Archive for February, 2013

Narendra Modi’s motivational message

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Mint, 8 February 2013

No one jokes about Narendra Modi. If you google “Narendra Modi jokes”, you get links to news items about Modi joking about something, or Congress statements that “Rahul vs Modi” is a joke. But when you google “Manmohan Singh jokes” or “Rahul Gandhi jokes”, hundreds of authentic gags pop up. And Twitter overflows daily with cheeky one-liners about them. But no one jokes about Modi. Apparently, you can hate him or love him, but he has left no scope in the public space for satire, irony or disdain.
Modi is clearly a force the likes of which Indian politics has not seen for decades. And when on Wednesday, at the Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), he delivered his first speech in Delhi after his victory in Gujarat, what one saw was a man at the top of his game. At the very least, it was a lesson to every Indian politician on what to say and how to say it to young Indians.
The statistic we are constantly bludgeoned with is that nearly 60% of India is under the age of 40. A recent Asian Development Bank report mentions a more palpable figure: a million young Indians will be joining the workforce every month for the next 20 years. This is both terrifying and exhilarating. How Indian polity and economy respond to this will, quite simply, determine the country’s future for the next 50 years. If these massive waves of aspiration find no productive network of channels, we could be looking at a disaster of unimaginable scale: a tsunami of anarchic despair. At SRCC, Modi faced 1,800 soon-to-be members of that great wave. Yes, they will be among the most privileged (SRCC is the country’s top commerce college), but Modi’s words went out to millions of other young men and women looking for their destinies, which will in time shape India’s future.
No one writing about what Modi said can escape comparing it with Rahul Gandhi’s speeches to the youth. Rahul, whose party has been in power at the Centre for most of the years India has been independent (and currently for eight straight years), talks usually of a rotting corrupt exclusionary system and appeals to the young that only they can change it. In contrast, Modi, who has ruled Gujarat for more than a decade now, showered the audience with examples to prove that he has brought great prosperity to Gujarat, using the same laws, officials, government machinery—that is, the same system. Underlying message: Stop blaming the system, because the system is you, and you can do better if you want to.
Anant Rangaswami has very perceptively pointed out in “Decode (Modi’s) speech, and these are the words which pop out: Development, education, youth, progress, brands, india, success, profit and wealth creation, going abroad, pride, technology, brains and employment. That about covers all that the youth focus on.” Dripping with positivity, Modi almost seemed like a professional motivational speaker, using pithy metaphors, humorous anecdotes and simple examples. One metaphor will surely be remembered for a long time. Holding up a glass of water, he said: “Some say this is half empty, others say this is half full. I say this is full, half with water, and half with air.” This is corny, but this is young populist corn at its best. In social media, a new word has already been born: Modivation.
He delighted his audience with the sort of acronyms that the young thrive on: P2G2 (pro-people good governance), 5F (farm to fibre to fabric to fashion to foreign), 3S (skill, scale, speed). He spoke of building India’s largest convention centre in 162 days, of having 50% of India’s gross domestic product under one roof in his Vibrant Gujarat summit, of having completely eradicated 120 cattle diseases in six years (SRCC’s principal provided further proof of Modi’s efficiency when he said that the college had invited 11 people, including five cabinet ministers, to address the students, and Modi’s office was the first to reply; some replies were still awaited).
Modi played masterfully with words when he said that we are now seen, not as a nation of snake charmers, but mouse charmers. Congress’s riposte, that the IT revolution was started by Rajiv Gandhi, was silly and irrelevant. Modi was not claiming credit for India’s IT boom; in fact, he ascribed it all to the Indian youth.
In essence, while Rahul says that India needs the young to save the country, Modi said that India is rocking because of its young, and they should just keep following their dreams tenaciously and carry the nation with them. And when he said that the nation has had enough of vote bank politics, it was now time for development politics, that the government had no business to be in business, that the only way forward was minimum government and maximum governance, his words resonated in every jaded middle-class heart.
The past two years have taught us that the Indian middle class can no longer be defined by mere demographics. It is an outlook that has little to do with income, defined by aspiration, pride, utter lack of faith in the state, and a willingness to fight for one’s rights. Modi addressed 1,800 college students, but he spoke to that larger mindset across India and may just have connected with millions.
Whether he will ever be the prime minister (PM), and whether his being PM is a good thing are questions that time and circumstances will answer. But Modi’s performance at this premier Delhi college stamps him as the one Indian politician who truly has his finger on the pulse of a very large section of the population, while perfectly disguising his appeal in trans-political garb.

