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Uncertainty after Trump’s triumph





The American establishment and by its extension the rest of the world was preparing for an era where a woman would be the president of the oldest democracy. This was supposed to be a natural transition in a modern country that had elected a ‘black’ Barack Obama for two terms. There is a feeling of regret that this historic opportunity to make this big change has been lost. The pollsters and pundits were all predicting her victory, although the FBI announcement over fresh emails did dent Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. But on polling day she was still in the lead.
Well, the pundits can now chew on the reasons for Hillary’s defeat and the surprise win for Donald Trump who ran an utterly divisive and vitriolic campaign. In terms of lows, he touched two marks - one when he said that he would lock-up Clinton for the email scandal, and two when he said that he would accept the results only if he wins, otherwise he would maintain a suspense.
But now is the time to forget all those negatives and accept Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America. This is the people’s verdict, and never mind that it has been delivered by an electoral system, that Trump had described as ‘rigged’ during the campaign.
The entire world is waiting with bated breath as to what would be Trump’s stance on divisive issues that brought him electoral victory but have huge consequences for millions of people and can cause untold sufferings. For instance, during the campaign he promised to deport all illegal migrants. Now there are 11 million illegal migrants in America; will he fulfill that electoral promise at a huge cost in terms of human misery that will result due to deportation? Or will he soften his stance?
Then there is the issue of health care reforms, the spiking of the nuclear deal with Iran, the pronouncement that the entry of the Muslims would be banned, and of course the issue of prosecuting Hillary Clinton and locking her up in jail? Besides, there is the promise of building a wall along the border with Mexico and making Mexico pay for it.
Let us not forget that these are the promises which brought him to power and drew millions of Americans to vote for him. Although going back on electoral promises is nothing new for politicians, Trump’s USP in this election has been that as a complete outsider in the corridors of power he stood for a change in the way Washington works. In fact, he blamed career politicians like Hillary Clinton and others for all the woes of America and promised to change all that. The people believed in this promise.
Indeed, this high-pitched rhetoric that appeals to the sentiment of a large number of people has often been chosen as the route to power by politicians. They make such promises to woo voters, with the realisation that the voters also know that such radical moves cannot be implemented without causing costly disruption. This rhetoric is seen by the people as a proof of the politician’s desire to be different and unconventional.
In so far as these ‘hot button’ poll promises are concerned, in the short span of time that has passed since his election as president, his advisers and to some extent Trump himself have been suggesting that they have no intention of following up on some of the more radical moves. But the clarity on these issues would emerge only after January 20 when Trump takes over as president and his cabinet is in place.
From an Indian standpoint, a Trump presidency could see a further up-swing in the India-America strategic partnership as he tries to keep China in check. His strong stance against Islamic jihad should see that he reins in Pakistan. But the most important aspect of this relationship would be the convergence of ideas between president Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as both belong to the rightist spectrum. If Modi shared a personal chemistry with the outgoing president Obama, he would quickly develop an ideological affinity with president Trump. The Indian-origin Americans who campaigned vigorously for Trump would also act as catalysts in strengthening this bond.
This prevails notwithstanding, the view held by policy experts on both the sides that over the past decade beginning with president Clinton’s visit to India and the role he played in taming Pakistan over the Kargil episode, all presidents - Democrats (Obama) or Republicans (Bush), have built upon the progress that has been achieved by their predecessors. So, it is expected that a Trump presidency would also carry the momentum forward.
There are some concerns about Trump pronouncements regarding limiting of scrapping H1B visas that allow Indian professionals to go to work in America. This is in the context of his remark that described “Indians and Chinese as job stealers”. It is hoped that this was just a part of the campaign rhetoric as he also said that he would welcome Indian investors and students. Now investors do not come without the people who work for them. So, his policies would have to change.
The world expects a leadership role for America in almost every walk of life. Its idea of the sanctity of individual freedom and the rule of law coupled with its liberal ethos is a cherished ideal for the rest of the world. It is hoped that whatever be his campaign rhetoric, Donald Trump as president would live up to this ideal. He may have trashed women in his campaign, but he cannot afford to forget as president that women constitute an important segment of the society and have to be given their due.
The same holds true for immigrants. It cannot be forgotten that America is a country built by immigrants. It is the willingness and openness of the American society and its people to absorb and assimilate the immigrants that makes the country a melting pot of everything that is divisive. For someone elected on the promise of making America great again, Trump has to internalise these features into his presidency.
Before I conclude
Laudable as the Modi sarkar’s move is to demonetise the `500 and `1000 notes in the attempt to end the menace of black money, it is also incumbent upon the government to ensure that common masses are not put to too much discomfort in the process of exchanging their old notes for the new ones. The first few days after the demonetisation have left much to be desired from the banking system, and it is hoped that this is just a temporary phase, and after a few days (not weeks) the normal system would be back.
The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha.




