Modi’s Rhetoric at Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto: Nuclear deals, change in Jan-man, and ambitious development agenda with four revolutions in making! by Kirit Patel

In an unprecedented event in the afternoon of April 15 2015, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew with Prime Minister Modi from Ottawa to Toronto in a replacement plane sent by Air India. Mr Stephen Harper, along with his wife Laureen Harper dressed in a full sari, introduced Modi to 10,000 fans chanting Mo-di, Mo-di at the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto. In his brief introductory comments, Prime Minister Harper said his government noticed leadership qualities of Mr Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat and has been partnering with him long before other national governments and leaders.

At the outset Modi begun with the same lecture notes and popular rhetoric that he used at Madison Square in New York and Allphones Arena in Sydney. His popular punches included India’s sound democracy, demographic dividend in the form of youth, massive consumer power, skilled workforce, and the genius of Mangalyaan mission. However, as he made progress in his speech, Modi gave updates on his current trip, highlighted key achievements by his government so far, and perhaps first time he elaborated on his development vision for India.

Secured access to nuclear technology and material: India begged for advanced nuclear technology and material for the last four decades but it did not yield any significant outcome. After the Pokhara-1 testing for development of nuclear weapons in 1974, all developed countries suspected India’s capacity and intention to use nuclear technology for peace and development. Modi taunted world leaders, indirectly pointing towards the Canadian Prime Minister sitting on the platform, and reassured the world that there is no reason to suspect the nation founded on Mahatma Gandhi’s values of peace and non-violence. India has never provoked any war or colonized any nation in the world in its history. Modi achieved two important milestones during this three nation’s visit. First, he signed a technology transfer agreement with the French President Francois Hollande that will help India to make a nuclear reactor. Second, he signed an agreement with the Government of Canada that will ensure steady supply of uranium, at least for the next five years. These two significant bilateral agreements will help India achieve its goal of becoming self-reliant in clean energy and reducing greenhouse gasses.

Positive shift in Jan-man: Most of the achievements which Mr Modi highlighted were in the form of either launching new schemes or removing old acts of license raj. However, later he provided details of his Jan-Dhan Yojna (People Money Scheme) where he promised to provide banking services to poor who cannot even afford the deposit for opening a bank account. Modi announced Jan-Dhan scheme in his landmark speech on August 15 from the Red Fort and promised to implement it within 100 days. Despite initial cynicism of experts from the Reserve Bank of India, Ministry of Finance, and his own office for his ambitious timeline of 100 days for implementing the scheme, Modi firmly mobilized public, cooperative, and private banks to go door-to-door and offer banking services to the poor. Modi attributed this spectacular success of opening bank accounts for 14 million poor in 3 months to positive change in the people’s attitude (Jan-Man) in India. He said, in May 2014 when he took the oath as a Prime Minister, only the government was changed. After 10 months of his leadership, Jan-Man has changed across every sector of the government and society, be it rich or poor. These newly enrolled 14 million beneficiaries or clients of the bank services are not required to deposit a penny for opening their bank accounts. He thundered, “even the disempowered poor have displayed great confidence in his government by depositing 140 billion rupees in their bank accounts that were officially classified as “zero deposit accounts” in the bank system.”

Modi’s Development philosophy: Modi described his development vision, beyond his usual anti-Malthusian rhetoric of Yuva-dhan and focus on their skills development, comprised of four specific revolutions: Saffron, Green, White and Blue. Symbolically, each revolution represents one of the four colours found in India’s national flag. First, the Saffron revolution is about becoming self-reliant in the energy sector by producing clean and renewable energy from wind, solar, hydro, and nuclear sources. Second, Modi described as the green revolution, especially focused in Eastern India where agricultural productivity is very low. Unlike the first-generation or older version of chemical intensive green revolution, this will be judged on its ability to produce crop per drop of water used. Third, increasing productivity of dairy animals and making each rural household self reliant in their nutrition requirements, especially milk and protein. Fourth, he mentioned keeping blue sky and ocean pristine, by controlling air pollution and unsustainable use of marine resources. The Make in India campaign has to ensure that it has zero defects and zero negative effects on the environment. Interestingly, instead of simply emphasizing productivity in each sector, Modi specifically highlighted sustainability of natural resources and the environment; including soil fertility and health, sustainability of marine resources and renewable resources. He also highlighted Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), with initial fund of 1.5 billion rupees (150 crore), announced in the last budget (2015-16) for supporting innovations and entrepreneurship in India.

Towards the end of his speech, Modi cautioned that the country is vast and the dirt has been gathered for decades, it will take time to clean (Desh vishal hai, Gandaki Bahut Hai and Purani Hai, Vakta lagega). Of course, people may ask how long? In the last 10 months, Modi visited 17 nations and is expected to visit at least China and Russia in the next couple of months. Would the change in Jan-man be enough for people to see the Achhe Din (good days) he promised? Maybe the time has come for Modi to take a break from foreign visits and focus on implementing his vision of the four revolutions on ground through the Niti Aayog (reformed planning commission).

