Monday, March 20, 2017

Yogi Adityanath, the surprise and no surprise

Ratnakar Tripathy

Ever since Yogi Adityanath was named the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, there has been little else in the media but the Yogi, now turned into a full-blown mainstream politician, no longer seen as fringe but the ruler of the largest Indian state. One would have expected that after BJP’s smashing victory in UP, we had already been through the climax of the story. But then our PM likes to pile the shocks one on top of the other. If you thought the Yogi is the last straw, just wait. Modi’s style seems to be to gamble for all or nothing and the recent UP elections seem to have reassured him that he can get away with absolutely anything. The question is can he? Looking at the stupid and submissive grin on Mulayam’s face during the oath-taking ceremony and his sycophantic demeanour in the company of Modi seemed disgusting enough. His insistence on whispering some sweet nothings in Modi’s ear did earn Akhilesh a friendly pat from the PM, but Yogi Adityanath is likely to be unsparing with Mulayam’s endless row of goons in the coming days. While the rest of the world may be busy analyzing Modi’s strengths, I keep myself busy dissecting the weaknesses of his adversaries. In this particular case, it is well-known that Mulayam’s UP was not a safe place to be and despite Akhilesh’s developmental thrust, he couldn’t really get rid of his father’s bully boys at all or even restrain them minimally.      

In politics even if you feel lost and any kind of conclusions seem to evade your reach, one has to keep sufficient sanity to stay away from rash and dangerous inferences. My most dangerous inference of the week was a series of blatant and rather firm conclusion seen to be emerging from UP in the most lucid way – that the UP voter has turned communal and that the mandate clearly shows this. I do not understand how people come to such facilely grand conclusion. The clarity with which they see this happen is very scary. For one thing it implies inaction, quietude and resignation as if the future has been redefined in stone. There are of course those who argue that the Yogi is an unknown factor despite the raging flames shooting through his speeches. Such people can wait, indeed wait forever and hope to see their hopes charred in the fierce heat. But I do agree with all the commentators that the choice of Adityanath was a big surprise. Why not a mellower candidate suited to the requirements of the 2019 parliamentary elections?

There could be two opposing and yet not entirely opposing theories  on this. They are to be seen as pure speculation, as I do not pretend to be a clairvoyant. First, the idea is to tame the firebrands by coopting them within the saner fold. Or to make them somewhat docile. This is the sensible sort of kite flying and should be given a chance. Second, the plan may be not to tame Adityanath so much as to use his untamed prowess to reduce Mulayam and Akhilesh as well as Mayawati to pulp through legal and political processes and perhaps even split the state into five parts, which would be the counted as the greatest contribution of BJP thus far.  UP can be a very irritating factor in the life of a politician aiming as high as Modi quite simply because of its size. You may run all over the place in India winning battles on all the fronts and a ‘no’ from UP can bring you down in one fell swoop.

Part of Modi’s bold style of politics and policy that the voter of today is enamoured of lies in his urge to gamble in a big way. Like a gambler worth his salt he raises the stakes when on a winning spree. The real question is will this spree continue all the way up to 2019? Or do we really have to wait that long to see the balloon deflate? The voter in turn too, remember is in a mood to keep up the gamble and is waiting to see the full outcome of her verdict. How patient the common man is and how recklessly blunderous Modi will get in the coming months is the real dialectic at work here. All I can see is that some more nasty surprises are awaiting us round the corner. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

UP CM - Modi Wastes An Opportunity

UP CM Yogi Adityanath
I do not find Modi's UP CM Choice any good. To start with, Modi was never under pressure from Right to 'turn to more right'. Sangh Parivar and Hindu Nationalists were all giddy on the 'hegemonic Nehru-Indira' style power peak attained by Modi's BJP and they would have been content with any normal choice by Modi. So why turn more 'right then'? That does not make much sense

The sensible strategy would have been to put in place a completely Development Oriented CM - like Shivraj Singh Chouhan of MP - who would easily out-do Akhilesh Yadav's Development politics. By appointing a Mandir Guy, basically Modi has opened a door for Yadav and Gang to attack from Development and Secularism angle unless BJP is sure that secular liberal parties will never come together. But it is inevitable because it will be a surprise if this Mandir Guy is able to pull off any sensible economic development in UP. 

I am suspecting that Amit Shah and Modi duo are reading too much in Trump Style Politics - keep doubling down on your Ethno-Nationalism. In a country like India, it is far, far easier to cobble a coalition on the basis of Secularism and Development; given the diversity in a Billion plus country.

