PERSPECTIVE

Monthly Archives: MARCH 2016


Who is Htin Kyaw, Myanmar's New President?
19.03.16 - Shashank Bengali*
Who is Htin Kyaw, Myanmar's New President?



A childhood friend of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was elected Tuesday as Myanmar’s new president, a major step for a country ruled or partially ruled by the military for more than half a century.

Htin Kyaw, 69, the first civilian to hold the presidency, was selected by lawmakers in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, following parliamentary elections in November in which Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy opposition party won by a landslide.

The choice marks a significant milestone for Myanmar, also known as Burma. Beginning in 2011, a ruling junta began implementing democratic reforms, which prompted the United States and other countries to lift longstanding economic sanctions.

"This is a victory for the people of this country,” Htin Kyaw told reporters in brief remarks.
Htin Kyaw is expected to take direction from Suu Kyi, who said before the November election that she would hold a position "above the president” if her National League of Democracy party won a majority. The former military junta barred Suu Kyi, a former political prisoner, from ascending to the country’s highest office by instituting a law disqualifying anyone with foreign family members. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British.
 
"He will be a most obedient servant for Aung San Suu Kyi,” Robert San Aung, a human rights lawyer, said by phone from Yangon.

Htin Kyaw, a member of the NLD executive committee, was hardly a household name in Myanmar, and even after his selection Tuesday news outlets were struggling to confirm pieces of his biography.

A resume posted on Facebook by a party official said Htin Kyaw earned a master’s degree in economics from Yangon University before working in economic affairs for the Foreign Ministry in the 1980s. The party did not confirm if the biography was official.
 
He has won praise for being a loyal member of Suu Kyi’s party, which has led the struggle for democratic rule for decades. He is a director at a charitable foundation named for Suu Kyi’s mother and remained close to her when she was placed under house arrest by the generals, even being jailed himself when he once attempted to accompany her on a trip to the city of Mandalay.

Historian Thant Myint-U called him "a very nice man” of "unimpeachable integrity.”

Under Myanmar’s system, the president is chosen by the parliament, which reserves one-quarter of the seats for the military. Htin Kyaw (pronounced "Chaw”) was nominated by Suu Kyi’s party and won 360 out of 652 votes cast by lawmakers Tuesday.

A candidate chosen by the military bloc, Myint Swe, won the second most votes and will become the first vice president. Myint Swe remains on a U.S. government blacklist because of his ties to former junta leader Than Shwe, a sign of the continued challenges to U.S. efforts to reengage with Myanmar.

It remained unclear whether Suu Kyi would hold any position in the new government. Analysts said she was likely to serve as a kind of puppet master, determining the party’s political agenda, including rapprochement with the outside world and jump-starting a long isolated economy.

Many of Myanmar’s 53 million people are expecting significant changes, but under military rule, public institutions ceased to function effectively. Suu Kyi has issued only vague policy ideas, and analysts say it remains to be seen whether her party can make the transition from pro-democracy activism to competent governance.

"Odds are that the NLD’s economic goals will not be met” because Myanmar’s state institutions "are not up to the job,” Lex Rieffel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, wrote in a commentary.

The government will also have to contend with pressure from China, which grew close to the military government and has also courted Suu Kyi. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have signaled that they will try to restart construction on the Myitsone Dam, a mammoth hydropower project on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River that was suspended five years ago because of intense domestic opposition.

Suu Kyi has not taken a public stance on the proposed 3,000-megawatt dam, which would export nearly all of its electricity into China's Yunnan province. Green activists say it would give China outsize control of the Irrawaddy, an essential source of water and fish for Myanmar’s southern delta.
 
Courtesy : *Los Angeles Times




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Dear Rahul, this will come as music to your ears
17.03.16 - pREET K S BEDI
Dear Rahul, this will come as music to your ears



From Indira Gandhi’s emergency to the mess created by the Janata Party to Rajiv’s inability to explain Bofors to VP’s flirtation with Mandal to the India vs Bharat conundrums of Rao and Vajpayee, elections in India have always been lost, not won. In fact so set is the voters mind that in 1977, 1989, 1991, 1996 and 2004, he/she did not even bother to check who would lead the government if the party of choice actually won. 
 
History is kind. Gives adequate notice before repeating itself but when it does, it does so with disdain. 
 
