Take a bow, Dhruva

I take the liberty to reproduce an outstanding Facebook Post by Dhruva Jaishankar:

I generally refrain from sharing my political views, for two reasons. The first is that I do not have any political allegiances, to any party, in any country. The second is that, because I’m an analyst, my personal views are largely irrelevant. Good policy is good policy, regardless of its origins. Bad policy is always bad. But developments over the last few days have made me really, truly fear for India and its political culture.

First, there is this government under Narendra Modi. Let us dismiss some of the shriller accusations being leveled against the prime minister: he is not a dictator seeking to destroy Indian democracy, nor is he personally responsible for some of the terrible violence that has been in the news of late. India’s society has always been intolerant, and its politics continue to be communally-tinged and marked by violence, which several parties have contributed to over the years. Needless to say, all such violence should be condemned: full stop, no exceptions. But let’s not allow historical amnesia to get in the way of facts: political and communal violence has steadily declined over the past several decades. It is in fact good news that individual incidents are now getting the attention they deserve in the media, and hopefully this will help bring about a complete end to political violence.

But there are three real problems. First, while the PM ran an excellent campaign in 2014 and appealed to voters’ sense of aspiration, all that seems to have now taken a back seat, with any urgency about engineering an economic revolution in India now lost. The best that can be said is that more has been done in the past year than than in the five preceding, but that’s not good enough, and at this rate enough people will be disappointed enough in empty promises so as not to vote again for Modi. Bihar demonstrated this. Second, there is no disputing the poor communication by this government, whether in swiftly condemning heinous acts of violence or even explaining policy successes (and, yes, there have been some important successes over the past 18 months that we will look back upon positively). Indeed even foreign policy (e.g. Pakistan and Nepal) has been poorly explained to the public, while other miscommunication (e.g. on Myanmar and the supposed ‘porn ban’) has been spectacularly embarrassing. Finally, one can buy into the notion that India can be both a Hindu country and a ‘secular’ country (as some in the BJP argue), but still believe that important lines have occasionally been crossed. In my mind, a certain Doordarshan broadcast in October 2014 was one such occasion.

Then, there is the opposition. Despite perhaps the greatest political setback in the history of the Congress Party last year, there has been no shake-up, no new ideas, and no stirring from the terrible complacency that marked UPA-II. It is telling that even as the BJP has suffered reversals in Delhi and Bihar, the Congress has not made any real gains. They are still clinging to a politics of negativity and of paternalism, and to rhetoric that romanticizes poverty rather than seeks to overcome it. Its leaders appear unwilling to reflect on their past failures. They have not convincingly countered even a single argument for booting them out in 2014. I for one would like to see a more credible Congress that can make a convincing case for why it is fit to govern India in the future. There’s nothing better for politics than a dose of healthy competition. But that does not seem to be forthcoming. In 2019, voters could yet declare a plague on both these houses.

Politicians will be politicians. By far my greatest disappointment over the past few days, weeks, and months has been with our intellectuals, our commentators, many of whom I consider friends. Perhaps it is the influence of television news or social media, but – other than some notable exceptions – I find most are now indistinguishable from the anonymous online trolls they despise. They make no effort to hide their personal prejudices or mask their private vendettas. Their opinions are visceral rather than grounded in any dispassionate analysis, their rhetoric prone to hyperbole and flights of fancy. Some merrily change tack at the slightest shifting of the wind. Many suffer from acute martyrdom complexes. They counter anti-intellectualism with elitist disdain. All of this may work in the St. Stephen’s debating society, but it trivializes and fatally distorts national public discourse. People may detest Modi and his ilk, and the divisive electoral rhetoric they employed in Bihar, but the glee with which they are cheering on Lalu Prasad Yadav, a man who is synonymous with bad governance and regressive politics, is astonishing. Some, I am convinced, would rather that Modi Sarkar fail than India succeed, and cannot distinguish that instinct from their responsibility to hold a nationally-elected government to account. Is it any wonder then that I should despair for India, a country where the trolls are intolerant anti-intellectuals and where the intellectuals have become intolerant trolls? [Link]

If any of you had missed his earlier piece in ‘Foreign Policy’ on the USA policy towards AfPak, you missed something. It is here.


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