Monday, February 27, 2017

Hung Uttar Pradesh?

by Ratnakar Tripathy

The UP Assembly [Vidhan Bhawan]
Yesterday during his election rally in Mau, Uttar Pradesh, the star BJP campaigner and the PM Narendra Modi presented to his large audience what may be called his version of electoral analysis in UP, a most unusual exercise by all means of telling a large gathering of voters about their own collective decision. He claimed that the SP and BSP are conspiring to keep BJP out of power through a hung assembly even though he is confident of winning three fourths of the assembly seats. He alleged that the two opposing parties wish to keep the BJP out of power by any means and even a hung situation would do perfectly for them. The speech is being read busily in many different ways by the analysts and UP being as confusing as it is, commentators are keeping themselves busy teasing out non-existent messages hidden between the lines. But he also said in the same speech “Our alliance partners will be made part of BJP government in UP when our party comes to power.” Was this aimed at Mayawati is what some sections in the press are wondering. Recently even Akhilesh hinted at the possibility of Mayawati tying a rakhi on the PM’s wrist! So one wonders! But the convoluted statement made by the PM does indicate that the UP elections this time round are nerve wracking for everyone – the party bosses, the candidates, the ground level worker, the journalists of the armchair or the roving variety and of course the PM himself. The incoherence shown in the Mau speech may thus just be a case of the jitters.

Lately, even Prashant Kishor, the electoral wizard whom I follow on FB has had no bragging posts unlike the early phases of the elections. The candidates are of course spending inordinate amount of time attacking each other with more emphasis on elimination of others rather than acceptance of oneself. Even as the ABVP goons are beating up teachers and students in Delhi, Modi claims to get Mau rid of the local strongman Mukhtar Ansari who has a habit of not losing elections ever. I have watched videos of speeches by Akhilesh and Mayawati where the substance of their speech seems to be to inform the audience they are winning by a large majority. The masses readily and routinely break into a flattering cheer and the day goes by happily, though the nights must be getting tough again on second thought.  This example fully illustrates how nerve jangling UP can become - recently a journalist friend of mine came back from a grueling tour of UP and declared in the social media he is absolutely clueless about the outcome of the polls, qualifying almost as an afterthought that he thought the BJP seems to have an edge. His colleagues and friends immediately pounced on him with comments alleging he has ‘sold out’. So much for honest objectivity these days! Say what you may in my opinion it is the size of UP that is responsible for the psephological mess. The humungous size of UP has been unfair to its people even though the separation of Uttarakhand helped a bit. It is such a grand idea to be in the CM’s chair in UP, almost as good as ruling the country. But it is tough to gather this sprawl of a state and get it to embrace you. So the politician in UP despite all their hysterical attacks have joined a chorus of incoherent sounds chanting ‘we are winning’, as if the voter is a passive audience and not a determiner of their fates in 2017.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Do we belong? YES WE DO!

“I have a question in my mind: Do we belong?” Sunayana Dumala asks

The answer is YES, you and we all Indian Americans who have come here legally belong to this country. 

Some in politics might want to push us aside, but remember we are from the country of a man who for 19 years struggled to give voices for 'poor workers and foreigners' in another foreign land. A century back MK Gandhi did that in South Africa. Son of this land - MLK - exactly followed Gandhi's footsteps to secure voting rights for children of slaves in this country. So rest be assured Sunayana, if the mighty 'British Empire where Sun never set' gets shaken by a scantily clad man with just a stick and charkha, if centuries-old prejudices get answered by another man with no guns; we will take this Republic through Trump Years too - with our dignity and rights preserved. 

We owe it to Srinivas and others that we Resist any racism and hate crime. Some worried about exactly such 'hate crimes' in Trump Era. But yes, Steve Bannon, we have seen many rascals like you and have survived those too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The politics of name calling in UP elections

by Ratnakar Tripathy

It is a sign of our times that every time you complain about the low levels our political lingo has stooped to, the very next day one more abyss shows up and the touchstone for what is a bad word and what isn’t reaches a new low. So does it help really to complain or should one wait for the ultimate even though what the ‘ultimate’ means in the case of the 2017 assembly elections in UP?  Like every quarrel in the street and in the school, the first point of dispute and quite often the last is who started it. But I do remember right since my childhood I have seen two kinds of verbal duels – one that kept on escalating till both the parties got tired and the disinterested audience got bored for lack of a clear outcome, and the ones that rapidly ended up in fisticuffs. That is why I now believe the whole verbal game in politics just now is to help each other degrade themselves as far as possible to show an utter, utter lack of civility. You may take it as an attempt to create a level ground form where each one may start a new round of fighting. So even as we complain about the declining levels of political discourse let me assure you this can be an endless process till a new beginning is made. The problem in the meantime [and daily life always means in the meantime] in the case of UP however, is the audience is not hanging around for entertainment but to make a wise vote, and there are vital governance issues at stake. I am not sure the voter all over the world remembers that, which is becoming a major problem with the modern democracies. The popular expression ‘the buck stops here’ seems to apply equally or more to the voter rather than the top man in the hierarchy.