Remembering Gurudev: Celebrating creativity

We all know that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, for the English translation of his own poetic work Gitanjali - An Offering of Songs - in Bengali. We also know that he is the creative mind behind our national anthem 'Jana Gana Mana...” But we do not remember him only as a Nobel laureate poet or the writer of our celebrated national anthem. For that matter he wrote songs that were later adopted as national anthems of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The Gurudev that we remember is someone who has through his speeches, writings and activities like setting up centre of learning the Santiniketan proved to be a crusader in the cause of modern India. His mission during the pre-independence era was to challenge the common perception that India was just a country of snake-charmers and superstitions, and was culturally backward. By personal example, the renowned novelist, dramatist and song writer left such a rich contribution to the world of literature, arts and music that it continues to have its imprint even almost seven decades after his passing away.
He belonged to an illustrious Brahmin family from Bengal - the Thakurs that have a 300-year history and though most of the attention has been focused on their cultural role, in sum their contribution is a composite one extending to commercial and political fields as well as the arena of literary and musical activities.
It was Gurudev who conferred the title of Mahatma on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and that is how we remember him as Mahatma Gandhi. In turn Mahatma Gandhi would address him as Gurudev. Quite clearly the Nobel laureate was impressed by the Mahatma’s ideas about nationalism and deeply admired his leadership of the independence movement, the devotion to non-violence and satyagraha. But it was a sign of the maturity of those times that these two crusaders of the independence movement had a relationship of deep mutual admiration even as they had crucial differences on some key issues.
For instance, when a deadly earthquake struck Bihar in 1934, the Mahatma described it as "a divine chastisement sent by God for our sins, the sin of untouchability."  Gurudev did not agree with this. In fact they had differences even over something as elementary as food. It is recounted that they used to discuss food and diet among other things. Gandhiji being a strict fruitarian, said, "To fry bread in ghee or oil to make puris is to turn good grain into poison. It must be a slow poison." Gurudev answered gravely, "I have been eating puris all my life and it has not done me any harm so far."
But their differences were not limited to such mundane things and extended to things like education and spinning the charkha that was Gandhiji’s favourite meditative activity. Gurudev was very keen on education: reading, writing, arithmetic and science, along with play. The Mahatma on the other hand, was very sceptical of formal education and thought that education should be acquired through work, in a practical way. The Mahatma was a great votary of bringing about personal improvement by spinning a wheel, whereas Gurudev felt that endlessly turning the wheel of an antiquated machine with a minimum of imagination and causes maximum boredom.
We remember such great men because more important than their differences are the lessons their lives hold for us. Apart from the various ethical, philosophical and practical lessons that we can draw from the lives of these two modern founding fathers of our nation, the most important thing that we can imbibe from their lives is that we should maintain mutual respect and admiration even for those with whom we have serious ideological or basic differences.
Or else we shall remain condemned to inane conflicts that simply sap our energies. Nor would the journey of our life have any meaning. I conclude by recounting a prayer to the Lord from Gitanjali as I offer my humble tribute to his memory:
Give Me Strength
This is my prayer to thee, my lord---strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor
or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.
The author is the chairman, editorial board of Lokmat Media and a member of Rajya Sabha

