Sunday, March 4, 2018

What a wave looks like

In 2013, the BJP, then under the Delhi gang led by LK Advani, contested all the seats in the Tripura Assembly elections on its own - and lost its deposit in each of them but one. It won a measly 1.5% of the vote. And this was no surprise - while there was a regional version of the party in the state, it was nothing more than an office. The BJP had no real ground presence and no understanding of the state. Plus, it was pitted against the dominant CPM that had ruled the state for decades and seemed invincible - the Congress did pick up about 35% of the vote, but it never really stood any chance. So while Mamata Banerjee had made history in Bengal by defeating the Left Front after 32 years, there was no such luck for any party in India's other Bengali-speaking state.

And then came Narendra Modi, and the BJP reinvented itself into an election machine. And it has firmly set its sights on winning the entire Northeast region, both for ideological reasons as well as to offset any losses in North India in 2019. When this BJP met the formidable CPM in 2019, it was a landslide - it increases its vote share to 43%, completely taking over the Congress' share. The Grand Old Party of India was left with a royal duck, its third since 2014 after Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, in a state where it once was the ruling party. That's the extent to which the party has collapsed, even if it is in such a small state.

But the BJP did even better than simply gobble up the Congress' votes. It smartly partnered with the IPFT and took a major chunk of the tribal votes that were once guaranteed to the CPM. It was these two things combined that put it past the 2/3 majority in the Agartala House. This partnership was by no means easy or natural - the BJP is completely against dividing the state, which was one of the key planks of the IPFT that differentiated it from its rival, INPT. But hard work from BJP members as well as RSS volunteers eventually sealed the deal to push the hegemonic Left out of the state.

Although on a much smaller scale, the BJP has become only the second party in the country's history, after the TMC, to unseat a dominant Left government (they never really enjoyed that kind of dominance in their original bastion, Kerala). It is also a historic opportunity for the party to bring Tripura into the mainstream of India, through infrastructure and industrialization that the state badly needs. The people of Tripura, having grown up under the CPM for an entire generation, took a lot of risks to elect the BJP. The test has just begun.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Of Pakodas and Employment

As the Karnataka elections approach and the Congress party is looking to throw the kitchen sink to keep the last big state that it still controls, a lot of noise has been generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comment in a TV interview, asserting that his government'd MUDRA scheme provides small loans to entrepreneurs to, among other things, sell pakodas. The Opposition and the virtue signaling classes have latched on to this to claim that selling pakodas on the streets is akin to begging. Saner voices have said that it's about income and not employment - indeed, an interesting study points out that India does not have a jobs problem but an income problem.

In all this, I am reminded of a scene from my childhood, when I used to wait at the bus stop early in the morning. As I have been raised to do, I'd almost always be the first and therefore, with nobody to talk to, I'd have plenty of time to look around at the big wide world around me. I recall a lady who used to come to the bus stop with a cart that contained what was certainly her most precious possession: an LPG cylinder. She'd look around several times to make sure nobody saw the cylinder as she turned on the valve. I used to think she was afraid it would be stolen, but now that I think about it, it could be that she didn't want any policeman to see the color. It was red, which is supposed to be used for domestic cooking and not commercial activities. DBT has probably gotten rid of that distinction now.

The lady would turn on the gas, pour some oil into a wok, and fry puris. She'd also have some pickle on the side. That early in the morning, only a few customers would stop by, but the few times the bus was late, I remember that she had a decent crowd and probably made a small profit for the day. She was obviously doing it illegally and didn't have a permit to just sell her stuff on the street - maybe that's why she did it in the morning, hoping there weren't enough people to notice.

I don't remember how often I saw her - she didn't come everyday. I suppose she changed her location to keep the cops off her trail. But in all the discussion about pakodas, I was reminded of that lady I saw. Was she a beggar? No, she was not begging. She was asking for money in exchange for what seemed to be decent food, which means she was doing business. She was an entrepreneur. Not the suit-wearing ones that make the rounds of angel investors in Bangalore (although there's nothing wrong with them). She was an entrepreneur of the kind that managed to survive despite the crony socialism in India that does its best to destroy small businesses. She was the kind of person who will keep India afloat if ever the crazy Communists and their allied socialists ever come to power and take the country backwards (again).