We are currently going through a combination of fascism we saw during the emergency, social re-engineering like we saw during VP’s rule and the drift we saw in MMS’s last two years. Each of these had independently felled a government in the past; unless the country has changed very radically, we are in for a triple whammy. You should take heart from the fact that this does not seem to be a major cause for concern for the government.
 
Maybe things will improve but you, Rahul, should be prepared for the eventuality of having to form a government in 2019. You may, of course surprise us by doing a Sonia at the last moment which this writer thinks you will btw. But this letter assumes you won’t. 
 
A former British PM put it well. The only power the Prime Minister enjoys is the power of persuasion. Our founding fathers designed an intricate system of checks and balances only to ensure that as head of government, the Prime Minister has no option but to collaborate. With all the trappings of power around you every day, it is easy to forget that all you have is the responsibility to decide the strategy for the country, but to execute the strategy you are dependent on other sets of elected representatives some of whom may belong to different shades.
 
Which explains why several CMs have lasted two, three and even more terms while only one PM has. Chief Ministers operate at the last mile; they are the ones who open schools, hospitals and factories, build roads and canals while Prime Ministers, much like Xerox machines are noticed only for the gaps in performance/governance. Their chances of making it to the second term are slim. And it will be no different with the incumbent whose 288 seats hide the fact that his party won a paltry 31% votes and since then his support base has constantly been diminishing. 
 
Why did I give you this gyan? For two reasons. To convince you that you have more than a decent chance though not because of anything spectacular that you have done but because the dice is loaded heavily against the incumbent who is already floundering. And secondly to suggest to you the skills and competencies you need to hone in to be seen as an appropriate choice once the incumbent has done himself in by 2019. 
 
First, the ability to carry the legislative and governing ecosystem along. This includes the cabinet, state governments of all hues, MPs, the bureaucracy and last but not the least, the Opposition. Our constitution frowns at unilateralism. Ironic that we should talk about our diversity at every forum and then elect easily the most divisive figure ever on India’s political horizon in 2014. But mistakes happen. 
 
By 2019 the country will be in pain from the excesses of fascism and in desperate need for a balm. And you would be expected to provide the healing touch. That by itself may not be tough but expiating the hatred that may well be a part of our DNA by then and carrying the opposition with you will not be easy. 
 
Incidentally, the Prime Ministers who brought in the most profound changes were Rao and Vajpayee, both running minority governments. Both well known for their relationships across the spectrum. Surely there is a lesson in it for us. 
 
Secondly, the ability to attract quality talent 
 
This should be a huge area of strength for you. The eclectic nature of your party will ensure access to a huge pool of talent without the baggage of bigotry and antiquity. If ever called to the government, this could separate you from the incumbent. 
 
Talent defies limits. MS Swaminathan, Verghese Kurien, Manmohan Singh, E Sreedharan, Nandan Nilekani. Each of them was discovered by someone and allowed to fly. Each created history. It’s a simple truth that an ideology-led party will never understand. But you should not repeat their mistake if ever you get the chance. 
 
Thirdly, high EQ or emotional quotient 
 
Politics can either be driven by ideology which subsumes all other concerns or by an instinctive understanding of what the people want. We are currently passing through a phase where the former is dominating as that is the ruling party’s perspective. Understandably there is neither need nor value for EQ. From what we have seen, you appear to project a high EQ. Even if it is just an act, at least you thought it appropriate to put on the act. For the incumbent the entire idea of listening to someone is alien. And so if at all you are called to form a government it would mean you have a headstart. 
 
Fourthly, a road map. 
 
Politicians are so used to treading softly that they forget that they have been elected for a bigger purpose. On the other hand people demand specifics not motherhood statements. We were never explained the Gujarat model by the incumbent and all of us made our own assumptions. We assumed that at least the PM would know but apparently neither did he.
 
With you we have an even bigger problem. The Gujarat model, whatever it may have been, did somehow suggest rapid industrialization. With you we are completely blank. Frankly if the BJP had not glorified bigotry and made you a kind of secularist, we wouldn’t have a clue as to what you stand for. What is your road map? You have the luxury of defining yourself as un-BJP but only till they pursue bigotry as a national agenda. Chances are they will junk it at some stage. Leaving u high and dry.
 
So tell us what u stand for. The country will want to know how you may be similar and different from UPA and from the BJP. 
 
Fifthly, moral authority. 
 
