Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When they came out of the shadows and became stars in their own right

What marked the India-England final of Women World Cup ’17 at the emblematic Lord’s on July 23 was the paradoxical surge of sentiment across India for the losing team because England won, and India lost, by nine runs, India’s 219 all out in 48.4 overs to England’s 228 for 7, by a rather narrow margin. It was nerve-wracking only in a limited sense because it was a slightly unequal contest. The Indian team which blazed its way to the final appeared a bundle of nerves, and captain Mithali Raj was the only one who kept her cool. It seemed that the better team lost because it was quite visible that Indian team lost not because it was outplayed but because it dithered. This would not of course take away from the glory of the winning English team because holding nerves is indeed part of the ways of winning.

The question remains as to why did India the ostensibly cricket-crazy country wake up to the exploits of its women cricket team on the day it had lost the crown? The Indian fans have never been known to have ever forgiven losers. The first time the national team faced the fury of the crowds was when Ajit Wadekar’s team lost the England series in 1974 after their 1971 series win. The fans turned up in Bombay with garlands of shoes to welcome Wadekar’s team after they were given rousing reception after their return in 1971. The memory lasted well into the 21st century when Sachin Tendulkar had to appeal to the fans during the 2003 World Cup finals for calm and restraint on the part of the spectators. Yes. Cricket became a game of spectator frenzy in the fashion of the roaring multitudes watching gladiatorial battles in the Roman arena. But in stark contrast, the Indian cricket fans sighed and saluted and gave a grand ovation to the losing women’s team on July 23, 2017. The violent streak had disappeared and in its place there was quiet appreciation and genuine admiration for the effort to have reached the finals.

There is much to write about Mithali Raj and her team, and there is as much to write about the appreciative fans. It would be tempting to analyse the social psychology of the many thousands who quietly discovered the new constellation of the national women cricket team. (It has always seemed hyperbole and a lie of the television anchors when they screamed about cricket being the religion of billion plus India.) The thousands had always wanted the Indian team to win and it did not matter whether they played cricket or not. But the cricket fans’ response to the women’s team moved away from the frenzy of wanting merely to win.
The women cricketers have created a hush in the way they played the game. They played fiercely as can be seen in the batting of Harmanpreet Kaur, Veda Krishnamurthy, Smriti Mandhana, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, and the bowling of Jhulan Goswami. Somewhere, unknowingly, they have brought back the poise and gentleness to cricket, and the game’s followers unknowingly were impressed by it, even overwhelmed. There was not the usual adrenalin. In its place there was the game of wits, nerves and the slow motion physical grace. And in it all there was innocence, an unmistakable radiance. There was exultation in the minds of the fans without the ugly contortions that intoxication generates.

The women cricketers seemed to have restored to the game some of its Edenic state, where the game was played for the pleasures it afforded and it was liked for that very reason, the state of game which was reflected in Neville Cardus’ meditative and evocative prose. It is not just the Indian team, but also the other seven teams which exuded that prelapsarian state of being. But unlike with the other teams where victories are not easily turned into national obsessions and degenerate into neurotic commercial ambitions as in India, the Indian women’s team stands at the edge where the game could be transformed into the evil alchemic of winning advertising contracts.

Many of the cricket administrators in India and elsewhere are seriously pondering how the spark of Women’s World Cup of 2017 could be turned into a gold rush because the men’s game is getting jaded, where the money is slowly ebbing away and there is need for something new to sell and there is the compulsion of bringing in something new into the marketing of the game. The danger lurks closely to the surface, and Team Mithali Raj could be sucked into the glitzy vortex.

It would be naïve to expect that women’s cricket should remain unchanged or that it will retain its simplicity that it has today. But now is the time to savour the moment before the arc-lights sweep away the clear and unvarnished images of the players on and off the field. It took more than a decade after the 1983 World Cup triumph for the men cricketers to be selling soaps, toothpaste, energy drinks on billboards and on television. The change could happen faster in the case of women cricketers. And it is unfortunate that it will happen in India more than in any other cricketing country.

