Saturday, December 19, 2015

How Rising Islamophobia and Growing Intolerance in Modi's India is being countered

 India is seething with emboldened criminals and bullies. It is reeling under strategically ignited religious tensions, and the cultural terrorism of vigilante groups. Hindu bigotry is in an open, all-out war with pluralism. There’s unrest in Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir. Caste and gender atrocities continue unabated. Ministers and members of parliament regularly make ugly statements that don’t cost them their jobs. Cow worship and beef wars have replaced development at the top of the noise spectrum.
The above para from a leading business newspaper , only begins to describe the untold horrors being experienced within India being unleashed by India's Hindu Nationalist government and the Hitler reincarnate Narendra Modi. India, a veritable heaven of tolerance under the progressive Congress party for years, is now a bloody playground for violent Hindutva thugs and goons, causing enormous damage to India's image in the international sphere.
Shashi Tharoor, a leading MP of the Congress party, did a video for the The Guardian which provided stirring commentary effectively mixing facts with powerful rhetoric to counter the rising Islamophobia in Modi's India. It was indeed a sign of stark intolerance that the redoubtable Guardian had to change it's original headline from that in the below picture to the now mellowed down version of Narendra Modi's war on pluralism is destroying India's reputation.


In fact, the Guardian has often been a leading voice of reason against this rampant Islamophobia and rising intolerance by Modi. It's coverage during the visit of Modi to UK contained many exemplary pieces including this by Pankaj Mishra and this by Anish Kapoor . The headlines were quite orgasmic for India's marginalised liberals - constantly targetted by hate speech by online trolls.

Talibanising Hinduism

Meanwhile, despite the complete and utter suppression of dissent and free speech in India, a few pockets of resistance have been seen. Apart from #AwardWapasi by many noted intellectuals including Munawar Rana  there were others too who have tried raising their voice. The noted author Amit Chaudhuri mentioned that : Wahabi Hinduism is decimating the pluralism of the religion, No doubt he was probably beaten up by a lynch mob of angry Internet Hindus - thereby precisely proving the point that Hinduisim had become like Wahabi Islam - which had nothing to do with Islam.

In the aftermath of the most barbaric incident in India - the Dadri killing and moves towards wholesale banning of the single source of nutritious diet in India - beef, there was a move to create a false equivalence with the lack of reporting coverage on the death of one Hindu activist in Moodabidri. 
However, these diversionary tactics by saffron forces was completely debunked by leading news anchor in India - Rajdeep Sardesai as follows:

Well, I'll tell you why. To begin with, any killing is condemnable. But when we seek to compare two instances without even bothering to examine the political context, we are entering dangerous territory. Prashant Poojary was a Bajrang Dal activist in Moodbidri. The Bajrang Dal has self-admittedly used violence as a weapon against minorities (don't believe me, meet Babu Bajrangi in Gujarat or listen to him in a Tehelka expose). Poojary has been allegedly involved in cases of intimidation and violence in the region. He was fighting the “beef Mafia” as part of the anti-cow slaughter agitation. He didn't deserve to die under any circumstance but there is a political context to his death as there would be in Bengal when Trinamool workers clash with cadres of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
(Note; It is mildly disappointing that he used TMC & CPI(M) as examples of violence though - secular parties like them, have rarely, if ever indulged in them).

One of the common talking points to target India's most tolerant Muslim community is to conflate them with Globally Jihadi terrorism. Global Jihadi or Islamist terrorism, which has nothing do with Islam, is a result of colonialism, globalisation, global warming, rising inequality, rampant Islamophobia etc. Recently, The Hindu carried an extremely illuminating article which dismissed India's claim to be a victim of global terrorism (which has nothing to do with Islam) and be counted on the same side as the west:
Despite its role as an easily accessible and internationally recognised site for terrorist innovation, however, Mumbai doesn’t belong in the same group as Paris, London, Madrid or New York as targets of al-Qaeda and now Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism. India isn’t a serious target for these groups despite appearing on their imaginary maps like so many other places. But instead of being thankful for this situation, a number of Indian journalists and policymakers seem anxious that the country be recognised as a victim of globalised terrorism, and so an ally of the Europeans and Americans fighting against it. This longing to join the all-white club of terrorism’s leading enemies can even be seen as a perversion of the older desire that India take her place among the great powers. 
 But more importantly, the article made an ever bigger point that the Islamist groups which are against India are actually nationalistic in nature and that nation should be grateful for that.
While India is not immune to the politics of culture, the state continues to dominate social relations there in such a way as to define, if not produce, all forms of resistance as well. But by the same token, it limits such resistance so that Islamic militancy in India remains conventional and bizarrely even “nationalist”.
Despite the massive clampdown on Freedom of Speech of political rivals, efforts are ongoing by brave, secular politicians to speak against Islamophobia. Mamata Banerjee, CM of West Bengal managed to attend a rally organised by Jamiat Ulama i Hind ( a nationalistic Islamist organization). The rally was called as a protest against rising intolerance in the country.
Rallying against Intolerance

Overall, however the condition for minorities in India remains precarious. Leading film stars, who happen to Muslim, such as Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, have time and again spoken about how the country is getting more intolerant. However they are getting bullied for speaking with Apps being uninstalled & calls for films being boycotted ! 

