Sunday, August 21, 2016

Good Bye and Thank You Rio

With Team USA winning Men's Basketball Gold Medal, Americans complete a successful Summer Olympics campaign. American athletes put a great performance by matching London 2012 Gold medal count and exceeding overall London medal count. This has been one of the most dominant performances by USOC team since 1984, even better than home games of Atlanta in 1996. 

Basically American Capitalism keeps the machine of 'glory of stars and stripes' well oiled, decades and after decade. Glowing life stories of these American athletes, genuine in their own rights, endless rendition of American anthem at Olympic venue after venue, unfathomable supply of viral going video clips and completely saturated flood of iconic images of athletes in action; all these are parts of 'stock content and brand creation' to sell 'wares' made by American Corporations to global masses. That is the function of Olympics for American Capitalism, considering that USOC is the unique organization in the world which does not take money from its government but earns all dollars years after year by putting these glittering performances at the top level of global competition, games after game.

Is it right then? Sure, it might not be fully commensurate with the spirit of Olympics. Well, we cannot be sure millennium back what were the political forces which shaped original ancient Greek Olympics. Seems like religious connotations were important and central then. For modern Olympics, 'joy of participation, fairness' are crucial so as any nation - high or low, rich or poor - is equally able to participate and celebrate the spirit under her own flag.

Truth is modern world has not seen any other successful way of ensuring this spirit, athletic success and oh sure 'those bragging rights'; apart from Global Capitalism underwriting contemporary Olympics. Among many attempts to re-interpret Olympics, Nazi regime tried to co-opt Olympics for racial purposes. With African-American victories in those games; Adolf Hitler got his answer then. Soviets tried to exploit Olympics for the glory of State Capitalism and Communism, but alas Olympic exploits did not save the Soviet Union. With Beijing 2008 Olympics, China wanted to give one more spin to the Soviet Model. World felt may be we got a worthy successor to USSR, but when UK successfully hosted 2012 London Olympics at lower cost and put up a strong athletic performance there; the world started to see chinks in the Chinese model of State sponsored athletic success in Olympics. Performances of USA and UK contingents in Rio 2016 confirm that the world does not need State Sponsorship to excel in Olympics, possibly forcing China to go back to drawing boards about how does it prepared for Olympian glory.[1]

Rio also demonstrated that today's Olympics have become prohibitively expensive and un-affordable to most nations, questioning the very model of rotating Olympics to newer places every four years. But Brazil equally proved that it can conduct itself reasonably well amidst a full blown political vacuum. The manifestation of adequate competency at the gargantuan task of organizing the jamboree of contemporary summer Olympics - that should help Brazil to be proud of. It gives Brazil the confidence that despite the mess created by its political class; it has enduring strength to come forward united in front of the world, welcome thousands of top notch athletes from all over world and to put on a competent show without any incident. Given the background of political turmoil and deep recession, Brazil has done a good job of completing Rio Olympics successfully. Athletes and governments all over the world would rightfully thank Brazil for that. Also, I do not know how true Lula's statement is that 'God is Brazilian'[2]; but at least there was a poetic justice in Neymar's Brazil Soccer Team able to defeat Germany for Brazil's first Soccer Gold Medal in Olympics. 

Finally, at home Trump's 'we are not winning anything anymore' political argument got a very strongly rebuttal.[3] Enough erudite commentary has been out there, telling us how game after game American medal winning athletes from all walks of life completely undermined racist and divisive arguments of Donald Trump. It is so true. It was political 101 for President Obama to take summer vacation when Americans are glued to their TV sets while day after day Rio coverage is picking holes in Trump politics. Who knows, may be all that humbling is forcing Donald Trump to revisit his campaign escalations. But for he to change his rhetoric, it is only going to enforce impression of him as a non-serious candidate. No wonder Hillary campaign feels comfortable to look beyond November 8. But then we Americans will not have that easy - as images of Rio Closing Ceremony fades, Trump's divisive rhetoric and his antics will bounce back for wall to wall coverage in American Media. We all will have to endure that few more weeks. [4]

