Monday, December 30, 2013

Verdict for democracy

Nepal’s election results are hardly unexpected. The Maoists have been relegated to third position and many Madheshi and fringe parties have met their diminishing fortunes. Under both the direct vote and Proportional Representation systems, the Nepali Congress, led by Sushil Koirala, took the lead, followed by the CPN-UML, headed by Jhala Nath Khanal.

The political verdict is clearly in favour of a stable coalition. Evidently, the course correction has been directed against the UCPN (Maoist), who failed at any broadbased maneuvering to make the constitution in recent years. The disenchantment with the Maoists, thus, must be seen in the long-term context.

Unprecedented fall

The rise and fall of the Maoists as a political force in Nepal is unprecedented—their acceptance into mainstream society grew with the end of the ‘normal monarchy’ in the country and subsequent political developments, in which the mainstream political parties were on a weak track. Even then, the way in which the Maoists rose to political prominence, despite their notoriety for violence, was quite unusual.

The spectre of decline was certainly known to Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai but they seemed to remain steadfast in not moulding their ideological principle for local conditions and moreover, to live out its spirit. So, the blunders were not single-handed. In the changed scenario, the Nepali Maoists turned into a classic example of adhering to a custom-made ideology from a foreign land.

In the 1960s, something similar happened in India when a genuine radical upsurge met with an awful fate, following the incorrigible sycophancy of communist leaders in fancying the Chinese style of ‘hit and run communism’. Some even went so far to declare ‘China’s Chairman as their Chairman’.

Consequently, the radical movement dwindled in India, though the oppressiveness of the state and corporates has increased multifold over the decades. The Maoists in Nepal should think of the bigger picture and start doing things, rather than denying the aspirations of the common folk. And on a personal front too, they have to show integrity with principled political commitments, which, sadly, is notably absent in their current mode of action.

Albeit, emigration is reaching painful levels of exodus among young Nepalis but the poll results have represented their will. Certainly, they wish for a stable nation, with enough capacity to absorb the needs of every citizen. As of now—from India to Tibet to the Arab countries—the state of average Nepali migrants is a matter of concern for any thinking mind. Alas, no thou-ght or action has really been made on this haunting issue!

NC and UML

This is a historic chance for the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML to draft a pro-people constitution and create a functional government. As representative of the peoples’ will, these two political parties should not fail this time, because improved democratic processes will only promise better times ahead.

More on the socio-economic line, increased inclusion of different under-represented communities should be among the top agenda. Now these two major political parties have to carry the will of the people at large—as the activism of regional outfits in the Madhes and other parts of the country have lost their allure. But it is crucial for the NC and UML to respond and address the genuine demands of these groups.

Missed opportunity

The election result is remarkable for rejecting the ‘federalisation drive’ of the Maoists but keeping hope alive for socio-economic transformation. This was a response to the previous political configuration, which was largely opportunistic. If things improve, we will not see ethnic conflict mar the syncretism of this ancient land.

As the recently held CA election had existential rigour for Nepal’s democracy, it is truly unfortunate to see India’s inept response. India’s foreign ministry has again missed a chance to do damage control for earlier blunders by offering gestures of support to Nepal, which holds more significance than the other countries where top leaders don’t mind travelling to without reason and wasting valuable national resources.

Still, if not the Indian establishment, the mass of Indians think much more actively about their special neighbour. There lies the strength of bilateral relations between two countries; otherwise, official double standards from both sides could have hampered this relation long ago.

The time is right for immediate action from the new incumbent in Kathmandu. They will have focus on pressing goals. This time, leaders have to act or fail like the Maoists. The choices are easy to make but consistently following up on them will be the real acid test. But for now, reading the election results on a positive note would not be too risky.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu post,on December07,2013)

An unholy nexus binds Government to industry

From the Planning Commission and the apex bank endorsing corporate events organised by shady consultancies to the Finance Ministry supporting toothless industrial lobbies, the political class signs in tune with India Inc
We all know how UPA2 has stopped performing and is scoring poorly in most of areas. This well-choreographed plan is a rare phenomenon in realpolitik which re-defines the Darwinian principle of existence (Charles Darwin tried to, wrongly, make us believe that only the fittest can survive).

