Defence of Yakub and Contempt for social media

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, writing in the Indian Express, has expressed his contemptuous disgust at those who express their views in social media. The context in the immediate case – the hanging of Yakub Memon, one of the key masterminds of the dastardly 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed 257 people and injured hundreds more. Yakub Memon was hanged after he was given recourse to every conceivable legal option.

The sagely Mehta though did not stop at merely expressing his disgust at social media. He had words of advice for other too. But before we delve into the social media arguments of Mehta, consider a snapshot of the screaming,  front page, headline in the Indian Express on the same day that Mehta’s article was published.

IE Headline

So, in an irony which would have been supremely funny, were it not so fraught with frightening consequences, the newspaper with which Mehta has been associated for almost a decade now, and the paper he chose to dispense his advise from, does exactly what Mehta accuses others of doing.

Front page, double-bold screaming headline is telling a group of people that “They” hanged Yakub. Who is “they”?  The Supreme Court of India or the victims of Yakub’s diabolical plot?  Or could it be that the constitutional system of India is “they”?

And every “they” implies the existence of a “we”. Who is “we”? The only people who may legitimately consider Yakub as “we” are the plotters of 1993  – Dawood Ibrahim, Tiger  Memon and of course the Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. Who else is “we” in reference to Yakub as per the Indian Express?

Now consider what Mehta had to say about institutions in his article:

“Institutions are not considered mediators of conflict or truth. They are weapons in a partisan battle.”

Perhaps Mehta is right. Institutions are indeed weapons in a partisan battle. Clearly Mehta was thinking of the institution of media and the Indian Express too, which has taken considered view of who is “they” and who is “we”.

The Express does not stop at merely this. Just consider this para in a front page report, again in Indian Express, and again on the same day that Mehta thought it fit to advice one and all, about the Yakub hanging:

Indian Express report

 The Express, in a front page story, is seeding an idea in the minds of people who may not even have considered it – that the burial of Yakub is not to be treated as a closure but the starting of something !

Now consider another advice that Mehta offered in his article:

“The case has opened raw wounds, but in a way that is going to be politically explosive.”

Perhaps Mehta was right again that the Yakub case will open raw wounds. After all, the Express itself is planting those explosive thoughts in the minds of people.

Finally, let us return to the contempt that Mehta had for social media:

“Social media managed to create the postmodern equivalent of a medieval lynch mob, an almost cowardly but Talibanesque hounding of anyone who disagreed with the hanging.”

One of the things about social media is that it is free and open to everyone. There has been no other example of such a medium in the past where everyone could become a publisher and broadcaster of views without having to go through an intermediary. In every other form of mass dissemination, be it in print or TV, there is an intermediary, who is gloriously called an Editor but could also be referred to as a middleman, between the consumer of views (the reader) and the originator of ideas. Even if we dispense the other dubious connotations that are associated with middlemen, the ideological and belief systems of the middleman (in this case the Editor) would still play a very important factor in what gets printed in his or her newspaper. To consider an analogy, would I post on my Twitter timeline, views and articles which do not subscribe to my world-view?

The one medium which dispenses completely with middlemen, in the realm of ideas, is social media. It allows a free and fair play of every kind of idea and the best ideas over time build their own place in the market.  Indeed, just as free markets do away with the controlled crony-socialism, social media has potential to do away with the controlled crony-intellectualism. Therefore the contempt that Mehta has for social media, on the broad level,  is interesting.

In the immediate context, those on the side of hanging of a terrorist, convicted after the due process,  are described as cowardly. One presumes that this is in juxtaposition to the “brave” people who appeared on Television debates arguing in favour of Memon? If so inclined, one could ask many questions, those one-line rebuttals, to Mehta. Like, which kind of free democracy should allow speech only to the “brave” elite people and deprive the same to “cowardly” normal citizens? Or why should not everyone use all the platforms they can access, to voice their views? A few dozen “brave” activists had access to TV studios where they could cast aspersions of men of integrity, who had devoted their life to fighting terrorism, either by facing bullets themselves or by investigating terror crimes in face of extreme danger. Why should then ordinary, millions of “cowardly” Indians also not have a voice on a medium they could access, to express opinion on what they thought of a terrorist?

