Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Poll Results in Maharashtra and Haryana: Implications for the Future

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

It appears that the combination of Narendar Modi and Amit Shah will indeed succeed in making India, a Congress Mukth Bharath--India free of the Congress. In Maharashtra the BJP won 123 seats on its own and in Haryana it won 47. In both these states the BJP has been able to humble the dominant regional political party which played the identity card--Siva Sena in Maharashtra and the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana. The support garnered by the BJP cut across the traditional fault lines of Indian polity--backward castes, tribal communities and Scheduled Castes have all voted for the BJP making it the most inclusive political force in the country. Further, the dynastic components of the polity like the Thackeray family in Maharashtra and the Cahutalas in Haryana stand humbled if not eliminated and this is a trend that began in the 2014 May Parliamentary Elections which saw the emergence of the BJP as a truly National force. Identity politics has resulted in the fragmentation of the political space and the resultant Governments were plagued with corruption and crime as what India witnessed during the 10 years of Congress led UPA rule.

In Maharashtra the BJP reluctantly broke itt alliance with the regional party, Siva Sena, over the issue of seat sharing. Surprisingly the Shiv Sena was unwilling  to concede just 3 extra seats over which the two parties parted company. Even though the Siva Sena put put candidates against the BJP in all the traditional regions of Maharashtra, Vidhraba, Mahratwada, and Konkan, the bJP was able to make dramatic inroads. The separation of Vidhraba from Maharrashtra is unlikely to be taken up in the near future as the Siva Sena will oppose any division of the state. The recent confusion over Telengana may lead to a rethink on the whole issue. Even though the Siva Sena used, as it is wont, extremely fiery and some would even say "gutter" language, a patch up is on the cards.

The Congress and its ally Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar was defeated because of the rampant corruption it indulged in. The Irrigation scandal in which the prime accused is Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the Maharatha strongman resulted in the defeat of the NCP though it has held on to its traditional strongholds of Baramati.

In Haryana, the INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala who is lodged in jail due to his involvement in the Teacher Recruitment  Scam won 20 seats. All the important leaders of the Party were defeated. Om Prakash Chautala himself came out of jail on bail to campaign, feigning medical grounds but the results showed that the people have no sympathy for corrupt politicians and this shows clearly that the Indian Electorate is changing. Jat identity politics made the BJP stitch a coalition of other backward castes including the dalits and has swept to power.

In Maharashtra the BJP faces a rather grim choice: it has to seek the support of the Siva Sena to form the Government and given the acrimony of the recent campaign it would be quite a task to repair the damage to the 25 year relationship. In a way the passing away of Gopinath Munde who would have been content to let the Siva Sena play the dominant partner inMaharashtra opened the door for the BJP's emergence as an important force.

The two are well and truly set to making India, Congress Mukth Bhrath.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lost, Stolen or Shredded: The elusive shadows in Art and Literature

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Lost, Stolen, or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature
Rick Gekoski
Profile Books, London, 2014

Rick Gekoski who is a dealer in rare books, manuscripts and art has written an interesting book which sheds light on the arcane world of auctions, art transfer and recovery/restitution of cultural property. With a D Phil from Oxford University, Gekoski certainly knows both the academic and transactional aspects of this quaint and should I say with a degree of trepidation, murky arena of literary auctions and acquisition of papers, letters, manuscripts and memorabilia. This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the art world. Did you know that the Mona Lisa was once stolen by an Italian nationalist and then was restored to the Louvre where it hangs still. This book begins with that episode and in the course of 15 short, pithy essays the author has brought out unknown facts behind several famous collections.

The discussion relating to the Urewera Mural that evoked "complex and contradictory local sensibilities" is a remarkable exercise in coming to terms with the political identity of dispossessed native groups in White settler state such as New Zealand and Australia. Denied right--political and cultural--art became the terrain over which political identities were created. This essay raises the disturbing question: Did the genocide of the native population of these countries lead to the crisis of identity in which even memory remains as elusive as dreamtime. This particular essay records the mural and its afterlife in the imagination of the indigenous Tuhoe society of New Zealand.  Sir Winston Churchill is a character who remains extremely controversial and no wonder his portrait commissioned by his admirers in the British Parliament generated disturbing emotions. The destruction of the portrait by Graham Sutherland by the widow of Churchill is seen as an act of vandalism by the admirers of the British statesman. Or was it an act of redemption? Dealers are known to pursue their quest for letters and documents. The search for a lost poem by James Joyce is certainly interesting. But I wonder how such quets help us understand the poetry of Joyce better. There are however more serious matters in this book.

