What will happen on May 16th, 2014?

 

Rajeev Srinivasan

 

I write this shortly after the exit polls for the 2014 elections have been published, and they have uniformly suggested that the NDA will come to power with somewhere between 240 and 300 seats on their own. If you believe that the exit polls and the elections have successfully captured the will of the people, this is good. But if you are a suspicious type, it is not difficult to imagine that another constitutional coup will be readied in the next couple of days till May 16th.

 

I have written about several constitutional coups successfully carried out by the Congress in the past http://www.rediff.com/news/column/column-rajeev-srinivasan-4-ways-the-congress-won-power-through-constitutional-coups/20140107.htm , and I see no reason to believe they have suddenly reformed themselves. They will hang on to power at all costs, and will be prepared to sacrifice the last Indian for it.

 

I would be astonished, indeed floored, if there were a smooth and simple transfer of power to the NDA. The Congress did demit office once, when Indira Gandhi lost in 1977 or so, but today’s Congressis are a different kettle of fish. They have more to hide, and also have more at stake, including their ill-gotten gains salted away, probably, in Macau these days as Switzerland has gotten a bit too hot.

 

In this context, several statements made by Congress bigwigs look sinister. A few days ago, P Chidambaram promised that on the 16th, there will be a big surprise. Now coming from one of the most astute of Congressmen, and one known not to exaggerate, this probably means that we are in for a “May Surprise” much like incumbent American presidents like to deliver “October Surprises” that help them.

 

Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent manqué, was more precise: he promised that 22,000 people would die if Narendra Modi were to be elected. Why exactly 22,000? He did not elaborate.

 

But Amaresh Misra, a leading Congressman, was quite vocal in a series of tweets on May 13th. He promised rivers of blood. In fact he was quite blood-curdling, here is a selection, verbatim. It doesn’t appear to be mere bravado; and since he is a confidant of Rahul, we need to take his threats seriously; in fact I am not sure why he has not been subject either to the Section 66A provisions that have been used to shut down people deemed dangerous on the Internet, or to the Election Commission’s strictures regarding the model code of conduct during elections.

 

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  12h

To save democracy, all those supporting right wing forces on twitter will be killed. We will send CRPF to your houses. Drag you out/shoot!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  12h

A fascist leader who will kill minorities, change India’s secular character will be stopped by the Indian State by any means!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  12h

We will come out on the streets on 16th May to combat communal forces. We will kill all anti-national BJP supporters!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  11h

Whoever supports Modi is a Pakistani agent. He is liable to be killed with a bullet above his waist!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  9h

In Egypt, the army killed 2000 fundamentalists to preserve secularism. We will kill 2,00,000 Sanghis to save Indian democracy!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  7h

Indian people will not accept even one seat to BJP/NDA beyond 180, cause that means rigging by Modi. We will call in the army. We will kill!

Amaresh Misra ‏@AmareshMisra  7h

Election Commission will be responsible for any violence on 16th May. EC needs to insure BJP/NDA does not get 1 seat beyond 180!

 

To put this in context, I wrote recently (in the unfortunately titled http://www.rediff.com/news/column/rajeev-srinivasan-the-time-will-come-when-america-can-dictate-to-india/20140303.htm ) about the Berkeley mafia focusing on ‘violent riots in India’. The general tone – and the decidedly dubious members of the group – suggested to me that far from ‘studying violent riots’ they may well be keen to incite a few. Reading between the lines, some of them, including US residents, have been spending a lot of time in the field in India, although it is not clear if they are trying to construct new and improved narratives for Gujarat 2002, or whether they are doing reconnaissance for new riots to be launched.

 

To add to this, to my personal chagrin as my alma mater, Stanford’s Law School has just produced a report entitled, ponderously, “When Justice Becomes the Victim: The Quest for Justice After the 2002 Violence in Gujarat” http://humanrightsclinic.law.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/When-Justice-Becomes-the-Victim-secure.pdf . I haven’t read it, but judging from the breathlessness with which it was sprung upon an unsuspecting public by lefties – I imagine it consists of more warmed-over nonsense that paints the 2002 Gujarat riots as, well, the greatest example of man’s inhumanity to man, since, let me guess, the fire-bombing of Tokyo in WW2 that killed 100,000 people?

 

What this suggests, in conjunction with the rabid anti-Modi rhetoric from the western military-industrial-media complex, especially the New York Times and The Economist, is that the imperial and religious-conversion types there have no intention of letting go of India, now that they have locked on to it as a prime target for domination, and have amassed (in Rajiv Malhotra’s terminology) an army of sepoys to ensure that their writ continues to run in India.

 

Therefore, there are several scenarios I fear may be played out in the near future:

 

  1. The 1996 scenario, with the NDA only getting 250 seats, and being forced to demit office after only 13 days
  2. The AAP scenario, with a puppet government sworn in and the Congress pulling the strings from behind
  3. The Kerala 1957 scenario, with the country being made ungovernable through manufactured violence
  4. The Z scenario, with Modi being liquidated and martial law being imposed

The 1996 scenario

Atal Behari Vajpayee only managed to get 252 seats, and with all the ‘secular’ parties unwilling to support him, was forced to resign after 13 days and call for fresh elections. This is the most benign scenario the Congress might follow: and it would be a relatively simple matter for them to manipulate the Electronic Voting Machines to get this outcome.

 

We have known for a long time (see indiaevm.org or my previous column http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/01/the-real-issue-with-electronic-voting-machines.htm ) that EVMs are highly vulnerable. Given the opaque and easily-penetrated nature of election security, and given endemic corruption, it is highly probable that EVMs can be manipulated to come out with any result desired by the powers-that-be. Let us note that the Supreme Court-mandated VVPATs (EVMs with printed receipts ready for a recount if need be) are in only 20,000 out 18,00,000 booths, in effect making the court order superfluous. We still have the EVMs that did such yeoman duty in 2009.

 

I predict that they will confine the NDA to 250 seats, thus leaving Narendra Modi to the tender mercies of the Teen Kanya (J Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, and Mayawati), whose support the NDA would require to hit the magic 272. All of them are tough customers, and it would be very difficult for the NDA to win them over (with Jayalalitha a slightly better prospect). Chances are that a fresh election will have to be called later this year.

 

The problem is that Narendra Modi’s literally superhuman efforts addressing hundreds of rallies (and they were more than a normal human being should be asked to deliver) are what brought about the Modi Wave or Tsunami. It would be literally impossible for him to replicate this feat, and thus a by-election would bring a much-diminished tally to the NDA, obliging them to once again solicit the various regional satraps and being forced to accept their agendas.

 

And how will the obvious disconnect between the exit polls and the election ‘results’ be explained away? Oh, the exit polls are always wrong, they will say, pulling out the numbers from 2009 for reference. In fact, the Economic Times has already done so, right on cue (“Before results, opinions”, May 12th). There is also the small matter, as pointed out by Monu Nalapat in 2009, that the EC web site had some results before counting started – that is, instead of the server taking data from the individual EVMs, the results were pre-programmed into the server!

And oh, just to make things more entertaining, they may actually pull off the trick of having Arvind Kejriwal defeat Modi in Varanasi. EVM magic at  your service!

The AAP scenario

 

By now it is clear that the Aam Admi Party, despite all its hoopla, was merely a mask for the Congress, and a way for it to split anti-incumbency votes. The proper modus operandi was used to perfection in the Delhi polls recently. By sacrificing the unpopular Sheila Dixit (well, let’s not cry for her – she’s comfortably ensconced as Kerala Governor: nice sinecure) the Congress was able to blunt the BJP’s thrust to rule Delhi.

 

By projecting AAP as different from the Congress, and then quietly supporting them at an opportune time, the election was essentially stolen from the BJP: the AAP made big inroads into the educated urban cohort that is the most fed-up with the Congress. Naturally, western vested interests, in the form of various Agencies and Foundations, provided the lion’s share of the funding, and the media, with alacrity, anointed Arvind Kejriwal as a serious contender for the Prime Minister post. (In reality, the AAP may win 0-1 seat, at best 2-3.)

 

This scenario can work with that hoary chestnut, the Third Front government that will surely be trotted out should the NDA not get a clear majority. As in 2004, when the Communists ‘supported the UPA from outside’, it would not be difficult to arrange a ramshackle and unsteady coalition to form the government, with the Congress ‘supporting it from outside’.

 

Of course, this would lead to disaster, as investors, especially the FIIs who have run up the Sensex and the rupee, immediately leave in droves, as they would be aware that absolutely nothing would move forward on the economic front. Status quo ante, stagflation.

The Kerala 1957 scenario

 

The Communist government of EMS Nambudiripad, duly elected, was ousted in 1957 using a classic, reputedly standard spy agency tactic. By funding and supporting the most reactionary elements in Kerala (you can guess who they were), the three-letter Agency was able to manufacture a law-and-order situation.

 

The great democrat Jawaharlal Nehru, far from upholding the sanctity of the democratic process, promptly used Section 356 of the Constitution to impose President’s rule and kicked EMS out. Not that I hold any brief for the Communists, but this was a patently authoritarian act, and it set India on the slippery slope towards later, indiscriminate use of the Center’s powers to get rid of state governments it simply did not like.

 

Given the Berkeley mafia’s exertions, and the Stanford guys’ fulminations, not to mention seriously bone-chilling perorations in The Guardian, etc. by all sorts of people – and I have to mention that, to its credit, the Wall Street Journal  has kept away from this travesty – it seems likely that the West (especially John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and other assorted Democrats) is intent on creating problems in India.

 

There have been many instances when popularly-elected leaders have been subverted – the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran, or that of Allende in Chile come to mind – after the creation of serious law and order situations. In case you think I am kidding, Exhibit A: last month’s Assam riot between Muslims and Bodos; last week’s Meerut riot between Muslims and Jains (yes, Jains!); and today’s Hyderabad riot between Muslims and Sikhs.

 

The threats from Rahul Gandhi and Amrish Misra point to the likelihood of such planned ‘uprisings’ taking place. Of course, the use of violence to disrupt and tie down an administration can happen even if a Modi government does come to power. Incidentally, this is very close to what is happening in Thailand right now, as low-level violence has paralyzed the nation, and a court has just asked Yingluck Shinawatra to step down.

The Z scenario

 

This is the most alarming, but by no means unthinkable, scenario. The film Z by Costa-Gavras, based on real-life incidents in Greece in the 1950s, shows how an enormously popular candidate for the presidency is assassinated by the military junta in power. When popular unrest bubbles up, the generals declare martial law and countermand the elections. This is quite possibly the greatest political film of all time, and it is my nightmare scenario.

 

Let us remember that as long ago as five or six years ago Karan Thapar, a journalist with strong ties to the Congress, talked about “the sudden removal of Narendra Modi”. It was obvious that he was thinking about an assassination, a physical liquiation. So this scenario has been thought about by at least some people.

 

I argued some time ago http://www.indiafacts.co.in/author/rajeev-srinivasan/#sthash.DtEgOnxf.dpbs that Modi had grown too popular to be assassinated – as the backlash would surely propel the BJP to office. However, now that the election is over, that point is moot, and it would not constrain anybody.

 

And exactly what will happen in such a scenario? Even though people have suggested there would be a civil war, I doubt it. The Army has remained apolitical and thus a marginal player. The average Indian is too docile to go out there and throw Molotov cocktails, and even if we had more hot-heads in the population, as in Iran or Ukraine or Egypt, or even in the US (remember the “Occupy Wall Street” etc. demonstrations?), it is hard to sustain an agitation over a long period, and the authorities can wear you down – you do have to go to work and earn a living, after all. Thus, an actual coup would become a fait accompli.

 

I have outlined above several scenarios that might unfold by Friday. I truly hope that I am wrong, and that there will be a smooth transition of power without the decimation of any of the institutions of the State. If otherwise, I hope that the least violent and the least damaging path will be taken, for the sake of this great nation.

2291 words, May 14, 2014

Errata: An earlier version said 1998 instead of 1996 for the short-lived Vajpayee government. Sorry.

 

A slightly edited version of the following was published on rediff.com on march 1st, 2012 at http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-social-contract-why-modi-scares-the-usual-suspects/20120301.htm

Social Contract: Why Narendra Modi scares the bejeezus out of the usual suspects

Rajeev Srinivasan on why Narendra Modi is a threat to the establishment because he overturns many of the convenient myths they propagate

It is a predictable a winter ritual: around this time every year it gets into high gear. A bit like Super Bowl season or duck-hunting season: the season to invent, regurgitate and shed crocodile tears over stories about how wicked Narendra Modi is.

There are quite possibly three reasons why there is such widespread and venomous criticism of Modi, apart from the obvious political fact that he has become a viable candidate for national office. Any one of these is good enough reason for Modi-bashing; but given all of them simultaneously, no wonder his detractors are practically apoplectic.

The three reasons, in my opinion, are:

  • Modi has created a Social Contract with the people of Gujarat, which seems to work; it has broader national implications as well
  • Modi has tamed the corruption monster, by not taking bribes himself, but more importantly, preventing others from doing so
  • Modi has shown total contempt for political shysters and media hucksters: this hurts their amour-propre; not to mention their pocket-books

Modi’s greatest achievement has been the fact that he has created a clear social contract with the people of his state. (I am indebted to my friend B Rao of Los Angeles for this insight). Modi promised them development, and he delivered. In return, he asked for just one thing: discipline; and the people delivered. This has become a win-win situation for both parties, and for investors: there is a visible change in Gujarat’s fortunes, right on the ground.

The State GDP growth rate of Gujarat in the recent past has been at a scorching pace of 11.3% in 2005 (see http://www.rediff.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-glimpses-of-gujarats-high-growth-story/20120209.htm), considerably greater than that of India as a whole. This does not, alas, satisfy carping critics.

There was a long essay in Caravan magazine: I glanced through it, and one of the points made was that, even though $920 billion in investment had been promised for Gujarat during the last few ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ meets, only about 25% of these have materialized. That, however, is the norm in India: no more than about 25% of the promised investment actually materializes.

But look at the sheer numbers: almost a trillion dollars in investment proposals, and actual investment of, say, $230 billion! That is astonishing. This number can be directly contrasted with another large number: $462 billion. That is the amount estimated by Global Financial Integrity http://india.gfintegrity.org/ as the total amount siphoned out of India through illegal financial flows between 1948 and 2008.

In an intriguing irony, ‘Vibrant Gujarat 2011’ saw MoUs for $462 billion being signed – precisely the same as the amount estimated by Global Financial Integrity as having been spirited away in sixty years of allegedly socialist rule at the Center!

Modi has delivered on his implicit Social Contract: growth in return for order. When you think of social contracts, there are several models to consider, for instance those attributed to Europeans such as Locke, Rousseau and Hobbes, medieval imperialist models, Indian models, and the Confucian ‘Iron Rice Bowl’.

A common thread among all these models is that there is a tradeoff: there are rights, and there are responsibilities. It is necessary that you give away some of your rights in the interest of the greater good of society. The models differ in details, as well as in perspective – for instance is it teleological/utilitarian, preferring the greatest good for the greatest number, or is it deontological, preferring to protect the rights of the very weakest members? In some cases, it is neither, and is meant to be purely exploitative.

It could be argued that Modi has revived a traditional Hindu/Buddhist social contract, which, in return for discipline and hard work, provides the populace with security and righteous order. The population may pursue dharma, artha, kama, or moksha, without interference from the State; but they pay taxes and do their civic duty, and the State guarantees protection from predatory outsiders. This is roughly in line with the American idea of the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

This general Indian principle also evolved into the idea of gentlemanly warfare, wherein non-combatants were spared, with only the kshatriya class involved in bloodshed, battles ended at nightfall, and winners were chivalrous to fallen foes.

This sort of contract is explicit in Emperor Ashoka’s reign, and most vividly in Chanakya’s Arthashastra. Chanakya laid out in detail the kinds of information-gathering and management control that a sovereign needs to institutionalize, and contrary to popular mythology, Ashoka employed thousands of spies to ensure that any unrest was nipped in the bud and malcontents isolated.

This model was what turned India into the most prosperous nation in the world, as detailed in Angus Maddison’s magisterial economic history of the world. It was in fact the world’s leading economic power till roughly 1700 CE.

This model worked for several thousand years, from the earliest known stages of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization roughly five thousand years, up until the arrival of Arab and Turkish hordes in the 1100 CE timeframe, and later, the European hordes circa 1700 CE. This dharma or ‘natural order’ in Locke’s terms has been forgotten by modern Indians, brought up on a steady diet of misinformation.

The models that today’s Indians are more familiar with are Hobbesian, leading to “nasty, brutish and short” lives – those of empire. We have endured three forms of this imperial model: Muslim, Christian, and Communist. And we have barely survived.

The Arab/Turkish Muslim social contract of dhimmitude imposes order by explicitly reducing the rights of certain groups (non-Muslims) while allowing them the minimum possible subsistence to exploit them as productive members of society. However, in India, this was an unstable equilibrium because the Hindus resisted, and resisted continuously, unlike non-Muslims in, say, Iraq, Egypt or Persia.

The European Christian social contract of colonialism imposes order by explicitly pursuing a policy of overseas theft and loot, based on the superiority of “guns, germs and steel”. Interestingly, this social contract is now unraveling, as there are no more subject peoples to loot and steal from: Europe is collapsing into oblivion.

An excellent interview in the Wall Street Journal on February 26th with historian Norman Davies http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203918304577240984211126416.html suggests that the end is nigh for Europe. Why? Its social contract with its citizens has been that they would get prosperity in return for providing the muscle for overseas expeditions. Bereft of empire and forced to fall back on their own (minimal) resources, countries like the UK are rapidly reverting to their natural, Hobbesian state: the riots in several cities last year are indicative of this.

The Communist social contract is a form of fascism and Stalinism.  It demands absolute loyalty from the public in return for… well, promises, but not often the reality, of prosperity. There is the stinging criticism that Communism offers you a version of democracy: “one man, one vote, one time”. That’s it. One time.

