Thursday, October 24, 2019

Six Quick Takes from Today's Results of Maharashtra and Haryana

Results Have Thrown Up Some Trends (Courtesy Indian Express)

1. People are really upset on the issue of jobs. They won't vote for others, but they sat out on BJP. Hence the reduction in the vote share also can be seen compared to even last Vidhan Sabha elections. Many people have tried to cash upon it, but with limited success.

2. Caste factor wasn't entirely a problem, since voteshares haven't swung as much compared to the previous assembly elections. Sena and NCP don't get any more or less than each other. Clearly the vote shares haven't entirely changed for the smaller ones. BJP won more seats frankly last time because Sena caused four way fights. Similarly in Haryana, while Congress did gain compare to 2014, the real loss was for OP Chautala's INLD, which bled votes to everyone else.

3. Miracle leader Mr. Fadnavis should be credited to have managed three digit seats in Maharashtra despite two way fight this time. However, some of his wife's shenanigans have certainly not been appreciated.

4. Mr. Khattar deserves accolades just as much. Pre 2014 there was no party, just 4 seats for BJP. 2014 was won by Mr. Modi; 2019 saw Mr Khattar make BJP Haryana's single largest party.

5. Jats are for some more time going to remain out of the power game. They tried tactical voting but it clearly didn't work. Similarly, Marathas are in the fray but their Chief Minister aspiration isn't going to get resolved any time soon. Some level of caste polarization has happened within the states which cannot be ignored socially.

6. Agri distress is a serious challenge not getting resolved despite efforts. This issue will continue to haunt BJP like this in other states that have major farming communities.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Why the Rama Mandir Matters to Me

As the arguments come to a close and a judgment is given, I cannot but marvel how defeatist I feel about the entire subject of the Rama Janmabhoomi dispute. That the word dispute is attached to something that archaeological and historical references prove beyond doubt is beyond my comprehension. Even with mountains of evidence, I have to prove that my deity, my Bhagavana was born there, at that very spot, where a building was repurposed to use the liberal and Marxist historian lexicography, to become a symbol of power, of slavery, which continued to rankle people even after coming down.
I do not have anything new to say, I guess, to add to the importance of the Rama Mandir. It is NOT (emphasis added) a political issue for the likes of me. It is a civilizational issue, one that literally goes to define who I am. Whatever may be the geography internally, that temple is a mark of my identity as a Hindu, whose ethos has long been lost somewhere. Fightbacks and heroics of the battle hardened ancestors of our land are innumerable; yet, the fact that we tried unsuccessfully to get back what we really had has always had a demotivating effect. Much like the ‘nothing can change’ attitude that many of us carry, despite learning (or not learning) from our own history and Dharma how one should never give up, whatever be the circumstances faced. Karmanye vadhikaraste, Sri Krishna, Rama in another birth, had directed Arjuna in the Kurukshetra, and yet, in this Kurukshetra, we felt cheated, humiliated, defeated all the time – sometimes by our own, other times by the unknown.
There is nothing new when I say that Rama is a matter of faith for many like me. He is that paragon of virtue who never lost his way on the path of Dharma, come what may. No, I cannot be Rama, for I do not have the ability to find out opportunity in adversity for fulfilling the uddeshya of my life. But it cannot be emphasized enough that his life is not just a kavya for me; it is a guide, a darsana on behaving in line with Dharma. He looks over us, as we consider him our very own, a figure that protects us all, even in the darkest of times. Guiding us through the turbulence and the muck of stagnation, he has been a beacon, of oneness, of hope for those who had nearly forgotten what it means to have an identity that is not cloaked in shame and is not drowning in the filth of depression, of chaos, of depravity. He is a symbol of that ideal society that we want – where no one has a reason to complain, and where everyone is committed to the path of Dharma.
Rama for us is that name which, as Hanuman had shown, is bigger than Rama itself, guiding us through this world and into the afterlife, towards mukti, freeing us from our Karmic connections. Rama is that son that we can never be, who for his mother’s happiness gave up all without batting an eyelid. He is the ruler we all want, who kept his own subjects way above him, and ensured that there was never a reason for suspicion, for worry and for doubting. Rama for us is that warrior who did not hesitate to take on evil, however mighty and daunting it may seem, and see to its just end. Rama for us is that scion of a lineage which starts with Ikshvaku, and has the likes of Shibi and Bhagiratha, who teach us what sacrifice and perseverance for Dharma are all about, and in whose footsteps a worthy descendant came.
Rama Mandir for us is a symbol of an idea of Bharat that is India. A civilization that had lost its path somewhere by rediscovering a powerful lost symbol has tried to understand its place in the pantheon of civilizations. Rama Mandir is proof that Bharat that is India is not a dead, ancient and forgotten civilization for academics to study; rather, it is a powerful entity that exists, and exemplifies its survival with pride. There were turbulences of Sri Rama’s life, and as if on cue, the civilization of Dharma also saw turbulence. But it withstood each onslaught, each bruise, each ram and battery to defiantly tell the others in the world that Bharat cannot be subdued, for it is in each of the Dharmiks that it survives and thrives. Its vivid memories live in its songs, dances and stories; its impressions survive in its art and sculpture, which express divinity in beauty beyond compare when taken to the zenith of excellence. It is a rally point for all Dharmiks – Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and others – that we are all tied through our understanding of the story of Rama, with their varying hues, to this land, to its civilization and to its faith, and that remains with us irrespective of wherever we go. The power of the moment that could or could not dawn upon us today is vindication of the centuries of absence of memory, the absence of identity that was thrust upon nearly a billion people, who knew not what it meant to be someone.
The name that inspired a thousand bhajans, a thousand prayers, a thousand kavyas and mahakavyas, a thousand kritis, a thousand plays, a thousand grandmother stories, a thousand Dussehra lilas, a thousand Diwalis for many – that name is Rama. Rama is not just a name in fact, it is a summation of this civilization and all that it encompasses. The impact on our lives of that single name is perhaps reason enough to mention why the Rama Mandir matters.

