Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why the Adivasi won’t dance: a political tale from Jharkhand

by Ratnakar Tripathy

A somewhat neglected news report drew my attention to a long simmering issue in Jharkhand, a state where I grew up and had my school education. A government doctor, an award winning Adivasi writer of some repute Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar recently wrote an article in The Indian Express questioning the domicile policy of the present government in the state. If the domicile issue has remained unresolved for too long in Jharkhand, the reason is it is inherently complex requiring a political and administrative acumen of a high order, not to mention a deep sense of fairness towards the original dwellers of the state who despite their recent political awakening remain a dispossessed lot. But this historical problem, to use a euphemism, for a vexatious social-political tangle is not the only reason I bring up this incident here.  In fact that is not the main reason presently at all.

What drew my attention to the incident was what happened in the wake of the publication of Shekhar’s article in the press -according to several news reports the state government is considering stringent action against Shekhar for freely expressing his views in the media. Shekhar in his article criticizes the BJP government led by the CM Raghubar Das for fixing 30 years of residence in the state as adequate for domicile status and expresses his fears over the appropriation of land and property of the tribals by the non-tribals from the neighbouring states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Shekhar also worries and warns as any well-wisher of the Adivasis would, “Today, the BJP has launched an anti-adivasi domicile policy. Tomorrow, it might repeal the pro-adivasi Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act to legitimise the act of non-adivasis grabbing Adivasi land in Jharkhand.” Even if the government takes no action on the matter and stops at threatening gestures and noises, this ought to be seen as unacceptable in a democracy. Such gestures are enough to intimidate and discourage a citizen from airing her views of public concern that deserve wider exposure and discussion. That the writer of the article is an Adivasi author known for his espousal of the Adivasi identity and dignity makes it even more imperative for him to boldly place his views in a public forum. It must be admitted that given the broad nature of the issues raised by the author such advocacy should not be discouraged even in the case of ordinary government employees. The fact remains that after its formation in 2000, Jharkhand had adopted the Bihar Public Servant Conduct Rules 1976, according to which a government servant was not authorised to criticise the government he was working for. Confirming that a notice has indeed been sent, a senior Health Department official stated, ‘The Principal Secretary (Health) has passed the order to send a notice to the person concerned. The notice has been issued. Further action will be taken after we get his reply.’ Clearly, the government in India is very selective in its determination to implement the letter of the law as well as the due procedures in their most literal sense.

The dispute that divides the Jharkhand society of today revolves around the question – who are the original residents of Jharkhand a state formed in 2000 out of the larger state of Bihar? Given the history of human movement across the subcontinent and in fact all over the globe over time, this question is complicated enough if you have no practical definition of ‘original’ along with a clear dateline to recommend. The question gets even more complicated if you bring in the dimension of the ‘tribes’ which obligates you to define a tribe as against a non-tribe. In the plain language of daily use the migrants from the plains who clearly hail from a caste society now call the inhabitants of the hills ‘Adivasis’ who in turn have several groupings like Oraons, Mundas and Santhals, to name a few. The Adivasis similarly use the term ‘Diku’ for the plainsmen – this is probably the closest one may come to comprehending the social divide and the resentment that fuelled the Jharkhand movement after independence. This resentment of course was an outcome of an accelerating process of dispossession imposed on the inhabitants of the Jharkhand hills since the late 19th century by the migrants from the plains who saw the Adivasis as crude and simple-minded savages to be yoked into their agricultural colonization and reclamation enterprise.

Given such a background, what is an Adivasi intellectual as a writer, a doctor or a government employee or even a freelancing individual to say at a public forum? Should he just acquiesce in the ongoing injustice or show some grit despite the risk faced at workplace whatever that may be? On the other hand should a state government forever paying lip service to the cause of the Adivais to win their votes try to muzzle the voices of those Adivasis who are able to raise the adivasis demands in the most reasoned manner possible, even suggesting a way out as Shekhar does in his article? Indeed, the Indian state is itself responsible for the continued occupation of large territories in the country by the Maoists who are easily able to convince the so-called tribal or hill people of the government’s utter inability to empathize with their plight. The conduct of the various state governments such Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand lends continued legitimacy to the so-called Naxalites in the eyes of the former dispossessed forest dweller. This is why in his article, Shekhar claimed the policy made clear the BJP’s real intentions – to “sideline” the Adivasis, the “real residents of Jharkhand”, and allow non-Adivasi outsiders to “take over the state”. He traces a long history of such politics in the state by the BJP, which is “clearly a party for non-adivasis and capitalists”. According to Shekhar, he has not yet received an official letter or notice and he is “not sure if the government is really serious about this… or if it is just a fear tactic to silence [his] voice”. Finally, he is unsure about whether he has been singled out for being an employee of the Jharkhand government or for being an Adivasi who has dared to speak out against the BJP.

