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Showing posts with label bjp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bjp. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Converting science into obscurantism

The cult of hindutva first appeared on the political horizon in the 1980s as a movement to build a temple in Ayodhya where a mosque stood. Over the next decade, its leadership stoked the most primal of mankind’s urges, religious bigotry, and helped vault its political front, the BJP, to power in coalition with several other political parties. Finally, in May 2014, hindutva found utterance in the formation of a majority government headed by Narendra Modi, a self-described pracharak of the mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Now three years into its terms, the government is being shown up as inept and clueless about governance. There are many instances of its abject failures on the policy front as it tries to promote its hindutva agenda. What follows is the story of an attempt to paint science policy in saffron hues.

According to a report in The Hindu, the Modi government has directed the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) “to generate half of its funds and start sending report cards to the Centre on how each… laboratory (is) focusing its resources on developing specific lines of inventions which would contribute to the social and economic objectives of the Narendra Modi government for the poor and the common man”.

For the record, CSIR was established in 1942 to fund and develop original scientific and industrial research. Starting out as a testing and quality control unit, the organisation sadly failed to evolve to fulfil the grandiose dreams of its votaries, and has degenerated into an ineffectual bureaucracy that’s done what a bureaucracy does best: expanded its turf to affiliate 40 ‘research laboratories’. Unsurprisingly, its list of achievements in 75 years of existence is unimpressive.

At first glance, the government’s directive is not unconscionable. CSIR has grazed in the fields of public funding all these years to produce very little of consequence. To that extent, the June 2015 directive, announced at what the Hindustan Times dubbed a “chintan shivir (think camp) for scientists” in Dehradun was welcome.

However, nothing is uncomplicated or untwisted in the world of hindutva champions. The optics suggested that the Modi government wants to use the rod against CSIR and whip it into shape. In the so-called Dehradun declaration issued at the end of the summit, The Hindu quoted a senior official who attended the meeting as saying, “The most worrisome aspect was representatives from Vigyan Bharati, an organisation affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), being part of this discussion. The idea was to ensure ‘indigenous science’ was promoted. But what was the RSS doing in this meeting?”

The plan seems to be to reward foot soldiers of hindutva with jobs and lucrative projects in RSS-favoured fields, especially research and development of ‘indigenous’ science, a thinly-veiled nudge for cow urine pharmacology and therapy. Bypassing the ministry of science and technology, the AYUSH ministry has taken charge of the project.

Thus, AYUSH minister of state Sripad Naik announced in Parliament, that “CSIR through its constituent laboratories has conducted research studies… on cow urine distillate for its anti-oxidant and bio-enhancing properties on anti-infective and anti-cancer agents and nutrients. Four US patents have been secured… and one pharmaceutical product containing cow urine distillate with anti-oxidant property is available in the market”.

In a scathing critique of “the government’s cow urine craze,” The Wire, a news portal, expressed concern about the AYUSH ministry promoting obscurantism. Since November 2014 when it was constituted, just five months after the Modi government assumed office, the ministry began to sprout saffron wings.

Intended to serve as a knowledge and resource centre for traditional medicine systems, it was set up in 1995 as a department in the health ministry, the outcome of a 1993 push by Sam Pitroda to incorporate traditional Indian systems of medicine into a holistic public health offering. To that end, Pitroda established I-AIM (Institute for Ayurvedic and Integrative Medicine), whose major focus was on creating a database of medicinal plants. From there to the department of Indian systems of medicine and homeopathy (ISMH) was a short hop. In 2003, the BJP-led government attempted to burnish its hindutva credentials after four years of non-performance: it transformed the department of ISMH into the AYUSH ministry.

Now more than a decade later, the Modi government seems to have concluded that it needs to do more to woo the base; hence, its focus on the cow. To marry this to its ‘development’ agenda, it convened the chintan shivir of scientists in Dehradun. The idea seems to have been to impart a modern touch to its obscurantism, seeking to make cow urine a CSIR focus, an initiative that fits into its Make in India, Skill India, IT plus IT equals IT manifesto of acronyms that are a unique feature of this non-performing regime.

Lamentably, a commendable academic effort to document traditional medical knowledge has been subverted by hindutva obscurantism to a profound absurdity and object of ridicule.

