R. Prasannan http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan.rss en Wed Nov 02 11:35:51 IST 2022 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html see-some-evil-too-trudeau <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/29/see-some-evil-too-trudeau.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/29/10-Trudeau-p.jpg" /> <p>He was Michelangelo’s David dressed in a Saville Row suit—handsome face, sharp features, charming smile, “big blue eyes and a commitment to … democratic openness”; one about whom <i>Vanity Fair</i> warned people to “have a fainting couch on standby as you watch him in action”. He was also the ideal family man with the right pedigree, the kind whom the cold and conservative Canadians idolised—a devoted wife tagging along, two of the litter rubbing against his knees and one perched on his elbow.</p> <p>Justin Trudeau was all that and more, till two months ago when his wife of 18 years, who had borne him three angels, walked out on him.</p> <p>All that can go wrong have since been going wrong for the Prince Diana of Canada. First he didn’t get a bilateral with the <i>vishwaguru</i> who was meeting every Joe, Sunak and Erdogan at the G20 jamboree. When he managed a brief pull-aside, and tried to give Narendra Modi an earful on the Hardeep Nijjar murder, Modi gave him two ears full, asking him to be choosy about the Khalistani company he keeps, and not believe every spooky story that is told to him even if it comes from spies with five eyes. Stunned, Trudeau thought of flying home in a huff skipping a dinner, but his plane wouldn’t start.</p> <p>Once he reached home after warming his heels in Delhi’s tropical sun as an overstaying guest, things got worse. Instead of keeping quiet, he repeated his charge in his parliament that India had got a Canadian citizen killed on Canadian soil. Instead of getting outraged, the opposition mocked at him for being sissy; in a fit of rage, he expelled an Indian diplomat and blocked all trade talks. India paid back in the same coin, expelled one of his men (wisely), and blocked visas to all Canadians (unwisely).</p> <p>His 2018 trip had also been a disaster, with no deals to show and having been told that some of his friends were unwelcome to the presidential banquet. Yet he could go back filling a family album with snaps of visits to the right shrines and tombs in <i>veshti</i> and sherwani.</p> <p>This time Trudeau made it a mess, even putting his friends—those English-speaking allies who think that they are the guardians of the globe—in a spot. He wanted them to blabber out and clobber India; mindful of the delicacies of diplomacy, they hummed and hawed.</p> <p>The David in Saville Row suit is in a spot.</p> <p>All the same, let’s be fair. Trudeau is a nice guy, just as most Canadians are—be they Anglo-Saxon, French, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or of any race or faith. Most are nice and simple people, innocent of the ways of this bad world. They are conditioned to be good—not just genetically but geopolitically, too.</p> <p>Look at their map. They have no enemies around them who send in infiltrators, secessionists, terrorists or territory grabbers, as we have. Their only border, with the US, is the world’s longest unguarded border. No wonder they championed the world’s weirdest disarmament idea—they asked the world to give up landmines. Poor fellows didn’t know that armies might give up, but terrorists and the Taliban, who don’t sign Geneva conventions and Ottawa oaths, wouldn’t.</p> <p>In short, they see no evil in anyone or anywhere. The problem is that this blind faith in liberty and decency has blinded them to make laws that are too liberal that they let even Kanishka bombers roam free. They don’t know, or don’t want to know, that their goodness is being made use of by baddies like the Khalistanis, however few they are.</p> <p>Stay nice and good, David, but bear in mind that your goodness is hurting other people. Kanishka wasn’t an Arthur Hailey novel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/29/see-some-evil-too-trudeau.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/29/see-some-evil-too-trudeau.html Fri Sep 29 16:30:41 IST 2023 kharges-bhagirathan-tasks <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/23/kharges-bhagirathan-tasks.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/23/10-Kharges-Bhagirathan-tasks-new.jpg" /> <p>Is the Congress finally biting the bullet? After last week’s working committee confab in Hyderabad, general secretary K.C. Venugopal said the 2024 polls will be “a do-or-die fight.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not a happy phrase, I say. Alfred Tennyson used it while describing how the Light Brigade’s brave 600 rode into the jaws of ghastly death in the Crimean war. Looks like the Congress is biting the cannon shell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Venugopal might not have had any such poetic or warlike association in mind. At the most, he would have been remembering a man of peace who popularised the phrase in India’s political rhetoric. Mahatma Gandhi, if you remember, had given out two calls from the Gowalia Tank (now August Kranti) Maidan in Mumbai in August 1942. He exhorted Indians to “do or die”, and the British to “quit India”. Hope the Congress’s current allies don’t mix up the two and quit INDIA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For most of them, the 2024 round will be another of those several elections in which they tie up with one or another party or go it alone. Most of them have done it time and again, winning or losing, or laying waste their fiefs. They have their pockets of political sway in one corner of India or another, and can survive to fight another day even if they lose the 2024 Lok Sabha round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so with the Congress. They have always fought their elections alone at the national level, and with or without allies at the local level. But they have never been part of a national-level pre-poll coalition in which they are just another piece in the mosaic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This time they are joining a large mosaic of parties, many of them their rivals in their turfs, if not enemies. The Congress may still be the largest piece in the mosaic, but not the predominant piece as it has always tried to be when attempting coalitions. For Congressmen, therefore, this is a never-before election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even a good show by the party in the coming assembly round in five states is no guarantee for a stellar show in next year’s Lok Sabha round. Look at what happened in 2018-19. The Congress had won the 2018 winter round to the assemblies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, but could win just three of the 65 Lok Sabha seats that the three states had in the summer of 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For all you know, the party may not even get to contest all those 65 seats this summer. It has ambitious allies in INDIA, who may ask for slices of the pie that the Congress is baking. The Aam Aadmi Party is planning to contest all the assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, may deny Lok Sabha seats to the Congress in Delhi and, who knows?—it may ask the Congress to be a puny partner in Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies a double whammy for the Congress. One, it has to more than double or triple its seats in the next Lok Sabha if it is serious about denying the treasury benches to the BJP. Two, those double or triple number of seats will have to be won from half or even less than half of the constituencies which it contested in the last round. Last time the party contested in 421 seats and won 52. This time, the field will be smaller, the yield will have to be larger. No wonder Venugopal said “do or die”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No need to lose heart, Congressmen! Robert Burns also used the phrase ‘do or die’ in a poem to describe how Robert ‘Spider’ Bruce rode to victory in Bannockburn. Bruce is said to have failed six times, and won the seventh. You are hoping to ‘do’ in the third round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Don’t like the Bruce imagery? Too many battles and too British? How about Bhagiratha, for perseverance? Verily from Bharat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/23/kharges-bhagirathan-tasks.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/23/kharges-bhagirathan-tasks.html Sat Sep 23 11:10:05 IST 2023 rail-crosses-on-silk-road <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/16/rail-crosses-on-silk-road.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/16/10-Rail-crosses-on-Silk-Road-new.jpg" /> <p>Xi Jinping sold the belt-and-road dream to much of Asia, Africa and Europe invoking imageries of the ancient Silk Road. In his 2013 lecture at a Kazakh university, he recalled how the travels of the Han dynasty envoy Zhang Qian made 2,100 years ago had opened the Silk Road linking Asia and Europe. He told them how he “could almost hear the camel bells echoing in the mountains and see the wisp of smoke rising from the desert”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, ‘silk road’ invokes images of wealth, trade, travel, adventure, exchange of knowledge, refinement, and more. Xi has been invoking all those. Yet, India withstood his silk spell, even as most of Asia fell for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly for Xi, the spell of the silk seems to be wearing off for most of them. Many who attended his Xanadu durbar of 2017, and invested in Xi’s big yuan loan dreams, are beginning to see nightmares of wasteful spend, unliveable towers, rusting infrastructure, draining coffers and debt traps. They are seeming to hear not “camel bells echoing in the mountains” but the terrifying trots of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian warhorses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 11th century, India alone had managed to ward off the golden horde, thanks to the deft diplomacy of India’s wise rulers then. So, too, in the 21st century. Thank Iltutmish, thank Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike what most ultra nationalists believe, pasts have not been all golden—neither China’s, nor India’s, Egypt’s, Greece’s, Rome’s, nor anyone else’s. On the contrary, most pasts have been leaden, ugly and bloody. Empires were not built with just silk and gold; they were built also with burning coal, smelting iron and flowing blood. Invoking pasts can backfire on the peace dividends from connectivity that we are seeking to reap now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was perhaps why Modi, Joe Biden and other leaders, who announced the India-Middle East-Europe corridor from the sidelines of last week’s G20 summit in Delhi, refrained from invoking memories of the coal-fired rail engines and coaches that criss-crossed the Middle East, Central Asia and north Africa till the end of the World War I. Built by the Ottoman Turks and their European rivals, they had linked three continents and three conflicting faiths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many are being rebuilt now. Only <i>The Economist</i>, known for its neo-liberal brashness, invoked the Ottoman past three years ago. In a picturesquely written Christmas special article in 2021, the magazine’s unknown writers built upon Agatha Christie’s <i>Murder on the Orient Express</i> to describe how rail lines that once criss-crossed the Middle East (Near East to the Europeans) and connected Europe with Asia and north Africa, are lying bombed-dead in the sands after two world wars and several dozen smaller wars. They are being rebuilt, the writers noted, by successor states that are realising the folly of wars over faith and territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hejaz railway, dynamited by the legendary Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouin buddies to break the backbone of the Turkish empire in World War I, is now being rebuilt. Iraq is planning a line from Mosul to Turkey. The Saudis, on a rail-building spree, should soon link Jeddah with most of the emirates and Haifa in Israel where India is investing heavily. Soon a line shall branch off north towards Damascus and Istanbul, from where the Orient Express used to commence its journey. India hopes to ship goods to Dubai, Kuwait, Jeddah and Haifa and rail them across to Europe down the Orient Express route, or ship them further to Cairo, Alexandria and Tripoli.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Smooth as silk? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/16/rail-crosses-on-silk-road.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/16/rail-crosses-on-silk-road.html Sat Sep 16 11:14:10 IST 2023 no-woman-no-southerner <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/09/no-woman-no-southerner.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/9/11-No-woman-no-southerner-new.jpg" /> <p>Are we voting too often? The government thinks so. It has asked a committee of wise men headed by former president Ram Nath Kovind “to examine the issue of simultaneous elections and make recommendations...”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We started the democratic process in 1952 with simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and to the assemblies. The cycle got broken after 1967, says the law ministry resolution appointing the committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wrong. The pattern had got upset in 1959 when Kerala’s 1957-elected assembly was dismissed mid-term, and polls ordered. By the end 1960s, as new states took birth, as governments lost majority, as more assemblies got dissolved before time, the pattern got disrupted. In 1971, the Lok Sabha was dissolved before time; in 1976, it got an (Emergency) extension. In the chaotic late 1980s and the 1990s, legislative life expectancy got so low that president R. Venkataraman mooted ideas such as security of tenure for legislatures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then several statesmen—L.K. Advani, A.B. Vajpayee, B.S. Shekhawat to name a few—and several commissions and committees have talked about it, but found no consensus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s make one thing clear. Nobody is complaining of too many polls, but of too frequent polls. The pro-changers say we are wasting administrative time, political energy and economic resources by being constantly in a poll mode. Every year we have a round or more of polls to one or more legislatures. The PM and ministers get distracted, the model code freezes development governance for two months, the police and the paramilitary get burdened, illegal money corrupts the polity and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at the Yanks. They vote always on the second Tuesday of every leap year November, come hell, highwater, World War or bin Laden; inaugurate the new president on the next January 20; and let him rule or ruin them for the next four years. No questions asked, no confidence motions moved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If we can't do it like the Yanks, why can't we copy the Brits? In 2011, the British legislated that every motion of no-confidence in a PM and his regime has to be paired with another motion of confidence in a new guy and a new regime. Thus, the legislature gets to complete its term, even if the governments don't, and thus avoids mid-term polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The status-quoists have more fundamental counters. Tailoring the terms of assemblies to suit the central legislatures goes against the fundamental principle of federalism. Democracy is not a commodity to be valued in monetary terms. Elections are not a necessary evil, but an essential good by which deprived classes get politically empowered. After all, it was during the chaotic late 1980s and the 1990s that the backwards and the dalits of north India got politically empowered and assertive. Elections are part of the social <i>amritmanthan</i> for obtaining the nectar of social and political good.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Narendra Modi told an interviewer that we are “trapped in a cycle of elections”. In his 2017 Republic Day-eve address president Pranab Mukherjee said, “The time is ripe for a constructive debate.” Successor Kovind told the joint session of the houses in 2018 that, “A sustained debate is required on the subject.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No debate has taken place since, but the government has made up its mind. The Kovind team’s job is not to find out if same-time polls are desirable or not, but how to hold them. Let the wise men find out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two questions linger. One, why no wise woman in the committee? Half the voters are women. Two, why no one from the south? Nearly half the voters are in the south where the poll cycle got broken first.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/09/no-woman-no-southerner.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/09/no-woman-no-southerner.html Sat Sep 09 11:04:50 IST 2023 missing-a-dalit-messiah <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/02/missing-a-dalit-messiah.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/9/2/17-Missing-a-dalit-messiah-new.jpg" /> <p>Thrown out of a first-class train coach by a white man despite possessing a ticket, Mohandas Gandhi resolved to fight the notions of racial supremacy that were prevailing across the globe. The ordinary attorney’s struggle metamorphosed into history’s most remarkable civil and political struggle that would culminate in the end of the mightiest empire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rosa Parks refused to leave her seat for white passengers on an Alabama bus. Her prosecution for disobedience of the American state’s segregation laws kindled a landmark litigation and a non-violent movement led by Martin Luther King that led to the establishment of civil rights in the world’s mightiest nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Attorney Gandhi and seamstress Parks were shamed because of their skin colour that revealed their birth in a particular race. Both fought back in their own ways and prevailed against the mightiest empire and the mightiest nation, even when the racial numbers weren’t favouring them. The coloureds in South Africa and the blacks in America didn’t constitute even a tenth of those nations’ populations then, yet they triumphed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so in India, inhabited by Gandhi’s own browns, where a learned and wise dalit gave us the most civilised constitution so that we would rule ourselves fairly and justly. Racism manifests in Ambedkar’s India in its most barbarian form that would make the face of an Attila cringe. Forget being thrown out of trains or buses, many dalits continue to be refused water from community wells, denied entry into shrines, made to dismount from bridal horses, made to lick boots, spat upon and peed upon, the last being the newest pastime with quite a few incidents being reported lately. A dalit was bashed up and peed on by an upper caste politico’s son in Madhya Pradesh a few weeks ago. Dalit boys were hung from trees with their hands and legs tied together in Maharashtra last week. A starving tribal youth was lynched to death in fully literate Kerala a couple of years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every time an incident is reported, politicians and keypad activists in the world’s largest democracy get outraged on X, WhatsApp and what else is up. A few may move courts and tribunals where the matter would get tied up in SC-ST atrocities act, human rights laws, criminal procedure code, evidence act, penal code and soon in <i>nyay sanhitas</i>. By the time the courts and tribunals decide on the matter invoking the codes and <i>sanhitas</i>, much water would have flowed down the Ganga, the Cauvery, the Mahanadi and the Narmada carrying the ashes of many of the culprits, victims and witnesses. Law, like our rivers, takes its own slow course.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dalit consciousness in India is more vibrant today than ever before. There are fine writers, artists and dalit thinkers working up a vibrant intellectual culture, but dalit politics seems to have ended. The last hurrah was heard from Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, but her roar is no more terrifying politically than a tame meow these days. By simple inaction, she is losing her political mass, and her politics is gathering dynastic moss, as had happened to several Mandal parties. Last heard, she is busy seeking a successor to her subaltern throne, and is said to have zeroed in on her nephew.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The few young firebrands like Chandrasekhar Azad seem to have burnt down themselves like comets. At best, they roam around as lone rangers, unable to mobilise the masses or launch mass movements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There may not be another Gandhi, Luther King or Ambedkar. But can we have at least another Jagjivan Ram, Kanshi Ram, or at least a Ram Vilas Paswan?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/02/missing-a-dalit-messiah.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/09/02/missing-a-dalit-messiah.html Sat Sep 02 11:02:04 IST 2023 team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/26/team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/26/11-Team-Kharge-new.jpg" /> <p>Remember how Hillary Clinton became US secretary of state? She challenged Barack Obama’s bid for the Democratic ticket in the 2008 presidential poll, and lost. But when he became president, Obama chose her to be his secretary of state. That’s grace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mallikarjun Kharge has shown similar grace. Shashi Tharoor had put up a passionate and principled challenge against his bid for the Congress presidency earlier this year. Tharoor failed, but Kharge has now inducted the younger challenger into his core team, the working committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s good politics too, to have your critics inside your camp rather than outside. Good old Lyndon Johnson explained the rationale a bit crudely when asked why he was keeping troublesome fellows like Edgar Hoover, his notorious FBI chief who had a dossier on everyone, in his team: “I’d much rather have that fellow inside my tent pissing out than outside my tent pissing in”. That’s common sense, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is lesson in the Tharoor episode for the younger ones too in the Congress―that you can rise in stature by challenging the authority rather than by acquiescing to authority. Another who did so and has prevailed is Sachin. The young Pilot had been playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship, but has finally got more than his due by getting inducted into the working committee. Sachin apparently inherited the challenger trait from his father, Rajesh Pilot, who had run against Sitaram Kesri for party presidency in 1997 and lost, yet survived and prevailed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge has been as graceful as possible. He has found room for almost every group and section in his team―forwards and backwards, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, majority and minorities, loyalists and dissidents, men and women, elders and youth―much like how Noah picked passengers for his ark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, by trying to be even-handed, hasn’t Kharge overlooked one factor―the electoral ballast that each one carries? The core team―minus the invitees―is packed with Delhi leaders, starting with three from the same exalted family. No harm! The Congress can’t do without the family. But what about the rest, starting from Abhishek Singhvi, Ambika Soni and Anand Sharma till the grand old Manmohan Singh? Indeed, most are wise men worth more than their weight in votes, yet many of them lack the earthy touch of dusty politics. Most of them are drawing-room busybodies of Lutyens’s Delhi, save for an odd Gaikhangam Gangmei, Tamradhwaj Sahu, Gourav Gogoi, Charanjit Singh Channi or Lalthanhawla. Even they, despite their roots in their political earth, can hardly be called titans in their turfs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that the Congress has no titans. The party has native netas like Bhupinder Hooda, Siddaramaiah, D.K. Shivakumar, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, but they had to be kept out because of the one-man one-post rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Team Modi presents a picture in contrast. Once lorded over by capital creatures like A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, the BJP has over the years packed its top rungs with regional leaders. Take their 10-member parliamentary board headed by J.P. Nadda who still has his roots spread on the Himachal hills. The list starts downwards from Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, both still strongmen in Gujarat, to men like Rajnath Singh, Satyanarayan Jatiya and B.S. Yediyurappa, all drawing their political sustenance through their roots in one region or another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has brains; it badly needs some brawn now, so that it does not meet the CPI’s fate―a party with fine leaders but few followers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/26/team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/26/team-kharge-more-brains-less-brawn.html Sat Aug 26 11:20:28 IST 2023 macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/19/macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/19/16-Agonies-over-Macaulay-new.jpg" /> <p>Thomas Babington Macaulay was endowed with an encyclopaedic memory—could recite Paradise Lost and Pilgrim’s Progress eyes closed; recalled 40 years later the entire lines of two poems penned by a country versifier that he had read at the age of 13 in a weekly paper on way to school. As a child he was precocious, and had a hunger for books and words. Once a servant spilled hot coffee on his legs; when the hostess asked him a while later how he was feeling, the four-year-old replied, “Thank you, madam; the agony is abated.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone would agree that the longest-lasting legacies of British rule in India, good, bad or ugly, have been two Ls—the law and the language. Both were legated by this man who had an elephantine memory, a liberal mind (he, father Zachary, and uncle Colin, who had played a key role in defeating Tipu and was resident in Travancore, were all passionate campaigners against slavery in the colonies), but a mulish contempt for oriental scholarship as his infamous Minute on Indian Education would show. Ironically, a social media post doing the rounds in India portray him as a grudging Indophile! That much of our WhatsApp scholars.