Hemmed in by a parliament and opposition on one side, bureaucracy on another, judiciary on the third and expectations on the fourth, the only weapon the Prime Minister really has is moral authority. This is different from popularity which can often cut both ways. 
 
Popularity shackles. Moral authority liberates. 
 
Popularity prevents you from doing the right thing if you fear some may resent it. Moral authority gives you the confidence to do it regardless. People who keep looking at the score-board can never hit six sixes. You have a major deficit in this area at least among the chatterati. The deficit needs to be bridged. Three years is a long enough time provided you feel this is necessary. 
 
As for the rest, stuff like better speaker, broader chest, swift decision-making are at best good-to-have but after having tried all those for five years, people may not have too much value for them by 2019. 
 
In any case, if they still do, there is little risk of the President calling you to form the government in 2019.




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My Father’s Killer’s Funeral
13.03.16 - Aatish Taseer*
My Father’s Killer’s Funeral



On Feb. 29 — a bad day for anniversaries — Pakistan executed my father’s killer.
 
My father was the governor of Punjab Province from 2008 until his death in 2011. At that time, he was defending a Christian woman who had fallen afoul of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are used by the Sunni majority to terrorize the country’s few religious minorities. My father spoke out against the laws, and the judgment of television hosts and clerics fell hard on him. He became, in the eyes of many, a blasphemer himself. One January afternoon his bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, shot him dead as he was leaving for lunch.
 
Mr. Qadri became a hero in Pakistan. A mosque in Islamabad was named after him. People came to see him in prison to seek his blessings. The course of justice was impeded. The judge who sentenced him to death had to flee the country. I thought my father’s killer would never face justice.
 
But then, in the past few months, it became possible to see glimmers of a new resolve on the part of the Pakistani state. The Supreme Court upheld Mr. Qadri’s death sentence last October. Earlier this year, the president turned down the convict’s plea for mercy — which, at least as far as the law goes, was Mr. Qadri’s first admission that he had done anything wrong at all. Then on the last day of last month came the news: Pakistan had hanged Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. How would the country — not the state, but the people — respond?
 
I spoke to my sister in Lahore and for a moment we dared to hope that Pakistan, which had suffered so much from Islamic terrorism, might turn a corner. A lot had happened in the five years since Mr. Qadri killed our father. There was attack after hideous attack. In December 2014, terrorists struck a school in Peshawar, killing 132 children. Was it possible that Pakistan was tired of blood and radicalism? Had people finally begun to realize that those who kill in the name of a higher law end up becoming a law unto themselves? Had the horrors of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria done nothing to dampen enthusiasm for Islamism? Perhaps. I hoped.
 
But when a BBC interviewer asked me about this, something made me equivocate. I said it was too early to say and that we should be careful not to confuse the hardening resolve of the Pakistani government with the will of its people. Mr. Qadri’s funeral was the next day. That would give a better indication of the public mood.
 
And so it did.
 
An estimated 100,000 people — a crowd larger than the population of Asheville, N.C. — poured into the streets of Rawalpindi to say farewell to Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri. It was among the biggest funerals in Pakistan’s history, alongside those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation, and Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, who was assassinated in 2007. But this was no state funeral; it was spontaneous and it took place despite a media blackout.
 
As pictures emerged of the sea of humanity that coalesced around the white ambulance strewn with red rose petals that carried Mr. Qadri’s body, a few thoughts occurred to me: Was this the first funeral on this scale ever given to a convicted murderer? Did the men who took to the street in such great numbers come out of their hatred of my father or their love of his killer? They hardly knew Mr. Qadri. The only thing he had done in all his life, as far as they knew, was kill my father. Before that he was anonymous; after that he was in jail. Was this the first time that mourners had assembled on this scale not out of love but out of hate?
 
And finally, I wondered, what happens when an ideology of hate is no longer just coming from the mouths of Saudi-funded clerics but has infected the body of the people? What do you do when the madness is not confined to radical mosques and madrasas, but is abroad among a population of nearly 200 million?
 
