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A New Bahu-Bully in Town

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If you were ever into sports growing up, you would remember there were largely three category of kids at the playground – the bullies: who, well, bullied, threatened, and pushed the weak around at will; the weak were divided into two: those who sucked up to the bullies (let’s call them “conniving weak”) and the other weak who were only weak in stature but not attitude (“foolish weak”) and would naively pick fights with the conniving weak and the bullies on moral grounds. The conniving weak received “protection” from the bullies they sucked up to when other bullies and/or the other weak threatened them. That left the foolish weak in a very precarious position – they either had to become strong over time to stand up to the bullies or simply whine to their teachers on how they were right and others wrong.

If the world were one big geopolitical playground, India would fall under the third category – the foolish weak. Since independence, India has been trying hard to raise its profile around the world. First under its foolish first PM using a morally superior but logically stupid umbrella of non-alignment with other weak countries and then slowly as it realized that naiveté of being foolishly weak doesn’t get you anywhere, with building its military complex. During this time, India has beaten its other weak, but conniving, neighbor, Pakistan, in 1948, 1965, and 1999 wars and breaking the neighbor apart in 1971 and capturing 90,000 of its soldiers as POWs. The one time India fought a bully in 1962 on moral grounds it was beaten black and blue, despite the heroic fight it had put up.

However, over time India was able to build a strong enough military capacity such that the bullies started taking note and started avoiding picking fights with it. As such, this didn’t stop its conniving neighbor, who still enjoyed protection from United States and China for their own geostrategic and economic reasons, to mount terror attacks and continue down its long-term strategy of hurting India with a thousand cuts. During this time, India was able to build a strong enough military capacity to stand up to not just the other weak players but also some bullies. Except, the ruling class was still cowardly and foolish in its approach, thinking moral uprightness and out of context ancient platitudes like “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam“, “Ahimsa parmo Dharma” could earn it respect in the global playground.

Not only was the ruling class’ cowardliness foolish, but it also incriminated the elites in the murder of their own people – terror attacks killed 31 innocent men, women and children in Akshardham in 2002, burnt 57 men, women, and children alive in Godhra in 2002 causing widespread communal riots, 52 in Mumbai’s local train bombings in 2003, 70 in Delhi, 21 in Varanasi, 209 in 2006 Mumbai local train bombings, over 300 in 2008, and approximately 200 more since then. The blood of these innocent people was on the terrorists propped up by Pakistan, but also on ruling class of Indian politicians, opinion makers, and the elite who never traveled by public transport, an easy target for terrorists, rarely visited temples, and often found security due to their status in society. They meekly accepted that India had to pay the price of being a weak state with no options to deter such flagrant abuses by its neighbors.

Until a man with a humble background arrived on the scene and brought with him a bluster that terrified many across the border. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India with a thumping mandate in an election where he was projected as a strong leader, a bully. At first many, including his supporters (or “bhakts” as the this ruling class likes to call them – not a very subtle way of hiding their deep Hinduphobia but I digress), sometimes more vociferously than others, questioned why this strong leader was continuing down the path of using diplomacy and moral uprightness as a tool of dealing with playground bullies and their weak puppets. In retrospect, road shows by Modi around the western world were helpful in showing to the world how India was no longer  a weak society, both economically and socially.  This also served to remind other countries of dehyphenating India from its weak petulant neighbor and see it in its own light.

And that’s why when 20 of India’s soldiers were murdered in their sleep by proxies from Pakistan earlier this month, the world was watching to see if India meant business or not, and Indians themselves questioned really how strong was their strong leader. Initially India opened the door to isolating Pakistan globally by pleading its case to world powers – who by now were very well aware of Pakistan’s perfidy in playing good-and-bad terrorist games, but had limited support to offer India. The focus then shifted to bolder measures to punish Pakistan. Modi mentioned that blood and water can’t flow together – A not so subtle reference to the Indus Water Treaty which India, under its foolishly weak first PM, had signed with Pakistan giving it more than proportional rights to the rivers flowing from India to Pakistan, in an effort to placate Pakistan and hope its attitude changed in the face of such generosity from its bigger neighbor. It didn’t. India also looked at reviewing the Most Favored Nation trade status that it had given Pakistan. Everyone thought India was back to being a feeble and weak state as it had been all along.

Everyone, except India’s national security strategists who were doing a thorough reconnaissance of terrorist infrastructure to target if the Indian leaders chose to go that route. This is when Narendra Modi showed to the world that he was indeed the strong leader ready to leverage India’s now strengthened military muscle and give it back to the terrorist sympathizers using surgical strikes to target specific locations within enemy territory. There was no moral high ground, only business. No platitudes only action. Yes, similar surgical strikes had taken place in the past under previous governments but none had the cajones to come out in the public and announce to the world that India was no longer willing to be a coward, a foolishly weak state, clinging on to some moral high ground. Killing of its innocent citizens would be avenged by the killing of murderers and their supporters. After all the full ancient Hindu shlok goes:

Ahimsa Paramo Dharma

Dharma himsa tathaiva cha

Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in service of Dharma. As a result of the surgical strikes, there is likely to be some reprisals from the now jittery Pakistani establishment. But India has now signaled that attacks on it will not be taken meekly but will be responded with force. Longer term, the deterrence created by this act will likely improve the security conditions in the country, eventually giving businesses a respite from the threat of violence that had circulated over Indian cities and towns in recent years. India was beginning to take its initial steps into becoming a strong power, a Bahu-bully. And this time the new bully in town comes with moral uprightness as well.

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An Evening with the Prime Minister

I recently attended the grand Indian diaspora event in Singapore with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In today’s 24×7 media and internet connected world, I have, like many of you, been glued to the rhetoric and efforts of this man. Listening to him live just makes it so much more real, unleashing raw emotions, aspirations and patriotism. It also unleashed a flurry of thoughts that I aim to capture in this article – not so much on what transpired, but why it did.

 

The Man

Needless to say it was an electric atmosphere, with 18,000 Indians chanting and screaming themselves hoarse. The fact that we have come to take this for granted from him is anything but ordinary, not just for a political leader, but for any celebrity. My thoughts, however, dwell on why this man evokes such ecstatic responses from diverse demographics.

PM Modi’s oratory is widely acknowledged, even by his harshest critics, as exemplary, and the live experience only reinforces that impression. You realise that not once, in an hour long speech, does he ever refer to any notes or prompts. Yet, at the end of a day packed with diplomatic engagements, he is able to engage an 18,000-strong crowd on climate change, hygiene, culture, business, foreign policy and railways. Ever in his element, he conveys his messages through a combination of storytelling, passion and rhetorical devices. With his analogies and flair for storytelling, you find yourself nodding in agreement because the human behaviour he speaks of is so relatable to our everyday lives, even as he calls us to change the way we live to transform society. With his raw passion, you can’t help but admire the energy and patriotism in a 65 year old who works 18-20 hours a day dealing with complex issues in a complex country. With his rhetoric, he effortlessly mixes humour with serious themes to make messages memorable.

But the man is so much more than just lip service. As he boldly declared, there is not a single accusation of corruption on his government after 18 months in power. He keeps repeating this in every speech, but it never gets redundant because it rings so true. He is effectively sticking his neck out and challenging the public, the opposition and the media to prove a single instance of corruption against his government, now or in the future. How’s that for accountability? This is mind boggling in a country renowned for corruption at all levels of government and bureaucracy. Being in my mid-twenties, I have followed Indian politics for barely a decade, so I can’t even imagine the feeling for people from other generations, some of whom have probably bemoaned the corrupt system since India’s independence in 1947! This is but one of many fields where the current government has been refreshingly progressive – from bureaucratic efficiency and technology investments to infrastructure development and foreign affairs, the policies seem deliberate and strong steps in the right direction.

