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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Politics and Development - Is There a Link?

“The price of not participating in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors” ~ Plato


A government by inferiors, as Plato calls it, is a recipe for the stunted growth of a nation and therefore, strong political leadership – that is to say – a constructive role of politics in the development process, is necessary if a nation state is to realize its full potential.

A cursory glance through the world map beginning from South East Asian nation states with export led economies and management style political leadership, to China and North Korea with communist leadership but drastically different economic fortunes, to India’s democratic leadership and steady growth, onwards to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq – countries ravaged economically due to politics of security and further towards the Middle East’s oil producing nations and largely monarchical systems, and so on and so forth, tells us about the role different styles of political leadership have recently played in shaping the developmental trajectory of the region.

The increased competition between India and China has also given rise to the debate about the role and utility of different political systems regarding economic growth and development. Yet, one must ask, is development only economic? A systematic analysis of the word ‘development’ cannot leave out its historical and social components, which together give a coherent picture of the state of a region and its people.

Historical Role

In India, ancient descriptions of various kingdoms are replete with examples of kings patronizing artists, poets, scientists, men of letters and crafts. Whether it is Kalidasa’s Abhignanshakuntalam, Todarmal’s financial capabilities under Akbar, Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Gita, Vishnu Sharma’s Panchatantra or Aryabhat’s numerous scientific discoveries, all of them were made possible due to the encouragement – moral and financial – by the prevailing political leadership of the time. India’s famous handicrafts trade, including the world renowned Daccai Muslin ‘Malmal Shahi’, flourished because it had as its patron and largest buyers various kings and their vassals of small and large kingdoms.

Add to this the various contributions in the form of numerous palaces, forts and other forms of timeless infrastructure including the famous Taj Mahal by Shah Jahan, the Grand Trunk Road by Sher Shah Suri, the various Stupas, Viharas and Grihas, sundials such as Jantar Mantar, temples like those in Konark and Jagannath Puri and the dome shaped mosques and minarets such as Jama Masjid and Bada Imambara - all these are physical consequences of political initiatives of their time.

Yet, not all historical contributions of politics have been positive. The destruction of the famous libraries and knowledge centers of Nalanda and Takshshila, the pillage and sacking of countless temples and other religious places of worship such as Somnath Temple, and the impoverishment of the country through the wanton loot of its natural resources are some of the examples of negative influences of politics on the development process.



Social Role

While reform usually comes from within the society, there are various examples where political developments have given birth to a social reaction and reform process. One such example is the Communal Award announced by the British Government in early 1930s which sought to separate the Depressed/ Backward Classes from the fold of Hinduism and thus drive another wedge in the unity of Indian people and which led to the Poona Pact and the campaign against untouchability launched by Mahatma Gandhi. This, and the dominant role of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar in drafting the constitution, later led to the enactment of constitutional safeguards for Schedule Castes and Tribes in the form of reservation in government jobs and educational institutions.

In the early days of the Company Raj, seeing the plight of the Indian people under the religious orthodoxy and taking advantage of the rule by foreigners, Raja Rammohun Roy, Dwarkanath Tagore, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar etc. relentlessly campaigned for the abolition of sati, widow remarriage, promotion of English language and reform within Hinduism and ushered in the Bengal Renaissance. None of this was possible under the old rulers for whom the religious orthodoxy comprised a crucial support base.

The Post Independence period has seen various initiatives by the modern political leadership for the abolition of superstitious practices such as child marriage, empowerment of women through reservation in local bodies, eradication of deadly diseases such as polio through a sustained campaign and discouragement to blind faith through promotion of scientific thinking and enquiry.

Economic Role

The most recent memory of the amount of destruction that political leadership can bring to bear down upon the fortunes of a region is that of the experience of colonialism. This experience is not unique to India and is shared by various nation states of the world. The deindustrialization and impoverishment of India for nearly 200 years through colonial policies, as detailed by the early nationalists such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, R C Dutt etc. financed the industrialization and development of Britain.

If one looks at the global level, one would find that major scientific advancements in recent memory were made as a result of war. While World War I heralded the arrival of the Mustard Gas, World War II hastened the entry of the Atomic Bomb. The Spanish Conquistadors were able to conquer a large part of Latin America because of gunpowder, and the same allowed Tipu Sultan to introduce the first rockets in modern warfare.

In the post World War II period, the establishment of the Bretton Woods Institutions such as World Bank and IMF by victorious allied powers, still determines the economic equations between the developed and the developing as well as the least developed countries today. At the national level, the politics of federalism and the distribution of resources between various states signify the role political leadership at the central and state level plays in shaping the developmental graph of the nation.



Conclusion

After more than 4 decades of socialist license-permit raj, Indian political leadership intervened to liberalize the economy in 1991 and effect a much needed course correction required to preserve the credibility of the Indian economy and to take it to new heights. Since then, the aspirations of the people have only grown.

In the 21st century India, responding to the needs of the population for jobs and basic necessities like housing, clothing, transportation etc. the political leadership has begun to move from the politics of identity to the politics of development. Recent voter behavior too indicates that different sections, especially the youth, is more likely to vote for candidates who focus on results rather than rhetoric. In an era of automation, innovation and competition, only a dynamic and focused leadership can usher in the security and prosperity required for the sustenance of a country with as large a population as India’s.     

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Interrogating Fake News and the Post Factual Era

When Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, one of the movies in his iconic Apu Triology was released, it faced a lot of criticism at home for showcasing India’s poverty. Responding to the criticism, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister had said – “What is wrong about showcasing India’s poverty? Everyone knows that we are a poor country. The question is: are we Indians sensitive to our poverty or insensitive to it?”

The question posed by Pandit Nehru is relevant not only domestically, but on a global scenario today, when sensitivity to facts is on a decline in a “post-factual” world. The decision by voters in the United Kingdom to vote in favor of Brexit and those in the United States in favor of Donald Trump, in-spite of overwhelming evidence detailing the ill-advisability of such a move, signals a worrying trend for the future of the information age.

However, this essay must begin by interrogating the root cause in the decline of credibility of facts – the decline of the credibility of traditional news media outlets themselves.

Credibility of Traditional Media Outlets


With rapidly advancing information technology, the nature of mass media itself has undergone a complete change. In India alone, 240 million people own a smart phone, while 500 million own a feature phone. According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMI), 370 million people are using the internet in our country, the majority through their smart phones. Globally, the numbers are even higher.

Access to the internet and proliferation of social media platforms has meant that today, each and every one is a content generator. This means that when each and everyone with a smart phone and an opinion begins to publish and air their biases, not necessarily with supporting evidence, views overwhelm the news itself. In such a scenario, traditional media outlets are seen less as a “reliable source” and more as a part of the “establishment”.

