There may be more (or less) to this ‘South Asia’ expert than meets the naked eye

 

Rajeev Srinivasan

 

I came across an interesting link this morning, as below. It appears that Christine Fair had a meltdown and she, an associate professor at Georgetown, used unparliamentary language against Asra Q Nomani simply because the latter is a Muslim woman who voted for Trump. That reminded me of a piece I wrote a few months ago about this esteemed character C Fair, but had not published. Perhaps it’s time for it now:

http://dailycaller.com/2016/12/27/fk-you-go-to-hell-georgetown-prof-loses-it-on-muslim-trump-voter/

It can be a single word or phrase that gives away the game. In the classic ‘Z’ by Costa-Gavras, quite possibly the best political film of all time, the magistrate investigating a murder is startled by the fact that several suspects use the exact same phrase “lithe and fierce like a tiger”. He realizes that there has been a conspiracy, and the suspects have been coached to use this phrase. In the film, it is an epiphany that illumines the rest of the gripping drama.

 

In the current case it was a single word: “innocent” replaced by “ordinary”, that provided the epiphany. I refer to an interview and an essay by Christine Fair, said to be an expert on India and Pakistan; she spent years in Pakistan, and is proud of the fact that she can swear rather well in Urdu/Hindi, and knows other languages like Pushto and Dari.

 

There is a little background. I have been observing this person dispassionately for years with an anthropological interest in that species, the American ‘expert’ on the Indian subcontinent. I must admit to a certain prejudice, especially based on the experiences Indians have had with people like Jeff Kripal, Michael Courtwright, Martha Nussbaum, Wendy Doniger, Robin Raphel, Sarah Caldwell, and Sheldon Pollock, among others. Without going into details, let us say they are not exactly friends of India.

 

However, when I commented on twitter about Fair, I was told that she was a friend of India. So the positioning has clearly worked on many Indians. I retorted that she was a friend of the #DeepState, which has assets in Pakistan.

 

My gripe about American ‘experts’ is not new: I was sensitized to this as long ago as my college days, when I got into a public spat with a classmate who pontificated in the school newspaper about his perspectives on India, which to my prejudiced eye were superficial and based on a passing acquaintance with the country.

 

I pointed out that it was easy to be a helicopter expert who was air-dropped as it were, spent a short time in the country and had no in-depth understanding of the society or the culture, and to pass some judgment. But in all fairness, that classmate had no bad intent: he was merely looking at the ease of doing business in India, which I had to admit is rather spotty. But his facile reasoning for that, I argued, was wrong.

 

Unlike him, the professional India-watchers such as those I mentioned above are not innocent at all. They usually have an agenda, and seldom is that agenda positive towards India. Though their interests and competencies diverge, they all belong to what is called the American #DeepState: elites who run the US, and whose primary interest is not necessarily the American national interest, but only the elites’ own self-aggrandizement.

 

Thus I have been observing Christine Fair for long. She occasionally appears in the media, and often on Twitter, with a somewhat opaque modus operandi. She criticizes the Pakistani Army, harshly, and also says rude things about India; this deliberate balance, as well as her airy, imperious dismissals of individuals (such as an auto driver, who, heavens! attempted to fleece her thinking she’s a random white women, and darned if she didn’t show them who’s boss with a stream of first-class invective in Urdu that instantly tamed the wayward fella) are intended to show that she’s a neutral, superior being (she is faculty at Georgetown. In Washington, DC, the seat of #DeepState. And at her age (lots gray hair), she was until recently only an assistant professor per India Today, usually an entry level job. Odd.

 

I wonder, and I have wondered for some time. Fair has built up this nice positioning of herself as someone with a benign interest in the subcontinent (see, even her name is Fair, and so she must be fair, just like, to take a random example, the South China Sea must belong to China, QED).

 

Thus, I was not surprised to see a veritable tsunami of appearances in the media by Christine Fair in the wake of the Uri attack. She obviously is a go-to person by many in the Indian mainstream media. I went through her articles carefully, and I got the gist: war is bad, and India should not react militarily to what Pakistan did; the Pakistani Army is bad, very bad, indeed horrible people; but what can you do, India must make a distinction between them and the public there?

 

Specifically, India must not get into water wars, because that would hurt “innocent Pakistanis” http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/uri-terror-attack-pakistan-india-nuclear-war-christine-fair-terrorism/1/769343.html . That was my ‘Z’ moment: “innocent Pakistanis”. The very same phrase India’s MSM uses to argue against the possible use of the Indus Water Treaty as a weapon, and also against expelling Pakistani artists who are fattening themselves at the trough in India. The fact that Pakistan has been merrily killing “innocent Indians” by the thousands does not seem to enter into Fair’s calculations at all.

