The Tyranny of the Intolerant

 “You, Sir, are fanatics on the behalf of God” (sic.)

I first came across Salman Rushdie in the huge, dust-ridden library at Yashada (interestingly, that library is heaven for the olfactory senses amongst other things  – the aroma of old, yellowing hardbacks is to die for). A curious 15-year old, I picked up “The Moors Last Sigh”. A series of books later, Rushdie is one of my favorite authors.

What I particularly enjoy about Rushdie’s books is his flair for writing. The presence (or absence) of a plot notwithstanding, his style is incredibly stimulating – surreal, seeped in symbolism, magical, and with a healthy disregard for linearity. At places he engages a theme, discussing its various sub-plots, meditating on it to fruition; at times he brushes past to leave the mind engrossed. A narrative that is so hell-bent on being playful is – simply put – delicious. Mind, Joseph Anton lacks a real plot – at least in the way Shalimar had one, or The Moor had one. It is more of a collection of anecdotes, memories, meetings, thoughts and recollections. Despite that (perhaps, because of that) the book is a work of beauty, done masterfully.

If a summary of this book is to be offered, it is the memoirs of Rushdie living incognito after the Satanic Verses controversy. To protect his identity, Rushdie had to take on an alias – and he did so by combining the names of two literary giants –  Joseph Conard and Anton Chekov. I am both honor-bound and proud to say that Joseph Anton has made me rethink my own ideas of liberty, justice and freedom – particularly the freedom of expression. It has also helped me re-enforce one of my chief complaints against our world – that we force the superior of the species to kow-tow to the inferior. From ‘The Dictatorship of the Proliterate’, the ‘Tyranny of the Intolerant’ is (suddenly?) in fashion.

The Satanic Verses brewed a series of reactions – from India being the FIRST nation to ban import of the novel (one could still read it, mind; only importing it was illeagl); to the views of (the largely hillarious) Dr. Zakir Naik (link:; to the “critically acclaimed” Pakisatni movie ‘International Gorrila’ (link: – this one can give Ra One/Tashaan a run for their money).

         An interesting anecdote: the Grand Maulana of the Delhi Jama Masjid  wanted to proclaim a fatwa against Salman RUSHDIE. Mistakenly (or perhaps the Maulana was simply far-sighted), this fine gentleman proclaimed one against Salman KHURSHIDE.

A confession: I largely was in agreement of this censorship – not in any small amounts because I subconsciously wanted to appease the sensitivities of our Muslim bretheren; in greater proportion because I was ill-studied on this issue. But – as mentioned above – reading Joseph Anton forced a rethink. The travesties that the ‘Satanic Verses’ resulted in makes me empathize deeply with Salman Rushdie.

 Reading Joseph Anton also compels me to forgive M. F. Hussain (not that my forgiveness ever matters). I still disagree with his paintings and find them to be offensive; but I am honor-bound to accept his right of expression. An artist – in his role as a Creator – is performing an almost-divine exercise. The protestor, the mob, the sheep-el is completely incapable of performing a deed of such magnanimity. It troubles me to think that an old gentleman was forced out of the country of his birth, out of a nation he brought enormous recognition to simply because his painting offended few. “The tyranny of the Obtuse”.

 What makes me tremble indignation is the fact that it is always – always – the “better” man who has to be “punished for his transgressions”. It is always the man of learning, of art, of the pursuit of excellence who has to pay the price for violating society’s self-imposed limitations on the right to speech/thought. Never mind what the militant, crass, uncouth, bullying mob does or says. As long as one can get a hoard chest-thumping people to hero-worship oneself, and one has no moral qualms in taking recourse to intolerance and violence – society’s “limitations”? They disappear – no questions asked. The rules of rationality, of hurting sensitivities do not apply to the hoards.

 Interestingly, the presence of such individuals and groups transcends all boundaries of religion-caste-culture-nationality-regionalism-ideology. Idiocracy, then, is a global commonality. And significantly, this lack of sensitivity and fairness is shown not just by religious despots – those belonging to the “secular” or “atheist” brigades show equal alacrity in decrying those they disagree with (or, to be more precise, those that disagree with them). This is a farcical and fake recourse to pseudo-rationality.

