Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Commentary: why SAARC 2016 is not happening

The SAARC logo
Although the track record of SAARC is rather dubious, this South Asian Group of nations is more about what may lie on the horizon as a hope for the subcontinent rather than solid achievements on the ground. It seems that most of the quarrels within the SAARC nations are outcomes of great intimacies that are near impossible to disentangle rather than distance or lack of incentives to connect. This is why nearly all the member nations, depending on the specific situations go through phases of gushing love and scorching hate. Among us all, it is strikingly only Bhutan, the smallest country that does not suffer from insobriety or imbalance of emotions. Also, clearly, it is Pakistan that rouses the strongest emotions most frequently and for good reasons too. It also represents in more ways than one the most glaring problems of the subcontinent with an intensity that can be extremely annoying. The reason may be that Pakistan has thus far failed to find sufficient legitimacy for its existence within its own self and needs constant bolsters from its political hostility towards India. SAARC is thus largely like a typical extended family from the subcontinent that has been through several rounds of severing without snipping its placental connections. This is a relationship of hostile dependence.

No wonder, as the SAARC 2016 summit dates approach, the Indian government has decided to stay away and has most likely been responsible for convincing Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan to follow suit. It is difficult to assess the wisdom behind the measure at this point since post-Uri attack, India is taking a series of measures to nettle and corner Pakistan with Pakistan actively retaliating in the most determined way. Even those who argue for moderation in matters related to Pakistan will have difficulty in finding fault with PM Narendra Modi’s decision to refuse Pakistan a place at the table so soon after the incidents at Pathankot and Uri where India lost a number of soldiers in surprise attacks by terrorists. This article provides a neat overview of the entire episode and also some idea of what may be brewing in the various national capitals at this very moment. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Can India keep river waters away from Pakistan?

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Footbridge on the Indus River in Pakistan
It took our Prime Minister Narendra Modi very little time to shift from the casual to the catastrophic in his policy towards Pakistan. Not long ago the Indian PM made a stop in Pakistan to greet the Pakistani premier on his birthday in the manner of a chummy neighbour, a status that Pakistan at its warmest best has never really deserved. Now it turns out India is using the rhetoric of sulk and anger to complain about Pakistan’s reactions to all the warm gestures emanating from India. While it is difficult to take seriously Pakistan’s continued concern with Kashmir given its own conduct in Pak Occupied Kashmir [POK], India’s growing concern with Baluchistan may be equally specious. Unlike Pakistan’s contiguity with Kashmir, India’s borders do not even directly touch the Baluchistan areas. In the meantime the people of all these areas suffer at the hands of the security forces of both these countries. This can only be seen as a case of continental ventriloquism resounding all over South Asia where the voices of the two significant populations go unheard, exposing the tenuous moral fibre of both the states. In this India as a democracy is definitely expected by the world community to talk and act more maturely and responsibly.  Instead we seem to be fast losing the taller moral pedestal generally accorded to a democratic nation with a stable leadership.

All this is the broad context for a new kind of rhetoric by our PM who has threatened to retaliate against Pakistan for the terrorist attacks on Pathankot and more recently Uri by rewriting the spirit of the Indus Water Treaty of long standing which was signed after long drawn negotiations between the two countries on sharing the waters of Indus and its tributaries.  The question is can India really do that? Anyone with common sense and some school physics will easily understand the point that if you obstruct a river from flowing it will flood your own homes. But of course India could reduce or even decimate the amount of water it releases by using it up in its own fields. But here again you do not need to be an expert to see the obvious limitation – you need to build dams to check the water flows and dams take decades to construct. It is indeed possible to hurt Pakistan even without breaking rules and guidelines of the Indus Treaty and by simply insisting on full usage of the entitled amount which India has failed to do in the past.  
Map of the Indus River basin

