Monday, January 30, 2017

'War and Peace in Modern India': Jawaharlal Nehru as Wartime Leader

“Power”, Winston Churchill said on the eve of India’s Independence, “has to gone to men of straw”. Military historian Srinath Raghavan’s “War and Peace in Modern India” demolishes Churchill’s arrogant remark and shows in great detail how the British had left behind a gigantic mess. D.F. Karaka famously called Nehru a “lotus eater from Kashmir”. Raghavan’s book fleshes out a layered narrative of who Nehru was and what were his motivations as he shepherded a nascent country.

In a brief chapter Raghavan touches upon Nehru’s intellectual influences and philosophy regarding power. To many Indians the common caricature of Nehru is one who was beholden to Marx and Stalin when he is not subservient to Western philosophy and yet, nothing is further from the truth than that caricature. Nehru was an avid student of history and a keen intellectual who sought out a wide spectrum of ideas.

Nehru's Ideological Development

Raghavan fixes Nehru’s philosophy of power in the “liberal realism” camp. Drawing on lessons from Marx on concepts of power Nehru was influenced by American philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr who chided those who failed to grasp the “power of self interest and collective egoism in all inter-group relations”. Nehru had a “tendency to avoid plunging headlong into a situation or succumbing to the emotions”. The partition left a deep scar on Nehru’s psyche and Sunil Khilnani suggests that “It showed him the destructive potentialities of politics, and therefore the need to use power with great circumspection”.

That leadership is not a science but an art was not lost on Nehru who told General Montgomery that “a leader cannot act to a degree beyond what the people will take; he must, of course have courage, but if the people will not follow his decisions, he will inevitably fail. He must therefore be a persuader”. Nehru knew the vital importance of public opinion. During his visits to England he met with British military historian and theoretician Liddel Hart. Nehru quoted Liddel Hart in his ‘Discovery of India’ to underscore that a statesman, unlike a prophet, is limited by what the public will support and “striking a balance” is essential.

Historian Stanley Wolpert called the manner in which the British left India a “shameful flight”. The door for chaos of biblical proportions was left open when the British decided to leave India and letting every princely state, of which there were hundreds, make their choice to either align with India or Pakistan or remain independent. The Balkanization of India was avoided by the herculean efforts of Nehru, Patel and V.P. Menon amongst many others. Raghavan’s book is a succinct narrative of the key conflicts and how the unification called for a collective genius in solving intractable labyrinthine problems that almost fragmented India at its very birth.

Sardar Patel is lionized in India as India’s Bismarck but it is Nehru who looms like a colossus in Raghavan’s telling.

Both India and Pakistan understood that Kashmir was the real prize and all else were battlefields for testing tactics and tolerance limits. Junagadh and Hyderabad were the initial flashpoints that the two nations faced off in a battle of nerves.


Junagadh was a largely Hindu state ruled by a Muslim ruler and had no contiguous boundary with Pakistan. Yet, the Nawab signed an instrument of accession to Pakistan. Mangrol a vassal state of Junagadh argued that in the event of the British leaving and Jungadh acceding to Pakistan their own client status to Junagadh becomes defunct and they’re free to accede to India. Kathiawar threatened likewise. While Bengal and Punjab were exploding in communal strife Junagadh’s accession, Kathiawar and Mangrol warned India, would inflame communal tensions in the coastal state and elsewhere. 

India embargoed supplies to Junagadh barring essentials following a policy of “encirclement”. Managing these crises called on for diplomatic skills that easily rank alongside the finest shown by any country in world history in similar situations is made evident by Raghavan in explaining how India’s press communique in the wake of Junagadh’s accession to Pakistan addressed multiple audiences with pertinent messages for each: ”to clarify India’s interest to Pakistan and Jungadh but also reassure them that force would not be used if they agreed to a referendum; to assure domestic constituencies that the government was seized of the problem; to demonstrate resolve to the states, especially Hyderabad; and to convince the international community of India’s peaceful intentions”.

As if what the Nawab did was not enough to complicate things the army chiefs, who were still British and though they headed two different armies were still tied into common ‘single service list, complicated it further by underscoring that they cannot partake in a war between India and Pakistan. Another complicated legacy due to the partition and the ‘shameful flight’.

While Junagadh teetered on the precipice Pakistan invaded Kashmir on 22nd October 1947 by sending in 5000 tribesmen supported by their army. Indian army entered Junagdh in the first week of November and in a very swift operation annexed the state. Nevertheless India honored its undertaking of conducting a plebiscite. In the plebiscite conducted in February 1948 95% of Junagadh voted to remain with India. 

Srinath Raghavan
The Junagadh crises “prefigured Nehru’s approach that laid emphasis on controlling the situation to preclude escalation, on employing military to demonstrate resolve whilst exploring diplomatic options to avoid war”.


The Hyderabad crises closely followed the Jungadh crises and was important on a grander scale. The princely states tried to make hay by playing off India and Pakistan against each other while nurturing ambitions of their own and in the process throwing to the wind the needs of the people and the Nizam was a prime example of this.

Indian public opinion clamored for action against Hyderabad. Nehru, in a letter to premiers, counseled restraint because the army was already stretched thin in Kashmir and in riot torn areas. Nehru was keeping an open channel of communication that was honest with leaders across the country. This will be a recurrent character of Nehru all through his tenure. Addressing a public meeting in Vishakhpatnam Nehru leveled with his audience, the citizens, that India was strong enough to deal with Hyderabad and the inflammatory rhetoric by the Razvi of Ittehad was noted but not worth getting hysterical over and he counseled restraint from adopting methods that’d pay off in the short run but come “at a big cost we would rather not pay”.
India and Hyderabad engaged in a battle of nerves. India blockaded Hyderabad and Hyderabad banned Indian currency. Into this heated atmosphere “Razvi threw a molotov cocktail” by calling on Muslims of India to be “fifth columnists in any showdown”. 

Nehru was adept in using a carrot and stick approach as he “sought to yoke military measures with diplomatic moves towards a settlement”. This too is a recurrent character of Nehru and one that is barely recognized. He takes care not to contribute to escalation by mindless militarism. He’s extremely cautious in judging how military deployments would appear to the opponent. He’s also eager to de-escalate when meaningful overtures are made. Above all he constantly worries about the religious fault line that is ever combustible. That India should not become a Hindu Pakistan nags him constantly.

