Saturday, March 11, 2017

State assembly election results: Is it Modi wave or anti-incumbency wave?

The huge victory of BJP in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election indicates a massive affirmation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policy of having development as the central agenda of governance.

This is a state that is very polarized in terms of religion and caste. But the results show that BJP has had an overarching influence on people across region and caste. So it would be difficult to say that polarization has had an effect.

My guess is that people were tired of Mulayam Singh and the infighting in Samajwadi Party. Mayawati and her BSP didn't have much to offer. People chose change. BJP agenda looked good enough with less talk of religion and more emphasis on welfare of people. Modi government's performance also served as a good indication of that.

Crucial numbers in Rajya Sabha for BJP

The huge win will also mean that Modi will have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha and his government will be able to push through crucial legislations pertaining to reforms.

BJP has done well in Uttarakhand overthrowing Congress. Manipur too is a big consolation for BJP. Obviously they were not hoping to overthrow Okram Ibobi Singh, who has been the chief minister since 2002. But BJP's success is in making a mark in a state where it had virtually negligible presence.

Gandhi family hold slipping?

The pathetic show of Congress in UP and Uttarakhand clearly indicates that India's first political family has lost its touch and hold over the masses. Rahul's Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi has gone the BJP way. He fiercely but poorly campaigned in UP. He lacked ideas, and merely made fun of what Modi was saying. He didn't have anything original and substantial to offer.

The one state where Congress has put up a good show, Punjab, it has been a victory of Amarinder Singh. And not of Sonia or Rahul. So it's a clear cue that Sonia and Rahul should give way to a non-family leadership of the party. Hopefully the party will learn the lesson at least now and make amends before the next round of state elections.

Impact of local issues

The Modi magic, if at all there is one like that, hasn't worked in two out of five states. In Punjab and Goa, BJP lost power.

While we speak of the effect of Modi, we must bear in mind that these are state assembly elections, where many local issues matter a lot. Remember, ruling parties have lost in UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa. Only in Manipur the incumbent party has retained power.

So, while we are tempted by sheer numbers, and we speak of today's big story as affirmation of Modi mantra and rejection of Gandhi family, isn't it more of an anti-incumbency wave than Modi wave?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Reveiw - One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat

One Indian Girl
​Generally, you get to hear people saying they don't like Chetan Bhagat's books but I didn't find any reason why I should dislike his latest book One Indian Girl. This is one typical Chetan Bhagat book, with a simple story line, easy to read. Period.

One comment I have heard is that the protagonist, Radhika, stereotypes Indian women. She is just one Indian girl and there are many such young women in this vast country, and Chetan Bhagat has chosen to write about one such woman.

Another comment that I have heard is that she exemplifies the new Indian feminist. That's a term I am not comfortable with simply because I haven't really understood what that means, in spite of the best of my efforts.

Instead, I would say Radhika is typical of the new generation young Indian woman in a big city who has benefited from the comforts and advantages of these modern times to be independent, confident, devoid of inhibitions, determined and persevering to realise her goals in life.

The story is not just about Radhika as a successful banker, but also about Radhika as a woman.

Be it for a man or a woman, the pulls of the mind and the heart can be in the same direction or in different directions. When it is the latter, there is conflict, and life becomes complicated. Radhika summons the strength of her mind to settle a serious dilemma staring at her.

This is the first book where Chetan Bhagat writes as a woman. He said at the Bengaluru Lit Fest that he wasn't confident, and ended up showing the script to about 20 women before publication, and went on to incorporate some of their suggestions. At the end of it all, I don't think it is a bad job at all.

One Indian Girl by Chetan Bhagat
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dear father, you will be remembered forever

It's a month since my father passed away. I am still coming to terms with his absence. This, in spite of the fact that he was very realistic and practical about what he could and he could not do.

During the last few months he had virtually signed off from all activities, and even spoke about his departure; going as far as telling us that he might not survive October.