There are other horrors on display too. A Hindu radical (Wahabi variety) insulted the Prophet Mohammad  leading to peaceful protests by Muslim community throughout the country.  Despite extreme provocations, the community remained totally peaceful while merely demanding death against the Hindu radical, for blasphemy.

Peaceful Protests

Other disturbing signs of Islamophobia are also creeping in. Hitherto unreported incidents like this are somehow creeping into the mainstream -thereby leading to online backlash against the peaceful community. The silence of bigger media houses in such cases is appreciated but one wonders if that can be trusted for much longer. Secondly, the amount of Faking News type reports coming up in the Indian newspapers of radicalisation of young Indian Muslims is creating a false narrative. From the case of twitter warrior Mehdi Masroor , to toilet cleaning ISIS warrior Areeb Majeeb; from the disclosure of the name of the South Asian head of Al Qaeda Sanaul Haq to the unfortunate arrest of Al Qaeda operative Maulavi Abdur Rehman - there is a constant stream of vilification that is ongoing and this keeps providing fodder to the Bhakts and Sanghis.

Aah, yes the main problem facing the country is not radical Islam or Islamic terrorism - which as we described earlier is quite nationalistic in it's outlook. Rather it is these damn Bhakts that are the source of all and every evil. However a most wonderful development has now taken place. With the efforts of progressive, secular leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar, Salman Khurshid & Sudheendra Kulkarni - India's PM has now been forced into talks with Pakistan, And the best part is that this will provide much needed chastening to these damn Bhakts.
He has already taken the first stab at that by announcing dialogue suddenly. His hardline Hindu nationalist followers on social media and hot-headed TV news anchors — who have been building up anti-Pakistan sentiment in India and making the PM risk-averse so far — do not quite know how to react at the moment. The idea now should be to sustain the stupor of his bhakts and socialise them to the imperatives of statecraft through an active India-Pakistan process.
This will help Modi domestically — if he so wishes — as he has struggled to publicly take on his Sangh parivar allies as they stoke anti-minority sentiment, target liberals and pursue aggressive anti-beef campaigns. Anti-Pakistan discourse in the public sphere is often generated with Indian Muslims in mind to stigmatize them in society. Sustained dialogue with Pakistan can help address this as it starves the bhakts a bit of the oxygen that strained ties offered them so far. The bhakts can now pursue an anti-Muslim agenda only with the full knowledge that it embarrasses the PM they admire.
Throughout this blog, I have quoted the leading intellectual MoDawah and let us end with this final piece of wisdom from him, as we look to bring back lost tolerance to India.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Is Intolerance rising in India ?

The current meme in India : "Intolerance is rising" is if nothing else a very interesting debate. Many of India's prominent "intellectuals" are criticising the Modi government of encouraging, abetting and / or turning a blind eye to a series of violent acts that have happened in the country over the last few months (or years). There is a furious ongoing debate and a counter movement on to prove that India is tolerant. With the really long drawn and tiring Bihar elections as the backdrop, these have been terribly polarized times to be in India. It is fair to say that both sides are "having a moment".

Meanwhile, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz came together to co-author titled "Islam and the Future of Tolerance",  a book to have a dialogue about Islam, Islamism etc. "Is Islam a religion of peace ? " - is the subject of long running debates now. For instance take this debate from 2010 (probably) in which Maajid Nawaz participates to support the motion - Islam is a Religion of Peace. It seems that a post debate - dinner spat between Harris and Nawaz was the starting point to them collaborating on this book a few years later.

Maajid Nawaz's answer now is simple and makes sense:  Islam is neither a religion of peace nor a religion of war. It is simply a religion, and one that has been subject to many different interpretations over the centuries, and is still refracted in lots of different ways.

And so, if someone asks "Is India a Tolerant Country" or "Is India an Intolerant Country" this can also be answered similarly. It is neither tolerant nor intolerant. It is a country that has many different types of people with diverse opinions, who look at their identities in many different ways.

To explain further, I am not trying to compare Islam & it's problems with tolerance with the current debate in India. But the point is that to define entities like a religion or a nation-state / country in binary terms is very difficult and merely being convenient to your current political position.

Beyond the debate of communalism vs selective outrage & hypocrisy, it is true that an "India is Intolerant" narrative could become a self fulfilling prophecy. In a county where for the media, narrative trumps over data, this is even more likely.

Amidst the deluge of Op-Eds and articles, this one paragraph from V Anantha Nageswaran's article  was perhaps the one that I was able to relate the best personally.

And so, now that we know what is the game of the other side, it becomes imperative for the BJP to continue to increase it's rainbow social coalition across the country and reach out to more people with a more optimistic and positive message. I believe that it is well worth the effort for the BJP (despite the unlikely possibility of electoral gains) and the Sangh, to make efforts to reach across to minorities and strive for social cohesion proactively, without the arbitration and mediation of India's secular ayatollahs.

