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Realpolitik lessons from Donald Trump and Sasikala Natarajan

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap] hat is the meaning of REALPOLITIK? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations. Rulers, diplomats and intellectuals/scholars who have spoken about or/and practiced it include Thucydides, Kautilya, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Otto von Bismark, Henry Kissinger and many more.

The list just gets too long. If the list itself is this long, then one can imagine what it would take to read the works/lives of all these people and understand them.

However, nature has been kind. The world churns up circumstances from which some realpolitik lessons can be extracted. Of late, by studying simply the political lives of two politicians namely Donald Trump and Sasikala Natarajan, a few lessons can be learnt. Before that a brief introduction about the two personalities is necessary. For Sasikala Natarajan, it might be valid. However, if someone thinks that it is difficult to believe that someone would not have heard of Donald Trump, then he/she can be looked upon with empathy!!! Still an introduction ought to be given.

Donald Trump was the fourth child of New York real estate tycoon Fred Trump. While assisting his father, he realised that there were aspects that he did not like about his father’s job like rent-collection, physical labour. It was at this point of time that he decided to get involved in real-estate, but at a much higher scale than his father had ever been. He studied at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Gradually, he became a real estate tycoon and his assets include the famous Trump towers on Manhattan’s fifth Avenue, 555 California Street (which is San Fransisco’s second tallest building), Trump Building which is a 71 storey skyscraper in New York etc. After a failed attempt to run for the US presidency for the 2000 elections, on June 16 2015, Donald J Trump announced that he would be running for the Presidency on a Republican ticket. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sasikala Natarajan, on the other hand, hails from Mannargudi which is a town in Tiruvarur district of the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. She was a video shop owner in the 1980s. She was introduced to Jayalalitha by her husband Natarajan through Chandralekha, the then District Collector of Cuddalore. Immediately she caught the attention of Jayalalitha. Consequently, she moved in to the Jayalalitha residence at Poes Garden. She had been living with Jayalalitha ever since. When Jayalalitha first became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1991, she ruled the roost from the background. Subsequently, this led to more controversies than rewards. After Jayalalitha passed away on December 5, she was instrumental in installing O Paneer Selvam (OPS) as the Chief Minister of the state.

Lesson # 1 – The perils of Secrecy

Donald Trump’s biggest asset, many believe, is he speaks his mind. He does not have one thing in the mind and speak an entirely different thing. That is the reason why even his objectionable remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, Women etc which would have been labelled ‘atrocious’ and the person would have been censured heavily were they uttered by any other person, were tolerated. In spite of these and many other highly controversial remarks, people voted for him. Many who voted for Trump believed that when compared to the Washington establishment which forever had masks up on their faces, Trump was a welcome change.

In contrast, Sasikala Natarajan is said to be extremely secretive. No one in the public domain has even heard her speak. However, she possessed an enormous clout in the party affairs of the AIADMK. Party men lined up in queues to meet her and get her support in order to get the election tickets. As a result of this secrecy, she found the going to be really tough. When Jayalalitha was admitted in the hospital, no proper updates were given about her health for most of the time. No videos or photographs were released which would have gone a long way in stabilising the chaos that prevailed. This might create some obstacles in her political career.

Hence Lesson # 1 – ‘It does not pay to be too secretive in politics’

Lesson # 2 – The three laws of earning money

Everyone wants to become rich. The only people who do not want to become rich are the people who are lying about it by saying that they are happily poor. There are three ways to earn money. The first law to make money is to flex the government rules and regulations and thus make/save the hard-earned buck. The second is to become utterly dishonest, corrupt and earn the money without caring about the means by which it is earned. Taking the example of Donald Trump, there are rumours that he has not paid taxes. Donald Trump has done nothing refute this. But there is also a theory that he might have taken advantage of tax-code provisions that allow him to report negative incomes. If he has done that, legal experts say that there is nothing illegal about that. But whether he has done that or not can only be known by looking at his income tax returns which he has not done till date.

About Sasikala, one of the cases that are still pending against her is the disproportionate assets case that took 18 years to complete. The contents of the case state that Jayalalitha, as Chief Minister between 1991 and 1996, acquired over Rs 63 crore in wealth disproportionate to her known sources of income. Sasikala and her family members Ilavarasi and Sudhakaran, were accused of being part of the conspiracy. While Jayalalitha has passed away, the law is very much applicable to the other three. The accusations against Sasikala belong to the second route to earn money.

Hence Lesson # 2 – ‘If you want to earn money, do it through the first law of earning money rather than the second law of earning money’

By the way, since the third law of earning money has not been mentioned, here it is ‘Stick to being honest and stay poor’. After all, honesty comes about only because one lacks the opportunity to be dishonest…..

Lesson # 3 – The speed of action

Trump’s pace in filling up his cabinet has been impressive. He made his first cabinet appointment Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General on November 18, earlier than most recent ex-presidents. President Obama’s first pick was officially announced on November 24. Bill Clinton’s first appointment came 37 days later. According to a count by the Washington Post, since 1980, only two of the 70 cabinet announcements by five newly elected presidents had been made by November 17. Both these picks were by George H W Bush. Donald Trump has impressed many with his speed in filling up his cabinet till now.

Here Sasikala too comes up to the mark? When the news of Jayalalitha passing away at around 23.30 hrs was announced, Sasikala proved that she was an able mediator and ensured that a consensus was reached among all the Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs). Thus O Paneerselvam took oath as Chief Minister at around 01.15 hrs on December 6. She also ensured that by continuing the status quo in regards to the appointments of ministers, there was no scope for fresh rounds of confusion.

Thus comes Lesson # 3 – “At times, it is important to act quickly and decisively”

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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South Asia

Pakistan puts press freedom at the core of struggle for new world order

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Sweeping new regulations restricting social media in Pakistan put freedom of expression and the media at the heart of the struggle to counter both civilizationalist and authoritarian aspects of an emerging new world order.

The regulations, adopted without public debate, position US social media companies like Facebook and Twitter at the forefront of the struggle and raise the spectre of China’s walled off Internet with its own state-controlled social media platforms becoming the model for a host of illiberals, authoritarians and autocrats.

The regulations, that take effect immediately, embrace aspects of a civilizational state that defines its legal reach, if not its borders, in terms of a civilization rather than a nation state with clearly outlined, internationally recognized borders that determine the reach of its law and that is defined by its population and language.

The regulations could force social media companies to globally suppress criticism of the more onerous aspects of Pakistani law, including constitutionally enshrined discrimination of some minorities like Ahmadis, a sect widely viewed as heretic by mainstream Islam, and imposition of a mandatory death sentence for blasphemy.

The new rules force social media companies to “remove, suspend or disable access” to content posted in Pakistan or by Pakistani nationals abroad that the government deems as failing to “take due cognizance of the religious, cultural, ethnic and national security sensitivities of Pakistan.” The government can also demand removal of encryption.

Social media companies are required to establish offices in Pakistan in the next three months and install data servers by February 2021.

The government justified the rules with the need to combat hate speech, blasphemy, alleged fake news and online harassment of women.

The Asia Internet Coalition, a technology and internet industry association that includes  Facebook and Twitter, warned that the regulations “jeopardize the personal safety and privacy of citizens and undermine free expression” and would be “detrimental to Pakistan’s ambitions for a digital economy.”

The introduction of the regulations reflects frustration in government as well as Pakistan’s powerful military with social media companies’ frequent refusal to honour requests to take down content. Pakistan ranked among the top countries requesting  Facebook and Twitter to remove postings.

On the assumption that Facebook, Twitter and others, which are already banned in China, will risk being debarred in Pakistan by refusing to comply with the new regulations, Pakistan could become a prime country that adopts not only aspects of China’s 21st century, Orwellian surveillance state but also its tightly controlled media.

The basis for potential Pakistani adoption of the Chinese system was created in 2017 in plans for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a US$60 billion plus crown jewel of the Belt and Road, an infrastructure, telecommunications and energy-driven initiative to tie Eurasia to China.

The 2017 plan identifies as risks to CPEC “Pakistani politics, such as competing parties, religion, tribes, terrorists, and Western intervention” as well as security. The plan appears to question the vibrancy of a system in which competition between parties and interest groups is the name of the game.

It envisions a full system of monitoring and surveillance to ensure law and order in Pakistani cities. The system would involve deployment of explosive detectors and scanners to “cover major roads, case-prone areas and crowded places…in urban areas to conduct real-time monitoring and 24-hour video recording.”

A national fibre optic backbone would be built for internet traffic as well as the terrestrial distribution of broadcast media that would cooperate with their Chinese counterparts in the “dissemination of Chinese culture.” The plan described the backbone as a “cultural transmission carrier” that would serve to “further enhance mutual understanding between the two peoples and the traditional friendship between the two countries.”

Critics in China and elsewhere assert that repression of freedom of expression contributed to China’s delayed response to the Coronavirus. China rejects the criticism with President Xi Jingping calling for even greater control.

