The Forgotten Heroic Tale of Medini Rai Who Fought Babur

At the crack of dawn on Wednesday, January 29, 1528, a man known as Medini Rai, along with thousands of troops he commanded, died defending the fort of Chanderi, in present-day Madhya Pradesh, against the forces of Zahir al-Din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530), the Timurid prince who would go on to become the first Mughal emperor.

We know the details of the battle from Babur’s personal memoir, written in Chagatay Turkish, the language spoken in the wider Turko-Mongol world at the time. Babur notes that Medini and his men – 4,000 or 5,000 of them – tried to prevent Babur’s armies from entering their fort. Unlike their adversaries, these warriors did not have firearms; instead, Medini’s band hurled rocks and flung fire at Babur’s forces to stop their approach. But eventually they were defeated.

Who was this Medini Rai and why did Babur come in person, all the way from Delhi to Chanderi, to fight him?

Medini Rai’s story takes us to the kingdom of Malwa, in the early decades of the 1500s. In 1510, when the new Khalji Sultan (no relation of Alauddin Khalji), Mahmud II (1510-1531) ascended the throne in the region where his ancestors had ruled for a century, he faced strong opposition. Finding himself in dire straits, Mahmud turned to a military official based in northeastern Malwa named Rai Chand Purabiya, well-known by the title, Medini Rai.

Medini Rai, according to contemporary sources, was able to recruit thousands of warriors – around 40,000 from all over India – many of whom were the best Purabiya, or Easterner, soldiers by some accounts. They helped the Sultan out of his troubles.

Soon Medini was appointed wazir, or prime minister and with the help of his appointees and soldiers, he rapidly took over the Malwa sultanate from within. So powerful did Medini Rai become that Sultan Mahmud was forced out of his own capital and was compelled to move his base 500 km south from Chanderi to Mandu. In the meanwhile, Medini went on to ally with Rana Sanga, the Sisodiya Rajput ruler of Mewar, and fought along his side against Babur at the famous battle of Khanua in 1527.

A lost narrative

Medini Rai is one among the many remarkable and diverse cast of characters who are lost not just in popular memory but also in the grand narratives of history. There are two reasons this.

First, though Medini was a crucial part of historical transformations in northern India during the period between the fall of the Delhi sultanate and the rise of Mughals, this is an age that is much ignored as a murky “twilight zone” between empires. However, the fact is that this long “century” – 1398 to 1555 – was an era of creative political and cultural innovations. The basis of many ideas that made the later Mughal empire so expansive, culturally influential, and prosperous can be traced directly to this era: for instance, the Sultans of Gujarat, who ruled for over 150 years from 1407 until Akbar’s conquest of the region in 1570s, emerged as patrons of several languages including Sanskrit, and despite being Muslim kings, they also fully adopted a number of Indic traditions of kingship in their court.

Another reason that history books, particularly those intended for non-academic readers, have no place for a character like Medini is that he was an outlier. He was not the descendant of a prestigious royal or even a well-known lineage. He was simply a skilled soldier who had built a reputation of success in war and diplomacy that were vital for sustaining power in uncertain times.

The tussle between the “commoner” Medini and Babur is an important part of the re-organisation of power in the period between the empires of North India. Medini was a kingmaker because he controlled a consequential band of armed men who though small in number could make the difference between victory and defeat. In the absence of a large centralised power that could support standing armies, men like Medini Rai and his followers could take advantage of the various political contestants’ need for military resources.

What they had to offer were resources desired by all the different competing kingdoms of the era including the sultanates of Gujarat and Malwa, as well as Rana Sanga of Mewar, and the soon to be emperor of northern India, or Hindustan as it was then known, Babur.

Military entrepreneurs

This ability to gather troops, weapons, and horses expanded Medini’s own power-base, establishing him as a local warlord. Historian Dirk Kolff, who has written in detail on Medini and others like him, describes these men as “military entrepreneurs” who were operating in what can be viewed as a “military labour market”. By the 1570s, however, things would change as a new imperial order emerged under Akbar, eliminating the need for mobile power brokers such as Medini Rai who opposed and allied with Hindu and Muslim rulers alike.

The complex life stories of men like Medini Rai, illuminate historical processes in ways that conventional accounts focused on the so-called big picture miss. Richard Eaton’s study of the Deccan between 1300 and 1761 is an excellent example of how much such biographies can reveal. Consider just one of the eight lives that make up Eaton’s portrait of Deccan’s past: Mahmud Gawan (1411-1481), an Iranian horse trader who arrived on India’s western coast in 1553 and went on to become the most important statesman in the Bahmani sultanate with links to Cairo, Damascus, Herat, and the wider Perso-Arabic world. One of the greatest achievements of his 25-year-long career was a massive building complex in Bidar that originally held 3,000 volumes and multiple suites of rooms on several floors to house students and professors. The remains testify to this little-known figure’s “cosmopolitanism and devotion to scholarship”.

The most astonishing of Eaton’s biographical sketches is of the Maratha noblewoman, Tarabai (1675-1761) and her vigorously political eight-decade-long life that spanned an entire epoch of Maratha history – from the rise of the Maratha kingdom under Shivaji in 1674 to its disruption at the battle of Panipat in 1761. Married to Shivaji’s second son, Rajaram, Tarabai, at different times in her career personally directed Maratha forces to challenge the Mughals not just in the Deccan but deep into north India. Hers was the first instance of this deliberate aggressive strategy that eventually expanded to establish the Maratha confederacy over much of the subcontinent above the Vindhyas.

Medini Rai, Mahmud Gawan, and Tarabai, despite their notable lives, are precolonial figures who do not fit into the grand narratives of history. This is a problem because even the best argued grand narratives are often susceptible to an oversimplified “clash of civilisations” world view. And these ideas take over and shape public discourse in ways that were not as common in the pre-social media era. The biographical genre’s literature-like quality provides an alternative way to connect public discussion with rigorous analytical history.

Small-picture approach

In his memoir, Babur notes that anticipating their defeat at Chanderi, Medini’s troops killed their own women folk and came out to face the enemy forces head on.But it was not long after this loss that Medini’s successor, Silhadi, formed an alliance with Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat. Together, they overpowered Mahmud Khalji, effectively bringing an end to the Khalji sultanate of Malwa. How should we understand these events? How much of these decisions were based on the individual friendships and connections built on the trust between men? What role did religious identity or pragmatic economic and political considerations play?

Close examinations of original sources most often reveal a poignant answer: almost everything depends on the context of the specific time and place. Yet the reality is that in the popular imagination these battles and alliances are now reduced to simple religious binaries. The fantasia of grand narratives flattens the entirety of our variegated pasts. Taking the “small-picture” approach, biographical histories can offer an important corrective – a much-needed reminder that at the very core of what differentiates the current din of viral “memes” from history is acknowledging and accepting the complexity of the people who shaped it.

Global Farmers Can Counter Climate Change

We need to re-examine the relationship between agriculture and climate. Today, agriculture is a major contributor to challenges facing our environment: land degradation, aquifer depletion, nitrogen runoff and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few. These challenges are contributing to changing the composition of our atmosphere. Last month, scientists recorded the highest concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide in human history: 415 parts per million (ppm). That represents an increase of 135 ppm since the start of the industrial revolution. Multiplied by the total volume of the atmosphere, 135 ppm is equal to one trillion tons – or a teraton – of carbon dioxide increase over the past 200 years.

Despite the role that it now plays in contributing to the problem, agriculture also offers the most scalable, immediate and affordable solution for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This solution leverages a natural process that every plant undergoes, powered by a source that is always available, costs little to nothing to run and does not cause further pollution. This power source is the sun, and the process is photosynthesis.

A plant takes carbon dioxide out of the air and, with the help of sunlight and water, converts it to sugars. Every bit of that plant – stems, leaves, roots – is made from carbon that was once in our atmosphere. Some of this carbon goes into the soil as roots. The roots, then, release sugars to feed soil microbes. These microbes perform their own chemical processes to convert carbon into even more stable forms.

We have a trillion-ton problem, which cannot be addressed by the photosynthesis of a single plant. But when it comes to agriculture, we are not talking about one plant – we are talking about tens of thousands of plants per acre and 3.6 billion acres of farmland worldwide. All of these acres, before they were cultivated, had soil carbon levels of between 3% and 7%. Today, they are at roughly 1% carbon. If every acre of farmland were returned to a soil carbon level of just 3%, one trillion tons of carbon dioxide would be removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. Again, a teraton. The size of the potential solution is equivalent to the size of the problem.

Putting carbon back in the soil

So how do we increase the carbon content of the soil, while still cultivating the land? A small percentage of farmers are already doing this by employing practices known as “regenerative”. Five important regenerative practices are planting cover crops, no-till farming, rotating crops, reducing chemicals and fertilizers, and incorporating livestock. These practices are proven to both drive carbon into the soil, and keep it there. The resulting carbon-enriched soils are healthier, demonstrating better resilience to extreme weather, improved water permeability, increased microbial diversity, higher yields, reduced input requirements and even more nutritious harvests – all of which is better for both the land and the farmers’ bottom line.

If farmers provide the societal benefit of removing atmospheric carbon by adopting regenerative practices, it seems reasonable that they should be compensated for their effort. Today, the average farmer in the United States is making less than $40 per acre. If carbon is priced at $15 – $20 per ton, and growers adopting regenerative practices can capture 2 – 3 tons of carbon per acre annually, that represents an additional $30 – $60 towards their bottom line. This significant profitability boost is further supplemented by the economic benefits of transitioning to regenerative practices, such as lower input costs and higher yields. $15 – $20 per ton is also much less expensive than proposed alternatives for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The potential to remove one trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is in our hands. We are not dependent on new technological breakthroughs. We know how to do this today. We just have to decide, collectively, that we are going to make it happen. This is an inherently collaborative effort, because the cost of transitioning global agriculture to regenerative practices cannot fall to farmers alone. It requires consumers, companies and governments to demand that food is grown in a climate-positive way, and that farmers are paid for their stewardship.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that a sole focus on agricultural soils is enough to address climate change. We still need to cut emissions. We still need energy systems that are sustainable. And we need widespread awareness of how everyone can reduce their footprint. But when capturing and storing carbon dioxide in the Earth’s soils is paired with reducing our emissions, we have a real hope of not just slowing our advance towards the climate cliff, but stopping, turning around, and walking the other way.

Europe Lost Independent Political & Military Leadership

The spectacle of US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron publicly sparring during the Nato meet earlier this week shows that all is not well with the transatlantic alliance. Despite the latter marking its 70 th anniversary, it’s clear that constituent members are no longer pulling in the same direction. Nato has underpinned the western order that came to dominate post-World War II. However, as Macron himself stated, the many differences wracking the alliance are so critical that Nato is risking suffering from brain death. The disagreements – to name a few – between some of the European members and the US cover issues like Syria, the role of Turkey, the Russian challenge, China and trade protectionism.

Add to this Trump’s constant complaint that European allies are not spending enough on common security, leaving America to carry most of the burden. There is some truth to this as the arrangement that has evolved over the decades largely sees the US providing military muscle and the Europeans championing democratic values, providing human resource and pushing soft power and ideas. It was a good arrangement that played to the strengths of each side and checked militarism on the old continent.

But today fundamental differences have arisen because the western order itself is being challenged with the rise of Asia and countries like China. And different Nato members have different views on how to deal with this new situation. The US, for one, wants to reassert its No.1 position in the world and is currently trying to impede China’s rise through a trade war which is actually about targeting Chinese technology. But America’s trade protectionism isn’t confined to China alone and has also hit Europe. Differences in values and worldviews have crept up as exemplified by the diametrically opposite approaches to the Iran nuclear deal. Russia today means two different things for the Trump administration and the Europeans. And the looming spectre of Brexit isn’t making things easier for the transatlantic relationship.

Against this backdrop, Macron wants Europe to be more independent in both political positions and military postures. This may not be a bad idea. After all, the world today is treading towards greater multipolarity. And a European pole that champions democratic values, human rights, free trade and respect for international laws and agreements can do a lot of good. Given that Trump’s re-election bid in the US has a good chance of succeeding, Europe differentiating itself more from the American way is certainly not a bad thing.

Of course, Europe must first put its own house in order. There are lots of differences within Europe, especially between the western and eastern wings. And again, there is still Brexit to deal with. But if Europe can unite politically and militarily, and present a clear, robust European position in the world, it will do democracy and the liberal order a world of good.

Heirs and Spares

Many decades ago, as a pre-teen with a budding interest in Western popular music, one of the oddities I came across in my family’s eclectic collection of LPs was the soundtrack of the Broadway version of The King and I.

A number of songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical piqued my interest, but the most amusing highlight for me was a half-sung, half-spoken soliloquy titled A Puzzlement, delivered by Yul Brynner in a cod-oriental accent as the King of Siam.

It was amusing, in part, because of its hopeless — and hopefully anachronistic — misogyny. “What to tell a growing son?” he wonders, before elaborating: “What, for instance, shall I say to him of women?/ Shall I educate him on the ancient lines?/ Shall I tell the boy as far as he is able/ To respect his wives and love his concubines…?”

These potentially offending verses were edited out of the Hollywood version of the musical, but they sprang to mind recently when the latter-day king of Siam, nowadays exclusively known as Thailand, sacked his “noble consort”, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, not long after she had officially been brought into public view, on account of her “ingratitude”.

She had, it is alleged, been caught scheming against the 67-year-old king’s fourth wife, Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayudhya — who herself had been introduced to the Thai public only after Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun had been sworn in as the successor to Bhumibol Adulyadej, the rather more restrained king whose reign stretched across seven decades.

Consorts went out of fashion when royal polygamy was abolished in Thailand in the early 20th century, but Vajiralongkorn, long known as a wayward prince who spent most of his time in Germany (and possibly still does), appears to have no qualms about reviving discredited traditions. Notwith­standing his excesses and extravagances, though, Thai royalty is considered above reproach, and even the mildest criticism can fall foul of lèse-majesté laws that entail imprisonment even for foreign critics.

Japan, the only developed country in the world that still boasts an emperor, is not much better in this respect. The emperor is still deified, and some of the enthronement ceremonies remain secret, as evidenced lately by the ascension of Naruhito to the throne vacated by his father, Akihito.

Commendably, lèse-majesté is not a crime in Britain. Not only is arguably the most prominent monarchy in the world open to criticism, but every now and then it is subject to an open season, as witnessed in the past couple of weeks following Prince Andrew’s public admission of his association with a known pedophile.

The Duke of York never had 10,000 men he could march to the top of the hill and down again, but until his BBC interview, in which he declared that his decision to spend four days staying with a convicted sex offender was “the honourable thing to do”, his status as a royal scion, and a patron of numerous charities, was largely unquestioned, even though his association with Jeffrey Epstein was hardly a secret.

He has now been obliged to step back from his patronage and most other royal ‘duties’ — some media organs never cease to remind us how ‘hardworking’ the most prominent British royals are, as if the occasional mundane speech and snipping a red ribbon somehow compares with a regular full-time job.

The several other monarchies in Europe — including where one would least expect them, in Norway and Sweden and the Netherlands, for example — comparatively sedate and constitutionally constrained. That hardly justifies the retention, however, of throwbacks to a pre-democratic era, even if they mainly serve a ceremonial purpose today.

In the British context, the Windsors serve to some extent as repositories of the nation’s soft power, given that the more idiotic elements of the bourgeoisie in countries from the US to Pakistan go gaga over royal visitations, burnishing their elitism by briefly consorting with the blue blood.

We’re supposed to be living in the 21st century, for heaven’s sake. Sure, the hereditary ‘right’ to power finds other manifestations — generally in the context of the feudal mentality — but in the case, for instance, of Sri Lanka’s deplorable Rajapaksa family, there is always the prospect that they can be voted out.

There are today 28 monarchies in the world, and in some cases — across the Gulf, for example — some kind of revolution will be required to dislodge the absolutism. Across Europe, more peaceful ways are eventually likely to be found of nations acquiring maturity by relegating the absurdity of such entrenched privilege to the past.

King Farouk of Egypt once declared that there would eventually be only five monarchies left — the houses of Spades, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds … and Windsor. As things stand, he may have been right. But there’s no harm in hoping he will be proved wrong within the coming decade or so.

Relevance of India’s 18th century history to the present

William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy – a vivid account of how the East India Company (EIC) rose from small beginnings to take advantage of opportunities thrown its way and grab a subcontinent-sized empire – illuminates a great deal about the complexities of today’s world, and not just in the ways the author recounts. As the world’s first joint stock corporation, which eventually became too big for the Mughal state to handle, EIC’s rapacity is converted by Dalrymple into a cautionary tale about the behaviour of today’s multinationals whose sole principle is the maximisation of shareholders’ profit – whether Amazon, Google or Facebook. You could say ‘move fast and break things’ was EIC’s credo too, long before it was adopted by latterday tech companies.

But EIC made a few things too, before it broke them. And it did so collaboratively with Indians (this includes both the making and the breaking). You might say Calcutta during the first half of the 18th century was the equivalent of today’s Shenzhen. Under EIC’s tutelage, it went from being a few sleepy villages to one of the great trading cities of Asia, through which fabulous wealth flowed. Two things made this possible.

One, Bengal was India’s richest province. Among other things its weavers wove magic, making Bengal the world’s textile manufacturing hub as well as Europe’s single biggest supplier of goods in Asia. Two, much of this trade flowed through Calcutta, which the EIC initially built as a free enterprise zone where commerce flourished, traders could escape extortionate taxation by Bengal governor Murshid Quli Khan, and contracts were enforced.

Additionally Calcutta was a vibrant multicultural, polyglot city where the arts and entertainment flourished, and intermarriage was common. Calcutta also had security, enforced by European arms. This is important because the surrounding countryside was often devastated by Maratha raids. Distinguished Calcutta citizens of the time, such as Nabakrishna Deb or Ramdulal Dey, numbered among refugees from such raids who rose to become business tycoons. Not surprisingly, they worked closely with the British. So did Jagat Seth – described in British chronicles as “the greatest shroff and banker in the whole world”.

However, when Robert Clive defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah and won the keys to the state’s revenue from Mughal emperor Shah Alam, what followed was straightforward plunder. You could call Clive a bit of a combination of Mark Zuckerberg, Bernie Madoff and Nirav Modi. Thanks to Clive’s exertions, Bengal was ruined and its people starved.

EIC’s role as a buccaneering corporation, and Indian businessmen’s collaboration with it, have deeply coloured the Indian nationalist imagination since – making it leery not only of multinational corporations, but also of local businessmen (Jagat Seth assumes the role of Judas in the nationalist narrative) and the free market in general. The doctrine that the state must occupy and control the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy – as well as India’s ‘tilt’ away from the West and towards the socialist bloc when the Soviet Union existed – flows, arguably, from that historical trauma. As recently as 2008 senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj argued that the US-India nuclear deal – which ended India’s nuclear isolation – put Indian sovereignty at stake, likening the deal to EIC obtaining trading permits in India.

However, it’s worth noting some nuances here. EIC may well have been the first MNC, but it was hardly operating under free market conditions – Queen Elizabeth granted it a monopoly of all British trade with India and Asia as far back as 1600. When EIC did permit a limited free market in the area under its control in the first half of the 18th century, Calcutta flourished and grew (as did Bombay and Madras). It’s only after Clive obtained the diwani of Bengal and thus revenue collection powers, that things went rapidly downhill.

EIC became a state in other ways too. Its army grew to 200,000 men by the time it captured Delhi in 1803 – double the size of the British army itself. Besides, it worked in close tandem with the British state, received protection from the British army and navy as well as bailouts when in financial trouble (remember “too big to fail”?). As Dalrymple has noted, by the early 19th century EIC had become a public-private partnership – to be duly “nationalised” after the crushing of the 1857 Revolt.

Thus, while the historical trauma caused by the EIC experience is entirely understandable, that experience may have been misread in the nationalist consciousness. An old-style rent-seeking, command economy with autarkic powers will not necessarily safeguard India against another EIC; instead it could replicate some of the negative aspects of EIC. Look at telecom today, where the mismatch between absurdly high spectrum prices and low tariffs has gutted a once vibrant and booming sector critical to India acquiring a modern infrastructure. It’s state policy and the prioritisation of earning high revenue over the needs of the economy that killed the proverbial golden goose.

The political class has failed to push forward the “India story”, which looked so promising during the last decade. As columnist Swaminathan Aiyar has noted, three sectors of the Indian economy soared to world class in the last decade – auto, pharma and software/BPO – driven by reforms. But with the reform impetus having run dry, no equivalent sector has risen this decade. Unsurprisingly GDP growth has hit the skids, down to 4.5% last quarter. India’s fear of joining trading blocs indicates how uncompetitive it has become, when textiles from Bengal once ruled the world (interestingly, Bangladesh these days seems to be clawing back some of Bengal’s former position as a textile trading power).

“Learning from history” doesn’t always work; we may learn the wrong lessons. We need to set aside colonial traumas and move past them – harking back, instead, to India’s formidable pre-colonial past as a trading power

Sunday Special: Meet ‘Musturbation’-When Your Thoughts Wipe The Floor With You

Think of yourself and ask if you’re among the legions of people with a psychological disease known as “musturbation”—coined by the late psychologist Albert Ellis to remind you when you’re bowing to the oppressive pressures of the workplace and your negative self-talk—also known as “shoulding”on yourself. If you suffer from this malady, you have a relentless voice that lives in your brain, ruling your mind and life, bludgeoning you with oppressive words such as must, should, ought, and have to: “I must win that contract”; “I have to get that promotion”; “I should be a better boss”; “People must do as I say”; “Coworkers must see my point of view”; “I should have done a better job on that project”; “My job must be easier than this.” Sound familiar? I thought so.

Meet “musturbation.”

When you believe everything you think, you torture yourself with tremendous pressure that can

To be successful in your career, you need job skills, but today’s hustle workplace culture requires more: deeper life skills such as the ability to scale obstacles, handle acceleration pressures and accommodate to constant change. Many of these skills arise from the manner in which you treat yourself inside your skin. Your thoughts will wipe the floor with you if you let them. They will focus on what’s wrong, who angered or disappointed you and who hurt you. If you let your thoughts focus on what went wrong or what will go wrong or disappoint you, you will be miserable.