But even in the middle of the whirl and whorl of change in the game, it should be possible for the cricketers – men and women, boys and girls – and for cricket writers to pause and indulge in the Wordsworthian moment of “emotion recollected in tranquillity” to look at the 2017 Women’s World Cup and feel the joy of cricket being played in the spirit of the game, a mere game unconnected with nationalist vainglory and even the vulgar desire of creating soulless monumental records. Mithali Raj’s 6000 runs in One Day Internationals, and Harmanpreet Kaur’s 171 in 115 balls remain individual achievements as that of that of a Walter Hammond or a Vinoo Mankad, peaks of excellence that do not a cast a long shadow on generations of players to come.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Manmohan Singh taunts Pranab Mukherjee

It was uncharacteristic of the man. Yet it was not. Mild-mannered, soft-spoken former prime minister Manmohan Singh can be acerbic when he wants to be. It was seen in the past whenever he spoke about senior BJP leader L.K.Advani. He could be unsparing and stinging. This became visible on Friday (October 13) evening at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) auditorium, at the launch of former president Pranab Mukherjee's third volume of memoirs, Coalition Years (Rupa; Rs 500).
Singh walked in and did not choose to sit in the middle, front row which is the usual seating place of VVIPs. CPI-M's Sitaram Yechury, CPI's D.Raja, DMK's Kanimozhi, former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav were already seated there. Singh went and sat alone in the left front row, alone. He obliged the publisher's family when they posed for a photograph with him. And there was another lady who sat in the second row behind and wanted a picture as well, and a journalist did the friendly deed of clicking. When Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi walked and sat in the central front row, Singh walked, pictures were clicked, and he was back again to his corner seat.
First Mukherjee spoke when the book was formally launched and everyone on the dais was clicked plentifully. He went on about he started out as a "humble party worker" of a regional party and how he became part of the Congress and how he remained a member of the Congress Working Committee for the longest period. He was trying to give a sober account of himself, without trumpeting himself as it were. But there was no denying the fact that Mukherjee was making the point that he was the longest serving Congressman around.
Then Singh spoke. He said Mukherjee was the "greatest living politician", "greatest living Congressman", "greatest living parliamentarian". Yes, Singh, used the same phrase, "greatest living..." thrice in a short speech. Then came the stinging remark. He said that Mukherjee might have felt aggrieved that he (Singh) became prime minister, and that he (Mukherjee) felt that he (Mukherjee) was more deserving. Then Singh said that it was Sonia Gandhi who chose him prime minister and he had no choice in the matter. Then he went on to say that in spite of this misgiving in the mind of Mukherjee, they (he and Mukherjee) worked closely. He said that when Mukherjee was a junior minister in the finance ministry, he was the secretary, and that the two had flown to Bombay to meet the then finance minister Subramaniam who was in hospital, and how they finalised the 1976 Budget in the hospital room. He said that later when Mukherjee became the finance minister, he went off to Reserve Bank of India. He did not refer to the unofficial joibe attributed to Mukherjee who was had said it was I (Mukherjee) who had signed his appointment letter as the governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Singh referred to the "grievance" that Mukherjee might have nursed that he (Mukherjee) was not made the prime minister twice. Clearly, there were negative vibes somewhere.
Though Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were sitting in the front row, and every speaker addressed them, they did not deign to speak on the occasion. They must have been amused by the little cold war between Singh and Mukherjee.
Interestingly, former finance minister P.Chidambaram was conspicuous by his absence.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

I do not like 'good' films like 'Newton'. They are too crude

Most of my friends love good cinema, and they do not like song-and-dance cinema. It is an unfortunate fact which I accept as one of those things which you cannot change. So, many of them saw 'Newton' when I was away and said that it is a wonderful film. I was not really enthusiastic about it, especially after it has been chosen as the Indian entry for Oscars. Most Oscar entries from India are not wise choices. For example, Ashutosh Gowarikar-Aamir Khan's 'Lagaan'. I thought that 'Newton' could turn out to be a tolerable film compared to the general run of 'good' films. I wanted to see 'Judwa2' when the 'Newton' show-timings were inconvenient, but the high-brow friend of mine declared that she would not waste time on films like 'Judwa2'. One of the reasons that many want to see 'Newton' is because of Rajkummar Rao. Many seem to believe that he is a great actor, though he is nothing more than a competent one, in the mould of Nawazuddin. But those who hate stars and love actors and actresses seem to prefer the likes of Rajkummar Rao, Kangana Ranaut, Nawazuddin. It is a matter of taste and these preferences for 'actors/actresses' as against stars cannot be faulted.

