March 24, 2017 – Celebrate India’s Ruby (Fortieth) Anniversary of Born-Again Democracy

This blog was posted on March 23, 2017 in the U.S. However it was already, March 24, 2017 in India.

morarji swearing in

In school, to figure out if we could make connections, we used to be asked to match items in Column I with those in Column II. I am feeling nostalgic today and have made a quiz appropriate for today – the fortieth anniversary of the first non-Congress government assuming office in India.

Hopefully you will have fun matching the names in Column I to the appropriate ones in Column II.  Write down your answers and compare them to the correct answers at the end of this blog. (For those of you wondering how the matching works – if you think Shanti Bhushan (2 in Column I) matches with Sushma Swaraj (a in Column II) match as ‘2a’. Give yourselves a few bonus points if you can guess what the connection is between those in Column I and Column II.

Column I

Column II

1. Jagjivan Ram

a. Sushma Swaraj
2. Shanti Bhushan

b. Rajnath Singh

3. Atal Behai Vajpayee

c. Jagat Prakash Nadda

4. George Fernandez

d. Arun jaitley

5. Charan Singh

e. Suresh Prabhu

6. Madhu Dandavate

f. Arun Jaitley
7. Morarji Desai

g. Narendra Modi

8. Raj Narain – Health

h. Ananth Geete
9. Lal Krishna Advani

i. Venkaiah Naidu

10. Haribhai M. Patel

j. Ravi Shankar Prasad

Column I is a list of folks who were in the Morarji Desai Cabinet from 1977. Column II is a list of folks in the present Narendra Modi Cabinet. It is a coincidence that both these Prime Ministers are from the state of Gujarat. March 24, 1977 was the day the Morarji cabinet was sworn in. Today we have much to celebrate.

As we think about the present state of Indian democracy, today seems an appropriate day to reflect on what might have been. As we ponder whether the goings on in Delhi and Lucknow are manifestations of the promise of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’, or attempts at a dangerous saffronization of a vibrant multi-communal society, let us be thankful that Indian democracy survived a dangerous assault. Put simply, all hues across the political spectrum have something to celebrate today.

For reasons no one has explained reasonably, on January 18, 1977 Mrs. Gandhi called an election during the Emergency that she had clamped on June 26, 1975. Those twenty-one months from June ’75 to March ’77 were dark days. If people are wondering how dark, dig more into the Rajan Case, or the case of Snehalatha Reddy, or the Turkman Gate Tragedy, or …

The outcome of the elections which were held from March 18- March 20, 1977 resulted in Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress Party losing to a coalition of parties who united to form the Janata Party. However look at the Election Commission of India’s Statistical Report on the election results (Vol. I click here, and, Vol II click here) and you will not find a Janata Party having contested. So little was the time to get organized, but so urgent was the need for unity against Mrs. Gandhi that they fought under the party banner of the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD). And today’s BJP was then more or less the Jan Sangh, and was an important part of the Janata coalition.

And what an amazing victory the coalition won. I still remember staying up late into the night of March 21, early morning of March 22 to hear the BBC’s Mark Tully report that Mrs. Gandhi had lost to Raj Narain from Rae Bareilly. All India Radio (AIR), the only domestic source of news in Bangalore that day had still not announced the political earthquake that was underway. I remember going to the newsstand across the park in Wilson Gardens to pick up a copy of the Deccan Herald, The Hindu, and the Indian Express. Even as a 12 year old, the significance of what happened in those elections was not lost on me. I was elated and can still taste that sense of joy.

And on March 24, 1977 Morarji Desai was administered the oath of office as India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister. And if you enjoyed seeing Morarji take the oath, then it is well worth seeing the Jagjivan Babu and Raj Narain – debatably the two folks who could take greatest credit for Mrs. Gandhi’s defeat and downfall – taking their oaths as they became Cabinet members on that day. It was all so simple, simply amazing.