“Musturbation”: Assault And Battery

Musturbation never rests and follows you 24/7 wherever you go. It knows where you live and where to find you. And it does. That booming eviscerating voice blinks in your brain like a neon sign and kicks you around, reminding you of your flaws and defeats, making you feel as though you’re constantly struggling. Do you hear it? It could be attacking you right now with something like, “You must be all things to all people.” From the wings of your lizard brain, the cells of your body hear the demand, throw up their hands, and yell “Holy cow!” They drench you in a cocktail of neuro-peptides that cause you to react to the imagined threat in a matter of seconds.

You can feel the exact moment your lizard brain dumps a tonic of heart-pounding enzymes into your bloodstream. The surging adrenaline and cortisol act like a tidal wave, hijacking your thoughts and leaving your emotions to rush to action. You dig your heels in, try harder and immerse yourself in reactions that mire you deeper into the problem. But it’s never enough. Your musturbation’s self-imposed mandatory rules create an inner prison that keeps you trapped. When inevitably the world and other people don’t conform to its rules, it drives your outlook, upset feelings and actions. Ultimately, the continued assault and battery on your brain whittle you down to a stub, undermine your happiness and success and lead to decision fatigue, stress and burnout.

Mother Nature’s Elegant Design

Mother Nature designed your lizard brain with musturbation to keep you safe from harm at all costs. In protecting you, ironically it cages you by overestimating risks and exaggerating judgments about yourself and other people and situations. Threatening situations grab your musturbation’s attention pushing its buttons so you can survive. Your job is to go beyond survival mode and avoid taking the bait every time a “must” clobbers you.

Neuroscientists have an old saying: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” By taking a different tack when you hear the musturbation’s pressure, you can rewire the way you treat yourself by speaking to yourself in a more supportive way. With some dedication to changing your old self-talk, you can change the way your brain fires in the moment. This is known as neuroplasticity. In the same way, a cut on your hand regenerates new healing tissue, the pliability of the brain makes it possible to rewire connections of neurons to adapt more positively under pressure.

Make Peace With Your “‘Musts”’ And “‘Shoulds”’

The solution? Befriend your musturbation. No, I haven’t been sniffing the ink cartridge in my computer. Studies show when you come down hard on yourself, it reduces your motivation and chances of success. It’s counter-intuitive but just as easy to build yourself up as it is to tear yourself down. You can’t get rid of your musturbation anyway because you can’t get rid of yourself. So the solution is to be for you—not against you, but for you. If not, then who will be for you? That sounds simple enough, but chances are you’re not used to being for yourself. If you’re like most people, your musturbation strikes with such lightning speed that it runs roughshod over your awareness, and you don’t even realize it’s there.

First of all, musturbation isn’t you; it’s a part of you—not all of you. It’s the lowercase “self.” What a relief. But if it isn’t you, who are you, then? You’re the Self with a capital “S”—the one who hears and sees the lowercase “self”—the one who speaks back to it when it pops up. Try holding it at arm’s length and listen to it with a dispassionate ear as a part of you—not as you. Imagine someone scolding you over your cell phone, and you hold the phone away from your ear. In the same way, listening to the message from afar gives you distance from it and keeps you from clobbering yourself. Instead of fighting your musturbation or pushing it away, observe it with curiosity much as you might notice a blemish on your hand. Then try talking to it as a separate part of you.

I know, I know. Sounds crazy, right? We used to say that people who talk to themselves were crazy. But now we know the opposite is true: inner self-talk with loving kindness is one of the most effective mental health tools available to help you master your psyche and heal your mind from the abusive self-talk. Try acknowledging the voice with something like, “What’s up musturbation? I see you’re on a roll today,” and watch what happens.

Cultivate A Heavy Dose Of Self-Compassion

When you’re frazzled and start to sizzle, you can avoid hotheaded action and cool down your lizard brain with self-compassion. As you bring a compassionate voice, your prefrontal cortex comes back online and offers an impartial, objective perspective on the thoughts. Once you get in the habit of letting the musturbation come and go without fighting, personalizing or ignoring it, you develop more self-kindness to chill its voice.

Studies show that self-encouragement and self-support are game changers. The more self-compassion you bring, the greater your emotional arsenal, happiness and success. Self-compassion is like a best friend that talks you off the ledge, bounces you back when you feel disheartened and propels you closer to your goals. Pep talks, affirmations or an arm around your shoulder are good medicine for this dis-ease. I don’t mean someone else’s arm. I mean your own capital Self’s supportive arm can be a huge Rx for healing the inner oppression. When you self-soothe through letdowns—instead of attacking yourself—you feel better and cultivate the confidence and courage to face life’s many outside challenges.

Replacing mandatory statements with empowering words puts you in charge instead of at the mercy of situations, and it enhances your well-being. By asking if your self-talk is compassionate or oppressive, you become more aware of what you require of yourself and can choose more supportive, compassionate words: “I can do my best to win that contract” or “Although my job isn’t always easy, I can still meet its challenges.”

It’s A No-Brainer

Don’t let your thoughts run roughshod over you. Take charge of them. Next time something goes wrong or someone angers or disappoints you, be mindful of whether your self-talk is compassionate or oppressive and become aware of what it requires of you. If “Musturbation” is blasting you, choose more supportive, comforting words such as “I can”; “I want to;” “I plan to;” or “I choose to.” Once you realize the voice isn’t you and you don’t have to live up to its demands, you can take a breath, step back and chill. By intentionally bringing your awareness to threatening situations, you create a more chilled life inside and out. And you will enjoy mindful productivity, higher job performance and greater well-being.

Remembering Pearl Harbour

Many a time, it is important to remember major events as they tell the story of fear and the tale of preemptive action that might spell disaster. Pearl Harbour tale is one of those. It changed the course of war.

Although today is the Pearl harbour Remembrance day, we also heard of Pearl Harbour earlier this week, (on Wednesday, December 4), when a United States sailor shot dead two civilian shipyard workers at the Pearl Harbour Naval Shipyard in Hawaii and injured another before killing himself. The incident happened days ahead of Pearl Harbour Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the horrific attack on the naval base by Japan on this day (Saturday) 78 years ago during World War II.

Pearl Harbour Day is important and very relevant since it was the day when the US perforce became an active belligerent in the war and also because the theater of war that was till then confined to Europe extended to Asia. This day was also the precursor to the infamous atomic bombs being dropped on innocent residents of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

At about 7:55 am on December 7, 1941, about 180 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbour on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. This became the turning point in the war that was now deemed to be a war of civilizations- the forces of totalitarianism on one side, and presumed democratic forces on the other. I am saying presumed, as Stalin was a major ally of the US at that time.

Significantly, in December 2016, Shinzo Abe became the first sitting Japanese Prime Minister to visit Pearl Harbour.

Events leading to the attack on Pearl Harbour

Before Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, relations between the US and Japan were already worsening. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and, in 1937, it invaded China, sending alarm bells ringing in the US and other Western powers about Japan’s manifest expansionist agenda.

Between December 1937 and January 1938, an episode which is referred to as the “Nanking Massacre” or the “Rape of Nanking”, occurred — Japanese soldiers killed and raped Chinese civilians and combatants.

Japanese historians estimate that anywhere between tens of thousands and 200,000 Chinese were killed. According to estimates by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, over 200,000 Chinese people were killed, and roughly 20,000 Chinese women were raped by Japanese soldiers. These figures do not include the bodies that were destroyed by burning or were thrown into the Yangtze River. According to the Nanjing War Criminals Tribunal, “at least 300,000 Chinese were killed”.

The US was against Japan’s aggression in China and imposed economic sanctions and trade embargoes after its invasion. Japan was reliant on imports for oil and other natural resources — this was one of the reasons why it invaded China, and later French Indo-China (present day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). The intention was to take control of the major Chinese ports to have access to resources such as iron, rubber, tin, and most importantly, oil. In July 1941, the US ceased exporting oil to Japan.

Negotiations between the two countries ended with the “Hull Note”, the final proposal delivered to Japan by the US. Essentially, the US wanted Japan to withdraw from China without any conditions.

Ultimately, the negotiations did not lead to any concrete results, following which Japan set out to plan its task for Pearl Harbour in the last week of November, 1941. Japan considered the attack to be a preventive measure against the US interfering with Japan’s plans to carry out military operations in some parts of Southeast Asia.

About 7.55 am on December 7, 1941, about 180 aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbour on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

The bombing killed over 2,300 Americans, and destroyed the battleships USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma. Roughly 160 aircraft were destroyed, and 150 were damaged. The Naval officer at Pearl Harbour sent a hurried dispatch to the fleet units and major Navy commands that morning, “AIR RAID ON PEARL HARBOR X THIS IS NOT DRILL.”

Pearl Harbour Today

Today, the Pearl Harbour is home to the USS Arizona memorial, the Battleship Missouri, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. It is also a working Joint Naval and Air Force Base.

Overall, the eight islands of Hawaii have 11 military bases, including Pearl Harbour.

In 2010, Pearl Harbour was combined with Hickam Air Force Base to create the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and is home to over 18,000 service members. It is also visited by over 2 million visitors annually.

Millennial-Phone Relationship Changing The Economy

For a generation that came of age on memes, meticulously curated social media documentation, and online forums, there’s been talk of a new antidote for internet ennui: It’s called real life.

The average American spends 5.4 hours a day on their phone. Excessive use of the internet and mobile devices have been linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression as well as interpersonal conflict. 

Our current relationship with technology is not making us happy. It’s no wonder that more millennials are turning to real life experiences as a way to escape their social feeds and inboxes. 

This explains the popular trend of digital detoxing. In a UK study, 71% of college students reported having to take a break from social media. Celebrities like Kanye West, Lindsay Lohan, and Justin Bieber—all cultural bastions of the social media universe—have been public about needing to unplug for a period of time at some point, allegedly to spend some time experiencing the world in real life (IRL).

At the current rate, IRL, location-based experiences are projected to become a $12 billion dollar industry by 2023.

It’s a cycle 

When people disconnect, whether it’s for an afternoon or a week-long retreat, it leaves a space in which a person is usually occupied by the stimulation of social media. When this happens, embodied experiences offer a sense of novelty, adventure, and above all, physicality. Immersing yourself in nature, sweating alongside other people in a workout class, and experiencing direct physical contact with your environment with no filter brings a reprieve from an everyday reality that’s become increasingly mediated by technology. Trends show more consumers want extreme physical experiences. In some cases, they want potentially painful experiences, whether it’s the freezing cold temperatures of cryotherapy or the feeling of intense muscle exhaustion from pushing your body to its limits while running a race.

72% of millennials prefer to spend money to engage in live events instead of on material possessions. 

Welcome to the experience economy.

In recent years, millennials have fueled this rapidly expanding sector of IRL experiences in which 72% of them prefer to spend their money to engage in live events instead of on material possessions—or even virtual ones.

Cultural anthropologists and marketing theorists Rebecca Scott, Julien Cayla, and Bernard Cova link consumers’ demand for extraordinary and extenuating experiences to a desire to temporarily suspend the pressures of self-actualization.

In real life, the average person spends 30 to 40% of their time talking about themselves; online that figure jumps to 80%.

In our highly individualized Western society, performing the self can feel like a burden. This is especially true in today’s era of the personal brand when everyone is expected to constantly broadcast an autobiographical narrative.

Posting → sharing → pleasure → community 

There’s a much more complex relationship going on between our IRL experiences and our URL activity, however. While consumers are flocking to experiences to escape the constant buzzing of their phones and the more existential pressures of social media (even if temporarily), they also find pleasure in broadcasting their enjoyment of these experiences online.

Millennials are the “pics or it didn’t happen” generation, and studies have found that sharing photos increases their enjoyment of experiences. The act of self-disclosure, as well as validating feedback in the form of likes both, trigger the release of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain. This chemical reaction is a big part of why social media can be so addictive.

For pleasure-seeking consumers, there’s a potential for a multi-layer high; first the rush of adrenaline from participating in extreme experiences like skydiving, surfing, or outdoor racing, then a second rush of dopamine when sharing a photo or posting online about the experience, compounded by a flood of engagement when others like, comment, and share.

At Spartan, where I oversee brand strategy for our obstacle course programs, we see this cycle firsthand as we scrutinize the cultural trends that help build community both on and offline.

“Digital detox” or “Pics or it didn’t happen”? 

As big as the IRL economy is, and as mammoth as experts project it will be, it’s unrealistic to completely unplug.

To suggest that it would make us happier to do so completely ignores the sense of pleasure and connection that social media provides. The lines between our online and offline realities are too blurred, and too dependent on one another, and pitting the two against each other denies the increasingly hybrid way we move through the world.

Social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson discusses this idea of digital dualism: “The notion of the offline as real and authentic is a recent invention, corresponding with the rise of the online. If we can fix this false separation and view the digital and physical as enmeshed, we will understand that what we do while connected is inseparable from what we do when disconnected.”

If we’re going to think about how balance, fulfillment, and meaningful connection can be achieved in the near future, we first must be realistic about the interrelated nature of both our virtual and IRL experiences.

It’s complicated 

Digital dualism means millennials today simultaneously want opportunities to temporarily escape the tyranny and pressures of their mobile devices, and they also want to be able to share online photos and videos of how much fun they’re having offline.

And brands are responding to these complicated demands by providing experiences that are at once immersive and photogenic.

Engaging experiences are being punctuated with periodic photo opportunities. We know that a physical store (think Glossier’s lauded Los Angeles branch) or a direct-to-consumer product (reviews of the women’s vitamin brand Ritual describe the supplements as “Instagram-friendly” as a distinguishing feature) can easily garner as much publicity by creating an Instagramable aesthetic as it does with the actual merchandise being sold.

The goal from a business standpoint is to design experiences that offer balance with an opportunity to make a connection both on and offline.

Succeeding in the experience economy requires a careful allegation of resources to curate meaning and authenticity, and to make it sunning enough to share in a square-dimension frame.

At Spartan, for example, we learn that events like our obstacle course races require a participant’s full attention and commitment to give racers an escape from their screens; but a branded step-and-repeat at the finish line gives them an opportunity to pose for photos, reinforcing and memorializing the connection made through a shared experience.

It’s time to move beyond conversations that villainize phones and screens as the problem. Millennials are navigating a new sense of self, and it’s complicated.

But it’s only bound to get more complicated and fraught as younger generations enter the consumer market with entirely new demands and desires. If we want our businesses and products to keep growing with the IRL market, we better keep listening.

India Dominates Next Two Decades if it Taps Human Capital Properly

With an average age of 29 years, India will be the world’s youngest nation in 2020. As per Economic Survey 2018-19, the share of working age population will increase from 50.5% in 2011 to 59% in 2041, thereby adding about 14 crore to the workforce in 20 years.

The big, bold “national” reforms like GST, Digital India, IBC, etc have resulted in India’s ranking in Ease of Doing Business improve by 79 places to 63rd in 2019, a record for a major economy. However, development of Indian youth is holding us back when it comes to India’s ranking on UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) or WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The draft New Education Policy (NEP 2019) is one of the most comprehensive efforts India has seen, to review the state of education. Having said so, is the policy bold enough for us to capitalise on the youngest nation tag? Some bold ideas for development of human capital can include the following.

First, One Nation, One Education Board. Can NEP 2019 really achieve desired outcomes at secondary and higher secondary levels if we continue with existing structure of 60+ state, autonomous and central education boards with varied curriculum and delivery methodologies? Shouldn’t we define one secondary and senior secondary board structure for India? Given that more than 2 crore students take Class XII exam every year a unified secondary school curriculum based on skills, entrepreneurial mindset and inter-disciplinary learnings can seed the key attributes in our youth at the school level.

Second, unification of ministries of skills and human resource development. National Skill Development Policy estimates only 5% of Indian workforce having gone through formal skill training, extremely low when compared to South Korea (96%) and Germany (75%). The need of the hour is to unify the two relevant ministries to integrate skills as a core pillar of education. We already have Germany and Australia as examples where students can earn skill-based credits equivalent to the academic system at school or college level.

Third, if all higher education (HE) institutions are national assets producing knowledge and human resources for the nation, does it make sense to continue categorising HE institutions as central or state institutions? If all are going to be governed by central regulators like UGC, AICTE, MCI, BCI, etc shouldn’t private HE institutions be allowed to operate across India under one licence? Besides reducing proliferation of suboptimal institutions, this will also bring in educational best practices. Further, bilateral knowledge agreements on the lines of bilateral trade agreements should be aggressively pursued including setting up of branch campuses, portability of credits, exchange of students and faculty, thereby bringing much need internationalisation and foreign students to India.

Fourth, India is consistently improving its ranking on Global Innovation Index and currently stands at 52nd place. While suggestion of National Research Foundation and inclusion of research under CSR are welcome steps, excluding private HE institutions from such initiatives is counterproductive as private HE institutions currently support more than 70% of total HE enrolments in India. On the same lines, should HE institutions raising overseas research funding be subject to FCRA regulations as overseas funding for R&D projects can help bridge the low investments in R&D, aggregating to just 0.8% of GDP in India (compared to 2% in China).

Fifth, India’s GER of 26% in higher education implies that for every student who enrols in a HE institution, there are three such students who couldn’t enrol. Online or distance education is a cost-effective mode to provide access to such students, numbering 1 crore every year, to complete higher education while pursuing other occupations. The current regulations allow only NAAC A+ accredited institutions to offer such education. The competencies and skill sets required for online and distance education are completely different from conventional education and NAAC ratings, hence, don’t represent the relevant competencies. Policies should enable participation of HE institutions with relevant infrastructure for online and distance education, and focus on outcomes.

There is an urgent need to prepare an employable workforce for the coming decades, for an Asean-like ‘economic miracle’ which can create a ‘virtuous cycle’ of increased savings, higher investment in human resources, higher productivity and higher growth rates. Benjamin Franklin articulated this very well, when he said “investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

Saturday Special: Intelligent People Are Happiest Alone

In a recently published study about how our ancestral needs impact our modern feelings, researchers uncovered something that will surprise a few among the highly intelligent. While most people are happier when they’re surrounded by friends, smart people are happier when they’re not.

The researchers, Norman P. Li and Satoshi Kanazawa, of the Singapore Management University, Singapore and the London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, respectively, were investigating the “savannah theory” of happiness.

The savannah theory — also called the “evolutionary legacy hypothesis” and the “mismatch hypothesis” — posits that we react to circumstances as our ancestors would, having evolved psychologically based on our ancestors’ needs in the days when humankind lived on the savannah.

The study analyzed data from interviews conducted by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) in 2001-2002 with 15,197 individuals aged 18–28. The researchers looked for a correlation between where an interviewee lived — in a rural or urban area — and his or her life satisfaction. They were interested in assessing how population density and friendships affect happiness.

How We Feel About Being in Large Groups

The study found that people in general were less happy in areas of greater population density. The report’s authors see this is as support for the savannah theory because we would naturally feel uneasy in larger groups if — as evidence they cite suggests — our brains evolved for functioning in groups of about 150 people:

  • Comparing the size of our neocortex to other primates and the sizes of the groups in which they dwell suggests the natural size of a human group is 150 people (Dunbar, 1992).
  • Computer simulations show that the evolution of risk aversion happens only in groups of about 150 people (Hintze, Olson, Adami, & Hertwig, 2013).
  • The average size of modern hunter-gatherer societies is 148.4 people (Dunbar, 1993).
  • Neolithic villages in Mesopotamia had from 150–200 people (Oates, 1977).
  • When a group of people exceeds 150-200 people, it will tend to break into two in order to facilitate greater cooperation and reciprocity among its members (Chagnon, 1979).
  • The average personal network, as suggested by the typical number of holiday cards sent per person per year, is 153.5 people (Hill & Dunbar, 2003).

The study discovered, though, that the negative effect of the presence of lots of people is more pronounced among people of average intelligence. They propose that our smartest ancestors were better able to adapt to larger groups on the savannah due to a greater strategic flexibility and innate ingenuity, and so their descendants feel less stressed by urban environments today.

You’ve Got to Have Friends. Or Not.

While it seems self-evident that good friendships increase life satisfaction in most people, Li and Satoshi and Kanazawa note, surprisingly, that they know of only a single study that looked at the reason why this is true, and which concluded friendships satisfy psychological needs such as relatedness, the need to be needed, and an outlet for sharing experiences. Still, the reason a person has those needs remains unexplained.

Li and Kanazawa feel that we need look no further than the savannah. They say that friendships/alliances were vital for survival, in that they facilitated group hunting and food sharing, reproduction, and even group child-rearing.

The data they analyzed supports the assumption that good friendships — and a few good ones is better than lots of weaker ones — do significantly increase life satisfaction for most people.

In highly intelligent people, though, the finding is reversed: Smart people feel happier alone than when others, even good friends, are around. A “healthy” social life actually leaves highly intelligent people with less life satisfaction. Is it because their desires are more aspirational and goal-oriented, and other people are annoyingly distracting?

However, just in case this makes too much sense, the study also found that spending more time socializing with friends is actually an indicator of higher intelligence! This baffling contradiction is counter-intuitive, at least. Unless these smart people are not so much social as they are masochistic.Report

Over the last three decades, Indians learned to trust more & welcome difference

The people of India were never xenophobic. But today, they are also trusting of strangers and more welcoming of difference than ever before. These changes become visible when we look at the numerous things that are taken for granted nowadays in everyday life.

The new trust is based on the emergence of robust institutional mechanisms that foster trust. The Aadhaar system is just one of those new institutions. Come to think of it, the disaster that happened around the PMC Bank was rooted in our outdated notions of trusting face-to-face interactions based on being part of the same ethnic group, the same caste, religion, friendship circle or what-have-you.

Till three decades ago, the world outside the small town, mohalla, village or immediate family circle barely affected our lives. Our circle of trust was limited to the people with whom we were directly connected. The things we could possibly do were also limited to this immediate circle. Not so, any more.

Till the 1990s, young people had little more than the limited and often incorrect advice of parents and friends. The parents of a bright student, especially a girl from say Chandigarh, often hesitated in sending their child to study in a well-known institution like an IIT at Kanpur or Chennai, merely because they did not have any relatives in that location.

When these young people did pick up jobs in far off mega-cities their companies housed them in chummeries, incurring heavy costs because, the city itself had little to offer by way of logistical support for living for a single, inexperienced and not very rich young person. Today chummeries have given way to shared flats which are hired by young people who come together through some social media platform, for the common purpose of hiring a flat. The flat owner then signs a separate contract with each of them.

Each of the flat-mates works in a different company, maintains a different time of coming in and going out. This kind of trust was simply not visible till recently. These young people have no need to search for a maid. She just arrives; to clean up and cook for the flat-mates. In fact she is not a ‘servant’ any more but, a ‘service provider’, as much of a professional as any.

