Friday, January 30, 2009

Miracle of Democracy

I am often told by friends and family back in India that I am extremely lucky that my four years as an undergraduate will coincide with the first four years of the Obama Presidency. Certainly, to see an African American man sitting in the White House, talking eloquently about hope and change, fairness and equality, is exciting. One of the reasons it is exciting is that the college student community is emerging from a sustained period of political pessimism and apathy. College going Americans, no matter what their political affiliations may be can finally look an international student in the eye and say without shame or embarrassment that they are proud of their country. Sure, policies have not changed overnight. Sure, American foreign policy remains bad and its economy worse. But the man at the top has changed, and President Obama carries with him the immense weight of symbolism. His electoral success is something that anyone, anywhere, can and should look upon as one of the defining events of our life time. It is one of the increasingly few reasons why we should not ever lose hope in the power of the human race not only to endure but to prevail.

The facts are simple. 40 years ago, in many parts of this country blacks could not vote. Increasingly, in a country built on the backs of immigrants, there is a suspicion of foreigners and indeed new immigrant communities. And yet a black man, the son of an African immigrant has risen to the highest post in the land. It is the stuff that would give anyone, perhaps even Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in a private moment, goosebumps.

The question one must ask however, and in fact one that some have already begun asking is, does Barack Obama's ascent to the Presidency mark a realisation of Martin Luther King's dream? Does the fact that an African American has become President mean that policies of affirmative action should end? An opinion piece that appeared in the Yale Daily News approximately a fortnight ago asks this very question and comes up with a resounding 'No!'. Obama's success does not mean that the divide between black and white has been bridged, it does not mean, to paraphrase from King's famous speech, that the son of slave owners and slaves sit today at the table of brotherhood. Could Obama have become President if his mother wasn't white? Sadly, one suspects not. Is racism dead in America? In action perhaps (though some would dispute even that), but in the mind certainly not. America has come a long way, but it has not reached the end of its journey, it has not reached the destination of racial equality, the destination of a society without discrimination.

Meanwhile in India, our national dailies have launched their search for the 'Indian Obama'. The Times of India asks its readers, in an opinion poll, whether Rahul Gandhi can become an 'Obama'. It is at these moments that I think the ToI is fit only to be toilet paper. By promoting such views, it makes the fairly difficult job of dumbing down the Indian middle class look extremely easy. But more on that in another post. Rahul Gandhi and Barack Obama have nothing in common apart from the fact that they are under fifty and probably think in English.

In fact, if I were pressed to name one Indian politician that can be compared to Obama, it is Mayawati. This may sound absurd, but if one were to look beyond her birthday bashes and penchants for diamonds and multi layered cakes, one would find that there is at least some truth in my claim. Mayawati comes from the Dalit community, a community which has been discriminated against for centuries in India, just as blacks have been in America. Moreover she is a woman, and so has fought not one but two biases-caste as well as gender (in this sense she may even be one up on Obama, resembling not just a black politician but a black, female politician). She has also displayed immense amounts of political skill, succeeding in UP, one of the most politically treacherous states in India, just as Obama displayed skill in rising through the murky underworld of Chicago politics. Her success, as Ajoy Bose points out in his biography of her titled 'Behenji', is truly remarkable.

People may point to Obama's eloquence and Mayawati's shrill tone, Obama's Harvard education and Mayawati's BA from DU, but I would argue that these are reflective not of major differences in leaders as much as major differences in political traditions. America has a long history of Ivy League senators, of brilliant orators. India has a history (especially recently) of politicians who rise out of the masses instead of those who impose themselves on them. I am not saying whether this is a good or bad thing. I am merely stating a fact.

Moreover, just as Obama's meteoric rise does not mean that affirmative action should end, Mayawati's rise (which many believe is not yet over) does not mean that reservations in India should end. When Mayawati won in 2006 with a absolute majority of her own, I remember a friend of mine in school, who was from UP, went around chanting, (as a joke), that 'chamar raj' had been imposed on his state. The reality however is probably closer to the opposite. Mayawati may be CM, but crimes against dalits still take place regularly around the country, even in UP, not to mention the fact that they are discriminated against when it comes to both employment and education. This exists despite the fact that reservations are still around, something that many middle class city dwellers are apt to forget. And while reservations are misused, while they do promote a degree of division within society, I believe that the amount of good they do far exceeds the bad.

The two things that set Mayawati apart from Obama are:
1) That she does not appeal, yet, to a broad spectrum of Indians as Obama does to Americans. Until she can do this, she will remain a regional force, not a national one.
2) She is excessively corrupt while Obama has managed to maintain a fairly clean image. Both Mayawati and Obama function in political systems where corruption is rife. The fact that one has an aura of incorruptibility gives him a strong advantage over the other, who will never really be able to rise out of the murky world of bribery, 'gifts' and dubious financial transactions.
Yet, while she may not be an exact copy of Obama, I still believe that out of all our politicians, Mayawati resembles Obama the most. And so when Obama said that his story could only happen in America, I would beg to disagree. Bhimrao Ambedkar led the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution when many black men still didnt have the vote, when the KKK was alive and well. And Mayawati first became CM of UP when a black man becoming President in the US seemed impossible. Barack Obama's story is an amazing one, but I would argue that it can occur in any functioning democracy. As the then PM, Narasimha Rao said when Mayawati first became CM, her success is a miracle of democracy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Great Renunciation

In response to Keshava's post 'School Textbooks: India's no-spin zone' (01/19/2009)

I could not agree more with Keshava when he criticizes the governments decision to set up the salwa judum movement and arm unemployed young men in an attempt to fight the naxalite threat. When any government, any where sets up vigilante groups to deal with security threats, it indulges in the ultimate abdication from responsibility. The people of naxalite affected districts defy boycott calls and an unimaginably high risk of violence to come out and vote not for a government that gives them arms and ammunition to fight their own battles, but one that can, among things, allow them to go into their fields without fear of being shot, allow their children to go to school without fear of being kidnapped. When a government decides to abdicate responsibility in this regard it is not just wrong, it is criminal.

What is tragic is that the Indian government is guilty of this sort of abdication not just in Chhatisgarh but in wide swathes of the country. In Kashmir the government armed those with any sort of grudge against the militants and made 'renegades' of them. Popularly known as Ikhwani's, these renegades were largely responsible for widespread human rights violations and for losing India's battle for the hearts and minds of thousands of Kashmiris. In large tracts of the cow belt, thugs like Raja Bhaiyya and Mohammad Shahbuddin controlled, till very recently, almost the entire administration. This was not because the government couldn't move in. It is because the government was quite happy letting other people do its job.

In some form or the other, all across India, authorities elected or appointed to perform a particular task simply don't do it. With elections coming up, those who lustily sing the Indian democracy's praises while ignoring its many flaws would do well to remember this fact.

Suicide Watch

Much has been made of the BJP's organisational problems and the widespread prevalence of dissenting factions within their camp. But judging by this article, that appeared in the Times of India, it is the Congress and not the BJP that is bent upon committing political harakiri. With elections less than a 100 days away, the party has made clear its decision not to create a pre-poll alliance. The United Progressive Alliance will not contest elections as a united front at all, and while they may be some amount of seat adjustments by some members of the alliance, one can't help but feel that in an election that is tipped to be perhaps the closest in history, the Congress could lose out.

The Congress' decision seems to have been prompted by problems encountered in seat sharing talks with the SP, LJP and NCP. However their decision to contest the forthcoming elections alone is inexplicable, especially as they have seen how useful alliances are. In the previous Lok Sabha elections, a pre-poll alliance with the DPA in Tamil Nadu led the combination to win 40 out of 40 seats in that state. Moreover, the Congress has reaped the benefits of alliances by staying in power in the centre for 5 years with less than 145 seats of its own.

