Thursday, May 30, 2019

Modi Becomes Invincible

Modi once again registered a resounding victory. The exit poll predictions, to a great extent, came true though some pollsters failed to gauge the intensity of Modi wave and expected the NDA to fall short of a majority. But once the counting trends started trickling in, it became increasingly apparent that BJP may not even require its allies and it will be able to form a government on its own. The speculations that were running rife during and immediately after the elections made some regional leaders such as Chandrababu Naidu and Chandrasekhar Rao fly from one state capital to another trying to garner support for a Third Front in the expectation of forming a ‘khichdi’ government in case their dreams materialize. But all their expectations fell flat, and people delivered a decisive mandate in favor of Modi and his party.
In a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God. The decisive mandates delivered by the electorate in the recent history setting uncertainty to rest indicates that the Indian electorate has come of age. This election has established the predominance of Narendra Modi in the Indian politics. It also proved that the Third Front, which comes into existence momentarily before every election, is just a myth and the Congress party, which banks on the dynasty for its survival, is facing an existential crisis. Most importantly, India has become a “Left Mukt Bharat” after their decimation from West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, which are considered to be their bastions.
Now, what could be the reason behind the continuous onward march of Modi and his BJP? It is normal in Indian politics that any government, after completing its tenure, faces anti-incumbency and finds it difficult to retain power. This time, however, there is a pro-incumbency wave and the Modi succeeded in retaining power with more number of seats.
Modi’s Welfarism:
Though Modi was accused of implementing Modinomics, which is akin to the neo-liberal Reaganomics and promoting the interests of the big businessmen, he did not discard welfarism altogether. He successfully implemented many welfare programs such as distributing gas cylinders, construction of toilets and building houses through the schemes PM Ujjwala Yojana, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Gram Jyoti Yojana, which brought about an improvement in the lives of the people. In addition to these welfare programs he also prioritized infrastructure development. These welfare and developmental programs, which reached many beneficiaries and augmented the economic activity, made a major contribution to his victory.
The entrenchment of Hindutva:
The Hindutva ideology is slowly getting entrenched among many. Many Hindus feel that the expansionist tendencies manifested by some Abrahamic religions are intended to destroy the indigenous culture. They also fear that the violent separatism and terrorism that are raising their heads in the name of Islam may lead to the disintegration of India. The Pulwama terror attack and the Indian connection to the Sri Lankan bomb blasts reinforced their fears. The ‘Caliphate’ clamor, the ‘Jihadi’ outcry and ‘Sharia’ shriek making Hindus consolidate behind the BJP.  The behavior of the liberals is also one of the reasons behind Modi’s victory. Their fear mongering and their support to the Tukde Tukde Gang has further angered the Hindu community. All these things made Hindus increasingly feel that only Modi and his BJP can safeguard their interests.
No alternative to Modi:
The opposition parties especially the Congress are in doldrums and are not in a position to provide the people with any credible alternative. The people of India are fed up with dynasty politics. Sensing this feeling among the people Modi even took a jibe at Rahul Gandhi and his family as “naamdaars” while claiming himself as “kaamdaar”. The defeat of the dynasty scions such as Milind Deora and Jyotiraditya Scindia amply manifest the revulsion the electorate has developed towards dynasty politics. Even Rahul Gandhi himself lost in his family bastion, Amethi. Sensing that the Congress is in its death bed and the so-called Third Front is a myth, the voters turned to Modi.
National security:
The Pulwama terror attack, instigated by our rogue neighbor Pakistan, once again threw a challenge to India’s national security. India faced similar challenges in the form of Mumbai terror attacks and numerous bomb blasts triggered by Islamic terrorists in different parts of the country. But every time an attack took place India responded in a meek manner citing the reason that Pakistan is a nuclear neighbor. India’s reluctance to act against cross-border terrorism further emboldened Pakistan to carry out more attacks. But this time India retaliated calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. India’s retaliation caught Pakistan completely off-guard and its narrative failed to impress the international community. This is one of Modi’s major achievements, which he utilized well to his electoral advantage.
Modi’s mass appeal:
Modi, over some years, gained a reputation for being a workaholic. People strongly feel that irrespective of his mistakes in the form of demonetization and goof-ups in the implementation of GST, he had never frozen into inaction and never pushed the nation into a policy paralysis. He kept everybody on tenterhooks and made things happen. Though his frequent travels abroad were criticized, his contribution to the strengthening of India’s ties with many countries and India’s improved stature in the international arena can’t be overlooked.
So, Modi’s victory in a way heralded the advent of a new India. And he achieved this in the face of a persistent vilification campaign carried out by the so-called secularists and liberals. In every difficult situation, the ‘Stita Pragna’ in him enabled him to move on and achieve the unachievable. Now that he became a seasoned administrator from the experience he gained during the last five years and earned a second term let us hope he will perform better and make India stronger and prosperous.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

