Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Very Important Year


If 2014 was the Year of Narendra Modi, 2015 was quite the forgettable year indeed. Two state elections, states where the BJP has previously been in government, were lost in a most spectacular fashion. The Opposition, nearly vanquished in 2014, sprung back with fervor, egged on by the Deep Congress that fashioned one lie after the other, culminating in a totally manufactured debate on intolerance, a term whose Hindi equivalent is so complex that most people don't even know it, and was clearly devised in the living room of 10 Janpath.

Yet, these setbacks are part of life. Some say these are the first setbacks that Modi and Amit Shah ever experiences - that is incorrect. Modi has known much setback in his life, and he has bounced back from them. He will bounce back from this too. This time, he is not alone, for the entire right wing is at his side. But some changes are necessary. The Congress is not going to play ball, so its time to short change Parliament within the rules of the Constitution. Finance Minster Arun Jaitley hinted as much, when he said that bills would have to be fashioned into Money Bills to overcome the Rajya Sabha problem. It is time to play even harder - P Chidambaram once passed an entire budget without discussion. It is necessary to do that, despite how bad it might sound. The option of a joint session is still very much on the cards, and it may be the only way forward for GST.

2016 will be a crucial year. The Modi government would touch its halfway mark, and the time would come for initiatives to show fruit. There have been some excellent ministers in his cabinet - Sushma Swaraj, Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari, Kiren Rijiju, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani, Suresh Prabhu, Manohar Parrikar, among others - who have done a spectacular jobs. Some of them deserve to get full cabinet positions. There are some - particularly Uma Bharti - who have been terrible, and they deserve to go. Modi must also slow down the excellent pace he has maintained on foreign policy and allow the diplomatic corps to follow up on his initiatives - and for him to get some rest. New talent needs to be found, and that will not be easy, but it must be done. A cabinet shake-up should happen this year.

The 2016 budget needs to be historic - no more incrementalism. A failure there will see Modi losing even his right wing supporters, as Jaitley has lost long ago. This is an important year, for it is the last year when his initiatives will fructify in time for the 2019 elections. The real Modi sarkaar needs to stand up now. 

New Year's Resolution - 2016

It's already New Year's Day in most of the inhabited parts of the world, although it's a sunny, cold afternoon in the Midwest (and that is not an oxymoron in these parts!). But since my timeline is full of people wishing me a Happy New Year, from various timezones, I might as well put up the traditional list of resolutions. I know, most resolutions never happen, and the biggest one I had for last year - buying a car - never happened, courtesy a disastrous Fall semester (that did end with a perfect 4.0 GPA though).

But then, it's a new year, full of new hopes, so who cares what I say? So here goes: my resolutions! Losing weight, obviously, since that is the most common resolution of all! I reached my lowest in 10 years this year, which is a very special achievement, but I also fell off that. So just getting back to the un-name-able number will work for me - and I'm not too far off. As a renewal from last year, buying a car is again a target, and this time by summer.

Then there are the resolutions for research. It's very hard to keep those because of the uncertainty, but I do hope to publish my first journal paper this year. In addition, I need to break free of the MS shadow and really master CFD for research. I therefore resolve to do at least one simulation this year - that's more of a guarantee really! I also hope to pass my qualifying exam this year, though I have no idea when the department will hold that. I also look forward to being a TA this year, the first time I'll be on the other side of the classroom, and I hope - resolve - to do well, and do it honestly, no matter what it takes.

What else? Friends? Relationships? Social activities? I don't see the point in 'resolving' to do anything there - I just hope to not spend rashly, that's all. Yes, I do hope not to repeat this year's lowest-ever blog post count, and make the 10th year a memorable one on OTFS.

And thus ends a very momentous year. 

A Strange Merger

This week, The New York Times contained a fascinating opinion piece about a strange phenomenon that has been happening across the world: the marriage between the so-called Liberal-Left (a mafia, if ever) and radical Islam. It seems strange that an ideology such as that adopted by the Left, which usually abhors religion, whether in public or in private life, can marry an ideology that lifts itself directly from a medieval interpretation of an Arabian religion. But then, the two do have one thing in common - they spread violence and death wherever they go, and eventually take people backward.

A cursory look at the world today will show that, even more than ordinary Muslims themselves, non-Muslim Leftists are vociferous in defending Islam, which is fine, except that they bring their characteristic shrillness to the debate and thus block out all debate. In a typical discussion with Leftists, it is impossible to use normal language, and you are forced to look at the issue from the typical majority-minority matrix that their language is created to capture. Therefore, Islamic extremism is justified on the grounds of them being a harassed minority, never mind the fact that most of these radicals come from so-called Islamic republics where minorities are accorded second-class status, by law.

And this is not the worst of it. The Left has so fully absorbed radical Islam that any discussion on reforming Islam is out of the question. Christianity and Hinduism both went through periods when old practices and customs that have no place in a modern society were exorcised - and the world is better off. But any attempt to even talk about reforming Islam is immediately labelled racist, Islamophobic, and other such insults. Therefore, mullahs getting together to condemn ISIS is great, but Muslims speaking out against elements of Sharia law that give women an unequal status are not real Muslims. At this point of time, in fact, it seems a real Muslim has to be Leftist, which is to say, a hypocrite. A classic example is Shashi Tharoor, who initially objected to the fact that PM Modi didn't seem to visit any Islamic country, and when he did go to Central Asia, that was set aside because those were secular republics and hence, not really Muslim!

The problem with Leftists, of course, is that they are too tightly held in the comforts of modern capitalism to stop and listen to themselves. No wonder that Leftists prefer to vitiate universities around the world, which taxpayers support because they see education as a necessity. The greatest tragedy since World War II has been the Leftist takeover of discussion and academic spaces, closing them off to reason and debate. And now it seems, in their quest for their utopian society, they are willing to join hands with the most dangerous ideology in the world today. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Hope of Akhand Bharat

BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav, the architect of the BJP-PDP coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir, has been pilloried recently by both the Left and the Right for his comments on Akhand Bharat - a united nation of Indic peoples of South Asia. The Right has condemned him either for implying that Hindus and Muslims can actually live together on an almost equal footing, or for deliberately trying to sabotage Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent overture to Pakistan. The Left, in turn, has called his discussion an act of genocide on Muslims (without really explaining how).

All these sides are either wrong, short-sighted, or both. First, the easy culprits. The Left in India has become the torchbearer of the two-nation theory, and for them, anything that the BJP or RSS does in the name of Hinduism is necessarily directed against Muslims. Leftist journalist Rana Ayyub even insinuated that Madhav was talking about 'lebensraum,' which is absolutely stupid (and also falls into the trap of using a Nazi metaphor in an argument, which makes you lose automatically). But this should be expected from the two-nation theorists, because for them Hindus and Muslims are irrevocably two separate nations, and must always be at war. That is simply the natural order of their world, and to their credit, they are pretty uniform in that view. Of course, it is a different matter that when Manmohan Singh speaks of irrelevant borders, it is welcomed; but when Ram Madhav speaks of uniting Akhand Bharat, he is pilloried for it. But then, hypocrisy is the very basis of the Left.

The Right is also wrong here. The two-nation theorists on the right are obviously wrong, because they wrongly believe that: (a) Hinduism is a steadfast religion like the Abrahamic ones (it is not); and (b) Hindu culture ends with religion (it does not). Religion is ephemeral - the underlying culture of the Indian subcontinent, which is ultimately tied to its geographical wonders and thousands of years of development, is stronger and more resilient. Today, the many countries of South Asia pretend that they are separate nations, but any meeting between people of these countries quickly shows that they are essentially one nation, and have the same underlying philosophy that has withstood the test of time even as it has evolved to meet changing circumstances. The political right wing is also wrong because, just as religion, politics (aren't they the same?) is also ever-changing. It is meaningless to say that something is good today and bad tomorrow - the question is of the long-run. Indian civilization goes far beyond the petty politics of everyday life.

And really, how long of a long-run are we talking about? When will the countries of the Indian nation unite? That is very hard to say, but some things are clear - it won't happen soon, and it certainly won't happen under the philosophy of the Nation State. It need not happen either - the Nation State itself is a foreign construct, and has been in existence for a very short period of time, with borders changing regularly. There is no need for the Indian people to unite under one nation state - five or even fifty states makes no difference, for it is just a short-term change on a civilization of thousands of years.

Will then the Indian people have some form of political unity? If not the nation state, then some other form? Maybe. Possibly. But it will take time. How much time? As one Tweet pointed out, the dream of a Jewish homeland took 2,000 years to fructify. A common Hindu (the culture; not the religion) homeland may take longer. But the history of the civilization says that it will happen. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The horrible semester

The semester of Fall 2015 will go down as the worst semester ever, the horrible semester, where I seem to have finally found the limits of the modular approach to scheduling, and where a lot was achieved with equally high input costs. One golden rule I learned was to never take three courses in a semester, especially not one if one of them is the hardest course you've ever taken. Yes, that mantle goes to ME 404, which at one point of time took upwards of 20 hours of work a week to finish! This semester, the modular schedule I've followed blew up in my face, as the rigors of three courses forced the expansion of one module at the cost of all others.