Thus, it is his passion (in motivation), sincerity (in intention) and authenticity (in action), that makes hundreds of millions of us invest our emotions and hopes in his leadership. For a nation, long suppressed by a vicious cycle of a dysfunctional polity and a ‘chalta hai’ public attitude, here is a leader acting with a refreshingly new approach and issuing a rallying cry to change our mindsets to make this transformation truly people-driven.

 

The Emotions

Like many NRIs, I frequently think about how to make India a better country. Our passions constrained by circumstance and distance, we NRIs have a tendency to get quite emotional about India. And team Modi sure knows how to tug at the heartstrings of our community! From the cultural performances before the speech (including Maa Tujhe Salaam, of course!) to slick, professional, feel-good videos urging you to contribute to government initiatives, it is an emotional experience. The Indian diaspora craves any connection to the motherland, and this is probably the first government to recognise value in actively engaging us.

Memorably, he summarised his foreign policy in one neat statement: “Na hum aankh jukhaa kar ke baat karenge, na hi hum aankh dikhaa kar ke baat karenge, hum duniya se aankh milaa kar ke baat karenge, baraabari se baat karenge” (Translation: In the international stage when dealing with other countries, we will not look down submissively, we will not stare aggressively, but we will make our eyes meet as equals). This may sound like simple rhetoric, but its socio-political impact may be underrated.

Many reading this article have faced the ignominy of foreigners preaching about how backward, unclean and corrupt India is. Despite the fact that it is a one-sided view ignoring unique strengths of our society, we know they are right about the flaws in the country. Even after the typically fierce “but India has a great history” retort, we look down embarrassed and helpless. Decades of this experience has manifested itself as a subconscious submissiveness in our international engagements, as a nation and as individuals. But here we have a leader, who is not pursuing meaningless jingoism, but attempting to correct the flaws and lift the collective confidence of his people to succeed in an inter-connected world. Isn’t that the classic definition of leadership?

But leaders need to be backed by strong teams. In this, PM Modi is clear, that his team is not merely his cabinet or his MPs, but is team India. His efforts at inspiring people’s contributions to government strategies are novel. For almost every initiative, from the Clean India campaign to even easing the fiscal deficit (#giveitup), he seeks the common man’s participation.

He ended his speech with a clarion call that we should stop singing paeans about our historical accomplishments as a prelude to a hypothetical great future, but rather take inspiration from the past, change our mindset, put in the hard work and collaborate towards achieving a better future.

It is on this note that I walked out that day – with immense optimism, hope and a deep desire to contribute to the transformation of India in whatever way I can.

The views expressed in this article are personal and do not in any way represent the views of any organization.

The idea of Pakistan and its bête noir: Narendra Damodardas Modi

This post first appeared on the esteemed Sword of Truthhttp://swordoftruth.in/the-idea-of-pakistan-and-its-bete-noir-narendra-damodardas-modi/

Defended by the high Himalayas in the north and absence of natural harbors in the south, Akhand Bharat (Undivided India) enjoyed a secure existence for the most part of its multi-millennial civilizational history. The fortune of having natural borders, along with a fertile landmass, formed a unique homogenous civilizational identity, without the looming threat and onslaught of exogenous violence. This allowed its inhabitants, having lived together for thousands of years, to create a rich sense of togetherness that gave coherence to a unique worldview from the upper reaches of the Indus and Ganges to the lower plains of Kaveri and Narmada.

Despite the linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasies of its inhabitants and some sporadic invasions, the homogeneity in civilizational identity gave the Indic civilization a period of consensus building in philosophical matters, eventually forming the fundamentals of a civilization whose ideas and worldview would inspire many founders of both scientific thoughts and metaphysical creeds.

Thus, for a civilization which had learned to accommodate differences of linguistic and cultural identity for thousands of years, a partition of its ancient territorial expanse along the lines of recently acquired identities had to be acrimonious and artificial. By creating a new country in Pakistan, the British placated an ideology that demanded creation of nation states along fluid identities of faith/religion. This led to spiraling of conflicts in countries where religious fanatics rejected their shared cultural and ethnic histories for their ‘narrow fluid religious identities, demanding state policy-making to be driven by religious identities. As Akhand Bharat witnessed in 1947, political struggle to enforce selective religious identities would stoke widespread violence across an otherwise homogenous expanse.

Although Akhand Bharat had seen religious violence on many occasions, one example being in the aftermath of the Khilafat movement, riots against the Hindu landowners perpetrated by Moplah Muslims in Kerala, the idea of two separate nations based on their demographical religious identities only started gaining ground in the run up to Independence in early 1940s. At the time, the most vociferous supporter of this argument for faith-based identity and biggest proponent of the separate nation argument was the father of modern day Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah – a third generation Muslim, whose paternal grandfather belonged to a Gujarati Hindu community of rich businessmen. His argument for the separation of Hindu and Muslim majority nations would have to wait until India’s 67th Independence Day, to finally be put to bed by another Gujarati.

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The Two Nation Theory

In the late 1930s and early 40s neo-converts, led by astute political leaders like Jinnah, raised the plank for separate nationhood for Muslims, making organized religion their primary identity. The separatists argued that a Hindu majority India, where once a Hindu ruler had commissioned building of the world’s second oldest Islamic mosque[i], was no longer safe for adherents of Islam and its followers. In the backdrop of global events such as the Khilafat movement and the subsequent rise of Salafism, some adherents of Islam in Akhand Bharat argued that a land with majority non-Muslims could not promise safety to its minorities, even though there was centuries’ worth of shared civilizational evidence to refute such a fantastical theory.

The ideology of nation states based on religion-based identity received a major setback when India upon Independence, declared itself to be a secular nation guaranteeing equal rights to adherents of all faiths, religions, and communities, not just the majority community. In doing so, India rejected differentiation based on religious and communal lines and accepted the idea of a philosophically amalgamated, yet communally heterogeneous society – a melting pot of regional and linguistic cultures which blended together to form a pan-Indian identity. This opened the doors for any like-minded people who believed in the ancient Hindu ideals of equal respect for people of all creeds to reject Pakistan and remain with their ethnic, cultural, and historical neighbors in India.

However, the die had already been cast. In the face of violent struggle, modern India had to pay a tangible price to defend its plurality against those who sought a path of identity ghettoization – By carving-out a portion of its ancient civilizational lands in the Sapta Sindhu (literally, seven rivers; metaphorically the landmass drained by seven rivers from one sea to another defended by high mountains) from Pushkalwati (modern day Peshawar) and Takshashila (modern day Taxila) in its Northwest areas to mUlasthAnapura (modern day Multan) and Hinglaj in the south of Pakistan. In the ensuing post-partition events, Baluchistan and Pakhtunkhwa provinces were swiftly annexed by Pakistan under the pretext of a shared religion-based identity, while similar pickets were flared in India, mainly in Junagadh, Kashmir, and Deccan (Hyderabad). However, despite the disintegration of its ancient geographical boundaries, newly-independent India was able to maintain its larger civilizational identity by de-linking the State from organized religion, something that would go a long way in securing its cultural as well as economic future.

This idea of two-nation theory of separate faith-based identities continued to receive setbacks long after partition. The idea that Muslims across the ethnic and geographical spectrum could harbor nationalistic aspirations towards a singular nation solely due to their shared religious identities was discredited when Bengalis in East-Pakistan rejected the writ of the Pakistani state and declared themselves independent in 1971 to form Bangladesh. While India remained on course its ancient experience of respecting and encouraging linguistic and cultural idiosyncrasies to survive, Pakistan under the garb of forced homogenization based on an infantile identity of religion and faith had completely ignored the cultural differences of their faraway cousins in East-Pakistan. The fact that people in Indian states of Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad continued to participate in democratic elections of India, despite their Muslim majority population and constant indoctrination from Pakistan, was further proof that the idea of India’s civilizational identity over a narrow faith-based identity had won. Yet Pakistan and the proponents of the two-nation theory – India’s ‘liberal’ romantics continued to fool themselves about the threat to the minority from an aggressive Hindu majoritarian political movement, while ignoring the plight of the people of Baluchistan, Baltistan, and Pakhtunkhwa.

