Tag Archive for 'Politics'

A lexical sampler — The shape of words to come

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

Indian speakers of English, though, have no dictionary of Indian usage to fall back on. But we are lucky in that the internet is, metaphorically, one vast searchable dictionary and we can (individually if need be), upload into this ether, words and neologisms and their contemporary meanings. Why? So that posterity doesn’t have to puzzle out usage that will, in time, change or become obsolete.

What follows is a lexical sampler, a handful of words that are looking for traction, for purchase, in desi usage and sometimes finding it.

modi~fy: to shift the blame for violence on to its victims. Thus, ‘Amit began to modify the history of the Gujarat pogrom in 2002.’ This transference can be helped along by the use of the dangling modi~fier and its uncanny knack of recasting victims as passive-aggressors: ‘Eyes bloodshot, hoarse with vengeful shouting, the ghetto was burnt to the ground by the mob.’ Bloodshot, vengeful ghettoes aren’t likely to attract much sympathy even if they are burnt to the ground.

modi~fication: the parent process, the projected transformation of India into Pakistan. modi~fication can also be used as a generic term for majoritarian transition, the conversion of a country into a state owned by its religious majority. Thus, Sri Lanka under the Rajapakse government becomes a nation where modification is complete.

modi~cum: an infinitesimally small, therefore negligible, quantity of anything good. Thus ‘a modicum of tolerance’; ‘a modicum of kindness’; ‘a modicum of humanity’ etc. More:

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:

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:

We call this progress

Arundhati Roy in Guernica:

I don’t know how far back in history to begin, so I’ll lay the milestone down in the recent past. I’ll start in the early 1990s, not long after capitalism won its war against Soviet Communism in the bleak mountains of Afghanistan. The Indian government, which was for many years one of the leaders of the nonaligned movement, suddenly became a completely aligned country and began to call itself the natural ally of the U.S. and Israel. It opened up its protected markets to global capital. Most people have been speaking about environmental battles, but in the real world it’s quite hard to separate environmental battles from everything else: the war on terror, for example; the depleted uranium; the missiles; the fact that it was the military-industrial complex that actually pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression, and since then the economies of places like America, many countries in Europe, and certainly Israel, have had stakes in the manufacture of weapons. What good are weapons if they aren’t going to be used in wars? Weapons are absolutely essential; it’s not just for oil or natural resources, but for the military-industrial complex itself to keep going that we need weapons.

Today, as we speak, the U.S., and perhaps China and India, are involved in a battle for control of the resources of Africa. Thousands of U.S. troops, as well as death squads, are being sent into Africa. The “Yes We Can” president has expanded the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. There are drone attacks killing children on a regular basis there.

In the 1990s, when the markets of India opened, when all of the laws that protected labor were dismantled, when natural resources were privatized, when that whole process was set into motion, the Indian government opened two locks: one was the lock of the markets; the other was the lock of an old fourteenth-century mosque, which was a disputed site between Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus believed that it was the birthplace of Ram, and the Muslims, of course, use it as a mosque. By opening that lock, India set into motion a kind of conflict between the majority community and the minority community, a way of constantly dividing people. Finding ways to divide people is the main practice of anybody that is in power. 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

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:

The undercities of Karachi

Jan Bremen in New Left Review:

The largest port on the Arabian Sea, Karachi today has a population over 20 million, on a par with Mumbai, and ranks as the world’s eighth biggest city. Commanding the north-east quadrant of the ocean, with a hinterland stretching up the Indus Valley to Afghanistan, it has been the principal entry-point for US arms and supplies in the ‘war on terror’, while refugees—and heroin—have flowed in the opposite direction. From the bloodstained birth of Pakistan with the Partition of British India, the city’s explosive growth has more often been fuelled by the ‘push’ of geopolitical, agrarian and ecological crises than by the ‘pull’ of economic development. Life in its sprawling katchi abadis, or ‘unpaved settlements’, has much in common with that of other giant undercities, such as Mumbai’s, with the exception that violence plays a significantly greater role here. The vast majority of Karachiites are not only entangled in competition with each other, in a desperate struggle for survival, but must also contend with a brutal climate of aggression fuelled by gangsterized political groupings, the most influential of which also control the armed force of the state. In what conditions do its inhabitants live and what could drive increasing numbers of newcomers to try to survive here?

