The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: India

A mother-in-law and (in) journalism

by fpman

We have discussed Amal Alamuddin’s marriage with George Clooney before, and tracking the story suddenly put Ziad Takieddine, Amal’s uncle, on our radar, too. Now we turn our attention to Baria Alamuddin, Amal’s mother – “Clooney’s mother-in-law,” says the Guardian, rudely, given that Amal is, on the one hand, Mrs Clooney herself, and, on the other, that her mother may as well be simply “Amal’s mother.”

This is Baria Alamuddin’s personal webpage.

We just can’t stop thinking, and even saying – aloud – “Wowoweewow,” as we go through the intro. Listen to this:

“(she) has interviewed numerous heads of state including, King Hamad Bin Issa Alkhalifa, President Hosni Moubarak, King Hussain of Jordan, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Fidel Castro, to name a few. She was the last journalist to interview Indira Ghandi.

At the part where the text says “to name a few” we were totally cooked.

For reference, this is a report on the interview with Indira Gandhi, together with some excerpts from the interview itself (prepared shortly before Indira Gandhi’s assassination).

And this is a somewhat random image from the above video, as portrait, of “an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the United Kingdom,” as well as a mother (and now mother-in-law).

BariaAlamuddin

The burden of legacy: Aung San Suu Kyi’s presidential hopes

by AiteVer

Aung San Suu Kyi’s story may be a prime example of why we created this blog. A person with global outreach and immense political capital – a beneficiary as well as a sufferer of her family connections. ‘The Lady,’ as she’s known by many, once again seems headed towards political deadlock in her struggle with the regime ruling Myanmar/Burma, in part because of her family ties. We’re tuning into this at a moment when not much seems to be going forward – to provide the context now so we can refer back to it when keeping you posted on developments later on.

AungSanSuuKyiAn iconic image of Aung San Suu Kyi from her Wikipedia file

The Nobel laureate leader of the National League for Democracy (the main opposition party in Myanmar) was born in Rangoon (today: Yangon) in 1945 and was only two years old when her father was assassinated by his rivals. Bogyoke (meaning General) Aung San was the founder of the modern Burmese army as well as the main negotiator of the country’s independence in 1947. After years of attempts to erase his memory by the present rulers of the country, he is today again celebrated as a national hero.

Suu Kyi inherited this legacy but had no ambitions to enter Burmese politics. She followed her mother to Nepal and India when she was appointed ambassador to the two countries in 1960, and afterwards went on to study in the UK, and then live in the US and work for the UN for a while. She returned home eventually to be at her mother’s bed after she had suffered a stroke. It was at this point when she joined the pro-democracy movement that originated in what seemed transitional times but culminated in the failed “8888 uprising” – so named after its starting date of August 8, 1988.

Still in that August, standing under a giant picture of her father, she told a massive gathering that ‘I could not, as my father’s daughter, remain indifferent to all that was going on’. Events, however, led to the military once again taking the reins, in September, cracking down on opposition protests.

Suu Kyi may have lost an important battle at that point, but her image as a global defender of human rights had only just begun to take off, in great part thanks to her husband, Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibet, author of many studies, among them this one.

ArisFamilyMichael Aris, Aung San Suu Kyi, and son Alexander in 1973 (source: Aris family collection)

Their marriage was a symbol of voluntary sacrifice, as Suu Kyi remained under solitary house arrest right up till her ultimate release in 2010. In the meantime, Aris and their two children were rejected visas by Burmese authorities on most occasions and they could only meet with Suu Kyi a couple of times. The relationship carried the air of tragedy about it. It ended in 1999, when Aris died in the UK of prostate cancer, on his 53rd birthday. He patiently promoted his wife’s cause around the world and collected the awards she received, on her behalf – including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. His death must have been a shattering loss to Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has, since, taken steps towards a more democratic form of government. After she had been released in 2010, Suu Kyi was even elected to the parliament in 2012. But the current constitution still bars her from running in next year’s presidential elections – related to her family ties…

The Constitution – proposed, and subsequently accepted in a referendum, under military rule in 2008 – says that the president cannot be directly related to a foreigner.  As Suu Kyi’s late husband was a British national, and so are her two sons, too, it is hard to see this provision as anything but targeted at her in the present context.

Earlier this year, there were signs of hope that this may change, and a parliamentary committee began to review the constitution. At the same time a petition to amend it was signed reportedly by over 5 million people. However, as of today it seems that the clause in question is going to stay. And this leaves the strongest opposition candidate with less than a fair chance to contest the elections.

Characteristically, she relates to this with a stoic’s optimism (if there is such a thing). Speaking to a group of artists a couple of days ago she promised:

“As I often say, 2015 will not decide which way our country will go forward—it is 2014 that will decide it. If we can progress the right way in 2014, we can get what we want in 2015.”

