Monday, April 24, 2017

Chetan Bhagat gains respectability through syllabus




Ratnakar Tripathy

As a student of popular culture with a number of academic publications on the subject, I have had many occasions to question my own fascination for the popular and even the crass. It is not a simple question to answer but an obvious answer may be that it is a good way to find access to popular concerns and attitudes among the common folk who are least interested in a Hazari Prasad Dwivedi or a Milan Kundera. Like it or not, unlike politicians or administrators, students of human society do not get to wade through the minds of the common folk. Even anthropologists deal with a small sample of population and are wary of generalizing too far or at all. But does inclusion in a BA elective course on ‘popular literature’ amount to an elevation of rank? Chetan Bhagat seems to think so and there is little we can do by way of disabusing him of his fancy. According to a recentreport, Bhagat’s ‘Five Point Someone’, Bhagat’s book will be taught along with fiction novels by American novelist and poet Louisa M Alcott, English crime novelist Agatha Christie and British novelist JK Rowling. ‘Five Point Someone will be part of the Popular Fiction paper in the General Elective, which is offered to second-year undergraduate students pursuing honours and programme courses under the Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS).’

Bhagat’s glee at this development comes mixed with his well-known arrogance and the tweets below fully reflect the delusions of a pulp writer who sees a towering literary figure when he looks in the mirror.
‘Am honoured DU added my books to their course. Literature is about being open minded, reading the classics as well as the contemporary.’
‘Elitistaan theories trying to diss me and literary value of my books have failed miserably with DU adding my books to their course. Sorry.’

He may be right in assuming that to be popular is not the same thing as to be bad. Novelists like Premchand and Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and even Rabindranath Tagore have remained immensely popular as anyone visiting a book fair in 2017 will find out in minutes.  But the converse is not true – popularity on its own does not make anyone great either. Those who have read Bhagat and found him gifted with a storyteller’s ability also understand that his English prose is neither here nor there. It is not even a form of Indian English and seems interesting for allowing you a peek into the minds of the English speaking Indian middle class and that is absolutely the upper limit of praise one may grant him.  Imagine a reader who will hold Bagat’s novels in high esteem and place him alongside Bhalchandra Nemade or Shreelal Shukla or even a Vikram Seth.

Unlike politics or even economy, art and literature are ruthless arenas where you cannot presume equality. Ranking a work may be an eternally debatable issue, but there are clear lines to be drawn. Who knows may be in my doddering old age I might feel nostalgic about Karan Johar’s movies, and fondly hum ‘kal ho na ho’ but I am sure I won’t place him along a Tarkovsky. In sum, Bhagat represents the aspirational classes of India but his aspirations this time round have run into an insuperable roadblock.


French Sanity in a Crazy World?

Emmanuel Macron, Source - Wikipedia
From Indonesia, China, India, Middle East, Russia to Europe and America; the world is awash with Authoritarian Politicians winning elections after elections. Anti-liberal, Ethno-nationalistic, intolerant, non-secular politics is spreading like wildfire. In Indonesia, liberal centrist President saw the defeat of his trusted ethnic Chinese team member to someone who played Muslim religious card unabashedly to win a critical Governorship of Jakarta. In China, there never was a hope that Xi Jinping would introduce any baby steps for liberal democracy. But midway through his minimum 2 terms tenure, Xi is going for a total power grab. The concentration of power in Xi's hands is exceptional by even standards of Chinese Communist Party. Meanwhile, in India, PM Modi might not have turned to more authoritarian politics while he establishes hegemony in Indian Politics after the UP win. But nurturing the atmosphere of 'intolerance and illiberal politics' - that is proceeding full speed on Modi's watch, and it is not a surprise given how vested RSS is in Modi Raj. 

Vladimir Putin of Russia is the leader of the class when it comes to non-democratic, anti-liberal and ethnonationalism politics. His regime has been killing journalists who dare to expose his culpability, killing his political opponents, taking the art of 'influencing foreign elections' to a whole new sophistication; all while grabbing Crimea and destabilizing Ukraine. What is so disheartening is to see leaders after leaders of the world ready to ignore literally murderous politics of Putin (murder of People as well as the murder of Democracy and Freedom) and willing to embrace him. Trump may have been stopped for now from  'his consumption' in the marriage to Putin, but just look at the stupendous 'political acceptance' French Leader Maria La Pen offers to Putin. Vladimir Putin has pioneered a murderous, fake news based politics while draping in election credibility patina; all in the service of enriching himself and continue his hammerlock in the Russian Empire.