In case any repair is needed, a local repairman who has been located through an internet service arrives after all the flat-mates have gone off to work, completes the repair work and gets paid through an application like Bhim. The inexorable professionalisation of everyday jobs, associated upward social mobility and increase in trust have gone unnoticed.

In the 1960s the central leadership of India, immersed in povertarianism, ignored the chance of developing a television network for India in the belief that TV was a luxury for the rich and powerful. Phones were another so-called item of luxury. Today every family has a TV connection and anyone who has not made a conscious effort to keep away, has a phone connection that is internet enabled.

In fact not having a TV has become a sign of distinction among the hoity-toity. While labour contractors and farmers across the country attract workers to their camps with offers of free TV, internet and telephone connectivity. The TV and telephone keep these workers informed about happenings in the wider world.

For a few years, blowing up a handful of instances out of proportion did result in such ease of access to information being castigated for instigating social violence.  People soon realised that easily available information could also mislead, misguide. People learnt how to identify facts, ignore rumour and form their own conclusions without the help of and mediation by experts or charismatic leaders. Even the fear of hyper-nationalism being fuelled by new technologies has proven to be exaggerated after the election results of last month.

The market place itself has changed. Few people today remember how one of the major task of housewives used to be to winnow out bits of stone and husk from dal and chawal before cooking. Today the neighbourhood grocery store would quickly lose its customers if their dal, chawal needed that kind of cleaning.

The availability of institutional sources of information, has expanded the circle of trust for people. Producers from often remote places are able to retail their goods across the country and the world by using the internet bazaar. We also know of people who sold and purchased real estate worth many lakhs without involving real estate dealers, without physically ever meeting each other, except when the final registry had to be done.

The mindscape of trust has effectively transformed the routines of daily life and empowered human beings in innumerable ways. Friends need not be limited to those whom we meet in school, college or our jobs; a social media account can work wonders. In case anyone is unhappy on a job, the possibility of finding an alternate placement through internet searches, provides choices. Mundane activities like buying vegetables, kirana, clothes, shoes have not only become easier, the huge variety available enables better buying decisions.

Concomitantly, businesses have been liberated from the need to depend exclusively on dealer networks, to sell their products. Millions of small and medium enterprises sell their goods and find potential customers without the intercession of a distributor or retailer. The potential increase in profits and productivity is incalculable.

The Duplicity of US’s Hong Kong Act

The recent decision of the US to pass a legislation called the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that mandates sanctioning of Chinese and Hong Kong officials involved in human rights abuses yet again reeks of American double standards. It is clear that Washington is enjoying the chaos in Hong Kong and the resulting embarrassment to China. But this is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The protests in Hong Kong have gone on since June and have become increasingly violent. Do the Hongkongers have a right to protest? Of course they do. But they should do so peacefully without indulging in arson, vandalism and other destructive activities.

The moment a mass movement takes recourse to violence it loses the moral high ground. And in that scenario, the state will be compelled to undertake police action to restore law and order. Let’s say Hong Kong-like protests had happened in the US with protesters rampaging through an American city. Would the American police just idly stand by and allow protesters to engage in vandalism and arson? We all know the answer to that given the trigger-happy record of the American police.

Similarly, if there were violent protests in America where people demonstrated with Chinese or Russian flags and called for the resignation of the US president and poured scorn on Americans in general, would American law enforcement agencies tolerate this or arrest the protesters and book them for treason? What would happen if the shoe was on the other foot? I am all for the democratic right to protest peacefully. And I am also against police brutality. But when protesters turn violent, the state has an obligation to restore law and order.

Then there is the issue of foreign instigation. Let’s say there are violent protests in India and a foreign government passes a law sanctioning Indian officials for taking action in the line of duty. Will the Indian government take this lying down or will it condemn such foreign interference? And let’s face it, the US has a well-established history of interfering in the internal workings of other countries. On human rights, the US can hardly take the moral high ground when the Trump administration held nearly 70,000 migrant children away from their parents this year, many of whom endured sexual abuse. Where was the Trump administration’s sense of human rights when it announced that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank illegal? Where were human rights when American soldiers abused Iraqi POWs in Abu Ghraib?

What is happening in Hong Kong is for the Hongkongers and Chinese authorities to sort out. Already the protesters have scored a huge victory in sweeping the recent district council elections in that city. Plus, Hong Kong authorities have already withdrawn the controversial extradition bill that started the protests in the first place. It is now for the protesters and the Chinese government to negotiate an end to the turmoil in a fair manner. For the US to be seen to be interfering here – as in other instances in the past – is totally uncalled for.

Weekend Special: Israel -The Nation of Innovation

Only a short flight separates Tel Aviv from many European capitals, but the seaside city’s leadership on innovation and its bustling start-up culture can make it seem worlds away. Ranked sixth in the world by Start-Up Genome’s Start-Up Ecosystem Rankings in 2019, Israel has been recognized internationally as the start-up nation, punching above its weight for a country with a population of only 8 million.

How does this tiny nation manage to be so creative? And if some of these factors are specific to its unique culture, is there anything other countries can replicate?

The Digital Europe initiative is committed to making a pan-European approach to innovation and entrepreneurship possible. To this end, the initiative sent a delegation to meet with Israeli founders, academics and corporates, as well as leadership from the Israeli Innovation Authority (IIA), to support collaboration between Europe’s many digital hubs—and learn how a touch of the “yi-hi-ye be-se-der” (Hebrew for “everything will be alright”) mindset might be applied in Europe.

From those meetings, here are five lessons from Israel for European innovators and policymakers. This can also be useful for countries like India and Canada, but Canada is hell bent on antagonizing Israel under present leadership.

1. Reverse innovation model

The IIA approaches innovation by understanding the challenge first, and then working backwards to source solutions. This is the reverse innovation model. For example, established corporations are invited to pitch their challenges to start-ups. This promotes the formation of joint ventures (sometimes between competing firms) to address them.

One example is the Floor, a fintech accelerator founded jointly by international banks including HSBC, Deutsche Bank, RBS and Santander. The Floor uses the reverse innovation model to source challenges from the banks and then searches the market for relevant start-ups, incubating and supporting those working on potential solutions. They speak of providing “helpful money”, where financing and mentoring go hand-in-hand.

2. Technical excellence + tenacity

Just days after the public announcement of the first 3D-printed human heart, Professor Tal Dvir discussed the research and development process that lead to the breakthrough. However, his message was focused not only on success, but also on the need to do more and go further.

A similar message came from Space IL which attempted the first Israeli moon landing. After nine years of work and millions in investment, however, the company failed to complete the mission as their unmanned spacecraft successfully achieved orbit but crashed upon landing. Space IL (supported by its investors and the Israeli government) immediately announced a second attempt to become the fourth nation on the moon, emphasizing understanding the cause of failure meant there was no reason not to try one more time.

3. Local support with global ambition

There is need to think globally from day one, while emphasizing responsibility to the local community. In the close-knit world of Israeli tech, even global companies give back. The new Amazon Web Services headquarters in Tel Aviv has an entire floor available to the public for organizing community events, while Intel—the largest employer in Israel—actively supports diversity programmes. Start-ups like Moovit, an Israeli mobility-as-a-service company, immediately consider global expansion, relying on voluntary “mooviters” to map local transit information in cities, both locally and worldwide, that would be otherwise underserved.

The size of their domestic and regional market doesn’t deter founders but instead acts to encourage them to build businesses that are scalable across borders. This manifests in ways such as language support built into products from the beginning. As a result, the businesses that survive are robust and suited for breaking down the early barriers to entry in foreign markets.

4. Give responsibility to youth

Army service is an undeniable cultural factor in Israel. But the most common explanation for its significance for entrepreneurship is not related to defence, but rather to the systematic scanning of schools for the country’s best talent, and the following obligation to take responsibility early and to be held accountable. In a country in which nearly 45% of the population is under 24, this is no small matter. Schools apply the same rationale, teaching kids responsibility for their actions, even if it’s as simple as doing community service and keeping the school clean. This gives children agency and higher aspirations.

According to Wolfgang Grundinger, adviser to the German Association of the Digital Economy: “Just as in the Israeli military, where talented individuals in their twenties have the opportunity to be responsible for their own budget and lead teams and projects, other countries should push young leaders to take on responsibility earlier and empower them to lead their countries into a digital future.”

Israel’s disproportionate impact on global innovation also finds its roots in strong links to the world’s highest-performing innovation ecosystems. Europe has everything necessary to build these bridges, internally and externally, and to turn its diversity into a fertile ground for new business.

Unlike Israel, India ( or Canada) doesn’t have to start by attracting multinationals. It already has a large industrial base it only has to tap into. Exposure to disruption and innovation is the best remedy against future shocks.

Nine percent of world’s best inventions this year are made in Israel

Time Magazine published its 100 Best Inventions of 2019 Thursday, and Israeli companies have created nine of them.

Israel’s contribution to making products “that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible” is a hefty one, considering that it ranks only 101st in world population.

In the Social Good category, WaterGen’s water cooler-sized machine can save lives in areas that have no access to the vital liquid by creating it — out of air. Its GENNY appliance “pulls moisture from ambient air to create drinkable water through a patented filtration process,” TIME said, allowing the device to produce up to seven safe-to-drink gallons a day. It also only requires a minimum amount of electricity or solar power to make it work.

In the Accessibility category, OrCam’s MyEye 2 is a “game changer” for those with visual impairments. Weighing less than an ounce, the unobtrusive device can be attached to any pair of glasses. Using artificial intelligence, it can then quietly read out any printed text to its wearer, whether on paper, products, street signs or on screen. It can also instantly identify faces, store items, colors and currency.

For the millions of people around the world who suffer from migraines, Theranica’s Nerivio in the Health Care category could do the trick. Strapped around the upper arm, the $99 wireless device can be turned on as soon as a person feels the headache or migraine begin, and it “electrically stimulates the body’s own neural pathway for tamping down pain signals.”

Tyto Care’s TytoHome is another Health Care winner. It is a handheld device that can do many routine exams that doctors do for patients in their office – but you don’t have to leave the house. It measures vital signs, and has adapters that can check your ears, throat, skin and even lungs. To get instant feedback on this information, it then video-conferences with a doctor in real time.

The Israeli-made Temi made it to the top of the Home category. It is a voice-operated, autonomous personal assistant robot that can navigate around the house on its own and respond to questions and voice commands such as “Call Mom.” It has a touch screen computer “head” and even a small shelf so that someone in the kitchen can send a loved one a cup of coffee in another room.

A product that will only begin testing next year was chosen in the Sustainability category, in the hope that it will work as its inventors hope. Eviation’s Alice is a nine-seat plane that runs completely on electricity and so far has a range of 650 miles. If its lightweight design proves itself, larger commercial aircraft may significantly reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint in the not-too-distant future.

ECOncrete was picked for the Design category, for its unique “biomimicry” building technique that “replace[s] intrusive concrete infrastructure, from sea walls to seafloor mats, with products that blend in with their surroundings.”

Lastly, two Israeli items made the Special Mentions group. A robot called ElliQ is a social companion for the elderly, and online insurer Lemonade will pay out any leftover money from an insurance claim to charities that its customers want to support

Jhansi’s Lakshmibai: Mutiny heroine or a reluctant rebel?

Defeat in battles and consequent humiliations fuel nationalism as much as victories and triumphs of the past. Indian idolization of some reputed names is an outstanding example.

Having been a fugitive from British forces for three months, on June 17, 1858, Lakhshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, made a desperate last stand against her English pursuers at Phoolbagh sector near Scindia’s imposing Gwalior fort.

She dashed into action and as she clashed with soldiers of the Eighth Hussars on the road between Kotah-ki-Sarai and Gwalior, she was struck and wounded by one of them. The wounds proved fatal. Her heroic struggle was at an end.

This single act of valour would be indelibly imprinted on the hearts and minds of Indians for generations, building in the process the legend of the warrior-queen: an unyielding woman who took on the British policy of the “doctrine of lapse” from the time Jhansi was eyed for a take-over in 1853.

Despite uneasy calm, no stirrings of a revolt

Lakshmibai (she was named Manikarnika after her birth in Benaras) and Gangadhar Rao, the raja of Jhansi, adopted Anand Rao (renamed Damodar Rao) in 1851 after their biological child passed away earlier that year.

When the raja died in 1853, the British refused to recognise Damodar Rao’s claims and applied the doctrine of lapse before annexing the small principality in Bundelkhand to its territories in May 1854. No resistance was offered against the annexation. Lakshmibai was accorded a pension of Rs60,000 and was permitted to live in the palace besides being placed outside the jurisdiction of British courts and the police.

Her troops were dismissed and soldiers of the 12th Bengal Native Infantry Regiment were deployed to garrison the fort. She appealed twice to Governor-General Dalhousie who paid no attention to her entreaties.

However, “Everything went on peacefully and the new rulers saw no cause of anxiety”, wrote historian Surendra Nath Sen in 1857, which was published by the Indian government in observance of the centenary of the Indian mutiny.

The rani lent no assistance to mutineers

Indian and British historians alike have chronicled that when the mutiny broke in Meerut cantonment on May 10, followed by the uprising in Delhi the next day, Company officials perceived no trouble among the sepoys in Jhansi.

In fact, Lakshmibai petitioned the Company’s political agent in Jhansi Captain Alexander Skene to raise troops that could protect her as well as English interests in the kingdom. She persisted with her appeals for a better deal for Damodar Rao even after mutinous disturbances broke out in Jhansi on June 5, 1857.

In her account of the mutiny to the commissioner W C Erskine, Lakshmibai complained that she paid large sums of money to the mutineers when they threatened to blow up her palace with guns. She deplored the June 8 massacre of several British men and women. Erskine, in his correspondence with Fort William, noted that the Rani had “in no way lent assistance to the mutineers.”

But as the contagion of the revolt spread across Bundelkhand, the British had begun to suspect — erroneously — Lakshmibai’s role in the massacre. At the same time, the expulsion of the British from Jhansi had given ideas to the surrounding Bundela chieftains who found this an opportune moment to invade Jhansi. In fact, in the course of the mutiny, the Rajput chiefs of Orchha and Datia attacked Jhansi.

It was while repulsing these attacks that Lakshmibai is said to have come in contact with some of the better known rebel leaders like Dhondu Panth (more famously known as Nana Sahib) and Tatiya Tope who seem to have played a significant role in turning her around. This is evident from the moment of Lakshmibai’s flight from Jhansi to Konch and Kalpi and finally to Gwalior where she was killed.

History’s Attempts to Glorify Rani Lakshmibai

Indian nationalists were “anxious to depict” Lakshmibai as one of the organisers of the revolt and “therefore heroine of the first war of independence”.

A section of British officialdom of the time expressed guilt but there were others in England who projected her as a “treacherous Jezebel”. There is no doubt that barring a few committed rebel leaders such as Ahmadullah and Tatiya Tope, a majority of men who led the insurgents did so for personal reasons. They rose against the British when their personal interests were affected.

As Sen wrote, “In spite of her best efforts to keep on friendly terms with the British she was driven by tortuous diplomacy to the other camp”. Which makes her an unwilling, even reluctant, rebel.

Canada's Free Ride to Defence Nearing End

Justin Trudeau in a statement made at the end of NATO meeting said: “For 70 years, NATO has been fundamental to Canada’s security and defence, and we remain committed to this Alliance. In recent years, Canada has strengthened its engagement in NATO, taking on vital leadership roles. Today, Canada is leading NATO missions in Latvia, Iraq, and NATO maritime forces in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, and advancing the Women, Peace, and Security agenda. Canada will continue to pull our weight within NATO, as we work together to keep Canadians safe and build a more peaceful and stable world.”

Hon. Prime Minister seems to be out of sync with reality. He has to accept the inevitable fact that something will eventually knock us out of our complacency — and it’ll take more than a letter from Washington, sadly

The Russian military presence in the Arctic is growing rapidly. Their Arctic region is already more developed than ours, giving them inherent advantages over Canada in a theoretical conflict. 

Canada is rapidly falling behind Russia in its ability to effectively enforce claims to sovereignty over the Arctic. To call our military capability in a vast swath of our own territory ta mere token dangerously overstates our means.

Canada was able to get away with neglecting not just the Arctic but our national defence in general for many, many years. I’m afraid for so many years that it will be an impossible habit to break. But I am not the only one who has noticed. The United States is becoming increasingly frustrated with us. This matters.

It’s hardly breaking the news that the Americans are certainly aware of Canada’s lackluster commitment to defence. That’s been true as long as I’ve been alive. But the problem is becoming increasingly acute. The world was a safe enough place over the last 20 years that we could slack off, contributing meaningfully in Afghanistan, true, with such a small military that that contribution tapped us out. While our military was tied up in Kandahar, we could be reasonably confident we wouldn’t need it elsewhere. And if something flared up, the Americans would have our back.

The world is getting tougher — and we are not adapting. But we can’t be nearly as confident that either of those assumptions hold as true today. The Russian military presence in the Arctic is growing rapidly. Their Arctic region is already more developed than ours, giving them inherent advantages compared to Canada, with our sparse populated North. Those advantages, combined with their military buildup, would leave Canada completely unable to enforce its sovereignty if Russia chose to cause problems for us. China, likewise, is developing its naval power, including Arctic capabilities. Meanwhile, we content ourselves with a few thousand lightly armed rangers and took a bafflingly long time to even replace their rifles — the most fundamental piece of military equipment of all. Our Arctic patrol ships are not capable of year-round Arctic operations and are behind schedule anyway. Talk during the Harper years of building a proper military base in the Arctic is essentially forgotten.

Is Russia about to invade? Of course not. But it’s hard to look around the world today and feel any reassurance that long-held assumptions about our stable geopolitical order and rules-based international system still hold much water. The world is getting tougher — and we are not adapting.

Nor can we assume instantaneous support from the U.S. The Americans, of course, can still be counted on to guard their own self interest. To an extent, that would mean protecting Canada. But it is an extremely open question as to what that extent would be, and what conditions might apply. If Russia did start acting provocatively in the Arctic, the U.S. may simply decide to protect Canada’s North as if it was American territory. What would we say or do? 

Global News reported that the U.S. has sent a stern, frustrated letter to Canada, noting our constantly missed military spending target of two per cent of GDP (all NATO members have pledged to spend that much, most don’t). Canada spends a little more than half of that. Canadian officials will always counter that a percentage of GDP is a poor proxy for actual tangible military contributions to the Western alliance. True. It is also true that in absolute terms, Canada spends more than most members of NATO.

Sure. But Canada is also geographically the second-largest country in the world, and the largest in NATO. We have massive air and sea approaches to patrol and protect. We have legal and moral obligations to provide effective search and rescue capacity over our territory. We are committed to North American air defence with the U.S. We have to be able to meaningfully control our own soil and coasts and airspace while also retaining sufficient military means to contribute meaningfully abroad in the defence of our allies and interests.

We have been lucky in recent decades to only face security challenges that could be dealt with at tremendous geographic remove. We cannot take for granted that that will still be the case in the decades to come. But building up our Forces, both men and materiel, is the work of decades. When it takes 10 or 20 years to procure a ship, you run the risk of needing that ship before it’s ready.

Canada will never be a military juggernaut. But we don’t need to be. Canada, and many of our other allies, spent far too long under the security blanket of the U.S., assuming that it would exist forever. One issue that U.S. President Donald Trump has been consistently right on, at least in big picture terms, is that the U.S. is underwriting the national defence of countries that can absolutely afford to see to more of their own security. Yes, the U.S. has benefited tremendously from its dominant leadership of the West, but we cannot take as a given that that will always be so, even if the Trump presidency is a historic aberration. Isolationism and a skepticism toward international alliances did not begin with President Trump, and we cannot assume they will end with him, whenever that end arrives.

Canada will never be a military juggernaut. But we don’t need to be. There are only two missions we need to be ready for: to assert our sovereignty, with force, if necessary, over our own territory (on land, sea or air) and to assist allies abroad, in a substantial and sustainable way. Canada, today, can probably do a passable job at one of those missions at a time — and even then, only barely.

But you’ve read this all before. I’ve been saying it for years. Something will eventually knock us out of our complacency — and it’ll take more than a letter from Washington, sadly. I hope the blow isn’t too painful when it comes. When it does, we won’t be able to say we weren’t warned.

USSR Phoenix On The Horizon: Russia and Belarus Push Toward Common State

Belarus’s ambassador to Russia said on November 29 that the heads of the two nations are preparing to establish a single government as they work toward building the supranational “Union State of Russia and Belarus” by 2021.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko are working toward a “unified tax legislation, the creation of common markets for oil, gas, and electricity, and the creation of a single Parliament and government with executive authority,” Ambassador Vladimir Syamashka said in an interview with Tut.by.

The push is in accordance with the Union Treaty the two signed in 1999, which aims to merge Russia and its former Soviet neighbor into a two-state federation—with a single flag and military, a single currency, a common market and an integrated judiciary. Over the last two decades, implementation has lagged, but Putin and Lukashenko are eager to make it a reality.

“The presidents agreed that the stated goals are ambitious,” Syamashka said, adding that the two agree that those goals “should not change.” He said 20 of the plan’s 31 disparate roadmaps for bilateral integration have now been “absolutely agreed,” and that the two sides will convene again on December 7 to finalize more of the plan’s steps. “[T]he last word will be for the presidents of the countries,” Syamashka said. “I am convinced that the tasks will be solved.”

Putin, in particular, is eager to bring Belarus under Russia’s control, for three main reasons.

Undoing the ‘Catastrophe’

Early in his presidency, Putin famously called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. The Soviet Union included Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and 11 other republics located in Russia’s periphery. It placed the peoples of these various countries under Russian control.

Putin looks back fondly on the era when all those countries were forged into one under the Soviet hammer. He wishes the Soviet Union had never busted apart. And one of his highest priorities as Russia’s leader has been to hammer as much of it as possible back into place.

Putin’s 2008 pounding of Georgia, which brought 20 percent of the nation back under Russian power, was part of these efforts, as was his 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. And Putin has been applying heat to Ukraine’s southeast for years, bringing it up to forging temperature, in possible preparation for another strike.

As for Belarus, it is already largely forged into Russia. The two militaries have close ties. Belarus is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (csto) and the Eurasian Economic Union (eeu), both tools of Russian might. It is plain that in some weighty but unofficial ways, Belarus is part of Russia. But in Putin’s drive to forge the Soviet Union back together, “unofficial” may not be adequate for much longer.

