Were we duped by Donald?

It’s been 100 days with Donald J Trump as the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) — a 100 very long days. And while there’s much debate/discussion on the achievements of the orangish president with huge hands across the world — right from his travel ban on Muslims to his dropping bombs on Muslim countries — the Indian state seems to have been caught in a Catch-22 situation. You see, Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman, had raised many hopes of a recharged Indo-US strategic relationship. He Trump Duped India_5claimed himself to be a fan of Hindus, an admirer of Modi, not to mention his takes in Indian real estate market, all these pointed to a rosy future.

But 100 days on, there seems to have been little movement on the ‘dosti’ front. The US continues to be ambivalent on India, there has not been much change in the relationship, be it on the economic or political front. So, the big question is whether India should celebrate the 100 days of President Trump or just clutch its head in despair, like much else of the world is doing?

India-US Bhai-Bhai?

Much as people would like to believe, India has never had a real good “Howdee Pardner” kind of a relationship US. The last time an Indian premier had a great thing going on with the US leadership was when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was in office and Jackie Kennedy was in the house, the Whitehouse. But then, Nehruji took a left turn and went all gooey with the Babushka lady from the North. And so, the subsequent American presidents were either ignorant or unsure of India. Also, the fact that our enemy-number-numero-uno (Pakistan, in case you forgot) just happened to forge a strategic tie-up with the Americans against the Hammer-Sickle alliance in Afghanistan, worked much against us. So, while our ageing Mig 21s, and 22s kept flying into the ground (oft times with the pilots still strapped within), the Pakistanis would somehow manage to procure a whole squadron of F16s that too, paid with American aid. Can anyone beat that?

In fact, the US-Paki bromance had reached such a level, that when India had to intervene to stop the genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh now), the mighty Seventh Fleet had set sail for the Indian Ocean to aid the beleaguered Pakis. Luckily for India, a tipsy Yahya Khan was the president of Pakistan and took them to their eventual defeat. But the fact remains, the Americans were on the Paki side on this one.

History is replete with instances of how the Americans have not really loved us. Right from Trump Duped India_6denying a place in the security council, to imposing economic sanctions after the nuclear tests; caught between the love of Islamabad and the scepticism of Beijing, New Delhi seemed to have mattered very less. In fact, between the years of 1978-2000, there was not a single US presidential visit to India, from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton.

And if our dalliance with the Soviets were not enough, our wily Chinese neighbours were no less. As the economic and military might of Beijing increased, the American was forced to choose the dragon over the tiger. Back in 1965, when the Chinese had attacked India, the Kennedy administration had even contemplated using the nuclear option against the Chinese. Apparently, in one of the meetings, President Kennedy had stated: “We should defend India, and therefore we will defend India.” By the turn of the century, the Americans had to apologize to Beijing to secure the release of a pilot that had been shot down while flying a spy plane over China. That’s how dramatic, the shift was post the Great Leap Forward under Mao Zedong that turned China into an economic powerhouse. The Chinese with their manufacturing might had turned the tables on India. The Great Wall kind of dictated the way US dealt with us.

There was a little thaw in the Indo-US relationship in the 90s though, with the collapse of the USSR and India’s economic liberalisation. With the global MNCs finding a large market opportunity in India, Uncle Sam suddenly seem to be aware of the country’s existence.  But even so, India was never the most favoured nation, say the way the Chinese or the Pakis were.

The Great Manipulator

So, now that was the case till recently;  the US was besotted by China, dating Pakistan, and our best friend Russia in the doldrums. During the tenure of PM Manmohan Singh, there was sufficient movement on the economic ties and Barrack Obama had landed here in Air Force One, it was not hunky-dory yet. And then, Narendra Modi was elected as a prime minister of India in 2014. The Modi Government deliberately moved away from the Trump Duped India_7Nehruvian policies, spurned the Russians and courted the US, openly. Meanwhile, in the US, the American Indian community was also gaining much economic might, with quite a few them in top administrative and corporate positions. As the might of the Indian diaspora grew, so did the importance. The grand show by PM Modi in Madison Square Garden was an indicator of that, a foreign PM filling up a stadium for his speech. Not surprisingly, all the anti-Indian lobbies or the senators went mute.