BSP Supremo Mayawati reads it correctly that Modi's BJP wants to contest coming politics on a sectarian basis. Just when Modi attained the peak power in India and when India has everything aligned politically to make solid reforms, Modi is going Turkey boss Erdogan ways. What a waste and possibly a missed opportunity for India.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Steve, You Don't Own USA

"We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

-- Steve King (US House Member, 4th District Iowa)

Steve, our constitution talks about "We the People..." and there is no mention of the world 'civilization'. 

Civilization does not sustain on your own babies only. Ask Japanese.

And Steve for your information, United States of America is not a private or inherited property of White Caucasian Christians and their descendants. Even if we leave aside how those White Europeans displaced native Americans; please go read what Jefferson and what his band wrote - 'We the People'; not White Christians of any certain descend. 

And no Steve, no-one is hyperventilating. We are just calling out your fundamentally wrong views.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Making sense of assembly elections 2017

 Ratnakar Tripathy

Take I: relation between the voter and the candidate!

I share the anxiety and the trepidation with many others over the unusually bold gusto with which Narendra Modi led the BJP to power in the UP elections. Forget the big numbers, I am speaking of the élan and the aplomb and the tireless persistence that made him roam the narrow lanes of Varanasi like a determined stalker of votes. But I am left even more worried over the post-election analysis and soul searching that has followed in the last two days. So much so I was unable to make a comment, any comment for several hours and spent much time on what others known and unknown have to say in print and in face to face conversation. That we as well-meaning and sensate individuals often do not get things right and make blunderous choices is a common place – in fact we may all look at our own lives as a series of follies, at times reversible and at times with a heavy price to pay. When you up the scale to a large body of voters in a huge democracy like India however, things change almost unmanageably. The wait for reversal takes a full four to five years. There is indeed much too heavy a price to pay and others who did not agree with you must equally suffer the consequences of your vote, but there is too a possibly bigger learning on a mass scale in the offing. And yet, democracy does not offer a linear highway for public learning and remains open to regressive swings.  

Let me come to the point a bit more directly – that Irom Sharmila, the eternal agitator and empathizer from Manipur got precisely 90 votes, drove commentators on Facebook and other platforms to the conclusion that even when you readily wear the cross expecting rewards, you may end up only with punishment and humiliation in the Indian democracy and this is where we stand today as far as the state of our democracy goes.  I will not argue against this pessimistic position and simply quote a public figure Pratik Sinha from Gujarat – ‘My late father Dr. Mukul Sinha contested from Shahpur seat in Ahmedabad in 2007. He got a sum total of 255 votes. This is after all the work he had put in 2002 Nanavati commission and fake encounters and more. There were many reasons for that, I won't go into those. However, electoral politics is a different ball game. Do not spite the voter just because Irom Sharmila got 90 votes.’

Unlike Sinha on the specific occasion I will perversely ask why not and try answering my own question in the manner of a ventriloquist. It will perhaps help me get over the gloom and the nihilism inherent in looking at the common citizen as a procession of slavish morons or even as the evil zombies that poison the ballot box with their toxic despair and as citizens who have failed in their duty unto themselves to elect the best. There are two issues here – the voter likes to elect a person primarily to rule and not to agitate or to do social work on the political margins. The leader as a representative in democracy is ideally meant to be a person who listens to demands and is in a position to fulfil them and not as someone who goes on an indefinite fast. This is the everydayness of a democracy and agitating comes later. Not just Irom Sharmila in Manipur, but even AAP has the handicap of being seen as the leader in ‘special situations’ when the routine democratic procedures fail and you have to take a day off to join the fellow citizens in the street. But more on AAP later. Just for a moment empathize with a politician, even the worst of them – if you end up blaming the voter for your defeat, do you deserve to be in politics at all? But this is what Sharmila is threatening to do in Manipur. Once we agree on this pragmatic and existential premise we may be able to proceed further. The voter like an animal of prey can be ruthless in defending itself against politicians of passage such as Irom and well even Amitabh Bachchan. They want you come back again despite rejection and persist in wooing rather than quit in the manner of Irom.  When AAP made a transition from a body of agitators to a political party, they seemed to be fully aware that despite all the agonizing, they have a crossed a line forever and there is no return.   