The coalition that dislodged Mrs. Gandhi and ended the horror called the Emergency, did not last long as a government, or a party. In an irony which only Indian politics can create, Charan Singh who was the undisputed leader of the original Bharatiya Lok Dal (the banner under which the Janata folks fought the election) withdrew support to the Morarji Desai government, and with the support of Mrs. Gandhi’s Congress Party (I kid you not) formed a government, which never faced parliament and paved the way for an election which saw Mrs. Gandhi return to power.

Its short life notwithstanding, the first non-Congress government which was sworn in on that March 24th, forty years ago had done its work – stop Mrs. Gandhi and end the Emergency. And simultaneously break the Congress monopoly on power at the center. So whatever you think of the present political configurations in Delhi, remember things could be worse. You could have still been under the Emergency, if Mrs. Gandhi had not called that election!

 Answers to Quiz (in brackets are the ministries that the individuals were/are in charge of).

1 d/f (Defense) ; 2 j (Law); 3a (External Affairs); 4h (Industry); 5b (Home); 6e (Railways); 7g (Prime Minister); 8c (Health); 9i (Information and Broadcasting); 10d/f (Finance)


Jeff, John, Lindsey, Marco, Olympia, et al… Where Are You? Speak Up!

The only way I know to act out and pretend that I am doing something meaningful is petition and write. I just signed the ‘Academics Against Immigration Executive Order’ and the ‘Statement by scholars on the January 2017 executive orders’ petitions. Now, I am writing this blog piece. I don’t know what else to do.

It was June 26, 1975. I was 12, I was aware, I was a citizen, and I did not know what to do. Just before the day was born, the President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, on the advice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, signed a proclamation imposing a national Emergency which essentially suspended the constitution. Something did not feel right then. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order titled, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” The text of the executive order is still not up on the White House website. However, The New York Times and other new agencies have a White House staff supplied version of the executive order. I read it in great detail, and something did not feel right again!

Yes, I feel a bit like I am 12 again! Again, I am a citizen in a country where the President has used the power of his office to act in a manner that violates the basic norms of decency, and deeply held values of the republic. Only this time I over 50, can join my fellow academics and sign petitions, and write a blog piece.

It is worth noting that both in the case of the emergency in India and in the present immigrant executive order tragedy in the U.S. the raison d’être is the security of the country. Poppycock! Both cases are really examples of deeply flawed illiberal (and I use liberal in the classic 18th century British sense of the term, and not its present American variant – for some sense of the differences this Quora discussion may be helpful) individuals abusing the instruments of the state to act out their personal, parochial proclivities. The executive order is essentially the first step in President Trump getting his ‘extreme vetting’ immigration policy into place. Except, even on its own terms, this policy is silly. I don’t think it is difficult to demonstrate the silliness of the purpose of the executive order and the actions it imposes on the immigration authorities. But to discuss those discrepancies would give the logic of the order more respect than it deserves. Put simply, the order is immoral and unethical. It will also be counterproductive.

I said I don’t know what to do! So I am calling on people who I think can do a lot more to speak up.  LOUDLY AND CLEARLY! A number of Democrats have already spoken and no one need tell Democrats to speak up. However it seems many Republicans have been silent on the latest executive order. And it doesn’t seem like they have a problem sending out messages opposing Trump. Lindsey Graham sent out a tweet after it was suggested that President Trump will pay for the Wall with a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico – he tweeted, “Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad.” McCain is on record of letting the President know that he won’t take removing Russian sanctions lying down. And Flake, Romney, and many other Republicans have not been afraid to oppose Trump. So, the silence is deafening.

So, I am LOUDLY AND CLEARLY calling on:

  • Susan Collins, R-Maine, of “It flies in the face of foundation of freedoms in this country so I disagree” fame.
  • Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, of “Just when you think@realDonaldTrump can stoop no lower, he does. These views do not reflect serious thought” fame.
  • John McCain, R-Arizona, of “Oh, I think it has an interesting effect of turning Muslims all over the world against the United States of America” fame.
  • Lindsey Graham. R-South Carolina, of “…To all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt, I am sorry. He does not represent us”
  • Marco Rubio, R-Florida, of “Temporary ban on Muslim immigration. That’s not going to happen” fame.

