Monday, May 21, 2018

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the GLOCAL Factor

Glocalisation is defined by the Britannica Encyclopedia as ‘the simultaneous occurrence of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies in contemporary social, political, and economic systems’. It is a concept used particularly well in business. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruling India today has fine tuned it to its needs.  

Since coming to office Modi has hugged his way through many countries. Though many have mocked his hugs it was part of a global strategy. He was giving a new style to Indian diplomacy - being braggadocio. This was combined with using the Indian diaspora across the world to indicate his worth in foreign countries to people in India.The cherry on this ‘soft power’ was the global recognition of Yoga. The other side of this coin was the surgical strikes carried out inside Pakistan and Burma. Such occasions gave Indians an opportunity to puff out their chests.

Within India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team spoke about Indian mythology as if it were history, created an environment where Hindu hardliners had a free hand and reframed laws to undo what he had called ‘1200 years of slavery’ in his maiden Lok Sabha (Indian Parliament) speech. Since then he has torn into the icons of the Indian freedom struggle and ridiculed the performance of the country in the last 60 years. Though there was not much substance in these, the sheer insouciance of what he said swayed people. This was the local part of the Glocalisation.

The global and the local are neatly merging for the creation of a Hindu Rashtra.

This glocalisation formula gives the BJP the aura of a national party. Unfortunately, the Congress (I) has not come up with a blueprint for its position as a national party. It is hampered by the fact that Rahul Gandhi is taking baby steps into the political sphere. This would have been commendable and inspiring if he were in business or if India were still a monarchy or he did not represent a dynasty.

Unfortunately, the country does not have the time for such experiments with truth.

Regional parties do not face this conundrum because they do not aspire to represent India on the global stage nor do they wish to spread their ideology across the entire geography of India.

Thus, it is important that the Congress (I) and even other parties learn from the BJP. These are the things that work for the BJP within the ambit of the Glocal philosophy.

1. Sops don’t work - Affirmative action is an economic and societal necessity.  It is supposed to create an inclusive society because it gives everyone an equal chance to achieve their potential.  However, sops don’t work because they are superficial and are used as a bargaining tool. Instead of sops the Congress and other parties should think of ways to bridge the socio-economic divide. This does not mean eating at the homes of the poor and marginalised. The biggest and best sop that the BJP has provided is a mirage which has united most of the country.
2. Being autocratic does not mean isolationistic - It is understood that the BJP is being run by the Modi-Shah combine. However, Modi is using his government machinery to reach out to the young, while Amit Shah meets with Poll Booth Workers frequently. Thus, even though the combine are unquestioned and insulated they are not insular. They are constantly influencing potential and dyed-in-the-wool cadres. More importantly their messaging - ‘we are nothing without you’- is important. It gives the common BJP worker a purpose which is as potent as bringing back ‘Ram Rajya’.
A string of defeats may have a debilitating impact on the Congress (1) worker. But if those in the High Command and their young political turks use this defeat to get back to the grassroots and start from scratch there is more than a chance of resurgence in forthcoming elections.

3. A message can have many themes - The BJPs slogan ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ (Congress free India) is linked to regaining Indias pride which is umbilically connected to this lands mythology and pre-mughal history. The BJP has been able to communicate all this even through the bizarre statements from BJP politicians, including Narendra Modi about this lands technological prowess in ancient times.

What is the message that the Congress (I) wishes to communicate to Indians? It cannot be ‘oppose the BJP’. It has to be at the realm of ideas, ideas that can draw people away from the BJP. By asking people to ‘oppose the BJP’ the Congress is telling people that they were wrong to vote for the BJP further it is creating a ‘us’ against ‘them’ situation which is unwinnable in the current scenario. The BJP is selling a product. What product is the Congress going to produce that attracts people to it?

4. Being humble does not mean being demure - Modi sold the chaiwallah (tea seller) story to resounding success. But his 56 inch chest also helped. As a Prime Minister he then knelt in Parliament as a sign of respect to this temple of democracy. These outward signs of humility did not stop him from wearing a monogrammed suit worth a few hundred thousand dollars. It did not prevent him from hugging world leaders. Modi is a creature of the stage, like all good politicians he is a performer. For a nation fed on mythology, his theatrics bring back the performances of kings from ancient books.

Indians want leaders who strut their stuff abroad while keeping to their roots. It is what modern India is morphing into. This is the narrative that Modi has created within the Indian diaspora and with the people of India and is what Glocalisation is about. At this juncture the Congress cannot depend on one person to stand against the onslaught of the BJP. The only way for Congress to survive is to let its young leaders represent the country in India and abroad

A recent survey suggests that Indians believe that the BJP has enhanced India’s image abroad even though the same people think the government has not been able to tackle rising  prices or crimes against women and children. There is enough grist in the mill for the Congress to create a counter narrative, will it do so by going the Glocal way?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Indian Politics - The Art of the Impossible

The 17th of May 2018 is a date that many in Karnataka, a state in India, will remember. Emerging from a closely contested election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has formed the government in Karnataka. Though it is the largest party, it does not have the majority required to do so. The incoming Chief Minister BS Yedyyurappa has 15 days to prove his majority. (Yeddyurappa resigned today the 19th of May).

He needs to attract eight newly elected representatives from other political parties to join him.

This is the art of the impossible in Indian politics.

Horse trading is nothing new in India. Over the years, elections and regular politicking have caused political ships to flounder. The picture that comes to mind in the aftermath is of the well known pithy about rodents deserting a sinking ship.

But it is not only self-preservation that makes politics in India the ‘Art of the Impossible’, it is also politicians knowing their weight in gold. This self awareness opens up a‘mandi’ every now and then. So it comes as no surprise that political leaders have carted off their juniors to secure locations to ensure they do not succumb to the apple proffered surreptitiously by the opposition.

Self-preservation and self worth are two sides of the same coin. Power and pelf are the accoutrements that politics provide. One is not speaking of the official perks, recognition and salary that elected officials get.There are other benefits that go along with this vocation which increases when one gets a ministerial berth.

There is another aspect to self-preservation and self worth. It is recognition for being a ‘dedicated party member’. One has often heard of politicians switching allegiance because they were not offered a ticket or a ministerial position post election . This is self preservation kicking in due to a dissonance between how the party sees the politician and how they perceive themself. The politician relocates to another party which promises more.

Gordon Gekko said ‘"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." and many politicians couldn’t agree more. Inspired by Gordon Gekko, many politicians have what is today called  an open relationship with ideology.

But it is not only the politicians who live by this revolving door philosophy. Many in the  nation sell themselves to the highest bidder. Bankers in Goa have told me that there was a cash crunch in the state because a lot of money was being pumped into the Karnataka elections.  Papers have reported of vote-buying going digital in these elections. There are non-monetary methods which have positive socio-economic impacts. Just before the elections the Congress government in Karnataka gave the Lingayat community special minority status. Today, immediately after being sworn in Yeddyruppa waived off farmer loans. However in many instances, willingness to be bought has to do with putting food on the table. The fact is that politicians pave their way to power with the desperation of the common person.   

Yedyyurappa trotting out his MLAs to prove his majority will be an interesting moment. The Congress has already identified MLA Vijayanagara MLA Anand Singh and Maski MLA Pratap Gowda Patil who may have turned saffron. Others may be induced to come out of their party woodwork. The question at this juncture is how saffron is the colour of money?

Politics in India reduces a mountain to an accessible platform where a buyer and seller can meet. The greedy get a better deal while the desperate are given a pittance. It has been said that money makes the mare go. In the Indian political context it is a succinct explanation to the impossible transformation of a minority government into a majority.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Is Our Optimism Threatening Our Very Survival?

I happened to come across a recent blog post of a Director of a known environmental organisation. Writing on the current environmental situation and resulting crisis that we are facing the Director lets out that she is an ‘Optimist’. What struck me in the article was the endearing human quality of drawing a silver lining in the dark of the smog that now envelopes us.

