Thursday, September 18, 2014

The President of China visits India: A Diplomatic Breakthrough

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

China and India are the oldest civilizations of Asia and the tortured history of the twentieth century unfortunately tore the two countries apart.  Jawaharlal Nehru unfortunately mishandled the border issue in 1962 and provoked the India-China War which led to a comprehensive defeat for India. Since then there have been a few incidents in Ladakh  and in the Arunachal Pradesh region, but there is little possibility of war between the two neighbours. It is to the credit of the new Government headed by Narendar Modi that saw an opportunity to improve Sino-India ties and he seized the chance and China also realized that peace with India is in her best interest. Unfortunately, China is still viewed with suspicion by large chunks of the population and this is partly due to the fact that little is known here about that country.

President Xi Jinping arrived in India on 17th September, the birthday of the Prime Minister. Setting aside diplomatic protocol the President's plane landed in Ahmedabad where Narendar Modi personally welcomed the Head of State. The two seem to have hit it off well together and they enjoyed a cultural feast on the banks of the Sabarmati River. This morning the two delegations met in New Delhi for high level talks, even as the Media was reporting what it termed a large Chinese incursion. Since the border between the two Asia giants is not demarcated any movement along the border has the potential to disturb peace and tranquility along the LIne of Actual Control. India seems to have retreated a bit from the McMahon Line fixation that characterized the Nehru era and China too has shown great diplomatic wisdom in not allowing the border dispute to dictate the contours of Sino-Indian relations. Geographical features are now included as part of the elements that will help draw up the boundary between the two nations.

Twelve agreements covering important areas of mutual interest were signed on this trip: Educational and Cultural exchanges were of course part of the boiler plate of such diplomatic exchanges. More interestingly, China has agreed to send 500 teachers who will teach Chinese in India. This will be a huge step toward normalizing relations with that country. In India there is hardly any expertise on Chinese language and whatever we read here is based on English language sources and the analysis is usually by American scholars who twist the whole narrative to suit the political needs of USA. It is time that the world realised that China has made huge progress in Science, technology and Education and India is willing to learn and benefit from the Chinese experience. China will invest 20 billion US dollars in Infrastructure projects over the next 5 years and this investment itself will add 2 % points to India's GDP. Narendar Modi has taken the right decision and I am sure that he will deliver.

The visit of the Chinese Head of State marks a new beginning in India's relations with her biggest neighbour. Of course, the hangover  of the jaded Nehruvian past is not fully dispelled. Bt a good beginning has been made.


Thursday, September 11, 2014


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Minister for Human Resource Development, Hon'ble Smrithi Irani has finally decided to take a giant step towards making Indian Universities have a better system of governance. Keeping in mind the principle Maximum Governance, Minimum Government The MInister has decided to take the Pathan Report out of cold storage and has called a Retreat at Jaipur to discuss the Common University Legislation with Vice Chancellors of all Central Universities. This issue has been hanging fire for some time and the UPA Government lacked the political will to even discuss the need for a common legislative framework. The principle enshrined in the Constitution of India is being violated everyday in Central Universities, each of which has its own Acts and Statutes, thereby violating the cherished legal principle of Equality Before the Law. While there is substantial parity between Central University staff in terms of pay, service conditions, and the like there are huge differences in the manner in which they are governed. For instance in the Statutory Bodies of some Central Universities there is provision for elected representatives of the Faculty in addition to cadre based nominations. There is need to introduce a common legal framework for the governance of Central Universities. The 18 new Universities started during the UPA tenure have  failed to take off the ground primarily due to laxity in the legal framework.

What is the need for a Common Legislation? This question is seldom asked because the stakeholders in the University prefer to leave large areas of decision making as discretionary entitlements and subsequently pressurise the Vice Chancellor to take decisions in their favor. A common Law governing Central Universities will necessarily act as a deterrent in this unseemly game of oneupmanship. In Central Universities Vice Chancellors have been "persuaded" to appoint unqualified people and there have been instances of meritorious faculty denied their due because of their reluctance to toe the line of the powers that be. Further, in terms of service conditions there needs to be uniformity both of procedure and norms of assessment. In the name of autonomy some Universities prescribe what they consider "higher norms" for promotion and even the higher norm is invoked selectively. The need for University Autonomy cannot be equated with the power of the Vice Chancellor and his/her ruling clique to act in an illegal and arbitrary manner. A common legislation will go a long way in reducing the number of cases that Universities routinely face in the Courts of Law. Arbitrary and illegal actions when contested before a Court of Law are fought at the expense of the university, while the individual has to bear the entire expense from his hard earned savings. I think the Hon'ble Minister for Human Resource Development will earn the gratitude of the entire teaching community if she successfully pilots the Common Legislation through the Lok Sabha.

