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.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Film Review: Love analysis in ‘Dear Zindagi’ and Shahrukh as Dr. Freud

by Ratnakar Tripathy 

Dear Zindagi: the poster
By now we have lost count of elaborate analyses of Bollywood cinema that claim the idea of ‘íshq’ to be the core stuff of most narratives and songs.  ‘Ishq’ is distinct as a variety of love characterized by the merger between the beloved and the lover, often seen in Bhakti as well as Urdu poetry as a metaphor for the merger between the mortal self and the divine. ‘Dear Zindagi’ is however an attempt to keep a distance from the old shibboleth of Bollywood cinema to coolly examine the animal called romantic love. This is done through a lens that seems largely Freudian though without some of its dark excesses that may drive the average audience away from the screens. So this is Freudian analysis without the morbid blood, mucous and various other bodily fluids that go with it, if one may use them as tropes for the Indian literary ‘rasas’. In brief, when a young nubile looking girl Kaira, who is in reality a competent professional ready to plunge into the ruthless professional arena of the entertainment industry, is distracted from her professional focus by personal issues like her inability to fall in love, she visits the analyst Shahrukh. Shahrukh plays perhaps the most understated role of his career as a quietly serious sage full of precepts and lame sounding stories with profound morals that take Kaira step by step out of her dark emotional tunnel. She slowly emerges at the other end to greet the daylight with the exclamatory phrase - ‘Dear Zindagi’! The film is thus not centred on the good old ‘Ishq’ motif of the Bollywood cinema but belongs to the modern world and the secularized lexicon of ‘relationships’. When Kaira is thus cured of her deep-seated emotional inhibitions, she does not necessarily commit herself to fiery ishq but may be content to fall in love in its simple lukewarm sense. According to Sahahrukh, her local Goan Dr. Freud, she tends to ditch her male partner even before he may consider dumping her for someone else, seemingly a safe strategic ploy for a growing boy or girl, but in reality an ensurer of endless emotional disasters and general gloom. Shahrukh helps Kaira locate her troubles to a childhood trauma that seems to have pervaded her emotional life. This is textbook Freud freed of all the complexities.
Played by Alia Bhat, this woman-centred film belongs to what is now commonly called the ‘multiplex’ cinema, namely films that wear a somewhat realistic garb, aim at looking well-made, have credible narrative twists and turns and use a lot of Hinglish, the new vocabulary of the youth in urban India. The trouble with reviewing such films is manifold – because of their likeness to Hollywood or European cinema, if we apply the same non-Indian traditional standards, they appear to be of a rather average or even below average standard. I do not even have to bother to cite Hollywood titles that give a far better and insightful treatment to the subject of emotional inhibition among a growing urban youth. On the other hand, if one applies the criteria of the Bollywood prevalent between roughly 1960s-2010, one may conclude that the film is seriously lacking in the emotional ardour associated with ishq and is too tepid as a romantic tale. In fact the film may even seem to belong to the genre commonly known as ‘self-improvement’ literature and workshop activity where a young person is encouraged to cultivate a positive attitude in life, with all the self-confidence that goes with it. The one line story of the film thus goes something like this – a girl unable to fall in love is cured by a counselor through several sessions of therapeutic talkathalon that forms the meat of the story.  

By way of winding up, I must admit that despite the dilemma reflected in the points above, I did not find the film insufferable though the poor quality of the songs did distract me. At the end of the film however I wondered if the trouble of coming all the way to the cinema was worthwhile. Maybe it was just for the sake of the marvelous performance by Alia Bhat and Shahrukh as well as the supporting cast. 
Analysis on the beach!

The catch here is we glimpse a tentative case of Freudian ‘transference’, when during their last session, Kaira nearly admits to being in love with Shahrukh but is discouraged and backs off in resignation. So the analyst knows there comes a moment when he must slip behind the curtains and refuse to be drawn to the mire of romantic love between an analysts and a patient. Clinically, the right thing to do, I suppose! But also a way to avoid a more challenging and complex narrative! I know of at least one such instance when a troubled girl in my college ended up getting married to her analyst. Professional transgressions are not uncommon at all and in this case may have saved Shahrukh’s character from being a largely opaque one with his emotional windows to the outside world firmly shut. He does come out in the film as a savior of souls, but one that may seem one-dimensional to many. Which is why maybe Shahrukh decided to shed his usual flamboyance and turn prosaic!

