Sunday, 29 May 2016

Donald Kejriwal and Arvind Trump

     I hope you see no sacrilege in the mix up of names in the title.  Probably you resonate with what it signifies.  Lots of Americans may feel likewise if they learn about Arvind Kejriwal and his antics just as they know about Donald Trump.

            Kejriwal became Delhi’s chief minister, and re-captured that post, after bitter political battles and Trump will soon win Republican Party’s nomination for the Presidential contest after a torrid campaign.  How do the two project themselves?  Both are merrily quixotic, with a devil-may-care attitude. They say things which should never be talked about in public or even pursued seriously, and are downright brusque and senseless in their many public utterances.  Anyone in their positions should know diplomacy and dignified stance are the tools of political leadership and state craft in a democracy, even as they may take hard decisions.  But the language and pasture of Kejriwal and Trump remind us of a snorting bull on a rampage.

    Trump has provoked UK’s sober Prime Minister David Cameroon to call the former’s idea stupid, and London mayor Sadiq Khan opined the American had “ignorant views on Islam”, when they were reacting to Trump’s call for a complete shutdown on Muslims entering the US.  Kejriwal may not have earned such international recognition, but it is hard to distinguish Trump from Kejriwal.  Here is one example.  Trump had repeatedly called Democrat Hillary Clinton as ‘Crooked Hillary’.  He had also called the Clintons ‘heartless hypocrites’ before gleefully adding “Somehow I like Crooked Hillary better”.  If he had insulted her with the words ‘coward’ and ‘psychopath’ - and assuming chief minister Kejriwal never uttered those words against Prime Minister Modi – you would feel Trump was exactly sounding Trump.

           Trump and Kejriwal could also be joking about or doing things which may happen in a comedy movie but least expected of them.  During his campaign the American said, apparently intending a joke, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”.  But this sounds more like a comment on the independent judging skills of his supporters than good humour coming from a future US President.  In India, where guns are not so common, what Kejriwal actually did was this.  As chief minister, he protested against the central government on an issue and sat on a 32-hour dharna on a busy public road with some of his colleagues, party MLA’s and supporters.  The venue of his tamasha dharna was outside Delhi’s Rail Bhavan, a high security area close to Parliament House – which is a major public street space like Fifth Avenue in New York City -  and he slept there at night in the open. While doing that he acknowledged he was ‘an anarchist’, which is no different from Trump.

            Come to more serious things.  You cannot show off differences of opinion in politics like it is done in street brawls. For political leaders at top levels, what they want to do, the way they wish to go about it, how much they talk about those things and the words they speak mark them out. Take the US, for instance. All Americans, Trump and Hillary included, will want America to be well guarded against any terrorist attack or threat.  So if the US tightly screens visitors to the country, especially those coming from terrorist regions or those likely to have terrorist links, no American will oppose such measures whatever the religion of the visitor.  But when Trump announced he was for a total ban on Muslim outsiders entering the US he dropped a bombshell.  He has also said, “Islam hates us”. On the one hand he alienates Muslims living in the US and on the other he infuriates countless Muslims, good or bad, in other parts of the world. That would also cause disquiet among a whole lot of US residents fearing worse consequences.  Religion, any religion, is a deeply personal thing for those who believe in it. They do not relish their religion or its believers being despised or talked against for any reason, though they would not mind or oppose action against extremists in their fold.  Anything leaders may say or nations may do in this respect should be attended with caution and maturity.  Trump did not display those qualities when speaking against Muslims and David Cameroon called a spade a spade gently.

