DIWALI WAS CLEANER, BUT WAS IT AS MUCH FUN?
It was past five in the evening on Diwali when my landline started ringing. Though bright outside you could sense dusk was not far away. This is the twilight time when, in previous years, families would prepare for the fireworks they’d planned. I answered the phone to find an agitated Pertie on the other side.
“Do you realise the Supreme Court has played a trick on us?”, he began. This took me aback. Unsure of what to say, I mumbled: “What on earth do you mean?” “Well look at it this way. The Supreme Court has said only green crackers can be used but the truth is green crackers aren’t made anywhere in India and, therefore, you can’t buy them. So, in effect, without actually saying so, the Supreme Court has banned crackers altogether. How many people realise that?”
The penny dropped and I suddenly realised why Pertie was so worked up. “What are you upset about? The fact crackers have been altogether banned or the way that’s been done?”
“You’re missing the point” Pertie shot back. “Did the Supreme Court know green crackers aren’t made in India and, therefore, cannot be used on Diwali? In which case why didn’t it simply ban crackers altogether rather than resort to this ruse? Or did it pass its order in the belief green crackers were available?”
“Are you suggesting the Supreme Court could have passed an order without fully knowing the facts of the matter?” “What else could it be? When you say only green crackers can be used but we then discover there are no green crackers to be had for love or money doesn’t it follow this was either a backdoor way of banning crackers altogether or an ignorant order?
“Hmmm”. That was the best I could come up with. “But this only applies to Delhi and not the rest of the country. The Supreme Court amended its original order to permit ordinary crackers elsewhere.”
“And isn’t that odd too? If crackers cause an unacceptable level of pollution that will be the case whether they’re let off in Delhi or Chennai. Or does it mean the Supreme Court cares more about pollution in Delhi than elsewhere?”
Once again, Pertie had a point. He had obviously thought about this and this pressure and criticism with signature defiance, and his drive to demonstrate continuing political virility may lead him to search for foreign (as well as domestic policy) villains. The likeliest candidates for this role are Iran, Mexico, and China, but he’ll remain combative even with traditional US allies in Europe and elsewhere.
Iran has proven a popular target for Trump’s aggressive approach to foreign policy. Trump’s desire to distinguish himself from Obama, who counted the nuclear deal with Iran among his achievements, will be a recurring theme as the 2020 election approaches.
Mexico is another country that Trump appears ever ready to criticise. Replacement of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the new USMCA deal with Canada and Mexico removes one obvious point of contention. But the president’s confidence that illegal immigration provides a reliable boost with his support base will keep the government of incoming president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on edge. the contradictions he now spotted seemed undeniable. However, he wasn’t finished.
“There’s something else. Nearly 80% of this country is Hindu and Diwali is their favourite festival. For hundreds of millions, letting off crackers is the traditional way of celebrating. Was it fair to ban them in one fell swoop, as the Court initially did?”
“If crackers are a serious health hazard then surely there’s no alternative?” I thought that was fairly obvious.
“Well, gluttony isn’t good for you but no one bans overeating at Christmas! The Supreme Court needed to strike a balance. Instead it’s gone to one extreme. If it was serious only green crackers can be used, why was this order not passed ten months ago, so there was time for manufacturers to make such crackers? Why pass it just two weeks before Diwali? If today millions feel hurt I can certainly understand their reaction.”
By now it was dark and in earlier years the sound of exploding crackers would have been audible. This year there was initial silence. Later there were areas where the Supreme Court order was violated, but nothing like the past. As a result Diwali was cleaner and healthier, but was it as much fun?
BUT TRUMP’S POLITICAL TALENTS SHOULD NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED, MANY PRESIDENTS HAVE SUFFERED MIDTERM DEFEATS AND GONE ON TO WIN REELECTIONS
North Korea is more likely to escape Trump’s pressure. The president may issue warnings to force Kim Jong-un to offer concessions that advance negotiations over denuclearisation, but just as Trump believes Obama owns the US relationship with Iran, he knows that he owns the North Korea effort.
Finally, there are many reasons why the Trump administration’s trade dispute with China will likely continue well into next year, whatever tentative agreements Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping announce in the meantime. Trump’s desire to persuade voters in politically crucial manufacturing states that he can force major trade concessions from China will be an important one.
China may well decide to wait Trump out. Kim Jong-un has already provided other governments the best model for how to deflect Trump’s pressure over the next two years: By smiling, offering agreements in principle, stalling negotiations with the US, and trying to wait until Trump is defeated in 2020. But Trump’s political talents should not be underestimated, and many presidents have recovered from midterm defeats to win re-elections.
It’s a risky move. But for any government in Trump’s target sites, there may not be a more effective defensive strategy.
A man wears an antipollution mask on Diwali, November 7