Arvind Kejriwal ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai? by Aseem Prakash


How might explain the charade being enacted in Delhi? I can identify three plausible explanations. Here they are.

1. Kejriwal: The logic of permanent agitation

Kejriwal’s core competency is to agitate. In doing so, he seeks to play the role of the underdog who is taking on powerful interests. He is the angry (young?) man of Indian politics. Kejriwal is not interested in governance. To be fair to him, he knows his limitations in this regard. He is realistic; does what he knows best.

The episode over appointing the Acting Chief Secretary provided him with the opportunity to launch another agitation. He now has the attention of the media. He has moved the discussion from Bhushan-Yadav rebellion to injustice being meted out by the LG to the elected government of Delhi. Bureaucrats are not his constituency; he is merely using them as his punching bag.

2. BJP: The logic of taking panga and watching the fun

I wonder if the BJP has recovered from its rout in Delhi elections. Bedi is out but it is not clear who has replaced her as the leader. Delhi politics seems like a waste of time for the BJP — until next Lok Sahba elections, of course.

Further, there are other important issues on the agenda. The Prime Minister is inflicted with the Nehru-disease and has become a world leader. When he visits India, he is absorbed in tweeting, selfies, man-ki-baat, and coining yet another slogan.

But the BJP has been vocal on the issue of statehood of Delhi for the last 25 years. They have opposed meddling by governors in state administration (e.g. the spat between Governor Kamla Beniwal and CM Narendra Modi over the appointment of Lokayukta in Gujrat). Isn’t this a great opportunity for the BJP to walk the walk? Shucks, no! As Orwell noted in 1984, “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” Selective amnesia is necessary for political survival.

What then explains the BJP’s approach to these events? The issue is not Delhi; it is the AAP. The BJP cannot allow the AAP to consolidate itself in Delhi. So, needle them. Exploit the fact that Kejriwal has a temper – provoke him and watch the fun. The game-plan is working well. Kejriwal is over-reacting – his treatment of Delhi bureaucrats reminds me of the stories I have heard of Bihar under Lalu, and UP under BSP and SP. Further, in the war is between the LG and Kejriwal; the BJP is not directly implicated. Smart strategy!

3. Najeeb Jung: The logic of permanent interests, not permanent friends

The LG of Delhi is a very coveted post, I mean really coveted. Lots of lobbying. Only the most loyal get appointed. This Najeeb Jung is a Congress appointee and yet he has not been sacked or transferred by the BJP. Well, he has now become a BJP man. This works well for both. BJP can duck the accusation of communalism and he can continue as the LG.

If Jung plays along with the BJP, he might be allowed complete his full term. Plus, when his term ends in 2018, the Modi government would still be in power. There are lots of plum appointments to be secured – Ambassadorship to a nice country, another governorship, endless possibilities. The LG has a long shadow of the future; he is a role model in the rational actor framework. The beauty of this strategy is that Jung has a legitimate rationale for his actions – as per the Constitution, he is the one who appoints Delhi bureaucrats, and not the CM.

Which of the theory(s) is (are) true? My sense is that all are true. All actors in this charade are acting rationally. Individual rationality is leading to collective irrationality, especially for the citizens of Delhi.

I wonder if Delhi is fast becoming a “failed state.”

Modi’s Make in India is a gas balloon waiting to burst by Abhijit Bhattacharya


After a high-decibel launch of his Make in India (MII) campaign in last September, Narendra Modi, true to his reputation as one of the most marketing savvy politicians, has been personally wooing investors in different parts of the world. To make his ministers contribute to the campaign with specific plans, after the launch he summoned all his senior cabinet colleagues and secretaries to a workshop and gave them their individual homework. In the mean time an official website was launched for providing the global investors basic information on the identified 25 key sectors in which the government felt India had the potential to become a world leader.

Typical to Modi’s style, before launching such a massive campaign the citizenry was hardly provided with any information about the background research done by his government to understand the rationale behind this initiative. It is interesting to compare this with the British government’s approach. They came up with a fairly comprehensive report in 2013 on “The Future of Manufacturing”. The report can now greatly assist the government in drafting and implementing a sound action plan for reviving the manufacturing industry in the UK.

Looking at the MII initiative one might wonder – and certainly not without any basis – if the whole initiative was launched on the basis of Modi’s mere gut-feel (what can be described using management jargon as HIPPO syndrome – Highest Paid Person’s Opinion syndrome). It should be a matter of grave concern if a major policy decision to transform the Indian manufacturing was taken without careful analysis of the existing reality. But, if this is happening at a time when globally the entire manufacturing sector is undergoing a tectonic shift, then a disaster is just waiting to happen.

The technology and management literature, popular press and the social media are abuzz with information on exponentially growing brain-melting innovations that are now continuously disrupting the economy and businesses in every possible area. In their 2014 bestseller, The Second Machine Age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee have captured quite comprehensively the nature of these innovations. The new technologies are radically transforming the way we produce, consume, educate and run organisations. Comparing the current wave of innovations with the disruptive innovations of the past centuries that triggered the industrial revolution, Brynjolfsson and McAfee explain the qualitative differences between the nature and intensity of these two waves. The Industrial Revolution was triggered by our ability to provide physical power to machines using steam and electric power. The machines were thus able to assist humans to do things on a scale far beyond the imagination of the civilisation before those innovations. But today, the machines have got mental power. They are able to perform quite intricate cognitive tasks, such as pattern recognition and complex communication that were earlier reserved exclusively for humans. For example, machines can now select an appropriate music after assessing a person’s mood, replace a nurse to take care of patients in a hospital or win a most difficult quiz contests against the reining champions. These things are happening because of sustained exponential improvement in computing, ability to generate extraordinarily large amounts of digitised information and recombinant innovation (when innovations in different areas get combined to generate massive number of new innovations creating new products and industries).

Driverless cars, 3D printing of human body parts, robots replacing a TV newsreader or voice recognition and synchronous translation in multiple languages, etc are good examples providing indication of the things that are to come. We are just at the beginning of this exciting process.

The technological innovations and the ensuing digitisation-of-everything are rendering the age-old differentiation between manufacturing and service quite meaningless. It is no longer production per se, but creating a product in digital form and developing capabilities to offer services and solutions to supplement the product (known as servitisation) have acquired critical importance. From drones to wearables (watch, goggles, shoes, etc), every product has to be now servitised. Getting a physical product in this new world will be considered as a very insignificant and non-value-adding part of the whole production process. For example, using a 3D printer anyone can now print a product, like taking a printout from an ordinary printer. We are today surrounded by millions of digital products that are being continuously created by skilled digital workers. These products can be consumed at anytime either as physical or soft products by just connecting an appropriate device to the network. In this networked – and often, factory-less – production system where everything is getting digitised, Modi government’s attempt to become one of the top five manufacturing nations by investing in mega infrastructure projects is nothing but sheer madness.

There is no doubt that India needs to improve its infrastructure for improving the quality of life of its population majority of whom still lives in sub-human conditions. But, this does not mean that people’s lives will automatically improve if massive investments are made to create corridors connecting industrial clusters. There is a very high risk of creating huge non-productive assets and worse, these assets will be created often by grabbing poor farmers’ land wherever and whenever such land is not offered voluntarily.

On its MII website, the government has declared its target of achieving 12-14 per cent annual growth in manufacturing in the medium term. To be able to achieve this in a digital economy, we need a very different – digitally capable – workforce. There is no information given on the site or in any other document how the government is going to create such a workforce. India’s demographic “advantage”, which the government is bragging about on its website, actually consists of a huge army of fully or functionally illiterate people. This population is of very little use for today’s innovation-driven economy. If the situation doesn’t improve immediately then very soon we may see jobs migrating to the developed or better educated nations from the Indian towns and cities.

If Modi wants to make our manufacturing tick and create 100 million additional jobs by 2022, by when digitisation of manufacturing and consumption will reach much deeper level, he has to give top priority to comprehensive education reforms for preparing a competent workforce. Our organisations and skills are not keeping pace with the changing technologies. Millions of Indians are already left far behind the digital divide and the numbers are only going to grow if urgent measures are not taken. The increasing gap in the US between wage levels of workers with college education and simple high school pass outs can give us a good idea what to expect if the present situation is allowed to continue.

