Archive for the 'Politics' Category

What about 1984?

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

1984 had two major consequences. First, it radically undermined the Congress’s claim to being a secular party that respected the political tradition of pluralism pioneered by its colonial avatar and consolidated by Nehru in the early years of the republic. The willingness of the Congress under Indira Gandhi to use sectarian issues for political ends had been evident before 1984 but the party’s willingness to sell its pluralist soul for immediate political advantage was most vividly illustrated in the days and months after her death. The Congress, after 1984, stood out more and more clearly as a party that couldn’t even be accused of not having the courage of its convictions because it didn’t have any convictions at all. Pluralism and its traditional opposition to majoritarianism became labels that the Congress used for brand management in particular political contexts, not as principles that shaped its political agenda.

The second consequence of 1984 was that Indira Gandhi’s assassination sealed the Congress’s long transition to dynastic rule in blood. The rhetoric of martyrdom that debases the political utterances of the Congress faithful dates back to that time. From being a great pan-Indian party that made a subcontinent cohere into a republic, the Congress after 1984 regressed into a de- natured dynastic rump.

Let us return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is simple and unedifying. The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’. The difference between the Congress and the BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime minister for two terms. More:

Noam Chomsky on Pakistan elections

Interview by Ayyaz Mallick. In Dawn:

Coming to election issues, what do you think, sitting afar and as an observer, are the basic issues that need to be handled by whoever is voted into power?

NC: Well, first of all, the internal issues. Pakistan is not a unified country. In large parts of the country, the state is regarded as a Punjabi state, not their (the people’s) state. In fact, I think the last serious effort to deal with this was probably in the 1970s, when during the Bhutto regime some sort of arrangement of federalism was instituted for devolving power so that people feel the government is responding to them and not just some special interests focused on a particular region and class. Now that’s a major problem.

Another problem is the confrontation with India. Pakistan just cannot survive if it continues to do so (continue this confrontation). Pakistan will never be able to match the Indian militarily and the effort to do so is taking an immense toll on the society. It’s also extremely dangerous with all the weapons development. The two countries have already come close to nuclear confrontation twice and this could get worse. So dealing with the relationship with India is extremely important.

And that of course focuses right away on Kashmir. Some kind of settlement in Kashmir is crucial for both countries. It’s also tearing India apart with horrible atrocities in the region which is controlled by Indian armed forces. This is feeding right back into society even in the domain of elementary civil rights. A good American friend of mine who has lived in India for many years, working as a journalist, was recently denied entry to the country because he wrote on Kashmir. This is a reflection of fractures within society. Pakistan, too, has to focus on the Lashkar [Lashkar-i-Taiba] and other similar groups and work towards some sort of sensible compromise on Kashmir.

And of course this goes beyond. There is Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan which will also be a very tricky issue in the coming years. Then there is a large part of Pakistan which is being torn apart from American drone attacks. The country is being invaded constantly by a terrorist superpower. Again, this is not a small problem. More:

The mood in Pakistan on eve of elections

Salman Hameed in Irtiqa (via 3quarksdaily):

Pak-pollPakistan’s elections are scheduled for May 11th. There have already been a tremendous number of casualties – mostly by the Taliban (of the Pakistani flavor) targeting the relatively more secular parties. Here is from the horse’s mouth:

“Taliban shura had decided to target those secular political parties which were part of the previous coalition government and involved in the operation in Swat, Fata and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah,”adding that “the organisation followed the instructions of the Taliban shura and that it was the shura that decided which political parties to target, where and when.”

To another query that the Taliban were making ground and paving way for some parties to win the elections and denying space to others, he said: “neither we are against nor in favour of the PTI, PML- N, JI and JUI-F,” adding that “We are against the secular and democratic system which is against the ideology of Islam but we are not expecting any good from the other parties either, who are the supporters of the same system, but why they are not targeted is our own prerogative to decide.”

Shamefully, none of the parties not targeted by the Taliban have unequivocally condemned this Taliban assault on democracy. But to add to the uncertainty, just a few hours ago, Imran Khan of PTI also got injured when he fell off a lifter while getting on a stage for a political rally. This is big news as he is one of the leading contenders in the upcoming elections.

But what are the major concerns of Pakistanis? The Pew forum has a new survey out that focuses on Pakistan. Perhaps, not surprisingly, crime and terrorism is at the top at 95 and 93% respectively. But note that even Sunni-Shia tensions are labeled as a “very big problem” by over half of the respondents, and the conflict between the government with the judiciary and the military is not considered that much of a problem. More:


Modi, the man and the message

Harish Khare in The Hindu:

During a recent three-week stay in the United States, I was often asked to explain the Indian media’s current obsession with Narendra Modi. The only reasonably cogent answer to give was the convergence between the corporate ownership of the electronic media and Mr. Modi’s corporate bank-rollers. The Gujarat Chief Minister’s induction in the Bharatiya Janata Party central set-up has been celebrated as if he has already been invited by the Rashtrapati to form the next government at the Centre.

Like most Indian political leaders, Mr. Modi is a non-biodegradable entity. He will not disappear. Machinations by the BJP central leadership may delay his storming the party headquarters, but he is not going to be talked out of his national ambitions. It is only the voters who can knock the stuffing out of him and his outsized pretensions.