Take II: what went wrong with SP, BSP and AAP

I have a very vivid image like a dream well-remembered on this. I see Akhilesh and Mayawati in a homely domestic Ping-Pong match, looking sideways at the BJP as an unwelcome distraction. While in Bihar in 2015 an unlikely and as time moves an inconvenient détente was made between Nitish and Laloo, the two UP stalwarts were busy over sporting moves in what seemed like a friendly division of ancestral property, little aware of hovering claimants aiming for their jugulars with sharp knives. In Bihar it is well-known the stalwart Laloo made the first call to Nitish bending his ego for the moment as only a true blue politician can. In UP, Akhilesh may have taken the same initiative but his oedipal preoccupations did not allow the time or the moment to dial madam Mayawati’s number. They both wanted all or nothing, may be. The analysts are already looking at constituency based data and coming to the conclusion that they indeed were each other’s ‘vote-cutters’, a jargon thrown up by the Indian electoral politics. This may not have been a guarantee for a win but it would have been seen as a good try. But to come down to the nitty gritty of data already available and probably the first accurate and well-focused analysis in the press by a Political Science professor Gilles Verniers ‘‘The party’s strike rate, or the ratio of seats won against seats contested, is equally impressive and fairly stable through the seven phases of the elections.’ And more ‘The BJP’s strike rate maintained itself at around 80 per cent in the next four phases, decreasing slightly to 71 and 75 per cent in the last two phases. This means that the prime minister’s increased involvement towards the end of the campaign enabled the BJP to maintain its earlier performance, but did not raise it further.’

What do you make of this? Even if you still hold on to the logic of Modi’s charisma, do remember that the BJP under Amit Shah’s guidance got down to work in UP close to two years ago. In a report with the telling title ‘BJP’s election strategy: 900 rallies, 67,000 workers, 10,000 WhatsApp groups and chopper landings’, the journalist Lalmani Varma lists a series of campaigns and yatras by BJP leaders right since ‘Dhamma Chetna Yatra’ on April 24 last year. It is worthwhile going through the hyperlinked report if you are in a mind to carry out an educated post mortem of the UP elections. Put Akhilesh and Behanji side by side and they will seem to be twiddling their thumbs in comparison. 1650 college meetings and 77 mahila sabhas throughout the state just give you a flavour of the grassroots work done in UP when the SP was sorting out family problems and Mayawati was chasing the Muslim votes in the most blatant way possible.

As for AAP, I can see only one single flaw that went against it – its perverse insistence on centralizing its decisions in the manner of the Congress. According to reports from the ground ‘‘the only loyalty the party understood was the one towards Kejriwal. A journalist friend joked, the only qualification to join AAP is to remove your spine and replace it with a rubber tube.’ Do go through this hyperlinked report that decisively and squarely placed the blame on the centralist tendency that made AAP lose massive initial advantage it had just a few months ago, when it was seen as Juggernaut tearing its way into the interiors of Punjab. Clearly, every losing party had its own reasons for its customized debacles. All this may seem to add up to the faulty perception of course that Modi’s charisma is unbeatable!

Take III: Modi and the national mood

Despite my personal feelings I see two leadership qualities in Modi that stand out – the great appetite for personal risk and the courage to go the whole hog with a great sense of responsibility and owing which leaves no place for blaming others. I say this with particular reference to Akhilesh who despite his defiance of his father and uncle made a handshake with Rahul. In a climate when excessive masculinity is seen a virtue by the voter, he only revealed himself to be weak-kneed and a man wont to rest on crutches. More concretely, yes the SP found a ballast and not a balloon in the Congress.

What however continues to work in Modi’s favour the most is an atmosphere of what I call ‘extravagant hope’ [a la Alan Greenspan’s ‘irrational exuberance’] that rose as a recoil in the wake of the anomic political state created by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh over their eight year stint.  I see almost no basis for such hope but only an extreme straining by the public will to retain its cheer in the face of existential insecurity. Modi panders to it on daily basis through a whole variety of prides and exaggerated self-regard. But that this hope and hype are not likely to evaporate in a brief period of two years is clear from UP. In fact an artificially fashioned hope can be congealed into something harder than normal good cheer even if it proves rather brittle in the long or short run depending on the wisdom of the voting public. Another thing that is clear is that the more you criticize Modi, the firmer his supporters will become in the blindness of their faith – this is just how the Freudian defense mechanism works. So what can and should the opposition do?

