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Archive for October, 2013

Iran-US Relationship: Twitter Diplomacy Won’t Work

Posted by chimeki on October 21, 2013

Hassan Rouhani

Hassan Rouhani

‘President Rouhani has landed in #Tehran after a super busy week in NYC. #UNGA ‘, read Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s twitter post as he landed in Tehran. Apart from being ‘busy’, the week is surely the most important one in Iran’s history after the week in February 1979 when the last king of Iran Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left and Ayatollah Khomeini returned from 14 years in exile.

In October that year passionate followers of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed into the US Embassy in Tehran and held fifty two Americans hostage. They were demanding that the US extradited the Shah to be put under trial for the crimes he had committed during his rule against the Iranians. The crisis lasted for 444 days. On 20 January 1981 Iran, after a series of behind-the-curtain-negotiations with Ronald Reagan’s team, allowed the hostages to fly back to their country. The day also coincided with Reagan’s swear in ceremony in the White House. President Reagan is said to have famously said, ‘the mullahs are our friends’. It is not often when the US takes egg on its face lightly but in this particular case it did because it could not afford to let one more country of the Middle East go the USSR way!

However, post 1990s Iran lost its relevance and was bracketed an ‘axis of evil’. Now that the US is finding its influence in world affairs being over shadowed by Russia and China it is ready to improve its relationship with the estranged country. But this time it will not be that swift as it was then.

The USSR was a communist country and the Iranian government was intrinsically against the communist ideals. It was easy for it to convince its supporters to shake hands with a former capitalist foe than to embrace a new communist friend. Although he had collaborated with communists to topple the Shah, but once he had established himself firmly in the power he crushed them tooth and nail. He went as far as to reconcile with the Shah’s legacy! VS Naipaul in his book Among the Believers has brilliantly captured the development.

Russia, once a communist country, is now a centre of Christian fundamentalism. Putin has managed a comeback on the back of conservative Russians who see in him a potential pre-revolution Russian ruler. According to an estimate Orthodox Church in Russia has influence over ten crores (100 million) voters. Putin and the Church share the same ideals and draw their inspiration from Tsarist Russia. They see future of Russia from Nicholas the First’s eyes who propagated Official Nationality based on, ‘orthodoxy, autocracy and nationality’.

In this backdrop, as long as the Imams rule the country, the Orthodox Russia will be seen closer than a secular, ‘atheist’ America. Even if we believe that political relationship are not completely based on religious proximity then also there are several other factors which suggest Iran is more comfortable flirting with Russia than with the US.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

In the last two decades Iran and Russia have given new dimensions to their relationship. They cofounded Gas Exporting Countries Forum in 2001 which, if we are to believe experts, has potential to become OPEC like cartel of gas producing countries. Iran has also been accorded observer status in Shanghai Cooperation Organization which aims at countering the US influence in Asia.

Apart from sharing pragmatic concerns both countries are staunch critics of the US policy in Middle East, especially its policies on Israel and Palestine. In addition to this, both Russia and Iran have reservations about Saudi Arabia and its satellite emeritus.  Hence it is difficult for the US to penetrate and create space for itself.

It does not look that the USA and Iran can come closer in near future. The US has itself destroyed/ eroded the trust it used to enjoy with the Iran during the Cold War. Now there is no reason the new Iranian president can convince his people on the importance of being closer to the USA.

The US warming up to Iran is actually an anxious step and without much homework. In the long run it will make it look weaker or perhaps comic.  The US is trapped under its own making. The more it tries to break free the more it gets entangled.


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Bigotry: Shivraj Style

Posted by chimeki on October 11, 2013


Shivraj Singh Chauhan

In Bhopal, the capital city of Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is everywhere. He is in railway stations boasting clean platforms, at bus stops priding on Bus Rapid Transits, on the hoardings across roads, and in public conveniences. There is no place in Bhopal where one can slip out of his gaze. Big Brother is Watching You!

Hardly, one steps out of Bhopal station first thing comes to notice is Shivraj Singh big boastful picture explaining one of the his numerous yojanas (schemes). Literally, he has yojanas for every section and class of society. He is taking elders on pilgrimages through Mukhyamantri Teerth Darshan Yojana (Chief Minister Pilgrimage Scheme). He is educating the girls through Ladli Laxmi Yojana and later getting them married through Mukhyamantri Kanyadaan Yojana!

You name a section and he has yojana for it. For young and educated unemployed he has created Mukhyamantri Pichada Varg Yuva Swa-rojgaar (self employment) Yojana. For those who can’t afford medical expenses he is running a Free Pathology Checkup Scheme.

A careful study will reveal that hardly any scheme with Mukhyamantri prefix is new.  All were there. He prefixed Mukhyamantri and made people celebrate them. Supporters of welfare state would not mind this, however, Shivraj’s passion for these schemes is enough to give them shivers down their skins.

Shivraj is a magician.  From Bhopal he makes everyone believe that all is well in Indore and from Indore it looks other parts of state are flourishing! A Bhopali is seen singing paeans of Gwalior and an Indori falls short of words for glorifying Jabalpur’s development!  The road in Damoh is pathetic but according to Shivraj, in one of those hoardings of course, good roads have reached everywhere in Madhya Pradesh.

