Is Dravidian politics on the verge of a tectonic shift?

Last week, actor & filmmaker #KamalHassan created a flutter in political circles (and outside it) by making his intentions of getting into politics, presumably on a full time basis. That he chose to specially meet with #DelhiCM #ArvindKejriwal and bonded over their common peeve, that of corruption made things so much more dramatic. After all his colleague and fellow actor #Rajnikanth had only gone public a month ago with his own announcement of taking the political plunge. The grapevine had suggested that since Rajnikanth was close friends with #RSS idealogue #Gurumurthy he would join the saffron fold. With Kamal Hassan seemingly evincing interest in what is considered the other end of the political spectrum the stage is set for a mouthwatering contest. Between two of the biggest matinee idols of #TamilCinema. The kind that any scriptwriter would be proud of.

It all began with the unexpected demise of CM #Jayalalitha in December of last year. The actor turned politician had been a dominant force in Tamil Nadu politics for almost three decades. Affectionately referred to as #Amma (Tamil for mother) Jayalalitha served a staggering six terms in this period as the Chief Minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. What makes this state different from all the others is that since the 1960s only two parties have ruled the roost here, #DMK and #AIADMK (the one which Amma was heading) Neither the Grand Old Party of India, #Congress nor the right leaning BJP or even the communist parties of India have been able to gain a foothold here. That Jayalalitha’s death coincided with the fading away (due to old age) of DMK’s tallest leader #Karunanidhi from the limelight has left a huge political lacuna right at the top.

Strangely enough for someone who was thought of as politically astute, Jayalalitha never groomed anybody to be her successor. As a result post her death there was bickering among senior AIADMK members regarding the person who should replace her. Similarly in the rival camp (read DMK) Karunanidhi’s son #Stalin has been unable to inspire confidence both within the party and among supporters. Which is why for the first time in almost half a century the people of the state are looking beyond the two parties and at the possibility of a #ThirdFront emerging. Clearly #Dravidian politics is at a crossroads and the two southern superstars sense it too. After all rumors of Rajnikanth entering the political arena have been going around for several years now.

A brief look at their long, distinguised careers will tell one that though both the actors command a huge fan following of their own they have chosen (and willingly) to chart different paths. Rajni has always held sway over the masses whilst Kamal has been preferred by the discerning audiences. One only has to look at the former’s choice of roles from the last many years to understand that there has been a political subtext in them. But always. So while the entry of Rajnikanth is more or less on expected lines it is the possibility of his compatriot Kamal Hassan joining the party that has proved to be the proverbial twist in the tale. And what better place than Tamil Nadu? After all this is the same state that has had no less than three Chief Ministers who were all from the film industry.

There are several questions that remain unanswered. Will the duo join hands with any of the national parties or decide to go it all alone? Can their on screen persona translate into electoral dividends off it? Is there a chance (however remote) of them both coming together and forming a new party? Perhaps we will have more clarity on all this in the forthcoming weeks. One thing is for sure. The addition of these two tinseltown demigods to the mix will have massive implications, nationwide. Expect fireworks.

Will the real Nitish Kumar please stand up?

The year was #2000 and it was on March 10th that the #BiharAssembly witnessed unprecedented scenes when Nitish Kumar the CM of a seven day old government put in his papers on the floor of the house. His minority government had been given a week by a generous Governor to cobble up numbers, which in Indian politics means just one thing – horse trading. But Nitish being Nitish did nothing of the sort in the bargain clinching the high moral ground. Cut to 2017. Something equally dramatic happened a few days ago when the same Nitish Kumar once again resigned from the post of CM. But this time circumstances were totally different. Nitish’s government in alliance with the man, who was his bete noire for most of his political career, #LalooPrasadYadav was in a majority. Before one could fully grasp the implications of this move came another salvo from Nitish. Within 24 hours he became the CM again. But this time with support from the opposition party, BJP. It was a double whammy.

In the year 1956 the then railway minister (and future Prime Minister) #LalBahadurShastri resigned after a tragic train accident in Tamil Nadu claimed over 140 lives. In the 70 years of independent India there have been several such unfortunate incidents and yet, of all the 43 ministers who have handled the #Railway ministry in this period only one another person resigned taking moral responsibility. No prizes for guessing who that was. In 1999 a ghastly train accident in Assam led to over 290 deaths and #NitishKumar promptly put in his papers. The loss was entirely of the railway ministry for while in charge of affairs Nitish had brought in some pathbreaking reforms. It was he who ushered in the era of railway ticketing over the internet. And who can forget his masterstroke, the #TatkalScheme which allows passengers to book train tickets at a short notice.

