Coming back from a meeting at work I found my colleagues huddled around one of the televisions. It was Gordon Brown making his speech that he will leave resign soon. He looked tired and drained out and didn’t seem too pleased that his political career was coming to an end. From the TV debates a couple of weeks ago it seemed to me that he felt he had much more to contribute to British politics, Europe and to the world. Once the elections result came out, it was only a matter of time before he announced his elections. Even then I was disappointed and felt like it is the end of an era. Inspite of all his failings, I don’t think any of the current crop of wannabe prime ministers match to his experience and his level of seriousness. He is more of the pre-TV debate stock of leaders and like someone said that he has a ‘radio face’. It’s still all to play for the next government and Nick Clegg has had the hardest political decision of his life so far. If he goes for Labour then it risks being called the ‘salon de refuses’ and the progressives could see themselves voted out for a generation, if he goes for Labour then he risks losing his core constituency not to forget the left leaning papers who back him. He could decide not to support anyone and face opposition from both sides.

The interesting questions are – who will form the next government ? what will be the main planks of the coalition ( on economy, election reforms, education and EU) ? how long will it last? and who will get the most out of it (one or both the coalition partners or the opposition) ?

Its been hard for me not to be distracted by the issue of the Pakistani American , American Pakistani, trying to plant a bomb in Times Square. What was even more interesting was Hillary Clinton’s threat about ‘consequences’ if such an attack was to be traced back to Pakistan. I am not sure what is she threatening here. What exactly will the US do if the attack was indeed traced back to Pakistan ?  Impose economic sanctions on one of its largest aid recipients ? What do the tea party goers make of the fact that billions of their taxes are going to Pakistan as aid ? It is hard for me not to feel sorry for Pakistanis here. Millions of them live in a country where the government only seems to have 3 ministries (foreign, defence and interior) , no economy to speak of, indebted to the IMF and other creditors and completely dependent on foreign aid.  The government isn’t interested at all in the country’s development and neither are the country’s elite. They are bent upon converting every problem into a foreign conspiracy. Their reason why the country is in an economic, social and political mess after 6 decades of independence is because of US, India and Israel. I rarely find in Pakistani papers any news on economic and social reform. Everyone has an opinion on Afghanistan and Kashmir but no one has anything to say on the state of education in the country.

Where does Pakistan go from here?

One year ago in an unguarded moment I could have been caught saying that the British media didn’t have anything interesting to say. But all that has changed now and the knives are out. The media are pursuing their favourites, or in some cases even changing their favourites (Sun changing to Tories from New Labour and Guardian moving to Lib Dems from Labour) and criticising all the others who stand in the way of their chosen favourites.

My favourite newspaper (ok a weekly newsmagazine) in the world, The Economist, stands steadfast to its editorial stand – When in doubt turn right. How can it let go of an opportunity in a potential hung parliament to point towards the right. It ofcourse justifies it position saying, it supported the Socialists against Berlusconi. Ofcouse you bloody well support any donkey who stands against Silivio, unless you happen to be an underage model looking for an invite to his birthday party. I have to remind the Economist that they supported Bush Jr. not once but twice and even supported the Iraq war. Shame on me for continuing my subscription. The BBC ofcourse is neutral and frustratingly can not take an editorial stand. But apart from the BBC most papers, apart from the Independent and Economist to a certain extent, are biased in their reporting of the elections.

The politicians are no better. The country is facing a severe economic crisis, even though it is not one of the PIGS, and all the talk is about what they will save from the cuts. No one wants to talk about how they are going to save on spending and increase taxes to plug the deficit. The government doesn’t want to talk about it as it would reveal the mess it has got the country into and the opposition don’t want to scare away voters. All the voters have to say is as long as you protect what is important to me I don’t care what you do to the others. It’s ridiculous that there isn’t a serious enough debate happening on this issue. The other issue is ofcourse immigration. No politician seems to be able to stand up and say actually, most immigrants have been good for the economy and most of them come from the EU anyway.

More and more I see elections, I wonder why are politicians in politics. It is not for the money and I don’t buy the spin about wanting to make a difference to society or bring about change etc. They have to stand up and listen to immense amount of ignorance from their constituents and say yes to everything they ask for because if they say no then the vote will instead go to the candidate who says yes.  Then they foolishly leave their microphones on and their private conversations in which they let their steam off gets recorded on live television. I don’t know what is in it for politicians in a country like the UK which is increasingly getting entangled in the EU, its cross – Atlantic relationship will never see Cold War heights and is constantly having to punch above its weight in all issues international to make itself heard.

There is something about a good election that gets me going. I love elections in so many different ways and in another life I want to be following elections around the world. Among the many ways to understand a country the best one is sit through an election process. I ofcourse assume that the country has an election and that it is a reasonably okayish process.

In an election the country’s past and future come out and everyone has to deal with them in the present. A candidate or a political party is usually judged on the basis of its past performance and on the basis of their plans for the future. This is when people are forced to deal with the current and future direction of their country and through it their lives. This is when all the political correctness goes outside the window and the media and the general public take sides and vehemently so. The still remaining politically correct lot call themselves the undecided lot. It becomes much easier to identify the political leanings of the newspapers when they give different spins to the same event.

I have been waiting for the British elections to arrive since I registered myself to vote two years ago and I have also been hoping that it is much closer than the polls seem to suggest even 6 months ago. In India, I am now so used to the coalition politics that it seems to be a waste of a parliamentary system to have two parties share power between them for the past couple of decades. Yes, it is the opinion of some people that a hung parliament is not good for the economy but I dont agree. I think two parties running a government will have a good vote share between them as compared to one party.

What’s also been interesting for me is the different parties opinion on various issues. Even though the 3 parties are on different parts of the political spectrum they seem to agree or partly agree on different issues. The Tories and Lib Dems are agreed on Labour’s economic mismanagement , although had they been in power they would have handled things differently and they have different ideas on solving the mess. The Tories and Labour agree more on the ‘special relationship’ with the US and the Lib Dem and Labour are more Europhiles than the Tories.

Another interesting part has been the personalities of the leaders. Cameron until 6 months ago had the swagger of the prince in waiting and all he had to do was to print posters with Gordon Brown’s face and put them up. The resulting revulsion would have resulted in the shoo in for the party. They did do that but it hasn’t quite worked and Labour has been giving back a little bit more. Nick Clegg of the Lib-Dems who until last month was charitably asked in interviews who would he support in case of a hung parliament has now begun to say more and more ‘if I would be Prime Minister..’. What changed it all was the television debate (the first in the history of British politics). One more debate to go this week and it is going to be on the economy.

I am still being politically correct and saying that I am undecided. I’ll vote Labour for its social ambitions, Lib Dems for foreign policy and the Tories (half heartedly) for running  a tight economy. That sounds like a hung parliament to me !

The other day I asked myself the question why is it that I have hardly written about my adopted country. Why is it that I don’t write about my impressions of England, about my impressions of London and how is it like to live in those old and very complex country. The first answer that I got back was that I don’t know much about England and I have only been here a few years. But since when has lack of understanding has never stopped me from blogging about something and it won’t stop me now !

I find British politics really interesting. The 3 main parties to me seem to have very similar policies when it comes to governance, economy, welfare, international affairs etc. Yet elections are fought with great passion but to me the differences between the centre, centre left and centre right and not really obvious. In different areas of government the left and right sometime even switch places. But this post is not about British politics. It is about my view of Britian’s role in the international scheme of things. Britian has a lot of inherent strengths. It is probably the only country of its type and size in the worldwhich has a finger in all the different pies around the world. Which given its size means a huge punch above its weight. It has a great relationship with the US across their political spectrum, it is part of the Lisbon treaty (sort of), there is the Commonwealth (and if you think the Commonwealth is dead, then please go to Delhi and see what do the Commonwealth Games mean for a city of 15 million people),  a small finger in ASEAN (via Hong Kong). Its soft power via the BBC, English football, British Council and english language itself goes to far off places. Its unique geographic location puts it in the middle of a closing Japanese and Australian markets and opening American markets.

But all this may soon be changing for 2 primary reasons. One, the new geostrategic relationship between China and the US can be done via the Pacific and completely bypass everything in the middle. US wants to deal directly with Asia and Asia in turn wants to deal directly with Africa. How does UK and London stop itself from becoming another Singapore or a HK? This is not to say that Singapore or HK are not important in the scheme of things, but then there are only economic centres and not seats of power. No G20 gets convened there, no Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran decisions are not taken there and no one thinks of these cities and thinks ‘soft power’.

Secondly, UK is stuck in a neighbourhood which has for all practical purposes retired from business of running the world. The Europe has many claims to greatness but there have all been in the past. It is now mostly running on its past laurels. I dont see anything new and innovative coming out of Europe. I don’t see them trying to engage China. All I see is bickering and more exclusiveness. Europe is increasingly being defined by who is out of it rather than who is in it. I had great hopes from the recent elections of the EU president and that too have been dashed. The new president had this to say about Turkey’s membership some years ago. He sounds more like the head of the church of Europe. This is when Turkey is  increasingly becoming pivotal in world affairs !

Which brings me back to my original point. Where does Britian go from here and what becomes of it. UK is not content being part of the EU because it sees a lot of things differently and in some cases rightly so. It can’t be content hanging onto the coat tails of Obama and hope that some thing will come its way. They need to bring something more than table beyond just sending troops. It can’t just remain open and hope that people from all over the world will continue to invest in this country. It is also not big enough anymore to take independent positions of its own.

For once I don’t have an answer !

The other day while watching the so called ‘friendy’ cricket match between India and Pakistan, I asked myself the question – what is my first memory of Pakistan. I don’t remember clearly, but I am quite sure that it has to be someone from my family telling me about their life before partition, in what is now Pakistan. This memory recall almost always had something around how rich their families were over there. They had huge landholdings, bricks of gold (!) and lots of servants. I heard no one say that they were not so well to do or were just about ok. Everyone was very rich which I find hard to believe. I think it was ingrained in everyone’s mind that they were rich because this way they could convince the refugee settlers to give them a good deal in India.

