Friday, January 20, 2017

Donald Trump - 45th President of USA

Source - Wikipedia
Trump victory in November 2016 election is accidental. But he is not an illegitimate president [1] just because he did not get the popular vote. Rules of American Presidential Elections are centuries old. This is not the first time a president is elected with lesser votes. American System places a premium on the distribution of votes which is critical to retain a federal union. Trump got elected by those rules.[2]

It is an accident because more Americans either hated or showed apathy towards Hillary than a number of Americans who came to support Trump. As a candidate, lion's share of fault goes to Hillary; but one cannot say a larger number of Americans exercised their choice of voting carefully as well. I know personally so many young voters, many Bernie backers, who did not bother to vote against Trump. This is the context of one of the lowest approval ratings for an incoming president.

All that unpopularity will vanish if Trump turns out to be good for America. On the campaign trail, Trump has talked so many incorrect policy prescriptions that if any of those he attempts to fulfill; it is unlikely to be good for America. If he exasperates 'racial tones', America is likely to see social unrest. If he follows on his excessive anti-Muslim agenda, not just American Democracy and Rule of Law will be fractured; globally Trump Administration is going to face needless, avoidable headwinds while dealing with so many Muslim nations as well as a country like India where the Muslim population is large. Trump may start erecting Wall on Mexico border on day one and may start cracking the whip on Hispanic migrants as well as other immigration. But then again all that is going to result in disturbed families, disturbed businesses, continued global disapproval and in general non-conducive environment for American Business. If Trump continues his antagonistic attitude against American and Global Media, then again it will not be too long before swords from Media will start coming out.

The dangers arising from his foreign policy prescriptions are equally or even more severe than his domestic prescriptions. The European Union is not on a solid footing and Conservatives in Germany are indeed going to drive extinction of EU[3], at least in the form it is at present. After Brexit, there is a danger of France shaking up EU followed by Italy. On this background, Trump is likely to 'hasten' the process of the demise of EU rather than nurturing one of the strongest alliances in human history - NATO and EU countries. By sleeping with Putin, Trump is going to bring legitimacy to autocratic and non-democratic regimes of the world. That coupled with weakened and broken NATO / EU; he is setting the context of global disorder and loss of stable security environment.

But the greater damage Trump is likely to do to USA Economy, to the Global Economy and to the Global Security Order is by locking horns with Xi's China. Trump is eager to start a fight with China. He wants to exploit every aspect of USA-China relationship as a bargaining chip in a zero-sum game. Trump is going to fail in that because he is going to discover that no amount of threatening and trade shenanigans are going to cow China. Xi's China will respond positively, only if Trump engages with China in the spirit of co-operation and never questioning certain principles of PRC - likes of Taiwan part of PRC, the total legitimacy of Communist Party Rule, the supremacy of PLA and no interference in China's internal affairs or unwarranted criticism. The reason Xi's China will be 'unbending' for these principles is there is no other way Xi can keep Communist Rule in PRC and by their thinking very existence of PRC. Unless and until Tillerson and Trump Administration learn that the only way to co-exist in this century is to work 'along with China'; Trump's America is going to face all sorts of avoidable hurdles.

All this means the path of success for Trump Administration goes by not enacting many of Trump utterances of the campaign trail. Sure, Trump and Republican Congress can get away with repealing ObamaCare without replacement, they will be able to give Trillions of Dollars Tax Cuts to rich by creating holes in Federal Budget and will be able to get away with a paltry Public Infrastructure Spending. This is because Trump and Republicans are smart enough to talk away a good number of Americans. Trump will blatantly lie in the office saying 'access to health insurance' as the 'beautiful availability of health insurance to all'. Tax cuts for rich will be justified as usual as kick starting 4% economic growth. Already committed ongoing infrastructure projects will be touted as the success of Trump plan. There are enough Americans, who get fooled by this talk else not that many Americans would have sat the election of 2016. There are no effective Democratic Leaders who can aggressively combat these lies of Trump Administration. What all that means is, there will be regressive policies with which Trump Administration will get away so long as Economy does not derail much. But lackluster economic growth, or policy overreach, or poor employment generation in mid-west states combined with anyone of the above mentioned Trump hubris; we are looking at the failed term of Trump Administration. These chances are not low and we are not even considering myriad possibilities of corruption and foreign policy blunders.