Fair and Lovely: Sharad Yadav, Giriraj Singh and the politics of “outrage” by Aseem Prakash

Here is an excerpt from one of my favorite serials, Yes Minister (Season 1, Episode 5)

The context is the conversation among the Minister (Jim Hacker), his private secretary (Bernard Woolley) and the top bureaucrat of his department (Sir Humphrey Appleby ) about a rumor that the Prime minister will announce the closing of Jim’s department:

Jim Hacker: I’m appalled.
Sir Humphrey: You’re appalled? I’m appalled.

Jim Hacker: I – I just can’t believe it, I’m – I’m appalled! What do you make of it Bernard?
Bernard: I’m appalled, minister…
Jim Hacker: So am I. Appalled!

*Short pause*

Sir Humphrey: It’s appalling!
Jim Hacker: Appalling… I just don’t know how to describe it.
Bernard: Appalling?
Jim Hacker: Appalling!

Our context is Sharad Yadav and Giriraj Singh. Everyone seems appalled and outraged over their tasteless remarks. Anybody who thinks himself or herself of any consequence has taken to the bird-like behavior of tweeting their outrage and demanding apologies.

These remarks, however, reflect deeper issues of sexism, racism, and of Indian under-confidence about their culture and physical appearance even almost after 70 years of independence and the emergence of India as an important economic power. By themselves, these expressions of outrage do not address problems that the Indian society must confront but seeks to ignore.

Sharad Yadav delivered his comments in the Rajya Sabha in the context of the Insurance Bill, specifically the provision to raise the limit of foreign direct investment (FDI) from 26 to 49 percent. Sharadji was critical of this revision and connected it with Indian obsession with the white skin, the assumption being that FDI originates from Western countries only (my apologies to Chinese and Japanese investors). Sharadji began with offering comments about the skin color of the Minister who had introduced the bill. He then moved to the issue of matrimonial advertisements, then to women and dances of South India and finally to Leslee Udwin, the producer of the controversial documentary, India’s Daughter. He noted:

“Your god is dark like Ravi Shankar Prasad (the Minister) but your matrimonial ads insist on white-skinned brides,” ….In the entire country there are more saanvle (dark skinned) men. The women of the south are dark but they are as beautiful as their bodies…We don’t see it here. They know dance.” (In the context of Leslee Udwin, Sharadji noted): “She must have got permissions easily because of her white skin,”

I am not able to offer a deep Freudian analysis of Sharad Yadav, a task I will leave to professional psychologists. I, however, applaud the intellectual breadth of Sharadji’s musings, who incidentally was recognized as 2012 Parliamentarian of the Year.

Sharad Yadav has demonstrated an amazing ability to link the humble insurance bill to a rather expansive range of issues, and in the process, educate us about his personal preferences on aesthetics and beauty. It is also worth recalling that Sharadji uttered words of similar wisdom about women’s Reservation Bill. In 2009, during a parliamentary debate on this bill, he noted that if the bill were to be passed, “short-haired women” (par-kati mahilaen) would overrun Parliament.

Now over to Giriraj Singh, BJP’s MP from Nawada, Bihar, who made the following comment:
“If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian and if she wasn’t white-skinned, would the Congress accept her (Sonia Gandhi) as a leader?”

The response? Outrage. Everybody and anybody in Congress is competing to express outrage. Among the family members, Robert Vaadra came to Sonaji’s defense. Rahulji could not comment because he is in agyatvaas and perhaps observing a maunvrat.

Yes, these remarks are tasteless. They reflect poorly on the quality of our political conversation. Yet, might these comments reveal something deeper about the Indian mentality? Do matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers reflect what Sharad Yadav has noted? Are Indians racist as Giriraj Singh has alluded to?

I think so. My sense is that most Indians continue to harbor inferiority w.r.t to the West. Sharad Yadav correctly points at matrimonial advertisements. Why do people use the cream, Fair and Lovely? Recall the ads for Afghan Snow cream? Or, remember the song, Ham kale hain to kya hua dil wale hain (see it here on You Tube: It will be difficult to deny that we have an inferiority complex about our brown/non-white skin.

Why this inferiority complex? Arguably, this is because the British rule instilled a sense of inferiority among Indians — inferiority about the language and how we look. We have not outgrown it.

Take the issue of language. I have noticed that when rich sahibs and memsahibs talk to their domestic helpers, they start talking in Pigeon Hindi… “hamara memsahib ko hindi bolna nahin atta,” “driver, baba ko school jana mangta.

I have not observed any German, Japanese, French, or any other nationality brutalizing their language the way Indians (especially, Hindi-speaking Indians) do.