I salute that woman. I have no idea if she ever got a MUDRA loan herself. 

Just another superhero story


Produced By: Marvel Studios, Disney, and others
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, and others
Pros: Fast pace, lots of humor
Cons: Incoherent, boring start
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen right now, you have a new one coming out every few weeks. Ever since Disney got into the game, there's almost become a set formula to them, which is sad. Once upon a time, Superman and Spiderman had a context and personality. Now, all the characters seem the same. And Thor is no different in this edition of the franchise as he fights to stop Ragnarok. Ho hum.

It's not all bad. The movie is certainly fast-paced after a rather boring start. Stuff is happening every other minute and you do stay glued to your chair. The problem is, that is absolutely on purpose, because the director keeps introducing new characters and events right up to the ending. There's a small semblance of a coherent plot, but it needs to be backed up by a vast army of subplots to push the runtime to over 2 hours. To make up for that, there's a fair bit of humor from The Avengers (just goes to show how similar all these movies are getting). You'll find a joke in every subplot, but it doesn't amount to much - even a stand-up comedy act is more coherent.

Which is really what the whole problem is: the movie is incoherent. It's a lot of stuff, a lot of people, and a lot of places, but they're all very random and don't really add up to anything. This movie is Chris Hemsworth and a lot of supporting artists. You might as well stare at the poster. (OTFS)

Monday, January 29, 2018

UCC: The Unfinished Agenda of the Constitution

Let me be blunt: the Indian Constitution does not go far enough. It is an incomplete document. Its lofty claims of guaranteeing equality in law to all citizens in the Preamble does not square up with its minorityism and acceptance of barbaric personal civil laws that do not belong to a modern era. Indeed, the Constitution itself recognizes this flaw, because the Directive Principles restate much of the lofty goals in the Preamble while also making it clear that they are not legally enforceable. Moreover, many amendments, including the first (curbs on free speech) and eighty sixth (sectarianism in education), run counter to the spirit of those lofty goals and, in many respects, the last 69 years feel like we've gone backwards in many ways as far as constitutional law is concerned.

Changing gears
There is an obvious need to reverse the tide and bring in a truly liberal Constitution. A good place to start would be by abolishing personal civil laws with a modern, uniform code - the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Among the variety of personal laws in the country today, only the Hindu Law is directly codified by Parliament via a series of bills, and is regularly updated as social preferences change. Reform of Hindu Laws have ensured equality and justice among Hindu households and have no doubt propelled Hindus into the new century, prepared to take on the world.

In comparison, other personal laws languish in ancient customs, many of which do not have any place in a modern society. The Rajya Sabha is currently trying to pass a bill to criminalize the regressive practice of Triple Talaq, which is already banned in dozens of countries. Of course, there is political opposition to the Bill - that has and will always be the case in a democracy. However, Triple Talaq is just one among a variety of regressive practices, ranging from polygamy to discriminatory inheritance laws, all of which are permitted by the Constitution, while at the same time being discouraged.

One nation, one law
A UCC, aside from correcting these terrible anomalies that are permitted by the Constitution, would also serve to further erode the credibility of the Two Nation Theory, the theory on the basis of which our homeland was violently partitioned into two (and now three) entities. India was created in opposition to that theory, and the existence of separate personal laws is a blot on our face and a rare endorsement of that theory. It must go.

On this Republic Day, we remember the countless people who have suffered at the hands of regressive personal laws that serve not to deliver justice, but to deny it. Such laws are not laws at all. The Constitution needs a UCC.

Happy Republic Day! 
Jai Hind!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Remembering the Holocaust in Kashmir

Last week, two significant events happened in India. The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to India, becoming only the second Israeli head of government in three thousand years to visit India. There, he gave a historic opening address to the flagship Raisina Dialogue, a government-backed strategic conference, in New Delhi. There, he proudly stood as the elected representative of the Jewish nation, a nation that was nearly annihilated seventy years ago. And he stated, with great confidence, the reason why his nation survived: strength. The Jewish nation, along with the Chinese, are arguably the strongest, with the longest history and still using their own ancient language.