At some point in my life I became quite fascinated with Pakistan.  The idea behind the fascination I think was that here is this country of 160 million people who are of exactly the same gene pool as Indians, who speak the same language, who consume the same culture and I know know more about its intelligence agency than its 5 major cities ! Indian media was of no use and all it could talk about was how Pakistan was meddling in India’s affairs. They had to be more to the country than that. Sitting in India there was not much I could find out except read Pakistani media. For almost a year, I think, I read Pakistani newspapers as often as I could. I mostly read Daily Times, Dawn and Friday Times. All of these made fascinating reading. Over the months a few things became clear. Day to day life in Pakistan was similar to the grind that a lot of Indians go through everyday. There was the usual gripe about prices, jobs and lack of development. There was a lot of talk of the nuclear deterrence and how Pakistan is the first Muslim nation to get it. Foriegn policy was mostly restricted to India, US, UK, China and the Arab world. India was as poorly represented, or rather misrepresented, in the media.

I now have the oppurtunity to speak to more Pakistanis and read more of their news. I still think that there is a lot of big talk without any attention being paid to the some of the more boring day to day stuff. The big talk is about Pakistan’s right to have nuclear weapons, Kashmir issue, the Af-Pak politics, military strategy, debates on islam etc. The boring stuff about poverty, development, employment, trade is somehow glossed over.  It irritates me to no end that the country can’t get its act together. The nation is rich in national resources, it has demographics on its side, it is neighbours with two of the fastest growing economies in the world, next door to most of the oil and gas in the world and yet the country’s leaders are always so involved in the ‘big stuff’ that this gets neglected. If the anecdotal evidence of support at international cricket matches is  anything go by then it also has a diaspora willing to engage in the country’s development.

The image in my head is of a man standing on an island, that is being slowly washed away in a flood, and lecturing the world on how to manage its affairs. The world’s standard response to the man is that if you are so smart then why are you still stuck on that island.

I wrote in my last post about the silly season in Indian politics. In one of those silly debates on media someone , i forget who, made a very interesting point. He said that there is no way that a Congress/UPA government will be voted in again as there is the anti-incumbency factor and that the incumbent government hadn’t done anything extra ordinary to be voted back into power. I thought this was a good point and I thought up this blog post about Sonia Gandhi. The post was going to be about how Sonia has been incharge of party politics over the past 5 years, she has had no responsibility of being a member of the government and she had the unquestioning loyalty of her party. On the other hand the opposition leaders had the dual task of opposing the government in the parliament, manging the politics and also managing a party which may not always be completely loyal. If the Congress can’t come back to form a government then the resposibility lies with her.

As things have turned out the Congress has had an incredible surge and the UPA is all set to form the government. So it is only apt that I now say that the credit of the victory lies with Sonia. A couple of things stand out to me : The fact that the government managed to complete 5 years in power inspite of some difficult partners. The government was seen to be doing something esepcially post Mumbai and post economic recession and also doing something for the ‘aam aadmi’. The surge in UP when everyone backed Mayawati to be a national force. I think Mayawati sensed that more than anyone else as she was criticising the Congress the most in her speeches.

I wonder how the new government will be ? Will the Congress be complacent without a Left to keep them on their toes and the absence of a strong BJP which is going through a leadership crisis. The first signal will be in the cabinet formation. I am particularly interested to see who will hold the portfolios for Home and Foreign affairs.

The news is full of the upcoming coronation.  I can’t seem to be able to get away from it.  If I meet someone who hasn’t heard about it my question to them is,  to borrow from the tacky Australian tourism advert, where the bloody hell were you ?

I ask because that is where I want to be to get away from it.  This doesn’t qualify as news to me. I really don’t want to know the hotel rates in downtown DC or if Obama is a combination of Lincoln, JFK and Reagen all put together. No one has explained to me why all this is relevant to the current debate. It disgusts me to see this as all one big party when we face serious issues which needed to be acted upon yesterday. And why is it so relevant that it has to push out news from the various hell holes on earth such as Gaza, upcoming elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Rwanda. Why doesn’t anyone talk about that these were more or less the same issues that were in front of incumbent president and the one before him. All the incumbent one did was to add Iraq to the list.  I loved his exit speech and perversely I can attribute the same words to Osama when he is on his death bed. Didn’t Saddam also say something similar ? I acted per my conscience and to protect my people. Everyone claims to act as per their conscience and to protect their people.  But I digress.

To go back to my point about issues being the same across different presidencies. As per the prevailing thought , and as per one of the famous speech being repeated to death, these issues facing us will not be resolved in one or two presidencies or even in our life time. So then why the focus on this one coronation ? What is Obama going to achieve in the short duration that he will be president. Why don’t the media organisations focus on getting their reporters into Gaza to get the inside view of things instead of depending on Israeli press handouts, or why not focus on Somalia and ask why inspite of US interventions the country is still what it is. Or how inspite of US sanctions against Sudan, a US citizen is able to buy a huge tract of land in Sudan as an ‘investment’ . Surely, by doing this the media will be able to better help the president, rather than hanging on to every thing he says or doesn’t say and then analysing it to death by comparing which past president has said it.