If not due to the majority, but at least due to a substantial number of Americans who did not vote against Trump; America has landed up taking enormous risks with the Trump presidency. Everything may indeed work out OK in the end, but watching ill prepared Donald Trump taking the oath as 45th President on the background of a deeply polarized American Society does not cut a reassuring picture. Unfortunately, it will not be only Americans who may have to pay the price, but Trump Era could cost the entire world too


[1] - Donald Trump called possible Hillary victory as illegitimate, that he will not accept her win; that is all besides a point in the room with grown ups. Donald is Donald, you are never going to do anything good for this country if you follow his words literally. Let us focus on what he does, rather than what he says

It is also true that Donald Trump used corrupt and illegitimate practices on the campaign trail to win the election. His campaign staffers had lingering connections with Putin, he actively engaged espionage on his Democratic opponent, he never revealed his tax returns and in general lied throughout the campaign. But politics is not 'bean bags'. His political opponents failed to capitalize on all this. The way Democratic party is and lack of obvious leadership; it is unlikely that Democrats will be able to put a good political opposition to Trump. Trump era will end by his own mistakes rather than a better opponent.

[2] - Putin's Russia intervened in 2016 campaign to make Trump victory possible - yes, that is the case. But remember, in the end again it is Americans who get to votes. If a good number of those did not exercise their right/privilege correctly - that is not the problem of Putin or rest of the world. Unless there is a compelling evidence that Russia actually 'hacked' votes for Trump; there is no reason to doubt the legitimacy of Trump election. 

[3] - Donald Trump for once was right to say 'EU is a vehicle for Germany'. The reluctance of likes of German Finance Minister Schauble for any transfer of German Tax Euros to other EU countries is at the root of deterioration of EU project. These conservatives understand that perennially underachieving economies of Greece, Italy and Portuguese - all these southern EU states - keep the Euro cheap making German Export possible all over the world. What is not to like in that, as long as the party - meaning EU - lasts? That is the thinking of these conservative German politicians and Trump is calling that bluff.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Film Review - Silence

I had not read the original novel by the Japanese author Shusaku Endo, so for me there is no way to understand this movie compared to the original text. I wanted to watch what Martin Scorsese has been lately up to and I was intrigued by the subject matter of the movie. I expected a good director to make a solid film about that subject matter and Scorsese did not disappoint me.

A director can pursue the topic of 'failed Portuguese Christian missions' in 17th century Japan from one of the 3 ways: the human drama of folks involved, theological debate underpinning between traditional Japanese Buddhism and European Christianity or to contextualize visits by these missionaries from oceans apart in then political and social structure of Japan. Scorsese has filmed few dialogues between the young protagonist Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and the inquisitor; between the protagonist and his predecessor Father Ferreira (Liam Nesson) for whom these two young Portuguese disciples are searching; as well as monologs of Rodriques when he is traveling alone or in captivity. But clearly, a film is not the place where one can conduct deep philosophical questions and Scorsese understands that. 

It is the human drama of Rodrigues, his companion (Adam Driver), their guide (Yosuke Kubozuka) and the inquisitor (Issey Ogata); that is what attracted Scorsese. No doubt, the novel itself would have concerned more about the fictionalized lives of these characters though reports say that it contains reams and reams of theological discussions. (But then, 'text' is the right medium for ecclesiastical discussion.) Scorsese doesn't over dramatize lives of these characters. Scorsese knows that the canvass of these people's lives is large enough and human suffering involved unsettling enough. He takes the straightforward chronological order which ends in the natural death of the protagonists and succeeds in surfacing agonies of human life in the missionary context. I liked such a straightforward approach.

The question is has Scorsese succeed in rendering the authenticity of these core characters and have those actors done the job? (Predominantly male cast, another of the bold choices by Scorsese that he does not succumb to flimsy political correctness in mixing any unwarranted female cast.) Some criticize the choice of picking Rodrigues as the protagonist or the fulcrum of the story as well as the weak performance by Andrew Garfield in this lead role. But I think such a criticism ignores the success of Scorsese in portraying the winning character of the inquisitor in addition to Rodriques. It is as if, for all cruelty and suffering heaped by Japanese power-be on those poor Japanese who converted to Christianity; Japanese ruling class does provide a compelling argument for what happened. All that is brilliantly enacted in the inquisitor role. And as far as the weak performance of Garfield, it may be the case but  I think Scorsese wanted the naivety, innocence and the literal sense of Bible adopted by these young missionaries fully exposed. Least because that is the cleanest and simplest way of highlighting the core moral and theological dilemma of the movie - how do you keep your faith in your God and your religion when the cost to do that is inhuman suffering and killing of poor practitioners of the faith who are already engaged in existential struggles. And this is all when that very religion is founded on alleviating sufferings of poor.