      After the 9/11 carnage at New York’s World Trade Centre, the US has taken stern preventive action against terror attacks on its soil, though a few minor instances happened which were soon controlled.  At present internal security in America is not a major issue to be tackled from basics, and Trump need not at all have spoken on it with such a distinct anti-Muslim slant.  I suspect Trump has nothing great to project about him as a candidate for US Presidency, and so he seized a dormant and false issue and blew it out of proportion, painting all Muslims black.  What he hoped to gain was attention among American voters by scaring them, and he may have succeeded to some extent. In his own way, as is possible for a Delhi chief minister, Kejriwal did something recently with a similar motive.  That was even funnier.  He went to town screaming that Prime Minister Modi was fraudulently claiming to be a degree holder from Delhi University and that his degree certificate was a fake one.  His close party colleagues also joined the cry, and he got all the juicy attention he wanted.  Even after the Delhi University confirmed that the degree certificate was genuine, providing the candidate’s enrolment number and examination roll number, Kejriwal has not withdrawn his charge.  For someone with an eye on the Prime Minister's chair he is out of focus too, which is like Trump.

       Kejriwal has also quickly garnered attention among sections of college-goers when he supported students striking in campuses of the University of Hyderabad and Jawaharlal Nehru University, who were misguided and part of anti-India sloganeering.  Earlier someone in India endeared himself to students across India the hard way for right reasons, which is also enduring.  But his mind was not set on grabbing quick attention of the student community and throwing limelight on himself.  He was Dr. Abdul Kalam, and we can see the difference in the ways and objects of Kalam and Kejriwal aligning with students – and with what kind of students.

     Arvind Kejriwal does not of course operate on a canvas as huge as the American scene, but his negative instincts are no less than Trump's.  Large numbers of a country's population will have negative tendencies too.  If the nation is lucky it will have leaders who do the very important things, appeal to the positive mind frame of its people, make them hold hands and help them move ahead. Else it is trapped with leaders who do grandiose unimportant things, fuel divisiveness among its people, sully their outlook and stall their progress.  Either way a leader could remain popular, and so a leader's popularity is not always a measure of his true merit.

                Keep aside India.  Who knows, if Arvind Kejriwal were born in the US and a Republican Presidential aspirant now, he could be beating Trump at their game and surging ahead in the primaries.

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016

Monday, 23 May 2016

தேர்தல் தோசை!

பழைய பாப்பா பாட்டு

புதிய பாப்பா பாட்டு

தோசையம்மா தோசை

தேர்தலம்மா தேர்தல்

அம்மா சுட்ட தோசை

அம்மா நிக்கும் தேர்தல்

அரிசி மாவும் உளுந்த மாவும்

ஆர்கே நகரும் உளுந்தூர்பேட்டையும்

கலந்து சுட்ட தோசை

பொளந்து கட்டும் தேர்தல்

அப்பாவுக்கு நாலு

பல்லைக் காட்டினா இருநூறு
அம்மாவுக்கு மூணு

கையைக் காட்டினா முன்னூறு 

அண்ணனுக்கு ரெண்டு

தயங்கி நின்னா நானூறு
பாப்பாவுக்கு ஒண்ணு

தள்ளிட்டு போனா ஐநூறு

தின்னத் தின்ன ஆசை

தெருக்கு தெரு கொண்டாட்டம்

திரும்பக் கேட்டா பூசை!
திருநாள் முடிஞ்சா திண்டாட்டம்!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Tamil Nadu Voters : A Dash for Cash?

      Tamils are criticized again, for a familiar reason in a familiar season.  It was the feverish run-up to the 2016 State assembly polls held early this week in Tamil Nadu.  And it was the widespread distribution of cash to voters, credited to two major political forces, to buy votes in advance of the polls. So Tamils are blamed for unashamedly selling their solemn democratic rights for cash.  But they may have our sympathies, though surely not support.

Legally you cannot show that Tamil Nadu's two leading political parties, DMK and ADMK, arranged delivery of cash to large sections of voters during the last assembly polls, though these parties may stand accused.  When cash for votes was flowing in torrents, how did the two parties react? Each of them just blamed the other as the culprit. But both of them never appealed to the public to refuse cash for votes whoever might be offering!