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Crony Capitalism - Why Not?

World Corruption Index 2010 - Source Wikipedia
When I came to this country in 1997, I started to work for a well known Indian American Technologist in Silicon Valley.[1] In 1997, as like any other technology business in USA; my employer utilized 'outsourcing'. Like most such technology companies[2]; it created jobs in USA and jobs in distant places too. Recently that same employer of mine, who had had a fairly successful career as technology entrepreneur in Valley, came out supporting Donald Trump's Carrier plant intervention. When his[3] Facebook post came out endorsing and supporting Trump Policy; it generated lot of heated discussion. Many pushed back the Trumpian crony capitalism. 

What is the explanation for seemingly intelligent people backing Trump style heavy handed "nationalistic intervention"? I cannot say generically, but in this case I can guess that the said technologist is backer of Hindu Nationalism of Narendra Modi and then he finds it very easy to make sense of Trump's interventions. Generically I am suspecting large number of Americans are essentially open for such "crony capitalism". Their response will be "why not crony capitalism if it works"?

That is the answer to Lawrence Summer's criticism of Trump style crony capitalism. Summers is right that going away from "rule based capitalism" is going to cost America eventually. But many Americans, if not majority, don't seem to mind it if it brings money in short term.[4] Unless sufficient number of "losers" are created because of such economic policy and those "losers" are spread in enough states to make difference in American Political System; Trump's "crony capitalism" is just getting started.

It is not that all of Republican Party is falling for this Trumpian policy of intervention. Surprise, surprise; you have Sarah Palin criticizing this policy. When was the last time Liberals ever felt agreeing with Sarah Palin? You have guardian of Capitalism Wall Street Journal rightfully criticizing Trump's intervention in Carrier case

But it seems like overwhelming number of Americans are ready for Trumpian Crony Capitalism. Which means, essentially America is entering into the "class of learning rule based capitalism and globalization" afresh. Global rule based Capitalism established over 7 decades after WWII - it is as if Americans want to shake things up there and relearn those lessons hard way. 

Challenges and contradictions in Trumpian Policy approach are obvious and clear as sky - only if Americans want to understand those and force Trump to change his policy direction. But Donald Trump will think - I defeated the whole Republican field in primaries, I defeated Hillary in general election when the entire Media and Establishment have been against me; so why change now? 

Tighten the belt, the ride is going to be bumpy in  Trump's America. 


[1] Yah, we are talking Steve Bannon's "too many Asians in Silicon Valley". Not that anyone cares about it, or I care or anyone can stop it constitutionally. It is obvious that for American Technology Industry dominance, Indians and Asians have contributed magnificently and there is nothing wrong in those folks enjoying fruits of their labor or fair share of this industry's success.

[2] The company I worked for was not an outsourcing firm. It was a proper technology product development company with a good chunk of serious intellectual property creation in Valley.

[3] He is a high profile management guru teaching at premium institutes globally.

[4] It is the same way substantial number of Americans did not mind Bush's unwrranted Iraq war. Consequences of that war - America's global credibility - is yet to be repaired meanwhile Donald Trump has already started to "shake the things globally too".

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Film Review: Ana Maria In Novela Land – a fantasy in more ways than one!

