Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mumbaiya Politics!

The first anniversary of the Mumbai carnage is being observed with much reportage in the Indian media, something not very unusual. What is also entering the limelight; however, are the raging voices of the public. Be it Kavita Karkare, wife of slain ATS chief Hemant Karkare, questioning her husband’s missing bullet proof jacket, or the general public questioning safety norms in the city; the wounds of the attacks have still not healed in their minds.
Amid these key developments in the city over the past few months, where have the political parties of Mumbai been all this while? Both the ‘Sena’s seem to be engaged in vandalizing press offices, attacking non – Marathi speaking MPs and warning Sachin not to enter the political pitch. Citizens of this ‘Maximum City’ have always lashed out against the authoritarian antics indulged in by Shiv Sena and MNS in the name of politics. Following 26/11, Shiv Sena made news recently when its party members attacked Leopold cafe, protesting against mugs that the café has created to commemorate the first anniversary of the terror attacks. Apparently upset with the cafe ‘commercializing’ the incident by selling these beer-filled mugs to their customers, Shiv Sena resorted to their trademark strategy – violence. Party leaders were nowhere to be heard of since the attacks, nor have many reports been filed on any comment from the Sena camps.
Following its defeat in the recent Maharashtra assembly elections, Shiv Sena is in a tug-of-war with the MNS, both parties looking to grab opportunities to overtake the other. "The Sena took the risk of attacking a popular Maharashtrian icon to seize the initiative from MNS which has been taking aggressive postures. It's a war of one-upmanship,'' a senior Congress leader observed. On the other hand, when the MNS attacked Abu Azmi, the Sena retaliated when Azmi criticized Bal Thackeray. The article, 'Shiv Sena, MNS in one-upmanship war' also mentions, “The MNS's hard line on issues, aimed at projecting its image as the only party that takes up the Marathi issue, leaves Sena stalwarts fuming. For example, when Raj Thackeray spoke in Marathi to several Hindi- and English-language national TV channels, MNS scored a point over the Sena.”
Similarly, when the MNS directed the State Bank of India to consider Maharashtrians for their job vacancies, Shiv Sena jumped at the opportunity. Sthaniya Lokadhikar Samiti, the Sena's wing that advocates public sector jobs for Maharashtrians, explained that it had worked for three decades to ensure adequate representation for "sons of the soil'' in recruitment for the public sector.
The MNS has always been targeting celebrities such as Amitabh Bachchan on the Marathi manoos vs. outsider debate. The Sena could not lag behind, and the recent controversy on Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘Indian first’ remark is proof enough.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Virtual reality – The Evolution of Social Networking

After the first ever social networking sites surfaced on the internet in the 90’s, there has been no looking back ever since. Online communities’ sites such as Theglobe and Tripod had chat rooms as the only interactive chat forum available. (1995), (1997, the earliest sites that focussed on connecting with unknown persons across the globe) were perceived as too advanced for their time. What began as a step towards online connectivity, technology has changed the face of communication altogether. The more recent sites such as Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr among many others have created a whole new meaning to communication. The world has definitely shrunk with the multitude of networking options at hand and the tech crazy generation we have become today is proof of this fact. Social networking has become more of a necessity these days and the days of SMS – ing and calling have become passé. People sit in the same classroom and chose to chat, scrap, poke and tweet rather than have a verbal conversation! But the question is what’s in store for the future?
Leo Laporte, a broadcaster who runs the popular TWiT network of technology pod casts, calls the phenomenon of people addicted to social networking sites as "the social silo," and he doesn't think it can last much longer. "People are pouring all this content and value into individual sites," says Laporte, "but they aren't going to want to keep dealing with Facebook, Twitter and in order for the social web to move forward, the separate ecosystems which make it up need to unite."
The recently launched Google Wave, an open platform for real-time communication and sharing media, is aimed directly at this ‘social silo’. The Wave-based system will be accessible by anyone to whom the user has granted permission for access. The philosophies of openness and accessibility are baked right into the tool. If Google Wave revolutionizes the web as it is expected to, a single web-login is all that we will need soon.
The whole host of social networking choices includes sharing pictures via Flickr, video calling through Skype and Gmail, business networking through LinkedIn among many others. The mobile phone has evolved cutting edge technology that has enabled online communication via mobiles too. Experts say, the future lies in ‘mobile social networking’, especially with the launch of the iPhone. An upcoming, undisclosed application is under way that would enable all iPhone users to connect and users can scroll through nearby iPhone users, and set filters for men, women or age ranges and create a network.
As technology advances, so do the risks of online security. With the free availability of information and personal details on the web, users need to be aware of the potential of these online networking sites. Site administrators and security services have a great task at hand in evolving secure servers and back end systems. Craig Schmugar, in his research article ‘The future of social networking sites’ states: In May 2007, Facebook launched the Facebook platform, which allowed third-party developers to author and market applications to Facebook’s 20 million active users. One year and 50 million additional users later, more than 20,000 Facebook applications have been developed, with 95 percent of the user base having run at least one application. These applications pose additional risks—as users may have a false sense of security because of the applications’ association with a site they trust, Yet the vast majority of these applications are released by developers without prior review by the site. In January 2008, Facebook banned the application Secret Crush after it was reported to have led users to install Zango adware.
The future holds a highly customized web experience that requires very little direct user input. Web 1.0 was driven by site administrators and Web 2.0 was driven by user-generated content, the future of social networking lies in user and content relationships augmented by user-tailored content. Social Networking 3.0, the third generation of social-networking technology has hit the Web, and it's about content as much as it’s about contacts.
Social networking today, is more than just making friends and online interactions. It has evolved as a platform for business networking, publicity, online communities and forums, discussion boards and the creating your own personal space – blogging. The ever expanding arena of social networking is looked at as the future of the internet and at the pace the web is rapidly expanding and adding functionality, these sites are revolutionising the internet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Aaj ka 'Raj'