Don't get me wrong though, I would not have skipped ME 404 for anything. It was an excellent course, in terms of research it was the most useful I've ever taken (beating out the previous titleholder, ATMS 313). I'd take it again, if I could (and I'd probably do better next time!). I'm not sure what my grade will be - it was my first full course is mechanical engineering in five years, and significantly more advanced than the last ones (Introductory Thermodynamics and Manufacturing Techniques). Therefore, I really do expect my first B+ at UIUC from this course, with the first exam and homework having lifted me and the lab and final exam throwing me off.

The other courses were far less than rewarding. I started CEE 408 with a negative opinion of the course, my opinion still remains negative, but I can appreciate the content, even if I don't like it. It is useful, and it is even interesting, but it is simply not for me. Nonetheless, I've had stellar results in it (because it was so easy!) and I wold be disappointed with anything less than an A. In CEE 508, I know I already got an A, but I did not like the course one bit. I think it is safe to say that I am an academic and enjoy theoretical stuff - and an extremely applied course like 508 simply bored me. Yet, it was easy but very badly managed, and those two sort of made it a pain. At one point, I wanted to drop out from it, but stayed on. Well, at least that got me a grade to offset the (welcome) damage from ME 404. I would not take 508 again though, and neither 408 (or any railroad course).

This semester also saw some other action. I became a Certified LabVIEW Associate Developer, for whatever it is worth, and so added a new skill to my kitty. I supervised an undergraduate student's project. In his last e-mail to me, he called me a great supervisor and potentially an excellent professor in the future. That was probably the best compliment I have ever received, and for that I'm glad! The research output was not stellar, but it did provide some important insight that I will look into. It was a good experience to supervise a student, for once. Aside from that, a decent literature review that should be completed this week and lot of hits and misses (more of the latter) in publishing papers, and an excellent Course Era course to get me into my PhD topic, summed up the semester.

So it wasn't all bad. Yet, it was very hectic. I did a lot this semester, but that came at a very high price. Attending my sister's wedding definitely tipped the scales, and I had to backtrack on two major commitments: getting a driver's license and hitting 75 kg. Those two goals will have to be left for the new year. Hopefully, a better year. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A new generation

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

Produced By: Lucas Films
Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Kylo Driver, Daisy Ridley,John Boyega, and others
Pros: Fantastic balance of old and new, good cinematography, good acting
Cons: Too fast, poor character development
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

Yes, I was there. Yes, I saw it. Yes, I was jumping up and down like a little school girl. That's how excited I was for the new Star Wars movie, a franchise that has endeared itself like no other for the global order of geeks. Of course, as the movie progressed, it went from a guaranteed 5-star rating to four, for reasons I'll get to in a bit. This movie was destined to be the best this year - the sheer momentum of the preceding six movies and the cult following they command are testimony to that. But what of the movie itself?

It's very good, on the whole. There was also going to be the fear that it too would go the way of Transformers, from a good story to simply meaningless visual effects. And then, there was the nostalgia of the old movies losing out to modern technology. Fortunately, director JJ Abrams was successful in blending the old with the new, injecting a new generation of characters that mix well with whatever is left of the old - almost. While it was inevitable that such a large number of new characters would be introduced for the sequel trilogy, character development was severely lacking. The audience got to know the droid BB-8 far more than it got to know the new villain in town, Kylo Ren. Sure, we got the history, but what of the person? Most of the characters were treated indifferently by what seemed to be a mad desire to mash a lot of stories together and get to the ending. Without revealing the plot, suffice to say that this movie along would've been a whole trilogy in another day and age.

But praise is due where it is deserved. The new protagonists - Ridley and Boyega - do a superb job, and Harrison Ford does well too, although he does seem creaky to those that remember the daring Han Solo. The story is fast but very good, and leaves enough mystery for the succeeding films that will come in over the next three years. This movie is both a treat for old fans of Star Wars who want to relive the glories of the Rebellion and also a delight for a new generation that isn't sure what to make of a galaxy far, far away, that seems a lot like home. (OTFS)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Why the defeatist mentality?


Dear Prime Minister,We don't deserve a person like you.Major portion of the country's population is not valuing your...
Posted by Dhruv Jain on Tuesday, 8 December 2015

This post has recently been making the rounds of the Internet, for a pained citizen who can see through the manufactured outrage in the country but is saddened by the fact that so many can't, or simply don't want to. It is true that the almost two years of the majority government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a mixed bag, with the economy improving but not as much as expected, and the opposition becoming more vicious than ever imagined.

But I wonder why this defeatist mentality seems to have plagued the right wing. Prime Minister Modi, when he was Chief Minister, had been hounded for a decade by the same people that continue to hound him today. And through the incessant persecution, he kept his head and hopes high, and did his job sincerely. He is one of the very few CMs in India who won a fourth consecutive term with a majority. He never let unfair criticism bog him down - so why should we?

It seems strange to me that people are already talking about a defeat in 2019 when it is still 2015 (and almost 2016). If a week is long time in politics, three years is several generations. True, the left-liberal mafia is all guns ablaze after victories in Delhi and Bihar, but then, when did we believe that they would go down without a fight? They are seeing the high castles that they built for themselves over decades falling apart, of course they are going to fight! And so should we!

Come 2019, and the entire right wing will most certainly come out to back Modi's re-election, of that there is no doubt. It will be the most decisive electoral battle in history - even more than 2014. That may not guarantee Modi's victory, but his defeat isn't guaranteed either. It is very much an open battle - and we have nothing to fear at this time. Therefore, there is no need to be defeatist. We must back the PM when he does something right, and correct him when he makes a mistake.

That is good for him, for us, and for this great nation that is ours. 

Very Old Wine

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

Produced By: Universal, Legendary and others
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Irfan Khan, and others
Pros: Good VFX
Cons: Old story, too long
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Yes, I gave Minions more than this one, because at least kids would enjoy that. Jurassic World tries very hard to be like its predecessor Jurassic Park movies, and its success at that leads to its undoing. To call this old wine in a new bottle would be insulting to good wine - this is very old wine and an old bottle. When you make an old movie for a new audience, you are asking for trouble. True, there was a vision to make the movie seem like a seamless transition from the past, but in terms of a story, there was virtually no movement at all!

Kids get into trouble with a big dinosaur. Adults save them. Adults make out. That is the summary of the whole movie, and has been the summary of the previous iterations as well. Yes, this one has good effects and certainly better editing than the other ones, but that's purely because of improvements in technology and not really any improvement in the story or direction. It makes no sense to watch this movie for over two hours when you pretty much know how it will end halfway through, because you can just watch the old ones on Netflix, and probably already have.

Overall, a big disappointment. I know it was the highest grossing film of the year, but that means nothing at all in terms of quality. Fifty Shades of Gray was also an NYT bestseller, after all. (OTFS)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Sweet Tale

MINIONS (2015)

Produced by: Illumination Entertainment and others
Directors: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney and others (all voice)
Pros: Simple story, very easy to follow
Cons: Confusing at times, not for adults
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)

They gained their fame through the Despicable Me movies, and history would say that it was only a matter of time before they got their own spin-offs. Minions is more of a classic cartoon movie than the new-age animated films, but it does rub you in all the right places. A little too much at times.

The movie is difficult to judge - it is excellent for kids, although they need to be a little older for some of the content (or maybe not, in this day and age!). The story is very simply and straightforward for the most part, and will not tax you to understand it, except of a few parts that did seem confusing to me, although it could be that I was just thinking too much. And that possibly is the big negative of this movie - it is simply not for adults, unless you really want to empty your mind of all thought. Perhaps I just shouldn't have seen it? (OTFS)

A Dangerous Trend

The Winter Session of Parliament, it seems, it doomed to go the way of the Monsoon Session that preceded it, with the Opposition, particularly the Congress, continuously disrupting business in both houses. As a result, serious and important legislation, the most important of which is the Goods and Service Tax (GST) Bill, is stuck, and that is hurting the country. The Congress, which seemed quite promising as an opposition party in 2014, when it formed shadow ministries, has completely disavowed the political process of the country, using its numbers in the Rajya Sabha to stonewall virtually all legislation.

But of course, none of this was invented by the Congress. The ultimate villain is now Finance and I&B Minister Arun Jaitley, who invented the 'disruption as a tactic' theory, and the Congress has merely taken it to its logical conclusion. Then, the BJP would disrupt Parliament over the massive corruption of the UPA government; now, the Congress is disrupting Parliament for any reason they can find - a new reason a day! Ironically, one of the reasons was the alleged corrupt dealings of the Congress' top two leaders themselves! This tactic, together with the draconian anti-defection law introduced by Rajiv Gandhi, have made Parliament moot - the BP government has previously used the executive route, and Jaitley has indicated that they may have to do that again.