The Final Nail in the Coffin

In the following decades of 1980s and 1990s, India would see repeated communal and religious flare-ups as a result of the Indian government’s brazen appeasement of faith-based identities (read: the Shah Bano episode[ii] and the Khalistan movement[iii]) and its subsequent backlash. This period resulted in a political resurgence of the Hindu Right, as India’s civilizational foundation found itself being targeted yet again by religious fanatics looking for preferential treatment in the name of the old faith-based identities.

The idea that Hindu majoritarianism would eventually discard religious minority rights, that a far-right Hindu organization, once it achieves enough political and legislative power, would persecute minorities, the idea that was used to create a separate nation in 1947 was again floated about. But this idea in some ways reminiscent of the two-nation argument was suitably buried on August 15, 2014, when arguably the most popular figure in the history of the political Hindu Right, delivered a speech on the occasion of India’s 67th Independence Day, a speech that would go on to cement his credentials as a guardian of India’s millennia-old ethos.

The speech was symbolic in that – here was a man, an alleged poster boy of Hindu chauvinism for some, a Hindu Hriday Samrat, emperor of Hindu hearts, for others; standing at the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, capital of the last Islamic Dynasty of Akhand Bharat, giving his first speech to the nation as the Prime Minister of India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a lifelong member and former Pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“RSS”), a nationalist volunteer corps consistently accused by its opponents of majoritarianism; delivered a speech that took pride in India’s ancient civilizational heritage and its melting pot of identities while exhorting Indians to build an India on modern ideals of liberty, individualism and freedom. It was a seminal moment, because it put the final nail in the coffin of the argument used to give credence to the idea of Pakistan, and thus the two-nation theory. Here was a man – leader of the party associated most with Hindu majoritarianism, having recently won a thumping majority in the Indian legislature – delivering paeans on communal harmony and betterment of people of all religious identities along the lines of India’s ancient ethos from the times of the Rig Veda:

Índraṃ mitráṃ váruṇam agním āhur átho divyáḥ sá suparṇó garútmān;

Ékaṃ sád víprā bahu dhāva danty agníṃ yamáṃ mātaríśvānam āhuḥ.

“It is understood from time immemorial that the truth is one; sages call it by different Names…” (Rig Veda, 1-164-146)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a carte blanche to the idea of mutual existence and appreciation of rights of all Indians of all faiths, asking Indians to work together in building a liberal, progressive and developed nation standing tall on the fundamentals of communal harmony and religious freedom. His speech focused on the betterment of Indian society as whole, sought development for all, and poverty alleviation directed towards all Indians, through improved skill development, health, sanitation, and financial inclusion as opposed to an ideology that prescribed handing out welfare doles to communities based on their narrow fluid identities of faith and religion. An alleged Hindu majoritarian government was successfully showing that it would respect the delinking of State and religion better than its ‘secular’ predecessors.

Prime Minister Modi backed his words immediately by launching a financial inclusion scheme that did not differentiate between communities in its implementation. Following which Modi spent the most auspicious Hindu festival, Diwali, with his fellow countrymen who had suffered from devastating floods in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, while offering them unconditional aid for rebuilding and development. In striving towards implementing a governance model that would improve the lives of all Indians, Prime Minister Modi is slowly making faith-based identities redundant in public life, and if minority voting patterns are to go by, he is finding traction amongst minorities as well. This is causing widespread panic amongst two-nation theorists as can be witnessed from the endless stream of op-eds in many news publications criticizing Modi’s governance on the flimsiest grounds. Regardless of all the pseudo-liberal hoopla around the current government’s efforts towards highlighting the country’s rich past, the alleged Hindu-majoritarian government has continued to work on its election plank of sabka saath, sabka vikaas,development for all, appeasement to none.

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Appeasement to all, Security to none

Unsurprisingly, since the inauguration of the Modi government in May 2014, incidents of communal discord have largely emanated from areas where radicalization of minorities at the behest of pseudo-secular political parties and local religious fundamentalists has taken place unabated. That is, wherever local state administrations have implemented differential policies pandering to minority communities, be it Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal, there has been a complete breakdown of the law and order situation and it will only get progressively worse if left unchanged.

Harebrained policies implemented to appease a small set of religious fundamentalists have only served to embolden these fringe elements causing further schisms in the society. One can even argue that such policies lead to asymmetric incentive models for practicing a certain faith, a fluid identity, which leads to state-induced disequilibrium in the demography of a particular region. People who compare quotas for religious minorities with Affirmative Action in the West for racial minorities forget that race is not a fluid identity, religion is. Thus, for example, doles specifically for people who follow faith X, even if it’s only for the poorest of that faith, would lead to cheaper costs of living for them; therefore, creating an incentive for conversion to that fluid identity of faith, especially amongst the most down-trodden strata of our society. With a country of almost 400 million poor, this trend could, in a short period of time, exacerbate serious demographic changes causing unprecedented ruptures in our syncretic society.

Signs of such conflagration in violence can be seen across the world where policies have been designed rendering to faith-based identities. In Pakistan, the unrelenting scourge of cases where blasphemy laws have been misused to target communities have led to large scale violence. Thus, otherwise heterogeneous societies which forcibly restricted their constituent’s identities to a single faith, continue to get ravaged by sectarian violence. Violence that is forced upon them by religious fundamentalists looking to seek greater power over adherents of their respective faiths.

Since, religious identities are amorphous, in that, religion cannot accord the same lifestyle on people living in Arabian Peninsula compared to those in Siberia; there is no end to the Blackhole of determining which adherents perform the purer form of obeisance to a particular faith. Thus, violence based on faith-based identities has a trickle-down effect on different communities belonging to the same faith – as is happening in the ongoing Shiite and Ahmadi genocide in Sunni-majority Pakistan. Similarly, in Iraq and Syria, Kurd and Yazidi communities are facing genocidal persecution at the hands of religious fundamentalists who are seeking to discard ethnic similarities for religious identities.

Unfortunately the kind of violence the world community is beginning to witness in Iraq, serves as a constant reminder to Indians of their own bloody past, when religious zealots marauded our lands and laid waste to rich citadels, made slaves of its populace and drained them of all their wealth. Closer still is the memory of the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, when the sovereign Indian state in its efforts to placate religious fundamentalists relinquished its administrative responsibilities, allowing faith-based identities to overpower the local cultural demography and destroy the region’s ancient heritage. Overnight thousands of Kashmiri Hindus were driven out of their multi-millennial homes and turned into refugees in their own country.

Similarly, Pakistan has unsuccessfully tried to reign in various ethnic uprisings by usurping local communities into its faith-based nation-state identity. Even though the Bengalis in East Pakistan declared independence from the Pakistani state in 1971, other rebellions in Baluchistan, Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan continue to remain on the boil and pull Pakistan deeper into its identity quagmire. While all these ethnic groups were similar in the God they worshiped, they were markedly different in their traditions, customs, culture, language, and their ethnic history. The only thing binding these cultures for thousands of years was the idea of belonging to a larger civilizational heritage, although not as assertive as faith, yet stronger in terms of assimilating the differences of varied communities.

Today, Pakistan’s rejection of its ancient ‘Hindu/ Indic’ civilizational identity has created a false sense of its proximity to the Arab culture of modern Islam, when in fact Pakistanis and Arabs share a culture that is as much alike, as Reagan’s idea of America was to Soviet Russia. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are no remedies. The country was founded on a fallacy that was doomed since its inception. The idea that a narrow religion-based identity can trump all other cultural and historic differences never resonated with people of Akhand Bharat. Had Pakistan chosen a path that valued the syncretic nature of its inhabitant’s worldview it would not be ‘Pak’ or Pure for the fanatics who demanded the state in the first place, in that, it’d find it impossible to reconcile these multicultural ethos in a religious state whose fundamental basis is Religionan ideology that inherently treats its inhabitants differently on the basis of the faith they follow within their personal space.