Coming back to the depiction of ruling class of Japanese gentry in 17the century - for me, the most important and fantastic performance by Issey Ogata delivers it in highly competent manner. Neither the novel nor Scorsese would have anticipated what a great acting can do to this character. By the force of his acting, Ogata almost makes the inquisitor as the central theme of the movie. Ogata seems to be a classical, old style actor and hence brings priceless facial expressions. But obviously he is more than that, his fan waving, his whining; all that carries exceptionally well the 'air of the ruling class'. In one scene when the old inquisitor portrayed by Ogata attempts to stand up, he did not get the requisite help. The inquisitor hits his servant with a fan and then the back of his dress is shown in the frame where an immaculate dress of rich is awkwardly crumpled. All those creases in wrong places on the expensive dress are beautifully filmed. Not only Scorsese has given enough space and footage to the inquisitor (like keep showing him in the background in his compound when the main drama involving Rodriques, Father Ferreira and poor practitioners who are tied upside down is unfolding in the courtyard; to imply the constant overlooking by the powerful inquisitor); Ogata has delivered probably the most powerful performances among these capable and accomplished actors. 

Liam Nesson portrays well the reticence of a past Christian who has crossed the line towards Buddhism; all in the process of assimilating to the native land. Throughout the history of Christianity, we have numerous examples where missionaries finally have been absorbed into lands of their visits by abandoning the mission and their original faith. That process in most cases is not thorough, generally tentative leaving the new converts constantly paining about the core betrayal. Liam Nesson is trying to enact this conflicted mind and to a certain extent he succeeds in that. Equally, competent acting is done by Yoshi Oida and Shinya Tsukamoto as village elders.

Scorsese does not indulge himself much in trying to untangle what 'political and economic' interests of Japanese ruling class made them crush nascent Japanese Christianity. Famous insular socio-economic practices of Japan, which for thousands of years have sustained Japan as an independent nation against multiple attempts by just visiting or invading foreigners, clearly contributed to missionary failures. This hostility towards otherworldly ideas and people is well captured in one after the other gruesome torture scenes of the movie (each getting built towards even more cruel scene like a clockwork); but clearly there is much more to say and to show about the underpinnings of economics and politics of Buddhist priest class and their incestuous relationship with rulers of Japan which crushed Christian missions and their poor native followers. Maybe Scorsese realizes that it is pointless to attempt such a vast topic in an already long movie when there is so much to the show about human life itself.

Scorsese gives justice to the scope of the story in an almost 3 hours long movie. I do not complain about long movies, having raised on Bollywood movies where any less duration is often times considered as lack of 'value for money'. Some criticize for the slow pace of the movie. I think Scorsese got it right in keeping the pace of the movie slow, that is the only way to rebuild 17th-century life intimately on screen by forcing viewers at each step to notice a different world. When most movies are nothing but trivialization of human life at a fast pace, a deliberate approach to human drama only entrenches the weight of suffering. This pace also perfectly showcases kinds of death - slow deaths when bodies are endured for days at sea (Scorsese takes minutes just to show carriage of a body from a wooden cross to a pier!) and sudden death when in an instant a head is chopped by a Samurai. 

The focus for Scorsese is to craft each scene with its slow pace. At times Scorsese's tendency to eliminate 'clutter from the scene' gives the impression of 'over produced / over tidy' cinema making. But such 'sleekness' is par for the course in today's 'multi-million productions'. Audiences tend to enjoy such filming indulgence - whether it is the 'commercial ad style' overhang shot of 3 black robe priests climbing down white marble steps splashed over the entire screen, or surreal setting of a completely empty long white hall at the end of which 3 priests are talking in black robe; or numerous sumptuous scenic shots all brought to the earth by agonizing human pain. The question is whether such 'decorative art' will help Scorsese to sell his solid, thematically coherent film. When I went to the local cinema hall, we were less than 40 folks, most of the theater was empty. But my hunch is the film likely to make money overseas in markets like China, Taiwan (where filming happens), Korea and Japan even though in Abe's Japan it may be on a politically incorrect side while contemporary Japan is busy unshackling past sins. But then contemporary, thoroughly globalized Japanese society has enough 'political space' for basic liberalism as indicated by the popularity and acclaim of the original novel. 

