Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Trayvor Martin Case

English: Barack Obama speaking at a rally at t...
English: Barack Obama speaking at a rally at the University of Minnesota Field House in Minneapolis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(published in Vishwa Sandesh)

The Trayvor Martin Case
By Paramendra Bhagat (

The Trayvor Martin Case has been roiling America. When the incident happened Barack Obama went on television to declare that if he had had a son, he might have looked like Trayvor Martin. Now he has come out to say that 35 years ago he himself might have been Trayvor Martin.

Putting a black man in the White House is quite a slap to 500 years of world history. But race is too deep and complicated an issue to be resolved by one black man's elevation to high office. And Barack Obama just admitted as much. It is gutsy for the guy to talk about it in such plain language.

The details of what happened on that fateful day are hazy and conflicted. But the facts remain that Martin was shot dead and Zimmerman, the killer, has been acquitted by a jury. In February 2012 in a town in Florida Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, was involved with Neighborhood Watch. He was not a police officer but he could legally carry a gun. This happened in a gated community where Martin, a 17 year old African American high school student, was visiting with his father’s fiancée. There is a lot of he said, she said kind of stuff here. But apparently Zimmerman thought of Martin as “suspicious,” and called the police, and then started following around Martin despite being told not to do so by the police. A scuffle ensued. Zimmerman shot Martin dead in supposed self-defense, supposedly permitted by a Florida Law called stand your ground.

The broad context of race cannot be ignored. Why would a black man look suspicious at a place where he had every right to be, and when all he was carrying was skittles? For the same reason that a black man might get followed around in a department store, an experience Obama is intimately aware of. For the same reason that less than two centuries ago a black man was not even fully human according to the US constitution. Or, until 2008, for the same reason that no black man had been deemed fit to lead the country.

Race and gender are broad topics with a lot of texture and details. You cannot talk about race in America, I think, without talking about the Hindu-Muslim issues in India, or the ethnic politics in Nepal. And South Asia is not exactly a shining light for gender justice. But just because there might be hungry children in Somalia does not mean you can push race issues in America under the carpet. This is not the first time it has happened, but the Trayvor Martin case has opened up a fresh debate on race in America. People across the country are marching in protest.

The vast majority of Nepalis in NYC have Indian bosses, but those same Nepalis are prone to the casual use of the word “madisey” – which is equivalent to the n-word as used against blacks – when talking about the Madhesis of Nepal, some of whom are half Indian like me. The core of Jackson Heights is primarily occupied by Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis: Nepalis are few and far between. There are many such micro hurdles in the way of creating a large, positive pan South Asian identity in the neighborhood.

Over 150 years ago the Irish in Boston could vote in city elections even if they were not citizens. The diverse crowd in Queens is not exactly clamoring for the same in the city’s elections. The political consciousness is not there yet.

New York City is the most diverse city in the world, Queens is its largest and most diverse borough. Jackson Heights in the most diverse part of Queens. The 74th Street part might look very Desi, but the 82nd Street part looks pretty Hispanic. Over 50 countries are represented in this neighborhood. The Trayvor Martin case’s reverberations around here might not be the same as, say, in the inner cities of Detroit and Baltimore and Chicago, but there is no doubt diversity brings opportunities and challenges everywhere. NYC is always just one young black male shot by a white cop away from reliving the debate fast and furious.

Barack Obama is famously leery of “singing Kumbaya” or even holding a debate on race as illusory roads to nowhere. Instead he pumped billions into inner city schools not long after assuming office. But I do feel there is a certain value to talking, if only to build new coalitions to bring about further progress on race, to create “a more perfect union.”
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bihar BJP: Let The Erosion Begin

Flag of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a na...
Flag of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a national political party in India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The BJP has no prospects either in Patna or in Delhi no more. The only reason the BJP did well in the last two Bihar elections was because it was allied with Nitish Kumar. Now that that alliance is no more a lot more BJP MLAs should worry about their political futures in the state. It would be smart to jump ship and straight ahead join the JD(U). Smart is that smart does.

