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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Covfefe - A word malleable enough for all situations

On his campaign trail Trump had spoken highly of his education and his knowledge of words. In fact, when he was criticising President Obama he had said ‘I went to an Ivy league school, I am very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…..’. He proved that when he forged ‘bigly’ and ‘unpresidented’. These words, and the many to come, though currently indecipherable may in the future be juxtaposed with his actions and thereby meaning be derived for both - word and deed.

Trumps 31st May early morning tweet introducing the world to his new word ‘covfefe’ left the world agog. Though the word uses English alphabets its etymology is for anyone to guess as is its meaning. This is a good thing, because the word is not beholden to any one language making it truly global. Further it allows one to work with the word to see what Trump-created-situations most befit its usage.

Trump made the term ‘you are fired’, used so brilliantly by him in ‘The Apprentice’ a household expression. This phrase exuded power and indicated who the boss and minion were. Therefore it would have come as no surprise if Trump thought he could use it during his tenure at the White House. However, this phrase has a very limiting jurisdiction and does not do justice to the vast powers that come with being the President of the United States of America. The word ‘covfefe’ may have many ways of pronunciation but it means just one thing and there are no two ways about that. It has the potential to not only describe a Trumpian world but also emotions raised by Trumps decisions. Though Trump introduced this word a bit late in the day it does help bigly.

Would ‘you are fired’ have made sense to the Native Americans whose lands, water and way of life are threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that Trump has okayed? Of course it wouldn’t because they are not Trump employees, they are American citizens. With the signing of Executive Orders that advanced the approval of the pipeline Trump has presidentially told these people ‘You Are Covfefed’. The use of ‘covfefe’ in such a expression makes utmost sense as it highlights their plight and predicament, this pipeline not only goes through their sacred grounds in complete disregard of their heritage but also endangers water bodies like Lake Oahe and the Missouri River.

This is just one example of the potential of ‘covfefe’, and was restricted to the United States of America.

Infact, ‘covfefe’ does justice to the dominion Trump has over the world. When he signed the Global Gag Rule which bans  his governments funding to international NGOs that offer abortions in other countries while also stopping the funding to the  United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which provides family-planning and reproductive-health services to women and girls in more than 150 countries he covfefed the lifes of millions. The impact of such a covfefed-up order was such that European countries came together to fill the atleast 600 million USD vacuum with a beginning of 32.5 million USD.

Trumps under the surface simmering desire to leave no stone unturned to covfefe-things-up has gone beyond boundaries, friends and foes. One  saw him curtsying to the King of Saudi Arabia and promising them a good deal on American weapons which meant he was going to covfefe American business. However, in this instance one needs to add to the current connotation of covfefe with ‘back-stabbing’. Trump intended to Make America Great Again by giving a bargain to the Saudis, who he has belaboured as being the fount of terrorism, at the cost of American business. How covfefed-up is that?

One will ignore Trumps lack of knowledge of geography so flagrantly displayed in his conversations in Israel and carry on to Europe. In Europe he not only made the US a pariah at the NATO summit but came up second best in the encounter with the French President Macron. It would be totally understandable if Trump was feeling covfefed after that bone crushing encounter.

But even after Trump retreated to his cave to lick his wounds post his first international tour he promised more. After introducing covfefe to the world he later tweeted on the same day “I will be announcing my decision on Paris Accord, Thursday at 3:00 P.M. The White House Rose Garden. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” then on the 1st of June he posted ‘Join me live at the @WhiteHouse’ after his “We’re getting out” speech he tweeted ‘My job as President is to do everything within my power to give America a level playing field. #Americafirstus’. This was the cherry on the bringing-back-coal cake. With these decisions he has surpassed the human powers of the American President by not only covfefing this generation but the generations to come. His power is so ‘unpresidented’ that without pressing the Red Button (not to order a coke but a nuclear strike) he has covfefed the planet.

President Trump has had the opportunity to fire his National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn and the FBI Director James Comey. I am not sure whether Trump used ‘you are fired’ to show them the door. But I bet atleast one of them is now fantasising about his deposition at the Congressional hearings and how covffed Trump will be after that.