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[1] - Hyperventilation and desperation in Indian Media for any Indian athlete to win at least one medal had been sad to watch. If Indians want so desperately these Olympic Medals, may be Indians need to pull together; may be Corporate India needs to take the initiative. Or is it Indian People's own test to measure how far government & politics are ready to let go Indian spirit in winning medals at Olympics? As another disappointing performance comes in, do Indians conclude that their government, meddling Babu's and corruption; all are still constraining India's athletes? Disappointment and frustration of Indian People is understandable. But unless they start demanding let Indian Government stop meddling their own affairs of sports and flourishing of Indian atheletic spirit; things are unlikely to change. 

India is not alone here as Olympic medals are unequally distributed. Rightly or wrongly Olympic Medal Tally is developing as the 'proxy' for nation's ability to get 'organized around a purpose and to achieve that'. India and many other countries seem to have a long way to go.

[2] - Brazilian President Lula is claimed to have said 'God is Brazilian' when a huge, but hard to exploit, oil field was discovered in Southern Atlantic ocean in Brazilian waters. 

[3] - It is true that winning in sports does not commensurate with prosperity. But when Trump and likes of him blame President Obama for economic difficulties of many Americans, one can only say it is the hatred of Obama which prohibits them to see all the recovery over last 8 years.

[4] - I guess as NFL opens next month, Americans will soon have something to go away from the maddening Trump show. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Comparing two Independence Day speeches: gas and solid

by Ratnakar Tripathy

PM Modi at Red Fort on Independence Day
The most remarkable thing about the historic speech of our PM Narendra Modi was that it came in a gaseous state. I tried my best to empathise, sympathise and whatever it takes to collect the solid precipitate but came back empty handed. It occurred to me that in a democracy we elect a leader not so much for his words of encouragement and inspiration as the tasks to be performed. PM Modi started by claiming that if he begins to list the achievements of his government it will take weeks. But nevertheless he spent all of ninety minutes dwelling on the so-called achievements with data gushing from the dais in a torrent. Let us sample some of the highlights - the PM claimed that under his regime the hospitals in the country have begun to serve the citizens through online facilities, a claim easy to check on for its utter hollowness. Next, the Indian Railways has been able to deliver 15,000 tickets to the passenger which is not a big deal anymore. Next, online refund of taxes and the general simplification of taxes. Next, 2 crore applications for passport have been dealt with. In brief the government is able to deliver the whole shebang and no less, on the basis of values like accountability, transparency and efficiently. There is more - starting new business has now become easy with registration time reduced to in 2-3 hours from the usual 6 months. It seems in July 2016 900 businesses got started, in case you care for this kind of fuzzy data. For 9000 posts in the central government arena, no interviews will be held saving precious governance time. Earlier only 70 kms of roads could get built per day, but now we are doing now 100 kms. He even spoke of controlling inflation and price rise as if people forget how much they paid for a kilo of toor dal yesterday!

Our PM also delivered a longish sermon on LED bulbs assuring us that the price of a bulb has been reduced from Rs 350 to 50 and tried to depict the shift to LEDs almost as an epochal transition in human history. But his spin staff had misinformed him about the village of Nagla Fatela near Hathras, UP where he claimed people were watching him deliver his Independence Day speech even as he spoke, thanks to the electrification drive by the central government – the very next day the villagers claimed that the picture in question circulated for the occasion was not theirs and electricity is yet to arrive in the village. Such is the power of propaganda as imagined by a government that works overtime to ensure the delivery of its doctored messages! But the fact is with so many channels of information available to us now lies have lost much of their earlier lifespan. So we had 90 minutes of high excitement and verbal excess when 45 may have done a better job. Not just the social media but the hard news channels reported sights of snoozing Politicians like  Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Ananth Kumar, as well as Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, which is a verdict on the quality of the historic speech.  

