Saturday, May 15, 2010

Vedanta, Chidambaram, Chattisgarh and Maoist

Vedanta, Chidambaram, Chattisgarh and Maoist

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Vedanta is a mining company headquartered in London. Anil Aggarwal and Naveen Aggarwal are the owners of this company. They have huge mining interest in several states of the country including in the Chattisgarh state of India.

Chattisgarh is a mineral rich state that was carved out of Madhya Pradesh on November 1, 2000. The state has 75 million tones of bauxite mine at Lanjigarh. In the Dantewada and Bijapur districts of Chattisgarh there are iron and bauxite deposits worth several crores of rupees. The Vedanta Company wants to lay their hands on all these precious minerals.

When Chhattisgarh came into being, the Vedanta group owned company ‘Strelite’ bought a 51 percent stake in state owned BALCO for about Rs 551 crores and took over the company's management. It was the first public sector undertaking to be disinvested under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre.

The Sterlite group excavates around five lakh tonnes of bauxite every year from a place called Mainpat in Chhattisgarh annually. Besides, it’s also excavates 300,000 metric tonnes of bauxite in Kabirdham every year. In spite of reaping such rich dividends, Sterlite never bothers to pass on even a few benefits to its workers.

In fact, the list of the irregularities committed by the Sterlite Company is endless. The Company resorted to deep-hole blasting for excavating bauxite, and this has a violent impact on the whole area. It created cracks in the farm land, and farming cannot be done on cracked surfaces. The blasting has also caused an increase in health problems among the residents.

The farmers whose land was taken were promised huge compensation but were left at the mercy of private contractors. Not only did the farmers lose their land and their houses, but they were also forced to live in small camps or rented houses.

In 2003 Sterlite Company cheated the government crores of rupees in taxes and got caught. The person who took up their legal case was PC Chidambaram, who is currently the home Minster of India, and a lawyer by profession. Chidambaram was also a member on the board of directors of Vedanta Company for a while.

The forests of Chattisgarh which contain these mineral deposits are also home to lakhs of Adivasi or indigenous people who are variously called Koli, Munda, etc. Even though sixty three years have lapsed to our country’s freedom, no government till this date has provided these Adivasis with even basic amenities like education, roads, ration cards, etc

The condition in the areas where Adivasis reside is so miserable that hardly many of the people there cross the age of 40 years. In this short lifespan they have to survive on the forests whatever little the Mother Nature can offer them.

The Vedanta Company could not start mining for the precious deposits without driving the hapless Adivasis out of the forests. The government made some devious plans to force them out and in the beginning, the Advasis refused to move out but later protested. Government sent in the armed forces and the Adivasis left their villages and ran into the forests.

The government created a people’s army called ‘Salwa Judum’, which burnt down villages, beat up children and men and raped women. When harassment by the government continued, the Adivasis had no option left but to rally behind the Naxalites and take up an armed struggle.

Naturally, the government could not tolerate this and that is why it started sending thousands of CRPFs to wage a war against those Adivasis who are, incidentally, as much Indian as any Aryans and the Dravidians who are sitting in the mandarins of power in New Delhi.

The former lawyer of the Vedanta Company and now the honorable Home minister of this country has recently threatened: “I don’t care how many men I lose, I will win this war.” He is saying this perhaps because he wants to finish off the Adivasis so that Vedanta can start mining in those forests.

Just like they catch the Muslim boys on the suspicion of being Jehadis in any communally sensitive part of the country, the Chattisgarh government has imprisoned many tribal boys of young age because it thinks they are a threat to the security of this country.

This is the way the national security is being handled in this country. It is with this mindset the power wielders of this nation want to deal with the problem of social unrest, hunger, deprivation and marginalization.

Now, a few words about the Maoists who are revolutionaries mainly consisting of the extremely poor people including a large number of Dalits and Adivasis. They come mainly from the toiling masses and they are trying to organize the vast population of such masses against those who try to impinge on their right to life and liberty. They seek to arm and train them so that these masses can resist the onslaught of the rich and powerful who are intruding into their land.

In this effort the Maoist go beyond the idea that mass movements should focus on some specific issues like increase of wages, better health care, more honesty of public servants and so forth. The view of the rebels is that the poor and exploited people must first and foremost establish their own democratic political power and their own state power in various places.

This is because without controlling state power, the poor and the exploited can at most hope for only limited improvements in their living conditions. So, the Maoists mobilize the poor to fight against the existing state, even armed fight if possible, as they consider the existing state to be a set of agents acting for the big multinational corporations, rich landlords and the wealthy in general.