(From Education World, June 2017.)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Goa Journal: A sense of liberation

Tainted Congress is Turfed Out.

Driving in from the airport on the day of the election results, we passed caravans of pick-up trucks, cars, scooters and motorcycles. Draped in BJP colors, the caravans were celebrating the clear victory of the BJP in the recently-concluded Assembly elections. As they whizzed past towns and villages, people gathered on the edges of the highway, cheering them on. Like Woodstock, it appeared to me “everywhere there was song and celebration.”

I was struck by the sense of liberation that was palpable on the streets and squares. It was as if a dictator had been felled. “Sir, we are free from the corrupt Congress raj,” the owner of a shack on Morjim Beach told me as we walked in the next morning to laze a few hours away, swimming in the blue-green Arabian Sea and savoring the shack’s basic wares: shrimp curry and rice with fried fish and chips, washed down with fresh pineapple juice and Goa’s own King’s beer.

To get to this picturesque beach, you have to drive east from our house into Mapusa and then head north through Siolim across the bridge on the spectacular Chapora River. The drive from Mapusa, an ugly, Indian-style market town, to Siolim is over a forested hill with gorgeous valley views. The road is superb like most of Goan roads, except that over the years it has become a garbage dump. Mounds of garbage line either side of the road, detracting from the sheer natural beauty.

Even along National Highway 17, the major artery that crosses Goa north to south en route to Kerala, you see similar sights: piles of garbage on both sides. This odious development has come about in the past five years. The years from 2007 have seen Goa assaulted by real estate developers; exploited by illegal mining and stalled by crumbling infrastructure: no waste management, acute power and water shortages, traffic jams, eroding beaches and the growth of Bombay-style slums. Then there are drugs, the Russian mafia and vastly increased crime.

This has happened on the Congress watch. Clearly, these problems were building up over the years but neglected because of political instability. Between 1963 and 1990, there were just four chief ministers; since then, there have been 15. In 2007, the Congress formed the government and lasted the full term until March 3, 2012. It appeared as though a stable government might address the mounting problems. Well, it didn’t; what’s more, it was seen as a beneficiary of these ills. On March 3, Goans voted with a vengeance and turfed the Congress out.

One of the major causes of the Congress defeat is the defection of the Christian vote. Though they form just a little more than two percent of the Indian population; strikingly, Christians in Goa number nearly 30 percent of the state’s inhabitants. They have traditionally shunned the BJP because of its insular Hindutva agenda; this time they overcame their distaste for the saffron party and voted against the Congress.

There is euphoria in this bucolic little corner of India. The BJP has won handily so there should be no trouble for the next five years. Manohar Parrikar, the likable former chief minister, is set to run Goa again. Peoples’ expectations are high; but clearly it more an anti-Congress than a pro-BJP mandate.

Parrikar is a soft-spoken man, educated at the exclusive Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. I happen to know him because he asked me to help publicize the first International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa in 2004. In the course of the project, I met him several times and found him to be focused on outcomes. In the event, we worked together to make the festival a success and to make Goa a permanent home for it.

At the time, I was a member of the Congress Media Advisory Board but that didn’t make a difference to Parrikar. He wanted professional public relations support and so was happy to work with me and my firm. The brief was to make it into a South Asian Cannes.  The IFFI public relations project went south after he was ousted. Subsequent Congress governments had an opportunity to build on the national and international notice the festival attracted. Instead, as a former senior official of the Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), the unit that ran the festival, told me: “It has become a den of corruption.”

I learned it the hard way when my firm responded to a tender for public relations support for IFFI 2011 put out by the ESG. We made our submission and I undertook a trip to Goa for the opening of the bids. The entire procedure was opaque. Three bids were opened: two firms including mine, made similar financial proposals. Within minutes, the bureaucrat, who read out the numbers (and he looked every bit vile and corrupt), dismissed us and awarded the project to a firm that bid one-fourteenth of the amount that we proposed.

This is the way Goa functioned under the Congress. Even though I am a supporter of the GOP, I found the party’s Goa dispensation less than transparent. I am not surprised they were booted out.