The title of the article by Shekhar in its print edition was ‘The Adivasi will not Dance’ which is why the title of the present piece. Anyone who has seen an Adivasi dance in Jharkhand would be struck by the wide community participation where the participants greatly outnumber the observers. I thus take the dance as a metaphor for a coherent and convivial society where every performer has a fair chance. Shekhar’s case simply exemplifies why an Adivasi intellectual refuses to sync his steps with the clumsy official moves aiming to intimidate him and his folk. The Adivasis are sick of being seen as a gullible, singing dancing people easy to take for a ride by shrewd scamsters from the caste society of the plains.   

Monday, June 27, 2016

Commentary: Expert Opinion

Michael Gove, Boris Johnson's partner in crime for the Leave campaign uttered that "People in this country have had enough of experts". Obviously that was a self serving lie. Most experts had warned about Brexit and the way market is reacting and the parade of UK sovereignty downgrade is unfolding; clearly those experts were right.

But you need to be cautious here. Experts can be really wrong. For example foreign policy experts have been measuring 'sovereign stability of nations' over a decade and here is the latest ranking by those experts. Given that UK has landed up as a country with no leadership, no government, wiping out over 2 Trillion Dollar wealth across the globe and on the verge of breaking herself; clearly it does not deserve higher ranking than USA. Uncle Sam's country is damn more stable than a country flying the union jack. Or by what account former British colonies like Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh any worse than UK when it cannot keep 3 centuries marriage with Scots and when the Gibraltar Chief Minister takes advice from the Scottish First Minister to retain EU advantages?

Brexit is the loss of a polity which otherwise had been regarded as a rock solid union. What a shame and laughing stock these Britishers have made of themselves!

UK today simply reminds of a big land lord with a big family who inherits a large estate; but his children turn out to be all squabbling, incompetent bunch who squander a magnificent estate by all the 'mean minded, small minded' thinking... what a loser bunch of messers Cameron, Johnson and Corbyn are! What a shame and destruction of a storied franchise named United Kingdom!!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Indian Coalition Politics 2.0

Coalition politics has not only taken roots, but it has also ‘matured’ and become completely homogeneous with Indian polity. One good example can be seen in Maharashtra, and a bit later, will be seen in other states. In Maharashtra, elections of ten major Municipal Councils, including Mumbai, will take place in February 2017. The power partners, BJP & SS have started providing hilarious entertainment to public at large. SS spokesperson called the ‘BJP’ government “Worse Than Nizam”. Of course, nobody can accuse Sanjay Raut of possessing intelligence. He has proved his worth to his master in some obscure way, hence he has been running the party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ in an unfettered manner. So far, BJP used to ignore such barbs. Primarily because BJP, till a couple of years ago, was the ‘junior’ partner in the alliance.

But now the BJP spokesperson came up with an equally senseless rejoinder, asking Raut, ‘when are you taking a divorce’, and comparing Uddhav Thakre with Asrani’s character (jailer) in SholaySS of course came up with some rejoinder. But the last has not been said yet. And never will be. Because there is more to this seemingly frivolous banter. The last year’s assembly elections have given a new meaning to ‘coalition’ in politics. Fight separately and come together later. This model of course was conceived by the great Sharad Pawar, when he broke away from Congress to start his own party. Within months, he joined hands with Congress, of course only to keep the ‘secular forces together’.

BJP and SS have gone one step up. Both the parties realized after the Maharashtra assembly results that they couldn’t have achieved the numbers (BJP jumped from 46 to 122 and SS from 45 to 63), had they fought together. Of course this is only part of the picture. The other part was completed by Sharad Pawar by breaking the Congress-NCP alliance immediately after the BJP-SS breakup was announced.

