Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Commentary: is the NDA government being obstructionist in Delhi?

During the last parliamentary session each time the Congress party was accused of being obstructionist, the Congress spokesmen referred to the conduct of the BJP in the past and their equally obstructionist behavior. So tit for tat is the logic that seems to rule our elected bodies which only leads to legislative and executive paralysis for everyone. It is the common citizen who suffers the outcomes of the non-stop tug of war. Currently however it is the BJP that has been self-righteously accusing the Congress of being a spoil sport in the upper house where it has a big majority. With ample justification too! But is the BJP behaving any better even today?

The fact is the BJP government at the center has been playing the obstructionist game in Delhi through its Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jang and its Police Commissioner B S Bassi. In fact their very brief seems to be a constant needling and harassment of the AAP government preventing it from keeping its election promises. The AAP leaders on the other hand have proved hard to be cowed down and are giving both the officials as well as the central leaders of BJP a tough time.

To take up a specific case, this report dwells in some detail on how the Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi is doing all he can to obstruct the recent move of the AAP government in Delhi to undo some of the pollution and the smog through the ‘odd-even scheme’ whereby a person owning a vehicle can use it only on alternate days. AAP does not claim it to be a complete solution but it is a good beginning for any city in India – it shows a willingness on the part of a government and also a large number of citizens to make an effort to clear up the toxic skies. Commissioner Bassi however takes a purely negative attitude by complaining that the odd-even scheme does not make a blanket ban but provides exemptions to a people such as the sick. Common sense dictates that some kind of exemptions have to be made for emergencies and the deserving.  Secondly, Commissioner Bassi instead of joining the laudable effort is more busy issuing threats to the likely AAP volunteers who may check the vehicles on the Delhi roads. So it seems Bassi’s chief interest is not the implementation of what may turn out to be quite beneficial for Delhi but to hunt for AAP volunteers if any and arrest them. 

The moral may be – if the BJP had a right to complain about the conduct of the Congress, its own behavior in Delhi demolishes the moral high ground taken in the parliament. An unsparing interview with Arvind Kejriwal by Barkha Dutt, though a bit lengthy says it all. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Commentary: Are tougher laws on juvenile crime the solution?

The two houses of the parliament in India have been unusually tardy in passing legislative bills of late because of the confrontational stance taken by the opposition and an inept government unable to negotiate its way through. But the entire lot have come to what may go down as a hasty consensus on the issue of juvenile crime. Thus the Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill lowering the age of a juvenile from 18 to 16 years was passed in the Rajya Sabha after opposition parties like the Congress and the TMC changed their earlier stand of referring the amendment to a Select Committee for further deliberation. 

The case and the circumstances that prompted the decision are as follows: the entire nation was rocked by protests and demonstrations in December 2012 for several weeks after six men gang raped a medical student in a Delhi bus and then tried to kill her. Jyoti Singh, travelling with a male friend on a private bus was raped by six men on the bus, including the driver and her friend was beaten up by them. The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died 13 days later in a hospital in Singapore from her injuries that indicated unusual cruelty on the part of the rapists. 

Recently, one of the men found guilty of gang raping the medical student has been released which has led to widespread protests in Delhi. The juvenile, the bus driver’s conductor, was six months from his 18th birthday at the time and as a result tried as minor and given the maximum sentence for his age of three years in a reform center in August 2013. The other five accused were all adults and were given death sentences by hanging though one of them hanged himself in prison in 2013. 

That the young accused is now scot-free after a 3-year confinement period has ruffled up several quarters of the society including the Indian media that loses no chance to whip up hysteria. This is the background to the unholy haste shown by the upper house. The statistic however gives little basis for such hysteria despite the emotional furor – data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi’s claim about juvenile crime being the fastest rising segment is only part of the story. As a percent of total crimes, juvenile crimes have remained static at 1.2 over the last three years. They also show that recidivism, or the propensity to become a repeat offender, is higher among adults than juveniles. 