Except for the brief infighting when Turkey forces blew a Russian aircraft, the deep bonding between Putin and Turkey boss Erdogan continues to flourish. By arm-twisting ordinaryTurks and by undertaking manipulations in the election process; he just amassed total power in Turkey

Putin, Erdogan are the pace setters in this club of illegitimate, politically corrupt power holders who set the anti-liberal, anti-secular agenda at the global level. With regional enablers like Egypt's Sisi or Hungarian Orban or incumbent intolerant Polish regime; there is a lot of company to Putin-Erdogan. Politics of African nations hardly has any bright spots when thoroughly corrupt Zuma continues to be at the helm of South Africa. As an example of how little things change politically on the African Continent, look how the Congolese leader fleeces money from his own people in mundane things like Passport. Except for Argentina, Chile and few other smaller countries; things are not particularly encouraging in South America too. The continued insanity of Maduro Government in Venezuela and the stable, but lacking in credibility, government in Brasilia; are the manifest examples of continually broken political system in South America. 

Given this global context, one wonders whether humanity is heading towards anti-liberal, anti-secular, non-democratic, 'power by any means' era all across the globe. To save us from that nightmare, we need to stop this 'anti-global, anti-liberal' Tsunami. One of the few countries one can expect to rise to that occasion is France, the birthplace of contemporary secularism and liberal democratic order. 2017 French election naturally provides that fulcrum and the first round clearly shows that substantial voters in France are ready to re-engage Centrist arguments of Liberal and Secure Polity. That is the heroic job Emmanuel Macron has done

Macron and France have an unprecedented opportunity to grab the mantle of global leadership in reasserting the Liberal, Secular and Rule-based Global Order. Sure, global trade and current global Capitalism have problems and it leaves local employment in doldrums. But the answer to that is not 'blow up everything' politics[1] while adopting chauvinistic, illiberal, racism-tinged anti-sematic corrupt politics. By electing Macron as the president of the Fifth Republic, maybe France will show the world a path forward.[2]

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[1] I am sure the preview of this 'blow everything politics' as exhibited by Donald Trump in first 90 days or so would not have been reassuring to many French voters. Buyer's remorse may not be there for Trump's American voters, but he would have alarmed enough Europeans in the process though. The flip side of these developments is it will nudge Trump Administration more towards the traditional liberal world order foreign policy successive American Administrations of both parties have adopted since WWII.

[2] If Angela Merkel gets elected for her fourth chancellory term in 2018 - which seems more likely, the core axis of Europe will stabilize; providing much needed political booster shot to solve Europe's problem. While Trump Administration gets its act together on foreign policy which is in shambles by design or by ineptitude; rejuvenated Europe will be a much-stabilizing political force for the whole world. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Commentary: 16 opposition parties clamour to ensure that EVMs remain tamper proof



A good and conscientious journalist’s worst moment in life may be when after a coherent and sensible analysis of election results he is told that the EVMs were found to be tampered with. I don’t know about others but I would definitely go into deep depression and it would take me a long time to recover from the shame of plying my flawed wisdom with misplaced élan and smugness.  But that is a subjective issue. The real point is that lately doubts have been raised about the EVMs being susceptible to systematic tampering. Recently after the UP elections, Mayawati raised the issue and just yesterday AAP’s Kejriwal brought it up forcefully. The reaction in the press has been ludicrous. They are both being jeered all over for being bad sport. There is no evidence that any member of the press tried to go deep into the issue but the prevalent despise for Mayawati and Kejriwal seems to have become the common policy. The Election Commission has termed the stray instances such as the Dholpur election in MP supposedly to be cases of malfunctioning but the allegations of tampering have persisted with claims that the incidents are not isolated but ‘systematic’.

The contradictions between the sublime ideals of democracy and the actual procedures are hardly matters to be ignored or to be pushed under the rug. Just view this brief show by John Oliver on gerrymandering in the US elections and you will fully appreciate the significance of foolproof procedures in a democratic system.  Similarly, a well-known columnist points out the implications of booth wise display of election results where the issue of privacy raises its head. Quite simply, if a candidate gets to find out that you voted against him, will he take vengeful measures against you? So on the whole the issue here is that of ensuring that people trust the EVMs and are able to clearly see whom they voted for through Voter Verified Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT).