 My chief arguments for Rushdie/against the Fatwa are – that most of the critics (including the Ayatollah Khameini of Iran) declared fatwas and bounties against Rushdie without reading the Satanic Verses. This follows arguments similar to those presented by Bhaktiyar Khalji while burning down Nalanda university in 1197-1203 (“if a book does not agree with the Quran-e-Sharif, it is blasphemous and must be burnt. If it endorses the Quran-e-Sharif, it is redundant and uneccessary and thus should be burnt”); that the right of freedom of expression is sacrosanct. From Copernicus, Galileo, Martin Luther to Lokmanya Tilak, Dadabhai Noweresjee, Ranade, Agarkar, Swatrantyaveer Savarkar this freedom has been one of the dominant forces in shaping the modern world. Rushdie is to be granted immunity under this freedom; that the insulted party can simply choose to walk away; that asking for the death of man because he wrote  something is an almost laughable over-reaction; and that above all else, (with due respect to all religions and faiths) a book which fundamentally seeks to be free of all doubt and therefore free of the spirit of inquiry is inherently stagnant and anti-freedom.

 This book has raised a seemingly unsolvable question in my mind. It is amply clear to me that the reaction The Satanic Verses has been wrong; and that Rushdie is the victim of the campaign against free men that has been waged since time immemorial. The question appears is this – what about other violations of the right to free speech or thought? The Orwellian “thought-crime”?

 But then what about pornography – fake one, at that? What about personal slanders and offensive remarks? What about treasonable and secessionist speech? Surely, the larger good of society should amount to reasonable restrictions on freedom? But aren’t restrictions on freedom – reasonable or otherwise – an oxymoron? The line has to be drawn somewhere. But who gets to draw it? And who gets to decide if the line drawn is reasonable or rational? Definitely not the mobs! Art – by its own self-definition – cannot be appreciated and hence (should not be) commented upon by the mobs. Then do different standards apply for art and for public life? That the limitations on a book should be decided by the literary world, and the limitations on an address to a rally by the mob/state? Is that even possible, given the dense inter-linkage between society and art?

 The question, summarized, is this – what the hell is “liberty” all about?

 Joseph Anton ends masterfully. The final act is the tragedy of 9/11. A macroscopic moment of blind, irrational, hatred-fueled extremism ending the story of a microscopic one which began 13 years before. And yet both incidents are simply moments in the same, great story. A telling lesson here is this – Salman had the freedom and the power to write. But what about the voiceless millions who have been slaughtered since time immemorial on the altar of the mob (or on the altar of the totalitarian despot), and the that of the millions more yet to come?

 Rushdie’s writing is an appeal – a desperate cry (“writing is a struggle against silence”). Read Joseph Anton. Savor its fine, delicate narration. Understand the journey of the intricacies of the author’s mind. And above all else, read it as the Manifesto of Individual Liberty, and that of the maverick whose engines make the wheels of time turn. “Nobody these days holds the written word in such high esteem as police states do”. No one cares about Liberty as much as the tyrants do.

The State is Inherently Coercive

                While the genesis of the first State can be disputed (Indus Valley Civilization, ancient city-states of Rome/Greece, the same people who wrote the Avesta etc.), what cannot be disputed is that the State is an overgrowth of Human Civilization. Once Man came together, he created the State – in its most rudimentary form – in order to regulate his life.

                No matter what theory of State one adopts, it has to be accepted that the foundation of the State paradigm is troika of Liberty, Equality and Justice. These 3 dimensions are self-limiting. Let us compare the theories of State presented by Locke and Hobbes. While both dispute the nature of the “State of Nature” that pre-existed the State, both agree that the State has been created by the social contract.

                The social contract – inherently – seeks to limit Liberty at the altar of Justice and Equality. While the arguments that

  1. Is such a sacrifice fair?
  2. Is such a sacrifice acceptable?

are entirely justified and legitimate – and present divergent views of the State – the fact that the state is limiting (unlimited) liberty is inevitable (indeed: are not all facts inevitable?). And such a limit is not optional – its violation would be enforced by coercive action.

Conflict of Liberty with Justice and Equality

                Liberty is complimentary to equality. Liberty demands equality – its nature can only be understood as equal liberty of all. Thus, imposition of reasonable restraints on freedom is conceded for furthering the cause of Equality. Equality is thus an impediment to Liberty.

                Similarly, Liberty will not confirm to Justice until Liberty is spread to all members of society. Absolute liberty is a contradiction in terms – if liberty is defined as the absence of restrain, it cannot be universal until it is qualified by Equality. This is because liberty of an individual is relative to liberty of rest. Hence, liberty has to be regulated. This may not meet demands of Justice. When society is divided into unequal sections, weak sections have to be protected.


                Thus, the State is inherently coercive and opposed to human liberty; however, the Marxist solution to this – the overthrow of State – is inappropriate. In the real world, equality and justice are essential prerequisites to human life.

                The State, then, is a necessary evil – and the best option we have until we find something better.

North Korea and the Bomb – A story of many Voids

In a world where global opinions are usually dominated – directly or indirectly – by US hegemony, North Korea is widely accepted as one of the biggest problem children, alongside Iran and Pakistan. For a country politically dominated by a single family cult (like many others in Asia), where the Iron Curtain still endures resolutely, and where vast tracts of the population do not have access to even meager food supplies, it is pretty self-effervescing to be conducting nuclear tests; even more so of the fact that North Korea has absolutely no credentials of being responsibly nuclear in a post-CTBT world. And yet, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on the 12th of February 2013.

The international community’s reaction was along predictable lines – US President Barack Obama, in his ‘State of the Nation’ address condemned this test. Japan stated that it would collaborate with the US on deciding a proper response to this test. Russia condemned the test and called for the UNSC to agree on an ‘adequate response’. India was also deeply concerned of the test, and saw Pakistan’s contribution to the test, courtesy the Dr. A. Q. Khan legacy. The most significant response was from China – the last ally North Korea has left. The nuclear test is leading to a significant decline in Sino-Korean relations; along the lines of the USSR-China fall out by the late 1950s.

The two most immediate reactions to this test are going to be:

  1. Increased sanctions by the US on North Korea.
  2. A decline in Sino-North Korean relations.

The impact of both these developments will be significant for North Korea. North Korea has for long been dependent on the international community for satisfying even basic requirements such as food. US sanctions, and decreased cooperation from China may perhaps contribute to the complete failure of North Korea.

This situation provides India with unique opportunities to increase its global clout.

Opportunities presented by the Test

India should seek to fill in the void created by frosting of Sino-Korean relations, and increase aid and track-2 diplomatic efforts to reconcile itself with Korea. The strategic location of Korea on the Eastern coast of China is significant of India’s interest vis-à-vis China.

Indian nuclear policy has global nuclear disarmament as one of its fundamental cornerstones. Hence, efforts by India towards a nuclear-weapon free world will be in mankind’s best interest.

Furthermore, India’s handling of this situation will strengthen India’s global role as a responsible nuclear power, and help India’s claims to membership of institutions like the UNSC, Wassenar Group, MTCR and Australia Group. It will also help pacify the quagmire created by India being a non-signatory of the CTBT and NPT.

Opportunities presented by failure of the North Korea State

By all accounts, North Korea is on the verge of failure and the South has prepared for this eventuality. A failed North would lead to the unification of the Korean peninsula under the leadership of the South. And this presents a unique situation to India.

The North’s failure will provide China with an opportunity to increase its influence in this region; and this will lead to an antagonism of Chinese-Korean relations. India can seek this opportunity to strengthen ties with Korea and hedge its Chinese concerns.

Furthermore, a newly unified Korea will inherit the North’s nuclear capabilities. It will raise objections to the stationing of US forces in the South. Both these factors will also lead to a decline in Korean-US relations presenting India with another void to fill. India can continue its role of a responsible nuclear power by acting as a mediator.

On the economic front, the South will have to invest enormous amounts of capital, labor and time to develop the North. This will keep the South occupied and introvert for the next two decades – thereby creating a void in the global manufacturing industry, dominated by South Korea. India, seeking to be a super power and economic power-house can utilize this newly-created market to improve its own manufacturing sector.

The possibilities are endless – but will history bear witness to India’s surge in this particular niche, or will it be another tale of opportunity lost?

