BBC News – ‘Strongman’ image may not win votes for Narendra Modi

Good intentions are ubiquitous in politics, wrote American economist Bryan Caplan. What is scarce, however, are “accurate beliefs”. Elections are always a good occasion to test such beliefs.

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 22 April 2019. Is India’s Narendra Modi really a strongman leader in the mould of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan and Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin? Will he succeed in making the mammoth 2019 election a presidential referendum on his performance?

Are people really unhappy that Mr Modi did not carry out the kind of radical economic reforms that many thought he would? Is he a clear favourite to secure a second term in power, thanks to the lack of a charismatic rival? Is good economics bad politics in the world’s largest democracy? Does rising nationalism threaten democracy?

In his engaging new book, Democracy On The Road, Ruchir Sharma grapples with these questions and more. The global investor, author and New York Times columnist has made 27 election trips to India since 1998 during which, he says, he must have “driven a distance nearly equal to a lap around Earth”.

He’s been to more than half of India’s 29 states and to the 10 most populous and politically important states more than once. I caught up with him on his recent trip to India.

Opinion polls in India have sometimes shown a public desire for a strong leader, unshackled from the compulsions of parliamentary democracy. However, Mr Sharma says, the electoral realities of India actually “rebel” against strongman leaders.

“In the end, Indians root for the underdog,” he told me. “The democratic impulse is strong. If the leader becomes arrogant, he is pulled down by the people. Most importantly, it is difficult for one leader to dominate for long in this extraordinarily diverse country.”

So diverse that a leading multinational firm divides 29 Indian states into a further 14 sub-regions because “consumer tastes, habits and languages are far more fragmented in India”. The real strength of Indian democracy, says Mr Sharma, lies in its diversity.

He believes in spite of Mr Modi projecting himself as a strongman, India is “really no country for strongmen”.

“The 2019 election is being cast as a contest between Modi and the rest, a referendum on India’s appetite for strongman rule and commitment to democracy. More likely, the election will shape up as a series of state contests. The result will depend on whether the opposition parties can work together to unseat the BJP.”

There is ample evidence to support Mr Sharma’s claim. Regional parties now hold more than 160 seats, nearly a third of the seats, in parliament, up from 35 in the early phase after Independence.

“This important new phenomenon has converted our general elections into a combination of state-level regional or sub-national elections,” says psephologist Prannoy Roy.

BJP’s historic win in 2014, many believe, was a “black swan”, a highly unlikely and unpredictable event. Mr Sharma says “BJP could win a third of the popular vote as it did during the Modi wave in 2014, yet lose its majority of seats in the parliament”.

One reason, according to Mr Sharma, is “incumbents don’t usually win, and challengers do”.

Winning parties in crowded state elections often need only a third of the vote to take a majority of seats. Prannoy Roy found that 70% of the governments in big and medium-sized states were thrown out by voters between 1977 and 2002.

The picture now, he believes, is more mixed: governments today have a “50:50” chance of being re-elected.

Indian political power is “hard won and fleeting”, candidates have to go through tests of community, family, inflation, welfare, development, corruption. Between 10-20% of the electorate are made up of some of the dominant communities. Most states are “hotbeds of anti-incumbency”.

Mr Sharma also doubts whether most Indians are really unhappy that Mr Modi did not turn out to be the reformer they may have hoped for.

“India’s political DNA,” he says, “is fundamentally socialist and statist”. “There is no real support for systematic free-market reform, either among voters or among the political elite, and no sign that what is generally considered good economics will ever become a consistent election-winning strategy.”

Reforms in India, usually, have been either by stealth or triggered by an economic crisis. Also, Mr Sharma believes that fears of rising nationalism and religious politics putting democracy in peril are unfounded.

They tend to “underestimate the check provided by sub national pride”. Returning to his favourite theme, he says India is too “heterogeneous to be dominated by populist nationalism”.

And, in the end, he believes the 2019 ballot will “offer a choice of two different political visions, one celebrating the reality of many Indias, the other aspiring to build one India”.

The Tribune – AAP struggles to revive wave

Seeks course correction by picking 10 volunteers as candidates

Jupinderjit Singh, Tribune News Service

Chandigarh – Panjab – India, 23 April 2019. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in a piquant situation in Punjab, riding a popularity graph just two years ago to now struggling to develop a wave ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Infighting, resignations and expulsions have left a dent in the party. Only one of its six presidents is actively campaigning for the party. Of the 20 MLAs, six are rebels and one has floated a separate party.

Two of the four MPs are no longer with AAP, Dr Dharamvir Gandhi is re-contesting from Patiala seat but from a party he floated, while H S Khalsa has joined the BJP. Nearly 10 other prominent leaders, including Assembly candidates, have joined other parties.

In its bid to reconnect with the masses, Aam Aadmi Party has tried to do a course-correction by choosing 10 of the 13 candidates from among volunteers.

Earlier, it gave ticket to outsiders or “big” leaders within the party. Punjab AAP has also tried to shed the image of a unit remote-controlled from Delhi. It had suffered a lot owing to party leader’s subservience to Delhi leaders. This time, AAP is giving a message the party is of Punjab and for Punjab only.