Economic progress, Law & Order and Justice are the only silver bullets available for a diverse country like India to maintain the peace. Education & Healthcare, too cannot be sacrificed at the altar of fiscal prudence. If we know that at least one side wants the nation to progress and stay united, a positive message for social cohesion at the grassroots level is well worth the effort. Ultimately , the oped vs oped game,  the news channel debate and Twitter & Facebook fights have limited utility. An exemplary record and a positive atmosphere is a worthy target to strive for.

"Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas" was a laudable goal to strive for, it is time to concentrate on all three words of this slogan equally. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Farewell Viru

Viru Sehwag retired a few days ago. So, I have collated a few of his best test knocks in this post. Words rarely can do justice to his game, and certainly not words by me.

And if it is words that I want to read about him, I prefer them written by Jarrod Kimber, the man who coined the term Sehwagology !

His farewell tribute was great too, and this below quote is from that
When you bowled to him, you weren’t bowling to a batsman; you were bowling to a belief system.
There was comfort in his madness. Others have stopped, slowed, changed, restricted, just to survive, to thrive, to score all that they could score. Not him. Maybe he just couldn’t slow down, couldn’t hold back. He was what he was, a wild animal of batting.
I think I will keep coming back here, to see some of his batting. Farewell Viru.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

P B Mehta & Free Speech in India

Some serendipitous YouTube surfing brought me to this video - A Speech by Shri Pratap Bhanu Mehta titled - The Strange Death of Free Speech in India. Now, I have been disillusioned for quite some time by India's liberal intellectuals and generally don't have much time for them. Whatever, his views may be, before or after this speech, this particular speech by Shri P. B. Mehta was different from the voice that you typically hear from some of those who are part of the elite masquerading as a secular-liberal intellectual in India today. It is a superb speech (about the 1st hour of the video) and I would recommend anyone reading this to listen to it. And the difference of this speech by Shri P.B. Mehta from your average liberal, elite pundit is that Shri Mehta comes across as a more honest man, at least here.

An almost exact replica of the speech delivered by Shri Mehta appeared as an article in The Open Magazine titled: The Crooked Lives of Free Speech  (Liberals lose the plot from Paris to Delhi) . (Despite it being in the printed form, I think listening to video is better).

It is worth discussing on the main themes and points that he makes regarding Free Speech and its history and usage in India. I have summarised the highlights of the speech/ article for me. The wordings in red are probably me reading between the lines or interpreting the speech rather than being said explicitly by Shri Mehta.

1) These are precarious times for speech all around with Charlie Hebdo type attacks and what have you. (Possibly also because a RW government is in India - but this is left unsaid of course).Free speech is the battleground for a lot of the political divisions as well as mobilizations. At the same time, societies and governments are concerning themselves with the debate between surveillance & liberty and liberty is on the losing side at the moment. We see all kinds of censorship these days and so things are overall looking bad for free speech. Why then is not enough outrage and concern on this issue in India today ? (I would think enough and more are shouting fascism at every other thing, but that's just my opinion). Does this mean Illeberalism (Code word for Hindu RW perhaps) is rising? However, that is not the case, because the big fear in our democratic arena has been Plato's fear of debasement of democratic discourse as compared to Mills' fear of censorship. And actually in India, social restraint or the tradition of India's tolerance is now completely collapsing as traditional structures of caste etc are collapsing. And so it is not illliberalism as such but the loosening of restraints on all side which is causing censorship.(An interesting point made by him was that the biggest critic of Sec 66A of the IT Act have been the "so called bigots" (probably referring to Internet Hindu Trolls) and not "liberals" as such.)

2) The Politics of Free speech : Now to my favourite part of the speech in which Shri Mehta demonstrates how every attack on some work of art/ literature etc, by extremists ends up being a victory for the mob or the assassin. Given that we know that in the age of the internet, the demand for a ban for a book or cartoon immediately draws more attention to it, it can be inferred that the demand is generally not for real banning but actually to draw attention or gain publicity for an issue for social or political ends.

Summarizing the situation and four typical scenarios to the usual flash-point situation:

Let us consider the situation of a book/ cartoon/ speech by someone (generally considered intellectual exercising free speech offends deeply the sensitivities of a group - typically religious.

Scenario Number 1) Invoke Mark Twain, and ask folks to show respect. In other words, the free speech using folks should not do the offending as an exercise of  "respect peoples' sentiments". And with this restraint shown and thereby respect for their religion gained - the attackers win.

Scenario Number 2) "Civil Society" throws full weight behind the makers of the offensive speech - they hold rallies, republish books etc. This results creating greater social polarisation, the attackers are able to prove the point that these people truly disrespect what they hold sacred etc and with greater polarisation done - the attackers win again.

Scenario Number 3) : Folks try to isolate the attackers from their communities by saying things like the attackers of Charlie Hebdo are not real Muslim type things. This is the typical apologist response and used widely by politicians having to be politically correct and many well meaning liberals. But what it ends up doing is once again sacrelizing the faith that was being attacked by the free speech offenders - thereby proving the point of the attackers that their faith is indeed sacred.

Scenario Number 4)  The whataboutery or hypocrisy traps to expose the double standards of people. If the Prophet Mohd can't be drawn as a cartoon, how is it OK for  Saraswati or Ganesha being allowed to be drawn in an offensive manner and so on. And really having drawn some arbitrary boundaries in the past, these are indefensible positions. And in light of changing circumstances this essentially becomes a debate to redraw the boundaries of acceptability. 

