Saturday, April 30, 2016

I support Trupti Desai

Trupti Desai has been making the headlines recently for her organization, Bhumata Brigade, and its daring attempts to fight what it calls discrimination against women in places of religious worship. She tasted success in being able to worship at the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, and has now taken to applying her energies to the famous Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. In that process, she has knocked on the doors of the Bombay High Court and has led marches to the temple, finally being allowed access to it, and thus breaking a 400-year old tradition that kept women out of the core of the temple.

In that process of course, she has faced a lot of hurdles - from politicians to the temple trust and even the Indian right wing (of which this author is a part). We support her and her goals. She has been accused of targeting rather harmless Hindu traditions while ignoring much more serious ones in (what else?) Islam. Perhaps it was that accusation that led her to focus on Haji Ali. Whatever the be case, it is a fact that there is no sanction for discrimination against women in any sphere in the Vedas, which form the core of the Hindu faith. Therefore, any and all so-called traditions can be broken, because they do not derive from the Vedas. Moreover, even if that were not the case, it is a fact that in today's day and age, women are equal and deserve equal opportunities, whether in matters of faith or in law. Therefore, either Hinduism reforms itself or gets blown away by the winds of change.

And why is this so surprising? Doesn't the Bhagwad Gita itself talk about change, and how the world changes through the ages? Change should not be a matter of surprise or even antagonism in Hinduism - it should be welcomed. And on the comparison with Islam, why is it OK for Hindu shrines to discriminate against women, just because Islamic ones do? It is not. Instead, Hindu temples must stand out in pride that they welcome everyone - men, women, and transgenders - to worship their gods. Discriminatory policies should not be a source of pride, but of shame. If Hindu institutions can be better than others, than why not?

As for the Islamic shrines such as the Haji Ali dargah, they too must reform, for that is the way it works in a secular, democratic society such as India. How long will Muslim women, living alongside Hindu women, tolerate the discrimination meted out to them while their Hindu counterparts continue to break down walls? How long will blind faith, hidden behind the veneer of pseudo-secularism, dominate over the indomitable human spirit? Long, certainly, but not forever.

The only problem that can be sensed here is with the Indian judiciary - always very quick to (rightly) denounce discrimination in Hindu institutions, but treating Islamic (and others') ones with kid gloves. While the HC deserves commendation for ordering the temple to open up and rightly give way to women, one cannot be sure if they would do the same thing for Haji Ali, because the two-nation theory is so deeply ingrained in the politically correct pseudo-secularism that the country has become addicted to, that even the judiciary is not above it. Ideally, the temple authorities should have resolved the issue with Ms. Desai without having the court step in, but their unreasonable and unjustified stand forced it to happen. Just how long will the Haji Ali authorities be prepared to fend off modernity?

Trupti Desai definitely has a long war ahead in Haji Ali, and we wish her luck, even if the judiciary and society at large (including the Indian Right) is against her. For no force in the world can stop an idea whose time has come. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A real page turner!

By Ken Follett

Yes, you guessed right, I'm quite determined to finish everything by Ken Follett that I can get a hold of. It really makes my life easy - I remember the horrible times I've spent wondering which author/genre I should pick up, and whether I would like it or not. Like it or not, library anxiety is a real thing, and having a favorite (temporarily, at least) author who you can latch on to is a wonderful thing. Right now, that's Follett for me (but of course it will change eventually). And so I didn't even have to think too much when I picked up Jackdaws - a World War II spy thriller (aren't those just the best?). And I was indeed vindicated.

Calling this a page-turner may in fact, be an understatement. It was exciting, with just the right number of characters (but on the border of being too many), and followed actual history to the best extent possible for the genre. The author clearly pictured everything in his head, for he used subtleties that the reader could easily have missed to great effect. Suspense was the name of the game, and the ending was explosive. A great read. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Has Jaitley been snubbed?

