In the annals of Indian politics, it is often said that the road to Delhi passes through the state of Uttar Pradesh. With 80 MPs, UP accounts for a lion share in the Lok Sabha. And it doesn’t end there, the state also sends 31 members to Rajya Sabha, thus, winning is important in UP, in case you desire to rule India.
Not surprisingly then, UP also accounts for the maximum Prime Ministers who fought from a constituency in the state, namely, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Choudhary Charan Singh, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Atal Behari Vajpayee and now even Narendra Modi. In a sense of terms, UP is like the steering-wheel of Indian politics, he (or she) who controls UP, can steer the politics of this nation in his/her wake.
Little wonder then, winning the election in UP was extremely critical for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Coming bang in the middle of his term, he could not afford to be lax about it. Over the past two years, the aura around PM Modi had waned a bit, with his hands tied up in Rajya Sabha; the NDA government was unable to push its reform agenda as it would have wished. The constant chitter-chatter of intolerance was also taking a toll; he was being pulled for all promises. Even allies like Shiv Sena were not missing an opportunity to jibe at him.
In the past, two state elections had exposed BJP’s Achilles Heel. The first one was in Delhi, where an overconfident BJP received a severe drubbing and stoked the ambitions of Arvind Kejriwal. The second one was Bihar elections, where a Nitish-Lalu Mahagatbandhan was able to stall the Modi juggernaut. The losses in Bihar and Delhi emboldened the opposition, and PM Modi was seemingly much weaker than the ‘loh purush‘ image that he projects.
In the midst of this melee came a must-win UP elections. For PM Modi it was almost a battle of survival and of relevance. A loss in UP, would not only give a boost to the opposition but would also have the demurred party-wallahs start questioning the “my way or the highway” approach of the PM. Modi had little option, but to win UP and win it big.
This is the reason, why Amit Shah and his team shifted bag, baggage and bunker to UP, and worked tirelessly for months and months before the elections. The blueprint for UP was constructed on numerous pegs, right from caste arithmetic to development politics; the whole campaign was mounted on a grand scale. Here’s a primer to how story of lotus-blossom unfolded in UP:
The great gamble of demonetization
One of the biggest rallying points for the opposition parties, including Congress and rest was the black money issue. In the run-up to the general election in 2014, the BJP in many ways had overplayed the black-money bogey promising impossible things like 15 lakhs in each person’s account to give a size of the problem. Yet, while the figure was notional, it was used a baton to whack BJP and especially PM Modi every now and then. “Where’s the black money in my account?” had become a common jibe by the opposition party leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Mamta Banerjee and so on.
Even though the government had put in measures to deal with black money, the public perception was building against them. PM Modi had to do something big and monumental to truly shift this impression. This was especially more critical as in the UP elections, there was nothing significant to showcase to the populace. It was in this regards that the PM brought in the demonetization on November 8, 2016. By presenting the exercise as a war on black money and corruption, the PM was able to create a narrative that worked with the common populace. While the whole nation was troubled by the sudden annulment of 86% of existing currency, the fact that a leader was doing something seemed to have mattered more for the layman. The fact that PM’s personal integrity is rated quite high, helped shaped the narrative well. The opposition were in disarray, knowing not how to react or whom to attack. By turning the demonetization debate personal, politicians like Mamta Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi played into the hands of Modi. No more, were we discussing the logic, rationale or economics, but using exaggerated adjectives to debunk it. This turned the whole discussion into a “Us” versus “Them”, in which the public sympathy was with the man who was taking on all the rich and powerful. Continue reading
At the very onset, before we move even move an inch, here are some current statistics on India for some ready consumption:
- Real GDP growth – 7.1% (vs. 6.9% year earlier) *link
- Inflation – 3.17% in Jan’17 (the lowest ever) *link
- Foreign Exchange Reserves – $360 bn (vs. $294 bn in Mar 14) *link
- Net FDI flows – $46 bn (up by 18%) *link
- Current account deficit – $22.1 bn (down from -$26.8 bn last year) *link
- Fiscal deficit (% of GDP) – 3.2% (vs. 3.99% last year) *link
- Competitive Index – 4.52 points out of 7 (the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report) *link
- Per capita income – Rs. 103818 (vs. 94178 last year) *link
- Financial inclusion – 260 million PMJDY accounts in Dec’16 *link
- LPG for Poor – 5 lakh new connections given to poor *link
And to top it all, in November 2016, the Indian government undertook a step that not only surprised its own citizen, but flabbergasted the world. It demonetized the high-currency notes (1000 & 500) that accounted for over 80% of total market cuurency circulation. Everything went into a tizzy, there were serpentine queues, there were issues of liquidity, yet, the government kept working on it, and within a span of 90-days, things were all normal. Not to forget, they were normal and Digital.
