On Pinstripe suits and Narcissism by Aseem Prakash

PM Modi’s suit with “Narendra Damodardas Modi” woven into its pinstripes has generated some interest, to put it mildly. I am sure the PM understands that politicians need to project their image well. One might even say that in this day and age of social media, politicians need to have a rockstar persona. They need to be physically fit, look good, and even have facials. Bill Clinton’s famous hair cut at the LA airport was defended on similar grounds (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/21/us/haircut-grounded-clinton-while-the-price-took-off.html)

There is some work suggesting good looking CEOs create tangible benefits for their companies. Apparently stock prices are correlated with the looks and appearance of CEOs: Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer is sometime cited in this context. The paper by Halford and Shu, “Beauty is Wealth: CEO Appearance and Shareholder Value”, finds a statistically significant correlation between “facial attractiveness index” and the stock prices of S&P 500 companies:

“[A]ttractive” bosses receive better total compensation and can improve share prices on their first day by creating a good first impression. The research also suggested that they perform better on the negotiating table, and are more likely to land good deals. Regular media appearances can also improve shares if the chief executive is attractive, the study found. “CEO attractiveness may also affect shareholder value through the visibility channel, in which media attention may affect a firm’s investor base and stock prices” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/10549340/Study-finds-beautiful-CEOs-boost-stock-prices.html).

So, why can’t this not hold for politicians? After all, film stars have done quite well in politics (MGR, NTR, Jayalalitha, etc)? Would we rather have a drab, unimpressive PM (Manmohan sigh) or a dynamic, elegant and suave PM (Modi)?

I am all in favor of leaders being well dressed, groomed, scented, etc. Facials are fine as well. After all, symbolic politics is important. I liked the headgear the PM sported on August 15 and again on January 26. But I do I hope politics is not reduced to a fashion parade. If we can take politicians to task for sending government planes to collect their shoes from Bombay, I suppose the PM Modi needs to be held to the same standard.

PM’s flamboyant style creates dissonance in the mind of his well wishers. PM Modi seeks to project an image of a common man and highlight his humble background. There was outrage, and rightly so, when Mani Shankar Aiyar made the “chaiwallah” remark. Wearing an very expensive suit – which by some estimate would cost over $25,000, makes one wonder what he truly is.

Moreover, the focus on creating a celebrity image suggests that the PM has a strong narcissistic streak. So, next time an important person visits India or the PM travels abroad, would one expect PM to reveal a James Bond persona, “nimbu pani please, shaken but not stirred.”

Of course, PM Modi can draw solace from Clinton’s damage control response. As the New York Times Reported:

“In light of Mr. Clinton’s haircut by a stylist to Hollywood stars, Mr. Stephanopoulos was asked whether his boss was still the President of the common man. “Absolutely,” he answered. “And if you look at his economic package, it’s a package that’s designed to turn this around and to really get some real benefits to middle-class Americans. And that’s what’s important” (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/21/us/haircut-grounded-clinton-while-the-price-took-off.html)

There are plenty of examples of narcissist politicians overplaying their cards. By most account, Nitish Kumar was a successful CM of Bihar primarily because he was so different from Lalu Yadav. Yet, Nitish began to think himself to be invincible. He took on the BJP during the Lock Sabha elections and lost. For his political survival, he has formed an alliance with Lalu Yadav — yes, Lalu Yadav. This is a tragedy not only for him but for Bihar as well. All because of his ego got the better of him.

Citizens elected the BJP on the platform of good governance and development. Has the BJP delivered on its promises? After making a song and dance about bringing black money back in 100 days, what are the results? The global decline in oil prices has given PM Modi a temporary reprieve. But this good luck may not last forever.

The days of “simple living and high thinking” are probably over. I do not want the PM to look unimpressive or shabby. But there is fine line between being well dressed and being flamboyant. This line should not be crossed, especially for a person who proclaims his humble background. Crossing this line leads to the erosion of the leader’s moral capital. It confuses people about the priorities of the leader. As I see it, with the pinstriped suit episode, this line has been crossed.

