O yes, you shouldn’t have spoken on Indian Elections

Dear Hasan Minhaj,

Yes, brother, you shouldn’t have spoken on Indian politics! Absolutely not. I totally agree with that but not for the reasons that were portrayed in the first couple of minutes of the show.

During my stay in the US, I did observe a general lack of understanding of India and Indian politics among the majority of Indians who have settled there since decades and your show was just a proof of that. I am not blaming but then somewhere the NRIs refuse to accept that lack of knowledge and feel entitled to speak up just because there are platforms available and there are listeners.
It was just sheer incomplete information, no understanding of the core issues of Indian society + politics and an extremely one-sided view of the issues, organizations, and the leaders.

Through this blog, I am just attempting to bring in some perspective to the topics covered. I am not the epicenter of the knowledge or insights but having closely following Indian politics till date and having witnessed, in person, BJP’s administration and Modi’s leadership while growing up in Gujarat and living in India up until 2015, I guess I do bring in some level of credibility.

1. Balakot Attack
About the Balakot attack, you failed to mention that Indian media has recently provided enough details about how the targets were actually hit as the latest satellite images show (Indian Air Force collates proof of strikes at Balakot camp, 80% bombs hit target: IAF gives satellite images to govt as proof of Balakot airstrike, Balakot airstrike: 80% bombs hit target, says IAF in proof submitted to govt).
The portrayal of the entire incident as their word vs our word is quite naive. If you follow the news, you would know that Pakistan has continuously denied access to the international media to the site of air strike (Pakistan continues blocking media access to IAF’s air strike site, Why does the media have no real access?, No access to Pakistan religious school that India says it bombed) but just touring them around the forests. Pakistani PM was also caught red-handed lying on television when he said Pakistan had captured two Indian air crafts in the dogfight that followed a few days after the air strike when the fact was the second plane was Pakistan’s F-16 itself and the pilot was badly beaten up by the locals (and is said to have died in the hospital later on). Pakistan has also failed to acknowledge this – which is terrible for a soldier who risked his life for the country.
And saying that the Indian government was exploiting Kashmir for elections is also a totally idiotic. Indian army conducted operations in Myanmar in 2015 and then in PoK in 2016 (in response to Uri attack). Even in 2016, the same excuse was given by the anti-India and anti-BJP folks that due to elections in Uttar Pradesh, this was done. The fact is that, in India, every year some 4-5 (or even more) states go into elections to elect a state government. So, it is common and easy to portray any positive step of the government as an election hoodwink.

2. Jobs
You spoke literally just for 10 seconds on this topic to give out a judgment. The fact of the matter is that this is one topic where there is significant confusion (just read these two articles: The reason India jobs data is not credible and The sharp debate on jobs data shows govt may arrive at a process for understanding India’s labour market) and making any conclusive statement is absolutely naive. There are plenty of data sources giving a variety of information but none of them covering the entire spectrum. Unlike the US, the UK, and many other western countries, India has never had any credible source of employment information. While the larger estimates do not favor the government at all – more confusion in this matter will only be detrimental to the government.

3. Demonetization
You showed a CPI worker (AIKS cap, red t-shirt and CPI flag in the background) criticizing the demonetization – so obvious. If you don’t know what AIKS is and the equation between CPI and BJP – research a bit. You, spending just above 60 seconds on the topic to conclude it as a failure is an absolute injustice to the topic itself because it was a very carefully planned exercise which had other aspects too – which was obviously ignored in the video – like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the closure of shell companies identified due to this exercise. You may want to read the following:
Govt cancelled 2.24 lakh suspected shell companies post demonetisation, disqualified 3.09 lakh directors, 2.09 lakh companies deregistered; directors face action, Black money accounts frozen, 2-3 lakh shell company owners now face up to 10 years jail.

If you really want to know what failure of demonetization looks like – just read about demonetization in Venezuela.
And while you talked about demonetization, you failed to mention the largest financial inclusion exercise carried out before that – the Jan Dhan accounts. While India received independence way back in 1947 and bank nationalizations happened in the 1969 and 1980, it still excluded more than half of the population from the financial system. While the numbers vary slightly from sources to sources, even by 2014, half or less than half of the Indian adults had a bank account. And, from there the number up to 80% and still counting. Yes, there are arguments that many (maybe a majority) of these newly opened accounts are dormant. But one also needs to take into consideration that any behavioral change in society takes persistent efforts and time. People who are habituated to deal in cash for 70 years post independence will not move to transact through their banks overnight.

4. Disenfranchisement of Immigrants
You mentioned the disenfranchisement of immigrants in Assam but failed to mention that these were illegal immigrants. It was also surprising that you missed out on some very basic details on NRC

  1. It was first prepared in 1951 to tackle the issue of illegal immigrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
  2. The current NRC exercise is a part of the Assam Accord that was signed by the then Congress PM in 1986, Late Rajiv Gandhi (you should have asked Shashi Tharoor about this) but was never implemented and
  3. The current exercise was mandated by the honorable Supreme Court of India on October 2013 (when Congress government was in power).

