Back in Circulation
Addition that Matters
Back in Circulation
Hiding behind the thick veil of a nom de plume – in this case Bystander – doesn’t absolve me from a word of personal explanation for re–surfacing after absence of months. Columnists indeed like other privileged mortals are entitled to furlough. However I don’t fall in that august company. I’m a mere scribe – a chronicler of our times.
However, scribes as much as columnists are entitled to leave. And leave in our society is of several types. There’s short leave ranging from a few days to a few weeks. More than that is covered by another group of leave known as furlough – a term of Dutch origin.
In my case it was plain and simple absence from work to recoup from a bout of illness. And regrettably, illnesses come without notice, and as you advance in age, they take their time to go.
I missed writing my columns. That some readers missed reading them is not unlikely. Writers are notorious peddlers of vainglory. They think their readers await to read what they have to say. I don’t think that is the case. Writers just unburden themselves by writing. And that process may find some ready takers. It’s a matter of chance. At the best, call it a happy coincidence.
Indeed some wrote to me. I’m sure it’s more out of kindness than anything to do with the intrinsic worth of what I say. In any case, here I’m back, dear readers, to share my thoughts with you as often as I can.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral sweep of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is indeed a landmark in electoral politics. A smart headline writer called BJP as Bhartiya Juggernaut Party. Creating alliterations has always been a favored mental exercise but this one deserves its share of kudos. After all, the switched word means something that is “a massive inexorable force that seems to crush everything in its way”.
A juggernaut, in current English usage, is a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable. This usage originated in the mid–nineteenth century as an allegorical reference to the temple cars of Jagannath Temple in Puri, which apocryphally, were reputed to crush devotees under their wheels.
Addition that Matters
Economists are divided – they always will be on any significant public issue – whether Modi’s decision last November to demonetize the currency did any good. One fact they all accept is that the government added 9.1 million new taxpayers in 2016–17, an 80% increase over the typical yearly rise.
I’m not an economist – and thank God for it. But tell me honestly, wasn’t the whole exercise worth doing just to make another four and a half crores Indians cough up the long–evaded tax?
You’ll be surprised to hear that our tryst with biometrics began not with Prime Minister Modi as is generally thought of, but way back in 1858.
The very first time that fingerprints were collected anywhere in the world – I repeat world – was way back in 1858. And – hold your breath – at Jangipur (then spelled Jungipoor), Bengal, when the country was firmly under British rule. In fact, it wasn’t merely fingerprints.
Sir William James Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, was the first to use a handprint to seal official documents for a government deal with a local businessman, called Rajyadhar Konai. Herschel found this to be the most reliable way to avoid fraud, as the uniqueness of the prints could prove the identity of the person involved. Encouraged by this, Herschel adopted the practice for all future contracts.
India may, today, be split down the middle over the correctness of making Aadhaar, the identity project that stores the biometrics of citizens and residents, but the exercise began a long, long time ago and that too in Bengal. That today its ruling Chief Minister is shouting herself hoarse against the practice is another matter. That’s called irony of history.
Recall the hate–spewing daily published from Daryaganj, in old Delhi, called Dawn in the years just preceding Independence. It was then the mouthpiece of Muslim League and the most vociferous advocate of the demand for Pakistan. And with Jinnah’s pipedream becoming a reality, as the Qiad shifted from Bombay, Dawn too shifted to Karachi.
Now it wears an entirely new hat: a sober–minded critic of mindless anti–India Pakistani campaign of the ruling military elite.
The intrepid Karachi daily has been bold enough to reveal the key details of the China–Pakistan–Economic Corridor (CPEC) which make China’s hidden intentions quite clear. The Chinese game–plan is to reduce Pakistan to a mere vassal state.
On 15 May, Dawn published details of what it said was the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Master Plan. Whether it is accurate, or authentic, remains open to question, but there have been enough reports in the Pakistani media to suggest a lot of it is indeed accurate.
CPEC is not just about building roads and infrastructure. To quote the Dawn report “the plan envisages a deep and broad–based penetration of most sectors of Pakistan’s economy as well as its society by Chinese enterprises and culture. Its scope has no precedent in Pakistan’s history in terms of how far it opens up the domestic economy to participation by foreign enterprises.”
