Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trump's win and some insights from the coverage of the 2016 elections

Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States of America. Coming close after the surprise Yes vote in the Brexit referendum in the UK, this was yet another shocking blow to the established liberal order in general and the rule of globalised elites in particular. 

Whether Trump won due to running a racist, xenophobic, misognynistic campaign or whether he won because he listened to and spoke about the economic anxiety gripping parts of "White" America is going to be debated long and wide. And whether Liberal elites should try to listen to these anxieties rather than mocking these Americans through Late Night comedy shows is another question that will be discussed for a long time to come.

The Alt-Right, Breitbart and what have you, came into prominence as having become a significant part of the Trump campaign. When they began to get featured in the mainstream media, I found this part from Ross Douthart's piece back in April particularly noteworthy:
But while reactionary thought is prone to real wickedness, it also contains real insights.... Reactionary assumptions about human nature — the intractability of tribe and culture, the fragility of order, the evils that come in with capital-P Progress, the inevitable return of hierarchy, the ease of intellectual and aesthetic decline, the poverty of modern substitutes for family and patria and religion — are not always vindicated. But sometimes? Yes, sometimes. Often? Maybe even often.
Both liberalism and conservatism can incorporate some of these insights. But both have an optimism that blinds them to inconvenient truths. The liberal sees that conservatives were foolish to imagine Iraq remade as a democracy; the conservative sees that liberals were foolish to imagine Europe remade as a post-national utopia with its borders open to the Muslim world. But only the reactionary sees both.
Talking of Liberal utopia, Mass Immigration has been and is going to be in the foreseeable future probably the most hotly contested cultural ( & economic ) issue in my opinion. This post in unz.com titled Who Belongs, provides an often easily felt but rarely articulated understanding on how native populations look at immigration. It refers to comments from someone called Michael Ignatieff.
What is driving this surge in anti-immigrant populism in Western politics?
"what we’re seeing is, in part, an ideological split between cosmopolitan elites who see immigration as a common good based in universal rights, and voters who see it as a gift conferred on certain outsiders deemed worthy of joining the community."
This disagreement, he said in an interview, has animated much of the backlash against immigration that is described as “uncontrolled” and a threat to receiving communities. These disagreements over “who belongs,” he said, will “define the 21st century.” …
Now talking of global elites, written in September, well before Trump's unlikely win, Mathew Continenti had explained in this piece titled The Politics of Disassociation,  Why populism, nationalism, and tribalism will outlast Trump and Clinton. In the piece, he quotes another article by John Marini and this paragraph is very instructive:

Those most likely to be receptive of Trump are those who believe America is in the midst of a great crisis in terms of its economy, its chaotic civil society, its political corruption, and the inability to defend any kind of tradition—or way of life derived from that tradition—because of the transformation of its culture by the intellectual elites. This sweeping cultural transformation occurred almost completely outside the political process of mobilizing public opinion and political majorities. The American people themselves did not participate or consent to the wholesale undermining of their way of life, which government and the bureaucracy helped to facilitate by undermining those institutions of civil society that were dependent upon a public defense of the old morality.
Finally, among all the post Trump win analysis pieces, I found this piece by Ed West in The Spectator to be most fascinating - especially the ending.

"How do people who like both equality and diversity square this contradiction? On the most part they don’t, because as Damon Linker observed recently in The Week, they have come to view any attachment to the local and real over the global and abstract as morally deviant:
Underlying liberal denigration of the new nationalism — the tendency of progressives to describe it as nothing but ‘racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia’ — is the desire to delegitimise any particularistic attachment or form of solidarity, be it national, linguistic, religious, territorial, or ethnic… cosmopolitan liberals presume that all particularistic forms of solidarity must be superseded by a love of humanity in general, and indeed that these particularistic attachments will be superseded by humanitarianism before long, as part of the inevitable unfolding of human progress.
Is it any surprise then, that across the western world the centre-left is sleepwalking to irrelevance? The proposition nation is a noble concept, and one against which the white identity politics of the Alt Right is hard to morally articulate, but it is very much a utopian one, and certainly something that has never been tried before in a democracy. Liberals boast that demography is on their side, which it certainly is, but when they achieve their goal they might not like what they have created. The more utopian dreams fail the more virulent its believers tend to become towards opponents, but it doesn’t solve the existential contradictions. As a child, I remember a superpower tried changing human nature to create a paradise on earth; that didn’t work out too well."

PS: This Youtube video rant by Jonathan Pie, that has gone viral is absolutely brilliant :)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

We need some Plain Speaking

Disclaimer : This is a long and rambling post about a few topics - but mainly intended to think aloud about having an honest and open debate about RTE. 

2015 onward, we have seen an outbreak of various kinds of incidents in Europe - both terrorist attacks as well as some non terror ones - like the attack on women in Germany on New Year's eve, which has led all sorts of questions being asked about mass immigration, multiculturalism, integration, the state of of liberal democracy and so on. The Leave vote winning the Brexit referendum only further fueled the ongoing rhetoric. Clearly there is a problem for all to see. The integration of Muslims, especially from the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan is not going very well - I do not need to post five different links here to make that point.

Roll back a few years. Mark Steyn, in an interview on Uncommon Knowledge, had this sequence, which goes into the heart of a tough question. There have been facts as well let's say fear mongering, about the changing nature of European society with lowering birth rates of white Europeans and rising immigration from the Muslim world. The term Eurabia had been mentioned by Steyn and a few others, with some particular date given by which Europe would be a white minority continent. That was vehemently countered by the multicultural left saying - no way that date is right, it would take many more years. But within that is an implied admission that Europe could be on it's way to becoming a Muslim continent. Alright, then the next question is So what ? So what would be wrong if Europe or the West turned Muslim ?



Steyn answers that in the above clip. Why did I bring this rather provocative clip up ? Simply because I thought this was an example of honest, plain speaking.  Another good example of some plain speaking, albeit provocative, about demographics, this time about the US for example is this article.

Demographics

Asking about consequences of demographic changes is a fair question in my opinion and deserves  thoughtful answers, whether it is the West or India. Every time the Census data is published in India, the very same data is analysed completely differently by the Left and the Right. For example this time around, the narrative from the Left was that Muslim population growth rates are at their lowest levels ever, while the narrative from the Right was about how the Muslim population growth was higher than that of Hindus again.  Both statements were correct factually - but they displayed differing concerns, as well as social/ political agendas.

Same data different analysis


Take this very detailed analysis by Shanmukh, Dikgaj and Saswati Sarkar. It discusses the possibility of Western UP and Southern Uttarakhand turning Muslim majority by 2061. So what ? You might ask. So what if that and indeed, other parts of the country turn Muslim majority - what is the problem, what is the issue ? I think - these are tough questions that deserve a lot of thought and analysis, Maybe there is no problem and any concerns raised are bogus. Or maybe there are questions to be raised about the life and liberty of non Muslims in such areas. Either way, it would be better as a society to answer these questions with clarity, rather than fear mongering or whisper campaigns.