In contrast the Delhi CM Kejriwal had far less to say – he started by blaming the Centre for constantly impeding him and compared the Lt Governor of Delhi to the viceroy from the British times with a reference to the supposedly democratic reforms of 1935. He then reeled off data on the new hospitals and schools in Delhi with figures that are easy to confirm or contest. He then announced salary hikes of fifty per cent for the workers employed by the Delhi government and that’s it! Twenty seven minutes in all! Even if the Delhi citizenry fully aware of every move of his may have found the account boring or repetitive, it cannot be said to be unbearably long.  And none of it was white lie – Kejriwal has a habit of making surprise visits to sites to double-check. Modi may instead choose to double click and be content with tweets when action is required on the ground. Absolute faith in the power of propaganda is now dated and was made sense only in the pre-internet era when you could tell lies about a village or a city lane just a stone’s throw away. The difference between the two leaders is not simply that one acts and another only boasts but also that the former engineer from IIT, Kanpur known how helpless a leader is in the face of the internet. The age of dissembling in brief maybe fast coming to an end in the age of social media and Wikileaks!

   

Monday, August 15, 2016

2016 American Election - Continued Commentary #5

Some are calling 'zero hour is approaching', while others are saying 'the race is over'. Meanwhile Democratic President is warning his base, rightly so, about the complacency. From my perch it is true that Trump is unlikely to win. American Public, along with rest of the world, is 'getting adjusted to this reality. Unfolding of that process is what is happening now. It is the process of grieving and loss acceptance for Trump and his supporters. His politically untenable media outburst is one more sign of such acceptance. 

Few things which can change the election course dramatically are:
- some massive terrorist attack which challenges all our assumptions about America's security in post 9/11 world; or
- equally cataclysmic event outside of USA (but that is likely to benefit Hillary more) or
- unearthing of some massive Hillary scandal which we have not heard so far (so called October Surprise). But with Trump advisers getting exposed in corruption scandals, probability of a scandal hit is higher for Trump Campaign than Hillary.

As far as Financial Market surprises go, I think economy and financial markets will hold till elections. With Helicopter Money Drop undertaken by central bankers around the world, and no way so far to dislodge 'new normal'; financial markets are likely to be in a holding pattern in next few months.

Earlier I thought Republican Party will be destroyed after Trump candidacy. Now, I am not so sure. I can see how Paul Ryan or other Republicans will simply turn the page and start the new political life after Trump - essentially starting the political scorched earth campaign against Hillary just like how Mitch McConnell did against Obama. Neither Ryan will pay any price nor much will change with Republican Party albeit with some reduced 'base'. This is especially true after Trump essentially buried the Tea Party Movement.[1]

But racial residue of Tea Party will continue to remain with the Republican Party. As long as Obama's Spotify Summer Playlist is conceived as more of an enemy; we have a pretty long way to go so far as defeating the White Ethno-nationalism of Republican Party is concerned.

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[1] - In my mind there are 2 crucial contributions from Donald Trump to American Politics in last one year or so:
- defeat of Ted Cruz's candidacy as that cunning, self serving politician should be kept away from Oval Office as much as possible; and
- help wipe out Tea Party by occupying its silver in the political spectrum but then to turn on his back on the constitutionalism of Tea Party or its fiscal prudence. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

How extreme prohibition is derailing Nitish’s development agenda in Bihar

by Ratnakar Tripathy

A leader derailed!
Not long ago, Nitish Kumar was seen as a leader likely to muster forces against the NDA and bring them on a common platform, often termed the ‘third front’. But that is not to be, it now seems! Far from outgrowing his present stature as a regional force and transforming into a national figure, Nitish has instead decided to run a ferociously rabid campaign against alcohol in the state of Bihar. This seems to have become a full time job for him. In fact his prohibition rhetoric is so strong it is reeking of sheer insanity. After having passed a series of laws against alcohol, Nitish reportedly plans to take it up as a national cause, claiming it as a cure all for the entire country. This is now increasingly looking like a case of a level-headed man flying at a tangent instead of pursuing the targets of good governance and development he has been known for. This only underlines the glaring fact that India is currently undergoing the worst leadership crisis since independence that we have seen – the rulers have ineptly left us at the mercy of vigilante goons, and the opposition has retreated into their jealously guarded satrapies, whether Mamata in Bengal, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Jayalalitha in Tamilnadu, or Akhilesh Yadav in UP, to mention a few names. As a Bihari, I feel betrayed, abandoned and angry. But as an Indian I feel it is tragic that we have lost a potentially great leader to a dubious cause which makes him sound like a puritanical purist of the worst kind. Not to forget of course that this is one more instance of a leader leaving the path of democracy and taking an authoritarian course by insisting on imposing hard rules for our private lives. These days our leaders all over the country are busy telling us what to eat and drink, what books to read, and what clothes to wear.  The Indian voter of course will not take much time dumping them one after the other, wiping out their political futures through the next round of elections.