To come down to specifics, in the last few days and indeed for quite a while our honorable PM has indulged in what may be called a ‘politics of acronyms.' The idea is to twist the opponent’s name into a new and damaging full form. To take an example, PM Modi claimed that Mayawati’s party BSP is ‘no longer Bahujan Samaj Party but 'Behenji Sampatti Party'. By way of retaliation, BSP Chief Mayawati hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, terming him as 'Mr. Negative Dalit Man,' while addressing a rally at Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur amidst the ongoing assembly elections in the state. Akhilesh Yadav did not waste much time either and said he ‘will ask the biggest superstar of this century (Amitabh Bachchan being the brand ambassador of Gujarat) not to promote the donkeys of Gujarat.’ There is not much guessing to do here to see who Akhilesh is referring to. The fact is as the seven-phase elections in UP proceed, political workers are getting overwrought, nervous and tired of repeating the same cant, the same development jargons, the same electoral goodies when they feel the need to rise above the platitudes, this is the kind of rubbish they come up with.  

This is why I feel that the trouble with our political discourse is not that politicians are using bad language but that they seem to say the same thing with various degrees of tweaking. Of course, as experts on the whole gamut of structured ideologies, we the commentators see a great deal of difference among the parties. But does the ordinary voter see things systematically and inter-connectedly? I do not think so. They seem to look at the rhetoric as some kind of a mosaic where some of the features seem appealing, and some do not depending on the voter’s interest or fancy.

According to the political pundits, the one thing that appears to apply universally in the 2017 elections is there is no wave in favour of any party visible on the ground. The voter is thus looking neutrally at the parties in the fray. With each one promising development in more or less the same vein, the voter may not exactly be torn by a dilemma. In fact, the voter may not be concerned with the lofty ideals of development at all and perhaps more concerned with security for himself and his neighborhood. Really, the voter may have all come down to the level of the utterly basic and no one seems to have noticed. So the fight in UP may be determined by the voter’s appetite for either peace or conflict in the society – the trouble is aggression and violence seem very exciting when not happening at the doorstep and peace can seem such a dull idea. But these are matters so deep they are almost subliminal and not open to quick journalistic analysis. I am not sure even a voter really knows what is going on within. On 11th March next month when the counting of votes takes place, we will, of course, know for sure if UP wants peace or is itching for some avoidable excitement.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Enemy of American People?

It is sad and shameful that on American President's Day - when we Americans commemorate and thank services of all past and the sitting president of this republic - we have to take notice of the nasty, naughty and needlessly provoking sitting president of ours, Donald Trump.

A classic example of Trump diversion from his real problems is his needless provocation of Sweden in his Florida Campaign Speech. Having called out his nonsense, in a typical Trump fashion, he doubles down to spread more lies - like how the Sweedish Immigration Policy is not working. Who the hell Donald Trump is to poke around other countries for their policies? I guess Sen. John McCain is right - that is how dictators start: pillorying Media and then meddling in affairs of other nations. This is the playbook Adolf Hitler tried to bring calamity over the Europe and all over the world.

But then Donald Trump is not going to have such a smooth ride in 2016. There are folks in Media, even his sympathizer outlets like Fox has a journalist who knows where is the red line and then there are folks in his own party who will do what it takes to keep an independent Media and Judiciary.

The truth is Donald Trump wants to make all these diversions because he cannot govern, forcing his lieutenants in 'perpetual mopping business'. He is also probably hiding some dirty, treasonous, nefarious deals with Russia as well as other bribes. These may be dark days for Media, but American and Global Media will need to be vigilant and not allow another Erdogan or Putin in this land.

I guess this President's Day should be a wake-up call for we Americans in stopping a tyrant president who wants to squander all that his predecessors achieved over centuries.