On the eve of Independence in 1947, the seaport of Karachi had fewer than half a million inhabitants, mostly Hindus, living within the old city walls or in fishing villages along the coast. The British had built up the docks and warehouse districts, constructed a military cantonment and laid out tree-lined streets for themselves to the south of the ‘native’ city, areas still known as Clifton and Defence. Partition led to an exodus of some of the city’s Hindus to India, and the arrival from that country of a much larger number of Muslims: around half a million Urdu-speaking Mohajirs (refugees), who abandoned property and possessions south of the new border to flee to what was now the capital of Pakistan. Initially the Mohajirs were settled in temporary shelters, in parks and on open state land. With the conservative modernization policies that began in the early 1950s, and intensified under the military regime of General Ayub Khan from 1958–68, new satellite townships were built around the city and heavy industry developed, with the aid of foreign loans. The different sectors of Karachi’s fast-growing working class had distinct ethnic bases: dock workers were drawn from the Makrani-Baluch labourers of old Karachi; Mohajirs predominated in heavy industry and multinational firms; villagers from the North-West Frontier, Hazara and southern Punjab were recruited by jobbers for the textile districts, where numerous small factories operated in intolerable conditions. More:

Imran Khan interviewed by The Economist

Poor in India starve as politicians steal $14.5 billion of food

Mehul Srivastava and Andrew MacAskill in Bloomberg:

Ram Kishen, 52, half-blind and half- starved, holds in his gnarled hands the reason for his hunger: a tattered card entitling him to subsidized rations that now serves as a symbol of India’s biggest food heist.

Kishen has had nothing from the village shop for 15 months. Yet 20 minutes’ drive from Satnapur, past bone-dry fields and tiny hamlets where children with distended bellies play, a government storage facility five football fields long bulges with wheat and rice. By law, those 57,000 tons of food are meant for Kishen and the 105 other households in Satnapur with ration books. They’re meant for some of the 350 million families living below India’s poverty line of 50 cents a day.

Instead, as much as $14.5 billion in food was looted by corrupt politicians and their criminal syndicates over the past decade in Kishen’s home state of Uttar Pradesh alone, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The theft blunted the country’s only weapon against widespread starvation — a five-decade-old public distribution system that has failed to deliver record harvests to the plates of India’s hungriest.

“This is the most mean-spirited, ruthlessly executed corruption because it hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society,” said Naresh Saxena, who, as a commissioner to the nation’sSupreme Court, monitors hunger-based programs across the country. “What I find even more shocking is the lack of willingness in trying to stop it.” More:

Internet analysts question India’s efforts to stem panic

Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai in NYT:

The Indian government’s efforts to stem a weeklong panic among some ethnic minorities has again put it at odds with Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Officials in New Delhi, who have had disagreements with the companies over restrictions on free speech, say the sites are not responding quickly enough to their requests to delete and trace the origins of doctored photos and incendiary posts aimed at people from northeastern India. After receiving threats online and on their phones, tens of thousands of students and migrants from the northeast have left cities like Bangalore, Pune and Chennai in the last week.

The government has blocked 245 Web pages since Friday, but still many sites are said to contain fabricated images of violence against Muslims in the northeast and in neighboring Myanmar meant to incite Muslims in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai to attack people from the northeast. India also restricted cellphone users to five text messages a day each for 15 days in an effort to limit the spread of rumors.

Officials from Google and industry associations said they were cooperating fully with the authorities. Some industry executives and analysts added that some requests had not been heeded because they were overly broad or violated internal policies and the rights of users. More:

When Is government web censorship justified? 

Max Fisher in The Atlantic:

Technology can be a great liberator, but can it sometimes be a carcinogen? The Indian government seems to think so: it has blocked around 250 websites, ordered Google and Facebook to pull content, threatened legal action against Twitter if it doesn’t delete certain accounts, and has arrested several people for sending inflammatory text messages, all in the name of public safety. If you’re appalled, you’re not alone: the U.S. State Department responded by calling on India to respect “full freedom of the internet,” highlighting the growing divide between the two governments on web freedom.

