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

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 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 the following appeared in Daily News & Analysis on Jul 13th, 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_india-s-strategic-blunders_1408958, and a PDF version of the page is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/13072010/12main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Strategic blunders hurt India

Rajeev Srinivasan on how Pakistan has outsmarted India through clever foreign policy

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, the 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 dissimulations.

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 UPA on the run”. They perceive a ‘backbone deficit’ and lack of will.

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 about 40% of the Afghan population, with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras among others. 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 not even invited to talks about that nation.

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 if given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the Durand Line. This, of course, would be disaster for Pakistan, as it might induce restive Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well. In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem.

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 situation that the ISI has achieved the ‘strategic depth’ it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to smother it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

825 words, 10 Jul 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 this appeared on rediff.com on Jun 2nd at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/02/rajeev-srinivasan-on-why-india-is-not-taken-seriously.htm

The fine art of punching below one’s weight

Rajeev Srinivasan on how India has managed to make itself much smaller and less important in the world’s eyes than it really is

Several events in the recent past have been emblematic of the problems that India faces: on the one hand, India gets no respect from anybody. On the other hand, it may well not deserve any – any Rodney Dangerfield fans out there?

Pakistan’s Supreme Court found Hafiz Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and suspected chief instigator of the 11/26 attacks on Mumbai, innocent of all charges. Startlingly, a few days later, India released 25 jailed terrorists (members of the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohamed and Hizbul Mujahideen) and returned them to Pakistan.

Second, some low-level official in Canada’s embassy in India has been, it turns out, telling Indian armed forces members that they are violent terrorists and therefore ineligible for a visa – this has been going on for two years.

Pakistan’s behavior in exonerating Hafiz Saeed – the Supreme Court must be influenced by their government’s, and army’s wishes – suggests that they do not take India seriously. All the fine warlike words uttered by the GoI after 11/26 (and after the every blast in the past six or seven years), that there would be a stiff price to pay for any further mischief and so on, turn out to be total bluster. India has metaphorically thrown in the garbage-bin the 200 or so victims of 11/26. It is safe to kill Indians, and there are no consequences whatsoever. (Communist terrorists and their sponsors are taking note, which explains the 150 ordinary, apolitical, normal Indians massacred due to rail sabotage in Bengal).

Pakistan has called India’s bluff. They have observed that the Indian establishment is laboring under the illusion that there are only two things that can happen between the two countries – “peace talks” [sic] or war. Pakistanis like the so-called peace talks because that means India will continuously make unilateral concessions to keep the alleged dialog going – after all, this is exactly what India has done for 28 years with China, with China escalating its demands on Indian territory all the time and never giving an inch in the discussions.

Pakistanis also believe that Indians are too cowardly to actually go to war, and that anyway sugar daddy American can always be called upon to put pressure on India. Astonishingly, Indian planners do not comprehend that there are shades of gray – it is not a binary affair between war and talks. There are other ways of imposing costs on a recalcitrant foe – it is not for nothing that the aphorism goes “diplomacy is the continuation of war by other means”.

There are other means India has at its disposal, for instance monkeying with water supplies to the lower riparian Pakistan (once again, the clever Chinese have shown how to do with downstream states for rivers originating in occupied Tibet by building dams and even using river-bombs such as those in the Sutlej when they suddenly release massive floods). Trade sanctions are also possible – instead of which India gives generous Most Favored Nation status to Pakistan with no reciprocity. Covert operations, including judicious interference, are also used by all nations as part of their strategy.

But the bottom line is that the original end — peace and cooperation in exchange for stopping terrorism – has fallen by the wayside. The means – the so-called peace talks – have become the end, and the UPA cannot see beyond them. Pakistan has realized that the UPA will appease them and give peace, cooperation and all the trade they want, and there is no penalty to them for continuing their terrorist attacks on India.

In Afghanistan as well, Pakistan has got its way. The world at large sees India as superfluous in Afghanistan, despite the highly-lauded humanitarian and infrastructure-building activity that Indians have pursued there at significant cost in blood and treasure. India was conspicuously excluded from talks on Afghanistan. Pakistan has convinced the world that India is a liability and a hindrance to Obama’s plans to declare victory and run like mad from Afghanistan.

The release of the 25 captured terrorists, in the very wake of Hafiz Saeed’s exoneration, sends a startling message. Orders came from the Home Ministry (See the Daily Excelsior, May 27th: “Let, HM ultras among 25 Pakistanis freed from 8 jails”) apparently as a peace offering prior to the Home Minister’s and External Affairs Ministers’ visits to Pakistan. How come no Indians in Pakistani prisons are being released in return? What about Sarabjit Singh, falsely accused, on death row, and continually harassed in Pakistan?