Meanwhile, it may be outside of the cinema hall that Scorsese would be stirring the pot lot by provoking questions in minds of audience. Outside Europe - torture, cunning and proselyting missionaries paving the way for capture of trade and livelihood of locals; all that is a familiar story. That all culminated in post-WWII Third World Liberation swelling UN country count close to 200. But what the world may forget is enormous personal risks, sacrifices and personal suffering all undertaken by these missionaries in spreading Christianity. Missionaries were pioneers of globalization in some sense. They may have carried a rigid orthodoxy with them but were equally tortured in foreign lands. Intolerance goes both ways. Highlighting that is I guess Scorsese way of questioning anti-globalist views which will be inaugurated this week in Washington. For my taste, Scorsese way is far more enduring and substantive way of encouraging Americans not to fall for 'restrictive vision' of the world when they and the world watch the glorious art of Silence; rather than bit flashy Trump tirade by Meryl Streep at an award ceremony. The thing is 'instant, narcissistic tendencies of restricted political vision as exemplified by Donald Trump and his Republican enablers who want to wash their hands by enacting ideological policy changes' cannot be fought by 'viral going rebuttals at awards ceremonies'. Donald's Tweeter account will NOT be answered by Tweeter replies. It will be answered only when Americans and non-Americans alike take the time needed to 'think' through what is at stake and be wise about understanding our world around. 

Scorsese would be more than delighted if that is the role his movie plays in days and years to come even if it struggles at box office initially.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Commentary - Replacing ObamaCare

As Republicans in Congress spin wheels - how to repeal ObamaCare without replacement - the political reality is forcing GOP to go slow in dismantling ObamaCare. Senator Tom Cotton, the youngest firebrand Republican from Arkansas who has made the political living by opposing everything Obama, is on record saying that he would not repeal ObamaCare without replacement. There is now sizable group of Republican Senators who may be more careful in rushing to the demolition job.

Congressional Republican leadership, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in particular, is not wedded to the idea of putting replacement before repeal. This duo and overall Congressional Republican Leadership are still behind the "blow it first" plan. After all that is what Republicans in Congress may land up doing despite what Donald Trump wants or despite serious political repercussions. Given that, in general Republican Party is not having any serious discussion about what the "replacement" should look like.

Exception to that rule is what Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is offering. His ideas clearly do not make a complete blue print, but it is a much more worked out thought than what most Republicans are saying. At least he is ready to say something publically about what a viable replacement plan would look like.

One of the tenets of Senator Lamar Alexander's plan is "say goodbye to the employer mandate" wherein it is compulsory for the employer of certain size to provide minimum health care plans to all employees. But I was wondering with employment market already so strong, it is simply not feasible from competition perspective for any such employer to retain employees without health plans. For simple reasons of market pressures in a competitive employment outlook, whether it is mandated or not, employers will continue to offer health care plans. In that sense "reality" would have out-run Republican policy changes and it will be a "win-win" situation: Republicans get to fulfill their promise of changing ObamaCare but ground realities only entrench those policy approaches as American Market and American Public get used to ways of ObamaCare. Obama and progressives would not have much reason to complain for any such outcome. For them, and more importantly for American Public, it is much more preferred outcome than a simple "demolition job". 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Dangerous Twilight Zone

Through the carcass of World War I, League of Nations was born; one of the first global organizations of consequences. Ultimately the league failed to stop the onset of World War II. Only after Humanity paid the heavy price of that war all across the planet, phalanx of global organizations came up to establish the current global order. UN, NATO, WTO, IMF are all children of "that realization by Humanity". Liberal global order has remained since then, augmented further by EU.

But German Vice Chancellor nailed it when he said it is not unthinkable that EU can unravel. Equally and more importantly he put his thumb on the exact reason of possible unravelling of EU - what likes of German Finance Minister Schaeuble type insist for the austerity. No doubt, on the European continent this German reluctance of sharing their prosperity - by way of money transfer from Germany to rest of the Europe - is the root cause of dire economic state in most parts of EU. Apart from Germany and handful of other countries, most European countries have not gotten the necessary public spending to defeat recessionary forces unleashed by 2008 Global Financial Crisis; the crisis all triggered by wild American Financial System.

Wide spread feeling of "assault on national cultural by migrants" is an equally important reason to break EU. Brexit is a classic example of that. Nationalistic tendencies - low hanging fruits in electoral politics - have created avoidable economic hardship for Britain. But such is the force behind the politics of "cultural grievances"; that there are no political costs associated with pursuit of Nationalism despite looming economic degradation of UK. 

Trump victory last year and his looming presidency epitomize these tendencies of Nationalism and breaking of global institutions all formed after WWII. Davos Man, as Greg Ip precisely identifies, had no lovers all over the world and it is good that Trump Presidency wants to bury him. But in absence of any replacement, the death of Davos Man in itself cannot establish alternative global equilibrium. Meanwhile Putin keeps on winning as EU unravels is only a collateral damage and that too President-Elect Trump is trying to ease out.

So the question is where is all this potential unravelling of global institutions going? Another equivalent of WWII? Whose knows, when Xi's Chinese Communist Party is all pushed to the wall and there is no other option than adopting jingoistic hard nationalism policy in dealing with intransigent Donald Trump; the danger of military clash is not far away. The reality is we do not see any strong global political constituency of consequences which can stop the incessant ongoing corrosion and potential collapse of all these global institutions. Trump Presidency is only going to accelerate that process.

Only thing that is clear is Humanity will have to relearn lessons of global co-operation in hard ways in years to come while liberals figure out how to compensate adequately those who are left out by globalization. Unless global progressives, especially in Western countries, find out effective political ways of alleviating cultural anxieties of those left behind by globalization; Trump style restrictive politics will keep winning and will keep increasing inherent risks in the existing global order.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Amir’s ‘Dangal’, reviewing a film experience

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Given the state of traffic in most of the Indian cities, it is indeed a bold decision to go out to the movies and one has to make a very clever selection since so much may be at stake. The expensive tickets, the long ride and sundry other irritants can be a major disincentive and yet the lure of the big screen is something I have not been able to overcome. I can quite see myself even in distant future as an old man dragging himself along the dark aisles and ignoring the annoyed remarks emanating from faces I cannot see. There is indeed no substitute for the big platter of the 70mm and no home theatre snacking would ever suffice for me. That said the risks are immense too. If I may make a bizarrely anachronistic comparison, once in Haryana I was told by the oldies that not long ago country folk would trudge up to 40 kms to watch a nightlong Sang shows. So imagine how dire a villainy it would be to disappoint an audience that comes to you from afar after so much sweat and hoping! Even though they do not have to carry their foodstuff anymore and are willing to spend insensibly at the snack counter!

In Hyderabad the other day, I got a risk-free opportunity to see Amir Kahn’s ‘Dangal’ in a neighbouring single screen cinema that went through a makeover recently, the owners turning a C-grade arena of porn offerings [early morning shows included] into a respectable theatre. It was the New Year’s Day and the throngs were milling. The driving and parking culture in Hyderabad can get scary – the zealous bike riders seemed to plough right through the crowds all the way to the ticket counter. I had a prior booking of course and was happy to learn that I do not need to have my sms converted into paper ticket.

When in Hyderabad you cannot be spared the ads from sari and jewelry showrooms that look like aeroplane hangars. Preceding ‘Dangal’, one was thus served a feast of Telugu beauty and the thin-voiced croonings that go with it. Just before the film started I was struck by a sense of trepidation. I am not quite a fan of Amir Khan films as I find them too idealistic about values I do not particularly care for and I find his brand of idealism a bit too simplistic and slogan ridden, at times just a substitute for good storytelling. I thus wondered beforehand if Amir is going to offer a straight muscular path to women’s liberation through wrestling. It turns out ‘Dangal’ did not disappoint as the film went past without a flicker of boredom. I blinked many times of course at the overly patriotic rhetoric of getting ‘medal for the country’. But I was reminded of the tough times stars like Amir and Shahrukh have been through in what may be a synoptic but painful phase of Hindutva. Being trolled and teased with full official approval and encouragement, they perhaps need to overcompensate and over-amplify their patriotism.
Fatima Sheikh, who plays Babita Phogat 

‘Dangal’ seemed to do full justice to the ambivalence of emotions that are integral to flesh and blood human beings. The little girls whom Amir the father wants to turn into hulky dynamos as national wrestling champions do their own ‘dangal’ [contest] with the father through acts of noncooperation. At the initial stages of their training before making their father’s cause their own, they try a series of cute tricks to defeat the somber disciplinarian idealist Amir.  Amir as the father and the guru shows ambivalence too, shifting between the infinite tenderness a father feels for little daughters to the hoarse toughness of a merciless guru. An interesting aspect of the entire tale is the half-hidden contest between the modern technocratic regimen of professional wrestling and the entirely intuitive style of the old school wrestling. Amir the father wins his own little dangal in convincing his daughters that the standard techniques fashioned by the professional coach at the sports academy are inferior to his own earthy style.

