first Rajya Sabha term, Keishing requested Sonia Gandhi to let him retire.

“Soniaji threw a dinner party. After dinner, I walked up to her to say goodbye. She told me, ‘you are re-nominated. Now you rush back to Imphal to file your nomination papers’.”

The biggest regret of the MP is, of course, the deteriorating standard of parliamentary practice.

“It was so quiet and peaceful. Today’s disruptions don’t help much,” Keishing says.

Fine Print: Rajya Sabha to vote on Indian Media Censorship!

The Rajya Sabha is expected to vote on a motion on Friday that seeks to annul rules enabling individuals to demand removal of any content they deem offensive, on the grounds that these guidelines restrict freedom of expression. (courtesy: Bhuvaneshwari Joshi)

More humor scoop from ‘gupta express’: media regulation bill !!!

It’s worth wondering why Indian Express drags (read, does PR for)  Rahul Gandhi into this, though.

Anant Rangaswami writes in Firstpost

And humor scoop from 'gupta express': media regulation bill !!!

And humor scoop from 'gupta express': media regulation bill !!!

The Congress party’s member of parliament, Meenakshi Natarajan, “wants a law to regulate the media, both print and broadcast. And set up an authority that can even “suo motu” probe “complaints” against the media,”said the Indian Express.

Natarajan was to introduce a private member’s bill called the “Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012,” last Friday, but was absent from the house.

Today, a follow up story led the front page of the Indian Express, with the provocative headline “Ban & seize: Cong MP Bill out to gag media.”

The story reads like a doomsday prophesy, informing readers that the Bill provides for a media regulatory body “with a sweeping set of powers including imposing a “ban” or suspending coverage” of an event or incident that “may pose a threat to national security”. The details of the bill can be found in the article link above.

What makes this story interesting is that the Indian Express gives the bill credibility, almost suggesting that the smooth passage of the bill was guaranteed – and that is far from the truth.

“Why aren’t young people out on the streets protesting the noxious Natarajan bill, the Govt’s newest test balloon?,” asks Pritish Nandy on Twitter. The Indian Express story has even someone like Nandy worried.

“It has to be viewed as a trial balloon as it comes in the midst of intense debate over guidelines for media and while even the judicial experts are talking about it,” he said. “It is very clear that unless self-regulatory measures are not adopted by the media, the government may try to bring in such a regulation,” says Balveer Arora, a political analyst, quoted in Mint.

Mint also says that Ambika Soni and Manish Tewari said that the Bill may not reflect the party’s or the government’s views and that “three Congress leaders, including a cabinet minister, said the proposed law embarrassed the party.”

Mint also put the likelihood of the bill passing in perspective. “According to PRS Legislative Research, a non-profit organization focused on pending legislation, no private members’ Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970. Of the about 300 private members’ Bills introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha, barely 4% were discussed; 96% lapsed without even a single debate in the House,”  it said.

Thank you, Mint, for the stats, which give us a clear idea of what is likely to happen to the bill: it’s got no hope.

Why, then, does Indian Express give the bill so much play? As curiously, why the repeated and marked references to Rahul Gandhi? Today’s story begins thus: “The private member’s Bill that Rahul Gandhi’s close aide and Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan…”.

Yesterday’s story said, “At a time when the Supreme Court has indicated its intent to lay down “guidelines” for the media, Congress Lok Sabha member and a close aide of AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Meenakshi Natarajan, wants a law to regulate the media…”.

It’s quite clear that there’s no need to take Mr. Nandy’s advice and go onto the streets and protest – the bill is a non-starter. It’s too crude and ill-thought through to even be a ‘trial balloon’, as an expert quoted in Mint suggests. It’s worth wondering why Indian Express drags Rahul Gandhi into this, though.

Peepli live reporter left scooped out by wily editors?

NDTV‘s anchor and one of the outspoken &  dare devil journalists Sunetra Choudhary had been chasing a UPA minister for some time. He’s never been part of a TV discussion, he rarely gives interviews and yet, he’s often the newsmaker himself. His lack of media savvy perhaps worked in Sunetra’s favour as after the millionth call to his people and haranguing them with her questionnaires, she  finally got them to convey her message. When they called her to confirm a half-hour interview slot, Sunetra couldn’t believe her luck.