Pakistan is at a crossroads, engulfed in sectarian violence internally, while its periphery gets repeatedly breached by local extremists as was seen in the Peshawar school attacks recently, a region where certain constituencies identify more closely with people who speak their language or share the same ethnicity, than their co-religionists elsewhere in Pakistan. This Pakistan faces a modern India – its bête noir in every sense, antithetical to the very idea of Pakistan that continues to show how people of different faiths and cultural idiosyncrasies can prosper together in peace, led by a leader whose majoritarian constituency instead of strengthening the idea of Pakistan, threatens to destroy the argument for separate nations altogether. Narendra Modi can go down in history as being a leader who underlined the importance of separating religion from state in an Asian context. His unapologetic reverence towards his Hindu-ness while his repeated impassioned appeals for sabka saath, sabka vikaas is an example of how state policies and personal faith are indeed separable.

Interestingly Modi’s path of ‘poverty alleviation and equal respect for all’ isn’t very different from the path that Pakistan’s founding fathers had envisioned. The fact that the Pakistani state has distanced itself as far away from its Indian roots as it currently has makes it impossible for it to return back to a syncretic society without completely unraveling itself. If Pakistan were to a make a conscious move towards such a syncretic society, its raison d’être vis-à-vis India would no longer prevail, i.e. the argument for a separate nation from India would no longer have validity. And that is the kind of existential challenge that Modi’s rise poses to Pakistan.

The key to India’s bright future

There are some who remain silent, But are sunk in deep surmise;

Yes, they will speak the truth, But when the price of truth is on the rise.

– Hakim Momin Khan Momin (1801 -1852)

In the face of much despondency around the world, the Indian electorate in the summer of 2014 offered some hope, by putting its weight behind a ‘liberal’ yet nationalist ideology of ‘Nation First, India First’. It showed the way to the rest of the world by choosing an ideology that seeks to form policies without differentiating between people for their fluid faith-based identities. The electorate chose a path which seeks to limit faith to the confines of the citizen’s homes, thereby rejecting an idea of policy-driven appeasement that sought to bring up one’s faith at every step in one’s life; whether it be for admission into educational institutes, filing for marriage laws, receiving fuel and food subsidies, or selectively differentiating between communal violence of adherents of different faiths[i].

The Narendra Modi-led Indian Government must take further steps to remove religion from all spheres of public life, by replacing narrow communal benefits with benefits aimed at empowering individuals. Firstly, the Modi government must come good on its election promise and establish a Uniform Civil Code for all communities as originally directed by the founders of the Indian Constitution. Something that Indian politicians have long delayed due to pressure from the chauvinist male clergy of Mullahs and Maulvis whose own powers would be severely diluted, if such a law giving Muslim women equal rights as their Hindu counterparts were to be introduced.

In addition, it is critical that the government revoke laws that benefit only certain groups and serve as inorganic conversion incentives for the downtrodden – who’s only hope of sustaining themselves becomes taking on an identity that is not their own for the purposes of receiving doles, thereby causing further schisms in society. The UPA administration has inundated all spheres of our public life with such schemes. One such example is education, wherein under Article 29 & 30 of the constitution of India as per the Right to Education Act passed by the UPA government, admission restrictions and requirements are placed on all schools, except those that are considered to be minority-run. By effectively making aided or unaided minority schools exempt from this law, the law has created disequilibrium of incentive structures wherein a minority school enjoys benefits without suffering the costs of the legislation. Research performed by education experts suggests that the law has led to a mushrooming of minority-only schools leaving students of other religious communities hapless in seeking primary education. This article by ‘Reality Check India’ is a must read to understand the grotesque situation in India’s educational sector: http://realitycheck.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/an-issue-of-public-notice-rights-in-minority-schools/.

Further, the government must also strengthen freedom of expression and speech laws which were crassly amended by the Indian State under its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, under the first amendment to the Constitution of India. This along with repealing of draconian laws like 66A that target social media expression specifically, will go a long way in strengthening free speech and expression rights while ensuring that there is no scope for the introduction of irrational blasphemy laws in Indian civil life.

All these steps toward removing appeasement structures in our daily lives, will give a boost to communal harmony as the asymmetry in conversion incentives created by appeasement policies would be neutralized, leaving demographics dependent on personal choice instead of political action. However, the aforementioned legislations will require a lot of groundwork in terms of both judicial and police reforms, in addition to training of bureaucrats who remain ambivalent to individual rights against communal pressure systems. Thus, patience is fundamental.

It is imperative that Prime Minister Modi’s government stresses on the true secular nature of our country by legislating faith-neutral laws, empowering individual’s rights, and opposing demands from myopic politicians for communal doles. Our neighborhood serves as the best example for why strengthening individual rights is the need of the hour, and why de-linking policy-making from faith-based identities is crucial for the success of a modern globalized society. By empowering an individual and giving strength to personal freedoms, India will have truly experienced a tryst with destiny that could serve as an example for societies facing similar identity crisis.

Finally, those opposed to such moves of disbanding community targeting policies must be reminded of the consequences of similar appeals that took place in 1940s, and still if their memory doesn’t serve them right, the Modi government must ensure that it leaves the exit doors open for these people to enjoy the luxury of our neighboring country that was originally carved-out especially for those who chose this ideology of faith-based identity policies in 1947.

Reference

[i]http://www.academia.edu/4140837/COMMUNAL_VIOLENCE_BILL_A_FARCE_Those_who_forget_history_are_condemned_to_repeat_it_

[i] http://www.islamilm.com/2014/05/India-First-Mosque-World-Second-Oldest.html

[ii] http://judis.nic.in/supremecourt/imgst.aspx?filename=9303

[iii]http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/4410511?uid=3739912&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21104544413401

Foreign Press on Prime Minister Modi

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Europe: ‘Blinded by Ideology’: Outlook Magazine (Click to read) 

“Instead of seeking to understand why Indians voted for the BJP in such great numbers, they are being presented as an irrational mob ‘misled and intimidated by a mammoth election campaign funded by big business’.”

Pakistan: ‘Demystifying India’s Modi-fication’: The Nation (Click to read)

“The Pakistani intelligentsia and political community is however, making itself conspicuous with little to no objective analysis of Indian elections. This indifference of Pakistan’s civil society and intelligentsia could be partly attributed to the general paranoia that surrounds us…”

Israel: ‘Terra Incognita: Why Modi matters’: Jerusalem Post (Click to read)

“The world needs more leaders like India’s incoming PM, not because of his checkered past, but because we need to not fear national, linguistic and religious pride and nation-states that respect their origins”

US: ‘Modi, India’s next Prime Minister, adopts a softer tone’: New York Times (Click to read)

“Narendra Modi, the son of a provincial tea seller, was overcome by emotion on Tuesday after members of his political group, the Bharatiya Janata Party, endorsed him as India’s next prime minister.”

But, Modi is a divisive man

Today at the cusp of the biggest democratic exercise in the world – the beginning of a six week long general election cycle in India, I study the claim: Narendra Modi – the BJP’s candidate and most likely to become the next Prime Minister of India – is a divisive man.

I come here to Expose Modi, not to Praise Him.

Many opponents of Narendra Modi argue that Muslims will be sidelined and ill-treated if Modi comes to power, yet data from the Congress government agencies suggests that Gujarat has the lowest percentage of Muslims living under the poverty line compared to any other state or national average.

But, Modi is a divisive man.

The Prime Minister of our Congress-led government has said that religious minorities have the “first claim of India’s resources”, the same Prime Minister wanted to pass a Communal Violence Bill, which did not recognize communal violence committed by minority communities against the majority community.