 

Onwards, and the next Christine Fair piece of advice was http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/cover-story/denying-pakistan-the-dividends-of-terror . Long, well written, and recommended on twitter by as astute an observer as Minhaz Merchant. But unfortunately, again the sub-text: “Pak Army bad, blah-blah, very bad indeed, blah-blah, but still India shouldn’t do anything rash, so that ordinary Pakistanis are affected”. (Emphasis mine)

 

Ah-ha, “innocent” has transmogrified into “ordinary”. See the subtle shift? “Innocent” raises hackles, the canny Fair had concluded, whereas the more neutral “ordinary” would not. But the message remains the same: let it be business as usual with Pakistan.

 

That is the very same message given by the US State Department: do yet another round of dossier-bombing of the Pakistanis re Uri (never mind that they will gratefully accept all information that identifies for them gaps in their counter-intelligence, as they did with the 26/11 and Pathankot dossiers), and they will merrily continue to send in terrorists.

 

My hunch about Christine Fair, that she is a #DeepState plant with plausible deniability, is now stronger than ever. I go back to films, this time ‘State of Siege’, another superb political thriller by Costa-Gavras with Yves Montand (coincidentally the murder victim in ‘Z’) playing an American in Latin America, disguised as an agricultural attache, but in reality an undercover anti-terrorism officer. He is kidnapped by the rebels after his cover is blown, tortured and killed. It is based on a real-life case where Tupamaro guerillas in Uruguay captured and killed an American embassy officer.

 

I am not saying Christine is a military officer or CIA or anything at all, just that there are many ways in which an ‘embedded’ ‘asset’ could be ‘invested’ in India, and have a significant impact on public opinion. And, in the interest of full disclosure, she called me an ignoramus and blocked me on twitter, which doesn’t endear her to me, but neither does it change my view of her as an interesting specimen worth studying keenly. There are many such, including those with Indian names, who carry on in time-honored tradition, and Indians fall for it every time.

 

1200 words, 28 Dec 2016

this was published by rediff.com on 17 may 2016 at

http://www.rediff.com/news/column/will-the-saudis-have-the-last-laugh/20160517.htm

i suggest that the saudis and their pals the isi have run rings around the americans, but the latter have finally realized it, and are dumping the saudis. pakistan will be toast down the road — the yanks want to have some leverage there for the moment.

this was published in the May 2016 issue of swarajya.

http://swarajyamag.com/magazine/the-three-next-big-things

the three new technologies i am impressed by are:

machine learning

CRISPR-CAS9

blockchain

this was published by swarajyamag.com on june 3, 2016, at http://swarajyamag.com/technology/why-european-union-is-hounding-google

i assert that the EU is treating google as though it were a predatory company like microsoft, whereas the fact that it gives away its software for free as open source makes it an apples to oranges comparison.

this was published by swarajyamag.com on 13 May 2016 at http://swarajyamag.com/politics/why-this-election-is-a-tipping-point-for-kerala  with a number of edits. The edits, of course, are the prerogative of the editor, and since i was traveling and didn’t have a computer, i asked them to just go ahead and make changes they wanted.

but here’s the original copy i submitted:

Why this election is a tipping point for Kerala, but also an object lesson for the rest of India

Rajeev Srinivasan

Many non Keralites would have heard of the Assembly elections about to happen here on May 16th only because of the god-awful ruckus made by the Congress that PM Narendra Modi ‘insulted’ Kerala by comparing it to Somalia. That’s not exactly what happened, and there were – what’s the favorite word of Barkha Dutt et al – ‘nuances’.

What he actually said was that the Scheduled Tribes of Kerala had child mortality rates approaching those of Somalia, which is factually correct: some 60 per thousand compared to some 90 per thousand. And it turned out that Communist supremo V S Achuthanandan had made the same comparison in 2013, and the Economic and Political Weekly had also said similar things.

Of course, the spin doctors went into overdrive, and #Somalia dominated the twittersphere and the discourse in Kerala for a few crucial days. That, in fact, was the critical outcome: it is of the ‘dog in the night-time’ variety. What did it displace as an object of discussion in the media? @sarath7750 put it well: “What Somalia gained for Chandy was the slow disappearance of #JusticeForJisha

Well, it was the brutal rape-murder of Jisha, a Scheduled Caste law student. The inhuman violence (she was hit so hard that her intestines spilled out; her genitals were mutilated) of that crime had captured the attention of the public, and it was a major embarrassment for Congress CM Oommen Chandy that the murder was swept under the carpet. No mainstream medium covered it for a week; it was only social media pressure that forced the police and media to wake up.

