The Prestigious Civilian Awards in India – A Joke or an Honor

The civilian honors bestowed by government in India have become a joke. There have been instances of senior politicians getting the highest award- like Indira Gandhi got Bharat Ratna, while she he Prime Minister. It is absolutely unethical that a civilian award be bestowed on active politician, especially when he or she is in a position to influence the decision makers , who recommend these awards.
Secondly there is a public clamor and sustained campaigns for am award to be given to a person who can manage such a campaign. I recollect here was a campaign demanding Sachin Tendulkar be awarded Bharat Ratnas. How disgusting. Awards are not given by votes and such campaign should automatically disqualify such a claimant.I am not sure all Indians know that, for the first three years of the Republic, we had no state awards. Then, the old disease crept back in 1954. It would be unrealistic to think that we can turn the clock back – but can we at least try and improve this system before it becomes a laughing stock and brings embarrassment upon all of us?
As a starting point, may I suggest three simple rules in the form of questions?
Question 1 – Who should be eligible for these awards? These awards are for public service, e.g. for arts and culture, for education, for service to society, etc. Should sports fall in this category? Sports give us pleasure, entertainment, joy and even pride. But I would not say that it is public service. Moreover, sports persons already have their separate awards – the Arjuna Awards, the Khel Ratna Awards, the Dronacharya Awards. In addition, they get their medals, their prizes, their endorsements and public acclaim. Moreover, their associations (the IOC, the BAI, etc.) can honor them.
Let us see how other some other countries honor their sports persons. Take the case of US swimmer Michael Phelps. He has won 18 gold medals (not to forget four silvers) at the Olympics – that is twice as many as all of India has won in the 100-odd years it has been competing (9 in all – 8 in hockey and 1 by Abhinav Bindra).
And has Phelps been honored by the US? No. His home state of Maryland has twice awarded him the “Order of DUI”! DUI meaning caught driving under the influence of alcohol and punished. Of course, as is right, this multiple gold medalist has been honored by the US Olympic Committee and other sporting bodies – but no state honors.
And here we have silver medalists asking for state awards as a matter of right.
What great ‘state’ honors have been bestowed on Roger Federer, who has won 17 Grand Slams, no less!
Donald Bradman, a better-than-average cricketer by any reckoning, and Garfield Sobers, a pretty good all-rounder, were each given just a Knighthood – among the lowest grade in the British system of honors. Alex Ferguson, during whose tenure Manchester United won 37 trophies, also got just a Knighthood. Among our cricketers, we have people spanning the entire spectrum of honors!
So, let sporting bodies reward and award great sports persons. I concede that it is impractical in India to not give Padma honors to sports persons. But can we at least severely restrict their numbers to 1-2 annually, in favor of those who render great public service – often without recognition or financial benefits?
Question 2. Should awards be given posthumously? In his speech at the burial of Caesar, Mark Antony said: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”. Following that simple principle – if one isn’t good enough to get a state award when one is alive, then one should not get it when one has departed. As Ranjit Savarkar, referring to the possibility of a posthumous Bharat Ratna for Veer Savarkar, said: “I feel they should keep great leaders out of award politics …. There is no end to the list of names” (Indian Express, January 25, 2015).
However, in the past, honors have been bestowed upon the departed. In the 2015 list also, out of 106 honors, five are posthumous. In fact, out of the 45 Bharat Ratnas awarded since 1954, around a dozen have been posthumous awards (the posthumous one to Lal Bahadur Shastri is in a class by itself – for he died while serving the nation).
This year, we hit a new low when we began awarding people who died before India became a republic (i.e. those who lived in a British Bharat) like Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. This may open the gates to all kinds of other names.
If Malaviya, the Didi will ask: what about Tagore, a Nobel Prize winner, who returned his Knighthood after Jalianwala Bagh? And Uddhavji will ask: how dare we forget Shivaji? And what about Emperor Akbar? And why not the great poet Thiruvalluvar and the great writer Munshi Premchand? And surely Jhansi ki Rani? And Tansen? And Jamsetji Tata? And Emperor Ashok? And how can we leave out Raja Raja Chola I and Chandragupta Maurya? And how about Chanakya and Aryabhatta? And Shahid Bhagat Singh? And the great Maharaja Ranjit Singh? And the mathematical genius sans pareil Srinivas Ramanujan? And Tipu Sultan? And the physicist J C Bose? And, in this year of ‘nari shakti’, what about Lord Bentinck and Raja Rammohan Roy who worked to suppress ‘sati’? As Ranjit Savarkar suggests, the list is endless.
So, if we do not put a stop to this, over the years to come, our political masters could lead us to the ultimate debasement and award 50 Bharat Ratnas every year to people who died before Independence! We have a large enough stock of great persons stretching over several thousand years to give 50 Bharat Ratnas annually for at least the next 100 years!
And the ultimate shame will be when we make Mahatma Gandhi a Bharat Ratna. Looking down dolefully at us from the Elysian Fields, he may well say: “He Ram, is this the India I lived for, fought for …. and died for?
Question 3 – How should these awards be given? And how many? There needs to be a truly independent and unbiased committee that selects the awardees. We now have enough such committees to select all kinds of legal and constitutional functionaries, so let us have one more. There also needs to be a numerical limit on the number of awards to be given. Instead of more than a hundred baubles being distributed every year (106 in 2015), we should restrict the number to, say, 10-15 truly deserving persons every year. This will certainly increase the value of these awards in the eyes of the public.
We need to take fresh look if the awards have to have some meaning. For several decades, we have known that the civilian “honors” system is broken. A noted sportsperson recently claimed an honor almost as a matter of right and ‘seniority’ (that old Indian disease) because another sportsperson had received it. And then a Bollywood grandee turned down an honor offered to him on a similar ground.
It’s raining awards these days—almost everybody of any repute (er… even “dubious” will do) is being anointed and crowned and obviously there is much excitement. I feel (most humbly, of course) that before we get into a talkfest on the respectability of the awards and the worthiness of the awardees (because that is definitely a sticky pitch!), we should ponder awhile on the significance of awards in general. Maybe then we’ll better understand what the controversy is all about.
Awards mean different things to different people, for the simple reason that people work for diverse motives or are driven by varied compulsions. Money, of course, is a common driving force but then it is not always the only reason why a person slaves his butt off—a person may work for a passion or even for self-discovery, in which case the work itself is the reward and it matters little whether any official recognition (a.k.a. an “Award”) comes his/her way. True-blue dedicated teachers (an endangered species, no doubt !) belong to this ilk. Then there are those lucky guys who strike gold in whatever is their calling and are in invincible positions acknowledged by the world and do not need to lust after awards—the trophies are welcome but not the ticket to recognition. The Tatas, Ambanis, Shah Rukhs , Bachchans, Tendulkars, Mittals (both Sunil and Laxmi) of the world fall in this category. And finally, there are the mere mortals like you and me who get their place in the sun by virtue of awards; their struggle, effort, achievement and, above all, excellence in their fields are acknowledged and appreciated by these awards. Were it not for the awards, the world wouldn’t know of their existence, leave alone their achievements! Would you have heard of Kailash Satyarthi were it not for the Nobel Peace Prize ?
Interestingly, actress Kiron Kher had once intelligently remarked that being nominated for an award is enough because it means that one’s work has been found worthy of being awarded and, moreover, when one of the nominees receives the coveted prize, it does not mean that the others were any less talented because comparisons can only be made if all the contenders were to play the same role. Well spoken, Kiron. So you see, for every Tendulkar who becomes a legend, there are scores of other equally talented players languishing in oblivion because life has this habit of being unfair to the best of us.
Look, we are human and we have dreams, dreams of doing something worthwhile, something that will make a difference in the world while being close to our hearts. We want to prove ourselves, so to say. And this is how ambition is born. It is burning ambition that propels a person to step off the cliff into the unknown, uncharted territory, to stray from the path of the pedestrian and carve a niche for himself . And this is where awards become meaningful, because they give that much-needed support and recognition.
That brings us to the tacky issue of the authenticity of the various prizes. Rumours have always been rife about various awards being rigged or even bought at humongous prices—they may or may not be true, no one knows for sure. On one hand, these canards may be the products of jealous minds; on the other, we know that almost everything in this world comes with a price-tag. When President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, many eyebrows were raised, including the awardee’s own! People, again including the POTUS himself, had wondered what he had done to deserve the honor. It is a mystery which remains unraveled. But the common man would like to believe in the awards as being the gold standard in the given fields; he needs to know that the unseen, nameless and faceless selectors of at least the prestigious awards are aware of their huge responsibility of choosing the right recipients. True, you can’t please all the people all the time and that holds for the selectors too—they cannot expect everybody to agree with their choices. But it is also equally true that some of their choices are very suspect indeed.
Padma awards, given on Republic Day in honor of contributions in wide-ranging pursuits, have often been subject of controversy due to the arbitrary nature of the selection process and inevitable charges of favoritism by the government and the ruling party. I won’t take names but if you go through the list of National Awardees for the past decade, you will find names of several people who you can’t recall having done anything worthwhile or respectable enough to deserve such great honor . Now isn’t that tragic ? And the latest pathetic trend is that people are actually “asking” for the awards. Badminton player Saina Nehwal, kicked up such a storm about not being nominated that she was subsequently included in the list of contenders. Though, in the ultimate analysis, she did not receive the award but I wonder whether Saina would have felt real, unadulterated pride if she had received it……wouldn’t her conscience have twinged just a little? Well, we all have our value systems, I guess.
Doesn’t the handing out of honorary doctorates also reek of being bartered for a sizable donation to the concerned institution ? It is shameful, but it is happening all the same. Just as some people are famous for the wrong reasons—they are famous because they have made the right connections or hired the right image consultants. And they have the lolly to “fix” things, even awards! Or, let us say, especially awards!
That is why the National Awards need to be above board. That is also why they need to be chosen wisely and well. It’d be a matter of immense shame for us if this institution too becomes buy-able. Imagine what it’d do to the self-respect and hon our of all those remarkable men and women who have received them for their genuine achievements. Will the authorities concerned ensure that the National Awards will remain above reproach? Only time will tell. Till then I hope the common man will look up-to awards of all genre and dream of holding up one in his hand some day and be able to look skywards and say, “This one’s for you, Mom/Dad!”. After all, we all have our dreams, don ‘t we?
The system has become thoroughly corrupted and debased and we have now come to a sorry pass. Does a republic really need such an elaborate system of honors? After all, in a republic, we are all supposed to be equal.
I would like to make two points:
What does it say for a system of honors that, in 2015, finds 106 deserving cases but has no place (as far as I am aware) for Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner – and the only resident Indian who has that honor.
Finally, at every Republic Day, we normally have the sad spectacle of 2-3 women collecting the Ashoka Chakra for the valor that has cost their husbands their lives. As I watch these women, it brings tears to my eyes, a big lump in my throat and great pride in my heart. I must say that I do not feel even remotely the same at the investiture for Padma Awards winners at Rashtrapati Bhavan. What about you?

Barack Visit’s Hangover is Over

Obama’s visit was essentially a giant sales pitch to firm up business opportunities for American companies. With India aspiring for growth and looking to build smart cities, roads, bridges, infrastructure, power plants, etc., the country presents a great opportunity for American businesses. Likewise, there is plenty of opportunity for Indian businesses in the US market as reaffirmed by the “who’s who” of Indian industry queuing up for darshan of the US President.
Strategically, from an American perspective, a vibrant and growing India can act as a counterweight to China in the region and come in handy with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan as the instability in these countries persists.
Wherever there is business opportunity, Americans are first in line – dictatorship, human rights violations, religious persecution, etc., can wait. It is “business first” for America and then everything follows thereafter, if at all. Besides, you can always count on President Obama for a good speech, especially one good enough to have media persons (who grew up on Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao) drooling.
Timing is everything in life and this includes oil prices and extending an invitation to the US President. Obama is on the back foot in Washington after the thrashing his party received at the polls. He is on the verge of becoming a lame duck President while the Republicans in Congress run amok over his agenda. There is not a lot to choose between a relaxed holiday in India and being hounded by pesky Republicans in Congress.
The Indian government’s invitation could not have come at a more opportune moment. Anyone who believes there is some Modi magic at play here is deluding themselves. Nevertheless, it’s a rare opportunity for India to get some valuable exposure on the world stage like never before. So credit to Modi for making this happen.
Two lines in Obama’s speeches highlight the political animal in him. “Only in India is Modi’s story possible.” This line works perfectly for Obama’s case in US, but has negative connotations in Modi’s context in India. It’s a loaded bone thrown at the liberals. Next he said, “India’s success depends on not letting religion splinter the country.” This is a warning to Modi and team.
It’s a polite way of saying, “We are going to invest heavily in India, but what I don’t want you to do is let the crazies in your party off the leash, which might end up creating religious strife that jeopardizes our investments.” This is classic Obama – always cautious and guarded, never overcommitted but, at the same time, always ten steps ahead of everyone.
Even though the US President has now left the Indian shores, the BJP PR machine is continuing to milk the visit as the media feeds into the frenzy with overhyped talk about a mysterious personal chemistry between Obama and Modi (from the outside. the two men could not be more different).
The BJP and the PM have always believed in “PR First.” It’s time to set that aside for now and bat for Ache din with the Americans, without losing track of our priorities in the midst of the American marketing shock and awe. India must avoid getting caught up in the euphoria and instead make sure to negotiate hard on key issues like the nuclear liability, the UN Security Council seat, and keeping Pakistan in check.
But let us also look at the real story. From Prime Minister Modi’s wardrobe to the humiliation and abuse heaped on a respected person like Hamid Ansari, it is easy to see how intolerant we have become. Obama’s visit to India was nothing short of being the last nail in the coffin of Nehruvian non-alignment as well.
As far as Modi’s funny wardrobe is concerned it managed to get more coverage in the Western media than his talks with the US President. Till now the Western media had not made mockery of any Indian PM like the way it made fun of his “self obsessed” attire, with some reports stating that the attire is an indication that the PM is a “democratically elected dictator”.
Obama advised we the people of world’s largest “democracy”, to remain secular. His words were, “India will succeed as long as it is not ‘splintered’ on religious lines”. In a carefully packaged message during his townhall speech, Obama advised India and its PM that the country needs to combat human trafficking and slavery, elevate the status of girls and women in society, promote religious and racial tolerance and empower young people. Why did Obama have to remind us our obligations and duties as a nation state, regarding politics based on religion, region and caste?
Obama was not impractical in talking about religious tolerance as enshrined in India’s constitution. Wherever a US President has visited the country, US intelligence agencies have tried their level best to get an idea about the ground situation in the country. His words, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, and is unified as one nation,” are enough in themselves to show that something is wrong with this country, wherein even after near about 70 years of independence, religious intolerance and communalism rule the roost and where the parties can never win a single election they do not play politics based on communalism and religious hatred. His advice to treat women equally was also keeping in view the recent rise in the anti- women violence across the country.
Obama’s town hall speech came at the end of a trip which was being hailed by the government as well as the media as successful, one which was class apart from the visit of not only other heads of state rather previous visits of American presidents. But a notably sharp speech and the end of the trip turned out to be something on which India as a secular democratic nation must ponder over. Just before the town hall speech, Obama met noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi who informed him that there were still five million children living as slaves worldwide. So it seems to have been the pressure of advocacy groups through different channels, which resulted in Obama giving a lesson or two to Narendra Modi and India on issues of human rights and religious tolerance.
Before arriving for the famous speech the American president must have gone through the controversy surrounding Vice President Hamid Ansari and that may have been enough for him to judge the level of religious intolerance in the country.
It is crystal clear that Obama’s speech and his advice to us have not gone down well with many people in the Indian government. Since the BJP led NDA government has come to power, right-wing groups associated with the RSS have been trying to convert members of religious minorities, arguing that Muslims or Christians, or their forebears, were originally Hindu themselves. And Obama’s speech was against all that is happening on religious front since Modi’s coming to power in May 2014. Things have turned so communally charged that recently a lady minister of Modi’s cabinet asked at a pre-election gathering in Delhi, to “decide whether you want a government of those born of Ram, or those born illegitimately (haramzadas)”.
Before leaving for Riyadh to pay condolence to an oppressive monarch, Obama’s carefully crafted words and advise to India over various issues of concern are reminder to the fact that India as a country doesn’t need anyone’s certificate, especially of US which has a history of hobnobbing with brutal dictators and monarchs across the world.
But still it is high time for us to look within and introspect regarding what has gone wrong with the Indian idea of secularism and togetherness, as there won’t be any meaning of India’s democracy if it doesn’t root out communalism and inequality once and for all.

Vibes from Saudi Arabia Are Troubling

Recently the world witnessed the gathering of the great and the good in Riyadh to pay their respects to the recently departed King Abdullah, and to suck up to King Salman, the newly crowned monarch. Next month, many of these same worthies will meet in Washington to discuss measures to counter terrorism. How many lives have to be lost before Western leaders finally connect the dots between the Wahabi/Salafi ideology being pumped out by the desert kingdom and the killing fields of Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan?It was no coincidence that many of the 9/11 suicide bombers and planners, as well as Osama bin Laden, happened to be Saudi citizens. Over the years, a large body of evidence has been built up by diplomats, journalists and intelligence agencies pointing to the nexus between jihadi terror and extremist elements in Saudi Arabia. And yet King Abdullah’s death is being considered a huge loss.
In his tribute, President Obama went so far as saying of Abdullah’s deeds: “They will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region.” Really? Since when has the architect of a project that has destabilised much of the Muslim world deserved such accolades?
Saudi support has blocked change in the Middle East. In 1924-25, Ibn Saud, the founder of the current Saudi dynasty, defeated the Hashemites and seized control of Saudi Arabia with the help of the British. According to contemporary accounts, over the next seven years or so, tens of thousands were killed, many more had a limb amputated and up to a million fled Saudi Arabia.
So when we deplore the actions of the Islamic State, we need to remember who provided them with a model for conquest. And when we are repulsed by their public beheading of prisoners, we need to keep in mind the fact that on Fridays, those given the death penalty by Saudi Arabia’s opaque and draconian legal system are decapitated in public squares.
In a Faustian pact, the Saudi monarchy is left unchallenged by the country’s ultra-conservative clergy, provided it does not try and bring the country out of the 7th century. Meanwhile, millions of dollars are sent from private and public sources to madressahs in mostly poor Muslim countries.
Saudi Arabia, among some other Arab states, also funds mosques in Western cities where many clerics, whose salaries are reportedly paid by Riyadh, preach hate against the West and non-Wahabi sects. While the official Wahabi clergy stick to a literalist, joyless interpretation of Islam, they overlook the injunctions against rule by despots. They have thus provided the Saudi royal family with a spurious legitimacy in exchange for the tight control they wield over internal social policy. The royal family and the clergy are in a symbiotic embrace that has made them a barrier to change.
With an army of some 7,000 princes to keep in style, the House of Saud has a strong incentive to maintain a lucrative status quo. This creates their leverage with Washington, London and Paris: with the world’s biggest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia has been ensuring a steady supply of oil to the global markets.
The other factor that keeps leaders like Obama and Cameron onside is the rich market for arms the kingdom has become over the years. These purchases, often accompanied with allegations of vast bribes, generate jobs as well as obscene profits.
Finally, the ‘stability’ repeatedly evoked in the recent eulogies to Abdullah refers to his role in leading the fight to roll back the Arab Spring. From Egypt to Bahrain, it has been Saudi money and political support that has blocked change. Simul­tan­eously, however, Saudi Arabia has also reportedly financed extremist rebel groups in Syria.
But there are signs that the Saudis are losing some of their leverage in Washington. When Obama decided against launching an attack on Syria, it was a big setback for Riyadh. For King Abdullah, it was a humiliating reminder that his country is no longer the highest American priority.
Another reality check came when Obama refused to be led into an Israeli-inspired attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear programme and ambitions. A senior Saudi had been quoted in a leaked US diplomatic cable urging the Americans to “cut off the serpent’s head”.
But Saudi support for General Sisi has been directly helpful to Israel as Egypt has acted vigorously against Hamas, shutting down virtually all the tunnels that had been a lifeline for the beleaguered Palestinians virtually imprisoned in the tiny enclave of Gaza.
Thus far, the Saudi government has bought off its people by giving them huge subsidies and many free services. But with falling oil prices, it may not be able to forever bribe the young to stay quiet. Its Shia population in eastern Saudi Arabia is growing increasingly restless under unending discrimination and repression. And no system, even one as backward as Saudi Arabia’s, stays static forever.

Weekend fix for the soul: The child within

Children never cease to amaze me – their perspective of the world and their surroundings astounds me. Everything is fresh and new and full of wonder and awe. Everything is worthy of a question. They keep you on your toes with their constant curiosity, and their open minds are receptive to the answers they get. They allow themselves much more freedom than adults, to say and do things. They have no inhibitions and are so active – they run, have fun, pick their noses and do whatever they want, whenever they want. The world is just so wonderfully free for them – just the way the universe intended for us to live. There is so much to learn from them.
And then they grow up. As Paulo Coelho remarked, “A child can teach us three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be curious and to fight tirelessly for something”. My children have also taught me about love and the act of surrender; the act of surrender essentially means ‘I trust you’. My children are my healers and my stress-busters. They teach me that life is not as serious as I sometimes make it out to be; that it is great to be silly sometimes; that generosity is not only in giving but also in receiving. Allowing someone else to make you happy will make them happy too.
However, even when we grow up, there is still hope. Every adult has a child within. Tapping into those childlike qualities of sincerity, innocence, openness, trustfulness, forgiveness and naïveté within each of us, opens the floodgates of love and hope in relationships. To possess an inherent desire to learn and explore, not for the ego-driven opportunity or to prove anything to anyone, but for the sheer joy, love and excitement of it – that is being childlike. The most endearing childlike quality is to be non-judgemental and believe in the best of a person, until shown otherwise.
It has to be noted however, that there is a big difference in being childlike and being childish, the latter often synonymous with immaturity, foolishness and petty behavior.
The quality of our actual childhood years dictates how we spend our adulthood. People act out today, what happened yesterday, in most situations. Sometimes, when things come up in our adult lives which remotely resemble any childhood fear or trauma, the adult will ‘appear’ to act but it’s the child inside who is behaving that way. So it is imperative to trace where in childhood, these reactions came from in ourselves and heal that inner child.
This will facilitate in the ‘growing up’ of that child within us. If the root of these emotional behavioural patterns is not traced, it can cause mis-understandings and hurts in our adult lives and subsequently the lives of our children, and the cycle goes on. As it is important to impart good upbringing to our children, it is also important to bring up that child within each of us first and be free from the hurts of the past, through necessary forgiveness.
As we grow, we are pushed towards more logic, reason and facts. Keeping our imaginations sharp like children and thinking out-of-the box is highly recommended. So the next time in the face of a challenge, let go of some of the self-control and re-ignite that childlike imagination and more creative solutions will be found.
To commit to living each new day, bubbling with childlike zeal and enthusiasm; to re-acquaint ourselves and celebrate the child within us; to recognise our inner childlike selves shining and brimming with light, love and happiness – that is true living.Those with eyes to see will see your light and be enchanted by it.

Obama’s Parthian Shot: A Meaningless Gesture More for Public Consumtion

Some speeches are made for generations to come, some for the consumption of audience, some for audiences  not present, but watching from afar, and some for shock effect that may or may not be there. Normally political leaders refrain from making such speeches that may not be comfortable to the host, especially when you have lionized and feted like a demi-god and you have enjoyed every second of your visit. Obama has proved that he likes to enjoy the hospitality, hope for long term relationship and then plays a game spoiler.
President Barack Obama’s Town Hall speech has, quite predictably, triggered a minor storm. The government side has, not unnaturally, brushed aside suggestions that the eloquent sermon that also touched upon themes such as religious and minority rights was a veiled indictment of the Narendra Modi government. However, both the media and Modi’s other critics have gloated over this apparent sting in the tail at the fag end of an otherwise successful visit. They have used Obama’s invocation of Article 25 to add to the existing turbulence over religious conversions. Regardless of how the visit of the American president was perceived in the larger public, they have cited the subtext of the Town Hall speech to try and puncture the Modi momentum.
Obama even advised we the people of world’s largest “democracy”, to remain secular. His words were, “India will succeed as long as it is not ‘splintered’ on religious lines”. In a carefully packaged message during his townhall speech, Obama advised India and its PM that the country needs to combat human trafficking and slavery, elevate the status of girls and women in society, promote religious and racial tolerance and empower young people. Why did Obama have to remind us our obligations and duties as a nation state, regarding politics based on religion, region and caste?
Obama was not impractical in talking about religious tolerance as enshrined in India’s constitution. Wherever a US President has visited the country, US intelligence agencies have tried their level best to get an idea about the ground situation in the country. His words, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, and is unified as one nation,” are enough in themselves to show that something is wrong with this country, wherein even after near about 70 years of independence, religious intolerance and communalism rule the roost and where the parties can never win a single election they do not play politics based on communalism and religious hatred. His advice to treat women equally was also keeping in view the recent rise in the anti- women violence across the country.
Obama’s town hall speech came at the end of a trip which was being hailed by the government as well as the media as successful, one which was class apart from the visit of not only other heads of state rather previous visits of American presidents. But a notably sharp speech and the end of the trip turned out to be something on which India as a secular democratic nation must ponder over. Just before the town hall speech, Obama met noble laureate Kailash Satyarthi who informed him that there were still five million children living as slaves worldwide. So it seems to have been the pressure of advocacy groups through different channels, which resulted in Obama giving a lesson or two to Narendra Modi and India on issues of human rights and religious tolerance.
Before arriving for the famous speech the American president must have gone through the controversy surrounding Vice President Hamid Ansari and that may have been enough for him to judge the level of religious intolerance in the country. It is crystal clear that Obama’s speech and his advice to us have not gone down well with many people in the Indian government. Since the BJP led NDA government has come to power, right-wing groups associated with the RSS have been trying to convert members of religious minorities, arguing that Muslims or Christians, or their forebears, were originally Hindu themselves. And Obama’s speech was against all that is happening on religious front since Modi’s coming to power in May 2014. Things have turned so communally charged that recently a lady minister of Modi’s cabinet asked at a pre-election gathering in Delhi, to “decide whether you want a government of those born of Ram, or those born illegitimately (haramzadas)”.
Before arriving for the famous speech the American president must have gone through the controversy surrounding Vice President Hamid Ansari and that may have been enough for him to judge the level of religious intolerance in the country.
It is crystal clear that Obama’s speech and his advice to us have not gone down well with many people in the Indian government. Since the BJP led NDA government has come to power, right-wing groups associated with the RSS have been trying to convert members of religious minorities, arguing that Muslims or Christians, or their forebears, were originally Hindu themselves. And Obama’s speech was against all that is happening on religious front since Modi’s coming to power in May 2014. Things have turned so communally charged that recently a lady minister of Modi’s cabinet asked at a pre-election gathering in Delhi, to “decide whether you want a government of those born of Ram, or those born illegitimately (haramzadas)”.
Before leaving for Riyadh to pay condolence to an oppressive monarch, Obama’s carefully crafted words and advise to India over various issues of concern are reminder to the fact that India as a country doesn’t need anyone’s certificate, especially of US which has a history of hobnobbing with brutal dictators and monarchs across the world.
But still it is high time for us to look within and introspect regarding what has gone wrong with the Indian idea of secularism and togetherness, as there won’t be any meaning of India’s democracy if it doesn’t root out communalism and inequality once and for all.