Pakistan’s newly promulgated regulations echo Mr. Xi’s assertion during the Communist party’s January 7 Politburo Standing Committee meeting  that “we must strengthen public opinion tracking and judgment, take the initiative to voice, provide positive guidance, strengthen integration, communication and interaction, so that positive energy will always fill the Internet space… We must control the overall public opinion and strive to create a good public opinion environment. It is necessary to strengthen the management and control of online media.”

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South Asia

Kashmir burns as lockdown continues

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The valley is on fire again, and it is engulfing the whole region. It is not just about Pakistan or India but the onus remains on the world, every person, every country, and every individual as Kashmir suffers from these flames.

It is burning everywhere. The dispute of Pakistan-India is not new. It has elevated from its dormant levels. From the disruption of peace-talks to election fueled border skirmishes, every action and every other effort in the region is worsening the situation.

Time has stood still. It has stopped healing wounds and only the lacerations have increased. As the lockdown persists, the agony persists and continues to darken the skies.

The cries of innocent Kashmiris (nine million of them) scream on the loss of their loved ones. The arrests under the Public safety Act (PSA) has demeaned its meaning in Kashmiri eyes and in the eyes of the world. Everyone arrested under this act have gone under detention without trial for a maximum of two years. As absurd it sounds, the trauma is more horrific.

And all of this began with the passing of Article 370. And it has raised many questions in the minds of the people living in these areas

Voted by the majority of Indian parliament members, that is,351 votes in favor and only 72 against, on 5th of August. The timing, the stunts being played by the restraining government are to be questioned. Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed to normalize the abnormal situation in the state of Jammu Kashmir. But the truth cannot be further from this. In the six months since, the state could not have destabilized more had Pakistan directly intervened. At its lowest ebb of the past 40 years, the situation needs to be normalized.

And in this manner Modi and the current Indian government have set the template for every dictatorial regime. Arrest all possible voices of a region, cut all communications, blockade the region and you are on your way.

Internet, tele-communication and any sort of media coverage was limited to say the least. As millions suffered badly with each passing day of the curfew. The valley burnt and there were no witnesses as a complete lockdown continued as the government tried to normalize the state.

But the images of the valley made their way out and the stories they tell do not need much interpretation. They support their tales without much context. It will be wrong to assume their context but there was no one to state it. Such was the stranglehold of the government. And this was in stark contrast to what was aimed at.

To revive Kashmir’s economy and make it come at par to rest of the country, a lot of different directions were available. So why mess with the hornets nest.

The necessary steps that Modi’s government had to take were promote local governance and encourage new investment plans in the state. Outdated plans had to be set aside and a renewed focus on ones that bring the state to the forefront after lagging behind rest of India for so many years.

What Mr. Modi does is anyone’s guess. After all, he has been the face of RSS backed BJP known for its neo-Nazi politics. The great face of secular India maligned by the idiosyncratic visions of a deranged lunatics.

And it has not played out well in Kashmir. The state’s lack of governance has had a detrimental impact on its development and the current legislature change will not help its case. All these measures were strongly criticized by the international media and on political forums.

The need to stabilize the region of Indian occupied Kashmir becomes very frequent question in the minds who follow the news update on the region. For Pakistan and India, the claim of Kashmir could not be more skeptical than in current situation. And impact current affairs situations in the geography.

From America taking out its soldiers from Afghanistan, to unrest in Iran and middle-east. The noisy neighbors and Kashmir issue impacts everyone. And as we learn from Soviet retreat from Afghanistan and its ensuring unrest, South Asia is not going to stabilize for some time. And Kashmir will be the talking point.

Wisdom would suggest that this issue should be decided sooner rather than later. Even if India’s claim of Kashmir being an unresolved matter of India, it should be resolved at the earliest. This has to be done some day, and with American troops leaving Afghanistan, doing it before will be a good time.

The freedom fighters have been engaged in Afghanistan for the better part of two decades and the focus will return on Kashmir. The suffering of millions of Muslims cannot be overlooked and the region will not be able to stabilize. It is in the best interests of all parties involved, especially India.

On the other side of the border, Pakistan is watching eagerly and getting support for its international claims. Peace talks have been proposed and they would mutually benefit both the countries and stabilize the region. But no movement has been seen on this front. Both Islamabad and Delhi are far from sitting across each other.

Pakistan itself has unilaterally changed the structure of Azad Kashmir government. And they did it by changing the status of the Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir territories last year. Any kind of the unrest in the Kashmir state has a direct effect on the Azad Kashmir.