3) Other Highlights of the speech : There are many other great examples Biggest betrayals of free speech have been liberals and center and not fringes. There's great insight about how three very different laws: (i) Article 295 of Criminal Procedure Court - which protects religions against offensive speech with malicious intent; (ii) Representation of People's Act - which prevents use of religious speech in election campaigns; and (iii) Various anti conversion laws and judgments by the courts upholding them are based on the same underlining premise that religion is a sublime object and things relating to religion have to be handled with care and that it is acceptable logic that people lose their agency when religion comes into the the picture. India's constitutional origins are explained in terms of paternalism and deep statism. Countries choose their bias based what they fear most - where they fear of tyranny most - they go for liberty and where they fear social oppression most - they go for state empowerment; and in the case of India - it has clearly been the latter. There is a great anecdote on the debate on the 1st amendment and how S P Mukherjee challenged Nehru by asking if Nehru trusted the people of India and how Nehru basically said no. There are quite a few other points and anecdotes and a lament on the tragic split in India's free speech history wherein India's progressives (Congress) were  willing to create oppressive legal regime for achieving progressive outcomes, while those who were libertarian in their outlook and wanted more restrained legal regimes ended up being tainted as communal

And no line was funnier than the admission, that not a single legal instrument of suppressing free speech that is being used by the BJP has had to be created by them - they had already been created by and used by the Congress. 

To conclude, I found the speech to be extremely educative and illuminating. It was also refreshing to see a self proclaimed liberal giving an honest account of the various anti free speech positions taken by progressives in the past. While I agree with his broad conclusion that the mutual respect model of not offending will no longer work in this digital age, it will take a lot more than one Pratap Bhanu Mehta speech, for India's elites to confront the sins of omissions and commissions of their own side, in both the past and present state of free speech, before earning the moral authority to pontificate on this issue. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Five Jonathan Haidt videos

Over the last year or so, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt , is one of the most insightful books that I have read. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding how the human mind thinks in terms of liberalism, conservatism and on polarizing issues which involve morality such as politics and religion.

Here are 5 videos of Prof Haidt on some really interesting topics, well worth your time listening to.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Is Indian Secularism completely unsatisfactory ?

[Warning: Very long rambling piece, so don't recommend reading unless you have quite some time to expend - TLDR type].

India's religious fault lines were once again brought to the fore over the last few days with the the drama surrounding the hanging of Yakub Memon. To me this has brought up the question: Is India's secularism  a complete farce that satisfies no one ? 

Over the last few days, an incredible amount of moral confusion has been spread by conflating the basic issues of the validity or otherwise, of capital punishment with the merits of the case of Yakub Memon. However, by the end of it all, it seems to me that champions of India's Muslim community, both in politics - such as Naqeeb e Millat  - Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi, and India's leading "Secular-liberal" intellectuals are making a number of very serious charges against the Indian State and its institutions, but also perhaps at the "very Hindu" government at the center.  After all, the Yakub hanging has led to both, discussions at chai -stalls as well as leading op-ed columnists expressing that he got a raw deal because we have a Hindu government.

The narrative is One Smart Line

It is worth mentioning that India's  "liberal" intelligentsia, which has for some time had a symbiotic relationship with left of center, "secular" parties, is now locked in an increasingly shrill battle with what they perceive to be the "fascist", "communal" forces of the Sangh Parivar.  In these times of Social Media, this influential civil society which is the "Sec-lib" intelligentsia, comprising of prominent members of the media, the legal fraternity, the arts and so on, has come across a new stumbling block - the disorganized but rambunctious online supporters of the Right, who will not take things lying down. Call them Internet Hindus or Sanghis, or as is in fashion these days, "Bhakts", they are certainly giving a run for the money to the established Main Stream Media voices who have been used for long, in controlling the narratives. The arrival of the Modi Sarkaar has notched up the volume of our daily debates, for better or for worse.

Now, coming back to the earlier point, some of the charges being made by our secular champions are:

  1. The Indian State is biased against Muslims when it comes to criminal justice.(Sometimes Dalits are also being combined into the argument, for added impact: For Eg this has been thrown around a lot recently:  A recent study by the National Law University shows that a mindboggling 94 per cent of people on death row are Muslims or Dalits
  2. This is happening in a number of ways. For eg:  Criminals/ Terrorists - who happen to be Muslims - such as Afzal Guru/ Yakub Memon - have got the death penalty, but similar punishment is not being meted out to criminals/ terrorists who happen to be non Muslim - for eg: Killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh, or the likes of Mayaben Kodnani/ Aseemanand/ Sadhvi Pragya etc.
  3. Another charge is that the police/ other investigative agencies should varying degrees of interest during investigations in incidents in which Hindus are the prima facie bigger guilty party as opposed to those which have prima facie - more Muslims as the guilty party. So for eg, incidents such as the 92 Mumbai riots are seen as not having been investigated with the same alacrity as the 93 Mumbai bomb blasts.
  4. The deep rooted bias displayed by the Indian state through its law enforcement and justice systems is also a day to day affair demonstrated in things such as the general poor treatment of Muslim youngsters by the police for any alleged law & order violation.
In addition to the above points which are part of the debate in the instant case relating to Yakub Memon, Muslims are also victims of several other societal discrimination. They also are a regular victim of discrimination when it comes to looking to rent houses (serious issue in my opinion), to facing the brunt of what they perceive to be the tyranny of majoritarioism in terms of having their patriotism questioned every now and then (take the case of Hamid Ansari, Vice President for example  - yet another truly unfortunate thing), having Yoga or Vande Mataram or Gita being thrust upon them as unwilling participants (trivial & easily fixable issues IMO) or things like the beef being banned (A Holy Cow for many Hindus - literally).