Take IV: Need for a positive rhetoric

Looking at things from the perspective of the political and psychological mood described above at some length, it is not surprising that any criticism against Modi, the only perceived repository of hope riles a certain type of voter and he will not only refuse to listen to you but may even attack you physically. As we know when he does that he will find official encouragement as seen on various campuses and streets of India. It does not however mean that you cease your critical chatter but only that as a politician you try hard to present your own alternative. No wonder that for reasons rather unjustifiable, the AAP has acquired the reputation of a constant whiner among the public outside Delhi rather than a bold critic that it in reality is. In these non-normal and non-routine times, extra emphasis should be put on what you offer as alternative and do not appear to be chasing the public deep into their abodes hell-bent on making them see reason, your reason that is. Except the very devoted bhaktas the normal voter would willingly but patiently want to learn his own lessons or at least develop his own cribs before joining you in a stance of disapproval. Persistent and wide spread dissemination of relevant information among the common voter thus becomes very vital in times when the press has failed us. Impatience in political communication can prove frustrating in the long run and kill your political will leading to a contempt for the voter communities en masse. I say with full conviction that I find Sonia-Manmohan to be solely responsible for turning the politician Modi into a colossal phenomenon. One of the commentators termed the UP predicament ‘invisible wave’, in that a strong wave was there though no one could see it. This is not just tautological, it also neglects the follies of the SP and BSP, taking them as unavoidable fate.

2019: Beyond gloom and inaction

We no longer live in times when a political party waited almost passively awaiting its turn at power. The bigger leaders among the regional ones face irrelevance if they do not remain feverishly active on both regional and national level. With an army of trolls, vigilantes and propagandists, a partisan press to face on a daily basis, any politician who wishes to survive has to remain constantly active in compiling reliable information and making good use of it. There is a need for research teams and policy advisors of all sorts, right from the technical experts to generalists. I tend to agree with the renowned academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta in believing that ‘Today, we should humbly acknowledge that Modi’s star is soaring, while the opposition is crashing to the ground. Rather than begrudging Modi his victory, his critics need to ask, why is their political credibility so low? Some worry that the BJP’s dominance will turn into hubris. But the more immediate worry is that the despair of the opposition may turn into even more timidity and stupidity.’ Indeed I feel very concerned with the low moral-political stamina of the liberal, centrists, conventional and unorthodox left in showing signs of ‘extravagant gloom’ in contrast with a large body of Modi followers. My worry is largely caused by the prevalent assumption that the excesses perpetrated by the Modi regime will continue to find wide approval and that instead of passing through a transition we have already arrived at what may delusionally seem to be a stable political equilibrium. Do not please make the fluid seem solidly congealed just because things are not going the way you wanted them to go in your dreamy luxurious states of mind.  

Postscript: a stray advise/warning for AAP I again borrow from Mehta is implied in these lines from him ‘The AAP will be disappointed that an opening did not translate into victory. They will now also face a tactical dilemma — except in rare circumstances, any gains they make are, in the initial phases, likely to come at the expense of the Congress more than BJP. This is a real possibility in Gujarat — one that could help the BJP.’

Monday, March 06, 2017

The art of political communication and UP elections

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Over time it has become an intellectual habit for me to overlook the professed ideologies of the politicians and focus on what they plan to do with the existing social conflicts within the community of voters. Do they try to play the mediator or they wish to aggravate the conflicts and perhaps rub salt on the existing wounds and even conjure up imaginary grievances is for me the final touchstone I use for labeling a politician. You may decide that this is what we call in history and the humanities in general ‘mono-causal ‘thinking’, namely attributing unduly heavy significance to a single aspect of life and communication. But on this, I am obdurate and unwilling to budge even an inch given the state of political communication in our times. With this disclosure, I now wish to proceed further and present my reading of what politicians, parties and people on podiums are saying these days in UP.

The flattening landscape of rhetoric  

I take the liberty of starting with the following quote from the Facebook status of a friend of mine, Awanish Kumar, an Assistant Professor at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai:
‘Just a thought: In the contemporary political discourse, particularly after the rise of Modi, development stands out as an overarching category often posed as a self-evident phenomenon. Once the D-word is uttered, political divisions also tend to blur. Akhilesh Yadav promises Metro trains, and Arvind Kejriwal wants to turn Delhi into London. Nitish Kumar promises good governance, and Naveen Patnaik also promises corruption free development.’