…and many others, to speak up and condemn the executive order.

Why the five highlighted by bullets especially? Because they have over the last year and a half opposed Trump and do not constitute one of the Republicans who have ‘fallen in line’. Each of them did say the ‘of… xxx fame’ statements next to their names in the context of Trump’s Muslim ban statement.  And each of them wields some power. They are in the Senate and the President should deal with them. He needs to get his Cabinet nominees through. They can stop him.

I said at the beginning of this piece I don’t know what else to do. I am happy to follow through if any of you have constructive suggestions.


P.S. All the statements attributed to individuals here are statements that they made in the context of  Trump’s call for a Muslim ban. I need to point that out before someone accuses me of concocting alternative facts. However, they are undocumented. Seemed the right thing to do given the present context. J

Trump and Syria: First World Problems Reconsidered

As an economist, relative prices are my bread and butter. I would like to suggest that when we think that we are all going to hell in a hand basket, we should have a measure of relative problems. Given the tragedies in the world, sometimes we should learn to separate a hiccup from a problem; a problem from a crisis; a crisis from a catastrophe; and a catastrophe from Armageddon.

Donald Trump has dominated the news for quite some time now. Some folks I know, and some of them I even respect, have said things which would suggest that his election is as bad as things can get. As much as I would have preferred that he was not elected President (my candidate came a distant third, or, was it fourth!) I would like to suggest that given the tragedies in Syria the election of Trump is a walk in the park.

If you want to proclaim the end of the world, you should point to Syria, not the U.S. This blog is a plea to be able to differentiate between a hiccup, a problem, a crisis, a catastrophe, Armageddon.

Syria is a catastrophe. At its worst, even for the most ardent anti-Trumper, the U.S.  election outcome is a problem.

How bad is Syria? Please tune away from the Trump tamasha and pay attention to what is happening in Syria. And by the way, how long has this been going on? If interested please read this blog piece I wrote more than four and a half years ago titled, ENOUGH – Never Again Should We Say, “NEVER AGAIN”.

And for those of you who think that you can walk and chew gum at the same time, that you can bemoan Syria and Trump at the same time, the point of this blog piece is, Syria is a catastrophe; Trump at worst is a problem.

P.S. I want to be clear that I do not share the sentiment that Trump’s election is as bad as things can get. I’d like to write more about how I feel and think about Trump’s election. That is a piece for another day. Today, Syria and Aleppo is on my mind.

A Theory About Christie’s Trump Endorsement – Opportunism Meets the Art of the Deal

I am a lousy political prognosticator. Folks remind me that if things went as I predicted then we’d have President Romney. I don’t remember predicting Romney would beat President Obama in 2012. I am grateful for my less than stellar memory when it comes to faulty predictions!

A few months ago I was pretty sure and predicted with little doubt that neither Hillary nor Trump would gain their respective parties’ nominations. Both those predictions were based on my understanding of American politics. While I can rationalize and make sense of a Hillary nomination, the Trump thing still baffles me. I still maintain that he won’t get the Republican nomination. But I will not bet any money against him at this point.

The recent Christie endorsement of Trump is what moves me from the ‘surely Trump will not get the nomination’ column, to the ‘I’m saying he won’t get it because I don’t want him to get it’ column. In fact many people seem completely surprised at Christie’s open backing of Trump. Why, What, How?  I have a theory about the attack and the reward.


The Attack – Trump’s Benefit

As it is fashionable to say now, he is an opportunist. And a necessary condition to be an opportunist is to develop opportunities. My sense is that even before the New Hampshire primary Chrisitie figured out that he was not in the running. But he was still good enough to be on stage in the pre-New Hampshire Republican debate. Given Rubio’s strong showing in Iowa he won in spite of coming third – only in American politics), a strong Rubio showing in New Hampshire would have made it a two person race (Trump, Rubio) and an eventual Rubio nomination. That was Christie’s opportunity. And this is where the Donald struck a deal.

