Monday, July 10, 2017

International Yoga Day - A Fine Example of Multiculturalism

The media bent themselves backwards covering the 3rd International Yoga Day. Photographs of people in various asanas at various iconic locations - from the Great Wall of China to Machu Pichu littered on-line and off-line media. Cities across the world carved out space and time for their inhabitants to practice this ancient form now seen as an exercise. The Indian Army had their soldiers perform postures along the country’s snowy borders, the Indian Navy had their sailors perform asanas on board their ships, the Indian Air Force could not find any asanas to perform in the air. The Prime Minister of India crowed that Yoga binds the world. It would seem that the Prime Minister, like every other proud India, has laid claim to the power of Yoga. Unfortunately, enlightened as he may be, Modi like the rest of his brethren are willy-nilly ignoring the worlds willingness to try out something alien to their culture. They choose to repudiate the global open-mindedness that results in the acceptance, respect and practice of Yoga.  

It appears as if Prime Minister Modi is doling out largesse to the rest of the world. The imagery of the world being gifted by India does make many Indians proud. Be that as it may, is the very reason for such benefaction the predilection for recognition, something which Modi of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and their ideological fount the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh covet so hungrily? Should there therefore be pride in such an oblation when the underlying rationale is more selfish and less selfless?

There is a concentrated endeavour to internationally showcase and promote this land as being a societal and civilisational cradle. The need to be acknowledged and celebrated as being some kind of originator and an original bolsters the argument of this lands glorious past and validates attempts to return to this bygone era. The process to regress to this much heralded glorious past requires divisive repression of minorities. Thus even as Modi feeds of the world’s multi-culturalism to promote Yoga, the idea of diversity, its, practice and respect is dying in India.

One can see this trend. What began as a sly mudslinging has now become sinister and life threatening. The word secular was morphed to ‘Sickular’, while liberals were branded as ‘libtards’. However, now people identified as such face death by proponents of the Right Wing Hindutva philosophy. In the recently concluded meeting of Hindu organisations, Sadhvi Saraswati is quoted saying seculars will be the first to be attacked.

This conclave which this individual was part of deliberated on ways to ensure that India would be converted to a Hindu state by 2023. People at this conference also disavowed the Indian Constitution and stated that the constitution for India was written by Ram and Krishna. They also demanded the public execution of those consuming beef. One would have drawn strength and comfort from the thought that it was the fringe speaking if it were different from what elected BJP politicians  have been voicing. These politicians are suggesting the death sentence for those found guilty of slaughtering cows. States ruled by the BJP have in place laws that provide for life imprisonment, while police in some of these states plan to use parts of the National Security Act in such cases.

Today, it is hard to ascribe the location of the fringe. Is the elected government part of the fringe or the fringe part of the elected government?

It is disconcerting that the international multi-culturalism that Modi and his ilk enjoy and manipulate is not accorded or practiced in India. The Prime Minister of India, the RSS and the proponents of the so called Hindu Rashtra should learn from the acceptance of plurality and diversity that has resulted in the global celebration of Yoga. But it seems that they would rather use this multi-culturalism abroad to achieve their own saffron hued mono-cultural xenophobic wonderland at home.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Modis Triumphant US Visit

In India there was a breathless buildup to the visit of Prime Minister Modi to the US. The media reported on the planned ‘red carpet’ welcome, the working dinner at the White House which was the ‘first for a foreign leader’. Much was expected from the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump. The joint media briefing addressed by Trump and Modi turned out to be a love fest. So powerful was the bromance, that for the first time ever Trump put another leader at par with himself. Trump called himself and Modi ‘world leaders of social media’. In one swoop Trump did what Modi and his team have been trying to do - place Modi on the same level as that of  a leader of a superpower. Our Prime Minister does have a true friend in the White House.

These two leaders are spearheading social experiments that threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. So it came as no surprise that this joint media briefing was an excursion into platitudes. They tried to outdo the other in recognising the others contribution as a leader. Each trying to validate, support and recognise the others work, putting a lid on the others bubbling cauldron.

But Modi like Trump does like to blow his own trumpet. It was therefore pre-ordained that  in his address to the Indian diaspora he would mention  the surgical strike and his governments spotless record. On the surgical strike Indian media reported Modi as saying “When India did surgical strikes the world experienced our power and realized that India practices restrain but can show power when needed.” and “No nation questioned India’s surgical strikes”. Modi never shared with his captivated audience whether the strikes reduced the threat of terrorism that we in India face. 

He also spoke about the stain free government that he leads. Is greasing the palms of people the only form of corruption? Modi, did not speak about how young minds are being corrupted instead of being ignited. No mention was made about young men being brainwashed into lynching others for their food habits. He chose to ignore the rot within the government that fosters institutionalised efforts to target minorities. Modi failed to mention the unofficial acceptance of half brained pseudo science as proof of this lands glorious ancient culture and scientific achievements.

Having a minister charged under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between classes), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (false statements, rumours etc. circulated with the intent to cause mutiny or disturb public peace) is not exactly unblemished either.   

One of the outcomes of the Modi-Trump bromance was their promise to work together to eliminate Islamic extremism and radicalisation. The commitment, totally blindsiding everyone to what their governments are doing to foment these very two things. In the US and in India minorities, not only Muslims, are facing the brunt of their elected governments isolationist and xenophobic policies. How successful can they be in eradicating global radicalisation and terrorism when the right environment is being created to breed it in the US and India.