Given the speedy legislation by a parliament reluctant to move otherwise, this article by Brinda Karat takes cognizance of the many aspects that have gone into the supposedly corrective legislation. She also provides a broader perspective on the society’s response to juvenile crime that should have been considered by our law makers who often tend to flow unthinkingly with the popular sentiment. 

Finally, consider this - The American film-maker Leslee Udwin, maker of India’s Daughter, a widely publicized BBC documentary on the December 2012 incident which shook India was able to interact with the juvenile and has kept track of the case. She told the press recently that the head of Prayas, the Correction Home for Juveniles in New Delhi, informed her that the illiterate boy had become literate, a good cook and a tailor too during his three years there. He regretted his act but was afraid of being assaulted if he was released. This surely indicates how fraught and delicate the juvenile cases can be.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Is Indian democracy now at the mercy of smaller leaders?

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Increasingly, the well-wishers of democracy have little reason to hope anything much of the two major national level parties in India. Even in times of utter distress, the Congress has shown no signs of sloughing out of its lineage oriented dynastic mould that makes it a ‘darbari’ party. The hereditary impulse of the Congress is so strong, it doesn’t even permit the growth of regional satraps, forget competition at the centre. Despite concentrating all the powers in his hands at the centre, BJP’s Modi has at least thus far shown no tendency to cut to size its regional stalwarts, an important difference between the two parties. When and how the Congress may finally redeem itself through an act of abdication is open to guesswork. But the new hubris shown by the Congress in its doggedly obstructionist conduct in the parliament, based as it is on its recent performance in Bihar as a third ranking partner only indicates the depth of the crisis of confidence in the party. That the Congress is at a decisive dead end is perhaps too strong a proposition but it can be safely said that if at all the change in the Congress will come not voluntarily from within but under further battering by forces beyond its control. What those external conditions may be cannot be specified in the midst of an ever-changing political dynamics in the country. But right now the party is pushing the brazenness of its dynastic pretence to the furthest extreme possible.

As for the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] under Narendra Modi’s leadership, it came in last year with a wild tornado of hope among the masses and the industry. The hope was based on Modi’s presumed ability to clean up the corrupt political-bureaucratic system and to rev up the development process. What we got however is a brazen and extreme pro-business set up based on trickle-down theory that no one any longer sets store by. Even worse, the Hindutva agenda of the BJP seems to pervade wherever you look. If the Congress has its proved its ‘dynstism’ to be its weakest spot, the steel frame of the Hindutva agenda is repeatedly proving to be the undoing of a party and government that knows no other way of proving its political distinctness. If the party has shown any suppleness of thought, it is only in reverting after the briefest detours to its Hindutva bombast. There was a time when liberal and radical intellectuals spent reams to argue the wrongness of Hindutva. Compared to the highs of 2014, BJP’s predicament is now so gravely pitiful that you can save your breath and just point out that Hindutva doesn’t work in the manner of a hard core pragmatist. This was demonstrated repeatedly in the Delhi and Bihar assembly elections and even the local elections in Gujarat, the Modi citadel. Even the engineering of communal incidents does not seem to bring in the desired outcomes anymore. If a party must constantly seek communally sensitive areas such as Assam or even smaller terrains from Western Uttar Pradesh to further its fortunes, the limited agenda does not seem very promising. The only remnants of the pro-Modi hysteria are now to be found abroad among the NRIs for whom Modi fulfils the function of boosting up their self-regard.  

One has to therefore come to a conclusion that may sound naïve and hasty but also unavoidable. The conclusion may be that the Congress and the BJP despite the full awareness of their pitfalls will not be able to go against their grain. No wonder our Prime Minister now spends more time on grandiose symbols and slogans, foreign trips to make deals of questionable value and high-sounding homilies for those commandeered to listen. A good example of the last is the recent jamboree in Kutch where the PM at the All-India Director General of Police (DGP) Conference advised the top cops ‘sensitivity has to be vital element of policing. Police forces should establish strong links with local community and connect with people.’ The mantra supposedly is ‘from smart to sensitive policing’ whatever that means. We have never had a PM who reduced himself to such triteness! Similarly, though Modi’s forthcoming trip to Russia on December 24th has a largely defence purchase agenda he will be accompanied by eighteen top Indian industrialists. This is supposedly part of the ‘make in India’ campaign another mantra that is proving hollow among a fast growing body of quotable quotes from Modi.