As a result, there has been a rise of the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ which has filled the void left behind by the declining credibility of these traditional media outlets.

What is Fake News?

Publishing and circulating misleading and factually incorrect information deliberately for one’s own gain is known as ‘fake news’. While the rise of this phenomenon has come at the cost of the credibility of facts, it has also helped in legitimizing hate speech towards specific communities and reducing their participation in mainstream discourse by demoralizing and marginalizing them.

Fake news is built upon ‘confirmation bias’ – which is the tendency of online information consumers to subscribe to the viewpoint which confirms their previously help beliefs. The phenomenon started with fringe online portals which peddled bizarre conspiracy theories taking advantage of this confirmation bias to drive more ‘clicks’ to their platforms and hence generate more revenue. Soon, it had repercussions far beyond what was initially imagined.

The Unique Selling Point (USP) of social media and ‘app’ based services – real time transmission of information – which made them so popular in the first place, contributed hugely to the rise of fake news as the impact of such false information was also in real time. In a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 2/3rd of the Americans surveyed admitted that ‘fake news’ added to a ‘lot of confusion’ regarding the recently concluded election process.

Alarm bells have been ringing in Europe where elections are to take place in various countries. Germany has warned Facebook of a 500,000 Euro fine if it fails to control the dissemination of fake news and an Italian regulator has directed the European Union to establish an agency for the same.

Dangers in a ‘Post-Factual’ Era

When the credibility of facts based on evidence is exhausted, people tend to turn to their political leadership in their quest for ‘truth’. This provides for a perfect opportunity for the rise of authoritarian/ dictatorial regimes.

In a post-factual era, censorship and curbs on freedom of expression are a likely scenario as attempt to quell every reasonable criticism of the authorities is made. Additionally, news is replaced by propaganda to keep the support of people for the regime at an all time high. It is probably concerns like these that have pushed the sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty Four” through the roof.

Finally, the most pressing danger which can be caused by an authoritarian regime in a ‘post-factual’ era is the neglect of issues of critical and immediate concern such as climate change. By the time responsible leadership takes cognizance of these issues, it might just be too late.



Conclusion – Restoring the Credibility of Facts

To combat the dangers of authoritarian regimes in a post-factual era as well as the dangers of ‘fake news’, the answer is not censorship – it is more speech. A concerted effort by governments, social media portals, traditional media outlets and most importantly, by concerned citizens themselves, to rebut fake news in real time in order to minimize its spread and impact is necessary.

The dawn of a post-factual era also underscores the importance of independent fact-checkers as well as human editors to combat the political tool of ‘alternative facts’, which can end up causing long lasting damage to the credibility of the system of government as well as the continuity of its policy objectives. Programs like Escape Your Bubble, which expose online consumers of information to news outside their bubble in order to counter their confirmation bias are also the need of the hour.

Last but not the least; global consultations between all relevant stakeholders are required to decide upon the mechanisms to be adopted by social media outlets to filter fake news.

Only through concerted efforts and joint action, can the credibility of facts be restored so that they are not ignored by the general public while exercising their franchise and taking decisions which will impact the future of generations to come.    

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Universal Basic Income - Transformative Idea or an Ignis Fatuus?



The Economic Survey released today by the Finance Minister has endorsed the idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) - a form of direct cash transfer scheme which will replace the existing 'dolenomics' based welfare schemes such as the Public Distribution System (PDS), Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Mid-Day Meal Scheme as well as subsidies on food, fuel, fertilizers etc. One of the main reasons for introducing the UBI is the fact that it eliminates the leakages associated with traditional welfare schemes and hence is more efficient in its reach to the intended beneficiary and that it also gives a boost to the usage of the JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) platform necessary for the realization of Digital India. 

What's wrong with traditional welfare schemes?

Traditional welfare schemes and subsidies such as those listed above are inefficient due to the human intermediaries involved - which means that while leakages can be reduced, they can never be completely eliminated, thus reducing the efficiency of these schemes. 

Another drawback of dolenomics is that it chains the poor and reduces her social mobility in a rapidly changing economic scenario. With a global trend towards urbanization indicating a shift of populations from rural areas to the cities, traditional welfare schemes which are largely intended for the rural poor, do not provide a social security net for those willing to climb up the social ladder and change their occupations or migrate to cities in search of work. 

Finally, there is a need to reduce the burden on the agricultural sector in order to make it profitable for those still willing to be engaged in it. This would require that the poor be given an option of spending their welfare amount in a way through which they can explore the opportunities available for them outside the rural environment.

How does a Universal Basic Income help?

A UBI unchains the concept of 'sustenance' from that of a 'job' allowing the beneficiary greater freedom to explore her area of interest. This is important to promote entrepreneurship in an age where jobless growth is the norm and increasing automation is leading to the reduction in the number of existing jobs. 

A direct cash transfer also eliminates any leakages associated with traditional welfare schemes, thus increasing the efficiency and reaching the intended beneficiary. It does this with the help of the government's JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) platform, giving a further boost to the dream of Digital India and cashless transactions. 

Further, with the availability of money instead of hand-outs, the beneficiary has an opportunity to adjust her needs in accordance with changing variables of the economy, instead of standing in long queues or depending on the benevolence of the intermediary for her promised hand-out.



What are the implementation hurdles?

The current burden on the economy due to the existing welfare schemes is around 5.5% of the GDP. A Universal Basic Income based on the Tendulkar Committee's Poverty Line of Rs 33/day translates to about 11-12% of the GDP, which is unsustainable. A more feasible UBI would be around Rs 450 per person per month which would still translate to about 5.5% of the GDP.

Critics point out that instead of removing the current set of welfare schemes, the government should instead enforce the minimum wage law, release timely funds in case of MGNREGS, plug the loopholes in Mid Day Meal schemes and other subsidies rather than scrapping these schemes altogether to put in place a direct cash transfer scheme which would essentially come at the cost of the same fiscal burden on the GDP. What's more, if a UBI is to be implemented at all, they say, it must complement these welfare schemes instead of replacing them. That would increase the bargaining power of the poor.

However, as has already been pointed out, the continuance of traditional dole-out schemes is unsustainable in the longer run due to the changing nature of the economy and adding a UBI on top of these traditional welfare schemes as has been suggested by some critics is a recipe for fiscal disaster. The real hurdle lies in the scrapping of subsidies, which account for about 2% of the GDP at present, and whose removal is bound to snowball into a huge political controversy. 

What are the drawbacks of the UBI?

As with any public policy, Universal Basic Income too has its own set of drawbacks. India does not have a natural resource like the Oil Producing economies or an exceptionally well performing sector which can sustain the fiscal burden imposed by the UBI at times of economic downturn. Furthermore, fixing a particular amount as the UBI is counter-productive due to the fluctuating rates of inflation which means that at times of low inflation, the UBI may seem sufficient, and at times of high inflation, the same UBI may seem to be grossly insufficient. 