For 15 years (from 1990-2005) Bihar was in the grip of what observers liked to call the #JungleRaj where the ruling party #RJD was alleged to be corrupt to the hilt with the CM himself being accused of several scams. So much so that in this period kidnapping had become like an industry in itself. Nitish inherited what was a state in terminal sickness. The son of a freedom fighter, an engineering graduate and a product of the #JPMovement, Nitish took up the challenge and over the next decade changed the face of Bihar. From cracking down mercilessly on criminals to sprucing up primary health care centers throughout the state, electrification in villages, building roads and encouraging literacy in women he did it all. Of course his proudest achievements were in the education sector. Getting hundreds and thousands of teachers jobs, meal programs for the underprivileged and gifting cycles to girls who attended school. While he was doing all this the political landscape in the country had changed.

For someone who has elevated resigning from plum posts into a fine art and always emerged stronger from the experience this latest episode has not gone down well, even with staunch supporters of Nitish. The trouble for Nitish and his party has been the inability to win enough seats to make the government on their own steam. So be it the opportunist #Congress, the corruption tainted RJD or the right wingers from BJP Nitish has had to rely on one or the other to stay in the reckoning. This realignment with the ruling party BJP comes at a terrible expense. In all probability Nitish will never become the Prime Minister. Something which seemed possible when his alliance (read #Mahagathbandhan) won handsomely in 2015. But for Nitish Kumar Bihar comes first. Everything else is secondary. All said and done one cannot help but feel that this saga is far from over. Watch this space for more.

A weak opposition is the greatest threat to Democracy

Last November a #24Hour #NewsChannel that has been known to be vocal in it’s criticism of the present government was taken off air (#Ban was the actual word used) for a whole day. It was unprecedented having never happened in the #PostIndependence #India. The reason given was that some broadcasts by the channel in question had endangered national security. Amidst widespread condemnation of this ill conceived move, the channel approached the #ApexCourt of the country to get this inexplicable ban lifted. Now at the start of this week the top investigative agency of the country raided the residence of the folks behind the same news channel and quite expectedly large sections of the Indian media expressed their outrage. At what they felt was a blatant attempt to curb the freedom of the press. Now we all know the value that free and fearless media has, especially in a thriving democracy. But truth be told this is something that was waiting to happen. Just that opportunity presented itself to the right wingers only now.

So what has changed since #2014? That was when the #GrandOldParty of India (the #Congress) was voted out in favour of what has been known as a party of hardliners. In these three years since PM Modi came to power though there have been sporadic incidents of violence against the minorities and those from the marginalised sections of society, by and large the focus has been on development. Or at least that has been the image that this government has tried to create. But in the last month equations have changed drastically. That is, after the elections in the largest state of the country, #UttarPradesh. The way in which the BJP was able to decimate all it’s opponents in that election has two huge implications. One, the ruling party is looking quite invincible so much so that a reelection in less than two years time seems almost inevitable. And two, the opposition has been cut down to size. And how!

Contrary to popular belief that an authoritarian government can cause terrible harm to a healthy democracy it is actually the lack of credible opposition in the #Parliament and outside it that is a bigger threat. Look around and you will realise that the #BJP has benefited immensely from the fact that the principle opposition party, that is Congress, seems in such a disarray. Bereft of a leader with the pedigree and/or charisma to take on a popular Prime Minister like #NarendraModi, the Congress has simply been incapable of pinning down the ruling party. Be it on important policy decisions or even on alleged attempts to subvert democracy by targeting individuals, organisation or the media Congress simply does not seem to have the stomach for it. The Communists have become virtually irrelevant with the exception of a state or two. And regional parties like the #SP, JD(U), #TMC and #AAP who have been extremely critical of this government have simply been unable to make much headway nationally.