Sone ki chidiya?
In fact, after a flurry of global economist debunking demonetization or predicting doom, things have much changed. There is a growing consensus that if the requisite complementary actions towards digitization are undertaken, demonetization could actually accelerate the shift to a cashless — thereby transparent and yes, less corrupt — society. Recently, the Secretary General of Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria came all out in support of demonetization. “India has been a star performer in gloomy times. We do not have many cases of 7% growth (GDP). It is a top reformer among all the G-20 countries” he stated at an event.
Even on the foreign policy, India seems to be doing fairly well. China’s all caught up in the South China Sea, in North Korea, or back home, to really bother about us. Pakistan, well, it is there and will be. Russia is busy in the US, Europe is stagnating, so is South Asia, and President Trump is doing wonderful things in the US. Our influence and our equity has improved under the current government’s watch.
Now given all these facts and stats, one would naturally assume that Indians would be smug about themselves, happy, proud, ecstatic if not outright boisterous celebrations with Old Monk and Thumbsup.
Right? Right? RIGHT?
Rather strangely, No! Now imagine, if you were a tourist who’s come down to India, and wants to get a feel of things from news channels, print papers and digital medium about the mood of the nation. Well, in case you did, it would depress the daylights out of you. All that is there to read and watch are things about all these poor students that are being viciously attacked, daughters of martyrs are being threatened with rape, celebs that troll, ministers that patronize, I mean, generally, all things would seem so murky, sad and disconcerting. Suddenly, the India that the stats above extol, and the India that is represented is in absolute contrast to each other. So, while we celebrate the multiplicity of god, have we Indians also discovered the multiplicity of truth?
Of all the strange things that monkeys do, there’s this one trait that still takes the cake, sniffing — you know — sniffing their own bottoms. A lot many monkeys (apes, etc) have been observed with such a deplorable trait, putting their finger in the bum and then sniffing at it. Usually it ends in a disaster or disgust, like it did here. But no one has been able to fathom, why they actually do it. I mean, all is good, hunky-dory, and they’d put the finger there, sniff it and suffer.
Now, I believe, there’s this one trait that a few-many humans are inclined with. After all, we aren’t all that genetically different from our butt-sniffing cousins. There’s this chance that a quite a few of those habituated ones are currently residing in India and by sheer serendipity of life, are now at top positions in the media business, fashioning the outlook and the slant of the society with their morbidity. From their perch on the top, these ravens of despondency, relentlessly croak their views spreading all melancholy around.
And if that wasn’t enough, quite a few of these human-chimp sniffers can also be found on the social media sites, writing poignant messages or tweeting scathing masterpieces. Continue reading
First things first; let’s say a small prayer to whatever powers that be — up there and down under — that Lion didn’t win any ‘Oscars’ at the 89th Academy Awards. The Dev Patel starrer had been nominated for 5 of them, namely, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Music, Best Writing, and Best Cinematography. Thankfully it won none.
Had this movie won any awards at the Academy Awards, we would have been badgered with “Indian-ness”, despite the fact that the movie is produced by a foreign studio, directed and helmed by a foreign crew and even the actors (except for a few tit-bits and the chief protagonist) are all foreigners.
Yet, the foreign DNA of the film is not why I wish the film the failed, there’s no pseudo nationalism at work. The reason, I harbour such feelings is, because undoubtedly Lion is a much below-par movie. The whole excitement around it has taken me by surprise. Built largely on the Slumdog Millionaire construct, Lion is purported to be a true-story. Sadly it is little else but a stereotypical production that lacks empathy or understanding on the topic or the people that it portrays.