The problem with 'Newton' arises from the fact that writers Amit Masurkar and Mayank Tewari have intelligent and witty one-liners right from the start of the film, including the title of the film. It brings a smile to your face and there are some other one-liners which are supposed to be ironical which make you snigger in appreciation. This is the root of the problem of the film 'Newton'. It has wit in its dialogues when it is not imitating cinema verite. Now witty dialogue in a serious film is not such a great thing where there is no dramatic intensity. It is good for a stage-play, and 'Newton' is a stage play which has been cinematographed in the actual locales. And when the camera lingers on the faces of the real villagers -- they are not artistes -- and there is quite a bit of pathos in their expressions, one is not too impressed and one is not moved. It remains a wooden artifice like the empty schoolroom and the supposedly oppressive silence as the official team waits for the people to turn up to vote. Then director Kasurkar loses his poise and introduces some action scenes -- the four villagers who come late to vote, and the polling officer who holds up the security posse at gun-point so that they vote, and then the security guards pounce on him when he puts down the gun.

The film makes a sincere attempt to show up the political chicanery of the state which rules by force rather than by democratic norms, but it ends up being an awkward farce. The problem is that instead of telling an absorbing story, the director is keen to make a political statement and that too in a bland fashion.

The new crop of directors, many of them from north Indian Hindi-speaking states, delude themselves into believing that they understand politics, and their political interpretations and political statements/dialogues are overflowing with wit and irony and rhetoric. The Hindi writer/film-makers has no subtle grasp of power politics. He behaves like the Hindi heartland politician in a crude manner. Generally, the politics of the Hindi heartland is primitive, and it is childish to believe that politics is a Chanakya game in the north. Everywhere political power games are crude and it is no different in the north. The only person who does not suffer from this delusion is Tigmanshu Dhulia. Vishal Bhardwaj suffered from this delusion in his earlier films, but he is overcoming it.

My suggestion is that all these Hindi heartland film-makers who want to make political statements should see Chaitanya Tamhane's anti-cinema political movie, "Court". It shows the ways of making the most telling political statements through the most inconsequential dialogue and images.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Modi’s bear hug of the Father of the Nation

PM seems to have sensed the potent symbolism of Gandhi, the national icon

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) before Narendra Modi had been lukewarm towards Mahatma Gandhi at best. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was more inclined towards Jawaharlal Nehru than the Mahatma though he did flirt with Gandhian socialism when the BJP was launched in 1980. The reservations of the Hindu Right towards the man who unequivocally spoke the Hindu religious idiom and at the same time was scrupulously respectful towards Christianity and Islam, and who would bend over backwards to assuage the apprehensions of religious minorities, were understandable. Gandhi bothered the Hindu partisans because they could not denounce him as they could Nehru with his liberal, secular outlook. Gandhi was an ultra-conservative in a sense, especially in matters of religion and morality and yet he would not budge on the issue of the rights of the minorities. The piety of Gandhi was rooted in Hinduism. This is to be found in the fact that Gandhi derived his worldview more from traditional Hinduism than from the New Testament. What attracted the Europeans to Gandhi was that they felt that he was following the Sermon on the Mount in his personal life, which they rarely did.