In a four cornered contest (the fifth corner of MNS wasn’t really a corner, it was an illusion of a corner), winning suddenly becomes a game of fewer numbers. Theoretically, if there are two major parties, then the winner will have to get at least 35 to 40% of polled votes, generously considering the numbers eaten up by minor spoilsports.  In a four or five cornered contest, this magic number drastically reduces. And if you have a master advertiser leading your campaign, winning becomes that much easier. The beauty is, nobody can stop you from coming together post-results. It also gives enough space for the political aspirations of your workers. In a coalition, there is always heartburn over seats. And the vote transfer doesn’t always happen as well as it is supposed to happen. Furthermore, you can distance yourself from the decisions of your own government, citing ‘coalition compulsions’. So, in the coming days, keep a lookout for more ‘entertainment’, which will be independent of what happens after the elections.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit - Consequences

(Source - Wikipedia)
I think British voters were fully aware about the economic danger of Brexit, but still sufficient number of them opted to get out of EU for Immigration reasons; all expressed as a threat to British identity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the bad call of not understanding the deep damage of uncontrolled Muslim immigration to Europe. It basically sapped people's remaining trust in EU, and convinced a large number of those - Britishers and Europeans included - to feel like bureaucrats in Brussels are up to a wicked trick of overwhelming their lands.

On the day when US Supreme Court failed to support the Immigration cause, we are essentially hearing a 'war cry' by anti-immigration forces in Western countries. Not only UKIP will try to build on this success; National Front in France, AfD in Germany and Donald Trump in USA, all will be emboldened to ratchet up the pressure further. The only potent force to take on this wave of anti-immigration will be a Democratic nominee in USA November 2016 election. In either case, it will be a long, long road before this fever of 'anti-immigration politics' will cool down. Western Societies, with their 'winner take all' Capitalism, have become incapable of solving existential problems in places like Syria, Iraq and Africa which all result in waves of immigration. There is no political will in Western Societies to help address problems outside their border - either by 'boots on ground' or by 'currency'. These societies are becoming 'inward', wanting to play 'mercantile games' rather than open, global trade promoting societies. 

EU itself did not help here by being heavy-handed and ignoring what common Europeans needed in their day to day life. Brexit empowers 'centrifugal forces' in EU which will have harder time to stay together. Persistent doubts about EU's ability to solve problems of common Europeans will be raised from time to time. Unless Germany learns from the viseceral reaction of Brexit; there is much less chance of EU remaining intact in coming years.

Whether EU remains strong or not, meanwhile Scottish sentiments of independence are going to be inflamed and quite possibly we will see the demise of UK as well. Brexit was thought to be unthinkable, but it happened. Similarly, UK as a single entity may seem like an immutable country; but who knows Scotland could unbind itself making it harder and harder for UK to retain it's global stature. Chances of London Financial Sector scattering to continental Europe and other places are high. With weaker political muscle, it would even hardly justify UK's position in UNSC too. Dominoes are going to fall, in the process making Uncle Sam loosing it's trusted ally, making Vladimir Putin happy and in general making things harder globally for any kind of 'united action'. 

When 'institutions fail' to live up to people's expectations consistently; in the end people throw those institutions and try to gamble on something new. That is what we are witnessing in Brexit; just compounding misery all over the world for those who wanted to 'build upon' the current global governance foundation. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Gita Press and the rightist political networks

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India
By Akshay Mukul
HarperCollins Publishers India, 2015
Price Rs 500 
This is a much-reviewed book with endorsements from the likes of Arundhati Roy, Pankaj Mishra and Ramchandra Guha. But that is not the reason I chose to read the book or to attempt this review which is more in the nature of appreciation rather than critical appraisal. I say that as I will leave the shortcomings of the book aside for the readers to find and focus on why the book is a landmark among the expanding lot of books on what may be called the ‘vernacular’ literature, culture and art forms in India.

I have a good idea of why the Gita Press stands as a pillar of the Hindu orthodoxy, unique in its steadfastness and bigotry of the first order for personal reasons. My paternal grandfather subscribed to the chief product from the Gita Press, the monthly magazine ‘Kalyan’ as well as the annual volumes and other publications in the 1950s as a life member. I remember the issues of Kalyan spilling out of the numerous cupboards of the village home in the 1960s with little space left for any other reading material. The eagerness with which each issue was awaited is still part of my early memories. I can now recall in retrospect how pervasive an impact ‘Kalyan’ had a on upper caste families like mine for the sort of consistent and unshaken orthodoxy it maintained throughout the decades. The radical right in India has had a chequered career with several ideological somersaults marking its progression over the last two centuries. Like it or not it has a rich past even if it seems rather monochrome in the shape of an RSS or a BJP of today. Students of the history of ideas often take a blinkered view of this past and miss out on the richness found within the radical right. They tend to forget that even bad or wrong ideas take a lot of forging and alchemy before being bottled for mass circulation.