Or one could simply tell Mehta another truism about social media. There is an innate sense of decency in people, be in real-life or on social media. They abhor extremes. Additionally, since social media is free and a battle of ideas, people invariably coalesce around the ideas they like and the people who propound those ideas. The self correcting nature of social media ensures that sensible people invariably shun those who talk in the extremes. After all, who wants to be seen being associated with those who incite and provoke? That is why those who consistently talk in the extremes, on any side, have rarely more than a few thousand followers, if at all.

I suspect this is true in real-life as well. That is why, perhaps, the Indian Express has the subscription numbers which would make even a newbie on social media, with barely few thousand followers,  blush in the comparison of plenty. As on social media, I suspect in real-life too, people have taken a view after reading the content on the front page and opinion pages of the Express and taken a view as to who do they want to subscribe to and who not to. Of course, unlike social media, there is one major difference. Mehta continues to be associated with the Indian Express.

Advertisements
Image

PM’s letters on Union Budget 2015-16

The Union Budget 2015-16, presented by Government of India, has been a path-breaking budget in ways more than one. This was the first budget were ideas were crowd-sourced from citizens directly, using the MyGov platform, and many of the innovative ideas suggested by citizens were actually presented as part of the budget proposals, subsequently passed by the Parliament.

Prime Minister, Narendra Modi himself shared a case study on this unique process of participative decision-making through the official PMO India Twitter handle:

As part of this new, transparent, two-way communication process, the Prime Minister has now written directly to different citizens groups, communicating with them on what is there in the budget for each of these respective groups. To make the development paradigm into a mass movement, the citizens ought to be continuously engaged, before decisions are made and after, and this is an effort in that direction.

These letters were written on 31st March, just before the beginning of the new financial year, and they are appended below.

1. PM's letter to Farmers

Farmer - layout Farmer 1 Farmer 2 Farmer 3 Farmer 4
2. PM's letter to Youth
Youth - Layout Youth 1 Youth 2Youth 3  
Youth 4
3. PM's letter to Senior Citizens
Sr Citizen - Layout

 Sr Citizen 1 Sr Citizen 2
4. PM's letter to Small Business Owners
Small Bus - Layout
 Small Bus 1 Small Bus 2 Small Bus 3 Small Bus 4

5. PM's letter to Industrial Workers
Industrial WorkerInd Worker 2




******************************************************************************************

Note: This post is in the notes and releases group and therefore it is merely hosting the PM’s letter for wider dissemination.

Black Money Probe – Modi is Right

Modi government’s active cooperation with SC appointed SIT

  • Since 2011, SC has ordered constitution of SIT to investigate any and every case relating to black money menace.
  • The first decision of Modi government was to appoint SIT as per the orders of the Supreme Court.
  • A complete list of cases where information has been obtained from the German and French governments, along with up-dated status of action taken by Income-tax Department was submitted by Central Board of Direct Taxes to SIT on 27.06.2014. Therefore, SIT had all the information that was provided to the SC today. This has been confirmed by Justice MB Shah, the retired SC judge who is heading the SIT, in an interview to a news channel. He said “all facts that were revealed in the black money list were already known to us”.
  • A meeting on 05.08.2014 with Chairman and Vice-Chairman of SIT was held where they were briefed on status of cases in detail, covering main action areas, nature of information received, non-sharing of information by Swiss, problems faced in taking further actions, alternative methods to obtain account details. Therefore, Finance Ministry was regularly briefing SIT on progress.
  • SIT gave certain directions to Finance Ministry officials which are being immediately complied with.
  • Justice MB Shah, who heads the SIT, has also said in the same interview that the government is not trying to protect anyone.