But there are other reasons why India will find it difficult to hurt Pakistan with water. As usual the Pakistani press has been prompt in listing the entire set of reasons that make it confident to the point of being smug. Even if one takes all these reasons with a pinch of salt, the fact remains that using water as a weapon may cause a grave shift in the sub-continental terms of relationship. Both China and Nepal have rivers flowing into India and India in turn empties its rivers into Bangladesh. What if the neighbouring countries begin to create trouble in the foreseeable future? India will only be left with its own bad precedent on the matter and will have little argument to offer at the international forums. As a columnist pointed out it is not surprising therefore that despite their fraught relationship and occasional wars the two countries have adhered to the water sharing treaty showing restraint in this one unique aspect of their relationship. To use water as weapon is thus like opening up one more battlefront and perhaps complicating the Indo-Pakistan story rather than resolving it. India’s Pakistan problem is indeed a vexed one and I am afraid I have failed to find a simple and workable solution suggested by any authority or politician. India has to live with this drag as even trying to isolate Pakistan is really of no avail. The international community is probably interested in the very opposite – namely keeping Pakistan as engaged as possible hoping that china will keep some kind of a leash on it. Even a supposedly rogue nation like North Korea is not shunned and it is the North Koreans themselves who have inflicted their shunning on their neighbours and the world in general. In brief, if Pakistan is able to hurt India mainly through its manipulations in Kashmir, it is the Kashmir problem that we need to address with greater maturity and generosity, a task that is also quite doable. Once we begin to do that, the Pakistan wolf will stop howling at our doorsteps. The fact remains that Pakistan needs India far more badly including reasons such as its own legitimacy, than India needs Pakistan.   

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hillary Trump Debate 1

It is clear that the first debate did not go well for Donald Trump. As most commentators said, he threw enough 'red meat' to keep his base happy; but unlikely to have added any new undecided or independent voters. He also left the taste of 'someone' who is not prepared for American Presidency.

On Trade, he did make compelling arguments to open the debate but those were not enough to 'knock out' Hillary. With figures and policy details, she held up her side and then there after in all segments of the debate she had clear upper hand. Arguing while being a 'pleasant and bit relaxed' personality, Hillary put forward a good case for herself.

Donald Trump was on defensive claiming he has a good temperament and winning judgement. Hillary replied very strongly giving examples of his bad temperament and unsuitability for the job. Another powerful example was when she reminded how NATO nations came to Afghanistan war after 9/11. It was completely presidential how she forcefully made the case for America's credibility while asserting 'words matter' and giving assurances to all allies that America will stand for her words. One gets a feeling, 'all that leadership' was flying above Donald's fancy hair.....

Now the task for Team Clinton will be to 'contain expectations' in remaining two debates and to continue her dominant performance.


Donald Trump continuously derided Hillary as a 'typical politician' through out the debate. He blames all bad things in this country on these politicians without acknowledging positives from these very politicians. But when it comes to business, he wants Americans to ignore 'small vendors he had stiffed' by looking at all those jobs created. In other words his argument is - 'there is some bad and lot good' with his business practices; but that same leeway he is not ready to give to politicians. Another strain of such an argument is when he claims to have taken advantages of legal loopholes in his bankruptcies while blaming the same politicians for passing 'loose laws and regulations'. Basically Hillary needs to take on Trump for the single brush stroke of "typical politician class talk" and argue that America may have problems but solution is not Donald Trump's so-called  apolitical circus show. She needs to argue that America needs a competent 'politician' to solve our problems. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Making sense of the political stampede in Uttar Pradesh

Ratnakar Tripathy

Akhilesh Yadav: all smiles does not work in politics!
Despite the CM Akhilesh Yadav’s assurance that all is well in the Samajwadi Party, anyone following the events in UP the last few days will shake his head and wonder, and perhaps wait for another roller coaster of events.  Although comparisons are often made between the Laloo clan in Bihar and the Mulayam clan in UP, the fact is the reigning Yadav clan in UP has shown itself to be an unwieldy one. Whereas Laloo was compelled by the unruly conduct of his brother in laws in Bihar to expel and neutralize them, Mulayam’s brood of the powerful in UP seems to be getting bigger and it now turns out rather unwieldy as well. Laloo’s family, despite the large number of children is more akin to a small nuclear family populated by relatively meek sisters and brothers. Mulayam’s family photograph would need a much more capacious frame. The point however is whether this large frame is now on the brink of being snipped to a manageable size since the very survival of the party depends on it.