Why does Pakistan not feel the need for “goodwill measures”? Because it is India that is desperate to continue the charade of the “peace talks”. That confuses the impartial observer – it is Pakistan which needs that fig-leaf. So whose interests are being protected here? Pertinently, who is pulling the strings?

Second, the Canadian mess is a metaphor for the fact that India has no credibility. After all, Canada (like Australia and Britain) are generally mere appendages for the US. They tend to have little individual clout, but follow the US’s policies. For instance, it is Australia that has been the loudest in threatening India with bloody murder if it didn’t sign the NPT. It is not for nothing that the word ‘poodle’ is sometimes used in this context.

Now comes Canada with a sterling act of friendly diplomacy. The fact that this insulting of serving and retired Indian army and police officers has been going on for two years is simply astonishing. Why wasn’t the low-level flunkey accused of doing this declared persona non grata and given 24 hours to leave, bag and baggage? Why wasn’t the Canadian ambassador summoned and given a demarche? These are the things real countries do – let us remember how the noxious Chinese, in a gratuitous insult, woke up Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao at 2am to deliver a complaint.

It is particularly ironic coming from Canada. I wrote a few years ago in the Pioneer (“Justice denied: the Kanishka bombing of 1985”, May 22nd, 2007) about how Canada had been criminally negligent in ignoring warnings about the events that led to the bombing of Air India’s Kanishka aircraft, with the loss of 329 lives. Furthermore, their investigation – still incomplete after 25 years – shows racism, incompetence, callousness, dilatory tactics and virtual State compliance in terrorism.

Indians are afraid – of what I do not know – to give uppity foreigners a dressing-down. In fact, this would be highly salutary. If India had immediately expelled the obnoxious Chinese diplomat who said that Arunachal Pradesh was part of China, the Canadians would have been more circumspect.

In that vein, it appears US president Obama is going to make another totally empty gesture, which will give goose-bumps to the usual suspects. It seems he is going to ‘drop in’ on the External Affairs Minister’s discussions with Hillary Clinton. And why, pray, is this significant, unless he is actually bringing David Coleman Headley along (thanks, B, for that insight)? It’s style over substance – let us remember how the Indian PM was not among the world leaders that Obama telephoned when he first took charge, but there was the nonsense of the First State Visit ™ over which the Indian media and officialdom went ga-ga. Nothing whatsoever came of that, other than that a good time, and biriyani, were had by all.

The world has taken its measure of India, and found it to be a second-tier nation. Hence they will continue to insult it subtly and openly. There is no consequence. India does not realize that it is, at least as an economic entity, a desirable partner, and that when the world is in the depths of a financial crisis, the threat of withholding access to the Indian market would immediately encourage snooty Canadas and Australias and Britains to fold. We have seen how the British absolutely groveled a few years ago when Malaysia’s prickly Mahathir Mohammed cancelled orders with British companies when the British said something rude. I have never seen such kowtowing and mea culpas and brown-nosing.

India is a heavyweight acting like a featherweight. There may be a Hanuman Syndrome in effect here: a country not knowing its true worth. On the other hand, I am afraid it’s worse – the rulers do not pursue India’s national interests to the best of their ability, despite their solemn oath to do so.

1400 words, 31st 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.

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

Mr. Singh goes to Washington

November 24, 2009

a version of this appeared on rediff at http://news.rediff.com/column/2009/nov/24/rajeev-srinivasan-on-prime-minister-singhs-visit.htm

Mr. Singh goes to Washington

Rajeev Srinivasan on why he fears the ‘state visit’ may be disastrous

In the old black-and-white Frank Capra film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” an idealistic small-town man played by James Stewart is elected to the US Congress, where he is appalled by corrupt politics; but in the end his innocence wins over the blasé denizens of the capital. In a sense, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to the US in the near future is being portrayed in the same way, but the Indian is neither as idealistic nor as naïve as the Jimmy Stuart character, nor is there likely to be a happy ending.

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rediff published this with some fairly significant edits at http://www.rediff.com/news/2008/dec/08mumterror-are-we-heading-to-being-a-failed-state.htm — to some extent the piece was rendered toothless — and so here is the original copy I sent them.

Towards a failed State – Ghori, Jaichand and friends redux

Rajeev Srinivasan on the attack on Mumbai

The invasion of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists – and undoubtedly local collaborators – is but a replay of times past: the periodic and predictable arrival of barbarians over the Khyber Pass, laying waste to the countryside, and wreaking untold damage on a long-suffering populace. The only crime that the average Indian committed was to focus on the creation of wealth; of course, the barbarians came because of the wealth. Today, once again, India is generating capital, and the intention is to thwart its economic rise.

