Moldova -the Next Ukraine

Russia’s recent deployment of troops in Crimea has Eastern European nations on edge. Concern is growing among leaders that the crisis in Ukraine could spread. The Moldovan government is currently involved in signing a possible trade deal with the European Union. Reuters says the pact “is similar to that which Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich dumped, sparking the crisis which brought him down.”
Just like with Ukraine, Russia is using similar tactics to make sure the former Soviet Union state stays within its camp. “Moscow is now in the process of infiltrating the last pro-European republics in its sphere of influence,” writes Der Spiegel’s Christian Neef in an article titled “Russia Tries to Woo Back Moldova.”
According to Neef, Russia is now boycotting wine imports from Moldova, one of the country’s largest exports. Additionally, Russia is threatening to prevent the nearly 1 million Moldovans who work within Russia from sending money home to support their families.
Russia has also threatened to cut off its natural gas supply to Moldova—a move that would devastate the tiny agricultural nation. International Business Times editor Palash Ghosh says that what “Moldova lacks and desperately needs to keep its economy afloat—energy—now comes from Russia. In the event Moscow cuts off gas supplies, Moldova’s fragile economy could collapse.”
This has been the Russian strategy for years: bullying weaker and smaller nations into submission by threatening to cut off energy and destroy trade.
Russia has its supporters in Moldova though, just like in Ukraine. In Gagauzia, a region in southern Moldova, over 98 percent of voters said they would choose closer relations with the Russian Customs Union than the EU.
Last week, Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca also expressed his deep fear of possible Russian involvement in an autonomous region of Moldova known as Transnistria. This region is being termed Moldova’s Crimea. “Moldova has long faced its own secessionist threat in its autonomous Transnistria region, which broke away in 1992 after a brief war and also boasts a Russian military contingent—meaning the region is under de facto control of Moscow,” Ghosh continued. “With a breakaway territory within its borders, where 2,500 Russian soldiers guard arms stocks from the Soviet era,” Reuters reported, “Moldova is looking on nervously at the crisis in Crimea, roughly 360 kilometers (225 miles) to the east along the Black Sea coast.”
If Moldova doesn’t comply with Russia’s commands, could Vladimir Putin use Transnistria to get a foothold over the nation, just like he used Crimea in Ukraine? Prime Minister Leanca warns, “If we do not find a decision to the problem of Transnistria, then this sickness (of separatism) will become dangerous and contagious .…”
Some Europeans recognize that Putin’s power maneuver on Ukraine is no isolated incident. Back in 2005, the Russian president called the demise of the Soviet empire ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.’ Given the dozens of millions of Soviet citizens who were imprisoned, persecuted and murdered under that authoritarian system, most of us would say the opposite! Those hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian protesters certainly think the opposite. But not Mr. Putin. He not only mourns the USSR’s collapse—he is bent on rebuilding it and restoring the glory of imperial Russia!
Putin made these goals clear in 2008 by invading Georgia. He is doing everything he can to prevent Georgia, Ukraine and all other former Soviet countries from developing closer ties with Europe.

The Soviet Union collapsed just a little over two decades ago. Now it is making its resurgence—fast. Ukraine is coming under the Soviet fold, and now possibly Moldova. The governments of these former Soviet Nations are scared and looking west for support. But America’s weakness has allowed Russia’s rise.

Obama – A Reincarnation of Pollyanna, John Wayne and Henry Kissinger

How far is it justified to accuse Obama of being all three – Pollyanna, Wayne and Kissinger – in taking foreign policy decisions in March of this year. Barack Obama is surely the first president to be accused of acting in foreign policy like Pollyanna, John Wayne and Henry Kissinger in the same month. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s land grab in Crimea, conservatives have denounced President Obama as a man who doesn’t appreciate what a merciless, Hobbesian world this really is. He’s a Pollyanna — always looking for people’s good side.

Meanwhile, liberals have been hammering Obama for what they say is his trigger-happy drone habit, having ordered the targeted killing by air of hundreds of individuals; he’s John Wayne, seeking vigilante justice against those who have harmed, or might be planning to harm, the US. And, just to round things out, Obama has been accused by critics on the left and right of being a Kissingerian hyperrealist who is content to watch the Syrian regime crush its people, because, as tragic as that is, American interests there are minimal.

It can’t be easy being Pollyanna, John Wayne and Henry Kissinger all at once. So who is Obama — really — on foreign policy? I’d say less Pollyanna than his critics claim, more John Wayne and Henry Kissinger than he’d admit, but still undefined when it comes to the greatest leadership challenges in foreign policy, which go beyond Crimea but lurk just over the horizon.

If Obama has been a reluctant warrior in Crimea, it’s because it’s long been part of Russia and home to a Russian naval base, with many of its people sympathetic to Russia. Obama was right to deploy the limited sanctions we have in response to Putin’s seizure of Crimea and try to coolly use diplomacy to prevent a wider war over Ukraine — because other forces are at play on Putin. Do not underestimate how much of a fool Putin will make of himself in Crimea — in front of the whole world — and how much this will blow back on Russia, whose currency and stock markets are getting hammered as a result of Vladimir’s Crimean adventure.

And if Obama has been a Kissingerian realist in his reluctance to dive into the Syrian civil war, or Ukraine, it’s because he has learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that the existence of bad guys in these countries doesn’t mean that their opponents are all good guys.

Too many leaders in all these countries turned out to be more interested in using their freedom to loot rather than liberate. Where authentic reformers emerge in Syria or Ukraine we should help them, but, unlike Senator John McCain, most Americans are no longer willing to be suckers for anyone who just sings our song (see dictionary for Hamid Karzai), and they are now wary of owning the bailouts and gas bills of countries we don’t understand.

As for John Wayne Obama, “the quickest drone in the West”, every American president needs a little of that in today’s world, where you now have legions of superempowered angry people who wish America ill and who have access to rockets and live in ungoverned spaces.

So I have no problem with Obama as John Wayne or Henry Kissinger. If you want to criticise or praise him on foreign policy, the real tests fall into two categories: One, how good is he at leading from behind on Ukraine? And two, how good is he at leading from in front on Russia, Iran and China? There is probably no saving Crimea from Putin in the short term, but we do not want to see him move beyond Crimea and absorb the parts of eastern Ukraine where the Russophones reside.

We should be ready to offer arms to the Ukraine government to prevent that. But let us never lose sight of the fact that the key to keeping more of Ukraine out of Russia’s paws will depend on the ability of Ukrainians to come together in a way that is inclusive of both the majority that sees its future with the EU and the minority of Russophones who still feel some affinity for Russia.

If the Ukraine drama pits a united Ukraine — seeking a non-corrupt democracy tied to Europe — against a Putin trying to forcibly reintegrate Ukraine into a Russian empire, Putin loses. But if Ukrainians are divided, if hyper-nationalist parties there dominate and pro-Russians are alienated, Putin will discredit the Ukraine liberation movement and use the divisions to justify his own interventions. Then our help will be useless. We can’t help them if they won’t help themselves.

A Summer of Discontent in Indo-US Ties

Captivated as India is by domestic issues in this election season, it has tended to ignore the relationship with the United States, which is at its lowest ebb in 20 years. The fact that New Delhi is absent from any long-term calculations in Washington, DC, and that the US trade representative has more or less been given charge of the India account, speaks volumes. 
It was not always like this. In 1999, India went to polls having won the Kargil War and got the US to affirm that borders in the subcontinent, in Kashmir or otherwise, could not be redrawn by blood. 
In the run up to the 2004 election, India and the US were discussing the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, a protocol of cooperation in the space, nuclear and military spheres that eventually led to the nuclear deal. 
In the months before the 2009 election, the two countries signed the 123 Agreement, ending the US nuclear boycott of India and reaching a key Indian foreign-policy goal. All of these were rich legacies. In contrast, UPA II will leave its successor with a trade war.
What is the trade war about? In a broader sense, it is a reflection of the weakening of the Indian economic story. Whether it is regressive taxes (including the retrospective tax on FDI structured in a certain manner), confused and ever-changing rules on domestic sourcing (from international retail chains to defence manufacturers, many are complaining) or the general policy paralysis that has slowed down decision-making, business sentiment on India has been negative in recent times. The US administration is voicing that.
A more specific issue is that of India’s intellectual property regime (IPR) and how compliant this is with global best practices and World Trade Organisation regulations. Here, the US is probably hitting India harder than it needs to. Certainly, Indian officials feel China has a lot more to answer in terms of IPR violations. It gets away, however, because its GDP is growing at close to eight per cent; India’s growth is down to below five per cent. Simply, that gives India less leverage.
Despite attempts to broad-base it, the India-US IPR dispute is almost exclusively a pharmaceuticals issue. Companies in other industries – Boeing for example – that have had a better experience are in fact speaking up for India’s IPR as part of a new diplomatic campaign in Washington, DC. What is not helping is that senior UPA ministers, donning a nationalist cloak just before elections and seemingly determined to leave a mess for a successor government, are resorting to kindergarten anti-Americanism. This will make the atmospherics that much more difficult for the new government.
What is the pharmaceuticals IPR quarrel about? It boils down to two things. First, in 2012 the Patent Office granted India’s first compulsory licensing order in favour of a local company, allowing it to manufacture Nexavar, an anti-cancer drug patented by Bayer. Compulsory licensing is used in case of national emergencies. It could be contended that the number of patients in potential need of the Bayer drug did not constitute a national emergency. The Indian argument is others have done worse. Egypt waived the patent and used compulsory licensing for, of all things, Viagra!
Second, in 2005 Parliament amended Section 3(d) of the Patents Act and declined to provide patent protection to incremental changes in drug formulations that did not result in “enhancement of the known efficacy of that substance”. Pharmaceutical companies use this process, known as ever-greening, to lengthen the life of patents beyond the customary 20 years. In 2013, following a challenge by Novartis, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Section 3(d). In both cases, US companies fear a contagion effect: that other developing countries may borrow from the Indian example. 
While an Indian compromise on Section 3(d) is impossible, an informal agreement to limit use of compulsory licensing to genuine emergencies is feasible, Indian officials say. It could form part of a grand bargain and a larger trade and economic conversation between India and the US. The UPA government has lost the chance of that conversation. This summer, it needs to be taken up in earnest.

Asia Backs Putin

Having the approval of the international community is about as important to Vladimir Putin as ensuring freedom in the Russian presses. Nevertheless, the Russian president prefers not to have to stand alone facing the West’s criticism over his invasion and occupation of Crimea, Ukraine.
And now, thanks to the support of some of the most populous and powerful countries on the planet, Mr. Putin can stand up to the West with over a third of the world’s population at his back.
A Bow From Beijing
“Backing Russia is in China’s interests,” said the Global Times, a mouthpiece for China’s Communist Party, on March 5. “Russia’s resistance against the West has global significance. Supporting Russia consolidates China’s major strategy. … We shouldn’t disappoint Russia when it finds itself in a time of need.”
The Chinese government’s official Xinhua news agency also placed the blame of the Ukraine crisis squarely on the West, and said Putin’s actions were justified.
So far, Beijing has restrained itself from intensive cheerleading for Putin, and has instead presented its support for him somewhat softly. That’s because, although the Chinese celebrate Putin’s willingness to defy the West, they don’t want to damage economic relations with their largest trade partner—the European Union. The Chinese have managed to walk a somewhat fine line on the issue, but there is no mistaking the fact that the anti-Western ideology China shares with Russia trumps Beijing’s short-term economic interests.
The Chinese leaders harbor expansionist ambitions of their own, which are growing bolder by the month. By siding with Putin, China can expect Russia to back Beijing as it pushes to “do a Ukraine” of its own in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
China could suffer some short-term economic setbacks by refusing to side with the West, but the Chinese esteem it a small price to pay in exchange for diminishing U.S. power and simultaneously making the invasion of a sovereign nation less of a 21st-century taboo.
A Nod From India
The day after China cleared the path with that Global Times piece, its neighbor to the south followed down it. “There are legitimate Russian and other interests involved [in Ukraine]” a senior Indian official said. “We hope … there is a satisfactory resolution to them.” The statement represented a sharp break between India and the West, which took many analysts off guard.
But Moscow and Delhi have been comrades for decades, especially since 1974 when India conducted nuclear tests and the Soviet Union emerged as the only major nation to support its right of “self-defense.”
India is now returning the favor by supporting Russia. India also feels the increasing threat of China’s expanding power since many of Beijing’s recent incursions have been into Indian territory. India also sees, with greater clarity every week, that the U.S. cannot be counted on to counter China’s rise. So, Indian leaders are taking steps to ensure that they have friends in the neighborhood. Their decision to back Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was motivated by that goal.
India also has interests in some of its autonomous neighbor states, and has interfered in some instances (during the Sri Lanka Civil War, for example) to defend societal factions that have close links with India. Like China, India might calculate that it benefits from the establishment of an international precedent that sees a major power intervening in a neighboring nation.
Tokyo is Ambivalent
Japan has sided with the West in condemning Putin’s conquest of Crimea. Yet Tokyo has refused to join Western powers in imposing economic sanctions on Russia, and even decided to proceed with high-level Japan-Russia military talks underway this week.
Why the two-faced behavior? Because, in between Russia and the United States, Tokyo feels caught between a rock and a hard—or actually a soft—place.
Cognizant of how soft and militarily anemic the U.S. has become, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spearheaded a historic turn toward Russia. Thawing the decades-old iciness between Tokyo and Moscow is among the highest priorities of his foreign policy, and he has already made strides toward that end.
Since coming to power in 2012, Abe has held five meetings with Mr. Putin—more than he’s had with any other head of state. Last month, while leaders of the U.S., UK, France and Germany were notably absent, Abe attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. “I have been saying for a long time that Japan and Russia have the bilateral relations with the greatest latent potential anywhere,” the Japanese leader said after the ceremony.
So, here is the explanation for Japan’s two-faced behavior. Japan sided with the West rhetorically because Tokyo is still officially dependent on America for security, and because Japan doesn’t want to let Putin set a precedent that could allow China to invade islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing without Western retribution. But Japan refused take action against Putin—such as economic sanctions or canceling the military talks—because Tokyo sees that the American security blanket Tokyo has been reliant on is now like a moth-eaten coat. Prime Minister Abe apparently wants to knit a Japan-Russia alliance before someone applies a little pressure on that U.S. blanket and fully exposes its tattered condition to the world.
East Vs. West
When the Ukraine crisis first erupted, some top-notch analysts, such as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, were convinced that China would side with the West. A revived Russian empire, such analysts said, would pose too great a danger to Beijing for the Chinese not to rally against it.
But this perspective fails to recognize that to China, the West is a far greater enemy. Decades ago, Chinese Marxist revolutionary Mao Tse Tung promised his people, “All that the West has, China will have.” China’s decision to support a revived Russian empire despite the danger such an empire poses to Beijing is evidence that Mao’s words still resonate clearly in the Chinese mindset.
Russia, India and Japan are driven, to varying degrees, by the same overriding worldview that drives China: Ultimately, despite any near-term risks we may have to endure, despite any economic injuries we may have to sustain, the world order that the West created must be overthrown. The system that says invading a sovereign nation is taboo must be toppled.
We can leave the question mark over Japan for now, but China and India have made their pro-Putin stances quite clear. This means that rallied behind Vladimir Putin and Russia’s 144 million people, potentially stand China’s 1.36 billion and India’s 1.24 billion. Backing Moscow’s second-most powerful military in the world—potentially stand China and India with the third- and fourth-most powerful military forces. Alongside Russia’s 8,400 nuclear weapons, may be China’s 240 and India’s 100.
Of course, the statements from China and India in support of Putin’s invasion don’t equate to solidified military unity between the three powers, but they do provide strong indication of where Beijing and Delhi would throw their weight in the event of escalation.
It all adds up to mean Russia has won its Ukraine gamble.
Before the statements from China and India, U.S. President Obama said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine violates “basic principles that are recognized around the world.” He said the world was “largely united” in believing Putin had violated Ukraine’s territory. He said it shows that “Russia is on the wrong side of history.” But it’s now clear that the world is anything but united on the issue, and that it is Mr. Obama who is on the wrong side of reality.

Indian Women Empowerment Need a Holistic Behavioural Change

One more International Women’s Day has just passed us by. On March 8 women employees were provided with the customary feel good treatment – be it with champagne or roses, free makeovers or self defence training, all on the house. 
Some of the laws have sought to treat women as equals, for instance: The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976, ensures equal remuneration to men and women workers performing the same work or work of a similar nature. It also prohibits discrimination in recruitment, promotion, training or transfer, except where employment of women is restricted. These provisions are also not applicable in some instances, such as when priority is to be given to schedules castes, scheduled tribes, ex-servicemen or retrenched employees. |
At the same time other laws have not been progressive, for instance under the provisions of The Factories Act, 1948, women barring in certain sectors and/or in certain States are restricted from working during the late night shift (between 7pm and 6am). Many women organisations have protested against this discrimination and this issue is a matter of heated debate among the younger workforce. On the other hand, with growing violence against women, employers are largely unwilling to lobby for such a change as providing the extra security that could be required for women who are working in the late night shifts would mean an extra cost.
When it comes to breaking the glass ceiling in the board rooms, newer legislations such as The Companies Act, 2013, have sought to create quotas for women directors – which is a standard norm in EU countries, but has not yet been introduced in the U.S.A. Once the rules are finalised, listed companies will have a year to gear up and ensure that at least one woman is appointed as a director. Large private companies have been given a longer time period to meet this new requirement. 
The PSUs were more inclined to have women directors. Of the BSE-30 companies, seventeen of them had at least one women director on board. Of course, going forward, listed companies will have little or no choice in having a gender diverse board of directors. Soon, even large private companies will have to follow suit. The issue before many is: Where will we find suitable women candidates to join our boards?
While many groups aimed at mentoring women, say that all they need is to take a closer look at the talent which exists; perhaps this is a genuine concern. No one can dispute that only experienced women with the right qualifications should be inducted on the boards, this means – picking from the senior hierarchy of working women. 
Grant Thornton’s International Business Report (IBR) 2014 – Women in business: From classroom to boardroom shows that the proportion of senior roles filled by women across the globe in 2014 was only 24% (In India it is 14%). This is exactly the same proportion as in 2013, 2009 and 2007, and only 5% higher than the 19% recorded ten years ago in 2004. IBR 2014, shows that women representation in the senior management of India Inc stands at 14%, a drop from the IBR 2013 results of 19%. 
Thus, the reason for lack of a talent pool from which women directors can be chosen perhaps stems from the lack of adequate women at senior levels. In turn, the root cause of this stems from the bias when it comes to hiring women or the lack of mentorship available to them. Or lack of a societal norm where household responsibilities are shared.
Grant Thornton’s suggestions for India Inc based on the findings of their survey, were: (i) Improve mentoring: A little more than one in four Indian companies (28%) ran a specific program to promote women’s leadership. However, despite increasing impetus being given to improve female participation in the workforce and address the current lack of women at the top rung, as many as 50% of the Indian business did not run a specific programme to support/mentor women, nor had plans to launch one in the near future; (ii) Relieve childcare burden: Just 20% of Indian businesses reserved job roles of women on maternity leave for more than a year, and 16% provided childcare vouchers, a salary increase (which might make returning to work more financially viable) and on-site childcare facilities. (iii) Hire more female graduates: It is against this parameter that India Inc fared very badly as compared with global figures. In an average year only 14% of the graduate midmarket Indian businesses hires were women. The corresponding global figure of 21% calls for a need for India Inc to unpack the current male bias around hiring and promotion that is the key to increasing diversity.
There are bound to be counter views that there is no need for India Inc to adopt the above measures, be it by way of providing mentorship or even childcare facilities at the workplace. The truth is, diversity is important – especially at senior management levels. As different perspectives come on to the table, it helps foster better business strategies, more innovation and better risk management.
IBR 2014 states: The results show that there exists an imminent need for Indian corporates to make the women workforce an integral component of the succession planning process, and create an environment in which women can contribute and succeed. Despite creating a conducive environment for the women workforce, a large number of Asian corporates are promoting very few women to top positions. The biggest burden for working women in Asia to climb up the corporate hierarchy is managing a job with the additional burden of family commitments. The challenge for women becomes more pronounced in the Indian culture which requires women to take up the sole responsibility for family and household duties.
According to the global think tank – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), over the last  50 years, women decreased their hours of unpaid work as they increased the hours of paid work. Men have been doing more housework and child care, but they didn’t take up the slack so gender inequalities in the use of time are still large in all countries. Apart from Asian countries, where typically women are expected to take care of household duties, the same norm exists in a few other countries as well. According to OECD’s report, ‘Balancing paid work, unpaid work and leisure’, released on March 7, Turkish women spend the most time doing unpaid work, such as housework, child care, caring for other household members et all, at 377 minutes a day, followed by Mexican women at 373. This compares to their menfolk: Mexican men who spend an average of 113 minutes on unpaid work and Korean men who spend only 45 minutes, the least of all. When it comes to India (the India figures available to the  OECD relate to 1999) show a wide gap, men in India spent only 52 minutes a day (less than an hour) helping around the house, whereaswomen had to bear a huge burden  spending 352 minutes a day (or close to six hours a day), caring for children, other household members and in household work. Things could have marginally changed since 1999 to which this data relates, but one wonders to what extent.
What women in India really need to enable them to progress in the work sphere is not just a caring work environment but also a cultural change. Is the society willing to take up this challenge?

Indian Political Leaders or Cartoon Characters

Everyone I meet these days tells me I am on the wrong side, backing the wrong horse. Narendra Modi is a sure shot winner and the next Prime Minister. It takes me a while to convince them I am not on the wrong side. In fact, I am on no one’s side. I enjoy riling them all.
Probably I am less critical of the smaller parties. But that’s because one expects less from them. Having said that, I quite like what Nitish Kumar has done in Bihar. I find Naveen Patnaik quite charming if not terribly competent. He has tried to change Orissa is his own way.
Jayalalitha is not my idea of a great leader. A large leader perhaps and I like her charming convent school accent. But that’s about it. Mamata bewilders me. I like the fact that she has displaced the Communists but, like most people who love Bengal, I am not convinced about the way she runs it. Jailing cartoonists, politicising rape, threatening entire villages, and fielding out of work movie stars for parliament is not my idea of taking Bengal ahead. Anna may think otherwise. But then Anna also recommends that alcoholics be tied to trees and flogged. As for Mayavati and Mulayam Singh, the less said the better.
Have I covered all the others who want to be PM? The answer is no. If sleepyhead Deve Gowda and good-for-nothing Gujral can be Prime Ministers, who am I to count anyone out? There’s Sharad Pawar waiting in the wings. There’s Chandrababu Naidu. There’s Jagan Reddy, the new star of the South. Some say Manohar Parikkar and Shivraj Chauhan could make fine PMs but then there’s no vacancy in the BJP. At least not till the voting’s over.
Is there anyone in the Congress who can make a good PM? No one comes to mind apart from the former Congressman who now resides in Rashtrapati Bhavan. The rest are all supplicants to a God that failed. Rahul is undoubtedly heroic. But even his most ardent supporters know he has been set up to fail. Like Sisyphus, he tries to roll the huge boulder up every hill, knowing it will roll down the moment he leaves. No,his is not the job I envy.
Some on twitter call me an Arvind Kejriwal critic. Perhaps I am. I have not seen many people come from nowhere and put together an election fighting machine, like he has done in such a short time. I like that. I also like the fact that he has focussed single-mindedly on fighting corruption. I am curious to see what he does next. If that makes me a fan, so be it. 
Why can’t the Congress or the BJP do something about corruption? Ofcourse they can. But they won’t. The status quo suits them both. The Congress has unabashedly brought the nation to this sorry pass. And yet they are eager to field some of the old rascals again. And, incredible as it may sound, they want us to vote for them too, even though these are the very people who have destroyed the party and its credibility. This must be some desperation. Or is it that no one who has a reputation to protect wants to stand for the Congress?
No, that can’t be true. As in every party, the Congress has some good people too and some truly horrid ones. But the horrid ones seem to be impossible to dislodge. If they are lucky, the good ones may still win a few seats for them. I hope they do. Every democracy deserves a strong Opposition.
And what about Modi, the overwhelming favourite as far as betting odds go? Well, one thing is sure: Modi’s victory will kill the sense of despondency that has gripped the nation, the feeling that nothing can ever get better. This is good. It’s good for India. Good for you, me, the stock market. It’s good for industrialists, and you know why. 
But, for most Indians, it’s not about Modi or his Gujarat model. It’s not about good governance either. It’s not about the BJP. The difference between the Congress and the BJP is as imaginary as the roc bird that Sinbad saw on his fifth voyage. It’s about change. Everyone, but particularly the young, are anxious for change. That’s clear. And Modi has seized that advantage. Good, bad, or whatever you imagine him to be, he has now positioned himself as the face of change. 
Is he good for India? In the short run, perhaps. Everything will be up and running. In the long run, who knows? And do we really care? The first task is to clean our wounds. Actual healing may take a while.
I trust our politicians as much as I trust cartoon characters. Yes, you could say I am kyrofelonoshophobic. Is there a problem with that?

Chinese takeaway: Beijing’s Ukraine

Whenever Russia and the West fight, China’s geopolitical leverage goes up. This trend, which stood the test of time for more than a century, is now playing out again in the deepening crisis in Ukraine. As Washington and Moscow squabble over Ukraine, both are reaching out to Beijing. China, unsurprisingly, is playing hard to get.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among the first world leaders that Russian President Vladimir Putin called last week. When Moscow put out the word that China was in sync with Russia’s position on Ukraine, Beijing hinted, “not exactly”. Sensing the gap in the positions of Beijing and Moscow, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached out to Xi this week. The Chinese president, of course, is neither endorsing Russia nor the West. He is calling for calm, restraint and a diplomatic solution.
Through the Great Game, a contest between Britain and Russia on the fringes of the subcontinent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, London often cut slack for Beijing, ignoring the advice of Calcutta and New Delhi. Although China was weak at the turn of the 20th century, London deferred to Beijing’s sensitivities in inner Asia, for example in Tibet. After a brief period of hostility with China in the early years of the Cold War, America quickly aligned with the Chinese communists against the Russian communists and took full advantage of the Sino-Soviet rift. This Western tilt towards China in the 1970s was one of the defining moments of the Cold War and set the stage for China’s integration with the global economy.
Over the last decade, China’s partnership with Russia has deepened and the two countries have cooperated in regional and global issues against the US. A widespread assumption was that Beijing’s current distrust of the West might move it closer to Russia on Ukraine. On the other hand, Beijing’s opposition to intervention in the internal affairs of other countries and its growing economic stakes in Ukraine underlined China’s discomfort with Russia’s attempt to detach Crimea from Kiev. Yet, Beijing has been unwilling to criticise Moscow in public.
China may have reasons to be relieved if a Cold War-like situation re-emerges in Europe and American attention is drawn away from Asia. When George W. Bush was elected US president in 2000, his initial focus was on limiting Chinese power in Asia. As America plunged into two prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after the events of 9/11, China had the time and space to build its comprehensive national power.
JAPAN’S DILEMMA
If China is carefully nurturing its leverage with both America and Russia, Japan finds itself between a rock and a hard place. As a longstanding ally of the US, Tokyo might have been expected to criticise Russian actions in Ukraine. But Tokyo is choosing its words carefully. It does not want to antagonise its most important partner, America, but is also unwilling to offend Russia, which has become a major foreign policy priority for Japan. Tokyo today believes that the real and present danger to its national security comes from China. Any national strategy of balancing Beijing, Tokyo has calculated, must involve closer ties with Moscow.
Since he came to power at the end of 2012, Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe has met five times with Putin, more than any other international leader. Abe has fast-tracked negotiations on the territorial dispute with Russia, outlined an ambitious agenda for economic cooperation and initiated high-level defence dialogue. Abe will be praying for an early resolution to the crisis in Ukraine that will save the face of Putin and Obama and leave enough space for Tokyo to deepen ties with Russia.
SINGAPORE’S REALISM
As China and Japan ponder the complex geopolitical implications of the crisis in Ukraine, Singapore, the city state, has simplified the narrative on the implications of the unfolding European crisis for Asia. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong argued that small countries must not depend only on multilateral arrangements or promises from big powers for their national security. Singapore, Lee insisted, must always maintain strong armed forces as well as a capable diplomatic corps to strengthen the nation’s position in the world. The lesson drawn by Lee is applicable to not only small countries but also most middle powers in Asia, who must now confront the destabilising impact of renewed tensions among the great powers.

 

Kunar – The New Capital of Taliban

On February 23, the Afghan Taliban attacked an Afghan National Army (ANA) military outpost in the northeastern province of Kunar, killed 21 soldiers in their sleep and captured a half dozen who were awake. An Afghan spokesman said the Taliban included “foreigners” and hinted at the participation of warriors from “across the border”, meaning Pakistan. Kunar is not controlled by Afghanistan. The abutting North Waziristan is not controlled by Pakistan. But Kunar lies next to other semi-controlled Pakistani “agencies” like Bajaur and Mohmand, while another “uncontrolled” Afghan province, Nuristan, is contiguous to Pakistani Chitral and Swat semi-tribal areas.
Kunar and Nuristan are two provinces abandoned by the ISAF forces in 2011. The order came earlier, in October 2009: “In line with the counter-insurgency guidance of Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, ISAF commander, ISAF leaders decided last month to reposition forces to population centres within the region.” The reason given to the ANA for leaving the area was that it was sparse, strategically unimportant (sic!), subject to local rebellion that couldn’t be countered (sic!), and must therefore be left to the ANA to prove its battle-worthiness. McChrystal didn’t think of Pakistan then, just as Pakistan didn’t think of America when allowing the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban to operate out of North Waziristan. Kunar is now where the Pakistani Taliban has converged.
Kunar was historically dominated by Arabic-speaking Afghan-Pashtun clerics educated in Saudi Arabia, and its sparse population had to follow the Wahhabi faith. Before al-Qaeda fled the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan under UN Security Council Resolution 1373, its leaders used to be located here. Ayman al-Zawahiri was here but had his R&R in adjoining Pakistani agency Bajaur. There is a strong suspicion that he may still be staying in Kunar.
Maulana Fazlullah fled Swat in 2010 and joined a like-minded al-Zawahiri in Kunar. The chemistry must have been immediate and deep because, after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud died in a drone attack in 2013, Fazlullah was chosen as the next non-Mehsud leader with al-Qaeda blessing. His method of persuasion is derived from the demonstrative effect of spectacular killing. If the North Waziristan-based leadership was unhappy with his elevation, it was soon chastened through violence, the latest victim being Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, who had actually held the top post temporarily after Mehsud’s death. He was killed in North Waziristan on February 24. The message was: you will be ruled from Kunar by your leader, Fazlullah. Some put the bland label of Taliban infighting on it.
An important shift of loyalty to Fazlullah happened when another Taliban warlord of Pakistan’s Mohmand agency, Umar Khalid Khorasani, decided to reject the Pakistan-Taliban “talks” by beheading 23 Pakistani troops captured by him two years ago. To emphasise his message, he did it in Kunar rather than Mohmand. The withdrawal of ISAF forces from the Kunar-Waziristan area has made Pakistan’s efforts to effectively go after the terrorists in its tribal areas virtually impossible. If Khorasani is in Kunar, which he is, then you can bet Fazlullah too is opposed to the Taliban council favouring talks with Islamabad.
Why did the Americans, who had asked Pakistan’s army chief in vain to oust the Afghan Taliban from its territory of North Waziristan, decide to leave Kunar? Many American commentators criticised the decision taken in 2009 and couldn’t make sense of the reason given: Kunar’s 70,000 population was too small to fight for when more densely populated provinces required ISAF presence; in any case the ANA was there to take care of the Taliban. The more plausible reason for leaving Kunar is a tit-for-tat response to Pakistan’s stubbornness to keep the Afghan Haqqani terrorist network on its soil.
Before the latest massacre of “sleeping” ANA soldiers, the Taliban had, in April 2013, killed 13 of the ANA’s “highly regarded” combat unit from the 201st Military Corps, compelling Pakistan’s then army chief General Ashfaq Kayani to predict that the ANA would evaporate in the face of the Taliban onslaught after the ISAF withdrawal. But this onslaught would be facilitated from Pakistani territory and the ANA would not be able to hot-pursue the infiltrators. Drones would continue to occupy centrestage.
The backlash has started before the onslaught, however, and it is coming from the Pakistani Taliban, which has relocated to the “ungoverned spaces” of Kunar, threatening the peaceful idyll of Chitral, in addition to the tribal agencies Pakistan thinks it has tamed through military operations. Kunar is where al-Qaeda and Pakistani Wahhabi-Deobandi terrorists have formed their symbiotic alliance. The most dreaded terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba, was formed here by a Saudi-trained Pakistani scholar who now heads a renamed jihadi non-state-actor organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, in Lahore. America has used drones to target the leaders in Kunar and has met with patchy success. In June 2012, an ISAF airstrike killed Khatab Shafiq, a Pakistani citizen who served as the LeT’s leader for Kunar, indicating that once the Americans leave Afghanistan, Kunar will serve as the headquarters where Arabs and the Taliban will plan and lead operations inside Pakistan. It will also be the training centre for warriors culled from the “emirate” of Pakistan’s tribal areas.
According to a well-known website watching al-Qaeda, Pakistani Qari Ziaur Rehman, killed in 2013 by a drone, was an al-Qaeda and Taliban leader, operating in Kunar as well as across the border in Mohmand and Bajaur. Kunar is the future capital of the “emirate” that will straddle two borders, and neighbouring Nuristan will be its hinterland. In 2012, the strength of al-Qaeda was measured by its dominance in nine out of the 15 districts of Kunar. The Pakistani army is attacking North Waziristan and likely using its “observer” drones to pinpoint Taliban militants and their Uzbek, Turkmen and Arab affiliates. But to achieve lasting success, it will have to attack the Kunar-Nuristan area in Afghanistan. When this happens, it will reveal the past mistakes made by Islamabad in comprehending what Pakistan is up against. It will be doing to Afghanistan’s sovereignty what it accused America of doing to Pakistan’s when it attacked the terrorists inside Pakistan.
As Taliban leaders go, Baitullah Mehsud was “flexible” enough to oblige the deep state in Islamabad by striking at proposed targets. Later, Hakimullah was a prickly customer and prefered a less-murky relationship with his victims. Now, the shift of Taliban headquarters to Kunar has moved the “emirship” from the Mehsud tribe to a man from Swat. But he appears more pathologically focused on killing than even Hakimullah.
America has helped Pakistan’s latest change of policy towards North Waziristan by holding off drone attacks, but once the Americans are gone, Islamabad will have to pick up the broken shards of its Afghan policy and realign with new forces in the region. It is already disenchanted with its old proxy, Mullah Omar, the future “emir”, and has not talked to the non-Pashtuns of northern Afghanistan in years. Its non-state actors are already quivering with rage at its reversion to the “talks” policy. Kunar will be its nemesis.

Patterns and Rules in Indian Elections

There is a political storm coming, make no mistake about it. The signs are many, but the most important one is the state of the economy, and the accompanying disappointment, disgruntlement and disgust with the ruling dispensation. In addition, after the dates for Election 2014 were announced, streetfights commenced. There is apprehension that this might be one of the more violent elections, a forecast (not mine) that I hope, and predict, will decidedly not come true.
Most opinion polls, indeed all, suggest the following outcome. First, that the Congress is headed for at least a halving of its 2009 tally of 206 seats, a halving that should place the Congress at an all-time low. Second, that the Narendra Modi-led BJP is poised to make major gains in votes, and seats in the neighbourhood of 200, some 20-odd seats above the highest level ever obtained by the BJP (in 1999).
Assuming this forecast to be broadly correct, the important question that needs answering is what explains this phenomenon, which, until just six months ago, most pundits would have found incomprehensible. Many of them still do, but we will not know till May 16 and, until then, all we can do is make intelligent sense from the available data, and not infer sense from vague opinions.
A very long time ago, I learnt the first rule of elections: they are about negatives, the party (or candidate) that has a higher number of negatives loses. Again, exceptions are always present, but they are infrequent. This explanation helps to differentiate against the common back-of-the-envelope indicator — anti-incumbency. Look back at most elections, and you will find that summing up the negatives really does explain elections. But what about the surprise 2004 result, when the widely expected victory of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP-led coalition did not materialise? What were the negatives in that election? Possibly Godhra and the Gujarat riots; but more importantly, the nature of seat-sharing arrangements in a first-past-the-post parliamentary system. Between 1999 and 2004, both the major parties lost a 2 percentage point vote share — but the UPA gained 31 seats and the NDA lost 44 seats.
At the beginning of the election period some six months ago, the common assumption was that 2014 would be fought on traditional issues like secularism, caste and “inclusive” growth. Let us take a moment to ponder as to what it means to assert that voting is based on such determinants. Regarding caste: the assumption here is that a Yadav will vote for a Yadav, a Dalit for a Dalit, and a Meena for a Meena. To be sure, there are some people, perhaps many, who vote on the basis of caste. But what is relevant for election forecasting and analysis is whether the proportions are changing or constant. If constant, then there is precious little new information, or swing information, in patterns of voting. So the second rule of election analysis: it is the delta (the change) that matters.
The third rule, often repeated but rarely appreciated in India, is that the major negative in an election is the state of the economy. Exceptional circumstances of a war sometimes assume greater importance. But barring such extreme events, it is the economy that is numero uno. And there can be no better explanation for the importance of the economy than the pattern of voting behaviour in 2009, and (possibly) 2014. In 2009, for both growth and inflation, India had the best historical record ever: inflation average of less than 6 per cent per annum and growth average above 8 per cent per year. It was a consequence of the economy that the Congress was rewarded with an electoral gain of 61 seats in 2009, just one less than the 62 gained by the Congress in the Sikh pogrom-influenced vote of 1984. Today, the economy is in the worst shape ever, with growth almost half the rate achieved in 2004-08, and inflation double the previous rate. The opinion polls are just reflecting this reality.
But there are other negatives that are affecting the UPA’s chances in 2014. A universal perception is that the UPA, in the last five years, has not offered any “leadership” — neither the chairperson of the party, Sonia Gandhi, nor the CEO, Manmohan Singh, nor the heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi. But isn’t there a problem here? Just above, it was stated that voters believed in this very same leadership in 2009 and rewarded the rulers handsomely. So what has changed in the last five years? The economy, stupid. And this is rule four for elections — between “leadership” and the economy, it is the economy that dominates.
If one were to believe the media, and especially fringe parties wanting to win over100 seats in Election 2014, the economy does not matter, perceptions are inconsequential and leadership is irrelevant — what only matters is corruption. Hence, whichever political party promises a substantial reduction in corruption will emerge victorious.
The results of the recently concluded CNN-IBN opinion poll, reported in the table, can shed some light on conflicting views. Modi scores well over Rahul Gandhi in six of the eight questions pertaining to economic and social issues, is tied for one and is at a loss in the question regarding Muslim issues. But even on this one question on which Rahul Gandhi has a big lead, almost a third of the Muslims favour Modi.
As we approach the final defining moment of Election 2014, there are many, not surprisingly, who do not see the writing on the wall. The traditionalists keep raising the same old tired issues, which the young and the youthful and the dominant discarded a long time ago. But let us wait for the results on May 16

The Real Naval Disaster in India

The naval power of any country is the real test of its standing. Since times immeoral, it is the naval strength that has made or destroyed civilzations and empires. Leaving the old times aside, in recent history Spain was the greatest power because of its strong Navy; but the defeat of Spanish Armada by the British made them the rukers of the world and till second world war Britannia really ruled the waves. Thereafter US and Russia were the super powers because of heir navy and that is the reason that China and Japan are out to become maritime powers.
India also has prestensions ofbeing a regional super-power, and its navy has been the real deterrant of the enemies. It is only last month India became the fifth nation with the capability to indigenously design and build its own aircraft carrier. INS Vikrant, as the new carrier is called, was launched by the defense minister with great fanfare signaling India’s coming of age as a global naval power.
This launch followed the announcement that the reactor in India’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine (SSBN), INS Arihant, has gone critical, marking a turning point in New Delhi’s attempt to establish a nuclear triad.
But the celebrations came to an abrupt end when, two days after the launch of the aircraft carrier, INS Sindhurakshak, one of the 10 Kilo-class submarines that form the backbone of India’s aging conventional submarine force, sank with 18 crew members after explosions at the naval dockyard in Mumbai.
Together these developments underscored the giant strides that India has made as well as the challenges that India faces in its attempts to emerge as a credible global naval power.
Under development for the past eight years, INS Vikrant is likely to begin sea trials next year. With INS Vikrant, India not only will be able to protect both its eastern and western flanks more confidently but will also be able to project power much further off its shores, something that Indian naval planners have long desired.
INS Arihant is the first ballistic missile submarine built outside the five recognized nuclear powers. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the activation of the reactor aboard Arihant a “giant stride in … our indigenous technological capabilities.”
This highly secretive project took more than a decade to complete and will complete India’s nuclear triad, with the submarine’s ballistic missiles giving India a second-strike capability.
Indian naval expansion is being undertaken with an eye on China. Arihant and Vikrant notwithstanding, India has nautical miles to go before it can catch up with its powerful neighbor, which has made some significant advances in the waters surrounding India.
However, the recent incidents have only highlighted that the navy is not as strong as imagined. Beginning in August 2013, when the Indian naval submarine Sindhurakshak sank, stories have been appearing about naval “disasters”, culminating with the fire on the Sindhuratna, another submarine of the same class, which resulted in the death of two officers. This led to the resignation of the naval chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi, owning moral responsibility for all the incidents.
This is only the second time that a naval chief has demitted office before time. In the case of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in 1998, while the majority view of the navy, including retired officers, was that the manner in which he was dismissed was wrong, some believed that he was too autocratic and had overstepped his authority. In Joshi’s case, however, there is unanimity that he was not to blame but has taken a bold, honourable and courageous step on his own, setting a fine example for all.
Amidst the noise and hullabaloo, the “disasters” have not been critically examined to see whether they deserve to be termed as such. Let us get an obvious error out of the way: the incident of the empty gunshell fired from ICGS Sangram that hit the Western Naval Command headquarters in February 2014. Sangram is a vessel of the Coast Guard, which is an independent service and has nothing to do with the navy.
Coming to the navy, the collision of INS Talwar with a fishing vessel in December 2013 could only have been due to misjudgement on the part of the ship’s staff or negligence of the fishing vessel crew. Pending completion of a board of inquiry, the commanding officer has been suspended. For all we know, he may be exonerated, but if found guilty, will be punished. Similarly, the brush of INS Tarkash with the jetty was due to human error, but it was no “disaster”.
Ships have been having arguments with jetties from the days of Lord Nelson, and there will be any number of such cases filed away in the archives of not only the Indian navy but navies all over the world. The grounding incidents of Sindhughosh, Betwa, Vipul, Mysore and Airavat look big taken collectively but are not uncommon individually.
A ship can be blamed for grounding if it strays from a marked channel or goes into a charted navigational hazard. But if the incident is attributable to an underwater and unidentified object not marked on the chart, perhaps as a result of silting and lack of dredging, it will be most unfair to levy any blame on the ships’ staff.
All these incidents have been or are being examined thoroughly by the navy and disciplinary or corrective action has or will be taken on completion of the boards of inquiry. In none of the cases discussed so far does the buck travel any further than the captain of the ship.
Here, it is essential to point out that the captain of a ship is a prize appointment and the individual is selected by top officers of the navy after a detailed examination of his service record and proficiency. However, there is no escape from human error. According to reports, the navy chief had already taken corrective action by ordering a reappraisal of the performance of key officers and affected many transfers.
The collision with the jetty and the groundings were not “disasters”, either in the manner in which they happened or for the damages caused, which were not substantial except maybe in one case. These incidents should not even have found their way to the media. The navy would do well to investigate how this has happened. This is not to suggest that they should have been brushed under the carpet.
Proper procedure must be followed and necessary action taken, but unnecessary reporting in the media and painting a frightening picture of naval “disasters” is wrong. Admiral Joshi quite rightly spoke of them as minor incidents, and neither the media nor the ministry of defence had cause to disbelieve him.
We are now left with three incidents that are of a serious nature. The fire on INS Konkan seems to be an isolated incident and one does not have any details to comment on it. It is, however, pertinent to note that this happened on the east coast and, therefore, should not be held against the CinC Western Naval Command, who seems to be in the line of fire. The Sindhurakshak and Sindhuratna incidents have both occurred on Kilo-class submarines and can be grouped together, although the cause may not be the same.
In fact, full details are not yet known beyond the fact that there were some explosions on the former and smoke in a compartment on the latter. The Sindhuratna was on post-refit trials and had on board the Western Naval Command Commodore Commanding Submarines and his inspection team. Any charge of negligence is therefore incorrect. We should avoid passing judgement till we get to the bottom of the matter.
The submarines are old and well past their sell-by date. The navy has repeatedly apprised the defence minister and the MoD of this. The case for replacement of submarines is at least 10 years old. This is the true “disaster”, which has only now been highlighted because these accidents have occurred. It remains to be seen if the MoD makes fast progress on the acquisition of submarines so that such disasters, or worse, do not take place.
On one issue, however, the navy can be faulted. Content with the belief that the incidents were of a minor nature, it allowed the media to hype them and did not make timely efforts to clear the air. Its public relations machine is to blame. To draw an analogy, when a number of MiG-21 incidents were taking place not too long ago, the aircraft were labelled as “flying coffins”. But nobody was calling for the heads of the air force hierarchy.
The mystery behind Admiral Joshi’s resignation remains. What triggered his resignation when he had recently dismissed most of these incidents as “minor”? One can only conjecture that the MoD, if not the minister himself, and the media were hounding him and he was bearing everything manfully till the Sindhuratna incident proved to be the last straw.
The above mentioned launch of an aircraft carrier is seen as critical for the Indian Navy as it remains anxious to maintain its presence in the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, especially in light of China’s massive naval buildup. Last year China commissioned its aircraft carrier, Liaoning, which is a refurbished vessel purchased from Ukraine in 1998. It is also working on an indigenous carrier of its own even as it keeps an eye out for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
India remains heavily dependent on imports to meet its defense requirements, so its recent successes are particularly important. But for all the euphoria, it will be five years until the INS Vikrant can be commissioned by the Indian Navy, and INS Arihant has yet to pass a series of sea trials.
The Indian Navy wants to be a serious blue-water force. Indian naval planners have long argued that to main continuous operational readiness in the Indian Ocean, protect sea lanes of communication in the Persian Gulf and monitor Chinese activities in the Bay of Bengal, it needs a minimum of three aircraft carriers and a fleet of five nuclear submarines.
With Admiral Gorshkov on track to be delivered by Russia by the end of this year and a second aircraft indigenous carrier in the wings, the Indian Navy could be close to realizing the dream of operating three carriers by the end of the decade.
But serious challenges remain as exemplified by the disaster of INS Sindhurakshak, which has brought the focus back to the enduring problems of safety and reliability that the Indian Navy has been grappling with for decade.
The Indian Navy has a poor accident record with several mishaps in recent years. INS Sindhurakshak had been reintroduced to service only in April this year after a refit in Russia. The navy has ordered a review of its submarine weapons safety systems after initial investigations showed arms on board the submarine may have played a role in its sinking. The latest accident comes as the Indian Navy’s surface fleet expands. The Indian submarine fleet is not only aging but also depleting fast with the induction of new submarines not on track.
Despite the success of Vikrant and Arihant, India’s indigenous defense production has been marred by serious technical and organizational problems, leading to significant delays in the development of key defense technologies and platforms.
The Indian Navy, much like the other two services, has found it difficult to translate its conceptual commitment to self-reliance and indigenization into actionable policy, resulting in a perpetuation of reliance on external sources for naval modernization. Yet India’s reliance on its navy to project power is only likely to increase in the coming years as naval buildup continues apace in the Indo-Pacific.
Apart from China, other powers are also developing their naval might. Japan’s commissioning of its third helicopter carrier, the Izumo, has raised hackles in Beijing, which has referred to it as an “aircraft carrier in disguise.” In this regional context, India’s naval engagement with East and Southeast Asian states is integral to its two-decade old “Look East” policy. Countries ranging from Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia to Vietnam and Myanmar have been pushing India toward assuming a higher profile in the region. India is training Myanmar naval personnel and is building at least four Offshore Patrol Vehicles in Indian shipyards to be used by Myanmar’s Navy. But would it maintain its regional supremacy si the question that faces India.

Narendra Modi – A Copycat of Indira Gandhi

Narendra Modi today claims to derive inspiration from Sardar Patel and Swami Vivekananda even if his original icon was the long-serving RSS chief Guru Golwalkar. Patel and Vivekananda are natural choices for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate: with Patel, there is the instant strongman from Gujarat connect, while Vivekananda gives him the image of an ‘inclusive’ Hindu nationalist. The truth is Modi’s real role model in the 2014 election is someone very different: Former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
The choice of Indira may seem highly incongruous at first. Modi has claimed in the past that his decision to enter public life was cemented during the Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat in the early 1970s directed against Indira’s government. He, like many opposition leaders, has referred to the Emergency as the darkest period in India’s democracy. And yet, in his 2014 campaign, he has attacked almost the entire Nehru-Gandhi parivar but stayed away from targeting the lady who in many ways initiated the dynasty cult in Indian politics.
The reason may well be tactical here: Why focus on the grandmother when your battle is with her grandson and daughter-in-law. But there is possibly another explanation: Modi’s approach to politics, and in particular to the campaign of 2014, is not too dissimilar to the Indira campaign of 1971. Then, the campaign was starkly presidential too: the slogan was Garibi Hatao, Indira Lao, Desh Bachao. Now, the appeal is similarly individualistic: Congress Hatao, Modi Lao, Desh Bachao.
Like Indira in 1971, Modi too has sought to make the mandate about his personality. Give me (“me”, not just the BJP mind you) power and I will transform the country. In 1971, Indira too sought to rise above her party and establish direct contact with the masses. The Congress had just gone through an almost vertical split and Indira had lost most of the old guard. This perhaps made it easier for her to impose her writ on the ‘new’ Congress and make the party organisation subservient to her personality.
Much the same is happening in the BJP in 2014 with a slight difference. Unlike the Congress, the BJP has been a cadre-based organisation which gets its muscle from the RSS. Modi’s ascent has enthused the cadre in a manner in which even the original BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was perhaps unable to do. But while the rank and file party worker is galvanised, the rest of the BJP leadership itself is being pushed into the shadows.Watch a Modi rally: No BJP leader is given even remotely the kind of status or positioning that the man from Gujarat is. In the space of six months since being anointed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi has risen from being the first among equals to being the unquestioned ‘Supremo’ of his party. At most rallies of Modi, the only other national BJP leader who gets some importance is party president Rajnath Singh. Singh is though, at best, a side act, perhaps a reminder that if Modi doesn’t quite get the magic number he needs to be prime minister, then there is a potential consensus candidate waiting in the wings. All other gen-next leaders of the BJP are barely seen or heard. Election tracker surveys done by CSDS for CNN-IBN in the last six months show that no other BJP leader even registers any longer in the public mindspace as a potential prime ministerial aspirant.
Indeed, the remarkably single-minded zeal with which Modi has criss-crossed the country in the last few months as part of his ‘Mission 272’ is reminiscent of what one reads of Indira’s 1971 campaign. In the pre-television era, she addressed rallies in almost every nook and corner of the country. Modi, who, unlike Indira, is a natural orator, has chosen not to leave out any part of India, even seemingly unwinnable states like Tripura, where the BJP has a negligible presence.
It is almost as if for the first time since Indira, a leader is consciously attempting to build a pan-Indian appeal that will enable him to rise above his own party’s limited geographical base. He has even made multiple forays into states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where again the BJP has little chance of winning seats, if only to create a psychological edge of looking beyond the Vindhyas.
The Modi-Indira similarities don’t end there. Like the former Congress prime minister, Modi trusts very few people. Authoritarian and insecure in equal measure, Modi’s ruthless streak has ensured that after a decade of ruling Gujarat his writ is unchallenged. Indira, too almost decimated an entire generation of Congress leaders at the state and national level with similar imperiousness. Critics would like to see this as chillingly dictatorial; loyalists would term this as evidence of ‘decisiveness’. The line between being dictatorial and decisive is often a thin one, but clearly both Modi and Indira attract similar extreme opinion, even within their own parties in private conversation.
In 1971, the Congress riding the Indira wave won 362 of the 520 seats, a gain of 134 seats and a clear two-thirds majority. Modi’s chances of doing an Indira-like performance seem unlikely, given the BJP’s own limited catchment area and the rise of strong regional parties. But what if Modi were to win two-thirds of the seats in the 300-odd constituencies where the BJP today is seen to have a fighting chance?
Whatever the final outcome, it is becoming clearer by the day that the election of 2014 is now Modi versus the rest much like 1971 was Indira versus others.
Post-script: Like Indira, Modi too seems fond of wearing the symbolic headgear of the region where he travels. Except the one occasion during his Sadbhavna Yatra in 2012, where he refused to wear a Muslim prayer cap. And therein lies perhaps a key difference in the politics of Modi and Indira.

The Ukraine and Pliable International Law

I was amused. It was inane talk that amused me; but what else should I have expected. It was a guy who while being de jure President of US, is promoting fundamental Islam everyday and he was blasting Putin. I am referring to U.S. President Barack Obama talking about the importance of world opinion and obeying international law and respecting sovereignty and being on the right side of history, you had to wonder whether he didn’t have a little voice in his head whispering: “Really? Seriously? I’m actually saying this stuff?”
This is the commander-in-chief of a military that operates a prison camp on Cuban soil, against the explicit wishes of the Cuban government, and which regularly fires drone missiles into other countries, often killing innocent bystanders.
He is a president who ordered that CIA torturers would go unprosecuted, and leads a nation that has invaded other countries whenever it wished, regardless of what the rest of the world might think.
I do not deny that the claim of Vladimir Putin regarding justification for invading Ukraine — protecting Russian-speaking “compatriots” in that country from some imagined violence — stinks of tribalism. His rationale is essentially ethnic nationalism, something responsible for so much of the evil done throughout human history.
Stated motivation aside, though, what Putin is doing is really no different from what other world powers do: protecting what they regard as national self-interest. And so far, he’s done it without bloodletting.
Imagine, for a moment, what Washington would do if, say, Bahrain’s Shia population, covertly supported by Tehran, staged a successful uprising and began to push itself into Iran’s orbit.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain, just as Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is parked at its huge naval bases in the Crimea. To pose the scenario is to answer the question of how America would react.
The same goes for all the other countries in America’s political realm. The Philippines, South Korea, certain Persian Gulf nations. Imagine if Russia’s military tried to return to Cuba.
And Ukraine, for better or worse — decidedly worse, those in the western portion of the country will tell you — has for centuries been in Russia’s sphere. Crimea, the region of Ukraine now occupied by Russia, was part of the Soviet Union and was deeded to Ukraine in 1954 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of a treaty that bonded much of Ukraine to Tsarist Russia.
To suggest, as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso did this week, that Ukrainians “have shown that they belong culturally, emotionally but also politically to Europe,” is just wishful thinking, even if some Ukrainians wish it were true.
Furthermore, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was right when he pointed out that many of the countries denouncing Putin’s intervention were actively involved in encouraging anti-Russia Ukrainians to overthrow an elected, if distasteful, president and government.
Victoria Nuland, a senior American diplomat, was caught in flagrante delicto a few weeks back, chatting with another American official about which Ukrainian opposition figures should and shouldn’t be installed. Washington’s reply: It was unconscionable of Russia to intercept and leak that discussion.
Incidentally, some of the Ukrainian opposition groups that have now ended up in power are thuggish, anti-Semitic, anti-Russian, extreme right-wingers. Putin’s description of them — ultranationalists — was mild. You just wouldn’t know it listening to Western politicians.
It’s easy to go on and on in this vein — Britain’s prime minister, who leads a nation that helped invade Iraq on a false pretext, denouncing Putin’s pretext for going into Crimea. The NATO powers that helped bring about the independence of Albanian Kosovars complaining about the separatist aspirations of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, etc.
But that’s diplomacy. Hypocritical declarations and acts are woven into its essence.
What’s remarkable is the unspoken pact among the Western news media to report it all so uncritically. Western news reports seriously reported Russia’s ridiculous threat to end the role of the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, as though Russia’s creditors will begin to accept rubles at whatever exchange rate Putin decrees. On TV and in print, we hear serious talk about the possibility of economic sanctions against Russia — which would only trigger a devastating trade back-blast against European economies.
Republican Senator John McCain says it is Barack Obama’s “feckless foreign policy” that is to blame for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. However, he added, a military response is not on the table.
Other media analysts agree with the angry flailings of U.S. foreign policy hawks, who seem to think Obama should be much more aggressive with Putin, although they have few concrete suggestions. A frustrated Senator John McCain demanded that rich Russians be barred from Las Vegas.
The unspoken media-government arrangement is understandable. We must at least pretend there’s international law and fairness and basic rules, because it reassures us that we live in a world where raw power doesn’t ultimately rule. But it’s all just gibberish; through the looking glass. We might as well be reporting that slithy toves gyre and gimble in the wabe. Money and hard power count, and that’s that. The big players have it, and the smaller players play along. If we need the anaesthetic liquor of self-delusion to deal with it, well, drink up

 

The Great Power Game Folio

As the crisis in Crimea deepens, the formal arguments between Russia and the West are about two perennial themes in international politics — sovereignty and intervention. The US and its allies accuse Russia of violating the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine, and thereby international law, in gaining control over Crimea. Moscow says its actions are ­entirely in tune with international law and that it is merely protecting the legitimate rights of Russian citizens and other “compatriots” in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. According to Moscow, it is the new regime in Kiev that has ousted a democratically elected president and is threatening the rights of the Russian minorities in the eastern and southern parts of the country.
Legal arguments are always interesting, but rarely drive the evolution of any crisis in international politics. What matters is the change in the distribution of power within and around the crisis zone. The current legal contestation on Ukraine marks an int­eresting reversal of Russian and American positions on sovereignty and intervention. Russia routinely ­opposes Western interventions around the world and is an articulate defender of the principle of inviolable territorial sovereignty in international politics.
In Crimea today, Russia is finding ways to justify its intervention in Ukraine. Europeans and Americans, who never tire of telling Asians that the concept of territorial sovereignty is overrated, are the ones at the forefront of defending Ukraine’s territorial ­sovereignty. Internationalists, multilateralists and liberal imperialists in the West have long insisted that outsiders have a right to intervene in another country if the rights of minorities or civilian populations are threatened by the state. But the Western champions of the “Responsibility to Protect” find it difficult to accept the Russian justification on securing the rights of minorities in Ukraine.
Put simply, the legal positions that major powers take are about the nature of their perceived political interests in a given place at a specific point of time. Territorial sovereignty and non-intervention are not absolute principles, but are defined by circumstances and distribution of power. Where you stand on sovereignty and intervention depends on where you sit.
Near Abroad
To understand the developments in Ukraine, we must look beyond international law to the logic of power politics. The seemingly outdated idea of “spheres of influence” helps us gain insight into the contemporary struggle between Russia and the West in Eurasia. All great powers claim spheres of influence on their periphery, where they seek to limit the role of rival powers and prevent internal developments in their neighbourhood that
threaten their interests.
Russia calls its sphere of influence in Eurasia the “near abroad”. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow lost much ground, thanks to the eastwards expansion of Nato, the integration of Russia’s western neighbours into the European Union, and the US attempts to promote regime change in Eurasia. Russian President Vladimir Putin is saying enough is enough. He is ­determined to restore Moscow’s primacy in Russia’s near abroad. But Russia is not the only one ­seeking a sphere of influence.
The US has had its Monroe Doctrine in Latin America since the early 19th century. India has a variant of it in the subcontinent inherited from the Raj. Japan tried, unsuccessfully, to develop one in the first half of the 20th century. China is bound to create one in Asia as it rises to become a great power.
Buffer States
There is one other allegedly 19th-century concept of buffer states that offers an insight into the conflict between Russia and the West in Ukraine. “Ukraina” is an old Slavic word for a borderland and has been used to refer to Russia’s southwestern frontiers. When Ukraine became an independent state in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its challenge was to learn the rules of being a buffer state between a sulking Russia and a triumphant West.
Buffer states do seek a measure of autonomy from the powerful neighbour, but are always aware of the dangers of going too far. Internal developments in Ukraine and encouragement from the West have broken this delicate balance and set the stage for the current crisis. The resolution lies in restoring the ­internal political equilibrium in Ukraine and negotiating a set of agreed rules of the road for Moscow, Brussels and Washington in Russia’s near abroad. The reported talks between Russia and the West to de-escalate the crisis are likely to be focused on these two elements.

Cairo awaits its saviour

The national museum in Cairo is a treasure trove of artefacts, many of them brought from the cavernous tombs inside those miracles of ancient Egypt — the pyramids. The museum overlooks Tahrir Square, where Egypt witnessed a modern-day miracle in 2011 and 2013. In one of the biggest-ever mass protests staged in world history, Egyptians ousted two unpopular regimes. A favourite song of the revolutionaries was “Ana-i-Sha’b (I am the people)” sung originally by Umm Kulthum, Egypt’s greatest singer, to celebrate the country’s 1952 anti-monarchy revolution: “Every man and woman let out a voice free/ Strong, ancient, deep, and lofty/ Saying: I am the People and the Miracle”.
Ironically, a majority of the same torch-bearers of democracy now want their country to be ruled by an army strongman — Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Stranger still, el-Sisi has suddenly emerged as the most popular leader in modern Egyptian history, after Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. For a place that caught the imagination of democracy lovers all over the world three years ago, Tahrir Square has a thoroughly unremarkable appearance. It doesn’t have the humongous size of Tiananmen Square in Beijing. It lacks the architectural splendour of India Gate and its environs in New Delhi. It’s just an ordinary open space at a traffic roundabout, which a visitor to Cairo, hassled by the vexatious vehicular movement in the city, is quite likely to miss. But in January 2011, this square, and the roads leading to it, became the face of the Arab Spring in Egypt. The protests that began here ended the 30-year-old dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. The promise of democracy was celebrated in Egypt, and welcomed all over the world.
But soon, when democracy came in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood in the saddle, with its leader Mohammed Morsi as Egypt’s first-ever elected president, Tahrir Square again became the seat of massive protests. This time round, the army openly backed the protesters and, in a swift and ruthless takeover in July 2013, put Morsi behind bars. This change was far from peaceful. When angry supporters of Morsi protested, the military crackdown killed over 1,000 of them. Not only was the Muslim Brotherhood outlawed again, but for the first time in its 80-year history, it was also declared a terrorist organisation.
Is Egypt back at square one? No. The situation has too many contradictions to lead to such a simplistic conclusion. Political instability, its crippling impact on the economy (tourism, the main revenue earner and employment creator for Egypt, has shrunk to less than one-fourth of its peak levels) and the lurking fear of a Syria-like violent social conflict if the Muslim Brotherhood were to return to power, have led most Egyptians to believe that their country will be safe only if a strong leader comes to the helm. Their hopes are pinned on el-Sisi, the current army chief and defence minister. Thanks to the tough action he took on Morsi and his followers, he has suddenly become a cult figure, a saviour of Egypt, indeed the person most Egyptians want as their next president. Posters eulogising him are visible everywhere in Cairo. There are el-Sisi T-shirts on sale in streets.
“Is this orchestrated by the military?” I asked my friends in Cairo. They are by no means supporters of the military takeover. They crave democracy, the original promise of the Tahrir movement. In private conversations, they strongly oppose restrictions on the media and the torture of imprisoned Brotherhood workers. Yet, all of them are unanimous in saying, “No, this show of support for el-Sisi is not orchestrated. It is authentic.” Unlike his predecessors, Morsi was a democratically elected president. However, the undeniably broad public support for the army takeover is a measure of how quickly he and the Brotherhood incurred the wrath of a majority of the Egyptian population because of their own undemocratic, untrustworthy and socially polarising rule.
Why did Muslim-majority Egypt rise in revolt against the Muslim Brotherhood? I put this question to Professor Mahmood Azab, who serves as an advisor to the Grand Imam of Al-Azar, a 1000-year-old globally respected centre of Islamic learning. He said, “Muslims in Egypt believe in moderate Islam. They believe in pluralism and peaceful co-existence with their Christian brethren. They are also proud of their pre-Islamic civilisational heritage. All this is unacceptable to the Muslim Brotherhood, who want to impose their extremist ideology of Islam on Egypt. A peculiar circumstance in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution helped them come to power. But the Egyptian people soon realised that the Brotherhood was exploiting Islam for its own narrow political and social agenda. It even branded all those Muslims opposed to it as ‘infidels’. It became so unpopular that over 30 million people came onto the streets all over the country demanding its ouster from power.”
Here is a lesson the BJP could learn in India. If a party plays polarising politics in the name of the majority community, it could be spurned by a majority of the people belonging to that very community. Here is also a heartening lesson for women in Muslim societies around the world. Egyptian women played a pivotal role in bringing down the Muslim Brotherhood government. Suzy el-Geneidy, assistant chief editor of Al-Ahramnewspaper, told me: “This is because Egyptian women, whose struggles have won them an important place in public life, felt threatened by the Brotherhood’s extremist agenda to disempower them in the name of Islam. Women in our country are highly religious. But they don’t like the Brotherhood’s coercive ways.”
Interestingly, women have become el-Sisi’s ardent supporters. I heard an explanation for this curious phenomenon from Osama Diab, a researcher-activist with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which is critical of the human rights violations under the current army-led ruling establishment. “There is no doubt,” he said, “that el-Sisi has rare charisma. People, especially women, admire him because he is seen as a strong leader. But they also admire him because they see him as a soft-spoken, emotional and down-to-earth leader. Moreover, he is deeply religious. He presents himself as a person who is firm and self-confident in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, but tender in dealing with the people.”
What has also endeared el-Sisi to a majority of Egyptians is his image as a unifier of a society in which the Brotherhood had sought to sow Muslim-Christian and Muslim-Muslim divisions. When he went on television on July 3, 2013 to announce that Morsi had been removed from power, he had Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, and Pope Tawadros, the spiritual head of Coptic Christians (who constitute about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population), flanking him. This commitment to safeguarding national unity, religious plurality and security of all citizens was conspicuously missing during Morsi’s rule. Indeed, many Egyptians I spoke to said that one of the reasons they disliked the Brotherhood was the suspicion that the latter was “more loyal to the Ummah (global Muslim ‘nation’) than to Egypt”.
If el-Sisi offers himself as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, scheduled to take place in April, he is certain to win by a huge majority. However, it’s equally certain that he will have a difficult task leading an impatient nation facing severe economic problems. He also cannot afford to suppress people’s, especially the Egyptian youth’s, aspirations for freedom, dignity and democratic rights. If he succeeds, it’ll be a miracle. If he fails, Tahrir Square could come alive again.

Middle Classes Fuel Venezuela revolt

One fine morning Monday, Venezuelans woke up to find barricades of pipes, trash and branches burning in the streets. Improvised roadblocks, cutting off neighbourhoods from each other and from the central core of certain cities, appeared simultaneously in eight states of Venezuela, most of them in middle-class areas, and show no signs of letting up. It began with students, but the nearly month-long street protests have moved into the suburbs
Even the start of a week-long national holiday on Thursday, to culminate in the March 5 anniversary of former president Hugo Chavez’s death from cancer, has not stopped the demonstrations — or the government’s tear-gas response.
What began almost a month ago as a student protest over a sexual assault in the western state of Táchira has now spread throughout the country and into the wealthier communities where people are fed up with rampant crime, a shortage of things like toilet paper and inflation running at over 50 per cent.
A protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas March 3, 2014. Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez urged sympathizers on Monday to maintain street protests against President Nicolas Maduro as the country’s foreign minister prepared to meet the United Nations Secretary General. The banner reads,
The month-long clashes between, initially, the student demonstrators and the security forces of President Nicolas Maduro have left, as of Friday,17 people dead directly from the violence and over 260 injured, the government said. But to get the full idea of how ubiquitous these protests have become, look at Altamira, a small but wealthy enclave in the capital Caracas that has become a hotbed of opposition activism.
Just a few steps separates the Canadian Embassy in Caracas from Altamira Square, the place that, for almost three consecutive weeks, has been a centre of protest, tear gas and demands by students and middle-class professionals alike. On the wall of the embassy is a hand-painted “No to dictatorship” that stands like a silent witness to the struggles of the day.
In Caracas, the road blocks have left some neighbourhoods entirely cut off from the rest of the city, and they have divided the country as well – neighbour against neighbour in some instances. Those taking over the streets say they are doing this because they have nowhere else to raise their grievances. But the tactic is not sitting well with everyone.
The fact that these demonstrations are mostly taking place in wealthier neighbourhoods is also pitting rich against poor to some extent. The wealth gap in this country is the dividing line that brought the late Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution to power 15 years ago.
It is a revolution his chosen successor, Maduro, is hoping to continue. But he won a six-year term last April with only 50.6 per cent of the vote, just beating out Governor Henrique Capriles at 49.1 per cent, and it seems clear that the election battles are nowhere near being resolved.
President Maduro has denounced the protests, the worst since he took power 11 months ago, as “a fascist coup d’etat,” and has been blaming his traditional enemies, Washington and former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, for stirring things up. For his part, Uribe has called the government crackdown as bad as what is taking place in Syria.
The government is also cracking down on the media. National television is not showing many of the disturbances. And the signal from international news network NTN24, based in Colombia, was shut off national subscription television by direct order of Maduro himself. He has also taken legal action to boot CNN, one of the few North American outlets in Venezuela, out the country and restrict its reporting. Two weeks ago, following some of the worst of the initial violence, Twitter reported that the government was blocking some of the images being tweeted by its users. The government denied the accusation. Twitter penetration in Venezuela is the fourth-highest in the world.
According to the human rights group Foro Penal Venezolano, 732 people have been arrested across the country and 33 tortured. The government denies any torture, but the accusations from both sides are mounting. Last week, the international group Human Rights Watch said, “Venezuelan security forces have used excessive and unlawful force against protesters on multiple occasions since February 12, including beating detainees and shooting at crowds of unarmed people.”
Following the first protests on Feb. 5, there were accusations that pro-government, pro-Chavista groups called colectivos, basically armed militia on motorcycles who had played a role in bringing Chavez to power, attacked civilians and broke into private residences. In the spike in violence surrounding the massive Feb. 12 march in Caracas, a well-known colectivo leader was shot and killed during a counter-demonstration, and the group was blamed for starting the violence in which two people were killed. All this is because it is the middle classes that bear the brunt of any economic downtrend and this back-bone of any economy was suffering in a manner that can at best be described intolerable

Putin, Sisi and ‘The Square’

Putin and Sisi seem to emerging two strongmen , and both strongmen should watch the Egyptian film resonating from Cairo to Kiev. The Egyptian strongman Field Marshal Abdul Fattah el-Sisi was recently in Moscow visiting with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Putin reportedly offered Sisi $2 billion in arms — just what a country like Egypt, where half the women can’t read, needs. The whole meeting struck me as so 1960s, so Nasser meets Khrushchev — two strongmen bucking each other up in the age of strong people and superempowered individuals. Rather than discuss arms sales, Sisi and Putin should have watched a movie together.
Specifically, Sisi should have brought a copy of The Square — the first Egyptian film ever nominated for an Oscar. It’s up this year. Sisi has a copy. Or, to be more precise, his film censor’s office does. For the last few months, the Egyptian authorities have been weighing whether to let the film — an inspiring and gripping documentary that follows six activists from the earliest days of the Tahrir Square revolution in 2011 until the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted by Sisi in 2013 — to be shown in Egypt. Meanwhile, pirated and downloaded copies of the film, which is also on Netflix, have spread virally across Egypt and been viewed by many Egyptians in homes and coffeeshops and discussed on social media. What’s more, it was recently
dubbed into Ukrainian and downloaded (some 300,000 times) by protesters there and shown in the Maidan, which also means the Square, in Kiev. A dubbed version is now spreading in Russia, too, said the film’s director Jehane Noujaim, who also directed Control Room.
“This is the globalisation of defiance,” Noujaim said to me. “With cheap, affordable cameras and internet connections, anyone now can change the conversation” anywhere. It’s true. The film resonates with those who gathered in squares from Cairo to Caracas to Kiev, added the film’s producer, Karim Amer, because it captures an increasingly universal phenomenon: average people uniting and deciding “that the Pharaoh, the strongman, won’t protect us” and the religious sheikh “won’t cleanse us.” We can be and must be “authors of our own story.” It has long been said, added Amer, that “history is written by the victors. Not any more.” Now versions can come from anywhere and anyone. Power is shifting “from the pyramid to the square” — from strongmen to strong people — “and that is a big shift.”
And that’s why Putin and Sisi need to see the film. (Disclosure: the filmmakers are friends of mine, and I have been discussing their project with them for two years.) It captures some of the most important shifts happening today, starting with fact that in today’s hyperconnected world wealth is getting concentrated at the top, but, at the same time, power is getting distributed at the bottom and transparency is being injected everywhere. No palace will remain hidden by high walls, not even the giant one reportedly being built for Putin on the Black Sea. But people now can’t just see in, they can see far — how everybody else is living. And as Tahrir and Kiev demonstrate, young people will no longer tolerate leaders who deprive them of the tools and space to realise their full potential.
Another reason Putin, Sisi and all their protesters need to see The Square is that it doesn’t have a happy ending — for anyone, not yet. Why? The Egyptian protesters got sidelined by the army, because while they all wanted to oust the Pharaoh, they couldn’t agree on a broader reform agenda and translate that into a governing majority. But Putin and Sisi will also lose if they don’t change, because there is no stable progress
without inclusive politics and economics. I understand the need and longing by those not in the squares for “stability” and “order.” Putin and Sisi both rose to power on that longing for stability after so much revolutionary ferment. But both men have to be asked: Stability to do what? To go where?

The World of Narendra Abe

Modi represents an Asian nationalism sparked by China’s rise, West’s duplicity. At the tail end of a question-answer session following a lecture in Detroit, an East Asian member of the audience asked me if I could enlighten him on what India’s foreign policy was likely to be in a Narendra Modi government. Pressed for time, and not prepared for the question, I offered a telegraphic reply. Modi, I told him, would be the Shinzo Abe of India. Many heads nodded in the audience, as if my reply was crystal clear.
Modi is not an Abe in terms of his inheritance. Abe’s biography reads more like that of Rahul Gandhi. The grandson of a former prime minister, Abe is related to the Japanese emperor. He is the “insider” among Tokyo’s power elite. Modi is the “outsider” in the Delhi darbar. But, Modi would seek to define his foreign policy in more nationalist terms, as Abe has tried to, partly as a way of reviving the national mood in a dispirited country.
Modi represents a brand of Asian nationalism kindled by China’s rise and the West’s part-confused, part-duplicitous response. Asian nations preparing themselves for the new power balances of the 21st century have to chart their own course, dealing with a rising China and a West preoccupied with its economic woes.
It is noteworthy that the three countries that Modi has visited as chief minister have been China, Japan and Singapore. The Asian focus of Modi’s foreign policy has been shaped both by the West’s, especially the United States’, treatment of him and, more importantly, the longstanding admiration of Asian nationalism within the wider Sangh Parivar. It is not often remembered in contemporary discourse that during the 1970s and ’80s, the intellectual leadership of the Jana Sangh greatly admired Japan. As Asia’s first industrial nation, which was also the first Asian power to defeat a European one in over 300 years, Japan was a great source of inspiration for Indian leaders including Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru.
But it is not just history, technology and investible capital that makes Japan a country to draw inspiration from. Modi seems to recognise the value of Abe’s combination of investing in domestic economic capability and external strategic capacity for nation building. Modi’s domestic policy focus, drawing from Gujarat’s experience, has been on building India’s economic capability. His political rhetoric focuses on the need to revitalise a moribund economy, which is exactly how Abe came to power in a depressed and depressing Japan.
Not surprisingly, Modi’s first major foreign policy statement in the run up to the general elections of 2014 has also focused on China’s new assertiveness. However, as journalist Ashok Malik has observed, Modi would understand that India has to, for some time to come, maintain a balanced relationship with China, pushing back in response to its assertiveness but cooperating with it to ensure the continuity of Asia’s rise. In essence, Modi’s policy towards China is unlikely to be very different from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s, as Malik has also noted, though it will be articulated more emphatically than many in the Congress party and government were willing to.
While talking tough, Modi should be expected to do business with China. On his visit to Beijing in 2011, when China received him with the courtesy due to a head of government at a time when Western governments were refusing to even give him a visa, Modi invited Chinese companies to invest in India. He has often urged Indian business leaders to learn from China. He should be expected to pursue a balanced policy of defending India’s national interests at a bilateral level while working with China at the regional and global level.
It is also unlikely that Modi’s approach to the US would be any different from that of Singh. Recall the fact that during the entire debate on the India-US civil nuclear energy cooperation agreement, Modi adopted a more supportive posture than the BJP’s national leadership was willing to. BJP leader L.K. Advani’s trenchant opposition was defined by his desperation to dislodge the Manmohan Singh government and become prime minister. Those close to Modi within the BJP, like Arun Jaitley, adopted a more conciliatory stance on the nuclear deal. Just as the Congress was divided on the subject, so was the BJP.
While Modi should be expected to remain engaged with the US, it is up to the Obama administration to wake up and craft a more consistent and convincing India policy. The recent impasse in the bilateral relationship is a result of policy confusion both in New Delhi and Washington DC. Modi’s election may clear the air in Delhi, but it may further muddy the waters in Washington, unless President Barack Obama pays personal attention and seeks to revive the relationship.
Modi should, however, be expected to be forthright in his outreach to Japan. Not only did the Japanese also receive him as if he were a head of government when he visited Tokyo, but they have also put their money where their mouth is and are investing in Gujarat in a big way.
Modi, like three of his predecessors — Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh — should also be expected to give priority to India’s economic imperatives in crafting his foreign policy. His election campaign has focused on the need to step up economic growth, holding Gujarat as an example for India. His “5 T” focus on “talent, tourism, technology, tradition and trade” would suggest that mutually beneficial relations with countries that can contribute to these Ts, especially trade, technology and tourism, should be a priority. These elements should also define his neighbourhood policy, as well as stance towards other emerging economies.
In keeping with his nationalist posture, Modi should be expected to strengthen the relationship between defence and diplomacy. This would privilege the relationship with Israel and other major defence suppliers. It should also revive India’s engagement with Indian Ocean maritime diplomacy. Taken together, all these elements would suggest that the role model for Modi may well be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, whose singular focus has been on restoring to Japan its lost dynamism.

India – An Existing Colonial State

When India became independent, its first head of state was its last Viceroy. Pakistan chose to break the connection completely and Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the head of state. The Congress, despite its years of struggle for independence, chose continuity with the British Raj rather than rupture. This was also the message implicit in the Gandhian tactic of unarmed struggle and lawful defiance of the regime. The Congress never challenged the system of courts nor the legal corpus built up under British rule.
It is this continuity which has perhaps helped India establish a stable regime, though its neighbours did the same and it did not help them. The civil service and all the rules and procedures have been inherited from the imperial rule. The Government of India kept, and has used, the entire apparatus of draconian laws to maintain security. The Emergency of 1975-77 was a reminder of the alien rule. Many of the repressive articles of the Constitution are derived from the Government of India Act 1935.
The principal instrument of preserving order — the Indian Penal Code — is also frequently, if not daily, in use to restrict the many activities of citizens — be it meetings, or marches, or any assembly of more than five people etc. The Indian Penal Code, perhaps even more than education in the English medium, is Macaulay’s lasting gift. A law written in the 1830s, that was codified 30 years later, rules India as if nothing has changed over the past 150 years. Britain, in the meantime, has been through many legal revolutions and has modernised the legal system on which Macaulay based his version. India still sticks to it.
Recently, Article 377 — criminalising unnatural sex — has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court as the law of the land. The LGBT community, their friends and supporters would like it to be changed. The law on rape has been drastically revised after the Nirbhaya tragedy. This was done through a combination of events, from powerful mass mobilisation to a speedy report by sympathetic experts and an exemplary exercise by an otherwise unproductive Parliament to enact a law.
Nothing so speedy is likely for 377. Nor will it be possible to mount a mass campaign against Section 295 A, which criminalises speech that offends some religious community or other. This is the law behind which Penguin took shelter and withdrew Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. Penguin cited risk of their staff being attacked as one of the reasons. This implied that when it comes to religious hit squads, the Indian State cannot be relied upon to defend its citizens’ rights. Or perhaps one should say not the State but the government, of whichever party it is, which weighs in balance the rights of the citizen publishing or selling books as less valuable than pandering to the outrage of a religious vote bank, no matter how small.
There is no doubt that the politicisation of religion in the past three decades has been the most sinister threat to the freedom of expression of Indians. The hypocrisies of secularism have allowed governments to get away with attacking the right of their citizens to indulge in free expression by sheer passivity in face of an attack. This passivity has been ecumenical, affecting Taslima Nasrin, M F Husain, Salman Rushdie, the employees of the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune and now, tacitly, Penguin employees. India is no longer a leading light in matters regarding freedom of speech, as shown by a recent ranking which put the country at 140th among 200 nations.
What then is to be done? In a nation of lawyers, it should be easy to ask that we re-examine the continued relevance of the Indian Penal Code and see if there are aspects of it which need rewriting or excising. This can only be done comprehensively for the entire code, which must be ripe for revision after 150 years. It is not so much a concession to minority tastes but a signal that India now feels at ease with itself and that it is independent enough to have its own laws.

 

Russia Secures the Motherland

Russia is bullying Ukraine into submission, setting the stage for a more assertive Moscow. To Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine isn’t a foreign country—Ukraine is part of Russia. In his version of history, Russia traces its origins back to Kievan Rus—the first Slavic state that centered on Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. The Kievan Rus ruled Moscow and much of the area that is now Russia’s heartland.
Today, many Ukrainians reject the idea that they and the Russians are one people. They find Putin’s description of Ukraine as “little Russia” offensive. Much of Ukraine’s youth would love to be rid of their self-proclaimed big brother, but they’re weighed down with one major curse: Russia still needs Ukraine.
If Ukraine were to ally itself with an enemy nation, Russia can forget about being a world power. Ukraine is a dagger pointed at the Russian heartlands. There are no natural, defensible barriers to stop an invader from Ukraine. Add to that the fact that Ukraine wasn’t merely a member of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War—it was part of the USSR itself. Russia’s modern defense architecture was built to include Ukraine as part of the homeland.
Some of that has been dismantled during Ukraine’s 20 years of independence. Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons from the USSR, for example. These have now been destroyed or sent back to Russia.
But much still remains. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is stationed in Sevastopol, in Ukraine—its largest military base outside of Russia. In addition, the deeply connected business and financial interests means that if Ukraine were to open up to the West and adopt its standards of transparency, a lot of powerful Russians (and Ukrainians) could lose a lot of money.
So when Ukraine appeared ready to sign an association and free trade agreement with the European Union, much was at stake. But all this interconnectivity gives Russia a lot of ways to prevent Ukraine from escaping its grip. President Putin quickly deployed the proverbial carrot and stick.
Nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s exports go to Russia. Over 60 percent go to former Soviet countries. Russia threatened to interfere with these—raising tariffs, inventing health concerns and delaying trucks at the border for up to three days.
Ukraine also imports 60 percent of its natural gas from Russia, effectively allowing Moscow to kill Ukraine’s economy at will. Completely shutting off Ukraine’s gas damages Russia’s reputation in the rest of Europe, pushing the Europeans to look for other suppliers. So instead, Russia charges Ukraine a high price.
At the same time, Russia offered Ukraine several carrots: debt forgiveness, cheaper tariffs and even cheaper gas—if Ukraine joins Russia’s customs union. Meanwhile, Russia has been conducting a long-term offensive to win Ukraine’s hearts and minds. This offensive includes funding blockbuster movies that extol the two nations’ shared heritage. Such initiatives could give Russia a more enduring hold on the country than its promises of threats and bonuses. Roughly 30 percent of the nation speaks Russian, which already gives Russia a lot of cultural influence.
One of Russia’s most important tools, however, is the Russian Orthodox Church. The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, allegedly worked for the KGB during the Cold War. He makes frequent trips to Ukraine, trying to woo back part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that broke away from Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Forced more by short-term threats than these long-term efforts, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met Putin at a military airport near Moscow on November 9. Shortly afterward, Ukraine’s agreement with Europe was over.
Ukraine’s pullout turned Europe’s Eastern Partnership summit, held on November 28 and 29, into a failure. In fact, it has ruined the whole initiative, which was designed to bring former Soviet countries into Europe’s orbit.
Moldova and Georgia both initialed agreements at the summit, but crucially they did not sign them (despite some news outlets reporting that they did). The difference is important. Ukraine had also initialed the agreement, but the deal is not done until it is signed. Georgia and Moldova have merely committed to working toward signing a deal at a later date.
Besides, both of these countries contain breakaway regions occupied by Russian troops. They are all but defenseless against Russia. If Russia still wants to prevent them drifting toward Europe, it has plenty of time to “do a Ukraine” on them and persuade them against signing the association and free-trade agreements.
The Eastern Partnership program was designed to bring six former Soviet nations into Europe’s sphere of influences. The states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The score at the moment? Russia 6, Europe 0.
This defeat could be deliberate. Germany’s and Russia’s interests overlap in so many areas—the Balkans, Cyprus, Syria, Eastern Europe, etc.—that they may have come to some kind of arrangement that the other European nations wouldn’t necessarily be in. Europe is so divided anyway that all Germany needed to do to prevent Ukraine’s participation in the Eastern Partnership program was refrain from giving Ukraine its wholehearted backing.
Even without a deal, Germany and France probably didn’t want to anger Russia by competing too hard for Ukraine. Europe is undoubtedly worried about the rise of Russia. But with the euro crisis causing unprecedented levels of unemployment and civil unrest, now is not a good time to pick a fight with Moscow.
And Europe’s defeat could still change. Europe may still manage to draw in Georgia and Moldova, leaving the two nations in an awkward limbo—oriented toward Europe, but with Russian soldiers within their borders.
Hundreds of thousands may have turned out to protest in Ukraine. But this is unlikely to change Ukraine’s course. The protests are smaller than in the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought a pro-European government to power. And the protesters don’t represent the whole population—they’re mainly students and Ukraine’s middle class. President Yanukovych will probably be able to weather the unrest.
But his attempt to balance between Europe and Russia could soon be over. While Yanukovych has steered closer to Russia than his pro-European predecessors, he does not want to be demoted to Putin’s puppet. So he has tried to play Europe and Russia against each other, keeping Ukraine balanced in the middle.
In the tussle over the past few months, Yanukovych has lost that balance. He could regain it, but it will be challenging. Ukraine’s financial situation is bleak. It has to pay the International Monetary Fund (IMF) $3.7 billion next year. Without outside help, Ukraine is in for some trying times. Unless Ukraine makes a U-turn, that help won’t come from the EU or the IMF. Which leaves Russia as the only option.
Either way Russia has succeeded—for now—in its primary objective in preventing Ukraine from aligning with the West. It is also closer than ever to making Ukraine little more than a satellite state. If Ukraine joins up to Russia’s customs union, it must give Russia veto power over any other trade arrangements. Ukraine will be unable to form alliances with other nations without Russia’s permission.
All of this leaves Russia more secure within its own borders than at any time since the 2004 Orange Revolution—perhaps even since the fall of the USSR.

Tragedy of South Asia -Trapped in Irrelevant Ideologies

Pakistan is stuck on India, and India is trapped in its own theories of society and economics. India’s pantheon of nationalism is populated by a number of static ideas: anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, socialism and populist economics a la Aam Aadmi Party. Given our changing world, these ideas have led to India’s isolation within an otherwise admiring international community. Pakistan’s nationalism is based on anti-Indianism — plus recent anti-Americanism “because America is tilting to rascally India”. Pakistan is internationally isolated because of this obsessive worldview.

Some Pakistanis blame the state for being non-pragmatic, sacrificing prosperity at the altar of its “India disease”, while in economic terms it is more “realistic” than India because of its pursuit of “free market” and IMF structural goals. Political leaders in India are rendered weak because of the breakup of India’s bipartisan system — or something resembling it, after the rise of the BJP. Now the focus is scattered and people vote for those who will give them welfare at the cost of budget deficits. The consensus in India is Kerala-model-based, not Gujarat-model-based.
Anti-colonialism, however, is flourishing in subaltern studies while Indian foreign policy is doing cool business with old colonisers and new imperialists. Some of its anti-globalisation policies — that look like protectionism posturing as pro-poor trade-barricading against “global exploitation” — are based on an interpretation of global capital that even post-Keynesian Amartya Sen will not buy and globalist Jagdish Bhagwati will abominate.
There is an Indian World Bank economist, Deepak Lal, whom I have admired for his boldness in challenging the embedded ideas of the nations that became free in the middle of the last century. His book In Praise of Empires: Globalisation and Order (2004) has been my guide in debunking bilious repetitions of “imperialism” and “neo-colonialism” in our political discourse.
I know I will be pilloried for my decadent intellectual apprenticeship to Lal, but I hear Pakistanis — propelled by religious fervour, unlike India — emetically theorising about how America is never going from Afghanistan because it has to colonise Central Asia for its natural resources. Deepak Lal is chilled about the global economic space as “value-neutral”, which cannot be used to underpin an ideology. Before India became prosperous, global multinationals were seen as purveyors of imperial intrigue against homo indicus. America’s soft power through Hollywood films and fast food was seen as an encroachment on something essentially “sacred” and Indian that had to be saved. (Now Indian soft power through Bollywood is changing Pakistan’s “essentialism”, which has really come down to mean surrender to the Taliban as the fulfilment of Pakistan’s founding ideal.)
Globalisation is not new. It was cyclical and was carried on Alexander’s shield and the curved sword of the Mughals. Lal states that it “promoted those gains from trade and specialisation later emphasised by Adam Smit0h, leading to Smithian intensive growth. Thus, the Greco-Roman empires linked the areas around the Mediterranean, the Abbasid empire of the Arabs linked the worlds of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean; the Mongol empire linked
China and Central Asia with the Near East; and the various Indian empires created a common economic space in the subcontinent.”
But the first global empire was British, in the 18th and 19th centuries, creating a global economy and an international order. The imperium of the hegemon was hated by other nations but each progressed through being enslaved by imperial armies. The hatred of Rome, whose empire “declined” for nearly a thousand years, was genuine but today we give space to Roman institutions in our legal codes. Colonialism was the only way new ideas could be enforced. The other function the hegemon carried out was the creation of peace or “pax” a common economic space. Today, as the news about America’s decline spreads, most capitals are worried about global order.
Pakistan hates America (80 per cent), but in the past it could fight wars with India and survive because it was backing the hegemon. There was a time when the Indian man thought negatively of America, but today he loves America by the same overwhelming margin of opinion. India was transformed by the American-led “free world” where Indian migrants liked to settle rather than the walled utopia of its Cold War ally, the Soviet Union. Lal debunks the Indian socialist’s definition of capitalism: “It is based on the power of the economically strong to coerce the weak; it is fuelled by the ancient Christian sin of greed; it is necessarily corrupt, as the rich steal from the poor, leading to a growing concentration of economic and thereby political power in the hands of unelected and hence undemocratic captains of business who run the multinational companies which are the hallmarks of global capitalism.” But another World Bank economist, Surjit Bhalla, responds to this contention by dismissing tendentious statistics used to “support ideological conclusions about the state of the world.”
A recent book, The Poorer Nations, by Vijay Prashad encapsulates the entrenched view: “The end of colonialism did not mean the complete end of imperialist domination but it did mark a change in the nature of empire. Tools that ensure the global economy serve the interests of those in power include control over international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.”
Some in Pakistan are following India, but from the Islamic point of view: Don’t privatise the colossally loss-making steel mill in Karachi because it is disallowed by a verse of the Quran. There is anti-colonial nationalism rampant in Pakistan, directed at America, especially after rascally Manmohan Singh took India into a strategic partnership with the evil hegemon.
Anti-imperialism seemed attractive in the past too. Pankaj Mishra in his recent book, From the Ruins of Empire: Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia, presents a very interesting portrait of the quintessentially anti-British hero of the Islamic world, Syed Jamaluddin Afghani (1838-1897), who thought Muslims of the world could rise as one nation by modernising themselves. Mishra tells us how unfair Afghani as a modernist was to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who looked at the British imperium as a civilising process and wanted Indian Muslims to lurch out of their pre-modern dreams by being good subjects. Tagore too liked the “spirit of the West” but hated the “nation of the West” because it taught the evil of nationalism to “innocent” India.
Afghani, praised by Pakistan’s national poet Muhammad Iqbal in his famous lectures, was a bit of a soldier of fortune, with a lot of traditional learning easing his entry into the Muslim societies of Turkey, India, Iran and Egypt. But he got his comeuppance in France where orientalist Ernest Renan, a much greater mind, told him prophetically that his claim that Muslims would ultimately turn to reason and modernity will never be proved right as the Muslims will defeat his thinking just as they had defeated and physically thrashed Ibn Rushd (Averroes) in the 12th century for having learned too much of Aristotle.
As aberrant America imports manufactured goods while outsourcing its own manufacturing to the nations it is supposed to exploit, in defiance of the old theory of raw material extraction, India is exporting its intellectual merit to the West. In the long term, this intellect will reward India with economic realism.

Hypocrisy Thy Name is India

Indians are affably argumentative, but more so and less likably, the Indian State is intensely hypocritical. It remains very medieval despite its veneer of modernism. Examples of medievalism abound. We value Indian lives very low. No minister has ever resigned because citizens, in their charge, starved to death or died due to lack of emergency medical aid or if large numbers of students fail to pass in public schools. Corruption is a leitmotif of even the simplest public transaction like lodging a First Information Report at a police station (this is something which should even be possible by email or sms or whatsapp); avoiding getting arrested for drunk driving; getting a copy of case records from the lower courts or seeking protection from physical harassment and assault.
The best illustration of lingering medievalism and nascent modernism is the conscious use of hypocrisy by the State, to keep alive the hope of change without disturbing the status quo. There are many such State hypocrisies but five major ones stand out.
The biggest hypocrisy is the Constitutional provision that religion does not matter for State policy formulation and execution. Everything points to a different truth. The Shah Bano episode (1986) is the best example of how religion and politics have been inseparable. In this case the Supreme Court granted maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman (as is the right of any Indian woman) but the government rescinded this progressive judgment through a perverse, new law to appease orthodox Muslim sentiment. Meanwhile, to placate orthodox Hindu sentiment, which was being fanned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (a Hindu rights outfit), it also opened the gates of the disputed site of the Babri Masjid which had been locked by the government since 1885 to preserve the status quo on counter claims to possession rights by Muslims and Hindus. Incidentally 1885 is also the year the Indian National Congress was founded. By 1986 (a century later) the Congress was not averse to play the communal card with an eye to the 1989 elections.
Other more visible “red flags” of regressive religious politics are the low pan-Indian representation of Muslims in government; the increasing ghettoization of Muslims even in new urban areas; blatantly pro-Muslim or Hindu political parties and decreasing levels of productive social interaction between the two major communities since 1947. Let’s face it. The religious cleavage exists in an antagonistic form and is increasing. It is only once we accept this that we can get to talk about how to bridge it.
The second big hypocrisy is that all Indians are created equal. Democracy and the positive affirmation (reservations) policy have solidified caste much more than the dilution effect from urbanization. If Pandit Nehru saw Sardar Patel as a biased Hindu he would be shocked at the manner in which political leaders today pander to narrow interests of backward caste and Dalit vote banks. After religion, caste is the next most significant political identity of Indians. The majority of Indians wed within their caste and vote for caste candidates. Indians are not born equal. They struggle to overcome the inherited, rigid social and economic barriers of caste and very few succeed, despite the Constitution and a range of laws prohibiting caste based biases.
The third big hypocrisy (which we share with much of the World) is that women are treated equal to men. They are not and never have been. The good news here is that since this is an international problem, the state of play is fairly advanced. Policy, law and programs are working to empower women economically in the hope that social change will follow; to measure their levels of satisfaction; to assess results and to provide special protection to them in the transition period.
The fourth big hypocrisy is that poverty is reducing at a satisfactory rate. This is far from true. Even worse, asserting this statistically, as the government does, lulls us into believing that following the current path and simply doing more of what we do already, will get us to a poverty free India. It cannot.
Average per capita income needs to triple in real terms and inequality to reduce significantly before we can even claim to have found the correct direction. Some measurable indicators are a consistent growth above 8% per year; a more equal sharing between the rich and 70% of the rest of the benefits of incremental growth (we don’t monitor this periodically) and the rate of job creation in the formal economy.
The fifth hypocrisy is that the existing governance architecture of Parliamentary Democracy is suitable for India. It is not. Both Parliament and Cabinet have ceased to play their intended role as checks on personal aggrandizement and protecting minority interests. This has been true for State Governments over the last three decades but over the past decade even the GOI Cabinet has become the poodle of Party bosses. The sanctity and effectiveness of Parliament is eroded by the behavior of lumpen elements, more familiar with brute force than reasoned argument or moral persuasion. Corruption vitiates executive decision making to the extent that the judiciary becomes the aam admi’s “de-facto government” for seeking redress.
How can this familiar tale of woe be altered?
First what is not measured and recorded cannot be dealt with. Enumerate caste/tribe and religion in the census so we know the numbers; the spatial distribution and their wellbeing. Map caste and religion data on a publicly available GIS down to the village and urban ward level so that government interventions can be calibrated to local social norms and results assessed by third parties. Assess poverty levels bi-annually using mobile based rapid data collection instruments to better relate schemes (like the Right to Food or the Right to Work) to poverty reduction outcomes.
Second review the existing incentive structures for diluting religion, caste, gender inequality, poverty and improving the functioning of the executive, parliament and judiciary.
Caste based affirmative action (reservations) clearly perpetuates an “us versus them” psychology. Diluting it by adding poverty criterion, requires more data and monitoring, but can lead to the dominance of more modern pressure groups like professional affiliations (farmers, business owners, employees), locational interests (Biharis or Mumbaikars) or ideological solidarity (environmentalists, big or small government advocates, gay rights advocates).
All government programs and projects should be evaluated for their poverty reduction potential before approval by the government and income enhancement targets fixed. Achievement against targets must be monitored by third parties with the results made public. This will reduce pork (roads to nowhere) and gold plating (capital heavy projects which do nothing for jobs-why not let private business do these?).
The Constitution should be revised to completely separate the Executive from Parliament. The PM and her deputy to be directly elected with minimum vote shares prescribed in each constituency to ensure inclusion. The ministerial executive team to be nominated by the PM and endorsed by the Parliament. The internal emergency provisions should similarly require the endorsement of parliament to protect state government autonomy from an aggressive PM. The 2014 elections are being fought in any case on the basis of “US President like” identities.
This simple change can ensure that the PM is popularly elected and is not just a “shoo-in”. It can also improve the quality of MPs by getting rid of those who contest for Parliament seats (often by paying for them) only as an avenue for eventually getting into lucrative executive positions. Legislative ability requires skills in law and social sciences apart from a feel for the local interests an MP represents. Executive ability requires specialization and narrow experience. The system must present separate choices to the electorate and to those desiring to enter politics
The bottom line is to transit from being an affable but hypocritical India to a more results oriented and honest India. In the modern world time is money and the long route to poverty reduction whilst changing incrementally is costly. Social stability is a merit good in the Indian plural context. But the price for social stability must be paid by the rich and not the poor or the marginalized.

Ukraine Crisis: Russia Displays Its Power

Around 150,000 soldiers, 880 tanks, 120 helicopters, 90 warplanes and 1,200 other pieces of military equipment deployed along Russian’s western border after President Vladimir Putin ordered sudden military drills on February 26. The drills, Russia says, have nothing to do with events in Ukraine, they’re merely designed to test the combat readiness of the military. But as it makes this display of power, Russia is repeating exactly the same motions it went through before invading Georgia in 2008, where it launched very similar military exercises right before the war began.
There are more parallels. Ahead of the Georgia War, Russia offered citizenship to the inhabitants of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It has said it will make the same offer to those living in the Crimea—an autonomous republic within Ukraine.
In fact, the Crimea could give Russia the perfect pretext to invade. The republic was part of Russia proper until Nikita Khrushchev gave it to the Ukraine SSR in 1954. Fifty-eight percent of the population is ethnically Russian. According to Ukrainian think tank Razumkov Centre, 63.8 percent of Crimeans would like to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
To take the Crimea, Russia wouldn’t even have to launch an invasion. Sevastopol, the peninsula’s main port, houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Around 13,000 Russian soldiers are usually stationed there. Journalists on the ground already report that Russian solders are taking positions beyond their base.
Meanwhile, armed protesters have taken over Crimea’s parliament. “They have enough arms to defend [themselves] for one month,” former Crimean Prime Minister Serhiy Kunitsin said.
Ukraine’s response has been bold, bordering on crazy. “Any [Russian] military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory [Russia’s base] will be seen by us as military aggression,” acting Ukrainian President Olexander Turchinov told Russia. In response to the occupation of Crimea’s parliament, he announced, “I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings.”
This could get really dangerous. After all, Turchinov represents a government that came to power because armed protesters, with popular support, forcibly took control of government buildings. How are the protesters in Crimea’s parliament any different? If Ukraine’s new government starts forcibly removing Crimean protesters from government buildings, Putin could invade, using the West’s reasoning against them.
NATO is trying to act tough, but America’s credibility has been weakened to the point that it is having little effect. The alliance’s defense ministers signed a statement on February 26, saying that “NATO allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers, as key factors of stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe and on the Continent as a whole.”
A decade or two ago, that would have been a promise that America would go to war if Russia invades. But no one seriously expects America to do that now. After the Georgia War and then Syria’s “Red Lines,” no one believes it when America draws a line in the sand. Instead of stopping Russia in its tracks, the statement has been ignored.
But Putin does have one pretty compelling reason to stay out of Ukraine: He doesn’t need to invade. Russia controls most of Ukraine’s trade. Russia is the only nation prepared to lend Ukraine large amounts of money without demanding painful sacrifices. A large amount of the country—perhaps even a majority—support politicians who take a more pro-Russian stance.
The main objective of the Euromaidan protests wasn’t to draw closer to the West, it was to get rid of a corrupt political class. If Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions can blame all of the corruption on deposed president Viktor Yanukovych, it could still do well in elections.
Meanwhile, the pro-West camp has no clear leader. Splits have caused it real problems in the past. And some leaders, like Yulia Tymoshenko, have proven they have no problem doing business with Russia.
The 2004 Orange Revolution teaches an important lesson. Those protesters brought pro-West Viktor Yushchenko into power. The American and European journalists went home. The West considered that was the end of it, mission accomplished, Ukraine was now part of the West. But once it gained power, the pro-West camp fractured and Russia continued working behind the scenes. By 2010, Russia’s man, Viktor Yanukovych, was back in office.
Russia could choose to play it exactly the same way this time. In a way, the future of Ukraine is simple. Russia desperately needs Ukraine. Europe doesn’t want to take responsibility for yet another nation in financial trouble. Russia holds all the cards, and has an overwhelming military force on Ukraine’s border. Europe has very few ways to influence events. All this points to a clear Russian victory.
There are two big unknowns: the protesters and Putin. How hard will the protesters push? Will they provoke a confrontation with Russia by going after the Crimea? And will Putin want to make an example of Ukraine, moving in the military to ensure he doesn’t lose face in all the other countries he wants under Russian control?
The stakes are high. Regardless of whether Russia actually invades or not, Europe has to be pretty shaken. Just the fact that Putin can launch exercises involving hundreds of thousands of men in a matter of hours is impressive.
For European nations, a Russian invasion in modern Europe is all but unthinkable. The fact that it is a serious possibility, even if it doesn’t happen, will have shaken some key leaders. The break-up of Yugoslavia was bad enough. But that began only shortly after the iron curtain came down. And it was one-sided in Europe’s favor. This time, the side Europe supports could actually lose.
The people on the street weren’t solely factory workers, farmers or coal miners. There were computer programers, marketing professionals and college students. In other words, Ukraine is a modern nation, not all that different from the other European countries to its west.
That a war could happen somewhere like that, right on the borders of the EU, is a wake-up call to Europe. Even if the Russian tanks poised on Ukraine’s borders don’t roll, we will see some changes.
We saw the start of those changes even before Ukraine really exploded. Russia’s belligerence played a major role in Germany officially ending its decades of pacifism and announcing a more aggressive foreign policy. How much more will Germany and Europe change as a result of Russia’s latest threat?