Before leaving for Riyadh to pay condolence to an oppressive monarch, Obama’s carefully crafted words and advise to India over various issues of concern are reminder to the fact that India as a country doesn’t need anyone’s certificate, especially of US which has a history of hobnobbing with brutal dictators and monarchs across the world.
But still it is high time for us to look within and introspect regarding what has gone wrong with the Indian idea of secularism and togetherness, as there won’t be any meaning of India’s democracy if it doesn’t root out communalism and inequality once and for all.
The argument proffered by some over-enthusiastic members of the Modi ministry that Obama was speaking in broad generalities and peppering the media with tasty – but essentially banal-sound bites isn’t entirely persuasive. American politicians invariably tend to be salesmen for an “American dream”, which they combine with gratuitous advice to peoples that are not driven by the same national vision. The belief that Western civilization and its way of life are both materially and ethically superior has underpinned US diplomacy since World War II, even when it has involved shoddy compromises with disreputable regimes. President Ronald Reagan-an accomplished communicator, on par with President Bill Clinton and Obama – made effective use of the “truth, justice and the American way” spiel to demolish the “Evil Empire” that was the Soviet Union.
Over time, it has also incorporated facets of the condescension that was a feature of British imperial diplomacy, at least until the Suez debacle of 1956 drove home the end of Empire. A possible reason why this approach has persisted is due to the undeniable fact that national elites, particularly in the erstwhile colonized parts of the globe, have actually internalized the belief in the superiority of the “American way”. It is only very recently that this perception has been challenged by first, an ever-rising China, and subsequently, Islamism – neither of which are benign influences.
Given this backdrop, it would be misleading to believe that Obama’s references to harmony, co-existence and cultural pluralism were entirely innocent and divorced from the specific. The reference to Article 25 of India’s Constitution conferring untrammelled rights to all religious communities (apart, interestingly, from Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs) to profess, practice and propagate their faith wasn’t innocent. In the wake of the ghar wapsi initiative by a section of Hindu activists, there has been a call by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and even the Bharatiya Janata Party to effect a legal ban on all conversions – a move that would necessitate a modification of the existing Article 25. The initiative has been resolutely opposed by the Christian clergy, not least because it feels that evangelism is central to its larger religious mission. The foremost foreign funding for the evangelists comes from the United States, which has witnessed the rise of political Christianity. Although the Christian Coalition isn’t well disposed towards the Obama administration, its priorities are nevertheless an important input in the making of American foreign policy. With Republicans dominating Capitol Hill, the White House was no doubt mindful of the need to accommodate some of these Christian concerns, even by way of a token utterance.
Thanks to the manner in which Modi’s detractors have interpreted the Town Hall utterances, and the debate they have generated, Obama can at least draw satisfaction that one of his domestic compulsions has been met.
Such an argument isn’t either fanciful or needlessly paranoiac. The extent to which security concerns and business interests have molded US foreign policy has been richly documented.
Less appreciated is the extent to which Christian lobbies- those institutions that send money to India as opposed to those who see India as a zone of potential profit- provide a non-secular input to the workings of the State Department. During the term of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government, for example, the US embassy in Delhi was quite active in mobilizing domestic opposition to the sporadic attacks on improvised churches in the Dangs district of Gujarat. Domestic opponents of the BJP (and Modi in particular) have received unending encouragement and patronage from institutions such as the official US commission on international religious freedom.
In its 2014 annual report, USCIRF clubbed India with Afghanistan, Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey as a mid-level threat to religious freedom. It listed three issues that the US government should keep in mind while deepening its strategic relationship with India.
First, it advised the administration to “integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India”. Secondly, it wanted steps to “increase the US embassy’s attention to issues of religious freedom and related human rights” concerns. Finally, and in more specific terms, it “urge(d) the Central Indian government to press states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform with internationally recognized human rights standards”.
President Obama’s brief mention of religious tolerance last Tuesday could well be read in this context. Obviously, the demand for anti-conversion laws to prevent mass-scale “harvesting” of souls has ruffled a few feathers in the world of political Christianity. However, these sectarian concerns that stem from the US’s domestic compulsions must be kept in perspective. India may be perversely equated with Afghanistan in the USCIRF’s index of religious freedom, but this is offset by the acknowledgement of India’s economic potential and its importance in the emerging Great Game in Asia centred on an assertive China. Obama didn’t come to India because he wanted to wag a finger at Modi and lecture the country on how to conduct itself. As far as his priorities went, the USCIRF agenda was just a footnote. No wonder the sermon was left till the very end of his visit and delivered at a non-official function. More to the point it was couched in the language of economic self-interest and made to appear as a universal truism: that growth and prosperity need a climate of social harmony.
It is understandable that both the mainstream and social media have picked on these contentious sentences to either berate Modi or denounce the US for being oh-so patronizing. By its very nature, the media in their entirety love acrimony and polemical exchanges. The complicated negations over the civil nuclear partnership was too abstruse for studio brawls; Michelle Obama kept a low profile and didn’t provide the much anticipated glamour quotient; and the sheer stodginess of the president’s official banquet at an outhouse in the Rashtrapati Bhavan complex couldn’t really be pinned on Modi. So, in the end, the largely successful Obama visit boiled down to two contrived brawls: the first over the gratuitous references to India’s duty at the Siri Fort auditorium and, finally, over Modi’s monogrammed pin stripes. The first allowed the disoriented army of Modi-sceptics to feel that America still cares. The second permitted the pillars of entitlement a snigger or two at the expense of a man they despise but whose popularity remains undiminished.
Obama’s Republic Day visit was the first occasion that Modi’s skills in public diplomacy were put to the test-earlier visits by the China’s premier and Russia’s president didn’t generate the same measure of popular interest. In their minds, Indians were comparing Modi with representatives of the Gandhi family who had excelled in the meeting the- foreigner department. The ‘chaiwala’ didn’t let the side down. He did well out of the visit and, ironically, the little storm over Obama’s parting shot won’t do him any harm politically

Reflections from Breakthrough Marine Energy Trials

The renewable industry was excited last year when marine energy technology company Minesto announced a first: It successfully produced electricity from low velocity currents off Northern Ireland. Deep Green has now been in operation for more than a year.
The lush hills of Strangford Lough are truly a place of magic scenery. Portaferry, a small fishing village, is located one hour’s drive from Belfast in Northern Ireland, and is today perhaps most famous for being close to the location where blockbuster Games of Thrones is filmed. In this idyllic fishing village, struggling with a high unemployment rate and a diminishing population, something new and prosperous is growing. Looking out over the calm waters of Strangford Lough, one could hardly believe that under the ocean surface — that electricity can be produced.
In fact, as the sun starts to rise and another spring tide starts to take off, pushing massive amounts of water through the narrows, the ‘underwater kite’ called Deep Green initiates its electricity production. Strangford Lough has, due to its sheltered waters and good tidal conditions, become a popular area for the testing of tidal power plants; Siemens, Schottel, and Queens University of Belfast are all conducting their tests there.
Deep Green is a tidal and ocean current power plant, which actually looks like an underwater kite. It’s there that the similarity ends. Deep Green can produce electricity from low velocity currents at a cost lower than fossil fuels and nuclear power. As such, Minesto’s Deep Green kite has the potential to change the world.
The Deep Green technology was invented by the inquisitive engineer, Magnus Landberg, in 2001. Magnus was project manager for a wind turbine project at Swedish aircraft manufacturer Saab. The outcome was a compact, efficient, tidal power plant able to sweep large areas, much more efficient than rotors on static structures. The design offered a decrease in electricity generating cost. The company Minesto was spun-off from Saab, and has since then pushed Deep Green towards commercialisation with great focus on prototype testing in combination with business development on literally all continents. Today, large public and private investors, including the British Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Swedish Energy Agency and the EU, are all backing the development of Deep Green.
The fall of 2013 was the first time ever a marine power plant designed for low velocity currents were targeted to produce electricity at sea. It was a hectic time for the Minesto team, and also an important and critical step for the Deep Green technology. Even though there were big challenges and valuable insights before Deep Green was installed in the water and started to produce electricity, the ocean trials provided the Minesto team with even greater challenges, and in addition invaluable insights.
As expected, deployment of the power plant turned out to be a great challenge. From the desk top, it is almost impossible to foresee how the power plant could be handled in the unpredictable offshore environment with winds, waves and tidal currents causing forces and havoc in all directions. Initially, months were spent on constantly changing under-dimensioned mechanical components and searching for electrical insulation faults without gaining any useful test results. The cold, windy and always wet working environment fatigued the Minesto team, and the situation urged for alternative solutions.
The team took time out and gathered to develop a plan. This all resulted in a test set-up physically being turned upside down — with the power plant attached to a floating platform instead of to the seabed. The new set-up gave more control, and it was easier to access all subsystems. In addition to that, all mechanical and electrical components were thoroughly examined with great care. When the kite was re-launched and submerged in Strangford Lough, the pulse was high on all 25 Minesto employees watching as it disappeared beneath the surface. As soon as the kite started to make its first figure 8 — steered by a person in the offshore control room — they all knew that a successful launch was in hand.
The team now knew that they had taken a giant step closer to unlock the low velocity tidal and ocean currents as a source for renewable energy production. Just a few weeks after the successful first flight, the initial use of an automatic control system took place. Since then, the quarter scale Deep Green has been operational and has produced electricity. The Minesto Deep Green power plant has now achieved performance comparable to producing electricity at the same cost as offshore wind. Furthermore, multiple improvements are targeted, without any significant design changes, with the power output expected to be doubled.
All of the power plant’s functions have been verified, including the full control in all tidal velocities. An important milestone was reached the first time the power plant was automatically controlled and positioned in the middle of the water column during slack water and the turning of the tide. The quarter scale test platform has many times proven to be a cost efficient development environment. For example, when testing a new turbine design, 3D printing was used to produce a polymeric prototype at 1/5th of the cost and 1/10th of the time for an aluminium turbine.
Now the kite is mostly operated from the seabed foundation, and the possibility to connect it to the floating platform is still used when deploying new upgraded sub-systems. In the end, the challenges Minesto faces surprisingly continue to unlock opportunities. The solution of an upside down anchoring to a platform has doubled the market potential since it has turned out to enable full scale installations at larger depths than originally thought, such as in ocean currents. It is in fact ocean currents, which enable constant renewable electricity production, can be used as base load on the grid.
The next step for Deep Green is the installation of the first commercial scale, 0.5-MW power plant off the coast of Wales in 2017. The installation in Wales will be successively extended to a 10-MW array, which will have the potential to deliver power to over 8,000 Welsh households. The installation site is located off the Holyhead Island in Anglesey, Wales. For this, Minesto has been awarded an ‘Agreement for Lease’ by the Crown Estate, manager of the UK seabed, for the site and environmental investigations and detailed resource studies are far progressed. This on-going project to commercialise Deep Green in Wales underpins Minesto’s position as the global leadership in renewable energy production from low flow tidal and ocean currents. For Wales, this project will lead to job creation, increased income and a more sustainable and diverse energy supply.
Development of new energy technologies require long-term political strategies and capital. However, the payback from a success story is significant for financial investors, and also in terms of societal benefits. If we want to enable our children to live as great lives as we have experienced (or better!), renewable and reliable energy is a must.
Scepticism has been expressed against marine energy for its long and costly development, but that should be set in relation to other technologies that we today depend on. Offshore wind hadn’t been heard of in the mid 1990’s whereas the growth during the 20th century has been phenomenal. Between 2010 and 2014, the market grew with 600 percent and is expected to grow with 2,300 percent until 2020. Today we depend on wind power which supplied electricity to more than 25 percent of the UK’s households in 2014.
The next industry to experience the same breakthrough is tidal and ocean current energy. Thanks to many enabling technologies, like sensors, materials and computer simulations, tidal energy technologies have made great advancements in few years’ time. The tidal energy industry has done its homework to pass the early stages of technology development, and now it’s time for politicians and investors to act to ensure the future European backbone industry to grow.

Godse and the RSS V/S Gandhi

Today we mark the 67th anniversary of the murder of India’s most iconic figure. So why exactly did Nathuram Godse kill Mahatma Gandhi?It is, contrary to Godse’s statement to Devdas, not politics that shaped his actions. It was his hatred of the secular ideology of Gandhi, the true Hindu spirit, that he is finally opposed to, having been brainwashed by the RSS.
After his arrest, Godse spotted Gandhi’s son Devdas, who was editor of Hindustan Times. The encounter was described by Nathuram’s brother, co-conspirator and fellow convict (though he was only jailed and not hanged) Gopal Godse, in his book Gandhi Ji’s Murder & After. The younger Gandhi has come to the police station in Parliament Street to see his father’s killer. Gopal Godse writes that Devdas “had perhaps come there expecting to find some horrid-looking, blood-thirsty monster, without a trace of politeness; Nathuram’s gentle and clear words and his self-composure were quite inconsistent with what he had expected to see.”
Of course we do not know if this was the case. Nathuram apparently tells Devdas: “I am Nathuram Vinayak Godse, the editor of a daily, Hindu Rashtra… Today you have lost your father and I am the cause of that tragedy. I am very much grieved at the bereavement that has befallen you and the rest of your family. Kindly believe me, I was not prompted to do this with any personal hatred, or any grudge or any evil intention towards you.”
Devdas replies: “Then why did you do it?” Nathuram says “The reason is purely political and political alone!” He asks for time to explain his case but the police do not allow this. In court, Nathuram explained himself in a statement, but the court banned it. Gopal Godse reprints Nathuram’s will in an annexure to his book. The last line reads: “If and when the government lifts the ban on my statement made in the court, I authorize you to publish it.”
So what is in that statement? In it Godse makes the following points:
That he respected Gandhi and “above all I studied very closely whatever Veer Savarkar and Gandhiji had written and spoken, as to my mind these two ideologies have contributed more to the moulding of the thought and action of the Indian people during the last 30 years or so, than any other single factor has done.”
Godse felt about Gandhi that “the accumulating provocation of 32 years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately. Gandhi had done very well in South Africa to uphold the rights and well-being of the Indian community there. But when he finally returned to India he developed a subjective mentality under which he alone was to be the final judge of what was right or wrong. If the country wanted his leadership, it had to accept his infallibility; if it did not, he would stand aloof from the Congress and carry on his own way.”
This led to thought of action against Gandhi because, in Nathuram’s view, “against such an attitude there can be no halfway house. Either Congress had to surrender its will to his and had to be content with playing second fiddle to all his eccentricity, whimsicality, metaphysics and primitive vision, or it had to carry on without him.”
The other charge is that Gandhi helped create Pakistan: “When top leaders of Congress, with the consent of Gandhi, divided and tore the country — which we consider a deity of worship — my mind was filled with direful anger. I bear no ill will towards anyone individually but I do say that I had no respect for the present government owing to their policy which was unfairly favourable towards the Muslims. But at the same time I could clearly see that the policy was entirely due to the presence of Gandhi.”
The anniversary of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi has a different flavour this year. Of late, the man who killed him, Nathuram Godse, has been glorified publicly, and not only by BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, who hailed him as a “patriot”. (Maharaj has since apologised for this.) But also by Hindu Mahasabha general secretary Acharya Madan, who argued on TV that while Gandhi was responsible for the death of 10 lakh Hindus — the victims of Partition, a catastrophe he attributed to the Mahatma — Godse had killed “for a cause”. Hence, his party’s decision to celebrate January 30, the day that Gandhi was killed, as “Shaurya Divas” and to instal Godse’s bust in a new “temple” in Meerut before that day this year. On January 30, a film, Desh Bhakt Nathuram Godse, is also supposed to be released nationwide.
Civil suits and police action may prevent these “celebrations” from actually taking place, but the atmosphere has changed. Critiques of Gandhi are no longer inhibited. This change is also evident from the success of the new edition of Nathuram Godse’s Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, his plea during his trial. On re-reading this book, which was banned until 1968, I found that it reveals the “rationality” behind some terrorist action. Like S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Yitzhak Rabin and so many others, Gandhi was killed “for a cause” by someone from his own community. But what was this “cause”? And why is Godse’s voice being heard more today?
Godse and his associates’ decision to kill Gandhi was certainly determined by the circumstances of Partition and the death of Hindus in the course of the communal violence of 1947. But, during his trial, Godse also made clear that there was an ideological element to the decision: “I had never made a secret of the fact that I supported the ideology of the school that was opposed to that of Gandhiji. I firmly believed that the teachings of absolute ahimsa as advocated by Gandhiji would ultimately result in the emasculation of the Hindu community and thus make the community incapable of resisting the aggression or inroads of other communities, especially the Muslims.”
By his own admission, Godse belonged to an ideological stream fed by Hindu nationalism and political violence against Gandhi, a school of thought that began with B.G. Tilak and was perpetuated by “Tilakites” such as V.D. Savarkar, Godse’s mentor.
For Godse, if Gandhi remained alive, his influence over the government of India was bound to benefit Pakistan. Indeed, his decision to kill the Mahatma was precipitated by the latter’s fast unto death to force the new Indian government to pay Pakistan Rs 550 million, its share of pre-Partition assets. Jawaharlal Nehru gave in to Gandhi’s demand. Like Tilak, Godse considered Gandhi to be an idealist whose good intentions could only produce disasters. He therefore said during his trial: “I declare here before man and god that in putting an end to Gandhi’s life, I have removed one who was a curse to India, a force for evil and who had, during 30 years of an egoistic pursuit of hare-brained policy, brought nothing but misery and unhappiness.”
Godse’s interpretation of the Mahabharata also has similarities with Tilak’s Gita Rahasya (1915). At the end of his trial, Godse said: “In fact, honour, duty and love of one’s own kith and kin and country might often compel us to disregard non-violence. [In the Mahabharata], Arjun had to fight and slay quite a number of his friends and relations, including the revered Bhishma, because the latter was on the side of the aggressor. It is my firm belief that in dubbing Ram, Krishna and Arjun as guilty of violence, the Mahatma betrayed a total ignorance of the springs of human action.”
One of the Mahatma’s sons, Ramdas Gandhi, sought an encounter (which would never take place) with Godse in a letter where he cited a sloka from the Bhagavad Gita and pleaded with him to “introspect a little so that at the end of our proposed meeting you will be able to recite this couplet from the Gita along with us”. Godse was delighted with the proposal, for he knew the Gita by heart and would recite entire chapters in prison. In reply, he wrote: “I thank you for having reminded me of the verses, ‘My ignorance has disappeared, I have regained normalcy’ from the Bhagavad Gita… After Arjun had said, ‘I will do as you say’, he directly translated into practice the words of Lord Krishna, ‘Remember me and fight.’” Obviously, Ramdas Gandhi’s conception of the Gita was very different from his own.
Before his execution, Godse wrote to his parents: “You are the students of the Gita and have also learnt the Puranas. Lord Krishna had recited this Gita to enlighten Arjun and the very same Lord Krishna had, with his Sudarshan wheel, chopped off the head of an Aryan king, Shishupal, not on a battlefield but on a sacrificial ground. My mind is pure and my feelings are absolutely righteous; millions of people might speak in a million different ways, but my mind has not become uneasy or shaken with repentance even for the moment. If there is any heaven, I shall certainly have my place reserved there for me.”
Godse was sentenced to death along with one of his accomplices, Narayan Apte. They went to the scaffold proclaiming, “Long live undivided India!” and with a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in hand. Godse’s parents were not the only people who were prepared to believe that Nathuram had done the right thing in killing Gandhi. Justice G.D. Khosla, who was on the bench of the East Punjab High Court, which started the final hearing of the accused’s appeal, wrote in his own book, The Murder of the Mahatma: “The highlight of the appeal before us was the discourse delivered by Nathuram Godse in his defence. He spoke for several hours discussing, in the first instance, the facts of the case and then the motive which had prompted him to take Mahatma Gandhi’s life… The audience was visibly and audibly moved. There was a deep silence when he ceased speaking. Many women were in tears and men were coughing and searching for their handkerchiefs. This silence was accentuated and made deeper by the sound of an occasional subdued sniff or a muffled cough… I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ by an overwhelming majority.”
There is a problem with Godse’s argument and it is this. He thinks Gandhi was enthusiastic about dividing India when everything in history tells us the case was the opposite. He says Gandhi was a tyrant in the Congress but also says Gandhi fasted to get the Congress to see his point of view. Why would a tyrant need to do anything other than just command? Nathuram objects to Gandhi’s final fast (against India’s refusal to release funds to Pakistan), but that was after India went back on its promise. It was Gandhi who made India act correctly and decently in that instance.
Little of what Nathuram says makes sense by way of logic. It is, contrary to his statement to Devdas, not politics that shaped his actions. It was his hatred of the secular ideology of Gandhi, the true Hindu spirit, that he is finally opposed to, having been brainwashed thoroughly by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The fact is that there is no action and no teaching of Gandhi that is exceptionable and this is why his global reputation as a politician has survived the decades intact.
Writing on Gandhi in 1949, George Orwell said: “One may feel, as I do, a sort of aesthetic distaste for Gandhi, one may reject the claims of sainthood made on his behalf (he never made any such claim himself, by the way), one may also reject sainthood as an ideal and therefore feel that Gandhi’s basic aims were anti-human and reactionary: but regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!” This is still the case in 2015, while Nathuram Godse’s complaints have vanished in the mists of time. Today, it seems that for some people, the time to rehabilitate Godse has come — and that the inhibitions of the past have gone after the victory of one idea of India over the other in the political arena.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal : A‘Breakthrough’ or Bleeding India

Two recent unrelated events formed a subtle connection in my mind. On 25 January, India and the United States announced a “breakthrough” in negotiations to operationalize the long-stalled nuclear deal.
On 26 January, eminent cartoonist R K Laxman, the creator of the much-loved “Common Man”, died. The Indian and American governments, and GE and Toshiba Westinghouse, see the “breakthrough” as cause for celebration. If American corporations are sufficiently convinced to follow through and supply nuclear power plants to India, the common man (and woman) – namely, Indian taxpayers, electricity consumers and communities that host the plants – may well get the wrong end of the stick.In case Laxman been active, he would have found it a subject fir enough to be criticized, if not condemned.
Here’s why. The Indo-US civil nuclear deal was signed by George Bush and Manmohan Singh in 2008. As per the deal, India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear activity and open up the civilian part to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the US offered to resume full nuclear trade with India, ending its nuclear ostracism.
A thankful India carved out two large chunks of real estate in Mithi Virdi, Gujarat, and Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh, and offered them to two American multinationals to set up nuclear power plants. Toshiba-Westinghouse was given the Gujarat site for building six AP1000 reactors of 1100 MW each. GE-Hitachi plans to set up six units of 1594 MW each at the Kovvada site. Both projects involve untested technologies. In both instances, public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India will be the operator.
Damages to run into billions
But two thorny issues have held up the export of nuclear technology from the US to India. First, US domestic law requires tracking by US authorities of nuclear supplies made to countries like India that have not ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India found the requirement unduly intrusive as it was in addition to International Atomic Energy Agency verification.
Second, the Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act provides for two-part recourse – through Section 17(b) and Section 46 – against nuclear equipment suppliers if the nuclear plant blows up.
India is not alone in providing such avenues. Japan, Austria, Switzerland and Germany have actually gone one step further and even removed liability caps. This is in line with the realization that damages arising from nuclear accidents can run into billions of dollars, including compensation, relocation and rehabilitation, environmental remediation and lost trade due to contaminated agricultural and marine produce.
A study released in 2014 by researchers from Ritsumeikan University and Osaka City University said the Fukushima disaster will cost $105 billion or twice the predicted damage in 2011. This figure does not include the cost of decommissioning of reactors or safe disposal of the contaminated material and wastes. The researchers point out that the increased costs would be passed down to taxpayers and electricity ratepayers through increased tariffs. Belarus, which was worst hit by the Chernobyl disaster, has spent at least $235 billion over the last 30 years on relief, rehabilitation and clean-up. That is more than twice the size of the Indian nuclear market that American corporations are hoping to tap into.
Scrapping even limited liability
Indian law – CLNDA – is already weak. But American and Indian private equipment suppliers – like Westinghouse, L&T, JSW Steel and Tata Power – feel it is not weak enough. Section 17(b) of the Indian Act allows the operator to sue equipment suppliers. The Rules to the Act, however, limit supplier liability to Rs 1,500 crore in damages or the value of the contract, whichever is less. Section 46 of the Liability Act potentially exposes suppliers to unlimited tort liability under relevant Indian laws. However, under Section 17, only the operator can sue, and only if such a provision is expressly made in the contract.
Winning the suit is conditional to proving deficiencies in the material or equipment supplied or services rendered. After all this trouble, if the value of the contract with the supplier of the equipment that caused the accident is only Rs 5 lakh, then regardless of the extent of damage caused by that flawed equipment, Rs 5 lakh is all the operator is entitled to get from that supplier. A writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Act is pending before the Supreme Court. The Indian government has indicated that it will do away with even this limited liability.
In a twist of Republic Day irony, Obama and Modi have opted to use backroom deals and executive discretion to bypass the spirit and intent of their respective legislatures. The US president says he has found a way to exempt supplies to India from US inspections meant to ensure non-proliferation goals. In return, the Indian prime minister has suggested that a publicly funded insurance pool will be set up to indemnify foreign suppliers and cover the liability under Section 17(b). Section 46 is sought to be neutralized through a legal opinion offered by the Attorney General.
Insurance burden on Indians
Declarations by Indian and US negotiators and the cautious optimism of industry players in response to the “breakthrough” make it appear as if only a few minor issues remain to be ironed out. It is made to seem as if once that is done, US multinationals like GE will “bring good things to life” and nothing will stand between 400 million Indians without electricity and their first light bulbs.
India’s nuclear establishment too continues to exude its typical optimism, unfazed by the sorry reality of having installed less than 5000 MW of ill-functioning nuclear capacity in 60 years. An upbeat article in Business Standard cites several establishment experts, including former Nuclear Power Corporation of India chairman S K Jain, who believe that most of the difficulties have been sorted out, and that the Kovvada and Mithi Virdi projects will now gain momentum.
But as things stand, the prospects of getting American nuclear technology to light up Indian homes are dim. The insurance pool arrangement is commercially shaky and the protection offered by the Attorney General’s opinion against Section 46’s tort liability is legally fraught.
Details about the insurance pool are not available yet. But if it is set up, Indian taxpayers will be made to pay to cover risks associated with GE and Westinghouse’s technologies. A Reuters report talks of a kitty of $244 million, with the government-run General Insurance Corporation of India and a few public sector companies contributing one half and the government contributing the other. The Indian taxpayer will have to pay even if the plants do not blow up. If the supplier is asked to contribute to the pooled fund, that increased project and electricity cost would be passed on to Indian consumers. Anyway you cut it, we are screwed.
The Price-Andersen Act in the US also places a similar burden on American taxpayers. Cato Institute, a free-market think tank, estimates that this translates into a subsidy of 2 to 3 US cents (Rs 1.20 to Rs 1.80) per unit of nuclear electricity generated. Another calculation pegs the annual subsidy per American reactor at about $30 million.
More expensive electricity
Financially, solar and wind energy are already becoming more attractive than nuclear. Electricity from these renewable sources cost Rs 8 and Rs 4.5 per unit respectively, according to a report by solar think-tank Bridge to India. Renewables are quicker to erect and are not as politically contentious as nuclear. In contrast, the Mithi Virdi project has run into serious opposition from local residents and farmers. If it is ever built, electricity from the Westinghouse reactors will cost Rs 12 per unit.
Mithi Virdi power is too expensive for most utilities to afford even without the cost implications of a pooled liability fund. What then are we to make of this pursuit of expensive, untested American reactors? Is the government really serious that Rs 12 per unit electricity will light up indigent Indian homes? Or is all this merely an orchestrated pirouette in a more elaborate Indo-US diplomatic choreography? Is this about India’s electricity future, or its aspiration to be included in the club of nuclear big boys?
Answers to these questions aside, the stalled deal, the subsequent negotiations and the dubious “breakthrough” that the media refers to offer several sobering realizations. Both Obama and Modi consider corporations and not the people of Bhopal to be the real victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster. Both leaders agree that a nuclear disaster is real enough, and that it is a matter of bilateral priority to protect – not communities and the environment – but the operators and suppliers of nuclear equipment in the event of a disaster. As for dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear catastrophe, the heads of the two great democracies seem to contend that Indians will make do with some compensation – about $480 million – from their own tax moneys.