It’s High Time We Asked Some Legitimate Questions About Islamic Terror

“Terrorism has no religion” and “Islam is a religion of peace” are the statements we hear after each terror attack that snuffs out scores of innocent lives. We hear these statements from religious leaders and politicians with alarming regularity and most of the people are truly fed up with hearing these utterly banal statements.
The madrasas where most of the indoctrination happens are run by a religion, the Maulvis who indoctrinate people follow a religion, the Salafism that is injected into the minds of the children is a religious movement, the organizations that are formed to carry out terror activities have religious names and the massacres that are perpetrated happen in the name of God with the avowed intention of establishing their religious supremacy. So, when everything is clearly perceptible, what the people who issue such hackneyed statements are trying to hide?
The Islamist terrorist attacks that have been happening incessantly over some decades are not carried out by a few misguided individuals as many want us to believe. They have robust ideological foundations, are very well organized, well-funded and executed with brutal precision with devastating impact.
The latest in the series of Islamist terror attacks is the Easter Sunday bombings that inflicted murder and mayhem upon the innocent churchgoers and tourists in the island nation of Sri Lanka. These suicide bombings were executed by hardened fanatics belonging to an organization called National Tawheed Jamaat (mind you, the word ‘Tawheed’ means oneness of ‘God’). The man who masterminded these attacks, Zahran Hashim, is a cleric in a mosque. The fact that all the suicide bombers are from well-to-do families destroys the notion that people take to extremism and terrorism to escape the pangs of poverty and unemployment.
It is a well-established fact that most of the indoctrination that sows the seeds of terrorism happens in the madrasas, the Islamic seminaries. These seminaries, mostly financed by Saudi Arabia, are proliferating in South Asia like a wildfire. These so-called schools infuse Wahhabism, a radical and ultra-conservative form of Islam, into the minds of their students. There are around 50,000 seminaries in Pakistan, which gave birth to the terrorist organizations such as Taliban and Jaish-e-Mohammed, that are currently wreaking havoc in Afghanistan and India.
There was a proliferation of Saudi funded madrasas even in Sri Lanka in the prelude to the Easter Sunday bombings, which sowed the seeds of terror in the island nation. The Sri Lankan leaders, as part of their vote bank and appeasement politics, turned a blind eye to the functioning of the mosques and madrasas and paid a heavy price.
The blasts in Sri Lanka send an ominous signal to India. India is home to one of the most notorious madrasas called Darul Uloom Deoband, which gave birth to the Deobandi school of Islam. The Deobandi movement inspired scores of madrasas including one of the largest and oldest madrasas in Pakistan Darul Uloom Haqqania, which acquired notoriety as the “University of Jihad”.
India has already experienced the devastating impact of the Islamist terror in the form of Mumbai attacks and other numerous bomb explosions triggered in different parts of India. There are news reports stating that there is one Tawheed Jamaat even in Tamil Nadu, though the organization denied any links to the Sri Lankan Tawheed Jamaat. And moreover, the reports suggesting that the mastermind of the Easter Sunday attacks, Jafran Hashim, spent substantial time in South India make it amply clear that some parts of South India have turned into the hotbeds of Islamic extremism. If the law enforcement agencies don’t take this development seriously, India may end up becoming a training center for terrorists just like Pakistan.
Many countries seek to classify terrorists as good terrorists and bad terrorists. There are countries like Pakistan, which harbor ‘good terrorists’ because they promote their geopolitical interests by creating trouble in its neighboring countries. Even the US started peace talks with the Taliban in its hurry to withdraw from Afghanistan giving legitimacy to the dreaded terrorist organization. In the same way, there is a tendency to trivialize all the terror attacks and the collateral damage they cause by saying that the attackers are just a few misguided youths who are not good Muslims and moderate Muslims never do it. Now the question arises how do you make out whether the person who queued up with a plate at a dinner buffet or the person who is seated next to you in a crowded place of worship is a good, moderate Muslim and therefore harmless?
In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks, there were intense efforts made by the terror apologists to justify the bombings some way or the other. They initially said had the Sri Lankan government reigned in the Buddhists who attacked Muslims, these bombings could have been prevented. The Buddhist monk and the leader of Bodu Bala Sena, Gnanasara Thero, who was accused of instigating violence against Muslims, is already serving a six-year jail sentence. Moreover, if the target of the terrorists was Buddhists then why did they attack churches and hotels? When this question arose, they changed the tune and started saying that these attacks are retaliation to Christchurch attacks in New Zealand. These apologists, in their eagerness to defend Islamist terror, often come to hasty and foolish conclusions and thereby mislead the people. The fact is these terror apologies never allow us to understand the real face of the Islamist terror and try to keep us in dark.
The most important fact the terror apologists don't want us to realize is the terrorists want to establish a Caliphate and slowly want to transform the entire world into a Dar-al Islam imposing their draconian Sharia laws. In essence, they want to establish their Islamic supremacy all over the world by eliminating the ‘infidels’.
When someone questions the actions of the Islamic terrorists and their apologists they are immediately branded as Islamophobes and intense efforts are made by them to isolate and stigmatize them. It is this tendency that led to counter movements all over the world. Whether it is Narendra Modi or Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen they all emerged as a bulwark against this undemocratic tendency to stigmatize the people who question the atrocities of the Islamists.
As long as the terror apologists keep trying to defend these atrocities, the Muslim community will not realize the fact that they as a community have miserably failed in keeping their religion 21st century compliant, and therefore, will not make any effort to reform and modernize it. Therefore, it is high time the world community started asking some legitimate questions about Islam, its violence and its supremacist ambitions. Otherwise, it will be too late, and the world will be pushed back to the stone ages.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Five Reasons Pakistan Wanted A Rapid De-Escalation After Balakot

