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.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Sushma Swaraj pours cold water on BJP’s war-mongers in and outside the party


The Minister for External Affairs in her reply in the Rajya Sabha rules out military engagement


Can External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s sober and considered view that war is not an option and that dialogue is to be preferred to deal with China on the Doklam standoff with China in her reply to the short duration discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday evening silence the right-wing war-mongers among the BJP’s cheer-leaders among the belligerent television news anchors and other China-baiters in the strategic community in the country?
Ms Swaraj would have certainly been hawkish if she had spoken on the issue from the opposition benches. But as minister she would not, which is as it should be. It does show that the BJP despite its nationalist rhetoric when it is not in power accepts the responsibilities and limitation that come with being in office, and it unhesitatingly accepts the self-restraint that one has to necessarily display. As a matter of fact, the opposition parties did not pose much of a challenge to Swaraj and the Narendra Modi government. They did not goad the government to respond militarily. As a matter of fact, Communist Party of India’s D Raja and Swaraj almost spoke in the same language with regard to China, emphasising the growing trade relations between the two Asian giants.
Swaraj read out a written statement on the position of the government on Doklam, and made it clear that the Chinese government had quoted ‘selectively’ from Jawaharlal Nehru’s 1959 letter.
The important underlying theme of Swaraj was that she ruled out military engagement of any kind with China. She reminded that it would be necessary to get back to talks even after a war because war by itself does not offer a solution, and that it is better to engage in talks before hostilities instead of after hostilities. With regard to war preparedness, she said standing armies are a clear indication that every country is always prepared to fight a war, and that it is not necessary to reiterate the issue of preparedness.
The prime spokesman of foreign policy of Modi government has almost spoken like a pacifist, and this should be certainly troubling for the hawks the BJP gallery. But it is clear that Prime Minister Modi and Swaraj are not willing to play to the gallery in this matter, whatever else they may or may not do.
Swaraj has also effectively silenced the government’s critics from the political left on Modi visiting Israel to mark 25 years of India-Israel diplomatic relations early in July. She said that Palestinians welcomed close relations between India and Israel, and pointed out to the irony that it is the Indian supporters of Palestine who are apprehensive about it. To prove her point, she disclosed that when she met Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, he had told her that India should use its good offices in getting the Israel-Palestine talks going. She also pointed out that even in the joint statement issued by Prime Minister Modi and his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, there was a clear indication that the two-state solution and talks are the way forward.
She reiterated in unambiguous language: “We will never let down the Palestinian cause.” This is quite an embarrassment to the pro-Israeli camp in the BJP which in its zeal to counter Islamic terrorism believes that the Zionist state is the best bet, which is daft to say the least. But Swaraj refused to oblige the ignoramuses in the party.
She acknowledged that there were apprehensions when BJP came to power that India would lose out on support in the Arab, Muslim world. She did not take care to explain why this was so, but she proffered evidence to show that this was not the case. She said when more than 4000 Indians were struck in Yemen when hostilities broke out between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, she went to the Prime Minister and asked him to talk to the Saudi Arabian ruler. The Saudi ruler assured Modi that there would be no bombing for two hours every day, and it is for India to talk to the Yemeni authorities to use the window of two hours of lull. Swaraj said that the Yemeni authorities obliged in evacuating Indians in the two-hour daily ceasefire and that Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. V.K.Singh, had personally overseen the evacuation process. Swaraj drove home the point that India had in the process evacuated others belonging to 48 countries. She said this was ample proof that India’s relations with the Arab countries were at their best.
At the start of her reply, she made a smart observation that Jwaharlal Nehru won respect in the world at a personal level, but when Modi is respected it is India that the world is acknowledging. It is a subtle statement which undercuts the personal charisma of Modi while giving full marks to Nehru.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The FDI factor : Facts and figures for foreign investment inflows reveal a thin spread