In the past few days, the battle between Akhilesh and his uncle Shivpal Yadav has taken several turns. In the first phase Shivpal’s seemed the dominant faction with tacit blessing from Netaji as the SP Mulayam Yadav supremo is called. The trouble started when Akhilesh lost the post of the party president to Shivpal Yadav who in turn was deprived by Akhilesh of all his important cabinet portfolios. Apparently, a delicate balance between the uncle-nephew duo was upset and a turmoil set in. After Mulayam’s intervention however peace seems to have been restored with Akhilesh going back to status quo and restoring his uncle’s portfolios almost within the course of the day. Many newspaper columnists of course came to the hasty conclusion that Akhilesh has definitely emerged as the winner.  But only insiders had an idea of what was brewing behind the scenes and exactly why the uncle wants to upset the applecart so close to the UP Assembly elections in 2017.  Now the picture is largely clear – Shivpal was not acting as a blundering conspirer at all and behind all the disarray lay a very clear cut scheme. The scheme was to bypass Akhilesh and appoint the well-known Amar Singh as the General Secretary of the party at the national level. It is clear that Mulayam needs a fixer of the caliber of Amar Singh whose fixing prowess is widely acknowledged in the realms of politics, business and the film industry with a number of channels of behind the scenes communication with almost the entire gamut of political parties that matter in UP. Akhilesh is known to loathe Amar Singh and represents a clean SP without the usual dross that characterize party politics in UP. We thus have in front of us a vivid display of an enormous generational gulf between Mulayam, a clannish ex-wrestler and often an unscrupulous manipulator and Akhilesh, a young developmentalist and something of an idealist more akin to Nitish Kumar than any other politician in the region. But the fact is Akhilesh will find it difficult to unburden himself of his uncles and other millstones from the past.  

Throughout his first stint as the state CM, Akhilesh found his development agenda impeded not just by his uncles and cousins but also by a number of prominent members from his father’s durbar. The interesting part is that Mulayam the father and Mulayam the politician do not always sync. In a very telling photograph that went viral on the social media for its strong visual message, Akhilesh is seen in an angry outburst in front of his father in public with Mulayam glaring back at him in equally heady rage.  Even if they remain a happy family, the raw tension between the son and the father could well be the best summary for this ongoing political tale. Clearly, Amar Singh, the uber cool fixer is likely to have many a fidgety moments in the presence of Akhilesh right till the assembly elections in 2017.  Akhilesh’s dream of transforming the very core of the SP milieu must wait in abeyance for a long time to come when natural aging and superannuation of the older order may bring him the support he needs.         

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Beyond Partisan Politics of America

With Trump rising in polls, it is perfectly possible that despite a favorable playing field, Hillary losses 2016 election. You would have a Republican President who is going against the decades old pro-Trade Orthodoxy of GOP. With non-popular Republican President in White House and public's confidence in Washington at low; you will have popular, relatively young ex-President Obama still on American Political Scene. With Trump in White House, Congress will be swept by Republicans. All of disgruntled Democrats will be looking at the defeated leader Hillary. Obviously she will not be the  Democratic leader at that point.

Enter the new-bipartisan politics where on some specific issues politicians across the political spectrum will come together. Case in point - Obama taking help of John Kasich to pass Trade deals. He assembled an impressive array of folks - Kasich, Bloomberg, Paulson, IBM head and so on. One can imagine Obama is able to rally entire Silicon Valley, Hollywood and few new alternative energy players from Red States like Texas. Whether trade deal passes or not is besides the point. But Americans will start seeing the possibility of politics moving out of Washington and it's rut of partisan rancor. Let Trump do all the damage he wants in Washington, but if popular political trust is outside of Washington with others; you can see how pressure would build both on Congress and White House to respond to such popular activism. That may be one way out for Americans to get through the political logjam.

