Tuesday, October 03, 2017

It's the last time you're gonna hurt me, no?

As America digest the mayhem in Las Vegas, many would be asking whether it is the last time. One wishes the life is as simple as Tom Petty wished in this song. But that is not so. 

Only when 'businesses' start hurting - you cannot have mega opening screenings of new movies, nor you can have open music concerts and festivals; Americans and their coward politicians would start responding to 'the culture of guns'. 

Death of a mega Rock and Roll star like Tom Petty signals the end of baby-boomer driven 'politically meaningful' music of a kind. (Just look at the production design of this song, it is bursting at seams with Baby Boomer Lifestyle; I loved it.) 

With the unabashed growth of NRA backed '2nd Amendment at all cost' ideology, we may be very well seeing an end of America's Public Sphere where the rockers of the bygone era enthralled the world with their music in public forums. Such public acts are proving to be difficult to pull off given the danger of a 'lone madman with a gun' (so far all these Americans Massacres are done by men only; predominantly White males)

Unless and until the price of senseless 'gun culture' starts biting Americans in day-to-day life; it is not going to be the last time, Tom. But in any case, 'thanks a lot'. 

RIP Tom, love.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Commentary: who rode the economy to the brink?

This article by a former finance minister is likely to prove a watershed in India’s recent history for the following reasons:

·        It breaks a long spell of lies, euphemisms and ostrich like conduct on the part of the official experts and economists by admitting a wide range of plain facts from the economy.

·        It duly places the demonetization and the GST measures against the policy backdrop and pinpoints a great economic opportunity lost by the government.

·        It places the responsibility where it truly belongs

·        It is a voice that belongs within the BJP fold and thus has greater credibility in a noisy political atmosphere

·        It is also a strong political statement – it clearly admits that the atmosphere of fear within the BJP circles is preventing the party leaders from speaking out. Clearly, this applies even more strongly to the ordinary citizens and the intellectuals, and some sections of the media as well.

Soon after the demonetization move, Modi during an address to the Indian community in Japan had clapped his hands in sadistic glee, taking much pleasure in the sufferings of those were running helter-skelter trying to recover their monies. Now his karma, as they say, sits on his work desk staring him in the face like an ogre refusing to budge.  

Why BJP is less about unacceptable past and more about undesirable future

Ratnakar Tripathy

Decades went by as the critics of RSS-BJP spent their entire energy on emphasizing and explaining the both as obscurantists and regressive forces standing in the way of modernity and progress. In the past three years after the BJP came to power, we have seen the same cycle of critiques repeat again and again, the rubric of the entire rhetoric being the persistent allegiance of the BJP to a false vision of the past. And thus we continue attacking the animal with great ferocity precisely where it hurts the least and rather often leaves it unaffected. The main reason may be that while the liberals in India have altogether exited the past or presume thus, the common citizen in the country still adheres to the good old symbols that the BJP gathers brick by brick to erect its monumentally repulsive edifice of Hindutva. I believe that the Indian voter has begun to learn that its religious symbols and beliefs may be related to the official Hindutva in the most distant sense possible. The daily political discourse broadcast through the media and the mundane struggles on the streets often provide the sort of education that can never come from the lectern. So the mystique of BJP’s cow, its saints so-called, its yoga and its Ayurveda, its contempt and fear of women and girls, its reverence for the Sanskrit texts, its hunger for raw power or Shakti, its apotheosis of masculinity that at times seems to mimic the Wahabi Arabs – all these are now getting unraveled one after the other as more and more eyes are left peeled. Soon the common citizen will begin to find the BJP’s extreme version of the common beliefs and biases unbearably ugly and damaging to normal social life.   

It is now time that democratically inclined intellectuals let the cows and the saints be. As for women, with some support from the men, they are in no mood to be cowed down. The agitations in Rajasthan, Gujarat and more recently in BHU, UP are ample evidence that they are not waiting for arguments. With the opposition seemingly lacking the will and the ability, a number of agitations in various parts of the country despite going unreported will soon end the opposition’s slumber is how I take it. Add to it the overall economic crisis looming with equal menace for all the sections, including the several sectors of big business. Cow urine or yogic contortions are certainly not going to see us out of the mess visibly awaiting us at the horizon. And how the hell do you demonstrate and establish decisively that the value of a cow’s life can never be greater than that of a human being? I am not willing to invest my precious time in forging arguments to convince the bovinely oriented dumbass! Or even the paid software propagandist employee who would lose his precious job and monthly car installment if he ditched his mother cow in the favour of reason and ordinary human goodwill. 

I am willing however to repeatedly, indeed endlessly demonstrate two fundamental points. First, the BJP’s main concern is a future where inclusion and human considerations are missing, the environment is violated, the economically and educationally deprived continue to remain so, where land is grabbed from the poor peasant and the forest dweller, where resources are gifted for free to mining companies, the real estate, and the factory owner.  

Second, I am also keen to invest all my argumentative energies to demonstrate that whatever little we have achieved by way of a democratic polity, social order and system including free speech in India in the last century is sought to be negated by the present regime. The cow and the saints are just proxies and alibis for a regime that is single-mindedly looking at an undesirable future that yokes the bullet train with Brahmanism. The obscurantist thrust of the BJP is thus a proxy for its technocratic vision of future where money and technology reign and human life is devalued progressively with state violence taking centre stage. That is the kind of fight we have on our hands. So don’t sit weaving arguments against the BJP's version of the past and aim at the future we do not want. The BJP wants both modernity and progress but entirely of its own kind!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Commentary: the Indian economy in a hole

It is not very often that the expert economists and the layman agree so nearly on the state of the economy we seem to do today in India. The only difference is the laity is bewildered by the irrationality of the demonetization and the GST measures and is left wondering if they are missing something. The trained economist may be in a better position to get over the prolonged harassment caused by these two measures and assure us coolly that something is indeed very wrong. If the government’s solution to what may become a snowballing crisis is full rural electrification by the end of 2018 by way of incentive, the decision makers are clearly quite clueless on the policy front. According to this article, there isn’t really much the government can do except some tinkering and adding to the pile of promises already made in rapid succession.