At the appointed hour, she arrived with her tiny battalion of producer, camera people and assistants to claim her date with breaking news. The Minister had just arrived, and they were setting up, when she was called in for ‘a word.’

“Let me give you the interview like this only, why the camera?” said the minister.

Surprised Sunetra told him, “Excuse me, sir, you know I’m from a TV channel?”
Finally, the minister decided to level with her. “Actually some other journalists got to know about this and they cornered me in the Central Hall,” he said, referring to the area in Parliament where senior journalists can mingle with MPs and ministers over tea. “They said you can’t talk to her. They made me promise that I won’t be seen talking to you on TV or I would have to speak to everyone which I don’t want to do.”

Astonished Sunetra again pleaded, “But, Sir, you promised me?”

“I know but what can I do? They weren’t just any old reporters, they are well-known editors,” he said apologetically, naming the heads of two other channels. He looked helpless, and the NDTV anchor heartbroken.

Now with her headline-hunting dream shattered,  She returned to office telling her colleagues this unbelievable tale of

“how big-time editors were going around ruining opportunities for small fry like me.”

“But why are you surprised?” they said. Apparently, this happens every day in pursuit of the ‘exclusive story.’

Read her full column in DNA: http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column_sunetra-choudhury-scribe-vs-scribe_1681672

68 % Indians don’t want Sachin in parliament !

Star cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s nomination to Rajya Sabha was met with widespread bemusement on Friday, with many questioning whether the publicly apolitical batting superstar will have the time or inclination to serve as an MP.

President Pratibha Patil approved the government’s nomination of Tendulkar late on Thursday, offering him one of the 12 seats in the Rajya Sabha, or upper house that are reserved for presidential appointees.

He is the first active sportsman to receive the honour, with the seats normally gifted to people who have distinguished themselves in the arts, sciences or social services.

The adoration of the cricketer in India verges on religious worship – a fact not lost on Friday’s newspaper headline writers, with newspapers announcing that ‘God has a New House’.

Not to divert attention: Cong

Most members of the upper House welcomed the decision even as the Opposition felt this could be a move by the Congress to divert attention from the problems afflicting the party.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut maintained that Tendulkar should be given the Bharat Ratna but questioned the timing of his nomination to Rajya Sabha.

“Sachin is still on the field and has not retired. So why is he not being nominated for Bharat Ratna? And if Sachin is being used to divert attention from the problems plaguing Congress, then such politics should not be practised by them. Anything that Congress does is inspired by politics. Sachin is above politics,” he said.

Congress Rajya Sabha member Satyavrat Chaturvedi rubbished the opposition charge that Tendulkar has been nominated to divert attention.

“The Government, country and Parliament are above any individual. One person can neither build nor destroy the fate of a party or a government. The sooner this confusion is removed, the better. The kind of mindset Shiv Sena has, it can say anything,” he said.

Chaturvedi maintained that nominated members have also contributed immensely to Rajya Sabha.

“I have seen some nominated members who have made a lot of contribution. Can anybody ignore the contribution made by M.S. Swaminathan or Shabana Azmi? On the other hand, there were some who visited only once in a blue moon,” he said.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Mayawati (BSP), Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP), Sudip Bandyopadhaya (TMC) and Raj Babbar (Cong) welcomed Tendulkar becoming a Rajya Sabha member.

Hope Sachin is not bored: Hema Malini

Rajya Sabha is a place for retired people and one hopes that Sachin Tendulkar does not get bored with his new responsibility, actress and former MP Hema Malini said today.

“It is a very prestigious thing. I am happy for him. This (RS) is for retired people…and I suppose he is not retired yet. I just hope he doesn’t get bored,” Malini, whose term in Rajya Sabha ended recently, said.

Noted director Mahesh Bhatt hoped that glory will follow the 39-year-old star batsman in Parliament as well. “He is a legend. It is great that he has been nominated. Glory is his co-traveller. This (nomination) is just deepening of his halo,” Bhatt said.