Education

The Education sector is subject to quite vociferous debates across the world. The new Prime Minister of post-Brexit Britain Theresa May, has immediately gone for the restoration of "Grammar Schools" - something not touched by her predecessor David Cameron, who belonged to the same party. Note how she is not ashamed of using the term "truly meritocratic Britain". Of course, the move will not go uncontested, it will face virulent criticism from the Left, but at least there is a debate happening in the public space transparently.

In the United States, Charter Schools are a  cause for lot of debates. In this article, the great Thomas Sowell points out how Charter Schools have been delivering better results for the black community but are opposed by the Left and their success stories are ignored by the media because it does not suit their politics.

Whatever the debate, in my opinion there is far more plain speaking on both sides than what we see here in India.

Coming to RTE

We have been seeing a lot of hand wringing over the disastrous consequences of RTE, including it's sectarian nature. Within the last month, the cancellation of affiliation of six prestigious schools of the NPS group in Bengaluru, on account of an attempt to get minority status through fake certificates in order to avoid falling under the RTE regime, has brought some additional media attention.

There have been some criticisms of RTE of a secular nature in the Indian and International media, right up to this column by Geeta Kingdon in The New York Times. Someone the other day described RTE as a legislation which confuses "building schools" with "school buildings". See this video (sadly very under-shared & under-seen) of how a small, private school teaching kids from non-privileged backgrounds had to shut down as it did not comply with some bureaucratic wisdom.



Let's come to the most divisive aspect of RTE which is the sectarian nature of the law. A surprising number of people do not know about this. A more disturbing number of India's public intellectuals, media mavens and journalists PRETEND to not know about this.  But basically this is what it means: A combined reading of the Constitutional Amendment (93rd Amendment), the RTE legislation and cases decided by the Supreme Court means that only Hindu owned schools (whether Aided by the govt or Unaided ) have to comply with the regulations of the RTE. Minority owned schools (both Unaided and Aided) are exempt from complying with the RTE regime.

Apart from the plethora of regulations, the big issue here is schools under RTE, that is "HINDU schools", have to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children to be reimbursed the state. In other words, the Indian state, which promises free (& compulsory) education to children between the age of 6 to 14, SHIFTS the burden of it's own promise (in part) to private, Hindu schools only. Experience of the last few years tells us that many schools are shutting down as state governments are often not fully footing the bill or delaying the payment etc etc. The disadvantages that a Hindu school faces vis-a-vis say a non Hindu school are an enormous additional burden when it comes to be a competitive player of school market.

Reality Check India (RCI), has been pretty much leading the fight on Social Media to spread awareness on this issue. His blogs are an absolute education on this subject (and on many else). I would recommend anyone interested in knowing more about the disastrous RTE to read his posts on the topic.

 Consider the below explanation from this blog post by RCI which explains the nitty gritty of this discrimination faced by Hindu schools.

RTE Discrimination Explained

At the very least, if you explain this much to any reasonable individual, he or she will probably agree that something is not right here, at least in terms of a fair competition between say Hindu schools and Catholic schools - the Hindu schools are at a substantial disadvantage, whether it is in terms of autonomy or finance. The financial disadvantage is probably getting passed on to balance 75% students.

How do you know it is actually a competitive game ? A Jesuit organization, which DOES NOT have to comply with RTE, giving suggestions to the government to ENFORCE RTE. There is something unspeakably grotesque and sinister in this, which is hard to articulate, but quite deeply felt by me. Imagine an office, where one department - say Operations was exempt from following the dress code but went around snitching to the HR - hey look - those guy in Sales/ Finance are not dressed properly.

So, where is there so much silence about this in the mainstream media ? Why are India's public intellectuals who are up in arms against Gau-Rakshaks largely silent about this gross unfairness and inequality before law ? Why is no one doing plain speaking like Shreyas Bharadwaj did in this article where he mentions the following:
The RTE is nothing less than a targeted tax on Hindus already running schools and a preventive tax on Hindus from entering into the education sector. A 21st century version of Jizya.
          (SO WHAT, you may ask, later ....)

How does such an incredibly unfair law stay on the books with very little awareness or debate out there in the real world ? Is there a remotely similar situation in the education sector of any country which dis-advantages the majority community so severely ? I haven't come across any such examples. I am not totally surprised -after all the Indian state is unique in shifting the burden of responsibility to the private sector with great innovation. The 2% of profit for compulsory CSR for corporates was also a World's first when it was brought in a few years back.

 But amending, let alone repealing RTE, if ever any government - gets into that mode, will be an extremely onerous journey. The path will be filled with massive obstacles led by the activist classes who make up our so called "civil society" and then dealing with an increasingly difficult judiciary. There are moral hazards to be encountered in every step of the way, every clause to overturn. Take some examples.

  • Repeal RTE for Hindu schools: All hell would break lose if someone tried to do it one shot and it is here that we will get into some really deep ethical quagmires ? Do you not want good education for the underprivileged kids of the society ? These are Hindu kids also - you want to block their growth? You will hear plenty of goading from Catholic educationists for eg - who will go - We are fine if you Hindus don't want to educate your kids.This is the diabolical genius of the RTE legislation for it has now pit Hindus on two opposing sides and you can never make everyone happy at the same time ever again. 
  • No Detention: If you cite falling standards of educational outcome and learning and link it to removing no detention - then you will get some activists saying that schools are actually safe spaces for children from under-privileged backgrounds first and foremost and by bringing this in - you are actually attempting to thrown them out of school in a few years. In case the BJP tries this - they will be accused of doing an about turn on their own policy in Maharashtra. In any case today, meritocracy in India has been already sold as a Brahmanical conspiracy and this will be just another part of that agenda.
  • Requirements of physical infrastructure:  If you try to make them less stringent - you will be encountered by jibes of how you are inhuman to think schools should not have toilets for girl students.
The challenges I narrate are just as I scratch the surface. Experts and Intellectuals will no doubt weigh in with many more difficulties. There will be more moral hazards unearthed. There will be more Zero Sum Games to lose sleep over.

Asking for equality before law should be a simple exercise, it is generally considered to be a foundation of rule of law. But in India's current legal and political system, pitting one group against the other, pitting one special interest group against another is the norm and so there are no guarantees based on common sense and basic principles.

And so to end, something about plain speaking about the consequences of doing nothing and the status quo.

It appears to me that in the current state of discourse, the activist among the parents would rather be protest against high fees of a private school and get it under govt control, than have an education market of choice. 