The form of Islam that has appeared in our time — and that killed my father and so many others — is not, as some like to claim, medieval. It’s not even traditional. It is modern in the most basic sense: It is utterly new. The men who came to mourn my father’s killer were doing what no one before them had ever done. As I watched this unprecedented funeral, motivated not by love for the man who was dead but by hatred for the man he killed, I recognized that the throng in Rawalpindi was a microcosm of radical Islam’s relationship to our time. It drew its energy from the thing it was reacting against: the modernity that my father, with his condemnation of blasphemy laws and his Western, liberal ideas, represented. Recognizing this doesn’t pardon the 100,000 people who came to grieve for Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, but it reminds us that their existence is tied up with our own.
 

PHOTO : People surrounded the ambulance carrying the body of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

(Pic Courtesy : FAISAL MAHMOOD / REUTERS)

 
Aatish Taseer is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Way Things Were” and a contributing opinion writer.
(Courtesy : NYTIMES)




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My Political Influences
05.03.16 - preet k s bedi
My Political Influences



We went hungry the night Nehru died; it was just understood there would be no dinner.  We went to see his body lie in state at Teen Murthy House the next day and again to join the funeral procession for the third time to pay homage to the urn containing his ashes. This was my first vaguely political experience and left a lasting imprint. 

You could say we were a Congress family. In the sixties most people were.  Anyway there were no alternatives then. The Jan Sangh, never a contender for power, was seen a party of banias. Yes, those were times you could call a spade a spade without fear of being politically incorrect. 
 
For a long time the respect for Nehru was really little more than inheritance. Till in my forties I read Nehru’s Discovery and realized that my intuitive admiration was on a solid foundation. Nehru had a better understanding of the sweep of history than most historians. His ability to connect the dots between India and the world was uncanny. It is my firm belief that irrespective of how we may evaluate it, Nehru built India in his own image.
 
Democratic, liberal and with a secular, scientific temper. And did so virtually single-handedly as by the time he took over in 1952, Gandhi, Bose and Patel were no more.   
 
Big people make big mistakes. His China policy was a disaster for which the country paid a heavy price. His preference of higher education over universal education was also debatable. But who doesn’t make mistakes? 
 
To me what he built was more magnificent. In my roll call of honor Nehru will always be at the top, close to Gandhi.
 
The only person who could come close to Nehru in my estimation was Vajpayee. This may raise many hackles but this is my journey and I have to be honest. I believe that interesting people make extraordinary leaders. And Vajpayee was one such. Here was a perpetual outsider. At no point in time could his party or even the opposition simply assume him. He had a personal perspective and was unafraid to voice it. in his own way was firm though there were exceptions.
 
Not the world’s finest poet but just the fact that in the middle of running a country with coalition pressures, he was able to relax enough to write a few verses makes him special. Maybe it the sensibility that poetry gave him or his natural personality that made him appear affable and approachable. 
 
Even more than Nehru, Vajpayee was a father figure, someone you could go to and explain your problem and expect a hand on your shoulder. No wonder he had friends across the spectrum which helped him make an essentially bigoted party look respectable. And become a magnet for talent. The more one sees the current dispensation the more one respects Vajpayee.
 
Rajiv was a different kind of influence.
 
For us in our twenties, he was like us. He was an unusual combo. A non-politician content to remain exactly that. He spoke a language we had never heard before. He talked of telecom, computers and globalization. Strange as it may seem today, he had no supporters. Banks and offices went on strike. The opposition laughed at him. Even his own party-men and women sniggered behind his back. But he stayed the course. 
 
Twenty-five years later we know he was right. 
 
Advani is a tragic figure. Tough to place him though in sum I think I quite like him. His only failing was purely circumstantial. He belonged to the Vajpayee era and was destined to always be number two.
 
There is little doubt that the new virulent avatar of the BJP was created by him. To him the credit for having discovered, long before media and political pundits that there was a resurgent India waiting to be tapped. 
 
His change of heart after a visit to Pakistan, whether genuine or out of convenience certainly won my respect. It cannot be easy to garbage all that you have for all your life particularly with benefactors from Nagpur breathing over your shoulder. And he did it.
 
And what about the Ramjanam Bhoomi disaster and the lives lost? I have no answer.
 
Curiously, my maximum learning came from Nehru’s daughter. By her time I was older and able to understand the finer nuances of politics and governance. 
 
Wish she had taken her father as seriously as many of us did and read The Discovery of India. If Nehru allowed his global world-view to fashion his outlook, Indira’s world-view was led purely by petty, personal, pernicious likes and dislikes. No wonder in due course she would become a role model for the new age Indian politician. Ruthless, remorseless and regressive.
 