But the Indian censorship — and it is censorship, despite the government’s insistance otherwise — may not be as clear-cut as a case of state oppression and over-reach. It turns out that the Indian government might be right to fear that technology, for all the very real benefits it’s brought India, could also be helping to magnify ancient communal tensions in a ways that costs lives and, perhaps even worse, might destabilize the delicate social balance within the world’s second-largest country.

The story begins, depending on how you look at it, either 20 years, one month, or one week ago. 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:

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.” (http://www.narendramodi.in/the-will-of-the-people-always-triumphs/ 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:

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

Running away from the trolls

Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times:

Like a teenager in the giddy days of an early relationship, I found I couldn’t get enough. I woke up with a sense of anticipation and thought about it long after I had gone to bed. Back then there was the sheer thrill of finding new people and the silly delight in knowing the ‘cool’ people were following me back. With 140 million active users, 10 million of them in India, I was plugged into a giant machine that gave me access to how the world and Indians think. How could I not feel euphoric?

To older friends, convinced that Twitter is Salome’s dance inside the devil’s den, I countered: “It gives me an inside into what moves people.” Twitter gave me the buzz. It was often faster than all the screaming ‘breaking news’ banners on TV. Rinkle Kumari, for instance, the Hindu girl abducted and forcibly converted in Pakistan was making waves on Twitter for nearly a week before news channels picked up the story. And tweets by politicians like Omar Abdullah, @abdullah_omar, are often turned into full-length stories by newspapers the morning after. For journalists and writers, Twitter is also a way to reach out to readers.

Writer Ashok Banker, @ashokbanker, however, says he loves Twitter not as a tool to promote his books but “for its chatty interaction with people, being able to share news, tidbits, pics and info all day long and, of course, its ideal use for witty social commentary”.

Sadly my infatuation came with a short use-by date. Before I knew it, I was snarling, blocking, complaining. Twitter just wasn’t fun anymore. More:


Writer’s block in Nepal

Manjushree Thapa on Nepal’s constitutional crisis in Deccan Chronicle:

What do you do if you’re the high-caste leader of a democratic party faced with a vote that will end your caste’s supremacy?

You avoid voting at all costs. This is what the leaders of the Nepali Congress party and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) did in Kathmandu on May 27. Their refusal to compromise with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and other parties led to the failure to pass a new Constitution and the dissolution of the country’s only democratically elected body, the 601-member Constituent Assembly.

This was an unforgivable betrayal of public trust: the citizenry had waited for four years for a new Constitution that would mark the birth of a “New Nepal”.

It also plunged Nepal into a constitutional crisis: the country now has a caretaker President, a caretaker Prime Minister, and a caretaker Cabinet, but no representative body. The judiciary, the bureaucracy and the security forces remain, of course.

But no one is sure what is legitimate and illegitimate now. The Prime Minister has called for elections for another Constituent Assembly in six months. The President is mulling over his options, which are few. With no clear way forward, Nepal is, for now, a constitutional Neverneverland. Was it worth it? More:

Mamata Banerjee personifies populist force in Indian politics

Simon Denyer from Kolkata in The Washington Post:

She spent her life fighting communists but is the biggest obstacle to economic liberalization in India today. She is the leader of a small regional party but wields more power than the prime minister.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of the state of West Bengal, is a rising force in Indian politics, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton paid a special visit to Kolkata this month to meet her.

The 57-year-old Banerjee — determined, resolutely populist and hardworking, yet eccentric and intolerant of dissent — holds the balance of power in India’s coalition government and has used that political might to huge effect.

Time after time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to introduce economic reforms have foundered because of Baner­jee’s opposition. Time magazine recently listed her among the world’s 100 most influential people, and 25 out of 50 CEOs surveyed by a leading Indian newspaper last week said she was the biggest stumbling block to economic growth.

Banerjee is the personification of a fundamental change that is transforming Indian politics: the declining vote share of the country’s two main political parties and the rising influence of regional parties. More:

Imran Khan: A Kennedy for Pakistan?

Mohsin Hamid in NYRB:

Most likely to be cast as heroes are the media, the country’s independent-minded Supreme Court, which has recently indicted the Prime Minister on contempt of court charges (related to the corruption investigation of Zardari), and the Pakistani “people.” There is much talk of democratic ideals, but little love for the country’s current crop of politicians, and so there seems to be a yearning for a new kind of leader able to break the cycle of weakness and mediocrity.

