Modi Government : Are We Seeing Reforms or Efficiency

At the end of six months of the Modi Government in India  do we see any sign of specific program, or we witnessing merely increased efficiency.  that it is confusing efficiency with reform? I ask the question because so far there is no sign of real reform in any area of governance. But there are clear and visible signs of efficiency. Efficiency that comes from reforms is welcome, but efficiency that comes from a hard task master’s whip is of transient nature. Efficiency born out of reforms is genuine and ever lasting. It becomes a religion and percolates down the generations. Enforced efficiency is a yoke that is thrown aside at the first sign of relaxation. Efficiency generated by infamous emergency of the nature, while systemic efficiency of Canada and Scandinavian countries is the real one and that is what should be aimed at.

Now even some of Narendra Modi’s most ardent supporters are now beginning to get worried. Last week I met a gentleman who dedicated a whole year to helping Modi become Prime Minister and he seemed despondent. When I asked how he thought the government was doing, he said he would answer in the words of the management guru Peter Drucker, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”
We can certainly not fault this government on efficiency. Ministers, high officials, clerks and peons now report for duty on time and are no longer to be seen taking long lunch breaks to soak in winter sunshine in Delhi’s parks. The Prime Minister’s Office hums with more noise and activity than we have seen in a decade but, despite this, there are no signs of the policy changes that are vital if we are to see real reform. The Planning Commission has been abolished but there are many, many other leftovers from socialist times that must go. Do we need a Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in an age when the Internet has made propaganda futile? Do we need a meddlesome University Grants Commission? Do we need the government to continue wasting our money on a hopeless airline and badly run hotels? We do not.
What we do need is for the government to make policies that will convince investors that India is a safe bet once more. We do not need a new government that simply implements more efficiently bad policies that it inherited from the last government. It was because of those policies that investors fled and the economy stopped growing. Unless this changes through better policies, the jobs that the Prime Minister promises young people at election rallies will not come. So far signals are so mixed that investors continue to shy away.
The Finance Minister promises to end tax terrorism but in the next breath orders tax inspectors to go forth in search of black money. Vodafone has been given temporary relief by the courts but the retroactive tax remains valid. And, although we hear that the government has grandiose plans to improve the decrepit transport systems, power stations and ports it inherited, it continues to refuse to pay those who have to build them. The infrastructure industry is owed more than Rs 1.5 lakh crore in government dues and this has crippled major companies. No amount of efficiency in announcing new projects will make a difference unless old dues are cleared.
Reform is needed not just in economic matters but in every area of governance. Does the Prime Minister know how hard it is to get a passport? Does he know that a police check is required even if you just want to get a few pages added to your passport? Does he know how hard it is to do routine things like registering property? Does he know that no amount of efficiency will improve healthcare services that are broken?
No amount of efficiency will improve educational services that have long been in terminal decline because of bad policies and interfering officials. At the same time, the licence raj that strangles private investment in schools and colleges remains in place.
Modi’s popularity with ordinary people has increased since he became Prime Minister, as we saw from his rallies in Kashmir last week, but it will not last if the jobs do not come and if public services do not improve. At this point, may I say that I am fully aware that decades of Congress rule have left India in a very bad way, so to expect miraculous change in six months would be madness. What I do believe we have a right to expect from the man who promised ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’ are signs of changes in the offing. Every ministry should by now have given us at the very least a roadmap of the changes in policy we can expect in the next six months. This has not happened and this is the main reason why even Modi’s supporters are beginning to lose hope.
It has to be said that what has really changed in the past six months is the mood of India. Where there was total despair, there is now so much hope that it is almost frightening. The Prime Minister must seize the moment because, in politics, hope is tenuous and ephemeral. It manifests itself rarely and dissipates easily. India is in its thrall today as never before. Does Modi have what it takes to make hope endure?

Taj- Who Owns It?

It can happen only in India where the politicians ever on look out for exploiting masses on religious base come up with zany ideas. Now it is turn of world famous Taj- who owns it is the question that faces the nation. And the claimants are forgetting that is no one’s personal property not does it belong to any community. Some Muslims are of the view that a portion of the revenues from the Taj Mahal — Rs 21.84 crore in 2013-14, should be given to the state Waqf Board
Earlier this month, Samajwadi Party leader and senior UP minister Azam Khan said that the Taj Mahal should be handed over to the Sunni Central Waqf Board, and was backed by prominent Sunni cleric Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali. Subsequently, the Shia community laid claim to the Taj Mahal, arguing that Mumtaz Mahal was Shia, and the world famous Monument of Love was a demonstrably “Shia building”.
What did Azam Khan say? He argued that all burial places and mausoleums are Waqf property, and because the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built for a Mughal Empress, Shah Jahan’s wife, it should also be “handed over” to the Waqf. The statement created a storm — and not merely because the same Azam Khan had earlier this year berated the Mughal emperor himself for the “misuse of public funds” in building the Taj Mahal. He had even said that if mobs were to attack the Taj in the way the Babri Masjid had been attacked, he would have helped them “demolish” the monument.
Waqf Boards are trusts that look after all endowments made by Muslims — property used for religious purposes and activities. There are state Waqf Boards and the Central Waqf Council. The original legislation that started off these trusts in independent India came in 1954. Technically, all mausoleums and burial grounds are on Waqf land.
But what happens in practice? Some of the land is allegedly “encroached”. The Maharashtra Waqf Board, for example, claims that nearly 70 per cent of its land is encroached. Some monuments that were either abandoned or in ruins just after independence, or are spectacular with great historical importance, are under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Not just Muslim monuments, but several Hindu, Christian and Sikh monuments too are ‘living’, where prayers continue — like the Jagannath temple in Puri or the Bom Jesus Cathedral in Goa. Friday prayers are held at the mosque at the Taj, and the monument is not open for viewing that day. The Taj is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
So should Muslims be allowed to pray at every mosque, however ancient?
This is the nub of the heartburn and the debate. Several mosques and tombs that were in ruins were repaired by ASI and made functional. Muslims moved in then, and started using them as schools or madrasas, mosques and even as the residence for the mutawalli, or caretaker.
This annoyed a section, which wondered why the community was keen to occupy places it had not taken care of itself.
The other view is that because so many Muslims had fled during Partition, these places were abandoned. And it was only in the 1970s that Muslims gathered the confidence to want to offer prayers, and to use these monuments without fear. This view holds that they must be allowed to do so.
The ASI got around this by framing rules that allowed religious practice to continue, depending upon the status of the religious place at the time that the ASI had acquired it. If prayers were on then, they were allowed to continue — but not otherwise. This is what allows groups to try and ask for permission to offer prayers.
Why the fuss about the Taj now? It is not a new controversy, but Waqf is very prime land in most cases, and perhaps rising land prices and the general scarcity of land has made those associated with Waqf more anxious to increase revenues. Some Muslims are of the view that a portion of the revenues from the Taj Mahal — Rs 21.84 crore in 2013-14, mostly in entry fees, according to central government estimates — should be given to the state Waqf Board, because they technically own the land.
Is the ‘living’ monument principle clear and unambiguous? Responsible conservationists and those associated with the ASI say that India’s complexity makes it almost inevitable that negotiations would be carried out on a monument-to-monument basis over how worship is to be allowed to continue for a particular religion, and how others outside that faith are to interact with that monument. AGK Menon of INTACH recalled: “When some bricks in Jagannath Puri needed to be fixed, we had to get people to stop the puja for a while. But the priests had issues with that. So an ingenious solution was devised: sending Lord Jagannath on a trip during that time, so the puja could be stopped briefly and the repairs undertaken.” Maybe we need a clear approach of authorities who tell these people that national monuments are a national treasure and not a piece of property belonging to one set of individuals or one community.

Pakistan and Democracy

Pakistanis have a love for democracy that the rest of the world should admire, if the rest of the world wasn’t flinching every time we shifted in our seat. —Reuters. Democracy never sounded like a good idea to me. Not the way it was sold, anyway. Yet, against their culture of autocracy, Pakistanis have yearned for democracy for the last 68 years. Most of their struggles had been for the survival of democracy. They successfully reclaimed their right to be governed democratically by defeating four usurpers in uniform and by frustrating many more carefully orchestrated conspiracies. The risk of reversal is still there but the journey to realise democratic dreams continues.
The narrative of democracy in Pakistan reminds me of a childhood story, ‘Blind Men and the Elephant’. The elite view it as a share in the economic cake including loot and plunder. The poor regard it as an agency for patron-client relationship and then there is the mufassil and modern middle class that has read somewhere that democracy is about equality, inclusion, justice and rule of law — concerns deliberately avoided by the elite and the poor. Critics of Pakistani democracy promote numerous unexploded .
Myth 1 — Presidential system is more suitable than the messy parliamentary architecture
Reality: Pakistan has spent more time under highly centralised presidential dispensations at the cost of its federal diversity. The odd experience of One Unit (1955-1970) cost the nation its federal unity. The Dominion status after Independence imported the centralised federal system embedded in the Indian Act of 1935. Pakistan has had pure parliamentary governance for only 34 per cent of its national life, spanning 24,488 days till August 31, 2014. Therefore, denial of federal-parliamentary democracy is the real problem.
Myth 2 — The Constitution does not address core critical issues and does not offer bread and butter
Reality: Pakistan has experienced high constitutional mortality. The single product – Pakistan – had been operated through multiple user manuals — the Constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 and a series of Provisional Constitutional and Legal Framework Orders. Resultantly, the product has crashed on many occasions. Lesson: please stick to the compatible manual that is nothing but federal-parliamentary democracy.
Myth 3 — The Peoples’ part of the Constitution – fundamental rights and the Principles of Policy (Article 8-40) – has never been implemented.
Reality: Whenever there is martial law, fundamental rights are suspended. The dictators do get a set of obedient judges through Provisional Constitutional Orders and puppet parliaments like the Majlis-e-Shura. But we, the people, don’t even remain citizens as our rights are suspended. The total life of the Constitution of 1973 is 14,992 days (41 years). Practically it has been operational for only less than 20 per cent at different stages. So who actually denied our rights? In terms of the resources to realise these rights, the weak civilian governments only had a pastry to share with the 200 million whereas the big cake was baked only for the garrison state.
So what is the way out? Address the civil-military disequilibrium and negotiate peace with neighbours. Pakistanis also need a compulsory vaccine of ‘democratic civic education’ and a series of crash courses in democracy, constitutionalism, due process and democratic conflict resolution to transform our heated political culture into a delivering democracy. Only then will we be out of the thick woods and be able to see the real dawn of democracy that cares and caters to the socio-economic needs of its citizens.
‘Government of the people, for the people, by the people,’ sounds less like a promising achievement and more like a warning. It only works when you don’t think about the fact that the people really shouldn’t be trusted with anything, unless that thing has had all its edges sanded off and no small wiggly bits that they might accidentally swallow and choke on.
My point is, people really aren’t all that great. And before you think I’m a snob for saying so, remember I am ‘people’ too. I know exactly what kind of an idiot I am. Just off the top of my head, I often forget to pull up my zip before leaving the house, I’m still not totally sure what relationship the Senate and the Parliament have in the government (although I pretend like I do), and I will shamelessly admit to liking the new Taylor Swift song despite being a 36-year-old man. And this is just the stuff that I’m willing to admit to.
Why should I be allowed any say in the way a country is run? My vote should be confiscated on the basis of musical taste alone. Yet, democracy is what we want.
Pakistanis genuinely have a love for democracy that the rest of the world should admire, if the rest of the world wasn’t so busy flinching every time it shifted in its seat.
It took Egypt almost 5000 years to try democracy, which they then screwed up. The rest of the Middle East is even more embarrassing in how they have yet to realise why it’s a bad idea to let some random guy with all the weapons and money rule over you for the remainder of his bloated life.
Most European countries have ‘parliamentary democracies’ (see how I threw that into conversation without being 100 per cent sure what it means) but also still have kings. In 2014. And they call us backward. At least we don’t believe in Narnia.
And American democracy is vibrant and inspiring if you like the idea of a two-party system where both parties are owned by the same corporate lobbies and only about 12 people in the whole country bother to vote. Compared to all of them, Pakistan has thrown off every dictatorship that ever tried taking root here, returning time and again to the idea of democratic governance.Democracy is today considered the most desirable and successful form of government. In part, this has to do with the fall of the world’s major monarchies and autocracies after the First World War and the collective voice of democratic Allied forces after their victory in the Second World War. After the fall of the last counter-democracy centre of power in former Soviet Union in the early ’90s, there has been no significant worldwide governance model that rivals democracy.
Yet, in the world’s most populous regions — Asia and Africa — the benefits of democracy have not reached the common people in many parts. Despite revolutions or regime changes resulting in the ousting of some long-standing dictators in the Middle East, the region continues to be wracked by violence and new power players are still emerging as a challenge to the nascent democracies.
Where democracy is still holding ground, as in Pakistan, key performance indicators impacting the public at large have miserably failed to show substantial improvements.
The oft-arising question of whether or not these outcomes point to a failure of democracy itself, is in fact out of place. This is because over a period of time, the word ‘democracy’ has come to be used as a catchphrase promising the only silver lining available to the masses. On the other hand, the principles of democracy, such as transparency in governance and performance measurement are not brought into public discourse in Pakistan as much as the need for having democracy.
Many ask if democracy is suited for a country like Pakistan. Hence the narrative to support democracy takes the shape of it being the ‘best revenge’, and its worst form being far better than the best dictatorship.
For such a comparison to hold, there must exist statistically correct and verifiable information on public well-being that is widely accepted. This obscurity around data, eg public expenditure and development budget utilisation etc, gives virtual impunity to policy- and decision-makers to act without worrying about the consequences of public scrutiny.
Take, for example, basic operations such as raising internal and external debts via direct loans, participating in IMF programmes, issuing bonds in the international market or printing currency notes. In Pakistan, decisions to undertake these financial activities, which have an immediate impact on inflation and long-term consequences on the country’s economic health, are not arrived at through adequate participation or approval by the people’s elected representatives in parliament.
Moreover, democracy must also allow for the public to ask questions and obtain answers about the government’s day-to-day working and its long-term planning for the country, including foreign policy. The lack of internal democratic processes is clearly evident in the political parties themselves, and their nominations for party office-bearers, assembly seats, and the position of prime minister. Often, the party heads and their close relatives retain control of the party with an iron hand before and after the elections. Apart from the need for electoral parties to demonstrate democratic norms, it’s also equally important that the election is transparent and not questioned by anyone. This must be done structurally, eg through use of modern technologies such as electronic voting systems.
These views about democracy and transparency can only be vouched for when there is enough faith in the democratic process itself within the country. With continued deterioration in public health and education, increased cost of living, growing income inequality, decreased per capita income and poor performance against nearly all international assessment para­meters such as Millen­nium Development Goals, Humans Rights Watch, Human Deve­lop­­ment Index and Transpa­rency In­­ter­na­tional, some ask whe­ther democracy is suited for a country like Pakistan, as those elected to govern repeatedly fail in providing better quality of life to the people who elect them.
On top of poor performance against the development indicators mentioned above and lack of data available to the public to make self-assessments on the progress and direction of elected governments, political actions such as the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance raise questions about the purpose of democracy. Is democracy in Pakistan about the people or about democrats ensuring their re-election while the masses in general suffer? Add to this the lack of visible accountability of public officers for mismanagement of disasters, such as the severe drought in Thar this year or the burning alive of people in the Karachi airport attack. Democracy thus appears an opaque and self-serving idea that benefits the same ruling elite.
For democracy to flourish in Pakistan, it has to claim a few sustained improvements in the lives of people whom it is supposed to serve, in a clear and transparent manner. Until this happens, the long marches and calls for ‘revolution’ demanding a change in the system rather than bringing in reforms for greater transparency and accountability in the existing democratic system will continue to haunt democracy in Pakistan.
In the last decade we’ve seen the diminished power of the two-party system with a genuine third party rising up and becoming a genuine contender in the next election. And in last year’s election, over 55 per cent of the country voted (according to most polling data). I’m surprised we haven’t yet invaded America to install true democracy.
So, why is it so difficult? Why, once we achieve democratic governance, do we want nothing more than to get rid of it? As soon as an election is over, everyone who didn’t win starts agitating for a new election, voters start apotheosising the last dictator, and we generally act miserable about the whole set up. The favourite Pakistani refrain is, “Pakistan isn’t made for democracy.”
The problem, I believe, is that while Pakistanis like the idea of democracy, the practical application is always a disappointment. It’s much like every season of Coke Studio, exciting in its promise and heartbreaking in its execution .
Gen Pervez Musharraf’s flawed opinion of democracy that he expressed during an interview with the BBC is certainly not without precedence. Other Pakistani military rulers before him, especially Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq, shared similar views: ‘Western-style democracy does not suit us.’ Ayub Khan spoke of ‘Basic Democracies’ and developed a constitutional scheme in which the federal parliament and the two provincial assemblies were indirectly elected.
The president himself was elected, and Fatima Jinnah defeated, by an indirect vote cast by 80,000 Basic Democrats. Yet, the moment the field marshal-president was out, Gen Yahya Khan abrogated the 1962 constitution, and we were back searching for a new form of political existence. Because their regimes had a weak political base, Ayub, Zia and Musharraf had to rely on the bureaucracy, which in due time became a political instrument and perpetuated the status quo. The result was a rise in regional and ethnic tensions and popular discontent. In contrast, the 1973 Constitution has shown resilience and survived distortions and quasi-judicial nostrums because it was anchored in one sound principle: every government must have the people’s mandate obtained on a regular basis — to wit, democracy must not be preceded or followed by any caveats or hamstrung by any reservations.
Pakistan’s unfortunate political history, including the 1971 trauma, has made it grapple with the cause-and-effect riddle. Were Pakistani politicians responsible for military interventions or did the military’s ambitions make it act? In other words, was it the quality of politics and politicians that led to the coups or was it the prolongation of military rule that stunted the growth and evolution of a stable political system and compromised the competence of the men who ran it? Why ‘Western democracy’ doesn’t suit Pakistan has never been explained , and no viable alternative has been demonstrated. Let us also note that Muslim countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh and Turkey are functioning democracies. Unfortunately, the military often enough finds support from some right-wing lobby or the other, which objects to parliament’s unrestricted right to legislate. However, all Pakistani constitutions have invariably included clauses that refer to Islamic values as the source of legislation. In addition, the 1973 Constitution gives every citizen the right to go to court and challenge a piece of legislation if it is violation of the Constitution.
All constitutions and systems must evolve. This should also be the case with this nascent democracy. The lack of political stability has not only cost half the country it has also done incalculable damage to national security, because policy formulation and prioritization have had an elitist rather than a national perspective.

Chamchagiri Zindabad – Long Live Sycophancy

The Indians normally use a word chamcha for an abject sycophant. This word has a certain connotation that simpkly cannot be described. it resonates with people of South Asia for derision that is attributable to sycophants- sory cahmcha. Many years ago when he was accused of being a ‘chamcha’ of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, with characteristic aplomb Khushwant Singh said that he was not just her ‘leading chamcha’ but an entire cutlery set. The savvy sardar knew only too well that in India chamchagiri had long replaced Gandhigiri as the unofficial code of state conduct.
Chamchas -literally ‘spoons’, perhaps because the one who plays this role feeds the ego of the one being toadied up to -abound in all walks of Indian life. In the corporate world, they are also referred to as ‘yes men’ who have morphed the Cartesian ‘I think, therefore I am’ to ‘I flatter, therefore aye am’. Corporate chamchas wear business suits and an ingratiating smile. This distinguishes them from political chamchas who wear khadi and an ingratiating smile. Like personal security guards, chamchas are a status symbol showing the world at large that the person in possession of them has not only arrived but reached the top of the ladder.
Ingratiating smile apart, the job of a chamcha requires that the person has a hide as thick as that of a rhino. When the boss, who the day before had called him a ‘gadha’ (ass), and had that day called him a ‘bewaqoof’ (fool), the chamcha-in-residence went about telling everyone that he had been promoted, in that from being an animal, an ass, he’d now been elevated to a human, an idiot.
Indeed mental vacuity is a requisite for the would-be chamcha. Julies Caesar might well have spoken for Indian political and commercial honchos surrounded by flatterers when he said: “Let me have men about me that are fat, Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”
The job description of a chamcha also necessitates a measure of physical fitness, as such an individual has daily to perform a series of reverential genuflexions before the individual being toadied up to. Urban legend has it that a chamcha who excused him from paying such homage on the grounds that he had a prostate problem which prevented him from bending and touching his mentor’s feet was promptly sacked because his explanation was misheard as his having a ‘prostrate problem’.
As it involves sucking up to one’s patrons, chamchagiri can be deemed to be an exercise in true lip service. This being the case, it can also prove to be the kiss-off for the personage being fawned upon. Having surrounded herself with chamchas who only told her what they thought she wanted to hear during her Emergency, Indira Gandhi called for an election in which she got a thorough drubbing.
This is why chamchagiri merits no more than three cheers: because there is a fine line between sycophancy and sicko-phancy, which can rebound on the recipient with ill effect.
For chamcha-in-chief, boss is always right. The situation worsens when the chamcha is in fact a chamchi- the femme fatale version of a shoe-licker.
Boss meanders in — late, harried, irritated. Minions wait, at the ready with presentations, laptops, power points and notepads.
More likely than not, he’ll fumble on his apology, spit expletives that’ll show his disgust at the ways of the world, curse at the impossible traffic. Those who know his `late-lateef’ pseudonym do the nod-wink-nudge routine. What a yawn! Around this time Chamchi Queen speaks up. Five minutes ago, she was at her bitchy best. Suddenly she’s Miss All Concern. Wideeyed, brows furrowed, she purrs: “So you parked?” Only and only The Great Indian Chamchi can get this right. Boss man’s irritation melts (pigal, pigal, plomp) like a Super Sundae on a sunny summer day.
Chamcha is like Queen bee and is super pseudo and makes the rest want to barf. It dawns on boss man that he’s parked. OMG, He’s Parked His Car! One helluva achievement that. His guilt vanishes. Boss’s the conqueror -he defeated the world trying to keep him from his precious meeting. And he made it. He made it. He did. “Yeah, finally,” he mixes gruff gratitude at the concern and a sense of discovery about his sterling victory.
By now his eyes are porcelain saucers, delirious at the boss’s prowess, and the boss will – mark my words, every chamcha-sucker of a boss does it — play with his hair, even if bald.
One sans crop runs his hand over his shiny spot, if haired, runs fingers through, if well-endowed, flicks back a few here and there. The rest of the office is a nebulous entity because when it’s specially a chamchi, well, um, er, it is a chamchi you know. The rest of the group suddenly find mails that must be checked on priority, messages that need urgent replies. Boss is a smart cookie, knows better than to hang onto the adulatory drip for too long in public and quickly reverts to his Hari Sadu self. Moment passes. Chamchi’s happy, winning a brownie point. Story ends. Await repeat telecast, some other time, some other venue. Caution: It’ll be the same old drill.
The same drill of that one person doing that little extra that’s clearly for the individual and can efit for the organization. At least one such creature inhabits every office, every school, every college and hospital. Frankly, don’t grudge the Chamchi Queen. She has a skill set and talents that take her far, abilities most can pick up but choose not to. Chamchi behaviour is thoroughly entertaining in our morose offices. It’s a classic act and you can waste precious moments predicting the chamchi’s next move.add to that healthy guffaws and, hey, office don’t look so bad, after all.
My fight is, has always been, and will be, with the boss. The boss’s reaction -while equally entertaining -is really what gets my goat. Simpering servility dished up on a pretty plate can be nauseating, but that outlook does change when I’m that boss- who does not want chamchas.

India Has to Adopt New Business Norms

Can India move on to the fast track and deliver a steady 9% growth to emerge as the third largest economy after the United States and China by 2034. That is the question raised in the PwC study ‘Future of India—The Winning leap. In some ways the question is bizarre because India has no real choices. That is because the country needs to grow steadily at 9% over the next two decades if it is to make full use of its demographic dividend and provide employment to 240 million youngsters that will join the labor force during this period. And there is no way that the aspirations of a billion strong young population who will dominate the economy by 2034 can be ignored in a democratic country.
But faster growth remains a distant hope in the current scenario which will allow only a 6.6% growth rate that will push up the size of the economy to $ 5.6 trillion by the end of 2034. Pushing up growth rate to 9% can only happen with substantial changes in the business as usual scenario. This is because a higher 9% growth can happen only with innovative polices which will help improve efficiency of use of resources and investments needed for boosting growth. According to the study only such out of the box thinking that makes it possible to raise at least 40% of the additional income through non-traditional methods can revive growth to 9%.
However, addressing the vast challenges in social and physical infrastructure development required for boosting growth is a daunting task. In case of education the overall average age of schooling has to be increased from the current level of seven years to 10 year. This will require that the drop out ratio be substantially reduced from one third to almost zero in secondary education. Student admission will have to be increased by 6 million primary and 76 million in secondary schools while higher education entry will have to go up by 21 million. Delivering quality education to such huge numbers would require technology enabled solution to bring down costs and ensure efficient delivery.
Similar are the needs in the health sector. There would be need for an additional 3 million doctors, 3.5 million hospital beds and 6 million nurses. There has to be substantial improvement in health care delivery, more effective preventive care and early diagnoses to reduce costs.
In agriculture the stress has to be on improving productivity from 4 tonnes to 7.4 tonnes per hectare. Today while India raises 235 million tons of food grains from 135 million hectares of land China manages to produce 450 million tonnes from 100 million hectares in China. It would entail extension of irrigation facilities and high yield crops.
The list of targets to be met for achieving a steady growth of 9% are countless. It includes boosting share of manufacturing to a quarter of the GDP. Increasing the market share of organised retail to 50% of the trade. Access to power has to be provided to all people, banking services would have to be provided to 90% of the people, access to digital connectivity should go up to 80% be and the size of the urban population has to be pushed up to 650 million.
But how ready are Indians to meet these extensive challenges. India has sizable number of entrepreneurs, corporates and investors who can rise to the occasion and deliver. But that can happen only if the government can create a credible environment by ensuring fair rules of the game and by helping build the infrastructure that will enable industry to operate.