Countries like Switzerland, which conducted a referendum on the same, have seen the measure been voted down because the people there do not think it is a good idea. There is no data to support the contention that UBI will work wonders as it has not been implemented anywhere in the world so far.



Conclusion - The Way Forward

With 70 million people living below the poverty line, and 57 billionaires controlling close to 60% of the country's wealth - representing the twin challenges of poverty and inequality, coupled with jobless growth and growing social interest in the form of demand for reservation of jobs in public sector for socially advanced communities, India is facing multiple challenges which need transformative ideas in order to arrive at a solution. A Universal Basic Income is one such idea which deserves implementation because its merits outweigh its demerits at the moment. 

The government will have to find out ways in order to keep the fiscal burden generated by a UBI within 5.5% of the GDP in order to meet its own target of fiscal deficit of around 6-6.5% of the GDP. A flat tax rate under the Goods and Services Tax (GST), as proposed by the Subramanian Committee and removal of corporate tax concessions, which together will help save some 3% of the GDP, are some of the ideas which can help generate enough revenue to sustain a modest UBI.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Building Walls and Banning Refugees - Will This Help Humanity?

This post was featured in Blogadda's Tangy Tuesday Picks 

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and not fed, from those who are cold and not clothed." - President Dwight Eisenhower

The decision by 45th President of the United States, Mr. Donald Trump, to ban immigration from 7 Muslim majority countries and build a wall along its southern border with Mexico has sparked off a heated debate on the merits and demerits of such a policy. While majority of experts, scholars and commentators have condemned these policies by calling them divisive and short-sighted, a comprehensive evaluation of the subject is required before one can pronounce one's agreement or disagreement with their verdict. To understand the logic behind these tough immigration policies, it is important to explore the nature and scale of the refugee crises in different parts of the world which gives rise to such large scale immigration in the first place. 

Refugee Crises



The conflict in Syria between the government and western backed rebels is the immediate cause for the implementation of tough immigration policies by President Trump. The civil war and the struggle for power has rendered hundreds of thousands of Syrians homeless and has sent them to the shores of western countries in search of safety.

a) Causes of Refugee Crises 

Displacement and dislocation of a large number of people from their homes, leading them to migrate to other countries in search of safety and shelter, gives rise to a refugee crises. Some of the causes include conflicts between different countries, breakdown of political system and struggle for power within the country by different groups and persecution on the basis of religion, political affiliation, language, ethnicity etc. by authoritarian and dictatorial regimes.

b) Examples of Refugee Crises

Apart from the recent Syrian refugee crises, some of the other well known examples include persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany by Adolf Hitler, persecution of the Bengali speaking population in East Pakistan by the regime of General Yahya Khan, persecution of Tamil speaking minority in Sri Lanka and the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

c) Refugee Resettlement Program

It is a system through which refugees are granted 'resttlement' in developed countries to live their life in peace and security and secure employment with government support. It underscores the commitment of developed economies to promote globalization and multiculturalism which is the bedrock of their economies. To a lesser extent, this system recognizes the historical role of colonization and imperialism as well as the damage caused by their continuing foreign policies. It is also a means of developing and building political pressure on authoritarian regimes to find solutions to their domestic political problems through dialogue rather than persecution. 

d) Associated Issues

Even when refugees are able to find asylum in a neutral/developed country, they face cultural dislocation and difficulty in integration with the local community. They also suffer from psychological and behavorial issues due to experience of immense stress and trauma.

President Trump's Immigration Policies



a) Building a Wall

i) Origin : Building a wall on the southern border with Mexico is one of the campaign pledges made by President Trump. One of his first actions after assuming Presidency on January 20th was to sign an executive order authorizing planning, designing and building of 1600 km long border wall with Mexico. The move is aimed at reducing rate of crimes allegedly committed by illegal immigrants and cracking down on smuggling of illicit drugs and other narcotic substances. The idea of a wall is inspired by the 230 km long wall constructed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along the country's southern border with Egypt.

ii) Causes : The need for such a wall has been justified by the rising incidences of crimes allegedly committed by illegal immigrants, "rampant" drug trade due to smuggling of narcotic substances across the border and also the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which has resulted in a $60 billion deficit in favor of Mexico. President Trump has repeatedly asked Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall as a part of measures to bridge this deficit.

iii) Impact : A wall maybe able to achieve substantially all three of its stated objectives i.e. reduction in illegal immigration, cracking down on smuggling of drugs and other narcotic substances as well as reducing the trade deficit with Mexico, but its demerits far outweigh the merits. Firstly, construction of a 1,600 km long physical wall will fuel resentment in the excluded population - a wall symbolizes hostility rather than friendship. It will also adversely impact the promise of America as a "land of opportunity" where everybody is welcome and the image of the country will take a hit. Finally, legal immigrants will face further checks and procedures and the procedure of immigration will become lengthy and difficult which will further disincentivize immigration and prohibit the exchange of human capital.

b) Ban on Refugees

Also referred to as the 'Muslim Ban' policy, this forms another key component of President Trump's immigration policy. Under this policy, immigration from 7 Muslim majority countries that are suspected to be "compromised by terrorism" is banned. These countries are - syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. The justification given for this policy is that it is aimed at overhauling checks and procedures of immigrants and pre-empting any incidence of religiously motivated terrorist acts. However, three Muslim majority countries - Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - whose citizens have actually carried out terrorist attacks on US soil, do not feature in the list. Unfortunately, this policy refuses to recognize the role of US Foreign Policy in contributing to the refugee crises in the first place and fuels discontent and anger.



c) Reduction in H1B visas

Apart from banning immigration from several countries, President Trump has also made reduction in H1B visas as one of his targets by advocating more requirements such as a Masters degree and a yearly income of or above $100,000 mandatory for securing such visas. He has also warned companies against outsourcing American jobs and has advocated a policy of 'America First'. 

Conclusion

Protectionist, short-sighted and exclusionary policies that promote division, sow discord, take advantage of fear and insecurity of the people and advocate xenophobia and racism can never bear good news for humanity. The policies advocated and implemented by President Trump fall in the above category. As someone who stands for Christian values, he should turn to the Bible and remember the episode when God parted the sea for Moses and his followers who were similarly persecuted on the basis of their religion.    

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Debating UCC - Saving Secularism from 'Secularists'

(Above) Untitled by M.F. Hussain

Part IV of a series of articles on the Unifrom Civil Code. To read Part I, Part II and Part III, click here, here and here.

