Democracy of the emotions

Narendra Modi MiG

This text has been doing the rounds on Indian Whatsapp groups and elsewhere since Narendra Modi Independence Day speech this year:

I don’t say ‪‎Modi‬ is the best pm, but its the first time i watched PM’s speech other than that on 15th august

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its th-e first time i know my country is safe

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time 20k indians gathered in for a politicians speech on a foreign land

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time every NRI is proud

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time 80 countries are listening to indian pm

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time when pakistan is totaly screwd up and china is scared

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time USA knows it not the soul power

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time Obama realised, he is not the most famous politician

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time INDIA seems a superpower

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time The World Knows WHY WE ARE THE WORLDS LARGEST DEMOCRACY

I don’t say Modi is the best pm, but its the first time i know I AM A PROUD INDIAN !!!

It’s generally attributed to Naryana Murthy, something which is frankly improbable, but the source is nevertheless less important than the content.

Nationalistic, typo-laden and open to dispute though its claims may be, I have yet to find a better summary of Modi’s success. His charisma works because it simply overpowers all quibbles. As the text says, Modi’s precise ranking on the list of India’s Prime Ministers is effectively immaterial: having him in charge of things feels good now.

Moreover, it demonstrates why India’s growing liberal middle class has had such a difficult time fighting Modi’s rise. They niggle away at the details of his policies, saying “Ah, but Gujerat’s agricultural growth was actually two percent higher under the previous government” or “The nuclear power investments that he likes to brag about were actually a hangover from the previous government” or similar. Their criticisms may well be true, but it doesn’t matter: you can’t destroy magic by nitpicking.

It’s interesting that when we went to Modi’s rally in Singapore, the other leader that many of his supporters expressed a liking for was Vladimir Putin – someone who has achieved much the same effect in his own country (though minus the barnstorming speeches). In times of uncertainty, it seems, a leader you can have faith in is more important than the technocratic details of policy implementation.

Entourage Swag, Continued

Narendra modi entourage

More politicians should openly refer to their peons as such

Here at HardMoshi, we’re particularly interested in the return of the retinue.The idea of a coterie of hangers-on as a symbol of political power has waxed and waned across time and space. In recent years something that used to be seen as both unnecessary and a strong indicator of vanity and corruption has been making a quiet comeback. And we’ve been here to chart it every step of the way, from Vladimir Putin’s gangsta rap style entourage to the F-17 escort that accompanied Xi Jinping to Pakistan to the Beijing APEC dancers.

We haven’t yet done a focus on India, however, which is a pity because in India the entourage concept has a historical foundation that is possibly unequalled elsewhere in the world. Thanks to the classical Indian passion for classifying and systematising, Sanskrit actually has a selection of distinct official terms for jobs that are basically the ancient equivalent of holding Snoop Dogg’s umbrella.

Snoop Dogg fo drizzle

They have key roles in many classical dramas, where often their name and role are one and the same: pithmarda, ganika, bhikshuki, bandhula, vita, vidushaka, cheta, satri, vagjivana, paricharaka… It’s a mark of how distant we are from the era when this was commonplace that even modern scholars often have trouble telling what any given one of them actually did. While we are aware that, for example, a ganika was a sort of equivalent of a hetaira, a vidushaka was more or less a court jester but with more dignity, a bhikshuki was a (religious?) medicant of some variety etc., it’s neverthless difficult to say with any great precision what any of these people’s nine-to-five would have ressembled. Quite often the roles are miscellaneously rendered into English as “parasites”, which would appear to be as good a translation as any. Indeed, the plays in which they feature can seem something like a debauched Marxist utopia, in which no one does any actual work but abundance prevails.

They’re not just present in dramas, however. They wend their indsidious way through the chapters of the Arthashastra, seldom centre stage, but always on hand when an unsavoury job needs doing – something which seems to suggest that the plays were, indeed, an accurate representation of real life.

Even in the Kama Sutra – a text directed more towards upper middle class dudebros than heads of state – these people are considered a sufficiently important part of life that one is expected to just generally hang out with them (and – presumably – feed and fund them) on a daily basis apparently as a matter of duty:

Meals should be taken in the forenoon, in the afternoon, and again at night, according to Charayana. After breakfast, parrots and other birds should be taught to speak, and the fighting of cocks, quails, and rams should follow. A limited time should be devoted to diversions with Pithamardas, Vitas, and Vidushakas, and then should be taken the midday sleep.

Link.

To modern individuals the idea of being obliged to spend any amount of time with a bunch of scroungers who are constantly trying to foist some unwantable service like juggling or sitar solos upon you sounds, frankly, like a preview of Hell. To a citizen of a violent and unpredictable pre-modern world, however, personal connections – even with as sketchy a bunch of characters as these evidently were – could be the difference between life and death.