What the UPA did about the SIT

  • When a suggestion was made in 2011 to appoint SIT, UPA’s Solicitor General “vociferously opposed the idea” as per SC. Below is screenshot from SC judgment of 2011 (when UPA was in power)

4

  • In November 2013, UPA filed an application in court asking SC to modify its earlier order that appointed SIT. The SIT was asked to investigate the Hasan Ali case and other cases. In other words, UPA, as late as in November 2013, still hoped and tried that the SIT would not be formed. This petition was dismissed by SC.
  • Even on 08.05.2014, UPA, in its last days, filed a review petition, among other things, to cancel important SC orders which constituted the SIT.
  • UPA kept delaying appointment of SIT; eventually, that became Modi government’s first decision in office

What the UPA generally did in its efforts to get back black money

1

2

  • SC agrees that recovery of black money has aspects which may or may not be under our control. But UPA did not even attempt measures which were within its powers.

 3

Modi government sought clarification on some aspects of SC’s orders and asked for modification if SC felt necessary in view of clarifications sought

  • In 2011 judgment, SC clearly stated that disclosure of names against whom no evidence of wrongdoing was found was an “instantaneous solution to systemic problem” like black money which would “lead to dangerous circumstances in which vigilante investigations, inquisitions and rabble rousing by masses of other citizens could become the order of the day.” SC said that disclosure was a violation of right to privacy. Only after the State arrives as a prima facie conclusion of wrongdoing based on material evidence, only then would the question arise of the right of the public to be informed. [Paras 73-77]
  • However, in an order dated 1.05.2014, SC said names of 8 people against whom investigations were concluded must be given to the Petitioner (i.e., Ram Jethmalani) despite the fact that no evidence of wrongdoing is found against them. There was a contradiction between the two orders.
  • Unfortunately, the 8 names got into the public domain. Germany wrote to India in June 2014 expressing surprise at this revelation and asked India to provide an explanation of how this information got to be disclosed.
  • Moreover, when Germany had provided information of Liechtenstein bank account holders to India in March 2009, it was clearly under the tax treaty which was subject to confidentiality obligations. Germany wrote that this “information is subject to the confidentiality provisions of the above-named Directive and may only be used for the tax purposes specified therein.”
  • Also, there were some differences with SC’s interpretation of confidentiality clause (meaning of ‘public court proceeding’) in the tax treaties between India and other countries such as Germany from how treaties are interpreted internationally. SC’s interpretation is that information received from foreign countries can be used in hearings before the SC as well. This was against the general and international understanding and interpretation of the confidentiality clause in the treaties which states that information received from countries can only be used for tax purposes and tax assessment/enforcement. Even eminent lawyers such as Shri Harish Salve agree.
  • The combined effect of all of this was that foreign countries with which India still doesn’t have any treaty or arrangement to exchange information, or countries which shared some information had cold feet for further cooperation.
  • For example, India is set to sign the Inter-Governmental Agreement with the US for automatic exchange of information. That IGA is also subject to confidentiality clause. But if SC’s interpretation of confidentiality clause remains different from the international interpretation, there may be delays in signing the IGA. This has several implications on Indian financial institutions. US has signed the same draft with almost 100 countries and, therefore, there is no chance of changing the language.
  • Another example is that India was going to sign a Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement in Berlin today. However, for signing the agreement, the Government of India had to give an international commitment that it would follow international standards for the information received. News reports indicate that India was not able to attend that meet today.
  • Note that all countries which have legally shared information with India so far has been under some treaty or agreement which contains confidentiality clause. There is simply no other way to obtain information.

Modi government chose the harder and riskier option

  • Due to the difficulties in onward process in recovering black money, Modi government had two options.
  • One, it could raise its hands in the air and say there’s a deadlock between what SC interprets and what foreign nations demand. We can’t do anything.
  • Or, it could take a huge perception risk and ask SC to reconsider its contradictory and incorrect interpretation so that the judiciary is on the same plane as the executive and the international fora and that further cooperation is obtained without any problems of interpretation of treaties.
  • It chose the latter, riskier and harder option because it didn’t want to give up on its effort to secure black money stashed away in foreign accounts. This latter option required an application to the SC to clarify / modify its earlier orders which were leading to a critical difference in interpretation.
  • Modi government knew it would suffer from bad perception. But, instead of merely quitting this effort due to mismatch between SC’s interpretation and internationally accepted interpretation, Modi government tried all it could so that cooperation from foreign nations doesn’t reduce or stop.
  • Those doubting Modi government – please ask yourself which option UPA would’ve exercised.