As is well-known now, the film is based on the real life of Mahavir Phogat who coached his daughters in wrestling and brought fame to the family, the village, the state and the community through a series of medals at a number of international tourneys. The remarkable thing about the real man was his determination to stand against the Haryanvi/Jat society to make his dream come true, a dream his daughters shared and accomplished in real life, and well, now on the screen. Anyone familiar with the haryanvi culture will know what kind of excessive and even reckless courage you need to raise women wrestlers in the family. 

Okay, I wish I had something to whine about at the end just to prove that my critical faculties were alive and kicking. But no, apart from the excessively patriotic rhetoric I have no crib to offer. But wait as I wind up, the music was downright bad and improperly punctuated even. These days you often get ‘sufiyana’ howlings in Hindi movies that are meant to enhance your emotional intensity and I look at them more or less as avoidable emotive steroids when the music is not good. One last word before departing – it was good to see Amir offer some spontaneous acting for once instead of the strained one I am accustomed to, but that has of course only been my very personal grouse and bias over the years!  You may differ.     

Friday, December 30, 2016

Has Mulayam just got himself dethroned

Ratnakar Tripathy

Akhilesh the doer inaugurates a pension scheme
The current volatility in UP politics allows for several readings and even the best of the reporters on the ground may find it difficult to gauge the minds of the leaders in the fray. The reason is the leaders stand as confused and unsure as anyone else over the shifting sands of the Samajwadi politics. Family sentiments have proven once again to be so ambivalent that cold personal calculations alone are not enough to explain the goings on in a palace seething as much with primal passions of the blood as the cool logic of electoral calculations. What makes this brew churn even more turbulently are the covert and overt interventions by the Congress and the BJP that have too much at stake in UP to allow the Samajwadi Party follow its due course. What helps in unravelling such situations is a good look at the party cadre and the supporters on the ground – the foot soldiers know best which way the wind bloweth. According to a latest report, ‘Within minutes of Mulayam Singh Yadav announcing the expulsion of Akhilesh Yadav from the party, supporters of the Chief Minister gathered outside the SP chief’s 5-Vikramaditya Marg residence here and started shouting slogans. The protest continued late into the night. “Gali gali me shor hai, Shivpal Yadav chor hai, Shivpal Yadav murdabad, Netaji hosh me aao,” they chanted. They also demanded the expulsion of SP leader Amar Singh, who they blamed for the rift in the Yadav family, and burnt Shivpal’s posters.’

I tend to take the above incident as the key indicator of the moment if nothing more. It seems fairly clear that Akhilesh, the son has outgrown his father as well as the other father-like figure Shivpal Yadav who virtually reared the child Akhilesh but now feels violated. Who knows a similar oedipal drama may unfold in Bihar where Tejpratap, the deputy CM and Lalu’s son is showing an inordinate fondness for law and order that his father may not endorse! At any rate it cannot be denied that in the context of the Indian democracy we do need a proper ‘dangal’ [confrontation] over and over again between the democratic values and family order if our democracy has to advance and deepen further. This is why the UP family drama must be seen the way a literature student may read a Shakespearean play to scratch below the surface. Rebelling against the father [or mother if Rahul can untie his apron strings ever!] till late was simply not acceptable in Indian politics and a voter would normally treat it as a dishonorable stab in the back. Not any more it seems.