The governance of central universities affords ample scope for abuse of power in the name of autonomy. Seldom is the issue of corruption discussed. The regulatory bodies such as AICTE and MCI have been exposed by the CBI for corruption and the Chairman of Medical Council of India, Dr Khetan Deasi was found to possess one metric tonne of gold in his house. I know that in certain central universities jobs are sold at the rate of 30 lakhs a piece. This is because in Southern Indian universities, particularly in Tamil Nadu the post of Vice Chancellor is sold for 10 crores and he/she is expected to recoup the investment through sale of jobs, contracts, building contracts, canteen contracts, security contracts etc. All these ills can be prevented at least in Central Universities by means of a common legislation.

There is also the academic side to this issue. The Common Legislation will naturally lead to a common Academic Calendar all over India and even perhaps a common entrance test. Students can migrate to take courses of their chice in a particular University in which there is specialized expertise. This kind of horizontal movement which will enhance the quality of education will flow from a common University legislation.

The Minister must be lauded for taking this initiative which will enchance the standing, worth and prestige of Indian Univeristies. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Narendar Modi's address on Teacher's Day

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

A young school boy form Arunachal Pradesh asked a question which would have stumped anyone: How do I become the Prime Minister of India. Pat came the reply from Narendar Modi:Prepare for the General Election of 2024 and I consider myself safe until then. At one stroke 68 years of political privilege, one in which the highest office of the land was held as a strange kind of dynastic trophy by the Nehru family, was set aside and the democratic principle that any citizen can aspire to reach the top was reasserted. Narendra Modi's two hour interaction with students across India was an exercise in sophisticated  image building with a positive message. The students from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Arunachal Pradesh to Mumbai enthusiastically participated in their interaction with the PM on Teacher's Day. The Congress Party which was carping about the fact that the interaction session was made compulsory had to admit that the programme was a resounding success.

The Prime Minister made three important points in his address and as for as I can remember this was the first time any important political figure has spoken about the issues. First, he spoke of keeping the environment clean and the importance of having a toilet in each school for girl students. In his Independence Day Speech the Prime Minister had spoken of a national scheme of building toilets in each school. Second, he stressed the importance of education for the Girl Child and his track record as Chief Minister of Gujarat is impressive. I pointed out this fact in my rebuttal to the likes of Martha Nussbaum when there was a cacophony of noises against Modi two years back. He rightly said that a Nation cannot progress if the Girl Child is left behind. Thirdly, he spoke of the need for making teaching a more attractive profession and pointed out that in Japan and perhaps in China, teachers form a highly respected and honoured segment of society.

Behind all the hoopla and din made by politicians about Modi's televised National Address lies a stark fact. Narendar Modi successfully reached out to the younger generation. His tone was a mixture of authority and familiarity and was not patronizing or condescending. All in all it was a grand success and Modi has the younger generation in his hands by one fell swoop.

Monday, September 1, 2014


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

One of India's most eminent historians died two days back at the ripe old age of 86. Bipan Chandra was a tall figure in the galxy of state sponsored historians who set about to create a usuable and politicall correct version of India's violent and tortution path to temporary nationhood. As a professional historian he devoted his entire carreer to Modern Indian History, a field of inquiry roughly overlapping with the rise of the Indian National Congress to prominence in the second decade of the last century. His historiographical ouerve was dedicated to a number of what I call Grand Abstractions: Economic Nationalism, Indian Nationalism,Working Class Consciousness, Communalism, Protest Movements etc. Unfortunately the real history has an uncanny ability to escape from these procrustena beds and we are left with historical narratives in which these Grand Absctrations replace the real life individuals and real life situations. The ability to smell human flesh like the ogre in the fairy tale Jack and the Bean Stalk is the hall mark of the truly great historian. Unfortunatley, Bipan Chandra was content with the march of these metaphors, grand abstractions, if you will, and there by hangs a tale.