Monday, February 13, 2017

As exit and other polls in India lose their sheen

by Ratnakar Tripathy

The results for the assembly elections in Punjab, UP, Goa and Manipur will be announced on 11th March after the last round of voting in UP and Manipur takes place on 8th March. So the whole of February and the first week of March will be a nail-biting punishment for the political parties and their workers on the ground. The only likely excitement in the meantime may be some attempts at tampering of the EVM machines. In fact, the AAP leader Kejriwal has already brought one such instance from Punjab to attention when unknown persons were allegedly allowed access to the EVM boxes and there is a video with men handling the EVM trunks doing the rounds in the social media. Clearly, everyone is tense in an election which has seen an unusually multi-cornered contest with several parties in the fray. One way to spend the tension and suspense-ridden days is to indulge in wishfulness and assume a posture of supreme self-confidence. But the political parties especially the ruling BJP seems to have found a more substantial way to boost its morale – by organizing polls of various sorts indicating a clear victory for itself. Most of these polls are completely opaque and starting with the sample size and its demographics, the methodologies seem gravely flawed, in case someone is even willing to discuss the details. The entire exercise is thus a publicity stunt aiming to influence the voters through the various rounds of voting. The questionable assumption or hope here is that the voter will be influenced by the poll news at all. In fact the Indian voter now has a good idea of the general tilt of the media houses and this insight is seeping deeper even among the quasi-literate public. This is a sad reflection on the state of the media in India today but that is another story.
November 3, 1948: President Harry S. Truman, shortly after being elected as President, smiles as he holds up a copy of the Chicago Tribune issue prematurely announcing his electoral defeat. This image has become iconic of the consequences of bad polling data[courtesy: Wiki]

To come to the main point of this piece, despite the knowledge that exit polls are not permitted during the electoral phases in February and March, a Hindi media behemoth ‘Dainik Jagaran’ has gone ahead anyway and published the results of its exit polls. The Election Commission took a prompt notice of it however and has asked the polling officers to file an FIR against the paper. Dainik Jagaran on its part claims that their report on exit polls was ‘inadvertently’ published on its English site and was immediately removed. The statement went ‘We clarify that we fully comply with the directions which has been issued by Election Commission of India and are in the process of filing a detailed fact-based response with the ECI clarifying the position’. It is difficult to say how credible the excuse is but the firm that carried out the survey for Dainik Jagaran has this to say about its activities and business – ‘Resource Development International is an organization engaged in Business Advisory, Performance & Business Consulting, OD & HR Consulting, Training & Development, Executive Search & Resourcing, and Behavioural Coaching’. The business firms commissioned by the parties are quite likely to make a quick buck from tailored polls and have the skill and the lingo to reach results and conclusions they have been briefed to arrive at. All this nervousness is only an indication of the closeness of the fight and the yet ill-defined impact of demonetization on the current elections. What is however happening in the process is a demeaning of the various polls although I never quite understood the value or the veracity of these polls. What emerges from all this is apart from the grievous omission of worthwhile news in the press we now have manufactured lies being hurled at us on a daily basis. The only relief may be that the voting public is already wary and aware and more than one report in the recent days has claimed that voters in Punjab and elsewhere have been found to be deliberately misleading the journalists. Let us say this cruel sport on the part of the voter is fully deserved by the Indian media even if the few sincere journalists find it a painful distraction.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Trump Hubris

Staff Artist - Nandu
One can understand how much policy and political garbage Trump produces by looking at these 3 things in just 3 weeks:

1. Trump and GOP wanted to kill ObamaCare on Day One. By now we all know, Trump Administration sees 2018 as the realistic date. Well, come Mid-Term elections of 2018 and we will see how much gumption Republicans have to throw what is relatively working.

Prediction - at this point likelihood is that ObamaCare will stay as is, or in similar form for many years to come. If at all Republicans will do something, they will land up improving it further. So much for Trump's bluster there. Of course, former President Obama and Americans would not have any issues in renaming it as "Trump Care"!

2. Steve Bannon thought he is the 'president' and he could push his White Nationalist agenda unchecked. Well, it seems like there are lot many Americans who still feel this Republic be run as per the Constitution - with Checks and Balances.

Good luck Donald Trump with your divisive agenda of 'banning Muslims.'

3. Trump thought he could pull a 'smart one' on Xi Jinping of China by using Taiwan as the bargaining chip. Of course, it was suicidal for Taiwan; but by now we all know Trump does not care about his clients. The important question was whether any such approach would have succeeded in the first place. We now know the answer when Trump himself submits for One China policy. I guess Trump is learning the reality 'fast'!