The other problem that Gandhi posed to the right-wingers – and this includes Muslims as much as the Hindus – was that he was a staunch nationalist but he did not believe in nationalism that demanded total loyalty. It is his ambivalent attitude towards nationalism that was a problem for the Hindu right. At the same time, there could not be a more zealous nationalist than Gandhi who shunned everything that was foreign without being a xenophobe. Here was the most religious man who loved other religions as much as his own, and who loved India without claiming that Indian culture and civilisation were superior to other countries and other cultures. This translated into ethical pacifism, which was what the Hindu fanatics hated in him. Let it be noted that Gandhi was not very popular with the Muslim political leadership, and not just the Muslim League. His intense Hinduism perplexed them. And it is this Hinduism of Gandhi that draws the Hindu right while they are repelled by his love of other religions. The Hindu right finds it impossible to be a Hindu and love other religions, and to be an Indian and love other cultures. The ideological basis of the Hindu Right is Hindu supremacism, very much like the ‘white supremacism’ of Europe and North America.

So, what is the strategy of Prime Minister Modi when he continuously harps on celebrating Gandhi’s iconic status and he wants to remould the country to mark Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019? There is reason to suspect that Modi feels most at home with Gandhi, the Gujarati. Remember that apart from writing in English for political purposes, Gandhi wrote his Hind Swaraj and his Autobiography in Gujarati. Perhaps this endears Gandhi to Modi in an intangible fashion. But more importantly, Modi recognises through sheer political cunning – and let it be understood that Gandhi was a supreme master of political cunning – that Gandhi is a useful national symbol, and it is possible to invoke Gandhi without in any way adhering to the Gandhian doctrine of ethical pacifism. This can be called opportunism, cynicism on the part of the prime minister and the BJP supremo. Invoking Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, who is the real inspiration for the BJP, would not have the same impact as invoking Gandhi across the country. Modi knows that Gandhi is the talisman to reach out to the whole of India.

There are glaring contradictions in Modi’s embrace of Gandhi. But he must have felt that logical and political contradictions do not matter when you are dealing with symbols, images and myths because symbols, images and myths transcend logic and mesmerise the collective mind. Modi must have also realised that the Congress party, from Nehru onwards, had used Gandhi as a potent symbol without following his ideas. Nehru was diametrically opposed to Gandhian thinking more than even the BJP and Modi. But Nehru retained Gandhi as the political mentor of Congress was. There is no doubt that Gandhi remained a quintessential Congressman. He led the freedom struggle through the Congress, and he allowed constitutionalists, socialists, communists to function within the Congress. It was natural for Congress to invoke Gandhi more than the socialists. Jyaprakash Narayan must have sensed this chasm that divided the socialists from Gandhi the Congress leader. That is why, he felt obliged to give up socialist politics to become a Gandhian. Communists were politically honest because they did not ever invoke Gandhi.

The challenge that Modi faces with Gandhi is that he will have to wrench Gandhi away from Gandhi’s political roots in the Congress. The Hindu Mahasabha opposed Gandhi, and so did Bharatiya Jan Sangh of Syama Prasad Mookerji vintage. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya may have been drawn towards Gandhi because of Gandhi’s pronounced nativism and religious piety but he would have soon realised that it is difficult to reconcile with Gandhi’s open-door policy towards other religions. Modi knows that he should not talk about Gandhian ideas and that he should confine himself to celebrating the iconic Gandhi. This strategy has its political uses. Modi wants to use Gandhi as the national symbol though Gandhi did not believe in the fierce narrow-minded nationalism of the BJP kind. There is also the advantage that Gandhi, like yoga, can be marketed in the international market as well and with equal felicity. Unlike in the case of yoga, which is value neutral in its physical performance, it will be difficult to reduce Gandhi to a mere symbol. Gandhi’s moral insistence on treating the religious minorities on an equal footing with the majority Hindus will be the proverbial thorn in the flesh for Modi and the BJP. Many middle class and lower middleclass Hindus hate Gandhi because of his solicitude towards the religious minorities. Can Modi afford to alienate the Hindu constituency? It looks like that Modi is looking to the Hindu masses, beyond the Hindu classes. And he thinks that Gandhi is the ideal symbol with which to reach out to the masses.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Modi-Shah duopoly in zombified BJP

The mail-fisted leadership has established its credentials through successive electoral wins