The incarnations of this contract range from the brutal gulags of the Soviet Union, China and Cambodia to the more mellow socialism in India. But that last, even though less violent in visible ways, has been an economic crime against humanity: it prevented 400 million Indians from climbing out of poverty. After sixty years of it, Manmohan Singh called hunger in India a ‘national shame’. It is indeed a shame, and it indicates the utter failure of the Communist/socialist social contract.

This is why the powers-that-be fear Modi’s obviously successful social contract: much as they try to paint Modi as hell-bent on victimizing Muslims, the latter have voted with their feet. They are willing to stay in Gujarat, eschew violence, and prosper. The Hindus are doing exactly the same thing: they have stayed, eschewed violence, and prospered. Precisely: a real secular state, where you succeed not based on your religion, but on how hard you work.

So clearly there is an alternative to the orthodox Stalinism of the powers-that-be, one that works. How terrible it will be if the rest of the country took notice! Whatever will the purveyors of failed social contracts do? That is reason number one Modi is bad.

Reason number two is related. Endemic corruption, and lack of leadership, are the biggest problems India faces. There are many leaders who are supposedly personally honest, but who allow those around them to indulge in the mass loot of the public treasury. Is that any better than if they were themselves indulging in theft? Probably not: it just adds hypocrisy to their other crimes.

Modi has been able to fix corruption with a singular mantra: not only is he personally not on the take but he doesn’t have offspring on the take either (Bhishma-like, eh?). But what’s more, he doesn’t allow anybody else to be corrupt either. This is most distressing for the neta-babu crowd. The fishes and loaves of office are turning into ashes in their salivating mouths: so what is the point in spending big bucks to get a rentier job or an MLA seat unless your rent-seeking self can recoup the investment in a matter of months? None whatsoever, and that is precisely the point!

It is amusing to note that Narendra Modi is immensely popular everywhere in Gujarat, except in the capital Gandhinagar – his party gets defeated here routinely, while it gets two-thirds majorities elsewhere! The neta-babu log are, understandably, unhappy with him. But I suspect the legendary mango man (aam aadmi) is quite happy.

The third reason is that, just as Modi has tamed the politician-bureaucrat nexus, he has also figured out the way to deal with the loud and self-important media, soi-disant “intelligentsia” and the NGO crowd. He doesn’t pay any attention to their foaming at the mouth; in fact, if I remember right, there was some incident where he simply got up and walked off a live TV interview when the rabid host kept hyperventilating.

India’s media and “intellectuals” have fattened themselves by attaching themselves to the mammaries of the welfare state, and following a simple mantra: “All the news that will get us crumbs from the government or junkets from foreign donors”. In fact, India has some of the most astonishingly biased people in positions of power.

There is, for instance, a statement by an activist immediately after the Sabarmati Express was set on fire, and 59 Hindus, mostly women and children, were burnt alive. This person said: “while I condemn today’s gruesome attack, you cannot pick up an incident in isolation. Let us not forget the provocation. These people were not going for a benign assembly. They were indulging in blatant and unlawful mobilization to build a temple and deliberately provoke the Muslims in India.” (‘Mob attacks Indian train’, Washington Post, Feb 28th, 2002 http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A13791-2002Feb27?language=printer).

Now imagine that this person sits on the all-powerful National Advisory Council! Let us now further imagine that this person has relentlessly filed petition after petition against Modi; has been accused of serial perjury and witness tampering; and is yet considered a credible spokesperson.

This is just an example of a media/NGO nexus that believes strongly in “truth by repeated assertion”, a successful tactic by the Communists too. That the Indian media is prostituting itself to the highest bidder (when they are not being bigots) is no surprise; no wonder Modi doesn’t care two hoots what they think. But this, of course, annoys the hell out of said media who fancy themselves as judge, jury and executioner put together.

There is a minor cottage industry that is centered on explaining how Hinduism is at the root of all evils in India. The latest is a bunch of misinformed kids at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, who wrote an essay wherein they blamed everything that is wrong in India on the Mahabharata, Ramayana and Arthashastra. There is ample evidence that this sort of ritualized strawman-building-and-knocking-down is a successful imperial tactic.

For instance, the British claimed Ayurveda and kalari payat were evil, banned them, and burned the books. They claimed the ancient practice of smearing cowpox pus as a preventive against smallpox was ‘barbaric’, and banned it. They claimed devadasis were an abomination, but in fact they were, like geishas, cultured women of substance, who often endowed public works like dam-building. They claimed dowry and jati are evil; but dowry, according to Veena Talwar Oldenburg’s remarkable research, was the result of British practices. Jati is the very reason Indian civilization has survived, because its distributed nature makes it hard to eradicate.

Narendra Modi is one person who has figured out the antidote to the venom from the self-proclaimed “intellectuals” and their newspapers and TV. He goes over their heads to a higher-authority: the people. And the people respond, showing said “intellectuals” how superfluous they are. No wonder they are livid.

Thus, by re-creating a viable social contract, by being an ethical leader, and by ignoring the vicious, Modi has shown he has the one thing that India needs: leadership. Not at all good, if you are one of those currently pretending to be leaders.

2200 words, 26th Feb 2012

A version of the following was published by DNA on jan 12th, 2011 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_india-is-finally-seeing-the-birth-of-alternative-journalism_1493314, and the PDF is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/12012011/11main%20edition-pg16-0.pdf

An emergent people’s journalism finally in India?

Rajeev Srinivasan on how a spontaneous movement of neutral, patriotic, non-professional citizen journalists and commentators on the Internet may be rewriting norms in media

Some journalists get confused and start believing they make the news, rather than just report it. This, and journalistic groupthink, has led to a grotesquely skewed discourse: India’s supposed ‘centrists’ would be considered ‘far Left’ elsewhere. Their conventional wisdom is curiously anti-national as well.

“All the news that is fit to print” simply isn’t printed in India, only that which supports a particular viewpoint. Besides, those who do not toe the line are blackballed: you cannot get published, period. Several people have told me about their personal experience of being excluded for their views.

This perverted system engenders a persistent anti-India bias in international media, too. When in India, foreign correspondents interact primarily with Delhi’s insular, incestuous journalist-sling-bag-wallah nexus that sneers at middle India; their endemic prejudices infect the foreigners.

At least Western media pays lip service to being non-judgmental. In India, there is an obvious industrialist-politician-journalist axis. They ‘manufacture consent’. But they were caught red-handed, Watergate-style, in the Radia tapes incident. Thereupon the entire media closed ranks, and simply buried the story, hoping it would go away: this tactic has always worked in the past. Unfortunately for them, this time it didn’t work, because Internet readers, especially Twitterati (those using the instant, SMS-like, 140-character Twitter social network), reflected popular outrage, and kept the issue alive.

Self-important scribes became concerned about their image on Twitter. When they were not given fawning adulation, they began abusing Twitterati as cave-dwelling illiterates or “Internet Hindus”, showing their habitual scorn for the ‘little people’. One even threatened people with IPC 509, “insulting the modesty of a woman”, simply for questioning her dogmas.

But the Twitterati, mostly middle-class, urban, young, tech-savvy Indians both in India and abroad, were not browbeaten, and responded in kind – and in this level-playing-field medium, they had exactly the same access as any high-and-mighty journalist. The latter, accustomed to being little tin-pot dicators, and to being able to say ‘off-with-their-heads’ and censor any opinions and retorts they didn’t like in their media, were quickly put on the defensive.

And this developed into a sort of dependency: the scribes desperately want love, or at least respect, from the Twitterati! Not surprisingly, Twitterati have utter contempt for the journos, and say so in no uncertain terms. The Twitterati – some influential commentators include @atanudey, @barbarindian, @sandeepweb, @swathipradeep2 – are the very upwardly-mobile cohort that the English-language media craves, but they are clearly not buying the same old anodyne Kool-Aid that is dished out.

One more thing began to happen: the western media picked up what bloggers and Twitter people were saying. This hit the uppity journos where it hurts the most. They fulfilled their greatest ambition – getting the coveted fifteen minutes of fame in the NY Times or Washington Post; but, alas, it was via a commentary on their (lack of) journalistic ethics and on the harsh judgment of Internet readers.

As a result, Vir Sanghvi for all practical purposes fell on his sword, shutting down his impugned column. Barkha Dutt tried the opposite tack: brazening it out and proclaiming innocence. This did not work; NDTV’s credibility is damaged and her ratings have plummeted (according to TAM data for December). An attempt at self-defense on TV boomeranged: she appeared shifty and guilty as charged, Nixon-like. She may have committed journalistic hara-kiri.

Furthermore, the IBN network, also viewed with derision as #IBNlies, was caught by @preeti86 ham-handedly fabricating fake tweets (messages) from non-existent identities in an effort to inflate support for their positions.

Pathetically, the scribes and their sock-puppets (planted supporters) are attempting to paint themselves as victims of a conspiracy among Twitterati. But this snake-oil is not selling. One of the sock-puppets, some minor Bollywood type screeching #stopabuseontwitter, showed himself a hypocrite by making crude sexual suggestions to a woman online, and then running for cover when someone brought up IPC 509.

Fed-up Internet mavens have long complained that the media in India is corrupt, sold out (#paidmedia and #dalalmedia are popular terms) and anti-national. It appears that Twitterati have finally created an alternative, uncensored, independent channel for news and commentary.

This is as subversive as the samizdat underground press in the erstwhile Soviet Union was. Even more ominously for the powerful, there is the example of OhmyNews in Korea. This little paper, initially a one-man effort, became so wildly popular that eventually it was instrumental in toppling an elected regime in 2002.

Will the emergent people’s media in India play a similar role? That would be poetic justice – he who corrupts the media falls to its new, web-enabled incarnation. The establishment, naturally, will fight this: a new push to monitor Internet usage may lead to a Great Firewall of India, stifling the new medium.

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

825 words, 11 Jan 2011

I wrote this initially for publication in a newspaper, but on second thoughts decided they would have too hard a time with it. Hence I decided to just post it here. I omitted to add a bunch of other information I had because of the word limit, but it would be useful to think of:

a) how the media and the State always suppress information about the misadventures of Christist godmen: the Sister Abhaya case has been essentially shelved because the Supreme Court (how conveniently!) decided that narco-analysis was not acceptable, just in time for the perps nun Seffi and godmen Kottoor and Puthrukkayil to escape

b) how large-scale conversion has turned not only the Northeast, but most of Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh into Xtist-majority areas where Hindus are oppressed

c) how land-grab is one of the major objectives: the tribals are converted, and their land is simply taken over by the Xtists. The entire Western Ghats in Kerala, formerly tribal and public land, has been captured by Xtists

d) how Xtists are expropriating Hindu cultural artifacts and claiming them to be their own, eg. bharatanatyam, mohini attam, yoga, karnatic music

e) how Hindu leaders and Hindu children are being abducted in Pakistan (especially in Baluchistan) and there is not a peep from the Government of India about it. Most recently, the most revered Hindu monk, an 80-year-old, was abducted and hasn’t been heard from since — we should presume he has been murdered

f) how Xtist icons have started appearing with State benediction. The crosses on official Indian coins are clearly Xtist idols.

I did not have space to go into these, but they are worth considering.

Here’s the original article:

Is there a powerful mafia working tirelessly to convert Hindus?

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders if there is a malevolent design behind how Hindu leaders are consistently subjected to brutality by the State

What do Aseemanand, Lakshmananda and the Kanchi Swami have in common? They were all making things difficult for missionaries to meet their conversion targets, and they paid for that ‘sin’. There is a sinister pattern – if you stand in the way of the conversion mafia, they will liquidate you.

Aseemanand’s social and educational work for decades in the tribal Dangs district of Gujarat has been highly appreciated by the tribals themselves. But he has been jailed on flimsy charges, likely tortured, and what sounds suspiciously like a ‘confession-at-the-point-of-a-gun’ has been wrung out of him.

Lakshmananda, the octogenarian monk who worked for thirty years in Orissa’s tribal areas, was the subject of many death threats; he was physically assaulted; and finally he and others in his ashram were gunned down with AK-47s.

The Kanchi Swami was humiliated – tejovadham – on trumped-up charges; he was jailed like a common criminal (as though house arrest were unknown in India), in a deliberate effort to damage the prestige of the Kanchi Sankara Matham. The Kanchi Swami’s ‘crime’? He has been active among the scheduled castes in Tamil Nadu, ensuring their inclusion in what had long been criticized as an upper-caste institution.

The list is endless: there is the Bangalore monk Nityananda – wasn’t it quite amazing that minutes after his allegedly compromising videos were flashed on TV, there was a self-organizing ‘irate mob’ available to burn down his ashram? After all the righteous indignation, when the alleged woman in the video – actress Ranjitha – said that the whole thing was fabricated by a missionary, who is also issuing death threats against her, that was blanked out by the pliant media.

Possible reason for the wrath against Nityananda: the charismatic, lower-caste monk was seen as a role model, and was attracting large numbers of young followers from the lower castes.

Then there were the persistent allegations against the Sai Baba of Puttaparthi regarding pedophilia – it turned out that when challenged in court, the accusers simply had no leg to stand on.

There have been many attempts to damage the prestige of the Sabarimala shrine. The possible reason: there has been a lot of conversion among lower castes, especially in Tamil Nadu, by the judicious use of a Madonna cult. This appeals to the Indian weakness for mother-and-child memes (as in the baby Krishna imagery), and resulted in a rather good harvest. The growth of the Sabarimala pilgrimage halted this particular conversion juggernaut.

First, there was the attempt to physically wipe out the shrine – although that could be attributed to more mundane motives, such as encroaching on the forest land nearby. Some time in the 1950s, before the pilgrimage became popular, Christians actually set fire to the temple.

Then there was the attempt to manufacture a historical Christian presence at Nilakkal, on the route of the pilgrimage. Allegedly, a 2000-year-old wooden cross, installed by the famous Saint Thomas, was unearthed intact. That would have been a genuine miracle – 2000-year-old wood does not survive buried in Kerala’s humid earth; and Thomas had never even come to India (he died in Ortona, Italy, as certified by the Vatican). But it was a good try.

Third, there was the ‘compromising photographs’ ploy. The chief priest of Sabarimala was invited to an apartment in Cochin, where he was coerced into compromising positions, and photographed, by some Christians.

Fourth, there was the “I went to Sabarimala and touched the deity” scam by a film-extra. She claimed that, contrary to custom that women of child-bearing age do not visit the shrine, she had gone there in her twenties, and in the crush of pilgrims, had fallen in the sanctum and touched the murti by accident, thus polluting it. All of which turned out to be untrue. No surprise that she is married to a Christian.

If you put two and two together, it can be seen that there is a Vietnam, or a South Korea, developing in India. These Buddhist-dominated nations were rapidly Christianized in the post-war period; Buddhist monks were seen self-immolating in South Vietnam, in self-sacrificing protest against religious oppression at the hands of Catholic tyrants like Madame Nhu.

Similarly, South Korea, for long a Buddhist-majority nation, was turned in five decades into a Bible-thumping country. In India’s northeast, of course, converted Nagas now demand a separate Christian Naga nation. Violent Christian terrorist groups massacre Hindus – Shanti Tripura, a Hindu monk, was shot dead (ah, the signature AK-47 again) in his temple. The same with Bineshwar Brahma, Hindu Bodo leader and litterateur. Then there are the Hindu Reang tribals, 45,000 of whom were ethnically cleansed from Tripura for refusing to convert.

This pattern of abuse suggests that there is indeed a systematic, sinister plan in action.

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

825 words, Jan 8, 2011

The curse of obsequiousness

December 13, 2010

A version of the following was published by DNA on 14th dec 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_why-we-are-the-world-s-worst-bunch-of-kowtowers_1480850 under the title” Why we are the world’s worst bunch of kowtowers”.

The curse of endemic obsequiousness

 

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether Indian officials’ refusal to grow a backbone is an unfortunate national trait

 

The incident in Mississippi was startling: the Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, clad in a sari, was pulled out of the security line at an airport and subjected to a humiliating pat-down, apparently because of Transportation Safety Administration guidelines about ‘voluminous clothes’.

 

This, despite the fact that the ambassador produced her diplomatic papers. I suppose one could argue that the Mississippi officers were just doing their job, although it is possible that a little xenophobia, if not a little racism, was thrown in. Somehow I can’t imagine them patting down a white woman in a voluminous bridal dress.

 

But worse, the Indian Embassy tried to hush this incident up. It turns out this is not the first time it has happened to Meera Shankar. The embassy would have done nothing this time too if a local paper hadn’t carried shocked observations by the ambassador’s hosts, who felt she had been humiliated by the pat-down in full public view.

 

It appears, sadly, that the first instinct of Indian officialdom is to swallow insults and to, if possible, insist on not having any semblance of a backbone.

 

Consider that other countries do not ‘go gentle into that good night’, but they ‘rage, rage’. When China felt that the Nobel Peace Prize was an affront to them, they simply instituted a competing Confucius Peace Prize, laughable though it may be. When the US introduced intrusive fingerprinting rules for visitors, Brazil retaliated in kind. When the US creates non-tariff barriers, others retaliate.

 

But India, oh, that’s a different matter. There seems to be a built-in level of obsequiousness. Are Indian diplomats eyeing post-retirement sinecures in the World Bank etc.? But why are diplomats from other countries willing to stand up for their national interests?

 

Perhaps it is because India has never explicitly stated what those national interests are. The late C K Prahalad once wrote an essay on ‘strategic intent’ – that is, a long-range plan with a stretch goal: difficult at the moment, but not impossible if one worked assiduously at it. It is now accepted in business circles that firms that do not have a ‘strategic intent’ are more likely to fail, because there’s nothing like a worthy goal to rally the troops.

 

The Americans have strategic intent: it was paraphrased some years ago as something to the effect of “having 8% of the world’s population, and enjoying 50% of its resources”. China similarly has a strategic intent: they want to be Numero Uno in everything: wealth, military power, soft power. And what is India’s strategic intent? To be a toady to some great power? Can’t India see that it can be more than a banana republic, it can be a great power itself? It can be the bride, not only the bridesmaid.