Where did the politics of appeasement disguised as Secularism take us by the dawn of the 21st century? In an article published in LiveMint, Director of the India Enterprise Institute, Mr. Rajiv Mantri, listed some of the shameful instances through which ruling parties had sought to bribe the members of the minority community to secure their votes. Aptly titled “Saving Secularism from the Secularists”, most of the paragraphs from his article are worth reproducing here in their entirety:
In 2005, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed the Sachar committee to study the social and economic condition of India’s Muslim community. In 2006, the Prime Minister said that minorities have the “first claim on India’s resources”. In the same year, the government tried to conduct a survey on the religious affiliations of India’s soldiers. In 2009, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government enunciated the Right to Education (RTE), from the provisions of which minority schools are exempted but with which most “Hindu” schools must comply. In 2011, the UPA government brought forward the Communal Violence Bill, which did not recognize communal violence committed by minority communities against the majority community.

In March 2013, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde wrote to minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan that special Muslim-only fast-track courts would be set up for trial of terror cases. In January 2014, in an astounding display of New Delhi’s executive interference in the functioning of states’ police and judiciary, Shinde wrote to all chief ministers asking them to set up special screening committees to look at cases where minority youths had been jailed, following up on a communication in September 2013 by the home minister that told all chief ministers to ensure “wrong arrests” of minorities were not made.

In January 2014, Jains were declared a “minority” community by the government, the same month when the Union minority affairs minister said the government was seriously looking into religion-based reservations for minorities. Like in the case of the RTE, the government is creating incentives for the balkanization of society, since becoming a “minority” results in benefits flowing from the minority affairs ministry, and various exemptions become available with minority status under existing laws.

This has happened before, when in 1980 perverse incentives forced Swami Vivekananda’s Ramakrishna Mission to try and declare itself non-Hindu in a bid to escape the Indian state’s intrusive hand. As early as 1951, T.S.S Rajan, a minister in the Madras state government, had said that it was the wish of Jawaharlal Nehru, that paragon of “secularism”, that there should not to be any private temples. This thinking cemented government control on Hindu temples, but allowed “minority” places of worship to remain outside the state’s influence.

Uttar Pradesh, which has been run by a “secular” Samajwadi Party government since 2012, has been creating Muslim-only welfare schemes. The state government has an education scheme only for Muslim girls—spare a thought for the Hindu girl denied aid because of her faith. The government has created special tribunals to expedite the hearing of cases relating to Muslim-owned property. The Akhilesh Yadav government went so far as to attempt unilaterally dropping charges against those accused of terrorism—something it had promised it would do before the 2012 assembly elections—but was restrained from doing so by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. In August 2013, Yadav announced that 20% of the share in all 85 state-administered development schemes would be reserved for minorities.

Andhra Pradesh, under Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) and the unquestionably “secular” Congress party, set a new benchmark for persistence in the pursuit of minority appeasement. As Arun Shourie documented in an Indian Express article titled “Chasing that bank of votes again”, the Reddy government tried relentlessly to create Muslim job reservations, starting June 2004, but kept being rebuffed by the judiciary which held that such reservations were unconstitutional. The state government eventually secured religion-based reservations within the other backward classes (OBC) quota for a subset of “caste” Muslims only.

The YSR government also created a special allowance for Christians to visit Bethlehem, on the lines of the Haj subsidy provided for Muslims, besides doling out taxpayer funds to Christian organizations for the refurbishment and construction of churches. YSR’s son-in-law, Christian evangelist Anil Kumar, held large-scale evangelism programmes with assistance from the state government.

In the most tragi-comic manifestation of Nehruvian economics combined with “secularism”, government-controlled temples in Andhra Pradesh were so inefficiently managed that they were unable to deal with the large number of cows being donated by devout Hindus and stopped accepting such donations. In the most grotesque illustration of the YSR government’s insensitive attitude towards Hindus, it has been reported that such cows may have been auctioned to slaughterhouses.
One can go on and on with this list as it is endless. Is this the secularism that Nehru and the Indian National Congress championed at the time of independence? Can these instances of blatant minority appeasement for votes be justified in the name of affording "special protection"? Does this kind of political behavior incentivize or disincentivize the need of reform? 

However, I need to reiterate and rehash the original point that I have been trying to make through these articles - blaming Nehru and the original Congress leadership for this degeneration of secularism to psuedo-secularism to outright minority appeasement is unfair.

In the heat to denounce the behavior of Indian National Congress and its politics of minority appeasement, there is a tendency among most writers to clump the entire leadership together. This leads to a complete distortion of truth and does a great disservice to the ideas and the ideals that went into the making of our constitution. Here is former BJP MP and the Editor of The Pioneer Chandan Mitra saying this in as many words:
“…the fact is Nehruvian secularism, with all its flaws was not minority appeasement.

In Nehru's time, history was never officially doctored. We did not have school textbooks that insisted Vedic Indians merrily slaughtered cows for dinner, or extolled the virtues of Aurangzeb's "even-handed" treatment of all his subjects, or accused Guru Tegh Bahadur of letting loose "plunder and rapine" in Punjab. We studied books written by nationalist historians like R C Majumdar without being told he was a "communal" writer.

Sir Jadunath Sarkar was revered as a pioneering historian, not reviled as a hagiographer of a "Maratha bandit". We did not have special financial provisions for minority institutions to pursue obscurantist educational agenda. Nehru did write to Congress leaders after Independence that the "need of the hour is to secularise the intelligentsia", but never advocated courting the mullah.”

- The Daily Pioneer, August 16, 2004, Web: http://www.sify.com/legal/fullstory.php?id=13545030
The fact is that far from prodding the leadership of the minorities to embrace reform and develop "scientific temper", the Indian National Congress and the other so-called 'secular' parties have only practiced vote bank politics which has, in the end, done incalculable harm to the minority community itself. Their representation in government services, education levels, job availability etc. as documented through the Sachar Committee Report, makes a compelling case for the abolishing of personal laws and the enactment of a uniform civil code which guarantees the rights of Muslim women in keeping with the constitutional scheme of liberty and equality for each citizen. I will examine the Sachar Committee report and its findings in one of the upcoming articles in this series.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Photo Essay - Glimpses of Guna

Guna exists as a proverbial blip on the map of Central India; a sleepy town which has evolved, almost reluctantly, with the changing times, while still keeping most of its archaic atmosphere intact. It is the place which defined my imagination of the "town" while I was growing up, barely an hour away, in NFL Vijaipur, whose story I will record some other day. As one navigates through the various lanes, by-lanes, alleys, alleyways, roads, routes, paths and pathways of this small town, one is flooded with memories - the hotel where once a birthday was celebrated with all the friends, the favorite ice cream parlor which serves cheap yet delicious variety of, well, ice creams, the shop for books, the shop for watches, the shop for clothes, the family jeweler and so on and so forth until one wonders how far has one traveled and whether one was really that far away?   




