Neither the secular/left wing nor the VHP/RSS have a constructive response to this problem. For the Left, these episodes reflect that India is reactionary and primordial society and needs to embrace “modernity.” But how? They do not have anything to say except to repeat discredited old phrases. The RSS/VHP narrative suggests these comments reveal that Indians need to resurrect their glorious past. But how? Their solution is “ghar wapsi”!

Among politicians, MK Gandhi is perhaps the only one who formulated an appropriate response. While he drew strength from the Indian culture, he was critical about the problems with Indian society including the oppression of the Harijans and the lack of opportunities for women. He projected cultural confidence and humility at the same time. His visit as a “half-naked Fakir” to the Buckingham Palace showed that he sought to engage with the British on his own terms, even on his sartorial terms.

Instead of directing our outrage at Sharad Yadav and Giriraj Singh, we need to direct this outrage at ourselves. The tasteless utterances of the duo reveal the widespread prejudices Indians hold. As a society, most of us harbor sexist and racist notions. We willingly demean our appearance and our language. The politics of outrage does not solve these fundamental problems.

House of Cards, Indian Ishtyle by Aseem Prakash

Is the parting of the ways for real, or will they kiss and make up? For example, might we see Yogendra Yadav declaring that he is “loyal” party worker and Kejriwal showing magnanimity by rewarding him with a Rajya Sabha seat from Delhi? This is not entirely inconceivable: recall that subsequent to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Yadav rediscovered that he is loyal party worker soon after writing a strongly worded letter to Kejriwal accusing him of dictatorial tendencies. Oh, these fickle politicians!

Now for the scorecard. Who won in the last round of the AAP’s internal skirmishes? Some might say that Kejriwal scored a tactical victory but suffered a strategic defeat. While he routed his real and imagined enemies, he came across as a dictatorial and controlling individual. It almost seemed that he took his cues from James Carville who had famously noted, “Campaign is the time to stab your enemies. Transition is the time to stab your friends,” Kejriwal pounced on Yadav and Bhushan rather quickly after the Delhi elections.

How did Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan fare? Bechare! Just shunted out and exposed as media tigers.

Admiral Ramdas was a collateral damage. Poor guy; he thought his uniform will give him some cover. Sorry pal, Arvind ji has decided that you are no longer the Lokpal.

The real and perhaps the only winner is Manish Sisodia. He served as the inquisitor and the executioner; the Beria for his Stalin or the Raj Narain for his Charan Singh. He has emerged as the unquestioned number 2 in the party. While Kejriwal was recuperating in Bangalore, Sisodia was running the Delhi government and the AAP. If Kejriwal decides to focus on his national ambitions – which probably he will, Sisodia will get to run Delhi, all by himself.

Interestingly, the AAP, not the BJP, is the party ruled by baniyas (Kejriwal and Sisodia).

Any historical precedence that might shed light on the Indian version of House of Cards? In 1977, the Janata Party came to power at the Center. The Janata Party emerged from the merger of Congress (Organization), the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (the precursor of the BJP), and the Bharatiya Lok Dal. After the March 1997 elections, Congress for Democracy (led by Babu Jagjivan Ram) merged with the Janata Party. While the Janata Party secured an absolute majority in the 1977 Lok Sabha Elections, there was considerable controversy on who should become the Prime Minster. The key contenders were: Morarji Desai, Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram. Given the intense bickering, these leaders decided that Jayapraksah Narayan and Acharya JB Kriplani will name the PM: The duo named Morarji Desai as the PM. Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram were named the Deputy PMs and assigned important Home and Defense portfolios respectively.

The Janata Party was the first non-Congress government at the Center. There was great hope especially because this party emerged from the ordeal of Emergency (1975-1977). Yet, neither the baptism in Tihar jail nor the politics of accommodation helped the Party. Within a few months of securing power, the swords were out. The driving factor was perhaps the ambition of Charan Singh to become the PM, and the inability of some of its leaders to outgrow the dharna and hartal mentality. Acting at the behest of Charan Singh, Raj Narain began raising the issue of dual membership – demanding that the former BJS members renounce their association with the RSS. He declared himself to be Charan Singh’s Hanuman. Morarji Desai resigned in 1979. Charan Singh was invited to form the government by President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. But he could not muster a majority. The President dissolved the Lok Sabha and called for fresh elections. With “Indira Lao Desh Bachao” as it slogan, the Congress returned to power in 1980.

The saga of the Janata Party might help us to understand some aspects of the AAP’s implosion. Both were the products of agitational politics. In both cases, the agitations were spearheaded by leaders who themselves were not interested in acquiring political office: Jayaprakash Narayan in the case of the Janata Party and Anna Hazare in the case of the AAP. Both adopted anti-corruption platforms and attracted a large number of idealists seeking to transform India. And, unfortunately, both parties succumbed to the personal ambitions of their leaders. Both were unable to outgrow their agitational DNA and show the ability to govern effectively.