Peace Through Strength- Indian Style : Modi Adopting Reagan Strategy

Modi might be very friendly with Obama; Modi might be very critical of Congress; but in fact he is following a policy that is an amalgam of policies adopted by Indira Gandhi and Ronald Reagan. He is pragmatic and ambitious; he is far-sighted and capable of taking such decision that might not be liked by many- but which are proper for the nation. He is avowed practitioner of Lincoln’s advise ” If you want peace, be prepared for war”. His cation is cancelling Foreign Secretaries talks with Pakistan is a clear pointer to the policies that he is going to follow.
Over the past six months, US officials like former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have tried to emphasize the ways in which Obama and Modi are similar, noting, for instance, that both are outsider candidates from humble backgrounds. The reality is not so. It is only partly true. Modi does not accept Obama strategy to neutralize opponents. He resembles, rather Ronald Reagan. This is especially so in connection with his dealings with Pakistan. There, Modi appears to be pursuing a strategy of “peace through strength”. Despite Obama’s obvious partisan and ideological differences with Reagan, he should aim to support Modi’s agenda, with one major modification.
Modi began his term with a bold and friendly diplomatic gesture. He invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his swearing-in ceremony. Since then, however, Modi has limited diplomatic engagement and shifted to a harder line with Pakistan, rattling nerves in Islamabad and raising eyebrows in Washington.
Of course, it is probably too soon to characterize Modi’s dealings with Pakistan as more than a series of tactical manoeuvres informed by a nationalistic ideology and framed by a history of India-Pakistan animosity and distrust. Nobody can deny that Modi is by all accounts a startlingly ambitious character. He brings new energy and urgency to New Delhi and is also believed to be playing a long game, consolidating his political position so that he can serve at least two five-year terms. In this context, his harder line towards Pakistan has the potential to grow into a comprehensive strategy, one aimed at finally resolving the India-Pakistan dispute through a firm display of India’s strength.
Reagan’s late Cold War strategy for renewed competition with the Soviet Union was famously founded on a similar principle. As he explained in 1986: “Our adversaries, the Soviets — we know from painful experience — respect only nations that negotiate from a position of strength.” To project that strength, the early Reagan administration funded a rapid military expansion and aggressively sought new diplomatic and military means to roll back Soviet influence around the world. Reagan’s early rhetoric, including the “evil empire” speech of 1983, left no doubt that Washington’s pursuit of détente with Moscow was over and that a tense new chapter of Cold War competition was underway.
The parallels between Modi and Reagan are striking. Like Reagan, Modi’s wildly successful election campaign was filled with broad promises to shake off the lethargy that afflicts his nation’s economy and governing institutions. Also like Reagan, Modi believes that his predecessor was too weak in dealing with the nation’s principal foreign adversaries. Modi’s decision to abruptly cancel bilateral foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan in August, and his government’s October threat of unaffordable costs in response to cross-border violence, evince a hawkishness that Manmohan Singh eschewed.
One of Reagan’s noteworthy policy shifts was to intensify US covert operations as a way to undermine Soviet-backed governments in Latin America, Africa and Afghanistan. It is hardly far fetched to imagine that India would do something similar in the Pakistani context. Modi’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, has argued in favor of precisely this approach. Doval wrote in 2011 that in the face of “Pakistan’s unabated covert offensive”, India has for too long “failed to retaliate in a proactive manner that could raise costs for Pakistan and compel it to roll back its anti-India terrorist infrastructure”. He concluded that “Pakistan has its own vulnerabilities many times higher than India and in its strategic calculus it cannot ignore the threat that India can pose”.
Modi has the advantage as he appears poised to outrace Pakistan on the nuclear front by investing in capabilities, such as submarine-launched missiles and missile defense systems, which would prove extraordinarily costly for Pakistan to match or overcome. Some of these projects are already underway, but Modi seems keen to accelerate progress so that India can break free from long cycles of research and development and field major new weapons systems during his tenure.
Cognizant of the fact that India’s conventional force acquisitions are in need of a similar jolt., his Defense Minister is pursuing major acquisitions such as the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal that cannot be allowed to languish in limbo for another half-decade. Supply relationships with firms in Russia and Israel will be maintained and strengthened, but Modi may also be ready to engineer a real technological leap forward by landing breakthrough deals with US defense manufacturers. Although India already enjoys tremendous advantages over Pakistan, these steps could turn the existing imbalance into a rout. The crucial question then is whether India’s new found strength would actually bring peace with Pakistan.
Reasoning by historical analogy, we should not forget how risky and aggressive Reagan’s early moves looked to the world. Indeed, without Mikhail Gorbachev, who navigated a largely peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire rather than fighting to the last, Reagan’s renewed Cold War could easily have turned hot. Pakistan, lacking an obvious Gorbachev-like figure, could respond to India’s escalations in a tit-for-tat manner, refusing to accept Delhi’s dictates no matter the cost. For a country like Pakistan, already so perilously close to the edge, the stress could lead to war or a violent implosion. Either would be worse for India (and everyone else) than the troubling status quo.
This definitely does not imply that Obama should counsel Modi to take a fundamentally different approach. Urging India’s forbearance and restraint often makes good sense in a crisis, but it is inconsistent with Washington’s longer-term agenda of cultivating a partnership with India as a strong global power and US partner. Nor would Modi take kindly to American lectures about how India, as the bigger and more responsible party, should treat Pakistan with magnanimity to win peace.
Considering the risks of heightened military competition with Pakistan, we have to recall the historical lesson that while Reagan intensified his competition with Moscow, he simultaneously placed an enormous emphasis on diplomatic outreach and summit diplomacy. Reagan’s goal was never to fight and win a war, but to force negotiations to a point where Moscow would willingly make concessions.
Modi is playing the same game. At present, however, he has taken India out of serious bilateral negotiations with Pakistan. This missing piece of India’s strategy is profoundly dangerous, even counterproductive. The world at large has to recognize the validity of this policy -the potential of peace through strength, Indian-style, a variation of Abe Lincoln’s dictum: “if you want peace, be prepared for war”.

Fatima Jinnah- The Lady Whose Death Raises Unsolved Questions

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Thse last lines Shelley’s poem Ozmandias remind me of the transcient nature of power and fame. The memories fade away and all the power, pelf and fame come to nothingness with the passage of time. Lip swervice and meaningless made up acts of remembrance are just hypocritical expression denoting the perfidy of real praise. The outstanding example of the same is the mystery regarding death of consequent total oblivion of a lady who was held up as an image of all that one can revere.
Maadar-e-Millat is the most revered name in Pakistan; but the mystery of her death is still a mystery wrapped in enigma. This puzzle remains unsolved. This death still remains mysterious and also why the successive governments have glossed over this issue that should have sentimental relevance for Pakistanis. It shows that Pakistan does pay lip homage to this lady, but would like her to fade into oblivian. Fatima Jinnah was not only Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s sister, but his guardian and political companion too. After Jinnah died, she was looked upon by people as a natural successor to her brother. But, there were forces against that idea, and they ensured that her voice was suppressed through various means, even literally.
The government in those days was obsessed with keeping Fatima Jinnah from expressing her views with freedom. Radio Pakistan once ceased broadcasting while Ms Jinnah made her speech on Quaid-e-Azam’s death anniversary. Qudratullah Shahab writes on page 432 of his book Shahabnama (1986): “After Quaid-e-Azam’s demise, rulers of the time did not give the deserved respect and status to Miss Fatima Jinnah. Two death anniversaries of the Quaid had passed, but Fatima Jinnah would not address the nation only because the administration would ask for her speech to be reviewed before broadcasting. This she never accepted. The rulers were afraid she would criticise the government or say things which shouldn’t be said.”
Finally, in 1951, when the administration agreed to her demand, she went on air. It was Mr. Jinnah’s third death anniversary. During the speech, at one point, the transmission was stopped for some time. It then resumed after a while. It was later known that the parts of her speech in which she was criticising the government were censored and she did not get to know this during her speech.
There was a huge hue and cry over the matter. Newspapers the next day were full of condemnations and criticism. Although the Radio Pakistan administration kept insisting that the pauses in the transmission were due to technical reasons – specifically power outages – no one believed them. Everyone thought Miss Jinnah was deliberately censored from saying the things she intended to bring up.
The speech would not have damaged the government’s image as much as this act of cowardice did. On October 7, 1958, martial law was imposed in Pakistan. Commander-in-Chief and self-proclaimed Field Marshal Ayub Khan was appointed the Chief Martial Law Administrator. The premier Mr Iskandar Mirza had done all this in order to maintain his hegemony on power. However, on the 24th of the same month, Ayub Khan relieved Iskandar Mirza of all his powers andestablished a military government in the country. Some of Ayub’s political advisors suggested to him that he should become the President of the country. And so, the ruling Convention Muslim League nominated him as a candidate. Opposition parties nominated Miss Fatima Jinnah to contest presidential elections against Ayub Khan. At first, she was reluctant, but she soon gave in to the idea. The elections were held in January 1965. The opposition lobby believed that Miss Jinnah would sweep the elections. The results, according to the Election Commission, were on the contrary.
Ayub had won. Pakistan was defeated. It was perhaps as a result of the acrimony developed during the election times, that the establishment made serious efforts to oppose Ms Jinnah’s will – in which she asked to be buried next to her brother. There were serious efforts to bury her instead in the Mewashah Graveyard of Karachi.
A rough translation of an excerpt from the book Maadar-e-Millat Fatima Jinnah (2000), by Agha Ashraf (page 184) reads : “Miss Fatima Jinnah had expressed it while she was alive that after her death she be buried next to her brother. Now the problem was where to bury her, since according to Mr Abul Hassan Isfahani sahib, the government did not want bury her next to Mr Jinnah (M. A. H Isfahani’s interview, January 14, 1976). The government had to face tough opposition over the idea. Commissioner, Karachi was intimated that if Fatima Jinnah was not laid to rest next to the Quaid-e-Azam there will be unrest.”
Because of the risk of unrest, it was decided that the authorities would bury her at Jinnah’s mausoleum. However, the unrest could not be avoided. Ashraf further writes: “Hence, Commissioner, Karachi had discussions about the matter with the family members and other people close to the founder of Pakistan and his sister Late Miss Fatima Jinnah. Afterwards, he informed the central authorities. Later in the night, the government made the decision. The Commissioner then informed Isfahani about it. She was to be buried 120 feet on the left to the Quaid-e-Azam’s grave. It was to be a 6 foot deep, 3 feet wide grave. The surface was rocky, and so the gravediggers had to work for 12 hours straight to get the job done. Led by 60-year-old Abdul Ghani, a team of 20 gravediggers was working on Fatima Jinnah’s grave. Ghani had previously dug graves for Quaid-e-Azam, Liaquat Ali Khan and Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar.” Her funeral procession had everyone chanting, ‘long live the mother of the nation’.
President’s representative Shams-ul-Zuha, Minister for Food and Agriculture, Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Navy, Admiral M. Hassan, military secretaries of both the provinces (East and West Pakistan), Commissioner Karachi, DIG Karachi, members of the national and provincial assemblies, and leaders from all political parties were in the procession.
There were at least 400,000 people in the crowd by the time the procession crossed the Elphinstone Street [now Zebunnisa Street]. Now the police were having trouble managing the procession. It was a sea of heads moving towards the Jinnah mausoleum. The crowd included women and children, too. The number of people now had increased to more than 600,000. The government had announced a public holiday, so more and more people were joining the procession in Karachi. Unrest in such a huge crowd seemed inevitable.
Suddenly, some people tried to come closer to the dead body. The police tried its best to handle the situation peacefully. However, there was a little ruckus. Soon after, baton charge began, followed by tear gas shelling and with people hurling stones at the police. A man died, while hundreds were injured in the episode. By 12:55pm, the burial had ended.
This was the tale of how Ms Jinnah was buried. The story of her death, however, was also a strange one for the country. Many believe she was actually murdered. In January 1972, a man named Ghulam Sarwar petitioned a court regarding the matter. A news story on the the application said that Additional City Magistrate Mumtaz Muhammad Baig had set January 17 as hearing date of an application by Ghulam Sarwar under section 176 of the Criminal Procedures.
According to the news report, Ghulam Sarwar Malik had written in his application that he was a respectable citizen of Pakistan and had utmost respect for Ms Fatima Jinnah. She was a great leader and an asset for the nation. She dedicated her life to democracy and upholding the law. In 1964, when she contested elections against Ayub Khan, she became a beacon of hope for the people of the country. She was a hurdle in the way of the group that wanted to remain in power. This particular group wanted to get rid of her by all means.
On July 7, 1964, Miss Fatima Jinnah had attended a wedding ceremony and everyone witnessed that she was in sound health. However, on July 9, it was suddenly announced that she had passed away. During her funeral, no common man was allowed to go near her dead body. No one was allowed to see her face for the last time before she was buried. Those who tried to do so, were baton-charged and dealt with tear gas.
There were rumors that the mother of the nation had visible marks of wounds on her body. Malik Ghulam Sarwar said further that he had concerns that Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah was murdered. Later, Hassan A. Shaikh and other respected individuals, too, expressed similar concerns. The matter has also been highlighted in newspapers. Some even wrote editorials on it.
On August 2, 1971, a local Urdu newspaper published a news report which claimed that Miss Fatima Jinnah had been murdered. The report included interviews of the people who had given her the ghusl – ritualistic bath given to the dead before burial, as per Islamic tradition. In case of state personalities, people are hired to do the job. The news item quotes one of these hired men – Hidayat Ali aka Kallu Ghusl – as saying that the corpse of Miss Fatima Jinnah had visible wounds on it, and there was an opening in her stomach which oozed blood and other fluids. Her bloodstained clothes were also with him as evidence. However, he said, no one from the administration paid any attention to his requests of inquiry, nor was the matter ever made public. Other companions of Kallu Ghussaal, too, confirmed the reports.
Ghulam Sarwa Malik had attached copies of the news reports with his application. He requested the court to initiate an inquiry into the matter. The court appointed Akhtar Ali Mehmood as the prosecution in the case.
Fatima Jinnah was one of the most respected women in history. For Pakistan, she was the mother of the nation. The unrest during her funeral is a question to which answers are yet to be found. Since this is a sensitive subject, it is imperative that the government comes out with facts of the case.This is all the important since to this day, there has never been an inquiry into the matter. Rest in Peace Fatima Jiunnah who was and is revered, but never really remembered.
I shall end with quote from the poem of Horace Smith, who wrote on the same story, and makes a similar moral point, but one related more directly to modernity, ending by imagining a hunter of the future looking in wonder on the ruins of an annihilated London. “We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.”

The Tragedy of Peaceful Resistance?

Pick up a newspaper, switch on TV and you are confronted by news of barbarism, of bloodshed, of bombing, of human tragedy. Is this the famed human destiny. The news abound with infamous acts – Boko Haram atrocities in Nigeria; Islamic State brutalities in Iraq; Taliban barbarities in Peshawar; terrorism in Paris: no rigorous analysis shows this senseless violence as inherent in Islam. Most Muslims are not terrorists but believe that references to violence in sacred texts are context-specific and defense-oriented.
The counter-protestation then that most terrorists (particularly anti- US ones and the most brutal ones) today are Muslims requires a contextual political explanation. Muslims must discourage violent responses within their societies.
Serious analysis links this upsurge of violence by Muslims to political factors like the unfortunate US, Pakistani and Saudi support for ‘mujahideen’ to fight an already terminally ill USSR; the subsequent support by oil-rich Gulf individuals to them and US support for Muslim despots facing popular uprisings. Terrorism is always practiced by small minorities. ‘Muslim’ militancy is bigger today simply because it has received more support from powerful sponsors, both Muslim and Western, than other terrorists.
Resistance to tyranny is simply not there. Whatever is there, it is usually peaceful where education is high and regimes allow peaceful resistance. Thus, even in the US, there is peaceful resistance today against US-led global capitalism with alternatives like green, Buddhist, solidarity and wisdom economies (the last being my humble contribution) proposed. Elsewhere, violent resistance against local despots and their US sponsors often predominates.
Attitudes towards the US vary globally, being largely positive in Europe and East Asia where US support has spawned prosperity but largely negative where the US has supported malignant despots as in many Latin American, Southeast Asian and Muslim countries. Thus, these latter regions have experienced brutal reactions against the US and its local lackeys under the banner of communism and Muslim fundamentalism, which invariably have harmed local people more than the US itself.
Latin America’s case is particularly relevant, where violent communists have now been replaced by non-violent progressives who challenge US hegemony peacefully as the space for non-violent resistance has expanded. Perhaps, the same may happen eventually in Muslim countries.
The above analysis is not condoning terrorism. Sociological analysis differs from moral and legal analysis, and focuses proactively on root causes which produce widespread societal pathological attitudes. Legal and moral analysis reactively, though still rightly, focus on individuals already afflicted with these pathological disorders.
Even under despotism, it is rightly expected that everyone has had the opportunity to differentiate right from wrong from some source in society. Thus, people, especially followers of Islam which equates killing one innocent to killing humanity, should not harm innocent people, and must be punished if they do so even while fighting tyranny.
There have been largely peaceful anti-tyranny movements even under despotism, as in South Africa and undivided India, though both were mostly inspired by one individual (Gandhi). Ironically, the Muslim populations facing tyrannies and in whose names much of this mindlessness is being committed by others do not participate much in it. Few Kashmiris populate leadership positions among Pakistani jihadist groups and Azad Jammu & Kashmir is ironically the most peaceful Pakistani region while the rest of Pakistan burns due to the blowback from the jihad started by the Pakistani establishment to liberate Indian-held Kashmir.
So, the problem facing Muslims is not about following a religion teaching mindless violence or collective criminal culpability. Rather, the problem is that a few fanatics are sullying Islam’s name, which Muslims hold in enormously emotional reverence. The issue is about urgently protecting their religion’s name from misuse by a tiny minority. While many Muslims may agree with the basic grievance of terrorists, ie, US hegemony, it is important for them to champion non-violent, intellectual, social, diplomatic and political strategies for dealing with it and discourage violent responses within their societies.
The most important element in this regard is to accept the legitimacy of the slowly evolving international legal system based on the principle of non-violent diplomacy even though the system’s most powerful players such as the US often break system rules. Countries such as China, Brazil and even Muslim Turkey and Malaysia provide powerful examples of peacefully rising within the current system and opposing US hegemony.
It is also important for the OIC, Muslim rulers, clergy and intellectuals to forcefully assert that Muslims harbor no serious dreams about conquering the globe violently to establish a global caliphate. Finally, it is vital for Muslims to liberate Islam completely from the clutches of clerics with an obsessive focus on bodily punishment and female bodily confinement.

Privileged Classes in Republican India – An Anachronism

US President Barack Obama endured folk dances, and the parade of military equipment that seemed obsolete to him. He endured speeches, and had a conversation with President Pranab Mukherjee in English in the freezing winter morning in Delhi, and that too for no fault of his. With his only picnic cancelled, he did not go to Uttar Pradesh to see an ancient building – that Huxley deemed the most atrocious building- that every head of state is supposed to find romantic and remark: ‘Ah, must remember to bury Michelle this way’.
In the time that he was in India he tried to deliver compliments to the nation. It is inevitable that he searched for parallels between India and the United States, and find it in the force of democracy. he even used Bollywood lingo to the ecstasy of Indians. Yet, there is something else, but not as cheerful.
It is a phenomenon that the US is grappling with now but is an old foe of India and in the very heart of the nation’s despairs — the inheritance of privilege. It is not merely the transfer of material estates that are creating deep inequalities in the American and Indian societies, but the inheritance of something more powerful and more liquid — class. It inevitably bequeaths a level of education and health, attitudes, mannerisms and social contacts, which are increasingly crucial in the modern economy, and leads the lucky few to a place that is unattainable to a majority.
Three days before his visit to India, Obama said in his State of the Union address said: “America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world. But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more. By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college — to zero.”
Before Barack Obama, no American president had ever been chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade, in part because its date clashes with the US president’s annual State of the Union address. But Obama advanced this address this year to keep a historic date with us. What’s fascinating is how much of an overlap he scripted into his State of the Union address and the stirring Siri Fort speech with which he said au revoir to India.
First, the push for middle class economics. In the US he asked, “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?” In India, he drew attention to the problems of new wealth growing alongside rising inequalities. The US address incarnated this problem in the persons of Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis, tiding through the economic crisis with grit and hard work. The India speech brought to limelight Vishal – son of Delhi labourers Obama had first met during his 2010 India visit – also striving, aspiring against tall odds. The grandson of a cook has become US president and a tea seller has become India PM. Strengthening “the link between hard work and growing opportunity” must be government focus, both in the US and in India.
Second, defending diversity. At Siri Fort Obama made a comparison between the American First Amendment and Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, to make the case that in both cases the true strength of the nation derives from its very diversity – rather than its economy! In his State of the Union address he had highlighted the importance of defending free speech and condemning the persecution of women or religious minorities or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender – “We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.” India he left with the message that it “will succeed so long as it isn’t splintered along the lines of religion”.
Third, equal rights for women. In the US context, Obama drew attention to how childcare is treated as a “women’s issue” rather than the national economic priority it truly is, plus how women are still not being paid the same as men for doing the same work. In the Indian context, he admitted to being impressed by entirely female contingents from the Army, Navy and the Air Force marching alongside male officers in the Republic Day parade. He said, every daughter deserves the same chances as a son – “Every woman should be able to go about her day, to walk the street, or ride the bus, and be safe and be treated with respect and dignity. She deserves that.” Women’s liberation at large may be more advanced in the US, but think about all the crimes against women being reported all the way from colleges to armed forces there and it will be clear that this is also a common fight for both countries. Bottomline: “Nations are more successful when their women are successful.”
Fourth, education for youth. The challenges of a 21st century marketplace have set both India and America scrambling. Their bases are vastly different but the goal is the same – train young workers anew for new jobs. What Obama said in his State of the Union address for the US holds no less true for India – “We still live in a country where too many bright, striving [citizens] are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future.” Increasing access to programmes for imparting and upgrading skills for a rapidly changing workplace is a common challenge for Obama and Modi governments.
Final Obama takeaway for the state of Indian and American republics: “When we see each other we see a reflection of ourselves.”
Even though it was not “smart” for India’s future, an unfair advantage was for long available to a section of the Indian population and their progeny, and they thrived. Unlike the inheritance of mere wealth, the inheritance of class bears the masquerades of true merit. The class progeny are often clever, hardworking, ambitious, even talented. It is easy to shroud their headstarts in the moral argument that they are meritorious. As we have heard many times from India’s forward castes, “The only thing that should matter is merit”. But then where exactly does merit reside — in an exam’s answer sheet, or in a fortunate home where two highly educated responsible parents groom their children in ways that are impossible for parents who are not so enriched?
Whole economies within India are accessible only to Indians who have skills, which include behaviour, English accent, and the tricks of networking that do not flow from the brain but from social backgrounds. Amusing then that India’s upper classes should have such contempt for Rahul Gandhi for the lottery of his birth. Almost the entire Indian elite is filled with Rahul Gandhis.
In another time, our perception of the US, shaped by Hollywood, television serials and literature, was of a strange society where a young person of means may choose not to go to college. Many times we have seen, in a movie or a serial, a young man, who is attired in jackets, jeans and shoes that were unattainable to us, say, “I am going to college.” His father continues to repair his car, mother continues to cook. Or one of them would ask, in a disenchanted way, “who is going to pay for it?” As a boy raised in the middle-class Brahmin colonies of Madras I had assumed that everybody who had enough to eat went to college after school, or his entire family would consume rat poison.
Also, it appeared to us that the American youth often did not live with their parents even when they lived in the same city. It appeared that parents did not fund the lives of the youth. In return the youth had a great degree of independence.
In contemporary America, a college degree is increasingly a pre-requisite for a well-paying job, the way it has been for long in India. And, the cost of higher education or the repayment of loans is increasingly forcing America’s young to live with their parents, as is common in India. A family that funds its young also exerts a degree of control over them — that is the bare fact of what is couched as the great Indian familial bonding. Will that happen to Americans too?
In a society where the tools of success are inherited, the new elite, as India has demonstrated, would be filled with identical beneficiaries who would be able to hide their mediocrity in the trappings of scholarship, and they would collect more of their own. The losers in this rigged game would seek release in extreme electoral politics or violence or corruption.
On this winter tour, Obama might want to take a close look at the great Indian republic and see the many warnings in plain sight.