Battle of the Babies by Maqbul Jamil

Although the complete 2011 census findings are yet to be revealed, a recent media report claimed that the Muslim population in India has grown by 24% between 2001 and 2011. Though Muslims now form 14.2% of the country’s population (as opposed to 13.4% in the last decade), the rate at which the population has been growing has shown a definite slow down compared to the decade before that, says the report.

However, despite the slow-down of the population growth of Muslims, the previous government allegedly wanted the census data withheld as the country went into polls. Perhaps the previous government feared that the populist ‘illegal immigrant’ theory would be blamed once the data was revealed. But it doesn’t end there. The current ruling party finds the census data ‘sensitive’ also.

In a country that prides itself for its plurality, this new statistic doesn’t seem like an “alarming” statistic or something that should spark political debates. However, in India, every bit of information pertaining to religion holds potential for a political wrestling match. Now rightwing leaders want millions more Indians and they want more of them to be Hindus.

First, a maverick member of parliament (MP) for the ruling party who dresses in saffron robes, urged Hindu women to have at least four children each “in order to protect the Hindu religion.” “The concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India,” the MP is reported to have told a gathering in an apparent reference to Muslim men, who are legally allowed to have four wives. Then a prominent Hindu nationalist leader joined the fray, calling for even more children to ensure the safety of Hinduism for 1,000 years. Another recalled that Lord Krishna sired 10 children by each of his 16,108 wives (although Krishna had mainly eight wives according to some tradition) and was quoted as saying, “the world will be ruled by those who have maximum population.”

Many hard-liners regularly accuse Muslim women of being “breeding machines” who have lots of children in a bid to overtake the Hindu population. These appeals spring from a primal fear that Muslims are breeding so fast and converting vulnerable Hindu women at such a rate that they will soon overwhelm the Hindus, who still account for 80% of Indians.

It is accurate to state that the Muslim share of the population, at about 14%, has grown from about 10% since Independence in 1947 — but that is not because Muslims were trying to outbreed their Hindu neighbors. Poorer, less educated and rural people tend to have larger families and since partition , when many of the Muslim elite moved to Pakistan, Indian Muslims have been, on average, less prosperous than Indian Hindus. In the relatively educated and wealthy state of Kerala, Christians, Hindus and Muslims have equally small families, and across the country fertility rates among Muslim women are declining faster than those of Hindus, and converging with them.

India’s Hindu right is not unique in promoting competitive breeding, there are plenty of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and white supremacists out there lobbying for more babies of their own creed or color or religion, future foot-soldiers in the battle between “them” and “us.” Even the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, complained last week of a “demographic crisis” in the Indian state and called for more Andhra babies!

The unsustainable population growth has severely tested India’s ability to provide for all its citizens with their basic minimum demands. In this environment, this battle for babies is an irresponsible call as is the comfortable slogan like the demographic dividend. The longer India delays acknowledging the severity of population problems and dealing with them head on, the graver the consequences are likely to be!

Who will transform India? by Maqbul Jamil

The “Make in India” lounge at Davos for this year’s WEF annual summit is a big hit! “Make in India” is the government’s major new national program designed to facilitate investment, foster innovation and enhance skills development.

Asian tigers have been concentrating their efforts on expanding manufacturing, boosting growth and keeping external imbalances in check. India’s manufacturing value-added as a percentage of GDP stood at 13% in 2013, compared to 24% for Indonesia and 30% in China and South Korea. India is now trying to recoup the missed opportunity.

This campaign is a necessary ingredient of economic revival and hopefully will make more than a dent in the demand for 12 million new jobs a year. But the question is who will transform India? The country’s poorly skilled and fast-growing work-force has to bear the responsibility. The share of school graduates going on to higher education jumped from 11% in 2004 to 23% in 2011. By this year, India will have 35,000 colleges and 700 universities. The problem is a lack of quality. No Indian university (public or private) has made it to the top 200 of any global ranking of universities.