South Africa is cricket’s most fearsome foe

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Mint, 6 February, 2013

Last Saturday, 2 February, South Africa took 128 minutes and 29.1 overs to bowl out Pakistan for 49. Dale Steyn took six wickets, conceding eight runs. Shylock would have swooned.
In November, India goes to South Africa to play a three-Test series. When I saw the Pakistan scorecard, I panicked and called up a cricket expert friend. What, I asked in a quivering voice, will happen to India on those fast southern hemisphere pitches?
Because, skittling out Pakistan for 49, though awesome, is only the tip of the iceberg. When one considers that South Africa has now bowled out rival teams thrice for under 50 in the last 14 months, the more appropriate word would be “terrifying”.
Exactly a month before Pakistan’s ignominy, on 2 January, at Newlands, Cape Town, New Zealand were all out for just 45 runs. The butchery took only 100 minutes and 19.2 overs. Vernon Philander claimed five wickets for seven runs.
In November 2011, also at Newlands, South Africa did an even quicker job on Australia. Ninetyfive minutes, 18 overs, 47 all out. Philander five for 15.
According to the latest International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings, South Africa is the No 1 Test team in the world. South Africans top all three Test player categories. Hashim Amla is the No. 1 batsman, Steyn the No. 1 bowler, and Jacques Kallisthe No. 1 all-rounder. There are three South Africans among the top 10 batsmen, three among the top 10 bowlers, and two in the all-rounder list.
In 63 tests, Steyn has bagged 323 wickets, with 21 five-wicket hauls. Philander has 78 wickets in 14 tests with eight five-wicketers. These are extraordinary statistics (Of course, the most extraordinary fact of all is that in the recent concluded Indian Premier League auction, no team picked up Philander; clearly the team owners know something that we mere mortals don’t ).
And that’s just the bowling part. In November-December last year, after drawing two Tests in Australia, South Africa won the last one at Perth by 309 runs. The 309 is not the point here; Tests have been won by larger margins. What was spectacular was the way South Africa batted in their second innings. They scored 569 at 5.08 runs per over, that is, at a healthy one-dayer rate, with Hashim Amla scoring 196 off 221 balls, and AB De Villiers 169 off 184. It was slaughter.
This was hardly a one-off hi-jinks display. A few months before this, in England, South Africa declared at 637 for two (yes, two) in the Oval Test. Amla was 311 not out, Kallis 182 not out, and captain Graeme Smith had made 131. South Africa won the three-Test series 2-0 and dislodged England from its No 1 position among Test teams.
To go back to statistics again, South Africa has four batsmen with batting averages above or very close to 50: Kallis with 56.48, Amla with 51.94, de Villiers with 49.96, and Smith with 49.15. And of course, Kallis bowls very well, too, thank you, and de Villiers is arguably the best wicketkeeper in the world right now. In fact, while hardly anyone talks about it, it is now almost an undeniable fact that Kallis, with 44 centuries and 288 wickets, is the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen. Yes, greater than Sir Garry Sobers.
To come back to my panicky phone call. As horrific visions of repeated exterminations of the Indian team rose before my eyes, I was amazed to find that my cricket expert friend was unfazed. Not to worry, he told me. Of course we’ll lose, quite possibly we’ll lose all three Tests, but India will never be all out for less than 50. I asked what the basis of his confidence was. Oh, that’s the way it is with India, he explained, his tone the audio version of a cheerful shrug with raised eyebrows and a smile. Someone always scores some runs. Maybe Gautam Gambhir will score a 53 while no one else reaches double digits. Maybe it’ll be 27 for 5, and Dhoni will come in and score 47 with four sixes. When all seems lost, Ashwin will hit a fluent 40, with Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma providing him shaky company. It’s always that way with India.
When you talk about the Indian cricket team, don’t get bogged down in statistics, he advised me, a bit condescendingly, I thought. Sure, go by the numbers when you think of the South Africans, those unblinking cyborgs. But always keep the black swan in mind. South Africa is applied science, India is abstract art. Microprocessor design and Jackson Pollock. When Pollock chucked the first blob of paint on a huge blank canvas, do you think he had a clue what the final painting would end up looking like? That’s what Indian cricket is like. Indian cricket is ineffable. Now I must put the phone down, I need to do my one hour of hatha yoga.
He cut the line, and I googled to find out what “ineffable” means. There are no words for it, it seems.