Friday, December 16, 2016

Debating UCC - Accomodating Orthodoxy

(Above) 'Hindu Triad' by M.F. Hussain.
 
Part III of a series of articles on the Uniform Civil Code. To read Part I and Part II, click here and here.
 
As a student of History, Nehru chose to look at India not in a short time span of 1757-1947, but in a larger context – as a 5000 year old civilization. In his view, India’s woes at that time were a mere blip in its civilizational journey and as with all the other dark chapters of its past, this too was to pass. He also tried to look at the common threads that bound the history of our subcontinent; the threads which would have to be woven in the modern idea of India. Speaking of the need to counter the British divide and rule policy, he writes in his Autobiography:
“If there is no common national or social outlook, there will not be common action against the common adversary. If we think in terms of the existing political and economic structure and merely wish to tamper with it here and there, to reform it, to ‘Indianise’ it, then all real inducement for joint action is lacking. The object then becomes one of sharing in the spoils, and the third and controlling party inevitably plays the dominant role and hands out its gifts to the prize boys of its choice. Only by thinking in terms of a different political framework – and even more so a different social framework – can we build up a stable foundation for joint action.”
Secularism was the ‘stable foundation’ of the joint action that he spoke of, for without secularism, the old inter-religious disputes had the power to reduce to dust all the efforts that had gone into gaining independence. Modern India, India of the new age, was to be a society in which people would have the freedom to practice any religion that they wanted and the state would not judge them on the basis of their religious background as the British state notoriously did.

However, was Secularism a western concept being imposed on India? Was there anything in the history of the subcontinent which warranted such a religiously neutral approach? Or was it just a figment of one’s imagination – a hope elevated to the level of national policy?

As opposers of British rule, as desirers of independence, all freedom fighters had a tendency to focus on India’s positives rather than despair by dwelling on its negatives. They wanted to eradicate the social and political ills that the country had accumulated over time, but they wanted to first build on its innate strengths. They wanted to make the people of the country aware about its rich and varied past and were themselves influenced by India’s history in sufficient measure. If Secularism was not in the character and history of the Indian people then they would rise up and reject it and like with all their demands, the Indian state will have to concede this too. 

But Indians did not rise up in arms against Secularism. They had no reason to do so. And that was characteristic of their heritage. In The Discovery of India, Nehru writes:
“India with all her infinite charm and variety began to grow upon me more and more, and yet the more I saw of her, the more I realized how very difficult it was for me or for anyone else to grasp the ideas she had embodied. It was not her wide spaces that eluded me, or even her diversity, but some depth of soul which I could not fathom, though I had occasional and tantalizing glimpses of it. She was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously. All of these existed in our conscious and subconscious selves, though we may not have been aware of them, and they had gone to build up the complex and mysterious personality of India.”
Had Nehru been alive in the 1980s, would he have objected to the telecast of such serials on India’s national broadcast network? I don’t think so. These serials became a vehicle of arousing Hindu political consciousness in the background of the gaffes committed by Rajiv Gandhi. Devoid of context, these serials would have just remained a non-political religious discourse. As mentioned earlier, the Indian version of Secularism is that of equal respect to all religions. Nehru wouldn’t have caved in to the demands of the Muslim orthodoxy and he definitely wouldn’t have allowed the locks of the disputed structure to be opened. As regards the serials, even if the initiative was taken up by someone else, his record shows that his attitude would have been one of mild indifference.

Orthodoxy begets orthodoxy. The way the Indian state began caving into the demands of the minority orthodoxy one after another, rightly made the majority of the Hindus feel alienated. If anything, the meteoric rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party was an electoral expression of that feeling of alienation – a feeling which political leaders had actively fostered through the complete distortion of Nehru’s concept of Secularism.

By the early 1990s, the idea of Secularism had meta morphed into the politics of minority appeasement and by implication, the politics of Hindu hatred. As Shashi Tharoor notes in his book Nehru: The Invention of India, the Congress party had no problems allying with Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala, but counted the Bhartiya Janata Party as “communal” and its worst enemy.

The haste to garner Muslim votes meant that by the turn of the millennium, the Congress leadership had started bending over backward to accommodate the Muslim orthodoxy, throwing all the pretense of their alleged secularism to the winds. Anyone speaking against the ill practices prevalent in the minority community was branded as "communal" and "Islamophobe" and conversely, anyone forwarding even the most ridiculous criticism of Hinduism and Hindu practices even without researching adequately about the same, became a "reformer" and a "secular" person. A Wendy Doniger or an A.K. Ramanujan were entitled to secular liberal outrage in the name of free speech, but the same outrage was subdued or was expressed with reservations in case of a Salman Rushdie or a Taslima Nasreen for the fear of "stereotyping the minorities". The Congress leadership felt no hesitation in ordering a lathicharge against Yoga Guru Baba Ramdev when he organized an anti-corruption rally in the heart of Delhi, despite him having a mammoth Hindu following, but were at pains to defend themselves after Zakir Naik, a radical Islamic preacher who had been hailed as a "messenger of peace" by Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh and who had been provided police protection by the then Congress government in Maharashtra, was found to be the inspiration behind the terrorists who wreaked havoc in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.

It is no surprise then that the voters, sick of this deliberate twisting of words and double standards for different communities, elected the "communal" Bhartiya Janata Party first in the states, then at the center with full majority in May 2014.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Debating UCC - From Nehruvian Secularism to Rajiv's Psuedo-Secularism

(Above) Untitled by M.F. Hussain.

Part II of a series of articles on the Uniform Civil Code. To Read Part I, click here.

The intention of the Congress leadership may have been good i.e. to avoid discomfiting the Muslims especially after the horrors of partition riots when their community was under siege from all quarters. However, the numerical logic of democracy converted this intention into Muslim appeasement and vote bank politics in no time and whose biggest victims, ironically, turned out to be Muslims themselves.

An increased liberty to marry and conduct their private affairs according to their scriptures tightened the hold of religion on the Muslim community. Nehru’s insistence that the community itself had to come up with reforms seemed to suggest that it was the ulema and not the parliament which had the power and the authority to make rules for the Muslims. The religious orthodoxy derived its legitimacy from this attitude of the state and began to consolidate power in its hands. Western education was frowned upon as it constituted a threat to their stature and leadership. Instead, young men were advised to take up religious education and become Maulavis (An example is the brilliant Dars system of education among Muslim communities in Kerala which despite its innovativeness, remained confined to religious education). Women were treated as second class citizens and were strongly advised to remain in the Burqa or the Niqaab. Divorce meant a life of penury and hardship as most of them were uneducated and could not find employment. In addition, the scriptures did not allow women to claim any lifelong maintenance from their husbands. Polygamy remained unabolished, further reducing their rights in the household.