Yes indeed, if you come down from your highly educated and intellectual pedestal and look at the political rhetoric of the leaders in the fray, Akhilesh, Mayawati and Modi through the eyes of the common voter, you will indeed be highly perplexed. Aren’t they saying the same or similar thing? So how do I decide whom to vote? On the basis of earlier track record, or the specificity of the promise, or simply go with the wave around me? The voter faces two interesting dilemmas here – first an existential and a philosophical one, namely although it is after all the votes together that count, my individual vote is a minuscule really. But there is another dilemma of a practical nature – what am I to do when the political leaders seem to be borrowing promises and agendas from each other on a daily basis? Looking at the same from the leader’s viewpoint, a politician I am sure must wonder how to stand out in the most conspicuous manner among a row of identical figures?  This game of standing out when played day in and day out along with the mimicry of rhetoric takes you to a point of communication when the common voter stops listening to development talk, and perhaps stops listening to anything but the jokes and sarcasm. This may be the reason why the politicians of all hues have been attacking each other like we all did as kids – making faces, rolling tongues and finding inventive acronyms. But does this have to be the only option? Of course, the other remedy may be to get louder by the day till the voter simply cannot escape you. Aren’t there other ways of consolidating votes of larger groups rather than pretend that the individual voter is your sole target?

The communal gamble

Yes. You can do better by aiming at bulk votes through a toxic rhetoric that targets specific groups as the perpetrators of something or the other. You make indirect hints in the public speeches but the cadre on the ground spreads substantial and specific as well randomly baseless rumours, which is why ‘in some parts, the RSS cadre are going from house-to-house to consolidate Hindus against the "rising Islamic influence".’ The SP-Congress address the individual voter ‘with the theme of “Kaam Bolta Hai, [deeds speak louder]”, the thrust of SP president and Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s campaign was to pitch his infrastructural projects and welfare schemes, which together with his tech savvy image form “Brand Akhilesh” beyond the Muslim-Yadav combine associated with the SP. The BSP on the other hand aims at the Dalit-Muslim constituency for the purpose of winning ‘consolidated’ votes and often focuses on law and order situation in UP while addressing the wisdom of the individual voter.

I call Modi-Shah’s communal strategy to be a gamble since apart from being morally heinous, they have decided they can do without the 20 per cent Muslims. The logic here is if you polarize you will find the Hindu votes consolidated in your favour. Currently the results of the UP elections revolve around this magnificently devilish bet. The only other confusion lies over who will get the most Muslim votes between Akhilesh and Mayawati. Everything else is a matter of detail.

So the UP elections do not seem as confusing as they earlier seemed, do they? If at all they are confusing, it is for two reasons. First, a profound reason why the journalists are torn when they are not acting as tools of propaganda is the voter is lying to them with the belief that truthfulness is not owed to the media anymore. This reflects on the state of the media as the journalists along with the politician have become a consolidated mass of people when not feared perhaps the most hated and despised segment of the society by the common voter.  Second, the UP data is near impossible to aggregate on a day to day basis as the rhetoric over the microphone and the whisperings at the door to door campaigns reflexively change every other day among the parties in the fray in reaction to each other. So my advice is don’t waste time in speculations over who is winning and wait till the 11th March when you will have everything on a latter. We are just 3-4 days away from it. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Is Democratic Come Back Possible?

Source Wikipedia
The answer to this question is yes, but what Democrats want to ask themselves is whether they want an enduring political clout or just an interim period like Obama years without consolidating their political gains. Hillary's election was supposed to entrench policy gains of Obama years, to build upon policy foundations of decades to expand America's prosperity to all and enhance America's leadership in the world along the lines what America has done so far in post-WWII decades.

Instead, we landed up with Donald Trump era where Obama regime policy gains will be reversed, threatening to upend decades-old global alliances and trade pacts. In all probability, we will land up with problems like how Bush regime left America embattled. Obama years were not supposed to end like this. Then why did it happen? Understanding that is critical if Democrats were to have any hopes of winning back. 

As temporary DNC chair Donna Brazile said, Democrats, got overconfident, complacent with their Blue Wall. As a result, there was no substantive 'polling' for a prolonged period to detect the shifting away of White American votes which earlier had backed to Obama. The vaunted 'digital platform or polling infrastructure' of Hillary Campaign and DNC did not deliver the early detection of softness in White Americans voters for Hillary. The answer to that is not to look at Trump Campaign and say 'digital infrastructure' does not matter; but rather to address gaps in that infrastructure. In other words, the first task is Democrats need to double down on Technology and Digital Infrastructure of political mobilization, polling, trend detection and data analytics. 

