Biden – the return of the deputy?

Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States this week. The days leading to this inauguration have been the most polarized in the recent US history. The main reason being the divide that was caused by the astounding victory of the last resident of the White House – Donald Trump. Media for its part, fueled the crazy theory that Trump wouldn’t allow for peaceful transition – quite ridiculous if you ask me.

The nation was and is still divided. Trump managed to get over 74 mil votes even in this pandemic battered economy and the unprecedented number of covid-19 cases. I think, minus the pandemic, Trump would have strolled right back into the White House for his second term. The fact that he managed to get the most votes ever and still lose to Biden stands testament to how popular he is in his voter base. But now that’s history. Trump was a disruptor, and he did his part to bring out in public how fragile the world’s most powerful democracy is, how wide the gulf is between the left & the right, the race divide, the class divide. Infact, most democracies today are not as resilient as they used to be. There are many new power centers that affect govt formations, unlike the past. Social media is one such power center. It’s been infested with the plague of fake news, paid trends, planted agendas. And the most distressing trend is the absolute authority that the platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google have is shutting down voices that do not comply with their set ‘woke’ rules. Donald Trump, is not what I would call a very responsible user of social media, but to take away his right to communicate to his supporters was an assault on FOS. No platform should have right to decide what is ok and what is not. That has to be decided in the court room. Platforms should not be allowed ‘self-governance’, unless they take complete responsibility of all the content. They can’t have it both ways, where they flipflop between being a platform and content moderators. Platforms banning and thus cutting off politicians’ ability to directly communicate with his supporters and in this case at a very critical time, is a worrying sign. 

The traditional media both print and media, have been known to have set agendas, biases, political leanings. And hence can’t and should never be trusted to tell the news without a bias.

Coming back to Biden, I hope he does not take Obama as his role model. But I fear that he will always be compared to him. From what little I have seen of Biden, he does not seem to be the one who takes reins. He is of the type – wait and watch until it blows over. He started by shedding a few tears when he bid adieu to his hometown. At the inauguration, he made a speech calling for unity and made all the politically correct noises of how he will bring all Americans together and yet straightway issued a slew of executive orders reversing most of Trumps decision. He definitely didn’t have to decide on things like WHO, Paris Climate Accord, immigration on day one. A seasoned leader would have made these decisions, say a week or 2 later when all the hype has died down. If you want to unite, you don’t antagonize half of the folks who didn’t vote for you on day 1.

I fear, Biden will end up trying to ‘fix’ stuff for the next 4 years. I think it would in his interest to stay away from ‘Trump topics’. He should also keep equally away from ‘Obama topics’ – No way in hell can he compete with Obama, the most liked President in recent history, who also happens to be black. He should rather chart his own path. Identify a few big-ticket items and put his stamp on it. All these fixing of Trump topics should be done in a way that does not bring a lot of attention. People are people – and they are same everywhere. Show them the big items and they will focus on those. Tag these items as Biden items and people will remember. Fight reelection on these items. Try not to be held hostage to the Liberals, the Wokes, do things for the Right, to reassure that their concerns will to be looked into – And to someone with half a century of political experience, surely this would not be rocket science.

The 2020 Election Year

My attempt to answer that important question – Will Trump win the re-election? I think No. He is up against it. He has totally mismanaged his re-election campaign, especially  the business end of it. Yes, Covid-19 & its handling is going to be his Waterloo. I think he should have reigned in his gung-ho attitude with the pandemic getting out of hand. I think his head got too big for his body. I think he let himself actually believe that he didn’t need to be pragmatic when it came to his re-election. He won in 2016 because he was an unknown entity, he was the anti-politician – brazen & unapologetic – totally unexpected of what a US Presidential nominee should be. People who voted were probably done in by his sheer audacity & political incorrectness. But now, for re-election, people don’t really need their president to be reckless, they need him to be considerate – they need him to be presidential, a leader who can rise above petty politics & showmanship. This is where Trump has failed.

But I do think, Trump has changed the Oval Office forever. A personality like his was required in this moment in time to break the status quo of how much could a politician get away with. Any right-winger is reading this, I think Trump losing this election is a good thing. Let’s been honest, right-wingers can do much better than him. And let’s face it – Biden is not cut out to be a President anyways. This is what right-wingers need to realise. If Biden wins, they must be on his case from day one. It’s potentially four years to rub it in for every liberal snowflake. Every time he goofs up & his media chums give him a free pass, it should  reignite the fire in the belly of the fellow right-wingers make them even more determined to find a new leader that will lead them back to the that office.

Right-wingers never have it easy, they shouldn’t have it easy. Four more years of a liberal facade is a nothing in a lifetime of the rightist ideology. India needed 10 years for absolute joker of a PM to catapult Modi as the PM. The same will happen in the US. Biden will inherit the most fragile society. If he can steady the nation, then fair play to him, but from what I know of him, he is more of a – ‘let me just keep low & wait for it to blow over’ type of a guy. If he can manage to project America as a strong & formidable power, it’s a net positive for the world.

As for Trump, I think he will not even bother if he loses. He goes back to being a billionaire. I honestly believe that in 2016, he just wanted to prove to himself that he could beat the system & become the President of the USA – perhaps just to satisfy his ego. From day 1, he was just enjoying the ride & the fact that Presidency didn’t change him one bit just proves that it was all about him. Policy wise, he had a basic understanding of what he wanted to do, and he made sure all his decisions were always about getting the advantage with America, typical of how most owners want to optimise their businesses.

There shouldn’t be a need to mourn his loss. Right-wingers are a smart bunch, they don’t need to settle for a Trump, they should demand much better. One must remember, ideologies forge leaders & its not the other way.

FY 2020-21 An Anomaly

I hope Govt of India and Finance Ministry incentivize consumer spending. The scary thing of this economic pandemic is that the upper middleclass will realize the broader economic damage and how it will impact businesses and jobs. So they will immediately put a break on any long term (say 1 year) discretionary spending ( say like painting of the apartment, or that new gym membership, or that family vacation or buying new items for the house, or a car upgrade, and yes, electronics) Also, the lockdown will make them realize how much they spend on outside food, or how they over spend on unnecessary items, so those will also see cuts – at least in the near term.

The thing is that the upper middleclass in India is a fairly new phenomenon and they still remember the hardships that their parents had to go thru to make a decent living, so they can immediately revert to the frugal lifestyle to protect their future. But this break will choke the money from trickling down. The lower middleclass anyways don’t have much discretionary spending, but instead the lockdown will erode atleast to some extent their savings and with offices, shops, workshops (read SMES) shut, they will see loss of income in the near terms which will also stop with their spending. Once again stopping the flow of cash in the market. Also, the economic discipline of the upper class will also impact their revenues, cut down on the work orders, etc…

Which finally leaves the lower classes. With less footfalls to malls, restaurants, cutting down on vacations, shopping, these people will see the most devastating impact. No amount of govt DBT will make any reasonable difference to them. They will not be able to afford cost of living in the metros and in the near term migrate back to the hometowns to battle this storm. (on a positive note, the monsoon forecast for this year is for it to be a normal) so they may get employment in the agricultural sector.

So, to summarize, the key for the government is to keep the money flowing, or for the money to trickle down to the lower classes. They have to maybe rethink GST rates for this FY as a one off. I think governments all over have to treat this year as a anomaly and throw the rule book out for a year, do a write-off basically. The government has to incentivize consumer spending like never before. Give tax breaks so that more money remains in the hands of the consumers, so that they can then spend it back and keep the money flowing. Making loans cheaper is a dicy option, as banks are very cautious in giving out loans. The Govt’s only aim should be to keep the jobs, all jobs, both in organized as well as the unorganized sector. The only comfort they can take it that this devastation is a global thing, not a country specific, or an industry specific. Time to ignore, GDP, fiscal deficit and all the other fancy economic terms that only make sense to Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s of the world.

This is an economic catastrophe. There is not rule book for this. Rules have to be written on a new book.

I finally leave with a quote from Einstein –

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

And similarly, to find a way out from this pandemic, we have to raise the level of our thinking. We don’t need to find a pattern in it and try to fit a solution from the past. Time to rethink – reimagine!

Joker 2008 vs 2019

Well, I finally got myself to watch the Joker – the one with Joaquin Phoenix, and after the show, it inevitably gets you to compare the performance of Joaquin with the Joker brought to life by Heath Ledger. And to cut out the suspense, Heath Ledger’s performance will never be topped. There I said it. I have had endless discussions on Heath’s portrayal of the Joker, and every time you think of that Joker & his calculated unleashing of chaos, it leaves you scared. I remember watching the movie in the theater and I remember being very disturbed by his antics. Classic quotes like “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” stick with you and resonates when you see and hear some of the stuff that goes on in this world today. While Heath’s Joker was a cruel sadist who enjoyed bringing out the evil within the man for his pleasure, Joaquin’s Joker is just an angry soul who is out to vent it on people. He is not into mindgames, he doesn’t want to test their morals, he just wants to get even. And I think that’s about what I can conclude from this movie. Don’t get me wrong, Joker (2019) is a very good movie, and considering how we are flooded with big bang superhero movies with very less substance, this is levels above its peers.

Also, its a bit unfair to expect anyone to top Heath’s performance. That was a once in a lifetime performance, made even more untouchable for the sheer fact that he never had a chance to reprise it and he actually never even got to a stage where he could give his thought process of how he approached the character and what he aimed for the character to deliver. He never lived to see the cult following that character gained.

To be fair to Joaquin, watching Joker, it clearly shows that he knew what he was up against, and he did put it in his all for the character. He was consistent in his character. But there is only so much he could do within the confines of the script. Heath, in hindsight, had a much superior canvas to play his role and by this I mean, great cast, exceptional talents in Nolan brothers.

In the end, I was left with the feeling of satisfaction, Joker managed to be a respectable second to the Dark Knight, but its that gap between the two that keeps a good movie from being into a timeless classic.

Phir ek baar?

Did Modi decide that he wanted to become the PM of this nation, or did Amit Shah decide that he will make Modi the PM of this nation. I always wonder how it was? Was there a day, perhaps when the two of them sat for a tea and one of the above happened.

India is voting to elect its 17th Lok Sabha. 900 million Indians are eligible to vote except maybe in WB where non-Indians too will vote 😉 This is the worlds biggest democratic exercise. This time around there will be 7 polling days spread over a month. The results should be out on May 23rd. Leading the BJP, current ruling party, is Narendra Modi, who in my humble opinion, is the world’s best politician. As he goes in for re-election, he has effectively made this election a referendum on himself. He runs the most cutting edge campaign in India’s history. Its made up of massive rallies all across the nation (typically 3-4 rallies a day, & he speaks for about 40-50 mins) All his speeches are a clever mix of nationalist issues, local issues, his performance, and his ideas for the next 5 years. His speeches have a good amount of rhetoric, blaming the past governments for stifling India’s progress for the past 6 decades, primarily the Nehru-Gandhi era & the current state government if its not a BJP government. When he is not campaigning, he is doing ‘exclusives’ with national & local media. He also finds time to sit down for a chat with a very popular Bollywood Actor to talk non-political aspects of his life and makes it too into a political masterstroke. His social media accounts actively engage the masses. He was even able to scout the social media for the INS Viraat vacation incident and make it into a major issue in the last stages of this elections. All this keeps the opposition miles behind. It feels like the opposition is still stuck in the early 2000s in terms of the campaigning strategy.

I attended his campaign rally in Bangalore. What I realized is that he has a very precisely crafted persona. I am sure that a lot of detail goes into projecting Narendra Modi that we see in the media & on stage. Not that it’s a bad thing. In a country like ours, you need a larger than life image to cut across the regional, communal, language barriers, else you will end up just being a regional stalwart, like the current crop of leaders found in the MahaThugBandhan.

Modi has successfully converted this election into a vote on his 5 years of PM-ship. I have always maintained, that you take out Modi from the BJP, and BJP is just another slight upgrade on Congress. He shows the killers instinct when the need arises. He can very well get down into a bare-knuckle street-fight (like the Bhrashtachari no 1 comment) just before polls in places where Sikhs have a significant influence. I believe he understands that there no point holding the higher moral ground & losing like Atalj in 2004. Indians need a tamasha when it comes to politics. He knows it.

Of course, ‘Ghar mein guske marenge’ narrative post-Pulwama, boosted his national image even further as he came across as a leader who is not afraid to deal with Pakistan in a language that they understand. As the elections got underway, one could see the undercurrent of his social schemes like LPG scheme, electrification of villages, rural sanitation, Mudra loans becoming discussion points amongst the common folks.

Another key narrative was set in Bengal, where thanks to TMC, BJP got into the driver’s seat on Hindutva. Bengal helped reaffirm the pro-Hindu stance of the BJP, which I feel they could not do it UP owing to the stalemate on Ram Janma Bhoomi issue. Coming to UP, the MahaThugBandhan became more of the top-down approach aimed clearly by salvage the political careers of the Yadav Parivaar and Mayawati. The masses I feel never really bought it as it’s like getting the North and the South Pole of a magnet to join together.

Another key issue was the opposition crying Rafale all over India. And it never seemed to become a key issue. The opposition peaked too soon on this. My personal opinion is that it became too complex for most to understand. It didn’t help that Rahul kept changing the numbers at every rally. Modi on the other hand never gave it any importance. ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ has to be one of the most ill-conceived one-liner in a campaign. Whoever came up with it and whoever approved it must be fired straight away. Modi kept his campaign fresh. He shifted into the top gear very close to the actual polling dates. Also, he played it smart with his talk with Akshay Kumar, that made up for the ban on the movie, his biography, by the EC.

While I am no expert, my observation is that the people who in 2014 voted Modi, who at that time was fairly inexperienced at the national stage and foreign affairs, have seen enough to vote for him again. Of course, the Modi government never went overboard appeasing the middle-class, though it did it in bits and pieces, except for maybe in the last budget. But doles are not what most middle class want. Safe cities, better infrastructure are important considerations too for them. Also, ‘There is no alternative’ is also a valid reason to vote Modi. Another small and yet significant segment that I would expect to vote him is the non-minority(2 of those) non-political electorate that may be motivated to vote him just because he has given a relatively stable, clean govt and seen his personal work ethic in the last 5 years. I assume a lot of first-time voters, and females voters to be part of this. At this point, credit must be also given to lots of groups who generated a lot of awareness on radio and social media that has made voting a pretty cool thing to do. While I was voting I saw quite a few first-time voters, waiting to get inked so that they could then snap a selfie and post it in their social circles just to get that – ‘I am responsible youth’ swagger 🙂

Another factor I have seen within my social media circle is that the voter, both urban and rural seems to clearly differentiate between a state and a national election. It also helped that the much-hyped loan-waivers promised by Congress when they won the state elections in late 2018 became a fiasco, with allegations of corruption which served a timely reminder as to what Congress brings to the table when in power. The quick deterioration in law and order in these states also grabbed headlines leading up to the national polls. People didn’t really buy into the NYAY especially looking at the Congress track record and it also had the middle class spooked as they realized that to fund this mega waste, it would inevitably mean more taxes, cesses on the middle class. Sam Pitroda and PC in a way confirming it by asking the middle class to be more generous in uplifting the less privileged.

So what are my predictions? Well, it’s not easy to put a number out. If I just go state wise, it’s difficult to imagine BJP could fare better than 2014. They already maxed out in BJP friendly state last time around. So the head says crossing 270 would be difficult. But if I go by my heart, and just looking at various snippets of simple people talking so passionately about Modi all over the country, the hordes of volunteers campaigning for Modi, I am inclined to say 320-330. But now the results are less than a week away. Surprisingly, none of the BJP supporters seem to be considering a remote possibility of BJP stumbling to less than 200. I shudder to think how these folks may react to a non Modi PM. The opposition seems to have already begun targeting the judiciary to create obstacles in the parliamentary process post results. EC has already been termed pro-Modi. EVMs are already faulty. And BJP voters already accused of being fascists.

Well if indeed Modi is our next PM, then the credit only goes to him and the huge trust capital that he has amassed with the people of India in the last 5 years. This trust capital is what has motivated crores to vote Modi in 2019 which the BJP and all their candidates are banking on the 23rd of May 2019.