Republican Party is not ready to quit failed 'tax cuts for rich formula'. Trump has rejected GOP Orthodoxy in so many areas, but not in individual taxation. Hillary has not made this myopic vision of GOP as the center piece of her election campaign. She has calculated that she does not want to fight Republican elected officials and their voters; she wants their votes while focusing this election solely about Trump. Probably with sinking polls, she has reached the limit of this strategy as Donald's new campaign manager reduces his self-destructive behavior. But in absence of a debate about 'wrong Republican taxation policy'; Americans do not know what is wrong with the economic policy implemented from Washington. Hillary and Democrats are not making any special efforts to educate Americans about advantages of Centrist Taxation Policy. Consequent deficit due to huge Trump tax cuts will only result in precipitous reduction of welfare funding, death of Obama Care and more misery to vast numbers of Americans. If none of these consequences are getting debated in electoral politics, there is a high possibility of:
- issue based bi-partisan politics expanding further but
- colliding with rising Hard Left of Bernie Sanders style. 

In Hillary's defeat what we are looking at is: ex-President Obama leading bipartisan issue based politics outside of Washington while Bernie reviving Hard Left electoral politics inside Washington.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Half Lion – an entirely readable book

by Uday Oak

Politics makes strange bedfellows is an oft-repeated idiom. But politics is much more than that. It has more twists and turns, more irrational and more ‘defining’ moments than any C category daily soaps.
Remember the phrase ‘analysis till paralysis’? Or ‘no decision is the decision’?
Everyone remembers that BJP got only two seats in 1984 parliamentary elections conducted after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
One of these two was from its stronghold Gujarat. In fact, the person who won the 1984 election went on to win 1989, 1991, 1996 and 1998 parliamentary elections from the same constituency, and became a minister in Vajpayee government.
The other seat was won by a one-time-wonder from the other coast of India, Andhra Pradesh. C Janga Reddy, a teacher from Hanamkonda won that election. And then quietly dissolved from the active political scene.
The congress candidate, who managed to lose an election in the biggest sympathy wave (post Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984) India has seen in its existence, had some premonition of the impending defeat. He also contested from another constituency in Maharashtra, won and went on to become Union Minister.
Then, in 1991, he was ‘retired’ from active politics by Rajiv Gandhi and didn’t contest. In fact, he almost made up his mind to give up politics and accept an offer to become a religious head of a mutt. Rajiv was assassinated and the person in question was catapulted smack in the center, to become Prime Minister of India.
This is one way of looking at Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao. And if one looks at his overall life and career, a rather hebetudinous way. This boy from an Andhra village single-mindedly focused on educating himself. He picked up languages almost effortlessly. He was one of the three disciples of the revolutionary leader, Swami Ramanand Teerth to become Chief Minister of a state. The other two were Shankarrao Chavan of Maharashtra and Veerendra Patil of Karnataka.
He was quite a radical, relinquishing Chief Ministership in some 18 months and accepting life in exile, rather than toning down an aggressive progressive stance to which he had already committed. Yes, PV Narasimha Rao took such a strong pro-poor, pro-land-ceiling stand that he had to spend the next seven years in political exile, which he spent in visiting USA and becoming techno-savvy. He was the first (and one of the very few) active Indian politician to start not just using, but also becoming very good in computers, including programming.
PV Narasimha Rao was recently dug out of the archives and remembered as India completed 25 years of ‘globalization-liberalization-privatization’ (GLP). PV Narasimha Rao not only sowed the seeds, but ensured that the GLP stays here, takes roots and becomes a reasonable success.
Vinay Sitapati’s biography ‘Half Lion’ captures the entire journey in a painstaking way. The style is tedious at times, but the subject matter is so captivating that one tends to take a deep breath and trudge through some less-captivating pages in the hope of getting into more captivating pages. And one is not disappointed.
Sitapati had access to the ‘private papers’ of PV Narasimha Rao. And PV was an avid note-taker. So, Sitapati could dispel (and has dispelled) some carefully installed myths (‘PV was sleeping when Babri Masjid was being demolished’ is one such).
The bigger challenge in writing this biography was not to collate facts, which though a humongous effort in itself, is still more in ‘industrious’ category than ‘cerebral’. This book has managed to strike a very decent balance between ‘industrious’ and ‘cerebral’.
When one looks ‘objectively’ at PV Narasimha Rao’s life, one can’t but think of our home-grown and mega-complicated epic, Mahabharat. Rather than hinting inane analogies such as “he was like Karna / Arjuna / …”, let us focus on the whole gamut of human emotions and complex relations. PV Narasimha Rao’s life had a noteworthy complexity of the highest order. So, a political leader without a mass-base, became Chief Minister solely because Indira Gandhi favored him, ran foul of her and got into an exile when he had just crossed fifty (by Indian political standards, a kid), got into her good books again to land up in the Home ministry, showed his lack of mass-base by losing from Hanamkonda in 1984 and his realism by winning from Ramtek, was de-facto Number Two for Rajiv Gandhi, ran foul of him when Rajiv lost power, got back into reckoning by pacifying Rajiv’s widow, and finally ran foul of her. The last part is quite dirty and tragic. PV Narasimha Rao was virtually ostracized by Congress in his last years. His dead body was denied entry to Congress headquarters. His family was not-so-subtly forced to conduct the last rites in Hyderabad and not in Delhi. The reason was, otherwise his family and followers would have clamored for (and horror of horror, might have succeeded) in building a memorial in Delhi for the man. To put the matter straight, some people hold PV in high esteem even today. One such is Manmohan Singh.
The book gives an insiders’ view of all these events and more.
In short, an entirely readable book.