As already mentioned, these coming elections will, in all probability be exceptionally close. In many states, the fight will not be a two way tussle between the Congress and the BJP. In most large states, it will be a four or even five way tussle. For example in UP we have the SP and the BSP apart from the Congress and the BJP. In Maharashtra we have the NCP and Shiv Sena apart from the big two, not to mention the MNS. And these are just two examples-in fact in many states like Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, the BJP and the Congress are not big players at all. Whoever is going to win these elections will have to form smart alliances, will have to be willing to make compromises in the allocation of seats, will have to respect what Atal Behari Vajpayee once famously called the 'coalition dharma'.

These are not the years of IG or Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress will never form a majority on its own. Many pundits are predicting that the Congress may not even be able to win 140 seats, forget 272. The sooner Sonia Gandhi realises this, the better off the Congress will be. And if she does not realise this, the whole country should be on suicide watch as India's Grand Old Party tries, once again, to kill itself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Honey, just allow me one more chance

Nine years ago, as a nine-year old, I spent a week at the Chinnaswamy Stadium watching India pitifully capitulate to South Africa. It was the most depressing time in recent memory to be an Indian cricket fan- far, far more depressing than the brief post 2007 World Cup gloom. It wasn't the margin of the defeat so much as the manner that was mordant. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid scratching painfully against that glorified net bowler Nicky Boje, Nikhil Chopra bowling 24 overs without once turning a ball or beating the bat, India taking 191.4 overs to dismiss South Africa..clearly, the inequality was not one of skill, but of desire. After having been hammered 3-0 by Australia, and throwing away the previous test at Mumbai, with Tendulkar a lame-duck having resigned the captaincy weeks earlier in semi-disgrace, India evidently had no motivation or desire. Anil Kumble, as always, refused to join in his teammates' apathy and soldiered away for six wickets, including the South African top five.

Things were hardly helped by appalling and one-sided umpiring in the form of Russell Tiffin, but that is no excuse for India scoring 158 and 250 on a flat pitch. But as a matter of fact, I remember that week for more than the pervading gloom. Throughout the test match, light and hope crept up occasionally like tiny miracles. One such light was the teenaged debutant Mohammad Kaif, who fielded like a dream and played some crisp strokes before being unjustly sent on his way back by Mr. Tiffin, out LBW despite an inside-edge you could make out in the stands. Another, of course, was the glorious final test hundred of that supreme artist, Mohammad Azharuddin. Azhar, now a Congress wannabe-politico, was playing his 99th Test, attempting to stage a comeback at the age of 37. Earlier in the match, he took his 25th career catch off Kumble's bowling; in the final innings, the result long ago decided, he showed up his younger teammates with a typical display of grace and aggression. Boje, who the other Indians were making to look a cross between Bapu Nadkarni and Johnny Wardle, was made to look like the gentle trundler he is when he bowled to Azhar. One month later, the match-fixing scandal broke; Azhar ended on 99 Tests, like Greg Chappell and Reg Duff with a hundred in his first and last Test, and received a life-ban.

Kaif never delivered on his batting promise, ending up as a good player but clearly short of the highest class. But I've omitted to mention the participant in that Test match that gave me the most joy. Murali Kartik was, at 24, an experienced first-class bowler, but he was in only his second Test. A traditionalist even at the age of nine, I had to marvel at his gifts. He had every conceivable asset that a left-armer can have: an easy, classical approach, wonderful control of loop and flight, a deadly arm ball, and a stock ball that turned sharply; perhaps not quite Bedi, but surely a talent in the Dilip Doshi ilk, and Doshi was a wonderful bowler. He bowled tirelessly on the most unhelpful of pitches, had multiple good appeals turned down and was not flattered by figures of 3 for 123. In the nine years following that day, little has changed in Kartik's game. If anything, his control has gotten even better, as he has displayed his effectiveness in both limited overs formats. But as far as Indian cricket is concerned, Murali Kartik is the man of no luck. Always poorly treated by Sourav Ganguly, his nadir came in Sydney on 6 Jan 2004 when Parthiv Patel missed a regulation stumping (Ricky Ponting, no less) off Kartik's bowling that ended up costing India a series win- and Kartik his place in the team. He returned to bowl India to a test win in Mumbai, and was dropped two games later. He fought his way back into the one-day side in 2007, bamboozling Australia once again with a magical 6 for 27- only to be dropped a month later. He was in the team for the home series against South Africa this year, only to pick up a freak injury at the last minute and be ignored when fit again- for Pragyan Ojha.

I have watched Pragyan Ojha bowl on several occasions; and not only is he no Murali Kartik- if it were not for a distinctly dodgy action that helps him get some turn, he would be firmly in the Nicky Boje class of left-armer. He has no flight, no guile, a defensive instinct. When I think of the fact that Goel and Shivalkar were not taken on foreign tours, and that Pragyan Ojha a time of relative poverty for Indian spin bowling, with Chawla struggling and Mishra inconsistent, you might be fooled into thinking that India has no true partner for Harbhajan Singh. But now, as ever, that is false. Murali Kartik is a world-class talent who, on current form, would walk into any test side bar Sri Lanka. He should be taking wickets for India, not Middlesex, earning in a living in Tests, not county Twenty20s. Mr. Srikkanth, it's not too late to remedy the mistakes your predecessors made. 32 is not old for a spinner- Grimmett was a Test debutant at 33, as was the aforementioned Doshi, who went on to 100 plus Test wickets for India. Kartik can be just as effective filling in for Kumble as Doshi was succeeding Bedi. Give another chance to a man whose time has come.

Monday, January 19, 2009

School textbooks: India's no-spin zone

Well, well. State governments meddling with school history and social science textbooks for political purposes is not a new thing. Every five years, when Kerala's Communist government is replaced with a Congress government or vice versa, textbooks are rewritten to include or remove references to the greatness of Lenin, Stalin and Namboodiripad. More recently, Narendra Modi's government in Gujarat had gone one step further by adding favourable references to Hitler and Mussolini in middle school history textbooks.

It's taken less than a decade's existence as a state of the Republic for Chattisgarh to join this odious club. Today's Indian Express reports that school textbooks have been rewritten to include praise of Salwa Judum. Many of our readers may not even know of the existence of Salwa Judum, a vigilante group created and armed by the government in response to India's greatest internal security threat: the Maoist Naxalites. The Naxalites have prospered in recent years, feeding off the government's apathy towards both rural development in general and the upliftment of the adivasis (tribals; a group much more oppressed and disenfranchised than even the Dalits) in particular. The Home Ministry estimates Naxalite influence in 10% of India's districts, and although this may be a slight exaggeration, this number is growing quickly. The Naxalites, brutal and violent as they are, offer a (admittedly false) hope to unemployed, disaffected young men and create an alternative infrastructure of health, education and employment in areas, especially in central India, where the government has never tried to provide these essential services.