The deal was Christie would go after Rubio in the debate using a Donald technique – get personal and belittle the opponent. It made sense for someone other than Donald to do it. If Donald had gone after Rubio the way he went after Bush it would be entertaining, but not effective. Folks would have said, “Donald is being Donald,” not “Rubio is weak and programmed.” But if the straight shooting Christie went after Rubio, then it may stick.

And seven minutes of the debate was all that Christie needed. When Rubio said what he said about Obama and Christie was part of the conversation the New York-New Jersey deal bore fruit. Click here and see minutes 13.00 to 19.50 of the debate to see the damage being done. Rubio helped the Christie-Trump effort by repeating the line, “This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing ….”

The irony is that while Christie rightly accused Rubio of delivering the “memorized 25 second speech,” listening to the tape now it seems that Chrisite himself had rehearsed a number of his lines. But Christie was smart enough to rehearse being extemporaneous as part of his preparation.


And Justice – Christie’s Reward

So what does Christie get in return? Whatever one thinks of Christie or not, it seems clear that he has political ambitions beyond New Jersey. If Trump goes on to win the Presidency I predict that Chris Christie will be the Attorney General of the United States. A pretty straight forward deal for a pretty ‘straight shooter’. And if it happens he will be the first New Jerseyian in over a hundred years to head the Justice department.


In Conclusion

Clearly I have no evidence to back any of this stuff. It is clearly speculative. But it seems like a plausible theory. I just hope that events do not so unfold that I will be right with my Christie Attorney General prediction. I sincerely hope that the premise of which the prediction is made (Trump wins) never comes to a pass.

Let me predict – “It will not come to pass. Trump will not be President.” For everybody’s sake, I hope I am right

On Faith, Individualism, Decency, Tolerance and Public Policy

It was about ten months ago that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) fiasco in Indiana had a few of my friends calling me to inquire how I live in a state of intolerance – Indiana. In fact, one of them even suggested that it was time I move! Ironically, that friend lives in California which passed Proposition 8, which was later overturned by the Supreme Court. Any attempt on my part to let my friends know that the good people of Indiana were just as tolerant or otherwise as folks in other parts of the country/world was often dismissed as a defensive tone of someone who made a choice to work, and live in the area whose zip codes begin with either 46 or 47.

The RFRA issue highlighted the discrepancy between the ‘free exercise clause’ of the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …) and Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin). While one can get technical and play constitutional lawyer about this tension, and quibble about whose rights are guaranteed by the constitution and the law (the opposition to the RFRA in Indiana was by the LGBT community and sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title II), the substantive central issue here is, ‘Should one be allowed to discriminate because of one’s deeply held religious beliefs?’ And it is worth separating the politics from the policy when thinking about this question.

My reading of the RFRA issue in Indiana was that it was a political tactic by a governor who was trying to shore up his credentials with the Christian Right, a rather important constituency in Republican primaries, by establishing his “ I am not pro-LGBT” credentials. He essentially wanted to make the case that an individual’s religious ‘rights’ must be protected if they were to come into conflict with their professional and social actions which could be (legitimately) seen as discriminatory. It was a way for the governor to announce to all that if one’s sincere Christian beliefs were to come up against society’s not so slow and sure move to legitimize in full measure the rights of the LGBTQ community, then he was for religious beliefs trumping the LGBT community’s civil rights. My sense is that the governor and the LGBT community would frame the issue in ways to tilt the balance of reasonableness towards their desired outcome. The LGBT community may object to the phrase “sincere Christian beliefs” and the governor and his supporters may object to the phrase LGBT “community’s civil rights”. It is worth noting that the political tactic backfired and Governor Pence did not seek the presidential nomination of the Republican Party.