Modi government’s efforts with the Swiss authorities

  • The Swiss government was not willing to provide any information on data of foreign accounts in Swiss banks that was leaked because it considered such data ‘stolen data’ which is obtained in breach of Swiss laws.
  • However, due to ongoing efforts of the Modi government, Switzerland has indicated willingness to provide information in cases where our Income Tax Department has carried out investigation independently of the ‘stolen data’. Therefore, the Swiss authorities may offer cooperation with those cases.
  • Swiss tax authorities have also agreed that they would assist India in obtaining confirmation of genuineness of bank documents and swiftly provide information on requests relating to non-banking information.
  • Swiss authorities have also assured that they will commence dialogue with India for entering into an Automatic Exchange of Information Agreement between India and Switzerland. This is the first time Switzerland has agreed to commence discussions on a treaty such as thisThe UPA never bothered to have an automatic exchange of information arrangement with Switzerland. It is Modi government’s persistent efforts that have yielded progress.

 

****************************************************************************************************************************************

Note: The contents of this “Notes and Releases” has been prepared by a BJP research Team.

Distorting History – Dalrymple style

William Dalrymple is a famous historian, especially when it comes to the history of Indian subcontinent. Some even consider him to be a credible historian and his volume of work, especially on the Mughal era, has won him a legion of fans and supporters. In 2007, he along with a few others started the Jaipur Literary Festival and it soon acquired a cult status among those in pursuit of serious academics. From Tarun Tejpal (later jailed for an alleged rape attempt) to Javed Akhtar, the festival attracted all the bright names from the world of books and academics. Dalrymple has thus quite naturally acquired a constituency as some sort of an India expert, especially in the western press, and is often invited to write on important issues related to India.

**********

Consider what Dalrymple wrote just before the results of the Indian general elections were announced in May 2014. The world interest in India was at its peak and naturally Dalrymple was asked to provide a glimpse into the history related to the man who could be India’s next Prime Minister.

William Dalrymple

This piece first appeared on 12th May 2014 in New Statesman and has subsequently been reproduced in many other publications and above is a screenshot from one such reproduction :

There are many noteworthy flashes of the genius of Dalrymple and the way he interprets history in a certain way. Quite apart from the deliberate slant in the entire piece, just consider the paragraph reproduced above.

The Babri Masjid was destroyed on 6th December 1992. The tenth anniversary of its destruction would be on 6th December 2002, actually more than 9 months AFTER the Godhra train carnage took place (27th February 2002)  and therefore those burnt inside the train could NOT have been returning after celebrating 10 years of Babri demolition. It is not as if Dalrymple did not know this. But he counted on one thing – that most of his readers would not be aware of this, especially those of foreign origin, and even if being nominally aware of the actual date of Babri demolition, most would fail to see the sleight of creative history writing. For them, the credibility of Dalrymple would be enough to carry the day that the innocent men, women and children (15 children and 25 women) were deadly beasts who not only first destroyed an ancient holy mosque but were ghastly enough to even celebrate its destruction 10 years later. Perhaps they then even deserved their fate for being such insensitive creatures? And what fate was that? Of being burnt alive in a train.

And how did that train burning take place? Trust Dalrymple to tell us the ‘truth’ about that too – that a malfunctioning gas cylinder actually caused the train fire. Now this piece by Dalrymple has been written in 2014 and not in 2002 or 2006. Earlier, there could have been contesting claims about the cause of fire (although there were never really any contesting claims) but by 2014, a judicial determination had already been made that train fire was caused by a pre-planned conspiracy and 31 Muslims were convicted for it. 11 were given death penalty while 20 others were given life imprisonment. Again, was Dalrymple unaware of this? Most certainly not. So why would he indulge in such a hideous misinformation campaign about a historical fact?

**********

Now, I had forgotten about this piece by Dalrymple but recently two more articles, that appeared in international press, caught my attention and that is when I remembered the original Dalrymple piece.