But, Modi is a divisive man.

The secular Sonia Gandhi recently appealed to the country’s minorities, mainly Muslims to stop the crucial minority vote-bank from splitting and to vote as a herd. She met with Muslim leaders and promised to make more policies that benefit the community specifically if elected to power

And Sonia Gandhi is a Secular leader – so this cannot be termed communal baiting of religion-based vote-banks.

The heartthrob of the Lutyens Delhi’s op-ed circuit, Sonia Gandhi, also told you that Modi was a “maut ka saudagar” a merchant of death. Yet the same Modi gave Dr. Sanjeev Balian, an agricultural scientist who gave shelter to more than 500 Muslim families during the recent riots in Western UP, a ticket to run for elections from the riot-affected Muzaffarnagar seat.

Still, Modi is a divisive man.

When Narendra Modi was attacked by terrorists in his Patna rally, and a bomb was found under the stage, Modi gave his supporters the message for peace and unity (http://goo.gl/cRoqL6). When Arvind Kejriwal faced protests in Gujarat, the workers of the AAP vandalized and attacked the BJP office in Delhi.

But, Modi is a divisive man.

The Congress, self-styled ‘liberals’, and their supporters never fail to paint BJP as a Hindu nationalist party with support only in the Hindi heartland region of India, yet the BJP is finding support from local parties and leaders in Christian Nagaland and Goa, historically communist West Bengal and Kerala, regional parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and even Arunachal Pradesh.

But BJP is a communal party and an untouchable to non-Hindi speakers.

Congress has offered a few well-meaning folks like Nandan Nilekani to contest on its ticket, and they have reposed the faith in supporting a Rahul Gandhi led Congress government for the next five years. Within 24hours of deciding to contest on Congress ticket, Mr. Nilekani once the paragon of Indian entrepreneurship and business, demanded caste and religion-based reservations for minorities in private businesses – which he later clarified saying he meant public sector.

Either way Mr. Nilekani is a secular man now and can say anything his Congressi heart desires as long as he decides to walk around wearing this:

Other upstarts like the AAP are said to be fighting against corruption this election. Yet the AAP has not nominated any candidates or any of its well-known faces against the alleged fountainhead of corruption in India Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the tainted chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan allegedly involved in the Adarsh Scam, the Minister that benefitted most from the multi-BILLION dollar 2G scandal A. Raja, amongst others.

But AAP is a noble party, led by the honorable Arvind Kejriwal.

The same AAP party has repeatedly stated its stand against corrupt and criminal representatives in the Parliament, yet Mr. Kejriwal of AAP has nominated a person with 28 criminal cases of rape, murder, arson and rioting from the violence-prone seat of Kandhamal, Orissa (AAP has since then taken back his candidacy but there are more examples: http://goo.gl/P7irJv ).  Another AAP candidate from Lucknow was caught bribing voters Rs. 1000 for their votes in the upcoming election.

But Arvind Kejriwal is an honorable man, leading his chaste party – AAP in fighting against the debauchery of Indian political system.

Arvind Kejriwal’s trusted lieutenant, Yogendra Yadav was recently caught giving controversial speeches while campaigning in Muslim majority districts of Western UP that recently saw riots flare-up. He boldly proclaimed that Modi was a religious baiter and his party caused the Muzaffarnagar riots – even though the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team only charge-sheeted leaders of the BSP, SP and the Congress in connection with the riots. Yogendra Yadav went on to suggest that if Modi comes to power India will go through another partition.

And yet, Modi is a divisive man.

Narendra Modi’s trusted lieutenant Amit Shah recently asked the voters in polarized Western UP, to exact revenge on the leaders of the BSP, SP and Congress by pressing the button and exercising their fundamental right of voting, and not with swords. The President of the United States Barack Obama said the same words when he asked people to exact revenge on his rival candidate Romney last election by exercising their votes.

One of them was termed communal and divisive by the ‘liberals’, while the other has won a Nobel peace prize.

More than 700 religious and communal riots have taken place under the Congress’ regime. The Congress has ruled the country for approximately 60 years covertly or overtly, and still the conditions of the minorities have remained abysmal. While the BJP-led NDA government created 60.7 million jobs between 1999-2004, the Congress-led UPA government has created 15.4 million jobs between 2004-2012. Y-o-Y inflation has doubled during the period; while industrial growth has gone from 7.3% to -2% in 10 years since the BJP government.  I have already looked at the UPA government’s performance here: http://goo.gl/RAR1Ji .

But UPA is a secular front and hence its leaders, supporters, and ministers are absolved of all blame. And this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBsKZOV5LV0&feature=youtu.be&t=8m48s  is a divisive agenda.

For our self-proclaimed secularists the uniform civil code for all communities is divisive, annulment of article 370 that gives special status to a state that is part of the Union of India is divisive, restoring the past glory of India’s ancient civilization is communal. If these are all divisive policies, so be it – I am divisive and I support the policies of the BJP and its leader. This election, I am endorsing Modi to further true secularism – that separates the state from religion, I’m endorsing Modi to kickstart inclusive productive growth and development, to create more employment opportunities, and most importantly for a respite from the myopic vote-bank politics that has shamed and compromised our participatory democracy, while ensuring that India gets the governance that it needs at this precarious juncture. This election is a plebiscite on the politics of sabka saath, sabka vikas. And there may not be too many chances like this in the future.

A Treatise on Realpolitik de 2014

*This post was featured on Centre Right India on 02/17/2014: http://centreright.in/2014/02/treatise-on-realpolitik-de-2014/
**Click to access hyperlinks throughout the article

Foreword

According to the mainstream Indian media, there are currently three main political trends emerging across India today: the emergence of an anti-corruption party – the Aam Aadmi Party (“AAP”), rebranding of the incumbent Indian National Congress’ (“Congress”) along the lines of its new-found activist streak spearheaded by its leader Rahul Gandhi, and finally the nationwide mobilization of supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (“BJP”) Prime Ministerial candidate – Narendra Modi, from heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to distant West Bengal, Kerala, Nagaland, and surprisingly even Jammu and Kashmir.

Although all three trends have been correctly acknowledged by the media, the argument that each is equally significant as the other is simply inaccurate or worse, propagandist.  What the liberal media fails to do is differentiate between the impacts of each of these trends, resulting in the creation of incorrect assertions about the probability of success of their respective outcomes. Case in point was the latest round of recently concluded Assembly elections in the heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and of course Delhi.

These elections were a watershed moment in modern Indian politics, and the verdict was abundantly clear, as much as the mainstream media tried to obfuscate it – the most significant trend was that BJP under its firebrand nationalist leader, Narendra Modi was the biggest winner. The party received almost 72 lakh more votes than its nearest rival – the Congress. Yet, if you were to believe the media, results from the three states where the BJP performed spectacularly were hardly worth noting. The only result that mattered to them was the hung assembly of the most densely populated state in India – Delhi. AAP’s debut of winning 28 seats out of total 70 available seats was mighty impressive, but their seat tally was still less than the 31 seats BJP won (BJP lost six seats by a margin of less than 1000 votes). If there was ever a chance for an upstart party to emerge unexpectedly, it would have to be in the most densely populated state of India.

While campaigning in Delhi requires the support of small apartment societies, colony administrators and community meetups – mohalla sabhas (door-to-door campaigns); to take your message through spread-out districts in the desert state of Rajasthan, and densely forested, Naxal-infected Chhattisgarh is way more impressive. Winning by three-fourth majority is unheard of in today’s fractious electoral system, and to do that in one of the biggest states of the country where you’re a 10 year incumbent is absolutely astounding – like the BJP did in Madhya Pradesh. The message of the latest assembly elections, the last polls before the Grand Slam event of 2014 General Elections this summer, was that the BJP was the most desired political party, with its charismatic leader Narendra Modi at the forefront of this ‘saffron’ wave engulfing the country.