 

On the contrary, I find a supreme lack of self-confidence. I understand that when the Chinese once sent a demarche to the Indian Embassy past midnight – in diplomatic terms a gross insult – instead of waiting till the next day, the woman ambassador showed up at the Chinese Foreign Office at 2 am! The Chinese would have considered that to be kowtowing.

 

But when a rude Chinese diplomat claimed in Mumbai that India had no business in Arunachal Pradesh, India did not immediately declare him persona non grata and give him 24 hours to clear out of the country. Instead, he was allowed to hang around and make more offensive statements!

 

A Chinese strongman is due to visit India shortly – and some suggested that India should refrain from the Nobel ceremony in case it would jeopardize the Wen Jiaobao visit! Why this walking on eggshells? The gent is not visiting for India’s benefit. If he doesn’t come, it will make no difference – they will continue the dam on the Brahmaputra, their army’s incursions over the LOC, and proliferation to Pakistan.

 

There is no consequence to them for misbehaving with India. We should ensure there some pain to China, and others, for insulting India. That gains respect.

 

Is there a genetic problem among Indians? Are we so used to obsequiousness that it has become the way we think? Perhaps. Going back to the airport security issue, maybe you have seen the lists in Indian airports of those exempt from security checks: the President, the Chief Justice Supreme Court, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and so on…, and, Robert Vadhera!

 

Yes, this person who holds no public office is the only one specified by name as being exempt from frisking. In all fairness to this gent, I am told he didn’t ask for it, and it was the work of overzealous flunkeys. If that groveling is the prevailing pattern in India, then perhaps it is only fair that Meera Shankar was patted-down.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

 

823 words, 11 Dec 2010

 

 

 

A version of this was published by rediff.com on 2nd Dec 2010 at http://www.rediff.com/sports/column/column-rajeev-srinivasan-celebrates-indias-asian-games-glory/20101202.htm

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner


Rajeev Srinivasan wonders about India’s quest for Olympic glory

 

The most vivid moment for me at the Asiad was on the first day of the track-and-field events, when unheralded Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut delivered a magnificent 1-2 finish in the grueling 10,000 meters, taking gold and silver with personal best timings. They followed up later with silver and bronze in the 5000 meter run.

 

As I scoured the news for the next few days, it was a pleasant surprise that there were a number of golds in track events: Sudha Singh won the 3,000 meters steeplechase, Ashwini Akkunji and Joseph Abraham won the women’s and men’s 400 meters hurdles in an unprecedented sweep; and the women’s team in the 4×400 meter sprint, defending champions from 2002 and 2006, won again.

 

I remember the agony and ecstasy of the wins and losses of P T Usha a generation ago, and I have been a fan of track events since then. There is something inherently thrilling about a race: it is the primal sporting event. It is electric, immediate, and direct: there is nothing but raw human talent out there on display. No devices, no second chance, nothing – it’s man-to-man, or woman-to-woman.

 

I wonder if it is a cliché to suggest that running perhaps brings out something primitive in us – the racial memory of trying to outrun a saber-toothed tiger or chase down a woolly mammoth. Incidentally, science suggests that long-distance running is a human specialty – we can keep going at a steady trot for hours because of our efficient cooling systems, whereas the sprint kings of the animal world overheat quickly: they have no stamina.

 

But the sprint events in particular are the glamour events of the games. Even the field events don’t quite come close, because there is the delay – for instance, in the jumps, each individual does their thing, then comes back for another try. Somehow, the foot-race is far more thrilling. The spectator’s adrenaline is pumping: and you are jumping up and down and screaming like an idiot, cheering like there is no tomorrow for your countryman or woman. This is what makes for true fan-dom.

 

And there’s nothing to beat the sprints for high drama. Did anybody watch the women’s 4x400m relay at the Commonwealth Games? It was thrilling, with the first two legs going neck and neck, but then Ashwini Akkunji put on a fine spell of acceleration to blow past a surging Nigerian runner, and anchor Mandeep Kaur made no mistake. Even though I watched the video after I knew the result, I was on my feet, cheering. That was the first athletics gold for India in the Commonwealth after Milkha Singh’s 440 yard win in 1958 – a long wait indeed.

 

I believe the Asiad saw a repeat of the same modus operandi, with the tall Ashwini reprising her heroics in the third leg. I have not yet been able to find a video, but I heard Ashwini powered ahead of the Kazakh runner Margarita (the 800 meters gold medallist), giving Mandeep a cushion to fend off the Kazakh anchor, Olga, the 400 meters gold medallist.

 

For my money, that makes Ashwini Chidananda Akkunji from Udupi, Karnataka, the best athlete of the games: two golds, and excellent teamwork. There is only one other double gold winner for India, Somdev Devvarman in tennis singles and doubles. And Preeja Sreedharan missed a long-distance double gold by a whisker, ending up with one gold and one silver.

 

But how come these athletes are not household names? Why are they not lionized, and how come they do not earn millions appearing in advertisements? I had barely heard of Preeja even in the Malayalam media. These are truly unheralded, unsung heroes. Preeja, I found, works for the Indian Railways. Joseph Abraham is in the Army.

 

Why is that only the Railways and the Armed Forces (they have an Operation Olympics, which is beginning to pay dividends) are the only sponsors of anything other than cricket? Why this disproportionate support for cricketers, who make a thousand times what a track-and-field medallist makes? There is no question this national obsession with cricket is strangling the growth of all other sports. Money talks, and if a gold medal brings in Rs. 1 crore, that will motivate athletes all the more.

 

There was the sad story of a Kerala girl, a nationally ranked rower, committing suicide last year because she could not afford to train. There is also the story of P T Usha’s sports school, which is languishing from lack of monetary support. My good friend Rajan, once on a photography tour through Kerala, just dropped in on the former star athlete, and although she was a gracious hostess, he could tell that she was worried about the school (www.ptusha.org ). One of Usha’s protégés, Tintu Luka, did win a bronze at the Asiad, although more was expected of her. They are now looking at the 2012 Olympics.

 

There is nothing inherently wrong with Indian youth in its sports potential that money and attention will not fix. Communist countries – from East Germany to China – have shown how this will work wonders. The trick is to catch them young, and also to concentrate on events wherein India might have a competitive advantage. For instance, train strapping lads and lasses for boxing, wrestling and weight-lifting: and we already have clusters of excellence in these events.

 

Chess – even though the Asiad finish of just two bronzes was greatly disappointing – is something that India should excel in (after all, we invented it). And let it be said that a lot of the credit for popularizing chess in India goes to just one person – Viswanathan Anand. Other heroes, other sports – for instance Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza are inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

 

There are a few events in which brute strength and bulk may go against Indians, who may be smaller and lighter than competitors: this was seen in field hockey when rule changes and new surfaces made the Europeans more competitive. But the young generation of Indian athletes, especially if identified early and trained, may not be physically inferior specimens.

 

And it is true that junior Indian teams do quite well in almost all events around the world. But they do not live up to their promise. I remember years ago when there was talk in the tennis world of the “ABC Powers”: Amritraj, Borg and Connors. The latter went on to great heights, but Vijay Amritraj just faded away.

 

That might be because of an even bigger hurdle: mental toughness and the killer instinct. I have always been astonished by this bromide casually thrown around in India: “The important thing is not to win, but to participate.” This is so utterly ludicrous that I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry when I hear this. Wake up, folks, you are the only people in the world who believe this! Everyone else goes to the Olympics strictly to win.

 

Somehow this dumb socialist idea has taken firm root in India, perhaps India has been so mediocre in everything that we could simply not believe Indians could be world-beaters. In particular, it has been a failure of leadership. India’s leaders have aspired to make India “one among the top ten” or whatever, never to make India Number One. But being Numero Uno is the only goal worth pursuing! Sure enough, since we aspired to too little, was are number ten. Isn’t it shameful that India is only sixth in the Asiad?

 

I don’t think Preeja Sreedharan and Kavita Raut and Vijender Singh went to the Asiad just to participate. They went to win, and more power to them! That’s the attitude that needs to be cultivated, or else our long-distance runners – and others – are going to be lonely indeed: no fans, no cheers, no guts, no glory.

 

The title of this column comes from an excellent short story by the British author Alan Sillitoe. The protagonist, who speaks in the first person if I remember right, is a rebellious teenager who is put in prison school (borstal). There his talent at running attracts attention, and that is his ticket to freedom. But on the day of the big race, when he is far ahead, he deliberately stops just short of the finish line, in a declaration of contempt for the entire system.

 

Fortunately, India’s athletes are not so alienated. Not yet. But they will be, if they continue to be ignored and abused by an uncaring system. They do have a way out: they can, and they will, emigrate to more welcoming lands.

 

1400 words, 30 Nov 2010

 

 

 

 

A version of this appeared on rediff.com in two parts on Sep 1 and Sep 2, 2001.

http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/01/the-real-issue-with-electronic-voting-machines.htm and

http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/sep/02/evm-row-shooting-the-messenger-wont-help.htm

The real issue with Electronic Voting Machines

Rajeev Srinivasan on how EVM problems are much bigger than technology or politics

I have been doubtful about electronic voting machines for quite some time based on what one might call a healthy engineering skepticism. To put it bluntly, I don’t trust computers. This comes from, at a point in the past, working with operating system innards and security. Since operating systems are the software that we implicitly trust to run most mission-critical systems, I have noticed that we are basically just one or two bugs away from disaster.

Even though there are rules of thumb and safety factors in software development just as there are in other engineering disciplines, software is still an art, not a science. And even the more mature engineering areas, much closer to science, like civil engineering, are still not perfect – the occasional bridge does collapse, albeit rarely.

Therefore the touching faith we repose in computers – and this is especially true in India – is misplaced. It would be a really bad idea to not have a backup mechanism that is not computer-based, especially when we are talking about embedded systems, the relatively primitive machines that run all sorts of devices such as refrigerators, microwaves, ATMs, etc. This, of course, was the rationale behind the famous Y2K panic, as people worried about whether planes would fall out of the sky as the result of an obscure software practice – years were coded in two digits, not four (ie. 48, not 1948).

Looked at from first principles, then, Electronic Voting Machines are inherently not the most reliable systems available. Nevertheless, they have undisputable advantages: for one, it is not possible to do physical ‘booth-capturing’. Besides, votes are converted into digital impulses that can be manipulated easily, so that all sorts of things can be done with them – counting can be lightning-fast; and statistical data collection, analysis, data mining, and so on can all be done with great facility.

Unfortunately, that strength is also, ironically, the Achilles heel of EVMs. Since there is no physical audit trail of the vote, once you have cast your vote, you cannot verify that your choice of candidate has been honored. It is a relatively minor task for a software-savvy criminal to fix an election, with nobody being the wiser.

I made a primitive demonstration of this sort of activity when I ran an Internet poll on my blog about who India’s best prime minister was. 300 people voted, and there was a clear winner, and some others got very few votes. But I found that if I took the real results, and applied a simple algorithm to it: that is, such as diverting 1/3rd of each person’s votes to a third candidate, I could at will have anybody ‘win’, even someone who got just 1 vote. And the pattern of votes ‘gained’ did not look particularly suspicious.

Furthermore, in an eerie reminder of the way real electronic voting works, even after the poll ‘closed’ with 292 votes, it still accepted 8 more votes. I have no idea how or why it did that, and since I do not have the source code, there is no way I could figure it out, either. That is another important problem – unless third parties are able to verify beyond reasonable doubt that the system is trustworthy, in effect the system is completely untrustworthy.

There is one major aspect – the human factor. Related to it is a process issue – what are the checks and balances to ensure that human error or malfeasance will not have catastrophic effects? In many critical systems, we have evolved elaborate fail-safe mechanisms that ensure it takes the co-operation of several individuals believed to be highly reliable. There are ways of vetting people to ensure that deserve the highest level of trust – this is the theory behind security clearances for access to sensitive information, and so we have people with TOP SECRET clearances whom we trust with extremely confidential information and the ability to perform critical acts.

We have seen in innumerable Hollywood films (for instance “The Hunt for Red October”) how the order to launch American nuclear missiles from a submarine has to be authorized independently by two very competent people, who each carry one of the keys needed. If they do not agree, the missile is not launched. Even in a more mundane setting, the safe deposit box in India, typically a bank manager and the customer each has to insert their keys simultaneously for the locker to open.

Thus, technical systems, human factors, and process issues need to work in perfect synchronicity for a complex system to work in ways that are provably correct.

Now let us move from the abstract to the concrete. How do electronic voting machines do on some basic measures of correctness of technology, human factors and processes? The track record, alas, is not that great. In 2009, I did a survey of the literature: EVMs had been found severely wanting in case after case, and several counties had ceased to use them. I am sure there is more information since about a year ago, but here is an excerpt from my essay which was published in “New Perspectives Monthly”:

o        In April 2004, California banned 14,000 EVMs because the manufacturer (Diebold Election Systems) had installed uncertified software that had never been tested, and then lied to state officials about the machines. The machines were decertified and criminal prosecution initiated against the manufacturer.

o        In the 2004 Presidential elections, in Gahanna, Ohio, where only 638 votes were cast, Bush received 4,258 votes to Kerry’s 260

o        A study by UC Berkeley’s Quantitative Methods Research Team reported that irregularities associated with EVMs may have awarded 130,000 – 260,000 votes to Bush in Florida in 2004

o        There have at least the following bills in the US legislature, all of which were the result of perceived problems with EVMs. (It is not known if any of them has passed; HR = House of Representatives, the lower house, and S = Senate, the upper house):

§         HR 550: Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2005

§         HR 774 and S 330: Voting Integrity and Verification Act of 2005

§         HR 939 and S 450: Count Every Vote Act of 2005

§         HR 533 and S 17: Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005

§         HR 278: Know your Vote Counts Act of 2005

§         HR 5036: Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008

o        In 2006, a team of Princeton University computer scientists studied Diebold Election Systems EVMs, and concluded that it was insecure and could be “installed with vote-stealing software in under a minute”, and that the machines could transmit viruses from one to another during normal pre- and post-election activity. Diebold, now Premier Election Systems, is the largest US manufacturer of EVMs

o        In 2006, computer scientists from Stanford University, the University of Iowa and IBM suggested that Diebold had “included a ‘back door’ in its software, allowing anyone to change or modify the software… A malicious individual with access to the voting machine could rig the software without being detected”

  • Germany (2009)

o        The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany declared EVMs unconstitutional

  • The Netherlands (2006)

o        The ministry of the interior withdrew the licenses of 1187 voting machines because it was proven that one could eavesdrop on voting from up to 40 meters away. The suit was brought by a Dutch citizen’s group named “We Do Not Trust Voting Machines. This group demonstrated that in five minutes they could hack into the machines with neither voters nor election officials being aware of it.

  • Finland (2009)

o        The Supreme Court declared invalid the results of a pilot electronic vote in three municipalities.

  • United Kingdom (2007)

o        The Open Rights Group declared it could not express confidence in the results for the areas that it observed. Their report cites “problems with the procurement, planning, management and implementation of the systems concerned.”

  • Ireland (2006)

o        Ireland embarked on an ambitious e-voting scheme, but abandoned it due to public pressure

  • Brazil (2006)

o        There were serious discrepancies in the Diebold systems predominantly used in Brazil’s 2006 elections

Based on precedents elsewhere, it is hard to believe that Indian EVMs, alone, through some extraordinary luck or brilliant planning – do I detect shades of some ‘Indian exceptionalism’ from people who otherwise are rather unimpressed with India and Indians? – are immune to these problems.

In particular, the German criticism is telling. The German courts have struck EVMs down because they discovered that current EVMs do not allow a voter to be certain that his choice has been registered. This is a constitutional issue, because the will of the voter is considered sacrosanct in democracies. If there is reasonable doubt that the voter’s choice may not be reflected in the results emitted by the EVM, it violates the constitution. This is as true of India as it is of Germany. The wise thing would be to ban the use of EVMs until they can be proven to be constitutional, and the onus should be on the EVM manufacturers – which is precisely what the German Supreme Court did.

It is in this context that we need to see the recent arrest of an Indian EVM researcher, Hari Prasad, on August 21st. In the Indian case, things are slightly worse. Instead of challenging the EVM manufacturer to demonstrate that the machines are, in fact, trustworthy, the constitutional authority, the Election Commission of India (ECI), has acted as the spokesman of the EVM manufacturers. The ECI has claimed on several occasions that EVMs are “foolproof”, “perfect” and so on, as though this were self-evident.

Hari and fellow-researchers put together a proof-of-concept, wherein they demonstrated a hack on some other hardware. The EC, correctly, pointed that this was not on one of the Indian EVMs, and therefore not quite applicable. But when the researchers, reasonably, requested that the EC provide them with an actual EVM, it appears the EC refused, or insisted that they tamper with the EVM without actually touching them, a feat of magic which, alas, software developers are unable to pull off.

The EC has also emphasized over and over again how secure their systems and processes are, how the machines are sealed in high-security currency-quality paper, sealed with wax and kept under lock and key in warehouses all over the country in the custody of reliable officials.

Which is quite interesting, considering that the researchers got an EVM from one of the EC’s warehouses, and were able to hack it and demonstrate several ways of tampering with it, including the use of radio-aware chips that would enable a Bluetooth-based cellphone outside a booth to manipulate the machines. The vaunted process of the EC was, however, not even aware of the missing machine for several months! If was only by looking at the serial number on a videotape of the hacked machine that the EC identified which warehouse that EVM came from. This puts in doubt the physical security of the devices.

In any case, the fact that a gentleman named Telgi was allegedly able to copy high-security stamp paper to the tune of tens of thousands of crores, the fact that high-quality counterfeit Indian currency printed in Pakistan has been intercepted in containerloads, and the fact that an entire shipment of currency inks is ‘missing’, it is hard to feel comforted that paper-based measures would be entirely foolproof.