Hartosh Singh Bal in the Politico and Reihan Salam in Slate  both wrote articles after Modi’s much publicized US visit. Since this was written for an international audience, references to Gujarat 2002 riots were mandatory. But consider how both Bal and Salam describe events related to the Godhra train carnage – either simply as a “burning train” or a “train fire” – not a case of ghastly pre-planned conspiracy of mass murder but more like an accidental fire?

This is then how narratives are manufactured, ‘truth’ is established and soon it becomes the established version. A vicious chain of each successive writer quoting from previous ‘truth-manufacturer’ soon forms, and ultimately, within a short span of time, the manufactured truth becomes THE truth while all other versions, including the real true version, either become controversial or versions of fanatics. Indeed, the power of such narrative setting is so seductive that  many times even those not formally in the club of “truth-manufacturing” start believing  the manufactured truth, as evidenced by the praise that Salam’s piece received from many quarters otherwise critical of such eminent writers !

Hartosh Singh Bal

Reihan Salam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**********

2002 is not about some ancient or even medieval history where there is either a dispute between historians about the correct sequence of events or there is simply not even enough material to deduce a certain way. This is about 2002. About an incident which happened right before our eyes. In front of TV cameras. Events which have been documented in minute detail in thousands of hours of TV debate and print articles. And yet, within 12 years of the event, a historian does not balk at distorting the facts to suit a particular ideology. Others pick up the cue from him and soon it becomes the received wisdom.  If this can be done about  as recent an event as 2002 , imagine what would have been and has been done about ancient and medieval history? About Mughal history? About Islamic invasions and destruction of temples and universities? About converting historical bigots into inclusive rulers? In fact what we have is actually a LIVE demonstration of how history is distorted.

Arun Shourie recently exposed in great detail the dubious art of Indian history writing in relation to the burning down of Nalanda University (as per another eminent historian, Nalanda was not burnt down by Khilji but by ‘Hindu fanatics’ ). The modus operandi remains the same – the aggressors become the victims, the victims become the villains and the historians become eminent !

Outcomes of Modi’s USA Visit

Outcomes of Prime Minister’s Visit to USA

“Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go.”

 

Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s visit to the US has been a game-changer – re-setting the Indo-US relationship on an altogether new trajectory. Working through a seemingly impossible schedule of over 35 major engagements, meeting over 100 plus leaders across politics, administration and business – in the 4 days he was in the US.

This was a visit of many firsts:

  • A new element of particularly bonding with the over 3 million strong Indian American community, was also added
  • An unprecedented rock-star reception by a 20,000 strong Indian-American crowd at Madison Square Garden
  • Connecting with 60,000 young Americans in the Global Citizen Festival at Central Park for the cause of poverty eradication
  • Hosted by President Obama over two days, including visiting the Martin Luther King memorial together
  • Two Op-Eds, individually and jointly with President Obama

The Joint Statement reveals an almost point-by-point alignment of the renewed direction of the Indo-US relationship, behind PM’s priorities for India’s development

1.“Make in India”

  • Enhance US FDI and FII investment into India – through a dedicated Indo-US Investment initiative, individually ensuring investment proposals and projects materialize, through a single-point problem resolution and facilitation arrangement
  • Boeing to build – part of the Chinook helicopter mainframe in Bangalore + sustainables for the C-17 aircraft
  • GE to open a new manufacturing and skilling integrated plant in Pune
  • US companies to build next-generation locomotives in India
  • $42 billion US investment into India over the next 5 years – identified by USIBC, from a mere 20% of its membership. If extrapolated, this could translate to possible investments in excess of $100 bn
  • An India-specific initiative by financial companies – to bring sovereign wealth funds and pension funds into India
  • Partnership between RBI and US Fed – for sharing information on regulation and oversight of financial institutions

2. “Next-generation Infrastructure”

  • Infrastructure Collaboration Platform – to enhance participation of US companies in Indian infrastructure projects
  • Digital India Partnership– enhancing digital infrastructure, deploying e-governance and e-services, promoting industry collaboration, and empowering India’s citizens
  • Partnership for upgrading Allahabad (UP), Ajmer (Rajasthan) and Vishakhapatnam (AP) into Smart Cities – bringing in cutting edge US-technology