“I’m singled out to be dubbed parochial. Why? Because I belong to Maharashtra? Other leaders from Maharashtra easily give in to the leaders from the North and this is what we have been living with. I don’t care about the north Indians’ votes. I am concerned about Maharashtra.”
This was Raj Thackeray’s reaction on being questioned about his concept of ‘Marathi manoos’ and his ideals, in an interview published in a leading Marathi weekly LokPrabha on February 12, 2008. The Maharashtra Nirman Samiti (MNS) and its chairperson Raj Thackeray have always been in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Be it their ideological crusade against north Indians in Mumbai or their sons-of-the-soil theory, the MNS has created many a controversy. Heavily criticised by the Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena among others for his party’s tactics in responding to issues, Raj Thackeray seems to believe firmly in his ideals and justifies his party’s stand. Termed a ‘dictator’, his aim is to continue campaigning for greater rights for the ethnic Marathi people of Maharashtra and protect its identity as that of a ‘Marathi’ state.
The Language debate
The most recent controversy in which the MNS has been embroiled relates to their attack on Abu Azmi, a Samajwadi Party MLA for taking his oath in Hindi and not Marathi. MNS party members created a ruckus in the Maharashtra Assembly and physically assaulted Azmi.
A case of insult to the Hindi language and treason has been filed against Raj Thackeray and four suspended party MLAs. Asserting the use of Marathi in the Legislative Assembly was heavily criticised among the political fraternity. India being a democratic country, such an action violates its ideals of national unity and integration; and when a particular political party chooses to separate a state on the grounds of language and communities, the question of individual rights emerges. But the party appears to take the suspension of its MLAs as a matter of honour and a way to attract popular attention to its politics.

Regional languages strengthen local bonds within a State, and each State has its regional language for all forms of communication, including administrative and public. No one objects to English being used in the Kannada speaking state of Karnataka, or Tamil speaking Tamil Nadu. So why has the issue of Marathi vs. Hindi become such a huge debate in Maharashtra and why only this state is apprehensive of other communities migrating to Mumbai, are question that need to be answered.
As stated on the MNS website, “These illegal, unemployed migrants are claiming employment opportunities available in the State while the Marathi Manus is left unemployed and the farmers are forced to commit suicide.”
Mumbai vs. India
The influx of migrant populations from other states to Mumbai has been the root of the party’s issues against the Samajwadi Party and the Shiv Sena. Raj Thackeray had written a letter on November 14, 2009 to the State Bank of India (SBI), a day before its all-India recruitment exam, to consider locals for their 1100 new clerical job posts. In a similar instance, Raj Thackeray has been charged with rioting, stoking religious tensions in the railway examinees assault case of October 2008, when MNS activists attacked North Indian candidates appearing for the all-India Railway Recruitment Board entrance exam for the Western region in Mumbai.
Also, attacks were witnessed against North Indian shopkeepers in February 2008 when MNS party members destroyed government property in a move to vent their anger against the reported move to arrest Raj Thackeray. In the same month, Thackeray’s speech on the issue of migration from other states sparked a huge public controversy. He went to the extent of criticising the celebrated actor Amitabh Bachchan, a native of UP.
Referring to the North Indians as ‘thugs’, he said in an interview: “These thugs want to take over Maharashtra and Mumbai. I am a hurdle in their path. Our leaders are silent or have their vested interests in north Indians' business here. The need for an agitation against them has been felt in the last few years since these UP-Bihari started spreading their wings against the locals.” He added, “Globalisation doesn’t mean ignoring one’s own mother tongue. These people are denying what belongs to Maharashtra, trying to kill it.”
Mumbai, the ‘city of dreams’ has always been the city where people across India come in search of a livelihood and with dreams of a secure future. India’s financial capital and home to its largest film industry, the city of Mumbai boasts of a vibrant ethos. However, the existence of such linguistic chauvinism attacks not only the individual sentiments of the communities, but instigates violent political actions among the states.
It is unfortunate that when many are against this ‘goonda raj’, there are also those individuals who bow down to the comments and ideals of the MNS. For example, when the party objected to the referring of Mumbai as Bombay in the film Wake Up Sid, the director Karan Johar instantly apologized to Raj Thackeray who threatened to disrupt the film’s screenings. The director obviously had the interests of the film and its revenue as a priority, rather than objecting to such authoritarian comments in a democratic society.
Raj Thackeray – the businessman
The multi faceted MNS leader, who doubles up as a builder, has made a fortune by selling his stake in Kohinoor Mill No. 3 at Shivaji Park. Raj Thackeray and his business partner Rajan Shirodkar made a whopping Rs. 300 crore when they sold their stake in the mill, four years after they had bought it amid controversy.
Raj Thackeray might be wooing the Maharashtrian public with his ideas of ‘Marathi manoos’ and his affection towards the language. However, in reality this ‘businessman’ facet of his personality makes his ideologies seem like a mere political gimmick.