Monday, March 16, 2015

AB de Villiers and the time to walk the path

As per the ICC rankings, AB de Villiers is the best batsman in the world right now in ODIs. He is the alpha male of ODI batting right now. Not only is he the best batsman overall, he is also the most dominant. He is slightly ahead of Amla, Sangakarra and Kohli overall I think, but quite a bit ahead of them in terms of the sheer fear factor that he brings to the opposition.

I have not seen a batsman who has made batting look more easy in the one day game than how AB de Villiers has been batting of late. With the new rules in play, AB de Villiers pretty much decides which are the 3 or 4 places that the ball can go and then chooses one of them and does that. Sometimes - he chooses just one place and goes through with the shot anyway. But this is not some new age hitter - like a Keiron Pollard or the new kid on the block - who is conquering all in front of him with his power hitting - Glenn Maxwell. AB de Villiers is a world class batsman capable of playing perfectly normal or what we call orthodox cricket, but often chooses the extraordinary option and makes it look ordinary while executing it.

With Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla - two other all time greats as well in his side, AB de Villiers really should be leading his side to World Cup glory. But the group stages have showed that they struggle chasing, in case Amla gets out early; as AB de Villiers is not getting enough support from the rest of the order under pressure. But here's the thing, unless some incredibly good delivery comes up, AB hasn't looked like getting out to a bowler at least. He seems to have so much time to play the ball, it looks like he is sometimes hitting boundaries as an afterthought. In terms of the physical and technical part of the game, AB is right now - as good as anybody I have ever seen hold the cricket bat.

If there is a weakness, if there is a question mark - it is about his decision making. For someone who has such a range of strokes and so much time to play his strokes - he faces a problem of the plenty - when deciding which shot to play. Or if it comes to a run chase - he has to make decisions like - whether to attack and take out a bowler and quickly finish off the game or sometimes play the waiting game. Or it could be a question of farming the strike with lower order batsmen at the crease. The risk-reward questions is what AB has to settle correctly and there perhaps a look at someone like Dhoni's approach might give AB an easier approach to win games.

The World Cup hangs by a thread - that of AB de Villiers' bat. It hasn't been like this - since Sachin Tendulkar in 1996, but an accident of a run out cut short that dream back then. Accidents can happen again, or so can mistakes. The margins of error, are very, very thin right now. But the fact of the matter is very simple - if AB de Villiers plays a big knock -(i)  batting first it will mean he has probably out batted the opposition or (ii) stays not out till the end - South Africa are going to win their matches and consequently the World Cup. It's like Messi and 2014 all over again - the greatest player of a generation at the peak of his powers, seeking World Cup glory. Can he take his country, who are yet to win a knock-out game ever in their World Cup history - through 3 games and to the Cup is the question.

To bring in a Matrix phrase: - AB by now, knows the path. It is time he walks it. 
The World Cup hangs on that bat
PS: Bonus Reading: How AB turned around his career a few years ago.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Atlantic piece on ISIS

  1. A few days, back The Atlantic magazine published a really detailed piece by Graeme Wood titled: What ISIS really wants. It is a detailed research piece, well worth a read. 
  2. The article has faced some criticism. Two of the better pieces are:  
    1. The Clash of Civilizations That Isn't in The New Yorker ; &  
    2. The Phony Islam of ISIS in The Atlantic, itself.
  3. Another most interesting piece is the discussion on the article between Sam Harris and Graeme Wood : The True Believers.
All of them are well worth your time if you are interested in learning about ISIS and how they are being perceived at the moment. What is most disappointing is that there is no semblance of any concrete ideas coming up on how to take them on.

PS: This geography based article on ISIS from some time back is excellent to know how and where - they captured so much land. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The PDP - BJP Alliance and a willing suspension of disbelief

The PDP - BJP alliance has got off to - well - let's say an inauspicious start. Within minutes of taking his oath as the new CM of Jammu & Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayed allegedly thanked Pakistan, Millitants and Hurriyat for "allowing" elections to take place peacefully. The actual clip is here and perhaps what he was saying was slightly more nuanced. Nevertheless, apart from causing a lot of heartburn to BJP's supporters, it also provided ammunition to the opposition to corner the government in the Lok Sabha and then stage a walk-out !
It has required some real imagination and actually working on that famous saying : Politics is the art of the possible - to make this government happen. The fractured mandate reflected the fractured polity of the state. This article by Ram Madhav - BJP's chief negotiator gives an insight into what it took for realizing the art of the possible here.
But the early signs are not encouraging at all. Apart from the above mentioned comment on "allowing elections to happen", the new CM has talked about "making the army responsible for its actions", while some PDP folks have allegedly demanded the return of the mortal remains of Afzal Guru. Also, the early news coming in on the allocation of portfolios is not very encouraging for the BJP.
There is very little doubt that the average BJP supporter - who has seen Article 370 being shelved for the time being for instance, will be quite aghast at these statements. I feel that the patience of the BJP leadership will be severely tested - time and again over the coming weeks and months and it will require either a willing suspension of disbelief from the supporters or incredible verbal gymnastics to make this alliance continue for any significant length of time. Stranger things than a PDP-BJP alliance have rarely happened in the past - it will require more strangeness to allow these two strangers to work together in any sort of constructive manner. A lot of heartburns and some humble pie eating will be needed to sustain this for a long time.. Interesting times ahead. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Some thoughts on the "terror boat" incident