“Don’t forget Sachin had taken on the Shiv Sena and said that Maharashtra belongs to every Indian not just to Maharashtrians,” actress Shabana Azmi wrote in reply to a Twitter user, who said Sachin would never raise his voice against anything wrong.

Bandit Queen director Shekhar Kapur wrote, “I think its great that he goes to the Rajya Sabha. Better than many many that have gone before.”

Actress Gul Panag tweeted, “I am all for Sachin for RS. Better than a retired 60+ sports person no?”

While Bollywood celebrities came out in support of Tendulkar’s nomination, the twitter world seemed divided with ‘Unfollow Sachin’ trending on the micro-blogging website.

“UnfollowSachin trended not just in India, but worldwide. Point was made loud and clear that Sachin’s fans don’t like his Rajya Sabha entry,” a twitter user wrote.

“We like Sachin for his cricket. With GpCapt rank in AF he degraded Air Force Offrs. Same way many don’t like him degrading MPs post (sic),” another tweeted. “Give him a chance, he has always done right things in his life,” a supporter wrote.

Sachin interested?

The reaction of media commentators and some of the ‘Little Master‘s’ fellow cricketers was one of puzzled caution.

“Frankly, I am at a loss for words,” said former Mumbai and India team-mate Sanjay Manjrekar.

“I never realised these sort of things interested him. He is not one to express his views publicly and this would be a real test for him. I hope he can make a difference in parliament.”

Tendulkar, who turned 39 on Tuesday, has played more Tests (188) and one-day internationals (463) than any other player since his debut in 1989.

He is the highest run-getter in both forms of the game and last month became the first batsman to complete 100 international centuries – 51 in Tests and 49 in one-dayers.

Doubts on serving as a politician

Despite recent speculation about his retirement, Tendulkar has given no indication that he plans to hang up his pads, leading some to question how he could fit an MP’s duties into his hectic playing schedule.

“He plays almost right through the year, where is the time to go to parliament?” said another ex-international Akash Chopra.

“I will be disappointed if he did not contribute and make a mark for himself in the Rajya Sabha.”

Not a great idea: Bhogle

Noted cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle suggested the nomination was a cynical ploy to gain ‘political mileage’ out of Tendulkar, who has rarely, if ever, spoken out on political issues or professed any party affiliation.

“I don’t think it is the greatest idea,” said Bhogle. “He does not have the experience of governing or doing social work.”

No comment from the cricketer

Tendulkar has not yet commented to indicate whether he will accept the honour.

But news of the nomination broke just hours after he and his wife called on ruling Congress party president Sonia Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi.

“My only fear is that the stamp of a political party should not come on him,” said Chetan Chauhan, a former India opener who forged a career as an MP.

“The minute he associates himself with a party, the public’s perception about him will change,” Chauhan was quoted as saying by a newspaper.

Well-known cricketers who are sitting members of the elected lower house, or Lok Sabha, are former internationals Mohammad Azharuddin, Kirti Azad and Navjot Sidhu.

A snap online poll in a daily revealed 68 per cent of respondents did not want to see Tendulkar in parliament.

Another editorial labelled Tendulkar’s nomination a populist move that made ‘little sense’.

Pointing out that that Tendulkar’s cricketing duties kept him on the road for 216 days last season, said nominating an active sportsman ‘defeats the purpose’ of choosing eminent people who can enrich parliamentary debate.

“His new role will force Sachin to choose between his duty to the team and his job as a parliamentarian. It’s an unfair choice,” it said.

Dial M for Murdoch – Tom Watson

On 19 April 2012 Tom Watson MP and Martin Hickman published their book about phone-hacking and related scandals, Dial M for Murdoch (Allen Lane £20).  This is Tom Watson’s preface to the book, reproduced here with the permission of the authors and the publisher.

This book tries to explain how a particular global media company works: how it came to exert a poisonous, secretive influence on public life in Britain, how it used its huge power to bully, intimidate and to cover up, and how its exposure has changed the way we look at our politicians, our police service and our press. Some political ‘friends’ have tried to portray the hacking and bribery which has exposed the workings of News Corporation as part of the price you pay for good tabloid journalism. They’re wrong.