All this is eerily similar to the history of the Weimar Republic in Germany. In fact, it may be worse, as BJD MP Jay Panda wrote that the Rajya Sabha's powers to derail a democratically elected government is unprecedented in the world, and the opposition is making full use of it. Today, the Congress has figured out that it can stop all legislation until it returns to power; in 2019, the cycle would repeat. A dangerous trend is forming, one which will end only in the end of the Indian Republic.

Only two people can arrest this trend: Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President of India Hamid Ansari, who have the constitutional duty to run their respective houses. Right now, the country faces a full-blown constitutional crisis that will only end with the abolition of the Constitution itself. These two officers must invoke constitutional powers and put it to an end - once and for all. Mahajan used some of those powers in the Monsoon session, and even though it backfired on the government, it did ensure some work was processed. Much more powers must be exercised, even if it means short-term pain, if democracy is to be saved from the Congress.

Ansari and Mahajan stand at a historic juncture when the Constitution is in their hands. Time will judge them for their actions today, forever. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hypocrisy in full glory

Last week, India saw one of the most brazen displays of radical Islam in recent memory. Kamlesh Tiwari, a hitherto unknown local politician in UP, for reasons best known to him, 'released' a press statement (presumably of his own volition) calling the Prophet Muhammad the world's first homosexual. Of course, this is a bizarre, untrue and baseless claim, for both the hypotheses. It's as good as asking which engineering college Ram studied in, wherein the question itself says more than it asks. And as the innumerable statements, movies, and documentaries against Hindu gods have shown, it should've just been ignored or met with at most some placards and small crowds of protesters. That is secular India.

Oh, wait. It was met with a crowd of 100,000 people, calling for Tiwari to be beheaded for blasphemy (as required by Shari'a), and shouting pro-ISIS slogans (although they are all quite free to emigrate to the ISIS caliphate). And it also met with deafening silence from the Liberal-Left who have been crying themselves hoarse about so-called rising intolerance in India. Aamir Khan, who recently used his freedom of speech to say that he wanted to leave the country, chose not to say anything - not even to defend Tiwari's own freedom of speech (however much he might have disagree with it). Liberals across the Internet who kept insisting that freedom of speech must be protected at all costs (from Modi, of course) had absolutely nothing to say about this blatant attack on that very freedom.

And the funny thing is, all of this was so simple. As Taslima Nasreen and Tarek Fatah have been saying, and as the social media has been pointing out, the entire Left-Liberal ecosystem, with the Deep Congress at its core, is extremely pro-Islamist, and its calls for tolerance are essentially to manufacture fear in minorities (Muslims mainly) to milk them for even more votes. @TheJaggi has also been pointing out the fact that the entire ecosystem right from Independence has been using secularism to fan minority communalism - the results of which we saw last week (and indeed before, with the funeral of Yakub Memon). And this whole incident with Kamlesh Tiwari just served to demonstrate the total hypocrisy with which the Deep Congress uses the term 'secularism'. It was extraordinarily easy - a simple thought experiment could've predicted this result!

Perhaps the greatest achievement in all this is that the whole 'rising intolerance' debate has been nipped in the bud. The right wing simply needs to compare the response to Aamir Khan and to Kamlesh Tiwari, and there ends the entire debate as to who is tolerant and who is not. Disagreeing with someone and saying so in public is called democracy - calling for them to be beheaded is called terrorism. The Deep Congress, in its visceral hatred for Modi, has virtually opened the doors for ISIS to enter India by not speaking out against the protesters.

In 2014, I had predicted that the Congress, by being the chief peddler of the two-nation theory after the Muslim League left for Pakistan, is setting the stage for another partition or a bloody civil war in the country. It seems there is a third option - a protracted war with ISIS, with the soldiers being those very secular two-nation theorists. In its quest for power, the Congress and its allied Deep Congress are clearly willing to destroy India. Again. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Say What?

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

Producers: 20th Century Fox, Marvel
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, and others
Pros: Good VFX, good script
Cons: Poor narrative, boring story, confusing
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Another superhero movie, and he cesspool just expands. This coming from someone who actually likes such movies, and who chose it among many others on a 13 hour flight. The fact is, there has been such an explosion of these movies recently that very little though is being put into them by the directors and even the producers - far less thought than the original comic book creators put. And that leads to sloppy movies. Which brings us to Fantastic Four, an origins movie that was best left to the comic books.

Of course, all's not amiss with this movie. The visual effects were good, although with improving technology this is becoming relatively easier and therefore less noteworthy. The script is also surprisingly good, avoiding too much jargon and too much talk, in general. The director does a good job in using that to the movie's benefit. However, the good stuff more or less ends there, because a bad story can only be pushed forward so much by an able director. The plot is confusing and it can become onerous for the audience. That's not a bad thing - Interstellar did just that - but in this case it's asking the audience to understand fake Physics instead of real Physics.

And then there are so many twists and turns, and a needless parallel timeline, that it quickly becomes difficult to remember who does what. A sure sign that a plot is becoming needless is the introduction of characters who don't have a central role to play but get plenty of screen time nonetheless - and that's exactly what happened. So, instead of trying to wrap your head around this, I'd give it a pass. (OTFS)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Time for Trump to go

Donald Trump has always been a controversial figure, even before he joined the current Republican Presidential primary race. A businessmen who made a lot of things his own business, Trump has never been afraid to walk into controversies and express his mind. Indeed, one of the most endearing characteristics of his during this season has been his rejection of the Left-Liberal political consensus, or what is often called "political correctness." But what seemed to be brute honesty has gone too far, for it is now unveiled bigotry of a kind that no civilized society should be willing to accept.

The last straw was obviously his calling for a religious test for immigration or even tourism for that matter. Of course, it really began with his 'agreeing' to a suggestion from a baiting reporter that American Muslims should register themselves (with Twitter derisively asking him if they should wear markers on their clothing like the Jews in Nazi Germany). That incident, although highly inappropriate, might be exorcised away by blaming the reporter who was clearly looking for a soundbite. But his calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the US for any reasons whatsoever is too much.

As Speaker Ryan put it rightly - this is not conservatism. Stratifying people on any basis and painting everyone with the same brush, essentially removing the individual from the person, is what the Left does, not the Right. Of course, it is no coincidence that Trump's plan for a wall eerily reminds you of the Berlin Wall conceived and implemented by the Soviet-backed dictatorship in East Germany. His entire agenda has been extremely Left-wing, with a few peanuts thrown in for free enterprise (which he would only support as long as it suits him) and religious conservatives, whom he has very little respect for but knows must pander to. For the Constitution of the United States, Trump has the least respect of all. Most of his ideas would be unconstitutional, and it is a nightmare to even imagine what President Trump might do if the courts show him the door.

Enough is enough. This is a race for the President of the United States who has to uphold the Constitution. It has to be based on reason. And while some hyperbole is certainly expected in political campaigns, in Trump's case, it has reached bizarre levels. And that is hurting the entire Republican party. Latinos, Muslims, women, blacks... it seems Trump is determined to demonize all of them, with just about nobody left to vote for him. The Republicans should avoid putting people into these artificial boxes, not just by opposing the Left but by also the likes of Trump within their own ranks (if he ever was).

If the Right is going to start labeling people and not respecting individuals, there is no point having them. We might as well Heil Hillary. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

From the Telugu Lands

A Hindu fundamentalist, a true son of the soil, a burgeois imperialist, the man who saved India from Nehruvian socialism - PVNR can be whatever you want him to be, depending on your political and economic leanings. Described variously as a wicked man who usurped power under difficult circumstances to the architect of modern India and arguably the greatest Prime Minister in the history of the country, the life PVNR is a tale in itself, a tale that run parallel to the story of India itself.

Early Life
Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao (PVNR) was born on June 28, 1921 in the Hyderabad empire of the Nizam, in the modern town of Vangara in Telangana state. His early life was impacted by the brutal regime of the Nizam and his razakars, who unleashed a wave of state-sponsored terror on the Hindu majority of the state while simultaneously dealing with first British India and then its successor states, India and Pakistan. A few years after birth to an agrarian family, PVNR studied most of his primary education in what is now Karimnagar district. He went on to study Arts at Osmania University in Hyderabad and then a Masters in Law from Hislop College.

Rao was a polyglot. Although his mother tongue was Telugu and his higher education was in English, he spoke several Indian languages including Hindi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Odiya, Urdu, Bengali, and Marathi, together with foreign languages such as French and Persian. He read several Indian classical works and was aware of the diversity of cultures in the subcontinent. In every respect, he was an Indian scholar and would have made an excellent academic. But he had other plans.