The existential quest is blurred, and configured so that action is presented as sin and inaction as unwavering virtue. Those in Government are a happy lot, but escapist business honchos are disturbed. They are not getting their favours on time — a throwback to the slow socialist days. This is a funny situation, especially when the country has no dearth of ‘non-performing assets in the form of some corporate leaders. The list is long but deserves not to elaborated.

There are countless activities in India’s burgeoning metro cities where the beleaguered corporate lot, mostly from the wonderland that is the West, has foolish interests. But here the safeguard to national interest is coming through collective angst. This is a sort of strength for new India that trounces Goldman Sachs and WalMart and the insightfully-poor rating agencies’ hope of making the country a parking lot for many of its useless minds.

The corporate world is in desperation, as it genuinely finds it difficult to stay exuberant beyond the happy premises of five star hotels — momentary relief though comes quite often, as India’s Finance Ministry is fully committed to acknowledging the events of toothless industrial lobbies and shady consultancy companies.

Nothing is taken for granted at such events — so everything is productive and meaningful within that ambit. A photo session with a Cabinet Minister has its high demand, speaking from the dais (before an indifferent and slumbering audience) is important, being front-running sponsor of an event has its value.

The Reserve Bank of India and the Planning Commission also support such corporate events where we hear many useless speeches. But despite the good tuning between the Government and business sector, those with money are still sad souls in India.

This might be because, sometimes, the cycle fails and then layoffs begin. At this stage, the top honchos recall the value of money and in the process goes back to the long-discredited economist Adam Smith (sadly, he couldn’t understand the discipline). But the tragical wind is unbiased, and it is dutifully blowing across all the sectors. Job cuts are all-pervasive including within the media which silently suffers much management atrocities.

Another area of unethical exploitation is the intellectual festivals. The Tehelka-Tarun Tejpal-Think Fest episode is a good case in point. Generally speaking, these conditions should have kept the humour alive in business circles but as the tough reality of the current situation is known to all, the sentiment will be in a jittery state.

The boom-time of ignorance is over now. The chances of course-correction are also few, especially given the current functional arrangement of the industry-Government dynamic. So, to be sure, in the time ahead, the Indian economy will seem to be more shocking than entertaining. Besides a failed Government, the corporate sector too has to be held accountable for its inability to rise to the occasion and make the most of several opportunities that have presented themselves over the years.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer,on December06,2013)

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Book Review: Fiction/ The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto, Penguin, p.232; Rs499 (Hardback) Fatima Bhutto is a conscience keeper of her sensibility. She has proved it on time and again. Her detailed memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword, had made the world knowing about the very famous Bhutto’s overtures with the real politicking of Pakistan’s tragic democracy, like never before.

Then, she championed in writing uncomfortable truths of her family and politics, dutifully, and broke a firm impression that the load of powerful past can keep the flame of personal intention and integrity on toe. Remarkably, she did it when she was quite young—and now she is back, with her debut novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon after a short interlude.

Meanwhile, Fatima has risen to be a prolific Columnist of eminent publications in Pakistan and Western media. The vital commonness of these books is in their anecdotal accounts, which grips unwaveringly. That makes the purpose of writing well served, as Fatima is an individual who has lot of bearing with the collective outer space—both as a creative soul and importantly hailing from Pakistan’s most influential political family.

She had opportunities growing up, and in recent years as a journalist/writer to visit the ‘troubled tribal region of Wajiristan’, to other terrains of north-west frontier and Afghanistan. Thus the town of Mir Ali, remains more than a passive protagonist in The Shadow of the Crescent Moon. Without relying too much on ‘twists in narrative’ (for better sake), Fatima has become able to give this sleepy semi-urban locale, a lively humane touch.