Arguably, Kejriwal recognizes that in the Indian context, accommodation does not work. Did it help Morarji Desai? Did Modi accommodate Advani? Indian politics is person-centric where accommodation is a sign of weakness. Perhaps, it is not the mean streak in Kejriwal but an astute understanding of Indian politics that has led to the expulsion of Yadav and Bhushan.

Will AAP become irrelevant and break up into different factions like the Janata Party? I don’t think so. It is clearly a person-centric party – “paanch saal, Kejriwal.” Swaraj, etc. is a sham. But, who cares? Given the massive majority the AAP enjoys in the Delhi Assembly (67/70), and goodies it has distributed to its MLAs (21 of them are Parliamentary Secretaries!) the AAP government will probably last for its full five year term.

While Kejriwal’s image has suffered some damage, he has shown an amazing talent to bounce back. Recall that many pundits wrote him off after the LS elections. Yet, he emerged stronger. He did the impossible by stopping the Modi juggernaut in Delhi and routing Kiran Bedi.

AAP retains its appeal for the urban middle class and continues to show a remarkable ability to work the media. The minorities groups seemed to have ditched the Congress in Delhi and are firmly behind it. It is doing fine in the number game.

The AAP is also lucky because both Congress and the BJP are having a difficult time in getting their acts together. While the Congress is strong and vibrant in many states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh with impressive leaders in command, it is discredited at the Center and in Delhi politics. It is not clear how its fortunes will be revived once Rahul baba returns from his Agyatvaas for his rajyabhishek.

The BJP seems to be doing everything wrong. It had two selling points: its development and governance agenda, and the PM’s humble background. Regarding the former, perhaps it promised too much. For the common person, however, the BJP government has not delivered concrete economic results. It has flip flopped on black money, entered into self-defeating alliance with the PDP, and has not been able to tame the shrill VHP/RSS rhetoric aimed at minorities. The Prime Minister’s narcissism and his Rohit Bal dress code has undermined his chaiwallah, humble background appeal. All these developments raise serious doubts about the BJP’s ability to challenge the AAP in Delhi politics.

What next? My sense is that to distract attention from its internal problems, the AAP will be back in the dharna mode with full gusto. The Land Acquisition Bill is, of course, a tempting issue. Kejriwal will seek to blame the Central government for Delhi’s water and electricity problems and launch agitations to secure “justice” for Delhi (perhaps, demand complete statehood). He will pick up a quarrel withe Delhi Police, a convenient target. Net, I do not expect Kejriwal to invest in governance because he does not have the political incentives to do so.

I anticipate an accelerated decline in Delhi’s quality of governance and the quality of life. Hopefully, Delhi will not degenerate into another Venezuela with Commander Chavez (now Maduro) at its helm. But who knows!

Is PM Modi Losing his Political Touch? by Aseem Prakash

It is not unusual for politicians to suffer electoral setbacks. Sometimes they are able to bounce back and regain their political poise. For their political recovery, they probably have to figure out why they lost ground in the first place and how they might recover this lost ground by deploying appropriate strategies. They fire their political advisers for providing bad advice and bring in new set of advisers. They modify their political rhetoric. They seek to bury issues that highlight their political vulnerabilities and focus on the ones that shine light on their strengths.

Think of Indira Gandhi in the post 1977 situation. The 1977 Lok Sabha elections were a watershed in Indian politics. For the first time since 1947, the Congress Party lost power at the Center. Congress could not win a single seat in North India and fared poorly in the West and the East. Its tally was 153 seats (compared with 350 in the previous Lok Sabha), of which 92 were in the South. Indira Gandhi lost her seat in Rae Bareli and Sanjay Gandhi in Amethi.

The Janata Party came to power at the Center. It set up the Shah Commission to investigate the excesses committed during Emergency (1975-1977). It seemed Congress and Indira Gandhi will be in the political wilderness for a while.

Not quite. Indira Gandhi was a shrewd politicians. She scripted her comeback carefully. In 1977, there was the shameful massacre of Harijans in Belchi (Bihar) allegedly by the upper castes. I vividly remember reading in the newspapers how Indiraji visited Belchi riding on an elephant, her head covered by her white saree, and looking very grief stricken. She projected herself as a politician who connected with the masses, and cared for them. She wanted to bury the image of the dictator who imposed Emergency in 1975. She understood her image problems and sought to cast herself in an entirely new light.

Belchi probably gave her the political break she wanted. In 1978, she won the by-election from Chikamaglur, defeating Veerandra Patil by a solid margin. Rest is history. In 1981, she was voted back to power at the Center.

Compare this with PM Modi’s political strategy after the 2015 Delhi elections. Did he or the BJP learn anything? Do they realize that the AAP outmaneuvered them for the “aam admi” branding? Has the PM tried to downplay issues which made him come across as a privileged, arrogant individual, and not the chaiwallah of the 2014 Lok Sahba elections? I do not see much evidence in this regard.