This article appeared in The Times of India on March 14, 2012.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Mindless activism is the root of Goa’s political stasis

Contemplating the election just completed in Goa, my mind wandered to a Sunday afternoon a few years ago. At lunch in a friend’s place near Panjim, I found myself under assault by an “activist”. He challenged my assessment that the “India against Corruption” protest, then in full flower, was just another anti-Congress formation. My interlocutor was the well-spoken scion of an influential Goan family and he took umbrage at my assertion that Anna Hazare, the figure head of the protest, was a congenital publicity hound.

Sadly, the conversation degenerated into a diatribe with the activist scolding me for my views on politics, economics and society. There was not much subtlety in his charge that people such as I must be held responsible for the state of affairs in India, tainted as it is with political corruption, skewed economic priorities and consumerist societal norms.

Fast forward to 2014, post the Hazare protest: A group of “activists” led by Arvind Kejriwal emerged to form the Aam Aadmi Party. Kejriwal’s group did surprisingly well in the ensuing elections to the assembly and was able to form a government with support from the Congress. The rest is history.

Last year, when AAP announced it would contest elections in Goa, which is a particularly fecund political environment for activism, I was not surprised. All these years of living in the haven, I was witness to the mindless activism that challenged the long-reigning Congress on any and every development scheme or project. Bringing to bear their networking skills and media clout, activists went hammer and tongs after the Congress on often unsubstantiated charges of corruption. In the event, they did not change the fluid and corrupt politics in the state or root out corruption; they ensured the rise of the BJP.

The entry of AAP to Goa politics has been made possible by the cosy fit with local activists. Coasting on word-of-mouth publicity, AAP brought to bear its propaganda skills to project a victory in the just-completed election to the assembly. Many people, with a foot in both places, Delhi and Goa, are understandably appalled. In their view, Goans have regarded them with hostility as outsiders spoiling the Goan environment with their South Delhi ways. But Goans see no contradiction in embracing a Delhi-centric political party with roots in the rough-and-ready exurban areas of the National Capital Region.

This election was held against a national backdrop in which there is a massive pushback against the BJP and a growing disenchantment with the politics of AAP. Sensing this, the Congress put in place ambitious revival plans. It opted for a seat-sharing arrangement with: Two seats for Goa Forward, a year-old party pledged to defeat the BJP; one for Atanasio Monserrate’s United Goan, a party sworn to keep the secular vote from splitting; and it has decided to support an independent candidate.

Aside of the seat sharing arrangement, the Congress is likely to benefit from a split in the BJP vote. This is because of an alliance between Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, Shiv Sena and Goa Suraksha Manch, a new party floated by a rebel RSS member, Subhash Velingkar, head of the influential Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch. This Right-wing alliance, which had been instrumental in the BJP victory in 2012, threatens to jerk the rug from under the BJP.

The Congress sources in Goa and Delhi say they have long believed Kejriwal’s AAP was a front floated by the saffronistas to divide the Congress vote, especially in two-way contests as in Punjab and Goa. Their response to the split in the BJP vote in Goa is a nudge and a wink to suggest the Congress stands to make a huge gain because this split will take more votes from the BJP than AAP will from the Congress.

Though polls predict a hung assembly, the mood in the Congress camp is upbeat.

(An edited version of this post will appear in http://hindustantimes.com, February 6, 2017.)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Misinterpreting the mandate