Mr. Modi promises to do things differently and better than what is being done in New Delhi or even in the other BJP ruled States. Not only is he contemptuous of the Manmohan Singh style of consensus approach to resolving contentious issues, he is also derisive of his own party and its leadership. He believes the BJP has become too flabby as an organisation and that most of its impresarios are compromised and tired.More:

The Shahbag chance

In The Indian Express:

There is more to the crowds at Dhaka’s Shahbag square than meets the eye. Behind all its spontaneity, a political logic is at work that explains why Bangladesh’s political cauldron has been on the boil, regardless of the fact that Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League rules with a two-thirds majority.

As matters stand, the main opposition force, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is boycotting Parliament, with its leader Khaleda Zia unrelenting on her position that she will not contest the next elections if Hasina were to head the caretaker government. The Awami League has amended the Constitution to virtually remove the concept of a caretaker government. Hasina is willing to replace her cabinet with technocrats, but not remove herself from the helm.

The near absence of the opposition in Parliament has allowed Hasina to hold complete sway over matters big and small. And from South Block’s point of view, India was quite pleased with the situation until the moment West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee provided an unforeseen twist to the script.

This context is important as one looks at the events at Shahbag Square, an unexpected, united expression of nationalist sentiment spearheaded by students revelling at the revival of a historical narrative that had almost been forgotten. The year 1971 marked the birth of Bangladesh, yes, but it was not seen as the signifier of a larger nationalist identity rooted in Bengali culture and a secular ethos. Through its tumultuous political evolution after 1971, Bangladesh swung from one extreme to the other and India, steeped in its own problems, remained distant until Islamic extremism assumed dangerous proportions. More:

Also in The Indian Express:

Young and angry at Shahbagh

Shahbagh Square is not Tahrir Square. It is not Ramlila Maidan either. For the thousands of youngsters who squeezed into every inch of space at Dhaka’s central roundabout, piercing the air with cries of “Fashi Chai, Fashi Chai (Let them hang)”, this was their own movement, their own moment. Many of them were born after Bangladesh’s tumultuous War of Liberation in 1971 and had grown up hearing stories of the struggle. But now, those stories had come alive and the youth had a role in them — of settling a 42-year-old unfinished agenda of creating “a secular, safe Bangladesh”.

It’s February 21 or ‘Ekushey February’ and the atmosphere at Shahbagh Square is charged. An estimated 5 million protesters have turned up at the roundabout. The day has its emotional significance. It was on this day 60 years ago, when Bangladesh was still part of Pakistan, that a number of students campaigning for the recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages were gunned down. More:

The man who would rule India

Ramachandra Guha in The Hindu:

A journalist who recently interviewed Narendra Modi reported their conversation as follows: “Gujarat, he told me, merely has a seafront. It has no raw materials — no iron ore for steel, no coal for power and no diamond mines. Yet it has made huge strides in these fields. Imagine, he added, if we had the natural resources of an Assam, a Jharkhand and a West Bengal: I would have changed the face of India.”(see The Telegraph, January 18, 2013).

This conversation (and that claim) underlines much of what Narendra Modi has sought to do these past five years — remake himself as a man who gets things done, a man who gets the economy moving. With Mr. Modi in power in New Delhi, says or suggests Mr. Modi, India will be placed smoothly on the 8 per cent to 10 per cent growth trajectory, bureaucrats will clear files overnight, there will be no administrative and political corruption, poverty levels will sink rapidly towards zero and — lest we forget — trains and aeroplanes shall run on time. These claims are taken at face value by his admirers, who include sundry CEOs, owner-capitalists, western ambassadors and —lest we forget — columnists in the pink papers, the white papers, and (above all) cyber-space.

Mr. Modi’s detractors — who too are very numerous, and very vocal — seek to puncture these claims in two different ways. The unreconstructed Nehruvians and Congress apologists (not always the same thing) say he will forever be marked by the pogrom against Muslims in 2002, which were enabled and orchestrated by the State government. Even if his personal culpability remains unproven, the fact that as the head of the administration he bears ultimate responsibility for the pogrom, and the further fact that he has shown no remorse whatsoever, marks Mr. Modi out as unfit to lead the country.

The secularist case against Mr. Modi always had one flaw — namely, that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was preceded in all fundamental respects by what happened in Delhi in 1984. Successive Congress governments have done nothing to bring justice to the survivors, while retaining in powerful positions (as Cabinet Ministers even) Congress MPs manifestly involved in those riots. More:

Tariq Ali on upcoming elections in Pakistan

Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books:

Pakistan is preparing for elections in May and June, and an all-party caretaker government will soon take over to supervise the process. Meanwhile, things continue as eventfully as usual. There has been yet another clash between the Supreme Court and the Zardari government; a previously obscure Muslim cleric returned from Canada to lead what he hoped would be a ‘million-strong’ anti-corruption march to Islamabad; and two factories in Lahore and Karachi have burned to a cinder with the workers still inside. Add to all this Sunni vigilantes regularly targeting and killing Shia; the Pakistani Taliban striking security targets; the military responding with indiscriminate killings; and the regular drone attacks, courtesy of Obama.