Ostensibly, Lion is a tale of a 7-year-old boy named Saroo as he gets separated from his family and brother, travels some 1200 kms unknowingly across India before landing in Kolkata, and is finally adopted by a set of parents in Tasmania, Australia. After a gap of 25 years, Saroo Brierley traces back his past on Google Earth and reunites with his family. This is an epic journey that has its bearings in truth.
In real life, Saroo retraced his steps in the sleepy town of Khandwa in 2012, and his story was well covered by the media at large, from BBC to Times of India, everyone featured this extraordinary human tale of emotions and resolution.
Now, as any astute person, Saroo decided to cash on the new-found fame and he quickly penned a book on his own journey, ‘A Long Way Home’. The book was published in 2013, and by 2016, Lion was released. It was all done in a jiffy, so as to speak.
While I have yet to read the book, I did watch the film and it really stuck me as another Schadenfreude Millionaire tale that had appeared on screen some years back. What essentially befuddles me is the manner in which India is still portrayed especially by international film-makers; a shoddy, poor, dirty, degraded place where crime and criminals abound. Continue reading
Thomas Friedman is a journalist/author who is not really an exceptional journalist or an exceptional author. He has won a few Pulitzer prizes, but he is not popular because of them. His claim to fame is a rather elementary named book, titled, ‘The World is Flat’. Published in 2005, it is quite a simple book talking about the state of affairs of the world, especially in connection with globalization. The book speaks of how the world is coming together as one big place from Denver to Dalian to Bangalore. It was meant to be a chronicle of our times, and a sort of prognosis of the things that are yet to come. Friedman reaped rich rewards from his book, traveling across the globe, giving talks and discussing the subject.
When the book came out, there was much fanfare around it. The book seemed to propose a hypothesis, no less significant, than say E=MC² or better still, like the discovery of New World by Msieu. Columbus.
The book spoke about a new globalized inter-connected world where information, people, money and even ideas moved across at breathtaking speed. It was a world where, kids in the US had to be wary of growing up in a world, where kids in India or China could easily replace them. The world was being progressively flattened, and there was little to do to prevent the eventuality.
It has been a decade since Friedman came up with book and much water has flown in the Mississippi River or the Yangtze or even the Ganges since then to erode the beautiful facade of ‘flatness’. I recall listening to all a talk by Friedman, which he gave in Mumbai at NASSCOM summit. In it, he spoke about how times had changed from the past, when American kids would leave food on the plate and their parents would chide them, “spare a thought for the hungry millions in India”. And now, when the kids are disinclined to study, the current parents warn their kids, “be scared of the learning millions in India”. Honestly, my heart swelled with happiness at the prospect of living in a world where nationality did not dictate your destiny. We could be anyone, we wanted, so long as we wanted it hard enough. The future indeed seemed rosy and bright, during such times.
Cut to today, and I chanced upon the latest vitriol by Republican presidential nominee (and possibly — god forbid, would-be American President) Donald Trump, wherein he blamed India, China and Mexico for the “greatest jobs theft” in the history of the world. According to him, Indians and other nationals were gobbling up American jobs. Indians were no more a threat, but rather scheming thieves that stole and cheated. Now how could that narrative change so quickly? What happened to that ‘flat world’ that was meant to be equal for all Continue reading
To be honest, there can hardly be a bigger high on this planet than winning the Olympic Medal. Competing against the very best athletes in the world, it takes a hell lot more from an individual to make it to the podium. In that regards, the dramatic win of a 23-year-old Indian lady from Rohtak is nothing short of spectacular. It was a fabulous treat to have a charged-up Sakshi Malik taken on Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova in a dramatic finish in the 58kg freestyle wrestling category, winning the bout and finally opening India’s medal account.
The excitement and buzz that the win generated is fairly understandable, the #SakshiMalik hastag was trending on Twitter, you had all sorts of celebs that were toasting the young lady, right from PM Modi to our Olympic Ambassador Salman Khan (ohh sorry, @BeingSalmanKhan hasn’t found the time yet to congratulate Sakshi, possibly will, after his promotions of Freaky Ali are over). I even heard Sakshi’s mother on radio exploding into how the “bharat ki beti” had brought honour for the nation and Sakshi’s brother was like, this is the best “rakshabandhan gift”, et al.