New Saudi King Faces Multi-Pronged Serious Challenges

“GRANT me an oath that you will jihad against the unbelievers. In return you will be … leader of the Muslim community and I will be leader in religious matters.” This is what Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab pledged to Muhammad Ibn Al Saud, the founder of the Saud dynasty in 1744. It marked the beginning of the Faustian bargain that the House of Saud has since maintained. It has a sword without a hilt; one that cuts the man who swings it.
In 1912, a descendant of Al Saud, Abdul Aziz, lent his blessings to another group. These were the Ikhwan, who aimed to revive the movement of Abdul Wahab and, by dint of their faith, became the most feared warriors in the Arabian Peninsula. To Abdul Aziz, who needed men to counter the Hashemite Sharif of Makkah, this was essentially a pragmatic bargain as, at their height, the Ikhwan provided as many as 60,000 fighters to the cause.To the Ikhwan, politics came a distant second to the cause of purifying the faith, with fire and blood if necessary. Thus, strains were inevitable, and when the Ikhwan tried to march into Iraq, it brought them, and by extension Abdul Aziz, into conflict with the British. Having fed their fanaticism, Abdul Aziz now faced the consequences of trying to “secure 20th-century power with 7th-century means.”
While the Ikhwan were dealt with, the essential bargain between royalty and clergy remained intact; each would confirm the other in their powers. Had it not been for the events of 1979, this may have remained a largely Saudi problem. Certainly, the petrodollar-fuelled export of ideology would have taken place, but not with the kind of desperate impetus that year provided.
1979 saw the Iranian revolution along with a revolt in Saudi’s Shia majority Eastern province (home to most of the oil), the bloody takeover of the Masjid Al Haram by Juhayman Al Oteibi’s extremists and, of course, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Iran under the Shah would have certainly tried to dominate the Gulf, but the rise of the ayatollahs added a new dimension. Now the Arab-Persian rivalry was complemented by the Shia-Sunni schism and exacerbated by the natural need of littoral nations to control strategic waterways and territory. Added to this was the horror of a monarchy on seeing a Shah deposed.
The Saudis also saw the Eastern province revolt as a direct sign of Tehran reaching out its hand to stake a claim to critical resources, deepening their fear and paranoia. Juhayman was the Ikhwan come again, asking why there was such a gap between what the Saud practised and what they preached, and willing to kill and die for the cause. While the Iranian threat was a largely external one, this was a blow at the very legitimacy of the House of Saud itself. In the aftermath, al-Saud gave even more power to the clergy in an attempt to reward and appease them.
Then the Afghan war allowed them to direct the energy of the religious youth outwards. If they were busy fighting jihad, surely they would have no time to ask inconvenient questions? This war also allowed for the spread of the Saudi brand of Islam on an industrial scale, at once countering both Iranian and Shia (they are one and the same at this point) influence and also providing fodder for the anti-Soviet war machine.
But all things come to an end, and with the close of the war came questions once again, and Juhayman’s banner was hoisted now by a man called Osama bin Laden. Ironically this happened because Saddam Hussein, who had provided such a wonderful shield against Iran, had now turned his guns on the kingdom. Dismayed by the Saudi willingness to host US troops, Osama fell out with the House of Saud and what he saw as their pet clerics.
Here begins the war between Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia, a far more protracted conflict than the siege of Makkah, one that is as much a theological argument as it is a physical conflict.
Consider Saudi Arabia’s position; a geographically indefensible land the size of Western Europe with a population less than that of Sindh that finds itself encircled, with a chaotic Yemen to the south and perceived Iranian influence in Bahrain and Iraq.
Then there is Daesh, a more virulent menace than even Al Qaeda, which just this month killed a Saudi general on the Iraq border. Indeed, it is a sign of the threat Saudi Arabia perceives that it is constructing a nearly 1,000-kilometre wall along that very border, in order to keep out the monsters of a creed its own devil’s bargain created, a bargain they dare not rescind. Indeed, the new king shall not rest easy.

King Abdullah Reached Out to India, What Would King Salman Do

In 2006 Abdullah visited India as chief guest on Republic Day and now he is greeted by Obama, the chief guest at the same event this year, as the new king. And the host country of both events waits and watches the actions of the new king. With King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s demise India lost a rare friend in the Saudi ruling family pantheon. He was first befriended in 2000, when still Crown Prince, by external affairs minister Jaswant Singh, during his Saudi visit when he mentioned that he too hailed from a desert region — Rajasthan. Prince Abdullah invited him to his ranch, gifting him pure bred Arabian horses.
He became Crown Prince in August 1995 when Arab-Israel peace process was underway. Three months later, with the assassination of PM Yitzhak Rabin, that phase ended. Abdullah turned his attention to rivals like Iran, to bridge strategic and religious divide in Islam. He attended the OIC summit in Teheran, building on former Iranian President Rafsanjani’s outreach and his successor Mohammad Khatami’s dialogue of civilizations.
However Saudi Arabia was simultaneously fuelling jihad in Afghanistan against Soviet Union, through an opportunistic alliance with US and Pakistan. This breeding of radical Islamic forces was to have consequences that Saudi Arabia is still wrestling with on Abdullah’s demise.
For Saudis 2001 was annus horribilis as a majority of the 9/11 attackers were their nationals. Additionally Kabul’s Taliban government, whom only Pakistan, UAE and Saudi Arabia recognised, rejected their demand to hand over al-Qaida leaders to the US. Saudis had hit a strategic conundrum. Their Western allies were at war with their ideological children.
The challenge was compounded by Arab spring. Saudis resented President Obama abandoning Egyptian President Mubarak and allowing Muslim Brotherhood to rise. In Bahrain they sent troops to bolster the minority Sunni ruling family. Popular uprisings in Syria and Libya, reluctant and episodic US intervention, Iran-P6 nuclear talks, rise of ISIS and its widening reach had Saudis deeply worried. A $32 billion domestic handout aimed to stop contagion from spreading. Saudi Arabia’s external environment progressively degraded into Abdullah’s sunset years, particularly with recent gains by Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen — the Saudi underbelly.
In 2006 Abdullah visited India as chief guest on Republic Day — half a century after a previous king’s visit — then China the same year. He was broadening Saudi diplomatic reach beyond traditional allies, reaching out to energy consumers and rising Asian economies. PM Manmohan Singh returned the visit in 2010, resulting in a Riyadh Declaration, subtitled ‘a new era of strategic partnership’. Saudis demonstrated this by handing over Indian Mujahideen terrorists including the prized Abu Jundal, co-conspirator in 26/11.
Muqrin, the new Crown Prince, is Abdullah’s choice and the next king after Salman bin Abdulaziz. In 2014 his elevation as second deputy PM was endorsed by the new allegiance council, bringing legitimacy to succession. Having a Yemeni mother he has risen by performance and luck. PM Modi must engage him like Jaswant Singh had done Abdullah, to put India-Saudi relations on a mutually beneficial path during challenging times. Sending VP Hamid Ansari, former ambassador to the Kingdom, for the funeral prayers would signal India’s desire for continuity.

Rajan Doing A Mark Carney

repoThe world faces a recession. And it is imperative obligation of the central banks to ensure that the economky is kept on even keel. Canada surived and became an outstansing example of fiscal discipline thanks to Mark Carney the then Governor of Bank of Canada. Following his sterling performance, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has set a new goalpost for the tracking of monetary policy in India. The RBI, over the last several years, has changed the goalposts of monetary policy more often than the batting collapses of the Indian cricket team. Remember protein inflation as a cause of high CPI inflation in India? Or the stubborn refusal of the RBI and its research experts to acknowledge the role played by minimum support prices (MSP) in generating high food and overall inflation in India? In four articles on inflation by the RBI’s executive director and economist Deepak Mohanty, none contains any documentation or discussion of causal linkage on the (now) widely accepted contribution of MSP to inflation. Deputy governor Urjit Patel’s voluminous report on the need for a new monetary framework (that is, inflation-targeting) also does not mention MSP as a cause, but it does discuss the important role played by the MGNREGA in generating wage and, therefore, overall inflation.
For the last year and a half, we have been fed the mantra of high inflation expectations, low base effect and the prospect of inflation-targeting as possible determinants of theoretical CPI inflation. Coincident with this discussion, actual CPI inflation has halved from the “low base” December 2013 figure of 9.9 per cent to 5 per cent in December 2014. Given this reality, the RBI cut the repo rate to 7.75 per cent on January 15. Given the long wait for this cut, expectations are high, and varied, about the magnitude of repo rate cuts expected in 2015. All economic experts expect at least one more rate cut of 25 basis points (bp), and some even an additional 75 bp. The central tendency of experts’ recommendation is for an additional 50 bp.
Anticipating the conclusion of reasoning (documented here), I believe the additional repo rate cuts needed, and hopefully delivered, are more than thrice those anticipated by the experts.
How is this result derived? By following the RBI logic to its inevitable end. In an interview with Prannoy Roy, NDTV, December 27, 2014, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan set a new goalpost for the tracking of monetary policy in India. In answer to Roy’s question: “Isn’t it [the case] that real interest rates are too high?”, Rajan responded, “Depends on how you measure real interest rates. The CPI today is about 6-6.5… the real interest rate is 1.5 per cent… It’s about what it is in the rest of the world — it is not higher than the rest of the world — this is where the world is.”
This goalpost of real rates in India comparable to the rest of the world seems eminently sensible in this globalised, hyper-competitive world. And the goalpost does not suffer from the woolliness of inflation expectations, nor from the ambiguity of inflation-targeting. This new metric says that whatever model of inflation one or the RBI or market experts might have, we are expected to be guided by what the central banks in the rest of the world are doing. India is not unique, no matter how much Hindutva experts might claim it is. Red blood also flows through our veins, and if government policy is not interventionist, then Indian inflation is likely to follow the path of world inflation, particularly the path of inflation in emerging economies.
The table below documents the average inflation, overnight interest rate (repo) and real interest rate for different classifications of countries in the world. These classifications are: first, 125 countries in the different regions of the world; and second, 39 “representative” economies in the world as reported by The Economist in its table, “Economic and Financial Indicators”. The following three conclusions emerge from this large sample of countries.
First, the 31 countries of sub-Saharan Africa and five countries of South Asia are in a class by themselves in terms of the real repo rate. Both regions report real repo rates in the neighbourhood of 2.8 per cent (the Indian real rate, after the repo cut, is 2.75 per cent, with inflation at 5 and repo rate at 7.75 per cent respectively). Is it correct to infer that Indian macroeconomy parameters and policy should be similar to sub-Saharan Africa or Pakistan and Sri Lanka?
Second, the average real rate in the world (125 countries) is 1.4 per cent. Excluding sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the average drops to 0.8 per cent (89 countries).
Third, The Economist every week documents financial indicators for 42 major economies. If the three “problematic” economies of Argentina, Venezuela and Ukraine are excluded, the average representative real repo rate is only 0.3 per cent. Excluding the developed countries from this average, the “representative” real repo rate increases to 0.8 per cent.
A conservative conclusion for the comparable real repo rate for India is 1 per cent. In order to determine the desired or comparable nominal repo rate, one needs an estimate of future inflation in India. The IMF estimate of mean CPI inflation for comparable economies (excluding developed economies) is slightly less than 4 per cent for each of the next three years. This estimate was made in September 2014, well before the decline in oil prices. Given that extraordinary food inflation is out of the Indian economy, it is reasonable to assume that the upper bound on average Indian inflation is less than 4.5 per cent. This means that the comparable nominal repo rate in India is 5.5 per cent, or that 225 basis points of repo rate cuts are what one should expect in 2015 — if Rajan does not change the goalpost of comparable economies

Take Care India & Pakistan- Its Never Too Late

There are no permanent enemies and no permanent friends, If US and Japan or US and Germany could cozy up after WW II what inhibits Pakistan & India from being normal; except for some lunatic elements that rejoice in divide. I realize that as the US and India bask in the glow of a rejuvenated friendship, a civilian nuclear deal that may finally deliver what it first promised in 2006 and some small-scale military deals, the feeling in certain quarters in Pakistan may be one of acute discomfort. After all, it does look like the world’s largest democracy and the world’s foremost advocate of democracy have more in common economically, diplomatically, and geo-strategically than anything the Pak-US relationship has to offer. To put it more bluntly, where the India-US relationship is seemingly about smiles and opportunities, the Pak-India relationship is about grimaces and perceptions of threat. However, the simplistic, reactionary approach would miss the perhaps historic opportunity that a closer diplomatic, economic and military relationship between India and the US could create: it will surely be in the nterest of both those sides to nudge the India-Pakistan relationship towards normality.
Consider first the incentive for the American side. A conflagration in South Asia is fundamentally against American interests, not least as it expands its search for markets in India. In addition, for all the focus on a rising India being a counterweight to China on the eastern side of Asia, there are plenty of security interests that Pakistan sits at the centre of on the western side of Asia, from Afghanistan to Iran and from the Central Asian Republics to the tensions internal to Muslim societies in the Gulf. Not only have successive US administrations made it clear that Pakistan is a needed ally in the new century, it is also quite clear that India and Pakistan have their own roles to play in their respective spheres. Consider then what closer ties between Delhi and Washington could mean: instead of the two ganging up on Pakistan on issues of security and Pakistan-based militancy, the incentives really are for the US to use its influence over India to try and push for the resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Of course, India will likely try and resist any such attempts by the US and the Modi government will certainly like to keep the pressure on. But international relations have a logic that goes beyond the wishes of a new leader, no matter how charismatic or ambitious. The Modi foreign policy team is largely made up of novices on the international stage: while they do seem to understand the logic of business and economics, they have struggled with security equations.
The visit of President Obama to India brings into focus the politics of the region. If Pakistan and India reduce their bilateral insecurities, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation could substantively give shape to a stable regional security complex. Individual security precedes regionalism. It pertains to lack of threats to the values of a state, or the latter’s ability to avoid wars and achieve victory when provoked.
India is a 1.25-billion nation compared to Pakistan’s 190 million, and to my mind – claiming to be neither an expert nor an analyst of the complex Pakistan-India dynamics – there’s no Pakistan-India “competition.” So whereas media in both countries may trumpet the significance of real or imagined issues, painting scenarios that have little or no relevance to the realities, the pragmatic few see the picture for what it is. Notwithstanding the military and civilian issues clouding any clinical and matter-of-fact discussion or debate about the status quo of uneasy politeness and simmering hostility, there is little Pakistan and India have in common – other than a shared history and cultural ethos.
That been said, there is no escaping the sharp focus on Obama’s visit to India. After all, the US is supposed to be Pakistan’s ally, so why this preferential treatment to India, the nation that “disregarded” the US-led hue and cry against the Soviet presence/occupation in/of Afghanistan? Pakistan took upon itself the crusade to expel the Russians from Afghanistan, the spillover of which cost Pakistan from what it suffers to date: influx of refugees, heroin and Kalashnikov culture, emergence of radicalization, the “orphaned” Mujahedeen.
“We are not concerned with a nuclear agreement between India and the US”, former federal minister Khursheed Shah stated. “What we find disturbing, however, is the double standards of the US…[how Pakistan had helped the Americans in fighting the war in Afghanistan for more than 30 years].”
The on-going American drone attacks in the FATA in an open-end mission of elimination of various militant groups camping and hiding there is another elephant-in-the-room that seems to escape most Pakistanis bemoaning the “cold” attitude of the sole superpower vis-a-vis its “old” ally. The question of having a normal, bilateral relationship – based on mutual economic and geopolitical interests – does not arise when the bigger power is in an act of war in one part of its so-called friend’s territory.
In a certain parameter, India and Japan have assumed the role of “kingpins” of the “new” strategy dynamics in the region, and that holds a great deal of importance for the former. While the government of Pakistan pretends that it’s business as usual, there’s little joy about the latest US overtures to India, especially about giving the nuclear “edge” to Delhi. India has been, sort of, accepted as the “legitimate” nuclear power, whereas suspicions about Pakistan override any chance of acknowledgment of the same.
Moreover, the traditional mindset of the Pakistani state is that the US has kept India away from Afghanistan, whereas it has been accepted by Pakistan that India’s “intrusion” is creating problems in Afghanistan. However, in the backdrop of Obama’s comments in India regarding Afghanistan, India is being viewed as having been conceded a “new” role, while Pakistan thought otherwise. As the US “abandoned” Pakistan after the exit of its forces in the 1990s, now the accusation is of the same being repeated. Back to the status quo of the pre-9/11, “forgotten” is Pakistan after its continued endorsement of and cooperation in the American war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s recent handing over of evidence to Washington of India’s alleged involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan via Afghanistan, while India is being accepted as a legitimate stakeholder by the US in Afghanistan is another issue that may have adverse effects on the geopolitical strategies in play. This shift in the Indo-US paradigm has, understandably, worried Pakistan, in view of the dynamics of a hostile India in Afghanistan. Obama’s commitment to Modi to support India’s bid for the UN Security Council permanent seat raises another serious concern for the state of Pakistan. If granted, the position will endow India with veto power, relegating the unresolved Kashmir issue to the back-burner of international diplomacy. While Pakistan expects the US to wield diplomatic pressure on India to agree to a resolution of the issue, the UNSC seat, if acquired, would secure India against any such move.
Another factor to be taken into consideration is that while the US and India intend to increase “connectivity, maritime, air and overland, in the region, including Central Asia”, which would require transit through Pakistan, there has been almost no reference to the former in the joint statement. Without taking Pakistan on board, the trade route to Central Asia may not be easy to carve out from the template of thorny relations that Pakistan and India share at the moment.
One positive element of the Obama-in-India discussion in Pakistan is the highlighting of the progress India has made in the recent years. The emergence of India as a new economic power and a future regional leader is based on its structure of old and new economic and development plans to be implemented under the mentorship of its very dynamic, goal-oriented new premier. The packaging of India as the lucrative ground for investment, the clear-cut governance polices, Modi’s international PR skills and the acceptance of need for reforms is noteworthy, and a model for all emerging economies.
While media on both sides chant misplaced slogans of jingoism, scratching scabs and inflaming hostilities, the pragmatic view is the desire to have a renewed dialogue between Pakistan and India, in an effort to chalk out a framework that would work within the gamut of the capabilities of the two. The acknowledgment of India’s superiority in terms of its size, population, resources, and economic, scientific and infrastructural development is not an acceptance of “defeat” for Pakistan, but the perquisite to forge a new dynamic in the region. The state-to-state interaction on multiple levels will ensure that the long-standing issues – Kashmir, Line of Control skirmishes, water disputes, Sir Creek and Siachen — are brought to the negotiating table, in the absence of which peace in the region will remain an elusive dream.
The insecurities of India and Pakistan undermine Saarc’s stability, and regional security remains a pipe dream. New Delhi’s pursuit of international prestige and its security calculus dictate Islamabad’s hedging. Cooperation is possible if interdependence is built to such an extent that regional “security problems cannot be analysed or resolved apart from one another”.
The stakes for the two Saarc heavyweights are high and depend on their simultaneous choices. Without stability, India’s aspiration of Security Council membership will remain unfulfilled. Likewise, Pakistan’s prospects of becoming a vital node in the Silk Road would be undermined. As a land bridge between the resource-rich Central Asian region and the Indian Ocean, Pakistan’s position remains central despite competing big power interests.
Both nuclear rivals accept that a stable, secure and peaceful neighborhood is in their interest but cannot achieve this. However, the prize for cooperation is bigger than the incentives of competition. If India and Pakistan make some concessions, the subcontinent’s teeming population and resources could promise a powerful regional hub. New Delhi may balance its goals to revise the international order. Likewise, Islamabad may create an environment for making this happen.
South Asian nations must overcome mutual hostilities. At the moment, India unrealistically expects Pakistan to relent on its demands on bilateral territorial and water disputes; it wants Pakistan to give up allegedly destabilizing India; and to give New Delhi Non-Discriminatory Market Access status. Its is unrealistic of Pakistan to expect India resolve certain disputes before opening up its fragile markets. It is also refraining from giving India NDMA status because of fears that there is no level playing field that could help Pakistan acquire inexpensive energy sources, such as nuclear energy, essential for economic development. Like India, Pakistan would expect that no state should foment instability. Coercion cannot resolve these seemingly inexorable bilateral expectations, but bold leadership could end the zero sum game.
The international system holds opportunities for the subcontinent as the economic center of gravity is shifting from the West to Asia. This transition may also sway military and political power.
China’s rise and the potential shift in the balance of power have prompted Washington to cooperate with Beijing in the economic sphere while strategically partnering with Delhi and others to contain Beijing. The success of America’s ‘rebalancing strategy’ would also depend on what is acceptable to China and Russia.
The new Russian military doctrine indicates Moscow would deter NATO’s eastward encroachment. Moscow may also react if India pushes American interests in the East China Sea with Russian-supplied technology. India’s alignment with America may affect relations with Russia, triggering Moscow’s strategic options that would exacerbate South Asian instability.
Some elements of the gestating US-India partnership affect Pakistan’s security. It has emboldened India in dismissing Pakistan’s peace-building initiatives. And the Indo-US nuclear deal has unlocked India’s domestic resources for building a nuclear triad. Denying civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan affects the latter’s growth and deprives the global industry from investing in a market that equals the combined populations of UK, France and Germany.
Afghanistan has shown promise under the new government and is cooperating with Pakistan. The aftermath of the Peshawar tragedy marks the beginning of decisive fight against Taliban. Stable borders can help maintain the internal balance, and India can play a role in making this happen.
The future might be more challenging than what the Saarc nations have anticipated or are ready to handle. Governance problems, economic challenges, population growth and recurring natural disasters may rule the geopolitics India is trying to affect and Pakistan is coping with. South Asians have to overcome domestic constraints in order to take advantage of or absorb the stresses and shocks of the international system.
India and Pakistan must lead by taking direct and indirect actions to stabilize South Asia. Restraint and conflict resolution are better options that conflict management. Negotiating the simmering disputes can create space for building greater security for Saarc to finally make up for the lost opportunities of the past.
Pakistan certainly needs to do more — much more — to placate the outside world about its concerns regarding Pakistan-based militancy. However, nothing in the Modi government’s approach seems designed to induce those desirable security outcomes. Understanding economics and not security will only leave Prime Minister Modi’s India with lopsided vulnerabilities — meaning, it will eventually realize that there is no option but to talk to Pakistan. The key though may be Pakistani sincerity and purposefulness — will it sustain the push against militants it has begun?

Language: Change & Growth

Of course languages change all the time, with new words entering the lexicon and others quietly fading out. One of the factors that can play a role is the users’ experience. But then, others argue, words that are available for use can also recursively shape the users’ experience.
This, in a nutshell, is the crux of the row that has recently brewed up. It has been decided by Oxford University Press that the new edition of the 10,000 entry Oxford Junior Dictionary, aimed at seven-year-olds starting on the Key Stage Two reading level, will feature changes that some have found objectionable: “A”, say the naysayers, should remain “is for acorn”, as it has been traditionally, with “B for buttercup” and “C for conker,” not attachment, blog or chatroom.
The group of upwards of two dozen authors who have raised the objections include Margaret Atwood, Helen Macdonald and Sara Maitland, and they call the decision “shocking and poorly considered”.
Students today face terrains that weren’t envisioned before. Their reservations are not unfounded, and stem from the reasonably well-documented deleterious effects of the urbanised experience of childhood. The current generation of children, they point out, has significantly diminished access to and experience of nature and the countryside.
While the word ‘conker’ is for the most part entirely outside the experience of Asian children, for example — unless the child has thoroughly studied his or her Enid Blyton — it is also unknown to many children now growing up in the UK (where it was once used very widely), since they have no experience of going looking for dried-up and hardened acorns and playing the game that takes its name from them. (For reasons of trivia, let me say that a version of the game of conkers used to be played in Pakistan’s villages and towns as well, not so long ago, using not acorns but walnuts; for all I know, it still is.)
The OUP’s new dictionary for young children will lack some 50 words that are related to nature and the countryside, and will include instead words that perhaps have, in today’s world, more traction with children: words to do with computers and modern technologies. This, however, has alarmed people because the new words chosen are “associated with the increasingly interior, solitary childhoods of today”.
Changes to this dictionary have been made earlier. The 2007 Oxford Junior Dictionary moved almond, blackberry and crocus aside for analogue, block-graph and celebrity (along with a number of religious words), and the current 2012 edition maintained the earlier changes while added cut-and-paste, broadband and analogue.
The group of authors, who have written to the OUP calling on it to reverse its decision, feel that the connection between the loss of a ‘natural’ childhood and the new dictionary words was understood back in 2007 when the first changes were made, but “less well-publicised than now”.
This might to some feel like quibbling over minor issues — the OUP has pointed out that this particular dictionary, as well as others intended for older children, retains very many ‘natural’ words. Others take it as nostalgia for a pastoral past that is, well, mainly past in the industrialised West, a resistance against the high-tech realities of the modern world.
There is no denying, certainly, that new sets of knowledge are having to be learned by students, and in some cases are being accommodated while other, more traditional knowledge-blocks are quietly falling by the wayside. In 2013, for example, some 45 states in the US adopted new curriculum standards which included focus on developing students’ analytical and computer skills, but omitted cursive writing, which is no longer taught compulsorily.
Certainly, though, today’s students will face professional and academic terrains that earlier generations never envisioned. And it’s for this reason that last year primary students in UK state schools started having compulsory lessons in computer coding (and foreign languages from age seven) under the new national curriculum. Children aged five upwards are learning to create and debug simple computer programmes, part of a set of moves to stop the UK student body falling behind their peers in comparable countries. They are also being taught about the storage and retrieval of data, the use of internet search engines, and children’s safety online.
Such is the direction in which the developed world is moving. Sadly enough, the challenges of education in Pakistan are altogether different, with the unspeakable events of Dec 16 having added yet another layer that takes us in an opposite direction to progressiveness.
At a time when the very presence of students in schools is under discussion, is it rational or legitimate to point out the need for curricula that prepare students for modern realities? Perhaps not, when more urgently needed reforms include removing divisive content from textbooks. Nevertheless, at some point, we will need to address the issue — assuming, of course, that there is a future to be looked towards.

The Charlie Hebdo Killing – Now What? The Question That Faces Islam

Each tragedy in human history is a moment for reflection, a time for contemplation, a chance for rumination, where did we go wrong? Is what we are doing proper? Could it have been done another way? Every action when viewed retrospectively shows some shortcoming/ This lacuna can be a minor one, or have such consequences that can be disastrous. The murder of Prince Ferdinand was one such happening, and that resulted in World War. The Paris massacre was one that could have engulfed the world in an annihilating conflict, but saner counsels prevailed. But it does create a milieu for Muslim community- the whole umah to think now what? Shall umah continue to let some groups hijack its destiny to make it an international pariah?
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings massive outpourings of Western outrage and resolve to root out terrorist violence have been on display. Whatever Western views of the cartoons themselves they will not tolerate violence on their territory against their citizens. But they do not bind themselves to the same standards. Their crimes against other societies, if acknowledged at all, are dismissed as well-meaning errors.US administrations constantly lie ‘we don’t do terror!’ and ‘we don’t do torture!’ They only do counter-terror and enhanced interrogation! Most of which is state terror which constitutes 90% of global terror. Power controls the narrative. Our dependent, corrupt and servile leadership falls in line and makes a fabulous living doing so. Pakistan is among the poorest and most deprived countries. Pakistani prime ministers use their office to be the richest. The interests of the people are irrelevant.
Most Muslims believe those who attacked Charlie Hebdo were outraged by its abhorrent vilification of the Prophet . What the magazine claimed to be “irreverence”, “satire” and insouciant political “humour” was in fact premeditated blasphemy designed to existentially wound a whole people. Given that the Prophet is revered by Muslims (whether practicing or not), the gratuitous and malicious defamation of his character was tantamount to denying the validity of Islam and the Muslim community.
Some can shrug off the insult. Some can’t. According to the latter, this deliberate and sustained sacrilege justified the most extreme retribution. This view finds support in Islamic tradition, including Ibn Taymia’s doctrine of “al-Sarim al-Maslul ‘ala Shatim ar-Rasul” (the Drawn Sword against the one who reviles the Messenger.)
The Western narrative is that the offending cartoons of Charlie Hebdo represent a tradition of free expression. Many moderate, educated and non-violent Muslims share at least part of this sentiment. They may not resort to violence. But they would refrain from condemning those who did in order to “avenge the Prophet”. They march against the execrable cartoons. But they are also aware of how the principle of “protecting the honour of the Prophet” has been blasphemously used to accuse, persecute and murder innocent victims for personal loot. A morally limp state led by political charlatans dare not lift a finger to protect the unprotected against such blasphemy. That is how they buy their personal security. They are a standing insult to the message of Islam.
In the case of Muslim immigrants in the West there is the additional factor of intensified political alienation and social marginalization. They exist amongst a broader community that by and large equates their traditions and values with terrorist potential. In France the banlieues have no opportunity to integrate.
Other European countries have similar Muslim outcasts. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo, the desecration of the Holy Quran in Abu Ghraib and other “black holes”, and unending Western wars against their peoples — are all part of a profane global hegemony that forever robs them of their identity, history, voice, humanity and, indeed, innocence. Many inevitably drift towards a cathartic moment of nihilistic release. Predatory anthropologists and sociologists carve up what is left of them for their theses.
The dominant Western narrative is that the offending cartoons of Charlie Hebdo represent a tradition of free expression that is integral to the identity of France and the West as the home of free peoples. They fought and struggled over the centuries for the right to differ, deny, deride and even denigrate any authority, tradition, idea or person within the limits of the law as approved by their freely elected representatives. They will never compromise this “sacred” secular right.
Accordingly, Muslims who feel deeply wounded by disrespectful depictions of their most precious symbols may vigorously but peacefully protest (permission to do so is often refused) and, if citizens, may seek to bring about legislation constraining the publication and propagation of such materials (as the Jews have done with respect to the questioning of the Holocaust and Antisemitism.) But they may never take the law into their own hands, and most certainly not commit murder to assuage their outrage.
Otherwise, it is argued, more than 500 years of European political and ethical development including the humanitarian values of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment — which most Europeans see as their proudest achievement and greatest gift to humanity — would perish.
But many Muslim immigrants are convinced that while contemporary European societies are guilt-ridden over what they did to the Jews there is no such compunction for what they have done to the Muslims. For the West, the Jews are ultimately “one of us”. The Muslims, however, are “children of a lesser god” and politically a malignant lesion on the body-politic of the West.
There is, however, an alternative Muslim narrative that is closer to the original and timeless spirit of the message of Islam than the currently dominant narrative which is a later accretion. Many renowned Islamic jurists have advocated against the implementation of Ibn Taymia’s injunction on the basis of the Quranic Surah 6:108 which states “Revile not those unto whom they pray besides Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance.” Another verse commanded the Prophet whenever he saw those who entered into “false discourses about Our communications” to “withdraw from them until they enter into some other discourse.” Sensible pragmatism, not wild extremism, represents religious virtue.
In light of these Quranic injunctions, should the faith, the love for the Prophet and ourselves be defined by our most virulent responses? Most certainly not! Truly, the Prophet came as a Mercy to all humanity. To those who would presume to insult his person the Holy Quran provides an answer that suffices: “lakum deenukum wa liya deen” (to you, your faith; to me, mine!) In Pashto there is a saying “if you spit at the sky you will spit on your face”. The Prophet is beyond the reach of any human impudence. The worlds of Islam and the West can still work together for a more inclusive and less unequal world. But we must be politically rid of dangerous charlatans.

Not All Issues Together: One Monkey At A Time- Ramayana’s Lesson for Obama & Modi

Why do Indians still have a sense of awe in presence of a real or presumed authority? Why do they treat the powerful as representatives of omni-potent gods? Is it the heritage of being slave over centuries or is it a cultural hangover. Either way it does conjure up quite interesting scenarios.
In the days of the colonial mystique it was the snake charmers that conjured up visions of India. In the ensuing years, dogs, cows and elephants, garnered the necessary symbolism when India was mentioned, and now, the monkeys lend the required touch of the exotic. In a prelude to the Obama visit to India, the New York Times ran a piece titled, For Obama’s Visit, India Takes a Broom to Stray Monkeys and Cows.
The efforts at ‘sanitizing’ India, recalcitrant monkeys, et al, highlighted by the inherent humor in this somewhat tongue in cheek observation, “Men with slingshots have fanned out in the neighborhood around the Indian president’s sandstone palace, shrieking and barking in an effort to frighten away hundreds of rosy-bottomed monkeys.” The reporting is not inaccurate and the piece engaging enough.
However viewed without rose tinted glasses and rosy behinds, India’s mystique beyond the namastes – that were fervently exchanged between Modi and the Obamas – is somewhat idiosyncratic, and as far as world view is concerned, presumably anachronistic, even paradoxical, considering that India is projected to soon become the largest economy, overtaking even China. Living halfway across from India, how does one translate India beyond monkeys, cows and monkey journalism?
Obama’s warm embraces with Modi, his willingness to consider donning the Modi kurta, and a marathon guest appearance at the Republic day celebrations, makes this, his second trip, very rosy and cozy. Even so, his chemistry with Modi cannot deflect western unease with all things curious, unfamiliar and strange, even as bilateral treaties and nuclear agreements are furiously forged. India’s diversity, secularism and democracy, universal concepts as they are, are still uniquely, somewhat strangely, Indian. Homi Bhabha, the Indian nuclear physicist, and father of the Indian nuclear power program, ironically and with keen acuity observed the need for a culture to be understood by unarticulated “in-between” spaces.
He recognized that, “The theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. It is the in-between space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.”
Of course nothing bridges this polarity better than, comedy. Perhaps that is what will nudge the world to a more intuitive understanding of the intangible idea of India. An Indian-American comedian, Rajiv Satyal, nailed this je ne sais quoi factor in articulating what it is to be Indian, in an ode that went viral on social media: “We never invade anyone because we already have everything: chess, the ruler, the button, wireless communication, arranged marriage, flush toilets, steel, democracy … we practically invented religious tolerance and we gave you Mahatma Gandhi and pundits and gurus and karma and dharma and kismet and reincarnation. The motherland is magical and mystical. And no matter who you are, you can find yourself here in…Incredible India”.
Comedy and National Parks are monumental to the essence of America. America also has plea bargains and juries; filibustering and a lame duck president; door buster sales and Black Friday deals. We even have a turkey pardon and in the land of liberty, NSA surveillance. Above and beyond this, we have the NFL and NBA; and arguably the most international news in the US: The World Series (baseball). All this and more makes America as deliciously inexplicable, as India.
If our world view is one of sameness, of melting into the pot rather than creating a new space, a distinctive mosaic, we are, to put it dryly, cohabiting with the monkeys. As the French psychoanalyst Jacque Lacan, put it, “It is not a question of harmonizing with the background, but against a mottled background, of becoming mottled – exactly like the technique of camouflage practiced in human warfare.” In harmonizing there is an ode to ‘otherness’ and of a passage that is on a road less traveled.
Somewhere in the spaces between the nuclear and trade agreements, that are being hammered together by the two countries, exists the quizzical, amplified simplistically, and perhaps glibly, obviously incongruous, in the story about the brooming out of stray monkeys. Wedged in nooks and crannies and wary of world scrutiny, draped gracefully in layers, lays the India, the India that Obama must surely have felt and recognized in simple moments, like perhaps when Modi personally poured out a cup of tea for him. When the mythical monkeys in the Ramayana together built a bridge, it was a passage, a crossing over – one monkey at a time.

The Flaws in US India Nuclear Deal

Indians have a tendency to get excited, and draw conclusions without sufficient data. The jubliation at supposed Nuclear deal with US is no exception. I recollect that way back when Manmohan signed the deal with Bush, I pointed out the shortcomings and pointedly said that the deal shall never fructify. I was called anti- Manmohan, a pessimist and so on. History proved I was right. Obama apple also has a canker at the core.
The recent visit of Obama as special guest on 66th republic day celebrations in India does result in solving some outstanding issues. Agreed that it does open Indian market for US corporations, agreed that it will further cement commercial relations between the two. But one of the achievements was the resolution of a legacy issue hanging over the India-US relationship — the roadblocks before their nuclear agreement. In the event, the two leaders turned out to be guarded, though Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh spoke of a “done deal”.
“I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations,” Modi said. Obama, in turn, said there had been a “breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation”, and the two countries were “committed to moving towards full implementation”. Their joint statement welcomes “the understandings reached on the issues of civil nuclear liability and administrative arrangements for civil nuclear cooperation”.
Richard Verma, the US Ambassador in New Delhi, was even more guarded, saying “we think we came to an understanding of the liability [issue]”, which he said would operate “through a memorandum of law within the Indian system”.
The next steps aren’t clear, though. The situation now is that the White House expects a “Memorandum of Law”, explaining how Indian law is compatible with what the US seeks on liability. The Ministry of External Affairs doesn’t have a timeline on this, saying it is a “work in progress”.
Manmohan Singh was successful In 2005, when the US agreed in principle to support civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Ever since its 1974 nuclear test, India had been denied such technology, which would insulate it from huge variations in global energy prices.
From the US side, the deal required a modification of domestic legislation, and a special waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group. New Delhi, in turn, agreed to segregate its civilian and weapons-related nuclear programmes, bring additional facilities under international safeguards, and introduce nuclear liability legislation consistent with the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, or CSC. There’s also a spat over whether the US, or International Atomic Energy Agency, should track equipment sold to India, but that, most experts say, is just a bargaining chip. India’s nuclear liability law, international nuclear equipment suppliers argue, doesn’t comply with CSC, which India has signed, but not ratified.
India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, has a simple purpose: to make sure that victims of a nuclear accident can get quick compensation, without having to prove the plant operator was negligent, and irrespective of who was at fault. In return, the liability of operators was capped at 300 million Special Drawing Rights – then, about Rs 1,500 crore. Then in opposition, the BJP forced the introduction of several amendments to CLiNDA that aren’t consistent with CSC – hence the problem. Sushma Swaraj, ironically now External Affairs Minister, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had “betrayed the country’s sovereignty for his own prestige”.
There are, equipment suppliers say, a couple of problems. Section 17b of CLiNDA says the plant operators — in India’s case, the public sector NPCIL —can claim compensation from their equipment suppliers if the accident resulted as a result of “equipment or material with patent or latent defects”. And Section 46 makes both suppliers and operators liable to be sued by accident victims, over and above the Rs-1,5000-crore cap.
Together, suppliers say, these laws leave them vulnerable to open-ended criminal action and tort-law compensation claims for any damages. This is unfair, they say, because after a contractually-agreed time-frame, it is the operator — not the supplier — who ought to spot and rectify defects and therefore be liable. Prior to CLinDA, NPCIL contracts with Indian vendors did absolve them of civil liability except where specified in the contract, which was limited in terms of value and time frame.
In the US, the law allows victims to file damages claims against operators, suppliers and designers. However, when US firms started selling abroad, they pushed for the concept of legal channeling, which left only operators liable. The Paris Convention, 1960, and the Vienna Convention, 1963, say no one other than operators can be held responsible. In 1997, the CSC came with some reforms, setting up an international liability fund. The major suppliers of equipment to India are all signatories to these conventions. CLiNDA is in violation of these.
The government says setting up an insurance pool will fix things, but most experts don’t agree. CLiNDA already has a provision for a pool; Section 7 states where the liability exceeds the Rs 1,500 crore cap, the central government “may establish a fund to be called the Nuclear Liability Fund”. This is the fund the government has been saying it will establish. This will protect suppliers against claims by the operator. However, it won’t do much to reassure suppliers, since they will continue to be liable to tort action by accident victims.
The Department of Atomic Energy and NPCIL think international vendors will fall in line if rules and definitions in CLiNDA are tweaked. For example, NPCIL could be defined to be both operator and supplier, since it provides design specifications for reactors it operates and the vendors would then be called “fabricators” or “contractors”. Another suggestion is for the government to explain that Section 46 applies only to criminal liability, not civil liability, i.e intent vs accident, and not involving any money.
There are three things on which clarity is scarce, vis-à-vis the Indo-US nuclear deal.
One, its main goal was never to beef up India’s electricity generation. President Bush did not spend political capital calling up his unenthusiastic counterpart in China and other foot-draggers in the nuclear establishment because of pressure from a tiny nuclear power industry in the US. The goal was strategic: release India from the technology-denial regime imposed since the 1974 nuclear tests, so that a counterweight to fast-rising China could emerge in Asia, with ready access to the full range of dual-use technologies. India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, the Wassenar arrangement, the Australia Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime got stuck, along with the government and the economy, under UPA-II. The process has revived and has America’s support.
Two, without the nuclear deal, signifying high US confidence in India, no significant defence technology could be shared, leave alone developed, with India. It also paved the way for many US giants to see India as a country to do serious business with, much more than a market. These gains of the nuclear deal are very much in operation.
Three, the reason why the nuclear power part of the deal has not taken off is home-made. India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, which the BJP and the Left, joint opponents of the nuclear deal, worked hard to make as unappetizing for nuclear equipment suppliers as was possible. Now, a BJP prime minister hails the nuclear deal as the centerpiece of the transformed Indo-US relations and seeks to work around the law it wrought.
The sensible thing to do is to make India’s liability law fully in conformity with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation that India is yet to ratify. The liability has to be limited on suppliers, at least by time, and channeled to operators, if the cost of insuring against limitless damage is not to make nuclear power impractical in India. Rules and legal assurances are no substitute for substantive provisions in the law itself.
However, it is far from clear if ideas like these would stand legal scrutiny. Firms may see the government’s offer as a postdated cheque that can be cancelled by courts or a future government. Thus, Prime Minister Modi will likely have to go to Parliament at some stage, to amend CLiNDA.

Obamas Miss Real Delhi

Delhi belongs to Dilwale( people having a heart), and that dil (heart) is not confined by the constraints of security. The spice of life in Delhi is so wide spread, that it is well nigh impossible to recapoture the complete romance of variegated city in one article. The sights so panoramic, the eating delicacies so diverse, the shopping experience that encompasses whole gambit – that is Delhi; and Obamas for all the hype missed it.
US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were in New Delhi for three days during Republic Day. While we crib about their security throwing our lives out of gear, we should also feel sorry that this very security kept the US first couple away from some of the best locations to see and experience in Delhi.
Here is a list of five things ( out of hundreds, if not thousands) on the list of a regular tourist to Delhi, but not the Obamas.
Have sheek kabab at Karim’s: Time magazine lists Karim’s as one of the top Asian restaurants, but the closest Obamas will come to Mughal cuisine is the Bukhara, which is not even Mughal cuisine. A haven for carnivores, the Dastarkhwan-e-Karim in Gali Kababian won’t be able to host the president for obvious reasons. While it will be a nightmare for his security apparatus, this will remain an unfulfilled dream till he loses his security detail.
Climb the Jama Masjid tower: Built by Shahjahan, Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Delhi. It’s a sheer architectural brilliance, makes it a must-visit for every Delhi visitor. But it is also in a highly sensitive part of town, especially for the US president. Never mind, Obamas will be visiting another monument constructed by Shahjahan – the Taj Mahal, during their visit.
Shop for shoes and fabrics at Lajpat Nagar: It is the place for shopaholics. From accessories, to clothes, to footwear to knick-knacks name it and you get it at the famed Lajpat Nagar Central Market. A hot favourite among expats and tourists, this markets crowded lanes will not be able to handle the pressures of a state visit. Sorry Michelle, our shopping therapy will have to be at the cottage emporium.
Take a metro ride from Chawri Bazaar: Delhi would have loved to host you on its pride, the Delhi Metro. And what better place to start the ride than from Chawri Bazaar, the deepest metro station in town. Again, this is in a part of Delhi that Obama’s security would want the President to believe never existed. And no, we don’t want our metro services to be thrown haywire for a zip through ride.
Spice shopping at Khari Baoli: We all know about Mr and Mrs Obama’s love for spicy Indian food. Khari Baoli, near Red Fort, the wholesale spice market and Delhi’s major tourist attraction, would have been a perfect pit stop for the visiting couple. We can very well imagine Michelle sulking over her inability to go smell the spiced up air of the shopping hub. If only you were more common, Michelle…

66th Republic Day of India- A Day to Remember The Constitution

The day of introspection, the day for thought, the day for stock-taking – this 66th anniversary is all the more significant as leaders of two giants democracies meet as equals. When the chief, and operating chief of the world’s largest democracies meet, one realizes a scintillating and similar history behind their democratic structures. Though 15th Aug 1947 for India was indeed a “bloody tryst with a demonic destiny” almost like thrusting independence under the most inappropriate circumstances with a land not yet prepared to galvanize its law, law enforcing forces, that too in the presence of a man- made divisive precipice. After the two countries settled with the bloodbath and attained some control over circumstances, Nehru put his Law Minister Dr Ambedkar to be the chief compiler of the Indian Constitution. Although the job was done by end of Dec ’49, it was chosen that 26th of the coming Jan would be the day of celebrations. The reason was that at the Lahore Convention of the Congress, Dec 1930, it was decided that all Congressmen, indeed the whole nation would declare itself “independent” on the coming Jan ‘26th. It was therefore decided that the Big Book be given another round of polishing and binding, and finally be installed on Jan 26th.
The American Constitution, actually started with the 1776 Declaration of Independence. The notable authors were Thomas Jefferson (asked so by John Adams) and Benjamin Franklin. After revision, line number two makes one of the sweetest and well meaning lines of the Declaration, “We hold the truth to be self evident that all men are created equal by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That amongst these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”. The Declaration became a statement of principles through which the US Constitution should be interpreted, even as it lead to at least a hundred more declarations, the world over, in a short span of time. Despite the shift of stand of some, it attained a majority voting done on July 4th. It is said that that not all the signatures poured in the same day, that may have included Jefferson and Adams too, but the sanctity of the day of launch was to be kept.
Here is a commonality on the theme of Independence in both the Constitutions. The thought, urge, and the determination of the mind to be free, is the actual foundation stone for any strife for liberty. We retain our 26th Jan because we thought of it in the first resolution in 1930. America sticks to 4th of July, because that was the deliberated by them via a Declaration, though full administrative freedom would have come later. So true, that the mind has to declare its independence first. The physical process of takeover may come much later. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, fought a long battle of rebuttal of dependence through various movements as, “swadeshi”, “civil disobedience”, “quit india”. That, and not physical force kept the movement alive.
Coming to the similar words, the May 15 preamble as stated by John Adams goes on, “It is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown, be totally suppressed.” At the time of enunciation, the Empire threw back a googly, saying that those who no longer want to be slaves are masters of millions of them. Thomas Jefferson himself kept a stock of around two hundred of them. That he was kind to them, was not the point.
After the initial heave, the constitutional sentiments were kindled four decades later by another great statesman, Lincoln, ironing out the differences. Explaining the Declaration he said, “ they meant to set up a standard mansion for free society which should be familiar to all, constantly looked into, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and therefore constantly spreading and deepening in influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors, everywhere” This was his famous Gettysburg address. Only a statesman of such intense thought and motivation could fill the gaps so easily.
The Indian Constitution is a one- time scholarly effort to make the most elaborate, in fact a rigid compilation from various Indian and foreign sources, making the content in places incomparable. Rich in substance, and balancing out every section of society in terms of freedom of speech, belief, secularity, with the Directive Principles of State Policy, and composite preamble. In actual practice for quite a while, the nation tripped on the first line itself ….. “We the people……”. The actual concern and disruption is how many “peoples are we”? Instead of soothing explanations like the Gettysburg address, the interpretations have largely been narrow, self serving, political and divisive. Perhaps the time has come for scholarly discussions on this for quite a while.
The simplicity and the instinct behind the “Declaration”, often required to be clarified. John Locke the famous English poet, puts it this way, “Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular previous writing, it was to be the expression of the America’s mind, and to give that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion”. The straight from the heart expression, was to evolve and give a rare combination of liberty and labiality to the mass of thought and rules that were to make the Constitution to a great democracy.
The Indian Constitution grew in the minds of Indian scholars of every field, caste, religion, who were acquainted with the best compilations available in the world. There are no reports of any lack of sincerity or dissent at the time of compilation. The problem so far, probably has been to stick to its rigidity, instead of making flexible sections in the mandate, in order to tune in with the times. That, today is more or less summarized in economic prosperity!
Now that the two “greats” of Democracy have met, the one lesson we may like to imbibe is dialogues in making our Constitution more flexible, more dynamic, more progressive in implementation.

Take Care 2015 Could face These Risks

The year 2015 will be rife with conflict and turmoil to a degree not seen in decades. That’s the forecast from Eurasia Group, a consulting and research firm based in the United States that focuses on examining the affects of political events and trends on international markets. “Geopolitics is back,” says the firm’s Top Risks 2015 report, published on January 5. “As 2015 begins, political conflict among the world’s great powers is in play more than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” the report noted. “Russia is lashing out, the Middle East is fragmenting, Islamic radicalism is expanding, and Europe faces challenges on all of these fronts.”
Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer said, “[F]or the first time since starting the firm in 1998, I’m starting to feel a serious undercurrent of geopolitical foreboding.” The report lists several of the developments contributing to the bleak assessment:
U.S. relations with Russia are fully broken. China is charting its own course. The ties that bind Europe are fraying on multiple fronts. Others—Gulf Arabs, Brazil, India—are hedging their plans and alliances in reaction to increasing geopolitical uncertainty. Ultimately these realignments will reshape the world order, but for now their impacts, while noteworthy, are more regional than global. … Crises in the Middle East have produced a world with more refugees than at any time since the Second World War .… Russian revisionism is a direct threat to swathes of Europe .…
The report says 2015 will also see a significant increase in tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and also between China and Taiwan. The “ideological reach” of the Islamic State will spread across the Middle East, boosting the risk for further destabilization, it noted. Another trend the firm expects is a rupture in cooperation between America and Europe, especially regarding how the two sides deal with Tehran and Moscow: “To this point, the U.S. and Europe have worked closely together on sanctions and other punitive measures against both Iran and Russia. But we don’t expect that unity to hold in 2015 as Europe begins to feel more economically vulnerable and U.S. politicians, those in power and those preparing for 2016 elections, take a tougher approach. All of which creates a backlash that will roil international politics. … 2015 will see more geopolitical challenges than 2014.”The Eurasia Group points to a shift in America’s foreign policy as the main reason for the increasing potential for conflict around the globe. Instead of playing its historic role as “global policemen,” the report says, the U.S. “in recent years has more often acted just like any other country: sometimes proactive, sometimes belatedly reactive, and sometimes indifferent—but with much greater impact. … In part, that’s because the costs to the United States of risk aversion will remain low … as cans are kicked further down the road—as we expect with deliberations on climate change, growing tensions in Asia, and probably nuclear negotiations with Iran.”
As the size of America’s foreign policy footprint decreased, global stability would diminish. As far as global stability is concerned, America is shrinking to an Albania-size power at a terrible time. … You can be certain that the number of crises is going to increase. The calls for action, for intervention, are bound to escalate. And because America is no longer the one to step up, the position of dominance is up for grabs, both within regions and globally. It will be ugly. We are leaving behind a comfortable era of Western dominance—and entering a new and uncertain era of violent competition for supremacy among remorseless foes.
The Top Risks 2015 report shows that this assessment was spot on, and that in the year ahead it could be proven all the more accurate.

The Constitutional Imbroglio in Nepal

Secularism may not be a hated word in Nepal today, but it is arguably one of the most contentious issues in the constitution-making process. Some of the major parties that took the lead in declaring Nepal secular in May 2006 are rethinking the matter. K.P. Oli, chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) invited Modnath Prashrit as guest speaker at the party’s standing committee meeting. Prashrit, who quit the party seven years ago, has been a key crusader against making Nepal a secular country. He also favours restoring January 11, the birth anniversary of king Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-75), as national unity day.
The government led by G.P. Koirala, which had the UML as a coalition partner and Maoist support from outside, had taken both decisions — doing away with Nepal’s Hindu status and the national unity day. Prashrit has stood against the government ever since, and asked for the annulment of both. Others, mainly the Maoists, fear that a review of Nepal’s secular status may next lead to a questioning of the federal and republican character of Nepal.
“How can this country remain secular, which means adopting an indifferent approach towards religion, when it spends from its coffers 500 million rupees for the development of Buddha’s birthplace, an almost equal amount for the development of Hindu shrines, and a little less for arranging Hajj trips?” he asked. And added, “As a country that has been the birthplace of Buddhism and the land of many Hindu gods and goddesses, its glorious past, civilisation and culture must not be done away with.”
The demand for the restoration of Nepal’s Hindu status is gaining ground. Not only the UML but also the Nepali Congress (NC), which heads the coalition with the former, is vertically split on the issue. Religion and caste/ ethnicity have emerged as the major issues and stumbling blocks in constitution-writing. Maoist chief Prachanda, who heads a 30-party alliance that includes the Madhesi parties, has been demanding ethnicity-based provinces while advocating a secular state. According to a senior NC leader, “…a Hindu wave sweeps across Terai as well as the hills, and Dahal (Prachanda) is being backed by European groups in dividing Hindu society.”
Managing politics and parties with diverse ideologies may be easier some times. But the politics of caste and religion may not be that easy to handle. The January 22 deadline for the delivery of the constitution will be missed, which may not only cause the early exit of Sushil Koirala as prime minister but also bring the second Constituent Assembly’s existence into question. The UML, by reviewing “secularism”, perhaps wants to convey the message that it will deal with contentious issues more seriously and solicit a wide spectrum of public opinion, something that hasn’t happened in the past.
Secularism is being interpreted differently, triggering a largescale reaction. Padma Ratna Tuladhar, who issued a public statement as minister in 1993 arguing to allow cow slaughter, now leads a movement for secularism and ethnicity-based provinces in alliance with Prachanda. Maoists have a history of trampling Hindu temples and idols, burning rare Sanskrit manuscripts and slaughtering cows, which remains taboo, during the civil war. As a result, Hindu groups are now more agitated, especially after some EU states began openly advocating the right to change one’s religion.When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nepal in November during the SAARC summit, he had two pieces of advice for the country’s leaders – draft the constitution ‘on time’, and draft it ‘based on consensus’. If Nepal is sliding into a political crisis in the run up to Thursday’s deadline for a new constitution, it is because the leadership has chosen to disregard this well-meaning advice. India, on Tuesday, reiterated this broad suggestion with a carefully constructed fresh statement.
Nepal is deeply polarized. The ruling parties – Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – wished to initiate a process that would enable voting on contested constitutional issues like federalism, form of government, election system and judiciary. The opposition – led by Maoists and Tarai parties – insisted on working towards a consensus, rather than a vote. On Monday, the Maoist members vandalized the Constituent Assembly, disrupting proceedings. On Tuesday, the opposition followed it up with a nation-wide strike. A constitutional draft – let alone a new constitution – is now impossible.
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said that it was their ‘expectation’ that Nepali leaders would work together ‘in the final stage of the peace process, in drawing up a constitution that honours past agreements and understandings as well as the mandate of the CA elections’.
India’s approach carries weight. The original understanding between the political parties and Maoists in 2005, which saw the onset of the peace process, was signed in Delhi. Modi has elevated the relationship with two visits to Kathmandu. Instability in the northern neighbour will have a direct impact on India, given the open border. The failure of the constitutional process will threaten prospects of democratic consolidation, strengthen right and left wing extremists in Kathmandu, and jeopardize the upswing in bilateral relations. India cannot remain silent.
Without taking obvious sides, Delhi has adopted a nuanced approach. It recognizes that the CA elections have thrown up a particular mandate – which is what the ruling parties are using to push a vote. But it has taken the longer-term view, and warned Nepal’s polity that a constitution is a foundational document. It may be possible to draft a statute through the majoritarian route, but this will not be owned by key political forces or social groups. And such a constitution will lead to only more conflict, which will add to India’s strategic concerns. Delhi should use its leverage in Kathmandu to pull back Nepali parties from the brink.
In 1991, a British parliamentary delegation had approached then PM K.P. Bhattarai — when Nepal was writing its democratic constitution — to have the country declared secular. His blunt answer was that once the UK, the “mother of democracy”, did away with having the inheritor of the throne profess Anglicanism, Nepal too would follow. That democratic constitution had retained the country’s Hindu status.
But while provisions were debated threadbare before they became part of that constitution, no such process was followed last time round, when Nepal was declared a secular and federal republic. “We will not compromise on our demand that people must have their say on all these issues, if necessary through a referendum,” said the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal. However, with the majority community developing a visible persecution complex, which may even result in aggressive nationalism, the situation looks sad, especially since Nepal has had a reputation for being a tolerant and harmonious society. The absence of meaningful debate in the CA and within parties is responsible for this dangerous syndrome.The much-awaited January 22 deadline passed without the delivery of the “people’s constitution”. The history of failure and deceit was repeated for the fifth time in as many years. But this failure was more disturbing, since the chairman of the Constituent Assembly (CA), the prime minister, coalition leaders in government and the two major opposition groups, including the Maoists, had kept addressing popular doubts about the constitution being delivered.
The deadline was set voluntarily by the four biggest groups separately in their manifestos, when Nepal voted to elect the second CA — and later as a joint pledge, as assurance they would not repeat the failure of the past. The House was adjourned at midnight January 22-23, after the opposition Maoists and Madhesi groups rose up in the well, shouting slogans against the government’s move to adopt the constitution through a majority vote instead of a consensus.
The House chairman and the four major parties — the Nepali Congress (NC), Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and the Madhesi groups — that have ruled together, or by turns, over the last eight years fell out after the second CA was elected. The Maoists and the Madhesis championed a more radical agenda, such as ethnicity-based federalism, a directly elected executive president and an autonomous Madhes province. This sharp polarisation and the obstruction of the House for the 72 hours preceding the deadline featured a ruling coalition as obstinate as the opposition, determined to bulldoze the vocal minority.
But a constitution by the majority, with diametrically opposite positions on many issues, including federalism and governance may only ensure that the constitution, if it comes at all, is shortlived. The international community, under the aegis of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, came together to warn that the outcome of a divided approach may imperil all the achievements of the 2006 movement. India wanted Nepal’s actors to put their heads together and reach a solution on the basis of all the understandings reached and as per the last election’s mandate.
That, precisely, is the stumbling block. The Maoists, despite being relegated to third place, and the Madhesi groups losing miserably, want to dictate the regional agenda. Moreover, of over 40 major understandings between the government and the agitating groups, many contradict each other. The failure to deliver the constitution is also being seen as a failure of the international community, including the EU and India, which mediated between Nepal’s key political parties and the Maoists to bring them together against the monarchy under a 12-point agreement in November 2005. The Western powers are being blamed for encouraging secessionism in the name of supporting federalism by the government.
Open involvement by external powers has also brought federalism, secularism and republicanism to dispute. With the CA failing for the second time, the decisions taken by political parties at the peak of their popularity, even as they enjoyed foreign support, are now vulnerable. But how the parties concerned own their accountability and how the public responds to this situation will chart the next course — and perhaps also a new destination — for Nepal.

Made In India- Slogan or Reality

To translate the slogan into reality may be difficult, but is not impossible. It just requires will, capacity and an appropriate strategy to do so. Instead of using industrial policies and government exhortations to promote manufacturing, the playing field between industry and services should be leveled, letting the market choose which of these sectors will drive India’s future growth. Instead of using industrial policies and government exhortations to promote manufacturing, the playing field between industry and services should be levelled, letting the market choose which of these sectors will drive India’s future growth.
If for nothing else, 2014 will be remembered for the decisive electoral verdict in May, a stock market that refused to be fazed, the acceptance of inflation targeting as the primary objective of monetary policy and the unexpected crash in commodity prices. The change in government ended the dysfunctional decision-making of the last few years and promised transformational policy shifts to restore the economy to a high-growth path. This pushed the equity market to an all-time high, and ensured a steady and abundant inflow of foreign investment. With some help from the better supply management of the new government, the shift to inflation targeting finally ended four years of rabid inflation. And the 50 per cent collapse in global oil prices has massively helped contain India’s fiscal and current account deficits.
Yet, a sense of uneasiness hangs over the economy. Growth has not only disappointed but prospects of an upturn remain uncertain as its key driver — corporate investment — is yet to show any sign of life. Even with the unexpected decline in oil subsidies and a scorching stock market, this year’s fiscal deficit target looks increasingly difficult to meet without large cuts in capital spending. While the commodity price fall has reduced the run rate of the current account deficit by an annualised 1.5 per cent of the GDP and record-high equity prices have kept capital inflows strong, the rupee ended the year weaker than when it began. In spite of its majority in the Lower House and winning almost all the state elections held in the last six months, the government hasn’t managed to push any meaningful legislation in Parliament.
One can proffer many ad hoc explanations but the key reason driving this uneasiness has been the government’s failure to revive corporate investment. The binding constraints to corporate investment are more entrenched than just bureaucratic plumbing or 100 basis points of lending rate cuts. Most of the projects approved in the past year are unlikely to see the light of day as they were designed based on the old global order, which no longer exists. Corporate leverage, especially in infrastructure, has risen to a such point that it is now even holding back new financing of feasible projects. This debt burden needs to be reduced, not just restructured, regardless of who committed the sin (bad judgement by the investor or bad government policies).
Doing this entails a much larger recapitalisation of PSU banks than currently budgeted for. Extant environmental laws, the land acquisition framework, resource-pricing mechanisms and PPP contractual arrangements need to be redesigned, not just tinkered with, as has been done so far. Instead of using industrial policies and government exhortations to promote manufacturing, the playing field between industry and services should be levelled (through equitable taxes and FDI norms), letting the market choose which of these sectors will drive India’s future growth. Supporting manufacturing as a bigger and more sustainable source of employment than services seems ill conceived — not only because there is little evidence indicating that this is indeed the case but also because the timing seems odd, with the global economy reeling under excess manufacturing capacity with deflating prices.
No one doubts that these constraints are not of this government’s making and that they will need to be overcome one at a time. What has been problematic is the government’s reluctance to articulate the underlying principles that will shape these policy changes. The inference drawn from its election manifesto, the measures taken since it assumed office seven months ago and the bills it has tabled in Parliament is that this government seems to believe that the previous dispensation’s inability to take timely decisions was the root cause of India’s woes, and not the latter’s worldview and the consequent policies and reforms it pursued.
Consistent with this belief, the government has tinkered with bureaucratic procedures, changed the parameters of old legislation and introduced variations of programs planned by the previous government. These efforts have been seen as tactical moves of limited benefit, not as decisive breaks from the policies of the past.
But the BJP’s sweeping electoral success was not just because of disappointment with the UPA’s inability to implement policy. It was also because the electorate wanted a transformational change in India’s economic policies as the world around us had changed but our policies hadn’t. Externally, global growth has fallen sharply since the pre-2008 days and is likely to remain muted over the coming years. This has robbed emerging markets like India of the easy option of plugging into the global economy and riding the globalization wave to prosperity. Domestically, the Indian state’s capacity (spanning parliamentarians to municipal workers) has been dangerously depleted. The government no longer appears to have the capacity to either design or implement policies based on the old framework of a paternalistic state.
These tectonic shifts have made it necessary for the government to articulate the principles that would drive its policymaking framework. The previous government didn’t and paid a heavy price for it. So far, the new government hasn’t either. Instead, it seems to have embraced the previous government’s worldview, disagreeing only with its implementation. This has pushed corporates into waiting mode. They are waiting to see a minimal set of policy changes before committing to invest and won’t act on the faith that the government’s policymaking framework would choose the right policies in a world with much lower global growth and depleted state capacity.
Analysts and apologists have justified the government’s reticence in articulating its economic worldview on the grounds that fixing the bureaucratic plumbing was needed more urgently to restore faith in the government and that small changes — which don’t provide a focal point for the Opposition to rally around — are more effective in bringing about big shifts (for example, the previous government’s 50 paise per month increase in diesel prices). But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. At the end of the day, what we analysts believe is largely inconsequential. What matters is what households and corporates think. So far, they haven’t been impressed. To change this, the government needs to start talking about the forest, not just the trees

Jerusalem Over the Ages!!

More blood has been spilled on the ancient streets of Jerusalem over a longer period of time than in any other city. A succession of conquerors and raiders have razed and pillaged the city, while many rulers have rebuilt it, adding to its jumble of holy sites. Its name has become intertwined with all three great monotheist faiths.
Like moths to a flame they have come: pilgrims and priests; faqirs and frauds; messiahs and mendicants; heroes and harlots; cutthroats and kings. Dynasties rose and fell. But despite the unending conflict over who should own Jerusalem, one community has clung on tenaciously: the Jews.
For Jews, the dream of a final return to the city King David made his own has — together with their holy texts — allowed them to sustain a sense of nationhood in the long centuries in the Diaspora. But Jerusalem has been populated since 5000 BC, and mention of the city has been found in ancient Egyptian records dating back to around 1500 BC. Many have razed and pillaged the holy city.
The city exercises intense pull the city on religious Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is amazing how a city could be the focus of so much possessive zeal and fervor. From the earliest origins of the city to its fiercely contested status now is an intriguing story. From David’s dynasty, we pass on to the Persians, the Macedonians, the Maccabees, the Romans, the Herodians, and the Byzantines.
In 636 A.D., a Muslim army under Abu Ubbaidah besieged Jerusalem, and the Patriarch surrendered the following year. Muslim rule over the city, much of it relatively tolerant for the times, continued unbroken until the First Crusade in the late 11th century. The Dome of the Rock was completed in 691, and the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem went on to add a number of mosques and other glorious buildings.
In this period, Jerusalem remained a holy city for Muslims, Jews and Christians. The latter came annually at Easter from West and East for a pilgrimage at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the sites associated with Jesus Christ. They were heavily taxed by the Fatimid rulers of the city based in Cairo, and often harassed and robbed by Arab raiders.
In 1000 A.D., Hakim succeeded his father Aziz as the Fatimid caliph, and soon abandoned the traditional tolerance that had prevailed in Jerusalem. He is said to have destroyed the Jewish Quarter and razed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre ‘stone by stone’, going on to pull down synagogues and churches throughout the city, and then proceeded to ban Ramazan and persecute Sunnis and Shias alike.
Mercifully, the caliph, still only 36, rode out of Cairo and disappeared into the hills. But the effects of his rampage reverberated, albeit slowly: the first Crusader army, inspired by Pope Urban II, did not reach Jerusalem until 1099 A.D. After the Crusaders finally broke through the Muslim defenses, a most fearsome slaughter ensued, terrifying even by the standards of those days. Montefiore quotes an exultant eyewitness: “Wonderful sights were to be seen. Our men cut off the heads of their enemies … Piles of heads, feet and hands were to be seen on the streets. It was necessary to pick one’s way over the bodies of men and horses … they rode in blood up to their bridles. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place [Al Aqsa Mosque] should be filled with the blood of unbelievers.”
In 1187 A.D., Jerusalem was reconquered by Salahuddin Ayubi, and remained under Muslim control until the 20th century when the Ottomans were defeated in the First World War, and the British ruled Palestine until the creation of Israel in 1948. Since then it has been deeply contested with Israel claiming it as the ‘Eternal Capital’ of the Jews, while the Palestinians insist that it will also be the capital of their own state if and when one comes into being.
Somebody associated with the unending negotiations between Israel and Palestinians once said the latter never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. One such came in 1931 A.D. when the British proposed the partition of Palestine with 70 % going to the Arabs, 20 % to the Jews, with the rest for Jerusalem which would be an international city supervised by the British. While Ben-Gurion, the first Israeli prime minister, accepted the proposal, the Arabs rejected it out of hand. The rest is history.

Lotus Overwhelms Potus ( with tongue in cheek)

It was the ideal advertisement for PM Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India- as if it can ever be cleaned) campaign — Delhi has been swept clean, thanks to security for Potus, President Obama, at the Republic Day Parade. Birds, bees, dogs, citizens, anything that moves, have been told to freeze, which they were anyway thanks to the weather. In keeping with their bromance, Potus asked Lotus (Modi) to join him in his smog-proof enclosure so they could watch the tableaux together. Here’s how it could go.
Potus: This reminds me of Macy’s Parade in New York with all those floats and figures filled with hot air. Tell me about the first one; it looks like a headless chicken and various groups are fighting among themselves, there is a guy with a muffler and a broom, and a woman cop trying to calm them down. Reminds me of the House of Representatives and Nancy Pelosi.
Lotus: That’s Delhi. We choose the states that can display a tableau, it’s stage-managed. Delhi doesn’t have a government since the last chief minister chickened out, hence the headless chicken. The groups are the main parties in the fray making their grievances public. It’s called democracy, something you Americans started. The muffler guy is a has-been and the woman cop is his replacement — like you, a supercop.
Potus: What’s she yelling on the loudspeaker?
Lotus: Something about me having the most beautiful face in the world.
Potus: I was told that was Aishwarya Rai.
Lotus: The media calls it the Modi Effect. It affects people in strange ways, like that general secretary of the Congress party, who said I have a beautiful Indian face.
Potus: The next tableau looks interesting, that lady in the bathroom slippers with a bamboo in her hand. Reminds me of Michelle when I’ve done something wrong.
Lotus: It’s West Bengal and the lady is Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister. She’s a slippery customer and keeps accusing me of sticking a bamboo in her business. She’s the political equivalent of an IED.
Potus: Reminds me of Sarah Palin. Is that your space programme float? It’s got a spacecraft and guys in loincloths writing equations on a rock.
Lotus: Those are our ancient scientists. They built spacecraft in 1750 BC and came up with the Pythagoras theorem before he did, they also knew all about plastic surgery.
Potus: Reminds me of the Republicans. What’s the next one, people crossing over a wooden bridge? Are those your development planks?
Lotus: No, those are all the people lining up to join the BJP. We call it ghar wapsi.
Potus: Reminds me of 2008, we called it the housing bubble. Here come the armed forces contingents, those helicopters look real slow and ungainly, so last year. Maybe you should buy some of our Chinooks and Apaches.
Lotus: As long as you make in India. Outsource it to us.
Potus: We know all about outsourcing to India. We call it being Bangalored. What’s this next tableau with an empty chair at the centre and a giant map?
Lotus: That’s Jammu & Kashmir. The map shows it’s an integral part of India, we just need a government to be formed to make it official.
Potus: Reminds me of our talks on the nuclear deal and climate change. What’s this tableau with all the ducks?
Lotus: Our cricket team, battered and bruised and ducking the bouncers.
Potus: Lame ducks? Reminds me of what they say about me. We really do seem to have a lot in common.

Journey of Incompatibles From cold shoulder to hugs: Obama and Modi’s unlikely Friendship

They seemed all the time never destined to meet, much less like each other. They belonged to different universes. One was an unabashed liberal and Nobel peace laureate. And the other is an unabashed a right-wing nationalist and long-time international pariah. Before The other came to the center stage in Delhi like a triumphant conqueror, he was considered by the first one a non-entity , unfit even to visit US as a visitor. And now seeing them hugging and embracing each other, smiling like meeting of long lost brothers, it seems to be a miracle of diplomacy and realization of hard realities.
But as Barack Obama and Narendra Modi clasped each other in a bear hug on Sunday, the US and Indian leaders highlighted a bond that observers say stems in part from their humble backgrounds and mutual outsider status. They defied the circumstances of their origins, rising to the top of the totem pole.
Both of them are rebels with a cause. It’s less than a year since the Obama administration ended its cold-shouldering of Modi, who had been a pariah in Washington and other Western capitals for more than a decade.
US under Obama was the last Western power to end Modi’s isolation which stemmed from an eruption of communal violence in Gujarat, the state on India’s west coast which Modi governed until his general election win last May. With relations already soured in late 2013 by the arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat in New York, Time magazine predicted last year “the atmosphere could soon become even more tense” with Modi in power.
Modi acted at that time with a finesse that is almost unparalleled. Not only he show extreme decency and restraint by refraining from voicing bitterness,but also showed all signs of forward looking positive approach. his first meeting with Obama at the White House in September went far better than many had hoped. “I think they struck up a very good chemistry,” the White House’s Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters, recalling how the pair had had a long discussion over dinner.
Weeks after that ice-breaker, the two governments resolved a row over food subsidies that had been blocking a global trade agreement, underlining the sense that the pair could do business together.
Obama did enjoy the company of Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh whom he called ‘guru’, yet it was never clear whether the mild-mannered premier or Congress party president Sonia Gandhi called the shots.
US officials say Obama has savored dealing with a leader who, thanks to his thumping election majority, can get things done.
But Modi and Obama today lead a mutual appreciation society. Obama’s top diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, hailed Modi as “a visionary prime minister” when he made an advance visit to India. As he issued his invitation to Obama, Modi said on Twitter that he was going “to have a friend over”.
While there is little doubt that diplomatic imperatives and a mutual desire to counterbalance China’s rise partly explains their desire to find common ground, observers say it goes further than that.
Both men entered office under a huge weight of expectation, with grand plans to deliver radical reform that would underline the sense of a bold break from the established order. “In their first conversation after Prime Minister Modi’s election, I think they noted some similarities in terms of how their campaigns kind of changed the way in which politics was practiced in their respective countries,” said Rhodes.
While Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush was the son of a president, Modi’s main election rival was Rahul Gandhi, whose father and grandmother had both been Indian prime ministers. And as the son of a tea vendor, Modi’s back story carried echoes of Obama’s inspirational rise to become the first black US president. In an interview published on the eve of his arrival in Delhi, Obama said Modi’s “remarkable life story… is a reflection of the determination of the Indian people to succeed”. They both come from similar origins. One represents the American dream and the other represents the Indian dream. Both represent a certain vision, theme and direction of where they want to take their country. While Obama may come from the left of US politics and Modi from the right of India’s political spectrum, Suresh said they shared basic common goals. Modi knows that for the vast socio-economic changes including his ambitious Make in India campaign, he needs American investments and technology, in sectors like defense, energy, nuclear and national security.
President Obama obviously wants to revive (the) American economy, create jobs and for him India is a great market that offers him an opportunity to fulfill the aspirations of his own people. America certainly needs an emerging India as a key partner in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in the light of China’s emergence.
China’s President Xi Jinping did get an invite from Modi before Obama, and even shared dinner with his host on the Indian premier’s 64th birthday. But Obama gets even more favored treatment by becoming the first leader to be entertained to an intimate dinner at Modi’s home.
Rudyard Kipling had sung: ” East is East and West is West/ And Never the Twain shall meet” . Well Rudyard, you seem to be wrong. Finally the Twain has met!

Homosexuality, History and Hypocrisy in India

The chilling images of a man being thrown off a high-rise in Iraq by the men of Islamic State caused much outrage. The man, according to reports in the Telegraph, Daily Mail, and other western media, was thrown to his death for being gay. The Islamic State guys are no doubt the most barbaric, brutal and intolerant of our times. They revel in their barbarity and make a show of it with beheading videos and public executions, evoking shock and awe from the world.
If they can kill, rape and stone people for being followers of other faiths or not following their version of medieval Islam, what can one expect for homosexuals, who suffer a terrible fate in the more free and civilised parts of the world? There is a kind of normalisation of the harassment and persecution of homosexuals across most parts and cultures of the world.
In Goa, the Youth Minister of the BJP government plans to make gays ‘normal’ by opening up special “treatment centres.” Yoga guru Ramdev, another blue-eyed boy of the ruling party, claimed some time ago that homosexuality can be cured through yoga. Obviously, for this school of thought, homosexuals are abnormal and sick people. All religious and ‘cultural’ institutions treat homosexuality as a crime, or at the very least, an abnormality.
And here, I must make a confession. I am also guilty of making jokes about people of different sexual orientation. But I must also say that these jokes are more in the same flavour as jokes about sardars – harmless and not indicative of any deep-rooted bias or hatred. Or for that matter, jokes about Muslims or ‘ghar wapasi’ that have become normal these days among friends. Basically well-intentioned, though deeply insensitive, aimed at evoking some innocent laughter, and not hatred or discrimination.
Discrimination and this ‘othering’ of homosexuals is legitimised by the archaic laws that we have. Homosexuality is a crime. Homosexuals are criminals. So, it’s okay to look down upon them. If the Delhi High Court took us closer to being more humane and just toward sexual minorities, the Supreme Court turned the clock brutally back. While it may be argued that it’s more about the mindset of a country’s people than its laws, the problem is that laws breed the mindset of discrimination and hatred. So we must fix the law. But I agree that the bigger battle is with the mindset. And what makes this battle tough is that the ‘homophobia’ has the sanction of all religious, social, cultural institutions.
They all tell us it’s bad, it’s unnatural and un-Indian. Gays came from the big bad west to pollute our serene, natural and heterosexual cultures and traditions. The heads of Homophobics Anonymous have got both their history and their biology wrong. Look at the khajuraho carvings, the Kamasutra, the depictions of the courts of Kings and Nawabs. From Lord Aiyappa to Ardhnareshwar, homosexuality and transgender identities were normal in our great civilisation.As Vikram Seth once said, “It is homophobia that came into India and not homosexuality.”Today, institutions try to regulate human lives in all aspects. So we have the divisions of normal and abnormal. If the majority does it one way, it should be the only way. The rest need to be brought in line or thrown out. We are becoming less and less tolerant towards the ‘other’ way, whether it’s a thought or how you seek love.
The Islamic State is beyond redemption. It cannot be reformed or made more accommodative. It can only be defeated. The Muslims, the Christians, the heterosexual, the homosexuals, all are fighting the demon.
But the so-called civilised world needs to stop discriminating among its citizens solely because they are ‘different’ in their sexual manners. There’s little hope today for any progress on repealing of Article 377 when the Home Minister says he believes that homosexuality is “unnatural”. But the fight is on and it will go on. The upholding of Article 377 pushed India back in time. Maybe it’s time to remind India of its tolerant past to help it overcome its prejudices.
‘Different cultures have derived different morals from Ramayana’
Richman’s 1991 book Many Ramayanas, a much celebrated volume, had to face criticism from Hindu activists for including, what they said, inappropriate interpretations of the holy text. The most controversial part of the book was an essay by historian A K Ramanujam titled Three Hundred Ramayanas, which detailed several interpretations of Ramayana. The essay was dropped from the undergraduate history syllabus of Delhi University in 2011 after protests from Hindu groups and a number of teachers. Paula Richman, William H Danforth professor of South Asian Religions at Oberlin, Ohio, specialises in the study of Ramayana and Tamil. She spoke on Monday at Delhi-based South Asian University in a lecture titled ‘Crossing Boundaries — Narratives And Persons Who Travel’.
In her lecture Richman invoked all kinds of engagements across borders over the ages — involving merchants, indentured labour, the dollar diaspora, students and religious messengers. But, with felicity she spoke on stories travelling across borders over the centuries.
Speaking of the journey of a story or text across borders, she citied how Ramayana has taken “different forms, where stories are not only translated but retold, with each poet retelling it (bringing in) a local context”. She said in Indonesia “Ramayana and Mahabharata are mixed and even the characters from both meet each other”.
She said various cultures have emphasised different aspects of Ramayana and derived different “morals” from it. Richman recalled how a group of artistes from ASEAN countries discovered that the one story they all knew was that of Ramayana, on which they finally performed. It was just song and dance show, emphasising an unorthodox interpretation — what happens after Lord Ram becomes king of Ayodhya and the questions that confronted him on running the kingdom and tackling corruption.
On Jataka tales and Panchatantra stories, which have travelled to several countries and been adopted in various milieus, Richman cited a biography of Buddha, which tells about his yearning to tread the “middle path”, as being something that had also been interpreted by various cultures differently. “Buddhist struggle/dilemma and desire to know have been shared widely and meant different things to different cultures,” she said, emphasising the advantage stories sometimes have over people — of being able to slip across borders.
Richman also talked about different types of migrations and said it something that has been happening worldwide over several centuries. “We think of nations and the world as being bound by fixed boundaries. But, borders have shifted dramatically and even in recent years, the world looked very different, with different boundaries and names for places and parts of the world, and we must accept that it will continue to change.”
She said people from West Asia used to visit India’s coastal areas and they stayed here waiting for favourable winds to guide them home. Often, they settled down in Kerala and were “influential in creating new and specific cultures there,” she said.

Bay of Pigs Fiasco Holds Lessons For Businesses

What the Cuban Missile Crisis can teach business leaders about monopolists and informal power. Most people know what almost happened in the fall of 1962. After the Soviet Union started building nuclear missile launch sites in Cuba, U.S. military leaders advised President John F. Kennedy to bomb and invade the country. The world was perhaps never closer to nuclear war.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military men recommending aggressive action, had stature and skill. Most were veterans of World War II. In addition to formal authority, they had incredible informal power that stemmed from their experience and from having the resources of the Pentagon at their disposal. But Kennedy didn’t acquiesce. Instead, he sought the counsel of others, including his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and experts at the Executive Committee at the National Security Council.
As a result of having competing policy ideas to consider, he was able to develop a policy that combined blockade and diplomacy, possibly averted a war, and resulted in the establishment of the famous hotline between Washington and Moscow.
The Cuban Missile Crisis is a compelling example of the difficulties that confront a leader advised by people of great but informal power. Sometimes, a decision maker may lose power to those beneath him or her in the chain of command because of other players’ ability to set agendas or conceive and carry out policies so expert they crowd out other ideological viewpoints.
New research from Kenneth W. Shotts, the David S. and Ann M. Barlow Professor of Political Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Alexander V. Hirsch, associate professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology, analyzes this balance of power between leaders and the policy developers around them.
The analysis, based on a simple mathematical model, offers insights for leaders who want to make the most of people with informal power without being overwhelmed by them. The researchers found that the best way to restrain actors with a lot of informal authority, also called “policy-development monopolists” in the research, is a system of checks and balances. “The lessons are about how to harness the informal authority to aid the organization,” Shotts says. It’s useful to have competition as well as counterbalancing authority, he says. “Broadly speaking, the way to restrain a monopolist is to threaten an outcome she dislikes unless she develops a high-quality policy that promotes the decision maker’s objectives,” Shotts says.
How do you benefit from a monopolist and make good decisions? First, recognize a monopolist, engage them, and keep them in check. Next: -Establish in-house policy development -Delegate authority to a person or group that counterbalances the monopolist . The researchers say leaders can improve the quality of their decisions and take advantage of monopolists’ skills by:
Establishing in-house policy development capability
Delegating authority to someone who counterbalances the monopolists
Fostering competition between policymakers with different ideas
In the case of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy used two of these tactics — he developed internal policymaking authority in the Executive Committee at the National Security Council. He also relied on competing policymakers — his brother and McNamara — to weigh in against the Joint Chiefs. The result was that he had an ultimately successful, robust policy plan to keep the missiles out of Cuba and forestall a military encounter.
The researchers’ mathematical model treats policymaking as a game. Each actor aims to win with his or her own policy idea. The quality of the ultimate decision is defined to include some elements valued by both the decision maker and the person with informal authority. Those elements include cost savings, efficiency of implementation, and low risk of the outcome. For instance, in the Cuban Missile Crisis, a policy that reduced the risk of nuclear war was clearly in everyone’s interest.
Shotts says the researchers have steadily found other situations in which their research yields insights: how the financial industry should be regulated; effects of term limits on state legislatures; and even, perhaps, the question of why citizens elect populist leaders.
Decision-making players : The leader: The formal decision-making authority, looking for high-quality policies. The monopolist: A person with no formal power. He takes advantage of his expertise to obtain informal authority and create policies that benefits.|
What Does a Monopolist Look Like?
The first step for a decision maker is to recognize a person or group with informal authority. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, the monopolists looked like military heroes. In the workplace, a monopolist is someone with the skills necessary to develop a new project, anything from charm to experience to the harder skills, like technical mastery. Monopolists’ ability gives them de facto power within an organization, even if they don’t have formal power. Shotts and Hirsch argue leaders do well to recognize such policy developers, respect them, and keep them engaged and in check. “In our model … the key problem is that a policy developer can use informal agenda-setting power to promote her own interests without benefitting the decision maker,” Shotts and Hirsch write.
Monopolists can be found throughout the political system. In state legislatures, for example, term limits reduce the power of legislatures and increase the power of governors and interest groups, especially in small states that don’t have professional legislative staff. With the power of lobbying organizations or state bureaucracy at their disposal, these monopolists can craft policy at a higher level than the legislators, who have less internal capacity to research or do the groundwork necessary to craft detailed legislation.
In a society aiming for representative government, that’s probably a bad outcome, though the researchers say that it’s possible a number of powerful interest groups could balance each other out and leave even a term-limited legislature in control.
Another interesting application for this research is financial regulation. One popular theory suggests that the industry should be regulated by insiders — people with expertise who understand the complexity of finance. Many of the regulators who oversee American finance are seen as having close ties to the industry, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates public companies and banking, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an industry group that regulates broker-dealers.
But Shotts and Hirsch’s research indicates a regulator in opposition to the industry — a skeptical overseer — is most likely to produce the best outcomes for leaders because that overseer can counterbalance monopolists. The researchers said that in their model, “there is no public-policy justification for creating a pro-industry agency.” Their model suggests that the only reason for a pro-industry agency to exist is because of the industry’s desire to “capture” the agency. The researchers suggest their model could also shed light on other areas of political economy, including, most tantalizingly, why people elect or follow populist leaders who have extreme political leanings.
In those cases, the citizens — the decision makers — may seek to counter the influence of economic elites — the monopolists — by electing someone in opposition to them. “The model supports the idea that systems work best when there is a balance of power of viewpoints, and that people act to bring a system back into balance when it has fallen out of whack,” Shotts says.

America: Be Prepared for Massive Cyber Attack

Imagine a scenario where a person sitting in a small village in far-off China could, ” for example, derail passenger trains or even more dangerous, derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply on major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country. Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical Military Systems and Communication networks.”
It’s an incredible scenario, one that almost seems fanciful: For the first time in history, computer geeks have the means—if not the motive—to inflict catastrophic damage on an entire nation! And this was the scenario outlined by the then Secretary of Defense Panetta. Today, the situation is still more pitiable.
US claiming to be super-power is unable to protect itself. The United States is being burgled. While Uncle Sam does all he can to board up his home and set the alarm, thieves continue to break in and help themselves to his merchandise. Military and industrial secrets are being hefted at an alarming scale. Thoughts, ideas and identities are also being snatched up in the process.
The hacking of the sites relating to Pentagon and CIA were glossed over and then came the classic case of Sony.
Of course, the thieves aren’t hefting fighter jets in duffel bags or breaking into company offices to snatch paperwork. The thieves are using what continues to prove itself as America’s unlocked door: the cyber-world. And while the cyber-door swings wide for many thieves, the most consistent burglars are the Chinese. It doesn’t have to be government websites. Some of the most lucrative steals are made by targeting companies and subcontractors.
Hacking is routine across the Pacific. While President Barack Obama was quick to call out the North Koreans for breaking into Sony’s e-mails, Chinese fingerprints are often traced in hacks that cost America billions upon billions of dollars in damages and stolen technology and information.
Reports have been released on China’s cyber-espionage, revealing a veritable army of hackers that puts the North Koreans to shame. In one report, over 20 groups were tracked, ranging from a dozen to multiple thousands of hackers per group. These groups even compete with one another for the favor of the Chinese Ministry of State Secrecy. It is from this shady government branch that assignments and targets are allocated, often with multiple groups targeting the one corporation.
And it’s not only government websites targeted. Some of the most lucrative steals are made by targeting companies and subcontractors. A manufacturer or design company is far less prepared for a breach than a government organization. The Department of Defense can protect itself, but what about the companies it uses build and design its weapons? By the time many companies realize they have been robbed of information, the thieves are long gone.
The size and scope of China’s thieving is almost as staggering as the bounty itself. For years the Chinese have carried out cyber attacks aimed at stealing United States’ secrets. In 2013, two dozen major weapons systems were stolen in a single attack. This was one of the largest breaches in American military history. According to reports leaked by Edward Snowden, the Chinese have information on the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the F-22 Raptor, nuclear submarines and missile systems.
Even the identities of U.S. soldiers are stolen. China has tens of thousands of records on U.S. military personnel. China not only steals the weapons’ plans, it can steal or attack even those who operate them!
The designs of an advanced Patriot missile system, an anti-ballistic missile defense system, and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system all fell into Chinese hands.
China’s rapidly growing navy may not be nearly as advanced as that of the United States, but its growth has largely come at America’s expense. Plans for the U.S. Navy’s latest littoral combat ships have fallen into Chinese hands. As a result, ensuing Chinese combat ships will likely experience significant upgrades—a great advantage for China in its territorial disputes in and around the South China Sea.
Also carted out by Chinese hackers has been what the Washington Post described as the “backbone of the Pentagon’s regional missile defense for Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf.” The designs of an advanced Patriot missile system, an anti-ballistic missile defense system, and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic missile defense system have all fallen into Chinese hands.
These missile systems are the first line of defense against the bristling missile systems already established in nations such as China, Russia and Iran. And now China has the blueprints to that shield. They know its strengths—and its vulnerabilities.
In 2007, China got away with the most expensive weapons technology heist in human history: the design for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Estimated to cost the U.S. $1.4 trillion to design and manufacture, the F-35 was supposed to cement U.S. air dominance. And it only cost China the wages of a few hackers to get the designs that took America years to create.
In 2007, China got away with an estimated $1.4 trillion weapons technology heist: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which was supposed to cement U.S. air dominance.China’s new model fighter jets are looking awfully similar to the new F-35. China’s Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 are textbook examples of Chinese-made, American-influenced weaponry. These thefts undermine America’s military superiority and compromise the security of any nation within China’s considerable sphere of influence. Australia, for instance, plans to buy 72 F-35s. What Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called “a vital contribution to our national security” could now become a vital contribution to Chinese efforts to establish itself as the dominant power bloc in the East and threaten the military might of the West.
The scope widens still. Even in the Middle East, China’s hackers can be found with their hands on other nations’ property. The plans for Israel’s Iron Dome system—its means of protecting itself from missile barrages—have been captured by China. The Chinese are gathering information and technology from all over the globe. These items are not just being fenced to the highest bidder; China is using what it takes.
There are abundant examples of China building weapons that hold a startling similarity to U.S. technologies. Just take a look at the most modern planes on the Chinese tarmacs or ships in the docks. They all have the hallmarks of stolen ideas. But that isn’t the most concerning issue.
What is more dangerous is the likelihood that China is learning how to exploit these technologies. We should not expect China to merely take advantage of the strengths it finds in U.S. weaponry. We must also consider the high likelihood that China will find ways to exploit our weaknesses.
Consider the advanced targeting systems of the F-35. China is no doubt just as interested in working out how to sidestep that system as it is in developing the same. What about the missile defenses of the United States? Surely China doesn’t just want the same technology. Beijing would want systems capable of getting past such barriers. We cannot expect China to merely take advantage of the strengths it finds in U.S. weaponry. We must also consider the likelihood that China is finding ways to exploit the weaknesses.
The Chinese are clearly using what they take. Every stolen secret will be leveraged to China’s gain. Yes, all nations spy on one another. But what we see from China is not the same as, say, the U.S. spying on China.
The U.S. is militarily superior. It has little to gain in technological advancements. Its spying is more to understand what China is doing. China does the same to the United States, but it also learns from the U.S. China piggybacks on American advancements, seizing technology through espionage at a fraction of the cost it takes America to develop in the first place.
It is only a matter of time before these constant attacks are felt outside of the affected corporations and industries that are targeted. China—empowered with U.S. weaponry—constitutes a major threat to the Western world. Yet few accept or acknowledge the hits being made on the cyber-battlefield and their dramatic correlation to a coming physical battlefield!
Hacking is itself a declaration of war and can bring deadly results. But the acquisition of plans for advanced weaponry increases the threat posed by enemies of the West. Being an American used to be fun, easy and safe. Not anymore. Today every American faces danger and uncertainty on every side: The nation’s debt (public and private) is fatally high, millions upon millions are out of work, the cost of living is ever rising, racial and social tensions are intensifying. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world, including powerful players like China, Russia, Iran, al Qaeda and its radical Islamist allies, resent and even despise the U.S. and are actively working to bring it down.
And these are only the dangers American’s are somewhat cognizant of. There is a whole host of other fatal threats, ones we don’t often read about or see on CNN.
Speaking to business leaders in New York City , Leon Panetta, the then U.S. Secretary of Defense, delivered a dramatic warning about one of the less publicized dangers creeping up on America: Cyber-warfare. During his speech Panetta drew attention to some recent cyber-attacks on U.S. financial institutions. The tactics used by the attackers weren’t new, he explained, but “ the scale and speed with which it happened was unprecedented”. The potential for cyber-attacks to inflict damage on a large scale is quickly increasing, he explained, and a “cyber-attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremists groups could be as destructive as the terrorist attack on 9/11.”
Panetta described a recent cyber assault on a Saudi Arabian state-run oil company that destroyed 30,000 computers. A few days later a similarly destructive and expensive attack occurred against RasGas, an Qatar-based energy company. “Imagine the impact an attack like that would have on your company or your business,” he said.
But the threat posed to U.S. businesses and institutions and the people they serve is only half the story. Panetta continued: “We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America’s critical infrastructure networks. They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants and those that guide transportation throughout this country…. We also know that they are seeking to create advanced tools to attack these systems and cause panic and destruction and even the loss of life.”
Remember, this was the U.S. Secretary of Defense. And if he says so, there is cause to worry. Panetta then delivered a script that would make Steven Spielberg salivate: :Let me explain how this could unfold. An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could, for example, derail passenger trains or even more dangerous, derail trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply on major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. The most destructive scenarios involve cyber actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack on our country. Attackers could also seek to disable or degrade critical Military Systems and Communication networks.”
It’s an incredible scenario, one that almost seems fanciful: For the first time in history, computer geeks have the means—if not the motive—to inflict catastrophic damage on an entire nation! Panetta concluded his scenario with a stark and dramatic warning, one that hasn’t received nearly the attention it commands: “The collective result of these kinds of attacks could be a Cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation and create a new, profound sense of vulnerability.”
America is likely to be a victim of massive cyber attack. An attack so deadly it destroys vital U.S. infrastructure, making it impossible to muster the military and sustain trade and commerce, and ultimately thrusting the nation into chaos and anarchy? Twenty years ago such a scenario would have been surreal, impossible, the plot line of an epic science fiction movie. Yet here we are in 2015 visualizing seriously and candidly about the potential of a catastrophic cyber attack on the United States. Gone are the days when it was fun and easy being American.

A New Inroad in Africa by China- With Funds, Hotels and Sex

It’s Saturday night, and the Piccolo, the most notorious nightclub in Chad’s capital, is packed with the flotsam dragged in by the tide of war: French military crew trying to get drunk enough to imagine they’re in the suburbs of Paris, Ukrainian mercenaries flying aircraft for the government, battle-fatigued diplomats, arms dealers, and upmarket sex workers who’ve made their way across the border from even poorer Cameroon.
The bouncers are busy keeping the mob away from from the reserved tables at the far end of the dance floor, for guests who show up past midnight: a gaggle of Chinese businessmen armed with $100 bills, and girlfriends who appear to have paid a recent visit to Paris’s most expensive boutiques.“The white man used to be king here,” says Mark Franc, a retired French soldier who now runs a taxi service in N’Djamena. “No more.”
In less than a decade, an estimated $7.3 billion in Chinese investments have transformed Chad into a regional power — and, in turn, given the Asian superpower a foundation from which to project power across the Sahel. China powers the country’s growing oil industry, and is involved in constructing roads, public buildings and N’Djamena’s new airport. France, the former colonial power, now provides 16 per cent of Chad’s imports; China provides over 20 per cent.
By way of contrast, India’s only major investment in the oil-rich country is Airtel’s mobile phone network — and that, business analysts say, is struggling against the odds.
The names of the hotels tell the story of China’s growing presence in the country: there’s the Guangzhou, the Beijing, the WoHo, the Asia. The staff at the primly-named Salon de Thé, where N’Djamena’s European expats would once gather for tea and tarts, now offers visitors so-called happy-ending massages, administered by sex workers brought in from Shanghai and Hong Kong.
“Lilly”, waiting outside the Piccolo, won’t share her real name, but makes no secret of why she’s there. “The men get paid well,” she says, “and there isn’t a whole lot here for them to spend on.”
Like so many sordid geopolitical power struggles, China’s rise was linked to oil. Though Chad’s hydrocarbon potential was discovered in the 1970s, chronic insurgent violence and the low quality of the oil stopped it from being tapped until the last decade. In October 2000, though, an Exxon-Chevron-Petronas consortium began pumping oil through the Chad-Cameroon pipeline. But to build the pipeline, Chad had needed a World Bank loan — and it came with the condition that the oil revenues would be used to fund health and education in a country where just a third of adults can read, and where three in five still live on less than $1 a day.
President Idris Deby, who had come to power in a brutal 1999 coup, was mired in a long-running battle against Sudan-backed tribal insurgents — and in 2006, it looked like they might win. France, a diplomatic source said, refused to help directly — though it did discreetly facilitate the transport of Ukrainian-made shells for Deby’s ageing T-72 tanks. Then president Jacques Chirac, the diplomat said, offered to evacuate Deby but the Chadian ruler refused, instead leading his force of tanks, which slaughtered the opposition.
Wiser for his friends’ unwillingness to help, Deby began pumping more funds into his armed forces. Now, with helicopter gunships and even an ageing Soviet ground-attack aircraft flown by Ukranian mercenaries, Chad has the most powerful military in the region.
The spending, though, led the World Bank to cut off funding — and that’s where China stepped in. Though western governments were reluctant to subsidise Deby’s military build-up, the Chinese government showed no interest in the country’s internal affairs.
It hasn’t been a frictionless relationship: in 2012, China’s state oil company was ordered to suspend pumping oil, after a giant spill destroyed swathes of land. Yet, China is key to Chad’s plans to treble its production by the end of this year, and is investing in long-term infrastructure like highways.
Now, Deby also has the satisfaction of again being wooed by France and the US, which need his support for counterterrorism in Mali and elsewhere in the Sahel.

Israel No Better in Gender Segregation

I love Israel, but was shocked when something – something unbelievable came to my notice. There are many controversies pinned to the recent attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One controversy that is less mentioned is the way an ultra-orthodox Israeli newspaper covered the solidarity march in which world leaders participated following the attack. The Monday edition of HaMevaser, a newspaper catering to the Haredi, an ultra-orthodox Jewish community, carried a picture of the march that was different from the one run by newspapers around the world. The altered picture run by HaMevaser had edited out all the women in the photograph; their doctoring was particularly visible because this included the woman at the centre of the picture, the German head of state Angela Merkel.
According to the Guardian, which carried the story, the Haredi in Israel do not believe that women should be in the public sphere. HaMevaser’s editor of the newspaper said that the reason they had edited out the picture of women was because it was a family publication suitable for all, including young children. “The eight-year-old can’t see what I don’t want him to see,” he said to a television interviewer, adding, “True, a picture of Angela Merkel does not ruin a child, but if I have to draw a line, I have to put it there from the bottom all the way to the top.”
Just how much Israel capitulates to the gender-segregating requirements of ultra-orthodox Jewish elements is not often discussed. If the ultra-orthodox Haredi believe that no women should be in the public sphere, they have to apply the rule to all women, including the German chancellor.|
Just how much the state of Israel capitulates to the gender-segregating requirements of the Haredi is not a topic that is often discussed in world media. Given that a high percentage of Israelis living in contemporary Israel are descendants of refugees from various European countries, it would surprise many to learn that many areas of public life in Israel are segregated to accommodate the religious beliefs of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community, which not only opposes women being out in public, but whose men do not look directly at women, sit next to them or go into stores or businesses where they are present.
In her book The War on Women in Israel Elana Maryles Sztokman recalls an incident in which an ultra-orthodox man refused to sit next to her on a bus (while she was carrying a sleeping toddler). The bus issue became even bigger when women’s groups filed a petition in the Israel’s high court saying that the gender segregation that the ultra-orthodox demanded on certain buses was not legal. Even though the Supreme Court agreed with them, the ruling was not enforced and members of the group continued to enforce segregation on the buses.
Nor has gender segregation, believed necessary for religious orthodoxy, been limited to certain buses. Some orthodox rabbis have also decreed that women may not run for public office, ostensibly because this would require them to be in mixed company and around men who are not their husbands.
According to Sztokman, there has been a 40pc increase in the number of gender-segregated state schools in the past 13 years, and images of women have been removed from billboards and signs in and around ultra-orthodox communities. Cumulatively, the prerogative that religious belief prevents a man from being around women is in most instances in Israel considered an adequate reason for restricting women’s access.
The questions underlying the issue of religious ultra-orthodoxy and the restrictions it imposes on unconnected others, particularly women, is hardly limited to Israel. In a democratic society, different gradations and interpretations of belief all have to be mediated in the public sphere, such that the interests of all citizens can be met and represented.
What indeed must be done when the beliefs of a minority curtail the rights of a majority, and the minority believes itself to be the true expression of religious faith? In Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas and parts of KP, the movement of women in public spaces has appeared restricted because of incursions by the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Primary among the extremists’ demands has been restricting girls’ education and the movement of women in the public sphere. Even when the government negotiated peace settlements with such groups, it had accepted that women’s access to public spaces would be limited. In one such agreement that took place in the run-up to national elections, several political parties agreed that women would not be coming out to vote in certain areas near the Pak-Afghan border.
In a religious state, those professing an ultra-orthodox interpretation of religious doctrine are imagined as being the most pious. Consequently, they are awarded a large number of concessions, be they special allowances for religious schools or special permission restricting the participation of women in political activities — from voting to leadership.
Larger political parties are unwilling to challenge these precepts because they may hurt their own potential for forming coalition governments, which often hinge on the cooperation of just these actors. In Israel and elsewhere, it is imagined that these concessions, be it the restriction of women to the back of the bus in Israel or the ban on women in the marketplace in Miramshah, do not affect the general character of the nation.
It is this last belief that is a dangerous lie. The assumption that those professing an ultra-orthodox interpretation of a faith are by default correct is problematic. Consequently, the concessions that flow from it, whether it is certain kinds of religious schools or gender segregation, all work to delegitimise other, more moderate and tolerant iterations. Allowing things to be different in one or two cases, hence, is not as innocuous as it seems; it is in fact affirming the precept that those who believe in exclusion and inequality are right and everyone else is wrong.

Modi’s Innovative Use of Ordinances As A Sledgehammer

Ordinances assert that it’s the executive that has the popular mandate, not the unrepresentative upper house in a democratic set-up, especially in a parliamentary form of government. This upper house in India is called Rajya Sabha and is shelter of failed politicians, retired bureaucrats and others hangers on to the government in power.
Insurance, coal, land acquisition – is the flurry of ordinances promulgated by the Narendra Modi government an aberration or a trend? While quick judgments would be unwise, it is just possible that India is at the cusp of a new model of executive-legislature negotiation. If so, the instrument of the ordinance is going to acquire a salience it has not had before.
As is obvious, NDA has a handsome majority in Lok Sabha but is in a minority in Rajya Sabha. This position is likely to be redressed in 2016 and more so in 2018, following Rajya Sabha elections in those years.
What happens in the interim? A taste of the challenge before the government came in the monsoon session, when a handful of MPs in Rajya Sabha did not allow the House to function and created conditions that made it impossible to vote on Bills the government deemed urgent.
In the case of the Insurance Bill in particular this made a mockery of the government’s Lok Sabha majority as well as the fact that both BJP and Congress (the largest parties in Rajya Sabha) were publicly supportive of the Bill. It also left the joint session threat in tatters.
On taking office, the NDA government had said it was more than willing to resort to joint sessions of Parliament to pass Bills. It would not be held back by the fact that joint sessions had hitherto been rare occurrences. A joint session can take place after one House passes a Bill and the other (essentially Rajya Sabha) rejects it or fails to take action on it for six months.
In the case of the Insurance Bill, the government had a legacy problem. The previous UPA government had introduced the Bill in Rajya Sabha, not Lok Sabha. Now with Rajya Sabha not passing the Bill and not rejecting it either, the government was stuck. Its Lok Sabha majority served no purpose. The insurance ordinance that has been promulgated is essentially a mirror image of the Insurance Bill already in Rajya Sabha. As things stand, this ordinance will now be introduced in Lok Sabha and be passed there. It will then go to Rajya Sabha. Rajya Sabha can pass, reject or not take action for six months on this version of the Insurance Bill. Following the latter two, a joint session will be called.
In effect, this four-stage process – ordinance; Lok Sabha passage; Rajya Sabha rejection/inaction; joint session – could become the norm for contentious Bills between now and at least 2016, if not longer. The danger of course is if Rajya Sabha continues to be disrupted and cannot meet in an orderly fashion, it will become a redundant House for the next few sessions of Parliament. It could lose its importance or ability to interrogate the executive.
True, the sledgehammer use of ordinances would reflect an innovation in Indian democratic practice. Ordinances were designed for genuine emergencies, not as regular legislative mechanisms. Yet, as the process of negotiating legislative passage becomes more and more complex, governments will increasingly test the frontiers of the Constitution and look for solutions provided there.
Ordinances are a sub-optimal way of legislating. They undermine the parliamentary process which is meant to represent interests of disparate groups. The absence of debate — for which, however, opposition parties are primarily responsible with their disruptionist tactics — is not going to improve the quality of legislation. Most ordinances in the last few weeks pertain to economic issues such as land acquisition. Their uncertain character inhibits investment and economic growth. Particularly when ordinances come in the wake of policy paralysis because even decisions made two decades ago were overturned in court.
If parliamentary process is to regain credibility, it is necessary for both government and opposition members to make an effort. In that sense, President Mukherjee has made a balanced intervention. Indians don’t send their representatives to Parliament to watch them disrupt it. Unfortunately, this problem has intensified over the years. For instance, the last Lok Sabha functioned for just over half the sittings of the first one.
The key question is why the government is unable to get legislation moving despite BJP being in the enviable position of enjoying an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Eternal parliamentary logjam will prevent India from realizing its true potential and short-circuit the democratic process itself. The upcoming budget session is a crucial one; both ruling and opposition parties must heed the president’s suggestion and sit together to find a way to avoid disruptions. The business of Parliament is important and must be taken seriously. And joint sittings of Parliament may have to be resorted to if legislation passed by the Lok Sabha is frequently stalled by the Rajya Sabha
In a sense, India is furthering its hybrid political model that is based on the Westminster system but borrows heavily from the executive-legislature relationship of the American system. In London, the House of Lords hardly has authority, its powers having been diminished a century ago. In Washington, DC, the president often finds himself at odds with Congress, both Houses of which may be run by a hostile party. In such situations, the executive has had to play hardball with the legislature, much as the Modi government is now doing with Rajya Sabha.
Take a precedent from the US in the 1960s. When anti-segregationist, civil rights legislation was stalled in Congress, the then president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Capitol Hill veteran, personally called in, cajoled, blackmailed and did deals with individual members of Congress to win their support. A good, moral law was passed using not-so-straightforward political tools.
Navigating parliamentary passage for Bills is not a picnic and, as such, as long as the Modi government doesn’t dive to the depths the UPA had to during the confidence vote in July 2008, it will have popular sanction. Neither does the Modi government face a policy credibility test with ordinances. An ordinance is a form of delegated legislation. When issued, it immediately becomes the law. Should it lapse, its provisions don’t necessarily get negated with retrospective effect.
Take the insurance ordinance, which raised the FDI cap from 26% to 49%. As per a Supreme Court ruling, an international insurance company that invests 49% in an Indian company while the ordinance is in place will not be penalized and will not have to surrender equity even if the ordinance lapses or is not ratified by Parliament. This actually strengthens the hands of the executive, and acknowledges the executive has the popular mandate, not Rajya Sabha. It ends up creating a window for Modi’s ordinance approach.

Would Sri Lankan Happening Find Echo in Nigeria

It came as something of a surprise a couple of weeks ago when the Sri Lankan electorate wisely refused to re-endorse Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency. It was an even bigger surprise when the incumbent meekly conceded defeat — although it was subsequently reported that he had done so only after an unsuccessful attempt to retain power with military backing.
The quasi-dictatorial Rajapaksa’s comeuppance was facilitated by a broad-based revolt within the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and the nation’s future under the new dispensation is hard to predict, but the electoral outcome nonetheless demonstrated the power of the ballot box.
The popular vote is similarly likely to upend the status quo in Greece next Sunday, with the electorate apparently inclined to empower the left-wing Syriza, with potentially far-reaching consequences for the European Union.
The Nigerian president is expected to be re-elected. No such earthquake is predicted, however, when Nigeria goes to the polls on Feb 14. Notwithstanding its global reputation for monumental incompetence, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan is generally expected to be re-elected.
This is only partly explained by the likelihood that polling is unlikely to take place across vast swathes of northern Nigeria that are either controlled or threatened by Boko Haram. The latter’s successes on its chosen battlefield are, after all, largely a consequence of the central authority’s reluctance or inability to put up much of a resistance.
There’s more to it than that, though. Jonathan and members of his cabinet were quick to convey condolences to Paris over the Charlie Hebdo massacre while simultaneously ignoring reports of an atrocity on a considerably larger scale in Baga, in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno.
Jonathan has form in this respect. It took him more than three weeks last year to utter a word in public about the kidnapping by Boko Haram of close to 300 schoolgirls in Chibok, in the same state, despite an international uproar. Shortly afterwards, the first lady, Patience, claimed that the abductions were a hoax publicised by rivals to undermine her husband. Nearly a year later, some of Jonathan’s allies continue to spout the same sort of nonsense.
In the case of Baga, where initial reports spoke of 2,000 dead — and satellite imagery released by Amnesty International illustrated the scale of the devastation — a government spokesman eventually claimed that the death toll was “only” 150. But eyewitness reports of bodies scattered on the streets suggest a calamity of vaster proportions.
Furthermore, there have been reports of children as young as 10 being used as suicide bombers. Last Sunday, in a raid on a bordering region of Cameroon, Boko Haram is believed to have kidnapped “around 80 people, many of them children”. The insurgency has been spilling over into Cameroon, Chad and Niger for some time, and negotiations were scheduled this week towards a potential agreement on a regional military response.
Last year, in the wake of the mass abduction in Chibok, there were offers of western assistance. It never added up to much, though, and it is far from obvious whether it has paid any dividends in terms of security. Given Nigeria’s resources, though, and the size of its military, it should have been able to tackle the insurgency on its own.
One of the apparent reasons behind its failure to do so is corruption of legendary proportions, which pervades the military as well, as a result of which soldiers often find themselves poorly equipped in comparison with the militants. Boko Haram’s frequent bouts of ruthless violence, meanwhile, tend to be more widely reported abroad than within Nigeria, and reports suggest a substantial proportion of the population has been lulled into accepting that as long as “the problem” remains restricted to the largely Muslim north, the majority of Nigerians have little to fear.
That false sense of security helps to explain why many voters may be inclined next month to re-elect Jonathan.
There are clearly at least some parallels between Nigeria on the one hand and Iraq and Pakistan on the other. Establishing some sort of caliphate appears to figure prominently on Boko Haram’s agenda. The state confronting it, meanwhile, is beset by corruption and dysfunction. And Nigeria shares with Pakistan a long and disreputable history of democratic experiments being disrupted by military rule.
There’s a reminder of this aspect of Nigeria’s travails in the fact that Jonathan’s chief adversary on Feb 14 will be Muhammadu Buhari, who served as military ruler in the mid-1980s. However, Buhari’s relatively brief stint as strongman was distinguished by an anti-corruption drive. He has vacillated on the question of Boko Haram but has lately adopted a less compromising stance.
There’s no telling what sort of a president he would make, but chances are he would be a better bet than the incumbent. Whether the Nigerian electorate will be willing to follow in the footsteps of its Sri Lankan counterpart towards investing in change remains to be seen.

Militancy & Foreign Funding

Once in a life time, in South Asia a politician  speaks truth, but never when he is in power, especially if the truth goes against his party. But Pakistan Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Pirzada raised a hornets’ nest when he revealed the reality of foreign funding of militancy and named Saudi Arabia as the major source. In order to effectively put militant groups out of business, it is essential to dry up their finances. Religiously-motivated militants do raise funds through local sources and criminal rackets, but foreign funding — particularly from Muslim states in the Middle East — is also a major source of cash.
While the Gulf states are often cited as sources of militant funding, especially from private donors, it is extremely rare for government officials in Pakistan to openly identify any one of them. Hence, when Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Pirzada named names at an event in Islamabad , eyebrows were certainly raised. The minister, though he claims he was quoted out of context, told a conclave that “Saudi money” had destabilized this country.
In fact, it has been largely established that Pakistan has been a conduit for funds destined for religiously inspired fighters for over three decades. In 1979, two monumental events took place in this region that forever altered the geopolitical calculus: the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Thereafter, funds flowed in freely from the United States, Saudi Arabia and others for the ‘mujahideen’ battling the Soviets across the border, while many Arab states — fearful of a revolutionary and explicitly Shia Iran — started to fund groups that could resist Tehran’s ideological influence in Muslim countries.
Ever since, a jumble of jihadi and sectarian groups (of varying persuasions) has thrived in Pakistan, as the country became a proxy battlefield for Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as a front line of the last major battle of the Cold War. Since then, militancy has morphed out of control to such an extent that it now threatens the internal stability of this country; neutralizing the myriad jihadi outfits has then become Pakistan’s number one security challenge.
While documentary evidence is often hard to come by, Gulf money has been linked to the promotion of militancy in many instances. There have been reports of Gulf funding for extremists in the Syrian conflict, while the WikiLeaks disclosures of 2009 also attributed comments to Hillary Clinton linking Saudi funds to militant groups.
Another cable claimed donors in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were pumping millions into south Punjab, with much of these funds ending up in the hands of jihadis. Even Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan admitted recently in a written reply to a question in the Senate that madressahs were receiving funding from “Muslim countries”.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with seminaries or charities receiving foreign funds. But when this cash is used to fund terrorism and extremism, things become problematic. The best way to proceed is for the intelligence apparatus to monitor the flow of funds.
If the Pakistani authorities have reasonable evidence that funds from the Gulf or elsewhere are being funneled to militants – as is evident in the disclosure made by the Minister- then what hinders Pakistan from taking appropriate actions. Probably it lacks the will to do so, despite all professions to the contrary.Let it be remembered that in the interest of world peace and in its own interest, it needs to take up the issue and stop the inflow.

Jews, Muslims, Parsis, Christians Thrived in India- Thanks to Liberal Hinduism

Just imagine that despite all efforts by invading victorious proselytizing religions – Islam and Christianity – Hindus are still the major religion. Hindus were the overwhelming majority a thousand years ago, and remain so today. As the official religions of conquering or colonizing powers, Islam and Christianity overwhelmed the people of the African continent; their success in Southeast Asia and Latin America was no less spectacular. In India they failed. Thanks to liberal Hindu tradition. And that liberal tradition today is facing onslaught by fundamentalist Hindus.
Among the many battles that will determine the further evolution of the world’s largest democracy, one is unfolding that is largely ignored. We are familiar with the normal fault lines: rich vs poor, left vs right, Muslims vs Hindu. But the deciding battle of the future will be between Hindus themselves, between those who conform to the long established, liberal and tolerant stream of Hinduism and the fundamentalists who abrasively espouse the new, right wing, fundamentalist and intolerant brand of Hinduism.
Those of the latter school have found dramatic visibility after BJP came to power last May. They are whipping up a new fear psychosis in Hindus, arguing that their faith is under threat from several ‘others’ of which Muslims are the most important.
Many arguments are insidiously deployed to prove this point. The first is that the cultural and social behaviour of the minorities is inherently ‘inferior’ to the natural cultural ‘supremacy’ of the majority community.
The second is that Muslims are seeking to ‘dominate’ Hindus and still behaving like ‘rulers’.
The third is that both Muslims and Christians are actively trying to convert Hindus to their faith, and that – laughably enough – ‘handsome’ young Muslim men are trying to seduce young Hindu women as part of a ‘love jihad’.
The fourth is that Muslims are multiplying at a much faster rate than Hindus, and that at this rate Hindus will soon become a minority in their own land.
The fifth – and this is the most potent weapon of all – is that a policy of ‘Muslim appeasement’ is being follow-ed which is discriminatory to Hindus.
All the above arguments are not all wrong, but they are not all true as well. There is an iota of truth in each one, but in some cases mountain is being made out of a molehill. There has been a great degree of syncretism over the centuries, which has created hugely visible bridges and commonalities between all Indians. There is no evidence that Muslims are seeking to dominate anyone, althouigh there is always a lunatic fringe that get power from the acts of omission and commission of fundamentalist Hindus
Unlike the Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Chinese in Southeast Asia, who are often accused by the majoritarian communities of unfair economic and professional dominance, Muslims pose no threat to Hindus in India. Hindus have no reason, therefore, to feel intimidated by a presence which has been with them for centuries.
The belief that Muslims are growing at a faster pace than Hindus has been repeatedly disproved, but the Sakshi and the Sadhvi want Hindu women to have four children nonetheless! Conversions to Islam or Christianity could have happened in isolated cases, but these have never really made any dent in the overwhelmingly assured majority status of Hindus.
Two major proselytizing religions – Islam and Christianity – conquered India by force in the past. Both invaders openly used their military superiority for evangelical purposes, but in spite of obvious rewards on offer most Hindus did not surrender their faith.
One has only to see what happened in other countries in similar situations to appreciate the difference. For instance, as the official religions of conquering or colonizing powers, Islam and Christianity overwhelmed the people of the African continent; their success in Southeast Asia and Latin America was no less spectacular. In India they failed. Hindus were the overwhelming majority a thousand years ago, and remain so today.
The argument of ‘appeasement’ is heard most often. It is true that just as BJP aggressively cultivates a Hindu vote bank, other parties have cynically sought to attract Muslim support with unnecessary giveaways and selective application of laws that should apply equally to all Indians. Such blatantly motivated policies need to be condemned. However, to dub anything done for the minorities as appeasement is equally cynical.
The majority in the Muslim community is statistically at the bottom of society across a wide range of verifiable social and economic indices. In such circumstances, it cannot but be good policy to provide a backward minority, along with other deprived categories, special incentives and safeguards under the law to participate on equal terms in mainstream opportunities of the country.
The truth is that Hindus are not, and have never been, insecure about their religion. Hinduism has always existed in a remarkably self-assured way, largely immune to attack or demise because no one entity – scripture, church or god – limits its diffused omnipresence.
It is also a matter of historical record that Hindus have not been hostile to other faiths. The reason quite simply is that they were not afraid of them. Jews lived peaceably in India before they did anywhere else. Muslim traders from Arab countries practiced their faith undisturbed in Kerala more than a thousand years ago. Parsis came in the seventh century and Christians in the fourth, unsupported by armies.
Alexander the Great clashed with King Porus at the Battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BC in which the Hindu king unleashed his fighter aircraft and nuclear missiles to rout his adversary. Alexander was badly affected by radiation and didn’t survive the journey back to Macedonia—he died at Babylon. But before leaving, he tricked Porus into giving up his nuclear secrets. These secrets were accidentally found while the US government was building quarters for the scientists of the Manhattan Project.
In 712 AD, Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim attacked Brahmanabad, and defeated and killed the Sind king Dahir. The Brahmin king couldn’t escape in his aircraft because he ran out of elephant and cow urine to fuel it. Qasim took the plane to Syria where it was lost for hundreds of years and surfaced in the workshop of the Wright Brothers in the 20th century.
This is how Hindutva loonies should rewrite the history of India in future, because this is the best way they can justify how foreign invaders looted ancient Indian scientific knowledge and wisdom.
Ever since the dotcom boom happened, there has been a movement of sorts to highlight the greatness of ancient Indian science and technology. Chain mails and forwards talked about how Indians knew how to fly, fire nukes, do plastic surgeries, make test tube babies etc. Internet chat rooms would have believers in our advanced past quoting from apocryphal texts to win polemic debates. The highly controversial 102nd session of Indian Science Congress in Mumbai was perhaps a great victory for the look-I-told-you-before brigade. But history will always hold up a mirror in front of them.
So what really happened in 711 AD? A 17-year-old Qasim led a punitive expedition sent by the Umayyad Caliph and arrived in Debal, Sindh with a force that had 6,000 Syrian cavalry and 6,000 camelry. This was after king Dahir’s refusal to act on pirates and other hostile elements targeting Arab trade and commerce and pilgrims. Dahir had said these were non-state actors and he had no control over them—something we have heard Pakistan say often whenever it’s accused of harboring terrorists.
Qasim defeated Dahir’s forces in one battle after another till the capital Brahmanabad itself was under siege. When it ended, Dahir was dead. Qasim and his forces won because they were better organized and equipped, more daring, and employed better and innovative tactics (such as keeping one force for fighting during the day and another for night).
But despite this victory, the Arab Empire couldn’t spread beyond Sind and parts of Punjab, as they were defeated and pushed back by a grand alliance of the Chalukyas-Rashtrakutas of the south and Gurjara Pratiharas of the north; King Lalitaditya of Kashmir, too, drove out the Arabs from his territory. But none of the Indian kings bothered to permanently expel the invaders from Indian soil, thus proving the theory that the concept of India didn’t exist until then (even though nationalists have forever pooh-poohed it, calling it a British conspiracy).
The Arabs were confined to the other bank of Indus where they stayed put for the next three centuries. Their end came in the first quarter of the 11th century when Mahmud Ghaznavi and his cavalry swooped down from Afghanistan.
Mahmud, it’s said, attacked India 17 times. In his last raid, he targeted Somnath Temple, looting its treasures and vandalizing the temple completely. But Mahmud himself was struck with wonder when he saw the idol of Somnath, which was suspended in air, without any visible support above and below. He asked his officers how this could happen. Then one of them guessed that the idol was made of iron and the ceiling had load-stone, which kept the idol suspended in air. This turned out to be true when the stones from the ceiling were removed one by one and the idol gradually came down to the ground.
The Somnath temple and its idol was quite an engineering marvel of the time and was a strong testimony to the scientific skills of the Indians—many modern accounts talk about that. But what’s often missed is that Mahmud’s officers could also correctly explain the scientific reason. This can only mean that science and technology wasn’t the exclusive domain of Indians.
Essentially, Hindus are a practical people; they – and especially the young – want to get on with their lives and benefit from the secular dividends of economic growth and development; they are temperamentally opposed to any prolonged instability and disorder that could be a consequence of religious violence, especially when it is amply clear that there is no alternative to coexistence.It is my considered view that liberal Hindus far outnumber fundamentalist Hindus. Will the majority, in its own self-interest, now stand up and oppose the hijacking of their religion by the loonies of fundamental variety?

Tale of Ethnic Cleansing Twice Repeated in Kashmir

Today the 19th January marked the 25th anniversary of the so-called Azaadi (independence) uprising in the Kashmir Valley, leading to the ethnic cleansing of around 400,000 Kashmir Pandits. For some, this day heralded the rejection of Indian rule by protesting Kashmiris, followed by the bloody suppression of Kashmiri human rights by Indian forces (portrayed in the film ‘Haider’). For the Pandits, it heralded a reign of Muslim terror.
Gaw Kadal is a small bridge that leads you to the fashionable Residency Road in the heart of Srinagar. A small strait from Jhelum flows beneath it. Street vendors sell dry fish on the bridge during winters. Shikaras, laden with collards or haak, Kashmir’s staple diet, can be seen anchored below the bridge as people and auto rickshaws scurry past.
There used to be an old world feel to Gaw Kadal’s balustrades, trusses and curbs. Although much water has flown between its decrepit pillars, the memories of what happened on this bridge on a cold winter morning, 25 years ago on Jan 21, refuse to go away. Memories, like wood, seldom sink.
Sure quarter of a century is a long time. Democracies are usually good at wearing makeup and going about town in the hope that people disremember. It would be a shame if we fail to bear witness to what happened to our neighbours, our friends and those who perished at Gaw Kadal. For the dead and the living, we must bear witness, the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, whom the Nobel committee called ‘a messenger to mankind’, once said.
It’s been 25 years since the Gaw Kadal killings, one of India-held Kashmir’s worst HR violations. The historian William Dalrymple wrote about the horror thus: “When I got to Srinagar the following day, I went straight to the city hospital. Every bed there was occupied and the overflow lined the corridors. One man, an educated and urbane city engineer named Farooq Ahmed, described how after the firing, the CRPF walked slowly forward across the bridge, finishing off those who were lying wounded on the ground.
“When the shooting began, Ahmed had fallen flat on his face and managed to escape completely unhurt. ‘Just as I was about to get up,’ he told me, “I saw soldiers coming forward, shooting anyone who was injured. Someone pointed at me and shouted, “that man is alive,” and a soldier began firing at me with a machine gun. I was hit four times in the back and twice in the arms.’ Seeing that he was still alive, another soldier raised his gun, but the officer told him not to waste ammunition. “The man said I would anyway die soon”.’
Through psychological bruises, the people spoke of the torment, of having to recall what could have been their end. Suddenly Gaw Kadal stopped being a wooden bridge. In the mental landscape of countless, it transformed into a memorial. It became a totem of the inhumanity. Gaw Kadal stands as a silent testament to the depravation of brutality.
On the other hand, Rahul Pandita has written a heartbreaking first- person account of the Pandit tragedy in ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’. He shows that ethnic cleansing was not the work of a few Islamic militants, as claimed by optimists. On January 19, Pandita’s Muslim neighbours chanted the Islamic battle cry “Naara-e-taqbeer, Allah-o-Akbar”, made famous as heralding Muslim attacks by the TV film ‘Tamas’. Pandita’s mother swore to kill her daughter and then herself if the house was invaded. The long night passed without an invasion, but many fearful Pandits quickly left.
Soon after, local Muslim boys gathered outside Pandita’s home, and discussed how they would share the houses of departing Pandits and rape their girls. One Muslim boy laughingly said to another, “Go inside and piss: like a dog you need to mark your territory.” Pandita’s terrified father decided to flee.
Official figures say only 219 Pandits were killed in the valley. But the threat of violence was so great, and the chances of curbing it so remote, that lakhs of Pandits fled. Most are now rotting in refugee camps in Jammu.
Recently, an ex-general — also a Pandit — told me the Indian media had underplayed the tragedy of his tribe. I agreed, but added that the media has also ignored the earlier mass expulsion of Muslims from Jammu. This surprised the ex-general: I’ve never heard of that, he declared.
He is not alone. Although our media pride themselves on free and bold speech, they maintain a conspiracy of silence on some issues relating to the supposed “national interest.” This includes the mass killing and expulsion of lakhs of Muslims from Jammu in 1947. That story should be recalled on this sombre anniversary.
Today, Jammu is a Hindu-majority area. But in 1947, it had a Muslim majority. The communal riots of 1947 fell most heavily on Jammu’s Muslims; lakhs fled into what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. That turned Jammu’s Muslim majority into a Hindu majority. In sheer scale, this far exceeded the ethnic cleansing of Pandits five decades later.
The jagir of Poonch was a semi-autonomous part of J&K till World War II. Subsequently, the maharaja took direct control and imposed high taxes, with special levies on Muslims. This sparked an anti-tax protest in early 1947, which the maharaja put down with armed force.
Poonch had 50,000 ex-soldiers of the British Indian Army, many of whom still had guns. The maharaja felt threatened by this, and in July ordered all holders of arms to deposit these in police stations. But many arms deposited by Muslim ex-soldiers were then handed out by the maharaja’s police to Hindu and Sikh families, raising communal fears. Muslims responded by purchasing fresh weapons from arms bazaars in neighbouring NWFP province. Sardar Ibrahim Khan, a prominent Poonch politician, organized an armed Muslim force that soon staged a revolt. This Poonch revolt was the first step in upending the maharaja’s rule.
Meanwhile, the bloody partition riots in neighbouring Punjab spilled over into Jammu. Snedden cites estimates of between 70,000 and 237,000 Muslims killed. Historians Arjun Appaduri and Arien Mack in their book ‘India’s World’ give a hair-raising estimate of 200,000 killed and 500,000 displaced in Jammu. Tens of thousands of Hindus were killed and expelled from what became Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The ethnic cleansing of Pandits from the valley was more one-sided than that of Jammu Muslims in 1947. Yet in sheer numbers and horrors, the Jammu episode was much worse. Conspiracy theories become truths when intelligentsia and intellectuals turn lazy and complacent, either deliberately or unconsciously. For this reason alone, the conspiracy theory that former Governor of Jammu & Kashmir Jagmohan engineered the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit community from the Kashmir valley in 1990, has survived and in many quarters, flourished.
For example, on the 25th anniversary of the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, Congress leader Digvijay Singh tweeted: “Kashmiri Pandits were unnecessarily forced to leave the Valley by Jagmohan. Hindus and Muslims lived together for Centuries in Kashmir.” He will find many buyers in the Valley where Kashmiri Muslim separatists and their supporters have been for the last 25 years regurgitating this lie to whitewash the communal stain of the ‘azadi’ movement. He will also find several cheerleaders outside Kashmir because they like the conspiracy theory for one or other despicable political or personal reason. I will dwell on those reasons in a separate piece.
For now, I am interested in debunking Digvijay Singh’s tweeted lie. The evidence against his falsehood is a 2006 J&K government commissioned survey on the ‘Impact of migration on the socio-economic conditions of Kashmiri Displaced People’ conducted by an NGO, J&K Centre for Minority Studies. The NGO was set up by a retired IAS officer ML Kaul.
Since the refugees from Kashmir were dispersed across the country, a huge survey was required to cover the entire displaced population. But when no one in the union government showed any interest in such a study, then chief minister Farooq Abdullah commissioned it himself. Due to constrained resources, the study was limited to only Kashmiri refugee families living in Jammu division. At the time, 32,244 families (about 129,000 people; each family is counted as 4 members) were registered as refugees.
Besides many other things, the study investigates the circumstances and causes of mass exodus of people from the valley. The report is based on a field survey of 1979 displaced Kashmiri families (about 8000 people) in 12 refugee camps and 44 residential colonies of Jammu, Kathua, Doda and Udhampur. Out of these 1979 families, 1147 families were displaced from rural and 832 families from urban areas of Kashmir. 33% sample was from Srinagar district, 6% from Badgam, 31% Anantnag, 9% Pulwama, 12% Baramulla and 9% from Kupwara district. The sample, comprising mostly Kashmiri Pandits, also included 132 Muslim refugee families out of total 1856 and 93 Sikh refugee families out of total 1903 in Jammu.
What the report nails down is this–the major reason for “sudden decision for migration” of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley was not governor Jagmohan but “insecurity induced by terrorist violence in view of random, gruesome and torturous killings”. Almost 85% respondents (54.33% people in refugee camps and 31.11% in residential areas) attributed their displacement to this reason.
Around 29% (16.2% respondents from non-camp areas and 12.53% respondents from camp areas) said they left because of “direct threats from terrorists” and another 29% (22.34% camp respondents and 7.8% non-camp respondents) decided to leave because of indirect threats. 10.65% camp respondents and 10% non-camp respondents due to killing of neighbors, 7.1% respondents from refugee camps and 5.4% respondents from residential areas, due to killing of relatives and 1.04% camp respondents and 0.47 non-camp respondents due to kidnapping and rapes of women.
Some people left also because of the insecurity induced by others. 9.39% camp respondents and 0.93% non-camp respondents fled the valley because of insecurity induced by isolation. 3.97% camp dwellers and 1.67 residential dwellers said that they migrated because of insecurity induced by Muslim friends/well-wishers. 1.88% camp respondents and 2.93% non-camp respondents attributed their migration to insecurity induced by other refugees.
Puncturing the commonly believed untruth that Governor Jagmohan used his entire state machinery to facilitate the migration of Pandits, the report reveals that only 2.30% refugees used government transport or vehicles as against 72% who took private transport to leave the valley. The survey also found that the majority left in private transport “booked overnight/on sport by group/individuals as limited bus transport services were available.” “Majority of the families had to pay exorbitant charges,” the report says adding a significant proportion of families could not carry their basic belongings due to a “ban” issued by terror groups.
Between January 1990 to May 1990, 94% Kashmiri Pandits left the Kashmir valley, with the highest number departing during the month of March and April 1990, the study found. From among those in camps about 97%, and from non-camp 87% fled the valley in 1990. The main source of income of the 30% families selected for the sample was agriculture. 26% families were dependent on small business, self-employment and private service. 34% families were in government service.
The survey findings also bust the myth that Pandit refugees were pampered by Governor Jagmohan after their migration. Of all the refugee camp respondents, as per the study, 25% spent their first night on arrival either at a temple or religious place, 17% with relatives or friends, 16% in rented accommodation, 23% in government refugee tented camps, 9% in government buildings such as schools and 8% on the roadside. Among the respondents from residential colonies, 40% rented one or two rooms on their arrival, 27% stayed with relatives and friends, 20% in religious temples, 2.5% in refugee tents, 3% in government buildings and 5% stayed on the roadside.We have forgotten what happened then because it is politically and morally inconvenient.
The tragedies of J&K constitute a long, horrific tale of death and inhumanity. It has many villains and no heroes. Both sides have been guilty of ethnic cleansing. Both claim to be victims, forgetting they have also been perpetrators. On the 25th anniversary of the Azaadi uprising, the Hindu-Muslim divide is deeper, and ethnic amnesia more selective, than ever before. Some stories do not have happy endings.