The real purpose of $45–50 billion corridor is to get China fully embedded into the warp and weft of Pakistan, complete with the ability to control its economy and police its citizens. If the Pakistanis accept the plan in toto – they will choke at some of the proposals, but still buy into it to spite India. Pakistan will effectively become China’s economic and political appendage, almost its 35th province/administrative area. (China already has 34 administrative areas, including 23 provinces, four municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, and two others), five autonomous zones (Tibet, Xinjiang, and three others) and two special administrative economic regions (Hong Kong and Macau).
Isn’t it a worse surrender than the one “Tiger” Niazi signed in Dhaka in 1971? Here, the generals and politicians are surrendering due to an inability to govern, not an inability to fight. A fitting finale, one might think, to the first modern state created in the name of Islam, by a man with the name of its prophet, that it turns itself over to a godless state for care–taking.
The Republican Party was once the party of small government, free trade, traditional values, principled foreign policy leadership and, most important of all, adherence to the Constitution. Republicans spent decades fulminating against activist judges like Earl Warren and activist politicians like Barack Obama, claiming they were undermining the founders’ vision of limited government.
And then, the party sold its soul to the soulless charlatan who now occupies the Oval Office and makes a mockery of every one of the party’s principles
Countries can choose friends and allies. They cannot, alas, choose their neighbors.
So whether we like it not, Pakistan is our immediate neighbor on the north–west and Bangladesh on our eastern border. In a bold defiance of the good old adage – once bitten twice shy – three of our prime ministers in succession have tried to establish friendly relations with Pakistan, and have been rebuffed.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee broke the mould by taking a bus across to Lahore. He tried to charm our neighbor and there was hope that some sort of samjhauta could be hammered out. Pakistan reciprocated by Kargil misadventure. No wonder there was a feeling of betrayal. India’s nuclear test was matched by Pakistan.
Later, Pervez Musharraf seemed to be a good bet as someone to negotiate with. After all, power in Pakistan has oscillated over the years between civilian leaders and the Army. Musharraf combined the two and so could have delivered.
India invested a lot of time in Musharraf. Manmohan Singh was keen to solve the contentious issues — Kashmir and the rest — which stood in way of friendship. He too talked to Musharraf, but again he did not get the deal he wanted. He was punished for his goodwill by the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008 commonly referred to as 26/11.
Over the years we learnt that in Pakistan, there are three claimants to power — the civilians, the Army (ISI) and the Jihadis.
Narendra Modi surprised everyone when three years ago, at the oath–taking ceremony of his Cabinet, he invited Nawaz Sharif along with the other neighbors and friends. He followed this up by his informal gesture of visiting Sharif on his birthday. Modi surprised those who had expected him as an RSS man to be belligerent towards Pakistan. But he too has been presented with cross–border raids and infiltration across the LoC. There is now another dead end in the long saga of trying to be friendly with Pakistan.
So we are stuck with a situation that we have a neighbor who offers a defiant fist whenever we extend a hand to shake.
Anniversaries are indeed occasions for assessing the good, bad as well as ugly. When it comes to leaders who evoke extreme responses, appraisals resemble lavish eulogies or end up as outright condemnation. Assessments of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s performance in the past three years have contrasted from #TeenSaalBemisaal to #TeenSaalGolmaal.
It would be prudent to step aside and instead of merely focusing on government functioning, also evaluate the performance of another element vital for his current political invincibility — the party.
If in the past three years, we have witnessed the emergence of a new BJP, a party that shed its tradition of closed–door meetings appearing like a goshthi or conventions that resemble a jamboree, then India has also seen the emergence of Amit Shah as president, who combines ruthlessness, unprecedented administrative acumen and political cunning. He is a man more awed than admired. He too spawned several notable headlines, ‘The Shah of Permanent War’ being just one.
Elections for him and the party are actually, nothing less than war. If he enters into a combat, the objective is always resounding victory. In the run–up to Uttar Pradesh polls, he reportedly told party colleagues, unsure of the terrain and its outcome, “Chunav spashtata se lada jata hai, chunav ka lakshya jeet hota hai.” (Elections are fought with clarity of mind with the single objective of victory).
It is ironical that the man without whom no discussion on the BJP begins or ends was not a certain to be elevated as president when the results were declared in May 2014. He was even weighed as a potential junior minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. Initially, speculation revolved over Rajnath Singh’s ambition to continue as party chief and stay out of government.
That arrangement, however, was unsuitable for Modi because it would have resulted in the dual power centre. Modi wouldn’t have allowed the party and government to be at cross purposes. Eventually, Modi inducted Singh into his cabinet and appointed Shah as party president. What followed is what’s called history.