Rally Around the Tricolor

Putin would also relish giving Russians a reason to celebrate his leadership once again.

The Russian Center for Social and Labor Rights has chronicled a record number of demonstrations in the country during 2019: Almost 1,440, with a month still to go. Protests in July and August were the biggest Russia has experienced since 2013 and prompted a record number of arrests. Public trust in Putin has fallen to 31.7 percent—the lowest level since 2006. And the percentage of Russians who say a major leadership change is needed soared last month to 59 percent.

It is not hard to see why the people of Russia are increasingly disenchanted with Putin. Living standards are plummeting, poverty rates are climbing, and a government move last year raised the retirement age to a figure higher than the average man’s life expectancy. After learning of the change, one Russian citizen tweeted: “I remind you: 43 percent of males in Russia will not live until their retirement age!”

The Russians are suffering, and their misery is darkening their view of Putin. But history teaches that the Russian people are inclined to disregard their individual misery and personal complaints with the government if they see the motherland behaving powerfully abroad.

In 2006 and 2007, Putin’s popularity and trust ratings were disturbingly low. But after Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, those numbers surged. Over the next few years, the numbers slowly fell. But again, in 2014, after Putin’s annexation of Crimea, they soared into the stratosphere. His trust rating peaked at 71 percent—more than double the current number.

Putin understands this recent history well. He understands that his primary achievement in the eyes of average Russians has been “making Russia great again” with bold foreign policy moves—especially those that forge former Soviet nations back under Russian power. If Russia’s trust in him keeps declining, he may determine that the best means of reversing the trend is by bringing Belarus officially under Russian control.

Czar Putin: Beyond 2024?

The Russian Constitution stipulates that presidents may serve no more than two consecutive terms. This means Putin will theoretically be obligated to step down when his current term ends in 2024.

But Putin, like the majority of authoritarian leaders throughout the ages, relishes his power and seeks to prolong it. This is partly because going into retirement would be risky, since he could never be sure of any personal security promises his successor may make to him. It is also partly because, in the words of author Richard Risch, “Tyrants are willing to commit to anything … including mass murder, to maintain their domination.”

And for Putin, the constitutional limitation is an obstacle only on paper.

He already sidestepped it once back in 2008. After completing two consecutive four-year presidential terms, Putin handed the presidency over to his subservient protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, and stepped into the office of prime minister. During this time, Putin continued functioning as the ruler of Russia in all but official title, basically using Medvedev as a puppet. Also in 2008, the government extended the presidential term to six years, effective upon the next election. In 2012, Putin returned to the presidency with a newly extended six-year presidential term. His rule over Russia was official once again, and he won a second six-year term last year.

When his current term ends in 2024, there is a chance Putin could orchestrate another rendition of this “castling move” with Medvedev or some other trusted protégé. There is also a chance that Putin will amend the Constitution so that he can stay in power after 2024.

But both moves carry considerable political risk. And with Belarus, there is another safer and perhaps more desirable option available for Putin.

The treaty that Russia and Belarus signed in 1999 stipulates that the supranational “Union State of Russia and Belarus” is to be governed by a Supreme State Council, with the presidents of the two countries taking turns as head “unless they agree otherwise.” Since 2000, Lukashenko has led the Union, but both nations have thus far prevented that office from holding any actual power or relevance.

If Putin took the reins of the Union State of Russia and Belarus after the supranational state is fully formed, he could imbue the entity with vast power. By taking charge of a greatly strengthened Supreme State Council, Putin could potentially become more powerful than whomever may succeed him as Russian president—and all without having to rewrite or sidestep the Constitution.

I strongly believe Vladimir Putin is going to lead the 200 million-man army. Just look at the power he already has. Can you think of any other Russian politician who could become so powerful and have the will to lead Russia into the crisis of crises? I see nobody else on the horizon who could do that. I believes Putin will stay in power to fulfill even more of it. So whether Putin maintains power by becoming leader of a Russia-Belarus union, amends or circumnavigates Russia’s Constitution, or if the world falls into conflict before the question becomes urgent, I believe Putin will be the primary power over Russia during the most violent era in mankind’s history.

Guru Nanak & The Faith of Affirmation

Guru Nanak propounded the spiritual philosophy of affirmation and discouraged the negation of life. He asserts that the Supreme Being, Akal-Purakh, is to be found in one’s own heart and liberation is to be realised in the world itself ‘amid its laughter and sport, fineries and foods’. The world is real and withdrawal is considered as the negation of faith as the spirit of affirmation is the basic tenet of Guru Nanak’s teachings. 

The spiritual path revealed by Nanak was not the lonely path of an ascetic who has renounced the world. The path of salvation, on the contrary, combines meditation in the form of Nam, the Divine Word, Shabad, while fulfilling the responsibilities of everyday life. He explains this idea through the metaphor of a lotus. He says, ‘Just as the lotus in the lake remains undisturbed by the water, just as the duck is not made wet by floating in water, in the same way, by linking one’s consciousness with the Supreme consciousness, through utterance of the Holy Name, one crosses the world ocean.’  

Guru Nanak emphasised the unity of life and negated all forms of divisions. All life forms were regarded as equal. The Almighty resides in everything and His creation is his manifestation. The first sermon of Guru Nanak was, ‘Na koi Hindu na Musalman’ – There is neither Hindu nor Muslim. When asked, ‘Who is the greater of the two, Hindu or Muslim?’ the Guru replied, ‘Without good deeds, both will come to grief.’ When questioned by some, ‘Of what religion are you’, the Guru answered, ‘I am a mere man, made of five elements, a plaything in the hands of God.’ ‘My God is not in the books of either east or the west, He is the God of not one denomination, race or colour, but of humankind.’ 

Guru Nanak, in the same manner, rejected caste-based distinctions and social hierarchies. He says, ‘Meaningless is caste and meaningless are caste names, the same shadow protects all beings. What can caste do? Caste and honour are determined by deeds.’ 

Guru Nanak strongly denounced the notion of purity and impurity. Guru Nanak writes, ‘If the idea of impurity is admitted, there is an impurity in everything. There are worms in cow dung and in wood; there is no grain of corn without life. In the first place, there is life in water, by which everything is made green. How can impurity be avoided? It is basically the impurity of the mind to be washed away by divine knowledge.   

Guru Nanak rejected discrimination based on gender. In Sikhism, women are considered equal to men, with the same souls, same sensibilities and equal levels of spirituality. She is regarded as a doorway of awareness and salvation, who, because of her ability to conceive and give birth, becomes not only the creator but also the medium through which society is maintained. Then why call her inferior from whom all great ones are born’, says the Guru. According to the Sikh code of conduct, ‘It is not proper for a Sikh woman to keep her face hidden.’ 

In Sikhism, the veil is compared to suppression. The Gurus have even handled the question of ‘gazing’ or ‘staring’ by men. Instead of women, men should be blamed for all kinds of sinful thoughts that cross their minds when they see a woman. 

Tale of Pakistan SC Ruling on Army Chief & Its Impact

Last week, a three-member Bench of the Pakistan Supreme Court, headed by the country’s Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, made a carefully calibrated move to question the Imran Khan-led government, seeking that it explain and justify the extension of the tenure of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa by three years. It is being seen as a challenge to the Army chief’s position, which is rare in a country that has been ruled by the Army for more than half of its seven decades, and where the saying goes that that it’s not a country with an Army but an Army with a country.

The move & the challenge

On November 26, the Pakistan Supreme Court Bench took up a petition challenging the extension. It was filed by lawyer Riaz Rahi, known in Pakistan’s court circles as a “serial petitioner” who has moved court against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former President General Pervez Musharraf, and former Supreme Court judges, without much success. Although Rahi tried to withdraw this petition, Chief Justice Khosa did not allow him to do so.

The three-year “extension” given to General Bajwa was challenged at the Supreme Court by an eccentric lawyer of Rawalpindi who had been censured repeatedly in the past by the court for “frivolous litigation”. Lawyer Riaz Rahi tried to withdraw his plaint at the last minute but the Supreme Court refused to let the matter go. Now it was the Supreme Court vs Prime Minister. The notification of extension to General Bajwa was found to be against the rule that ordained that the said notification be made public by the president after being recommended by the PM.

What followed was farcical. The notification was rewritten and forwarded to President Arif Alvi, who hurriedly signed it and made it public. This time, the court found fault not with the procedure but in the law. Rule 225 of the Pakistan Army Act of 1956 did not contain the clause that would enable extension to an army chief retiring at the designated age of 60.

Over the next three days until November 28 — the date of Army Chief Bajwa’s scheduled retirement — the Bench questioned the government on the manner in which it had granted the extension. Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced the extension in August, just two weeks after India had revoked Article 370 concerning Jammu & Kashmir, and had cited the “regional security situation” as the reason behind Bajwa’s extension by three years.

The arguments & the verdict

The chief law officer of the state could not give definitive answers when the Bench asked for specific laws that permitted extension or reappointment of the Army chief. The Bench found that Imran Khan had issued the notification on August 19, only to be told later that, under the Constitution, only Pakistan’s President could issue a notification of the Army chief’s extension. To rectify the error, the Prime Minister’s Office moved a fresh summary — a note. This was quickly approved by the President, but it emerged later that the Prime Minister could not send the summary to the President without his Cabinet’s approval. The summary was then circulated among Cabinet members, but no fresh notification was issued.

When the court found that the government had not even followed the proper legal procedure, the government issued notifications but got caught in jargon — whether it was an “extension” or a “re-appointment”.

The Pakistan government’s legal team argued that the extension was done under Article 243 (Command of Armed Forces) of the Constitution. But a simple reading of Article 243, the Bench said, showed it did not deal with extension. Article 243(4)(b), which deals with appointment of the Army chief, says: “The President shall, on advice of the Prime Minister, appoint…”

Finally, the Bench ordered — just hours before Bajwa’s midnight retirement — that the extension be granted, for another six months, and that the government bring out legislation to regularise such an extension (which has been happening without any legal backing for seven decades in Pakistan).

It appears that the Khan government in general, and his Law Minister Senator Farogh Naseem in particular, were not aware that army regulations simply had no mention of “extension” to be applied after the three-year tenure of the army chief; it also did not allow the extension to stretch for three years, which would have meant annulment of the right of the next senior-most officer to be appointed as chief. The court studied the amended notification and applied another humiliating reprimand to the government for not knowing that “extension” was simply not mentioned in the Army Rules. When this happened in court, Pakistan became aware — for the first time, it seemed — that the army chiefs who got extensions in power were ultra vires of the law.

Khan’s ministers came on TV to say that in case there is no clear law allowing a practice then practice itself became what they called “convention” — but that cut no ice with a rather voluble court whose insulting reprimands to the PM’s bureaucracy and cabinet were daily heard on the TV news. Three drafts laboriously composed by the government thereafter were ridiculed by the court on November 26 and rejected with the advice that the law under which the extension could be given was to be enacted first. There was much fluttering in the dovecots after that because General Bajwa was to retire at the midnight hour of November 29.

Why did PM Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government not think of studying the law before composing the “extension” order for General Bajwa? An easy explanation is that no one in Pakistan will challenge anything thought to be ordained by the army. Elected PMs have to work hard to complete their constitutionally ordained five years in power. They are usually overthrown prematurely followed by a general who normally takes a decade in power before low IQ, if anything, brings about his downfall. Before General Bajwa, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had been given his three years by a PPP government without there being much of a storm in the country’s teacup.

General Kayani’s tenure had been “extended” by President Asif Ali Zardari in 2012, because Kayani had “helped Benazir Bhutto return to Pakistan after a period of exile” and had persuaded his boss General Pervez Musharraf to change his view on the subject. A wheedling President Zardari had opined that “General Kayani’s extension strengthened my government as well as the parliament”. Finally, when General Kayani left at the end of his extension, a smear campaign described him as “buying a ranch in Australia before migrating there”. He, however, went enveloped in the familiar odour of corruption clinging to most usurping generals in Pakistan

But Kayani’s extension was challenged too. The petitioner was none other than convener of an ex-servicemen’s legal forum, Colonel (retd) Inam-ur-Rehman, who said to the high court in Islamabad: “The Forum is of the opinion that the extension given to the army chief is immoral and unconstitutional because there is no provision for it in the Pakistan Army Act of 1956 and in the rules under which an extension of complete tenure could be granted to any person subject to the Army Act.” What was the court’s reaction to the petition? Daily Dawn noted: “Chief Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rahman has directed the petitioner to satisfy the court about his locus standi (being aggrieved) and to submit copies of relevant documents annexed with the petition and adjourned the hearing.” The case petered out, as was expected. Imran Khan, then agitating against the “corrupt” governments in power, had opposed the Kayani extension, saying extensions weakened institutions.

Was the court kind to Imran Khan, in the end? Yes it was. It allowed the extension but only after the required laws for it had been passed; and gave General Bajwa six months of free passage which will be “regularised” after the needed laws are in force. Imran Khan was beholden to him for the 2018 election which he won amid rumours that the deep state had “fixed” the polls. The current Interior Minister Brigadier (Retd) Ijaz Shah is said to have actually helped stage Khan’s famous sit-in in Islamabad in 2014 from his privileged position inside the army’s powerful ISI. And Khan has returned the favour by declining to prosecute Shah’s close friend, the exiled ex-army chief General Musharraf, for treason.

The Army’s influence

So powerful is the Army chief that Pakistan Law Minister Farogh Naseem, also one of the country’s top lawyers, resigned to represent Bajwa in the Supreme Court. After the verdict, Naseem was sworn in again as Law Minister. Another pointer to the Army chief’s influence was that on the evening before the final order, Prime Minister Khan held a meeting of top legal minds which was attended by Bajwa himself.

In the last two decades, only General Raheel Shareef retired on time, while General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Musharraf stayed on beyond their prescribed tenures. Kayani’s extension too was challenged in the Islamabad High Court in 2012; the court dismissed the petition.

Army and judiciary

The current situation reminded many of a face-off in 2007 between Musharraf and the judiciary under then Pakistan Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had been removed by the military ruler. Eventually, this contributed to the downfall of the Musharraf regime.

During the hearings in the latest case, the Chief Justice observed: “We were labelled as agents of India and the CIA when we examined the Army Act.” Yet he also said that “it is our right to ask questions.”

Some believe that this could be an outcome of rivalry between the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the Prime Minister. Recently, Justice Khosa had made it clear that the judiciary had nothing to do with the removal of former Prime Minister Sharif’s name from Exit Control List. Again, after Prime Minister Khan had requested Justice Khosa to restore public trust in the judiciary and see why two systems existed in the country — one for the rich and the other for the poor — Justice Khosa took exception to the “taunt” and said the courts of the country had convicted a Prime Minister and disqualified another.

The general’s legacy

Under Bajwa, the Pakistan Army in February 2017 launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (RuF), in the aftermath of a resurgence of terror attacks. Pakistan Army media wing ISPR said RuF was aimed at indiscriminately eliminating the “residual/latent threat of terrorism”, consolidating the gains made in other military operations, and ensuring Pakistan’s border security. One of the major successes under the RuF has been fencing along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But, with India, relations nosedived, with the Pulwama terror attack and then the revocation of Article 370 that prompted Bajwa’s extension. However, Bajwa re-kindled the Kartarpur corridor proposal with his hug and conversation with Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu.

With China, Bajwa has cultivated a relationship. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson had said Gen Bajwa was a “sincere and old friend” of the Chinese government. In September 2018, Gen Bajwa, on special invitation, called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the region’s security challenges, and has committed to the security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He accompanied PM Khan on the state visit, which is unusual for a Pakistan Army chief.

Takeaways for India

India has been trying to corner Pakistan at multilateral fora on the issue of terrorism, and the Financial Action Task Force will in February once again take up the issue of Pakistan’s blacklisting. The current crisis in Pakistan may give some leverage to Pakistan’s civilian government and political class to push the Pakistan Army to take action against the terrorist groups operating out of the territory under their control. This has been one of India’s major demands and, if it happens, could unlock the bilateral space between the two countries.

On the other hand, India would be wary about whether this episode could lead to the Pakistan Army becoming more adventurous in Jammu and Kashmir, in a bid to regain its legitimacy and bolster the “regional security” argument.

Blue Flag 2019: Germany and Israel Build a Strategic Partnership

While Israel is under constant attacks, Germany is presenting itself as a strategic ally. Airmen from Israel, the United States, Greece, Germany and Italy participated in the biennial multinational fighter exercise Blue Flag 2019 for two weeks between November 3 and 14 at Uvda Air Force Base in Israel. Around 1,000 participants and 70 aircraft from the five countries held various exercises to strengthen relations and build expertise. However, the Axis power of World War ii seems to be among Israel’s most trusted friends. The “most advanced air drill” was with Germany, and Italy’s participation held great significance.

Germany and Italy combined sent 12 aircraft to participate—the same amount that the U.S. sent. Approximately 250 airmen from the Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany “deployed to build strategic partnerships and complete aerial tactical training exercises,” Airman 1st Class Kyle Cope wrote on dvidshub.net.

By the end of the exercise “other jets from the Israel Air Force were busy striking Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip as rockets flew in the direction of Israeli cities,” Israel Hayom reported. “Yet the air forces of the United States, Germany, Italy and Greece joined Israeli flight crews and completed the joint training as planned.”

While Israel faces continued terror in the Middle East, it seeks to advance its defense capabilities with help of Western allies. Prior to the drill, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement highlighting how vital these exercises are for the Jewish state:

[T]he exercise is of paramount strategic importance and will have a significant impact on the Israeli Air Force, the IDF and the State of Israel. The IDF is practicing and will continue to practice in collaboration with foreign air forces to maintain its competence and readiness, to strengthen the ties and interests between the forces and to encourage and strengthen the joint learning between the forces.

The cooperation will enable high-quality international training, mutual learning, and study of flight techniques, providing an opportunity to strengthen relations between the participating countries.

“The multinational aspect of the training builds partnership and personal relationships among the pilots of each participating nation as they train together to make each pilot better,” Cope commented.

Especially in regards to Germany’s relationship with Israel, this cooperation is filled with emotion and hope. “We started doing a squadron exchange,” said German Air Force Lt. Col. Manuel Last. “We flew with the Israeli Air Force. One of our pilots flew in an Israeli F-16 and we took one of their pilots in our Eurofighter. It was kind of emotional; it was a great experience. And I really honor the professionalism of the Israeli Air Force.”

Germany first participated in Blue Flag in 2017. Deutschlandfunk asked Itamar, Israel’s base commander at Ovda, what the term Luftwaffe means to him: “Every cooperation with Germany and Israel is very emotional,” he answered. “And this is also true for this project. I was there as the six fighter jets rolled into our hangars. We can’t eliminate the past. But we are looking forward. And the relationship of our aircrafts is based on trust”.

Trust is an important word here. Israeli’s today trust in the countries that once sought their extinction. Germany and Italy once joined forces to kill all Jews. But today, they have built a strategic alliance with the Jewish state. It appears as if a horrible chapter in mankind’s history has reached a happy conclusion. But this conclusion isn’t yet written.

Anti-Semitism is reaching new heights all over Europe. Hatred against Israel is spreading like a cancer in various online forums. Jews today do not only fear terrorist attacks in the Middle East but also persecution in Europe. Blue Flag 2019 may appear to be a sign of hope that Europe’s respective militaries stand with Israel. Israel and Europe may even have a common enemy in Iran and Islamic terrorism. But this cooperation is most deceitful.

Gender in South Asia

We are living in a divided and unequal world that is socially fractured and economically uneven. Hatred, hypocrisy, prejudice, conflict and war are creating uncertainties and destabilising societies. Some regions are enjoying peace, security and prosperity, while others are struggling to break a chronic cycle of conflict and violence.

In South Asia, the causes for divisions within and between countries are many — creating fissures and fault lines that fuel tensions, and making the region volatile and societies vulnerable. Add to this the plight of women within society, and these issues become even more complex.

Gender inequality is a deep-rooted issue that is interpreted in a number of ways by different people. However, given the patriarchal nature of society, shifting from entrenched values will not be easy. Discrimination, harassment and violence occur at home and in the workplace, albeit in different ways; either overt brutality or covert threats, usually based on the anticipated reaction from society or the victim’s capacity to respond. In the workplace, human resource policies provide legal cover against harassment but remain largely silent on issues of salary, promotion and portfolio.

In order to develop an integrated understanding of gender issues in South Asia, it is important to contextualise it in the prevailing socioeconomic, religious and geopolitical conditions; account for the fact that constitutional guarantees and legal provisions do not automatically lead to implementation; and acknowledge that discrimination persists within the family and societal institutions. The gap between legislation, policy and practice remains an impediment.

There remains a serious gap between legislation, policy and practice when it comes to women’s rights.

At first glance, South Asia appears rich in cultural constructs such as family ties, social networks and economic relations, as well as assumptions of social harmony and pursuit of spiritual over material values. However, underlying this idealistic conceptualisation is the harsh reality of divisions and discriminations based on gender, caste, creed and socioeconomic disparities.

While the universality of gender inequality in the labour force affects growth, other insidious factors — especially those that treat women as if they were children of a lesser god — are even more alarming. Without a fundamental shift, opportunities for women will remain few, growth will be stunted, inequalities will prevail and biases will continue to shape social values, thus slowing down the process of empowerment.

This has major human rights implications. We tend to equate worth with economic strength, social standing and occupation in positions of authority. Acknowledging that productive outputs are indeed core drivers of sustainable economic growth, this cannot be used as the sole criterion for granting or withholding fundamental human rights, which intrinsically guarantee equality for all irrespective of station in life. Human rights are not based on who is rich or poor, employed or unemployed, young or old, etc. They are about equality, freedom, dignity and respect for all.

This is why it is important to shift our focus away from framing women’s empowerment in purely economic terms, and instead create the space to foreground the human rights of women and link it directly with equal opportunity, access to resources and freedom of choice.

Women are a heterogeneous group and a product of their society. A vast majority fall prey to the brainwashing that begins at birth and continues throughout their lives, making most women feel that striving for equality is either immoral or a sin. This restricted intellectual conceptualisation of womanhood prevents them from striving harder and demanding their rightful place and share in society. This web of cultural constraints, reinforced by a regressive and coercive interpretation of religion, acts as a mental barrier and effectively handicaps women psychologically who are then unable to demand full emancipation. The majority of South Asian women are not free agents who are empowered to make their own life choices, ranging from education, marriage, employment, family planning and financial investments.