My sense is that PM Modi is floundering. He is making politically unwise choices. This makes me wonder whether the PM has lost his political touch. Let me focus on the saga of the pinstripe suit.

This self-inflicted political disaster is getting worse by the day. One would have thought that the PM will understand the message of the 2015 Delhi elections and seek to reclaim his chaiwallah branding. Yes, Rahul Gandhi kept reminding people about the monogrammed suit costing Rs. 10 Lakhs. Yet, the suit controversy seemed to be receding. But the PM’s cover-up action has brought it back into the limelight.

Enter Mr. Rameshkumar Bhikabhai who claims that he presented this monogrammed suit to the PM. He further claims that the PM promised to wear this suit on January 26, the day of his son’s marriage. Of course, this coincided with the visit of President Obama.

Let me see if I got this right. The President the United States is visiting India, a very important diplomatic event by any standard. The world is closely watching every action and move of both Obama and Modi. And our magnanimous PM decides to wear a monogrammed suit to please his political supporter without thinking what sort of a message this might convey. If true, this is political incompetence. If not, this is dangerous narcissism.

BTW, I hope the PM has made sure that Rameshkumar Bhikabhai, the gentleman who allegedly presented the suit, actually has a son, and the son indeed got married on January 26. If not, the PM would have dug himself deeper into his monogrammed hole.

This PM wants to bring probity to public life. Great idea, much needed, welcome it. There were stories about his honesty and how he keeps his Cabinet ministers on a tight leash. There was the story of how the PM gave a dressing down to the son of powerful minster (in the presence of the minister, of course) for allegedly asking for bribes to facilitate the transfer of some officials. Or, how the PM calls ministers when they are boarding airplanes and reprimands them for wearing inappropriate clothes. The message is: the PM is very smart, he knows all and watches all, and will do most unconventional things to bring honesty to public life. Great stories and solid PR. Full marks to the PM!

But I do have a question. Does the PM respect the ethical standards he preaches? Specifically, do ministers break laws when they accept expensive (undeclared) gifts? The Home Ministry has a code of conduct for ministers on this subject: “A minister should not accept valuable gifts except from close relatives, and he or members of his family should not accept any gifts at all from any person with whom he may have official dealings,” ( Apparently, ministers are not supposed to accept gifts worth more than 5,000 rupees.

So, why was this gift accepted in the first place? Who will be held accountable?

But it does not stop here. The cover-up has become even more ridiculous and is imposing real political costs on the PM. The suit which was initially valued at about $25,000 was sold at an auction for $694,000! The Rs. 10 lakh suit (that Rahul Gandhi talked about) was eventually valued at Rs. 4.31 crores. This perhaps another instance where RG got it quite wrong — but this is a conversation for another day.

This clumsy cover-up has ensured that the monogrammed pinestriped suit will remain in public memory for a long time. This is a serious political misstep that has undermined the carefully cultivated image of the PM as a chaiwallah.

How could such an intelligent individual as the PM make such a fundamental mistake? Clearly, he is losing his political touch. While his narcissism got him into trouble in the first place, his clumsy cover-up has focused on the negative aspects of his personality.

I hope he understands the political consequences of his actions. monogrammed or not.

Chicken Roast – Yes! AIB Roast – We are Indians! by Maqbul Jamil

The Roast comedy genre, in which a public figure is ridiculed as their friends watch, is popular in America. But the format was largely unknown in India until the four-man AIB troupe performed live in Mumbai on Dec. 20, 2014 with an audience of about 4,000 people, including Bollywood heavyweights.

Their YouTube clip showed “India’s edgiest comedy collective” attacking its quarry in crudely scatological terms. Aspersions were cast, too, on the sexuality of a well-known male director, alongside unsubtle hints about assignations involving Bollywood starlets who happened to be in the auditorium. All concerned seemed to take their mocking in good part, but as the hit count raced towards eight million, obscenity complaints tumbled in from religious groups, prompting investigation threats by politicians and the police.

What this Roast aspired to do is mock structures in the film and entertainment world that we take for granted, and introduce a new kind of humor – self-deprecatory. The country has shown a sense of humor failure in its response to this bawdy foreign import. The tabloid-friendly mix of celebrity and profanity dominated local papers for days. Right-wing Hindu nationalists and even Christian groups have been up in arms ever since the comedic performance went live. Those offended argue that such shows tarnish the “clean image of the Indian culture” and also mislead young people. A local right-wing cabal issued a threat to the participants stating that they will not release any of their films in Maharashtra unless they tender an “unconditional apology.” They have also asked AIB to provide an apology. According to media reports, the chief minister of Maharashtra, has declared that if, when investigated, the Roast is found vulgar and legally unsound, and action will be taken.