It is now very likely that soon history will look at the two milestone measures of this government as self-inflicted injuries of the worst kind, imposed as they were when the economy was already in a vulnerable state. We have no clear idea who the economic advisors behind these moves were although some neo-liberal economists continue to assure us that things are not that bad and that India will eventually pull out of the mess. This is a bit like appreciating the Mumbai citizen’s resilience during the heavy floods without doing anything about this annual routine.

The implications of such economic forecast are gruesome since the economists quoted do not even take agricultural sector into account where again matters are not in a good shape. It is likely that like Sikar in Rajasthan, we may see more agitations and unrest in the coming years as various socio-economic segments take to the streets either in convergence or separately.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Old Guard Stands Again

"As I have repeatedly stressed, health care reform legislation ought to be the product of regular order in the Senate. Committees of jurisdiction should mark up legislation with input from all committee members, and send their bill to the floor for debate and amendment. That is the only way we might achieve bipartisan consensus on lasting reform, without which a policy that affects one-fifth of our economy and every single American family will be subject to reversal with every change of administration and congressional majority.

I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case. Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.

We should not be content to pass health care legislation on a party-line basis, as Democrats did when they rammed Obamacare through Congress in 2009. If we do so, our success could be as short-lived as theirs when the political winds shift, as they regularly do. The issue is too important, and too many lives are at risk, for us to leave the American people guessing from one election to the next whether and how they will acquire health insurance. A bill of this impact requires a bipartisan approach.Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating in good faith to fix some of the problems with Obamacare. But I fear that the prospect of one last attempt at a strictly Republican bill has left the impression that their efforts cannot succeed. I hope they will resume their work should this last attempt at a partisan solution fail.

I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won't be available by the end of the month, we won't have reliable answers to any of those questions.

I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it. The bill's authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.

I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can."

-- Senator John McCain (R, AZ) 

Senator McCain's friendship with Senator Lindsey Graham is well known. But he does not want to subvert 'what is right', for his love towards his friend.

I am not qualified to speculate what motivates Senator McCain to take these 'principled stands' regardless of what a tin-pot president says about him. Senator McCain is way 'too rich in his moral capital' for we mortals to engage in any kind of accounting of where his 'moral compass lies'. Remember he is defending the legacy of  Barack Obama who defeated him convincingly in 2008. What matters is whether 'common, needy Americans' benefits from what Senator McCain is doing and the resounding answer is 'yes'.

Yah, we know we have decayed, our democracy is not pure; but the communique what Senator McCain published at least points us in the right direction. In the Trump era where Fake News dominate, that is not a mean achievement.

Thank you, Senator McCain.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Most welcome, dear turncoat journalist

Ratnakar Tripathy

Although decades ago I had some brief snatches of conversation with Aditya Sinha, the former editor in chief at DNA till some time ago, I cannot really say I knew him except as an exemplary crime reporter at the Times of India, Delhi office. This was decades ago when a journalist’s devotion to facts and his investigative urge won him due respect. Decades later he has made a strong impact not just on me but many others by switching sides – moving sharply away from the pro-Modi camp and turning to Rahul Gandhi with a look of hope. Those wont to psychoanalyzing on the basis of flimsy material may see in this shift traces of bipolarity. Although one has to admit that the switch is extreme since at some point Sinha was so fiercely anti-Rahul, using such strong language that he was threatened with legal action from Rahul’s side. And now he says – ‘My reassessment of Rahul is not because of the 'anyone is better than Modi' argument, though that is a given.’ The title of his recent article, mind you is equally strong and unambiguous Why I changed my mind about Rahul’. I have not underscored and used bold here for nothing.

It is easy to read the article as a sign of political fickleness or opportunism, although it’s rather difficult for anyone to make the accusations stick. I am not sure Sinha may gain much or indeed anything by choosing the timing for the shift that he has, having cut athwart the political spectrum so sharply. I am aware that in the cynical moral climate we today have, it is easy to dismiss the simple confession, a simple wearing of one’s heart on one’s sleeves or read obscure personal motives with pretense to insight, and I wish to leave this line of thinking behind. For me Sinha’s reasons for his action are entirely his business, and I wish to see him as bellwether case.  I believe he will prove a trendsetter in the next couple of years. Why am I encouraged to read him thus?

I do not wish to present here a nuanced analysis of specific policies of the NDA regime, since the series of disasters they produced is evident to everyone except the flippant TV spokesmen and presenters. I want to start by reminding that the UPA undeniably created a deeply anomic atmosphere through its political non-communication and policies. It did really feel like we are part of a political universe tormented by a sucking silence with no sense of anything happening anywhere. And then we found relief in Modi, or so some of the most sensible women and men thought. The relief came in the shape of a harsh din, menacing noises breaking the silence of a whole electoral term. The din has now escalated to a crescendo and the silence is filled with violence and gore. I am aware that this description is short on facts and perhaps just bad poetry. But how else does one even begin to describe the mood of the nation or at least its intelligentsia?  And where do you find dependable facts in the age of fake news? After all even facts require some minimal consensus and willingness to stare at the truth in its face.