Constraints in Empowering SAARC

THE signing of an agreement at the just concluded 18th SAARC summit to create a regional electricity grid could have far-reaching outcomes if managed properly. The moment presents a powerful opportunity. But to understand this, it is important to notice a subtle shift that is taking place in the region, which was evident in Kathmandu. SAARC has long had to deal with an imbalance within it: one very large country surrounded by a number of very small ones. As a result, in the Saarc region, there has been no compelling economic force to push towards regional integration, unlike East Asia or Europe for instance. Even in North America, access to the vast pool of cheap labor in Mexico did a lot to create a constituency for free trade and investment.
This structural fact of life in South Asia — the sheer asymmetry in the economic weight between one country versus all the rest — has done more to inhibit regional integration than any territorial disputes and geopolitics. In Kathmandu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to this by reminding the assembled delegates that his country need not submit to any regional regime governing trade and investment if it did not want to, since it could pursue its interests through bilateral channels if it wanted to. “The bonds will grow,” he said, referring to growing regional integration in the years to come, “through SAARC or outside it. Among all of us or some of us.”
Pakistan’s ambivalence towards economic integration and the minimal gains from the South Asian summit in Kathmandu this week need not necessarily be a setback to India’s agenda for regionalism. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC ), the region should move forward with all Saarc members if possible, or some of them, if necessary. “The bonds will grow. Through Saarc or outside it. Among us all or some of us,” he declared.
Pakistan, New Delhi must recognise, will only move at a pace that its political class and the army are comfortable with. The rest of the region, however, can move ahead at a faster pace. Pakistan has borders with only India and Afghanistan. India, in contrast, has frontiers with all member states of South Asia except Afghanistan. Modi said in Kathmandu that India’s size and location demand Delhi’s leadership in exploring all possible routes to economic integration.
The SAARC charter allows two or more member states to work out agreements for “subregional cooperation”. China, Japan and the United States, three important observer states, want to actively promote “transregional” cooperation involving members of the Saarc and neighboring regions such as East Asia and Central Asia. In any case, if India signs bilateral agreements with its neighbors on connectivity and offers overland transit to all of them, a large part of the subcontinent will automatically get integrated.
Pakistan is not alone in holding up regional cooperation. India’s own domestic politics and the security establishment’s conservatism have often undermined the possibilities for regional cooperation. Opposition from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, for example, has prevented the advancement of India’s engagement with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, respectively. While Modi said all the right things about regionalism in Kathmandu, the big question is whether he can convince the leaders of India’s border regions to back his ambitious plans for regionalism.
Through the election campaign and since, Modi has talked of “cooperative federalism” and making states partners in promoting economic development. He also argued, somewhat counter-intuitively, that states should be given a role in the nation’s international relations. After all, foreign policy and national security are the exclusive prerogatives of the Central government.
Modi’s proposition also came at a time when the UPA government seemed to cede a veto to states in the conduct of foreign policy towards the neighbours. Its kowtowing to Chennai led to a significant deterioration in India’s relations with Sri Lanka. Delhi yielded to pressures from West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and held back from signing the accord on the Teesta waters and implementing the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Dhaka.
If the UPA’s weakness meant appeasing regional satraps at the cost of national interest, Modi is calling for a different approach that makes India’s border provinces stakeholders in the deepening regional integration in South Asia. He went to SAARC from the perspective of domestic economic development. He also brings a measure of political sensitivity to the extraordinary costs imposed on the people of India’s borderlands by the subcontinent’s Partition and the socialist isolationism of the past.
Modi now sees trans border road and rail links, electricity grids and tourist circuits as critical not just to the prosperity of India’s border regions, but to the subcontinent as a whole. India’s diminished connectivity with its neighbors over the last seven decades has prevented it from partaking of the dynamic economic growth of Asia in general and China in particular. In the west, it has limited India’s options of overland import of natural resources like oil and natural gas, and export of Indian goods to the interior regions of Asia.
Not all border states, however, are hostile to the prospect of greater economic cooperation with the neighbours. If West Bengal and Tamil Nadu point to the negative side of the equation, many others have been enthusiastic proponents of regionalism. Punjab, for example, has been an active champion of transborder cooperation. The bipartisan sentiment in Amritsar has been marked by the active pursuit of an opening to Lahore under the Congress government led by Amarinder Singh and the Akali Dal governments led by the Badals. This sentiment has been reciprocated by civilian leaders and commercial classes in Lahore.
The problem here has been the apparent resistance of the Pakistan army to let transborder cooperation in the Punjabs take place. It was not an accident that Modi referred to the current situation in Punjab, where the two sides have to send goods on circuitous sea routes rather than move them easily across the border.
Sikkim has long been an active champion of deeper economic cooperation with Tibet in China. But it is Delhi’s security establishment that appears to be resisting the case for full-fledged trade across the Sikkim-Tibet border. The northeastern states see connectivity with Southeast Asia as critical to their economic prosperity. While Delhi talks of the Northeast as the gateway to Asia, it has done precious little to improve transport infrastructure within the region over the decades.
India’s greatest opportunity to rapidly advance regionalism is in the eastern subcontinent, and between it and East Asia. When the prime minister travels to the Northeast to review the security situation and launch new infrastructure projects, he has an opportunity to explain how the states in the eastern region can be partners in the transformation of the subcontinent.
Modi needs to mobilize broader public opinion in favour of implementing the LBA with Bangladesh, expanding security cooperation with Dhaka and building transborder connectivity between India and its eastern neighbours — Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Pakistan’s positions are likely to remain an obstacle to breakthroughs on transfrontier connectivity in the northwestern marches of the subcontinent. Modi must, however, make sure that India does not squander the strategic opportunity to promote subregional and transregional cooperation in the east.
The offer to create a regional electricity grid is an opportunity to move out from under the shadow of this asymmetry. India has its own reasons for bargaining away some of its dominance in exchange for a regional grid. The US representative — present as an observer — pointed towards these reasons when she spoke of her country’s “support for an Indo Pacific Economic Corridor”. China’s growing role in South Asia is another powerful impetus for India to do more on regional integration in its own neighbourhood, a fact underlined by China’s delegation — also present as observers — which highlighted its own growing investments in SAARC countries.
Pakistan can now eye the massive potential hydroelectric surpluses of Nepal and Bhutan, with India providing the transit corridor. Pakistan can also become a seller in this market once the massive power surpluses of Central Asia begin arriving here under the CASA 1000 project. For two years now, a proposal to connect Lahore and Amritsar with a transmission line to carry 500MW of electricity has been waiting for bilateral approval. As soon as leadership in India and Pakistan is reasonable and talk business, the proposal can move ahead . The ball now lies squarely in the court of politicians. Are you listening Mr Sharif and Mr. Modi.

India as a Global Manufacturing Hub

The path to the bright future for India must necessarily go through a resurgence of manufacturing. India has all it takes to be a global manufacturing hub, and yet its performance is lamentable. The share of manufacturing in India’s GDP is only 15% vis-a-vis 34% for China, 31% for South Korea and 22% for Germany. We have a lot of catching up to do in manufacturing.
The world’s economic centre of gravity has been shifting from West to East. Making India a global manufacturing hub will capitalize on this inevitable shift, positioning India at an inflexion point.
Manufacturing should be the next big wave for India. As articulated in the national vision, it needs to improve the share of manufacturing in GDP from 15 to 25%. For India to do so, the ingredients are in place — talent, entrepreneurship, raw material and a large internal market, which render economies of scale. With its size and scale, India can boast of a critical mass.
In the last months, India has seen something it’s never seen before: Leaders of the world’s largest technology companies – Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Sunder Pichai (a top 3 Google-ite) all visited India in the span of one month. This week Softbank’s Masayoshi Son is touring India, and has committed to invest $10 billion into digital India.
A delegation of Indian digital entrepreneurs toured China, meeting companies like Baidu (worth $75 billion), Alibaba (worth $200 billion) and TenCent (worth $140 billion), all home-grown in China. The Chinese digital economy now contributes 4.4% to the Chinese economy, directly employing hundreds of thousands of people, and indirectly giving white-collar jobs to millions more. Digital China is now a major driver of China’s growth story.
So when today, more than ever before, global technology companies are eyeing India, the question the Indian government should be asking is: Should the Indian digital economy be ‘‘Make in India’’, or ‘‘Expand into India’’? We can take a cue from China. China’s digital boom story is, at least partially, due to China’s interest in incubating domestic digital business growth by limiting access of global majors to the Chinese market. India, conversely, has been an open door for global companies, which has led to Google and Facebook’s domi-nance in India (which today capture more than 75% of India’s digital advertising pie, despite minimal operations here). Even India’s largest digital company, Flipkart, is over 80% foreign owned by investors. The truth is that India’s Baidu is Google, India’s TenCent is Facebook, and India’s Alibaba is Flipkart, owned by Tiger Global and Naspers. And most of that development, except for Flipkart, is being done abroad.
In comparison to China, India’s digital revolution is just beginning. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the digital revolution to be an Indian phenomenon and a major driver of India’s economic growth story, he should outline measures that enable and encourage domestic digital business growth, including domestic investment incentive schemes and measures that help Indian companies compete with global ones, including potential FDI restrictions. Doing nothing, as has been done thus far, is a passive way of encouraging global companies to earn more globally out of India’s growth story, and may be a massive missed opportunity for a key driver of India’s growth in the coming decade.. The government’s “Make in India” campaign is an affirmation.
What stands in the way of India becoming a manufacturing powerhouse? Three broad areas that we need to address are regulatory hurdles, infrastructure bottlenecks and developing talent. Setting up a manufacturing unit in India is an uphill task. It involves a long and tedious process for land acquisition, securing a plethora of clearances and approvals from regulatory authorities at the central, state and local levels.
What is needed is clarity of regulation, less clutter, more consistency, greater transparency and speed in decision making. All this is doable. The new government is bringing these issues centre stage.
Infrastructure remains a critical bottleneck. This includes roads, ports, railway, power and communication — the basics for growth.
Take power for example. Peak power shortage is estimated at about 15% of demand. In the year 2014, over one-fourth of industrial power is still generated by captive units! The availability of coal has become a major constraint despite India having the third largest coal reserves globally.|
We are aware of India’s demographic advantage. Our labour force is young and expanding much faster than the general population. India is in the enviable position of providing manpower, even for the rest of the world.
To seize this opportunity India’s manpower skills have to be massively upgraded, calling for an educational ecosystem that can support a modern economy. This means vocational training, on-the-job training, curriculum redesign, teacher training, apprenticeship development, leveraging distance education and more.
The one matrix which effectively captures many of these constraints is the “Ease of Doing Business” global ranking. This is compiled annually by the World Bank for 189 countries, following a well-defined, comprehensive and transparent methodology. Let’s see where India stands on this ranking. Overall India’s rank is 142 out of 189. In “ease of starting a business” it ranks 179th; in “dealing with construction permits” it ranks 182nd; in “enforcement of contracts” it ranks 186th. India’s performance in “access to electricity” is also low at a rank of 111.
Given India’s absymally low ranking, our vision for manufacturing resurgence must aim, among other things, to improve substantially India’s global ranking in terms of ease of doing business. Indians need to remind themselves always that there is a lot of good going for India. They must leverage it. India’s economy is the third largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity.
Recent policy measures such as labour reforms, dilution of the factory “inspector raj”, deregulation of diesel prices and coal sector reforms all point to an improvement in the investment climate going forward. Business confidence indicators are rising, and the pipeline of announced projects is bound to increase.
Foreign exchange reserves have now swelled to their highest ever, covering about 8 months of exports. The current account deficit is low. If oil prices keep going lower, we may even end up with a current account surplus.
The currency has been quite stable for the past one year. India is well prepared to withstand abrupt changes in monetary policy in the US or Europe, according to RBI. Foreign fund inflows are very healthy and India’s stock market has been among the topmost performers during 2014. The fiscal deficit is also on a downward trend. If this favourable tailwind is combined with a determined push, India can become a key global manufacturing hub.
I believe that India has reached a stage of sure-footedness and confidence. There is a palpable sense of excitement as the new Indian leadership takes the initiative and decisive steps, at a faster clip, to build the India that Indians have always dreamt about. Indians are now tantalisingly close to seizing the moment and to getting it right. All the pieces finally seem to be falling in place.

Rape and Violence : India’s Bitter Culture

A few days before we ushered in 2013, an Indian-Punjabi rapper called Honey Singh became embroiled in controversy when a concert in Delhi, where he was due to perform, was cancelled after an online campaign against him. There’s no doubt about the offensiveness of the lyrics he is accused of spewing, some of which feature vile rape fantasies (Singh now claims they weren’t his songs), but the furore teased out bigger questions: how did a man associated with such material become so popular, and why did Bollywood accept him as its highest-paid songwriter?
Most Indians bristle at the accusation that Indian culture doesn’t value women. In fact, they say, it extols the virtues of womanhood and their role in society. It puts women on a pedestal, and even goes as far as describing nature and the world we live in as “mother Earth”, and “mother India”. Indians elected a woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, as early as 1966, and the country boasts several prominent female chief ministers, philosophers, scholars, sports icons and writers. During one very popular Indian festival, Rakhi, brothers pledge to protect their sisters for life. Hindu mythology, which is dominant in Indian culture, is full of tales of kings moving heaven and earth to rescue damsels in distress.
But these symbols provide a convenient facade behind which there is endemic violence ingrained in Indian culture. They are part of the lie that Indian women cannot have it so bad, because they are revered. In fact, the opposite is true. In traditional Indian culture, girls are groomed to be good wives, not independent women with their own careers. Traditional values say women are only important not in their own right, but because they produce children and preserve culture.
This mentality leads families to treat them as objects who should remain pure and be controlled: women are their fathers’ property, and later their husbands’. Parents worry so much about “losing face” in the community that while boys have all the freedom they want, girls are constantly advised not to do anything that would “bring shame”. This mentality explains why so many are forced into marriages, or even murdered by their own parents. It leads to mothers excusing away the heinous crimes of their sons by saying: “If these girls roam around openly like this, then the boys will make mistakes.”
In Bollywood films, men routinely chase and harass women. The old-time villain Ranjeet did close to 100 rape scenes, “with the audience almost cheering him on”. The message from Bollywood is almost always that if you harass a woman enough, “no matter how often she says no, she’ll ultimately say yes”.
The gang rape and murder of the Delhi student wasn’t an isolated incident. Reading the descriptions by Indian women of how they live in fear should make anyone worry deeply about the twisted beast that Indian culture has become. Most of all it should make my kind – men of Indian origin – sit up and ask: how did we get here? The epidemic of violence is obviously not good for women, but doesn’t it also say something about the state of mind of Indian men that such crimes are on the increase?
Violence against women is a cultural problem. It is culture that leads to a country’s laws, and culture that discourages or encourages this violence. So why isn’t there a national debate about the social impact of 100 million missing women? There is a tendency to sweep this under the carpet, not just by Indians but even some westerners fearful of sounding racist. Emer O’Toole’s article on Tuesday was a classic example of this genre, going as far as praising Indian politicians for their response, even though most protesters were criticising them for their inaction and insensitivity. That was compounded by an attempt to blame colonialism for the lack of rights and social provision for women, but the problem isn’t lack of money (India spends billions on nukes and a space programme), but different priorities by a male-dominated parliament where many have charges of assault against women pending.
India doesn’t need well-meaning white people to defend it, it needs to listen to the voices of Indian women. We can accept that women are groped, molested, assaulted and raped across nearly every part of the world, without pretending there aren’t local differences in attitudes and social provisions. The founder of Jagori, a Delhi-based women’s NGO, told that though there was growing awareness and reporting of sexual violence, men “are not able to accept” women’s increasing assertiveness and “use heinous ways to punish them”. India is full of brave, independent female icons, but they have succeeded despite cultural norms – not because it encourages them to be independent. This epidemic won’t end until this mentality is challenged to its core.
If there is hope it is because, beyond the scale of violence to women in India and a myriad other social problems, something else has been revealed: a vast gulf between many in this huge country and the people who rule them, at least at a national level. And importantly, recent weeks have seen the mobilisation of a new political force.
For decades, politics in India has involved deference, hierarchy and handouts, or archaic ideologies unchanged since the cold war. It is likely that elderly men dependent on hundreds of thousands of carefully marshalled votes in conservative rural areas will hold on to power for some time to come. But the largely unplanned, spontaneous protests, and the media attention they have commanded, have demonstrated something new: the existence of large numbers of young, educated, urban potential voters who will no longer tolerate a largely unaccountable, unresponsive political elite and bureaucracy incapable of performing the most fundamental tasks. As the cities grow so, one can reasonably hope that such voices will grow more numerous. Brinda Karat, a Communist member of parliament, said last week that “a turning point had been reached” now that young women had “sensed and seen” the power that they could have when united.

BJP’s Schizophrenia

Dean Rusk, who was Secretary of State to John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, once said, “The optimists in Washington are learning Russian. The pessimists are learning Chinese.” Then, Russia was the good enemy and China the bad one. The recent decision to replace German with Sanskrit reflects that in India, the forward-looking, development-oriented people want to learn German. But the obscurantists want the country to go back to its ancient roots and learn Sanskrit.
There is a romantic idea that once all Indians spoke Sanskrit and India was a land of milk and honey. This is myth. Sanskrit was an elite language spoken by the Brahmins, which is why Buddha and Mahavira preached their gospels in Pali and Ardhamagadhi. Whatever the situation then, Sanskrit is today a dead language which is spoken rather badly by a few. How often have we all heard Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam murdered by bad pronunciation. Sanskrit is and was, throughout history, an elite language which only Brahmins were privileged to learn. Had it not been for Macaulay, much despised though he is by the new rulers, a Vaishya like Shyamji Krishna Varma would have never been allowed to learn Sanskrit. Nor would Babasaheb Ambedkar have been able to study and hold his head high. Or even Prime Minister Narendra Modi for that matter.
Yet there is this cultural militancy which insists that Sanskrit be taught instead of German. Who can tell these people that many of our Sanskrit texts were retrieved from oblivion by foreign, especially German, scholars. On the one hand, the PM wants India to be aspirational, technologically savvy and future oriented. Here we have a fast dash back to past.
This is the BJP’s schizophrenia, and if allowed to blossom, it will destroy Modi’s plan to unite India behind an inclusive developmental programme. Sanskrit is not liked even by all Hindus, let alone the rest of India. Tamil is as old as Sanskrit and spoken by many more people in daily life. Why not teach Tamil in all schools?
Sanskrit is useless for daily conversation and unsuitable for modern technological terminology, though no doubt someone will introduce tortuous neologisms.
Learning a modern language such as German, French, Japanese or Mandarin makes sense. Imposing Sanskrit on schools is a vast waste of resources. After all, every classic work in Sanskrit is well translated in every Indian language.Indians have often been accused of not giving enough importance to our own history.
Having waited for a long time to gain hegemony, the Hindu nationalists are impatient to impose their cultural programme on the rest of the country. Their vision is obsessed with the past, which they glorify. They want to believe that all good and great things were already known in the Vedas or the epics. This is a sign of an inferiority complex, which in turn leads to boastful claims. If true, that would condemn India’s ancient culture as having stagnated for centuries once the Vedas and epics were written. They would like to argue that the Pythagoras Theorem was first discovered in Vedic times. Fair enough, but so what? India’s glory in mathematics is much greater than just the one theorem. The important point is not who invented one theorem, but where are the mathematicians to do new work? Why are the best Indian mathematicians, those who win the Field medal, all abroad?
But they have a majority in the Lok Sabha and so are entitled to ruin the country in their own way as the previous hegemonic party did. What is amusing is that if they had actually read Swami Vivekananda, whom they swear by, they would discover a very robust scepticism about the glories of ancient culture. Read his lecture on the Bhagavad Gita and see for yourself his doubts about the authorship of the Gita, the very historicity of Krishna and the firm disbelief that Arjuna was ever a real person. Vivekananda says that Adi Shankaracharya possibly wrote the Gita himself and inserted it into the Mahabharata!
The only consolation is that I know no other way of making students hate a subject than have it badly taught in school. Once they leave the education system, the youth will do the right thing and pick up a useful language which will help them in their career.

Negative Thinking: Mother of All Success

Day in day out- the community leaders, and motivational speakers din into our ears about adopting positive thinking. And I do share their ideas, albeit in a limited way. Negative thinking is equally, if not more, important. While positive thinking produces– amazing dreams, visions, goals; the negative thinking produces– powerful plans, strategies. Embrace it, and use planned bursts of negative, constructing thinking to flesh out the positive visions, goals.
Power of positive thinking is a trademark slogan in business, society. It is folklore wisdom, fill your mind with positivism and you shall reap the benefits. In reality, negative thinking and negative emotions tend to be seen as akin to– germs, viruses. things to be avoided, fought. The problem is that while positive thinking can yield many benefits, but when taken to the extreme– the excessive and rigid search for positivism can bring about the opposite effect. When economists surveyed more than 1,000 CEOs, they found– more than 80% scored as ‘very optimistic’. On average the research indicates that people who never worry have lower job performance than those who worry from time to time. Studies also show that when entrepreneurs are highly optimistic, their new ventures bring in less revenue and grow more slowly. more over, when CEOs are highly optimistic they take on more risky debt, swing for the fences more often, and put their companies in greater jeopardy. Ultimately, both styles are deadly at the extreme: Pessimism– becomes fatalistic, and optimism– becomes toxic. The key is to find– a sweet spot, more moderate ranges that combine the benefits of both approaches.
The best chief executives know that too much optimism is a dangerous thing, that wise and productive leadership means striking a balance between optimists’– blue sky view of the world, and pessimists’– more clear-eyed assessment of any given situation. Take one part salesman, one part inventor, one part lawyer, one part safety engineer, stir gently and you’ve got a great chief executive. If you’re the kind of person who’s always telling people to look on bright side, you might want to reconsider. Whether people succeed is not a matter of thinking positively or negatively, but rather whether they choose strategies that match their thinking styles. Positive thinking without a negative balance hinders a person’s abilities.
The craze for positive thinking overlooks the value of negative thinking, and particularly in business where some negative thinking is critical in the evaluation of plans, anticipating unexpected problems, planning for ‘what if’ possibilities. sprinkling a bit of negative thinking to balance positive thinking and to encourage action is critical for success. The reality is that real leadership requires both positive and negative thinking. Face the harsh facts– bad things happen. Studies have shown that people often overestimate what they know and underestimate what they don’t know.
It’s sixty years since Norman Vincent Peale published ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’– and though his message may have been radical back then, it’s the conventional wisdom now. Self-help gurus, motivational speakers, business people, presidential candidates, and many psychologists agree– optimism is the foundation of a happy life, and negativity is for losers. Those who consider themselves naturally cantankerous and gloomy have always felt left out of what the philosopher Peter Vernezze calls ‘cult of optimism’. However, there is a growing body of research suggesting that negative thinking, if strategically pursued, it has a role to play, too. Ancient philosophical, spiritual traditions, from the Stoics to the Buddhists, recognized it’s a life-enhancing potential. Here are three ways to benefit from their approach:
Focus on the worst-case scenario, not the best: Visualizing your ideal future is a staple of self-help bestsellers– but vividly picturing success can backfire badly. In one series of experiments, when experimental subjects were asked to visualize an event, their energy levels actually dropped; apparently, they were less motivated because they’d already imagined the event. Besides, negative visualization can be an excellent antidote to anxiety. The Stoics called this ‘the premeditation of evils’, while modern-day researchers call it ‘defensive pessimism’.
Consider getting rid of your goals: Among management scholars, the pro-goal consensus is breaking down. Recent research suggests that the ‘over-pursuit of goals’ can prompt employees to cut ethical corners. Successful entrepreneurs rarely stick rigorously to detailed, multi-year business plans. Instead, they just start and keep correcting their course as they go. Their philosophy isn’t so much– ‘ready, aim, fire’ as ‘ready, fire, aim’; and, they keep re-aiming.
Don’t get too attached to ‘positive thinking’: Tell yourself you’re a winner, and you might end up feeling worse. When researchers in Canada tested the efficacy of self-help affirmations– specifically the phrase ‘I am a winner!’ they found that those who already had low self-esteem experienced a further decline in their mood. Trying to control emotions, can be an invitation to the ‘ironic effect’– struggle too hard to eliminate negativity and you risk generating more of it.
Negative events are good for getting attention, negative communication is central to accomplishing key activities of transformational leadership; i.e., getting an audience’s attention. Human beings give more weight to losses than to gains, to pains than to joys, to negative events than to positive events. As a result, negative events are more attention-getting; but, if a leader is looking to ‘inspire’ action it requires positive stories: Leaders can get attention through negative stories but when they are trying to ‘inspire’ people towards action than positive messages generally work better. The sustained enthusiasm required by leadership is a positive emotion… hence, a leader’s communication for ‘change’ needs to be positive. It is the contagiousness of a leader’s positive emotion and energy that stimulates desire for a new future. A frequent leadership mistake is to try to spark action with negative stories. Negative stories get people’s attention but don’t spark action– actions comes from positive stories that shows the way forward. Thought must also be given to what follows a positive story; merely stimulating desire for change may prove ephemeral, unless an idea of change is reinforced with reasons. This is typically done with stories that are neutral in tone.
Positive thinking has desirable consequences, however, it seems that this may not be the case unless it’s mixed with a little negative thinking. Those who practice negative thinking are more able to handle difficult situations. Negative thinking is important in business, and it’s crucial that managers allow for negative issues, including; confrontation, disagreements, bringing-up negative matters. Successful businesses need to encourage a culture of open expression of– positive and negative ideas, but this also opens the organization to a form of messy management. When management prepares– plans, projects,- they need to be review on the assumption that their flawed. Business, organizational management must add a dose of negative thinking in order to succeed. With every plan management must spend time playing devil’s advocate and find out everything that might go wrong.
Positive employees are seen as team players but negative workers are viewed as outcasts, troublemakers. The consequence is that the realistic and rational people, usually the negative thinkers, remain unheard; researchers discovered that negative people communicate better, think more clearly, make fewer mistakes, are less gullible, and are better at decision-making. The reason? Negative people have enhanced ‘information-processing strategies’, which means they use the critical part of their brain more successfully than cheerful people. The overall conclusion from researchers is that the benefits of negative thinking are critical– must be embraced in all business discussions… Most important, there’s a place for both– positive and negative– in every workplace… However, what it all comes down to is that negative people pay more attention to their surroundings. They’re not always negative solely for the sake of being negative. They’re just more cognizant of what’s happening around them, and as a result their moods change depending on what they notice. Negative thinking isn’t superior to positive thinking, but neither is positive thinking the panacea for all workplace ills. Sometimes what’s required is a dose of reality. And, it’s the negative thinkers, the ones who are perceived as troublesome, annoying often provide the cure.
There are benefits for being ‘constructively negative’, including; productivity, creativity, effectiveness. The problem with purely positive thinking is two-fold: 1. They construct a mental universe where everything is perfect (when it isn’t) 2. They create a nasty in congruence with the inner self (which always knows the truth) that leads to the most insidious form of self-sabotage. Getting negative can be wonderfully empowering, because it drives a respect for the reality of the situation and limitations. Without negativity you can never even begin to plan strategy for engaging, confronting– problems, limitations.
According to positive thinking critics, the ‘blindness’ of positive thinking has led us to make terrible business, personal, societal choices, for example; business leaders often cushion the blow of negative news by trying to demonstrate an ‘upside’, which is done everyday throughout the business world. And it’s no secret that sadly, obfuscation is a common business practice. There’s nothing positive about thinking positively. The simple truth is that the thinking of positive thoughts is a matter of faith for hundreds of millions of people. The dictionary defines faith as– the confident belief in the truth, value and trustworthiness of a person, place or thing. It further defines faith as– belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. Studies focusing on positive thought, optimism, positive psychology have produced mixed results over the past two decades. Recently one study was touted as the ‘proof’ that positive thinking not only doesn’t work – but that it may actually diminish our ability to achieve our goals. The effects of optimism do not come from unjustified positivity but from thinking negatively less often. Learning optimism is about building greater resiliency, improving our performance by changing the way we interpret events, not by putting on a happy face in every situation.
Negative thinking (fear, doubt, worry…) is a fact of life and of business. You can’t stop negative thinking from entering the workplace, but you can stop it from limiting you and your team. The positive power of negative thinking is a check to the natural, irrational exuberance we feel when we try to attain success. Also, by thinking about the negative events, if and when they occur, the bitter taste of their impact will be lessened thanks to planning. Negative thinking is a catalyst in the change process, managing change means managing negative thinking– including your own. True transformation works best when it is driven by emotion and by support, and by believing everything will be OK, after you worry that it won’t. Positive thinking and confidence improves performance whereas, negative thinking feels realistic, protects us, lowers expectations. In many ways, negative thinking is a lot more fun than positive thinking– so we do it. Positive thinking is hard, but worth it. Positive thinking doesn’t guarantee success, but lack of it guarantees failure. But, the facts remain– a healthy dose of both positive and negative thinking are required for a successful business, organization.