A filmmaker who served as ‘Roastmaster’, responded to the public outrage on Twitter after the show was dubbed “national shame” writing: “Not your cup of tea…don’t drink it!” Actresses, who were guests at the event and were also targets of the jokes, defended the show. Another actress, whose relationships with fellow actors were the focus of many of the jokes, supported the event. Other Bollywood celebrities defended the show in response to growing disapproval. However, the cerebral Bollywood actor who just escaped controversy over his latest movie, which for the first time grossed $100M in India, hopped aboard the already-crowded bandwagon of Indians who are offended by the roast. He stated that he was “deeply affected” by the show because he felt it was “violent” and those celebrities have a “certain responsibility” to abstain from verbal violence. An Indian-Canadian stand-up comedian lashed out at those who have gone against the controversial AIB roast that’s been making news of late. The comedian asked the actor to “shut up” and “mind his own business.”

It seems that even innocuous acts will prompt someone somewhere in India to take offence. Eventually, AIB buckled. “To everyone who’s called us seditious pornographers while plotting the downfall of Indian Values And Civilization As We Know It, we would like to reiterate that we are just a bunch of comedians,” the group wrote in last week’s letter, justifying the decision to yank the video from its YouTube channel. “Unfunny, crass or whatever you want to call them, they’re still just jokes.”

One could view the resulting affront as part of a wider tussle between Indian pique and free expression. AIB’s scandal reached its zenith when a musician was forced to bleep out the word “Bombay” from another YouTube video, for fear of offending groups who favor the city’s formal name of Mumbai. Similar arguments have bubbled up of late, over everything from explicit Tamil literature to kissing in public in Kerala. Worried westernized liberals fear that such incidents are evidence of a newly censorious public culture, linked to the election last year of Hindu nationalist prime minister.

This outrage tells a different story about the relatively recent arrival of western-style stand-up comedy. India has a rich comic tradition, albeit one that tends towards slapstick or mimicry in mainstream entertainment and media. The stinging humor common in America was relatively rare until a branch of London’s Comedy Store opened in a swanky mall in Mumbai in 2010. Although their jokes found favor among the relatively small English-speaking urban elite, they proved combustible when mixed with the celebrities of Bollywood and let loose on a wider public online. It appears that there is still this huge divide between the India that comes to a comedy club in Mumbai and the mainstream majority of the country.he entire time.

However, social activists found problem with the Roast not about its sexual content or alleged obscenity, but for perpetuating the prejudices of Bollywood (and society) about women and homosexuality. They were offended by the mockery of women and gay by the haughty, nepotism-powered, casting-couch loving film fraternity. This Roast was seen as an attempt by the cool Bollywood actors to laugh at themselves, while subtly yet surely reinforcing the bigotry of Bollywood. These comedians claimed that they equally offend everybody. But equally offending everybody doesn’t make you particularly fair or progressive in your comedy. While every performer mocked the only dark-skinned panelist, no one seemed to mock light skin color. Is that because multinational companies pay these celebrities for the endorsement of whitening potions? The government and the right-wing moral police have no problem with bigotry, what they pretend to mind is the so-called obscenity of it all.

The comedians may see defamation suits for insulting cricket, moral values, and family values but it has succeeded in reinforcing everything Bollywood and society stand for. It is important to defend free speech– even intolerant ones. So we must let Bollywood have its Roast. Although it isn’t courageous free speech – it is just a crass and vulgar mouthpiece for the wannabe hipsters. Democracy demands that we allow it but not support it!

Delhi Debacle: common man’s revenge by Maqbul Jamil

Less than a year after winning a historic victory for his party, the prime minister has been outmaneuvered by a radical, anti-corruption and anti-establishment party. Many may see the Delhi election results as a defeat for him but his party may be correct to dismiss suggestions that the vote was a referendum on his performance as premier.

Under the new party president implicated in several criminal cases, the ruling party seemed to have found a perfect winning strategy: polarize voters on caste, class and religious lines; make crude appeals to Hindu supremacy, sectarian identities and jingoism; exploit upper-caste/upper-class elite aspirations; and run an expensive election campaign funded by corporate cronies and NRI admirers. Hoping to take advantage of what they saw as his enormous personal appeal, the party used the prime minster and his cabinet and many parliamentarians throughout the Delhi election campaign. In speeches, the prime minster vilified the chief minister candidate, and his picture was the dominant image on full-page newspaper ads in the days leading up to the vote.

Some in the media are suggesting this defeat was just a hiccup in the ruling party’s effort to become the new dominant national party. Delhi contest was just one of many state elections — the party had already done well in four state elections – and that the party’s loss was the result of tactical missteps rather than a fundamental rejection of its message and messiah. Others view the loss in Delhi elections as a significant blow to a popular national leader and his party’s star campaigner. This defeat had put the brakes on a winning spree by the party that has campaigned furiously in state polls to expand beyond its traditional strongholds. Does this loss suggest that the prime minister’s honeymoon with India’s voters had ended? Is India’s most powerful prime minister in thirty years tripped over price of a pinstripe suit?