Under his careful gaze, Madhya Pradesh is being transformed into a replica of some imaginative medieval Hindu state which his supporters claim existed in the place where the state stands today! His party-men want to rename Bhopal as Bhojpal on some mythical Hindu king who is said to have ruled there. Since long he has been promoting ‘Vedic’ language Sanskrit with a passion of a crusader and now intends to introduce the Gita in Urdu to madarsa students. The farce doesn’t end here. He legitimizes dowry through his Mukhyamantri Kanyadaan Yogana instead of fighting it roots and branches. All his yojanas are shrewd attempts to saffronize the whole society.

If Gujarat under Modi is a laboratory of hardline, militaristic and chauvinistic Hindutva, Madhya Pradesh under Shivraj is an exercise in saffron bigotry.


Warnings on the rocks read: couples seen together will be beaten and their procession will be taken out! (photo: V.S.)

The CM hardly utters a word on industrialization and creating employment. The young either migrate or commit suicide. Madhya Pradesh’s major four cities have the highest suicide rates in India according to National Crime Record Bureau. Jabalpur, once a flourishing industrial hub of the country, leads the chart with 572 suicides in 2012. The administration, as anywhere else, blames ‘domestic’ problems and deteriorating ‘family system’ for the rise in number.  The fact of the matter is the main cause of suicides is increasing unemployment. The anger, rising from it, either results in self destruction or is channeled or managed to fuel hatred among weaker sections of the society. In 2011, Madhya Pradesh recorded, the highest number of rape cases at 3046.

Although, Shivraj is not solely responsible for the state’s complete collapse nevertheless his indifference towards it makes him doubly dangerous. He is an emperor who plays fiddle while his state is awaiting eruption. While Nero was acting unconsciously, Shivraj does it knowingly. Nothing is there in his tenure to suggest that he is concerned about the development of the state. Only thing he seems to care is implicit indoctrination of youth with religious chauvinism and anti-minority hatred making an easy catch for the RSS. In return, the Sangh guarantees him continuous support.

Jawaharlal Nehru in his Towards Freedom wrote about Fascism that ‘their way had been to mobilize mass support for one program and then to utilize this for an entirely different purpose (365).’ This is in cruel display in the BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh. The anger of people against unemployment and deteriorating condition is being utilized for ‘an entirely different purpose’. They are trained to distrust neighboring countries, see them as enemy and if need be, be ready to attack them.

The people are also given ‘classes’ in moral policing. They bully couples where ever they get to see them. Warnings, like, ‘boys and girls if found together will be beaten’, ‘their procession will be taken out’ and of other such exemplary punishment are written everywhere couples may have chance to be together. Valentine’s Day is the most feared day for the state’s youth. The warnings are issued well in advanced in local newspaper and cable channels and couples receive harsh treatment, in full public gaze, if seen together on that day. In this Bajrang Dal ruled state the police is a mere spectator.

Shivraj’s brand of Hindutva is not less dangerous for the society. What Narendra Modi failed to do, Shivraj Singh Chouhan is doing without coming under any scrutiny what so ever. This ‘benevolent’ looking Chief Minister has made religious bigotry, national chauvinism and Fascism a ‘national mission’. Unlike his Gujarati counterpart, he has made a dangerous and medieval idea acceptable to whole society without risking to put a drop of blood on his hand.

An MP Tourism jingle suggests ‘MP Ajab Hai (MP is strange)’. It equally fits on its CM too.


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Rise and Rise of Political Cartoons in India

Posted by chimeki on October 7, 2013

Political cartoons are back in India. They are not just back but have become powerful enough to disrupt Parliament, force authority to resign, land their creators to jail and terrify the people who were once symbols of terror!

Editorial or political cartoons in free India have an exemplary history. In the initial years they dared to speak what critics refrained from asserting. The father of Indian political cartooning, Kesava Shankara Pillai, popularly known as Shankar, highlighted the complexities of cartoon4India’s positioning against then realpolitik in simplest ways possible. Many a times his cartoons influenced the decision making. One of his cartoons I like the most is on Nepal. In the cartoon, he showed that India could not remain aloof to rising anti Rana feeling of Nepalese. In a few days of its publication India decided to mediate. The result: end of Rana dynasty or Ranashahi.

Shankar sketched more than 1400 cartoons mostly during Jawaharlal Nehru’s era. His cartoons, then, had become so important that it is said Nehru used to wait for Shankar’s Weekly to learn about the flaws in the works of his government!

Recently, in January 2012, India again witnessed a rise in publication of vocal political cartoons. Irony is, this phase too began with a cartoon of Shankar! The cartoon Shankar made in 1949, highlighting the slow speed in constitution making suddenly put hold on Parliament’s work. The very cartoon which speeded up the constitution making process culminating in creation of Parliament was considered inappropriate by the members of Parliament and ordained to be removed from the text books!

In September 2012, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested on charges of sedition. His ‘offense’ was ‘insulting the Indian Parliament’. Former editor of Outlook Weekly Vinod Mehta mocked the low IQ shown by the parliamentarians by suggesting, ‘indeed, if he has to be punished, punish him for terrible and crude sketching.’

We are now in the third phase of political cartooning. The cartoonists, R. Prasad, Satish Acharya, Irfan, Keshav, Surendra and several other unknown and unknown cartoonists have taken up lead in inspiring political discourse in print and web media. They have filled the vacuum left by liberal intellectuals. Here are my three favorite cartoons which reflect the shift in Indian political discourse with clarity. (V.S)


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