All this gives us a good reason to wonder if the ‘smaller’ leaders confined to their home grounds like Arvind Kejriwal, Nitish Kumar, Mamata and Mayawati to name a few are really the ones that will end up steering the Indian democracy on a course that takes it ahead rather than round and round. There is a sound basis to suspect that. Recently, ‘Days after the release of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar’s autobiography on the occasion of his 75th birthday saw a galaxy of leaders gathering at Vigyan Bhawan, an even bigger show of strength was seen on the lawns of 7, Tughlak Road, the residence of JD(U) president Sharad Yadav on Monday.’ Those present included like Sonia Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chief Ministers Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal, Ministers M. Venkaiah Naidu and Rajnath Singh, BJP veterans L.K. Advani and Yashwant Sinha. They all came to felicitate Mr Yadav as a book based on his life was released by Vice-President Hamid Ansari. During the event, ‘the cynosure of all eyes were the two chief ministers — Mr. Kumar for his triumph in Bihar and Mr Kejriwal for taking on the government. ‘Ms Gandhi, accompanied by several party MPs, decided to stay back for the lunch that was laid out on the lawns — a decision that was a political statement by itself’.

There is of course no point in using grand words like ‘era’ and ‘epoch’ since the basic scale for measuring political time is the tenure from one election to the other. But the question is does one see in all this an indication of things to come? The Congress has dropped from a great height in a graduated manner that seems inevitable in retrospect. The Nehru-Gandhi family has run out of talent and the dynastic principle itself now creates distaste. The BJP’s seems a briefer version of the Congress graph. The climb was precipitate enough but the drop seems like a resounding crash. If you include Mamata and Mayawati to the list along with Nitish and Kejriwal, these are all leaders with an intense sense of local assignment and commitment, most likely not even accustomed to thinking of themselves seriously as national figures. But the timing and the logic of their careers is pushing them beyond their citadels as the only option in the face of a failing centre. Indications are the new year will reveal many things – whether BJP shows the ability to mould itself or keeps springing back to its communal steel frame, whether the Congress’s ability to ride the backs of the smaller parties continues to work wonders, and the ability of the smaller leaders to grow in size and stature over 2016-17 sufficiently in time before we come face to face with 2019 general elections. 

The second rung leaders listed above may not be colossal visionaries or inheritors of grand pasts but they have fewer human failings. They may be small but they are all known for their political sobriety and a commitment to manage the chaos of the Indian reality with the sort of quick-thinking flexibility that neither the Congress nor the BJP seem to currently possess.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Commentary - Indian Students Stopped from Flying to USA

Times of India (TOI) reports that Indian Authorities stopped bunch of Indian students flying from India to USA to start with some suspicious sounding universities in California. This is not a new problem nor it will be the last incident in this regard. The best thing for Indian Government here to do is create a 'white list' of foreign institutions to which Indian Government will allow students to go. That way the issue of Indian kids going to these spurious institutes will not come up. If any student wants to go outside of this white list, the student will have to request Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) first to include that institute to the white list. Upon undertaking basic sanity checking and checking with the government of that foreign country, MEA can include it in the list.

This is for the part of Indian Gov. to guard Indian students from getting attracted to those fake foreign universities. Those exist in USA, Canada, Australia and other places.

Now for the responsibility of American Government. Of course, my country of residence sucks here. Both universities (Silicon Valley, San Jose, CA and Norther Western Polytechnic College, Fremont, CA) mentioned in the article may be bogus or at least non-reputable and still Obama Admin and CA Brown Admin allow those to exist and allow them to dupe foreign students. That is shame on American Governments. It is all 'free market' ideology - what a non-sense and irresponsible these governments are. (Why is that Indian MEA not escalate it to John Kerry and keep harping Americans about that?)