The irony may be seen clearly in an article published recently with Nitish Kumar’s byline. The author quotes Gandhi’s moral authority to support his draconian measures and then tries to demonstrate how the state has the full right to impose a ban on intoxicants. He may well be right, let us grant for a moment. But is this why we choose our leaders – to restrict our diet, to censor our reading and to intrude into our personal lives in the manner of a bulldozer? It is not as if all of Bihar’s problems have already been solved and there is a dearth of items on the agenda. It is often claimed that Nitish’s prohibition is supported by the women voters of Bihar who face violence from their drunken fathers and husbands. But protection of women cannot be an excuse for the imposition of a regimen that is driving the administrators, authorities and the police crazy in Bihar these days – it seems policemen are refusing promotion lest they be suspended for slack  implementation of the prohibitory orders. It is indeed strange that the absurdity of the move is not even noticed by the completely blinkered CM.

In case my rant against Nitish sounds too extreme, sample the following measures being implemented in Bihar these days –
a.   "Consumption or possession of liquor by any member at home will now implicate all the adults of the family
b. Home owners will be required to inform the police if a tenant is found drinking.
c. The police is empowered to confiscate the property of the offender and make arrests without a warrant.
d. The district collector can impose collective fines on an entire village or a town and can extern a habitual drinker
e. the law presumes the person being prosecuted to be guilty and places the onus of proving his innocence on the accused."

In brief, very soon the citizens of Bihar will begin to doubt the sanity of the leader chosen by them and think of him as just another bad hangover rather than a man who led the state in its worst days. 

Sunday, August 07, 2016

2016 American Election - Continued Commentary #4


While Americans get engrossed in Rio Olympics drama, Donald Trump withers a brutal week of 2016 campaign. There are many interesting questions to answer. Olympic diversion is good for Donald, question is whether next two weeks are good enough for Donald to recover while Americans are glued to pathetic Olympic coverage by NBC, away from daily Trumpian media diet of provocations.

John Marshall at TPM is wondering what forced Donald Trump to finally capitulate to the Republican Party in endorsing Ryan and others. Of many possible triggers Marshall mentions, Trump's children forcing him to get back on track in supporting Party officials and refocusing his campaign on Hillary; that seems like a good possibility given the tendency of Donald to keep things in the family as speculated by Maureen Dowd at NYT. Not that Hillary is any different, after all Bill Clinton ensures that HillBilly is the family business; even though that is how the glass ceiling is broken in most cases as argued by Zack Beauchamp at Vox.

Apart from that I cannot rule out a possibility that Donald himself has come to senses. Remember, whatever you say, he successfully saw through his bankruptcies and dire financial times in 1990s. So the guy knows how to come out of a hole and hence he still has a fighting chance.

Source - http://www.realclearpolitics.com/
Another interesting question is whether Hillary can undertake any proactive steps while she is on the top in polls. That is what Millman at The Week wonders. I find his analysis good, but in the end the simplest path of least resistance for Hillary is to consolidate Dem votes and depend on Obama / Bernie voter bank to deliver. After all Krugman at NYT strongly warns for any sell out of Hillary to Republicans. I say this despite I like Hillary's overreach to Republicans and for the goodness of the country I feel she should continue honest efforts in seeking cross over voting from GOP.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Killers of Konkan

The disastrous collapse of the bridge on Savitri river near Mahad made the headlines in the local newspapers today. Of the signature spots that the tourists all over the world know in India, Goa and Mumbai rank among the toppers. And the road that connects these two, some 500 odd km in all, is a world-class example of apathy and callousness. But then, everything related to Konkan is a victim of government sponsored sadism – let it be roads, trains, water or ‘development’.