The common man’s party has accomplished an amazing political feat. Not only has it won more than half the total vote and 67 of 70 seats in the local elections – but also by unabashedly championing the cause of the poor, and the interests of underprivileged social and religious groups in their 70-point manifesto developed for the election. It is to be seen whether the promise to improve the lives of Delhi’s vast underclass through a crackdown on corruption, as well as by providing cheaper electricity and free water will materialize? However, the sheer magnitude of the victory cannot fully be explained by its mass outreach, its celebration of working people, and its commitment to providing better public services and fighting corruption – or even by the charisma of its temperamental leader. The victory is because the electorate wanted to hand a stunning defeat to the ruling party that has strutted about since it won the national election eight months ago as if it were invincible.

Despite the diplomatic high of a recent successful Delhi summit meeting with President Obama and a string of earlier successful foreign trips to Australia / China / US, the prime minster has yet to demonstrably revive India’s economy. The party elected on the hope of good governance and growth is busy consolidating power. The economy is producing a fraction of the jobs needed for the roughly 12 million Indians who come of age annually.

Recently, the new government has cut funding for the popular National Rural Employment Guaranty Program by 45% and is about to severely restrict the public provision of affordable food grains. The government has been ready to roll-out pro-business land acquisition rules that potentially could displace millions of farmers without public hearings or environmental impact assessment. These changes are widely opposed by upper house of parliament and many more in the country.

This political earthquake could, in part, be a backlash from a pluralistic society against a rise in religious tensions since this government came to power. Emboldened by the landslide victory last year, Hindu fundamentalists, including leaders in the ruling party, have grown more publicly hostile toward Muslims.

This victory by the upstart party signals the arrival of a new moral force in India’s national politics. Commentators on the left hope that this is the rise of a new kind kind of force that is irreverent towards authority; militant in opposing hierarchy and privilege based on birth; passionately egalitarian; and ready to bring the tall claims of “the world’s largest democracy” down to earth through greater public accountability for rulers.
This election result could in fact become the “big bang” of the new politics of India. The decimation of the corrupt family-owned Congress, the old guard that dominated the politics since independence, is complete. What is amazing is that in the same blow, this fledgling party brought down the rightist party from the high horse of invincibility. The Delhi result has halted the juggernaut and created the hope that a new people-cantered, participatory, secular politics would prevail in India.

The Day After: Delhi Elections and its Aftermath by Aseem Prakash

The AAP’s sweep in Delhi Assembly elections is impressive. While 67/70 is a great score, I’m impressed by the increase in its vote share which is the true measure of popular support. The AAP’s vote share increased from 30% in the 2013 Assembly elections (and from 33% in the 2014 Lok Shaba elections) to 54% in 2015 Assembly Elections. The BJP’s vote share in 2013 elections was 33%. While it jumped to 46% in the 2014 Lok Shaba elections, it has slipped to 32% in 2015 Assembly elections. Congress’ vote share was 25% in 2013 Assembly elections. It dropped to 15% in 2014 Lok Shaba Elections and has dropped even further to 10% in 2015 Assembly elections. While the AAP has increased its vote shares in successive elections, the BJPs’s vote share has fluctuated. Importantly, in the 2015 elections the AAP has gained votes from both the BJP and the Congress.

How might one explain the AAP’s success? For most pundits, Kejriwal and the AAP executed an immaculate strategy, strategically and tactically. After Lok Shaba elections, it seems the AAP began reinventing itself while the BJP slept (or its Delhi leaders fought among themselves). BJP ran a negative campaign while the AAP ran a positive campaign (of course, everybody forgets the negative ad campaign Kejriwal ran against Jagdish Mukhi). Kejriwal did every thing right. For these pundits, it was a foregone conclusion that the AAP will win the Assembly elections.

I beg to differ.

Until Obama’s 26th January visit, virtually every opinion poll showed the BJP to be in the lead. For example, the ABP-Nielsen poll on January 16, 2015 noted:

“As per ABP-Nielsen’s latest Opinion poll, Narendra Modi-led BJP is projected to win 34 seats in Delhi Polls but is falling short by 2 to reach the magical number. Talking of Arvind Kejriwal led AAP, it again stands at 28 seats this time – the actual number achieved in 2013’s assembly elections. In not a good condition, Congress party is managing somehow to get 8 seats similar to 2013. Independents and Others are left with nil this time unlike the previously when they at least gathered 3 seats.”


Something dramatic happened during and after Obama’s visit which caused a huge shift in public perception in favor of the AAP and against the BJP. What might be this?