And, of course, as the old Cold War order breaks down and life grows more unstable, this sort of relationship is bound to make a come-back. We might call the people involved public relations officers and personal assistants, but the dynamic will be much the same.

Dietary Guidelines

MNS meat protest

World’s least fun barbecue

You may remember that a while back the Indian state of Maharashtra banned beef:

The state that includes Mumbai, India’s financial capital, this week became the latest state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban in the populous western state of Maharashtra, which was passed Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed, subject to permission from the authorities.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was the clear winner in state elections last Octoberafter Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

(…)

The protection of cows is a volatile subject in India, where the animals are revered by the majority-Hindu population. Nearly all of India’s states already have provisions restricting or banning cow slaughter. In addition, the state of Gujarat, Mr. Modi’s home base, bans the sale, purchase and transportation of beef, and Madhya Pradesh State prohibits beef consumption and transportation. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto included promises to work toward “the protection and promotion of cow and its progeny.”

Link.

It is well-known that Narendra Modi is vegetarian, something which – in theory if not in practice – has connotations of moral and religious purity. With the growth of Hindu nationalism, the question of what you eat has taken on a renewed political significance.

So you’d think that the Hindu nationalists would be really happy that Bombay banned the sale of meat for four days this month out of respect for a Jain festival.

Not so much.

The photo above shows members of the MNS, a far right Marathi nationalist party, cooking meat outside a Jain temple in protest. (Also, is it just me or is that the nastiest chicken you’ve ever seen? It looks like it died of syphillis. If you want to convince people to turn vegetarian, that’s a good start right there.) They’re holier than thou, but no holier than that.

The young, secular, urban middle classes for their part, tend to veer between cynicism and depression with regard to the whole spectacle.

Choose your own adventure!

Modi - Xi

Courtesy of my friend Omar, here’s another installment in our occasional series ‘Were these journalists even at the same event?’

Compare Xinhua’s report:

China and India should work together to build a closer, more comprehensive and firmer partnership among the BRICS countries, Chinese President Xi Jinping said here Wednesday.

Xi made the remarks when meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the southwestern Russian city of Ufa ahead of two multilateral summits.

The Chinese president recalled his meeting with Modi in May in the northwestern Chinese city of Xi’an, where the two leaders reached important consensuses on enriching the bilateral strategic partnership and forging a closer partnership of development.

The meeting sent positive signals to the two peoples and the international community that the two major developing nations are committed to cooperating for common development, said Xi.

Thanks to joint efforts of both sides, the agreements reached back then are now being translated into steady progress in bilateral cooperation in such areas as parliamentary exchanges, railway, industrial parks and smart city, Xi said.

The president called on the two countries to make concerted efforts to maintain the positive momentum in the development of bilateral ties and open new prospects for mutually beneficial cooperation.

Xi said the two countries should maintain high-level contact, strengthen multi-level strategic communication, complete feasibility study on major cooperation projects as scheduled and build flagship bilateral cooperation projects.

He suggested the two sides solidly implement the China-India cultural exchange program and beef up think-tank, media and local-level cooperation.

On border issues, Xi called on the two sides to properly manage and control their differences and jointly safeguard peace and security in the border areas.

China and India should make joint efforts to push forward the development of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor, said Xi.

He also proposed to explore ways to effectively connect China’s Belt and Road initiative with India’s relevant development plans, in a bid to achieve mutually beneficial cooperation and common development.

Xi suggested that China and India, both as staunch supporters and active builders of the BRICS mechanism, work together to forge a closer, more comprehensive and firmer partnership within the emerging-market framework, so as to enable the BRICS countries to play a positive and constructive role and contribute more to world peace and development.

For his part, Modi said the India-China ties are enjoying sound development momentum, with mutual trust deepening continuously.

Recalling his meetings with Xi, Modi said the two countries have maintained frequent high-level contact.

In recent years, India and China have further expanded their economic and trade cooperation and made steady progress in cooperation in such areas as science and technology, outer space and infrastructure, Modi said.

Stressing that India welcomes more Chinese investment, Modi said his country stands ready to work with the Chinese side to strengthen strategic communication and coordination and properly manage their differences, including those in border issues.

The Indian side, he said, is willing to beef up cooperation with China under the framework of BRICS and actively participate in the construction and cooperation projects of the NDB and the AIIB, which provide more opportunities for deepening India-China interaction.

It is the fourth bilateral meeting between the two leaders since their first in Fortaleza, Brazil, last July. Respectively in September 2014 and May 2015, Xi and Modi visited each other’s country, including each other’s hometown.

The meeting came before the seventh summit of BRICS, an emerging-market bloc that consists of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit.