But did some one say 'radicalized Islamic students' coming to USA via these bogus universities? On man, these Republican Congress Members, Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh will jump on it! The problem solved!! Give a bone to the 'dog' and it will keep on chewing it... That is the 'sorry state' of affairs of in USA - any genuine action will happen only when something is linked to Terrorism by radicalized Islamic youth.

The importance of 'white list' from Indian Government point of view is - the last thing India wants to have is bunch of Indian radicalized students entering USA via bogus universities and pulling off a terrorist attack. It is better that India takes care of it at the source itself and stop flying these students to such shady foreign institutes. One thing to keep in mind is the TOI report does not indicate whether these students were Islamic or radicalized or with possibility of pulling off a bad act in USA. But it is important from USA perspective, as well as from Indian perspective, to keep this possibility in mind and take preventive measures. In that regard one would applaud the action of Indian Authorities.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Haryana Law on Minimum Qualifications for contesting Panchayat polls

The Supreme Court upheld the law proposed by Haryana government. The law specifies minimum education levels for various groups – class 10 for men, class 8 for women and class 5 for Dalits. As expected, there is a bumper crop of comments. Most of the commentators are criticizing the law, claiming that it goes against the fundamental rights, it is undemocratic and it is intended to deprive a vast chunk of the population from contesting elections.

Is this negatively affecting a majority of the population? This is where the plot gets murky. Both sides quote stats that is diametrically opposite. One side claims that 84% of Dalit women and 71% of all rural women would be ineligible by this new law. The other side quotes the overall literacy rate in the state as 76.6% and female literacy at 66.8%. The government’s affidavit states that 57% of the rural population above the age of 20 will be eligible. 

Before one goes into the merits and demerits of these arguments, let us ask a fundamental question. Aren’t raising the bar and improving the performance two wheels of progress? If one doesn’t raise the bar, then there is no incentive to improve the performance. And we have seen numerous manifestations of that in our political arena. 

Is this a case of the snobs mocking the proletariat? That is of course a very convenient and tempting tag. But if one looks at the debate that churned the society a century ago – should political freedom come first or social development? The first group was ‘freedom fighters’ and shunned the British rule even in areas where social evils were getting obliterated by them. The other group of ‘social reformers’ had moderate popularity at best. The first group won hands down. Whatever social reforms did happen, happened despite the ‘freedom fighters’, not because of them. As a result, we have a huge population that is not even ‘socially aware’, but is ‘politically empowered’ to the fullest. The results are there for all to see. No political leader or party is interested in eradication of the social evils, because perpetuating the social evils is their main feeder line.

Looking at the available (albeit conflicting) data, if one has to take a stand, then that stand will be either for raising the bar or improving the performance without any measurement. One can draw a parallel here with building toilets at home. Just as government was forced to facilitate schemes to build toilets in every household after making it mandatory for contesting the elections, the interest groups should focus on forcing the government to take education down to the smallest basti in the remotest corner. 

On the whole, there is another parallel that one can see here – the Delhi government’s proposed odd-even solution is being criticized with much enthusiasm and without much substance. For any kind of reforms, there is no sure-fire formula. One has to try different combinations, and hope that some of them succeed. 

Update: a quick look at some of the restrictions that exist today in some of the states throws light from another angle. Mahatma Gandhi was quite active in nursing leprosy patients, and it is not very contagious, yet leprosy patients can’t contest elections in Rajasthan, Andhra and Odisha. Thomas Edison and Ludwig Van Beethoven made a name for themselves despite facing hearing and speech impairment. But hearing and speech impaired people persons have to sit it out in Andhra and Odisha.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why BJP and RSS raid popular symbols including Ambedkar

Even supporters and sympathizers of the Hindutva line of thinking will admit that their most inspiring thinkers have been rather marginal to the mainstream. This was not a problem till recently when the BJP and the RSS were kept out of power and felt no need to connect to the popular icons of modern India. But of late we have seen a tendency among the BJP and the RSS spokesman to show affinity towards names like Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel and even Ambedkar. The ‘thoughts’ and ideas of these men are part of the national commons it would be ludicrous for any specific group to claim monopoly over their lineage. On the other hand there is a limit to how far you can stretch the interpretive imagination and freedom. No one for example can stop Donald Trump the conservative plutocratic presidential candidate from quoting Karl Marx in his favour. But the absurdity of any such attempt is obvious unless Trump was undergoing an unexpected ideological mutation.