Computer scientists, especially those in the area of security, are not convinced, either. I listened carefully to the podcast of a session at the recent USENIX conference recently wherein two representatives of the ECI, Professor P V Indiresan, and Dr Alok Shukla, a deputy EC, squared off against GVLN Rao, an election forecaster, and Dr Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan. The EC folks were bested in the discussions, which were attended by well-known security researchers.

I was disappointed to hear from Messrs Indiresan and Shukla that the foolproof measures that the EC is so proud of boil down to some kind of ‘security by obscurity’ – that is, a complex process that is expected to be harder to break into – and faith in a small number of software types at firms that the EC did not identify, and which may not even be Indian, and thus beyond the ken of Indian law.

There is a remarkable case study available on the Internet, about “Gunfire at Sea”, a chronicle of how the US Navy bureaucracy stonewalled and pooh-poohed a very interesting suggestion for improving the accuracy of naval guns, some time in the 19th century. I’m afraid that the EC’s reaction seemed much like the US Navy’s: bluster, misplaced confidence in their abilities, and a tendency to shoot the messenger.

Instead of lauding Hari Prasad as a well-intentioned white-hat researcher whose suggestions for improvement should have been welcomed with open arms by the EC, the latter seeks to demonize him, terrorize him, and book him so that they could worm from him the identity of the person who had passed on the EVM to him for research. This is counter-productive.

Thus, on several counts, including constitutionality, the reaction to whistleblowers, and the large-scale implications on the country’s democracy, this is a fascinating case, and the EC should redeem itself by working with these researchers. The next set of people who break into the EVMs may not be quite so well-intentioned. (In passing, there is the interesting parallel story that the American responsible for the recent WikiLeaks publication of 92,000 confidential documents has been accused of rape in Sweden, and then the charges were dropped; he claimed he had been warned the Pentagon was ‘after him’. Clearly, whistleblowers have to watch out these days.)

Very distressingly, there is another other pillar of society that did not distinguish itself in this whole EVM fracas. It is the media. So far as I can tell, the entire English-language media has chosen to bury this story: no anchor or editor is excited about it, although a few stray op-eds have been written. It has certainly received less attention than the hoo-haa over some Sri Lankan cricketer doing something unsportsmanlike. This is a serious dereliction of the media’s presumed duty as the watchdog of society. If an election is fixed, it is in essence a bloodless constitutional coup, and the media should be on the trail of this story like bloodhounds. The fact that the media is not doing so implies something serious about its integrity and ethics.

Thus, two of the independent institutions in India that should impose checks and balances on the executive have abdicated their responsibility. This is a cause for extreme concern; this is a sign of a State whose machinery is breaking down. And that is the crux of the matter in l’affaire EVM.

External references:

Usenix Panel Discussion on EVMs in India (audio podcast) https://www.dropbox.com/s/k0b2vib2mc1k6sy/indian-evm-panel-evtwote.mp3

Letter from Usenix Panel to the ECI, 12th August 2010, http://www.useRajeevnix.org/events/evtwote10/final-letter-eci.pdf

P V Indiresan, “Too much loose talk on EVMs”, The Hindu Business Line, 23rd August 2010, http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2010/08/23/stories/2010082350480800.htm

Devangshu Datta, “EVMs are tamper-proof, eh?”, Business Standard, 28th August 2010,

http://business-standard.com/india/storypage.php?autono=406109

Sandeep B, “Democracy Imperiled”, The Pioneer, 26th August 2010, http://www.dailypioneer.com/278669/Democracy-imperilled.html

Video from IndiaEVM.org on several ways EVMs can be tampered with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlCOj1dElDY

The researchers’ website indiaEVM.org

Rajeev Srinivasan, “Can Electronic Voting Machines subvert elections?”, September 2009, “Eternal India: A New Perspectives Monthly”, http://rajeev.posterous.com/can-electronic-voting-machines-subvert-electi

Elting E Morison, “Gunfire at Sea: A case study of innovation”, MIT, 1966, http://www.cs.gmu.edu/cne/pjd/TT/Sims/Sims.pdf

2600 words, 28th August 2010

The Empire strikes back

August 10, 2010

A version of the following appeared in DN&A on Aug 10th, 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_britain-needs-to-show-contrition-about-the-raj-s-depredations_1421101.

A pdf of the page is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/10082010/9main%20edition-pg10-0.pdf

The Empire strikes back

The Cameron visit reflected realities, but we must not forget imperial barbarity: never again!

The recent India visit of UK’s prime minister David Cameron got less attention than it deserved. Cameron was clear that his intent was to build up business ties, reflecting the relative importance of the UK and India in the global economy. Cameron was explicit that he was speaking to India on equal terms; some might even say, to be dramatic, that he was a supplicant with a begging-bowl.

Cameron also made a statement about Pakistan’s role in terrorism in the Indian subcontinent, which, to any impartial observer, was justified by the evidence, especially the recent uncovering of 92,000 secret US Army documents. Cameron merely observed that Pakistan must be not be allowed to, well, speak with forked tongue, and export terror, which it seems to do quite happily today.

Besides, India refused to even talk of British poverty-reduction aid. But what was more interesting was the reaction of the British media to what they perceived as the humiliation of the British nation when it has to beseech India to increase trade with it.

India is waxing, and the UK waning. India’s economy will overtake the British economy even in nominal (it already has in PPP) terms soon. I have asked a number of Britons what exactly their core competence is – and the inevitable answer is “financial services”. Yes, that makes sense, because after all Britain manufactures practically nothing anybody else wants.

Britain has come full circle in that regard. When they appeared at the imperial Chinese court circa 1750, seeking trade, the Chinese told them they needed nothing of British origin. Of course, thereupon clever Brits introduced opium, which did make the addicted Chinese open up their purse-strings. Which opium (or in Marx’s terminology, opiate), I wonder, do the Brits have in mind now for India?

Intriguingly “financial services” is a euphemism for “the interest earned on the money we looted from your country”. I did a little accounting of the systematic loot by Britain, based on estimates by contemporary scholars such as William Digby and  Dadabhai Navroji, and later historians. The number is astronomical, not less than $1 trillion, and possibly as much as $10 trillion in today’s money. For comparison, US GDP is about $13 trillion. They don’t have much else: they have even pawned the East India Company and other family jewels. Hard times, indeed.

Not surprisingly, there was an outburst in the UK Daily Mail titled “Stop saying sorry for our history: For too long our leaders have been crippled by a post-imperial cringe”. This was from an obvious Blimp-type named Dominic Sandbrook who clearly felt peeved that Indians preferred independence.

What apologies? The British have never apologized for empire, nor have they given any reparations. Compare this to the decent Japanese, who, the Chinese have learned, can be made to cough up billions just by jumping up and down and screaming “Rape of Nanking”.

Even if there were no apology, an acknowledgment of mala fide would help. Instead, the visit of the British Queen and her husband a few years ago produced the black comedy of their insensitivity to the horrors of imperial rule. It appears the husband, Prince Phillip, is one of those upper-class people immortalized by PG Wodehouse (think Bertie Wooster, Gussie Fink-Nottle).

Phillip had the audacity to go to Jallianwallah Bagh and declare that there were really not that many casualties there. When asked to substantiate this startling statement, he airily said General Dyer’s son had told him. And who is General Dyer? Why, merely the guy who had ordered the firing at Jallianwallah Bagh. Talk of conflict of interest!

Sandbook’s broadside was followed by another by Nirpal Dhaliwal titled “Britain has no need to make an apology for Empire…”. I beg to differ. Britain, at the very least, needs to apologize for Jallianwallah Bagh – you know, defenseless crowd in a walled garden with no access, 1675 bullets, 1579 casualties?

And how about the horrifying famines circa 1890, which left upto 20 million Indians dead? The classic account of this, “Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World” by Mike Davis should be made compulsory reading in Indian schools. So should “The Raj Syndrome: A Study in Imperial Perceptions” by Suhash Choudhary, a brilliant expose of the belly of the beast.

We need to know that under British rule there were 31 major famines in 200 years, as opposed to 17 in the preceding 2000 years.

We need to know history so the healing can begin. Those wronged deserve apologies. The West is pretty bad at contrition. Every year, on August 5th and August 9th, there is no American repentance about the atomic bombs it dropped. I have been to Nagasaki’s peace park, close to Ground Zero. There are solemn memorials there from many countries, but not the US.

825 words, Aug 8, 2010

Errata: It is Suhash Chakravarti, not Suhash Choudhary, who wrote the outstandingly brilliant ‘The Raj Syndrome’

A version of the following appeared on rediff.com on July 21st at http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/jul/21/slide-show-1-rajeev-srinivasan-on-moving-beyond-the-indo-pak-peace-talks.htm

Moving beyond the Indo-Pak ‘peace talks’, as the Afghan end game nears

Rajeev Srinivasan on how apportioning blame for the failure of the talks misses the big picture on the ground – the Great Game is afoot

I am always amused at the great expectations that some Indians harbor about India-Pakistan palavers, contrary to sense and prior experience. I suspect nothing will ever come of any Indo-Pak talks, because the dominant Pakistani ethos, indeed the very raison d’etre of that State’s existence, is based on being not-India and anti-India.

In particular, Pakistan is a State owned by an Army, and the Army would have no reason to exist if peace were, by some miracle, to break out with India. Survival instinct alone, therefore, suggests that the Pakistani Army could not possibly afford peace. After all, the continuous state of covert war sustains a very comfortable living for the generals – a story in the New York Times on July 19th talked about how parts of Islamabad look like a tidy, affluent Los Angeles suburb.

However, I am overwhelmed by déjà vu, because I could repeat verbatim what I wrote in June 2001, in a column titled “Because it’s their nature, their custom: Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed”, [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jun/18rajeev.htm] about the much-ballyhooed 2001 talks with General Musharraf. I offered several analogies, including one with two sets of Polynesian islanders with widely differing visions of what ‘peace’ might be – absolutely appropriate in the India-Pakistan context.

I concluded with the following, and in hindsight I was wrong in assuming that India could drive Pakistan to bankruptcy with an arms race, much as the Americans had done to the Soviets:

“It is clear that Pakistan — or, to be precise, their ruling military establishment — wants, or needs, war. We can oblige: India can continue to bear the cost of war better than a much smaller, economically stagnant Pakistan which is liable to collapse under its own internal contradictions and runaway religious terrorism.”

Of course, this was before 9/11, and I did not anticipate then that the Pakistanis would get the Americans (and the Chinese) to underwrite their war against India, and that the Indian government would be so unwilling to or incapable of deterring Pakistan by imposing costs on misadventures. Instead, Pakistan is convinced that India does not have the guts to stand up to them.

Pakistanis are justified in believing this: for all practical purposes, the Mumbai attack in 2008, 11/26,  has been forgotten, and this so-called ‘peace process’ is proceeding from the Indian side as though the humiliation of that frontal attack on India’s financial nerve-center never happened. The small matter of 180 Indians being massacred, and India’s inept response to the crisis, both broadcast live around the globe, are forgotten.

Indeed, the name of the game today in India is finger-pointing: mandarins are running around trying to find a scapegoat to blame for the ‘failure’ of the talks. They have found a good candidate in Home Secretary G K Pillai, who is now the fall guy for having dared to mention some unmentionables.

A news item suggests that the Prime Minister is unhappy with Pillai for having aired David Coleman Headley’s confessions about the involvement of the ISI and the LeT in the Mumbai invasion. It seems the Prime Minister would have preferred it if this minor detail were swept under the carpet! What were the talks about, if they were to ignore the Pakistani establishment’s culpability in cross-border terrorism?

Where do the ‘concessions’ end? Wasn’t it enough that the Government of India quietly handed over 25 Pakistani terrorists – with no reciprocity – as  a ‘goodwill gesture’ to apparently smooth the way for the talks? And why didn’t the ever-vigilant English Language Media utter a word about this rather strange, and servile, way of engaging a foe?

There is also a basic flaw about the coverage of the talks – the issue is not whether the talks were successful. The issue is whether there is any progress made in the larger issue of protecting India’s national interests. Once again, we are losing the forest for the trees – the talks are tactical, the pursuit of national interests is strategic.

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and subterfuge.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the Indians on the run”. So why, they ask reasonably, should they negotiate, when they are winning?

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns. Pashtuns account for only about 40% of the Afghan population, along with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was excluded from previous talks about that nation, and now seems to be grudgingly included.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the line. Pashtun parts of Afghanistan, and the erstwhile North-West Frontier Province and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan would be its component parts.

This, of course, would be a disaster for Pakistan, as it would induce restive and oppressed Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well, leaving just a rump Pakistani Punjab, which would be too small to cause much damage to anybody but itself.

In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem. (There are clearly potential problems for India, too – perhaps there will be pressure to create a separate Kashmiri State; similarly Iran may end up losing its Baluch province of Sistan/Baluchistan to an independent Baloch State).

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable position of confronting the ISI’s ‘strategic depth’, which it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to checkmate it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

There is only one small silver lining in this cloud, and it is based purely on geography and demography. That silver lining is that the ISI may have been too clever for its own good, and that its ‘victory’ in Afghanistan may well be Pyrrhic, if it results in the unraveling of the country. There are those in India who say that a ‘stable, prosperous’ Pakistan is in India’s best interests. Hardly. On the contrary, a weak, balkanized Pakistan is.

Pakistan has made a career out of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It was obvious as long ago as the siege of Kunduz in 2001 and the ensuing ‘Airlift of Evil’ that the so-called Taliban officers are serving or retired Pakistani Army and ISI brigadiers and colonels wearing baggy pants and beards and turbans. The ISI has had a great run with the fiction that the Taliban is distinct from itself.

With luck, this may be coming to an end. Former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill endorsed a formulation of a de-facto partition of Afghanistan, with the northern portion (including Kabul) to be under an American-NATO umbrella, and the southern, Pashtun, portion, to be left to the tender mercies of the Taliban/ISI. This is surely a trial balloon from the US Administration.

In effect, this would mean the old Northern Alliance would be re-constituted, with the US/NATO supporting it and keeping the Taliban at bay, as it was before 9/11, the only difference being that ten years have passed and $300 billion has been spent, a fair bit of which has spirited away by the ISI and friends. And Massoud has been assassinated.

If this is the final end game in Afghanistan, India had better be prepared to play an active role. Otherwise, in the new Great Game being played on the fringes of Indian territory, it will end up just a spectator. India should be looking to parlay its long tradition of relations with Afghanistan to establish strong commercial linkages, especially now that it turns out the country is chock-full of minerals.

The Indo-Pakistan ‘peace process’ is merely a ritualistic sideshow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The real strategic imperative is a plan for India in a post-Pakistan scenario, especially to prevent China and America from dividing up the Af-Pak region into their spheres of influence. With some luck, Pakistan may yet implode without any help from India. India should look beyond its obsession with Pakistanis strutting about, and pursue its national interests.

2000 words, 20th July 2010

A version of this appeared in Daily News & Analysis on June 29th. Here is the URL: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_losing-in-afghanistan_1402597

and the pdf of the page can be found here: http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/29062010/28main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Losing the new Great Game in Afghanistan

America has gotten itself into an unholy mess thanks to Pakistani duplicity

The news from Afghanistan is not good for the US, nor for India. US President Obama dismissed the commander of his troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, ostensibly because of rude comments he made in a magazine article, but in reality because a scapegoat was needed for the increasingly inept war efforts there. The same fate befell his predecessor too.

The facts on the ground indicate that Obama’s announced plan – surge, bribe, declare victory, and run like hell – is not working. The current thinking is no longer about winning, but about spinning a face-saving retreat. Says the Washington Post, “[the] administration is looking for a decent, negotiated exit. The Pakistani intelligence service would act as a surrogate (and guarantor) for the Taliban… The deal might leave the Taliban in control of large parts of Afghanistan…  ”

In other words, Obama is explicitly outsourcing the war to Pakistan’s ISI. This would be a questionable choice anyway. But given that the Taliban are basically ISI in baggy pants and beards, an instance of diplomatic theater (after all, it is astonishing that these alleged theology students suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes), the policy is suicidal. A recent report from the London School of Economics and Harvard University emphasized the links between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban.

This report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, indicts the ISI, which, it says, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” insurgents. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it claims Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”.

A New York Times report suggests further that “Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.”

The Haqqani network and the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are among the ISI’s assets. Ironically, Hekmatyar, now a sworn enemy of the US, received over half of the billions that the CIA lavished on the war against the Soviets, thanks to his friends in the ISI.

It is remarkable that the ISI has hoodwinked the Americans to such an extent. ISI protégés are killing Americans, while the ISI and the Pakistani Army pretend to be fighting on the side of the Americans. In other words, the Americans are fighting people whom they are indirectly funding! It is as though, in Vietnam, they were funding not only the South Vietnam Army, but also the Viet Cong guerillas.

When the history of the Afghan war is written, historians may pinpoint the exact moment the Americans lost it. That was the siege of Kunduz in 2001. The rampaging Northern Alliance had much of the top brass of the Taliban corralled at the fort in Kunduz. Unbelievably, the CIA authorized an airlift by the Pakistanis (now called “Airlift of Evil”). At least a thousand of the Taliban were spirited away – and the open secret is that they were mostly midlevel Pakistani Army and ISI officers in turbans. That singular event sealed the fate of the entire campaign.

It is high time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s scheming Army and ISI.

The ISI has also put about an interesting theory, that Afghanistan is per se not conquerable. That is not quite true: Greeks, Persians, Mongols, et al, did conquer. Yes, the British were routed. That was because, despite propaganda, the British were poor warriors: they were able to win victories in India only because of a disastrous Indian habit of betrayal. There are Mir Jafars aplenty in India; but Afghans do not betray their own to foreigners.

When properly handled, Afghanistan can be conquered and held, as Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire demonstrated not too long ago. The reason most conquerors left Afghanistan is that it is stark, inhospitable territory with no apparent value: the returns were not worth the cost of holding it. Of course, that may change now that they say the country holds trillions of dollars worth of strategic minerals: that may encourage Americans to hold on.