After the Pulwama terrorist attack in which more than 40 Indian soldiers were martyred, Indians were justifiably angry with Pakistan. India’s unsuccessful air strike on a terrorist training camp in Balakot and the subsequent aerial dogfight between the two air forces have brought the two countries to the brink of war.
But many people felt surprised by the statements made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan at the height of tensions. He appeared to be very enthusiastic to deescalate the situation and continuously made conciliatory statements in addition to releasing the Indian pilot. When did Pakistan, whose official policy is to “bleed India with a thousand cuts” through its proxy war, became a peacenik?
The fact is, Pakistan is not in a position to wage a war against India. What are the reasons that pulled Pakistan back from the brink of war?
Its economy is in the doldrums: Pakistan’s economy is almost in an ICU. Slow growth rate, rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves, mounting sovereign debt, very little exports and widening current account deficit are some of the problems that are ailing its economy. It already borrowed billions of dollars from some of its friends including China and Saudi Arabia, but it found the assistance inadequate and decided to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. The IMF, however, is putting strong pre-conditions including a switch over to floating exchange rate regime. Pakistan has so far been rescued by the IMF 21 times and this is the 22nd time it approached for a bailout. A strong economy is the most important prerequisite to go for war as modern warfare is extremely costly and a nation that is already in a debt trap can barely afford it.
It is facing increasing isolation in the international arena: Pakistan, over some decades, has acquired notoriety for being a breeding ground for terrorism. Its numerous madrasas regularly churn out hardened fanatics who carry out terrorist activities. According to some sources, there are around 40,000 registered and unregistered madrasas in Pakistan, which teach only religious subjects such as Koran and Hadith that fail to empower the students with any gainful employment. In the absence of any opportunities, terrorism becomes the only option for them. Even governments extend funding to some of these seminaries. For example, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government allots millions of rupees to Darul Uloom Haqqania, the seminary that acquired notoriety as the ‘University of Jihad’. The international community sees a direct correlation between the rapid proliferation of these seminaries and growing radicalization of youth. Though many nations on numerous occasions asked Pakistan to take effective measures to deradicalize the Pakistani society and combat terror, their words fell on deaf ears. Though it has some all-weather friends such as China, their support is not adequate for it to sail through a potential confrontation with India.
The Blacklisting from FATF is hanging over Pakistan like a sword of Damocles: The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global terror financing watchdog, has already placed Pakistan on the grey list for not taking satisfactory measures to curb terror financing and it is even facing the prospect of getting blacklisted in future. Getting blacklisted implies that Pakistan is “non-cooperative” in the global fight against terrorist financing. If Pakistan gets blacklisted the multilateral lenders such as IMF and World Bank will downgrade it and Pakistan will not be able to get the much-needed financial assistance from these lenders. Even the credit rating agencies like Moody’s and S&P will reduce its risk rating. So, entering FATF’s blacklist will prove to be a financial death knell as it will become almost impossible for Pakistan to borrow money to save its crumbling economy.
The CPEC burden: Pakistan’s increasing isolation is being exploited by China to serve its narrow self-interests. It, through its China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), undertook massive infrastructure projects in Pakistan. These projects have resulted in a rapid increase in Pakistan’s sovereign debt burden. Moreover, the recent happenings in Sri Lanka, which borrowed heavily from China to build a port and was later compelled to give it to China on a 99-year lease after it failed to repay the loan, triggered worries in Pakistan. There are many observers who foresee the likelihood of Pakistan failing to repay the CPEC loans and ending up coughing out land to China, losing its sovereignty in the process.
Mired in Internal conflicts: Pakistan, though a theocracy and enforces the draconian Sharia laws, is facing ever-increasing internal conflicts. The latest bomb blasts in Quetta, which were targeted against the Hazara community, claimed more than twenty lives. These blasts are the manifestation of the twin problem of terrorism and sectarian violence that is ailing Pakistani society.
These problems will only intensify once the IMF’s notorious and painful structural adjustment program kicks in and the people start feeling its pinch. All these reasons make Pakistan very uncomfortable and have cold feet at the prospect of a war with India. And the ever-deteriorating internal situation made Imran Khan take steps to rapidly deescalate the situation.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Did The Truth Get Drowned In Claims And Counterclaims After Balakot?

After the Pulwama terrorist attack, the already strained relations between India and Pakistan touched the nadir. In response to the attack, the Indian Air Force launched a surgical strike on a terrorist training camp located at Balakot and claimed that hundreds of terrorists were eliminated during the strike. A day after the strike, Pakistan Air Force warplanes launched a retaliatory air raid on Indian installations and shot down an IAF MIG-21 Bison aircraft and captured its pilot. In a ghastly yet largely unaccounted incident, the IAF also lost a Mi 17 helicopter to friendly fire which resulted in the death of six air force personnel.

It was a warlike situation and an environment of jingoism and hyper-nationalism was prevalent at that time. As a close follower of national news, I understood that in a warlike situation we rarely get to know the truth. All we hear is a bunch of claims and counterclaims and truth gets drowned in the resultant cacophony. Therefore, in such a situation, instead of completely depending on the official version of the government and the national media we should also explore the enemy’s claims. During the conflict, I frequently visited the Pakistani news site the to know their version also. And I also understood that exploring the neutral sources of information enables us to get closer to the truth.

By exploring various sources, I concluded that some things published by Indian media outlets are true, but there are also many which are untrue. Firstly, the so-called Indian surgical strike appears to be not a successful one. An article featured in The Strategist, a commentary and analysis site of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, based on an analysis of satellite imagery of the buildings, concluded that there was no damage to the targeted site. The precision weapons fired by IAF pilots landed in a forest area and uprooted some trees.

The downing of MIG-21 Bison fighter plane flown by Wing commander Abhinandan was true as the pictures of the downed MIG were published in the media and the captured pilot was in Pakistani custody before being released. But at the same time, IAF claimed that it shot down a PAF’s F16 fighter plane. Pakistan refuted these claims and stated that it did not even use F16s. But after the IAF displayed the wreckage of an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile which could only be fired from an F16, Pakistan changed the tune. So, it is clear that Pakistan deployed F16s in its aerial raid on India.

But the claim that IAF shot down an F16 is still disputed as there is no incontrovertible evidence to state that it was indeed shot down. Though the IAF made some radar images public to substantiate its claim, the evidence appears to be far from being irrefutable. Even the Indian media, depending on open-source intelligence, published many stories to bring home the point that PAF had indeed lost one F16 in its aerial combat with IAF. Some newspapers even stated that it is a moment of pride for IAF to have shot down a far superior aircraft with a legacy fighter like MIG. But there are many defense experts who dispute the claim of the downed plane being a legacy fighter. MIGs are indeed legacy fighters but the MiG-21 Bison flown by Abhinandan Varthaman was updated with 4th generation fighter avionics and sensors in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

So, the MiG-21 Bison, according to some experts, is capable of downing a more advanced F16. In the meantime, an article featured in the website stated that all the F16s in PAF’s inventory have been accounted for and none of them were found to be missing. This gave rise to the suspicion that the claim made by IAF was not true. However, days after this story, the United States department of defense stated that it was not aware of any investigation that was conducted to ascertain if Pakistan had lost an F-16 in an aerial dogfight with Indian fighter jets. There are other experts who believe that the US is reluctant to accept the fact that an F16 was downed by an obsolete fighter plane of Russian origin. Accepting this fact will not only give an edge to the Russian arms manufacturers but also adversely affect the prospects of American arms manufacturers.