There is also a disconnect between the Western and Eastern notion of gender, largely due to a perceived dissimilarity in culture. In the eyes of many in South Asia, the concept of equality is seen as an alien construct that goes against the stereotypical imaging of women that projects her subservience as a virtue and eulogises her sacrifices as an act of nobility. In the past, these stereotypes were reinforced by the entertainment industry, which played a major role in enhancing and glorifying this self-abnegating image of womanhood. But, since the 1990s, there has been a shift in the way that the industry frames the role of women. Today, women are often portrayed as independent entities making free choices, breaking barriers and asserting their identity as equal partners — not just in the economic domain but, more importantly, in the social domain.

Moreover, given the existing gender imbalance in wage, income, wealth and participation in the labour market, the impacts of climate change will act as a threat multiplier for women. There is, therefore, an urgent need to separate economics from gender empowerment and peg it on human rights. In this emerging scenario, if freedom and empowerment are framed only in economic terms, then the rights of many — especially women — will increasingly be usurped and violated, reducing them to lives of subservience, destitution, oppression and exploitation.

As countries in South Asia plot their ambitious trajectories for growth and pathways to leadership, we need to be mindful that progress should not be at the expense of any group, or at the risk of undermining long-term competitiveness, or losing the uniqueness of our culture.

The future offers South Asia a unique opportunity of blending the old with the new to create a society that is progressive, socially equitable, gender balanced and sensitive to its culture and traditions. Much will depend on how policies are implemented and perceptions are shaped to accommodate gender harmonisation, paving the way for a new, more emancipated and empowered generation of South Asian women.

India-Nepal Relationship Challenged by The New Map Controversy


The notion of boundaries as lines drawn on a map is a recent concept — as is the nation state. This is particularly true in the Subcontinent, where empires and kingdoms shaded into one another across ambiguous frontiers rather than be separated by boundaries marking sovereign jurisdictions. The India-Nepal border is unique in that neither country has allowed a political boundary to interrupt the age-old traffic of people who share ties of kinship, religion and culture. This is now being threatened by territorial nationalism on the Nepali side and an emerging security state on the Indian side.

It is easy to trigger anti-Indian sentiment in the Kathmandu Valley, which remains the crucible of Nepali politics and the arbiter of its domestic and foreign policies. As we witness in our own country, nationalist sentiment can be a potent instrument for political mobilisation, but its orientation could be positive or negative. This depends on the political leadership but equally on how aware and enlightened a citizenry is. In Nepal, political groupings of every persuasion have been unable to resist the temptation to conjure up a bullying and overbearing India to present themselves as the fierce custodians of national interest. This is what we saw at play in the demonstrations held recently on the streets of Kathmandu. Residual revolutionaries of the Left competed with the supposedly pro-India Nepali Congress to castigate India for releasing maps which showed Kalapani at the India-Nepal-China trijunction to the north and Susta to the south as Indian territory.

These latest maps have nothing to do with Nepal. They were published to reflect the recent bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into the two new Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. There was no change in the depiction of India-Nepal boundary. Yet, the perception was created that the publication of the new map was a departure from the past and constituted pernicious cartographic aggression. It is true that Nepal has, in the past, claimed territory in the Kalapani area and Susta as its own. The two sides agreed that these differences should be resolved though friendly negotiations and their foreign secretaries were mandated to undertake this exercise. As far as one is aware, these talks are yet to take place. If this is an issue with the potential to arouse such strong public sentiment on the Nepali side, then such inaction is inexplicable. My own experience has been that the Nepali side raises such issues for rhetorical purposes but is uninterested in following up through serious negotiations. This is what happened with Nepali demands for the revision of the India-Nepal Friendship Treaty. The Indian side agreed in 2001 to hold talks at the foreign secretary level to come up with a revised treaty — one that, in the Nepali eyes, would be more “equal” with reciprocal obligations and entitlements. Only one such round of talks has taken place.

While I was in Nepal as ambassador, a request was made to put the issue on the agenda of the foreign secretary level talks held in 2003 but without any expectation of actual discussion. When we conveyed our readiness to have a substantive discussion on the treaty revision, the agenda item was dropped by the Nepali side. The purpose was to merely show that the Nepali side was taking up the issue seriously with India. I believe it would be a good policy on the part of India to regularly offer to take up such outstanding issues bilaterally even though the Nepali side may wish to side-step. If efforts are made to rake up such issues for political gain, then India would be able to list publicly the occasions when it has offered to resolve them through friendly negotiations. At the moment, raising these issues as means of hoisting their nationalistic colours is of little risk to the Nepali political parties.

It is not widely known that the two countries have managed to settle about 98 per cent of their common border and these are reflected in the 182 strip maps initialed by them. More than 8,500 boundary pillars have been installed reflecting the agreed alignment.

The Kalapani controversy has arisen due to a difference of perception as to the real and primary source of the Mahakali river. The Treaty of Sugauli concluded in 1816 locates the river as the western boundary with India but different British maps showed the source tributary at different places. This is not unusual given the then state of cartographic science and less-refined surveying techniques. We have similar problems regarding the alignment of the McMahon Line on the eastern sector of the India-China border. With regard to Susta, the problem has arisen as a result of the shifting of the course of the river, again a frequent occurrence in rivers shared by neighbouring countries. There are only two ways to deal with this challenge — either to accept a shifting border as the river itself shifts or to agree on a boundary which remains fixed despite changes in the course of the river. The latter is usually the more rational choice. But such matters require friendly consultations aimed at mutually acceptable outcomes not emotionally charged grandstanding.

Just a few days before this controversy erupted, the prime ministers of India and Nepal inaugurated, through a video conference, the much awaited Motihari-Amlekhgang pipeline, which will enable safe, secure and assured supply of petroleum products to Nepal. These supplies were trucked across the border in the past with frequents incidents of pilferage and contamination in transit and interruptions due to natural disasters or road blocks set up during political protests. This is a demonstration of what cross-border cooperation can achieve to benefit both countries. The ugly anti-Indian protests in Kathmandu provide the self-defeating counterpoint.

There are six to eight million Nepali citizens living and working in India. They enjoy immense goodwill and a congenial and friendly environment wherever they are. Political leaders in Nepal should reflect on this extraordinary asset their country enjoys built over centuries of benign togetherness. Its thoughtless erosion may prove to be costly for both our countries.

Food Chauvinism Worse Than Religious Chauvinism

Some saw it as an innocuous observation coming from lack of exposure. Some others saw it as troll bait. By the curmudgeonly American agent provocateur Tim Nichols’ own account, his tweet – “I think Indian food is terrible and we pretend it isn’t” – was aimed at tweaking “pretentious foodies among Americans” who he suspects suffer through meals they don’t like for the sake of saying they are engaging in ‘authentic’ cuisine. In either case it drove desi food nationalists and Indian cuisine fans stir crazy. It took a week for the food fight to simmer down, but not before fervid charges of racism, bigotry, fanaticism, hyper-nationalism, etc were flung around.

Perhaps even more than religion, food arouses strong national, ethnic, and regional passions. It stands to reason. Food is a primal need, and its evolution into specific national and regional cuisines arguably predates religion. For many, food is religion; indeed, faith has engendered many food practices. Few cultures in the world can stomach their cuisine being rubbished, save those who have no culinary culture of their own – like Americans for example. Their smorgasbord of national favourites, from pizza to burgers, from tacos to burritos, is mostly borrowed or handed down from immigrants, including their forbears.

Nichols’ flamebait regarding desi food came during what many regard as a breakthrough moment for Indian cuisine. Foodistas believe Indian is the next “ethnic food trend” in the US the same way Japanese was in the 1980s, Chinese and Vietnamese in the 1990s, Thai the decade after, and Korean and Ethiopian most recently.

In fact, one recent magazine article spoke of how Americans are discovering the regional foods of India, from Andhra to Chettinad, from Gujarati to Bengali, going beyond the largely north Indian/ Punjabi cuisine that passes off as (pan) Indian. Last week, presidential candidate Kamala Harris, half south Indian, rolled out a video of her making dosas with comedienne Mindy Kaling, herself a product of a Tamil-Bengali parental union.

Expressions of food chauvinism aside, many countries across the world have in recent years zeroed in on what has been dubbed gastrodiplomacy, premised on the long-held belief that the way to people’s (or for that matter, a country’s) heart is through their stomach. Although Japan, China, and the US among major nations have practised this subtly, the country that had made a fetish of promoting its national cuisine – with plenty of government help – is little Thailand. In the past two decades, backed by Bangkok’s vision (though a state-sponsored company called Global Thai Restaurant Company, Ltd) of presenting Thailand as “Kitchen of the World”, Thai restaurants in the US have grown tenfold to more than 5,000.

This is nothing compared to the number of Mexican and Chinese restaurants, which are ten times as many in the US. But Mexico has the advantage of proximity (south of the border) and population (more than 50 million Hispanics in the US) and so does China to a lesser extent (separated by just the Pacific and five million Chinese-American population).

And how does India stack up here? There are an estimated 5,000 Indian restaurants in the US – same as Thai – which is rather unimpressive considering not just the Indian-American population (four million compared to only around 2,00,000 Thais), but also the size and influence of India and the range and depth of its cuisine.

There are several reasons why Indian cuisine is both understated and underrated. Krishnendu Ray, a New York University professor of food studies and author of The Ethnic Restaurateur, reckons Indian food is where Chinese food was a generation ago; it is too labour intensive and has therefore failed to scale up the value chain. In the global hierarchy of taste, he says, Indian food just isn’t as desirable as other foods and is usually seen as cheap. Often it is overpowering, both in its complexity and flavour (an average Indian dish is said to contain at least seven ingredients), perhaps overwhelming the likes of Nichols.

How then to elevate Indian cuisine to the next level where it could be an ambassador for the country and its culinary culture? Given the current mood and ethos of disinvestment, far be it to suggest government promotion of the scale and scope of what Thailand is undertaking. But Indian cuisine has merits and virtues that are matchless and need talking up.

From its antiquity (including 1,000-year old instructions on making idlis mentioned in a 920AD Kannada tome and elaborate centuries old Mughlai recipes) to the medicinal/ curative/ therapeutic aspects of spices and flavours, to its sheer regional and sub-regional variety, Indian cuisine remains largely undiscovered across the world except in its mundane form. That “Turmeric Latte” you picked up in your swish coffee shop? That’s the haldi milk grandmothers over centuries served to take care of every ailment.

So the first step towards raising the cachet of Indian cuisine is gain recognition – complex flavours and spices and all – not just as food for the stomach, but food for the heart, mind, and soul. “Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup,” the writer Henry Miller once said (he also listed “mustard, chili sauce, Tabasco, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavour of the dish.”) About time Americans – and the world – discover there are dozens of other spices that can both elevate the dish and its consumer.

Tiny Homes: A Minimalist Trend or Economic Necessity

The tiny home movement has been popular on social media sites, often portraying an idyllic lifestyle that’s cheaper and better for the environment without sacrificing aesthetics.

But tiny homes may become the answer to a growing population and growing inequality.

As the movement continues to build up steam, one has to wonder whether it’s a housing crisis solution with a new coat of paint. 

Tiny homes. They’re the watchword of the Home & Garden network, at once an Instagrammable, envy-inducing lifestyle and an unfortunate necessity for a generation struck by a recession, historically high inequality, and loans taken out for an ostensibly necessary education that’s failed to really net any benefits.

But the question is, which are they? A symbol of a smarter, more environmentally-conscious, humbler generation — or a symbol of one that’s had to make do with less than its predecessors? (See: “Millennials buy the things their parents did — but they’re much poorer.”)

In the U.S., things are just bigger, and houses are no exception. The median size of a single-family home in the U.S. peaked in 2015 at 2,467 square feet. Compared to other parts of the world — particularly Europe — this is a massive figure. There’s a variety of reasons for this; one, for example, is that Americans began driving early and often, which transformed the design of their cities and suburbs. Developers could build outside of urban centers where the land was cheaper and more plentiful, enabling bigger houses to be bought.

In addition, the idea of having a lot of space seems to be an appealing one to the former European colonies — where Europeans have often lived in more cramped, repurposed older buildings, Australians, Canadians, and Americans had the opportunity to seize land (despite it already being occupied) and build new, sprawling settlements throughout it. The prosperity that America saw in the 20th century didn’t hurt, either; why not build big if you’ve got the money to spare?

But a considerable amount of this space is wasted. A UCLA study found that the majority of people spend their time in the kitchen or around the television and very rarely use the living room or porch. As a result of these extra, unused spaces, more resources are wasted on construction, and the energy consumption is double what a family would need if their house only had the rooms that they actually use.

Smaller, more energy-efficient houses are appealing to a growing population of minimalists and resource-conscious individuals. In 2017 alone, the sales of tiny homes increased by 67 percent. Coming in at under 400 square feet on average, these houses are also understandably cheap — for tiny homes on wheels, the average cost is $46,300, while those with a foundation cost on average $119,000. As a result, 68 percent of tiny homeowners don’t even have a mortgage.

On the other hand, the group of people drawn to tiny homes isn’t just homogenously composed of wealthy minimalists looking to reduce their consumption while still appearing trendy. In 70 percent of the U.S., the average worker can’t afford a home, one-third of adults are a $400 bill away from financial difficulty, and a quarter has no retirement savings whatsoever.

Under these conditions, downsizing may be the only viable method to survive. Consider, for instance, how cities such as Seattle, Detroit, and Denver are constructing tiny homes as emergency shelters or transitional housing for the homeless. There are also the many retirees that had their savings wiped out by the Great Recession who now live nomadically in RVs and modified vans. This tiny-living trend also has its Instagram cheerleaders, but the reality of it is less idyllic. Journalist Jessica Bruder and author of Nomadland related an anecdote to MarketWatch illustrating the nature of nomadic tiny living:

“I talked to one couple, Barb and Chuck. He had been head of product development at McDonald’s before he retired. He lost his nest egg in the 2008 crash and Barb did, too. One time, Barb and Chuck were standing at the gas station to get $175 worth of gas and the horror hit them that their account had $6 in it. The gas station gentleman said ‘Give me your name and driver’s license and if you write a check, I will wait to cash it.’ He waited two whole weeks before he deposited it.”

This might become a reality for more people in the future as well. Inequality widens when the rate at which wealth grows — say, your stocks or the price of your house — grow faster than the rate at which wages do. Research suggests that wealth is growing at a breakneck pace, keeping in line with economist Thomas Picketty’s prediction of a dramatically unequal future.

Solutions for this will need to be found, and many municipalities or private individuals may find such a solution in constructing tiny homes. Homelessness is a powerful, self-perpetuating force, and having shelter is an obviously necessary step to escape poverty.

Regrettably, if tiny homes are being driven primarily by resource-conscious but fundamentally economically secure individuals, we can expect the trend to remain just that; a trend. In a few years, fewer and fewer tiny houses will be constructed and sold, and eventually, there will just be a small contingent of diehard proponents of the lifestyle. If, however, the tiny home trend is being driven primarily by economic inequality, then we can expect it to stick around for a while.

The Unfolding Sino-Russian Naval Partnership & India

Over the last few years, China and Russia have conducted impressive naval manoeuvres in the Western Pacific, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. The joint exercise with South Africa this week brings the unfolding Sino-Russian naval partnership closer home to India.

Russia, long seen as marginal to the geopolitics of the Indian Ocean, is rejoining the major power scrum in the contested littoral. Three recent events highlight Russia’s growing strategic interest in the Indian Ocean and should compel Delhi to think of its consequences for India’s own regional strategy.

Last week, Perekop, a training vessel of the Russian Navy, arrived at the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. Late last month two, Russian long-distance “Black Jack” nuclear bombers flew to South Africa. This is the first time these aircraft have been deployed to Africa.

This week, the Russian and the Chinese are conducting a trilateral naval exercise with South Africa in the strategic waters off the Cape of Good Hope. Called, Moris, this is the first time that the three countries (India’s partners in the BRICS forum along with Brazil) are doing such a joint exercise. The exercise reflects the growing weight of China and Russia in South Africa’s security calculus and Pretoria’s growing political distance from the West. Meanwhile, Iran has said that it plans to hold joint naval drills with Russia and China in the turbulent waters of the Persian Gulf.

Until now, Delhi’s discourse on the Indian Ocean has been focused on the growing competition with China, whose maritime profile has been growing in the littoral. This, in turn, has led to the rapid expansion of India’s naval cooperation with the United States and Japan, as well as with its regional partners like Indonesia, Singapore and other  ASEAN countries in the east, many nations in the Gulf as well as the east coast of Africa.

More recently, India has also been developing a partnership with France, a resident power in the littoral and a traditional security provider in the Western Indian Ocean and Africa. India would also want to develop similar intensive engagement with Britain and the European Union.

Russia’s return to the Indian Ocean is relatively recent. It must also be seen as a part of its new strategic activism in the Middle East and Africa. Five decades ago, as a rising Soviet Russia sought to enter the Indian Ocean littoral amidst the British withdrawal from the east of Suez, it set off concerns in the region about being sucked into the superpower rivalry.

The region’s calls for a zone of peace in the Indian Ocean went nowhere as the US quickly replaced Britain as the main security provider in the littoral. The Soviet Union too expanded its strategic footprint the Indian Ocean during the 1970s and 1980s. But the collapse of the Soviet Union disrupted Moscow’s Indian Ocean trajectory.

As it returns to the Indian Ocean, many fundamental constraints remain on Russia’s ambitions. Russia is a vast continental state and its limited access to the sea remains vulnerable to exploitation by its adversaries. The unfreezing Arctic will present new opportunities for Russia, but most of them are for the long-term. Russia is also constrained by its limited economic resources. China, Japan, Europe and the US bring far greater economic weight to bear upon the region. The Indian Ocean is certainly not at the top of Moscow’s maritime priorities.

Yet, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has demonstrated the political will and strategic acumen to make the best of a weak hand. While Russian might never dominate the Indian Ocean, it certainly has the capacity to shape the strategic outcomes in the region.

For one, Moscow is one of the world’s major arms exporters and has turned that into an effective leverage in the Indian Ocean region. Second, the success of Russia’s military intervention in Syria in saving the Bashar al Assad regime has got the attention of many countries in the littoral struggling to cope with civil wars. The recent reports on Russia’s growing security role — including the use of hybrid forces — in the Central African Republic, Libya and Mozambique are a testimony to this.

Third, Russia is using its new security role in the region to gain privileged military access. Although it does not have a naval base in the Indian Ocean, acquiring one is probably a high priority. Meanwhile, Russia has stepped up its naval diplomacy in the region, making regular visits to ports in the region and deepening special relationships that it already has with countries like India.

Fourth, as a permanent member, Russia also offers diplomatic protection for many regimes in the UNSC against Western pressures on such issues as human rights. Moscow’s strong support to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs is of great value to many African nations. Finally, Russian energy and mineral companies do offer important options for resource development in many parts of the littoral.

On the face of it, Russian activism in the Indian Ocean should be a welcome addition to the emerging multipolarity in the region. But, there are challenges that are not adequately debated in Delhi. Moscow’s deepening tensions with the West and growing strategic embrace of Beijing do pose problems for India’s own strategy.

The impact of Russia’s conflict with the US has come into public view in the case of Delhi’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Moscow and the consequent threat of Washington’s sanctions. But there is far less focus on the implications of the emerging Sino-Russian naval and maritime partnership.

Over the last few years, China and Russia have conducted impressive naval manoeuvres in the Western Pacific, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. The joint exercise with South Africa this week brings the unfolding Sino-Russian naval partnership closer home to India. Delhi needs an early and intensive dialogue with Moscow on its Indian Ocean collaboration with China.

Shades of Grey About Secularism in India

India is secular. However, its unique history and its inextricable links and unique position with respect to Hinduism cannot and should not be ignored. New Delhi is not New York, Varanasi is not Washington and Ajmer is not Alabama. Don’t copy-paste Western constructs to be cool. Apply them to specific settings and situations. That’s real education, and if I may say so, presuming myself being a real intellectual.

The more progressive and intellectual variety of English speaking Indians often seem to be quite concerned about growing majoritarian behaviour in the country. They believe the following: 1) independent institutions are being undermined; 2) a Hindu agenda is being imposed on the people of a secular nation; 3) minorities are being treated as second class citizens; 4) crimes are being committed against Muslims without any consequences; 5) the RSS wants to turn India into a Hindu country; and 6) the government is supporting Hindu supremacists.

The recent Ayodhya judgment allowing the construction of the temple, even though it came from the SC, is also seen in the same light. What else did you expect in these times, is the common refrain.

In the minds of these liberals, the majority Hindus are the oppressors; the minority Muslims are the oppressed. Hence, it is Muslims who are being wronged, Muslims who need extra protection and rights and it is Hindus who are going out of control.

In all this, they forget the complicated nature of Hindu-Muslim history in our nation. What this elite set often tries to do in their writings and opinions, is to emulate certain Western liberal publications aspirational to them. Copying the West is a common Indian habit.

To our elite set, the liberal journalists in New York and Washington are always right. They follow such publications in their social media feeds, share articles from them with their like-minded friends and generally form a world view highly influenced by current Western values.

Except, they don’t just get influenced. They blindly copy them. There is no application to specific situations. If the West is talking about minority rights for blacks and how the white majority is a privileged oppressor, our liberals slap the same theory on Hindus and Muslims. Hindus are in majority, Muslims are in minority. So, Hindus, like whites, are the privileged class treating Muslims badly.

Except, the Hindu-Muslim situation in India is not like the white-black scenario of America at all. In America, there is a clear history of one-sided oppression. Blacks were brought as slaves, to be bought, sold and ill-treated by whites. This legacy is not easy to wipe out, and the country is dealing with it even today.

India, on the other hand, had it quite different. One, Muslim rulers oppressed largely Hindu subjects for centuries. Thousands of India’s mosques were built on temples that were destroyed. Is that completely irrelevant when we understand Hindu-Muslim dynamics in our country?

Two, when India became independent, a separate country (now two countries – Pakistan and Bangladesh) was created for the specific purpose of being a safe haven for Muslims. Pakistan did not allow Hindus to live there in large numbers. India did, and millions of Muslims continued to live here peacefully, progressing over generations. Is that not relevant to the dynamics between the two communities too?

Some say why rake up the past, as it is not relevant today. Well, the same logic is not applied when it comes to reservation. The upper caste but lower-middle class Indian kid can work hard and yet not get the college admission he or she wants. The reason: Historical wrongs. He or she is simply supposed to accept that half the seats are not on merit, because centuries ago, upper caste people oppressed lower caste people.