Another event last week was the anniversary of the holocaust of Kashmiri Pandits by Islamist terrorists, reducing a sizable minority whose history went back thousands of years to a negligible spattering of people living in extremely dangerous circumstances. Like the Jewish holocaust, it was preceded by a systematic ostracization of the Pandits, spread virulently by extremist mosques, accompanied by a complete denial of any role they had to play in Kashmiri society and history. The holocaust in Kashmir scattered the Pandits around India and the world, and those people remain refugees in their own country.

Netanyahu's visit and message send a significant message to Hindus in not just India, but also neighboring countries. The weak have always been conquered in history - countless nations no longer exist. India's classical language, Sanskrit, is on the verge of extinction while we push a language, Hindi, that essentially arose as a result of foreign invasions. Being strong does not mean that we conquer others - it only means that we can defend ourselves. Without strength, we cannot survive. If we cannot survive, nothing else matters.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Long Night

It's been a long two weeks. Stretching out all the way from Christmas Eve to today, Champaign, and almost the entire Midwest, has been covered in snow and blanketed by a thick arctic air mass that has sent temperatures plummeting. In the last four and a half years, I've gotten used to cold temperatures in this town - indeed, on the whole, December was actually quite warm. However, the last week in particular, as the arctic air mass has descended even further south (amazingly, bringing snow to Florida for the first time in a century), saw records lows being broken and prolonged periods of wind chill watches/warnings. It's rarely been this bad, and never for this long, as far back as I've been here.

This extraordinary weather has been hard to deal with. I've been too scared to drive anywhere because of all the snow still on the roads, I've avoided going to the gym for weeks for fear of the cold, and of course, my heating bill doubled. Oh, it has been very hard indeed.

Fortunately, the forecast looks to be warm next week (unfortunately, most of my time then will be spent in DC), followed by one last shot of frigid air, and then a return to normal. Although it's become cliche to say that I can't wait, I actually can't wait to graduate and leave this place. I really don't know how people manage to live here in this weather their entire lives!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Resolutions for 2018

As has become somewhat of a ritual, I went back to my post from a year ago, on New Year's Even, 2017. A very different day indeed!

Also, as has become a ritual, I make some resolutions, some promises, to nobody in particular, except myself, perhaps. Most of the time, these resolutions bomb and I keep having to move them forward by another year. Somehow though, 2017 was different. Magnificently different, for I seem to have not only met every resolution, but moved well beyond them as well. I would daresay that 2017 has been the best year of my life.

Let's review. I taught my first ever class in the Spring semester, a momentous event that was mixed in outcomes but hugely enriching in terms of what I learned. Contrary to my fears of becoming disillusioned by teaching, I loved the experience, and I am sure that this is the right career choice for me. It was also a challenging semester as I was determined to take my prelim this year, for which I had to fight tooth and nail. And of course, I took perhaps the most satisfying course I ever took, CSE 566, where I had my first go at using a supercomputer, and put my recently-acquired Linux skills to use.

Come the summer, and I finally took my prelim, passing it with ease, and thus setting up the stage to make my final lap as a student. I then bought by car (finally!) and learned the many intricacies and costs associated with having one. At the same time, my exercise goals came ever so close to fruition - I reached 155 lbs, just 5 lbs below my target. But as always, the storm clouds were gathering. Towards the end of that summer, I made my first trip to Hong Kong for a conference after going through hell to get my visa. I took the time to also visit India and renew my visa - and got hit by a 221(g). While that turned out to only be a minor delay, it really opened my eyes to how temporary everything was, and why I need to decide my future sooner rather than later. I was very, very scared. A silver lining though, was the acceptance of my fourth journal paper, and thus making my entire MS Thesis published. 

I did come back to the US though, missing only a week of the semester, and also Quad Day, unfortunately. I also moved in to my new apartment, a studio, thus finally ridding myself of the menace of roommates. The following weeks took me to Canada after just barely getting my visa, and Newfoundland was a wonderful place to visit. Back in Champaign, I tried to continue my muscle-building regimen and hoped to lose the weight I had put on in India. And that's where I tore my ACL. I never imagined before in my lifetime that I would have a sports injury - someone who never played a sport can't get injured by one, right? But there I was, limping around, in excruciating pain, at least for the first couple of days. After the headache of the rest of the summer, I had had it. I was going to pick myself up.