On 15 January, the Supreme Court, having last year got rid of one prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, for contempt of court, ordered the arrest of his successor, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, and 16 other men on charges of corruption linked to kickbacks handed out by the power companies contracted to supplement the country’s inadequate electricity supply. These so-called Rental Power Projects gave rise to the nickname ‘Raja Rental’ that Ashraf acquired when he was Zardari’s minister for water and power. After all, nine firms had received a government advance of 22 billion rupees so it was only fair that the minister and his officials be rewarded. It was a surprisingly honest report by the usually tame National Accountability Bureau (NAB), set up by General Musharraf in 1999 to investigate corruption, which led the Supreme Court to order last March that all the RPP contracts be declared null and void. The judges are now livid because they believe the NAB is deliberately dragging its feet. More:

Why Maulana Qadri and cricketer Khan can’t save Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy in Express Tribune:

Pakistan has two angry messiahs, the Maulana and the Cricketer. Both are men of fine oratory — the former being more gifted. They promise to kick wicked leaders out of government, reward the righteous, and deliver a new Pakistan. Before a coup-plagued nation that has spent many decades under military rule, they preach to adulating under-30 crowds about the corruption of the present rulers. But neither dares to touch Pakistan’s real issues. Both are careful to castigate only the corruption of civilians; there is nary a word about the others.

Inspired by his fiery rhetoric, for four days the Maulana’s youthful Lashkar-e-Qadri had occupied D-Chowk, Islamabad’s version of Tahrir Square. The cheering, chanting, flag-waving crowd was joyous at the verdict ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. The precise timing owed to another one of Pakistan’s putative saviours — the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan.

In this age of discontent, assorted demagogues have mastered the art of mobilising the credulous masses. Corruption, say the Maulana and the Cricketer, is Pakistan’s central problem. Utopia will come if honest and pious men — perhaps themselves — are in power. But is crookedness and dishonesty the real issue? Countries which are perfectly viable and livable may still have corrupt governments. More:

On Narendra Modi’s victory

Modi’s victory shows he has quietly reinvented himself

Swapan Dasgupta in The Telegraph:

Those familiar with elections in West Bengal prior to the Mamata storm of 2011 may not find it too difficult to understand the dynamics of assembly polls in Gujarat since 1995. A dominant party, with deep social and organizational roots, was periodically confronted with patchy challenges that often led to occasional upsets in isolated constituencies. It was also the case that an Opposition that seemed moribund during the non-election years suddenly sprang to life and secured tacit endorsements from a media that had its own scores to settle with the established order. No one doubted the end result but there was furious speculation over the margin of victory. Did a spectacularly high turnout — recall that in many parts of West Bengal the long queues meant that polling had to be extended by many hours — suggest that there was a ‘silent undercurrent’ for change? More:

A powerhouse in Gujarat but a flop show outside

Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar in Economic Times:

If indeed the next BJP prime ministerial candidate is to be a three-time chief minister, there are other candidates too. Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh of Chhattisgarh will bid to become three-time chief ministers in state elections in 2013.

By winning for a third time with an increased majority and vote share in Gujarat, Modi has proved he is among the tallest of regional leaders. But his prime ministerial ambitions depend on his impact in other states. More:

A Modi-fied politics

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

Modi cannot be exonerated of marginalising minorities or worse. But consider this. The secular-communal divide in India, except at the extremes, is not so much a divide between two different species of citizens as a fissure running through most of them. This divide is activated by circumstances. It is not a structural fact. Second, we hope that the law will take its course and deliver justice. But Gujarat has, at least, been subject to serious court scrutiny, direct SIT investigations and so on. Even if they technically exonerate Modi, the political culpability remains. It is a political handicap he still needs to overcome. You can look at the convictions of Modi’s cabinet colleagues and point to those as proxy proof of his culpability. You can also look at them and wonder why so many Congress cabinet ministers still have not been made to answer for 1984. The point is not to use 1984 to politically exonerate Modi. The point is that it is hard to attack evil when we so widely condone it in other contexts. Third, the social and political isolation of Muslims is a large, complex phenomenon, in part a product of the tyranny of the compulsory identities the Congress has produced. It is also exacerbated by the fact that friends of minorities like the Samajwadi Party are running no more than protection rackets for them, depending on a permanent tutelage. Unfortunately, attacking Modi has become a way of disguising our larger complicities. It is more about assuaging our guilty conscience than setting things right. No wonder the attacks lose their sheen. More:

King of the jungle

Editorial in The Hindu:

As in 2007, this time too Mr. Modi stoked the fires of Gujarati asmita, treating the State’s “six crore” people — whom he had polarised in 2002 — as if they were an undifferentiated whole. However, not every Gujarati is willing to buy in to this kind of rhetoric; indeed, there are parts of rural Gujarat which do not at all relate to the development narrative that has become the stuff of folklore among Mr. Modi’s admirers. With no credible leader in its ranks, the Congress once again fared miserably. Unsurprisingly, the BJP rank-and-file is pushing Mr. Modi to take the long march to Delhi. It is a different matter that the party’s second rung — not to speak of its key allies — seems not too enthused by this project. More

The Sanjay Gandhi story

Vinod Mehta on Sanjay Gandhi. In Outlook:

While Sanjay and Indira were fighting legal battles in court, at home the two brothers and the two wives were barely on speaking terms. Relations between Rajiv and Sanjay were always “chilly” and between Sonia and Maneka “frigid”. Indira Gandhi sought to remain neutral, desperately trying to maintain some semblance of family peace. One morning, B.K. Nehru and his wife Flori were breakfasting with the Gandhis. “Sanjay went into a rage and threw his plate across the room when Sonia failed to cook his eggs in the precise way he had ordered.” Indira did not say a word to Sanjay.

In January 1980, Indira Gandhi won back power from the Janata clowns, who gifted her the prime minister’s chair meekly. Morarji Desai led the strange cocktail which had dethroned Indira. Instead of concentrating on governance, they set out to ‘punish’ their nemesis by hook or by crook. This publicly stated goal was combined with vicious infighting. It would be fair to say the Janata leaders fell on their own swords with great facility. Indira Gandhi stood and won from two constituencies, Rae Bareli and Medak; Sanjay was elected comfortably from Amethi.