Realpolitik – de 2014

This brings me to the second part of this long overdue post. While we all have a set of core political, economic, and social beliefs that remain unchanged over time, i.e. ideology; there are times when one must make choices that are better for the greater good in the face of the realpolitik. For example, when I supported the Congress Party in the 2009 general election, it was because the previous Congress government (UPA I) had provided India with energy security (Indo-US Nuclear Deal), cushioned the economic recovery after the global recession and managed terrorism as effectively as any past governments had managed to do. Although this was completely against my core ideologies of secularism, free-market economics, privatization, etc., I believed the Congress party back then was best positioned and better prepared to tackle the issues at hand compared to the opposition BJP – which found itself vision-less and in complete disarray after Atalji’s retirement from politics,  with little chance to form the government (As was later found to be true – the party won its lowest vote share in more than 20 years).

Although I would have hoped for a utopian political alignment to form that would open retail, insurance, and defense industries to foreign investment, privatize railways (to the extent possible), ports and airports, increase spending on national security, reduce wasteful implementation of subsidy programs, usher in an era of nationalism and true secularism into our society’ fabric; there was no party in 2009 that could offer that, and definitely not the BJP at the time – the party I’m most ideologically aligned towards. And so the decision to support Congress was based on the realpolitik. I was too scared for a haphazard coalition government to form at the center with the support of Communist Parties when our nation was going through a precarious national security (26/11 aftermath) and fragile economic situation. The choice for a lesser evil at the time was between Congress and a hung parliament scenario with a nightmarishly weak socialist coalition government.

The aspiration of today’s realpolitik, a political wave – is that the electorate is ready to offer change a chance, without the threat of paralysis and instability of a hung parliament, but with the hope of good governance along with economic prosperity and inclusive development. If the main issues for this election are economic mismanagement, corruption, poor governance, political instability and weak leadership, who amongst the current crop of politicians as of February 2014, can address any if not all of these issues? Which politician has the acumen, a purpose, and most importantly the administrative experience to take these challenges head on and still have the vision to transform our nation? (Hint: Click to read)

For many, 2014 is a decision to choose the lesser evil. The incumbent Congress Party has realized that winning anything close to a majority 272+ seats in a parliament of 543 seats is almost impossible, in fact winning a meagre 100 seats should kick-off wild celebrations in the Nehru-Gandhi household. The choice today then is between the well-oiled engine of BJP’s 272+ mission, one that has presented clarity in vision and decisive execution, versus a hung parliament scenario with an undecided leader, unclear vision, uninitiated responsibility, that will eventually lead India to an uncertain future.

The party with a difference

Between 1998-2004, under the able stewardship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP government built more roads than were built in all the other years since 1947… combined! Vajpayee led India to a decisive victory in the 1999 Kargil War against Pakistan, strengthened nation’s sovereignty with the establishment of a nuclear weapons defense program, and most importantly clocked higher GDP growth rates than many developing countries in the world, with careful implementation of fiscal consolidation –this in spite of the economic sanctions that were placed by the western world in response to India’s nuclear tests. There were fewer internal disturbances during BJP’s tenure and strong anti-terror laws were passed (later annulled by Congress) to curb the growing threat from religious fundamentalists in the wake of 9/11. The BJP also had the first ever divestment ministry to remove government from the business of doing business, while being instrumental in beginning the process of privatization of ports and airports, introduction of the Lokpal, Right to Information and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.

Image

In states where it is in power, the BJP has a stellar track record of good governance, greater economic freedom, inclusive growth, and it may come a as surprise to some but a largely peaceful environment of religious freedom without state interference. The states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab consistently rank amongst the best states in Human Development Index rankings, economic growth, ease of doing business, agricultural and manufacturing growth, infrastructure development, and employment opportunities. BJP’s Chief Ministers are either talented professionals with engineering and medicine backgrounds or grassroots leaders who emerged as ardent volunteer workers ‘sangh pracharaks, dedicating their lives to serve the people of their country. It might come as a surprise to an avid mainstream media viewer, but it was, in fact, the BJP that gave the country its first IIT-graduate Chief Minister, in the state of Goa – Manohar Parikkar. For all the witch-hunting by the ‘liberal’ mainstream media in India, the BJP may well be the party with a difference as it claims to be.

Rabble-Rousers

In 2014, the side contesting the BJP constitutes parties who are either still in the process of forming their base-ideology and governance vision, fanning pseudo-secularism, or worse wasting critical government resources on bone-headed policies and schemes that are destined to leave the economies of their respective states in shambles for many years to come. In Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, vote-bank serving governments are introducing religion-based subsidies and quotas that are reminiscent of the regressive Jaziya tax on majority communities, applied by religious persecutionists of the Mughal era. West Bengal’s Trinamool government has created such a massive welfare state that has made even the Communists, who ruled Bengal for 30 years before her, look like champions of free-market capitalism.

Meanwhile for Congress, it seems like Rahul Gandhi – the party’s heir apparent, has already given up any hope of forming the next government. His constant refrain of improving the Congress party from within, empowering poor, and establishing internal democracy has given stand-up comics a lot of material but will take years to actually fructify – that is if the scion is serious about these lofty ideals. His are ideas that can transform the Congress party from being a vote-bank oriented mai-baap party to a credible alternative to BJP’s center-right model. But again, this will not happen overnight and definitely not in the next 50 days. Rahul Gandhi must spend his time in the looming opposition resurrecting the grand old party of India, so that it can, one day, take over a further developed nation from the BJP and implement welfare policies that a (moderately) rich country can afford.

The party in news though is Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. While the earnest nature of AAP’s rise is commendable, its supporters and well-wishers must understand that a country doesn’t run on good intentions alone. The chaotic 50 days of AAP’s stab at governance in Delhi, were a great example of how a vision-less contrarian party with activists running the show end up providing a guerrilla form of hit-and-run governance, which is not only unsustainable but also a recipe for disaster in a country the size of India.

AAP kataar mein hain

But there is a long way to go before AAP can represent the aspirational class that it believes it presently does. It must work hard to establish and grow its fundamental grassroots level structure, expand its vision – making it broader than just a ‘Ram Baan’ medicine of Lokpal that it believes will solve all our problems. Most importantly, AAP must find leaders from within its young new supporters, and distance itself from the current crop of failed journalists, naxal-backing social activists, and rabble-rousing mob leaders – suddenly tasked with administrating a constituency of millions of people. All this while acquitting itself of any subterfuge, be it its curious relationship with the left-liberal US based Ford Foundation or its stone cold silence on corruption charges against the Gandhi family. India’s ‘liberal’ hero – PB Mehta even argued in his recent article that the existence of Plutocracy and corruption isn’t the only problem ailing India (read the article). There is a fear of governance paralysis, a clear weariness to agitation, and a growing fear of joblessness and economic doom. Taking on Plutocracy is a marathon, not a sprint, AAP’s dramatic fracas week after week has only exacerbated this fear of constant agitation and government paralysis.

AAP’s time will come and when it does, it may even lead to the transformation of our country to the utopian society I discussed earlier – one that is removed from the influence of crony-capitalists, fixers, middlemen, ridding us of the Plutocratic society that our current democracy has come to represent. But that day is still in the pipeline, the idea in its infancy and will not be ready in the next 50 days.

AAP has successfully created a potent ecosystem for disenchanted youth and honest bureaucrats to be the change they have wished to see in the country. Now is the time to nurture this ecosystem. AAP needs to strengthen this support and channelize it so that India can possibly have three governance alternatives come 2019. But it seems like the current AAP leadership is in some sort of hurry, may be it thinks a Modi-led BJP government will dilute the strength of its support, or maybe it is in reality a concatenation of closet Congressis who can obviously not air their support for Congress under current circumstances, and would never have voted for the BJP anyway. Whatever is the case, PB Mehta summarized it well when he said that the AAP had the opportunity to “tap into a prosecutorial instinct we are developing against plutocracy, but also to demonstrate a steady trustworthiness in governance”. It blew it, and today stands woefully exposed in front of those that gave laid their hopes on the ‘new paradigm’.