And raise myself I did. I attended my first ever concert, with The Script at the SFC, dragging my sorry leg to the venue. I got back to the ARC, which I permanently moved to. I signed up for next year's 5K and have put myself to training for it. I took one of my most challenging classes, ME 411, here. I never got back to the 150-160 lbs range, but my weight remained stable. And then, I won my second award at the 6th Student Symposium, adding a totally unexpected line to my CV. Talking about CVs, I began my one year as a Mavis Fellow, and thus began the long process of preparing for the job market (website - check, teaching statement - check, CV - check). I've also doubled-up on things to do to finish my dissertation and graduate.

So yes, it has been a long and eventful year, and I did everything that I wanted to do. Now, what's left? Here are my resolutions for next year. I would like to defend - this is a very big one that will be hard to keep, but I will definitely try my best. That will entail finishing (and in many cases, starting) some big-ticket projects that won't be easy, but they have to be done. I hope to also drive on the interstate at least one more time, once the weather improves. I resolve to submit at least four new journal papers this year - very ambitious by all counts, but do-able. I resolve to get the Graduate Teaching Certificate to cap off the "Awards and Honors" section of my CV. And I resolve to keep my mind-condition 4.0 GPA (that just barely survived this semester).

That's the academic part, but there's more. I will finish my first 5K this year - hopefully under 30 min. I hope to come to about 160 lbs, again, quite do-able. Three years after completely overhauling my diet, which played perhaps the most significant role in lowering my weight, I hope to add more vegetables and fiber to it. Being able to drive to Aldi should make it easier, right? And of course, I resolve to keep reading, and to be happy, for everything I've achieved.

Five years ago, I chose to follow a dream, a dream that has taken me very far from where I started. The dream if far from realized, but I came much closer to it last year. Next year, I hope to reach the final lap.

Happy New Year!

An unspeakable idea

By Robert Harris

When I finished reading all of Robert Harris' books - especially his Cicero trilogy - I went into a sort of withdrawal. Harris is one of the best writers of historical fiction that I have read, and it was hard to find a replacement - truth be told, I never really did. When I discovered that he had recently written a new one though, I quickly picked it up. Conclave is not exactly historical fiction, because it is set in the future (a specified future, but not really in form). And what a future it is.

Revolving around the intriguing and highly anachronistic election of a new Pope in the Vatican, it goes into a variety of issues that make the Roman Catholic Church so very anachronistic - the ceremonies, the dogma, even the language. But Harris is not questioning the Catholic Church here - if anything, he is providing it with a ray of hope, sunshine to remove the rot, if you may. And in his characteristic style, quite unlike John Grisham, the other author that I am reading, it ends quite dramatically, with plenty for the reader to ponder over. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Where were the fact-checkers?

In the just-concluded Gujarat Assembly elections, the Congress Party's new president, Rahul Gandhi, essentially ran a fact-free campaign. From lying about the Tata plant in Sanand to claiming that more land was given to the Mundra Port than there was on the entire planet, his campaign rhetoric and manifesto consisted of the same of socialist freebies that brought India to bankruptcy, together with old-fashioned divisive casteism that the MSM likes to call India's composite culture.

Since 2014, a number of propaganda websites masquerading as fact-checkers have popped up on the Indian web. All of them like to attack the BJP, usually using their opinions as facts to counter the BJP's so-called errors. The good people at OpIndia have worked hard to reveal these lies. During the Gujarat elections though, these fact-checkers were entirely absent. Not one MSM journalist (apart from Republic TV, which the Congress hates very much) or website in the Left ecosystem fact-checked Rahul Gandhi - they let him lie through his teeth. Nay, they cheered his lies on.

This brings us to the same conclusion that I have been making for sometime: facts, FoE, secularism, science, etc. are meaningless for the Left. They use these high-sounding words when it suits them, and dump them as soon as they don't. The basic agenda is spreading a sophisticated propaganda to help their ecosystem. The Left ecosystem, of which the Congress is the linchpin, is a totalitarian regime that has no sense of shame or hypocrisy. They are fascists who call themselves liberals.