However, the leaders are trying to garner support, showcasing AAP government’s performance in Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party model has many takers but people are confused over party’s desperation to seek an alliance in Delhi when its model of governance was so successful.

Aam Aadmi Party’s state president Bhagwant Mann is leading the campaign with Sunam MLA Aman Arora. Both leaders are connected to the masses and are trying to drum up support. Mann has tried to make an emotive appeal to the voters through a letter in which he talks about his fight with alcoholism and party’s sacrifices in playing clean politics.

The party has been taking up public issues, especially farmers’ suicide, Bargari killings and unemployment.

“The Akalis and Congress defeated Aam Aadmi Party by hatching conspiracies against us. They are playing friendly matches again. They are together because the party is a formidable force,” says Leader of Opposition Harpal Cheema.

Will fare better than last time: Dr Balbir Singh

AAP will do far better than the last time when it won four seats. The party has evolved. Volunteers are ready as leaders. The campaign is going fine. People have come to realise that we offer clean politics and not politics of opportunism. We feel there is still a vacuum in the state for AAP.

Dr Balbir Singh, Party’s co-president

Bosnia – Mostar

Walk about in Mostar
09 April 2019


Yunus Emre Enstitüsü
Cultural Institution


Not the famous bridge

Not the famous bridge

Small bridge – Masjid

More Bosnian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Huffington Post – Vaisakhi celebrates the Canadian Sikh values now under threat in Quebec

Bill 21 would exclude many Sikhs from classrooms, courtrooms and other public sectors where selfless service is most needed.

Montreal – Quebec – Canada, 23 April 2019. We recently observed Vaisakhi, the biggest festival in the Sikh calendar. Vaisakhi marks the founding of the Khalsa, the collective of initiated Sikhs, by the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It is not, as is often said, the Sikh New Year.

In 1699, at Anandpur Sahib (in present-day Punjab, India), the Guru called for the heads of those willing to sacrifice themselves. One by one, five Sikhs came forward into a tent. They later re-emerged wearing Sikh military attire and became known as Panj Pyare: the “five beloved ones.” They became the first Khalsa (initiated) Sikhs, and started a collective that today includes millions.

The occasion is celebrated by Sikhs through a nagar kirtan, or street procession of the Sikh Scriptural Guru, Guru Granth Sahib, led by five Sikhs who represent the Panj Pyare. Nagar kirtans include food, the singing of hymns and martial arts displays. Nagar kirtans are usually referred to as Sikh or Khalsa parades in North America.

Sikhs have been holding nagar kirtans in Canada for over 100 year. The first is thought to have been in 1908. Since then, they have grown to become some of the largest Sikh gatherings outside of India.

The Surrey, B.C. nagar kirtan last year saw over a quarter million Sikhs and non-Sikhs participating.

Vaisakhi is more than a celebration of the past

What do you see at a nagar kirtan? Largely, everything you will see in a Gurdwara.

There will be free vegetarian food, thanks to langar, the free Sikh communal kitchen service that is found in every single Gurdwara on earth. Judging from the reaction of many, food is one of the main things people enjoy about nagar kirtans.

However, as well as providing food for the stomach, Sikhs aim to provide food for the soul, too. That can come in the form of kirtan (devotional hymns).

Sikhs accompany the Guru Granth Sahib, singing shabads. Whilst hymn-singing is a normal part of most faiths, in Sikhi the music is integral to Sikh practice. All holy Sikh scripture is uniquely arranged by musical measure. Sikhs don’t just remember the Divine, but through devotional music, connect to it.

One of the most visually stunning sights of a nagar kirtan is the display of gatka, a Sikh weaponry martial art.
Although in the modern-day Sikh martial prowess is most commonly celebrated based on the hundreds of thousands of Allied Sikhs who participated in First and Second World Wars, the solidification of the martial aspect of the Sikhs goes back to the 1600s, when practices like gatka became crucial as Sikhs became the resistance against tyrannical Mughal rule.

Through modern-day displays, you can see our readiness to defend ourselves, to defend others, and where the inspiration to do so comes from.

Swords and samosas aside, nagar kirtans are expressions of Sikh sovereignty. Guru Granth Sahib is the eternal, worldly and divine, Sikh Sovereign. Canada’s Parliament was established in 1867, but even a hundred years before then, the Sikh Gurus were establishing political institutions of their own.

The divine light of the Guru Granth Sahib is also embodied in the Panj Pyare, who serve a critical Sikh political function. A nagar kirtan shows not just our present, but our past, too.

Quebec Bill 21’s impact on Sikh communities

The nagar kirtan is both an expression and celebration of our very being. And we invite everybody to join us at them, and to come see us for who we are.

This year it’s especially important. Secularism in Quebec is nothing new, but the impending Bill 21 from its provincial government poses very real threats to estimated 15,000 Sikhs in Quebec who wish to serve there.

For example, Sikhs that wish to join the police force would be prevented from joining because of their commitment to the Khalsa, the very same group that are celebrated by millions of Canadians during Vaisakhi.