Unfortunately, she will be 70 by the time of the election next year. Even if the ultimate constitutional hurdle is removed, she will have a long life of struggle to look back to before she can realise her ambition.

Manmohan Singh: A bookworm in the crossfire of a book war

by fpman

“Strictly Personal: Manmohan and Gursharan” is a freshly published book by the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s daughter, Daman Singh. Its promise is avowedly modest — you can read an interview with the author here, and another brief introduction here, to learn a few details about what you can expect from it.

DamanSingh_StrictlyPersonalCover of the new book by Daman Singh

Focused on the human side of Manmohan Singh’s political career it builds on the strengths of the former PM at a time when he might just need this, to shape perceptions of his legacy to his advantage. Being a nice, smart and humble person is what is generally regarded to have been his strength, and the book may as well be a reminder of that.

ManmohanSinghManmohan Singh’s Wikipedia profile pic

The father of major liberal economic reforms during his time as Minister of Finance (1991-1996), and later premier (2004-2014), no matter how much he was attacked for his policies, Manmohan Singh has always been respected for his personal qualities which even opponents did not usually deny.

A case in point is Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to the former PM from 2004 to 2008, who, while otherwise criticizing rampant corruption during Manmohan Singh’s time, goes only so far as to argue:

“Dr Singh’s general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others … In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers.”

Baru is nevertheless one of those former team members from Singh’s cabinet who have published books dealing with his tenure that have done some damage to his reputation. Baru’s book has the telling title of The Accidental Prime Minister (referring to Singh himself there).

Meanwhile, the memoirs of a former Minister of External Affairs, Natwar Singh (in office: 2004-2005; no relation to Manmohan Singh) are also out since the beginning of this month, and copies of both that book (‘One Life Is Not Enough’) and Baru’s are selling fast — in record numbers in Indian terms.

Based on what we know from the press accounts so far, both books paint a picture of Manmohan Singh’s government (2004-2014) as one where Sonia Gandhi and the Indian National Congress party were really pulling the strings. See samples of what Natwar Singh had to say here and here. He even says Manmohan Singh considered himself “a very lonely man” in the “dyarchy” that left the most power in Sonia Gandhi’s hands.

This will once again reinforce allegations that as the frontman in said arrangement, the former PM may have been complicit — in a half-knowing sort of way, and in spite of his personal merits — in some corrupt wheeling and dealing going on behind his back. Such allegations include the undervalued sale of coal mining rights to investors under his government. “Undervaluing,” resulting in this case in lost revenues in the order of $210 billion dollars according to an estimate mentioned here, would imply informal kickbacks paid by the investors to certain beneficiaries in return, in what is a fairly typical form of corruption. That, if true, is certainly a bit too much to overlook without getting at least a part of the blame, even if Manmohan Singh’s approach to this may have reflected his understanding of pragmatism at the time and he may have seen no workable way to stop this from happening.

Coming several months after the publication of The Accidental Prime Minister, and a week or two after the launch of One Life Is Not Enough, Daman Singh’s book now is not the kind of book that would spend much time discussing such issues, however. Of Baru’s and Natwar Singh’s memoirs the author has this to say:

“I haven’t read either of the two books. They’re not the sort of books I normally read. As far as I can tell Natwar’s book is about politics which is not the kind of book am normally interested in reading … I wrote this book because I wanted to discover my parents as individuals.”

In her story, Indians can, for instance, sympathize with the young Manmohan, the former Cambridge guest student who, during his time in Britain, did not have much money and had to skip meals and get by on sixpence chocolate bars. They may get useful reaffirmation of Manmohan Singh’s generally positive image as a bookworm — as a man of constant contemplation. In Daman’s words:

“He worked in bed where he sat cross-legged with a pillow on his lap, a stack of files beside him. As he hunched over his papers, inscribing neat squiggles, he would tug his beard and mutter to himself. When he was not working, he was usually preoccupied with a book or else with his thoughts.”

Even the pratfall effect (i.e. that our respect for someone we already hold in high regard may increase after we witness the person in question commit a small, non-consequential mistake, or display weakness in some irrelevant area) may come — in consonance with the image above — to Manmohan Singh’s advantage. Quoting Daman again, on her father:

“He was completely helpless about the house and could neither boil an egg, nor switch on the television.”

Boiling eggs may be tough, but politics can be even tougher.  And politics at the helm of a country of 1.2 billion people can be… even tougherer. To say the least, under such circumstances, one may benefit from books written by empathizing family members. This is even more so in the wake of a wave of semi-accusing accounts by frenemies — people on your side who were always part team members and friends, part fellow travelers and opportunistic exploiters, as is the norm in politics.

Having said all this, these are of course only initial impressions from my part, in lieu of having read the book itself — to which I am looking forward.