The fight is an extremely challenging and unequal one. The rich are aided by the government bureaucrats, the police and even the military, the half clad hungry belly people are armed with revolutionary zest and some country made weapon.

Also, contrary to what the Government and the mainstream media are propagating, the Maoist rebels are actually completely opposed to individual killings; they openly denigrate such stray terrorism-like acts. Their fight is against the flawed state apparatus and they want to change this decrypt structure that’s cloaked under democracy and being drummed up by the state sponsored mass media as the best system of governance.

What the Maoist has been attempting to build up is a mass movement, even armed, to take on the violence of the ruling classes and its representative state machinery. What the government is trying to do is to slap them into sanity. This ding- dong battle is going on for the past sixty three years or so in the country and if at all any one who has gained ground in this tussle are the Maoist.

The government policy granting mining rights to the bourgeoisies have created havoc on the minds of the indigenous people. Their resistance against such oppression is being construed as rebellion and they are being treated on par with the terrorists.

Its unfortunate, that one hand India is extolled for being the largest democracy, on the other hand no one no one is talking about the injustice that’s committed by the democratically elected government of this land.

The government which is responsible for creating the Maoists problems is bent on using its strong arm tactics to tackle the problem as if unaware of the fact that one can lord over with the bayonet of the gun but can’t sit on it.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ashwariya Rai Bachan’s Career on a Cliffhanger

Ashwariya Rai Bachan’s Career on a Cliffhanger
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The wait for Ashwariya Rai Bachchan’s fans is coming to an end with two of her movies Raavan and Endhiran (the robot) are set for release in few weeks from now. The ex beauty queen is pinning hopes on both these south Indian movies and its success may turn around her career that’s witnessing a free fall.

The career span of Bolloywood heroines mostly last for about a decade. We have seen this with Hema Malani, giving way to Sridevi, who passed the baton to Madhuri Dixit that went to Ashwariya Rai and now appears to be slipping on the lap of Katrina Kaif.

With the release of the two movies viewers are anxiously watching whether the former miss world may rewrite a new chapter in the history of Indian cinema and gain the numero uno position in the Bollywood or she will follow the customary rule of the female leads saying adieu to tinsel world, once she has decides to tie the nuptial knot.

This is because Indian audiences traditionally do not accept a heroine who is officially not single. This has happened in the past and many heartthrobs had voluntarily left the silver screen, others were forced to do the domestic chorus as their ratings have plummeted at the box office due to matrimonial reasons.

However, whether these parameters may apply to Ashwariya as well, that’s something being keenly watched. The release of ‘Raavan’ and ‘Endhiran’ are touted to be her litmus test and whether they are going to resurrect her career will be known from just a while from now.

The first movie that’s due for release is 'Raavan'. Made by seasoned director Mani Ratnam and musical scores composed by A.R Rahman is completing its the post production work and due for release. The audio release of this film has already taken place recently in Chennai.

'Ravan' is a multilingual film made in Hindi, Tamil, Telegue and Malayalam. This movie is supposedly a modern day adaptation of Ramayan, and is an intense love story focused on the Ram-Sita pair. In Tamil Ashwariya is cast opposite Vikram and in Hindi hubby Abhishek Bachchan is the hero.

The storyline runs on expected lines. Abhishek Bachchan’s sister dies due to Vikram’s recklessness and so he kidnaps Vikram’s wife Aishwarya. Vikram goes on to save Aishwarya.

Well that’s the Tamil version of the story which is also going to be dubbed in Telugu. In Hindi Abhishek and Vikram swap their characters. The sister’s role is played by Priyamani. In Malayalam, Prithviraj plays the hero.

Mani Ratnam has shot at least four climaxes for the movie. In first, Ravana wins the heart of Sita! Second, Sita reaches Ram fighting Ravana, third, death of Rama and fourth, the death of Ravan. The climax is full of suspense and no one knows which one is been finalized by the director.

Ashwariya made her movie debut in Mani Ratnam's Tamil film ‘Iruvar’ in 1997. She has also appeared in his Hindi movie ‘Guru’ in 2007 with Abhishek Bachchan as the hero. Now when her acting career is on a tailspin, she is also waiting for Mani Ratnam’s magic to cast its spell on the audiences. Whether, the success of 'Ravan' would breathe a new life into Ashwariya’s career is remain to be seen.