Here is my speculation. Obama’s visit seemed to cleared the fog about Modi: changing his image from an underdog to an elitist ruler. While Modi tried to use this visit to project glamour (his designer clothes) and stature (Modi and Obama having tea and Modi making it for him), this backfired. He came across as a politician interested in impressing foreign audiences instead of solving problems at home.

I am not suggesting that by itself Obama’s visit changed voters’ perceptions about Modi. I think the permissive conditions (anger and frustration towards Modi) were building up; the media projection of Modi during Obama’s visit gave vocabulary to Delhi citizens to articulate their anger to themselves, and eventually through the ballot.

Kejriwal seemed to have most out of his contrast with Modi. He remained the muffler man. He complained about not getting invited to the Republic Day parade; the way common folks can’t get through the security cordons to watch the parade. He came across as a common person who is stopped when VIP motorcades need to pass through. The voters thought: Kejriwal is the real deal; we believed Modi was like us but he is actually an imposter.

Modi has an image problem, big time. From a chaiwallah who is insulted by an elitist Mani Shankar Aiyar, he is now perceived as Mr. Glamour who wears expensive suits and designer clothes. He seems to lack substance and focusing too much on image and slogans. His constituency seems to be located in New York’s Madison Square Garden, not in Delhi slums.

To correct this perception, Modi will need to produce results and essentially walk his talk. Slogans of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” “More Governance, Less Government,” and “Made in India” will probably not impress Indian voters any longer. Celebrity endorsement of his pet projects will not translate into a political payoff. His words and promises will now be subjected to even more scrutiny; bloopers such as Amit Shah’s statement on black money will impose huge political costs.

I’m not suggesting that Kejriwal is not media obsessed. He is probably even more obsessed than Modi. But Kejriwal is not sporting designer clothes, at least not yet (with apologies to Comrade Sitaram Yechury). He is not seeking photo ops with celebs for his pet projects. So far, his image of being the authentic aam admi seems intact.

Most politicians are concerned about their public personas. Gandhiji was a master of image management. Sarojini Naidu had famously noted that it costs the nation a fortune to keep Gandhiji living in poverty. Modi should perhaps spend some time in Sabarmati Ashram and ponder about the lessons he can learn about image management from a fellow Gujarati.

AAP has become a regional party, at least for now! by Kirit Patel

The mandate received by AAP in Delhi election is unprecedented, not only in the context of Delhi assembly but for all 29 states in India. It has virtually eliminated opposition by leaving them with only 3 seats out of 70.

As multi party democratic system gets more consolidated in India, such sweeping trends have become less common. Of course, Delhi electorates are not like illiterate voters of Rajasthan or emotional voters of Tamil Nadu that are known for single party swings. By voting differently in Look Sabha and Assembly elections, Delhi voters have proved that an average Aam Aadmi is smart and capable of making informed choices on ballot papers.

AAP’s sweep is similar to regional parties, such AIDMK in TN or TMC in West Bengal, which focus on regional issues. At this stage AAP leadership has to swallow their pride and accept that AAP is a regional party. They should not become over ambitious again and start preparing list of candidates for upcoming election in Tamil Nadu! Yes, Punjab is fine and shall gradually develop strategy for neighboring states, perhaps with high urban population and rural-out migration.

AAP has to create sound mechanism within party to ensure that power and aspirations of their leaders involved in the government remain curbed. No more it should allow taking law and order in their hand, as it happened during night raids led by Somnath Bharti in South Delhi. If party fails to keep internal democracy, their leaders would easily turn into powerful Supremo, similar to Jaylalitha and Nitish Kumar.

Modi’s BJP should not dream for Congress-free India. Though BJP has lost less than one per cent of votes it received in Delhi in 2013, it has lost almost all seats. If Congress has been eliminated earlier, what happened in Delhi could have happened in Maharashtra and other states too. The large national parties like BJP need multi party race rather than American style two party election battles. Further, the Prime Minister should withdraw his role as a master strategist and Prachark for the elections. The Delhi results are an early signal and Modi should be thankful to Delhi voters for reminding him his primary job. Modi should focus on governance and development issues to bring Acche Din, he promised. He should trust his skills as a teacher and confidently leave planning of regional elections and internal party matters to his disciple, Amit Shah. There was nothing fundamentally wrong in terms of planning of Delhi election that would have changed the outcome for BJP. It was a tsunami, as Congress votes (lost 15% popular votes) get diverted to AAP, that could not have been diverted by last minute emergency measures.

Sheila Dixit was wrong in knowing mood of voters in the last Delhi election. However, she did not miss it this time and asked everyone to be prepared for major shocks! Most of Congress candidates (62 out of 70) lost their deposits. Sonia should consider moving her residence, including young Rahul, from Delhi to Hyderabad (Telangana) or some other place in South India. This will give an opportunity for Rahul (Sonia as well) to experience political, cultural, spiritual and ecological diversity of India.

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 (

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” (

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 Singh) 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” (

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!