Why was Hillary rejected by White Americans in the Blue Wall States? Don't hold to the fake FBI bungles and other scapegoats. Look for reasons why states like Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida which solidly voted Obama twice turned their back on Hillary and Democrats. Fundamentally Hillary did not come out as a 'credible' politician. NAFTA past of Clinton regime and Bill Clinton's personal excesses; again resulted in holding back from these Obama White votes. The question Democratic political establishment needs to ask is why did the party primary process not produce a better and viable candidate? Invariably party politics is about 'stacking' establishment with one perceived likely winner against the other. There is no escape from that. Party politicians essentially 'gamble' on a candidate and that in itself cannot be avoided fully. However, what the party process can ensure is to make the process as much impartial as possible, so that let 'primary voters' bubble up a viable candidate than any manipulations. I do not doubt that majority of voters backed Hillary in the Democratic Primary. Traditional Labor voters, women, African-Americans and Latino's all backed Hillary genuinely in the primary. She did not get young voters and young urban professional as much as possible since that is where Bernie showed his strength. But I would not say there is no 'room' for DNC to improve the process of primaries and make it further credible and impartial. Tom Perez and Keith Ellison must ensure that future Democratic primary elections are trustworthy, neutral and quick. That is the second task.

Prolonged primary with byzantine rules varying with each state (why are there caucuses? why not open, straightforward elections in every state?) simply exasperated schisms among different factions of a larger tent of Democratic Party. Bernie and Hillary conducted a reasonably good primary without making it a full blown slugfest, but that same primary resulted in Hillary never getting back the lion's share of Young Voters of Democratic Party. The political failure of Hillary Campaign, Obama and Democratic Party Establishment has been in not convincing these young voters that "their unenthusiasm towards Hillary cannot be an excuse for the need of the hour - stop Trump". Democrats have a good share of young Americans, but they are notorious for not turning up for the final vote. That problem still persists, it cost Hillary her election and Democrats still need to work on that; that is the third task. Demographic edge and all those boasts are useful only in theory; what matters in the end is who turns to cast ballots. 


Over the years Barack Obama has realized so far as Democratic Party goes, he only has been 'a taker', and has not 'given back' sufficiently to the party. Along with Eric Holder, he thinks he can utilize his post-presidency years in getting the down ballot Dem Party in order. He better do that, he owes it to the party and Democratic voters across the nation. Stopping gerrymandering and having better designed electoral districts should be the top most priority for Democrats and that is the fourth task. DNC will be better off if it co-ordinates or rather 'outsources' this problem to Messers Holder and Obama. After all, Obama has a political debt to pay here.

These are all process and administrative steps Democrats have to take. But that still leaves the 'elephant in the room' - what 'politics' is the winning politics for Democrats? Fundamentally, it is time for Democrats to get back to roots - jobs, economy, equitable distribution and health care. There is no need for Democrats to swat about a cohesive foreign policy - that will come automatically when they would have their own commander-in-chief in the White House. The focus needs to be on the domestic policy agenda. Trump won the election on the promise of bringing jobs to Rust Belt. He and Republican Party are unlikely to succeed there for the simple reason - they do not want to 'pay' for it. Neither GOP wants to fund social (health and education) and physical infrastructure in these states by deficit financing nor it is ready to tax rich folks. On the other hand, with core Republican agenda of giving back tax monies to rich; GOP is likely to adopt much more disruptive policies like 'border tax'. Those will be clear 'openings' for the political opposition - the unwillingness of GOP to undertake 'income redistribution via taxation' even if it is for necessary investments in America. 

Sixth priority for Democrats should be to invest in Sun Belt as that is where future of Democrats lie. Even in the Trump wave that is amply evident in a strong performance by Democrats in Nevada. Arizona, Texas, and Georgia these should be front and central targets for Democrats to turn the tide. How far Democrats succeeds in these states will indicate whether Dem strategy is working or not.