From here on, the tale as it will unfold is fairly straight. As soon as Sakshi lands in India, there will be a whole lot of jubilation and celebration, she will ride out from the airport to shower of rose-petals, will be hosted by the PM and CM, granted land parcels, would be featured in adverts, and there might even be a film made on her struggle. And then, we also have another medal winner in PV Sindhu, who by the virtue of getting a gold/silver would be as joyously feted, in almost a templatised approach.
The trouble is that in all this euphoria, what will be forgotten is that it took a good fortnight and more for India to win a medal in an event, where you have 207 countries participating with over 11000 athletes in 306 events and 28 sports. A nation that aspires to be a global power; will shortly be the most populous country on the face of the world, cannot even manage to reach the finals of most events, let alone win a medal. If one looks at the performance of the Indian athletes, it will be a very long-list “Did Not Qualify”. The fact, that a Dipa Karmakar had to attempt a death-defying Produnova move to reach the 4th position, speaks volumes of how ill-equipped Indian athletes are. And yet, every 4 years, India continues to send a bigger and more bigger sports contingent to these Olympics. This year, in fact, India had the biggest contingent of all nations. And yet, where do we stand on the medals tally, at 71 right now, with even countries like Kenya, Jamaica, Indonesia and even Mongolia ranked much higher (let’s not even take the name of our neighbour, whose name starts with a C). Continue reading
“Kya zaroorat hain itna zagmag se event karneka? Make In India simple se bhi to ho sakta hain” (What’s the need for all this extravagance, the Make In India event could have been arranged in simple manner), the elderly sort of man sitting right next to me in the autorickshaw blurted out. It had been a tenuous Monday morning since the auto-wallahs in Mumbai had gone on a flash strike; making the task of finding an auto no less than one of one of Hercules labor. After much consternation and time, had landed myself in a share-auto to BKC, along with two other gentleman who had squeezed in. The fact that all of us were agitated and angry was not surprising, after all when something as mundane as finding an auto becomes an ordeal, something as extraordinary as a Make In India Week (MIIW) seems completely unnecessary. Thus on spotting a green colour media pass for MIIW dangling from my neck, the gentleman in the hard-won share-auto could not help comment. “Auto strike to rokh naheen paya, phir itna bada nautanki kyun?” (The administration could not stall the auto strike, so what is the real need for such an event).
As I alighted the auto and walked past the huge crimson red pavilion with the words “Make In India Centre” emblazoned in huge golden letters, with flags of very many nations fluttering in the foreground, I was thought over the words of the man and was reminded of an anecdotal parable we often share about the way Indians function. It’s the one that has an open dish and Indian cockroaches within it. None escapes, because no sooner one tries to climb out, the rest gang up and pull him down. Somehow, that anecdote seemed apt to me. It seems that we Indians seem to have a problem with success, especially when it is of our very own. We find it hard to digest, to come to terms with it. So we lash out at it, debunk it, call it useless, futile, nautanki, etc.. That is a typical way in which many react in India. But this trend has exacerbated with the coming the PM Narendra Modi. Everything now is perceived from a political prism, thus, if you don’t agree with him, everything he does has to be negative. So what if it is Skill India or Make In India?
The best instance of this bias could be seen in the way the media in general covered the event. The fourth estate largely avoided talking about the event, or when they did it were the negative aspects were highlighted. So the fire at one of the Make In India event became a talking point. There were talks about mismanagement, the lack of coordination by the organisers, the absence of non-NDA states, and then was all the talk about the quantum of MOUs signed and how much would be realised. These were the things that were talked about, not the fact how many attended or what was on display.
Looking beyond the extravagance
Strangely, jamboree was the appellation that the MIIW has been dubbed by the media at large. The event that was spread over a week, and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, has either been ignored or spoken in a blithe manner. The term jamboree (essentially means a large congregation or party; extravagant and lavish. Usually, a boisterous affair.) is symbolic of that mindset, a perspective that has been tinged with ignorance
or naivety. Anyone who visited the event would vehemently argue over the term of reference. The scope and spread of MIIW cannot be expressed as jamboree; it is much beyond those trivial description that hinge largely on size and scale.