Bipan Chandra belonged to the world that came of age in the decades around World War II and that event coincided with the more aggressive phase of the "Indian National Movement". Jawaharlal Nehru has entered the stage and young men and women of the time found the heady mix of nationalism and left wing socialism irrestible and Bipan Chandra essentially inherited this ideological armature. As the leaders of the Indian National Congress blundered their way towards Parition, Nehru and his acolytes c\
created the narrative of Communalism as the main force behind the drift toward Partition. In this narrative there was no place for honest intropection of what went wrong: Congress decision to dishonour its Pact with the Muslim League, the decision to walk out of the Governments formed under the Government of India Act of 1935 and most important of all the decision to launch the Quit India Movement in 1942. These steps towards Independence were also giant steps towards Partition and historians like Bipan Chandra were keen to highlight one side of the story which inevitable served the political needs of the nascent Indian nationa state and the ideological needs of the Indian National Congress. As a historian he should have drawn attention to the fact that the Congress Party membership largely excluded the muslims and as Perry Anderson has observed, less than 2% of the membership came from the Muslim populations of United Provinces.

Bipan Chandra was by all accounts a well respected teacher and his Ph D scholsrs virtually adore him. This is truly a testimony to the affection and esteem he commanded in the field. He held several high positions and was one of the few historians to be honoured with the Padma Bhushan.  His death is a loss and even those who did not agree with him like this blogger will mourn his loss as all of ius like to quarrel with his intellectual output.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Narendar Modi: Hundred Days and India is alredy feeling the change

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

In May 2014 when Narendar Modi was elected the Prime Minster of India the public mood was sullen, angry and despondent. Years of misgovernance,dynastic rule, and the loss of political authority by the then Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh, had taken a heavy toll; there was utter lawlessness all around, there was a slide in investor confidence, the Indian Economy was melting and the public deficit was alarmingly high. It did not appear that things would improve. The Indian Electorate chose togive a decisive mandate to the BJP and Narendar Modi became the Prime Minister. Unlike his predecesors, Modi hit the ground running. Realizing that public perception was venmentlty against the shenanigans of politicians, he made his Ministers walk a tight rope. They were not given the private staff of thie choice and the Prime  Minister had a direct meeting with the senior officers and impressed upon them the mantra that the Government must perform and he will not accpt any excuse for non performance. This is the first time in post Independent India that the political executive has clearly spelled out the vision of governance. Corruptionhas already started declining and Government files which were pending clearnace were disposed off. Man Mohan Singh has limited authority over matters of State and he preferred to fragment his authority even further by creating what he called Tmpowered Groups of Ministers to take decisions on important and controversial issues like OIl Pricing, Fertilizer subsidies, Gas Subsidies etc. The net result no decion was taken and when on the rare ocassion a decion was taken as in the Ordiance making sovicted politicinas eligible for public office the dynastic mascot of the time, Rahul Gandhi famously opposed it and the matter was shelved.

On 100 days things have visible improved. Food inflation and prices have started coming down. Even the proce of petrol has come down. The Government of India, in spite of an anticipated drought, has predicted a 6% growth in the GDP. Environmental clearnaces which held up a large number of infrastructural projects have been given the green signal and in the defence sector Foreign Direct Investment to the tune of 49 % has been suggested which will push up the growth rate even further. The Judges Appontment Bill which was held up for a long time has been passed and the dismantling of the Collegium System which seems tro have been misused by a few Chief Justices has been abandoned. The passage of the insurance Bill will also ensure foreign equity in this sector of the economy. The Modi Government has taken a leaf straight out of the experience of China: economic growth is the only way out of the pivertuy trap. Generations of Indian economists who have had their trining in fashnionable western univeristies have always advocated a model of growth in which the govewrnment is the prime mover. Now the peidulum has swung toward the private sector and Government will facilitate enterpreneurship.

The Address delivered on Independence Day (we have given a write up on this blog) hgihlighted all the important issues confronting the Nation and Modi did not shy away from talking about them. He stunned the country by stating very boldly that the violence against women for which India has become nototious can be stopped only if boys are brought up properly within the family and I think his message has gone home. His financial inclusion scheme will be regarded as a milestone and the largest expansion of banking services ever undertaken. Modi has shown the will to deliver on his promises.