The semi-final year

The 2017 round of assembly elections have come to an end, with the BJP being the biggest winner of the year, having taken Uttar Pradesh in one of the most spectacular political victories in India, quite comparable to the 2014 Modi wave that brought the BJP to power with a full majority in the Lok Sabha, becoming only the second party in India's history to do so. In 2017, after the UP victory, Prime Minister Modi declared his intention to build a New India by 2022, clearly signalling that he intends to win the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The road to 2019 begins in 2018, where the BJP's local leadership will be tested. Much like Gujarat, the BJP has had long-ruling governments in Madhya Pradesh and Chhttisgarh, and despite popular CMs there, they are vulnerable. Rajasthan is well-known for being a revolving door and unless Vasundhara Raje can pull of a Jahyalalitha-like feat, she looks set to be defeated in the state that gave a clean sweep to Modi in 2014. In Karnataka, incumbent CM Siddharamiah has pulled every dirty trick in the book to stay in power, and the local BJP is in disarray with two rival factions that are more interested in defeating each other than the Congress party. This is the last large state that the Congress controls, and BJP President Amit Shah will have to devote a lot of time to pull off a victory here.

2018 is also a big year for the northeastern states. The long-running Left Front government of Manik Sarkar is facing an unprecedented challenge from the BJP, which managed to win Assam and Manipur and where NEDA convener Himanata Biswas Sarma has laid a lot of groundwork for a tough fight. In Mizoram though, there appears to be little alternative to the Congress, despite the Prime Minister having devoted a lot of time to the state. In Nagaland, the Congress continues to be irrelevant as the ruling DAN of the NPF and BJP seems unstoppable. However, the confusion in the state following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the secretive Naga Peace Framework Accord can make this difficult to predict, and a lot comes down to what side the Church is willing to take in the Christian-majority state.

The final state in 2018 is Meghalaya, home of former NDA Presidential candidate, the late Purno Sangma. It is here that incumbent CM Mukul Sangma seems extremely vulnerable, with Modi already having sounded the poll bugle there and with a strong ally in the NPP, led by Sangma's son. This state seems likely, for now, to go to the BJP. As of today, the BJP and its NDA partners control 19 states in the Union, a historic position that only the Congress of Nehru and Indira could once boast of. In 2018, they will be tested again, and the results will determine the final results of the great battle of 2019. 

The revolving door spins

The Himachal Pradesh election was a no-brainer for the most part. The state has the habit of alternating between Congress and BJP governments, and this time proved no different. The incumbent Congress was easily defeated by the BJP, which is set to swear in its government in the state.

With one hitch - the BJP's declared CM candidate lost the election. It was perhaps the only exciting moment of the election - which was completely ignored by the Congress' national leadership - and now leaves the party having to decide a new face to run the government in the hill state. Another notable event was the victory of incumbent CM Virbhadra Singh's son, thus christening yet another dynasty in the private limited company that is the Indian National Congress. 

Dark clouds on the horizon?

The Gujarat Legislative Assembly elections were, by all counts, the most hotly contested this year after Uttar Pradesh, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP swept to a historic three fourths majority. No wonder then, that the final results have also been hotly contested.

First, the facts: the BJP won the election, as expected, with a comfortable majority despite running the state for 22 years and despite the tallest leader of the state, Modi himself, no longer being in the fray. The BJP improved its vote share from its 2012 performance, although it was far below its extraordinary vote share of 60.1% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, the BJP's tally fell significantly while the Congress has notched up its best performance in decades.

A number of factors have been attributed to this. Looking at the data, the BJP swept Surat, the industrial hub of the state as well as a bastion of the Patidar movement, indicating that the party was not affected by demonetization, GST, or the Patidar movement. In Saurashtra, the rural part of the state, the party collapsed, and this is where the Congress secured its large gains. Speaking of the Congress, while it did not declare a CM candidate, all its top state leaders lost their seats, while its external acquisitions - Jignesh Mevani, Aplesh Thakore, and Hardik Patel - seem to have helped the party. The first two of the three won their seats as well, and Mevani seems to already be on a roll with his foul-mouthed comments against the PM.