All these points, put India's claim of being a secular state in question. Secularism, enshrined in India's constitution, is supposed to ensure that people of all religious faiths are equal in the eyes of the state, thereby protecting the minority communities from being at a disadvantage. The net effect of the charges and claims made by the champions of India's minorities, is that they are heavily disadvantaged and being discriminated against by the state and the government and the very lofty promise of secularism, is essentially an empty one, not translated into reality. In other words. we have set ourselves a goal, a standard, which is almost impossible to meet.

If India's minorities, especially the Muslim community, are so thoroughly disadvantaged as the claims suggest, one might then extrapolate that India's insufficiently secular structure would be something that is satisfactory for the Hindu Right. But as we know it is clearly not. Consider the following points

  1. The Hindu Right feels frustrated at an emotive level on a number of points: Starting from not having a Hindu nation-state despite being the only country in the world with a significant Hindu population and hence the sole homeland of Hindus, and being a numerical majority of ~ 80%, The sheer feeling of impotence and incredulity of being unable to build a Ram Temple at Ayodhya - the birth place of Lord Ram and so on.
  2. Secular projects like the Uniform Civil Code are not supported by yes, so called Secular-liberal parties because they would rather be in the good books of the WAKF Board and their ilk.
  3. The practice of so called secular politics, and the cultivation of Muslim vote banks - has led to the a feeling of alienation of ordinary Hindus - who's interests are completely sacrificed at the alter of secularism - a point particularly true in the Hindi heartland (See linked article below).
  4. Having been out of power for most of independent India's history, the Hindu Right Wing is also discovering how "the game" has been completely rigged against the Majority community when it comes to Education through the disastrous Right to Education Bill, or that the wealth of Hindu temples is often in the hands of the state and not Hindus themselves (unlike say Mosques/ Churches).

What I described above, are just a few points of bias that both sides of the divide face and the discontent they have on several issues. But the lists above were merely illustrative and by no means complete. One side cries for the "State violence" and Human rights violations in Kashmir while the other laments the exodus of Pandits under threat of Mass Murder.  One side is threatened by Love Jihad and Ghar Wapasi, the other worries about demographic changes/ conversions happening in several states. One fears a murderous spate of riots by Hindutvawadis, the other - terrorist attack from Jihadists - both internal and external, especially in context of a post 9/11 world. This can become a never ending list of wrongs and issues faced by each side and a cause for mutual distrust and antipathy.

So here's the incredible irony of the whole situation created by India's secular framework. Over the years, the "secular-liberal" establishment led by the Congress Party, has nurtured the Muslim vote bank, essentially created a Muslim veto on pro Hindu issues of law and civil society, and thereby created & strengthened, what some consider a reactionary, Hindu Right Wing; at the same time failing to both improve the lot of minorities economically, and also provide them with a level playing field in terms of criminal justice matters - essentially undermined by what is human bias of officers of the Indian state. Or to put in very crudely - while Hindus (and especially upper caste Hindus) have become disadvantaged in the eyes of law on various civilian matters, it seems to be the case that they are at an advantage when it comes to escaping punishment in terms of criminal matters.

The above described situation seems to be a status quo under a UPA Type government, but things are a little different now. Just before Modi becoming Prime Minister, Rohit Pradhan had written this piece which gives an interesting take on the equation of Modi with Muslims. The below extract from there is very instructive.
The core Modi supporters believe that Muslims are a pampered lot who run amok in the name of secularism and disproportionately influence the political discourse to the detriment of the more numerical but hopelessly divided Hindus.  The principal idea here is to make the Muslims realize their place in the society. And once they are cognizant of their diminished influence, there would neither be any need for violence or any display of overt religiosity. In other words: the silence of the graveyard.
Modi would perhaps be the first Prime Minister elected in the express and rabid opposition of Muslims. They are likely to greet his rise with sullen indifference further accentuating the religious cleavages in the Indian society. The sense of being let down by the mainstream ‘secular’ parties would only encourage the rise of Muslim fundamentalism leading to their further isolation from the mainstream of the Indian society. It has dangerous portends for India’s long-term stability but perhaps is an inevitable course correction to the excesses of her ‘secularism.’
It is the greatest indictment of Indian secularism that it has always rested on the bedrock of Hindu caste divisions. Modi with his outreach to hitherto ignored groups within the larger Hindutva project is challenging that. Muslims have thrived politically only because the Hindus have preferred caste divisions to religious appeals except in the most exceptional circumstances. It remains to be seen whether Modi can permanently bridge the caste divisions within the Hindu society but even if he is partially successful, he would fundamentally rewrite the rules of Indian politics. 
So, what exactly changes for India's status quo with regard to secularism under Modi. It is quite simply this: While for India's champions of secularism: It is the fear that the inherent systemic bias against Muslims will now be multiplied by active discrimination by the Modi Sarkaar; but while for the Hindutva Right, this is of course a time of hope that core issues of Hindutva agenda will be taken up and worked upon.