According to the National Employability Report of Graduates done by Aspiring Minds in 2013, employability of graduates varies from 2.6% in functional roles such as accounting, to 15.9% in sales related roles and 21.4% for roles in the business process outsourcing (BPO/ITeS) sector. A significant proportion of graduates, nearly 47%, were found not employable in any sector, given their English language and cognitive skills. More importantly, the quality of a majority of engineers in the country is below acceptable standards. According to the National Employability Report of Engineering Graduates done by Aspiring Minds in 2014, 18.4% of the engineering students, who graduate every year, are “employable” for software jobs, while a dismal 3.9% are appropriately trained to be directly deployed o projects.

The quality problem India now faces is a direct consequence of its emphasis on quantity over quality. The solution is not to limit expansion but rather to improve quality. The state overregulates private institutes, limiting what can be started, how many students can be admitted, what fees can be charged (although it has been unsuccessful in eliminating the persistent capitation fees), and the curriculum that is taught. At the same time, it does a shoddy job of the assessment of institute quality. However, the public agenda for higher education is dominated by an acrimonious debate on extending caste-based reservations in public and private institutions.

India has a tremendous opportunity provided by a unique combination of the huge availability of talent in student numbers with an education system that—with all its problems—has demonstrated its ability to respond effectively to market demand, a strong social desire to invest in education at great personal cost, and an abundance of the intellectual freedom in which academic enquiry can thrive.

To produce 600,000 engineers a year, of whatever quality, is no mean achievement. India must now move on multiple fronts: it must build true research universities by moving public research funding from autonomous institutes to the university system. The government could leverage the public-private partnership to improve quality in the largely private professional education system, with the state ensuring public assessment so students and parents can decide which institutes are of adequate quality to survive. The government must ensure equity of access on merit by permitting institutes to set their own fees and recover costs in a transparent manner, for which state guaranteed loans are easily available. The state must step in to provide support for non-professional fields and vocational programs, but there is no reason to subsidize education in an IIT or IIM or ISI. It must focus on higher education investment on building a few world-class, full-service universities that will produce the country’s intellectuals and engineers of the future. India must not squander this opportunity or otherwise “Make in India” would just be a slogan!

Is the RSS one happy family?: VHP’s efforts to derail Modi by Aseem Prakash

Few will dispute that the Modi government wants to focus on governance and economic development.Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad, and Ayodhya are not on its agenda.
This is not surprising because the swing voter (especially the youth) is focused on jobs, and development, and not on religious strife. Recall the BJP’s disastrous showing in the 2014 UP by-elections when it raked up the issue of Love Jihad. It is, therefore, puzzling that the RSS, which should have vested interest in the BJP’s success, has not reined in its other front organization, the VHP.

Why so? There are two plausible theories: the personal animosity between Togadia and Modi (a point that Madhu Kishtwar has made previously), and the desire of RSS leaders to seek glory by making shocking pronouncements, a tendency that is encouraged by the mass media.

First, Togadia versus Modi. The English press and the Delhi’s chattering classes seldom recognize that the RSS is not a Stalinist, unitary organization. Personal ambitions and personality clashes abound. Modi and Togadia harbor deep animosity towards each (So does, for example, Modi and Sanjay Joshi, an ambitious RSS pracharak). While it is difficult to pin point when the Modi versus Togadia clash began, many would agree that Modi’s ascendency to the position of Gujarat CM and his desire to be his own man precipitated this clash. As a CM of Gujarat, Modi sought to focus on governance, and not saffronization. Importantly, he began ignoring Togadia (and even sacked his crony such as Zapadia from the Council of Ministers).

But to focus on governance, Modi had to take on the RSS. For example, Modi locked horns with RSS sponsored Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) when he decided not to roll back of tariff on electricity supplied to the farming sector (http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/pm-may-intervene-in-gujarat-power-row-104012801067_1.html). While sensible economic policies such as these eventually led Gujrat became a power surplus state from a chronically power deficit one, it antagonized BKS.