Neo-Curzonism: Lord Curzon 2.0

Few Viceregal legacies in India’s 90 years of British Crown domination (the suzerainty of the British Crown over the East India Company’s territories in India was established by the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, and ended with the India Independence Act of 1947) match that of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, KG, GCSI, GCIE, PC – popularly known as Lord Curzon, 15th Viceroy of India. Most (in)famous for the Partition of Bengal in 1905 (which was annulled in 1911), Lord Curzon also did the distinguished act of restoring several historical sites and monuments – including the Taj Mahal – within India. However, it is the rediscovery of Curzon’s foreign policy that is now proving to be a revelation for students and experts of Indian Foreign Policy.

Curzon was appointed the Viceroy towards the waning end of the Great Game – one of the most thrilling episodes in the history of man’s imperial aspirations. As a result, he had plenty of reason to be skeptical – one may argue, almost cynical – regarding the threat posed by the colossal Russian empire to the crown jewel in Pax Brittanica – India. Building on the antique and medieval imperial models of the Indian subcontinent, Curzon came up with a novel solution – that of establishing buffer states.

“the master of India, must, under modern conditions, be the greatest power in the Asiatic Continent, and, therefore, it may be added, in the world”.

–          Lord Curzon, 1909

The India referred to here by Curzon consists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Understanding the key position played by India in controlling the Indian subcontinent and (by virtue of its potential influence over major sea routes in the Indian Ocean) the globe, Curzon sought to protect India proper by the creation of Afghanistan (specifically the NWFP) and Persia to the North and West, Burma to the East and Tibet to the North-East as buffer states.


A perspective of the Game

Curzon’s two-pronged strategy of protecting Indian interest and extending India’s sphere of interest to the outermost edges of the subcontinent is particularly significant in contemporary times. With the rise of the Indian Ocean as the world’s major sea-route (25% of global petroleum passes through the Straits of Malacca, and 11% through the Gulf of Aden), rise of Asian nations on the global geo-strategic-economic stage, increasing importance of Central Asia (both as an hitherto untapped source of mineral resources and due to the war on terror) and the Indian Ocean nations having the youngest and most dynamic demography in the world, the global focus of power struggle has shifted to this region. Hence, neo-Curzonism becomes of significant interest to Indian interest.

If India were to follow such a policy, it would be well-advised to take the following steps:

  • Develop better ties with (possibly a post-Karzai Taliban) government of Afghanistan, as an effective bulwark against rising Islamic extremism and to keep Pakistan in check (the “Nutcracker” theory).
  • Encourage dialogue with the separatist movements in Sindh and Baluchistan – this would extend Indian hegemony and act as an extremely effective counter-move in the Gwadar port hinderland.
  • Improve ties with the Maoist regime in Nepal. The sustainment of the Maoist regime in Nepal is a reality that India has to come to terms with.
  • Increase support for the rights of the indigenous people of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tibet has always been India’s most significant buffer state against China.
  • Continue to emphasize India as a soft power in Myanmar. As a counter to a pro-China military Junta in power, Track 2 diplomacy will be much more effective.
  • Reconcile ties with Bangladesh and seek economic development of this region. This would both act as a countermove against extremist movements in the region, and improve ties.

A casual reader would naturally seek to associate neo-Curzonism with either the American policy of neo-conservatism or with the Hindutva Right Wing’s aspiration of a Greater India or Akhanda Bharat (अखंड भारत ). However, there are significant differences among them.

The Uniqueness of Neo-Curzonsm

While Neo-Conservatism can be most effectively understood through the prism of neo-Imperialism – in so far as much as it seeks to (forcefully) endorse “American” ideals of individualism, free market economies and democracy the two seem similar – Neo-Curzonism seeks to come to terms with present-day reality. It does not seek to force unto any neighbor one particular kind of State; rather it seeks to accept the existing system of governance and pursue Indian interest within the confines of that framework. This is of particular real politick importance given the nature of complications in the Indian subcontinent, rising out of the fact that the State of Pakistan is built on an artificial and unattainable notion, the sustainability of the status quo with Tibet, and the strong footing the military Junta enjoys in Myanmar.

In the context of being an expression of Indian imperialism, Neo-Curzonism does indeed reconcile itself with the Hindutvavadi demand of an Akhanda Bharat. However, what differentiates the two concepts is the secular nature of Neo-Curzonism. It does not seek to use religion as a tool for the extension of Indian hegemony. This helps lay the foundations of relations with the Muslim states of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Buddhist state of Myanmar and the region of Tibet, and the largely atheistic China.