To meet the challenges head on, while improving the teaching-learning system in the existing schools, we need to experiment with new types of institutions and governance models. It seems Modi’s HRD minister does not have any clue about her role in the present job nor does she understand what kind of human resources India needs to make her boss’ MII dream come true. To be fair, many of her other colleagues are not doing a great job either. Recently, the energy minister boastfully informed the media that NITI Aayog had set up a group to look at our energy security plan for next 100 years! The Aayog certainly deserves a bravery award for attempting to prepare such a long-term energy plan when for most ordinary mortals it is difficult to even visualise what is in store after a decade. The information on the MII website under Oil & Gas and Renewable Energy section is an example of government’s linear thinking which helps to make projections for another 100 years.

It is also quite telling that in a 24×7 world, which India itself contributed to a large extent to create through its booming BPO industry, it is now asking potential investors to contact the MII office strictly between 9am to 4pm from Monday to Friday! We apparently want to leapfrog into the digital world by selling old wine in old bottles!

India’s digital divide will soon push the country out of the knowledge-era manufacturing process. But we can still make our demographics work to our benefit, though saddled with a huge lowly skilled population, thanks to the mind-boggling rate of innovations of new, jaw-dropping technologies. These technologies do provide an opportunity to quickly educate the left-behind population. As Brynjolfsson and McAfee mention, “Given the plethora of new technologies and techniques that are now being explored, it’s a certainty that some of them-in fact, we think many of them – will be significant improvements over current approaches to teaching and learning”.

Time is fast running out for the Modi government. It must launch a realistic reform programme for the manufacturing sector that has to be implemented by a digitally competent India. Twitting alone certainly cannot make Make in India fly.

Abhijit Bhattacharya (@b_abhijit)
Professor of Entrepreneurship
The University of Trinidad and Tobago
abhijit1957@gmail.com

It’s the one year Itch for the Modi Sarkar by Gaurav Dalmia


It’s exactly a year since India’s political cycle changed in a historic mandate on May 16, 2014. People voted for change, good governance and effectiveness. In addition to support from India’s elite, the middle class, with a little help from India’s poor, swung the BJP into power. Expectations rode high. Yesterday’s euphoria is leading to today’s despondency. Big change is complex and as Bill Gates says about technological transformations, people overestimate things in the short term and underestimate the same in the long term. The same is happening in the major political transition we have witnessed this past year.

One of the great advantages India has is that there is a tendency towards ideological convergence. Ideologies of various political parties are similar and are becoming more so, even though this may not be obvious because of short-term electoral rhetoric. This is not true in the case of other large democracies such as the US, where the median Republican view is drifting apart from the median Democratic view, with less overlap than a decade before.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his visit last weekend to Kolkata, “Political interests can’t be bigger than national interest. In my Team India, there are 30 pillars, or 30 states.” This gives us a somewhat unique leverage to effect change. As a corollary, in spite of the urgency individual issues such as the land Bill tend to create, leaders will do better to invest energy and skill to carry differing views forward rather than go for an aggressive push.

The debate in India is between right-of-centre and left-of-centre mindsets, not the extreme left-right clashes that some other countries see, as the recent British election results exhibit. Immanuel Kant’s “starting position” unconsciously shapes individual views. The best social contract is determined less by an intellectual appreciation of all possible options, and more by what seems workable for us and the immediate group around us.

Notwithstanding these multitude values and aspirations, the verdict of India is that it prefers effectiveness over any intense left-right debate, which itself now occupies a narrower spectrum. Because the electorate rewards effectiveness over ideology, both anti-incumbency as well as the proportion of first time MPs in India are much higher here than in the US or Europe, making India more politically dynamic.

Ironically, a triumph of democracy may be the bane of good governance. The rise of the regional parties is adirect consequence of social change and a deeper political involvement of the masses. Yet, most regional parties are directly or indirectly extortionist, often short term-oriented and less likely to provide efficient government. In addition, at the national level, they fragment votes and cause unstable coalitions. As the regional parties mature, hopefully, they will become more effective.