Probably, thanks to the strong value systems he practised, and the strength of his mind and intellect, he was up and about, albeit with support, till the very last day. He passed away in sleep around 3.30 am, on November 29.

36 years of teaching

My father, N. Balakrishnan Nair -- or NBN as he was fondly referred to in Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Thiruvananthapuram, where he taught for 28 years -- was born in North Parur, Ernakulam, on October 22, 1929.

He did his primary and secondary school education in North Parur, and completed his Intermediate and B.Sc. from University College, Thiruvananthapuram from 1943 to 1947.

He worked as lab chemist in FACT Aluva, Ernakulam, from 1947 to 49; and did MSc in Chemistry from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, from 1949 to 1951. From 1951 to 59, he worked as a lecturer in Chemistry in NSSH College, Changanessery, Kottayam. From 1959 to 1962, he worked as a junior scientist in Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs in Delhi and Chenganoor, Alappuzha.

His stint in Sainik School was the longest: from Feb 14, 1962 to April 14, 1990. Post retirement, from 1990 to 1996, he worked part time as a volunteer in two orphanages near North Parur teaching children craft work.

A role model, father figure

For my father, students were the first priority. He used to say that it is the duty of teachers to be as helpful to students as possible. Because of his sincerity, commitment, and patience, he was a favourite of his students.

In Sainik School, which is a boarding school, where children join at the age of 11 and leave at the age of 18, he was a guide, mentor, and a father figure. Children always felt comfortable to approach him, confide in him and seek solutions to their issues. They looked up to him as a role model.

The Chemistry laboratory

He loved being in the Chemistry laboratory. Thanks to him, children right from the age of 11, when they were in sixth standard, got laboratory hour during the Chemistry classes. Each student had his own table, with all equipment and solutions for himself. Father used to say no student should have to borrow even a match stick from another student. From learning how to light a Bunsen Burner oneself at the age 11 to doing complicated salt analyses at the age of 18: children did them all themselves. Probably in no other school, students get to work in a chemistry laboratory for seven long years at a stretch during their schooling.

He was extremely humble, and always remained in the background. When students expressed gratitude for the help he had rendered, he used to say, good students make good teachers; all the credit should go to the students and not to him.

Alumni association

My father was instrumental in forming the Old Boys Association in Sainik School way back in 1969, when alumni associations and meetups were not much heard of. He wrote letters to former students, buying postal material from his own salary.

Every letter or greeting card sent by students was replied to without fail. He kept a notebook, a despatch register of sorts, in which he entered the name, address and date on which letters were received, and the date on which he replied to them.

His letters are considered a priceless gem, for the thoughts he articulated, and the way he presented them. Many of his students have preserved his reply to their wedding invitations.

Father used to say that a school should never forget its students, and he painstakingly built the OBA, as the alumni group was called. Today it's a very strong and well-networked association of all past students, and contributing in multiple ways to help out other alumni as well as the alma mater. There are innumerable anecdotes on how ex-students have reached out to fellow alumni in times of need.

The very latest is this: a few days ago there was mail in our email group, about a alumnus losing his baggage during a flight, and that he wasn’t getting proper answer from the airlines. Within a few hours of posting the email, another alumnus, a pilot, who saw the mail, worked his contacts, and replied saying the baggage has been found, and that it’s being sent to him. There are so many anecdotes like this.

Lessons in life

Very organised and disciplined in his daily routine, father helped inculcate good value systems in students. We thank him not just for the lessons in Chemistry, but for lessons in life as well. One of his principles was that we must always be ready to make small sacrifices so that we can achieve a larger good, and move forward in life. And he made a number of sacrifices, big and small in his life.

Another of his principles was never to judge people, and he never proclaimed his opinions about anything. He believed in giving every individual her freedom of thought and action, and was he was critical of people, mainly politicians, who insisted what languages children should learn or what dress they should wear, or what food they should eat.

He was very reticent, guarded in speaking out, probably because he himself was very sensitive about what others spoke about him. One must be very careful and think through before expressing our views about something, he used to say.