The book has six chapters altogether which are as follows – ‘A twentieth century Hindu missionary and his Mentor’, which carries the biographies of Jaydayal Goyandka, the founder and financier as well as Hanuman Prasad Poddar, the founding editor responsible for shaping and steering the magazine right till 1971 when he died. These two Marwari gentlemen ironically assumed the roles of Brahmin preachers in twentieth century India, showing the path to millions of Brahmin and the upper caste readers. In a second and significant chapter titled ‘Contributors: Local, National, Transnational’ where we find a list of the frequent and occasional contributors to ‘Kalyan’ there are many surprises, some of them rather unpleasantly startling. The likes of Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Lohiya, the progressive stalwart Premchand and Sumitra Nandan Pant found the ‘Kalyan’ platform acceptable and even welcome. Indeed, it seems more important to make a note of prominent names NOT found in Kalyan – Nehru and Ambedkar stand out as the starkest absences. A third chapter ‘Foot Soldier of the Sangh Pariwar’ attempts a deep scrutiny of the coming and going between the ultra-right and ‘Kalyan’. The last two chapters ‘Religion as Politics, Politics of Religion’ and ‘The Moral Universe of the Gita Press’ expose the worldview forged by Kalyan over the decades and its shifting positions. In a sense Kalyan did not make any major ideological shift, it simply readjusted with every major change sweeping the country, the chief purpose of its founders being to keep running with the times in order to stay in the same place. The idea was to stick to one’s guns with full determination come what may, unlike political parties and groups willing to modify their basic dogmas to suit the political weather of the day.

There are too many major themes that come to mind as one goes leafing through the pages of the book. I however wish to emphasize only one of them at length to highlight its seminal importance. The various chapters and in particular the one on the contributors will give the reader a very good sense of the network of contact and communication, a sort of a matrix out of which the radical right formed itself over the decades. Ranging between Madanmohan Malviya, Lajpat Rai, Sardar Patel, KM Munshi, Golwalkar, Sampurnanand, PD Tandan, Rajendra Prasad, Acharya Narendra Dev, the Kalyan network is shown by the book to run like a continuum uninterruptedly and without a breach right from the Congress to the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, traversing the Socialist camp with great ease. I know of no other book or account that brings to light the rightist network with the same clarity and thoroughness even though the main purpose here is to profile the ‘Kalyan’ contributors’ community. That someone like Premchand wrote for ‘Kalyan’ may not have far reaching implications for our reading of his work. But it gained for ‘Kalyan’, an aura of wider respectability and acceptance among the liberal elements of the society. Mukul thus maps a loose but enormous network that embraces a wide variety of individuals and groups associated with ‘Kalyan’ for reasons that may at times seem quite innocuous. Vinoba Bhave for example often wrote on cow protection with none of the ferocity of a Karpatri Ji. 

The network depicted by Mukul may be seen as an open-ended circle that over time tightened into a compact noose and became more and more clearly defined. In gentler times, even the most poisonous debates seem to create a living room or a debating society like atmosphere but the same tensions and conflicts in our own times have of course become far more raucous and violent. Recently I came across a stray copy of ‘Kalyan’ and its content seem as unchanged as ever, even though the quiet battle it has been fighting since the mid-1920s has already come to fruition in the shape of a dogmatic cultural regime at least for the time being. It is strange how platforms like ‘Kalyan’ lose their relevance precisely by finding consummation.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rexit - Exit of Raghuram Rajan

Source - IMF / Wikipedia
Seems like Modi Government was not ready to renew Raghuram Rajan's term at RBI helm and then Rajan threw the towel. In a sense, the round goes to Subramanian Swamy; Rajan's rabid critic.

When appointed, I had a mixed feeling about Rajan. I still think Rajan's supply side inclination in American Political Economy has been misplaced. I am with the narrative of Bernanke-Krugman-Lawrence Summers with heavy Keynesian dose. Even though I recognize the danger of 'being exposed with no arrow in the quiver' when Fed rates are at near zero for a prolonged period or negative rates in Europe and Japan hardly bringing the growth; I read America's Economic recovery, however halting, during Obama years as a result of fiscal stimulation policy dose during 2009 & 2010 when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and subsequent Monetary policy pioneered by Bernanke in coordination with Lawrence Summers in Administration; continued till date by Janet Yellen. Raghuram Rajan sides in this debate with likes of Wall Street Journal, likes of  'tax cuts for rich' trickle down gang which hardly has much credibility when one considers facts.