I wish to wind up with a proposition that I want you to examine carefully. While for intellectuals and academics it will always be interesting to examine the ethical and ideological continuities between the Congress and the BJP, the time has now come to properly appreciate the fundamental breach between the two. Of late, there has been a talk of altering the Indian constitution radically and even change the colours of the national flag. All on the basis of a single electoral victory, however convincing? It would be tragic at this moment to focus on the historical continuities between the Congress and the BJP family, when the BJP itself is disowning the seven decades of our democratic heritage.  Except for the factories and the dams, the BJP is not willing to accept even an iota of all that has been achieved since 1947.

My guess is Sinha came to this conclusion with great clarity and we owe him a debt for sharing it with us.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sobering words on Hindi Day from our President Kovind

Ratnakar Tripathy

In times when nearly all the pleasant sounding news turns out to be fake and all the dependable news is getting unpleasanter by the day, it is so very heartening to hear our president give some sober advice to the Hindi zealots on the annual Hindi day at a function held recently! The president observed that the cheerleaders of Hindi are in the habit of antagonizing the speakers of other languages by their insistence on imposing their language on others. As a result, all the attempts at the promotion and advocacy by the Hindi supporters end up backfiring. This happened recently in Karnataka when protestors blackened signboards at a Metro station, earning the language avoidable hostility and a fresh stint of dislike among the local populace that had had no occasion for such anger till provoked. With a large population of the Hindi speaking population employed in Bangalore including a fairly significant labour population, the multilingual Bangalore society that was spontaneously taking to Hindi word by word, sentence by sentence may now show resistance that you often see in Tamilnadu.  

What the zealots do not seem to get into their heads despite the several decades of violent protests is that a language grows when it’s needed or preferred and not due to policy dictats. Way back, I remember when my school authorities tried to impose a laughably silly policy of ‘afternoon conversations only in English’ among students, the school turned into silent graveyards during the entire duration. The purpose behind the move to improve our English speaking skills was thus given a quiet burial. The fact is Hindi has grown largely through its cinema and the media, apart from political communication, commerce and large scale migrations. Increasingly, with politicians and businessmen trying to make a dent in North India, Hindi is already inching closer to becoming a second link language in street terms, and even the first pan-Indian language among the quasi-literate who cannot speak English. This is leading to some interesting breeds of Hindi-dominated pidgins all over the country. Unlike earlier the Hindi speaking populace rarely break into contemptuous jeering at the most exotic of south Indian or north eastern accents and smug amusement is all we now show at these phonetic adventures of non-Hindi speakers. I feel the worshipers of Hindi should take satisfaction in this spontaneous growth instead of making so much ado over a lost cause.

The president had another point to make, a token one perhaps but of a great emotional import – the Hindi speaking people should learn the greeting words from the other languages such as ‘aadab’ in Urdu and ‘vadakkam’ in Tamil by way of creating general goodwill and a gesture of acceptance instead of derision. The Hindi zealots may have found such a generous gesture on the part of our first citizen somewhat out of place on a day when Hindi should have received all the devout attention, but I entirely agree that we, the Hindi speakers have been very small hearted in more than one sense. On the one hand we deign to believe that the growth of Hindi depends on our schmaltzy fantasies, and on the other indulge in what can only be termed ‘linguistic cruelty’ of imposing the language on others either overtly or sneakily.

The fact is that Hindi lovers suffer from anxieties that may be rather unique and require a deeper appreciation. First, Hindi is a language of fairly recent origin, going back less than two centuries. Second, although Hindi is now the first language for a very large population, till recently it was only a second language for languages and dialect speakers from Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Awadhi and Braj regions, a fact we are reluctant to admit pushing the entire matter under the patriotic carpet. Third, if that is not bad enough, the Hindi speakers may be among the least loyal linguistically, eager to switch to English fulltime as I have found while moving around the Hindi territories. To top it all, the Hindi regions are also known for their backwardness and low levels of literacy and urbanism. All these make a Hindi speaker much more insecure and jittery compared to let’s say the Bangla, Tamil or Marathi speaker. As we all know, aggression towards others is often an outcome of the fears emanating from within.

We should thus feel grateful to a president who is nudging us to come down a few rungs and assess the state of our language a bit more coolly instead of trying to rouse the primal passions often associated with the languages in our country.    

Friday, September 08, 2017

A Bad Week for North America

On top of Harvey, USA is getting Irma; Mexico is getting Katia and Jose is out there probably finding his landing spot. This all going when Mexico got 8+ Richter Scale Earthquake.

When it rains, it pours.....

Indeed North America is having the complete wrath of Mother Nature. Solace is, it seems mid-September is when these hurricanes crowd and historically are expected to wean down thereafter.

Meanwhile, many Americans are busy debating 'significance and validity of human contributions to global warming as well as the truthfulness of American Media'!

I guess eventually, just like everything else in Trump Era (repeal and replace of ObamaCare, shut-down Government for border wall) - "anti-Science and anti-Global Warming" arguments will reduce to "cultural identity rant" with no force in reality. What Congress is doing, we are definitely going in that direction and most Americans will appreciate that.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Commentary: The Rohingya genocide in Burma

Rohingyas: hounded by the Burmese state
The international community is duly shocked by the conduct of the Burmese government towards the Rohingyas, the Muslim minority community who live along the border with Bangladesh. The irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi being complicit hasn’t failed to evoke anger and disgust in the wider social media and there is now a vociferous demand for a revocation of her award. The tragedy with the Rohingya community seems to be getting worse as neither of the two neighbouring countries Bangladesh nor India is willing to let them in as refugees. There have been a series of reports of raids conducted by the Myanmar army on the remotest of Rohingya villages, clearly aiming to destroy them physically and uproot them without suggesting any alternative.