In the last few weeks we have seen how the ruling regime has stepped on the gas when it comes to
controversial albeit trivial issues like that of #AnimalSlaughter while conveniently side stepping on more critical ones like that of #Unemployment. Law and order in the largest state of the country has taken a backseat. The #RuralEconomy of the country is in tatters, #Farmers all over are finding it impossible to make a living and independent voices of dissent are being throttled. But who will take up cudgels for them is the million rupee question. With the pillars of democracy like the #Judiciary and the media becoming increasingly weakened, there is no better time than now for the opposition to unite. Not just for the sake of democracy but also for the future of this country and it’s citizens. #WeThePeople.

Should our armed forces be above criticism?

#9thApril was a busy morning in central Kashmir’s #ShiaMuslim majority district of #Budgam. After all #Bypolls were being conducted for a #ParlimentarySeat. While voting was still underway a mob appeared out of nowhere and started pelting stones and the paramilitary forces (read #CRPF) made a distress call to the army fearful that things could get really violent. #MajorGogoi who was leading his men made a spontaneous decision to grab the person leading the #StonePelters and tie him to the Army jeep. Then using this person as a #HumanShield the Army was able to disperse the violent mob, save a number of precious lives and diffuse the entire situation without any casualties reported. As soon as the incident came to the attention of the #MainstreamMedia it caused a huge furore with questions being raised about the use of a human shield. Was this the first incident of stone pelting in the #Valley or was this the first time that human shields were being used in the Valley? The answer to both questions is NO.

The first reported incident of stone pelting by the local population goes back to 1990s when the
conflict was at it’s peak and usually such protests would be led by #SeparatistLeaders many of whom have today joined mainstream politics. Be that as it may, fact remains that even back then this was a tricky issue with no ready solutions available to the #Army. But it must be noted that post #2008 stone pelting as a form of protest against the Army has become a favorite among the Kashmiris. One of the options that has been used for some time in order to disperse a mob is firing #TearGas shells but unfortunately in the Kashmir Valley this move has proved counter productive in effectively handling large mobs that are violent and appear virtually out of nowhere. The other option has been to use #PelletGuns but due to the terrible repercussions on the protestors hit by these pellets this method has come under sharp criticism by human right groups.

Coming to the matter of using a civilian as a human shield it might be interesting to note that this has happened in the Valley several times in the past as documented by #IndependentJournalists covering the #Conflict in Kashmir. Where civilians were made to walk in front of the paramilitary forces while they conducted operations in sensitive areas. But as explained above the armed forces have their work cut out with the options to deal with such protests being limited. Lest we forget the Army routinely finds itself on the other side of the barrel and in places where there is an armed conflict and/or insurgency it is always a fine balance that the law enforcers have to strike. Easier said than done especially when there are lives at stake. In the matter involving Major Gogoi the actions of the Army and the government to fete the officer has only further complicated matters. All this even as an inquiry was ordered into the whole episode thus sending out conflicting signals about the stand of the current regime on the whole matter.

In all this a top retired Army officer publicly stated that using human shields was part of the #SOP (standard operating procedure) in counter insurgency operations in the #NorthEast. But the current Army chief has ruled out this being a part of the SOP in the Valley. After all it cannot be denied that these methods do violate the #GenevaConventions of war and are not the best way forward. Critics point out that even in #Israel where the use of human shields was once a common practice it has been outlawed since #2005. Hopefully the Major Gogoi incident will be a one off which will not recur anytime soon. But in the volatile Valley of Kashmir nothing is ever certain. Ever. Watch this space for more.

Crisis in job sector – Is there a way out?

 It was one of the big electoral promises by the then Prime Ministerial candidate #NarendraModi. In the runup to the general elections of 2014 he announced that if voted to power, his party (the BJP) would provide a #Crore jobs to the unemployed youth of the country. That India has a population of over #130Crores of which a vast majority are under the age of 35 made it a promise that could change the fortunes of a nation if implemented in the right spirit. Three years down the line it seems like that promise has been belied. In a report published by the #LabourBureau in 2015 that covered eight of the key non farming sectors of India it was found that #Unemployment has instead risen alarmingly to a five year high of 5%. And their latest findings show that jobs grew by a paltry 1.1% in the last one year. With estimates that in the largest state of India #UttarPradesh itself there are over a crore unemployed people things are clearly not getting better. Any time soon.

And then there is the whole factor of #. Not quite the same as unemployment but as worrisome, it has to do with people working in jobs that not just pay less wages but are also low skill jobs. Case in point being the city of #Allahabad (in UP) where in December of last year over a lakh people applied for the job of #ContractualSweepers, many of whom were post graduates, engineers and some even had master’s degrees. And the number of vacancies – just 119. The Labour Bureau report states that under employment has gone up by 35% in the last couple of years which means thousands of young, skilled workers are languishing in jobs that offer neither job satisfaction, good money nor are there better career prospects for them. Their present is full of hardships and the future is bleak.

It is said that when it rains, it pours. A recent study predicts that about two lakh workers in the #IT sector are expected to lose jobs every year, for the next three years. First there was the recent change of guard in the US presidential elections which has resulted in unprecedented visa restrictions thanks to which even Indian companies doing business there have started employing local talent. In addition the global slowdown in IT services has also hit India hard. This will adversely affect the educated middle class in the country’s urban areas who have all benefited from the IT boom in the last two and a half decades. The first step that has to be taken to fix this crisis is to first acknowledge that there is one. And it is a big one that requires the present government to walk the talk. For once.

To be fair to the BJP it is not they have done nothing. On the contrary there have been a slew of initiatives by the government to try and address the rising unemployment problems. In fact the #MakeInIndia campaign is easily one of the flagship programs launched by Prime Minister Modi. Also this regime has taken many measures to bring in FDI but unless the foreign companies and investors are mandated to manufacture a chunk of their products in India itself this move by itself will not bear great dividends. Hope also stems from the skill development program of this government that has an ambitious aim of being able to create a skilled work force of one crore in the next three years. But be sure of one thing. Time is running out. And unless we act and fast dark days lie ahead.

The Macron Affair – Perfect ending to a fairytale romance

In the end former investment banker #EmmanuelMacron won two thirds of the votes to become the #Youngest ever #PresidentOfFrance. The lead up to the results that came out on Sunday has been marked by uncharacteristic and bitter acrimony between the President elect and his rival to the seat, #MarineLePen. Some would say it has to do with the #NationalFrontParty that Le Pen represents, long considered a pariah in mainstream French politics for it’s strong anti semitic beliefs and racist ideology. Which is why the defeat of the nationalistic Le Pen who had made her very anti immigrant, anti European views the cornerstone of her campaign is a shot in the arm for all those opposed to the apparent rise of the right wing. That which began with the victory of right wing in United States and India, two of the largest democracies of the world and post #BREXIT which some felt would repeat itself in France. But beyond the politics of it all at the heart of this victory is a by-now legendary romance.

When Macron first met #BrigitteTrogneux she was a mother of three children one of whom was Macron’s classmate and Brigitte was the one who taught French to Macron’s siblings at school. She was 39 and he was a precocious young lad who had barely hit 16. Liberal as his parents were (dad was a professor and mom a physician)they did find this dalliance not to their liking and in an attempt to break it spoke to the teacher to convince her that this relationship was not meant to be. But it was to no avail and as a last resort, Macron’s folks sent the 17 year old Macron away to Paris. That Brigitte came from a renowned family of chocolate makers meant that no one could accuse her of doing it all for the money, she was born rich.In what sounds like a scene straight out of the movies Macron is supposed to have remarked before leaving to #Paris for higher studies ” I will come back and marry you.” Next year Brigitte got a divorce and moved to Paris to be closer to Macron. Thus began a decade long affair before the two star crossed lovers defied all expectations to finally tie the knot in 2007.

A decade later when Emmanuel Macron assumes power he is egged on by his wife, now a 64 year old grandmum of seven. Time and again there have been snide remarks made by the opponents lead by Le Pen about their ‘strange’ relationship but Macron has rubbished them as those of made by misogynists and those with homophobia. Also Macron has repeated time and again in his Presidential campaign that Brigitte has played more than an active role as an advisor to the team that worked to elect Macron. It has been a difficult last decade for the country seen for the longest time as the champion of liberty and freedom in the western world. The ban of the #Burqa, the terror attacks on French weekly #CharlieHebdo and the global impact of immigration have all started impacting French society like never before. So when the fiercely nationalist Le Pen attacked Macron saying he was the wrong man for the job right now because he would be weak on #IslamistTerror many felt that the right wing had truly arrived. But the overwhelming results in Macron’s favor proves one thing about the French. Once a liberal always a liberal.