Finally, the seventh item for Dems should be they find a better, younger and charismatic faces for their Congressional Leadership. Pelosi and Schumer are critical players for Dem success, and behind the screen, they could very well retain all the power; but Pelosi and Schumer cannot be the 'face' of Democratic Party. These are too much worn out politicians to instill any sense of forward-looking political force; especially given the 'anti-establishment' mood of Americans is unlikely to go away soon.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Hung Uttar Pradesh?

by Ratnakar Tripathy

The UP Assembly [Vidhan Bhawan]
Yesterday during his election rally in Mau, Uttar Pradesh, the star BJP campaigner and the PM Narendra Modi presented to his large audience what may be called his version of electoral analysis in UP, a most unusual exercise by all means of telling a large gathering of voters about their own collective decision. He claimed that the SP and BSP are conspiring to keep BJP out of power through a hung assembly even though he is confident of winning three fourths of the assembly seats. He alleged that the two opposing parties wish to keep the BJP out of power by any means and even a hung situation would do perfectly for them. The speech is being read busily in many different ways by the analysts and UP being as confusing as it is, commentators are keeping themselves busy teasing out non-existent messages hidden between the lines. But he also said in the same speech “Our alliance partners will be made part of BJP government in UP when our party comes to power.” Was this aimed at Mayawati is what some sections in the press are wondering. Recently even Akhilesh hinted at the possibility of Mayawati tying a rakhi on the PM’s wrist! So one wonders! But the convoluted statement made by the PM does indicate that the UP elections this time round are nerve wracking for everyone – the party bosses, the candidates, the ground level worker, the journalists of the armchair or the roving variety and of course the PM himself. The incoherence shown in the Mau speech may thus just be a case of the jitters.

Lately, even Prashant Kishor, the electoral wizard whom I follow on FB has had no bragging posts unlike the early phases of the elections. The candidates are of course spending inordinate amount of time attacking each other with more emphasis on elimination of others rather than acceptance of oneself. Even as the ABVP goons are beating up teachers and students in Delhi, Modi claims to get Mau rid of the local strongman Mukhtar Ansari who has a habit of not losing elections ever. I have watched videos of speeches by Akhilesh and Mayawati where the substance of their speech seems to be to inform the audience they are winning by a large majority. The masses readily and routinely break into a flattering cheer and the day goes by happily, though the nights must be getting tough again on second thought.  This example fully illustrates how nerve jangling UP can become - recently a journalist friend of mine came back from a grueling tour of UP and declared in the social media he is absolutely clueless about the outcome of the polls, qualifying almost as an afterthought that he thought the BJP seems to have an edge. His colleagues and friends immediately pounced on him with comments alleging he has ‘sold out’. So much for honest objectivity these days! Say what you may in my opinion it is the size of UP that is responsible for the psephological mess. The humungous size of UP has been unfair to its people even though the separation of Uttarakhand helped a bit. It is such a grand idea to be in the CM’s chair in UP, almost as good as ruling the country. But it is tough to gather this sprawl of a state and get it to embrace you. So the politician in UP despite all their hysterical attacks have joined a chorus of incoherent sounds chanting ‘we are winning’, as if the voter is a passive audience and not a determiner of their fates in 2017.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Do we belong? YES WE DO!

“I have a question in my mind: Do we belong?” Sunayana Dumala asks

The answer is YES, you and we all Indian Americans who have come here legally belong to this country. 

Some in politics might want to push us aside, but remember we are from the country of a man who for 19 years struggled to give voices for 'poor workers and foreigners' in another foreign land. A century back MK Gandhi did that in South Africa. Son of this land - MLK - exactly followed Gandhi's footsteps to secure voting rights for children of slaves in this country. So rest be assured Sunayana, if the mighty 'British Empire where Sun never set' gets shaken by a scantily clad man with just a stick and charkha, if centuries-old prejudices get answered by another man with no guns; we will take this Republic through Trump Years too - with our dignity and rights preserved. 

We owe it to Srinivas and others that we Resist any racism and hate crime. Some worried about exactly such 'hate crimes' in Trump Era. But yes, Steve Bannon, we have seen many rascals like you and have survived those too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The politics of name calling in UP elections