The Union government recently announced new nominated members to the Rajya Sabha, and the results were quite interesting. While the inclusion of MC Mary Kom as a representative from the Northeast, and essentially replacing Sachin Tendulkar in the House, was a positive move, the inclusion of a former member of Sonia's Gandhi extra-constitutional NAC took many by surprise. Navjot Siddhu's nomination was understandable given the BJP-SAD government's imminent defeat in Punjab next year. But perhaps the biggest surprise was Subramaniam Swamy's nomination, which promises to shake up the House.

A glance at the last two names suggests an interesting theory: have Arun Jaitley's wings finally been clipped? The rivalry between Jaitley and Swamy is the stuff of legend - it is widely suspected that it was Jaitley that kept Swamy out of the Union Cabinet, and also prevented the government from firmly backing his mostly successful and relentless attack on the many scams of the Gandhi dynasty. But his nomination to the House may have been a consequence of the reset in the government and the party after the devastating loss in Bihar last year. And although it is heard that Jaitley was consulted on the nominations, it is hard to believe that he would've been alright with Swamy.

Siddhu is another story. He has every reason to be angry at Jaitley, who took the Amritsar seat from him to contest in 2014, and duly lost. Siddhu would have put in a much better opposition to Amrinder Singh of the Congress, who won that seat and added to the party's meager count of 44 in a House where it once had ten times that number. There was a very real chance that he would defect to the rising AAP in Punjab, and the BJP needed to keep him, particularly as a Sikh face to stand up to the Akalis. His nomination would cause much heartburn to Jaitley, but would help the party, even if by very little (the BJP-SAD should not hope for victory in Punjab next year).

From these two, it seems that Jaitley has truly been cut down to size, and the Prime Minister has reasserted his control over the government and the party. If these two don't convince you, consider the last nomination: Swapan Dasgupta, strongly disliked by the Lutyen's media that Jaitley is so fond of, and unconditional supporter of the Prime Minister, who has done a better job of defending the party and government on English news media than most BJP spokespersons (perhaps only bettered by HRD Minister Smriti Irani). He has been duly rewarded, and the party seems to have woken up to the fact that it does have a constituency willing to take on the Deep Congress, if only the party would back them.

The final thing to watch out for will be the long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle. That will finally answer the question as to what is left of Jaitley and his disastrous handling of both the Finance and I&B Ministries, as well as his political mishandling since losing in a wave election. 

An unholy alliance

Voters in large swathes of the US on the eastern seaboard as well as the West woke up yesterday to the announcement of a shocking, unholy alliance that smacks of desperation and an agenda to toy with the existing system when it doesn't work. Republican hopefuls John Kasich and Ted Cruz announced an alliance in which the two would fight "friendly contests" in so-called strategic states (which is all of the remaining ones), meaning that they won't campaign against each other in various states. It is eerily similar to the politics of alliances that is seen in Westminster-style democracies, only this time, it is within a single party!

As Donald Trump rightly said, this is the political equivalent of insider trading, and should be a crime. It is an act of sheer desperation after the New York primary that gave Trump a crushing victory and made it clear that neither Cruz not Kasich will be able to stop Trump before the RNC convention in Cleveland. Their hope is to prevent Trump from reaching a majority of delegates, and then using their political muscle to deny him the nomination. This would virtually destroy the Republican party, as it would make it imminently clear that the party leaders stand above the people who make up the party.

It is imminently clear that this election is crucial for the Republican Party. With the demise of Justice Scalia, the balance of the Supreme Court lies in wait, as do major issues the country faces. While Hillary Clinton will certainly offer a very strong challenge, the last thing the Republicans need is to shoot their own base, which is clearly behind Trump by a big margin. Which is why, this Cruz-Kasich alliance is unholy, and directed against the very future of the Party itself. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

For the love of the Borg


For almost a year now, I've been an ardent fan of the Star Trek franchise, mostly through the TV series, OTS and TNG. I was excited to be nearly done with TNG, and set to start DSN. Which got me wondering: how many of these series are there? And that's how I discovered that the greatest nemesis of the Federation - the Borg - actually has a whole series where they supposedly play a central role - Voyager. Now, I loved the episodes about the Borg, they were the most exciting of all to watch. So I read around a little more and discovered that they actually have a movie too!