It is not as if the Hindu shastras were charters of Women Empowerment. They too allowed Polygamy. Manusmriti, the ancient Indian text said to be authored by law-giver Manu, said that women should not be allowed any independence. However, the Hindu Code Bills put an end to all that and regulated the private affairs of Hindus according to Law. These bills took the power that was till now in the hands of the Hindu orthodoxy and vested it with the Supreme Court. The Jan Sangh, the ideological forefather of the Bhartiya Janata Party, was at the forefront of the protests against the Hindu Code Bills which were nevertheless passed and made into Law. The long reign of Congress as the ruling party ensured that an entire generation of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians practiced their religion but did not look up to the religious orthodoxy when a dispute arose regarding their private affairs. They approached the Supreme Court instead. This resulted in them believing in the rule of Law instead of the rule of scriptures and made them wary of the religiously orthodox.

In sharp contrast the consolidation of power in the hands of Muslim religious orthodoxy meant that Muslims became more insular and religious in their outlook and due to the rigid interpretation of their scriptures advanced by the orthodoxy, they were not able to keep up with the changing times. They were never able to produce an Ambedkar because to criticize Islam meant inviting a social boycott. The only way to criticize Islam and its customs then was by becoming a Maulavi in the first place!

Over time, instead of assimilating the best practices of other religions, the Muslim orthodoxy adopted their worst practices to further consolidate power in its hands and a system resembling the caste system came to be informally practiced in Islam too. No Islamic scripture speaks of any caste structure in Islam. Yet, in India today, Syed, Quereshi, Ansari, Pathan, Shah, Malik etc. are considered upper caste Muslims and Kunjra, Dhobhi, Halalkhor, Churihara etc. are considered backward caste Muslims. This has spawned a wave of identity politics within the Muslim community itself. In addition, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the non-governmental organization tasked with the protection of Muslim Personal Law in India and which comprises primarily of ulemas (religious scholars), has become a loudspeaker of the most retrograde thoughts from within the Islamic community.

A major fillip to this Muslim Religious orthodoxy was provided by the Rajiv Gandhi government when it buckled under their protests and enacted the misleadingly named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. This act was enacted to reverse a Supreme Court judgement which granted Muslim women the right to alimony on divorce. The Muslim orthodoxy, patriarchal to the hilt, came out in full force against the judgement of the Supreme Court, citing Sharia and demanding that the government enact a legislation to reverse the judgement. Rajiv Gandhi had a crushing majority in the parliament and public support for his government was very high. He could have stood up to the Muslim orthodoxy and said that his grandfather did not envisage a secularism where Muslim women did not have rights enjoyed by women belonging to other religious communities. He could have said that he supported the Supreme Court judgement and would not buckle under the pressure of some religious chauvinists. He could have elevated his stature further and could have helped in reforming the patriarchal personal laws of Islam.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he chose to appease the Muslim minority under the assumption that the voice of a few Quran thumping Mullahs was representative of the views of the entire Muslim community. That is when L.K. Advani called the Rajiv Gandhi government “pseudo-secular” and brought that term in mainstream political discourse. The young Prime Minister had made the cardinal mistake of treating the Muslim community as a vote-bank, a mistake whose proportions would be magnified in the coming years by the governments that assumed office after him.

He compounded the mistake further by trying to appease Hindus. The Rajiv Gandhi government filed an appeal in the district court where the case regarding the Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram) was going on and testified that opening the locks of the disputed structure would not affect law and order situation in the area. Inder Malhotra in his column for The Indian Express wrote that this was done on the advice of his cousin, Arun Nehru. The judiciary and the administration worked with alarming alacrity and the locks were open within an hour after the permission was granted. The result was a rush of Hindu worshippers in the disputed structure and the exacerbation of the fault lines between the Hindus and Muslims. This was precisely the moment when L.K. Advani decided to launch his pan-India Rath Yatra (Chariot Journey) to rouse Hindu consciousness.

An unwitting addition was made to these mistakes by Mr. Gandhi’s decision to produce TV serials on Ramayan and Mahabharat to instill moral values of Lord Ram and other Hindu deities in the people of the country. Prof. Arvind Rajagopal, Professor of Media Studies at NYU, wrote in The Indian Express: (http://bit.ly/1WQ72Dl)
“No one predicted the response that the Ramayan generated. It should be remembered that it was the Congress that launched the serial, just as it was the Congress that launched the campaign to re-open the Babri Masjid. Arun Govil, who played Lord Ram in the serial, was brought out in full costume along with Deepika Chikhalia, who played Sita, to campaign for the Congress in a UP by-election, and Rajiv Gandhi offered Ram Rajya to voters as a campaign promise in 1989. Whatever gains accrued for the Congress from these moves, the net beneficiary was the BJP, who between 1984 and 1989 grew from two to 85 seats in the Lok Sabha, aided, of course, by its national campaign to wrest Ram Janmabhoomi away from the Muslims.

The Ramayan functioned not only as myth and as history. It also appeared to some as a manifesto to assuage the pride of Hindu civilisation and to ensure that Hindus were once again at the centre of the polity. This was, in fact, the declared aim of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Processions to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya were led by volunteers dressed to look like Ram and Lakshman in the tele-epic. Battle scenes from TV became models for Hindu militancy, and the serial itself began to echo themes from the campaign, with Ram saying prayers addressed to his “janmabhoomi,” represented by a lump of earth he carried with him in the forest.

Where reality ended and illusion began was hard to say. With the tele-epics, media and politics began to merge into each other. Illusion could be turned into reality for a while, if fortune was on your side. As LK Advani remarked in 1993, “For the purpose of securing the non-committed vote, you must, at least, create an illusion that you are likely to come to power.” Previously, the future had been the subject of state planning. In the 1990s, it turned into projections of market reforms, with televised Hindu dreaming alongside. Opinions may differ about where this has led us, but there should be little doubt about how we got here.”
I myself was born in the early 90’s and can testify to the effect even the repeat telecasts of these television serials had on me. In my village, 1 out of 10 houses had a television set and every Sunday, people would gather at the appointed hour to watch these serials in pin drop silence. Needless to say, people became more aware of the stories of Lord Ram and Lord Krishna. Their religious consciousness was roused and when Mr. Advani launched his Rath Yatra to channel this consciousness by invoking (legitimate) Hindu greivances, people wholeheartedly supported the cause.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during the election campaign in 1991. The BJP’s tally went from 2 MPs in 1984 to 85 MPs in 1989. Mr. Advani’s Rath Yatra culminated in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992. President Pranab Mukherjee, writing in his book The Turbulent Years 1980-1996, was measured in his criticism of Rajiv Gandhi when he said: "The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site on 1 February 1986 was perhaps another error of judgement. People felt these actions could have been avoided".