With mother and son back in power, furious speculation raged in early 1980 as to what role the mother had planned for her son. Also, whether both had absorbed the egregious lessons of the Emergency—primarily excesses in the family planning and slum clearance programmes. Would a measure of civility replace the dreaded midnight knock in public life? Indira Gandhi admitted some excesses might have been committed by sycophants and overzealous ministers, bureaucrats and assorted flunkeys, but her son, she insisted, was innocent and not involved. She characterised the excesses as “gross exaggerations” spread by the media and long-standing Congress enemies. This defence, repeated ad nauseam, suggested that Sanjay and his merry men would resume from where they had left off. Privately, Indira conceded the no-smoke-without-fire hypothesis, ie., there must be some truth in the sundry allegations. But her formal position was to live in denial.

On March 31, 1980, Maneka gave birth to a son. He was named Varun. Indira was over the moon. Now, she had three grandchildren, one from her problem son. Alas, Varun’s birth did not ease the tensions between the brothers and their respective wives. Rajiv and Sonia retreated into their private space. It was as if they were hermetically sealed from the hectic goings-on at India’s most politically active house. More:

Narendra Modi and the art of the sell

Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express:

You drive hundreds of kilometres on Gujarat’s brilliant highways, as we, the usual motley group, the self-styled Limousine Liberals, did last week, and look left and right. There are, what else, but walls on either side. These are shiny, new and modern factories, wall-to-wall, as you’d find in no other part of India. And these are not even Reliance, Essar, Adani, Cipla, Cadila, the usual suspects. There are hundreds of others, with names you have never heard, nor seen on the business channel stock market tickers. And these are not the factories and smoke-stacks you see in old movies. These are buildings with neat, spotless white, beige or dull pastel walls with nothing written on them. No slogans, no graffiti, no advertising. Another thing you will not find is a ubiquitous factory fixture in most parts of the country: the trade union’s red flag. Dahej, Ankleshwar, Hazira, Jamnagar, Mundra, Halol, Dholera and Pipavav, and now the new auto hub of Sanand, are global-size industrial zones. Obviously, there has also been a small and medium — but modern — industry boom in the state. A vast majority of these are manufacturing industries. Are they here because the moneybags love Narendra Modi? They are here because Gujarat provides them ample power, industrial peace, rail and road infrastructure, law and order and a non-rent-seeking bureaucracy and political class. They have reason to be grateful to Modi. And so do millions of Gujarati beneficiaries of this boom. That’s why they keep re-electing Modi. Not because a thousand Muslims were killed under his watch in 2002. That, though, is a factor as well, but we will return to that later, in fact, in the second part of these writings, tomorrow. More:

Also read: The many faces of Narendra Modi in Mint

Interpreting Sonia Gandhi

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968. “Yesterday we went to Mrs Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides. Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

The object of Mrs Masani’s contempt has, for some time now, been the most powerful person in India. How did she achieve that power, and what has she done with it? Sonia Gandhi’s rise in politics has been at least as unlikely as Barack Obama’s. Moving to Cambridge to learn English (but not at the university), she met and fell in love with Rajiv Gandhi. He brought her to India, where she lived a life of quiet domesticity, bringing up her children and attending to her husband. Through the turmoil of the 1970s, through the Emergency and its aftermath, Rajiv Gandhi stayed well out of politics. His stated ambition, at this stage, was to be promoted from flying Avros between Delhi and Lucknow to piloting Boeings on the more prestigious Delhi-Bombay run. More

Modi’s response to the British exposes a typical Indian complex

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph:

A man who tweets “God is great” because Her Britannic Majesty’s envoy has condescended to notice him stands condemned from his own mouth for servility and opportunism. Those who are outraged that James Bevan, Britain’s high commissioner, should forget human rights to shake hands with Narendra Modi ignore the far more serious matter of this manifestation of the Indian’s inferiority complex.

Bevan’s gesture is of no greater consequence than Caroline Quentin, the narrator of A Passage through India, a television serial now running in Britain, saying that Navratri in Ahmedabad is India’s best festival. But people seem to believe it will prompt millions of Gujaratis to vote for Modi in December and persuade the Bharatiya Janata Party to anoint him its prime ministerial candidate. If so, we might as well drop all pretence of being either an independent republic or a civilized, modern state committed to liberal secular values.

It’s understandable that Britain should cosy up to Modi. China and Japan have already started dealing with him. Next year’s Gujarat investment summit will probably include Australian and American participants. Why should Britain miss out? With new missions in Hyderabad and Chandigarh and plans for five more trade offices across India, the British aim to double trade by 2015. Growing friction with the European Union, the setback in the £26-billion plan to merge Britain’s BAE Systems with the European Aeronautics, Defence and Space Company, and Ford Motors’ closure notice demand new initiatives. “Our economy relies on India’s for jobs, investment and opportunities like never before,” Hugo Swire, the junior minister whose portfolio includes India, told a recent International Institute of Strategic Studies conference in London. That was after acknowledging that 700 Indian businesses employ 90,000 people in Britain where the Tatas are the “largest corporate employer”. More:

These powerful victims

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in The Indian Express:

India’s political elites present a dismal spectacle. Like elites in denial, they pity the plumage, but forget the dying bird, to borrow Thomas Paine’s immortal words. They fret at the symptoms, but do not address the causes; they blame the messenger but do not go after the culprits; they worry about being declared guilty without a fair hearing, without introspection on why their credibility is so low. It is an elite now so estranged from reality, that it simply does not recognise how the world has changed. It is not a world that can be managed by old rules. India is on an astonishing cusp; the tragedy is that politicians, for the most part, are not running with the winds of change. But they still complain about the dust that is blinding them.