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting to review FDI policy with Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and other officials. It has remained a closed door affair and no announcements were made. There was speculation that there would be further relaxation of FDI policy. This government is quite happy with the FDI inflows in the last three years, US$55.5 billion in 2015-16 and US$60.8 billion in 2016-17. There is a sense of exultation that record FDI inflows are taking place.
But there is a need to ask the obvious question: How is foreign direct investment (FDI) faring in the Indian economy? This is a crucial question that should be of keen interest to many India watchers. One of the key premises has been that the liberalisation of FDI rules will help boost growth and that it will make up for paucity of domestic capital. When Manmohan Singh visited US after taking over as prime minister in 2004, he told American investors that India was in need of US$150 billion in investments, especially in infrastructure. That figure had jumped, naturally so, by the time Narendra Modi went to the US in 2014 and talked of the potential for investment in India to be of $ 1 trillion, again mostly in infrastructure. There was convergence in perception of the two prime ministers from different ends of the political spectrum that India needed FDI to get into the fast lane of economic development. Perhaps there is need to debate and challenge the premise. If a country can garner enough investment from internal sources, can it hope to do well? Is it also the case that it is not so much the investment as much as a country’s share of global trade through exports that will better explain the growth of an economy? The experience of China, Japan and other east and south-east Asian economies shows that exports alone cannot drive an economy, and that you need healthy domestic consumption to
One of the two issues – the other is about “The International Banking Statistics of India 2016” – that the RBI’s July bulletin focuses on is the performance of FDI-funded companies in the country compared to others which had no FDI in 2015-16. Both the groups have not done too well in terms of growth and their contribution to Gross Value Added (GVA), though according to the central bank, the FDI companies’ performance is “relatively better” than the non-FDI ones at the aggregate level. 2015-16 has not been a happy year in terms of economic growth, though it seems to be better compared to 2016-17. Therefore no verdict can be passed on the performance of either of the two groups of companies.
What is of greater interest however is the FDI footprint in the Indian economy. Economists have already noted the fact that FDI contributed no more than seven to eight per cent of total investments in the last 20 years and more, which coincides with the era of economic liberalisation. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details indeed, and it is the details of FDI that is quite revealing. The number of FDI companies is 6,433 on March 31, 2016. When this number is broken down further, FDI in manufacturing is in 1,820, while it is 4.070 in the services sector, of which computer companies and those related to computer activities accounted for 1202. The comparable figures for non-FDI companies are startling. The aggregate figure of non-FDI companies stands at 3,04,978, of which manufacturing has 78,337 companies, services account for 1,75,926, and computers and related activities firms are represented by 18,040. The few big ones and the many small will always be the case in a market economy. It can even be argued that you can do without the big ones, but you cannot without the army of the small companies.
It would be a gross distortion if one were to judge the usefulness of FDI by these figures. It is common sense that it is a small number of big companies which earn huge profits and contribute to the overall impressive growth rate, and that a large number of companies stay on the margins of performance and profits. But the larger number with smaller profits is of great importance because it forms the sheet-anchor of the economy as such. In terms of investment, the FDI companies had 40 per cent of the paid-up capital, which is not surprising. But the corollary needs to be asked: Is there adequate capital provision for the no-FDI companies. It can be seen that 60 per cent of the capital needs of the company are met through local resources. It is the figures for domestic savings and domestic capital formation that give a hint as to capital adequacy. In 2014-15, Gross Domestic Savings stood at 33 per cent and Gross Domestic Capital Formation at 34.20 per cent. The corresponding figure for Net Domestic Savings is 25 per cent and for Net Domestic Capital Formation 26.40 per cent. Domestic savings and domestic capital formation are clearly below the benchmark. The general assumption that a fast-growing economy needs a 40 per cent savings rate holds good.
It would be churlish to either dismiss the crucial role played by FDI in buoying up an economy or to pretend that there is no politics involved in it. When American political and business leaders push for relaxation of FDI rules in India, they are not only helping American businesses but they are also looking at political influence. There should be no illusions on this latter count. Remember American pressures on India with regard to sanctions against Iran. India did find it difficult to manage but it did succeed in keeping its economic deals with Tehran intact. International power politics follow capital flows from the affluent Western countries into relatively capital-starved economies of the East. But you do not shy away from allowing FDI in because you fear the political muscle of the foreign investors and their governments. You learn to take the pressure and play ball with the apparently big guys on terms of near equality.
The more important issue for the Indian growth story is that it needs to rustle up its own capital as one goes along. There is as yet not much thinking or debate on the issue. Post-liberalisation, the thinking has been that India should attract as much FDI as it can. As a matter of fact, the boast of BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has been that India is now attracting greater FDI, and that the liberalisation of FDI caps for a larger number of sectors and the dismantling of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) are touted as achievements on the path of economic reforms. But the RBI figures for FDI companies show that there is a problem, and that FDI cannot entirely meet India’s capital needs. And that it would be a mistake to measure the success of the Indian economy by FDI.