The Resistance
Rao took up armed resistance against the Nizam while supporting the Indian National Congress in British India in the struggle against the 200 year old British occupation of India. Initially, his resistance was limited to writing for the Telugu weekly Kakatiya Patrika, which he edited. Later on, he took on the huge risk of going to arms, for the Nizam's army had clear instructions to shoot freedom fighters at sight. On Aug 15, 1947, when British India was celebrating Independence from the British in the shadow of the bloody Partition of India, PVNR was in a forest in Hyderabad state, saving himself from a barrage of bullets. That night, he survived.

And that night changed the course of the country.

Next: Political life

Not so glamorous travel

Last week, I had the misfortune of having to make International travel in the first snow storm of the season in Chicago. Bad idea. Snow as certainly in the prediction, but almost all forecasters missed the severity. And perhaps that's a good thing, because otherwise I'd have had my flight cancelled. However, while the flight did take off eventually, it included waiting for five hours inside the aircraft, which as you can imagine, is quite uncomfortable. But that's not all, for this was international travel.

Following a five hour delay and a thirteen hour flight, the plane landed in Abu Dhabi having long missed the connecting flight to Mumbai. And so I had to wait several hours more at the airport. This was significantly better though, since I ended up with some friends stuck at the same airport.

Having also missed my connecting flight to Hyderabad, I had to wait four hours after being probably the first person to check in to the Air India flight at Mumbai airport. The new T2 there is gorgeous and I spent the four hours exploring the place, but I was tired, unwashed and extremely irritated. Having finally arrived at Hyderabad hours later, it was another 30 min in the line for the taxis and an hour's drive home.

So over 48 hours after I left from Champaign, I reached home. And that's how international travel is - it sounds very glamorous, but it's mostly a lot of waiting and smelling bad.

So being stuck in an airport for a couple of hours wasn't that bad, thanks to people who randomly landed up at the same airport!
Posted by Sushobhan Sen on Sunday, 22 November 2015

  

Monday, November 30, 2015

Inorganic growth isn't working

The BJP's massive defeat in the Bihar Assembly elections, where the Prime Minister invested a shocking amount of time and political capital, calls for a major re-look at the top-heavy electoral machine that Amit Shah has converted the BJP into, in complete contrast to the Vajpayee days when the BJP was essentially a coalition of RSS-allied leaders from states who enjoyed very strong power in their state but were not really national leaders - until Narendra Modi made history in 2014.

Modi-Shah seem to be more impatient though, wanting to force through a Rajya Sabha majority to break the last shackle that the BJP government faces in the legislative domain. There is nothing wrong with this: any party seeks political power, it is by the very nature of democracy. Neither is there anything wrong with an inorganic growth strategy, wherein the PM is the key man even at the state level, even as the actual local party is in a poor shape. It worked in Jharkhand and Haryana, and even in Jammu. But it clearly met its limits in Bihar.

For now, Amit Shah will have to look for good old organic growth, investing time in local leadership, even if one of them might one day grow to challenge Modi himself. The worst thing that the BJP can do to itself right now is to become like Indira Gandhi's Congress, for that would be a disservice to all those who voted for it and believe in it. The road to a full Rajya Sabha majority will be hard and long, and it won't be a blitzkrieg like the Lok Sabha, but it can be done, and must be done, for the future of the nation is at stake.  

What's with Tipu Jayanti?

Karnataka CM Siddharamaiah, one of the worst CMs in the history of the state, has recently set off a storm by 'celebrating' Tipu Jayanti in honor of the late Islamist tyrant who murdered and converted millions of people in the Mysore region until he was stopped by the British (who later took up his work for him). The inspiration for this celebration of a medieval jihadist is not clear, and even the usual accusations of minority appeasement seem hard to digest. The answer, perhaps, lies in the Idea of India syndrome that the CM clearly has.

It is strange that leftists such as Girish Karnad seem to find an unusual pleasure in celebrating such mass murderers, in the process whitewashing their sins and rewriting history, but would prefer to totally ignore national icons who have truly contributed to the nation. When this strange syndrome mixes with religion, it becomes even stranger, for it seems only Islamic tyrants who ravaged the local Hindu populations are ever celebrated, with more moderate saints, philosophers and even scientists discarded as pseudo-Muslims!

It is in this context that Tipu Jayanti seems to have been 'celebrated'. This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it enrages the Hindu population to see a genocidal bigot receiving taxpayer-sponsored paeans, and on the other it paints the entire Muslim population as being of the same ilk. In effect, it is the worst kind of discrimination possible, all to please just a handful of politically-powerful mullahs. What a shame! 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Coming Soon: Indian of the Year 2015

2015 thus far has been a mixed year for India: from major political reversals for the dominant BJP to some extremely forgettable movies, from the historic achievement of 100% toilets being installed in all schools to Virat Kohli's coming of age - much has happened in a very eventful year. Opinions 24x7 will once again commemorate the year gone by in the IOTY15 series in the first quarter of next year. As with the previous years, we will be looking at shrinking the number of awards and consolidating them into bigger ones. Do watch our for more.

Opinions 24x7 Presents
Indian of the Year 2015
Coming in March 2016

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What 2016 holds

2014 was the year of Narendra Modi and the BJP, winning the Lok Sabha election with a thumping majority and further extending that to win Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and the crown jewel, Kashmir. 2015 was exactly the opposite: the BJP faced humiliating defeats in Delhi and Bihar, both at the hands of foes that it had decimated in 2014. What will 2016 be like?

There are three assembly elections next year. Assam looks the strongest bet for the BJP to return after a 15 year stint in the Opposition, and this time without the AGP (although they would want to get then on board too). Recent defections in the Assam Congress and a strong anti-incumbency have weakened Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, and his position is extremely difficult.

West Bengal, soon after May 2014, seemed to be the next fort for the BJP to invade. However, somewhere in between, it fizzled out, presumably as a concession to Mamata Banerjee in exchange for cooperation in the Rajya Sabha. The CPIM has no standing in the state anymore, having lost their goons and muscle power to the TMC. WB will certainly be the most violent election in recent times, perhaps only equaled by the 2017 UP elections, but the outcome is well-known as of now. Mamata Banerjee will win a second term with ease, perhaps even expanding her majority. Unless the BJP can somehow throw a spanner into the works, which seems highly unlikely right now.

Finally, Kerala, literally the last major bastion of the Congress. The local body elections last week showed the tide shifting in favor of the LDF, particularly since it decided to bring back former CM VS Achuthanandan. The usual logic would imply that the UDF loses and the LDF wins, for that's how it works in Kerala, just like Rajasthan and Punjab (although the last election there broke that trend, having returning a SAD-BJP government). In the last state elections, the UDF won, but only by a very slender majority, which was also an aberration, since it's usually winner takes all. And then, the BJP's surprisingly strong show, having emerged out of Kasargode, winning a municipality and coming in second after the LDF in Trivandrum, puts another aberration into the mix. Kerala elections are usually very boring and predictable, bu 2016 may hold some surprises.

Noticed something? In two out of three elections, the main opposition is actually the BJP, and the Congress seems set to lose all three elections. Just goes to show how the BJP under Modi has replaced the Congress as the country's main party, though certainly not with the hegemony that Nehru and Indira enjoyed. 

Lalu's Grand Comeback

The bitter elections for the Bihar Vidhan Sabha ended yesterday with the so-called Grand Alliance of the JDU, the RJD and the Congress (all former opponents of each other) romping home with a 2/3 majority and leaving their challengers, the National Democratic Alliance of the BJP, the LJP, the RLSP and the HAM(S), to bite the dust. With this, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is ready to return to power for a third consecutive term, albeit with a very different coalition from his previous term.

But Nitish is not the real story. Lalu Yadav's RJD won an astonishing 80 seats of the 100 it had contested, emerging as the single-largest party in the Assembly and with the second largest vote share (the BJP still had the largest). This marks a full circle for Lalu, whose career seemed finished after his party was reduced to nearly nothing by the BJP-JDU combine in 2010, and when he was found guilty of the fodder scam and debarred from contesting elections. By getting so many of his children elected, he has ensured that he will live another day, even if Nitish Kumar is the nominal head of the government (for now). For the Congress, it marks the first time since the 2013 election season that it found itself on the winning side in a major election, and it actually did much better than expected. While still a minor force, this has certainly thrown some rope to Rahul Gandhi.

In looking at the NDA's performance, it is clear that the allies punched way above their weight. The BJP's core vote from the 2014 Lok Sabha election remained largely intact, but the allies were roundly defeated. Former CM Manjhi, who nursed ambitions to return to power, managed to win only one of his two constituencies, and all his other candidates were defeated. The highly casteist LJP and RLSP also won just two seats each, belittling their claims that, had they been given more seats to contest, they could've won them. In fact, by the looks of things, the BJP would've done better on its own! Manjhi is clearly finished for now, and the LJP has no bargaining power left in the Narendra Modi cabinet.