And thus I saw First Contact, with the cast from TNG, a whole movie about the Borg and their diabolical plan to take over Earth. But the movie was about much more than that, it was about the equivalent of the biblical moment for Sci Fi junkies: the prophesied (?) First Contact between humans and intelligent beings from other worlds, which happens after we learn warp technology and thus learn to travel faster than light. An enticing tale of how the Borg sought to prevent that from happening, with Capt. Picard and his crew in hot pursuit, makes the plot for this classic film. The idea of a Borg Queen is difficult to digest though, although the movie does try to explain it (unsuccessfully, I think). Still, a great film to watch. (OTFS)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Better Mamata than Red

As the elections in Bengal progress, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is a farce. The ruling TMC's goons - themselves largely imported from the Left front - have ensured that they win the election by keeping away those who would dare to vote against Mamata Banerjee, who herself made it clear, indirectly, that she controls the entire administration through an army of pliant civil servants, and will have her way. Therefore, the Left-Congress combine should hope for nothing less than Opposition status in the next Assembly. The BJP should not even expect a single MLA.

And yet, all this is actually a necessity - a good, even. The Left must be stopped at all costs from winning back Bengal, their bastion through which they projected their pan-India ideology of death. Leftist ideology has destroyed India, and it is only very recently that we have begun to rebuild. The TMC, while more far Left than the Left itself, is a small force that can be at most a nuisance - and sometimes even a force of good, as Banerjee was when she ended the endless hartals in the state, and released the Netaji files. It is better they remain limited to Bengal, and possibly a few small Northeastern states. The Congress is a dying force, desperately holding on to the coattails of whatever party it can convince to give it some meager space. And yet, the power of the Deep Congress to sustain itself makes it a very real possibility that the Congress can spring back unless they are denied every inch of space. The results in Bihar last year gave the Congress a bit of oxygen that we cannot afford. Their loss is a must.

As for the BJP, after the spectacular 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it has been a befuddling fall down. The party seemed ready to take the opposition space in the state, but suddenly that lost steam. It seems the BJP was hoping to get the TMC's cooperation in the Rajya Sabha, while sacrificing its local unit. That was a huge mistake, one that will cost them dearly this election. It goes to show that the BJP still suffers from an inferiority complex despite becoming India's biggest national party. For now, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's well-attended rallies and attacks on Mamata Banerjee, the BJP has no chance in this election. Till it does, it is better that Bengal suffers more under the TMC. It is the punishment the state deserves for the continuous sin of communism. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why India needs #Trump2016

With the New York primaries ending and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton winning their respective contests, it can safely be said that the race is more than half way through for Trump, and very much done and dusted for Clinton. In Trump's case, his journey to the nomination seems certain in a contested convention unless the RNC can really bend the rules, and that seems highly unlikely after his near-sweep of New York. As for Clinton, nothing short of a miracle can stop her, and Bernie Bros' whining does not count as a miracle. Thus, the race is more or less over.

So we can now focus on the real race - the actual race between the two parties. From India's perspective, Hillary winning the White House would be a total catastrophe. It would be akin to Obama on steroids. The stunning reversal of ties, which blossomed under President Bush, stands as an example of just how anti-India the Democratic party leadership is. As SecState, Clinton undid the dehyphenation of India and Pakistan that India had worked so hard to achieve. That administration's gall in trying to appoint a Special Representative for Kashmir was the first nail in the coffin. Indeed, had Prime Minister Narendra Modi not won in 2014 and led a more pro-active foreign policy, US-India relations would've been at a low by now.

Make no mistake of it - President Hillary Clinton would work tirelessly to hand over Kashmir to Pakistan while lecturing India continuously about showing restraint on terrorism - all that while ISIS would be tearing the rest of the world apart. It would be no surprise if the 123 Agreement would be rescinded, as would India's NPT waiver. There would be extreme pressure to hand over the nuclear weapons as well. In their visceral desire to appease Pakistan, the Democrats under Hillary would be a nightmare for India.

Trump would be quite different. He is a businessman, and he does what's best for business. Yes, India would be forced to move up the value chain so that we can attract jobs on value and not cheap labor. That will be hard, but positive in the long run (Indian companies are already doing to that to an extent). On International politics, President Trump would virtually hand over Pakistan to India, as he has said he would in radio talk shows. Republicans are pragmatists and know how to use the situation to their benefit. They are thus able to see through Pakistani doublespeak, unlike the idealist Democrats who are easily fooled. Trump would also take a harder line on China, which would greatly take some pressure off of India from the new Asian hegemonic state.

Many liberals in India, who are idealists and have no clue as to how International politics works, have joined the American liberal media in deriding Trump. The truth is that a Democratic victory in November would be devastating for India, and our best bet is with Donald Trump. We need to see through the left-liberal mafia that exists in the US and has spun a huge web of propaganda against Trump (duly enabled by his own dumb statements, no doubt) and find our own interests. That is how real life works. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Steep Decline


Produced By: Independent
Director: Adrian Aldaz
Starring: Raul Rodriguez, Juan Laoiza, Marisol Reyes, Mayra Gil and others
Pros: Good story, decent acting
Cons: Bad ending
Rating: *** of 5 (3 of 5)
Mostly in Spanish with a little English

In the spectrum of coming-of-age stories, you have The Perks of Being a Wallflower on one end, and Waterberry Tears on the other. The difference can possibly be succinctly described with the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems.  It's one thing to talk about a kid with a difficult relationship with friends, and another to talk about one whose very life depends on his not being what he is - gay. Homosexuality is a popular theme in these movies, possibly because it is only now that people (young people, anyway) have learned to accept it as normal. But to do talk about it in a highly marginalized community - the people Donald Trump would simply dismiss as rapists - is quite a courageous task to undertake, and it was done very well... almost.

From the point of view of the story itself, the movie deserves full credits. It has a very human side to it, a memorable tale indeed. The acting varies - while Raul Rodriguez and Juan Laoiza do a decent job, Mayra Gil is mostly a showpiece with virtually the same, stiff look throughout. The real star was Marisol Reyes as the mother who is torn between her love for her children and her own life and personal safety. Her looking for her son through the plantations, asking her god to help her, stands out as the most poignant scene in the film, a shot done perfectly.

And yet, just 3 stars for this? The problem is all in the ending; having established an excellent plot and some strong acting, there comes an impossibly nice character who seems to be immune to the entire social structure of the story... and then, that structure just breaks down for the flimsiest of reasons. It almost seems as though the whole movie was pointless, and the entire social issue could've been solved in the first few scenes in the plantation itself! The ending was thoroughly undeserving of such a good movie, and almost seemed as though the director got tired and wanted to finish the movie (which may be true, but then that justifies the lower rating). The director does tease the audience, but eventually goes back to the safest ending. Not done!

Still, this was a good movie that talked about something nobody would ever talk about, even today. Isn't that the point of cinema? Go and watch it with an open mind and ask yourself: what would you have done? (OTFS)

Another World

WAKING (2013)

Produced By: 77 Entertainment, Shelton Films, and others
Director: Ben Shelton
Starring: Skyler Caleb, Meg Cionni, Tim Daly, and others
Pros: Good concept, very good cinematography
Cons: Lacks plot and cohesion, bad acting
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

It seems obvious, but it is not told too often: good stories alone do not make good movies, although they are an essential ingredient to them. Waking is an independent film that suffers from too much of a good story and much too little plot. An idea is bulletproof, but it won't get you through the Box Office, even if it is indie. Of course, the director's good cinematography did help the movie, and the depiction is vivid, a necessary requirement for what is essentially a very non-linear storyline.