Let us look at the first aspect, roads. Start with a simple exercise. Open google maps, ask for directions from Mumbai to Goa. You will get a preferred route that is through Pune, Satara, Kolhapur and Belgaum. It is some 30 km longer, and about 50 minutes shorter. Why? The Belgaum route, till Belgaum, is four lane. The Mumbai Goa ‘highway’ is two lane throughout. Every overtake is a separate thriller, often ending in tragedy. There is a time-killer stretch on that ‘highway’, some 60 odd km from Mumbai; a 6 km stretch from Pen to Vadkhal. If you cover it in 30 minutes, you have hit a jackpot. If you take 60 minutes, you still gloat in the normalcy. If you take 90 minutes, you can start making some noises, but none of the locals will hear you out sympathetically. And this is a Mumbai-Goa highway. Mover 110 km more to the south, and you will encounter a wonder called ‘Kashedi Ghat’. This Ghat not only gets deteriorated beyond imagination every rainy season, it also offers blockades that can (and often do) continue for days. Reason? Simple; either some heavy container that can’t negotiate the acute turns gets stuck or mother earth shakes herself a bit, causing a landslide.

Talking of landslides, that is the genetically coded problem for the wrongly named ‘Konkan Railway’. Every rainy season, there is landslide in the Ratnagiri-Rajapur section, and the services are disrupted (again, for days, not for hours). Wrongly named? Yes, because the railways benefits Konkan residents as a paper napkin benefits prawns.
Let us delve deeper in the second chamber of horrors, the dark and murky secrets of ‘Konkan’ Railway. Another simple exercise – go to the Indian Railways official website, and get the schedule of Mumbai-Trivandrum Netravati Express. If the site is not user-friendly, don’t complain. That is by design, and is a part of the great ‘Make In India’ campaign. If the site is user friendly, people may linger on the site longer than needed, and waste a lot of valuable time that should go in ‘Make In India’ activity would be lost on an entirely ‘unproductive’ pursuit. Well, once you succeed, look at the distances between adjacent stations. Let me cut your work short and give you the numbers for the first ten stops: 18, 34, 78, 179, 106, 195, 75, 24, 40, 46. You can’t escape noticing that there are large ‘unpopulated’ patches, patches that don’t warrant a stop, from the third stop (Roha). That ‘unpopulated’ patch of 480 km (179 + 106 + 195) is Konkan. So, calling it Konkan Railway is a cruel joke. May be, I am being biased, skeptical and cynical all at once. May be there is a simpler explanation – this is an ‘Express’, so it doesn’t stop at sundry small stations. Simple solution – let us look at the numbers after the tenth stop. Here is the complete series: 18, 34, 78, 179, 106, 195, 75, 24, 40, 46, 36, 77, 56, 21, 22, 47, 44, 59, 22, 52, 23, 14, 15, 19, 14, 21, 22, 47, 25, 16, 15, 30, 32, 33, 22, 19, 34, 23, 12, 19, 13, 13, 27, 24, 41. Oh, so the ‘Express’ suddenly slows down, stopping even after 12, 13, 14 and 15 km. In short, ‘Konkan’ railway is named after a region that it doesn’t serve.

Thirdly, the water problem. The average rainfall in the three coastal districts of Konkan (the real Konkan) is 3884 mm (Raigad), 3364 mm (Ratnagiri) and 3287 mm (Sindhudurg). Not only the rainwater, the water discharged from Bhira power station is also left to flow unhindered, unused.
And come March, the womenfolk from Konkan villages will start scouring the surroundings for water. Where does the water go? Arabian Sea. So isn’t the government doing anything? This report states in clear words “…despite spending more than Rs 6,000 Crores in building these dams for decades, not a single Major or Medium irrigation project has been completed in Konkan till date by Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC)..”.