Indian Tradition of Realpolitik : Gita and Arthashastra

Millennia before European thinkers, India had a well established tradition of realpolitik. It was a different tradition that identified world order in Hindu cosmology was governed by immutable cycles of an almost inconceivably vast scale — millions of years long. Kingdoms would fall, and the universe would be destroyed, but it would be re-created, and new kingdoms would rise again. The true nature of human experience was known only to those who endured and transcended these temporal upheavals.
The Hindu classic the Bhagavad Gita framed these spirited tests in terms of the relationship between morality and power. Arjuna, “overwhelmed by sorrow” on the eve of battle at the horrors he is about to unleash, wonders what can justify the terrible consequences of war. This is the wrong question, Krishna rejoins. Because life is eternal and cyclical and the essence of the universe is indestructible. Redemption will come through the fulfillment of a preassigned duty, paired with a recognition that its outward manifestations are illusory because “the impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal.” Arjuna, a warrior, has been presented with a war he did not seek. He should accept the circumstances with equanimity and fulfill his role with honor, and must strive to kill and prevail and “should not grieve.”
While Lord Krishna’s appeal to duty prevails and Arjuna professes himself freed from doubt, the cataclysms of the war — described in detail in the rest of the epic — add resonance to his earlier qualms. This central work of Hindu thought embodied both an exhortation to war and the importance not so much of avoiding but of transcending it. Morality was not rejected, but in any given situation the immediate considerations were dominant, while eternity provided a curative perspective. What some readers lauded as a call to fearlessness in battle, Gandhi would praise as his “spiritual dictionary.”
Against the background of the eternal verities of a religion preaching the elusiveness of any single earthly endeavor, the temporal ruler was in fact afforded a wide berth for practical necessities. The pioneering exemplar of this school was the 4th century BC minister Kautilya, credited with engineering the rise of India’s Maurya Dynasty, which expelled Alexander the Great’s successors from northern India and unified the subcontinent for the first time under a single rule.
Kautilya wrote about an India comparable in structure to Europe before the Peace of Westphalia. He describes a collection of states potentially in permanent conflict with each other. Like Machiavelli’s, his is an analysis of the world as he found it; it offers a practical, not a normative, guide to action. And its moral basis is identical with that of Richelieu, who lived nearly two thousand years later: the state is a fragile organization, and the statesman does not have the moral right to risk its survival on ethical restraint.
The Arthashastra sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralizing, subverting, and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbors. The Arthashastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation. For Kautilya, power was the dominant reality. It was multidimensional, and its factors were interdependent. All elements in a given situation were relevant, calculable, and amenable to manipulation toward a leader’s strategic aims. Geography, finance, military strength, diplomacy, espionage, law, agriculture, cultural traditions, morale and popular opinion, rumors and legends, and men’s vices and weaknesses needed to be shaped as a unit by a wise king to strengthen and expand his realm — much as a modern orchestra conductor shapes the instruments in his charge into a coherent tune. It was a combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz.
Millennia before European thinkers translated their facts on the ground into a theory of balance of power, the Arthashastra set out an analogous, if more elaborate, system termed the “circle of states.” Whatever professions of amity he might make, any ruler whose power grew significantly would eventually find that it was in his interest to subvert his neighbor’s realm. This was an inherent dynamic of self-preservation to which morality was irrelevant.
What our time has labeled covert intelligence operations were described in the Arthashastra as an important tool. Operating in “all states of the circle” (friends and adversaries alike) and drawn from the ranks of “holy ascetics, wandering monks, cart-drivers, wandering minstrels, jugglers, tramps, [and] fortune-tellers,” these agents would spread rumors to foment discord within and between other states, subvert enemy armies, and “destroy” the King’s opponents at opportune moments.
The Arthashastra advised that restrained and humanitarian conduct was under most circumstances strategically useful: a king who abused his subjects would forfeit their support and would be vulnerable to rebellion or invasion; a conqueror who needlessly violated a subdued people’s customs or moral sensibilities risked catalyzing resistance.
The Arthashastra ‘s exhaustive and matter-of-fact catalog of the imperatives of success led the distinguished 20th-century political theorist Max Weber to conclude that the Arthashastra exemplified “truly radical ‘Machiavellian’ . . . compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless.” Unlike Machiavelli, Kautilya exhibits no nostalgia for the virtues of a better age.
Whether following the Arthashastra ‘s prescriptions or not, India reached its high-water mark of territorial extent in the third century BC, when its revered Emperor Asoka governed a territory comprising all of today’s India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and part of Afghanistan and Iran.

Wasting Time- Indian Parliament Specialty

When the winter session of Parliament opened on Monday, the day’s ‘business’ concluded in about 30 minutes, flat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the four newly elected legislators in the Lok Sabha. After that, as is the practice, obituary notices were read out as a mark of respect to recently departed parliamentarians. And both houses of Parliament called it a day.
This winter, Parliament is slated to hold 22 sittings when the two houses would have to work through 37 Bills (out of a total of 67 currently pending before Parliament) on the government’s agenda. The first day went in remembrances; the second day saw arguments, umbrella demonstrations and disruption over the issue of corruption and black money with opposition members raising a hue and cry that so far nothing had been done on this. And so on. If we exclude today, the fourth day, we have just 18 sittings left, before MPs conclude the winter session of Parliament on December 23.
As it is, several precious workdays are lost needlessly during Parliament sessions — in shouting, disruptions and walkouts (not including those who use the opportunity to grab some shut-eye). Then why continue the unproductive practice of dedicating the opening day of an elected body of representatives, to adjourn after remembering those who are no more?
Until November 13, 1972, obituary references on the passing away of members and ministers used to be made in the house usually after Question Hour. In 1972, the General Purposes Committee considered the then existing practice and recommended that any session should start off with obituary references; questions were shifted to later in the day and eventually, over time, it seems the house simply adjourned once obituary references were done.
Are there not better, more productive and endearing ways of remembering and revering the dead? What if the day was dedicated to debating a bill they pushed for or to discussing a topic close to their heart? That would be true homage, would it not, rather than declare a holiday after roll call?
In the UK, after which we model our constitutional bodies, on the first day when a newly elected Parliament convenes, there is the ceremonial State Opening in the morning when the Queen delivers her speech. Once the ceremony is over, the House of Commons and the House of Lords meet like they do on any other day, after exchanging their ceremonial robes for the usual attire. And they go about attending to legislative business.
As for paying tribute to the departed, that might have happened when Margaret Thatcher or someone of that stature was remembered collectively in a specially convened session, when members spoke of her contribution to governance. Note this means more work for legislators, not less.
There’s hardly any other country in the world that adjourns Parliament on the first day of a parliamentary session once obituary references are done or a ceremony or felicitation has taken place.

India Under Modi Bids Goodbye to Non-Alignment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again demonstrated why he remains one of the most interesting politicians in the country. By inviting US President, Barack Obama to the Republic Day celebrations, he has stumped his critics and surprised even his supporters. Last week, he informed the nation of his decision in a tweet, “This Republic Day, we hope to have a friend over… invited President Obama to be the 1st US president to grace the occasion as chief guest.”
The White House was quick to accept the invite underscoring the importance Washington attaches to restoring dynamism in US-India relations and the confidence it has in the ability of Modi to deliver. “At the invitation of Prime Minister Modi, the President will travel to India in January 2015 to participate in the Indian Republic Day celebration in New Delhi as the Chief Guest,” a statement by the White House read minutes after the Modi tweet.
Modi’s move is remarkable for many reasons. Most striking is the sheer audacity with which Modi seems to challenging the foreign policy shibboleths of the past. On the surface, an invite for the US President is not really significant. After all, the US is now one of the closest partners of India. Be it the economy, defence, regional security, or geopolitics, there is today an extraordinary degree of convergence between the interests of the two states. Yet the diffidence of the Congress led-United Progressive Alliance government in acknowledging this openly was a reflection of the outmoded ideological trappings of the past.
Even as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was gung-ho about a robust US-India relationship, his party made sure that in the last four years, ties with the US were not only put on the backburner but deliberate efforts were made to scuttle any progress on issues which were clearly in India’s interest.
And now Prime Minister Modi in just a few months has brought about a paradigm shift in the relationship despite having being denied a visa by the US in the past. In his very first month in office, his government scuttled the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) talks. New Delhi held onto its negotiating position and ultimately ended up signing the pact with the US on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Myanmar which indefinitely extends the so-called “peace clause” in the TFA. India’s food procurement and subsidy programme cannot now be challenged in any fora till a conclusive deal on the subject is concluded on the issue.
Obama commended the “personal leadership” of Modi in finding a way forward to break the impasse. Here was a leader who was not obstructionist and eager to find ways to move forward.
That was a clear diplomatic win for India, but the Prime Minister decided to take US-India ties a notch higher by inviting Obama to the 2015 Republic Day celebrations – an invite that usually viewed as a celebration of India’s close diplomatic partnerships. This will be the first time a US leader will be gracing India’s Republic Day celebrations as a chief guest. How ironical when one realizes that China and Pakistan have been part of these celebrations in the past but not the oldest democracy in the world.
The Congress Party would never have been able to accomplish such a feat. The non-alignment cheer-leaders in India must be scrambling at the diplomatic successes of the Prime Minister. For years, the nation has been told that the only way Indian foreign policy establishment can secure Indian interests is by working within the rubric of non-alignment. Just two years back, some of the best and the brightest in the Indian foreign policy establishment came up with a ‘new’ foreign policy strategy for India. And lo and behold, they titled it ‘Non-Alignment 2.0.’
And now we have a Prime Minister and a government that is not trapped in the ideological moorings of the past. The Modi government is re-shaping Indian foreign policy in some fundamental ways. A self-assured Modi and his team have given up the defensiveness of the past. The administration is confidently engaging with all major powers to secure the best possible outcomes for India.
Where in the name of non-alignment previous governments would not acknowledge its convergence with key partners, Modi and his government are explicit about affirming India’s key partnerships. So the US-India joint statement signed during the visit of Modi to Washington was explicit about the US-India convergence in maintaining stability in South China Sea. It didn’t matter if the Chinese get annoyed. And after 28 long years, India reaches out to Australia at the highest levels to underscore Australia’s importance as a strategic partner of priority. Israel’s keenness to have an open relationship with India is too being reciprocated.
With his latest invite to Obama, Modi is signalling that the senseless anti-Americanism of the Indian polity is a thing of the past and there is every likelihood that Obama’s visit to India could be transformative.
Modi has been consistently springing surprises on the foreign policy front and is not afraid to take risks. It is remarkable that in just eight months in office, Modi would have hosted the US President, the Russian President, and the Chinese President. Not a bad start for a politician who was considered by his opponents as a provincial leader before his electoral victory! And not bad for a government which has not uttered the word ‘non-alignment’ even once since assuming office!

Cure for Historical Abuse: Unvarnished Truth, Not Denial

One of the greatest gifts that children can receive from their parents is an emotionally stable childhood. Materialistic trappings cannot compensate for the bliss of growing up in a well-adjusted, happy family; one where the child is not exposed to domestic violence, warring parents, physical or emotional abuse. Sadly, both research and anecdotal evidence indicate that many children are deprived of this blessing and grow up in dysfunctional families. They develop coping skills to handle traumatic experiences: Sometimes denial (convincing their conscious mind that no abuse happened) and at other times unfocused anger (allowing inner rage to poison their mind to the extent that they become hateful, even towards those unrelated to the abuse). One doesn’t need to be a psychologist to know that both approaches are unhealthy.
As it is with children, so it is with countries. Few countries can rightfully claim that they have no ‘history’ to contend with. But it is easier to gaze charitably at the past with quiet confidence when the country is successful. During my recent travels across the United States on a fellowship programme, it was apparent that the Anglo-Saxon American mind was unscathed by the oppression of British colonial rule (the African-American mind is another matter). My journey through the Arab world, however, told a different tale. They still cringe at the memory of the persecution and oppression they had suffered for centuries through Mongol, Turkish and later European conquests. The present-day outbursts of ‘unfocused anger’ in the Arab world could well be strongly associated with this historical abuse — besides other issues, I admit.
The psychological strategy of ‘denial’ however — where the victim convinces himself that no (or minimal) abuse happened — finds almost matchless expression in India. One example of this is the attitude of many Indians towards the British Raj.
Many believe that, while there may have been some injustices meted out during the British Raj, overall, colonial rule was beneficial. Some even claim that the British created India, as, apparently, we weren’t a nation before their arrival. If one draws up a list of the excesses of the British Raj, the worst, we are told, was the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, where over 1,000 Indians were killed in cold blood. But is this the worst that they did? Not by a long shot. In the early 1940s, Winston Churchill consciously ordered a scorched earth policy in eastern India to halt the advancing Japanese army, which led to the death of 1.5 to 4 million Indians. That’s nearly as many as the number of Jews that Hitler ordered to their deaths. Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis gives troubling accounts of the vast numbers — in the millions — killed by British policies. A little-known fact in India is that the edifice of the British Raj (and the white man’s ‘civilising mission’) was built on the biggest drug-running racket in the history of humanity. The British forced Indian farmers to grow opium, which was then smuggled into China. The Chinese economy — not to mention the lives of millions of Chinese — was destroyed through this trade. At the same time, millions of Indians died as food crops were forcibly replaced with opium (besides other crops for British trade), leading to recurring food shortages and famines.
All Indian history so far has been bunk. Because it has been written by foreigners like Vincent Smith or by Marxists like D D Kosambi and Romila Thapar, all of whom have had their own axes to grind. The result has been that though India has a great and glorious past, it has had no reliable historical account of it. So Rao wants to make a new history for India, a history which is suitably ‘Indianised’, shorn of all colonial and Marxist trappings.
How do you ‘Indianise’ history? By going back to the ancient scriptures and epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It is only neo-colonial lackeys of the West who dismiss these epics as mythology. They should be treated as historical fact, not mythic fiction. Rama was not an abstract archetype of the ideal man; he was an individual who actually existed, as did all the other characters in the Ramayana. So how come there are so many different Ramayanas, including one that is popular south of the Vindhyas and in which Ravana is the hero of the story? This multiplicity of Ramayanas just goes to show that, far from being an ahistorical lot, Indians are so hooked on the stuff that they are capable of producing history in 32 flavours like Baskin Robbins. How cool is that.Like Bishop Heber who counted all the ‘begats’ mentioned in the Bible and concluded that the world was created 33,000 years ago, Indian epics can be mined to provide accurate historical data for researchers. Who will these researchers be? Professional historians? Certainly not.
One of the main problems of all the history so far has been that it’s been written by historians, who invariably are motivated by personal prejudice. From now on, history should be written by non-prejudiced non-historians.
The events have been carefully airbrushed from Indian history books. Why? Some will say that those who have dominated the Indian imagination for most of its independent history — the Indian anglicised elite — have obscured these facts due to loyalty to the country of their cultural ancestors: Great Britain. But I think that would be too grave a charge. I have interacted with many members of the anglicised elite. I admit that most of us would find it difficult to understand their strangely eccentric culture, but they are not traitors. They do love India in their own peculiar way; but many of them believe that Indians cannot handle the truth and ‘social peace’ can only be maintained by ‘airbrushing’ history to remove the ugly portions. Besides the British era, this also includes other painful historical episodes, like the brutal Turkic invasions of India in the medieval period, rated as one of history’s bloodiest conquests (read Tarikh-i-Ferishta to know more).
But denial leads to the repressed truth finding expression in ugly forms, resulting in hatred and anger, as we see in some parts of India today. It’s healthier to accept the truth and learn to handle it. Forgive, but do not forget. We should have detailed sections in our history books on the famines caused by British policies; and also on the massive British drug-smuggling business. We should honestly teach Indian students the truth about the horrific brutality of medieval Turkic invaders.
But we must also teach that history should not extend itself into the present and colour our evaluations of a people today. For example, we don’t need to settle scores with today’s British for the actions of their ancestors. And furthermore, if Indian Christians are not blamed for British excesses just because the British happened to be Christians, why should Indian Muslims be blamed for the vicious Turkic/Mongol/Persian conquests, just because these foreigners happened to be Muslims? We were slaves under foreign rule for 800 years. Let’s not blame our fellow Indians for the crimes of those barbaric foreigners.
Many civilisations have at some point of time been victims, and at other times, oppressors. Present conduct rather than past ills should determine the way a people are judged today.
My suggestion: Examine honestly the troubling episodes of our history; accept the truth and learn from it. Forgive, but do not forget. This truth will kill the poison that is coursing through a few extremists in India. Let it not be fortton that denial is not a cure for historical abuse. Truth is. Satyamev Jayate.

Shift in Indian Constitutional Setting

Is A 1,000-employee single-city company managed the same way as a 1,00,000-employee transnational company? I recently asked this rhetorical question when an experienced foreign investor asked me why the Indian Constitution couldn’t be changed so that the new government in Delhi could overrule resistance from state governments. It was a challenge to explain to him that India houses one-sixth of humanity. Just because India is a country, and Singapore and Thailand are also countries, it doesn’t mean that the governance structures and economic solutions that worked in Singapore or Thailand will work in India too. Putting it another way, the state of Uttar Pradesh houses more people than Brazil, another member of BRIC — that over-hyped acronym, whose deserved descent into irrelevance ought to speed up.
The makers of India’s Constitution, wise as they were, had thought this through. In the division of powers between the Centre and the state, they restricted the Centre’s economic powers to mainly policymaking in areas such as foreign affairs and trade, as well as those parts of the economy where national scale helps — for example, currency, banking, railways, national highways, airlines and telecom. The rest, including the most important points at which businesses come in contact with government (for instance, law and order, land acquisition, urban infrastructure and power distribution), was left to the states. This is an important driver of the wide divergence in prosperity and growth between states. Even the interface between government and individual citizens is largely at the state level — birth certificates, driving licences, irrigation, electricity, water, education and healthcare are handled by the state governments.
But for most of India’s independent history, this division of power did not deliver much change. It is hard to isolate causality in complex matters such as these, but an important reason for this was the control exercised by the Centre on the state through the political party. Till the 1990s, more than 60 per cent of India’s population lived in states ruled by chief ministers beholden to the political leadership in Delhi to keep their jobs. What made it worse? Their job security was usually linked to their loyalty, and not necessarily to their performance as chief ministers. That 60 per cent has dropped to 12 per cent. State-level leaders and political parties, which have “skin in the game” when it comes to development, have emerged.
Further, Article 356 of the Constitution, which relates to president’s rule, was also rampantly misused. In the early years, it was rarely used: just five times in the 1950s. Then, our idealism faded, and its use rose steadily: 49 times in the 1970s. The occupants of the throne in Delhi routinely dismissed state governments on a whim. This, too, has changed in recent years — nearly half of this decade is over and we have seen just two instances of president’s rule.
Last, total state government spending is now nearly 40 per cent more, and is still growing faster, than Central spending. This is partly a result of higher revenues accruing from better tax administration, and also because successive finance commissions have increased the states’ share of tax revenues.
These trends are already showing results. Central schemes for rural roads, job creation, electrification and education, among other things, have always been around. But the remarkable improvement in execution over the past decade and a half owes largely to the empowered state leader. With a few exceptions, state governments across political parties have learned from the BJP’s victory in May, which was based on the electoral plank of good governance and growth, and are now pressing the accelerator.
Latest elections in Maharashtra and Haryana would be among the rare few contested purely on the plank of good governance and growth. The Brahmin chief minister of Maharashtra and the Punjabi chief minister of Haryana would have no doubt about their governance priorities.
A dramatic improvement in state-level governance, likely driven by changing voter demands and enabled by technological advances like cheap computing, mobile telephony and the internet, is afoot. This has all the signs of a structural change and holds great promise for India in the coming years.
The recent debate on whether regional parties can survive is somewhat unnecessary. A local competitor may lack the resources and processes of a multi-national company, but its local knowhow more than makes up for this. Thus, the correct question is: Which parties and leaders can step out of denial on the change in voter preferences, and, to use consulting jargon, be the “fast follower” (for instance, like a smartphone manufacturer profitably copying iPhone features)? While the BJP led by Narendra Modi was clearly the first among mainstream parties to have caught wind of this change in voter aspiration, parties and leaders that catch on — like they did with the post-Mandal changes in voter preference for caste — will survive, while others fall by the wayside.
A more important question perhaps is: Can political parties that have a presence across states develop and empower state-level leaders so that they become agents of change in their respective states and yet remain within the party fold, despite having the individual ability to pull votes? Can such leaders assert themselves without falling foul of the central leadership?
After all, there exists a delicate and fluid balance between the gains of unification and standardisation on one hand, and those of decentralisation on the other. Managers in companies regularly face this challenge. Allow too much freedom to local management and they run amok, ruining the brand in the local market, or self-aggrandise at the expense of the company, eventually venturing out on their own. Tighten the strings too much and you handicap them, which competitors take advantage of and you lose again. A healthy balance between the two forces drives success.
As the powers of taxation of the Central and state governments get overhauled, such a framework is also critical in thinking through the final debates on the goods and services tax (GST). The long-term gains of the GST seem quite obvious: among other things, the abysmally low levels of service-tax collection could be corrected by letting state governments collect it. As they know the territory better, aided by technology, they can improve compliance. And yet the matter has dragged on for years, highlighting the need for the powers of unification to assert themselves.

The Hindu Heritage of Afghanistan

It is commonly known that while the British, the Russians- both the Tsar and present communist regimes-, and the US met their Waterloo in Afghanistan, it was destined that the the King of Punjab in India could win and establish his rule there.
May be it was a throw back to history, since Afghanistan has traditionally been a Hindu Kingdom.The year 980 C.E. marks the beginning of the Muslim invasion into India proper when Sabuktagin attacked Raja Jaya Pal in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is today a Muslim country separated from India by another Muslim country Pakistan. But in 980 C.E. Afghanistan was also a place where the people were Hindus and Buddhists.
The name “Afghanistan” comes from “Upa-Gana-stan” which means in Sanskrit “the place inhabited by allied tribes”. This was the place from where Gandhari of the Mahabharata came from, Gandhar whose king was Shakuni. Today the city of Gandhar is known as Kandahar. The Pakthoons are descendants of the Paktha tribe mentioned in Vedic literature.
Till the year 980 C.E., this area was a Hindu majority area, till Sabuktagin from Ghazni invaded it and displaced the ruling Hindu king – Jaya Pal Shahi. Shiva worship was widespread in Afghanistan. There was a time when the entire region was replete with hundreds of Shiva temples celebrating Shiva – Parvati worship and abuzz with Shiv chants, prayers, legends and worship.
Archaeological excavations in this region conducted by Sir Estine (an East India Company official) led to the recovery of uncountable shrines and inscriptions. He has authored four books on that topic featuring photos of icons, icons and inscriptions discovered. The photos show a sun temple and a Ganesha statue too. An Islamabad University professor Abdul Rehman has authored two books on those finds recalling the glory and prosperity of those times.
Regimes of two Hindu rulers “Kusham” and “Kidara” lasted for fairly long periods. During their rule a number of Shiva temples were not only in Afghanistan but in other West Asian regions too. Uzbekistan and Takzikistan formed part of the Afghan kingdom in those times. Tashkent has one of those ancient Shiva temples standing even today.
Professor Abdul Rehman states that Bukhara region Was known as “Shah Vihar” in ancient times. It was ruled by an Hindu king. When Arabs invaded that kingdom its queen traveled to Kashmir to seek military help. Arab chronicles mention her as ‘Khatoon’, meaning ’Woman’.
“Kalhan“, the ancient Hindu historian of Kashmir has mentioned that the army of the then Hindu ruler of Kashmir had a battle with a vast army of the Arab Khalifa Mamoon whose headquarters was Baghdad. At that time Bukhara had been under Muslim rule. He had invited a number of leading Hindu experts to Baghdad. An Ayurvedic practitioner of Varansi (alias Benares) had treated the Khalifa for some ailment afflicting the latter. In those days it was Hindu Ayurvedic practitioners who were eagerly sought by Arab patients. A number of Arabs had translated Sanskrit Ayurvedic texts into Arabic. A list of those translated Sanskrit texts appears in a Volume known as al “Frisht“.
Baku (capital of the Azerbaijan region) known for its underground petroleum yields has still an ancient Hindu temple of the Divine Flame generated by the subterranean petrol and gas). During the Czar regimes in Russia a Punjabi priest officiated at that temple. The walls display some religious stanzas written in Punjabi Gurumakhi script. The market there also had Hindu merchants. Nearby was a locality too of Hindu inhabitants. Baku in Azerbaijani language actually signifies a Goddess. Therefore obviously Baku derives its name from a very ancient Vedic Goddess temple there.
Kenduj a province of Afghanistan, was ruled by a king that had a Hindu prime minister. This is mentioned in history books. Albirruni’s travel account contains details of ancient Hindu Afghanistan, He mentions a Hindu king, Khingla whose coins bore the imprint of Shiva. The first ruler of that dynasty was Viahitagni. History mentions a Shiva temple in Gardej township, which was plundered by Arab invaders. Khingla dynasty ruled the region from 666 to 843 A.D. From 843 to 850 A.D. a Brahmin Minister ruled the region. The Kalkaa community of Brahmins had acquired prominence in those times. They were later known as Kallers. A township of that name exists in Punjab. Prominent among them who find a mention in later history are Samantdev, Bheemdev, Jaipaldev, Anandpal and Trilochan.
Jaipaldev suffered a defeat in 1002 when Mohammed Ganzavi invaded India. Unable to bear that defeat Jaipaldev committed suicide. When Hsüan-tsang visited the region early in the 7th century CE, the Kabul valley region was ruled by a Hindu Kshatriya king, who is identified as the Shahi Khingal, and whose name has been found in an inscription found in Gardez.
The Hindu Shahi kings of Kabul and Gandhara may have had links to some ruling families in neighboring Kashmir and other areas to the east. The place where Kabul’s main mosque stands today was the site of an ancient Hindu temple and the story of its capture is kept alive in Islamic Afghan legend which describes the Islamic hero Sabuktagin who fought with a sword in every hand to defeat the Hindus and destroy their temple to put up a Mosque in its place.
The victory of Sabuktagin pushed the frontiers of the Hindu kingdom of the Shahis from Kabul to behind the Hindu Kush mountains Hindu Kush is literally “killer of Hindus” – a name given by Mahmud Ghazni to describe the number of Hindus who died on their way into Afghanistan to a life of captivity. After this setback, the Shahis shifted their capital from Kubha (Kabul) to Udbhandapura (modern Und in NWFP).
Sabuktagin’s son Mahmud Ghazni, kept up the attacks on the Shahis and captured Und. Subsequently, the Shahis moved their capital to Lahore and later to Kangra in Himachal. The recovery and significance of the inscription, telling a story of the Hindu ruler Veka and his devotion to lord ‘Shiva’, was told by leading epigraphist and archaeologist Prof Ahmad Hasan Dani of the Quaid-E-Azam University of Islamabad at the Indian History Congress.As per Prof Ahmad Hasan, “The date of 138 of present inscription, should be equal to 959 AD which falls during the reign of Bhimapala”, Dani said in a paper “Mazar-i Sharif inscription of the time of the Shahi ruler Veka, dated the year 138”. The inscription, with eleven lines written in “western Sarada” style of Sanskrit of 10th century AD, had several spelling mistakes. “As the stone is slightly broken at the top left corner, the first letter `OM’ is missing”, he said
According to the inscription, “the ruler Veka occupied by eight-fold forces, the earth, the markets and the forts. It is during his reign that a temple of Shiva in the embrace with Uma was built at Maityasya by Parimaha (great) Maitya for the benefit of himself and his son”. Dani said “the inscription gives the name of the king as Shahi Veka Raja and bestows on him the qualification of `Iryatumatu Ksanginanka’…. and (he) appears to be the same king who bears the name of Khingila or Khinkhila who should be accepted as a Shahi ruler”.
Dani further said “he may be an ancestor of Veka deva. As his coins are found in Afghanistan and he is mentioned by the Arab ruler Yaqubi, he may be an immediate predecessor of Veka deva… Both the evidences of inscription and coins suggest that Veka or Vaka should be accepted as an independent ruler of northern Afghanistan.”
“Thus we find another branch of the Shahi ruler in northern part of Afghanistan beyond the Hindukush. Veka is said to have conquered the earth, the markets and the forts by his eight-fold forces, suggesting that he must have himself gained success against the Arab rulers of southern Afghanistan”. Dani observed that going by the findings it seemed that during the rule of the Hindu Shahi ruler Bhimapala there was a break in the dynasty – one branch, headed by Jayapala, ruled in Lamaghan and Punjab, and another branch, headed by Veka, ruled in northern part of Afghanistan. The northern branch must have come to an end by the conquest of Alptigin in the second half of tenth century AD”, he said.
India has now developed a highly constructive, imaginative reconstruction strategy for Afghanistan that is designed to please every sector of Afghan society, give India a high profile with the Afghan people, gain the maximum political advantage with the Afghan government, to become an indispensable ally and friend of the Afghan people in the new century.

UK’s Salvation – United States of Britain

Some 17 years ago, on September 6, 1997, the funeral of Princess Diana was a symbolically laden moment. Making the British royalty a bit uncomfortable, Elton John sang an all-time hit, “Candle in the Wind”, in Westminster Abbey. Originally written for Marilyn Monroe, the song was adapted for Diana’s funeral, and the new opening lines were: “Goodbye England’s rose, may you ever grow in our hearts.” The song went on to top worldwide charts. Millions felt a lump in their throats.
In New York, from where I was watching the funeral on television, the enormous TV coverage also featured Linda Colley, a British historian, then teaching at Yale University and currently a professor at Princeton. To the surprise of some, Colley commented quite politely that John’s song, though moving, was somewhat unfortunately worded.
“Goodbye England’s rose” belittled how much the non-English parts of Britain had come to identify with Diana, especially in her moment of death. Moreover, her title was princess of Wales. Colley’s American TV hosts fumbled a little over this thought but quickly inferred that England and Wales were two different parts of Britain.
In this interpretation, John’s song was about an exclusive England, not an inclusive Britain. Perhaps that was unwittingly so, but we know that many forms of consciousness become so deeply ingrained that human beings do not easily question their fraught implications or roots.
Colley’s comments were not incidental. She had already written a modern-day classic on the making of British identity, with a focus on the relationship between a tiny and proud Scotland and a big and mighty England. First published in 1992, Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837 is widely read by students of British history. But because it applies modern nationalism theory to Britain, it also features in nationalism courses. My seminars on ethnic conflict and nationalism have had Colley’s Britons for over a decade and a half.
In the debate over the Scottish referendum on September 18, Colley’s work was referenced again and again, and it will continue to inform future debates. Scotland may have chosen to stay with the United Kingdom, but 45 per cent of Scots voted for separation, and the younger Scots did so overwhelmingly. While the vote has closed a chapter in that Scotland is not breaking away for now, it has also opened another chapter.
This new, unfinished chapter has several questions. What should be the relationship between the various parts of Britain, indeed those of the UK? How much power should London, or Westminster, have? Should there be regional parliaments? Can the UK continue to be a more or less unitary polity, or should it head towards a constitutional debate on a federal model, much like India, Canada and the US, all former British colonies?
Indeed, when, alarmed by the late surge of separatist sentiment, all three leading political parties promised greater autonomy to Scotland, they opened the way for a debate on what the entire political structure should look like, not simply what should happen to Scotland. In the emerging debate, the most intriguing idea is an English parliament for England. Should it come true, it will decidedly take the UK towards a federal model.
Strikingly, Colley anticipated what we witnessed last week. Let us understand why her claims have profound implications. Colley argued that even though the treaty of 1707 brought England, Scotland and Wales together in a British union, there was no British identity in place until the early decades of the 19th century. And this new identity did not replace the English, Scottish and Welsh identities; rather, it added another layer, something that we have come to call a hyphenated identity in modern literature.
The Scots, in short, became Scottish and British at the same time, just as the Welsh turned simultaneously Welsh and British, over more than a century of identity-construction. This was different from France where, as the historian Eugen Weber has demonstrated, peasants of the Basque country and Brittany lost their regional identities a hundred years after the French Revolution, and an undifferentiated French identity was born.
In Colley’s account, four factors were critical in the forging of British nationhood: shared Protestantism; frequent wars with the foremost Catholic power of the time, France (1702-13, 1743-48, 1756-63, 1778-83, 1793-1802, 1803-15); commerce (in the early 18th century, every fifth British person was involved in trade and traders needed the protection of a strong state); and finally, the British Empire.
Many Indian readers would be intrigued to learn that India was instrumental in bringing the Scots and the English together. “It was India,” says Colley, “that the Scots made their own.” In terms of population, the Scots were never more than 10 per cent of Britain, but in the second half of the 18th century, they constituted more than a quarter of the East India Company’s army officers, nearly half of official “writers” and 60 per cent of “free merchants” in Bengal and a substantial proportion of “civilian officers” in Madras and Bengal.
Why were the Scots so attracted to empire? “Well-born and/ or well-educated Englishmen usually had the pick of jobs back home,” but even men of “first rate ability” from Scotland “had fewer prospects on the British mainland”. In contrast, “Britain’s empire, especially its Indian empire, gave the talented, the lucky… a chance to experience luxury… and the opportunity to build up a substantial personal fortune”.
Finally, and this is a point about dignity, not material reward, the empire “enabled Scots to feel themselves peers of the English in a way still denied them in an island kingdom. The language bears this out very clearly. The English and the foreign are still too inclined today to refer to the island of Great Britain as England. But… the empire has always been emphatically British”. It was never called an English empire. “In terms of self respect, as well as profits it could bestow, imperialism served as Scotland’s opportunity.”
This argument constitutes the basis of Colley’s prediction about the difficulty of Britain’s survival as an unreformed state today. Britain has lost its empire; Protestantism is now a residual cultural category, not a fervent religious belief system (“God has ceased to be British, and providence no longer smiles”); and wars with a Catholic France are neither desirable nor possible.
Essentially, like other nations in the world, Britain, too, is an invented nation. The historical foundation now gone, it will have to re-engineer its institutions, especially political institutions, to be relevant in the 21st century and after. A vote in favour of unity has, paradoxically, opened the debate for what a restructured future might look like.
A move towards federalism, which reimagines England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as states with parliaments or assemblies of their own, with constitutionally designated powers and London functioning as a federal centre, much like Washington or New Delhi, would be the logical movement forward. Such a denouement in the coming years simply cannot be ruled out. We might have something like a United States of Britain before long.

10 Point Action Plan for Pakistan

The title of Oscar Wilde’s novel about late 19th-century British society also aptly sums up the most essential requirement for the effective governance of nations and states. History testifies that peoples, nations and empires rose to greatness when they were well governed and decayed and declined when they were not. By this yardstick, Pakistan is in dire straits. The evidence of its serial mis-governance almost since its birth are palpable.
Today, Pakistan’s democracy is dysfunctional, its economy stagnant, its society divided between the few rich and the mass poor. Justice, jobs and security are unavailable for a growing population of uneducated and alienated youth.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s leaders, caught in petty power plays, have no vision or plan for national development. Pakistan — the world’s sixth most populous country — was not invited to any of the three summits held in Asia earlier this month, illustrating its decline and marginalisation.
The demands for reform made in the recent protest movement led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri have been lost in the political melee.The commission of inquiry into electoral fraud will only scratch the surface. It is unfortunate that the opportunity was not seized to promote wider and more essential governance reform to ensure that Pakistan can survive and prosper as a modern state.
There are at least 10 areas that need to be addressed urgently.
One, politics. The feudal and unequal structure of Pakistan’s society is a major obstacle to representative democracy and economic development. Repeatedly, elections have thrown up political leaders who are mostly ignorant, arrogant and corrupt. Rules and mechanisms can be created to set high standards for political office and ensure that decent and qualified people of modest means can be elected to political office. Pakistan’s leaders have no vision or plan for national development.
Two, law and order. Pakistan has become a violent place, afflicted by terrorism, criminal gangs and political thuggery. The state must re-establish its monopoly of coercive power. The armed forces have a self-evident but not solitary role. Given honest purpose and adequate resources, the country’s security apparatus can be cleansed and modernised to reassert state authority.
Three, the judicial system. The concept of an independent judiciary acting as a check on executive power has either failed at critical moments in Pakistan’s history or been perverted to individual or political purpose. Without hope of securing fair or timely justice, ordinary people have had increasing recourse to illegal and extra-legal, often violent, means for the settlement of disputes. A simpler system for the dispensation of justice and a modality for oversight of the judiciary would help in restoring the rule of law.
Four, local government. The daily lives of most people are deeply affected by the quality and responsiveness of local governments. The present system is custom-made for corruption. Emulating successful examples, such as the Swiss communes and the panchayats of yore, and adhering to the rule of ‘subsidiarity’ — allowing as many decisions as possible to be taken at the lowest possible level — can simplify the administration of the entire country.
Five, the bureaucracy. Pakistan inherited a fairly good bureaucratic system from the British but has proceeded to politicise, corrupt and destroy it. It should be discarded and a new one created. A modern state needs a functionally qualified, impartial and decisive bureaucracy, free of avarice and political fear or favour, to ensure its efficient administration and development. There is no dearth of Pakistanis within and outside the country who can form the core of such a new bureaucracy.
Six, government finances. The government is broke because only a small fraction of income earners — mostly the salaried class — pay their taxes. Successive governments have shied away from broadening the tax base and utilising coercive measures of tax collection because the delinquents either belong to the political class or have political connections. A fair and effective system must be quickly implemented. Likewise, huge savings can be made by restructuring or privatising the 20-plus loss-making state corporations that are bleeding amounts equal to the country’s entire budget deficit each year.
Seven, human development. Pakistan’s growing population of the young, uneducated and unskilled is an economic and social liability, feeding radicalism and crime. A skilled population would be its greatest asset, generating income and consumption and accelerating economic growth. Education and skill creation should be Pakistan’s highest priority and deserve vastly expanded budget support.
Eight, infrastructure. Most of Pakistan’s physical infrastructure — transport, energy, irrigation — is over 50 years old. Economic growth and investment will continue to be constrained without modern infrastructure. The greatest impediment to infrastructure development, apart from the paucity of resources and long-range planning, is the system of kickbacks and corruption surrounding public projects. An investment authority, free of political affiliation, should be constituted to oversee the effective and planned execution of infrastructure projects.
Nine, agriculture. Pakistan’s vast potential in food and agricultural production has been neglected. With its large population, agricultural production in Pakistan can be enlarged significantly by small farmers, not large conglomerates. This would also ease the unemployment and urbanisation challenges. What is required? Land reform, to entitle small farmers, and technological and financial support to enable them to succeed.
Ten, industrialisation. Local manufacturing industries are essential to create jobs, substitute imports, enlarge exports and propel growth and general prosperity. For once, we should follow Mr Modi by proclaiming a ‘make in Pakistan’ slogan. To succeed, it will be necessary to review Pakistan’s trade and investment regime which does not offer sufficient incentives and protections to domestic producers.
The ten tasks outlined here may appear too daunting at first sight. Yet, with serious and bold leadership, a planned and sequenced endeavour can be launched to implement the governance reforms that are vitally needed to save Pakistan from further decline and eventual political and social collapse.
To start, agreement should be reached to establish a high-level commission to identify the reform agenda. It could set up committees composed of reputable experts in each area to propose the reforms and the modalities for their implementation. Unfortunately, it is not evident who can convince Pakistan’s political establishment of the importance of being earnest.

Ten Point Agenda for Modi Government

With the completion of six months of the NDA government has to see real work. noe that honey-moon period is over. Cabinet reshaped, Prime Minister back in India, key state elections around the corner and the winter session of Parliament about to begin is the appropriate time for real work, devoid of all frills to begin. It is imperative that the government identifies its agenda and priorties to ensure not only fulfillement of its electoral promises, but also the apirations of millions. But before I suggest an agenda, let me make clear that Modi government has unwittingly, in last six month , some positive chievements. However, these positive attainmentsarereally not because of govenment action. Have six months of Narendra Modi’s rule produced the achhe din (good days) promised during his election campaign? To some extent, yes. But this owes more to good luck than good policy. The most dramatic improvement by far is falling inflation. After years of double digit inflation, consumer inflation is down to just 5.5%.Wholesale price inflation has fallen even more dramatically, to just 1.8%, with food inflation down to 1.4%. Petrol and diesel, which rose inexorably for years, are now falling steeply.
On other fronts, progress has been modest to non-existent. GDP growth was projected to be a modest 5.5% this year, but looks like it is falling short of that. Bank credit has steadily decelerated. Exports, which grew quite rapidly in the first half of 2014, have decelerated since, and actually fell 5% in October. Industrial growth is a pathetic 2.8% for the first half of the fiscal year. Even during the licence-permit Raj, when GDP growth averaged only 3.5%, industrial growth used to average 5%. We have sunk below that.
Modi has ensured that government files are moving faster and clearances are rapid. But this has not translated into a boom in orders for machinery or construction. Machinery output has risen a bit, but after years of decline it should be jumping by 20% per year. Consumer durables have actually declined 12.4 % in the first half of the fiscal year. Government revenue has been growing at less than half the projected 19%.
This is a constipated economy, not a healthy one. Optimists say Modi’s enema will unclog the constipation within a year. That’s possible but not certain. The stock market has boomed because of over $30 billion of foreign inflows. Modi is seen as a turnaround agent, and investors are giving him time to change matters. He has undoubtedly energized the bureaucracy and investors.Yet he is more showman than reformer. His Jan Dhan and Swacch Bharat schemes are new versions of old Congress schemes. He funked any major reforms in the railway budget or general budget. In many areas he has taken small steps forward, with lots of publicity but no radical reform.
What’s clear is that Modi is lucky. The dramatic improvements in inflation and related areas owe nothing to his initiatives and everything to good luck, arising from crashing global commodity prices. This year’s budget assumed that oil would average $ 110barrel, but it has actually crashed to $78barrel. This has enabled fuel prices to be slashed, taming transport costs.Falling oil prices have ensured that the balance of payments is under control, notwithstanding a surge in gold imports and the recent slowdown in exports. Finally, the oil price crash has hugely improved the fiscal position. Budgetary subisidies for oil and fertilizers have been slashed, and the finance ministry has been able to raise the excise duty on petrol and diesel, partly making up for the big shortfall in tax revenues.
Even the moderation in food prices is a global outcome, not a Modi outcome. Global food prices started rising in 2004 and then skyrocketed in 2007, but have fallen sharply over the last year. The UPA government kept raising the procurement prices of grain for many years in stages after 2007, to help Indian farmers catch up with world prices, and this created a persistent upward pressure on food prices, pulling up the entire price index. Now, with global prices falling, procurement prices are being raised by less than the overall inflation rate, so food is dampening the price index instead of exacerbating it.
Wheat and maize were both at $8bushel two years ago, but wheat is now down to $5.5bushel and maize to $3.75bushel. India is a big importer of edible oils, whose prices have also crashed. As against this India exports tea, cotton and iron ore, and their falling prices have been a minus for India. That has been offset by decreases in the price of commodities that India imports -coal, copper, rubber, edible oils, and non-ferrous metals.
In sum, the first six months of Modi’s rule are better described as achhe sitare (lucky stars) than achhe din (good days). Good luck is always welcome, but does not last forever.
The million dollar question that faces the government is not things like removal of german as the third language or creating a mountain out of a m,olehill about the moronic action of Jama Masjid Imam. What should be its immediate agenda across key sectors? But first consider how others assess India’s future before we examine the government’s present priorities.
According to a study by US banking group Citi, India will be the world’s largest economy in 36 years. Indian GDP in 2050, measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), will be $85.97 trillion. China, in second place, will have a GDP of $ 80.02 trillion and the US $ 39.07 trillion.
With an estimated population in 2050 of 1.63 billion, India will thus have a per capita income (PPP) of just under $53,000 – in the range of today’s wealthiest countries like Switzerland and Norway. Sounds too good to be true? Of course it is.
On paper, mathematically, Indian poverty should disappear by 2050. The reason it won’t is that huge inequalities in income will persist unless we rapidly implement second-generation economic reforms which deliver real benefits to the bottom of India’s socio-economic pyramid. I am referring to real poverty and not the idiotic definition of poverty as enunicated by a planning commission that identifies poverty with starvation level income.
The Citi study relies heavily on India’s two dividends: demographic and democratic. The demographic dividend will ensure that India has the largest number of working-age people in the world (over 800 million) between 2015 and 2035 before tapering off as our population reaches a plateau of just over 1.60 billion and starts ageing (as China’s already is). Fertility rates of increasingly educated urban and rural Indian women will dip from today’s 2.6 to 1.7, which is when a country’s birth and death rates equalize.
A large number of working-age Indians between 18 and 60, however, will be less than optimally productive if they remain poorly educated and are therefore unemployable. To gain from our 20-year demographic sweet spot, education reform must clearly top the government’s agenda.
India’s democracy is a double-edge scimitar. This raucous, open society takes indians two steps forward economically and then one step backwards. But if governance reforms – land, labour, judicial and police – are implemented quickly, the stage could be set for a new phase of economic reforms that will turn our democratic institutions into assets for long-term economic and social growth. Indians will then move from a culture of high subsidies (leaked to corrupt middlemen) to a culture of high productivity.
To achieve these targets the Modi government should focus on ten key deliverables:
1. Meet the target of opening 150 million new banking accounts (75.16 million had already been opened between August 29 and November 18, 2014) which will impact nearly 750 million Indians (five members per household with at least one bank account). Universal insurance and payments through “Rupay” cards will follow. Using Aadhaar, direct money transfer of subsidies will eventually replace distributing physical stocks of food grains, bypassing corrupt middlemen. Financial inclusion is the first step towards eliminating poverty and giving every Indian a level playing field.
2. Provide healthcare to all by targeting an increase in spending on health from 4% of GDP to 6% of GDP by 2019. Britain, for example, spends 8% of its GDP — $175 billion (Rs. 11 lakh crore) on the excellent National Health Service (NHS). That shows the scaling-up India needs to do to achieve global health standards. Sanitation and both building and encouraging the use of toilets are key to enhancing healthcare.
3. Set up as quickly as possible the new body mandated to replace the Planning Commission. Tentatively dubbed the National Development and Reforms Commission, this compact think tank-cum-monitoring body will play a vital role in project ideation and management.
4. Cut the current account deficit (CAD) from the estimated 1.7% of GDP in FY 2015 to below 1% in FY 2016 by leveraging the decrease in crude oil prices and reforming the New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP). India imports 80% of its crude oil. This must be gradually lowered to 60-65%, a level last achieved in the 1980s at the peak of Bombay High production.
5. Complete coal block auctions by the target date: February 11, 2015. India imports over 160 million tonnes of coal. Domestic production is under 600 million tonnes, most of it by Coal India. Auctioning the Supreme Court-cancelled coal blocks can bridge the gap, saving $10 billion (Rs. 62,000 crore) a year. Along with cheaper oil, this has the potential to significantly reduce the current account deficit by 2016 as well as shrink the fiscal deficit to around 3% of GDP.
6. Invest heavily in infrastructure. This would dovetail with the “Make in India” initiative, drive foreign direct investment (FDI) into civil projects, harness new technology (especially in joint venture defence manufacturing) and make India an export hub.
7. Use the Digital India theme to enhance e-governance and cut red tape. Collateral benefit: transparency, speed and measureable outcomes across all areas of governance in the states and at the centre.
8. Increase spending on primary education, a hugely neglected sector since independence, alongside setting up new IITs and IIMs. Unless the foundation is strong, the top of the educational pyramid will remain an elitist preserve.
9. Speed up economic and governance reforms by introducing the Goods and Services Tax (GST), abolishing retrospective taxation, modifying the land acquisition act, introducing labour reforms (as Rajasthan has done) to make India an easier place to do business, implementing long-overdue police reforms and establishing the Lokpal to enhance political accountability.
10. Remove over 750 outdated laws (currently under review by the law ministry), increase the number of judges across all categories of courts (from trial courts to the Supreme Court), reduce the archaic system of holiday breaks courts today enjoy, and implement the decision to free undertrials who have already served over 50% of their maximum sentence.
Six months on, having successfully placed India on the world stage, the government’s work at home begins now.

Illegal Immigration Amnesty : Implications

According to President Ronald Reagan, once a nation loses control of its borders, it is no longer really a nation any more. This situation is happening right now to the United States. And its own government is abetting it, to its own demise. United States President Barack Obama made an executive decree to grant amnesty for 4.7 million illegal immigrants. In doing so, he broke the trust of immigrants trying to enter America legally, and effectively encouraged more illegal immigration. He also broke the law. This executive action became the latest and one of the most significant in a series of actions the president has taken that break the Constitution’s restraints on his presidential powers. And in this case, it also blatantly contravened his own repeatedly stated admission that such a move would be unlawful.
A year ago, for example, during a speech about immigration, he told a crowd, If,in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so. But we’re also a nation of laws.” To those who pressed him to take unilateral action on immigration, the president said, “That’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
America has a problem at its southern border. Year after year, thousands of immigrants have crossed it illegally to seek economic opportunity, a better life, customers for drugs and/or victims for crime and terror. But something has changed; something is much different—and far worse. Last year, the number of children who crossed the border illegally and unaccompanied suddenly quintupled. That new total will likely double again by the end of this year. And by the end of 2015, it may balloon by more than 50 percent yet again.
Right now, tens of thousands of these children are flooding over the border. They are occupying and overwhelming border law enforcement, cramming temporary shelters, overflowing the legal system and pouring into permanent residency in the United States.With so many children in danger—exposed to the elements, to health risks, to common criminals, to kidnappers, to enslavers, to sex abusers, to drug smugglers and to human traffickers—this crisis demands a response. With thin border security dissipating further—allowing immigrants, criminals and even terrorists openings into the homeland—this crisis demands a response. And with the long-term risks of a demographic dominated by illegal immigration—this crisis demands a response.
The burning question is: What will that government response be, and what does this mean for America’s immediate future? Before 2013, the number of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the United States each year averaged fewer than 8,000. Last year, that number leaped to 40,000. This year, it will likely reach 90,000. Next year, it is projected to rise as high as 142,000.
Historically, the vast majority of America’s illegal immigrants have come from Mexico. Apprehended Mexicans can more or less be transported back home expeditiously. Children from other countries cannot. And for the first time, the majority of the children slipping across the border are coming from Central America—specifically, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Shelters for these children are overwhelmed, and the government has opened several military bases to accommodate the overflow. Overcrowded detention centers have also suffered the spread of infectious diseases including chicken pox, staph infections, scabies, and even rabies and swine flu.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol officers who intercept these illegals (many of whom just turn themselves in) must then process them, meaning that they do less patrolling and more babysitting. Some report that as many as 7 in 10 officers are no longer actually patrolling the border. This leaves an already out-of-control area wide open to cartels and other criminals to traffic more illegal immigrants; more slaves; more weapons; and more marijuana, cocaine, meth, heroin, LSD, and ecstasy, allowing them to spread their tentacles throughout the country. And, as the wry joke goes, the best way for terrorists to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the United States is to hide it in a bale of marijuana.
This escalating issue caused the White House to admit that the “influx of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) across the southwest border of the United States has resulted in an urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated federal response” (June 2). That sounds good. But why has the situation been allowed to deteriorate to this point? Something still isn’t right here. That something is the federal response.
One factor contributing to this immigration emergency dates back to a law enacted during the Bush administration in 2008. This law mandates that illegal minors from countries other than Mexico or Canada must appear before a judge rather than being immediately deported. The law was designed to protect children from being sent back to nations plagued with violence. However, the real-world result is a huge backlog of cases that can take years to process. And now record numbers of non-Mexican immigrant children are streaming across the border. That means record numbers of children must stay and be processed. These children don’t even need to dodge American authorities when they enter the country. When caught, they are often sent to live with relatives who already reside in America, and stay for years waiting for the courts, which are slow and reluctant to deport.
The percentage of illegal immigrants sent back to their home countries did drop after this law was enacted. However, it isn’t the whole story. A law enacted six years ago does not explain what has driven Central American and Mexican children to begin streaming across the southern border in unprecedented numbers over the past two years.
Why the surge in illegal immigration among children? Why has the influx suddenly spiked under the Obama administration? Why hasn’t the president reduced the flow of illegal immigrants? The startling possibility is that he’s not even trying.
On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama had announced a new initiative. Not to secure the border; not to crack down on cartels; not to modify any abused laws; not to improve enforcement of laws; not to benefit legal immigrants, but to “lift the shadow of deportation” from eligible illegal immigrants. His initiative was to give illegal immigrants the opportunity to live and work in America without fear of being deported. The directive made certain immigrants eligible for work permits, Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and similar benefits offered to citizens and legal immigrants. More than 500,000 immigrants benefitted from this executive action, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
This past June, the administration laid out guidelines for these immigrants to defer deportation for yet another two years. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced, “Despite the acrimony and partisanship that now exists in Washington, almost all of us agree that a child who crossed our border illegally with a parent, or in search of a parent or a better life, was not making an adult choice to break our laws, and should be treated differently than adult law-breakers” (June 5).
Yet now the administration has discovered new legal justification for such action. (It says the Department of Homeland Security only has resources to deport 400,000 illegal immigrants a year; thus, Obama has “prosecutorial discretion” to decide who among America’s 11 million illegals they will be.) Not only does the administration now deny that its amnesty action is unlawful, but it also now ridicules those who disagree; those who say, “That’s not how our Constitution is written.”
The Washington Post (hardly a conservative paper) published an editorial saying that the president is “tearing up the Constitution.” White House adviser Jennifer Palmieri derisively dismissed that statement. Palmieri said, “After two years, there’s just no credible reason to continue to ask these people to wait.” There is “no credible reason,” that is, not to take immediate, unilateral executive action to resolve the status of these people who entered the U.S. illegally. To this administration, not even waiting for Congress to pass a law (which is “how our system works” and “how our democracy functions,” in the president’s words) making such action legal would constitute a “credible reason.” So who determines what is “credible”? Not the Constitution—the president.
Immigration is a serious and complicated issue. There are persuasive arguments for the order the president made, and many people expressed joy and gratitude at seeing it enacted. The point is, American government is founded on the rule of law and a constitutional process by which such debate gets aired en route to the formation of public policy. In this case, it is through Congress, America’s lawmaking body.
But the president is reversing his prior position because, he says, he considers this an emergency. In his Thursday night address he argued that because the nation’s immigration system is “broken,” and because Congress hasn’t passed a law yet, he must act alone. In other words, America’s democratic system is not working, and thus, nondemocratic intervention must be taken.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, called the immigration surge “an administration-made disaster.” “Word has gotten out around the world about President Obama’s lax immigration enforcement policies and it has encouraged more individuals to come to the United States illegally,” he said.
The Obama administration has deflected accusations that its lenient immigration policies have caused this recent surge. The president blames the 2008 law and poor conditions in Central America. But Border Patrol agents who actually question hundreds of immigrants in person get a different answer.
Border agents in the Rio Grande valley of Texas, which currently receives the most illegal immigration traffic, wrote a report revealing that an incredible 95 percent of those interviewed said they came because they knew they would be allowed to stay. “The main reason the subjects chose this particular time to migrate to the United States was to take advantage of the ‘new’ U.S. ‘law’ that grants a ‘free pass’ … to female adult OTMs [non-Mexican immigrants] traveling with minors and UACs,” the report states. “The information is apparently common knowledge in Central America and is spread by word of mouth, and international and local media.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics back this up. For most of the last decade, the yearly number of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who were apprehended while crossing into the United States was fewer than 4,000. But in fiscal year 2012, that number suddenly more than doubled to 10,146. Last fiscal year, it doubled to 20,805. By June of this year, it has nearly doubled again, to 39,133. Unaccompanied minors from Mexico rose from 13,974 in 2012 to 17,240 last year.
“Why do they come?” Charles Krauthammer asked. “The administration pretends it’s because of violence and poverty. Nonsense. When has there not been violence and poverty in Central America? … The new variable is Obama’s unilateral (and lawless) June 2012 order essentially legalizing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came here as children. Message received in Central America. True, this executive order doesn’t apply to those who came after June 15, 2007. But the fact remains that children coming across now are overwhelmingly likely to stay” (July 10).
President Obama has made many statements about what he admits is now a “humanitarian crisis.” But he denies that his policies have caused it. He has called for a “unified and coordinated federal response,” but that response has not been and is not likely to be what millions of American citizens are hoping for.
“The journey is unbelievably dangerous for these kids,” Obama told a press conference on June 30. “The children who are fortunate enough to survive it will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent back home.”
Not true. In “most cases” the children are not deported. For example, based on statistics, here is what will actually happen to the 41,000 children who were not sent right back across the border over the past nine months: They will be processed and issued a “Notice to Appear” court order that gives a date to appear before an immigration judge. Then almost all of them will be released to live with relatives in the U.S. in the meantime. When their court date finally comes, nearly half of them won’t even show up. And even among those who do, the majority will be granted amnesty and allowed to stay. “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data show 46 percent of minors who initially ask for asylum are approved by a case officer,” Fox News reported on June 27. “Among those who are referred [to] an immigration judge, 74 percent of asylum claims are approved. That data, presented in House hearings … seems to undermine the president’s claim.”
In Spanish, the government-issued “Notice to Appear” court orders are called permisos—meaning permission or permit. That alone suggests what seems to be a universally accepted truth: An immigrant who is issued permisos will ultimately be allowed to stay.
Congressman Pat Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican, said it bluntly at a June 24 congressional meeting: “We’re dealing with children, and we get it. But we ought to not be leaving the American people with the false impression that somehow the system is going to work and actually lead to removals. Once those children are here, they’re staying here.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry went a step further, suggesting President Obama has an ulterior motive for letting the current immigration crisis unfold. “I have to believe that when you don’t respond in any way that you are either inept or you have some ulterior motive of which you are functioning from,” he told ABC on July 6.
The president has not discouraged young illegal immigrants; instead, he has made it clear that young illegal immigrants will be treated differently in America—and they know it. Coming to America now means the possibility of free citizenship, free health care and welfare benefits. And so they come. By the tens of thousands.
One Border Patrol union representative in California told ABC 10 News that massive amounts of manpower are needed to process and secure these illegal immigrants, which means fewer officers are actually in the field patrolling the border. This man apparently had to defy a gag order in order to reveal what is really happening.
A June 9 Washington Times editorial identified the bigger picture of what this ongoing, solvable-yet-escalating immigration crisis means for the nation as a whole: “The children’s surge is another consequence of the president making good on his vow to ‘fundamentally transform’ America.” “It is a direct consequence of the president’s illegal actions,” Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, told Breitbart. “The parents think, If I send my child [to the U.S.], my child will have amnesty” (June 6).
President Obama has requested $3.7 billion to deal with this crisis. His administration says most of the money will go to the “care, feeding, and transportation costs of unaccompanied children and family groups,” according to a July 10 statement to Congress by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. This money will manage the ongoing crisis—and do nothing to solve the problem. “Meanwhile, the one thing Obama could do—push hard to change the law forbidding the quick return of young immigrants from noncontiguous countries—is not on the table,” Byron York wrote for the Washington Examiner on July 15.
It’s not on the table because his administration is not interested in fixing the problem. It blames Republicans for the crisis, even as it refuses to enforce existing laws on illegal immigration. The Obama administration doesn’t want a secure border. Liberal “progressives” envision a world without borders. They want open borders. They don’t want to send anyone home—certainly not children. They want amnesty for all illegal aliens. They want the federal government to handle the situation indeed, not by locking the door, but by taking it off its hinges! This is what they have vowed to do from the very beginning—to fundamentally TRANSFORM the United States of America. And so, the all-out assault on America’s southern border will continue. And it will contribute to not only the transformation of the nation and the erasing of its border security, but to its actual destruction!
America is the house that is both falling apart and under new stress. “Those living within it, those most upset by what they’re seeing, know America has big problems—unemployment, low workforce participation, a rickety physical infrastructure, an unsound culture, poor public education. And of course discord of all sorts—a lot of mad squirrels running around the attic. They know America can’t pay its bills. They fear we’re living on the fumes of greatness. They want us to be strong again. Watching our border collapse doesn’t look like a harbinger of progress.”
Some analysts recognize the dangerous situation playing out not only in the crisis at hand but also in the government’s treacherous response to it. But there is a much deeper analysis that reveals a lot more about America’s illegal immigration crisis.
America has reached a tipping point. It is no longer one nation, made up of one melted-together people. As Pat Buchanan wrote on July 14, “We no longer speak the same language, worship the same God, honor the same heroes or share the same holidays. … Our politics have become poisonous. Our political parties are at each other’s throats. Christianity is in decline. Traditional churches are sundering over moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Islam is surging. Our society seems to be disintegrating.”The flood of illegal immigrants highlights a fundamental disregard for law. It exposes and exacerbates the loss of a common culture. America’s inability to protect its borders shows that the very things that define the United States as a nation are being chipped away
It is true that America is a nation of immigrants. So was Israel anciently, to whom God gave the law that President Obama cited.
God permitted foreigners to immigrate to Israel, and even commanded that His people treat them well, as the president noted. However, the same God who passed that law said that those who immigrated were expected to follow the laws of Israel. If the president wants to use the Bible in order to establish immigration policy, he would do well to refer to Leviticus 24:22, which states, “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God” (New King James Version). And Numbers 15:16: “One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” This law prohibits giving special treatment to foreigners. Only those who abide by the law of the land—not who disobey it by their very presence—should be permitted to stay.
Notice another law regarding immigration in Israel, just a few verses down from the one the president quoted. After telling His people not to make covenants with people from surrounding nations, God said, “They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare unto thee” (Exodus 23:33). In other words, God forbade immigration of anyone who wouldn’t accept the religion of the Israelites.
It is disingenuous to cite only the provision commanding kindness to immigrants without acknowledging the fact that, by law, these immigrants would have to integrate themselves culturally and even religiously.
President Obama apparently recognizes the wisdom in one of the provisions with that ancient law. But whether or not people realize it, America is suffering a number of problems and curses because it has ignored the other provisions on the subject. Our nation’s dangerous and deepening racial and cultural divisions are proof. And how can Obama forget Old Testament law contains a prophecy of what would happen when we disobeyed it. Deuteronomy 28:43-44 reads, “The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and thou shalt come down very low. He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail.” As the president invites illegal immigrants to remain in the United States—and at the same time encourages still more illegals to join them—we can see this prophecy being fulfilled.
This executive action only applies to immigrants who have been in America for longer than five years, but its timing closely correlates to the recent flood of child immigrants. Some children even now go to border agents and beg to be arrested. Their reasoning is that if President Obama won’t deport the thousands of immigrant children already here, he surely won’t deport them either. And that reasoning is pretty sound.
But this is hardly the only such “emergency” the president has encountered that necessitates unilateral executive action. When Congress did not pass cap-and-trade, the president instead gave the power to enforce this unpassed law to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is under his executive control. When Congress did not pass gun control, the president signed 23 executive orders. He took similar steps in order to pass health-care reform, one of the most sweeping laws in American history. He abandoned the Defense of Marriage Act by simply ordering the executive branch to stop enforcing it. In order to sidestep needing congressional approval for a controversial executive appointment, he declared that Congress was in recess. He bypassed the legislature in order to join the NATO mission in Libya. He applied a decade-old war power to justify military action in Syria without legislative approval.
He always finds justification to do what he wants. Thursday night, President Obama invoked the authority of a higher law than that of the Constitution. He quoted the law of Moses—which says, “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). But just as he is doing with the Constitution, the president is applying this law in a highly selective way—not to govern or even to inform his decision, but merely to rationalize it once he has made it.
Buchanan asks, “If a country is a land of defined and defended borders, within which resides a people of a common ancestry, history, language, faith, culture and traditions, in what sense are we Americans one nation and one people today?” Obama is ensuring America does not remain one nation and one people.

Hate Based Perceptions Detract Nehru’s Heritage

The darlings of yesterday become hateful figures today. It is all the more true of political leaders. There is always a process of denigration of the past. Nehru the first prime Minister of India, called the nurturer of democracy, secularism and scientific temper is now a person being reviled. Now that the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru is out of the way, it might be worth reflecting on the bitterness, rancour and downright abuse that characterised it during debates in TV studios, on social media and sometimes, even in print.
Even those of us who acknowledge Nehru’s contribution to the making of modern India concede that he made numerous mistakes. When it came to economic policy, he was often too influenced by the Fabian-Socialist approach to the issue. His hatred for the colonial powers that had ruled India for two centuries led him to view the Soviet Union in much too favourable a light. He was wrong about China: First too trusting and then, with the Forward Policy, needlessly provocative. His handling of the Kashmir issue was flawed. And so on.
But the level of bitterness that characterised the Nehru anniversary went far beyond any logical listing of his mistakes. Instead, those opposed to Nehru demonstrated an almost visceral hatred of him and his legacy. If facts got in the way of the debate, then they were quickly brushed aside and replaced with invective and abuse.
Why should a generation that had no real experience of Nehru’s style of governance feel such anger and bitterness towards a man whom most independent historians regard as one of the great figures of the 20th century?
I can think of three reasons, only one of which is vaguely honourable.
First of all, there is no doubt that, by the 1950s, a competing world view had emerged within India. Though this view is bogusly ascribed to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (who was a much more complex figure than his new-found admirers realise), it had many advocates. In this view, non-alignment was a mistake. The decision to build up a huge publicly-owned industrial infrastructure was an error. And the decision to declare Hindu-majority India as a secular country, defined not by religion but by an idea of India, was downright foolish and unfair to the Hindu majority.
But whenever parties that should have represented this view came to power, they could not counter the Nehru legacy. For instance India’s first BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee simply did not subscribe to this position. He may have had his own opinion about Nehru’s mistakes but as external affairs minister (1977-79), he stuck with non-alignment and then, as prime minister, rejected a religion-based approach to nationalism.
It is not clear where Narendra Modi stands on the issue (he has been uncharacteristically ambivalent) but there’s no doubt that many of his supporters believe that Modi’s victory is the triumph of an alternative view of India, one that rejects the Nehruvian model and celebrates a religion-heavy approach to Indian citizenship.
This is fair enough. If a competing ideology has finally occupied the mainstream, then perhaps its supporters are entitled to gloat a little.
But that doesn’t explain the rancour, the viciousness of the responses and the bitterness displayed by many of those attacking Nehru and especially by the angry army of abusive trolls on social media who spend their days posting abuse all the way from Vancouver to Versova.
That anger stems from two entirely separate factors. The first is what many of the trolls call ‘Sickularism.’ Some Nehru-bashers are people who resent Islam, hate Muslims and blame most of the world’s ills on Islamic fanaticism. You have only to go on Twitter to see the extent to which abuse of Muslims and their religion — completely unacceptable in normal discourse — is rampant on social media. The abusers are not necessarily people who are worried about ISIS or al Qaeda. They just loathe Muslims and have no hesitation in saying so.
For such people, Nehru was the Appeaser-in-Chief. He was the man, they say, who betrayed Hindus to pamper Muslims. Just as liberals regard Indian secularism as among Nehru’s achievements, the trolls see it as his greatest crime against humanity. (Well, against Hindus at any rate). So, much of the abuse of Nehru stems not from any understanding of his successes and failures. It originates in hatred of Muslims. Nehru is blamed as the man who gave Muslims an equal stake in what should have been a Hindu country. Hence the names he is called on Twitter: Jawahar Khan, Jawahar Mohammed, etc.
There is another factor. The BJP has promised India a Congress-mukt Bharat. These days, the Congress has come to mean (especially to its opponents) the Gandhi family. If the Modi-bhakts are to attack the Gandhis (and there is no doubt that for some of them, hatred of the family is almost pathological), then they must start at the root. It does not matter to them whether Nehru intended to create a dynasty (the evidence is inconclusive). What matters is that he did. In their view, the family is a cancer at the heart of the Indian system and every element of that malignant growth must be pulled out, and that begins with Nehru.
So it doesn’t matter whether Nehru was right or wrong. Rather, in the manner that ancient and medieval Indian history is being rewritten to suit the political demands of the present, so modern Indian history must also be twisted to portray Nehru as a Muslim-loving Soviet stooge who failed India; his only achievement was to establish a dynasty which held India back from occupying its place as one of the world’s great post-Vedic superpowers.
The first reason for opposing Nehru is understandable. Triumphalism and gloating from an ideological faction that has finally come to power are common enough in politics. More troubling are the other two reasons. So much of the hatred stems not from any fair examination of Nehru’s achievements or failures, but from present-day hatreds: Hatred of Nehru’s descendants and hatred of Muslims. In Robert and Anne Drew’s documentary, Life and Death of a Dynasty, there is a captivating scene. India’s 1962 elections are round the corner. Nehru is asked why he was not campaigning in his own constituency. Wasn’t he afraid of losing? His four-decade-long political life, replies Nehru, was an open book and if his own constituency was unsatisfied with it, it should elect his opponent. Given the rise of the Akali Dal, his party needed him more in Punjab, so he was going there to campaign. “Main aapke sarhadi subey mein aaj phir aayaa hoon, lekin main aaj aapse bijli aur paani ki baat karne aayaa hoon (I have once again come to your border province, but I will talk today about electricity and water),” says Nehru. The camera then zooms in on the faces of the farmers who had gathered to hear him. In a way that only pictures, not words, can capture, their eyes show unmistakable love and gratitude. It almost did not seem to matter what Nehru said, though water and electricity were central to farming. They are so grateful Nehruji came to their village.
Eyewitness stories about how India’s masses, rural and urban, adored Nehru are simply too many to recount. Nehru used to say that Delhi stifled him and mass contact was a source of invigoration. He would often leave Delhi to be with the masses. That he had a patrician background and, unlike Gandhi, never displayed religiosity made him a truly unlikely figure to receive mass adulation. But the 10-12 years he spent in jail during the freedom movement and an untiring effort to connect with the masses convinced millions that he could be their arch representative.
To appraise Nehru in a purely abstract manner, while necessary, would constitute an analytic insufficiency. Great leaders always go beyond the purely intellectual or the rational. They touch emotionally. They construct an invisible bond. They become the embodiment of a nation. For two generations of Indians, if not more, Nehru was one such political leader, second only to Mahatma Gandhi.
There were adversaries, of course. Three principal adversaries emerged within: the Hindu nationalists, who found his commitment to minorities, especially Muslims, thoroughly misguided; the communists, who in their inimitable phraseology called him the running dog of imperialism, even though Nehru was no great admirer of capitalism and wanted to tame its excesses with state direction; and the Gandhian socialists, who thought Nehru’s view of industry and modernity was a betrayal of Gandhi’s commitment to Indian villages and tradition.
The pitch these criticisms acquired was sometimes dismaying, but Nehru was never fully undermined. Significantly, most Gandhian socialists remained inside the Congress. The reason was simple, though never explicitly articulated. Gandhi had a great theory of protest and mass mobilisation, but a wholly inadequate theory of governance. The former led to India’s freedom, but without the latter, a modern polity could not function.
Institutions and constitutional rules are the lifeblood of modern governance: how the government would be elected; how the roles of the executive, legislature and judiciary would be conceptualised; what the respective powers of Central and state governments would be; which level of government the civil service, police and army would report to; would individuals have rights or communities, etc. Governance is, of course, more than these questions, but no democratic polity can work without clarity about such basic issues. By 1947, Gandhi was far above these mundane institutional matters. His energies were concentrated on preventing mass violence, not institution-building.
Dealing with these questions, India’s Constitution was a product of nearly four years of collective deliberation, to which Gandhi’s contributions were minimal and Nehru’s infinitely greater. Gandhi knew how to create a nation, not how to run it. In Letters for a Nation, an abbreviated recent assemblage of Nehru’s fortnightly communication with India’s chief ministers, Madhav Khosla notes that India’s constitutional polity is virtually inconceivable without Nehru. Others like B.R. Ambedkar, Sardar Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad undoubtedly played very significant roles, but Nehru’s contribution to India’s constitutional democracy was unparallelled.
The modern Indian polity is imperfect, but India nonetheless remains a constitutionally based democracy. Over time, virtually all post-colonial democracies and constitutions collapsed in the developing world. Despite sharing the same British colonial history, Pakistan could not, in its first two decades of independence, even develop a constitution, which was subsequently overthrown several times. By the mid- to late-1960s, as Samuel Huntington argued, democracies all over the developing world had begun to unravel. In contrast, India’s constitutional democracy acquired legitimacy and longevity.
Despite his intense disagreements with Nehru, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a child of Nehru’s political institution-building. His election would not have been possible without the polity that was put in place in 1950 and an electoral process instituted against all odds in 1952. That ought to be recognised. It was right of Modi to continue with a committee for the commemoration of Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary; it is wrong of the Congress party to eject Modi’s government from its own celebrations. Nehru is a national treasure to be shared, not a mere partisan political figure. Democrats in the US do not wage life-and-death battles over Abraham Lincoln, a Republican. They debate him.
Nehru’s economics should be and, since 1991, has substantially been undone. His decision to take Kashmir to the United Nations, in hindsight, was wrong, though one should note that Article 370 of India’s Constitution was Patel’s contribution (Letters for a Nation, page 218). Nehru was too romantically committed to India-China brotherhood, hoping ideals would triumph over realism. But these imperfections do not sully Nehru’s contributions to India’s democracy. Disputes over economics, secularism, Kashmir and China are analytically separable from democracy.
“Whereas in the West, liberal democracy had developed gradually, leading… to the… theory that it could endure in its purest form only in a setting of capitalist industrialisation,” argues Sarvepalli Gopal, “Nehru was making the superhuman, anti-historical effort” of institutionalising democracy in an economically poor India. Gopal adds that Nehru was “not as much a profound as a pioneering thinker”. Gandhi inverted the conventional meanings associated with courage, masculinity-femininity, freedom and power. If the British called prison a site of punishment, Gandhi turned it into a site of pilgrimage for freedom fighters. If the British called Indians feminine, Gandhi’s civil disobedience turned “taking blows” into a source of strength. Gandhi simply undermined the British cognitive frame.
Nehru could not theorise so deeply, but he was a pioneer in that he established democracy in a highly unlikely setting. Later scholarly work in political science confirms that India’s democracy is a great exception to democratic theory. Nehru is not the only figure to be credited with this achievement, but to write a history of Indian democracy without Nehru as its central figure would be an exercise in intellectual deception and futility. Nehru should not be confused with his progeny. He should be assessed on his own record.
In 1956, after a decade of Nehru’s rule, The New York Times said he was the only leader of the world who ruled by love, not fear. “Since the end of the Churchill-Stalin-Roosevelt era,” added Harper’s Magazine, Nehru “is the most arresting figure on the world political stage”.
Why has this “most arresting figure” fallen on bad times? In the 125th year of Nehru’s birth, India needs to debate this question with an open mind, not with ideological blindness. In a therapeutic year, the nation could learn a lot about itself.
It is worrying when a society cannot disentangle its past from its present. And it is even more worrying when a whole generation of trolls bases its view of India on nothing more than hatred. Nehru definitely deserves better. And so does Indian political discourse.

Strategic Autonomy – A New Direction

Old orders changeth yielding place to new. The change of leadership in india has been so dramatic that it is changing the very image of the staid old country. New alliances are being created, new paths being chartered and new vistas being opened., This change is welcome, although many Indian decision-makers argue that defense cooperation with other countries endangers India’s sovereignty.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance at the Asean and G-20 summits caps a busy few months of travel that have included bilateral summits with Japan, the US and now Australia. Modi is the face of a newly confident India that is not afraid of doing deals — sometimes tough deals — with new partners across the economic, political and military spectrum.
Since the end of the Cold War, we have seen big changes in the way India looks at the world. For one thing, India realized that its quest for economic autarchy had been a mistake. In the decades after Independence, India discouraged foreign trade and investment in an attempt to become self-reliant. But policies that sounded desirable only led to economic stagnation and caused India to be less powerful, not more. In contrast, many countries in East Asia connected themselves deeply into the global system, which helped them develop their economies and strengthen their national power.
It is now broadly accepted that the path to a strong India lies through globalization and economic interconnectedness. Modi was elected on a platform of strengthening India’s economy through more trade and more foreign investment. But even though economic autarchy has been thrown into the dustbin of history, many Indian decision-makers still cling fast to old ideas of strategic autonomy as an excuse to keep other countries at arm’s length. They argue that defense cooperation with other countries somehow endangers India’s sovereignty and that India should try to act alone on the international stage. To them, sovereignty is a sacred object that must be kept in a box.
This view of the world contrasts with the way most countries now promote strategic interconnectedness to enhance their power and influence, and indeed their sovereignty. Of course, the United States came to this understanding some 75 years ago and it is now skilled at using interconnectedness to enhance its influence.
But many other nations, large and small, now use strategic interconnectedness to leverage their power and punch above their weight. This reflects a world in which few countries — even the US — can achieve much by themselves in the international arena. The new norm is of ad hoc coalitions of states that come together to address a particular problem or achieve a specific objective. And in these coalitions, the countries that will wield the greatest influence are those that have the fewest inhibitions in working with others.
In the future, a nation’s power will be increasingly measured by its ability to mould, join and sometimes lead international coalitions to respond to unpredictable events and crises. But it requires considerable organisational and political flexibility and, most of all, close strategic relationships with a range of partners that have worked together in the past and know that they will work together in future. This capability will be of critical importance to India as it aspires to build its power and influence throughout the region.
India is now cautiously exploring greater security and defense links with new Indo-Pacific partners, such as Japan, Vietnam and Australia.
But India’s influence will be a function of its ability to engage with these countries on economic, political and military terms. This needs much more than just good political relationships at the top. It will require an ability to engage across the spectrum, certainly including at the operational level.
In international affairs, reality often has a way of overtaking outdated ideas. Many Indian thinkers are coming to realise that using the idea of strategic autonomy as an excuse to avoid building connections with others is a mistake. In fact, just as economic interdependence actually enhances a nation’s economic power, strategic interconnectedness enhances its military power.
Former Defense Minister Arun Jaitley’s recent decision to revitalise India’s military by encouraging foreign suppliers to partner with Indian companies and make their products here is a good example of this. It moves India past misguided policies that, more often than not, left it without vital military equipment. The Modi government recognizes the reality that India can only strengthen its military capabilities through fostering greater interconnectedness with foreign partners in a way that benefits India.
Don’t just look East
We must go beyond the facile language of trade agreements and sort out ground-level issues. Act East” sounds more promising than “Look East”. India’s Look East policy of engaging its neighbors in Southeast Asia and the adjoining region has been suffering from an odd inertia.
India’s strategic engagement with Asean has increased over time. But the fact remains that it is yet to become a significant strategic presence in the region. It is not yet a decisive determinant in the strategic dynamic of the Asia-Pacific and is only marginally so for Southeast Asia.
India’s failure to punch commensurate with its weight has to do with inadequate economic achievements. Countries that have a significant say in regional affairs, such as China, Japan and Australia, have strong economic linkages with Southeast Asia.
Since the beginning of the century, India’s trade with the 10-member Asean has increased from around $7 billion to $75 bn. Considering that Asean comprises several vibrant export-oriented middle-income economies, the increase could have been much greater. Indeed, India’s trade with China and some of the Gulf countries has increased at a faster pace than with Asean during the last decade. While trade with Asean is barely a 10th of India’s total trade, trade with India is only 3 per cent of Asean’s total trade.
Various trade agreements signed with Asean and Southeast Asian countries are often cited as examples of India’s deepening economic engagement. These include the goods free trade agreement and the recently concluded services agreement with Asean, as well as bilateral trade deals with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Unfortunately, rather than being examples of successful economic engagement, they are instances of the inertia and half-heartedness that characterise India’s engagement with the region.
India’s agreements with Asean offer less market access and cover fewer issues than Asean’s agreements with other countries in the region. An inherently defensive approach to trade negotiation makes the concluded agreements counterproductive. India refrained from yielding as much market access as was demanded in the goods trade negotiations. The impression stuck and Asean was less generous when it came to services.
India’s trade negotiations with Southeast Asia never took into account structural realities. Pushing manufactured exports into Asean markets requires Indian producers to be able to import cheap inputs from the region. But protective demands from domestic producers did not let that happen. As a result, exports have hardly flourished through the Asean FTA.
The services FTA with Asean has been concluded but is yet to come into force. But if history is anything to go by, optimism is not warranted. India’s biggest thrust in all service sector negotiations is to get deeper market access for its professionals. The Asean negotiations have not been an exception. The problem is that while bilateral trade agreements might formalise reciprocal access, actual movement of professionals is much more difficult to achieve. Several roadblocks impede such movement. The most important among these is mutual recognition of qualifications. Mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) are essential for skilled people to be able to migrate. Recognition needs to be agreed on by the certifying agencies from different countries. But negotiating MRAs between different agencies is difficult because of protectionist pressures. Allowing technical professionals from foreign countries to practice on home turf is an onerous challenge.
“Act East” means going beyond the facile language of trade agreements and sorting out ground-level issues like MRAs. It is important to do this quickly and purposefully. Otherwise, India’s economic engagement with Asean will remain below its potential.
Indian strategic thinking is continuing to evolve towards a focus on outcomes, not nice-sounding principles. As in the economic dimension, India’s sovereignty will come to be measured by its actual ability to exert national power and influence. This is not a function of India’s ability to turn its back on the world, as some would have it, but of its ability to engage with and influence others across the defense and security spectrum.
India’s understanding of strategic autonomy must continue to evolve if it is not to end up in the dustbin of history. India needs to use strategic interconnectedness as a way strengthening its national power and its sovereignty.

Reincarnation of Mohammed Bin Tuglak: Minorities Commission of India

I am convinced that Mohammed Bin Tuglak never dies. His spirit lives on as per the conviction of million of Indians about reincarnation. His latest incarnation is infamous minorities Commission of India and its latest act is allocation of Rs 10 crore to get Parsis to procreate and thus save the race and the religion. Parsis are Zoroastrians who migrated to India from Iran ages back and have made a mark for their genius in business and strategic thinking. The community was small and is getting smaller. The community’s numbers have dipped to a measly 69,000 in the last 60 years. But this action of the Commission will, and has produced some piquant tongue-in-cheek advertisements, ribald jokes, ironic comments and spirited debate. What it won’t produce is the number of Parsi babies to save the race from extinction in a generation or two. possibly it is to impart a new chime to the tune of Chaiye Hame Zarthosti (the community’s de facto anthem).
The provocative new ad campaign to save the Parsi species simply doesn’t add up. So the Parsis are to be treated as pandas with a sense of humor?
Yes tigers, pandas, even Parsi-eating vultures and Parsis need concerted campaigns to survive as a species.Most campaigns to control human birth, such as the Chinese one-baby rule, aim to shrink the population rather than expand it. India’s own Sanjay Gandhi (or apro Sanjay , a Parsi born of a Parsi Zoroastrian father) had his own draconian scheme to sterilize the population of the country . Could he have, even subconsciously been motivated to readjust the ratio of Parsis to non-Parsis? Perhaps not. I remember the `prasav na’ ads urging the populace not to procreate. Now we have clever ads aimed at the Parsi men who won’t leave mummy and at the Parsi girl who is choosy and single.
They won’t work. Before wasting money on this noble but hopeless campaign the minority-wallas should have hired a statistician to do some sums which I am now about to do for them. Let’s face two numerical facts: There are now 68,000 Parsis left and for every 200 births a year, the community suffers 800 deaths.
Of the 68,000, let’s say half are women and a third of this half or a little more are of child-bearing age.That leaves us with approximately 12,000 women who are, ignoring any infertility , able to make babies. There is no way to calculate how many are willing to so do, but the 200 births a year indicate that less than 1% of the 12,000 are getting on with it. Let’s imagine that the ad campaign manages to tackle this dearth or reluctance. Let’s imagine that it quadruples the birth rate! Parsis would still have 800 babies a year balancing 800 deaths. The numbers would be at a standstill.
Imagine that the campaign was infinitely successful and all the women able to procreate gave birth to a baby and so there were 12,000 new Parsis in the first year. If they continued to each produce a baby for let’s say 15 years, we would have 180,000 new Parsis by and by . Hurray! But the campaign, the community and the law assume monogamy and it is highly unlikely that any modern woman would want to give birth to a child a year or any of this Facebook and selfie generation would want to bring up 15 children.
Is it going to work? No way. The Parsi girls- brave and self-dependent as they would, I know, rather join ISIS in Syria than become Parsi baby-making machines like my poor great grandmother. Even if the ads and social pressures succeed in persuading those critical 12,000 to go some of the way, we are not likely in their child-bearing years to get more than three or perhaps four children each from perhaps 4,000 of them. So in those 15 years we will have 12,000 new Parsis and 12,000 deaths. Back to square one.
So, as Lenin asked at a crucial juncture in his nation’s fortunes, `What is to be done?’ In the race to settle this question of survival the cart has gone well before the horse. We haven’t asked ourselves what it is we want to save. Do we, as one of the ads in the campaign says, want to save Dadar Parsi Colony for Parsis? I can appreciate that the housing estate is being used as a metaphor for the community . Or is it a metaphor for racial exclusiveness? Do we want a community of dhansak eaters to survive or are we anxious, on the principle that without believers there is no belief, that Zoroastrianism will be as extinct as the religion of the Aztecs? Is it racial purity we want to preserve or do we just want a thriving community which shares a religion, rituals, culture and can look back on a history as illustrious, troubled and tragic as any?
Possibly the Commission believes that the country, Parsi community and UNESCO’s tribe hunters are counting on young Parsi girls to save the community and become fast breeders, I reminded myself. Ten crore rupees is riding on these girls’ ability to snare elusive Parsi males, tear them away from the mother’s arms, drag him to the altar and start procreating – pronto. With God and Rs 5 lakh worth of IVF treatment on their side, it’ll likely be a pair of twins.
Lord what idiots and morons the policy makers can be.

The Citizenship Market: A New Global Phenomenon

Borders have lost all meaning in today’s world. These geographical demarcations dividing countries exist only for the poor and wanting. Such is the conclusion that emerges from a new report issued by the Migration Policy Institute last month. Entitled Selling Visas and Citizenship: Policy Questions from the Global Boom in Investor Immigration, the report lays out the parameters of the emerging market in citizenship sales around the world.
Admittedly, this is not an entirely new concept; several countries, including notably those in the Caribbean, have offered citizenship for sale for over 30 years. However, a global investment landscape and newly amassed private wealth in former developing countries like China and India has fueled demand in citizenship for sale.
The result has been new developments in the market for purchasing nationalities with several countries competing in the bid to attract the world’s new rich. Currently, half the countries in the European Union have “citizenship by investment” routes, and new programs that allow investors to obtain citizenship have been inaugurated in the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Latvia and Spain. In addition, small countries like Malta have also entered the citizenship-for-sale market, while the number of investors seeking citizenship via investment in the US has seen huge increases in 2014.
According to the report’s findings, the motivations of investors seeking these visas are varied. What does it mean to be a citizen of a particular country when a passport can be easily procured with the transfer of cash?
First, they offer a way of sidestepping the delays and paperwork associated with traditional routes of immigration and allows investors to get to citizenship faster, hence giving their children an opportunity to be educated in these countries without having to pay international student fees.
Second, investor visas allow an insurance policy against the conditions in one’s own country, thus forming an escape route if the political situation or economic conditions deteriorate in one’s native land.
Other factors include the low tax rates offered by Caribbean nations like St. Kitts and Nevis and visa-free travel. The latter is a huge motivation for many in China whose citizens enjoy visa-free travel to only 40 countries. If Chinese citizens obtain citizenship via investment in Malta, however, they can enjoy access to 140 countries without a visa, a factor that may be particularly attractive to investors who want to be able to travel easily and without the delays associated with visa processing.
In some countries, like Portugal, citizenship by investment is a means to regenerate their own economy following the financial collapse of 2008. Their program is consequently based on the purchase of property in the country, with a single property investment of just above $500,000 making someone eligible for the program.
The US and Singapore require business investments of half a million dollars and above. The UK requires a bond of over $1.5 million. One of the cheapest EU programs currently available is that of Latvia, where 250,000 euros can buy you a path to citizenship; a similar one is available in Hungary. For immediate benefits, several Caribbean nations require payments as little as $100,000.
The emerging market in citizenship reveals that countries seeking to come out of economic crises or even attempting to attract capital are now using the promise of instant belonging to lure investors. The example of countries like the UK that generate high yearly investment revenue from foreign investors is one that many would like to follow.
The emerging market in citizenship, however, also creates consequences for the ideas of belonging associated with citizenship; indeed, what does it mean to be a citizen of a particular country when a passport can be easily procured with the transfer of cash? Furthermore, in the realm of the global labor market, where poor countries export skilled and unskilled labor to richer ones, it creates a class system of international workers.
Poor workers are relegated to the usual routes of immigration, visa quotas and the associated bureaucracies of exploitation etc., while the wealthy can immediately procure citizenship and enjoy benefits and protections that accompany it.
The cumulative message that the existence of a citizenship market portends is that at least for those who can access large amounts of wealth, constraints like borders no longer apply.
This post-national world of the wealthy is one where no questions are asked as to how the wealth is aggregated; it may be looted from the national coffers of poorer nations via any of the many circuitous routes of corruption or through the vagaries of political rise and fall.To rich politicians of developing nations, Pakistan among them, this new market offers a great opportunity; they can amass wealth via their stints in power, even tout their patriotism by parading their own allegiance to their native passport, all the time knowing that money stored in offshore accounts will provide instant escapes for themselves and their family members.
The world is a big place, and if one has cash to flash, its arms are ever open and ever welcoming. With the offers of citizenship as a market tactic that can be used to attract investors, the fruits of globalization, unlimited mobility across borders, the ability to do business and amass worldly experience will now be available to two classes of people: those blessed by birth to be born in Western nations and those born rich anywhere.
Ironically, the citizens of poor and developing nations, those most invested in ideas of nationalism and poverty, will be most constrained by this emerging border less world, imprisoned once by arbitrary lines drawn by old colonial masters and then again by poverty whose unyielding hold enables no escape.

Nehru’s Ambivalent Love for Chinese Civilisation

History is replete with with such examples where we see overwhelming love for one entity makes you almost blind to the reality and the result is disaster. So it was in case of Dhritrashtra whose blind love for his son ultimately led to disastrous war of Mahabharata ; and so it was for India where Nehru’s over-powering love for the Red Dragon made him oblivious to the danger.
It is edifying to read Jawaharlal Nehru’s letters about Chinese history written to Indira Gandhi from his prison cell in Dehradun in the early 1930s. His insights into the origins and evolution of Chinese civilization are impressive, the narrative is sound, and the world historical context within which he frames his account is truly inspiring. This knowledge and allure of China, a country he calls “India’s sister in ancient history,” shaped and determined Nehru’s vision of India-China relations in the post colonial world.
Nehru’s first noteworthy encounter with the Chinese took place at the World Congress of Oppressed Peoples held in Brussels in 1927. The Chinese representatives at the Congress, which included Sun Yat-sen’s wife Soong Ching-ling, were mostly from the left wing of the Kuomintang Party. Impressed with these representatives and greatly influenced by the pan-Asian discourse occurring among leading intellectuals in Japan, China, and India, Nehru started forming his views about a civilizational affinity between India and China.
Nehru’s interactions with Rabindranath Tagore, his visit to China in November 1939, and the close personal relationship he maintained with Chiang Kai-shek and his wife Soong May-ling, deepened his admiration for China and its people. He frequently voiced his sympathies for the Chinese in their fight against the invading Japanese forces and initiated a medical mission to China that included Dwarkanath Kotnis. He was a key patron of Cheena-Bhavan in Shantiniketan, which he believed could play an important role in bridging modern India and China. Nehru also saw great potential in developing trade and industrial relations between India and China; strongly advocating, for example, commercial exchanges through the newly- built Burma Road.
The watershed moment in Nehru’s relationship with China came shortly before Indian independence. At the Asian Relations Conference held in Delhi in March-April 1947, a forum through which Nehru wanted to demonstrate the advent of the postcolonial world, the differences between India and China on the status of Tibet became apparent. The issue came to the fore when the organizing committee decided to invite Tibet as an independent country. China launched a strong protest with the interim Indian government. It was only after Nehru, through KPS Menon, assured the Chinese side that the conference would deal primarily with cultural and economic matters and that the issue of Tibet’s status would not be raised that Chiang Kai-shek agreed to send a delegation.
Nehru’s assurances were questioned, however, when the Chinese delegation found a map of Asia depicting Tibet as a separate country and the Tibetan flag displayed at the Conference. The Chinese delegation not only threatened to withdraw, but also refused to let India become the permanent host for future pan-Asian conferences. These disputes and public bickering were a blow to Nehru’s attempt to make India-China solidarity a reality on the world stage.
The Chinese for their part never trusted Nehru again. In November-December 1949, the former Kuomintang ambassador in Delhi Lo Chia-lun, whose request to remove the British-appointed Hugh Richardson as India’s representative to Lhasa was ignored by Nehru, suggested to Chiang Kai-shek that the Indian prime minister might recognize the newly-established Communist regime in China in exchange for their acceptance of the 1914 Simla Agreement. However, the Communist regime was also distrustful of Nehru, describing the Indian leader as a “stooge” and “running dog” of the British and American imperialists.
During the 1950s Nehru was torn between his love for Chinese civilization, his empathy towards the Tibetan people, and the need to secure Indian territories. It has been alleged, perhaps rightly so, that KM Panikkar, VK Krishna Menon, and S Gopal did not appropriately advise Nehru on these issues. Further, Nehru himself did not heed Sardar Patel’s warning in 1950 about the implications for India of a future Chinese military expansion into Tibet. Nor did he try to delve into the details of the territorial disagreements. For him these were trivial matters compared to the prospects of a grand civilizational bonding between India and China.
Perhaps through the rhetoric of a bhai-bhai relationship, the Panchsheel Agreement of 1954 recognizing Tibet as a region of China, and the hand-holding of Zhou Enlai at the Bandung Conference in 1955, Nehru hoped to convince China that it should accept the Indian stand on the demarcation of the border areas. He may even have thought that the dual track of rhetoric and the so-called “forward policy” were conducive to India-China relations. Indeed, he remained committed, as seen from his unwavering support for the PRC’s entry to the United Nations, to the establishment of a peaceful and brotherly relationship between the two countries.
In this context of Nehru’s long engagement and deep faith in Chinese civilization, his decision to intern Chinese migrants in India when the relationship between the two countries deteriorated in 1959 cannot be comprehended. The punitive actions against the “Chinese Indians,” who would otherwise exemplify Nehru’s vision of unity between two great civilizations, suggest an acknowledgement of agonizing failure by the prodigious optimist on India-China relations.
In 1943, imprisoned by the British during the Quit India movement, Nehru wrote, “What is there that draws China to India and India to China? Something in our subconscious racial selves? Some forgotten memories of a thousand years ago? Or just common misfortune? Whatever it may be, it almost seems as if it was the working of some unseen fate.” Right after jotting these lines, he added, “wishful thinking.”These two words about the India-China relationship must have echoed repeatedly as Nehru tried to come to terms with the geopolitical realities of a post colonial world exposed by the 1962 war.

French & Britain Attitudes masked by Nehru Jacket

Last month, Royal Mail issued eight postage stamps commemorating Britain’s prime ministers. Of the five more recent leaders portrayed, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were Conservatives, Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson represented the Labour Party and William Gladstone was a Liberal.
Those with an interest in British history can justifiably debate the selection. To my mind, Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, both Conservatives, also deserved inclusion. Tony Blair was also missing — maybe because he lacks vintage. However, what is important is that the selection was bipartisan and reflected a slice of Britain’s past. It was also interesting that the first day cover postmark had a quote from Harold Wilson — “The main essentials of a successful prime minister…are sleep and a sense of history” — that captured the essence of laid-back Britishness.
A reason why Britain produces the best — and certainly the most readable — works of history may lie in the national appropriation of the past. In his lifetime, except during World War II, Churchill was both admired and reviled at the same time. In the 1930s, the mainstream Conservative Party regarded him as a wilfully awkward customer, not least for his views on Germany and India; and as the prime minister in the early 1950s, there was widespread exasperation over his insistence on remaining at the crease. Yet, he was given a state funeral by a Labour government in 1965 and one of the best biographies of Churchill has been penned by Roy Jenkins, a man who was politically always on the other side.
Unfortunately, this generosity of spirit didn’t manifest itself when Thatcher died in 2013. Although she too received a state funeral, the news of her death was greeted by unseemly celebrations and chants of “the witch is dead” by those who seemed intent on reducing history to political slogans and, worse, blood feuds that endure across generations.
This unending partisanship over history is a French import. Maybe it was the unending turbulence from 1789 that made French politics more contested that explains the difference with Britain’s more gentlemanly view of posterity. The schism between the Napoleonists and the Royalists endured till the early 20th century; the Dreyfus affair institutionalized a schism between the progressives and traditionalists till 1944; and the divide between the Gaullists and the Petainists persists in different ways even to this day.
A few years ago, for example, the mayor of a French hamlet was prosecuted when it was discovered that the town hall hung a photograph of Marshal Petain along with other past heads of state. The French view of its past, as the novelist Allan Massie movingly captured in ‘A Question of Loyalties’, is governed by both denial and self-censorship. What is awkward is either left unaddressed or hideously caricatured.
In India, unfortunately, and perhaps again due to past turbulence, there has been a tendency to emulate the French model and construct an idyllic past. These tendencies have come to the fore in the controversies centred on the commemorations of Jawaharlal Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary.
No one can take away from Nehru’s role in shaping the contours of post-Independence India. Whether in the economy, foreign policy or political institutions, the country is still grappling with the Nehruvian inheritance and debating it with laudable passion. Even his blunders and missteps — and there were many — continue to haunt India. No wonder the what-if questions have become a national obsession. Unfortunately, the discourse isn’t limited to good-natured debates where people disagree and thereafter exchange namastes.
There is an inclination to view Nehru as the fountainhead of all post-1947 wisdom and a corresponding political determination to enshrine India’s first Prime Minister as an ideological role model for all times. The deification isn’t limited to the man himself: Nehru worship has been extended to the endorsement of Nehru’s progenies and self-professed Nehruvians. A legacy has become an entitlement. This explains why the backlash, often articulated in crudely visceral terms, is so fierce.
India can countenance both sets of distortions if, at the end of the day, the collective appreciation of a disputed past comes to be better informed. To hope for agreement is neither possible nor desirable. The 17 years of Prime Minister Nehru doesn’t lend itself to a single narrative forged through a show of “scientific temper”.

Piety Unmasked

Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th century philosopher and mathematician, observed that men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it for religious conviction. His words could apply to Muslim-killing Hindus of Gujarat, 2002. Or to today’s Pakistan, where your religious affiliation—whether by birth or conviction—can land you in your grave. The killers do their job fearlessly, frequently, and often claim credit. The police and army have little sympathy for those who, in principle, they are supposed to protect. Even as streams of venom directed against religious minorities pour out from a battery of powerful mosque loudspeakers, a desensitised Sunni-majority Pakistani public prefers to believe in the destabilizing “foreign hand.
A look at some recent developments in Pakistan is quite disturbing. Is Pakistan a nation state or is slowly,but steadily going back on the principles laid down by its founding fathers? The Imran Khan government in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province has announced it is changing its curriculum for textbooks back to what it was before the “liberal” ANP government committed the apostasy of removing dozens of divine verses from science books and set aside large swaths of text eulogising the early Perfect Caliphate.
Most probably the judges — who flee Pakistan after handing down verdicts favouring victims of the blasphemy law — will play it safe. Their interpretation of piety as described in Article 62 will jibe with the views of the growing community of religious scholars attached to madrasas and backed by excitable youths doing jihad. A high court has recently “wisely” decided to confirm the death sentence of a poor illiterate Christian woman, Asiya Bibi, convicted by a scared lower court.
A mentally ill, old British Pakistani, sentenced to death for calling himself a prophet, has been killed in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi by a police guard who had become influenced by the “piety” of another prisoner named Qadri, who had earlier murdered Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for criticising the blasphemy law. Policemen become brainwashed by “pious” convicts — witness the prison staff in Sindh enslaved to the righteousness of Omar Sheikh, who had a hand in killing American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi.
The Arab-funded Islamic University in Islamabad has come under fire and could suffer in the court of law because its students staged a mock UN debate allowing the display of “Israeli culture”. Divine edicts may exist to dub this a lapse from piety.
No woman has been stoned to death, although she deserves stoning after reporting rape. Why? Because her testimony is not equal to that of men. Iran is closer to the piety of Article 62 because it regularly stones them. No hands have been cut off in Pakistan. Does that mean no one steals in Pakistan? Most politicians could lose one hand, if not both.
Muslims are unfortunately yoked to democracy, which they don’t really like because of its “imperfection”. It tolerates “impiety” and yet carries on. We hear in India many MPs have criminal cases going on against them, and yet the world says democracy flourishes in India while it languishes in Pakistan.
Can Pakistan Supreme Court accept that once a man is elected by the people, he can’t be dismissed from parliament on grounds of “impiety”? Many pieties are private; should the court break into the privacy of the elected person through suo motu cases? A drunkard may serve the people better than a cleric who apostatises fellow Muslims. The court will have to side with the cleric.|
Reason is fleeing Pakistan, together with most non-Muslims targeted by the blasphemy law. Hindus are fleeing Sindh because of the rising tide of rape through the “piety” of conversion. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, now restoring “piety” to the curriculum, the families of 127 Christian women and children killed last year by terrorist outfit Jundallah have not been paid the promised compensation Converting to Islam.
How will the Supreme Court reinstate reason to save Pakistan from dying of excessive “piety”? Curricula undermine reason, science education declines. Despite the BJP, the Indians have a technology platform that sends a space vehicle to Mars. The last time we used technology in elections, it failed on the first day and will not work if we ape India and stage the next one through computers.
Pakistani scientists are usually more “pious” than rational. But a maverick nuclear scientist named Pervez Hoodbhoy has “heretically” created the Eqbal Ahmad Centre for Public Education “online” (eacpe.org) that seeks “to foster the use of science and reason to understand nature and society so as to better enable all citizens of Pakistan to participate fully in the political, economic, social and cultural life of their society”. But is anybody listening!

Criminal- Ministers in India: A Contradiction in Terms

Public servants, whether bureaucrats or elected officials like Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. However, it is not so. The only saving grace is that while bureaucrats have a systematic control, there is a systemic failure to weed out criminal law makers. No dacoit or rapist can become a bureaucrat, but maybe that is an added qualification to be an elected official in India. Remember the dreaded Phoolan Devi- the Bandit Queen- who became a member of parliament and one political leader proposed her name to be a minister.
“The most elementary qualification demanded of a minister is honesty. It is, however, necessary not only that he should possess this qualification but also that he should appear to possess it,” opined Sir Ivor Jennings, but did not formulate the sanctions in the event of the breach of this rule. Constitutions as well as electoral laws contain disqualification clauses. The pertinent one unseats a member of parliament if he is convicted of a grave offence which entails imprisonment for a specified term. It doesn’t, however, cover the appearance of honesty. It is lost once a minister comes under a cloud.
So grave has this menace become in India that the Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of charting into a territory not regulated by law. It did so in a public interest litigation.
The court concluded that while the disqualification provision in the constitution cannot be stretched by the court “it can always be legitimately expected … that the prime minister, while living up to the trust reposed in him, would consider not choosing a person with criminal antecedents against whom charges have been framed for heinous or serious criminal offences or charges of corruption to become a minister of the Council of Ministers. This is what the constitution suggests and that is the constitutional expectation from the prime minister. Rest has to be left to the wisdom of the prime minister.”
A little over two months after this ruling was given, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cocked a snook at it. On Nov 9, he reshuffled his cabinet, sworn in on May 16, to induct a whole lot of what are called ‘tainted ministers’. An NGO, the Association for Democratic Reforms, published an objective and thorough exposure of the impropriety.
Many Indian ministers have criminal charges against them. The number of tainted ministers rose from 12 to 20 in the cabinet’s expansion. About 31 % of the members of the Council of Ministers have criminal charges pending against them. Eight out of the 21 new inductees face criminal cases. One minister faces 21 charges. Another faces 11. About 92pc of the ministers are crorepatis. Three cases have aroused particular interest. One minister of state is a top loan defaulter of the Central Bank of India to the tune of Indian Rs 3.17 billion.
Another’s wealth inexplicably increased in a little over three months after he became minister. His statutory declaration of assets at the time he became minister was Rs 98.8 million crores. It rose to Rs 203.5m at the time of the reshuffle. The third’s case was even more curious. He had undervalued the loss due to a theft at his house at Rs 50,000. The police recovered Rs12.5 m from the thieves.
In the past, tainted ministers have served in cabinets at the center and in the states. But Modi has put all of them in the shade. His action flouts the pledges made during the election campaign to ensure probity in public life.
It has invited ridicule in view of his campaign for cleanliness in public places. It reeks of an arrogant disdain for the norms of rectitude. That should occasion no surprise. His confident Amit Shah, who he anointed as the BJP’s president, himself faces criminal cases of a grave nature.
Is the constitution powerless in such cases? The president has every right to refuse to appoint a tainted person as minister and also to sack him, regardless of the wishes of the prime minister. But a president who embarks on such a course incurs risks which might bring his office in political contest. What if the prime minister resigns, calls for dissolution of the Lok Sabha and goes to the polls making the president’s action an issue?India’s election and law commissions have suggested some amendments. For example, a candidate should be disqualified if a court frames charges against him for an offence which entails five years’ imprisonment. No government took any notice.
Addressing the constituent assembly, B.R. Ambedkar asked: “Is it not desirable, is it not sufficient that we should trust the prime minister, the legislature and the public at large watching the actions of the ministers and the actions of the legislature to see that no such infamous thing is done by either of them?
“I think this is a case which may eminently be left to the good sense of the prime minister and to the good sense of the legislature with the general public holding a watching brief upon them.”
That hope has been belied. But the question continues to nag one. Was it right of a five-member constitution bench of the Supreme Court to go into a question which is manifestly outside the constitution at great expense of the court’s precious time?

Ancient Religions : The Common Running Strand

Religions divide , but there is an underlying united by commonality of myths. But the myths of living religions are politically potent, those of dead ones aesthetically fetching. Every religion asserts that truth and tolerance are its sole monopoly, though it might sometimes need a prophet to reveal this fact. Christian fundamentalists argue that their inerrant Bible has the easiest seal of all to crack. It needs but a little devotion to understand the many metaphors in it. In Islam and Judaism, there are food taboos that have, over time, taken on a scientific gloss. Hindus too, often couple faith with modern technology to showcase the power of their tradition.
However, the texts on which these claims are based fall far short of being ‘classics’. They may have passionate adherents within, but are usually mocked by those others outside. But once a religion is history and has no surviving followers, it becomes a classic quite easily. Its myths and legends are now subjects of aesthetic appreciation, not scientific validation.
Which Egyptian today will war with Darwinians because their ancients had once claimed that humans emerged from the tears of sun god Ra? If Renaissance thinkers found virtue in Greek and Roman legends it was precisely because the cults of Zeus and Juno had become extinct centuries ago.
In other words, for a myth to become a classic, the religion on which it is based must be dead and gone. It does not matter if it disappeared catastrophically, on a dark night, or slowly dripped down the kitchen sink. What counts is that it does not count for real any more.
This is why Greek, Roman and Egyptian myths have a universal aesthetic appeal and can be savoured at leisure. On the flip side, precisely because Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are living religions, things and thoughts associated with them politically colour our lives. We are now in the thick of the everyday where cultural and religious prejudices spout like spray paint for free.
Therefore, while dead religions inspire reverential awe across the board, living faiths, just as easily, generate sectarian tendencies. As dead gods have only dead adherents, they pose no challenge to the world of the here and now. This allows fantastic claims made by extinct faiths look so much better than equivalent ones crafted by living religions.
Legends of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity may perhaps be grander, and more breathtaking than those in Greek or Roman classics. However, as these qualities appear only in the eyes of the believers, they are not universally appreciated. This is why it is difficult to call the Mahabharata or the Bible or the Quran a classic, but rather easy to confer that distinction on the Iliad or on the fantasy tales of Romulus and Remus.
Before myths become classics, they must necessarily free themselves of time and space contexts. Once that happens that particular past turns precious and all its artifacts and legends take on lofty meanings. Many European Indologists of the 19th century, like Max Mueller, read Hindu texts with respect because they believed that the Vedic culture of the past was truly dead. They despised the living Indians around them but looked up to the magnificent Aryans of their imagination. After this break was intellectually established, it became easy for Indologists to study the Vedas and Upanishads as timeless and profound ‘classics’.
It is not as if there is an intrinsic difference between legends of living religions and those that are dead. The Mahabharata has its near equivalent in the Trojan War. The Hindu notion of the ‘Manthan’ is close to the Egyptian origin tale; and if we have Varuna, the Greeks have Aeolus. Ganesha got his elephant trunk quite in the same way as the Egyptian goddess Isis got her cow head. Many Egyptian deities have visages plucked out of the animal world, ranging all the way from alligators, to foxes, to cats and hippopotami. Yet, as Egyptian tradition is buried two millennia deep, nobody today makes any of this into a sectarian selling point.
As dead religions pose no contest, there is a generous tendency to bestow on them aesthetic appeal. The legend of Helen of Troy is seen as another arty fable replete with sagacious advice and words of wisdom. But had Zeus been a living god then this same benign saga would have fomented territorial wars among Greeks and Turks. The belief that Trojan women were divided among the victorious, plundering Greeks would have rankled in every Turkish body. Not just that, Cyprus too would have been upset because its king had supplied 50 ships to Agamemnon but there was no acknowledgment of this in the mail.
Think also of how Romulus humiliated the people of Sabine by making off with their wives and daughters. Yet, Giambologna’s statue, depicting the mass rape of Sabine women, draws millions of admirers every year to Florence. As neither Zeus, nor Hermes, nor Ulysses is around, it is pure joy to fiddle with Roman and Greek myths. On the other hand, as Judaism is a live faith, it allows Zionists to flog for political advantage the fabled enslavement of Israelites in ancient Egypt.
There are then myths and myths. Those of living religions are politically potent while those of dead ones are aesthetically fetching. Lesson: choose your myths wisely; what is alive can also kick!
In prehistoric Egypt, Cleopatra believed in the supreme power of several gods that had heads of animals. There was, for example, a baboon god Hedj-Wer. What is wrong if Hanuman is worshiped as Bajrangbali?
If there was Pushpak Viman in ancient India, aeroplanes zipping across the Indian skies hundreds of thousands of years ago. Since the temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia shows that ancient Hinduism had spread to eastern Asia, it should not be far-fetched to assume that there was flight connectivity between India and the world sharing similar belief systems.
However, while teaching schoolchildren about Indian deities such as the Garuda, Narsimha it would be useful to also share with them the stories from Egypt where Anubis was the jackal-headed god in ancient Egypt who helped Isis find Osiris after he was murdered and embalmed the pieces so that they resisted decay, thus inventing the burial rites.
Bast was Egypt’s cat goddess, considered the fertilizing power of the sun. She was a patron of music and dance. Apis, according to prehistoric Egyptian beliefs, was the sacred bull born of a virgin cow impregnated by the god Ptah. Buto was the Greek name for the cobra goddess Wadjet, protector of Lower Egypt. Her twin sister Nekhebet, the vulture goddess, was the patroness of Upper Egypt.
Hathor was the cow goddess who stood on the earth in the form of a cow and her four legs held up the sky. She reminds me in some ways of Kamadhenu also known as Surabhi, a divine bovine-goddess of India’s ancient Brahminical religion. The god of rain and crops, Min, was worshipped during Cleopatra’s reign at harvest festivals in the form of a white bull.
Mut was the chief female counterpart of the solar god Amen-Ra, and was usually depicted with both male and female reproductive organs. Historians seeking to revive the glory of ancient Hinduism might be tempted to investigate in her their variant of the concept of ardhanareshwar, half-man, half-woman.
Nephthys the Egyptian goddess of death was sometimes connected with the god Min, who symbolized virility, reproduction, and regeneration. In art, she often appeared with outstretched wings in a gesture of protection. Similarly, Selket was a scorpion goddess who bit only men, not women. Taueret was a hippopotamus goddess, patroness of childbirth and maternity. Sebek was a crocodile god.
With such similarities, it is a wonder to imagine that people kill each other for being of different religion.

The Indian Rulers: Empress and Samrat

Modi the new darling of the masses became the Prime Minister of India with a bang, and with a whimper, and is appropriately crowned as Samarat (emperor) , reminiscent of ancient India, and naturally in the best traditions of Indian culture, it is time for the heroes of the last era to be consigned to dustbin of history. After all the new orders changeth yielding place to new. Nehru has just about escaped being thrown into the dustbin of history by the legions hailing the architect of a new India. Thinkers on both sides of the Modi hour have not in full measure, but very substantially, acknowledged Panditji’s blueprint for a free India’s destiny. But his daughter, Indira Gandhi, the imperious Empress of India is not so lucky. On her birth anniversary, we could witness the change. Yet, to forget her history could tempt today’s unquestionable power to repeat it.
Since we’ve placed our whole future in the miraculous hands of the new King-Emperor, it might be high and almost unpardonable treason to draw parallels with erstwhile Empress, as I had the temerity to do in my earlier article ‘Narendra Modi – A Copycat of Indira Gandhi’ http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1101673 ). But let’s risk it.
One, Mrs Gandhi may have been Nehru’s daughter, but in early years she was as patronized by the Congress old guard as ‘outsider’ Modi was by the arrogant Delhi establishment. Remember ‘darling daughter’ and the dismissive ‘gungi gudiya’? Not having arrived with any mandate or record, Mrs G took a little time, but then clearly established who was the boss, and read the riot act to challengers. Now think of the similar emasculation of the BJP’s grey eminences, of bringing the bureaucracy to heel, of the ouster of anyone not falling into Masterji’s strict line, finger on your lips.
Two, Mrs Gandhi’s ‘garibi hatao’ was as aspirational in its time. She wrote the manual on galloping into history, however roughshod she had to ride with whips such as bank nationalization. As for the privy purses, wasn’t the overwhelming victory of Modi incessantly interpreted as the de-recognition of latter-day elites?
And speaking of that gob-smacking mandate, here’s Parallel 3. Mrs Gandhi, despite all her flaws, was adored by the ‘masses’ of those times. She was more of a screecher than clever orator, but her ability to connect gave her the clout to do the things she did, good and bad.
Four, Mrs Gandi was always without fail called ‘the only man in the cabinet’. Why does it sound so familiar?
Five, and scariest. Imperiousness was Mrs Gandi’s defining trait. And it led to the darkest hour of our envied democracy. The blinding lure of ‘development’, the deafening boom of ‘growth’ can lead to an unwitting, or even willing, surrender of personal liberties, a Faustian pact. Roman emperors knew that bread is an okay substitute, and babus, like trains, came on time during the Emergency.
To forget Mrs Gandi, the erstwhile Empress of India would be almost sacrilegious: it is always well nigh impossible to blank out how easily power as hero can mutate into villain. What would happen to the New Emperor? Time would tell- but do not forget : The king is dead, long live the king.

ISIL -The Global Scourge

The sensational rise of ISIL also known as Islamic State has caused global panic. It has also dramatically altered geopolitics, producing strange bedfellows. Putting aside their hostilities, the US and Iran now stand on the same side of the divide joining efforts to beat back the ISIL juggernaut. Also on the same side are the Arab countries.
The anti-ISIL campaign has created a coalition of 62 nations that includes Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and all other Gulf countries. It is perhaps the biggest alliance since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Already actively involved in the conflict, the two traditional enemies — the US and Iran — are now also engaged in talks about what they can do together to confront the common threat. In a letter last month to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Obama is reported to have acknowledged that the two countries have common interests in fighting the forces of the Islamic State. Active cooperation between Washington and Tehran may completely change the power matrix in the region.
The ISIL has become a source of inspiration for radical Islamists across the world. Last week, the US announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to Iraq to help the beleaguered regime stem the militant tide. Just a few years after leaving Iraq, the US is back there with boots on the ground. The United States has been carrying out air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria since the end of August.
Officially, the Iranian government denies having any troops in Iraq. But according to some Western news reports, Iran has sent about 500 Revolutionary Guards to help Iraq fight IS. The Quds Force; the Guards’ elite special operations group, is one of the most effective military forces in the Middle East. Iranian state media has acknowledged the death of at least one Iranian soldier in Iraq.
But the presence of the Iranian elite force in Iraq is also a source of worry for Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-dominated Arab countries, which until now had been supporting Sunni radical groups fight the Iran-backed forces of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The common threat from ISIL may have thrown these forces on the same side of the conflict, but the convergence of interests may not last long. It is more likely to end up in a more vicious round of power play pushing the Middle East into a greater mess with far-reaching consequences for the world.
What is most worrying is the involvement of a large number of foreign fighters in the conflict. Some 15,000 fighters from more than 80 countries, according to a UN Security Council report, have swamped Iraq and Syria to fight alongside militant groups turning the region into the biggest-ever theatre of global jihad.
With its occupation of a large swathe of territory with a population of six million, larger than the size of Finland or Belgium, the jihadi movement has become a source of inspiration for radical Islamists all over the world. It has attracted fighters even from those countries that have thus far remained clear of Islamic militancy and not contributed to global terrorism in any way.
Although the UN report has not listed the countries of origin of the fighters that have flown into Iraq and Syria, a large number of them are believed to have gone from Western European countries such as Britain, France, Germany and Russia. More than 500 British citizens alone have reportedly travelled to the region to join the fighting since 2011. There have also been reports of fighters coming from some Latin American countries.
Such a large number of foreign fighters from extremely diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds is surely a cause of serious concern, particularly as they have emerged despite the aggressive counterterrorism policies pursued by the West. The numbers are staggering and so is the scale of the threat.
According to the UN report, the numbers of foreign fighters since 2010 has increased to many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters in the decade earlier. That has happened despite the weakening of Al Qaeda and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Surely, the rise of a more aggressive IS has provided greater impetus to global jihad. Although a breakaway group of Al Qaeda, the new jihadi movement is far more resourceful both in terms of ideology and propaganda machinery. With revenue from the oilfields it controls in Iraq and Syria alone estimated to be at $1m daily, the Islamic State is better placed to fight a protracted war with the constant flow of ideologically committed foreign fighters.
Although Al Qaeda and IS share the same strategic goal, the two differ hugely in tactics and sequencing. The appeal for the revival of the caliphate is much greater than for the clandestine terrorist activities of Al Qaeda. Moreover, the extensive use of social media makes it much easier for the IS to recruit foreign fighters. The UN report warns that more nations than ever will face the challenge of the war-hardened holy warriors returning home. That presents an extremely dangerous scenario not only for the home nations, but also for global security.
Although the footprints of IS appeared in Pakistan some time ago, the recent report about the group having recruited thousands of followers from a particular tribal agency and districts in KP with a history of sectarian strife is extremely worrying.
Unsurprisingly, the radical sectarian groups find greater attraction in the self-proclaimed Sunni caliphate. Inspired by its ruthlessness towards other religious groups, some of the Pakistani Taliban factions have also jumped on the IS bandwagon.
Even though this country thought it had seen the worst, the emergence of ISIL may make Pakistan’s battle against violent extremism and terrorism more difficult. The situation is far more alarming with thousands of Pakistani militants fighting yet another ‘holy war’ in Iraq and Syria.

The Rise of Unreason

Some 300 years ago the age of reason lifted Europe from darkness, ushering in modern science together with modern scientific attitudes. These soon spread across the world. But now, running hot on its heels is the age of unreason. Reliance upon evidence, patient investigation, and careful logic is giving way to bald assertions, hyperbole, and blind faith.
Listen to India’s superstar prime minister, the man who recently enthralled 20,000 of his countrymen in New York City with his promises to change India’s future using science and technology. Inaugurating the Reliance Foundation Hospital in Mumbai two Saturdays ago, he proclaimed that the people of ancient India had known all about cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics for thousands of years. Here’s his proof:
“We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.” Referring to the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha, Modi asserted that, “there must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who put an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”.
Whether or not he actually believed his words, Modi knew it would go down well. In 1995, parts of India had gone hysterical after someone found Lord Ganesha would drink the milk if a spoon was held to his trunk. Until the cause was discovered to be straightforward capillary action (the natural tendency of liquids to buck gravity), the rush towards temples was so great that a traffic gridlock resulted in New Delhi and sales of milk jumped up by 30%.
Once evidence becomes irrelevant, everything becomes possible. Next door neighbor of India suffers from same malaise. A staggering number of Pakistanis — university science students included — believe that everything from quantum mechanics to black holes and genes were anticipated 1,400 years ago. Darwin’s theory of evolution is roundly rejected even by students and teachers in biology departments. Instead, the common belief is that all of modern science can be extracted by mastering Arabic and interpreting holy texts expertly enough. Forty years ago, when I joined Islamabad University, the chairman of the physics department, a pious man from the Tableeghi Jamaat, had just calculated the speed at which heaven is running away from earth — and found it to be one centimetre per second less than the speed of light. Today TV channels broadcast even more bizarre theories.
Once evidence becomes irrelevant, everything becomes possible. With only preformed notions as guide, outlandish conclusions, offensive to common sense, are frequent. The progress of science may suffer, but society and individuals take the brunt.
Take, for example, the question of whether Ram Janmabhoomi is actually the birthplace of Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu. Is this located precisely where Emperor Babar built the now-demolished Babri mosque? No conceivable archaeological evidence can adjudicate the matter. In fact it is impossible to establish on physical grounds the existence of Rama, much less the coordinates of his birthplace. But, the tragic events of Dec 6, 1992, owed to this belief. The scars of that terrible carnage have yet to heal.
Deliberately inflicted psychological scars may be even more unhealable. Terrifying life-after-death experiences are invented to create a passively accepting frame of mind. For decades, one of the most widely read books in Pakistan has been Maut ka manzar — marnay kay baad kya hoga (Scenes of life after death) with horrific episodes created by the author’s fertile imagination. Once considered as creative fiction, such life-after-death works are now becoming part of Pakistan’s mainstream education. Backed by university administrators, teachers and preachers are targeting the youth on campuses across the country.
On Oct 27, the Institute of Business Management in Karachi organised a major event, ‘The last moments — an exclusive insight on the death of a man’. The event’s black-and-white poster seems to be right out of some 1960s’ Hollywood horror movie with hooded, shrouded ghouls slouching across a graveyard. IoBM’s administration sent out official emails asking students to attend. A Saudi-certified professor would answer questions like: “Is life a mere game? Are you prepared for your death? Do you know what it feels at the moment you die? Is Allah pleased with your life?”
Such profound questions are surely best left up to God. A living, breathing, walking, talking professor cannot possibly adduce physical evidence about one’s dying moments. Nor claim to know whether Allah is pleased or angry with an individual. At best he can give his opinion.
I do not know what effect this particular professor had on his audience. But recently a colleague in Islamabad told me that his physics PhD student Mujeeb (not his real name) is behaving very strangely after viewing an after-death movie downloaded from some proselytizing website. Mujeeb now broods incessantly, worries more about death than life, and has almost stopped working.
It is not just South Asia where unreason is on the rise. The United States, the centre of high science, is now struggling with various crackpot anti-science movements. However, determined opposition has kept astrology, creationism, UFOs, magnetic therapy, etc. away from the mainstream.
In India, the battle against Vishwa Hindu Parishad and BJP ideology will be harder. But India has a strong Nehruvian past and Indian rationalists have strongly opposed so-called Vedic mathematics and cosmology, and revamping school curricula. The price has not been small. For example, Dr Narendra Achyut Dabholkar was murdered in Pune almost a year ago. He had helped draft the Anti-Jadu Tona Bill (Anti-Black Magic Bill) which political parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena opposed, claiming it would adversely affect Hindu culture, customs and traditions.
But nowhere in the world has unreason grown faster, and become more dangerous, than in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Polio workers here have shorter lives than soldiers in battle. More importantly, with schools, colleges, and universities actively working to crush young minds rather than enlighten them, this fight against unreason is surely going to be a much tougher one.

Remodeling Cities

FROM antiquity, cities have performed political and commercial functions and served as cultural and social centers. In recent history, the ideas of the Renaissance were incubated in Florence. From here they grew out and ignited the Industrial Revolution which paved the way for the rise of Western civilization. Cities were small and compact.
Ours too were dense cities, with skill and professional clusters and culture. Go back to pre-colonial Delhi in India or Peshwar in Pakistan. Inside the walled city you would find clusters of dentists, potters, money changers and coppersmiths.
But now we have uncultured suburban sprawl where once were vibrant cities. Why?
The car and cheap oil changed the anatomy of cities everywhere. In addition, bureaucratic and pretentious planning believed life could be segmented into compartments of commerce, housing and entertainment. The result was complex zoning laws that spread the city far and wide, making people hostage to cars. Wide avenues, underpasses and overhead highways became the arteries of cities while people were hived into housing colonies to work in distant commercial areas and seek officialdom in still distant compartments.
Cities thrive when culture thrives. Not surprisingly, community, culture, public space and life were crowded out. The cosmopolitan city experience that energized Leonardo, Dickens, Picasso, Marquez and Iqbal has been strangled by the car and that new priesthood, the urban planner. As a result, density has given gave way to sprawl; community to heightened individualism; and sidewalk, walk-ability and human interaction to the automobile.
The post-colonial bureaucracy who had gained control of our cities’ inherited elite, publicly owned housing for private use. It didn’t take it long to realize that zoning could be a lucrative rent-seeking game and land development could bring personal rewards.
The result was sprawling DHAs and similar developments for the rich, in some places eating up valuable agricultural land — 200 years of irrigation investments — which continue to be converted into suburban housing year after year. Karachi’s protected mangrove forests could face similar predation. Of course, the poor were zoned out of the system and thrown to squatter settlements to suffer epithets of ‘informal’ and ‘illegal’.
So if cites are engines of growth, are we giving ours traction to pull the economy? Karachi has grown rapidly into an unmanageable urban mess. What can we learn from experience elsewhere?
Bogotá was a troubled city, characterize by drugs, conflict, lawlessness and crime. It was without self-esteem and ownership, its quality of life one of the lowest in Latin America. Yet a city governance model transformed Bogotá in the course of a decade. Copying isolated projects of Bogotá, (like the Metro buses) does not bring transformation without including the kernel ingredients of the policy: densification, high rise — mixed use developments, walkability and improved citizenship.
The current paradigm favoring cars and sprawl must change to one that favors people, community and life. Bogotá’s dangerous ghettos and slums have been opened up by a wide strip of 27 kilometers featuring play spaces, park land and walking and cycling tracks. Such initiatives nurture identity, encourage volunteerism, and have been known to improve citizenship and reduce crime rates.
Cities and citizens thrive when culture thrives. In contrast we have seen cultural focal points including foreign ones such as the Goethe Institutes and Alliance Française centers in our cities diminish. Cultural vitalization begins with ‘place-making’ — creating destinations that people want to go to. Streets, public markets, waterfronts, public buildings, libraries, exhibition centers, museums, down towns, squares and parks are foundations of civil society and cornerstones of democracy. Culturally vibrant cities are creative cities. They catalyze innovation, private investment and foster grass-roots entrepreneurial activities.
Transformation, how? By writing new rules to change rules. Developing new zoning regulations to favor high density, mixed use developments over sprawl, favoring public transport over cars and creating public spaces for cultural revitalization.
The maze of bureaucracies and antiquated regulations only perpetuate status quo and foster entropy. They need to be replaced with autonomous city governments that can reduce over-regulation, allow urban reform and bring in open, consultative policy and decision-making mechanisms. With its road map to achieve transformation, Bogotá was able to increase city revenues. It was able to bring in private investment through public-private partnership mechanisms and float municipal bonds to raise money for transformation.
The genius of turning our cities to become engines of growth already exists in our people. All they need is to be given an enabling environment.

Berlin Wall – A lesson for Modi

The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago. An entire generation has come up since, barely aware of the Wall’s history. Its lessons must never be forgotten.World War II ended with East Germany occupied by the USSR and West Germany by the US and its allies. East Germany by the US and its allies. East Germany became a communist state, West Germany a liberal democracy. Berlin was deep inside the East, but the Allies held its western part. So, West Berlin was a small democratic enclave inside East Germany .The war wrecked both parts of Germany. But Marshall Aid, plus a liberalizing finance minister, Erhardt, produced the West German miracle -its economy boomed in the 1950s.
East Germany’s dubious statistics claimed that it also boomed, almost as fast as West Germany. It had zero unemployment — the government gave everybody a job. But citizens couldn’t choose jobs, and could not work for themselves or anybody save the government. East Germany was egalitarian; nobody was rich, and all got free welfare — education, healthcare, care of the aged, sick and handicapped. This was the Marxist dream — equality and the meeting of all basic needs, eschewing the vulgar consumerism and inequality of the West.But East Germans hated it. The widows and pensioners were not unhappy. But youngsters knew through radio and TV what was available in West Germany, and voted for that with their feet. Hundreds of thousands every year crossed into West Germany or Austria. They wanted the economic opportunity and freedom of the West, not the equality of the East. The exodus obliged East Germany in 1954 to close all borders to stop the flow. Those wanting to flee adopted a new strategy: first go to East Berlin, and then cross into West Berlin.reating a Berlin Wall to stop this posed problems: East Germany’s major railway lines ran through both parts of the city. Diversionary rail lines were built to bypass West Berlin. Then, in 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected, complete with floodlights and machine guns. Over 5,000 tried to scale or tunnel under the Wall, and many died.
In all, 3.5 million people left East Germany, one-fifth of its post-war population. These included the most talented, educated youngsters. East Germany denounced them as unpatriotic, immoral and greedy. But no matter how hard East Germany boasted about equality and welfarism, citizens kept fleeing to the in egalitarian West.
This pattern was repeated globally. Millions fled from egalitarian North Korea to in egalitarian South Korea. None fled northward. Again, thousands swam across shark-infested waters from Mao’s egalitarian China to Hong Kong, the most unequal place in the world, with virtually no taxes on the rich. None swam in the opposite direction. Note: neither South Korea nor Hong Kong was a democracy, so the main motive for migrants was economic, not democratic freedom.
In 1989, Chinese students rebelled at Tienanmen Square. All communist regimes in Eastern Europe were uneasy, and East Germany asked Gorbachev for an assurance of Soviet troops if required. No, said Gorbachev, those days are over.That opened the floodgates of protest. Within three months the Wall had fallen, as had every communist regime across East Europe. The USSR, which had spouted anti-imperialist rhetoric for decades, stood exposed as a cruel imperialist itself, whose colonies had thrown off their red yoke.
What are the main lessons? An important one is that economic opportunity is a fundamental human desire, and wishing to be rich is perfectly moral even if it leads to inequality .This was accepted by Deng Xiaoping in China: he maintained communist political control, but shifted to private enterprise and economic freedoms, declaring “to get rich is glorious“.Getting rich through crookedness is wrong in all societies.But getting rich through innovation, enterprise and hard work should be a mark of honor, not one of exploitation.
India has never been communist. But its socialist politicians have always emphasized equality over economic freedom. But people have voted against that with their feet. Urban areas are more unequal than rural ones, yet Indians migrate from egalitarian villages to in egalitarian cities. The most egalitarian parts of India (measured by the Gini coefficient) are rural Bihar and Assam. These are not paradises of equality, they are sloughs of despondency that lack opportunity .
The UPA government inherited a booming, liberalized economy in 2004. It decided to create more equality through a rights-based approach. Alas, in doing so it created ever more rules and regulations that strangled opportunity (such as the land acquisition act). Indian businessmen fled abroad for greater opportunity , just as East Germans had in another context. The economy slumped, and aspirations went unfulfilled. Narendra Modi saw that Indians wanted more opportunity, and promised to provide it. He duly won the next election. Consciously or otherwise, he had absorbed the lesson of the Berlin Wall.

Nehru and Indira Made Nationalism & Secularism Base of Policy

I have welcomed the advent of Modi as the Prime Minister of India, since he is person who can take the country out of the abyss that it had fallen under the proxy rule of Manmohan Singh. But there is one fact to be pointed out. Despite his allergy and disdain for Nehru and Indira, he is adopting essentially the same principles. I have elaborated his debt to Indira in my article Narendra Modi – ‘ A Copycat of Indira Gandhi” published on CNN’s Ireport (http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1101673).
However, it is open season on Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. No opportunity is lost to demonise and denigrate father and daughter. Even October 31, the day the lady was assassinated, became a day-long festival for celebrating her wickedness, besides proclaiming she was no martyr but a case of self-destruction. Fortunately, we are told, a set of rulers, or shall i say ruler, is at hand, with the wisdom and vision to repair the damage.
We need to talk about Jawaharlal and Indira. That’s for sure. But we also need to keep some touch with historical veracity. For their lifelong opponents truth lies in the eye of the beholder. Consequently, 2014 onwards provides an excellent window to demolish once and for all the myth about their contribution to nation-building. What they built, so the argument goes, is their family dynasty.
Party politics can and is used to float falsehoods with the help of state power. Witness how the fable concerning our glorious Vedic past is being represented triumphantly (in which allegedly plastic surgery and stem cell research flourished) without a murmur of incredulity, or a titter of mirth. If truth is the first casualty in war, it is the second casualty in times when, as Lawrence Durrell puts it, “truth is what contradicts itself”.
The systematic and organised campaign to vilify the Nehru legacy and replace it with the more ‘muscular and patriotic’ legacy of Sardar Patel is top of the agenda. The exercise is ludicrous and an insult to the great Sardar. But let us leave that falsehood alone for the moment.
At the heart of the demolition project is the announcement that a new Idea of India, contrary to the one proposed by Nehru, is available, and in need of urgent execution. It is an abiding irony that the sole politician in the current pantheon of saffron leaders the present prime minister pays obeisance to is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who ruled the country with Nehru as his lodestar.
What is this new Idea of India? I think we should be told. Alas, its architects have provided no blueprint except to declare it exists. If i were say Mani Shankar Aiyar, i would argue it consists of one part jingoism and one part xenophobia. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration. More accurately, it rejects the legendary poet Raghupati Sahay aka Firaq Gorakhpuri’s thesis, “Sar zamiin-e hind par aqwaam-e alam ke Firaq/ Kaafile baste gae, Hindustan bantaa gayaa”. (In the sacred land of Hind, caravans of the world Firaq went on settling, and Hindustan kept on being formed.)
If one takes the short view of history, Nehru is an easy target, and Indira even easier. To compile a list of ‘sins’ the duo committed would be superfluous since the compilation has already been lovingly done by the Sangh Parivar. Many of the sins are not without basis but they are not black and white either, except the Emergency. They were committed at a specific moment in history. Happily, we have access to material which provides us with full, balanced assessments – warts and all. We are therefore neither astonished nor shocked when these transgressions are presented. No verdict on Nehru or Indira is possible without its share of criticism.
Perhaps this is the right time to ask the hunters looking for two prized scalps some questions. Where did Narayana Murthy and the entire information technology industry come from? Where did Indra Nooyi come from? Where did Warren Buffett’s financial wizard, Ajit Jain, come from? They all came from the IITs, IIMs and other world-class education centers Nehru had the foresight to set up.
If India has the ‘bomb’ and internationally renowned research labs, the credit must go to the same man. At a time when the republic struggled, he insisted a newly independent, backward nation be fully engaged with the contemporary first world through advanced learning and progressive thinking. Nehru ensured a society steeped in superstition, ritual, religious dogma and belief in kismet embraced a scientific temper so that the temptation to wallow in a mythical ‘glorious’ past could be resisted. The modern nation state – outward-looking, open, rational, argumentative, sceptical – armed with universal adult franchise, is the creation of Jawaharlal Nehru. Rubbish that if you like.
Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership was mixture of civilian benevolent dictatorship. That she wrecked critical democratic institutions is undeniable. But we must also remember she dismembered Pakistan and made sure it could never pose a threat. There is a good Indira and a bad Indira. She is easily the most popular prime minister the country has produced, when I see long queues outside her Safdarjung Memorial, I wonder if our Iron Lady needs more than one yardstick (Emergency) to assess her term in office.
If Nehru’s legacy is the real obstacle holding India back, why don’t its adversaries throw it into the wastepaper basket? And govern on the majoritarian doctrine? Not a chance. When it comes to self-preservation, the new rulers are wise. They know they would soon be out of a job, if they abandoned the idea (secularism) which has held the country together. Undeniably both the father-daughter duo , whatever their faults might be,  provided India with principles of secularism and nationalism that no politician- whatever the political colors he/she might be espousing – can afford to ignore even today.

Iqbal- The Urdu Existential Poet

Iqbal – The Poet in Quest of Identity

In his poetry, which Iqbal the famed Urdu poet was concerned and involved in an existential quest. He was by his own admission only a tool to convey his ever evolving thought, Iqbal raised many a magnificent existential question: Who am I? What am I here to do? What is my role, for myself, my community, my people, and humanity as a whole, in the great scheme of the cosmos?
These are some of the fundamental questions with regard to the human condition that Iqbal struggled to answer. His peculiar existentialism predates the mid-20th century preoccupation of western thinkers like Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus; it is also a far cry from the inherently selfish strain of a very individualism-centric thought that we see in the 19th century Kierkegaard and Nietzsche; or the alienation witnessed in the works of Dostoevsky and Kafka right after them.
While European modern thought, a pre-cursor of post-modernist thinking, developed in industrialising societies, Iqbal’s thinking took shape under a dual influence exerted on him by his European education and travels and his experience of the human condition in a pluralistic India under the Raj, a pluralism which was historically ill at ease with itself.
In recorded human history, India was a place where the nobility, whether home grown or of foreign origins, practically enslaved the vast majority and their resources. Only a strong central authority gave India a semblance of being one, albeit a diverse, whole.
Democracy did not come naturally to the Indian soul; British colonial rule, despite its modernity, remained just that. The British not only refused to Indianise themselves, they also could not bring themselves up to calling India home. This was very unlike the Muslim rulers who had ruled from Delhi or the Deccan before they were ousted.
Iqbal’s identification with and his concern over the fate of all colonised nations of the East—not India alone—by mighty powers of the West called for a wider shift in the entire power paradigm that was in place in his time. This he sought by transcending the relatively smaller canvas of India, which had historically shown itself to have been intellectually and militarily docile in the face of foreign aggression century after century.
With the entire Muslim world under virtual colonisation of the West after the debacle of the Turkish caliphate, and considerable weakening of the Persian Empire that struggled between Russian pressure exerted from the north and British protectorates to the south, it was the Muslim East—once a formidable power and a civilization—with a history and idiom of its own, that Iqbal invoked as a counterweight to western hegemony.
He did this for two reasons: one, better the devil you know, and two, in a bid to weave a parallel but indigenously sourced modern thinking, the wherewithal of which some from his generation had acquired through their western education, and by rebelling against the West’s Orientalism.
He was ready to travel further on the road that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had taken before him. This was because the Indian National Congress’s Swadeshi politics and Bande Mataram-like trappings reeked too much of an idiom that increasingly became exclusionist of non-Hindus; likewise, the social change-centric Arya Samaj movement’s belief in the supremacy of a Hindutva-based mechanism (albeit in a milder form than the ideology later espoused by the Rashtriya Sevak Sangh and the like) as a counterweight to colonialism, left a Muslim thinker who was well versed in his own tradition and secular, western education with little choice.
A Troubled Pluralism:
This was the troubled pluralism of India that Iqbal grew up in, and which practised communal segregation often bordering on apartheid: upper caste versus lower caste; ‘untouchability’ of the other in its many forms; food segregation; Persian, Arabic and Urdu education for Muslims, the fallen nobility; Sanskrit and Hindi for Hindus; Gurmukhi and Khalsa educational institutions for Sikhs; missionary schools for the Christian converts and modern natives, etc.
Then there was the caste/ biradari system that divided both Hindus and Muslims equally within their own respective creeds, virtually barring any meaningful social interaction, sharing of rituals, intermarriages even among the many sub-communities within the larger communities.
Secondly, Iqbal could only communicate in the languages and the idiom that he was comfortable with; he chose Urdu and Farsi for poetry and English for prose, but kept his idiom firmly rooted in the Muslim tradition of knowledge and philosophy, which despite being Islamic was secular enough to embrace non-Muslims.
It had a heart big enough to historically take in a very diverse cross section of humanity, from the desert Bedouin to the culturally refined Arab of the Fertile Crescent, to the sophisticated Persian to the warrior Turk, to the diverse North Africa of many tribes and tongues, to the Spanish, on the one hand, and the diverse peoples of the Far East on the other side of the spectrum.
This was Iqbal’s universe of the humanity, including India, that suffered either under direct colonial rule or its debilitating influence over their affairs, and which he tried to address.
As for the outreach of secular Muslim learning as it developed in India despite the segregation and apartheid practised in society, Urdu and Farsi, as opposed to Hindi, appealed to a wider informed audience interested in the arts and literature. It is a great historical contradiction that can only be resolved by taking into account the fact that the Muslim learning tradition and its cultural manifestations became secular under the great Mughals. The trend continued despite Aurangzeb’s half a century of intolerant rule which decisively weakened the latter day Mughals.
In Iqbal’s time it stood revived first through the Aligarh movement and later under a modern, secular, Fort William College, Kolkata, Oriental College, Lahore, Osmania University, Hyderabad, Jamia Millia, Delhi and many Anglo-Mohammadan colleges across the empire, to continue even after independence.
India churned out some of the finest non-Muslim Urdu writers and poets from across northern India, particularly from Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir and Punjab, whose idiom, like Iqbal’s (and even Pandit Nehru’s), remained very Muslim, if you like, in its cultural context. One need only look at the works of the likes of Ratan Nath Sarshar, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Azad (an Iqbal scholar of authoritative standing in his own right) and his father, Tilakchand Mehroom, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Firaq Gorakhpuri, etc.
In our own time there are ace critic/scholars like Gopi Chand Narang and the inimitable Bollywood lyricist, poet and writer (Sampooran Singh) Gulzar, along with the nearly entire pre-1990s Bollywood industry; even the prolific and much anglicised Khushwat Singh is Urdu-Farsi literate, for it stemmed naturally from their native cultural and learning milieu.
Then and now thus, Iqbal, by using a so-called Muslim idiom and symbolism, is by no means the poet/ thinker of Islam or of Muslims alone, although his idiom remains firmly rooted in Muslim lore via Urdu and Farsi sensibilities.
The appeal of his social thought, which takes precedence over his so-called religious thought, which was anathema to many of his contemporary Muslim ulema/ scholars, found ready admirers from among the progressive literati, including Faiz Ahmed Faiz. This was because Faiz never read Iqbal out of the context from which his thoughts flowed—and those thoughts are quite diverse when seen in their entirety as they progressed over the years.
It must also be noted that Iqbal was a poet and a thinker, and not a politician, much less a crystal ball gazer. The possibility of the miracle of democracy taking root in a post-independence India, which Nehru and Ambedkar, and Maulana Azad getting the pride of place, managed to pull off, eluded him. It eluded him by what was to be the turn of events as they unfolded, and not because of a lack of vision on his part. Iqbal died in 1938, long before Britain would be exhausted of its military power in the Second World War to be able to hold on to India by the end of 1945, and seek rather hurriedly to pull out of India.
In the years that followed, India’s troubled pluralism decisively settled for a majoritarian and market-oriented socioeconomic paradigm; in the process of democracy taking root, Urdu was gradually but virtually wiped out from the place of its birth, and with it also died the all-inclusive Muslim secular sensibility.
The saving grace may be that secularism of the state, despite being under threat from the now electorally popular and now rejected Hindutva, has managed to survive, but it has extracted a heavy toll all the same: no Iqbal, not even an Abul Kalam Azad, will henceforth sprout from the Indian soil, because the Muslim sensibility in India that groomed such stalwarts has died an unsung death. Only the likes of Darul Uloom or the integrated mainstream citizen, for whom being Muslim is just a personal statistic, and not an entire way of life and thought, remain.
While Iqbal rejected Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’s self-serving individualism, he, like them, prodded one to rethink the human condition to seek answers that would serve the individual, thence a growing number of individuals and on to the collective whole of humanity.
Only such a growing and all-inclusive human chain of thought, of consciousness, to him, could lead to true intellectual freedom that would not be subservient to a colonial or any hegemonic mindset in any of its manifestations, be it under the garb of religion, western academia or military muscle, three forces which have now appropriated all power at the expense of humanity at large.
Falsafi se hai gharz mujh ko aur na mullah se/ Yeh dil ki maut, woh aqeeda-o-nazar ka fasaad (Neither the philosopher nor the priest I contend with/ One spells death for the heart, the other runs riot with his conflict of conviction and vision), he wrote.
Religion to Iqbal is morality and social justice that it ensures, as forming the basis of a humane society, a living spirit imbued with ‘Love’ for that elusive human ideal. Religion is certainly not a bunch of rituals or a set of archaic tribal Arab customs that should be implanted in a soil where they do not belong; any morality thus implanted will never take root let alone bring peoples and cultures together under a set of values that apply universally.
Iqbal knew this well enough. ‘And what is that one value based in the refined realm of the human experience that can deliver humanity?’ he seemed to ask himself repeatedly; until he found the answer in Love, and cried out loud and clear:” Bande-ye-azaadam, ishq ast imam-e-man/ Ishq ast imam-e-man, aql ast ghulaam-e-man (I am a free man; Love leads me on/ Love leads me on; reason is my slave).”
Here was a clear bid to alter the Nietzschean recipe for putting meaning in individual life through acquisition of sheer power, power of the ruthless variety, if it be so, by replacing it with Love as a natural, positive human sentiment and value that can empower the individual and through him more individuals until the fraternity grows into one vast sea of humanity. Powered by Love that is so intrinsic in human nature, Iqbal then spoke of the individual regaining his self-esteem (khudi), which then widens its appeal to include the collective humanity, thus leading to temporal and spiritual fulfillment.
Likewise, Iqbal sees man’s Biblical fall from Paradise not through Milton’s lament of Paradise Lost; on the contrary, he considers it man’s call to action on Earth. The ‘fall’ from Paradise is a descent on Earth, not man’s disgrace but his rightful and earned opportunity to exercise freedom of choice and of will, and do so responsibly, by which he proves his mettle and builds his self-esteem, individually and collectively. Then, he can even confront God: “Mujh ko jiddat ki talab hai, daal tarh-e-nau koi/ kyun mujhe sagashta-e-imroz-o-farda kardiya (Innovation I seek, start a new order/ Don’t let me be caught up between yesterday and tomorrow—Faiz’s translation from the Persian).’
This is the renewed human spirit in action in Iqbal, of looking God (or the powers that be) in the eye as did the classical Greek heroes, with the difference that Iqbal is not into writing tragedies, but stories of triumph of human endeavour and dignity and inspiring improvement in the human condition. References in his poetry to Biblical and Quranic anecdotes and phraseology could be seen in their symbolic, allegorical context and not always literally.
In that Iqbal has improved tremendously on the 16-century existentialism of Mulla Sadra (in theological Muslim thought), who had argued that all and any existence precedes all and any essence of all matter and mind, thus acknowledging change as a constant running factor defining man’s interaction with the divine and the cosmos; this theory altered the course of medieval philosophical thought in Europe as well as in the Muslim world.
“Yeh gumabad-e-meenai, yeh aalam-e-tanhai/ Mujh ko to daraati hai iss dasht ki pehnaai (This vast grey dome, this world of solitude/ Sacred I am of delving in its wilderness) Bhatka hua raahi tu, bhatka hua raahi mein/ Manzil hai kahan teri, aye Laala-e-sehrai? (Of course you are, traveller, of course I am / Tell, your destination, O flower of the wild) Tu shaakh se kyun phoota, mein shaakh se kyun toota/ Ik jazba-e-paidaai, ik lazzat-e-yaktaai (Why did you sprout? Why did I break loose?/ A passion to be born? A taste for being unique?)”
Iqbal’s Views on Khudi and Freedom:The idea of Khudi (I-amness) is central to Iqbal’s system of thought. Self or Khudi, to Iqbal, is not reason but amr (direction). He defines khudi as directive energy – energy that is directed by God. Man is a part of the universe that is larger than the whole. As heaven is contained by the cornea in the eye so is khudi larger than the whole. Khudi is an ocean that is concentrated in a drop. All modern capitalist thinkers from Kant to Habermas hold that reason/rationality is self-interestedness. Iqbal renounces self-interested rationality. In his renunciation of self-interested rationality he does not renounce logicality.
For the strengthening of khudi Iqbal’s advice is: be hard. Coal and diamond are both made of carbon atoms. The difference is that coal is soft whereas diamond is hard. Therefore, coal is ruthlessly burnt and turned into ashes whereas diamond is highly valued and survives. Being hard does not imply callousness.
It implies protecting oneself from the forces that disintegrate and destroy khudi. Individuals and nations that do not harden their khudi at the individual and collective levels fall easy victim to power hunger of others.
With the absence of khudi, life is merely biological existence – breathing, circulation of blood, reproduction and the such. Iqbal’s perfect man is not a biological product; it is the product of moral and spiritual forces. Life is not self-indulgence and pleasure seeking. There are no pain-giving and pleasure giving acts but only khudi-strengthening and khudi-weakening acts.
It is the forces of grief and fear that attack and tend to destroy and disintegrate khudi. One cannot protect one’s khudi from the shocks of grief and fear without surrendering oneself to the Divine Law. One needs to pass through three stages to strengthen one’s khudi and to protect it from disintegration. These stages are: complete surrender to Divine Law, self-control and vicegerency of God.
Iqbal’s three stages bear some superficial similarity with Nietzsche’s three metamorphoses: camel, lion and child. The idea of a perfect man was given by sufi saint Al-Jili long before Nietzsche conceived ‘overman’. Al-Jili’s overman passes through three stages as well. At the first stage one assimilates the names of God, at the second stage the attributes of God, and at the final stage the essence of God. Iqbal has not drawn the idea of khudi from Nietzsche.
Iqbal holds that it is likely that Nietzsche took his idea of overman from eastern literature and degraded it by his materialism. Iqbal’s perfect man is a spiritual and moral force whereas Nietzsche’s overman is a biological product. “Ethically the word “khudi” means self-reliance, self-respect, self-confidence, self-preservation, even self-assertion when such a thing is necessary, in the interests of life and the power to stick to the cause of truth and justice even in the face of death,” as Riffat Hassan says in her piece on Iqbal.
Iqbal holds that he drew his idea of khudi from the Holy Quran: “O ye who believe! Ye have charge of your own souls. He who erreth cannot injure you if ye are rightly guided. (Al-Ma’idah: 105). And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the evil-doers. (Al-Hashr: 19).
Khudi demands self-control. In other words, self-control precedes self-possession. Strengthening of khudi is not possible without restraining of animal passions and instincts. One should not seek maximisation of freedom but strengthening of I-amness.
It is perhaps here that we can distinguish between capitalist liberty and Iqbal’s spiritual liberty. For Iqbal, liberty is not negative or positive liberty as argued by Isaiah Berlin. Liberty or freedom is attained by discovering the laws of God in one’s self. This signifies the fusion of the will of God and that of man. A radical form of capitalist liberty is argued and supported by Deleuze, a twentieth-century postmodernist French philosopher.
From Aristotle to Darwin to Deleuze many western philosophers view man essentially as an animal. There is an interesting similarity as well as contrast between the views of Iqbal and Deleuze on freedom of expression. Deleuze suggests that man should seek to transform himself into what he originally is: animal.
According to Deleuze, an important tool that can help man to return to his so-called originality is freedom of expression. According to Iqbal, freedom of expression without moral restrictions is the invention of the Satan which turns man into an animal. Both agree that man is turned into an animal through unbridled freedom of expression. The difference is that Iqbal rejects this metamorphosis of man into animal whereas Deleuze idealises it.
Capitalist liberty, to Iqbal, restrains the growth, expansion and fulfillment of khudi. It does not liberate but enslaves man. He becomes slave of his animal passions. Capitalist liberty unleashes animal passions such as greed and aggressiveness whereas Iqbalian spiritual liberty promotes the values of love, mercy and sacrifice. This was Iqbal who was a perpetual seeker.

Putin Brings World at ‘Historic Turning Point

Putin Brings World at ‘Historic Turning Point
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered what was perhaps his most important speech, and definitely his most direct criticism of the West, at the Valdai Conference in Sochi on October 24. One independent analyst called it “the most important political speech since Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of March 5, 1946.” Another called it “epochal,” and a “marker of the end of the U.S.’s brief period as the one big, unchallenged bully on the block.” Another labeled the speech “a precursor to World War III.”
Yet the mainstream Western media largely ignored the speech, instead focusing that day on America’s midterm elections, Nasdaq’s record gains of hollow wealth, and Queen Elizabeth II sending her first tweet.
Putin has proven himself in recent years to be a leader unhindered by modern Western notions of what “appropriate” foreign policy is, unrestrained by the status quo, and absolutely unafraid to use Russia’s great might to further the nation’s interests.
For those reasons, his landmark Sochi speech should not be ignored. The main points of the 41-minute speech are as follows:
The systems that have provided global stability for the last few decades are collapsing—and America is the author of their destruction. More and more nations are focusing on arms buildup, making global anarchy a real possibility and much more likely. Although Russia does not want the current chaos to spread, it does not fear war. It views the outbreak of another global war as nearly inevitable; so Russia is preparing for it.
The decision of whether or not a new world order is to be constructed is not up to Russia alone, but it is a choice that cannot be made without Moscow.
Russia is no longer interested in carrying out international politics in backroom negotiations, but is ready for serious agreements if they bring about collective security and are in Russia’s best interests.
Western attempts to punish Moscow have only made Russia stronger and more self-sufficient. Russia is looking to Asia more now, but it doesn’t want to shut the door on the West.
Despite Western trends, Russia favors traditional values.
Russia has no desire to build a new empire, as it has plenty of territory it needs to focus on developing. Russia has no intention of acting as a savior of the world, although it has brought about “positive results” recently in Syria, Iran and North Korea.
“Today’s discussion took place under the theme: New Rules or a Game Without Rules,” Putin said. “I think that this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face.”
We have reached this vital turning point, Putin explained, because the United States mismanaged its strength and power. “Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination,” he said. “Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.”
“This [U.S.-led] group’s ambitions grew so big that they started presenting the policies they put together in their corridors of power as the view of the entire international community. But this is not the case.”
Putin said that as a result of America’s mismanagement of its power, and the lack of consensus in the international community, the era of U.S. global leadership is now at its end. America “threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance,” he said.
Putin spoke bluntly, saying the result of this imbalance could be another world war. “Let us not forget history’s lessons,” he said. “First of all, changes in the world order—and what we are seeing today are events on this scale—have usually been accompanied by if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts.”
If the world stays on its current path, “we would be left with no instruments other than brute force,” Putin said.
In recent years, whether inside Russia or Georgia or Ukraine, Putin has shown he is not afraid to use brute force. He has demonstrated granite resolve and ability that is quite unlike most Western leadership. Because of this, the nations should pay close attention to his views and opinions. They should take note when a man commanding so much power says he sees changes underway that could ignite World War III.
To understand why Putin’s speeches should not be ignored, and the jaw-dropping significance of the reign of this leader, let’s consider the background. The Russian president’s provocations are getting bolder, but nobody is standing up to him. He is fulfilling an extremely important role in global events.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine on July 17. The tragedy killed 298 people in what was either a disgusting mistake made by some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s zealots, or an intentional act of terrorism. Either way, Putin created the conditions that led to the disaster and bears responsibility. The outcry from the West was loud, but toothless. And Putin didn’t back down or show even a hint of remorse. He was utterly unfazed by Western protests over the tragedy. Instead, he and his government offered the most outlandish explanations for the downed civilian plane that you can imagine!
At the crash site, things were even worse. “There are indications that vital evidence has not been preserved in place,” said Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai two days after the attack. He said officials were “deeply concerned that the crash site has not yet been properly secured.” Report after report confirmed that it was pro-Russia forces in Ukraine, which Putin covertly commands, who were tampering with evidence and obstructing investigation. It all seemed designed to give Putin time to cover his tracks.
Still the West did nothing! America enacted some very weak economic sanctions against some Russian companies. If there was any doubt that this response was too feeble to cause Putin and his followers any concern, proof came quickly. Within just a few days, pro-Russia forces shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets—just 16 miles from the crash site of the MH17!
Putin knows the West is weak! He doesn’t fear other nations. He is totally undeterred in his quest to destabilize Ukraine. He is single-handedly preventing that former Soviet republic from aligning itself with Europe. This year he redrew the map of Europe by making Crimea—what was a semi-autonomous part of Ukraine—officially part of Russia. He is steadily rebuilding the Soviet Empire.
Under President Putin’s reign, nuclear-armed Russia is transforming its military machine into a modern, technological, 21st-century force. Through heavy-handed tactics, Putin has not only brought Russia back into play as a world power, he has also secured his position at the nation’s helm by getting a choke hold on Russian media and emasculating Russian parliament.
The question that is becoming more relevant every day is this: Who is Vladimir Putin, and why is he having such a deep impact on global affairs?
This world has a lot of authoritarian rulers. But Vladimir Putin is one we need to keep a particularly close eye on. Can you think of any other Russian politician who could become so powerful and have the will to lead Russia into the crisis of crises? I see nobody else on the horizon who could do that. And only a tiny few years remain for the prince of Rosh to appear!
Such a man doesn’t appear overnight. It takes years for even a strong-willed leader to gain such control. Vladimir Putin already has the power—and the will to use it. I believe there is not enough time for a competitor to arise and challenge him. Over 80 percent of his people support his leadership.
This much is absolutely certain: The restoring of Russia’s power by Vladimir Putin—the prince of Russia—was prophesied! He has already solidly allied Russia with China. Other nations are leaning toward an alliance with Russia. Several of them are prophesied to join.
During the Cold War era, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev famously said to America, “We will bury you!” But this Ezekiel prophecy shows that it will actually be the great army of Russia, China and other nations that will be buried! And it will be buried in a place and at a time they would never imagine.
We need to watch Vladimir Putin closely. Is he is the “prince of Rosh” that God inspired Ezekiel to write about 2,500 years ago! We need to watch what is happening in Russia and how Europe responds to it. Mr. Putin’s tactics in Ukraine, Georgia, the Middle East and elsewhere are already deeply troubling to Europe. If you study Moscow’s foreign policy under Putin’s leadership, it is plain that the ultimate goal is to eventually conquer the whole world. Europe is certainly aware of this goal and is closely watching its neighbor to the east.

Charisma is Never Enough

The story goes of a Japanese executioner who was very swift and deft in the way he beheaded prisoners. One day, an aristocrat was about to be beheaded and the executioner swung his sword. The aristocrat said, ‘You seem to have failed. I am still here.’ The executioner said, ‘My Lord I would not nod my head if I were you.’
Last Tuesday’s elections in the US were a pitiless judgment on President Barack Obama. He may think he has survived, but he is now headless. The Democratic Party lost control of the Senate decisively. The Republicans needed six seats to gain control and got twice as many. The Democrats are even more behind in the House of Representatives than they used to be. In his remaining two years, Obama will not be just a lame duck. He will be a dead duck.
How has this happened? Obama was hailed as a miracle when he won in 2008. A million plus came to Washington DC for the inauguration; not just black people, but the full diversity of America. There was an atmosphere of hope despite the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the deep recession America and the world were entering into at the time. Indeed, it seemed to promise another New Deal .
There was a bonus. The newly-elected president was black, or at least of mixed race parentage. He had a Muslim middle name, a Kenyan father and a mother who had spent a lot of time in Indonesia. Perhaps he’s the first global American to be president. He was smart, an articulate law professor, had a glamorous wife and beautiful daughters.
To confirm America’s judgment, the Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize before he had done anything of significance. As I wrote at the time, he got the Nobel Prize for being black. Also perhaps for not being George W Bush, with whom Europeans were fed up. Wherever he went — Berlin, Oslo and Cairo — he seemed to give dramatic, path-breaking speeches.
Then one thing followed another and people began to see that Obama promised a lot but could not deliver. He was going to shut Guantanamo Bay, but was thwarted. His reflation programme did not quite do the job. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had to pull several trillion dollars worth of rabbits out of his central banker’s hat to revive the economy. The Congress was divided. There was a policy logjam. The Republicans in the House were very angry about Obamacare, perhaps the one thing he did which may outlast his presidency. The Tea Party adherents loathed him with a racist fervour that had disappeared from American politics for a while.
He came to office criticising Iraq war but got entangled in Afghansitan, making the double mistake of lingering for long and then pulling out before anything had settled. Despite his inspiring Cairo speech which promised to open a new chapter in US engagement with Muslims, he has done nothing to improve the lot of Palestinians. All he can claim is that Osama bin Laden got killed under his watch.
Even so, he won a second term. His campaign in 2012, as in 2008, was the real eye opener. He raised money by crowdfunding, using social media and thousands of volunteers. He could enthuse, move and charm crowds. His victory the second time around demoralised the Republican Party for a while. But suddenly, come this election, especially without having to carry a presidential candidate who could be a liability as Mitt Romney was, the tables were turned.
The only explanation seems to be that while Obama could campaign to win, he had no idea about implementing policies. This requires give and take in the American system. John Kennedy had the glamour, but could not do much with Congress. Lyndon Johnson knew how to get results. Jimmy Carter was an honest man, but a hopeless president. Carter had no Washington experience and did not know how things got done. Kennedy had a short experience as a senator, but no executive experience.
Winning elections is one thing. Getting results as a ruler is quite another.

Partisan State Ads

The advertisements released by Conservatives have more often than not elicited criticism that is partisan and mostly based on misleading premises. Advertisements in newspapers and periodicals, on mass or through social media by governments, central and state, for political ends is an old vice. They carry photographs of ministers of government and chairmen of public-sector undertakings to promote the interests of the ruling party at the expense of the taxpayers’ money. Way back in 1977 the federal constitutional court of Germany struck down such advertisements as being violative of the basic law (the constitution).
The Supreme Court of India recently ruled on the abuse, but none too well. Two NGOs, Common Cause and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, sought a writ to restrain the Indian union and all the state governments from using public funds for advertising in a manner so as to project the personalities, parties or particular governments and to lay down binding guidelines in order to end the abuse which violates Article 14 of the Indian constitution.
Article 14 embodies the fundamental right to equality before the law, while Article 19 guarantees protection of “personal liberty”. The central government cited the guidelines it had framed for selection of newspapers and periodicals eligible to be awarded the advertisements. They did not address the crucial issue of the contents of the advertisements. None directed the relevant publicity department to reject advertisements which crossed the divide between the party and the state.
Government ads must be subject to guidelines. The fundamentals were laid down in a series of earlier rulings of the Supreme Court. “Article 14 of the constitution of India applies also to matters of governmental policy and if the policy or any action of the government, even in contractual matters, fails to satisfy the test of reasonableness, it would be unconstitutional.”
The court held this view since the primary object of government advertisement is to use public funds to inform the public of their rights, and entitlements as well as to explain government policies, programmes, services and initiatives. The petitioners produced numerous government advertisements which failed to disseminate any such information to the public but only glorified the accomplishments of a particular government.
“While the boundary lines can blur, we need to distinguish between the advertisements that are part of government messaging and daily business and advertisements that are politically motivated,” the court said.
It noted that governments around the world spend huge amounts of money for advertisements in their media and most of the countries have faced similar situation. Their solution was to frame government advertising guidelines.
Canada and Australia were prominent among them. Australia adopted a new policy to regulate government advertisement in response to nearly a decade of abuse, during which public advertising was corruptly used to promote a partisan agenda. Its aim was to depoliticise public advertising, prevent conflict of interest, and curb power in such a way that the state could not exploit public advertising funds for individual or political gains.
Five principles were laid down in the Guidelines on Information and Advertising Campaigns by Australian Government Departments and Agencies. They read thus
— Principle 1: Campaigns should be relevant to government responsibilities.
— Principle 2: Campaign materials should be presented in an objective, fair, and accessible manner and be designed to meet the objectives of the campaign.
— “Principle 3: Campaign materials should be objective and not directed at promoting party political interests.
— “Principle 4: Campaigns should be justified and undertaken in an efficient effective and relevant manner.
— “Principle 5: Campaigns comply with legal requirements and procurement policies and procedures.
The Supreme Court appointed a committee to suggest the guidelines for its consideration. The court overlooked one major aspect. Apart from fundamental rights, there is a fetter on the state’s powers. All assets and properties are vested in the union or the state governments for the purposes of the union or the states.
The constitution confers express legislative power in respect of the property of the union, and works, lands and buildings vested in a state, which is subject to the provisions of constitution. The latter provides for the levying, collection and expenditure of revenue of the union and the states but such revenues are to be expended “for the purposes of the union or the states” alone and not to further any political party’s interest; only for a public purpose.
The union and the states hold their assets and properties impressed with an obligation to use them for their respective purposes, which are public purposes. All legislative and executive action in relation to every government property is subject to constitutional limitations. They govern all state action and in all spheres. The implications of these limitations are far-reaching.

The Obama That Is

The electoral repudiation of President Barack Obama in the mid-term elections raises some interesting comparative questions about the nature of electorates in a democracy and the factors that animate them. It reminds us of the sheer contingency of politics: the president who won a watershed victory now being spurned by his own party and the electorate. The sheer contingency of politics should also be a warning never to read permanent meanings into any election: the people can easily take away what they give in the first place. There is also, no doubt, a story particular to this election. Many of the races in the south were in Republican strongholds. The Obama administration’s own missteps were considerable. This time, the Republicans got together a better organisational machinery and avoided gaffes that might have consolidated their opponents.
Still, it is worth reflecting on the seeming unravelling of Obama, his journey from unchallenged charisma to being the object of widespread contempt. As often in democracies, the scale of repudiation is far in excess of his sins. In Obama’s case, it could be argued provocatively that nothing fails like success. Here was a president who was dealt one of the worst economic hands in history. The American economy was teetering on the brink of a catastrophe when he took office. The recession has been prolonged, and to some eyes, the recovery not as strong as many would like.
Nevertheless, the US is not looking like Europe or even Japan; the rescue act was a significant historical achievement. And it is hard to argue that Republicans have won on a platform that offers more economic hope. Healthcare reform had eluded every administration in the US. But low jokes apart, Obamacare has been successful enough that few want to repudiate it. Unlike former US President Bill Clinton’s, his administration has not been plagued by scandals. He was even lucky enough to make America energy independent. Here was a president who promised disengagement from war, and to a considerable extent, delivered on it. He promised a certain kind of bipartisanship. He was rebuffed by Congress. But in ideological terms at least, contrary to what many feared, he did not lurch to the far left. So what is the nature of his failure? Are there some interesting lessons for the political discourse?
In democratic politics, your credibility is often most grievously wounded by your own supporters. Small sections of the right had barely disguised contempt for Obama, and the racial undertone has, in some sections of American politics, not gone away. But the biggest damage to him came from the fact that many of his supporters felt a sense of betrayal. The most scorching writing on Obama has come from the left, as it were, rather than the right. Their sense of betrayal and anger has often meant that they would rather see him punished for not delivering on utopia than counter the Republicans in any serious way. In a deeper sense, they, more than the Republicans, created the climate of opinion where Obama looked weak. Scorned supporters are more dangerous than dogged opponents.
Part of this was a consequence of Obama’s own charisma. It was not so much what he said, but his own persona that raised expectations of a radically new order. It was easier to judge him harshly because he was being judged against his own measure. The sentiment, “you were not the Obama we thought you were going to be”, dominated any consideration of his record much more than Republican alternatives or even other presidencies. When you aim high and promise much, the sense of betrayal also comes easier and more deeply.
The biggest damage to Obama came from the fact that many of his supporters felt a sense of betrayal. The biggest damage to Obama came from the fact that many of his supporters felt a sense of betrayal.
In our democratic age, the smaller mistakes can define you and fix your image far in excess of their significance. In political terms, the technical glitches in the early days of the rollout of Obamacare seem to have provided a firmer political handle to its opponents than its aggregate benefits provided to the Democrats. It is hard to live down mistakes in the age of media. It is perhaps a feature of all democracies that the top leadership will be held responsible for outcomes, no matter what. They are elected to fix things, and no amount of structural explanations or alibis will compensate for any shortcoming. It can be argued that Obama’s sometimes cold intellectualism has not been the most skilful at managing Congress. But it is hard to argue that Republicans were anything but obstructionist. Much like in India, the strategy that if you obstruct, whoever is in charge will get blamed, seems to have paid off. But Obama seems to have got the blame for the gridlock. No top leader can ever have the luxury of an excuse.
In international affairs, there is a sense that Obama cuts a sorry figure. But, arguably, this is in part a consequence of what he was seemingly elected for. There is no doubt that in political terms, the Libya intervention was a huge mistake. It got America the worst of both worlds. It took away from the idea that Obama really was trying to carve out a presidency not founded on American global hubris. For interventionists, on the other hand, it raised the expectation of more to come, in places like Syria. And when those interventions did not come, the charge that he had made America look weak followed swiftly. In a way, Obama was elected on the promise that America would not be the policeman of the world, and he was then punished for trying to show what that actually looks like. One of the curious features of large democracies is that they don’t like the exercise of power. But they see the lack of exercise of power as a sign of failure. Obama failed to navigate this thin line with finesse.
But there is an underlying paradox. There has been much talk of the declining fortunes of the middle class and the concentration of wealth. Thomas Piketty is, after all, a best seller. Yet this is exactly the moment where America lurches a little to the right, as it were. Immigration was a big sub-theme in this election, and it seems even the threat of Ebola was exaggerated out of proportion as a sign of the administration’s failures. In a moment of deep crisis, Obama looked like a steady hand of hope. But now that concerns over survival have dissipated, the first order of business is to look for someone to blame. Obama is far more visible than nameless plutocrats and oligarchs, who were never under threat, but are now even more secure.