But in the Indian context I feel Raghuram Rajan was applying the right medicine. It is obvious that Indian Economy is no way similar to American Economy. Fundamentally, the causation of 'interest rates to private credit / business expansion' is completely dwarfed by the structural rigidities of Indian Economy. To start with, Indian State plays enormous 'direct role' in economy via huge Public Sector where politics of pampered Labor trumps relation to output generated by these giant state corporations. Meanwhile very large private employment in India comes from 'informal sector' which is neither regulated nor participates in tax collection. In most cases these informal sectors are deprived of an access to Capital making the relationship between 'interest rates to employment generation' a moot point. Endemic, deeply entrenched corruption greatly siphons of tax payers money making State intervention of fiscal stimulus ineffective. Archaic legal system makes timely and effective enforcement of laws and private property protection difficult, hindering smoother private transactions. Economic statistics collected by Indian Government still has a long way to go before it provides accurate and timely snapshots of Indian Economy to policy makers. Given all these structural weaknesses of Indian Economy and Economic Policy Making; the natural tendency of India Economy is shortage of supply. With young and huge population, India does not have the problem of demand. It is the 'supply disruptions' which create problems in Indian Economy. Given this background, I thought Rajan's emphasis on 'controlling inflation' was the right choice. Indian Economy, due to its deviations from a free market economy, has a natural tendency towards Inflation. Fighting Inflation and bringing Price Stability are the keys for Indian Economy. This is especially true since with globalization and reduction in License Raj; Global Capital is very much interested in growing Indian market whereas competitive electoral politics limits structural reforms.

For Swamy to argue that Rajan should reduce interest rates to generate employment, is to ignore the 'weak relationship of interest rates to employment generation' in India. More importantly it is to ignore the persistent and constant danger of 'inflation' in Indian Economy. I thought that is where Raghuram Rajan was bringing the discipline, the basics of Paul Volcker Fed. With that discipline gone, danger of 'inflation' will be back. What is surprising is, for the fetish of 'low interest rates to generate employment'; Swamy and Rajan critics have exposed Modi's BJP government to one of the most potent political issues - price rise. Umpteen times in Indian Politics, rising prices have contributed to the fall of the government. With Rajan gone, Modi's BJP is exposed to that vulnerability. 

Fed's dual mandate of 'full employment and price stability' in some sense does not translate as RBI's mandate. For Indian Economy, 'inflation control' needs to be the sole preoccupation of the central bank. Rajan was doing that. May be for his detractors, the economic argument was not important; but rather perceived transgressions of Rajan in political arena when he raised concerns about 'lack of tolerance in Indian political system'. If that is what peeved his detractors, it is a concern. It is concerning because it seems like Indian polity is deteriorating when it comes to 'tolerance' and ruling BJP is in no mood to tolerate anyone who does not toe their party line. Either ways, Rajan departure is not a positive development. Saving grace is India is a big country and it has at her disposal a large pool of qualified folks to choose from. The only thing needed is the political will to let a RBI Governor run the monetary policy competently.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Stopping Terrorism AND (not OR) Gun Control

Despite being at the danger of participating in a political discourse while facts are still surfacing, one has to engage in the explosive politics of the tragic Orlando Massacre since 'memes' are getting formed in these early days; narratives are getting shaped with longer term consequences. The omnipresent background of the 2016 election campaign is invariably going to skew the debate. But as we mourn the loss of lives, in these early hours we still need to engage in getting certain things right.

Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake made early statements in this debate while juxtaposing whether it is the 'terrorism' debate or 'gun control debate'. I am not clear whether his statements are to be understood as 'advocacy of either or' or 'both'. Regardless, the unfolding facts and the logic of events are essentially going to force America to consider 'both these aspects simultaneously'. 

With ISIL taking the credit for killings, the killer having been on radar of FBI for terror links and his explicit expression of allegiance before the killing; 'terror motives' are very evident in this case. Donald Trump asks 'when is it going to stop?' implying that it will stop when he is in the Oval Office. Let us see what do our logic tells here:

There are 2 ways the tragedy could have been avoided:
- FIB or law enforcement authorities catch him before the killings or
- the killer finds it hard to get means to pull off the mayhem; in this case the automatic assault rifle.