There is of course the other viewpoint, a cynical one I encountered in a Facebook comment from someone I don’t know personally, claiming in a few words that Akhilesh’s expulsion will be reversed and things will go back to the as usual. Maybe! But a certain line in Indian politics has been crossed and the voter sees the goddess of virtue squarely on the side of the son. Remember Dashrath from Ramayana or Dhritrashtra from the Mahabharata, both of whom were seen as objects of pity if not contempt. This analogy with the epics cannot be overdrawn however and a broad daylight analysis of the events must take over beyond a point. What I do nevertheless see ahead is an increasingly towering figure of Akhilesh and continued frustration of the BJP in making any headway in UP at all. To say anything beyond this amounts to wallowing in the speculative so I am currently keeping a keen eye on the newsfeed is all. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Uttar Pradesh and the national tectonics

Ratnakar Tripathy

Mulayam Yadav
That a small ripple in UP can magnify into a tidal wave in Delhi has been proven time and again and the sole reason here is the sheer number of voters and parliamentary seats from this populous state. We have long known how vital the state of Uttar Pradesh is for the further fortunes of the BJP and Narendra Modi in particular. In simple words - if the BJP manages to garner enough votes in the forthcoming assembly elections in UP, it will have a lot more clout in the Rajya Sabha and avoid constant encumbrances and humiliation in its attempts at making new laws and tweaking the existing ones. But with its popularity on a course of slow decline and with Modi image losing its shine since the 2014 crescendo, an outright victory already seems a distant dream for the BJP. The most that the BJP can hope for is an alliance with either Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party or Mayawati’s BSP. While an alliance with Mayawati is likely in theory, it is difficult to see why she may want to collaborate with BJP in any kind of alliance – right now she is in a strong position and is increasingly benefitting from the disunity within the SP. The split within the SP continues in many phases and the recent developments are not a good augur. Mulayam in his list of candidates for the 2017 assembly elections in UP has left out several favourites of his son Akhilesh, indicating a willingness to do a deal with the BJP if necessary in a post-election scenario. Akhilesh on the other hand has explicitly aired his preference for the Congress. The gulf between the two generations is now fast becoming unbridgeable – Mulayam, the old man has no time to wait, but Akhilesh the youthful son indeed can. Rather than accept the burdensome handshake with the BJP, Akhilesh seems to prefer the lighter embrace with the Congress which for some time will not be in a position to dictate terms to Akhilesh. In fact the Congress under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership may reemerge even in other states as ironically an election partner too weak to fear but too significant to ignore!    

There is a good reason to believe that the recent demonetization move on the part of Modi was a desperate move to ensure victories in the forthcoming assembly elections in 2017 among which UP holds the prime position. With the 50th day after the sudden withdrawal in sight there seems to be no respite from the shortages of currency notes, a blunder that is sure to cost Modi many votes all over. Moreover, the chaotic and impulsive act by Modi will also make his potential allies wary and they may sense trouble in being associated with Modi if not the BJP itself. This is indeed a case of a supposed ‘master stroke’, a ‘surgical strike’ in Modi’s words turning into a self-goal. At this point it would seem that the only political capital the BJP may still have is the voter’s reluctance to turn to the Congress in a hurry. But this is an inhibition not impossible for the voter to overcome if the Congress comes in as a docile candidate riding on the backs of regional parties that have positive images and will be seen as untainted by their association with the Congress. Akhilesh thus has not erred strategically in choosing the Congress as ally but it is his own Yadav clan that may cause his downfall. According to a view in the press this may not be a bad thing for Akhilesh in the long run and he may reemerge as a powerful figure with full control over his party a few years down the line.

UP indeed is proving to be a cause for despair for Modi even as the electoral scenario in Punjab does not look good. With a sure-shot Goa promising to slip out of BJP’s firm grip, Modi’s options are running out. In brief, we may see more desperate acts and overtures from him in the coming days and the only thing one may say about them is they will surprise – the last weapon of the befuddled ruler.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Commentary: Demonetization and our morbid optimism

queue at bank on 10 November 2016: courtesy: Wiki
When an analytical article begins on a note such as the following, one begins to hope there is some good news emerging from some unknown – ‘India is in the throes of an unprecedented social experiment in enforced digital disruption, and the world has much to learn from it.’ But as one proceeds one finds that the lessons to learn from the recent monetization in India are one after the other negative to the extent of becoming enshrined as exemplars of financial folly for the whole world. In brief, the move is too disastrous for the rest of the world to NOT learn from it. Even ‘irrational exuberance’, a phrase used by the then Federal Reserve Board chairman of US, Alan Greenspan, to describe the Dot-com bubble of the 1990s seems inadequate and ‘morbid optimism’ seems a better alternative for describing the stubbornness of those who still expect that the move may have unforeseen and even unintended benefits in the long run.