Modi did not shy away from confronting the VHP on religious issues either. His government forcefully tackled an endemic Indian problem: encroachment of public space by religious structures. Consequently, Modi’s government demolished nearly 200 temples in Gandhinagar which led VHP’s Ashok Singhal to compare Modi with Mahmud Ghazni (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/History-of-how-Modi-and-Togadia-fell-out/articleshow/34068095.cms).

Togadia also noted:
“The BJP which claims to be a Hindu party is moving away from its ideology and is acting against Hindu society at large…Never in the past has even a Congress government imposed a ban on the carrying of ‘trishul’, but it is this Narendra Modi government which banned it during a BJP rally in Bhavnagar. …. Is this what we dreamt of, for a Hindu government in Gujarat? Certainly not,” said Togadia (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Modi-govt-not-pro-Hindu-Togadia/articleshow/2258132.cms)

Going beyond making statements, during the 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections, Togadia joined hands with Keshubhai Patel’s Parivartan Party to take on Modi. As it turned out, Modi prevailed in elections; Keshubhai was routed.

But Togadia refuses to shut up. I expect him (and other VHP functionaries) to launch agitations and make provocative statements to embarrass Modi.

Why is the RSS then not reining in the VHP and Togadia? Here is the second theory. The proliferation of mass media has created perverse incentives for leaders to seek glory by making provocative statements and to see their pronouncements getting discussed on television (ideally, on Arnab Goswami’s show with Arnab shouting, Mr. X. Do you support the statement by Mr. Y on this?). This publicity bug seems to have infected RSS leaders (other parties as well; Tharoor, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jairam Ramesh, Mohd. Azam Khan, and on and on). From insignificant leaders such as Rajeshwar Singh of the Dharam Jagran Samiti (and who famously declared that by 2021, the DJS will convert all Muslims and Christians to Hinduism; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2879597/We-free-India-Muslims-Christians-2021-DJS-leader-vows-continue-ghar-wapsi-plans-restore-Hindu-glory.html), to Mohan Bhagwat, all seek this perverse glory. How can then the RSS rein in the VHP? If Togadia is told to shut up, then Bhagwat will need to keep quite as well!

Who loses? Modi government gets distracted. It spends political capital dousing these fires, and not on constructive activities which can solve the numerous problems India faces.

On this count, inducting Kiran Bedi in BJP is a positive move because she is not an RSS/VHP person. With such individual hopefully in leadership positions, Modi’s dependence on the RSS diminishes and his degrees of freedom increase.

Eventually, Modi will need to strike, more quickly than he perhaps thinks or hopes. Of course, one might suggest that he is giving VHP types sufficient rope to hang themselves. I don’t think the swing voter will patiently wait this out.

Modi’s Cultural Revolution; But Not Mao Style by Aseem Prakash

PM Modi recently asked “all secretaries to visit district of their first posting and present a report card on progress with a view to improving implementation of government programs. The secretaries, according to a letter by the Department of Personnel and Training, have been advised to take their families along for such visits. The report card would have to be submitted by the end of this month” (http://www.dailypioneer.com/top-stories/pm-asks-secretaries-to-visit-first-district-of-posting.html).

This is an interesting idea. It reminds me of my first job in Procter and Gamble (P&G). In the first year, all management trainees were asked to do a stint in Sales. We had to visit shops with the P&G Sales representatives, understand how P&G products got placed in shops, how shopkeepers thought about P&G products, marketing, advertising, distribution, margins, etc. We also participated in the monthly Sales meetings to understand how district-wise sales targets were arrived at, and how P&G sales representatives developed strategies to fulfill these targets.