- By Uday Oak

Fantasy has been quite a popular genre in art, especially performing art. The children’s theater, and quite a bit of adult (not ‘adult’ adult; here ‘adult’ is an antonym of ‘children’s’) theater is full of it. The folk arts thrive on it.
And the art of the last century, cinema, has of course given it almost unlimited freedom – freedom in terms of audio, visual and time.
Most of the fantasies go in the sci-fi direction, or the king-queen-witch-demon way. Very few are ‘contemporary’, with a (near) believable storyline, enough layers in the script and sober visual presentation. In absence of all these, the fantasy films mostly focus on some character that is invisible, or someone who garners some equally such impossible power, and the resultant antics. Coolie to CEO or Maid to Millionaire. Yes, it is humor, although of juvenile/infantile nature.
There are very few films that one comes across, which do NOT fall in this trap.
Ana Maria In Novela Land is certainly one such. The storyline is simple, interesting and layered. The casting is as perfect as it could get. And visually, it’s a treat.
Tele-Novelas (Spanish tele-serials) have everything that any popular Hindi/Marathi tele-serials have – implausible situations, characters with infinite libido and zero regard for familial morals/ethics, zero reference to the outside ‘real’ world…
Ana Maria is a twenty-something young girl, staying with her parents, and like the hippies of the sixties, busy in ‘trying to find herself’. Getting and losing jobs is quite a natural phenomenon according to her. She is more keen on posting her learned comments about a Novela “Pasión Sin Limites” (Passion Without Limits), because she has a lot of ‘followers’ on the net. Her parents are worried about her, but they also enthusiastically watch that Novela.
And at a moment when the ‘tension’ is quite palpable in the Novela as well as in the household, Ann Maria is transported to replace Ariana, the leading lady of the Novela. Ariana replaces Ana in the family.
And the fun begins. Revealing any more of the story would be idiotic and sadistic. Let me just give you a pointer – the last half an hour is so full of twists and turns, that in comparison, the roads in Konkan would be ‘straight, frictionless surface’ so often referred to in Newtonian physics.
What sets this movie apart from countless other ‘fantasies’?
Firstly and most importantly, the script is not written pegging the audience with IQ lower than room temperature in Alaska. That script is ‘written’ and is not ‘assembled’ is itself an achievement these days. And this script is not just written, it is well-written. The story progresses through revealing layers and layers of perceptions and events. It is not “A hits B, so B retaliates by hitting A’s daughter C” kind of dumbed down version of a story. What would be the ‘differences’ perceived by characters in a Novela when in ‘real’ world and vice-versa is suggested beautifully, not given in ‘step-by-step do-it-yourself-guide’ manner.
Sample this – X, a character from Novela comes out in the real world, finds that she has a sister who is getting married. Her dialogue to sis – “I will be a good sister, and won’t sleep with your husband, though that is what normally all sisters do”. Or when X is diagnosed with amnesia, she says innocently “that is quite prevalent from where I come”. Or Y, a character from outside ‘real’ world goes in a Novela, is talking to a character from there, suddenly looks up and shouts “stop that, I can’t think while you are playing that”. And we realize that the background music is the usual mindless idiotic abortion of a background score, perennially used in serials.
The camera is unobtrusive, yet communicates almost effortlessly. No fancy angles, super-zoom lenses, weird lighting… The temptation to employ these technics must have been enormous – after all, half the story deals with a ‘Novela’, where such technics are the foundation stones and the whole building.
The actors really shine. Edy Ganem as the leading lady is fantastic. She was active mostly in television, barring a few minor/uncredited roles in films. Her ‘fresh’ness is absolutely delicious. The way she portrays two different characters is almost unbelievable. It would have been tempting to say “she carries the whole film on her shoulders”, but the other actors are equally good.
Nestor Serrano, who plays Ana’s father has delivered a gem of a performance. His acting can be used as a demonstration of how an actor should be.
Michael Steger is another find from the TV world. He portrays Tony with more élan than Armando, but that is because Armando, being a Novela character, is a flat, mono-dimensional one.
And Luis Guzman, who so far portrayed small-time lackeys, really shines here. His acting shows the shades of differences between characters in Novelas and in ‘real’ life.

Do you remember ‘Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour’? Chris Tucker’s Asian looking lady detective ‘girlfriend’ Tania Johnson? Here Elizabeth Pena has given a marvelous performance as Ana’s mother, matching Nestor Serrano in sensible (and believable) portrayal of a character from ‘real’ world. Sadly, Elizabeth died soon after this film was completed.
A couple of decades ago, ‘Pleasantville’ opened a window to the idea of real and ‘virtual’ characters mingling and the subsequent dizzying potpourri. ‘Ana Maria In Novela Land’ has taken it further, several levels up.