As the menace of the Razakar’s reached a feverish pitch and having gotten assurances from other premiers that communal riots would not break out in other provinces Nehru moved forward with a military solution and in a swift operation Hyderabad was annexed to India. 

While many today recall the murderous exploits of Razakars and curse Nehru for not having acted sooner and saved the lives of many Hindus a topic that is rarely mentioned is how Muslims were butchered in retaliation by Hindu mobs after the liberation. Raghavan harshly chides that the aftermaths showed that “if anything secularism in India had failed a critical test”. “The possibility of reprisals against Muslims was neither envisioned nor provided for”. Patel and V.P. Menon were almost callously indifferent to the reprisals. Local reports reached Nehru and he instituted an inquiry. Patel actively dissented. The Sunderlal report said around “27,000-40,000’ Muslims were killed.


Meanwhile Bengal was not idle. The brewing conflagration in West Bengal brought to the fore many other forces that were operating like eddies in the two countries. East Pakistan Hindus were being killed in a genocidal spree and the refugees streaming into West Bengal carried with them gory tales, true and exaggerated. Inflamed Bengali Hindus carried out reprisal attacks on Muslims and now Muslim refugees streamed into East Pakistan carrying their tales. The vernacular presses in both countries inflamed local passions by carrying opinion polls calling for military invasions by their countries. Nehru faced great opposition within Congress itself in support of an invasion or a population exchange. Liaquat Ali Khan on the other hand could not afford to be seen as bringing order to East Pakistan based on exhortations from India because that’d show him and West Pakistan as kow-towing to Delhi and he could ill afford that.

Nehru was neither a peacenik nor a war monger but a hard-nosed realist. Brushing off suggestions to invade East Pakistan Nehru underscored that millions of Hindus would be “bottled up in a hostile area”. War, Nehru correctly reasoned, would not be localized but become an all out war against Pakistan in multiple fronts and the costs would seriously jeopardize India’s much needed development plans. A half century later the current disparity between the living conditions of Indians and Pakistanis has vindicated Nehru. 


Nothing has bedeviled the legacy of Nehru as war time leader as his choices on Kashmir and China did. In very packed and brief chapters Raghavan corrects the record on Nehru and offers some much needed context for the choices made by Nehru.

Raghavan, based on his reading of the materials, insists that the Raja of Kashmir signed the instrument of accession on 26th October and not 27th October as India claimed. Nehru, while adhering to the principle of plebiscite was categorically clear in his mind that a plebiscite could be carried out in Kashmir only when “complete law and order have been established”. Jinnah was lukewarm to the idea of plebiscite when he thought the aggression, with the tribal invaders as front, was going in his favor. 

Patel and Baldev Singh wanted aerial bombardment to establish “cordon sanitaire ten miles deep”. Nehru disagreed and wanted to focus the bombardment more narrowly on specific military targets which the military agreed with. On the other hand when the military wanted to evacuate from Poonch Nehru stood firm because that would signal weakness to Pakistan at a crucial juncture. While curbing military enthusiasm of his colleagues Nehru was also mindful of when to insist that the military has to deliver key objectives that would serve diplomatic initiatives.

The internationalization of Kashmir thanks to Nehru’s decision to approach the UN has come in for very sharp criticism. Raghavan addresses this very briefly. The internationalization of Kashmir was anyway bound to happen and the world powers, via UN, were already “seized of the the dispute”. Nehru did little more than preempt Pakistan in approaching UN. Also, Nehru thought that India had an unassailable case to defend in the world body and he placed faith, unlike Patel, that the UN would see Pakistan as an aggressor. 

It should be remembered here that Nehru was an institution builder. It is not for nothing Nehru is referred to as the architect of modern India. Just as JFK insisted on the Organization of America supporting a Cuban embargo unanimously, Nehru, as was his nature, felt the moral advantage in approaching a world body in good faith would in the long run pay different dividends. Nehru approaching the UN should’ve been presented in deeper context with what JFK or even George H.W. Bush did during crises. That the UN failed in its moral obligation should not be made Nehru’s fault.

Patel and Nehru reluctantly were even amenable to partition Kashmir. Nehru told Liaquat that Pakistan either accept UN recommendations completely or agree to a partition plan. At this juncture for all practical purposes the idea of a plebiscite was “ruled out”. The talks failed and the countries slouched towards a truce.


The war with China and the factors leading up to it remain a hot button issue in evaluating Nehru as a leader. Raghavan’s quotes about China’s behavior by Indian officials and leaders a half century ago make for eery reading in 2016 as China indulges in saber rattling in South China seas.

Nehru wrote in a letter to the Chief Ministers wrote, “The Chinese have always, in their past history, had the notion that any territory which they once occupied in the past necessarily belonged to them subsequently”. V.P. Menon accused the Chinese of practicing “irredentism” irrespective whether it was the Kuomintang or the Communists at the helm. 
If one had to pick a criticism of the book it is that it could benefit with some more material that explains the choices even more contextually. Example, the messy global geo-political tangle in the China war is too compressed and insufficiently impresses upon the reader how difficult an act Nehru pulled off in that. Bruce Reidel’s stilted account in “JFK’s forgotten war” provides such a detail (Reviewed by me here). That said, Srinath Raghavan’s book is a much needed welcome addition to the study of Nehruvian era.

The border issue with China was one more messy legacy dating back to the Raj. The Sino-Indian boundary comprised of three segments with varying levels of uncertainty: The Western sector, which included Ladakh and Aksai Chin was thought as very ill defined and India conceded that the Chinese probably had a solid claim here; the Middle sector bordering UP, this was the least controversial; the Eastern sector, which included what was then called ‘North East Frontier Agency’ (NEFA) and now as Arunachal Pradesh was bound by the McMohan line, India strongly felt that the McMohan line was inviolable.