There is already an effort going on from arms manufacturers to create an impression that India had lost a dogfight against Pakistan because of its old and outdated air force. They also opine that India, to keep pace with the changing times, must procure modern fighter aircraft.

So, from whatever information that is available from various sources, India’s post-Pulwama faceoff with Pakistan appears to have failed to yield the intended results as it could not inflict any significant damage on Pakistan to deter it from any future misadventures.

And the perception that Indian armed forces are ill-equipped to face modern threats may give a fresh impetus to the arms manufacturers in the US, Europe and Israel to make a fresh pitch for arms sale. And the prevailing environment of hyper-nationalism enables the government to allocate a large amount of money for the procurement of arms. The multibillion-dollar arms sales, as usual, will open floodgates for more corruption and leads to channelizing public money towards defense spending at the cost of welfare spending.

Pakistan, on the other hand, appears to have gained an upper hand all through the Pulwama episode. It not only inflicted unacceptable damage on India through the Pulwama terror attack, the subsequent air strike on Pakistan and aerial combat with its air force left India embarrassed. Even Prime Minister Modi seems to have indirectly accepted that Indian action against Pakistan after Pulwama attack was ineffective. Speaking at the India Today conclave he said, “India is feeling the absence of Rafale. The entire country is saying in one voice today, that if we had Rafale, the results would have been different. The country has suffered a lot due to selfish interests earlier and now politics over Rafale”. But despite all these setbacks, there are reports suggesting that the surgical strike at Balakot will boost the electoral prospects of the BJP. The reason could be that the Indian media outlets managed to generate enough hype around the air strike to enable the ruling dispensation to garner political benefits.
Pakistan, though posed as a peacenik during the post-Pulwama episode, is not in a position to wage a war against India due to its fast deteriorating economy. Its strategy appears to be continuing with its policy of making India bleed through a thousand cuts by promoting cross border terrorism.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi stated that India is planning to launch yet another attack inside Pakistan between April 16 and 20. It appears that the political leadership of Pakistan is trying hard to divert the attention of its people away from the pressing economic problems of the country to possible Indian aggression.

Pakistan’s economic woes are increasingly becoming insurmountable. Its shrinking foreign currency reserves and soaring sovereign debt compelled it to approach the IMF once again for a bailout. As it is a well-known fact that an IMF bailout always comes with preconditions and Pakistan must agree for a painful structural adjustment before it receives any bailout package. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor, (CPEC) as part of which mammoth infrastructure is being built, has already resulted in a spike in Pakistan’s sovereign debt and there are fears that failing to repay the Chinese debts may result in colonization of Pakistan.

Moreover, Pakistan appears to be increasingly getting isolated on the issue of terrorism as many nations have already asked it to reign in the terrorist groups that are operating from its soil. It is also facing the threat of getting blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) owing to its sparse measures in curbing terror financing. Therefore, Pakistan, instead of eying Kashmir, and using terror as an instrument of state policy, should take better care of its fast dwindling economy.

India, after failing to achieve anything significant in its action against Pakistan, should tread cautiously in future. Instead of resorting to military action, it should explore the possibility of further isolating Pakistan economically and politically. Pakistan, even while trying to bleed India with a thousand cuts, appears to be dying a slow death. India should wait and watch.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Change Should Be The Mantra In 2019 Elections

The poll bugle has been sounded. In a vast, densely populated and infinitely diverse country such as India conducting elections is an enormously complex process. Predicting the outcome of the elections is even more difficult. That is why most of the pre-poll and exit polls surveys go haywire and give out results that are no way near to the actual outcomes.

From now onwards, newspapers will be full of juicy news and television channels air hot, chaotic debates. Cities and villages alike will turn noisy as politicians hit streets seeking votes. Many politicos leave seemingly sinking parties and leapfrog onto the parties with better prospects to keep their political careers afloat. Parties deploy their best spin doctors to defend the seemingly indefensible things and level all types of allegations and counter allegations against their opponents with an intention to gain one-upmanship. Not only social media but even the mainstream media will be abuzz with subjective opinions and even fake news.

In a democracy, the voice of the people is the voice of God. For full five years, the politicos voiced their “Mann Ki Baat” at regular intervals through various platforms and the people silently listened. Now, the ordinary people, including the poorest of the poor without an iota of social privilege will gain their momentary strength to collectively change the fortunes of not only the politicos but even their plutocrat cronies. Because it is mostly the poor who take elections seriously and queue up in front of the polling booths with infinite optimism and the rich hardly take them seriously except that some celebs flash their inked fingers on the polling day.

In this age of PR, mass media and lobbying only those who have the required resources at their disposal can make their voice heard and get what they want. They write and speak about the need of introducing more economic reforms and improving the ‘ease of doing business’ environment. They seek tax cuts, bailouts and various other sops that enable themselves to accumulate more wealth. And they also get more car-centric and bullet train-centric infrastructure built at the expense of affordable public transport.

The poor and the ordinary, who lack any resources, keep a low profile most of the time except when they vote and hit streets in distress. So, the elections, in a way, are the only platform for the poor and the downtrodden to voice their collective “Mann Ki Baat” and this platform must be utilized in an effective and judicious manner. 

Now comes the question as to what the underprivileged want? They, undoubtedly, want opportunities to earn their livelihoods and want to lead comfortable lives, in other words, they want to get ‘ease of living’. They want employment opportunities, good quality education for their children and healthcare services. Unfortunately, most of these remain a mirage for them. The ruling dispensations, instead of taking concrete and result-oriented action to improve the quality of life of the people, always resort to tokenism in the name of various schemes just to hoodwink the masses.

So far, in the garb of governance, we only witnessed impressive sounding slogans, dazzling events, high decibel campaigns with no programs to bring about any perceptible improvement in the standard of living of the ordinary folks. The rulers, to divert the attention of the people, bring forth a host of non-issues to create an emotionally charged environment with an intention to distract the attention of the people away from the bread and butter issues. They, instead of asking for votes based on their good deeds, resort to social engineering to win elections.

Politicians, who act as “Choukidars” of the plutocrats and jealously safeguard their interests at the expense of the livelihoods of the commoners, resort to welfare tokenism in the last minute. And to cover up their non-performance, they coin new slogans to entertain and distract the masses. Maybe that is why Marx quipped about elections by saying, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” So, in a democracy, the elections are all about opting for a lesser evil.

But democracy is also about optimism and hoping for better. Therefore, people should continue to explore various options in their pursuit of better alternatives. There are many who are calling for ‘stability’. Stability is good as long as it leads to welfare and ease of living. Stability laden with empty rhetoric is not only futile but also causes damage to the long-term prospects of the nation. Therefore, an enduring change for the better should be the mantra of the people especially the poor and underprivileged. Let us hope that the forthcoming elections will pave way for the change.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Moving Towards A New Deal

Image Credit: Washington Post
If there is one thing that is endearingly remembered even now in the United States, it is the “New Deal” introduced by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. As part of it, an enormous amount of public money was pumped to revive the economy, which was reeling under the great depression. The deal resulted in the 3Rs; Relief for the unemployed and poor, Recovery of the economy, and Reform of the financial system. The welfare of the poor and the ordinary took the center stage throughout the period of the New Deal.
It left such an indelible imprint on the people’s psyche that a new New Deal called the ‘Green New Deal’ has now been conceived by various organizations and passionately backed by prominent intellectuals. This Green New Deal is a set of proposed economic stimulus programs in the United States that aim to address the twin problem of climate change and economic inequality.
There are many people who passionately speak about the inviolability and eternity of capitalism. They feel that there is no other alternative especially after the collapse of communism. They are utterly wrong. What they fail to understand is capitalism in its purest form of laissez-faire never appealed to the people except for a handful of the ultra-rich. It is the capitalism with a mix of socialism, in other words, the government managed, welfare-oriented capitalism espoused by Keynesian theories that appealed to the poor and the ordinary.
It is increasingly becoming perceptible that the world is getting divided on the lines of the conservative right wing and the liberal left wing. The conservative right promotes a combination of religious nationalism and the pro-rich free enterprise. And the liberal left is the only entity that speaks for the poor and the ordinary, and therefore puts the welfare first. The conservative right limits itself to doing lip service as far as the poor are concerned.
Take the example of Donald Trump. He came to power advocating the upliftment of the working class, but once in power, started promoting the interests of the business oligarchs and even got obsessed with building walls to rake up hyper-nationalism. He gave an unprecedented corporate tax cut stating that the cut would enable the businesses to pay more to their workers and create more employment opportunities.
Now the truth has dawned on the society that the tax cut measure was exploited by the corporates for the stock buyback to maximize their wealth. Therefore, a measure that could be termed as an epitome of trickle-down economics, which was intended to create opportunities for the working class, ended up empowering the ultra-rich to accumulate more wealth thus accentuating the problem of inequality.
Back in India, we are facing a similar situation. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government has been implementing the pro-rich ‘Modinomics’. The only people that are happy with the current dispensation are the ultra-rich whose interests were served on the pretext of ease of doing business, and the pro-Hindutva elements who are obsessed with religion-based nationalism. The strategy of Modi government so far is to serve the interests of the rich in the name of reforms and ease of business and rake up religious nationalism from time to time to sustain the emotionally charged environment they created over some years with an aim to reap rich electoral dividends.
So, Modi’s tenure is marked by crony capitalism-induced ease of business for full four and a half years and the last-minute welfare to woo the poor and the ordinary, who take elections seriously and queue up in front of the polling booths with unending optimism.
So, the current situation amply manifests the truth that the world is increasingly becoming pro-rich with the poor and the ordinary completely sidelined. The kind of economics that is being implemented now is the neo-liberal economics espoused by Hayek and Friedman. It is being proliferated by the US-backed institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by imposing it on the developing world.
Our democratic institutions, which were designed and formulated centuries ago, are finding it increasingly difficult to withstand the changes brought about by the technology explosion. The disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data have empowered the big businesses to game the democratic political system. They, through their investments, managed to establish a stranglehold over the media houses and therefore, able to influence the public perception in favour of certain political formations. All these don’t augur well for the future of democracy. The ordinary people, who hitherto enjoyed decisive power through the universal adult franchise, may ultimately lose it to the business oligarchs.
So, there are two things people must realize. The first thing is, the very feeling that capitalism in its purest form is here to stay is highly untenable, and it is the Keynesian economic model, which espouses active governmental intervention to promote the public interest, which will sustain capitalism in the long run. In other words, we must need a New Deal that is embedded with egalitarian ideals. Otherwise, this world will invariably end up being a fiefdom of the big businesses and invariably cause public unrest in umpteen manifestations.
The second thing is, our democratic institutions which have become antique, and therefore not in a position to keep pace with the explosive technological changes, must be adequately reformed to reflect the current day realities. But politicians and plutocrats are unlikely to bring about these reforms as the current situation serves their purpose. Therefore, the electorate and the civil society must take the initiative to exert pressure on the ruling class to bring them about.
The only weapons that could be mustered up by the poor and the ordinary to bring about a change are: enlightened electorate, democratic deliberation, and political confrontation. These weapons could be used to exert pressure on the political class to formulate pro-people economic policies and to press for reforms to safeguard and deepen democracy against the backdrop of marauding neoliberalism and technology explosion. Only people who are united can rise above the narrow domestic walls such as caste, creed, and religion can achieve this.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Technology is only an enabler, not a panacea