Busy and active life

He truly believed in the old saying: "Idle mind is a devil's workshop", and made sure that he kept himself occupied always.

He believed that there are four aspects to our being: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual; and it is important for us to pay attention to each of them equally, and keep them strong.

He exercised regularly. He never went to the gym, or went for walk in a park. He practised yoga (mainly breathing and stretching exercises) at home.

Importance of diet

He maintained a very strict diet discipline. He avoided sugar, salt and oil, especially after retirement. His food was mainly made up of an assortment of boiled rice and cut vegetables like bitter gourd and beans.

My father was an admirer of Linus Pauling, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1954 for peace in 1962. The scientist had advocated the power of Vitamin C to increase our immunity and also protect us from diseases. Quite naturally, my father regularly had vitamin and mineral supplements, to make up for the possible shortfall in the normal food.

He read a lot, and was very knowledgeable. One reason students liked his chemistry classes was because, in addition to equations, compounds and chemical reactions, he used to narrate interesting anecdotes related to historical events and personalities.

He was a member of the British Library in Thiruvananthapuram, and he got me also enrolled as a member soon after my 10th standard. Once in a month we used to go the library. This landmark institution in the Kerala capital was shut down in 2008. (British Library, Thiruvananthapuram, to close down, Hope for British Library, Thiruvananthapuram)

Father believed in the need to have engaging hobbies. Solving word and number puzzles like Sudoku was one of them. He learnt Russian, and spent some half an hour reading Russian books. He read some religious text; and kept himself emotionally strong by being realistic and practical about everything that happened around him.

Hobbies should also be something that involves physical work. He played the violin. He knew bookbinding and introduced it as a hobby for the school students. He also made boxes out of discarded paper containers of toothpaste, cereals etc. He gave these boxes to his former students and their family members when they visited them. They are treasured as priceless souvenirs.

After retirement, the time for these activities increased. He devoted some time in the kitchen as well, especially after my mother became too old and weak to cook food and wash vessels. For him, the kitchen came closest to what a laboratory was.

The downslide

The extent and intensity of his activities reduced over a period of time, but he carried on doing most of these till around October-end. The turning point came on October 10 when he lost balance and was about to fall when he bent down to put the violin back in the box. I was around and held him. From then on, he gradually lost confidence, and began to feel weaker and weaker.

But even a day before he passed away, he mustered enough strength to get up and walk up to the dining table to have lunch and dinner on Nov 28. As usual, after dinner, we went up to bathroom, brushed his teeth, and went to bed.

For about a month, his breathing had become a bit laboured, and one could hear him inhale and exhale, often through his mouth. I would ask him if he had any discomfort, and he would say, no nothing. And, in a sense, that sound had become a reassurance of his presence.

Around 3.30 that night, I didn’t hear that familiar breathing sound. I, for moment, thought he might have turned over to one side. But I didn’t want to take a risk, and decided to check on him. There was no response. Life went out of him; very quietly, peacefully.

Dear father, you will be remembered forever. May your soul rest in peace.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000: Could Modi have done it differently?

On November 8, just when a large number of Americans were queuing up to cast their votes in, what would turn out to be a historic presidential election, here in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise and unscheduled appearance on national television at 8 pm, in what would turn out to be a startling economic policy pronouncement that made as much as 86 per cent of India's currency invalid.

His aim was to wipe out the massive amounts of counterfeit banknotes in the denomination of Rs 500 and Rs 1000; and also to render invalid huge stacks of these currency that have been set apart to fuel unlawful practices like street protests, terror activities and corruption.  

Modi, who has survived cataclysmic social upheavals in Gujarat as its chief minister, knows well not only the power of symbolism but also that for anything to have a lasting impact it has to be swift and strong. The November 8 'surgical strike' on people who are wrecking India's economy and financial well-being, fitted well into the Modi style of governance.