The "terror boat" incident has brought about some very "interesting" reporting from the media and reactions all around. Here are some of my thoughts.

1) It is now abundantly clear, that a large and more importantly an influential section of India's media is opposed to this government at a very basic ideological level. Hence, communicating events in an even handed, objective manner from the government becomes crucial. The very semblance or suggestion of the government (and more particularly this government)  taking any credit, due or undue, (which I think is the basic issue in the terror boat controversy) will be questioned by sections of the media and will also be piggy backed by the opposition.
In light of this, it is imperative that the government and the armed forces must ensure that all agencies involved speak in a consistent manner. Let complete investigations be done - before taking credits or apportioning blames. The downside of the suggestion that the government is trying to get political mileage from military incidents - in terms of adverse press and consequential fire fighting is not worth the risk of making premature, self congratulatory assertions, which are hard to prove.

2) Irrespective of one's political leanings, I think it is a fairly safe assumption to say, that for large sections of India's population - India's armed forces remain the most credible and trustworthy institution of the Indian state. For some - still a substantial proportion, India's military goes beyond just the credible and trustworthy tag - it is a positively "sacred" symbol. And so, it is a rude shock to such people - when pointed questions are asked of the armed forces by India's intellectually "liberal" parts of the media. Many of us look at strategic affairs with a very binary mindset : namely "us (India, India's military)" vs "them (the enemy, Pakistani terrorists or Pakistan)". For this mindset it hard to even believe that it is indeed just intellectual curiosity and pursuit of the truth and not some sinister design behind sections of the media's "investigations" into incidents such as the "terror boat". Seeing India's media people speaking on Pakistani news channels discussing military incidents is for some - crossing a line when it comes to strategic affairs. (Incidentally - I have never understood the purpose of calling Pakistani ex-military folks on The News Hour and having arguments and scoring points either).
This is a very basic difference in world view - which is not easy to reconcile with. To see one's sacredly held institution or belief be questioned is very difficult to take and we know that very well know. It is also important to understand that for some - nothing - and in this case - the government and more specifically the military is not a holy cow and hence will face scrutiny. There are indeed some areas where people will find it easier to see questions related to the armed forces being raised such as : questions on meritocracy or indeed when it comes to issues raised on possible corruption in arms related deals. People would prefer however if media spends more time campaigning for the rights of soldiers such as one rank, one pension etc, but questioning military incidents and operations is harder to digest to quite a lot of people.
Having said all this - we all do realize that questions will be asked - some out of a duty towards truth, and some perhaps out of sheer antipathy towards the present government. It is also true that in all likelihood the questioners are not anti-national, and any advantage or debating points gained by the other side is merely a collateral damage in the pursuit of truth. Every citizen has their own judgement of whom to give their benefit of doubt. And so - while the government and the armed forces will do well to communicate much better in future incidents, I am of the opinion that - giving the benefit of the doubt to our professional armed forces is a very good idea - for they are keeping the "Idea of India" alive far more than anyone else. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