The attempt to interpret thinkers in one’s favour or to claim to follow them however in the realm of popular politics is often termed ‘appropriation’. Appropriation is not so much about drawing from the thoughts of men as claiming a share in the trove of popular symbols to gain approval from the followers and worshippers of these symbols. Such ‘theft’ of popular symbols may of course be accompanied by ritual obeisance and words of reverence. This can seem offensive to those who follow the symbols as well as the thoughts of the great men. In onesuch instance, Ramchandra Guha, the historian expressed his annoyance at the RSS chief quoting B R Ambedkar, whose thinking seems diametrically opposed to that of the RSS and the Hindutva stream in general. In personal discourse if a person quotes promiscuously from both Manusmriti and Ambedkar you may stop paying attention to someone so hopelessly confused. But in the political sphere such attempts are often rightly seen as mischievous and part of a systematic attempt to confuse others, mostly the naïve among the believers - in this case the vast Dalit population that may not have a first-hand access to Ambedkar’s writings. in Guha’s words ‘For Bhagwat to really come clean, he should, while praising Ambedkar, simultaneously denounce his own prejudiced predecessors, such as Hedgewar and Golwalkar, who believed in an India where Muslims were not equal to Hindus, and women were not equal to men.’

In a reply to Guha, M G Vaidya a senior figure from the RSS attempts to make a hopeless justification for the RSS quoting Ambedkar as an inspiration. Vaidya ends up in a rhetoric that defies both comprehension and credulity. As Vaidya himself puts it by way of defence ‘It is not easy to understand the RSS. It does not fit into any model of existing parties and institutions. The RSS is unique. To understand it, you have to free your mind from prejudice.’ The above link makes it abundantly clear that in order to understand the RSS, you must join it, a sure sign of blind bigotry of the most irredeemable kind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Paris Climate Summit and its echoes in Delhi

by Ratnakar Tripathy


Even the most hardened environment cynic will admit the path-breaking significance of the recent Paris Climate Summit and the agreement reached by nearly 200 nations after prolonged bargaining. In the meantime, something vital has been happening in India as well that we shouldn't miss – a plan by the Delhi government to allow the use of private vehicles by the Delhi commuters only on alternate days after 1st January 2016. This is a first in India. It is tempting to place these two developments alongside to focus on the global and the local together. What brings them together is they reflect due acknowledgement of a crisis of enormous proportions that is already upon us. In the case of Delhi, it is the local air quality that is driving people sick, and in the case of Paris the wider concerns over global warming and its myriad known and unknown consequences. In both cases people seem to agree that some immediate comforts must be sacrificed for long-term benefits and that it is possible to arrive at a wide consensus and more important act in concert whether at the local or the global level. 