However, that's not good enough. There wasn't really a plot, more of an idea and a desperate need to somehow finish the story and be done with it, which further led to lack of cohesion, and an almost excessive dependence on convenient coincidences to push the story through. Couple that with some poor acting on the part of the actors, and it was a recipe for disaster. Not exactly a waste of time, but not the best use of it either, especially given the too-long running time. (OTFS) 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The IMF is fostering risk

Faced with a complete failure of traditional monetary policy and a global economy that is expected to nosedive this year (except in some right pockets like India and the US), several central banks around the world, most notably the ECB and the BoJ, have introduced a Negative Interest Rate Policy (NIRP), a quixotic formulation in which using the banking system is discouraged in favor of anything else - hopefully an increase in the velocity of abundant money, but most likely in a cash economy. It seems that with fiscal policy failing, governments are increasingly bending on central banks to find a monetary solution to the problem of slowing growth. This is of course ridiculous, as monetary policy exists in an ecosystem created by fiscal policy, and cannot act independent of it.

What is ludicrous is that the IMF, which is supposed to promote stability in the world economy and has tried to do so by specifically forcing developing economies to change their fiscal policy, has now endorsed this approach. According to some voodoo economics, an NIRPof up to a small negative rate can increase velocity of money while avoiding a cash economy from proliferating. Of course, the report itself agrees that its recommendations are based on very little data (which can usually be fitted to mean anything), which is all the more reason to be surprised and even angered by the IMF's endorsement of NIRP.

On a more philosophical scale, NIRPgoes against sheer economics related to the cost of money, as well as democratic ethos of people being able to do what they want with their money (including not spending it). If the real economy really had an NIRP, it would be reflected in inflation, and there would be no need for central banks to impose an artificial rate every quarter. Simply put, nobody would save money if stuff was getting cheaper and cheaper by the day. There is such a clear divide between the real economy and the wonderland that is monetary policy that the entire exercise appears to be a sham. The IMF should be lecturing governments on how to change their economies to create real jobs and real value, instead of trying to live off a fake, financial economy. It has consistently done this for years, and the fact that it has not chosen to do that in this case smacks of everything from racism to incompetence. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

An idea without form

The Man in the High Castle
By Philip K Dick

World War II has given inspiration to a variety of writers, particularly the alternative history ones who are always on the look out for the shock value of seeing the Nazi flag flying high in New York City. The Man in the High Castle, now famous after all these years because of Amazon's adaptation of the same name, is another such one, although the real focus is the Japanese puppet state in partitioned America. And while the idea is very good - a cold war between the world's superpowers, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan - the execution was pretty sloppy.

The writing style is interesting in that it mimics what may have been the state of English under Japanese domination. The possible obsession for old American artifacts is probably quite accurate as well, given the parallels with the British obsession for old Indian stereotypes. But the book eventually has to move from the semantics to the actual story line, and there it fails... miserably. It is anticlimatic and incoherent. The last couple of pages is quite a nightmare to decipher, and truly fails the reader. What a pity. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

IOTY15: Sports, Business, and OTFS Awards

Sports Awards
Sportsperson of the Year 
Saina Nehwal 
For briefly becoming World #1 in women’s badminton and unseating China in the process.

Team of the Year 
Indian Hockey Team 
For winning Bronze at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Memorable Event 
The Pro-Kabaddi League 
For bringing modern marketing and technology to popularize the traditional sport.

Business Awards
Company of the Year 
For bringing back Tata to the world of aviation decades after its own airline was nationalized into Air India.

OTFS Awards

Documentary of the Year 
Walking through the Chola Empire
For a grand view of a great Indian empire.