The upcoming SCO summit is expected to pass a resolution on starting the procedures of granting India and Pakistan full membership of the organization.

http://en.people.cn/n/2015/0709/c207300-8917604.html

With the Times of India‘s:

PM Modi told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday that China’s support to Pakistan over the issue of Mumbai attacks accused Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi was ‘unacceptable’.

In a meeting on the side lines of BRICS summit here, the two discussed the issue in detail while talking about counter terrorism, said foreign secretary S Jaishankar.

Despite opposition from Modi, China had earlier blocked UN from seeking an explanation over the release of Lakhvi saying that there was no evidence provided by India to merit such an action. Modi emphasized the point in his meeting that many other countries, including all other permanent members of the UN Security Council, believed Lakhvi was a terrorist responsible for the Mumbai attacks which left over 160 people dead.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Chinas-support-to-Pak-over-Lakhvis-release-unacceptable-PM-Modi-tells-President-Xi-Jinping/articleshow/47992923.cms

Ever heard of the Vyapam Exam Scam?

Vyapam

Then you’re not alone. I barely know anything about it, and weird Asian shit is my speciality.

Basically, a bunch of professors, doctors and bureaucrats in Madhya Pradesh were letting pretty much any idiot pass official medical exams in return for bribes.

Normal for India, you might say. And it’s a fair point, although few of these scams lead to over 2000 arrests, including of VIPs.

And then the people involved started dying suspiciously. Again, this isn’t entirely unusual. What is unusual, however, is that it didn’t stop. The official toll is in the 20s round about now, but most people say that really it’s well over forty. These include suicides, accidents, deaths that have been officially attributed – under somewhat iffy circumstances – to illness and, in one dramatic incident, the immolation of the former Dean of NS Medical College on his own lawn. Just recently they appear to have nobbled a journalist whose only crime was interviewing relatives of a previous victim, it being this particular incident that got me thinking about the coverage of the affair.

Obviously, if this was happening in the US or Europe, then we’d hear about nothing else on CNN, morning, noon and night. However, I’m not attributing the lack of coverage entirely to ethnocentrism. There’s also the fact that China and India are so huge and so chaotic, that they can maintain a relatively high level of Gross Domestic Strangeness without any of it necessarily being picked up upon by the rest of the world.

#SelfieWithDaughter

Modi with daughter

So we’ve done politicians’ kids pestering them on Twitter before. Here’s a variation on a theme: a political campaign to upload pictures of your daughter to Twitter to prove that you haven’t aborted her. Which is cute.

Seriously, I’m not kidding:

The hashtag #SelfieWithDaughter started trending worldwide today after Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked people to post their photos during his radio address Mann ki Baat.

PM Modi made the request referring to a contest started by the sarpanch of a village in Haryana – the state that has acquired a dubious distinction for its skewed sex ratio (the number of females to males).

‘Some days ago, a sarpanch in Haryana’s Biwipur village, Sunil Jaglan, had come up with an interesting idea,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘He started the Selfie With Daughter initiative, under which all fathers had to click selfies with their daughters and post it on social media.’

The idea took Twitterati by storm, with proud fathers — and in some cases proud mothers — posting photos clicked with their daughters.

In the afternoon, PMOIndia posted, “#SelfieWithDaughter becomes number 1 Twitter trend in India and also listed in worldwide trend.”

http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/selfiewithdaughter-trends-worldwide-after-pm-modis-mann-ki-appeal-776114

Modi has long held the title of Leader Best at Social Media, but this stands out as a remarkably clever use of Twitter nonetheless. There’s every chance that this one hashtag will have more effect on female birthrates than a million public health information leaflets, so that’s something.

(The perennially anti-Modi liberal urbanites have criticised this for being a pure publicity stunt, since the poorest of the poor, who do a large amount of sex selective abortion, often have no internet access.)

I’m not kidding, those weapons bend if you whack them

Here’s a heartwarming story that’s been doing the rounds in the Chinese press lately: http://world.huanqiu.com/hot/2014-12/5264023.html

It’s about a group of female Muslim school students in Hyderabad who have been learning Chinese martial arts to defend themselves from India’s hordes of marauding rapists.

Except that it clearly isn’t. The pictures all show wushu stage fighting, using pretend weapons.

Stage fighting

While real fighting and stage fighting are related, the latter looks far more impressive (which is what it’s there for, after all), but will not really replace the former in a tight situation. Which is obvious, when you think about it. Jumping four feet in the air to kick-stab a foe looks amazing, but in real life will earn you a swift punch to the groin and much agony. (Also, check out the girl fifth from the right in the front row. If you’re going to be fending off a rapist with a stick, you probably don’t want it to do that.)

And the thing is, it’d be fascinating to find out why a bunch of Muslim schoolgirls are learning Chinese stage fighting, but now the pictures have been attached to some rubbishy made-up story, we’re never going to find out.