In the light of all this, this report acquires special significance. Whether the opposition parties are able to come together on a political platform against the BJP juggernaut is far less important than their united efforts to ensure the trustworthiness of the EVMs. That the Election Commission has agreed to hold an all-party meeting instead of giving specious arguments in the defense of the EVMs claiming total infallibility is equally welcome. 

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Show Time for the Commander-In-Chief

What a fabulous day to impress Core Leadership of Chinese Communist Party:

- Donald Trump hosts Xi Jinping and his wife at the glittering Mar-a-Lago;

- Donald Trump basks in the glory of Gorsuch confirmation all delivered by Republican Senators by busting the Democratic filibuster;



Pretty impressive. Donald is winning, winning and winning. Great way of pressurizing China, by exposing her inability to explode bombs anywhere on the globe by a simple click of a button. Let us see if Xi yields Donald anything or like a seasoned politician just withers away Donald's good day.

The truth is Donald has been a wounded beast for weeks, searching desperately for a 'win'. Exploding few 'bombs' in distant places is always an easy route available for an American President. 

President Trump's missile attack on Assad regime is justified. Sure, there is no UN Resolution for that. But Assad went a step too far to use Chemical Weapons. To leave him without any type of consequences is simply accepting a total breakdown of the global order. That Trump refuses to completely discard the existing global order is a big, big statement given that his campaign has been an insurgency against the established order. Needless to say, it is all work of seasoned players like Defense Sec. Gen. Mattis, NSC Advisor Gen. McMaster and others in Trump's strong security cabinet (devoid of Bannon now). President Trump has done well in enforcing consequences when an errant dictator crosses the red line.

But the tough part comes after this 'shock and awe'. All said and done, Trump has not completed his homework here. There is no 'well articulated Syrian policy' from this Administration. What happens the 'day after' and how does Trump Administration want to manage the Syrian Conflict is very critical. There is no room for 'hold your cards to your chest' style Trumpian negotiations in this highest order poker game. Trump Administration must articulate what is the 'end game' here. Is removal of Assad the eventual goal or just to stop him from using Chemical Weapons is the objective? 

It needs to be made clear that Trump Administration is entirely willing to play the hardball with Putin's Russia while Putin's Client Assad is pummelled mercilessly.[1] Trump Administration must be fully ready for emboldened ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and Iran because of these attacks. We are in the familiar territory of Bush's Iraq quagmire. 

Donald Trump has shown sufficient instincts in not going the way of Bush's Iraq War. There is no appetite among today's Republicans or American Public to fund another entanglement in the Middle-East. But Obama Administration also showered missiles on Libya to remove Gaddafi, and in the end, the world landed with a failed state of Libya. 

So it is far more critical what happens next. Would Trump Administration quickly develop a coherent policy for the end game in Syria or the same 'on the fly' approach of Trump Administration is at play here? For an American President, it is much, much easier to conduct military fireworks in far away places; but dealing with consequences is far difficult. Especially when your foreign policy homework is still work in progress.

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[1] As Vladimir Putin starts to internalize that Trump Administration is no friend of 'his interests', we are likely to see some explosive 'kompromat' against Donald Trump coming out; provided it exists. If no such compromised information gets revealed and Trump continues to be tough to Russia; he wins the politics of his RussiaGate scandal. The fact that Trump is willing to risk any such compromising revelation by Putin is a big political win for Donald Trump. Democrats will have to up their game in that case - just playing anti-Trump card will not be sufficient.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Oh how much our national conversation has changed


Ratnakar Tripathy

'Dialogue Des Sourds (Dialogue of the Deaf)' by Isabel Miramonte
Try an experiment – google for news pages from your favourites daily from four years ago and place them along with pages from today, and you begin to get an idea of how far things have changed in these years. The basic concerns of the people may not have changed that much really but the topics of national conversation reflected on our media platforms are now radically transformed. We are now a nation and society constantly talking about kosher food, appropriate clothing, and the permissible things to say in the wider society. We are very concerned about our sexual mores and the liberty to meet and interact among young boys and girls, about the right dose of reverence to be shown for symbols like the national flag and the anthem, about the due respect for major gods and minor deities, and about myriads of things that were earlier left to the individual, the family and the immediate community.