Psychologists have told us that optimists are happy people. They are able to cope with adversity because they see the glass as half full. Instead of crying over the many lemons that life gifts them they use it to make lemonade, not to ‘drown their sorrows’. This ability to rummage through the rubble to find something salvageable has stood us in good stead in dealing with our personal problems.

But is it something that will ensure the survival of the human species?

The Predicament
According to recent reports, plastics have been found in the stomachs of the creatures living in the deepest bowels of the ocean. Finding this synthetic fibre in beings that live 11 kms deep in the sea is a consequence of the 8.5 billion tonnes of plastic produced since the 1950s. Scientists have found plastic in 83% of global tap water samples. The World Health Organisation has announced a review on the potential risks of plastics in drinking water after recent studies determined that 90% of sampled popular bottled water contained plastic.

As 2017 came to an end, there were reports indicating that it would be the hottest year on record. In January 2017, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that 2016 was the warmest year. It wont be surprising if we are told at the fag end of 2018 that it was the hottest year on record. According to the NOAA, the US is still assessing the cost of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, but till Oct 6 2017 there have been “15 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States.” Right now the 'Beast from the East' has a large chunk of the world in its jaws. 

Data shows that there has been a 50% increase in flooding and rains worldwide in the last decade. While we are at it lets not discuss the threat of ‘biodiversity oblivion’ in Europe as the Guardian so eloquently put it.

The Lancet Countdown is an international research collaboration “dedicated to tracking the world's response to climate change, and the health benefits that emerge from this transition”. The report for 2017 arrives at three (3)conclusions :-

· The human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible`
· The delayed response to climate change over the past 25 years has jeopardised human life and livelihoods.
· The past 5 years have seen an accelerated response, and in 2017 momentum is building across a number of sectors; the direction of travel is set, with clear and unprecedented opportunities for public health.
Combined with this is the news that we are in the middle of a ‘great insect die off’. Over the last few months, the Guardian has been reporting on species dying because of “habitat destruction, over-hunting, toxic pollution, invasion by alien species and climate change.” The biomass of flying insects in Germany has dropped by 3/4ths since 1989. Insects are pollinators, keep the soil fertile, are fed on and feed off each other. This is a disaster that not many speak of.
Cause for Optimism?
In such circumstances, being an optimist puts to shade the fable of the ‘Ant and the Grasshopper’.
Sure we have ‘accelerated our response to climate change’ but that is just one theatre of war. We have launched an unprecedented attack on ourselves, and therefore the planet, on various fronts at a scale that is jaw dropping.
However, we scour through all this for that silver lining.
I would hazard a guess that the current levels of optimism are a mix of the ‘superman effect’ -  a potent mix of righteousness, vanity, high levels of self belief in ones abilities and the work one is doing mixed with the inability and even unwillingness to see the ‘whole picture’. As a race we are keen to juggle many balls or multi-task but are we really equipped to handle and solve these many problems all at once?
Given the Augean stables that we have constructed for ourselves and now live in, what can the answer be?  
In such a situation the optimism that many feel is a rose tinted lens that prevents an honest view of the true value and impact of the work vis-a-vis the gargantuan problem. The belief in the effectiveness of the work is akin to that of the pre-iceberg Titanic, therefore opportunity for course corrections are limited or don’t exist. It goes without saying that each NGO does what it is best at according to its vision and philosophy. Collectively they are like fish bowls placed side-by-side each with a single fish in each of them.
Based on the work being done in our current circumstances one has to question the credibility of this optimism. Is this positivity for the future blindsiding us to the real extent of the threat and the viability of our endeavours to contain it?  How different is it from the belief the French had on their Maginot Line? Optimism is about making the best of a bad situation. It is not about misreading a situation. Are we misinterpreting what optimism stands for and the efficacy of our work? Is this therefore threatening our survival?