And speaking of Narendra Modi, 2015 marked a complete reversal from 2014, losing both the elections spectacularly. If Delhi was a blip, Bihar clearly marks a trend: the BJP has no answer to a united opposition. While it is able to keep its core voters intact, it is unable to get any more. Which is strange, given that Modi was supposed to have enlarged the core voters of the party. While Amit Shah's reputation as a master strategist, architect of the BJP's historic tally of 73 in UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, is going south, the amount of energy that the PM himself put into this election means that it was a referendum on his government. And therein hangs a different tale. 

Thank You, Anupam Kher

Actor Anupam Kher today let the #MarchForIndia march to Rashtrapati Bhawan today, accompanied by many well-known artists and professionals as well as many other citizens. Parallel marches were also reported in other cities. The march met the President and the Prime Minister to oppose the politically-motivated Award Wapsi campaign and state that they in no way feel stifled or victimized by any intolerance. This must be one of the first movements in recent times that has chosen to oppose the left-liberal narrative of the country, what they dub the 'Idea of India,' was challenged by the people of the country, and the Congress' party's agenda opposed by right-thinking citizens.

Mr. Kher has been sticking his neck out recently in the media, more than most others, to point out the hypocrisy of the campaign as well as its clear political undertones. This can be quite hazardous, because the liberal-left brooks no dissent, and crushes those who speak out against them. Sadly, Narendra Modi has been averse to cultivating a space for the right-wing intelligentsia (a rare breed after decades of persecution), so little has changed, except that the right-wing has gotten more space through social media, where it dominates.

A silly event during #MarchForIndia was an NDTV journalist claiming that the crowd heckled her and called her a 'prostitute.' Firstly, it is not wrong to heckle someone - it is an established procedure of debate. As long as it is done with decency, and definitely without threat of physical harm, it is fine, although obviously actual debate would be better. But heckling is by no means indecent, if done properly. Secondly, I doubt there were calling her a 'prostitute': in all likelihood it was #Presstitute, a nickname that a majority of mainstream journalists have earned through their blatantly partisan and even untruthful 'reporting,' if you can even call it that. While it is not the choicest of insults, it is certainly quite appropriate. Instead of blaming the gathering, it would help if the journalist would introspect as to whether she is really reporting news or just her opinions masquerading as news.

In another day and age, where the government and its allied media controlled the narrative, such a march would've been either impossible or largely ignored. It is testament to the unleashing of individual free spirit by former PM PVN Rao from the shackles of the Nehruvian state that the false narrative of the extremely powerful left-liberal establishment can be countered. And yet, there is still so much more to be done beyond countering, with the ultimate aim being to build a counter-narrative in entirety. That is still a long way to go.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Call for Tolerance

'Intolerance' has become the buzzword of this Bihar election. This week, Sonia Gandhi led her band of courtiers to Rashtrapati Bhavan, essentially asking for the President to dismiss the democratically elected government of Narendra Modi to please the elite of Lutyen's Delhi who are itching to manufacture a riot in the country and reclaim their throne. But then, none of this should come as a surprise: the Congress is the fountainhead of intolerance in India, it has become so addicted to power that it is prepared o destroy the country for it.

The question is: what can be done? How do we reclaim this as a country for all, and not a country of majorities and minorities, of Yadavs and Kurmis, of reserved and general, and of every other division that the Congress has created? The root of the problem is in the Constitution itself, which has been amended over and over, over a hundred times, to fit the illiberal machinations of the Congress party. The root of all intolerance in India is the idea that the state can be intolerant on behalf of the people - that the state can control the economy, education, sexual orientation, marriage, divorce, worship, food,... you name it, and its control by the state is constitutionally allowed, with highly subjective riders that any creative lawyer can overcome.

The first step to creating a more tolerant society then, is to make it clear that intolerance does not have legal sanction, not even by the government. First and foremost, the first amendment must be repealed and freedom of speech restored. The first amendment is the instrument through which the state can ban books and movies, it is the reason the censor board can exist. It must go. But freedom of speech is only one aspect. The most important instrument of freedom and tolerance is a free economy. The state must leave business, and it must do so in more meaningful ways than selling its stake to LIC. The state must not create corporations. Next, social freedom. Illiberal parts of the constitution such as calling for a control on cow slaughter, or laws such as a good chunk of the Victorian IPC, or the unending dole called reservations, must be repealed. And finally, legal equality. Special privileges for minorities must go, and a uniform civil code will have to be enforced. The country needs an actual justice system, and not the sham system we have now that takes decades to come to any decision, and where the biggest litigant is the state itself.

But I need not have wasted so many words. This whole thing can be summarized in one sentence: creating a tolerant society requires dismantling the Nehruvian state, for it is that very ideology and system that has turned us into an intolerant society. To see the downward slope that India has been traveling, one need only follow the history of the Constitution, from its origins through its amendments. An entire civilization was cut up into pieces and an attempt was made to impose a foreign, alien view on it. That is the root of all intolerance in the country, and destroying it will be only the first step in a long journey towards reclaiming our civilization.

And the Congress is the last agent to do that. 

How wrong we were

On May 16, 2014, to quote one article, 'the British finally left India'. With the BJP under Narendra Modi winning its first Parliamentary majority, free from all so-called coalition compulsions that saw Manmohan Singh lead the most corrupt government in history, we thought that finally, we could leave the Nehruvian state behind. We were absolutely mistaken. As the expected series of riots failed to materialize, Leftists and Congress lackeys started manufacturing their own, assisted by a pliant media, to look for every little incident, every little word, and blow it up out of proportion. Oh no, the British never left. They are here, they are alive and they are kicking.

But then, the very idea that Modi had vanquished them was silly, even too hopeful. And why not? After 60 years of persecution at the hands of Leftists, the right wing had finally emerged victorious in such a spectacular fashion, and they lost sight of the fact that the enemy was wounded and down, but not nearly out. They regrouped and tasted blood in Delhi, and now their sights are on the elections in Bihar. Hoping to ride a Lalu Yadav wave, with Nitish as merely a mask, these forces seek to undo everything that May 16, 2014 stood for: a return to fanning minority communalism for votes, a return to making caste the central template of governance, and a return to economic backwardness that has held India.

The Bihar elections and the entire gamut of shenanigans that have taken place in it should serve as a warning to the right wing: having tasted victory, we must not become complacent. The enemy is regrouped and in search of new allies, training and waiting for the day to strike. If we are not ready then, we will be subject to a fate much worse than what was seen hitherto. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Return of the Intellectuals

A few dozen Hispanic 'intellectuals' released an open letter calling for Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump to drop out of the race, hurling a series of accusations against him, everything from being racist to sexist. It was bound to happen as Trump's popularity soared and the usual method of politics seem to bounce off him - indeed, he made such slander from politicians his strength to show how hated he was within the DC establishment. So now it's time for Plan B - the intellectuals.

In the Leftist world, the intellectual is a funny creature. Technically, they should not exist, because they don't really contribute to the world in material terms. But in order to make lesser mortals of the utopian equal society understand their role in the great machine of the state, you need some people to generate the propaganda. Obfuscation and lies are not for the weak-minded: it takes a great gift to make so much slander up. And indeed, these intellectuals are no doubt gifted - they are professors, researchers, and administrators, and should be listened to in their respective fields.

The problem is when they try to project their expertise to areas where they are not experts. This is in effect a leverage: they are trying to use the respect from one field to make up for the lack of respect in another; immigration, in this case. For, if they really looked at what Trump was saying, it would be clear that he agrees with them on the role of Mexicans - but he wants them to come in legally. As recently as the CNBC GOP debate, Trump has gone to great lengths to explain that he would be happy to welcome in the workers that the American economy required - but legally. The millions he would throw out, or would like to in any case, could come back, but legally. In effect, Trump wants to fix the immigration problem without creating new ones - which is far more than can be said for the Democrats or even some Republicans.

And while Trump does appear to be sexist, it is not entirely wrong for him to claim that there is no point being politically correct. In any case, the President of the US is not supposed to be a conscience keeper (otherwise how was Andrew Jackson ever elected?), but a leader who can take tough, even unpopular, decisions. The President is also human and will come with their defects, and it is up to Congress and the American people to stop him if he errs (or she, if that's the case). This an election to elect a leader, and not a saint.

Although, leadership is where Trump probably lacks the most. Which is why this whole episode is way off the point. But why let facts come in the way of some good old outrage? 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Tale of Boredom and Stuff

SENN (2013)

Produced By: Josh Feldman, Britton Watkins
Director: Josh Feldman
Starring: Zach Eulberg, Lauren Taylor, Taylor Lambert, Wylie Herman and others
Pros: Intriguing story
Cons: Slow, poor storyline, irritating music, and everything else was pretty bad too
Rating: * of 5 (1 of 5)

It was Halloween, so I thought I should watch a science fiction film for the occasion. Because most of the popular movies tend to bore me greatly (Gravity being the most recent example), I decided to try an 'artsy' movie that was made on a shoestring budget. And that's how I ended up watching Senn (plus it sounded similar to my name). And I do regret it - not that it was all bad, but most of it was. The premise of Senn is actually pretty good, but a premise makes a couple of pages in a script. The rest seemed to have been either made up in a hurry or worse, on the fly.

Most of the movie happens on a bed. Yes, the main characters are mostly sleeping or, when they're walking around aimlessly, they do so in a seemingly endless supply of new clothing. Which is strange, considering they are on an alien ship. But if this movie looked into details, it would've been so much better. Creating a fancy new script to depict an alien world is one thing, and putting in enough details to make it coherent is quite another. And while I understand the limitations of a budget, this movie actually overdid the special effects, again reflecting a lack of subtlety on the part of the director. Add to that a bad storyline and background score, and it was a long journey downhill.

Except for the premise itself. That might actually make for an interesting sci-fi novel. But a good story can only get you so far - Senn had 1,041 light years to go! (OTFS)

The #GOPDebate on CNBC: My Thought

Last week, CNBC hosted the third Republican Primary Debate, which was probably a mistake. This debate, smaller than the last two, certainly packed more punch, but that was directed more at CNBC than at the contenders themselves. Nonetheless, there were several major highlights from the debate, most notably that all the candidates appear to have closed ranks against the Democrats, with even Donald Trump being less combative (he didn't even speak the longest). Indeed, I am starting to like Trump despite of myself, because behind that clown-like exterior and presumably rabid xenophobia seems to be a fairly logical, if egotistical, person. His opinions on the Middle East are quite accurate, as are his thoughts on immigration.

The star of the debate was certainly Marco Rubio, while the biggest loser was Jeb Bush. That is discounting even the presence of Rand Paul and some of the others, including Gov. Chris Christie, whose time in this race ended long back. This race appears to be between Carson, FIorina, Trump, Bush and Rubio, with even Ted Cruz failing to get too deep in. Of course, given the number of people it started with, five probable candidates is not so bad.

Unlike the FOX and CNN debates, this one went into a variety of issues, with a grater focus on domestic issues. Contrast this to the last two, where Iran seemed to occupy half the time. Some of the candidates seemed to take a leaf out of Bernie Sanders' book this time round, talking about 'real issues' without really saying much about them, and with utter disregard for time limits. This actually made it very interesting to watch because while most Republicans seem to agree on foreign policy - with Rand Paul being a notable exception - the real faultlines lie in domestic issues. Nonetheless, CNBC could have chosen a much better format than the rapid-fire one that essentially left candidates with little time to speak and the audience hoping for more insight. 

Why is Bihar poor?

As the long-drawn Assembly election in Bihar enters its second half, I have been intrigued by the machinations. The media of course, has its own agenda, as do these Award Wapsi people. But Bihar is very different from Delhi. In all my years, I've always heard about a mythical creature - the politically suave and knowledgeable Bihari, who knows and understands the ins and outs of politics and government. And yet, Bihar seems to be on the verge of bringing back Lalu Yadav to power, the man who drove the state to the dark ages.

Let's talk about this mythical creature. The average Bihari probably knows a lot. Does that help them in any which way? Aside from getting some government jobs, probably not. This is probably the classic case of quantity over quality - sure, the average Bihari might know a lot, but that comes to nothing. A blatantly militant and casteist Lalu Yadav, together with the extremely opportunistic Nitish Kumar, seem set to capture power in Patna, thus returning the state to its former form. An alternative that speaks the message of jobs, infrastructure and development looks to be losing. And all this, presumably, because one side couldn't get its caste equations right! Sure, caste is still important in India, but it seems Bihar and UP remain the last places where it dominates over all else - even life and death by the looks of things.

Therefore, it seems that the politically savvy Bihari is a myth - they are simply the maggu student who is able to memorize vast amounts of information without ever making any sense out of it. Until they help themselves up, they will be destined to hold government jobs (whose entrance exam is the mother of all tests of rote memorization) or work as helpers in those parts of the country that have moved far ahead, with far less so-called knowledge. 

The Idea of India Syndrome

The striking down of the 99th Constitutional Amendment and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act by the Supreme Court will go down as one of the most glaring display of judicial activism and legislation by the unelected in the history of the Court. The judgment does far more than comment on the constitutionality of the two pieces of legislation, but strikes at the entire constitutional system and eventually comes back to his the very people with whom sovereignty is supposed to lie.

The judgment falls on two counts and both of them can be termed sanctimonious. First, in one broad stroke, it paints the entire democratic system in India, the political parties, politicians and institutions (specifically the Law Minister) as evil fiends who must be kept out of judicial appointments for no other reason than that they have to be accountable to people through elections and Parliament. For the judiciary needs no accountability, because it says so, and interprets the Constitution accordingly, completely abusing its powers. On the second count, the verdict puts common people (the eminent personalities) out of the system as well as they need to be selected by a committee that is two-thirds political (the PM and the LoP). Therefore, the judgment completely turns the judiciary into an ivory tower, beyond the reach of anybody, at complete divergence from the Constitution and the original intent of the Constituent Assembly.

I call this sanctimoniousness the 'Idea of India' syndrome - the idea that a small, elite group of people can and should control India, for India's people are too stupid to know what's good for them and therefore, do not share the same 'Idea of India' as the elite, who are always right, no proof required. As it stands, the Indian judiciary has largely failed a vast majority of people. Dockets are overfilled, cases drag on for decades. According to one study, if there were no new case filed today, it would still take 360 years to clear all pending cases. This is ridiculous and, as if that were not enough, this judgment makes it impossible for people to have a say about judges themselves. The NJAC may or may not have had problems, but the fact is that if a man or woman on the street felt aggrieved by a judge granting endless adjournments, and then is horrified to hear that the same judge is being promoted to the higher judiciary, that person cannot even so much as write a letter of protest, because the Collegium holds its meetings behind closed doors and does not ask for public inputs, the only one of the three branches of government that has that sort of power. Sovereignty does not lie with any branch of the government, it lies with the people, but only in the judiciary have people been completely left out in the cold.

As if this were not enough, after the judgment, the judiciary has appropriated even more legislative powers to itself, because of course elected representatives of the people cannot defend the 'Idea of India.' The very act of asking for public comment on an improved collegium should have been unconstitutional, because the Constitution did not create the collegium and the courts cannot legislate to first create it and then invite comments to improve it, and yet that is exactly what is happening. If Parliament is creating bad but constitutional laws, it is for the people to judge, not for the unelected elite.

Finally, irony was slaughtered in the majority judgment, when one judge expressed fear that the government may discriminate against LGBT people in appointing judges. The Supreme Court sanctioned legal persecution of LGBT people a few years ago. If a judge is LGBT, they are liable to go to jail, and such a person cannot be considered suitable to be in the judiciary even by the Collegium. I fully support repealing Section 377 and ending the judicially-endorsed Victorian law that is a blot on our society and indeed, is alien to ancient Indian culture. But as the law stands, with the full backing of the Supreme Court, discriminating against LGBT people is perfectly legal, whether done by the Collegium or the NJAC. Exactly how this defends anybody's 'Idea of India' is beyond me.

Justice Markendaya Katju rightly said that the judiciary is beyond redemption now. With this judgment, it just fell a little further. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

False Comforts

In the last few days, former-Indian-now-Pakistani newspaper Dawn has been publishing a great many editorials that celebrate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an Indian version of Zia ul Haq and one who has somehow broken down the difference between the two countries that were and remain one nation - not mentioning that the difference they were referring to would be described in the West as that between a civilized state and a group of barbarians with guns. This is all claptrap of course and nothing more than false comfort for the Pakistani elite that, for some unknown reasons, seems to want to compare Pakistan to India all the time.

India is not a perfect place - communal incidents have been happening for centuries. At one time, it was Islamic rulers destroying Hindu temples, then it was Hindus fighting Muslims, and now it's pretty much everybody fighting themselves and each other. While this seems horribly bleak, it needs to be put into some perspective. The population of India is the second highest in the world among countries, and given the torturous history, there are certainly going to be violent incidents - no country in the world, not even the rather homogeneous Scandinavian states, can claim otherwise. But when seen in the context of the Indian subcontinent, India is a remarkably free and peaceful place, indeed the most democratic nation in this part of the world.