The peoples of NEFA, Nehru thought, required a ‘hearts and mind approach’ to assimilate them into the broader fabric of India and make them less susceptible to temptations from China based on ethnicity or ideology. While the fortification of NEFA’s binding with India proceeded apace Nehru yielded to K.M. Panikkar’s idea of not raking up the border issue with China explicitly. Many hold Nehru as having passed on a golden opportunity to open up the issue and drive home India’s concerns when China was preoccupied with the Korean war. However, Raghavan contextualizes that the thrust of Panikkar’s advice was premised on the idea that India while not raising the issue openly should use the period lull to fortify itself. Meanwhile the infrastructure programs in NEFA were being stalled.

The ‘Panchsheel’ pact signed on 29th April 1954 recognized China’s claim on Tibet and proceeded to create a framework of cooperation with India. This agreement is often uncharitably characterized as evidence of Nehru’s naivety due to the lofty idealism that suffused the language. On the contrary, Raghavan says, Nehru was not in the least bit naive and privately expressed that nations operate more out of distrust and emphasized the need to strengthen India’s position. 

The Chinese showed a duplicity that was breathtaking. They gave explicit signals that they were good with the McMohan line. When Nehru confronted Zhou Enlai about Chinese maps showing Indian territory as belonging to China Zhou dismissed them as “old maps”. An irritated Nehru asked him “supposing we publish a map showing Tibet as part of India, how would China feel about it?”

Neville Maxwell’s book “India’s China War” has become an almost canonical work on the subject. Maxwell sowed the idea that on the border issue Nehru was belligerent and adopted a hawkish unilateral stance based on his reading of a partial memo that he had access to. In an important paragraph Raghavan provides a wider context and disproves that notion. 

An idea of bartering Ladakh for acceptance by China of the McMohan line was stoutly opposed by Indian public opinion. Nehru confided “if I give them that I shall no longer be Prime Minister of India- I will not do it”. Nevertheless the barter solution was rejected by China. 

The military leadership meanwhile changed hands to Indians and British officers had left. Indian officers, it should be noted, had very little battle command experience. The Thimayya resignation episode had little to do with Krishna Menon’s penchant for promoting sycophants and Thimayya’s own opinion about the limited ability of Indian army to confront the Chinese continued to shape the army’s strategies. Civilian leadership was presented with military options that did not include any strategy for a long term conflict and avoiding such a conflict, the army assumed, was the duty of civilian leadership. “The chiefs evidently sought to wage the kind of war with which they were most comfortable”. 

The much criticized ‘forward policy’, a strategy of ‘zig zagging’ outposts across the border to prevent the Chinese from claiming ‘presence’ along an area, was the result of mutually reinforcing opinions between the Intelligence Bureau, the military and civilian leadership. IB assured Nehru that China would not brook the outposts as incursions. As a military historian Raghavan faults the decision to ask IB to evaluate intelligence provided the department itself. “IB was asked to gather intelligence and generate assessments”.

Raghavan disputes the charge that India did not sufficiently procure weapons. The decrease in defense expenditure was marginal, the army leadership was even confident that the “Chinese will not attack” and there was a serious budgetary constraint due to the then prevailing “grave balance of payments situation”. 

Raghavan also faults Nehru’s evaluation that there’d be an irreconcilable Sino-Soviet split leading to an inhibition of China’s desire to attack India. Moreover, Nehru, Raghavan charges, underestimated ideological camaraderie between China and Russia and thought nationalist impulses would be a greater driving force. Khrushchev was very sympathetic to India and Nehru until, in Raghavan’s opinion, ideological unity with China mattered more.

I disagree with this characterization. William Taubman’s “Krushchev:The man and his era” describes vividly the mercurial and stormy relationship between Krushschev and Mao in the backdrop of competition for leadership of the Communist world. Krushchev, in typical fashion, hurled insults and invective at Mao. Any world leader observing this, as Nehru did, would reach the same conclusions. Let’s not forget that China and Russia were totalitarian states where leaders sent signals through subterfuge and something as innocuous as the receiving line for a leader arriving at Moscow airport was a sign of who is in favor with the politburo.  The U2 spy plane crash in 1960 over Soviet territory, collapse of US-Sino talks at Paris, failure of Vienna summit, later Sino-Soviet split that hastened Krushschev’s ouster should all be put in perspective. There appears to be more realpolitik than ideological camaraderie. 

War, when it came, was unmitigated disaster for India and for Nehru personally. China’s betrayal, as Nehru saw it, literally broke him physically. John Galbraith wrote to Kennedy that Nehru was a tired leader and even enclosed a photo of Nehru looking demoralized (‘The international ambitions of Mao and Nehru: National Efficacy Beliefs and the making of foreign policy’ by Andrew Bingham Kennedy)

Conclusion and Criticism

Raghavan, in conclusion, levels two chief criticisms of Nehru. 

First, While commending that Nehru was “correct in his initial calculation of the interests of all parties”, “he failed to keep up with the evolving situation”. This, I feel, is a criticism that does not bear justification given the details that Raghavan himself provides. In a rapidly changing tableau, Nehru, within the context of the times and the constraints within which he had to function, was nimble enough either in escalating or in de-escalating. Most importantly we should note that this was a man who was not only prosecuting war like Churchill but, like FDR or Truman or even, perhaps Stalin, was also building up a nation and more to the point unlike any of them Nehru was building a nation from almost scratch. To say that the immediate post-war world was complex is a complete understatement. Seen in that perspective Nehru shows uncommon perspicacity and clairvoyance. This is not an apology by a Nehru admirer but a realistic estimation of a man against the times in which he lived.

Second, Raghavan cites the “absence of a functional and effective mechanism to collate and analyze the available intelligence contributed in no small measure to this (the referred above) failure”. Andrew Bingham Kennedy cites defense analyst K.Subrahmanyam and says “the Indian government had no strategic planning process that could have anticipated a range of possible Chinese actions and prepared appropriate responses”

While criticisms like those are valid and accurate a little bit more context would help especially when one evaluates the nature of leadership. India was a nascent country birthed in the cauldron of civil war conditions and depressing poverty thanks to three centuries of rapacious colonialism that bled the country. Despite fine institutions like Council of Foreign Relations and Brookings Institutions that incubated excellent intellects that served the US government FDR was no more clairvoyant towards the Japanese than Nehru was towards the Chinese without such institutional support. It was Nehru who seeing the lack of an institution, as always, established the Indian Foreign Service. That was the pathetic state of institutions in India.