But a comprehensive American defeat in Afghanistan would be strategically bad for India too. It would encourage triumphalist fundamentalists, who could now reasonably claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. Worse, it would mean that China, through its proxies, has defeated the Americans yet again: this would be number three in a row, after Korea and Vietnam. Imagine their hubris!

825 words, Jun 26, 2010

Versions of the following appeared on rediff.com and India Abroad. The rediff.com version from June 16th is at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/16/rajeev-srinivasan-on-indias-relationship-with-america.htm

India needs a relationship of equals, and the US will not offer that

Rajeev Srinivasan on the poor prospects of an Indo-US rapprochement

The just-concluded ‘Strategic Dialog’ between India and the US certainly sounds important. The big question is whether there is any substance behind the rhetoric. Going by past history, it is likely that this will be yet another false dawn in Indo-US relations. An incisive analyst, Brahma Chellaney, summed up Indian skepticism in a tweet:

“The US has realized the simple way to keep Indians happy: An occasional ego-massage. After Obama’s eulogy, Indians will stay content for a while.“

It is true that the oratory emanating from Obama administration, both from under-secretary William Burns and from president Obama himself, has been honeyed, but then pretty speechifying is Obama’s forte. However, there isn’t any steak behind the sizzle: just two weeks ago the US silently acquiesced to the Chinese giving Pakistan, with no strings attached, a nuclear deal which is as good as the ‘deal’ India got at great strategic cost to itself.

Furthermore, Indians have not forgotten that India’s prime minister was not in the list of twenty world leaders Obama telephoned after his accession to the presidency; there was the plan to make Richard Holbrooke a mediator on Kashmir; the appointment of Ellen Tauscher, arch-non-proliferation-ayatollah and harsh critic of India, as under-secretary for arms control; and most of all, the hard-to-defend hedging on letting Indian officials interrogate David Coleman Headley, suspect in Mumbai’s 11/26.

There are plenty of large reasons why the hurrahs about an alleged Indo-US rapprochement are premature. First, even the Bush-era friendship was narrowly-focused – Indian leaders, for unknown reasons, plumped for a hard-to-justify nuclear-based energy future. Indian eagerness was exploited by Americans to strait-jacket India into non-proliferation regimes that severely constrain its strategic options.

Second, the other Bush objective, to build India up as a counterweight to a rampant China, fell by the wayside with the Obamistas’ clear preference for a G2, suggesting that a China-US duopoly is inevitable, and conceding to China the role of hegemon in Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the western Pacific Ocean, and explicitly in the Indian subcontinent.

Third, Obama has stated unequivocally that he intends to cut and run from Afghanistan. He believes he needs a Pakistani fig-leaf to claim victory in the face of a humiliating defeat and a head-long retreat like Saigon in 1975. Therefore, he leans on India to give ‘concessions’ to Pakistan: it costs him nothing.

Fourth, there is a history of American duplicity. American promises of eternal, undying love are pure theatrics. Bitter experiences with reneging on treaty obligations for fuel for Tarapur, a slew of nuclear treaties such as NPT, CTBT, FMCT, etc., all aimed at India in particular, and the decades-old acceptance of Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, suggest American bad faith.

Fifth, the fundamental premise behind an Indo-US relationship is flawed. There is an underlying assumption that the world will remain unipolar and American-dominated, with at best China being a secondary, less appealing second pole, and that therefore it is incumbent on India to align with the US lest it be left out in the cold.

The facts on the ground do not support this assumption. America is waning. Yes, it will continue to be the biggest world power for a while yet, but the US in 2050 will be much less dominant than in 1950. In 1950, America bestrode the world like a colossus, intact in a World-War II-ravaged world. In 2050, China and India will be nipping at its heels.

India can never ally with imperialist China, which seeks to dominate Asia, if not the world. They leave no room for a rival, and systematically undermine all potential competitors. It appears that, after a series of reverses, it has dawned on the US that the alleged G2 – although favored by unreconstructed cold-warriors like Zbigneiw Brezezinski and apologists for empire like Niall Ferguson – is of greater advantage to China than to itself.

This may explain the sudden interest in India by the Obamistas. The Democrats’ natural instinct is intensely anti-India. This is standard ‘liberal’ hypocrisy, wherein they pay lip service to democracy and freedom and other motherhood, but secretly admire fascist thugs, despots and dictators – such as those in China, Pakistan and Iran, all the targets of Obamista overtures.

There is also the pragmatic reason that India’s economy is growing rapidly. Much like the 19th-century British, Americans seek markets. China, the other large market, is difficult, and extracts its pound of flesh, as seen in Google’s troubles. Especially as India will invest in buying armaments, aircraft and other big-ticket items where the US still has a competitive edge, it is a tempting market. That’s good for the US.

But these are not reasons for India to ally itself with the US. In fact, there has been little improvement in scientific, technical or other ties. The Indian space effort remains cut off by law from much American technology. In other ways too, India is treated as a pariah by the US government, on par with dangerous, failing states. There is also the perennial litmus test – when will the US unambiguously endorse India for a veto-holding permanent seat in the UN Security Council?

No relationship can survive when the benefits are one-sided. Therefore, India will be better-off not tying itself to a waning power, at a time when it is itself on the rise. An America beset with financial problems, with receding self-confidence, and with the Gulf oil-spill as metaphor for its decline, is not worth allying with. At least, not unless India gets concrete, and massive, benefits in return. Time favors India.

There is no point in being a satellite to a sinking, unreliable America – instead, India should strive to establish itself as a pole in a multi-polar world consisting of, perhaps, a G3 or G4 – including itself and the EU. Better to live two days as a tiger than two hundred years as a sheep, a quote attributed to Tipu Sultan.

1000 words, 6 Jun 2010

A version of the following appeared in DNA on June 1 at the following URL:

http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_inclusion-of-the-rural-poor_1390325

Here is a PDF version of the same; DNA provided an absolutely fabulous photograph to go with it! inclusion of the rural poor jun 1

Financial inclusion for the rural poor: Rural Postal Life Insurance reaches out

Rajeev Srinivasan

Experts agree that bringing financial services to the rural masses is generally desirable. Significant value can be generated (both for individuals and for the nation) through providing services to the disadvantaged – for instance, the World Bank’s Christine Qiang estimates that national GDP grows by 0.8% for every 10 percentage-point increase in mobile telephony in emerging economies. Similarly financial services, such as micro-finance, can have a multiplicative effect on the unbanked.

The definition of ‘financial inclusion’ concerns the provision of financial services at an affordable cost. Both State-mandated interventions and market-driven efforts by the banks themselves have been tried. However, this has still left many strata of society under-served: a 2004 survey showed that there were only 59 deposit accounts for every 100 adults in the population. This also masks regional differences – from 17 in Manipur to 187 in Goa.

Most policymakers like some sort of dole – pensions, subsidies, etc., with the latest example being the NREGS scheme which guarantees 100 days-worth of wages to poor laborers. But these schemes are riddled with leakage. Subsidies are not sustainable in the long term, being most appropriate for short-term emergencies; they do not deal with underlying problems. Besides, the public sector has a reputation for callousness.

This is why it is all the more amazing that an innovative public sector initiative has had the effect of reaching many of the previously excluded in a short time. A conversation with the India Post Board member who dreamt up the program, Dr. Uday Balakrishnan, revealed two intriguing facts – one, the ability of the public sector to re-invent itself, and two, the willingness of poor cohorts to marshal their small savings and engage themselves in financial markets. It makes for a fine case study.

India Post is an underutilized player for financial inclusion, because it has reach and credibility. Given the 500,000 employees stationed in 155,000 outlets around the country, it is well placed as a distribution channel; it is the main payment conduit for 50 million NREGS participants. There is also trust in the institution, so that people are willing to incorporate it into their financial planning. As many as 200 million people hold Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) accounts.

It appears that India Post has been offering rural life insurance since 1995, but never emphasized it as a major line of business. When it began to focus on it recently, the results have been impressive: they empowered employees to think creatively and to innovate. A change management effort that also streamlined processes has enabled them to meet stiff targets. It is heartening that even staid government entities, with proper motivation, can be nimble.

Within a few months, some 12 million rural people have taken policies, with a majority of them opting for micro-insurance – for instance, life insurance policies that insure for up to Rs. 10,000, at a very affordable premium of one rupee a day. Larger policies are available for the price of a pack of beedis (Rs. 6) a day. The Post Office has become the largest player in this segment, covering more than twice as many people as all the other insurance companies put together, adding a million-plus new insurants a month.

Why have people opted to buy this level of insurance? Interviews suggest that the best reason is that the poor are aware of the opportunities that exist for their children, if only they could afford a decent education – in other words, there is an aspiration out there that the next generation must do better, and people are willing to sacrifice today’s consumption for children’s education tomorrow.

What is remarkable is that people are voluntarily spending their own tiny savings to buy this social security mechanism. Most of us think the great Indian public looks to the maa-baap government for everything, and that therefore doles, loan forgiveness, etc. are inevitable. It turns out the masses are willing to invest their small savings for the guarantee that a death in the family does not stunt their children’s future.

Once they hold this basic, fungible (if not liquid) financial asset (a life insurance policy), they use it as collateral to get loans from banks; that is, they are included in the system, and they become credit-worthy. In fact, the next thing they want is crop insurance, medical insurance, etc. – they are acting as rational economic players.

Furthermore, as a result of the law of unintended consequences, they are players in the broader financial market. Part of the premium (a prudent percentage, but still 1000s of crores)fs is invested in the market, and, over time, this should bring them better returns than those from the government-securities market.

The late C K Prahalad would be proud of them. The three billion at his ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ are at last clawing their way out of poverty.

816 words, May 26, 2010

A version of this appeared on rediff.com on 27th May at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/27/lessons-for-india-from-thai-insurgency.htm

A Bangkok on the Yamuna? Lessons from the Thai insurgency

Rajeev Srinivasan on why the Thai troubles should be an eye-opener for India, which faces similar insurgents with covert agendas

Despite pious promises in the past about “looking East”, it is clear that the Indian establishment, including the media and the foreign ministry, remain obsessed with the West and Pakistan. Events unfolding in Thailand have remained under the radar in India, even though the parallels are ominous, both regarding India and regarding Nepal.

Consider: in Dantewada, Communist terrorists first massacred 76 policemen; they then proceeded to massacre 36 civilians riding in a bus. The first instincts of both the Congress and the media are to justify the terrorism based on the same tired clichés about poverty fomenting violence. Aren’t they embarrassed to trot out this hoary old chestnut?

Also consider Hyderabad in the wake of the Telengana agitation: I am sure investment decisions have been put on hold and real estate prices have dipped along with consumer and investor confidence. Similarly, Thailand’s economy will take a hit, as ASEAN neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia suddenly look more stable.

Finally, look at Nepal: a functioning monarchy has been replaced by an aggressive Communist regime, with the expected results – political turmoil, and anti-national forces including Chinese proxies, missionaries and jihadis having a field day.

The roots of the Thai problem are murky, but the event that triggered off today’s crisis was the coup in 2006 that overthrew the government of the billionaire industrialist Thaksin Shinawatra. I was in Thailand in 2006 during the revered King Bhumibol Adhulyadej’s 80th birthday celebration – and it was a grand gala affair. My previous visits had been over ten years prior, and I was impressed at how far Thailand had come in the interim: it had the makings of an intermediate economic power.

Thailand has left India in the dust in economic growth: an indicator is the exchange rate between the Thai Baht and the rupee. When I first went to Thailand, there was rough parity between the two; today the Baht is 40% higher. The ramshackle capital with run-down roads and unbelievable traffic jams (people used to carry portable urinals in their cars) was transformed by an elevated expressway. The skyline is impressive, and the city looks clean, orderly and prosperous, in a Singaporean kind of way.

This prosperity is based on small to medium industry, especially textiles, electronics and automobile components. Endemic political instability, including bloodless military coups, did not hurt because there was always a symbol of strength and continuity – the royalty. Thais revere their monarchy, and the King could always resolve any problems.

Until now, that is. The army and police seemed helpless against a few thousand insurgents who barricaded themselves inside the city, urban guerilla warfare, the King hospitalized and silent – this is a nation under siege, not the kind of place where locals or foreigners will risk their money. This will hurt the Thai economy.

Who gains from this? Malaysia and Indonesia, especially the former. There is a festering separatist movement in southern Thailand, which is ethnically Malay and Mohammedan. Given the Malaysians’ increasing religious fervor – they have been tyrannizing religious minorities recently – Malaysia may be offering moral and material support.

The apparent demand of the insurgents is justice for the poor who live far away from the glitzy capital, in the north and northeast. I suspect this is a slight exaggeration, along the lines of what Communists claim in India’s tribal belt. The Red Shirts in Thailand may be acting principally on behalf of Shinawatra, who wants to be prime-minister again, to ensure the survival of his business empire, not to mention avoid a $1.4 billion fine. The Communists in Jharkhand may be agents of China, intent on wrecking India from within. None of them is particularly interested in the poor, except for rhetorical purposes.

What alarms me about the Bangkok situation is that I can easily imagine a similar situation in New Delhi, with the capital held hostage by gangs of Communist insurgents, quite possibly barricaded inside the JNU campus, where they gain succor and support from armchair urban guerillas. Just as in Bangkok, we might watch on TV the hopes of a stable and progressing Indian economy going up in thick, black, acrid smoke – welcome back to the dark ages of ‘roti-kapda-makan’ and the rent-seeking neta-babu-journalist nexus, a preview of which we got with the 2G scam.

There are differences, of course. The Indian Army is not involved in business, whereas the Thai army is a smaller version of the Pakistani Army in that context – it runs many industries, and is not dependent on the national government for all of its budget.

But the eerie parallels to, say, Nepal, are many: the end result may well be a ‘secular’ movement to overthrow the Buddhist monarchy, which will then be portrayed as roundly corrupt, godless, feudal – whatever else the spin-meisters can think of.

The destruction of the Thai State would be a tragedy. It was just about the only Asian nation that, through some fancy footwork, avoided being colonized. This has given the average Thai a certain self-confidence. Secondly, turmoil is likely to be exploited by vulture-like missionaries descending on the country, much as they did in the aftermath of the tsunami elsewhere. In Nepal, it is reported that a million people were converted to Christian sects after the Communists took over. Similarly the number of mosques, and presumably adherents, has soared. We might find the same in Thailand.

Odd, isn’t it, that there are Communist revolutions in Hindu and Buddhist monarchies, but never in Christian or Mohammedan monarchies? Coincidence? Communists have been accused of being ‘useful idiots’ for others. Let us note that, according to reliable sources, the manifesto of the Communist terrorists in India speaks at length about extinguishing ‘imperialism’ and ‘liberalism’, but is silent about ‘poverty’ and ‘tribals’.

The extinction of the State, neo-colonization and neo-conversion – these are the downsides of globalization. India would be well-advised to watch the Thai example with great care.

A version of this appeared in DNA on may 17th at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_obama-is-no-friend_1384304 or

http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/18052010/17main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf for a pdf version

Barack ‘Chamberlain’ Obama?

Rajeev Srinivasan on why the US president seems hell-bent on appeasement

Once upon a time British politicians were held up as exemplars; they were colorful, and their actions were noted around the world. Neville Chamberlain, former British prime minister, became infamous for appeasing Nazi Germany. He declared, upon returning from the 1938 Munich conference that sacrificed Czech Sudetenland to please Germany: “I believe it is peace for our time!” Famous last words, as World War II started shortly thereafter.

It is worth remembering him for two reasons: first, the recent British election and its pedestrian politicians evoked no more than mild disinterest from the rest of the world – how indeed the mighty have fallen! Second, it is remarkable that US president Obama seems to be following Chamberlain’s playbook in terms of – foolishly – placating his enemies.

It appears that Obama virtually revels in appeasement. So much so that there is valid criticism that it is not clear what he stands for, if anything – he is so busy with attempting to shepherd everybody in the room in some direction that he quite forgets what that direction is. It appears that there is a process, everybody is running around doing something, but the results are woefully poor.

For instance, Obama’s foreign policy has been nothing short of disastrous. He arrived on the scene convinced that he was going to be the Great Peacemaker after the despised warmonger George W. Bush. His chosen method: make unilateral concessions first, expecting the other party to reciprocate the goodwill. Laudable as this might be in theory, it doesn’t seem to work in practice – see how China used Jawaharlal Nehru.

In fact, Obama may well share Nehru’s crowning vanity – the idea of being privy to the secret of World Peace. Nehru appears to have felt he was the Emperor Ashoka reincarnated, equipped with the Panchasheela or Five Principles that would cause World Peace to break out. Obama, although more discreet, seems to suffer from the same mixture of megalomania and naïvete and, above all, inexperience.

This flaw is exploited by hard-boiled practitioners of realpolitik. Obama has tried danam (giveaways) with several foes – China, Iran, and now Pakistan (which is certainly his foe although Americans prefer the fiction that Pakistan is “a valuable ally in the war against terror” [sic]). His kowtowing startled and then amused the Chinese. Iran ignores him.

With Pakistan, and Islam in general, Obama has bent over backwards. He made speeches eulogizing Arabs and Islam, literally curtseyed to the Saudi king, and removed the term “Islamic terrorism” from his vocabulary, preferring the euphemism “man-caused disaster”!

Alas, the net result of Obama’s exertions is that Arabs and Pakistanis despise him and the US more than ever. A Pew survey discovered that Pakistanis – despite, or perhaps because of, the $15 billion sunk there by the US after 9/11 – have the world’s worst opinion of America. But Obama is persistent. In the aftermath of the abortive Times Square bombing, there was the ill-timed news that Homeland Security was reducing its budget for New York City by 30-50%! The New York Post reprised a famous headline: “Obama to City: Drop Dead!”

In domestic policy too, Obama seems to have miscalculated with fruitless ‘reaching out’ to the opposition Republicans. It is remarkable that his landmark achievement – some might say his only achievement – of passing health care legislation came with absolutely zero bi-partisan support. This is far worse than predecessors who generally managed to cobble together a working coalition.

