06 June 2008

McCain Vs Obama

Who will win the US Presidential elections in November? Most people look at the national polls for the answer. But America does not elect its President by a nation-wide general election. It instead follows a state-wise "electoral college" system. So for the answer to our question we must look at the state-level polls. If the elections were held today, the results would look like this:

District of Columbia3nana
New Hampshire44543
New Jersey154148
New Mexico54346
New York313850
North Carolina154541
North Dakota34438
Ohio20 4344
Rhode Island43853
South Carolina84845
South Dakota35134
West Virginia55335

'Votes' = how many electoral votes the state is worth
'McCain' = % of people in the state voting for John McCain
'Obama' = % of people in the state voting for Barack Obama

Here is how it works. All the electoral votes of a state are awarded to the candidate who wins that state. There is no proportional distribution – it's a 'winner takes all' system*. There are totally 538 electoral votes at stake. To win, a candidate must bag at least 270 electoral votes. As per this table the winner is Barack Obama, but only by a whisker – 272 to 266.

That's not the only thing close about it. Look at Ohio, which is worth 20 electoral votes. Obama is barely winning it (44% to 43%). If those 20 electoral votes go the other way, the winner will be John McCain – 286 to 252. And it's not just about Ohio. In 25 states the 'winning' candidate is ahead by less than 10%. That lead could disappear in the next 5 months. So all these 25 states are "in play". Together they are worth 240 electoral votes. That means anything can happen on November 4th!

PS: Markos Moulitsas (aka Kos) has done a similar analysis. He has chosen the poll numbers in a slightly different way, and hence has arrived at a slightly different result.

*There are two minor exceptions to this rule (Maine and Nebraska).

04 June 2008

Books on India

Today I will talk about the books I have read on my favourite subject: India.

1. The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani
This was the first book on India that I read. A short but impressive work, it is written from a Nehruvian viewpoint. Khilnani uses a lot of difficult words, so keep a dictionary by your side.

2. India Unbound – Gurcharan Das
A paean to the brave new India that was born in 1991. Written in simple language. The only sore point is that the reader is subject to the story of Das and his family too, along with the story of India.

3. No Full Stops in India – Mark Tully
Though a foreigner, Tully has understood India better than many Indians. This collection of essays is a sympathetic look at our country. It had been criticised by some people for its apparent defence of the caste system.

4. Million Mutinies Now – V S Naipaul
The final book in the India trilogy. In this book Naipaul changes his formerly negative view of India. He travels across the country listening to people's stories, and narrates them to us in his masterful prose.

5. Continent of Circe – Nirad C Chaudhuri
This is a classic from the old curmudgeon. Provocative, politically incorrect and sometimes outrageous – this is Chaudhuri at his best. His analysis of India, though fanciful, is scholarly and full of insights.

6. From Midnight to Millennium – Shashi Tharoor
Tharoor is a Nehruvian secularist and an admirer of Sonia Gandhi. Still this book is worth reading – especially for its analysis of how India's institutions decayed and crumbled during the Indira Gandhi years.

Other books on India I haven't read:

a) Heart of India – Mark Tully
b) Great Indian Middle Class – Pavan Varma
c) Elephant Paradigm – Gurcharan Das
d) Elephant, Tiger and Cell Phone – Shashi Tharoor
e) In Spite of the Gods – Ed Luce

Please let me know of any good book you have read on India :-)

02 June 2008

Hindu and Indian

I have explained how the words 'Hindu' and 'Indian' mean the same thing. Then the question arises: If the two words are the same, why does the RSS insist on using one (Hindu), instead of the other (Indian)? Why does it talk about Hindu nationalism (or Hindutva), rather than Indian nationalism?

The answer is that the word 'Indian' has come to be associated more with the nation state that was born in 1947, and the republic that was born in 1950. It is not associated so much with our 5000-year-old civilisation, our culture and our way of life. But the word 'Hindu' does have this latter association. Hence it is preferred. (See my essay on Hindu rashtra for why nationalism is primarily cultural in nature.)

This raises another question: Won't this use of the word 'Hindu' exclude and alienate India's Muslims and Christians? No, it should not. The word 'Hindu' was originally a geographic term, referring to a land and its people. In this sense all Indians are Hindus – regardless of the religion they practise. Just because some Hindus practise a different religion (Islam or Christianity) does not mean they are not Hindus. They did not cease to be Hindus when they converted to a different religion. The same blood flows in their veins that flows in ours.

So if India's Muslims and Christians are Hindu only in the geographical and racial sense (but not in the cultural sense) and we equate Indianness with Hinduness, doesn't that imply that they are less Indian than the rest of the nation? Here we must remember that Hinduism is an inclusive and universal way of life. It is not a rigid and exclusive religion. Hindu society gives people the freedom to practise any religion they want to. The presence of people who practise other religions is a testimony to the tolerance of Hinduism.

Once we realise the equivalence of the words 'Hindu' and 'Indian', a lot of our misconceptions disappear. In particular, "liberal" Hindus will stop making asinine statements like, "I am first an Indian, and then a Hindu." What is the difference between the two? And if you take away the 'Hindu', what is left of the 'Indian'?

So, Indian nationalism = Hindu nationalism = Hindutva :-)