Those criticisms aside, Raghavan pays fulsome tribute to the leadership of Nehru. “The most important and relevant aspect of Nehru’s strategic approach is his grasp of the nature and the limits of power”. “Nehru’s brand of liberal realism also sensitized him to the fact that moral and political legitimacy was as important as economic and military resources”. “Nehru displayed a willingness to communicate with adversaries and search for acceptable compromises”.

A historian should not become an advocate for his subject hence Raghavan stops with evaluating Nehru without measuring him up against other leaders of the era and their successes and defeats as leaders during wars. Churchill had his Gallipoli, FDR had not only Pearl Harbor but a nation whose military might was completely depleted thanks to decades of liberal policies, Stalin went into a stupor as Hitler’s panzers hurtled towards Moscow, Golda Meir almost lost Israel in the Yom Kippur war and one could go on.

Nehru’s penchant for moral upper hand and his evaluation of the strategic importance of doing the right thing should be seen alongside JFK’s handling of Cuban missile crises and George H.W. Bush prosecuting the Iraq War. 

The conflicts and the role of public opinion in driving the choices that the leaders made is an important perspective. Throughout history more than we realize public opinion, especially in democracies, has either promoted isolationism or adventurism. While Nehru was less propelled by opinion and proved more adept in shaping opinion Liaquat Ali Khan was more a prisoner of seething rage amongst his citizens.

When Indians speak of the unification of India it is Patel who is often spoken glowingly of and little is spoken of people like V.P. Menon. Menon, rose from very humble station to playing a pivotal role in forging the destiny of India. India was gifted to have such bureaucrats. 

If one had to pick a criticism of the book it is that it could benefit with some more material that explains the choices even more contextually. Example, the messy global geo-political tangle in the China war is too compressed and insufficiently impresses upon the reader how difficult an act Nehru pulled off in that. Bruce Reidel’s stilted account in “JFK’s forgotten war” provides such a detail. That said, Srinath Raghavan’s book is a much needed welcome addition to the study of Nehruvian era.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Perfect Storm That Felled Hillary: 'Whitelash', Wikileaks, Sexism, Obamacare and More.

Could a black man have been elected to America's presidency after saying on videotape that, thanks to celebrity status, he could grab women by their genitals? Could a woman be elected to the presidency being twice divorced and married to a man who did nude modeling, starred in interviews with a obscene shock jock and told in an interview that she'd have loved to date her son, if only he wasn't her son? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO and in that lies a critical part of the answer to the stunning rise of Donald J. Trump.

Anyone who seeks to explain the stunning verdict as a reflection of Hillary Clinton's foibles, of which she, like any male politician, was not in short supply, is intellectually dishonest because the man who won is, by every comparison, a far worse candidate. The people have not chosen the better of the two but the more offensive of the two and that says something.

What the election taught us:

Money does NOT matter. At all. Liberals have always whined about the role of money in American politics and the whining reached a feverish pitch after the Citizens United case which they feared would make an oligarchy out of US. Trump defeated far better funded rivals during primary and then Hillary in the general election. Time and time again well funded candidates have lost in American politics. 2016 was no exception. Trump was shunned, almost completely, by all the money bags of the GOP and he himself was miserly, despite grandiose claims, in funding his campaigns.

One can have all the celebrities on one's side and star powered surrogates including a very popular first lady, a popular sitting president, a popular ex-president, widely loved former rival and many others but popularity is not a transferable commodity as Hillary painfully learned.

Experience not only does not matter it is an albatross. Tom Daschle famously told freshman senator Barack Obama to run in 2008 precisely because he'd have no record to defend. Obama, with no record, found it easy to clobber Hillary in 2008 primaries because she had a record to defend. George Bush did the same to John Kerry. Senators winning the presidency has always been an uphill climb, exceptions being JFK and Obama, because their voting records become fodder for attack ads.

There is a sexist edge to the question of experience. Sheryl Sandberg, CFO of Facebook and author of 'Lean in', a book that teaches women how to achieve leadership in the professional lives, learned that men, even when they lack experience they confidently raise their hands for a position whereas women are inhibited even if they have more than sufficient experience. Trump badgered Hillary on her experience and, as usual, mixed facts with liberal dollops of lies, to claim that her long career in public service amounted to doing nothing. Hillary fought back, albeit unsuccessfully, telling voters that she'd be glad to match Trump toe-to-toe for any given year when she did something in the service of the public while he was enmeshed in something unsavory. The voters, like in 2008, were less interested in experience and qualifications as they were in 'change'. When the first exit poll on election night showed voters choosing 'change' I knew Hillary would be in trouble because she was, against all evidence, seen as the candidate of status quo. The so called 'change' candidates realize that the much maligned 'establishment' and 'status quo' are valuable once they reach office and they, disappointingly, yield to them.

Hillary never campaigned on wholesale change or revolutionary change, ever. She was an iron cast pragmatist who never sold, in soaring oratory, dreams of a post-racial and post-partisan world. She never trafficked in selling gobbledygook promises of bringing up back jobs that no one can bring back. Voters love to be told to dream and what is exciting about a plodding politician who is a policy wonk? To be fair to Obama and Trump the presidency is also about being able to simulate passion and become the vessel of collective yearning and Hillary failed on both counts. We'll return to why Hillary never could be the candidate of 'change' shortly.

Sex sells but it rarely matters. Allegations about sexual affairs have derailed candidacies but as many times as that happened an equal number of times, if not more, it hadn't mattered. Bill Clinton is the most famous example, barring Trump, for having made his peccadilloes a non-issue. The recent documentary on disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner illustrates this point clearly. Weiner resigned his seat after evidence emerged of his sexting pictures of himself but as mayoral candidates women worked in key positions in his campaign and he was feted as the much needed progressive voice, until evidence spilled that his habits were continuing and an equally progressive candidate without the baggage emerged for the voters to rally around. Point is that voters are more than willing to overlook individual baggage and are more focused on what they think the candidate can do for them. This is why a campaign centered on Trump's vulgarity floundered and 42% of women voted for  him.

The Democrats salivated over a long political dominance built upon 'demographics is destiny' mantra. 2016 very well could be the last hurrah of the white voter but Trump showed that an adroit politician could scramble the political map. Not only that, despite his offensive rhetoric about Mexicans he garnered, according to exit polls which are disputed but yet disproven, nearly 29% Hispanic vote. NPR featured Hispanic voters who said they're voting for Trump because he will be tough on illegal immigration. Voters choose candidates based on complex motivations and while stereotyping helps in reducing complexity it could also mislead.

FBI and Comey :

Eleven days before election day in the mostly hotly contested campaign season is post-war American history the director of the FBI dropped a bombshell, the effects of which are now conceded but yet to be quantified.

The email saga could be said to be the single biggest reason driving the multiple factors that led to Hillary's loss. The Economist magazine had cautioned that if Hillary were to lose because of the email investigations historians would, in the coming years, wonder how such a non-issue derailed a historic candidacy especially against such an unqualified opponent. I've written in detail on this in an earlier blog. A quick recap.

Hillary had reached out to Colin Powell on email practices and Powell said that he freely communicated over insecure mail (gmail) and practically stopped asking the CIA for guidelines. Given this backdrop Hillary decided that using a private email server would serve twin objectives: keep her emails secure and give her the ability to separate out private emails. It could be argued if this was wise and by hind sight it was not but what should not be forgotten is that it was NOT illegal and the federal government lacks a robust IT Czar to create and enforce policies that are common in the private sector. New York Times, having broken the story and flogged it mercilessly, declared, in its editorial that the email issue is a matter for the help desk.

FBI director James Comey's conduct in the email saga will be debated for years to come. Having decided to not indict Hillary he took the very unusual step of announcing the decision in a press meet. Comey exonerated Hillary but gave her a tongue lashing and called her conduct "extremely careless". Supporters of Hillary fumed that Comey overstepped norms where an exoneration is never announced in a press meet and much less with a tongue lashing that made critics of the decision "if she was 'extremely careless' why not indict her. In memo to his officers Comey said that no prosecutor could've brought a case against Hillary but that was not the message from his choice of words. Unsatisfied with his press meet Comey then extended the circus to a congressional hearing led by Hillary's political opponents which produced attack ad worthy minutes, leaving, again, the supporters fuming and opponents gnashing their teeth that Hillary got away.

The bombshell close to the election day was even worse. There actually was bipartisan uproar that Comey was shredding rules established to prevent exactly this kind of a scenario. With little evidence the FBI reopened the investigation and Comey shocked the political world by going public with it against rules. When he then announced that yet again he was exonerating Hillary the electorate and everyone literally went ape shit. Current statistical evidence points that late deciders heavily broke for Trump driven by this. Voters had had enough of Hillary's messes. And that's exactly the unfairness in all this.

A very partisan investigation into the Benghazi embassy attack unearthed the private email server existence. As always with a Clinton investigation it starts with one thing and ends up as something else completely unrelated. Remember how the Whitewater investigated morphed into the Lewinsky investigation. The Benghazi investigation that included a made for TV 11 hour interrogation of Hillary turned nothing. And the email investigation exonerated her. So, a good candidate was unfairly targeted and maligned and defeated. Its pathetic for anyone to say "oh well who asked her to use private email server. She owns the problem". That is patently unfair. Investigating someone for a non-existent crime and then smugly saying the victim nevertheless bears responsibility.


That Julian Assange was no friend of the Obama administration or of Hillary in particular is no news. Assange, a recent New York Times article, pointed out had written many years ago how the the power of leaking information could be harnessed to effect regime changes.

Trump's despicable video and the first batch of wikileaks broke out on the same day and to the chagrin of Trump supporters the wikileaks news was swamped, coast to coast, with news of the explosive video. But, wikileaks kept its barrage of leaks and as the sting of the Trump video receded the steady drip drip of wikileaks enforced a popular trope about Hillary, that she was untrustworthy and there's a fathomless closet of skeletons that'll keep tumbling out. Voters, again, soured and sickened. Never mind that not a single leak about Hillary was anything new or earth shattering and in fact there was little for her or her campaign to be embarrassed about.

Wikileaks released the much sought after speeches by Hillary to a Goldman Sachs audience. Bernie Sanders made her look like a crook for giving the speech and yet the speech itself was anything but. All that it showed was an accomplished woman holding her own in front of a well heeled audience and giving a panoramic view of global politics. There was nothing, not a shred, scandalous in the speeches.

Sanders, a newly minted democrat, and his supporters accused the Democratic National Committee (DNC) of having tilted the scales in favor Hillary. Wikileaks documents, they shrieked, proved them correct. This is patent falsehood. Hillary had hundreds of unplugged delegates more than Sanders in the primary and she had won thousands of votes more than Sanders. Sanders's campaign completely ignored the South, the black and Hispanic vote. While Sanders made inroads into millennials cutting across race he floundered when he had reach out to other than millennials. Hillary won the primaries fair and square. On the night Hillary became the first woman to clinch the nomination for a major national party Sanders was busy ignoring the moment of history and was talking of going all the way to the convention and contesting the nomination.

Sanders and Wikileaks created and fed the grotesquely egregious narrative that Hillary was uniquely untrustworthy.

Crooked Hillary:

Before Trump popularized the 'Crooked Hillary' narrative it was Sanders who gleefully threw shade at Hillary as untrustworthy. Sanders's supporters constantly called Hillary a liar before Trump even coined 'crooked Hillary'.

Sanders's voting record matched Hillary's record 93% of the time. While Sanders made a virtue out of opposing the Iraq war he never talks about how he supports the Afghan war, which, by his own criteria he should not have supported. Sanders happily supported pork barrel bills like the one that spent billions on Lockheed Martin. He also voted for the now much maligned Bill Clinton crime bill. Oh, and Sanders gave very slippery answers to local newspapers on gay marriage. Most importantly he also voted for financial de-regulation. As a senate candidate from a gun loving state Sanders refused, until recently, to support bills that would permit suing gun manufacturers. Through out the primary Sanders pummeled Hillary, like Obama did in 2008, for her vote on Iraq but what is not known to many is he voted to appoint her as Secretary of State. I don't know why Hillary never disarmed him with a simple, "Senator you voted for me". Ask his voters about all that and you'll get a blank stare.

Then there's Obama in a league by himself. The candidate who campaigned on not letting our values be sacrificed for the sake of security did exactly that in office by unleashing the most pervasive snooping regime in American history. The Obama administration made the Nixon administration look like a paragon of transparency. More journalists were prosecuted by Obama than all previous presidents combined. Above all the candidate who beat Hillary by making a virtue out of his opposition to NAFTA became the president who not only championed a 25 country trade deal he even asked the Congress for a 'fast track authority' to approve trade deals.

Yet, it is Hillary, who, like any politician with a long career, had shifted positions on a few, embellished a bit here and there and had a more than decent record of fighting for what she thought was good was called 'crooked Hillary'.

In every single GOP debate every candidate pummeled Hillary relentlessly as if she was the only possible nominee and as if no other candidate was even in the race. Sanders benefited hugely from this lack of scrutiny by either the GOP or the newspapers. GOP candidates when they were not bashing each other all agreed that anyone amongst was better than Hillary.

Now, add to the above America's cottage industry, a whole lot of Hillary hating from authors of dubious or plainly lying books to TV anchors. By hindsight it is a wonder that Hillary even survived any of the above to become the nominee.

Media bashing of Hillary:

A Harvard study tore off the myth that the media was biased in favor of Hillary and against Trump. The study said that 62% of Hillary's coverage was negative in tone whereas Trump had 56% negative coverage. Trump, the study further pointed out, received 15% more coverage for his policies than Hillary did. On top of this add the nearly billion dollar worth of free air time that the media lavished on Trump's rallies as they chased ratings.

The media and most of America first assumed that Trump will never contest, then he would never win the nomination and many, including the Trump campaign itself, believed he would never win the presidency. Equally Sanders was never thought of as possibly clinching the nomination and by summer he had fizzled out. Hence it was Hillary under the microscope when every news about her became screaming headlines. Some of them were damagingly false and retracted but, as Trump's campaign manager gleefully recorded, the damage was done.

The Associated Press screamed that 50% of those who met Hillary as Secretary were donors to the Clinton foundation and news outlets including the Times and Post went with banner headlines. Two days later the AP walked back the story but for 48 precious hours the Clinton campaign was battling the 'trust issue'.

Hillary was judged like she was already president while Trump zipped past scrutiny.

Clinton Foundation Vs Trump Foundation

The election coverage was a shameful exercise of moral exercise that lacked perspective or proportion.

Only late into the election season did stories even break out that Trump Foundation lacked even a permit to raise funds in New York City. Trump used his foundation to put up a cut out of himself, reports suggested that Trump foundation almost broke the law on self-dealing. Trump foundation even donated to Florida's state attorney who was looking into some case relating to Trump.

Compared to the meagre stories about the more serious issues with Trump foundation the stories on Clinton foundation freely trafficked in innuendo. A New York Times story on Clinton foundation confessed deep  within the article that while some donors got access to Hillary nothing tangible ever happened and no quid-pro-quo was seen, but the headline was, as usual, screaming. If that was the level of reporting from AP and NYT then once could imagine the conspiracies swirling in the "Hate-Hillary" industry.

Post-election Wall Street Journal ran several stories about how deeply meshed Trump's business empire is and how brazenly unwilling he is to disentangle himself from all that. Not a fraction of that coverage happened before election when the focus was unrelenting on Hillary.

Did the Obama coalition not get excited for Hillary?

The day after the election of the many criticisms leveled at Hillary and her campaign the most hollow one was that she failed to excite the Obama coalition. Obama then piled on by saying that he'd have won a 3rd term if he had run. This is nonsense.

Obama literally harangued and yelled at the Congressional Black Caucus that if Hillary loses because blacks did not turn out like they did for him he'd "take it as a personal insult". He railed, "you want to give me and Michelle a good send off? go vote". Black voters finally delivered, not votes, but a personal insult to Obama by not turning up for Hillary sufficiently.

The Obama coalition failed not just Hillary but Obama himself, miserably in the mid terms of 2010 and 2014. Obama's coalition failed every time the candidate was not Obama. 2014 mid term elections were a bloodbath for democrats when reliable blue bastions like Maryland and Illinois fell.

Under Obama Democrats suffered the worst defeats that any party did under a president. During Obama's tenure Democrats lost governorships and state legislatures by the dozens across the country and that really depleted the talent pool of candidates for Democrats.

A party cannot lose so many elections and then expect a win in the Presidential election, especially for a 3rd term.

Could Sanders have won the election?

Any party that loses an election often wonders if a different candidate could've won and then indulge in wishful thinking by recalling the virtues of candidates who lost the nomination and dutifully forgetting their weaknesses.

Other than blatant racism and open misogyny there were few other crucial factors driving the Trump vote and Sanders would not only have been hit by those he'd have lost some Hillary votes from other sections too.

The election was driven in large measure by a violent distaste for immigration, liberalism, trade pacts and Obamacare.

Immigration was front and center in this election. The concerns over immigration were fueled in large parts by racial attitudes too and Trump happily induced in feeding the frenzy with race baiting and racial stereotyping. To this crowd Sanders would be as unacceptable as Hillary was.

Sanders's opposition to trade, his supporters think, and his sincerity, unlike Hillary's, would've driven a wedge amongst Trump supporters especially those looking for an opponent to trade pacts but without the vulgar baggage of Trump. This is partly true but an oversimplified picture. Asked what did he consider as a primary threat to US Sanders told a moderator, "Climate Change". Try selling that to the rust belt.

This election was also about skyrocketing premiums in Obamacare. Try selling them "medicare for all". A recent MSNBC forum featured a Trump voter who refused to buy Sanders's promises simply because they were too expensive to be paid. Remember that the Tea Partiers were solidly behind Trump and to all of them more taxes and bigger government, Sanders's worldview, was anathema. I've spoken to several white colleagues who all voted for Trump and for them Hillary was more acceptable than Sanders.

While Sanders's appeal amongst millennials cut across races amongst seniors the black voters did not trust him. In fact his 'free college' plan upset black lawmaker James Clyburn who endorsed Hillary. During a debate before South Carolina primary a black voter pinned Sanders on the question of how his promise of free college could adversely impact HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Moreover older black voters remember vividly how too often big government was essentially more government help for the poor amongst whites and at the cost of the blacks. During the post election angst ridden finger pointing and handwringing about how to appeal to disenchanted white working class several black columnists wrote how that whole analysis could lead the Democrats down a slippery slope by shortchanging the blacks to assuage the white voters.

A sillier assumption is citing the attack lines Trump used against Hillary to say "well those attacks would have failed against Sanders". This is silly because it assumes that Trump's tactics would be the same against Sanders. If it was Sanders Trump would've blanketed rust belt with ads about him being a communist and in Florida they'd have gleefully aired the audio clip of Sanders praising Fidel Castro. And they'd have aired attack ads in Ohio about Sanders's "no" vote against auto bailout in 2008. It'd be Romney's 'Let Detroit go bankrupt" in reverse.

Suggesting that Sanders could've prosecuted a better case against Trump's vulgarity than Hillary who was saddled with Bill Clinton's baggage is patently sexist. It was Bill who committed infidelity and how does that disqualify Hillary from making the case she made?

Romanticizing the White Working Class:

A cheeky column by a black columnist asked why are we all suddenly asked to empathize for the plight of the white working class when black voters where repeatedly told to lead a responsible life style and to take personal responsibility.

Surely the White working class has economic concerns and a good number voted for Trump propelled by that but there were cultural motivations too that undergirded them. The now runaway bestseller 'Hillbilly Elegy' by J.D.Vance is the best explainer of the Trump phenomenon though the book was published before he became the nominee.

Trump's acceptance speech in Ohio was called by commentators and dark and pessimistic. The commentariat wondered where was the Reagan like sunny 'Morning in America' and said Trump might turn off the voters. Rather Trump energized his base. J.D. Vance writes, ""surveys have found, working class whites are the most pessimistic group in America".

Page after page Vance portrays the hillbilly culture affectionately, they're family, but with unflinching honesty about what holds them back. "All of this talk about Christians who weren't Christian enough, secularists indoctrinating our youth, art exhibits insulting our faith, and persecution by the elites made the world a scary and foreign place".

Exit polls showed that the gulf between the choices of the educated and uneducated was the widest in 2016. Trump railed against the elitism of his naysayers and his voters cheered him lustily.

Both Vance and Harvard Business Review columnist Joan Williams point to the strong current of sexism amongst white working class and how elitism  or more specifically the professional class is loathed. (not that others were less prone to it, as the the election showed). Hillary was seen as a professional woman, a wonkish woman and therefore committing a double sin in the eyes of a section of the Trump voters.

Ms Williams writes in HBR, "The darkness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorable. Worse, her mere presence rubs it in that even women from her class treat working-class men with disrespect. Look at how she condescends to Trump as unfit to hold the office of the presidency and dismisses his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic."

Ms Williams continues that Trump's blunt talk was seen as straight talk, a virtue among the white-working class. White voters, including my colleagues, lamented the 'culture of political correctness' where every remark has to be filtered through carefully for not offending anyone as tiresome and long due for a complete jettisoning. To them Trump was a godsend.

Trump's race baiting in 2016:

Donald Trump dropped all pretenses of dogwhistle politics, like the chatter about welfare queen, and went for the jugular in race baiting in his quest for the Oval office.

Trump's candidacy was a carefully planned diabolical plot that probably originated the night Obama roasted him with comedy during the White House Correspondent's dinner in 2011. Trump started floating the birther story line and pushed it relentlessly, to the chagrin of many in GOP and to the delight of an equal many in GOP, well into the 2016 election season. This was not a sideshow or a distraction but a real tactical vehicle for the Trump candidacy.

Speaking after the tragic shooting in Orlando Trump happily alluded that Obama was soft on terrorists due to an unspoken connection. Watch the clip and you'll realize how Trump is the master of innuendo. He will never name it but it is there in the subtext and very artfully slipped into dancing words that are apparent in their reference but deniable when pinned down to explain.

When the racism charge is laid against Trump and many of his supporters we get furious denials and indignant replies about how Obama himself was elected twice. True, Obama was elected twice in no small measure because of his own genius in getting himself elected and in no small measure to the fact that his opponents were gentlemen who were not Trump and such opponents gave no refuge to the voters who cheered Trump's innuendoes. Essentially Trump made it safe for racists and xenophobes to come out and flaunt their fangs. This is an important reason why even Sanders, an essentially decent man, would have been no match.

Trump was the "there's something goin' on" candidate. With Trump on any issue there was always something goin' on, the Wharton educated billionaire spoke like a sailor dropping the g's. McCain and Romney were not only gentlemen in public but they were one even no one was looking but Trump was a vulgar Lothario in any circumstance. Here was a man who despite his pedigree behaved like a lumpen boor and more working class than the working class. He even dressed sloppy with baggy suits and drooping extra long ties unlike the suave and upper cut Mormon that Romney was.

Megyn Kelly saga and a corrupt media:

Fox News' Megyn Kelly fired the memorable salvo tormenting Trump in the very first question in the very first debate about his comments on women. A feud ensued and Trump went after Kelly, even accusing that she was tough on him because she was menstruating. The Trump-Kelly feud was one of the many rollercoaster sideshows that Trump provided all through the election season. In a sudden twist Kelly visited Trump in his Trump Towers and made peace. Later Kelly released a book, just after election day, in which she recounted with horror how the Trump feud was more deadly than many realized and how Trump poses an existential threat for press freedom.

In a chilling section Kelly recalls how Trump cooly threatened that he'd unleash "his beautiful twitter" at her. He later did and death threats from his supporters ensued. One of the wikileaks cables that received wide attention was how Democratic operative Donna Brazile, a CNN commentator, passed a question about contaminated water to Clinton campaign (not to Clinton herself) before the debate at Flint, Michigan. Trump and many others were furious that the media pandered to Clinton. Kelly, in her segment on Fox News, gave wide coverage to the news and bashed her competition, CNN for journalistic malpractice. Now, in her book, and in promotional interviews, Kelly is touting that Trump actually sought to bribe or influence journalists for positive coverage and some obliged.

Trump was truly diabolical in how he manipulated the media. I don't think the media still realize what hit them in the election season. Trump's genius, in discrediting media and lauding the media by turns all dictated by whether news cycle favors him or not, is least understood or appreciated.

Fake News phenomenon:

On a related note, one of the most disconcerting phenomenon in the election was how mainstream media, including the venerable Times and Post, were completely distrusted by voters, especially voters of Sanders and Trump. Both Sanders and Trump assiduously assailed 'corporate media' and discredited any critical article, particularly anything that questioned their utopian and grandiose election promises, as the establishment striking back. Both of them also insinuated and openly charged, without a shred of truth, that the media was in the pay of Hillary.

Amidst all that the protean shape shifting and very sinister phenomenon of Fake News took shape. Plainly malicious malingerers, especially anti-Hillary, trolled the internet and grotesque conspiracies floated. They were eagerly consumed and more eagerly propagated by the Hillary-haters.

Democrats, in a way, have themselves to blame for this. They reveled in faux news programs on Comedy central, like the John Stewart show, which was plainly partisan and enjoyed eviscerating the GOP. When John Stewart is treated as a journalist the day is not far off when Sean Hannity trashes scientific opinion polls and instead pampers his audience with unscientific online polls.


In a post-election finger wagging, typical of his style, Sanders pompously said that it is not enough to ask for votes saying "I'm a woman vote for me". Sanders and his campaign were sexist quite often but paled into insignificance before Trump and his voters. Hillary, her detractors said, has a plan for every problem and no message. What her detractors meant by "no message" was that Hillary did not have bumper sticker ready feel good slogans like "Medicare for all", "free college for all", "make America great again", "Yes we can" etc. To call a woman candidate known for being a policy wonk, an ace debater and one who's fault was coming across in answers as too well informed as asking for votes on the basis of her gender is the very definition of sexism.

Trump, of course, spun conspiracy theories about Hillary's health and stamina and even her bathroom visit during a debate.

A Sanders voter wrote to the Washington Post recounting Hillary's sins and for good measure referred to her as "harridan". The English language does not supply a ready put down for a bald wavy haired old man.

The changing map of the midwest:

On election night Hillary's blue wall crumbled and her hopes of making history were dashed to the ground. A Realclearpolitics analysis, amongst others, points out that the midwest is increasingly becoming republican leaning. Over the past 8 years Democrats have been steadily losing the rust belt in non-presidential elections. Amongst the white-working class and rural voters the issues of immigration and refugee settlements were stoking deep resentments and the resentments found their perfect vessel in the xenophobia stoking Trump.

Hillary's Foibles:

Hillary, as Obama and Trump pointed out, did not campaign enough. It is beyond comprehension that she had never visited Wisconsin for 6 months and went to Michigan only in the last week after alarm bells sounded. She did not take the election for granted but given the headwinds she faced she should have campaigned more. Hillary was widely credited for preparing extensively for the presidential debates and for masterfully planting baits for Trump, baits that he eagerly swallowed, but she took herself off the campaign trail for several days together before each debate while Trump campaigned furiously.

Obama had beat Hillary in 2008 because he sold, among other things, grandiose dreams while she was promising to govern in prose and mocked his brand of post-partisan politics. Hillary's disdain for anything beyond pragmatic and anything grandiose became etched in her psyche after the scarring battles over healthcare reform that she spearheaded in her husband's presidency. Out of the flaming wreckage she rescued the Children's health insurance plan that went on to save thousands of children's lives. Let's note that unlike Hillary Sanders had no legislative achievement ever.

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore traveled to Estonia to figure out why they had low infant mortality rates in the world. At an Estonian hospital he was stunned to find a picture of Hillary talking to doctors. Hillary had visited that hospital for the same reason nearly 20 years before Moore in her quest to reform the US healthcare. That is vintage Hillary. During 2008 campaign she railed that healthcare reform without individual mandate is impossible but Obama airily dismissed it as a tax and bamboozled voters, much like Sanders would try 8 years later but with lesser success, into voting for him. In office Obama promptly included individual mandate in his reform package. It is ironical to see how Obama and Sanders, two candidates who knew far less than Hillary on any topic, managed to convey they were better choices for voters.

In 2016 while the electorate thirsted for muckraking change, after a change candidate disappointed them for 8 years, Hillary again offered steadiness as a virtue. Against a candidate as chaos personified as Trump she had better success than faced against someone like Obama but her success in selling steadiness still fell short.

The worst candidate won:

In a surprisingly unguarded moment Hillary said that "half of Trump's supporters could be put in a basket of deplorable". Trump's voters who needed no excuse to loathe Hillary now hated her doubly or exponentially. Did that remark cost her the election? Nonsense. If candidates lost elections based on offending voters then Trump should've packed his bags for calling a prisoner of war and the former nominee of his party a coward and a whole litany of abuses that he hurled at women, Hispanics, the disabled, his opponents, the media and every section of the electorate.

Stop blaming Hillary for her speeches to Goldman Sachs. Trump has stuffed his cabinet with Goldman Sachs and other corporate CEOs. On every criterion Trump is the worse candidate, by a mile and he won. Let's not get too politically correct, after all Trump himself hates it, in ascribing the defeat of Hillary as "the better candidate won". No. The worse candidate won and he won because he was the worse candidate.

Elections are won and lost for myriad reasons. An election where the outcome hinged on less than 150,000 votes in 3 states out of 120 million+ votes we cannot identify one or two reasons for the outcome. A confluence of factors, a sort of perfect storm, point to the plausible reasons. I've only attempted at stringing together those.

We now know what beast slouches towards 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and what we have seen since election day gives no cause for comfort but only alarm and concern. We are, as the bard said, but the playthings of the gods. God bless America.