Tuesday, July 04, 2017

From making arms to selling them


Scorpion of US' Textron, the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT)


India has to move towards arms exports to sustain a viable domestic defense production sector

It is quite a relief to hear the sober assessment of Defence Minister Arun Jaitley saying that “defence preparedness” is the best way to ensure stability, and that no country can continue to win wars and battles by importing arms, which is in contrast to the maverick pronouncements of his predecessor, IIT-educated Manohar Parrikar, who has now gone back to his home state of Goa as chief minister, the place and position he came from. Jaitley made the remarks while giving away the Defense Minister’s awards for excellence to Defense Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) at New Delhi on Tuesday (May 30, 2017).
The crux of the new thinking on turning India into a hub of arms manufacture is however quite ambiguous. It is stated that it will be a joint venture between Indian and foreign manufacturers of fighter planes, helicopters, armoured vehicles including tanks, war-ships and submarines.
There is the realistic assessment that India is not yet in a position to become an indigenous arms manufacturing hub, and that there is the embarrassing need for foreign collaboration. Of course, the logic is that in course of time, Indian arms manufacturers should be able to shake off the foreign collaboration and become wholly indigenous. But this premise may not prove to be too promising because foreign armament manufacturers would be thinking ahead too, and they would not want to become redundant in the future. What it would mean is that the foreign arms companies would not share their state-of-art technologies with India.
The alternative would be for India to think in terms of becoming a manufacturing hub for armaments on a multi-national corporation (MNC) basis, where the business strategy would be to become arms exporter. As a matter of fact, this is indeed the unstated vision of many among the security as well as business strategists in the game. It would be simplistic to believe that it is enough if India learns to make armaments for its defence needs. So India needs to think in terms of being an arms exporter if it wants to have a sustainable arms manufacturing base.
There are many examples around the world where the ability to be a competitor in the global arms bazaar is seen as a sign of national prowess. The carping critics of United States’ global cop role argue that the Americans thrive on conflict zones across the world which would help boost the sales of arms they manufacture. There is also the searing critique that the day Americans cannot sell their guns then their economy would collapse. Indirectly, Americans, and the capitalist economy in general, is portrayed as merchants of death.
So, there is a moral dilemma to the whole question which should not be shirked. There might arise a need to construct a rhetoric that the arms exports will only be meant for self-defense of the countries that are buying them from us, and there might have to be clauses restricting re-export as is done by the United States when it sells armaments to Israel and other countries. Most gung-ho strategy experts in the country might scoff at the idea that there is any need to offer a moral defence for the export of arms.
But India has not yet reached the commanding position of arms exports. According to Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures, India’s expenditure on capital procurement from foreign vendors stands at rs 22, 422 crore in 2015-16, which has declined from Rs 35.082 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 24,992 crore in 2014-15. The comparative figures for defence exports are Rs 1,050 crore in 2013-14, Rs 1,682 crore in 2014-15 and Rs 2,014 crore in 2015-16. There is a huge gap between defence imports and exports. It can be said that moral dilemmas of arms exports can be deferred for the moment.
There is however a red herring in the way. There has been talk, even intense lobbying, and justifiably so, that the Indian private sector should become a major player in defense production. And there is the implied criticism that it is the government monopoly that had arrested the growth of the private sector participation in defense production. The reason as to why defense production in India remained with the DPSUs is a historical one. At the time of Independence, the Indian private sector was too weak to even take up the burden of meeting the economic challenges of the country. As a matter of fact, it is the captains of industry who had vigorously argued for the active role of the state in the economy. It is only in the 1990s, it seemed possible to wean the Indian private sector away from protectionism and expose it to global competition.
Secondly, the Indian private sector cannot hope to be at the forefront of research and development in weaponry. The Indian private sector generally has been in the habit of buying off new stuff off the shelf as it were in the global marts. The same logic cannot be easily extended to defense production. There is of course the example of the Boeing-Tata joint venture in Hyderabad which is tasked with producing Apache helicopter fuselages. But Boeing has an enviable R&D in place, which is not the case with the Tatas or with any other Indian private sector conglomeration.
It has also to be noted that even in the United States, the ostensible free market paradise, weapons and other frontier scientific research is done at government-funded laboratories as well as at the universities. India’s R&D spend will have to increase if the country wants to meet its own defense needs as well as hope to increase its footprint in the international arms market.
Therefore, it would be simplistic and even foolhardy to dismiss government-funding of R&D, especially in weapons systems as well as in basic science. India’s strategy experts who want to strut about as pragmatists do not recognise the umbilical cord that connects basic science research with technological spin-offs in the defense industry. There is then need for sensible debate on the issue of arms manufacturing and arms exports in this country. And it has to avoid the extremes of moral squeamishness on the one hand, and cynical swagger on the other.