In Myanmar, we see the other face of Buddhism, a religion commonly associated with compassion and gentler sentiments. This editorial provides a synoptic account of the current predicament of the Rohingyas and the near complete indifference of the international communities towards them. The ruling elite, the military and even the Buddhist religious leaders seem to be intent on wiping the community off the map of the earth, a measure that now deserves to be described as ‘genocide ‘in the media.   

Friday, August 25, 2017

Panic in the city

Ratnakar Tripathy

It is difficult to get over one’s dismay at how the Haryana government deliberately botched up the security arrangements at the Panchkula court where Sant Ram Raheem was yesterday declared guilty of rape. The case goes back to 2002, when a local journalist published an anonymous letter addressed by an aggrieved woman to the Prime Minister of India among others, seeking justice and relief. The immediate outcome of the letter was the journalist was shot dead in front of his house. Ram Raheem has a large following of up to 5 crore devotees among the Dalits in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan and is seen as anti-Sikh. But perhaps the most visibly interesting part of the Ram-Raheem story is his persona – he is at once a rock star, an actor, a singer, a filmmaker and believe it or not, a stunt man to boot. Clearly, he is not a phenomenon easy to unravel in a hurry except on the surface.  

What is easier to see how the CM of the Haryana state failed in his duty to maintain law and order on the occasion when around 150,000 of Ram-Raheem were allowed to assemble in the town – they were ready to take to arson and bloodshed if their guru received a guilty verdict. In a rampage that lasted for several hours, the police stood helpless and above 30 people got killed. The reaction to this by the BJP politicians and ministers were bizarre to say the least - the president of BJP in Haryana. Here's what he actually said! "On such occasions, nothing can be done. The media should not have ventured into the vicinity of the mob, or provoked the people whose emotions were running high." If this is not bad enough, the I&B minister Smriti Irani tweeted warnings to the press not to spread panic and promised punishments for the so-called misdemenours. The warning couldn’t be more ill-timed as the press was at the receiving end for several hours and their OB vans were torched by the mobs. Of course, there is another leader Sakshi Maharaj who openly defended the guru and blamed the courts for yesterday’s incidents.

The fact is the police forces successfully evacuated up to 1 lakh devotees from Panchkula and Chandigarh on the same evening though only after the crowds were allowed to do the damage. It is not difficult to see that instead of tackling the problem boldly, the state government showed hesitation and according to some even connivance with the crowds. There are reports that clearly suggest that politicians from both the parties, in particular the BJP have been hobnobbing with the guru since he controls a sizeable body of Dalit votes. Politicians regularly queue up to seek the blessings [read votes] from the guru before the elections and have no desire to displease him.

The Indian judiciary has however yet again exhibited great clarity by issuing a warning to the guru – the court order states “It is made clear that whosoever has been instigating and inciting the crowd that has gathered to commit these acts of arson and violence, they would be sternly dealt with. The damages that are caused to public and private properties shall be recovered from them. Respondent No.7 – Dera Sacha Sauda shall submit a list of its assets and properties which can be attached in case it is found that they and their followers are responsible for the said acts. All Judicial Officers at Panchkula shall forthwith be provided security by Para Military Forces round the clock.” Now everyone waits for the dreaded day next Monday when the court will issue a sentence, causing further anger among the guru’s followers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Shah Bano - After 30 years

Those were the days of Longowala Accord and 400+ MP Majority for Rajiv Gandhi. Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi had ridden the Parliamentary Majority on the ashes of his mom, the majority which no Indian PM is likely to achieve ever. But alas that majority was not good enough to produce anything positively long-lasting. Apart from creating Environmental Ministry which focused India's attention to environmental issues (not necessarily solve though); there are few things I remember from Rajiv's Parliment (apart from presidential palace games of President Gyani Zail Singh to split the enormous Congress Majority...).

One of the things I remember from that era is how a socialist MP Madhu Dandavate tried in vain to argue against the misguided law of Rajiv Gandhi to overrule the Supreme Court decision of denying an easy way out for a Muslim male from his responsibilities in a marriage dissolution. I was in my college years then, still with dreamy views like how a debate in the parliament would change views of other MPs. Me and my friend Uday we wished that in the morning the law would not pass - the debate was for the whole night in the parliament. 

Looking back, the only thing good about that affair was there was at least some parliamentary debate! Given the tendencies of most democracies all over the world to either misguide the discourse or skip altogether any debate by skilled parliamentary machinations; it seems politicians then had at least some conscience left to 'argue and debate'. Definitely, likes of Madhu Dandavate have left behind a moral lesson for us - denying 'maintenance' to Shah Bano was wrong.

India took more than 30 years to recognize the basic rights of Muslim women here. Moreover, it needed Hindu Nationalist Government with lurking malice against Muslims to correct this imbalance. We had 3 Congress Governments in Delhi after Rajiv Gandhi, but none showed the courage to undo the non-sense of Rajiv's Shah Bano folly. These are the 'wages' of Indian Secular Polity in last 30 years!