The severity of Modi's decision can be gauged from the fact that it took at least one full day for the new economic order to sink in. Almost immediately, the stark reality of what is in every Indian's wallets struck each of them -- invalid Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes and very few valid Rs 100 notes. Indians simply ran out of cash. And, to make it worse, banks and ATMs too ran out of cash. So, Modi's assurance that the invalid notes can be exchanged in banks for new ones amounted to not much.

Today is the ninth day; and instead of things getting better, seemingly it's getting worse. For example, today, the revenue secretary announced that the old notes can be swapped for new ones in banks only up to a maximum of Rs 2,000 per person. It was Rs 4,500. Since many ATMs aren't working, there is no point in depositing in accounts, since the money can't be withdrawn. 

While Prime Minister Modi deserves credit for taking this bold step, the lengthening queues outside banks and ATMs are fueling discontent among people and making both purchases and selling difficult. In short, it's hurting the economy, may be in the short term. But how it will play out in the coming days is not known.

Why Modi is correct

* Corruption is endemic in India. When the going gets tough, reach out for the banknotes, seems to a national mantra. Though it is commonly associated with government-related services, people bribe their way to convenience very often. While in some instances, cash can speed up matters, on other occasions it can mean serious compromise in quality. And, when government services are corrupted, nation's financial health weakens.

* Black money is in plenty. This is a large amount of unaccounted wealth. The beneficiaries are individuals, and groups of people who run organizations. The losers are the country (the government) and institutions, both private and public. Basically Indian financial culture is such that it promotes illegal wealth. For example, people don't mind forgoing the bill in return for a discount. They fake bills and financial agreements to escape tax. Many resort to cash transactions to avoid leaving a trail which would result in payment of tax. Poor people are only too willing to accept wads of currency from political parties who seek their votes. It's a huge ugly mess.

* Fake banknotes in the denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 were so many that banks themselves were dispensing them and honest people too had them in their wallets.

* India has to reduce its dependence on hard cash. There has to be more of cheque or electronic transactions that will leave a trail. Unless people are pushed into it like this, the lethargic, complacent average Indian will not change.

Could this have been done differently?

* The Prime Minister had to make it a surprise announcement, since any inkling of this would have resulted in people turning black money into white, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.

* It was common knowledge that - considering the amount of fake notes in circulation - demonetization was the only option. The most intuitive of the businessmen might have seen this coming, sooner than later.

* While the announcement of demonetization would have had to be a surprise, at the backend the government could have set the stage to minimise the hardship for people. 

* The RBI (Reserve Bank of India, the banking regulator) could have increased the supply of Rs 100 notes and instructed the banks not to put Rs 500 and Rs 1000 back into circulation. Instead new Rs 500 notes could have been put into circulation. It would have been a gradual process, and no one would have found anything amiss there. 

* May be a month into this quiet backend operation, the Prime Minister could have made the announcement of demonetization of the "old" bank notes. This way, while the end objective of curbing black money (it can't wiped out totally) would be achieved, the subtlety of the operation would have ensured that people had minimum inconvenience. 

What is at stake?

* This has both political and economic implications. Modi's advantage is that the opposition is fragmented, rudderless and leaderless. Elections in UP and Punjab could end up as a referendum on Modi's governance.

* Undoubtedly, business across the board has been hit. There isn't any cash around. Many people say this is just a temporary phenomenon. But how things would be dramatically better after a few months is not known.

* Nothing will totally wipe away black money from the economy. It can be reduced to a considerable extent. The government will have to follow this up with raids on tax evaders, bringing them book or even imprison them. Otherwise, this will just go down in history as a political stunt which amounted to nothing but inconvenience to the people.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton: stunning but not surprising

What has happened in the US today is not what was probable but what was possible. Donald Trump had promised a Brexit like outcome and that has come true.

What's stunning is Trump's win rather than Clinton's defeat. But I am not surprised. What has mattered finally is the frustration of the grassroots of the society like middle class and working class with a system that simply didn't work for them.