Monday, July 03, 2017

The asymmetry of India-Israel relations

Prime Ministeer Narendra Modi wwith his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu at their meeting in New York on September 28, 2014 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assemnly session.

India’s right-wingers have to shed their illusions about a militarily strong Jewish state

There is much excitement and expectation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s July 4-6 visit to Israel, greater than his visit to Washington last week. India’s right-wingers, the Hindutva ideologues as well as the strategy hawks, consider the Jewish state to be a prized friend, and even now rue the fact that India kept away from Tel Aviv for more than 40 years. The other side, comprising mainly of leftists, liberals and secularists, have been opposed to India-Israeli links because in their view, it meant letting down the Palestinians, the Muslims in India and the Arab and Muslim world. Of course, both sides are hugely mistaken in their presumptions. The reasons are really complex and no one wants to disentangle many of the strands behind the mushy perceptions.
The right-wingers wrongly believe that closer India-Israeli defence and security relations are to the advantage of India. In their enthusiasm for the Jewish state, which they think is heroically defying the Arab and Muslim world with its single-minded sophisticated defence dragnet, they forget that the differences in size between India and Israel are of such magnitude – the asymmetry is stark – that Israel can benefit from the India connection because India is a huge defence market for Israel but India has little to gain from the deal. Secondly, Israel can never alone meet the defence requirements of New Delhi.
India’s defence needs and strategic compulsions are vastly different from that of Israel. Tel Aviv’s strategic neighbourhood is confined to Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It does not extend even to the larger Arab world. India’s strategic neighbourhood stretches from the Straits of Malacca to the Horn of Africa in the Indian Ocean, and from South-East Asia to West Asia and into Central Asia. In terms of sheer size, India is a giant and Israel is a midget in very objective terms. This mistaken importance given to Israel in the India-Israel equation is akin to the enthusiasts comparing Singapore and India in terms of economic efficiency and standards of living, and popping up the absurd question, “Why cannot India be like Singapore? If Singapore can do it, why cannot India?”
Israel has admirable achievements in the fields o agriculture and science, but there is very little that India can borrow from it. The much acclaimed drip-irrigation has had its day even in Israel, and India’s farm challenges are far more vast and complex.
It would be wrong-headed to think that Israel’s military technology, in spite of its heightened excellence, is of any great importance for India. The Indian military needs and strategies cannot depend on Israel’s experience deriving from a mini-theatre of conflict where it is pitted against a non-military entity like the Palestinian territories and the simple military setup of many of its Arab neighbours. India faces a China that spends far more than India on its defence and a Pakistan which imports all of its military ware from the United States. It should not come as a surprise if Israel would want to sell defence technology to Pakistan. Israel is only too keen to establish diplomatic and political links with Pakistan, and in the last decade, when Pervez Musharraf was calling the shots, the two countries came very close to establishing links through Turkish mediation. Even as the United States sells its military ware to one and all, Israel too is keen to sell to everyone and anyone. So, the strategic hawks are wholly mistaken about Israel’s importance for India in security matters.
The HIndutva ideologues are as far off the mark as the strategy hawks with regard to Israel. They simply misread the Israel issue. The Jewish state is not fighting an ideological battle with the Islamic world. It is not a clash of civilisations of the regular Huntington kind. Islam and Judaism have had smoother relations with each other than Western Christianity of Europe and the Jewish Diaspora. Israel is as a matter of fact an outgrowth of the disturbed history of Western European Christian and Jewish Diaspora relationships, which culminated in the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. The Jews in Europe were the archetypal religious minority. The Jewish Diaspora felt that a Jewish state is its ultimate refuge in a world, especially Europe, divided into nation-states.
Israel just wants to hold on to its present territory, and it is fighting every inch of ground against Palestine because of the gnawing sense of fear and insecurity that any compromise with Palestine would ultimately make it vulnerable. All its military build-up is to save the territorially small state of Israel. It has no plans to spread its territory beyond the larger area of Palestine. Israeli security experts see the emergence of a Palestinian state as a threat to the very existence of the Jewish state. Even if it wants to settle for a two-state solution, Israel wants Palestine to be as militarily weak as possible. This innate fear derives from Israel’s experience of the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars. Here it is not a question of fairness, rationality and legality. And it is necessary to recognise this: Israel desperately wants to be accepted by its Arab neighbours as a legitimate state. It seeks legitimacy and its military belligerence is due to the fact that it has not got it so far. Israel is not a secure state in existential terms.
What Israeli leaders, especially the moderates, expect India to play the role of the trusted mediator between the Jewish state and the Arab states. India’s hesitancy is understandable because this is treacherous territory. The insecurities on both sides are so deep that no one of them would be easily assured by the other. That is why, India has been fighting shy off playing the honest broker, and perhaps rightly so. But it is necessary that India should maintain its trustworthiness with Israel and with Palestine. It would be a folly to play a partisan role in terms of sheer strategy. If Israel has US-derived military technology to offer, the Arab states too are ready to invest with their billions of petro-dollars in the Indian market.
There is need for India’s right-wingers to think right and straight about the shaky position of Israel.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Konkona Sen Sharma's very Bengali directorial debut with "A Death in the Gunj"