Half - Lion: How PV Narasimha Rao Transformed India
Author: Vinay Sitapati
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
MRP: INR 699

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Commentary: what exactly is chickengunya

Swollen feet due to Chickengunya
In the past few weeks, anyone you talk to seems to have some acquaintance or the other who is suffering from chickengunya. While viral fevers that we are accustomed to can be bad enough when the strain going around has severe symptoms, chickengunya is an especially severe case. It has in the past few days created a political turmoil in Delhi where the AAP ministry and the Lieutenant Governor as well as the BJP are busy flinging accusations of apathy towards the affected public. The situation is close to panic as a large number of workers and employees are reporting absent. The AAP ministry has tried fogging in certain areas but it is not clear if this will be very effective. As a result the general public is left to fend for itself and the patients often do not even know how to read the symptoms even at a lay level.
Red denotes countries with current or previous local transmission of CHIKV, per CDC as of July 2015.

This article is very useful as it provides basic information on chickengunya in a capsule form. Clearly, all one can do by way of prevention is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes as like many other viral infections there is no specific treatment for this affliction. The patients get treated for symptoms and the severity of the disease varies from individual to individual.   

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why Rahul has to visit a madrasa after praying at Ayodhya

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Rahul Gandhi greeting the public on Eid
Although we have endlessly debated secularism in our country for the past few decades what it has all amounted to in practice is that the political parties and the electoral candidates take turns at placating the different segments of their constituencies. The simple reason for this is India in reality is a conglomeration of almost countless minorities, some or many of whom may come together on occasions that require coalescing on specific counts. It is not just religion and caste but even region, language, skin colour, sub-region that may play the determining role in forming our identity for the moment on a given occasion but also in a more enduring sense. So secularism is in reality a guiding principle only as an expedient that helps a politician succeed in carrying out acts of balancing all the time. It of course depends on what kind of ‘balance’ a politician is aiming at. I am writing this article just to illustrate what seems a trivial or ignorable feature of our political system is instead rather central to it. According to a number of reports, recently when the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited Ayodhya and offered his prayers at the Hanuman Garhi, he promptly followed it up with a visit to the local madrasa in Jaunpur and shared lunch with the students and the clerics. Of course these trips must be carefully preplanned but the sequence of the two events marks what may be the core political instinct of public figures in our country, namely to take turns at reassuring or placating the opposing sides, in this case the two mega-communities of Hindus and Muslims in the region of eastern Uttar Pradesh. This however is how politicians all over the world behave and may be one of the commonest features of a democratic political system. But hidden and unstated behind the acts is the attempt at placating the communal elements and the extreme margins on both the sides.