David and Goliath

AAP - 67: BJP -3. Probably the most stunning election result ever in India - and certainly t when it comes to state assembly elections. You might think this is another case of the Biblical tale of David, the underdog - here the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) defeating the Goliath, the giant and favourite - here  - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who are favourites - simply by dint of having won the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections and numerous assembly elections since then and having a team of Narendra Modi + Amit Shah at the top who have been undefeated till now in wherever they have seriously put in efforts.
Well - you are right, in thinking that yes - David did beat Goliath. But if you believe or at least go along with the Gladwell version of this (see the video below) , David (AAP) was always going to beat Goliath (BJP). And that is because - this was not a tank fight, like the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections -but that  this was a street fight - and for this fight, AAP was better equipped with their their new, unorthodox and improvised approach - compared to the BJP's more textbook, traditional political ways. And so as Gladwell tells us - it is not the size of the fighter that decides but the suitability of the tools for the nature of the fight that tells us who is going to win.
I am not saying that BJP will always be a Goliath and AAP - David. In fact, in the 2014 elections - BJP were far more modern, innovative and new in their messaging and campaign when they defeated the grand old party of India - the terminally declining Congress. But in this fast changing world of Indian politics, yesterday's David are today's Goliath, and who knows what tomorrow brings.
I am also not saying that with this logic - all underdogs are going to win - or that we should have known this all along. All I am saying (using Gladwell's version of the story) is that perhaps some underdogs are not really underdogs if we look carefully at the nature of the contest, and that perhaps makes a new, upcoming, party which is bringing in new methods of engaging with the electorate to the table, which is more agile and nimble and perhaps most importantly - more enthusiastic, a very formidable competitor - now and for the years to come.
Indian politics has changed completely in the last two years and two men - Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal have changed it. Very few - even till mid 2013 believed Modi could be a viable Prime Ministerial candidate, let alone win a majority on his own - given his past. But he did -and he did that by playing the game by his own rules. And no one, even till today morning - could believe Kejriwal could pull of the kind of stunning victory that he did today - not even his own party. For it is not the victory, but the stunning nature of it, that is most incredible.
Modi and Kejriwal are India's two top politicians and they are 1-1 right now. 2014 LS belonged to Modi - 2015 Delhi is Kejriwals' win. The two victories are not comparable in terms of size at all - the former being like a World Cup - and this like - just another ODI series : Modi's achievement and scale of victory remains far bigger. But what cannot be denied is that Kejriwal took on not just the BJP, but Modi as well (even if it was his home turf)  and beat them in a devastating fashion. This is a win in a head to head contest and no amount of spin should take away that credit which Kejriwal deserves.
We don't know if this will be a one off blip for the Modi -Shah juggernaut or whether Kejriwal will be able to expand significantly across the country. But we now know this - Modi is not invincible any more - that aura is gone; and that Kejriwal is quite simply his only challenger - who can have a national impact (The likes of Jayalalitha or Mamata don't count because they are strictly one state parties). And while I am very, very skeptical of the politics and policies of Kejriwal - India once again does have two different options, different models to seriously think about - something which the suicidal Congress had kind of taken away for a while.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Are Some Double Standards Ok ? - Part 1

I am writing this more as a set of questions rather than opinions about which I am completely convinced. The question broadly is : Are Some Double Standards Ok ? Or should all Double Standards be rejected outright as smacking of hypocrisy etc ? Perhaps there is a middle ground as well. Let's see.

Double standards basically mean that different set of principles being applied to judge similar sets of circumstances for different people. In other words, basically different rules for the two sides playing the same game. And when one does not apply rules fairly, the accusation of hypocrisy comes up. In an era where almost every question is answered by - "But what about ....." or he also did this - hence the question is invalid, double standards get highlighted even more. Hence, my question on Are Some Double Standards are Ok ?Or even  - Is Some Hypocrisy (sort of) Ok ?

Let me try and see this question in light of some recent situations:

1) The Obama Religious Freedom "Edification": In a speech in New Delhi, during his presidential visit, Obama asked for upholding religious freedom in India (still a secular, democratic country). He even invoked the constitution (Article 25) - so he was being quite categorical about this. Of course, the media took this as a jibe at the Modi govt and so on. Interestingly enough, just after his India visit, he went to Saudi Arabia to pay his condolences to the departed king there. Obama hasn't made any statement about the condition of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia (an Islamic republic) and so - some people began to question his credentials of questioning India when he doesn't do the same to Saudi Arabia.

The question is : Is this double standard ok ? Should Indians take the criticism (or observation) from Obama seriously or shout hypocrisy on account of his failure to say the same to Saudi Arabia ?

In my opinion - the double standard here - if it indeed can be called that is justified. India, as a self proclaimed - secular country - has to be judged in a different parameter to a theocracy - and so if are not measuring up to our own standards - and it is being pointed out, we have to be big enough to take the criticism. It can be no consolation that religious freedom is better in India than Saudi Arabia - we have to aspire and be judged upon a higher standard.

(Note: I am not further bringing in Obama's comments in his breakfast prayer meeting - it is basically the same point made, but in a little more pointed way).

2) The AAP "Hawala at midnight" row: Without going into the details of it, the double standard in question is very simple. Can BJP & Congress - who themselves do not disclose their funding sources, question AAP - a party which discloses on the details of the person donating - and which is possibly a shell company. At the outset - it is hypocrisy from the other political parties and merely an electoral issue brought in - in the last moment.

In my opinion, AAP has to follow two rules - one laid down by the government and ensure compliance with that. And second - their own standards of transparency - that they proclaim with self righteousness. The jury is still out on this one if they have lived up to the second rule.