It ins passing that one must take note of the fact that Aparna Sen's directorial debut, "36 Chowringhee Lane" was in 1981, when the actress was 35. Her daughter, Konkona Sen Sharma's directorial debut, "A Death in the Gunj" comes 36 years later, when Sen Sharma is 37. Both are films about urban Bengalis, and middle class. In "36 Chworinghee Lane" the Anglo-Indian strand of the story is dominant, and as a matter of fact, Jennifer Kendall's memorable performance as the Anglo-Indian school-teacher is th defining characteristic of the film, and the excellent cinematography of Ashok Mehta with the perfect frames etches itself in memory. In "A Death in the Gunk", the Anglo-Indian strand is a minor one, but it is there. The Bengalis in McCluskie Gunj are quite Anglicised, like many middle class Bengalis of a certain kind.
"A Death in the Gunj" explores in a subdued manner the mildly dark undertones of many of the characters beneath the veneer of cheerfulness. Everything that happens in a distraction from the real issue. It concerns Shutu, played well by Vikrant Massey,the failed graduate student who is mourning the death of his father, and who seems to be on the edge of regression as well as depression. Then there is Mimi, and Kalki Koechlin at last gets the role where she can showcase her acting talent, who is a jilted lover unwilling to let go. The family, Nandu (Gulshan Devaiah), Bonnie (Tilottama Shome), their daughter Tani (Arya Sharma), their parents, the Bakshis, played by Om Puri and Tanuja, form the fulcrum of the story.
What Sen harma manages to do is to get the nuances of a middle class Bengali family, which lives away from Koljata, as many Bengalis do, and retain much of their Bengaliness in terms of middle class values and anxieties.The story unfolds slowly, and the details fill the scenes.It is a 1970s art-house movie -- the story is set in 1979 -- made in 2016. Of course, it is charming. The camera captures the misty loveliness of the hills and the forests. The tragic note is embedded in the lap of gentle wilderness around. Unhappiness becomes memory, which can be recalled without experiencing the trauma.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Modi movement -- from allegro to andante

Prime Minister Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan before Modi was sworn in as prime minister on May 27, 2014