What is the average Indian middle class parent most concerned about ? Is it RTE or rising school fees ? It is the latter. When you explain it him - what does he say ? He says hmm, we will still have the good missionary schools left unaffected - we will send our kids there. So what he will ask you - let the poor Hindus be educated through RTE and the elite go to the excellent Missionary schools. Hasn't the elite always gone to these excellent Missionary schools. What is the problem now ?

This is the question that needs to be answered. Well this is the elite that gives you today's self appointing judiciary and today's media. It is the same elite class that has nationalized the Hindu religion. Do we want more of the same or do we want a change for the better and equality before law ? 

I do concede that better policy alternatives need to be formulated in detail, but plain, honest, truthful speaking is needed from all sides. I guess what I am also saying is just stating the obvious like Equality before law is needed, may not be enough anymore. We need to engage in Sustained Persuasion. Doing nothing  about this is not an option we can afford.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Minimum Government, Maximum Governance

The recent expansion of the Narendra Modi council of ministers, taking it past the tally of the previous UPA government, is being seen as the latest blow the promises of Minimum Government, Maximum Governance - a slogan popularized by the Prime Minister himself, both pre & post elections as a symbol of this government's mantra and working style. The size of the council of ministers is a function of many factors, both administrative and political, and hence it is probably not the best measure of  Minimum Government, Maximum Governance. However, we do remember that the initial smaller size of the cabinet of ministers was touted as a sign of having a Minimum Government (again, probably wrongly), so the criticism now is perhaps a reply to that.

What does Minimum Government, Maximum Governance actually mean? What are some of the indicators that - what is being preached, is actually being practiced by the government ? Do people actually want it ? Is it actually the right thing to do at this point in time in India ?

On the two year anniversary of the NDA government, in an interview to The Wall Street Journal, Narendra Modi had this to say on the role of the state :
WSJ: What is the proper role for the state in the economy? 
Mr. Modi: The role of the State in the economy is best described in my maxim “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance.”  The state should be an enabler: a fair and transparent enabler creating an environment for sustainable growth and job creation, and giving a sense of belief to the people.
In a developing economy, state enterprises do have a role in some sectors.  They have to be managed professionally and efficiently. We have given them operational freedom and brought in talent from the private sector as well to facilitate this.  The state need not do business in certain sectors.  We have a new policy on strategic disinvestment.  We are in the process of identification of entities for strategic sale.

We can come up with many examples of  what maximum governance could mean. I suspect it is a euphemism for a government which delivers services to the citizenry in an effective manner. So the whole JAM (Jan Dhan + Aadhar + Mobile) architecture can be looked as a step in that.

Minimum government is a more difficult thing to pin down, but we can lay down some broad points in perhaps an increasing order of difficulty :

  1. Getting the government out of business or in other words privatization/ dis-investment;
  2. Procedural simplification for businesses and citizens in their dealings with governments etc, so in effect it could mean a range of things from Deregulation to Scrapping of old, defunct laws and so on;
  3. Reducing or limiting the size of the Central government and bureaucracy surrounding it;
  4. Reducing or limiting the scope of the Central government.

Point number 1 which is Privatization is probably the simplest means of demonstrating Minimum Government and the lack of privatization under this government has provided it's critics a convenient stick to beat it with. Why should the Government still own and run Air India - we ask. Of course, privatization means having to deal with bureaucratic tangles on one hand (the legacy of Maximum Governments of the past) as well as its political fall outs, unions and what have you on the other; and this government has appeared reluctant to spend its political capital on such things so far. On the question of the lack of privatization, Mr Modi had this to say in the same interview:
Actually, in any developing country in the world, both the public sector and the private sector have a very important role to play. You can’t suddenly get rid of the public sector, nor should you.  But if you look at the last two years of my government, and if you look at the entire post-independence phase of the country, you will find that in terms of money volumes the maximum disinvestment has taken place in the last two years.
So, as of now, we will continue to see some disinvestment, without big bang privatization and so on that count the record of this government is going to be a mixed one and possibly a disappointment for some of it's supporters.

Now let us look at Point 2. In terms of deregulation, simplification etc, one of the most discussed points is the Ranking for Ease of Doing Business. So far, we have seen small improvements in the ranking - up to 130th in the world in 2016 from 134th in 2015, but hardly something to write home about yet. But as you can see in the article, steps are indeed being taken, take the new bankruptcy code as an example. The government is setting itself ambitious goals, including getting into the Top 100 by next year.

We have seen some interesting progress in terms of scrapping of laws at both the central level as well as states under BJP. In this interview, Bibek Debroy of the Niti Aayog, mentioned that 1200 ! laws have been removed from the statute books at the central level. Also consider this article from the same author describing the ambitious project of cleaning up the statute books in the state of Rajasthan. It is an extremely instructive article which tells us how complicated and messed up our laws are. These lines here give a good idea of the nature of the activity.
First, are there old statutes and rules that can be repealed, similar to the recent Union government initiative? Second, can one rationalise and harmonise statutes/rules, and avoid the confusion that lack of standardisation causes? Third, can one place all statutes/rules in the public domain? Fourth, can one reduce excessive government intervention in statutes/rules?
As a possible template, such a massive reform exercise doesn’t take off unless it has the personal interest and the blessings of the chief minister. That message has to percolate through to departments. To state something not often appreciated: Rajasthan government doesn’t administer a statute/rule; a specific department within the Rajasthan government does, and every such department regards its statutes/rules as proprietary stuff, not to be trifled with. That’s where the CM’s intervention is vital. Equally importantly, there has to be a faceless bureaucrat, who will take the CM’s agenda and run with it, pestering and hounding departments, refusing to back off.
Posterity will not pardon me if I let that bureaucrat remain faceless. Had it not been for Rakesh Verma, the additional chief secretary, I am certain we wouldn’t have delivered. This isn’t about the Industrial Disputes Act. This isn’t about the corporate sector. It is about all the laws/statutes and all citizens. It is about making laws friendlier, including simpler language, where fresh drafting is involved. Rajasthan is the only state to have done this. Kerala repealed 697 statutes in 2005 and another 107 in 2009. That was huge, but not exhaustive. Rajasthan’s exercise is exhaustive.
Now, coming to Point 3 - with the recent expansion of the cabinet of ministers, there is no real case to be made here for this government. Neither have we seen any particular coverage of reducing the size of the bureaucracy. Instead, the focus seems to have been in making the bureaucrats perhaps more empowered and efficient. The only thing one can say is perhaps Fiscal Deficit targets are kept in check, for now, despite having a large state.

And finally coming to Point 4 - well this is the most difficult to pin down and grapple with. Our own history post independence of centralized planning and Socialism, instead of a Free market,capitalist system; influences the general thinking of the public and politicians in a certain way. In this article, Sanjeev Sanyal mentions Why India needs to no longer be an Ashokan republic, but a Chanakyan one. But in some sense the legacy of this Ashokan "nanny state" since independence, further accelerated by various well meaning progressive instincts of our elites, politicians and judiciary,  has resulted today in a nation in which we have regulations for everything : from free speech, opening schools, and from cinema to temples.

