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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