She makes a memorable fiction entry, by chronicalising a small town in infamous tribal region of Waziristan, Mir Ali—the book begins and ends on a rainy Friday morning. The metaphors have used resolutely, and story follows an intelligent path, not anything shaped in the guise of personal wishes or nay to the turn of any situation.

Three brothers meet for breakfast. Next, the eldest, recently returned from the US, boards a taxi to the local mosque. The second brother, a doctor, goes to work in his hospital. His upset wife does not join the family that morning, even few know what she does these days. And the youngest, the idealist, leaves for town on a motorbike. He is accompanied by a beautiful, fragile girl whose world has been overwhelmed by war (like many others). Only few hours later their day ends in devastating circumstances.

She has drawn the details of troublesome human misfortune, in terms of terrorism and its fallouts. Also not less, the inner contradiction of Pakistan’s less understood political regime, which juggles aimlessly between limited democracy and overgrown military establishment.

Little more wide, this book covers the shadow of South Asia’s general psyche, which mostly outgrows the conformity of national boundaries created in twentieth century, as legacy of British Empire in tune with the ‘hungry tide’ of confused nationalists.

The Empire ruined long back too, and now it has own mimicking shadow to confront with—herewith, the east and west is meeting proportionally and without any advantage. Seeing the state of nation and people—normally, the magnanimity of success or failure is known for a ruling set of systems. If not looking through a much distorted value proposition of comparison, the pathetic state of Pakistan becomes more clearly visible. This is something undeniable for healthy thinkers, though they are rare species.

On the positive side, Pakistan has today a long list of good writers—surprisingly, some of them born elite but sensed the grave issues of land, as carefully as their rest fellow countrymen. This marks toward the changing expectation at mass level, which must not go waste alone in the inner circle of ideas—therefore, the required action must knock at fore.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon makes the ground for those, who have not left the quest for life and love, even in the toughest human situation—a thoroughly sensual novel, naturally fits to be noted extraordinary and recalled as a great read, by the generations of readers.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla,on December14,2013)

Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan

Book Review: Non-fiction/City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes, Aleph, 168p; Rs 295(Hardback)
It’s a moving commentary on the city which is at ease with its state of chaos
A city like Mumbai cannot be described in a few words; so to attempt to etch a ‘short’ biography of this historic, vibrant city is in itself a daring act. However, Naresh Fernandes’s City Adrift attempts to override such realities, with a moving commentary on the city, which is at ease with its state of chaos.

In an excellent narrative, this book reveals the prominent temperament of Mumbai — its unusually configurative set of urban islands, its tryst with commercial history, and its mixed sociological set-up. The book represents the city neither as a ‘maxim’ nor as a unit ‘toying with minimum spirits’. It engages itself with the changes that made Mumbai a mismanaged locale.

It would be wrong to say that the city inspiringly transcends beyond political rhetoric, nevertheless; and in patches, the author pragmatically delves into the political paradigm shift in the city from progressivism to ‘identity-assertiveness’.
Since Mumbai is India’s first cosmopolitan city, the entrepreneurial tradition developed here with Europe’s growing interest in sea trade during the late medieval times. The primarily business communities such as Gujaratis and Parsis were some of the first beneficiaries of this rising global trade alliances. Even today they are the formidable players in commerce.

However, business operations have renewed methodology now and have segregated many of them from social affiliations. Fernandes, as a writer and resident of Mumbai, ponders over the same through his book and locates significant results. He narrates the history of Mumbai and portrays its existing state, with a deep sense of attachment and concern. His personal sentiments are also evocative in his depiction of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The security lapses happened, the most inhuman killings took place, but sadly Mumbai’s security structure has not improved as it should have had. A single downpour can turn the city into a living hell. The dwindling housing facilities don’t constrict one to live decently unless one is facilitated by an obscene amount of earning!