As Macron becomes President of France, the world looks up to this great country to lead the way in what are turbulent times. For freedom and for love.

EVMs – What is the whole fuss about?

In the last one month, the one word that has dominated the Indian political landscape has to be EVMs. Short for Electronic Voting Machines, they have been in sharp focus since results in some state elections were announced a few weeks ago. Things have come to such a head that some political parties have approached the Apex Court of the country alleging large scale tampering of these EVMs. No prizes for guessing that all those complaining about the lack of reliability when it comes to these vote counting machines are the ones that lost in the elections. So while the government of the day sees these allegations of #EVMTampering by the opposition as a sign of being sore losers, the #ElectionCommission of India aka the EC has take a firm stand on the matter. Not only has it stated categorically that the EVMs are totally trustworthy but now it has thrown the gauntlet at critics of EVMs to have a go at trying to rig these machines in a #Hackathon event. The ball is firmly in the court of the cynics.

It was at the turn of the century, in 1999 to be exact that electronic voting first began in Indian elections and since then it has become the norm. In all the years since, there have enough people who have raised an alarm about the efficacy of these EVMs and an important ruling on this matter was of the Delhi High Court that admitted in the year 2012 that indeed these Electronic Voting Machines were not tamper proof. In this regard the EC had been proactively undertalking steps to make #EVMs better for which it appointed a committee of experts and technicians who recommended the introduction of what is called the VVPAT system. VVPAT which is short for Vote Verified Paper Audit Trail and what it does is to give the concerned voters an acknowledgement of sorts. Which is nothing but a printout that has details of who the vote was cast for. In this way it is envisaged that #VVPAT will make EVMs even more trustworthy than they already are.

Now let us examine this a bit more closely. Fact is that EVMs leave a lot of power in the hands of an election official who could access the complete profile of a voter, tamper with the election software and manage the results of an election. If he/she was sufficiently motivated to. Which is perhaps a big reason why EVMs without paper trails (read VVPAT) are a strict no-no in many of the developed countries including Germany, Ireland, England, France and several states in the US too. There have also been reports of massive rigging of EVMs in countries like Ukraine and Venezuela after which they were discontinued. So it is not like the opposition parties do not have a case at all and the latest salvo from them has been to use the good offices of the Apex Court to remind the government. It was a good four years ago that the same courts had instructed the EC to include VVPAT with every EVM. Cut to 2017 and progress has been painfully slow.

The Election Commission on it’s part has informed the authorities that it has written more than half a dozen letters to the center asking for funds (to the tune of 3000 crores) to ensure that VVPAT is made a part of every EVM. Most worryingly the petitioners in court have asked for the old system of ballot paper to be reverted back to. At least till VVPATs become the norm. One only hope that the courts do not heed this request. Otherwise it will be back to the dark ages. Of violence, arson and #BoothCapturing. And that is something all of the country can do without.

The Common Man’s Party – Is this the end of the road?

It all began in the year 2011 with the emergence of India against Corruption (IAC) an organisation that sought to take on rampant corruption in public life. The Grand Old Party of India, the Congress had got itself embroiled in some massive scams and the IAC sought to create an ombudsman (read Lokpal) that would put to the sword #government servants accused of corruption. The IAC led by veteran social activist, #AnnaHazare and a motley group consisting of ex cops, retired judges, lawyers and #bureaucrats gained in traction mainly among the urban voters and the youth connecting with the anti #corruption crusade.

But an year down the line cracks began to emerge within the IAC. A group within the organisation felt that the creation of an ombudsman was too simplistic a solution and it was necessary for IAC to take the political plunge to be able to really change the system. This group was headed by an ex bureaucrat by the name of Arvind Kejriwal. By the end of 2012, Kejriwal launched his party on the plank of anti corruption. It was called the Aam Aadmi Party (The Common Man’s Party)

In 2013 the Aam Aadmi Party fought the assembly elections in the national capital of Delhi and riding the wave of anti incumbency they came to power but it was a minority government where the elected CM Kejriwal and the Congress who provided outside support never saw eye to eye. It was to nobody’s surprise when in February of 2014 a mere 49 days after assuming the reins, Kejriwal resigned citing legal impasse on the passing of #Lokpal.

