Friday, March 17, 2017
Monday, February 6, 2017
Thursday, November 7, 2013
For the first time, the electorate faces a clear ideological choice. The Congress is the architect of liberalisation that unleashed the animal spirits of competition and innovation in the economy. The ensuing economic boom peaked in 2004; in the following decade, the economy grew at an average of 8% a year. This is evident as many sectors, including telecom, automobiles, pharmaceuticals and IT, became globally competitive.
There was always disparity, but never in your face. The pathetic picture of a car worth over a crore, waiting at a red light, besieged by begging children, is a new phenomenon. There have always been beggars, never Bentleys and Jaguars. Over the years, the rich became richer. This was not the outcome that Manmohan Singh, as finance minister, envisioned in 1991.
Modi and his supporters believe he can form a government in 2014. It’s hard to believe, though, that his agenda of gated communities, luxury cars and conspicuous consumption will garner votes from the urban and rural poor, Dalits, tribals and Muslims who form the bulk of the young population. Meanwhile, the Congress has again arrayed itself in support of the excluded. More than his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who nudged the government into adopting a welfare-based legislative agenda, Rahul Gandhi is vocal about the skewed priorities.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Thursday, August 9, 2012
This Article appeared in the Education World magazine in August 2012 issue.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Peeling the onion of political ideology in
This article appeared in The Times of India on January 10, 2012.
Monday, July 25, 2011
What exactly were the television news crews after when they fanned out in the broken precincts of Bombay on the evening of the serial bomb blasts? They were intrusive, unmindful of the privacy of injured citizens and the grief of relatives of dead victims. Screaming and shouting, they collared eyewitnesses to ask them what they had seen. Worse, they tramped into hospital emergency rooms to focus on blood and gore. The result was a jumble of accounts. Piecing the fragments together, the picture that emerged was distorted, like looking at a high definition satellite television picture in a rainstorm.
As the news spread via television, the confusion seemed to grow. The jumbled pictures and stray, disjointed comments from shell-shocked citizens did little to reveal the dimensions of the tragedy. Amid the hysterics, rumors emerged to heighten public anxiety. Emergency services took time to get to the blast sites; police officers at the venues appeared clueless and the government response hesitant.
The next day, July 14, the focus changed completely. News channels seemed to have decided to go a step beyond reporting the news. Instead, they came up with an angle: enough of praising Bombay’s resilience; time to hit out at politicians, bureaucrats and policemen for failing to prevent the attacks. Their reporters waded into trains, scoured the city, looking for the “man in the street.” They ambushed hapless citizens and made them perform to a script.
There are two problems with this: one, can journalists in reporting an event come to it with a premeditated slant? Can editors accept their reporters passing off opinions as facts? Man-on-the-street interviews are useful as local color but they can’t be the story. Or chasing celebrities for their views on the tragedy? This latter approach can only be in pursuit of ratings.
Two, what does it mean when you say Bombay is resilient? A city can have a character and Bombay certainly does have a business-like approach to life. Residents of this city carry on efficiently despite crumbling infrastructure, slums, the underworld, housing shortages, milling crowds and a general sense of decay. That is resilience but it is on display everyday, not just at times of crisis.
It appears that the day after the blasts, the channels decided that “resilience” was an old bromide with no traction among viewers. You would have thought they would have upbraided their reporters for hyping the tragedy. Instead, they sent them, armed with a line, to barge into the tragedy once again: hectoring citizens to read from their script. The crews set out afresh to interview citizens in different parts of the city, asking leading questions. The story angle was clear: left to its own devices, resilient Bombay was angry.
“This city has been the victim of many terrorist blasts. Aren’t you angry and tense? Aren’t you tired of being called resilient and left to fend for yourself? Aren’t you tired of being taken for granted by the government?” The questions flew thick and fast as did the changing headlines on television screens. “Resilient, tired, angry,” they screamed. The television news channels seemed to have decided on the line; their field reporters goaded citizens into “confirming” the story in front of the cameras.
The journalistic practices of the television news media could be the subject of scholarly analysis some distance from “breaking news.” What is of immediate concern is that such ambulance-chasing tactics stoked public insecurities. Television reporters instigated citizens to berate the government in prime time.
This is not to suggest that criticism of the government is unacceptable. Indeed, authorities must be held answerable if they fail or are slow to respond. To do this, reporters need to ferret out hard facts. The analysis can only be effective at some distance from the events. Instant judgments spread fear and rumor at a time when public anxiety is running high.
Where they had a chance to calm things down, bring people together in the face of a major terrorist attack, the news channels took a lowly road. They hyped the events and indulged in the worst kind of speculation and rumor. Sensationalism reigned supreme.