by Ratnakar Tripathy

It is a sign of our times that every time you complain about the low levels our political lingo has stooped to, the very next day one more abyss shows up and the touchstone for what is a bad word and what isn’t reaches a new low. So does it help really to complain or should one wait for the ultimate even though what the ‘ultimate’ means in the case of the 2017 assembly elections in UP?  Like every quarrel in the street and in the school, the first point of dispute and quite often the last is who started it. But I do remember right since my childhood I have seen two kinds of verbal duels – one that kept on escalating till both the parties got tired and the disinterested audience got bored for lack of a clear outcome, and the ones that rapidly ended up in fisticuffs. That is why I now believe the whole verbal game in politics just now is to help each other degrade themselves as far as possible to show an utter, utter lack of civility. You may take it as an attempt to create a level ground form where each one may start a new round of fighting. So even as we complain about the declining levels of political discourse let me assure you this can be an endless process till a new beginning is made. The problem in the meantime [and daily life always means in the meantime] in the case of UP however, is the audience is not hanging around for entertainment but to make a wise vote, and there are vital governance issues at stake. I am not sure the voter all over the world remembers that, which is becoming a major problem with the modern democracies. The popular expression ‘the buck stops here’ seems to apply equally or more to the voter rather than the top man in the hierarchy.

To come down to specifics, in the last few days and indeed for quite a while our honorable PM has indulged in what may be called a ‘politics of acronyms.' The idea is to twist the opponent’s name into a new and damaging full form. To take an example, PM Modi claimed that Mayawati’s party BSP is ‘no longer Bahujan Samaj Party but 'Behenji Sampatti Party'. By way of retaliation, BSP Chief Mayawati hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, terming him as 'Mr. Negative Dalit Man,' while addressing a rally at Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur amidst the ongoing assembly elections in the state. Akhilesh Yadav did not waste much time either and said he ‘will ask the biggest superstar of this century (Amitabh Bachchan being the brand ambassador of Gujarat) not to promote the donkeys of Gujarat.’ There is not much guessing to do here to see who Akhilesh is referring to. The fact is as the seven-phase elections in UP proceed, political workers are getting overwrought, nervous and tired of repeating the same cant, the same development jargons, the same electoral goodies when they feel the need to rise above the platitudes, this is the kind of rubbish they come up with.  

This is why I feel that the trouble with our political discourse is not that politicians are using bad language but that they seem to say the same thing with various degrees of tweaking. Of course, as experts on the whole gamut of structured ideologies, we the commentators see a great deal of difference among the parties. But does the ordinary voter see things systematically and inter-connectedly? I do not think so. They seem to look at the rhetoric as some kind of a mosaic where some of the features seem appealing, and some do not depending on the voter’s interest or fancy.

According to the political pundits, the one thing that appears to apply universally in the 2017 elections is there is no wave in favour of any party visible on the ground. The voter is thus looking neutrally at the parties in the fray. With each one promising development in more or less the same vein, the voter may not exactly be torn by a dilemma. In fact, the voter may not be concerned with the lofty ideals of development at all and perhaps more concerned with security for himself and his neighborhood. Really, the voter may have all come down to the level of the utterly basic and no one seems to have noticed. So the fight in UP may be determined by the voter’s appetite for either peace or conflict in the society – the trouble is aggression and violence seem very exciting when not happening at the doorstep and peace can seem such a dull idea. But these are matters so deep they are almost subliminal and not open to quick journalistic analysis. I am not sure even a voter really knows what is going on within. On 11th March next month when the counting of votes takes place, we will, of course, know for sure if UP wants peace or is itching for some avoidable excitement.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Enemy of American People?

It is sad and shameful that on American President's Day - when we Americans commemorate and thank services of all past and the sitting president of this republic - we have to take notice of the nasty, naughty and needlessly provoking sitting president of ours, Donald Trump.

A classic example of Trump diversion from his real problems is his needless provocation of Sweden in his Florida Campaign Speech. Having called out his nonsense, in a typical Trump fashion, he doubles down to spread more lies - like how the Sweedish Immigration Policy is not working. Who the hell Donald Trump is to poke around other countries for their policies? I guess Sen. John McCain is right - that is how dictators start: pillorying Media and then meddling in affairs of other nations. This is the playbook Adolf Hitler tried to bring calamity over the Europe and all over the world.

But then Donald Trump is not going to have such a smooth ride in 2016. There are folks in Media, even his sympathizer outlets like Fox has a journalist who knows where is the red line and then there are folks in his own party who will do what it takes to keep an independent Media and Judiciary.

The truth is Donald Trump wants to make all these diversions because he cannot govern, forcing his lieutenants in 'perpetual mopping business'. He is also probably hiding some dirty, treasonous, nefarious deals with Russia as well as other bribes. These may be dark days for Media, but American and Global Media will need to be vigilant and not allow another Erdogan or Putin in this land.

I guess this President's Day should be a wake-up call for we Americans in stopping a tyrant president who wants to squander all that his predecessors achieved over centuries.