Into this situation has surged the former cricket superstar Imran Khan, who in recent months has suddenly become the country’s most popular political figure. My first intimation that people might be taking Khan seriously as a politician came in February 2011, in Karachi, when I asked the driver of a car belonging to my publisher whom he’d vote for if elections were held today.

“Imran Khan,” he replied without hesitation.

I was surprised. Khan’s fifteen-year-old party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or Pakistan Movement for Justice, had never managed to win more than a single seat in the country’s 272-member parliament. Yet my publisher’s driver was on to something. By October, well over 100,000 people were thronging a Khan-led PTI rally in Lahore, an event that seemed to change Pakistan’s political landscape. It had been billed as a make-or-break chance for Khan to show, finally, whether he was capable of building a true mass movement. More:

Lesson of UP polls

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:

To say that the election results for five state assemblies came in on Tuesday is true but misleading. One of those five states is more like a country — a large, backward country — than a state. According to the 2011 census, Uttar Pradesh is home to roughly 200 million people which makes it, demographically, a political unit slightly larger than Brazil.

More to the point, UP accounts for one-sixth of India’s population and is central to its politics. Since the turn of the century, though, the two major national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have been reduced to bit players in the politics of this crucial state. This impression was confirmed by Tuesday’s election results: the Congress ‘improved’ its seat share by winning 28 seats (37 if you count the nine seats won by its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal) while the BJP won 47 seats even as its vote share declined.

The pattern of provincial elections in UP over the past 20 years has two principal features. First, anti-incumbency strictly defines election results: the ruling party is voted out each time. Second, while the alternation between the ruling party and the principal opposition party remains a constant, the parties playing these roles have changed.

In the 1990s, boosted by the Ram Janmabhoomi mobilization and the communal polarization created by the razing of the Babri Masjid, the BJP was one half of the incumbent/anti-incumbent minuet, but over the last three elections, two ‘provincial’ parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, have taken over the dance floor. More:

India’s destiny not caste in stone

Sociologist Andre Béteille in The Hindu:

Those who try to keep up with discussions on current affairs in the newspapers and on television may be forgiven if they conclude that caste is India’s destiny. If there is one thing the experts in the media who comment on political matters have in common, it is their preoccupation with caste and the part it plays in electoral politics.

Many are now coming to believe that, despite the undeniable demographic, technological and economic changes taking place in the country, the division into castes and communities remains the ineluctable and ineradicable feature of Indian society. They also believe that to ignore those divisions or to draw attention to other divisions such as those of income, education and occupation is to turn our backs on the ground reality. The more radical among them add that ignoring those realities amounts to an evasion of the political responsibility of redistributing the benefits and burdens of society in a more just and equitable manner.

Does nothing change in India? A great many things have in fact changed in the last 60 years both in our political perceptions and in the social reality. The leaders of the nationalist movement who successfully fought for India’s freedom from colonial rule believed that India may have been a society of castes and communities in the past but would become a nation of citizens with the adoption of a new republican constitution. They were too optimistic. The Constitution did create rights for the citizen, but it did not eradicate caste from the hearts and minds of the citizens it created. For many Indians, and perhaps the majority, the habits of the heart are still the habits of a hierarchical society. More:


I have given up my life for Priyanka, says Robert Vadra

From The Times of India:

 How difficult has it been for you to be married into India’s most famous political family?

Over time, I have understood my role in this family. The before- and after-I-met-Priyanka versions of me are the same. My friends are all my old friends. I go to a nightclub with them and I ask them, “How are we going to get in?” Then they look at me strangely. Yes, I took out public notices against my father and my brother, and that’s not normal…

The public notices said your father and brother should be given no favours. Your father claimed to have disowned you when you married Priyanka.

My sister was never connected to the notices . It is not easy to be consistently determined to not use the good offices of my family. But there are people who do not relent . They think a favour is only a phone call away. One way of stopping that was to take out the notices, saying my father and brother were to be given no favours. More:

And below, in The Indian Express:

I try to keep middlemen away from the family: Robert Vadra

Although Vadra did not completely rule out the possibility of joining politics in future, he said his “leaning” for the present is “towards business”.