Many in India's Secular Wing are likely to see this result with a suspicion. It is understandable that one would doubt secular credentials and motives of RSS aligned Indian PM Narendra Modi. But India's Left and Secularists need to avoid a knee jerk reaction to this verdict. Indian Supreme Court has got it right and PM Modi's Government has created the necessary 'political space' for justice to prevail in this case.

Debates in Parliament may not win arguments, as I learned from ages back heroics of Madhu Dandavate; but in the end, people get it 'right' in the land of 'rule of law'. No wonder, Indians; especially Indian Muslim Women are rightfully relieved at this ruling. 

These are exactly the foundations of a long lasting republic and Indians are marching well. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Immoral Trump Presidency

With a devastating press conference, Donald Trump has revealed few more things fresh:

1) He is an incompetent leader. Fundamentally, any good leader needs to understand an import of a moment - which aspects to 'highlight' and which aspects to 'downplay' for the larger and longer term good of the country. In this case, for Donald Trump to equate White Supremacists with those who oppose it; is politically damaging in the short term as well. But still, he went ahead and pulled down every anti-Nazi American to the same level of David Duke. What an incompetent leader!

2) Secondly, Donald has no morality; there is no 'moral compass'. He is a ship wandering this world shamelessly, responding to his animal spirits and it goes wherever his 'inner beast' takes him. Forget the Presidency, as a 'man' he is not the person anyone wants to be a friend with or anyone wants to work for him. He is a failed personality with no place in a decent society. Imagine this is 2017 and we have an occupant of Oval Office justifying Racism in a press conference! What Lincoln legacy he can be expected to continue?

3) Finally, he has exposed his complete lack of qualifications as a law upholding elected leader. This is because he is simply refusing to see the 'party which broke the law' - a Fascist who plowed the car killing an innocent bystander exercising her political rights peacefully. There cannot be any comparison and you cannot simply accord a blame when none belongs to Americans who were peacefully opposing Racism.

This is an unbelievable moment in American Politics - the President justifying racists in some form. 

As some have rightly said, those who 'voted' Donald Trump knew this was the risk and realistic possibility with his candidacy, but they still did so (just because Hillary's Candidacy was not up to the mark). Equally those Bernie Brothers and Sisters are guilty for this mess when they failed to overcome their frustration with the Bernie Loss to Hillary and did not vote in the 2016 presidential election. 

But that is all water under the bridge. What is needed is 
- Republicans in Congress wake up and start pushing back Donald's nonsense; and
- Civilians in America start participating our politics to remove Donald Trump.

Because otherwise, Donald is likely to grow into an existential risk to our Republic and the way we live in this country. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Commentary: the indignity of dying in the sewers

Even as the nation mourns the death of over 60 children in a Gorakhpur hospital and even as ordinary citizens feel outraged by the suspension of Dr Kafeel Ahmad at the hospital who made super-human efforts to save the children, there is another kind of tragic death that deserves our attention too. As if living a life of indignity was not bad enough, the death of sewage workers in India due to toxic gases has become a routine. According to this report, ‘The tragedy happened six days after three sanitation workers died inside a Delhi Jal Board-managed sewer line in Lajpat Nagar. Before that, four labourers were trapped to death in a sewage tank in south Delhi’s Ghitorni in July.’ While it is not our practice to maintain data on such deaths, according to an estimate in the report, around 100 people die in our sewers every year, which seems a very conservative figure looking at Delhi alone. It is not clear why this task cannot be partly or fully mechanized to keep human beings at a safe distance from the poisonous filth. The safety gear listed by the report includes gas masks, safety harness belts, helmets and mechanized equipment at dangerous sites such as clogged underground sewers – all of which must be provided by the employer. The incident took place at a shopping mall in east Delhi and one fails to understand why the resourceful employer failed to invest in some basic safety measures. There is even a law entailing imprisonment when the employer fails to fulfill his duty. But like many other instances, who is there to enforce such laws! So let us add to our long list of cries in the wilderness as governance at every level gives in to nonchalant indifference!

Monday, August 07, 2017

The politics of painting the victim as the perpetrator

Ratnakar Tripathy

I have never heard of a historian who complained of too much factual material to build a story. But these days I keep hearing historical and contemporary narratives that seem to not simply keep a safe distance from well-known facts but to even reverse the story on the basis of wild theories and postulates that reflect the beliefs of the narrator and no more. What is striking here is the apparent lack of conviction that starts on a note of denial and posits completely white lies as facts. As human beings, we are equipped to deal with situations when there is some minimal consensus on what may have happened. We are ill-equipped to deal with situations where a blatant lie is presented in front of us as the obvious truth. It is worrying for some that they are unable to prove the existence of Unicorns, but isn’t it even more worrying that its definite non-existence cannot be demonstrated either? In brief, faced with a white lie, we get stumped and begin to stammer incoherently and perhaps even consider plain yelling if not physical assault!

That Mughal and western history seem irrelevant to syllabus-makers in Rajasthan is a serious enough matter but it doesn’t hurt with the same immediacy as the lies that attempt to turn a victim into a perpetrator – recently when a lady named Varnika Kundu was driving to her home in Chandigarh at around 12 AM, a vehicle tried to aggressively block her path though she managed to reverse her car and report the incident to the police. I first got this piece of information from Facebook through an elaborate post by her father, an IAS officer. I saw it as a horrifying incident that was duly aborted and forgot about it. But the very next morning it made national news when the stalker was revealed to be the son of a senior BJP leader in Haryana.  The lady in question, a career woman took matters in her hand and managed to get help from the police, largely I feel since she is the daughter of an IAS officer and couldn’t be dismissed lightly. The offenders however were faced with extremely light charges by the police and let off in no time. The offender perhaps comes from a family of warm-blooded men and women who take it for granted that men will assault and that it is the girl’s onus to keep out of the way. If a woman is unlucky enough to fall in the way, well, she has just been unlucky and must get over it soon. All these matters are what we call ‘cultural’, a distortion from the feudal days which is why a BJP leader from Haryana demanded an answer to his question – what was Varnika doing on the roads at 12 AM in the night.  