The economic cycle, which had started looking up in the last days of the UPA regime, seems to have stalled in the last two quarters. The mix of headwinds — monsoon vulnerability, down cycle in commodity prices, corporate overleverage and weak balance sheet of banks — and tailwinds — low oil price, India standing out in an otherwise dismal picture for emerging markets, rupee stability — seem to be negating each other. A decisive government stimulus could help put India in the high-growth orbit once again. In terms of economic growth, we are fighting below our weight. We need to put the ‘fight’ back in India.

The trend towards ‘normalisation’ is what we all need to watch out for. The BJP needs to ensure that because of incumbency, complacency and vested interests, it won’t start looking like the ‘Congress minus scams’. The BJP will, hopefully, control these as the Ottoman rulers did by institutional innovations and the US does with checks and balances.

To simplify, among the tools available to a government to ensure their own continuity by winning successive elections, performance takes the top spot. However, delivering results in discrete five-year intervals is not a given. This is made complicated by staggered state elections that act as an informal referendum.

So, to get reelected, governments rely on populism, defined not as genuine poverty alleviation measures, but politically-motivated giveaways — rational from a political party’s perspective, but inefficient from society’s. This is the age-old agency problem. Worse, it remains unclear what the payoffs from such individual measures might be. Therefore, governments go a step further and indulge in patronage, supporting a narrow interest group with an expectation of tangible payoffs.

Whether people admit it or not, these tools are used all over the world. The degree of use defines the quality of government. Previous regimes have relied on patronage, populism and performance, unfortunately, in that order. This government will hopefully reverse that.

Previously published in The Economic Times on the 1st anniversary of the Modi government.

In Defense of Modi: A Rebuttal by Shashi K Patil


A lot of people are falling prey to insidious and venal attempts of the INC, leftists and anti-national / pseudo-liberal / pseudo-secular elements, “NGOs,” the Mainstream Media (MSM) who are fighting a battle for survival under the NaMo government to tar and mar the NDA government. I am surprised that even academics are falling prey to vicious propaganda by these groups who spout inanities on freedom, secularism and democracy but have no respect for any of these values.

If there is any hope for India, it is NaMo.

I would like to counter many of the points made in Aseem’s article some of which he may have picked up from MSM, whose credibility today is at an all-time low.

One, there were no self-congratulatory tweets / boasting by the PM on the earthquake issue. It may be possible that someone looked at parody Twitter accounts of the PM (there could be many) and used it to propagate their divisive agendas. The MSM mantra is – “Lie big, retract small” as so wonderfully articulated by Ravinar of Mediacrooks fame (www.mediacrooks.com). They also resort to what Ravinar describes as “Salma quoting Sabrina”. Thanks to an alert Social Media (SM), the lies of MSM is being caught out and they don’t like it one bit. They are used to controlling the narrative and they find that they are at the receiving end on SM.

Would request that all readers check the PM’s Twitter TLs here that will shatter the lies of MSM: https://twitter.com/narendramodi

On the contrary, when people praised his efforts with a hashtag of #ThankYouPM, he told his followers that it is not him, but the Indian culture of seva that should get the credit.

The fact that the Nepal PM learnt about the earthquake from the Indian PM is being used by the opposition and media there for their own agendas.

Is he always on Twitter? He has tweeted 41 times since the Nepal earthquake on Apr 24 till 30th of which 25 were related to the earthquake. That is 6 tweets a day. Is this bothering some people who hate the fact that the PM is directly communicating with people? Hell, yeah! Why doesn’t the MSM even ask when the joker RaGa will be on Twitter communicating with people? It is shocking that anything that the fake Gandhis do is OK with the groups above. These groups so desperately want INC to return to power so that their orgies, loot, anti-national activities, etc. can continue unabated.