Initiation into the Khalsa is more than just a baptism or confirmation, it is an unconditional dedication of one’s mind, body and wealth to the Guru. Sikhs of the Khalsa, with their uncut hair, turbans and kirpans, vow to serve and protect.

And yet they are the very people who will be excluded from Quebec’s classrooms, courtrooms and countless other places where the Khalsa spirit could be so beneficial to all Canadians, just as it has been many a time before; from community support for those impacted by the Fort McMurray fires to the countless Sikh individuals that help their community regularly based on the Sikh belief in seva (selfless service).

A Sikh’s uncut hair and turban has deep spiritual and political meaning, brilliantly explained by the likes of B.C.-based poet Jasmin Kaur. It is an assertion of a confidence that should be celebrated, which should serve as a role model for schoolchildren.

When you come to a nagar kirtan, you will see the irony in the attempt to curtail the rights of individuals who proudly and defiantly stand up for the rights of others. Come to a nagar kirtan, join us and ask questions about who we are.

And perhaps ask yourself afterwards: does Bill 21 reflect how Canadian Sikhs should be treated?

Harman Singh : Educator for Basics of Sikhi, a Sikh educational outlet dedicated to teaching Sikh philosophy, history, spirituality and scripture.

The Hindu – Modi amidst a million mutinies

For him, political Hinduism is a way of returning to a theologically grounded reading of India

Keerthik Sasidharan

Editorial, 20 April 2019. Among the great many curiosities of mass psychology that burble up in an election, especially one as gargantuan in scale and radical in its conceit as India’s, which spans over a month and encompasses 900 million voters, none is as intriguing as the singular status of Narendra Modi in the political consciousness of India.

In 2014, Modi offered himself as a bringer of change. One who would incinerate the old world and in the wake of its ashes usher in achhe din, a phrase that is all things to all people. But, either Modi overestimated his own abilities to change India or, more likely, governing India changed Modi’s own instinctive calculus about what was possible versus what was desirable.

He found his natural comfort in planning and organising top-down projects, cleanliness drives, popularising yoga, foreign policy initiatives, reviving Varanasi; he was decidedly at sea when it came to managing more organic, complex phenomena such as rooting out black money, reviving moribund sectors of the economy, radically simplifying income tax regimes.

The result was a panoply of efforts and yojanas, with varying degrees of incompleteness. What Modi revealed is a talent for inspiring, for planning and execution; but when it came to radically rethinking the economy, he revealed that he was an all too familiar, and tiresome, figure in Indian political economy: a socialist who believed he could turn white elephants into gazelles.

Symbolism and metaphors

Looking back at the 2014-19 era, we may discover that Modi’s greatest impact might be in changing the vocabulary of Indian politics, especially in the Hindi belt. Thanks to his overt embrace of Hindu symbolism and metaphors, he has revived a more traditional way of conceiving of society itself.

Whereas the Left has progressively understood Indian society as a conglomerate of interests held together by power structures; in Modi’s rhetoric, India becomes a site held together by ineffable commonalities, unto which sacrifice, as both, balidaan and yajna, are a natural outcome.

If the Indian middle class with one eye on material prosperity and another on what it understands to be tradition, finds in Modi a natural candidate of choice, it is because of the symbols and vocabulary he has adopted, willingly and unabashedly, which endow him with a veneer of authenticity that is recognisable, even communicable.

Two-fold result

Unlike L K Advani, who thought of political Hinduism as a tool to contest in an arena of political ideologies, for Modi political Hinduism is a means to return to a theologically grounded reading of India.

The result of this is two-fold. One, his world view has little use for other religious traditions, except in a pragmatic sense, as ideas that must be accommodated and adjusted to, but not intrinsically of interest for their own sake.

Thus, the inalienable foreignness of Islam and Christianity in India has slowly become an axiomatic public truth in our discourse. Thus, for Modi, any idea of the transcendent can only arrive after being mediated by Hindu thought. There is no ostensible claim of supremacism, merely one marked by deep conservatism.

The second is his preternatural comfort in the company of apolitical religious men on one side and the vast, faceless masses on the other. The world in between, one of small talk, glad handling, and backslapping, the arena where traditional politics is born, is one that he treats as an unavoidable burden of public life.

This allows for a utilitarian view of human interactions, an understanding that is not burdened by sensitivities, but rather one that situates the world within the carapace of ‘duty’.

This allows him to sideline those who are of no use to his idea of duty to the larger goal, as Keshubhai Patel or Advani will attest to.

His instincts are of a loner, yet he has wilfully chosen to ascend to the most visible of roles in Indian public life. We know little of Modi’s personal life, his friends, his idea of pleasure, but from what we can see, he has chosen to sublimate his persona into his calling.

This has allowed him, in reality and in appearance, to think of himself as a worker, a doer, unlike his predecessors, A B Vajpayee, who was happiest when thought of as a poet, or Manmohan Singh who was an economist.

Modi understands the great truth of democracy better than any politician of his generation: if the idea of personal sincerity and hard work is consistently drummed in, the people are willing to provide considerable latitude as far as outcomes are concerned.

It is this recognition that is at the heart of this transformation of a billion people’s election into a litmus test about one man.