If she taught me anything, it was the need to temper power with humility. If you dont have humility, get it from somewhere.
 
As for Rao and Singh, I find them an intriguing combo. Just the fact that we have a system that can throw up such people as Prime Ministers is heart-warming. Particularly in hindsight today as we witness shrill and mindless rhetoric replacing logic. 
 
In a country that worships charisma here were two boring faceless people making it to the top though in unusual circumstances and having done that, change the narrative of the country from resigned acceptance to unbridled optimism.  MMS would go further. He would win a second term which no non-Nehru family member had ever done.  
 
To me both together and singly proved a crucial point. If you want to hit sixes, stop looking at the score-board. Leaders too conscious of their popularity ratings are genetically incapable of making dramatic changes. Big changes adversely affect interest groups and create immediate unpopularity. 
 
Neither of the two were vote-catchers and so loss of personal popularity was at best a theoretical concern. This gave them incredible elbow room. Strangely out of all our charismatic leaders they brought about the most radical changes.
 
Narendra Modi.
 
This is still work-in-progress and therefore tough to evaluate. 
 
But three learnings stand out. First, that powerful people are their own worst enemies. Sooner or later they start living in a world that exists only in their own mind. Secondly, the ability to attract talent is a bigger asset than most realize. You can neither dream nor even execute magnificent dreams without talent. And lastly, no matter how powerful, you need to be able to make friends. Or at the bare minimum, not create enemies.
 
Rahul Gandhi
 
Also work in progress.
 
It’s all very well to be different but for a politician whose only product are his ideas, the ability to present them coherently is critical. Rahul comes through as a bits-and-pieces politician as he has been unable so far to create and disseminate the Rahul Gandhi world-view.  No one really understands the Rahul Gandhi world.
 
Arriving at these conclusions was interesting journey for me. When I started writing this I had no clue what I would write as thoughts were scattered. One of the exercises I did was to ask myself the following 11 questions which provided a stimulus for the thinking. 
 
This is fun. Try and answer them. Have fun:
 
1. If he/she was your boss, who would I feel most comfortable to carry bad news to?
 
Vajpayee, Rajiv, Advani
 
2. Who would I want to spend an evening with?
 
Vajpayee, Rajiv, Advani
 
3. Who would I trust if the nation was facing an enemy threat?
 
Modi, Indira Gandhi, Vajpayee
 
4. Who will the nation be most secure with? 
 
Nehru,  MMS, Rahul
 
5. Who will make me rich?
 
MMS, Vajpayee, Modi
 
6. Who would I avoid meeting as much as I could?
 
Modi, Indira Gandhi
 
7. In whose team would I hope to find more interesting people?
 
Vajpayee, MMS,  Rahul
 
8. To whom will I go with a confession?
 
Nehru, Vajpayee, Rajiv
 
9. Who would make me feel proud as an Indian?
 
Nehru, MMS, Vajpayee
 
10. Who would I fear making a power point presentation to?
 
Modi, Nehru, Indira
 
11. Who would I look forward to making a presentation to?
 
Vajpayee, Rahul, Nehru




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Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister
04.03.16 - Preet K s Bedi
Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister



Dear Mr. Modi
 
Thank you for providing a platform for Kanhaiya to reach out to the entire country. May god give you the benevolence to discover and present more Hardiks and Kanhaiyas to us.
In Canada Justin Trudeau rode into prominence after just one oration and that was at his father's funeral in 2000. Even in tiny Canada it took him 15 years to reach the top and so in a direct sense Kanhaiya poses no challenge to you.
 
The value of Kanhaiyas lies in what they can do to you and not what they can immediately become.
Interesting to see you still blissfully unaware of that threat and attacking Sonia and Rahul. Also a bit boring. And sad to see a PM making snide comments about slow mental growth of an opponent but that is between you, Nagpur and your gods.
 
Your challenge in 2019 won't come from the Congress but from Kanhaiyas and Hardiks. U may not understand the language they speak but the rest of India does. In the last 20 months you donot seem to understand even the rest of the country but thats a separate story.
 
They hold the keys to the kingdom.
 
Congress will only have to step in to rule as u had done after Anna and AK had displaced the UPA.
 
Chalo at least you prove there is truth in the adage. History repeats itself. And the his in history this time is you.
 
Regards




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