There are two legitimate and essential ways to combat the Naxalite threat. One is through more efficient, fair and extensive policing. Police brutality and police apathy are equally unhelpful. Secondly, we need to aggressively address the deep-lying problems that have led to the Naxalite's success, by helping those Indians most ignored by our recent economic growth. By pandering to better-off farmers in certain states, the ruling UPA government has done next to nothing for the states most affected by Naxalites, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

Instead of these just and rational solutions, the government has responded to the Naxal threat in a profoundly counterproductive way- the creation of Salwa Judum. Those unemployed youths not with the Naxalites are armed, instead, by the government, and told to shoot Naxalites. There is a very real civil war going on in India's heartland, and in Chattisgarh, and in the beautiful, forested district of Chattisgarh in particular, the environment is one of kill or be killed. Salwa Judum has, belatedly, attracted the attention of intellectuals and the media and even the Supreme Court chastised the government for the illegal action of arming civilians. Far from moves to disband the group, however, the Chattisgarh government chooses to use the medium of school textbooks to brainwash public opinion into supporting Salwa Judum:

The controversial Salwa Judum movement has now been incorporated in the Chhattisgarh school curriculum with a chapter on "Necessity of social security from problem of Naxalism" being included in the social science text book of class X of the Chhattisgarh Board of Secondary Education. Describing the movement as a peace march', the two page chapter throws light on the anti-Naxal movement of Bastar and its objectives, causes for the spread of Naxalism, initiatives being taken by the government to deal with the situation and the possible steps required to find a permanent solution to the problem. "Naxalism is an ideology that aims at capturing political power. The most sensitive situation is prevailing in Bastar area as the Naxalites feel safe there because of the inaccessible terrain, located very far away from the state capital. The region remains backward and anyone could easily influence the gullible and peace-loving locals", the chapter points out.

It goes on to say that the Naxal presence in Bastar can be primarily attributed to the slow pace of development, the language problem and the forest terrain that prevents security forces from carrying out an aerial attack and facilitates the military and guerilla training of the Naxal recruits. "Now tribals have become aware and they have stood up against Naxalism. People are getting themselves associated with Salwa Judum, " says the text book. "Nearly 70,000 people , affected by the problem of Naxalism, have taken shelter in the relief camps where the state government has been providing them with all necessary basic amenities. Non-government organisations are also associated for educational development of these people", it said. " Naxalism can be solved through wisdom, sensitivity and mutual understanding and it requires awareness and peoples' participation," it said. The chapter, which did not mention the name of its author, refers to attempts like the first ever revenue survey of Abujmarh", a remote forest area, other welfare schemes, modernisation of police force and development of infrastructure in the region. The Opposition Congress and CPI, meanwhile, criticised inclusion of issues pertaining to a controversial subject like Salwa Judum in the school curriculum.

It's well and good for the Congress to criticize this action, when the Congress-led Central Government has consistently supported Salwa Judum, defending it in the Supreme Court and continuously attempting to present it as a legitimate means of resistance against Naxalites, when it is not only immoral and foolish but also unconstitutional. But with the attention of both policymakers and the media primarily elsewhere, the disbanding of Salwa Judum appears unlikely at best.

Dirty little fingers

When the Satyam scandal broke, almost the first question on everyone's lips was- did B Ramalinga Raju have a political patron that helped him conceal his fraud and deception? While everyone, including the media, is still struggling to find out the exact nature of the fraud itself- did Satyam falsify its accounts, as originally claimed, or was Raju embezzling huge sums of money (both versions of the story are going the rounds, based on the premise that a 3% profit margin is absurdly low for a large Indian IT firm)- Sugata Srinivasaraju, Outlook's Bangalore correspondent, probes the available evidence to decisively link the government of Andhra Pradesh CM, the notorious YS Rajashekhara Reddy, with Raju. After the issue came out, it has come to light that YSR had authorized a 50 acre IT SEZ to be developed by Raju, evidence that makes Srinivasaraju's case far more damning.

I'd always known of YSR Reddy as a ruthless, even hooliganistic politician whose determined efforts to destroy the rival Telugu Desam Party through violence and intimidation (coupled with unfailing populism, such as free electricity for farmers) had led to the open defection of most of Chandrababu Naidu's MPs and, seemingly, the end of the TDP as a meaningful political force. Telugu film superstar Chiranjeevi attempted to fill the vacuum by launching his own political party, Praja Rajyam. Ironically, Chandrababu Naidu, whose media success owed everything to his use of the "CEO" moniker and his famed affinity for IT moguls like, ahem, Ramalinga Raju, is now trying to stage a political comeback by accusing YSR Reddy, usually considered the CM of the farmer rather than the industrialist, of having had several fingers in the dirty Satyam pie. I still believe that for Naidu to successfully return to power, he will have to join with Chiranjeevi and re-establish his lost base- in short, do the near-impossible. But in a crazy decade where a man earning 12,000 dollars a year can get a 720,000 dollar home loan, where an Arab sheikh offers to pay 250 million pounds in transfer fees and wages for a football player, where Satyam, a company that's name means "truth", can for years, even decades, maintain the most bizarre concealments- is anything impossible?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Falling by the Wayside

With the Mumbai attacks and its prolonged aftermath dominating newspaper space, scant attention has been paid to other relatively major developments in the Indian political sphere. VP Singh died, Vasundhara Raje's attempt at a replication of the Modi style personality politics in her state of Rajasthan was shown to be a failure, and Sheila Dikshit swept into an unprecedented third term in office. However what really fell off the media's radar was the defeat of Uma Bharati and Shibu Soren in Assembly elections, marking a 180 degree political turnaround for the two.

Uma Bharati, one of the darlings of the Hindutva movement that propelled the BJP onto centre stage, is perhaps best remembered for leading the BJP to a historic victory in the 2003 elections in Madhya Pradesh, crushing the incumbent Congress government led by Digvijay Singh. Yet the 'fiery sanyasin' as she came to be known, soon fell out with the BJP high command and formed her own party-the Bharatiya Janshakti Party, along with her trusted lieutenant, Prahlad Patel. There were many who felt that Bharati's absence from the BJP would weaken it considerably, especially as she was perhaps (along with Narendra Modi) the only leader of the generation that is to succeed that of Advani and Vajpayee, that had widespread popular support. Many also believed that the BJS would eat into the BJP's vote share and actually harm the prospects of the ruling party in the state elections that were concluded just over a month ago. What transpired in those elections was that not only was the BJS' influence negligible, but Bharati actually lost her own seat. It remains to be see whether she will honour her promise and retire to Kedarnath.

The case of Shibu Soren is even more interesting than that of Bharati. Soren has led the Jharkhand movement for years and it was felt that at least in Jharkhand, he was invincible. He used this perception to his advantage often, punching well above his weight in the Central Government. It was he who is said to have saved Narasimha Rao's government in the famous trust vote, he who wrangled the coal portfolio for himself in Manmohan Singh's government despite having only five MP's and he who supported the Nuclear Deal only when he was assured of the Jharkhand Chief Minister's Chair. Although Soren was notorious in Delhi for his wheeling and dealing, and was reviled by the English press for his role in the Chirudih massacre case, he remained a central figure in Jharkhand politics. Yet his election defeat, a few weeks ago, to a relatively unknown opponent, will bring his central position into question. While Shibu Soren is still called Guruji by his cadre, one surely must wonder how long he will be able to command respect, especially as he lost his election when he was running as a sitting Chief Minister.

What lessons do the defeats of Shibu Soren and Uma Bharati provide for us? Most obviously they show, if we didn't already know it, that the actions of the Indian voter should never be taken lightly, never be predicted with any level of confidence, never said to be understood. The defeats also draw attention to those politicians who have managed to survive the voter's wrath time and again-Kamal Nath, Sharad Pawar, Laloo Yadav spring to mind. True political muscle in India can only be judged by the number of times you survive the test of the voter. Both Soren and especially Bharati will have to work extremely hard to rebuild their status as political heavy weights and generate the respect they were once able to command.