In practical terms, what are we talking about here? The oft quoted example is that if a Christian (or a person of any other religious denomination) florist/baker running a mom and pop family flower shop/bakery sincerely believed based on their religious beliefs that marriage was a sacred institution between a man and a woman, and therefore objected to gay or lesbian couples marrying, and therefore did not want to provide flower arrangements/cakes for a same sex marriage then he or she should be allowed to refuse if asked without having to pay the legal price for being discriminatory. The governor underestimated the power of the opposition and eventually had to walk back what the RFRA legislation was attempting to do.

While I do think the governor of Indiana pushed the legislation for personal political advantages, I also take the position that as long as a reasonable substitute (another florist or baker who can cater the wedding, in the example) for the service that a religious person wanted to withhold for reasons of conscience was available then he or she should be allowed to withhold the service. And he or she must have a clearly stated policy of which groups they will not serve and must apply that standard in a non-discriminatory manner. The business in question cannot apply the religious standard in some cases and not others. I think that peoples’ deeply held religious beliefs (as misplaced and wrong-headed as I or anybody else may think they are) should be respected and that society for the most part should structure its affairs to accommodate these beliefs. I want to reemphasize the qualifications (“as long as a reasonable substitute exists” and  “clearly stated policy” and “apply that standard in a non-discriminatory manner”) in my position. I am essentially arguing that if society has to choose between respecting somebody’s deeply held religious belief or making sure that at times people belong to certain categories/groups (in our example, the lesbian or gay couple getting married) can be served by the exact person/organization (the Christian baker who believes …) that they want to be served by, then society must act to respect one’s deeply held religious belief.

To be clear I want to give an example which takes out the Christian and LGBT aspects of the Indiana fiasco so that the principle is clear. So, if my religion proscribes the coloring of one’s hair and I as the owner of a motel do not want to rent out rooms to a couple who have colored their hair, the law should permit me to do so as long as there are other motels nearby which the hair coloring couple can rent from. However if mine is the only motel in town, then I should NOT be allowed to discriminate. And I must have a clearly state policy in my lobby, on my website, and other reasonable places, so that everybody knows whom I will not serve and why. And if I do not apply my standards consistently and in a non-discriminate manner, then I should be charged with some civil offence!

There are a couple of problems with my position above. First, how does one define a reasonable substitute, and how will one know whether a reasonable substitute exists? Without going into the details here, it is worth noting that a judgment of this sort is made regularly when the authorities deal with whether to permit mergers between two firms – the question ‘will it change the competitive environment substantially?’ is essentially asking, “Do reasonable substitutes exist, such that the merged firm will not have a monopolistic/oligopolistic advantage?” And, if the position I suggest is adopted, over time a body of case law will develop, and conventions will be worked out that seem ‘natural’ as to when one can discriminate and when one may not. The other obvious problem with my proposal is that a lemons problem exists where at times (maybe, even often) it is hard to differentiate the true believer from those who falsely claim to believe. As far as possible, society should figure out a mechanism to separate the ‘true’ from the ‘false’ claim, but if a doubt exists, the benefit of the doubt should go to accepting the claim.

The fact that I think the ‘fictional florist or baker or motelier’ should be allowed to withhold his or her services for religious reasons should in no way be interpreted as my thinking that it is a good thing that people withhold services on religious or any other grounds. I share the deep sense of sorrow and disgust that many people have when individuals and businesses in the 21st  century act in discriminatory and bigoted ways – at the very least, I think  to do so is not decent.  And if I know of a business that discriminates on religious, social, cultural, and sexual orientation grounds I will demonstrate my displeasure of their behavior by engaging them to speak about why I think their stance is deeply problematic, or not engaging them (by not patronizing them) if I think there is little that will be achieved by engaging them – I will go to the businesses/organizations where the reasonable substitutes are available. But the fact that I do not like something, or am even deeply troubled by it, is not good enough reason to make it illegal! When an individual’s (and I reluctantly add, institutions’) deeply held conscientious choices are in variance with the way I (or anyone else) would like to see things pan out, individual’s deeply held conscientious choices should win the day.