Donald Trump may think creating a new internment for Muslims in this country may address the issue. But America does not want to repeat the sordid chapter of Japanese internment again for another community. It is immoral, unconstitutional and simply more ammunition to Islamic extremists making it difficult for majority peace loving Muslims all over the world to separate out terrorists who misuse Islam

That brings us to profiling of Muslim as 'at danger' people for gun ownership. And that is where American political system can find an opening, if it is availed carefully. No sane Congress member would allow 'profiling of Americans' based on religion. If determination of 'at terror risk' to prevent purchase of guns for the would be terrorist is to be allowed; it will have to be applied to all equally - including those who massacre people at worship or at school or at movie. In other words, if constantly evolving danger of domestic terror attacks due to easy availability of guns is to be addressed; America will be forced to think about gun control. That is to say, to stop 'domestic terrorism'; America will be forced to quit the lunatic loose gun accessibility policy. What a 'sane debate about gun control'[1] could not achieve, the ever expanding fear of Domestic Gun Terror Attacks will hopefully force a sane solution upon America.[2] 

Question is who are those Democratic and Republican lawmakers who want to face this reality and rise to the occasion. Sen. Jeff Flake's call to consider both aspects is the right starting point. [3]


[2] - Well, that is at least my hope; but I could be delusional considering America's response so far. But may be, America being the most litigious society, once we start seeing lawsuits against organizers of these public events - for the failure of providing security - we may start getting the cost of organizing public events escalating. Only when Americans will starting paying hefty monetary price for the 'privilege of carrying automatic assault weapons at the cost few lives every few months'; we may get another opening to stop this madness of gun culture.  

[3] - The other argument to stop terrorism from Trump and Republicans would be to find out 'whether sand shines in the night or not' i.e. nuke Islamic State or carpet bomb their territory. Both are utterly insane approaches given the loss of majority innocent people. President Obama or any thinking commander-in-chief is unlikely to follow that whereas Americans and Congress will not be accepting, rightly so, 'additional boots on ground' approach as well. That leaves 'cheap political shots from Republicans' about Obama for failing in the 'war on terror'. Such baseless charges are going to be part of the territory in this case. Continuing stronger vigilance and intelligence practices; that is the only option for an American government here. Resistance from Americans for the loss of privacy - that is given. In Western Europe even misguided opposition to 'drones' is present too. Constantly explaining to Western Societies that 'any such loss of privacy or recourse to strong armed methods are the only tools available' is the routine here. Navigating all these conflicting concerns means the decision maker or the commander-in-chief need to have a balanced approach. In 2016 election, Americans will have to answer the question - 'who will provide such a balanced approach'?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Meg Whitman Got It Right

HPE CEO Meg Whitman, the leading woman executive and an important voice on American Politics among corporate executives, had never been comfortable with Donald Trump candidacy. Now she has come out again and explicitly warned Republicans about the dangers of voting for Trump. She is right here - there has to be a line where mere calls to party unity should not blind Republican voters to any non-sense Donald Trump is sprouting on the campaign trail.[1]

Typical to his trait, Donald Trump immediately went for insulting and name calling. Donald Trump is incapable of making any reasoned arguments. In his world, political debate equals to bullying, name calling and insulting others. All Americans need to teach a lesson to this bully - insults cannot substitute political arguments. Trump accuses Meg Whitman is not doing a good job at HPE. Whitman is in a fine tradition of 'building companies and creating wealth for shareholders' while respecting rule of law and practicing upright corporate governance. She may not necessarily have the glittering legacy like Elon Musk or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Google folks who create great products and revolutionary technology as a precursor to wealth generation. But she had a successful reign at Ebay and she is exactly doing right things at HPE - cleaning out all the mess created by her infamous predecessors like Apotheker and Carly Fiorina. 

Contrast that with complete destruction of share holder and bond holder wealth Donald Trump achieved in Atlantic City. To start with he choose the field of 'gambling' to create wealth, not necessarily any 'higher pursuit' for humans; rather playing on human vice. This is a consistent pattern with Donald Trump - to earn money he always exploits 'weakness' of others as seen at his Trump University travails. He bought multiple casinos in the same city using over leveraged and expensive debt when a common sense would have restrained anyone in assuming any extravagant demand. Next, he continued to compensate himself lavishly while transferring all risks to share holders and bond holders; all at the expense of financial health of those casinos. His disastrous management of those casinos resulted in fifth bankruptcy so far, wiping out bond holders and share holders, thousands of job losses and overall economic destruction in the community. And this is the guy who wants America to believe that he will make America great again!

Through out the primary, he boasted that he would finance his own campaign but then resorted to selling overpriced 'caps', water bottles, meat and substandard wine; to raise money for his campaign. As expenses of General Election roll over, and his mismanagement of spending precious resources in zero chance states like California and New York continues; pretty soon we are going to see Donald Trump with his hat asking for donations passing through pews! This is the guy blaming Meg Whitman when with an impeccable integrity she spent her own $144 millions without remorse, without complaints to finance her own campaign. I didn't vote her then, but losing to the 'zen artist Jerry Brown' was no shame; Meg had contested the election in a right and respectful way all along.