Chandy calculated, rightly, that if Jisha were to be in people’s minds, he would be hurt. So he clutched at the straw that Modi gave him with the Somalia word, and manufactured major outrage. I think he did a good job of that, so much so that poor Jisha has disappeared from the headlines. Her tormentor(s) have not been found; the police did a major cock-up by a) cremating her quickly and b) not sealing off the murder site and allowing the evidence including fingerprints to be trampled over. It is quite likely that this was intentional, based on orders from high-ups in politics, as Janmabhoomi newspaper, a BJP associate, claimed.

Jisha is a metaphor for what Kerala has become, and so are the tribals of Attappady, who have been dying of malnutrition and neglect. Their traditional highlands have been encroached or alienated by grasping low-landers who ply them with liquor, in addition to molesting their women. It is no exaggeration, and an immense shame, that in relatively well-off Kerala, these aboriginal people are treated like so much vermin (much like Native Americans were by white settlers in the US).

Jisha is a metaphor for how the status of women has deteriorated in Kerala, especially Hindu women. There are many sex scandals, trafficking, and so on and almost all the victims are Hindu: eg Soumya, Shari, Sarita. In a state that once boasted of its matrilineal respect for women, things have changed 180 degrees.

Furthermore, after 60 years of the formation of Kerala in 1956 from the kingdoms of Travancore and Cochin and the British-run Malabar, on almost every single measure, Kerala has regressed. Both the coalitions that have ruled the state, the UDF and LDF, are culpable. Not that Kerala was a paradise in 1956, but it had:

  • The highest level of general education in the country, with literacy at 2x the national rate
  • 53% of the state’s income was from agriculture, and it accounted for the majority of India’s foreign exchange earnings. 90% of the nation’s production of coconut, rubber, pepper, cashewnuts, cardamom, tapioca and arecanut
  • Highest health indicators, with child mortality rates at ½ or national average; death rates were also half the national average
  • 3x the national average in road density, 20% of all inland water transport
  • 25 Public Sector Undertakings, all profitable

All that is a distant memory. Today’s situation is dire:

  • Education is pathetic. Kerala is now 17th in upper primary and 20th in primary level education in India, which itself was 91 out of 92 countries studied in PISA rankings
  • 31% of students in class IV in state syllabus cannot read the class I textbook
  • Majority of state’s revenues come from liquor + lottery + Gulf remittances, none of which is sustainable. 30% of sales tax take is for liquor. 40% of state income is overseas remittances
  • Agriculture has been completely devastated. Rice cultivation has come to a virtual halt in this, one of the best rice-growing areas in the world. 89% of Kerala’s rice comes from outside. The state is dependent on imports for onions, potatoes (UP), pulses (MP), vegetables, milk, meat (TN), rice, lentils (AP), sugar (Maharashtra)
  • Drinking water of high quality not available to 71% of public, compared to 94% in TN, 89% in Gujarat, 83% in MP. This in one of the rainiest parts of the country
  • Total 4-lane roads in Kerala: 120 km, in Tamil Nadu: 3437 km
  • Total PSUs in Kerala: 125, number that’s profitable: 43. In 2013-14 alone, 16 were shut down

These are general indicators of malaise, but there are differences among different communities. The general condition of Hindus in particular is staggering, especially of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Statistics courtesy the BJP http://www.keralabjp.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/total-final.pdf unless otherwise indicated:

  • There are no programs for SC widows (but there are housing programs for divorced/abandoned/widowed non-Hindu women)
  • 66% of SCs are below the poverty line, 55% live in colonies
  • 25,408 SC families have no homes or land. 1,23,871 families live in one-room houses (Jisha lived in one such, a rickety, kaccha building)
  • 86,333 SC families do not have electricity
  • 79% of SC are day laborers. Less than 1% have government jobs
  • The Adivasi STs of Kerala are on the verge of extinction
  • 58% of STs have no basic conveniences, 57% have no electricity
  • 80% ST homes have no toilets
  • Kerala is the only state in the country that has not implemented forest rights for STs

In contrast,

  • Non-Hindu students get educational loans at 3% interest
  • Non-Hindu youths get 50,000 rupee grants to buy autos
  • Non-Hindu students in it is get fee refund
  • Non-Hindus get no-interest loans for housing
  • Muslim youth have 16 PSC/UPSC exam coaching centers, free IAS coaching, up to 6,00,000 rupees loans at 6% interest
  • Madrasa teachers get pensions up to 5,200 rupees per month

This sort of unequal treatment of Hindus is endemic in Kerala. For instance, Hindu temples have been expropriated by the state, yet obviously wealthy churches and mosques function unmolested.