Modi proudly promised the Indian diaspora that he was going to make India like the US within their lifetime. Going by what Trump is doing to the US and the path Modi and his cohorts have chosen for India he is going to make good on his promise.  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

President Trump and Prime Minister Modi As Different As Chalk and Cheese?

In Chaplins ‘The Great Dictator’, the scenes between Dictator Adenoid Hynkel (Charlie Chaplin) of Tomainia and Dictator Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie) of Bacteria are a classic portrayal of large egos clashing. Each Dictator tries to outdo the other in being more of a narcissist ego-tripper while simultaneously trying to diminish the other.

One is not sure whether Prime Minister Modi’s and President Trump’s meet on the 26th of June will be Chaplinesque. In their context it is easy and safe to discard and discount similar traits between them. What is beguiling is not only their common traits but the manner of manifestation and therefore the course they have chosen for their countries.

In their election campaign Trump and Modi vociferously asserted their status of being outsiders to the politicking and horse trading in the capitals of their country. They also swore that they would ‘drain the swamp’ if elected. Trump used the aforementioned term while Modi was more specific he said ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’. They emphasised the size of their body parts, Modi his chest and Trump his hands, as proof of their capability and capacity to lead their country to new heights of glory.  Both these men spewed venom and ridiculed their opponents. Both were unrepentant for their past acts of commission and omission. They had a retinue of apologists defending them and rationalising their actions.   

Interestingly Trump does not belong to any particular ideology, he is an opportunist who saddled the most amenable horse. Modi, on the other hand, belongs to the Right Wing Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). On coming to power, both began dismantling and replacing policies and institutions that had strong socio-economic rationale. Modi began replacing the heads of institutions with people aligned to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Right Wing Hindutva philosophy or were RSS products. Trump corralled together billionaires and millionaires with no experience or with expressed desire to reduce government control to head various departments in his government, he rescinded policies that protected minorities and walked out of international treaties.

Trump and Modi, and for that matter even their supporters, dislike dissent or opposing views.  They do not have a good relationship with the media. During their election campaign both claimed that the press did them wrong. This led to Trump labeling the liberal media ‘Fake News’ even as he reached out and promoted conservative and alternative and conspiracy fed news forums.  In India today, Modi has got most of the media wrapped around his little pinky. This has been enabled by his supporters viciously trolling journalists and his government and BJP spokespersons and other Right Wing espousing individuals labeling the media ‘pseudo-liberals with an agenda’. One of his ministers, who also happens to be the former Chief of the Army, coined the term ‘Presstitutes’. The situation is so vituperative that Indians and the few news channels that question the government are branded as anti-nationals. They face government ire in the form of reduction in government advertisements, harassment by authorities and appearance boycotts. Today, most Indian media have joined the governments jingoistic, saffron hued nationalism without much ado.

For individuals with so much power and who tout to be Men these two love to be the centre of attraction. Can anyone forget Modi pushing Zuckerberg aside or Trump doing something similar to the Duško Marković, the Prime Minister of Montenegro? Even as their actions went viral and created internet memes, they and their votaries remained unaffected, it was water off a ducks back.

Both love to talk to the people they rule. Trump uses his thumbs to communicate with the Americans and infact the world. Modi, uses a monthly radio show - ‘Mann ki Baath’ - to wax eloquent on topics that are not necessarily burning issues of the country but are programmed to indicate his concern for the public. The outcome of both these forms of communication is that people feel that they are directly connected with the person in power. Americans believe that Trump can be trusted because he speaks his mind - ala tweets. While for many Indians still unwilling or unable to shed the shadow of feudalism, Modi ‘directly’ speaking to them harks back to the era of a benevolent king holding a durbar. These ultimately result in a cult like following where the person in power can do no wrong. This becomes justification enough for Trump and Modi to continue on their course.

Though it was the Trump administration that seeded the term ‘alternative facts’ in the global psyche, it was the Modi government and their cohorts that perfected this arcane art. Indians have had to bear a steady onslaught of alternative facts. Some of which are - Modi proclaiming that genetic engineering was prevalent in ancient times in this land, a minister claiming that cows exhale oxygen and a high court judge piously saying that the peacock is India’s national bird because it does not mate. Trump and team use ‘alternative facts’ as a defense while Modi and his squad use them to create narratives which instill religio-nationalistic pride. This is the grease that eases the implementation of their grand schemes. It should come as no surprise therefore that both men and their administrations are constantly trying to undermine democracy and social cohesion. The most recent case is the law that prevents the sale of cattle for slaughter in animal markets in India and the travel restriction order in the US. The argument for the former is prevention of animal cruelty and for the latter is keeping America safe, interestingly both these laws target minorities.  

Trump is veering towards isolationalism and reduced international responsibility while Modi seeks global recognition for India’s Hindu-cultural history. But the desired outcome of their design is the same, Trump wants to ‘Make America Great Again’ while Modi fantasises of making India into a Hindu ‘super-power’. The path they have chosen demands that minorities be ignored,  media be curtailed and those with opposing views be given short shrift.

Given their similarities and personality types will these two navigators of their country’s destinies put themselves before their nation when they meet on the 26th of June? Will Trump try to use his handshake to put Modi in his place, or will Modi sidestep the proffered hand and go for a bear hug to indicate that he is equal to Trump? Will this Mano a Mano impact the outcome of the deliberations between India and the US? We know what happened after Trump returned from Europe. We wait with bated breath.