In the long-run, the Gujarat elections indicate some dark times ahead for the right wing. Yes, the BJP won despite the odds stacked against it. But the Congress seems to have rediscovered its pre-Sonia Gandhi formula of using caste divisions with soft Hindutva. Under Sonia's overt minority-pandering, the party created a Hindu backlash that united various castes. Under Rahul, the party seems to be going back to its old ways of acting Hindu while covertly pandering to Muslims. This poses the biggest threat to the nationalist project, and it remains to be seen just how far it can go. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Star Wars for the 21st Century


Produced By: Lucas Film, Walt Disney, and others
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and others
Pros: Excellent story, great acting, excellent effects
Cons: Too long
Rating: ***** of 5 (5 of 5)

An inter-generational story in a galaxy far, far away is always difficult to maintain. For some, Star Wars is the story of Luke Skywalker and his battle against Darth Vader. For (a few) others, it is the story of how Anakin Skywalker was born of the Force, to bring balance. Both of these however, are legacies of the last century. What about this century? What does it mean for this generation? These are questions that JJ Abrams failed to address in The Force Awakens, which felt like a rehash of old scenes with new faces (and some social justice mixed in). It was a crisis: could the iconic pop culture story turn into a dud?

Fortunately, Rian Johnson decided to take these issues head on, and in doing so, has provided a template for us to move beyond the hagiography of the Skywalker clan. In The Last Jedi, the final links of this trilogy to its two previous ones is broken, and the franchise truly moves into a new realm. Mark Hamill and the entire cast put on a grand performance befitting of a story that covers such a wide arc. Oscar Isaac secures his place as the Han Solo of this century. And Adam Driver and Daisy Ridler set the stage for the next great battles of those who sense the Force.

A good story is always crucial for a movie, but for Star Wars, presenting it through the right effects is equally important (it is science fiction, after all). The movie moves away from the scenes we have grown used to, showing what else a Stormtrooper can do, what else a galatic cruiser can do, and what other social spheres exist in the galaxy. All this needed the effects artists to be creative, and they pulled off a great job. The only shortcoming of the movie is that, at 2.5 hours, it is extremely long, and not all of it was necessary. The story has so many subplots that it eventually feels like a haphazard mix, at least until it all comes together in the end.

The franchise will miss Carrie Fischer, who seemed to be the only one of the old cast that had not fully demonstrated her role in this new era. Nonetheless, the franchise has also clearly moved on from the old cast, and Episode XI is sure to finish the job. A grand portrait of an iconic movie that you need to watch ASAP. (OTFS)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Are there good Republican candidates out there?

Last night, the Democratic Party secured a historic win in the special election to fill AG Jeff Sessions' vacated Senate seat in Alabama, marking the first time in 20 years that the party won that seat. These elections were clearly very high stakes for President Trump, since he invested a great deal of time in campaigning, first for primary challenger Luther Strange, and then for the Republican nominee Roy Moore. This defeat in one of the more solidly Republican states in the country should send alarm bells ringing.

Let's be clear: Moore was an exceptionally bad candidate. Even before allegations of sexual misconduct with minors came up, his utter contempt for the law, his self-admitted love for the days of slavery, and his extreme right-wing Christian posture made him a hugely polarizing candidate. There was something in him for everyone to hate, or at least dislike enough to either refrain from voting or writing in some other Republican candidate (as the junior senator from that state did). His past record on the Alabama Supreme Court and flouting of federal laws made it dangerous to imagine him actually making those laws in the first place. And his alleged indecencies with underage girls was simply too much.

There is a precedent, of course. Hillary Clinton, a candidate so bad that she was defeated by someone with no political experience, no base, very little money, and who was disliked by a majority of people. The Democratic Party believed that people would be so disgusted by Trump that Clinton would win, almost by default. Last night, a large section of the Republican Party (particularly those that Steve Bannon is trying to lead), believed that the voters of Alabama would dislike Democrats so badly that anyone they nominated would win, almost by default. In both cases, they were wrong.

Good candidates matter. Not all voters are ideological, who would vote for party first. And not all voters can put party before country. This is a lesson for both parties, but more so for the Republican Party, because they are currently led by a President who himself has a horrific record on his behavior with women. Of course, the Democrats have Joe Biden and had Al Franken. But they already lost. 

