Ireland’s victory in the world’s new civil rights struggle

gay-marriageIreland has made history, becoming the first nation in the world to legalise gay marriage through a popular vote. 62% voters said yes to provide same sex couples the same protection granted to heterosexual couples under the Irish Constitution. It is a great achievement for a nation dominated by the Catholic faith – which clings to the medieval concept that homosexuality is immoral, where just 22 years back, homosexuality was a criminal offence. Now, same-sex couples will be recognised as a family under Irish law. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin said that the verdict was a reaffirmation of the views of the youth and the Church has a huge task ahead of it to reassess its stance, if not maintain its relevance.

This victory is an example of how secularist principles and basic human rights enshrined in the doctrine of democracy can triumph over religious and political intolerance. Less than two years back, Ireland’s neighbor – the United Kingdom passed the same-sex marriage bill – championed by literally the ‘Conservative’ party – which once upon a time used to tout the ‘family values’ model and was completely against gay rights in Britain.

gay marriageSame sex marriage is now legal in 20 nations worldwide. The verdict in Ireland is a strong message to the other democracies of the world. The pursuit of same-sex rights is likely the new civil rights movement as 21st century democracies still struggle with old-world ideals.

It is ironic that in many thriving democracies there is a significant disconnect between culture and politics. Take India and the United States, where dozens of homosexual men and women play a significant role in popular culture – be it films, art or literature. However, in both nations, their nature is called a perversion, a disease, and is even considered a crime by numerous political leaders. In India, the gay community enjoyed a fleeting victory when homosexuality was decriminalised in 2009. To the dismay of millions, the Supreme Court of India, which is not only the highest court in the land but is also considered the moral sentinel of the nation, overturned the decision, maintaining the constitutionality of Article 377 which criminalises homosexuality.

Meanwhile, in the United States, where Christianity dominates politics in the Bible-belt states, same-sex rights are a distant pipe dream as the political stigma against it is very much alive. Barack Obama is the only US President in history to support same-sex rights; however he maintained his distance from the subject the majority of his first term in the White House.

gay marriage 2Ireland has shown the world a rare conviction in democratic and secularist principles. The nation’s move resonates with progressives in countries across the world including India. This political victory should embolden and inspire same-sex activists to continue their efforts to nudge the nation along with the rest of the world to achieve supreme social equality. The world is different, its citizens are now more empowered than ever to communicate and disseminate ideas and virtues, and society is slowly becoming more courageous to come to terms with reality. Only recently the media reported the story of Padma Iyer, a mother from Mumbai who posted a matrimonial advertisement seeking a groom for her gay son Harish. Social media exploded lauding Padma Iyer for her bravery and for loving her child for who he was. These cases should nourish the faith of same sex activists, that even India is inching closer to a reformed mindset, and embolden their resolve to continue this 21st century civil rights struggle. They may not face the same adversity Martin Luther King Jr faced in the United States or the Suffragist movement faced in the United Kingdom, yet their resolve should be as powerful. Destiny will reward them and humanity will be better for it.

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Modi@365: A General weaving vision

In the epic series Game of Thrones, the general Stannis Baratheon speaks about his brother Robert Baratheon, the former king of Westeros. Robert was not a popular leader, but Stannis says that whatever the people of Westeros thought about Robert’s rule, on the battlefield he had the ability to command the respect and camaraderie of his troops and the citizens. According to Stannis, Robert’s image of a seasoned battle-commander, wielding a war-hammer, his resounding speeches leading his men into battle was his greatest strength that cemented his rule.

Completing one year at the helm of power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governance record is debatable, but the BJP leader has been adept at maintaining the image of being an active 24/7 executive head and the best man for the job, given the crop of leaders across parties. Modi’s moves to empower state leaders, his foreign visits to expand bilateral ties, cultural engagements abroad with the Indian diaspora, moves to boost the social security sector & international investments, as well as international relief operations, have given the right impression to the people of India and world leaders. The tangible outcomes of Modi’s time in power are yet to make a grand entrance on the political stage, but in the battleground of politics, just like war, the perception of able leadership is as essential.

The International Journal of Management and Strategy recently carried a very interesting article on leadership and perception, saying, “The right perception is a significant skill for any effective leadership. It is important to understand that perception is often portrayed through communication in any organization, be it big or small and therefore, it is a pertinent tool in leadership. What sets great leaders apart is their ability to manage perceptions in the process of
handling people and organizational issues.”

perceptionTake all the big leaders from competitive democracies – Barack Obama from the US, David Cameron from United Kingdom and Tony Abbott from Australia – despite the differing opinion over their governance records – perception management, the atmospherics, the catchphrases have been key to their political success, which their rivals have not been able to match.

The average voter’s mind oscillates between awe, faith, distrust and sheer anger. It is crucial for a leader to reward the faith of his/her constituents, despite the nature of the truth, to maintain his/her position. The reality is that, to ensure a vision for the future, sometimes the truth is not good enough.

The past one-year has sent the right message, and there has been nothing significant to drag Modi’s image down. Ghar vapsi, suit-boot jibes, motor mouth MPs cannot dent Modi’s image after he stormed into Parliament driving the bandwagon of aspirational India. However, as time passes, the Prime Minister must focus on the visible delivery of concrete results of his national development projects. There is a law of diminishing returns regarding the faith of voters and over time perception management cannot ensure voter confidence alone. In the ballot box, an unsatisfied voter has a bad temper.

PM Modi expands Indo-Mongolian ties

With his trip to Mongolia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expanding India’s influence in China’s backyard and also building on almost 60 years of diplomatic and cultural ties with the Central Asian nation.

Cameron and Modi: Bucking media narratives

 

Cameron-congrat-modiAfter David Cameron’s Conservative party stormed into 10 Downing Street winning a staggering majority in the UK elections – the British media has been forced to eat humble pie, for getting their election predictions and pre-election narratives completely wrong.

State broadcaster and British news leader, the BBC has come under heavy fire for taking an anti-Conservative stance before the polls, dubbing the party as classist and anti-working class. BBC news shows on radio repeatedly wheeled out comedians who professed to be anti-conservative, with Scottish comedian Rhona Cameron even using the platform to call the Conservatives a ‘cancer’. Veteran BBC news presenter Andrew Marr was also forced to apologise after falsely accusing David Cameron of saying that fox hunting is his favourite sport. The channel also featured political experts who rubbished the exit polls, with some even promising to ‘eat their hats’ if a Conservative sweep came true.

While British pollsters have admitted to their difficulties in contacting a truly representative sample of voters to extrapolate results, the UK media has now come up with term ‘Shy Tories’ to explain the last minute swing to the Conservative party. The term refers to a set of voters who slam the Conservative party in public but instinctively vote for them behind the screen of a polling booth. The UK media is now blaming them for its inaccurate predictions.

narendra-modiThe BBC’s narratives remind me of the coverage of 2014 Indian general elections, where Prime Minister Modi shocked the nation by leading the BJP to a sweeping victory. For 10 years, using much sharper language, other parties and NGOs targeted Modi with attacks mobilized on different media platforms, with varied references to Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler and communalism, but they could not keep him away from the Gujarat CM or the PM’s chair.

Considering these two elections, in different countries, the question arises, is the television media more interested in reporting events with just the aim to mobilise news narratives entrenched in the public sphere? Is it interested in reporting events according to the clearly defined perceptions of political units and social groups, as opposed to facts that may crack those templates?

In Britain, the template for the Conservatives is that they are pro-rich and anti-working class, the section of society that the Labour party has championed for decades. In India, the BJP’s template is that it is anti-minority and communal. The above question was clearly answered when church vandalism cases in the capital and other places across the nation took centre stage. With the BJP at the Centre, the coverage focused not on the ‘threat’ but the ‘threat perception’ of minorities being under attack. The Opposition, activists and church politicians all had a field day pointing fingers at the government saying its worst fears about the BJP had come true.

The same narrative came to a grinding halt when police reports stated that all the cases were not linked but random acts of vandalism by miscreants – who did not belong to a specific community. But that report had no place in primetime, as it would go against the pre-established template used for reporting on the BJP. In fact even top journalists who are supposed to be unbiased, who adorn different TV debates, now have clear political leanings – no matter how many times they claim to have seen the ‘ground reality’.

tv offThese elections, if not general TV media coverage has shown that there is a significant disconnect between the opinions and analysis of TV news and the mindset of the average voter. But, it also shows that the voter is not taking cues from the media, but is making his or her decision via a diverse exposure from TV, press, social media, word of mouth, gut-feeling and so on. TV news no longer frames public opinion, but feeds off public opinion, sparked after tossing in an informational grenade, with Twitter becoming its favourite laboratory.

Television news media always appeals to political parties to ‘introspect’ after an election defeat to maintain or re-gain credibility. Media channels should take their own advice, only if they are interested in credibility.

Big win for Indian origin candidates in UK elections

While the Conservatives and The Scottish Nationalist party celebrated their unprecedented victories, the UK elections also showcased strength of representatives of the British Indian community. It was a big day for Indian origin candidates from the two big parties as they registered victories with impressive margins.