What seems rather benignly a balancing act and a habit of strategy may often amount to political endorsement and even the very opposite of a ‘balance’. It is now increasingly clear that both the main political parties, the BJP and the Congress and some others like Samajwadi Party in UP thrive on social disharmony and for that reason have a vital stake in it. The difference between the Congress and the BJP is really a matter of degrees, although that difference is of deep significance at this point in history when the BJP is gambling on unforeseen consolidation of Hindu votes and is increasingly willing to either target the Muslim voter or to altogether ignore him. Recently, the chronic communal malaise in the Muzaffarnagar district of western UP made it abundantly clear that SP depends very heavily on Hindu-Muslim polarization and would like to be seen as a bulwark against the BJP by the Muslim voter. All these may support my contention here that the so-called balancing act, whatever its aims does not really lead to a balance or some kind of homeostasis. The purpose is to sustain a desirable degree of confrontation between the two communities. The trouble is calibrating a desired degree of confrontation never works - disharmony can escalate into heavy tension and violence and go beyond the control of the politician. It is this perpetual state of simmer that allows the professional engineers of communal riots to have a riot on order and in many instances when the two communities enjoy great mutual harmony, the riots become harder to organize or provoke and require much more perseverance. While Rahul Gandhi’s act of alternating between the Hindu and Muslim poles somewhat harmless, the recent move by the Haryana government to check samples of Biryani from restaurants is however a clear act of provocation towards the Muslims in the state and elsewhere. It has even brought a new phrase into existence – ‘beef-policing’. The Haryana drive is aimed specifically at the Mewat, a region of Haryana least developed but also known for a large Muslim population and a history of high levels of uninhibited mingling among the two communities. Bhagwandas Morwal, a Hindi novelist friend from Mewat known for writings based on the region has put up a series of Facebook posts in the past few days alleging a conspiracy to upset the amity between the two communities in a region with almost no history of mutual strife. Clearly, the ruling party has decided that targeting the Muslims is the only way to muster the support of the larger Hindu segments, bringing them under a common political roof. This is a gamble of a high order unlikely to succeed and has already backfired in a number of instances. But the problem is the Congress party is neither in a position nor willing to face the BJP frontally on the issue, fearing the loss of the Hindu voter, thus making itself a prisoner of a dilemma that it cannot resolve.

This in brief is where our national politics stands with significant regional variations. If parties like AAP and JD[U] or Laloo Yadav’s RJD are able to challenge the might of the BJP on a limited scale with various degrees of success, it is only because unlike the Congress they are sufficiently bold in their rhetoric and are not burdened with a guilty conscience and a flawed historical track record.     


Friday, September 09, 2016

Commentary: BSP's prospects in UP Assembly elections 2017

The BSP symbol and flag
Given the miserable state of the Indian media these days and its culture of opinion-mongering, the audience and the reader are feeling resigned to the degraded status of the news reports and data seen on the TV and the newspapers. This is particularly applicable to election reporting where distortions are often finely planned and of course highly motivated. So much so very often even the news headlines serve the purpose of misleading the reader rather than neutrally indicating the news content. The chosen article here by one of the best known academicians writing on India is based on solid facts culled from several sources and a very welcome exception. Although the article in question revolves around Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP] and its prospects in the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, it is in reality a comprehensive analysis applicable to the wide gamut of competitors in the fray. It also allows the reader if she so prefers to differ with the author duo since the relevant facts and data have been put squarely on the table.      