Of course, we are in 2019 now, and we cannot obsess about Hindu-Muslim history all the time. To move ahead, we have to bury some differences. However, to say that being secular means disregarding our culture, traditions, values and sufferings that are attributable to Hinduism also doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem right that asking for land for a shrine for one of Hinduism’s major gods is majoritarianism.

Neither is fixing things in Kashmir majoritarianism. The day Hindus were thrown out of Kashmir, Article 370 should have been revoked and all bets should have been off. If at all, we are three decades too late in correcting that wrong.

India is practically the only nation on earth that houses so many Hindus. If we don’t protect this religion and project it as inferior, or bullying and regressive in nature, shame on us. For Hinduism is not just a religion for most Indians, it is also a part of the culture for all Indians.

Instead, if you really care about secularism in India, understand both sides. Accept that wrongs were done on both sides. Realise that Hindus have suffered as much if not more. Hindus being in a majority today doesn’t take away their right to feel that pain or amend a few wrongs. Only once we do that, we can reinforce our secular principles.

Of course, it is wrong to lynch a person on the street. It is also wrong to attack a specific community in a mob. These are all blatant crimes. We also cannot change the secular fabric of our nation or impose religious beliefs on anyone. But the rules apply to both sides. Painting a community as intolerant will only undermine your chance of connecting with them and effecting any change.

The Most Shameful Phase of Islam-Al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. And Islam as a religion has taken a beating unless Muslims sit back and rethink their faith after rejecting the exegetes interpreting their faith as jihad of savage cruelty and sex orgy.

President Donald Trump declared that on October 27, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the “caliph” of the terrorist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), killed himself in a hideout with a suicide jacket in the Idlib province of northeastern Syria, next to the Turkish border, when approached by a team of American commandos. His bodily remains were collected and thrown into the sea, a repeat of what was done to Osama bin Laden after he was killed by American commandos in Pakistan in 2011.

Al-Baghdadi created a caliphate in Syria-Iraq in 2014 under an interpretation of Islam that the Muslims had been nursing off and on as a rejectionist-nihilistic worldview: Kill the infidel and enslave their women and carry out a permanent jihad against whatever world order holds sway. He actually believed that Prophet Muhammad himself practiced this evil way of life and got non-Muslims to be looted and raped by his warriors. Al-Baghdadi killed Shias, a majority in his native Iraq, and enslaved an ancient Kurdish sect called Yazidi, using its women as sex-slaves. Around 5,000 “warriors”, mostly interested in copulation arrived from foreign lands to join the caliphate, including girls from Europe to offer sex to the Muslim warriors as war-wives. This was the most shameful phase of Islam known to history: Attacks in 29 countries killed 2,043, mostly Muslims.

Look at this sex-fatwa: “Yazidi women and children (are to be) divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations (in northern Iraq)… Enslaving the families of the kuffar (infidels) and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Quran and the narrations of the Prophet… and thereby apostatising from Islam.”

Many were attracted to the caliphate, including one “commander” from India who was recently killed in Afghanistan. In September 2015, in Pakistan, Khalid Cheema went to the police after his wife, Bushra, and their four children had gone missing from their home in Lahore’s Johar Town. In October, Cheema finally heard from her. “I love God and his religion, and I want to die a martyr’s death,” she said in a voice message: “If you can’t join us then at least pray your wife and children die in jihad.”

A minister in Lahore proudly asserted: “She is one of the 50 Pakistanis who left for Syria. France has admitted that 1,000 of its citizens have joined Islamic State, yet no one is accusing France of allowing ISIS to establish a network there.” Many Pakistani cities boasted graffiti and banners from “inspired” citizens ready to go for the new orgy called jihad. A number of militant groups and radical organisations, including Islamabad’s infamous Lal Masjid, pledged their support to the caliphate and its self-proclaimed caliph. The police in Karachi detained six women thought to be recruiting other women on behalf of ISIS; and police in Sialkot detained eight young men, previously affiliated with Jamaat-ud-Dawah of Hafiz Saeed of Mumbai attack fame, who were recruiting for ISIS. Police found weapons, explosives, and discs with IS literature from these men.

A PEW Research Centre survey 2015 found that only 14 per cent Pakistanis thought ISIS was a threat. Around 62 per cent wouldn’t give a clear opinion. The women who “defected” to the caliphate or ISIS were formerly members of Al Huda, a women’s Islamic organisation, then much favoured by the upper-crust ladies of Pakistan. (Tashfeen Malik, the co-accused in the December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 dead and 22 wounded, was also once an Al Huda member.)

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. And Islam as a religion has taken a beating unless Muslims sit back and rethink their faith after rejecting the exegetes interpreting their faith as jihad of savage cruelty and sex orgy.

Why do US presidential elections last so long?

On Tuesday 3 November, 2020, the US will choose whether to give Donald Trump a second term as the world’s most powerful leader – or vote for a change at the top.

It might still seem a long way off, but the campaign wagon has been rumbling along for months. While the Democrat nominee hopefuls will be whittled down in the primaries, starting in February, some of them launched their campaigns as early as January 2019.

By September, a total of 20 Democrat candidates were engaged in the race to become the party’s presidential hopeful. Three of the front-runners, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, faced each other for the first time in a televised debate on 12 September 2019, held in Houston, Texas. The debate covered many of the key political issues, including healthcare, immigration, and gun control.

To the rest of the world, the 18-month-long presidential race may seem unusual – compare it to a 25-day limit on election campaigning in the UK. And there are plenty of hurdles potential candidates have to overcome first, as the below chart shows.

Image: usa.gov

Here are five things you need to know about the US presidential election campaign and the country’s former presidents.

1. It takes as long as it takes

Unlike other countries, America has no legally defined set term for fundraising and campaigning – meaning the Democratic hopefuls have been staggering their campaign launches for months.

Donald Trump doesn’t become the official Republican candidate until summer 2020, when his party puts him forward, and he may have at least one challenge for the top job, from former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.

Trump’s been preparing to run for a second term since January 2017, when he submitted the paperwork to stand again on the day he walked into the Oval Office. It meant he could start accepting campaign contributions from that day. He filed his statement of candidacy in June.

Campaigning will intensify once both parties have chosen their presidential nominee, when they’ll start crisscrossing the country holding rallies to win support.

2. There are 3 requirements for candidates

The US constitution sets requirements for presidential candidates, which are:

You have to be over 35

You have to be a ‘natural-born’ US citizen

You have to have been a US resident for at least 14 years

3. A lot of former presidents studied law

Donald Trump carved out a career as a businessman and reality TV star before becoming the 45th “POTUS” and Ronald Reagan was a film star before moving into the White House as the 40th president. But they’re the exceptions.

More than half the US presidents since 1789 have been law graduates or lawyers, including Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

4. All of them have been men – and one has been in office twice

While Trump is the 45th president, there have actually only been 44 men (and no women to date) in the post, because one – lawyer Grover Cleveland –- was the 22nd and 24th.

The constitution’s 22nd amendment stipulates that “no person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice”.

One father-son duo (George HW Bush and George W Bush) has been in power – as the 41st and 43rd presidents respectively.

5. It’s an expensive business

Advertising, travel and rallies play a huge part in election campaigns, and they don’t come cheap.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the 2016 presidential elections cost $1.5 billion, although, as the below chart shows, President Trump’s funding was less than that of his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Image: Center for Responsive Politics

The Federal Election Commission keeps a tally of how much each candidate has raised. In the first quarter of 2019, Donald Trump raised $30.3 million, $10 million more than Democrat Bernie Sanders.

Sunday Special: The Process of Learning Needs to Adapt to Build the Workforce of the Future

With the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs) almost a decade ago, learning entered its own period of digital disruption. Digital Learning 1.0 (the age of the MOOCs) catalyzed the democratization of learning by providing digital access to content that had previously been limited to face-to-face. Coursera, Udemy and Udacity were the early pioneers in digitalizing content and making it accessible to millions around the world. 

However, learning objectives have evolved. It’s no longer just about knowledge and access. Skills are the new currency. We can’t learn soft skills by merely watching videos and taking quizzes; instead, it’s time to move beyond those traditional approaches towards a new digital learning paradigm.

Four major trends defining that new paradigm: Digital Learning 2.0. 

1) The rapid growth of the mobile workforce. According to market intelligence firm IDC, there were over 1.3 billion mobile workers globally in 2015 and PWC forecasts over 1 billion mobile workers in Asia alone by 2020. As more workers are mobile and work remotely, the demand for mobile solutions that can deliver quality content anytime, anywhere, will continue to increase. 

2) Smartphone penetration rates have already surpassed 30% globally and research indicates that by 2021, there will be more people with smartphones than have access to clean water. Given cell network advances and the rapid adoption of 4G+, more than half of the world’s population is now connected to the internet via a mobile phone. 

The convergence of smartphone technology, broadband speeds and the rise of a mobile workforce are leading to the emergence of mobile microlearning as a key driver for Digital Learning 2.0. 

3) Learning is no longer just about content and knowledge. Learning is about experience and application, because the new currency is skills. Experts and practitioners recognize that learning overall is not just about formal training, but about learning with others and practical on-the-job experiences – as is described simply in the 70-20-10 model. This trend is based heavily on andragogy (the science of adult learning), transformative learning theory and experiential learning (which says that adults learn through reflection, peer dialogue and application). Project-based work and hands-on experiences are all ways of bringing these principles to life. When adults practice what they have learned, retention and ownership of the content increases significantly. In a corporate environment, this is the holy grail of learning – encouraging people to own, retain and apply what they have learned. 

4) By 2022, businesses will require a proactive and inventive workplace strategy to help the 54% of the workforce who will require upskilling or reskilling. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will allow for better forecasting, and employers will be quick to anticipate and map out emerging job categories, redundancies and inefficiencies in processes – as well as the changing skills requirements – in response to the continuous disruption of the modern workforce.

It is time for a rise in stronger, more collaborative learning ecosystems in which data is used to spot talent trends and skills gaps. This will align talent management strategies across businesses, governments and training providers to maximize the available opportunities for capitalizing on the transformational trends of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

So if Digital Learning 1.0 was focused on scaling knowledge, Digital Learning 2.0 is about building skills through application of knowledge. Digital Learning 2.0 is about what we call MPPG – which stands for mobile micro-learning in participatory, personalized ways in groups. It’s about engaging the learner anytime, anywhere. Learners who experience Digital Learning 2.0 will need to rethink how they learn: from a passive experience of primarily reading, watching or listening to experts to a more active, participatory role in asking questions, reflecting on the answers and sharing points of view with other learners. 

Why does this matter? 

We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We are living in a world in which it is predicted that 20-50% of tasks will be replaced by machines and AI. At global meetings around the world from Davos to the World Bank, skills development and job creation are among the top items on the agenda. Unemployment rates are rising, and if we do nothing, they will only continue to skyrocket as our jobs are replaced by machines. 

Digital Learning 2.0 solutions will need to be designed to not just deliver content, but to catalyze people to think critically and collaborate to develop the top 10 skills as identified in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. 

It will need to prepare billions for the future of work. It will need to embrace the ‘many to many’ philosophy of learning, in which there is not one single expert but a community of people who can learn from one another’s experiences and knowledge. It will need to foster creative expressions of learning, from visualization to role-playing to sharing new ideas. And most importantly, it will have to embrace a strong mobile strategy (preferably mobile-first, not mobile-responsive) to meet the growing needs of billions of people. 

Digital Learning 2.0 will need to be MPPG – mobile-first, participatory, personalized and group-based. This is a new and emerging space, so it’s time to redefine how we learn and reteach how we teach in order embrace the participatory, mobile, micro-learning era that will enable us to reach billions as fast as we can.

Free Speech Fast Becoming Hate Speech

Twitter recently suspended journalist Andy Ngo for tweeting facts about murders of black transgender women. Social media giants are no longer even pretending to allow anything that violates their own politics. If the facts tell politically incorrect truths, then the facts are labeled hate speech, and their speakers convicted of hate offences and disciplined. I was permanently banned by Twitter on grounds of Hate Speech for saying that Pakistan is running a Jihad against India that benefits from efforts to alienate Sikhs from Hindus.

Its an interesting experience to be unpersoned in the modern world by being expelled from the Global Public Square. I’ve been asked to create a fake handle so that I can be present and participating even if from the shadows. It’s like sneaking back into the crowd, wearing a cloak and hiding in the alleys, because you can’t change the reality that you, personally, are no longer allowed to continue to speak as yourself and be seen in the Global Public Square.

I am not going to do that. But it did cause some soul-searching. Am I really hateful? Have I been brainwashed and twisting into supporting everything that I hated? It is deeply troubling to be confronted with the possibility. 

But even if I allow every possibility that I have been twisted from genuine Liberal into a hateful bigot, I can still see that those who are fighting my sort of “hate speech” are the ones dictating what is hate speech and who’s speech is hate speech. Moreover, they are not obeying the rules of Liberalism, and they are not upholding liberalism, in how they are deciding what and whose speech is hate speech.

When I identified with the Left, over and above my opposition to Zionism, the religious right, war mongering nationalists, and my support for immigration, women, people of color, gays, was my commitment to Freedom of Speech, Free Thought, Free Inquiry, rationalism. 

It was these ideals that allowed people to think freely and to say what they thought, to ask the hard questions and seek the truth because the search for truth was the most righteous path. The Truth, sought out and disseminated, destroys the power of Theocracy, Monarchy, Tyranny, Dictators, and Totalitarians by liberating the minds of the people.

To me, Liberalism was, above all, the pursuit of Free thought and Free Speech in the arts, in the sciences, in the press, in philosophy, in literature, in politics. This is the very foundation of Liberalism. This is what lead to the Scientific Enlightenment, the Renaissance, The American Republic, Civil Rights, Women’s rights and Modern Democracy itself. 

But the “Liberals” of today are not for Free Speech. They are not for the seeking and telling of blunt Truths. They don’t want people exercising Free Speech to have a conversation about the state of the world today. Having achieved their Liberal Utopia, they are now for the shutting down of minds and mouths that have hard questions to ask and difficult things to say.

After a youth spent hectoring everyone who’d listen about the Evils of the Right and Progressive Values of the Left, it dawns on me to pause and reflect what I believed. In the 170 years since Marx published The Communist Manifesto, The Left has overwritten the entire systems of social values and culture of every society that has adopted Marxist “Liberalism”. The traditions, culture and social make up of British, Russian, Chinese, and Hindu societies is no longer what it was before The Left had its way with them.

Till recently, I believed that it was right and proper and necessary for progress. I never stopped to think about the arrogance presumed by people who think that they, of all people who have ever lived, have the wisdom and understanding, to rewrite the nature of human society and do well, discarding all of its ancient truths and replacing them with new “Better” truths.

The Left is, in fact, the politics of claiming the exclusive moral high ground, the same as any religious or political ideology in history which claimed that only it was right, demonized everything opposed to it, and erased pre-existing cultures and value systems by reprogramming society with its own DNA. The Left is a Godless Religion. It is not Liberal at all.

True Liberals, the ones who seek and promote freedom of speech and freedom of thought for all, are all being labled hatemongers today and being de-platformed on grounds of “hate speech”. “Hate Speech is not Free speech”, they say.

So what a Free Speech Liberal to do? There are only two choices. Shut up and disappear. Or continue to speak, and invite amplified hate, censorship and persecution.

It might be liberating to choose the latter. For 170 years, the Left has told us how to think and what to think and what must never be said because its wrong. We’ve accepted most or all of it. Now we can ask some hard questions. Questions to which the Left has no answers except to scream “bigot!”.

I’ve always summarized the value of Free Speech as the only tool that we have to challenge the power orthodoxies that rule society and keep us ignorant and unfree. In my mind, I always had the persecution of Galileo, and persecutions by Stalin and Mao, when I said this. It was logical to me that authoritarian rulers, ideologies and states never allow Free Speech, indeed cannot allow it. 

It is ironic to realize that now Free Speech challenges the Power Orthodoxy of The Left, that exercising free speech brings persecution and censorship from the phoney liberals, just as it did in the past from the Catholic Church or the Soviet State.

The Church called it Heresy, Apostasy, Blasphemy. In the language of the Soviets and Communist Chinese, its “Treason against the State”. The Left calls it “Hate Speech”. In each case, it was a violation of the “Truths” Imposed upon the minds and lives of the subjects.

As Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and others amplify their control over what can and cannot be said, there will be more and more people insisting on having their say on what they think is true, regardless of whether it passes the corporate political correctness filters of the Silicon Valley Tech Giants, the Left News Media establishment, and the bureaucrats and humanities professors at Universities.

The discourse will get bolder and more blunt on a variety of issues that have been Holy Cows of the Left, including immigration, multiculturalism, Islam in liberal democracies, Feminism, the patriarchy, class equality, secular values, imperialism, the welfare state and so on. 

Those daring to speak up will come expecting to have the Global Left fall upon them, knives drawn and screaming about hate speech. It will extract a huge toll from their personal lives. But so long as they treat the search for truth as sacred, without regard to whether anyone likes the truth, they will be heard. 

Economy Being Redefined by The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) upends current economic frameworks. Who makes money – and how – has changed. Demographics have changed. Even the skills that brought our society to where we are today have changed. Leaders must account for these transformations or risk leaving behind their companies, their customers and their constituents.

The top three economic frameworks in most urgent need of a 4IR overhaul include income generation, labour force participation and gross domestic product (GDP) measures. Let’s unpack these concepts one at a time and redefine what they mean as we advance bravely into the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Making money in a world of increased automation

The global middle class will play an influential role in how we make money in the future. Today, more than 50% of the world’s 7.7 billion people live in middle-class households.

Wealth divisions and rates of middle-class growth differ from region to region. More advanced economies such as Europe and Japan see their middle-class markets growing by 0.5% each year. Rising economies, namely China and India, are expanding their middle classes at 6% each year. Perhaps most striking, however, will be the maturity of Asia’s middle class, which will soon constitute 88% of the world’s entire middle class.

The implications of these changes mark an inflection point in world history: no longer do the poor make up the majority of the world population. That title now belongs to the middle class – who also provide

Despite the anticipated disruption and uncertainty of workers of nearly all skill levels, one thing remains clear: Workers are increasingly turning to alternative work arrangements like side hustles, freelancing, independent contracting and gigging.

In monetary terms, the size of the world’s gig economy exceeds $200 billion in gross volume, an amount that’s expected to more than double to approximately $455 billion by 2023.

The majority (more than 75%) of those currently generating income through alternative work arrangements do so by choice. For 86% of females in the gig economy, freelancing provides more than an opportunity to make a living – it’s an opportunity to receive equal pay.

Only 41% of female freelancers believe traditional work arrangements would offer them pay equity. This finding presents massive potential as the average gender pay gap is 16% at the global level; closing it and moving towards gender parity could unlock $12 trillion from the world’s economy.

What’s fuelling the global gig economy?

A host of factors contribute to the rise of the gig economy, including increased globalization, advancements in technology and static educational and institutional inertia that can’t keep pace with changing workforce demands.

It’s not only the alternative workforce that is impacted by these factors. Workers in every industry – women and men – will experience the transformation brought about by the 4IR, if they haven’t already.

Approximately 50% of companies worldwide predict that automation will trim their current full-time workforce by 2022. And, by that same year, researchers expect at least 54% of employees will need re-skilling and upskilling to complete their jobs.

The future economy cuts straight through the heart of gender equity

We cannot deny the role technology will play in the future of work. Indeed, the future of work is technology. However, no conversation would be complete without addressing how technology and the future of work affect half of the world’s population: women.

Never mind issues of fairness, or the fact that women make up 39% of the labour force and are the majority of university students in 97 countries. Failure to view the future of work in tandem with gender equity compromises the efforts of businesses and governments to prepare for the dynamic new economy.

Automation will replace 11% of the female labour force but only 9% of the male labour force over the next two decades. The explanation is simple: despite their making up less than half of the global labour force, many jobs often held by women (secretaries, cashiers, and fast-food workers) are 70% more likely to be replaced by automation.

These data contrast narratives put forth by the media that tend to portray technology and robots as overtaking “men’s work”.

In addition to “high risk” jobs, high paying jobs in technology are leaving women behind in the future of work. Information and communication technology (ICT) specialists are four times more likely to be male than female, and only 24% of ICT graduates in 2015 were women. An analysis of companies working with open-source software, for example, found that only 15% of their software authors are women.

Women are the majority of university students in 50% of the world’s countries at a time when we are experiencing a global labour force shortage of 40 million workers.

Considering the changing workforce and the advancement of technology, gender gaps in technology fields should send a signal to leaders. It doesn’t help that men earn higher returns on their digital skills than women, either. Something needs to change.

Measuring success in the fourth industrial revolution’s digital economy

As we examine how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform the global economy, it’s important to consider how we measure its success. We currently rely on GDP as an indicator of economic growth. GDP calculates a country’s production of physical goods, and policymakers use it to inform decision-making.

GDP works well as a performance indicator in a manufacturing society, but in a world of increased reliance on services and technologies, GDP fails to accurately capture the intricacy of the economy.

In the past 30 years, $1 put towards digital technology investment increased GDP by $20, whereas $1 put towards non-digital investment increased GDP by only $3. By 2025, nearly a quarter (24.3%) of global GDP will come from digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing. But how accurate are these estimates if they fail to capture the value of intangible assets such as networks, data, services and intelligence?

Depending on GDP as a measure of success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will adversely affect policy decisions because technology as a product has a deflationary effect.

Instead of GDP, we should measure the health of our economy by what MIT calls GDP-B, where B estimates the benefits we obtain from digital goods and services. Analysts can calculate the value of B by determining how much money people are willing to pay to use zero-price digital services (such as Wikipedia, Instagram or Google Maps).

And just as the UN provides a gender lens to its global measurements (the Gender Development Index and the Gender Inequality Index), so too should we add the gender lens to the digital economy’s GDP-B. After all, if 50% of our population is thriving while the other 50% is struggling, can we call that progress?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution for leaders

To adapt to the wave of changes that are transforming our economy, policy and business leaders should consider the following guidelines to ensure no one, male or female, is left behind.

First, we need to redefine work in the context of the digital economy. What constitutes work in an expanding gig economy? What social protections are in place to keep workers healthy? What about keeping them safe as they work from remote and informal environments?

Second, we must remember the changing labour force demographics and create solutions to support the workforce of the future.

Third, governments and businesses must take action now to proactively retrain their workforce. For example, the US government could re-skill more than three-quarters of its technology-displaced workforce with a $19.9 billion investment and generate a positive return via taxes and lower welfare costs.