What is the reason for this callous apathy?

Traditionally Konkan has been a low-yield agricultural zone. The agricultural produce lists mangoes, jackfruits, cashews, betelnut, coconut, rice and sundry grains. Of these, mangoes seem to fall under ‘cash crop’. But if you go to the villages, you will see that the money from mango crop moves to the middlemen, either in bigger towns or in Mumbai. Of course, the money is realized only if the crop doesn’t fail, which it does in one-third cases on an average. The jackfruits don’t have any monetary value; go to villages in April/May and see laden jackfruit trees standing in abject desolation. There are no takers even to take the fruits down the tree. Go in Jul/Aug, and you won’t be able to go near the trees; the fallen jackfruits rot and generate a nauseating odor. The cashews can be cultivated as a cash crop. It can give three products, the cashew-nuts for table consumption, the oil from cashew-nut shells (the oil is in high demand in shipping industry) and cashew fruit juice (either bottled or distilled to make Feni). Of these, neither activity is done in Konkan on a commercial scale to give any succor to the cash-strapped farmer. Betelnut has a market, but it is limited. And earning pots of money from betelnut would entail having hundreds of acres of land. The landholding pattern in Konkan has an upper ceiling of around 10 acres. Coconut market faces the same fate as betelnut, apart from the fact that the country-wise market is captured by farmers from Kerala. Even in bigger towns in Konkan, the coconuts for consumption often come from Kerala! The rice that is cultivated in Konkan is not consumer-friendly. It is sticky, one has to cultivate a taste for it, and the yield is low. Other grains face the same fate.

And this is not a new story. It has been the story from the beginning. So migrating out of Konkan is a deeply rooted tradition. The ‘Peshwa’ clan didn’t migrate to Pune for nothing! Later, the worker class in Mumbai was almost entirely made up of menfolk from Konkan. The three districts of Konkan have a men-women ratio that is as close to 50-50 as possible. In fact, in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, it tilts in favor of women. Because the menfolk migrate to other cities or gulf countries for earning money.
Coming back to the disaster, some pointers to indicate how ‘important’ the government considers the region in general. The NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) quickly reached the spot. How quickly? Well, in just 12 hours (10.53 amNDRF team reaches Mumbai-Goa bridge collapse site in Raigad.) The chief minister, leader of opposition and road transport minister immediately rushed to the spot, just 12 hours after the mishap. What did they achieve? Quite a lot – they managed to increase the traffic jam and slow down the rescue. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) certified the bridge as ‘fit’ in May 2016. Will any action be taken against NHAI? If you think that there is a non-zero probability of the answer being ‘Yes’, you must be commended for possessing excellent imagination, completely removed from reality.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Beyond Corrupt Regime of Zuma

Fabulously corrupt South African President Zuma brings his party's vote share from 62% to 54%, with major losses in many urban areas. Clearly Black South African Middle Class in cities is reeling under sustained economic distress, all due to mismanagement by Zuma and are shifting away from ANC. These South African voters are not hitching to ANC only on racial basis and in a sense such maturation of South African Democracy is good.
Mmusi Maimane - Source Wikipedia
Athol Trollip - Source Wikipedia
Unfortunately ANC is not yet defeated politically. Based on support in rural areas, build over patronage for decades; political influence of opposition Democratic Alliances (DA) may not extend beyond urban areas. But with racially diverse leadership (Maimane, Trollip), DA seems to have a good political future unless it succumbs to same old corrupt ways of Zuma's ANC.