But beyond corporate accomplishments and financing of political campaign, Whitman is trying to draw attention to the fascism, racism, bigotry and completely divisive politics of Donald Trump. That kind of politics should not be something Conservatives need to accept to win an election. Peter Wehner has made a great case to situate disastrous Trump candidacy in the context of Conservative Legacy of Republican Party. Unless and until leading lights of Conservative Party do not start demanding 'change of behavior' in Donald, there will not be any chance that Trump will leave behind ugly practices of 'primaries'. There may be some who may argue for futility of such an exercise; but there is no substance in any such arguments. Because, to let go all of your principles for one 'dirty individual' is not worth. Whitman's call appropriately highlights this issue and the need to retain one's moral high ground and dignity. Not for nothing a conservative Senator like Susan Collins thinks in the same way as well. It is now up to Paul Ryans of the Republican Party to insist for a decent campaign and not gutter politics, for 2016 elections.


[1] - HPE is my employer and I work full time at this company.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

What went wrong with school education in Bihar

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Just as we thought that the state of mass education in India at every level is too bad to shock us anymore, a rude jolt comes from Bihar where a Political Science topper in the class twelve exam with over 90 per cent score shook up the nation with a piece of news that will not go down our gullets for a long time. When a suspicious journalist asked Rubi Rai, the topper about her subjects, she muttered something that sounded like ‘Prodigal Science’. When asked to define what the science in question aimed at, her answer was ‘cooking’.  Similarly, the science topper Saurabh Shreshth claimed in front of the journalists that Aluminium is the most reactive among all the elements. Thankfully, the Bihar government has reacted to the news promptly and is already taking action at the topmost levels. CM Nitish Kumar has set up a special investigation team to look into this scandal and an FIR has been lodged against three Class XII toppers and Vaishali’s VR College Management as well examination and evaluation centre superintendents and teachers. While the news reports and analyses in the press seem to be shocked at the abysmal levels education in Bihar and in general in India have stooped too, I feel that such frauds will continue to turn up time and again with greater frequency in the coming days. It is easy for a discussion on education to degenerate into generalities in moments. So I will discuss my views specifically on what went wrong in Bihar despite the loud slogans of ‘good governance’.

Nitish Kumar who seems to be taking such stern action against the college authorities will be reluctant to admit that he is himself responsible for the way we have begun to look at education in the last few decades. Unlike Lalu Yadav who cared a fig for any kind of education at all, Nitish was keen to repair the educational setup in Bihar after he came to power.  But look at how he did it – he and his bureaucracy decided that in the first phase he must get all the kids inside the schools. He used bicycles and meals as the lure and these measures were not unsuccessful. But the educational planning was split into two stages – first the massive drive for high enrolments, after which a focus on quality. As a result it took him all of fifteen years to reach a point when he could even think of quality. In the meantime, a whole generation or more of students are out in the market, some of them turning into teachers with potentially lethal impact on the quality of education. Along with the enrolment drive of course, he decided to hire not thousands but lakhs of teachers on contractual basis, paying them salaries as low as Rs 5-6000 which was often paid late by 6-9 months. This ensured the teachers began to habitually depend on moonlighting for their livelihood, now an established practice in Bihar. I met dozens at a workshop that run grocery shops, flour mills and coaching classes during the school hours. In my experience the quality of the teachers was far from bad but they were people with seriously diminished self-respect. Nitish has ended up creating a whole cadre of these in Bihar in the last decade or so. The salaries have increased a bit now but it seems too late to repair the morale of the teaching community.

To go back to the issue of quality, the original plan was to first ensure quantity, meaning percentage of enrolment and then plan out the quality inputs – but this is disastrous. It is also a very mechanical way of thinking, a bane of planning in our times. At the end of the day, students are drawn to classes not because of bicycles or meals but the learning they receive in the classrooms. So what has happened in Bihar is a fracture of planning followed by a fracture and mangling of the education system that will take forever to repair. The reason is even if education in Bihar during the Lalu years was in a bad shape, we still had a rudimentary ‘culture’ of education in that the common man in Bihar knew what to expect of good education. Nitsh’ good governance has decimated this culture of education from Bihar and demotivated a whole generation of teachers. During the last few years when the contractual teachers agitated for better salaries, they were chased around the Patna roads and beaten up on a regular basis. The damage was more than physical.