The US Presidential election in this light was an interesting one.  Over the past many years, there had been an opinion that the Republican Party was good for India (as it was pro-business and so pro-outsourcing) than the Democrats (pro-labour anti-others). The commonest example is how Bill Clinton imposed sanctions and George W Bush signed the Indo-US Nuclear deal. Yet, the Democrats enjoyed much Indian support in the US.  After all, it’s easy to support an illogical candidate, if you don’t have to vote for him and he is not going to rule over you.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton enjoyed much support from the community, and hence garnered good funding.

As the Republican candidate, Donald Trump was aware of the power and the influence of the Indian Diaspora and hence courted them openly. Remember the “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” campaign, or how Ivanka Trump celebrated Diwali at an Indian temple, the Republican campaign was decidedly pro-India.

But can you guess what excited Indians the most? It was not Trump’s love for India but the animosity to China. He promised that among the first things, he will do as a president was label China as a currency manipulator and impose trade sanctions. Now, wasn’t it Kautilya, who had stated that the enemy’s enemy is a friend. Trump was thus thought to be a great friend of India, so what if the world found him to be a fiend.

Good ol’ Trump was supposedly right-winger, and PM Modi was decidedly right-wing. Two ‘rights’ would always add to one big one. Right?

Apparently NOT.

The U-Turn President 

Any serious assessment of Trump’s first 100 days in office, would invariably throw up a cropper. From the Wall to Obama care, from a list of controversial appointments to an endless barrage of non-sensical statements on Twitter, there’s precious little for Trump to show in his report card. While none of that should be of concern to India, there’s actually one thing that does, or let’s make it two things. One is a U-turn and the other is a No-turn.

Let’s talk about the No-turn first. Among the many things that Trump promised in the run up to the presidency, one dealt with H1B Visas. Thanks to these special category of work Visas, thousands of Indian workers have got employment opportunities in the US. The Trump Duped India_4Indian IT industry especially has benefitted much, deploying scores and scores of low-paid software workers on highly-paid consultant jobs. This has been largely responsible for the boom in the $150 Bn Indian IT Services industry. With the Trump administration tightening the bolts on the H1B regime, the IT industry will be badly wounded. Little wonder then that ever since Trump has taken office, the stocks of Indian IT companies from Infosys, TCS, and even Wipro have been in the reds. Rather strangely, of all the promises made by Trump, the only one he is delivering on, will hurt India much, economically. He recently signed of an executive order on the issue and has promised more on that front. So much for Trump Sarkar!

Contrast it to the way Trump has capitulated in front the Chinese. Forget about all his threats of labelling China as a currency manipulator or imposing trade sanctions, Trump is going all goey-goey with Chinese President Xi Jinping, playing golf and eating chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago. In return for support on dealing with North Korean Kim Jong Un, Trump has done a complete ‘un’ on China. The dragon is back in the picture and the tiger is in hibernation.

If that was not enough, India also has to deal with a rather grumpy Russia. The Kremlin is not apparently happy in the manner in which India courted the Americans in the past decade, as the Russian influence declined. With a ‘Thou Brutus‘ kind of an approach, the Russians have been doing lambda with the Chinese. Like ex-flame, there’s a streak of revenge not too hard to discern.

Sadly for us, the counterweight to Russia has vanished. The US under Trump is a vacillating state, if not a vassal one.  Thus there’s a sort of ménage-a-trois of America, China, Russia which is kind of working against us. The funny part is, we can’t do a sh*t about it.

In the end, for all the euphoria the high profile “Indian” appointments, like Amul Thapar to top judicial post, Seema Verma as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Trump Duped India_2Medicaid Services, Nikki Haley as US envoy to the United Nations, President Trump has been copiously silent on the several attacks on Indian nationals and Americans of Indian origin in the US in the recent past with two people killed in suspected hate crimes.

The Trump administration even crossed the laxman-rekha on Kashmir, when it offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, something that India has strongly objected to in the past and has so again.

