Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter hotline: Part 2

sushma 2It has been over two weeks and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj continues to face flak from the Congress party and the news media over the Lalit Modi case. Yet, the political assault has not deterred the union minister from helping normal Indian citizens who ‘tweet’ her their problems. Beyond the political skirmishes in newsrooms across the nation, Sushma Swaraj continues to elevate the stature of the MEA, through her ‘direct governance’ approach. Mumbai-based professional Neha Parikh spoke to me about how the External Affairs minister recently came to her family’s aid.

CNN-IBN: What predicament did your family face that prompted you to reach out to Sushma Swaraj?

Neha Parikh: My parents were returning to India from their first international trip to Europe on May 29. While travelling from Rome to India via Istanbul, my mother’s passport got lost in transit and my parents were stranded at Istanbul Airport for a day. My parents are senior citizens and I was extremely worried about their situation. My family members and I were trying to do whatever we could but nothing productive happened.  A friend suggested that I should tweet about the situation to Sushma Swaraj. At that time, I had no knowledge of how helpful it could be, but nonetheless I posted a tweet to Sushma Swaraj and appealed to her for help.

CNN-IBN: How prompt was the help from the MEA?

Neha Parikh: Within a few hours, I saw that Sushma Swaraj had favourited my tweet. Soon after, the Indian embassy in Turkey got in touch with my father over the phone and assured him of all assistance. By the evening of May 30, the Indian Embassy in Turkey issued emergency travel documents to my parents. They were able to board the flight and fly back to India that very night.

CNN-IBN: Would you say Sushma Swaraj has set a new standard of governance as External Affairs Minister?

Neha Parikh: Definitely. The use of digital media by the government to connect with the common man and resolve their problems in this manner is something unheard of in our country. It feels so great to reach out to the External Affairs ministry directly in times of distress without having any intermediary in between.

CNN-IBN: What message do you wish to convey to Sushma Swaraj?

Neha Parikh: I am very grateful to Sushma Swaraj and her ministry for such prompt response and all the help.

Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter hotline

Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter hotline

SushmaWhile Sushma Swaraj faces flak from the Congress party and the news media over the Lalit Modi case, the External Affairs minister continues to help normal Indian citizens who ‘tweet’ her their problems. Beyond the political skirmishes in newsrooms across the nation, Sushma Swaraj has elevated the stature of the MEA, through her ‘direct governance’ approach interacting with voters via social media to address their problems. Delhi-based businessman Monty Chadha spoke to me about how Sushma Swaraj recently came to his family’s aid.

CNN-IBN: What predicament did your family face that prompted you to reach out to Sushma Swaraj?

Monty Chadha: On Friday June 19, my sister and her family were detained at the airport in Cape Town since my niece was not carrying her birth certificate. Indian passport holders ideally should not be carrying any such document as the date of birth and parents’ name is mentioned on the passport itself. But apparently, South African authorities have made it mandatory from June 1 to carry birth certificates to prevent human trafficking. The travel agent in India did not mention any such thing. My sister started panicking as her flight boarding time was approaching. My nephew sent a WhatsApp message to me stating the problem. I called up my sister and she told me about what was going on. While I was thinking about whom to contact I just happened to tag a tweet to the MEA and Sushma Swaraj appealing for help.

CNN-IBN: What help did the MEA provide?

Monty Chadha: Sushma Swaraj contacted me over Twitter by first favoriting the tweet within 5 minutes. I didn’t understand it at first, as I am new to Twitter. I called my sister again and asked if the authorities had allowed her to board. The MEA had called up my sister assuring her that someone from the Indian High Commission in
Pretoria will get in touch. MEA took about 15 minutes to call my sister after the tweet. The Indian High Commission sorted the issue out and my sister and her family boarded the flight soon after.

CNN-IBN: Would you say Sushma Swaraj has set a new standard of governance as External Affairs Minister?

Monty Chadha: Of course I would feel it’s a new benchmark as I had a first hand experience. I was later talking to my younger brother about how earlier we would not have even imagined getting through to the MEA
or any higher authority. My family’s problem was solved all thanks to Sushma Swaraj and social media.

CNN-IBN: What message do you wish to convey to Sushma Swaraj?

Monty Chadha: I would like to thank her and wish her all the best to continue the good work.

The Artist of the Soul

awakening

She sets the stage on fire,
Her impish charm is infectious,
Her words spur exhilaration and passion,
Eliciting laughter and sensation,
Even as the music fades away.

The cello plays a heavenly tune,
Her childlike smile turns to a passionate call,
Her words float on the wings of emotion,
Her guitar strums with her powerful devotion,
Her feet tap the tunes of her heart.

The music flows through her body,
The crowd watches in awe,
Losing themselves to the vision,
Soaking in her rhythm and passion,
Wondering how to capture her spirit.

The pianist lays down another tune, and she complies,
Recalling the joy of crafting her words,
Her lilting notes mesmerize,
Yet she, her eyes closed, is lost
In a world far away from my understanding,
Radiating her spirit as she roars and whispers.

Her voice rises like waves on the sun,
The instruments match her energy and the room comes to life,
Detached from the tedious world, all of us are alive,
Suspended in the moment’s bliss.

But we awaken as the tune fades,
The dimensions of the room become painfully real,
We realize, we are common.
But SHE, she is unique, special,
A phoenix in a crowd of tired souls.

Her soft voice calms the fires she ignited,
The crowd hangs on every utter,
Every strum of the guitar,
Every tap of her feet.
A spiritual buzz as the cold alcohol settles.