In this essay about free speech, PB Mehta rightly mentions:
The Indian Constitutional imagination was always marked by statism. The ideals of liberty in any constitution are shaped by the greatest fears of that society. Where the fear of tyranny dominates, there is greater emphasis on protection against coercion. For India’s founders, the bigger fear was not tyranny, but social oppression. The State needed to be empowered to protect society from itself. 
Not only is untangling of this complex web of laws going to be a herculean task for anyone who seriously attempts it, there is also a question of whether there is an actual appetite for it among the citizenry. One of the places that we see this in action, is the contentious case of school education. We know for example that the Right to Education Act imposes very many constraints on the running of non-minority schools - from policies of admitting students, to policies for promotion and indeed starting new schools. Very many schools are being shut down across the country due to non compliance. And yet, if you read news reports, all parents associations across the country seem to be doing is railing against exorbitant fees and getting government officials to intervene and then coerce schools into complying and thereby possibly shutting them down in the future. When it comes to a choice between having more choice of schools and liberty on the one hand and state regulations on the other, we Indians seem to prefer state intervention and regulations.

The same instincts and history of statism means that a secular state has Hindu temples under government control, rather than in the hands of communities at a local level, the only argument being that the state is in a better position to guard against possible caste/ gender based discrimination. The same instincts of statism means that we are seeing a clause being inserted in the Real Estate to prevent religious, sexual orientation, diet discrimination.

The one clear contrast to our preference for statism and fear of social oppression is the American tradition of Liberty. Liberty, that unique word that you hear all the time in the American political and social discourse is almost absent from our own discourse. Right from the times of James Madison, Americans have had Liberty as one of, if not their most,cherished ideals. It is perhaps the only large country where generally one party and about half the country is interested in limiting the size and more importantly the scope, of the federal government. And that is why many Republicans and Conservatives are truly concerned about the GOP's candidate of 2016, Donald Trump - who promises great management instead of a limited government.

And so pragmatically speaking, given our current income low income levels, given our history of socialism, given our tendencies in the society of fearing social oppression more than the tyranny of the state (despite humongous corruption), and dare I say, our lack of interest or it would seem - desire for Liberty, the best we can really hope for now, is a more effective and efficient government, which cuts out redundancies, middlemen and corruption where possible. (To be fair, we have seen some improvements in delivery of good services, across governments in the past decade - take the case of Income Tax return processing or Passport departments, for example.) We can also push for more federalism, reducing the scope of the central government and empowering state governments to do more, and this government has taken some steps in that direction. If we could additionally, curtail the state's instinct of rushing into solve problems that don't need state intervention probably, like trolling in social media for example, it would indeed be a major shift.

In India, we are unlikely to ever see many articles similar to this one - making among other things a moral case for Liberty and Limited Government. Thankfully though, we are beginning to see some interest in this direction of making a pragmatic case. Reuben Abraham and Vivek Dehejia lay down a pragmatic agenda for limited government, the first half of Modi’s mantra of “minimum government, maximum governance” in this article. A new conversation for a vision of a limited government and a limited state may actually be the most positive impact of this mantra being brought in by the Prime Minister. Actual results will probably take a much longer time.

PS: This article by Shri Debroy in Swaraja making the case for studying the classics for better appreciation of Reforms is well worth reading on this topic. As he mentions here, Reforms indeed mean a small government, as mentioned in this paragraph.

We continue to debate reforms—big bang, steady state, first generation, second generation. Often, we have our preconceived notions about what “reforms” are. To me, whichever aspect of reforms we debate, the discourse is essentially about three strands. First, the government cannot do everything. Second, the government doesn’t know everything. Third, the government means a decentralised government.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

On Brexit

So, BREXIT happened last week. In a surprising result to many, including me, Britain voted to leave the European Union 52-48. I had not been following the Brexit campaigns (Daniel Hannan speech videos notwithstanding)  nearly as much as the fun and games of Trump and Bernie. In fact, the departure of the RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan dubbed R3XIT, which got a lot of coverage, was sold as a massive blow to market sentiments and that combined with the possibility of Brexit had all financial market commentators on high alert and that's how it came back on to my radar. Since the surprise result, which caused tremendous financial mayhem, I have been following the political and media reactions and the fallout with some interest and dare I say, amusement - especially the part pertaining to the British political Game of Thrones like scenarios.

As one might expect, the rejection of the European Union by the English is being condemned by the liberal elite. It is being looked at as a racist, xenophobic reaction. Some others are calling it a rejection of elites by the masses. Many have called into question - the wisdom of having a referendum for such an issue (perhaps rightly), while others are vociferous in asking for a re-match so to speak.

Yuval Levin, writing in the National Review, had one of the best posts that I read. I totally agree with his line on foreign elections: As a general matter, I tend to think that honing sharp opinions about foreign elections is a bad habit to be in.

The points about the tensions between the Left's view that globalism is the future and nationalism is the past, and how it contradicts the present realities is very well made. The parallels of the feeling among the common people fighting against the elites in both Brexit and the rise of Trump are well described by Levin and his invocation of Edmund Burke is spot on:

I think the sheer vastness of our society, as well as the substance of the American idea and the demands of human flourishing, mean that a revival of the national spirit in America would need to be a kind of sum of subsidiarity—that it would follow from a revival of the local and communal. This is what Edmund Burke had in mind with his famous reference to the “little platoon,” which is often selectively quoted to suggest an elevation of the local in place of the national. Burke said “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.” That insight seems to me to harbor an answer to the crisis that manifests itself in the simultaneous rise of radical individualism and radical cosmopolitanism.
Essentially, Levin is suggesting that it is through flourishing local communities and groups that society can combat the various challenges of let's say the negative aspects of globalisation, that certainly cannot be ignored now.

This piece is Dissent Magazine described the divide over Brexit as a London problem. These lines summarized the divide very well:
In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites—the economic elites of “the City” (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.
For the rest of the country has felt more and more excluded, not only from participation in the creativity and prosperity of London, but more crucially from power. 
This piece in The Spectator gave a vivid account of the divisions that this referendum exposed.

The referendum revealed a great divide in Britain. According to YouGov polling, the overwhelming majority of university graduates — 70 per cent — were for Remain. But among those with nothing above some GCSEs, a similarly big majority — 68 per cent — were for Leave. The highest social classes were for Remain (62 per cent). The lowest were for Leave (63 per cent).
There was also a city versus country divide. Parts of London were well over 70 per cent for Remain, whereas country areas — particularly on the coast — were for Leave.
Every election is divisive, but none has pitted rich against poor like this one. The social divide has been far more dramatic than the divide between the two main political parties. In general elections, the professional and managerial classes favour the Tories by a margin of four to three. The difference is nothing like as marked as the social divide in the referendum vote. As a generalisation, the split has been between the educated ‘haves’ on one side and the working class on the other. The Remainers found ways of making this point — casting themselves as cosmopolitan and ‘open’ against the crude and (presumably) closed-minded Leavers. 