How much can personal integrity cover up?

He's at it again. Dr. Manmohan Singh, whose decade-long tenure as Prime Minister saw the biggest scams in the history of the Republic and a total subordination of the office of the Prime Minister to that of the Party President (a la a Communist dictatorship), has been enlisted into the Guajrat election campaign. Of course, he's not there to address crowds - he would most likely drive crowds away. Instead, he is there is provide more sanctimonious sermons and virtue signaling, because for some reason, the Congress party still believes that Dr. Singh is beyond reproach. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In the current case, Dr. Singh is angry at the current Prime Minister. First, he was angry that the PM insinuated that he had attended a dinner with Pakistani diplomats. He and his party had asserted that it was a total lie. Then the truth emerged that such a meeting had indeed taken place, in the house of the foul-mouthed Mani Shankar Aiyar no less, at which point the outrage changed to the fact that only Indo-Pak relations were discussed, and not the Gujarat elections. Throughout this elaborate deception, Dr. Singh's unsaid assertion was that his personal integrity assures us that he would never do anything against the national interest.

Only, that assertion collapses spectacularly on the slightest scrutiny. As Prime Minister, Dr. Singh signed the infamous Sharm-el-Sheikh agreement that drew massive criticism from all sides at home; the various scams and cover-ups of his government are already well-known; he allowed a diplomatic spat to send Indo-US relations to their lowest ebb in years; further on, he endorsed Indira Gandhi's disastrous economic policies that we continue to pay for today. If all that is not enough, Dr. Singh allowed Sonia Gandhi and her son, the current Congress president, to dictate terms to the government, going as far as letting files from the PMO go to 10 Janpath for approval. The heat of government had been reduced to that of a regent, all under the eyes of the man who has mastered the art of bathing in a raincoat.

And yet, despite this sordid history, we are still to believe that Dr. Singh is a good man, a technocrat above politics, and is thus beyond questioning. Wrong. Dr. Singh is a puppet the likes of which India has rarely seen - he will do whatever he is ordered to do without once thinking about the consequences of his actions; he will lie and name-call when called out; and he will masterfully ignore facts when they don't suit him. As someone put very well, he is an over-rated economist and a (hugely) underrated politician. That such a pathetic person was Prime Minister for 10 years paints a very sorry picture of our democracy.

However, clearly, despite his shameful past, Dr. Singh does not believe in retiring. He is staying on, the loyal stooge of the Dynasty. I would not be surprised in Rahul Gandhi asked him to become Prime Minister again in the future (if he can ever defeat Narendra Modi, that is). It would be an ideal situation - the emperor and his courtiers could make merry out of the nation's fortunes, with his loyal regent's personal integrity proving the fig leaf. Now, where have I heard that strategy before?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Rediscovering Horror

It has been some years since I exhausted all the Star Trek episodes ever made (although I am yet to see Discovery that released only a few months back). After the withdrawal symptoms, I moved to watching varied stuff - some documentaries, some comedy. Nothing that I really wanted to binge on. And then, earlier this year, I discovered American Horror Story (AHS), a uniquely American anthology series that was both drama and horror. And I was hooked. 

I've only seen the first three seasons and am currently on the fourth, but this is seriously good stuff: it is so different, so unique, that you want to keep watching it. Of the first three, Asylum is my clear favorite, although Coven also had some memorable characters (voodoo queen, wink, wink). The biggest surprise was probably Evan Peters, who played a pretty sad role in X-Men but has outdone himself here. 

I've never been one for horror - it just gave me a hard time to sleep. But most horror has been crass with an excessive amount of religion involved. AHS, it turns out, it quite different - real horror, and real people. I can't wait to see the rest. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Floating High

IT (2017)

Produced By: NewLine cinema, and others
Director: Andy Muschietti
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Jack Grazer, Sophia Lillis, and others
Pros: Excellent story, excellent cinematography, excellent acting
Cons: Predictable
Rating: ***** of 5 (5 of 5)

I don't know when I started to like horror as a genre. Bollywood does an absolutely disastrous job of it, while Hollywood does a good job in general, but it tends to be too focused on religion as a means to it (always god versus demon, and the like). Since I saw the first and especially the second season of American Horror Story though, I think I've come to like it (plus, as I get older, I'm not as scared of noises!).