In spite of all the acrimony in past (denying him Visa), there was a palpable bonhomie between Barrack Obama and Narendra Modi. Something that seems to be completely missing between Modi and Trump. They might exchange pleasantries on Twitter or platitudes on telephone, but the warmth in the relationship is just not there.

At the culmination of these 100 days, Indians should wake up and smell some kadak-chai. We need to bolster ourselves like the American citizens for some 1300 more days of Trump.  Probably, Modi should now hold more stadium shows in the US, possibly even think about lending Amit Shah to the Republican Party to help them win the elections, they are so bound to lose. We need to do something, and it better be out of the box.  Else, going by the way these past hundred have, one thing is sure, they will be anything but “huge, tremendous and dangerous”. Let’s start praying to our gods people, if not anything else!

The Blueprint of the Saffron Sweep in UP Elections

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 Saffron Sweep UP_shashwatdc_1Shekhar, 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 Saffron Sweep UP_shashwatdc_5each 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

Concocting Dissent, Fomenting Despair

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 Manufacturing dissent_shashwatdc_2complementary 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?

Chimp sniffer

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

Thousand to Zilch: Why Indians are rejoicing the #WarOnBlackMoney

It is extremely rare for an Indian Prime Minister to make an address to the nation. Usually, when he (or she) does, something seriously is amiss. The last time, I recall, a Prime Minister making “an address to the nation” was in 2014, where a serious looking PM Manmohan Singh bid adieu to the nation. Thus, a PM’s address is a bad omen. Not surprisingly then, when PM Narendra Modi did the same on 8th November, you knew something was up, it was his first “address” in over 2 years in office. And sure it was. A modi-address-759dour looking PM then in the 20 mins made an announcement that sent the whole country in a tizzy. He announced a war on black money with almost immediate demonetization of 500 & 1000 Rupee notes. “The arrangement of buying and selling through existing 500 and 1000 notes will not be available. These will be just worthless piece of paper”.

Never before in the history of modern world, 86% of currency in circulation was turned into worthless in a matter of 2-3 hours. And this was done with absolute planning. The decision came out at 9 pm, and the 500 & 1000 notes ceased being a legal tender at 11.59 pm. In this time, the black money hoarders could do precious little to convert it into another assets like gold or other precious metal. While the government would circulate a completely new (500 & 2000) denomination notes, the banks would be closed for a day, there would be limits on withdrawals, and so many other dos and donts. Come to think of it, there was hardly another way to bring about such demonetization, it has to be hard and it had to be sudden.

Immediately after the announcement, people hit the streets trying to exchange the ubiquitous 500 and 1000 bucks, by making small purchases or things like that. But as the shutterstock_388023334word spread, the exchange stalled. No one was ready to touch the currency with a barge pole. Shopkeeperrs would smile indulgently on being offered these notes. Outside ATMs, there was a huge queue of people, withdrawing 400 bucks at a time. Ditto, long queues at petrol pumps, as people tried to use the notes to tank up their vehicles. Even on the television, you could all these people standing outside ATMs and petrol pumps trying to lay their hands on whatever 100 or 50 they could lay their hands on. People across the board were confused, irritated, and even angry at the way their Tuesday night had been laid waste. But yet, almost all were in agreement that it was a bold, necessary and welcome move by the government. There was hardly a soul on the road, who did not support or complement PM Modi on this move.

So how is that when so many people were troubled and disconcerted with a policy action, yet they seemed to be happy and glad for it? Continue reading

Make In India Week: A ‘Nautanki’ that was much necessary

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 IMG_0356finding 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 IMG_0358down. 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 bIMG_20160217_142435lithe 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.

Continue reading

Why the Indian Science Congress needs be Banned — For its Indianness

Imagine, Shiva, the lord of destruction, being hailed as the greatest and the first environmentalist of the universe? Sounds like a plot from a latest Amish Tripathi type of fiction doesn’t it? And then you have a theory that by blowing a conch shell, one can exercise rectal muscles, prostrate, urinary tract, lower abdomen, diaphragm, chest and neck muscles. No wonder all those warriors during the times of the Mahabharata, and thereon were in excellent shape, after all, they blew a lot of conch back then.