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When technocrats talk about technology, they sound too optimistic even to the extent of being arrogant. They give an impression that technology is the panacea for all the ills suffered by the humankind, and humanity’s salvation lies in driving more technological innovations. They touch upon the cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), big data, Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR) and precision and regenerative medicine to buttress their claims. But are their claims true? Will technology really be able to find solutions to all our problems? Will it allow us to win over poverty, malnutrition, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), prejudice and inequalities? Will it succeed in enabling the entire humanity to lead better lives? These are the questions the right-thinking people, who are not influenced by the euphoria, are asking.
Some time ago, The New York Times published an interview with Sunder Pichai, the Chief Executive Officer of Google. During the interview, he rightly stated, “Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. It was always naive to think so. Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems.” Sunder’s answer is laced with humility and pragmatism. The other technocrats should take a leaf out of his book and practice the same humility and pragmatism while talking about technology and shun the practice of generating excessive euphoria around it.
The science and technology community, no doubt, should be proud of its inventions, which certainly enabled a large section of the society to lead better lives. The problem is, any product or service that results from technological innovation is initially available only to the super rich and it takes a lot of time for it to percolate to the masses. Moreover, the technology, which has been monopolized by the super-rich, is posing a threat to democracy and pushing the nations towards oligarchy.
Take the example of education and health care. Technology, as it did with many fields, has also transformed the fields of education and health care. There are many privately-owned schools that are equipped with smart classrooms and internet access, where the children of the rich and the elite study. These schools are even gearing themselves up to introduce cutting-edge education technologies such as Virtual and Augmented Reality. All these technologies have reduced the role of a teacher from being the sole knowledge source to that of a mere facilitator in these schools. The children of the poor and the lower middle class, however, attend the same dilapidated government schools where a set of largely unmotivated teachers do their half-hearted teaching in the same old chalk and talk method.
Coming to healthcare, the precision and regenerative medicine are available only in some corporate hospitals which are prohibitively expensive for the ordinary folks. The poor and the lower-middle classes are not even able to get primary health care as the primary health centers run by the governments have almost become defunct.
As Sunder has stated, technology, no doubt, is an enabler. The problem is it enables only a select few and an overwhelming majority of the people are not able to access its enabling benefits.
With the emergence of cognitive technologies, humankind, for the first time in its history, is facing a rival in the form of AI capable robots. Now, there is a lot of effort that is being made by the tycoons to persuade the people that automation will not make people go jobless and people merely have to reskill themselves to grab the new opportunities the cognitive technologies will be creating in future. But skilling and reskilling need training and the training is increasingly becoming inaccessible to the poor and the lower middle-class. According to the World Bank, the darling of our politicians and plutocrats, “more than two billion working-age adults (all over the world) are not equipped with the most essential literacy skills required by employers.” It needs no elaboration that all these people must be from the poor and the lower middle-class background. When skilling itself is not happening where is the question of reskilling?
With the advent of disruptive technologies, even the governments have shifted their focus from people-centric policies to tycoon-centric policies in the name of speeding the economic growth. As a result, tax cuts, easy credit and bailouts in the name of ‘ease of doing business’ are increasingly becoming rampant.
The plutocrats have already brought the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) to fore to compensate for the job losses. The idea, however, will further sabotage democracy and lead to oligarchy. When UBI becomes a reality, the program will mostly be funded by the plutocrats which will make them the de facto rulers of the country.
Humanity is also confronted by the big data that will be generated from various interconnected devices and social media platforms, which could be used for mass surveillance. Though the governments all over the world are making the right noises about curbing any misuse of big data, they will take no more than token measures in that direction. There are already enough indications that the rich and the elite are gearing themselves up to leverage upon these mass surveillance techniques to further strengthen their stranglehold over the society by sabotaging the democratic process, which is the only ray of hope for the poor and the ordinary.
Already, the ultra-rich, who have tightened their grip on the mass media through their investments, started selling their own narratives to divert the attention of the people from the bread and butter issues and by not letting the people see the objective reality. In the near absence of an independent media, there is either nobody or scarce few who are ready to reveal the truth about the impending dangers.
As long as Technology stays as an enabling force for a select few, it leads to concentration of wealth and power and democracy remains a namesake. It finally becomes an instrument in the hands of the rich and turns into a Frankenstein’s monster, which not only wreaks havoc on humanity but will ultimately swallow its own enthusiastic promoters.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Modi's Last Minute Welfare

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People are mostly economic beings. In the words of one of India’s greatest sages, Swamy Vivekananda, “He walks, and the stomach goes first and the head afterwards… It will take ages for the head to go first.” People, however, get swayed by emotional issues, think about bread and butter things at the end of the day. Maybe that is the reason Modi dispensation, which appears to be going all out to rake up divisive issues to secure a second term, changed tack for a while to give an impression that it has, at last, started paying attention to people’s bread and butter things through the interim budget.
Perhaps for the first time during Modi’s tenure, the finance minister made a pro-poor statement during the budget speech saying, “The poor have the first right over the nation’s resources.” It has many concessions and freebies to offer to salaried class, farmers and informal sector workers. These concessions and cash transfers, which are aimed at reducing the rural distress, sound good at the outset.
So, it has once again proved that on the eve of an election, governments in India shed their plutocrat-centric policies and temporarily adopt pitchfork-centric policies. They, for a while, reluctantly set aside their plutocrat cronies to give an impression that they are pro-poor, pro-farmer and pro-rural.
For full four years our politic­­­­­os move hand in hand with business oligarchs and hand over nation’s resources to them in the name of development. A­­­nd as if it is not enough, they even give them tax cuts and bailouts in the name of ease of doing business. When the poor and the ordinary take to streets demanding ease of living, their pleas are simply ignored.
The entire thing makes me recollect the article titled “of the 1%, by the 1% for the 1%” authored by the Nobel winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz. Governments in India, irrespective of who is in power, appear to have only one strategy. They safeguard the interests of the 1% plutocrats for full four years to enable them to accumulate more wealth, which leads to the concentration of economic power, and play a ‘sop opera’ in the election year to grab the attention of the rest of the 99%.
Now the question is why do they do this? The plutocrats who they nurture, constitute only 1% of the population and democracy, unlike corporate governance, allows only “one person one vote”. Therefore, politicians, as elections near, reluctantly do something which caters to the needs of the poor and the ordinary, who patiently queue up in front of the polling booths elections after elections with unending optimism. So, the politicos, irrespective of who is in power, think about the poor and the ordinary only on election eve and this budget is a clear manifestation of this trend.
Most of the news media, while writing about the budget, prominently mentioned how the government missed the fiscal deficit target. Now the economists who don’t lose any time in showering praises on Modi government for bringing the fiscal deficit under control through its judicious spending, start predicting that with the introduction of these welfare schemes, the fiscal slippage will happen more rapidly.
In this neo-liberal era, the fiscal deficit is a big thing and becomes extremely important for the governments during the first four years. “Fiscal prudence” is important for them to get higher ratings from international credit rating agencies and accolades from the World Bank as these entities brand welfare as ‘populist’ and blame it for being responsible for widening fiscal deficits.
But neither international credit rating agencies nor the World Bank ever said that big business defaults followed by bailouts and corporate tax cuts, which have insidious costs, are not good for maintaining fiscal prudence.
So, the governments practice fiscal prudence during the first four years of their tenure by cutting welfare expenditure and handing out all the sops to the tycoons in the name of ease of doing business and only during the election year they get reminded of people’s welfare and let “fiscal slippage” happen. Once they win the elections, they – politicos, plutocrats and egg headed economists – once again emphasize on stalling the fiscal slippage and things will be back to square one.
Hailing the budget, Prime Minister Modi stated, “It is essential to ensure that the benefits of development reach all sections of society. This Budget will empower the poor, give a boost to the farmers and an impetus to economic growth.” But he might have forgotten the fact that he ignored the same poor during the first four years of his tenure.