What implications do the respective defeats have for the immediate political scene in the country? Uma Bharati's decline signals a political vacuum at least in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. This is a vacuum that Mayawati especially will be looking to explore, especially as she is strong in the corresponding region of Uttar Pradesh. Although Bharati's support came for the OBC's and Mayawati draws most of her support from SC's, I wouldn't put it past behanji to move into the open space here. If she wants to become a politician with nationwide appeal, she must win at least 5 seats outside UP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. She will most definitely be eyeing the LS seats from Bundelkhand. Shibu Soren's defeat on the other hand does not mean that his party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, is finished. I do believe they will play a strong role in Jharkhand politics. However I feel his loss will diminish his bargaining power in the centre, and will make him more susceptible to prosecution in a number of criminal cases that are filed against him. Indeed, if he is convicted, perhaps other politicians will look at the case of Shibu Soren and think twice before committing a criminal act, though this is probably wishful thinking.

About time

It looks like the day when long-overdue international developments finally transpire. Just as Israel prepares to announce a ceasefire in Gaza, Pakistan has finally admitted that India provided it with proof of some Pakistani involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks (The Hindu). I wonder if the mild pressure put on Pakistan by David Milliband had any effect. The Pakistani Interior Minister, Rahman Malik, announced that an internal probe would be launched and the process taken forward through the judiciary. He declined to set a timeframe.

It's too early for any reactions from the Indian side or word on what's next, but I'll be updating regularly as those reactions come in.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gujju Bhai?

In response to Keshava's post 'The Serpent's Kiss' (1/14/2009)

I am no fan of Narendra Modi. I am no fan of his politics, of his economics, of his cultural views. I feel it is a travesty that he has not been brought to book for his role, or lack thereof, in the riots of 2002. It worries me that people are looking to Modi for leadership, that people are pointing to him as a future Prime Minister. And the reason it worries me is that I feel the possibility of his becoming Prime Minister is not the wishful thinking of the middle class, or of Gujrat, or of our industrialists. I think it is a very real possibility. And here's why.

Keshava believes that '(Modi) would do well to ditch his corporate backers in favour of a less vocal but far more important person: the Indian voter'. He also believes that that 'his assertion of Gujrati identity (is) the single biggest factor contributing to his current success'. I disagree with both statements.

Narendra Modi became Chief Minister of Gujrat in 2001. He recently became the first CM of Gujrat to win a third successive term. He is also the longest serving CM of the state ever. His support comes not only from the business class, or the middle class or the cities, but also from the tribal belts of Eastern Gujrat, from the economically backward regions of Kutch. He has survived a large scale rebellion within his own party, survived a revitalised Sonia Gandhi in the 2007 election, survived the most important test of all-the test of the voter. Indeed he has not merely survived, not merely endured. He has triumphed. Modi does not need to ditch his corporate backers in favour of the voter because he is able to cultivate both of them, at the same time.

Narendra Modi has triumphed time and again in his home state not merely because he has appealed to the notion of a masculine sense of Gujrati pride. Sure he uses the Gujrat card often. But the use of this 'Gujrat card' cannot explain his consecutive victories in that state. Indeed if we were to follow the logic that playing the politics of regional pride wins you elections, then the Shiv Sena should defeat anti-incumbency in Maharashtra, the Akalis should do this in Punjab, the AGP in Assam, and so on. After all, these parties too campaign on a plank of a regional pride. But anti-incumbency has got the better of these parties time and again. There is obviously more to Narendra Modi than his Gujrati identity

I would argue that Modi has triumphed because he has made every test a referendum on himself-on his personality and his achievements. He has projected himself as a fiery speaker, as an incorruptible, decisive leader capable of taking risks and trusting in his own judgement. He has also been able to deliver on certain 'development' issues. Many bureaucrats working in 'Modi's Gujrat' feel that they can accomplish more there than in perhaps any other part of the country. The image that Modi has projected of himself has given rise to a personality cult-the cult of Moditva, as symbolised by the popularity of the Modi masks in the elections of 2007.

I have differentiated between Narendra Modi's Gujrati identity and his personality. There are many who would be unwilling to draw this distinction. However I turn again to the election of 2007 to point out that these differences do exist. In that election, we saw Sonia Gandhi and Digvijay Singh launching spirited attacks on Modi, calling him 'Merchant of Death' on the one hand, and accusing him of 'Hindu terrorism' on the other. Modi responded in a brilliant counter-attack, and made the entire election about himself. Sonia Gandhi was projected not as anti-Gujrat, but anti-Modi. Keshubhai Patel and other BJP rebels were attacked on a similar plank. The issue of Gujrat receded into the background and Moditva came to the fore.

The question is whether Narendra Modi's Gujrat model can be replicated in the rest of India. The answer to that question lies in what you feel is central to that model. If you feel that it is the usage of Gujrati identity, then the answer is no. If indeed Narendra Modi is no more than a glorified Raj Thackeray or Shibu Soren then he will remain a phenomenon inside Gujrat and perhaps in some other states like the Gujrati speaking areas of Maharashtra. But if you feel that the Gujrat model has at its core the Modi personality, as I do, then you must admit the potential for Modi to become a leader of considerable national standing. Pratap Bhanu Mehta identifies this in brilliant article written in the aftermath of Modi's last election victory in December 2007. Already Modi has drawn huge crowds at rallies in Mumbai and as far away as Chennai, and although I am not suggesting that the BJP is about to win many seats in Tamil Nadu, I do feel that the Modi factor will be an important part of the elections of 2009. Indeed, these elections offer a chance for Modi to actualise his considerable potential (apologies for the use of Aristotelian language).

Note: In his post, Keshava has consigned the TDP to the dustbin of history, along with the Swatantra Party. I am sure he has good reasons for doing so. However, while Swatantra is well and truly dead, I wouldn't be so sure to write off the TDP yet. The elections this summer may just signal a revival of fortunes for the beleaguered Chandrababu Naidu.

Keshava's All-Time Indian Test Team

Creating fantasy elevens of all-time greats is one of the oldest games that cricket fans like to play. It's a pastime that I learned from my father and have spent countless hours on. Despite the somewhat spurious attractions of 50-50 and 20-20, these have invariably been Test elevens. This is not a cricket blog, so I shall not use its space on an all-time World XI to Mars and the like. But an all-time Indian Test XI, to play the greats of Australia, England or Pakistan is, I think, just as interesting.

The openers

In our 76 years of Test cricket, apart from finding wicket-taking quick bowlers, our greatest challenge has been a capable opening pair. We've produced a reasonable number of average-to-good openers: Mushtaq Ali, Pankaj Roy, Madhav Apte, Nari Contractor, Chetan Chauhan, Navjot Sidhu, Gautam Gambhir; but only three of genuine world class. Vijay Merchant was our first great Test player, the scorer of elegant hundreds on two tours of England and the owner of the best first-class average after Bradman, an incredible 73. Sunil Gavaskar, in many ways, inherited Merchant's legacy, using all the traits of the Bombay School of Batsmanship- a solid defence, unfailingly classical strokes, a tendency towards caution and remarkable powers of concentration- to become the best batsman in the world during the 1970s. He scored 13 hundreds in 27 Tests against the best bowling attack of his time, the West Indies, and retired as the highest run-scorer in Test history. While his stats are somewhat padded by two glorious years against substandard opposition (the Packer era), he remains among the true greats. Michael Manley, the former Jamaican PM, chose Gavaskar to open in his all-time World XI (A somewhat unfair selection, with the likes of Trumper, Grace, Hobbs and Hutton available).