Mission 272+

The realpolitik of 2014 will have many twists and turns up until May, but it is clear that no party this time around has all the answers to our nation’s problems. For some, there is again a choice to be made for the lesser evil. But this time around we have a strong alternative in Narendra Modi – an alternative that is credible, experienced, visionary, and perhaps the only one capable of pulling India out of its current mess, with ideas that may even reroute us back on the path to double-digit growth. The choice is between the hope of a stable government enacting policies that usher in renewed growth, kickstart the investment cycle, remove uncertainty for foreign investors, lower inflation by removing supply-side bottlenecks, or a pack of rabble-rousers in a fragmented realpolitik pulling the nation in a thousand different directions.

2014 will also be an opportunity for voters to affirm that development and good governance deserve a chance over politics of vote-bank pandering and endless government activism. There exists today an alternative to the current malaise, one that envisions harnessing of renewable sources of energy, building 100 satellite urban centers, unshackling infrastructure and power reforms, while decentralizing power for aid development. The alternative wants “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas“; and I believe it is time for the populace to unite under Mission 272+ and answer the call of realpolitik de 2014: that of choosing Development for all, Appeasement to none ( link).

An Open Letter to Shashi Tharoor

Dear Dr. Shashi Tharoor,

I first got interested in diplomacy and the United Nations as a teenager, around the same time you emerged as a strong contender for the post of UN Secretary-General. Regardless of that result, I was fascinated by your career as the most successful Indian in the field. My fascination soon turned into fandom as I was inspired by watching your interviews and speeches. I memorised your TEDtalk, I aspired for the Tufts MALD program, I rattled off your remarkable achievements in casual conversations ; so much so, that my friends started referring to me whenever they heard or read your name. You were my idol.

And then you decided to enter Indian politics. That decision gave millions of people, like me, hope that our rotting political system can change. You were our ideal MP – highly educated global thinker, eloquent speaker and a seasoned politician; a combination of competency, experience and integrity rarely seen before in Indian politics. Regardless of which party’s ticket you ran with, people would have voted for you in 2009 – as evidenced by your thumping margin of victory despite being an outsider to Thiruvananthapuram politics.

But 2014 is a whole new ballgame.

The mood of the country has changed, hopefully irrevocably. Over the last few years, the UPA and most state governments, across party lines, have engaged in open and blatant abuse of power. Corruption, nepotism, misgovernance and votebank politics have become alarmingly routine. But, more importantly, the emergence of a strong media determined to showcase stunning exposés and the mass awakening against corruption, led by Anna Hazare, has led to dizzying levels of political awareness in India. People want change. We will oppose identity politics, we will reject dynastic politics, and most of all, we will punish brazen corruption. You, of all Parliamentarians, should recognise this trend and join us in eliminating these archaic and immoral practices.

But, these days, the more I listen to your interviews, hear your speeches and read your tweets, the more it seems you have lost your once fiercely independent voice. Before you joined Indian politics, you have openly criticised the Congress Party, its “true dynastic tradition”1 and its corrupt core. In your book, From Midnight to Millennium, while recollecting Rajiv Gandhi’s term you wrote that after a promising campaign, “the rot set in…Compromise followed sellout as New Delhi returned to business as usual” [1] as this government too was charged with massive corruption. Do you honestly believe that Sonia Gandhi, the woman you are so loyal to now, and the other Congress stalwarts who continue to rule today, were not involved in what you yourself call, the “sellout”? Yet, just last month, despite the deluge of corruption scandals over the last few years, you unambiguously defended the UPA’s term harping on outdated phrases and a spasm of extravagant statistic-listing in The Indian Express [2]. You call India a “thriving, entrepreneurial and globalised economy”, when inflation, investment levels, balance of payments, the Rupee’s value and other key economic indicators have all worsened exponentially. You declare that the UPA is responsible for substantial employment generation, despite The Economic and Political Weekly and even a government study terming these numbers grossly exaggerated [3] [4]. You even go so far as to state that “the UPA governance has changed the face of our society”. Yes, Dr. Tharoor, it has. And the face of our society is mutilated beyond recognition.

Please realise that every day you continue to endorse and defend the Congress Party, you lose your own moral high ground and become part of the herd of mindless politicians this country has unfortunately elected. It is, quite frankly, insulting to see educated ministers not having the courage and honesty to admit obvious lapses in governance and then absolve the UPA government of all corruption cases without trial. It is, quite frankly, embarrassing to see experienced parliamentarians, including yourself, acting like court sycophants, falling over each other to praise ‘Rahul baba’, a man with no notable experience or achievement [5]. Let the other obsequious partymen sacrifice their self-respect and dignity at the altar of the Nehru-Gandhi family. You, Sir, deserve more. You have accomplishments of your own throughout your glittering career as a diplomat. You deserve respect from common people like me. And we need educated, independent and sensible voices in Parliament. Please do not sacrifice our hopes of change by succumbing to the Congress disease of sycophancy and dynastic politics.

I do not ask you to jump into the Modi camp either. It doesn’t need extensive research to know that you are ideologically against what the BJP stands for. I am no fan of the BJP; I believe the BJP has been a grossly irresponsible opposition party guilty of insulting Parliament through regular disruptions and corruption at the state-level on countless occasions. As a Bangalorean, I was thrilled when the BJP lost the Karnataka elections last year. Because it proved to me, as it did to you, that Indian voters were ready to punish, in your own words, “flagrant financial malfeasance…charges of nepotism and crony capitalism, real-estate and mining scandals, policy paralysis” [6]. But in your Project Syndicate article, you took that premise and somehow managed to come to the conclusion that it bodes well for the Congress. You are far too experienced a politician for me to expect that you do not recognise the massive failures of the UPA government, or the current political climate against the UPA. The Congress-led central government is guilty of everything the BJP-led Karnataka government was, but on a larger, more devastating scale.

I do not discount your significant contributions as Member of Parliament, Foreign Minister and Human Resource Minister. But as a well-wisher and a patriot, this is my plea: please, leave the Congress Party.

Contest as an independent and voice your independent opinion in parliament. Continue all the good work you have been doing in your constituency [7]. I have heard first-hand that Thiruvananthapuram has changed for the better since 2009 because of your active and sensible leadership. Continue raising India’s international profile using your invaluable experience as a former UN diplomat. Your proactivity and sensitivity as Foreign Minister was instrumental in nurturing important diplomatic relationships with states across the world as evidenced by numerous testimonies [8]. Continue contributing to our policymaking in Parliamentary committees. Your initiatives have found support across party lines primarily because your reasoning is backed by a career of political and developmental expertise. And finally, continue giving us hope that capable and honest individuals can exist in Parliament. In fact, beyond setting an example, you could lead the charge and promote the idea to other qualified, educated, and most importantly, honest people across the country.

I have faith, Sir. I have faith in you and in our country. Millions of my peers do to. Please do not disappoint us.

Yours Sincerely,
A well-wisher, desperate for change in India.

Back to the Basics: The Game of Elections

The election is a game for the politicians. It is a competition for them which they have to win. But lets not get mistaken, it is a game for us too: We have to use our one vote to ensure the best possible outcome according to our perspective. This responsibility does not end at choosing who you want the winner to be and voting for him, but requires you to generate a ranking of the candidates in order of preference and calculate who your vote should go to backwards.

Those familiar with economics will recognize my attempt at explaining the basics of Game Theory. But to understand the need for this we must first understand how elections take place in India and what are the implications.