The trouble may well be that Barack Obama really does not stand for anything per se. He may well be a Zelig, the chameleon-like eponymous hero of that film, or Peter Sellers’ remarkable character Chaunce the Gardener in Being There. Someone who is fluid in substance, someone who reflects what others want to see in him. This, of course, is perfect for an election – everybody projects what they desire onto the candidate.

Which may be why Obama seems to be in permanent campaign mode as well. His timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan was sharply predicated on expected sound-bites that would help his party win mid-term elections in 2011.

An erudite Indian friend in Los Angeles, sympathetic to black issues, suggested that this fluidity may well be the very reason Obama was able to win the presidency – and how he has been called the epitome of the so-called “magical negro” trope: the black helper who plays a supporting role to the white protagonist. A black with concrete views and convictions could never have won, he felt.

Be that as it may, Obama is President. And the reason Indians should worry about Obama is that he appears quite willing to sacrifice the last Indian and the last inch of Indian territory in order to placate the ISI and the Taliban. This is hardly in the national interest. Whatever else he may be, Obama the appeaser is no friend of India.

824 words, 15 May 2010

A version of this appeared on rediff.com at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/12/rajeev-srinivasan-on-why-india-is-so-full-of-charlatans.htm

Accountability, a four-letter word in India: Why India has so many charlatans

Rajeev Srinivasan on why the State must ensure that people will pay for the consequences of their actions, a concept that is sadly unknown in India

“Clawback” – now that is a term in the American financial jargon that must be giving sleepless nights to some of the ex-Masters of the Universe from the fearsome investment banks that have fallen on hard times. This refers to the literal clawing back of benefits gained by those who, in hindsight, turn out not to have deserved them.

For instance, there is a move afoot to seize the multimillion-dollar bonuses awarded to investment bankers while their firms were creating the financial meltdown with their cavalier use of collateralized debt obligations and credit-default swaps. Those who caused billions of dollars-worth of damage couldn’t possibly deserve their fat bonuses.

It is not clear whether proposals to regulate Wall Street will succeed, and whether any ill-gotten gains will actually be clawed back by the taxpayer (who ended up, of course, bailing out said firms). But the very fact that this is being considered is a deterrent to future hanky-panky. That is, people would have to factor in the possibility that their malfeasance will have consequences.

India is refreshingly free of such old-fashioned niceties. In India, there are no consequences to the worst behavior, provided, of course, that you have the right credentials – that you belong to certain privileged categories of people, which include media mavens, film stars, politicians, cricket players, et al.

It goes beyond a lack of concern about delivering results – it has become routine to be cynical; promises are mere expectations. Many contracts are not worth the paper they are written. It has become a national pathology, or national pastime if you prefer, to lie about what one will deliver: you too must be guilty of saying “Consider it done!” when you knew there was no way you were going to do it.

Most Indians work this into their calculations, but it baffles foreigners, thereby adding to the impression that Indians, like Chinese, are inscrutable – a euphemism for “unreliable”. This makes it difficult to do business, because what appears to be an iron-clad guarantee to the outsider is often really only a ‘best-efforts, god-willing’ type of weasel-wording to the Indian. And Indians are accustomed to there being no penalty for lack of performance.

This is seen in every walk of life. On the one hand are the lionized cricket-players who make absolute billions. One would expect that the cricket-consuming (I am tempted to say something about Lotos-Eaters, but shall desist) classes would demand top-notch performances from their stars; but alas, they routinely put in pathetic performances because they know there are no consequences – they will get their millions, win or lose.

I have suggested in the past that there should be some deterrents to poor performance: I understand in soccer-crazy Latin America a player who caused the national team to be eliminated from the World Cup was shot dead on return. The threat of physical harm – say the loss of a finger or two if you screw up badly – would energize team-members wonderfully. Well, if you are squeamish about that, the least one can do is – there again, that wonderful concept – ‘claw back’ their ill-gotten earnings!

Similarly, much has been written about the lavish lifestyles of cricket executives – who, not surprisingly, include a number of politicians. Why not set Income Tax on these folks and claw back the BMWs and private jets and other bling they have accumulated?

Well, perhaps the cricketers are minor villains in comparison to politicians. The naturally cynical voter, accustomed to lavish promises at campaign time, expects nothing to materialize. Experience suggests that this is wise. The elaborate ruses intended to ease rent-seeking are truly creative, a wonder to behold.

A good example is the ongoing saga of the 2G mobile telephony licenses. The circumstantial evidence is damning – an ‘auction’ which was first-come, first served, and also wherein the last date for bidding is arbitrarily shortened by one week without notice. The final ‘winners’ included several players who were totally innocent of any telecom experience before and after. But they were quick to turn around and sell their licenses to telecom companies at 10x profit.

Interestingly, there has been no talk of clawing back these obscene and undeserved profits. The Prime Minister, who is said to be honest and decent and an economist, has maintained a Sphinx-like silence. The latest I heard about this is a detailed memo from the Department of Telecommunications exonerating themselves and their minister from all blame – a ‘clean chit’ in quaint officialese. No penalty for anybody.

Then there is the matter of the nuclear ‘deal’ that India has entered into, after many promises of a wonderful energy future. This was the justification for acceding to many conditions, which, in my opinion, eviscerated India’s nuclear deterrent capability and did nothing more for its energy security than create dependence on uranium-mining nations.

Interestingly enough, Pakistan and China, bellicose nuclear neighbors, have just entered into a deal for which Pakistan did not have to make any concessions whatsoever. China is giving Pakistan two nuclear plants as well as missiles: which, to put it bluntly, is pure proliferation. The United States, which screams “non-proliferation!” whenever India is involved, was strangely silent. In other words, yet another scam has been perpetrated.

Is anybody losing his job, or are they being prosecuted, for misleading the Indian public and walking the country down the garden path? Of course not. Similarly, the country is suffering the worst inflation in decades, and the price of food items in particular have shot through the roof. Has anybody been punished? Of course not.

By not putting in place mechanisms to ensure there is punishment for sinning, India is creating the right environment for ‘moral hazard’. People will take unnecessary risks, secure in the knowledge that if they win, they keep the loot; if they lose, the taxpayer pays. No wonder India is so full of charlatans.

An edited version of this appeared on rediff on May 6th at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/may/06/rajeev-srinivasan-on-the-banality-of-evil.htm

Why good people do bad things: the ordinariness of evil

Rajeev Srinivasan on why normal people do appalling things in the wrong circumstances

In the aftermath of the Ajmal Kasab trial and the failed bomb attack in New York, the impartial observer would find it hard to conclude that Pakistanis were mild, inoffensive people. But in fact there are a number of people – apart from the professional Wagah candle-holders – who cannot believe that this kind of horror could come from the kind of Pakistanis they know – PLUs (people like us), urbane, sophisticated, great hosts and dinner companions.

There is, of course, the fallacy of rapid generalization: every Pakistani is not like the people you know, who are likely to be the world-traveling sort. There are many dirt-poor, uneducated people who have been brainwashed with strange notions of what Indians are like and what India is like. Given high population growth and a fairly stagnant economy, the number of these “Bottom-of-the-Pyramid” people is much larger than those at the top of the pyramid, the 22 ruling feudal families who own the place.

But apart from the logical fallacy, there is also a more subtle issue, that of how easily evil can take over  even perfectly normal, well-adjusted people. It turns out you don’t have to be a sociopath to do the most horrifying things: your random neighbors, such as the kindly old man down the street, the kid who drops off the newspaper, the old lady who is full of religious zeal – any and all of them can turn into monsters under the appropriate circumstances.

This was demonstrated in Cambodia, when under the Khmer Rouge, perfectly ordinary people became mass killers. I have been to Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation center in the middle of Phnom Penh, where thousands of people were tortured, and confessions extracted from them. They were photographed and meticulous dossiers prepared about each of them. They were then taken to the Killing Fields on the outskirts of town and dispatched with a blow to the back of the head with a spade.

But what is most amazing about Tuol Sleng is that it was formerly a school in the middle of a residential neighborhood! It still looks like an inoffensive school from outside, although inside it is the Genocide Museum, with the interrogation cells left as they were, harrowing paintings of inhuman torture, and row after row of black and white photographs of those who were about to die, including some Indians and other foreigners. It is a metaphor for the banality and very ordinariness of evil. The Khmer Rouge were the greatest mass-murderers in the recent past, killing some 15% of their compatriots.

Ordinary Cambodians – farmers, artisans, bicycle-repairers, fishermen – were instruments of civilizational suicide. Similarly, perfectly normal Hutus went on the warpath in Rwanda against  embattled Tutsis, attempting genocide. Ordinary Germans did the bidding of the Nazis; ordinary Europeans participated in an orgy of violence on innocent people during the horrifying Inquisition, dispatching thousands, especially women, in the most appalling ways.

And so with the Pakistanis. The young men of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and other terrorist outfits were not monsters to begin with: they were turned into what they are quite deliberately – they have been manufactured by a consciously-created system where they have no choice but to become monsters.

I was reminded of all this when I was listening to an archived podcast from 2007 of an interview with Philip Zimbardo, a retired professor from Stanford, whose celebrated “Stanford Prison Experiment” of 1971 was a startling practical demonstration of how evil is engendered. In 2006, Zimbardo wrote a new book, The Lucifer Effect, because he was struck by similarities between the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and the Stanford experiment.

The experiment was simple: Zimbardo set up a simulated prison in the basement of one of Stanford’s buildings, and recruited 24 normal male college students for a two-week study of the behavior of prison guards and prisoners. The students were randomly assigned to either role and given uniforms or prison smocks to wear, but no specific instructions on behavior except that there must be no physical contact. Zimbardo himself acted as both ‘jail superindendent’ and research leader.

The results were startling: within 36 hours, the ‘guards’ started misbehaving, exerting their power over the ‘prisoners’. One of the prisoners had a nervous breakdown. Within three days, the guards were exhibiting brutal, sadistic behavior, and the prisoners were increasingly humiliated and oppressed. Several other prisoners also had nervous breakdowns. On the night of day five, sexual torture began: the prisoners were made to expose themselves, and to simulate sodomy with each other.

On the sixth day, a shaken Zimbardo abandoned the experiment, which had been slated to run for two weeks. He was shocked to realize that certain dangerous boundaries were being crossed, and that some of the participants might end up with permanent psychological damage.

The fact that perfectly normal, intelligent college students – they had been screened for any abnormality – could so easily be turned into sadistic monsters is astonishing. Apparently the situation had gotten the better of them:

Perhaps the normal human condition is indeed the Hobbesian “nasty, brutish and short”. Maybe “Lord of the Flies”, the book about a group of boys abandoned on an island evolving into a dictatorial society, is all too true. Perhaps the Law of the Jungle is indeed the right metaphor, much as we like to think of ourselves as civilized beyond fang and claw and might-is-right.

In a related study, the Milgram Experiment at Yale analyzed the willingness of volunteers to administer electric shocks to unseen victims based on orders from authority figures. It turned out that – with no gender differences – people were quite willing to torture people whom they had never met. (The shocks were simulated, and so were the recorded screams of the recipients, but the subjects didn’t know that.)

Zimbardo believes that it is not the individual’s own inherent tendencies, but the social situation around them that drives bad behavior. That can help us understand the pathology of the Pakistani situation. These young men have been told for such a long time that Indians and Hindus are evil and monstrous that they have internalized it. It is the environment that addles them. Therefore, expending a lot of effort on the arrest and prosecution of individual terrorists is not going to have a major impact, because they are expendable – there are many waiting in line, ready to step into their shoes. In that sense, it is immaterial what happens to Ajmal Kasab – he is simply cannon fodder, dispensable.

It is the system that is psychotic, and it is so by intent. That is why Pakistan refuses steadfastedly to move against those who have created the system: for instance, Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaat-ul Dawa (the current nom-de-guerre of the Lashkar-e-Toiba). The Pakistanis have refused again and again to prosecute Saeed, just as they refuse to extradite Dawood Ibrahim. These are strategic assets for the ISI. People like Hamil Gul, ex-ISI eminence-grise, have articulated the grim calculus of this perspective.

The system in Pakistan was put in place by General Zia-ul-Haq, who fundamentalized education, the Army, and the rest of society (it may be remembered that Zia in effect banned the use of the ‘Hindu’ sari, and encouraged the ‘Pakistani’ salwar-kameez). The textbooks were re-written to eulogize Central Asian invaders. History begins with the Arab invasion of Sind in 712 CE. The word ‘Hindu’ is always preceded by ‘cunning baniya’. The idea that a single Mohammedan soldier is worth ten Hindus in valor was put about, notwithstanding considerable evidence to the contrary.

American psychologist Sam Keen suggested in Faces of the Enemy that a major part of warfare lies in dehumanizing the enemy. Every nation has created extraordinary propaganda against its enemies: by internalizing this, young soldiers are able to kill other young men without compunction, because they believe the enemy are sub-human monsters intent on raping ‘our’ women, destroying ‘our’ nation, and so on. The  book includes hundreds of posters, cartoons and other material from 20th century propaganda, which Keen calls the “archetype of the hostile imagination”.

Surely, there is Indian propaganda against Pakistan; however, it is on a secular plane, and does not target Pakistanis based on religion. In fact, average Mohammedans are better off in India as compared to anywhere else in the world, including, and especially Pakistan, where only the feudal upper classes (castes) live well. In  North India (as seen in Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”, there is a certain admiration – justified or not – for some alleged nawabi high culture, possibly because using Farsi/Arabic is considered cultured by some.

And the leftists in the media are ever-ready to cry themselves hoarse in the service of poor Mohammedans. Not to mention a government with a Prime Minister who says without irony, “Muslims must have first claim on the nation’s resources”, which is, in passing, strange from someone sworn to uphold the religion-blind Constitution.

But that is not what Pakistanis believe. In encounters with middle-class Pakistanis in America and on the Internet, I have heard how glad they are that there is a homeland for subcontinental Mohammedans who would otherwise have been oppressed by Hindus. They are silent, however, when I point out that there are, in fact, two homelands, and how the one homeland couldn’t keep half of its inhabitants happy and started a genocidal war with them.

This incomprehension about India was seen in the transcripts of the conversations by the 11/26 terrorists with their handlers in Pakistan: the terrorists were obviously confused that India was not a whole lot like what they had been brainwashed into believing.

Thus, it is the environment, of radicalization and mind-games, that is creating a cadre of evil-doers. Any amount of ‘talks’ and ‘goodwill gestures’ and ‘walking the extra mile’ is unlikely to change the situation unless the hate-mongering institutions with a monomanical jihadi agenda are dismantled. So long as India cannot get Pakistan to do this, there will be an endless supply of cannon fodder.

There is another issue – terrorism has now become a job, and quite a lucrative one at that. Zimbardo is of the opinion that a lot of the brutality in the Stanford Experiment and at Abu Ghraib happened because of simple boredom, especially at night, when the guards had nothing better to do and wanted some entertainment – perhaps the ultimate in the banality of evil.

In the case of the Pakistanis, and, alas, in the case of a number of home-grown terrorists in India, terrorism has now become an easy and attractive job, with perks like foreign trips (eg. to Pakistan via Dubai to throw people off the scent), cash (including counterfeit Indian rupees shipped in container-loads), women (who will dare say “no” to an AK-47?) and so on. For an ill-educated youth with poor prospects, this must be like manna from heaven. This has been demonstrated in Kerala where a number of young men were trained and shipped off to J&K as mercenaries/jihadis to kill Indian soldiers.

Thus, the cognitive dissonance between the “they are just like us” ordinary citizens of Pakistan and the ruthless killers is a matter of their environment. Unless it is cleaned up, and the godfathers of the system such as Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim forced to stand down, India – and (note to President Obama) the West — will continue to face evil and bleed. It is not the individuals, but the system of propaganda and inducement of hatred that is to blame. And that suits the Pakistani establishment just fine: it sustains their failing State.

a version of this appeared in DNA dated apr 21st at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_hypocrisy-and-tharoor_1373654

The utter hypocrisy about Shashi Tharoor

Rajeev Srinivasan

After a week of breathless media speculation, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor has resigned. This is a shame, and it is a disappointing tale of missed opportunities for all parties concerned.

First, Shashi himself. It has been obvious that the long knives are out for him – a warning to “beware the Ides of April” would have been appropriate. There have been too many silly/manufactured controversies about Tharoor’s posts on Twitter.

The fact that there was media uproar about trivial issues suggested that these were planted in the pliant media. Presumably there is professional jealousy in the Congress party, because Tharoor has not gone through the mill pressing the flesh and building up IOUs in smoke-filled backrooms. He is the quintessential outsider, and Machine politicians simply hate such.

Besides, it is likely there was personal animosity as well. Tharoor is a dashing person, a good writer and speaker, and popular with women. The joke in Trivandrum constituency, my hometown, was that there was no way Tharoor could lose, as he was guaranteed 50% of the votes – every one of the female votes, young or old!

In Malayalam, there is a proverb about all conflict finally boiling down to “kanakam or kamini”, that is, either money or women. Surely there were elements of both in the flap over the cricket team that led to Tharoor’s resignation. There was the mysterious Sunanda whom Shashi had been squiring around Delhi; and the matter of the free equity she got in the team, for value that was not obvious to the casual observer.

Having been acquainted with the Tharoor family for years I believe Shashi would be offended if someone tried to bribe him. Nevertheless, an impression has been put about that Tharoor’s alleged wife-to-be has been given money in order to influence Tharoor. This is unfortunate and it doesn’t stand to reason: why would someone as smart as Shashi hurt his political career doing something as blatant and stupid as this? The obvious conclusion is that he was framed. Shashi has been crudely smeared. Fortunately, this is not the last we will hear from him – he’s too good a person to keep down.

Next, the Congress party. Did it suddenly become the absolute paragon of virtue? There are the small matters of Quattrochi’s ill-gotten gains, and the vast amounts allegedly squirreled away in numbered Swiss bank accounts, which the Congress resolutely refuses to investigate. But it’s quoting scripture when it comes to poor Tharoor?