3. “Swachch Bharat”

  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) alliance for 500 Indian cities – involving USAID as well as US business and civil society (such as the Gates Foundation) – as knowledge partner for our municipalities and state governments for innovation, expertise and technology

4. “Sarve Santu Niramaya”

  • Affordable vaccines programme for developing world diseases such as TB, Malaria and Dengue
  • Collaboration with the US National Cancer Institute to help develop AIIMS-National Cancer Institute at Jhajjar

5.  “Knowledge century”

  • Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN, or Knowledge) – bringing 1,000 American professors from the top 100 Universities each year to teach in Indian Universities. US universities to continue paying their salaries
  • Development of globally benchmarked skill development in India through nation-wide certification systems and new institutions such as Skills Universities
  • Knowledge Partnership with a consortium of top US universities for the new IIT Goa (across curriculum, faculty and facilities) – renewing after 50 years, the powerful precedent of the setting up of IIT Kanpur in 1960 with US assistance
  • Collaboration in developing India’s new National Defence University
  • NASA-ISRO collaboration across domains – Mars Joint Working Group + Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission

6. “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”

  • Tourist Visa on Arrival and E-travel authorization for US visitors in India
  • India to join the Global Entry Programme to facilitate easy entry of Indian nationals to the USA
  • Lifetime validity of Indian Visa and removal of requirement of periodic reporting to a police station – for PIOs

7. “Clean Energy & Sustainability”

  • Collaboration for up-gradation of India’s National Institutes of Wind, Solar and Bio-energy
  • New Energy Innovation labs
  • Clean Air partnership between Central Pollution Monitoring Board and US Environment Protection Agency
  • Clean Energy Finance Forum for promoting investment and trade in clean energy projects
  • $1 billion concessional financing from US EXIM bank for Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA)
  • US-India Climate Fellowship Program
  • Special contact group to resolve all Civil Nuclear issues – including liability and administrative issues
  • Partnership for India’s National Parks – exchanging experience of conservation, facilitation of visitors, research, training and outreach

8. “Zero Tolerance on Security threats”

  • Stronger partnership against Terror – joint and concerted efforts for dismantling of safe havens and disrupting financial and tactical support of – D-Company, Haqqani network, Jaish-e-Mohammed and LeT  (many of these threats to India acknowledged for the first time)
  • Cooperation across domains – including increased intel-sharing, as well as access to cutting-edge technology and tactics (eg. Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, countering IEDs, navy vessels and counterfeit currency)

9. “Natural Allies”

  • US support for India’s increase voice and vote in the IMF and World Bank
  • US affirmation of India meeting Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR) requirements, and it’s readiness for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG)

 

This visit by the Prime Minister has the potential to redefine India’s image in the world. Modi used his inimitable style to not only affirm, on the most prominent global stage, that India’s rise is inevitable but that it is also and opportunity for the world to become a partner in this rise for mutual benefit.

 

*****************************************************************************************************************************************

Note: The contents of this “Notes and Releases” has been prepared by a BJP reserach team.

 

Scotland Vote – Lessons for the world

History is a subject that has fascinated me right from my school days. Although I went on to study engineering in college, the deep fascination for history never ended. Indeed, in later years, history would continue to animate me, especially history that delved into the rise of different empires over time.  Quite naturally, also perhaps in part due to our colonized past, the rise of British Empire is one historical story that has seemed most compelling to me. 

As luck would have it, my first foreign travel was to Britain. In a remarkable incident, the commander of the British Airways, in which we were flying, made a rather dramatic announcement as the flight just crossed the Black Sea and entered into European airspace: “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Europe, the birth place of modern civilization”. For a history buff like me and one who was flying to this part of the world for the first time, this seemed both incorrect and yet with a certain truth to it. Over my stay in Britain, and although I was on a business trip, this question of historical legacy would never leave me.