Many major Southern Hemisphere economies are hobbled by corruption. Rio may be celebrating the opening spectacle of Summer 2016 Olympics, but deeply entrenched corruption has brought Brazil to knees. Only few months back Argentina elected a clean politician, Marci, after a prolonged regime of corruption and stagnated governance by drama queen Kirchner. Brazil and South Africa need to see similar transfer of power. Hopefully changes brought in by local elections in South Africa will set in motion political dynamics which will bring new, corruption-free and competent leadership to South Africa.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

2016 American Election - Continued Commentary #3

Donald at RNC Convention July 2016, Source - RNC
Donald Trump is having bad days, anyone can tell that. Established media like Washington Post are doing some phenomenal work in exposing the non-sense and national security risks of The Donald candidacy to America. In this media fest, what stood out for me are:









- Meg Whitman is probably due for a big and important position in Hillary Clinton Administration. [1]

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[1] - Whitman is my employer. I am glad that she saw through correctly the non-sense of Donald's candidacy. But purely from self-interest, HPE and Wall Street will be loath to loose this competent CEO at the helm of this marquee company.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Commentary: Nationwide GST, its pluses and likely minuses

It took the Indian legislative machinery ten years to take action on the Goods and Services Tax [GST] and enforce nationwide uniformity and the current regime can take pride in achieving this with unanimity in the Upper House of the parliament. The actual implementation will however take a while as the due process has been gone through by the Lower House after which the states will have to approve it. As a point in theory, it is commendable because it now becomes possible to think of the nation as one unified market. The full implications of the bill, its real advantages in everyday and likely pitfalls are however not clear to everyone. The business leaders have welcomed it and industry bodies claim that the bill will benefit the consumer at the end of the chain. How this move will play out on the ground is however not a simple matter. If something as prosaic as GST is causing nationwide celebration even among those who probably cannot figure out the economic implication, the reasons are political – for once the NDA government has managed to muster enough support in the Upper House to move ahead with a policy initiative. 

The present article will help an average reader see the bill in a wider perspective and also assess its likely implications in the years to come. It is almost a bullet point presentation however and each of the issues raised in it will have their own stories to tell.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Commentary: Cat on a hot tin roof – the unenviable position of Ramdas Athawale

Ramdas Athawale is a curious phenomenon in Maharashtra’s politics. He leads one of the factions of Republican Party of India (RPI), considered to be the converging point (the party, not the faction) for Dalits, at least in Maharashtra. The party itself came into being after Dr. Ambedkar passed away, so there is no ‘Ambedkar’ legacy.
RPI is known for more for its factions – not because they are active or strong, but because of their sheer number. As per the wiki page, there are some fifty factions in all. The ones that can be named and counted are around twenty.
Athawale started his activism in the late-seventies, influenced by the militant Dalit Panther movement, which was modeled after the Black Panthers in USA. Athawale wasn’t really strong electorally, and was more in news for his lukewarm efforts to unite all the factions of RPI. The other faction leaders were skeptical, and justifiably so. Athawale never had a clear agenda nor a mass base. He hitched his wagon to Congress, and managed to get in Lok Sabha for eleven years (in 1998 from Mumbai, and in 1999 & 2004 from Pandharpur). Then he lost the 2009 elections, got ‘disillusioned’ and hitched his wagon to BJP-Shiv Sena pair. He stayed faithful to BJP when the pair split in 2014 Maharashtra elections. The BJP apparently gave him a written assurance that he will be made a minister at the center, and his party will get some representation in the Maharashtra ministry as well.
After a long wait, he has finally been inducted in the Center.
And as luck would have it, the ‘anti-Dalit’ image of the BJP seemed getting sharper. The Una incident and Dayashankar Singh utterances happened within a couple of weeks. Athawale was hoping that the Rohith Vemula incident would have been forgotten, but alas!
Athawale’s recent interview becomes important in more ways than one. Just like any seasoned politician (but neither with conviction nor success), he tries to create a diversion by talking about embracing Buddhism and asking why Mayawati hasn’t embraced it so far. As if embracing Buddhism is the first and the last test of being a Dalit leader.
He has the unenviable position of occupying a ministry that is seen as notional at the best, and yet having to defend the party that finally fulfilled his dream. His obsequiousness surpasses that of Venkaiah Naidu!
Leave aside the party that he supports (or claims support from); the bothering question is will Dalits in India always be forced to choose between Devil and the deep blue sea as far as leadership is concerned?