Finally, we must apply the gender lens to all decision-making going forward – and not only because it’s the right thing to do. Gender equity is a $12 trillion global economic opportunity. So when we collect data, let’s gender-disaggregate it. And when we train and re-skill workers, let’s ensure women and girls aren’t being left behind.

The challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have the potential to expand the economic pie for all and bend the arc of history toward inclusion. We have the choice to be stronger because of it. 

Saturday Special: Impact of Social Media On Loneliness

Technology doesn’t have to be lonely Does Social Media Make You Lonely, Asking if social media makes you lonely and depressed is a little like asking if eating makes you fat. The answer is yes, absolutely, but not always, not in everyone, and not forever.

Social media use is fine in moderation. But as with any diet that tilts heavily toward foods that lack nutritional value, an excessive intake of social media may be bad for your health.

When it comes to social media, think snack-sized portions Social Media Maybe harming Young Minds The latest research suggests that limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day “may lead to significant improvement in well-being,” according to a widely publicized University of Pennsylvania study published in the December 2018 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Working with 143 undergraduates, researchers found that students who limited their use of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to 30 minutes a day for three weeks had significant reductions in loneliness and depression as compared to a control group that made no changes to their social media diet.

Researchers noticed something else that happened when students self monitored their time on social media. Just being mindful of screen time usage turned out to be beneficial. Students showed “significant decreases in anxiety and fear of missing out,” a side effect of increased self-monitoring, noted researchers. As one study participant put it, “I ended up using [social media] less and felt happier… I could focus on school and not [be as] interested in what everyone is up to.” Successful strategies for a social media diet Excited student reading good news online in a smartphone in the street with the university building in the background

The lesson from this new research is to be more mindful of how we use social media and the role it plays in our lives. It’s fine to do a quick check on what other people are doing or to keep track of social events to attend. It is less healthy to monitor social media for what we’re missing out on. Be mindful of how — and how much — you use social media.

Being mindful means asking ourselves honestly why we are checking in on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. Is this a replacement for something else you could be doing IRL (in real life)? Healthier substitute activities might include visiting with friends, reading a book, taking a contemplative walk in nature, or participating in arts such as photography, writing, or creative cookery. Be aware of what’s driving you to snack on social media. There are healthier options to satisfy that cravings.-

Note also that not all social media is created equal. By its very nature, Facebook posts are highly comparative and may have a “showoff” character that can’t help but make us compare our life with others. Instagram allows a bit more creative expression, especially for images. Twitter can be devastating when we are trolled by negative commenters, and yet it is also more conversational.

Dating apps can be a gateway to a meaningful romantic relationship — or leave us reeling from too many swipe-left rejections. Choose a social media platform carefully. Stick to a social media outlet that helps develop authentic social connections and pulls you into a welcoming community. That is what social media was meant to do in the first place.

Finally, be mindful of who you are before reaching for that social media snack. Some populations, such as college students, are more vulnerable to loneliness. The stress of college can weigh heavily on students who lack a social network to help them battle negative thoughts. According to a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students, some 64% said they had felt “very lonely” in the previous 12 months. If engaging in social media does not leave you with warm feelings, dial down usage.

That University of Pennsylvania study established a clear causal link between less social media use and improvements in loneliness and depression. But researchers also had this to say about social media: “It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that reducing social media, which promised to help us connect with others, actually helps people feel less lonely and depressed.”

Liberals and Modern Conservatives Have Marginal Difference

Is Liberal Party the obverse of Conservative- both being essentially the two sides of a coin? Are differences between the two essentially difference between Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum? The latest action of Andrew Scheer gives some credence to this hypothesis. 

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has chosen Leona Alleslev, a former Liberal MP, to be the party’s new deputy leader. She is turncoat, who opposed Stephen Harper and now leaves the Liberal Party, where she did not get any position. What does this show? Also note that in the recent elections, Trudeau’s Liberals and Scheer’s Conservatives aggressively clashed in an effort to win over Canadian voters.

They got about a third of the popular vote each, with the Liberals forming a minority government. Conservatives went into an uproar, some calling for the removal of Scheer as party leader and others calling for the separation of western Canada into its own sovereignty.

Despite this perceived clash of parties who apparently represent two sides of a political spectrum, when you look at the actual politics of the two parties, there is much more in common than there is difference.

The difference is in rhetoric, not in substance.

Under the hood, the Liberals and the Conservatives are fundamentally the same. Where they differ is in the values they performatively signal to voters–Liberals portray themselves as social justice progressives while Conservatives prefer to espouse more traditional values.

Unfortunately for voters and for our democracy, these differences are merely surface level. When Canadians vote, they are mostly voting against something rather than for something. They tend not to vote for policies but rather against Trudeau or against Scheer. In this way, politics gets reduced to a spectacle worthy only of reality television, not of civil discourse.

On actual important political issues, the two parties are essentially the same–they both serve the rich and the corporate class while throwing bones to the rest of us.

Let’s take a look at the policies. I’ll start with what is perceived to be one of the big differences between the two parties–the carbon tax. Both parties agree that climate change is an issue, but the Liberals are in favour of a carbon tax while the Conservatives are not.

But what do the Conservatives want instead? Their recent platform promises investments in companies pursuing green technologies and it calls for new environmental standards, with fines for businesses that don’t meet them.

So, essentially, Conservatives want to use public money to subsidize private industries that they deem “green” and they want to fine businesses that are not “green.” This subsidization of government-approved businesses opens the door to corruption and backroom deals, while the fines only serve to hurt small businesses who can’t afford them rather than going after heavy polluters, who will be more than happy to pay the paltry fines.

The Conservatives have criticized the Liberals for their corporate welfare, but their “green” subsidization plans call for more of the same.

And this is not to defend the Liberal’s carbon tax, which is also a poor policy. The carbon tax will mostly affect poorer folks and small businesses who can’t afford additional expenses. The big businesses that do most of the polluting can easily afford to pay the tax and benefit from their smaller competitors going out of business.

Both parties’ policies strengthen big business while hurting small businesses and doing little for the average Canadian. While Conservatives want to repeal the carbon tax, their environmental fines would work in much the same way.

Staying on the topic of climate, both parties have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and both acknowledge that climate change is a reality. They both want to use public money to subsidize private industries pursuing clean energy. And, most strikingly of all, they are both champions of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, although the Conservatives wave their flag a little higher. On environmental issues, the choice between the Liberals and the Conservatives can be decided with a coin flip.

When it comes to the deficit, the Liberals have shifted their goal to balance the budget from 2019 to 2040. The Conservatives vowed to erase the deficit by cutting $1.5 billion in “corporate welfare” and by selling federally owned buildings. However, judging by their pledge to give handouts to clean energy companies, it is unclear if the cuts to corporate welfare would be actual cuts or more of a redirection to other private industries. It is also important to note that, historically, the Conservatives have contributed to debt rather than alleviating it.

As for the Conservative’s plan to sell federally owned buildings to private owners, this is a potentially disastrous act of privatization that seeks a short-term gain in exchange for long-term prosperity. Real estate is a great asset to have and selling it off for what are likely to be garage sale prices to private hands could prove extremely costly in the long run. Not to mention the huge risk of corruption involved in privatization.

And sure, Trudeau’s deficit spending has gotten out of control, but redirecting corporate handouts, cutting public services, and selling federally owned real estate to private companies is not the answer. And judging by the Conservative’s history of debt accumulation, it is hard to believe that they would reverse the trend on the deficit.

On other issues like childcare, education, Indigenous rights, and housing, neither party really distinguishes itself from the other. Both parties are severely lacking on Indigenous issues, both support the Canada Child Benefit–which does little to alleviate the soaring costs of childcare in big cities, neither party offers any solutions to student debt, and both parties offer meagre home buyer benefits while doing nothing to help renters.

On healthcare, Liberals plan to take “next steps” towards pharmacare while effectively doing nothing to pursue those next steps. The Conservatives are a little more honest and dismiss pharmacare entirely. Both parties want to increase spending on mental health through health transfer payments, a meagre solution for a growing problem. Again, more of the same from the allegedly vastly different parties.

With regards to immigration, both parties want to increase the number of immigrants to 350,000 by 2021, with most of those being economic immigrants, and both want to crack down on “asylum shopping” and illegal border crossings. If immigration is your issue, Scheer and Trudeau are interchangeable.

Another big issue for a lot of Conservative voters is taxes. Both parties promise to lower taxes for the middle class, but they do this within Trojan horse policies that overwhelmingly benefit the rich. The Liberals are reducing taxes through an extension of the Basic Personal Amount (BPA) exemption while the Conservatives propose a universal tax cut.

For those of us making less than six figures annually, the Liberal plan provides a slight advantage in savings. But for those lucky few making more, both parties plan to fill your pockets, with the Conservatives being a little more generous towards the rich. It’s no wonder that wealthy donors often choose to max out donations to both parties.

Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau lead parties that serve the interests of the rich and of Canada’s corporate oligarchy. While they paint themselves as different–Trudeau, in the past, opting to literally paint himself–they are depressingly similar. Both are dishonest in their messaging and try to win over average Canadians while pushing policies that overwhelmingly benefit the rich and powerful. But since Trudeau is actually running the country, he deserves more criticism.

Trudeau is a perfect con artist, depicting himself as a progressive champion of the people in speeches and then turning around and going back on his word behind closed doors. This was never more perfectly displayed than in the climate march where Trudeau took to the streets to march against the actions of his own government.

Trudeau has turned his back on our Indigenous population, he turned his back on electoral reform, and he expanded the oil and gas sector after running on a promise to transition to clean energy. From 2015-19, he could’ve easily upheld his promises with a majority government and NDP support for his progressive proposals. He chose not to.

Instead, he did mass infrastructure privatization, he weakened Canada’s access-to-information system and muzzled journalists and scientists in the process, he sold arms to Saudi Arabia who then used them to commit genocide in Yemen, and he signed the CETA, giving foreign companies the right to sue our government for introducing laws that might cut into their future profits.

Trudeau positions himself as the “woke” candidate, but the fact of the matter is if you’re running the government for the benefit of the rich, Canadians could care less if you have a diverse cabinet. When it comes to corruption, it doesn’t matter if it’s being done by an ethnically diverse and gender-balanced cabinet or a cabinet full of white men–the results are the same.

However, as I’ve laid out here, Scheer and the Conservatives are no better for the average Canadian. When political campaigns are run on empty rhetoric, performative wokeness, divisive attacks, and fear-mongering, voters don’t get to engage with actual policy proposals and the end up voting emotionally rather than logically.

When we vote against a character like Trudeau or Scheer instead of voting for popular policy proposals being pushed by other parties, we end up going back and forth between two parties who both serve the interests of the elite and the ruling class.

Is it’s time to dump our two-party system, which is, in reality, a one-party oligarchy?

The Moral Promise of 1989 Velvet Revolution

The world seems to have forgotten the much-hyped, at that time, a revolution that convulsed Europe, and sent vibrations across the world. It was Velvet Revolution  and it created waves as embraced the Gandhian ethics of responsibility and commitment to human dignity. It had far-reaching consequences. November 17 marked the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution organised by the Czech Civic Forum and the Slovak public against one of the last Soviet-orbit regimes. The Velvet Revolution (sametová revoluce) was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia. The Czech and Polish experiences of democracy have shown that democratisation in Eastern Europe took place less within the framework of the existing state systems than at the level of civil societies. When the Czech and Polish dissidents of the 1980s were struggling against their communist authoritarian regimes, they returned to the concept of civil society. What Eastern European intellectuals and civic actors understood by civil society was not just the 18th century concept of the rule of law, but also the notion of horizontal self-organised groups and institutions in the public sphere that could limit the power of the state by constructing a democratic space separate from state and its ideological institutions.

Before 1989 and the rise of liberal values in Eastern Europe, many observers argued about the weakness of the civil societies in the region. This perspective forgot two things. First, the sheer ruthlessness of communist regimes that refused civic dissent any room to manoeuvre: No free trade unions, no real opposition, no free press, no tolerance of even a hint of dissidence. Second, the miracle that stubborn civil societies did persist in countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia — even after decades of Stalinist rule, students, intellectuals and artists continued their work and helped to lay the ground for the democratic revolt.

Moreover, the Czech experience showed us that even within a totalitarian society, a basis for “civic pluralism” can be created. Although other forms of civility existed in East European societies, this civic pluralism — with roots in a philosophical reading of pluralism, in opposition to ideological “monism” — offered a rich model for those dissidents seeking to make democratic change sustainable. Not surprisingly, dissidents like Adam Michnik in Poland and Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia opened spaces for new civil and democratic politics in Eastern Europe. Charter 77, the Czechoslovak manifesto for human rights, issued in January 1977 by Havel, Jan Patocka and Jiri Hájek, paved the way to the events of the “Velvet Revolution” of November 17, 1989. Havel’s political philosophy was marked by notions such as “truth”, “conscience”, “responsibility” and “civility”. His emphasis on the acknowledgment of truth as an essential value arose from his concern with what he called “living in truth” in a post-totalitarian state. Havel insisted in his writings that, “Individuals. need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it.” So, the problem for Havel was to confront political power by inviting people to live in truth and justice, and for decency.

As such, Havel showed brilliantly how the system successfully captures the lived experience of individuals in a post-totalitarian state by giving them the illusion of being part of a silent contract. That is why, for Havel, not becoming a player in the game of a post-totalitarian state was an embryonic act of dissent. What was important was defending one’s dignity and regaining one’s sense of responsibility. This was clearly a moral act, which was defined by Havel as “living within truth”. Havel analysed the essence of living within truth while examining the various dimensions of what he called “the power of the powerless”. He affirmed: “When I speak of living within truth, I naturally do not have in mind only products of conceptual thought, such as a protest or a letter written by a group of intellectuals. It can be any means by which a person or a group revolts against manipulation: Anything from a letter by intellectuals to a workers’ strike, from a rock concert to a student demonstration, from refusing to vote in the farcical elections, to making an open speech at some official congress, or even a hunger strike.”

In thinking about the Velvet Revolution of 1989, one wonders whether existing paradigms are even adequate, or if new ones are required to make sense of this landmark event. Thirty years later, we still need to ask about the nature of its vision and the scope of its demands. Was it reformist or revolutionary, or perhaps “refolutionary” as Timothy Garton Ash had suggested. The truth is that Havel and all those involved in the movement of 1989 did not aim to neutralise communist power with a new autocratic power but absorbed the violence of the regime, and then redirected that energy against it.

The Czech protestors of 1989 resuscitated the technique of “political jiu-jitsu”, a gentle art of subtleness, which was first popularised by Gene Sharp, an American theorist of nonviolent activism, who was influenced by the Gandhian satyagraha. Regardless of whether Havel got this tactic from Sharp or directly from the Asian martial art, or invented it on his own, he was very creative in his use of a new grammar of politics.

Let us not forget that the strategies of non-violent resistance, dissent and non-cooperation suggested by Havel were presented by him as different ontological modes of living within truth. They became successful in 1989 by echoing an ethical dimension of politics in all of Eastern Europe. Havel’s call to concepts such as conscience and civility, attributed a more ethical foundation to the civic humanist movement of 1989. Though very European in essence, it is undeniable that the democratic movement envisaged by Havel and the members of Charter 77 was born out of a Gandhian grammar of “ethicalisation of politics”.

The Velvet Revolution of 1989 embraced the Gandhian ethics of responsibility and his commitment to human dignity, while insisting on the inherent fragility of human existence and the frailty of the human political condition. Therein lies the originality of the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the work of its moral leaders, both in confronting the realism of political power and speaking the truth beyond the national and the cultural frontiers by picking the right moral and political alternative.

Weekend Special: Evolution is not Linear

It doesn’t proceed in a straight line—so why do we keep drawing it that way? Evolution doesn’t follow a preordained, straight path. Yet images abound that suggest otherwise. From museum displays to editorial cartoons, evolution is depicted as a linear progression from primitive to advanced.

You’ve certainly seen the pictures of a chimpanzee gradually straightening up and progressing through various hominids all the way to a modern human being. Yes, they can be humorous. But these kinds of popular representations about evolution get it all wrong.

These images bother us because they misrepresent how the process of evolution really works—and run the risk of reinforcing the public’s misconceptions.

Climbing a ladder to perfection

This misunderstanding is a holdover from before 1859, the year Charles Darwin first published his scientific theory of evolution via natural selection.

Until then, the traditional view of how the world was organized was through a “progression in perfection.” This concept is explicit in the idea of the “great chain of being,” or “scala naturae” in Latin: All beings on Earth, animate and inanimate, could be organized according to an increasing scale of perfection from, say, mushrooms at the bottom, up through lobsters and rabbits, all the way to human beings at the top.

Originating with Plato and Aristotle, this view gets three main things wrong.

First, it holds that nature is organized hierarchically. It is not a random assortment of beings.

Secondly, it envisions two organizing criteria: things progress from simple to perfect and from primitive to modern.

And thirdly, it supposes there are no intermediary stages between levels in this hierarchy. Each level is a watertight compartment of similar complexity—a barnacle and a coral reef on the same rung are equally complex. No one is halfway between two steps.

In the 1960s a variation of the scala naturae conceived by Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin became popular. His idea was that, although life is somewhat branched, there is direction in evolution, a progression toward greater cognitive complexity and, ultimately, to identification with the divine (God).

Gradual changes, in every direction

At least since Darwin, though, scientists’ idea of the world is organized through transitions—from inanimate molecules to life, from earlier organisms to different kinds of plants and animals, and so on. All life on Earth is the product of gradual transformations, which diversified and gave rise to the exuberance of organisms that we know today.

Two transitions are of particular interest to evolutionary biologists. There’s the jump from the inanimate to the animate: the origin of life. And there’s the appearance of the human species from a monkey ancestor.

The most popular way to represent the emergence of human beings is as linear and progressive. You’ve probably seen images, logos, and political and social propaganda that draw on this representation.

But none of these representations capture the dynamics of Darwin’s theory. The one image he included in his book “On the Origin of Species” is a tree diagram, the branching of which is a metaphor for the way species originate—by splitting. The absence of an absolute time scale in the image is an acknowledgment that gradual change happens at a rate that vary from organism to organism based on the length of a generation.

According to Darwin, all current organisms are equally evolved and are all still affected by natural selection. So, a starfish and a person, for example, are both at the forefront of the evolution of their particular building plans. And they happen to share a common ancestor that lived about 580 million years ago.

Darwin’s theory doesn’t presuppose any special direction in evolution. It assumes gradual change and diversification. And, as evolution is still operating today, all present organisms are the most evolved of their kind.

An enduring misconception

Having been around nearly 2,000 years, the idea of the scala naturae did not disappear during Darwin’s time. It might actually have been reinforced by something so unexpected as a cartoon. Illustrator Edward Linley Sambourne’s immensely popular caricature of evolution “Man Is But a Worm,” published in Punch’s Almanack for 1882, combined two concepts that were never linked in Darwin’s mind: gradualism and linearity.

Given centuries of religious belief in a “great chain of being,” the idea of linearity was an easy sell. The iconic version of this concept is, of course, the depiction of a supposed ape-to-human “progression.” Variations of all kinds have been made of this depiction, some with a humorous spirit, but most to ridicule the monkey-to-man theory.

A linear depiction of evolution may, consciously or not, confirm false preconceptions about evolution, such as intelligent design—the idea that life has an intelligent creator behind it. Historians can work to unravel how such a simple caricature could have helped distort Darwin’s theory. Meanwhile, science writers and educators face the challenge of explaining the gradual branching processes that explain the diversity of life.

While less pithy, it might be better for the public’s knowledge of science if these T-shirts and bumper stickers ditch the step by step images and use branching diagrams to make a more nuanced and correct point about evolution. Contrary to the Sambourne picture, evolution is better represented as a process producing continuous branching and divergence of populations of organisms.

Five Steps to Become a Moral Leader

Moral leaders provide values and meaning for people to live by. Moral leadership is providing values or meaning for people to live by, inspiration to act and motivation to hold oneself accountable. When you don’t see someone stepping up to provide purpose and doing what is best for the greater good, step up.

Leadership is a responsibility. It’s also a power, not to be taken for granted. The late author Toni Morrison said, “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” Your best self is when you use your power to lead others. Here are five ways to develop moral leadership:

1. Identity a set of values

Moral leaders guide themselves with values and ethics that they develop over time and with experience. Examples of values include integrity, respect, accountability, community, inclusion, fairness and service.

What experiences have shaped your thoughts and views? Be introspective. Think about the principles by which you live your life.

2. Manage your ego

Moral leaders have a sense of self and are not threatened by others. But they also recognize that their self is not the most important thing and that leadership is not about them. Leadership is about serving others. It is not about you or your interests. True leaders value other people and put the interest of others first.

3. Consider diverse groups of people, and include their views

Leaders do not impose their values on others. They consider other people’s values. They interact with and understand others. The combination of their values and the values of diverse groups inform a vision for a better future.

4. Embrace change

People seek moral leadership when they want change. Leaders don’t fear change. They have the courage and conviction to share a vision to try and bring about positive change.

5. Build consensus, and establish unity

It is rare that everyone will be on board with your opinion or views (learn about the 20-60-20 rule). A leader listens to people with different views. A leader knows not to try and win everyone over.

Leaders also know not to create divisions. Moral leaders do their best to communicate a purpose that can inspire as many people as possible to want to take part in enacting positive change for the greater good.

Moral leadership is something everyone can strive for. It can be difficult to attain, but it is worth the challenge for yourself and those around you. Know your values, check your ego at the door, embrace others, be transformative and seek unity. Take responsibility to build a better world for all.

Shades of Grey About Secularism in India

India is secular. However, its unique history and its inextricable links and unique position with respect to Hinduism cannot and should not be ignored. New Delhi is not New York, Varanasi is not Washington and Ajmer is not Alabama. Don’t copy-paste Western constructs to be cool. Apply them to specific settings and situations. That’s real education, and if I may say so, presuming myself being a real intellectual.

The more progressive and intellectual variety of English speaking Indians often seem to be quite concerned about growing majoritarian behaviour in the country. They believe the following: 1) independent institutions are being undermined; 2) a Hindu agenda is being imposed on the people of a secular nation; 3) minorities are being treated as second class citizens; 4) crimes are being committed against Muslims without any consequences; 5) the RSS wants to turn India into a Hindu country; and 6) the government is supporting Hindu supremacists.

The recent Ayodhya judgment allowing the construction of the temple, even though it came from the SC, is also seen in the same light. What else did you expect in these times, is the common refrain.