On the suit, the brouhaha that it was a Rs. 10-lakh suit was created by the MSM as they had nothing better to do. The price was also a classical “Salma quoting Sabrina” tactic. The suit piece was gifted to NaMo who got it stitched. The fact that NaMo has a certain class when it comes to appearance rankles these jokers who think that they are the only ones who have taste and style. The fact that NaMo did not lower his own dignity and that of his office by joining issue speaks a lot about the man. The fact that he raised Rs. 4.31 crores in the suit auction and gifted the proceeds for worthwhile causes speaks even more about the man. Contrast this with the Sable coat of Sonia Gandhi that she got as a gift and sent to Italy to get it refitted. It apparently costs more than Rs. 50 lakhs. Please read: http://www.mediacrooks.com/2015/04/what-fool-believes.html#.VUTymI6qqko

While I do not want to comment on Deepak Parekh and Arun Shourie (both of them having their own personal reasons for the attack on the government), I now understand why India has been under bondage for 1,000 years – people who do not benefit from changes, rather than seeing those changes through the prism of nationalism, look at it from their own selfish interests. I am not sure if Parekh being kept out of Niti Aayog and Arun Shourie being kept out of government have anything to do with their rants.

It is not possible to change things overnight. Decades of depredations by INC, the mai-baap sarkaar they created, the crony capitalism, the weakening of institutions including the judiciary, the tearing asunder of the social fabric – all had created a system that was on the verge of collapse. There are vested interests against change and they will resist it at all costs. NaMo is smart enough to understand that a radical overhaul is impossible and will only result in total chaos as the vested interests are deeply entrenched. He is slowly but surely changing them to the path of positivism and nation-building. This takes time – NaMo has no magic wand. As someone who has worked at the grassroots, I understand how weak and corrupt our institutions and governance mechanisms are – sometimes one would think it is impossible to change it. But, NaMo is a “aashavadi” and it is amazing how he deals with the negativism all around him. He is indeed India’s last hope. I shudder to think what would have happened if UPA came to power in 2015.

I still remember 2004 when commies and anti-national elements entered into an incestuous understanding with media, most notably Dr. Prannoy Roy, to run down NDA and give the nation 10 years of disaster that set us back by 50 years. They are at it again, but to India’s advantage, there is SM that is calling their bluff – time and again. The devil (the groups described above) is powerful and charming and I’m hopeful India’s tryst with dharma will see the devil shown their rightful place in hell.

Unlike Vajapayee, NaMo is no fool. He has been nice even to those who have sworn to be his enemies so far. But, unfortunately for them (who hate everything Indian while benefiting from India), their time is over. The next one year will see NaMo take on the role of Krishna after the Shishupalas have committed their proverbial 100 sins.

That will be the beginning of the Acch Din.

The Non-Resident PM: Twittering, Tweeting and the pathology of disconnection by Aseem Prakash


Yesterday, HDFC chairman Deepak Parekh threw a bombshell which was followed by focused fire from Arun Shourie. Parekh noted:

“I think there is still a lot of optimism among the people of the country and among the industrialists and entrepreneurs that the Modi government will be good for business, for progress, for reducing corruption. They think this government means business on all these fronts…However, after nine months, there is a little bit of impatience creeping in as to why no changes are happening and why this is taking so long having effect on the ground.”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/No-change-on-ground-on-ease-of-doing-business-HDFCs-Deepak-Parekh-says/articleshow/46288197.cms

Regarding claims about economic growth, Shourie noted: ” “Such claims are meant to grab headlines but lack substance”. ..”Government is talking big on economic matters but nothing is happening on ground. Delivery is missing.”

http://zeenews.india.com/news/india/modi-govt-directionless-on-economy-growth-claims-are-hyperbole-says-arun-shourie_1588472.html

One can brush off Shourie by saying that he is frustrated because he was not offered a Ministerial position in Modi’s cabinet. But Parekh is different. He is the JRD Tata of India’s financial community. He has an impeccable reputation and image. He does not talk loose; is not the tweeting type. Importantly, Parekh is also known to be sympathetic to Modi.

Why then is Modi losing the confidence of his core domestic constituency?

Like so many Indians, I am baffled and disappointed with Modi. Here was a politician who knew how to govern and connect with the masses. He understood what they wanted and appeared responsive and sincere to their wishes.