It would seem to be a paradox to say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the most successful, in terms of electoral victories –and yet a relatively inert party in the country. It is dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party’s national president Amit Shah. When the party is in power and the two top, strong leaders seem to be steering the party to victory after election victory, it seems natural that the face of the BJP is Modi, and a little behind him, Shah. And it does not matter what the state of BJP is.
With Shah taking oath as member of Rajya Sabha from Gujarat on August 25, and taking his place in the BJP’s parliamentary party, it should be as good a time as any to look at the Modi-Shah phenomenon, as to what they have been able and what they have not been able to do for the party in the last three years.
This is the first time Shah will be entering parliament even as Modi entered the central legislature for the first time only after he became the prime minister in 2014. Shah had served as the party president for three years before he has entered parliament. The general response as to the significance of Shah becoming an MP, it is being described as a routine matter, that he has been a member of the Gujarat assembly and with the state going to polls in December this year, he would not be contesting the state election. The general sentiment seems to have been that the party president should now be a Member of Parliament, and when it turned out that Gujarat was choosing its members for Rajya Sabha, he has been included in the team. Of course, the presence of the party president in Rajya Sabha is sure to be a morale booster of sorts.
Prime Minister Modi addressing the parliamentary party meeting earlier this month warned the party MPs in Rajya Sabha that with Shah in the Upper House, it would not be possible for the members to play truant. He was angry that party members were not present while passing the Constitutional Amendment Bill setting up the National Commission for Backward Classes, and the opposition was able to press a crucial amendment before the bill was passed. This is an indirect hint that Shah will not be a passive member in the House and he would play the role of the monitor of the class, over and above the chief whip of the party in the House. It also reinforces the image of Shah as that of a disciplinarian. The BJP is a party that believes in party discipline more than in party democracy. It remains true to its roots of a right-wing party, an off-shoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Boy Scouts-cum-semi-militia-like organisation.
Surprisingly, the media have not scrutinised and commented on the state of the BJP and its leadership as it usually does with all other parties, especially the Congress. The Congress has been the butt of media ridicule and an object of unsparing criticism that it is dominated by party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president and her son Rahul Gandhi, and that the grand old party of India is a Nehru-Gandhi family firm, with no place for other leaders in the system. The woes of the party are attributed to the monopolistic power exerted by the mother-son duo. But not many in the media have even dared to comment that the success of the BJP at elections is due to the Modi-Shah duopoly, and that the two comrades from Gujarat have strengthened the party’s electoral prospects from Gujarat to Assam, from Goa to Manipur and from across the Hindi heartland. There has been no analysis of the quality of leadership provided by Modi and Shah.
The two enjoy unchallenged power at the moment in the party and in the government. Though the two leaders ascribe the party’s successes to all members of the party, especially the foot-soldiers at the booth level, it is quite evident that decision-making is completely in the hands of the two leaders. But it does seem that Shah has been successfully spotting winning candidates in the states, and he would not have been able to do this if he did not have his ear to the ground. It is a well-understood proposition that leaders take decisions all alone. A good leader does not fall back on collective decision-making. The converse of this thesis is the fact that the traditional middle-level leaders and lobbies are thrust aside and the party structure takes on a monolithic shape, with the leader at the top and the worker/follower at the base. There is not much challenge to the power structure as long as long as the party is winning elections.
The record of Modi and Shah is worth reviewing. It is generally assumed that it was Modi who had won the mandate for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The role of Shas has been limited to Uttar Pradesh in that election. He was made the ‘prabhari’ or the BJP in-charge of the state. This was no doubt done at the behest of the then prime ministerial candidate Modi. Modi was contesting the election from Varanasi, and it seemed that he wanted a trusted lieutenant there. It should be remembered that Rajnath Singh was then the president of the party. He was from Uttar Pradesh. Singh was also contesting the election from the state. The credit for the BJP winning 73 of the 80 seats from the state is given to Shah. To prove the point as it were that he was indeed the architect of the victory in 2014, Shah as national president the party led the BJP to a landslide victory in the assembly election in March, 2017. The party had won 312 out of the 425 seats in the state assembly.
Shah is very clear that his campaign strategy is based on the image of Prime Minister Modi and the success of his government’s policies at the centre. He is the political sales manager but the product he sells is the image of Modi. This strategy poses problems of its own. The party fought the assembly elections without projecting a chief ministerial candidate in the state assembly elections after the Lok Sabha victory in the summer of 2014. In Maharashtra and Haryana, it was Modi who picked up the chief ministerial candidate, Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra and Manohar Khattar in Haryana. It was not a democratic process, and the BJP had criticised this tendency whenever Congress president chose the chief ministerial candidate in similar circumstances. There is also the other significant aspect that the BJP had declared Modi its prime ministerial candidate in September 2013 much against the resistance of senior leaders in the party that the decision of naming the prime minister should be left to the parliamentary party.
The BJP under the Modi-Shah dispensation felt that there was no need to declare the chief ministerial candidate. There is speculation that Yogi Adityanatah became chief minister though Modi and Shah were not apparently enthusiastic about his candidacy for the post, and that the RSS had its way. If it is true, then it seems to be the case that there are limits to the power exerted by Modi and Shah.
Interestingly, Shah had declared in Bhopal earlier this week that Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the incumbent chief minister in Madhya Pradesh, will be the chief ministerial candidate in the assembly election due in the state later this year. It will be argued that in Maharashtra and Haryana, the choice of the chief minister had to be made afresh because the party was never in power in these two states earlier, and that where there is a chief ministerial candidate as in Madhya Pradesh, Modi and Shah would not disturb the status quo.