A few years ago, an income tax officer (and a non-Hindu at that) arrived at the temple at Venpalavattam in Trivandrum and confiscated the hundi for alleged non-payment of tax. Upon investigation, I found a tax court ruling http://www.patheos.com/blogs/drishtikone/2012/12/income-tax-appellate-decides-hinduism-is-neither-a-religion-nor-a-community/ that justified it: it says Hinduism is not a religion, and therefore not eligible for tax-exempt status. The use of elephants in temples is under attack, but not the traditions of other religions, including the ritual sacrifice of large numbers of animals.

When there was a major fireworks accident at Paravur recently, the government essentially shrugged its shoulders. Since it takes all the money, it should be responsible for upkeep and management, but no, it’s one-way traffic. Many temples have also found their lands encroached and alienated, and they are unable to sustain themselves because these lands were their endowment.

When land reform expropriated large holdings and redistributed them to poor people, plantations were explicitly excluded, but not paddy fields. Well, quite by coincidence, it turned the plantations were owned by a certain community, and the paddy fields were owned largely by Hindus.

C I Issac, a professor, argues with voluminous data that Hindus are under severe stress. They are only around 50% of the population, but 92% of the suicides are Hindus, often for economic reasons. 80% of the state’s educational and trade institutions are owned by non-Hindus. 80% of the bank balances are, too. Non-Hindus on average own significantly more land than Hindus. Thus, on almost every count, the Hindu population of the state is particularly disadvantaged.

The status of SC and ST is especially bad. There was outrage when ST children were filmed eating garbage. Large numbers of them die young. An ST woman, denied admission to hospital, had to give birth outside, and her twin babies died. Another ST family was shown living in an abandoned toilet, using that, among other things, as their kitchen.

Add to this litany of woe the fact that the Congress government has been neck-deep in scandals of all sorts, with Solar Sarita just the tip of the iceberg. Similarly, the Communist cult of violence and the summary execution of their political opponents has made Kannur a killing field.

In the past, there was never an alternative to the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the UDF and LDF, and that’s why Kerala voted them in alternatively. But this time there is a choice, and in Kummanam Rajasekharan, the BJP has a personable and decent leader. It’s now or never for Kerala’s Hindus: they can continue to be oppressed by the two Fronts, or they can choose to give the BJP a chance.

1550 words, 13 May 2016

firstpost published this piece on 8 may 2016 at http://www.firstpost.com/politics/with-udf-ldf-duopoly-in-jeopardy-bjp-may-have-a-chance-in-kerala-polls-2770146.html

 

this was published by firstpost.com on 29 Apr 2016 at:

http://www.firstpost.com/world/agustawestland-panama-papers-ishrat-jahan-september-11-scandals-2755508.html

serious accusations, but will any of them get traction, or will the stonewalling establishment and pliant media manufacture consent, and bury them?

here’s an excerpt from the published text:

April is the cruellest month, said TS Eliot.

It has certainly been true this year in the context of scandals involving politics and the establishment. We have seen the high and mighty, mostly politicians but also journalists, athletes, film stars and so on, named and shamed in this series of revelations, and there may be parallels between them, even though they are spread all over the world.

In the US, the #28pages issue is that of a redacted chapter of 28 pages from the 9/11 enquiry commission’s official report. Some suggest that these pages — that have been seen by a limited number of people — were deemed too damaging to one of the US’s principal allies, Saudi Arabia. A former senator, Bob Graham, who had seen the impugned pages, suggests so in so many words.

Representational image. Reuters

The #PanamaPapers scandal established the fact that there are many loopholes and tax havens that are used by the rich and powerful to hide their (possibly ill-gotten) gains from the taxman. The US has been, quite indignantly, suggesting that offshore tax havens have hidden billions of dollars from the eyes of their Internal Revenue Service, and have forced many countries, including the famously secretive Switzerland, to reveal details about those who might be doing so.

The #Ishratfile revelation, in India’s case, suggests a nexus of politicians, journalists, lawyers and various others engaging in a clear conspiracy to hide certain facts about that dead young woman. For the first time has such a scandal hit P Chidambaram, who has hitherto been untouched, partly because he has such authority that nobody dares question him, although his election in 2009 in Sivaganga, commentators have noted, did seem a trifle odd.

The court case about that drags on.

The #AgustaWestland scam is both more and less sensational than #Ishratfile. The latter does not surprise in the sense that most of us suspected that Ishrat Jahan was indeed a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative: Well, for one thing, the LeT itself said so before quietly removing that from its website. The extent to which the Nehru dynasty has been willing to go to eliminate Narendra Modi (literally or metaphorically is not surprising either: Remember the maut ka saudagar meme, for instance).