Role of the US

A major and vital factor differentiating Neo-Curzonism with the original concepts of Lord Curzon is the fact that while the British Empire enjoyed unmatched supremacy over the Indian Ocean, present-day India is ill-equipped to exercise control over the high seas. This is particular highlighted in view of the status quo with India’s major competitor – China (the “String of Pearls” theory).

Hence, a de-facto India-US alliance will have to be forged to ensure US control over the seas acting as a re-enforcement to India’s expansion on land. This alliance would further have to be reconciled with India’s policy of Non-Alignment, whose (post-USSR-collapse) focus has shifted to balancing relations with China on one hand and the West on the other.

Post Script – The above passage has been largely influenced by Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon – an intellectual treat and must-read for those interested in understanding contemporary times. Although Curzon’s policy can be seen to be simply an extension of imperial design in India since the time of antiquity – indeed, powers from the Mauryas to the Cholas had followed a similar policy – and the naming of this concept after a British Imperial Viceroy can be seen to be an expression of American neo-imperialistic arrogance, what is significant is the concept express. As the Bard would tell us, “What’s in a name?” 

On the Rape of Women

While India and (specifically) New Delhi are no strangers to crimes against women (and this is all the more sad and worrying because there is a resigned acceptance of this fact), the recent case of rape in Delhi has caused revulsion to cascade throughout the country. Indeed, the doctors treating the unfortunate victim have stated this is the worst case they have witnessed so far. 

The nation has miles to go in terms of the safety of women, and that is a different issue that has to be addressed in depth. Incidents of rape open up the age-old argument about “women dressing provocatively are asking for it”. This discussion is both a cheap way to buy peace of mind by indulging in coffee-table civic consciousness, and a re-affirmation of a regressive, medieval and chauvinistic society. Although any reasonably sensible mind can be expected to reject this argument as pure bull-shit, such minds, unfortunately, are in the minority. Hence, the following post –


This is as fallacious as saying that a person who drives a fancy car or has a shiny new cellphone is responsible for it being stolen. Yes, dressed up women do look physically attractive. Yes, looking physically attractive is one of the chief aims of dressing up. But this does not justify rape. Period


By extension of above argument, it would appear that women who do not dress provocatively are not raped. Hence, all a woman would have to do to not be raped is wear a salwar-kameez or sari (here, assumption being that tank-tops and shorts qualify as provocative, while traditional dresses do not. I am mentally incapable of discussing fashion, so please feel free to correct me on this point). A cursory reading of facts will blow this argument clear out of the water.


Wrong. Dressing is a private concern. Yes, as citizens living in society, we should be sensitive towards the sensibilities those around us. The same way that we don’t wear shorts to temples, because it is disrespectful. But at the end of the day, it is a personal choice, and such personal choices have to be regulated by the law. Not rapists. The Indian Legal System does deal with public indecency.

For all those who shout from rooftops about women and dressing, how about we show the same desire for campaigning when it comes to smoking in public? Or littering? Or maintaining traffic discipline.


Aside from the obvious fact that *culture* is not a static entity – it is continuously re-defined by society – this is just factually wrong. Visit the temples of Khajurao, or see the paintings of dancers at Ajantha-Ellora. Read classic Indian texts – and not just the Kama Sutra, the Upanishads have pretty “liberal” contents too. In over two-three millennia, our society has become more regressive and orthodox.

I do not wish to “appeal to my friends and colleagues who disagree with these arguments to see the light”. You, Sirs and Madams, are what the dictionary would define as idiots. Kindly step aside while we try to grapple with this leviathan of a system and try to make the world a little better (not just for women, but for the men-folk as well).

PS – Replace “provocative clothing” with “travelling at night” or “going to parties”, and it will still make sense. Women aren’t responsible for rape. A**h***s are.

On 66-A

                Recent events in India’s legal system (read Facebook arrests), for all its right and wrongs, did have the social purpose of educating the masses about a certain piece of Indian legislature that treads into entirely new territories. The Information Technology Act, 2000 (and later amended in 2008) was created to regulate Indian cyberspace (here, assuming demarcation of cyberspace based on the geological location of client and server machines – how else, indeed, can one define “enforced within the territory of India”?). This act was a sequel to a resolution passed by the United Nations to create a law regulating electronic commerce.