Yet, something seems to have gone wrong. The PM seems to be interested in tweeting, grabbing headlines, traveling abroad, but not governing domestically. Like many, I remained puzzled by Modi’s decision to wear monogrammed suit during Obama’s visit. As Arun Shourie noted “It was inexplicable, incomprehensible and a big critical mistake”… “I fail to understand why he accepted and then wore that suit. You cannot take Gandhiji’s name and wear such a thing.” Of course, Rahul Gandhi has sought to underline this point in his Lok Shaba remarks by characterizing the Modi government as “suit-boot ki sarkaar.”

But beyond the suit-boot, take the controversy over Nepal Earthquake. India responded quickly and appropriately. But this goodwill has been compromised by the PM’s cute, self-congratulatory tweets. He boasted that Nepal’s PM Sushil Koirala got to know of the earthquake because he saw Modi’s tweets on this subject. What is the message: Nepal’s PM is an uninformed individual and Narendra Bhai is the superman who not only knows what is happening in India but also abroad. No wonder Nepalese are fuming over this chest thumping by the tweeting Modi. Instead of goodwill, they see Indian arrogance.

There is a deeper problem, I suspect. Modi seems to look for validation among a select group, the tweeting types, a large number of which reside abroad. He is becoming the PM of the non-resident Indians. He comes across as spending a lot of time on foreign visits and speaking to packed halls of NRIs. Of course, the BJP could not mobilize enough folks to attend his January 10, 2015 Ramlila grounds rally. As long as the superhero can draw NRI crowds to the Madison Square Garden arena, I guess it is ok.

Or, the fuss over the claim that Modi is third most followed politician in the twitter world or the BJP is largest political party in the world. These are vacuous achievements, especially when there is little to show in terms of concrete, on-the-ground changes.

Modi won decisive mandate in the Lok Shaba elections. In the first months, he began backtracking on issues such as Black Money. Yet, he did outline imaginative policies such as the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” and “Make in India.” But these policies seem to remain at the sloganeering level. How many new toilets have been constructed? How have sanitation facilities improved? Before we are inflicted with a new set of slogans such as Smart Cities, the PM ought to provide a Status Report on the existing ones.

The honeymoon of the Indian voter with Modi seems to be over. There is now a lot of political competition. While AAP has taken a hit with the Yadav-Bhushan episode and the tragic death of Gajendra Singh during the AAP’s Jantar Mantar rally, it remains an important urban political force. Rahul Gandhi, though much ridiculed by the media, is back in action. He has carefully selected issues that resonate with the masses. Chandrababu Naidu is on the verge of parting company with the BJP – apparently, the PM does not have time to meet with him in Delhi about problems of Andhra Pradesh (perhaps, he should try to meet with him in New York or Toronto). Opinion polls suggest that BJP is going to get a severe drubbing in Bihar Assembly elections. Given that the BJP does not have the majority in Rajya Shaba, and that the BJP cannot indefinitely rely on ordinances to enact new laws, Modi’s ability to govern is going to be severely compromised. What is the game plan?

Madhu Kishwar, who had vocally supported Modi when it was not fashionable to do so, correctly noted in her 2014 interview: “He got rewarded for his work in Gujarat, he is now the prime minister. But now starts a new chapter, he is going to be assessed afresh. However, nobody can make sense of all this, neither me nor anyone else. It is black magic that somebody has done. I cannot believe this is happening. Maybe Modi has not got a grip yet. Maybe Delhi has disoriented him.” (http://scroll.in/article/694110/Somebody-has-done-black-magic-on-Modi-Madhu-Kishwar/)

I hope the PM is able to exorcise himself of the kalla jadu and deliver on domestic governance and development. He should recognize that he is the PM of the RIs, not the NRIs. If I were his parent, I would confiscate his cellphone and prohibit him from tweeting for the next couple of months. I may even impose a dress code. Time out – focus on real stuff. I guess the BJP and Modi are in need of some serious adult supervision.

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)
(http://www.tv.com/shows/yes-minister/the-writing-on-the-wall-155981/)

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILgrhR9rjyM). 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,” ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Did-PM-Narendra-Modi-violate-code-of-conduct-by-accepting-suit/articleshow/46293691.cms). 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!