Who are you?
Where do you come from?
Where have you been?

You infused life in us wanderers,
Showed us joy that we’ve yearned for,
A happiness we can hold onto,
To melt away life’s recurring blues.

You are a true artist of the soul.

Expression cannot pierce the Armour of ‘God’

Humanity’s concept of ‘God’ is not flesh and blood, or a piece wood or stone. It is a natural rationale that ties our ethos, values and identity to our lives. ‘God’ is also considered a supernatural force that is compassionate, powerful, destructive, all-seeing, untouched by the evolution of the world. The concept is beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of the mortal plane, and as history is witness has endured the test of time, playing a significant role in human society as an ideological power center even when temples and scriptures turn to dust.

GODIf this is the notion of ‘God’ across the world, how can faith and belief in such a power be rocked by mere words and expressions? True believers in such a power cannot be moved to anger and violence over cartoons, depictions, opinion and criticism that not only question, even lampoon ‘God’. Those who rage in the name of ‘God’ against expression clearly possess a flimsy faith, one that is easily open to suggestion and tinkering. That is where the politics of religion finds its power, and the host of atrocities in the name of ‘God’ stem from there. Just like corruption scandals, there are middlemen who corrupt the circuit of Man and ‘God’.

‘God’ has and will dominate the tapestry of time, and no cartoonist, journalist, newspaper, TV channel or interest group can challenge it. They are blips on the human timeline that cannot shake the belief in a supernatural force as well as an institution that is as old as mankind. Believers sully their conviction when they attack expression to defend ‘God’. If faith can survive human atrocities done in the name of ‘God’, why should mere expression spark fear in the hearts of believers? Speeches, written word and caricatures emerge and are forgotten, but true believers should look beyond them, treat them as insignificant to their faith and even question their conviction if anger lurks in their heart.

salman‘God’ has the tenacity to prevail. Those who express their faith through anger do nothing more than mask their doubt to convince the world and themselves of their devotion. But ‘God’ does not need their protection. Anger never empowers ‘God’ but goodwill in the name of ‘God’ will always empower mankind.

Lest Congress forgets: Beni Prasad Verma

beniIn the one year of the Modi government, certain BJP ministers and MPs have enabled the media and the Opposition to mobilise the ‘communal’ narrative that has been used to characterise the BJP for a long time. Opposition reactions to statements from Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Sakshi Maharaj, and Giriraj Singh amongst others have rocked Parliament and newsrooms with shrieks calling for their immediate ouster from the party and the government – so PM Modi can prove his ‘secular’ credentials. But motor mouth MPs are the bane of every party, and seldom action is taken against them. They seem to tap into a mindset that is politically lucrative just by numbers – the calculation at the end is political not ideological.

But other parties cannot deny the verbal rows sparked by some of their MPs and leaders. When I had just joined the newsroom around 2 years back, Congress leader and former Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma was our star. We used to look forward to his epic press conferences for statements, to fulfil our appetite for controversy. Yet, for some reason, his rants never became a political sticking point that lasted for days. At the same time, BJP leaders seldom raise Verma’s example as a counter to the Congress when questioned about controversial statements. But the Congress, which now supposedly champions political decency should remember some of Beni Prasad Verma’s greatest hits.

At an election rally in Maskanwa in 2014, Beni Prasad Verma made a bizarre observation regarding Modi’s education credentials where he said, “I am a law graduate from Lucknow University and Modi ran away from his house at the age of 18 to sell tea. His degree is fake. How is he going to compete with an educated person?”

Beni Prasad Verma once lampooned his former Cabinet colleague Jairam Ramesh just a few days before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He said the senior Congress leader should stay away from campaigning and ‘rest in his air-conditioned rooms in Delhi’ as he did not understand the ground realities across the nation.

In the aftermath of the Muzaffarnagar riots, at a press conference in New Delhi in 2013, Beni Prasad Verma accused Narendra Modi and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav of joining hands to orchestrate the riots. He also said that the then Gujarat CM sent 200 people from his state to go to Muzaffarnagar to commit the murders.

In May 2013, Beni Prasad Verma embarrassed his party and UPA ally, the Samajwadi Party when he alleged that BJP leader Varun Gandhi was cleared by a court in a hate speech case due to a tacit understanding with Akhilesh Yadav’s SP government in Uttar Pradesh. He even went on to allege that Samajwadi party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was also involved in the conspiracy to demolish the Babri Mosque.

Beni Prasad Verma did not even spare Arvind Kejriwal. In 2012, Verma addressed a press conference in his former constituency of Gonda where he said that Kejriwal was a CIA plant tasked with creating instability in India, a part of the United States’ plan to destroy nations with large Muslim communities.

motor mouthThe Congress has made remarks by BJP leaders one of the main weapons in its arsenal. But rants by marginal leaders of a national party, can never dent the image hoisted by the central leadership. Beni Prasad Verma’s words never had an impact on the fortunes of the Congress, that was smarting under the weight of corruption scams and a poor economic record. The same way, BJPs motor-mouth MPs will not determine the party’s political fortunes, they are not pivotal players within the party or the government.

The Congress should remember that politicians who make questionable statements are in every party, and just like other political units, it has defended, supported, if not tolerated leaders who have dragged its name down, and even highlighted flimsy ethical and secular credentials. They must remember leaders like Beni Prasad Verma before trying to pitch a tent in the moral high ground.