Personally, despite the fears of the one side and the hope of the other, I do not see any dramatic shifts in the status quo. What will happen is that the inherent systemic bias that goes against India's minorities will be increasingly attributed to Modi, of course, but that's just something called politics. 

Do we have a way out of this - theoretically yes, but practically no. Theoretically it is working towards a better, more professional police force and a more fairer judiciary that gives a better sense of justice; while at the same time reduction in appeasement driven politics and policies. Essentially the idea of pitting interests of one community versus the other through zero sum games has to stop, while always working to find areas of common interest and mutual benefit. I do also wish that our internal debates become a little less fevered, that folks don't go on ratcheting up the rhetoric that it appears that they would actually prefer the next riot or attack happen so that their theory is proven right. But then again, who am I kidding.

 It is quite possible though that the cacophony of both mainstream & social media is an exaggeration, and that most folks, who put down their heads and work to earn a living are far more sanguine about things. Economic growth of the country and individuals is possibly a great solution for it seems - the better off you are, the better both society and law treats you.

So, to conclude while it is quite clear that India's Secularism is shoddy and unsatisfactory, is doing away with it even an option ? 

What I am perhaps asking is : Is it better for minorities to be in an unsatisfactory secular state which fails to live up to its promises vs a state which clearly has a religion and thereby sets its expectations accordingly. This is something I am curious to know. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jana Gana Mana

Jana Gana Mana, India's national anthem is an incredibly beautiful song. Sadly, it has also been the subject of a lot of unnecessary controversies, the main jist of them being that it was written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in praise of King George V. This controversy, which should have been a non issue by now, having been clarified on more than one occasion by Rabindranath himself, was once again brought up by the current Rajasthan governor and former UP CM, Kalyan Singh. The latest rant was about removing the word "Adhinayaka" from the anthem as it referred to the British apparently as per him.

Over the next few days, a number of write-ups came up defending Tagore and I liked two of them in particular. One was this Facebook post by veteran journalist, Kanchan Gupta who mentions that :
What is now the National Anthem of the Republic of India is the first stanza of a five-stanza Brahmo Sangeet or psalm. It was composed by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore on December 11, 1911, in adulation of Param Brahma.
The other interesting post was in Swarajya by Aravindan Neelakandan titled: Why Should The RSS Dislike Jana Gana Mana?  This also refutes the myth of Tagore composing the song for the British.

What was interesting for me was to learn about the full song of Jana Gana Mana. As we know, only the first stanza of the song is considered as India's National Anthem, reading and listening to the next 4 stanzas of this incredibly beautiful song gives an idea of the deeper meaning and symbology associated with it.

The 3rd para containing the following lines is particularly suggestive of one man, at least for me:
Hey Chiro Saarothi, Tabo Ratha Chakrey Mukhorito Potho Dino Raatri
Daaruno Biplabo Maajhey,Tabo Shankhodhwoni Bajey
Sankato Dukkho Traataa

 The 4th and the 5th para of course refer to the Divine, protective Mother and so the Krishna-Kali symbology makes great sense.

Moving on, I tried to find on YouTube some good renditions of the full song of Jana Gana Mana and I found three versions worthy of sharing.

First is this version performed by 39 of India's finest singers & musicians (with the background narration of Harsh Neotia the only slightly irritating part in it).

Second, is this lovely rendition by Sukhada Bhave (couple of minor errors in the wording notwithstanding).

Third, is this sublime rendition in Bangla by Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta - my favourite version.

Apart from being the creator of India's national anthem, Tagore also is the author of Aamar Sonar Bangla, which went on to become the national anthem of Bangladesh and is also an incredibly beautiful song. As Wikipiedia notes, he also wrote the music and lyrics for Nama Nama Sri Lanka Mata in the Bengali language for his student Ananda Samarakoon, who returned to Ceylon in 1940 and translated Tagore's song into the Sinhala language Apa Sri Lanka, Namo Namo Namo Namo Matha. In fact, I could not help but notice a bit of similarity in the music between the Indian & Sri Lankan anthems :)

And so, Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem of Republic of India, is so many things; it is a a divine prayer to the almighty, a sublime composition and a patriotic song. Take it the way you will, but I think it deserves our love and respect. Dragging in into petty political disputes by the left or the right, does great disservice to this beautiful piece of art and Rabindranath Tagore's genius. The great man and his work of art, deserve better.

PS: Collating some other beautiful renditions of the National Anthem here, based on a friend's suggestion.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Even the West is going mad. Here are n number of reasons why !

