Tuesday, June 15 2021

Dive In

Yesterday was one of those days that I had dreamt of when I was a really young kid learning chess, to interact with Vishwanath Anand… I had help from the people analyzing the game, computers and the graciousness of Anand sir himself to treat the game as a learning experience.

That’s Zerodha co-founder Nikhil Kamath trying to justify the fact that he took a lot of unauthorised help to beat grand chess master Vishwanathan Anand—in a fundraising match for Covid relief, no less! The secretary of the All India Chess Federation disagreed with Kamath’s definition of a ‘learning experience’, saying, “This is really bad. For the noble cause, we are helping people and such things shouldn't happen.” FYI, Kamath’s Chess.com global account has been banned due to the incident. Also: why some tech startup bros need to take an Ethics 101 class.

Big Story

Splainer AMA coming up!

Our next Ask Me Anything is with novelist, podcaster, and radio commentator Sandip Roy (greatly beloved among our splainer audience for his Asterix-themed Bengal explainer). Sandip is the author of the well-received ‘Don’t Let Him Know’, and has long been a keen observer of LGBTQ culture/politics, the Indian diaspora experience and, of course, all things Bengali. And that’s just a fraction of his oeuvre:) 

Want to know more? Listen to his wonderful dispatches from Kolkata for the NPR affiliate in San Francisco. Or check out his Indian Express podcast series or his Mint Lounge column. We think you will greatly enjoy his sharp insight and wry humour. So sign up here for an excellent conversation (open to all subscribers). Time/date: Saturday, June 19 at 6:30 pm.


A made-in-Bihar tale of vendetta politics

The TLDR: Political hubris, dynastic rivalry, shady maneuvering… This story out of the Hindi heartland has everything you’d expect from Indian rajneeti. The overnight collapse of Lok Janshakti Party leader Chirag Paswan may smack of same-old netagiri, but it offers a good opportunity to understand the dynamics of Bihar politics.


The big Kumar vs Paswan rivalry

The story begins with the now-deceased Ram Vilas Paswan and his fractious relationship with current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. 


  • Ram Vilas Paswan—the most prominent Dalit leader in the state—was the founder of Lok Janshakti Party.
  • Over the past decades, Paswan switched sides multiple times earning himself the reputation of an effective if unreliable political operator. 
  • But in recent years, Paswan’s hold on the Dalit vote receded thanks to Nitish—who created a category of ‘Mahadalits’ to offer government benefits for a group of 20-plus Schedule Caste communities. But Nitish very pointedly did not include the Paswans in this protected category.
  • In his last switch, Paswan joined forces with the BJP and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (U). But he had receded to the background due to illness, and finally passed away last year.
  • His son Chirag Paswan inherited his father’s mantle—and abiding dislike for Nitish.


The too-clever Paswan plot

When the Bihar elections came around in October, Chirag decided to be too clever for his own good. He broke with the NDA alliance, and decided to position LJP as an independent party. But the aim was solely to bring down Nitish, not the BJP. Here’s how the plan unfolded:


One: Chirag positioned himself as Modi-ji’s “Hanuman”—even calling voters to vote for the lotus in seats his party is not contesting. He declared that LJP has zero interest in the CM gaddi, and will be more than happy with a BJP-led government. All this while he fervently campaigned for a Nitish-free Bihar


Two: Chirag engineered his entire electoral strategy around weakening Nitish—while protecting the BJP. As per their seat-sharing arrangement, the BJP contested 121 seats while Nitish’s JD(U) in 122. LJP fielded candidates in 136 constituencies—and 115 of them in RJD-contested seats, while ensuring it would not undercut the BJP in its seats.


The big plan: To help BJP become the dominant party in the state, and replace JD(U) as its key Dalit ally. 


Sweet success: Chirag managed to bring Nitish’s numbers down, and JD(U)’s seats fell from 70 to 43. In comparison, the BJP scored big with 74 seats. And the LJP effect was plain to see: In 27 seats, the margin by which the JD(U) lost was the same as the number of votes garnered by Chirag's party. In one fell swoop, Nitish was reduced to the junior partner in the alliance with the saffron party—his own CM gaddi now a gift from a benevolent bade bhai BJP. 


Not-so-sweet defeat: But LJP’s own political scorecard was dismal. It only scored a single seat in the Assembly. Chirag had essentially cut Nitish’s nose and managed to spite his own face. The outcome was a rude shock for Chirag, and his party leaders—who had never approved of the break-with-NDA plan—were furious.


Nitish’s great revenge


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • A big brouhaha over Adani stocks
  • Indian journalists in the crossfire
  • Jacinda Ardern flick sparks row
  • Wasabi is a winner!


A list of intriguing things

  • A life-size Lamborghini made out of Lego blocks!
  • A 'companion' robot to hold your beer

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