     You know, many elected representatives and many government servants in India pocket cash for doing their official duty or for showing illegal favours in return. How is it different from the general public accepting cash and promising to vote for a political party? You know that too. People’s representatives and government servants given to corrupt ways demand, through clear words or signals, illegal money from the public or from businessmen for normally doing routine things or for specially taking wrong decisions. Here the prime mover is the receiver.  In cash for votes, the prime mover is the giver.  This evil debuted in Tamil Nadu during a bye-election to Thirumangalam assembly constituency in 2009 when a political party extensively introduced the technique of offering cash to voters to bag their votes.  From then on this election strategy acquired a scientific name, as “Thirumangalam Formula”.

      Was it entirely upto the Tamil Nadu voters to refuse any cash offered and turn away all bribe-givers, so that if none was prepared to receive no political party would be willing to pay? In cold theory, yes.  But look at a few connected things. 

       A bribing political party of Tamil Nadu chooses its preys well and they are in large numbers.  A briber will not knock at the door of a palatial house or other decent houses whose inmates are somewhat well off and who don’t look like putting out their hands to cash for votes.  Those who receive it, whether it is Rs.200, Rs.500 or more, are people to whom that money means quite a bit in their lives, but they are not stealing.  The target voters sense, consciously or subconsciously, that cash for votes comes from those who have amassed wealth in dubious ways, even as the poor voters are struggling.  So voters will feel it is not wrong to receive that money, or even to ask for a little more.  This phenomenon is similar to tax payers concealing their incomes when the income tax rates are unfairly high, but complying with tax laws voluntarily when the tax rates are reasonable.  Different expropriations produce different responses.

Corruption levels are high in Tamil Nadu.  Many say it could be the topper among all States on the corruption index.  Ordinary people of the State cannot fight that curse.  Receiving cash for votes, from those connected to the corrupt, is a petty solace and justification they may have in their financial status.  When the government doesn’t play democracy to its people, in the form of a clean administration at the minimum, don’t expect the people to play democracy in perfect ways.  But generally the Tamil population are a good lot, and I guess they would even feel bad to say it out that they are justified in doing an apparently shameful act.  They are generally honest too.  I know of many house maids in Tamil Nadu who will take cash offered during election time, but would not touch a ten-rupee note lying anywhere in the homes they work even if nobody is looking.

India is not a mature democracy yet, but is getting better over time.  Its judiciary has been more active in recent years, granting reliefs in public interest cases and checking executive excesses.  Its Central Election Commission does a good job, far better than earlier times, conducting free and fair elections to Parliament and State Legislatures.  Its newspapers and television channels are generally independent, though some of them could be more responsible. People have shown they could pack off a non-performing central government when they unseated the long-entrenched Congress Party in the last Parliamentary elections.  But one body in the country which has gone from good to bad and to worse is its political class and the government they provide, especially in the States.  

      The top brass of the Indian political class and its governments across India operate in stealth and seclusion, and it is hard to correct their ways.  It is the political class which is the receiver of bribes at government level (government servants follow them) and the payer of bribes to voters at election time.  When villainous politicians do not change, or cannot be made to change in a largely uninformed society, blaming the givers in government transactions or receivers at election time is barking up the wrong tree.   For now, our trust and hope can only be on the people and their inherent goodness to bring pressures for change on the politicians.  Yes, it will take time.

Back to the present day. A government official receiving bribes differs from a voter receiving cash in another crucial way.  The person who bribes a government official gets things done for the deal-money paid.  In cash for votes, the bribe giver cannot know if the voter promising to vote for someone really voted for that person or for another candidate of the voter’s choice.  Also, the voter may have already decided to vote for a political party, and do it exactly.  But before polling he may still take cash from that party’s agent giving a promise to vote as directed, and from the agent of the rival party too giving a different promise.  Here the voter does not ‘sell’ his vote. 

I guess that most of Tamil Nadu voters in the 2016 elections have not sold their votes.  And I guess that when they decided to grab the cash, there was a feeble murmur in their inner hearts, “Let the incorrigible rascals cough up a drop of their bad money”.  Make your guess.

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Copyright © R. Veera Raghavan 2016