Bhutan: Small neighbour, big ideas




Vijay Darda When the royal couple from Britain Prince William and Princess Catherine recently visited the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan they presented a new rose "Queen of Bhutan rose" to the hostess queen for her English garden. It was fitting tribute to a kingdom that is fiercely protective of its culture, festivals, monks and pristine environment. As a tribute to this environment, the royal couple also trekked for three hours to reach the cliff top monastery -Tiger's Nest, some 10,000 feet above sea level and soak in some of the breath-taking greenery on the way.
Sandwiched between two Asian giants, India and China - Bhutan is a small country of the size of Switzerland with a population of just 700,000. But when it comes to ideas on eco-friendly sustainable development it is really into big ideas. Its civil servant turned politician prime minister Tshering Togbay is the most articulate exponent of the Bhutanese philosophy of relying more on gross national happiness index (GNH) instead of the usual norm of measuring a country's growth by the gross national produce (GNP). But in the same breath, he is candid enough to admit that the country needs development to fight poverty.

While speaking to high executives from the Wall Street at an event organised by the non-profit organisation TED (Technology, Environment, Design) Tobgay delivered a message that went viral on the social media with more than a million viewers. This is a paradigm shift, as the big countries are now hearing what a small country has to offer by ways of its experience in fighting climate change. He recalled that when at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in 2009, his country promised to remain carbon neutral for all time, no body heeded, no one heard. The governments were busy arguing with one another and blaming each other for causing climate change. But in 2015 in Paris when Bhutan reiterated its promise to remain carbon neutral for all time to come its voice was heard. "We were noticed, and everybody cared. What was different in Paris was that governments came around together to accept the realities of climate change, and were willing to come together and act together and work together," says Tobgay.

Now for some interesting facts about Bhutan. It is a democracy that has been ordained by a monarch. As Tobgay says, "We didn"t ask for it (democracy), we didn"t demand it, and we certainly didn"t fight for it. Instead, our king imposed democracy on us by insisting that he include it in the constitution. But he went further. He included provisions in the constitution that empower the people to impeach their kings, and included provisions that require all kings to retire at 65." The same king also mandated constitutionally that a minimum of 60 per cent of Bhutan"s total land shall remain under forest cover for all time. Currently, 72 per cent of Bhutan's land is under forest cover.

Indeed, this mandatory constitutional provision is the basis for Bhutan's sustainable ecological development. It is not only a carbon negative country, but it exports green power that cuts down emission in other countries like India. Energy is Bhutan's top export, and India is the only buyer. India and Bhutan have for long had excellent relations and India has for decades assisted Bhutan in developing its hydropower. Bhutan earned `975 crores from selling power to India in 2012 — that's nearly `13,500 for every citizen of a country of 0.74 million people. Bhutan has economically viable hydropower potential of 24,000 mw, of which it now taps only 1416 mw.

Thus unlike the oil-rich Gulf countries, which export non-renewable petroleum, mountainous Bhutan is rich in rivers and exports renewable hydropower. The first major project, the 336 mw Chhukha dam in south Bhutan, commissioned in 1988, was entirely funded by India.

But the more ambitious project for a sustainable environment developed is the Bhutan for Life joint collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund and Bhutan that is based on the Wall Street ideas of generating a $40 million fund known as a project finance for permanence (PFP) deal. This fund will help the government of Bhutan transition over 15 years to where it can permanently finance the parks as part of its budget. It's a single closing, bringing together the public sector, development agencies, banks, foundation and individuals in a single project—in this case to achieve conservation at scale. The money is released as the government checks off its deliverables (such as a non-green vehicle tax), or ensuring that any revenue generated inside the parks stays in the parks. The idea is to build a modern Bhutan built on the bedrock of traditional good practices, crafted by the principles of conservation and sustainable development, ensuring progressive convergence of nature, culture and economic vibrancy. It shall conserve Bhutan's natural capital and address environmental challenges for sustainable development and healthy living.
However, more interest ' We are witnessing the daily impact of climate change in our lives and it is no more something that belongs to the distant past or something that would not touch our lives.