Please read the related piece titled, “Calling Out (with) Hope – At least become like Calvin …”

Trumped Up – attempts at humor and a prediction – Nothing Top About This Ten List

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on this blog. With 2016 born, maybe I will try to get a little more regular!

I restart my blogging with a piece on the man who this Time was trumped by Merkel! And my take on the Donald is, Donald Trump:

  • #1 – Makes the case for the teleprompter.
  • # 2 – Is the first candidate running for the Presidency who caricatures Saturday Night Live.
  • # 3 – Wants to build a mini ‘Wall of China’ on the U.S.-Mexico border because someone told him that it was THE GGRREEAATT WALL!
  • # 4 – Moved many a man from their children’s ‘my dad is the biggest joke in the world’ list.
  • # 5 – Is right about not being politically correct. In fact he is politically wrong, socially wrong, culturally wrong … or as he would say it, HHUUGGEELLYY WRONG!
  • # 6 – May by his anti-Muslim words unite the Shias and Sunnis.
  • # 7 – Makes many folks at UPenn not want one of their grads to become President in 2016.
  • # 8 – Should get credit for (successfully) arguing that he will not take a bribe, because he has given one!
  • # 9 – May move to Warsaw because the polls say everybody LLOOVVEESS him.
  • # 10 – Will in all probability not be elected president! Though, while three months ago I would have given him a one in a hundred thousandth chance of being elected, now I will give him a 1% chance!


DePRESSing Priorities – Evidence That Fear Trumps Tragedy

How happy I will be to have been wrong! Unfortunately, I was right!! On January 1, 2013 I wrote” As much as it saddens me to say it, in years to come we will all see more homicides and mass shootings in America.” There have been a number of ‘school shootings’ since the Newtown school tragedy on December 14, 2012. The latest was in Marysville WA, on Friday, October 24, 2014. And when it happened some networks broke away from regular programming to report on the tragic events. And over the last two days news outlets have had reports about the shooting. But then…

The Sunday news shows think that a school shooting is no longer worthy of conversation. I am a news junkie. I watch three news shows every Sunday – ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox’s News Sunday. And I looked forward to hearing the left/right, anti/pro NRA conversation today. I enjoy hearing debates where I know what will be said by all so that I can feel well informed, even if all that is being said is recycled garbage. However they disappointed me today – all three of them – ABC, NBC, and FOX!

None of the shows said much (I think it was nothing, but just in case someone said something tangential I use the much softer ‘much’) about the shooting in Washington state. Nowadays school shootings in America are as common as traffic accidents, and spilt milk – and it would be silly to expect the Sunday news shows to cover every accident and cry over spilt milk! And this week was also a pretty busy week – we had Ebola and Lone Wolf Attacks to talk about!

Good Americans have got used to gun violence in their schools. They understand that when a school shooting occurs the event is tragic. But they also understand probability theory and that something like this happening in their community, or to someone near and dear to them, is so small that they no longer fear school shootings.

But ‘Ebola’ and’ Lone Wolf Attacks (especially by religious zealots who belong to a religion which begins with ‘I’ and ends with ‘M’ – and we ain’t talking ‘Induism’!) are new and the American public isn’t very good at applying probability theory to see that dangers posed by either of these two is so remote that they really shouldn’t be worrying about them. Ignorance is the basis of fear, and fear is worthy of media exploitation. That explains why the news media talks endlessly about Ebola and the dangers posed by lone wolves. And it also explains why we don’t talk about school shootings after another school shooting in spite of the fact that after Newtown, CT, President Obama said, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.”

The press can either discuss tragedies we can do something about and can focus on, or they can prey on our fears. Actually, I am wrong about that – they can do both! They can walk and chew gum at the same time – they can discuss the tragedy of gun violence and prey on our fears of Ebola and crazy attacks by lone wolves! Tragically, they do the latter and not the former! And that is DePRESSing