In the minds of these liberals, the majority Hindus are the oppressors; the minority Muslims are the oppressed. Hence, it is Muslims who are being wronged, Muslims who need extra protection and rights and it is Hindus who are going out of control.

In all this, they forget the complicated nature of Hindu-Muslim history in our nation. What this elite set often tries to do in their writings and opinions, is to emulate certain Western liberal publications aspirational to them. Copying the West is a common Indian habit.

To our elite set, the liberal journalists in New York and Washington are always right. They follow such publications in their social media feeds, share articles from them with their like-minded friends and generally form a world view highly influenced by current Western values.

Except, they don’t just get influenced. They blindly copy them. There is no application to specific situations. If the West is talking about minority rights for blacks and how the white majority is a privileged oppressor, our liberals slap the same theory on Hindus and Muslims. Hindus are in majority, Muslims are in minority. So, Hindus, like whites, are the privileged class treating Muslims badly.

Except, the Hindu-Muslim situation in India is not like the white-black scenario of America at all. In America, there is a clear history of one-sided oppression. Blacks were brought as slaves, to be bought, sold and ill-treated by whites. This legacy is not easy to wipe out, and the country is dealing with it even today.

India, on the other hand, had it quite different. One, Muslim rulers oppressed largely Hindu subjects for centuries. Thousands of India’s mosques were built on temples that were destroyed. Is that completely irrelevant when we understand Hindu-Muslim dynamics in our country?

Two, when India became independent, a separate country (now two countries – Pakistan and Bangladesh) was created for the specific purpose of being a safe haven for Muslims. Pakistan did not allow Hindus to live there in large numbers. India did, and millions of Muslims continued to live here peacefully, progressing over generations. Is that not relevant to the dynamics between the two communities too?

Some say why rake up the past, as it is not relevant today. Well, the same logic is not applied when it comes to reservation. The upper caste but lower-middle class Indian kid can work hard and yet not get the college admission he or she wants. The reason: Historical wrongs. He or she is simply supposed to accept that half the seats are not on merit, because centuries ago, upper caste people oppressed lower caste people.

Of course, we are in 2019 now, and we cannot obsess about Hindu-Muslim history all the time. To move ahead, we have to bury some differences. However, to say that being secular means disregarding our culture, traditions, values and sufferings that are attributable to Hinduism also doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem right that asking for land for a shrine for one of Hinduism’s major gods is majoritarianism.

Neither is fixing things in Kashmir majoritarianism. The day Hindus were thrown out of Kashmir, Article 370 should have been revoked and all bets should have been off. If at all, we are three decades too late in correcting that wrong.

India is practically the only nation on earth that houses so many Hindus. If we don’t protect this religion and project it as inferior, or bullying and regressive in nature, shame on us. For Hinduism is not just a religion for most Indians, it is also a part of the culture for all Indians.

Instead, if you really care about secularism in India, understand both sides. Accept that wrongs were done on both sides. Realise that Hindus have suffered as much if not more. Hindus being in a majority today doesn’t take away their right to feel that pain or amend a few wrongs. Only once we do that, we can reinforce our secular principles.

Of course, it is wrong to lynch a person on the street. It is also wrong to attack a specific community in a mob. These are all blatant crimes. We also cannot change the secular fabric of our nation or impose religious beliefs on anyone. But the rules apply to both sides. Painting a community as intolerant will only undermine your chance of connecting with them and effecting any change.

China Economic Colossus With Clay Feet

The world is amazed at the economic progress of China. In a short span of time, it has exceeded all forecast and is poised to be the top economic power. China’s spectacular economic rise over the past 30 years has generated fear in the United States that its economy will soon be eclipsed as the world’s largest. This has motivated the Trump administration to see China more as a strategic economic threat than as an economic partner.  It is also one of the key reasons why the administration is engaging in a trade war with Beijing.

Yet this is hardly the first time that the US has felt economically threatened. In the 1960s, it worried that the Soviet Union’s supposedly rapid economic growth portended a real economic challenge to the United States. Then, in the 1970s, it worried that Japan’s very strong economic performance was the forerunner of our relative economic decline.

It would be an understatement to say that itsfears about Soviet and Japanese economic domination proved to be ill-founded. The unshakable stagnation of the Soviet Union in the 1980s paved the way for the empire’s break-up in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the erstwhile Japanese economic miracle gave way to the bursting of its credit and housing market bubbles, followed by two lost economic decades .

In much the same way as its fears about Soviet and Japanese economic dominance proved to be illusory, there is good reason to think that China’s rapid economic rise will prove to be another paper tiger. Indeed, there is every reason to think that the Chinese economy will follow the Japanese path toward a few decades of virtual economic stagnation. 

One factor likely to sap China’s economic growth in the years ahead is its very poor demographics. Largely as a result of its one-child policy, the Chinese labor force is expected to decline by some 25 percent over the next 30 years. This has prompted the demographer Nick Eberstadt to observe that China is set to become old before it becomes rich.

Another factor that does not bode well for China’s future economic performance is President Xi’s apparent intention to destroy the foundation on which China’s economic miracle rested. He is reversing the economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, aimed at giving the private sector increased room to breathe dynamism into the Chinese economy. Fearful of the challenge that a thriving Chinese private sector might pose to the Communist Party’s political hold on the country, President Xi is now reestablishing party discipline and increasing the role of China’s state enterprises.

Even more troubling for China’s long-run economic outlook are its highly unbalanced economy and it’s gargantuan credit bubble.

According to the IMF, Chinese investment still accounts for more than 45 percent of the country’s GDP. Meanwhile, over the past decade, credit to China’s non-public sector has increased by around 100 percent of GDP, which the Chinese government itself recognizes is an unsustainable situation. This rate of credit expansion exceeds that in Japan prior to its bubble bursting  in the 1980s. It has also given rise to a situation where China has a massive amount of unused industrial capacity and an enormous overhang of unoccupied housing and commercial property.

Past experience with the bursting of outsized credit bubbles does not portend well for China’s long-run economic performance. In the best of circumstances, China, like Japan before it, is likely to experience a prolonged period of relative economic stagnation. It will do so at a time that its banks’ balance sheets will be clogged with non-performing loans, and the need to prop up zombie enterprises will preclude the flow of credit to the more dynamic sectors of its economy.

All of this is not to say that the Trump administration is mistaken to exert pressure on China to level the trade playing field and to have China desist from intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. Rather, it is to say that in formulating its international economic policy, the administration should not exaggerate China’s long-run economic challenge to the United States.

Leadership Mindsets Driving The New Economy

Successful companies are passionate about fostering a community of leaders with new mindsets.

“Organizations need to completely rethink what they are about and what it means to lead. It’s not about one person or even those residing at the top anymore. In today’s world, everyone has to adopt a leadership mindset. We have to think of ourselves as members of a leadership community.”

—— Patty McCord, former chief talent officer, Netflix

Are you able to change the culture of your organization? It’s possible, perhaps, if you can articulate what your culture is or if you are a CEO or C-suite executive. But let me ask a different question: Are you able to set a new tone and mindset for how your team, your project members, or your function work together and with others, both inside and outside your organization? The answer, in this case, is most likely to be a resounding yes.

For the past decade, I have asked these two questions to thousands of managers and leaders from around the world. With the first question, few raise their hands — even when the group comprises senior leaders. But when I ask about their capacity to set a new tone or mindset in their organizations, virtually everyone feels it’s within their scope and mandate, and the hands fly up in the air.

Why not bring about culture change by challenging leaders to adopt a new mindset that shows tangible progress toward achieving what is perceived by most to be the more elusive goal? What would that look like in practice? Suppose you are the leader of the retail division of a 170-year-old bank with a deeply risk-averse culture. The following passage, based on a real-life example, illustrates how to challenge your leadership to adopt a new mindset:

“We’re losing business to our upstart competitors. Our customers think we are too slow and unimaginative. I think we can do much, much better. If I have been clipping your wings, then that’s on me, and I want you to tell us at the leadership-team level what we can do to change how we operate. Let’s start changing how we’ve been working with our customers and clients. Enhancing customer value has been central to our core purpose for a long time. Let’s rededicate ourselves to that mission. Let’s find new, creative solutions to solving our customers’ challenges together this year in every facet of our retail operations. I promise — no blame game or adverse consequences for experiments that don’t make it. Then let’s share those learnings, successes, and failures, first across retail and then across the entire bank. I need your help, but I know we can make this happen together.”

This statement embodies the leadership mindsets that are driving the new economy: leaders who passionately state that they are a community of leaders dedicated to being customer obsessed, purpose-driven, highly networked, and curiosity-driven.

Affecting large-scale culture change is perceived as above most people’s pay grades. Rather, virtually all of them stressed the importance of adopting new mindsets and behaviors, as well as the importance of finding approaches that would reinforce and embed these mindsets and behaviors as the new hallmarks of leadership. But what new mindsets do leaders need to adopt?

Mindsets are mental maps that reflect and guide how people behave in organizations. They signal how people operate and what they are about. So, what leadership mindsets did respondents and interviewees feel were critical to winning in the digital economy? After analyzing our survey data and conducting a sentiment and heat map analysis of the interviews we conducted, we identified four: producers, investors, connectors, and explorers.

Producers. The producers’ mindset combines an obsession for producing customer value with a focus on analytics, digital savviness, execution, and outcomes. Producers use analytics to accelerate innovation that addresses shifts in customer preferences and improves customer and user experiences.

Brian Halligan, cofounder and CEO of HubSpot, explains the producers’ mindset:

“When I was in business school at MIT Sloan, the mantra was that your product needed to be 10 times better than the competition’s. That made sense then, but today the new mantra is that your customers’ customer experience needs to be 10 times better. Companies need to examine every touch point they have with customers and operationalize ways to make all of them delightful.”

Investors. Leaders with an investors’ mindset pursue an organizational purpose beyond increasing shareholder returns. They are dedicated to growth, but in a sustainable fashion. They care about the communities in which they operate and the welfare and continuous development of their employees. They invest in enhancing the value of their customers rather than viewing them as streams of revenue.

Susan Sobbott, former CEO and president of American Express Global Commercial Services, expresses what having an investors’ mentality means to her:

“One of the things I struggled with when I talked about our goals for the organization was this notion of aligning purpose, principles, and profits. Based on corporate imperatives, I found myself talking about achieving a 15% growth rate or a 20% reduction in costs. To be honest, even I wasn’t motivated by that. So I began talking about how we could change the lives of millions of customers, and how those customers could change their communities and the economy, through our work together as a team. It was like turning on a switch. We started to see motivation and teamwork grow significantly because we had a higher purpose. That purpose led us to the numbers. The growth was an outcome rather than an intent.”

Connectors. Leaders with a connectors’ mindset understand that mastering relationships and networks is the new currency that drives organizational effectiveness in the new economy. Connectors get this at their core. It’s how they operate. They regularly bring together diverse stakeholders from both inside the company and with ecosystem partners. Connectors understand the power of creating a sense of community and belonging, so important in today’s fast-paced, breakneck-speed world where it’s easy to lose the human touch.

Here’s how Lori Beer, global CIO of JPMorgan Chase, explains why having a connectors’ mindset is so important:

“As the corporate world becomes more virtual and business models more digital, the key determinant of sustainable success is less about the power of a company’s algorithms than it is about the efficacy of the relationships we forge.”

Explorers. Leaders with an explorers’ mindset are curious and creative, and operate well in the fog of ambiguity. They engage in continuous experimentation and learn by listening to many varied voices. Strong indications of an explorers’ mindset include establishing behavioral norms that tolerate and indeed encourage risk-taking and even failure, reverse mentoring, and a deep curiosity about how new forces are shaping the competitive environment.

Dan Shapero, vice president of global solutions at LinkedIn, explains what having an explorers’ mindset means to him:

“I don’t know where curiosity comes from, but if you could bottle it, I’d buy it. It’s so valuable, when things are changing so quickly, to have people on your team who are trying every day to better understand the world around them.”

In the new economy, leaders who set a tone with these new mindsets signal that they aspire to reimagine what effective leadership should be. They are less fixated on the image of leader-as-hero than they are on building an amazing community of leaders at every level in their organizations. By doing so, they drive home the narrative that building a collective leadership capability is the strongest route to competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced world.

A Humanist Above All Guru Nanak’s message transcends time and space

Guru Nanak’s message transcends time and space. Guru Nanak (1469-1539), whose 550th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year, is the greatest thinker, philosopher, poet, traveller, political rebel, social leveller, mass communicator and spiritual master the land of Punjab has produced. He was born in a village, Talwandi Rai Bhoe, near Lahore which was renamed later as Nankana Sahib. The room in which he was born constitutes the inner sanctum of the Gurdwara Nankana Sahib.

There are fairly reliable accounts about Guru Nanak’s life. His was an upper caste Khatri Hindu family and his father was an administrative official in the office of a local Muslim chieftain. In his youth, he used the medium of music, poetry, song and speech to preach the love of God and to attack the politically oppressive policies of the Mughal regime and the socially oppressive practices of casteism of the orthodox Brahminical Hindu religion. He also attacked the wealthy and spoke in favour of an equitable social status for women.

He used the language of the masses, Punjabi, to preach his ideas. This was in sharp contrast to that of the Hindu priests and the Muslim clergy, who used Sanskrit and Arabic respectively. Rejecting Sanskrit (which was called dev bhasha, the language of the gods), Guru Nanak used Punjabi (lok bhasha, people’s language) to communicate his egalitarian teachings. He attracted a following among the lower castes, mainly Hindus but also some converts to Islam.

His followers came to be known as Sikhs; sikh, a Punjabi word, means a learner or a disciple and is a variant of the Sanskrit word shishya. Some of his early followers came from his own Khatri caste. However, for the large mass of Punjabis who were attracted to Guru Nanak’s teachings, it was the content of his teachings (equality), the medium of his communication (Punjabi) and the form of his communication (poetry, song and music), which attracted them to Sikhism. He can, therefore, be legitimately characterised as the founder and articulator of a truly Punjabi religion which attracted followers from all caste groups in Punjabi society but predominantly from peasant and artisanal classes.

The time when Guru Nanak was born was a period of great strife in Indian society, especially in the Punjab region. Guru Nanak responded — as all great thinkers, philosophers and those whom we call prophets respond — to the historical crisis of the society in which he was born. However, it is also vital to grasp how he transcended the limitations of geographical space and historical time in delivering a message that had universal relevance. The fact that in his own lifetime, communities of his followers had emerged in what are today India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Tibet and Sri Lanka — and even in Iraq and Iran — illustrates that his message had transcended the geographical boundaries of Punjab. He consciously went on long journeys (called uddasian) to far off places along with his two companions Bhai Bala, a Hindu, and Bhai Mardana, a Muslim, to hold dialogues with many saints and Sufis — even, some charlatans who claimed some spiritual powers and had some social following.

His written compositions were included in the Adi Granth compiled by Guru Arjan (1563-1606), the fifth Sikh guru. This came to be known as Guru Granth Sahib after the additions made by the 10th guru Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708). In compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan showed a remarkable commitment to pluralism while retaining the unity of thought initiated by Guru Nanak. He included in the Granth the teachings and writings of all the five Sikh gurus but also the contributions made between the 12th and 16th centuries by many Hindu bhakts and Sufi saints such as Baba Farid, Sant Kabir, Guru Ravi Das and Sant Namdev.

The best way of understanding Guru Nanak’s universal vision is to read the Guru Granth Sahib. The ecological message of his teachings, which has strong relevance for our times, is perhaps, the best illustration of the universalism of his teachings.

In the last phase of his life that Guru Nanak spent at Kartarpur Sahib, he provided a practical demonstration of building a community based on strong egalitarian values of cooperative agricultural work and innovative social institutions of langar (collective cooking and sharing of food) pangat (partaking food without distinctions of high and low) and sangat (collective decision making).

The Paradox of Green Growth

American economist Kenneth Boulding famously quipped, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”. He was giving evidence to the U.S. Congress in 1973, in the wake of the Club of Rome’s first, enormously influential and provocative report, The Limits to Growth. The remark has survived to this day as a somewhat satirical comment on the economics profession, but it also has a certain internal logic and provides a useful starting point for thinking about the “decoupling wars” that tend to be fought around the compatibility between economic growth and environmental limits.

When economists contend that growth can continue indefinitely, it is because in their view, growth is something measured in terms of economic value rather than material throughput. The preferred measure of output for economists—the gross domestic product (GDP)—is denominated in monetary value rather than in material weight. These things, they argue, are separable: By decoupling one from the other, economies ought to be able to escape the dominion of finite limits at least to any relevant degree (if not literally forever)

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman goes as far as to suggest that physical scientists simply have a false conception of economic growth: “They think of it as a crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, and don’t take into account the many choices—about what to consume, about which technologies to use—that go into producing a dollar’s worth of GDP”. His conviction that these “many choices” will allow for even the most stringent ecological goals to be achieved without ever compromising economic growth leads him to denounce growth skeptics as “prophets of despair.”

Krugman’s argument is essentially an appeal to technology: more efficient processes, lighter and less polluting products, or a structural shift from materially intensive goods to materially light services, for instance. The importance of this kind of decoupling is not disputed, even by those who maintain that growth may not be feasible nor even necessarily desirable on a finite planet. What divides opinion, rather, is the question of whether a continuous decoupling might allow economic expansion to go on indefinitely.

It is useful to clearly distinguish between relative decoupling and absolute decoupling. The former refers to a decline in resource (or environmental) intensities, whereas the latter refers to an absolute fall in consumption or emissions. Put very simply, relative decoupling is about doing things more efficiently; because efficiency is one of the things that modern economies are supposed to be good at, decoupling has a familiar logic and a clear appeal to those who hope that growth can continue indefinitely. It isn’t hard to find evidence for relative decoupling, even at the global level. For example, the carbon dioxide intensity of the global economy fell from about 760 g of carbon dioxide per dollar (g CO2/$) in 1965 to less than 500 g CO2/$ today, a decline of almost 35% in half a century.

But relative decoupling is barely half the story. An improvement in the emissions intensity of economic output does not necessarily mean that emissions themselves are falling. For this, absolute decoupling needs to occur, where emissions fall over time, even as economic output continues to rise. For relative decoupling to lead to absolute decoupling, the emissions (or resource) intensity must decline at least as fast as economic output rises. If the rate of decline in emissions intensity is greater than the rate of economic growth, then the level of emissions will decline. If not, then it won’t.

It is not impossible to find some partial evidence for absolute decoupling over specific time periods, particularly when looking at data on a national or regional level. For instance, across the European Union, between 1990 and 2017, carbon emissions fell by 22% even as the economy grew by 58%, as measured on a territorial basis. Similar evidence can be found of both relative and absolute declines at the regional level in relation to material resource consumption.

One problem with this “partial” evidence is the porous nature of national and regional trade boundaries. In a globalized economy, territorial accounts of production-based emissions fail to take adequate account of a region’s “footprint”—that is, the carbon emissions associated with a region’s consumption patterns. The carbon footprint of the EU, for example, has fallen considerably more slowly, and remains 20% higher, than territorial emissions.

Such findings emphasize that, for a pollutant like carbon and for resources generally, it is what happens at the global level that counts; and here, there is no evidence of absolute decoupling at all. The amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere today is more than 60% greater than the amount in 1990, despite the best efforts of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, the rate of growth in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide has slowed somewhat. Between 2014 and 2016, total global emissions seemed momentarily to have stabilized. But they rose again by 1.6% in 2017 and are estimated to have risen by a further 2.7% in 2018.

There is another crucially important point here: Even absolute decoupling is not enough to ensure sustainability. Neither a stabilization in carbon emissions, nor a moderate decline in emissions, is enough to avoid a climate breakdown. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that to have a 66% chance of remaining below a 1.5°C temperature rise, there is a maximum available global carbon budget of 420 Gt of CO2 that can be emitted into the atmosphere. At the current rate of emissions, this carbon budget would be exhausted within a decade.

In other words, decoupling GDP from the flow of emissions is not the same as decoupling economic activity from the stocks of environmental and material resources on which future prosperity depends. To achieve the latter, sufficient or strong absolute decoupling is needed. At the global level, sufficient absolute decoupling to prevent climate breakdown would require an average annual decline in the carbon intensity of global economic output of around 14% every year for the next three decades. The highest rate of decoupling ever achieved by the world’s advanced economies was a little under 3%, in the years immediately following the oil crises of the 1970s. The average rate of decline across the world at the moment is less than 1%. In the case of a rich country like the United Kingdom, sufficient absolute decoupling would mean a decline in the nation’s carbon footprint at a rate in excess of 20% each year, with a net zero target that might need to be as early as 2030.

Proponents of so-called green growth—economic growth that uses natural resources in a sustainable manner—must show that it is possible to effectively eliminate carbon emissions from developed economies in the space of little more than a decade with no impact at all on economic expansion. This challenge cannot be answered solely by an appeal to technology. The question is not whether technological measures such as energy efficiency and solar power are possible (they clearly are); nor whether, in the past, countries have managed to harness these technologies sufficiently (they clearly haven’t); but rather, whether countries can now achieve sufficient gains in a short enough time to allow the pursuit of economic growth indefinitely, while still remaining within the safe operating space of the planet.

In a sense, this once again raises the question of whether economic value is something completely separate from—or at least separable from—physical and material flows. Certainly, in the past, the two things have gone hand in hand. According to economics, monetary value surely has something to do with activity. According to physics, activity is impossible without the expenditure of energy. There may well be efficiencies to be had, but these will ultimately be constrained by thermodynamic limits, as all activity is. Those who believe that this is not a constraint on expansion typically appeal to the massive quantities of solar energy that flood Earth. But it remains true that these flows are diffuse (rather than concentrated, as fossil fuels are) and must be captured using material devices.

It still is not clear that this immediately rules out some form of growth. But it is clear that the larger the economy becomes, the more difficult it is to decouple that growth from its material impacts. One doesn’t need thermodynamics to make this point. A bigger economy implies a bigger capital stock. A bigger capital stock means higher depreciation. An infinite economy (the ultimate outcome from eternal growth) means infinite depreciation and infinite maintenance costs. The only alternative would seem to be to begin assigning economic values to increasingly immaterial exchanges—love, friendship, the spoken word, perhaps—which seems both abusive and inflationary.

None of this is to suggest that decoupling itself is either unnecessary or impossible. On the contrary, decoupling well-being from material throughput is vital if societies are to deliver a more sustainable prosperity—for people and for the planet.