What is not cultural however is when a BJP spokesperson N C Shaina, a highly educated person demanded justice for the perpetrator Vikas Barala instead of showing sympathy for the victim or just plain keeping her trap opportunely shut. She has since deleted her tweet more out of shame than remorse, although Nidhi Razdan, the famous TV presenter scrupulously copied it and preserves it, engraved as it is forever in the digital stone.

I am of course moved by the plight of the gutsy young lady from Chandigarh who claimed that like many other victims, she doesn’t care to stay anonymous and since as a victim rather than a perpetrator, she has no reason to hide her name and face. But I also feel concerned by a general tendency to paint the victim as the perpetrator these days – the media does it and so do the politicians on the right. The farmer, the tribal, the villagers asking for rehabilitation, the conscientious teachers, the whistleblowers and the suffering students are now the new villains of a society that has lost its moral compass. Such reversal can turn our entire vocabulary toxic and snap the last straw of human decency, forget the higher ideals of goodness and rectitude.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Commentary: NPAs show a jump of 41% in current year

In recent years in India, the banks have failed to curb a steady rise in the Non-Performing Assets [NPAs], the term NPA just being a euphemism for defaulted loans. The reason behind this is however neither the small businessman nor the farmer but the major behemoths. The bigger industrial groups are often in a position to argue that further loans will enable them to repay the loans incurred earlier – this logic can, however, go altogether awry as the loans pile up and the financial system is drained of resources. The question the ordinary citizen may ask here is – where will the money come from and how will the vacuum get filled up? The answer is a long story of banking mismanagement and political interferences in the financial sector that amounts to what is often called ‘crony capitalism’.

According to an earlier report ‘The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is moving to resolve the bad loan crisis with an Internal Advisory Committee (IAC) of the RBI having identified 12 accounts of corporate borrowers who owe over Rs 5,000 crore each — and overall involve an amount of close to Rs 175,000 crore — for insolvency proceedings under the newly enacted Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016 (IBC).’

The present report provides little analysis but is a surely an update for 2017 – it seems that the NPAs rose by 41 per cent in the current financial year despite the government’s professed attempts to curb such growth. Part of the same logic is the argument that there are businesses and banks that are too big to be allowed to fail. This ensures that the taxpayer is eternally committed to shoring up these entities lest the resulting turbulence upset the financial system in some fundamental ways. The interesting thing about the modern state in India and elsewhere is while it withdraws from sectors like education and health and to some extent even from infrastructure, it turns pro-active in securing loans for certain business houses presuming them to be growth leaders and creators of jobs. The NPAs are thus indicators not simply of a persistent policy blunder but also reveal some deep fault lines within the state apparatus.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

The cunning melancholy of Nitish Kumar

Ratnakar Tripathy

Nitish Kumar: strategic pessimism? 
There are several reasons why the political commentators of a liberal-progressive persuasion are hopping mad with Nitish Kumar. First, he as a fallen idol has come to be seen as the very ultimate in political betrayal. In times when the levels of political morality have fallen too low for anyone to voice sublime democratic ideals, the expectation was that a man with Nitish’s track record would stick to a simple promise made to the voters of Bihar, not to mention the commitment made to the alliance partner RJD. This may be the reason that most of the commentators seem to take a literary view of Nitish as a character from fiction that stands out for his utter lack of scruple. Far from the higher principles of public morality, Nitish is now seen as a back-stabber, as a perverse character seeking to damage, perhaps at some cost to himself his own mates and partners. Lalu and his son Tejaswi, and Rabridevi included have unleashed a rhetoric of righteous wrath that the better part of the press has swallowed hook, line and sinker. Whether Lalu or the press however cannot make up their minds if Nitish unleashed a complete surprise on RJD or his negotiations with the BJP had been going on awhile. They seem to say both without seeing any contradiction. Clearly, you cannot used expressions like ‘bombshell’ and ‘thunder strike’ as well as well as ‘conspiracy’ and ‘orchestrated plan’ to describe the actions of a man.

Second, Nitish has now transformed himself in a matter of days if not hours into a hope diminished, indeed a fond hope completely and decisively sunken. The progressive elements from large parts of India were hoping that the man would patiently stitch some semblance of an opposition to the BJP, some patchwork of a platform that one could pitch one’s hope on. Now that platform, that ground has slipped away from under the feet turning everyone furious at the act of great betrayal. In his first media interaction after returning as Chief Minister, Kumar said “I would always say I lead a small party and cannot have big national aspirations.” Nitish’s betrayal is thus seen not simply that of a friend or a partner but also of a likely savior. Nitish has however abdicated the status of a savior if his statement is to be taken seriously. Nitish also seems to convey the message that his shoulders are too frail to bear the tremendous onus of national politics in the time of Narendra Modi. How heartfelt this modesty is I am unable to tell. Or does he mean he wishes to contain his legendary arrogance within the confines of Bihar strictly?