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Will the misuse of sedition charges come to an end now

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Just as the literal meaning of the word ‘sedition’ suggests it is indeed a serious charge not to be used lightly in any kind of context. But anyone familiar with the social media in India knows how frequently the term is being used these days to typify and label those with dissimilar views. Of course, the moment the label ‘sedition’ or anti-national is used, any kind of dialogue or conversation must come to an end immediately. But social media apart, when a government begins to use it frequently as a legal charge and not just rhetoric, matters indeed take a different and dangerous turn, alarming all those citizens who wish to see the Indian democracy deepen day by day instead of being eroded and diluted by a ruling regime. One also begins to wonder who within the government is taking these legal decisions and using sedition like loose change on a nearly daily basis and whether it reflects the core policies of the government. That these legal cases are not an aberration is however fairly clear now as the frequency of such as charge has lately been on the rise.

Here are the figures indicating the rise - going by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report from 2014, altogether 47 sedition cases were reported from nine Indian states in 2014. Quite a few among these did not involve violence or incitement to violence, a pre-requisite for a sedition charge. According to the NCRB figures, a total of 58 people were arrested in connection with these cases, but the government managed only one conviction. One of course has to understand the travails an individual must go through defending oneself against the mighty state, with all its resources and the grinding determination that comes with it.

This is why the Indian Supreme Court’s recent ruling over the matter is very welcome. It seems we are increasingly needing the Supreme Court’s rulings to prevent arbitrary definitions imposed on words and concepts that lie at the very core of any democracy. As this report informs us, the Supreme Court felt the need to ‘clarify’   that protest and criticism of the government, however severe cannot be equated with sedition. Further, the highest body posited that ‘the acts must be intended to have the "effect of subverting the government" by violent means, and the acts must be intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace and order by resort to violence and must incite violence.’ Otherwise, the Court ruled criticism of a government does not even amount to defamation, forget sedition! But what is worrying here is that the Indian democracy needs clarification of the sort made by the Supreme Court, that an average educated Indian already possessed till yesterday. Thanks to a lawyer and a vigilant citizen like Prashant Bhushan that we are getting back our good old ‘clarity’. Bhushan in his plea cited the examples of sedition charges being slapped on agitators protesting against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, which are just some of the instances of misuse of the legal provision. Only last month Bhushan’s NGO ‘Common Cause’ had moved the court after Amnesty International India was booked on a charge of sedition on 16 August after a deonstration against the alleged atrocities of the Indian government in Kashmir. Interestingly, The Supreme Court also asked all authorities to stick to the guidelines laid down by a Constitution bench 54 years ago while invoking the sedition law. The five-judge bench had ruled in 1962 that the sedition law could be activated only if "violence and public disorder" had been incited.
‘Any written or spoken words that have implicit in them the idea of subverting the government by violent means will be punishable.
•  But strong words used to express disapprobation (strong disapproval) of government measures, with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means, would not come within the section.
•  Comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of the actions of the government without exciting those feelings that generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence will not be penal.
•  Disloyalty to the government is not the same thing as commenting in strong terms on the measures or acts of the government or its agencies so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means.
•  Freedom has to be guarded against becoming a licence for vilification and condemnation of the government established by law in words that incite violence or have the tendency to create public disorder.
 A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.’

Hopefully, while the citizens have a fairly lucid definition of sedition in their heads, the government will now correct its views on the matter and follow the straight path of democracy instead of repeated attempts at corrrosive interpretations of the good old rules and precedents. 

Monday, September 05, 2016

2016 American Election - Continued Commentary #6

Possible electoral votes for Hillary in 2016
Here is how I see 2016 American Presidential election from my perch on this Labor Day:

- In any contemporary American election cycle due to demographics you start with the Blue Wall: all states which Kerry won in 2004 election. Kerry fought the election against an incumbent president and Keery's campaign was not any spectacularly special or something. If at all Bush Campaign essentially 'swift boated' it. So despite all these odds, John Kerry carried 18 reliable Democratic states to garner 252 electoral votes. Those states for sure will give Hillary 246 electoral votes in 2016 election cycle.[1]

- In the current cycle, since Tim Kaine, Virginia Senator, is Hillary's running mate; that ticket will carry Virginia taking Hillary's total to 259 electoral votes. She had been running strong in Virginia and the state itself has been turning / governed  by Democrats lately.