In any case – although I realize this is a bad question – exactly how much money was at stake? A piddling Rs. 70 crores or so! There are serving cabinet ministers who have been accused of siphoning off thousands of crores in a spectrum auction, or in dubious overseas transactions using Participatory Notes. There are the Congress MPs caught on camera bribing opposition MPs in 2008’s infamous vote of confidence, but they all got off scot-free. There is an election commissioner whose boss wrote to the government recommending that he not be not be given any office with any responsibility.

Not one of these people has been asked to resign until their names were cleared in investigations: they have brazened it out. The only person who was sacrificed was Natwar Singh. It is quite likely that he was made a scapegoat to protect others – I wonder if it is the same with Shashi Tharoor.

There is a sinister possibility – that Tharoor was getting rather too popular for his own good. There is an axiom in the Congress party whereby non-Dynasty people have a glass ceiling. As soon as someone is viewed as a threat of even the smallest kind to the Dynasty scion, well, he is cut to size. Maybe Tharoor’s very popularity – 700,000 Twitter followers – was his bane.

Third, the opposition. I have no idea why the BJP and the Communists got their knickers in a twist about Tharoor. When you have bigger fish to fry – people who have severely damaged your parties’ fortunes through hook and by crook – why are you doing a hatchet-job on Tharoor? He is not even an ideological Congresswallah, and might possibly have been persuaded to switch horses as the Congress’ fortunes diminished. Lost that chance.

Finally, the citizens of Tharoor’s constituency. Instead of standing by their MP – after all, he is certainly more appealing than all the other candidates put together – the good citizens of Trivandrum have either been indifferent or have been secretly enjoying their schadenfraude. Wake up and smell the coffee, it’s your constituency’s loss!

All in all, a tragic situation. The Foreign Affairs ministry is notoriously bad at negotiation, and to lose the one person there who is on first-name terms with most world leaders is not exactly a good thing. I hoped Tharoor would stay on. Maybe he can be rehabilitated after clearing his name?

a version of this was printed in the DNA newspaper on 23rd march:

http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_headley-a-protected-asset_1362196

Spy vs. spy: Is Headley a protected ‘asset’?

Rajeev Srinivasan

The fact that the United States’ Department of Justice has agreed to a plea-bargain by David Coleman Headley (born Daood Sayed Gilani) is worrying. Headley, the Pakistani-American accused of being a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and the person who did much of the planning and surveillance for the 11/26 terrorist attack on Mumbai, pleaded guilty to 12 counts, including conspiracy to murder Indians and Americans in India, and to support terrorism in India. Apparently, Headley has pleaded guilty so that he might escape the death penalty as a co-operating witness.

In and of itself, this is not surprising, because the Americans have dropped hints from day one about their reluctance to let Indian investigators interrogate Headley. Around the time of Headley’s arrest around October last year, Indian sleuths flew to the US, but returned empty handed. Suspicions were raised at the time that Headley was in fact a ‘strategic asset’ for American intelligence, because he had gotten off surprisingly lightly in a drug-related incident, a serious offense in the US.

However, it is worrisome because it implies that the Americans have many skeletons in the closet regarding Pakistan-related terrorism incidents. The plea-bargain insulates Headley from being examined in court, suggesting that the Americans did not want him to ‘sing like a canary’, revealing various things they would rather keep well-hidden. There will be no trial in the US, no depositions and no public disclosures, and he will not be extradited to India to stand trial for 11/26.

This is yet another instance of the ambivalent nature of the American attitude to Pakistan and its terror apparatus. Even though it is obvious that most terrorism has links to Pakistan, and that its spy agency ISI nurtures terrorist entities such as the LeT, the Americans pretend to not see this. Symmetrically, the Pakistanis pretend to reduce their terror sponsorship, periodically rounding up some unimportant or washed-up terrorist and delivering him to the Americans; this charade keeps everybody happy.

A particularly egregious example of American collusion with the ISI was seen in 2001 at the siege of Kunduz in Afghanistan. At the time, the Northern Alliance, in full cry, were besieging a thousand Taliban in an old fort in Kunduz. Astonishingly, the US allowed the Pakistani air force to air-lift most of these alleged Taliban, who, it turned out, were mid-level officers of the ISI and the Pakistan Army who had traded in their uniforms for the Taliban’s baggy pants and beards.

There is speculation that Headley is a double agent for America’s spy agency, the CIA. The world of double agents is complicated, as the CIA itself learned to its chagrin just a few weeks ago when most of its agents in Pakistan were massacred by a Jordanian double agent. This could be why, even though Headley was indirectly responsible for the deaths of several American citizens in Mumbai, they are not throwing the book at him.

Contrast Headley’s treatment with the fuss over Adam Gadahn, a white American convert, a senior spokesperson and propaganda advisor for Al-Qaeda. Even though Gadahn has not killed any US citizens, he is the first American charged with treason in over fifty years. Clearly they are bothered by Gadahn’s actions, but not so much by Headley’s. There is also no indictment of the LeT despite the fact that Headley is accused of attending several training camps run by them, in jihad indoctrination, combat, counter-surveillance, and weapons usage.

The tenderness shown to Headley suggests there is more to his story than meets the eye. Could it be that Headley, and his fellow-accused, Pakistani-Canadian Tahawwur Rana, breezed in and out of India and did their reconnaissance because the CIA was greasing the wheels? Maybe they even helped Headley erase his past, his Pakistani name Gilani, and his record as a drug-dealer so that he could travel as a white American to India. It is true that white Americans arouse less suspicion, as has been seen in the cases of blonde converts Jamie Paulin-Ramirez and Colleen R LaRose, aka ‘Jihad Jane’.

The Headley saga may well be a practical demonstration of the attitudes of the Obama Administration towards India. Obama has distinctly downgraded India in his priority list. When Obama made a trip to Asia, India was not on the itinerary. If and when Obama finally makes it to India, we can be assured that there will be a hyphenating visit to Pakistan included.

The DoJ’s willingness to protect Headley after he pleaded guilty to abetting terrorism and mass-murder in India, and admitted that he had attended terrorism training camps operated by the LeT, leads to a simple conclusion: the US government does not care about the killing of Indians. This, after all the honeyed words about the beginnings of a beautiful relationship, leads us to a sad truth: India cannot depend on anybody other than itself. And there are plenty of Headleys and sleeper cells out there.

a version of this was published by DNA on march 1st at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_bargaining-with-the-devil_1353963

“Bargaining with the Devil: When to negotiate, when to fight”

Rajeev Srinivasan on negotiating with evil

As India sits down for talks with Pakistan and with Communist insurgents, an observer may wonder why its track record is so poor in negotiations. As Churchill said, “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”, but there is a make-believe quality to it in India, as the mandarins appear to just go through the motions. There is no recognition that there is a logic and a structure to parleys, there is a difference between positions and interests; and that ends and means must be separated.

Consider some instances – the negotiations with China over treaty rights in Tibet, wherein India meekly surrendered all leverage; the border talks for the last 28 years that have only led to further Chinese claims on Indian territory; the interminable and futile discussions with Pakistan, with no letup in cross-border terrorism. In Copenhagen, China hoodwinked India into a stand that helps China, a major polluter, not India, a minor villain. The ‘nuclear deal’ with the US also gave away too much in return for very little.

There are rare success stories too, especially when there is a clear goal. Arundhati Ghose famously fended off nuclear blackmail regarding CTBT at the UN.

A recent book by Harvard’s Robert Mnookin, “Bargaining with the devil: When to negotiate, when to fight”, highlights two paradigmatic situations – the decision made by Winston Churchill to not negotiate with Adolf Hitler; and the decision made by the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, to indeed engage with F W de Klerk’s apartheid regime. Both decisions, according to the book, were right, and avoided worse outcomes.

Mnookin focuses on situations in which two parties that may consider each other evil sit down at the bargaining table. There should be a combination of intuitive as well as analytical approaches, he suggests. This is where India fails: negotiators depend entirely on intuition, when a cold-blooded decision-tree analysis would help. Some Indian negotiators are seduced into accepting the other side’s perspectives, for instance through judicious use of Urdu couplets and sob-stories about poor villagers.

There are several major problems. First, a serious, core issue: the lack of a clarity about objectives. Nobody knows what the goals are, what is absolutely non-negotiable, what the ‘don’t-cares’ are that can be thrown in as concessions to clinch a deal. Therefore they do not know when to hold and when to fold. When talking to Communist terrorists, the objective is to prevent their violent overthrow of the State; their civil rights are not the main concern. (We also have to be hard-nosed: the human rights of the insurgent and the terrorist are no greater than the human rights of the average citizen).

Second, the negotiators do not distinguish between positions (some of which may be posturing for domestic consumption), and fundamental interests. China always takes extreme positions, probing for weaknesses. However, if there is credible push-back, China will retreat. To be deterred, they have to believe that India is prepared to fight if the talks fail. They don’t; nor do Pakistanis or Communist guerillas. Without that implicit danda, all the carrots, sama, and dana, don’t work.

Third, because they do not internalize core interests, India’s negotiators are sidetracked into peripheral and trivial matters. An example was the panic-stricken insistence about Indo-Pak rail links, which were jeopardized by a terror attack on the Samjhauta Express. There were pious pronouncements: “The rail links must not be affected”. The show must go on? Why? What is so sacred about it? The rail links are only a means to the end. By focusing on the rail links – a means – they were coerced into losing sight of the termination of terrorism – the ends.

Negotiation and game theory are taught in business schools (“Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury is a favorite) and schools of government the world over, but apparently not to India’s mandarins. One of the cardinal principles taught is that you must be fully prepared with three alternatives: a) the desired goal, b) the compromise you can live with even though it is less than ideal, and c) the walk-away position. These alternatives are decided on ahead of time, and negotiators will not deviate from them. They will be prepared to walk away if the only thing they can get is worse than the compromise situation. Indians attempt to wing it and figure out their alternatives on the fly, and get confused and rattled. And lose out.

Game theory is relevant: a negotiation may be modeled as a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma game. The best known tactic is tit-for-tat, so that if the adversary cooperates, you cooperate the next time; but if they betray you, you betray them the next time. Alas, what Indians do is to cooperate all the time, which means there is no penalty to Pakistan for betrayal; their payoff is better if they betray, so they will do it every time. Exhibit A, the 91,000 prisoners India released after the Bangladesh War. Exhibit B, Sharm-al-Sheikh where the unfair equivalence of Baluchistan with Kashmir was accepted.

Similarly, Communist insurgents have learned that they can offer ‘talks’ and ‘ceasefires’, use the respite to re-arm themselves, and then turned around and betray. There is no consequence to them for bad-faith behavior.

In other words, India’s negotiation skills are extremely poor. It is best to not expect any miracles from these palavers; if there are no major faux pas and blunders, the nation can consider itself lucky.

900 words, 23rd Feb 2010

a shortened version of this appeared in mint at http://www.livemint.com/2010/01/27203228/There-is-still-climate-change.html this was written on 26 jan and submitted to rediff then, but it has not been published yet. the attacks on IPCC and pachauri continue. i am not necessarily a fan, but i think they are being unfairly targeted with malice aforethought.

(PS. for some odd reason, i am running into compatibility problems between openoffice 3.0 and wordpress — this ends up giving me either too few or too many spaces between paragraphs. sorry)

 

Glaciergate or not, there is still climate change

Rajeev Srinivasan cautions against throwing the baby out with the bathwater

In addition to Climategate – the accidental release of emails from a UK university that suggested some scientific data had been suppressed by global-warming zealots – there is now Glaciergate. The Nobel-Prize-winning IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri of The Energy Research Institute (TERI) in Delhi, have committed a Himalayan blunder.

IPCC, it turns out, made a faux pas in asserting that “Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035”. There is some confusion about how they arrived at this conclusion, but it appears as though they depended solely on an interview given by Jawaharlal Nehru University glaciologist Syed Iqbal Hasnain to an Indian magazine, based on unpublished and non-peer reviewed research. Hasnain speculated about the Himalayan glaciers’ disappearance by 2035, although a report in the Economist (“Off-base camp”, January 21st) suggests that the research itself was focusing on the year 2350, not 2035. Some typo!

Because the IPCC is considered an impeccable scientific authority, this scandal goes to the very heart of the institution’s credibility. Their process may be flawed, thus imposing a question mark on many of the predictions it has made. This is on top of allegations of financial irregularity that have been dogging Pachauri and TERI, especially after the IPCC won the Nobel along with Al Gore. A report in the UK Telegraph (“Taxpayers’ millions paid to Indian institute run by UN climate chief”, January 16th), among others, suggests impropriety and conflict of interest.

There is probably a grain of truth in the allegation that grand proposals about cap-and-trade are designed to enrich the very people who have caused major bubbles: the friendly neighborhood investment bank. It is also possible that those involved in the transfer of massive sums – like the $100 billion bandied about in Copenhagen about money to be given to developing nations to induce them to do less destructive things in their search for energy security – have vested interests.

But let us consider one fraught possibility – that even if the messenger is dubious, the message has value. There is the chance that despite exaggerations from the climate-change-supporters, the climate *is* changing.  What if the world is already hurtling towards certain disaster, and we have on the verge of moving from a stable equilibrium to catastrophic, irreversible ecosystem damage?

A lot of the climate skepticism is of the form “we’ve heard these stories before, by the way weren’t more or less the same ‘the sky is falling’ crowd saying just a few years ago that we were going to enter a new Ice Age?” Others suggest that the recent warming is merely part of the longer-term sunspot cycle, or that the total amount of carbon remains constant on earth, so that CO2 emissions should not be a big worry. But it does matter where the carbon is: sequestered in, say, forest or permafrost it’s fine, but it’s not fine when it’s free-floating in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.

Admittedly, climate is such a complex issue with so many variables that any computer models are necessarily imprecise and removed from the reality. The fact is that nobody knows, but there is still that nagging doubt: what if the climate Cassandras are right? Do we want to say a few years down the road, “Oops, they were right and now we are toast?” What if sea levels are indeed rising inexorably? Has one exceptionally cold winter made everybody forget the series of increasingly powerful hurricanes that have ravaged different parts of the world?

It is undeniable that changes in climate have a large impact on flora and fauna and certainly on human societies. We are familiar with what is believed to have been the effects of radical climate change (either due to asteroid hits or volcanic activity) that caused ‘nuclear winters’ and exterminated the dinosaurs. Then there is the giant explosion of super-volcano Mt. Toba in Sumatra that caused, according to geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer, the complete extinction of all human populations in India around 74,000 years ago. More recently , the once-fertile and well-watered regions of the Sahara in Africa and the Thar in India have turned into desert because of climate change.

Thus, the impact of climate change is nothing to be sneezed at. And there is enough circumstantial evidence that, indeed large changes are taking place. All of us may have noticed the change in local flora – in my native Kerala I have seen the kani konna (Indian laburnum) which traditionally flowers around VIshu, April 14th, has been flowering as early as January in the last few years. Old favorite thumba, with its humble and startlingly white flowers, once a metaphor for demure purity, is now not to be seen at all.

Pests and diseases are marching northwards, tree lines are going higher, and Arctic and Antarctic ice-packs and yes, glaciers are indeed retreating, all based on observations over the last few decades. Summer temperatures are soaring. Coral reefs are dying. It is hard to doubt that there is some level of global warming going on, and that increased acidity in the ocean is a result of more CO2 in the air.

And the culprit is not far to seek either. It is a very reasonable hypothesis that the increasing hydrocarbon usage is upsetting the carbon equilibrium: large amounts of the stuff that had been sequestered in forests, underground in coal mines and natural gas and oil deposits, have now been allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

In defense of hydrocarbons/fossil fuels, it is obvious that the current globalized civilization would not have been easy to create without convenient petroleum. On the other hand, the deleterious effects of oil are also visible: the vast amount of pollution and despoliation of nature for oil drilling, pipelines, and refining, not to mention emissions. Then there is also the other huge problem – that of non-biodegradable hydro-carbon-based plastics clogging the land and forming dead zones the size of France in the gyres of the oceans.

The point therefore is to get the world off its suicidal appetite for hydrocarbons. It also appears that the general public is not likely to change its fossil-fuel-guzzling ways just because they think the weather is going to warm up a little bit. Appeals to their good nature or to the legacy they are leaving their children does not seem to get results: the only thing that caused a reduction in consumption was the hike in oil prices; when prices fell, consumers went back to their bad old habits. The January 2010 Pew Center poll on American voters’ priorities puts the economy, jobs and terrorism at the top of the list, and global warming has slid to 21st place, just below trade policy! Therefore, a little exaggeration and invocation of catastrophe is probably not so bad to get the public to do what’s good for the planet.

But the worst outcome of the hue-and-cry from climate skeptics is complacency. It is not enough for the world to sit back and smugly say, “Ah, global warming is a myth. We can continue business as usual”. Not at all. The major emitters of greenhouse gases have had a free ride so far, and we all know of the Tragedy of the Commons. The industrialized nations, in particular the US, have refused to abide by the Kyoto Protocol. In Copenhagen, China, in a tactical maneuver appropriate to the world’s biggest polluter, managed to eviscerate any attempt at regulating or even monitoring its copious production of noxious emissions.

Thus, if the result of the fuss over Glaciergate and Climategate is a certain cavalierness about the issue of climate change, that would be disastrous. The baby – the environment – cannot be thrown out with the bathwater – the IPCC’s alleged malfeasance. There needs to a focused thrust to get away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy sources such as solar and wind. It is that sense of urgency that is being dissipated by the hoo-haa over Glaciergate.

In particular, for India with its minuscule stocks of hydrocarbons, it is practically a life-and-death matter that the thrust towards renewable sources of energy should not be diverted on what is essentially a political pissing content between two groups of affluent Westerners. India’s quest for energy security and its ability to provide a better life for its citizens will both be jeopardized by a quixotic crusade by those intent on scoring debating points. Climate change is real. Atmospheric pollution is real. We have no idea what we have done to complex natural systems: we cannot, like King Canute, order the waves to withdraw. Or the climate to stabilize.