Friday, October 11, 2019

China-India Powwow - Smart Diplomacy on Display

Narendra Modi with Xi Jumping at Mahabalipuram (Source:MEA on Twitter)

The informal dialogue between Indian Premier and the Chinese President is going on even as we speak. Few people will note the subtlety with which Communist China's civilizational claims have been shown a mirror of reality check by Modi's foreign policy tonight at Mahabalipuram.

China's entire 'legitimate claim' to a high seat on the global power high table is surmised from the basis of its ancient civilizational glory and past, which is extended to every sphere of their diplomacy, even border dispute resolution. What people often ignore is that the Chinese mentality often needs to be confronted to some extent with a dose of reality check and nerves of steel. China only respects countries and people who actually demonstrate a spine and also play the game on equal footing with a genuine challenge to their ancientness.

Some time back, Modi was taken once to Xi'an and once to Wuhan by the Xi administration in an attempt to overawe him with the ancient grandeur of the Chinese civilization. An attempt to show him the true strength and the greatness of the civilization was made.

However, the Chinese forgot one thing, or clearly till now had not been shown one small fine print detail. India still continues to qualify as proof of what a living ancient civilization looks like, uninterrupted by centuries of onslaught, and is proud of its roots, its original in every way imaginable. It is not some ancient civilization which has been artificially propped up again like the post Cultural Revolution Communist China.

Xi and his government officers after tonight will be like - what on earth is this? They have an actual existing ancient civilization unlike ours. This messaging is important, because that is the only way the Chinese can really be made to respect you vìs-a-vìs themselves.

An interesting anecdote from history to explain this cultural context. Those were the times when the famous eunuch Ming Admiral Zheng He was conquering the world and was doing many things, even supposedly discovering America in one of his expeditions. The experiences were recorded in many annals, but perhaps his experiences with the South of India are one of the most fascinating ones to know about. In Sri Lanka, the Kandyan King was supposedly taken captive by Zheng He and taken back to China as a war trophy. It was also supposed to serve as a lesson for disobedience in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-China region.

In contrast the Kerala and Tamil Nadu coasts, the grandeur and the wealth of the regions had shocked him into silence, and no military adventures were attempted. Instead, there was greater cultural exchange and respect that happened consequently with the Indian ports like Kochi and MahaMallapuram, with the Indian spices actually being significant imports for China, eventually leading to a relationship of respect for the country at large.

