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. 

Experiencing ‘Jagga Jasoos’: a Film Review of sorts

Ratnakar Tripathy

Let me begin by admitting that I am generally reluctant to review bad books and movies, since the idea is to quickly forget about them and move ahead in life, instead of lending them the immortality of the digital print. But this once I will crib – going out for a movie to a cinema and travelling through the dense traffic make you feel like a martyr already, even though unlike my adolescent days one needn’t stand in a queue for ages. Also, when you invite a friend to join you, it seems to put on you the onus of providing some decent entertainment to the companion and not ruin his day. Who knows the next time you have a similar offer, the friend may make all kinds of excuses for avoiding your disastrous company!  I feel penitent for inflicting the pain on a friend when she could have easily done without it.

‘Jagga Jasoos’ is an experiment in all variety of immature and superfluous forms, symbols and genres. It attempts to follow the comic book format, provide some exciting adventure to an eager child and also turn a stammering boy into an international hero. For some reason Anurag Basu is fixated with characters that stammer and I find this fixation rather morbid, never mind the deep symbolism. So Jagga [the orphaned stammerer Ranveer Kapoor] is instructed by an adoptive father that he can sing his way out of his muteness. The therapeutic strategy of course turns the movie into a full-fledged musical, unlike the common run of Hindi movies that are half or quarter musical. As a result we get some really bad recitation and singing from Jagga, a record low for Pritam, one of my favourite music composers.

It didn’t help that my neighbours had begun grumbling within half an after the film started. After all, no one visits the cinema just to sing the national anthem, as is the requirement these days! A raucous child nearby broke into hysterical laugh every time Basu touched a new low with his improvised turns and twists in the story. The lady next to me was soon busily texting on her phone, her instrument glowing boldly in the dark and I was transfixed at the very idea till I noticed another couple on the other side was doing the same. They had all given up on the movie rather early into the tale and unlike me were sufficiently resigned to their fates for the next three hours. They all munched popcorn of course with completely undivided attention.

The film takes a series of puzzles and murder mysteries that bloat in scale, starting from a local homicide to the grandly global level. Various folk dances, mask shows, spectacles of the most banal sort pass before you – after a while you can make little sense and get reduced to sheer qualia – colours, sounds and inexplicably raw sensations had in a state of coma, except an occasional nudge from the fidgety friend assures you that you are wide awake. Basu in brief has made a puerile film that makes you feel cheated for all its pretentious novelty. Indeed, I am now determined to avoid all his future offerings, if indeed he manages to get another stab at it. If I was a producer, I would erase him from my memory forever, although Ranvir Kapoor, one of the producers of the film and according to me one of the most talented actors in Bollywood today, may just go running back to him, seeking further punishment.

Jagga Jasoos reminded me so much of a moment I had years ago – I was dining with my family at a supposedly south Indian restaurant and had ordered dosas for all of us. Two bites into the dosa and my wide-eyed wife exclaimed in sincere astonishment ‘how can you make such a bad dosa’ more in fascination than disgust. I went through many such moments watching ‘Jagga Jasoos’.  

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

2017 Fourth of July

Fourth of July Celebration in Cupertino, CA; 2017
Those residing in Bay Area may feel under the siege now that Kim from DPRK has apparently fired a missile which can carry a nuke bomb all the way from North Korea over the Pacific to good old USA West Coast. That is one way to count how our freedoms are under some kind of threat in the 241st Independence of this Republic. This is in addition to the threat of ISIS and terrorism inspired by Al-Qaeda and likes of that. Fortunately, as American forces actively back Kurds to take on ISIS; the threat from ISIS is likely to go down. Even for terrorism in the name of Islam; somehow America is able to avoid it for last 16 years or so and that is good.

However, it is the 'intolerance' of Trump Administration at home, which is of concern. Donald wants to ban folks from certain countries based on the predominant religion of those countries even if courts in the USA do not agree with him. Next, he wants to ensure poor folks of this country go without an affordable health insurance. Trump also wants to push America on her 'fossil fuel addiction' even if it means abdicating global responsibility towards Paris Accord. The sad part is none of this is going to create jobs in the Red States who voted him in the hope of bringing of 1950's America.

The truth is America is caught up in a vicious cultural war. Neither Hillary nor Pelosi-Schumer duo offers a credible alternative in eyes of many Americans. Cultural baggage of these folks is too much for a vast number of Americans to 'see' the logic or any fact-based policy. As a result, America struggles with contradictions of Republican Policy - how to give more tax cuts to rich while fulfilling the promise of government help to poor of Red States. 

Needless to say, this Republican exercise is unlikely to result in any better America. But so long as a credible Opposition Voice does not emerge who can explain Americans what is terribly wrong with Trump's America in simple terms; we will continue to live under the danger of losing our cherished freedoms.

Maybe 2017 Fourth of July makes more Americans to realize all these dangers to our freedoms we enjoy, courtesy of Americans soldiers who fight for us as well as a neat system our Founders left for us.