But before we come to the very core of what MIIW was, let’s do touch upon its most talked aspect; the size. Indeed, it was one of the most impressive event in terms of scale. Spread over 2,30,000 sq. mt of prime land in Bandra Kurla Complex, there were 27 air-conditioned pavilions that were erected in crimson red.
“Abbé aee— first class hain, First. Chal peeche waala dabba mein ja,” (this is first class, go to the compartment behind) is a common refrain that can be heard in the suburban trains of Mumbai day after day. Depending on the time of the day, the tone and the tenor of the words change; it will be irritated and scruff in the mornings and evenings during the peak hours when space is at a premium and it will be calm and brotherly during the afternoon, or late at night when there is much space around.
In 10 cases out of 10, the admonishment above would have been uttered and directed at a person based on how he looks and what he wears. If a man is a short, black fella with oil in his hair and in chappals or slippers, if he is wearing faded shirt and a worn out pant, if he carrying a common bag on his back, a cheap mobile in his pocket; he (don’t know if it happens in a she-compartment) is most likely to be reprimanded so, and reminded of his status in the scheme of trains. In most cases, the man uttering this phrase is right in his judgement, as ridiculed one would look around confused and dazed, and would scamper out to squeeze himself in the ‘other compartments’ meant for him. In this way the ‘premium’ness of the First Class is assiduously protected. And rightfully too, after all the fares of the First Class are around thrice and more of the Second Class, there are just 3 coupes of First in a train of 12. This economic barrier is what ensures that a corporate executive travels to work comfortably while reading news from a pink paper, and poor peon hanging for his life and trying not to become one.
Honestly speaking, there is no real physical difference between the First and Second Class in the suburban trains, at least no discernible one. Both arrive at the station simultaneously, the interiors are the same, and so are the exteriors. Even the seats are the same, and the pattern of seating. It is not as if, after paying a premium you are showered with fresh scented air, or extra leg space or something. Neither do you have the privilege to disembark first or something, like you have in planes. In fact, travelling in either class is the same, what really changes is kind of gentry, and so the attitude of the traveller based on his or her perceptions. Thus, a First Classer is much gruff around with his personal space, they will only seat 3 on a seat that on a supposed to seat 3, unlike in the Second Class, where they always ‘adjust’ 4, and even more based on size of the occupants. Continue reading
Holidays hold a special place in an Indian’s life, especially the corporate worker. In addition to the CLs, PLs, and the MLs, Indians are also thankful to the many gods and great men who decided to take birth, marry or die on this land; resulting in a fairly decent number of extr’olidays. And then, when it is not the gods, the politicians are always pliant. So, we have a good set of forced holidays brought about by different outfits under the garb of Bharat Bandh et al.
But Wednesday, 30th March falls under a very special category. It is neither a festival, nor any great men (women too) were born, died or anything on this day and finally no political outfit has declared it as Bandh-day. Yet, across the length and breadth of this nation, work will come to a standstill this day, precisely from 2.30 pm onwards, as the Indian cricket team face off with its not-so friendly neighborhood rivals Pakistan. As the game gets going, millions of Indians will be glued to the television screen, cheering, screaming, ranting and raving, as every ball is pitched up on the 22-yard strip.
The match has put companies in India on a dicey wicket. Since, the fiscal-year closing is looming large, there is just too much of stuff that needs be done. On the other hand, it is only but natural that employees will be following the match ball per ball.
To resolve this dilemma, companies across the board have adopted different measures and means, while some have given a day off, the others are putting up screens and offering pizza to all the employees at the workplace itself. Companies like Reliance Infrastructure have given a day off, while others like Axis Bank, Bharti Axa General Insurance, Future Media, Cadbury India and Future Bazaar will work half day. Continue reading
Yet again IT and Telecom minister A Raja has announced a new date of introduction of the MNP (Mobile Number Portability) facility. Accordingly, the service will be rolled out in 11 cities across the country, and the first place to have the service is Haryana. The service in the rest of the 11 cities is said to be implemented by December 20.