His win has followed a familiar pattern where anti-establishment forces have prevailed over status quo-ist, and politically correct conformists. We saw that in the Brexit referendum. We saw that in the rise of Narendra Modi and of Arvind Kejriwal; and also of Rodrigo Duterte as the President of the Philippines.

This is more of Trump's victory than that of the Republican Party, because another reason for the historic result is the yawning gap between political parties and the people.

Trump and Clinton stuck to the script. He blasted the elitist Washington coterie and promised moon to middle class, factory workers, delivery boys and gas station employees. She attacked Trump, focused on women, immigrants and educated elite. Finally his script worked.

The way Trump controversially but steadily worked his way through the primaries to the White House is remarkable. He began as nothing. And as he progressed, no one seemed to like his ways. But he was progressing. That was a reality, which a vast majority of people, and the media, either were blind to, or thought would peter out finally. But that was not to be.

What we now need to see is how far Trump will be able to bring the fractured Republican Party and its supporters together. Because without that unity, he won't be able carry through many of his grandiose plans. Actually he will need to reach out across the aisle as well. There is a limit to how much confrontation can achieve.

The first indications of what the Trump presidency will be came in his acceptance speech. He is doing what inevitably he has to -- sounding Presidential, conciliatory and inclusive.

But still we really don't know what his plans are. He has broken many rules already. So we can expect quite a few out of the box policy plans from him. Exciting days ahead.

Donald Trump's acceptance speech

Hillary Clinton's concession speech

Barack Obama's speech on Trump victory

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Book Review: The Madras Affair by Sundari Venkatraman

The Madras Affair
It was the catchy title of this book that made me check it out on Kindle Unlimited.

But, even before getting over 25% of the book, I was impressed by a very unlikely aspect of it: there were no typos or grammatical errors. I have spotted many mistakes in e-books even by well-known authors, and I wondered if the physical books too had them, or these errors were there only in the e-version, due to some technical issues. Kudos to the publishers, Readomania!

The book made very easy and good reading. The theme is a socially relevant one. Urban or rural, there are many families that give traditional customs precedence over individual comforts and happiness. "What will people say ... " often determines decisions. This book deals with it at different stages.

The story revolves around the life of Sangita. How much ever we are advanced in terms of money, education or technology, there are many 'Sangitas' around. They are trapped by the diktats of family elders who take false pride in adhering to some age-old customs, at the cost of the happiness and well-being of their own daughters or sisters. Some remain trapped for their entire lives; some manage to escape. The author has done well to not only focus on the life of a Sangita, but also give a positive spin to her story, and debunk a few myths.

The plot is well-structured and the story line generally flows well, though I thought at a few places the author could have detailed the scene a bit more, for emphasis. I shall refrain from mentioning those, lest it will be a spoiler.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Trump should have told Chris Wallace when he was asked if he would accept election result

In the third and last US Presidential debate today early morning, Indian time, I thought Donald Trump performed much better than the previous two debates.

He was calmer, he didn't interrupt Hillary Clinton or the moderator (Chris Wallace) as often he did on the previous two occasions; and he seemed to be more focused and prepared. He seemed to be putting Hillary on the defensive on quite a few occasions.

The Republican presidential hopeful's trump card has always been that Hillary has experience, but it's a bad experience. Another is that Hillary only talks, never does or gets anything done.

Trump has no experience, and, therefore, has no baggage. People who are backing Trump are the ones who are willing to take the gamble to entrust the leadership of the US to someone who is not an original politician; and the hope is that he will fare differently, taking America out of the current problems.

But all the ground Trump seemed to be gaining finally, he lost with one answer: his refusal to say that he will accept the verdict of the election.

It was a very dangerous statement. I am sure Trump and even the audience didn't immediately get the full implications of that. What he said sounded more like what we are used to hearing in nations where democracy hasn't really taken root or in nations ruled authoritarian rulers.

Trump's pronouncement (like a few earlier too) didn't fit into the image of America the world has. In fact, his non-commitment has turned out to be the only real highlight of the debate. The rest of the debate was all on predictable lines.