The foreign policy of India has taken a refreshing turn, that openly glorifies its past without shame. The second term of the Modi government has started off on a great foreign policy foray. Hopefully other spheres will play ball to strengthen the Indian hand on the foreign policy front.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Observations from Srinagar, Two Months into the Post 370 Situation

I visited Srinagar briefly, and I must say that what is visible on the ground is something the government should be brave about and confront, instead of hiding behind statistics and numbers, which, while true, are still not representative of the Kashmir valley’s reality in its entirety. Interestingly, security forces seemed somewhat relaxed in some of the areas like Parraypora, Hyderpora, Raj Bagh and Lal Ded hospital belt, though by the evening their numbers were up. However, it did seem like there was a terror threat or some input, given how checking and frisking picked up, with cars being stopped for verification of the passengers.

There is a tenuous peace clearly visible in the Valley’s capital, especially areas like the Lal Ded Hospital, Rani Bagh all the way up to the airport. Shops are mostly shut, clearly the sign of a civil lockdown. The odd shop seems to be open, indicating a kind of bravado that may prove fatal from these people. However, what is driving this lockdown? One can see multiple layers on the answer. Separatists, militants, partly popular sentiment within the Kashmir valley, all seem to be contributing this lockdown of sorts. Hospitals, pharmacies, banks – these three services are running fine, though banks seem to be marked by thin attendance. The government offices are reporting less than usual attendance, even though there are orders to be reporting regularly. Efforts are on to ensure that government work does not suffer despite somewhat lower attendance – one could see dredging activities in the Jhelum river bed, which is essential to prevent it from becoming a breeding ground for diseases while ensuring navigability. Interestingly, traffic is somewhat normal in the area, though the numbers would be in the usual times at least fourfold of the current volume.

Businesses have been hit very badly by the shutdown. I overheard a businessman who while complaining about other issues also mentioned how militants had already threatened him twice to shut his factory, the consequence being bombing. He was undertaking production discretely in the night to avoid detection; in any case, his output was down to forty per cent of his capacity in a single shift, hurting him hard. Consequently, labour demand is down, which will add to the already humongous challenge of employment that the youth in the state and the valley in particular face. This also highlights the level of coercion that constitutes the civilian lockdown.

Tourism has been hit the hardest within the Valley. Stories of empty hotels in Gulmarg and Pahalgam abound. Temporary layoffs have happened in the hundreds in these places, and people are certainly not happy about it. One can also see several taxi drivers who have been sitting at home for more than two months now, having little business opportunities to earn from. Nearly all of these people are among the lower middle classes of Kashmir, who would rather be called people who could gain the most with the reformation of Article 370 as done by the government; however, sentiments in general are so poor that tourists are barely a trickle. Airports can see people; however, they are mostly locals or military personnel marching to orders of transfers. Tourists are barely a trickle, and seem to be mostly Amarnath yatris; other types are conspicuous by their absence.

Even among the supporters of the move of the government, there are serious complaints emanating about internet and mobile telephony controls. The common refrain seems to be about the government inability to ban Whatsapp and Facebook, and instead curtailing internet and mobile telephony altogether. For them, it is the proverbial throwing the baby with the bathwater. GST and income tax returns, school admissions, registration processes are all coming to a standstill. The government is unable to collect many duties in Srinagar, especially things like stamp duties, which are hurting the government revenue in the Kashmir division. This is one area where the nationalist elements are finding it difficult to defend the government at all, and clearly some thoughtful action is merited.

Increasingly, it feels like a kind of a staredown taking place in a metaphorical sense. A battle of nerves is on, with winner takes it all stakes only for one side so far. Good things could happen, and much merit could be garnered in the process if only some more humane steps could be garnered. The problem within Kashmir valley is that the economic mess of the last four decades literally needs another six decades of repair work, and that too in a somewhat peaceful environment free of interference of elements of restive irritant neighbours.  The closed silk factory near Raj Bagh, once famous for its products globally, stands testament to much that went wrong in the region. The answer to many of the problems perhaps lies partially in the economy; however the current environment will not enable it for the Valley.

A story about Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi's Impact

 A man once boarded the wrong train and ended up in Tamil Nadu near Arunachala in Tamil Nadu, a holy pilgrim site that has moved many a seer...