Do the dead have rights? Gekoski asks this question but does not provide a straight answer. This question is particularly pertinent when authors and other powerful cultural icons like poets and novelists instruct their literary executors to destroy their papers. Do historians have a right to claim the materials pertaining to the life of the people they study. Lord Byron whose life by no stretch of the imagination was an exemplary life in the service of his God, King and Nation, was a meticulous recorder of his "conquests"  and his publisher burnt the 3 think volumes of his diaries thereby depriving the future of ever understanding the mind of this great but elusive genius. As  a historian, I feel that the dead have no right to hold on to their secrets. After death the truth of their earthly lives must be told and therefore destruction of private papers, letters and the like must be strongly discouraged.

This book is an excellent introduction to the abstract questions of art, its ownership, and the like. Though the author does not address these questions directly these questions lurk just beneath the surface.      

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Narendar Modi in the USA: "May the Force be with you"

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Narendar Modi's trip to the US was a success in every sense of the term. There was great trepidation amongst the chattering classes in India about his seeming lack of exposure to the rarefied atmosphere of high diplomacy and statecraft. However, the wide knowledge and the intellectual depth at his command enabled Modi to not only make a success of the trip but also drove home to his audience in US that India is rapidly moving toward a more aggressive economy. He rightly emphasized the economic potential of India and did not really address issues that do not concern India directly. Perhaps he was the first major Indian statesman who resisted the temptation to play hero in a otherwise drab pantomime. We have only to recall the manner in which that absurd man, Jawaharlal Nehru used to strut about on the international state and was so taken in by the empty adulation of the Western world that he ignored the domestic scene entirely and India had to pay a very heavy prize. Narendar Modi has set out to remake India in the image of an Asian country and therefore his priorities lie in the economic sphere and in all the major speeches he gave in USA he dwelled on what he called the 3 Ds peculiar to India" Democracy, Demographic Dividend and Demand.

The cartoon on the left illustrates the dismal level from which Narendar Modi rose. For more than a decade he was denied visa to enter the USA because a handful of American busybodies like Martha Nussbaum, Howard Spodeck and others petitioned the US Congress on Mod's alleged involvement in the 2002 Riots. Even after the Supreme Court of India gave Modi a "clean chit" these liberal intellectuals persisted in their offensive and the State Department obliged them. I wonder why these intellectuals do not show the same outrage to the atrocities of US allies like Israel. Modi was given the reception which would be the envy of a rockstar and I must say that Narendar Modi enjoyed every moment of his 5 day stay in USA. Not once did he allow his personal predilection cloud his demeanor.

Narendar Modi touched all the right bases in USA. He paid a floral tribute at the 9/11 Memorial by laying a yellow rose on a black marble slab containing the names of those who died on that fateful day. I think he is the first Indian Prime Minister to honour the 9/11 victims and this goes to show the sophistication with which he had planned the trip.

The purpose of the visit to the US was to address the UNGA. Narendar Modi spoke like a true statesman. Speaking after Pakistan's Prime Minster, Nawaz Sheriff had spent nearly 10 minutes ranting and raving about India, Modi dismissed Pakistan with just a single line and went on to spell out his  vision for a New World Order in which India will have its rightful place. He said that the 5 victors of World War II are the permanent members of the Security Council and this does not reflect the reality of the 21st Century which Modi said belonged to Asia. He touched on the crisis created by International Terrorism and cautioned against using Terror as an instrument of regime change. As I predicted in an earlier blog, Narendar Modi refused to be drawn into a debate over ISIS/ISIL.

The Indian Community had organized a gala event at Madison Square. Before a crowd of 20,000 which included more than 20 Congressmen and Senators, Modi spoke about his vision for a new India. He did not dwell on Indo- US relations except to say that there were visa issues that bedeviled the relationship between the two countries and this of course was a reference to the H-1 visa on which US has put a cap.  Though there is no word yet abot the lifting of the cap, it is more or less certain that after Modi's intervention the number may be increased and this would certainly help the soft ware sector in India. He also announced that Indians in USA will be given a life time visa and obviously this was welcomed with thunderous applause. Throughout his speech, Modi spoke of his campaign of Clean India and Make in India and welcomed the Indian community in USA to participate in the Clean Ganga Initiative which Modi has launched in Varanasi.

 In the leading Foreign Policy Think Tank, Council for Foreign Relations, Narendar Modi spoke about the economic partnership between India and USA. He defended India stand in the WTO negotiations by stating that Food Security is not negotiable but hinted at flexibility on other issues. India has been promised 41 billion dollar investment by American financial  institutions and that is certainly welcome.

The visit culminated with a summit meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. Obama was certainly a gracious host and both the Prime Minster and he visited the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington. Narendar Modi did what no Indian Prime Minister has ever done before. He handed over DVDs containing the speeches of the great African- American civil rights leader to the President. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit was short on specifics but it did contain enough to demonstrate the success of the Meeting. Modi did not commit himself to any strategic partnership with USA, but stressed the need for technology transfer.

The 5 day visit was a grand success. Modi was able to conncet with the youth even in USA which turned out in large number to greet him. I cannot remember any politician who would end his speech with a line from Star Wars: Let the Force be with you.