Then, as now, the rulers failed the populace. There is an implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled: you pay the taxes, obey the rules, and we ensure that your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are unhindered. India’s ruling class failed signally to honor this contract – they never did figure out that the simple expedient of defending the Khyber and Bolan passes would be enough to save the plains, because Nature had been kind enough to build the impregnable Himalayas all around India.

I have never got a satisfactory answer to the question as to why we didn’t build the Great Wall of India. The Chinese built a 1,500-mile wall; Indians could surely have built a 15-mile wall and kept the marauders out. But there was clearly a failure in leadership and in strategic thinking. Time after time, the barbarians would pour in through the passes, march to Panipat or Tarain, and there, in a desperate last-ditch battle, the Indians would lose, again and again. The result: disaster.

Furthermore, there were traitors in-house, too. They would collude with the invaders to the detriment of their fellow-Indians. Jaichand, during the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 CE, turned the tide of the battle by allying with Mahmud of Ghori against Prithviraj Chauhan, with the result that Northern India suffered 700 years of Mohammedan tyranny – it was a clear tipping point. Or take the battle of Talikota that ended the magnificient Vijayanagar empire: it was their own troops that betrayed them.

Fast forward to today. India is under withering attack on all fronts. To the east, there is the demographic invasion by Bangladeshis, including unhindered infiltration by terrorist elements. The entire Northeast is in danger of secession, given both the narrow and hard-to-defend Chicken’s Neck that connects the area to the Gangetic plain, as well as the Christian fundamentalism and terrorism that is on the verge of turning into a move to secede on religious and ethnic grounds, a la East Timor.

The northern frontier is restive, with Nepal, a former ally and buffer state transformed into hostile territory, with its porous borders turned into a way of infiltrating Mohammedan terrorists and Communist terrorists into India, with the declared intent of capturing the “Pasupati-to-Tirupati corridor”, in other words, most of the eastern half of the country.

China is making increasingly belligerent noises about Tawang and all of Arunachal Pradesh. They are gambling that, despite the summit that just took place in Dharmasala, the steam has gone out of the Tibetan resistance movement. They have been emboldened by the fact that Tibetans were not able to disrupt the Olympics, and the more immediate betrayal by the British (International Herald Tribune, “Did Britain Just Sell Tibet?” http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/25/opinion/edbarnet.php) , who declared, contrary to all the historical evidence, that Tibet was always a part of China. Besides, the Chinese fully intend to move forward with the diversion of the Brahmaputra, which is in effect a declaration of war against the lower riparian State, India.

It is likely that the Chinese will march into Tawang – there is a lot of chatter in Chinese circles (see, an analysis by D S Rajan at the Chennai Center for China Studies http://www.c3sindia.org/strategicissues/419) about a “limited India-China war”, a replay of 1962. The Chinese have, in addition to pure geopolitics, another reason to do this, as was pointed out by strategy expert Brahma Chellaney – as in the years preceding 1962, the world is now once again hyphenating India and China. By handing India a sharp conventional military defeat, China would like that hyphenation to be removed decisively, as it surely would be. India will once again be seen as the loser it has been during the entire 1947-2000 period.

In the Northwest, Kashmir burns. The population clearly views India as a colony – they want Indian money, but they are not willing to make the slightest concessions to Hindu sentiments. It is very convenient for them to have the cake and eat it too – there is the little-known fact that J&K has practically nobody under the poverty line (2% and falling), as compared to the average of some 20% in the country as a whole. Kashmiris have prospered mightily despite – or is it because of? – the brutal ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Pundits now languishing in refugee camps.

In the traditionally quiet Peninsula, there is evidence of tremendous terrorist activity. In Kerala, it has been reported widely in the Malayalam media that 300 youths have been hired, trained and dispatched to Kashmir with explicit instructions – kill Indian soldiers and support Pakistani intrusions. Terrorism is just another job. Sleeper cells exist in every town, sometimes in the guise of “Kashmiri emporia”. The Konkan and Malabar coasts are dotted with safe harbors, where weapons, counterfeit currency and contraband are cached. The preferred mechanism – bomb blasts to inflict maximum damage. Logistics, safe houses, surveillance, forged documents, etc. are provided by a wide network.

In the tribal lands of central India, the Northeast and in Orissa, Christian terrorists are joining hands with Communist terrorists. In fact they often are one and the same, as confessed by an alleged Communist leader on TV. Their preferred weapon – liquidation of inconvenient people, as they did in the case of Swami Lakshmananda, the 84-year-old monk that they attacked with AK-47s.

The fact is that all these threats are overwhelming the security apparatus in the country, such as it is. It is quite likely that the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing and the Anti-Terrorism Squad had some inkling of something big being planned, including the movement of small arms on the Ratnagiri coastline, and the logistics-related activities of known suspects. It is unclear why they didn’t take preventive action.