David Frum, writing in the Atlantic, was of the opinion that immigration was the main reason behind Britain voting for leave. This paragraph is a very good summary:

Is it possible that leaders and elites had it all wrong? If they’re to save the open global economy, maybe they need to protect their populations better against globalization’s most unwelcome consequences—of which mass migration is the very least welcome of them all?
Matii Taibbi in the Rolling Stone had this: The Reaction to Brexit Is the Reason Brexit Happened.

Were I British, I'd probably have voted to Remain. But it's not hard to understand being pissed off at being subject to unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Nor is it hard to imagine the post-Brexit backlash confirming every suspicion you might have about the people who run the EU.
Imagine having pundits and professors suggest you should have your voting rights curtailed because you voted Leave. Now imagine these same people are calling voters like you "children," and castigating you for being insufficiently appreciative of, say, the joys of submitting to a European Supreme Court that claims primacy over the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.
The overall message in every case is the same: Let us handle things.
But whatever, let's assume that the Brexit voters, like Trump voters, are wrong, ignorant, dangerous and unjustified.
Even stipulating to that, the reaction to both Brexit and Trump reveals a problem potentially more serious than either Brexit or the Trump campaign. It's become perilously fashionable all over the Western world to reach for non-democratic solutions whenever society drifts in a direction people don't like. 
Brendan O'Neil had a piece on similar lines in The Spectator, describing the dangerous recent trend of modern elites quick to not accept democratic verdicts that don't go according to their wishes.

And finally, Ed West in this prescient piece written just before the result tells us how societies are likely to be increasingly divided in the foreseeable future because people are beginning to identify themselves in two starkly different terms:

So whoever loses tomorrow will feel great bitterness. They will feel especially bitter because they’ve learned to see their nation not as a group of people joined together by ancestry or adoption but as an extension of their own ideals. I’ve seen lots of people tweet they want to remain because they want this country to be defined by certain values. Others saying that the other side are taking away their birth right by steering the country away from the way they want it to go.
Perhaps, but being a citizen of a country, rather than just a subject, means suppressing your own wants and concerns in favour of the common good, since your ideals, and your preferred direction, might be squarely at odds with those of your fellow citizens. And so the less a country is defined by things like history and the more by ideals and values, the more bitter the arguments will be over what those ideals are, and the less ready people will be to accept when they happen to lose.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Aftermath of Orlando

The immediate aftermath to the horrific killing of about 50 people at an LGBT nightclub by an ISIS inspired gunman gave rise to the usual kinds of reaction in general. We knew what the Left would say and we knew what the Right would say and they all did. However, looking at some of the columns in the Western press, I did notice a recurring thing of how this one incident has been extra divisive.

This article in The Washington Post, soon after the attack, titled : The new norm: When tragedy hits, Americans stand divided , had a very succinct summary in it's first line:

Three of the most contentious questions in American culture and politics — gay rights, gun control and terrorism — collided in a horrific way in an Orlando nightclub early Sunday. 
And to drive home the point about divisiveness, the article had this to say:

Not since 9/11 has a moment like this brought the nation together, and that evaporated quickly. Since then, calamity seems only to drive the left and the right further apart, while faith in the nation’s institutions deteriorates further.
Across the ideological and partisan divide, it no longer seems possible to even explore — much less agree upon — causes and solutions. So the response has been muddled, even while the next tragedy looms.

This short article in The American Interest: How to Tear a Nation Apart, explains how the use of guns by ISIS inspired terrorists is virtually splitting America, down the middle. The last two paras explain this point vividly.
Guns occupy a critical space in America’s increasingly acerbic culture wars, a manifestation of the broader social convection currents taking place below the surface. For Jacksonians who are losing faith in the ability of established institutions to preserve order, the Second Amendment is a bulwark against totalitarian movements, like Islamism, that would undermine American liberty. Under this deeply held view, attacks by ISIS-enthusiasts strengthen, rather than weaken, the case for gun rights. But for cosmopolitan liberals, gun rights are an anachronism—a symbol of all the wrong-headed views espoused by working class whites. Set these two warring camps against each other in the context of an ongoing terror threat, and you push an already divided society even further down the path of tribalism and fracture.

The attackers in Orlando and San Bernardino accomplished something the attackers in Boston and New York didn’t: They drove a wedge between patriotic Americans, and managed to ensure that our grieving over the dead was polluted from the outset by a din of vicious political assaults. By any measure, they and their fellow travelers must consider this a great success. Perhaps terrorists who choose to carry out their massacres with guns are actually “taking advantage” of American society in a rather different way than many liberals think.
There has been much hand wringing by Liberals and the Social Justice Left after this. From blaming homophobic society in general to Christians who oppose who Gay marriage, and saying all religions are equally to blame - every attempt has been made to conflate issues and deflect blame from Islamists : the one group about whom they will not take names. In India, we had this tweetstorm against Narendra Modi about who he was not eligible to express grief at this event as Sec 377 was still on books in India. This was of course, not original, Republican politicians like Marco Rubio faced similar treatment on twitter.

Of course,this sort of Left Wing rhetoric which does not distinguish between, but rather conflates various levels of opposition - that ranges from opposition to allowing gay marriage to throwing them off buildings - two vastly different things, needed pointing out. Douglas Murray, writing in the National Review had this:
It isn’t surprising that most gay spokespeople and publications lean left. For historic reasons — principally the political Right’s opposition to gay rights — most gay spokespeople continue to think that the political Right is the sole locale from which anti-gay sentiment can come. For many years Pat Robertson was their worst nightmare. But Pat Robertson just wanted to stop gays from marrying. He didn’t call for people to throw us off high buildings.
Despite the growing awareness that this was precisely what the Islamists wanted, gay “spokespeople,” publications, and groups went through the 2000s sharing the old leftish delusions. These included the idea that, as a “minority,” gays only had things in common with other “minorities.” So gay people were meant to be the natural political and social bedfellows not just of other gays but of people with disabilities, racial and religious minorities, and even, perhaps, women. Of course it was ridiculous. Gay men don’t have much in common with lesbians. Why — even if they had a unanimous view and voice — would they inevitably share the concerns of “all” people with one leg? Or Sikhs? Or Muslims? For this worldview to make any sense at all, you have to believe that there is a dominant, “patriarchal” voice in society, that this is the only bloc capable of bigotry, and that all these mini-communities ought to unite against this fantasy mainstream. Of course this not only fails in its reductive analysis of mainstream politics. It fails to take any interest in the crucial details of “minority” politics. Such as whether your interests are remotely aligned. Who could have known that one minority, Muslims, might not be hot for another minority? Such as gays.
Whichever side makes sense to you, these are bleak times or as Mark Steyn mentioned how the Pulse Night Club would have felt like a Party at the End of the World

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Alt-Right or SJWs, Populism is winning

A few months ago, around the start of the year, I had written this blog post trying to analyse the trends in political and cultural clashes around the world. Things have moved on from there, of course but all trends seem to indicate a further sharpening of the divide. Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination, while even though it looks like the Socialist Bernie Sanders, will not win, it is quite likely that he will push the eventual Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton more towards the Left. In fact, we have already seen something like that in India - it is now quite a popular view among Pundits, that the Suit-Boot jibe by the weakened Congress party, in opposition, pushed the Modi govt to a much more populist trajectory than initially expected. On a more contemporary note, the now recurring clashes between the entrenched Far Left  and the upcoming Right in India's elite universities is another illustration of this sharpening divide.

If Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) was the buzzword for 2015, with their trigger warnings, micro aggressions and enforcement of PC culture across the board, the new phenomenon gaining headlines in 2016 seems to be the Alternate Right (Alt-Right). To be clear, the Alt-Right, in it's various avatars is not a new thing per se and has been around for a few years, it's just that it is now beginning to get a lot more mainstream attention. Just over the last few months, many major "Liberal" publications have covered it, like Ross Douthat in The NYT and this more detailed piece in Vox. The reason for this heightened awareness is of course the Donald Trump presidency campaign and it is believed that most of the Alt-Right are Trump supporters. For those who have absolutely no idea of these groups, they are interesting

Well, some random YouTube surfing landed me to this talk by Jeff, Deist, who is the President of the Mises Institute, a Libertarian institute promoting Austrian economics. I was not aware of the speaker or the institute till now, but the topic "Alt-Right vs. Socialist Left: What It Means for Liberty" was interesting enough for me to listen. It turned out to be an excellent talk in which Deist breaks down - what used to be the so-called Clinton-Bush consensus at the center of American politics, and how these two growing movements are totally smashing this consensus.

I took a screen grab of the talk and this list gives an excellent idea of the positions of the Socialist Left / SJWs, the Alt-Right and the Mythical Consensus, as Deist, puts it.


I recommend anyone interested in all this, to listen to the video. If one has to summarize this rather complex clash in terms of it's cultural dimension, it is basically Identity Politics gone global. And while there are major divergences on the economic front as well, it is very important to note that Market Liberalism isn't exactly the flavor of the day. From a spectrum of Socialism to Populism, free trade and market capitalism aren't necessarily a given anymore even in the United States.

In India, of course, Socialism is part of the preamble to the constitution. So called Right Wing governments are those which happen to be less socialist/ populist than the opposition, rather than true champions of free markets. Sure, India's socio-economic realities are very different, however populism has always been popular and continues to remain so.

The Rajya Sabha MP, B.J. Panda recently wrote a piece on how India needs to overcome market phobia to join the group of prosperous countries. Such opinions from India's mainstream politicians are incredibly rare and Mr Panda, often appears to be a totally lone voice in India's politics. Meanwhile Sadanand Dhume was lamenting how Arvind Kejriwal's economics resembles economics policies of the 1970s. And while he is absolutely right on how bad the outcomes are going to be, populism seems to be winning the battle everywhere globally; expecting India to buck this trend given our own history is a bit far fetched.

Among all this, one crucial point. The youth seem particularly enamored by Socialism and Populism. Bernie Sanders wins "yuuuge" among the youth bracket. Conversely the Alt-Right too is a youth based movement right now. Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party and his brand of populism is quite popular with the educated youth, at least till now. Well, given colleges worldwide teach Karl Marx a hell of a lot more than say Milton Friedman, given universities are almost exclusively left leaning what else can be expected. Add increased polarization and politics will be more and more toxic all round.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A good lecture series on Indian Conservatism by Swapan Dasgupta

Some random YouTube surfing landed me to this lecture series by Dr. Swapan Dasgupta on The History of Indian Conservatism. Not seen them promoted on social media at all, but I found them extremely educative and riveting. These three speeches comprised the Tagore Centre Distinguished Lectures 2015 at King's College, London.

1) How conservative is Indian conservatism



2) Indian conservatism as a protest movement



3) Indian conservatism and the compulsions of political power


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bookmarking some Congress (I) related news from this February

The Congress Party and it's leaders were in the news quite a lot for some "unusual" reasons this month.

1) Rahul Gandhi & Anand Sharma went to the JNU to express support to JNU folks after some of their students had been booked for raising anti India slogans.
We are told, this was in support of Free Speech & Dissent. And of course, for the Idea of India.


2)  Later, they asked for expunging of what they described as "blasphemous" statements made by the HRD minister, who had read out from some previous pamphlets circulated in JNU.

Running with the hare and hunting with the hound ?

By the way, towards the end of January, Congress legislators - yes, the same which stands for Free Speech, asked for hanging Kamlesh Tiwary for -guess what - basically blasphemy in the UP Assembly.




3) It is to be noted that part of the Free Speech being exercised in JNU was on the state killing of Afzal Guru. He had been executed under a Congress led government. Now, P Chidambaran, ex Home Minister and ex Finance Minister of the same Congress led government commented an interview that he had doubts on the correctness of the verdict.
National Interest anyone ? What's that ?

4) Over the last month, a number of senior bureaucrats have come out in the public and basically said that Ishrat Jehan was a terrorist. This includes former NSA M. K, Narayanan,   Former IB Special Director Rajinder Kumar claimed that Congress tried to allure him to falsely implicate Narendra Modi in the encounter. And then former Home Secretary G.K. Pillai claimed that LeT links of Ishrat Jehan were possibly dropped by P Chidambaram in the Center's affidavit.

As Rahul Gandhi had once said - Politics is everywhere. Even in matters of National Security & Counter Terrorism ?

5) Finally, there are audio clips in circulation of an aide of ex CM B. Hooda attempting to instigating riots during the violent agitations by the Jat community in Haryana for reservations.


Friday, February 26, 2016

Concentric Circles of Power and Policy Making

I wrote about how the Indian Right had managed to make a major dent in the outer circle of popular politics, but is yet to fully get into the vital inner circle of policy making and execution in SwarajyaMag here.

Here is the post in full:

In September, 2015 - Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended a townhall at Facebook Headquarters in California. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook conducted the townhall - which was broadcast live across the world on YouTube among others. For an Indian, here were two men who illustrated the power of Social Media enormously and the democratization of popular discourse.

Mark Zuckerberg revolutionized social media and communication through Facebook - 1.4 Billion users on his platform is a simple proof of his impact. Narendra Modi - won a massive mandate in 2014, and his campaign's use of social media including Facebook played a major part in reaching out to the masses directly without the intervention of the mainstream media (MSM). 