- Another reliable state which one can safely include in Blue Wall for this cycle is Colorado, needing Hillary only 4 electoral votes thereafter. New Mexico is the key state where Hillary wins the election when it's 5 electoral votes fall in the Blue column. Polls have been very sporadic in that state, but Obama carried the state both in 2008 and 2012 though in 2012 his voter share decreased from around 56% to 53%. If I were the Hillary campaign, I would absolutely make sure that the state is firmly locked for Hillary. 

- Bottom line, at this point Hillary has already won the election. Essentially Kerry States + Virginia + Colorado bring her on the verge and New Mexico takes her over the line. One can understand at this point, how the deck is completely stacked against Donald Trump.

- Things become interesting after this point. Hillary is running strong in Florida and with Trump's off putting anti-Hispanic rhetoric, chances are that she will win the state. Jews, retirees and young voters; all will back her. Interestingly, the state may go for a split vote for down ballot, voting Republican Marco Rubio for Senate. 

- One of the interesting contests to watch this year is North Carolina which Obama carried in 2008 but lost in 2012 by 2%. With Supreme Court firmly standing with the lower court ruling of throwing out the racist election law of North Carolina; African American population of the state is fully energized. Asian and professionals in the state are likely to go against Trump in a big way too. I would expect Hillary to carry this state in 2016.

- In Nevada, Hillary's strong traditional labor union backing is expected to push her over the line. However, Trump had had some surprising pockets of strength in Nevada earlier in the campaign

- Barack Obama won Ohio both times, but I am bit ambivalent for Democrats in this cycle. Democratic Senate Candidate Ted Strickland is turning into a dead weight and hence unlikely to provide any heft to Hillary campaign. It is not just non-college educated White Male Worker vote bank which is susceptible to Trump's anti-immigration, anti-trade talk; I do not get a sense that Democrats are convincing much in that state. It is quite possible that Ohio will fall out from the Blue Column in 2016 cycle. 

- In the head turner category I would put final 3 states - Arizona, Georgia and Iowa. Demographers have been warming up to a possibility of Arizona and Georgia turning blue for a while. With Trump candidacy, one can see how Hispanics in both these states will vote en-block for Hillary[2]. Additionally in Georgia, movements like Black Lives Matter have made Black Vote very alert.

- The biggest change in 2016 for Dem side is the decisive move towards Trump in Iowa. Obama carried the state both times, but with the popular Republican Governor[3] and his state party apparatus backing Trump with both hands; the state is suddenly a tough sale for Hillary. She came third against Obama in 2008 primaries, so seeds of mistrust are already there.[4] Plus a popular Republican senator, that willy, Grassley is for reelection. My suspicion is Grassley campaign is pulling votes to Trump. In addition, for all their hyper sensitive political awareness; I have a feeling that latent racism among White voters of Iowa is also finding an expression in Trump politics. All in all if Hillary wins Iowa, it will be a head turning result in 2016 election cycle.

- What about down ballot elections? I have not looked into those carefully but as like most observers, I expect House to remain Republican. With Senate, Democrats have some chance to take the control. By all means Democrats need to make a full play for Congressional victories, that is the only way any progressive agenda is likely to advance. Otherwise Hillary's election will be essentially a backstop for further policy damages from GOP. But it is not yet clear how the cards will play out on Congressional elections. Comparatively, Presidential election is lot more clear at this stage.


[1] - Those electoral votes reduced from 252 to 246 because Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania lost 1 electoral vote each while New York lost 2; after the electoral vote adjustments of 2010. Washington state gained 1 electoral vote. So the same set of states yield 6 electoral votes less. (5 + 2, 7 lost, 1 gained = 6 total loss).

[2] - But Media is also detecting a bit of weakness in Hispanic support for Hillary

[3] - Iowa governor Branstad is the longest serving governor in the entire American political history!

[4] - Hillary squeaker win over Bernie in 2016 gives her camp some hope. Her ground game is strong, but Republicans in Iowa will be equally organized and motivated.