Not anymore! I suggested the experiment not because I believe that people haven’t perceived the enormous changes and I am the only guy around who has his eyes wide open. The reason I suggest this is sometimes the enormity of change in its incremental dosages gets split into many days and weeks and one may end up staring hard at yesterday’s pile, forgetting the larger mounds crowding our courtyards and street corners. No one I spoke to in recent times claimed that things have remained more or less the same since the last few years.  Of course, men and women from varied backgrounds differ when it comes to making sense of the change. There are those who wear a glint in the eyes and speak in the language of hope but are mostly unable to specify or pin down the exact contours of this hope. There are those who see a great danger and decline but are saddened by what they perceive as lack of political alternatives – it is depressing to talk with such people these days because every alternative posed in front of them is shot down with a cynical finality that I find highly disquieting. These conversations invariably end up with references to analogies from different eras and parts of the world, as if the chosen historical patterns are waiting to replay in India all over again. But I find the boldness of optimism far more oppressive. I am not sure I understand this hope very well but it seems to be more of a wait for a series of miracles than something substantial. I find it strange that after so many years of habitual dismissal of promises made by politicians of all sorts during the Congress era, we now have a climate of easy, no, completely facile hope. I feel this hope is based mainly on a sense of executive vigour and a rhetoric so virile that it seems to guarantee that a time for decisive action has come. If the voter decides that the proposed ‘decisive actions’ have been drawn from his own dreams and agendas, or even related to them at all, it is difficult to douse his raging wishfulness. There is no denying that we are dealing with a rather widespread pathology except there is no telling exactly how widespread it is. But I find it wrong to assume that the metastasis is complete. I do intuitively feel that after the big high we will see a phase of depression and extreme anger. It’s just that we cannot predict the moment when the tide of anger will come rushing in and the grinning faces will begin to gnash their teeth in fury. Just now I see a very thirsty populace rejoicing at the sight of a water tap and even admiring its beauty. It is reluctant to turn the tap to make sure it delivers water in the fear that the hope may turn out to be a vain one. So we are in a state of tense wait hoping that a naïve child will step ahead and yell out an appropriate label for the emperor.


My main question is do we have a government or a system of representation where the chosen leaders seem to care for the citizen or our democracy is just based on the skill of luring the voter into a five year trap of self-inflicted suffering?  These days it has become rare to talk of suffering, even as the magnitude of real pain mounts at a fast pace. We are going through times when the language of the victor has taken over completely and wars are being fought on the behalf of the common man on several fronts – food, attire, religious faith, sexuality, sundry opinions on personal issues, all of which featured in the media quite rarely till recently. Whether and for how long the voter will continue to tolerate or endorse these battles is what will determine the future of our democracy, of course.          

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Turning Point of Trump Era

Andrew Sullivan characterizes defeat of RyanCare Bill in House as the moment when finally 'political gravity is catching up with Donald Trump' while others either see a harder road going forward or an opportunity to 'break the nihilistic lock of partisan politics' which has gripped Washington for a decade or so. One of the extraordinary possibilities of Donald Trump Presidency can be how Trump helps Washington finds it way back to a normal politics and I am enthusiastic for that.

With the fiasco of RyanCare[1], few things ought to become evident to the Tea Party and Trump Voter Base:
- That, it is not a Democratic president occupying White House who makes deals impossible, but it is folks in their own party who make any change difficult.
- There are limits to Donald's magic of deal making, and Donald will have to reach across the aisle to Dems.

Indeed Donald's Chief of Staff is very much making 'sounds of bi-partisan' approach on Sunday Talk Shows. That is as mainstream as possible for the ruling class in America. Washington is finally internalizing limits of extreme politics of so many Republicans and likes of Freedom Caucus.

One of the important questions is how far Congressional Democrats engage with Donald Trump. There is a wing of Democratic Base, having tasted victory in early Trump Days, which will be completely reluctant to engage constructively with Trump Administration. And why blame them? Having observed total obstructionism of Republicans to Obama in last few years getting awarded with a complete victory for GOP in all branches of American Political Power; logical conclusion is to follow the same playbook. Equally, there is the question of RussiaGate[2], no-one knows how radioactive this administration would become given seriousness of allegations as well as abundant corruption opportunities which are unfolding every day. The last thing any politician wants is wasting her political capital on an administration which is not going to last.

But the political reality is such that there are some Democratic Senators[3] who need to retain their seats in 2018 from states which have voted overwhelmingly to Donald Trump. Further, if Nancy Pelosi has any dreams of becoming the house speaker again; Democrats need to win districts beyond their current Blue States. That also means having certain bipartisan wins under the belt for these Democrats. No doubt, there is a risk in aligning with a president who can be impeached. But any cooperation with Trump Administration for a particular bill does not mean Democrats do not hold Donald's feet to the fire when it comes to serious possibilities of treason, or unconstitutionality or breaking of laws.