I am sure all of us are aware of the absolute basics: The country is divided into 543 constituencies which are suppose to be roughly equal in terms of their population. Each of these constituencies elects a representative. This representative need not even achieve a simple majority (i.e. 50%); as long as he has more votes than any other single candidate he will be given the seat in the Parliament. For example, if there are 3 people running from a constituency and the vote share is divided in the ratio 25%, 35% and 40%, the candidate with 40% will be declared the winner. This is called First-past-the-post voting (FPTP).

What does such a mechanism imply? It can result in skewed representation. For example in the 2012 UP state elections SP (Samajwadi Party) received 29.3% of vote share and were allocated 226 seats in the assembly out of 403, where as BSP (Bahujan Samay Party), who received 25.9% of the vote share were allocated only 80 seats. This happened because the SP won several seats against the BSP over a very small margin. Thus while BSP received considerable votes overall, they were thwarted in individual battles and thus annihilated in the war in the world of FPTP.

This may seem like an unfair mechanism, specially when compared to the proportional representation method. But that is a debate for another blog post. What I would like to discuss is what the voter should do.

up-elections

Let us imagine that the people who voted for BJP would rather have BSP if their only other option was SP. Their strategy should be obvious: Instead of voting for BJP, who anyway did not have a chance of coming to power, they should have voted for their next best choice which was BSP. If we assume that in each constituencies the vote share was identical to the state level data, then with the transfer of BJPs 15% to BSP, the party would be propelled to number one status with almost 41% of the vote share. Thus the BJP supporters might not get their first choice, but at least they would not be stuck with their 3rd or 4th one.

This example is obviously simplified using several assumptions, but the principle remains the same. At the central election level this effect can be observed with Modi being portrayed as the PM candidate for BJP. While Congress’ abysmal performance has lost them support, voters who fear Modi more will fall back to Congress which is the only credible force to stop BJP. The same applies to people who fear another five-year reign of Congress: Recognizing this possibility they will leave their regional parties and flock to Modi (also discussed in Back to the Basics: Polarising Mr Modi).

The FPTP system often has the effect of bringing the war down to two parties. Understanding the system is important or your vote may actually count for nothing.

A Statement of Purpose

A considerable amount has been written about the role social media will play in the 2014 elections, and perhaps the single most cited document has been this report by the Iris Knowledge foundation in conjunction with the Internet and Mobile Association of India. If you have not read about it elsewhere, I will summarize the main conclusion for you here: 160 of the 543 constituencies which will participate in the 2014 elections are ‘High Impact’ by dint of their social media presence. In these ‘High Impact’ constituencies, one of these two criteria are met:

1)    Facebook users constitute more than 10% of the voting population, OR

2)    The number of Facebook users is greater than the margin of victory of the winning candidate in the last Lok Sabha election.

So why ‘High Impact’? What exactly is the perceived impact? Well the term itself is predicated on the idea that Facebook can function as more than just a venue for chit-chat, but as a conduit to persuasive information at other sources. How many of you arrived at this page through a link on Facebook? How many have had an opinion swayed by something you saw here? Thus it is argued that the amount of traction a candidate in a ‘High Impact’ constituency can gain through avenues like Facebook will be a crucial, perhaps decisive, factor in their poll performance. The things conveyed by them, and about them, can transform their reputation, and it is in recognition of this that candidates like Narendra Modi have established firm digital footprints.

The report makes for optimistic reading. It goes on to note that as a result of the Internet age, 2014’s electorate will be have more raw information at their disposal than any electorate in India’s past, and thus will be able to make more considered choices. The logic of more social media equals more information equals better decisions seems almost infallible. Indeed, it is a romantic and empowering thought to believe that the most democratic form of media in existence will decide the largest democratic process in the world. Social media can be a venue, now, for fist-pumping, power-to-the-people electioneering. But there remain skeptics as to how effective this may actually be. Sadanand Dhume’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal throws cold water on any premature fires, and suggests that potential and reality are still bridges apart. He says, “In a country where voting often breaks down by caste or religion, there’s no evidence to suggest that any voter’s primary identity is ‘Facebook user’ or ‘Twitter follower.’ And going by precedent, India’s middle class is more adept at squabbling over politics at a dinner party than actually showing up to vote, much less at organizing and campaigning.” If history were anything to be counted on, Dhume has a point here. The urban middle class, which unsurprisingly accounts for the majority of India’s internet users, has been notoriously apathetic in election times. Earlier this year, when the state of Karnataka voted to elect a new government, overall voter turnout was at 70 percent, but in Bangalore – the country’s technology hub, and one of the most densely connected cities in the world – voter turnout was a little more than 50 percent. This malady is not Bangalore’s alone but every major Indian cities’. There is a marked translation gap between the chai-time opinions of the urban voter, and his appearance at the voting booth. So why should we believe that the netizens of India will be truly ‘High Impact’ in the elections of 2014? To put it differently, why should a blog like this one be optimistic about what it can achieve?

Well, for one thing, the Indian electorate has never been younger. It is predicted that there will be 800 million voting-age Indians in 2014, and a record number will be between the ages of 18-25. And not to say that the internet is a young man’s game, but more than 60 percent of India’s internet users are below the age of 30. Further encouragement comes from the fact that the most prominent youth rallies to be organized in the past year, have used the internet as their preferred mode of gathering support. The anti-rape protests in Delhi show that, if nothing else, social media has caused an awakening to activism in segments that may otherwise have stood still. It galvanizes opinion in a direct, participatory manner that is beyond the reach of traditional forms of media. More than that, it amplifies dissatisfaction and unrest. The question of whether the urban Indian will vote in next year’s election is, in a way, the same as asking how much dissatisfaction is necessary to breed a small amount of action. Rest assured, the Internet will ask that question several times.

Youth voting is habit-forming. Youths that vote once will more than likely do it again, and more than likely insist that their friends and families do it too. This one axiom of Indian politics has seemingly eluded the urban psyche for many years: if you vote in larger numbers, then politicians will take you more seriously. With the amplifier effect of the Internet, perhaps this election will finally buck the trend.

Still, however forceful this effect is, however much it may fall short of its potential, there remains an important, symbolic role for social media to play, one that extends far beyond change-mongering. It stems from the fact that, today, an inordinate amount of scrutiny is given to the way Indians exert their freedom of speech, especially online. Suketu Mehta, in his op-ed in the New York Times, details the tenuous status of this most basic civil liberty, and further brings to light the callous distrust the government holds for the average Indian opinionator. Section 66A of the IT act criminalizes “causing annoyance or inconvenience” via online or electronic medium – a wide net, it would seem, certainly one that traps many dissenters on the basis of their targets rather than their actual words. If the curbing of free speech is a sign of an immature democracy, then it stands to reason that it’s in the exercise of free speech that a democracy matures. But is this as straightforward as it sounds? Scroll through the Youtube comments on an India-Pak cricket match, and it is only so long before you stumble upon a death threat against Muslims. These instances, isolated as they are, still provide a strong argument for the policing of the Internet. There is the prevailing global opinion that this is a culture not yet primed to handle the responsibility of free speech. It is here that the opportunity presents itself for social media, independent outlets such as this one, to prove it possible to exercise free speech in a conscientious, diligent manner. By doing so, we are building up credibility for two democracies at once – India and the Internet are both characterized by pockets of infantile behavior, but we should never let this mask the sheer power of their potential. If freedom of speech truly exists in India, it needs to be flexed most at a time when the future of the country is being decided.

As happens every five years, the Indian General Elections of 2014 will renew its record as the largest democratic process the world has ever seen. Through outlets such as this one, you will expose yourself to opinions and ideologies that may be close to home or may be alien to you. You will be exposed to information, more information than an Indian voter has ever had the privilege of. Respect this privilege, especially if you are a first-time voter. What we write here may make you think twice and reconsider your stands, but it’s a responsibility we’ve taken on to give you opinions. Yours, plainly, is the responsibility to decide.

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