For the record, here is the transcript of the relevant portions, which I am sure will go down in history.

Chris Wallace: ".... Your running mate Governor Pence pledged on Sunday that he and you, his words, will absolutely accept the result of this election. Today your daughter Ivanka said the same thing. I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely, sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of the selection?"

Trump:  "I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking anything now I will look at it at the time. What I've seen, what I've seen it so bad. First of all the media is so dishonest  ..... "

Wallace: "But, sir."

Trump: " .... We will find out on November eighth but I think they’re going to see through it. ... "

Wallace: "But sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact one of the prides of this country, is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner, not saying that you are necessarily going to be the you loser or the winner, but that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country, are you saying that you are not prepared now to commit to that principle?"

Trump: "What I'm saying now is I will tell you at the time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?"

Of course, Trump isn't categorically saying that he won't accept the verdict.

However, he could have said something on these lines:

I am sure I won't have to make a concessions speech because I won't be the loser. It's Hillary who will have to. But since you asked the question, even though it's been a rigged election, I will make the same commitment that I will absolutely accept the result of the election. That's a great American tradition that I will honour.

If Trump had said this, he would have gained a few undecided voters, who knows may be even a few Democrat supporters sitting on the fence. He wouldn't have lost anything. And Wallace wouldn't have had to ask the more pointed supplementary question.

But then, that wouldn't have been Trump -- the aggressive, unpredictable, wildcard politician, who has progressed this far.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Trump dream of mending a broken America

Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again
If you have been following Donald Trump's campaign speeches, you wouldn't find anything extraordinarily new in this book. However, the book elaborates on some of the pet themes of this realty mogul and reality star.

Trump's premise is that America resembles a Third World country. Everything is broken. But not beyond repair. And he alone can fix it.

His arguments are superficial; and often unidirectional. On the face of it, some of the things he talks about seem to make sense, but when you are talking of a huge, multicultural nation like the US, its Presidential aspirant can't have blinkers. He needs to have a holistic and a macro view of different aspects of the nation.

Somewhere towards the latter half of the book I began getting the feeling that he has just one solution: create more and more business opportunities for people. So create more and more hotels, resorts, malls etc etc. even if heritage structures or whatever have to be broken down.

That way, he will bring in more jobs, and prosperity. His route to fixing America is only via more and more dollars. Not surprising, because, he is basically a businessman. And, I doubt if he has any interest in or understanding of any other facet of a multicultural society.

At the same time, he says somewhere in the book, that getting rich is no guarantee to becoming happy. He talks of American values, which are not elaborated. And, there is somewhere a disconnect.

The book is more about his dreams, of mending a broken country. But the full, long road map isn't there. Just elect him as the next President of the US. That's all. Leave the rest to him.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton gains from Donald Trump's errors

The expectations ahead of the second US Presidential Debate that took place today was akin to one ahead of soap operas. Much of the blame must be taken by the Republican nominee Donald Trump.

It all began with the 2005 video tape that surfaced on Friday, in which Trump bragged about how his celebrity status allowed him to grope and make other sexual advances to women. That this 11 year-old tape should come to light only a few days before the debate and less than a month ahead of the poll, is more than mere coincidence. Also, it's not the first time presidential candidates have had to face ghosts from the past at the most wrong time. It's politics that a democracy gives room for.

Understandably, there was huge uproar. Trump was forced to apologize. Anyone else would have sought this unseemly distraction to end there. But not Trump. At the end of the apology, he made it plain clear that the topic would be discussed in the coming days, and signed off sounding a bit ominous, see you at Sunday's debate.

Trump then turned his focus on Bill Clinton. He got four women who have accused Bill Clinton of transgressions, on stage before the press, a couple of hours before the debate. And according to Washington Post and NBC News, there was a plan to get the four women to confront Bill just as they were to walk in for the debate. But the whole plan was nixed.