As far as the targeted cash transfers the FM has introduced now are concerned, they are paltry when compared to the corporate debt that the government had written off. Some trade unions even accused this government to be more caring towards cows than workers. Because it allocated 500 crores for worker’s pension and 750 crores for the welfare of the cows.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Stand Up For The Rights Of The Carless

When you get on an Indian road it becomes all too apparent as to how deeply the economic disparities are entrenched in the Indian society. The ultra-rich travel in their monster-sized SUVs, the rich in their swanky sedans, the upper-middle class in their hatchbacks, and the lower-middle class people ride their low-end motorbikes. The poor either use the overcrowded public transportation facilities or ride their bicycles. And, the pedestrians, if any, are left with hardly any space on the roads.
Burgeoning car culture
Car culture, which is the heart of western consumerism, is fast catching up in India. Indians, who have a propensity to blindly emulate the western culture, values and lifestyle, are going on a car-owning spree. Almost all the well-known multi-national car manufacturers, coupled with a handful of domestic manufacturers, are vigorously promoting their vehicles in India. The passenger car sales in India are growing at a rate of 10% and it is expected that by 2020 a mammoth five million cars will start hitting Indian roads every year. These days it is far easier to get a car loan than getting a farming loan, that too at a very attractive interest rate.
The ever-increasing disposable incomes of the upper strata of the society, the pathetic condition of the public transportation, the elitism associated with owning a car, and demonstration effect are some of the reasons for the flourishing car culture in India.
The car culture has de-democratized public spaces. Cars, which occupy over 80 percent of the road space, contribute enormously to the traffic congestion. They not only elbow out the two-wheeler riders, but also make the lives of the pedestrians precarious. And, very few cars carry passengers to their full capacity and most of them carry only their owner-cum-drivers. Therefore, cars, which occupy a lion’s share of the road space, can carry only a small number of people making them a highly inefficient mode of transportation in a country like India.
Oil dependency is a vicious circle
These gas-guzzling cars jack up India’s fuel dependency. A steep increase in crude oil imports puts enormous pressure on the economy, especially on the foreign exchange reserves. America, which pioneered the car culture, waged many wars on the pretext of toppling rogue regimes or annihilating terrorist organizations. However, the major underlying reason for the US aggression in many instances was its ambition to exercise control over oil-rich nations with an intention to ensure the unhindered supply of hydrocarbons. The oil wars, waged by the western countries under the leadership of the US, had sown poisonous seeds in the oil-rich Islamic world, and as a result, the entire world is now reaping the bitter harvest in the form of the monstrous terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida and ISIS. India, if it does not contain the spread of car culture, may find itself in a very difficult situation in its quest to ensure uninterrupted supply of oil.
The pro-car government policies
In a landmark judgment delivered in 2008, the Delhi High Court contended that “transportation facilities are for moving people, not cars, and should favor all users, not just the minority fortunate enough to use private cars”. There are many people in India who hold the false notion that a country replete with cars is a developed country, and therefore, advocate having more cars on the roads to get the status of being a developed nation. Every country, irrespective of its economic status, must create convenient, affordable and efficient public transport system to enable all sections of society to travel together comfortably.
The governments, instead of creating dedicated road spaces for buses and enhancing the capacity of other public transportation facilities such as suburban train networks, widen roads and build new flyovers and parking spaces which are quickly gobbled up by cars and other private vehicles. In many Indian cities, it has been a trend that the people, who buy cars without having parking space, tend to park them on the footpaths in front of their houses, putting the safety of the pedestrians at risk. As per the road accident statistics, more than half of the people who die on Indian roads are cyclists and pedestrians. Lately, there have been increasing incidences of drunk and underage driving, which are claiming the lives of pedestrians including children and the elderly. The pothole-ridden, narrow Indian roads, cluttered with numerous private vehicles, are becoming increasingly precarious for the travelers. In 2015, on an average of 400 people died every day in road accidents. In other words, a whopping 1.46 lakh people per annum breathe their last on Indian roads making them into virtual death traps.
Stand up for the rights of the carless                                                                              
Despite the numerous disadvantages and unsuitability of car culture in India, the elite are not ready to change their lifestyle. They are not even ready to tolerate anyone questioning their right to use cars indiscriminately. The people of the country, irrespective of their financial status, must realize the fact that the car owners, to fuel their king-sized lives, are enjoying unlimited privileges. These privileges must be curtained to empower the poor and the ordinary to reclaim their share of the democratic public spaces. Otherwise, the rich and the elite, by mistaking their privileges for rights, will transform the society into their fiefdom by occupying disproportionately large space on the road and parking their cars everywhere indiscriminately, not leaving any place either for pedestrians or public transport. The best example is when the Delhi government introduced the odd-even plan to reduce vehicular emissions to bring down the pollution levels, all the elite turned ferocious and launched a concerted social media campaign to discredit the government.
The car-owning elite, who control most of the institutions, possess an overwhelmingly strong voice, and with it, they can even manufacture consent in favor of their car culture. On the other hand, the car-less poor, who are voiceless, become mute spectators to the progressive shrinkage of their bicycling and walking space.