Narendra Modi ran the 2014 election campaign, asking for a mandate in his name; the party was secondary. In the event, he helped the BJP secure 282 seats in Parliament, an absolute majority. The last time any party singly won so many seats was in 1984 when the Congress won 404. Modi seems to have interpreted the mandate as an irreversible affirmation of his popularity as a leader, right up there with the luminaries who won India its independence, then nurtured its democracy and diversity and finally transformed it into a dynamic new player on the world stage.
There are two ways to understand Modi’s unrealistic assessment of his own popularity. One, he single-handedly took the BJP’s tally of 18 percent in the 2009 election to 31 percent from 18 percent, its traditional share of the vote. Two, Modi may have been right in interpreting that he broke through beyond the Hindutva vote to new constituencies with his message of development and governance. Clearly, though, that is a temporary surge that can disappear very quickly as Rajiv Gandhi found in 1989.
A mature leader with greater experience in national politics would have looked beyond the absolute majority. In 2004, when the Congress-led the UPA coalition to an unexpected win, Sonia Gandhi and her colleagues took the sober view that it was a rejection of the BJP’s “India Shining” narrative tacked on to the party’s baseline Hindutva agenda. Accordingly, the Congress view was the party’s communal core remained intact but new adherents, who had, by and large, voted the BJP for change, pulled out, disappointed in the lackluster performance of the Vajpayee government.
Likewise, had Modi been a more contemplative leader, he would have recognized that 69 percent of the electorate spurned both his Hindutva appeal and his promise of development and governance. Looking at a glass that is one-third full as a huge improvement over less than the traditional fifth, Modi thought he could do just about anything and get away with it. He was used to that in Gujarat, where his writ ran because the number of seats in the assembly matched the vote on the ground.
For a while it appeared as though the absolute majority in Parliament was a Teflon coating: Lalitgate, Vyapam, FTII, a series of faux pas in India and overseas, the loss in Bihar, the botched-up attempts to dislodge Congress governments in Arunachal and Uttarakhand, rank communalism and beef politics, JNU, Hyderabad, Pathankot, Kashmir, Uri…nothing seemed to stick. This emboldened him to swear and sneer at opponents, favour cronies and generally stride about the landscape like some colossus batting off scam and scandal, fraud and failure.
Until the demonetization, that is. On November 8, Modi’s megalomania finally went haywire. In one fell swoop, he knocked the bottom out of the nation’s money supply; with a dramatic announcement, he invalidated all 500 and 1000 rupee notes, a full 87 percent of the currency in circulation, valued at over 200 billion USD. The speech, as always cunning, contained a cadence of dog whistles that seemed to suggest that in his 30 months as prime minister, the Indian economy has become one of the bright spots in the world and in single-handedly achieving this, he had the support of 125 crore Indians.
His televised address will go down as the biggest display of chutzpah since George W Bush’s announcement of the “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq in 2003. Unlike Bush, who seemed to have become a neocons mascot and pretty much went along with the program, Modi conveyed the decision was his and his alone.
As the magnitude of the disruption became clear, Modi backtracked. A narrativewas issued suggesting the following: demonetization was devised by “concerned officials who wished to shield those in high positions in banks across the country from the consequences of the crony-oriented lending that they had been doing especially since 2006, the year when Narasimha Rao’s liberalization policy was fully substituted by the UPA into a faux Nehruvian economic policy that combined Fabian socialism with Wall Street ways.”
In other words, holdovers from the corrupt UPA are responsible. “Prime Minister Modi was presented with the issue in such a way that turning down the scheme was out of the question,” the narrative quoted “senior officials” as saying. It goes on to add that Modi “raised several queries, especially on the impact on the common man and only when it was conveyed to him that steps were being taken to minimize hardship did he agree to the measure.”
So there you have it. It’s all the doing of the corrupt UPA that still has its talons hooked into the bureaucracy. It’s not clear from this story if the Modi government plans to prosecute former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for promulgating this draconian edict.
As the shock and awe receded to reveal huge lines at banks and ATMs, millions of harassed citizens and dozens of deaths, it became apparent the demonetization was flawed. Certainly, the implementation was disastrous; increasingly, however, the intent has come into question. Modi needs to answer for this cynical, ill-conceived and mean-minded “masterstroke.” What are the reasons for it: to end the black money menace? To deal with counterfeit currency? To spike terrorist funding? To speed transition to a cashless economy?
If we accept Modi’s assertion that the demonetization was aimed at bringing black money into the system, there are questions of his government’s track record. With his photo writ large over advertisements, Modi has claimed that in two-and-a-half years, his government has brought black money worth 1.25 lakh crore rupees “out in the open.” This is braggadocio considering that in its last two years, the UPA government netted 1.31 lakh crore. This is just the kind of statistical fact checkthat people have started to make. It’s clear that other than his core supporters, no one is taking Modi’s assertions at face value anymore.
He may have the support of 282 MPs but has just 31 percent of the vote. Shouldn’t he have had wide consultation? Shouldn’t he have taken the opposition into confidence? After all, everyone is on the same side as Indians first and the Opposition would have supported any move that is in the larger national interest. The reason he didn’t, leads to questions about intent. Such a massive disruption should have been planned better. That it wasn’t, leads to questions about competence.
Just 31 percent vote share, dubious intent and evident ineptness are reasons for the nationwide protest that was reported all over the world as a massive uprising against demonetization. Most credible analysts believe that such a huge blow to the economy, to citizens will cripple India for years.
(An edited version of this post will appear in http://http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, December 3, 2016.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Confusion Now Hath Made His Masterpiece

We can only hope that the inept handling of the Pathankot terror attack is the worst breach of national security and dignity that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP can inflict on the nation. However, the progressive scale of ineptitude that has been on display doesn’t give much hope.

For too long, it was not clear if all the terrorists had been taken out. Indian Express reported there was a blast even while defense minister Parrikar arrived at the base. Before that:

  • The finance minister got into the act saying the siege was over; his statement was followed by reports of more gunfire.
  • The home minister put out a tweet announcing the end of the attack and then deleted it.
  • The prime minister was purveying wisdom on yoga and Hinduism.
  • The defense minister was in Goa, meddling in its seaside politics.

Maybe the terrorists died laughing?

With the BJP, garish spectacle triumphs over quiet diplomacy. In February 1999, Atal Behari Vajpayee took a bus to Lahore with the famous Bollywood actor Dev Anand in tow and signed the Lahore Declaration. In May that year, India faced the Kargil war. With Modi, the Pathankot terror attack came just a few days after his PR stopover in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media appeared clueless. It reported every leak from the multiple agencies in charge, sowing confusion all around.Television news, now bigger and better than in 1999, simply passed off everything as breaking news. The more “intrepid,”not wanting to dig and delve into the hard story, went after the human angle: interviewing grieving relatives of the soldiers who were killed, calling them “bravehearts” like medieval Scots and “martyrs” like Islamic fundamentalists.

The newspapers were no better: they simply bought whatever line the government put out and played up the sentimental angle of sacrifice for the nation. They could not or would not distinguish between reports on the ground from the disinformation being put out by government sources.

In the event, the social media, some uncompromising publications like The Hindu and The Telegraph and a number of hardnosed commentators nailed the truth. Many questioned the national security adviser’s decision to deploy the Defense Security Corps comprised of retired soldiers to assist the National Security Guard at Pathankot. There was widespread derision of Mr Modi’s preoccupation with yoga and Hindu temples.

Mr Modi and his party have failed every test or serious governance so far. Remember: climate doesn’t change, people grow older.  Or Ganesha’s elephant head is proof there were plastic surgeons in those ancient days. Or India can never abuse nature:earth is our mother; moon is our “mama” (mother’s brother), echoing a popular Bollywood song of the 1950s.

This government is also demonstrably incompetent. Never mind Pathankot, even in Parliament, where it commands a majority in the lower house, Mr Modi has been unable to get anything done.Plus he suffered significant political defeats in Delhi and Bihar.Now there’s virtually no hope the BJP can win a majority in the upper house through 2019. As such, the first-ever majority government since the 1980s finds itself stymied.

Mr Modi’sbelligerence swayed many away from their normal predilections to vote for him in 2014; hence the majority. Cocky in victory, he denied Leader of Opposition status to Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress. As such, his no-holds-barred approach permitted no negotiation and compromise with the opposition, a sine qua non in a democracy.

In just 18 months, he has shown he is simply not prime ministerial material. Never mind his obvious shortcomings, including gaffes about the flag in Japan and the national anthem in Russia, his cabinet is a distressingly low on intellect and ethics.

The much-admired campaign in 2014 beguiled the electorate: there was dog-whistle rhetoric about Hindutva; a slanderous paid media campaign against a government that delivered a decade of unprecedented prosperity and social welfare; a quixotic promise of a golden age. 

There’s one more thing in play: during the 2008 Bombay terror attack, Mr Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, showed up outside the Oberoi Hotel to castigate the government as soft and directionless. This was while security forces were still battling the terrorists.  In stark contrast, there has been no dissenting opposition voice in the matter of Pathankot.

Mr Modi’s future suddenly seems to be limited. The narrative of good governance is shown up as“a tale told by idiots, who strut and fret their hour upon the stage, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” 

(An edited version of this post will appear in DailyO.in, January 2016.)