The book reflects upon how the new ‘demonic structures’ in the city has made it more corrupt-looking and indifferent to the shortage of basic civic facilities all around. Today, Mumbai needs a complete geographic reconfiguration, emancipation from ‘chauvinistic politics’, and its citizens’ active participation. Only that would justify the city that has the best corporate services in social domain. The Parsis and other businessmen of the gone era were different from India’s neo-rich, who are ‘absurd’ beyond the limit.

The book could have been lengthened, so that it could detail the painful transition of the city, but it still carries a pertinent research on India’s “most cosmopolitan” city.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer,on December29,2013)

Frontiers of insecurity

Book Review: Non-fiction/ India at Risk: Mistakes: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy by Jaswant Singh, Rainlight/Rupa, p.292; Rs595 (Hardback)
The review discovers Jaswant Singh’s genuinely comprehensive and informative account of major security challenges facing India over last six-and-a-half decades
This is Jaswant Singh’s eleventh book, and in this, the former foreign minister has opted to keep his focus intact on ground level experiences rather than rhetoric to deal with the complex design of India’s security challenges.

With India at Risk, Singh justifies his long eventful overtures in public life and also as an avid researcher, who spent decades getting familiar with India’s security establishment from close quarters.

Primarily, this book poses the question why India has failed to respond adequately in meeting challenges to its national security? Singh contends that during the past crises, existential challenges were overt but the responses remained surprisingly limited.

Jaswant Singh appears perturbed on the conceptual fault lines and misdirected governance, particularly in the handling of security affairs. The mismatch of challenges and responses has been far too huge to be ignored by any thinking mind—and Singh is certainly more conscious among others. Hence the vindication of the title: India at Risk: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy.

Having directly handled the responsibility of managing a whole series of security related challenges, Singh genuinely informs and analyses the major security issues, which the nation has faced in the last six-and-half decades. The book is written with a clear sense to capture the mistakes as well as follies from past, to tread safely in 21st century.

Unlike the books written by politicians, here a complete shift in narrative is obvious - in parts, where the author leans to recall the grave policy failures of the Nehru era, he does it with great care. He reminds us that Nehru, a believer in humanity with a broad mind, was much vulnerable before the dubious Chinese leadership. So, hardly surprising what happened in 1962.

This shows the comprehensive grasp and a firm stand that could have been adopted only by an ex-serviceman MP and the only person to have simultaneously held the portfolios of the Minister of External Affairs and of Defence, in addition to also having been Minister of Finance.

That is remarkable for this trusted and most respectable lieutenant of the BJP - as a veteran politician, he could have easily spiced up the debate (earlier he has not refrained doing that, the case in point is his book on Jinnah) but has chosen not to so.

Examples of faulty democratic practices resulting in challenges to our national security abound: Assam and the Northeast, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Sri Lanka, the birth of the Maoists and the concomitant challenges. The question that brings us back is: ‘what goes into making democracy as efficient instrument of governance?’ Exactly that which enables a country, any country, to achieve the essentials of national security leadership.

While progressing towards the misadventures of Pakistan, Jaswant Singh recounts its aims and planning of 1965, as:

The strategic backdrop of this 1965 conflict was the politico-military situation created in India as a consequence of the 1962 defeat. The signals that emanated from India thereafter, particularly after Nehru’s death in 1964, and the consequent battles for political succession were not reassuring. (page-76)

Obviously, Pakistan read the inherent message wrong and foolishly faulted in seeing Kutch and further Jammu and Kashmir, as the grounds exploitable with their severely undisciplined military and political regime. The book dwells further on this to overview the nature of Indo-Pak conflicts. Overall, this makes for an insightful read, that has much to offer to both the novice and the trained mind.

The birth of Bangladesh happened in 1971 and India played a formidable role in redrawing the map and political discourses of contemporary South Asia. Noticeably, this happened just after 22 years of the earlier partition, which shook South Asians in an unprecedented manner. Singh recounts how Pakistan fought two wars that time, one internally against East Bengal and another with India, it met well deserved failures in both.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on December22,2013)