Third, and this reason seems to me to be the chief one why everyone is so annoyed with Nitish. He has committed the sin of undermining what he sees as a false hope of getting all the rag tag political parties in one grand political formation. According to Nitish, the so-called opposition has a ‘reactive’ agenda, an anti-BJP stance and the fulminating rhetoric of a noisy and disgruntled crowd that has no core whether ideologically or organizationally. The Congress that could have formed an adhesive force is instead coming apart like a cracking spine incapable of holding the skeletal structure together. Much of Nitish’s gloom may be attributable to his decision to finally and decisively give up on the Congress. In many ways then, the reason why many commentators seem almost personal in their ire at Nitish is he has dared to attack our vain hope for a savior in the shape of a jingbang flock with no focus or clear purpose.

There is a reason why I feel grateful to Nitish for peeling our eyes en masse with a well-deserved harshness. I feel that the BJP in its present avatar plans to radically alter our political system by wrecking whatever democratic tradition we have built over the decades. Even worse, Modi’s regime is persistently corroding all our shared cultural norms by attacking us viscerally at the level of dress, diet, speech and even physical movement. I believe that the response to such well-orchestrated and well-oiled move deserves an equally radical and bold response. This is not about minor peeves and harassments. This is not even about someone molesting you in the street. It is about someone entering your house with the aim to turn you into a servile attendant. The BJP has managed to create an enormous anomie that is fast sucking out our moral and political energies and turning us into melancholic brooders incapable of any meaningful action. The BJP of today in brief requires an equally radical and bold response from the liberal-progressive stream. Nothing less would do.

If I feel grateful to Nitish for injecting some long awaited realism into the political discussions of today, I also look at him with disdain for claiming that Shri Narendra Modi has or will have “no challenger” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This claim gives me two messages – an arrogant one that Nitish may have been the only challenger if everyone concerned endorsed his leadership, and that we necessarily need a towering leader as an answer to Modi. Despite the overall leadership vacuum at the national level, we have many ‘small men’ ready to lead, the true strength of a democracy. I keep a close watch on them on a daily basis though this is no place to list them. So while Nitish sits on his development and corruption-free throne in Bihar dreaming of a colossus who will rescue him from a mess of his own making, I feel dread at the very idea. To dream of tall figures in the manner of ‘yada yada hi dharmasye’ [a la Shrimadbhagwat Gita] should be seen as an anathema in a democracy. To me small and determined men would do equally well or better. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Commentary: Politics in the era of moral outrage

Destination Rajya Sabha
The sudden shift of Nitish Kumar from the RJD to BJP is now seen as a historic landmark, a watershed moral low that one thought may not be exceeded for a long time to come. The commentators and ordinary citizens active on social media just don’t seem to digest it and see it as the new normal. And yet every other day if you care to notice brings us face to face with a greater low and our moral standards seem to sink day by day. According to several reports, dozens of MLAs have been flown out of Gujarat to the safe confines of a resort in Bangalore where the daily tariff is around Rs 7,000. But in view of the impending Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat the Congress party is in no mood to take a risk, as there are allegations that the BJP is offering the mouthwatering amount of Rs 15 crores to the Congress MLAs for voting in favour of its candidates. While the BJP is targeting Congres's Ahmad Patel, trying to ensure his defeat, Patel on his part is fighting with all his claws and clout to stay where he stands presently.   

This report captures some of the high drama including the decision of the Congress to parade them in front of the media. This is obviously to ensure that once their allegiance is established, the MLAs may hopefully find it difficult to give in to their temptations. If one were to go a bit deeper into the matter, the Congress party is as much protecting its MLAs from the pillaging enemy as the candidates from their own spontaneous urge to follow where the pelf is. The ethical vacuum in Indian politics is indeed getting denser by the day if one were to use an oxymoron! 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Senator John McCain - An American Hero

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict party-line basis without a single Republican vote...We should not make the mistakes of the past.”

The cynicism of Republicans in Congress, the outright lying and the deceiving of American People by Trump and his Administration about Repeal and Replace of ObamaCare had been on display for a while. For 7 years Republicans promised to their 'base' that they would kill the ObamaCare regardless of how much harm it inflicts upon poor Americans without insurance from their employers (millions would be affected). Donald Trump promised that he will offer something better than ObamaCare, provided Congress just allows him to 'kill the ObamaCare first'. There was a glimmer of hope in November of 2016 after Donald's victory that indeed he would work out something meaningful to replace ObamaCare, 

But alas, six months into the Trump Adminidation and Donald himself on record saying "who would know that Health Care will be so complicated!", the guy was never prepared, never undertook even the minimal homework to make the governance effective and proved our worst case scenario - he is so mad and vindictive that he would not care lives of millions of poor Americans so long as he keeps his 'promise' with the base (well, actually the half promise since he also promised that he will 'improve upon ObamaCare'); regardless even if his own base would suffer in 'killing of ObamaCare'. In a moral sense, Donald Trump is one of the colossal moral failures of the American political system - a populist leader actively going on 'harming substantial folks of his own citizenry' for the sake of nothing.

That is the charade Senator John McCain has finally ended.I guess his own suffering from 'brain tumor' has literally inflamed his urge to do the 'right thing' for America for yet another time while he fights for his own life.

“I love John McCain. He’s one of the great heroes of this country...Whether we agree or not, I still love the guy.”

-- Sen. Hatch

Senator John McCain fought against Barack Obama in 2008. He made mistakes in his campaign. He rightly complained about the ObamaCare for its lack of bipartisan support. All throughout 2016 election season, he kept his battle against the 'no nothingness of Trump Campaign'. He endured ridicule and criticism from  Donald Trump, sustaining insults from a useless and utterly despicable character like Donald Trump. A few days back he stumbled upon 'life threatening brain tumor'. Despite all that, tonight he rose to his fundamental duty of 'upholding the moral compass' so that you remain faithful to the Republic - caring for ordinary people. 