Until two or three years ago, the openers picked themselves in any all-time Indian team. Merchant and Gavaskar had no serious competition, even if it this meant that my fantasy team would always have one eye on a draw. But Virender Sehwag has established himself as a player legitimately great enough to challenge for selection. By scoring runs in all conditions against all kind of attacks, at strike rates often close to a run a ball, he has done much more than merely delight the spectator. Unlike Merchant and Gavaskar, he has no regard for old-fashioned technique, but as a result he is far more destructive, better setting up a win than a draw. And thus, crusty old traditionalist as I am, he shall have to displace one of the two Bombay greats. It is difficult to choose one or the other as the better player, but Gavaskar's record means that he must play- if Merchant had played more than ten Tests, it might have been different.

Typically where you're supposed to play your best batsman- the position of Ponting, Hammond and Bradman. Rahul Dravid is the perfect no. 3- capable of wearing out the new ball on a helpful pitch after an early dismissal and, at his peak, of piling on the runs at a decent rate once the bowlers have tired. From his 180 in Calcutta in March 2001 (an innings played while somewhere short of his best form) to his matchwinning knocks of 81 and 68 at Kingston in June 2006, he was the best player in the world.

India's greatest-ever cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, has chosen this spot as his own and there can be no question of him batting anywhere else.

Of all the slots in this eleven, this is the most difficult to decide upon. Few have as a strong a case for selection as Vijay Samuel Hazare, the first Indian to score a hundred in each innings- against Bradman's invincibles, no less. Other contenders include GR Vishwanath, India's most attractive and likable bastman, and a prolific matchwinner; VVS Laxman, who played the greatest innings ever by an Indian and is renowned particularly in Australia as a great player; Dileep Vengsarkar, scorer of 17 test hundreds, all of them in India or England; and Vijay Manjrekar, our finest batsman in the 1960s. Even Sourav Ganguly will have his advocates, who might note that without him the side has no left-handers. And with two good eyes, the Nawab of Pataudi (jun.) would surely have no serious rival. If our team was to play at the original Home of Cricket, Lord's, or its Indian rival, the Eden Gardens, a serious case could be made for Azhar- Mohammed Azharuddin, the exhilarating batsman and terrific fielder whose last test hundred I was privileged to watch in the flesh. But Azhar's weaknesses against quick bowling and bouncy wickets rule him out. Crusty traditionalist as I am, I feel that no. 5 has to be India's first great cricketer: CK Nayudu. The Colonel would rival Virender Sehwag for six-hitting while providing useful medium-paced offbreaks and excellent fielding. And, of course, he would captain the side.

The all-rounders
Opposed as I am to the idea of perforce including an all-rounder, the best sides have always had them, and this side is no exception. No. 6 is Vinoo Mankad, that rare all-rounder who could not be described as either a batting all-rounder or a bowling all-rounder, so skilled was he both as a right-handed top and middle-order player as well as a crafty, accurate left-arm spinner who did the double in an astonishing 23 Tests.

No. 7, of course is Kapil Dev. Unlike Mankad, Kapil was recognizably a bowling all-rounder, but it is his batting that brought the most pleasure to the punter, being an unabashed six-hitter in the mould of Flintoff or Symonds but with much more grace than either. India's most athletic cricketer was, naturally, also an asset in the field. And the Kapil of his early twenties, while never express pace, was a world-class outswing bowler with a deadly in-dipper. Lala Amarnath once said of L Amar Singh: "woh tha dil ka cricketer" and the same could easily be said of Kapil.

The 'keeper
Most Indian fans blogging today would, doubtless, choose MS Dhoni as the wicket-keeper and not think twice about it. If one doesn't count Vijay Manjrekar, then it is conceivable that Dhoni's fighting qualities make him the most effective batsman to ever keep wickets for India. But at no. 8, and with quality spinners in the side, you need someone who can really keep, and that isn't Dhoni. For all Farokh Engineer's effervescent charm and the attractions of Hindlekar and More, it comes down to NS Tamhane and Syed Kirmani. It is a difficult choice, but Kirmani has to get the nod for his long record as a first-rate keeper to spin. I suspect that at least some of the praise heaped on Tamhane by those who saw him (all of whom are now above seventy) is nostalgia.

The bowlers
Indian bowlers, as a rule, cannot bat, and thus I will discuss their selection as a block of three. With Mankad and Kapil in the side, it is clear that two spinners and a fast bowler are required. One of the spinners is an easy choice- the recently retired Anil Kumble, one of the gutsiest players and hardest triers in the game's history and the taker of over 600 test wickets. The second spinners' slot comes down to four players: Subhas Gupte, BS Bedi, BS Chandrashekhar and EAS Prasanna. Ghulam Ahmed, S Venkataraghavan, Dilip Doshi and Harbhajan Singh are all high-class bowlers, but not quite in the same league as these four. My instinct would be to pick Bedi, of all Indian cricketers the favourite of the aesthete, but the composition of the side demands a rethink. Just as Chandra, despite being a matchwinner, can be ruled too similar to Kumble (although the idea that anyone can be similar to Chandra is, I admit, a slightly strange one), can we really have two left-armers? This leaves us with Gupte and Prasanna, both magical bowlers. I go with Prasanna because of the variety that the off-spinner provides and because, unlike Mankad and Kumble, he relied on flight. Not only was he described by Ian Chappell as the best off-spinner that he had ever seen, let alone played against, but he has a uniquely good record among Indian spinners in Australia and New Zealand, difficult places at the best of times for a visiting spinner to take wickets.

That leaves us with one final space- that of the second seamer. If we reject out of hand the worthy but middling Ramakant Desai and Karsan Ghavri, it is plain that there are two rival camps of fast bowlers. One is the 1930s pair of Mohammad Nissar and the aforementioned Amar Singh. The other consists of the members of Indian cricket's pace revival post-Kapil. The hyperbolic mass media would, no doubt, propose Ishant Sharma, but excellent bowler and dizzying prospect as Ishant is, it is far too early to make such assessments. After all, only three years ago Irfan Pathan seemed a cert to make an all-time Indian eleven as a left-handed Kapil Dev. Zaheer Khan has his magical moments, but his career figures don't really hold up to the competition. I am tempted to choose Nissar, but given that he and Amar Singh played a combined 13 Tests, it is not easy to do so. Our second fast bowler, then, will be Javagal Srinath, like Kumble an unfailingly hard trier who, only five years after his retirement, seems already forgotten. Srinath took 236 wickets at 30 and his inswing will provide a nice complement to Kapil. Perhaps he is warming this particular seat for Ishant Sharma, but five years is the minimum required to make that judgment.

This, then, is my all-time Indian Test team:
1. SM Gavaskar
2. V Sehwag
3. RS Dravid
4. SR Tendulkar
5. CK Nayudu (capt.)
6. MH "Vinoo" Mankad
7. N Kapil Dev
8. SMH Kirmani (wk)
9. A Kumble
10. J Srinath
11. EAS Prasanna
12th Man: E Solkar
Coach/Manager: BS Bedi

Solkar, the greatet short-leg produced by any country, is a natural choice for twelfth man. And while Bedi doesn't play, he shall play the role of relentlessly controversial manager.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The need for self-insurance

In the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), the economist Arvind Subramanian describes the policy changes needed for India to be less affected by future global economic crises. With the caveat that, as the current crisis is not yet close to being over, full conclusions cannot be drawn, Subramanian provides a detailed illustration of the need for greater self-insurance, in the form of currency competitiveness, "moderate to serious mercantilism" i.e. building up current account surpluses, and in general, counter-cyclical measures such as dampening flows.