It has also to be noted that Modi and Shah faced defeat in the Bihar and Delhi assembly elections in 2015, and that the party did not win in Punjab, Manipur and Goa assembly elections in 2017. But with the change in the coalition status, BJP is back in power in Bihar, but as a junior partner to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), as it was before 2013.
The Modi-Shah dispensation is likely to continue till 2019, the next Lok Sabha election. Shah completes his first two-year term as president of the party in his own right in January, 2018 – he took over from Rajnath Singh in July 2014 midway -- and the presumption is that he will get re-elected for another two-year term in January next. That is, he will be leading the party into the 2019 general election, even as Modi will remain the prime ministerial candidate party for a second term.
It is more than a matter of curiosity that two leaders from Gujarat, Modi and Shah, have taken complete control of the BJP, which has been an essentially Hindi heartland or cow-belt, force. The party rules over large swathe of Hindi heartland – Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Mahdya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana – and the whole of western India – Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa. It has also made a mark in eastern India by winning in Assam, and by forming governments in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
What is it then that marks out the Modi-Shah duo? It seems to be their hunger for victory more than anything else, and their ability to streamline the party, and stubbing out any trace of dissent within the party. The BJP-watcher cannot but notice that there is much inner democracy in the party. Modi and Shah make no secret of their distaste and intolerance for those who do not agree with them. They would argue that they are forced to be ruthless for the sake of the party, and that the BJP’s winning streak is due to the fact there are no murmurs and rumblings inside the party.
Modi arm-twisted the party in 2013 to declare his prime ministerial candidacy and in retrospect it has turned out to be the right tactic. Modi foisted Shah as party president in 2014, and he can point to the fact that his decision was right because BJP has won significant victories in the assembly elections that followed, especially in Uttar Pradesh.
It however leads to the general question: how do parties discover their leaders? Is there a democratic way of doing it? Or is it the fact that the man with the self-confidence to grab leadership is the real winner? Modi had certainly seized the opportunity. He did not wait for others to elect him the leader. The apologists of the BJP would certainly refer to the fact that the central parliamentary board (CPB) of the party unanimously chose Modi as the prime ministerial candidate, and there was nothing arbitrary about it. On the face of it, the argument holds good. But only a naïve political observer would take things at face value.
Shah’s power in the party is derived entirely and exclusively from Modi. He has not endeared himself to the party leaders. It is likely that Shah would retort that he is not in the contest for popularity ratings, and that he would prefer to fetch victories for the party instead.
What is evident is that the BJP is now marching like a Greek phalanx or a Roman legion under the elected and undeclared temporary dictatorship of Modi and Shah.