No way to fight terror







On his part, prime minister Modi did the right thing in trusting Pakistan, and it is up to Islamabad to build on this trust or to squander the opportunity. Vijay Darda Sometime in January this year at an international event, Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif told his audience: "Pakistan has paid a very heavy price in terms of lives. There is a huge economic loss also. But our resolve to fight against terrorism is getting stronger every day. " Prime minister Narendra Modi has taken his counterpart on face value, and believed that this was not just a hollow promise or mere lip service. After all, Pakistan too is in the grip of terrorism, and a grim reminder came when holiday revellers at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Easter Sunday came under terror attack. Its rulers and defenders keep reminding us that they too are the victims of terror.

It was this belief in Sharif's sincerity and seriousness to fight terror that persuaded Modi to allow a joint investigation team from Pakistan to visit India and even go to the high security Pathankot air force base that had come under attack from Pakistan based terrorists in the first week of January. Besides, this the National Security Advisers on both the sides have been sharing intel.

Yet two events in the recent past have shaken this confidence in Pakistan's sincerity and willingness to wage a decisive war against the fundamentalists and the elements of terror. The first took place in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, and the second at the United Nations. The failure of all authority when the protesters mourning the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri ( the body guard who had killed governor Salman Taseer), decided to march on Islamabad and attacked what came in their way and there was no one to stop them. The crowd had gathered at Rawalpindi's Liaquat Bagh and there was advance notice that it would march towards the capital. But no pre-emptive measures were taken and the streets were taken over by the fundamentalist protesters. This showed a weak spine on the part of the Pakistani government to take on these forces.

At the United Nations, Pakistan used its special relationship with China to frustrate India's efforts to add Maualana Masood Azhar, the head of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad to the United Nations' al Qaeda-Islamic State blacklist. The Kashmir-based group Jaish-e-Mohammad has already been blacklisted by the 15-nation Security Council, but not its leader, Maulana Masood Azhar, an Islamist hardliner and long-time foe of India. After a fatal attack on the Pathankot air base India had requested that the JeM leader be added to a UN Security Council list. It naturally beats one's understanding that the leader of an organisation that has been black-listed as far back as 2001 for its well-known terror activities and links to al Qaeda, is not treated in the same category although he is its main leader, financier and motivator.

Obviously, Pakistan is not fully prepared to act against those who are clearly associated with acts of terror against India, and this is the second time it has banked upon its special relationship with China to achieve this goal. If Masood Azhar was blacklisted by the UN Security Council, he would face a global travel ban and asset freeze. In the past, China similarly blacked India's effort at the United Nations to black list the 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. It continues to shelter those indulging in acts of terror against India.
On its part China has not given any detailed explanation for its decision to use the veto power at the United Nations Sanctions Committee but this is a sign of business as usual, in which Islamabad and Beijing have always made common cause against New Delhi. Quite naturally, this would have long term consequences in the region.

For starters, the implication is obvious that the investigation by the Pakistani JIT into the Pathankot terror attack would in all probability go the familiar way of the 26/11 trial in Pakistan that is still to find anything conclusive against the real masterminds. Already there are reports that the JIT has told the National Investigation Agency that they have no evidence against Azhar.
Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif would have to realise that the fight against the fundamentalists and the terrorists is an integrated war that has to be waged with sincerity. Being soft on Qadri protesters and protecting Maulana Azhar is no way to fight terror. Pakistan has tried this ambivalence with Osama-bin Laden and has been paying the price for it. If he is really serious and wants to turn a new leaf in both domestic and international politics, then he has to heed voices within Pakistan who have been advocating that he has to bring a "root-and-branch change in school and college curricula, and a clampdown on hate speech in mosques and TV chat shows. The financing of madressahs and so-called Islamic charities needs to be scrutinised, and the hate-filled ideology taught in most of Pakistani seminaries has to be removed." As the first step in this direction, he has to stop protecting Maulana Masood Azhar and the likes of his tribe.
From an v On his part, prime minister Modi did the right thing in trusting Pakistan, and it is up to Islamabad to build on this trust or to squander the opportunity. ■ (The author is the chairman, editorial board of Lokmat Media and a member of Rajya Sabha)




Monday, December 11, 2017