Yet Subramanian acknowledges that the aforementioned policies, while protecting India from financial contagion, would by make the economy more export-reliant make it more vulnerable to trade contagion, like China. Against this he proposes that we follow China's model of building up a strong sovereign balance sheet during the good times so that our debt-to-GDP ratio (58% in 2007 according to the World Factbook; probably somewhat higher today) comes down to the 30-40% range at worst. This is to enable the kind of fiscal stimulus that China has been able to deploy; India, on the other hand, has been forced to use monetary policy as the main means of stimulus because of our heavy indebtedness.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The serpent's kiss

The Hindustan Times reports on the glowing tributes issued in Gujarat CM Narendra Modi's favour by leading industrialists at an investors' summit in Delhi. Anil Ambani, who lost more of his wealth in 2008 than any other individual, wished that "Narendrabhai" be "the next leader of the country", while Sunil Mittal hailed this "CEO" who "can run the nation". Praise even came from less expected quarters, such as Ratan Tata, who is often regarded with Narayana Murthy as a model captain of industry.

Some of Modi's BJP colleagues joined in the gibbering, with an anonymous functionary claiming that the party would win 30% more seats if it declared Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. And the TV-watching middle class have, to a large extent, been calling for this very act for some time.

If one were to go by such media reports, it might seem obvious that Modi is indeed a future Prime Minister. But I'm not quite so sure. Recent history shows us that corporate support is no guarantor of success. If anything, quite the opposite. The first Indian politician to describe himself as a CEO was Chandrababu Naidu, who less than a decade later lies ruined and forgotten, his party machinery destroyed by the Congress' agrarian base. SM Krishna, the man who promised to make Bangalore into Singapore through his partnerships with the IT industry, fared little better. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is more secure, but his coddling of industrialists did more to hurt the CPM in West Bengal than any previous action of the party. Look further back in history, and the example of Swatantra, a party which had large swathes of corporate backing, is another illuminating one.

Narendra Modi will never be Prime Minister until he can broaden his appeal to include a majority of Indians. His popularity at present is restricted to the aforementioned businessmen and middle-class, Gujarati Hindus, and Hindutvawadis in two of three other states. His assertion of the Gujarati identity, the single biggest contributing factor to his current success, will not take him particularly far. He would do well to ditch his corporate backers in favour of a less vocal but far more important person: the Indian voter. The average voter couldn't care less about FDIs, growth rates or terrorism. In most districts, even Hindutva no longer really cuts it. Until Modi can transcend these differences, he is likely to meet as sticky an end as Swatantra and the TDP. If only those who the gods love die young, then the gods in question here are clearly the men that Indian newspapers delight in calling "India Inc".

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Perhaps we have nothing to fear

Both Obama's victory and his appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State did little to enthuse those Indians who had been excited by the proactive and intelligent pro-India policies of the Bush administration. Those of us who supported then-Senator Obama reasoned that, despite his almost criminal neglect of India as a foreign policy issue (as opposed to John McCain with his talk of a "league of democracies"), Obama would be so much more positive for the world as a whole that it would be remiss to support McCain on this one issue. The Bush presidency, after all, was so responsible for the growth of terror in Asia (including India) that, paradoxically, Obama might end up being better for India after all. Nevertheless, most of us still had some reservations. The Times of India reports that we might have nothing to be afraid of, citing Clinton's Senate confirmation hearing as evidence:

US secretary of state designate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday vowed to build on the economic and political partnership with India, as
she said that the US and world leaders must work together to “solve the most pressing problems.”

“We will build on the economic and political partnership with India, the world’s populous democracy,” said US president-elect Barack Obama’s pick for the top diplomatic job in testimony to a Senate confirmation hearing.

The former US first lady also acknowledged that emerging markets like India, China, Brazil and South Africa were feeling the “effects” of the current financial crisis and wanted developed and developing countries to work on strategies to provide economic stability in the world.

In Defence of Indian Idealism

Ashish's strident critique of my somewhat nostalgic characterization of Indo-Palestine relations centred on three points:

1. That Indian support for the Palestinians, like Gandhi's support for the Khilafat movement, was self-interestedly political rather than sympathetic;
2. That the same could be said in general of Indian foreign policy at the time, i.e. non-alignment and our desire to be a leader of the third world;
3. That our current Israel policy and our current foreign policy in general is preferable to our "hypocritical, pedantic" past.

I will respond to these in order. On the first point, I concede that, given the emotional resonance of the Palestinian cause, Congress governments, so often accused of "minority appeasement", might have been keen to play to the sentiments of India's largest minority. But this is only half the story. It is clear from the tone and argument of Gandhi's editorial (which I suspect Ashish has not read) that in his case his opposition to a Jewish national home in Palestine was moral rather than political. As for the leaders of independent India: there is no question that idealism, not self-interested realism, was indeed the dominant ideology of India's foreign policy in the 47-65 period. The two "makers" of Indian foreign policy at the time were Jawaharlal Nehru and VK Krishna Menon, two men whose idealism could at times (especially in the case of Menon) become naivete. India's desire to be a leader of the third world and its unwavering support of the Palestinian cause are entirely in keeping with Nehru and Menon's socialist, anti-colonial ideology, with its special focus on the rights of indigenous people to democratic self-determination.

What, then, of Ashish's third critique? I'm entirely in agreement with him on the question of Israel policy. While the Indian public, or at least its most vocal sections, might desire Israel-style retribution against Pakistan, our government has been commendably thoughtful and balanced in its approach to the issue, in contrast to earlier governments that clearly erred in not recognizing Israel. The greatest improvement in our foreign policy, the post 1980s thaw with the United States, also represents the triumph of a kind of realism (although not necessarily one that conflicts with idealism, given India's economic reforms). But his general point, that our current foreign policy towards the world is preferable to our "hypocritical, pedantic" past is, I believe, mistaken. Nehru certainly made great mistakes, and it is telling that we choose to remember them so much more vividly than his many successes. But the tradition of Indian idealism is infinitely preferable to the current, amoral situation in which we coddle tyrants in Yangon, attempt to play both sides against each other in Sri Lanka and explore the possibility of unholy marriages of convenience with Russia and China. I missed the part where wanting to spread our own democratic freedoms to the rest of the developing world was more "hypocritical" than blowing our own trumpet while simultaneously, like the United States, hindering other countries from sharing in democracy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Things Have Changed...For the Better

In response to Keshava's post: 'Things Have Changed' (1/9/09)

It is indeed sad that the media and members of the Hindu right are calling for India to launch an Israeli-like strike on Pakistan. Not only are such calls highly irresponsible-(to put it simply, Pakistan is not Gaza), they also betray a shocking admiration for strong arm tactics that are in brazen defiance of international law and basic human morality.

However, to suggest that India should return to a foreign policy that is 'defined by humanity and idealism' and thus 'flawed in the noblest of ways' is a mistake. Indeed, harking back to the past in this case is a mistake on not one but two counts:

Firstly, while the scale of the Israeli action on Gaza is indefensible, but we should not allow this action to disguise the fact that Hamas is not exactly an innocent organization. Military action of any kind, be it the bombing and invasion of Gaza or the rocket attacks on Israel are wrong and must be condemned. Certainly if Hamas had the capability of inflicting more casualties on Israel, they would. However one suspects that the India of the past would not have condemned, or certainly not condemned with equal severity, the actions of both Hamas and Israel. One suspects that the India of old would have taken the line that Hamas is acting as a 'resistance movement, fighting to win back the land of its people'. Such a stand is counter-productive on many counts-it's human nature to cheer the underdog, but the underdog in this case (Hamas) could easily metamorphosise into a repressive regime in its own right, if given the chance. The current governments more guarded response to the conflict must be applauded.

Secondly, I dispute the claim that there was a time 'when the Indian approach to distant global events was defined by humanity and idealism' at all. Indian support for the Palestinian cause may have had some root in genuine sympathy for the Palestinian people, but I believe it originated as a result not of idealism but of self-interest. Indeed I believe that self-interest has been a part of India’s foreign policy towards the Israel-Palestine issue since and indeed before independence. I would argue that India’s support for the Palestinian cause was based on at least two major assumptions:
1) That this support would win over Muslim countries around the world, and particularly in the Arab lands, to Indias side in the UN, the NAM and as a counterweight to Pakistan. Indian support for the Palestinian cause had a lot to do with Indias desire to be a leader of the third world. There are 51 nations with largely Muslim populations, and all of them fell at one time under the banner of the third world.
2) That Indian support for the Palestinian's would win over large portions of the country's own Muslim population. The Hindu right would describe it as appeasement; those in charge of India's foreign policy at the time would view it as a chance to build much needed bridges between an alienated community wondering if it made the right choice to remain in India, and the rest of the country. It doesn’t matter what you call it-in this case, 'appeasement' and 'building bridges' are different names for the same thing. Foreign policy in India has for the longest time been viewed as an extension of domestic policy-one need look back at various events, including Mahatma Gandhi’s unequivocal support for the Khilafat movement (1919), and his decision to define the 'Khilafat wrong' as one of the three central reasons for the launching of the non-cooperation movement, to vindicate this statement. One is forced to question whether Gandhi’s support for the Khilafatis was idealistic-one in fact wonders whether Gandhi personally believed in the Khilafat cause at all. What is certainly true is that he saw the Khilafat movement as an opportunity to include the Muslim community in the wider independence movement. Similarly, one of the reasons for India's support to Palestine was to convince Indian Muslims that India was prepared to stand up for Muslims even in a distant land, and thus reassure them that they were truly safe in India itself.

India’s current stand on the Israel-Palestine issue, which balances a condemnation of the disproportionate use of force by the Israelis as well as the use of violence as a political tool by Hamas on the one hand, and a support for the PLO and a two state solution on the other, is more evolved, responsible and mature than its hypocritical, pedantic past.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Prozac Please

Almost a month and a half after the attacks in Bombay, there seems to be no sign that Pakistan is willing to seriously move on terrorist groups that exist within its borders. Although no one really expected immediate moves in this regard by the Pakistani government, the events that have unfolded since the attack are most likely to leave the informed Indian depressed and decidedly suspicious of Pakistan's willingness to combat 'terror', something it has emphasised time and again.

In particular, the Pakistani government's continuous 'flip-flopping' on major issues and the fact that it is still in official denial of the nationality of the terrorists, (let alone anything else) is hardly likely to build confidence or trust in the minds of the Indian people. Sitting in India, we have watched as President Zardari says one thing on one day, and another on the next. We watched as Nawaz Sharif admitted to Kasab being a Pakistani and then was forced to retract his statement; watched as NSA Durrani was sacked for admitting Kasab was a Pakistani; watched as a prominent Pakistani TV Channel interviewed Kasab's father in a village in Pakistan. We watched as Pakistan dismissed, within a day of receiving, a dossier of evidence that India supplied as 'un-credible'. We have watched this with a mixture of anger and disbelief. And we have debated endlessly about who is in charge of Pakistan and whether or not there is a group in Pakistani politics, however small it may be, which actually wishes to crack down on groups responsible for the attacks. Today the ordinary Indian is none the clearer. Justice seems an unrealistic wish. Perhaps we should just hope that another attack does not happen.

There was a hope that the US would put a decisive amount of pressure on the Pakistani administration to act on the those responsible for the attacks. After all, 6 citizens of the United States had died in the attacks. Yet I believe that ultimately India will have to fight Her battles alone-no one will fight them for us. As long as Pakistan can use its active participation in the war against the Taliban on the Afghan border as a bargaining chip with the United States, the US is unlikely to weigh in strongly on India's side.

The US is clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to policy on Pakistan. Pakistani action against the Taliban is moderate at best. It is my belief that the Pakistani administration still sees the Taliban as its best bet in Afghanistan. Certainly, the current government, with its strong Indian ties (India has pumped an unprecedented amount of aid into Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, and we have a consular presence in not one but five Afghan cities), and determination to destroy Taliban havens inside Pakistan, does not enjoy strong ties with the Pakistani. Yet the US cannot really act against Pakistan because without its cooperation, the war against the Taliban is impossible to wage. As long as Pakistan does not provoke India into resorting to military action, what it does with India is of secondary concern to the US. Yet one cant help but feel that the sooner the US realises that fighting terrorism in one corner of a country and condoning it another is hardly going to make you win a war, the better is for not only them, but the international community at large.

I do not really fault the action of our government in the aftermath of the Bombay attacks. We have taken a fairly consistent line, and barring the notable exception of A R Antulay, politicians across the spectrum have spoken in a fairly united voice. To bomb Pakistan, as many enraged Indians had called for, would have been a most irresponsible step, for obvious reasons. Instead India must persist with the diplomatic offensive on Pakistan. The difficult decision that India must take pertains to policy in the long run. Should India take the 'hard line' and say no movement on anything else until the terrorists are brought to book, or the more 'moderate line' which would involve maintaining the demand for justice while ultimately looking to reinvigorate the peace process. Both sides have legitimate arguments for and against. To briefly outline one: going back on the peace process is something that the terrorists arguably want, and thus a sort of 'reward' for their actions. However persisting with the peace process despite various attacks is something India has tried before with little tangible result, save the regular punctuation of bomb blasts in our cities.

While the Pakistani administration may gloat over India's perceived helplessness, what is clear is that it is playing with fire. Increasingly large parts of Pakistan are no go zones for Pakistanis themselves. Pakistani cities are bombed fairly regularly too. World confidence in Pakistan's reliability as a partner in the war on terror is dwindling. Indeed, Pakistan is slowly burning its bridges with the rest of the world, in a bid to satisfy what seems like a political obsession with an anti-India policy. In an attempt to inflict a thousand small cuts on India, one can only hope, for their sake, that they don't inflict a mortal wound on themselves, and change the very character of the society in which they live. One can't help but feel that good relations with India should be a goal for the Pakistani administration. The present environment, rife with allegation and counter-allegation, with high levels of suspicion, is unhealthy, dangerous and depressing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Things have changed

The ongoing atrocities in Gaza, and the cloying admiration of Sangh Parivar right-wingers for Israel's military machine (as expressed in the recent New Indian Express front-page headline: "Israel Strikes While India Dithers") led to me recall a time when Indian attitudes to Israelis and Palestinians were radically different to what they are today.

The Indian response to the Jewish Question was led by Gandhi, in a famous article in Harijan in 1938. The Mahatma, while asserting his deep sympathies for the Jews (his disgust at Hitler partly explains his pro-British stance during World War II), took issue with the principles behind Zionism. The Biblical land of Palestine, he contended, was "not a geographical tract"; when other religious groups did not have states based on scriptural promises, why should the Jews? To "partly or wholly" create a Jewish national home in Palestine would be to do a grave injustice to the Arabs. Gandhi asserted that Palestine was as integrally a home to the Arabs as England was to the English and France to the French. Territorial claims and aspirations, he wrote, were to be made on the basis of residence (a literal rather than figurative "home"), not religion.

