Remembering Barack Obama’s historic election campaign

I am no admirer of Obama as a President, but his election campaign was markedly great. Who would have thought that Barack Obama, a first time senator, who was looking to rent a place in Washington DC (early 2005) would go on to live in the White House on January 20, 2009. An unwonted childhood, non existent political background, lack of money power and the one who started his career as a community organizer would go on to become the most powerful man in the world. For all the dreamers and believers, his story would be the finest example of immense human potential.

In 64 BC, when Marcus Cicero, ran for consul (highest elected political office of the Roman Republic) his brother Quintus wrote a letter to him and gave some advice on running an election campaign. This letter is a timeless classic, interpreted by many laureates and translated into many languages. The suggestions given were mainly :- ‘Make Sure you have the backing of your family and friends’, ‘Surround yourself with right people’, ‘Build a wide base of support’, ‘Communication skills’, ‘Know your opponent well’ and ‘Give people hope’.

Barack Obama’s campaign was also based on ‘giving people hope’. After 11 years, Obama’s successful presidential campaign remains the best case study for political pundits.

A grassroot campaign

It was the first time that a grassroots campaign was built at such a huge scale in such a short period of time. The belief was ‘a dedicated group of volunteers with clear understanding of candidate’s vision, interacting directly with people, work better than any digital army’.

David Plouffe, Obama’s Campaign Manager (for 2008 bid), wrote in his book, ‘The Audacity to Win’, “As a former community organizer Obama felt in his gut that if properly motivated, a committed grassroots army could be a powerful force”.

Communication strategy — Storytelling, Uniformity

Obama is a great story teller and those who follow him regularly know it. He was able to connect through his incredible stories with every American Citizen. His “Joe the Plumber” story to explain Tax policy dominated the third debate with his rival Lt. Senator John McCain.

Apart from Obama being an incredible story teller, the campaign team ensured uniformity in message delivery. If Obama is talking about Climate Change in a rally or in a TV Interview, all the ads will be on climate change and volunteers will be talking about climate change with the voters. The various communication channels were in sync with each other to deliver the message.

Team of Rivals

“It involves having a vision where a country needs to go, it involves to bring together best people and being able to spark the debate how we are going to solve healthcare, energy and going to deliver good jobs. And, then going to mobilize American people to get behind that agenda for change. That’s the kind of leadership that I want to show as president of the United States”. President Obama answering a question on ‘How he views presidency’ in early 2008.

President Obama clearly stated the role of a leader; bring specialists together, create a conducive environment to debate and ensure the co-existence of opposing views.

Small but diverse Inner Circle

A small inner circle is very important to avoid leaks of electoral strategy and tactics. In the days of primary only three people were in his inner circle, David Plouffe, David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs. David Plouffe writes in his book “We learnt this from George W Bush’s campaign where they kept their inner circle small and never expanded it which meant if they had to add someone, somebody had to go”. Interestingly, all three of them had worked for three different candidates and brought diverse and unique experience to Obama’s successful presidential bid.

Use of Technology and Data

Technology didn’t replace ‘People to People’ connect but it helped to scale, get the message delivered instantly and also proved to be a powerful tool for fundraising. Furthermore, Obama’s Campaign team relied more on data than believing on what political pundits have to say on news channels and newspapers.

Campaign office, headquartered in Chicago conducted training programmes for volunteers and used technology to communicate with them. There was also a performance management system for volunteers and staff.

If you have a strong opponent — reset the race to change momentum

It was similar to a cricket test match played between Australia and India in the year 2001. Australian team of that time was invincible and had won 16 test matches in a row. India won that historic match even after compelled to follow-on. It disrupted the momentum and made Indian team believe in their ability. Similarly, when Obama won Iowa primary, not only his team but the world also started believing that Hilary Clinton can also be defeated.

Magic of 3H — Humility, Humble, Honest

When President George W Bush was asked about the most important quality a leader should have, he replied “Humility, I think it’s really important to know what you don’t know and listen to people what you don’t know”.

Obama never attacked his opponents personally and refrained from highlighting past controversies. David Plouffe wrote about one incident: “Obama became furious when we circulated D-Punjab memo in the press and said this is the first time I am embarrassed by my campaign”. Next day he apologized to Hillary Clinton taking full responsibility of it. Barack Obama throughout his campaign and later as a President raised the standards of public office through his personal conduct.

A Word in Defense of the British Empire

Like a colossal riptide, the shattering news of Prince Harry’s abdication is swallowing a whole range of innocent victims. One of which is the British Empire.

More than once over the past few weeks, I have heard “experts” discussing Megxit portray the British monarchy as little more than archaic residue of the ghastly British Empire. This New York Times article by Afua Hirsch is a good example. From the moment Meghan met Harry, wrote Hirsch, she has been under attack. At its core, this hatred for Meghan is the result of “Britain’s history of empire,” which is “a global construct based on a doctrine of white supremacy.”

To Hirsch, British society is intrinsically racist, and the source of this abhorrence for people of color is the British Empire.

This corrupt view of the empire is not new of course. For many years now, slandering the British Empire has been the sport of countless scholars and pseudo-intellectuals. Driven by utter hatred of Britain’s imperial past, these people write and tweet and broadcast their ignorant, one-dimensional views virtually without consequence. Today, the view that the empire was evil beyond the pale is so widely accepted, many find it treacherous to their reputation and careers to rise to its defense.

Not us. I am no lover of the colonial powers, but I also object to one-sided criticism of those powers. I firmly believe that if these powers with handful of soldiers could win vast countries in hostile environment, then something was wrong with the conquered countries.

The legacy of the British Empire, like every empire and civilization, race and tribe, has its black spots. History shows that evil lies within the nature of all humans. The story of human civilization is one of competition and conflict, subjugation and exploitation, violence and murder. It is this inherently selfish nature—not the British Empire—that is the ultimate cause of all the world’s problems.

The fact that evil is endemic to human existence is not an endorsement of Britain’s ugly behavior (such as its treatment of the Boers, for example), but it does mean that the flaws of the British Empire were entirely unexceptional. Actually, compared to other empires, Pax Britannica was quite exemplary.

Measuring the character of an empire (or nation, race or individual) by reflecting on its mistakes alone only confirms that it was comprised of humans. The more accurate gauge of an empire’s quality is its fruits: What was the extent and importance of its contributions to the peoples it ruled and to human civilization. By this standard, the British Empire is unrivaled.

Consider global trade and commerce, a phenomenon we take for granted today. No nation or empire in history has done more to promote the free flow of goods and capital around the world than Britain at the height of its empire. It was England’s prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and rapid economic growth, that created its insatiable appetite for raw materials for industry and luxury items. Overflowing with cash, English bankers went on a buying spree.

The colonized responded, often eagerly, working harder and faster—building, sowing, digging—to sell their wares and take their share of English wealth. As England’s demand for goods grew, so did the gush of money flowing into the colonies, and trade between the colonies and England. Between 1750 and 1914, the total value of global trade increased fivefold. During the 1800s, global shipping tonnage grew from 4 million to 30 million tons, thanks primarily to Britain’s promotion of free trade. When piracy became a problem, the British Navy stopped it. When new laws and policies were needed to promote free trade, British lawyers responded.

Critics say the explosion in world trade did not benefit the poorer nations, but actually resulted in their exploitation. Not true. Consider Zambia, an example cited by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson in his book Empire. Zambia’s gross domestic product per capita is currently 1/28th of Britain’s, meaning the average Zambian is 28 times poorer than the average Briton. In 1955, at the end of colonial rule, Zambia’s gdp per capita was one seventh of Britain’s. Since the British left, Zambia has become four times poorer compared to Britain. “The same is true of nearly all former colonies in sub-Saharan Africa,” Ferguson writes (emphasis added throughout).

During British imperial rule, London was the world’s central bank. Each year, tens of millions of pounds would flow from England to the rest of the world. Naturally, like any bank, the empire sought a return on its investment; hence the boatloads of merchandise that flooded in from its colonies. But the flow of goods into Britain is only half the story. The other half is the hundreds of millions of English pounds reaching foreign shores and filling the pockets of local farmers, tradesmen, shop owners and bankers, greasing the wheels of colonial economies.

In India, the jewel of the empire, agricultural production exploded under the British Raj. Between 1891 and 1938, the amount of irrigated land more than doubled. The British built 40,000 miles of railway track in India, as well as postal and telegraph systems. Millions were employed. British rule, writes Tirthankar Roy in his book The Economic History of India, “appears to have done far more than what its predecessor regimes and contemporary Indian regimes were able to do.”

The same occurred in British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean. As the empire expanded, English bankers, engineers, architects and tradesmen invested time and money constructing vital infrastructure in Britain’s colonial lands. In India, Roy notes, “the railways, the ports, major irrigation systems, the telegraph, sanitation and medical care, the universities, the postal system, the courts of law, were assets India could not believably have acquired in such extent and quality had it not developed close political links with Britain.”

Beyond the vast material construction, the British in many instances created vital and revolutionary political, legislative and educational infrastructure for the colonized peoples. In many colonies, the rule of law was established, aiding economic growth and political and social stability. Britain’s superior legal system was also exported to the far corners of the Earth, where it often replaced brutal tribal laws and rituals with the more civilized and fair English system of justice.

Finally, the British Empire played the key role in protecting the world from tyrants. It’s no coincidence that the 19th century, when much of the world dwelt under Pax Britannia, was a century of relative peace. In the early 20th century, the British Empire emerged as the savior of the free world, almost single-handedly stopping the march of tyranny. During that period, writes Niall Ferguson, the British Empire “more than justified its own existence, for the alternatives to British rule represented by the German and Japanese empires were clearly far worse. And without its empire, it is inconceivable that Britain could have withstood them” (op cit).

Then there’s the issue of slavery. Revisionists love to recall Britain’s participation in the global slave trade. They neglect to mention that it was Britain that made the unilateral decision to ban slavery. Slavery had been practiced for thousands of years and was a key component of the economies of the colonial powers. The decision to be the first to eliminate the slave trade was brave and risky. Once made, it began to be enforced globally by British lawyers and guns!

When we measure British imperialism by its contribution to its colonies and the rest of the world, it has no parallel. Historian Andrew Roberts summarized: “The British Empire provided good government, uncorrupt public administration, inter-tribal peace, the rule of law, free trade, the abolition of slavery, famine relief, the abolition of barbaric customs …, huge infrastructural advances such as railways, roads plus irrigation projects, and in every colony nurtured its native peoples towards running their own countries once they were ripe for independence” (Frontpage interview, Feb. 26, 2007).

Not much to apologize for there!

“The fact remains,” writes Ferguson, “that no organization in history has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labor than the British Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world”

 They did exploit the conquered nations shamelessly, but also provided vast material, institutional and ideological blessings.

India streamlining and overhauling its armed forces

India has started 2020 with a series of military tests. On January 1, Army Chief Bipin Rawat was announced as the new chief of Defense Staff (CD), a post the type of which hasn’t existed since India attained independence in 1947. Since January 1, India has test-fired a new submarine-launched missile and a new series of fighter jets. India will play a significant role militarily in the end time. The way it has started 2020 supports this forecast.

Before Rawat’s promotion to CDS, the role was split between three different chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, each battling for supremacy over the other. Rawat will now head a department of more than 60 people, directly under the defense minister, as well as have power and authority to unite the three military branches of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

This has all been orchestrated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who enjoys the largest parliamentary majority since 1984. A perceived threat from China and Pakistan, has led Modi to reform India’s army.

The new CDS will organize the armed forces based on the American model, which places all forces in a particular area under one officer. India’s military transformation isn’t just in its structural organization, but also in its weapons of war.

On January 19, India’s Defense Research and Development Organization test-fired a submarine-launched, nuclear-capable ballistic missile off the coast in southeastern India. These missiles are crafted to launch from a fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which are expected to achieve long-range nuclear capability by 2021.

On January 20, India showcased its Tigershark fighter jet squadron, commissioned by General Rawat. The commissioning ceremony featured four fighters, but a complement of 18 fighters is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Most of the fighters will be capable of carrying a 2.5-ton, air-launched supersonic cruise missile, with 42 older models slated to receive the necessary upgrades to match.

While Prime Minister Modi’s efforts to revamp and streamline the Indian military are partly motivated by hostile neighbors, Bible prophecy reveals that India will be a part of an end-time Asian military alliance.

India has a vast and young population, much younger than China’s, giving India, which already has the world’s fastest growing major economy, considerably more potential. India also has the world’s fourth-most powerful military, including the second-largest standing military and an advanced array of nuclear weapons.

With its recent military restructuring, development of advanced weapons, large population and powerful economy, India is primed to become an important part of a prophesied 200 million-man army (Revelation 9:16).

This is significant because India has a population of 1.2 billion people—plus an advanced nuclear arsenal! When you put India and Japan together with Russia and China, it is easy to see how an army of 200 million soldiers could be formed. With other Asian nations joining in, you quickly reach combined populations of 3.5 to 4 billion people! Under extreme circumstances, it is not hard to imagine 1 in 10 or 20 people going to war.

Weekend Special: Emojis are the next step in digital communication


We’re much more likely to be hanging out on social media than at the watercooler these days. But just because we’re no longer face-to-face when we chat, doesn’t mean our communication is completely disembodied.

Over the last three decades, psychologists, linguists, and anthropologists, along with researchers from other traditions, have come together to understand how people gesture, and the relationship between gesture and speech.

The field of gesture studies has demonstrated that there are several different categories of gestures, and each of them has a different relationship to the words that we say them with. The same is true of emoji. The way we use emoji in our digital messages is similar to the way we use gestures when we talk.

What gestures and emoji have in common

We can break speech down into its component parts: sentences are made of words, words are made of morphemes, and morphemes are made of sounds.

Signed languages have the same features of grammar as spoken languages, but with handshapes instead of sounds. They have some advantages in complex expressions that spoken languages don’t have, but there are gestures as well as grammatical features when people sign.

By contrast, gestures and emoji don’t break down into smaller parts. Nor do they easily combine into larger words or sentences (unless we’re using a clunky version of the grammar of our language).

While there are preferences, there is nothing “grammatical” about using 😂 instead of 😹. Rather, what is most important is context. 🐶 could be a reference to your own dog, a good dog you saw while out for a walk, or a sign of your fondness for puppers over kitties.

There are some gestures that can have a full meaning even in the absence of speech, including the thumbs up 👍, the OK sign 👌 and good luck 🤞. Gestures like these are known as emblems, some of which are found in the emoji palette. Some object emoji have also developed emblematic meanings, such as the peach 🍑, which is most typically used non-illustratively to represent a butt.

Many gestures and emoji do not have these specific meanings. So, let’s take a look at different ways emoji are used to communicate with reference to a common framework used to categorise gestures.

Illustrative and metaphoric emoji

Illustrative gestures model an object by indicating a property of its shape, use, or movement, such as the classic “the fish was THIS big” gesture. Similarly, we often use emoji to illustrate the nature of a message. When you wish someone a happy birthday you might use a variety of emoji, such as the cake with candles 🎂, a slice of cake 🍰, balloon 🎈, and wrapped gift 🎁.

It’s not grammatically correct to say “birthday happy”, but there’s no “correct” sequence of emoji, just as there is no one correct way to gesture your description of the fish you caught.

We also have metaphoric uses of gesture and emoji. Unlike a “big fish”, a “big idea” doesn’t have a physical size, but we might gesture that it does. Similarly, our analysis showed that people typically use the “top” emoji 🔝 to mean something is good.

Beat gestures are used for emphasis

Another common type of gesture used to draw attention is a beat gesture, distinguished by a repetitive “beat” pattern. Some uses of emoji have a direct parallel to beat gestures. For example, using the double clap 👏 for emphasis, which has its origins in African American English.

The emphatic nature of beat gestures helps explain something about common strings of emoji. When we looked at sequences of emoji the most common patterns are pure repetition, such as two tears of joy emoji 😂😂, or partial repetition such as two heart eyes and blowing a kiss/heart 😍😍😘. Repetition for emphasis is rare (but possible) with words, but very common for gesture and emoji.

Along with these categories, we also looked at pointing and illocutionary gestures and emoji, which help show your intentions behind what you’re saying – whether that’s amusing 😂 or ambivalent 🙃.

Emoji have limitations that gestures don’t

There are obviously some differences between online and physical chat. Gestures and speech are closely synchronised in a way emoji and text can’t be. Also, the scope of possibilities with gesture is limited only to what the hands and body can do, while emoji use is limited to the (currently) 2,823 symbols encoded by Unicode.

Despite these differences, people still use the resources available to them online to do what they’ve been doing in face-to-face conversations for millennia. Bringing together research on gesture and internet linguistics, we argue there are far more similarities between emoji and gesture than there are between emoji and grammar.

Instead of worrying that emoji might be replacing competent language use, we can celebrate the fact that emoji are creating a richer form of online communication that returns the features of gesture to language.

The disenchanted currencies of the world talk of 'Currency Manipulation'

All major bills and notes of the world gathered in The Vault to discuss the fallout if Lakshmi, the Indian goddess, was put on Rupee, the Indian currency, as suggested by one of the country’s eminences grises.

“Well, whaddya know … putting a goddess on bills will be a new high. People may treat you with more respect,” said Dollar, a heavyweight in the currency world. “I have seven people on seven different bills including four dead presidents, and I’m tired of being used for drug trafficking, wars and mindless consumption.”

“You are lucky you get seven different people on seven different bills,” said Renminbi, the Chinese currency who Beijing was secretly manipulating to get him ahead of Dollar. “Imagine having Mao Zedong on notes of every denomination.”

Rupee agreed, saying, “Not to speak of the Father of the Nation being abused all the time by people stashing away black money, not paying taxes, and using us for nefarious purposes.”

Several bills, notably the South African Rand, who bore the image of Nelson Mandela, nodded, saying there should be more variety, and it was unfair that one iconic figure should take all the abuse.

“Indeed!” chimed in Pakistani Rupee, who was envious of his Indian counterpart because he was now worth less than half after being on par at Independence. “It is unfair that Jinnah has to represent mismanagement of the economy resulting from wars and terrorism the government indulges in.”

The Iranian Rial and Turkish Lira, who mainly carried Ayatollah Khomeini and Kemal Ataturk respectively, agreed, snorting that they had been devalued so much so often that it made no sense to carry images of national heroes.

“Ka-ching!” said Pound, who was trying to recapture the halcyon days she had lost to Euro with Brexit by putting photos of people other than Queen Elizabeth. “Why not everyone go heavy metal?”

“Easy for you to say that. You come in only four small denominations,” chided the Zimbabwean Dollar, who now came in bills of trillions, quintillions, and septillions. “Plus, you’ve never experienced hyperinflation and demonetisation.”

The Egyptian Pound and Mexican Peso complained of schizophrenia, having to bear photos ranging from ancient heroes such as Rameses II and Nezahualcoyotl, to physical structures and modern icons such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

All currencies finally agreed that they were sick and tired of humankind’s grubby hands manipulating, abusing, soiling and misusing them all the time. They were happy their time would soon be up and they would take on an electronic form where there would be no arguments on whose picture they should bear.

Constitutionally Correct CAA is a Victim of Sheer Idiocy & Sophistry

Stripped of the web of deception, spun by its detractors of both the tendentious and ill informed variety – The Citizens Amendment Act [The Act] serves the twin purpose of resolving a long neglected issue of statehood to refugees to India and doing so in a manner which is wholly compliant with constitutional morality.

There are essentially two canards leveled against the act and its provisions.

First that it is discriminatory in as much as, it opens the door for conferment of citizenship to refugees of six (6) religious communities who were victims of religious persecution and who sought sanctuary in India before 31st December, 2014, while denying it to similarly placed persons belonging to the Muslim community. The Discrimination Canard)

Second that it is arbitrary for that its scope is restricted to those fleeing religious persecution from three neighboring countries viz Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh [PAB] and excluding those facing such persecution in other neighboring countries, predominantly Myanmar and Sri Lanka. (The Arbitrariness Canard)
For these two reasons it is alleged the Act violates Articles 14 and 21 of The Constitution of India.

The Discrimination Canard

The basis of the Discrimination canard is that while PAB are admittedly Islamic Republics at least two of them – Pakistan and Afghanistan have persecuted not merely non-Muslims but two religious sects within the Muslim community – the Ahmadiyas and Shias in the case of Pakistan and Shias (mainly Hazaras) in the case of Afghanistan.

As far as Ahmadiyas are concerned , all Indians should be aware that one of the chief architects of the creation of Pakistan was Sir Zafarullah Khan, one of the most prominent members of the Ahmadiya community in pre-partition India. It was Zafarulla Khan who authored the infamous Lahore Resolution of 1940, which called for creation of a separate homeland for muslims, in which he specifically used the word “Pakistan” as the name for that homeland. He was one of the leading voices in Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly and the seeds of Pakistan’s rapid transformation from an independent nation with early secular hopes into an Islamic Republic brutal in its treatment of its minorities were sown during the debates of its very first Constituent Assembly.

Notwithstanding his pernicious two nation theory Pakistan’s founding father – Jinnah envisaged a secular constitution for Pakistan, as is unambiguous, from his August 11th 1947 speech to the constituent assembly of Pakistan in which there were representatives of every Muslim sect and every non-muslim community. Jinnah’s words …”

… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state…we should keep that infront of us as an ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State …”

… undoubtedly encouraged non-Muslims to choose Pakistan as their home in the legitimate expectation that they would have the freedom to practice and profess their respective religions and be secure in life and property.

If Pakistan had any hope of being a future secular State at all, that hope died with the premature death of Jinnah in 1948. Liaquat Ali Khan who succeeded Jinnah presided over and lent strong support to the infamous ‘Objectives Resolution’ of March, 1949. That resolution proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would be modelled on the ideology and faith of Islam. Every non-muslim member of the Constituent Assembly vigorously opposed the resolution and voted against it. The Objectives Resolution effectively rendered non-muslims second class citizens and later formed the basis of Pakistan’s constitutional theocratic doctrine which proclaimed Pakistan as an Islamic Republic. What is most significant however is that the Objectives Resolution was supported by Shias and Ahmadiyas too. In other words Islamic theocracy was the wish of every Muslim in Pakistan irrespective of sectarian allegiance.

What ensued in Pakistan pursuant to the Objectives Resolution was a ringing vindication of the prophetic words of Sris Chandra Chattopadhyay, the Dhaka born leader of the opposition in the constituent assembly on March 12, 1949

“The state religion is a dangerous principle. Previous instances are sufficient to warn us not to repeat the blunder. We know people were burnt alive in the name of religion.”

Ever since the Objectives Resolution non-muslims in Pakistan – Hindus, Sikhs and Christians were subjected to abominable atrocities of every kind- violence and murder; appropriation and arson of property; abduction and rape of women; forcible conversions and the destruction and burning of their places of worship. Undoubtedly many of these acts were the work of a Sunni majority imbued with the Wahabi fervor that a Deobandi Ulema imparted to them. But at the very least Shias and Ahmadiyas who first connived at the passing of the Objectives Resolution stood idly by at this barbaric treatment of their fellow countrymen at the hands of their co-religionists. The final denouement of the Objectives Resolution was the ethnic cleansing of the non-muslim citizens of Pakistan. Whereas in 1951, the non-muslim population of Pakistan was 3.44% of the total population as per the Pakistan Census of 1951, the non-muslim population (excluding Ahmadiyas) today has declined to barely 1.5%

True the chickens did ultimately come home to roost, as a State governed by theocratic majoritarianism, had to find new “others” once they almost obliterated a non-muslim minority. Thus, early attacks post partition on the Ahmadiyas grew in number and intensity and led ultimately to them being declared as non-muslims or apostate by a Statute of 1974. The ultimate irony is the frequent subjection of Ahmadiyas to the blasphemy law if they so much as dared to hold themselves out as being Muslims.

Not surprisingly the next new ‘other’ are the Shias who now face the brunt of Sunni oppression. As suicide bombers exterminate Shia populations when they gather in large numbers for prayers or processions and destroy their places of worship, the question being asked both inside and outside Pakistan, today is how soon will it be before the Shias with their sharp differences with the Sunnis on the question of succession to the Prophet are declared by the now theocratic Sunni majoritarian state as heretics outside the Muslim fold?

In the light of the above brief excursion into Pakistan’s constitutional origins, its fallout and those responsible for it would it be fair to condemn the Citizens Amendment Act as discriminatory against persecuted Muslims like the Ahmadiyas and Shias? The statement of objects and reasons for the enactment of the Citizens Amendment Act is that the Constitution of PAB provides for a specific state religion and hence the six specified religious communities faced persecution on the grounds of religion. This is a statement of fact based on empirical evidence. Grant of Indian citizenship to those facing religious persecution in neighboring theocratic states is by itself a rational classification with a reasonable nexus to the objects which the Act seeks to attain ie to grant citizenship to persons who are refugees in India on account of religious persecution.

The Discrimination canard however is based on the present plight of Shias and Ahmadiyas in Pakistan. Infact the Act is not discriminatory against persons belonging to these sects seeking citizenship on the ground of religious persecution for atleast three compelling reasons …

a. That Ahmadiyas and Shias are hoist by their own petard. At the time of their country’s (Pakistan) independence they consciously eschewed a secular constitution and opted for an Islamic Republic which relegated non-muslims to the status of second class citizens. Worse they connived in or stood idly by while their non-muslim brethren were subjected to a process of slow ethnic cleansing. As Indian critics of the Act never tire of reminding the nation our constitution is a secular one. Would it thus be subversive of our constitution if parliament in its wisdom deemed it inappropriate to grant citizenship to members of persecuted communities who had no commitment to secular principles, had a strong allegiance to a theocracy of their own religion, were insensitive to the rights of minorities and whose consciences appear not to have been stirred in the face of atrocities and even ethnic cleansing of their fellow countrymen merely because their religious beliefs were distinct?

b. Although the Indian government officially recognized Ahmadiyas as an Islamic sect in 2011 census, not only do Indian muslims not consider Ahmadiyas as muslims but have indulged in acts of acute hostility and violence towards them as is evidenced by some circumstances reproduced below:

1. In June 2008 prominent muslims led by none other than AIMM chief Assauddin Owaisi called upon the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Reddy to demand that Ahmadiyas be denied permission to hold a public meeting in Hyderabad. The CM ordered the police not to permit Ahmadiyas to hold the conference.

2. The Majilis Tahaffuze Khatme Nabuwat (MTNK), a prominent body of religious scholars, slammed the Central Government for treating the Ahmadiyas as part of the Muslim community in the 2011 census. According to MTNK, the Ahmadiyas cannot be considered an Islamic sect and they follow a different religion.

3. In September 2011 in Delhi, a Koran exhibition held by Ahmadiyas was called off after shrill protests from the Jama Masjid Imam – Ahmed Bhukari.

4. Ahmadiyas are not allowed to sit on All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a body of religious leaders that the central government recognizes as representatives of Indian muslims.

5. In February 2012, the Andhra Pradesh Waqf Board issued a decision to take over Ahmedi mosques and graveyards since “sunni or shia mosque cannot be administered by a non-muslim”.

6. In March 2012, an Ahmedi mosque was attacked in Saidabad, Hyderabad by the aforementioned MTNK.

7. In May 2012, Jamat-e-Islami-Hind called for a complete social boycott of Ahmadiyas during a public meeting in New Delhi

8. In May 2012, the Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir requested that the J&K State Assembly pass a law that would deem Ahmadiyas to be non-muslim.

9. There have been reports of attacks on Ahmadiyas in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

The protesting students of Jamia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University in their opposition to the CAA have never declared whether they consider Ahmadiyas to be part of the Muslim fold and would want them to be granted citizenship if they so desired on the grounds of religious persecution. But it is at least undeniable that a very significant section of muslim leadership in social, political and religious spheres not merely consider Ahmadiyas as apostate but are willing to express their opposition to their very presence in India through violent and disruptive methods. The treatment of Ahmadiyas by prominent and powerful individual muslims/institutions representing them reveals that the grant of citizenship to Ahmadiya refugees is fraught with grave risk in as much as it has the potential to foment acute sectarian strife. The Indian government would accordingly be ill advised to open the doors for conferment of citizenship to Ahmadiyas as it would result in grave threat to public order and law & order.

c. Should India grant citizenship to victims of intra- religious sectarian disputes based on esoteric and post-Koranic differences which while they may be of great significance to the protagonists of those debates are meaningless to a host country and which in a civilized world ought to be resolved by a rational consensus between the respective clergy of the protagonists and not by the imposition of the will of those entrusted with governance?

As regards Hazara refugees from Afghanistan – these number about 500 to 700- most of who are settled in Delhi. The Hazaras are not victims of religious persectution by the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The Hazaras have fled Afghanistan mainly on account of persecution by the Taliban during the period when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001. It is true that the attacks on the Hazaras continue till the present day by the Taliban and the Islamic State. But since 2001, however Hazaras are not victims of religious persecution by the Islamic State of Afghanistan and the Hazara community has carved out a thriving urban enclave in West Kabul. It is perhaps even safe for Hazaras to return to Afghanistan in present times.

The Arbitrariness Canard

The constitutional challenge based on arbitrariness on the ground of the exclusion of other religious countries like Mayanmar and Sri Lanka from the scope of this Act is misconceived. The CAA has limited the scope of its operation to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh on the grounds that these are self-proclaimed Islamic Republics. Myanmar has no state religion but its constitution does sanction the promotion of Thervada Buddhism practiced by 90% of the country’s population, though freedom of Religion and Worship by minorities is permitted by the constitution. Sri Lanka’s Constitution while declaring that the Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place nevertheless by Article 10 & Article 14 grants freedom of religion to all persons in the widest possible terms. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has categorically asserted that Sri Lanka is a secular country. However, it must be conceded that countries professing secularism as their constitutional creed can persecute religious minorities. The critics of the CAA highlight the persecution of Rohingya Muslim community in Myanmar and Tamils in Sri Lanka. The question is that does the CAA pass the test of constitutionality by excluding these two countries from its scope.

Essentially the Rohingya crisis is an issue between two neighbors friendly to India i.e. Myanmar and Bangladesh. Rohingyas were originally inhabitants of Bangladesh but after the British took control of Burma in 1824 they felt the need for migrant labour to cultivate the fertile rice fields of that country. Thus they transported Rohingya labourers from Bangladesh to the Rakhine region in Burma. When Burma attained independence in 1948 one of the vexed issues that arose was entitlement to citizenship of its residents. The Burmese never regarded Rohingyas as original inhabitants of Burma and after the Burmese military took over the reins of power in 1962, the Rohingyas were not recognized as citizens both by the Constitution of 1974 and by Citizenship Act of 1982.

The opposition of the state of Myanmar to grant citizenship to the Rohingya inhabitants of Rakhine state is not in virtue of the fact that they are Muslims but on the ground of their origins being in Bangladesh and their presence in Myanmar being transient on account of British labour policy. Moreover, culturally the Rohingyas have greater affinity to Bangladesh in as much as they speak the Bengali dialect common in the Chittagong Area of Bangladesh and not Burmese. On the other hand, there are other Muslims in Myanmar whose presence is to be found all over the country including Rakhine state. These Muslims are ethnically distinct from the Rohingya Muslims and speak the Burmese language. These Muslims have not been subjected to any religious persecution during the 2 waves of Rohingya exodus that occurred in 2012 & 2017. In other words the Rohingya refugee crisis which has engulfed India and other countries does not stem from religious bigotry or persecution but is more akin to an Assam- type “outsider” issue and is in fact a clash of conflicting claims to citizenship. The genesis of the Rohingya problem in as much as it does not stem from a Buddhist- Muslim divide is dehors the scope of the CAA which deals with grant of citizenship to minorities fleeing religious persecution.

Secondly, the rights enshrined in Part 2 of the constitution have been held by Supreme Court to be subject to reasonable restrictions such as security of the state. While there has always been tension between Rohingyas and non Rohingyas in Rakhine State, the first major flare-up resulting in displacement of Rohingyas occurred in June 2012 on account of the gang-rape of a Rakhine woman by the Rohingya Muslims. This led to sectarian violence, deaths of both Rohingya and non Rohingya and the burning of both Rohingya and non Rohingya homes in equal measure. The incident led to the first exodus of about 90,000 Rohingyas from Rakhine State. Thereafter there was no outbreak of violence till October 2016 when a group called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked a police post in Rakhine State, killing 9 police officers. The situation spiralled out of control when on 25/08/ 2017 ARSA carried out an even more virulent attack on around 30 Myanmar security posts. These attacks were carefully planned & co-ordinated. The Myanmar security forces responded with brutal grossly disproportionate violence marked by killings, rape, sexual violence & burning of entire villages (Amnesty International).

As a result of this retaliation more than 750,000 Rohingyas fled the Rakhine state to seek refuge in neighboring countries-the largest contingent fleeing to Bangladesh where they now live in camps in Cox’s Bazaar.

Amnesty International reports that almost immediately after the 25/8/2017 incident & after ARSA again carried out terrorist attacks against innocent Hindu villagers in the village of Kha Maung Seik in northern Maungdaw township in Rakhine killing 99 of them. The Myanmar Government has designated ARSA as a terrorist organization. The International Crisis Group (ICG) also says that ARSA militants have trained abroad & released a report in 2016 saying the group was led by Rohingyas living in Saudi Arabia. The ICG also says ARSA’s leader is Ata Ullah who was born in Pakistan & raised in Saudi Arabia. Indian intelligence inputs disclose that global jihadi groups such as Islamic State & Al-Qaeda & also Pakistan’s ISI & its proxies are sponsoring ARSA terrorism. These inputs also suggest that Lashkar-e-Taiba is seeking to recruit Rohingyas in India for their jihadist activities within India.

India is not alone in viewing Rohingya refugees as potential sources of terrorist recruitment. In November 2019 addressing a three day “Global Dialogue 2019 Conclave in Dhaka, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena stated that more than 1.1million Rohingyas of Myanmar who fled to Bangladesh in the face of persecution were a threat not only to security of Bangladesh but for the entire region. In Indonesia where Rohingyas have travelled by boat and settled in the Indonesian province of Aceh on the North-West tip of Sumatra Island, Indonesian counter-terrorism officials are worried about possible retaliatory attacks by the country’s violent extremist fringe or extremist outreach to ARSA in the interest of sending Mujahideen to Myanmar. The Indonesian government is worried that with many Indonesians now visiting camps in Cox’s bazaar, some Indonesian extremists will eventually make contact with ARSA militants [The Institute of Policy Analysis for Conflict (IPAC)].

Thus, there is no doubt that a persecuted, displaced & totally impoverished refugee population is a fertile breeding ground for Jihadist footsoldiers. The Indian state is not unjustified in excluding Myanmar & the Rohingyas from the scope of the CAA on the further ground that the continued Rohingya presence constitutes a threat to the security of the state.

As far as question of Sri Lanka’s Tamilian refugees in India is concerned, the refugee problem has arisen as a result of a three decade long civil war and ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamilians. Tamilians have fled to India from time to time during those 3 decades to escape either war or persecution and most have settled in either Tamil Nadu or Kerela. Again, the Sinhelese- Tamil conflict is not religious but an ethnic one; it is not a case of Buddhists persecuting Hindus and Christian Tamils.

In any event since 2009, sectarian conflict in SL has ended. The civil war and the ethnic conflict was largely the result of the call for a separate Tamil state called Eelam by the LTTE in the north and east. With the defeat and the disappearance of the LTTE, peace and tranquility has returned to the island country. Tamils now constitute 11% of Sri Lanka’s population, a majority in the Northern Province and are present throughout the rest of Sri Lanka. In view of the absence of tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils, it is safe for Tamilians to return to their homeland and reportedly several Tamil refugees have been returning home voluntarily with the help of UNHCR.

Those Tamilians who wish to acquire Indian citizenship can do so and they can be conferred citizenship by naturalization by the Indian government if they fulfill the requisite criteria for such grant. The exclusion of Sri Lanka from the scope of the CAA is thus wholly justified; it is a friendly neighbor, a secular state, its previous ethnic tensions have sharply declined and its Tamil population is presently safe and secure in the country.

In the light of all that is stated above, the CAA is constitutionally valid. It is a humanitarian piece of legislation, which offers citizenship to certain persons who have been refugees in this country and stateless for far too long. The Act is not anti-Muslim: Muslims can apply for citizenship by naturalization under a separate section of the Citizenship Act. Indeed more than 600 Muslims have been conferred citizenship through this route in recent times. The limited scope of the Act is based on both – compelling principles of constitutional morality as also public policy. With the greatest respect, the Act is not divisive; unfortunately its motivated opponents are.

The Richie Rich Get to Play at Saving the world

It’s a new year and a new decade. Yay! Iran and the United States haven’t dragged us all into World War Three yet. Yippee-Ka-Yay! It’s day one of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Ya……oh…ugh! Lucky us. For the next week or so, we get to hear the great and the good (mainly the super rich) tell the rest of us mere mortals how they will help save us and our crumbling world. “Ok everyone. The billionaire club has got your back. Nothing to see here. Move along now.” Joe Schmo, your input is not required.

Most of us regular folk will never, ever go to Davos Klosters, let alone attend WEF. For starters, how many of us have a helicopter to hand to shuttle us from the Zurich to this uber-exclusive, ultra-bull market ski resort? Moreover, despite all the speeches and powerpoint slides, it does seem to most of us standing outside the tent in the freezing cold, that WEF is just one big private social. Indeed, from what I’ve heard from friends who’ve attended, the after parties are the only reason to go. Here’s a downright crazy idea – how about having next year’s WEF in a slum in Africa or next to a polluted beach in India?

 Predictably, it’s all about sustainability this year. With all the pressure from Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, how could it not be? So we now get advice on how to fix the world from the very same people who were probably involved in wrecking it. It was ever thus. Gosh, I’m turning into such a cynic in my old age.

Lip Service: Now it’s all very good for the likes of Al Gore to shock us with pictures of burning skies and flash floods but there is very little in the way of usable output. Very little comes out of Davos that speaks to the wider population. The truth is that the rest of the world has stopped listening. No one cares what a small group of privileged people, sitting atop a mountain in Switzerland, have to say about our collective futures. Indeed, there is widespread doubt that the rockstars, politicians and otherwise rich attendees of Davos actually care about making any real impact. It’s all a show and the attendees are their own audience.

If we are going to save our planet then it’s going to get done as a collective. It will mean a change in behavior and lifestyles by each and every one of us. Moreover, it will mean more of us choosing careers away from banking and finance and instead head into the green sector. Herein lies a major bottleneck.

It is currently financially prohibitive to pursue a career in the green sector. Finance and tech still attract the bulk of the top talent because they are the sectors that pay well and career paths are well mapped out. For those who still wish to follow through on their convictions and wave goodbye to the big bucks, access to good courses is often difficult and we already know that the education system is rigged toward the wealthy. Thereafter, there is little or no clarity in the path to paid employment. I have seen this first hand.

I have known several people who are post-graduate level conservationists. They have all had difficulty in finding gainful employment in the field – lots of unpaid internships and placements but nothing paid. One of them estimates that only 10-20% of his undergraduate class stayed in the industry. That figure, he says, climbs some with a masters and/or a PhD. That’s disappointing.

Furthermore, internships with reputable conservationists cost money. Indeed, one well known conservationist (with whom we connected via WEF network ironically) asked for a US$100,000 contribution to his fund. This was the going rate for an internship he said. I’d heard an evidently spurious rumour that bonded slavery was dead?

WEF’s stated objective is to “improve the state of the world”. It does well to bring together world leaders and society’s greatest minds. However, unless it can also engage the rest of the population into conversation and get them along on the journey, the event is nothing more than a momentary distraction. Most international businesses will require conservation knowledge going forward. So to make it so difficult or unattractive for young people (especially those from less wealthy backgrounds) to pursue this field can only be a negative for economies and society in general. We need more investment in the sector to drive job creation. We need an orderly transition from legacy sectors to the new world helping match people to opportunities. We can’t simply rely on market forces.

Back in the ski lodge, the big hitters continue to roll in along with their colossal carbon footprints – Ren Zhengfei, Christine Lagarde, Deepika Padukone, George Soros and of course the now almost mythical teen activist Greta Thunberg. Now, I’m not questioning the positive impact this young lady has made on the world. Kudos to her. However, once again, this is not a kid who hails from a ‘normal’ background. Her mother is a successful opera singer and her father an actor. Her grandfather was an actor and director. There is also a Nobel Prize winner in the family. Just saying.

Talking of Greta, her ‘bestest’ friend, Donald Trump had just touched down on the helipad. My goggle-box had gone into a frenzy as anticipation grows about a showdown between the 73 year-old President and the 17 year-old Swedish activist. And then it fizzled out.  It’s all just reality TV. Queue Bono’s monologue….

Youth leads the Change

The young have taken to the streets world over and taken the charge for leading change. What has altered?

As an older, cynical generation holds their punches and sits back in wonder, the youth has taken to the streets all over the world for issues they sense are vital to their future. Increasingly the younger generation has taken lead roles on the world stage in public protests and advocacy related to the environment, corruption, rape, censorship, campaign for gun control in the US, issues of citizenship and extradition as in Hong Kong, and recently in India, in support of the continuing secular spirit of the nation.

And it is but natural the youth should be concerned, as they are the ones who hold the future of the Universe in their hands. Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg and Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai are the universally recognized faces of youth activism. However, there are thousands other young people working for various political, social and economic causes in the background.

Adults dominate the political discourse, but young people like Greta have demonstrated ably that today youth are informed and concerned citizens who can be trusted to advocate for change within their communities. How many adults would have the gumption of Greta to tell the US Senate law makers, “Please save us your praise. We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it.”

What has changed? Nothing actually. India is no stranger to youth activism. Whenever the need has arisen, students have been at the forefront of political and social movements — the Young Bengal Movement of 1830s, the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920, the Emergency in 1975, the anti-Mandal agitation, candlelight vigils for violence against women, for Jessica Lal and Nirbhaya, agitation after Rohith Vemula’s suicide or for Kanhaiya Kumar and now protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens!

The one change is in the impact and reach of protests. Technology makes communication far more effective — not just for organizing movements, but also for disseminating information and raising awareness. Technology and digital media have given youth activism a new boost.

The first step towards change and a better future is awareness. Then comes dialogue. But what follows dialogue has to be a show of solidarity and action. Everyone must do what they can. Action does not necessarily mean taking things in your own hands or trying to force immediate change. Even stepping up to share your views or raise your voice to create solidarity is action. And that is where digital media helps all youngsters feel they finally have a voice and arm as strong as that of any adult!

And we adults sit up and take notice when our children protest or take out processions and expose themselves to threats and danger. Most families will admit that it is children who have taken the lead in homes to create environmental awareness.

In today’s technologically advanced environment, Greta’s simple, solo act snowballed into a global wave of school strikes for the environment, taking her to the UN climate talks in Madrid and beyond.

Not every youth activist need or will get the attention that Greta did. Not everyone needs to be at the forefront of protests and movements. But yes, every child and young person needs to, and must remain connected and aware. From Arab Spring to the Vietnam War to Tiananmen Square, young people have always been at the vanguard of protest and change. The world’s leading philosophers and thinkers have always stressed the importance of political consciousness amongst youth.

Spreading awareness is action – on whatever platforms you have access to. And for this you do not need big stages or spotlights

The Real Reason Why India Lags Behind China

Many of us increasingly believe these following five myths about China: 1) China’s authoritarian governance model is primarily responsible for its unprecedented economic rise; 2) China has made impressive gains by manipulating global trade and investment rules, stealing IPRs and resorting to unfair subsidies; 3) China promotes exports by all kinds of fair and foul means but remains unreceptive to imports; 4) Favourable global factors such as emergence of WTO and Information Technology Agreement (ITA) helped China to become the world’s factory; and 5) China’s been able to create its local tech biggies like Alibaba by restricting global tech giants such as Amazon.

In this view, India should take the following lessons. We should be cautious about FTAs (that lead to more imports than exports), and shouldn’t be all-welcoming towards FDI and MNCs. We should promote desi companies over foreign ones. Most countries have now turned protectionist so we should focus on our large domestic market. We had a glorious past and unmatched scientific prowess. We’re destined to have a glorious future when we’d be mightier than China or the US like we once used to be.

In this view, China doesn’t have to worry about political parties, interest groups and states pulling in different directions, which explains India’s slower economic progress. What we forget is that Iraq, North Korea, Russia and several African countries despite being authoritarian have done badly when it comes to bettering the material life of citizens. Several Western democracies have done far better.

Back home, BJP has a clear majority in Lok Sabha and is now also strong in Rajya Sabha. It’s in office in most states. The prime minister is in full control of government and the party. Yet, his government is the most defensive when it comes to pushing tougher reforms barring a few exceptions such as the insolvency and bankruptcy code. The Congress government led by PV Narasimha Rao or NDA led by AB Vajpayee were far gutsier. UPA-1 with thinner majority did better economically than UPA-2 with stronger majority. Modi 2.0 with better majority has delivered us 4.5% amid worsening investment climate. Conclusion: strong governments don’t automatically lead to stronger economic growth.

China has not been accused of manipulating trade and investment rules, stealing IPRs and subsidising its businesses without reason. However, thinking that China has become a $14 trillion economy by cheating and manipulating is too naive. This is part of American propaganda that we have fallen for, but shouldn’t. If it was that easy India doesn’t have an impressive record on respecting intellectual properties or trade rules. China accounted for 21% (similar to the US) of all patents filed globally compared to 1% for India in 2018.

China doesn’t often play by the rule book but the US is now trying to close down WTO. The US remains the world’s top agriculture subsidising country, yet Australia, Brazil and New Zealand run the most efficient and profitable agriculture and allied industries. Thus, subsidies alone can’t be the differentiator.

China is the world’s second largest importer. Its import of goods and services stood at $2.65 trillion against export of $2.75 trillion in 2018. Critics say it mostly imports raw material and industrial inputs that it doesn’t have or can’t competitively produce. That explains India’s substantial trade deficit with China. What critics forget is that India’s raw material protectionism is primarily responsible for increasing import of high-value finished goods and export of low-value raw material, and not necessarily Chinese trade manipulation.

China has devised Made in China 2025 to promote futuristic industries. In contrast, India’s industrial policy is obsessed with protecting manufacturers of globally over-supplied commodities such as steel, aluminium and synthetic fibres that’s hurting the prospects of more dynamic downstream industries.

Like China, India too joined WTO and ITA, but it couldn’t capitalise on global export opportunities. India’s tax terror drove out Nokia, and ruined its chance to push electronics exports. Our exports remain sluggish not because of external factors but internal mismanagement. GST was supposed to be a game changing reform but it’s actually causing a compliance nightmare for SMEs.

China might have been able to create local imitations of Facebook and Google by banning them. But the US created the originals while being open. India too has created its much admired Unified Payment Interface (UPI) that Google wants the US Fed to replicate, without banning competing payment platforms. Thus, we shouldn’t fall prey to the idea of blocking competition.

It’s a crony propaganda that higher corporate taxes and expensive capital is making Indian businesses inefficient and thus they need protection. Rather, it’s the lack of competition that is making them complacent leading to poor performance both domestically and globally. India Inc is scared by any mention of competition. Take any Indian industry except pharmaceutical or IT, oligopoly is a common feature. That needs to change if we’re serious about $5 trillion GDP by 2024-25.

We don’t need to copy China to be an economic superpower except maybe its long-term focus. And yes, we had a glorious past and we should be proud of that. However, we’ll need to work harder to have a glorious future as competition to the top is intenser now. Even if India is a large economy, its per capita income at $2,000 is too low and income inequality too high. That will cap domestic demand, and in turn, its growth prospects. Thus, it doesn’t have a choice but to push exports to grow faster. That calls for urgent internal actions. And, an open market and double digit growth is the way to glory, not shutting our doors to the world.

It’s Time to Study Your History

Do you have time to read history? The situation in America, Britain and across the globe is now a slow-motion world crisis ready to explode. And for that reason, I submit to you that you no longer have time not to read history.

When Winston Churchill faced his world crisis, he had to muster every ounce of knowledge, wisdom and courage he had accumulated over his lifetime to try to save his people, their nation and its virtues. Imagine if that lifetime had been spent flipping through the sports pages, reading trashy novels, and relaxing at the cinema, absorbing frivolous content. If Churchill’s mental diet had been anything less than what it was, he could have never become the one statesman alive whom God could use to save Western civilization.

What was it that Churchill did devour? As the crisis struck, what was it that fueled him? To Winston Churchill, history was more than a subject or a hobby. It was his identity. William Manchester wrote in The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, “Churchill did not simply observe the historical continuum; he made himself part of it. … He did not live in the past; the past lived on in him.”

History became Winston Churchill’s personal memory.

That is what history is. It is our shared, extended, personal memory. Most of us just ignore it or forget it. And we therefore plunge into the world crisis totally vulnerable. “History was the way he understood the world, the lens he used to bring reality into focus,” Stephen Mansfield writes in Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill. “Churchill thought historically, meaning that he understood life in terms of generations, great men, the succession of ages, heroic events, noble conflicts and the linear connections of time. …

“For him history was more than something to study; it was a way of thinking. As Lord Ismay, Churchill’s chief of staff, said, Churchill ‘thought in terms of history all the time. He felt that the light of history played upon all that we did, and he acted accordingly.’”

In the preface to Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Henry Steele Commager wrote that the work, almost two decades in the making, “was a very personal book,” like almost everything else Churchill had written: A Roving CommissionThe River WarThe World Crisis, Marlborough, The Second World War. “This history was a project long close to Churchill’s heart and long in his mind, as well.”

Studying history informs you of your identity! Why are the minds of most people—the sports fans, the cinema-goers, the app-users of our day—so adrift, so ignorant, so susceptible to trivialities and insidious ideologies? Why don’t they know their own identity? They don’t remember history.

Churchill became a dynamic, vibrant, pulsating part of his people’s history. His boldness, ambition and passion for empire impelled him to do things, change things, build things, save things. His exhilarant way of living added richness and color to his writings.

One of the history books Churchill read—as a history book—was Exodus. He wrote an essay in 1931 titled “Moses: The Leader of the People.” In it, he took issue with skeptics who said Moses was only an allegorical figure. Moses, Churchill replied, “was the national hero who led the chosen people out of the land of bondage, through the perils of the wilderness, and brought them to the very threshold of the Promised Land ….”

Churchill wrote this essay at the beginning of the “wilderness years,” when he was a political outcast languishing on the back benches of the House of Commons.

Every prophet, Churchill continued, has to go into the wilderness! “He must have a strong impression of a complex society and all that it has to give, and then he must serve periods of isolation and meditation. This is the process by which psychic dynamite is made” (ibid.).

That’s what Churchill was doing during the 1930s. When the ruling class was disarming Britain and coddling Adolf Hitler, he was making psychic dynamite. During that decade, he wrote 11 books and hundreds of articles, and delivered dozens of speeches in Parliament. While his countrymen were fast asleep, he sounded a jarring alarm.

He was the only Briton who was actually preparing for war during those so-called wilderness years. He wrote his four-volume, 1 million-word masterpiece Marlborough between 1933 and 1938. This deep dive into history helped prepare him for Britain’s darkest hour.

Commager said this about Churchill’s famous ancestor and Britain’s most decoarated general: “The hero was a man after Churchill’s heart: the greatest soldier in the annals of the race, ever victorious and ever magnanimous; the statesman who welded together a continental alliance; the diplomat who mediated between the English, the Dutch, the Prussians and the empire; the captain loved by his soldiers, trusted by his allies, respected by his enemies. But the theme was more than biographical; it was nothing less than the theme of the struggle for Europe” .

This was more than a work of history, said one British historian. This was a biography that changed history. When Churchill finally came to power in 1940, he was prepared for battle. The story from his nation’s glorious past—a story he knew well—continued living right into the present.

As an avid lover of history, Winston Churchill was advised, inspired and motivated by giants of history like the duke of Marlborough and Moses.

I don’t know if he knew it, but the history of the Israelites recorded in Exodus was especially, literally personal to Churchill, and not just because the British needed supernatural deliverance. The Israelites were, in fact, his ancestors, just as was Marlborough.

In fact, the Israelites are your ancestors. Their history is your history. This is true of those who physically descended from the Israelites (mainly the modern English-speaking peoples Like Churchill, we are living in historic times. I daresay it is time to shake out of your right hand the distracting smartphone apps, the gaming, the frivolity and dissipation. It’s time to devote your precious hours to serious pursuits that could very well be life-saving pursuits. It’s time to become part of something bigger than yourself. It’s time to become part of history.

Concept & Working of Democracy in Islamic Countries

Islamic countries despite proud declarations of biding by basic tenets of Islam seem to be going back on Islamic traditions. Islam perhaps is the only faith which provides a strong example of early democracy, and yet most of the counties are despotic.  In dividing the globe by faith, it appears that among the nearly 50 Muslim-majority states globally, only five (Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Senegal and Sierra Leone) meet the two common norms for being called electoral democracies: the last two elections were fair and unelected entities don’t have formal veto powers over the elected regimes.

A few flirt with these norms, i.e., Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Albania and Bosnia. No Muslim state is a well-ruled democracy that ensures civil liberties. About half are misruled autocracies. The status is better among other faiths. Among the 100-plus Christian-majority states, around 70 are electoral democracies. Among 10 Buddhist majority-states, half are; and among three Hindu-dominant states, India and Mauritius have regular free polls. Israel, the only Jewish state, is a democracy. Among the four to five states where non-believers are the largest group, about half are advanced democracies.

These stark figures inspire Islamophobes to argue that Islamic edicts discourage democracy. When I analyse social issues as a social scientist, I only use agnostic lenses. But even such lenses show that such Islamophobic logic is vague and fails to compare a specific set of core edicts properly with similar beliefs in other faiths. Actually, it could be argued more lucidly that Islam perhaps is the only faith whose early history (of the Medina state) provides a strong case of early democracy in practice.

Caliphs were chosen with consensus and on merit, and they ruled fairly accountably when other major states then had autocracies. Early rulers linked with other religions were dynastic kings. Clearly, the Medina state existing many centuries ago differed much from today’s democracy. But today’s democracy differs much from even modern Western democracy a mere 150 years ago, which had colonialism, women’s non-suffrage, slavery etc.

Today, it is contemporary factors that explain the current major democratic deficit in Muslim states. Regional analysis reveals that these factors undermine democracy not only in many Muslim but also many non-Muslim regional states. In East Asia, Indonesia and Malaysia are electoral democracies while only Brunei is an autocracy among Muslim states. Many more non-Muslim East Asian states are autocratic, eg, China, North Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. In the ex-Soviet bloc, the six Muslim STANs (Kazakhastan, Uzbekistan etc.) are non-democratic but so are Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. South Asia’s four stronger democracies include Bangladesh and Pakistan while its four laggard democracies include two non-Muslim states. A similarly mixed picture is found in Africa. The Middle East is almost entirely Muslim, and an intra-regional comparison is not possible with non-Muslim states there. Thus, outside the highly developed Western and East Asian states, the frequency of democracy across states of various faiths is more even.

In looking closely at Muslim states today, one hardly finds religious edicts influencing the thoughts and decisions of elites either way about the nature of the political systems anywhere, except Iran. Elsewhere, eg, Saudi Arabia and Brunei, they are used as facades to justify corrupt autocracies. Several secular factors also undermine democracy in Muslim and other regional non-Muslim states. In the Middle East, US support helps keep secular autocrats in power as earlier in East Asia. The ambitions of politicised army generals, almost all secular, have kept democracy in check in other Muslim states as earlier in non-Muslim Latin America. In many small African states with few competitor power bases, both Muslim and non-

Muslim, autocrats are able to survive for decades. Democracy also fails to thrive in natural re­­source-based rentier states, ­eg, Muslim Gulf states and non-Muslim Angola.

Thus, there does not appear to be a single, faith-based explanation for the current Muslim democratic deficit. Instead, there are multiple contemporary factors at play in different regions. It is true that linked fundamentalist movements are much more powerful in Muslim rather than non-Muslim states today. Such movements, which first became strong a few decades ago, today have a presence in over half the Muslim world. However, the trend towards democratisation has actually increased in the ummah in these decades despite the rise of fundamentalism. Even Iran, the only Muslim state run by clerics, became a bit more democratic after its Islamic revolution.

Catholic and Buddhist states, which were once called unripe for democracy due to faith-based issues, have eventually moved towards democracy. It is a matter of time before the same happens within the ummah as citizens’ movements thrive.

Delhi-Davos Disconnect

As the world’s business elite, political leaders and the chatterati show up at the annual Davos conclave in the Swiss Alps this week, the talk is about “stakeholder capitalism”. Klaus Schwab, who founded the World Economic Forum 50 years ago, wants capitalists to look beyond their shareholders and consider the interests of all the stakeholders. Some hope that the debate on stakeholder capitalism is a long overdue recognition of the capitalist excesses of recent decades. Last August, the Business Roundtable in the US, which brings together some of the top American corporates, said American companies must now generate value for customers, invest in their employees, deal fairly with suppliers and support the communities in which they operate even as they service their shareholders.

Sceptics, however, dismiss this as a gimmick. “Stakeholder capitalism,” they say, is a nice way of saying the right things, repackaging old ideas on corporate social responsibility and creating illusions about reforming capitalism. Cynics insist that it will be business as usual for the world’s capitalists.

Beyond this divide between optimists and pessimists, there is no question that the discourse on “stakeholder capitalism” is a reflection of the deeper crisis afflicting the global economy today. In its annual survey on global risks, the WEF has identified many challenges. Three of them stand out and relate to polarised politics in major industrial societies, trade wars and technological change.

US President Donald Trump, who is joining Davos this year, is at the heart of the wrenching debates on all the three issues. Trump’s politics have been defined by his trenchant opposition to “globalism” — exemplified by the Davos gathering. As he brushes off the impeachment trial in the US Senate and begins his campaign for a second-term in the White House, which many fear could well be successful, there is great interest on what he has to say on key global issues.

On political polarisation in America, Trump is unlikely to be defensive. While the dominant sentiment at Davos sees Trump as the very embodiment of nationalism and populism that are polarising politics around the world, others point to the structural conditions that have bred these forces. They suggest Trump has merely mobilised these popular resentments. As Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labour in the Bill Clinton Administration put it recently, “Trump’s support comes largely from America’s working class whose wages haven’t risen in decades, whose jobs are less secure than ever and whose political voice has been drowned out by big money”.

As the Democratic Party abandoned its traditional working class supporters, Trump drew them towards the Republican Party — long seen as the party of the rich. His political genius lies in simultaneously appealing to both capital and labour — massive tax cuts to the former and the promise to the latter of bringing jobs back to America that were lost through globalisation and immigration.

Much the same happened in the British elections last year, where the Tory leader Boris Johnson won a sweeping mandate by breaking into the working class strongholds of the Labour Party. Trump’s success in mobilising the working people was tied to challenging the logic of globalisation that was taken for granted by the Democratic Party, large swathes of American capital and the policy wonks.

Long before the 2016 election, Trump had a long record of denouncing free trade. His attack on globalism was mistaken by many as an electoral ploy rather than a considered strategy. Many had hoped that Trump will moderate his anti-globalist rhetoric once in office. Instead Trump has taken a pickaxe to the core principles of the globalised economic order — free trade, open borders and multilateralism.

Anti-globalisation protests have become common over the years at the annual gatherings of Davos as well as the G-7 and G-20 summits. But few had anticipated that the president of a country, long the champion of globalism, would be at the forefront of dismantling it. Many had also hoped that Trump’s war against global trading regime would come a cropper, for it was assumed that the cost of uncoupling with the global economic order would be too costly.

But Trump, who is scheduled to speak on Tuesday at Davos, could well boast about his successes on the trade front. He has renegotiated a 25-year old trade agreement with America’s neighbours, Canada and Mexico. Trump’s threat of an all-out trade war with China over the last couple of years has led to an interim agreement that commits Beijing to reduce its trade surplus with the US by importing more.

At Davos, Trump is also expected to turn his ire on the EU, which has a near $200 billion trade surplus with the US. Trump has often said the EU treats America “worse than China”.

The trade wars among the world’s major capitalist centres is accentuated by the technological revolution, especially in the digital domain. The Davos report on global risks argues that the realisation of the full potential of new technologies depends on unprecedented coordination among all stakeholders. What is emerging instead is “digital fragmentation” marked by the extension of geopolitical and geo-economic rivalries into the new domain. Digital issues have come to the front and center of American arguments with both and Europe.

Given its growing stakes in the global economic order, Delhi ought to be at the leading edge of the current debate on the future of capitalism. India, though, seems too preoccupied sorting out the persistent legacies of feudalism. But sooner than later, India must find ways to take advantage of the new opportunities from the unfolding rearrangement of the global capitalist system.

Iran’s tightrope

A new compact to deal with the domestic crisis, a framework to deal with US, are needed. But they also open up risks for the Khamenei regime

It is often accompanied by the hope that mounting external pressure and deepening internal dissent will combine to produce a “regime collapse” in Tehran.

In the confrontation that has unfolded with the Islamic Republic of Iran over the last couple of years, US President Donald Trump has often insisted that he is not seeking to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet, the temptation for a policy of “regime change” in Iran has never disappeared in Washington. It is often accompanied by the hope that mounting external pressure and deepening internal dissent will combine to produce a “regime collapse” in Tehran.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has presided over the Islamic Republic for more than three decades, has been successful so far in fending off these external and internal challenges. He has put down repeated mass uprisings and neutered attempts from within the elite to reform the system. But can he cope with the intended and unintended consequences of Trump’s decision to eliminate Qassem Soleimani, a leading figure in Iran’s political, military and diplomatic hierarchy?

The widespread assessment after the killing of Soleimani was that Iran would inevitably escalate the confrontation. What happened after that was quite the opposite. Tehran set up a token retaliation for domestic political consumption and quickly called for de-escalation. Khamenei was realistic enough to recognise that military escalation against the US, which enjoys overwhelming military superiority, would be suicidal for the regime.

As he welcomed Tehran’s decision last week to stand down, Trump also addressed the people of Iran. “We want you to have a future and a great future — one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home, and harmony with the nations of the world.” Trump also told the Iranian leaders that America “is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it”. He reminded the shared interest between Washington and Tehran on combating the Sunni extremism of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran. The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran, and we should work together on this and other shared priorities.”

Before the long-term possibilities of the temporary pause in the US-Iran conflict could be assessed, another development began to unfold. As Iran announced an end to its retaliation, a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed near Tehran killing all 176 passengers and crew on-board. It included 82 Iranian nationals and many Canadian citizens of Iranian origin. After initial denial, Tehran was forced to accept responsibility for shooting down the plane. Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, blamed human error in air defence management and expressed regret at the “great tragedy” and “unforgivable mistake”.

Soon after the confession, protests broke out against the government. The Iranian people, who had apparently rallied behind the flag after the US killing of Soleimani were now turning their rage against the government. The chant “Death to America” a week before were replaced by “Death to the Dictator” in a reference to Khamenei. Iranians are angry at the attempt of the government to cover up initially and are demanding full accountability.

The latest round of protests must be seen as a continuation of those that have raged since the end of 2017. Economic grievances, frustration with widespread corruption, demands for liberalising the restrictions on women and political opposition to the regime came together to give considerable traction to the protests. There was also strong criticism of the government’s costly external adventures in the Middle East amidst the deteriorating economic conditions. One of the slogans that became popular was “No to Gaza, No to Lebanon, My Life is for Iran”; another was “Let go of Syria, think of Iran”.

As the economic crisis deepened last year amidst the tougher international sanctions imposed by the US, a huge uprising unfolded across Iran in November triggered by a hike in gasoline prices. Reports say more than 1,000 protestors were killed by the Revolutionary Guards, headed by Soleimani.

While the anger at US killing of Soleimani might have been real, there is little love for the Revolutionary Guards, the principal face of state oppression. Iranian protests at the end of last year coincided with protests in Iraq and Lebanon against Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of these countries.

As the regime cracks down on the protests against the airliner shooting, the external pressures against Iran are only likely to mount. Extending support to the “brave and long-suffering people of Iran”last week, Trump promised “to stand with them”. He also warned the regime against “another massacre of peaceful protestors” and demanded that international human rights groups be allowed in to monitor the situation.

In rejecting “regime change” as a strategy, Trump insists that his policy is to seek a change in the “regime’s behaviour”. His demands were an end to the nuclear and missile programmes, stop supporting terror in the region and end the interference in the internal affairs of its Arab neighbours. Khamenei had no interest in responding to any of those demands and dismissed them as “regime change in disguise”.

However, as sanctions squeeze the Iranian economy, the costs of regional overreach become apparent, and internal protests become persistent, Khamenei has few good options. Offering a new political compact to the people of Iran or a new framework to deal with the Arab neighbours and the US would seem reasonable goals. But they involve considerable risk for the regime.

All revolutionary regimes come to a point when they need to replace ideological fervour with pragmatism. It is also the moment, history tells us, of greatest vulnerability for the regime. For now, the speculation about regime change or regime collapse might be premature. But Tehran’s friends and adversaries will surely begin to debate, if privately, the implications of the deepening regime crisis in Iran.

Cry me a Constitution

Come on and cry me a river
Cry me a river
Cause I cried, I cried, I cried a river over you
 ~ Ella Fitzgerald 1961,  song written by Arthur Hamilton.

Shorn of constitutional  semantics, CAA and NRC  have little to do about citizenship. It is  plain and simple, emasculation of the Constitution from we  the people. Millions of men, women and children overnight will scramble for the documentation to prove their citizenry. By this one stroke, they will divest millions of citizenship and consequently  their  voting rights. As is wont, it will, without doubt be the poor, the disenfranchised and the most miserable of the lot be of whatever religious hue, who will not pass the test. They, like those in Assam, will be herded into what are euphemistically called ‘detention centres’ –  a form of a benign concentration camp.

This exercise of unhinging the citizenry from the Constitution and citizenhood  from the individual is neither new nor unique. This exercise was conducted with far greater efficiency, with little resistance and equal complicity of all institutions, in the middle of the last century in Germany and many parts of Nazi occupied territories.

In September 1935, Nazi Germany enacted  the ‘Law for Protection of German Blood and German Honour’ which forbade Jews from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or related blood“.  The ‘Reich Citizenship Law’ declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be citizens. Anyone who had 3 or 4 Jewish grandparents was by definition of law a ‘Jew’. The law was clearly aimed at the Jews who were targeted to be stripped of all citizenship rights . Two months later, Romanis and Blacks were added to the list and stripped of citizenship. They were “Lebensunwertes Leben”, or “life unworthy of life”.

Between 1933 and 1945, according to Holocaust historians, Nazi Germany and its allies established more than 44,000 camps, ghettoes and other incarceration sites in Germany. The camps were  filled with Jews, German communists, socialists, social Democrats, Roma gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, prisoners of warand homosexuals. Over 17 million of those incarcerated perished including 6 million Jews.

The laws relating to segregation and disenfranchising were conceived long before the Nazi regime. In  the 19th and early 20th century, laws popularly called as Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the southern states of America. In 1896, the United States Supreme Court in outrageous constitutional perversion upheld the Jim Crow laws in the infamous decision of Plessy v. Fergusson. The court has never been able to overcome the odium of this decision till  date. Five years later, in 1901, emboldened and aided by the tainted antecedent of the Plessy decision, the State of Alabama, brought forth a new constitution to disenfranchise voters of African-American descent. One of its founders – John B Knox – articulated its object, “to establish white supremacy in this state”. It declared that persons “convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude” could not vote.  These disenfranchisement legislations in symbiotic relationship with the system of mass  incarceration still persist and plague America. As of 2016, 6.1 million people were disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. The racial bias inherent in the system is manifest from the fact that over 7.4% of the adult African-American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8% of the non-African American population.

Millions of Indians paid with blood, tears and incarceration, faced the bullets, bayonets  and  lathis after having  heeded to the calls for non-cooperation, salt satyagraha, swadeshi and the many movements and counter movements for the independence of India. However, for their  labours and sacrifices, they did not demand a certificate of citizenship. They simply put their faith and their fate on the Constitution and its institutions. The Founders of our Constitution, by the solemn writing in the Constitution, promised the millions that they would be citizens of a free  India.

All we have today are sepia coloured photographs and grainy movie footage of the millions, who at the mere suggestion of our tallest of leaders, confronted the British in large numbers across this very vast land of ours. There were Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, atheists, agnostics and Parsis. In retrospect, yes, our forefathers  ought to have obtained a parchment to formalize their citizenry. If only they had studied history, they would have  known that there would come a time when their children and their grandchildren would have to prove their citizenry.

Seven decades later, one billion Indians, the children  and grandchildren of those  who fought the imperial rule and endorsed our constitution for seven long decades by exercising their franchise, stand at the crossroads of this Democratic Socialist Republic.

In one stroke, the Parliament passed the Constitution Amendment Act 2019, where every citizen’s citizenship stands challenged by the state. The onus to establish citizenship shifts to a billion Indians. The millions will now queue up before the many bureaucratic establishments to prove their citizenship. In the interregnum, will they be entitled to any of the fundamental freedoms to democracy or to vote? The millions in stateless limbo, bereft of voting rights and the scale of mass incarceration would be unparalleled in the history of mankind.

Citizens with voting rights is an ‘unruly horse’ to use a much abused phrase in legal literature. Those who voted you into power, also have the power to vote you out of power. Napoleon once said “a leader is a dealer in hope”. He did not need an NRC. Because his authority did not depend on the millions of Frenchman casting their  ballot in his favour. Napoleon’s act of crowning himself emperor without the sanction of the people is forever a tempting proposition.

There is a corollary and a sequitur to this. It is the vulnerable classes, the Schedule Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and  others in the many others in layers on the scale of repression who will fall of the map of democracy. They and their future generations will forever be in the black hole of human existence. They will be the millions of  voiceless and voteless and forever be stateless in their own country.

“As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connell, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of purchase today and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world.. In politics, Bhakti or hero worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”

So spake the greatest constitutional scholar Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in his final speech to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949.

Why did the millions not demand a parchment to establish their citizenry, their fundamental freedoms, their Constitution, for themselves and their progeny?  They however, did get a promissory note against executive and legislative tyranny. That promissory note was the judiciary. So great was the faith in the judiciary to protect the citizenry, that our founders made it a fundamental right of every citizen, to approach the Supreme Court directly for any infraction of his/her fundamental freedoms.

The recent events have sent shock waves across the nation. Students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University were attacked by masked men. The police had blocked all roads to the JNU campus. It  was ‘hermetically sealed’ to borrow the catch phrase used in twentieth century’s cruelest massacre. Mayhem had broken loose. The pictures of students and professors beaten and badly bleeding have emerged on social media sites. The police have charged the injured.

Is our journey,  a temporary tryst with a free and living constitution? Did our forefathers shortchange their sacrifices for a free India for  a momentary and fleeting teaser of a democracy?.  It remains to be seen, whether the promissory note given to our ancestors, will be honoured.

Two Decade, No Change in Pakistan

Two decades pass, but Pakistan is the same. Terms changed, the reality remains unchanged.  Twenty years ago, the military overthrew the elected government of the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and the army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf took over the country as ‘chief executive’ rather than the chief martial law administrator.

For all practical purposes, the country was under military rule but the army chief possibly wanted an aura of credibility, and international acceptability, so he hid behind the new title. Nobody was fooled in Pakistan or abroad as the sermon by Bill Clinton, during his few hours’ visit to Islamabad in 2000, demonstrated.

Less than 23 months into his rule, 9/11 happened and suddenly Gen Musharraf became the most sought-after leader in the region, an absolute darling of the West, as he appeared to unconditionally plunge headlong into the US-led ‘war on terror’.

When Nawaz Sharif won the 2013 election, he appeared to be a different person to the compliant politician who’d been nurtured by Zia.

In any case, ahead of the dramatic change in the regional environment post-9/11, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had not only endorsed the extra-constitutional actions of the general but gave him three years to hold the elections and en route amend the constitution as he liked.

History from the 2002 elections onwards is too recent to be recounted in detail. Gen Musharraf created a hybrid system where a parliament controlled by compliant politicians and a handpicked prime minister would do his bidding.

Musharraf’s key lieutenants in the military intelligence services have since detailed how the electoral exercise of 2002 was manipulated both before and after polling day to keep the legitimate public representatives away from power and provide the military ruler with a civilian façade.

At least in his initial seven years in power, there was no ambiguity in what Gen Ziaul Haq was: he was the chief martial law administrator and this continued till such time he tried to create a hybrid system, with parliament to rubber-stamp his decisions.

Major political parties including the PPP, ANP and JUI-F, to name just a few, which were part of the MRD or Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, boycotted the 1985 elections (and later regretted the decision) when Zia announced that these would be held on a non-party basis.

Even then, the parliament that came into existence as a result, despite approving a somewhat watered-down version of the Eighth Amendment that conferred extraordinary powers on the president’s office, slowly started to assert itself.

The dictator’s handpicked prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo ran a tight ship and soon became the bane of his patron’s existence as he is believed to have unilaterally announced the date for lifting of martial law, pushed for the Geneva Accords and threatened to ‘shove’ generals into small Suzuki cars.

When the ISI’s ammunitions depot in Ojhri camp in Rawalpindi exploded in April 1988, raining its surrounding areas with missiles and flying debris that killed nearly 100 people, Junejo ordered an inquiry into the incident.

A civilian head of government ordering an inquiry into the military’s conduct got a bit too much for Zia. In May, Zia sacked Junejo, dissolved parliament and called for fresh elections. Before these could be held, the military ruler perished in an air crash on Aug 17.

What followed was a Benazir Bhutto-led government, despite all machinations to deny her a majority in the November elections that year. The military/ civilian successors of Zia in the Army House as well as Aiwan-i-Sadr used Article 58(2)(b), the most controversial part of the Eighth Amendment, to subvert the will of the people by dissolving parliament and dismissing an elected government before she could complete two years in office.

This axing of prime ministers and parliaments continued through the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif and the second term in office of Benazir Bhutto. In the 1996 elections, Nawaz Sharif’s party emerged victorious with a two-thirds majority and did away with the dreaded Article 58(2)(b).

Emboldened by this majority in parliament, Sharif started to assert civilian authority and, in an ill-advised move, called for army chief Jahangir Karamat’s resignation when the latter suggested at a public forum the need to set up a National Security Council. Talking to me during a BBC interview on the day of his resignation, Gen Karamat insisted he had jumped and not been pushed. In response to a question whether his NSC proposal was his own or represented his institution’s collective view, he ominously said that the army chief always articulated the collective opinion.

A week and a year after Karamat’s resignation, the prime minister sacked his successor Pervez Musharraf after the latter launched the ill-fated Kargil operation without reportedly seeking the government’s approval. The coup followed.

One of the major consequences of the coup was the restitution of presidential powers to sack elected governments and parliaments. Since the 1977 coup, the first assertion of civilian supremacy was post-1996 elections once Article 58(2)(b) had been done away with. The second came as a result of president Asif Zardari’s order to his party to initiate a constitutional amendment, with the opposition’s support, to empower parliament and its elected leader and take away the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. In the process, he surrendered his immense authority.

In its 2008-2013 tenure, following the tragic assassination of Ms Bhutto in December 2007, the PPP’s relations with the army often appeared strained but things always receded from reaching boiling point and leading to disastrous consequences.

When Nawaz Sharif won the 2013 election with a thumping majority, he appeared to be a different person to the compliant politician who’d been nurtured by Zia and his regime. Rather than be chastened by his imprisonment and exile after 1999, circumstances appeared to have cemented his will to assert his constitutional authority.

Who does not know what followed. Today, we may not have the controversial clause but do have a government in place that seems to concede more and more ground to the military. Perhaps, it is an expression of gratitude for being ushered into office.

What used to be a civilian façade or a ‘hybrid system’ has been rechristened as a ‘same page’ arrangement. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Change is just cosmetic, and may even not that.

Impeachment Farce & The 2020 Presidential Race

On a cold January day in Washington DC, January 15 2020 to be precise, two signing ceremonies took place not too far from each other. One was where the US President Donald Trump signed the first phase of the US-China trade deal in the East Room of the White House. The deal promises to ease the tension, tariffs, and counter-tariffs that have been lurking over the two trading partners ever since Trump took office. In the other signing ceremony a few blocks away, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the two articles of impeachment against President Trump to be sent over to the US Senate for trial.

These two signing ceremonies have come to symbolize what has become the reality of the American political landscape in the past four years or so. Ever since Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United State of America in 2016, a section of the establishment both in the US media as well as in political circles has remained somewhat gobsmacked with the outcome of the elections. There are still some, one could argue, who never came to terms with the outcome of the presidential race as has been evident by the recurring social media hashtag ‘#NotMyPresident’. The ceremonial signing and the subsequent ceremonial delivery of the two articles of impeachment to the Senate marked the culmination of a month-long stalemate after the House passed the resolution on December 18, 2019. 

The US Constitution has provisions for the removal of a sitting president from office through the process of impeachment and it lays out two specific reasons for it – treason and bribery. A sitting president can also be charged with ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’. A resolution to impeach a sitting president is introduced in the House of Representatives (House). A committee then holds the hearing on the resolution. If the committee approves (by simple majority) the resolution, it moves to a full vote on the House floor where once again a simple majority is required to approve the article(s) of impeachment. If passed by the House, the president is considered impeached.

The theatre then shifts to the Senate where a trial is conducted to determine whether the President has indeed committed the ‘crime’ he is impeached for. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the US presides over the trial. If the Senate with 2/3rd majority finds the president guilty, a president is then removed. President Trump became just the third president in the history of the US to be impeached. While President Johnson got the ‘not guilty’ verdict in 1868 by one vote, the Senate was 22 votes shy of convicting President Clinton in 1999. President Trump’s Senate trial is expected to start next week after it reconvenes following Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. 

From feminists to environmentalists, and from human rights activists to socialists, Trump’s presidency has been a sore point for most liberals, not only in the US but across the world. After all, Trump won beating the now-famous 90-something percent odds of Hilary Clinton, the former Secretary of State, a senator, and a former First Lady, winning the election in 2016. One would remember how one prominent Indian journalist who had come to the US to cover the breaking of the ‘glass ceiling’ live was visibly disappointed. What started in India with the BJP victory in 2014 under Narendra Modi continued to disappoint and unsettle the left-liberal elites in Poland, Great Britain, the US, and other parts of the world. So when US House speaker Nancy Pelosi gleefully sat down with dozens of custom engraved ceremonial signing pens in front of the glitter of press cameras, many were disgusted but not surprised.

The US Senate will decide the merits of the case which many believe is a weak one on legal grounds. According to a prominent newspaper, President Trump despite exhibiting a ‘poor judgment’ in dealing with the Ukraine matter did not commit an ‘impeachable’ crime. The newspaper in its editorial opined:

“… having failed to make an adequate case to remove Mr. Trump, Democrats are trying to drag out impeachment to further tarnish his reputation and mousetrap Senate Republicans running for re-election. She [Speaker Pelosi] demands what she calls a ‘fair trial’ after preventing a fair impeachment probe in the House. This is an abuse of impeachment power.” 

The ball is in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s court now. There are some wrangling between Republicans and Democrats on calling witnesses and other procedural issues. Writing for Politico, political analyst Rich Lowry, however, argues that Senator McConnell is “on solid ground in replicating the process from the Bill Clinton impeachment, which began with opening arguments before a vote on the witness. In the end, the Senate heard from only three.”

As the impeachment drama now plays out on the Senate floor where President Trump is expected to be ‘acquitted’, the real fight will continue on campaign trails. While the Democrats are locked in an ugly fight to claim the left-liberal mantle with even radical left ideological posturing, Trump, on the other hand, is chugging along merrily without any opposition on his side of the political spectrum. With the US economy firing on all cylinders, unemployment at its lowest in history, and dreaded Iranian general Soleimani eliminated, it will be interesting to see how US voters will judge not the Trump presidency but more importantly the Democratic alternative to Trumpianism.

Sunday Special: Honest Empathic Conversation is the Best Gift for Your Elders

Aging was, and always will be, an honor. Growing old is a mark of the strength and wisdom that can carry a person through many decades.

But as modern medicine feeds our expectations for extended youth, watching those we love age can be jarring. “What shakes us when we see someone changing and we don’t know how to adjust with them,” says Paul Malley, president of Aging with Dignity, a non-profit based in Tallahassee, Florida. “We may want to be the best son or daughter, but we don’t know what that means.”

Because of that, when it comes to the realities of growing old, the default is to say nothing. But planning for old age is critical, especially when it comes to dealing with unexpected events late in life. So this holiday season, as you visit your family young and old, consider giving a different kind of gift: an open conversation about how they want to age, and ultimately pass on.

Yes, yes, it’s morbid, and this time of year is supposed to be all about rebirth and new beginnings and all that. But it’s that kind of perspective that keeps families putting off these talks until they’re too hard to have at all. With the help of a few experts in navigating the bumpy road of aging, here are some tips for how to approach these tricky discussions.

Getting to know you

Nobody wants to imagine a loved one reaching a crisis point in their care: a sudden fall, maybe, or rapid-onset dementia that leaves a family member unable to live on their own or make decisions for themselves. But it’s possible to plan for aspects of aging—even these unpredictable moments—and eliminate the stress of making educated guesses about what our older loved ones want.

It starts with easing family members into these conversations early, while they’re still well and able. It could be when they’re in their 40s or 50s—whenever you as a potential caregiver feel comfortable broaching the subject. Realistically, this won’t be just one conversation: Building up trust and compassion before you introduce the idea of advanced planning and priorities can take years.

Every time the topic comes up, the key is that the conversation doesn’t feel confrontational. If you put someone on the spot by asking them if they want to be on life support if they have a heart attack, the conversation won’t go very far. Focusing on a specific situation implies that you’re planning for the worst, and only adds to the idea that aging is inherently an unpleasant process.

Instead, you can ask your loved one what matters most to them in life. Frame the conversation in a positive light not just in the way you ask questions, but by choosing your scenery: Malley advises that you find a setting that makes the other person most comfortable, like going for a walk or sitting in a favorite coffee shop.

“What’s most important to you” doesn’t have to be a direct question, either: You could ask your family members to tell stories about different parts of their lives, or to share some of their favorite memories. It could even be about what their favorite comfort food is. Collectively, all of these questions acknowledge who they are, and recognize their individuality, Stiles says.

There’s no right time to have these conversations—except early, and often. But if someone says it’s the wrong time for whatever reason, it’s best to back off. It’s not about you, as a caregiver, trying to get these conversations out of the way; it’s about your loved one feeling supported.

The gift of planning ahead

Once they do feel safe enough to discuss these broader questions, though, they can be a gentle entry point into thinking about how they want to age, and how caregivers can support them. By asking your family members how they’d like to live as their health declines, you can give them back some of their autonomy—especially if you’ll be a primary caregiver in the future.

Ultimately, these conversations can carry a person through the end of their days.

Of course, while it can be a tremendous help for a potential caregiver to broach these topics, in the best-case scenario your loved one will be the one to bring them up. If a person can come to you and tell you what they want at all stages of their aging progression—whether it’s to maintain friendships, make sure they can cook their own food, or decline life-extending measures at a certain point—congratulations! Your job is simply to listen.

You just have to be compassionate, and let your loved ones know that you want to do your best to help them live the way they want

Beware of a Dystopic Democracy

The film Joker – starring the amazingly versatile Joaquin Phoenix  is a graphically violent and deeply despairing portrayal of a society sans any empathy for “losers” – those who end up believing they are one.

Every society has its share of drop-outs, misfits and the unlucky. Good, caring societies try and minimise both their pain and their isolation. Bad, uncaring societies shrug their shoulders, lock up the losers and carry on. Where do we stand in this spectrum?

India has a long tradition of living with non-conformists. Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Dalit icon, was one such. His progressive ideas on social reform only had lukewarm appeal in the Constituent Assembly debates. Neither did Hindu activists have universal appeal. The need to present a united front and get on with nation building diluted resistance to opposing points of view. But it also never built a new social ethic with wide public support. We got a wonderful constitution. But all it proves is that we are good at dampening dissent and in doing so hope to render it harmless. It rarely happens that way, as we have seen in Kashmir.

Sheikh Abdullah broke the status quo in 1930 through a peasant revolt against the ruling dynasty. Subsequently, the goal of independence from the British and post-Independence, the substitution of the ruling dynasty by elected representatives – aligned well with his own objectives. Over the two decades it took for these ambitions to be realised, the more substantive differences between him and the Congress, around the distribution of local political power remained subsumed. Thereafter he remained locked up for a decade from 1953 till he reconciled to the prevailing stalemate in Kashmir. Since 1989 Kashmir has been a cauldron of dissent. The most recent extended lock-down has yet again dampened dissent. We assimilated Kashmir but have yet to win the battle for minds and hearts.

Imagine if our poorly managed and institutionally weak metros go the same way. The film – Joker situated in mythical Gotham City – a replica of New York, spells out how cities become dysfunctional, crime endemic and institutions crumble till they are saved by a mythical Batman in the face of a hapless police force.

In the urban context back home, it is puzzling that the few who work to highlight deficiencies in governance systems for the social protection and inclusion of the poor should be labelled pejoratively as “Urban Naxalites”. They are anything but that.

The Naxalites of the late 1960s and early 1970s believed that a violent, rural revolution was possible and around the corner in Naxalbari, West Bengal. They were wrong. The one lesson missing in their little Red Books was how to deal with a seductively supple State and an extraordinarily passive population, both of which are ready to absorb organised violence or prolonged civil unrest and carry on.

Far from seeking to topple the State, the “Urban Naxalites” of today believe in preserving the State and improving it to deliver services more effectively to the poor. The Nobel Prize for Economics, this year, has gone to three economists – two Americans and a Frenchwoman – all of who have spent the last two decades experimenting how to make education, health and social protection interventions more effective, not outside the State architecture – as the Naxalbari gang would have liked – but very much within the existing State architecture. These die-hard, do-gooders need to be celebrated for their efforts, not reviled because they are showing a mirror to our grotty selves.

Consider also the issue of human rights. Those who have the courage and the doggedness to highlight “zulum” during the inevitably heavy handed rule by the uniformed forces with a bureaucracy in disarray because of conflict in central India, the North East and in Kashmir, do so not to destroy the Indian State. They act as unpaid agents of the State to make the administration of conflict zones less intrusive and liveable for innocents.

Human rights come with a fundamental belief in “property rights” both of which are anathema to Communists for whom, the State is all encompassing and people exist because the State exists. By extension if tribes in central India or in the North East prefer to preserve their life in the forests, even though valuable natural resources lie unexplored and unexploited beneath them, the “property rights” principle advocates giving them the right to do so whilst

reserving the right of industry or the State to persuade the owners to sign away their rights against agreed compensation. Ending a basic commitment to either human rights or to property rights ends the incentive to be productive and respectful of the law. We know that well since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.

In two decades more Indians will live in cities than outside them. Cities – particularly metros – with their higher population density, the pressures of synchronised co-existence, their 24X7 eco-system and the anonymity of its citizens, lend themselves to dystopia unless they are carefully managed. What if city managements abandon the principles of human and property rights? How then would city managements be held accountable? More importantly how then would city managements hold empowered elites accountable? Would government itself, not become a mere hand-maiden of the rich and the powerful – usually a select few within the top 0.1 per cent of the population?

By abandoning the principles of human and property rights, governments would resemble the erstwhile hapless zamindars, who had little to do beyond extracting as much revenue as they could, for feeding the beast in London – the East India Company. We would have wiped out every institution we have built since 1947.

We must choose. Either we should submit to becoming a big, all-pervasive State like China and hope that it will throw up benevolent, far sighted leaders. Or we must act on our belief that a State exists only because citizens choose to believe in it. Democracy is never divisible. Either it exists or it doesn’t. There is no “happy” path which can take us to a “Democracy with Indian Characteristics”. .

Megan-Harry Story: A Classic Case of #Megxit Misogyny

Now all of us love watching ‘The Crown’ on Netflix, don’t we? Here’s the thing about that show – watching the royal family navigate their way through political and personal scandals gives us a false sense of entitlement.

It’s almost as if knowing the deepest, darkest secrets of the Royals makes us entitled to voice our uninformed and frankly ignorant opinions on, say, how Meghan Markle is the ‘homewrecker’ who has made innocent, gullible Prince Harry drift away from the Royal family, how she’s only ‘after the money’ and that deep down, she is still an LA star struggling to cope with the pressures of being a royal (more on that, later).

Sprinkle some good ol’ misogyny and ‘blame it on the woman’ attitude and there you have it – the perfect recipe for disaster where Meghan Markle takes the metaphorical and literal ‘fall’ and is made into a scapegoat. If it takes a successful woman in her 30s to bring down the Royal British empire, then maybe, just maybe, the empire wasn’t strong enough to begin with.

British tabloids and journalists like Piers Morgan have launched a brutal attack on the ‘Suits’ actress and have gone as far as blaming her for bringing doom to the Royals. “People say I’m too critical of Meghan Markle,” tweeted commentator Piers Morgan. “But she ditched her family, ditched her Dad, ditched most of her old friends, split Harry from William (and) has now split him from the Royal Family. I rest my case.”

Well, Mr. Morgan, if it takes a successful woman in her 30s to bring down the Royal British empire, then maybe, just maybe, the empire wasn’t strong enough to begin with. And, just a question – who asked for your opinion anyway?

What cannot be ignored though, are the rather disturbing undertones of racial discrimination in this scenario. Markle identifies herself as a biracial woman who was brought up by an African-American mother and a Caucasian father. Black women though, see Meghan as a woman from their community who married into the Royal family.

Nsenga Burton, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta who specializes in the intersection of race, class, gender and the media told CNN on January 10, “People are cool with black women as long as we go along to get along,” she said. “As soon as we start standing up for ourselves and saying, ‘This is not working for me,’ we become the problem.”

Perhaps, that is exactly what is happening with Meghan. For some reason, the world cannot stand African-American women making major life decisions and going their own way. If a black woman as much as decides to move to Canada, there has to be an ulterior motive, vested interests and as per Morgan, a full blown conspiracy to bring down the Royal family.

If you ask me, the move isn’t surprising at all. Let’s just shift our focus to Prince Harry for a bit. For those of you who have followed the British Royals closely, you probably know that Prince Harry has gone on record a few times to share his discontentment with Royal life.

Growing up, Harry has witnessed just how brutal the media was towards his mother and perhaps, he doesn’t want his wife and son to go through the same.

Besides, it’s not that the Canadians are welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Sussex with open arms. The cost of accommodating the Royals and most importantly, providing them security will burn a hole in the pocket of Canadian government. It will be the average Canadian taxpayer who will have to face the brunt of financing the Royals.

Given the mixed responses from Canadians, it goes without saying that Harry and Meghan will have a tough time winning over the Canadian public. The Royals of Sussex could have chosen a life of comfort (barring a few but considerable restrictions) but instead, they chose the tough path. If anything, we should applaud their courage for standing their ground and stepping back from the Royal duties.

As for Meghan Markle, I always viewed her as someone who fell in love with Prince Harry, unconditionally and irrevocably. It is highly misogynistic to suggest that she was ‘after the money’ when Markle (as per the website knownetworth.com) was already worth a gigantic $5 million, thanks to her role in the TV show ‘Suits’ and brand endorsements.

After all, for a successful, career-driven woman to leave it all behind, marry a Prince and expose herself to the critical eye of tabloids and now, give up the rather comfortable life of a Royal and earn her own bread and butter must, in all probability, have been a decision that stems out of unconditional love.

And, maybe, just maybe, the Duchess of Sussex has had enough- enough scrutiny, enough criticism targeted at her family. What’s more? Harry is the 6th in line to be the King and at this point, my friend Ramesh from Lajpat Nagar has a better shot at getting the throne.

In such a situation, it is only obvious that the two give up their lives as royals and go to live in a ranch in Canada where baby Archie can live a normal life. Hell, I would have, in all probability, done the same thing.

So, if by any chance, you’re a so-called ‘royal critic’ who binge-watched ‘The Crown’ and now feels that they are entitled to shoot their opinions on #Megxit, kindly keep them to yourself.

We don’t need more Piers Morgans. One is enough

Saturday Special: Visualization-the Mental Imagery Betters Your Life

Improve your precision skills, achieve your goals, and optimize your health by visualizing desired outcomes. Visualization is simply a mental practice of imagining or meditating, with a particular focus on imagery.

As opposed to silent meditation, where you let go and don’t intentionally guide your thoughts, visualization is about consciously creating mental images.

Our minds can treat visualized experiences and real experiences as much the same when it comes to practice and learning. This effect is so profound that visualization has been scientifically proven to benefit the development of fine motor skills, such as hitting a golf ball or shooting a target.

The benefits of a visualization practice can apply to health and business, too. How you see yourself and how you imagine your desired future can improve blood markers and may make you more capable of achieving your goals.

In this article, we are going to dive into the science-backed benefits of visualization, and then I’m going to share the specific mental imagery practices I use to optimize my life and that you can use in yours.

Plastic Surgeons, Self-Help, & Science

My first major introduction to visualization came in the form of a powerful book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Though few today have heard of this work, it was once known as “the bible of self-help” and has been changing lives since the 1960s.

Despite having been written over 50 years ago, I found the book to be positively fascinating and surprisingly scientific. Maltz was a prominent plastic surgeon, whose most common service was to give people new faces by correcting abnormalities. He quickly noticed that his clients often became whole new people after the surgery, finally freed from this-or-that blemish or scar.

To Maltz, however, it wasn’t these incredible success stories that caught his attention, but the failures. Though most people came out of the surgery feeling like a brand new human being, others would feel that nothing had changed, and even accused Maltz of doing no surgery despite the obvious changes to their face. Family and friends could see the obvious differences, but the client denied it vehemently.

Maltz developed a theory that physical changes to one’s image only matter if they cause a simultaneous change to one’s internal “self-image.”

Our self-image is, simply put, the way we see ourselves — not just physically, but also the many talents, traits, strengths, and weaknesses we believe ourselves to have.

If the image we see in the mirror and the image we have in our head does not align, we will deny the evidence in front of our face in favor of our mental visualization of reality. Maltz felt that people were not capable of doing something that contradicted their self-image without also changing that image.

For example, if you believe strongly that you are incapable of making a basketball three-pointer, and then you make one, you change your self-image.

Some people hold so tightly to their self-image that even proof that it’s false will not get them to change. If you’ve ever seen someone like this, it feels like witnessing a person with short-term memory loss.

I used the three-pointer as evidence for a reason. When I was a kid, one of our basketball team members, Jacob, was absolutely convinced he couldn’t make a three-pointer. We spent a whole practice making him shoot for a three to (hopefully) prove him wrong and get him out of his funk.

First, we could tell he was shooting badly on purpose, trying to get out of it. When he realized our resolve to make him shoot for the whole hour, he began trying. Eventually, perhaps purely from the pressure of being singled out, he made a three.

Of course, we all celebrated, but Jacob didn’t react to it. It isn’t that he tried to deny it or be humble, or even sulk. He just went back to the rest of practice and continued to insist he couldn’t shoot threes.

This is similar to what Dr. Maltz experienced with clients who claimed he had skipped performing surgery on them, and that they couldn’t see any changes even when it was obvious to everyone else. Their self-images were stubbornly rooted, and physical evidence alone wasn’t enough to change them.

Wanting to solve his client’s problems, Maltz began to explore the deep realms of psychology, and soon having clients who he’d council and help to change their self-image without ever going under the knife.

Maltz coined this field “psycho-cybernetics.” Psycho refers to the mind, and cybernetics refers to the feedback-based system of the self-image. Like a thermostat, your self-image is a feedback-based machine. You feed it images and experience, and it aligns with reality based on that.

Another great metaphor is the homing missile. Homing missiles don’t just go straight to their target. They are actually making slight mistakes on their flight path and making constant slight corrections the whole time. They operate by having an aim and correct themselves along the way to reach that aim.

Maltz believes this is how your self-image operates. You supply an aim, like the missile’s target, and then your self-image edits itself over time to reach that aim.

I know this may seem like a lot to wrap your head around, but it will become more clear once we look at some research.

The Science

Maltz’ concepts sound great in theory, but in the modern era, they’d be worthless without science to back them. Fortunately, science we have.

One of the easiest ways to see the benefit of visualization is to observe it’s use in physical skill, such as improving one’s golf game or improving one’s basketball shot. In this study by the Department of Justice at The University of Lewisville, visualization was used to improve firearm capability as a way of aiding in police training.

72 student volunteers were grouped into visualization and control groups to test the efficacy of visualization. All students practiced their marksmanship physically, but those who also made use of visualization improved an average 32.86 points higher than those who simply practiced physically.

In psycho-cybernetics terms, these students improved their shot by providing their mind with a target to aim at. Just like the homing missile described earlier, the students aimed mentally at their target, and visualized themselves successfully shooting.

This process helped tune their self-image to see themselves as capable of shooting well, and then their shots improved more than if they had simply practiced physically.

I have a personal story that convinced me of the power of tuning your self-image for success, especially with motor skills.

One of the most famous, yet most difficult movements in CrossFit is the Ring Muscle-Up. To perform this move, one must grab onto a pair of gymnastics rings hanging high above the ground.

Then, you must find a way to get the rings under your shoulders so that your torso is above and between them. Then, you do a tricep press. The total sum of this movement looks something like swinging your body to gain momentum, jerking your body up towards the rings at the top of the swing by using your arms, and then engaging your core like you’re doing a sit-up to swing your torso above the rings and “catch” yourself in the upright position.

Despite watching several technique videos, I could not for the life of me finish the movement. I knew I had the strength, and my technique was great, but I just couldn’t get my torso to pull upright over the rings.

But this whole previous year I’d been using Maltz’ techniques to optimize my life across multiple spectrums, so I decided to apply a little self-image tuning to the muscle-up.

I sat down, and first visualized myself performing the muscle-ups in the third person. I saw myself doing the entire movement smoothly and perfectly. Then, more importantly, I visualized myself in the first person, as though I were actually doing it in real life.

When I stopped visualizing, and got on the rings, I did my first muscle up like it was easy, and went on to perform the move regularly.

The biggest change I noticed had nothing to do with technique. It’s that when I tried to do a muscle-up this time, I felt like someone who already knew how to do muscle-ups. Before, I felt like someone who had never performed a muscle-up, so I wasn’t confident.

By behaving as though I’d already performed muscle-ups, even if it was only true in my mind, I blasted through the movement with no issue. The biggest barrier was confidence, not technique or strength.

Visualization can heal the body

Before we move into the visualization techniques, I want to discuss one last thing.

Visualization can literally heal you.

Consciousness is one of the least understood realms of study. We know that our biology houses consciousness, but so far, it is impossible to tell where physical body ends and consciousness begins. Sure, the brain is the primary engine for consciousness, but the brain and mind affect the function of the body.

With regard to visualization, a meta-analysis of 15 studies by Peter R. Giaccobi et al. found that guided imagery, aka visualization, appears to be beneficial for improving arthritis in afflicted patients.

Guided imagery lowered the stress hormone cortisol, which is often implicated in inflammation, and patients reported reductions in their arthritis symptoms.

Now, I don’t want to over-hype that power of visualization. If you have cancer, don’t try to solve it using visualization only. But the fact that there is some influence on health markers is mind-blowing in its own right.

Visualizations for Life, Goals, & Skills

While the implications of visualization for sport are obvious and studied, one of the most common uses for visualization is for long-term goals and business.

When it comes to life goals, rather than tuning a fine motor skill such as shooting a target or performing ring muscle ups, visualizing is about tuning your confidence and “alignment with opportunity.”

A huge component of achieving major life goals is the confidence and belief in oneself that you are capable of achieving them. That sounds like common sense, but think about it.

How often have you stressed over a major goal and caught yourself worrying whether you have what it takes? Then, when you finally achieve it, you realize it was easy. Our beliefs about ourselves limit achievement, and a visualization is an amazing tool for rectifying these limiting beliefs.

I use two types of visualizations for pursuing life goals and business targets.

First and foremost is something called a “future me” visualization. I learned this from the book Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine. Mark is a former Navy Seal commander who served for 20 years, as well as a master of karate and a yogi. On top of his military and fitness accolades, Mark has also started 6 multi-million dollar businesses since he retired from the Navy — and he attributes a huge component of his success to visualization and meditation.

“Future me” is a practice Mark uses to keep his aims clear and his life-path consistently in his mind, as well as to identify limiting beliefs that may stop him from achieving his goals.

The Future Me visualization for life goals

To do the future me meditation, start by taking deep breaths through your nose for 5 minutes.

If you get impatient, try putting on a calming musical track like The Mighty Rio Grande by the artist This Will Destroy You.

After 5 minutes of deep breathing, begin a visualization.

3 months: Imagine your ideal self in 3 months, having achieved your most immediate goals and in perfect health. Try to conjure up as much detail as possible. See yourself working in an ideal, happy, and diligent manner, as well as participating in activities with good friends, or doing things you haven’t done yet but want to do. Try to see color, and even bring smells into your visualization.

The more detail, the better. If you can, try to visualize the highlights of a whole day playing out as though watching a movie. What time are you getting up? When and where are you working, and with whom? What leisure activities are you involved in? etc.

1 year: Now take the visualization out even further, and see yourself living your ideal life a year from today. What are you doing? How is your work? How fit/healthy are you? Really get into it and see yourself living ideally in a year.

3 years: Lastly, paint yourself a picture of your ideal life as it is happening in 3 years. This is often where I visualize myself doing very difficult things I have always dreamed of, such as doing Kokoro camp, an event that allows civilians to experience 48 hours of Navy Seal Hell Week training. This is also where I imagine myself living in the cities I’ve always wanted to live in, having a kid on the way, or things of that nature.

You want things to still be realistic. You should have some goals you are still pursuing, even in the 3-year meditation. Maybe you’ve achieved all the goals you have now but are pursuing something new, like another degree or an independent business.

Merge: The final part of this meditation is the most important. Visualize each of these future versions of you, and collapse them into the you that exists now. See yourself as already being the person who has done the things in your visualization, so that you see yourself as someone capable of such goals.

Fantasize with purpose

Fantasize with purpose is another visualization I learned from Mark Divine’s Way of the Seal. This one is similar to Future Me in that it focuses on a desired future, but is instead focused on a specific goal.

To perform fantasize with purpose, pick a major goal you are pursuing. For my part, my goal is to have Keenan Eriksson Fitness become a powerful hub for online courses, one on one coaching, and to have a physical location in San Diego where I can train clients and run my business with a team.

Once you’ve picked a goal, again begin by performing deep breathing for 5 minutes.

Now, imagine your goal either as you are fulfilling it, or after it has already been fulfilled and you are maintaining it.

For example, if you have a goal that involves a one-time achievement, such as making a big sale or climbing a mountain, then visualize yourself training for it and then performing this achievement perfectly.

See yourself doing the prep necessary, such as reading books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, or doing hikes around your neighborhood with a heavy backpack.

If your goal is something that will fundamentally change your day-to-day life, then you also want to include visualizations of that life.

For example, with my goal to house Keenan Eriksson Fitness in a physical facility in San Diego, I both visualize the training and steps to make that goal a reality as well as the day to day life after I have achieved it.

I see myself and my training team working at the facility and teaching clients, and living this ideal life.

Batten down the hatches

Once you start visualizing achieving goals, you will likely notice areas of your mental practice that seem more important. For example, you may notice that future version of you has a set of skills that you lack, but are crucial for making your goal a reality.

This is where you want to identify a piece of your visualization to practice daily.

You can still explore your fantasize with purpose visualization by adding new things, but make sure to repeat your visualizations of things you find difficult. This is akin to the students who used visualization to improve their shooting, but instead you are practicing the most difficult steps of your future goals.

Now, not everything can be practiced in your head. Some of these steps will be less like skill-practice, and more like advertisements for things you need to do in real life.

An example would be seeing that you need to read a book about marketing or buy a backpack for hiking. For these types of visualizations, I still suggest repeating them daily, but you should buy these tools or start doing it in real life within a week.

If you still haven’t bought a backpack in a week, put a pin in it and visualize something else. Otherwise, the backpack visualization will simply be noise and time you could spend identifying other important tasks. It will come back up when and if it is important enough.

The key to fantasizing with purpose is repetition. This is the kind of practice you want to perform daily until you achieve your goal.

Mark Divine used a mix of Future Me and fantasize with purpose to blast through BUD/S, the section of Navy Seal training that includes Hell Week, which is considered by many the hardest military training in the world.

Mark not only became a Seal, but also a Seal officer and the honor man of his Bud/s class, which is a distinction given to the person considered the best among a Seal graduating class by his peers and instructors alike.

Mark attributes his success to a visualization he started performing in the year leading up to his joining the Navy. Mark would watch a popular TV advertisement for the Navy Seals at the time, and then visualize himself in the ad. He’d see himself performing drills, doing log PT, and getting “wet and sandy” with “his” crewmates. Mark would visualize himself not just surviving, but thriving through navy seal training, and that’s exactly what he did when the day came.

Skill practice visualization

Last but not least is skill practice. This is actually the first visualization we discussed, as it is the act of practicing a skill in your head to improve in real life.

This one is pretty simple. Start by taking 3 large abdominal breaths, relaxing with each exhale. Ease your mind and come to a place of stillness.

Now, imagine yourself performing a skill you are aiming to improve, perfectly. This is easiest to imagine with sports skills, but it’s also incredible for things like music or preparing for an event.

First, see yourself in the third person as though on video. See yourself perform the skill a few times perfectly, as though you were a world-class expert.

Now, move to the first person, and feel yourself performing the skill perfectly a few times. Notice how your body is moving, how it feels, and really get into the visualization physically.

I use this meditation often in fitness or sports. I’ve used this to improve in martial arts, dance, Olympic lifting, swimming, and even to exert more strength during exercise.

A great way to boost the power of this visualization is to record yourself performing a skill on video and watch technique videos before visualizing. This will arm you both with the knowledge of what perfect looks like (the technique video) as well as what you look like.

Many of you will find this visualization more useful in business or general life. Use it to “rehearse” before an event or anything that intimidates you.

Giving a speech? Practice it in your head. Going bungee-jumping and feeling nervous? Practice doing it calmly in your mind. I used this meditation before doing door-to-door sales for the first time.

Virtually anything that can be practiced can be used in this meditation. Don’t limit yourself. It’s incredible how much you can improve by taking a few minutes to visualize detailed success before going to perform in real life.

Bonus: Freestyle visualization

Though I’ve outlined 3 specific visualization tools you can use, you can expand on them to develop your own. If possible, begin with at least 3 deep breaths, and ideally 5 minutes of deep breathing for more powerful visualization.

Then simply visualize desired outcomes. Don’t be afraid to visualize things you may think are beyond your control.

When I was sick, I would visualize myself healing. Meditation has been shown to lower inflammation, and it’s possible that visualizing yourself healing can actually “heal” you, to some extent.

In the realm of chronic disease and functional medicine, it is a common experience that people will not heal until they address their emotional state. Even though they’ve done all the supplements and have their body should have the resources to heal, they stay sick until they go deep and see themselves as a healthy person instead of a broken one.

We don’t fully understand the mechanisms of how consciousness affects the physical body, so don’t underestimate the power of getting your head in the right place.

Other forms of freestyle visualization are to see yourself in a loving relationship or having a family. This isn’t about making things happen for you without doing the work. I don’t think of these practices as magical or that they get the universe to give you what you want. However, I do think they prime you to believe in yourself, and see yourself as someone who could confidently get the things you desire in life by doing the work.

Some of the most difficult problems can be at least aided with these practices.

For example, perhaps you have infertility issues, which are all too common among both men and women these days. I know of people who have solved their infertility with lifestyle and dietary changes. Visualizing yourself as fertile and conceiving a child probably won’t make it happen on its own, but it can prime you to be more receptive to solutions—and then follow through with action.

Remember, the main purpose of visualization is to set your aim both consciously and subconsciously. The better you have aimed your mind at a goal, the easier it will be to take the needed action to pursue and achieve it.

My main point is to say: don’t limit yourself. If you want something in life, no matter how out-of-control it may seem, apply your visualization process to it and truly imagine it becoming a reality.

It Works

My own story is actually one you are witnessing right now. I had health problems for about a year and a half, and I was determined to make an income despite being unable to work classical jobs.

I also realized I had a huge tome of powerful health and fitness information in my head that could help others. There were many things I had tried that helped, and I had deeply researched many others.

I re-read Mark’s book, as well as Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau (which is about turning an idea into income in 5 weeks) and within a month created a website where I wrote health and fitness articles. Within 4 months, I was writing for Better Humans.

Without my visualizations, I would not have believed myself to be skilled or knowledgeable enough to write for this publisher, but in my head, I saw myself as a true expert and leader in this field during my “fantasize with purpose” drills.

A year ago today, I couldn’t work out and I had bad mental and physical fatigue. Today, as I type, I can feel the soreness of yesterday’s kettlebell workout, and later tonight I’ll go two-stepping with some coworkers from my part-time job at a dog training facility.

Anyone who is familiar with chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disease, adrenal problems, or other chronic disease knows that these conditions often plague an individual for decades, if not for the rest of their life.

I employed many tactics to overcome my health issues, but the bedrock was my aim to heal and belief in myself. I learned to do this by practicing visualization, and even when I was too mentally frayed to meditate, I would write down my fantasize with purpose and future me exercises as stories in a journal.

The result? I healed from a chronic condition in two years, instead of the 15 or more years that it often takes others.

Visualization is a free and easy practice that can have magnificent results for your life.

From improving motor skills such as shooting a target or perform sport skills, to pursuing goals, and even becoming your ideal version of yourself, use of mental imagery is a powerful way to optimize your life

Weekend Special: Need of a Daily Routine


Why you must have a daily routine! We must not underestimate the importance of discipline and a daily routine; it is the only way to a happy and successful life.

Some of my friends have mostly been an admirer of spontaneity, and found excitement in walking into the day looking forward to surprises. So the mornings are not necessarily well structured. One day upon waking they could reach for a book to read, while another morning they may be mooning around, reflecting and dreaming. Yet another morning could see them thinking and planning frenetically for an official project that has them excited.

I have always been someone you can confidently set your clock by. For instance, when he asks for his coffee in the morning, you know that it is 8.30 am and he has already had his bed-tea, read the papers, cracked his daily Sudoku and is getting ready to leave for office! While I have made many digs at his being a ‘creature of habit’ who misses out on spontaneous fun, he has accepted my ways with indulgent equanimity.

So, it is not without some discomfort that I write this today to extol the   disciplined, set routine. The years have tamed me somewhat and I have at least started thinking of setting myself a daily morning routine. I do have my set of daily mantras, but I can surely be more disciplined about these as well. That is what I wish to address now, and to share with my readers.

Most of us tend to underestimate the power of routine and life structures. Routine gives a structure to life, and it is this structure that ensures life makes sense to you. You wake up with a sense of purpose and ownership and an organized day. You sleep well, you eat well and you look after your health better. Mornings are the best time to set to routine with least external disturbance.

Most high achievers, when asked for the secret of their success, put daily routines high on their list. They wake up early, using the morning hours to look after their health proactively, keeping themselves informed, and organizing their activities for the day. In short they remain faithful to routines they have found useful over some time. Meditating, exercising, and reading the daily papers, checking up on email and having a healthy, set breakfast are some of the morning routines shared by the world’s most successful CEOs in articles across media.

These successful young men and women generously share other routines they fit somehow into the rest of their day – little things that refresh their spirit, help keep them grounded and re-energise and re-inspire them. One CEO says he stops five minutes every day to find some humour in the day, or recount a funny story. Another finds the time to be grateful for something every day. Yet another admits that every morning he writes out his intention for the day. This helps him concentrate on what’s important that day and push aside the rest. In a variation of the same, another CEO says she visualizes every morning what she wants to happen that day, and then stays true to her vision, focused on overcoming hurdles in the way.

These may just be various known ways of energizing ourselves and staying positive, but what is important here is that these people have built in these mantras into their daily routine. Come what may, they ensure that they make time for these activities till they become a daily habit and are done without conscious effort.

School and office enforce a routine, but we must find ways to stitch together the fabric of our daily life in other areas too. Registering at a gym is part of the life structure to ensure our wellbeing. To plan your weekly meals is a habit that ensures you eat healthy. Planning to meet friends every Saturday night is a routine that helps keep you connected and social. Dinner with family every night is a discipline that helps hold the family together. You could add your own to these…

Indeed, when you intentionally decide to organize your days, you are making a commitment to do positive, useful things with your time and lead a more organized, meaningful life.

India Sends A Message to China

At the Raisina Dialogue, the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar pointing out that India is not a ‘disruptionist power’ at the world stage and it should not be a self-centred or a mercantilist.  He, in fact, was indicating that China, which of late has been destroying the strategic balance and behaving like a mercantilist power by indulging in its debt trap game plan under the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), should desist from such sinister activities. 

Such remarks have been made in the backdrop of continuing Chinese aggressive activities in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. In the South China Sea, Beijing is blatantly violating international norms. It continues to make sweeping claims in that region on the basis of self-created nine-dashed lines for which there is no basis. After creating artificial islands it has militarised them. It is making aggressive moves in the EEZs of other countries. In 2014, China had deployed the Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) oil rig and three Chinese oil and gas service ships in the EEZs of Vietnam. In 2019, China had deployed a ship for a month-long seismic survey, together with armed escorts, into Tu Chinh–Vung May Basin. Chinese coast guard ships patrolled Malaysian-claimed waters for 258 days over the year ending in September 2019. Recently, China had dispatched armed coastguard vessels to accompany fishing trawlers into disputed waters around a strategic island (Natuna) chain claimed by Indonesia, which has responded by sending warships to the area. 

China’s assertive moves are backed by the growing military and naval heft as well as massive financial muscle. It has created naval bases in Cambodia using its economic power. Dara Sakor is the new port being built in Cambodia by Beijing. China is enhancing its naval capabilities in the region to reinforce its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea.  

China has also rejected the PCA Ruing. Lack of follow up of the arbitral Ruling has not only emboldened China to continue with its assertive activities in violation of international norms and laws but is also changing the geo-strategic balance in the region. The blatant use of coercive diplomacy by China has ensured that the other disputants do not oppose the Chinese claims. The ASEAN has not been able to contain Chinese activities. The meetings show differences among the members in the approach towards China on the one hand and other disputants on the other. On the contentious issues, instead of unified statements, the joint communiques only mention the phrases like ‘some leaders’ and ‘some ministers’. The single draft of CoC reflects several differences. It is unlikely to be finalised by next year or even a year later. 

In the Indian Ocean, the Chinese naval presence is rapidly increasing. The Indian Navy Chief speaking at the Raisina Dialogue clearly pointed out that China’s BRI and China –Pakistan Economic Corridor impinge on India’s sovereignty. He further said that there had been instances when PLA (N) ships had entered India’s EEZ and Navy had told them it impinged on India’s sovereignty. 

While the message was loud and clear to China, it is unlikely to deter that country which is guided by self-interest and has no concern for international laws and norms. The moot question is how to deal with increasingly aggressive China which has the economic power to coerce smaller disputants and its strategic aim is to establish its hegemony in the region. Its only claim on the South China Sea is based on its imaginary lines with the aim of converting it into its own lake and from there it is moving to the Indian Ocean. 

Can Quad take action to contain China? While all nations would like to do so, their own differences may come in the way. None of them would like to see their relations with China as a zero-sum game. However, this appears to be an option and for this, all the powers have to work out a strategy to contain the Chinese activity, which is in their interests. 

Without Russia’s help, any pressure on China is unlikely to work. Russia is opposing the concept of Indo-Pacific Vision as it perceives that its objective is to contain China and move away from the centrality of ASEAN in it. This is not true. India has made it clear that the Indo-Pacific Vision is not against any country but it is aimed at creating an open and democratically governed region with ASEAN playing a central role. 

While India had stated that it will be a stabilising power indicating that it would not see the developments from the ring-side but would take decisive action to protect the region from being disrupted, the road appears to belong as it would have to obtain the support of other nations. The urgency to do so cannot be underestimated as China is permanently destroying the strategic balance in the region.  

Trump Brings WEF At The Tipping Point

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is making final preparations for its landmark 50th anniversary summit at Davos, Switzerland next week. Yet, while the session is a landmark for international cooperation after a half century of such sessions, storm clouds are on the horizon as reflected in this year’s theme of “stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world”.

The fact that US President Donald Trump is perhaps the most high profile guest in the Swiss ski resort personifies these tensions. It is his own “America First” vision which has been a key driver of the breakdown in international agreements and cooperation in the last few years by undermining a range of global agreements, including the Paris climate change treaty.

To be sure, Trump has significant support – in the United States and internationally – with his agenda, and he stands a significant chance of winning four more years in office in November. Yet, he will not be very popular amongst the elites and activists in and around Davos who tend to see him more as a menace than international messiah.

In this vacuum, others have been warmly received in Davos, including Chinese President Xi Jinping who became the first Chinese president to give a speech, well received at the event in 2017, where he made an impassioned defence of globalisation in the face of Trump’s protectionist rhetoric.

The key theme of promoting a more cohesive, sustainable world at this year’s Davos underlines that, a generation from the promise of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which saw the collapse of Soviet Communism, many expectations about how the post-Cold War world might look have been dashed, not least around international cooperation. The WEF itself has ridden this wave of optimism and pessimism through its provision in the last several decades of a global platform for dialogue.

Its early successes in bolstering international cooperation included the Davos Declaration signed in 1988 by Greece and Turkey, which saw the two turn back from the brink of war. In 1989, North and South Korea held their first ministerial-level meetings at the WEF in Switzerland, and East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met there to discuss German reunification.

Three decades on, the idealistic future vision held by some then of a universal order of liberal, capitalist, democratic states living in peace and contentment has been undermined. As multiple reports highlight, there is currently a potentially toxic cocktail of trade disputes, environmental risks, cyber threats, and geo-political dangers threatening the fundamental fabric of the global political economy.

There are now multiple challenges confronting the US-led order today which have helped drive the international fractures that the WEF will discuss. For instance, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, US relations with Russia are now more strained than at any time since the Cold War, despite Trump’s professed desire to try to improve relations. And the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has collapsed again, while Washington and Pyongyang remain locked into stalled nuclear diplomacy on the Korean peninsula.

Moreover, almost two decades after 9/11, Washington is still significantly engaged in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Indeed, Washington could become significantly more entrenched in the latter region if tensions with Iran continue to grow in 2020.

On the positive side of the ledger, however, the world today continues to contain multiple positive opportunities for international cooperation.

Take the example of the landmark global climate change deal agreed in Paris in 2015 which represents a welcome fillip to tackle global warming and, crucially, a new post-Kyoto framework has been put in place. Moreover, the once-every-five-years review framework means that countries can toughen their response to climate change in the future, especially if the political and public will to tackle the problem increases with time.

Compared to three decades ago, late 1980s and early 1990s, the rise of China is one of the biggest game changers in global affairs. And, in the week in which Washington and Beijing sign a first stage trade deal, it is increasingly likely that the future of the international order may well depend on the shape of bilateral relations which could be shaping what is sometimes called a multi-bilateral world – or a network of loosely coordinated bilateral and regional trade deals.

Charity for Business

Allowing religious trusts to invest in startups could catalyse the ecosystem. religious trusts have been historically known to be repositories of wealth donated by disciples and followers.

“Jiska koi nahin, uska toh khuda hai yaaron,” (he who has no one, has God, my friends) was a hit song from the 1981 film, Laawaris. Its lyrics are as relevant for today’s budding entrepreneurs.

For most founders who have struggled through uncertainty, all that separates those who will succeed from the ones who won’t, is the power of self-belief and prayer. Sometimes this prayer is directed at investors who can be their saviours, while sometimes it’s a plea to the divine. Whichever god one believes in, or does not, the fact is that founders will try everything they can to make it work, and for the investors can be gods.

Religious trusts have been historically known to be repositories of wealth donated by disciples and followers. However, this opaque world has opened up in recent times with the income and profitability of some of the well-known trusts now available with credit rating agencies as well.

Globally, the Vatican is reported to be worth $10 billion or more, while the Mormon Church in the US is estimated to be worth four times more. In 2015, the Islamic Development Bank estimated that Muslims donated “Zakat” worth $262-560 billion, of which a sizeable share would have been to religious organisations. Various media reports indicate that the richest temple trust in the world — the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram — is, even by conservative estimates, valued at approximately $17 billion. Combine the value of antiques accumulated over centuries and this amount could be 10 times or $170 billion. That’s equivalent to the GDP of oil-rich Qatar. Many similar temple trusts like those of Tirupati Balaji, Shirdi Sai Baba, Vaishno Devi, Siddhi Vinayak and Golden Temple are known for holding onto their wealth or investing it in government securities alone. Almost all of them reportedly saw huge spikes in “donations” immediately after demonetisation in 2016.

This raises a question of national priorities and liquidity: A government that has aggressively championed and executed projects to reform and bolster almost all the sectors of the economy, must focus on this locked-in wealth. While prevailing rules prevent charitable institutions from deploying these contributions in anything that is not specifically mentioned, is it not the time to question this logic? Is it not the time to consider a change in policy that could potentially go a long way in bringing in wider funding options to India’s deserving entrepreneurs and startups who need continuity and stability, in planning as well as in execution at the policy level, along with the involvement of key stakeholders in the entire decision-making process?

In 2018, India turned out to be the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem, with $38 billion in foreign direct investment. Imagine the multiplier effect on employment generation if thousands of genuine startups start seeing capital inflows through these religious institutions. At present, the wealth in funds/trusts is mandated to be invested/deposited as per their respective guidelines and there is no provision for investments in alternate investment funds (AIFs). Even if these trusts/funds invest 5-10 per cent towards entrepreneurship or venture capital, it will facilitate the creation of the largest pool of capital for venture capitalists in the next decade.

Consider the cascading effect: This can trigger a fresh new wave of entrepreneurship and job creation, one that will make the world sit up and take notice of India in a new light. If the policies pertaining to investment/deposit of such trusts/funds are amended to include investment in AIFs Category-I, then, by further investment in startups, they can generate direct and indirect employment in huge numbers, giving a fillip to the economy.

The evidence of employment generation exists from our own experience wherein YourNest Venture Capital (AIF Category-I) has generated 820 direct and many more indirect jobs from just 14 startups, most of whom are enterprise-driven, B2B (business to business) firms. A B2C (business to consumer) startup such as PayTM is believed to employ over 13,000 people and has over three million merchants on its platform. Reportedly, Flipkart has over 30,000 employees, Zomato has around 4,300. In addition, these startups have also generated innumerable employment opportunities indirectly through their partners.

Such precedents exist in the global scenario: The institutions equivalent to charitable trusts are endowment funds, which are allowed to invest in Indian small and medium enterprises and startups, and are being rewarded for their proactive investments. Early-stage businesses offer attractive returns whereas India’s own long-term funds are not participating in this asset class.

If India’s aim is to be a more efficient economy, policy-makers must allow our charitable/religious trusts to invest/deposit part of their corpus into the startup eco-system. This can be achieved by amending Section 11(5) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 which pertains to modes of investments/deposits made by charitable/religious trust. This section can include “Investment by acquiring of units of SEBI registered AIF (Category I & II)”.

Ambitious, as it may be, there will certainly be many arguments opposing this move. But, if we remain focused on the fact that idle wealth should be unlocked for the benefit of the economy, then employment generation will get an actual boost leading towards a positive rush in the Indian economy.

A Thin Line Between Iran & Pakistan

The assassination of the controversial major general of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Qassem Soleimani, by the equally controversial government of US President Donald Trump, has put Pakistan into a spin.

A minister in PM Imran Khan’s gover­nment announced that Pakistan would side with Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich kingdom that is a firm American ally and strongly opposed to Iran.

However, the spokesperson of the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Public Relations wing and then Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were quick to announce that Pakistan would remain neutral in case hostilities intensify between Iran and the US.

Pakistan was a frontline proxy state in the US and Saudi-funded ‘Islamist’ insurgency against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. By the time Soviet troops left Afghanistan in the late 1980s, the fallout of that war greatly impacted Pakistan, deepening sectarian fissures in the country and aiding the mushrooming of religious militancy and extremism, that eventually mutated and turned anti-state.

Indeed, this must be on the minds of the state and government of Pakistan for them to declare their neutrality. But there is a lot more to Pakistan’s ambiguity in this context. And I use the word ambiguity because relations between Iran and Pakistan have largely remained abstruse, especially in the last 40 years or so. Rand Corporation’s 2014 reader Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan describes the relationship between Pakistan and Iran as ‘a complex mix of cooperation and peer rivalry’.

Since 1981, Pakistan’s relations with Iran have remained tense and enigmatic, in contrast to their earlier unqualified warmth. Yet not once have the two countries come close to fighting a war

Iran is a Shia Muslim-majority country headed by a powerful Shia clergy, which came to power through a revolution in 1979. According to Andreas Rieck’s 2016 book The Shias of Pakistan: An Assertive and Beleaguered Minority, Pakistan has a significant Shia minority. Estimates from 2018 suggest 20 to 25 percent of Pakistan’s population is Shia. And according to Jacquelyn K. Davis, in Anticipating a Nuclear Iran, many of the Pakistani Shia support Iran’s post-1979 political and ideological set-up.

Until the mid-1970s, Pakistan enjoyed a seamless relationship with Iran. In fact, Pakistan was closer to Iran than it was to Saudi Arabia. Iran, a modern pro-US monarchy, was one of the first countries to recognise Pakistan when it was formed in August 1947. Also, the Shah of Iran became the first major foreign head of state to visit Pakistan in 1950.

During the 1965 Pakistan-India war, when the US had suspended all military aid to both India and Pakistan, Iran sent nurses, medical supplies and 5,000 tons of petroleum to Pakistan. As an oil-rich country, Iran also threatened to impose an embargo on oil supplies to India.

In the 2015 edition of the journal International Affairs and Global Strategy, M. Saqib Khan writes that, to sidestep the US and European arms embargo imposed on India and Pakistan during the war, Iran bought 90 Sabre fighter jets from West Germany and sent them to Pakistan.

Iran saw Pakistan as a modern extension of Persian culture in South Asia because of the role this culture and language had played during Muslim rule in India between the 13th and 19th centuries. But since the Shah’s Iran was known as ‘America’s policeman in Asia’, it also tried to insulate Pakistan from the left-leaning ‘Third-Worldism’ — an idea first formulated by the charismatic Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and the ‘socialist’ Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru. Iran made sure that Pakistan remained firmly in the American orbit during the Cold War.

The state of Pakistan admired Iran’s economic and social modernity and tried to emulate it. In his essay, “Pakistan As A Factor in Indo-Iranian Relations”, for the December 1974 issue of The Indian Journal of Political Science, L.K. Choudhary wrote that, during the 1971 Pakistan-India war, Iran again sidestepped an arms embargo on Pakistan and supplied it with military equipment. The Times of India quoted the Shah as saying, “Pakistan and Iran are like one soul in two bodies.”

In 1973, when a Baloch insurgency broke out in Balochistan, which shares a border with Iran, the Shah provided lethal American-made combat helicopters to Pakistan so that Baloch insurgents operating in the remote areas near the border could be eliminated. This way Iran also eliminated the threat of the insurgency spilling into Iran’s Baloch-majority areas.

Relations between the two countries began to somewhat recede when the populist government of Z.A. Bhutto in Pakistan attempted to formulate an international ‘Muslim bloc’ in 1974. The planned bloc also included ‘enemies’ of the Shah, especially ‘radical’ Soviet-backed Arab regimes, such as Libya, Iraq, Syria, Algeria and the erstwhile South Yemen. Therefore, the Shah was the only major Muslim head of state to decline attending the 1974 Islamic Summit in Lahore, organised by the Bhutto government.

In 1977, the Bhutto regime was toppled in a reactionary military coup by Gen Ziaul Haq. So when the Shah’s regime fell in 1979, and was replaced by a radical theocracy, Pakistan became the first country to recognise the new government. But the refreshed relations between the two countries, on the basis of Islam, soon began to nosedive from 1981 onwards.

From the mid-1970s, Saudi Arabia, buoyed by increasing oil prices, had begun to aggressively expand its circle of influence with the power of the so-called ‘petrodollar’. It also started to outpace Iran in matters of providing economic aid to Pakistan, which came with the condition of adopting the Arab culture and faith as prescribed by Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s Shia theocracy began to be seen as a threat by the puritanical Saudi political and religious establishment — especially when Iran initiated the rather unabashed export of its version of anti-Saudi and anti-US ‘political Islam’ to other Muslim countries.

In the 1980s, Pakistan accepted hefty financial and military aid from the US and Saudi Arabia during the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. This money was also used to form radical Sunni indoctrination outlets and militant outfits to supplement Afghan militant groups. But many such outfits eventually turned anti-Shia and thus anti-Iran. This saw Iran bankroll militant Shia groups within Pakistan. The result was deadly violence, clashes and riots between Saudi and Iranian proxies in Pakistan.

Even though Pakistan declared neutrality during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the Zia regime increasingly galvanised Pakistan towards the Saudi and American orbit. Pakistan sent 40,000 soldiers to Saudi Arabia in case the conflict spread to the kingdom. A cultural consequence of this was the ‘Saudization’ of Pakistan and the steady erosion of Persian culture; after the 1979 revolution in Iran, it began being seen as ‘Shia culture’.

Ever since 1981, Pakistan’s relations with Iran have remained tense and enigmatic. Iran has often accused Pakistan of backing radical anti-Iran Sunni groups operating near the Pak-Iran border, and Pakistan has expressed concern that anti-Pakistan groups backed by India have been allowed by Iran to operate near the same border.

Yet, not once have the two countries come close to fighting a war against each other. Soleimani was understood by Islamabad as being an ‘anti-Pakistan hawk.’ Pakistan, having frenzied borders with India and Afghanistan, and only recently managing to vanquish the extreme consequences of its participation in the anti-Soviet Afghan insurgency, has wisely decided to declare neutrality in the US-Iran conflict. More so, it has downplayed the fact that Soleimani was no hero to Pakistan.

History Was Churchill’s Most Trusted Counselor

Young Winston Spencer Churchill suffered from encouragement by his father and mother, he suffered from the poverty of child-rearing. His father told him he was a failure, and he died when Winston was only 20. Despite his pleas, Winston’s mother took no interest in him prior to his rise in stature and fame. As a youth, he received little to no love or attention from his father and mother.

Yet he became the greatest statesman in modern disadvantaged. Being born into a wealthy, aristocratic family certainly had enormous advantages, but he lacked the irreplaceable importance of the involvement, teaching, correction, and discipline. How did this happen?

It actually started with failure. Winston had been a failure in school, and as he became a young man, he recognized that, and he decided to educate himself.

“The discipline of self-education that Winston so passionately and aggressively practiced during those hot Bangalore afternoons remained with him throughout his life,” Stephen Mansfield writes, regarding Churchill’s intensive studies as a young man in India. “He read ravenously and broadly, laying the foundation for the kind of leader he would one day be. By doing so, he proved that knowledge does not belong alone to the school or the professional, but to the hungry and willing” (Never Give In).

He was hungry for knowledge, and for history in particular. He especially craved the history of his own Anglo-Saxon people and their glorious British Empire.

dedicated himself to reading and learning everything he could from books of history. He became the greatest statesman of his age by teaching himself. That’s how hungry he was for history. This is a rare attitude today. Even college students, whose job it is to study and who have teachers providing them calibrated reading assignments for that purpose, frequently skip their reading and justify it by saying, I just don’t have the time. It is not lack of time that keeps our minds empty of history and other subjects. It is lack of hunger.

Hunger for learning is how Churchill was able to accomplish so much. His hunger was an active hunger; his study was an active study. Among other things, his ravenous consumption of knowledge gave him command of the English language, which in turn endowed him with exceptional writing ability. He wrote extensively, to say the least, and almost all of his books were works of history.

Why was Churchill great? Much of it was because he loved, craved, read, studied and wrote about history.

Today, most people are caught up in the present and have forgotten even their own history, even their own recent history. As Hal Brands and Francis Gavin wrote in “The Historical Profession Is Committing Slow-Motion Suicide,” “The study of history, it seems, is itself becoming a relic of the past” (Dec. 10, 2019).

Those who do take interest in history often view the subject through a distorted lens. Brands and Gavin went on to write, “During the 1960s and after, the discipline was therefore swept by new approaches that emphasized cultural, social and gender history, and that paid greater attention to the experiences of underrepresented and oppressed groups.” Howard Zinn’s popular textbook, A People’s History of the United States, even goes to the extreme of portraying America as a dark, evil nation that only gained power and influence by oppressing “marginalized” people.

No wonder so many students today hate America! It’s what they are being taught. That is the “history” they are absorbing.

Winston Churchill foresaw this historical amnesia. In 1931, the same year he concluded the final volume of The World Crisis, he wrote, “How strange it is that the past is so little understood and so quickly forgotten. We live in the most thoughtless of ages.” Churchill wrote five volumes on the subject of the First World War and its immediate aftermath. Near the end, he asked, “Is this the end of the story?” He feared that horrible, unprecedented carnage would repeat itself. And within the decade, that is exactly what started up again.

Following the second world war in his lifetime, Churchill wrote in The Gathering Storm: The Origins of the Second World War, “It is my earnest hope that pondering upon the past may give guidance in the days to come.” Churchill sought guidance, counsel and more from his diligent and passionate study of history! He wanted others to remember the history of these world wars and to learn the bitter lessons from these catastrophes so that we won’t make the same mistakes again!

How deeply are you grounded in this grand sweep of history? Winston Churchill certainly understood the grand sweep of history! History was his most trusted counselor.

In the introduction to Churchill’s biography of his ancestor Marlborough, Henry Steele Commager wrote that Churchill viewed history as a great teacher. “Indeed we can say of Churchill what he himself wrote of Rosebery, that ‘the past stood ever at his elbow and was the counselor upon whom he most relied. He seemed to be attended by learning and history, and to carry into current events an air of ancient majesty.’”

History served as Churchill’s guide! “He read history as a stupendous moral scripture, and for him the writing was, if not divinely inspired, at least authoritative. More, it was straightforward and simple. History was a struggle between the forces of right or wrong, freedom and tyranny, the future and the past. By great good fortune Churchill’s own people—‘this island race,’ as he called them—were on the side of right, progress and enlightenment age.” History repeats itself. Churchill believed, “The longer you look back, the farther you can look forward.”; by great good fortune, too, it was given to him to buckle these virtues onto him as armor in the struggle for a righteous cause” (ibid).

Every day, this greatest statesmen of our modern era strapped on historical armor and went out to battle!

Commager wrote about the many lessons that our history is ready and waiting to teach us. It’s both memory and prophecy. It’s our identity, our national character, and also the lens through which we view the future. History, Commager wrote, follows great cycles. “The same themes recurred, again and again, the same drama was played out, from age to age.” History repeats itself. Churchill believed, “The longer you look back, the farther you can look forward.”

After anti-Romeo squads Shakespeare can inspire more protection brigades

A few states in India have police units called Anti-Romeo Squads. The mission of the squads is sometimes unclear: Will non-Juliets be protected?

‘Anti-Harassment Squads’ would have signalled an unambiguous warning. But authorities may have thought in the Shakespearean vein: ‘A squad by any other name wouldn’t be as sweet to tweet.’ Besides, in William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo never makes a typical pass at Juliet – typical of a common creep or of a Bollywood hero.

For example, Shakespeare never had the versifying courage to make Romeo tell Juliet: “Palat! Tera dhyaan kidhar hai?” (Turn around! Where’s your attention?). The line is from a popular song of a Hindi film, Main Tera Hero (I am your hero).

Indeed, the original Romeo was too worshipful in his love for Juliet to tout himself as a hero. At one stage, he says of her: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” The Anti-Romeo Squad could argue during the remand hearing that Romeo’s solar-powered corny compliment is actually an oblique means to call Juliet ‘hot’, which can be an offensive accolade.

At any rate, Western-literature types are often deceptive. George Orwell’s Big Brother isn’t a cute boy who helps his younger siblings with homework on Newton’s laws. Is it necessary for the Anti-Romeo Squad to take a less literary name? If it does, its members will sound less like the Capulets (Juliet’s family) and more like cops. After all, it is said that these days India does not like filial conflict of interests in positions of authority.

Whether or not the squad changes its name, Shakespeare has several characters who could inspire new law-enforcement detachments that India urgently needs. For example, consider an Anti-Cordelia Squad. Cordelia is one of King Lear’s three daughters. One day, Lear decides he is too old to check royal mails and post updates about his activities for his followers. To divide his kingdom between his daughters, he asks them to quantify their love for him. Goneril and Regan give him a million ‘likes’.

But Cordelia affirms the virtue of proportion: “I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty/ According to my bond; nor more nor less.” The Anti-Cordelia Squad must crack down on the dangerous trait of ‘proportionate appreciation’. Such even-handedness is often seen on TV. Some panelists say of their civic bodies, legislators, and even the country: ‘Many achievements are great, but there are some problems that need to be tackled.’

The Anti-Cordelia Squad will have to shut down fairness because as a line in another Shakespeare play – Macbeth – indicates, that quality always has a sinister inlay. The three witches chant at the start of the play: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” Shakespeare’s Cordelia had to leave her father’s kingdom. The proportionate praise-givers must be banished from the prime spots on TV.

Second, consider an Anti-Duncan Squad. Duncan is the king whom Macbeth kills. It will be a ‘palat’ of nuance to blame Duncan’s death on the three witches, or on Macbeth’s ambition, or on Lady Macbeth’s political consultancy. The fact is Duncan was terrifyingly dumb. As Duncan enters Macbeth’s home, he says: “This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air/ Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself/ Unto our gentle senses.” Duncan’s senses don’t apprehend the slightest inkling that he will be murdered on the pleasant seat later that night.

The Anti-Duncan Squad must hunt down people of such feeble intuitions – to prevent them from writing online reviews about guesthouses, hotels and resorts. Imagine: Duncan checks in (he has pre-emptively given a 5-star rating), he can check out any time he likes, but he can never leave. Only die-hard fans of Hotel California will book the dead Duncan’s room. The tourism industry cannot survive only on a niche set of guests.

Moreover, Duncan has no capacity for swift and irrevocable judgment that is revered in India. We learn early in the play that Duncan has been betrayed by Cawdor. Duncan’s excuse: “There’s no art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face.” Millions of social media polemicists are easily able to gauge their opponents’ ideology, intellectual bent, and political affiliation without ever reading or hearing what the opponents say. ‘You look like a betrayer,’ the polemicists proclaim.

Khamenei regime in danger of collapse

The Iranian people, who had apparently rallied behind the flag after the US killing of Soleimani were now turning their rage against the government. The chant “Death to America” a week before were replaced by “Death to the Dictator” in a reference to Khamenei.

It is often accompanied by the hope that mounting external pressure and deepening internal dissent will combine to produce a “regime collapse” in Tehran.

In the confrontation that has unfolded with the Islamic Republic of Iran over the last couple of years, US President Donald Trump has often insisted that he is not seeking to overthrow the clerical regime in Tehran led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet, the temptation for a policy of “regime change” in Iran has never disappeared in Washington. It is often accompanied by the hope that mounting external pressure and deepening internal dissent will combine to produce a “regime collapse” in Tehran.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has presided over the Islamic Republic for more than three decades, has been successful so far in fending off these external and internal challenges. He has put down repeated mass uprisings and neutered attempts from within the elite to reform the system. But can he cope with the intended and unintended consequences of Trump’s decision to eliminate Qassem Soleimani, a leading figure in Iran’s political, military and diplomatic hierarchy?

The widespread assessment after the killing of Soleimani was that Iran would inevitably escalate the confrontation. What happened after that was quite the opposite. Tehran set up a token retaliation for domestic political consumption and quickly called for de-escalation. Khamenei was realistic enough to recognise that military escalation against the US, which enjoys overwhelming military superiority, would be suicidal for the regime.

As he welcomed Tehran’s decision last week to stand down, Trump also addressed the people of Iran. “We want you to have a future and a great future — one that you deserve, one of prosperity at home, and harmony with the nations of the world.” Trump also told the Iranian leaders that America “is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it”. He reminded the shared interest between Washington and Tehran on combating the Sunni extremism of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “ISIS is a natural enemy of Iran. The destruction of ISIS is good for Iran, and we should work together on this and other shared priorities.”

Before the long-term possibilities of the temporary pause in the US-Iran conflict could be assessed, another development began to unfold. As Iran announced an end to its retaliation, a Ukrainian passenger jet crashed near Tehran killing all 176 passengers and crew on-board. It included 82 Iranian nationals and many Canadian citizens of Iranian origin. After initial denial, Tehran was forced to accept responsibility for shooting down the plane. Hassan Rouhani, the president of Iran, blamed human error in air defence management and expressed regret at the “great tragedy” and “unforgivable mistake”.

Soon after the confession, protests broke out against the government. The Iranian people, who had apparently rallied behind the flag after the US killing of Soleimani were now turning their rage against the government. The chant “Death to America” a week before were replaced by “Death to the Dictator” in a reference to Khamenei. Iranians are angry at the attempt of the government to cover up initially and are demanding full accountability.

The latest round of protests must be seen as a continuation of those that have raged since the end of 2017. Economic grievances, frustration with widespread corruption, demands for liberalising the restrictions on women and political opposition to the regime came together to give considerable traction to the protests. There was also strong criticism of the government’s costly external adventures in the Middle East amidst the deteriorating economic conditions. One of the slogans that became popular was “No to Gaza, No to Lebanon, My Life is for Iran”; another was “Let go of Syria, think of Iran”.

As the economic crisis deepened last year amidst the tougher international sanctions imposed by the US, a huge uprising unfolded across Iran in November triggered by a hike in gasoline prices. Reports say more than 1,000 protestors were killed by the Revolutionary Guards, headed by Soleimani.

While the anger at US killing of Soleimani might have been real, there is little love for the Revolutionary Guards, the principal face of state oppression. Iranian protests at the end of last year coincided with protests in Iraq and Lebanon against Iran’s meddling in the internal affairs of these countries.

As the regime cracks down on the protests against the airliner shooting, the external pressures against Iran are only likely to mount. Extending support to the “brave and long-suffering people of Iran” last week, Trump promised “to stand with them”. He also warned the regime against “another massacre of peaceful protestors” and demanded that international human rights groups be allowed in to monitor the situation.

In rejecting “regime change” as a strategy, Trump insists that his policy is to seek a change in the “regime’s behaviour”. His demands were an end to the nuclear and missile programmes, stop supporting terror in the region and end the interference in the internal affairs of its Arab neighbours. Khamenei had no interest in responding to any of those demands and dismissed them as “regime change in disguise”.

However, as sanctions squeeze the Iranian economy, the costs of regional overreach become apparent, and internal protests become persistent, Khamenei has few good options. Offering a new political compact to the people of Iran or a new framework to deal with the Arab neighbours and the US would seem reasonable goals. But they involve considerable risk for the regime.

All revolutionary regimes come to a point when they need to replace ideological fervour with pragmatism. It is also the moment, history tells us, of greatest vulnerability for the regime. For now, the speculation about regime change or regime collapse might be premature. But Tehran’s friends and adversaries will surely begin to debate, if privately, the implications of the deepening regime crisis in Iran.

Drones, wars and comedians

If you have liberal friends who think that American media offers a benchmark for India to follow in how liberality means making rude fun of politicians, you must have already received a Trevor Noah video showing Donald Trump alleging in 2011 that Obama will go for a war with Iran to win 2012 election.

In the light of impending USA presidential elections in 2020 and Trump taking out Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack on 3rd January, to a comedian who has made it a business to make fun of Donald Trump to entertain the liberal Americans, this video looks like a perfect example of Trump’s doublespeak.

While the video does make one smile, and Trevor would surely go laughing to his bank due to its success, unfortunately for all of us humans, the video is actually not at all funny, as it is about drones and wars and, worse, the dangers of a nation laughing at a comedian turning an existential threat into a joke.

While Trevor airs this 2011 video in 2020 as if the world has remained the same during this period for his convenience; the bitter truth is, the world we live in has changed recently like never before, and the first worrisome sign of it appeared on 14thSeptember 2019 when a drone attack was successfully conducted (allegedly by Iran) on the Aramco oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia.

The superficial impact of this attack was that it caused massive financial losses and impacted the global oil prices, but what it actually did is infinitely more damaging. It unleashed the latest of war monsters, the drones upon us, the feeble and perishable humans.

So, Trevor may or may not realize it, the success of drone-attack meant a complete shift in the context, making 2011 speech of Trump totally irrelevant for anyone other then a comedian who can profit from quoting it.

If we don’t dig too deep in the oil politics that run the planet, Trump’s counter-attack on Iran (that was so accurate that it could target and kill an important military leader) using drones is actually just a statement from the superpower to display technological superiority in a new theatre of war. And it appears to have worked as both sides have retreated. So, contrary to what Trevor wants us to think, Trump appears to have stopped a war and not started one.

While Iran and USA have exhibited what is possible with drones and the rest of the world is surely learning from it, we in India seem to be more keen to laugh with Trevor making fun of Trump and wishing that we had our own Trevor too, instead of understanding what this development means to us.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been in action for a long time, and they have been successfully used by the USA in its so-called war against terror, but it was still possible to hope that it was a limited technology that was yet to start an arms race across the globe.

But the recent use of drones in the above-cited episodes have now displayed that weaponized drones are not only highly effective war machines, but they are also a disruption that will change the way humans will go to war hereafter.

So, to any war strategist who is realist enough to know that humans will keep going to wars, this clearly means that drones are actually the new nukes that are a must-have for every sovereign nation keen to remain so.

Problem with India is, we have a set of elites who are unhappy with any attempt of the government to focus on defence, as they are quick to point out the investment we need in health, education and other social sectors. As they now have Hindutva as the latest whipping boy, any move towards strengthening the nation’s defence brings them out on TV channels alleging that the state has world domination intent.

The truth is, we are actually laggards who are safe only because of a brave army that is still ready to fight even when it knows its technological inferiority.

While our army is keen to bear the burden of protecting the nation using velour and courage, looking at the current state of affairs, arrival of drones has thrown up a very uncomfortable question for Indian defence apparatus, because it has the potential to reduce a human army into a liability than a strength.

What we really need to do is to stop laughing at liberal humour of Trevor because he is sitting comfortably in a nation that can take down a target thousands of miles away. While he gets a room full of American liberals LoLing in the studio, his nation doesn’t run on his wisdom, as its political leadership, regardless of all the public display of brimming with milk of human kindness, has always understood that owning the biggest gun on the planet is the best investment.

We in India, on the other hand, have forgotten that the last time we said “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam“ and aspired for a global Family of Man, we ended up with a thousand years of enslavement and were reduced from the most prosperous to the poorest nation on earth.

We like it or not, with arrival of drones, a new and even more disruptive actor has entered the theatre of war and we need to be ready for it.

Just as we were smart enough to become a nuclear power, and thus are able to have our way with the world, we need to be there in weaponising artificial intelligence and flying machines that kill, even if we don’t plan to use them.

Farmers & Climate Change

We need to re-examine the relationship between agriculture and climate. Today, agriculture is a major contributor to challenges facing our environment: land degradation, aquifer depletion, nitrogen runoff and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few. These challenges are contributing to changing the composition of our atmosphere. Last month, scientists recorded the highest concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide in human history: 415 parts per million (ppm). That represents an increase of 135 ppm since the start of the industrial revolution. Multiplied by the total volume of the atmosphere, 135 ppm is equal to one trillion tons – or a teraton – of carbon dioxide increase over the past 200 years.

Despite the role that it now plays in contributing to the problem, agriculture also offers the most scalable, immediate and affordable solution for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This solution leverages a natural process that every plant undergoes, powered by a source that is always available, costs little to nothing to run and does not cause further pollution. This power source is the sun, and the process is photosynthesis.

A plant takes carbon dioxide out of the air and, with the help of sunlight and water, converts it to sugars. Every bit of that plant – stems, leaves, roots – is made from carbon that was once in our atmosphere. Some of this carbon goes into the soil as roots. The roots, then, release sugars to feed soil microbes. These microbes perform their own chemical processes to convert carbon into even more stable forms.

We have a trillion-ton problem, which cannot be addressed by the photosynthesis of a single plant. But when it comes to agriculture, we are not talking about one plant – we are talking about tens of thousands of plants per acre, and 3.6 billion acres of farmland worldwide. All of these acres, before they were cultivated, had soil carbon levels of between 3% and 7%. Today, they are at roughly 1% carbon. If every acre of farmland were returned to a soil carbon level of just 3%, one trillion tons of carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. Again, a teraton. The size of the potential solution is equivalent to the size of the problem.

Putting carbon back in the soil

So how do we increase the carbon content of soil, while still cultivating the land? A small percentage of farmers are already doing this by employing practices known as “regenerative”. Five important regenerative practices are planting cover crops, no-till farming, rotating crops, reducing chemicals and fertilizers, and incorporating livestock. These practices are proven to both drive carbon into the soil, and keep it there. The resulting carbon-enriched soils are healthier, demonstrating better resilience to extreme weather, improved water permeability, increased microbial diversity, higher yields, reduced input requirements and even more nutritious harvests – all of which is better for both the land and the farmers’ bottom line.

If farmers provide the societal benefit of removing atmospheric carbon by adopting regenerative practices, it seems reasonable that they should be compensated for their effort. Today, the average farmer in the United States is making less than $40 per acre. If carbon is priced at $15 – $20 per ton, and growers adopting regenerative practices can capture 2 – 3 tons of carbon per acre annually, that represents an additional $30 – $60 towards their bottom line. This significant profitability boost is further supplemented by the economic benefits of transitioning to regenerative practices, such as lower input costs and higher yields. $15 – $20 per ton is also much less expensive than proposed alternatives for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The potential to remove one trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is in our hands. We are not dependent on new technological breakthroughs. We know how to do this today. We just have to decide, collectively, that we are going to make it happen. This is an inherently collaborative effort, because the cost of transitioning global agriculture to regenerative practices cannot fall to farmers alone. It requires consumers, companies and governments to demand that food is grown in a climate-positive way, and that farmers are paid for their stewardship.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that a sole focus on agricultural soils is enough to address climate change. We still need to cut emissions. We still need energy systems that are sustainable. And we need widespread awareness of how everyone can reduce their footprint. But when capturing and storing carbon dioxide in the Earth’s soils is paired with reducing our emissions, we have a real hope of not just slowing our advance towards the climate cliff, but stopping, turning around, and walking the other way.

The cheerleaders for Nobel prize winners aren’t noble

Remember the war against Franco?
That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
Though he may have won all the battles,
We had all the good songs!
—Tom Lehrer, American folk singer.

Winning a Nobel Prize is no small achievement. Over the years, it has also come to be regarded as a national achievement. It is, therefore, entirely in order that the award of the Nobel Prize for economics to Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, now a professor in the US, has been accompanied by an explosion of pride, particularly in his home town Kolkata. Banerjee joins the long list of people beginning from Rabindranath Tagore and extending to Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen who have secured this important international recognition for both the city and West Bengal. Being a rooted Bengali, Banerjee’s achievement is also great solace to a community that, over the years, nurtures a feeling of having been bypassed. This week, Kolkata resonates with the elation, sometimes verging on smugness, that when it comes to matters of the mind, Bengalis are world class.

Every event, however, has unintended consequences. Since Banerjee was associated with the formulation of the Congress Party’s NYAY commitment in the 2019 general election — a commitment that some feel was singularly responsible for driving the middle classes away from Gandhi family-led outfit — the Swedish award has also been taken to be a snub to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Certainly, the fact that Banerjee read for his master’s degree in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, an institution the saffron ecosystem places high on its list of pet hates, is being accorded significance. Along with Amartya Sen who has never concealed his disagreements with Modi and the BJP, Banerjee has now been elevated to the pantheon of towering intellectuals raising their voices against the supposed desecration of the Idea of India since 2014.

The belief that India is being run by a cluster of cretins blessed with bigotry, narrow-mindedness and a lack of education is a recurrent belief among the dissidents. Many of them believe they are waging the good fight for liberalism, Enlightenment values and the ‘scientific temper’, not to mention secularism.

The belief that lofty principles are involved in otherwise mundane competitive politics has often served to keep intellectuals in the ring. This is more so when the fight is perceived to be against the populist rabble, often driven by xenophobia. In the US, the East and West coast establishments and the campuses are outraged that Donald Trump is in the White House. They are also aesthetically offended that he enjoys large public support. Likewise in Britain, there is a fierce determination in the establishment to ensure that the verdict of the 2016 referendum is set aside and Brexit subverted. In both cases, intellectual activism is governed by the feeling that the people are gripped by what Marxists call ‘false consciousness’ and must be guided to the right path, even if it means puncturing the popular will.

This sense of entitlement — once the hallmark of the feudal order — is often compounded by sneering contempt for the other side. Sen and Banerjee, for example, are economists — notorious for routinely getting it all wrong. Their prescriptions for tackling poverty are essentially welfarist. This approach has been marked by both failure and modest success, just as the dependence on the market and belief in entrepreneurship has. Some economists advocate high personal taxes to sustain a welfare state, while others feel that giving individuals and families more money to either accumulate or spend generates productive forces. These are divergent approaches, as are multiple strategies of fostering community and nationhood. Exercising political choices doesn’t make the other side either more enlightened or philistine.

The belief in different paths to dharma and salvation has defined Hindu traditions. This world view has nurtured modesty and is so unlike the certitudes that govern some Western thought. Unfortunately, it is the latter — embellished with ‘group think’ — that is moulding contemporary intellectual discourse. What we are witnessing in the guise of liberalism are intellectuals who are not only convinced of their own infallibility but make a virtue of debunking those they disagree with, both for being wrong and for being culturally challenged. Ironically for scholars who explore the dynamics of poverty and accord weight to the experiences of people at the bottom of the pile, there is a marked tendency to debunk the preferences of ordinary voters as being uninformed. This amounts to condescension, if not arrogance.

The Nobel Prize winners aren’t guilty of these transgressions; their cheerleaders are.

Is the Middle East In the Middle Of Anywhere?

The United States is trying to square a circle, remaining strong and deterring dangerous elements, but to do so for U.S. interests—interests that increasingly seem to be fewer and fewer in the Middle East.

Since World War II, the United States has been involved in a series of crises and wars in the Middle East on the premise of protecting U.S., Western, or global interests, or purportedly all three combined. Since antiquity, the Middle East has been the hub of three continents, and of three great religions, and the maritime intersection between East and West.

In modern times American strategic concerns in no particular order were usually the following:

1) Guaranteeing reliable oil supplies for the U.S. economy.

2) Ensuring that no hostile power—most notably the Soviet Union between 1946-1989 and local Arab or Iranian strongmen thereafter—gained control of the Middle East and used its wealth and oil power to disrupt the economies and security of the Western world, Europe in particular.

3) Preventing radical Islamic terrorists from carving out sanctuaries and bases of operations to attack the United States or its close allies.

4) Aiding Israel to survive in a hostile neighborhood.

5) Keeping shipping lanes in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, and the Persian Gulf open and accessible to world commerce at the historical nexus of three continents.

6) To the extent we could articulate our interests, U.S. policy was reductionist and simply deterred any other major power for any reason from dominating the quite distant region.

7) Occasionally the United States sought to limit or stop the endemic bloodletting of the region.

Those various reasons explain why we tended to intervene in nasty places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria. Yet despite the sometimes humanitarian pretenses about our inventions in the Middle East, we should remember that we most certainly did not go commensurately into central Africa or South America to prevent mass killings, genocides, or gruesome civil wars.

But two questions now arise in the 21st century: to what degree do strategic reasons remain for a strong U.S. ground presence in the Middle East and, in terms of cost-benefit analyses, how much material, human, and psychic U.S. investment is necessary to protect our interests to the extent they still matter in the region?

These questions cannot be answered in a short essay. They are the topics of constant discussions among U.S. planners and offer no easy solutions. That said, our old strategic reasons do not necessarily still apply.

Changing Needs, New Realities

The United States does not need Middle East natural gas or oil. Europe does. China does even more.

Certainly, it may be in the larger economic interests of America to keep moderately priced oil flowing from the Middle East. But disruptions, cartels, and embargoes do not matter to the United States in the degree they did during the last half-century.

This reality is especially germane when the European Union, larger and nearly as rich as the United States, simply will not provide for its own security, despite its proximity to the region and its dependence upon it. China likewise freeloads on the U.S. Navy’s deterrent presence in waters off the Middle East.

These new realities do not necessarily mean we should vacate the region entirely, only that we should be far less likely to intervene when others have far more at stake.

Given the size, complexity, factions, and violence of the Middle East, all outside would-be hegemons have had a difficult time consolidating power there.

The Soviet Union failed. It is no exaggeration to state that nearly every foreign power that has had a base in the region was eventually kicked out of it—with the exception so far of the United States in the Gulf. Contemporary Russia does not have the resources to control the region and can only agitate and offend others rather than consolidate a lucrative position. China’s Belt and Road initiative in the Middle East, if it follows the paradigm in Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean, likely will not pencil out.

The Iranians, Saddam Hussein, and earlier Pan-Arabism messianic leaders all eventually failed in consolidating the Middle East to bully the larger world. Sometimes U.S. intervention has helped stymie thugs and killers like Saddam Hussein and ISIS, and may again through its overwhelming air, cyber, and drone power. But in general, it will be difficult for Russia, Iran, or Turkey to acquire greater global influence by carving out localized hegemonies in the Middle East.

Thus, it may not be so imperative for the United States to intervene on the rationale that if we don’t, others will. Intervening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria presents more costs than benefits. Any success in weeding out terrorist enclaves or removing thugs is outweighed by often costly human and material investments, subsequent problems with immigration and refugees, and almost no reciprocity or even gratitude from the parties who are supposedly the beneficiaries of American humanitarian or military assistance.

Israel is wealthier, larger, and more secure than at any period in its past. Three recent developments—fossil fuel self-sufficiency, new anti-Iranian alliances with its former enemies in the Arab world, and global weariness with the perpetual victimization claims of the Palestinians—have given Israel both new confidence and options. Israel’s nuclear deterrence can guarantee its survival against Islamic enemies, and in the post-Cold War era it faces few threats from a nuclear Russia or China.

The United States can continue to sell and bestow military assistance to Israel, and maintain our close alliance, but not intervene in the region on the premise that without our immediate local presence Israel is in danger.

World commerce long has been shifting to the Pacific. The Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, and Persian Gulf will remain vital to world commerce but not as decisive as in the past. If China is acquiring long-term port leases at key harbors in Europe, it is hard to worry that it poses more dangers by doing the same in the Middle East. And China’s barbaric treatment of Muslims at home makes it unlikely to become popular in the Middle East. It is hard to know exactly what Vladimir Putin is getting out of his Syrian quagmire other than global attention and a desire to play Soviet-style lord among murderous clients.

In sum, for now a strong naval presence, and U.S. air bases in the Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf states keep the peace, at least as we envision keeping the peace. Some ground troops protect those assets. But the idea that the United States will ever send a huge expeditionary army to the Middle East increasingly seems absurd.

War Weariness

Finally, there are the much neglected but powerful emotional and human factors.

We hear nonstop that the Arab, or the Iranian, or the Muslim world at large does not like the West in general and the United States in particular. For some 60 years, American television screens have blared out nightly images of crowds of screaming fanatics with signs of hatred of America—almost all of them, when emotions subside, otherwise eager to claim some sort of fast-track victim or refugee status to get into the country they say they despise.

But emotions that drive policies are not just one-way.

Middle Easterners ignore that three generations of Americans have become exhausted by their antics in the Middle East, by the Iranian hostage debacle, 9/11, the oil embargos, the anti-Semitic hatred of Israel, the costly interventions, and the hysterics that seem to characterize the region. Americans don’t see why any of their children should be killed or be maimed there.

When we say Americans are tired of endless wars, the subtext is that we are mostly sick of the Middle East. We certainly don’t necessarily see any benefit from welcoming in tens of thousands of refugees from the region, many of whom do not necessarily seem to appreciate Western religious diversity, ecumenical traditions, and multiracial and gender equality—and will likely upon arrival lodge complaints against the United States for some -ism or -ology that they have levered from the therapeutic Left.

Europe’s immigration policies are the canaries in the Western mine. Few of the 800 million in Europe and the United States privately believe that Europe is richer, more secure, and more enlightened by welcoming in millions of Middle Easterners who seems to resent their hosts and equate assimilation and integration with cultural betrayal. The result is that there is almost no public support for any action in the Middle East unless it is directly tied to protecting Americans or ensuring the region’s endemic pathologies do not boil over to harm America and its interests in general.

All these considerations are no doubt known to the Trump Administration. The current stand-off with Iran is the first Middle East crisis in which neither oil nor Arab anti-Americanism factor in much.

Trump no doubt has learned that neither isolationism nor interventionism ensures American security, and is trying to craft the middle ground of principled realism, or don’t tread on me nationalism. Translated in the present crisis, that policy likely presages a kind of stand-off—tit-for-tat air strikes on Iranian infrastructure for as long as Iran wishes to escalate attacks on U.S. bases or embassies or assets.

The administration seems intent on avoiding the appeasement of Obama and also the interventionism of the Bush years. So far, it has managed to help destroy ISIS without getting into a shooting war with Turkey over the Kurds or knee-deep in the quagmires of Syria. The administration wants to find a way out of both Iraq and Afghanistan that does not destroy U.S. deterrence, a quest that ultimately depends on how we define deterrence, both regionally and globally.

In other words, the United States is trying to square a circle, remaining strong and deterring our dangerous elements, but to do so for U.S. interests—interests that increasingly seem to be fewer and fewer in the Middle East.

Or in simpler terms, what exactly is the Middle East in the middle of anymore?

The Spectacle of Tragedy

The function of the tragedy in art is what it does to, and for, the audience. The remote past really provided a template for articulating present concerns, albeit obliquely.

Greek tragedy was a spectacle, performed seasonally in great festivals dedicated to gods, in huge amphitheatres (“spectators-all- around”) before thousands of people. Much of the performance, accompanied by music and dance, was sung, making it more like opera than proscenium theatre today. The action was all in the words. It was truly the media of the millennium, whose life was both precious and brief, and whose death was not, as Nietzsche thought, caused by Socrates, coinciding rather with the demise of the democratic state it spoke to.

By convention, if not fiat, tragedy could only deal with mythical themes (though The Persians details the victory at Salamis), the result perhaps of a ban on staging contemporary events, in consequence, it was said, of a performance of Phrynichus’ The Sack of Miletus, which so moved its audience to tears that the poet was fined, “for reminding them of familiar misfortunes”.

Though they dealt with myths or elaborated incidents from the epics, the poets could modify them and even invent alternatives (“Probable impossibilities are preferable to improbable possibilities” advises Aristotle, sagely). Myths in any case were stories which varied with each telling, often serving conflicting aims: The homogeneity and multifarious forms of worship in polytheistic cults made for both competing and complementary narratives.

The remote past really provided a template for articulating present concerns, albeit obliquely. Tragic drama addressed the city through its citizens. Sophocles’ Oedipus (staged a year after a plague struck Athens in 430 BCE) opens with a crowd petitioning the king because of a miasma afflicting the city. The Trojan Women, produced during the ongoing conflict between Athens and Sparta, dwelt on the suffering of women and children, acted out before the ruins of Troy. Jean-Paul Sartre made an adaptation of it during the Algerian war as a lesson for the French .

Tragic drama grappled mainly with moral conflict, articulating the struggle between tradition and new modes of thinking; seeking to confront expediency with justice, revenge with the rule of law; dramatising if not always resolving the collision of rational with irrational forces. Conflict or opposition was the central torque around which both the language and literature of the Greeks was constructed: The lynch pin of their legacy to world thought. Competing voices were a constant on the Attic stage.

Dealing with myths meant having a varied cast of gods, heroes and men. Zeus, a tyrant in Prometheus Bound uses, like all tyrants, Force and Violence as his henchmen. Apollo, the god of prophecy, becomes a bounder and liar in Hippolytus. Heroes don’t fare any better. Odysseus was regularly cast as a unscrupulous scoundrel, a shifty politician; Hercules, a comic drunk, and so on. The justice and injustice of the gods was both affirmed and denied.

The state and its politics were directly addressed, as in The Persians of Aeschylus, where the action takes place before the tomb of Darius, arch enemy of the Greeks. In Euripides’ Helen (produced in the later half of the 27-year-long Peloponnesian war), the entire Trojan war is shown to have been fought for nothing, since Helen was never taken to Troy, an airy phantom going in her place. Imperial pride and valour were thus emptied of point and purpose; the honour of the thousands killed as shadowy as the simulacra on whose behalf they died. Not surprisingly, Euripides lived out his last years in self-imposed exile, though he was much venerated (some Athenian sailors captured in Sicily were released when they recited verses from his works).

The tragic spectacle, on Aristotle’s account, was premised on a flaw (hamartia) which reversed the fortunes of a great man. The tragic flaw as it came to be known, insisted on a character trait leading to the downfall of the protagonist. But hamartia can also mean a missing of the mark, a mistake in judgement, leading with tragic logic, to suffering or death. Often there was no mistake, just bad luck, the unfolding of events outside human control. Phaedra’s illicit desire for Hippolytus was also a conflict between impersonal, cosmic forces. While each strove for mastery, humans suffered, (she hangs herself while he is killed by his father’s curse). But ultimately only individuals act, and there are many inhuman acts in these tragedies, done by those in power, tyrants or their clones. Death and misery loom large: Women are sacrificed, children killed, madness and suicide abound, the wicked often prosper while innocents suffer. Suffering is the human condition and the gods alone, if there are any, or an obscure impersonal necessity, drives the destinies of men.

Greek thought privileges purpose. Every artefact has a function or use that explains its nature. The function of the tragic is what it does to the audience. Plato thought tragic poetry exacerbated the emotions it aroused (and so was bad for civic order), Aristotle that it released them (and so was good). Our reactions to violence or sex in the cinema are broadly similar.

But Aristotle also specified the nature of the emotions tragedy relieved us of: Fear and pity. Pity for the fate of the tragic hero, whose very vulnerability is responsible for her undeserved suffering, and fear that such suffering could be one’s own. This reversal or metabasis from good to bad fortune is the essence of the tragic condition, which often finds expression in the plays: “Some god destroys you now, exacting in your suffering the cost for having once been happy.” (Euripides, Hecuba)

This is what universalises the particularities of the tragic plot, it is not something that happens to someone, somewhere, distant in time, but what happens now ( so arousing pity). If it can happen here, to anyone, it can happen to you, to me, at anytime, for no reason, other than an inimical god or malign fate, and that is why it arouses fear.

Tehran calmly plots to oust America from the region

 Thanks to a calibrated and often contradictory Iranian response to the US killing of its top general and perhaps a bit of luck, the world has dodged a bullet. Iran’s announcement that it has ‘concluded’ its attack and President Donald Trump’s call to ‘embrace peace’ suggests war has been averted, for now. But between a deeply hurt Iran’s calm planning to oust the US from the region and a Twitter-trigger happy Trump the danger of war is never far away. Trump’s reckless policy may even have hastened the decline of American power in the region.

In the aftermath of the drone killing of general Gen Qassim Suleimani who directed Iran’s foreign militia operations, Tehran has shown restraint and sophistication. Telegraphing the coming assault Iran had announced proportionate response and for the first time launched a missile attack against the US from its own soil. Some 20 ballistic missiles that were hurled at the American bases in Iraq landed squarely over hangars containing equipment, sparing bunkers where thousands of soldiers were huddled. One can’t be sure if they were meant to be harmless or American lives were saved by sheer luck. But experts note that the newly earned accuracy in Iranian targeting was shown recently when in September, 17 of the 20 missiles fired at Saudi oil terminals hit bull’s eye.

While Iran was seemingly keen to avoid provoking mercurial Trump, tactical restraint may also have been dictated by Iran’s desire to avert an all out war at a moment of great weakness. Iran’s economy is reeling from severe American sanctions. Tens of thousands have held violent demonstrations against the theocratic government in many parts of Iran. Anger at interference by Iran has also boiled over in Lebanon and Iraq. Showing sensitivity to its ally Tehran gave early warning of its missile attack on Iraqi soil, which seems to have been relayed to Washington.

This calibrated first response does not by any means signal the end of the tension that was initiated in 2018 by Trump’s scrapping of the Iran nuclear agreement. Ayatollah Khamenei said incremental military actions against the United States alone were “not sufficient.” The long term goal was laid down clearly. “What matters is that the presence of America, which is a source of corruption in this region, should come to an end.” The killing of the regime’s No 2 has already removed the self-imposed constraint of not attacking US forces from within Iran. The missile attack has also put America’s allies on notice about the punishment they might incur if they collaborated with the US against Tehran. Iran also declared it would no longer be bound by the US-initiated multilateral nuclear agreement and may theoretically be five months away from weaponisation. If it carried out its threat, under the shadow of a nuclear umbrella Iranian proxies in the region could cause havoc and hasten the US exodus.

Already the US withdrawal from Syria has weakened its battle against Islamic State (IS). The mission is now further jeopardised by Iraqi parliament’s demand for American departure from Iraq. Iraqi parliamentarians are incensed by open violation of its sovereignty by the US drone attack at Baghdad’s airport that killed Suleimani. As the US presence and training mission in Iraq is linked with the fight against the remnants of IS, their expulsion would reopen the door for the extremist resurgence.

In an ironic reversal Trump who has long castigated Nato for being a useless organisation has now urged the organisation to step up its involvement in the Middle East. For European partners of the Iran nuclear deal who have long implored Trump not to abandon the agreement it might be a bitter-sweet call by the US president. Meanwhile Trump’s Russian friend President Putin is taking a victory lap in Syria where Russian troops have taken over positions abandoned by withdrawing American forces. Trump has produced exactly the opposite of what he sought to achieve by his ‘extreme pressure’ policy towards Iran.

Sunday Special: Choosing Nature or Nurture Needed for Educating Children

Historically scientists were split between those who believed human behaviour was shaped by either our genes or our environment

But reading is one example of how both factors are interconnected

A better understanding of these interactive feedback loops gives us power to break them

The question of whether it is genes or environment that largely shapes human behaviour has been debated for centuries. During the second half of the 20th century, there were two camps of scientists – each believing that nature or nurture, respectively, was exclusively at play.

This view is becoming increasingly rare, as research is demonstrating that genes and environment are actually interconnected and can amplify one another.

Take literacy. Making language visible is one of the most extraordinary achievements of human beings. Reading and writing is fundamental to our ability to thrive in the modern world, yet some individuals find it difficult to learn. This difficulty can arise for many reasons, including dyslexia, a neuro-developmental disorder. But it turns out neither genes nor environment are fully responsible for differences in reading ability.

Genetics and the neuroscience of reading

Reading is a cultural invention and not a skill or function that was ever subject to natural selection. Written alphabets originated around the Mediterranean about 3,000 years ago, but literacy only became widespread from the 20th century. Our use of the alphabet, however, is grounded in nature. Literacy hijacks evolved brain circuitry to link visible language to audible language – by letter-sound mapping.

Brain scans show that this “reading network” is apparent in pretty much the same place in the brain in everybody. It forms when we learn to read and strengthens connections between our brain’s language and speech regions, as well as a region that has become known as the “visual word form area”.

The design for building the underlying circuitry is somehow encoded in our genomes. That is, the human genome encodes a set of developmental rules that, when played out, will give rise to the network.

However, there is always variation in the genome and this leads to variation in the way these circuits develop and function. This means there are individual differences in ability. Indeed, variation in reading ability is substantially heritable across the general population, and developmental dyslexia is also largely genetic in origin.

This is not to say that there are “genes for reading”. Instead, there are genetic variations that affect how the brain develops in ways that influence how it functions. For unknown reasons, some such variants negatively affect the circuits required for speaking and reading.

Environment matters too

But genes are not the whole story. Let’s not forget that experience and active instruction are needed for the changes in brain connectivity that enable reading to occur in the first place – though we don’t yet know to what extent.

Research has shown that most often problems with literacy are likely underpinned by a difficulty in phonology – the ability to segment and manipulate the sounds of speech. It turns out that people with dyslexia also tend to struggle with learning how to speak when infants. Experiments have shown that they are slower than other people to name objects. This also applies to written symbols and relating them to speech sounds.

And here nurture comes in again. Difficulties in learning to read and write are particularly visible in languages with complex grammar and spelling rules, such as English. But they are far less obvious in languages with more straightforward spelling systems, such as Italian. Tests of phonology and object naming, however, can detect dyslexia in Italian speakers too.

So the difference that is found in dyslexic brains is likely the same everywhere, but will nevertheless play out very differently in different writing systems.

Amplification and cycles

Nature and nurture are traditionally set in opposition to each other. But in truth, the effects of environment and experience often tend to amplify our innate predispositions. The reason is that those innate predispositions affect how we subjectively experience and respond to various events, and also how we choose our experiences and environments. For example, if you are naturally good at something you are more likely to want to practice it.

This dynamic is especially evident for reading. Children with greater reading ability are more likely to want to read. This will of course further increase their reading skills, making the experience more rewarding. For children with lower natural reading ability, the opposite tends to happen – they will choose to read less, and will fall farther behind their peers over time.

These cycles also offer a window of intervention. As we have seen in the case of Italian readers, nurture can mitigate the effects of an adverse genetic predisposition. Similarly, a good teacher who knows how to make practice rewarding can help poor readers by allowing short cuts and mnemonics for spelling. In this way, dyslexic readers can become good readers – and enjoy it. Reward and practice enhance each other, leading to more motivation and more practice in a positive feedback loop.

So instead of thinking of nature and nurture as adversaries in a zero sum game, we should think of them as feedback loops where a positive influence of one factor increases the positive influence of the other – producing not a sum but an enhancement. Of course, the same applies to negative feedback, and so we have both virtuous and vicious circles.

Because inheritance (genetic as well as cultural) matters, this effect is also visible on a larger scale spanning several generations. In the past, parents who sent their children to school created an advantageous environment for them and their grandchildren. But in turn, the parents benefited from the existence of a culture that invested in schools. Of course, such investments are not always spread evenly and may flow more towards those already in an advantageous position. Such a circle is sometimes referred to as the “Matthew effect” – good things come to those who already have them.

The interactive loops between nature and nurture extend beyond the lives of individuals, playing out across communities and over generations. Recognising these dynamics gives us some power to break these feedback loops, both in our own lives and more widely in society and culture.

The New Rudaalis-The Hypocritical Indian Intellectuals

In certain areas of Rajasthan women of a lower caste are hired as professional mourners upon the death of upper-caste males. These women are referred to as a “rudaali” (roo-dah-lee), literally translated as “female weeper” or “weeping woman”. Their job is to publicly express the grief of family members who are not permitted to display emotion due to social status. Are the so-called intellectuals of India, beating their chests at the presumed reactionary actions of Modi government, just shedding crocodile tears- all for a show? Are they the rudalis of Indian politics?

Let me recall what Antonio Gramsci terms intellectuals: “All men are intellectuals, but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals.”

When Antonio Gramsci was describing ‘intellectuals’ in his famous ‘Prison Notebooks’, he appears to be representing the views of Yaska, the 7th century BCE Indian grammarian-linguist. I am not sure if there is a direct link between the two, but Yaska made a similar statement in his Nirukta while defending his view on how objects are named.

Yaska is known for his pioneering work on the science of etymology, the Nirukta. Yaska was the first scholar to treat etymology as an independent science. He was also a great Sanskrit grammarian and he believed that all nouns are derived from verbs (dhatuj/akhyataj). This assertion, however, considering the great tradition of disputation and argumentation in the Indic Knowledge Tradition (IKT) wasn’t without controversy. Many grammarians, including Gargya, argued that if all nouns were derived from verbs, every person who performs a particular action should have the same name. To counter this argument Yaska writes that everybody who cuts woods is not called a carpenter. Similarly, a carpenter performs many other actions besides cutting wood. Therefore, objects are named for one specific important action. 

When Antonio Gramsci describes ‘intellectual’, he considers all men to have the potential of being an intellectual because all have the potential of using the innately available faculty of intellect. However, all are not intellectuals. Julian Brenda describes intellectuals as a tiny band of super gifted and morally endowed philosopher-kings who constitute the conscience of mankind.

Chomsky in his famous 1967 essay ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals’ ascribes three primary responsibilities of intellectuals. Firstly, intellectuals are supposed to speak the truth and expose lies. Secondly, Chomsky argued that “if it is the responsibility of the intellectual to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.” Finally, he suggests that the intellectual should lift the veil of ideology, which is the underlying framework of ideas that limits the boundaries of debate.

The notion of an intellectual, however, is quite different in the IKT. In the Indian tradition, the intellectual is a knowledge creator. From Panini to Patanjali, from Bhartrihari to Bhaskaracharya, from Chanakya to Aryabhatta, from Shankaracharya to Ramanujacharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Ramana Maharishi, Guru Gorakhnath, Guru Nanak, Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, and David Frawley – India has a long unbroken tradition of scholars and thinkers stretching over 5,000 years. 

Linguist and Indologist Kapil Kapoor in his now famous presentation ‘Obsessions of Indian Intellectuals’ lists four ‘lakshanas’, or characteristics, of an IKT intellectual. An IKT intellectual is a ‘rishi’. The ‘rishis’, as the composer of the Vedas, are those who possess outworldly experience-perception. They were the poets, authors of the sacred hymns. They also taught the highest wisdom (Rama, Buddha) and were called Raj Rishis

They were also Sanyasins, the renuciators and the ascetics. Derived from the word sanyasa, the name for one of the four ashramas (stages of life) — namely BrahmacharyaGrihasthaVanaprastha, and Sanyasa — Sanyasins are those who renunciate worldly possessions, material desires and prejudices.

The IKT intellectuals are considered ‘shishta’ – the cultured and learned one. One of the prerequisites of being ‘shishta’ is to have mastery of over vyakarana (grammar). A ‘shishta’ is well disciplined and exhibits the right demeanor and attitude. 

Finally, an IKT intellectual is Parivrajaka – one who doesn’t stay at one place for one or two days at a time. They are the traveling mendicants and have strict norms for staying at a place for a specific duration. According to the Parivrajaka Upanishad the Parivrajaka “is a man of the Vedas, whose mind is one with Brahman, he is always satisfied with what he gets…”

When it comes to modern Indian intellectuals, the story however appears quite different. A modern Indian intellectual is usually someone who is trained in the Western (English speaking) system of education. They seem to not only lack the understanding of the IKT, they seldom make any genuine attempt to understand it. As a result, most Wesnter trained Indian intellectuals end up being ignorant and contemptuous towards Indian tradition.

Another salient feature of Indian intellectuals is that they suffer from an abject ‘heen bhavna’ (Kapoor), the inferiority complex. Owing to India’s colonial past, both Islamic and European, as well as its education system post independence, Indian Intellectuals usually have a very low opinion of India, Indians, and themselves. 

Indian intellectuals keep finding reasons to whine about India. Kapoor calls them ‘Rudalis’, the professional mourners. For example, they feel bad about India’s ‘poverty’. They don’t think India is ‘modern’ enough. They don’t find Indian literature at par with Western or foreign literature. They also find India’s science backward. From weather to food habits, from social structure to polity and economy, Indian intellectuals pretty much don’t find anything positive about India. If this wasn’t enough, they are always looking for both approval and answers from the West. 

Most Indian intellectuals have an undying faith in their own (leftist) ideology and extreme intolerance towards any other. However, the most important tenet of all is their fervent rejection of anything and everything Hindu. The past 70 odd years of Leftist-Maxist hegemony over Indian education system has given rise to a powerful, insular intellectual elite, a self-perpetuating intellectual caste of sort with its own preferences and prejudices. 

Indian intellectuals are rarely invested in India. Their loyalties seem to lie with whoever provides their funding. This has never been more evident than in the last 5 years or so. Most Indian intellectuals would rather see, seek, highlight, and cheer any negative aspect of Indian culture, society, economy, polity, etc., to superimpose it on the entire population. They would also do anything just to show India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a bad light. I remember many intellectuals almost wishing for a bad Monsoon which might derail India’s economy. 

If India’s intellectuals are not able decolonize their minds and start formulating their own independent opinion, an opinion that is not forcefit on India just to adhere to a template, they are only doing injustice and harm to the Indian society. 

New Alliances Shakes Up the Mediterranean

The world is focused, rightly, on the Middle East right now. But another shift, just to the east, could be equally significant. A new pipeline has set in motion a shift in alliances that has major implications for Europe and the world.

On January 2, Israel, Cyprus and Greece signed a deal to build a new natural gas pipeline, connecting gas reserves in Israeli and Cypriot waters to Greece. A later project is planned to connect Italy. It’s a big deal. The $7 billion pipeline would supply 10 percent of Europe’s natural gas needs.

But while the three countries have been negotiating, Turkey has been plotting the pipeline’s demise. It has formed an alliance with one of the factions in Libya’s civil war to try and extend its territory and thwart the deal.

Turkey and the United Nations-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (gna) signed an agreement on November 27 that sets the maritime boundaries between the two nations. The territory claimed by Libya cuts straight across the proposed pipeline route.

“In striking the deal with Libya, analysts say Ankara has essentially put both Greece and Cyprus on immediate watch, showing it is prepared to act tough to get its way and/or force new negotiations over their long-standing disputes,” wrote Reuters.

To cement the alliance, Turkey sent soldiers to Libya. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed their arrival on Sunday. Turkey also announced its plans to buy six new submarines, beefing up its ability to hold the territory it claims. All this marks a big shift for the region. Here’s what it changes:

Cyprus

Cyprus is right in the middle of all this, and it’s a country that needs to be on your radar. Germany has used its economy to dominate Cyprus because it is crucial to projecting power into the Middle East and North Africa.

It is possible that Germany would gain more military dominance on Cyprus. Britain has two large bases on Cyprus, taking up about 3 percent of the country. Yet the nation really controlling this area has been the United States; those bases have been an invaluable asset in America’s Mideast military campaigns. Now, however, Britain is leaving the European Union. … Justified as it might be, Brexit puts the future of those bases on Cyprus in doubt. I forecast that Britain is going to lose control of those bases. … Brexit gives Germany a chance to take over those British bases.

Now, Cyprus is menaced by an expansionist Turkey. Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in 1974, and the Turkish Army still has a major presence there. Now it is planning to set up a naval base on the island, the Turkish pro-government Milliytet newspaper reported on December 25. Turkey has also been sending its drilling ships into Cypriot waters, drawing condemnation from the European Union.

With Turkey stepping up the pressure, Cyprus needs allies more than ever. America won’t help much; it is looking to get out of the Middle East. It’s easy to see that Turkey’s expansion will push Cyprus closer to Europe—and Germany.

Turkey and Russia

Turkey’s shift from an alliance with the U.S. to an alliance with Russia has been one of the big stories of recent years. Yet as we’ve pointed out from the start of the shift, Turkey and Russia don’t have a huge amount in common, and the relationship cannot last.

Turkey stepping into the Libyan civil war could really strain relations with Russia. Russia is backing the Libyan National Army, sending mercenaries and weapons. Turkish soldiers and Russian mercenaries are now fighting on opposite sides of the war. They could even end up shooting at each other.

It’s possible that the two have already come to some kind of arrangement. But even so, it shows that as Turkey flexes its muscles in the region, its interests will increasingly put it at odds with Moscow.

The Neo-Ottoman Empire

Turkey is growing into quite the expansionist power. It has the second-largest military in the Middle East. Its navy is second only to Saudi Arabia’s. This year, it is scheduled to become the proud owner of a new aircraft carrier—the ultimate symbol of power projection.

Turkey has invaded northern Syria and sent more than 2,000 soldiers into Iraq. It has a major overseas base in Somalia and a smaller one in Qatar. George Friedman described Turkey’s move into Libya as “a major shift.” In Syria, and elsewhere, it has already been “extending Turkey’s unofficial border into Ottoman-era territories.” This recent move steps up that policy considerably.

Libya is a major source of oil and gas. Turkey, unable to find any in its own territory, has been watching its neighbors strike it big with undersea deposits. Influence over Libya’s resources could help make up for Turkey’s lack. In addition to wanting to secure sources of energy, Turkey wants to make it clear that the Eastern Mediterranean is a region where Turkish interests have to be considered,” wrote Friedman. He concluded that “the maritime delimitation agreement with Libya has made Turkey the driving force in the region for now and, we think, in the long run.

This is probably the biggest takeaway from the whole story. Whether it’s the Syrian war, Israeli natural gas or Libyan resources, Turkey is making a clear and bold statement: If you’re going to do anything, we must be involved. If not, we have the power to make things much more difficult.

The Alliance to Watch For

Turkey’s not a superpower, but it cannot be ignored. We’ve been watching for one country in particular to pay special attention to Turkey.

Russia and Turkey have a long history—of fighting. Just try counting how many wars they’ve been on opposite sides of. Hint: A lot of them are simply called “the Russo-Turkish War,” with the dates in brackets. They were so common, historians didn’t even bother giving them numbers.

Once the Ottoman Turks settled down and stopped trying to take over Vienna, they had a much more stable relationship with European powers—especially with Germany. As Germany unified and rose in power in the late 19th century, Turkey was its gateway to the Middle East. Turkey went through coups and revolutions, but Germany worked hard to remain its partner.

This culminated with Turkey fighting alongside Germany in World War I. Germany used this alliance to spread its influence across the Middle East. Turkey was the key pivot in Germany’s effort to stir Arabs into revolt against the British Empire.

“Germany sought to harness the forces of militant Islam to its cause with the help of its ally Turkey,” wrote historian Peter Hopkirk in his book On Secret Service East of Constantinople. “By unleashing a holy war against them, Wilhelm and his hawkish advisers aimed to drive the British out of India, and the Russians from the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was a bold and adventurous strategy, for there were no precedents for a jihad in modern warfare.”

Turkey and Germany already have a close relationship. Germany is Turkey’s top trading partner and the destination for 10 percent of its exports. Germany has been relying on Turkey to stop its migrant crisis. The EU pays Turkey to stop Syrian migrants from traveling to the rest of Europe.

Military relations between Turkey and Germany have been so close that, in 2017, Germany’s Handelsblatt wrote an article titled “Turkish Military Power, Made by Germany?”

These days, relations between the two have been strained. Erdoğan seems to believe Germany supported the coup against him in 2016, and in 2017, Turkey arrested a German citizen working for a German news outlet. Any German cooperation with Turkey is unpopular with the German public because of Turkey’s attacks on Kurds in Syria. These types of tensions would normally doom a relationship. But German leaders have indicated they’re putting more controversial aspects of the relationship—like upgrades to Turkey’s Leopard 2 tanks—on hold until a more opportune time, rather than canceling them outright. When you see Turkey’s actions in Libya over the last month, it’s clear why. If Germany has any ambitions in the Middle East and North Africa, it pays not to upset Turkey.

In World War I, Turkey was the bridge for Germany, helping it reach out to other Muslim nations. As Turkey returns to Islam, could it play that role again? Turkey’s and Germany’s interests don’t align perfectly. And though powerful, Turkey is not a superpower—it needs an ally. And a powerful Germany would be a much better fit than either Russia or the U.S. Turkey is both geographically and religiously a nation that Germany can use to expand its power.

Humane leadership must be the Fourth Industrial Revolution's real innovation

Do we need a new type of leadership for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)? We have heard it many times: the 4IR is not only here to stay, but is moving faster than we thought. The real question is whether leadership is also adapting to this new business environment.

Let’s start with some bad news:

• The latest CEO-to-worker pay ratio recorded in the US was (ready?) 321:1. In spite of the devastating recession of 2008, public debate about inequality is growing. To add insult to injury, remarkably, the increase in size of CEOs’ pay-cheques comes without clear correlation to either company performance or sustainability.

• As demonstrated by Jeffrey Pfeffer’s latest book, Dying for a Paycheck, deaths related to stress, toxic workplaces and bad management practices are on the rise. In China alone, more than 1 million people per year die due to such causes.

• Organizations, institutions and societies are going through a major crisis. Performance continues to decline whether measured through return on assets, or return on invested capital; the average US firm’s return on assets has progressively dropped 75% since 1965, despite rising labour productivity.

• The average life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies has decreased from 75 to 15 years in the last 50 years. Furthermore, data shows that only 13% of the workforce is passionate about their work, despite the plethora of techniques and resources spent on learning and development (L&D). Global figures show that 80% of employees are less than fully engaged at work.

As you can see from this data, we have a problem: something is broken here. The old leadership model does not work and is actually getting worse. A big shift in management and leadership is a long-overdue change.

What do leaders/employees and organizations need to do to survive and thrive in the 4IR?

An organizational culture is a reflection of its leaders’ culture, ethics (or lack of them) and consciousness. The impact can be observed as a “ripple effect” throughout teams and the organization, with multiple and accelerating impacts upon communication, employee commitment, ability to innovate and other aspects of performance.

Still, there is an illogical dynamic at work. Even as the link between superior people management and better performance becomes clearer, there is scant progress. In the UK, for example, a report by the Chartered Management Institute in 2012 found that some 80% of managers in high-performing organizations report that their own line manager is effective or highly effective, compared with 39% in the poor-performing workplaces. Yet the overall proportion rating their managers as ineffective was over 40%! Would we tolerate such a failure rate in any other profession?

Recently, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that the quality of management has not improved in the past decade. This is depressing on many levels: procedures to maximize productivity, innovation and employee autonomy were “still not the norm”.

What is needed, therefore, is a complete management shift in order to enable organizations to survive and thrive in the 4IR.

The most substantial improvements start but do not finish with individual leaders: their beliefs, conduct, ways of handling people and understanding of strategy. A key part of the new mindset is to perceive the organization as a dynamic entity, not an inert set of assets.

You also need good intelligence. Leaders need to understand their own weaknesses and strengths and be in possession of information on how all the business units are operating. In this respect, coaching could be a very effective way to increase self-awareness and reduce blind spots of managers. The management shift needed to adapt to the 4IR is divided into two categories: individual and organizational.

For the individual shift, senior leaders and management need to fully understand their teams and learn about how to impact them. Research supports the concept of levels of engagement and performance, from Level 1, which is apathetic, through to Level 5, passionate and unbounded. This emergent leadership model draws on social neuroscience and complexity theory, as well as empirical research on employee engagement and organisational behaviour.

Each level is characterised by distinct mindsets and behaviour. With coaching and facilitated discussion, people can improve. A significant change occurs moving from Level 3 to Level 4; this is the key moment of the management shift: the point at which high-performance begins. Level 4 is the level where Leadership 4.0 emerges. This is leadership need for surviving and thriving in the 4IR.  

Typical phases:

• Level 1 – Lifeless/Apathetic: “I am demoralized/There is nothing I can do to change this situation.”

• Level 2 – Reluctant/Stagnating: “I am frustrated/There is no point trying too hard.”

• Level 3 – Controlled/Orderly: “I need to be in control/I’m reluctant to share information.”

• Level 4 – Enthusiastic/Collaborative: “We can achieve great things as a team/I respect myself and others.”

• Level 5 – Unlimited/Unbounded: “I inspire others to achieve their unlimited potential/I am living a fulfilled life.”

How can leaders and organizations shift to a higher level of performance and success, while facing challenges of the 4IR?

The concept of such developmental levels is also applicable for organizations. Here, because one is dealing with a multi-dimensional entity, the 6 Box Leadership Model explains how to encompass all major elements. Three of the six dimensions relate to people – Culture, Relationships, Individuals; and three to business processes – Strategy, Systems, and Resources

When people and their teams become more empowered, this, in turn, ripples out through the organization, transforming under-performing teams and units into highly engaged and efficient operations.

For example, at a City of London insurance company, the 6 Box Leadership analysis revealed a strong culture and work ethic, but also a tendency towards short-termism and risk of employee burn-out. Implementing the program helped improve training, boosting engagement and performance.

A US management consultancy transformed its performance using the management shift, doubling its headcount and increasing revenue five-fold some in 18 months.

At a FTSE100 company, use of the 6 Box Leadership Model revealed ways to improve engagement and innovation. Two years later, there was a 33% increase in revenue and an increase in net profit of 213%.

One National Health Service Trust in the UK used the approach to reduce “command and control”-style leadership with a more participative style. This led to a considerably more people-focused culture, with the clinical director reporting a better organizational climate and treatment for patients as a result.

Organizations can transform themselves from under-performing to high-performing, but only if they shed the dated notion that employee engagement is a side issue or the “soft stuff”. Research now shows that a comprehensive approach to the development of leaders, their teams and the wider organization can have a dramatically positive effect.

In conclusion, the 4IR has a disruptive effect on leadership: the old model, the carrot and stick, toxic leadership and organizations based on fear and control do not work. A new model is needed, a model where leadership has not only a functioning radar to understand what is happening across the company, but also a moral compass to steer the ship in the right direction, guided by ethical choices and responsibilities. Not merely a change, but a true shift towards humane leadership, where trust and respect permeate organizations.

Fascism-Meaningless Label

“Fascism (as a word) has been destroyed through overuse,” writes British journalist Brendan O’Neill in an editorial for Spike, February 20, 2017, “its original sense and power diluted by a million op-eds branding unpleasant politicians ‘fascists’and by radical marchers hollering ‘fascist scum’ at anyone who irritates them.”

O’Neill isn’t only irked by excitable left or liberal ‘social justice warriors’ flaunting this word. He writes that those on the right too are now likely to scream “fascist” at leftists. “Liberal fascist” is one such slur often used by those on the right to describe activists from the left. Ironically, according to British author Stuart Jeffries, the expression ‘liberal fascism’ was first used by the famous writer H.G. Wells, who was a self-professed socialist.

Even more curious is the fact that Wells, when he first used it in 1932, did not utter it as a slur. According to P. Coupland (in the October 2000 issue of Journal of Contemporary History) Wells, after becoming disillusioned by socialism and parliamentary democracy, contemplated the need to create a “liberal Fascisti for enlightened Nazis.”

Is ‘fascism’, a hugely destructive phenomenon of the 20th century, relevant today as anything more than a buzzword?

Bear in mind that, in 1932, fascism as an ideology was mushrooming in Italy and Germany and wasn’t seen as the monstrous idea that it would eventually become during and after World War II. In fact, it was supported by large numbers of people in Europe and the US, especially during the intense economic crises of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

So Wells was considering the creation of an ‘enlightened fascism’ which he described as “liberal fascism”. But as the horrors of fascist regimes in Germany and Italy became common knowledge during and soon after the War, the expression “liberal fascism” quietly mutated to mean something entirely different.

For decades, it remained on the fringes of post-World War political discourse, mostly uttered by lesser-known right-wing American politicians to denounce civil rights groups, advocates of the welfare state, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

It was rescued from the fringe and placed in the mainstream by Jonah Goldberg’s 2009 book Liberal Fascism. The book was largely controversial for being overtly binary in its understanding of ideologies, but it sold well.

Even though its thesis, that fascism was historically a product of failed leftists, was panned by critics as being rather dodgy, this isn’t what was picked up by Goldberg’s admirers. Instead, it was the fact that the term liberal fascist had gone mainstream is what excited right-wing commentators the most. They began to use it to mean extreme liberalism as opposed to the meaning Goldberg was ambitiously trying to furnish. This was also when one saw a number of Pakistani TV anchors and even the current PM of Pakistan use it, mainly to lambast those who were asking for military action against religious insurgents.

In Political Ideologies, the political theorist Paul Wetherly writes that, with the defeat and collapse of ‘classical fascism’ in the 1940s, ideologues and politicians still sympathetic to the idea watered down the more demagogic and violent aspects inherent in the fascism of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s regimes.

They replaced these with extreme positions on immigration and what Wetherly calls “cultural differentiation”. To disassociate themselves from the more malevolent and abhorrent doctrines of classical fascism, post-WWII fascist groups not only eliminated the word fascist from their names, but also agreed that no race or culture was superior to the other.

For example, after the war, groups such as the British Union of Fascists became simply the British Union. Wetherly writes that, even though they were not preaching the superiority of one race over the other anymore, they pointed out (through the ‘cultural differentiation’ argument) that cultural diversity is best served if cultures remain delimited and were not swamped by multiculturalism.

According to Wetherly, such groups can still be called fascist. But he echoes the concerns of various political scientists who lament that the word fascist when used as casually as it is these days is actually trivialising the destructive phenomenon that it became. They believe that ‘historical fascism’ or the one that rose in Europe in the early 20th century was too atrocious an idea to be turned into a hasty buzzword to insult a political or ideological opponent.

Recently, various populist politicians have been labelled as fascists by their detractors. These include US President Donald Trump, Indian PM Narendra Modi, British PM Boris Johnson, Philippine PM Rodrigo Duterte, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and even Pakistani PM Imran Khan.

But are these leaders really fascist? In 1998, Colombia University’s Professor Robert Paxton — one of the most respected authorities on the study of fascism — defined fascism as “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary and expansionist nationalist agenda.”

In The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton explains that, for fascism to take root, certain complex and even drastic economic and political conditions are required. Recent commentators in this respect point out that the electoral rise of the mentioned populists across the world is a drastic development, but their regimes are simply populist with certain mild fascistic features.

However, as the historian Andrew Gawthrope recently wrote in The Guardian, the current lot of populists in Asia, Europe, South America and the US may not be fascists in the classical sense, but these leaders are surely bordering on the many hazardous tendencies of classical fascism and this should be treated as a concern.

Today’s mainstream populists may never be able to become the next Hitler or Mussolini. Yet it cannot be ruled out that, had 20th-century conditions been present today, these same leaders would not have hesitated to become authentic fascists.

Invading Vietnam’s waters Leading to its alliance with the US

Relentless Chinese pressure may be forcing Vietnam to consider the hitherto unthinkable – an alliance with the US. While growing public anger about Hanoi’s restrained response to Chinese maritime aggression is pushing the government to take China to the international court, for the first time an influential voice has publicly called for alliance with the United States.

The latest turn has come as since July, Chinese oil survey ships accompanied by armed vessels have defiantly sailed up and down Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. They have flouted Vietnamese sovereignty and harassed oil drilling in Vietnamese waters. China considers its foray “legitimate and reasonable”, arguing that joint Vietnamese-foreign oil operations in Vanguard Bank reef violated China’s interests (one such joint operation involves Vietnamese state oil company and Russian Rosneft with 5% shares held by India’s ONGC). China has demanded Vietnam “immediately stop its unilateral infringement activities and restore tranquillity to the waters concerned”.

In May 2014, when China first sent its drilling platform into Vietnamese waters, spontaneous public protests broke out leading to violence against Chinese and Taiwanese businesses. It was not the image of stability Vietnam wanted to present to foreign investors. Although the government has so far been successful in containing smouldering public resentment, on a visit to Vietnam I was struck by the widespread expressions of anger against China. In a privately organised meeting in Hanoi just ahead of an important Party conclave, a number of senior former officials and academics denounced Chinese aggression and rebuked the government’s weak-kneed response.

Popular anger after three months of tensions seems to have led Vietnam’s president and party secretary general to publicly pledge “tenacious defence” of its sovereignty and preparedness to tackle “challenges and opportunities”. Sources said that while militarily confronting the vastly superior Chinese navy was not an option, the government may decide to seek international support by taking China to the international court in The Hague for violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Vietnamese officials view the Chinese action of virtually stationing its survey ship and a fleet of coast guard and naval vessels within its EEZ and continental shelf as an attempt to test Vietnamese and international response. In 2016, when Beijing ignored the ruling of the international court that its expansive claims in the South China Sea were illegal, the international response was muted. If China is allowed to continue flouting Vietnamese sovereignty it would completely lose its claim to the waters it so long strenuously defended. Vietnam fears the ultimate goal of the Chinese operation is to coerce claimant countries like Vietnam to become junior partners, by accepting joint explorations with China in all of the South China Sea.

In a recently published article Vu Ngoc Hoang, a former senior official of the Party who is said to remain influential with top leadership, strongly urged the government to sue China. “We need to use the law to take a stance against China. If we do not persist, we risk losing our East Sea. And losing the East Sea means losing our country.”

Marking a stunning departure from the traditional approach, Hoang writes that in order to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty it should consider a military alliance. “Of all Vietnam’s strategic partners, one has already exposed itself as the very aggressor that plots to take over our East Sea,” he notes referring to China. China is always termed Vietnam’s “comprehensive strategic partner” whereas the US is called just a “comprehensive partner”. Now, alluding to the US, Hoang writes, “another country, though not yet a strategic partner, has already spoken out early and strongly in support of our sovereignty. In my opinion, given that reality, the latter country deserves to be our strategic partner – even if it had done us wrong before.”

Hanoi may be far from contemplating such a move but the fact that such views are being aired might give Beijing pause.