Delhi’s corridors of power are now echo chambers of whining. Arvind Kejriwal is running a lynch mob, the CAG is taking over the country, environmental NGOs have stopped all development, the RTI is vexatious and so forth. It is as if a vast conspiracy of non-political actors has hamstrung a virtuous political class. But the truth is the opposite: it serves the interest of this political class to present itself as victim, now that it has no authority to do business as usual.

Arvind Kejriwal’s methods should cause disquiet. He does give the impression of a closed circle of certitude: guilt is pronounced with unbreachable confidence. Sometimes the lines between political accountability and an inquisition are blurred, and often the attacks seem too personalised. But whatever the infirmities of the movement, we should not be blindsided by the fact that this mode of seeking accountability is an inevitable consequence of the decimation of institutions. You have to feel for Salman Khurshid. In a functioning democracy he should not have been subject to a public inquisition. Khurshid is a victim. But he is not a victim of Kejriwal; he is a victim of his own government’s decimation of institutions. It is very difficult to trust any institution at the moment. More:

Why do Indian-Americans flock to the Democratic Party?

Washington-based journalist Seema Sirohi in BBC:

A young Indian-American recounted recently that his mother, who is working hard on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in the tough swing state of Florida, had told him flatly not to come home if he decided to vote for Mitt Romney, the Republican rival.

He laughed but said his mother was not exactly joking when she issued the warning.

He is still undecided but is leaning towards Mr Obama for a variety of reasons – ranging from empathy for the immigrants to policy decisions the president has made in favour of the middle class and students.

As the US presidential election enters its final lap, the Indian-American vote could be crucial in swing states such as Virginia, and Mr Obama may benefit from the community’s strong support for the Democratic Party.

An impressive 84% of the 2.85 million-strong Indian-American community voted for Mr Obama in 2008, second perhaps only to African-Americans as a minority group.

Has he still got their love? It appears so. More:

From ‘silent’ prime minister to a tragic one

In Washington Post, Simon Denyer looks at the two terms of Manmohan Singh to see a tragic decline in reputation.

 India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped set his country on the path to modernity, prosperity and power, but critics say the shy, soft-spoken
79-year-old is in danger of going down in history as a failure.

The architect of India’s economic reforms, Singh was a major force behind his country’s rapprochement with the United States and is a respected figure on the world stage. President Obama’s aides used to boast of his tremendous rapport and friendship with Singh.

But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

Every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions. more

India gets special treatment in GOP platform

From Foreign Policy:

Take a close look at the draft platform that Politico discovered on the Republican National Committee’s website on Friday, and you’ll see that the Republican party arguably lavishes more praise on India than on any country mentioned in the document except Israel and Taiwan. The plan reads:

We welcome a stronger relationship with the world’s largest democracy, India, both economic and cultural, as well as in terms of national security. We hereby affirm and declare that India is our geopolitical ally and a strategic trading partner. We encourage India to permit greater foreign investment and trade. We urge protection for adherents of all India’s religions. Both as Republicans and as Americans, we note with pride the contributions to this country that are being made by our fellow citizens of Indian ancestry.

More here

Also read: For first time, GOP manifesto calls India a ‘strategic ally’

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi interviewed by WSJ

Amol Sharma in WSJ:

WSJ: Do you see yourself as a future prime minister?

Modi: I don’t carry the burden of the past or the madness of the future. I live in the present. My present is my Gujarat, the 60 million people of this state, the villages, the poor farmers, the children – to change their destiny. I can’t think beyond that.

WSJ: Your critics say you should apologize for the 2002 riots. Why won’t you?

Modi: One only has to ask for forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime. If you think it’s such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven? Just because Modi is a chief minister, why should he be forgiven? I think Modi should get the biggest punishment possible if he is guilty. And the world should know there isn’t any tolerance for these kind of political leaders.

Read the full story here, Q&A here.

And what he said on malnutrition:

“We are the first state in the country to raise the issue of malnutrition. It came to our mind that Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious. So being a middle-class state is also a problem for me. A large segment of the population in my state is middle-class. Second is vegetarianism.

More on this here


A tale of two riots in Mumbai

Vikram Doctor in Economic Times:

There is one interesting, and depressing, difference between the Maharashtra government’s reaction to the recent Azad Maidan riot and a riot that took place in the city exactly 30 years ago, in August 1982.

That was the Bombay Police Riot, an unprecedented event that put the city through its worst riots in 12 years and which was, predictably, greeted by calls from MLAs for the removal of Julio Ribeiro, who had just taken over as police commissioner (PC). But the then chief minister, Babasaheb Bhosale of Congress, refused to give in to the demands since he knew, all too well, how Ribeiro had managed to contain a problem that could have become far worse. Arup Patnaik, who has just been unceremoniously removed as PC, also quite possibly saved the city from far worse on August 11.

Some activists were looking to provoke a stronger reaction that could have led to further chaos. And by attacking Patnaik for ‘doing nothing,’ political parties like the two Senas would have relished the chance of such chaos in which they could retaliate.