The first para in the Wikipedea page for  Political correctness is as below:
Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct, commonly abbreviated to PC) is a pejorative term used to condemn language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. The term had only scattered usage prior to the 1990s, usually as an ironic self-description, but entered mainstream usage in the United States when conservative author Dinesh D'Souza used it to condemn what he saw as left-wing efforts to advance multiculturalism through language, affirmative action, opposition to hate speech, and changes to the content of school curriculums. The term came to be commonly used in the United Kingdom around the same period, especially in periodicals such as the Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid that became known for the trope "political correctness gone mad."

I don't know about you, but growing up here in India - political correctness never felt like a pejorative term to me. It was actually seen as the right thing to do most of the time, being politically correct and being diplomatic was all right.

Whatever be the connotation, over time a strange thing has been happening. The demands for political correctness from the left have started increasing day by day that now, even self proclaimed "liberals" are terrified of just speaking. Consider this incredible story in The Vox : I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me. Read it and get terrified of what is happening on campuses in US. And as I keep wondering - how many years before this hits the Indian scene - I give it a max 10 years.

The previous article linked talked about the story of Laura Kipnis and this link here describes the shocking story in detail: The SJW Crusade Against Laura Kipnis . The new super cool left - Social Justice Warriors are running amok and in this instance - their victim was yes - a prominent LEFT Wing Scholar.
It is stunning, and scary as hell, to see how much power aggrieved students have to ruin a professor’s life and career by using federal law to wage culture war against their professors for being insufficiently kowtowing to the sensibilities of these Little Empresses.
And this sort of thing is of course championed and encouraged by the "liberal" bastions of the media. Take this article in that great newspaper The Guardian" What do the politically correct brain police have against venerable man comedians like Jerry Seinfeld? which takes a dig at Seinfeld for his complains about too much PC. Here's a piece in The Spectator on the same issue: If comedians can’t take a politically incorrect joke, who can?. This line from Seinfeld is hilarious:
‘I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, “Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC”’ he said, before launching into a story about the time his 14-year-old daughter accused his wife of being ‘sexist’ for suggesting that she may soon want to start seeing boys. ‘They just want to use these words. That’s racist. That’s sexist. That’s prejudice. They don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.’
Every day, you get some hilarious twister story. Here's a latest one : A civil rights activist who claimed herself to be black was not a black person at all. And now she says she doesn’t give “two s***s” about her parents' remarks which disclosed that she is black. Some money quotes:
"I actually don't like the term African-American. I prefer black”. (Well if you are of Czech origin and pretending to be black - you couldn't say you were African-American could you ? )
“I would say that if I was asked I would definitely say that yes I do consider myself to be black.”
She felt it was more important to “clarify” herself to the “black community,” rather than one that “quite frankly I don’t think really understands the definitions of race and ethnicity.”
As I said before, just a few years before you will lose complete sanity here in India. This was just a preview of the "new age" cool of victim playing that is coming. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Some reactions to the British Elections 2015

Last month's "surprising" victory of David Cameron and his Conservative Party in last month's elections in the UK was not only presently surprising for me, but I also came across some really "fun" reaction and analysis in the media.

1) There was an absolute shocking meltdown from the Labour supporting Libtards, Lefties and SJWs with protests on the street which included - yes vandalism. From a distance here - terribly assuming as well as prescient of a sign of things to come in India for the future.
#LondonProtest – anti Tory demonstrations held outside Downing Street

2) The Telegraph had a strong piece on this reaction from the British Left.
Stop your whingeing: why the Left are such bad losers

3) Nick Cohen, yes in The Guardian, had this incredibly piece wherein he talks about all that is wrong with Labour - their hypocisy and their self hatred.
Labour would do better if it learned to like the English

4) Another piece in The Telegraph - a stinging criticism of Red Ed.
No tears for Ed Miliband, please. He was the reason Labour lost

5) In the New York Times - an analysis by a former Labour Party cabinet minister
Peter Mandelson: Why Labour Lost the Election

6) Why the Tories crushed Miliband

7) In Breitbart: Milo Yiannopolus being brutal: ED’S DEAD: WHERE THE BRITISH LEFT WENT SO HORRIBLY WRONG

8) Another piece in the New York Times talking about recent wins by Center- Right parties: The Center-Right Moment

9) And on similar lines, in The Atlantic, What Republicans Can Learn From British Conservatives.

PS: Best thing about the UK Elections: This hilarious Hindi song video as a promotion for the Tories during the campaign. Enjoy :)

Two videos which give great insight about the Pakistani Army & ISI

Monday, June 1, 2015

Arsenal's 12th FA Cup Win

Last season, Arsenal won their 11th FA Cup. I had compiled the videos of the highlights of the finals of each of the Cup wins. Well, it is a delight to say that by winning the FA Cup in 2015, I am getting the opportunity to update that list - reproduced below. Arsenal now have won the FA Cup, a record 12 times, going ahead of Manchester United - with whom they shared the record jointly of 11 wins in the last year. This was also Arsene Wenger's 6th FA Cup win as a manager, and he now shares the record jointly with George Ramsey of Aston Villa from pre WW 1 years.

A 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Wembley with Alexis Sanchez's stunning strike for Goal #2 meant that this year's final was nothing like the nerve-wracking contest from last year. So here we go - the list updated with FA Cup 2015 !