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh is a monstrous problem for both, West Bengal and Assam. It is being portrayed as Muslim immigrants (as if a particular religion is targeted) but they fail to mention that the immigrants come from Bangladesh which is 90% Islamic. Many governments, including this one, have been trying to arrive at a solution and a part of the solution is to send the illegal immigrants back to Bangladesh.

Yes, when the first list of National Register for Citizens was created, it did include some actual citizens as well but that was due to lack of documental evidence and there was a time period provided to such citizens to submit the relevant documents. Ironically, this whole infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh (and Rohingyas from Myanmar) totally contradicts the perception that minorities are not safe in India 🙂

5. Hindu Nationalism is not anti-Muslim
BJP talks about Hindu nationalism but that speaks of Hinduism as a value system – not religion. Every single scheme of the present government has been targeted to every single Indian irrespective of religion or caste – be it Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjawala Yojana, Aayushman Bharat, Make in India, Awaas Yojana and many others. This government is also the first one to introduce reservations based on economic status, rather than social status.
So, calling the current government as communal or anti-Muslim is highly ironic especially when compared to the previous Congress government that stated that a certain community has the first right on India’s resources. Some of the most perceived right-wing leaders like Subramanian Swamy has a Muslim son-in-law. He himself is married to a Parsi. The PM, in his addresses, always iterates 1.3 billion Indians instead of using a collective of religion or caste or anything else that divides India. Unfortunately, he and BJP often gets targeted and accused as anti-Muslim because, unlike other parties, they are not in the practice of appeasing minorities for votes. You may want to read this:
PMO intervenes to end Kerala disabled boy’s fight for education.

6. Affiliation with RSS
Regarding his affiliation with RSS, if you know about the RSS in detail as most of the Indians do, it becomes a source of confidence and not a source of concern. RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pretty much translates to National Volunteers Group – no reference to any particular religion or caste etc. Yes, the organization is primarily focused on the Hindu way of life and incorporating discipline into the Indian youth (the video that you showed of the physical exercises is essentially a part of inculcating the discipline). Having said that, RSS has been always forefront in carrying out relief work in any natural or man-made disasters – be it in Kashmir or Kerala. The organization has given some of the greatest and the most respected leaders India has seen post-Independence.
You might be surprised to know that RSS has many members from Muslims, Christian, and Sikh community and they understand the true philosophy of RSS. It also has a Muslim wing itself called RMM (Rashtriya Muslim Manch), a Sikh wing called Rashtriya Sikh Sangat (What brings Muslims, Christians and Sikhs to RSS? Why do they join the organization that is considered to be the antithesis of secular politics in India).
Time and again, the western media and public in general, has always failed to understand the Hinduism because they tend to see Hinduism from an Abrahamic lens. You should read the book “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines” by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan.

7. Mahatma Gandhi’s Assassination
Regarding the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi – I know, for western media, Mahatma Gandhi is pretty much next to God – but research is required in understanding the background of the whole thing which the majority of Indian media and almost the entire of western media never took interest in and always talked about it in a superficial manner. I am not justifying the assassination – it was definitely wrong – but the reason for condemnation of assassination also matters as much as condemnation itself. I would suggest you watch this and try to get some perspective

8. Monk with a Gun
You mentioned “Monk with a Gun” but one needs to go back to understanding the history of India where this (weapons) was actually the part of the education. This is not something new. I have mentioned more about it here.
Regarding changing the names, it is not a change of the name per se. It is restoring the original names (not sure why nobody told you that). And it is not anti-Muslim for sure. It is anti-Mughal – the dark era in the history of India that was marred by systematic destruction of India’s vast natural resources, forced religious conversions, destruction of India’s agricultural strength, unjust and high taxes (including jizya), and many other atrocities by the Mughal invaders. Similar exercises have happened time and again. Just read here – Renaming of Cities in India. Again, it requires some good reading.

9. Lynchings
Regarding the lynchings, there are two major points. The narrative that it has been increasing since 2014 is wrong because 1) There is no credible data available that suggests that since 2014 there is an increase; 2) NCRB started reporting communal riots only after 2014 – so obviously there were no reported lynchings before 2014 since nobody was actually recording it; and 3) Mob lynching has been talked more since 2014 and has caught media attention but just because we come to know more about it now and not before doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist at the same scale earlier. Mob lynching is a result of a challenge that India faces in terms of law enforcement which is being tried to overcome since decades. I would suggest you watch this

You may also want to read this: Can Data Tell Us Whether Lynchings Have Gone Up Under Modi, And Should It Matter?