Of course, tabloids sometimes get out of hand, but this is not (at least, not much) a story of harmless mischief, of reporters in false moustaches and rollicking exposés of hypocrites. It is not just the famous and wealthy who have been damaged, but ordinary decent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The legendary Fleet Street names whose reputations have been tarnished could almost (but not quite) be considered tiny pawns. This is a power game played out in the boardrooms and dining salons of the elite, and every political party, mine included, has had an inner circle of people on the Murdoch invitation list. Ultimately this scandal is about the failure of politicians to act in the interests of the powerless rather than themselves. As the book shows, I hope beyond any doubt, prime ministers, ministers, Parliament, the police, the justice system and the ‘free’ press became collectively defective when it came to investigating the activities of NewsCorp.

Now that Murdoch’s corrupt grip on our national institutions is loosening, and thanks to the laser-beam focus of Lord Justice Leveson, who leads the public inquiry into this affair, these individuals and public bodies are belatedly start- ing to clean up their acts.

I know from personal experience what it’s like to be attacked by Rupert Murdoch’s organization. In the book, I give a first-hand account of some of the worst moments – though they were infinitely less bad, of course, than others have suffered.

Sometimes, now, I can laugh at my former situation: a well connected ex-minister in parliament, altering his route home at night, fearful of someone who might be in pursuit. But the affair has taken its toll: the failure of my marriage, the loss of friends and intense stress over many years. Even though the mechanisms of intimidation have now been exposed, I still obsessively memorize the number plates of unfamiliar vehicles parked outside my house. That’s what it does to you when you’re at the receiving end of the Murdoch fear machine – the threats, bullying, covert surveillance, hacking, aggressive reporting and personal abuse make you permanently wary.

That was the state I was in – suspicious and paranoid – when Martin Hickman called me in October 2010, for the first time in ten years. I was distrustful of most reporters and at a low ebb, but Martin was an old friend: we had known each other well at Hull University, where he’d set up a newspaper and I’d become president of the Students’ Union, my first elected position. At that stage, a trusted journalist seeking to investigate a media cover-up was rare.

Regularly from then on, we would meet quietly at the Fire Station bar next to Waterloo station in South London, often for black coffee and breakfast before work, or occasionally late at night over a beer. Whilst the commuters tapped into their laptops and the revellers partied, we would sit in the corner, away from prying MPs and journalists, talking about developments as they happened. Martin was always a great person to bounce things off.

Of course, I wasn’t working in isolation. Many individuals, most notably the Guardian’s Nick Davies, the BBC’s Glenn Campbell and lawyers Mark Lewis and Charlotte Harris, played critical parts in unravelling this complex scandal. Even so, in the early days, it was a lonely pursuit.

We became close in the face of opposition from Murdoch’s UK executives, the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Press Complaints Commission and many of my fellow politicians. We were all helped by the brave whistleblowers who summoned the courage to share key information with us. Though still too frightened to go public, they know who they are, and believe me, they are heroes.

Because I was involved, I come into the book myself from time to time, as Martin does occasionally too. But though the story is inevitably coloured by personal experiences, we didn’t want to over- emphasize our roles, and for that reason it is written in the third person: I am not ‘me’ or ‘Tom’ but ‘Tom Watson’; similarly Martin is ‘Martin Hickman’.

Martin is calm and cautious. I am not. I hope our contrasting characters have created an accurate and informative account, albeit one which leaves you in no doubt as to what we think of the events and organization we are writing about. Many of the events are public knowledge, but they have become so in fits and starts and the connections between them have not been made.

We believe that seeing the story whole, as it is presented here for the first time, allows the character of the organization to emerge unmistakably. Please tell us what you think. We’re on Twitter at @tom_watson and @Martin_Hickman.

This story is not yet over, but it extends deeper into the past than some may realize. For most, it really began when a newspaper story about the hacking of a missing girl’s phone prompted a national wail of outrage so loud it was heard in the lofty world of Rupert Murdoch, and the mighty proprietor had to account for his actions to representatives of the people for the first time. So this is where our story begins – in the middle of those tumultuous days.

Tom Watson, April 2012

courtesy: informm’s blog