There are two interesting stories from Paris and Delhi that come to mind. According to reports, at some point the Paris negotiations ran into severe trouble over choosing between the words ‘should’ and ‘shall’ in certain clauses of the treaty. A draft of the Paris climate agreement stated in one subsection that “Developed country Parties ‘shall’ continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.” Of course, ‘should’ won the day after a resolute intervention by John Kerry and the talks moved towards a successful culmination. Shall, as opposed to should, which had been the wording in previous drafts, implies that the agreement is legally binding. The semantic deadlock just indicates the gulf between what is desirable and what actions we earthlings are willing to take to undo global warming. The less developed countries rightly believe that the developed nations are largely responsible for the carbon accumulated over the decades and centuries. The developed countries concede the point but would like to push the developing ones as hard as possible to reduce the carbon footprint. There is a smaller group of island countries like Tuvalu and Seychelles that face submergence under the rising sea and form a separate voice in the global arena. China and India with their enormous populations and their gargantuan need for power form an entity on their own. This is why the Paris Summit has to be seen as a beginning of something new, perhaps a tangible sense of global survival under the United Nations umbrella that was earlier missing in the international negotiations based on petty real politic alone.
The Delhi story is no less telling – I found a Delhiite complain disgustedly on Twitter that after being the first one ever in the clan to buy a car the vehicular restriction is the worst possible news for him. Similarly a Delhi-based housewife complained to a journalist that she finds riding buses and metros unbearable as the reason you use a car in the first place is to insulate yourself from the general riffraff. Given that cars in India are great status symbol imagine asking a feudal lord to dismount his horse and make a humiliating amble to the court! Both these individuals are exceptions however since the Delhi citizens now have a fair idea of what the atmospheric toxins are doing to their health. To rub the point the Delhi CM Kejriwal circulated on Twitter two contrasting photos of human lung samples taken from Delhi and Himachal Pradesh. The sooty Delhi lungs give the kind of jitters the diagrams on cigarette packs often give the smokers.  
But these tales should not distract us from the hard reality - Steffen Kallbekken, director of the Centre for International Climate and Energy Policy called the agreement ‘historic’ but added ‘this ambitious temperature goal is not matched by an equally ambitious mitigation goal,’ the scientific term for the drawing-down of heat-trapping gases. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate science body, two-thirds chance of limiting warming to two degrees, emissions would have to fall by 40-70 per cent by mid-century. And to reach the new 1.5C target those mid-century cuts would have to rise 70 to 95 per cent. This is by any means a tall order that sobers you up instantly.
Given the enormity of the problem and the targets ahead, the small consolation may be that in the aftermath of the Paris Summit, the alternative energy companies will likely get a fairer chance in the marketplace. According to Goldman Sachs as a result of the Paris Agreement, Wind turbine makers, electric car company Tesla Motors , solar panel group SolarEdge Technologies Inc and Albemarle Corp, which supplies lithium for batteries, will benefit from the deal. However, others cautioned against buying renewable stocks as the Paris agreement is not a binding treaty. It will take effect in 2020 only if it is ratified by more than 55 percent of nations, or nations that cause 55 percent of global emissions. ‘Binding’ thus seems to be the key issue repeatedly wherever you look.
That the Paris summit gives us a document and a bunch of concepts and vocabulary that may be upgraded over time and applies to the 200 signatory nations is thus easy to see. This is a list of what may be the key achievements of the Paris Summit:
1. The agreement reflects the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 1992.
2. Developed countries have been asked to take “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets” while developing countries have only been “encouraged” to “move over time” to do so.
3. The developed countries will provide US $ 100 billion every year from 2020 and further scaling up will happen after 2025.
4. The LDCs and SIDS [least developed countries and Small Island Developing States] have been demanding that the world must strive to keep rising temperatures to within 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, and not 2 degrees.
5. In the run-up to the Paris conference, 186 countries submitted their INDCs [Intended Nationally Determined Contribution], giving information about the climate actions they planned to take until 2025 or 2030. Every country has been asked to communicate an NDC [Nationally Determined Contribution] every five years.
6.  There is no differentiation in the measuring, reporting and verification in the universal (MRV) provision and it will be facilitative, non-punitive and respectful of national sovereignty

As for the Indian angle on all this, the increasing use of the ‘dirty’ coal by India and the attendant consequences has been the main anxiety among the developed countries. That India cannot escape using more and more in the short run given its need for power is apparent to all. In a recent projection, however the government had said it hoped to bring down its dependence on coal for electricity production from the current 61 per cent to 57 per cent in the year 2031-32. During that time, India also hopes to raise its total electricity generation capacity from the existing 260 GW to above 800 GW. By then the contribution of renewable energy in total electricity generation was projected to grow to 29 per cent from the current 12 per cent. Through a massive push in demand, standardisation and R&D, it is hoped that the Solar Alliance will drive down the costs of solar power generation even further. India, which launched the alliance during the Paris conference, is hosting its administrative infrastructure. 