A few days ago, the Muslim world celebrated Muharram, a Shi'a festival. In India, Shi'as celebrate it through private rituals as well as the rather public display of self-flagellation. Aside from minor scuffles in some remote part of the country, life continues as always. In Pakistan, for years now, Shi'as have been murdered in terrorist attacks. Whole anti-Shi'a militias exist and, like their anti-India/Afghanistan/US/Israel/Iran counterparts, they disappear and reappear after every ban. And Shi'as are still Muslims - in 1947, Pakistan had the second-largest Hindu population in the world, and today there are just a handful left, fewer than the population of much smaller Nepal. In contrast, India's Muslim population has risen over the years. The state-approved discrimination of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic is unimaginable in India, where even today, the Vice-President of the Republic is Muslim, as was arguably the greatest President. In Pakistan, only a Muslim can hold those posts, by law.

By this metric, for Dawn to say that India has turned into Pakistan since Modi came to power is rich. It is the false comfort that the Pakistani left lives in, totally unattached to the violence and systemic destruction of 5,000 years of history that happens everyday, right outside their gated communities. In fact, as Rupa Subramaniam wrote for Newslaundry, incidents of communal violence have decreased and are largely limited to just a few states, chief among them being UP (for statistical as well as political reasons). It seems Dawn has been taking the staunchly anti-Modi, Left-Liberal Indian media (lovingly called #Presstitutes here) too seriously. There is no reason for Dawn to believe the likes of NDTV, the Hindu and the Indian Express. Not too many people in India do either. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Which Constitution is Ananya Vajpeyi Talking About?

This article is a rebuttal to this one published in The Hindu, by request.

The Constitution of India is a very unique document - everybody seems to love it and hate it simultaneously, not as two groups, but internally, individually. In some ways, it has become a quasi-religious text that can be interpreted in any possible way. Indeed, in the mixing of religious texts with Constitutionalism, Ananya Vajpeyi brilliantly, and certainly purposely, displays the fine art of obfuscating facts and bending interpretations to suit an agenda. The summary of her article, behind layers and layers of scholarly discussion on the caste system, is that Modi and his party (and the larger Sangh Parivar) are evil, they have been evil since 5000 BC (or earlier), and that they are subverting a liberal Constitution in every possible way. All of these are obfuscations.

Caste and How to End It

Let us first consider the scholarship on caste. Let me be clear - the caste system was inhuman, and it condemned people to a life of penury for not just decades, but thousands of generations. It has no place in a modern, scientific society, and therefore, the RSS' agenda of ridding Hindu society of caste deserves praise and support. However, unlike what Vajpeyi would have us believe, caste was an extraordinarily efficient social system for reasons known to her Western paymasters since the time of Adam Smith. It is the same principle on the basis of which Henry Ford could mass-produce cars: specialization. A group of people specializing in a particular task (materialistic as well as spiritual) and nothing else, is far more efficient than the same group doing a little bit of everything. The result is a prosperous society - but one where that prosperity is not shared. Indeed, if anything can break caste forever, it is the industrial revolution that allows societies to produce efficiently through machines instead of people, eliminating the need for human specialization. In short, capitalism is the greatest breaker of caste, a fact that Ambedkar knew quite well, but which leftists like Vajpeyi, who place more faith in government than on individuals, don't want to think about.

Intolerance in Society

Next, the question of the BJP. There is no doubt that there are some elements in all political parties that are inherently communal, in favor of or against some religion or group. This is true of the Congress, the BJP, the IUML, the AIMIM, the TMC, the DMK, the RJD, and even the Communists, as their recent confabulations in Kerala to oppose the SNDP show. But to suggest that somehow communal peace and freedoms have been suppressed by the Modi government is nothing short of political brinkmanship. Communal relations have been difficult in India for centuries - from the decades when Hindus were herded across the Hindu Kush to be sold as slaves by Islamic invaders, to when European colonists took it upon themselves to 'civilize' a civilization that was millenniums older than theirs, and of course the catastrophe that was the Partition of India.

And while everyone is concerned about peace, the problem with Vajpeyi, and her entire ilk, is that her concern is selective. A terrible incident like the #DadriLynching under the Congress would've either been ignored or just tossed on to the Samajwadi Party; but when it was done with the BJP in Delhi (not Lucknow), it must be Modi's fault. In her enthusiasm to pin everything on Modi, she even cites the murder of Narendra Dhabolkar in Maharashtra, who was assassinated in August 2013, when Modi was still the CM of Gujarat, Manmohan Singh was the puppet PM of Sonia Gandhi and the Congress-NCP were ruling the state for over a decade! It is this selective outrage that has made people immune to such horrific murders - 'a Muslim was killed, but a Hindu was also killed somewhere,' so balance has been restored to outrage on either side! Instead of genuinely standing up for human life, what Vajpeyi and her comrades have done is to show the Hindu right the power of selective outrage, and they have simply learned to use the same stick. The real problem here is that a human was killed, and not that a Muslim was killed, but to Vajpeyi, those two things are as far apart as the earth and the sky.

If anything, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying his best to bring economic strength to all, through infrastructure and jobs, which will hopefully give people too little time to literally run riot. After all, it is pretty hard for people working in factories to take a break, murder a few thousands, and return without losing too much pay to feed their families! As long as a vast majority of people are poor, there will be an endless fight for limited resources, and those fights will be along whatever lines possible - religion, caste, region, etc. The way out of the cycle of centuries of violence is economic prosperity, an endeavor that the Nehruvian state miserably failed to achieve, and which the PNV Rao state has been able to do with limited success but great promise. If anything, people genuinely interested in breaking this cycle should be supporting Modi's economic reforms. But then, genuine concern is not really the point of these Op-Eds, is it?

Constitutional Myth
The last myth that Vajpeyi and her comrades repeatedly pander around is that the Constitution was liberal and that Modi is working tirelessly to undermine it. Neither assertion could be farther from the truth. In the Indian Constitution are provisions for separate civil codes based on religion, for separate educational and religious regulatory requirements for so-called minorities and majorities, a provision that makes the prevention of cow slaughter a non-enforceable duty of the state, the infamous provisions for separate educational seats, jobs and even promotions on the basis of caste, and a separate constitution for one and only one state, among other 'liberal' (sarcasm) provisions. As if these were not enough, the amendments to the Constitution take away free speech and expression (First Amendment), the right to own property (44th Amendment), and the right of Muslim women (and only Muslim women) to alimony through due process (Shah Bano). And all this before anybody even heard of Modi!

Indeed, all the illiberal moves of any Indian government have been perfectly Constitutional - from banning books and newspapers to arresting people on the flimsiest charge of hurting so-called sentiments. And if the Constitution didn't support such illiberal moves, it was suitably amended. Why let a little something like the law come in the way of secularism and socialism, eh? If Narendra Dhabolkar had not been killed, he would have be just one FIR away from being an under-trial prisoner for life, very much legally. Vajpeyi, like all her comrades, feels so concerned for Wendy Doniger's book on Hinduism that was pulped by Penguin (and not banned by any government), but not for Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses that was banned by the full force of law that derives its authority from the same 'liberal' Constitution.

The very unpleasant truth is that the Constitution codified divisions in society and enforced them. It started by making out a case for an equal and just society, in a non-enforceable Preamble, and then went on to set the stage for exactly the opposite, the fruits of which we are 'enjoying' now. Almost like the dystopic Soviet Union, it tried to create equality by pushing inequality down our throats through a big, paternalistic government. Even the rather ban-happy BJP is essentially deriving all its powers from the Constitution. Modi is not opposed to the Constitution; in fact, at worst, they are on the same side!

A Real Case
The problem with Ananya Vajpeyi and her ilk's writings is that they are so woefully disconnected from history and society, either on purpose or through sheer indoctrination, that the only outlet that they can get a voice on is The Hindu, with a daily readership that represents less than 0.1% of India's population, most of it in one city. These armchair socialists are so ensconced in the taxpayer-funded comforts of the state that they live in their own parallel universe, a universe where India did not exist before 1947, where the Constitution was the most ideal document, and where a man named Narendra Modi stole an election to destroy their utopia (although the part about ending leftist utopia is probably true).

The obfuscation is so obvious, the agenda so clear, that it is not even funny anymore. What these so-called liberals are telling us is: either vote for our people and share our values, or we will convince you that you're in very deep shit, one op-ed at a time. To quote one such liberal from another decade, as Swapan Dasgupta does in his article, "I don’t feel out of touch with the people, they might feel out of touch with me but that is their concern, not mine."

What they're saying through layers and layers of obfuscation is: liberalism is a myth, it's all about power. In 2014, the only thing that changed was that people realized one thing: two can play at that game.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Thank You, Nayantara Sahgal

Noted writer and Sahitya Akademi member Nayantara Sahgal started off a deluge of sorts of recipients of the Sahitya Akademi award returning their awards over the tragic lynching of a man in UP for allegedly consuming beef. Following Sahgal, many more writers and poets, some noted and most sundry, have returned their awards for the same reason. However, this is actually a blessing for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is being blamed (as always) by leftists, conveniently bypassing Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav under whom law and order in UP has been on a downward slope for a long time, and the Congress party, which initiated the banning of cow slaughter and indeed, put it in the Constitution (a fact conveniently forgotten by leftists who otherwise claim great love for the document).