Had this sort of discussion (of Shiva the Environmentalist and Conch as rectal reliever) taken place at some mythology or some religious conference, or programme running on448408-lord-shiva-700-1 Astha TV, all would have been rather fine. But instead, these points were thrown up at the prestigious annual science congress event that took place in Mysore this year. The event is an annual jamboree that travels from one Indian city to another, apparently to promote scientific temperament within the country. Yet, the only thing that this event seems to doing is promote psuedo-relegiousness of the worst kind. Science, the empirical discipline, has taken a back seat to mythology and religion, which has no relation whatsoever with empiricism.

And it isn’t just a one-year thing. Last year, was even more awesome, as there was a paper presented by one of the researcher, a certain Captain Anand Bodas, who spoke about the “science” of Vimanika Shastra, and how ancient India had flying aircrafts, long long before, Leonardo da Vinci had even imagined anything similar.  Or if that was not enough to amaze you, there was another paper based on the Sushruta Samhita, titled “advances in surgery in ancient India”, which described surgical instruments and claimed plastic and reconstruction surgeries were performed more than 3500 years ago!

Sadly this is what our Indian Science Congress has become in the past few years, an event of pseudoism and stupidity. With everything in it, except possibly science. Little wonder CYAbJE-UMAAtMzX (1)then, Indian-born Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan dubbed the event as  “circus where very little science was discussed“, stating that he will never ever attend it.

In the light of such howlers, does it really do us justice to carry on this sham? Should not the Indian Science Congress be banned for good, disbanded till it finds its feet and soul back? Why waste so much money on a “science event”, where there is so little science? Continue reading

Before #SupportDigitalIndia should look at #StrengthWithinIndia

There is this beautiful and candid moment in the Discovery of India, when Jawaharlal Nehru (the author of the book) breaks into an inquiry as to what really is India. In a passage, he poses a series of questions that dig at the very essence of nationhood —

What is this India, apart from her physical and geographical aspects? What did she represent in the past? What gave strength to her then? How did she lose that old Digital-India 6strength? And has she lost it completely? Does she represent anything vital now, apart from being the home of a vast number of human beings? How does she fit into the modern world?

These queries can also be termed as the core essence of the book itself, as Nehru takes us on a long journey to “discover” and uncover India. Somehow, I seemed to recall these words from the very 1st Prime Minister of India, even as the 15th Prime Minister roamed across the plains of the United States, exhorting companies and individuals to partner in his vision of a digital and developed India.

‘Digital India’ is now well and truly a global buzzword, it is already trending on Twitter and Facebook and everyone seems to be talking about it. The program launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in July 2014, seems to have come a long way with Digital india1even the CEO of Facebook sporting a DP in support of Digital India. Google in the meantime announced that it will provide free Wi-Fi at 500 railway stations; Microsoft is planning to take broadband connectivity to 5 lakh villages. There is now so much excitement and so much euphoria around the idea, that one feels that there is nothing that can now come between us and our tryst with digitisation. No power on this planet can now stop us from being Digital India. Yeah! Yeah!

But before we turn into a digital society, or even embark on being one, there is an important aspect that we see to be missing upon, namely, defining what digitisation is, its need and its challenges, its relevance and its impact on Indian society. While it is really a no-brainer that digitisation is required and necessary, the core question that arises is whether we have thought out before, is there an end goal that we are moving towards or is it just a relentless journey that we will keep moving on? How will all this digitisation impact the life of an average Indian? What would be the termed as success or failure? What is the gamut or the sphere of the program? There is much excitement indeed, but is there much sense

Quite like how Nehru had started his journey with a whole lot of definitive questions, should we not too proceed in a similar manner? Say begin with something like: What is this Digital India, apart from the technical and fundamental aspects?

A cursory search on Google throws up the following definition: (Wikipedia)

Digital India is an initiative of Government of India to integrate the government departments and the people of India. It aims at ensuring that the government services are made available to citizens electronically by reducing paperwork. The steps to Digital India program can be jotted as such:

  • Creation of Digital infrastructure
  • Delivery of services
  • Digital literacy

In fact there is a whole website (http://www.digitalindia.gov.in/) that has been created to communicate the goals of program, it has Prime Minister Modi’s image all over, and lot of content on this and that. Yet, there is precious little on the site to show in terms of details of work that has been done, or work that will be done. Since, the devil apparently lies in the details, there seems to be no details whatsoever provided on the website.digital-india2

And so that gets us back at the essential question, a program that is supposedly worth Rs. 125 crores, how come there is no detailed plan for it.  In fact there is not even a special body that has been created to monitor or drive it. The program currently falls under the ambit of the Department of Electronics and IT (DeitY) is leading it forward, and it is headed by a “Monitoring Committee on Digital India under the Chairpersonship of Prime Minister” and a “Digital India Advisory Group headed by the Minister of Communications and IT”. So essentially this is a baby of the PM and his ICT minister. Continue reading

Its not Meat, it’s Modi — Stupid!

Frankly speaking the war over the ban on meat in Maharashtra is not just a matter of palate or choice, but is a political war with currents that run much deeper. In fact, the meatban3The controversy over the meat ban in Maharashtra, has less to do with Meat more to do with Modi. outrage against the ban has more to do with Narendra Modi as the PM, than the availability of chicken-koliwada on the streets of Mumbai.
Ever since, Modi has ascended to the top seat in Delhi, there has been much discomfort in Maharashtra, as to how to really deal with him. You see, for a very long time Chief Minister Modi of Gujarat was a big time rival of Maharashtra, and he made no bones of it. On a typical day, he would wean away the corporates with his Vibrant this and that, tom-tom ‘the 24 hours’ of power availability in state (as against load shedding in Maharashtra), or talk about how farmers are thriving in Gujarat (while committing suicide in Maharashtra). Since, there was a Congress Government all the while Modi ruled in neighbourly Gujarat, he invariably always attacked Maharashtra, to showcase how well Gujarat was doing. He was like the schoolboy who spoke most and shone brightest, while the rest sulked, especially Maharashtrians.
meatban5Historically too, Maharashtra and Gujarat were rivals for a long time (even though they did not really exist back then). There is an economic history behind it. The Britishers first established their ‘factory’ in Surat, which essentially was a trading place for Indian goods to be exchanged with those of the British. This made Gujarat (especially Surat) the financial hub. So much so, that when Shivaji was running short of money, he ransacked the city (then under Mughal domination) and made off with much booty. That was essentially the first clash, but it send the agenda for subsequent interactions. When Bombay came into being as a trading post, it were the Parsees from Gujarat that took the lead. When the state of Maharashtra was being created from Bombay Presidency, the Gujjus, especially Morarji Desai opposed it. He had even advocated creating Bombay as a union territory. The rivalry, so, is not really a new one.

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Can we ever #GiveItUp on Sexism?

BTW, have you heard the #GiveItUp ads on radio lately? Frankly, it is impossible to miss them because one is constantly badgered by them on all the FM channels. Before I get into the discussion on or about them, let me describe how the ad runs for the benefit of all those that have been ignorant about this great piece of social messaging.

At the start, we have a man sitting comfortable praising a woman (wife implied by the wayCDA_D3nUMAEeJ9p he calls her by first name Radha) for her “aloo ka paratha“. The women is thrilled at the praise, and in a tone that would befit a “bhartiya nari” — dedicated to the welfare and whims of her husband — duly states that she will bring him one more. The man obviously glad, feels not a pinch about the extra-work his dutiful Radha has to do. In fact, he ever so casually adds to her burden by ordering her to switch on the TV while she is on the way to the kitchen to cook. On the TV, there is our ubiquitous PM Modi delivering a small note on how if people were to give up on Hatheir LPG subsidy, he would provide the ‘gas ka chulha‘ to all the poor homes where women still use wood stoves, and kids are raised on smoke, and diseases are rampant. The PM’s speech touches a chord and the man starts fidgeting with his cell. The dutiful wife arrives with the paratha and on seeing her husband distracted with the phone, enquires (mind you just enquires, not irritated) about the reason for it. The man emotionally narrates the tale from his childhood, how he is reminded of his mother who used to burn her eyes on the wooden chula, and now that he is economically well off, he can help the numerous mothers by giving up his subsidy (through his cell). The wife all gooey-eyed and besotted can only exclaim with a happy sigh, “I am so proud of you“.