While I found the Sales experience to be exhilarating and refreshing, l recall the opposition from some of my colleagues who worked in functional areas such as Finance, R&D, and Logistics which did not have a directly bearing on Marketing or Sales. They argued that the Sales training module was a waste of their time because it was irrelevant for their functional expertise. P&G top management, however, was not impressed by this argument and continued its policy. I recall Gurcharan Das (CEO of P&G) noting that every manager must appreciate P&G’s core activity: selling its products.

Gurcharan was correct — this is what I thought then and this is what I think now. Managers working in the head office often get disconnected with ground level realities. This disconnect is pervasive in other professions as well. I see this in my new profession, academia, all the time. A large number of academics make empirical claims and master sophisticated techniques but virtually never do field work. They use secondary data without understanding how these number were generated. Some are even more extreme: as a doctoral student in the mid-1990s, I recall a distinguished professor working in the area of global conflict saying that s/he does not care about the Rwanda genocide because it was not in his/her dataset.

How to counter elitism? Is Mao the answer? While Mao’s Cultural Revolution sought to solidify Mao’s hold over the communist party and to discredit his opponent, its stated purpose was to change the culture of elitism by forcing the urban elites to rediscover rural realities. Most China scholars consider the Cultural Revolution to be a big failure. It unleashed unprecedented violence and destroyed much of intellectual capital China had accumulated post 1949. In contrast, Modi’s directive is quite sensible. It does not promise revolutionary change; it does not identify the enemy within and calls on the Red guards to uproot the counter revolutionaries. Instead, Modi’s directive asks top bureaucrats to rediscover and confront ground-level realities. By sending them back to areas where they had their first exposure to public administration, these individuals (vested with enormous power) will get the opportunity to ponder (and assess) whether their policies make a difference at the ground level.

PM Modi has interesting and innovative ideas on governance. I hope he can enthuse and motivate his Ministers and bureaucrats to truly imbibe his good governance agenda.

Will 2015 be the Year of Governance? by Maqbul Jamil

The PM, back at Gujarat’s marquee business event for the first time after being elected to India’s top post, told delegates from over a 100 countries that he wasn’t interested in “incremental” development but “planning to take a quantum leap.”

The PM touted the ‘Make in India’ initiative and vigorously sought foreign investments to help accelerate its growth. Last month, the central banker had sounded a word of caution about the new government’s “Make in India” campaign, saying it assumes an export-led growth path of China and it should rather be “Make for India” with a focus on manufacturing products for the domestic market. Given the weak markets in EU and slow-down in many other markets, this is not a bad suggestion.

The PM also said that “the ease of doing business in India is a prime concern for you and us. We are working very seriously on these issues.” This is important as India has slipped further on the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index, at 142 among 189 countries from 134 last year. But hopefully now the commitment is there to set about improving the country’s business environment and perception among overseas investors.

Where does India really stand on globalization? India scuttled the WTO’s Bali package, which would have been the first global trade deal in almost three decades. The deal was scuppered to defend food subsidies at home. The DHL Global Connectedness Index 2014 ranks India 71st out of 140 countries on its overall level of global connectedness, down from 68th two years ago. Its overall middle-of-the-pack ranking, however, masks major weaknesses – or, untapped opportunities.

After winning the national elections in May last year, the PM was in campaign mode for the rest of year and carved out impressive wins in all but one state where elections were held. As there is only one state election scheduled in 2015, hopefully he can forget party politics and focus more on what needs fixing. It is time the PM start delivering some substantial changes by accelerating pace of reforms and pushing his promises into practice. Late last year, the PM has demonstrated an appetite to govern by ordinance as a means of bypassing the fractious parliament (especially the upper house). India, under the new government, had changed tack and the future looks distinctly optimistic.

The Limits of Freedom of Expression in India by Maqbul Jamil

The murderous attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine can only provoke the most intense revulsion. This was more than a human tragedy. It was a calculated act of intimidation, an attack on the freedom of expression that is the pillar of any free and democratic society. It was designed to seed an insidious form of self-censorship. It must be forcefully and defiantly condemned by one and all.