As expected, Trump raised the topic during the debate. but Hillary, who was well prepared, refused to take the bait, and steered clear of this non-topic, and focused on current topics of importance to the public.

Trump had come to the debate so much on the defensive and in negative territory, it was pretty easy game for Hillary. She knew Trump was already messing things up further; and she had to only ensure that she didn't make any mistakes. There was no need for her to push Trump deeper into the mess.

It was a dead pan performance by Hillary. She didn't score any major points; and there were no knockout punches. But thanks to Trump's conduct, Hillary seemed to be the winner today, without making winning strokes.

As I write this, it's the day after in the US; and news is breaking that House Speaker Paul Ryan has declared that he will not support Trump. But he hasn't withdrawn his endorsement. Things are so bad, that running mate Mike Pence has had to declare that he hasn't still quit the race.

Polls are showing that Hillary is gaining now. It will be too difficult for Trump to close the gap or even overtake, unless there is a miracle.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

India avenges terror attacks with surgical strike. Now, what next?

Finally, the long-awaited avenging of the Uri attack has taken place. Remember the the buzz on the social media a few days ago? See my previous post.

The day's excitement, which began with the news that the Prime Minister had cancelled a meeting to discuss the status of the Most Favoured Nation status of Pakistan, has lasted right up to the end of the day.

Instead of the meeting on the MFN status, the PM chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs. At that time it was also announced that there were will be a rare joint press conference by the MoD and MEA. There was immediate speculation on what is going to be announced.

The announcement of the “surgical operation” came at that press briefing by the DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh. (Surgical strike is a military operation aimed at hitting their targets precisely with little or no collateral damage to surrounding areas.) He said that the Indian troops crossed the Line of Control and destroyed several launch pads. Many terrorists died, and there were no casualties on the Indian side. When journalists wanted to ask questions, it was announced that the officials won't take any questions, and the press meet ended.

Officials seem to have briefed journalists off the record; and through the afternoon a number of details of the operation filtered out. At least 38 terrorists were killed. Seven launch pads were destroyed. The troops went up to 6 km inside the Pak-occupied Kashmir. And the operation began around 12.30 am and lated till around 4.30 am. In the night, more details of the operation are emerging.

Pak reaction

Interestingly, Pakistan in its reaction, said the Indian claim was a lie. “There was no surgical strike. It was just a cross-border shelling in which two Pakistani soldiers died,” is the gist of that reaction.

In a way that shows their “guilt”. Because if they didn't have anything to hide, they would have reacted saying, “India, without any provocation crossed the LoC, smashed infrastructure resulting in many deaths.” Nothing of that sort.

In these days of rapid information dissemination, it's difficult to hide anything. And wonder if the people of Pakistan will believe their government's reaction that nothing actually happened.

More surgical strikes?

I don't think there will be any immediate major retaliation by the Pakistan defence forces. Because, Pakistan isn't even saying that India conducted surgical strikes. So, for what should they retaliate?

But Pakistan, terming last night incident as only s cross-border shelling, says they will not brook any further aggression. That is significant. Because, that is like a warning to India. “Once it's okay, We will look the other way. But if you are going to make this a habit, don't think we will keep quiet,” That seems to be what they are meaning.

It will be naive on India's part to assume that Pakistan will not hit back. That is why Indian defence forces are at maximum alert; ready to take on even any surprise retaliation.

The government sources are saying that this will not be a one-off surgical strike. There will be a sustained bid to end the cross-border infiltration and the terror that is flowing into Jammu and Kashmir.

That means there is a change from in our policy from being a passive witness to an active combatant. It is only natural that there is such a change, as the moralistic high ground based on peace hasn't exactly brought about any tranquility at all. It is only being seen as a weakness, and capitalised on.

But in the long run, military strikes can't actually solve any political or social issue. It can neutralize a combative situation, and create a climate for a civilian agreement. That's what Prime Minister Narendra Modi should finally aim at – end this decades-old problem once and for all, using all means, military and civilian.