As I write this post in the context of the historical events that have taken place on the 18th and 19th September 2014, I purposefully use the name Britain and not England, because of the cities I visited during the trip – London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.  The people of Scotland have voted, in a decisive manner, for staying as part of Great Britain and thereby the United Kingdom.  So what is this British history and what are the special lessons one can learn, if any, from it? Does the Scottish referendum, and the No vote also teach us anything? 

First, the most remarkable phase of British history, and one which the world knows for its scientific, cultural and technological advances, is all a product of the period after Scotland and England came together. Although the union was formalized only in 1707 AD, but for a hundred years before that, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, the two nations had already been living in harmonious union. This union took place after centuries of war. It is no accident of history that Britain saw its most prosperous phase only when it ended the phase of hostilities in its immediate neighborhood. The merger of Ireland into United Kingdom in the early 19th century only accelerated this trend. United States followed a similar path of geopolitical stability before it could succeed Britain as the world’s preeminent power in the 20th century. The neighbors of United States, Mexico and Canada, are not countries the keep the US military awake at night. The 21st century is being talked of as Indian and Chinese century. There is a lesson to be learned for both of them from the British experience.

Second, the very fact that Scotland went for this independence referendum contains vital historical lessons. Although Scottish nationality was never totally subsumed, but it never manifested itself in a way that independence became an almost near possibility. Even two decades ago, the Scottish National party was thought of as a freak phenomenon but in the referendum it managed as high a vote as 45%. So what has changed in the last two decades and specifically since 1979, when Scotland actually voted for not even having a Scottish assembly? The answer is the decline of Britain as a world power. Decline not just as a military power, for that happened decades ago, but decline as an economic power as well. National identities, long papered over in the shared prosperity, resurfaced when that preeminent prosperity was no longer guaranteed. The United States has had almost a similar bloody history of formation before it became the present peaceful union of 50 states. But it is no surprise that today no state wants to leave the union. Shared prosperity does tide over many historical cleavages which become accentuated again when the prospect of that prosperity goes. 

Third, it is impossible to miss the difference between London in England and the biggest Scottish cities – Glasgow and Edinburgh. Compared to the energy, expanse and dynamism of London, the Scottish cities almost seem like small towns. The industrial revolution was powered by Scotland and Scottish people but it would be impossible to make it out from the present Glasgow town if one were unaware of it. Indeed London is the driving engine of present day Britain, with no other city even remotely close. It stands to reason whether the question of Scottish independence would have gained as much traction if Scotland had even one city on the scale of London? It is in this respect that the United States growth model has been different with multiple cities, across the geographical span, driving the US dream. For a large country, with diverse population, that is the only sustainable way. Again a lesson that China and India have learnt but need to broad-base it even more. 

Fourth, the projection of soft power plays an indelible part in forging an empire. An important institution that played a major role in projecting the British soft power was the British media. For a long period it set the standards for world media – of  professionalism, ethics, enterprise, indeed almost about everything related to journalism. In the last few decades this mantle passed on to the Unites States. The narrative of what constitutes just and what is unjust, what is moral and what is amoral, what is right and what is wrong, is written by the preeminent power of that era. As the world economic order changes, there is both a lesson and an opportunity in this, more so for India than China. On most issues India is with the mainstream of world opinion and yet it can provide a perspective different from the Western consensus. India’s felicity with the English language and its democracy gives it distinct advantage over China when it comes to projecting soft power. As the world gets reshaped, there is opportunity for enterprising Indian entrepreneurs to create the next global media houses – ones which are on the right side of history, ones which encapsulate the best practices of the past and yet simultaneously represent the forces of the future. 

Finally, the No vote does tell us that when it comes to the crunch, shared history has a subconscious impact much more than it is normally credited with. It is the skill of the respective generation political leaders to leverage it in a way that it lends itself once again to future building.

During my trip to Scotland, a middle aged lady was our tour guide. While taking us around the Edinburgh castle, she did remind us of all the Scottish historical personalities – from William Wallace to J.K. Rowling.  I could not resist asking the independence question (this is much before the talk of a possible referendum even started) , to which the lady rather enigmatically responded, “not in my generation, but who knows it may be possible in yours” !