Modi demonetised, RBI remonetised

The story of RBI’s disaster management

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley can continue to indulge in the rhetoric of demonetisation, but the Reserve Bank of India’s Annual Report for 2016-17 tells an absorbing story of economic disaster management. Modi’s November 8, 2016 televised announcement of withdrawing Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes from circulation was nothing but an act of bravado, meant to take the bulls of black money, counterfeit currency and terror funding by the horns as it were, but basically an empty attention-grabbing gesture. Neither Modi nor his government had any clear idea about the extent of counterfeit currency, black money and terror funding in the money circulating in the system. It is quite unlikely that the government would put the information in public domain for sanctimonious reasons of state even if it had specific information at the time.
But the information about currency in circulation and the money available in the banks is known through the Reserve Bank of India’s weekly statistical supplements. On March 31, 2016, the currency with the public was Rs 15,972.5 billion, and on November 11, 2016 it was Rs 15,262.3 billion. It was at a high of Rs 17,013.8 billion on October 28, 2016. It came down to Rs 9,119.1 billion on November 25. And the bank’s annual report for 2016-17 says that currency in circulation declined by Rs 8,997 billion on January 6, 2017, “which resulted in a large increase in surplus liquidity with the banking system, equivalent to a cut in the CRR by about 9 per cent.” (CRR or cash reserve ratio is the mandatory cash that the banks have to maintain apart from their daily turnover. )
The bank used “unconventional measures” like market stabilisation scheme (MSS) by issuing securities of short-term duration. Apparently, the bank had asked the government to increase the limit on issuance of securities from Rs 300 billion to Rs 6,000 billion. Cash management bills (CMBs) under MSS were used between December 2, 2016 and January 13, 2017. And the bank managed to deal with excess liquidity in the system. “With fast paced remonetisation surplus liquidity in the system declined by mid-January 2017,” the bank’s annual report notes.

It looks like that neither Modi nor Jaitley nor those in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) or those in the Ministry of Finance seem to have had any idea about the immediate after-effects of demonetisation. The RBI identifies five phases in the post-demonetisation period to deal with the flood of liquidity in the banking system unleashed by demonetisation. In the first phase, from November 10, 2016 to November 25, 2016, the RBI used various measures of reverse repo. That is, the central bank borrowed money from the banks which were now flush with cash at variable and fixed rates. According to the bank, it absorbed Rs 5,242 billion on November 25, the peak. In the second phase, from November 26 to December 9, the bank absorbed up to Rs 4,000 billion through Incremental Cash Reserve Ratio (ICRR) of 100 per cent, which meant that banks’ CRR rose from existing 4 per cent to 8 per cent and more. In the third phase, from December 10, 2016 to January 13, 2017, the bank it used Cash Management Bills (CMBs) under the Market Stabilisation Scheme (MSS), and it took in Rs 7,956 billion on January 4, 2017. In the fourth phase, from January 14, 2017 to end-March,2017, the bank fell back on the traditional reverse repo to drain the excess liquidity from the banks. This measure peaked on March 6, 2017 with the bank absorbing Rs 5,522 billion, and it declined to Rs 3,141 billion by the end of March. But the bank report says that surplus liquidity persisted through March as a result of which the government maintained cash balances and the banks kept excess CRR.
In the fifth phase, beginning with the new financial year in April 2017, the bank anticipated that surplus liquidity will persist through 2017-18, the bank provided for MSS and reverse repo measures of up to Rs 1 trillion and it had auctioned Treasury Bills for Rs 1 trillion in April and May, 2017.
There is an interesting twist to the story of demonetisation. While post-demonetisation witnessed unprecedented excess in liquidity, the period from April,2016 to November 8, 2016, the RBI injected Rs 2.1 trillion to move from liquidity deficit of Rs 813 billion in Quarter 1 from April, 2016 to June, 2016 to a liquidity surplus of Rs 292 billion in Q2 (July, 2016 to September,2016) and to a surplus of Rs 64 billion in Q3 (October,2016 to November 8,2016).
The tacit assumption behind the demonetisation argument was that there was excess liquidity in the system, which the subversive elements were manipulating, and therefore there is a need to drain that excess. It turns out that the assumption was wrong. There was no excess liquidity in the system. And the RBI’s statistics reveal the exact volumes of liquidity in the system. While Prime Minister Modi revelled in demonetisation, the RBI had to step in and carry out remonetisation operations and that too in double quick time. And the bank assures, “The continuing increase in currency in circulation on the back of remonetisation is likely to reduce the magnitude of the liquidity overhang during the course of the year.” The disruption, and let us be clear that there was nothing clear about it, that Modi has caused through demonetisation had to be repaired by the RBI through the remonetisation measures. The argument for a less-cash economy is so much of baloney. It is possible to split hairs about cash and liquidity, and how they are not the same, and how draining out cash from the system is not the same as creating a liquidity crunch. The RBI report makes it clear that there is not much of a theoretical difference between the two, and less cash translates into less liquidity. The banks cannot handle too much liquidity or cash, and people cannot do with less cash. And there is a moral in all this: Fools venture where angels fear to tread!