***

The campaign of 2016, results of that election and early tumultuous days of Trump Presidency; all these things are likely to cringe anyone who cares about democracy. But I feel lot better these days, we do not need Barack Obama to conduct affairs of this country. As over centuries it is shown again and again that this country comes up with political leaders and conducts her business without dependency on any single person. To start with, first, Americans accepted election results of 2016 even when Trump did not have popular votes. American Media might have missed reading the mood and possibilities with American Voters, but after the election, it has gone into the role what it does best - keep investigating the administration and hold 'powers be' accountable.[4] 

Trump trash talked Federal Reserve and Janet Yellen on the campaign trail. But after the election, as he appointed Wall Street Bankers and smart economists to his Economic Team;  Trump has stayed away from meddling in affairs of Fed. Again, a network of intermingled interests ensures that 'independence of Fed' is retained. It is a reassuring sign that 'institutions of this republic' will withstand political pressures.

Next, courts (primarily Federal, but states too) in this country have not hesitated to throw away Donald's legal transgressions beyond what our Constitution allows to the executive agency. Courts of the land making an emphatic statement about conducting affairs in a constitutional manner is a big, big positive revelation about America in recent months.[5]

Now finally, Congress is arriving at a point where it will be forced to shed counter-productive political practices of years. In other words - our Media, our Courts, our Institutions and Congress all are working as intended by our framers and that is some astounding statement for the endurance of Democracy in this land.

In a democracy, People have rights to make mistakes. Falling for Donald Trump's campaign or failing to overcome Hillary hate in performing our citizen duty in voting for her; some of the most stunning political mistakes this country has made in decades. But thankfully, our constitutional framework and willingness of so many people to adhere to that; all that will help us even in the darkest hours of this republic.[6]

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[1] It is not Freedom Caucus solely who stopped RayanCare. By the time Ryan and Donald concluded their negotiations - rather dole outs - to Freedom Caucus; enough damage was inflicted to insurance assurances of Medicaid receipts so much so that moderates like New Jersey Republican House Member Rodney Frelinghuysen could not stomach anything more. When likes of Rodney started to throw in the towel, it became apparent to all how 'destructive' RyanCare bill had been. No sane person with basic decency and empathy can tolerate what Paul Ryan advocated in the name of ObamaCare Repeal and Replace - wholesome 'selling' of poor on Medicaid, all for tax cuts for Rich. As Nancy Pelosi said - "it is in DNA of Republicans": treat every policy opening as an opportunity to reward "haves" at the cost of "have nots"; all in the name of debunked Ayn Rand philosophy. 

[2] Daily Kos with HuffingtonPost are following these stories in all earnest. Good for American Democracy. What needs to be proven in the end is:
- either Donald Campaign contacted a foreign entity - in this case, a Russian entity - to alter the outcome of the 2016 election
- or Donald engaged in quid pro quo kind of deal with Russians which benefits him personally at the cost of a compromise or deviation in nation's foreign policy.
The key thing is to establish culpability of Donald by showing that he 'willingly engaged' in such transactions. GOP-dominated House would not take the impeachment bill so lightly if Donald is found guilty. There will be Court cases before anything happens. We have to see if respectable cabinet secretaries like Gen. Mattis drop out earlier or not to retain their own personal credibility when things get murky.

As FBI digs deeper into this investigation, a possibility of someone providing lot more details under a 'plea bargain' cannot be ruled out. After all, it is not the competence of FBI sleuths themselves, what matters is the weight of Law which FBI can bring to the table in forcing a witness to spill beans.

[3] Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana; all are vulnerable Democratic Senators for reelection in 2018. These are Senators from States which voted overwhelming to Donald Trump in 2016.

[4] Resignation of Michael Flynn is a testament to the vigilance of Media in this country. American Media made it impossible for Trump to carry on Flynn once his failures were exposed.

[5] When even Paul Ryan proclaims that "ObamaCare is the law of the land" and it is here to stay for a while; the adherence to the rule of law is explicit and exemplary.

[6] Just look at Russia. Around American Tax Day - April 15 - big nationwide rallies are planned urging Donald to release his tax returns. I do not see Russian kind violence for those rallies.

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.’