And Pakistan cannot keep a blind eye on a region as close as the Indian Kashmir.It has openly talked about freedom of Kashmir from India and demands from the world to support its rights. And as Pakistan supports the Kashmir issue on all forums indiscriminately, the pressure is piling on Delhi.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced solidarity with Kashmir. His government is taking the issue to every forum possible including the human rights forums in United Nations (UN).Islamabad knows the significance of this period and has highlighted the violations happening under Article 370.Pakistan’s support Kashmir is firm and is not budging.

As the issue takes rage, other countries also got involved in it as sitting back and ignoring the matter is out of question.

The United States (US) senate committee on foreign relations has called to bring an end to this type of “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir. Even Donald Trump has offered to support in any way to solve this “complex issue”.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has shared that he is personally keeping abreast with the situation in Kashmir and would “support Pakistan in issues related to its core interests.”Xi, however, added that both India and Pakistan should resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took up the issue in the UN General Assembly. He called to resolve it through peace dialogues as they ensure the safety, equity and happiness of the people of the region rather thana rmed collisions.

Even Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom stated that the people of Kashmir “must be included” in decisions concerning their future.

Decades have passed and there is a dire need to resolve this issue as the time flies it brings more anger in the residents. Open dialogues area solution which is in the best interest of Kashmiri people. Other repercussions are hard to fathom and difficult to digest.

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South Asia

How Internal Political Instability Risks Threatening Pakistan’s International Commitments

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Dharna (Mass sit-ins) politics in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon as it has happened several times by various political parties and other entities. Yet, it is the “timing of such Dharnas” that is the most important thing for the success and failure of such methods when pressurizing governments. Currently Pakistan faces numerous problems ranging from an unstable economy, terrorism, staunch opposition from other major political parties such as the PML (N) and PPP, the Kashmir issue, the Afghanistan matter and mounting Western pressure regarding CPEC.  Any misadventure created by a Dharna or any other issue could cost the present government a heavy price in the form of regional commitments considering the current situation of the country.

Recently Bilawal Bhutto announced a Dharna to be held in March in addition to the one planned by Fazul Rehman this month. Both parties through Dharna politics want to pressurize the incumbent government via politicizing the widespread inflation plaguing the Pakistani economy. They also aimed to further build on how Fazul Rehman through his previous Dharna the previous year had tried to pressurize the Imran Khan government along similar lines. One of his top demands then was calling for a re-election because he considered the election of July 2018 rigged. This demand was favored by wide swathes of the opposition because of their resentments against the existing government and its policies.

As is the current situation within Pakistan is already unstable because of various problems. The most pressing being Western pressure being applied through the FATF and IMF in key development projects such as CPEC. Under the current circumstances, the government cannot afford any kind of strike or resentment by political parties which can diminish its image at the national as well as global levels.

This is apparent in how, the United States and India through the FATF and other means have been pressurizing Pakistan on the pretext of clamping down on money laundering which is allegedly being used by various terrorist organizations within Pakistan. In this regard, any kind of trouble generated within the country through Dharna politics or any other means would lead to the country gaining further unfavorable international attention. The resulting political instability could further bring Pakistan closer to being placed on the FATF black-list. If that happens then Pakistan would suffer immensely giving birth to a whole host of new political and socio-economic restrictions for the whole nation.

According to the present government, it has already been struggling to control the list of demands given by the FATF to avoid being put on the blacklist. This was evident in the recent visit by Imran Khan and the Army Chief to the US where a whole range of issues were clarified with the US government. These included the internal situation within Pakistan along with other regional concerns such as terrorism, the Afghan peace process, the Kashmir dispute and Chinese involvement through CPEC. Moreover, the statement by American president Donald Trump should be taken seriously by the present government that America with the cooperation of various nations will protect human rights violations throughout the world and fight against radical Islamic terrorism. There are many precedents where America has been intervening within various regions of the world under the pretext of protecting human rights and eradicating terrorism.

In addition, there is no denying that India wants to exploit the situation further by projecting the Pakistani state as the mother of terrorism at multiple regional and global forums. There can be various motives behind this move in which the Kashmir issue and RSS ideology hold immense importance. It is widely believed that PM Narendra Modi wants to divert the attention of Pakistan as well as other regional and global forums from the atrocities and human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir.

In this regard, Imran Khan has been trying his best to halt Dharna politics through multiple strategies by calling for political unity to help alleviate the current difficult situation in the country. This for instance has been evident in his attempts to prioritize the threat from India regarding the Kashmir issue well as India’s designs to portray Islamabad as a terrorist state, above the internal politics being waged within Pakistan. Such concerns have made the situation of the country considerably sensitive hence the government has to behave and act sensibly to control the emerging situation. If such issues are not going to be solved skillfully and efficiently, then the entire nation is likely to bear the consequences and repercussions of the troubles generated through such internal instability.

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