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Debating UCC - Nehruvian Secularism and the Uniform Civil Code

(Above) Painting titled 'The Language of Stone' by M.F. Hussain

Part I of a series of articles on the Uniform Civil Code.

Among the principles dear to Nehru, it is Secularism that has come under attack most sharply in recent memory. The Socialist economic policy - or rather the mainframe of it - was abandoned when the Narsimha Rao government decided to open up the economy and unleash its 'animal spirits' in 1991. The gaze has now turned to Secularism, in fact, the skeleton of Nehruvian Secularism that has remained with the passage of subsequent governments. It is important, at the outset, to keep in mind the fact that Secularism as a policy was pursued by the Congress, not Nehru alone, as a counter to Jinnah's two nation theory. The Congress leadership had failed to avoid the partition of the country and they were determined to see that Jinnah did not have the last laugh, which he would if the administration of India was organized on majoritarian lines.

It was then that the subtext of Indian secularism became affording special protection and opportunities to the minorities. With subsequent Congress governments, the original sense of Nehruvian Secularism was lost and this subtext overshadowed the principle headline itself.

To Nehru it was clear that the minorities of the country could not be afforded special protection or any other protection unless the hostilities between the two main communities - Hindus and Muslims - ceased to exist. An atmosphere of communal harmony had to prevail if the country was to focus its attention on more pressing matters such as development of industries, employment and economic growth rather than trifling diversions such as religion.

Hindus and Muslims had started to view each other with suspicion under the British rule, which was the handiwork of the British divide and rule policy at play. After the revolt of 1857, the English government came to view Hindu Muslim unity as a key stumbling block to its rule and moved quickly to exacerbate religious differences and tensions between the two.

Muslims came to view Hindus as idolaters and a social and political threat to their prosperity as the latter outnumbered them. Hindus came to view Muslims as foreigners and beef eaters who had subjugated them in the past and who created the fertile ground for the English to take over. As the Indian national movement under the leadership of the Congress gathered steam, riots increased, distrust grew and finally the Muslim League emerged out of the shadows with its vitriolic agenda to translate the basest of Muslim political desires into a movement for separate nationhood.

It was this two-nation theory that Secularism aimed to counter. In Nehru’s mind, the two nation theory constituted the apotheosis of the British divide and rule policy and it was to be countered by showing the world that co-religionists are not necessarily the best of countrymen. 

Religion- or rather - practical religion, with all its rituals and superstition and folklore, never attracted him. He was more interested in its aesthetic and philosophical aspects. He had a vast knowledge of India's ancient past as was made clear by his rambling ode to his country - The Discovery of India. Perhaps he had come to view religion as a primitive and man-made phenomenon which would evaporate as the human race became wiser and more rational. The Scientist and Atheist Richard Dawkins quotes him approvingly from his autobiography in his book 'The God Delusion'.

But there was a catch. The Western concept of Secularism advocated a complete separation of the Church and the State, at least theoretically if not in practice. It was not possible for a multi-religious country like India to organize administration and policies that would remain insulated from religion. In fact, the leader of the Indian national movement and the father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi was himself a deeply religious man. He had been able to wield such a power over the masses not because of his image as a politician, but because he was perceived as a saint. Even if the Congress was able to devise such policies and put such administration in place, there was an obstacle they wouldn't be able to overcome: the people who would be responsible for overseeing administrative affairs and implementing policies would themselves be deeply religious men and women; if not all then the majority of them at least.

It was with these thoughts that the Indian version of Secularism was born. The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen in his book The Argumentative Indian calls it 'neutrality'. Instead of it being equidistant from all religions, the state would be equally close to all of them and would not take sides i.e. it would remain neutral and would come to a conclusion with national interest in mind in cases of conflict.

But what constituted National Interest? In the context of matters divine it certainly meant that people were free to follow any religion they liked. They could worship any god - with or without an idol - without any fear and could also convert if their preferred deity was not answering their calls. But no such religion would play any part where the law was concerned - except, in some cases, in the private sphere. The rule of law was to apply on everyone equally and in the eyes of the judge the quantum of punishment was not to increase or decrease on account of one's religion. Religion was to play a part in national integration and the state was to keep a watch and intervene when it promoted division instead of cohesion.

This justification of Secularism as safeguarding national interest and promoting national integration lost its sheen when the personal laws relating to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians were codified under a slew of legislation and polygamy was abolished while the Muslims were allowed to practice polygamy and the law relating to marriages, adoption and inheritance according to their scriptures.

In the aftermath of the horrific partition riots and the general hostility that Muslims had to encounter in the Indian society, it seemed that the Nehru government was bending over backwards in this area to afford them 'special protection'. The line between 'protection' and 'appeasement' seemed blurred and it was completely wiped out by the time Congress lost power and was reduced to its lowest tally since independence in May, 2014. The reluctance to impose a Uniform Civil Code revealed a chink in Secularism's moral armor and in subsequent battles with majoritarianism it was exploited to the hilt.
“We have passed one or two laws recently and we are considering one … in regard to Hindu marriage and divorce … These are personal ingrained in custom, habit and religion … Now we do not dare to touch the Muslims because they are a minority and we do not want the Hindu majority to do it. These are personal laws and so will remain for the Muslims until they want to change them … We do not wish to create the impression that we are forcing any particular thing in regard to Muslims’ personal laws.” - Speech by Jawaharlal Nehru, Reproduced in Six Thousand Days: Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister by Amiya Rao and B.G.Rao
In hindsight, it is clear that Nehru and the Congress leadership committed a big mistake by not enacting the Uniform Civil Code. He believed that the time was not right for such a legislation. However, I disagree. I believe that only the first generation post-independence Congress leadership had the stature and the mettle to enact such a code without being accused of majoritarian bias. They had stellar secular credentials, long history of fighting for the freedom of the nation which raised their stature and the requisite political will to forge a national consensus on the issue.

Hindus had a harsh critic and social reformer in the form of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the champion of the lower castes, an intellectual par excellence and the main architect of the Indian constitution. Ambedkar resigned from Nehru's cabinet because his version of the Hindu Code Bill was stalled in the lower house of the Parliament. Nevertheless, Nehru made the passage of a diluted Hindu Code Bill as his poll plank in Independent India's first General Elections held in 1952 and entered the parliament with a thumping mandate to do so. The Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act were passed between 1955 and 1956, thus codifying the personal laws of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians. The Special Marriage Act, which provided for inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, had already been passed in 1954. Only Muslims were allowed to regulate the system of marriage, divorce, inheritance etc. according to their scriptures. This, in my view, was a great mistake.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Election of President Donald Trump


Note: In keeping with President-Elect Trump's utter disregard for facts, no links are being provided in the article below.