But by choosing not to be provoked, and containing the riot despite the attacks on police personnel, Patnaik may well have averted a larger conflagration — and his reward has been his removal. More:

Imran Khan must be doing something right

Pankaj Mishra in the NYT Magazine:

On a cool evening in March, Imran Khan, followed by his dogs, walked around the extensive lawns of his estate, sniffling with an incipient cold. “My ex-wife, Jemima, designed the house — it is really paradise for me,” Khan said of the villa, which sprawls on a ridge overlooking Himalayan foothills and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “My greatest regret is that she is not here to enjoy it,” he added, unexpectedly poignantly. We walked through the living room and then sat in his dimly lighted bedroom, the voices of servants echoing in the empty house, the mournful azans drifting up from multiple mosques in the city below.

Khan, once Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, exuded an Olympian solitude that evening; it had been a long day, he explained, of meetings with his party’s senior leaders. The previous two months, he said, had been the most difficult in his life. His party was expanding amazingly fast and attracting “electables” — experienced men from the governing and main opposition parties. But the young people who constituted his base wanted change; they did not want to see old political faces. “I was being pulled apart in different directions,” Khan said. “I thought I was going mad.”

Khan’s granitic handsomeness, which first glamorized international cricket and has sustained the British media’s long fascination with his public and private lives, is now, as he nears 60, a bit craggy. There are lines and dark patches around his eyes. The stylishly barbered hair, thinning at the top, is flecked with gray, and his unmodulated baritone, ubiquitous across Pakistan’s TV channels, can sound irritably didactic.

“The public contact is never easy for me,” he said. “I am basically a private person.” More:

Shashi Tharoor: The Outsider

Mihir S Sharma in Business Standard:

I’ve never worn that,” Shashi Tharoor says hastily, on seeing me transfixed by a portrait in the corner of his office. In the painting, Tharoor sits at a desk, writing dreamily with a quill pen, wearing a velvety eighteenth-century outfit complete with lace as floppily perfect as his hair. Most of us would be terrified at the thought of anyone seeing a painting of us dressed up like Little Lord Fauntleroy, but Tharoor is apparently made of sterner stuff. I leave thinking that his choice to instead display that portrait prominently is revealing: of his openness, his apparently indestructible self-image, and even of the otherness that he is unable to shake off in political life.

It has been some years now since Tharoor was banished into the wilderness, somewhat amusingly the first — and only, besides Suresh Kalmadi — Congressman to be a political casualty of corruption accusations. (Tharoor maintains he did nothing wrong, and Congress President Sonia Gandhi has not recently repeated her earlier use of him as an example of her party’s anti-corruption resolve.) His year in office as a junior minister in the foreign ministry was notable mainly for the attention he received from the media, most of it sharply critical of his style and his statements. He has largely managed to avoid controversy since. More:

Now, Team Anna wants to party

Mukul Kesavan in The Times of India:

The calling card of India Against Corruption (IAC) has been indignant virtue. Its virtue derives from its leadership’s record of public service, its indignation is directed at the corruption in India’s public life. The appeal and drawing power of virtuous indignation lies in the brazen dishonesty of the political establishment and the middle class’s gift for seeing itself as the blameless victim of a parasitic state.

Arvind Kejriwal, the strategist of the Anna Hazare movement, displayed an early appreciation of television as a means of magnifying virtue. In the early days, before the first Jantar Mantar fast made Anna a household name, he drew Baba Ramdev into the movement because of the drawing power of Ramdev’s television persona. At the time he was uncertain whether Anna’s charisma as a provincial activist would scale up to fill a national stage.

After the landmark Ramlila Ground fast which delivered the remarkable spectacle of India’s imperious political class waiting upon a fasting septuagenarian’s every move, Anna’s success in creating a civil society juggernaut seemed complete. Parliament promised a Lokpal law based on the Jan Lokpal Bill and Anna’s moral authority as a Gandhian fasting his way to martyrdom or political victory briefly eclipsed Parliament’s standing as the republic’s elected legislature. More:

A for Anna, B for Baba, C for Camera

Bishwanath Ghosh in The Hindu:

Do we even realise how little we work our minds these days when it comes to analysing events around us? We feed on the frenzy whipped up by news channels; and, when caught in a verbal duel between distinguished panellists with colliding views, we are so confused that we end up adopting the voice and the demeanour of the excited news anchor. Since TV news is 24/7, you are never ever given a chance to let your own thoughts precipitate: the animated anchor is always breathing down your neck, telling you what to think.

Amid such cacophony, listening to a yoga guru can be a pleasant distraction. I gave up watching TV news long ago, ever since the channels discovered the art of breaking news, but I always loved watching the telecast of Baba Ramdev’s yoga camps, even though he would keep demonstrating the same set of postures and breathing exercises day after day, month after month.

Here was a man — a hitherto unheard-of swami in a country that boasts of larger-than-life gurus — who got the entire country practising pranayama. Even on trains and in public parks you could see people sitting upright and either exhaling forcefully or breathing through alternate nostrils. The talkative swami had brought about a yoga revolution, something that serious, larger-than-life gurus could not succeed in doing in their own country even though they are worshipped in the West. All this thanks to TV. More:

Could Pakistan’s judicial soap opera be a re-run of the same old thing?

Mehreen Zahra-Malik in HImal Southasian:

A coup by any other name would smell as foul, wouldn’t it? In a country whose political history is the story of uncountable civilians dethroned by military coups, the question of whether the Supreme Court’s ruling to send Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani home was the beginning of the end for another civilian government is not one borne of an over-imaginative or conspiratorial mind. Not here in Pakistan, where unelected forces are always waiting in the wings to ‘rescue’ Pakistanis from their elected leaders.