In the first four decades after independence, the series of Congress governments took their cues on this issue from the Mahatma. On 29 November 1947, India (along with Pakistan) was one of only 13 countries that voted against the UN Partition Plan to create two states and a UN-administered "zone" out of Palestine. India's opposition to the plan was deeply grounded in an opposition to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. India, indeed, did not even extend diplomatic recognition to the state of Israel until the early 1990s.

In retrospect, the attitudes of Gandhi and Nehru towards the issue of Palestine were significantly mistaken. By 1947, a third of the population of the region was Jewish, and there were thus territorial claims to a national state that ran deeper than mere textuality. Additionally, the Mahatma gave insufficient consideration to the role that creating a Jewish state would play in redressing the horrors of the Holocaust- after all, Jews had never received humane treatment in Europe, being best treated in, of all places, the Muslim world (prior to the 1920s). Gandhi would, one suspects, have advocated a one-state solution, the creation of an India-type secular state in the region. But I think it is fair to say that since no side was ever acceptable to this idea, it is an unviable one. And in any case, to revisit today the notion that Israel has no right to exist is counterproductive, to say the least.

Nevertheless, the Indian attitude was flawed in the noblest of ways. It showcased a deeply felt concern for the Palestinian Arabs that is a fitting riposte, if any were needed, to the silly claims of those who accuse the founders of the Indian state of being covertly anti-Muslim. Gandhi's distaste for state creation and the dispossession of people on the basis of religion is one that I entirely share. And when the angry middle class and their spokespeople in the media- the irresponsibly shrill Arnab Goswami and Barkha Dutt- demand Israeli-style "retribution"; a demand that is a mere cloak for Islamophobia of the worst kind; it is impossible not to be wistful for a time when the Indian approach to distant global events was defined by humanity and idealism.
The Rajus have been arrested, contrary to my earlier prediction. More than anything else, it was the enormous attention the case received, allied with the shock effects on Dalal Street, that caused the authorities to act. The big question, though, remains unanswered: is Ramalinga Raju an isolated corporate criminal, like Robert Maxwell or Ken Lay, or part of a wider trend of lies and deceptions that are the grim underbelly to the India Shining story?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Goan Zuma or the Goan Clinton?

"I can have as many women as I want: Goa minister"

Take your pick.

Decline and Fall

If you thought that Ramalinga Raju's bizarre attempt to use Satyam's money to rescue his sons' failing businesses made him the Indian Gerald Ratner, take a look at this.

It seems that the businessman who told me last week that corporate governance in India was even worse than in the United States was right. The difference is that in the US, people responsible for fraudulent accounting practices go to jail. Raji claims that he will "submit himself to the laws of the land", but whether the police will act remains to be seen.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Basharat Peer's first book, Curfewed Night, is reportedly flying off racks in bookshops across the country, and I can see why. To be extremely brief, the book is about Kashmir. But it is not a strictly political or military account, nor is it a historical account seeking to determine whether Kashmir really should be a part of India or not. It is instead a book which tells stories, stories of ordinary people, people who are tortured, who are forced to leave their homes, whose lives are ruined; stories of girls who remain unmarried because there are no men left to marry, of parents who wished they had daughters because their sons never came home. As an Indian, it is painful reading Curfewed Night. It is painful because Peer says things that most Indians don't want to hear. Through his stories he says that Kashmirs don't want to be a part of India, that the Indian military has committed human rights abuses on an unparalleled scale in Kashmir. He even talks about how Kashmirs cheer for any team, even England, when they are playing against India. And he writes in a manner in which you feel he is saying nothing but the truth. Curfewed Night is, I believe, compulsory reading for every Indian.

How then do we reconcile Curfewed Night with what happened in Srinagar today. Omar Abdullah was sworn in as Chief Minister after an election in which more than 60% of the electorate braved the sub zero temperatures to come out and vote. A 60% turn out is impressive anywhere in the world. It is unprecedented in Kashmir. The vote threw up, as expected, a hung assembly. In the Jammu region, the BJP, riding on the Amarnath controversy made great gains. The valley remained split between the PDP and Abdullah's NC. And the Congress, playing kingmaker as it did last time round, decided to support the NC. I shall not discuss here why voters voted the way they did or why the Congress acted the way it did. Instead I wish to ask what such a high turnout means for the future of Kashmir.

Here is what I think it does not mean. It does not mean that support for separatism is dead. It does not mean that Kashmirs have given up on their demand for 'aazadi'. It does not mean that Kashmirs like India. A look back at the protests in Srinagar last summer bears testimony to this fact.

But it does mean that India should not get out of Kashmir (despite whatever various journalists might have had to say last summer), that Kashmirs want their basic grievances addressed, that the Abdullahs have genuine support in Kashmir, especially in rural areas, and that the Hurriyat must move quickly if it wants to remain relevant in peoples minds.

And here is why it does mean all of the above:

Why should we not give Kashmir up? Because we have no one to give it up to. The people of Kashmir do not want to be a part of Pakistan. They have shown by this vote more than anything else that they have faith in democracy. What democracy will they get in Pakistan? Their Kashmiri brothers in PoK remain controlled by Islamabad. All elections in PoK are an eyewash. To join Pakistan would mean substituting rule from Delhi with rule from Islamabad, and much as Peer may write about Kashmiris cheering Pakistani cricket teams, I think even he would agree that some form of local democracy is better than none at all.

Why do Kashmiris want basic grievances addressed? Because for close on 20 years, they have been systematically ignored as Kashmir has turned into a battleground between the military and the militants. A boycott of elections is useless because the Hurriyat (which calls for it) doesn't talk about development. It only talks of freedom. Talk of freedom is fine, but what happens when you cant find a job, get 2 square meals a day, don't have proper access to health care? The people of Kashmir may desire freedom. But they also desire development, and hence the vote.

The support for the Abdullah's has not diminished, no matter how many times Farooq presses the self destruct button. And the Abdullah's do provide a credible alternative to the Hurriyat. If the Hurriyat were to enter elections, they may not get more seats than the NC and the PDP.

For all these reasons the Hurriyat must move to remain relevant. (By the Hurriyat here I mean the moderate wing). They must enter the Indian political setup and campaign for their demands from within. The voters have already legitimized the Indian system of democracy, even if they haven't reconciled themselves to permanent Indian rule. Yet will the Hurriyat act? I believe that their lack of widespread support outside the major cities like Srinagar, and the fact that many of the Hurriyat leaders have their fingers in the pie, (Kashmir receives huge amounts of money from the centre, certainly this doesn't trickle down to the masses and the Hurriyat leaders live in palaces. Do the arithmetic yourself) prevents them from doing so.

While many Kashmiris may desire their land to become a Switzerland of the East, I think most understand that that is impossible in the near future. An independent Kashmir would have to be guaranteed by at least India, China, Pakistan and the US. When these countries cant agree on anything right now, what hope is there for them to agree on Kashmir. The fact that they have voted in such high number is thus a positive sign. The government must make good on its promises, the army must strive to interfere as little as possible with daily life in Kashmir, and ultimately relations with Pakistan must improve so that the LoC can become an open border and economic ties can strengthen between the two Kashmirs.


An introductory post at the beginning of a new blog is probably useless, so I shall keep this brief. Functioning Anarchy will be a space where two Indian students in the US discuss, analyze and report on developments back home; largely political, but not forgetting those other great Indian pursuits, cricket and the Hindi film. The contributors: Ashish Mitter, freshman at Yale and first-time blogger and, for now at least, styling himself "Backbencher"; and myself, Keshava Guha, freshman at Harvard with erratic attempts at blogging, political and apolitical, behind me.

Our blog title is from John Kenneth Galbraith's description of India as "a functioning anarchy"; there can have been few more accurate ones.