POLITICS – NOW THE REALM OF SOCIAL MEDIA & PEOPLE POWER

Over the past year or two, we have seen the power of alternate and social media in Indian elections and not just in the BJP victory in 2014, but also in their defeats in Delhi & Bihar. The AAP victory in Delhi was based on an extremely tech savvy campaign run by their volunteers while Prashant Kishore helped Laloo-Nitish beat the BJP in Bihar with an innovative campaign. In these times of Twitter, Facebook & WhatsApp, public engagement and debate is on the rise, the Indian electorate seems to be a far more active participant in democratic debates than in the past, where it was more of a passive consumer of news and narrative generated from newsrooms.

Over the last few years, another major impact of social media has been to influence the coverage of MSM channels. Today, factual inaccuracies get called out immediately and editorial double standards are exposed ruthlessly on social media. Occasionally, relentless - yes outrage also forces MSM channels to cover "inconvenient incidents" like the recent riots in Malda. The Malda riots for instance did receive decent coverage - albeit late by a few days, instead of it being completely ignored - which was probably what would have happened in the absence of social media pressure.

In this column, Sanjeev Sanyal writes that the process of taming of India's Elites is well on its way. From evicting high profile squatters in Lutyens' bungalows to court cases against the "First family" of the country, there is a sense that at last India’s elites are being held accountable to the common rule of law. 

So, we are seeing a more active participation from the masses in the electoral process; and a more informed and animated conversation on issues which matter to the public; a challenge and a counterpoint to the narrative of the MSM, especially the English News Channels;  and also a beginning of holding India's Elites accountable to the rule of law. So has the balance of power shifted decisively from the Left to the Right or from the Elites to the Masses? Not quite.

POLICY MAKING – STILL DOMINATED BY ELITES

A little under two years of the Narendra Modi government now, and many supporters are slowly realizing how difficult it is for the government to implement its agenda, with the lack of numbers in Rajya Sabha being felt ever more acutely. But numbers aside, real power and clout still seems to be trapped in an elite ecosystem of Judges, Bureaucrats, "Five Star Activists", Think Tanks and NGOs. 

Many people were quite peeved on the story of Supreme Court Judges being approached at midnight to deliberate on the mercy petition of a convict to be hanged. But even leaving aside matters of life and death, we are seeing hitherto unseen judicial activism. This has been noted widely by many in the media. Bloomberg View commented that it was not Prime Minister Narendra Modi but the courts that were running the show in India. Not only have the honorable courts ruled unconstitutional the NJAC act which was passed by India's parliament; but of late have been pontificating on all sorts of issues. For instance, The Nagpur Bench of the High Court advised the public to stop paying taxes to protest against government corruption! Among other things, Courts have themselves decided to double the taxes on diesel vehicles entering Delhi, while also getting involved in religious matters like entry into temples or local folk customs like Jallikattu; the list of dubious judicial overreach is never ending.

The recent TRAI decision on Net Neutrality was another interesting episode to observe the exercise of influence and power in India’s policy making circles. Indian tech entrepreneurs & “Net Neutrality” activists came together in a big way to campaign and were eventually successful in convincing India's telecom regulator to disallow discriminatory pricing and thereby effectively shut out Facebook's offering of a few websites for no cost. To give an idea of the scale of the organized campaign, 457 companies signed a single letter opposing Facebook’s Free Basics, while more than 800 founders wrote a letter to the Prime Minister explaining how it was a bottleneck to India’s Start-Up Industries on the verge of a take-off right now. There were good arguments to be made on both sides and the debate did not split down the usual Left - Right split that we have on most issues but one cannot help but observe (and indeed admire) that the argument was won by the side that was more organized, put more effort into it and had more skin in the game. And in this process, one does feel that India’s unconnected masses for whom this product was aimed, remained under-represented in the consultation process. Nevertheless, those who made the case for Net Neutrality, can also be described as India's new elites. They are members of Policy Think Tanks, Activists, Start-up Entrepreneurs & Venture Capitalists – and over the next few years we are bound to see increasing influence and pressure from these groups to shape public policy in India according to their vision.

What is interesting is also not what captures the interest of India's elites and MSM, but also what is totally excluded by them in their conversations. Take the case of Right to Education (RTE). It is conspicuous by its absence in almost any sort of conversation that you see either on television or print media. It is almost singularly ignored in India's plethora of weekly Op-Ed columns and the truth is that apart from a few discerning folks on Social Media - the sectarian nature of the law is actually unknown to almost any middle class Indian - who is otherwise well informed. When India's leading intellectual Pratap Bhanu Mehta made a passing reference to what is today only a Right Wing angst on social media, I was astonished enough to bookmark it for future reference. This one paragraph in which he talks about both the incredible double standards of morality being practiced around banning Jallikattu and the sectarian nature of RTE is worth mentioning here: 

"The third faultline is how difficult it is to find a secular language in which to articulate common meanings on moral and political issues. The jallikattu case is interesting because it shows the difficulty of articulating a common understanding of cruelty. Defenders of the tradition have a point that on any conceivable measure of cruelty to animals, we tolerate far more in the name of religion or even our eating habits. If the application of a standard of cruelty to animals is not to appear arbitrary, it will have to involve a far-reaching transformation of our practices. The growing resentment over RTE exemptions to minority schools raises the question of whether this issue necessarily needed to be framed in terms of minority and majority. Could we not have found a way to conduct this argument through a consideration of what first-principles thinking on freedom of association and property would look like. Instead, the organisation of education has already been legally communalised with the imprimatur of the court. The question is: Can issues like cruelty to animals, freedom of association, gender justice, non-discrimination in civil society, all elements of a secular morality, be articulated in a way that they become an object of “overlapping consensus”, to use Rawls’s famous phrase. And can they be enforced in ways that do not reinforce the sense of communal competition, state arbitrariness? Unfortunately, the courts are not yet providing a framework that produces clarity on these issues. And our politics, of course, never takes any bull by the horns."
This article, however remains a rare exception from India's secular-liberal ecosystem. The grip of India's elites, dynastic or otherwise, has possibly slipped a little in terms of the narrative of politics, but it remains stronger than ever in the realm of policy making and execution.


There's a saying in the west that Right of center parties are in political office once in a while but it is only the Left which is able to exercise power. India's experience till date has been completely in line with this. And so, while those who are of a Right of Center persuasion, have made a dent in the outer circle of power - which is electoral politics, like the young Abhimanyu of Mahabharata, they lack the know how to penetrate through the inner circles of Chakravyahu of power so far - which is policy making and execution. India's Right Wing, which is a very large umbrella, needs to add institutionalized intellectual heft to build on its current popular appeal among the masses. Without that, the various tenures of a Right Wing Government at the center or various states, will feel like missed opportunities to many of its followers.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Three Key Factors in Political & Cultural Clashes around the World

2015, certainly saw a sharpening of the divide, and a more polarised climate of debate on many of the social and political issues across the globe including India. The "Rising Intolerance in Modi's India" was a good indicator of how polarised and stark the debates have become around the world.