In the face of shrill attempts by news channels to show up its inadequacies, the government response was restrained. The home minister and the prime minister winged their way to Bombay within 24 hours of the incidents. The prompt steps by the leadership blunted the edge of the media’s hysterical coverage.
Finally, Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan made an appearance on all major channels and made some candid remarks about the strengths and limitations of government. His bravura performance took the wind out of media hysterics. His direct manner did much to defuse the media hype. His comments went much further than anyone in the Congress or the Opposition reckoned. Chavan was a refreshing voice on television. He spoke with a sincerity that has never been seen before. He appeared at once humble and fully in control, candid and unafraid to speak his mind.
Finally, it is a matter of some irony that the media hype may have actually denied the perpetrators of the Bombay blasts their day in the sun. Maybe India has found a way to deal with terrorism: bury it in hype, trample it in public debate. If only real people didn’t die or get injured!
Copyright Rajiv Desai 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Meanwhile, the BJP was at its hectoring loudest with its communal propaganda. The Left pretended to be a rallying point for petty regional satraps, who seemed to spring from every nook and cranny. Nobody gave the Congress a chance, writing it off as a spent force with no grassroots support.
The recently concluded first term of the UPA government was notable for the boorish behaviour of the opposition BJP and the churlish support of the Left parties. The BJP blatantly refused to let Parliament function with its vocal opposition and strong-arm tactics. The Left, an erstwhile UPA ally, embarked on a foolhardy course of confrontation with the prime minister that eventually led to a rupture.
Fortunately, timely backing of the Samajwadi Party helped the government win the confidence vote precipitated by the Left’s withdrawal of support over the Indo-US nuclear deal. But even then the BJP persisted with its dramatic obstructionism, producing legislators waving wads of money in the well of the house; money they claimed was offered to them to switch sides. Meanwhile, the Mayawati-led BSP circled over this melee like a vulture hoping to scavenge the remains of the political process.
Reflected in the boorish glare of media incompetence, the political imbroglio seemed like some dark and foreboding Shakespearean tragedy in which judgement had fled to brutish beasts and men had lost their reason. Many of us hoped for the best but feared the worst.
The clamour surrounding the general election obscured a fundamental reality: India has changed and the vast majority of its people are either actually or by aspiration, middle class. Thanks to the government’s inclusive policies, the number of stakeholders in the India growth project has increased dramatically. The 2009 election outcome allows us to hope that a critical mass has been achieved to stabilise the ship of state.
One thing is clear: old divides of caste and religion were bridged as the Congress chalked up support across caste and religious lines. It’s now obvious that voters are tired of posturing and brinkmanship; they’ve had it with screaming and shouting over non-issues; they have rejected twisted propaganda that a non-Congress, non-BJP alternative is a possibility. The confused media purveyed this line, adding to the noise and distortions of the campaign. But voters showed maturity and a deep concern for the future to vote in the Congress-led coalition.
As such, voters have plumped for stability over chaos, substance over frivolity, wisdom over cunning, decency over crudity. In the same fell swoop, voters have put paid to the political future of L.K. Advani, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jayalalitha, Arjun Singh and even Narendra Modi, whose low and abusive style turned people off everywhere and has drawn criticism from all quarters, including the BJP. These men and women were mainly responsible for the chaotic and confused politics of the two decades past.
Yet, perhaps the most significant outcome of the recent general election is that the people of India seem to have acknowledged that shallow and divisive politics is the prime reason behind the lack of development and the persistence of poverty across large swathes of the country. This new awareness is hugely welcome. Now there’s a real possibility that politics could become a facilitator of growth and equity rather than the corrupt and cynical power play it became in the last three decades of the 20th century.
The election result also has global consequences. To be sure, it enhances India’s standing in the world. In a rough neighbourhood pocked with the likes of Pakistan’s Taliban, Sri Lanka’s LTTE, Nepal’s Maoists and Bangladeshi Islamists, India is a haven of stability and progress. It boasts a rapidly expanding middle class that can become a leading engine of global economic growth. Investors understand that potential demand here could drive the global economy and keep it chugging for the next few decades.
Just think: despite fast-track growth in the telecom sector, penetration is barely 40 percent. Nearly 700 million Indians remain to be hooked on to the telecom grid. It’s the same with automobiles, power, transportation, construction, retail, civil aviation, agriculture and what have you. Is it any wonder the stock market took off into the stratosphere within minutes after it opened on the Monday after the election results were announced?
In the next two decades, India could leapfrog into the ranks of developed countries. The 2009 election outcome prophesies that the transformation has begun in earnest. It is wonderful that it was ushered in by the largest voter franchise in the world.
This Column Appeared in Education World, June 2009
Copyright Rajiv Desai 2009