Friday, November 27, 2009

So Indians now dislike President Obama!

Many months ago, in mid March to be precise, when Indians were swooning over the rock star Barack Obama, I wrote an edit for this magazine with a headline: Why Indians Will Hate Obama. As Manmohan Singh comes back virtually empty handed from his state visit to Washington, let me just reprint the same edit below. Honestly, this is not chest thumping:-)

Very soon, you might have Prakash Karat and fellow comrades crooning, ‘I told you so’, as the Indian media slams Barack Obama and Uncle Sam for once again ‘tilting against’ India. You can already hear murmurs of protest as protectionism gathers momentum in America and young Indians find their dream jobs disappearing in the United States. Then there are those hawks who are now convinced that America is absolutely not interested in genuinely helping India when it comes to battling cross border terrorism. And rest assured, the Obama administration will take many decisions and make many choices that will anger, dismay and even outrage urban Indians who haven’t stopped fantasising about the emerging strategic partnership between India and America. For this breed of Indians, Uncle Sam would follow up the nuclear deal by doing everything that is anti- Pakistan and anti-China if they have a conflict of interest with India. Sadly such delusions always get shattered. They will inevitably get shattered by end of this year. So after the Indo-US euphoria of the last few years, get prepared for a phase of disappointment and rage at the perfidy of Uncle Sam. And don’t be surprised if Obama becomes one of the most criticised personalities in Indian media (in any case, even his honeymoon with the American media is on the verge of collapsing).

The brutal fact is: both the media and the middle class Indians will be wrong when they rail at Obama and his policies. The reason behind that is another brutal fact: India still behaves childishly and naively when it comes to the pursuit of national interests, foreign policy and geo-politics. No wonder, the discourse on foreign policy in India oscillates between triumphant and childish optimism and na├»ve pessimism. When India signed the nuclear deal, optimism reached a feverish pitch; when a few Indians don’t get American jobs, the pessimism plunges into depths of despair. That is because most Indians confuse between cold blooded pursuit of national interests and the feel good buzz around emotional bonding. There will always be some occasions when America and India’s national interests do not converge when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. That does not make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when the head will rule over the heart and Uncle Sam will choose China over India (China happens to literally propping up the US economy at the moment by sending surplus dollars to America). That doesn’t make America anti-Indian. There will always be some occasions when political compulsions in America will hurt India Inc. Again, that doesn’t make America anti-Indian.

But beyond these simple facts, there is another brutal fact that would hurt many Indians. We tend to think that India is more important than it actually is. Let us first grow at 8% a year for a decade at least before we start nurturing Great Power fantasies.


Friday, November 13, 2009

All Hail India’s Great Banana Democracy!

Some recent developments have now led me to wonder about the state of Indian democracy. A school student is taught that a functional and successful democracy rests on four pillars – executive, legislature, judiciary and the fourth estate (media). Each one of the pillars now seems to be infested with termites, threatening their very foundations. Just consider the following:

• The Income Tax Department and the Enforcement Directorate insist that former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda and his associates have squirrelled away close to Rs.4,000 crores.

• The CBI insists that the Minister of Telecommunications A. Raja could be involved in defrauding the exchequer to the tune of thousands of crores by doling out telecom licenses in gross violation of all norms. Telecom is one sector that has been bedevilled by corruption and scams ever since mobile phone licenses were first auctioned in 1995.

• A couple of mine owners of Karnataka shepherd dozens of MLAs like ‘cattle’ and declare war on the elected Chief Minister of Karnataka who seems to be trying hard to curb brazen corruption and patronage politics. The central leadership of the BJP caves in cravenly to this blackmail and forces ‘their own Chief Minister’ to weep in front of TV cameras.

• The electorate gives a mandate to the Congress-NCP alliance to rule Maharashtra by almost giving it a majority. It takes the MLAs and leaders of Congress and the NCP two full weeks to squabble and haggle over ministerial berths before a government can be sworn in. R. R. Patil, the man who was Home Minister of the state during 26/11 is back as the Home Minister.

• MLAs of the Raj Th ackeray party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena heckle, abuse, jostle and assault another MLA Abu Azmi because he wants to take an oath in Hindi instead of Marathi. The MNS MLAS are far from remorseful; they have declared the assault as a kind of V-Day and have threatened worse.

• A Collegium approves the appointment of Justice P. D. Dinakaran as a Supreme Court judge. There are protests everywhere and accusations that Justice Dinakaran has misused his judicial authority. Things come to such a pass that lawyers in Karnataka paralyse the functioning of the High Court there; even locking up two judges who refused to heed their boycott call.

• An enquiry has found that the Rs.2 million that was delivered to the residence of Justice Nirmal Yadav was not meant for her. She has been exonerated of any wrong doing. But no one seems to asking: who the money was meant for.

• Ashutosh Asthana, an accused in the multi-thousand crore PF scam allegedly involving many judicial authorities, dies mysteriously in jail. The news disappears even from the inside pages of newspapers.

• It has now been credibly established that news outlets in Maharashtra brazenly ‘sold’ editorial space to politicians who wanted coverage. Clearly, only the moneybag politicians could benefit from this ‘auction’.

• Many journalists seem to be involved in the Madhu Koda scam – many belonging to big media brands. What do you and I make of these pillars of Indian democracy?