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everyone would also agree that one of his 2 Ls has become obsolete. Now Amit Shah has come with three sets of laws that seek to replace Macaulay’s Penal Code, as also the obsolete Criminal Code and the Evidence Act. The new laws, assures Shah, should abate our legal agonies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No quarrel. Some of us may disagree with a clause here, a section there, or a provision elsewhere in Shah’s laws. Those are matters of detail which we can discuss in the next few weeks in seminars, TV studios, and media columns. The bills are now with a standing committee of Parliament, where a few members from both houses will agonise over every section, subsection, clause, comma, colon, and semicolon, and will come out with suggestions. The houses will draw points from these discussions, and will debate, dissect, delete, dump or pass the laws when they meet in winter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law-making is an agonising task. More so when the laws that are being made are not plain acts, but entire codes that can decide whether a man goes to embrace the gallows or his girl. Therefore, Speaker Sir and Chairman Sir, allow the houses ample time to debate. Laws made in haste will be regretted in leisure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What about the other L? That’s where M.K. Stalin and many more have raised a point. Why are the laws titled only in one language? Why not in English too, as all other bills have been? Stalin thinks Shah is imposing Hindi, but Shah says the titles are not Hindi. The words are Sanskrit, but then Sanskrit has no higher status than Santhali or Sindhi, Telugu or Tamil, or any of the 22 languages listed in Schedule 8.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike what many believe, and even a Supreme Court order nearly misled us recently, Hindi is not ‘the national language’ of India. It is “the official language of the Union”, but the Constitution says that English too shall remain in use alongside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And like it or not, English remains the language of the law, whether the law is Macaulay’s or Amit Shah’s. Article 348 says, “the authoritative texts” of all bills and amendments moved in either house of Parliament or state legislatures, of all acts passed by them, and of all ordinances promulgated by the president or the governors, shall be English.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hon’ble Members, please bear this in mind while you debate, discuss and dissect the laws. We agonised over the language in the 1960s. Let’s not throw our beloved India that is Bharat into another bout of linguistic agony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/19/macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/19/macaulay-penal-code-or-amit-shah-sanskrit.html Sun Aug 20 13:37:18 IST 2023 the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/12/the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/12/16-The-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords-new.jpg" /> <p>Who can forget Alec Guinness as Colonel John Nicholson in <i>The Bridge on the River Kwai,</i> going around with a twisted twig in his hand as if it were a cane of command? We see him swinging it with a swagger, using it as a pointer, holding it in his right hand and tapping its other end on his open left palm with a “well, gent’men!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was the thespian at his best. That jungle stick turned into a baton of authority in his hand, rendering an officer-like dignity to the miserable character that he was playing—a tortured but proud British colonel in a Japanese PoW camp. I believe, and I know many in the armed forces would agree, that Nicholson and his fellow-PoWs wouldn’t have got that bridge completed but for that twisted twig that he carried as an officer’s cane.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s what a stick, a cane, or a baton, does to an officer. As old drill sergeants in the military academy are said to have told young cadets who were being primed to receive their commission, “the cane in your hand is not for knocking off flowers on the walkways, nor for poking at comely maidens; it is to be carried in your hand so that you bear yourselves like gentlemen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mao Zedong said, power flows from the barrel of a gun. Maybe so in old ragtag revolutionary armies like China’s. In civilised militaries like India’s, power flows from the end of a commanding officer’s baton.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly, in the name of decolonisation, we are decaning our officers these days. Through an office circular two weeks ago, the Navy ordered that batons be dispensed with, since “the symbolism of power or authority portrayed through the holding of the baton is a colonial legacy.” It may be kept in the office and ceremonially handed over to one’s successor, but not be shown outside or swaggered with!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pray, my sea lords! Since when has a baton become colonial, and come to be carried as a cross of shame? Well, in that case everything in the services, right from your peaked cap to the spit-shine shoe, is colonial—the medals, the accoutrements, the brass buttons, the battle honours, the shoulder badges, the rank insignia, the cummerbands, the epaulettes, the gorget patches, the leather belts, the lanyards, the double-breasts and ties, and even the rank terms like ‘commodore’ and ‘captain’ are colonial. Scrap them all? Very well, sirs, start with ‘admiral’; the term came into English and other European tongues from the Arabic ‘amir’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Commanding officers have always carried batons, canes, swagger sticks or riding crops in their hands while visiting the lines, inspecting barracks, giving briefings, pointing to maps, or for calling out backbenchers, “hey, you, lieutenant!” Remember how George Scott swaggered into the troops’ barracks in Patton, and tore down a girlie picture from a trooper’s bedside wall with a swish of his riding crop? The effect wouldn’t have been half as stylish if he were to use his hands, gloved or bare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Military lore has it that legendary commanders of yore had even used their long tobacco pipes for the same swagger effect. Cut the reels; let’s get real. Korean war accounts say Doug MacArthur poked on the map of Korea with his corn-cob pipe to show his staff officers as to where he would make his surprise landing. That landing at Inchon, made along with an afternoon tide in September 1950, would turn out to be the world’s greatest amphibious landing after Normandy. Try making a masterstroke like that after briefing your officers with your bare hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember, gentlemen! The Kwai story turned into a tragedy after the proud colonel lost his cane!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/12/the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/12/the-sceptre-of-the-sea-lords.html Sat Aug 12 11:04:08 IST 2023 countdown-to-the-finest-hours <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/04/countdown-to-the-finest-hours.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/8/4/12-Countdown-to-the-finest-hours-new.jpg" /> <p>Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, said Alexander Pope. It looks like INDIAns are doing that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t mean the billion and more who inhabit the landmass of India that is Bharat, but those who have rallied under the acronymic banner of INDIA to take on Narendra Modi. Hardly had they come together and put up their banner when they delivered their first volley: a no-confidence motion on the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A no-confidence motion is the brahmastra in the opposition’s parliamentary armoury. It can be moved only with the support of 50 members of the lower house. Once defeated, the next motion can be moved only after six months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No-trust motions have been dreaded by rulers ever since the British parliament voted in 1782 that it could “no longer repose confidence in the present ministers” led by Lord North who had lost the war of American independence. (We know that war too well, don’t we? The loser in the field, Lord Cornwallis, came to India and saved his face by defeating Tipu and taking his sons hostage.) Though it didn’t set a convention immediately, the fall of North’s government after the motion was carried has been cited as the first precedent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A no-trust motion brings out the best in Parliament. Even when they know the outcome of the vote, both sides field their best debaters who come after painstaking research over the successes and failures of the government, its policies and conduct. The speeches acquire a certain level rarely witnessed in the humdrum debates of every day. Even a coarse debater would appear to have acquired a certain diction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So it will be in the Lok Sabha next week. Other things remaining equal and Om Birla remaining even-handed, the house will debate the motion for three days. Given the numbers on either side, the outcome of the vote is predictable. The government has 331 MPs plus or minus a few, against the opposition’s 144 assured votes, not counting the neutrals. That’s no match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why then is the opposition rushing in with the motion if it is all going to be sound and fury that would end in nothing? Simple. They feel that unlike Jawaharlal Nehru or any of his successors, Modi has been keeping away from Parliament as far as possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like in England, the first motion in India too was moved after defeat in a war. The opposition moved one against Nehru’s government after the humiliating defeat at the hands of China. The motion was defeated, but Nehru loved it. “Personally, I have welcomed this motion and this debate. I have felt that it would be a good thing if we were to have periodical tests of this kind.” Nehru loved being in Parliament, and every moment of the pandemonious life there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the whole country and the house have been agitated over the two-month-long murder and mayhem in Manipur, yet the PM has avoided speaking about those. The only statement he made was before the media, minutes before the monsoon session of the houses was to commence. The oppositon treats it as an affront to Parliament—that the ruler of the country, who can talk about everything under the sun and above the Balakot clouds, has avoided talking about mayhem in a border state. They want to draw out the ruler of India and remind him that he is answerable to the elected representatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With good reason. The northeast where a hundred tribes remain restless is not just another region. It is the eastern gate of India. It was with the help of these restless tribes that the last attempt to conquer India was beaten back. Remember the gravestones of Kohima and Imphal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/04/countdown-to-the-finest-hours.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/08/04/countdown-to-the-finest-hours.html Fri Aug 04 15:07:06 IST 2023 mystery-of-the-red-diary <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/29/mystery-of-the-red-diary.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/29/11-Rajendra-Singh-Gudha-new.jpg" /> <p>The 1978 Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Don had an edge-of-the-seat stunt scene set in a Christian cemetery, where the villains try to snatch a red diary from the hero. The diary, we are told, contains the names of all the baddies inhabiting Mumbai’s underworld. The fight ends with the baddies throwing the diary into a burning car. (If they had shot in a <i>shamshangarh</i>, they wouldn’t have had to burn a car.) Bachchan then delivers the knockout line—that the diary that is burning is a nakli; the asli one, also red, is safe with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajasthan assembly had an equally exciting red-diary scene last Monday. Its hero Rajendra Singh Gudha, dropped two days earlier from Ashok Gehlot’s cabinet, produced a diary of the same colour as Don Bachchan’s, and claimed it contained damning data about the crimes of his CM. The CM’s loyalists tore it from his hands, but Gudha claims to have a fairly good part of it still with him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gudha says he had sneaked into the house of party colleague Dharmendra Rathore in the middle of a tax raid in 2020, and had slipped out with the diary to save the CM from infamy. That is much in Bachchan style—sneaking into a building that is swarming with armed guards, and leap-frogging from floor to floor with a diary tucked into his trouser waist!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Diaries in the olden days were about chronicling history. Samuel Pepys’s diaries chronicled the plague and the Great Fire of London, as also his own sexcapades. Then there were the gripping diaries of that pristinely pure kid Anne Frank who lived in an attic in Nazi-conquered Amsterdam. In India we had Anandaranga Pillai of Puducherry, the 18th century <i>dubashi</i> (interpreter) who chronicled his days under Francois Dupleix.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These days, diaries are about secrets rather than chronicles. But what fogs me is why all mystery diaries are red. Gudha talks about a red diary, and flashes one in the assembly. Last month the police seized three red diaries from the Haryana home of BJP leader and actor Sonali Phogat whose death in Goa remains a crime mystery. Last September, the anti-corruption bureau found an incriminating red diary from the home of an associate of Delhi’s AAP MLA Amanatulla Khan who was being probed in a waqf board scam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vanished diary of Sudipto Sen, the main accused in West Bengal’s Saradha scam, was said to have been red. The diary of Italy’s mafia-hunter Paolo Borsellino that went missing after his death in a 1992 bomb attack was red. I would bet all my Swedish kronor and hawala money (if I had any of either) to claim that several of those unseen diaries that have mystified us from news reports over the last few decades were red—Bofors boss Martin Ardbo’s diaries that carried the names of his kickback payees, the Jain hawala diaries that nearly ruined the careers of a whole generation of politicians from L.K. Advani to Sharad Yadav, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one knows what is there in the Gudha diary—the snatched part or the retrieved part. That is much like Julius Caesar’s will, which the wily Mark Antony flashed before the mob, but not revealing its full content. No one knows whether that was actually Caesar’s will or something as worthless as toilet paper. The same with the Gudha diary. Show it, sir, if you have it and if it contains what you claim it does. Shut up, sir, if you don’t have it. With elections round the corner, we have better political thrillers to watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The million-rupee question is: why did Gudha bring the diary into the assembly? Had you or I been in his shoes, we would have kept the original in a bank locker and brought a photocopy. Right?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/29/mystery-of-the-red-diary.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/29/mystery-of-the-red-diary.html Sat Jul 29 11:33:24 IST 2023 made-in-india-dilemma <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/21/made-in-india-dilemma.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/21/10-Made-in-INDIA-dilemma-new.jpg" /> <p>In his secret July 1971 meeting with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger made the Chinese premier choose a Friday to announce Richard Nixon’s forthcoming China visit. Zhou suspected some yankee superstition, but Kissinger said he wanted to give US newsweeklies, which were printed on Friday night, time to cover the news in detail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of it, two of the world’s most powerful men had magazine deadlines in mind while scheduling the Cold War era’s most epoch-making announcement! My tribe of scribes, working in newsweeklies, would give our right arms for such indulgence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politicos these days are far less indulgent. Time was when they fixed even routine press meets in a way that theirs didn’t clash with others’. Now? They hardly bother. Look at how the BJP and the opposition put us in a spot last Tuesday. They held two of this year’s most crucial conclaves on the same day, some 2,000 miles apart. Newspaper and channel editors had a tough time deciding how to cover the NDA’s Delhi durbar and the opposition’s Bengaluru jamboree, giving deserving time, space and bytes to both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Blame the BJP this time. Mallikarjun Kharge and co had announced their Bengaluru jamboree long ago, and J.P. Nadda and his men had been calling it a conclave of the corrupt. The latter had even boasted that their one Narendra Modi was enough to take on all the Kharges, Pawars, Thackerays, Banerjees, Stalins, Yechurys and others singly or collectively. Then Nadda caught us off guard, calling a Delhi durbar of allies and potential allies on the same day, spoiling our day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharge says Modi’s men called the conclave because they had lost their nerve, and needed allies. Partly true. Since its massive 2019 win, the BJP has been treating allies as liabilities. Why not? The party was getting bills passed, its leader has been getting more fans and followers and also riding high on the world stage. It looked he was poised to get more votes than ever before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the party has also been losing allies like the Shiv Sena (UBT), Akali Dal and Janata Dal (U). It hasn’t won many in their place except a faction each of two Maharashtra parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In elections, allies are as much assets as they are liabilities. Even the ones who can’t win a seat on their own may still command a few thousand caste or community votes that would have given the winning edge to the BJP’s candidate in the last poll. Now that polls are round the corner, the BJP needs them to make the winning difference again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s leave Nadda to sort out his issues. Look at what the opposition has done. Taking a leaf out of Modi’s book of acronyms, they named themselves INDIA—Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. Imagine what happens if the alliance loses the next Maharashtra election. We in the media, poor drudges, would have to give headlines as “INDIA loses Maharashtra”. God help us from such patriots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala’s Gandhiji experience should have guided these INDIANs. In a fit of adulation for the father of the nation, the state set up a Gandhiji University in 1983. Soon Malayalis woke up to read headlines as, “Inter-university football: Gandhiji beaten by three goals” and “Gandhiji loses the trophy”. Soon wiser counsel prevailed and the varsity was renamed MG. Nobody bothers if MG loses a match by three or thirty goals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The acronym also suffers from a bad order of adjectives. There are thumb rules in English regarding placing of adjectives in a row. The proper order would have been ‘inclusive developmental,’ not the other way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We don’t say ‘old good daddy’, do we? We say ‘good old daddy’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/21/made-in-india-dilemma.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/21/made-in-india-dilemma.html Fri Jul 21 15:24:13 IST 2023 a-capital-crisis-in-kerala <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/15/a-capital-crisis-in-kerala.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/15/6-A-capital-crisis-in-Kerala-new.jpg" /> <p>Capital comes from the Latin capitalis, which means ‘head’. The head ought to be on top of the body. But look at the map of Kerala. The head, the state’s capital, is where the foot ought to be. No wonder, Malayalis—that includes this columnist—are at loggerheads with most other Indians on most issues. They still vote the left, and tuck their dhotis to the right. Even the Tamils, their first cousins across the ghats, do neither.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hibi Eden, the Congress MP from Ernakulam, thought he could try make a change. Not a change of the Malayali heart which still beats for Castro and bleeds for Cuba, but a change of their political head. He has given notice for moving a bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to shift the state’s capital from Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kochi, which falls within his constituency in central Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Capital idea!—most non-Malayalis would say. For four reasons. One, Kochi is better air-linked to the rest of the world. Two, Kochi is better road- and rail-linked to the rest of Kerala and to all its god’s own and god-forsaken places. Three, Kochi offers more business. Four, Kochi yields easily to any non-Malayali tongue, unlike Thiruvananthapuram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, three quarters of a century after the British left, and three decades after the Englishman’s Trivandrum became our Thiruvananthapuram again, most Indians find the place name as unpronounceable as floccinaucinihilipilification or quomodocunquize. Don’t know what those two words mean, or how to pronounce them? Ask Thiruvananthapuram’s own MP who gets votes with his vocabulary videos that have been going viral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the Eden idea has sent his party into a tizzy. Worried that it would cost them votes in Thiruvananthapuram where the Vamanas from the north have been seeking to get a foothold and send Kerala’s socialistic asuras into the netherworld, his party bosses have come down on Eden like a tonne of coconuts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What do Malayalis in Kerala’s Clapham Common think of Eden’s idea? Most have dismissed it as Tughlaqian. (Sad, we laugh at Muhammad bin for his disastrous Delhi-to-Daulatabad capital shift, but forget that the illustrious Akbar built a dream city in Fatehpur Sikri and abandoned it after 15 years finding it didn’t have enough water.) Malayalis would rather let things remain as they are—political power and all its paraphernalia with Thiruvananthapuram, leaving Kochi to mind its business, literally. Kochi is already bursting at its seams, and the people of the city wouldn’t want another 140 MLAs and ministers, hundreds of babus, and thousands of hangers-on coming in to claim their few houses, hostels, narrow roads and shrinking parking spaces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, they know that Eden’s is only a private member bill. Though all MPs are law-makers and any MP can move a bill, laws are actually made from bills introduced by governments. (Not so in the American system where the government is not part of the legislature. All bills in the US Congress are presented by private members.) Private member bills in the Westminster system are those which have been introduced by members—ruling or opposition—other than ministers. In India they are gracefully taken up for discussion on Fridays, and usually withdrawn over assurances from the government that the principle and purpose contained in them have been noted. Hundreds of such private member bills have been presented in the two houses of Parliament since 1952, but only 14 have finally been made into laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What capital assurance is Eden seeking from the regime?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/15/a-capital-crisis-in-kerala.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/15/a-capital-crisis-in-kerala.html Sat Jul 15 14:55:53 IST 2023 early-election-to-lok-sabha <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/08/early-election-to-lok-sabha.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/8/10-Early-election-to-Lok-Sabha-new.jpg" /> <p>Narendra Modi had been a votary of same-time polls to the Lok Sabha and the assemblies. Seven summers ago he said, we are “trapped in a cycle of elections” and that it was time to go for simultaneous polls. True to style, he called it “one India, one election”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you want it done statutorily, it would call for a few Constitution amendments. For starters, however, Modi can try with a few of the states through practical politics. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram have to go to the assembly polls this winter. Why not call a snap Lok Sabha poll too, which is due in summer, along with them? Many in the BJP, and some in the opposition, believe Modi might do it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But why? Wouldn’t he want to equal Manmohan Singh’s record on the hot seat?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He would, but political pragmatism may compel otherwise. The going over the last nine years has been that voters in most states want Modi at the Centre, but many may choose non-BJP regimes in some of the state capitals. Why not avoid the scenario by reworking the electoral dynamics?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi would be riding high on the G20 glory as a global statesman this autumn. If the voters are to choose their MPs and MLAs together in winter, the Modi magic might work on both. They would very likely press the lotus button on both the voting machines. Then why wait for the summer, by which time cares of governance would have dimmed the shine?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is more. The opposition, with all their conclaves in Patna and elsewhere, are still in disarray. Strike now, before they regroup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you thought all these have got the opposition worried, you are wrong. They are the least bothered. The AAP and the Congress are busy with their own little feuds; Sharad Pawar is counting the losses he suffered in last Sunday’s castle coup; K. Chandrashekar Rao is on a Bharat Rashtra <i>paryatan</i> on his own; the rest are going around like headless chicken.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only Nitish Kumar is worried. The guy, who is trying to be another Lok Nayak from Bihar seeking to weld an opposition alliance, said a few days before the Patna conclave: &quot;It is not necessary that Lok Sabha elections will be held next year only. It is possible that it may be held before time, that is, this year itself.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early polls have worked for incumbents, and also backfired. Indira Gandhi went for a mid-term test crying “garibi hatao” in 1971 and reaped a never-before majority. A.B. Vajpayee sought an early mandate in 2004 claiming India was shining, and lost incredibly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statutory case for simultaneous polls has administrative merit, but little political merit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First about the plus side. We are wasting governing time, political energy and economic resources by being constantly in a poll mode. Every year we have a round or more of polls to one or more legislatures. The PM and ministers get distracted, the model code freezes development governance for two months, the police and the paramilitary get burdened, illegal money corrupts the polity and so on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the minus side, that is political. Tailoring the terms of assemblies to suit the central legislature's is fundamentally un-federal. Democracy is not a commodity to be valued in monetary terms. Elections are not a necessary evil, but an essential good by which the deprived classes get politically empowered. Elections are part of the social <i>amritmanthan</i> for obtaining the nectar of social and political good. We have to have more of them, not less.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Your choice?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/08/early-election-to-lok-sabha.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/08/early-election-to-lok-sabha.html Sat Jul 08 15:32:45 IST 2023 killers-opera-ends-in-farce <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/01/killers-opera-ends-in-farce.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/7/1/14-Fighters-of-Wagner-private-mercenary-new.jpg" /> <p>Russia witnessed a Wagner’s opera last week. Richard Wagner, if you don’t know, was a German composer whose musical dramas were noted for their massive scale and intense emotions. The owner-commander of the private army that threatened to march on Moscow is said to have named his band Wagner Army after his radio call sign during his service in the Chechen war. Luckily for Russia, Europe and the world, what would have been a tragedy ended up as a farce, thanks to Belarus supremo Aleksander Lukashenko.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Russia and Belarus are like Hanuman and Jambavan. Hanuman was cursed by Rishi Trnabindu to forget his strength till someone reminded him. Jambavan performed this role with a pep talk when Hanuman was hesitating to leap to Lanka across the sea. This columnist wrote so a quarter century ago, when Lukashenko was urging Boris Yeltsin to stop being meek before the west and show Russia’s strategic heft. The mythological metaphor earned me a vodka drink with Belarus’s first ambassador to India Vladimir Sakalousky, who patiently listened to my drunken drivel disguised as puranic punditry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at how those morale-booster doses from Belarus have worked on Russia. Russia is now on a rampage in Europe, much like Hanuman in Lanka with his tail afire.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do we have lessons from the farce of force that was staged in Europe? We don’t have private armies today, but had quite a few during the Mughal decline in the 18th century, raised by fortune-hunting freebooters like Walter Reinhardt, his more famous wife Begum Samru, James Skinner, Paolo Avitabile, Benoît de Boigne and more. They roamed across Hindustan like the Pindaris, renting out their battalions to the feuding native princes. Some of them carved out little kingdoms and reigned over them, as did Irishman Raja George Thomas in Hansi, Haryana. With the rise of the British as the paramount power in India, the mercenaries lost their relevance and withered away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well-armed groups rose similarly in some of the ex-Soviet republics after the break-up of the USSR, when the rule of law broke down in many of them. Oil, banking, mining, manufacturing and transport tycoons began hiring armed private guards to protect their assets from jobless brigands that roamed the hinterland. Some of them gradually grew into private armies, armed with even cannons and tanks, with backhand support from the state, as the Wagner wild bunch did under Vladimir Putin’s patronage. Putin is said to have been using them to get done those dirty jobs that decent armies are loath to do, or Geneva conventions prohibit them from doing—killing civilians, torturing captives, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where do they get their troops? Easy. Russia has a huge number of ex-troopers who have served their draft term, got demobbed in the prime of their youth, and found themselves jobless. Most of them know only one skill—that is to kill—and end up enrolling in private armies. Four months ago, Putin announced a scheme to upskill and absorb them in arms factories where he needs more hands to cast more guns for the war in Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That should be cause for concern for us. Our Agnipath scheme too will churn out thousands in their prime of youth into the civil street. Luckily, our government is making provisions to skill them in non-kill trades, keeping jobs for them in the police and para-military, getting arms factories and PSUs to absorb them, and is promising them hefty severance purses with which they can open small businesses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the Wagner warning should act as a wake-up call, in case anyone in the government is sleeping over these promises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/01/killers-opera-ends-in-farce.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/07/01/killers-opera-ends-in-farce.html Sat Jul 01 18:30:56 IST 2023 a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/24/a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/6/24/9-A-seat-in-the-south-for-Modi-new.jpg" /> <p>Is the BJP going south? A hackneyed news headline, you’d say. All of us in the print and visual media, and our wayward younger brothers on the social media, have been headlining so for the past nine years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apologies! I didn’t mean the line literally, but figuratively. ‘Going south’ also means ‘being on the decline’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before brigades of bhakts pounce on me, allow me a bit of linguistic indulgence. No one is sure of how the usage began. A few tongue-tracers say, it started from some Red Indian mumbo-jumbo by which ‘going south’ meant facing death or misfortune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why Red Indians? We brown Indians, too, have similar beliefs about the <i>dakshina disha in lakshana sastras.</i> In Agastya’s Ramayan, when Khara asks Shurpanakha as to what had happened to the 14 demons whom he had sent to slay Ram and Lakshman, she says the brothers had packed them off to the south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My hunch about the idiom is more prosaic, and many linguists would agree—that it had its origins in the modern world of cartography and corporate governance. Since the south is shown at the bottom in maps, and since profit charts were hung like maps in boardrooms, falling fortunes came to be described as going south.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s leave linguistics, <i>lakshana sastras</i>, cartography and corporate affairs; let’s talk politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP is going strong in the north, the northeast, and the west, but its leaders feel the party had peaked in these regions long ago. All the seats that are available and possible are already in the bag, save perhaps a few in the east. So, if the party doesn’t go southward literally and geographically, it may go southward figuratively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But where in the south? Much of the marches stretching from the Vindhyas till the shrine of the Virgin Goddess at land’s end is virgin territory for the BJP. Indeed it has 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats from Karnataka and four of the 17 from Telangana, but the recent assembly polls have hinted that those can’t be taken for granted. The rest of the south, where Stalin, Jagan and Vijayan are ruling the roost, is to the BJP what Mount Rishyamooka was to Vali—forbidden territory. No curse from any <i>rishi</i>, but there seems to be a bad spell that the party has to break.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has been trying to break the spell with Gangajal—stressing on the cultural and political motifs that point to civilisational links and shared heritage. Thus we saw a month-long Kashi-Tamil Sangamam last November in Narendra Modi’s own Varanasi, followed by a Saurashtra-Tamil Sangamam, then a Kashi-Telugu Sangamam, and finally a re-enactment of the sceptre ritual of 1947 as a state ceremony of 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even those don’t seem to be enough. The latest thinking is said to be to field Modi, the party’s champion vote-catcher, somewhere in the south. But where?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bets are on three seats—Ramanathapuram and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. All three have the right religio-cultural elements for a Modi to work his electoral magic. Ramanathapuram hosts one of the 12 jyotirlingas at Rameswaram, and overlooks the fabled Ram Setu. The Kanyakumari seat is at Bharat Mata’s feet, where the Virgin Goddess is enshrined guarding the southern frontiers of Bharat Varsha, and is sanctified with a rock where another Narendra performed a <i>tapasya</i> for India’s redemption. Thiruvananthapuram hosts the great Vishnu shrine, whose untouched riches speak of a line of selfless rulers who ruled as servants of the divine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Think of the spell of electoral eloquence that a leader like Modi can cast all around the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/24/a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/24/a-seat-in-the-south-for-modi.html Sat Jun 24 11:02:58 IST 2023 confess-mr-attorney <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/16/confess-mr-attorney.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/6/16/11-Confess-Mr-Attorney-new.jpg" /> <p>You may lie to your spouse but, as an old adage goes, not to your doctor or lawyer. The doc has to know how many cigarettes you smoke, and how many drinks you down so that he can repair your blackened lungs and bloated liver. Your lawyer needs to know if you had actually poisoned your cheating spouse and how, so that he can save you from the gallows by making the whole affair appear to be a case of accidental drug overdose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Riding on the adage is a sacred trust—that, like a pastor at the confessional, both these guys would keep their mouths shut. Even if he knows that his client is the devil himself, the lawyer has to defend the fellow as if he is an angel from heaven who has lost his way. And there is no law—god’s or man’s—that compels a lawyer to state the truth that his client had confided in him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was this trust that made Donald Trump, indeed a devil, share with his lawyers his criminal act of stealing state secrets when he was leaving the White House two winters ago. But now it appears, some of those attorneys may be telling on him. A judge has ordered them to.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Horror of horrors! Isn’t it a breach of trust—a privilege that has been sanctified by law? Indeed, client-attorney privilege has been sanctified under common law, which most of us in the English-speaking world follow. We have it protected in Section 126 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. As John M. Barkett, a prolific American law-writer says, “The attorney-client privilege is a crown jewel of the legal profession.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How then can a judge ask an attorney to spill his client’s beans? Let’s get the facts first, and then the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Trump, defeated in the 2020 presidential polls and beaten in a bid to besiege the Capitol, was leaving the White House, he took several boxes of secret papers, and showed some of those to people who were not supposed to see them. He had a battery of lawyers to assist him in deciding what to take, where and how. When they told him that some of his orders would be illegal, he snapped back that he would deny the charge. In short, the guy knew he was doing wrong, and was asking his lawyers if there was some way in law by which it wouldn’t be illegal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now let’s get the law. In the normal run, there is no way any court, judge or god can compel an attorney to spill any secret told to him by his client, even if the client is Ajmal Kasab, one of the Nirbhaya killers, Trump or the Devil himself. The law does not distinguish between a saint and a scoundrel when it comes to application. If an attorney breaches his client’s trust, the bar lords will tear up his licence to practise and send him home.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there are exceptions. One, there is no way a client can confide in his lawyer his intent to commit a crime. You can’t tell your lawyer that you are planning to poison your spouse and ask him to make it look like a case of accidental drug overdose. There the attorney can simply phone the police and prevent a crime, as the priest tried to in the Amitabh Bachchan starrer <i>Aakhree Raasta</i>, or its original Tamil Kamal Haasan-starrer <i>Oru Kaidhiyin Diary.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Trump’s case, a federal judge has ruled that a couple of his attorneys could be asked to testify since there is sufficient evidence that Trump had intentionally misled them about carting classified stuff away. He had told them that they were not secrets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An appeals court has stayed the order for now, but a final ruling could come any day. If it goes against Trump, take my word, it would give the jitters to lawyers across the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/16/confess-mr-attorney.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/16/confess-mr-attorney.html Sat Jun 17 12:24:04 IST 2023 to-quit-or-not-to-quit <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/10/to-quit-or-not-to-quit.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/6/10/6-To-quit-or-not-to-quit-new.jpg" /> <p>Ever since that little big man Lal Bahadur Shastri quit Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet after a train accident, it has become a fashion to ask for the rail minister’s scalp after every accident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is one of the several morality traps in public life—when a minister is asked to quit owning moral responsibility for something that had happened under his charge, but not directly caused by his action or inaction. This is distinct from legal responsibility wherein the person is liable to be penalised for the event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though some 40 men and women have loco-piloted the rail ministry through more than 250 major and minor accidents, only three have followed the Shastri example—Nitish Kumar in 1999, Mamata Banerjee in 2000, and Suresh Prabhu in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Strangely, the moral pressure is more on rail ministers. Planes have crashed but hardly anyone has asked aviation ministers to quit, though Madhavrao Scindia set an example in 1993 after a wet-leased aircraft crashed in Delhi, killing none.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shastri’s and Scindia’s examples are exceptions. The rule is to stick on and face the odium. Most ministers simply ignore the calls for their scalps, and quietly sit down to right the things that may have gone wrong in their charge. Ashwini Vaishnaw falls in that category. When asked if he would quit, he said his job is to focus on rescue, relief and, one may assume, finding out what had gone wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalu Prasad thought that quitting is cowardly. “People have elected us to take responsibility as ministers, not to run away from it,” he said when he refused to quit as rail minister after an accident in 2005.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalu and Ram Vilas Paswan had the gumption to offer such raw logic. Asked if he would quit, after two express trains collided at Faridabad during his rail reign in 1997, Paswan snapped back: “Do chief ministers resign after car accidents?&quot; It is another matter that the same Paswan had no qualms about asking Nitish to quit after an accident.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, ministerial heads should roll if the accident had been caused by the minister’s administrative lapses. That is perhaps what Scindia thought, since it had been his idea to wet-lease planes from abroad so as to spite striking Indian pilots. But should a minister quit if the accident had been caused by a human error or sabotage? (Vaishnaw seems to suspect the latter.) As Paswan said, “If a driver crashes into another train, it's hardly the minister's fault.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quitting is often the easy way out. It needs only a sheet of paper and a media mike. Life after an offer to quit, accepted or otherwise, is one of adulation. If accepted, you leave with a halo; if asked to stay, you live with a halo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None realised this better than V.P. Singh; he made quitting an art form. He built his entire career over a few sheets of resignation letters, quitting as UP CM after dacoits killed people, as a cabinet minister over Bofors, and offering to quit PM’s job at the drop of a critical word against him. Strangely, as PM he used to send his quit letters to his party president rather than to the Indian president. Needless to say, the former, S.R. Bommai, would simply trash them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The loser in the game is often the one who accepts or rejects the quit offer, as it happened to Nehru in Shastri’s case. Shastri’s first offer to quit was made after an accident in Mahabubnagar. Nehru rejected it, and was criticised for allowing a ‘sinner’ to stay. So when Shastri offered to quit after the Ariyalur accident three months later, Nehru accepted it. Now he was censured for making Shastri a scapegoat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/10/to-quit-or-not-to-quit.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/10/to-quit-or-not-to-quit.html Sun Jun 11 13:32:32 IST 2023 mystery-of-the-affair-of-the-sceptre <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/02/mystery-of-the-affair-of-the-sceptre.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/6/2/10-Mystery-of-the-affair-of-the-sceptre-new.jpg" /> <p>Lefties and libtards are miffed with the sceptre ceremony that marked the opening of the new Parliament House. They should read Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. He wrote in 1983 about how invention of tradition is part of the growth of new nationalisms. We saw it happening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Flashback to August 14, 1947. Shortly after sunset, Jawaharlal Nehru, head of the interim government who would be sworn in as the first PM of free India the next morning, had visitors at his home. Two holy men and a nagaswaram maestro, who had arrived from Thanjavur by train and taxi, wanted to bless Nehru with water from the Cauvery river, sacred ash and a sacred cloth, and gift him a specially made sengol or sceptre. Though an agnostic, Nehru obliged. The ceremony was photographed and forgotten. As the tagline of a 1996 cola ad said, “Nothing official about it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fast forward to May 28, 2023. Shortly after sunrise, Narendra Modi, who was entering his 10th year as the 15th PM of free India, had a few visitors from the same mutt in the new Parliament House that he was to inaugurate a few hours later. They had performed the same ceremony the previous evening at his home, this time not as a bunch of half-naked sorcerers as Nehru might have viewed them, but as honoured guests of the Govt of India. As the nation watched on TV screens, the PM installed the sceptre beside the speaker’s chair in the Lok Sabha chamber with stately pomp and solemnity. A new tradition was born; everything official about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that much was all that had happened last week, most Indians would have approved—recreation of a humble ceremony of honour, performed then on the care-worn leader of a yet-to-be-born dominion, now as a splendid ceremony of the proud republic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sadly, someone misled the government to go for overkill. With the result, half-truths are circulating as full truth, WhatsApp history as authentic account, and a badly made cinema clip as archival material.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s get the facts. The affair of the sceptre had no Rajendra Prasad or Mountbatten. Prasad was holding another puja in his own house. Mountbatten, who was in Karachi attending Pakistan’s I-Day ceremony, had returned in the evening, and was busy locking up all viceregal stuff. Soon after the visitors had left, Nehru sat down to dinner with daughter Indira and guest Padmaja Naidu, worrying about Hindus and Muslims killing each other in the two soon-to-be-free countries. Amidst the cares, worries and a phone call from Lahore, he forgot about drafting the speech he was to deliver in the Constituent Assembly. All these are recorded in Larry Collins’s and Dominique Lapierre’s <i>Freedom at Midnight,</i> and Alan Campbell-Johnson’s <i>Mission with Mountbatten.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The assembly began at 11pm; every word spoken there, every action taken, and even its moments of silence have been recorded. Vande Mataram was sung, messages from world leaders read out by Prasad, the national flag presented. Then, moving a motion on the pledge members would take at midnight, Nehru delivered his “Tryst with Destiny” speech extempore. At the stroke of midnight, members took the pledge, and Prasad declared solemnly: “I propose that it should be intimated to the Viceroy that (1) the Constituent Assembly of India has assumed power of governance of India, and (2) the Constituent Assembly of India has endorsed the recommendation that Lord Mountbatten be governor-general of India from the 15th August 1947.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Power was not given, gifted, granted or transferred by any emperor or his viceroy; it was won and assumed by the people of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/02/mystery-of-the-affair-of-the-sceptre.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/06/02/mystery-of-the-affair-of-the-sceptre.html Fri Jun 02 17:36:04 IST 2023 india-baby-steps-into-indo-pacific <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/26/india-baby-steps-into-indo-pacific.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/5/26/12-PM-of-Papua-New-Guinea-James-marape-new.jpg" /> <p>India put its best foot forward in the Pacific last year. Some 600 Fijians were fitted with the Jaipur foot that enabled them to walk. One more prosthetic camp is being planned in Papua New Guinea this year. Next year on, there will be two camps every year in any two of the 14 Pacific isles which are members of the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not just the foot; India is also putting its fingers in the Pacific pie. We gave Fiji and Papua New Guinea’s election managers about 22,000 pots of indelible ink, a unique Indian innovation by which a voter’s forefinger is stained to indicate that he has voted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The sun signs in the east are clear—India is returning to the Pacific.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Returning? Were we there ever? Of course, we were there more than three quarters of a century ago—may not be in any of the 14 FIPIC states, but in the region as the guardians of the east. Believe me, it took the mighty Japanese army 18 days of fierce hand-to-hand fighting to dislodge a few hardy Punjabis and Rajputs from their Hong Kong garrison, before they could conquer the Pacific in the winter of 1941-42.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps, the first military man who recognised the strategic value of the islands after the Japanese conquest of the Pacific was Douglas MacArthur. The Yankee general devised the leap-frogging or island-hopping strategy to kick out the Japanese from island after island. Remember, when he had to leave the Leyte Island he had said, “I shall return”. And he did. There is an iconic photo of the dashing general wading through the beach waters on his triumphant return.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These isles offered little strategic value to anyone since then. The Europeans lost their empires, the Japanese made friends with the west, the Americans and the Russians stayed focused on waging a cold war on the continents, and the Chinese remained looking inward with their long marches, cultural revolutions and modernisations. The Pacific isles mattered little, except to the world’s botanists, zoologists and philatelists—some of the island countries produced the flashiest of postage stamps depicting their rich flora and fauna, which collectors bought at a hundred times their face value. Yes, indeed, a few of them—the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Vanuatu—also helped make up the numbers in Commonwealth Games and gatherings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The eastern world has turned topsy-turvy since. Old enemies are friends now; some of the old friends are now turning enemies or rivals. With the Chinese seeking to set new rules of oceanic navigation, and sending warships into our backwaters, we have been forced for a while to look east and act east, and develop strategic counter-stakes in the Pacific. Indeed, acquiring capabilities to strike at Shanghai is not the idea now, but we have realised that, apart from the Quad of the US, Japan and Australia, we need small friends in the east who can be wooed by projecting our soft power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, last week, Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to set foot in Papua New Guinea. There he addressed the third conclave of the 14 island states, and offered them sea ambulances, dialysis units, yoga centres, Jan Aushadhi Centres which would provide cheap generic drugs, and also to train 1,000 cyber techies in the next five years. He also plans to give them machinery for small factories, set up plants on all isles to make drinking water out of sea water, and install solar power panels atop the homes of a few of their presidents and prime ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enough to leave our stamp there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/26/india-baby-steps-into-indo-pacific.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/26/india-baby-steps-into-indo-pacific.html Fri May 26 17:08:01 IST 2023 valley-waits-for-the-vote <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/20/valley-waits-for-the-vote.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/5/20/10-Valley-waits-for-the-vote-new.jpg" /> <p>Seerat Naaz, an eight-year-old Jammu girl, pleaded with the prime minister to get her 87-year-old school rebuilt. “Please Modiji, <i>humarey liye ek acha sa</i> school <i>banwa do na,”</i> she said in a video, that went viral, showing her school’s dirty floors and broken doors. Narendra Modi listened, and acted; the school is being repaired.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the sign of a responsive government—one that responds to the needs of <i>the aam admi, aam aurat, aam ladka</i> or <i>aam ladki.</i> Not only Modi, but many of his colleagues have been leading their ministries by similar examples, originally set by the dear departed Sushma Swaraj. As Modi’s first foreign and overseas affairs minister, she used to look into every tweeted message of grievance, and address it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are credible stories galore in the mainstream media, and more incredible stories in the social media, of how cabinet ministers have helped people get train tickets confirmed, pensions released, phone lines restored, ambulances despatched, exams ordered, complaints attended, refugees rescued, and even damsels saved from distress—not just from within India, but even from conflict zones on distant shores such as Sudan and Syria. All on receipt of a simple tweet or a WhatsApp post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But you can’t expect your ministers to be Harun-al Rashids going out in disguise every night to catch thieves, rescue damsels, feed the poor, and find out if all’s well in the kingdom. Moreover, such Zorro-like acts can redress only individual grievances, adding to a corpus of anecdotal governance. What about the collective grievances of the people at large, redress of which involves policy decisions, administrative rethink, or legislative action?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To address collective concerns, you need not only responsive governments but also responsible governments. Most of us who inhabit the landmass that stretches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari have such governments in our states. When any of those governments turn irresponsible, we vote it out—as the Kannadigas have just done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hold on. Didn’t we make two wrong assumptions? One, India no longer stretches from Kashmir to Kanyakumari; it stretches from Ladakh to Kanyakumari now. Two, Seerat Naaz’s folk, who live in Jammu and Kashmir that has been split from Ladakh into another Union territory, don’t have a responsible government yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Through a smart administrative coup, Modi and Amit Shah burst the bubble of special status that Jammu and Kashmir had been enjoying, and bifurcated its territory into two UTs—Jammu &amp; Kashmir and Ladakh. The rest of the world fretted, China fumed and Pakistan fulminated, but all the sound and fury signified nothing in the end. At the same time, to assuage the feelings of the people, the government also promised restoration of statehood, and holding of assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been four years now. The government claims that the valley, once a hotbed of insurgents, is back to near-normal save for stray encounters. Buses are running, people are going to work, kids are going to schools, farmers are going to orchards, tourists are coming, investors are trickling in. No stones are being pelted, no grenades lobbed, and hartal calls are hardly heard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pray, what is delaying the polls? Constituencies have been delimited, electoral rolls readied, and politicians are ready—even those who had been threatening to boycott polls. Even panchayat and municipal polls are going to be held in the next few months. Why not to the legislative assembly?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having an elected government in the valley of strife will only enhance the prestige of India in this G20 year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/20/valley-waits-for-the-vote.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/20/valley-waits-for-the-vote.html Sat May 20 11:13:57 IST 2023 who-flew-over-the-kukis-nest <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/12/who-flew-over-the-kukis-nest.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/5/12/14-People-being-evacuated-new.jpg" /> <p>The Kukis claim to be like the biblical sparrows in the sky—they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much was told by a Kuki to T.C. Hodson, assistant political agent in Manipur in the late 19th century and later the first William Wyse professor of social anthropology at Cambridge. His <i>Thado Grammar, The Meitheis </i>and<i> The Naga Tribes of Manipur</i> are still considered among the most authoritative monographs on the culture, customs, languages, dialects, rituals, history, folk tales and feuds of the tribes of India’s northeast. “We are like the birds of the air,” the genial Kuki told Hodson. “We make our nest here this year, and who knows where we shall build next year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is exactly this Kuki habit that is now vexing the Meiteis, Manipur’s majority who inhabit the narrow Imphal valley of glimmering lakes and vanishing shirui lilies. They see the Kukis and the several Naga tribes, who have been inhabiting the hills that surround their valley, grabbing government jobs under the Scheduled Tribe quota and making nests in their pristine valley. At the same time, neither the Meiteis nor anyone else is allowed to nest on the hills, since the hills are reserved for the tribes. With the result, the narrow valley, which the Meiteis thought was their preserve, is getting crowded, whereas the hills, the tribes’ reserve, are remaining sparsely peopled, but sprouting poppy plants.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Well, not exactly sparsely peopled. The Meitei-strong Biren Singh government says, the Kukis are grabbing more and more of the forest space too. A Kuki village, by custom, belongs to its chief; so when a chief’s sons grow up, they split and set up their own villages and grow more poppy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While most insurgencies in the northeast are simple tribal autonomy issues pitted against India’s mainstream republicanism, Manipur’s issues have too many substream currents. One, most of the tribesmen are Christian by faith since the late 19th century, and the Meiteis have been Vaishnavite Hindus since at least the early 18th century. Two, the Meiteis, who are also Manipur’s political elite, looked at the Kukis earlier as interlopers from Myanmar, and now as insurgents. Three, there is indeed widespread poppy farming in the Kuki-inhabited hills, mostly illicit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current troubles cropped up after Biren got his second term last year. The Meiteis have been seeking ST status for themselves too; Biren has been inclined to grant it; and the High Court now told the government to fast-track it. The Kukis now fear that the better-schooled Meities would crowd them out of their quota seats and jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pouring oil into the fire have been the recent moves by the Biren regime. Declaring the forests, till now the tribes’ preserve, as the government’s reserves, it is evicting several ‘illegal’ habitats. Added to it is a move to slash and burn most of the poppy crop, throwing the tribes into penury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further provoking the Kukis has been Biren’s decision to pull out of a tripartite ceasefire-and-talks deal with militant Kuki outfits. Luckily, the Centre forbade him from pulling out, but the damage had been done—the tribes lost the trust they had in Biren since the 2017 polls when the armed groups were lured into talks on promises of possible Bodo-like autonomy. This had made them dump the long-reigning Congress and vote the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this boiled over on May 3. The Kukis took out a protest march against ST status to the Meiteis. The Meiteis say the march turned violent; the Kukis say their war memorial and churches were burnt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The truth is: 60 humans lost their lives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/12/who-flew-over-the-kukis-nest.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/12/who-flew-over-the-kukis-nest.html Fri May 12 11:12:58 IST 2023 my-meal-your-revdi <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/05/my-meal-your-revdi.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/5/5/10-My-meal-your-revdi-new.jpg" /> <p>It is raining freebies in Karnataka. The Congress is promising 10 kilos of rice or wheat every month to the poor, 200 units of power, Rs2,000 to every female family head, Rs1,500 to every jobless diploma holder, and Rs3,000 to every jobless graduate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, initially sceptical of freebies which Narendra Modi has been scoffing at as revdis, has followed suit. In return for another chance at government with or without Basavaraj Bommai, the party is offering every poor household half a litre of Nandini (mind you, no Amul) milk every day, 5 kilos of rice and millets every month, and three cylinders of gas a year to boil the milk and cook the grain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>True to Modi style, the BJP has given a rhyming touch to their package. All their free offers and subsidies have been packed into seven As—<i>anna</i> (food), <i>akshara</i> (education), <i>aarogya</i> (health), <i>abhivruddhi</i> (prosperity), <i>aadaya</i> (profit), and <i>abhaya</i> (shelter).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress package looks clumsy. They have stuffed most goodies into two G-packages (not to be confused with 2G). They call their free power scheme <i>grha jyoti</i> (bright home) and schemes for women as <i>grha lakshmi</i> (prosperous home). The rest are spilling over from the grha bundles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies the difference. The BJP knows how to package and label things neat and smart, even old milk in new bottles with new labels—Nirmal Bharat as Swachh Bharat, Look East as Act East, self-reliance as atmanirbhar, and so on. The Congress, on the other hand, find themselves carrying a lot of their own and others’ old baggage, with several unwanted stuff spilling out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s leave packaging and labelling to the party managers. The point is that, the Kannadigas “have never had it so good”. Whoever comes to power, they will have free bus rides, free rations, and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The well-heeled scoff at freebies as <i>revdis,</i> a kind of native candy made of sesame seeds or peanut coated in melted gur, and popular in north India. Native wisdom tells you that <i>revdis</i> keep your body warm, and so are better eaten in winter. Old socialist George Fernandes used to keep them in bowls in his Delhi home, and offer them to guests in winters along with warm tea served in mud tumblers called kullads.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, <i>revdi</i> and kullad have a native and socialist touch about them. Socialism is no longer a virtue, and <i>revdi</i> has come to acquire a bad meaning in aspirational India as crumbs or freebies. The Supreme Court is looking into a petition seeking a ban on them, but even the Election Commission doesn’t know where to draw the line between a welfare measure and a freebie.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The truth is: What is <i>revdi</i> to A may be manna to B. MGR’s mid-day meals were denounced as freebies in the 1980s, but they boosted school enrolment and child health standards, and have since been copied by most states. Free bicycles, which the Samajwadis gave to teenagers in UP two polls ago, looked freebies to many, but they enabled thousands of girls to go to school. Free laptops enabled poor kids to cross the digital divide during the lockdown. Arvind Kejriwal’s free bus rides for women have enabled housemaids, charwomen, sweepers, hawkers, ayahs and shop hands to move around Delhi, improving labour availability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It also depends on which world you inhabit. No one called it <i>revdi</i> when Luxembourg made bus, tram and train travel free two years ago, or Malta did last October. Soon Germany may. One may say, Luxembourg, Malta and Germany are rich; they can give their people free rides; we, though the world’s fifth richest, have millions in penury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>True. Isn’t it all the more reason to offer free rides and meals?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/05/my-meal-your-revdi.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/05/05/my-meal-your-revdi.html Fri May 05 16:42:34 IST 2023 sudans-war-military-v-militia <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/28/sudans-war-military-v-militia.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/4/28/14-Sudans-war-new.jpg" /> <p>Those of us who were in school in the 1970s and earlier had heard of Sudan only in English grammar classes. Our teachers told us that there ought to be a ‘the’ before Sudan, Punjab, Netherlands, Hague, and a few such places.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>‘The’ has since disappeared from Punjab, though purists in Pakistan still refer to their Punjab, where Imran Khan is now forcing provincial polls, as ‘the Punjab’. They are also proud of their old University of the Punjab in Lahore, and tell us that what we have are a Panjab University (with ‘a’ in place of ‘u’) in Chandigarh, and a Punjabi University in Patiala. Likewise Sudan retains the article in its official name—it is the Republic of the Sudan. It is another matter that the rest of the world has forgotten not only their ‘the’, but them, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Take it from me, ‘the’ will soon vanish from the Netherlands and the Hague too, and there will be grammarians’ funerals all over the English-speaking world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sudan amused us in geography classes as one of those African states that got their borders drawn with a ruler. Colonial powers simply drew their borders on maps, “only hindered by the small impediments that we never knew where the mountains and rivers and lakes were,” as British prime minister Lord Salisbury put it in 1890.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sudan mystified us from the portals of our National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla. Its main block sports a signboard ‘Sudan’. The money for building the block came from Sudan, as a token of gratitude to the Indian Army who had liberated them from Italian occupation in the Second World War.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>History lessons introduced us to Lord Kitchener, the big mustachioed general who crushed the Mahdi revolt in Sudan in 1898 (perhaps the first ethno-religious revolt in the Islamic world), acquired a beastly barony over Khartoum, came to India as commander-in-chief, and took on the imperious viceroy Lord Curzon. Their clash set the setting for the civil-military struggle for supremacy in Indian administration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Curzon lost his personal battle, but his ideas later influenced our national leaders who shaped India as a liberal democracy, where the military remains subordinate to civil authority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not so in Kitchener’s Sudan. The country has had six coups since the British left in 1956—three more than in Pakistan—the latest in 2021 by military general Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and militia general Hamdan Dagalo. Together they kicked out the transition regime that had been formed after the deposing of Omar al-Bashir who had ruled for 30 years, and promised to found a new democratic Sudan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two, who already had blood on their hands having massacred the enemies of al-Bashir, soon fell out over how Dagalo’s paramilitary would be absorbed into Burhan’s military. The hitch: the military is larger in size but the militia is better equipped and trained. Dagalo refuses to accept a subordinate role, and since last fortnight we are watching a curious spectacle of a state’s official army fighting its official paramilitary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is hardly any left-right ideological division between the two, no religious rift, racial hatred, tribal feud, or big power rivalry. There is just crass quest for power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No, it is not power alone; there are riches too. The desert country has hoards of gold, silver, petroleum, natural gas, chromite, manganese, gypsum, mica, zinc, iron, lead, uranium, copper, cobalt, nickel, tin and aluminium, lying unmined. So just we wait out the civil war, and we will see neighbours and big powers rushing in to fish in the troubled Nile waters and mine in the shifting Nubian sands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/28/sudans-war-military-v-militia.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/28/sudans-war-military-v-militia.html Fri Apr 28 14:45:45 IST 2023 test-of-wills-with-a-few-bills <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/22/test-of-wills-with-a-few-bills.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/4/22/10-Tests-of-wills-with-a-few-bills-new.jpg" /> <p>Our Constitution, lauded as the world’s longest and one of the finest, is said to contain prescriptions for most of the problems that our politics, which is often the art of the impossible, can throw up. Yet there are occasions, however rare, when we find the Constitution being silent, and its pundits clueless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Constitution says that a bill passed by the legislature shall become law only after the president, or governor in the case of a state, gives his assent. If he returns the bill, and if the legislature passes it again and sends it to him, he is bound to give his assent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what if he does nothing on presentation of a bill for the first time? That is, if he simply sits on it? The Constitution is silent on this; it does not prescribe a time frame for the president or the governor to sign on the dotted line, or tear it up on any perforated line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>President Zail Singh used this silence of the statute to the hilt; he killed Rajiv Gandhi’s postal bill, which was not to his liking. The postal bill, if you don’t know, was one which empowered your postmaster to open your love letters, an ungentlemanly act in those pre-hacking days when epistolary privacy was an article of faith in decent democracies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zail knew that if he sent the bill back, the government would get it passed again by the houses, and present him with fait accompli. So he just kept it in his pocket. Soon constitutional pundits came out with a new political phrase—pocket veto, a stage where a bill is neither alive nor dead or, to borrow a phrase from the Dracula stories, it is “undead”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then governors who have quarrels with their governments have been taking pages out of Zail’s pocket, and keeping bills undead with them, leaving their CMs fretting and fuming. The trend has been spreading among more and more governors in opposition-ruled states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last week, however, Governor N. Ravi of Tamil Nadu (or Tamizhagom, as he pleases) tried to give a finality to the situation. Addressing a few civil service aspirants who came calling at his Raj Bhavan, he said a bill is dead if the governor has not given assent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The death verdict from the Raj Bhavan brought back to life all the dead and buried federal spirits in Chief Minister M.K. Stalin. In no time he marched into the assembly, told the law-makers that a law that they had passed so as to save young men from getting trapped in gambling debts, was lying ‘dead’ with the governor. The law-makers passed a resolution, urging the president, who had appointed Ravi and all the governors, to prescribe a time frame for governors to sign bills. Prompt came a statement from the Raj Bhavan that the governor had signed the bill two days earlier!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon Stalin was telling opposition CMs across India to take leaves out of his pocket and get their assemblies adopt similar resolutions. For sure, said Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel et al. Telangana’s K. Chandrasekhar Rao has other ideas. He has approached the Supreme Court seeking directions to Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan to clear his bills, one of which has been pending since September.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether the court would listen or not is yet to be seen, but the move has had its own effect. Hours before the case came up for hearing last week, the governor cleared three bills and sent back two. Anyway, it looks like the phenomenon of pocket veto is finally ending.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moral of the story: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there’s a bill, there’s a pay. Where there is a bill blocked, there is a way out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/22/test-of-wills-with-a-few-bills.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/22/test-of-wills-with-a-few-bills.html Sat Apr 22 14:58:01 IST 2023 how-amul-vs-nandini-turned-into-fight-for-kannada-pride <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/14/how-amul-vs-nandini-turned-into-fight-for-kannada-pride.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/4/14/9-Amul-over-Nandini-No-whey-new.jpg" /> <p>No creature—celestial or mortal—has been coveted, abducted or stolen as much and as many times as the sacred cow Nandini. She appears as the same as Kamadhenu in most stories, but as her daughter in a few. The list of her abductors is long—Vishwamitra, Satyavrata, the Ashtavasus, to name a few. Now Siddaramaiah has added one more—the BJP. Tweeted the Karnataka Congress leader last week: “You have already stolen banks, ports and airports from the Kannadigas. Are you now trying to steal Nandini from us?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That one tweet defined the theme song of the Congress campaign in the current assembly polls—that the BJP, which is ruling the Centre and the state, has been taking away Karnataka’s crown jewels. Left unsaid in the tweet was a charge that the treasures are being given away to Gujarat or Gujaratis—Vijaya Bank to Bank of Baroda, ports to Gautam Adani, and now milk cooperative Nandini to Amul of Anand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that none of the recipients are solely Gujarat’s; they are the nation’s assets, though the Congress thinks that some are liabilities. Leave it; that’s something they may say till the cows and buffalos come home. Politics in India creates its own mythologies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Milk and other dairy products seem to be turning politically sour in India these days. Only a few weeks ago had some wise guys in the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India decided that curd is bad for most Indians’ comprehension and digestion, and decreed that it be called dahi. No whey, cried Tamil champion M.K. Stalin, who thinks tayir suits the Tamil tongues, literally and linguistically.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many others in the south, too, thought that the FSSAI was hitting below the Hindi belt, and took milk-curdling vows to fight the tyranny of the northern tongue. Soon, saner counsel and better taste prevailed on the dahi-digesters; they withdrew the order, ate their own words, and perhaps swallowed a few teaspoonfuls of milk of magnesia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Stalin’s problem was over curd, Siddaramaiah is cheesed off with several products that cooperative giant Amul’s milkmen have been churning out of India’s dudhsagar. Problems started when Union minister Amit Shah promised Kannadigas that he would send Amul to set up primary dairies in every village, and turn Karnataka into a land of milk and dahi. A few weeks later, Amul started sending out utterly butterly tweets about how it would turn Karnataka into a land of milk and Taaza.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was when Nandini’s keepers in Karnataka too cried, “no whey”. Amul’s entry, they feared, would kill Nandini, though it defies logic how Amul, which sells a litre of toned milk at Rs52 to 54, can ever beat Nandini’s Rs39. And look at the irony. In no time, the defence of Nandini turned into a fight for Kannada pride and a war on Amul, the mother of India’s cooperative movement which had led the first war of self-reliance under Indira Gandhi. It was Amul’s Verghese Kurien who had fought off the global milk giant Nestle and super-packer Tetrapak by innovating ways to spray-dry buffalo milk (impossible, Nestle had cried), and pack oil in paper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The milk war has sent the BJP in Karnataka running for cover in the Bandipur forest. Chief Minister Bommai has been getting Narendra Modi, the party’s prime vote-catcher, to visit the state every fortnight in the last four months, the last being on April 9 to catch a few tigers on camera, and gather a few more votes. Sadly, the cats are said to have stayed away, but votes may still pour in—or so hopes Bommai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/14/how-amul-vs-nandini-turned-into-fight-for-kannada-pride.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/14/how-amul-vs-nandini-turned-into-fight-for-kannada-pride.html Sun Apr 16 12:53:54 IST 2023 how-anglo-scottish-rivalry-has-now-taken-an-indo-pakistan-twist-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/09/how-anglo-scottish-rivalry-has-now-taken-an-indo-pakistan-twist-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/4/9/9-Great-Scot-new.jpg" /> <p>When introduced to Samuel Johnson who had prejudices against Scotsmen, James Boswell said meekly, “Sir, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” Replied Johnson, “That, sir, I find, is what many of your countrymen cannot help.” Scotland is a land with prospects, protested Boswell. The noblest prospect for a Scotsman is the high road to England, retorted Johnson. In his dictionary, Johnson defined oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spats between the legendary lexicographer and his bosom friend and biographer speak of the ties between England and Scotland. The two peoples revel in their prejudices, yet can’t live without each other. Sherlock Holmes, England’s greatest fictional detective, was created by Scotsman A.C. Doyle. England’s greatest fictional spy was brought into reel life by the most dashing Scotsman, Sean Connery. Neither would admit it, but their mutual “love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide.” Damn or drown, Lochinvar!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The old Anglo-Scottish rivalry has now taken an Indo-Pakistan twist. Many in India toasted with scotch, thinking an India story was being made in London when Rishi Sunak, who swears by the Gita and worships the cow, kissed the king’s hand. Now Humza Yousaf of Pak descent, who wore a sherwani and swore in Urdu when he became a member of the Scottish Parliament in 2016, has been made the first minister of Scotland. By Robert Bruce and his spider, that calls for a toast with English gin!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>WhatsApp smart Alecs—shall we say McAlecs?—are forwarding the 2016 video of Yousaf taking the oath in Urdu, claiming it to be of his swearing in as first minister. You don’t need a Sherlock Holmes to call the bluff. One, neither the prime minister of Britain nor the first minister of Scotland swear themselves in; the former kisses the monarch’s hand, the latter nods when the oath is read out to him. Two, in the video, he was swearing allegiance to the Queen. Crivvens! The Queen is dead; long live the king.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Therein lies another irony. Yousaf has sworn loyalty to the crown of England, but he is leading a party that has sworn to separate Scotland five centuries after the English and Scottish crowns were conjoined under James I, and four centuries after the countries merged under the Act of Union. Does that make James the last ‘king of Scotland’? Great Scot, no! That was Idi Amin, the Ugandan tyrant who gave himself the title.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yousaf and his Scots, who think they are a different people, are cut up with the English for everything from the latter’s conceit to cutting welfare funds. Many have been seeking separation, especially after the Brits exited the EU lock, ale stock, beer barrel, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But the separatists never got majority in a referendum. Having burnt their fingers and fish-and-chips in Brexit, the English now say, even if the majority of Scots say secede, they would block the way with law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Brexit, if you ask me, was one moment when Westminster mistook public sentiment for public opinion, as Benjamin Disraeli had warned. Just because a few yokels in Cornwall or Cumbria didn’t like guys in Brussels telling them how to roast their beef, they voted to exit EU.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now a few dumbos in Dundee and Dunfermline are seeking secession for Scotland. What if the Welsh say, they too want to ‘lleave’? Trifurcation of territory would end in tragedy. Read King Lear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bless my soul! Didn’t the Bard write Lear just around the time the two crowns were conjoined under the Stuarts?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/09/how-anglo-scottish-rivalry-has-now-taken-an-indo-pakistan-twist-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/09/how-anglo-scottish-rivalry-has-now-taken-an-indo-pakistan-twist-prasannan.html Sun Apr 09 12:49:12 IST 2023 rahul-gandhi-gets-a-halo-thanks-to-the-bjp-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/01/rahul-gandhi-gets-a-halo-thanks-to-the-bjp-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/4/1/9-Rahul-gets-a-halo-thank-BJP-new.jpg" /> <p>Rahul Gandhi has amended his Twitter profile as dis-qualified MP. That’s much like what Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe did when he had to join a jousting tournament incognito, after his proud Saxon father had disinherited him. He gave his name on his shield as “Disinherited Knight.” As the gallant knight in shining armour smote down champion after villainous champion, the ecstatic crowd cheered him as “Sir Disinherited”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We don’t know whether our middle-aged knight in white t-shirt, who trotted from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, would win the tournament of 2024; but let me tell you, Dame Luck often smiles on him. With enemies like the BJP, he doesn’t need friends. Overnight they have made him, who would otherwise have been a convict in a criminal case, into an injured knight, a champion of liberty, and a hero of democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at how Rahul came to be disqualified. He had said something silly about the Modi surname in a humdrum poll speech four years ago in the outbacks of Karnataka. Most people who heard it just laughed it away as a PJ. But in this country where even poor jokes have to conform to political correctness, half a dozen Modis felt aggrieved and slapped cases against him for insulting them, their families, and their community. Rahul’s legal eagles didn’t bother to get the cases clubbed or get them dismissed as vexatious litigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A magistrate in Surat took up the case that was in front of him, heard both parties, found Rahul guilty of criminal defamation and sentenced him to two years in jail that entailed his disqualification from Parliament. In the normal course of events, Rahul and his cohorts would have made some noise about being hounded with court cases, sought a stay order on the conviction from a higher court, filed an appeal, and gone ahead with another walkathon or a lacklustre poll campaign in Karnataka. No one would have been any wiser, stronger or more popular.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lalu Prasad, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav et al would have sympathised with him in public, but said in private, “serves him right,” recalling how he had slighted the sagely Manmohan Singh by tearing up the latter’s ordinance that would have saved him now from disqualification. That’s not what happened. Even before the Surat magistrate rose from his seat after pronouncing his sentence, BJP factotums began firing from all cylinders. They went to town celebrating the conviction and condemning the convict as a casteist, and an enemy of the people who had been going around the world denigrating his motherland. Cabinet ministers pronounced his name in Parliament and outside ad nauseum. In no time, all the ladies and gents in the opposition ran to him asking, “Oh, what can ail thee, knight at arms?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul replied he had been wronged by Modi and Adani; the opposition added ED. Soon they were all supping together in Mallikarjun Kharge’s house, and vowing to fight Modi, smite at Adani, save Rahul, redeem free speech, hail liberty and promote democracy. Overnight, Rahul became a Patrick Henry who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”This is the BJP’s problem—nine years in power, and they still think like in the opposition. Usually it is the opposition that hounds the government with charges of corruption and criminality, and the government that acts with restraint. The roles are reversed now. The rulers are barking and hunting like hounds, and the opposition is getting global and popular sympathy as being the hunted hares. No wonder, the world talks of democratic regression in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/01/rahul-gandhi-gets-a-halo-thanks-to-the-bjp-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/04/01/rahul-gandhi-gets-a-halo-thanks-to-the-bjp-prasannan.html Sun Apr 02 14:12:43 IST 2023 how-americans-are-losing-the-script-in-middle-east <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/25/how-americans-are-losing-the-script-in-middle-east.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/3/25/10-Big-Joe-reads-the-scripts-wrong-new.jpg" /> <p>When Joe Biden landed in Jeddah last July, Mecca governor Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud received him. When Xi Jinping landed in Riyadh last December, there was the foreign minister, apart from the Riyadh governor, to receive him on the runway, and give him a gun salute later. Saudi military jets escorted Xi’s plane into their airpsace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The writing was not on the wall, but writ large on the tarmac. Yet if Biden couldn’t read it from the air when he was coming in to land, he was probably reading Arabic script from left to right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Americans, who have been writing the scripts for all the Middle Eastern power plays and peace pacts in the post-World War age, are losing the script. Time was when even a ham-handed Jim Carter could get war-mongers Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to Camp David and thrust a peace deal down their throats. Or an un-Christian street bully Donald Trump could make the Jews shake the hands of the Arab Muslims, and get them all to sign peace accords named after the common patriarch of the three faiths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But last week, when their oldest Arab allies in the Middle East, the Saudis, signed a peace pact with their worst local enemies, the Iranians, no one in the Biden White House knew about it. Indeed, when caught with egg on the face, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said sheepishly: “The Saudis did keep us informed, ... but we weren’t directly involved.” The Saudis, decent folks, let it pass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The American script in the Middle East seems to have run into its last act. The fault is theirs—they elected a Joe Average as president who has been getting it all wrong. First in Afghanistan, where hundreds of GI Joes had their shed their blood through five presidential terms. Finally when they were beginning to win the war, Biden told them to pack up and go home, leaving the land to the men who had burnt the topless towers of New York. That much for avenging American honour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Saudis, once America’s staunchest allies who bought their F-15 Eagles and AWACS eyes closed, have been drifting ever since Biden accused crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of having plotted the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state. But when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Biden imposed sanctions sending oil prices sky-high, and sheepishly made a pilgrimage of peace to the kingdom. The prince paid no heed, and instead cut his oil production to keep the prices high.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The prince has since made friends with Putin and Xi Jinping, both of who are friends of Iran’s ayatollahs, and signed a strategic pact with Xi. As Putin, busy with his war in Ukraine, left the field open to the Chinese, Xi brokered a deal between the Sunni kingdom and the Shia republic. The two will soon exchange envoys, Iran will send fewer guns and bombs to the Houthis and Hezbollahs of Yemen and Lebanon, and both will make money by selling oil to the energy-thirsty Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within a week of the signing of the pact, Putin showed his thumbs up by sending his battleships into the Arabian Sea for wargames with the Iranian and Chinese navies. Who knows, the Saudis could join in the next edition of the games to form an Asiatic quad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Xi is now moving on to read the next script, Cyrillic. He was in Moscow last week to talk Putin out of his war with Ukraine, and expected to video-call Volodymyr Zelensky. If he pulls off a peace deal in Europe, who knows?—that should shake the whole landmass from Calais to Vladivostok, leaving America to nurse another Monroe doctrine of isolation for the 21st century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s time for the free world to look for another leader. Anyone out there?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/25/how-americans-are-losing-the-script-in-middle-east.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/25/how-americans-are-losing-the-script-in-middle-east.html Sat Mar 25 11:27:24 IST 2023 why-naidus-xanadu-is-in-triple-trouble-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/18/why-naidus-xanadu-is-in-triple-trouble-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/3/18/12-Naidus-Xanadu-in-triple-trouble-new.jpg" /> <p>The good people of Andhra are in a capital quandary. Literally. They don’t know where they are going to be ruled from.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CM Jagan Reddy says they will have three capitals—a legislative capital in Amaravati, an executive one in Visakhapatnam, and a judicial city in Kurnool. That means, laws will be made in Amaravati, implemented from Vizag, and adjudicated in Kurnool. Isn’t that taking separation of powers too far—literally, figuratively, and physically?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several states have or have had twin capitals. Most of the Lodis and many of the Mughals ruled from Delhi and Agra. The British ruled from Shimla in summer, and from Kolkata (later Delhi) at other times. Jammu and Kashmir, when it was a state with elected rulers, was ruled from Srinagar in summer and Jammu in winter. Maharashtra holds the winter session of its assembly in Nagpur. Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Kerala have kept their high courts miles away from their political capitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But three capitals? That’s unheard of even in this mad, mad world. Only the South Africans have tried it. They have their rulers in Pretoria, lawmakers in Cape Town, and judges in Bloemfontein. The people hardly bother, minding their own businesses in Johannesburg.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Time was when there was one big Andhra Pradesh, the first state that was carved out on the basis of language. Nine years ago, the state got split over development disputes into Telangana and Andhra. Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes. We knew from the Chandigarh experience that a joint capital can be prescription for trouble. Yet, it was decided that Hyderabad shall be their joint capital for 10 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Telugu Desam supremo Chandrababu Naidu, who ruled over a truncated Andhra Pradesh, decided he would have his own capital sooner than later. Like the opiated S.T. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan who decreed a pleasure dome in Xanadu, Naidu decreed dream towers on the fertile plains of Amaravati, where Krishna, the sacred river, runs over shimmering sandbanks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Land prices shot up in no time, the government bought it all up, and Naidu’s Xanadu began to take shape. And poof! Like the ‘person from Porlock’ who woke up Coleridge from his opium dream, the people voted out Naidu and voted in YSR Congress chief Jagan Reddy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy decided that his people too should have their share of the Xanadu pie. So he decreed two more Xanadus, one in Kurnool for the high court, and another in Visakhapatnam for him. But the high court threw cold water on his dreams, and asked him to pack it all in Amaravati.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy’s appeal is since pending in the Supreme Court, but last month he surprised all by telling global investors that he would shift to Visakhapatnam “in the months to come”. How he would keep his word if the court rules against it is an opiated guess, especially with depleted funds in the state treasury.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Reddy and Naidu are trading charges. Reddy’s men say Kamma land sharks had been tipped off about the Amaravati Xanadu well before it was dreamt of, and they had bought about 4,000 acres which they sold to government at huge profits. Naidu’s men counter that Reddy landlords are making a killing around Vizag now, and that the Reddy regime is leasing out houses meant for government staff to private people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gentlemen, learn from Chhattisgarh. BJP’s Raman Singh was building his Naya Raipur there when he was voted out. Successor Bhupesh Baghel of the Congress didn’t dream of new cities a hundred miles away, but is planning to expand Raman’s pleasure dome over neighbouring townships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/18/why-naidus-xanadu-is-in-triple-trouble-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/18/why-naidus-xanadu-is-in-triple-trouble-prasannan.html Sat Mar 18 16:53:45 IST 2023 why-judges-abhor-vacuum-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/10/why-judges-abhor-vacuum-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/3/10/12-Judges-abhor-vacuum-new.jpg" /> <p>What is the biggest mystery about India’s elections? That it involves the largest number of electors? The largest number of parties? The largest number of candidates? The largest number of polling booths? Or that this third world polity of starving millions was the first to introduce universal electronic franchise?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these are. But the biggest is that our electoral system has been working well with little backing of the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am talking of the model code of conduct, that set of rules which prescribes that ministers’ names and photos shall be removed from ministries’ websites once the polls are proclaimed, that a candidate can have only so many cars escorting him, that he can’t stay in dak bungalows while on campaign trail, that he can’t hold meetings after 10pm, and so on. It is these ‘rules’ that empower a petty district collector to pull the plug on a Union cabinet minister if he goes on orating after 10pm, confiscate a local bully’s car that is carrying currency bundles, or rifle through the boot of the PM’s escort car. It is another matter that some such knights in shining armours have found themselves time-serving in sinecures soon after elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>None of these rules has any sort of statutory backing. They fall under a ‘model’ of code of conduct which has not been legislated into law. Yet, believe me, most of our political people, whom we call corrupt or criminal, follow the ‘rules’ as gentlemen, and take the little punishments that the monitor, the election commission, prescribes when they are violated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now the Supreme Court tells us that not just the model code, but even the appointment of the monitors was being done without enough of constitutional prescription. Indeed, the Constitution says that there shall be an election commission, that it shall be headed by a chief commissioner, that the government may appoint more commissioners if and when required, that the chief will be removed only like a judge through impeachment in Parliament, and so on. To that extent, it has constitutional backing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Constitution doesn’t say how to select the CEC or the commissioners, how they would work when there is divergence of views, and how the commissioners, who don’t enjoy the protection of tenure that the CEC does, can be removed. Yet the system worked well all these 73 years, with agitated persons having had to go to court only thrice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first was when V.P. Singh removed the two commissioners whom Rajiv Gandhi had appointed. One of them, S.S. Dhanoa, challenged the executive’s power of removal, but lost the case. The next was when the all-powerful CEC T.N. Seshan went to court against P.V. Narasimha Rao inducting two commissioners. The court read the riot act to Seshan and asked him to better work with the commissioners, or else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In both instances, the court didn’t find any wrongdoing by the executive. But in the recent Anoop Baranwal case when citizens approached it seeking a law on the appointment and conduct of the commission members, the court decided it got to intervene. Provoking the court was the government’s posting of a civil servant as commissioner within 24 hours of his self-retirement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seeking to fill the vacuum left by the founding fathers, the court directed that the commissioners shall be chosen by the PM, the opposition leader and the chief justice sitting together. This shall be the law till Parliament, which alone can make laws, makes one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moral of the story: systems will work under good laws; systems will work even without laws, if its managers run them in good faith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/10/why-judges-abhor-vacuum-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/10/why-judges-abhor-vacuum-prasannan.html Fri Mar 10 15:04:27 IST 2023 congresss-cry-from-raipur-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/03/congresss-cry-from-raipur-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/3/3/15-The-cry-from-Raipur-new.jpg" /> <p>An oracle from Raipur cried last Sunday: “Emergence of any third force will provide advantage to the BJP/NDA.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oracle was none other than the grand old party of India, which won us the freedom that we have been enjoying for the last three quarters of a century, ruled us for more than half a century, and claims to have built the democratic edifice that allowed us to vote it out several times. Pretty sweet of them, I say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party has just elected a new leader after about two decades, but is wary of electing the leader’s executive council, which they call the working committee. It is another matter that on most occasions the working committee, elected or otherwise, hardly works, and leaves it to the president to work out things.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is okay. It is for the party and its members to decide whether they want to be led by elected leaders, nominated leaders, or NOTA, and whether those leaders would discuss, deliberate, decide, defer or refer things to the president or providence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rest of us in the polity are concerned with what the oracle spoke—that a third force will benefit the BJP. The argument has good arithmetic. Going by the votes polled in the last Lok Sabha round, the BJP and allies got 45 per cent of the votes. Which means more than half the voters did not vote the BJP or its allies. Argued further, it means there are more Indians who voted against Modi than there are Indians who voted for Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, how is Modi ruling India? Two reasons. One is systemic—we have a first-past-the-post system. The other is political—the votes polled against Modi’s NDA got split among several parties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So ladies and gentlemen, let those who want to vote for Modi vote him, but let the rest of us gang up and get all the non-Modi votes. Let us offer just one anti-NDA candidate to every NDA candidate in every constituency. Let there be a Modi front, let there be an anti-Modi front, and let there be no third front. So says the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congressmen have their own defeats to cite. They had remained unassailable on their perch for the first 30 of India’s free years till all the non-Congress forces got together in 1977, bagged more votes than they, and kicked them out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The logic, however, conceals a flaw. It presupposes that India’s voters are of two kinds—those who want Modi to stay, and those who want him out. Unfortunately, Indian politics is no longer as simple as it was in 1977 or 1989, or as in bipolar polities like the US where people vote either for the Democrats or the Republicans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian polity is a complex arena. Players here are not competing for each other’s space; they are competing for one another’s space. Most of the small players are competing for the space that the Congress is occupying in their little turfs. Many may be enemies of the BJP, but they are rivals of the Congress and, in some places, of one another.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, voters in India are not necessarily divided into Modi voters and anti-Modi voters; there are crores of non-Modi voters too. The Congress thinks that the non-Modi voters can be persuaded to be anti-Modi voters for a one-vote stand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dear Congressmen, think twice before going for one-night stands. You have been saying that Modi and his men are seeking to convert India’s political discourse into a we-and-they binary, that they have been making every election, every speech, every rally, every discourse a duel between the BJP and others. And now you are sleep-walking into that trap with no council of elected wise men to debate, discuss or direct you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/03/congresss-cry-from-raipur-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/03/03/congresss-cry-from-raipur-prasannan.html Sun Mar 05 13:48:55 IST 2023 caesars-wife-in-raj-bhavans-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/26/caesars-wife-in-raj-bhavans-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/2/26/14-Caesars-wife-in-Raj-Bhavans-new.jpg" /> <p>Judges, like Caesar’s wife, should be above suspicion, said Lord Bowen in 1889. Indeed m’lord; most of our judges are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 62 BC Julius Caesar’s wife Pompeia hosted a ladies-only feast where Clodius was caught sneaking in with the intent of seducing her. He was acquitted after a trial where Caesar gave no evidence, yet Caesar divorced her saying, Caesar's wife must be above suspicion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fine, but does a judge have to remain like Ceasar’s wife after he ceases to be a judge? That’s the point being debated after Abdul Nazeer’s appointment as Andhra governor. Is there a quid pro quo?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier too, ex-judges have been sent to Raj Bhavans, the Rajya Sabha, and even cabinets. Nehru made Fazl Ali governor of Odisha within days of his retirement from the top court. M.C. Chagla had an illustrious judgeship before he became a Union minister. Former CJI T.S. Thakur’s father, D.D. Thakur, joined Sheikh Abdullah’s cabinet after he resigned from the J&amp;K high court, and was made deputy CM in another Sheikh cabinet. V.P. Singh sent him as governor to Assam and Arunachal. Congress-backed United Front put Fathima Beevi in the Chennai Raj Bhavan in 1997, five years after her retirement. The Congress got Ranganatha Misra, who had given its leaders a clean chit in the anti-Sikh riots, a Raj Bhavan and then a seat in the Rajya Sabha. Narendra Modi made P. Sathasivam governor of Kerala five months after his retirement. Ranjan Gogoi got a nominated Rajya Sabha seat four months after he retired under a cloud.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reverse migrations―from political posts to the bench―have been equally common. M.C. Mahajan left the Punjab High Court to become PM of Jammu &amp; Kashmir and chalk out its merger with the Union of India, and was then sent to the Supreme Court. V.R. Krishna Iyer was a minister in Kerala’s first communist government, was made a high court judge during the second, and later lifted to the Supreme Court. Rama Jois, who shared an Emergency prison cell with Jan Sangh leaders, was made a high court judge by the Janata regime in which they were ministers. He resigned when overlooked by a Congress regime for Supreme Court judgeship; the NDA later gave him governorship of Jharkhand and then Bihar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress’s Baharul Islam shuttled between Parliament and courts. He resigned his second Rajya Sabha term to be sent to the Gauhati High Court in 1972. Months after he retired, he lost a Rajya Sabha election, but was compensated with a judgeship in the Surpeme Court. He cleared Bihar CM Jagannath Misra of forgery charges, and soon quit the bench for a Congress ticket to the Lok Sabha. The polls could not be held due to political turmoil in Assam; the party gave him a Rajya Sabha seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No such odium hangs around Nazeer, except that he was part of some of the benches that decided cases in favour of the government. Every judge would have. He has otherwise been a Daniel when it came to judgment, and it would be preposterous to assume he had delivered decrees expecting posts or pelf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, one wishes judges had maintained the standards set by men like P.B. Gajendragadkar or M. Hidayatulla. The former refused L.B. Shastri’s offer of high commissionership in London. The latter refused to take any post-retirement post, seat or commissionerate till all parties came together to make him vice-president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>M’lords, the learned and the wise may not suspect Ceasar’s wife, but bazaar gossips can still cast shadows on sacred thrones and temples of justice. That was why Caesar, who knew his wife was chaste, divorced Pompeia, and Lord Ram performed a painful parityaag on Sita Mata.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/26/caesars-wife-in-raj-bhavans-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/26/caesars-wife-in-raj-bhavans-prasannan.html Sun Feb 26 08:36:18 IST 2023 how-ranil-wikramasinghe-is-reaching-out-to-tamils-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/17/how-ranil-wikramasinghe-is-reaching-out-to-tamils-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/2/17/15-Attention-Ranil-The-Tamil-anthem-new.jpg" /> <p>President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s guests to Sri Lanka’s 75th I-Day on February 4, including our own minister V. Muraleedharan, had a pleasant surprise. They heard Namo Namo Matha and Namo Namo Thaaye being sung at the state ceremony, and were told that both are the national anthem. One is the Sinhala version and the other Tamil. Both mean the same, are sung in the same tune, and have been there since 1950, but the Tamil one has remained mostly unsung and unheard especially when Sinhala supremacists were ruling in Colombo. Maithripala Sirisena had allowed it in 2015, but Gotabaya Rajapaksa kept it in mute mode through the last three I-Days. Now Ranil has brought it back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was Ranil’s way of telling Muraleedharan and India, M.K. Stalin and his Indian Tamils, and of course the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the rest of the world that he is reaching out to the minorities. A few days later, Ranil travelled north to open the Jaffna Cultural Centre, the founding stone of which was laid by Narendra Modi in 2015, and was built with Indian funds. Another of Modi’s ministers, L. Murugan, witnessed the opening.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since rioters invaded the presidential palace and booted out Gotabaya, India has been calibrating its aid to the country that has been bankrupted by Chinese loans and organic farming. We gave them $4 billion last year with no questions asked, and have been putting good words in the ears of the world’s moneylenders. The IMF, who usually lends after asking too many questions and laying down too many conditions, was reluctant saying the middle-income country cannot be given credit on poor country terms. What about Ukraine?—India asked, and the IMF, which had lent to middle-income Ukraine last March on poor country rates, is now working out modalities on lending to the Lankans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The guys in the IMF are crazy. They also bar you from borrowing from anyone else at a rate higher than theirs. Now Japan, which wants to help, is waiting for the IMF to fix their rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can’t blame the IMF. The Lankans still don’t know how to live with little. Ranil found in early February that he had earned only Lankan Rs 158.7 billion in January, but the month’s bills totalled Lankan Rs 367.8 billion. No more credit purchases, he has told his ministries. All the same, India “decided not to wait for others but to do what we believe is right,” as senior foreign minister S. Jaishankar had said on his Colombo visit a month earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranil is doing what India believes is right. We had been nudging the regimes in Colombo to give more powers to the provincial councils, so that the Tamils in the north would get some sort of self-rule. The Sinhala majoritarian regimes, flush with a war victory, had been hemming and hawing, but Ranil seems to be in a mood to concede. A month ago, he called on the ailing Tamil leader R. Sampanthan, perhaps the only surviving Tamil leader who was active during the Rajiv Gandhi-J.R. Jayewardene accord of 1987, and recalled in his ‘throne speech’ that he and Sampanthan were elected to parliament in 1977, and both have a “dream, which is to provide a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem,” and that “we wish to succeed this time”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ranil is said to have assured Jaishankar and Muraleedharan that he would take a conscious decision on the 13th amendment which offers powers over land, the police, education, health, housing and local revenue to the provinces. He may, but how would the Sinhala majoritarians react to such a decision by an unelected president? We may get an idea when the ballots in the local body polls, set for March 5, are counted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/17/how-ranil-wikramasinghe-is-reaching-out-to-tamils-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/17/how-ranil-wikramasinghe-is-reaching-out-to-tamils-prasannan.html Fri Feb 17 14:42:55 IST 2023 musharaff-and-his-three-little-indians <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/11/musharaff-and-his-three-little-indians.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/2/11/12-Musharraf-his-three-little-Indians-new.jpg" /> <p>Pervez Musharraf died last week, unmourned in India save by Shashi Tharoor. Tharoor’s tweet extolling Musharraf’s peace bids is being trolled by BJP diehards. They forget that it was Atalji Vajpayee who taught the commando-general the value of peace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to think of it, three Indians taught him to seek peace. Vajpayee was the last, the second a four-star general, and the first a poor naib-subedar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Musharraf, as we all know, was an India-born mohajir, an outsider in the Pakistani elite circles where the zamindar’s brother-in-law is the MP, the MP’s cousin owns the district’s biggest factory, the factory-owner’s nephew is the major-general, the major-general’s wife is the minister’s sister, the minister’s nephew is the police chief, the police chief married the cabinet secretary’s daughter, the cabinet secretary’s aunt married the ambassador, the ambassador’s brother is the zamindar we started with, the zamindar’s grandson has just picked up a lieutenant-colonel rank and is eyeing an attache post in Paris or London. Power, privilege and pelf in Pakistan revolve around 200 families, most of them Punjabis, a few Sindhis and fewer Pathans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A first-gen army officer, Pervez did not belong to any of these, yet he rose to the star ranks dominated by Pathans like Ayub and Yahya Khan and Punjabis like Zia-ul-Haq. The guy looked hardly military; on the street in shirt-and-trousers, as we saw him in 2001 visiting his nativity spot in Delhi’s Nehrwali haveli, you would have mistaken him for a bank manager or a middle-level mandarin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We all know how Vajpayee brought down the general-turned president who came to Agra surrounding himself with hubris. The guy talked Kashmir, Kashmir and Kashmir while Vajpayee and Co had many issues to chat about including terror. To cut a long summer day’s talks short, the summit collapsed and a livid Musharraf took a midnight flight to Islamabad. Soon he went to hunt with George Bush and run with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but was peeved when Bush let the Russia- and India-beholden Northern Alliance to capture Kabul. Finally, he vowed before Vajpayee that he would not let the land under his boots to be used for launching terror against India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His earlier encounter with India was when he sent troops from his force command northern areas, disguised as mujahideen, to capture the Kargil hilltops and direct howitzer fire to disrupt Indian supplies to Ladakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gen. Ved Malik sent troops up the craggy hills, and knocked them out with some help from air chief A.Y. Tipnis’s fighters and copters. The defeat convinced Musharraf of the Churchillian dictum, to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the man who drew first blood with him—so to speak—is a little known sardar, then a poor naib-subedar. Back in 1987, troops led by Major Varinder Singh made three bids to capture Quaid Post, the highest point on the Saltoro Ridge from where troops commanded by Musharraf, then a brigadier, were threatening western Siachen. A fourth bid, led by Naib Subedar Bana Singh, knocked out the Pakistanis, and captured the peak. The post, since then in Indian hands, is still known as Bana Post, and the operation as Op Rajiv. Not after the then PM, but after Second Lieutenant Rajiv Pande, who had been killed in an earlier bid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bana lived to tell his tale. Those who watched the R-Day parade this year too would have spotted him wearing his Param Vir Chakra, and standing proudly in a parade jeep. I spotted him again that afternoon at the President’s At Home, had a brief chat and, of course, a snap.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/11/musharaff-and-his-three-little-indians.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/11/musharaff-and-his-three-little-indians.html Thu Feb 16 10:35:20 IST 2023 a-dam-good-deal-on-the-indus <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/03/a-dam-good-deal-on-the-indus.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/2/3/17-Water-tight-on-the-Indus-dams-new.jpg" /> <p>Two deals between India and Pakistan have survived military’s wars, terrorists’ bombs and diplomats’ joint statements. One is about sharing the Indus waters; the other is about telling each other about their atomic assets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First about the latter. General K. Sundarji’s brazen Brasstacks in the 1986-87 so scared the Pakistanis that many feared India might do an Osirak on their Kahuta. Osirak, if you have forgotten, was a plant where Saddam Hussein was suspected to be making bombs, and was bombed by Iran in 1980, and then by Israel in 1981. The two operations defined ‘surgical strike’ for all times to come, though Digvijaya Singh is yet to grasp its meaning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then Benazir Bhutto waved a white flag and an olive branch at Rajiv Gandhi. The two, both newly elected and innocent of the ways of the big bad Ronald Reagan-led world, agreed to tell each other about the places where their scientists were experimenting with uranium atoms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, the two countries began a practice of exchanging lists of their nuclear plants on every January 1, complete with their locations and even longitudinal coordinates. That might sound like an invitation to enemy bombers, but believe me, the deal has proved to be the best confidence-building measure ever thought of between the two sparring neighbours. It has survived a dozen bomb tests, nine Indian prime ministers, umpteen Pakistani generals and rulers including a dim-witted ex-batsman and a 10 per cent commission agent. Even today, when India is being led by Narendra Modi who has cut off all kebab diplomacy with Paksitan, the deal is working. Only a month ago, diplomats of both countries exchanged New Year greetings and the location maps of their countries’ nuclear facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other deal, an older one, is the Indus Water Treaty by which Jawaharlal Nehru and Ayub Khan agreed in 1960 on how to share the waters of the Indus. It is a simple treaty, and therein lies its charm and the secret of its endurance. The main river and its five branches, which gave Punjab its name, were classed into three western rivers and three eastern rivers. The treaty gave India control over all the eastern rivers—the Beas, the Ravi and the Sutlej—while Pakistan got the western rivers, the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum. All the same, the treaty allowed India to take a little water from the western rivers for wetting farms. India was also allowed to build dams upstream in the western rivers for generating power, as long as most of the water flowed into Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But when India began building hydropower dams, Pakistan went wailing to the World Bank who had mediated the deal. The bank told them that power turbines don’t drink water, and all the water that’s Pakistan’s would reach them after turning India’s power turbines. Pakistan then raised a new fear—what if India suddenly opens the gates and flashfloods the whole of Punjab? The bank had nothing to say, since the deal had been made on the assumption that both countries would be ruled by sane men. So Pakistan asked for a neutral umpire and also for a court of arbitration. How can two courts look into the same matter at the same time; what if they give conflicting orders, asked India. Stick to the neutral expert, as provided for in the deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So far so good. But now, India has asked for renegotiating the whole treaty. Pray, why? Isn’t it like the winner in a lower court case filing an appeal? Or, Nehru going to the UN when he was winning the Kashmir war?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let’s leave the treaty alone. It works well for us, as also for Pakistan if they are sensible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/03/a-dam-good-deal-on-the-indus.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/02/03/a-dam-good-deal-on-the-indus.html Fri Feb 03 13:06:38 IST 2023 governors-chief-ministers-ananda-bose-mamata-powerdrive-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/28/governors-chief-ministers-ananda-bose-mamata-powerdrive-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/1/28/14-Rajpath-decolonised-new.jpg" /> <p>We stop singing 'Abide with Me' at Beating Retreat, we abandon the British-built Parliament house, we re-name old roads, we govern more in Hindi than in English. Yet, English and the British seem to be staying “too much with us late and soon”, and even growing on us. I mean, the English language and British ways of governance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More of our kids go to English schools these atmanirbhar days than did earlier, more people speak English and now, more of our governors govern like British governors did—that’s what Bhagwant Mann, Hemant Soren, M.K. Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan, Arvind Kejriwal and K. Chandrasekhar Rao are saying, and what Mamata Banerjee used to say till that “nice gentleman” C.V. Ananda Bose came to stay in the Kolkata Raj Bhavan praising the “artistic chief minister of a poetic state”. Bongs, who perhaps love the Mallu for his surname, say that she sent him idlis, she promised to get him a Malayali cook, and presto! all the bad blood that was spilled in the house of Wellesley during the Jagdeep Dhankhar days was scrubbed clean and tiled over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bad blood continues to be spilled in several other Raj Bhavans, as it used to in the late 1930s when governments, voted by the people in the provinces under the Government of India Act 1935, found their bills and wills being vetoed by the viceroy’s governors. So much so, Jawaharlal Nehru called the arrangement “a machine with strong brakes but no engine”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mann and Soren, Stalin and Vijayan, Kejriwal and KCR say, governors in their states, much like those British governors, go by the letter of the statute and miss the democratic spirit that is enshrined in those letters that together make schematic sentences and statutory sense. The Constitution says that the CM shall be appointed by the governor, the other ministers shall be appointed on the advice of the CM, “and the ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the governor.&quot; Kerala’s Arif Khan took the words literally recently and threatened to withdraw the pleasure he had on a minister. Luckily, legal eagles gave him saner counsel that his pleasure is what the men in the council of ministers—who are elected on the pleasure of the people—say should be his pleasure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal is miffed that Lt-Governor V.K. Saxena is scuttling his welfare schemes as waste, interfering in the mayoral polls by nominating BJP members into the AAP-majority town councils, and dismissing a Supreme Court order as non-binding advice. Soren is sore that Governor Ramesh Bais has not only returned the files on rules formed by the state government related to formation of the tribal advisory council, but also ordered changes. KCR suspects that Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan, former BJP president in Tamil Nadu, is poaching on his MLAs on behalf of the BJP in Telangana, and the governor suspects that KCR is tapping her phone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The governors have much to say on their behalf. They are not rubber stamps, but vested with the power to caution the elected men when they go wrong. (Khan’s sacking of varsity vice-chancellors has been upheld by the court.) Very true, excellencies! You have a case. But what N. Ravi of Tamil Nadu did went beyond all norms of constitutional propriety. Not only did he change portions of the speech approved by the cabinet for his address to the assembly, but boycotted the national anthem and printed cards styling himself as governor of Tamizhagom!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excellencies and Hon’ble CMs, stop this tomfoolery! Take a leaf out of the books of Ananda Bose and Mamata Banerjee, and behave like mature rulers of a 75-year-old democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/28/governors-chief-ministers-ananda-bose-mamata-powerdrive-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/28/governors-chief-ministers-ananda-bose-mamata-powerdrive-prasannan.html Sat Jan 28 14:23:14 IST 2023 speak-the-truth-on-joshimath <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/21/speak-the-truth-on-joshimath.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/1/21/16-Data-data-Joshimath-data-new.jpg" /> <p>A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes—so goes a saying wrongly attributed to Mark Twain. In this age of WhatsApp history and social media fake news, a lie would not only travel the whole way around the world, but shake the earth before truth finds its shoes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The earth is now shaking in India; truth has found its shoes, but is barred from stepping out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The whole world and all its geologists knew since the days of Thomas Oldham that the Himalayas are fragile, and that Mother Earth, sitting on her slopes, could slip and fall. His son Richard, who would discover the earth’s core and quake waves, studied the 153 landslides that killed 115 people in Nainital in 1880, and advised to dig drains to divert water from the town. The rulers listened, and in five years they built 62 storm-drains stretching 79km that still take the fury of Mother Nature away from the lake town. Even today’s geologists say, Nainital is the stablest slope town on the Himalayas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Look at what truth, sought out by the sages of science, can do if found in time, published in time, heeded to in time, and acted upon in time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modern India’s earth and space scientists, too, have been constantly in pursuit of truth. Armed with spy-eye satellites (India is a pioneer in remote-sensing thanks to the visionary P.R. Pisharoty) and ground-penetrating radars, they have been measuring the fragility of the hill towns, and publishing data after data. All those data have enabled their colleagues in the labs to publish report after report warning against building too many homes and hotels on the slopes, and against letting too many pilgrim buses and tourist cars up the Devbhumi hills, once sanctified by the sacred footsteps of sages like Sankara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, government after government have been trashing the data, ignoring the warnings, allowing people to build homes, permitting greedy businesses to set up hotels, and letting pilgrim-tourists clog up nature’s drains on the terra indica non-firma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, Mother Earth had enough, and shrugged a little, sinking the ground in Joshimath. Only a warning; she killed no one. Bless her!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s space scientists, as is their wont, jumped in to measure the depression, and reported their findings. Hardly had they published the data when India’s disaster managers told them to shut up. Don’t give out your data; just whisper to us what you found; we know what to do—the National Disaster Management Authority told the ISRO and a dozen or more scientific institutions that have been studying Mother Earth and her mood changes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the NDMA will come out with a full report in due course. But what would be its credibility? Filtered data could be doctored data—the world of science may cry. The Indian scientist’s credibility would go for a toss in the cerebral storm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sherlock Holmes warned in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, people may make bricks without clay. Rumour mills and WhatsApp scientists would have churned out a thousand theories. As he said in A Scandal in Bohemia, “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” And who knows—Mother Earth would have had another mood change by then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Disaster managers, please listen! Time and tide wait for none; nor do quakes, floods or landslides. Let the rajgurus of India that is Bharat, which swears by the Upanishadic motto Satyameva Jayate, speak the truth. Let the rajas and prajas hear the truth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/21/speak-the-truth-on-joshimath.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/21/speak-the-truth-on-joshimath.html Sat Jan 21 15:35:51 IST 2023 bharat-jodo-yatra-rahul-gandhi-spring-in-step <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/14/bharat-jodo-yatra-rahul-gandhi-spring-in-step.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/1/14/13-A-spring-in-the-yatris-step-new.jpg" /> <p>Much is being made of Rahul Gandhi’s t-shirt. First it was about its make and cost. Busybodies in the BJP found it’s a Burberry costing Rs41,000. That’s peanuts before Narendra Modi’s monogrammed 10 lakh-rupee suit and glasses that cost Rs1.5 lakh, retorted Congressmen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now it is about ‘why only t-shirt?’ in the Delhi winter where people are wearing long johns, sweaters, jackets, Kejriwal mufflers, shawls, scarves, cravats, caps and more. He is a lion, but not in his winter—replies the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bearing Delhi’s cold is no great shakes. I know a guy in Delhi who takes a cold shower every morning, and steps out in shirt-and-trousers 360 days a year. (“Five days I may not bathe,” says he.) No yogi he is, but a petty modern mortal like you and me, Rahul and Modi. Or ask the poor prisoners of Tihar, as Lieutenant Governor V.K. Saxena did on a visit last week. The governor has since ordered that they be given warm water to bathe. A warm-hearted gesture, Excellency!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Delhi sojourn has done Rahul some good. Suddenly, he has become prime-time and front-page news, whether it is for his t-shirt or his unkempt beard. The guy is enjoying every minute and byte, making the best of the chance. He has started talking politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout the yatra’s southern and central Indian legs, Rahul was looking and sounding apolitical, even saying the yatra was not about politics. What else are you out for? Fresh air? Exercise? Sight-seeing? Go for the big game, man; the game of power politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics is all about communication, not necessarily through words. Mahatma Gandhi mastered the art. There was a message in his every act—his spinning, his fasting, his enema service, his bowl of curd, third-class train trips, loincloth, meals with scavengers, taking a goat to England, the tales he made of a missing pencil, even his bouts of silence. Every act, every gesture, every word said and unsaid had a message for the enslaved millions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even Modi has been doing it well. His meditation in a Kedar cave; his brisk walk through an Ahmedabad street after voting in the assembly poll; his surprise metro rides; getting snapped with a peacock on his home lawns; wheeling his mother across those lawns; his choice of clothes (he got it wrong once, and paid the price for it); the spins on his tea-boy past.... Critics may carp at them as put-on acts, but they do get resonated in million minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember his campaign style in the 2014 polls? He was there in every corner of India, but rarely slept a night away from his Gandhinagar home. Every morning he jetted out, addressed half a dozen rallies, but flew back home in the night, only to jet out the next morning. It made every meeting of his looked-forward to. Will he come; when would the jet land; where would he go; how many winks does he sleep? Millions indulged in chai-pe-charcha over these questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul could have taken a page from Modi’s book. He could have walked his miles in the morning, taken a jet to Gujarat or Himachal after lunch, addressed three rallies, flown back to join his yatris, and set out on foot the next morning? Every trip would have been looked forward to by the media, by the locals, by his followers, by the Congressmen en route, giving some buzz to the otherwise ‘pedestrian’ yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, the winter break has done some good. Rahul has a spring (pun intended) in his step, he is talking politics, claims to be on a political mission, and is leading his tapasvis, and taking on the pujaris. Better late than never.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Godspeed, dude!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/14/bharat-jodo-yatra-rahul-gandhi-spring-in-step.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/14/bharat-jodo-yatra-rahul-gandhi-spring-in-step.html Sat Jan 14 17:32:52 IST 2023 free-lunches-is-good-economics <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/07/free-lunches-is-good-economics.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2023/1/7/10-Free-lunches-is-good-economics-new.jpg" /> <p>There ain't no such thing as a free lunch,” say economists. No one offers anything free for an entry pass into heaven, they say. There are hidden costs behind any good or service offered free.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The saying originated in 19th century America (where else do you get a double negative?) where saloons offered free lunches to tipplers. They made the food so salty that customers ended up buying more and more beer. Yet, folks fall for things free—from toothpastes that offer a quarter of the tube free to motor cars that offer five or six services free, or shirts that are offered one free with one paid for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Wine shops licensed by Delhi’s Aam Aadmi government a few months ago offered one bottle free with one that you bought. Too good to last. Within months, the Central government, killjoys, cancelled the licences, got the shops shut, and slapped cases against a minister. Instead, they opened sarkari wine shops that look like greasy garages, and sell some concoctions that taste like Socrates’s last drink.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us leave the drinks alone and talk food. The problem with economists is that they look even a gift horse in the mouth. They don’t know, there still are free lunches in this big bad world. Go to a gurdwara langar, and you will know why you don’t find people begging for food on Punjab streets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has been running the world’s largest langar, so to speak, for the past nearly three years. Didn’t know? Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India had been giving cheap food grain to its poor since 2013, when Manmohan Singh got the National Food Security Act enacted, and made food a basic right. He sold coarse grains at 11 to 13 a kilo to about 80 crore ration card-holding poor. It is another matter that he still did not win the 2014 election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Modi, who came to rule in 2014, continued with the scheme. When the Covid pandemic broke out, and millions lost jobs and fled the towns, he found that giving cheap grain was not enough. For two reasons. One, most of those who were buying those grains had no money now; two, since most had their ration cards specific to their places of work, they could not get the cheap grain in their villages even if they had money. So in 2020, Modi launched his Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana by which all the 80 crore-odd poor (plus or minus a few thousands here and there) were offered free grain over and above Manmohan Singh’s cheap grain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, most of the poor were enjoying free lunches and cheap dinners through these difficult days. But things were getting too complicated for government’s accountants with subsidies under several heads. So now the government has come up with a bright idea to kill several subsidies with one. It has stopped the free grain under PMGKAY, but made the earlier scheme of cheap grain fully free to beneficiaries of both. In other words, there will be no cheap lunches, but only free lunches.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Accountants are happy, but economists are seething in anger. They say, free lunches may be good politics, but bad economics. Meaning, you might win votes with free lunches, but it will ruin the economy. It will kill enterprise, make people lazy, and turn them perennial seekers of manna from heaven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But look at what happened during the three years when the government gave free grain. People ate full lunches and dinners, stayed healthy, worked harder whenever they could, produced more, got the granaries full and overflowing, and ran the factories full time. No wonder, the Indian economy is doing better than many other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is it bad economics? Then you don’t know Adam from Smith.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/07/free-lunches-is-good-economics.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2023/01/07/free-lunches-is-good-economics.html Sun Jan 08 16:41:35 IST 2023 kathmandu-s-house-of-cards <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/31/kathmandu-s-house-of-cards.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/12/31/11-Kathmandus-house-of-cards-new.jpg" /> <p>Kathmandu is famous for its casinos. Bikini-killer Charles Sobhraj, recently freed from a Nepal prison and flown to Paris, used to pick up his cash-rich victims—both blondes and baccarat-playing billionaires—from there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CIA, SVR, MI6, ISI, Guoanbu (yes, that’s China’s) and even our R&amp;AW are said to have invested heavily in some of these watering holes where their 007s play cards, and exchange fake calling cards and genuine tip-offs. The last few weeks have been busy season in those bright-lit casinos and dim-lit political betting dens. Nepal was going to polls for the second time under its republican constitution. Spies were milling around the dens, making contacts, paying off fixers, and directing blondes to the right political bedrooms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After Nepalis kicked out their king, declared themselves a republic in 2008, and gave themselves a constitution in 2015, Nepal has become more like France after the revolution. The French changed not only governments as quickly as they changed spouses, but also their constitutions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Nepalis have not gone as far as making new republics, but their politicians have been changing partners at the drop of a dhaka topi, much like the French have been in their private and republican lives. Though they had only two elections under the new statute, they have had half a dozen or more governments since 2015, with parties changing partners every few months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The three principal players in the current power reckoning are the India-friendly Sher Deuba of the Nepali Congress, the China-enamoured K.P. Sharma Oli of the Communist Party (UML), and the Maoist guerilla-turned politician P.K. Dahal aka Prachanda. Once an India-hater, Prachanda has changed partners and stripes six times to become PM thrice since he joined surface politics in 2008, and been more amenable (to India) than Oli of late.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Having once time-shared power with Deuba, Prachanda made a deal with Oli in the 2017 polls at the behest of the Chinese. He merged his party with Oli’s and let Oli rule during the first half of the five-year term while he headed the party. The deal was that they would switch jobs in the second half. But in mid-2020, Oli asked—deal? Which deal?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon the supreme court nullified the merger, and the two parted as bitter foes. The Chinese envoy tried her best to get them into the power bed together again but failed. As Oli fell, Deuba became PM with Prachanda’s support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the 2022 polls neared, Deuba and Prachanda formed a five-party phalanx against another Oli-led coalition. The understanding was that if the phalanx wins, the two would have another 50-50 timeshare deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But even as early results indicated that none would get majority, the wily Oli called Prachanda and offered him PM’s job in a coalition with him. He also dialled Deuba and offered him the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Poor Deuba thought he would have the premier job whichever way the chips would fall in the electoral casinos. On the one side, he had a pre-poll tie-up with Prachanda; on the other, he had the offer of a tie-up from Oli. Little did he know that Oli’s offer was a red herring. Oli wanted Deuba to refuse Prachanda’s demand for first shot at PMship. Deuba did exactly that, Prachanda walked out, did a deal with Oli and got himself sworn in for the first half of their five-year term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is now a team of strangest bedfellows. There is even a royalist party, seeking to put back a king on the throne, in the communist-led coalition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How long will the team last? Read the Chinese tea leaves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/31/kathmandu-s-house-of-cards.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/31/kathmandu-s-house-of-cards.html Sat Dec 31 11:16:13 IST 2022 why-addressing-mp-s-as-gentlemen-is-objectionable <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/24/why-addressing-mp-s-as-gentlemen-is-objectionable.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/12/24/10-A-lady-MP-a-gentleman-new.jpg" /> <p>Are our MPs gentlemen? A lady member, Minister Smriti Irani, says so. Pretty gracious of her! Yet Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who leads the Congress in the Lok Sabha, took offence last week when the good lady called the BJD’s Chandra Sekhar Sahu a gentleman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Men are usually guys, fellows, fellas, chaps, dudes, sods, SoBs and worse in most places. Gentleman is a term used in genteel circles for referring to a man who is polite, behaves well and, as Oscar Wilde is said to have said, one who “never insults anyone unintentionally”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gentlemen are spotted in three places. One, in welcome speeches at functions where ‘ladies and gentlemen’ is a polite catch-all for ‘the rest of you lesser mortals in the back rows’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, in the armed forces. There, every man who bears a star or more on the shoulders, wields a baton and speaks English is a gentleman. Trainees who are yet to acquire those are gentlemen-cadets. If you hear “gentlemen, bottoms up” in the officers’ mess, rest assured that nothing unnatural is going to take place. They are only telling the young men to finish their drinks and get to the dinner table asap. These days with ladies in uniform, I hope they have dropped the phrase, lest a few cluster-bombs burst in the messes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third place? Well, to most of us civvies, gentlemen appear on signboards outside men’s washrooms. Those, ironically enough, are places wherein some of the gentlest Dr Jekylls turn into porn-minded poison-scribbling Mr Hydes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All those are beside the point here. We are talking about men in the houses of Parliament. Adhir Ranjan’s point was that men in Parliament shouldn’t be called gentlemen. What then? Villains? Perish the thought; that’s breach of privilege. In the house, said Adhir Ranjan, every member should be called an “honourable member”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lady that she is, Smriti enjoyed the joust. She uttered the objectionable word a couple of times more before letting it go, and then yielded graciously by calling Sahu an “honourable member”. Take my word, she didn’t mean what Mark Antony did when he called a certain fellow-Roman as “an honourable man”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of protocols. They make every idiosyncrasy look or sound sacred and sanctified, and help turn every brawl into a platonic debate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law courts excel in these. Every counsel is learned, and every judge in the high courts and Supreme Court is a m’lord, though the last of the real lords went with the Mountbattens and the Somerset Infantry. The Bar Council and some of the judges have often asked for the practice to be ended, but as Fali Nariman wrote in his memoirs, the judges like it. We saw that once in the Supreme Court. Justice S.A. Bobde once asked in open court for the practice to end; yet he came down like a tonne of bricks on a poor law student who addressed him “Your Honour” a few months later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presidency is another fortress of protocol. Abdul Kalam dispensed with the dress code (national dress/lounge suit) for guests at I-Day and R-Day receptions; Pranab Mukherjee replaced “His Excellency” with the less pompous “Honourable” before his name, except when being addressed along with a foreign excellency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of these are welcome reforms, but let’s not change it all. Protocols and courtesies have their own uses. They render the humdrum functions of the state a certain dignity, its offices certain sanctity, and its functionaries certain halo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remove those attributes, and call the President, “hey dude!” The skies won’t fall. But the state will. It runs on the consent and respect of the citizen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/24/why-addressing-mp-s-as-gentlemen-is-objectionable.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/24/why-addressing-mp-s-as-gentlemen-is-objectionable.html Sat Dec 24 10:58:17 IST 2022 belgavi-border-dispute-between-karnataka-and-maharashtra <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/10/belgavi-border-dispute-between-karnataka-and-maharashtra.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/12/10/14-Winter-battles-in-Belagavi-new.jpg" /> <p>One swallow may not make a summer, but any babble over Belagavi signals that it is winter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Belagavi dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra was once thought to be a perennial one, but of late it has been flaring up in winter. Foxed? Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dispute is as old as the 1956 linguistic reorganisation of states when the town and the district, then part of the Bombay state, were known as Belgaum. The region was given to Mysore (now Karnataka) over Maharashtra's claim that more Marathi speakers lived there than Kannadigas. The Justice M.C. Mahajan Commission, sent by the Centre in the late 1960s, suggested that about 200 villages be given to Maharashtra, but the town would stay with Karnataka. None was satisfied; nothing happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things were manageable as long as the same party—then the Congress—was ruling both the states and the Centre, since explosive situations could be averted through intra-party chats. Soon, a local pro-Maharashtra party, the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti (MES), began capturing the assembly seats in the region, and even the town hall. Things got worse when the states too came under mutually hostile parties. Nine were killed in a police firing at rioters in 1986 when the Congress was ruling Maharashtra, and the Janata Party in Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2005, the city council, then controlled by the MES, resolved to merge with Maharashtra. The Congress-Janata Dal regime in Karnataka dissolved the city council, and Kannada activists blackened the mayor's face. In 2007, Maharashtra approached the Supreme Court. The matter has been pending, and passions remained cool.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, in 2012, Karnataka opened a second Vidhana Soudha in the town, and began holding its winter session there. That has been like a red rag before a bull. Last December Marathi activists held an event seeking Belgaum's merger with Maharashtra; Kannada activists blackened the face of one of them. Marathis vandalised the statue of freedom fighter Sangolli Rayanna, a Kannada icon; Kannadigas got even by defacing a Sivaji statue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The show is repeating this year. No sooner had the Karnataka legislature announced its winter session dates than two Maharashtra ministers, Chandrakant Patil and Shamburaje Desai, said that they would like to visit their Marathi cousins living in Belagavi. Karnataka CM Basavaraj Bommai got his borders barricaded, and reminded Maharashtra that water-starved panchayats in Maharashtra's Sangli district were asking to join Karnataka. A border showdown was averted when Patil and Desai put off their December 6 visit, but protests erupted elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics offers a chance to avert violent showdowns. The MES is long gone and forgotten. All the stake-holding entities are controlled by the same party, the BJP. It rules the Centre; it rules Karnataka and it is a powerful partner in the government in Maharashtra. Most of Belagavi and its neighbourhood are represented in city hall, the assembly and the Lok Sabha by the BJP. Can't they sit together and defuse crises before more statues get vandalised, more faces blackened? Politics, after all, is the art of the possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a permanent solution? Not till the cows grazing on the banks of the Ghataprabha come home. The issues are emotive, involving language and identity. Any leader who makes a concession would be lynched as a traitor politically if not physically. Any attempt at a forced solution may backfire on all.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What then is the way out? Simple. Prevent showdowns, and let the dispute linger on till the dynamics of demography makes it irrelevant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/10/belgavi-border-dispute-between-karnataka-and-maharashtra.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/10/belgavi-border-dispute-between-karnataka-and-maharashtra.html Sat Dec 10 16:38:33 IST 2022 assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/03/assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/12/3/14-PM-Modi-and-Assam-CM-Sarma-new.jpg" /> <p>Himanta Biswa Sarma is credited with delivering not only Assam but most of the northeast to Narendra Modi. Great job, considering the BJP had never set foot in the northeast earlier. Since then he has helped capture Maharashtra; he gave Eknath Shinde's rebel MLAs a safe house. Critics say, his agents are active in Jharkhand and other opposition states spreading disaffection, currency and coup prospects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one knows how true these tales are, but he did execute a coup last week. He turned a centuries-old federal political narrative upside down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First a tale of emperors. The men who have sat on the Delhi throne have always coveted the distant marches—the Deccan, Rajputana, Kashmir, Punjab, Malwa, Saurashtra, Bengal and so on. Mediaeval Indian history is full of tales of how the fortunes of the sultans and padshahs of Delhi swelled and ebbed as they won and lost these regions. When it was a win, the campaign commander was invested with the satrapy. When satraps revolted, empires declined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sarma's walkout from the Congress, too, had an imperial setting. Once when he walked into Rahul Gandhi's court in 2016 to air his woes, he found the crown prince keener on feeding his dog. A perfect Mughal tale of a satrap's revolt after being insulted in the imperial court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political pundits in post-Independence India have been drawing on such tales when they had to describe the poll prospects of big parties in provinces. A victory or a loss for a national party (the Congress, most times) in a state poll was likened to an emperor (a Mughal, most times) winning or losing a province. Thus the eastern marches have been on Modi's look-out ever since he was elected to the Delhi throne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sarma snatched Assam from the Congress and delivered it to Modi. Then as convener of the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance, he delivered most of the region, including the communist redoubt of Tripura. Like a victorious commander being rewarded with a satrapy, Sarma was invested with the CMship of Assam, though after a one-term delay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, the imperial narrative did not suit the BJP's nationalistic mythology wherein the sultans and padshahs of Delhi are invaders with black beards. Last week, Sarma used the 400th birth anniversary of the Ahom hero Lachit Barphukan to turn the tale around into one of a provincial champion fending off the sultans with black beards.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Barphukan saga is indeed a tale of grit, glory and gore of the Ahoms, a people who had never been conquered by any of the Delhi suzerains. (The British were ruling from Bengal when they annexed Assam in the 19th century.) Barphukan was the commander of the Ahom army that launched a surprise naval attack from the Brahmaputra on the Mughals at Saraighat in 1671 and routed them. To Sarma, “It was a victory that saved the identity and civilisation of Assam and northeast India from Mughal subjugation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Neutral historians may carp that the Mughal army was led by a Hindu, Barphukan was a follower of the Tai Ahom faith, the Ahom army had many Muslim commanders, and so on. But Sarma, undaunted, was in Delhi last week, painting the imperial capital in Ahom colours, complete with street posters and full-page ads in newspapers showing Barphukan's brilliant victory. There were songs, stage plays, a book release and a documentary screening in the Vigyan Bhavan where a three-day show wound down on November 24, with the prime minister and the home minister joining it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In between Sarma found time to join the BJP's star-studded roadshows in the city's municipal polls! I guess, there is no way stopping the man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/03/assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/12/03/assam-cm-himanta-biswa-sharma-bjp-northeast-campaigns.html Sun Dec 04 14:09:42 IST 2022 the-need-for-birth-control-in-india <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/25/the-need-for-birth-control-in-india.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/11/25/13-People-people-everywhere-new.jpg" /> <p>The world's eight-billionth baby was born on November 15. There were two claimants—one born in the Philippines, the other in the Dominican Republic. Whoever is declared the winner, a grave in Bath Abbey in England would have shaken at the moment of their birth—the grave of Thomas Robert Malthus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malthus had said two centuries ago that humans multiply in geometric progression while resources multiply in arithmetic progression. If it were true, these two babies should have been born long ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was Malthus wrong? No! He was right; his prediction went wrong because he predicted it. Confused?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Certain predictions in economics are like predictions in the quantum world. Quantum scientists say, when you measure a proton's position, the act of measuring affects its quantum state. Similarly, certain predictions in economics get disproved because they have been predicted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The worst happened to Karl Marx. He predicted that just as primitive communism gave way to slavery, slavery to feudalism, and feudalism to capitalism, capitalism will inevitably give way to communism because of the contradictions within the capitalist order. This prediction, and the forced arrival of Lenin's communism in Russia, alarmed western regimes. Britain, where Marx said the revolution would come first, quickly introduced minimum wages, fixed working hours, old-age pension, labour bureaus, workmen insurance, free schools and school meals for the poor. John Maynard Keynes theorised these into welfare economics; Franklin Roosevelt implemented these in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the proletariat began to get petit bourgeois comforts of life, they worked better, produced more, helped make more profits, got better wages and forgot Marx. In short, if Marx had not predicted it, who knows, the world would have been communist by now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similar has been the fate of Malthus's prophecy. In the days when Malthus lived, people made babies in dozens, and blessed newly weds in the way God blessed Noah and his sons: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Malthus' doomsday warning alarmed rulers and thinkers. Gradually, they found ways for farmers to grow more crops (dams, canals, better seeds, better manure, better weedkillers...) and for people to make fewer babies (vasectomy, tubectomy, the pill, condoms and more).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both were introduced in India during the Indira Gandhi regime. If Indira launched the green revolution by which crops multiplied geometrically, son Sanjay devised ways to make people multiply arithmetically. It is another matter that his forced cut measures backfired politically, and 'family planning' became a dirty term. Successor regimes adopted the term 'family welfare'.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, most people got the message. Mothers have since been bearing fewer babies. Better health care also helped. Today's mothers are surer about their babies' survival into teens than were mothers of yore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, India has not done enough. At the rate of 67,385 babies born every day, we will overtake China as the most populous nation next year. We ought to do something for people to make even fewer babies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem is that the moment we talk of birth control, the debate gets communal. Hindu rightists accuse Muslims of procreating faster; Muslim rightists counter that government data show sharper fall in Muslims' fertility rate than among Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Good people, please note! The worry is not whether there will be too many Hindus or too many Muslims. The worry is that there will be too many Indians to be fed, schooled, housed, nursed, employed, paid, pensioned and cared for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/25/the-need-for-birth-control-in-india.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/25/the-need-for-birth-control-in-india.html Sun Nov 27 12:50:00 IST 2022 how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/17/how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/11/17/18-A-mercy-lesson-from-Stalin-new.jpg" /> <p>Rajiv Gandhi's assassins are walking free, thanks to the Supreme Court that thinks justice is not revenge. The convicts have suffered enough; they have been studious and virtuous while in jail; so no need to keep them behind bars any longer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK is overjoyed; the Congress is peeved; the Gandhis are silent; the BJP is watching the fun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No assassination has shaken Indian polity as rudely as Rajiv's. There was no ethnic bloodbath after it, as there had been after Indira Gandhi's, but there have been political blood feuds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coalitions of convenience were made and unmade in its aftermath. Friends traded charges over it and turned foes; foes forgot old feuds and turned friends. Every government that came after it—except Narendra Modi’s—paid some price for it. One, Inder Gujral's, fell in its aftershock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Governance became impossible for P.V. Narasimha Rao after dissidents in the party accused him of undermining the M.K. Jain Commission that was probing the plot behind the murder. They got a shot in the arm after Sonia made a seven-minute speech at Amethi, and when Priyanka made quiet appearances on the audience benches during the commission hearings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Rao forged a pact with J. Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK in the 1996 polls, Congress elders in Tamil Nadu—P. Chidambaram, G.K. Moopanar, Vazhapady Ramamurthy et al—parted ways with him, and formed the Tamil Maanila Congress. They tied up with rival DMK, which had been sympathetic to the Tigers' cause, and made the Congress-AIADMK alliance bite dust. As they joined Deve Gowda's coalition along with the DMK, the Congress was forced to support them from outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Jain's interim report hinted at the DMK's links to the Tigers, the Congress asked Gowda's successor Gujral to drop the DMK ministers. Gujral refused, the Congress pulled the rug, and Gujral fell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His successor, A.B. Vajpayee, had to quit after a year when ally Jayalalithaa withdrew support over his refusal to dismiss the DMK regime in Tamil Nadu. Vajpayee won the 1999 election, made friends with the DMK, and inducted DMK men into his cabinet. But when Vajpayee refused to repeal the anti-terror law POTA, the DMK quit the cabinet a few months before the 2004 polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now the Gandhis had turned merciful. Priyanka visited convict Nalini in prison in a bid to “make peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced”. Sonia pleaded with president K.R. Narayanan to show mercy and spare the convicts from the gallows. In 2004, she reached out to the DMK, forgetting all the feuds. Their grand alliance with other parties scored a suprise victory over Vajpayee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The alliance stayed strong till 2013 when the DMK wanted the Congress-led regime to join a UN vote condemning the Lankan regime's “war crimes” against the Lankan Tigers. Manmohan Singh refused, the DMK pulled out of the coalition, but the government stayed. The next year, the Congress-led UPA lost the polls to Narendra Modi's BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The release has come at a time when the Congress and the DMK have become friends again. They fought the assembly polls together, and Stalin was there at the Cape to see off Rahul on his long march. Now the Congress has blotted the copybook. Its leaders jumped to condemn the release, even as most Tamils were celebrating.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily for the Congress, the Gandhis and Stalin have been discreet. The former are keeping quiet. Stalin, instead of joining issue with his allies, has skilfully steered the issue to his own issues with the governor who had refused his plea to release the convicts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If that isn't statesmanship, what is?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/17/how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/17/how-friends-turned-foes-and-foes-friends-after-rajiv-gandhis-assassination.html Sun Nov 20 15:19:43 IST 2022 reservation-quota-in-india <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/11/reservation-quota-in-india.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/11/11/16-One-step-forward-new.jpg" /> <p>There lived a poor Brahmin on the banks of the Ganga—so poor that he could not provide one square meal a day for his wife and children. One day a wealthy farmer who owned a thousand cows took pity on him, and...</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus go several Panchatantra stories. Mythology gives you better tales. Call the poor pundit Sudama, and the wealthy cow-owner Krishna. Presto! you get one of the finest stories of class reunion ever told, where two schoolmates meet in their middle age, and recall their innocent prank of stealing each other's lunch-box.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why am I telling fables here? Hold on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mythology so far: in the early days of our Constitution, there were job and seat quotas for the scheduled castes and tribes, who had been deprived of schools and jobs over centuries. The logic was: since their forefathers had been poor and deprived, they had not got the chance to go to school, and they could not compete with the guys coming from well-schooled and well-connected elite homes. It was only natural and historical justice that a few seats and jobs be kept for them so that they could get into positions of power, and join the power elite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1990 V.P. Singh unleashed the Mandal revolution by which jobs and seats were reserved for backward castes, too. The Supreme Court upheld the move, but stipulated that caste quotas should not exceed half the seats available.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mandal provoked the forward castes to protest. Critics of caste quotas pointed to the “poor Brahmin” stories to demolish the argument that upper castes have always enjoyed entitlements. If they enjoyed entitlements since the age of Bhagavata Purana, Panchatantra and Manusmriti, how could those stories feature Brahmins who were poor, and Yadavs who went to school and prospered in life?—they asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Narasimha Rao defused what would have turned into a caste war by refusing quotas to the rich (creamy layer) among the backwards, and privatising the economy. In effect, he told the upper castes to leave the ill-paying sarkari jobs to the Mandalised masses, and make more money from the liberalised economy. It worked—as long as economies did well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But private economies are fickle. A run on a funding firm in the US, a meltdown in the far east, a pandemic, or a war in Ukraine would bring down stock prices, turn profits into losses, throw tycoons into penury, cut pay cheques, and chuck out millions from white- and blue-collar jobs. While such things happened off and on, the government, which had been getting richer with revenues, kept hiking staff wages all along.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That sent the socio-economic debate over job quotas back to square one. As private jobs became uncertain, and sarkari jobs stayed well-paid and stable, the upper castes turned restive again. Castes that were deemed forward—Marathas, Jats, Patidars et al—sought job quotas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, Parliament amended the Constitution reserving 10 per cent college seats and government jobs for the poor among the forwards. Most parties—the rightists, leftists and centrists—said aye. A few days back, the Supreme Court upheld the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most are celebrating, but few realise the paradigm shift that the judgment brings about. Quotas were for castes and classes till now, they will now be for individuals. Class, well-heeled or deprived, is no longer the central point of the quota discourse; the individual, rich or poor, is. Quotas will become dynamic. Entitlements will change with every rupee one earns. And the 10 per cent limit could be temporary. Is it good or bad? Let jurists, sociologists, economists, law-makers decide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/11/reservation-quota-in-india.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/11/reservation-quota-in-india.html Fri Nov 11 15:47:04 IST 2022 arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/04/arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/11/4/14-Gods-on-currency-new.jpg" /> <p>Arvind Kejriwal has found a way to save the rupee—print images of Gods Ganesha or Lakshmi on the notes. If Islamic Indonesia can print a Ganesha image on their 20,000-rupee note, why can't Hindu-majority India? he asks. By Mammon and Kubera! So, the US dollar is staying strong not because of all the gold in Fort Knox, but because every bill or coin bears the words “In God we trust”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The divine dollar didn't give the million-rupee idea to Kejriwal. My guess is, the streetsmart CM got it from the well-swept streets of Delhi. Delhi's home-owners place pictures of gods on their street walls and in staircase corners so as to prevent them from being defiled with paan-spit and worse. The trick works better than statutory warnings and Swachch Bharat messages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what works for street walls and corridor corners need not work for currency notes. Any money-changer in Daryaganj would tell you that Indonesia's Ganesha-guarded 20,000 rupee is worth only 106 Gandhi-headed, RBI governor-guaranteed, Indian rupees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal may not know this, but his idea had been tried by a few mediaeval kings. Two were Muslim. Akbar minted coins that showed Ram and Sita. The other—now Kejriwal should be kicking himself—was Muhammad Ghori, that Afghan who defeated Delhi's last Hindu king Prithviraj and, going by Rajput folklore, gouged out his eyes. Before seating his ex-slave Qutbuddin Aibak on the throne of Delhi, Ghori issued coins showing Goddess Lakshmi. Pray, should Modi's mint of 2022 be doing what Ghori's mint did in 1192?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal's problem is not money. He wants an ideology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All parties have an ideology—left, right, centrist, sectarian, nationalistic, etc—or a regional identity. To that extent, the AAP has not been a 'political' party, but a 'civic' party. It practises not politics, but civics—especially the civics of what citizens ought to get from the state, and ought to give the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This worked in the middle-class civic polity of Delhi, where civic problems are more pronounced in electoral discourse than are political issues. Breaking out into Punjab and now Gujarat, Kejriwal needs an ideological identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Which to choose? Not leftist. In the binary of society versus individual, the leftists lean towards society. The AAP is individual or citizen-oriented.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not rightist. With no economic philosophy, the AAP cannot be economic rightists like the British Tories, the US Republicans or the defunct Swatantra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there are the sectarian rightists who espouse identity nationalism—the BJP, the UK Independents, France's National Rally et al.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While not being any, the AAP carries elements of all. It believes in the left's welfare policies, by which the state distributes largesse to the citizens (not necessarily to society). The free power, water, schools, transport and clinics are all largesses given away by a left-leaning administration to its citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Flip the coin and you find elements of classical rightism in the AAP's inclination towards individual rights. Its espousal of the right to information demanded of a state that withholds it, and its campaign against the bribe-taking clerkdom have all been rightist causes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, Kejriwal is choosing the third. He is moving towards the identity or majoritarian right. He has sacked a god-defiling minister, openly recites Hanuman chalisa, claims to share his birthday with Lord Krishna, pays for pilgrims on progress, makes a replica Ram temple in Delhi, and is now seeking gods on dimes in dozens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The million-rupee question is: Will these work in Gujarat?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/04/arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/11/04/arvind-kejriwals-problem-is-not-money-he-wants-an-ideology.html Sun Nov 06 13:15:15 IST 2022 britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/28/britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/10/28/11-Get-real-with-Rishi-folks-new.jpg" /> <p>David Cameron had foretold this, once in the presence of Narendra Modi—that there would soon be a day when the monarch calls a Singh or a Patel as “my prime minister”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The day has come. Rishi Sunak has been on his way to 10 Downing Street, since Liz Truss quit in 40-odd days. The old warhorse Boris Johnson tried a trot or two; he retired on Diwali. Since then, Bob's your uncle, Rishi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Record-keepers say, Truss's has been the shortest tenure, breaking the record of George Canning (father of the first viceroy of India) who lasted 119 days in 1827. Actually, no. Britain has had PMs with shorter tenures than 'little' Liz. Lord Bath was there for two days in 1746; he couldn't find anyone to join his cabinet. Lord Waldegrave was PM for four days in 1757.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even the celebrated Arthur Wellesley (later Lord Wellington), who had earned his spurs in India and defeated Bonaparte at Waterloo, falls in this group. In 1834 he wet-nursed a cabinet for 25 days till Robert Peel returned from Europe. Later, the Iron Duke did have an actual stint of two years, but didn't leave any mark. He was a bad prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since Robert Walpole left after a 20-year reign, most British cabinets have been short-lived. Britain proves that regime stability is not a prerequisite for economic progress. Even when they were ruling a third of the world, governments were being made and unmade in weeks and months in London. In fact, they got stabler governments after they began losing global dominance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let's leave those to the British voters, and look at what we think is an India story being made in London. Sunak will be the first PM of Indian origin; he swears by the Gita; worships the cow. Cut it out; Queen Anne is dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big news is—Sunak will be the richest PM that Great Britain has ever had. His net worth is about £730 million, nearly 300 million more than that of Lord Derby, the richest till date. Derby had a personal fortune of over £7 million, which is about £444 million in today's money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But before we Indians toast with the finest scotches, let's drop some ice. Personal wealth need not make great prime ministers. Derby, who had three short stints in the 1850s and 1860s, was an average performer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the contrary, some of the greatest were poorer than a church mouse in the Westminster Abbey. William Pitt, the youngest (not even 25 when he kissed the king's hand) and one of the greatest, was the poorest. He had a debt of £40,000 (now over £1 million) when he formed his first government. He is remembered for keeping Britain out of the messy politics and Napoleonic wars of continental Europe, but blocking Bonaparte in the waters around Asia and Africa, ending corruption in the East India Company, and bringing parliamentary control over its rule in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Youth also need not make one great. Lord Palmerston was past 70 when he moved into 10 Downing Street. William Gladstone was 82 when he made it the fourth time. Both are counted among the greatest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let's not delude ourselves thinking that Sunak will be good to India because he has Indian blood in his veins or because his wife is an Indian citizen. Remember, he is a loyal subject of his king and will be as good or as bad to India as any beef-eating Anglo-Saxon would be. In the haggling over free trade, he may be a tougher nut than were Johnson or Truss.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For two reasons. One, he is a better economist than they. Two, with critics watching whether he is favouring the land of his wife, he will be constantly on his toes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bob is not your father-in-law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/28/britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/28/britain-new-pm-rishi-sunak-challenges-r-prasannan.html Fri Oct 28 14:20:31 IST 2022 congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/21/congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/10/21/12-Got-a-name-now-for-tags-new.jpg" /> <p>What is in a name? wondered Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet; “a lot,” would be the reply of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao. He has renamed his Telangana Rashtra Samithi as Bharat Rashtra Samithi. The new name, many believe, should take him places, and, perhaps, catapult him to the throne of Delhi in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaders and voters in the north should not have a problem. Good people as they are, they had lived happily through the regimes of southern leaders P.V. Narasimha Rao and H.D. Deve Gowda, and may not object to another southerner ruling India. They may even like the new name of KCR's party, but not necessarily its spelling. Northerners spell samithi as samiti, just as they call the president 'rashtrapati' while southerners call her 'rashtrapathi'. That's a minor issue of the aspirate—pun intended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Come to think of it, shouldn't we be having a national spelling before we ask for a national language? (Hindi, many may not know, is not 'the national language of India'; under the Constitution, Hindi is 'the official language of the Union', a status it enjoys alongside English.) That is a point to ponder for Amit Shah and his home ministry mandarins, the guys who mind our tongues and often get a tongue-lashing from M.K. Stalin or Pinarayi Vijayan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin and Vijayan could take a page from good old E.K. Nayanar's language textbook. When UP CM Mulayam Singh Yadav sent him a letter in Hindi in 1990, the Kerala CM replied in Malayalam. Tongue in check!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KCR should have no issues with language. He is the one who got India's newest state carved out on a non-linguistic platform out of the first state that was carved out on a linguistic platform. He is fairly fluent in four tongues—Telugu, English, Hindi and Urdu. That is three less than fellow-Telangani Narasimha Rao who knew Sanskrit, Marathi and Spanish, too, but was silent in all seven.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>KCR has been jetting around making friends, talking in four tongues, and influencing and instigating non-BJP chieftains to form a phalanx to take on the BJP Goliath in 2024. Though a believer in things occult, he is under no notion that a mere name change would catapult him to the Delhi throne in 2024. Earlier too, provincial parties had added national tags to their names, but had not gone much far politically. Soon after splitting from the DMK in 1972, M.G. Ramachandran added All India to his Anna DMK, but stayed put in his state. N.T. Rama Rao toyed with the idea of converting his Telugu Desam to Bharat Desam, but gave it up as he got caught in the vortex of the United Front politics of V.P. Singh. Though she parted ways with the Congress as Trinamool Congress, Mamata Banerjee attached an All India tag soon but has not gone much far from her Bangla grassroots. Two years ago she quietly shed the 'Congress' tag from her party's logo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To tag or not to tag the Congress is the issue that opposition leaders can't decide. Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Stalin, Lalu Yadav et al think that a Congress-less coalition would be pointless, since the Congress is the only non-BJP party that still has roots or branches in most states. On the other hand, Mamata and KCR believe that the Congress tag would prove to be a millstone around their necks, since their fight in their own states is as much with the Congress as it is with the BJP. The others are yet to make up their minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Either way, the road ahead looks like what Saint Nizamuddin Auliya said when he heard that Sultan Ghiyazuddin Tughlaq was riding to Delhi with murder on his mind: Dilli hanoz duur ast (Delhi is still distant).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/21/congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/21/congress-tag-for-regional-political-parties-in-india-r-prasannan.html Fri Oct 21 16:41:32 IST 2022 how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/14/how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/prasannan/images/2022/10/14/10-Mulayum-Singh-Yadav-new.jpg" /> <p>Those of us who walked into the Navy's Kota House mess for a quickly-called afternoon tea with the three military chiefs were shocked to see the defence minister, too, waiting for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It had been a turbulent week. The IAF's transport pilots were upset that fighter pilots would be paid Rs10,000 more a month, as advised by the 5th pay panel. The reason: flying IAF's old fighters was risky.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fighters fly in safe skies, protested transport pilots. We fly risky missions every day, dropping stuff over peaks and jungles in rain, mist, sandstorm, and in airless Siachen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since soldiers cannot protest in public, their wives took to the streets, picketing air bases, blocking flag cars. The press reported it all, at times as 'mutiny'. It was then that media director Swagata Ghosh called us to tea with the chiefs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chiefs briefed us in detail, admitting their failure to foresee the angst in an officer's mind when he sees a brother-officer getting 10,000 more in his pay cheque (a television set cost Rs5,000 then). A committee would review the matter, they told us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, Mulayam took over in his accented Hindi. “Friends, we are a free country. You can report anything if true. I have no authority to stop you. But I am making a request as one who knows most of you personally. The chiefs tell me that the English word 'mutiny' is a dangerous term in the context of the armed forces. I request you, please don't use that word.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Believe me, none of us used the term after that. Slowly, the issue got defused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was Mulayam Singh. No expert in matters military, yet he deftly ran a difficult ministry for two years with his abundant common sense. It helped him handle strategic issues. When prime minister I.K. Gujral came under pressure from the US to give up our missile programme on the ground that Pakistan posed no threat, Mulayam took an An-32 to Leh, landed in the Siachen base camp, and asked the troops who had been restrained: “What are you waiting for?” As guns opened up on the world's highest battlefield, not even Bill Clinton could ask Gujral to spike his missiles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Common sense and political deftness had enabled Mulayam to rise as the Janata Dal's chief minister in Uttar Pradesh against the wishes of V.P. Singh in 1989. Though initially cool, Mulayam picked up V.P.'s Mandal card, and paired it with his minorityism to take on the Ayodhya-charioteering L.K. Advani, and to shoot down the kar sevaks from atop the Babri mosque domes in 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Great Gambler of the Gangetic Plain loved taking risks, but always under an insurance cover. His anti-BJP politics in the 1990s was covered with a secular-left insurance policy given by his friend, the communist grandmaster Harkishan Singh Surjeet who helped make and unmake anti-BJP coalitions. The two fell apart when Mulayam felt slighted after Surjeet took his aide Amar Singh uninvited to Sonia Gandhi's dinner, where he was given a cold-salad look.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mulayam's suppressed anger burst forth when Sonia, who was trying to make a government after bomb-maker A.B. Vajpayee's government fell for lack of one vote in 1999, slighted him again. Watching her on television referring to him as just “Mulayam Singh”, with neither a 'ji' nor a 'Shri', and not even a 'Mr', a seething Mulayam ranted and railed at Surjeet, and refused to support Sonia's bid to make a government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rest is history. With no one able to make a government, president K.R. Narayanan ordered polls, and Vajpayee returned with a bigger mandate. Later, Mulayam would have his revenge on the communists, by deftly supporting nuclear-dealer Manmohan Singh against the wishes of the left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>prasannan@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/14/how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/prasannan/2022/10/14/how-mulayam-singh-yadav-muted-an-air-force-mutiny-r-prasannan.html Sun Oct 16 14:09:52 IST 2022