There was plenty to debate during 2015, from climate change to net neutrality, but here are a few which impacted large sections of people in the west as well as in India and caught my attention.

1) A general disaffection with the political class and the rise of populism: Despite having been a long time politician, Narendra Modi's win in 2014 was in some sense a victory for an outsider to the Lutyen's Delhi Establishment. Arvind Kejriwal and AAP's meteoric rise and stunning win in Delhi in 2015 was also a victory of populist politics coupled with a deep resentment against the politics of status-quo of established parties. We are seeing similar trends across the western world. Donald Trump has taken US politics by storm with his incredible lead in the Republican nominee polls. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed "socialist", a hitherto almost unheard of term in US politics is the primary challenger to Hillary Clinton among the Democrats and polling quite well. Jeremy Corbyn, became the Labour Leader with a huge majority within his party, despite his far left background. We are seeing other examples too. Marine Le Pen in France on the right, and Podemos in Spain on the left, are illustrations of populist parties gaining more traction. And despite winning just 1 seat, Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party got 12.7% of the popular vote in the 2015 elections and was placed third in vote share.

2) The increasing importance of identity in politics: India's long running debate on secularism and cultural nationalism is now increasingly mirrored in the West as it confronts its multicultural present and future. The long continuing trend of mass immigration (especially in Europe), the refugee crisis in Syria and the return of terrorist attacks to mainland Europe this year have meant that immigration in general has become a major emotive issue in both Europe & US, and not just an economic one. While the multicultural left and progressives are shouting Islamophobia at any and every statement made by someone outside the liberal consensus, someone like Trump is making the other extreme case of shutting down the US to Muslims, temporarily. There are indeed very difficult questions to answer with regard to Muslims in the US for example, as this article by Victor Davis Hanson points out, but which mainstream politicians rarely discuss with honesty. However, identity based conflicts was not only limited to Muslims. Far less talked about but extremely disturbing is the case of rising Anti-Semitism in Europe now, while in Barack Obama's America, #BlackLivesMatter has become a serious movement. 

3) The limits of Political correctness and free speech: Standing up for Free Speech is the right and noble thing to do as many people in power and influence seem to point out, but very few will actually stand for it though and we saw that time and again in 2015. The shootings of the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, brought out many apologists for the victims and political correctness meant that Charlie Hebdo got called racist, while of course the terrorists had no religionMeanwhile, in western colleges, free speech is being shut down in the name of "emotional well-being"; trigger warnings and micro aggressions have become part of the vocabulary. Recently, secular activist Maryam Nawazie was banned from speaking on fears of inciting hatred against Muslim students, while in India JNU students rallied around to oppose Baba Ramdev speaking at their campus. And so when, progressives around the world made political correctness into a bad word, it was again left to someone like Donald Trump to combat it. Trump, who has made being anti-politically correct one of his main planks, has found a voice that resonates with people because the establishment politicians and media will not talk about what is considered politically incorrect. 

How do all these things come together? On one hand, the rise of the far left in Europe through the likes of Corbyn, Podemos or Tsipras in Greece, shows a degree of discontent with globalization and neo-liberal economics, as these are resistance movements against rising inequality and austerity. Nationalist, populist right wingers are providing another alternative to this discontent with globalization. Globalization has provided twin challenges to western countries - one with jobs moving out of the countries and two, with more free movement of labour forces - increased competition for jobs at home from immigrants. And so as the once dominant population groups (whites) face increased competition in the job market, see the welfare state keep having to accommodate more and more immigrant populations, societal changes that they do not welcome and live with the fear of increased crime and terrorism. Combine all these factors and it is easy to see how the populist right wing is also gaining support. Angela Merkel, Germany's leader and a center right politician herself, faces difficulty within her own party after having provided refuge to a very large number of asylum seekers. The far left and the far right, both are trying to capture this market of discontent, with their respective spin.

With all these factors at play, as western societies are getting more diverse, their politics are also becoming more and more vote-bank oriented, a road which we have traveled a lot in India already.  The rise in Muslim populations and the current climate of fear with terrorism generally and ISIS in particular, around has meant that a lot of the debate surrounding Islam - whether it is related to terrorism, immigration, political correctness and limits of free speech, or indeed mere co-existence in the same society, has been extremely divisive and not very helpful. Take the recent unfortunate case of the mass atrocities on women across Europe, which demonstrated at once both how even a country like Germany is on the brink with the recent levels of mass immigration; while also simultaneously showing how parts of the establishment and politically correct media simply wanted to shut down any coverage and later a meaningful debate on this topic.  (The parallel with the Malda riots on shutting down coverage are there for everyone to see).

However, if we do look around we will find some pieces of encouragement. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz came together to author a concise but illuminating book called Islam & the future of tolerance (This discussion about the book should get you interested). These two NYT article by Ross Douthat -The Islamic Dilemma & A Conservative Islam For a Liberal Society gives an interesting perspective on how Islam can indeed coexist in societies where it is a minority; giving up on violent Jihad seems to be the most important criteria.

One of the key issue with regard to identity politics, which has led to the rise of  a particular brand of nationalistic populism is that it is a sort of reaction to the complete rejection of any sort of nationalistic culture or pride or cherishing of "traditional values" demonstrated by the liberal elites of each country. After the loss of the Labour party in Britain in May, Nick Cohen wrote this piece on how the party would do well to stop hating the English people. The below paras aptly sum up how liberal elites who patronise Center/ Left parties look at their own cultures:
"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. "

You could change a few words and have the problem paraphrased for just about any country none more so than in India as I had done in this blog earlier last year. Whatever the particular details of any country, this paragraph would resonate with the folks - the so called silent majorities who are feeling left out in their own countries. 

The general trend across all and any debate is that any sort of mutual trust or respect appears to have been lost. The left will of course champion the underdog, namely the minorities, the right will attempt to provide voice to the grievance of the "silent majority". The debate about gun control is a very good example of what loss of trust can do in making seemingly solvable problems appear insolvable.  Gun owning conservatives are worried that additional new regulations would just be the first step in further control of their lives by the government and curtailment of their liberties. The actual merit or demerit of the control to be put in place is pushed to the background. 

And that in summary is the general trend of debates that we see across the world. Problems that can be solved between communities and groups elude solutions as both sides fear the very worst from their opponents and compromises are looked upon as defeats. India's parliamentary logjam is probably the starkest example of this that we witnessed in 2015. It would be interesting to see if we see a difference in this situation going into 2016.

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