It appears that Ashwariya’s career is coming to a full circle. She had her first commercial success with the Tamil movie ‘Jeans’ in 1998 directed by S. Shankar, another big director of Tamil cinema and her next major release is ‘Endhiran’ and that’s directed by S. Shankar.

The director is known for making mega budget movies and ‘Endhiran’ is made with an estimated over 150 crores, the highest ever budget for a Tamil film. ‘Endhiran’ which literally means ‘robot’ is a science-fiction film. It has generated a lot of curiosity not only for big budget and Ashwariya’s stint with the Tamil language but also for other reasons.

Ashwariya is cast opposite superstar Rajnikant, the superstar of Tamil Cinema. Any movie that features Rajnikant is bound to be a super hit. In this movie, hero Rajnikant teaches Karate to Ashwariya who would be seen doing martial arts and bashing off many negative characters.

Ashwariya has reportedly signed this movie for 6 crores rupees, making her the highest paid actress in India. The other highlights of the movie are two exceptionally picturesque songs. One is shot at the historic site of the Machu Picchu in Peru with other scenes being picturized in the United States and Brazil.

The other song is shot with about 1000 artists dancing along with Rajnikant and Ashwariya that’s shot at a gigantic set created at Ramojirao Film City Hyderabad at an estimated cost of Rs.3 crore rupees.

The movie ran into controversy for its English title ‘robot’ and its name was changed into Tamil because of the Tamil Nadu government’s policy to give tax exemption to films only with Tamil titles.

‘Endhiran’ is a bi lingual film, simultaneously made in Tamil and Hindi. Its musical score is also done by AR Rahman. The post production work this movie is near completion and only an auspicious date is being searched for its release.

Ashwariya is pinning lot of hopes on director S. Shankar’s directorial wizardry. With Rajnikanth as the lead, it’s expected that ‘Endhiran’ is sure to be a mega hit. However, whether this movie may turn out to be another ‘Jeans’ for Ashwariya, that remains to be seen?

During her career, spanning over a decade Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has acted in over forty movies in Hindi, English, Tamil and Bengali.

She made her Bollywood debut in, ‘Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya’ opposite Bobby Deol, but came to attract attention in the movie ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam,’ staring Ajay Devgan and Salman Khan. Her performance in the film won her the Filmfare Best Actress Award

Her movie ‘ Taal ’ was a big musical success. She won her second Filmfare Best Actress Award for ‘Devdas’ in 2002.

After a low phase in her career during 2003–2005, she appeared in the blockbuster ‘Dhoom 2’ in 2006, which turned out to be her biggest Bollywood commercial success. She appeared in films like ‘Guru’ in 2007 and ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ 2008, which were commercially successful.

Ashwariya has acted in the international productions ‘Bride & Prejudice’ (2004), ‘The Mistress of Spices’ (2005), ‘The Last Legion’ (2007) and ‘The Pink Panther 2’ (2009) in English.

The miss world 1994 has been the most popular face of Indian cinema globally. In 2004 she was chosen by Time magazine as one of the World's "100 Most Influential People", and appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Asia Edition. In October 2004 a wax figure of Ashwariya was put on display in London’s Madame Tussaud's wax museum, the only Bollywood heroine to get this honor.

Even though Ashwariya will be seen in movies like Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ‘Guzaarish’, Vipul Shah's ‘Action Replay’, Abhinay Deo's next film produced by Farhan Akhtar and Vishal Bharadwaj's next directorial venture, the success or failure of ‘Raavan’ and ‘Endhiran’ is going to set the tone of her future career that’s right now on a cliffhanger.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Name is Amitabh Bachchan, and I am Not a Moralist

My Name is Amitabh Bachchan, and I am Not a Moralist
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Amitabh Bachchan, India’s living film icon was recently at the centre of controversy when Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who heads a Congress led government, invited the actor at an official function.

The Maharastra Chief Minister went by the criteria that the actor is the citizen of Mumbai, a national figure, and some one who fitted all the parameters for being the guest of honor. He had the least clue that the party high command may not approve his invitation to and his innocent liking for Bachchan may put him in a spot.

Ever since Bachchan accepted to be the brand ambassador of Gujarat, the state ruled by the BJP with hardliner Narandra Modi, as its Chief Minister, the Congress high command in New Delhi did not approve his conduct and would like to disassociate with the actor.

Congress anger against Bachchan stemmed from the fact, that the actor being once a Congress MP and someone who has sworn by the party’s ideals of secularism and pluralism has sold his self respect to a person who is alleged to have organized a state sponsored program that has killed more than 3000 Muslims in the state.

