Of demonetization. And magic. And Modi

Demonetisation__The_Greatest_Magic_Act_Ever_Performed

Image courtesy BuzzFeed

(NB: This is the uncut version of an article originally published on BuzzFeed on November 7)

At 8 PM on the 8th of November 2016, the curtain rose on the greatest magic act of all time.

That evening, one man stepped onstage in front of the largest captive audience ever assembled for a performance and, in a speech spanning 2423 words that took 25:04 minutes to deliver, converted most of the currency of one of the largest economies in the world into so much worthless paper.

It was intended, he said, to usher in a Swachch economic Bharat. It was audacious in concept and ambitious in scale, even as it flew in the face of received wisdom that you cannot fool all the people all the time.

The ace mentalist Nakul Shenoy told me that a magician can, and often does, stumble during a performance. Modi’s stumble came four days into his essay in mass hypnotism when, in a November 12 speech to the NRI community in Kobe, Japan, he laughed at the hapless victims of his newest trick. “Ghar pe shaadi hai,” he smirked at one point, “lekin paisa nahin hai.” (There’s a wedding at home, but there’s no money.)

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Media magic

The advantage of having a friend — in this case, Nakul Shenoy — who is adept at magic (though he, all the while, denies that there is anything called magic) is that you can over time learn to spot the moves even as the magician makes them.

Take cups-and-balls, a trick that dates back over 2000 years. It is one of the most ubiquitous of magic acts. Watch the legendary Penn and Teller perform the act:

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Post-script to strategery

Well, what do you know?! In response to my post on the BJP’s wonky strategery, I get three different emails, in the space of under an hour, all essentially asking the same thing: Am I reading too much into one case being withdrawn and one warrant in another case being issued, both involving Hardik Patel?

Like I said at the outset, when I restarted my blog, I prefer to keep all discussions here, and not one-on-one in email — I’m fine voicing my opinions in public, no reason you need to be wary about voicing your questions to me. So. In response to the above question — I am, am I? Reading too much?

Headline #1: Govt to withdraw 90% cases against agitating Patidars

Headline #2: Eye on elections, Gujarat govt to drop most cases against Patidars

Where’s the catch? Headline #1 is dated August 1, 2016. Headline #2 is dated October 13, 2017

That is what I meant when I said the BJP uses, and withdraws, cases not because of its vaunted law and order credentials, but because of political expediency.

The case in which a non-bailable warrant has been issued against Hardik Patel relates to damage to property and related sections. In response to my comment, I got this on Twitter:

Yeah, some think. And remember. Like, so (Dated October 18, 2017):

Continuing its populist announcements, Gujarat government on Wednesday declared to withdraw criminal cases registered under the provisions of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act and other relevant penal sections against 22 farmers of Sanand region in Ahmedabad district. Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja made the announcement in an official release.

While on which, you really can’t fool all the people all the time. As witness:

The announcement came barely a week after the Bharatiya Janata Party government promised to withdraw all “non-serious cases” filed against members of the Patidar community after their protest rally in August 2015 had led to rioting and violence across the state. The land-owning Patidar or Patel community, which accounts for 14% of Gujarat’s population, is fighting for reservation in jobs and education under the Other Backward Classes category.

However, neither the Sanand farmers nor the Patidar leaders are moved by the BJP’s attempts to placate them. Dismissing the announcements as pre-poll bait, they claimed the government had yet to address their main problems and demands.

Shailesh Thakkar, one of the 22 farmers from Upardal village in Sanand, doubts the government will keep its word. “We have been seeing in the media that the government has claimed it will withdraw the cases against us,” he said. “But will they actually withdraw the cases? I doubt it.” Thakkar spent 16 days in jail before he was released on bail in March.

If you still think the latest action against Hardik Patel has to do with law and order, can I interest you in a big bridge?

 

What price strategery?

Serious question: Just what is the belief that the BJP is the master of the political strategy based on? Certainly not recent activities south of the Vindhyas and in Gujarat.

Kerala was doing its thing when the RSS/BJP combine decided to stir things up in the Kannur/Kasargode region. When that particular kitchen became too hot for comfort the party apparatus pulled out its default stunt — the yatra — and ended up with the dampest of damp squibs. So much so that in order to get some media attention, Amit Shah had to transplant the Kerala yatra to New Delhi.

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The BJP distances itself

Yesterday I learned that the BJP has distanced itself from Sangeet Som’s remarks on the Taj Mahal. That is nice. Firm and decisive. Just like always.

Back in May 2015, a row erupted when Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi commented that those who want to eat beef should go to Pakistan or some Arab country. Kiren Rijiju, his Cabinet colleague, said no restrictions can be placed on what you eat.

Party president Amit Shah distanced the BJP from both views — which begs the question somewhat: What then is the BJP’s official position on beef if it is distanced equally from “can eat” and “cannot eat”? That it is okay to chew but not swallow, in emulation of Bill Clinton’s ‘I did not inhale’ formulation on smoking dope?

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Of Modi, the Mahabharat, and epic hubris

As of today, starting an irregular column on politics and current affairs for BuzzFeed. The first, on the shifting narrative on Modi and contemporary politics, is here.

Kerala, redux

The calls from Kerala where I have family, and friends on various sides of the political spectrum, were jocular; much amusement was apparently occasioned by the BJP’s ‘Janraksha Yatra’. Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath were particularly ripe targets for that peculiarly Mallu brand of humor, whose chief characteristic is savage cynicism.

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