The real painful question is why so many Americans fell for this 'con artist'. There may be some answers here and there, but reality is a larger group of Americans just abdicated their duty of thinking through consequences in their 'hate of Washinton'. Of the remaining ones, significant Americans just could not overcome the 'Hillary Hate'.

Americans and rest of the world simply do not know, how 'bad' this show is going to end.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Commentary: Tamilnadu’s legacy problems

Tamilnadu has been among those states in India where political parties have revolved around a single presiding figure. Unlike other states where this applies equally with some variation, in the case of AIADMK, there is no family member claiming seriously to continue with the legacy of Jailalitha. This may be good for democracy in the long run but is clearly creating a muddle in the AIADMK which recently saw a coup of sorts against the incumbent CM, O. Panneerselvam which ended up in his resignation. He now claims it was forced on him by V.K. Sasikala, the general secretary of the party. This has led to resentment against Sasikala, the current pretender. There are even allegations doing the rounds that Sasikala may have ‘caused’ the death of Jailalitha, although the murky details seem nullified by the medical report available thus far.

The present report gives you a sense of where Tamilnadu politics stands at this moment and the various possibilities and unlikely scenarios that are being flung around in the press and the social media. Clearly, even as the shenanigans at the top continue, the common Tamilian is disturbed by the worrying developments in the wake of Jailalitha’s death. The sentiment was carried eloquently by a young rapper Sofia Ashraf and the video has gone viral on several platforms. 

Monday, February 06, 2017

The curious case of Nagaland unrest

by Ratnakar Tripathy

Nagaland Map 
It is very rare to see a news report on the North east of India in the mainstream Indian newspapers, except to depict violent incidents, a sentiment deservedly reciprocated by the average North-easterner who refer to ‘India’ as a foreign country in their daily conversation. So often when they intend to visit Delhi or Chennai, they say they are heading for India. Often too when you land up, say in Mizoram, you are an Indian arriving ‘abroad’. The attitude varies from state to state of course. Recently, a newly appointed governor to a North east state even claimed that the Indians know more about the USA than their North east neighbor. It would be a tall order in such a case to expect Indians from other states to be aware of the diversity within these states in terms of tribal groupings, languages and religions.

The situation with intelligent news coverage may be getting even worse now as it becomes difficult to find reliable news in print or on TV even about one’s immediate neighbourhoods in India and the North east does not look like a great exception anymore. Reports emerging from Nagaland in recent days however seem near unanimous in informing us that ‘Angry mobs protesting against holding of urban local body (ULB) polls with reservation for women burned down several government buildings in Nagaland’s capital Kohima on Thursday, prompting the administration to clamp prohibitory orders and deploy additional security personnel.’ This report is part of a series in local and mainstream newspapers that suggest a deep rift within the Naga society. The same report goes on to state ‘Nagaland’s powerful tribal organizations are opposed to holding of ULB [urban local bodies] polls with 33% reservation for women. They say it violates Article 371A of the constitution that grants special status to Nagaland and safeguards its traditional laws. Tribal laws do not allow women in administrative positions.’ So the question naturally occurs – are the Naga tribes even more patriarchal than the people from the plains such as Bihar where the men are coming to terms with reserved seats for women in local and state bodies?

Things as usual are not as simple as they seem. Patriarchy or not the fact is the Naga tribes look at a very seminal intervention in their social system and norms by the Indian state as entirely welcome. This is what makes them angry to the extent of burning government buildings and public properties, not the patriarchy on its own. This is not the first time that we see deep seated political anger find expression in a somewhat convoluted way. The problem in Nagaland and other areas of the North east gets further compounded by the internecine conflicts within the societies both among the tribes and communities as well as within them. This has often led to the creation of partisan factions with loyalties that undermine inter-tribal unity and prevent the rise of leaders of greater stature who may rise above the narrow interests of the smaller groupings. The way democracy often plays out in such contexts is that the smaller groups are left disgruntled and are often driven to violence. The Indian state has not been much help in this regard – if anything it has had a tradition of playing one group against the other to retain some semblance of control over these sensitive border areas. So by way of rhetoric what we often end up with are scenarios of highly complex conflict – men against their own women, tribal bodies against elected representatives, and eventually the state versus the nation at large. No wonder that in the midst of the emotionally charged and historically convoluted context any talk of fresh beginning simply means going back to square one. This is why the latest reports indicate that the Nagaland Congress party has appealed to the centre to declare president’s rule in Nagaland and announce a fresh round of general elections, measures that seem more like a distraction than a remedy.