give itupThere is even a TV version of the same ad, with minor tweaks. But the overall script largely remains the same. Watch it if you care —

Being badgered by the same ad over and over again (they sure must have huge budgets to run the ads so many times a day on so many channels), I became kinda immune to the words and was able to notice certain things, all of which alluded to the parochial mentality of makers. I mean living in the 21st century, wherein we are sending missions to Mars, we still have a role-model of a man, who makes his wife cook for him and orders her around. Once, I started noting such thing, the whole ad seemed to be written by some guy, who sits in the Khap Panchayat in the day and moonlights as copywriter in the night. Continue reading

The rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the revenge of the Fourth Estate

If you have been following the news from Delhi (and am sure that if you are an Indian or in India, you can’t miss it), one thing is seemingly unmistakable; Modi Magic is waning. The electoral projections have been pretty dour; AAP might just have crossed the laxman-rekha, and might form the government soon. The opinion polls till now had always projected Arvind Kejriwal as the most popular man for the CM’s post, but AAP was never even close to forming the government. BJP was going to win the election, even though rise of aap 1Kejriwal was the most popular. But over the past month or so, the gap has eroded, and now if the latest figures by ABP NEWS-Nielsen and ET-TNS polls predict a landslide victory for AAP. There is apparent defeat that is being foisted on BJP, even before a single vote is polled. The atmosphere is so electric that for the first time ever, the chief of a political party (Amit Shah) openly blamed a network channel (Aajtak) for conniving with AAP, to help it win the elections.

So, what has actually gone wrong for the BJP, has it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, much like the Indian cricket team?

Honestly, if one were to do a serious analysis of the way BJP has gone, there isn’t anything tragically/tactically wrong about all the things they did. Let’s look at what are the reasons that are being presented for BJP’s loss and possible reasoning:

1) Bringing in Kiran Bedi: Almost all channels are unanimous in their assessment that Kiran Bedi was a wrong move for BJP. But considering the choices they had, bringing in Harshavardhan or any other would not have helped either. In comparison, Kiran Bedi has a more ‘mass appeal’ than rest, and her past performance would have much helped her case. Possibly, the timing was an issue, as Bedi has very little time to get in the groove, not much else.

2) Waning appeal of BJP: There is also this talk of how BJP’s appeal is waning, especially so in light of the lackadaisical performance of the Modi government. Yet, the fact remains that in the recent elections held in Haryana and Maharashtra, the party did exceedingly well. There is no governance deficit, and PM Modi is still known to be a popular and strong leader. Relatively speaking, BJP has only reduced much less than their opponents, so this is certainly not the case.

3) Its about team play: Considering how AAP’s biggest detractors are former AAP members, the fact remains that the AAP is certainly not a Barjatya family, so as to say. Right from Shazia Ilmi to Vinodkumar Binny, AAP has been beset with many more desertions in comparison to BJP or even Congress. In fact, even one of the founders of the party was seen thumping support for Bedi, endorsing her credentials over Kejriwal.

4) The dying Hand factor: The only positive thing in AAP’s favour is the complete decimation of Congress. With the latest Jayanti Bomb, the little credibility that remained has now been lost. With Congress not even in the contest, voters are now forced to choose between BJP & AAP.

Yet the fact remains that BJP is losing this elections big time, irrespective of whatever they do. Already the party has deployed its biggest contingent of leaders, Modi is speaking at rise of aap 3rallies, they are cornering AAP on various points, yet the battle of perceptions seemed to be lost, and now the battle of ballot remains.

