Where is India? Cries Myanmar

India has to consciously fill the aspirational space that is open in Myanmar, not just through routine economic means but by supporting human capital and strengthening moderate social actors there
A political inferno has erupted in northern Myan-mar’s Shan state to expose the destabilising role of China in Asia’s strategic hinterland. Intense armed hostilities between rebels of the minority Kokang community, which lives just across the border from China’s Yunnan province, and the Myanmar Army have killed at least 100 people and displaced tens of thousands of civilians this month.
Myanmar’s citizens and government officials believe that the Kokang insurgency has been re-ignited and let loose by China, which is frustrated about Naypyidaw’s recent opening up to the rest of the world and its shift away from Beijing’s sphere of influence.
Since 2011, when decades-long rule by an absolutist military junta that was a client of China ended, Myanmar’s nominally civilian regime has been courting foreign investment and diplomatic approval from far and wide. Its invitation to the international community has created a buzz about Myanmar as the new “frontier market” in Asia with immense potential for investors to tap into a hitherto isolated society with vast consumption potential.
Western states, as well as Japan and India, which are concerned about China’s expanding footprint, have entered Myanmar in a big way in the last four years by easing economic sanctions and offering Naypyidaw alternative, non-Chinese means for modernisation and economic growth.
As a corollary to the penetration of these new external forces, winds of change have gradually crept into domestic politics of Myanmar, particularly in the form of freer expression of opinions and a decline in state censorship. Previously suppressed and pent-up resentments of China’s role in monopolising and exploiting Myanmar’s natural wealth are now out in the public sphere. The utter rapacity and greed with which Chinese traders, miners and businesspersons have denuded Myanmar’s resources have propelled a nationwide anti-China backlash.
Even the Myanmar military big shots, who once ate out of China’s hands, are now tut-tutting Chinese neo-imperialism and blackmail. Aung Min, a minister in the office of Myanmar’s President and a former major general, has candidly admitted that “We are afraid of China and don’t dare to have a row with the Chinese”, because “if they feel annoyed with the shutdown of their projects (in Myanmar) and resume their support to the Communists, the economy in border areas would backslide.”
The Kokang rebels under the leadership of a China-favoured veteran commander, Pheung Kya-shin, are former Communists-turned-ethnic entrepreneurs and cross-border smugglers who remain useful instruments for Beijing to wreak havoc in Myanmar if the latter shows signs of independence.
Adjoining the Kokang territory lies Myanmar’s largest ethnic minority militant movement with a standing force of 30,000 heavily equipped troops. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) shares a common ancestry with the Kokang fighters in the now defunct Myanmar Communist Party (BCP), which used to be Beijing’s proxy in Myanmar. The Wa army’s war preparedness, technical sophistication and heavy weaponry are of exceptional standards, thanks to its paymaster China, which is using Myanmar’s minority struggles for leverage against its shrinking domination in that country.
Like the Wa, the Kokangs are an ethnic Chinese-origin people who enjoy sympathy of ultra-nationalistic Chinese citizens. Despite the Chinese state’s denial that it is interfering in Myanmar’s internal affairs, the massive firepower and organisational abilities displayed by the Kokang raiders who crossed over from China and rattled the hilly terrain inside Myanmar, earlier in February, leave little doubt that Beijing is stoking minority violence in Myanmar to apply pressure on the Central government in Naypyidaw.
The dust-up in Kokang areas is so terrifying that prospects of the Myanmar government sealing a nationwide ceasefire with a multitude of ethnic minority guerrilla groups have been dashed. With the country headed for a scheduled general election later this year, wherein power is likely to be transferred to a genuinely civilian government, the upheaval in the Kokang region is a bad omen.
Settling lasting grievances of Myanmar’s multiple ethnic minorities through peaceful negotiation and constitutional changes to the unitary nature of the Myanmarese state will be impossible if rebellions keep recurring and the military responds with harsh counter-insurgency tactics.
The tragedy of Kokang civilians, who are victims of China’s geostrategic power play, poses an existential dilemma for Myanmar. The country can make progress in its slow transition to democracy only by keeping China at bay and by involving pro-democratic foreign players to guide its political and economic evolution. But the more Myanmar assays what one informed local lawyer (identity withheld for personal safety) labels as “a global game to counterbalance China”, the worse the ethnic problem becomes due to sabotage by violent Chinese proxies.
After the Kokang clashes, Myanmarese educationists and civil society activists, who were unanimous opined that China is a prime hurdle limiting their country from achieving full democracy. Asked if there is any ray of hope for Myanmar when a global superpower like China is obstructing their freedom. They replied in consensus that “India can make a difference.”
One Myanmarese campaigner against racism and Buddhist fundamentalism said: “We have to learn from India how to forge acceptance of others in a diverse, multicultural society. We need Indian constitutional expertise to move towards a federal state structure.” A nervous Myanmarese journalist confided: “I am scared that the upcoming general elections will not be truly free and fair. Unless India and the rest of the international community assists us, we cannot cross the Rubicon.”
Spirited Myanmarese students passed the ultimate compliments: “While China robs us of our raw materials and dignity, India is an intellectual spur for our youth. Indian youngsters are more energetic than us because they are free, while we are still in a semi-authoritarian system that represses our full potential. Our goal is to become similar to Indian students who participate in movements to bring changes in society.”
The message for Indian diplomacy is clear. It has to consciously fill the aspirational space that is open in Myanmar, not just through routine economic means but by supporting human capital and strengthening moderate and tolerant social actors there. India need not be anti-China or compete against the West in Myanmar. Indians just have to be proactively themselves, i.e. accepted benevolent Asian neighbors who present a contrast to the hated China model.

Indian Supreme Court Favors Return to Hinduism & Perpetuates Untouchability

Indian Supreme Court ruled last week that a should be set up as a mile-stone in injudicious judicial judgments shows the utter incompetency, if not idiocy of the concerned judges who have indirectly encouraged a process of fundamentalist Hindus. ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism from Christianity would be entitled to quota benefits as long as his great-grandfather was a Dalit, and the ‘community’ accepted his return. Let me unpack the order, and places it in our current context.
What was the case before the court? In 1984, one K P Manu, a Christian man then aged 24, converted to Hinduism. His great grandfather was a Pulaya (Dalit) Hindu, but his grandfather had embraced Christianity, taken a new name, and married a Hindu Ezhava woman who had converted to Christianity. Manu’s father was Christian, and so was his mother.
After re-conversion, the Akhila Bharatha Ayappa Seva Sangham certified his re-entry as a Pulaya, and the tehsildar issued a caste certificate. However, his availing of facilities available to Hindu Dalits was challenged, and the Kerala High Court upheld the objection. Manu appealed to the Supreme Court. The two-judge bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and V Gopala Gowda set aside the High Court order, and ruled that Manu was entitled to quota benefits.
So substantively, what does the order do? It allows the children of second generation converts to Christianity to re-convert to being Dalit Hindus, and avail of benefits such as reservations in government jobs. The court expanded the scope of an earlier judgment passed by a constitution bench of the Supreme Court, saying, “If a person born to Christian parents, who had converted to Christianity from the Scheduled Caste Hindu, can avail the benefits of the caste certificate after embracing Hinduism, there cannot be any soundness of logic that he cannot avail similar benefits because his grandparents were converted and he was born to parents who were Christians.”
Did the court lay down any conditions? Three. The individual must re-convert to Hinduism; s/he must revert to the specific Dalit caste to which s/he belonged, and return to caste practices; and the “community” must accept the re-conversion.
What was the basis of the order? The court cited several studies and quotes to establish that converting to Christianity did not take the caste stigma away. It relied heavily on the constitution bench order on Principal, Guntur Medical vs Y Mohan Rao delivered on April 6, 1976, allowing re-conversion to Hinduism to avail of the benefits of caste reservation. It stretched the order to allow even second-generation converts to return to Hinduism to qualify for Dalit reservations, so far not available to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
What are the larger issues around this order? Broadly two. One, the ‘ghar wapsi’ debate stirred by the actions of several groups closely linked to the ruling BJP. And two, the ongoing debate on whether Dalits who convert to Christianity and Islam should be accorded benefits that are available to Hindu Dalits.
What is the religion-reservation debate? The understanding that ‘untouchability’ is alien to Christianity and Islam, and is known only to faiths that originated in the subcontinent, resulted in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, which prohibited Dalit converts to Christianity or Islam from being recognized as Scheduled Castes.
This presidential Order was passed in “exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of Article 341 of the Constitution of India”, but remains a sticking point in Indian politics even today. Those who claim it is wrong to exclude Christian or Muslim Dalits, say so on the basis of the constitutionally guaranteed equality of all religions, and argue that exclusion amounts to discrimination against non-Hindus.
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which submitted its report to the Center in 2007, argued in favor of extending reservations to Dalits of all faiths. However, others argue that once Dalits decide to leave the Hindu fold, it must be accepted that their social and economic lot has improved, and they can no longer avail of benefits of being Hindu without being Hindu — and that it would encourage conversion if reservations were offered to non-Hindu Dalits as well.
So, do Dalit Christians and Muslims not get any reservations? The Mandal Commission and the Backward Castes Commissions in states recognize several backward caste categories amongst non-Hindus. They do get reservations, but as backward castes, not as Dalits or SCs.
This order would help the promoters of re-conversion to promise doles and subsidies in a legitimate manner and also perpetuate pernicious caste system. Imagine becoming a Scheduled Caste after there generations. Being a Scheduled Caste evidently is a badge of honor ; and definitely an open sesame to the coffers of public finances in the shape of reservations, and fiduciary benefits.
Kudos to the (un)Enlightened Supreme Court of India for its uncharacteristic endorsement and also encouragement of the evils that are sought to be eradicated.

One-way ticket to Denmark

Whether or not we are skeptical about Fukuyama’s theory of evolution of societies, his latest work Political Order and Political Decay offers a very engaging read. The attraction of big-canvas treatises of societal change is that they pack in enormous amounts of information to find universal patterns in history. Durkheim, Weber and Marx attempted this in recent times. However, the trouble with enunciating laws of history is that they tend to be a projection into the future of short-lived descriptions of the available evidence.
The law of evolution of societies could well be that there is no such law. There is nothing inevitable or continuous about the process in which societies and their structures of governance have evolved or will evolve. However, the central theme of Francis Fukuyama is about inevitable and continuous evolution of societies towards liberal democratic structures.
No amount of skepticism about this grand theory should detract the reader from engaging with this amazing work of scholarship whose intellectual span is awe inducing. There are new insights and exciting formulations spread across this scholarly tome of 658 pages that he once suggested could even be used as a “door stopper”. Even boring subjects such as the evolution of bureaucratic structures become a riveting read in the hands of Fukuyama.
Political Order and Political Decay is Fukuyama’s second volume in his magnum opus on the laws of social evolution and human history. The first volume, The Origins of Political Order spanned the period from pre-human primates to the French Revolution. The second volume takes the reader on a whistle stop ride from the French Revolution to the present.
It is a detailed elaboration of the hypothesis originally made in the 1989 essay The End of History? which claimed that with the collapse of Communism, the only form of government compatible with modernity was liberal democracy. He now traces a process of “evolution” in which political systems resting on a balance between state, law and accountability —despite signs of decay — eventually move towards a western style democracy as the necessary end product of development.
He argues, “A political system resting on a balance among state, law, and accountability is both a practical and moral necessity for all societies” and that “development of these three sets of institutions becomes a universal requirement for all human societies over time…” For better or for worse, there is no alternative to a modern, impersonal state as a guarantor of order and security, and as a source of necessary public goods.”
Fukuyama dismisses the notion that a liberal democracy as a combination of these institutions represents the “cultural preferences of Western societies”. He asserts that through general as well as specific evolution there is a tendency for such a convergence of institutions across culturally different societies over time.
Fukuyama sets the goal of all modern societies as “Getting to Denmark”. “Denmark’ is less the actual nation of Denmark than an ideal society which is prosperous, democratic, secure, well-governed and has low levels of corruption. This ‘Denmark’ would have perfect balance between a competent state, strong rule of law, and democratic accountability. “The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Haiti into idealised places like “Denmark” but it doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring it about”. This is because, Fukuyama claims, they do not understand the different trajectories by which Denmark itself come into being.
Therefore, the task he sets for himself is to understand the different forces that promote the modernization of a State. He sees military competition and economic growth as the early drivers of political reform, but “Before a state can be constrained by either law or democracy, it needs to exist.”
And so Fukuyama’s analysis shows that sequencing of democracy and state-building are crucial to the emergence of an effective state, demonstrating that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.”
However, the State’s effectiveness in each society depends, according to Fukuyama, on the development path taken by it. By that he means the historical sequencing of the interaction between the various dimensions of development, i.e. Political development (comprising the elements of State, Rule of Law and Democracy), Economic Growth, and Social Mobilization.
In the context of the non-Western and colonized world, Fukuyama argues that the model of development presented by the Europeans left these societies midway — neither authentically traditional nor successfully Westernized. He analyses Nigeria as an example of a semi-failed state which, he describes as weak not only because of its technical incapacity and inability to enforce laws impersonally and transparently but also because it is “weak in a moral sense: it has a deficit of legitimacy.”
The author makes a strong argument that despite signs of decay, liberal democracy is the end product of modern development. The issue of decay of democratic institutions has been discussed in great detail in the case of America demonstrating that many American institutions have become dysfunctional and that “a combination of intellectual rigidity and the power of entrenched political actors, growing over time, is preventing the country from reforming them.” While he says that intellectual rigidity and the influence of elite groups are generic to all democracies, their impact depends in the specific nature of the institutions in a democratic state.
Fukuyama’s discussion of non-democratic states such as Iran, the monarchies of Persian Gulf, Russia and Communist China is perfunctory. Reminiscent of Karl Marx who saw the bourgeoisie as, historically, a revolutionary class, Fukuyama seems to place his faith in a growing and prosperous middle class mobilizing itself and ultimately demanding political freedom and accountability in government — leaving enough escape room for himself, citing the possible cultural specificity of China were this not to happen. Nothing, not even the growth of regressive extremist forces such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria now and the Taliban state in Afghanistan earlier, it would seem, can detract Fukuyama from claiming that “there is a clear direction to the process of political development.” The reader, therefore, has plenty of counter examples to challenge such an argument for direction in history before plunging into a very engaging read.

Indian Finance Minister’s Victor Hugo Moment

As Arun Jaitley the FM is preparing to deliver his budget, some thoughts occur. He is FM in a govt where BJP enjoys an absolute majority. But that isn’t the only reason to expect him to deliver a more than run-of-the-mill budget. The expectations are high, but so are the constraints.  But the major prognosis is that this cam be the Victor Hugo moment- make or mar.  Union budgets being analysed threadbare and their presentation getting elevated to the level of public spectacle are largely a post-reform phenomenon. Budgets rarely received such attention in pre-reform India. Even if they did, it wasn’t finance ministers’ budget speeches in Parliament, but the legendary jurist Nani Palkhivala’s elucidation of the proposals in Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium that attracted maximum eyeballs.
Arun Jaitley’s budget for 2015-16, to be presented today, will be significant for being the 25th of the post-reform era. But it has the potential to be more than just that. Post-reform India has had three game-changing budgets. Manmohan Singh’s 1991-92, P. Chidambaram’s 1997-98 and Yashwant Sinha’s 2000-01 Union budgets genuinely broke new ground. Whether Jailey’s will be the fourth in 25 years — the situation demands it should be — will be clear tomorrow.
The context of Manmohan Singh’s “historic” budget is well-known. Indian foreign currency reserves, as in March 1991, were sufficient to finance barely over a month’s imports. Against this background came the swathe of announcements, from the virtual abolition of industrial licensing, opening up to foreign direct investment and slashing the peak customs duty rate to 150 per cent to establishing a statutory independent regulator for capital markets (Sebi, as opposed to the old controller of capital issues), and setting the stage for screen-based trading, compression of settlement cycles and materialization/ electronic transfer of securities through new institutions such as the National Stock Exchange and National Securities Depository Ltd.
Singh’s budget helped to not just restore investor confidence, but also unleashed the era of economic reforms. The shift in policy paradigm was aptly captured in the last part of his speech: “Victor Hugo once said, ‘No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come’… Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake”.
Chidambaram’s “dream” budget of 1997-98 wasn’t as revolutionary, but a trailblazer nonetheless. First, it put a stop to the funding
of government deficits by the RBI through the issuance of ad hoc treasury bills. The end of the regime of “deficit financing” meant the central bank now had some autonomy in the conduct of monetary policy. Second, the budget talked of managerial and commercial autonomy for public sector undertakings (PSUs) as well, apart from identifying nine well-performing “Navaratna” firms that were to be supported in their drive to become global giants (as the Chinese successfully did).
Third, it introduced a new exploration and licensing policy in hydrocarbons, under which companies, both domestic and foreign, were allowed to make discoveries and sell the produced oil/ gas in the domestic market at international prices. Fourth, the outdated foreign exchange regulation act was sought to be replaced by new legislation consistent with full current account convertibility and the objective of progressively liberalising capital account transactions; the emphasis henceforth was to be more on curbing the laundering of ill-gotten money rather than regular foreign trade or capital transactions. Chidambaram also brought down the peak customs duty to 40 per cent, as part of a move to achieve Asean-level tariffs by the turn of the century, going against the advice of his senior officials.
Sinha’s 2000-01 budget was probably the last that could be termed reformist. For the first time, a fiscal responsibility act to institutionalize financial discipline through the setting of clear medium-term goals for deficit reduction was mooted. It also set the stage for a steep reduction in interest rates. Sinha’s budget also proposed shutting down PSUs that could not be revived, reducing government equity in all “non-strategic” firms to 26 per cent and whittling down the same to not more than 33 per cent, even in nationalized banks. If these weren’t enough, it also explicitly referred to “downsizing government” by limiting fresh departmental recruitment and introducing a voluntary retirement scheme for surplus staff.
We know that some of these proposed reforms — whether to do with PSUs or rationalization of subsidies — never really saw the light of day. The subsequent decade, if anything, saw an expansion in entitlement programs even as the Indian economy experienced unprecedented growth that averaged 8.3 per cent annually between 2003-04 and 2011-12. Compounding the irony was the absence of a single budget that could be called reformist or radical during a period when the same Manmohan Singh was now prime minister.
Jaitley, in many ways, is well placed to write himself into the history books. He is finance minister in a government where the ruling party enjoys an absolute majority that India’s electorate last delivered in 1984. But that isn’t the only reason to expect him to deliver a more than run-of-the-mill budget. The Indian economy today — forget what the Central Statistics Office’s new GDP estimates show — is entering its fourth year of growth and investment slowdown. This, even as the Chinese growth story is clearly over and there is extraordinary investor interest in India, which is seen as one of the few destinations offering relative political and macro stability in an otherwise dismal global economic landscape. We need a budget to leverage what is India’s true Victor Hugo moment that Singh alluded to back in July 1991.
What radical steps can Jaitley’s budget take? For starters, it can take off from the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendation to substantially increase the share of states in Central taxes from 32 to 42 per cent. This, apart from giving the states greater fiscal space and responsibility in undertaking development schemes tailored to their needs, also allows the Center to focus investment in areas where it is most required: railways, national highways, defense, space, atomic energy, agricultural and basic research, etc.
A similar philosophy should guide the budget, too. The finance minister should avoid going too micro. There is no need to extend sector-specific concessions to auto, steel, consumer durables or real estate on the ground that these particularly important industries are suffering from poor demand. The truth is there is no industry currently doing well, and that has to do with a general problem of demand from a near four-year-long investment famine. The budget’s singular focus should be on reviving investment and significantly stepping up capital spending in infrastructure projects. Once the investment demand picks ups, individual sector problems will resolve themselves over time.
The least this budget can do is restore the Centre’s capital expenditures from the present 1.7 per cent or less of GDP to the 3 per cent-plus levels last seen in the mid-1990s. The economy badly needs more government spending, but of the right kind — in infrastructure, farm R&D and rural roads, as against recurrent and wasteful subsidies — that will boost overall economic productivity and ensure “Make in India” isn’t simply a pipe-dream.
Jaitley has a chance that he needs to grab and not squander by claiming that the budget is “only one day in a year”. We know from the past how a single budget day — Singh’s on July 24, 1991 and Pranab Mukherjee’s on March 16, 2012 — can make or mar.

Brussels, Greece deal; stave off crisis in the Euro Zone for four months

The Europeans have done it again. Global markets can shrug and claim that they were right all along, because Brussels and Greece have come up with a dodgy deal at the last minute that will stave off a potential blow-up in the euro zone – for four months. The fact that the new “deal” does really address any of the fundamentals, finding a long term solution to the Greek problem is just one of those things that Europe has been doing for years, ever since the first euro zone crisis broke out.
As is usual, both sides are claiming victory in the standoff. Germany is making sure everyone (and its voters) know that yay, yay, Greece blinked first and has agreed to an extension of the current bailout programme, and come to heel like a good doggie.
It’s not very surprising that Germany also announced better than-expected economic growth for the last quarter of the year, fuelled by strong domestic demand. The Greeks are claiming they have won a battle “but not the war”. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.
Syriza, the current ruling party in Greece, won its election on a campaign of refusing to kowtow to the “Troika” that are its main creditors and monitors, and may well face criticism from its home voters that they’ve “sold” out. However, they have wrung some pretty serious concessions from Brussels – for one, Greece has a say in its future economic reforms programme, subject to approval by “institutions” as the Troika has been renamed, instead of having to swallow a formula dictated by Brussels. It has also gained some leeway on its tough fiscal deficit targets, and hints about some arcane complicated way that might mitigate its existed overall debt. Late Tuesday, Brussels and Greece agreed on the set of proposals Greece submitted.
Now that everyone knows the poker style of the new players, markets will relax – not because anything whatsoever will be done in real terms, but four more months means that euro zone finance ministers can happily wrangle and argue about what the deal will be next time, and at every tortuous stage, each side will portray infinitesimal changes in some fairly arcane and complicated conditions as a political victory.
What markets are looking for is the political fallout, especially in Spain, where anti-Euro party Podemos has been gaining traction. So after some winter fireworks, life in the euro zone is likely to be back to normal for the foreseeable future – and bad penny Greece is to stay off the headlines until the next crisis.
What this round of crisis has shown is, that unlike the previous sovereign bond crisis when it seemed as if markets were panicking daily, that global markets have learnt to live with Europe’s clumsy, slow and painfully tortuous method of, well, not doing anything to rock the boat. And its classic solution of kicking the can down the road, hoping the problem will solve itself over time. As the Greece standoff has shown, it really doesn’t, but then one can kick the can a further few miles down the road.
The crux of how indefinitely Europe can postpone its inherent problems is whether deflating economies are able to prosper – European economies are not as badly off as Greece, but except for Germany, are mostly languishing in a state of deflation – which, for an economy that has little growth, is as bad a thing as inflation is for a country like India. And how far European voters are willing to live tied to the end of a can that keeps getting kicked further and further.

West’s Actions Futile: ISIS has built near-impregnable base

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has learned from the mistakes of past jihadist movements and established a near-impregnable base of support within Iraq and Syria with spectacular appeal to many of the world’s Sunni Muslims, a new book has warned.The authors of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, published this month in the US, spoke to dozens of fighters and members of the group to understand its allure and how it justifies its brutal tactics.
In a telephone interview with AFP, one of the authors, Syrian-born journalist Hassan Hassan, said it was vital to understand that some of the group’s core religious beliefs were widely shared. “It presents itself as an apocalyptic movement, talking about the end of days, the return of the caliphate and its eventual domination of the world,” said Hassan, who lives in Abu Dhabi where he works as a researcher for a think tank.
“These beliefs are not on the margins — they are absolutely mainstream. They are preached by mosques across the world, particularly in the Middle East.
“ISIS takes these existing beliefs and makes them more appealing by offering a project that is happening right now,” he said.
Hassan’s research along with co-author Michael Weiss — a US-based journalist gave them a rare insight into ISIS training camps for new recruits, which vary in length from two weeks to one year.
“Recruits receive military, political and religious training. They are also trained in counter-intelligence to avoid being infiltrated,” said Hassan.
“After they graduate, recruits remain under scrutiny and can be expelled or punished if they show reservations, or sent back to the camps to ‘strengthen their faith’.”
ISIS uses certain texts and in-house clerics to provide religious justification for their violence, particularly a book called The Management of Savagery, which argues that brutality is a useful tool for goading the West into an over-reaction. The authors outline six categories of ISIS recruit. Only two are rooted in religion: the ultra-radicals who dominate the group’s upper echelons, and recent converts to its extremist ideology. Others are merely opportunists seeking money or power; pragmatists who want stability and see ISIS as the only game in town; and foreign fighters whose motives vary widely but “are almost always fed by serious misapprehensions of what is taking place in Iraq and Syria”.
The final and most important category of recruit is often under-appreciated by the West — those drawn by the group’s political ideology.
Many Sunni Muslims in the region feel threatened by Shias led by a resurgent Iran.
“Across the region, Shias are confident, bold and on the rise, while Sunnis feel insecure and persecuted,” said Hassan.
“Many disagree with ISIS on ethical grounds but they see them as the only group capable of protecting them.”
The authors also emphasise that ISIS is not new, but rather emerged from the ashes of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), one of the most brutal foes of the Americans following their 2003 invasion. AQI was largely defeated after the US convinced local tribes to rise up against them — a strategy known as “The Awakening”, which has deeply influenced ISIS strategy.
“From the beginning, they’ve been obsessed with the Awakening,” said Hassan.
“They’ve done everything to prevent it happening again: built sleeper cells, bought loyalty, divided communities. They’ve succeeded in making internal resistance practically impossible. No tribe will fight them, because they will find themselves fighting their own brothers and cousins.”
The authors also depict IS as the revenge of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime more than a decade after the late Iraqi dictator was thrown out of power.
Most of the top ISIS decision-makers served either in Saddam’s military or security services, the book says. Although the Baathists were originally a secular movement, Saddam introduced a ‘Faith campaign’ in the 1990s that sought to Islamise society. “Very few people have focused on the impact of that campaign,” said Hassan.

Russian opening towards South Asia

When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov landed in Beijing earlier this month, he drove directly from the airport to meet his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj. The meeting — less than 10 days after President Obama’s New Delhi trip — focused on the Druzhba-Dosti vision document unveiled during Putin’s visit to India in 2014. Back in December, Putin and Modi famously signed 20 agreements in 24 hours.
That Russia should storm its way back onto the world stage in 2014 was unsurprising; a resurgent Russia that would challenge a Western-backed world order was largely inevitable given the machismo of the Putin presidency. More disarming, however, has been the speed at which this comeback has taken place and sent Moscow’s relations with Nato into deep freeze.
In South Asia, residual Cold War memory still haunts policymaking; in 1971, when Pakistan was nestled in the Western camp, Moscow dispatched a nuclear-armed flotilla from Vladivostok to stand between India and incoming British and American ships.
Putin is unlikely to hedge his bets on a peaceful South Asia. There is good reason to surmise that Russian revisionism can still change the fractured state of play in a post-2014 subcontinent. Today, Russia remains the largest weapons exporter to India, with military sales worth $40 billion ranging from fighter jets to battle tanks. In 2014 India’s first SSBN submarine — the 6,000 tonne Arihant — catapulted India into an elite league of nuclear states with credible second-strike capability thanks to Russian assistance, also making it the first non P-5 country to have built a ballistic missile submarine.
Last June, Russia lifted a self-imposed embargo on arms supplies to Pakistan signalling an opening of sorts. For Islamabad, there are strong grounds — not necessarily related to achieving strategic parity with India — for giving this under-cultivated relationship its time in the sun. While five US presidents have visited Pakistan since 1947, a Russian head of state has yet to make the trip. Putin came close back in October 2012, only to cancel last minute suggesting that relations had not sufficiently evolved for an official Pak-Russia diplomatic debut.
But a calendar of geopolitical anxieties has increased the urgency for a Russia opening. And in light of a timetabled ISAF drawdown in Afghanistan and blunt grandstanding in India, honing outreach to Moscow is likely to work for two reasons: short on friends, Putin is now searching for both extra-regional allies, and a strategy that dovetails with other Russian partnerships in the Eurasian rim.
Unlike the US, there are indications of a non-linearity in Russia’s approach to South Asia that can help mitigate rather than exacerbate Indo-Pak tensions. Oil and gas exporters under the SCO are increasingly looking to tap and service new consumer markets. Russia is already rehabilitating the Guddu and Muzaffargarh power plants, as part of a wider outreach strategy to increase its continental energy footprint. Russian energy giant Gazprom has expressed an interest in expanding its stakes in the Tapi pipeline, and providing capital outlay to develop infrastructure at Thar. It should also be remembered that back in December — a full month before the Indo-US civil nuclear ‘breakthrough’ — Russian nuclear leviathan Rosatom agreed to build 12 more reactors in India by 2035 in addition to the two Kudankulam facilities.
Faced with Western belt-tightening of the Russian economy and the rouble in free-fall, Putin is deflecting from EU capital, to proactively pivot Moscow’s position in a Pan-Asian arms and energy market. This in turn can sustain an imperative Russian defence economy.
Security-wise, too, an engaged Russia matters. As Pakistan cleans up its tribal agencies, the danger of a militant retreat to the North Caucasus and Central Asian host clusters makes Russia an important stakeholder in regional counterterrorism initiatives.
For all his boisterousness when it comes to the Slavic beltway, Putin is unlikely to hedge his bets on a peaceful South Asia, given India and Pakistan’s simultaneous application for SCO membership. Russia’s recent expression of interest in sitting in on talks with the Afghan Taliban, brokered by Beijing, further reflects that a post-2014 vacuum could expedite South Asia’s transformation from a near-abroad ‘peripheral’ to core Russian interest. Moscow will not be looking to bankroll an arms race here either, given the subcontinent’s geographical proximity to urban Russia.
As China rises and Russia resurges, there will unlikely be a single net-provider of security in the Asia Pacific. Given their lukewarm historical experiences, Russia and Pakistan may never be natural partners. But fostering Pak-Russia relations — not as a counterbalance to Indo-Russian solidarity, but as a transcontinental partnership with stakes in a stable and interconnected South Asia — will help Islamabad in realigning regional priorities. Nor should an opening between Moscow and Islamabad be read elsewhere as a zero-sum upset. There is, after all, value in moving with the times.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in Nalanda Cosy Club- Classic Case of Corruption

Why is it that different rules are expected by those who have achieved some importance. The matter of fact is such people are supposed to be trend setters and role models, but when their conduct becomes a national scandal, then it is time to rip the cover off and show how they have been pampered, how all norms have been flouted to accommodate them and how all rules and laws bent. Nobel laureate Sen’s ignoble desire to keep on appropriating and hogging power and lime light has to be seen as a vile instance of the malaise that afflicts Indian polity.
In the heat of the moment, it is easy to lose perspective. Let us step back and consider what the Nalanda University project is all about. Nalanda University and the South Asian University (SAU) were conceived by the UPA government as world-class institutions that, while being located in India, would be outside the purview of the University Grants Commission and government regulations.
This special dispensation was meant to allow these universities to draw on government of India funding but recruit international faculty and students, and develop curricula in line with international best practices. They were to be treated as international organisations (like the World Bank and UN agencies), exempt from taxation and eligible for diplomatic immunities and privileges.
In 2007, a Nalanda Mentor Group (NMG) was set up, with Amartya Sen as chair. It was tasked with guiding the process of setting up the university. Seven years and many meetings later, Nalanda University opened its doors in Rajgir, Bihar, with a handful of faculty and students. Sen has been vocal in blaming the government for this delay and this disappointing state, but closer scrutiny reveals a much more complex landscape. Indeed, it shows the NMG in less than favourable light.
Controversy has dogged this project from its inception. The first visitor of the university, former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, dissociated himself from the project in 2011. In 2013-14, the ministry of finance, then under P. Chidambaram, objected to the manner in which the special dispensation was being operated. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), too, has been critical.
The ministry of external affairs (MEA) has had its misgivings. As foreign minister, S.M. Krishna recorded his objection to the opaque manner in which Sen selected the vice chancellor and asked for a fresh approach. The relevant file noting is available. Krishna was overruled by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) under Manmohan Singh.
To be fair, innovating within government is difficult. Creating an “offshore” university like Nalanda requires not just an ability to innovate but also the dexterity to navigate the framework of parliamentary accountability and government rules and procedures in creating new precedents. While this was not entirely the responsibility of the NMG and the chancellor, the choice of vice chancellor proved to be remarkably inauspicious.
As a government official told me in the winter of 2013, “A mid-level academic, at one of the affiliated colleges of Delhi University, with no known experience in institution-building, was selected to steer this flagship project, apparently over more respected names. We don’t know why.” How was the vice chancellor selected? There is no available history of advertisements, global searches, and candidate interviews with wide-ranging panels.
All that the government has is a letter from Amartya Sen to the MEA. It says he has “considered” three names — Gopa Sabharwal, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Ramachandra Guha — and selected Sabharwal. It does not say who else was on the longlist or shortlist. It does not invite comments and consultation on a reappraisal or expansion of the list of names on offer.
This was the arbitrariness that both Kalam and Krishna objected to. The manner of selection of the vice chancellor drew negative comments from the CAG as well. Further, it was questioned in Parliament. The CAG also objected to the propriety and procedure of fixing the salary of the vice chancellor. This was done by the NMG, by then re-designated as the interim governing board. The annual salary was fixed at $80,000 (tax-free).
How was this figure arrived at? The NMG/ governing board simply borrowed the sum from the salary payable to the vice chancellor of the SAU. Government agencies, such as the finance ministry, were not consulted. Yet, as was pointed out, the SAU has a different charter. It is funded by the Saarc, a multilateral organisation. The SAU vice chancellor’s salary is benchmarked against the salary of the secretary general of Saarc (based in Kathmandu).
In contrast, while Nalanda University has received small grants from countries that are participants in the East Asia Summit, the bulk of its funding comes from the Indian taxpayer. Over the coming five or six years, it is estimated that the government will spend Rs 2,700 crore on the Nalanda University project. Surely, this necessitates some accountability and at least as much transparency as is expected from the government? This was exactly the issue the CAG raised.
In 2010, the Nalanda University Act was passed by Parliament. It allowed the NMG to function as the interim governing board for one year, till a proper governing board was set up by the government. This was never done. In 2011 and 2012, the NMG was given one-year extensions to function as the interim governing board. In 2013, it was given an indefinite extension.
The governing board is meant to comprise 14 members. Nine of these represent the governments of India (including the MEA and the HRD ministry) and of Bihar. In the winter of 2013-14, Sen mooted a proposal to amend the Nalanda University Act and raise the strength of the governing board to 18. The four new members, all non-government, would be nominated by members of the existing governing board. For example, the vice chancellor would nominate a representative of the faculty as member of the governing board.
In effect, the NMG/ governing board would become a self-perpetuating body, with members choosing their successors. This cosy club would have authority to spend Rs 2,700 crore of taxpayer money over a half-decade. The amendment was formally recommended by Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in his capacity as the then chair of the National Monitoring Committee for Nalanda University. The PMO, under Manmohan Singh, initially supported the proposed amendment. After ferocious objections from the MEA and the finance ministry, and fearful of another scandal, the idea was dropped.
Quite unconscionably, even the BJP-led government has not constituted a formal governing board for Nalanda University. It has allowed the NMG/ interim arrangement to continue. All that is happening is Sen’s term as chancellor is expiring in July 2015. As such, he will stop being a member of the interim governing board. Earlier this year, the government told the interim governing board that it would not be giving the current chancellor (Sen) a fresh term. It asked the interim governing board to recommend three names for chancellorship. Sen has described this as an infringement of academic independence.
Importantly, Sen has not come up with any other example of such infringement. He has not accused the MEA or the government of intervening on any issue of recruitment of academics or development of curricula. The efforts of the ministry to reconcile the university’s autonomy with the MEA’s accountability to Parliament were not helped by the NMG insisting that autonomy meant complete freedom to set its own rules on how taxpayer money was to be spent.
Questions posed by the MEA were repeatedly fobbed off by citing “academic autonomy”. In 2013, the MEA reviewed the project and concluded management capacity was a major constraint in meeting deadlines. No registrar was appointed for three years. A thin crew of a vice chancellor and a dean of academic affairs (on secondment from Delhi University), with limited experience, a finance officer (with no relevant experience of project finance) and two consultants could not be entrusted with institution-building of this magnitude.
The MEA then proposed sending a senior civil servant, with a relevant professional background, to handle non-academic work relating to the project for a two-or three-year period. The NMG protested, labelling this government interference and bureaucratisation. Manmohan Singh’s PMO backed the NMG.
The revival of a university in Nalanda is a noble and eminently desirable mission. However, the past seven years have seen only limited progress and a hijacking of the project by a small clique. Sen, as chancellor, cannot escape responsibility here. Of course, the end of his term as chancellor need not end his association with Nalanda University. He is free to lecture there. Even beyond July 2015, the university could benefit from his scholarship. For his part, he must decide if he wants to be remembered as a great teacher — or an indifferent administrator.

Of change, will & inner voice

The word “change” is generally confused with Lampedusa’s famous phrase: “better to change a little so that everything can stay the same.” And when we feel that the time has come for a change, we unconsciously begin to review a video showing us scenes of all our defeats up to that moment. Of course, as we grow older, our quota of difficult moments becomes all the more bigger.
But at the same time, experience has given us the means to overcome our defeats, come back out on top, and find a way that lets us carry on. We also need to watch that video in our mental videocassette. But be careful, because if we watch only the video with defeats, we will become paralysed. If we dwell on the video of experience, we will end up judging ourselves to be wiser than what we really are. So it is better to have both films at hand. And when the time comes for a new step, close a circle and begin something different.
Will is a word that we should put under suspicion for a while. What are the things we don’t do because we really don’t have the will, and what are the things we don’t do because they are risky?
Here is an example of risk that we confuse with “lack of will”: talking with strangers. Whether it is flirting, a simple contact or unburdening ourselves — we rarely talk to strangers. And we always feel that “it’s better that way.”
We end up not helping and without being helped by life. Our distance makes us seem very important, very sure of ourselves, but in practice, we are missing the miracles that the angels put in our path.
Often “inner voice” is confused with “inspiration.” This is a mistake. We are always hearing interior voices, noises meant to distract us, make us lose contact with life. They never stay quiet, they never hush. Certain magical traditions say that our control over these voices is negligible.
Those who have ever experienced meditation know how true this is, and even those who have never meditated know that such voices exist (songs we sing mentally to ourselves, thoughts we can’t shake off, and so on). Only one thing can silence these voices: enthusiasm. When we are truly involved in the art of living, these tiny little interior voices stop talking such nonsense — and then we can hear the voice of our guardian angel, the voice of our heart, the voice of inner conscience

The Narcissist Indian Politicians :Men & Mandate

Deep metaphysical truths about politics often emerge in a hyper-politicized state like Bihar. I remember a conversation with a group of Nitish Kumar supporters who were upset when he broke his alliance with the BJP. One interlocutor said, “Inka gunah hai ke yeh paristhiti mein aur apne mein bhed nahin kar pa rahe hain (his besetting sin is that he cannot distinguish between his circumstances and himself)”.
Politicians are vulnerable when they are unable to distinguish what is due to circumstances and what is due to them. Instead of seeing how objective reality impinges on them, they begin to think reality is an extension of their will. In Nitish’s case, the specific charge at the time was that he had begun to believe whatever good was happening in Bihar was due entirely to him. He forgot the circumstances that allowed him a modicum of success. Nitish’s first term was unusual because, after decades, caste polarization had been taken off the explicit agenda. His government had a wide social coalition, of the top and the bottom. One of the conditions of effective governance is to have a wide social coalition behind you, or else some social force or the other will devour the best administrative acumen. This is a deep truth.
A subsidiary point was that Nitish had picked all the low-hanging governance fruits. The tougher decisions that Bihar needs to take on topics as diverse as land and education will require even more broad-based support. The wicked challenges now facing Bihar need even broader social negotiations. Bihar had precariously created the possibility of such a moment. Will any political party be able to recreate it?
But this piece of wisdom is also relevant to the BJP and the Congress. It is hard to know what the inner tensions and pressures on a politician are. But Rahul Gandhi’s spectacular downfall post 2009 is a classic case of confusing circumstances with one’s own ego. Much changed after 2009. The Congress forgot that, in 2009, the Opposition was still weak; it was still reaping the dividends of growth; it got some benefit from standing behind Manmohan Singh, who had not yet lost his sheen. In fact, in 2009, the Congress took some risks by going it alone in UP; Rahul got credit for that. But after that, it has been a free fall, for which Rahul is at least as centrally responsible.
Three big changes were evident somewhere in the middle of the UPA’s second term. First, as a public persona, Rahul came across as increasingly narcissistic. He seemed to be increasingly closed to political realities, and everything from the government to the party became an extension of his pet obsessions. His narcissism was evident in the way he humiliated the prime minister by tearing up his government’s ordinance in public. But the second persona he projected was victimhood. Faced with scandal after scandal, the standard narrative put out was that Rahul wanted to change the party and fix corruption, while the old guard was hemming him in. He was trying to build a virtuous party, while corrupt government was another matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. And in any case, politics of victimhood may allow you to hold on to a sense of injured virtue, but it does little to convince voters. His sole political card seemed to be his own self-fulfilling belief in his good intentions; circumstances be damned.
The third change was more sociological. The Congress pulled off the spectacular feat of being both crony capitalist and anti-business at the same time. His close circle forgot that urban India was a crucial element in their 2004 victory. In fact, Rahul’s inner circle seemed full of people who were so concerned about expiating their guilt at being privileged that they refused to see the ways in which India was changing. In some ways, they forgot that, just as India cannot be governed with communal polarization, it cannot be governed with class polarisation: it needs its entrepreneurs as much as its workers, its farmers as much as its urban middle class. This just is a sociological reality: polarization is a pathway to paralysis.
Last month, we saw a hint of Narendra Modi being beset by a similar confusion: his persona occluded reality. Hopefully, he can pull back. But there is a deeper structural challenge faced by the government. The BJP risks being trapped by a double cynicism. Its support of the original land acquisition bill was ill considered. But promulgating an ordinance in haste has cast a shadow over the BJP’s intentions. It has also been put in an awkward situation where even if it makes the right changes, it will be seen as a climb down. It has unnecessarily given the Opposition an issue. The land act needed changes. But what the NDA’s ordinance proposed was a lot of subterfuge — it reeked of the same casualness that had destroyed the UPA’s credibility.
But just as the Congress was blindsided by who its imagined constituency was, the BJP was blindsided by the thought that it needed to send swift signals to investors. Not a bad thought. But the government forgot that, in the final analysis, it will be judged by its ability to manage social contradictions: it needed to do the political hard work of building a broad social coalition.
Now, every NGO and Opposition party is jumping on the resistance to the land acquisition bill. Two dialectics are possible: the rough and tumble of opposition could produce a better bill. But what is equally likely is that the government loses face and destroys its political capital. It would be better off making sensible compromises that can square a triangle, as it were. We need a bill that can do three things: withstand legal scrutiny, allow industrialization, but genuinely protect farmers and affected parties.
But the larger issue is this: is there a developmental model possible that can have a broad social coalition behind it? Each class potentially has a veto power if mobilized sufficiently. What will be the social contract that overcomes this polarization? Perhaps this is better resolved at the level of the states. But the land conflict will be the test of what artful politics looks like. Both the BJP and the AAP will have to be careful not to overplay their hand. A precondition of governance is recognizing that your own virtue and dogma are no substitutes for cross-class negotiations. Many a leader has forgotten that. The irony of politics is that it is often easier to take leave of your senses than it is to take a leave of absence.

Ukraine imbroglio: Kerry Needs a Diplomacy 101 Refresher Course

Among the several intriguing aspects of the truce implemented in eastern Ukraine 10 days ago, what stands out are the cynical efforts to guarantee its failure. The deal reached earlier this month in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, between the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and France and the chancellor of Germany was almost overshadowed by the American debate over providing heavy weaponry to the government in Kiev.
It was easy to assume that the rhetoric emanating from Washington was intended largely to reduce the likelihood of recalcitrance on the part of Vladimir Putin, who at one point during the negotiations gave vent to his frustration by snapping his pencil in two.
While the option aired by the notoriously (and perhaps thankfully) indecisive Barack Obama remains on the table, his secretary of state, John Kerry, has lately been threatening further sanctions against Russia in London and elsewhere in Europe.
It does not require in-depth knowledge of statecraft to recognise that provocations of this nature could prove extremely counterproductive amid the ongoing tension. Time and again it’s hard to escape the impression that a Diplomacy 101 refresher course would do Kerry a world of good.
In this particular context, though, he is not by any means the worst offender. US Air Force Gen Philip Breedlove, Nato’s top military commander, was recently quoted as saying in Munich: “I don’t think we should preclude out of hand the possibility of the military option.” That puts him completely at odds with the leader of a key Nato component, given that Angela Merkel has specifically ruled out such an option in the quest for a political solution.
While making the case for arming Ukraine, Breedlove admitted that “there is no conversation about boots on the ground” — but it wasn’t hard to read into his comment the idea that such a possibility wasn’t out of the question.
He has lately been outdone by his deputy, the British general Sir Adrian Bradshaw, who told an audience in London last week that “the threat from Russia … represents an obvious existential threat to our whole being”. Such rhetoric inevitably recalls the sabre-rattling that characterised the old Cold War during its periods of greatest tension.
Back then, though, at least the Soviet Union was recognised as a superpower — while, at the same time, its military prowess was frequently exaggerated in order to justify inordinate expenditure on Western nuclear armouries. Russia is by any standards a diminished entity. However, as Jack Matlock, a former ambassador to Moscow during the Reagan and (first) Bush administrations, recently pointed out, “No one with ICBMs is a regional power, not by any means.”
A Diplomacy 101 refresher course would do Kerry a world of good. He also noted that the declaration at Nato’s Bucharest summit in 2008 that the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine would be brought into the fold of the West military alliance clearly violated the promise George H.W. Bush had made to Mikhail Gorbachev at their Malta summit in 1989 to the effect that there would be no eastward expansion of Nato.
That wasn’t the first violation of that vow: within 10 years of the Malta summit, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland had been welcomed into the alliance, followed five years later by another batch of nations that included the former Soviet Baltic republics. It is not surprising, then, that there is frequent mention of potential Russian threats to Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, given that military intervention by Moscow in any of these countries would enable Nato to retaliate on the basis of its collective defence mechanism.
It’s more worrying, though, when the utterances of Nato stalwarts imply that Ukraine is already effectively a member of the US-led alliance. As the realist conservative commentator John Mearsheimer recently noted in The New York Times: “Great powers react harshly when distant rivals project military power into their neighbourhood, much less attempt to make a country on their border an ally. That is why the United States has the Monroe Doctrine, and today no American leader would ever tolerate Canada or Mexico joining a military alliance headed by another great power.”
Russia, moreover, can legitimately see itself as the victim of more than one invasion from the west in the past 100 years. Small wonder, then, that it should see buffer states along the border as a reasonable aspiration.
This is by no means to defend the profoundly flawed administration of Vladimir Putin, let alone justify its surreptitious intervention in eastern Ukraine. Yet it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why Moscow is dead set against the idea of a conspicuously hostile administration in Kiev.
A year after the Maidan events in Kiev that set in motion the latest string of consequences, there is still scope for a modus vivendi covering both Ukraine’s interests and those of Russia. Threats and provocations, however, can more or less be guaranteed to forestall a settlement. And nothing good could conceivably come of that.

A Comparative Analysis of Indian & Chinese Railways

As the NDA presents the rail budget today, it is worth reflecting on the growing gap between the Indian railway system and that of its Asian peer, China. Thanks to the British Raj, India had a head start over China in the 19th century. The British built the first experimental rail line in the subcontinent near Chennai in 1836. In China, it was a British company, Jardine, Matheson and Company, which laid the first tracks in Shanghai in 1876. The line connected British and American territorial settlements with the Wusong docks on the Huangpu River. But the local governor of Shanghai quickly dismantled it, accusing the British of building the line without the permission of the emperor in Beijing.
By the turn of the 20th century, the subcontinent had nearly 15,000 km of railway track, in comparison to just 600 km in China. After Partition and Independence in 1947, India’s rail network was nearly 54,000 km. China, in contrast, had about 27,000 km, of which barely 8,000 km was usable because of the civil war. Since Independence, China has nearly quadrupled its rail network to about 1,10,000 km. India has added barely 11,000 km of track.
The total span of the rail network is only one measure of India’s slowdown relative to China. Once the leader in the development of railways in the non-Western world, India is no longer at the cutting edge. As far back as the late 19th century, the Indian Railways was laying tracks in distant lands of Africa and surveying potential rail routes to China through Burma. New Delhi now desperately needs foreign collaboration to come up to speed with the rest of the world, thanks to misguided policies of self-reliance and massive mismanagement over the last many decades.
The Chinese railways, in the reform era unveiled by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s, eagerly sought foreign collaboration, absorbed the technology, mastered it and has now begun to export it. Consider the development of high-speed railways in China. If Delhi turned its back on emerging technologies two decades ago, Beijing is now the leader. China launched its first high-speed rail line in 2003. A decade later, its high-speed network spans more than 12,000 km. China wants to expand its rapid rail network to about 25,000 km and connect all cities with a population of 500,000.
Strategic Clarity
Both Chinese nationalists and the communists understood the importance of railways in unifying the nation, integrating domestic markets, promoting economic development, securing far-flung frontiers and promoting Chinese influence abroad. These were, in fact, the very motives that drove the Raj to build an expansive rail network on the subcontinent that stretched from Tinsukia in the east to Quetta in the West, and from Peshawar in the north to Dhanushkodi in the South.
If the British Raj understood the strategic significance of the railways, the rulers of independent India squandered the inherited advantage and have wrecked the system rather than build on it. In China, the first president of the first republic, Sun Yat Sen, dreamt of connecting the entire country through a massive rail network. That dream has been realized in full measure by his communist successors.
Impudent Vision
The Chinese Communist Party leadership has also built on Sun’s plans to extend the Chinese railways to far-flung corners of the Eurasian landmass. The breathtaking scope of China’s vision can be gauged by the plans to build a railway line from Northeast China to the United States through Russia and China. They want to connect China to California through Siberia. If and when it is built, the 13,000 km railway line will be the longest in the world.
The boldest part of the plan is to build a 200 km underwater tunnel in the Bering Strait, which connects Asia to North America. To cap it all, Chinese companies say they will fully fund and construct the link. From Alaska to Argentina and from Africa to Australia, railway diplomacy has become one of the central themes of China’s international engagement. Armed with technology and massive financial resources, Chinese companies are competing with each other to win railway contracts around the world.
In Delhi, the Modi government has said all the right things about the long-overdue modernisation of the Indian Railways. It has pressed the railways to look at high-speed corridors. The PM has demanded early implementation of the long-pending projects on connecting India’s border regions with railways. The NDA government has also reached out to China and Japan for collaboration on railways, including on high-speed trains and heavy haulage. But turning the talk into reality was never going to be easy. The budget this week will show if the government’s political will is strong enough to prevail over the entrenched conservatism of the Indian Railways establishment.

Salad Indian Style : salad or Salaad

My earliest memory of a salad is not very appetizing!
As a kid I relished the regular trips to a neighborhood dhaba to get tandoori chicken, buttery hot naans and the inevitable mah-ki-daal. While the fat Sardarji was busy pitchforking the naan dough into his subterranean mud oven, he would yell at his minions: “Arrey, tussi salaad toh kato!”( Eh! You cut the salad) One of the overworked crew would immediately start dicing onions, tomatoes, cucumber and cabbage on a fat wooden log upended and honed to a flat surface to serve as a makeshift cutting board. As the salaad was being chopped, it would be swept with a smooth movement into an aluminum tray below. Pieces that fell on the ground were slyly gathered and lobbed into the tray.
This motley collection of diced vegetables would then be put into a plastic bag, sealed at the top with a dirty piece of string and tossed with the tandoori chicken and other “delicacies” that we had come there to buy. For a long time, this ragtag salad served as a rude reminder as to why I would shy away from eating any uncooked vegetables that would find their way to my plate!
As I grew older, “Salaad khaoge?”( Will you have salad) became a familiar chant. North Indians love their pyaaz(onion) and tamatar (tomato), their gajar( carrot) and kheera ( cucumber). Going to someone’s house for a meal meant a big plate heaped with the latest produce of the season displayed in all its colorful glory. The cook in question would chop onions, tomatoes, radish, carrots, into oval or circular shapes (depending on the dexterity of the one cutting the veggies) and then plonk them into concentric circles on a rice plate! Sometimes the vegetables would be liberally sprinked with chaat masala, lemon juice and salt and a hasty salaad was ready to be pounced upon!
No one had ever heard of salad platters or salad bowls. Salads were an afterthought, something you cut up and placed as a last minute addition when the main bevy of dishes had been cooked and proudly displayed on the table. The “salaad” took its place next to the plates and cutlery and by the end of the meal looked a rather sad little mess with everyone’s hands having been liberally all over it! Next day, the remnants of the salad were further cut up to put into a mixed vegetable curry!
Lettuce leaves, forget it! That rather refined world of salad leaves, dressings and vegetables with whimsical names such as kohlrabi, avocado, asparagus, and jicama appeared on the scene much later on in my life. And is the story for another day.
Salaad anyone?

Indians Becoming What They Hate

Pakistan was meant to be a lesson in how not to create a state in the 20th century. But is it becoming the desired mode of state, at least for some Indians? It is shocking for a scared liberal to learn that there is someone in India who wants to remove the word “secular” from the Indian Constitution. In Pakistan, the word is a stigma and yet most some yearn for it. An official ad on Republic Day in India actually carried an old picture of the Preamble to the Constitution without the words “secular” and “socialist” in it. Does India want to become like Pakistan?
Christophe Jaffrelot wrote in The Indian Express (‘The retrial of Godse’, January 30) that a BJP MP wanted to elevate M.K. Gandhi’s killer, Nathuram Godse, to the status of a patriot because he “killed for a cause”. Presumably, Gandhi died “without a cause”. All this is happening as India looks to climb to world-power status. We, in Pakistan, thought Pakistan’s early medievalism would subside after a series of failures, and the state would be compelled by a scared world to become secular. No one could ever imagine that India — despite Hindutva — would turn its back on the modern state created by great men like B.R. Ambedkar.
Pakistan was meant to be a negation of the very concept of nation-state. A Muslim is supposed to carry the germ of “sharia” and will recoil from the modern state no matter how evolved it is. There was no such flaw in Indian democracy. Why should India imitate Pakistan, trying to become what it hates?
Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal, diagnosing the failure of the state in Pakistan in her latest book, The Struggle for Pakistan (2014), says Muslims simply couldn’t reconcile their ideology with the conditions of the modern state. The ulema (Islamic scholars) may insist on a seamless state, but they often lack the power to implement what they have in mind; and since what they have in mind is not a functional Islamic state but a utopia, an Islamic state ruled by them may run the risk of becoming like all utopias, beginning with the one visualised by Plato. Dangers lurk in the lack of will among the ulema to confront practical questions of maintaining the peace among local communities, regulating economic and social relations, or defending the realm against external threats.
It is the “local communities” that are under threat from what Pakistan has become — a clash “within” civilisation. Religion has failed to bind Pakistan; it will not bind India either. After it is done with Muslims and Christians, it will turn on Hindus too. That is what has happened in Pakistan. On January 30, we carried out another massacre of Muslims in Sindh, barely a month after we killed our children in Peshawar.
Historian Venkat Dhulipala has a marvellous analysis of what Pakistan was meant to be in his book Creating a New Medina: State Power, Islam, and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial North India. Was there such intent at the birth of India? The book has a chapter on Ambedkar defending the creation of Pakistan in favour of Hindus while Jinnah wanted to create Pakistan in favour of Muslims. Ambedkar, in his treatise Thoughts on Pakistan (1941), held that the Muslims of India were too intensely religious to maintain communal harmony in the new state. His Pakistan was hinged on a peaceful transfer of populations which, alas, didn’t happen.
Could Ambedkar, in 1941, visualise India going the way of Pakistan? There is a sense of premonition in the following lines he penned in his book: “The Hindus at one time did recognise that without social efficiency no permanent progress in other fields of activity was possible; that owing to the mischief wrought by evil customs, Hindu Society was not in a state of efficiency; and that ceaseless efforts must be made to eradicate these evils… [Therefore] the birth of the National Congress was accompanied by the foundation of the Social Conference [which focused on] removing the weak points in the social organisation of the Hindu Society.” Of course, “political reform” was considered more important by the Congress, with the result that “the party in favour of political reform won and the Social Conference vanished and was forgotten. With it also vanished from the Hindu Society the urge for social reform.”
In Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea (2013), Faisal Devji interestingly thought the Pakistan movement was seeking a religious utopia like the Zion of Israel, and many Muslims wrongly thought Israel was a religious state and therefore a model for Pakistan. The official name of Israel is “Madinat (sic) Yisrael”. But it is only recently that Israel has gone the way of India, the only difference being that India has a Constitution with “secular” written in it and Israel doesn’t have a constitution.
Ironies don’t end here. In 2012, a former conservative Israeli minister, Tzipi Livni, resigned from her Kadima party saying Israel was going religious under Binyamin Netanyahu and that “halakha” (sharia) was being bandied about to the detriment of a state that needs “a constitution and a clear definition of what the Jewish state really is.” She said: “The meaning of a Jewish state is from a national perspective, not a religious one. And we need to define this in a constitution.”
Pakistan’s prospects are bleak because the Islamic world has followed in its ideological wake — the desire for democracy unfolding within an unquestioning conditionality of ideology. Pakistan is being followed even in the way they behead innocent fellow-Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Nigeria. Even as Pakistan’s army chief seeks to avenge the Taliban’s beheading of Pakistani soldiers, lawyers and retired judges are defending a policeman who killed the then Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, accusing him of blasphemy that he never committed.
Becoming what you hate is a natural human response when a tit-for-tat solution is aspired to. Gandhi opposed it and was recognized as a prophet by a world trying to fight a dominant order without replicating its evils. How has India evolved on the basis of a Gandhian vision and a prescriptive constitution drafted by Ambedkar? The degree to which this pluralist evolution has taken root will determine the level of conflict India will go through in the coming days. Of course, much is forgiven if economic success is palpable and the people are no longer fighting for a shrinking communal space. But a synthesis in the Hegelian sense must prevail sooner rather than later.

House the Poor in South Asia…It is Posible

India may be about to embark on the world’s most ambitious housing development plan. It has to be the lead player to provide solutions to end the housing crisis for the low-income households in India and Pakistan. South Asia alone is home to one of the largest homeless populations in the world. In India, 170 million individuals live in slums. In the neighbouring Pakistan, the national housing shortfall is estimated at 9 million houses.
However, unlike Pakistan, India has decided to address the national housing crisis. Prime Minister Modi’s budget on February 28 is expected to disclose the details of an ambitious plan to build 20 million housing units at the cost of $2 trillion in the next seven years. Once completed, the plan will not only house the homeless or the partially homed 170 million, it is also likely to boost the Indian economy for decades, by engaging millions in the development of one of the largest infrastructure development programs.
There is, however, one big challenge. Even when affordable housing is built for the low-income households, speculators and others manipulate the markets for fast returns. The same units are resold at much higher prices, thus effectively reducing the affordable housing stock.
The affordable housing units in Bahria Town in Rawalpindi, named Awami Villas, were initially sold by the developer for less than a million rupees. Just a few years later, the same units are being sold for two to three million rupees, making them unaffordable for the low-income households.
The real challenge is to find a way to sustain the supply of affordable units when affordable housing becomes unaffordable in the resale market. Mike Labbé, a Canadian developer and a visionary, offers innovative solutions to ensure affordable housing sustains a mechanism to generate even more affordable units. It can work if the politicians, land developers, and lending institutions collaborate on these solutions.
Narendra Modi’s plan to build 20 million new homes exceeds far beyond the hitherto largest public housing development plan in the United States, in scale and magnitude.
Enabled by the Housing Act of 1949, President Truman embarked on a plan to build 810,000 units of public housing. The Indian government’s plans are innovative in that they do not burden the State with the entire responsibility to deliver millions of housing units. The government instead is facilitating the private sector to seize the opportunity.
They will initiate slum rehabilitation projects and provide housing to the slum dwellers at affordable rates. The government is helping the builders raise financing from overseas. It already helps the builders in accessing public land for low-cost housing. Plans are in works to change zoning by-laws to allow taller and wider buildings and streamlining the approval process for residential development projects.
The Central Bank in India will help the commercial banks access funds at cheaper rates for their subsequent lending to these projects. Furthermore, the government may increase the tax incentives for housing loans from 200,000 Rupees per year to 350,000.
The precarious housing situation in Pakistan
The State Bank of Pakistan reported earlier in January that the housing shortfall worsens by 0.34 million units every year. A whole host of structural and other limitations have choked the housing supply in Pakistan. The archaic land and property records hinder large-scale urban residential development. The building industry is atomised and is not trusted by the consumers and institutional lenders. Housing finance is in shambles. The injunctions against interest further limit the application of the traditional mortgage banking in Pakistan.
With the exception of Bahria Towns, most large scale residential developments in Pakistan were undertaken by commercial enterprises representing professional groups who acquired the State’s land at cheaper rates and made it available to members of their fraternity.
Defence Housing Authorities are one such example. The recipients of the subsidised land sold the developed land or the residential unit in the market and pocketed the gains. The housing resale market, because of the demand pressures resulting from higher population growth rates and rural-to-urban migration, thus offered extraordinary returns, where housing prices in new developments doubled in a relatively short span of time.
When affordable becomes unaffordable
Given the lack of access to subsidised State land and affordable mortgage finance, the low-income households in Pakistan have been effectively shunned from the owner-occupied housing.
They are forced to live in unplanned neighbourhoods in crowded housing. Multi-generational households continue to increase in size, but are forced to cohabit because of the lack of housing alternatives.
Even when the government or the private sector develops affordable housing and makes it available to low-income households, such housing quickly reenters the resale housing market and transacts at much higher prices. To date, developing countries like Pakistan have largely been unable to sustain the affordable housing stock.
What to do in South Asia?
Large-scale housing developments can customize Options’ solutions to prevent undue profit-making by speculators and those in search of quick fixes. The government should make large swaths of land available at highly subsidised rates to established builders, preferably from abroad, to build large-scale mixed used developments. Smaller housing units of roughly 750 square feet should dominate the housing mix.
The builders must be required to use a portion of land price savings (the difference between the commercial and subsidised land value) to establish a fund for the cooperative that will manage the new housing development.
The cooperative will take out a second mortgage on the housing units similar to the one by Options but for a larger value. If the affordable house is resold in the market, the cooperative will recover the loan and the markup in proportion to the price appreciation. The cooperative will then re-invest the profits in building additional housing on the unbuilt part of the developed land.
Smaller unit sizes will ensure that high-income households do not find the units attractive to invest. Furthermore, the cooperatives could be empowered to ensure that households under a certain income threshold are eligible to purchase units in the development. Other restrictions to prevent multiple purchases by the same household could further prevent the speculators from generating undue profits.
The mechanism will provide the means to sustain the supply of new affordable housing to replace the one that may become expensive in the resale market. The builders will make market returns on the commercial properties (office buildings, retail malls, recreation facilities, etc.) developed as part of the project.
Housing affordability is a global crisis that affects over 330 million households. McKinsey Global Institute estimates plugging the global housing affordability gap will require $16 trillion. There lies a tremendous opportunity for governments, land developers, builders, and lending institutions to create affordable housing and generate value for their stakeholders.
The scale of the opportunity should entice the private sector in the developing countries where it’s not just affordable houses, but affordable cities that need to be built. If individuals like Narendra Modi, Malik Riaz, and technocrats join hands, hundreds of millions can embrace secure tenure and a prosperous future for their families and nations.

Obama’s Flawed Counterterrorism

One may not agree with the vicious attack launched by right-wing Republicans on US President Barack Obama on his stance on violent extremism. But the White House summit last week raises many questions about his administration’s new approach to combat terrorism and radicalisation at home and abroad.
Contradictions abound in Obama’s pronouncements and the US policy on the ground. While seeking to rally around the international community, particularly the Muslim nations for the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups Obama ignored the flawed US policy in the Middle East that is stoking violent extremism. There is certainly no such realisation yet.
One cannot agree more with the US president that radicalism is fuelled by political and economic grievances and his emphasis on the need to widen a culture of tolerance to end the cycle of hate. Yet there seems to be no major change in the US policy of supporting authoritarian regimes with the worst record of human rights violations. Many US allies in the fresh international counterterrorism campaign are among the most repressive regimes.
Indeed, the timing of the counterterrorism initiative is highly significant, drawing both domestic and international attention. Held in the wake of IS extending its operations from Iraq and Syria to Libya, and the rising number of incidents of violent extremism in Europe, the conference brought together religious leaders, social service providers as well as representatives of some 60 countries. A major objective of the summit was to draw up a framework to contain radicalisation and galvanise an international coalition to stop the advancement of the IS.
Obama’s insistence that America is fighting “violent extremism” rather than radical Islam and his refusal to describe the rise of IS as religious war irked his opponents at home. It was certainly a departure from the Bush era discourse of ‘Islamist terrorism’. The massive attack by right-wing US leaders was inevitable. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, questioned Obama’s patriotism for delinking Islam from extremism. Many others have accused the president of cowardice for what they described as a soft approach.
What is missing in Obama’s anti-militancy approach is the lack of recognition of the real issues. It is, indeed, a perennial challenge for the Obama administration to strike a balance between his cautious approach and the pressure from the right-wing to take a more aggressive position in the fight against terrorism. That has resulted in a foreign policy paralysis throughout his term in office. It was not the first time Obama used the term ‘violent extremism’ instead of ‘Islamist terrorism’, but the terminology by itself does not matter much.
What is missing in Obama’s counterterrorism approach is the lack of recognition of the real issues behind the rise of violent extremism in the Middle East. Undoubtedly, the most important factor in fuelling radicalisation in the Muslim world is the deprivation of the rights of the Palestinians.
In his famous speech in Cairo in June 2009, Obama unwrapped a bold overture for the Islamic world. He talked in powerful terms about the humiliation and repression of the Palestinian people. He grieved over their plight as “intolerable” after 60 years of statelessness.
Obama’s empathetic tone highlighting the Palestinian suffering won him immense admiration in the region and around the world. His words raised hope of his administration playing a more active role on the Palestinian issue. But all those empathetic words seem to have been forgotten since Obama’s inspiring Cairo speech.
The promised push for peace in the Middle East never materialised. Instead, we have seen a dramatic escalation in Israeli aggression and the establishment of an increasing number of new Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, displacing thousands of more Palestinians from their homes. The silence of the West on Israeli barbarism has added to the despair and frustration of the occupied population.
For sure the rise of IS poses the greatest threat not only to the Muslim world, but also to global security. There is, indeed, an urgent need for building a wider coalition for effectively countering this growing menace. But one must also understand the cause that has led to the emergence of terrorist groups like IS. It was essentially the destruction of the Iraqi state by the American invasion that provided impetus to the rise of IS. Many former Iraqi soldiers joined the fray turning the jihadi group into a formidable fighting machinery.
Similarly, the genuine freedom struggle against the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria was taken over by the jihadists aided and armed by Western countries and their allies in the Arab world. The same groups later came to form the nucleus of IS. That inevitably revived the dormant Sunni-Shia sectarianism which spilled over across the Middle East.
Libya is another case in point. Again it was Western military intervention that unravelled the situation there. The ongoing civil war in the country with two parallel governments operating there has provided IS jihadists space to strengthen their foothold in the region. In both Iraq and Libya, Western military intervention and the overthrow of dictatorial regimes resulted in complete chaos.
British journalist and author Patrick Cockburn rightly points out that Western military intervention destroyed the vision of national unity that could hold feuding tribes and religious sects together. Jihadism has rushed into the void, providing many young Muslims with a sense of identity, purpose and vision. Not only are the US boots back on the ground in Iraq, there is also escalating danger of greater Western involvement in Libya, the latest theatre of the IS war.
No doubt, Obama is right in his argument that when people spew hatred on others because of their faith or because they are immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives. Indeed, stereotyped attitudes towards Muslims are a strong factor in feeding radicalisation among the Muslim youth growing up in the West. But, at the same time, there is also a need for the West and particularly for the United States to re-examine their policies of military intervention. The lessons of Iraq and Libya must not be ignored.

Lack of Sex Education – An Anomaly

Back when I was in school, sex-education class was taught by a biology teacher. I still remember the singsong manner in which she introduced us to the sexual organs that sounded no different than other organs. We learnt say vagina and penis with the same felicity as an arm or cheek. And believe me when I talked of breasts , all my elders , except my father, were scandalized.
Sex ed was the final unit of Grade 9 Biology. Near the end of the year, we were all hauled into a classroom where a few massive diagrams were pulled down over the chalkboard for us, just as maps had been before – a dark continent of a uterus, a peninsula of a penis – and then we were off to the hostels.
The class was rapt as our teacher, whom I had nick-named “Perdita- the Queen of Roses and Cream”( I had a crush on her, my sixteenth crush, to be precise) anxiously rattled off the sexual technicalities the board of education felt it necessary to impart to us. The next exposure came when a girl started crying as she retrurned from the wash-room during a match, She was bleeding and we all were scared hoping that she would not die. I rememvber that I did great in the test as failure was literally not an option: The test questions were multiple choice, with a very limited number of choices, a certain percentage of them too ridiculous even to consider. This may have been the only way in which the course was an accurate guide to the sex lives that lay immediately before us.
My next exposure was to a book with drawings with which my father explained reproduction to me from a young age. The information it contained was so thorough, so painstakingly detailed, that my only real misconception about sex was that I thought it took six days. This going here, then doing that, sperm swimming in what I imagined to be my own labo red crawl. I remember when I was five, and my mother told me she was expecting another baby, thinking only: “When did you two find the time?” But as a result of that book, sex ed class went all right for me.
Our BioTeacher spent a great deal of time telling the girls not to let the boys pressure us into having sex – pressure from boys was presented as the only possible motivation for a girl ever wanting to have sex. And she taught us about birth control – at which point, ears did prick up. And then she talked of diaphragms and sponges, and our eyes widened in “Seriously?” Then, when it got to the side effects of the birth-control pill, it basically said: “Your tits get bigger and it clears up your skin.”
These stories seem positively quaint today, like top hats and hoop skirts. Now girls of 12 are enticed to flash their breasts and sext. Pornography is no longer a stack of Playboys in your dad’s desk drawer; it’s the most revolting images you can imagine – millions of them – available on demand, just a few clicks away. Some parents imagine they can shelter their kids from this degrading deluge, but they can’t. Kids grow up in a culture that glorifies hypersexuality (Miley Cyrus, anyone?) and makes innocence impossible. The things they know (or think they know) at a very early age would probably blow away their parents.
That is why it’s more important than ever for kids to get a comprehensive grounding in sex education, although the term itself has become as inadequate as “hygiene” was in my day. Teaching them the technicalities is the easy part. Even the revelation that some kids have two mommies has become banal. The real challenge of modern sex ed is teaching kids how to safely negotiate their way through today’s cultural and digital minefields.
I felt some nostalgia for the agonized Teacher and those stampeding kids this week when Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ontario’s updated sex-ed curriculum will soon be online. The new guidelines will teach students about sexually transmitted diseases in Grade 7, which should spook them good and proper, and about puberty and masturbation in Grade 6 – not a moment too soon. They will broach the subject of same-sex marriage and homosexuality in Grade 3 – past the age when a child may have noticed that Callum has two dads.
Life introduces ideas to children, education should help organize them. There will be hand-wringing over the curriculum in the next few weeks. There will be hype about how outrageous and sexy and depraved it is – questions about what it says about us as society and how it will make those who experience it behave, and I predict, it will arrive with a thud.
In the end, the new sex-ed curriculum will be thought of, when it is thought of, outside our unchangingly, unerotic sex-ed classrooms, as that thing that inspired far more think pieces than it did lustful thoughts – as 50 Shades of Grading.
I know a friend of mine ( when I was 18) never had sex education in school. He learned the facts of life at age 10 from another fiften year old who had explained that his father had told him that that hens needed a rooster to have babies, and he breathlessly shared the technicalities with his friends. “I was horrified,” my frind recalled. “I was sure I’d never do anything like that.”
But all that is changing and has to change. Public hysteria and political cowardice sank the last effort at curriculum reform five years ago. That’s not going to happen this time. Despite the ritual howls of outrage, most people with a grip on reality will find the new proposals sensible. For example, seven-year-olds will learn the proper names for body parts. Same-sex families are introduced in Grade 3, puberty in Grade 6 and sexually transmitted diseases (along with the risks of sexting) in Grade 7. Online safety and the concept of respecting boundaries figure prominently throughout.
I admit that some parts of the curriculum make me squeamish. Is it really necessary to explain oral sex to 12-year-olds? On reflection, the answer is probably yes. You can be sure that oceans of rumours and misinformation have swamped plenty of them already, and the best thing we can do for them is demystify the subject. Personally, I would rather not be the adult who has to do this. And I suspect that many parents of 12-year-olds feel the same way. So it’s a good thing we have the schools to do it for us.
Diehard culture warriors will continue to object, of course. Ontario, which introduced its new sex-education curriculum Monday, is facing the usual deluge of complaints from folks who believe that the secular relativists in charge of our school system are determined to corrupt our kids. The Campaign Life Coalition (which describes Kathleen Wynne as the “gay-activist Premier of Ontario”) calls the new curriculum “radical.” A Catholic group, Parents As First Educators, says, “We do not believe that prepubescent children should be overloaded with explicit information about sex.”
A lot of people fear that kids who learn about sex in school will be more inclined toward sexual experimentation. But this myth has been widely disproven. In fact, most kids today are fairly restrained in their sexual behaviour. What they really need is some grown-up wisdom to help them survive the social pressures, online onslaught and media messages that their parents and grandparents never had to face. As we all know, to our sorrow, learning these things the hard way can end in tragedy.

The Almost Universal Trap – Parental Trap

You’d think that a football icon like David Beckham would never be slotted as an “embarrassing parent”, but his recent revelations prove otherwise. Beckham — who has three sons, Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz, and a daughter Harper, with wife Victoria — recently admitted on a television show that his 15-year-old son is embarrassed of him. Apparently, teenaged Brooklyn asks his father to drop him off round the corner from school so the pair isn’t seen by his classmates. “I wasn’t happy about it because I’d got up at seven in the morning to take him to school so I dropped him round the corner, and as he was walking into school I opened the window and shouted ‘I love you!’ to him,” Beckham was quoted as saying.
The anecdote highlights the transition parents need to make as their children march into their teens. Experts and life coaches tell us that with a little empathy and change in expectations, you can maintain that bond with your child. Peer pressure, academic expectations, puberty are a few issues that your teen is beginning to deal with — and so will you. Says life coach Veechi Shahi, “We live in a perplexing world, often glamourised and overrated by the media as ideal and happy. But the reality is different. With the advent of technology and increase in exposure, children mature faster.”
While growing up is a tough time for teenagers, it is a bumpy ride for parents too. For instance, if you were a keeper of your child’s secrets, chances are that they are going to confide in their friends henceforth. Life coach Chetna Mehrotra states, “Parents must realise that the kids are in an intense zone of claiming their social and individual spaces and they need patience to deal with this phase. The parents must look at two crucial things at this juncture: Trust and presence. Make them feel that you would take their truth and mistakes without judgments.”
Let your kids be. Show your older kids respect so they can feel what it is like to respect themselves and value their own judgments while they have you around as their safety net.
You may have read reams of advice about how vital communication to a successful relationship, and the same holds true for the bond you share with your teen as well. While they may not think of you as a friend, it will help if you communicate with them at their level. They may not be as comfortable with you, but you need to get your child to trust you. If you are a strict parent, you need to work towards getting rid of that tag. As a parent, you know what’s best for them, and you need to find a middle way. If you are a parent who is concerned about your teen’s whereabouts, constantly keeping tabs won’t help. “you need to trust your child. If you have inculcated good values in him/her, they aren’t going to disappoint you. There will be a time where they will come back to you. Make sure you are there for them in those moments.
Parenting your teenager will be easier if you put yourself in his/her shoes. Realize that as teenagers, you too were busy exploring the world out there. It is a phase where they are going to be impulsive and act before they can think. At a time like this, you need to be a rock they can lean on. Chetna observes, “Be their guide. Let them know that you are always there for them. Be it their celebrations, mournings, mistakes and success.”

The World Adrift ?

All is not well with Mother Earth. Global economic crises, terrorism, climate change, and inequality are not just major problems today but existential threats. The common denominator underlying these problems is the unrepentant focus on materialism under today’s dominant Western-inspired intellectual paradigm. Spirituality, knowledge, social solidarity and sacrifice competed equally with money and conquests as overarching life goals in previous eras. Today, money trumps almost everything.
The co-evolution of capitalism, democracy and science under Western civilisation has undoubtedly unleashed humanity’s most glorious material achievements ever. Conse­quently, the world today could be free from the drudgery, poverty, epidemics, famine and tyranny that plagued earlier eras. Excessive materialism threatens these positives.
Around 1750, when Western civilization became dominant, people globally were overwhelmingly poor. Today, 40 % still live in poverty. Excessive inequality, which breeds major social and economic problems, has grown five-fold. The richest 10pc own 85 % of global assets. Around 40 % globally have attained middle-class status, though often through routine jobs and long commutes.
Many middle-income people spend 10-12 hours daily in boring jobs and commutes. This undermines their self-worth and causes social problems. Finally, 20 % are rich today but many among even them face major social and psychological problems. Over 50 % Americans report high and 30 % extreme stress. Divorce, anomie and crime are high in rich countries.
The move of just 20-30 % people into high prosperity is causing massive climate change. Recurrent recessions display the inherent instability of capitalism as investors chase risky ventures for high profits, and the helplessness of even rich governments to control them. Though much higher than under totalitarianism, freedom of thought in the West is still compromised since it requires easy access to differing perspectives.
In capitalist societies, people face high information overloads, while mainstream media largely emphasises market perspectives and 10-12 hours of intellectually-crippling work leaves no space for most people to search for alternative perspectives.
We need a better goal than materialism. This progress has been spawned by co-evolving capitalism, science and demo­cracy. Capitalism creates wealth by mobilising energies around self-interest. Science en­­hances wealth through inventions and in­­creased productivity. Democracy helps spread it broadly by legislating equal economic opportunity, taxes and social transfers.
Without increased productivity through science and redistribution through democracy, increased self-interest induced by capitalism among people would have created more conflict than wealth. In fact, capitalism’s fortunate co-evolution with democracy and science masked its shortcomings. Other­wise, it may have fulfilled Marx’s predictions about its demise long ago.
The negatives today spring mainly from capitalism’s claim that pursuing unlimited self-interest and materialism ensures both individual and societal good. The social problems among the rich undermine the first claim; the existential global problems mentioned above undermine the second. Since materialism depends on heavy consumption of scarce resources, its excessive pursuit soon creates conflicts with other people, and even with­­in people due to intense competition and stress.
The pursuit of boun­­ded self-interest is necessary for survival. However, its excessive pursuit un­­dermines the quality of life for all. The lack of a higher goal than cold and vacuous materialism within Western civilisation is causing alienation and a rejection of even its positive aspects such as democracy, human rights and sometimes even science globally. Humans desperately need a better life goal than materialism.
A number of alternative intellectual per­­­­­spectives, eg, soli­­­darity, Buddhist, green, wisdom and Islamic economics provide useful solutions. The common thread across these diverse paradigms is the emphasis on limiting materialism after reaching a comfortable standard of living and then pursuing more abstract goals like social solidarity, admiring nature, intellectual pursuits and spirituality.
These goals provide deeper human fulfillment than unlimited materialism and require more limited material consumption, thus freeing scarce resources and money for others to achieve a comfortable standard of living too.
Learning from communism’s failures, these perspectives do not aim to have a centralised and tyrannical government enforce this agenda by banning markets. Rather, they aim to influence people’s values about appropriate levels of material consumption. The changed consumption preferences of people will simply ensure a re-orientation of products and services produced by markets and deeper redistribution of wealth by democracies.
Humans must voluntarily adopt these alternative perspectives and establish a just and sustainable global order before massive economic depressions, climate change, wars or nuclear holocaust enforce them.

Indian Armed Forces Need Reconfiguring

War, as they say, is too important to be left to the generals. And yet more often than not, we let the Generals take crucial decisions. I recollect that in 1971, Mrs. Gandhi gave clear directions to Field Marshal , then Gen., Maneckshaw that victory at all costs was the desired result, not the sort of Pyrrhic victory that India had in 1965, but a resounding victory that shall be decisive. However, despite the free hand, the war strategy was under perpetual watch in the situation room. And there was no resistance to this.
Undeniably, militaries the world over have resisted the impetus to come closer. Every service wants to guard its turf and, as a first step, it may be prudent to transfer all the real estate held by the three services under joint control. As India dreams of global leadership, it is necessary that politicians understand the importance of strategic issues. The impetus for a reconfigured military, designed and optimized to support India’s aspirations, must come from them.
Is the Indian military optimally organised to face the challenges that would emerge tomorrow? India’s global ambitions not only imply sustained economic growth and a minimum quality of life for all its citizens, but also expeditionary military might. In the 15th year of this century, it may not be too early to ask a basic question: Is the Indian military optimally organised to face the challenges that would emerge tomorrow? In our opinion, no.
It would be prudent to list some of these military challenges; not a comprehensive list, but good enough to set the ground. First, future wars will probably not be a single-service business. They are more likely to be short, intensive affairs wherein all forces — including cyber, maybe space or even nuclear — could be deployed simultaneously or sequentially. Therefore, the ability of various services to operate jointly will be critical. Second, the Indian military could be increasingly called upon to play expeditionary roles far from Indian shores. Therefore, our military’s systems, processes, command and control should be flexible enough to be quickly deployable overseas. Third, overseas interventions would mean a much greater role for our naval and air forces, and would require the enhancement of capabilities like amphibious and air assault.
If these premises hold true, how should the military be configured? First, we propose a matrix structure, where the operational and support roles are split. As introduced by the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the US military has a chief for each service. The service chiefs are responsible for three roles: equipping, organizing and training, but not war-fighting.
Operationally, the US military has divided the world into various geographical areas of responsibility (AORs), under a combatant commander, who commands all forces assigned to his theater, and is responsible for all combat operations. The military’s chain of command runs from the US president to the defense secretary to combatant commanders. In addition to geographical AORs, they have functional commanders for special operations, transportation and strategic arms.
A similar operational and support matrix is proposed for the Indian military. To begin with, the military could have three geographical commands: an Eastern Command responsible for China, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia; a Western Command responsible for Pakistan, Central Asia and West Asia; and a Southern Command responsible for littoral Africa and the Middle East. More theatre commands may be created as the scale and scope of military activities expand. In addition, we need to have functional commands for strategic forces and special operations.
There should be a chairman and vice chairman of joint chiefs of staff separate from the three service chiefs. The role of the chairman should be to act as a single-point military adviser to the defence minister and the prime minister. Once the operational roles get transferred to theater commanders, the need for a five-star chief of defense staff (CDS), as is being currently discussed in some circles, would become redundant. All theater/ functional commanders should hold a four-star rank. If there can be close to 100 secretaries to the government of India, why not have more four-star rank military officers?
Second, the role and mission of the military need to be revised. Currently, the military is involved in numerous non-core activities like counter-insurgency, border security, disaster relief, etc. For policymakers caught in an internal crisis, calling in the military seems the easiest option; consequently, if an incompetent state police cannot control a riot, call in the army; floods somewhere, send in the air force to drop food packets; terrorists come ashore from the sea, make the navy responsible for coastal security. All these blunt the military’s war-fighting capability, while stunting the growth and capability of the agency responsible for that specific task.
To ease the pressure on the military and get them to focus on military missions, we propose that the military be constitutionally banned from firing on Indian citizens, except in self-defence, or when the country is in a state of declared Emergency.
For border security, we propose three paramilitary forces: an air guard for air sovereignty control; a border guard by combining the BSF, ITBP and SSB for land border security; and the existing Coast Guard for maritime border security. These paramilitary forces should be staffed by military and paramilitary officers, not IPS officers as is the norm.
Third, we need to balance our existing military services. Our army is several times the size of the other two services combined. The disparity in size leads to disparity in egos, which makes a mockery of “jointness”. It would never be possible to achieve a perfect balance between a headcount-intensive service like the army and a machine-dependent service like the air force, but some rationalization is definitely possible. It is proposed that an entire corps (three divisions) of the army be trained in amphibious warfare, converted into marines and placed under the navy. Similarly, the army should partner with the air force to raise an air-assault corps. These troops will continue to be available to the army for operational tasks and in a joint theater command, it would not matter which service they belonged to.

A Predictable Tax Code with Other Reforms: Prime Need of India

In the nine months since India’s new government has been in power, it has put in redoubled efforts in the direction of investment propelled growth. In September, it launched ‘Make in India’, a strategic initiative to attract foreign investment in manufacturing, generate jobs and transform the economy. The new government’s resolve is changing the worldview about India.
When we look at the two fastest-growing economies in the world, China and India, it is interesting to observe that both have followed a diametrically opposite course in their growth model over the years. China’s ascent has been buoyed with an investment-led and export-driven plan, while India’s growth came from domestic consumption and a service sector focus.
Both are now at inflection points in their journey where they need to rebalance priorities. For China, the new normal is a calibration in growth rate to 6-7%, along with a de-emphasis on investment and an accent on domestic consumption. India faces a different reality where the normal needs to be a growth rate exceeding 7%, to be propelled by investment.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India is on course to outpacing China as the world’s fastest-growing economy by 2016. Latest data released in India projects a 7.4% growth in 2015, putting it ahead of other economies and twice the global average of 3.5%.
In part, this economic resurgence can be traced to energy prices. As a major consumer of imported oil, India’s economy has benefited from plummeting global oil prices. But it is also part of the bigger story in India today. The unfurling of the second generation of reforms by the new government is central to this story. It has begun to tackle corruption and reduce bureaucracy, and has relaxed rules for foreign investment. There are plans to liberalise the energy industry, expand internet coverage to 2,50,000 villages, develop 100 smart cities, and more.
In fact, nearly every issue that impacts business is on the agenda. Unsurprisingly, these actions have been greeted with interest from the business community. Companies like Samsung, General Electric and General Motors are expanding operations.
For India, now is the time to build on this momentum. Despite all the optimism, there are questions on our clients’ minds. Most investors are awaiting implementation of policies. Demand is still to pick up, even as concrete steps are sought to ease doing business and improving infrastructure. Further, the importance of a predictable and progressive tax environment cannot be overstated.
As the government releases its Budget this weekend, we’ll be watching along with our clients. Few areas are crucial. First, tax reform is a top priority. For businesses, uncertainty is one of the biggest obstacles to investment.
To achieve a tax code with predictability, the government should provide more clarity on capital gains, indirect transfer taxation, applicability of the Mauritius treaty, etc. It is anticipated that the general antiavoidance rules (Gaar) will be deferred. Further, a systemic change in the tax administration needs to be effected to address dispute resolution. While it is not possible to completely eliminate disputes in any jurisdiction, measures need to be taken that will minimise these instances. The government’s resolve in pushing the single goods and services tax (GST) must be commended. But the roadmap should be outlined quickly.
Second, while India’s macroeconomic fundamentals are now looking sound, the government needs to focus on implementation of policies at a micro level. Promoting select labourintensive and high-technology sectors with fiscal and other incentives is an option. Specific organisations that can participate in this industrial resurgence need to be encouraged, albeit in a transparent manner. The defence sector is an example where the government has progressively relaxed FDI limits for inducting state-of-the-art technology. Like defence, if the government can showcase success in a few other sectors, the momentum can build up strongly.
In today’s environment of subdued global growth, export prospects are weak unless in hi-tech products where global demand has continued to be resilient. Currently, India’s presence in the hi-tech domain is limited and needs to be encouraged.
Finally, for India to realize its demographic advantage, both from a consumption and talent standpoint, now is the time to tackle youth unemployment. Half of the Indian population is under-26 — and about 12 million more young people enter the workforce every year.
India must watch out for the mega trends around the world for developing a workforce of the future, which can deal with disruptive changes brought about by technology, globalisation, urbanisation, etc As we look ahead, there is a momentum in India that could carry the country into a period of sustained growth. Its advantage is a stable leadership and if the leaders can deliver on this chance, there is the potential to write a historic success story — at home and around the world.

The New United Nations: A Remodeled Democratic Organization

In an opinion piece in the New York Times of Feb 6, former United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway, bemoan that the UN has failed to serve its primary purpose to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and advance ‘Four Ideas for a Stronger UN’.
The first and main “idea” is to add an unspecified number of quasi-permanent members to the 15-member Security Council. It is true that the spreading collapse of world order today is linked to the erosion of international legitimacy. And, the monopolisation and misuse of the Security Council’s vast powers by some of the five permanent members has contributed considerably to this erosion of international legitimacy.
A more democratic Security Council could command greater credibility. But, unless one believes in the adage ‘set a thief to catch a thief’, adding new ‘permanent’ members to the Council’s membership, instead of enhancing its legitimacy, may further erode it. It is precisely this kind of thinking that led to the “stalemate” mentioned by Annan and Brundtland.
Four states — Brazil, Germany, Japan and India (G-4) — advanced the disingenuous proposition that, to neutralise the power of the P5, these ‘new and emerging powers’ should be anointed as additional permanent members of the Security Council. Nigeria and South Africa joined in, calling for similar privileges for themselves as ‘representatives’ of Africa.
The move was vigorously opposed by the ‘Coffee Club’ — later renamed the ‘Uniting for Consensus’ group. This included Pakistan, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Canada and a score of other states, tacitly supported by China.
The UfC pointed out that if the criteria for continuous membership of the Security Council was the capacity of a state to contribute to international peace and security, several other states would also qualify, including: Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran (from Asia); Mexico, Argentina and Colombia (from Latin America); Italy, Spain and Canada (from Western Europe); and Egypt, Algeria and Angola (from Africa). The UfC proposed an alternative arrangement that would expand the Council and offer greater opportunities for representation to all UN members, big and small.
The frequent abuse of the veto by some of the P5 needs to be neutralized. Breaking off negotiations, the G-4 launched a determined campaign in 2005 to secure adoption of their proposal by vote at the 60th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly. The move was defeated by an equally vigorous campaign by the UfC.
The G-4 have not been able to revive their proposal at the UN since then. There is growing recognition that a two-third majority cannot be secured for the G-4 proposal and, even if this was obtained, several of the P5 would not ratify the charter amendment to create the new permanent members. Among the G-4, it is only India which continues to insist on the demand for permanent membership.
The Annan-Brundtland “idea” to create additional seats with longer terms and the possibility of immediate re-election is advanced as a compromise. However, the UfC would do well to react cautiously to the suggestion. If only five or six new long-term, re-electable seats are created, it is evident that these would be almost permanently occupied by the six self-nominated states.
Other large and medium powers, including most UfC members, would be relegated to an inferior status. There would be no additional representation for the smaller states which make up the vast majority of the UN membership.
Consistent with its past positions, the UfC needs to ensure that: the Council is expanded by at least 10 members (to 25); that 10 of the 20 non-permanent seats are for longer terms of four years, not eight years (as some friends of the G-4 have suggested); that re-election to these seats would be possible for a state after a two-year interregnum.
Under such a structure, all member states which have the capability to contribute to regional and global peace and security (the G-4 and UfC) will have an opportunity to be frequently if not permanently represented on the Security Council. It would also provide larger opportunities for the vast majority of smaller UN member states to serve on the Council. The decisions of such a Council would have greater acceptability and legitimacy.
The second “idea” advanced by Annan-Brundtland: to ask the P5 to refrain from using the veto where their own “national” interests are involved is naive and has no chance of acceptance. The frequent abuse of the veto by some of the P5 needs to be neutralised. Pleading for restraint is unlikely to yield results.
The best way to oppose the P5 veto is to create larger possibilities for a counter veto by the non-permanent members of the Council. In a 25-member Council, 15 votes would be required to approve a resolution, enabling 11 of the (20) non-permanent members, if they join together, to block decisions which are unjust or inequitable. The playing field would become more level.
The third “idea”: to allow interested or affected parties to be invited to the Security Council’s closed door consultations, deserves full support. Nevertheless, to prevent arbitrary or discriminatory decisions, it would be advisable to agree on criteria to determine who would or would not be eligible to participate in such deliberations.
The fourth “idea”: that the Security Council recommend at least two candidates for the secretary general’s post to the UN General Assembly, even if accepted, may not change things very much. The Council could propose two colourless candidates instead of one.
An outstanding UN secretary general is likely to emerge only if the General Assembly is prepared to exercise its prerogative to reject the recommendations of the Security Council and, indeed, to ask the Council to consider one or more candidates which the Assembly deems fit for the office.
There is much else that is required to ensure that the UN, its secretary general and his officials represent the interests and priorities of the entire UN membership, instead of serving as the handmaiden of the great powers. The four “ideas” advanced by Annan and Brundtland would be a good place to start the process of bringing democracy to the United Nations on its 70th anniversary.

India & Pakistan: The Perennial Problem

Emotional thinking leads nowhere. Rational thinking is ignored. Sensible policies remain a foo­­l­­ish hope. This is Pakistan’s perennial pro­­­­­blem. The Indian foreign secretary is due to visit Pakistan. Is this the resumption of the initial Modi-Sharif bonhomie or just the result of Obama’s persuasion?
The most important country for Pakistan is India. How? It is an adversary with which it has very poor relations. They see each other as major threats. They cannot even sustain a dialogue. Pakistan has a far warmer, more trustworthy and strategic relationship with China. It also has a less warm but equally important relationship with the US.
So how is India so important? Pakistan has 80 % of its population in proximity with it. Indian forces are deployed against it. A dangerous neighbour is more important than a friendly one. If Pakistan is to develop it will need a peaceful neighbourhood. It must not forget that its relations with India determine its input in Afghanistan.
To improve relations with India shall it have to accept its hegemony? Abandon its support for the people of Kashmir? Or downgrade its relations with China? Certainly not! But it shall need to implement rational and realistic India and Kashmir policies, while deepening its relations with China and improving mutual understanding with the US.
It needs to transform Pakistan from a state of chaos and dysfunction to a modern and participatory development state governed by law and accountable and effective institutions. Policies and priorities that are inconsistent with this transformation will be self-defeating.
Those inclined towards confrontation with India, no matter what the social and diplomatic costs, are no friends of the people. A security state will ultimately minimise security and maximise risk. Only a functioning and inclusive state can maximise Pakistan’s options, raise its international standing and ensure its views are taken seriously in the main capitals of the world.
The Pakistan Prime Minister talks about prioritizing relations with India. But he is yet to develop credibility for his stance. Of course, it can always blame India. It is not interested in any serious dialogue on Kashmir except on the basis of the territorial status quo. The US has no interest in pressing India for a compromise settlement with Pakistan. According to an American analyst “the US sees Pakistan through an Af-Pak prism while it sees India through an Asia-Pacific prism. It does not see anything through an Indo-Pak prism”.
Pakistan was within touching distance of an interim agreement with India on Kashmir during the 2004-7 back-channel talks. The Mumbai bombings of 2008 intervened. Can and should these talks be revived? There are a variety of views. Some regard them as a national betrayal. Others consider them as the only way forward towards a just and mutually acceptable settlement.
Pakistan needs to develop a realistic public consensus on what ikts strategies on Kashmir and policies towards India should be. They should be part of a national vision that includes space for initiatives towards India even when they seem premature and unlikely to be immediately reciprocated. Indian obduracy and Pakistani impatience will, however, need to be moderated for mutual trust to develop and longer-term and broad-spectrum progress to become feasible.
For this it shall need a prime minister prepared to take on powerful lobbies and vested interests, and to systematically and effectively communicate his vision and strategies to the people. Given that the current incumbent has surrendered much of his authority in order to stay in office it is not clear whether he can be persuaded to implement his own preferred India policies.
If he shies away from making the effort he will inevitably lose credibility at home and abroad. His personal policy inclinations will be irrelevant. In that event, Narendra Modi may consider Ashraf Ghani’s example of preferring to deal with the real rather than the formal chief executive in Pakistan.
There are other issues on the India-Pakistan agenda that have their own history and dynamic. But they all unfold within the general state of the bilateral relationship. Accordingly, so-called ‘low hanging fruit’ (relatively easier to resolve issues) have in recent years become more difficult. The bilateral agenda, moreover, needs to be expanded to include more regional and environmental issues such as an Afghanistan settlement, water and energy as well as security and development. Longer term perspectives have become indispensable.
Given the requisite commitment and leadership on both sides there is no India-Pakistan issue on which progress cannot be made. Under no circumstances can conflict, confrontation or tension with India benefit Pakistan, except in response to Indian threats and aggression. Nor can such policies ever politically benefit the Kashmiris. Moreover, it is Pakistan’s moral and human duty and responsibility to ensure that its policies do not worsen their already terrible human rights situation.
Conversely, India cannot benefit from unilaterally provoking a nuclear-armed Pakistan beyond its tolerance. India is territorially the satisfied or status quo power. It may seek to undermine Pakistan’s ability to obstruct its regional and big power ambitions. It does not need war. Ironically, Indian aspirations have been facilitated by Pakistan’s irrational and irresponsible policies.
China has a number of long-standing issues with its neighbours and with the US. It will not allow ‘red lines’ to be crossed. Neither will it permit any issue to derail its comprehensive internal development and national transformation policies. These require a peaceful neighbourhood and a facilitating external environment. Pakistan needs to take a page out of its great neighbour’s policy playbook.
Without a fundamental vision of human development and a national transformation strategy, the mere presentation of possible initiatives will not address Pakistan’s perennial problem. Pakistan will continue to fail the challenge of India-Pakistan relations in the 21st century and pay the higher price. Accordingly, India represents not just a policy challenge for Pakistan; it also represents a test of its sincerity towards its own people. Pakistan has, instead, preferred to posture and deny its people their right to a better life

The Bania Connection in India:Triumphant Forever

The BJP did not understand a simple truth that’s backed by history. Three leaders have emerged from the baniya community in the modern period: Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Mr Kejriwal. All of them share organized anarchic behavior, but they also carried with themselves “democratic moralism”.
Just a month before the Delhi Assembly elections, Arvind Kejriwal had, in one of his election meetings, said, “I am a baniya(trader), and I know my dhanda ( profession).” I do not think Mr Kejriwal made that identity statement without thinking.
Mr Kejriwal, it seems to me, had an epiphany after the parliamentary elections, that Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party president, himself a baniya, was making serious efforts to enlist the support of Delhi’s rich, more particularly the baniyas of Delhi and outside. And, it’s my belief, that that single statement of Mr Kejriwal punctured Mr Shah’s efforts and Delhi’s rich people — Greater Kailash & Co. — realized that Mr Kejriwal was a more dependable leader with a moral credibility.
The BJP committed another blunder by using the gotra jibe to mock him for his so-called anarchic behaviour during his 49-day chief ministership of Delhi. Mr Kejriwal immediately retorted by saying, “The BJP can fight against me. But how can they call the entire Agarwal gotra disruptive?”
The BJP did not understand a simple truth that’s backed by history. Three leaders have emerged from the baniya community in the modern period: Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Mr Kejriwal. All of them share organised anarchic behaviour, but they also carried with themselves “democratic moralism”.
During nine months of the BJP’s rule, the baniyas have realized that their industry, business, capital will not be safe in an environment where churches are being vandalized, minorities being targeted with ghar wapsi ( home coming), youth being harassed on Valentine’s Day. They seem to have realized the importance of Mr Kejriwal as a counterweight to Mr Modi, especially as he has displayed democratic aspirations.
The stunning and astounding victory of the AAP in Delhi elections makes one think of what B.R. Ambedkar predicted way back in the 1940s — that the poor will preserve democracy as their precious jewel.
The people realized that the Sangh Parivar has been displaying its communal and arrogant politics too brazenly.
The Indian masses did not disapprove any leader who admitted his caste background and worked for them even in a small way. Gandhi, in his famous autobiography, in the very first sentence says, “The Gandhis belong to the Bania caste and seem to have been originally grocers”.
Though Lohia did not reveal his caste background any-where, he was the only upper-caste politician during the freedom struggle, who, later, analysed the Indian caste system and took up caste reforms.
Several north Indian politicians, like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and so on are his followers.
Quite interestingly Mr Kejriwal, like Mr Modi, made his caste identity known at a public forum during the course of his election campaign. If he remains committed to the poor till he is in power with some willingness to social reform, then he would emerge as an alternative to Mr Modi because even the same baniya capital that supported Mr Modi will completely abandon him and support Mr Kejriwal at the all-India level in future. The baniyas of India, though a small community, are the single richest community of India.
Their wealth would not be safe in the RSS mode of politics. Though the Indian baniyas have been supporting the RSS-BJP for quite some time, they seem to have realized that even after getting such a huge mandate, the RSS-BJP mentality could not be changed.
This hinders peaceful production in industry and stable marketing in the bazaars. The Modi style of administration cannot control them.
Baniyas, as a community, are a significant force in Delhi. In any election, it is not just their votes that matter but their goodwill is also important. If the baniyas send a sympathetic message to the masses, there would be a response because historically the baniya community had ancient production relations with shudras( untouchables) .
After the Gupta dynasty established a baniya raj, the baniyas became a very prominent community in India. The brahmins had served them as writers and priests and that was the time when the baniyas were given the third spiritual status, with a right to wear sacred thread and the right to read the Vedas. But even now they have no right to become priests in the Hindu temples. There is a tension there. The Gupta kings gave brahmins vatans, money and gold. Hence the brahmin writers also painted that period as the golden age. Of course, that was the worst period for shudras and chandals.
Before that, the baniyas by and large were agriculturalists and cattle rearers. They also had anti-brahmin tendencies. That was one reason why they joined Jainism and Buddhism in greater numbers. Through Jain Thirthankara culture (not so much Buddhist culture) they became strong advocates of non-violence and vegetarianism.
Historically brahmins never were advocates of non-violence. If the brahmin vegetarianism started with the campaign of Adi Shankara, the baniya vegetarianism dates back to the Jainism of the 7th century BC. It was in that tradition that the Gandhian non-violence took its shape.
The baniyas supported Gandhi in his campaigns. Their support to Lohia was limited because he was a “Marxwadi” socialist. Now they have a Kejriwal at hand. If they are willing to dig out a bit of their gupta dhan and take up charity work in Delhi slums, Mr Kejriwal’s credibility will sustain. Otherwise, he too will be seen as a dramatic person.

An Odyssey to Being Different

I was student of seventh grade, when I read an article in The Readers’ Digest titled ‘The Art of being Different’. And that changed me , my psyche, my thinking and my attitude. Do you know exactly where you are now? You are in a city, along with a lot of other people, and it is highly likely that, at this very moment, various people are sheltering in their hearts the same hopes and anxieties that you are sheltering in yours.
Let us go further: you are a microscopic speck on the surface of a ball. This ball spins around another ball, which, in turn, is located in one tiny corner of a galaxy along with millions of other similar balls.
This galaxy forms part of something called the universe, full of vast star clusters. No one knows exactly where this universe begins and ends. This does not mean that you are not of vital importance; you struggle, you strive, you try to improve, you have dreams, you are made happy or sad by love. If you were not alive, something would be missing. Here are some stories about our right to be unique.
The Giant Tree
A carpenter and his apprentices were travelling through the province of Qi in search of building materials. They saw a giant tree; five men holding hands could not encompass its girth, and its crown almost reached the clouds. “Let’s not waste our time with this tree,” said the master carpenter. “It would take us forever to cut it down. If we wanted to make a ship out of that heavy trunk, the ship would sink. If we tried to use it to build a roof, the walls would have to be specially reinforced.”
The group continued on its way. One of the apprentices remarked: “Such a big tree and no use to anyone!”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said the master carpenter. “The tree was true to its own destiny. If it had been like all the others, we would have cut it down. But because it had the courage to be different, it will remain alive and strong for a long time yet.”
I Want To Be An Angel
Abbot João Pequeno thought: “I’m tired of being a mere man, I should be like the angels who do nothing but contemplate the glory of God.” That night, he left the monastery of Sceta and set off into the desert. A week later he came back to the monastery. Brother Gatekeeper heard him knocking and asked who it was. “It’s Abbot João,” he replied. “I’m hungry.” “That’s not possible,” said Brother Gatekeeper. “Abbot João is in the desert, transforming himself into an angel. He no longer feels hunger and has no need to work for his food.”
“Forgive my arrogance,” replied Abbot João. “The angels help humanity, that is their job; that is why they do not need to eat, but merely to contemplate. But I am a man, and the only way in which I can contemplate that same glory is by doing what the angels do and help my fellow human beings. Fasting won’t get me anywhere.” Hearing this humble explanation, Brother Gatekeeper opened the gate of the monastery.
Which is The Best Example To Follow?
Dov Beer of Mezeritch was asked: “Which is the best example to follow? That of the pious man who dedicates his life to God without ever asking why, or that of the erudite man, who tries to understand the will of the Almighty?”
“The best example to follow is that of the child,” replied Dov Beer. “But a child knows nothing. It doesn’t even understand what reality is!” was the general response.
“There you are much mistaken, because the child has four qualities that we should never forget. A child is always happy for no reason. A child is always busy. When a child wants something, he or she shows great persistence and determination in demanding that thing. Lastly, a child is always very quick to stop crying.”

Trade As The Precursor of Change: Commercial & Societal

Earlier, historians concentrated their research on the ruling classes as makers of history and neglected the marginalized groups including traders and merchants. They began to focus their attention towards the role of trading activities, when they realised that trade brought external and internal, social, cultural and economic changes in society.
For the sake of profit, traders travelled to far off countries, risked disasters, bandits and endured all sorts of trouble to accomplish their missions. They brought unusual and extraordinary merchandise from other countries and introduced them in their society.
Trade networks crisscrossed continents, inextricably linking cultures throughout history. They also increased the knowledge of language, culture and history.
Historians made efforts to find various sources of their commercial activities and brought to light their contribution to history. Rulers patronised them, built rest houses called serai on highways for their convenience and arranged protection for their caravans. In exchange, they got revenue as well as precious commodities from other countries.
Correspondence between the Assyrian merchants and their families is on record. One merchant wrote a letter on a clay tablet in cuneiform script, asking his wife to send him textile and other goods which he needed for the market. She replied saying that she had financial issues and had spent all the money that he had left behind for expenses. It indicates how the merchants communicated with their family to supply them with merchandise that they needed.
The other famous trading community was of the Phoenicians who originated from Lebanon and built the famous city of Carthage in North Africa. They had settlements in Spain, Sicily and Marseilles. After a conflict with the Roman Empire, they fought a number of battles known as the Punic Wars. Finally, Carthage was destroyed by the Romans and the Phoenicians lost their control of the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Another reputed trading community was of the Jews, who excelled in the art of trade and commerce. Recently, the business record of some Jewish firms written on papyrus was discovered in Egypt. It shows their commercial relations with different Jewish traders who were scattered in different countries.
Werner Sombart (d.1941), a German economist, highlighted the role of the Jews and their contribution to the rise of Capitalism. According to him, when they were expelled from Spain in 1492, they arrived at Antwerp, the port city of Holland which became the hub of commercial activities. When they moved to Amsterdam, it became the city of commerce and trade. When they moved to London from Amsterdam, their presence promoted commercial activities. On the basis of this argument, Sombart proved that wherever the Jewish community migrated, it contributed to the economy.
In the Islamic world, the Arab traders played a significant role. Just after the advent of Islam, the Arab traders reached South India and settled there under the protection of the local rulers. They married local women, adopted the local culture and language and became known as Mopalas. Other Arab traders reached Sri Lanka, South East Asia and China. It was because of these traders that Islam spread in South East Asia as they settled there with the local population.
In the medieval period, the Italian cities of Venice, Genoa and Florence played an important role in trade with the East. The traders of Venice earned so much profit that they built huge and imposing buildings in their city. They also founded the Padova University where scholars taught law, medicine and theology. The merchants of Florence specialised in woollen trade and flourished in their trading skills to become the bankers of Europe.
They became so powerful that they expelled the nobles from the city and took control.The Medici family of Florence became so wealthy and influential that they got a member of their family elected as the Pope. Since they patronised artists, architects, sculptors and writers, during the Renaissance, Florence produced Machiavelli, Dante, Michelangelo and Galileo.
The European travellers were responsible for not only trade and commerce but also for encouraging Imperialism. When Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in 1493, he opened the gates to Portuguese colonialism in Africa and Asia. The Portuguese established their trading centres on the coast of Gujarat and captured the city of Goa which was ruled by the Sultan of Golkanda, and was populated by the Muslims and later became the Portuguese headquarters.
The other European powers followed in the footsteps of the Portuguese. Holland, England and France founded companies to trade with the East. The contribution of Holland in commercial activities was somewhat more than the other companies as they introduced an insurance system for its merchant ships as well as launching a scheme of shares for the public.
These European countries brought spices, textile, indigo and saltpetre. Taking advantage of political weakness, the European forces occupied Asian and African countries with the help of naval and armed forces. As a result, this direct political rule further benefitted trade and commerce.
The importance of traders continues to the present day with the process of modernisation and technological development. Business has become a special profession and traders have earned a high social status.

Making Sense of Indian Land Ordinance Conundrum

Anne Hazare in India is making the confusion worse confounded. The ideological and political opposition to Land Acquisition Ordinance of Modi government is really becoming a concerted effort to ensure that the ordinance does not become a law. What is in the ordinance to evoke the opposition of the informed and the uninformed.

The recently promulgated Land Acquisition Ordinance will be up for Parliamentary ratification in the forthcoming Budget session. With the Opposition parties taking strong  stance against the proposed amendments, we can expect heated debates on the subject within Parliament. In the wake of Anna Hazare’s call for a dharna on the same issue at the Jantar Mantar, the national capital is likely to witness a lot of posturing in the ensuing weeks.

The opponents’ case is based on their apprehension that significant dilution of the mandatory Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Consent clauses is an attempt at strangulating the very soul of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition and Resettlement & Rehabilitation Act, 2013 ( LARR Act). In their view, this Ordinance seeks to muzzle the vox populi through a coercive exercise of state power thereby severely curtailing the rights provided to the affected families in the original legislation. It is therefore being labelled as being anti- farmer and pro-corporate pro land grab measure.

The proponents, on the other hand, argue that the Ordinance does not reduce any of the entitlements to the land losers in terms of compensation or Resettlement & Rehabilitation(R&R) awards. It merely seeks to enable/ empower the State Government to waive off the SIA and Consent requirements in the context of specific projects to expedite the land acquisition process. Hence they present it as being pro-development, pro- growth and by extension pro-poor.

So how does an ordinary lay person make sense of this conundrum? It is extremely important that the issues are framed and understood in the right perspective so that the contours of the debate are in the bounds of rationality rather than venturing into the domain of emotional where nuances are swept under the epithets of anti-business or anti-farmer.

In my view, SIA may be important in itself but it is also of essence to analyze the economic consequences of following such a course of action rather than viewing it from a social lens alone. Mandatory SIA for all developmental projects will merely end up spawning a SIA bureaucracy that would add to the considerable red tape faced by project developers. In the absence of any objective criterion for assessing the likely future impact, it may end up as another rent seeking body. This would impose additional costs by impeding job creating investments without yielding commensurate benefits of protecting the affected families from debilitating consequences of losing their sources of livelihoods.

It is tragic that we are unwilling to trust the existing institutions that constitute our vibrant and open democracy – an elected executive accountable to the Legislature, an independent Judiciary, a vigilant Media and a pro-active civil society; but are willing to repose our faith on few members comprising the Expert Group to prevent abuse of the provisions of the LARR Act. Where is the guarantee that the agency conducting the SIA and the members of of the Expert Group will be immune to capture from the very same political executive? If there are shortcomings in our existing institutions, the solution is to work on reforming them and making them more accountable rather than creating newer institutions only to be disillusioned with them after a short time.

So far as the consent clause for PPP/ Private Projects is concerned, the differential yard sticks for public and private provisioning of services seems to be quite disconcerting. So if land is acquired for construction of a road by the State Public Works Department, consent of affected families is not required. However for the same road, consent becomes mandatory merely because the road is being constructed for the Government by a Private entity on a PPP basis. This divergence seems particularly incongruous as it presupposes a legislative pre-disposition in favour of the state provisioning of services. Also the criterion of consent from over 70% of the affected families implies that we are giving minority a veto over the development rights of the majority which runs counter to the democratic principles.

I have one other fear regarding the LARR Act. Complex and time consuming acquisition process is akin to an invitation to middlemen to intermediate between the entrepreneur and the farmer. Since legitimate land acquisition process through state intervention is going to be costly as well as time consuming with little or no restrictions on private purchase of land, we are going to see over time the emergence of a class of well connected land agglomerators with political patronage as well as financial clout. These middle-men would purchase land from the farmers using all kinds of dubious tactics. The land so purchased would be sold off to the entrepreneurs at a high price with the intermediaries making a killing. Such a scenario can hardly sub-serve the interests of the farmers while making development hostage to these intermediaries.

So what is the way forward? Given significant misgivings relating to the Ordinance it would be wise for the Government to try and evolve a common ground that can allow smooth acquisition proceedings while at the same time allaying fears of abuse of the proposed amendments. Critical elements of such an approach would be as follows:-

* Rather than a sledge hammer approach of making SIA mandatory for all projects or doing away with it in toto, a more nuanced approach would be  drawing up a negative list of projects for which SIA could be made mandatory (e.g. Multipurpose Dams, Nuclear Power Projects, Large Townships etc.). Smaller projects involving limited displacements and dislocations such as Roads, Schools, Health facilities, Power Stations and such other public utilities may be exempted from mandatory SIA.

* As regards consent clause, instead of making it private sector specific it would be useful to make it project specific. So projects such as roads, schools, hospitals, utilities – whether implemented by public or private sector- should not require consent where as projects such as commercial townships, nuclear plants etc. should have mandatory consent requirement irrespective of the fact of who is constructing it. Moreover the consent threshold should be reduced to over 50% of the affected families.

Raghuram Rajan’s ‘flailing state’ v/s Miles’s law

Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan’s speech on democracy, inclusion and prosperity raises an interesting question on the extent to which instruments which enforce rule of law in India should be used to check the state from abusing power. Very likely the answer would be influenced by Miles’s law: “where you stand depends on where you sit.”
To summarize Rajan, government’s capacity to deliver lags that of institutions such as judiciary and media which are meant to check government excess. This is in contrast to what happened to the historical experience of other countries where “strong government” emerged before institutions that check their excess.
India’s challenges with government’s capacity, or lack of it, has received attention earlier from economists such as Lant Pritchett. Rajan’s speech on democracy should be seen as a continuation, in part, of a speech he delivered last year where he was unconvinced about an important aspect of financial sector reforms, which proposes to subject RBI’s decisions to appeal in front of an appellate body that specializes in financial sector issues.
Rajan’s position was at that time inaccurately portrayed as a case where RBI is reluctant to submit itself to judicial oversight. RBI is indeed subject to judicial oversight. Rajan’s case is more in the nature of sequencing reforms to appellate bodies which bring RBI under its ambit.
Moving away from Rajan’s views on financial sector appellate bodies, his speech has salience in a larger context. Rajan’s stint as RBI governor was preceded by a short stint in the finance ministry as chief economic advisor, where he was involved in the preparation of 2013 union budget. His point about inadequate capacity in government encompasses not just RBI, but also other arms of the state.
The governor does seem to hold institutions such as judiciary and media, to cite two examples, in higher esteem than their performance would warrant. However, for the moment let’s assume the state does lag in capability when compared to other institutions that enforce rule of law. If that is the case, can there be a convincing argument to give it a little more space when it comes to designing checks and balances? It is important to keep in mind Rajan is not advocating removal of checks and balances. He is making a case for “balance of checks.”
Here’s where Miles’s law comes into the picture. If one isn’t a part of the government (Rajan includes RBI in this category), a line of argument can be that a government without adequate capability could well abuse power out of sheer incompetence and not just malevolence. Therefore, it needs a tighter layer of checks and balances to protect democracy.
The balance of checks will, therefore, be influenced by where you sit. This is not to say that Rajan does not make sense. Perhaps, a stint in the government exposes people to experiences that makes them wary of a theoretical ideal. However, if one is not a part of the government, Rajan’s argument does not sound convincing.
The speech makes for interesting reading and will likely stir a fair bit of debate. Hopefully, unlike the last speech where Rajan expressed his views on financial sector appellate tribunal, people who disagree with him will not feel the urge to question his credentials as a reformer or characterize him as a dependent economist. No has a monopoly on the right way.

Lower Oil Prices Dampen the Mining Industry’s Appetite for Renewables?

For many mining companies, the rallying cry for investigating solar or wind energy options has been that the price of oil and other conventional fuels is too high — and will almost certainly rise over time. Now, though, with oil prices having taken a dramatic nosedive, this argument no longer packs quite the same punch that it once did.
Predicting the price of oil over the long term is notoriously hard to do. That said, current overproduction, a slowing in demand because of a prolonged worldwide economic recession, and conservation efforts could mean that lower oil prices are the norm for the immediate future.
According to Richard Young, president and CEO of Teranga Gold, lower oil prices certainly do “work against replacing existing fuel sources with renewable energy at lower prices.” He points out that one chief motivator for exploring alternative energy was rising oil and diesel prices.
IAMGOLD recently put a proposed solar project for its Essakane Mine in Burkina Faso on hold. Although there were a number of factors behind this decision, oil prices were part of the mix. “When you are looking at $50 a barrel oil for the next two years,” says Steve Letwin, President and CEO at IAMGOLD, “it will push the business case [for renewables for mines].” He continues: “Everything has to be driven by economics. So part and parcel with the drive to renewables was [the fact that] oil prices were $100 a barrel. That made our costs [in Burkina Faso] come in at around $0.32 per kilowatt hour. If that drops to $0.20, the economics change.”
Although some mining companies may pull the plug on alternative-energy projects, it’s believed that most will go ahead with these initiatives. A recent study conducted by THEnergy, a Munich-based energy consultancy, finds that while lower oil prices might slow the momentum of mining companies’ switching to renewables, already planned projects will still go ahead.
A Short-Term Phenomenon?
Energy costs can represent a sizable chunk of the operating expenses for any mine. Alfredo Lamego Duarte, global senior category manager, electrical energy and EC&I at Anglo American, says that in Brazil, diesel accounts for roughly 20 percent of operating costs for mining companies. He explains that exact percentages vary by ore, however, with energy costs for a nickel mine coming in at 20-25 percent and for an iron mine at less than 2 percent.
Meanwhile, the price of oil isn’t the sole factor in what a mine pays for energy. Young notes that custom duties, petroleum charges, refining costs, and the expense of transportation to a given site can alter the energy price equation considerably.
John Gingerich, chairman and president of Advanced Explorations, believes that the impact of lower oil prices will be felt in the short term but it is not a game changer over the long term. “Life-of-mine issues are such that if you’re going to production right now, and you’re considering energy, [oil prices] could affect the first couple years of production.” He continues: “But no one believes that oil is going to be $40 or $50 per barrel in the long term. Most of the analysts believe that the fundamentals still say $75 down the road.
Given that a typical mining company takes three-to-five years to get a project up and running, the short-term price of oil is not terribly relevant, contends Gingerich. He points out that if oil does return to $75 per barrel within the next few years, “the cost benefits of renewables will still be there. Big copper mines run for twenty or thirty years, so you need to be thinking about life-of-mine costs and life-of-mine issues and the environmental impact of your footprint.”
Fernando Cubillos, a partner at the Santiago-based energy advisory firm Antuko, is also skeptical about the notion that falling oil prices are having a major effect on the appetite of mining companies for renewables. Far more consequential, he says, is the slump in commodity prices that has caused mines to be less competitive and more wary when considering capital investments.
Young agrees, noting that cost-cutting has been a major priority at gold-mining companies in recent years, with lower head counts and improved productivity the inevitable results of a decline in gold prices. “With the recent reduction in the price of oil as well as currency, that helps to assist us with cost reductions as well as improve our margins even though the commodity price — in our case, of gold — has been relatively flat over the past two years,” he says.
No Two Mines Are Alike
In addition to life-of-mine issues, the effects of oil prices differ dramatically for on- and off-grid mines. Cubillos points out that renewables continue to be an appealing solution for off-grid mines that historically shipped diesel long distances in order to run generators. “If we go to the off-grid case, renewables are still highly competitive,” he maintains.
Duarte emphasizes that the impact of oil prices varies by what ore is being mined and where a mine is located. In Brazil, for instance, he notes that the government controls the price of oil through Petrobras. For this reason, he says, “what happens to the international markets with oil doesn’t affect the mine companies so much in Brazil.”
Finally, Duarte points out that politics can affect the appeal of renewables for mining companies because some countries offer incentives for using solar or wind power. When renewables don’t necessarily prevail on price, government can prove critical. Here, he cites the Chilean government’s requirement that part of the load at mines must come from renewable sources.
Finally, renewable energy companies may need to highlight environmental considerations in a lower-priced oil environment. “Mining is a big emitter of CO2,” says Cubillos. “Renewables are becoming an even more necessary source of energy to lower emissions.”
Gingerich sounds a similar theme, noting that renewable companies might emphasize the “social stewardship” aspects of their energy generation. “Unless the numbers are hugely to the advantage of one source or another — and oil at $75 per barrel doesn’t have much of an advantage — the benefits that renewables bring from an environmental-footprint point of view are a driving factor,” he says. Environmental concerns, he believes, “will keep the mining industry moving forward in the renewable sector.”
A Brighter Future?
If the fate of renewable-energy providers and mining companies are inextricably linked, then the short-term boost that mining companies are enjoying from lower oil prices might prove to be very good news for all concerned. For instance, for copper-mining giant Codelco, the opportunity to renegotiate energy contracts in the face of lower oil prices will reportedly help the company reduce costs by $1 billion in 2015 — austerity measures that Codelco has deemed necessary for the company’s survival.
What’s more, Cubillos is convinced that in many ways lower oil prices are a boon not only for the mining companies but for renewable energy providers, as well. In the end, mining companies can only invest in renewables if they survive a tough commodity-pricing environment and are economically robust enough to invest outside their core businesses. That the price of wind and solar energy is falling, too, makes these new sources of energy very attractive.
“It’s a good trend for everybody that both oil prices and development costs for renewables are going down,” he concludes. “That makes energy prices in the end much lower and improves the competitiveness for the industries that rely on energy for the majority of their costs.

India’s anti-intellectual PM: Narendra Modi

“Goodbye now, Plato and Hegel,
The shop is closing down;/ They don’twant any philosopher kings…
There ain’t no universals in this man’s town.”
—Louis MacNeice, ‘Autumn Journal’
Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who question his intellectual credentials — adducing, among other examples, his citing of the elephantheaded Ganesha as proof that transplant surgery existed in ancient India — entirely miss the bus, or rather, the bandwagon that NaMo is riding on.
An intellectual is defined as an academic, someone capable of abstract thought and with a capacity for disinterested noetic — related to the mind and intellect — curiosity. By this tag, Modi is emphatically not just unintellectual but might be described as antiintellectual — not that he is antagonistic towards intellectualism but that his down-to-earth appeal is grounded on the opposite of rarefied ratiocination, “to draw the cork out of an old conundrum and watch the paradoxes fizz”, as MacNeice put it.
Modi has won his prime ministerial mandate in the role of a hero from mythology. As Roberto Calasso has pointed out, mythological heroes don’t have to be profound, or wise, or even particularly intelligent. Their job description consists of one thing and one thing only: their willingness and ability to slay monsters, and other variants of ogres.
The monster that Modi has specifically been elected to slay by a largely youthful, impatiently upwardly mobile middle-class is that of economic stagnation, which, Godzilla-like, has risen from the morass of five years of ‘policy paralysis’. A stagnant economy, with its underlying quicksand of mass unemployment, particularly among the burgeoning population of educated youth, is the biggest fear haunting Modi’s constituency.
It is by and large an electronic age, digitally-savvy constituency of instant communication — of social media, and WhatsApp and Twitter — which demands the instant response of heroic action, and has no time for the nitpicking nuances of the intellectual. Indeed, wasn’t it under Manmohan Singh —a noted economist, with a doctorate to boot — that the country’s economy floundered, thanks mainly to his style of functioning that could best be described as one of assiduous inertia?
Manmohan Singh was, arguably after Jawaharlal Nehru, the most intellectual PM the country has had. One got the country stuck for years in the rut of socialism — not to mention the parallel and equally pernicious rut of secularism — and the other through a mental twiddling of thumbs frittered away India’s golden opportunity to emerge as an economic powerhouse.
Intellectuals? No thanks. The country can’t afford to have any more of them. What the country needs is an action hero, and that’s exactly what it’s got in Modi.
In Shakespearean terms, both Nehru and Manmohan Singh could be interpreted as Hamlet-esque figures. Harold Bloom has described the part of Hamlet, the intellectual’s intellectual, as being characterised by an almost total ‘interiority’, an inwardness that has few equals in the world of literature. It is this intense inwardness — symbolised perhaps by his all-black attire, as though he were a black hole in human form — that leads to his irresolution, with its tragic consequences.
Bloom contrasts Hamlet with Shakespeare’s depiction of Henry V. If Hamlet is internality personified, Henry is all façade, the ultimate extrovert: the charismatic leader of men into battle, the consummate showman who holds his audience spellbound with his flash, and fire, and verve. Henry has no time, or internal space, for ruminative thought, for on-the-one-hand-but-onthe-other-hand discourse.
He is on the battlefield of Agincourt, the Kurukshetra of his destiny. This is no place for namby-pamby debate, but for muscular exhortation, “In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man/As modest stillness and humility:/But when the blast of war blows in our ears,/ Then imitate the action of the tiger.” How different from Hamlet’s dithering ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy. Henry’s invigorating pep talk is just the stuff to give the troops and get the adrenalin flowing. There is a declarative cadence that sets a rousing marching rhythm.
Similarly, Modi’s alliteration and acronyms, staccato as military commands, echo the beat of a triumphal march: ‘Make in India’; ‘Swachh Bharat’; the four Ps for progress — People, Private, Public, Partnership; the five Ts to revive brand India — Talent, Tradition, Tourism, Trade, Technology; the ‘Road’ to revival — Responsibility, Ownership, Accountability, Discipline.
Like Shakespeare’s hero-king, India’s hero-PM speaks in resonant slogans and quotable sound bites. Unlike his hapless predecessor, there is nothing accidental about him, beginning with his anti-intellectualism.

Medieval Europe v/s India: State of Intellectual Climate

The achievements of ancient Indian civilization, could have been starling, but for apathy, lethargy and close minded approach  that characterized them and did not  let them produce crucial modern research. The raging debate is conclusive  about ancient India’s accomplishments, and there are questions about the real and valid key scientific breakthroughs?
Well, Indians did make major contributions to a vast number of fields, especially mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, alchemy, medicine and agriculture. India’s water harvesting and management techniques are something we can still learn from. Metallurgical advancements, like the corrosion-resistant iron pillar in Delhi’s Qutub complex, were other achievements. There were texts on sustainable agriculture — today, we talk of organic farming but it was practiced widely.
Fields Medal awardee Manjul Bhargava recently said much of pre-modern mathematics has foundations in India. The 8th BC to 6th century AD Shulbasutras knew the Pythagoras theorem. Modern Arabic numerals originated in India. The decimal place-value numeral system evolved in India around the 3rd or 4th century AD.
Aryabhata conceived the earth as a rotating sphere in space, which causes the apparent rising and setting of the sun. Varahamihira disagreed and Brahmagupta derided Aryabhata — but unlike medieval Europe, the intellectual climate in India was free and tolerant of dissent.
Centuries ahead of Europe, Brahmagupta envisaged mathematical infinity and proposed that zero and infinity are mutually inverse notions. In fact, the concept of infinity underlies much of Indian science — also the infinitesimal. Many of those techniques of algebra and astronomy traveled to Persia and Arabia. Some went to medieval Europe. Overall, texts suggest the flow of mathematics was much more out of India than into it.
But why didn’t Indian science mature into path-breaking modern science? Well, there were many complex factors at play — the destruction of centers of learning from the 11th century onward led to a fragmentation of the scientific community.
Also, there was a relative lack of royal patronage to science. And there was a lack of desire to expand beyond India’s borders through conquests — let’s not forget that colonialism in Europe was a prime engine for science and technological progress.
Speaking of technology, is there evidence to indicate ancient Indians knew how to make planes?
No — although ancient India did have the concept of flying machines. Vimanas are mentioned in the Ramayana and other texts, leading enthusiasts to confuse conceptualization with implementation. Greek mythology mentioned a winged stallion, Pegasus, but there was no such animal. Like the vimana, this reflects an aspiration to fly, nothing more.
There’s debate over teaching Indian schoolchildren Sanskrit today — your take? Students should certainly be exposed to India’s knowledge systems, at least to major accomplishments — why should they not know, for example, that the decimal notation of numbers the world uses is of Indian origin?
The University of St Andrews in Scotland has an extensive repository on mathematicians of India — no Indian university offers any data. However, there are reliable translations of original texts. So, knowledge of Sanskrit isn’t necessary to introduce students to the field. Of course, it’s indispensable for the serious researcher.

When a child flies the nest…

We, the homo sapiens are least freedom loving, especially when our offsprings are concerned. All the creatures except human beings ( and especially of South Asia) let their children go off free and unencumbered, when they grow up. we hold unto them – some of us going so far even to claim that the children are an investment. It is crazy and Insane. It is time to understand that it is time for children to cut the cords that bind them and let them soar free unhindered and unchained. Only then would they blossom forth in full beauty of their capabilities. What is required is not to direct them, but just suggest some concepts and leave it to them- just remember they are more intelligent than you are. Just take care that when children take their first flight into the world, let them be themselves.
When children fly the nest, people sympathize with (or envy) parents, but hardly anyone focuses on the emotions of the child or young adult who has taken the first tentative flight with a mix of excitement and nervousness.
As people move into new places, leaving behind the protective cocoon of home and family, their uppermost concern would be to merge with the new environs. To be accepted as one of their peers rather than to stick out and be ridiculed! Such an occurrence is not rare nor is it something uncanny, and often verbal or non-verbal expressions of one culture may appear peculiar, or worse, ridiculous, in another! In a new culture, it takes time and application to pick up expressions, phrases, gestures and habits that do not declare you an outsider.
Admittedly today adjusting to a new culture may not be as tough as it must have been. Through movies and television, we have more than a fair idea of what to expect. Emotional succor and peer group advice too is available just a text or Skype away. Whereas earlier you would wait to step out and find a phone to make a quick call back home maybe once a week, today you are in constant touch almost through the day!
But on the other hand, there are many more fronts to interact and perform on. It is not just enough to be active on the work front; social interactions and becoming part of a ‘group’ are also pressures to deal with. And an outsider has to work that much harder to get onto a level playing field.
When your child takes his or her first tentative flight from the nest into the big, bad, but exciting world, what is the best possible advice you can dole out? Advice that covers tips for the cultural adjustment and transitioning, as well as addresses fears that your child may become a stranger to you and your ethos!
Here are a few tips I would suggest–
Be still – Observe people. Study their non-verbal as well as verbal communication. When everything around you is new and dynamic, try to keep the centre still so that you can absorb new experiences with an open mind and heart. Do not jump into situations, friendships or relationships unless you attain some degree of comfort.
Be patient – There is bound to be some kind of culture shock; be prepared for it and willing to bide your time till you understand the differences and decide which ones to adopt and where you are comfortable with your own different style. I remember when my son emigrated to Canada, he was frustrated but after a patient, long wait and struggle, he was able to achieve that is enviable.
Be aware – Do not be taken for a ride by anyone, nor go along with others just to be accepted as part of a group. Be aware of and maintain deep respect for your differences and cultural individuality. Sometimes it is better to let others respect and accept you for what you are rather than try and mold yourself according to them.
Mingle & Make Friends – Get over your initial discomfort or hesitation and mingle with as many people as you can. Ask questions, understand everything about the new place and listen to people as much as you can.
Keep engaged — Pick up a pursuit that will help soak up your free time and may also help you understand your environs better. For instance, take some city tours, join a short study course, learn a new language or visit local libraries and museums. This will help you merge in faster and also keep you from being too homesick.
Sense of humor – It is important to keep an open mind and your sense of humor alive. Initially you may make some mistakes or say things that hold a totally different meaning in the new place. Prepare to laugh at yourself and to learn with gratitude, rather than feel humiliated or small.
Remember yourself! In all this mingling and merging, remember who you are and maintain your entity and individual identity. Do not let it be submerged ion the herd spirit. Never try to be someone you are not. A good test every time faced with an ethical dilemma is to ask yourself what would you have done back home in the same situation!
And then wish them bon voyage on the road to progress, a road they have to traverse without needing to look back, a road them leads them to the destiny of their dreams and efforts, to the world and universe of their own- with no chains holding them back

Is India Failing to Walk the ‘Act East’ Talk

India’s “Act East” policy may take a serious hit, as New Delhi has unilaterally extended the deadline for its connectivity projects in Myanmar from 2016 to 2019, a clear sign that despite tall claims it just cannot deliver on the ground.
India is responsible for two big projects — Kaladan multi-modal transport project and India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway. Both projects, controlled by MEA, have fallen behind schedule drastically. This despite the projects being India’s opportunity to show that it was putting its Look/Act East policy on an overdrive. Regarding the border crossing between Myranmar and Thailand, while the Thais have completed their part of the work on the trilateral highway and even the Burmese have made significant progress, India is lagging behind.
On the trilateral highway, India has committed to construct and upgrade about 70 bridges on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa road section and upgrade Kalewa-Yargyi stretch. While the Thais have completed their part of the work, and even the Burmese have made significant progress, India is lagging behind.
The government has taken refuge under the excuse that MEA’s budget has been chopped in the past couple of years.
A real and bigger problem is one of management — which involves interministerial coordination and that too has slipped up. These critical projects have all been brought under a newly created development partnership department in the MEA.
The trilateral highway starts from Moreh in Manipur and ends at Mae Sot in Thailand. India has completed a little over 132 km of the road work, leaving close to 30 km undone.
As part of the Kaladan project, India is building Sittwe Port on BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis. It is also supposed to build jetties at Paletwa (in Myanmar) on the Kaladan river. India has also offered to upgrade/build Chaungma-Yinmabin section in Myanmar as well as the Yinmabin-Pale-Lingdaw section.
These projects were India’s showpiece initiatives which blended the Indian government’s mantras of “connectivity” and the bigger strategic vision to balance Chinese power. China has, meanwhile, powered ahead, building connections throughout south-east Asia to integrate it more closely to the Chinese growth engine. India is way behind, but there was the hope that it would push its system to catch up.
That may not happen as quickly as the government imagines. In his opening statement at the 12th ASEAN summit in Myanmar last November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rebadged India’s old “Look East” policy, saying, “My government has been in office for six months and the intensity and (the) momentum with which we have enhanced our engagement in the east, is a reflection of the priority that we give to this region … A new era of economic development, industrialization and trade has begun in India. Externally, India’s ‘Look East Policy’ has become ‘Act East’ policy,” Modi said. Sadly , the real action is missing.

A Strategic Corridor :China-Pakistan-Afghanistan Dialogue:

As America reduces its military burden in Afghanistan, China’s deepening involvement there was marked by the launch of a new official forum in Kabul last week. Called the ‘China-Pakistan-Afghanistan Strategic Dialogue’, the triangular engagement is likely to emerge as a major force shaping India’s north western frontiers.
The trilateral consultations were initiated by Beijing at a low-key track two level a couple of years ago. Beijing has now elevated it into an official framework. China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry of Pakistan co-chaired the Dialogue.
The first round of the forum saw China announce some major commitments to promote regional cooperation. Beijing is now ready to finance a 1500 MW hydro-electric power project in the Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. To be managed jointly by Pakistan and Afghanistan and the project will feed into the power grids of both countries.
China has signaled the intent to promote two important trans-border transport corridors—a motorway linking Kabul with Peshawar and a rail link between Quetta and Kandahar. These infrastructure projects nicely complement China’s ambitious Silk Road projects in inner Asia and its massive investments in developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
China’s audacious effort to integrate the economic spaces of Afghanistan and Pakistan follows Beijing’s recent initiative to facilitate political reconciliation between the Afghan government in Kabul and the Taliban. While the Taliban has not explicitly supported the Chinese led peace process, its delegations have been travelling frequently to Beijing.
Over the last decade, the United States had tried hard on both these fronts—internal reconciliation in Afghanistan and greater cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad. Sceptics will say China is unlikely to succeed where America and the West have failed despite pumping in massive military and economic resources. They would suggest that China like so many great powers before—including America, Russia and the British Raj—will find it near impossible to manage deep contradictions that govern strategic life across the Hindu Kush.A major part of this triangular tie is is CPEC. And if you’re confused about the controversy around the route of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), don’t bother going online to clear things up. You won’t find a thing. For instance, since much of the controversy is about the route of the road link between the deep-water port of Gwadar and the mountain border crossing of Khunjerab, simple common sense would want you to locate a map of this route.
The government is being assailed for having changed the route, which apparently under its original plan ran from Gwadar to Quetta, then up to Zhob before veering east towards D.I. Khan. The government is being criticised for having changed this route to go straight east from Gwadar towards Khuzdar, then slightly northeast to cross the River Indus near Ratodero and connect with the road network in Sindh. The government is strenuously denying that any route changes have been made, arguing that there are two routes being pursued, and on the request of the Chinese, the second route is being built first simply because it is cheaper.
A visit to the website of the Pakistan Planning Commission, which is overseeing much of the project at this stage, shows a link titled Pak-China Economic Corridor under their “About us” tab. You might expect to find some useful information that could clear the air on the route controversy on this link, but all you find is a series of press releases, and photographs.
The news item at the top is headlined “Early finalisation of projects under China-Pakistan economic corridor.” The news item tells you about a “high-level delegation” that visited Beijing on Feb 2 “to hold meetings with Chinese authorities”. The authorities are then listed and a photograph at the top of the release shows the delegation, which includes the minister of state for foreign affairs and the water and power secretary. The release contains statements given by both individuals at the event they attended, but no statements from their Chinese counterparts. Assurances are floated of “high-level interest” in the CPEC in Pakistan and that the government of Pakistan is “taking all the required measures” to see early implementation of the projects.
Other news items appear below but nowhere on the entire site do you find a listing of all the projects under the CPEC, no map of the routes, no tender documents for work currently under way or in the pipeline. In short, all you’ll find on the Planning Commission website is press releases about meetings and photographs of smiling officials shaking hands.
You could try the website of the National Highway Authority next, whose chairman has been appearing before committees in the legislature to explain the route. You would search this site in vain too trying to find out anything about the CPEC.
There’s a tab titled “Projects”, and two links under it, one titled “progress report” and the other titled “project details”. The first link opens up a page with two additional links, which if you click on them bring you back to the first page. The second link, titled “project details”, opens up a list of 100 projects of various types — roads, bridges, interchanges — many of them begun in the early 1990s and concluded more than a decade ago. Nothing on the CPEC.
Another link shows you the tenders floated by the NHA, which consists of images of press ads for tenders and requests for proposals, but nothing identified as being part of the CPEC. There is a tender for work on the N70 highway that runs from Qila Saifullah in Balochistan to Multan. One wonders if this is in connection with the “original route” of the CPEC road network, but there is nothing to indicate.
We are just told that “Gwadar will be linked thru several routes incl Quetta and Ratto Dhero”. Nowhere do we find a map of the routes, any information to substantiate the government’s claim that there is no route change, and that work is being carried out on both routes.
Given the scale of the controversy, you would think the government would have made more of effort to release information that substantiates their claim that the whole controversy is about nothing, that no route changes have been effected, that the two stipulated routes are both being worked.
Given the plethora of platforms through which they could release this information, it is puzzling that it hasn’t been done so thus far. In fact, in a press conference held by the minister for planning specifically to clarify the controversy, no maps were shown nor distributed, and no supporting documentation to establish that work on what they’re calling “the original route” were produced.
Since the late 1970s when it embarked on reform and opening up, China been wary of being drawn into regional conflicts any where in the world being drawn into regional conflicts any where in the world and emphasized the principle of non-intervention.
China under Xi Jinping looks far more self-confident today and is prepared to take risks in the pursuit of its interests around. If Deng Xiaoping cautioned China against claiming a leadership role in the world a quarter century ago, Xi seems ready to take a calculated political shot at it.
“As the common friend and neighbor of Afghanistan and Pakistan”, China said last week in Kabul that it “sincerely welcomes the positive progress” in the trilateral dialogue and “welcomes Afghanistan and Pakistan to increase mutual strategic trust as well as enhance mutually beneficial cooperation.”
The three sides also reaffirmed that “terrorism, extremism and separatism pose a major threat to the security and stability” of the region and agreed to “deepen counter-terrorism and security cooperation.”
One reason why China might succeed where others have failed in Afghanistan is the apparent convergence of its interests with that of Pakistan, its all-weather friend. If Rawalpindi had deliberately sabotaged American plans in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army believes China might help it achieve its long standing objective of securing political primacy across the Durand Line. As it comes to terms with American withdrawal, Kabul is betting that Beijing offers the last and only hope of getting the Pakistan Army to be reasonable.
Russia, which has drawn steadily closer to China in recent years and is warming up to Pakistan, is likely to back Beijing’s leadership role in Afghanistan. The U.S., which is rushing to the exits, is happy to welcome China or any one else, who is ready to hold the even for a little while.
All this leaves India staring, in the near term, at a potential diminution of its role in Afghanistan that flourished when the U.S. dominated India’s north western flank since 9/11. Delhi now needs a realistic adaptation to the unfolding power shift in the Great Game.

AAAP: Anarchy & AAP- the New Indian Political Party

Noam Chomsky is one of the great public intellectuals of our times. No wild demagogue but an MIT professor who has shaped world thought over the past half century and made key phrases such as “the manufacture of consent” and “the new mandarins” part of common political vocabulary, he yet espouses an ‘anarchist’ perspective. What does he mean by this?
As the fledging AAP takes office after its recent stunning electoral victory, I suggest it could have something vital to learn from Professor Chomsky’s interpretation of anarchism. Even more crucially, all of us beleaguered citizens of India and denizens of Delhi, who have so blithely been invited to become Chief Ministers alongside Kejriwal, could also perhaps benefit from Chomsky’s thoughts on why ‘anarchy’ might matter for democracies today. AAP, after all, is an avowedly anti-establishment party that finds itself voted in with an absolute majority. Therefore, a central question thrown up by its ‘new politics’ has to be: how can a spirit of robust dissent be nurtured by those in charge of a hierarchical, rule-bound and powerfully entrenched system of government?
The gloss on ‘anarchism’ that Noam Chomsky provides helps address this foundational question. As he sees it, a chief attraction of anarchist doctrine is that it fractures power. Its essence lies in multiplicity. In his scholarly introduction to Daniel Guerin’s Anarchism: From Theory to Practice (1987), Chomsky maintains that there have been “many styles of thought and action that have been referred to as ‘anarchist'”. He also presents us with a wonderfully evocative description of anarchism: “A French writer, sympathetic to anarchism, wrote in the 1890s that ‘anarchism has a broad back, like paper it endures anything.'”
It is this quality of ‘endurance’, the ‘broad-back’ of anarchism as a ‘style of thought and action’ that could offer, in my view, a common person’s guide to understanding why ‘anarchy’ could be a useful concept in the evolution of democracy today. For, when a concept ‘endures’ across time and is capacious enough to embrace enormous multiplicity, it maybe should not be lightly tossed away once it has served a limited purpose. As Bhartrhari, the independent-minded Sanskrit grammarian, put it in another context enam nana rupam atmani sannivistam (roughly translated, the atman or singular self is settled deep within a multiform world) Thus, especially in a plural society such as ours, ‘anarchism’ cannot be dismissed simply as a synonym for idiosyncratic behavior. Rather, it could be retained as a key conceptual item in democratic spaces, interestingly signifying both a dangerous volatility as well as what the Russian anarchist Bakunin called our inalienable “instinct for freedom”.
Track the word ‘anarchy’ from its early Greek beginnings (an-arkhos, meaning ‘without a ruler’) and it is apparent that it embodies a deep psychological tension between our need as individuals to be free, and the necessity for force to be exercised by governments that curtail our individual freedoms where there is a disruption of ‘law and order’. Anarchy is thus a ‘swing-voter’ word in mediating the social contract and is interesting for this reason. True, its connotations have mainly been negative; it has repeatedly been associated with chaos, with insurrections and with riots. Yet philosophers from Hobbes to Kant have paid the concept serious attention, while Proudhon attempted to constructively build anarchism into a political movement based on ‘voluntarism’ – a move that resonates with AAP’s recent Delhi campaign.
Consider the following real-world Indian scenario from last week: a sudden flash-mob of AAP youth breaks out into an energetic ‘Jai Ho’ dance in Vikram Chandra’s cool, well-appointed, technologically snazzy NDTV studio. Then Prashant Bhushan steps in, describing in measured tones the difficult problems of articulation and implementation that AAP will face in the next five years. The atmosphere in the studio sobers down. But how does one reconcile these two opposed faces of political action, these wholly divergent modes of self-representation? It is here that the notion of ‘anarchic spaces’ is useful.
Anarchic space is critical in a modern democracy because its hallmark is contestation. Veering unpredictably between talk and action, chaos and freedom; dullness and impatience; legitimate self-interest and corrupt dealings; human capital and corporate capital; community participation and individual abstraction; affect and effect; indifference and hope, anarchic space offers a voice-box, a collective larynx. Whether on social media, in print or everyday talk, it promotes what Chomsky calls “adversarial culture” and Armartya Sen dubs “argument”.
Censorship issues belong centrally to this space. Irreverence and insult are its staples. In these politically correct times, such anarchic apertures for civic discourses must be strongly protected, for it is there that the uncomfortable questions will be asked, for example, about why exactly gender matters or what differences exist, if any, between hate-speech and the hallowed literary liberty to ‘speak up’.
John Kenneth Galbraith, an American ‘friend of India’ in an era much before President Obama and Michelle visited us, Galbraith tells us in an 2001 Outlook interview that he invoked the idea of anarchy because he “wanted to emphasize the point…that the success of India did not depend on the government. It depended on the energy, ingenuity and….the wonderful adaptability and initiative of Indians that extends all the way from a village in Uttar Pradesh to a suburb in New York.” Involved in the setting up of IIT Kanpur, Galbraith then declared that the “students that were brought there were part of my hope.”
Some of the qualities identified by Galbraith with such astuteness ages ago have visibly come to the fore in the young, aspiring India of today. But it is the word “hope” that is crucial to his explanation – a word that Chomsky also sees as central. Chomsky, too, “would like to believe that people want to control their own affairs, they don’t want to be pushed around, ordered, oppressed, etc. They want a chance to do things that make sense, like constructive work…It’s really a hope about what human beings are like, a hope that if social structures change sufficiently, those aspects of human nature will be realized.”
Far-reaching changes in India’s ‘social structures’ seem to have been set in motion today, both at the state and national levels. But what effect will these changes have on the structure of our feelings, those inchoate but potent hopes and desires that are by their very nature ‘anarchic’? Well, RK Laxman’s beloved cartoons of ‘the common man’ once sardonically showed him at the venal mercy of officials and politicians. Now the common man is himself the politician.
It is this supreme but happy irony that all varieties of political thought in India must confront. What sort of future will the common man as politician envision for his society?

Desirous of Creative Achievement: Be Open

The Most Important Driver Of being creative is something known to all, yet ignored by all except the really creative. There’s a common thread among the highest-achieving scientists, artists, and novelists: They’re more open than the rest of us. Psychologists have determined that the single most consistent variable in creative achievement is a trait called openness to experience. In short, the more open you are to experience, the more likely you are to do great creative work in your career.
One of the Big 5 personality traits — along with conscientiousness, agreeability, extroversion, and emotional stability — openness to experience speaks to how much or how little you get excited about new information.
At a neurological level, it has a lot to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that prompts us to explore our experience. “The essence of the whole domain has to do with a particular kind of dopamine projection,” says Scott Barry Kaufman, researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and scientific director of The Imagination Institute, a non-profit. Openness is about “valuing information,” he says. “People with high openness show high dopamine projections at the potential of acquiring information.” In other words, the higher you score on the “openness” trait, the better it feels to learn new things.
Dopamine projections are associated with other personality traits, too. For instance, extraversion is associated with reward-values regarding sex, money, and food. Kaufman, who made a splash with his book “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” has found that openness can be further separated into four factors. They are:
• Explicit Cognitive Ability: This factor consists primarily of traditional measures of intelligence (i.e., IQ tests), including fluid reasoning, mental rotation, verbal analogical reasoning, and working memory.
• Intellectual Engagement: The essence of this factor is a drive to engage in ideas, rational thought, and the search for truth.
• Affective Engagement: This is essentially a preference for using emotions, gut feelings, and empathy to make decisions.
• Aesthetic Engagement: This is a preference for aesthetics, fantasy, and emotional absorption in artistic and cultural stimuli.
Notice the word engagement here. Openness to experience is about the way information activates you.
Folks with high intellectual engagement are driven to discover ideas as a scientist does. Those with affective engagement are driven to investigate emotions as a poet does, and folks with aesthetic engagement are driven to find beauty as a painter does. While it’s possible (though rare) to be high in all these engagement drives, research indicates that you can’t employ your mechanical and social intelligences at the same time.
Openness to experience is a “very active process,” Kaufman says. “That’s what genes do; that’s what dopamine does — they energize.” Psychologists have different accounts of how that energizing happens.
One theory is that it has to do with “latent inhibition,” or your mind’s tendency to filter out information as irrelevant. In one study, Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson found that college students who were high creative achievers were seven times more likely to have reduced instead of enhanced latent inhibition. People with high openness tend to have low latent inhibition, and thus more original ideas, or so the argument goes.
Then there’s the quality of absorption. People who have a high openness to experience enjoy learning new things, which means they’ll be more likely to get into the state of flow — that just-right feeling where your skills meet your challenges — when grappling with their work. When you’re flowing, you’re continually stretching your skill set, thus allowing for more and more creative achievement.
But that flowful growth requires that you fit yourself into the right situation. Since having a high openness to experience means that you spend a lot of time investigating your own intellectual and emotional life, it means that you need to get away from other people’s demands on your ears, eyes, and mind.
This can be difficult, given that American office culture doesn’t exactly value people turning the scarce resource of attention onto themselves. “People who want to explore their inner experience need solitude to do so,” he says, which requires the things we usually — and perhaps falsely — associate with introversion, like peace, quiet, and freedom from distraction.
Then it’s just a matter of letting the joys of curiosity take over. “A lot of us, in school, get that joy knocked out of us because of bad end results, like an F or a C on a test,” Kaufman says, “but the intrinsic enjoyment value of seeking information is what activates dopamine and energizes us.”

India’s Economy Surges Ahead As Rivals Falter

China’s economy is slowing. Brazil is struggling as commodity prices plunge. Russia, facing Western sanctions and weak oil revenue, is headed into a recession.As other big developing markets stumble, India is emerging as one of the few hopes for global growth.
The stock market and rupee are surging. Multinational companies are looking to expand their Indian operations or start new ones. The growth in India’s economy, long a laggard, just matched China’s pace in recent months. India is riding high on the early success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a raft of new business-friendly policies instituted in his first eight months. Small factories no longer need to shut down every year for government inspectors to spend a day checking boilers. Foreign investment rules have been relaxed for insurers, military contractors and real estate companies. A broad tax overhaul is underway.
Renewed optimism from outside investors is spurring business expansion in cities around the country like Tiruppur, a hub of India’s yarn and textile industry. “Most of the factories in Tiruppur are doubling or tripling their capacity, and these are huge factories,” said Pritam Sanghai, the director of Arjay Apparel Industries.
Whether India’s momentum is short-lived or sustainable hinges on whether Modi can push through deeper reforms, including addressing the persistent poverty and corruption that plague the economy. Lacking the necessary political support to overhaul legislation quickly, he has largely relied on temporary measures to make changes. His party lost badly in recent local elections in Delhi. The next test comes later this month. The government is set to present its full-year budget to parliament and lay out an agenda for taming chronic deficits while increasing investment, bolstering manufacturing and building modern highways and ports.
India, in part, is benefiting from favorable economic winds, the same ones wreaking havoc in Russia, Venezuela and elsewhere. The country’s reliance on imported oil, for example, has been its bane for decades. By last summer, oil was a $100 billion drag on the economy, roughly 5 percent of the entire country’s economic output. With crude prices now halved, fuel costs for trucks and cars have plunged, pulling down transport expenses and inflation. The cost of government fuel subsidies has nose-dived, helping curb the country’s chronic budget deficits. “We’ve got essentially a $50 billion gift for the economy,” said Raghuram G. Rajan, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
India is also profiting from the troubles of other emerging markets. China’s investigations of multinationals, persistent tensions with neighboring countries and surging blue-collar wages have prompted many companies to start looking elsewhere for large labor forces. Big companies like General Motors have recently moved their international or Asia headquarters from Shanghai to Singapore as they expand further into India and its main rival as an alternative to China, Indonesia. Mary T. Barra, the chief executive of GM, came to Pune in western India last September to oversee the start of Chevrolet exports from there to Chile. She is also scouting for opportunities to expand in India’s auto market, which the company predicts will be one of the world’s three largest by 2020. “All the circumstances have come together to make manufacturing and growth happen,” said Shailesh V. Haribhakti, the chairman of MentorCap Management, a boutique investment bank in Mumbai.
As India’s fortunes begin to shift, Modi is trying to tackle thornier economic issues. He wants to expand the private sector’s role in coal mining, a government-dominated industry. He is looking to accelerate the construction of roads and other infrastructure. On the tax front, Modi hopes gradually to replace state taxes on goods that cross state borders with a national tax.
In a January visit to New Delhi, President Barack Obama highlighted chronic regulatory obstacles in India. “There are still too many barriers – hoops to jump through, bureaucratic restrictions – that make it hard to start a business, or to export, to import, to close a deal, deliver on a deal.” But Obama acknowledged the country’s progress, saying, “Prime Minister Modi has initiated reforms that will help overcome some of these barriers.”
The challenges are significant. The World Bank recently ranked India as the 142nd-hardest place to do business out of 189 countries. Legal disputes, often involving land, can bog down even the most sought-after projects. A Boeing aircraft maintenance center is only now close to opening after a two-year delay in construction of a crucial taxiway, caused by villagers who lay down in front of bulldozers until the state government paid them more for a 200-yard strip of land. Would-be builders of large factories also worry about India’s stringent labor laws, including essentially lifetime employment guarantees for unskilled or semiskilled workers with at least two years’ experience.
Nokia and Foxconn Technology of Taiwan suspended production late last year at an 8-year-old cellphone manufacturing complex here in southern India. Nokia is dealing with a $365 million tax dispute that started under Modi’s predecessor, as well as slowing demand for the older models of cellphones that the complex produced.
Foxconn faced hundreds of young workers who held a one-day hunger strike on Jan. 27. The company offered them 22 months’ severance. They wanted six years’ severance, and ended up settling last Thursday for roughly three years.
Those labor law protections are starting to erode. Many companies rely increasingly on contract workers, whom they require to leave after a single year, circumventing the employment guarantees.
For Modi, the most immediate challenge is on the political front. While his party dominates the lower house of parliament, the deeply divided upper house has delayed action on bills for his longer-term reforms. So Modi has relied on executive orders that automatically expire in late April. They can be renewed, though not indefinitely.
Needing support from minority parties in the upper house of parliament, he sent Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, to the home of Jayalalitha Jayaram, the longtime leader of an influential regional party here in Tamil Nadu state, with flowers on Jan. 18. The trip was controversial since Jayalalitha, who is known by her first name, is out of prison on bail pending her appeal of a conviction last year in a corruption case.
The government has also been criticized for revising the way it calculates gross domestic product. The move on Jan. 30 brought India into line with the practices of most developed nations and produced a sharp increase in the country’s reported economic growth. But critics viewed the timing as a political move intended to give Modi more support.
Even some of Modi’s supporters are cautious about what he has accomplished so far. “Lots of people have been blindly jumping into India on euphoria and hype,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a wealthy financier and a member of the upper house of parliament who wants more extensive reforms when the prime minister sends the new budget to parliament Feb. 28. “He hasn’t introduced any new ideas, and that is what he needs to do in February.”
Modi’s senior advisers say they have begun making significant changes and that critics are too impatient. “There are a lot of inherited, legacy issues we had to work through,” like budget deficits and persistent inflation, said Jayant Sinha, the minister of state for finance. “You have to give us a little bit of time for every business to feel the difference.

The inherent right to be fickle

I am normally not polite , especially to morons and am critical of all things that stink. I know that power is a heady intoxication, and that is why I am usually not an admirer of PMs and Presidents.To to be honest, I was never a great admirer of any Prime Minister . I have known them all, in the pursuit of my calling and what has always amazed me is how, without fail, a charming and often quite wonderful person instantly morphs into someone unfailingly unattractive the moment he or she occupies what is described as the highest office in the land.
Perhaps it’s not the office that does it. It could well be the fawning courtiers or the large number of escort cars with lal battis and screaming sirens that accompany ‘The Great Leader’ wherever he goes. The moment you sign up for this job, you forget it’s just a job like any other and needs to be done with exactly the same sense of conviction and certitude. Instead, everyone wants to preen as a ‘Man of Destiny’.
My excuse for not being respectful to such leaders is simple. I am a writer. A petty hack with an ego. I am not expected to fawn over people, particularly not those in power. For I expect nothing in return from them. Neither am I here to win a popularity poll. Prime Ministers, unfortunately, are. So it’s their job to be charming, to wear Holland & Sherry signature jackets and funny as it may sound, at the same time try to convince people that they will stop starving farmers from committing suicide in Vidarbha. Not easy, if you ask me.
Fame is a bitch. It makes every job that much more difficult. Every action a Prime Minister takes benefits some and hurts a whole lot of others. So someone who wants to do some real work is at every step winning admirers and losing those who disapprove. It’s like frogmarching over landmines. The actual skill lies in ensuring that some decisions win him more supporters. That’s the only way he can stay ahead of the anti-incumbency curve.
It takes but one false step to change an obsequious admirer into a screaming, ranting foe. Every smarmy flatterer is actually a dangerous adversary just begging to be disappointed. Every toady is waiting to switch sides. Loyalty is no virtue in politics. Only the foolish indulge in it. The clever know that it can be bought and sold in the marketplace of favors. Yesterday’s greasy sycophant can be tomorrow’s cheeky rebel. (Ask Nitish Kumar)
Modi, I am sure, knows this. Even if he didn’t, he must have figured it out by now. Within the parivar, the knives are all out for him. The media, till now singing paeans to his genius and his generous promotional budget, were the quickest to write him off as an ignominious loser. Yet, the truth is: In this defeat lies the perfect opportunity for Modi to piece together a winning strategy. The failure will, hopefully, ground him.
Contrary to what Modi says, this country’s not yearning for a strong, battling leader, unflinching in his views. India is not Russia. It’s not even the US. India is India. Here, things change all the time and we are all fickle when it comes to making political choices because democracy has spoilt us silly. We look for leaders who are resilient, who can anticipate and cope with our shifting beliefs. We do not seek boring constancy. We want leaders who speak about compassion, who are vulnerable and humane. Mistakes come with the territory. As long as they say sorry, we are ready to forgive them.
In short, we choose people who are like us, who want to share our dreams. Not leaders out to grab a place in history but men and women unembarrassed to be one among us. We are always looking for the Mahatma and even when one among us shoots him down, we spend six decades looking for an imperfect replacement. Someone who can lead us, fail us, pick himself up and try again. That’s why Arvind Kejriwal who fled office in 49 days is voted back with such an overwhelming majority. We want to tell the world we are not afraid of failure, we are ready to give anyone another chance.
That’s why Delhi is not Modi’s defeat. It’s Arvind’s victory. It’s the victory of hope, and the courage of the common man. Our leaders may choose to see politics as war. But we don’t. For us, an election is just another opportunity to celebrate our choices. We may not always make the best choices. But that’s fine. India knows how to course correct. For us, it’s exercising free choice that really matters. That’s what makes us who we are.
That’s why no one can ever be written off in our politics. Just as no one can ever stay a winner forever. That’s the magic of our public life. It’s like our real lives, fickle as hell, full of ups and downs. The winners are those who hang in there. I think, Modi can.

An Overweening Executive Can Usurp the legislature If Parliament remains stalled

Parliament’s upcoming budget session will be the first since President Pranab Mukherjee’s stern observations to government to refrain from incessant ordinance promulgation. Issuance of nine ordinances in less than nine months of the NDA government has led to wide questioning of its motivations in using ordinances as a default device for lawmaking.
Neither is the executive promulgating ordinances, nor the frequency of such ordinances a new phenomenon. More telling is the changing nature of lawmaking and parliamentary functioning in the recent past that has facilitated such executive action.
Of late, Parliament has shown marked reluctance in exercising its sovereignty to check and balance government which is directly accountable to it. When it has done so, this has often been through what President Pranab termed “disruption … [by] a noisy minority” that has seldom served any positive accountability function. A combination of these two factors during the UPA-II government resulted in widely perceived policy paralysis. In the case of the present NDA government, it portends the beginnings of a change in the nature of separation of powers in India, from a Parliament-led democracy to an incipient bureaucratic state.
The linkage between ordinances and disruptions in Parliament in recent years is apparent. If data from the last five years is analysed, Parliament logged its lowest number of working hours from January 2013 to March 2014. In this time, 14 ordinances were passed, more than the total of ordinances passed in previous sessions from 2009. This is not surprising — governance demands continuous action and if Parliament is obstructionist, then the ordinance route will be increasingly resorted to.
Questions must be raised about whether circumstances that require “immediate action”, the standard required for promulgating ordinances under Article 123 of the Constitution, exist in each case. However it must be recognised that but for Parliament’s non-functioning, ordinances would have been stripped of their key legitimating factor.
Incessant ordinance promulgation is as much a reflection of a government in a hurry as it is the most overt symptom of an insidious process of parliamentary retreat from its core function of lawmaking. A typical example of such retreat is provided by the commencement clause in every statute. In India, every new law, almost without exception, has a standard clause which allows the executive to notify the date on which the law will come into operation (“appointed day device”).
This is contrary to the default rule in the common law world, where commencement of statutes is the prerogative of Parliament and unless circumstances require otherwise, it happens on the date of royal assent. In the early decades of Independence, this default rule was largely followed in India, including in key labour legislations such as the Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 and the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, despite these having significant financial ramifications.
There were legislations however where this rule was departed from — the Factories Act, 1948 which received presidential assent on September 23, 1948 provided that it would come into force on April 1, 1949; similarly, the appointed day device was used in the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and several other statutes. Select use of the appointed day device demonstrated that lawmakers applied their minds to which statutes required an appointed day for notification and which did not.
On the contrary, in the last two decades, the commencement clause has used the appointed day device as the default norm. In certain cases, this might be necessary. However for the device to be used in nearly all statutes, irrespective of whether it has any administrative or financial ramifications that require it, demonstrates a quiescent Parliament that is presiding over its own obsolescence in bringing laws into effect.
A similar message emerges from the pervasiveness of delegated legislation in recent years. A mere glance at recent statutes shows large-scale increase of provisions that facilitate rulemaking by the executive instead of clear statutory provisions.
This is not to suggest that Parliament allows a carte blanche to government in framing rules in all matters. The parliamentary standing committee on finance notably refused to clear the National Identification Authority of India Bill setting up the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It is however a reflection of the diminishing importance of Parliament and the growing authority of the executive that UIDAI continues functioning and Aadhaar cards continue to be distributed, with a bill still pending in Parliament authorising it to do so.
In this context of parliamentary retreat from its core province of lawmaking, while it is tempting to accuse the government of bypassing norms of parliamentary democracy in pushing through ordinances, the boot might equally be on the other foot. Governance by ordinance is symptomatic of the changing nature of separation of powers in India, with an alternately disruptive and pliant Parliament playing into the hands of an assertive executive.
A likely result will be the creeping rise of a bureaucratic state which, as history teaches us, privileges efficiency over accountability, stealth over transparency, decisiveness over debate. If such a state were to become visibly discernible in India, Parliament will not only be its key casualty, it will also be its chief cause.

Pakistan Altering J. & K.’s Geography : Subjugation of GB

India holds an election, or Army stops an infiltrator, and that causes Pakistan to raise a hue and cry and the so-callled Kashmiri freedom fighters ( actually fighters fighting for themselves coming into power) term it destroying the integrity of Kashmir. But Pakistan systematically demolishes the basic inherent character of Kashmiri identity in area , inappropriately called Free Kashmir( Azad Kshmir) , occupied by it; and there is nary a murmur of protest.
The recent appointment of the federal minister for Kashmir affairs as governor of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) throws up several complicated questions. The most important of these is whether the PML-N government in Islamabad is in the process of rolling back the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, given by the then PPP government. To seek an answer to this, we must delve into recent political developments related to the region.
In a sign of its dislike of the existing governance package, the government has kept issues related to the region off the agenda ever since it took power in Islamabad. The N-League’s attitude towards GB can be gauged from the prime minister’s inability to attend GB Council sessions — of which he is the chairperson — rendering the regional government technically dysfunctional to installing an over-sized caretaker regional government.
Likewise, in the recent past, when a federal minister minced no words in saying that GB is not a constitutional part of Pakistan, the silence from all quarters of the ruling elite was deafening. Intriguingly, the so-called nationalists of GB, who have a similar stance, have in the past been dubbed ‘anti-Pakistan’ for saying the same thing. The center has kept GB issues off the agenda.
Let us look at some of the factors that are likely to be fueling the PML-N’s desire to limit Gilgit-Baltistan’s autonomy.
First there is the Kashmir factor. Since the inception of the GB governance package, the Kashmiri leadership has, covertly and overtly, expressed its displeasure towards it. Their unhappiness with the package started manifesting itself in public gatherings and through official statements. For example, reacting to the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly’s unanimous resolution to become the fifth province of Pakistan, there was across-the-board condemnation of the move in the Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) Assembly.
However, with the arrival of the PML-N in the center and its leadership’s ideological leanings and personal relationships with the Kashmiri leadership, an opportunity emerged for the latter. It can be construed that by installing a pro-Kashmir caretaker government in GB and appointing a pro-Kashmir federal minister as governor — which seems to be an outcome of lobbying by the Kashmiri leadership — the PML-N is in the mood to roll back the semi-provincial status of GB.
Then we come to the demographics. Despite its modern outlook, it is no secret that the PML-N is a rightist political party and has been a close ally of extremist religious parties in the past. Hence, considering GB’s demographics — particularly its Shia majority population — the N-League may be reluctant to grant the region autonomy.
Rolling back GB’s semi-provincial status will appease many and anger few. Looking through the PML-N lens, rollback seems a rational political decision. On the other hand, the government seems to be ignorant of the devastating effects of such a decision.
Lastly, we come to micromanagement. Due to the parochial nature of its regional leadership, the PML-N in GB couldn’t transform itself into a complete, effective political party. Winning the upcoming legislative assembly elections in GB would therefore be quite an opportunity.
The regional PML-N would prefer rolling back the autonomy package. Also, a rollback would bring GB under the direct control of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs, which no doubt would suit the PML-N’s micromanaging style and its penchant for a bureaucracy-driven political milieu.
There is also the possibility that the pro-Kashmir caretaker government continues for an unspecified period by not holding elections. Keeping GB’s status quo favours the troika of Kashmir Affairs, AJK government, and the GB PML-N.
The installation of a caretaker government and the appointment of a PML-N federal minister as governor will enable an environment suitable to roll back the semi-provincial status, perhaps even merge the region with AJK.
Besides these factors, there are other important paradoxes that Islamabad is reluctant to resolve.
First, despite the fact that both AJK and India-held Kashmir enjoy political and constitutional rights, GB is kept in constitutional limbo. Second, recently, the 21st Amendment was extended to GB, though the move was later reversed. However, when it comes to extending the 18th Amendment — which helped usher in devolution of powers to the provinces — to GB, there are many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ involved.
Finally, when it comes to freedoms, democracy and political rights, political history becomes irrelevant. The essence of democracy is that people get the freedoms and political rights they aspire for. Pakistan is the lifeline of the people of the region, and local citizens opted for it 67 years ago. They are steadfast in their commitment.
Hence, the ruling elite in Islamabad needs to rethink its policies towards GB. The perilous path it is following has insurmountable implications for Gilgit-Baltistan in particular, and Pakistan in general.