Which is why I even decided to watch It in the first place. Initially, I thought of it as a kids movie, given that all the main characters, save the clown of course, is played by a child actor. And then, it's a clown. But boy, was I wrong - this is far from a kids movie and is pretty entertaining even for adults. As with any good movie, the story is at the heart and what makes it so good - it is well thought out and masterfully executed by the director. The scenes, even the darker ones, as well-shot. And the kids actually do an excellent job with their acting, while Skarsgård as Pennywise excels at his role.

The one shortcoming of this film is the fact that it is rather predictable, especially in its ending. There aren't really any surprises, and it is a very linear story. Hopefully, in the promised sequel, the director will be more creative. Nonetheless, I'd say this is the best movie of this year, although I am of course waiting for Star War Episode 8 to release next week. (OTFS)

A peek into the world of spies

The Associate
By John Grisham

Whenever I'm tired of a genre or simply unable to find a good book to read, I tend to fall back on John Grisham. No matter what, I can be sure that Grisham's work is simple and satisfying. His style is not overly dramatic, and the story is the real focus, as opposed to simply the ending. His books do not end on a cliffhanger - they end rather satisfyingly, while all the focus is on reaching that very end. The Associate fits that mold perfectly - and it adds some trivia from the world of spies.

When you read the book, it's obvious that the story is inspired from the early days of the F-35 program, which started with huge promises. It then moves on to detailing how you can spy on an individual (provided you have infinite money, of course). The story does not have a lot of subplots and is mostly linear, which makes it a light read. Definitely satisfied, as usual. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A New Decade

As 2017 comes to an end, so too wraps up the tenth anniversary of this blog. Next year will be our 12th, putting us firmly into the new decade, and behind the last. In many ways though, this year has been indicative of what's to come - fewer posts and a smaller scope. This is not exactly intentional - it's just an affirmation of the fact that I am far busier than I was as a teenager or an undergraduate student. And yet, writing has meant a great deal to me and is still my preferred method of catharsis.

Going in to the next decade, OTFS will continue, but will be leaner and more focused. I am strongly considering talking more about my thoughts on academia and research. However, I've decided to continue the IOTY series, as it is a useful way to look back at the year gone by.

This year's logo is inspired by the design of a race car, to signify India's progress forward. For decades considered a basket case of failed economics and a nearly-failed state, India has emerged as a global power in recent years, having been able to create new and meld old institutions in its favor, with varying degrees of success. At the same time, China's christening as the Asian superpower brings with its own challenges. As the country zooms forward to meet its manifest destiny, we will look back at the year 2017 to capture the key moments.

Opinions 24x7 Presents
Indian of the Year 2017
Coming in 2018...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The right amount of suspense


Produced By: PalmStar Media, Atlas Entertainment, and others
Director: Courtney Hunt
Starring: Keanu Reaves, Gabriel Basso, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Renee Zellweger, and others
Pros: Good story, good pace, good use of suspense
Cons: Poor acting, poor ending
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

There are different types of courtroom dramas: ones, like 12 Angry Men, which are restricted entirely to the courtroom, and ones like Erin Brokovich, which have a much larger component outside. And of course, there are ones that lie in the middle of that spectrum. The Whole Truth lies closer to the former, although it does make a lot of effort to build a solid background to the case.

As I've often said, the story is the most important part of a movie, and this movie does not disappoint. It's not particularly complicated, but it is good. More importantly, the director deserves high praise for executing it well at a good pace, not boring the audience through legalese but not slowing the movie down with endless background. The courtroom was the center, and the story moved out as required. Suspense was also used very well and made the movie a cliffhanger - top points to the director, again.

There are some pitfalls though. The acting, with the exception of Reaves, is quite poor. Mbatha-Raw played a crucial character with very poor acting, and the other actors did a pretty pathetic job. Moreover, despite the strong suspense built up, the ending was quite disappointing and a let down. It most certainly could've been done better. Still, on the whole, this was a very good movie that I recommend. (OTFS)