In democratic societies, there should always be space for a civilized debate about taste and decorum when it comes to the ridicule of any religious faith or political beliefs. But what cannot be challenged is the fundamental right of all citizens to express themselves freely within the law. In an age marked by growth in religious belief and the increasing politicization of faith, all religion must be open to opinion, analysis and mockery.

Freedom of expression has been a tricky definition in India. Since Independence, there have been many attempts to use intimidation to silence satire and dissent. Many controversial art works and books were forbidden and were subjected to legal actions as they were considered to have the potential to spark off communal riots. Writers and artists of all kinds are still being harassed, prosecuted and arrested for what they say or write or create. Successive governments either stand-by and do nothing to protect freedom of speech, or it actively abets its suppression.

The Indian government banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1989 and was supported by left-wing politicians. Recently, Penguin’s decision to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History and pulp the remaining copies in response to protests from an organization calling itself the “movement to save education” was cheered by the right-wing organizations.

In 2010, the Supreme Court lifted the ban on James Laine’s controversial book on Shivaji, but the government, the then Opposition and even the book’s publishers all agreed that the book must not be sold in a western state. In 2013 in Mumbai, police arrested a 21-year-old woman for complaining on Facebook about the shutdown of the city after the death of a nativist politician; another Facebook user was arrested for “liking” the first woman’s comment. The grounds for the arrests “hurting religious sentiments.”

M.F. Hussain had spent the last years of his life in exile, driven out by the cases filed against him in the Indian courts against some of his bold paintings which apparently hurt the Hindu religious sentiments on portraying nudity of deities. Even movies that might pass the conservative Censor Board have been summarily banned by a state government. That’s what happened with “Vishwaroopam,” a Tamil spy thriller released worldwide — but not in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where officials prevented its screening, fearing that it might anger Muslims.

Salman Rushdie, a human weather vane for the right to free speech, was banned at the last-minute from participating in a literary festival in Kolkata, the “cultural capital” of India. Local politicians chimed in to support the ban. “Rushdie never should have been invited. Thirty percent of Bengali voters are Muslims” an official in the party that rules the state told the press. The notion that any cultural capital would try to silence speech — or punish artists who do speak out — is, of course, preposterous. But then, Kolkata is hardly alone.

In recent years, the government has cast a watchful eye on the Internet, demanding that companies like Google and Facebook pre-screen content and removes items that might be deemed “disparaging” or “inflammatory.”

A low level regional party functionary courted controversy when he sought to defend the terror attack on French satirical magazine saying whoever shows disrespect to the Prophet will invite death. “Prophet Mohammad had conveyed a message of peace to the entire world and if anyone makes certain cartoons on him will invite death like the cartoonists and journalists in Paris,” According to some media reports, he had also announced a reward of Rs 51 crore to the killers of the Paris journalists.

Justifying the Paris terror attack, a Congress leader told Times Now that such attacks were imminent as the “powerless” people were retaliating. “We have to admit that ever since there has been a war on terror after 9/11, many innocent Muslims have lost their lives. This is what America did in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is therefore only to be expected that there will be a backlash Countries like America can’t do what they want just because they are powerful. Why should just powerful countries act this way? Why should those who are less powerful not respond? Powerless people will find powerless means of responding, when there are drone attacks.”

I do not condone these tasteless and reckless comments, but defend the rights of the individuals to make these comments. However, I am amused by the right-wing and left-wing intelligentsia who selectively champion freedom of speech to serve their narrow political cause and distorted beliefs!

The world’s largest democracy ranked a miserable 140th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2013 Press Freedom Index. Today, Afghanistan and Qatar have a freer press than India. Can we really have freedom of expression in India?

Charlie Hebdo and Mani Shankar Aiyar by Aseem Prakash

Senior Congress leader and former Union Minster, Mani Shankar Aiyar wants to exercise his right to make outrageous and offensive statements. Yet, he does not grant the same right to others. This is what he said in the context of the terror attack in Paris (Charlie Hebdo):

“We have to accept that since the time the war on terror began in the aftermath of 9/11, Muslims have been killed without any distinction between the innocent and the guilty. This has been done by America in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now it seems that they will do it in Syria as well. So, a backlash to this is imminent.”