Bihar BJP rocked by dissidence, accuses JD(U) of poaching MLAs
Hit by dissidence in Bihar, BJP alleges Nitish Kumar trying to split the party
Bihar BJP suspends lawmaker for criticizing state chief Sushil Modi
BJP suspends rebel Bihar MLA Amarkanth Gami
Bihar BJP in more trouble as rebel MLAs threaten to join JD(U)
Trouble in BJP's Bihar unit, sources say many leaders likely to join JD(U)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, July 19, 2013

The First Black President And The Age Old Issue Of Race

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...
With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington's 1789 inauguration. VIRIN: 090120-F-3961R-919 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You can put a black man in the White House and that is quite a statement to 500 years of world history, but race is too deep and complicated an issue to be resolved by one black man's elevation to high office. And Barack Obama just admitted as much. Gutsy for the guy to talk about it in such plain language.
“I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away,” Mr. Obama said in the briefing room. “There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.” ..... “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” he said. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” ..... “I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.” ..... “I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations,” the president said.
In Wake of Zimmerman Verdict, Obama Makes Extensive Statement on Race in America
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, July 18, 2013

India 2014: Doing The Math For Nitish

हिन्दी: देश के उप राष्ट्रपति मोहम्मद हामिद अंस...
हिन्दी: देश के उप राष्ट्रपति मोहम्मद हामिद अंसारी पटना में पूर्व मुख्यमंत्री सत्येन्द्र नारायण सिन्हा(छोटे साहब) की 94वीं जयंती पर आयोजित व्याख्यानमाला श्रंखला पर पूर्व सांसद किशोरी सिन्हा और मुख्यमंत्री नीतीश कुमार के साथ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Published in Vishwa Sandesh)

India 2014: Doing The Math For Nitish
By Paramendra Bhagat

India is the most colorful, interesting democracy on earth. I read about Indian politics pretty much daily. And I am half Indian like Barack Obama is half white, the other half of me being Nepali. The impending 2014 elections in India are of tremendous interest to me. I have a feeling 2014 might throw up a strong non-BJP, non-Congress candidate for Prime Minister.

My half Indian part is Bihari. And so there is some bias there. But Nitish has got to be my favorite politician on the planet today. I say that as Barack Obama’s first full time volunteer in all of New York City. Nitish is my Lula.

I see the political arithmetic going Nitish Kumar’s way. Let’s do the math. This is one scenario that could unfold.

Congress 150
NCP 10

BJP 130
Shiv Sena 10

Congress + BJP = 310

JD(U) 30
Trinamool Congress 20
SP 20
BSP 20
DMK 20
CPI(M) 15
BJD 15
TDP 10

Total = 150
Others = 84

150 + 84 + 150 (Congress) = 384
150 + 150 = 300 And that is a comfortable majority. Nitish would not need the "Others" but could easily get most of them.

You are looking at a scenario where Nitish is Prime Minister, Modi is the Leader Of The Opposition, and Rahul Gandhi is the new Mulayam Singh, extending outside support to a Nitish led government. Rahul just so happens to be a Nitish fan, and Rahul has the option to wait.

Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) was the biggest component of the National Democratic Alliance after the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress was the biggest component of the United Progressive Alliance after the Congress. Both Mamata and Nitish have walked away. There is now talk of a Federal Front. Like the JD(U) likes to say, the only difference between them and the BJP is that the JD(U) is in power in one state and the BJP is in power in four. As in, the BJP is just another regional party, there is no national party in Indian politics anymore.

To me more compelling than the political arithmetic is the person of Nitish Kumar and what he has done in Bihar. What the guy has managed is sheer magic. Achieving a 13% growth rate in a landlocked, primarily agricultural state that is flood prone is no joke. Bihar used to be the joke in India. Now it has become the pride of India.

I have been plenty impressed by what Narendra Modi has done in Gujarat. But there are at least five other states like Maharashtra that were already well off and have shown spectacular growth rates. Modi is not alone. Bihar’s turnaround is bigger news. Not only that, Bihar is the top growing state in all of India, and Nitish Kumar is the top performing Chief Minister in all of India. Gujarat is a better economy than most countries in Europe, but then India deserves to become a world power, and there is no getting there unless you can lift up the poor masses that are huddled in Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa.

Nitish beats Modi on the economic front, and that is Modi’s one selling point. On the social front there is no competition. An India where Hindus and Muslims live together in peace and prosperity as equals is the only India that can hope to become a superpower. I was born a Hindu, I became a Buddhist later, and my family is still Hindu. Hindu pride makes tremendous sense, but so does pride in Islam, as does pride in Buddhism for Buddhists, pride in Christianity for Christians. There are more English speakers in India than in either Britain or America. The richest Briton is Indian origin. The most successful ethnic group in America is Indian as measured by per capita family income. In Nitish Kumar’s Bihar Hindus and Muslims live together fine. India is an incredibly diverse country. It is so diverse it is not a country, it is a continent. You put America, Africa and Europe together and you get an India. Paying lip service to equality is no way to lift up that country. That equality has to be felt in the bones. There many would say Modi gets a failing grade, but Nitish gets an A+.

Nitish has done much for Bihar. But he has hit his limits there. The only way he can do more for Bihar is by staking a claim to national leadership. And I see the momentum building up for him.
Enhanced by Zemanta