“I do many businesses. I keep myself interested in many fields. Because of my wife’s family, I happen to know, study, learn and discuss politics, just as in my family we talk about business morning, noon and night. When I do exhibitions, everybody is involved. The same way, in case of my wife’s family, I take part in what they do.”

“There is a lot of interest in me because I am not easily available and do not talk to the media. People would like to know about me. While campaigning for Rahul and my mother-in-law, I meet young workers. They have a lot of respect for me and are very enthusiastic. I motivate them. When Priyanka and Rahul are not able to meet some people, I meet them one-on-one. I try to keep middlemen away from the family and give them first-hand information,” he said. More:

Insider as outsider

Rajdeep Sardesai in Hindustan Times:

In 1999, we experienced a ‘television moment’. We were covering Sonia Gandhi’s Amethi campaign when we happened to meet her daughter, Priyanka. For the next several hours, Priyanka took us on a whirlwind tour across the constituency. There were fewer camera crews then, so there wasn’t a mad scramble for sound bites. Priyanka was made for television: attractive, charming and spontaneous. She even had lunch with us under a banyan tree, spoke at length on her family legacy, and clearly revelled in the public glare. It was probably her first ever TV interaction, but she didn’t miss a beat. We were, well, bowled over.

Thirteen years later, little seems to have changed. She still offers an infectious smile, wears colourful designer khadi saris, relates with great warmth to the crowds, and willingly speaks to the camera. The travelling media (now more a circus) still hangs onto her every word, totally enchanted by her striking presence. And the question asked is no different to what we kept asking all those years ago: when is Priyanka joining politics? Her answer too is similar: back then, she said she was only campaigning for her mother, now she says her involvement is limited to helping her brother, Rahul. And yet, we persist, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, one day she will, like the eternally bashful bride, finally say, ‘yes!’.

What does this Priyanka mania suggest? Firstly, it reveals the desperate shortage of telegenic personalities in public life. Faced with a tired and geriatric political class, many of whom are well past their sell-by date, Priyanka clearly stands out. The fact that she is rarely seen, emerging only at election time perhaps enhances her mystique. She is elusive for much of the year, occasionally being seen at a fashion show or Page 3 event. Elections is when she is catapulted from Page 3 to Page 1 news. More:

The Priyanka Gandhi factor

Smita Gupta in The Hindu:

Earlier this week when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spent three days in Uttar Pradesh, drumming up support for the Congress in the 10 Assembly segments across the two parliamentary constituencies held by her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi, there was the predictable speculation in the media: was the Gandhi-Nehru — acknowledged in the party as the most charismatic living member in the family — about to join active politics?

It wasn’t just the glamour quotient at work: Ms. Vadra triggered off some of the speculation herself when she was asked by journalists if she was planning to campaign outside the family stronghold, something she does in every election. “I have not decided yet… So far I am here in Amethi and Rae Bareli and my brother and I will talk to each other and decide on it,” she said, stressing, “I’ll do anything for my brother, whatever is required of me. I’ll do whatever he requires me to do.”

Pressed on whether she would join active politics if Mr. Gandhi asked her to, she was deliberately ambivalent: “He knows to what extent he can require me.”

Since then, while the Congress confirmed that Ms. Vadra would be back for a second foray into Rae Bareli and Amethi, closer to the elections there next month, all that senior U.P. leaders have been willing to say is the extent of her engagement will be decided by the family, as the campaign progresses. More:

Brand Priyanka

Shobha John in The Times of India:

 She’s called a ‘reluctant bride’, a ‘seasonal variation’ and a ‘media lovely’. For the swish set, Priyanka Gandhi is a fashion icon or a socialite. But when she goes to the rural hinterlands, she’s appears wrapped casually in a cotton sari, reminding one of her grandmother. And now, she’s campaigning in UP for her brother Rahul. UP is the acid test for Brand Rahul. But it’s Priyanka that people are talking about despite her campaigning in the ‘family’ constituencies. Will Brand Priyanka work for the party and her brother? “Priyanka’s presence may have marginal impact at the ground level. She has Indira Gandhi’s looks, has more charm than Rahul and can draw people, but in today’s caste-based politics, these factors may only garner more audience, not votes. Often, people come to see her out of sheer curiosity,” says Mithileshwar Jha, professor of marketing, IIM-Bangalore. “She’s like a reluctant bride but people want to see what she will deliver.”