10. Democracy in Danger
When you say that Indians also feel that the “democracy is backsliding” – you show Yogendra Yadav who has been a classic anti-Modi person who will obviously say those things. If you don’t know the history of Yogendra Yadav, please read about him. Since 2014, there have been regular attempts to project that the Indian democracy is in danger under the present government (completely ignoring the fact that this is the government elected by citizens of India with a landslide victory – the first time in three decades. I would actually not consider 1984 because that landslide was driven by emotions rather than performance). Be it the award wapasi show, tukde tukde gang, intolerance debate or EVM drama. If you do not know about these terms, please read.

Again, I sincerely hope there wasn’t any agenda behind this episode. 29 minutes is a too short a time considering the breadth of the topics covered – which essentially meant quantity was prioritized over quality – and in this case misinformation or half-information was prioritized over a genuine talk.

If true, it’s sad that nobody from BJP opted to speak to you and you only received one-sided biased Leftist view of the Indian politics from Shashi Tharoor. He is a great orator but it was very sad to hear that he obviated corruption. But then it is nothing new – that has been the mentality of the Congress and many other parties since ages. When Rahul Gandhi was asked about dynastic politics at University of California, Berkeley, he just said “that’s the way India works” – in spite of having a present government that has not only opposed dynastic politics in words but also in practice. Just follow the news around the list of candidates they released for the upcoming general elections in India and the whole logic behind identifying the right candidate for the right constituency. They are demonstrating how democracy should actually work.

While talking about all other things, within one minute, you could have also covered this bullet point list:

  • India is the 6th largest economy (10th in 2012-2015) by nominal GDP (3rd by PPP) – World Bank
  • India jumped 57 places (134 to 77) in ease of doing business in just 4 years – Tradingeconomics.com | World Bank
  • The government went on to simplify the indirect taxation system by bringing everything under GST (Centre and State) and categorizing items to make some very essential items under 0% taxation.
  • The Indian PM received the Champion of the Earth from the United Nations for his bold environmental leadership on the global stage – United Nations Environment Programme
  • International Yoga Day was one resolution that received massive support (co-sponsorship) of 177 countries out of 193.
  • Sushma Swaraj was invited as a Chief Guest at OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) States – the first time since its inception in 1969 – and in spite of opposition from Pakistan – so much for the anti-Muslim government and the party.

Again, here, I may not have been able to cover everything in detail. I am not even sure if I spending so much time on writing this was even worth it. But this is something that ought to be done.

P.S. I also came across this video which has some brilliant points debunking myths spread around the western world about India. Great work by The Sham Sharma Show:

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Three Shades of Grey

Main

Off late, my Facebook feeds have largely seen some or the other article vilifying either Arvind Kejriwal or Narendra Modi. Some of the fierce supporters on either side have been spending a huge part of the day on enlightening the other users on how disastrous it would be to vote for one person and how the other person, he/she supports, is an OBVIOUS choice. Unfortunately, in democracy, be it of any country, there are no OBVIOUS choices. There is a choice of which party is the best to govern the country in the next five years. “Best” need not be pristine or 100% right and it also need not be a unanimous choice. It cannot be – since political parties are made up of human beings and human beings by itself are never 100% right or wrong.  If we look at everyone around us, we will come across some good qualities about them and some not good. Even professionally, we evaluate people with their strength areas and, at the same time, there are areas of improvement. The degrees will vary and but there won’t be anybody with all strengths and no areas of improvement or no strengths and all areas of improvements.

Few weeks back I came across an article “Politics and its many shades of grey” by Chetan Bhagat that spoke about how the selection is always between less right and more right. Sadly, the writer ended up supporting one party after starting off with a balanced view. Sometimes people can’t gauge where to STOP. But taking the initial part of the article, which had been in my mind since long when I stopped wasting my energies on Facebook for political reasons and instead do something productive, it is important to understand how the system works.

The current social media fabric doesn’t allow colors other than black or white. If you say something in favor of somebody, you are automatically assumed to be against everyone else. One group among my friends has been rigorously campaigning against Narendra Modi – BJP’s PM Candidate – on how catastrophic it would be to vote for a mass murderer, liar of highest degree  and brazenly corrupt and communal. There is another group who is leaving no stone unturned in demonstrating on Arvind Kejriwal’s – AAP leader and strongest opposition to Narendra Modi – U-turns, selective targeting, symbolism, self-righteousness and double standards. Since December, Rahul Gandhi is out of fashion.

However, the crux of the matter is, if you want to support someone, you can do that. If you want to bash the same person, you won’t be short of material there as well. It depends on the choice you make, if you have decided to be in a 100% white zone and put everything else as 100% black. But there are a number of people who might not want to join either Allies or Axis. They are detached from “individual” politics. They might not look at things in monochrome. They see what is the most necessary for the country at a given point of time and choose one at that given time and move on for a better option later. The views will differ among individuals and there will always be requirement for acceptance of differences.