There is a terrifying possibility – that they in fact had no idea this was going on. There is an aphorism that you cannot stop all terrorist activity, but in India the situation is such that no terrorist activity is stopped – they strike at will, and the populace is left to pick up the pieces of broken lives. This is no way to run a country.

The frightening possibility is that the Jaichands have in fact taken over the State. In which case, we can anticipate the total dismemberment of India – possibly preceded by an interregnum where it is failed State – in the near future.

There is one other possibility – that the Army will have to take over. It is a remote possibility, for two reasons – the Indian Army has been determinedly apolitical; and the State has continually striven to weaken it. Someone once made the ridiculous statement that India really didn’t need an army, only a police force, and it appears the entire political class and bureaucracy have internalized this slogan.

See also http://in.rediff.com/news/2002/nov/19rajeev.htm

From 1962 – as always, on November 18th I silently saluted the martyrs of the Battle of Rezang-La, where C Company, 13th Kumaon died heroically to the last man – when the ill-equipped troops froze to death on the Himalayan heights, to the refusal to increase military salaries when the bureaucrats awarded themselves 300% increases recently, the State has told the military that it doesn’t value them. All the Services are starved of funds. The recent open attack on Lt. Col. Purohit is another signal that the State despises the military . As Ashok Malik pointed out in the Pioneer (“A Hindu Dreyfus Affair?” http://www.dailypioneer.com/135567/A-Hindu-Dreyfus-Affair.html ), this is a near-repeat of the celebrated Dreyfus case in France, and alas, we have no Emile Zola to cry “J’accuse!” .

See also http://indiaabroad.com/news/1998/jul/23rajeev.htm

One possible outcome is that the Indian military forces will gradually wither away and die, thus making the statement about India not needing an army a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is another possibility – that of a military coup d’etat. Normally, the prospect of a military takeover – given that they all end up badly – from a democracy is not something one would welcome. But then India is not a democracy – it is a kakistocracy, rule by the very worst possible people – which has the trappings of a democracy but not the substance, so I wonder if military rule could possibly be any worse.

But the chances are getting increasingly good that the Indian State will collapse, just like Pakistan already has. A recent risk assessment by the World Economic Forum and CII (“India@Risk 2008”) considers the economic, energy, food/agriculture and national security that face India. The report is more concerned about the first three items, assuming that India is secure enough as a nation.

I hope they are right, but this invasion of Mumbai – so daring and audacious – makes me wonder. I have considered a nightmare scenario of Chinese battleships arriving in triumph at the Gateway of India, to be welcomed with marigold garlands by the Jaichands, but I have to admit I never thought a motley crew of Pakistani terrorists would invade. The very future of the Indian State, suddenly, is in question. And it is mostly from self-inflicted, avoidable wounds. The failure of leadership is causing India to cease to exist.

Musharraf’s star turn

October 9, 2006

I have been a tad slow in posting things here. In fact I had also not realized there were a couple of comments waiting to be moderated.

But here’s something I wrote on Musharraf. A condensed version of this will be published elsewhere in print.

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Terrorism as theater

I was impressed by the bravura performance: General Musharraf can give anybody in Hollywood a run for their money come Oscar time. The gushing interviews, the uniform and the salutes, the strutting and preening: this was classic caudillo-as-thespian. Musharraf has become America’s favorite dictator-du-jour, a position, it is useful to remember, once held by Manuel Noriega of Panama and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Sic transit gloria mundi!

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The fallout from 9/11

September 11, 2006

The following appeared on Rediff.com, but with a subtle change: they edited out a sentence.

I wrote:

“Al-Qaeda appears to be more and more a figment of some fevered State Department staffer’s brain, because it is not a small group of extremists, but practically the entire Ummah, the Mohammedan community, that is up against America.”

They took out the last phrase, which makes that a dangling sentence that does not make sense. It now reads:

“Al-Qaeda appears to be more and more a figment of some fevered State Department staffer’s brain, because it is not a small group of extremists.”

This is intriguing, as my statement was reasonably factual. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that the Mohammedan-on-the-street anywhere is rather unhappy with the US.

Here’s the entire article:

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Mr. KPS Gill is one of the most thoughtful and articulate officers (he is retired now) in the Indian police. I have been very impressed by his forcefulness, directness and candor, not to mention his tremendous track record in ridding Punjab of the separatist/terrorist threat.

I think it is no coincidence that subsequently Gill was hounded and humiliated with a sexual harassment case. It is routine in India for those who are patriotic or nationalistic to be destroyed through the ancient technique of tejovadham, the murder of their reputation and self-image through innuendo and rumor. For an example, refer to what happened to Acharya Jayendra Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi.

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