While she is visually appealing with Indira’s aquiline nose and charisma, ad gurus say that a premium brand needs much more than just beautiful packaging. “The Congress has not been able to create a mass leader after Indira,” says Sajan Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman of Creativeland Asia. “A brand needs sustained content and stature. I don’t know what the content here is. Rahul and Priyanka come across as tender newbies in front of hardened politicos like Mulayam and Mayawati.” More


Police invented plot to keep Rushdie away from Jaipur LitFest

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Local intelligence officials in Rajasthan invented information that hit men were preparing to assassinate eminent author Salman Rushdie in a successful plot to deter him from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, highly placed police sources have told The Hindu.

Sources in the festival administration told The Hindu that Rajasthan Police intelligence officials had claimed that the threat to Mr. Rushdie came from two underworld hit men who they identified as “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” The intelligence officials also said an Islamist terrorist, Saqib Hamid Nachan, was suspected of financing the plot to assassinate Mr. Rushdie.

“I received a call from one of Mr. Rushdie’s friends on Friday, asking about these names,” said a senior officer of the Mumbai Police, who deals with organised crime. “I thanked him for giving me something to laugh about.”

The officer said the Mumbai Police’s dossiers on organised crime figures had no reference to individuals who might be using “Altaf Batli” and “Aslam Kongo.” “We’ve had a Salim Langda [‘the lame'], a Salim Kutta [‘the dog'], a Salim Tempo [‘truck'] and a Javed Fawda [‘the spade'] — but no ‘Kongo.’ Lots of Batlis [‘bottles'], but no Kongos.” More:

Rushdie Tweet: “Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie’ I’ve investigated, & believe that I was indeed lied to. I am outraged and very angry.”

Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest

In The Hindu:

The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie’s banned novel The Satanic Verses — Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here. They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.

A source close to the festival said the police had gone to Hari Kunzru’s room to question him. But that information could not be independently verified, especially since Mr. Kunzru had already hurriedly left town.

“What a lot of people don’t realise is that even reading from a banned book is against the law. This is part of a piece of absurd and draconian legislation going back to 1867 or thereabouts. I am convinced that the writers who did the readings were not aware that this is a punishable offence and could carry a fairly long prison sentence. You can discuss a book, read from other writings by the author, have conversations with him, invite him, but you cannot either possess a copy or publicly read from a book that is banned. That is a punishable offence,” Mr. Dalrymple said. More:


Salman Rushdie persuaded to stay away from Jaipur Lit Fest

From The Times of India:

A major flashpoint ahead of the Jaipur Literary Festival has been avoided with a jittery Rajasthan government on Monday persuading organizers to ask Salman Rushdie, the main draw at the book-lovers’ jamboree, to call off his visit.

Rajasthan chief secretary Salauddin Ahmed is learnt to have called the organizers to discuss Rushdie’s presence that, sources in the state government said, would have created a huge security risk, given the threat of protests by Muslim groups.

“Rushdie’s trip has been cancelled. We have been informed,” said a senior Rajasthan police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The organizers, however, didn’t confirm the cancellation but the Booker Prize-winning author’s events on the January 20-24 programme were purged from the JLF website. More:

The slimy cowardice of the soft state

Imran Khan: My time has come

From The Telegraph, UK:

Imran Khan has been written off before. As a cricketer, he was initially dismissed as having average ability before captaining his team to World Cup glory. For the past 15 years his political party has stumbled from one election humiliation to the next.

Now though, he is convinced his time has come.

Riding a tsunami of popular support ahead of elections widely expected next year, he is bracing himself for a campaign of dirty tricks.

“During a match there comes a time when you know you have the opposition on the mat. It is exactly the feeling now, that I have all the opposition by their balls,” he said, in an interview last month with The Daily Telegraph as he travelled to the north-western city of Peshawar for yet another rally on his 59th birthday. “Whatever they do now will backfire.”

Further evidence of Mr Khan’s steepling ascent was on display in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, today on Christmas Day, when at least 100,000 people turned out to hear his message that change was sweeping the country. The figure is all the more remarkable as the city is far from Mr Khan’s stronghold of Lahore. More:

Will the real Imran Khan please stand up?

Via 3quarks daily.