Defying all the poll predictions, controversial real estate business tycoon and television celebrity, Donald J. Trump, was elected as the 45th President of the United States on Wednesday, 9th November 2016. The date is important, as it will go down in history as the day on which one of the most remarkable events in the 21st Century took the world by surprise. A substantial number of world leaders seemed to be in a state of panic and confusion, as most of them had been preparing to congratulate Mrs. Clinton as the next President. However, in a spirit that has defined his entire career, The Donald, as he is known to the American public, defied all odds and traveled the narrow path to victory which led him to the White House.

Unconventional and Bitter Campaign

Mr. Trump was roundly slammed by the mainstream media, his Democratic Party opponents as well as colleagues within the Republican Party, for his outlandish policy proposals as well as controversial statements denigrating immigrants, women, minorities, veterans, the disabled etc. which led many to conclude that he did not possess the temperament, experience or the wisdom required for the post of the Commander in Chief of the American armed forces. To the majority of observers, his campaign seemed to be mired in endless controversy and on the verge of implosion, which suggested that either he was not serious about his bid to become the President or more dangerously, that he seriously believed in everything that he was advocating. His constant about turns on his own statements, coupled with a complete disregard for factual accuracy, flustered long time political observers on both the right and the left, who were shocked at the unprecedented show of callousness from a major party nominee. The general consensus, before going to the polls, largely among the educated and opinionated section of the American public, was that Mr. Trump was seeking to capitalize on a wave of resentment caused by the export of American jobs to other countries, fears regarding immigration, racial tensions and general stereotypes against anyone who was not a white male American. This was in stark contrast to the long line of preceding American Presidents, including incumbent President Barack Obama, who had sought the highest office of the country, by associating themselves with the shared values of the American people. One thing more that separated Donald Trump from all the recent Presidents was that he had no prior combat or political experience. He was a TV celebrity cum real estate business tycoon, who was perceived fit to entertain and not to govern.



Hobbled by deep distrust, extremely bad press, just a handful of endorsements, grim poll predictions and a lesser budget than his opponent, The Donald went around his rallies, telling people about the number of votes that he had polled in the primaries ('highest in the republican primary history'), denying the fact that his statements were controversial, denying climate change as a scientific fact, threatening to jail his opponent and promising 'extreme vetting' for immigrants coming from countries 'compromised by terrorism'. In short, he just remained himself. And, perhaps, therein lay his key to the oval office, because, in complete contrast, his opponent, Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, 'the most qualified candidate for the office of President in the United States History' according to President Barack Obama, came across as a darling of the 'establishment', never letting people know what she really thought and never uttering a word in public that was not scripted, and hence being 'fake'. Trump was the original bigot, Clinton was the fake saint.

A day before the polls, the election experts, political commentators, reporters, journalists, pollsters and vocal public opinion was convinced that Trump had a very very slim chance of becoming the President while Clinton was the favorite. There had been some last moment ups and downs with both the campaigns which had increased anxieties, but had done nothing to signal that the applecart has been completely upset.

Election Night

As the votes began to come in, people around the world settled down for some time to relive the moment from 2008, when Barack Obama had won the election against his Republican rival Sen. John McCain and had thus become the 1st African American President in the United States History. If Hillary Clinton were to win this election, which she very well was, the American people, women in particular, would have clinched another historic first, that of the election of the first female President of the United States. The added bonus seemed to be the satisfaction of seeing the loss of Donald Trump, who was smeared as the symbol of orthodox patriarchy, treating women as objects and workers as disposables, basking in the company of white supremascists and outright fascists, defying the established norms of his own party (not for good, for worse) and being an insufferable racist in general. If everything was to go down well with the results, liberal Americans would wake up the next day filled with pride and happiness.



One by one, as all 'battleground' states went to Donald Trump, pride, happiness and hope vanished from the faces of those supporting the Clinton campaign. By the time it had become clear that Mr. Trump was going to become the next President of the United States, Mrs. Clinton had locked herself in a hotel room, probably because her campaign had not thought it as important enough to draft a concession speech, and her many female supporters outside were reduced to tears in the face of the 'impossible'.

The people had spoken. Donald Trump was going to be the 45th President of the United States of America.

Chaos
and Acceptance

The power of the verdict of the United States Presidential election was on full display as the markets around the world tumbled, world leaders scrambled to prepare a strategy of dealing with the incoming Trump Administration and people in America rioted on the streets, repulsed by the outcome. How could the impossible happen? How could the same states who had voted to elect President Barack Obama, now elect Donald Trump? How could the people trust such a xenophobic, racist, misogynist, run of the mill bigot? How could the people NOT trust Hillary Clinton, who had dedicated 30 years of her life fighting for them?

The answer was there for everyone to see, if only they wished to see it. The countryside of the United States was reeling with loss of jobs, reduction in standard of living, ageing infrastructure and hostility to immigration. By dismissing these claims as the claims of a racist, sexist, xenophobic - in short - politically incorrect mob, the Democratic Party alienated a large section of the working class of the country, trying to pursue a loftier 'global' agenda. While as a consolation it can be said that Mrs. Clinton polled nearly 2 million votes more than Mr. Trump, the fact is, there is no runner's up trophy in a Presidential Election. You either win or you lose. And Donald Trump had won according to the electoral college system that determined the winner of the race.

Soon, the focus shifted from the loss of Mrs. Clinton to the win of Mr. Trump. Was Donald Trump serious about pursuing the outlandish policies that he had vaguely outlined while running for the office of President? What all had he said about the specific issues that concerned other countries? No one had thought it worthy enough to listen to what Mr. Trump had to say on various issues of ancillary concern to the American public, as his remarks were always controversial and he wasn't winning anyway. Now that he had won, an American newspaper observed, the same kind of remarks, from now on, would determine troop movements and market sentiment.

Indo-US Ties under President Trump

The question of single most importance to an Indian observer is, how is President Trump going to conduct his Foreign Policy? What is going to be the future of Indo-US ties under his administration and what does India stand to gain, or, more importantly, lose, from such a foreign policy? 



The President-Elect has grumbled about the number of H1B visas being provided by the US, while those close to him have expressed dismay over the number of Asian CEOs in the Silicon Valley. However, in an event organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition, the President-Elect professed his admiration for "the Hindus" and Prime Minister Modi. He has promised that under his administration, India and America are going to be the "best friends".

In keeping with the President-Elect's campaign promise of fighting "radical Islam", India should use all available opportunities to shore up support against the proxy war being fought in Kashmir by Pakistan through the use of terrorism.Unlike any other President, President-Elect Trump has indulged in unprecedented behavior with respect to his policies and campaign promises and therefore it would be too early to comment upon the shape that Indo-US ties will take in the future. Only time will tell.