June 25, 2009


It has been quite sometime since Barack Obama was elected the President of USA and his iconic speech of “Change we believe in” left the whole world enthralled. The fact that the Western world and many in the rapidly developing economies like India and China could relate to his speech and felt that such changes would benefit their countries too was not something new. But I shouldn’t be surprised if many in some other parts of the world, which are not conventionally considered to be open minded or liberal, too were watching with intent and hoping for change in their countries as well. Over the last few months, as the Obama administration settled down with work and the rest of the world forgot much of them, at least some of the real changes have started showing their presence. No, I am not talking about the initiatives being taken by Obama to bail out loss making American companies; and neither am I referring to the restrictions on outsourcing that are being imposed by him. On the contrary, I am talking about the sudden glimpse of change in Iran, and the uneasiness about it that is visible in its radical government. In the recently concluded Presidential elections in Iran, though the incumbent President Ahmadinejad won with around 62% of the popular vote, defeating the pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, there has been massive violence since then in the streets of Teheran. Young men and women have defied all the threats and dictums of their radical and often fanatic government to come out open in the streets, not just exhibiting their strength but also in massive defiance of the way their voice is often suppressed in their society. The death of Neda Soltan (a young Iranian woman shot to death during the protests) and her bleeding photograph have literally become the rallying point of all debates revolving around the sudden appearance of change in a society, which the contemporary world loves to hate. And thanks to the exponential proliferation of internet, the scenes of protest and the desperation of the government that has indoctrinated a nation with hatred for so long, is open for all to see.

Iran always had a strong cultural heritage; and so, unlike other radical countries, young Iranians are not as much against Western culture as is often propagated. But for long, that was overshadowed by an overpowering government that would not let this liberty to grow. Yet, in the last few months, the average young Iranian who has not yet been fully radicalized has been witnessing the most impartial, honest and very much un-American-like efforts of Barack Obama to bridge all the divides in Middle East. His speech in Cairo was path-breaking and Iranians have also been witnessing how Obama, unlike his predecessors, has not been blindly siding with Israel. The fact that he stresses on his Muslim lineage has also helped the case in point. And thanks again to the proliferation of the internet, the Iranians have also been witnessing that the US is not perhaps as bad as it has always been projected by the government owned media and their leaders at home.

Obama’s greatest success till now has been the way he has been able to connect with ordinary people, and most importantly the youth. If Obama’s influence is of any indication of what is happening in Iran today, it is something which was unthinkable even a year back. It is also true that the current protests need not change Iran in a day or two. And it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden an average Iranian youth would become hostile towards one’s own nation. In fact, such a thing, if it happens, would not help the cause of global peace either. But what is more important is the fact that the world now knows that Iran need not be absolutely synonymous with Islamic radicalism. Even more important is the fact that if the government of Ahmadinejad has to sustain, then it necessarily has to make room for certain fundamental changes within the country. And truthfully, that would not have to go against the very pillars of Iran. On the contrary, a certain dose of social reform would bridge some of the deep divides that lay for no reason across the continents and would surely help in creating a more peaceful world. Hopefully, Obama too would see sense in not meddling much in the internal affairs of Iran. It is important for him not to follow the footsteps of his predecessor in jumping to some vague conclusion and invading Iran for a hypothetical liberation and thus plunging it into mayhem forever. If that happens, it would perhaps be the worst consequence of the now seemingly pro-reform and rights protests enveloping Iran. With time, such protests would surely force their government to change. Obama should continue with his constructive engagement with Middle East and especially with Iran. If he can do so, it would perhaps be one of the most formidable changes that he could have brought in this world.


June 18, 2009

From the success of Slumdog Millionaire to racist attacks in Australia,

economically growing Indians are the envy of the recession-struck developed world!

Before we talk about the jaundiced racist attacks on Indians in Australia, we have got to go to some basics. And unfortunately, the basics lie in India's enviable growth story of late. As long as the western world was growing, India's provocative growth story made great news. After all, the altruistic western media had to look charitable and benevolent to their lower ranked earth mates. The problem, however, began as their economies started getting into recession – something that was of their own doing. Instead of looking at going full throttle to develop markets in lesser developed regions like Latin America, India, China etc, Europeans and Americans kept capriciously selling to their own citizens through artificial means like luring non-creditworthy people into taking loans – in the process making their people dehumanized materialistic consumer dustbins. The delinquent process bombed, their banks started failing and they realised that a Japan-like zero growth era was here to stay.

At such a time of exasperating global recession, for the west to see a third world country like India growing at 6.5 percent plus – a rate of growth they haven’t seen in a few decades – can have dire consequences psychologically. It started with Slumdog Millionaire. The movie ridiculed India in every possible way – every aspect of life that touches foreigners in India was ripped apart in the form of a love story. The cheeseparing west enjoyed it so much that it showered the film with awards after awards, the Oscars included. To me, the clearly partisan name of the film, its huge success and those grandiose awards – all smacked of illiberal racism. At a purblind time when the west was spluttering economically, they found a special thrill in seeing the film and metaphorically consoling themselves that well, India is the world’s ‘slumdog’ becoming a millionaire by pure luck and coincidences. And as expected, in cricket matches in New Zealand, one could see jingoistic posters with racist undertones saying the Slumdog Millionaires are here.

The current caustic situation in Australia is just an extrapolation of similar feelings. All over the developed world, they see that places of higher education are full of ‘yellows’ and ‘browns’. They also see their jobs being outsourced to the same yellows and browns. And now, in these troubled times of rampant job losses, it’s a pain to see educated Indians getting jobs in their own country. Thus, the still existing – in subconscious – racist and apartheid feelings have started showing their ugly misanthropic colors. And no wonder they are against the student community – the community, which is the real future threat. History is testimony to the fact that unemployment and frustrations always lead to crime. And it’s time the prejudiced governments in developed countries launched campaigns to educate their citizens on how to deal with these termagant times than to close their eyes and allow the citizens to take to racial crimes – unless of course they too, in the heart of their hearts, want Indians to leave their country. And if education campaigns fail to prevent the corrosive racial attacks in the short run (such campaigns work best in the long run), then the governments should step up their policing to put an immediate end to such shameful acts of clear-cut racist violence, instead of trying to pass them off as isolated and sporadic cases of non-racist crimes. What a shame! Indians are culturally and by nature peace loving and nonviolent due to various reasons. In India, there are unfortunate crimes against foreigners; but these have more to do with lust and petty theft. They aren’t racist crimes. But what’s happening against students in Australia is certainly and increasingly intolerantly racist. And it must be brought to an immediate stop. It’s time the developed nations got used to the idea of the Indian growth story, and it’s time they worked hard to take part in it rather than ridicule it, as that would serve them no good. For if we were to stop companies of developed nations from coming into India’s blossoming markets, their corporations’ last hopes of revival would see the end of the day.


June 11, 2009

Why the Communists lost Bengal and how Mamata Banerjee can easily ruin her big opportunity to destroy the CPM even now!

If anyone has destroyed CPM, it is the CPM itself. I can personally bet that most workers of Trinamool Congress are also communists at heart because in Bengal, most hearts beat for the masses. The revolutionary fervour is a part of Bengali blood stream. It’s no wonder they tolerated a rotting communist party for so many years rather than vote for anyone else. The amazing thing is that even in these elections, out of a total population of 5.73 crores who voted in Bengal, Trinamool Congress got only five lakh votes more than the communists. Of course, rigging happened in many, many places where the communists won – from people not being allowed to leave their homes in the first place (something that can be never caught by the CRPF personnel who were posted) to threats at the voting booths, every trick in the book was rampantly used. But then, there are people who voted for CPM without coercion too. From people who actually benefitted from their regime, to their grassroots party supporters to communist lovers.

Before going any further, let’s first analyse, why did the CPM lose? Well, they lost primarily because they lost the support of the Muslim voters they had pampered for years (by allowing them to migrate freely from Bangladesh). This time alienated due to Nandigram-type issues, the Muslims came out and voted against them. And the fact, as I have always mentioned, is that Muslims are brave people for sure. There is no party that is strong enough to use muscle power to rig Muslim votes when they come out united. So, alienating the Muslims was a big mistake.

The second reason is that finally, the media played a positive role by default. Due to the pure nature of how nothing misses the media glare today, Nandigram got reported in mass media in an expansive way and became a huge issue, even though Buddhadeb’s predecessor Jyoti Basu had created a far bigger carnage at Marichapi in Sunderbans years back. At that time, the incident didn’t get reported properly; and he escaped media glare.

Thirdly and most importantly, CPM has paid for its huge regime of ruthless dictatorial suppression and muscle power that it had exercised for at least the last 22 of the 32 years they have been in power. Many governments in India use the police to their advantage; and people somehow overlook the same. But the ruthless CPM used their own party offices to get back to people. People used to be picked up from their homes and taken to the local party offices where they would be interrogated, beaten up ruthlessly, threatened and eventually tamed. Delhi-centric media typically never reported such rampant atrocities and CPM’s muscle rule in Bengal thrived. Years of torture later, people in West Bengal, under the leadership of Mamata, finally got the chance to hit back. Today, CPM party offices are being burnt down by CPM workers themselves – undoubtedly wrong, but a natural consequence of their own past coming back to haunt them.

Finally and fourthly is the firebrand leadership of ‘Didi’ – Mamata Banerjee. It takes guts to take such a CPM regime of shameless rogues head on. She has done that and hats off to her. At the same time, I fear that she might just fail to turn this huge opportunity into a grand win in the Bengal elections to be held two years from now. And my worst fear is that she might have herself to blame for it.

First and foremost, I am a little surprised at her choice of ministry. The railway ministry does have a huge budget but there is very less that can be done to make a massive impact. And more so since Laloo had actually been doing a good job. Keeping in mind the Bengal elections, my suspicions are that she might have nothing much to do especially in the next two years to showcase her leadership potential. On the other hand, by taking a ministry like Panchayati Raj, she could have actually impacted the lives of the poor in villages, empowered them and displayed her leadership potential within two years. The big railway budget is just a show. However, perhaps the worst is that while DMK took three cabinet rank ministries (it’s a different matter that those posts are for his trusted dynasty members), Mamata took only one. Clearly a sign of insecurity and lack of courage to share a similar platform with any other party leader. The fact is that if she doesn’t empower her party leaders, her party will not grow. Good leadership is about making leaders of your people. She had a clear chance to take three to four cabinet rank ministries and make a huge impact on the national government; thereby spreading a great word back home as a leader whose party is making a national impact. Unfortunately, she lost the chance. My bigger worry is however something else. As she has done in the past, she shouldn’t suddenly show her adamancy and temper to walk out of the government. She has already started showing signs of attitude problems with the government. That can be suicidal. She needs to realise that it would be the central CRPF support to curb rigging during the future elections that can be the real big difference between her loss and win two years later. She must act in a planned manner now and deliver the killer blow. After all, it’s only an edge of five lakh votes that she currently has. She has to turn it into ten times more in the next two years to feel really safe. And for that, she must display strong and sharp leadership skills and not self-ignite the Prakash Karat way to doom.

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