“They say hijab can’t be worn by Muslim girls. So it will have some kind of impact on the Muslims.”

It is clear that Mani Shankar Aiyar is seeking the play the communal card (as a side note, his knowledge of global affairs is abysmal as revealed in his remark about Syria). So, why is there no outrage? The hypocrisy of the so-called secular parties, civil society groups, and the New Delhi glitterati is revealing. They are either quiet or have issued perfunctory condemnation of Aiyar’s latest outrage. To the best of my knowledge Shabana Azmi, Medha Patekar, Mahesh Bhatt, Kanti Bajpai, PUCL, PUDR, and likes are not holding candle light vigils to protest against Aiyar’s utterings. Yet these folks angry when the Bajrang Dal vandalizes movie halls or Sakshi Maharaj makes an outrageous statement.

Aiyar’s utterings force us to confront another issue: should a polity allow “unrestricted” freedom of speech? The First Amendment to the US constitution allows unrestricted freedom of expression. This is among the most cherished rights and the (left wing) American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) has been its vociferous supporter (its lawyers have even defended the rights of neo-Nazis to express themselves; see the movie, Skokie, on this subject).

Why the devotion to free speech? If the government or vigilante groups are allowed to curb “offensive” speech, one is on a slippery slope. People can get offended about anything: my way of speaking, my choice of words, food, clothes, etc. etc. Where might one draw a line? What if religious texts include passages which are deemed offensive by non-believers? Should these religions be banned?

Great countries cannot be defiled by Bollywood movies, a simple fact that the Bajrang Dal does not understand. Great religions cannot be defiled by the cartoons and disrespectful utterings.

Aiyar is perhaps more suited for a theocratic country with blasphemy laws. The pseudo secular elites must realize their complicity in legitamizing Aiyarism.

The Silence of the Left: Geelani’s outburst on Kashmir Elections by Aseem Prakash

One cannot and should not adopt double standards about communalism. The left and the so-called secular parties miss no opportunity to lambast the RSS and the VHP; sometimes for the correct reasons. Yet, they tend to keep quiet when Muslim or Christian leaders play the communal card. This has been the story since the time of Shah Bano case (some would say, since the time the Congress supported the Khilafat movement). They kept quiet when Taslima Nasrin (http://taslimanasrin.com/index2.html) was hounded out of West Bengal (and her books banned) by the CPM government. They keep quiet when Azam Khan or Mulayam Singh Yadav play the communal card. They keep quite when Owaisi makes provocative statements (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-aimim-chief-asaduddin-owaisi-says-everyone-was-born-a-muslim-2049843).

Now they are keeping quiet when Syed Ali Shah Geelani has made this shameful statement on the possible tie up between the PDP and the BJP. As reported in the Times of India (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/specials/2014-assembly-elections/jammu-kashmir-news/Geelani-warns-of-big-stir-over-JK-govt-formation/articleshow/45786797.cms), Geelani said the following:

““If the state is handed over to the people having fascist ideologies, then a do or die like situation will be created for our nation and our lives, property, faith and culture will be in danger,” he said in a statement without mentioning anybody.

Geelani described the situation as alarming and added communal forces of India were planning a major and destructive offensive against the “freedom struggle” and J&K’s Muslim identity.

“If the Kashmiri nation wants to protect its Muslim identity, culture and the freedom movement then they should also remain mentally prepared for the decisive resistance.””

The recently concluded elections for the J&K Assembly were free and fair. I have not heard or read about any complaints of rigging. They were very competitive. J&K citizens — Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, turned out in large numbers to vote. No party has secured a majority. The electoral math probably requires that the PDP and the BJP should come together to form a stable coalition government. This might also help to heal the rift between the Valley (where the PDP performed well) and the Jammu region (where the BJP performed well). Why should Geelani object to this democratic processes? How is this fascism? Or, is he the real fascist and communalist who is shamelessly playing the religious card?