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Critics misread Alankrita Shrivastava's "Lipstick Under My Burkha" . It is not about feminism's liberation theology

I was reminded of Paul Haggis' 2004 film, "Crash" when I watched Alankrita Shrivastava's "Lipstick Under My Burkha". In "Crash", Haggis traced the lives of black and white individuals -- four of them, two blacks and two whites -- from different middle class and poor backgrounds. The film is a tapestry of multiple narratives. Shrivastava does the same thing in her film when she traces the lives of four women -- two from Hindu and two from Muslim backgrounds -- in Bhopal. The women in "Lipstick Under My Burkha" is not really about sexual liberation. It is so partially in the case of Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah), the older and richer woman, and in many ways this is the weakest link of the movie. But Shrivastava manages to carry it on the shoulders of Ratna Pathak Shah. The story of Leela (Aahana Kumra) is more about love and emotional stability as opposed to mere stolidity of lower middle class married life. She is confused and she struggles to make a choice. Leela's story goes beyond notions of sexual freedom. Shirin (Konkona Sen Sharma), is a mother of three pursuing her career as a door-to-door saleswoman, and she is not fighting for sexual liberation. Rehana (Prabita Borathkur), a college student, from a lower middle class background, where the father is a shopkeeper and the mother a housewife, and who sends the daughter to college. Rehana flirts with the joys of college life and air of rebellion that goes with it. It is music that seems to attract her as a mode of rebellion though sex and love come as part of the cocktail. In her case, there is also the temptation of the girly indulgences that only money can bring -- scents, boots, lipsticks, which she cannot afford. Shrivastava tells the four stories as competently as she can, keeping them separate and pursuing them deftly. It is here that the parallels between Haggis' "Crash" and Shrivastava's "Lipstick Under My Burkha" stand out.
The title of the movie is catchy but misleading, because the only one bothered about lipstick under the burkha is Rehana hers is not the only story in the movie. It shows the bigger, social picture with its ironies, contradictions and its elusive pleasure points. And all this within the constricted context of a provincial town. The success of Shrivastava is in conveying the social complexity and its little sorrows and joys, its emotional crises. And she does all this without any comment and this is the virtue of the movie. The last scene where all the four protagonists come together is the only point where it is made out that the women thrown down by the dominant norms of the small city have something in common. But here too, there is admirable restraint. There is no dogmatic declamation. The movie would have however been more powerful without this last scene where the women gather.
What Shrivastava succeeds quite brilliantly is conveying the dark shadows that dominate social life in a small city and there are no escape routes. It is a dark conclusion and a bold decision on the part of the director to leave it at that.
It is disappointing that many of the reviewers and critics of the film missed out on the essential part of the movie --its deft narration of four separate lives that play out in the same small city.

When they came out of the shadows and became stars in their own right

What marked the India-England final of Women World Cup ’17 at the emblematic Lord’s on July 23 was the paradoxical surge of sentiment acros...