Given the varied interests and positions, the very fact that China and India the two massive consumers of fuel energy are part of the environment dialogue and action is an achievement on its own. But the real achievement of course will lie in something far loftier – saving the planet, really from a doom of man’s own creation through cumulative action on the alternatives to fossil fuel. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Commentary - Global Trade Negotiations

India generally does not have a good reputation when it comes to negotiating global treaties; whether it is Paris Accord or trade negotiations. Prof. Daniel Drezner correctly puts a finger on this tendency of Indian bureaucrats to go endlessly without much sense of 'proportionality or context'.

Fair enough, India is a polity of more than One Billion people and there are opposition parties always waiting to blame the 'ruling party' as 'sale out to foreigners' in such negotiations. Given the history of European Colonization of India, Indian voters can be easily whipped into frenzy when it is 'white skin' involved - i.e. when Europeans and Americans are other parties in negotiations. (I can sense the triumphant look on Donald Trump's face when USA is still regarded as White European country....)  But still, India's tendency to negotiate such global accords without a business like approach to wrap up quickly is hardly helpful to India or to the rest of world. 

Prof. Drezner correctly points out the danger for USA holding up an empty bag as and when Congress defeats both Asian and European Trade Pacts. With President Obama's popularity sinking fast on his inability to defeat Islamic State; I doubt Republican Congress would pass these trade pacts. Probably Obama Administration is also getting the reckoning that GOP led Congress is going for killing and will simply not hand any legacy defining victories to Obama Administration. The best what Obama Administration can do is to complete all the home work and let the new President sign these trade pacts. Meanwhile, US can perfectly pretend to participate in lumbering global trade negotiations since there is no need to walk away; India and other Developing Countries will do the 'biding'. (With Brazil in complete political turmoil, Brazil will be a perfect partner to India in bogging down these trade negotiations to make 'trade terms perfection as the enemy'.)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Shiv Sena - Completing Fifty

Shiv Sena will be turning 50 next year. Of these 50 years, for the first twenty odd years, it was not known outside Mumbai and Thane. 

Some background is necessary to understand why Shiv Sena was born and brought up primarily in Mumbai. The state of Maharashtra came into being in 1960. It was not a natural birth; it was much worse than a complex caesarian operation. Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) city was the bone of contention. A big and powerful lobby was dead against awarding Mumbai to Maharashtra though geography and history indicated it. The lobby proposed making Mumbai a Union Territory, if it couldn’t be given to Gujarat. Finally after 105 people died in various police firings, Mumbai had to be included in Maharashtra. On the south border of the new state, the Mahajan Commission Report made Belgaum a festering wound that still is incurable and inoperable. Some part near the northern border was awarded to Gujarat, when the populace expected it to be a part of Maharashtra. 

In the 50’s and 60’s, the Dravida movements in Tamil Nadu had started making life hell for the Tamil Brahmins, who started migrating outside the state. Mumbai was one major magnet. Slowly Tamils started cornering all the white collar clerical jobs in Mumbai. All this was used very effectively by Bal Thakare to generate a persecution complex in the minds of the Marathi manoos (Marathi population). Shiv Sena was supposed to be a party of the Marathi people for Marathi people. Outside Mumbai, everybody was Marathi; so Shiv Sena’s strategy of consolidating Marathi votebank against ‘outsiders’ couldn’t work. And anyways, Mumbai was a rich city; it made business sense to stick to Mumbai Municipal Corporation and local employee unions. This continued for a couple of decades. 

When the party was semi-established in Mumbai and surrounding areas, a needy BJP came to Shiv Sena for an alliance. Pramod Mahajan is considered to be the architect of this alliance. With the help of this strategic alliance and with some astute hard-working leaders (Chagan Bhujbal, Ganesh Naik, Narayan Rane, Diwakar Rawte, Moreshwar Save et al) it surged ahead. Before it turned 30, it was in power (in coalition with BJP) in Maharashtra. 

But then it started going haywire. Founder Bal Thakare, like every other human being, was not getting any younger. He was 40 when he started the organization. So as he crossed 70, he found it increasingly difficult to maintain the same fervor and viciousness. More difficult was maintaining a power balance within his home between his son and nephew. Finally nephew Raj Thakre moved out and tried to create his own identity. 