When the Congress showed its reservation against Bachchan, the BJP jumped in defense of the actor, saying that the Congress leaders were harassing an iconic figure of India because he chose to be brand ambassador of a BJP-ruled state and has fallen out with the first family of the ruling party.

The spat between the Congress and the BJP continued for a while, with the former showing its dislike for the actor and the later going all out in support of him, given an impression that the ex superstar was about to join the saffron brigade.

However, this did not happen and what actually happened in the process was that Mr Bachchan, lost the contract of being the brand ambassador of Indian Railways and also the state of Kerala, euphemistically called Gods own country.

There is no denying the fact that Amitabh Bachcan owns his stardom to the backing of India’s premier ruling family. The Bachcans and the Nehru’s both hailed from Allahabad, with former being a poet and later being a politician. Both families together had a shared history of participation in the freedom struggle.

It was Indira Gandhi, the democratic dictator of India, who vouched for then small B, when he was making rounds of the film studios in Bombay. The much needed push at the formative stage of the career did matter to the struggling actor then, even though Bachcan earned the superstardom by the dint of his merit.

The proximity between Congress and Amitabh Bachchan, became closer when young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came at the helm of affairs, after the brutal assassination of her mother. He gave the party ticket to the reigning superstar to contest from his hometown Allahabad.

Amitabh riding on his stardom status defeated the top political leader late Hemwati Nandan Bahugana, raising eyebrows among the political circles of the Congress methodology to use actors to silence the opposition in the country.

Amitabh after becoming an MP has to choose a career in politics or cinema. Soon he realized how easy was to become a MP but how difficult it is to become a politician. The superstar finally opted to remain in his profession and left politics for those who were best suited for it.

Since then Amitabh Bachchan and the Congress drifted in their own course. There was little meeting ground between the two. While the Congress was bamboozled by the BJP’s Ayodhya’s juggernaut that set the country on fire, Bachchan tried his hand in business setting up Amitabh Bachchan Corporation, Ltd. (A.B.C.L.). It since then he got the title Big B and that continues to stick on his persona.

His business venture turned out to be his nemesis and he lost heavily in the attempt to build a corporate empire. Once the highest paid actor in the country was on the verge of bankruptcy and looked for solace in Tirupati, the temple town in south India.

His sulking fortunes turned around when Amitabh along with Anil Ambani and the then Star TV’s CEO went to pray at Trupati for the success of the television serial, Kuan Banega Cororpati, that went to inspire Danny Boyle to make Slumdog Millionair.

Call it a blessing of Lord Venkateshwara or whatever, the TV serial Kuan Banega Cororpati rewrote the history of reality shows in the country and in the process changed the fortunes of a man who was struggling for funds.

Money from then onwards was the main motivator for Amitabh Bachchan. He was not bothered about tarring his image and started appearing in commercials that was too low for his status. India’s one time heartthrob and undisputed super star was ready to endorse any thing for a price.

In lighter vein someone commented that it won’t be a surprise, to find Amitabh endorsing ladies inner wear and shown stretching bra and panties delivering the punch line; yeh aarm ka mamala hai {its all about comfort).

Therefore, in this context one has to see Big B’s acceptance being the brand ambassador for the state of Gujarat. He chose to do so as he was motivated by crass commercial interest and got nothing to do to do with the ideology of the party ruling that state. It would also be a misnomer to view his conduct as an endorsement of Narnder Modi’s ideas.

In the lexicon of Amitabh Bachchan there was no place for words like morality and dignity. He was ready to associate with anyone who can afford to pay his fee. It is indeed sad but true that the commercial interest dominates the mindset of the ageing man and he has reduced himself to a money making machine.

The duel between the Congress and the BJP for owning and disowning Amitabh Bachchan was interesting one. While both the political parties were pushing the agenda of their conflicting ideology centering on the ex super star, where as the ageing actor and had nothing to do with the ideals of either of them and was driven by his sheer commercial interest.

However, this brings to the final point; how important are principles, values and morals, in ones life? To some these inner guiding virtues are very essential as they give a sense of containment and fulfillment in life.

To others, such concepts are a figment of imagination and they feel the fetters of morality should not come in the way of living their life king size.

Well these are philosophical and ethical thoughts and subject to individual choices. It would be quite improper to cast a judgment on Big B’s acts of omission and commission. In this public trial, he is his own advocate as well as the judge.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at;