No wonder today’s news carries a statement by Nitish claiming ‘When I assumed office in 2005, 12.5% students were out of school. Today that figure has dropped to 0.86%. Our first phase was to bring students to school for which we started the cycle yojana and uniform scheme. Now, our focus is on quality education’. Clearly the attitude has not changed and the Bihar CM is unable to see the long term damage he has done to his own cause, easily losing two to three generations of students to bad education. The same news report also has him calling the great mathematics coach of Bihar Anand Kumar the ‘face of Bihar’ – Anand Kumar runs a glamourized version of a cramming school, not unlike the coaching industry in Kota, and gets Bihari students into IITs. It may or may not be a worthwhile task depending on your viewpoint but do consider what it does to our IITs in the long run. So by splitting quality and quantity into two planning modules, we have ensured that there will be more Ruby Rais in the future endlessly, and the governments will continue to wonder what went wrong.  In the meantime, it is the likes of Anand Kumar, the Narayana Schools, the Kota gurus to take over the entire school system and turn our school system into a cramming factory at best or a V R College from Vaishali that is producing toppers like a rampant malignancy.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

A Veteran Journalist Misses the Point

It is one thing to question what anti-Trump demonstrators did in San Jose California and to imply that they are going Trumpian way[1]; but it is another thing to suggest that whole of American Politics is going Trump style.

Karen Tumulty is a veteran and credible journalist from Washington Post. But she makes a category mistake by clubbing entire American Politics with Trumpian ways. Proof:

- Mainstream Media, TV / CNN in particular, is learning to call the bluff of Trump. First, Trump got irritated and annoyed when reporters from Karen's paper started to question what did Trump do with the money raised for veterans. Now TV channels are learning to replay what exactly Trump said when he lies.

- Next, as Hillary Clinton herself wondered - "did Donald say all these things?"; she and her campaign are simply compiling what non-sense Trump has said so far. Hillary is finally getting a simple campaign strategy here - you do not have to 'spin or stretch' anything what Trump says to make a political point. That work is already done by Trump - his utterances are already stretched and extreme enough that a simple presentation of those 'utterances' in unvarnished format will do the job.[2]

Trump can again deny what he said when presented with a proof of his earlier position on any given topic. He will change his position one more time since in his world 'consistency' does not matter. That is all right, but by then it will be amply clear to Americans that the guy keeps talking contradictory things so as it is impossible to decide what he wants to propose and how reliably he will stick with his promises. It is all trash talk of a used car sales man:

Campaigning against Trump is not hard as Hillary Clinton is now finding - just put what Trump says in the context and then all those contradictions, bigotry, racism, fascism will come in plain sight for anyone to see. The harder task is to remove 'blinders' what Americans are wearing with an attitude "what worse can happen by putting this jack-ass in White House when these traditional Washington politicians have already damaged us so far?". When a veteran journalist like Tumulty paints all of America with the same brush and claims that Trump has succeeded in 'debasing our politics'; these journalists are doing the bidding for Trump.

Just because Paul Ryan surrenders to Trump does not mean America has given up to challenge Trump. Problems of Republican Party which wants to jump over the cliff along with Trump are not problems for the entire America.

What people need to understand is Trump and Republican Party may want to burn in flames of Nihilism, Non-Sense and Stupidity; but that does not mean a large set, possibly majority, of Americans wants to join that carnage. Hillary is starting finally to point out this 'reality' and responsible American Media needs to notice that. As long as Democrats are able to make 2016 election essentially a referendum on Trump; Americans will be compelled to see the impeding disaster of Trump Presidency and Trumpian Politics.

[1] - The fear in Democratic Party that violence as seen in San Jose CA enables Trump is right. Bernie has condemned it, Obama has scolded and Hillary as well disapproved it. But collectively Democratic Party Establishment needs to articulate opposition to such violence at Trump rallies in more forceful ways. Not allowing Trump to speak peacefully is basically reneging on the basic rule of politics - when your opponent is destroying himself, don't disturb. Of course, such cynicism apart, the constitutional rights of Trump and duty of every American to abide by laws require that we do not resort to violence at Trump rallies. That Trump started all this and he still advocates violence as his politics - that is a different matter. The whole point is to expose Trump and that gets hindered by any disruption of Trump rallies by his opponents. 

[2] - Equally Americans have nothing apart from Trump's utterances to assess his eligibility for White House. Famously he boasts of not having any experience in any elected office; then the only means Americans have is to go by his 'words'. His bankruptcy ridden financial empire; well, that is all good for him, how would that solve America's prosperity problem unless he wants to donate all of his wealth to Americans upon ascending to Oval Office?