Now, the fabled MNP, that basically lets you retain your cell number ever as you change the mobile operators (for a fee of course) has been a hotly debated and argued subject in the Indian telecom space. According to many analysts, the introduction of MNP will truly be a game-changer. Not surprisingly then, that the status-quoist well-entrenched telecom operators, who are accustomed to adding a few million more subscribers month on month, are dragging their feet on the same.
Little wonder, we already have missed 3 deadlines for the launch of the service. MNP deadline had previously been set to December 31, 2009, then to March 31, 2010 and later to June 30, 2010. But time and again, it was found that the operators were not ready with the proper infrastructure to support this facility.
In between, PSU major BSNL, made much fanfare about its readiness and spoke about the launch on November 1, 2010. But then, that did not happen either and now we all await November 25 and the government will be coming out with detailed guidelines and advertisements on the same pretty soon.
So now that MNP is all set to be a reality, should we uncork that Champagne? Well, you could if you want to drink the Champagne, but wait a bit if you want to celebrate the coming of MNP. Remember that old adage, or rather, let me remind you of two: Many slip between the cup and the lip and the devil is in the detail. Continue reading
In what could be termed as upping the ante in the war for smart phone dominance, Apple, the iPhone-maker decided to sue Motorola, the Droid-maker for patent infringements. According to reports filtering in, Apple has filed a suit based on six counts with the patents it holds on “smart phones and associated software, including operating systems, user interfaces, and other application software designed for use on, and loaded onto such devices.” The move does not come as a surpise since, Motorola had filed a suit against Apple last month on 3 counts of patent infringement.
The main bone of contention is touch. Apple, not surprisingly, is fairly touchy about touch technology and now since most companies be it RIM or Blackberry or even Motorola, are coming out with phones that let users do similar and more stuff like that of iPhone, Apple is trying hard to protect it’s turf.
Over the past few quarters, Apple has made it fairly clear that it will not shy from taking a legal recourse when it comes to technology, thus, when a few months back it had sued HTC, CEO Steve Jobs had stated, “We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.” Continue reading
‘The mountains are Vishnu’s bones, clouds are the hairs on his head, the air is his breathing, rivers are his veins, trees are the hairs of his body, the sun and the moon are his two eyes and the passage of day and night is the moving of his eyelids.’
– Rig Veda
From the time when I boarded an aircraft over a decade ago, have been fascinated by the sights that one comes across from the tiny glass pane up in the sky. It is nothing less than magical to see giant bridges turn into tiny dots, long railways transform into an micro-toy trains and looming sky scrapers mere indentures on the landscape. Even after scores of trips over the Indian map and other ones, I still take the window seat and keep peeping out, as if there is something else that might just come up. Or it could be someone as well, like say, God. After all doesn’t he (she or even it) lives in the heavens. I have been keeping a watch out for him as well, because looking beneath at the wonderful creation that more or less fits on my palm, my belief in his existence is reaffirmed.
To-date, my most memorable journey was the one I took from Mumbai to Newark, non-stop. The American Airlines plane, to cut the route short, flies over Asia and Europe to the North Pole and then descends over the American hemisphere via Canada. I spent hours peering out in the darkness of the North Pole, could somehow feel the chill of the immense block of ice and the moon kept me company in the vigil. The fact that almost a century and more back there were so many valiant explorers who were racing to the find the North Pole to plant a flag. So many perished in the endeavour and so many just disappeared. And here I was their descendant, flying over the Pole in the comfort of a cosy cabin munching on cashews and sipping wine.
Here is one such journey I made, albeit much shorter and in daylight: fromMumbai to Delhi, on Indigo Flt 6E382. As I was looking out of the window as usual, random thoughts kept popping into my mind (as usual again), with a small difference though, this time I had a pen and paper on which I could jot down whatever came to my mind. This post is a chronicle of the same mind that was travelling at 100s of Kms per hour. Here it goes:
- The captain makes an announcement; “Welcome onboard, we are flying at 37000 feet . The place is near Ahmadabad. It almost seems like am flying over the Indian map. Continue reading