In a sense, he has saved Republicans from having 'the blood on their hands' when inevitably more poor Americans would suffer in the absence of ObamaCare. He has left Democrats in an eternal political debt if ObamaCare stands (which it seems since Senate Majority Leader McConnell says "it is time to move on" and I doubt 2018 midterm elections would give any political room to GOP to undertake any such hopeless legislative chicanery like the killing of ObamaCare). He gave the cover to sensible Republican Female Senators when stupid White Male Republican Congress Members are daring these female law makers for a 'duel' as if we are in the Medival Period! That is all true, but in the end, the truth is Sen. McCain registered his disapproval in siding with the 'destruction of lives of weaker Americans'. That stands tall. 

Without his yesterday night's vote, Sen. McCain was already an American Hero for all what he accomplished in his service in American Navy. But tonight, this workhorse showed that even in Trump's America, not all of America has become 'senseless, immoral and stupid' as like Donald Trump.

Bihar: The state of confusion

Ratnakar Tripathy

Nitish: a tragic masterstroke? 
Probably the most decisive factor in the formation of Nitish Kumar’s personality and politics is his continued inability to win an election and form a government on his own. Over the years, Nitish has shown a streak of lonesomeness that keeps him from being a successful ‘party man’ and a leader of men despite the great respect he has won for his skills at governance. No wonder his most insightful biographer Sankarshan Thakur chose the title ‘Single Man: The Life and Time of Nitish Kumar of Bihar’ for his last book on Nitish. A few days ago Nitish decided to resign from his alliance government with Laloo’s RJD in what may seem to outsiders a lightening move and an impulsive act. But those familiar with the goings on in Bihar claim that the events the other night were not abrupt at all and that trouble has been brewing for some time between the two Bihar stalwarts Laloo and Nitish. Laloo’s son Tejaswi Yadav’s insistence at continuing as the Deputy CM may just be only the most visible reason. With a series of CBI raids at 12 different location of Lalu Prasad Yadav last week, several corruption cases have been registered against him and his family implicating the Deputy CM Tejaswi, his daughter Misa as well as her husband. As Laloo claims, the BJP at the centre has been acting vindictively against Laloo. Perhaps truly so but that by itself makes for a weak defense in Laloo’s favour.  There are also seemingly farfetched rumours that under tremendous pressure from the centre, it was becoming likely that Laloo may seek relief from the torment and go to the extent of offering a handshake to the BJP. In which case Nitish just beat him to it!

While talking to the press soon after his resignation Nitish expressed his frustration with the alliance partner Congress Party that refused to intervene in the tug of war or try and persuade Tejaswi to give in at least for the time being. This frustration seems to have gone a long way with Nitish who seems to have decided that there is nothing much one can hope of the Congress anymore, including the possibility of the Congress providing a core at the centre around which other political parties may come together in a front against the BJP. Whether one approves of the move made by Nitish or not, clearly Nitish had lost all hope of forming a Mahagathbandhan [Grand Alliance] with any sense of efficacy.

What the several commentators worry about at this point is the continued weakening of the opposition forces in the country that does not bode well for an already weakened democratic order.  With one more bastion of opposition gone, Bihar is now truly in a state of mess. The only plus point here if one may look cynically at the scenario may be that the centre is now likely to be generous with Bihar by offering all manners of largesse. My fear however is that this is not the end of the tug of war but only the beginning of another one and that the JD[U]-BJP handshake may not last at all. With three different forces competing for their sway over the state – RJD, JD[U] and BJP [consider the Congress non-existent], Bihar should now expect more tearing and renting rather than repair for some time to come. As for Lalu, in the long run he seems to be damaging the career of his own son, praised lately by for his good work in Bihar, very much in the manner of Mulayam in UP. Akhilesh has been trying to find his redemption. Tejaswi is not even doing that!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Commentary: Transfer of officials as political weapon

Actually, the term ‘whistleblower’ used in the heading would be a misnomer in the present context. A whistleblower is generally a third or fourth party not directly concerned or with a direct stake in a governance process who acts out of the urgings of the conscience. D. Roopa, an official from the Prisons Department of Karnataka who was transferred days after reporting murky goings on at the Karnataka prison, and more specifically on the bribes allegedly paid by Sasikala, the Tamilnadu leader to make her stay comfortable at the Central Prison, Bangalore probably saw it as part of her routine job to report the shady dealings at the prison. Instead of acknowledging the good work the government of Karnataka decided to transfer her out of her posting and be rid of the nuisance. This is not unusual at all and in fact may be one of the routines followed by the state and the central government. There have been too many cases in the past of honest officials being perpetually on the move from one posting to another. It does not take much imagination to see what it means for the official concerned and her family and friends – it is indeed a severe form of punishment comparable to suspension or dismissal. The message behind these transfers is of course ‘mend your ways or be ready to live a nomadic life’.

This report dwells at length on some such cases.  As R. Sri Kumar, former Vigilance Commissioner of the country and retired IPS officer from the State quoted in the report says ‘Transfers are being used as a punishment to silence officials. As per the present Act, whistle-blowers need to seek protection under the Act at the outset itself. This needs to be amended to help officials seek protection from transfers and other such action.’ The Indian political system thus tries to ensure that more and more honest officials are flushed out of the system or made ineffectual and the compliant officials fill up the vacuum.