3) Conversion/ Ghar Wapasi: The recent controversy regarding assorted members of the Sangh parivar trying to "re-convert" people back to the Hindu fold is well known and was perhaps blown out of proportion by the media. There are many facets in question here - starting from the fundamental right of freedom to practice any religion to the question of inducements and indeed fraud being done. It also brought out lot of talk about the evangelical project in India - which has been going about their business of spreading Christianity - quite successfully it would appear - in various parts of India.
But the one, really interesting argument that I noticed in between all the sound and light being made was this: Christianity and Islam are by definitions proselytizing religions, but Hinduism is not. It is only modern versions of the Hindu religion such as Arya Samaj which have brought in this concept. And so it is fair game for Christians and Muslims to spread their religion through conversions, but not so for Hindus. Hence any and all efforts by Hindu organizations to covert or reconvert people back into the Hindu religion is not acceptable.

I found this line of thinking - the most interesting at a theoretical level. However, it has neither any impact at either the ground level thinking of Hindu Orgs,  nor should the law consider it. The law should be equal for all faith groups. I found Nitin Pai's article on this quite in line with what should happen. The one personal opinion I do have about conversions is that - conversions should be allowed only above the age of 18. If we believe people, only above 18 have the wisdom and intellect to decide who to choose while voting,  I think - it is fair to argue that similarly the decision to change religion can also be looked at in a similar light. It should allay fears of mass conversions being carried out in dubious manner in tribal areas where I do think it is possible that people are converting without sufficient knowledge and facts.

I had quite a few other topics to think about, but this post is almost becoming TLDR, hence breaking it into perhaps two parts. More on this later.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Two small points on common reactions to a terror attack

After my last post on reactions to a terror attack, I want to make an observation about a couple of the very common and standard responses that I have seen.

1) Terror has no religion. This is commonly spouted by most politicians as well as liberals while condemning the latest terror attack. Case in point, the French President himself said in the aftermath of the attack that the person involved had nothing to do with Islam. Or if we go a few months, back, Barack Obama said ISIS had nothing to do with Islam. Pretty much, every politician in India including Narendra Modi also says the same thing.

I do not agree with this politically correct - bull shit or capitulation. First of all if you say - terror has "no religion" - then are you implying that it has something to do with those who have "no religion " ? Are you implying terror has something to do with Atheism ? But more seriously, if the terrorists are actually telling us that they want an Islamic state or are doing it to avenge their religion's Prophet, how can it have nothing to do with religion ? It can be argued and it should be argued that it is possibly based on a very wrong and distorted view of that religion - and that wrong and distorted view needs to be challenged - sure, but to deny links with religion and all that goes along with its indoctrination and training is simply being in denial.

2) All Muslims must apologize for a terror attack done by Muslims. This is another common response - typically from the other side or the right wing - which asks, nay demands, all Muslims not just condemn but apologize for the misdeeds of the terrorists.

There are a lot of problems with this view:
a) The ones that you are able to communicate with and have a dialogue with, are living in the same society as you are, and have nothing to do with it. If they had anything to do with this, then you wouldn't know them or speak with them anyway.
b) How does a Muslim living in say India or Indonesia bear any obligation for the misdeeds of these terrorists - you cannot logically link the responsibility.
c) What benefit will you gain anyway if a few apologized for the sake of it - it is pointless. What next ?

What happens by making these sort of petulant and stupid demands is that the real issue of terrorism and how to counter it gets lost and gives the opponents of those making this stupid demand a chance to accuse people of bigotry and racism and the debate gets lost. And if you are unlucky you get pwned very badly too :)

So what can you do or ask of Muslims if anything at all ? Nothing in my opinion. Those who are actually living in these middle eastern countries or African countries, from where this radical Islamic terror is emanating - have to find their own solutions. And those living in the democratic world - are and have to be part of the debates in these societies.

Edit: Curiously enough, Garry Kasparov had to see the following today evening itself....

Thursday, January 8, 2015

How do folks react to a a terror attack by Islamic Terrorists ?

So, yesterday, we had yet another terror attack, by Islamic Terrorists. As John Stewart says, you just can't make sense of these things.

Having said that, many folks (and I am guilty of judging myself) do react and we then get to see the views, and more importantly the inherent biases within the people in their reactions.

And in these myriad reactions, I did some very, very broad generalizations to categorize the reaction of the different types of people as to how they react to a terror attack by Islamic terrorists. Note : these reactions are when a "western" or democratic country is attacked and not say for ISIS related attacks in the middle -east.

 I wonder if others think this categorization is reasonably accurate.

PS: Where should anyone stand on such issues ? Apart from a feeling of solidarity and grief with the victims, there is no one right answer that I know of, for all the other questions. Where do I stand - I admit I am what a lot of people would call a bigot in this matter, and my views are probably closest to Type 2. I could be Type 1 as well if you consider that in India - Type 2 is not really a category. And my biggest problem is with folks in Type 3 - because they control the dominant media narrative. But more bitching about that on some other day.

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