Postscript: Is Pachauri being singled out as an Indian in a visible global position, and is this a hatchet job on him by the British? indeed, those howling the loudest for his head are British newspapers such as the London Times (“UN climate panel blunders again over Himalayan glaciers”, January 24th) and the UK Telegraph (“Pachauri must resign at once as head of official science panel”, January 24th). Given general British animosity towards Indians, this is not a far-out conclusion.

1500 words, 26th January 2010

 

a version of this was published by rediff and india abroad at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/dec/29/a-year-beset-by-problems-for-india.htm

india abroad requested i write this, and gave me a deadline of dec 17th; therefore i was not able to cover things that happened later (eg. copenhagen and the delicious nd tiwari story).

The year in review: 2009
Rajeev Srinivasan considers how India fared in this past year
This was a crucial year for India. On the one hand its economy is doing fairly well, but, on the other hand, its continues to suffer from a non-existent long-term agenda. The latter may well result in India seizing defeat from the jaws of victory: despite the ‘demographic dividend’, the lack of a compelling ‘idea of India’ may well cause it to flounder aimlessly, if not disintegrate into a million pointless mutinies. Events in 2009 would have sown the seeds of either success or failure.
On the world stage, India suffered the ignominy of a re-hyphenation with Pakistan and a downgrading of its alleged ‘special relationship’ with the US. On climate change, India, apparently isolated and specifically targeted, may well end up in a constrained situation similar to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, wherein it is especially victimized.
While everyone talks about the G2 (the US and China) dominating world affairs, India is never  mentioned in the same breath. The arrival of the Obama administration in the US has led to a severe de-prioritization of India. The Bush administration was eager to sell the nuclear deal to India, and to engage it as a counterbalance to China. The Democrats – many of them cold warriors and non-proliferation ayatollahs – would rather kowtow to China while paying lip service to India.
The UPA government built a foreign policy around the wishful thinking of a permanent alignment of US and Indian interests. It is now virtually certain that the US views Asia as China’s sphere of influence – it said so in so many words while inviting China to take a role in ‘South Asia’ to mediate between India and Pakistan. And China has struck a muscular pose, interfering in Arunachal Pradesh, building 27 airstrips in Tibet, and damming the Brahmaputra. India has few bargaining chips, as it gave them away for nothing.
Internally, national elections produced what appeared to be a stronger mandate for the Congress party; however, by year-end, its blundering over a separate Telengana State made it look amateurish. Serious doubts were raised about its ability to deter China or Pakistan, because the thermonuclear explosion in Pokhran in 1998 now appears to have been a damp squib, and the armed forces are increasingly demoralized.
Public health and nutrition continue to be issues. A lasting image was that of green surgical-mask-clad city-dwellers attempting to elude the swine flu, and the inevitable hoarding and black-marketing of the appropriate small-aperture masks. India has been accused for some time of poor health practices, especially related to poor nutrition, poor access to clean water and sanitation, etc.
In 2009, raging inflation – official figures admit that the price of essential food staples have shot up by close to 20% – implies that more people are going hungry. At the World Summit on Food Security, the FAO reported that, in a shocking reversal of previous trends, 100 million people worldwide have joined the ranks of the hungry between 2001 and 2009. A large number of these must be Indians. Child hunger, in particular, persists, which is a national shame.
India’s apparently quick recovery from the global financial meltdown – it is now believed that GDP may grow by as much as 7-8% in 2009 – has been attributed to a thriving rural economy, and India’s isolation from world markets (a reflection of India’s poor export performance). The rural land-owner has become the target of advertising for anything from cars to washing machines to LCD TVs. However, there are still hundreds of farmers committing suicide because of crop failure, and as a result of the giant subsidies given to their farmers by developed nations, which allows their products to be priced below actual production cost.
Unfortunately, the way the UPA government has responded to the crisis in rural areas is to create a socialist make-work scheme, the NREGS, which is rife with opportunities for fraud. Despite some anecdotal evidence, the increasing burden of food-price inflation and the resultant hunger negate its impact. Besides, this scheme is now being viewed as an omnibus solution to all the problems of the rural poor, not the band-aid that it is.
The price tag for the NREGA, and for other populist schemes such as the massive giveaway to bureaucrats (which carefully avoided the military, leading to significant anger there) will be macroeconomic disaster down the road. The bills add up: Rs. 30,000 crore for the bureaucrats, Rs. 70,000 crore for the NREGA, and another Rs. 70,000 crore for a farm-loan forgiveness scheme. All this will add to inflationary pressures, and siphon off funds from investment.
Politics in India was, as usual, chaotic. The Congress party appeared to win national elections, although there were allegations of tampering with electronic voting machines, which are not exactly fool-proof. The opposition, led by the BJP, had been expected to do quite well because of anti-incumbency, but did not. In the aftermath of the elections, the BJP has appeared to implode, with calls for the resignation of its old guard.
The politics of balkanization came to the fore towards the year-end with the revival of a long-simmering demand for a separate State of Telengana, to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh. In a reflection of  centrifugal identity politics, there were copycat calls for other States to be created.
But the most worrisome short-term issue continues to be the appalling internal security situation. The interrogation of a suspect in the various blasts around the country, T Nazeer, suggests that Kerala has become the new hub of terrorism. The revelations in the ongoing saga of David Chapman Headley suggests that the ISI can strike at will anywhere in India with virtually no risk of detection. It appears another 11/26 – the Mumbai siege of last year – can happen any day, anywhere, in the country.
Thus, India is beset by problems – both internal and external – caused by lack of strategic thinking, and by being a soft State. One can only hope 2010 will be better.
1000 words, 17 Dec 2009

a version of this was published by rediff.com at http://movies.rediff.com/report/2009/dec/16/international-film-festival-of-kerala-2009-opens.htm

here is the website of the festival: http://iffk.in/index.php?page=movies

International Film Festival of Kerala 2009: Days 1, 2 and 3

Rajeev Srinivasan samples the fare at the IFFK’s 14th edition

It apparently has become a staple of the season in Trivandrum – a little winter fog, a much-hyped Grand Kerala Shopping Festival (as though the wall-to-wall, year-round ads on TV for gold and womens’ clothes were not enough), large numbers of black-clad Ayyappa pilgrims, and now armies of cineastes armed with the signature black bags of the International Film Festival. This year I too joined the quasi-pilgrimage to my own home-town, and so far I have been pleasantly surprised by the festival’s logistics and films.

Read the rest of this entry »

a version of this was published by rediff at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/dec/08/column-rajeev-srinivasan-on-obamas-af-pak-plan.htm

Obama’s Af-Pak speech: America will declare victory and leave soon

Rajeev Srinivasan concludes the winners are China and Pakistan; India loses again

There is no doubt the US President Barack Obama had a difficult task to perform in making his long-awaited Afghanistan speech on Tuesday. There has been a clamor of different voices urging him to take every position from digging in for the long term all the way to an immediate withdrawal, and the only option Obama really had was to take a median position that would certainly disappoint large sections of his voters.

In a sense, the speech turned out to be a bit of a damp squib: it must be extremely unsatisfying to officer cadets at West Point to be told that their nation was effectively in a war it could not win. And that the only thing to do was to find a face-saving exit. Besides, it really didn’t say anything new other than the laying out of a time-frame for the exit. It was common knowledge all along that the Obama Af-Pak plan was simple: “surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell”.

The bribery plan has taken more concrete steps now. Hillary Clinton announced that there were ‘non-violent Taliban’ (isn’t that a contradiction in terms?), and therefore one has to presume the Americans are busy figuring out which are the ‘good Taliban’ (hint: those not attacking the Pakistani Army). These are the ones to bribe before the part about declaring victory loudly and heading for the exit.

One has to sympathize with Obama, who is in a bit of a spot. Two unwinnable wars are draining his treasury. The financial meltdown and related fallout has hit his economy hard. His hard-core supporters are wondering when he will deliver on his campaign rhetoric of change and hope, because so far there has been little change and not much hope. The fence-sitters are beginning to desert him, as the results of mid-term elections and opinion polls suggest. For someone who is in permanent campaign mode, this is altogether disturbing. The timing of the pullout from Afghanistan, naturally, is intended to give Obama sound-bites for the elections in 2012.

Afghanistan is, alas, looking more and more like Vietnam; even the blame game, where suddenly the Americans seem to have discovered that their hand-picked man, Hamid Karzai, is the fount of all corruption, is like Vietnam. The generals in Afghanistan are not filing enthusiastic and breathless forecasts like Westmoreland did in Vietnam, however: they are, perhaps because of  more widespread information, less optimistic and probably more realistic about what can be achieved.

The root cause of the problem in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq, is simple: the Americans are laboring mightily to ignore the elephant in the living room, Pakistan’s agenda. It is as clear as daylight to the casual observer that Pakistan has no interest whatsoever in bringing stability to Afghanistan, in preventing the Taliban from coming back to power there, or in capturing Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda operatives: and these are the alleged reasons why the Americans are in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has clearly articulated its pursuit of strategic depth which, for instance, involves having a Plan B even if its major cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, close to the Indian border, are obliterated in a possible Indian nuclear second strike (after Pakistan has wiped out Delhi and Mumbai in a first strike). They want to regroup from Afghanistan and continue their jihad against India from there.

The Taliban, of course, are Pakistani Army and ISI soldiers dressed in baggy pants and beards for the occasion. The fact that alleged seminary students (who the Taliban are supposed to be) suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes is indirect evidence that they were trained soldiers. Therefore, Taliban rule in Kabul means Pakistan has achieved it strategic depth. Clearly, they have no desire to fight or eliminate the Taliban, despite the fact that some factions (such as the one from the Mehsud tribe) have begun to inconvenience Pakistan through a campaign of suicide bombings. Dead Pakistani civilians are considered acceptable collateral damage by the ISI, but their attacks on the military apparatus is a big no-no. They are clearly ‘bad Taliban’, and will not get any share of the spoils.

The fact that the Americans condone Pakistani support for the Taliban was made most evident during the siege of Kunduz some years ago: see my old column: “What happened in Kunduz?” at http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/nov/30rajeev.htm It was evident to observers then that the massive airlift of besieged Taliban – allegedly hundreds of senior officers were rescued from the advancing Northern Alliance with the full knowledge of the CIA – was an effort to hide the evidence about ISI involvement with the Taliban. They allowed the alleged Taliban to escape to Islamabad and resume their day jobs as brigadiers and colonels in the Pakistani Army and the ISI. If the Northern Alliance, then in full cry, had been able to capture or liquidate these officers, it would have broken the backbone of the Taliban war effort.

A recent report from the US Senate accused the then-leaders of the war effort, Donald Rumsfeld and General Petraeus, of a signal failure in late 2001: apparently the Senate has found that it would have been entirely possible to capture Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains then, if only a large force of American troops had been deployed in search operations, instead of the few hundreds.

All this brings into sharp focus the nexus between the CIA and the ISI. (The more recent story of Daood Gilani alias David Chapman Headley, who may have done the reconnaissance in Mumbai for 11/26, also suggestions unholy connections between the two). There are some seriously opaque things going on between the Americans and the Pakistanis, and the billions paid by the Bush and Obama administration have vanished without a trace. (With their friend Robin Raphel now in charge of disbursing funds, the ISI must be breaking out the champagne – such incredible good luck!)

So long as the Americans are willing to subscribe to the fiction that Pakistanis are serious about fighting terrorism, there is no way that Pakistan can lose. As a result, the planned departure of the Americans in 2011 should be welcome news for Indians. Presumably, once they leave, as they did after the Soviet debacle in the 1980s, Americans will lose interest in Pakistan and cease to write them blank checks (which usually end up killing Indians).

However, as General McChrystal suggested recently, chances are that the US is going to lean on India to ‘make concessions on Kashmir’, to stop its humanitarian operations in Afghanistan and to close its consulates there. Pakistan has alleged that Indians are interfering in Baluchistan – which I hope they are, but it is unlikely: a former Prime Minister, in a burst of misplaced enthusiasm, gutted the RAW counter-intelligence operations there. The first sign of this pressure is already evident in the UPA government’s announcement of large troop withdrawals from J&K, leaving it to the local police, whose sympathies are not necessarily with the Indian nation.

The reality of American sentiment was demonstrated by Richard Holbrooke who held a cringing press conference to assure Pakistanis that there was no tilt towards India. Clearly in Afghan War 2.0, America is going to be ever more dependent on the tender mercies of the ISI. Obama concluded his speech with the mantra – regarding Pakistan – of “mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust.” The cynic in me thinks Obama better lock up the family silver, as he is deluding himself regarding Pakistan’s fundamentalist kleptocrats.

Besides, the exit timeline – even though it does not mean all troops leave then, and there has been a lot of ‘clarifications’ that even the date is not cast in stone – implies that the Americans have no stomach to fight on any longer in Afghanistan beyond 2011. This, in effect, means they have been defeated. The essence of military strategy is to demoralize the enemy by all means possible, and from that perspective Taliban psy-ops have won. This will be a significant morale-booster to the jihadis: they can legitimately claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. This will embolden their triumphalist attacks on US targets, and on India.

The Americans have a difficult choice, caught as they are with no really attractive options. Add to this Obama’s personal preferences, wherein his tendency is to be an internationalist, and to jaw-jaw where Bush may have gone for war-war. It is not clear that these are bad things per se, but it remains to be seen whether they are the right things for this war, or for the colder war against China. There is an element of ‘paralysis by analysis’, and some have begun to call Obama the ‘Great Ditherer’.

There is a worst case scenario: the possibility that, given the deadline of 18 months that Obama has outlined for the beginning of the exit, there will be a headlong and ignominious retreat from Kabul. I remember the photographs from Saigon in 1975 with the last helicopters taking off from the American embassy with people desperately hanging on. Vietnam scarred America’s soul, but Communism did not win, and the Domino Theory turned out to be wrong: communists are susceptible to the charms of the market.

The Afghan game is altogether different: it may crush America’s soul. If the jihadis gain sustenance from the American defeat there, there will be no respite: they will keep on attacking, as they are not easily distracted from their goal of global dominance, which they believe is within their grasp. Indeed they may be right, because there is a short window of opportunity when vast petro-dollars are at their disposal. The near-default of sovereign debt in Dubai shows that the petro-dollars may well be ephemeral, and that they had better strike when the iron is hot.

America is clearly suffering from imperial overreach. Not that America is a ruined country, but compared to the can-do and supremely confident nation it was a few years ago – the sole hyperpower proclaiming the end of history – it is suffering from serious self-doubt, and it is beginning to see the shadows of decline everywhere, even in its crowning glory, the civil engineering marvels that span the nation.

American’s involvement in Afghanistan, if it had been a whole-hearted war against the forces of terrorism, would have been positive for India. But given that it merely enriched the Pakistanis while retaining intact the entire infrastructure – both the ISI and the radicalized Army – the Afghan war has not really helped India. Indeed, the Northern Alliance – assuming that its tactical genius Ahmed Shah Massoud had not been assassinated – may well have driven the Taliban out or at least fought them to a standstill. In hindsight, the American intercession in Afghanistan has been a net negative for India.

As things stand, it now appears that it is better from India’s perspective for the Americans to leave. As usual, India is left to fight its own battles. Unfortunately, the two parties that will benefit the most from the American debacle in Afghanistan are India’s sworn enemies: China and Pakistan. China, because the loss is likely to turn America inward, and in any case they have now been convinced by Chinese bluster that there has to be a G-2. Pakistan, of course, is richer by some $25 billion some of which is in numbered accounts somewhere, and the rest in nuclear and other weapons pointed at India.

For China, the Vietnam analogy is apt again. There, a Chinese proxy defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, another Chinese proxy, Pakistan, may defeat America. In Korea, China fought America to a standstill. Score: China – 2.5, America – 0.5. No doubt this, along with Obama’s kowtowing in Beijing, will embolden further Chinese adventurism. India is already seeing the beginning of this, as Chinese are building 27 airstrips in occupied Tibet, and just ordered Indians to stop building a road in J&K, explaining that it was their territory.

Obama should learn from India’s experience: a vacillating, dithering and appeasing nation gets no respect from those who have a a clear long-term intent.

1720 words, Dec 2, 2009, updated Dec 4, 2009, 2050 words

India’s Energy Security

December 7, 2009

a version of this paper was published by ‘eternal india: the new perspectives monthly’ from the india first foundation in november 2009. another version was accepted by a conference at osmania university, hyderabad on india’s energy issues in march 2009.

energy security paper version 4

india’s mandarins sat on their behinds for decades; when they realized they had forsworn energy security, they made a mad scramble for nuclear fission, which is probably the worst solution for india, barring oil. the recent incident at the kaiga reactor where tritium was inserted into a water cooler was a graphic demonstration of the perils of terrorism and sabotage that loom large in india — chernobyl will be a cakewalk.

the omniscient mandarins like nuclear because there is opportunity for graft.

the best solution for india is likely to be solar; there should be a manhattan-project-like concentrated effort to induce innovation in this area. but there isn’t.

it is not clear what india is doing in copenhagen, but it is highly likely that the u-turns and volte-faces will end up in india accepting some position that is highly damaging to the country’s growth in return for vague promises of something or the other from others.

(Published on rediff at http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/nov/23chin.htm)

If I were to take the long view of history, I would contend that 1962 was a relatively minor skirmish in the long-term civilizational competition between India and China for the domination of the Asian ethos.

The only significant difference now as compared to centuries ago is that for the first time in history, the buffer state of Tibet has disappeared and Chinese troops are on India’s borders, and this means China can threaten India because it controls the headwaters of the Indus and the Brahmaputra, which arise in Tibet.

Yet, as far back as I can think, the two civilizations have been rivals in the grand scheme of events. There are distinct archetypes that drive the two. India has always been the realm of the abstract; and China that of the concrete. India is individualistic; China is collective. India is open and inclusive. China is closed and exclusive.

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