This time, however, a democratically elected prime minister has not been sent home for the usual reasons. Transparency International claims Pakistan lost USD 94 billion through corruption, tax evasion and bad governance during the four years of Gilani’s tenure, while Gilani’s fingerprints seem to be all over at least three of the most high-profile financial scandals hogging the headlines. But the former prime minister was not handed his walking papers for earning the title of ‘most corrupt prime minister in Pakistan’s history’. Since 2008, when the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) came to power, hundreds have fallen victim to sectarian militant groups around the country, while the numbers for suicide bombings and other incidents of terrorism have only gone up and up. And yet, Gilani wasn’t ousted for failing in his fundamental duty to provide citizens with the protection of life and property promised in the constitution. He wasn’t ousted for not having any answers, as chief executive of the country, to the question of what Osama bin Laden was doing living for years only a stone’s throw away from Pakistan’s elite military academy. He wasn’t ousted because swathes of Pakistan suffer up to 22 hours of power outages everyday, forcing industries to shut down and pushing rioters to clash with the police and burn properties across the country.

Instead, Gilani was ousted because he refused to send a written request to Swiss authorities asking that they reopen decades-old corruption investigations against his boss, the co-chairperson of the PPP and the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. More:

Beware the ghost of Zail Singh

Harish Khare‘s advise to President Pranab Mukherjee. In The Hindu:

Today Pranab Mukherjee will be sworn in as the 13th President of the Indian republic. Somehow it is not easy to stub out a premonition that his presidency will end up creating a miasma of constitutional and political unhappiness. The troublesome thought recurs around an unaccustomed — and, essentially, unanswerable — question: can a 24×7 politician painlessly switch gears overnight to become a copybook constitutional head of the republic? Can a man joyfully steeped in the soul-crushing manoeuvres and wheeling-dealing of the Indian political stock exchange adjust to the unexcitement of the limited role the President is assigned in a parliamentary system? This question is rather pertinent in Mr. Mukherjee’s case. It is a new, if not odd, situation. Unlike any of his predecessors at Rashtrapati Bhavan, he not only selected himself but also quarterbacked his campaign, that too against heavy odds, especially in his own political party.

A well kept secret

It was one of the best kept secrets that Mr. Mukherjee was anxious — perhaps over-anxious — to be either Prime Minister or President. When, in January 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to be hospitalised for a heart operation, as the most senior Minister in charge of the government, Mr. Mukherjee ended up rubbing other colleagues the wrong way. That cameo did not endear him to the party leadership. Yet he continued to believe that his long innings as a faithful party apparatchik had entitled him to a shot at one of the two posts. There were enough friendly souls around to keep reminding him of his seniority, dating back to his days as Indira Gandhi’s Finance Minister. Once it was made clear to him that there was no vacancy at the office of the Prime Minister, he settled his sights on Rashtrapati Bhavan. It has been suggested that he was feeling jaded and overworked, and felt entitled to some peace and rest and to bask in the sunshine of ceremonial glories at the sprawling Mughal gardens. More:

Sycophants saffron and white

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

They say a writer is known by the enemies he makes. Earlier this week, I was alerted to an attack on me posted on the website of the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. “Ramachandra Guha’s impotent anger,” claimed Modi’s website, “is typical of a snobbish but vacuous intellectual who simply cannot tolerate a person from humble background attaining greatness by the dint of his own hard work, learning and persistence. But Ramachandra Guha, after more than 40 years of Dynasty history writing remains where he is while Narendra Modi has continues [sic]to scale up. Which is why Modi can speak about and implement well-considered policies on topics as diverse as governance, economy, environment, industry, infrastructure, solar energy, IT, and tourism while Guha is simply unable to look beyond the walls of 10 Janpath.” ( accessed July 9, 2012.)

This paragraph contains a series of innuendos, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. To begin with the most elementary error, my CV as it appears on Modi’s website exaggerates my professional longevity. I have been a historian for a mere 25 years, and a political historian for only the last 10 of those years.

More importantly, Modi’s website names as my friends people I have not been in the same room with, and who, if they were to read my writings, would very likely consider me their enemy. I have never entered 10, Janpath, nor met any of its occupants. On the other hand, in books and essays written over the years, I have often criticized the public role of the Congress’s First Family. I have deplored the conversion by Indira Gandhi of a countrywide party with vigorous state and district units into an extension of herself. I have written of how the first Mrs Gandhi destroyed public institutions by encouraging politicians to appoint officials on the basis of personal loyalty rather than competence or integrity. I have turned a critical lens on Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership as well, showing how his pandering to Muslim and Hindu chauvinists helped catalyze two decades of civil conflict. More:

Saeed Mirza: a seeker, storyteller and friend

Aakar Patel in Mint-Lounge:

Saeed is one of those rare intellectuals who is as interesting as his work. Forget Bollywood’s directors, even writers tend to be boring people, with little to say. Saeed is one of the three most interesting men I have met in my life.

 He is a teller of stories, and he is first-rate at doing this with whatever medium is at hand, film, television or print. I have spent sessions with him doing a “reading” of his next script, acting out every single part in the thing. The last session was 3 hours long, punctuated by breaks for smoking and mixing drinks. It is wonderfully entertaining (though Saeed himself once said the person who does this sort of script narration best is Sudhir Mishra).

I have seen both his books as ideas, as works-in-progress and as drafts, the child-like enthusiasm ringing throughout. I have listened to freshly-written chapters of his books read out by Saeed in his great, booming voice, one hand held out in gesticulation where the text contains speech. He is leonine, a big shaggy lion, full of certitude when he is holding forth.