1) 1930 FA Cup: Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 2-0.


1936 Final: Arsenal beat Sheffield United 1-0.


1950 Final: Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0.


1971 Final: Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1

1979 Final: Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2.

1993 Final: Replay: Arsenal beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in  a replay. Original match: 1-1.

1998 Final: Arsenal beat Newcastle United 2-0.

2002 Final: Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0.

2003 Final: Arsenal beat Southampton 1-0.

2005 Final (Penalties): Arsenal beat Manchester United 5-4 on penalties. Match ended 0-0.

2014 Final: Arsenal beat Hull City 3-2.

PS: Arsenal celebrated this latest win with an open top bus parade etc today and videos and telecast of that are available all over the place. Here's how they celebrated in 1936 and it is interesting to watch.

2015 Final: Arsenal beat Aston Villa 4-0

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Land of Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal - A small tribute

I was never really a history buff during school. In fact, one of my favourite lines to dismiss the subject used to be : the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. When it came to viewing the past, I used to prefer reading and re-reading mythology, if nothing else, it was certainly more interesting.

I had seen Sanjeev Sanyal over the years a few times on business channels, speaking with his economist hat on. However, it was only recently that I learnt about the fact that he is also a writer. It was through one of those serendipitous journeys on the internet that I came across this video of him speaking with Amish Tripathi - that I got to know about his writings and specifically this book : Land of Seven Rivers.

This is not a review of the book: Land of Seven Rivers: History of India's Geography, I am no book reviewer or critic. But here are just a few points about the book :

  1. This is not a pure history book per se, but an attempt by the author to give a history of India's geography - about India's changing natural and human landscape, cities and kingdoms, trade routes and rivers and so on. 
  2. As the author himself points out in the introduction, the book also is a little bit about the geography of India's history & civilization - as he tells us about the Saraswati river for example.
  3. The three key takeaways for me from this book personally were:
    • That history books can be written in a way, it is interesting and stimulating to read; I so wish that in the near future, books such as this become more widely read, especially by our young people;
    • That as an Indian, it is a good idea to be more aware, more cognizant about this nation's past, that we are part of a continuum of an ancient civilization with an incredible history and that we can carry forward this unique legacy, not as a burden, but as a gift with all its wonders;
    • That - it is always good to remember that India and Indians prospered during the times when this country and its people were an open culture which was willing to engage with the rest of the world, through trading and cultural interactions. Somewhere down the line, this quality was lost, but thankfully - that quality is back to the forefront now and this can only be a good thing.
Finally, this particular point made - right at the end of the book (which is part of the video link mentioned earlier) is my favourite part from the book. It makes a point about our identity that is worth pondering and reflecting upon. 

I recommend this book as a must read and I look forward to reading other works of Sanjeev Sanyal. Thanks for writing this Sir.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Paraphrasing Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen wrote this remarkable piece in the Guardian yesterrday : Labour would do better if it learned to like the English. It is a great analysis about the Labour party and its failings.

The paragraph 4th from last is this:

The universities, left press, and the arts characterise the English middle-class as Mail-reading misers, who are sexist, racist and homophobic to boot. Meanwhile, they characterise the white working class as lardy Sun-reading slobs, who are, since you asked, also sexist, racist and homophobic. The national history is reduced to one long imperial crime, and the notion that the English are not such a bad bunch with many strong radical traditions worth preserving is rejected as risibly complacent. So tainted and untrustworthy are they that they must be told what they can say and how they should behave.

I found this interesting. In fact, by changing a few words as done below, I thought it paints a rather interesting picture about India.

The intellectuals, liberal press, and the TV media characterise the Hindu upper-class as corrupt, inadequately educated misers, who are sexist, communal and casteist to boot. Meanwhile, they characterise the Hindu middle class as filthy, sometimes loony, who are, since you asked, also sexist, communal and casteist. The history of Hinduism is reduced to one long crime of discrimination based on caste and gender, and the notion that the Hindus are not such a bad bunch with many diverse, unique traditions worth preserving is rejected as risibly complacent. So tainted and untrustworthy are they that they must be told what they can say and how they should behave.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A couple of John Stewart interviews

Well we are going through a phase here, in India's social media life, where it is now a very, bitter war between the left and the right wing - with most of the main stream on the left taking a lot of hits. I think this is a rather interesting phase, which will probably blow away. Or perhaps it will not - and become a permanent long running battle like in the west.
In light of this, I think these two interviews of John Stewart - one with Fox News and one with MSNBC make for interesting viewing. It's worth thinking which media outlet is biased based on its ideological agenda or it is partisan or whether they are simply lazy and TRP driven.

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. How Islamic Is Islamic State in The New Statesman
  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.


Since then, I did find some more interesting video links discussing the topic.

  1. Here's Graeme Wood discussing with Robert Wright (the author of the article in Point 2.1 above). 
  2. Graeme Wood discussing with Mehdi Hasan (the author of the article in Point 2.2 above)
It is rather interesting to note that much of the debate seems to be centered around one word in the original piece. Yes, ONE. And that word being "very", in the line : The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.

Update 2

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.

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