Bal Thakre died when he was 86. Shiv Sena was still struggling to get in power. Within a couple of years after Thakre’s death, Shiv Sena got into power at the center riding piggyback on the Modi wave. But the bonhomie didn’t last for long. Modi or Amit Shah were not Pramod Mahajan and more importantly, Uddhav Thakre is not Bal Thakre. Pramod Mahajan used to keep the BJP-SS tie-up intact by pampering the senior Thakre as needed. And Bal Thakre knew when to take out the claws, when to just growl and when to purr. Till then, BJP was undeniably a ‘junior’ partner in the tie-up. But Modi-Shah duo changed the situation. For the state elections, BJP dissolved the partnership. BJP became the single largest party, winning almost twice the seats that SS won. But it was still twenty odd short of simple majority of 145 in the 288 member assembly. 

Rather than coming together with old partner SS, BJP continued to ‘wait and watch’. The most opportunist wheeler-dealer ever, Sharad Pawar promptly declared support to BJP government for ‘stability’. BJP neither took the support nor denied it. After keeping SS on tenterhooks for a couple of months, BJP took SS back, but giving it much less than what SS expected. SS has been in a tizzy since then. Raj Thakre’s MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) managed to win only one seat in this assembly, so his challenge can be said to be mitigated for now. MNS was most detrimental to SS as it shared same cadre and same brand name. 

But SS continues to be uncertain about its role – is it in opposition, in government or in limbo? To come out of its self-induced stupor, SS delivers knee-jerk reactions without provocation. It supported Sanatan Sanstha when one of its ‘disciples’ faced a murder rap. Then fielded over 100 candidates in Bihar elections. Contrary to popular expectations, it polled about two lakh votes. To put this in perspective, it polled more votes than MIM or NCP. Before the election results unfolded, SS disrupted Ghulam Ali’s proposed programs in Mumbai and Pune. Reason – no Pakistani artist will be allowed to perform in India, because Pakistan has been butchering our soldiers and supporting cross-border terrorism and so on. Irony is multifold. Ghulam Ali was not going to perform for some ‘Muslim’, but to pay homage to a Hindu Singler Jagjit Singh. Secondly, when India-Pak armies were nervously staring at each other across the border, Pakistan cricketer Javed Miandad visited Bal Thakre and was very cordially received. (Javed Miandad’s son later married Dawood Ibrahim’s daughter.) Thirdly, SS, which claims to be so bitter about Pakistan and Pakistani people, very meekly accepted when Modi invited Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif for Modi government’s swearing in. Uddhav Thakre attended the swearing in and his ministers joined the government. SS thinks Ghulam Ali is more responsible Pak sponsored terrorism than PM Nawaz Sharif! And most damningly, the SS heir apparent, Aditya Thakre attended a program by another Pakistani artist Rahat Fateh Ali Khan less than a month ago.

BJP is molly-coddling, insulting and ignore SS in a random pattern. That is Modi-Shah strategy to cut it down to size. But in the process, it is giving a fresh lease of life to Shiv Sena, which otherwise is facing the biggest crisis of existence since its birth. Now SS attended Nitish Kumar's swearing in and is twitching to flex its muscles in Maharashtra as well. 

Its President Uddhav Thakare is known to be a non-leader. And he has further foisted his son, Aditya Thakare as the heir apparent. It will be only a matter of time before more and more people in the second rung realize that they have hit the glass ceiling and only a Thakare or a crass sycophant can cross it. That will be the time they will start looking for alternatives. 

This is the projected status of SS when it completes 50 years. It can continue to run with the hare and hunt with the hound, but that can't last. And BJP will have to adopt a clearer strategy. Otherwise we are looking at a murkier (yes, that is possible!) political scenario in Maharashtra, which will be utterly detrimental to its overall growth. And considering that Maharashtra is still considered one of the 'progressive and advanced' states of India, it doesn't augur well for the country too...