Regulating Cyberspace – the good, the bad, the ugly

                The Internet is a unique flavor of media, simply by virtue of the enormous power it provides to the Individual. Its uniqueness is enumerated by 3 factors:

  1. Furthering the cause of the Individual – Today, one man armed with a laptop and an internet connection can create global shockwaves, as we have seen time and again during the Arab Spring. One doesn’t need to be a media baron, or own legions of printing presses, or have their own news channel to be heard – a single tweet, a single Youtube video is adequate.
  2. Speed of getting news across – News is sent out immediately. This gives people the ability to react to events almost instantaneously, and get a blow-by-blow account of happenings. For instance, during the US Marines’ assault on Osama Bin Laden’s hide-out in Abbotabad, the Twitter-ati gave each tiny detail of the assault.
  3. Audience – The internet gives the ability to reach out to a vast cross-section of society. Irrespective of region, religion, caste, ethnicity or (thanks to Google translate) linguistics, people can reach to news everywhere.
  4. A Parallel source of information – With the expansion of communication technologies (and backdoors into the same), it becomes very difficult to control the content on the internet. The sort of large-scale censorship the print media is subject to cannot be blatantly used on the internet (although there is no lack of those who try).

And this is precisely why netizens believe that the internet should be off-limits for government regulations. Because the internet (and everything associated with it) belongs to the people, and the people alone, the government should have no say in how it is run. By having a parallel and potent medium of communication, the internet does strengthen democracy and freedom. A legitimate fear that share by users is that the enormous power bequeathed by the internet grants, governments will try to muzzle, fearing the people’s dissent.

While these concerns stand well, the other side of the coin is that regulations are needed to protect these very netizens. The internet created a wave of new types of crimes – free distribution of copyrighted material, for one – and reinvented others, like identity theft. Hence, need was felt to regulate cyberspace and protect one user from another.

Section 66(A) of IT Act, 2000

                One of the most contentious sections of the IT Act is 66(A), which reads –

66A.Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.: Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,- (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device, (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

                A cursory glance at this article will assert its importance. People of all hue and cries have suffered from offensive content on the internet. As IPS (retd.) officer, Kiran Bedi, stated, the sort of tweets that she (and other celebrities) receive are extremely offensive in nature. There has to be a legal recourse to address content that offends our emotional, religious, national or other sentiments – the right to freedom (as under Article 19), is subject to “reasonable restrictions”. Hence, a codified, well-defined law to address cybercrime is necessary. Couple this with the fact that India’s criminal laws – the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) – were compiled in 1860 and 1973 respectively, at a time when the internet did not exists, one realizes that the IT Act and its Sections are important.

Hence, Section 66(A) of the IT Act should remain. However, as we have shown in our functioning, there have to be changes made to it. Changes suggested are:

  1. In order to prevent the misuse of this act, ambiguity in it ought to be removed. For instance, in Article 66(A), terms such as “grossly offensive”, “having menacing character”, “causing annoyance”, “inconvenience”, “danger”, “obstruction”, “insult”, “injury”, “criminal intimidation”, “enmity”, “hatred”, “ill will”, “annoyance”, “inconvenience” should be explicitly defined.
  2. Furthermore, both legislature and the executive ought to be trained in understanding internet jargon. If a legal or quasi-legal officer is to take a decision regarding implementing the IT Act, he should have adequate training and familiarity regarding information technology to be able to take that decision.

No law is universally true, in spatial or time constraints. As time goes on, application reveals the strengths and lacunas in it. Accordingly, the wording of the law must be modified to make its spirit more relevant for contemporary times.

Pune Bus Day

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” – Petro Gustavo, Mayor of Bogota.

On the 1st of November, 2012, Pune geared up to celebrate Pune Bus Day.

For Pune, a city of not infrequent attempts by the citizens at activism, this has been a unique experiment. Sure, there were always the “Green-Day” celebrations at college, where everyone would not use bikes and walk to college. But a city-wide decision to not use private vehicles and use the public transport instead (with the initiative taken by a leading Daily)? Now that’s a first. Although the experiment enjoyed limited success – indeed, it was a failure in several pockets of the city – the initiative was a welcome one.