Saeed is suspicious of state authority and of religion. He tolerates religion, of course, but just about.

Above Saeed’s desk in his Goa flat is a painting by his friend Mickey Patel, a menacing silhouette of a pope.

One visiting pastor saw Saeed’s pope painting and simpered, thinking it was the act of a believer, Saeed told me between great howls of laughter. More:

Jemima Khan talks to Pervez Musharraf

In New Statesman:

General Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, former chief executive of Pakistan, former army chief and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, is watching the England v West Indies Test series in his neat, unostentatious flat off the Edgware Road in west London. He has spent the past three years living between here and Dubai, in self-imposed exile, watching cricket, keeping fit, playing golf, giving lectures for large fees and plotting his return to Pakistani politics. There are no armed guards, no entourage and no fanfare. His private secretary, Anjum Choudhry, a friend I’ve known as “Jim” for many years, sits quietly and reads a paper at the dining room table as the general, in a brown suit and pink shirt, welcomes me into his home and invites me to ask him anything I want. Which, given the rumpus that resulted from my last interview with him (when, on the eve of the 2007 presidential election, he told me a number of things that he later regretted), is very trusting indeed.

In this way, Musharraf differs from most politicians I have met. He is unguarded, forthcoming and at times appears disarmingly naive. He tells me of his imminent return to Pakistan to contest elections, as his housekeeper offers samosas, meethi (Pakistani sweets) and chai. “I think one can look after one’s security. There will be danger but not as much as all my family and all my friends think.” Already there have been many attempts on his life.

Musharraf thinks that politically he is in with a good chance. In October 2010, he launched a new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, of which he is the president, and he plans to return to contest elections in Pakistan next year. He tells me that according to a recent, informal poll, conducted by a friend from Lahore, 91 per cent of respondents want him to be president and Imran Khan, the leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf (“Movement for Justice”), to be prime minister. “I strongly believe this is the feeling. Even my own supporters tell me Imran is the person who should be with us. I think we can turn the tables if we are together. If he is alone and if I am alone I don’t think we can turn the tables.”

I pass this on to Imran later. He laughs, and says: “And then did he wake up . . . ?” More:

Politics after President Pranab

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

Based on these dynamics, there are four possible outcomes of the 2014 elections. (1) Re-election of the UPA under Rahul Gandhi; (2) Victory of the NDA with the BJP in a strong but not commanding position within the alliance; (3) Emergence of a Congress-supported centre-left ‘Third Front;’ (4) A BJP-supported centre-right ‘Fourth Front’ led by someone like Nitish Kumar.

Going by the current state of play at the State level, the last option — of the ‘Fourth Front’ — seems to have the edge over 2 or 1. Option 3 becomes viable if the SP and the Trinamool, which today have around 45 seats, are able to more than double their tally, but without the Communists providing the ideological glue is unlikely to take off.

The corporate sector’s preference would be for 1, 2 or 4. Options 1 and 2 promise them “stability” and the possibility of pushing reforms. Option 4 will be unstable but offers the greatest opportunity for primitive accumulation through resource rents. More:

Nepal’s unending woes

Kunda Dixit in Deccan Chronicle:

The people of Nepal are justifiably proud that their country was never colonised, even though most other countries in the region were under the British. The joke in Kathmandu is that the British in India took one look at the mountains to the north, and didn’t bother conquering Nepal because they found it ungovernable. The Chinese, too, invaded Nepal in the 18th century but headed right back because it just seemed like too much trouble to stay.

Given the political brinkmanship of the past month, it doesn’t look like much has changed in the Himalayan kingdom-turned-republic. It is still ungovernable, and Nepal’s giant neighbours, India and China, are getting edgy about the prolonged instability.

Even the international media, it seems, has given up trying to make head or tail of what is going on in Nepal. The reports swing between alarmist and over-simplified headlines like ‘Nepal on the brink of collapse’ to news of this year’s mountaineering traffic jam on Mt. Everest.

After a pro-democracy movement in 1990 turned Nepal into a constitutional monarchy, Nepal’s Maoist guerrillas waged a ruinous ten-year war that left 16,000 dead. A ceasefire agreement in 2006 led to the Maoists contesting and winning elections in 2008 for a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. The monarchy was abolished and Nepal was declared a secular, federal republic. more

Manmohan Singh: Guilty on many counts, not corrupt

Harish Khare, Indian Prime Minister’s former media adviser, in The Hindu:

My mind instantly recalled a conversation I had had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the day I joined him as Media Adviser in June 2009. That afternoon he spent an hour with me, sharing his views and thought-processes. At the end of the conversation, just as I was leaving, he beckoned me to sit down again and said: “One more thing, Harish. If you ever hear anything about any member of my family engaging in any kind of hanky-panky, please come and tell it straight to me, however unpleasant or painful it may be.”

Now this man is being called “corrupt” by a bunch of self-appointed Shankaracharyas who have arrogated to themselves the licence to declare someone clean and someone else corrupt. The charge of “corrupt” carries with it a suggestion of active collusion in abuse of governmental discretion in exchange for a monetary consideration.

Last year the argument was: “So what, if you are honest?” This season the demonisation game has been ratcheted up to declare Manmohan Singh to be corrupt. Was it not George Orwell who had warned us against how political language was “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”? Old George would have admired Team Anna’s homicidal finesse.

Manmohan Singh is not corrupt, but he is definitely guilty. He can be easily charged — along with his political partner, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi — of pursing a politics of decency and of elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy. More: