The Legacy of Trudeau Disaster Continues…

Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel and professed liberalism a sign of mental promiscuity. You can hardly ever believe a politician. When a politician says, “I am not a crook,” he does so because many people have reasonable doubts to the contrary. Likewise, when a politician prefaces a political speech with a long and emphatic denial that he’s pandering to a “key audience” or “swing voters” — well, brace yourself for pandering delivered in a large, family-sized container. And Trudeau was that who held a reflective mirror to Canadians, making them blind, and that legacy continues. I met Trudeau way back in January, 1971 and held my comments to myself – something I rarely do.

Trudeau was something less than a disaster for Canada, he was just a tad less than a calamity: a disappointment or even a misfortune perhaps. He made Canada a plaything of revengeful fanatics, blood suckers and hangers-on of society. When we look back on the past from a distance, everything fades and blurs. It was all so long ago. The dead would be dead by now anyway. Wasn’t the situation really very complicated? We are here and warm and comfortable. No point wasting time in futile regrets. Off we wander to view the next sight.

But if we are to understand history, we have to understand it as it was lived. Canada today is a very successful country. It has suffered less from the global economic crisis than any other major economy. So Canadians may be tempted to be philosophical about disasters in their own past. Hasn’t all come out right in the end? Of course, you could say the same about the invasions of Ghengis Khan. I don’t draw any personal comparison between Pierre Trudeau and Ghengis Khan, I have no desire to insult Ghengis Khan -0 he had the courage to admit what he was doing and did it unabashedly, not in the devious manner of Trudeaus. But I want to stress: Canada’s achievement overcoming Trudeau’s disastrous legacy should not inure Canadians to how disastrous that legacy was.

Three subsequent important prime ministers – Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper – invested their energies cleaning up the wreckage left by Pierre Trudeau. The work has taken almost 30 years. Finally and at long last, nobody speculates any more about Canada defaulting on its debt, or splitting apart, or being isolated from all its major allies.

And as we enjoy the peace, stability and comparative prosperity of Canada in the 2010s just consider – this is how Canadians felt in the middle 1960s. Now imagine a political leader coming along and out of ignorance and arrogance despoiling all this success. Not because the leader faced some overwhelming crisis where it was hard to see the right answer. But utterly unnecessarily. Out of a clear blue sky. Like a malicious child on the beach stomping on the sand castle somebody else had worked all morning to build. That was the political record of Pierre Trudeau.

Let me examine the Trudeau record in 3 dimensions: What Trudeau did to the Canadian economy, what Trudeau did to Canada’s standing in the world, and what Trudeau did to Canadian political stability. And what about the personal and intellectual traits that animated Trudeau’s destructive career. I admit that there was nothing small-scale or parochial about him. As a political wrecker, he was truly world class. Pierre Trudeau inherited a strong, growing and diversified Canadian economy. When Trudeau at last left office for good in 1984, Canadians were still feeling the effects of Canada’s worst recession since the Great Depression. Eight years later, the country would tumble into another and even worse recession. The two recessions 1981-82 and 1992-93 can both fairly be laid at Trudeau’s door. Pierre Trudeau took office at a moment when commodity prices were rising worldwide. Then as now, rising commodity prices buoyed the Canadian economy. Good policymakers recognize that commodity prices fall as well as rise. A wise government does not make permanent commitments based on temporary revenues. Yet between 1969 and 1979 – through two majority governments and one minority – Trudeau tripled federal spending. Nemesis followed hubris. Commodity prices dropped. Predictably, Canada tumbled into recession and the worst federal budget deficits in peacetime history.

Trudeau’s Conservative successor Brian Mulroney balanced Canada’s operating budget after 1984. But to squeeze out Trudeau-era inflation, the Bank of Canada had raised real interest rates very high. Mulroney could not keep up with the debt payments. The debt compounded, the deficits grew, the Bank hiked rates again – and Canada toppled into an even worse recession in 1992. By 1993, default on Trudeau’s debt loomed as a real possibility. Trudeau’s next successors, Liberals this time, squeezed even tighter, raising taxes, and leaving Canadians through the 1990s working harder and harder with no real increase in their standard of living. But many Canadians understand how many of their difficulties of the 1990s originated in the 1970s.

To repay Trudeau’s debt, federal governments reduced transfers to provinces. Provinces restrained spending. And these restraints had real consequences for real people: more months in pain for heart patients, more months of immobility for patients awaiting hip replacements.

If Canada’s health system delivers better results today than 15 years ago, it’s not because it operates more efficiently. Canada’s health system delivers better results because the reduction of Trudeau’s debt burden has freed more funds for health-care spending. The Canadian socialist Tommy Douglas anticipated the Trudeau disaster when he said that the great enemy of progressive government was unsound finance.

Pierre Trudeau was a spendthrift. No contemporary leader of an advanced industrial economy – not even the German Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt or the British socialist James Callaghan – had so little understanding as Pierre Trudeau of the private market economy. “Little understanding?” I should have said: “active animosity.” Trudeau believed in a state-led economy, and the longer he lasted in office, the more statist he became. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was succeeded by Petro-Canada. Petro-Canada was succeeded by wage and price controls. Wage and price controls were succeeded by the single worst economic decision of Canada’s 20th century: the National Energy Program.

The NEP tried to fix two different prices of oil, one inside Canada, one outside. The NEP expropriated foreign oil interests without compensation. The NEP sought to shoulder aside the historic role of the provinces as the owner and manager of natural resources. I’ll return in a moment to the consequences of the NEP for Canada’s political stability. Let’s focus for now on the economic effects.

Most other Western countries redirected themselves toward more fiscal restraint after 1979. Counting on abundant revenues from oil, the Trudeau government kept spending. Other Western governments began to worry more about attracting international investment. Canada repelled investors with arbitrary confiscations. Other Western governments recovered from the stagflation of the 1970s by turning toward freer markets. Under the National Energy Policy, Canada was up-regulating as the US, Britain, and West Germany deregulated. All of these mistakes together contributed to the extreme severity of the 1982 recession. Every one of them was Pierre Trudeau’s fault.

Pierre Trudeau had little taste for the alliances and relationships he inherited in 1968. Canada had taken a lead role in creating the institutions of the postwar world, from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the General Organization for Tariffs and Trade. Those institutions were intended in great part to contain the aggressive totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and China. In 1968, Canada remained a considerable military power and an important voice in the councils of the West.

Trudeau repudiated that inheritance. His spending spree did not include the military. He cut air and naval capabilities, pulled troops home from Europe, and embarked on morale-destroying reorganizations of the military services. In 1968, Canada was a serious second-tier non-nuclear military power, like Sweden or Israel. By 1984, Canada had lost its war-fighting capability: a loss made vivid when Canada had to opt out of ground combat operations in the first Gulf War of 1990-91.

Something more was going on here than a left-of-center preference for butter over guns. Throughout his life – now better known than ever thanks to John English – Pierre Trudeau showed remarkable indifference to the struggle against totalitarianism that defined the geopolitics of the 20th century. Indifference may be too polite a word for his inanity.

Pierre Trudeau opted not to serve in World War II, although of age and in good health. He traveled to Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union to participate in regime-sponsored propaganda activities. He wrote in praise of Mao’s murderous regime in China. Trudeau lavishly admired Fidel Castro, Julius Nyere, and other Third World dictators. The Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik scathingly recalled Trudeau’s 1971 prime ministerial visit: Trudeau visited the Siberian city of Norilsk and lamented that Canada had never succeeded in building so large a city so far north – unaware, or unconcerned, that Norilsk had been built by slave labor. As prime minister, Trudeau to the extent he could tried to reorient Canada away from the great democratic alliance.

It’s telling I think that Trudeau came to the edge of endorsing the communist coup against Solidarity in Poland in December 1981. Hours after the coup, Pierre Trudeau said: “If martial law is a way to avoid civil war and Soviet intervention, then I cannot say it is all bad.” He added “Hopefully the military regime will be able to keep Solidarity from excessive demands.”

Trudeau’s neutralism negated Canada’s former influence. Probably few remember now his farcical “peace initiative” of 1982. Convinced that Ronald Reagan was leading the world toward nuclear war, Trudeau shuttled between Western capitals to appeal for some kind of concession to soothe the Soviets. Results? Unconcealed disdain from the Americans, unconcealed boredom from the Soviets.

Canada had often before played an important go-between role. Not this time. Canada’s most important geopolitical asset is its unique relationship with the US. Trudeau had squandered that asset, and with it, his own influence.

Obviously, Canada and the United States will disagree sometimes. Canadians of different points of view will favor a more or less intimate relationship with the United States. But even the most US-skeptical Canadian nationalist would agree: it’s reckless and foolish to offend the Americans gratuitously. In fact, the more nationalist the Canadian prime minister, and therefore the more likely to conflict with the Americans on large issues – the more carefully you would expect that prime minister to avoid giving offense over inessentials.

Yet Trudeau made it clear to Presidents Nixon and Carter that he personally disliked them, and to President Reagan that he personally despised him. When it came to foreign affairs, there was always a deep strain of frivolity and irresponsibility in Pierre Trudeau.

What Trudeau did take seriously was our third ground of indictment: the stability and unity of the country. And it was here that he did perhaps his greatest harm. Pierre Trudeau had a unique approach to national unity. He ascertained what each of Canada’s regions most dearly wanted – and then he offered them the exact opposite. Did Quebeckers want to live and work in French in Montreal? Trudeau said no to that – and instead promised that they could live and work in French in Vancouver. Did Albertans want a less exploitive economic deal within Confederation? Trudeau said no – and instead offered a more exploitive economic deal within Confederation.

Unsurprisingly, Trudeau’s flip-them-the-finger approach to national unity did not yield positive results. In fact, he nearly blew apart the country – and his own party. At the beginning of the Trudeau years, separatism was a fringe, radical movement in Quebec. A decade later, Canada faced a referendum on “sovereignty-association.” In 1968, Trudeau’s Liberals won 25 seats west of Ontario. In 1980, they won 2.

And in the end it was Trudeau’s own policies that destroyed his vision of the country. By dramatically increasing immigration, Trudeau made irrelevant his vision of a bilingual Canada. Lester Pearson famously expressed a hope that he would be Canada’s last unilingual prime minister. It’s very possible that sometime in the 2040s Canada will see its last bilingual prime minister, at least if the second language is French. On current trends, by the 2040s the proportion of French speakers in Canada will be lower than the proportion of Spanish speakers in the United States today.

Defenders of Trudeau’s disastrous governance habitually rally around one great accomplishment: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Well, Herbert Hoover had some excellent wilderness conservation policies, but we don’t excuse the Great Depression on that account.

Would it really have been impossible to combine the adoption of the Charter with a less destructive economic policy, a less destructive foreign policy, a less destructive national unity policy? Yet there is a sense in which the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a very characteristic Trudeau project. The Charter addressed a deficiency in Canadian constitutionalism: checking the powers of government. It’s possible to imagine a lot of solutions to that problem. The solution contained in the Charter is to give unelected judges the power to void acts of Parliament. Unelected judges chosen by the prime minister at the prime minister’s sole discretion, unscrutinized by any elected body. The Charter encapsulates the grand theme of Trudeau’s political life: his lack of respect for the people who returned him to office again and again – his instinctive sympathy for power, the less accountable the better.

One story sums up the man best. 1979. Trudeau had lost that year’s election. His career seemed finished. Reporters awaited in the driveway of 22 Sussex Drive as he stepped into his gull-winged vintage Mercedes to speed away into history. One shouted: “Mr. Prime Minister – any regrets?” Pierre Trudeau pondered. Perhaps he had planned, perhaps he remembered something that Richard Nixon had said after losing the California governor’s race in 1962. In an instant Pierre Trudeau revised Nixon’s words to his own very different purpose. “Yes,” he said. “I regret I won’t have you to kick around any more.”

Will Justine be ever able to outlive this legacy. His record till date shows- that is a day dream

Ethics of Voyeurism, Stings & Politicians

The Kargil conflict of 1999 was India’s first encounter with a televised war; the Gujarat riots of 2002, its first televised civil conflict; and the Mumbai attack of 2008, the first counter-insurgency operation carried live for TV audiences. By that logic, the internecine warfare in the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party was the country’s first televised split.
For those who chose to follow the AAP battles on TV, the experience was both enthralling and hugely entertaining. The spectacle of yesterday’s comrades denouncing each other in the language of indignation and piousness brought home the stark realities of political machinations. Maybe the AAP civil war was not half as vitriolic and consequential as, say, Indira Gandhi’s break with the Congress old guard in 1969 or the split that destroyed the Janata Party government in 1979. Dependant as it was on sanitized press reports, the Indian people could never get the feel of the atmospherics, and that too in real time. Consequently, the turbulence that marked these events was greeted with a degree of detachment.
This detachment was not possible in the case of the AAP. Regardless of whether someone was an AAP supporter or not, almost every viewer created a mental picture of the good guys and the baddies. What contributed additionally to the spiciness of the spat were the ‘sting’ operations that led to surreptitious recordings of private conversations and telephone calls being made public. People took a perverse delight in overhearing an angry and exasperated Arvind Kejriwal rubbishing his factional adversaries to someone pleading for a reconciliation. The news channels took special delight in bleeping out some of Kejriwal’s more colourful endearments. There was even feigned outrage that a chief minister elected on the strength of his holier-than-thou persona could fall back on foul language.
In the past week, yet another ‘sting’ has resulted in Union minister Giriraj Singh being rubbished for his suggestion that the Congress chose Sonia Gandhi to carry forward the Nehru-Gandhi legacy because she was “white skinned”. There have been demands from morally outraged anchors and opposition politicians demanding the minister’s resignation. Even the Prime Minister has been held responsible for what his minister said in a private conversation.
If we set aside the purportedly offensive aspects of the recorded conversations, there is an ethical issue at stake: do individuals with a public profile have a right to private conversations? Is there an implicit suggestion that there is nothing private or ‘off the record’ about conversations that relate to public matters? In short, is every encounter with a person in public life automatically subject to global dissemination?
It is ironic that these questions are being raised in an environment where, thanks to the advances in technology, data protection, the right of privacy and even the right to be forgotten (and ignored) have become global concerns. Civil libertarians have focused attention on an intrusive state that takes recourse to electronic surveillance and data snooping to monitor its citizens with the idea of exercising control. At the same time, the threat of terrorism has propelled states to demand more monitoring and governments have struggled to balance between individual rights and public good.
The stings that gripped attention in recent days were the results of calculated private initiatives. The question therefore arises: are the rules that apply to the state inapplicable to others just because they claim a noble purpose?
Thanks to experience, certain guidelines have been set for coverage of riots, terrorism and military operations. They have tried to strike a balance between the right to know and public responsibility. There are no such operating principles governing ordinary life, including normal politics. Nor should there be since the inclination of the powerful to stifle other voices is often irresistible. At the same time, the right of privacy — that was so respected when it came to Rahul Gandhi’s sabbatical — can’t be wished away altogether.
A full transcript of, say, a Cabinet meeting will be a great news scoop. However, ordinary business will be compromised and its conduct seriously distorted if the principle of confidentiality is jettisoned altogether. Not all stings are the same and it’s time we paid a little more attention to the ethics of voyeurism. Private conversations, I believe, should remain private.

Nice People are Losers, Aren’t They?

Who says to be good is to be a victim or a pushover? Today goodness is adaptive– neither absolute, nor inflexible
Closing your eyes to politics at office doesn’t make you any nicer than you already are! In fact it gives you an element of naivety and foolishness. The same goes for corruption or the many other evils that are an undesired part of everyday life. When dishonesty is rampant, inhabiting an island of honesty may give you a feeling of superiority, but it certainly doesn’t take your stakes any higher.
Rather than sitting in solitary moral splendor, be aware of the games being played around you. This gives you a fair chance of not falling prey to the same, or better still, an opportunity to outsmart the players around you! Yes, with this you become a player too, albeit a ‘nice’ one. The idea is not to partake in the nasty politicking, but at least to be aware of how it operates, and to avoid the traps it lays for you. Identify the quarters that target you or your work, and fortify your defenses against these. When you live in a sea of evil, it would be foolish to pretend that you can avoid getting wet. Short of actually participating in what goes against your grain, at least know enough to save yourself from drowning.
Smart people know how to push the right buttons. Just doing your work well and hoping for the fruits of labour to fall into your lap would be unrealistic in the environment we inhabit. In an age of uncertain ethics where anything goes in the name of success and celebrity, dharma and the concept of right and wrong are at best elusive and far-flung notions. There are no fair or right decisions anymore; it is more a pragmatic world where what works, works!
And yet, YOU need to be good, and smartly so! Each of us has a moral choice and an independent will to assert it. You choose the good or the bad, for we have both within us. To be nice is to be boring and left behind in the race. But the opposite of nice is an unacceptable option! Who would make a conscious decision to be deliberately bad? So the option left to us is to be neither good nor bad; we need to make a smart choice that allows us to adopt goodness, and yet be smart enough to escape the effects of evil.
In such a scenario, it is critical that you know the right buttons to push even after you are finished with the good work! The world is not waiting to discover you. You have to splash yourself against its consciousness to be more than a speck on its surface. So after you finish your task, you do need crow about it, bring it to the notice of the right people and to make the effort of marketing yourself smartly.
Who says to be good is to be a victim or a pushover? Today goodness is adaptive, neither absolute, nor inflexible. Dharma as a concept has evolved over thousands of years through adaptation and being contested at various levels. As Gurcharan Das says while quoting the philosopher S. Radhakrishnan in his book, ‘The Difficulty of Being Good,’ “A person who follows dharma realizes the ideal of his own character and manifests the eternal lawfulness unto himself.”It may not pay to be nice in the workplace.
A new study finds that agreeable workers earn significantly lower incomes than less agreeable ones. The gap is especially wide for men. The researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.
The researchers analyzed data collected over nearly 20 years from three different surveys, which sampled roughly 10,000 workers comprising a wide range of professions, salaries and ages. (The three surveys measured the notion of “agreeableness” in different ways.) They also conducted a separate study of 460 business students who were asked to act as human-resource managers for a fictional company and presented with short descriptions for candidates for a consultant position. Men who were described as highly agreeable were less likely to get the job.
For men being agreeable may not conform “to expectations of ‘masculine behavior,'” the researchers write in the study. People who are more agreeable may also be less willing to assert themselves in salary negotiations, Dr. Livingston adds.
Other research shows that rudeness may not always benefit employees or their firms. A paper presented earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association found that 86% of 289 workers at three Midwestern firms in the manufacturing and health-care industries reported incivility at work, including public reprimands and making demeaning comments. Incivility was bad for the organizations as a whole, though, increasing employee turnover, found the researchers, Jeannie Trudel, a business professor at Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion, and Thomas Reio, a professor at Florida International University. “The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness,” says Dr. Livingston. “You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers.”
Lockerz, a 65-person Seattle, Wash., social-commerce company, has what it calls a “no jerks and divas” policy that is stressed in its employee handbook and orientation, says Chief Executive and founder Kathy Savitt. She notes, though, that there is a difference between being respectful and being agreeable. “We are not about being ‘nice’ or ‘agreeable’ or ‘civil,'” she says. “We have a lot of robust debates about all kinds of things. But we do stress the notion of being respectful.”
And truly the good and bad all live within us…our free choice determines the direction we wish to sway towards. The difference is that along with goodness, comes a responsibility for the evil too. You may be the epitome of goodness, but you still have to take responsibility for the bad around you. Either do something to change it, or ensure you are equipped to fight it. Closing your eyes to evil is as good as accepting that it has a right to exist!
Blaming others for what befalls you — and in some cases the bad that hits you repeatedly– is not an option. It just perpetuates the problem. Losers never own up; winners take responsibility not just for what happens to them, but also for what happens in the world around! These are the ones who then have the gumption and the awareness to change the world!

Politics of Plagiarism in India

Some decades ago US comedian Tom Lehrer sang, “Why do you think God gave you eyes? But to plagiarise, plagiarise, plagiarise.” Indian political leaders called netas and would-be-netas seem to be taking the singer’s words to heart. Of course this was also seen here in canada, when the speech of one prime minister was a verbatim copy of the Australain prime minister. But incients are rare. Politicians in India have converted this into a fine art.
A Congress candidate in Kolkata’s municipal elections scheduled to be held on April 18, has unabashedly filched Narendra Modi’s election slogan for the Lok Sabha polls in which his party won a resounding victory – ‘Ab ki baar Modi sarkar’ – and turned it to her own advantage. The Kolkata candidate, Chameli Sarkar, has an added advantage in that, thanks to her surname, she has been able to make a punny improvement on the original: ‘Ab ki baar Chameli Sarkar’.
Far from being miffed by this brazen violation of copyright and intellectual property laws, the Bengal unit of BJP appears to be quite chuffed by this flattery in imitative form. A party spokesperson has been quoted as saying, “It is Modiji’s appeal because of which people are now cloning his ad campaign.”
However, what’s plagiarised source for the goose can be similar source for the gander. In an interview, Lance Price, the British author of the recently published book on the incumbent prime minister that has had a lot of tongues wagging – The Modi effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s campaign to transform India – has claimed that NaMo’s election-winning mantra ‘Acche din aane wale hain’ was ‘stolen’ from a press statement issued by his predecessor Manmohan Singh!
That the former prime minister was better known for his sounds of silence than his sound bites adds irony to the political injury suffered by the UPA government by BJP’s adoption of Manmohan Singh’s phrase.
It is said that in the realm of literature there are only half a dozen original plotlines, and all literary narrative perforce has to be based on one or the other of these or on a combination of them. In the world of politics, there is a similar limitation to what might be called manifesto destiny.
There are only so many promises of good things to come that any aspiring candidate can make to the electorate. This paucity of political agendas might explain why, so many years down the line, Indira Gandhi’s ‘garibi hatao’ leitmotiv continues to resonate in ‘pro-poor’ proclamations of vote-seekers across our political spectrum.
Far from being a sign of ideological laziness and lack of originality, such copy-catism should be seen as a laudable refusal to waste time and energy on reinventing an already invented wheel. This circular analogy illustrates why the less political slogans change, the more things remain the same. Such is the power of plagiarism, which coincides with the plagiarism of power, which replicates itself in perpetuity irrespective of who wields it.

What a Shame: Is the world’s becoming more religious

A study that’s likely to spur the Sangh Parivar ghar wapsi campaign says that by 2050 India will have the largest Muslim population in the world, surpassing that of Indonesia which currently is the most populous Islamic country.
However, the saffron brigade can take heart from the fact, contained in the same study, that by 2050 Hindus will constitute the world’s third- largest population in terms of religious faith, growing by 34% worldwide to reach 1.4 billion from the current 1 billion. By doing so, Hindus will replace the ‘unaffiliated’ group – people who pay allegiance to no particular creed – in third position, constituting 14.9% of the global population.
The study conducted by the US based Pew Research Centre predicts that by 2050, Christianity and Islam will have approximately the same number of adherents worldwide, with Muslims tallying 2.8 billion or 30% of the world’s population, and Christians 2.9 billion or 31%. However, by 2070, Islam is expected to be the world’s largest religion in numeric terms.
The study – which takes into account reproductive rates and conversion statistics – reveals that the only major religion not to register significant growth is Buddhism, because of ageing populations and stable reproductive rates in the countries where it is most prevalent, such as Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
But by and large, the world is becoming more and more religious – a source of concern to those who view all faith systems as arguably being the most common propagators of murderous human conflict. Today, more than nationalism, patriotism or any other ideological ‘ism’, religion – no matter what name it chooses to go by, Islam or Hinduism or Christianity – is the biggest instigator of terrorism, war and destruction.
Perhaps never before have Rabindranath Tagore’s words rung as true as they do now: “Man loses his humanity when it comes to religion.”
The history of all religion is steeped in blood, from the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition to strife-torn West Asia and Africa which are embattled against ISIS and Boko Haram fanatics.
Religion is an all-consuming fire that feeds upon itself. As faith systems compete against each other, they create an escalating fundamentalism and intolerance. Islamic fundamentalism creates a backlash of Hindu, or Christian, fundamentalism and vice versa. Religions are divided even within themselves, as shown by the on-going conflicts between Shias and Sunnis, Catholics and Protestants, the caste antagonisms within the Hindu fold, and the feuds waged between different sects of both Sikhism and Buddhism.
Over the centuries, violence bred out of religion has claimed more lives and spread more devastation than either disease or natural calamity. Organised religion is the most destructive invention of humankind, and today its malign influence is spreading ever wider and deeper.
Can we disinvent this infernal invention, perhaps in favour of an atheistic, or non-theistic, humanism? That could be one of the biggest challenges the 21st century world faces.
Are we ready to live under an empty, and benign, sky?

Homo-Sapiens or Genetically Modified Organisms

Green activists have long gained fame and fortune by campaigning against genetically modified foods, which they denounce as “monster foods” that can ruin traditional agriculture and decimate the human race. They claim scientists that splice genes from one organism into another are committing crimes against nature and creating Frankenstein monsters.
This is a mix of superstition and pseudo-science parading as real science. The campaign against GM crops has succeeded in scaring many politicians and judges into acting against genetically modified crops. Genetic splicing has produced some of the most high-yielding crops in the world (including Bt cotton in India). Indian farm leaders like Chengal Reddy constantly emphasize that GM corn, soybean and wheat are grown perfectly safely in dozens of countries, boosting farm income even while raising consumer supplies.
The US does not curb GM crops, so Americans have eaten a trillion meals of GM crops — without a single demonstrable health risk. Ironically, Europeans who fear GM foods happily visit the US as tourists and eat GM foods there, with no adverse results. If even a trillion cases cannot convince the activists, nothing will. Theirs is a triumph of ideological faith over common sense.
Scientists have for many years established the existence of gene flow, or horizontal gene transfer, between species. So, genetic transfers are not a human invention at all — nature has been doing it for millennia. This is one reason that led Mark Lynas, one-time campaigner against GM crops, to make a U-turn and denounce the activists instead.
As long as genetic transfer was thought to be a man-made invention, activists could call it unnatural and dangerous. But if humans have simply started doing what nature has done for millennia, how dangerous or unnatural can it be?
Initially, some scientists thought that natural gene transfers took place mainly in simple organisms like bacteria. Only recently has it become clear that gene transfers are extremely widespread in nature across many species. Even human beings have received gene transfers over the millennia, and so today carry genes that originally came from alien sources like fungus, bacteria and algae. Does this genetic intrusion mean humans are monster species? Hardly.
The Economist magazine recently carried an article titled “Genetically modified people”, drawing on research by two Cambridge scientists, Alastair Crisp and Chiara Boschetti, who have so far identified as many as 145 genes that have crossed over from other species to humans. Research on these issues has barely begun, and could in due course reveal thousands more gene transfers into humans — after all, nature has had lots of time to make such changes.
The Cambridge scientists found that one gene, which helps hold cells together, crossed over into humans from a fungus. Another gene, associated with fat mass, appears to have originated in marine algae. A third gene that helps define blood groups appears to have originated in bacteria
The scientists also looked at gene transfers in nine other primate species, 12 fruit fly species and four nematode worms. Fruit flies and worms multiply fast and so have long been used for biological research by scientists, helping create a vast body of scientific data.
The Cambridge scientists had to consider the possibility that what looked like gene transfers between species might actually be just genes from a common ancestor of the two species many millions of years ago. Now, genes from another animal could very possibly be the result of an ancient inheritance. But genes in animals that came from plants or bacteria would almost certainly represent horizontal gene transfer. The scientists found that, on average, worms had 173 gene transfers, fruit flies had 40, and primates had 109. Humans, with 145 transfers, turned out to be more genetically modified than other primates.
The researchers found two imported genes for amino acid metabolism, 13 for fat metabolism and 15 for modifying large molecules. They identified five immigrant genes that generated valuable anti-oxidants, and seven that aided the immune system.Talks between special representatives of India and China have set the right tone for PM Modi’s forthcoming visit to China. The highlight of these talks has been maturity in dealing with the complex border dispute. Together, the two countries have resolved to keep border engagements tranquil. When this agreement is seen alongside the recent visit of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to Beijing, the chances of both sides deepening their trade ties without other distractions appear brighter.
This is a story of genetic success, not risk. But if so many gene transfers into humans or crops were attempted by scientists, activists would be enraged. Politicians and judges who ultimately decide on crop rules must be made fully aware of how widespread gene transfers are in nature, and how not even a trillion GM meals have disclosed any dangers.
Activists have responded by saying that natural gene transfers took place over centuries, giving every species time to adapt. True, but whenever a natural gene transfer occurred, it was just as alien as the insertion of a Bt gene into brinjal or cotton.
All crops, including GM crops, are routinely field-tested for safety before commercial release. But to stop even field trials (as activists want) is a pseudo-scientific form of religious frenzy.

Indian Bureaucracy’s Changing Colors

Politics in India has changed forever. Now, it’s the turn of the civil services to change. But can the services heal themselves or will change have to be forced by politicians under siege from exploding expectations? I’d like to make the case that change will be most enduring if it comes from within and the only criterion for choosing the new Union cabinet secretary should be willingness and ability to reform the civil services. This is particularly important because the window between the cabinet secretary’s appointment and the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations in October is critical.
Politics is experiencing an exciting churn — the generational change in the BJP and the impact of its crazy fringe on the Delhi assembly elections, a potential change or regicide in the Congress party, the magnificent resurgence of the AAP after its goofy resignation and now its internal conflicts, looming expiry dates for regional parties that don’t deliver prosperity or plumbing, campaigns innovating at the speed of Moore’s law, and more money for state governments — all have consequences that are impossible to predict. Expectations morphing from garibi hatao to ameeri banao mean that voters care more about jobs, roads and power than about the envy of income inequality. This makes the notion that bureaucrats must protect India from its politicians and create continuity by defending the status quo dated, patronising and inappropriate. And the notion that politicians can fulfil voter expectations without civil service reform is delusional.
The cabinet secretary of India does not have the same trust, access or convening power that the chief of staff of an American president has. Not only is he stationed far away from the prime minister’s office — in Rashtrapati Bhawan, because the viceroy was once head of government — but his ability to impose his will on secretaries who are close to retirement and who report to independent ministers is at best suspect and at worst absent. But the cabinet secretary is the government’s chief people officer even though his power over empanelment, promotion, postings etc has been unimaginatively or uncourageously exercised so far. The government and the next cabinet secretary need to do three things each in order to modernise the civil services.
First, the government must shift the cabinet secretary to the PMO. Second, it must choose the next occupant of the office based purely on his hunger for civil services reform and make sure that his brain is connected to his backbone. Third, it must empower him to work closely with the pay commission till October and then use the rest of his tenure to deliver to us a civil services that can bear outcomes. Policy outcomes are a complex cocktail of people, processes and technology but the meta-variable is the selection and reward/ punishment system for people. The next cabinet secretary must avoid the infinite activity loop that his role has traditionally been and do three things.
First, he must improve performance and career management. Seniority is an objective basis for promotion but often an ineffective one.
We must move away from a mathematically impossible system in which everybody is above-average, tighten empanelment (currently, the pyramid looks like a cylinder because 75 per cent of officers become joint secretaries and 40 per cent reach the level of additional secretary) and put the best people, irrespective of age, in the right positions. Restoring the confidentiality of the process is critical to reinstating its honesty. And establishing objectivity and trust is critical to restoring its effectiveness.
Second, the new cabinet secretary must formalise lateral entry and political appointments. Any effective organisation has to balance specialists with generalists as well as insiders with outsiders. India’s policy problems are not insurmountable but many of them require specialist input that only lateral entry could provide. This could be done by introducing a new point of entry at the joint secretary level; designating 25 per cent of the top jobs as posts that can be filled through direct political appointments which are coterminous with the government’s term (for instance, 4,500 people resign when a new American president takes over, while, in Delhi, only 10 people do); and easing out civil servants who are not shortlisted to move up beyond a point (similar to the lieutenant colonel level cut-off in the army that avoids top-heaviness).
Third, the pay commission must be reimagined as a performance commission. Pay commissions have never received the “accepted-in-totality” honour that finance commissions get because they end up being “compensation commissions” and mostly formulate implementation plans that lack political economy considerations. The Seventh Pay Commission has a chance to make history by initiating a bold rupture with the past, like the 14th Finance Commission had done. The next cabinet secretary must work with the pay commission and the NITI Aayog to synthesise the useful recommendations of past administrative reform commissions into a plan that can help accelerate the changing of Delhi’s role in ruling India, started by the 14th Finance Commission. The 900 IAS officers who live in Delhi must be reduced to 500. Civil servants must be moved to a cost-to-government compensation structure through the monetisation of all benefits. A mechanism that separates the compensation review for the bottom 90 per cent of civil servants must also be devised for the future.
Politicians and bureaucrats who are talented and ambitious are frustrated with the current system. Chief ministers struggle with the paradox that political priorities like water, school education, labour and health are currently considered as painful postings by the permanent, generalist civil service. Bureaucrats — particularly the talented and idealistic ones — are tired of a system in which you get the top job only two years before retirement. It is a system that does not distinguish between fraud, incompetence and bad luck when things go wrong, has no room for career-planning, and often grants postings based on deafness and blindness rather than competence. The most recent cabinet secretaries have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The next one is being engaged at a time when we have made a new appointment for our tryst with destiny. He must do his bit by boldly demolishing his cradle. The government should start by vacating some space in the PMO.

The globality Of Hinduism

Hindus will become the world’s third largest population by 2050, while India will overtake Indonesia as the country with the largest Muslim population, according to a new study. According to the Pew Research Center’s religious profile predictions assessed data released on Thursday, the Hindu population is projected to rise by 34 per cent worldwide, from a little over 1 billion to nearly 1.4 billion by 2050. By 2050, Hindus will be third, making up 14.9 per cent of the world’s total population, followed by people who do not affiliate with any religion, accounting for 13.2 per cent, the report said.
One of the attempted follies of our times is the conflation of Hinduism, essentially an eclectic way of life, into a codified belief system that seeks to mirror the major faiths it has interacted with; for instance, Islam and Christianity. Indeed, since the May 2014 electoral thrashing of Congress by the self-professed Hindutva party, BJP, this gross and distorted projection of Hinduism by fringe groups has grown.
Fortunately, the cultural mainstream that voted BJP to power with its first clear majority understands what is happening. For, the Upanishadic ethic that informs our poetry and philosophies is deeply ingrained in ‘layers upon layers’ of the proverbial Hindu consciousness.
A good Hindu, by the limited definition of the fringe, must shun ‘alien’ influences – whether of language, dress or events identified with the Western world, including a certain date in the Gregorian calendar identified with going on dates. This definition is then disingenuously sought to be extended into private spheres and personal freedoms.
Such a worldview seeks to put the Hindu creative brilliance in jail as it were, a central prison that attempts to shape Hindu uniformity to assume the uniformity of the other, to prove its ultimate superiority by beating ‘rival’ faiths at their own game.
The political class that is the fountainhead of this vocal fringe – just as it is at the helm of the cultural mainstream – must stop to reflect why such a constricted world view will not find expansion of space, and sooner rather than later prove self-defeating. And if the political class pauses long enough, it will find a certain subtlety – the Hindu’s famed capacity to draw in and hold on to soft distinctions that carry multitudes in harmony – and civilisational creativity are far more definitive markers of India, that is Bharat, than any attempts to redefine it.
The Hindu concerns himself with questions far subtler than the manner of his dressing, his language, his eating preferences – he knows relishing kebabs doesn’t make him some sort of a Hindu kafir.
He doesn’t or wouldn’t shun say the English language to think only in Hindi, but would be deeply interested in learning Sanskrit to read the Upanishads and absorb from the source. Just as he would be wanting to learn French or Latin to collect and assimilate other wisdoms from their sources. Hinduism absorbs from multiple sources; in its search for verities, it stops at nothing. As S Radhakrishnan said, what is built forever is forever building.
Pushed to its logical extreme a Hindu can claim that one is most a Hindu when least a Hindu. That is to say, one is most a Hindu when one has dissolved one’s Hindu particularity into Hinduism’s all-embracing inclusiveness and universality. For such a Hindu, everything goes but not everybody arrives – all gods can be worshipped but god-consciousness – the realisation of impersonal energy as the source of creation – isn’t for those who can’t or don’t outgrow the infantilism of their minds. For such a Hindu, existence is akshara or indestructible, just as existence is soul.
The Hindu’s quest is what Svetaketu asks in the Chandogya Upanishad: What is immortal in this mortal world? What is that by knowing which one can know everything? Kasmin vigyaate sarvamidam vigyatam bhavateeti. The answers to this cannot be explained in words as the realisation is beyond definition, it can only be experienced.
And what’s for experiencing is the state of Turiya which is consciousness of pure, primordial energy, unrepresented by human imagination that sometimes so bitterly divides humanity. That energy is what creates us, and that energy is what one dissolves in. Those who know one as the self become the self, say the Upanishads, and the Universe is its witness.
As a philosophy Hinduism even encompasses the atheism of Chaarvak, another name of Acharya Brihaspati – not to be mistaken for the guru of the devas, but another profound teacher.
According to his view – which is possibly the first of all materialist philosophies – consciousness too is part of matter, and it’s the collision or fusion of matter in the right proportion that gives rise to super-consciousness. It proffers that creation of the world is an outcome of certain cosmic events and that there’s no purpose behind creation.
In fact Kapil Muni, whom Lord Krishna refers to in the Bhagwad Gita, expounds through Sankhya that the two forces, purush and prakruti, being their own guides, do not require any external intelligence or energy to give them direction; they behave as self-fulfilling prophecies.
Over centuries, Semitic themes and traditions have become our touchstones, our stock-in-trade. God-giving-religion-to-humankind has become a cultural universal. Indian traditions absorb all these and more, and for a direct experience of such assimilative processes, all one has to do is experience the Kumbh. This great tradition reveals best, Hinduism’s containing contradictions and carrying multitudes.
Hinduism is grand unification of knowledge, which is fundamentally beyond logic or any configuration of god; it can’t be defined if it can’t be given a form; and, therefore, Vivekananda said that he is a voice without a form, which made him describe the Upanishads as Vedanta, which is the end of knowledge itself, leaving one only with stirrings of an awareness of what needs to be done with that knowledge: to serve humanity as one’s larger self.

Iran Accord or Betrayal of Close Friends

Obama has possibly betrayed two of his best friends- Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both countries have a reason to feel cheated by the reportedly successful signing of accord with Iran- till now called the major partner of Axis of Evil. Overnight the evil sheds his satanic apparel and is canonized as a saint- a country much sinned against. Apart from the fact, that the accord is a just a game of gimmickry, the fact remains that it is a crystallization of danger to the the countries that were always the mainstay of US foreign policy. It is not peace that has been given a chance- it is the eerie peace of the grave that haunts.
Undeniably there is gloom in the capitals of Washington’s two closest allies — Israel and Saudi Arabia. They would much rather have seen Iran bombed, and now this is only a remote possibility. Worried at the possibility of an Iran-US rapprochement, and claiming that Iran will cheat along its nuclear path, both had strongly denounced the talks. But the United States, still licking its wounds after its Iraq debacle, is in no mood to start another war.
US-Israeli relations are unusually frosty these days. Last month’s address to the US Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a calculated insult to President Barack Obama. Manipulating the deep divide within American domestic politics, and backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee together with other powerful Jewish groups, he brazenly called for obstructing US policy. To Obama’s chagrin, Netanyahu’s anti-Iran rant received thunderous applause with several Democrats joining in. Then, last Sunday, denouncing the talks yet again, Netanyahu told his cabinet, “The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity, and must be stopped.”
The triumph of Iranian pragmatism has left Israel and Saudi Arabia deeply dismayed. Anti-Obama forces in the US teamed up with their Israeli counterparts to obstruct a deal. On March 24, the head of the Senate Armed Forces Committee and a former presidential candidate, Senator John McCain, suggested that Israel “go rogue” — meaning it should bomb Iran without US support. Else, he said, Israel’s security would remain threatened for the remaining 22 months of the Obama presidency. Earlier, 47 Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian leadership that the nuclear agreement will not outlast President Obama.
Saudi Arabia, for its own reasons, is even more gung-ho. While expressing token opposition to Israel’s stash of nuclear weapons, it has long concentrated its fire on Iran’s nuclear programme. Thanks to WikiLeaks, it is now well known that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had repeatedly urged the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme and launch military strikes to “cut off the head of the snake”. In 2011, the influential former head of Saudi intelligence and ambassador in London and Washington, Prince Turki bin Faisal, described Iran as a “paper tiger with steel claws”, which used these claws for meddling and destabilising efforts in countries with Shia minorities. Saudi Arabia has reportedly given tacit assent to overflights by Israeli bombers en route to the Persian Gulf.
And what of Pakistan? A former supplier of centrifuges to Iran via the covert A.Q. Khan network, and formerly its friendly neighbour, it has maintained a studious silence. For long a Saudi client state, Pakistan is now rushing to defend Saudi interests in Yemen, implausibly claiming that Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity is threatened by Yemen’s impoverished Houthis. Which side Pakistan would have taken if the nuclear talks had failed, and if Iran had been attacked, is not in doubt.
While the Israeli-Saudi cause has received a terrific setback, a determined campaign to derail the agreement may well have just begun. At the core, Iran and the United States have widely divergent interests. Therefore many fears and fault lines are just waiting to be exploited.
Here’s the problem: Iran currently does not have an active program to convert its fissile material into bombs. But it does want a capacity to make nuclear weapons as insurance against an American (or Israeli) effort at regime change. It cannot forget that a 1953 CIA coup had removed Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Reza Shah Pahlavi as head of state. Also, as an ideological state, Iran seeks to extend its influence beyond its borders. So if it could become a nuclear state, its punch and prestige would increase dramatically.
The world, in fact, has long suspected that, contrary to official denials, the Iranian program had a bomb component. In 1998, Iran was delighted by Pakistan’s successful nuclear tests. Just five days later, foreign minister Kamal Kharazi arrived in Islamabad to congratulate Pakistan. Iran had hoped at that time to benefit from Pakistan’s expertise and eventually purchased the Chinese nuclear weapon design from the A.Q. Khan network. From the economic point of view, moreover, Iran’s massive investment in nuclear infrastructure makes no economic sense.
The United States interests are diametrically opposite. It is Iranophobic and will strain every muscle to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon. It realises, however, that eliminating the Iranian nuclear program is impossible. Therefore, its immediate objective is reducing Iran’s ‘break-out’ capacity to at least one year. So, if someday Iran tries to race for a bomb, the US wants enough time to detect and destroy it.
At Lausanne the US got some of what it wanted. Iran agreed to increased access by the IAEA to its nuclear facilities; no enrichment beyond that needed for nuclear power production; sharply reduced stockpiling of fissile material stockpiles; far fewer centrifuges; reconstruction of the Arak reactor (so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium); and close monitoring of weapons-related issues. If implemented, these will drastically curtail Iran’s ability for a break-out. In exchange Iran got some of what it wants: sanctions relief from the US and EU, a transparent procurement channel for its civilian nuclear development, and international cooperation to help Iran in R&D.
The triumph of Iranian pragmatism has left Israel and Saudi Arabia deeply dismayed. Their diplomats and lobbyists will now be assigned the task of destroying the Lausanne agreement. They must so wish the easily discreditable firebrand, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, rather than the moderate Hassan Rouhani, was their adversary. But now Iran may well be on its way towards ending its international isolation. Could this also lead to a more normal, and less interventionist, Iran?

New World Bank Order: BRICS Bank

The Year of the Ram could be witnessing the first tremors of a tectonic shift in global power structures. Despite US objections, some of its closest allies — Australia, the UK, Germany, France, Italy and South Korea — have signed on to the new Chinese-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Some 45 countries, including Brazil and Russia, have signed up and more may join soon. Even Taiwan has applied for membership. Japan is still holding back and the US, under intense criticism for staying out, is now pledging cooperation.
The BRICS Bank was the first shot across the bow to the established order. Now, the AIIB is an even bigger signal that global economic power is shifting — a majority of the G-20 is backing the bank. As China prepares to take over the presidency of the G-20, there is clear evidence of its global ascendancy.
But these new financial institutions are just the set pieces in a bigger “New Silk Road” strategy, which China is crystallising into the “One Belt One Road” policy. This policy, first announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013 in Kazakhstan, was initially meant for greater cooperation between Central Asia and China’s western provinces. But as Xi laid out at the 2015 Boao Forum, since then, it has evolved into a broader plan for China’s engagement with the world. The belt links China to Europe and to trade and transport corridors across Central Asia and Russia. The road includes maritime links through the Straits of Malacca to the Indian Ocean, Middle East and eastern Africa.
China is signalling that while it has imported technology and capital for over 30 years, since the Deng Xiaoping reforms, it is now ready to turn around and export know-how and capital. China’s “One Belt One Road” project focuses on trade, infrastructure and telecommunications. But it also talks about people-to-people connectivity, cultural exchanges as well as learning from other countries’ development experiences. It emphasises peaceful development and cooperation with existing organisations, such as the Saarc, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and EU, to assuage fears that China is emerging as a global hegemon.
The idea is not just to build infrastructure. Trade facilitation is an important part of the “One Belt One Road” project. Local currency trading will be encouraged and currency swap arrangements will be put in place. China UnionPay cards are already issued and accepted in many countries — the latest is Turkey.
In addition to the $100 billion BRICS Bank and the $100 bn AIIB, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Development Bank and Silk Road Fund ($40 bn) are also being set up. These new institutions are partly a response to the slow pace of reform at the international financial institutions and partly a channel for China to utilise its vast forex reserves. This is in contrast to the oil-rich countries, which mostly rely on existing Western institutions to recycle their vast surpluses.
The financial crisis of 2008 was a telling blow to the Anglo-Saxon control on the global financial system. It was only a matter of time before alternative structures surfaced. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) proposed by China is now threatening the traditional hegemony of Western-dominated global financial institutions.
March 31 was the last date for joining the AIIB. Most had expected the AIIB to remain confined to a handful of Asian countries. The US had expressed doubts over the “standards” to be followed by the AIIB and wanted its allies and partners to stay away. In what is being interpreted as a major snub for American diplomacy, many US allies and partners have joined the AIIB. These include European allies like Austria, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and the UK; allies from the Asia-Pacific — Australia and South Korea; as well as US allies from the Gulf — Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey. Japan is the only major US ally from Asia that is yet to join the AIIB.
The enthusiastic response to the AIIB has several implications. It underscores the lack of American influence in persuading allies and partners to stay out of an institution that would not be dominated by the Anglo-Saxon financial powers. The US posture was to try and influence the AIIB to adopt “appropriate” standards and practices by pressuring from the outside. It had hoped to have its allies with it on this. Unfortunately, most of them felt otherwise, with the dominant view being standards are better influenced while being inside.
The response also shows that many Western countries are happy to work with China in reshaping the global financial architecture. The prospective European members of the AIIB appear to have overcome their inhibitions regarding China. Austria, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France and Switzerland are traditional donors to less-developed and poor countries. They have always insisted on development funding being “tied” to not only economic performance, but also track records in human and social development, including political and institutional reforms. The traditional Western donors criticised China’s “no strings attached” policy of lending to poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa for ignoring conditions that the West felt were important for aid. With several China “critics” joining the AIIB, including Norway, with whom China had severed high-level ties after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2010, the wheel has turned full circle.
The AIIB is aiming for a corpus of $50 billion for addressing physical infrastructure needs of Asian countries. There are various expectations from the bank. The fact that least-developed Asian countries with pronounced infrastructure deficits — Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Nepal — are among the founding members, points to the possibility of the AIIB responding sympathetically to their needs. For middle-income Asian countries that do not avail concessional lending from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank, the AIIB is a viable alternative. The expectation in this regard is that the AIIB’s loans would have lower interest rates than those from the ADB and World Bank.
The financial competition from the AIIB is a cause for worry for the World Bank, IMF and the ADB. Although the AIIB will have a smaller initial corpus than all these institutions, coupled with the New Development Bank (NDB) established by the BRICS countries, it will challenge the monopoly of institutions dominated by the US and its allies in the global lending sphere. The ADB, dominated heavily by Japan, the core US ally in Asia, will face strong competitive pressures if China, India and its other major Asian borrowers shift to the AIIB. This will not only imply financial competition, but also the erosion of the strategic influence of the US-Japan alliance in the region. The US concern with the AIIB is therefore obvious.
For China, the AIIB has spelt a major strategic coup. It has firmly established its ability to reorganise the global financial architecture. With several Western countries happy to belong to the AIIB, China can contemplate bigger constructs. It is already doing so through ideas like the Free Trade Area for the Asia-Pacific and the Maritime Silk Road. It won’t be surprising if the AIIB success encourages China to conceive other global trade and financial initiatives.
India has been strategically wise in being a founder member of the AIIB. This would enable it to contribute effectively to the decision-making in the AIIB. Joining both the NDB and the AIIB are rational choices. Like other large emerging markets and developing countries, India was hardly ever able to influence decisions significantly at the IMF, World Bank and the ADB, as it lacked the room for doing so. Staying beholden to these institutions without the ability to influence them is hardly a sensible choice.
The AIIB gives China, India and other developing countries the historical opportunity to enter and reform a bastion where they have been traditionally denied entry. With major Western countries willing to play ball, a pragmatic approach focusing on cooperation can make the AIIB a powerful institution and an agent for changing the global financial balance of power.
Badly needed reform of the US- and Europe-dominated IMF to give a greater say to emerging economies is stuck in the US Congress. Ironically, the US does not lose as much because of the proposed reform of the Bretton Woods institutions as European countries, which have bolted to back the AIIB.
Given Asia’s vast infrastructure needs, new financial institutions are badly required. The existing Bretton Woods system no longer has the financial capacity or even up-to-date engineering know-how. Moreover, if Europe can have a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a European Investment Bank, why can’t Asia have an Asian Development Bank and an AIIB working in tandem to meet its financing needs?
How China’s plans unfold will be determined by its dealings with individual countries. In Myanmar, environmental concerns as well as worries about China’s overweening presence led to the cancellation of the Myitsone dam project. In Sri Lanka, political change has put the brakes on several Chinese-backed projects, including the Hambantota port. India will judge China’s intentions based on how it solves the border dispute.
The Asean countries will judge China’s peaceful intentions by how it plays its hand in the South China Sea. China has had some success but also several problems with its Africa strategy, including significant anti-Chinese feelings in some countries. Russia may be willing to cede influence to China in Central Asia — but only up to a point. The direction China intends to go is becoming clearer as the scope of its ambitious strategy is unveiled.Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey expressed their country’s willingness to join AIIB as a founding member, but have attached tough conditions to their membership.
“The government has discussed the AIIB extensively with China and other key partners inside and outside the region,”Abbott and Hockey said in a joint statement. “Key matters to be resolved before Australia considers joining the AIIB include the Bank’s Board of Directors having authority over key investment decisions, and that no one country control the bank,” they said.
At the same time, they were at pains to emphasize that their membership in AIIB did not preclude their continued cooperation with the leading western financial institutions. “Working with other key multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the AIIB has the potential to play a valuable role in addressing infrastructure needs and boosting economic growth in the region with potential benefits for Australia,” the statement said.
The Australian treasurer played down claims that Canberra’s move was a slap in the face to the United States. “From time to time we might disagree but ultimately I think the United States will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It will just take a bit of time,” he told Sky television.
Many in Washington view the emergence of the AIIB as not only a direct challenge to the US-led IMF and Asian Development Bank, which provide loans to struggling economies, but as proof that China is now a full-blown global economic powerhouse in its own right. At the same time, Washington has expressed concern that the Chinese-led bank could run afoul of international governance issues, leading to possible corruption and mismanagement. Beijing and Washington have traded barbs in the past over the ways both sides conducts economic policy.
Also from faraway northern Europe, Denmark released a statement to”announce its intention to apply to be a founding member” of the AIIB. Danish Minister of Trade and Development Mogens Jensen called AIIB, which is anticipated to begin operating by the end of the year with $100 billion in capital, a “significant and exciting development in the world order.” “Since many Danish trade interests as well as development cooperation interests will be at stake in AIIB, there are many reasons to engage in and influence AIIB’s investment decisions from its beginning,” Jensen said in a statement.
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov also said that his country plans to join the new investment bank.
Other European countries, in an effort to meet the March 31 deadline, have expressed their intention of joining AIIB, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy, causing some embarrassment for the Obama administration.
India missed its opportunity at the end of the World War to get a bigger stake in the UN Security Council and the Bretton Woods system. Today, with its rising economic clout, India must decide whether it wishes to participate intelligently and constructively inside this new tent or risk being left out and regret it later. The Narendra Modi government moved quickly and correctly to enter the BRICS Bank as a founding member but this game just got much bigger. India must increase its engagement or get left out once again. Waiting for reforms at the Bretton Woods institutions would be like waiting for Godot.

India’s Affliction: Breaking mis-news

Without knowing it, we have learned to live in a daily crossfire of the ridiculous and the absurd: bans on movies, on books, on beef; displays of legislators tossing microphones or biting opposition members; debates on security audits on politicians; virulent campaigns against VIP culture. The absence of satire makes us view these events in utter seriousness. It becomes hard to see them as the sad quirks of a place burdened by too much dead weight, by the unbearable heaviness of being. Their hyper-reality in the media, the monumental misreadings attached to even the most banal and trifling of public acts, lift these actions into caricature, where ideally they should die a natural death. But they don’t.
In an urban culture seeking daily relevance, the deliberate perversion of events makes monuments out of trivialities, and trivialises the real tragedies. Despite the daily quantum of human suffering — farmer suicides, female foeticides, tribal displacements, rapes and malnutrition deaths — public convergence occurs in different forms. The merits of Leslee Udwin’s documentary, India’s Daughter, aside, the film will be ridiculed for inane nationalistic reasons.Why must a foreigner make such a film; how did she get access to inmates at Tihar jail when Indian filmmakers couldn’t? Marginal ideas take centre stage. That Gandhi never endorsed a ban on cow slaughter but spoke of vegetarianism on moral grounds is misused to create new alignments. Respecting the religious sentiments of the majority can be legislated on and made into law without any clear rationale based on science, nutrition or culture. Is there a difference between religious sentiment and secular sentiment? Who should be asking the question?
If the nation’s daily debates are rooted in inconsequential positions, the problem lies in the public view of the power game itself. Everyone must have an opinion on everything, everyone must agree to disagree. Media visibility only imparts an added sense of purpose to the misrepresentation. Even in the most private moments, the cameras must be rolling. If Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is not in his seat at the assembly, he can be shown wrapped in a towel, doing jal neti in the secluded privacy of an ayurvedic spa. The TV crew must follow his every move, disclose his falling sugar levels, his current blood pressure. Banalities leave the viewer and reader in a breathless haze of statistical trivia.
The daily dose of such mis-news only signifies a growing relationship between corrupting influence and corrupted conscience. The politician merely employs the media as a storyboard for his own confused picture of India. Tainted by the incoherence, the media demonstrates its mistrust, even disdain, of serious reality. The hour by hour television rescue of a child who had fallen into a well is a sign of the times — a collusion of irrelevant ideas and claims, and the disbelieving public as mute spectators. The daily show must go on.
Of course, when people are ready to believe what they are told or what they read, public gullibility is at its highest. So when, on a routine security audit by the police, Rahul Gandhi is asked to state his age and the name of his mother for the record, angry sides quickly form. Is the outrage over the inquisition of a politician as senior as the Congress vice president, or over the humiliation of a trivial inquiry when the answer is already known to the public? It doesn’t matter. What matters is the need to be regularly outraged.
While every such action reveals the petty vein in which the country operates on a daily basis, it also reveals the larger vacuum of ideas. The corrupt bureaucrat, the idiotic MLA throwing microphones, the sleazy MP viewing pornography in Parliament, the minister describing “dusky” southern women — their pervasive influence on our daily life becomes a continual background noise. Even “ghar wapsi”, the banning of beef in Maharashtra, the proscriptions on documentaries and books are all the deeper, insidious calculations of a rule that refuses to define the larger motive inherent in these minor moves. Efforts at separation and exclusion, essential for some future religious or ethnic purity, come cloaked in the shallow mask of secularism.
Intolerance and daily bigotry is a convenient cover for a lack of vision and before anyone guesses it, to embroil the masses in a conundrum of petty rivalries and insignificant debates. The country operates at the level of the local RWA, pleasing the residents with a new street light but ensuring that the colony gates are firmly shut to the larger outside world. Without accountability or ambition or achievement, the mere act of maintaining a place in the public eye becomes responsibility, even achievement. When the actors and the audience are one and the same, the equation hardly matters.

From the discomfort zone: Challenging with gestures

When we are born, we unconsciously make gestures, our whole life goes with gestures at every moment. One day when gestures get frozen, we are off from society. How can we use these gestures that vibrate with the living sensation of human breath?
Human gestures have evolved through the centuries as we learnt to take on challenge after challenge. People’s living styles have radically changed human gestures. These gestures have been changing at every epoch from pre-historic to civilisation, agrarian to monarchical, religious, industrial revolution to mass production to electronics, digi-tech and the breakthrough scientific world we live in today. From those times when we lit a fire with the friction of two stones, we’ve conquered nature in many ways through inspired gestures that have multiplied, bringing in newer solutions.
Agrarian societies lived in bounded communities with a limited number and style of gestures. Monarchies and feudalism created gestures that subjects had to follow. Discovering the compass, the start of oceanic travel, reaching new countries, communicating with gestures established that gesture is a silent universal language. Take the worship of God where every religion created its identity and practice through unique gestures. All believe in God, but each prayer is identified by its own gestures. During the inventive period around 17th century when the Church and western European Renaissance liberalised the arts, literature, philosophy and science from religious dogma, it created phenomenal challenge. When science challenged nature, it was translated through revolutionary gestures. Travelling on donkey carts to horseback, boat to train, car to aircraft made us learn different gestures.
The huge gesture of societal challenge led to the world’s first revolution in France in 1789. A dimension of “liberte” showcased the entirely new gesture of breaking the monarchy. The 20th century’s new ideology of Communism also created revolutionary discipline with new limited gestures, but the power to challenge in capitalistic, democratic society added unlimited gestures. World War I, the first technology war was, followed by World War II that brought atomic destruction — both radically moved human gestures. There is tremendous challenge in finding a new solution to old problems that set off conflicts like wars. Conflicts have to be resolved with sensitised gestures of peace that attack the problem both on the surface and at the root.
western Europe saw the departure of modern art since 1870. Human gesture is among the great arts in our societies. Breaking the old classic mould, many new art movements have contributed to change the world through paintings, photography, cinema and industrial design. Modern art started with Impressionism where Vincent van Gogh’s bold brush strokes portrayed an oversized Starry Night; through Cubism Pablo Picasso besmirched Nazi bombing in his powerful political statement painting La Guernica; later Expressionism was discovered to have come before Impressionism. Surrealism challenged human perspective when Salvador Dali depicted melting watches in The Persistence of Memory, then there was Abstract art, Dada, Graphic art, Andy Warhol’s repetitive Pop art and Vanishing art where Christo wraps buildings and parks for a short period. These artistic gestures are weapons of challenge. They have impacted and changed society. Gesture is among the great human expressions of ideation.
Birth of Gesturism:
Can the varied gestures that challenge mediocrity, obsolescence and subservience to bring in vibrant new solutions be made into a new movement and ideology? An ideology that challenges to find superior answers to harried problems can take society forward. That ideology can be named Gesturism movement. As it originates in human society, Gesturism has unique gestures full of challenge, possesses spontaneous essence and expresses the vivacity in human behaviour. Gesturism considers both human involvement and human frailty in the face of living in a complex, global environment where speed and information overflow meet us every day. When it’s an art movement, Gesturism art is dynamic and creative, awash with pulsating movement, new and unique, always living, breathing and unprompted.
Just to illustrate, as soon as the sun goes down every day, or in a dark room, a candlelight or mashal light is used in villages, like in ancient times. You had to be careful not to burn yourself with fire, and worry about how long the fire will last. Electric light brings in a different set of gestures. To use a gramophone you had to change the needle, pump the turntable, put the record on it, control the speed, open the locking system to move the record, put the sound box on the record, turn the horn’s direction to where you want the sound. From there to the electrophone, record changer, tape recorder, CD player and now MP3, imagine the revolution of gestures brought about in a century. In the last two decades, the mobile phone gesture has become a trend. The stationary phone was a live messaging instrument, isn’t the mobile phone now a theatrical human expression? Every moment, individuals across the world are creating their own gestures with the phone. From birth to death, uncountable gestures accompany us all the way.
The spontaneity and momentum of Gesturism establish that challenge is our most important missile to bring the new into the world. As Gesturism cannot be static, its ideology can become a new movement deployed in art, product design, photography, cinema and architecture. Gesturism provokes you to take on challenges, find new solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, and implement the shock of new ideas to make an impact which can sustain. Emanating from the symbols and psychedelic waves that gesticulate our passion to take on life’s challenges, let’s ring in 2015 and ‘Make in India’ by experiencing Gesturism, the always alive, pure and endless movement.

What Indian Congress Party can learn from the decline of British Liberals

In November 1947, Mahatma Gandhi told delegates of the All India Congress Committee that he had come to them because they were the ‘real Congress’. In his view it was AICC that held real power, as opposed to the party’s larger general body that met once a year. For the Mahatma, even in 1947, the much larger party meeting only served as being ‘more or less demonstrative in character’.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s current dynastic fiefdom is very different from the living and breathing internal debate that marked Congress under the Mahatma. But his point about real power residing in the hands of only a few rings even truer today. Rahul’s continuing mysterious absence during a crucial Parliament session is still raising questions.
Some angry party workers in Uttar Pradesh even put up ‘missing’ Rahul posters and a number of old family loyalists have begun raising uncomfortable questions about the leadership in public. But there is little public sign yet of the tumult outside reflecting on the few inside who wield real power.
A crucial AICC session seemingly planned for April – which many thought would draw a line under Congress’s internal catharsis with the possible anointment of Rahul Gandhi – has reportedly been pushed further into the distance. A year after the Congress suffered its worst electoral defeat in history, it is yet to find even the beginning of an answer to the many questions it faced in its annus horribilis of 2014.
The rise of fall of political fortunes is normal for any political party and Congress has faced many troughs before. But its current crisis is of a different order, it is an existential one. Political parties remain relevant only as long as they can provide a credible avenue to power and tap into a wide enough social constituency, else they fade into oblivion.
While the ‘dream’ of a Congress-mukt Bharat that Amit Shah began his presidential tenure of BJP with may be a bridge too far, there is no question that Congress today is at the same crossroads that the Liberal Party in Britain faced in the 1930s – when it was reduced from a dominant pole of the polity into an irrelevant also-ran. Or that faced by the Whigs, the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party, important players in 19th century American politics before the party system coalesced into a set pattern of Democrats versus Republicans.
Comparisons across time and space are tricky. But even so the decline of British Liberals offers a cautionary tale to Congress. Best symbolised by William Gladstone, the legendary counterpoint to the great Victorian imperialist Disraeli, it was a party that created the first basic British social welfare state.
As one permanent end of London’s politics, it never won less than 40% of vote share in every British election from 1859 to 1910. It was almost sunk by World War I, fought back somewhat in the 1920-1930s where it fluctuated between 13-29% of vote-share in successive elections, but was wiped out in 1931 when its support fell to just 6.5%.
Liberals had remained politically strong for almost a century because of their appeal to British working classes but the rise of the Labour Party, which articulated the concerns of lower classes better, combined with poor Liberal leadership eventually made them irrelevant as a major player.
Like the British Liberals Congress consistently polled over 40% of votes in every Indian election from 1950 to 1984 except for the post-emergency low of 1977. After the reverses of the early 1990s it managed a national vote-share percentage in the high-20s through the coalition-building years from 1996-2009.
In 2014 though its national vote-share fell below the 20% threshold for the first time, an astounding 178 of its 464 parliamentary candidates lost their deposits and its total number of state assembly legislators also fell to the lowest point ever. Even more serious for Congress is its inability to weave a convincing new narrative about itself.
With the exception of Assam, every state with over 50% of youth voters (UP, Rajasthan, Delhi, Jharkhand, Haryana, Bihar and MP) delivered astonishingly high returns to NDA in 2014. Politics is never static and fortunes may change. But the harsh fact for Congress is that the ‘there is no alternative’ argument that won it many state elections by default through the 1990s doesn’t hold water any more.
AAP emerged as an alternative in Delhi and did the unthinkable. Just as the Labour Party in Britain usurped the narrative of social equality from the Liberals, Congress is finding itself increasingly speaking an idiom that few new voters relate to, even if its core message of left-of-centre economics and social equity may still be relevant.
Congress needs a reboot but is losing previous time. BJP is already claiming to be the world’s largest party. But across the world, the trend is towards a decline of the traditional hold of political parties as permanent tribes. Instead, they are turning into platforms which grow or shrink with swing voters on the strength of their message and leadership in every election. Party leaders need to keep the platform alive and viable. Simply relying on history or a glorious past as a guarantee of survival will be a grievous mistake.

Islamophobia in China: Muslims & Pakistan’s vow of silence

Recently, in a country that is decidedly not France, a Muslim man has been sentenced to six years in prison for keeping a beard. In the Muslim dominant region of Xinjiang, the 38-year-old man was handed the punishment by the Chinese court. In addition, his wife has been sentenced to two years of imprisonment for wearing an Islamic veil. Ironically, this took place in Kashgar: the city romanticised in Iqbal’s poetry as one end of the unbreachable Muslim flank guarding the sacred ‘Haram’. The couple was pronounced guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, which is basically my job description as a blogger.
The charge is so absurdly vague and ambiguous; it may as well be Mandarin for “not liking one’s face”. Which is indeed what it sounds like, if one follows the trail of violent suppression of the Uighur populace through history, marked with arbitrary arrests and baffling restrictions.
In July last year, the government forbade Xinjiang officials to fast in the month of Ramazan, and initiated a robust campaign discouraging native women from wearing veil. In Urmaqi, bus passengers were banned from carrying a wide range of common household items, including yoghurt. The restrictions, each a flagrant assault on the Uighur people’s cultural values, are justified by the most valuable excuse available to us in the post-9/11 universe: ‘security’.
These increasingly despotic measures are being adopted under the doctrine that counter-terrorism definitively trumps individual liberty, although I’m personally having a hard time figuring out how to weaponise yoghurt and facial hair. These ‘whimsical’ freedom violations barely make up the prologue of a book on Chinese aggression against the Muslims of Xinjiang, have evoked no protest-response from any group, whi are so vocal when protesting against West or North American perceived Islamophobia.
Between 1964 and 1996, China conducted more than 40 poorly-controlled, nuclear tests in Xinjiang. An expert who studied radiation effects from tests by the US, France, and former Soviet Union, calculated that as many as 194,000 people may have died from acute radiation poisoning, among a whopping 1.2 million people who received doses high enough to induce cancer and gross fetal abnormalities. These are the “conservative estimates” of the damage caused in three decades.
If this form of aggression appears too indirect and impersonal, it should be viewed in context of decades of arbitrary arrests, executions and reports of heinous torture. The government has been accused of promoting a Hans mass migration to Xinjiang to dilute the natives’ proportion from 90 per cent of the population in 1949, to almost 45 per cent today.
The regime now “manufactures consent” (weirdly, a Chomskian term usually reserved for Western imperialists) of its people for these extreme measures against the Muslims of Xinjiang, by citing ‘Islamic terrorism’ against the Hans in the province. Ultimately, the Chinese government’s greatest feat is to have its President sit beamingly in the same room as the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, without ‘Uighur’ creeping into conversation.
More impressive still, is the capacity of the Muslim political leaders, touting Islamic unity and decrying the oppression of Muslims wherever they may be, to ignore the Islamophobia raging in its most favoured state. But that’s realpolitik. I’m more curious about how this information would be processed by an average Muslim social media user, incensed by the imagined anti-Muslim bigotry across Europe.
I suppose I’m just hoping we’d all get to hear Pakistan Prime Minister’s next passionate speech on Sino-Pak friendship over the sound of the invisible elephant blaring in the room.The personal matter of facial hair has taken on heavy political overtones in the Uighur heartland. Also proscribed are certain types of women’s headscarves, veils and “jilbabs,” loose, full-length garments worn in public. Such restrictions are not new but their enforcement has intensified this year in the wake of attacks Beijing has blamed on religious extremists.
In a recent sweep of Urumqi, the region’s capital, authorities last week said they seized 1,265 hijab-type headscarves, 259 jilbabs and even clothes printed with Islamic star-and-crescent symbols. Officials also “rescued” 82 children from studying the Quran, the government said.
The prohibitions on Islamic attire and beards have attracted widespread criticism, with many experts saying such repression angers ordinary Uighurs and risks radicalizing them.“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s self-perpetuating. The more they crack down on it, the more people re-Islamise. This is a pattern we see all over the world,” said Joanne Smith Finley, an expert on Uighurs at Britain’s Newcastle University. “The Chinese state has created a growing terrorist threat where previously there was none. It has stimulated an Islamic renewal where there wouldn’t necessarily have been one.”
A major thrust of the yearlong crackdown on terrorism has been a campaign against religious extremism, with arrests of hundreds of people for watching videos apparently hailing terrorism or extremist ideology. But authorities also are targeting beards, veils and other symbols of religious piety in a campaign that creeps ever farther into Uighurs’ daily lives despite official claims that the government respects religious freedom. “At the moment, we face a very serious, intense and complex situation with fighting terrorism and maintaining stability,” a party newspaper, the Xinjiang Daily, said in an edict to “front-line” minority cadres in late July.
Officials, it said, must also act to control weddings without singing and dancing and funerals where there are no feasts, referring to Uighur customs the government says Islamic conservatives have barred.
Young Uighur men are discouraged from keeping beards and those who have them are stopped at checkpoints and questioned. So are women who wear Muslim headscarves and veils that obscure their faces.
Some public places such as hospitals bar such individuals from entering. ( Shades of Quebec, but who talks?) Earlier this month, the northern Xinjiang city of Karamay announced that young men with beards and women in burqas or hijabs would not be allowed on public buses.
In the city of Aksu, Ma Yanfeng, the director of the city’s foreign propaganda office, said the government was concerned that Uighurs were being unduly influenced by radical Islamic forces from overseas. “It’s because they have been incited by others to do so,” said Ma, noting that traditional dress of Uighur women is multicolored. “Those clothes that are all black are a sign of influence from foreigners like in Turkey and have to do with extremist thinking.”
Unlike in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or parts of South Asia, veils and abayas are relatively new to Uighurs in Xinjiang, only growing in popularity in recent decades, scholars say. Uighur historically have used “ikat” textiles with bold patterns and brilliant colors, an aesthetic they share with Uzbeks, Tajiks and other Central Asian cultures. Contemporary Uighur women, especially those in cities, dress like other urbanites though they aren’t likely to bare a lot of skin.
Uighurs have been adopting veils and beards in a shift toward more pious lives, partly as symbolic resistance to Chinese rule and partly out of a desire for the egalitarianism associated with Islam to mend social inequalities, said Smith Finley, the Newcastle expert who has studied Uighurs since 1991.
Chinese authorities apparently make little distinction between these expressions of piety and the kind of extremism that poses a threat to society. In May, police in the county of Luntai raided women’s dress shops and confiscated jilbabs. A photo on the local government’s website showed four male police officers at a shop examining textiles while a woman in a black jilbab, likely a shop assistant or owner, stood in the background watching.
The rubber-stamp legislature in the southern prefecture of Turpan says on its website it is considering a law to impose fines of up to 500 yuan ($80) for wearing veils and cloaks in public.
The legislature says the law would help safeguard social stability, cultural security and gender equality and even protect health because, the proposal says, burqas deprive skin of sunlight and can cause heatstroke in summer. Elsewhere, officials have been rounding up dozens of Uighur women to attend indoctrination sessions and to trade their jilbabs and veils for traditional Uighur silk dresses. “After today’s ideological education, I now understand that the jilbab is not our ethnic group’s traditional attire, and I recognize that veils and wearing jilbabs is incompatible with Islamic culture and is a backward and bad practice,” a woman named Ayiguli Bake was quoted by a local party-run newspaper as saying in a scripted fashion.
But on the streets of Kuqa and Aksu, many women could be seen wearing headscarves that covered their necks, though black cloaks were nowhere in sight and in most instances only elderly men had beards.Chinese officials probably are targeting outward manifestations of piety because they cannot “fundamentally alter people’s inner states,” said Gardner Bovingdon, a Xinjiang expert at Indiana University. “I can’t make you stop admiring a more rigorous, scriptural Islam, but I can make you shave off that beard, I can make you take off that scarf,” Bovingdon said. “So that’s what I’ll do.”
The authorities’ heavy hand has reportedly sparked protests. In the rural town of Alaqagha, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Kuqa, police fired into a crowd in May when villagers violently protested the detention of women and girls for wearing headscarves and Islamic robes, according to the US government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia.
On a recent evening in Alaqagha, rows of surveillance cameras perched atop street lights watched residents breaking their fasts at a small outdoor market. Pistol-carrying police who were trailing Associated Press journalists kept an eye on the villagers, who included women with headscarves shopping at donkey-drawn fruit carts.
And yet there are no protests. Rather, according to a Pew Research Center survey the only country that loves China more than China itself, is Pakistan. Curioius and rather puzzling? Ain’t it?

India and the coming Internet economy

Does the Internet economy need to be controlled by government departments and regulators with the purpose of increasing the government’s purview of rules and revenues? Or should it play an enabling role so as to create jobs, economic growth and stronger digital connectivity? The question is critical today, as Digital India is now at a crossroads. The rising role of internet in economic growth and social aspects has brought the significance of internet governance to the forefront. New paradigms of internet governance recognise the contribution and role of governments, private organisations, civil society and other communities.
The borderless and distributed architecture of the internet differentiates internet governance from traditional governance. Access, human rights, privacy and standards have become important internet governance issues. Many developed countries recommend multi-stakeholder approach where nation-states are only one of the many stakeholders.
India’s position on internet governance recommends a multilateral approach that is at variance with the emerging scenario globally, isolating India and creating a negative signal for investment in the ICT sector.… Studies of internet governance haven’t systematically addressed the issue of design of responsive organisations or national systems.
The digital landscape offers the largest opportunity in India’s history to create jobs and propel it to a world-class economy. In the next five years, 22% of China’s GDP growth is estimated to come from the digital sector. India is — on paper — expected to make similar or larger gains. However, today we see most digital entrepreneurs setting up companies outside India, frustrated with shallow levels of Internet connectivity and increasingly wary of regulators getting into a space that has enjoyed rapid speeds of execution and innovation.
If the government and the regulator want to enable ‘Digital India’ to showcase what India can achieve, they must do three basic things. One, make spectrum allocations about driving digital inclusiveness, not about maximising revenues. This can be done via transparent, single-bid spectrum allocations (rather than multi-bid auctions) with mandatory infrastructure rollout guidelines, so that the government’s objective of wider broadband and internet connectivity can translate into reality. Two, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India should ensure a fair, neutral and competitive digital ecosystem. In the last five years, the digital sector’s massive commerce and communications enterprises have created millions of jobs. What India urgently needs now is more connectivity and infrastructure and an ecosystem that encourages competition so that hungry entrepreneurs will create services to benefit a billion plus consumers. It does not need regulation: this will only stifle innovation and competitiveness, and consumers will suffer.Ever since the Narendra Modi government has come to power, it has announced a number of initiatives to attract global business leaders and entrepreneurs’ attention to the country. However, despite the efforts taken by the Centre, India, which is regarded as one of the fastest growing e-commerce market is Asia continues to be a tough place to do business.
According to the business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce readiness ranking of 130 countries released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), India was positioned at 83rd place. The highest e-commerce readiness is found in small European countries like Luxembourg, Norway and Finland. India’s next-door neighbours like Pakistan and Nepal ranked at 86th and 94th positions, respectively.
Among developing and emerging economies, the front-runners are all in East Asia, namely the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong (China) and Singapore. Meanwhile, in terms of actual levels of online shopping, countries with large populations – such as Brazil, China and the Russian Federation – are performing better than predicted, suggesting that large markets facilitate e-commerce, the UNCTAD report revealed.
UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi said, “As the digital economy expands and more business activities are affected, it becomes more important for Governments to consider policies that can help to harness e-commerce for sustainable development.”
The UNCTAD report notes that the scope for developing countries to participate in and benefit from e-commerce is expanding.
· First, connectivity has improved, with widespread uptake of mobile telephones, social media and rising levels of Internet use.
· Second, new e-commerce applications, platforms and payment solutions are making it easier to engage in online retail.
· Third, local e-tailers with online shopping services tailored to local demands are rapidly appearing in developing countries, including in least developed countries.
The global B2C e-commerce is valued at about $1.2 trillion.
Finally, enable a friendly investor and IPO ecosystem for Indian companies — one that encourages Indian companies to establish themselves in India, rather than Singapore or other investor-friendly countries. Strong digital economies can only be created by robust digital connectivity and a hands-off regulatory regime. It is no surprise that the US — which has no regulation of OTT services and where President Obama explicitly supports net neutrality — has the world’s strongest digital economy. Moreover, the strongest innovation has come when the government enables, not regulates. India must similarly ensure stronger broadband connectivity and a thriving, competitive, neutral ecosystem — rather than government generating higher revenues for itself and the regulator stifling the industry

Marketing Daesh-Taliban Recreated

The theatre of brutality and barbarity enacted by Daesh — the Arabic acronym for the self-styled Islamic State — is not new. For any country long embroiled in the seemingly endless fight against the Taliban, nearly all of Daesh’s acts are a repeat telecast. When the Taliban march into a town, they ban women from public spaces, mete out their own brand of justice in town squares, unleash a barrage of floggings, beatings and beheadings. All of it is carefully documented in videos and pictures. However, while the basics may be the same, the branding of Daesh is markedly different and far more astute. For starters, unlike the Taliban whose core is tribal and regional, and which has focused mostly on appealing to those who have some connection to one or both aspects, Daesh has cast its eyes on a much wider target market.
Like the Taliban, Daesh sports an insistent medieval aesthetic — unkempt beards and everything that harkens back to an earlier time. But if the Taliban’s adoption of this look was only partly a performance (they did after all actually live in caves), Daesh’s embrace of it is far more intentional and artificial. Proof of its artifice can be gleaned from the fact that alongside all the seeming primitivity are professionally produced videos with sophisticated camerawork, a core of recruiters that maintains a constant presence on social media, and a transnational sales pitch that seeks to appeal to the alienated everywhere. It is in noting these differences from the extremists of old that the dangers of Daesh become discernible.
One area where all of this is particularly obvious is the effort that Daesh is devoting to the recruitment of women. While the Taliban were largely only interested in eliminating women from the public sphere, shooting them and banning them from schools, Daesh (while not in opposition to any of the former) seems interested in recruiting them to its ranks. Unlike the Taliban, which has no women’s brigade, Daesh sports the social media-savvy, all-female Al-Khansaa Brigade. In its recently released manifesto, the Brigade reiterates the usual misogynistic drivel: women must stay home and be in charge of child-rearing and domestic affairs. At the same time, it also makes significant departures: the attack by the enemy and the insufficient number of men all cited as reasons that permit women into the battlefield. The sacrifices of women in Iraq who had to do just that are cited as a point of pride. Devout Muslim women, admittedly only those who ascribe to their very narrow idea of the function of a female, are not only welcome in Daesh, they are actually wanted.
Unlike the Taliban, Daesh seems interested in recruiting women to its ranks. The strategy seems to be working. A few days ago the German intelligence agency reported that 70 women, nine of whom were schoolgirls, had departed the country to join the Brigade’s ranks. These numbers will further add to the 550 western women who, according to news reports, are already serving in the Al-Khansaa Brigade.
Daesh women are not silent: they sport a near constant social media presence, serving as advertisements for the romance in being married to a warrior and of life in the utopic Muslim state to which they have migrated.
Another marked difference in the branding of Daesh is its repeated marketing of its diversity. While the Taliban may have sported some foreign fighters and even occasionally boasted about them, Daesh’s propaganda takes their supra national acceptance of every race and nationality to another level. Every publication that the group produces, particularly issues of its magazine Dabiq, boast of its multilingual and multiracial composition.
If the Taliban were a local conglomerate, Daesh is the multinational seeking to harness markets for extremism in several different continents and eager to flaunt its international reach in attracting others to its ranks. If the Taliban were simply radical, then Daesh attempts to be both global and radical, avow both the medieval and the post-modern, the virtual and the real.
Sophistication, however, does not suggest improvement in ethical or moral terms. The central core of Daesh, much like the Taliban, is just as distorted, rotten and grotesque. The romanticised tweets in which Daesh’s female recruits sing praises of married life in war-torn Syria shield the ugly reality of thousands of women declared war booty and raped, or forced into marriage, and the gruesome constraints of life in a land controlled by a murderous group.
Daesh seems to think closely about which aspects of its identity are to be publicised. If the Taliban are brutal and managed via this fact to gather international media attention, Daesh is deliberately so to attract the media. Not only can they plan when they will get attention for this or that act of brutality, they count on doing so. This hard image of the group is countered by the soft one proffered in tweets and blogs by its female recruits. Cumulatively, then, different dimensions are conjured up for different audiences; the western journalist and the potential recruit both barraged with material designed to produce certain sorts of reactions.
The emergence of an extremist group that is more sophisticated in the way it sells itself, both as a formidable enemy and a haven for the disgruntled and desperate, could in its own way spell the end of the small local extremist group. In Pakistan, where the latter happily proliferates, with every flavour of religious distortion represented in its variety, this could produce a war between local and global extremisms. The hopeful could say that it is perhaps this exact sort of infighting that could, with the passage of enough time, spell an end to extremism itself. Since state and society have both failed in their extermination, perhaps they will simply eventually kill themselves.

Middle East conundrum: Outdoing Cleopatra in ever changing scenario

It has never been easy to navigate the labyrinth of the Middle East’s ever-changing politics, but it is becoming even more challenging with the growing confusion over shifting alliances. The Saudi-led military action in Yemen and agreement among various Arab nations to form a combined military command have, however, defined the battle lines more clearly.
Could it get any worse for President Obama? The Middle East has begun a descent into chaos, a region he wanted to sew up into a neat tapestry of friendlies and not-so-friendlies, but all living in balance with each other. First came the ISIS, a brutal force embedding itself on the ground in Iraq, Syria, lately in Egypt, Lebanon and in minds as far away as Europe. Obama’s response was tentative and delayed. Libya was flaring at the other end. Then last week Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies decided to attack Yemen to roll back the Houthi rebels, who have captured the capital of Sanaa and run the president out of town. The Saudis say Iran is helping the Houthis, who are Shia, and no way do they want them on their borders.
The attack on Yemen has the potential of becoming a larger Shia-Sunni conflagration with wider ramifications. Pakistan’s decision to join the Saudi coalition brings the prospect dangerously close to India. Almost all countries stretching from Libya in North Africa to Afghanistan in South Asia are now engaged in a variation of war, either overtly or through proxies, militias, tribes and non-state actors. In the face of it all, the White House has offered a patchwork of policies, shortterm and tactical, contradictory and befuddling. And a weekend photo of Obama playing golf in Florida with celebrities. The only certainty seems to be a US commitment to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran, which could bring about a greater Shia-Sunni balance in the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia strongly oppose the deal albeit for different reasons and want no accommodation of Iran. They view Iran’s growing influence in the region with alarm, upsetting whatever is understood as the “balance.” The Saudi decision to attack Yemen was a signal to Washington—Iran’s influence must be curtailed.
The bottomline: Obama has hardly any real allies in the Middle East—at least any who can act in concert with American wishes. Egypt, once an American bulwark, is alienated because the White House can’t decide whether or not to bless the government of military ruler Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, who ousted Mohamad Morsi in a coup. The Obama administration keeps Sisi at a distance and has suspended most of the $1.3 billion in annual aid despite repeated overtures from Cairo. This when ISIS has already marked its presence in Egypt’s northern Sinai region and Sisi’s forces are fighting them.
So what is the Obama administration actually doing on the ground after being repeatedly caught off guard by events? It is bombing ISIS positions in Iraq and helping Iran-backed militias to take back Tikrit after initially saying it would watch this one play out. But in Yemen, it is helping the Saudis with intelligence and target information against the Houthis who are seen as Iranian proxies even though the Houthis oppose al-Qaeda and have fought against its spread. In Syria, where the US vehemently opposes the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, it is aligned with groups aligned with Iran to fight the ISIS. Confused? So is Washington. It is trying to affect outcomes and tip the balance of power here and there with minimal entanglement all in the hope that in the end the major players will find their comfort levels with each other.
But there is no overall strategy to anchor the piecemeal involvement. Obama is so determined not to be another George Bush that he won’t account for new dangers, which admittedly spring mostly from Bush’s disastrous war on Iraq in 2003, but must nevertheless be tackled. Much has happened since Obama’s landmark speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, promising respect and dignity for the Palestinians. He was brave to try but a man called Bibi Netanyahu ensured that no peace plan got off the ground. It’s been rocky ever since. The Arab Spring raised hopes only to be frozen in the larger battle between democratic impulses and Islamic compulsions. Again, there was no cogent attempt to harness the energy except to reflexively protect monarchies and their interests.
Last year, Obama characterised his doctrine thus: “Don’t do stupid stuff.” It was translated to mean: don’t get into unnecessary wars, contain ambition to suit the times and build back national strength. Then he said in a key speech that some of America’s “most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures.” But the rush to get out has proven that it also has costs
The prospect of a chronic cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran turning hot has thrown geopolitics into a whirl. Although the conflict has been building for long, particularly with their proxies involved in civil wars in Syria and Iraq, it is the looming Iranian nuclear deal that has set off the panic button. The Yemen crisis has provided Saudi Arabia an opportunity to consolidate an anti-Iran coalition. The decision to form a joint military command is also seen as a way of telling Washington that it cannot be depended upon.
It is surely no coincidence that the Saudi show of military muscle in Yemen has happened so close to an Iranian nuclear deal. The United States, Iran, and five other world powers have been working toward a March 31 deadline to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme. Despite some last minute hiccups, a deal that will end Iran’s international isolation may well be sealed by the time this column goes into print.
Saudi Arabia has publicly expressed its displeasure over the prospect of a deal and so have the Gulf countries that have long feared the spectre of Iranian regional hegemony. The growing Iranian role in Iraq with the tacit backing of the Obama administration seems to have further reinforced a sense of insecurity among these countries.
Speaking to a top former Saudi intelligence official and an important member of the royal family at an international conference last week gave me a clear insight into Saudi concerns over the Iranian nuclear deal and increasing distrust of the Obama administration. He made little attempt to hide his disdain for Obama, describing him as “a naïve American president being driven by shrewd Iranian mullahs”.
The Saudis also do not mince their words where it comes to Iran, labelling it as “the most dangerous adversary”. In fact Saudi views on an Iranian nuclear deal do not appear dissimilar to that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The fear of American-Iranian rapprochement looms large on the minds of the Saudis and the Gulf sheikhs. Though highly exaggerated, the fear of Iranian domination has resulted in the Gulf states shedding bitter rivalries and closing ranks. Saudi officials have frequently hinted that the kingdom may seek its own nuclear defence umbrella to counter a potential nuclear-armed Iran.
The realignment of forces has produced strange bedfellows, underscoring the region’s complexity. The overreaction of the Arab countries to the Yemen crisis seems to have been triggered by that perceived Iranian threat, though there is little evidence of Tehran’s active support for the Houthi rebels. But by its aggression Saudi Arabia may well pull Iran deep into the Yemen conflict.
It is not that the Iranians are completely disconnected from the Houthi revolt, but Tehran is certainly not the instigator. The cause of the Yemen crisis is rooted in its internal political and tribal divides and history. However, some statements emanating from Tehran have reinforced concerns about Iran’s own power game in the region.
It is not the first time that the Saudis have got involved in Yemen, but it is certainly the first major military intervention by the kingdom that may have far-reaching geopolitical consequences. Besides the Gulf countries, the emerging coalition — also known as the Sunni alliance — includes Egypt, Jordan and some other Arab states.
This realignment of forces has produced strange bedfellows, underscoring the complexity of the Middle East political maze. Saudi bankrolling has also brought Egypt and many others into the coalition. Egypt’s military government has received billions of dollars in financial aid from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries that keep Cairo financially afloat.
Most curious, however, is the role of Turkey that has tacitly approved the anti-Iranian coalition. Until very recently, Ankara was locked in serious conflict with Egypt’s military rulers over its support for the ousted Muslim Brotherhood government. Now there seems to be a patch up between them, courtesy the new Saudi king.
Pakistan’s support is also considered by Riyadh as extremely important in its new regional anti-Iran alliance. The only Muslim nuclear-armed nation is pivotal in the Saudi regional power matrix to counter a nuclear-capable Iran. Although no decision has been taken yet to send troops to join the Saudi forces fighting the Yemeni rebels, Pakistan has already pledged full support to the kingdom.
Obviously the escalation in Yemen and the new battle line-up raise serious questions about the effectiveness of the anti-IS alliance comprising more than 40 nations. The spectacular rise of the self-styled Islamic State and a large swathe of Iraq and Syrian territories falling under its control seemed to have thrown Iran and Arab countries on the same side of the fence, at least temporarily.
But even that illusion of a common enemy has been shattered after the active involvement of Iranian military personnel on the side of Iraqi forces in the battle for Tikrit. The failure of the Iraqi forces to drive out IS from its stronghold gives some credence to the suspicion of continued support for Sunni fighters by Saudi Arabia.
Interestingly, Israel has now come out openly in support of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen. Netanyahu in a recent interview has depicted Israel and Middle Eastern countries as unified in their view of Iran’s involvement in the Yemen unrest as “a strategic move to dominate the region”.
Trying to understand this multitude of paradoxes is like trying to find one’s way out of a maze where most turns lead to a dead end. This new battle in the Middle East is likely to be an ugly and violent one.

No Single Leader can Ever Change India

Most Indian leaders, who have visited Singapore, have expressed their admiration for the city-state and cited it as a model for India to emulate. But what were Lee Kuan Yew’s views on India? He had of course visited India, met its leaders on several occasions and as recently as 2009 had taken part in a dialogue session in Delhi. But possibly his most recent pronouncements on India were articulated at an interactive session in 2011 organised by Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies.
There were quite a few questions that day on India directed at Lee, who looked somewhat frail but with his famed intellect very much in place. One was by a serving Indian bureaucrat on whether Lee could do to India what he had done to Singapore over three decades. His response was that “no single leader can change India.” He elaborated by saying that a multiplicity of languages existed in India and even someone like then prime minister Manmohan Singh could probably only speak two: Hindi and Punjabi. So at any one time the Indian prime minister could address less than a fifth of India’s population, which was a structural problem that cannot be overcome. Lee contrasted this with China where 90% of China speaks one language and was a much easier country to lead. Lee elaborated that India was a creation of the “British raj and the railway system it built” and therefore had its limitations.
Lee, however, offered some solutions for better governance in India: integrity, meritocracy and a level playing field for everybody. He contrasted India’s vastness with Singapore where you can have “your edict run throughout the whole country.” In India, he said, “you can say something in Delhi and someone in Bangalore is going to decide something differently.” He added that “India is diverse and therefore it has to work at its own speed.” He admitted that it took him a long time to realize that there were “many different Indias” and that the English language binds English-speaking Indians only up to a point. He was of the view that “Bombay is probably the only place in India where the various groups meet and feel at home with each other. So if you can make the whole of India like Bombay, then you’ve got a different India.”in the Nehru-Indira era, Indian socialists viewed Lee with contempt as a neo-colonial puppet destined for humiliation and poverty. As things turned out, India earned maximum humiliation as a beggar for foreign aid, and the number of poor Indians doubled in 1947-77 even as Singapore soared.
Nehru feared foreign trade and investment as vehicles for India’s re-colonisation through economic means. So, he sought to reduce both and aim for self-sufficiency through import substitution. Incredibly, socialist intellectuals saw no contradiction in extolling self-sufficiency while constantly demanding more foreign aid.
Nehru had the typical brahminical contempt for the bania. He admired the Soviet Union, where visionary intellectuals supposedly led the country forward with five-year plans. He wanted the public sector to dominate the economic heights, enabling noble brahminical intellectuals to decide outcomes rather than slimy banias.
Nehru was inward looking and public-sector friendly. Lee was outward looking and private-sector friendly. Far from viewing international trade and investment as vehicles of neo-colonial domination, he saw them as pathways to unprecedented prosperity. He grasped the key virtue of globalization: it converts poverty from a disadvantage into an advantage provided a poor country develops good institutions and investment conditions. The lower the wages in a poor country, the more competitive it becomes in exports and investor attraction.
Of course, rapid development will raise wages rapidly. But provided productivity rises as fast as wages, competitiveness will not suffer. Lee grasped that the key was to constantly raise productivity. That required good governance plus market-friendly policies. This went dead against Nehru’s philosophy. It fits in much better with Modi’s.
As for socialist fears that globalization meant neo-colonialism, Lee said what mattered was the quality of internal governance. A badly governed country will always be easy prey for outside dominators, but not a well governed country. Unlike most Indians, Lee could see that the biggest threat to freedom and prosperity came not from western imperialism but communist imperialism, and so developed close ties with the US. The Soviet collapse in 1990 vindicated him.
In the 1960s, Singapore and other Asian tigers (Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea) created miracle economies growing at almost 10% per year. India was stuck at 3.5% growth. Yet most Indians looked down on the Asian tigers, saying their path would take them to poverty and neoserfdom. In fact Singapore soon became much richer than its colonial master in per capita income ($55,000 against $42,000). India, of course, stayed poor.
Lee did not follow laissez faire. For him, good governance included massive public, social and physical infrastructure that was world class, facilitating productivity and private enterprise. The biggest Singapore companies in his early years were government companies building power stations, ports, roads and water supplies. Socialist India did a lousy job in physical and social infrastructure: it focused instead on massive (and woefully inefficient) public sector manufacturing, especially in steel and heavy industry.
Lee’s social infrastructure stretched from universal education and health coverage to massive public housing and old-age security. Lee and Nehru agreed on the importance of social infrastructure, but capitalist Lee did an infinitely better job than socialist Indians. He created a quick, efficient police-judicial system, with an agency that cracked down on corruption. India failed dismally in these areas. Lee kept raising the salaries of top ministers and bureaucrats, making these comparable with private sector salaries. But not India.
After the reforms of 1991, India began moving in Lee’s direction, becoming more outward looking and market friendly. Narendra Modi is an admirer of Lee. But Lee ruled a small island-state with an iron fist, something Modi cannot do in a vast country with an opposition majority in the upper house, powerful state governments, unsackable bureaucracies, and activist courts.
Some of Modi’s maxims — like minimum government, maximum governance — echo Lee’s philosophy. Like Lee, Modi sees public infrastructure as an essential facilitator of private and foreign investment. This explains his plans for high-speed trains, Sagar Mala (garland of ports), massive inland waterways, and giant power plants. But unlike Lee, Modi cannot provide social infrastructure — in India that is the province of state governments.
Where is Modi failing to learn from Lee? First, he is doing nothing to create an efficient police-judicial system. Second, his Make in India scheme has a protectionist touch. Third, he shows no hurry to catch and jail influential people for corruption. Fourth, he has done surprisingly little to improve the ease of doing business. Lee in his grave will frown at such a large unfinished agenda.
To the question on Mahatma Gandhi’s popularity in India, cutting across various divides, and his alternative paradigm of development, Lee had a firm answer. He said Gandhi was a “special phenomenon, an Indian phenomenon: austere, self-sacrificing. He led a cause for Indian independence. ” He, however added, that Gandhi “did not run modern India.” He concluded: “When independence was obtained, Nehru took over and he had to run modern India. So in other words, Mahatma Gandhi as an icon to spur the people with passive resistance was a great success. But Mahatma Gandhi as a transformer of India did not exist.”