Let’s put Pune’s traffic scene in perspective here. Pune is a major industrial and tertiary sector center, and one of India’s fastest growing metropolises. Several major software companies, global auto-giants and manufactures are located here. This has translated into an exponentially rising middle class – a middle class that needs and owns lots of vehicles.

Currently, there are 33 lakh vehicles in Pune; daily 730 new vehicles, or 22,000 per month, pour on to the limited 2,000-km long road network. There are 23 lakh two-wheelers, around eight lakh four-wheelers, and the rest includes 70,000 autorickshaws and other types of vehicles, as per Pune Deputy Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Vishwas Pandhre.

Issues in Pune’s transport systems

                As we all know far too well, Pune’s traffic is a nightmare. The state of the roads is terrible. There are no intra-city special routes for road traffic, like Delhi’s ring road or Mumbai’s Sea Link. The BRT link built near Swargate is a joke that often ends up further complicating traffic jams instead of solving them.

                Adding to this is the absence of a good public transport system. Check any bus on any evening, and you’ll find people spilling out of the PMPNL buses. Pune’s locals run once almost every 45 minutes – a far cry from local trains or metros enjoyed by Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad or Bangalore. The local network provides hardly any connectivity, and does not extend beyond areas adjacent to the old Mumbai-Pune highway. Ambitious projects like the Metro-Monorail, or using the river as a transit route disappeared without a trace.

                Road transport, specifically, is further complicated by the stubbornness of Punekars (something that we pride ourselves on). While we sign tons of petitions asking for reversal of decisions that make the use of helmets compulsory, we fail to park our vehicles behind the zebra crossing, or use it to cross the road when on foot, or follow lane discipline. Haven’t most of us have used the footpaths to cut through traffic when on our bikes? I know I have. This lack of driving discipline makes our traffic jams difficult to solve and our roads more dangerous.

The Performance of Pune Bus Day

Swargate Chowk

Swargate Chowk,1st November 2012

                The purpose of the PBD has been two-pronged – one, to make a statement about the state of Pune’s transport situation; and two, to show that we are capable of making such a statement.

                The fact that the PBD was a symbolic gesture, more than a sustainable solution was well-defined from the beginning. What the PBD aimed at was create awareness about public transport, and credit should be given to it for that. Indeed, many people “saw the inside of a bus for the first time in their lives”, to quote a leading Daily. The PBD was also an experiment in communication between various economic classes – people who “have” vehicles experienced a day in the lives of those who “have not” vehicles.

                However, the way in which the PBD was executed was a huge drain on resources. Almost 200 new buses were added to the PMPNL’s existing fleet for the day. However, reports now show that a lot of these buses were empty for a large part of the day – thus leading to losses being incurred by the operators. A bus conductor reported that while his daily earnings was Rs. 1000/-, the total money collected by the bus throughout the day hardly amounted to Rs. 1,300/-; and this on a busy route.


                The usual solutions given for solving traffic problems consist of, inter alia, using bicycles or walking. This helps protect the environment, develops good health and reduces pressure on the road network. However, this can work only for small and medium distances. In any city, where people regularly travel at least 10 km to their workplaces, people cannot be expected to travel these distances on foot or by bicycles.

                Another solution that can be used is car pooling. Students and professionals residing in one locality can use a common vehicle to commute to their destination. It is seen that car pooling is used quite frequently. This should be further encouraged.

                However, the most sustainable and vital component element of solving traffic and transportation problem is development of public transport services. The reasons why public transport fails are usually lack of connectivity and lack of flexibility. If a citizen cannot get from where (s)he wants to where (s)he wants to, at the time of their convenience, they cannot be expected to use public transport instead of private transport. Furthermore, the transport services should be reliable – commuters should be able to reach their destination within the stipulated time frame, without worrying about breakdowns or delays.

                Therefore, to solve Pune’s traffic worry, what we need is faster transit routes for buses and greater connectivity using locals. Introduction of a monorail will create greater connectivity and open up economic opportunities for people. And here’s another small tip – the next any socio-political group wants to protest, try to not burn buses.