(IOTY15 concluded)

IOTY15: Community and Media Awards

Community Awards
Best State of the Year 
For becoming the citadel of modern reforms in India. After the damaging excesses of Ashok Gehlot's administration, CM Scindia has come very far to make the state more efficient, reduce red tape, and improve the lives of people in one of India's most impoverished states. Rightly crowned the Rani of Reforms by Swarajya!

City of the Year 
For the world’s first fully solar-powered airport, perhaps a harbinger of the solar revolution that seems ready to take over the world. 

Media Awards
Best News Publication 
For their series on Top Lies Spread by Indian Media, playing the role of a true vanguard of the fourth estate and making Indian democracy stronger. The media in India is quite obviously subservient and a part of the Deep Congress, and thus needs as much scrutiny as any other arm of the state. By keeping a microscope over the media's nefarious activities, OpIndia has stood up for true journalistic excellence. 

Best News Channel 
Times Now 
For the NJAC debate. Despite the overall downward trajectory of the Indian media, some good things do happen, albeit rarely. The NJAC debate was one such, and it was done brilliantly. 

Best Movie 
Manjhi – The Mountain Man
For its retelling of a story of indomitable human spirit and love.

Best entertainment channel 
For the Pitchers series. For the first time, we've included an online channel in this category, and this shows the growing strength of this segment. Pitchers rightly captured the Indian entrepreneurship experience post-1991 and was an eye-opener for many. 

IOTY15: Political Awards

Our annual awards to commemorate the best and worst of Indian politics. The winners for 2015 are...

Troublemaker of the Year 
Indian Mainstream Media
For open partisanship, lies, and obfuscations. Although the award is given collectively to the likes of NDTV, The Hindu, CNN-IBN, Aaj Tak, etc., it is particularly awarded jointly to Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV for his doctored interview with Baba Ramdev, and the Indian Express for their lies about school segregation in Gujarat. The Indian media has been descending into an abyss and no longer presents facts, but just opinions masquerading as unquestionable commandments. 

Politician of the Year 
Jay Panda, MP 
For his brave article on trimming the extraordinary and undemocratic powers of the Rajya Sabha, which has become a gateway for defeated and retired politicians to continue to milk an existence out of taxpayer money, and for the Deep Congress to continue to hold direct control over legislation despite their electoral defeat. Our MPs are rarely intellectuals who can make a good argument, and Jay Panda is known to be one of the very few.

Memorable Visit of the Year 
PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Dhaka to sign the Land Border Agreement 
For bringing an end to the saddest chapter in India's millenniums-long history, the Partition of India, and helping bring certainty to people who were trapped by political vacillations of their ancestors. Also for seeing the sagacity of dealing with Mamata Banerjee and the Assam BJP to make this agreement a reality and open new opportunities to benefit India's northeast.

IOTY15: Special Award

Amitabh Kant, IAS, CEO, NITI Aayog
An IAS officer who has remained professional through and through, and has done yeoman service in a variety of departments. Awarded for a lifetime of work as he begins his new stint as CEO of NITI Aayog.

One of India's best-known and most competent bureaucrats, Mr. Kant has blossomed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tenure, leading important initiatives as the country moves ahead into the 21st century. His efforts have worked to improve the Indian tourism industry and push the #MakeInIndia project. We wish him great luck for his future endeavours, for he has many years ahead of him!

IOTY15: Indian of the Year 2015

Anupam Kher
For standing up to the Leftist mafia that has sunk to new depths to push its agenda. Shouting slogans is one thing, and leading a march in support of the ideals of the country is quite another. For taking up this challenge at great personal risk to himself, and for holding up the cause of the Kashmiri Pandits, Mr. Kher is the Indian of the Year 2015.