To put a bottom line, India’s foundation is not vulnerable that one person or one party can destroy it. This nation has faced thousands of attacks ever since human race came to existence. India has stood the most ferocious test of time and will continue to do so. This nation has also made mistakes and has learnt from it. But more often than not, it has taken the best decisions in the human history.

Few days back, I came across an anecdote that tried to explain the situation in the current Indian polity and the dilemma of our selection.

Let’s say you have a car and you hire a driver.

The driver is new but with decent driving skills. However, when the car is not in use, he used it for his personal purposes and also for carrying passengers to earn some extra bucks. He was also not good in maintaining the car properly. You come to know about this and you fire him.

You hire another driver. This second driver has excellent driving skills with a proven track record. He also maintains the car well. However, like the first driver, he also uses the car for his personal purposes and carrying passengers to earn some extra bucks. You again come to know about this and you fire him as well.

You hire a third driver. This third driver is very honest and hardworking. He never uses the car for any other purpose but for yours. However, he is a novice with poor driving skills and often bangs your car while driving. He also doesn’t know much about car maintenance, so often there are breakdowns because of which the car is not available.

You don’t know how to drive a car and there are only these three drivers available in the market. What will you do?

 

 

Mr. Future Prime Minister

As of August 28, 2011

 

While the entire nation was gripped to the Lokpal lock-jam for the past 13 days with all eyes glued to Anna Hazare, MMS and CSM triplet (Chidu, Sibal and Mukherjee), I was looking for the comments from that one person who is seen as the future of India, not just by the Congress party but also by the people of India (at least the ones who voted in that survey). While he did make a brief and purposely strong presence at the end, what he came out with was something which was not only unexpected but also uncalled for and not the need of the hour or priority.

However, when I see people going blindly insane behind him to embrace him as the future PM of the country, I understand that this is the same age old judgment inability of the Indians that has brought India to where it is now. While we love bashing our politicians, we forget that these people haven’t come from Mars or Jupiter. These are the MPs that have been elected by us. And let’s not forget that this government has been here for more than 7 years now and was re-elected by the same set of people who made it victorious in 2004. While making mistake is completely human, repeating it or not rectifying it is not. As I go through the self-made CV of this guy, who is said to be the future prime minister of the largest democracy of India, it looks like hiring a 23 year old fresh MBA grad for the position of company CEO.

While his so-called “game changing” idea did not receive much attention or any takers, it confirmed that he was far away from the ground realities of the current situation and the priorities therein. His speech looked more like an image building exercise which evidently backfired. While the “game changing” idea was largely mistimed, he failed to provide rationale behind that thought, which even evokes a doubt whether the idea was original or was coming from some Nehru-Gandhi bootlicker. On the contrary, it was the other young Gandhi who scored the home run with his assertive, yet articulate, and well controlled speech. However, needless to say that even he is not someone who can be contemplated for the top post, even if NDA comes back to power.

WhileIndiamight want to imitate theUSby bringing in a young person, to the top position, it should not forget that it is not the priority. While young age is definitely an added advantage, it should not be a criterion. Looking into what the so-called future PM has done in the past, he is millions of miles away from the likes of Nehru, LB Shastri, Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh. The only history that speaks in his favor is the example of Rajiv Gandhi, who was just four years old in politics when elected for the top post. While his father went on to become one of the most respected PMs of India, exceptions do not amount to generalization.

His focus, so far, has largely revolved around reviving the IYC (Indian Youth Congress), NSUI (National Students Union of India) and Congress’ prospects in the UP, a state that accounts for largest number of seats in LS. However, there is very little he has done on a national front that can make him a possible candidate for the top post. His promise to eliminate family, patronage and money from Youth Congress has hardly seen the light as he failed in delivering to what he said, according to the recent reports from Indian Express and India Today. While he has projected himself as a strong advocate for a landmark “Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill” and asked the PM to introduce it in the current monsoon session, it is to be seen whether he walks to talk before the monsoon session ends on September 8. Being the “Prince” Gandhi, he should not face much problem in influencing the PM on the same. However, action is always a function of conviction. His refusal to take up any ministry in the 2009 UPA government is just another example of this.

However, people in India think via their hearts rather than heads, the reason why he is still a favorite in spite of no strong credentials. That is precisely, also the reason, why Gandhi family exists in politics. There are many root causes for the brain wash the Gandhis have done till date, which ranges from illiteracy and poverty to corruption and charisma. His position and presentation in the most contentious issue of the modernIndiaclearly suggests, it’s long time to go before he proves himself worthy of the revered post. It’s time Indians think straight and call a spade a spade.