The governments in India, whether it is the union or the state governments, always claim themselves being pro-poor and don’t leave any opportunity to harp on social justice. However, in practice, they pave way for private vehicles, especially cars, in the name of promoting automobile industry, which grabs public spaces undemocratically and causes irreparable damage to the environment and the health of the people. It is time the governments changed their policies to promote safe, sustainable, affordable and reliable transportation facilities to ensure the smooth and hassle-free mobility of all sections of the society. And, the task invariably involves putting public transportation first and cars last.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The End Of Triple Talaq

In the history of humankind, many things that were discriminatory were passed off as legal, such as apartheid, slavery, and colonialism until they were finally abolished. Because the people who made them legal were powerful and did so to serve their narrow self-interest. The oppressed classes, when they have an overwhelming desire to get emancipated, fight back to get the discriminatory laws overturned. That is what exactly happened in case of ‘triple talaq’ also.

The Supreme Court, in 2017, held the Muslim practice of triple talaq unconstitutional and struck it down and directed the Union government to consider appropriate legislation.
The court, by pronouncing the triple talaq unconstitutional, provided succor to the countless Muslim women who are reeling under the scourge of the discriminatory practice. The unfair practice emboldens a Muslim man to violate the sanctity of marriage by deserting his wife in a unilateral and patently unjust manner. The triple talaq dehumanizes women, enslaves them to their husbands and deprives them of their dignity. Though the law is a welcome step, the very fact that it took 70 years for independent India to reform an utterly discriminatory law is deeply saddening. It also shows how arduous and painstakingly slow it is to bring about any reformation in Indian society.

There are many people who are not only questioning the intent of the BJP in enacting the law but also opposing the law itself. By doing so they revealed their true colors. No religion or no society is a perfect being and reformation should be an essential ingredient of human progress. Congress, by continuing to oppose the triple talaq law, appears to be intent on continuing its appeasement of the Muslim clergy. It, through its appeasement policies, in fact, fueled the advent of the Hindu right wing.  

Indian women, irrespective of the religion they are born into, are the oppressed class. The oppression is the direct result of their disempowerment, which is a consequence of their subjugation and financial dependence. The conservative elements in every religious community target their womenfolk in the name of community honor and leave no stone unturned in their effort to exercise unwarranted control over them thereby restricting their freedom.

Many of us wonder as to what made the practice of triple talaq continue in India even after it was banned in more than 20 Muslim majority countries including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh? The main reason behind the continued injustice meted out to the Muslim women appears to be political. In India, the Muslim clergy, to tighten their grip over their community, make unceasing efforts to drive it towards more conservatism and even try to unduly influence the Muslim community’s voting behavior. The fatwas issued by Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, to vote for certain political parties is too well-known. Therefore, the political parties that treat the Muslim community as a mere vote bank compete to grab the vote bank by appeasing the conservative Muslim clergy.

The Shah Bano case stands as a testimony to the fact that the political parties in India stoop to any low in order to appease the Muslim orthodoxy. In a blatantly unjust move, the then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi made a law in the parliament to deprive a divorced Muslim woman called Shah Bano of her right to maintenance, overturning a verdict given by the Supreme Court that granted her alimony. And, it is this unholy nexus between the political leaders and the clergymen, which made the lives of countless Muslim women miserable by creating hurdles on the path to reformation.

The Muslim women who were victimized by these discriminatory laws, have fought back and knocked at the doors of the highest judicial body. The male-dominated and downright regressive All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) bitterly opposed any alteration in triple talaq on the pretext that it will amount to the intervention in the Muslim personal laws. In its feeble attempt to dissuade the Supreme Court from delivering its verdict, it even proposed that it would take some measures that include subjecting the errant Muslim men to social boycott. The board, however, appear to be ignorant of the fact that subjecting people to social boycott is also illegal and discriminatory. The victims of triple talaq fought a protracted legal battle and faced many odds in their effort to get justice. With the tabling of the triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha, and its passage, the focus now shifts to the Rajya Sabha, where the opposition parties are bent on thwarting it. If passed even in the Rajya Sabha, and made into a law, it will not only be a victory for the cause of gender justice but also a decisive defeat of the forces that support male chauvinism in the garb of religion.

The Muslim clergy appears to have a very negative view of gender justice and many of them publicly expressed their aversion to it. Some time ago a prominent Muslim leader called Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliyar stated, “Gender equality is something which is never going to be a reality. It is against Islam, humanity and was intellectually wrong,” and went on to say that “women are fit only to deliver children”. The AIMPLB, headed by the self-proclaimed leaders of Muslims, is no different. Therefore, these forces are not fit to represent the interests of Muslim women. It appears that the Muslim women have realized the futility of expecting others to speak for them and have at last taken matters into their own hands. A progressive Muslim women’s organization called Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) was instrumental in bringing about awareness among Muslim women and is at the vanguard of the fight against discrimination.

The clergy and other orthodox elements in the Muslim society must realize the fact the gender justice is non-negotiable in this 21st-century society and they can no longer thwart the overwhelming urge among their womenfolk to lead a life of dignity in a just society. The self-proclaimed Muslim leaders, instead of opposing every move towards reformation and getting branded as patently regressive, can transform themselves into the instruments of change. They can try to bring about awareness among the Muslim community about various social evils and sensitize them about the need for reformation. But that appears to be too much to expect from them.

This article first appeared in