*************************************************************************************************************************************

A version of this article first appeared in Swarajya Magazine on 20th September, 2014. Here is the link:

Lessons for BJP, if any, from By-Polls

So what are the lessons, if any, which the BJP needs to draw from a series of by-poll results since it assumed office in May 2014. Is there a lesson that even Prime Minister Modi needs to learn? 

I have argued many times in the past that the essential difference between the BJP and Congress (or parties broadly in agreement with Congress way of doing politics) is the level at which they seek votes (here & here). The Congress way of seeking votes is at the default divided level – people divided in their religious and sub caste identities. That is why most of Congress social intervention policies are designed to sharpen these divisions rather than subsume them. Regional parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP) or the RJD practice this Congress method even much more brazenly, unshackled as they are from the responsibility of not having to host sophisticated, whiskey-fueled, Idea of India parties in late night clubs of Delhi.

The BJP method on the other hand is to ask people to vote one level above their default divided level. This is not easy because the divided default level is a social condition built over centuries. Therefore, for the BJP way to succeed, it needs two things in place – an idea which can unite people above their default level and a credible messenger of that idea.  In the nineties that idea was cultural nationalism; in 2014 general elections it was good governance. Then the messenger was Vajpayee, in 2014 the messenger was Modi.

Most elections start off as default elections. The only way BJP can win is by converting the elections into non-default, pan state level or pan India, election for an idea. This is the consistent message from each election since 1998. In a default election, on an aggregate, the BJP would fare poorly even while taking other factors like local incumbency, candidate selection, organizational strength, etc into account.

By-elections are by definition default elections. There is no state or national level idea to be sold.  Exceptional circumstances apart, by-elections mostly see substantially lower turnout than general or state level elections. The reason is obvious. The by-elections are not fought on an idea, the only way BJP wins, but a combined mish-mash of local candidate appeal, organizational strength and default caste and religious mobilization. It is no surprise then that on an aggregate, the BJP would not do as well in a by-election as it would do in a pan state or national election, even within reasonably similar political time frame.

So is there no occasion for the BJP to learn lessons from these results? 

The success of BJP and in particular Modi, in 2014 general elections, was that they could for the first time create a national vote after three decades. That vote was created on the back of a truly world class election messaging campaign. It is this campaign that broke decade of entrenched identity politics and built a new constituency of aspirational Indians who were willing to cast their vote in hope for the future rather than the grievances of the past. This constituency was created in the face of a united opposition and a broadly hostile national media. The electoral verdict of 2014 has not altered these realities. The opposition is entitled to try every trick to recover lost ground, as it did in Bihar when sworn adversaries like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav joined hands. The national media, most of which started and got nourishment in Congress years, has remained broadly hostile. That is why such transformative initiatives as the Jan Dhan Yojana or the fact that WPI inflation is at its lowest in 5 years hardly attract any news headlines and analysis in the outrage-a-day media milieu.

However, this is not to suggest that nothing has changed post the May 2014 electoral verdict. It is the BJP’s communication messaging that has distinctly changed. Compared to the election campaign, the messaging is now completely underwhelming. Just as creating a constituency of voters who could rise above their default level was a national project that required monumental effort of world class machinery, sustaining that constituency is an equally monumental project. In Gujarat, this constituency had been created and nurtured for over a decade but at the national level it is still in its nascent stage and therefore requires continuous engagement and communication. Before the elections, this constituency was exposed, on a daily basis, to the competing ideas – through all forms of communication, mainstream and social media – of Modi and his development agenda on the one hand and the Idea of India proponents and their project of accentuating identity schisms on the other. It is this that has changed post elections with the BJP communication distinctly below the new normal it had established before the elections, while the opposite message of trying to pull back people in their past divided identities continues unabated. 

The competing vision of Modi, of uniting people above their divisions, and for the very reason that it seeks to unite people above their default divided levels, needs sustained messaging machinery, perhaps even on a bigger scale than what was required before the elections. This is the only lesson, if any, for the BJP from these by-polls. 

*************************************************************************************************************************************

A version of this article was published in DNA Newspaper. Here is the link :