This article examines all those likely outcomes with the sort of patience that one expects of academics capable of cold-blooded analysis. To give the move a last chance, the question posed by the article is – ‘Is there a digital upside to this crisis’, giving a sympathetic hearing to those that may be described as ‘digital idealists’. The article is recommended as every single claim made in it is backed by a study or a report and the links have been duly provided.  In brief, it hurts our national pride but the fact is we have made it as a ‘case study’ for a gigantic policy failure and have been placed under a microscope to be scrutinized by several generations of global business students and researchers.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Stupidity of an Oil Salesman as Top Diplomat

Source - Wikipedia
I think Exxon CEO as Sec. of State of USA will be one of the dumbest and most useless move by Donald Trump. His Sec. of Defense choice is solid. His Treasury choice is fine too; in the end American Economy does not avoid recession if Wall Street Bankers are not in a good shape. Face it - when Wall Street Bankers do bad, overall Economy goes to toilets. We have learnt that lesson hard from 2008-2009. Question is will his Treasury Sec. allow excess of Bankers? Possible, but my hope is Wall Street Bankers themselves have learnt these lessons. If not, sure shot Sanders-Warren ticket will sweep this land in 2020.

But that is not the case with this Tillerson guy. Donald thinks America's Foreign Policy is all about Exxon getting drilling rights in distant places. He seems like wanting to turn USA into another PetroState like Saudi Arabia or Russia. That is horrible not only for Environment, but it is horrible for American Economy too. American Economy is solidly diversified with Energy, Banking, Technology, Agriculture well represented in that mix. You do not want Sec. of State as the 'old car salesman' for a single industry. That is not going to work. Will a Silicon Valley veteran would have worked? May be given that global technology industry is still growing. But fundamentally, Sec. of State position is not about "selling wares of your country" in some Export Exhibition. It is much more than that - it is about the "core business of presidency": war and peace. 

You put in place a solid character as the head of Pentagon and Donald gets his War part addressed. But what about Peace? Are we supposed to expect Kissinger (even though I and most Liberals may not agree with many of his positions) style diplomacy from an "oil guy"? Sale me something else brother.... 

What all it means is Donald is fundamentally rejiggering how an American Administration works. He wants to do away from century old "political norms" and essentially reduce Sec. of State position to a sales job. This will have number of consequences: 
- Trump Administration will be fundamentally "short changed" as far as Diplomacy goes. 
- Mad Dog Mattis will have to balance the "peace part" of "war and peace" too. That is just too much on a single person's plate. And if he succeeds in that, we Americans should think about - why do we need Donald then? Put Mad Dog as our Commander-in-Chief! 
- Donald's children, family members and other cronies will be "go-to-persons" for various diplomatic missions all over the world. 

You do not need an over educated person to tell that, this all is unlikely to end well. It is possible Tillerson with his deal making all over the world and his corporate competence will work out in the end. You do not keep climbing the corporate ladder of Exxon for 40+ years without lot of competences, discipline and work ethics. But the implicit risks in all of this are way out of bounds at this point. America and the world will have to bare all this non-sense from Donald. There is nothing that can be stopped unless the "bills are due". Till then, we have to sit tight.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Commentary: Green Energy in Trump's America

Classic example in American Cultural War Politics is LGBT movement. Republicans came out in 'droves' to support it. Even Donald Trump would not talk much to push it back. Across the board American Society supports LGBT rights and we have much more bi-partisan acceptance now. This will be especially true after GOP Politicians absorb what happened to the North Carolina GOP Govornor even in the Trump wave.

Similarly, economics of scale is now in favor of Green Energy. Sheer force of China, India and others moving in that direction will work as automatic brakes to Carbon intensive energy sources. My expectation is it would not matter whether Trump pulls out USA from Paris Accord or not, the World would have already turned the page and adopted Green Energy in droves. Donald's America will be simply an afterthought. Even more, there are large number of Republicans and "business interests" to keep moving USA in the direction of wider adoption of Green Energy. 

In a sense Russian President Putin is riding a sinking ship of "oil exports" since there is already the talk of "Peak Oil Consumption within less than a decade" by Oil Companies themselves.

This is called as the "structural forces of history at works". Nothing is guranteed, but the 'wind of history' is with Green Energy and America's Politics is not out-aligned here despite Trump victory.