Critics of the Delhi CM, including some ex IAC members began talking of his high handedness and his attitude which they alleged was almost dictatorial. The fledgling party decided to contest the 2014 General elections where they lost dismally. The Hindu Nationalist Party of India, the BJP led by it’s charismatic Gujarati leader Narendra Modi came to power with an overwhelming mandate from the people of the country. Many political experts felt that this was the end of the road for the Common Man’s Party.

In the national capital that was under President’s rule since Kejriwal resigned, election dates for the assembly elections were announced in 2015. Opponents riled Kejriwal calling him a deserter who had run away from his responsibilities and the #BJP riding on the wave of the new PM Modi’s popularity was expected to blow away the Aam Aadmi Party. But almost miraculously it was the AAP that swept away it’s more fancied opponents and Kejriwal got a second term. The people had kept their faith in a new party that promised the people Swaraj, (read self governance) a party that talked of governance without corruption & communally polarising politics.

There was talk of young and educated Indians leaving plush jobs to work for a greater cause, the nation. Yet all the talk was short lived and within a few months the #Delhi #CM fell out with the Prime Minister. Thus began the most acrimonious war of words between the two parties, the AAP and the BJP. Kejriwal accused the center of unnecessarily meddling in affairs of an democratically elected government while his opponents called him simply incompetent. And also someone who had little regard for the rule of Law.

While both parties fought bitter battles for power in courts, Kejriwal started nursing national ambitions for his Common Man’s Party and began taking on the BJP everywhere, in various states. But Modi had a trump card up his sleeve – demonetisation. As much as the Delhi CM criticised the move calling it a disaster for rural and backward India, truth is that the PM had usurped the anti corruption plank that the #AAP had made it’s own. Just like the people of Delhi had reposed faith in #Kejriwal to give him a second term, the people of India gave a huge thumbs up to the radical move to demonetise.

BJP swept elections in India’s largest state making it almost guaranteed that Modi will be the PM again, come 2019. For the Common Man’s Party ambitions of growing nationally were thwarted with abject defeats in the states of #Goa & #Punjab. Naysayers are again going to town announcing the demise of the new entrant, the #AamAadmi #Party. But knowing #Indian politics, one feels that there are a lot many twists to this tale. Watch this space for more.

Decoding NaMo – Charismatic. Visionary. Gambler extraordinaire

It was a Tuesday night. On 8th November 2016, when the Prime Minister of India appeared on live television to announce the demonetisation of high value banknotes, it drew strong reactions from all quarters. Spontaneous protests erupted across the country as cash shortage hit ordinary citizens and lengthy queues outside cash dispensing machines (read ATMs) became a common sight. Small scale industry was the worst affected and the rural economy of the country spun into a tizzy. Thousands lost their jobs and were left without a source of livelihood. Economists were bitterly divided in their opinion even while the international community closely watched the developments. Though supporters of the move termed it as revolutionary those opposed to it likened it to political hara-kiri (The word hara-kiri with roots in Japanese history literally means ‘suicide by disembowelment’) The PM, in an attempt to assuage the frayed nerves of a bewildered nation, appeared on television. The message was clear and unambiguous – keep the faith. Cut to March 11, 2017. Results from elections in India’s largest state of
#UttarPradesh (for the record, it is bigger than United Kingdom) came out with a landslide victory for the ruling party, BJP. The nation had reposed faith in Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi. Yet again.

It was in 2014 that the right leaning nationalist party, BJP had been voted to power with an overwhelming mandate from the people. The country had been ruled for ten years before that by the Grand Old Party, the Congress and anti incumbency had kicked in. There was widespread discontent with a government that was perceived to be neck deep in corruption and nepotism. The flamboyant leader of the opposition, #NarendraModi was seen by the vast majority as a powerful agent of change. Hailing from the land of the ‘Mahatma’ Modi’s image as a common man (he started out as a tea seller) prepared to take on the mighty & powerful endeared him to the masses. In the urban pockets of the country he was seen as a development oriented Chief Minister who made Gujarat into a ‘model state’ His opponents called this a carefully cultivated image and the whole development story a big facade. There were more serious allegations, of being authoritarian and of indulging in divisive politics. But come election time, all the muck thrown at the man simply failed to stick. Modi became the 14th Prime Minister of India.

It has been three years since NaMo (as he is sometimes fondly referred to) was voted to power and while his legion of supporters call this the best time since India attained independence almost 70 years ago those opposed to the PM call it underwhelming at best & organised chaos at worst. But what about the masses? That is a different story altogether. The Prime Minister’s flagship campaign, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan aims to end the sordid practice of open defecation in the country (more than half of rural India still do not have access to toilets) thus paving the way for better health and sanitation. The other big ticket campaign of NaMo is the Jan Dhan Yojna that aspires to provide financial independence to the man on the street. With over 20% of India not having a bank account till date, the number of people affected is more than the population of Japan. The third and most recent move of the Prime Minister, that of demonetisation aimed to usher in a digital economy and reduce the menace of #BlackMoney.

The opposition went hammer and tongs at each of NaMo’s signature campaigns terming them as badly planned, terribly executed and misplaced adventurism. The last straw was #Demonetisation, they said. The country would teach the ruling party a lesson they would not forget, they insisted. The narrative that was built in the countdown to the assembly polls being that the results would be a referendum on not just the abject failure of demonetisation but on the three years of misrule by NaMo. Modi never one to back out of a good fight took up the gauntlet and publicly declared that this election was a litmus test for him. Thus he made this an election all about himself. With results going emphatically in his favour, NaMo has again proved to be the darling of the masses. Is it calculated risk taking or is it knowing the mood of the nation? Is he a visionary or merely a charismatic rabblerouser? Go figure.

P.S. At the time of publishing this, Modi has anointed a controversial Hindu cleric to head the state.of UP. Thereby setting the cat among the pigeons. Yet again.

Indians staying abroad : The road ahead

A study on international migration trends conducted last year by the UN Department for Social and Economic Affairs revealed that India has more people staying overseas than any other country. That Mexico came right after India in terms of sheer numbers would probably not surprise many, especially the Americans. Talking about the Americans, the number of Indians residing in the United States   is second only to those staying in India itself. Also Indians living in the United Kingdom constitute the largest ethnic minority there. Apart from this there is a huge Indian #Diaspora settled in the middle east,Australia and spread as far &wide as the Caribbean. It is estimated that currently there are about 16 million Indian living all over the world. Bear in mind that this includes #NRIs (Non Resident Indians) and PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin) both.
For the record NRIs and PIOs are not one and the same though quite a few folks tend to mix up both. Where a non resident #Indian is a citizen of India who usually holds a valid passport of the country, a person of Indian origin need not really be a citizen of India. Nor does a #PIO require a visa to visit India. Also this migration is not really what one would call a recent phenomenon. Far from. Many centuries ago kingdoms of past Indian rulers extended to other parts of South, South East and even parts of central Asia. Which is why there is a sizeable presence of Indians in many of these countries like Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Having stayed in these places for centuries together, Indians have integrated remarkably well with the local populace. Then there are Indians who were taken by their colonial masters to various parts of Africa and Europe to serve as cheap labour.
From science & technology to business & literature, #IndiansAbroad have literally gone places. These working professionals and entrepreneurs who are making an invaluable contribution to the countries where they reside also lead the field when it comes to sending money back which is why India gets a staggering 12% of all remittances the world over. As of last year Indians sent almost 70 billion dollars to the country where their roots are. If you do the math, it is about 4% of India’s GDP. As the world around us grapples with an unprecedented refugee and immigrant crisis, it might be worthwhile to ponder over what effect this might have on this large Indian diaspora. According to figures available with the Indian Ministry for External Affairs, there have been 276 attacks on Indians abroad in the last three years. Cause for worry?

Not really, say the experts. For the Indian community staying abroad has a record of being largely peaceful and there are hardly any incidents of terror attacks by Indians abroad. What is more cause for concern is the change in immigration policy by countries where Indians are residing. In the United States, the new President Donald Trump has voiced concerns about the huge number of students coming year after year to the country. Not just for higher education but also with an eye on better job prospects. Which is why one of the first things that #Trump initiated once he was sworn in was tighter norms for Visa programs allowing Indians entry into the country. But experts from the industry say that getting skilled workers at affordable costs is a benefit that no American firm, big or small can lose out on. For them this is just a temporary hitch. Only time will tell if they are right. Watch this space for more.