It would be futile to fault Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his grand gestures, rhetorical flourishes and yen for drama. Theatrics is the calling card of politicians, but Modi has cultivated it assiduously to outflank the liberal media in India and in the world which pinned him down for his acts of omission and commission during the Gujarat 2002 post-Godhra anti-Muslim rioting. Though the Indian media in general, including the liberals, were betting on Modi in 2013 and in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the then Gujarat chief minister barely acknowledged the media doffing its hat to him.
And when he became the prime minister in May 2014, he focused on the grand gesture. He started off by inviting the leaders of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) leaders for his swearing-in ceremony on May 27, 2014. The media hailed it as an act of generosity and good will, overlooking the fact that it was both loud and crude. Modi’s swearing-in was no emperor’s coronation, and Saarc members were not vassals. But India’s foreign policy experts were only too thrilled as what they saw as a liberal’s declaration of faith in friendly neighbourliness. Remember, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seen as an ultra-nationalist right-wing party, and any gesture it makes to mark friendship with neighbours is acknowledged with a sigh of relief. But calling in Saarc leaders for the swearing-in was undiplomatic and impolitic, if anything.
He followed this with visits to Bhutan and Nepal, and he hectored in Nepal’s parliament as to how they should govern themselves. Then came the surprise friendly stopover at Lahore on December 25, 2015 to greet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday at the venue of Sharif’s daughter’s wedding festivities. The na├»ve foreign policy watchers at home were ecstatic about this friendly overture, without waiting to see what if any was the fallout of the goodwill visit.
It turned out that 2016 became a testing year in the relationship between India and Pakistan. There were two terrorist attacks at Pathankot on January 3, 2016 and at Uri on September 18, 2016. This was followed by India’s strike against the terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on September 29, 2016, which was termed ‘surgical’ by the government, by the BJP and the media.
When he visited the United States end-September, 2014 to address the UN General Assembly session – the address itself carried the self-assuredness of the self-made man -- what marked the visit was his post-election victory rally in Madison Square on September 28, 2014, where he addressed the non-resident Indians, most of whom turned out to be Gujarati businessmen, including a large number of Bohras. He addressed Indians who made the United States their home as though they were the voters back home. There was no doubt that US-based NRIs were indeed the uncritical supporters of Modi, but it was again an undiplomatic thing to do on the American soil.
On November 17, 2014 he addressed another rally of non-resident Indians at the Sydney Olympic Park. Modi was quite unabashed when connecting with the overseas supporters of the BJP. The last big rally of non-resident Indians he addressed was at the cricket stadium on August 17, 2015. It seems that US President Barack Obama, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Rashid took Modi’s engagement with the NRIs in good faith, and despite the nationalist fervour displayed by both Modi and the NRIs at these events, the bilateral relations remained on an even keel.
In contrast, Modi addressing the Indian-origin Tamils in Sri Lanka, at Norwood in the Central province after the inauguration of India-financed hospital on May 12, 2017 there was nothing similar to what it was in New York, Sydney and Dubai in 2014-15. Modi while lauding the hardships endured by the Tamils, expressed the view that they were part of the warp and wood of the Sri Lankan society. The nationalist rhetoric at Norwood was muted compared to what it was in New York, Sydney and Dubai. Modi is to travel to the United States and have another festive hangout of the NRIs in Houston. But the end-of-June Houston event comes at a time when the Indian diaspora is not experience the high it did in 2014 under the Barack Obama’s second presidency and two terms of George W Bush. The Donald Trump White House does not hold much cheer for the NRIs and they cannot be expected to revel in Modi’s presence. He may want to give them a pep talk instead of a victory speech.
In 2014-15, Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and everyone else in the government that there has been a turnaround in the ‘market sentiment’ about India, and it was attributed to Modi magic. India remained the fastest growing economy in the world with a seven per cent plus annual growth rate, and the Bretton Woods twins, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), praised India as the bright spot of the flagging world economy. But the encomiums did not boost Indian economy. It seems to have stood where it was – unable to do better than the seven per cent growth rate, which would be equivalent to the old Hindu rate of growth of 3.5 per cent annum of the 1950s and 1960s.
The Make in India (September, 2014), Skill India (July, 2015), Digital India (July, 2015), Startup India, Stand Up India (January, 2016) initiatives were ambitious ventures which are going nowhere like all government initiatives anytime, anywhere and which remain public relations campaigns. What seemed to have impressed people are the good old welfare measures like Jan Dhan Yojana et al. But the economy is not in a happy position that it seemed to be two years ago. And the government does not have any plans to counter the periodic low tide of the Indian economy.
Modi government in May 2017 looks a little tired, a little more cautious and much less sanguine than it did in May 2014 and in May 2015. The only tonic for the government and the BJP was the victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The prime minister and his party are basking in the sliver of light of that success.
To use a Western classical music description, the Modi movement started with an allegro, the emphatic and faster rhythm, and it has settled into a slowed-down andante phase. There are as yet no signs of a complicated and graceful adagio in the Modi musical passage. This is a government that has not shown any grace or magnanimity because it feels that it cannot let its guard down, that it should forever remain on the alert, keep a sharp look out, and it should remain suspicious and aggressive. With the 2019 Lok Sabha looming on the horizon, there is just frenetic activity ahead.






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&qu...