The loss of Delhi can indeed a big setback for Modi-Shah duo, who risked quite a lot by unilaterally foisting Kiran Bedi on top of everyone. A loss here, could mean a loss of face for sure for duo from Gujarat. So, why are they losing the elections? Or could it be, that, they are being made to look like they are losing by the media, quite like Shah alleged? And in case it is so, why would Media do so?

To analyse that, we would have to make a short trip down the past. Right from the onset of his political career, starting as a Chief Minister, Narendra Modi has had a tenuous relationship with the fourth estate. Post Gujarat riots, the relations were ambivalent at best, with Modi being portrayed as a monstrous villain. And the hatred was pretty mutual. After a few early failed attempts made by Modi to co-opt the mediawallahs, he retreated to his fortress and closed the gates.

Come 2014, and as Modi rose, he apparently softened his stance, gave a few interviews and made a few laughs. Yet the undercurrents of acrimony were still there. Except for a few journos like Rajat Sharma, who made the right bets, the rest were much flustered by the way Modi came to power, riding the wave of euphoria. While, the journalists were now compelled to cover the PM Modi, the fact remained that they still did not like the man that was. And Modi was in no mood to help them do it either.

But while, Modi was a bit accommodating while running for the PM’s post, he turned into a stone wall, once he became the PM. In fact, ever since PM Modi has parked himself at 7 RCR, he has been running the government quite like he did when he lived at Swarnim Sankul in Gandhinagar. The government is mute, the ministers are gagged. There is nothing that moves without Modi’s permission. The government now communicates with the rise of aap 5audience through social media, trying to effectively by pass media all together. Modi is also using radio to reach the masses, every month he takes out time for the Mann Ki Baat address, but press meets, are still a rarity. He will not even take mediawallahs along with him in the plane on foreign trips, which almost all the predecessors did. The angst that media hold against Modi runs pretty deep and they were just looking for an opportunity to get even, Kejriwal in a manner of speaking is their payback.

Unlike other elections like J&K and Maharashtra, or even Haryana, Delhi is a very different ballgame. It is a largely urbanised centre, much susceptible to popular opinions. There is a huge-chunk of undecided voters, who might just go with the party that is most likely to win, so that their votes aren’t wasted. And then comes the minority votes that often does strategic voting — namely transferring the bulk of votes en masse to any opponent who is most likely to checkmate BJP. Hence, all the positive noise, and projections is actually helping AAP formulate the victory many days before actual polling date. Thus, even though there are quite a few issues that could potentially harm AAP, right from the number of charge-sheeted candidates, to how rich they are, or even the funding issue, a lot many channels are actually playing soft with Kejriwal and the party. And they have even thrown the caution to the winds, I mean, for channels that have often got the projections wrong when Modi is in the electoral fray, yet the numbers are anything but fantastic, like one projection was that AAP will get 50 seats. The idea is simple, hurt Modi (and Shah) the place where it hurts the most, a loss in the elections.

rise of aap 6By the way media isn’t alone in desiring Modi’s defeat. The over-arching Sangh is not pleased with the way Modi-Shah are running the show. The earlier campaign (the Ramzaade one) was completely vetoed by Modi-Shah, as they brought in Bedi into the fold causing heart-burn in the Sanghi setup. So far, the Sangh has played a significant factor in crafting Modi’s victories. This time, they have taken a hands-off approach. Even as the size of Kejriwal is growing, Sangh has retreated into the Jhandewala fortress. People there, also wish for a loss in Delhi elections, so the presumptuous duo are thought a fitting lesson.

Thus, the battle of Kurukshetra (or rather Delhi) is a much complex one. There are many factors at work here, many futures at stake. The fact is, in case the Modi-Shah duo emerge victorious, than the ambivalence between the media and them is only going to increase. In case of a loss to AAP, Modi-Shah will have to make concessions to the Sangh, and resolve to play by the rules, especially for the big elections of Bihar and Bengal. The repercussions of a victory and defeat in Delhi would be much widely felt, and only one set would be laughing at the end of the day.

— (Disclaimer: All the images used in the story have been randomly downloaded from the Net. In case of copyright issues, please do let me know, and I will remove them)