Monday, 15 November 2010

What's in it for India, Obamaji?

India is just recovering from an Obama spell for the past week or so. There are various analyses on the different things he did and did not. The best way, I think, to sum up US President Barack Obama’s visit to India is the way a friend commented on the Obama visit on facebook -- Obama angane nammaley padhapichu. He also posted a translation for the less privileged ones -- Obama has buttered us up with his sweet nothings! How true!

All the sweet talk, rhetoric on security and cooperation and ‘India’s vital role in world order’ will keep the Indian media and pundits busy for a few days. To get a hang of this a bit of Indo-US diplomatic history is essential. I’m not sure if how many caught a good analysis of the history of US meddling with Kashmir since Independence by Goplaji Malviya in the The New Indian Express (

There are many things that stand between an Indo-US relationship that India envisages and a relationship the US desires. And the reason for this is not far. President George W Bush had stated this sometime during his first term in office -- ‘the US has no friends, only allies’. And in politics there are no permanent allies; they keep changing according to the political realities of the time. This fact is tacitly discussed by Harold A Gould, a visiting scholar in the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia, in his book The South Asia Story where he describes the relationship various US presidents have had with India and it is clear that India has always been viewed with difference, as the ‘other’.

If now the US has started looking towards India it is not because India has ‘reached’ the world high table (as if often said about India). We should not forget that India’s record on various Human Indices is worse than sub-Sahara Africa. If the West has started to give India a glance it is only because of the latter’s growing economy and the chances these countries see in advancing their cause by getting into partnerships with New Delhi.

Regionally also India is not the nation to look up but one must admit that India is ‘on its way’ to greater height. The greatest example of the neglect was seen when India was not invited to the 50 nation conclave discussing the future of the Af-Pak region early this year. At that time the US did not see it fit to acknowledge India’s ‘important presence in Afghanistan’ as a vital factor’. Today Obama is all praise for the good job India has done in the war-torn country. Talk about changing perceptions!

I don’t think that his visit is in anyway a message to China. All the analysis that the US wants to check an intimidating Beijing by boosting New Delhi is thin air. We are no match for the power that China has risen to be today and no one knows that better than the US. More than $2 trillion of foreign reserves is with China. Annual trade between China and the US is around $50 billion while with India it is $13 billion.

No matter how much we try to deceive ourselves into the supposed grandeur of Obama’s visit, the fact remains that the world’s most powerful man came calling on because it was necessary for him to create jobs in the US to salvage his job. One should not forget that his ratings have been climbing downhill ever since his historic win in 2008. It seems like he lost a magic talisman he was keeping until November 4 and is now in the hunt for it. Obama’s India visit is sure a big boost for him back home as he has brought 50,000 jobs and business worth $10 billion.

Obama has told what we in India were waiting to listen. Our fixation in painting Pakistan black and that of getting a permanent seat at the UNSC have blurred our vision for the actual targets -- focusing on increasing our GDP and investing more in R&D. Obama’s visit in a nutshell has done more damage to India than the likely benefits it is to bring about. The damage is long-term and the benefits are only likely.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Media and telegenic violence

The quality of a democracy is measured in the freedom its citizens enjoy, under the Constitution, to voice their views without fear. Productive discussion, constructive criticism and the sagacity to ‘agree to disagree’ should be the yardstick used to measure the maturity of a democracy. It is not a positive sign when the state fails to protect this freedom from being questioned or intimidated by power or might. On Sunday (October 31) this freedom was intimidated when around 100 BJP Mahila Morcha women gathered outside the residence of Arundhati Roy and indulged in vandalism in the pretext of protesting against the writers pro-azaadi stand on Kashmir. Without getting into the merits of her statement, it should be said that the right to express oneself cannot be usurped. If there is anything ‘seditious’ in her words it is the duty of the government to look into it.

It is a cause for concern that similar acts of violence are on the rise; acts which once were the generally associated with the Shiv Sena in Mumbai who resorted to high-handedness in the name of the Marathi manoos, but now is common, be it the Sri Ram Sene unashamedly bashing up girls in Mangalore or religious fanatics chopping the palm of a professor in Kerala.

The police and the television media should also be blamed for their ‘tacit’ encouragement to such forms of protests. That the incident occurred at 11 am in the morning in a high-security diplomatic enclave of Luytens’ Delhi leaves a lot of explanation from the side of the police, especially because this was the second such attack on the writer’s residence, the last one in June this year.

What is disturbing is that before the group gathered and resorted to violence three different TV news channel crews were present in full gear to cover the incident. The question is: Were the news channels intimated about the protests? If so, why were the police caught unawares? Did the presence of cameras and OB vans egg the crowed to resort to violence? It is a known fact that media presence, especially live coverage, is the much-needed oxygen for such trouble mongers.

It seems that in the rat-race for survival of TV news channels, it is not just people who are being ‘sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings’, to quote Arundhati Roy, but so are the fundamentals of journalism. It should not be forgotten that the above mentioned June attack was a result of a false report that appeared in the media about the author. The violence resorted to by right-wingers, the callousness of the police (administration) and the insensitivity and irresponsibility of the media (particularly broadcast) is a deadly cocktail that we should avoid at any cost.

(The edited version of this has appeared in The New Indian Express. Link: