What’s New in Karnataka

About the elections in Karnataka, Neel asks:  “Once again. So whats new? Nothing much.”

Ah, but there is something new this time.  Over 30 years back, a constitutional amendment had frozen the map of India’s parliamentary and legislative constituencies to reflect the India of 1971. The moratorium has now ended, and the picture has moved forward to reflect the India of 2001, an India that is much more urban than it was in 1971.  I have reflected briefly on what urbanization means for India’s politics in the January 2008 Pragati 

Karnataka is the first state to go to the polls after the delimitation. Of course, both voters and politicians will take time to adjust to the new situation, but if I am right, this will be the beginning of one of the most significant changes in India’s politics, rivalling the change brought about by VP Singh in 1991.

My Country, My Lies

L K Advani’s memoir reminds me of the Yes Minister  and the Yes Prime Minister books. In particular, it reminds me of the preface to the latter, which starts something like:

Hacker’s unexpected ascension to the Premiership, which happens towards the  end of the first chapter of his volume, created almost as many problems for historians as it did for the country. Hacker was determined to portray his term in office as a series of triumphs, a task that would have defeated a far more skilled diarist…

There is much more in those fine books that would be appropriate to quote. Unfortunately, I do not have the volumes with me here and my memory fails me as much as it did Advani.

Virgina Postrel Echoes Me

On Barack Obama

Obama’s glamour also accounts for some of his campaign’s other stumbles. Plenty of candidates attract supporters who disagree with them on some issues. Obama is unusual, however. He attracts supporters who not only disagree with his stated positions but assume he does too. They project their own views onto him and figure he is just saying what other, less discerning voters want to hear. So when Obama’s chief economic adviser supposedly told a Canadian official that, contrary to campaign rhetoric, the candidate didn’t want to revise NAFTA, reporters found the story credible. After all, nobody that thoughtful and sophisticated could really oppose free trade.

Unlike Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, the two glamorous presidents who shaped 20th-century American politics, Obama has left his political philosophy a mystery. His call for “a broad majority of Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and independents of goodwill—who are re-engaged in the project of national renewal” is not a statement of principles. It’s an invitation to the audience to entertain their own fantasies of what national renewal would look like

Like any candidate, Obama of course has position papers on specific issues. But even well-informed observers disagree about whether he represents the extreme left wing of the Democratic party or something more market-oriented and centrist. As the NAFTA flap demonstrates, his supporters can’t even decide what the candidate really thinks about free trade. His glamour makes it easy to imagine that a President Obama would dissolve differences, abolish hard choices, and achieve political consensus—or that he’s a stealth candidate who will translate his vague platform into a mandate for whatever policies you the voter happen to support. (The Peril of Obama)

The link may not stay valid for long, but Postrel is using “glamour” in its  original sense, when it meant “Magic spell”. (That also accounts for the odd spelling of the word – odd, that is, if you are an American.)

Arresting Raj Thackeray

I have not been able to make up my mind on whether we should have laws against the kind of things Raj Thackeray says. Quite clearly, conspiring to commit violence should be punished. If I were to pick up a phone and ask a hitman to kill someone, I cannot claim free speech protection. I don’t see how anyone can claim free speech protection if he asked a crowd of people to do the same. The problem is that when people “incite violence” they do not use very precise words. A judge has to consider hidden meanings and effects of those words on “reasonable people”, and a person who listens to Raj Thackeray and then goes out to beat up North Indians is, by definition, unreasonable.

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