They say that when a ship is sinking, the rats run away first. This is precisely what is happening. The army of leftists who have grown accustomed to suckling off the udders of the socialist state, courtesy the Congress party and its first family, are deeply worried that Narendra Modi is undoing the system that they ruled over, a system that humiliated conservative Hindus for being themselves while keeping the poor, desperately poor and at the beck and call of a a massive state. Modi is not Vajpayee and he is not interested in keeping the status quo and unknowingly allowed the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty's structure (what I call the 'Deep Congress') to remain intact and ready to destroy him. If the fact that Sahgal is related to this dynasty directly is lost on the die-hard supporters of the party, then her declaration that the only reason she chose to return her award for the Dadri Lynching, and not the any of the countless communal tragedies that have happened before, is because the current government if a 'Hindutva' one, which is code for Narendra Modi. Human tragedy is not the point at all here, it is purely political.

It is therefore a great victory for Modi that these rats are jumping ship - clearly he is doing something right against them! Moreover, it gives a chance for people to see for themselves the sort of leeches that the Congress has cultivated and those who have been sucking the Indian taxpayer. Instead of having to go through the arduous trials of due process, they have pleaded guilty by themselves. And what does that amount to? Modi may or may not win in 2019, but the Indian right is on the ascendancy. The Congress knows this, which is why it is using its proxies in this incident instead of taking it on directly; it is also why Rahul Gandhi's puppet masters have been trying to cultivate his latest soft Hindutva image (in an echo of his father). By disrobing themselves such, the right wing will know its enemies and, at the opportune time, it will strike. The greatest power of a massive leftist state is its ability to maintain secrets - that is being eroded. Indian philosophy says that victory and defeat happen in cycles, one must learn to gain from both of them. That is exactly what the Indian right is doing, whether one calls it victory or defeat.

And therefore, Nayantara Sahgal deserves a big thanks from the right wing for initiating this mass disclosure of loyalties. Only Pakistan has been able to do this before. 

Answer the Palestinian Question

The recent spate of violence in Israel, centered around stabbing by both sides, and presumably triggered by restrictions placed at the disputed Temple Mount/al Aqsa mosque, is a worrying trend that frustration is growing on both sides over an unsustainable status quo. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed some emergency measures, they may only cure the symptom but not the whole problem. The real question is of the future of Palestine and the answer, while not easy, has to come sooner than later to avoid yet more escalation. Except for its staunch ally America and possibly its new ally India, Israel is very much turning into a pariah internationally, which is a matter of deep concern for its wellwishers who wish to see it assume its rightful place as a free nation.

The biggest problem are the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal by International Law and which no country will accept as being sovereign Israeli territory, not even Israel's allies. President Obama, who is the head of state of the US whether Netanyahu likes him or not, has repeatedly demanded that these settlements be halted, and has been rebuffed each time, one of the key reasons Israel-US tensions have been on the rise. These settlements make Israel's claims of wanting peace sound hollow as it looks to make a Palestinian state impossible through a thousand cuts. If a two-state solution is even on the cards, these settlements must not only end but be reversed altogether as a violation of International Law.

If, on the other hand, a two-state solution is not an option for Israel, as Netanyahu has said before, then the only solution is a one-state solution comprising both Jews and Palestinians, under the same law. This effectively means that the dream of the Jewish state would be impossible. The alternatives are thoroughly unacceptable to any decent human being: creating an apartheid state that discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or a Nazi solution of wiping out the Palestinians altogether. If Israel chooses either of these two, not even the US will be able to save it from the massive international backlash that it will face. There is no deal of propaganda, or even truthful explanations, that can explain a dead child.

Indeed, by choosing either of these two - the one-state or the two-state solution - Israel would be on a much stronger footing. It could easily invade an independent Palestine and tear Hamas apart by citing the rocket attacks as a declaration of war, and this time the typical leftist excuses of Palestine being ravaged by Israeli occupation would not hold water. While this might sound terrible, it is necessary in dealing with terrorists supported by a state (a lesson that both the US and India should learn in Pakistan) and indeed, perfectly justified as self-defense. If Palestine and its people, including Hamas, were to be absorbed into Israel, then Hamas would simply be an insurgent group that could be dealt with without the problems of the Oslo accords, and so-called questions of human rights would simply be subsumed as an internal affair.

More than the Palestinians, Israel has much to gain from concluding the long-drawn out peace process, which is what Israel's supporters greatly desire. For as long as the Palestinian question looms over its head, Israel remains handicapped globally. And as a corollary, status quo hurts Israel as much, if not more, than Palestine.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

War and Peace Lecture: Who gets respect?

For several years, Opinions 24x7 has honored the memory of Mahatma Gandhi through the Gandhi Peace Lecture series on his birth anniversary. This year too, we fully intend to do the same - however, with the passage of time, it has become clear that while Gandhi's principles of ahimsa and satyagraha remain relevant, they cannot be seen in isolation. Many of the moral issues that face us today, from terrorism to religious violence, cannot be fully addressed without examining the larger context in which non-violence exists. Therefore, 2015 onward, we have decided to rename the series as the War and Peace lecture.

This has an additional significance - October 2, the International Day of Non-Violence, is also the birth anniversary of India's second Prime Minister and victor of the 1965 War with Pakistan, Lal Bahadur Shastri. Shastri was no warmonger of course, he was after all a follower of Gandhi himself. But when faced with an impossible choice from Pakistan, and forced to expand the theater of fighting, marking the first time since Partition when Indian troops were at Lahore, he did not hesitate. It is then fitting that we rename the series to the War and Peace blog.

Any Difference?
But really, has anything changed? Does peace have any value unless it is backed by the promise of unacceptable war? What would have happened had the British ignored Gandhi and allowed him to die in one of his hunger strikes? The fear was certainly of massively violent resistance to the centuries old occupation of India, violence that would have been impossible for the occupiers to quell.

Not that there was no violence. The occupiers had hanged several revolutionary fighters, and the Indian National Army had conquered Burma as well as the British-Indian Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Britain was squeezed to defend not only itself in Europe but also its most prized colony. Seen in this historical context, the Quit India Movement was not just a moral fight against the British but one that threatened to push the entire Empire into total collapse before the Axis powers.

Subtle Difference
If war is the only way a mighty empire could be brought to its knees, was Gandhi's non-violent philosophy of any value? It seems that it does not, for its power only lies in the promise of war. But there is a difference, and that difference lies in the answer to the question as to who earns respect. Respect is not automatic between countries or people. Outside sophisticated social systems as in Asia (which are fast breaking up), respect can only be earned by an individual. Similarly, peace too must earn its respect. A peace that is achieved through the sledgehammer of total warfare does not earn respect.

And this is the key. An enemy, when faced with an adversary that they do not respect, will have no fear in fighting back with vengeance. That is why the British hanged the violent revolutionaries, or tried to hang officers of the INA after World War 2 at the Red Fort trials. For to them, there was nothing to respect in violence. Gandhi offered one thing that, in its most naked form, commanded respect - truth. The truth, as embodied in the American Declaration of Independence, that all men are born equal and free. No amount of violent suppression or indeed, any human activity, can change this truth. Only by grasping truth could Gandhi's peace win his war.

Truth earns respect. War and peace are but mere stages. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Doval Doctrine

With yet more saber-rattling in Pakistan in an attempt to neutralize the aftermath of the Ufa agreement between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, Kashmir is clearly back on the agenda, or at least the Pakistani agenda. If the mainstream media in India and their tribe of #AdarshLiberals were to be believed, this is a terrible thing. Actually, this is a good thing and reflects the thinking of NSA Ajit Doval, who has been managing Pakistan.

The strategy seems to be two-pronged: one, to sideline the separatists and only allow the elected representatives to represent Kashmir, as was the spirit of the Shimla agreement; and two, to isolate Pakistan internationally as an intransigent state run by its military, incapable of civilized behavior. Moreover, an even more subtle change is the talk of Kashmir as a whole being a part of India, thus putting AJK ad Gilgit-Baltistan back on the discussion board as Indian territory under Pakistani control.

This is certainly a high-stakes game that Doval is playing, but the rewards are great. If Modi can keep the Indian economy strong, the world is almost guaranteed to see Pakistan as nothing more than a nuclear-armed menace (as Donald Trump hinted recently), a factory of terrorists. With the vast market it offers, India will have much more leverage (foreign policy today is, after all, an extension of economic policy). By putting GB and AJK back on board, India would be able to highlight how Pakistan has failed to live up to its side of the UNSC resolutions that it continues to harp on about.

Clearly, Ajit Doval is playing a game much too great for the Indian media to fathom. Only time will tell whether it will pay off.