Taking a politically incorrect stance is never easy, even if you're on the side of the ruling party. What is correct and what isn't is decided by the deep state - the Deep Congress, in this case - and opposing them in the open is wrought with personal risks. As Swarajya brought out: Modi won't be there for 50 years, but the Deep Congress believes that it will. Who will save the dissenters then? In such a situation, to lead a march against the Deep Congress in their den of Lutyen's Delhi, all in the name of a great nation that has given them everything, deserves the highest accolades. 

Anupam Kher, Kashmiri Pandit who still remembers how his people were driven by Islamists from their homeland in the greatest act of ethnic cleansing since Partition, took up that mantle. Of course, he was vilified, and the Deep Congress found every way possible to discredit his #MarchForIndia. But it happened, and the message reached through. He showed the power brokers of yore that their vice-like grip on the narrative can and will be challenged. He led - patriots followed. 

For his courage and resilience, Anupam Kher is out Indian of the Year 2015. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A respite for the BJP?

Since the ignominious defeat of the BJP first in Delhi and then Bihar, it seems Amit Shah's centralization of the party around Modi has come to bite the party back - hard. While it may have made sense to make Modi the central figure in a state where the BJP had virtually no presence (mainly Haryana), states where the BJP was previously in government (Delhi and Bihar) should have had local leadership. The party needed to remember that its strength was in good state leaders, such as Modi himself.

And this realization seems to have sunk in, with Sonowal being made the CM candidate in Assam, with his newly found deputy Himanta Biswas bringing his competence into the stream. Thus, in Assam, you see a well-coordinated campaign run by the NDA alliance and the Congress, already facing the brunt of anti-incumbency, tying itself in knots just to justify its continued existence in the state. Its pet Muslim vote bank has deserted it in favor of the AIUDF, and the biggest of the Bodo parties has joined the NDA. It is a grim time for the Congress in Assam.

And yet, things may change. The BJP in particular has been known to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. While so far PM Modi has addressed a few rallies, along with other national leaders of the party, he has left it to the local leadership to take care of the nuts and bolts (in stark contrast to Bihar, where there was virtually no local leadership at all). If the local leaders fail to bury their well-known differences to bring the party to power after decades, it will be a sad day indeed for the people of Assam. After the events in Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP is virtually a part of the ruling coalition there, as it is in Nagaland (and it has been in a long-term alliance with the SDF in Sikkim). Assam could just be the fourth gem for the BJP in the region. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Can Amma pull off a miracle?

The country is set to enter another round of regional elections this month, in states that tend to be dominated by regional parties. The most interesting of these is Tamil Nadu, India's southern state that has been in the tight grip of the Dravidian parties for decades. Once again, it is a tight battle between the DMK and ruling AIADMK.

An interesting feature of elections in the state (and definitely not unique to the state) is the revolving door for parties. In election after election, the ruling party has been defeated by a huge margin. In the previous election, the AIADMK won over 80% of seats in the Assembly, unseating the DMK. Since then, Jayalalitha, also called Amma, has carved out a larger than life nanny state with her as the nanny - literally. From Amma canteens to Amma cement, she has pushed herself into the voter's homes (including the walls!). Will it work?

Some early opinion polls have predicted AIADMK coming back to power, but those are known to be unreliable. On the sidelines are the Congress - officially allied with the DMK but really a bit player - and the DMDK, which may play spoiler but will not really see any major victory, despite Captain Vijaykanth's hubris. Even further on the sidelines are the BJP and an assorted alphabet soup of small parties like the MMK and PMK. The BJP is not really focusing much on Tamil Nadu, and rightly so as it hardly has a base there, except in Kanyakumari.

The winner of this election will be important from the view point of the Rajya Sabha, although the composition of that will not change for a while. Nonetheless, a victory for the DMK will be somewhat of a boost for the Congress as it could tag along for the joyride and make matters worse in the Upper House. If the AIADMK pulls a victory and makes history in the process, its not-so-secret help to the BJP (Jayalalitha and PM Modi are known to be good friends) will be all the more welcome.