By keeping quiet (or by condemning it in a perfunctory way), the left and the so-called secular parties reveal their double standards. Unfortunately, this gives ammunition to the VHP and the “ghar wapsi” school of thought.

Communalism needs to be condemned irrespective of whether it is espoused by Togadia, Sakshi Maharaj, Azam Khan, Owaisi, or Geelani.

The Cultural Battle of the New Government in India by Maqbul Jamil

After winning a landslide victory in the general elections on the promise of good governance and economic development, the ruling party and its unelected support groups have used the first seven months to pursue a chauvinist agenda to the detriment of communal harmony between the Hindu majority and the Muslim and Christian minorities.

Trouble started with talk of “love jihad” and of Muslim men out to seduce Hindu girls into marriage to convert them to Islam and make India a Muslim nation. But that died quickly when the party lost by-polls in a northern state. Then came a ruling party member’s anti-Muslim tirade in Parliament. The irrepressible education minister got into trouble wanting to replace German with Sanskrit in schools after a Hindu group said teaching foreign languages was a “western conspiracy” to end Indian civilization. She caused a row when schools and universities were told by her ministry to observe Christmas Day (a religious public holiday) with events marking it as Good Governance Day. The external affairs minister’s demand that the Gita be made the national book was slammed by secular media. A minister of state rank for food processing industries implied that non-Hindus were illegitimate and was reprimanded by the upper house of the parliament. Another leader praised the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi as a “patriot.” The minister responsible for water has spent time hunting for the holy Saraswati river referred to in Vedic mythology, when environmentalists say she should be focusing on her primary challenge of cleaning polluted Ganges on which hundreds of millions of Indians depend.

In parts of India, Hindu fundamentalists have campaigned to convert Christian villagers to Hinduism and demanded that Catholic priests be referred to as “teacher” rather than “father” in missionary schools. Activists have sought to reverse mixed marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women and had people arrested for converting others to Islam. A senior fundamentalist leader screamed at a rally that “we are going to take the percentage of Hindus to 100 in the country. Currently there are 82 per cent Hindus in India, and we don’t want this number to be halved. We won’t tolerate Hindus becoming a minority in the country.” The ruling party on the behest of its ideological patron is prepared to introduce legislation banning forced conversions, but that would not stop them happening – sometimes forced but often involving people seeking economic benefits rather than following religious beliefs. Several fundamentalist outfits’ plan for mass reconversions or “homecoming ceremonies.” The vandalism of the right wing radical groups as part of their protest against the Aamir Khan-starrer PK has gone too far. All these have embarrassed the government, paralyzing the parliament and blocking key economic reforms.

To appease the electorate base, the government has made some gestures, like a Minister offering worship in a temple while on visit to Bangladesh and the scrapping of annual iftar party traditionally hosted by the prime-minister.

The prime minister and former Hindu militant, has mostly shunned religious mumbo-jumbo although he did say that the elephant-headed god Ganesh was proof of ancient Indian expertise in plastic surgery. The silence of the Prime Minister is not helping the matter. It is, in fact, encouraging fringe groups to take hooliganism a notch higher. The “strong 52 inch” prime-minister has started to resemble “weak” Manmohan Singh.

Recently, a professional services firm released a hopeful forecast report by claiming that India had a chance to boost growth to 9 per cent a year, create 240m jobs and quintuple the size of the economy to $10tn in the next two decades. But even the businessmen who were most enthusiastic about his promises of clean, decisive government are starting to show signs of impatience. They will be sorely disappointed if his ministers are distracted by the urge to promote Hinduism from the essential tasks of building roads and improving schools. The government needs to concentrate on plans to revive the economy, create jobs and turn India into an industrial superpower. Many hope and pray that the Prime Minister succeeds