There are however areas that have not yet caught his attention. Education in India is nowhere near even Asian standards let alone global standards. He has to address this issue and I am not sure if his Minister, Smrithi Irani has the intellectual capability for such a task. There is need to increase power generation as India will need  ahuge ammount in the next 5 years. The agreement with Nepal will surely help. Modi has also outline the River Linking 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Obama fanning the Jehadi resurgence: ISIS and USA

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Even as John Foley, the American journalist was being beheaded by the Syrian jehadi militants, the world woke up to the startling fact that several of the militants associates with the ISIS are white men from USA, UK, Scandinavia and even Russia. USA has been doing everything in its power to help the jehadi forces gather strength and move towards establishing their stranglehold  over Sunni Arab states. The refrain that is being heard from Washington that ISIS is beyond anything "we have ever seen" suggests that USA is aware of the dangers inherent in letting ISIS have a free run and yet Obama and John Kerry his Secretary of State were willing to use American air force against the Assad forces who have been fighting ISIS for the past two years. In parts of Syria and Iraq which have been overrun by ISIS, the level of brutality that has been unleashed is unspeakable: stoning of women, mutilation of limbs, mass executions and forced conversion of people like the Yazdis.

The ISIS emerged as a part of the Free Syrian Army which was encouraged, trained and funded by USA. The Arab states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are funding the jehadis in the hope that the radical Islamists would not encourage subversion of their own regimes which are intrinsically unislamic. USA did not understand the ground realities and started attacking al Assad and pursued the same policy that had led to the collapse of Iraq and the unravelling of the fabric of Iraqi society. Under Saddam Hussein women and other ethnic and religious minorities were safe and to a substantial degree acquired skills and education. By deliberately discounting the progressive nature of the baathist regimes, the US Administration successfully demonised secular and modernizing leaders like Saddam Hussein and Assad. In Afghanistan too the US followed the same policy when it encouraged the Mujahideen which later spawned the al-qaeda.   Ronal Reagan famously equated the warlords of the Northern Alliance with the founding fathers of the American Republic.

In the case of Syria the ISIS is able to inflict heavy loses on the forces of Assad because the fighters affiliated with the ISIS have modern equipment which they seized from the retreating Iraqi Army. In many instances the Iraqi Army, trained and equipped by uSDA just abandoned their weapons and deserted. The few who stood their ground as in Mosul were caught and executed by the victorious ISIS. Under these circumstances Obama has no choice but to seek the support of al-Assad and Iran. Unfortunately USA is still pursuing a self defeating policy of non engagement with these two powerful regional forces. In libya, the French succeeded in arming a group that overthrew Col Qadaffi and the mildly progressive Libya has now descended into civil war  and inter tribal conflict. One of the many victims of the Libya conflict wa of course the US Ambassador at Benghazi.

The leader of the Syrian dominated ISIS the self proclaimed Caliph, Abu- Bakr al Baghdadi was once a prisoner of the uSA, a subject of the many illegal acts of kidnapping done by CIA under the label, extraordinary rendition. The whole of northern Syria has fallen to ISIS and unless Iran, USA and Syria act in concert ISIS will soon reach the Mediterranean Sea.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Horror stories emanating from USA do not shock us anymore. We have come to expect drive by shootings, mall massacres, school yard killings and the like. In India we have our own share of horrors so there is no comparison. However, the Police in India in spite of the occasional instance of violence is much better behaved than in USA. The cases of "fake encounters"that spring up from time to time are due to the inherent flaws in the judicial  system with its dependence on procedure and witnesses, that sometime the Law and Order Machinery takes recourse to eliminating the violent criminals. It stands to reason that no one would like to give evidence in a court of law about the violent acts committed by a dreaded gangster. The police in India are now armed only with a fiberglass truncheons and are issued weapons only on the direct order of the Superintendent of Police and he too can issue weapons only on the instructions of the District Collector. I am not saying that the police are totally under the control of the civil district administration, but I can state with some authority that it would be impossible for the Police to getaway with the kind of violence which was visited upon the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA.

Darren Wilson, a white policeman shot and killed Michael Brown a young black man who was apparently walking with his friend Johnson. The attack seems to have been unprovoked as Michael Brown raised his hand the moment Darren Wilson asked him to surrender. The police officer kept firing at the young unarmed youth and he died after being hit by 3 bullets on his chest. It is surprising that the policeman shot the youth on his chest when in most parts of the world the police are asked to shoot at the lege to prevent the fugitive from escaping. In this particular instance, the young man was not a fugitive and was unarmed.

The pictures that I have placed on the side of this blog may appear to be a picture from a war zone. Men in body armour,. armed with 5.56 mm short barreled rifles which are both automatic and semi automatic depending on the configuration used, and with a few pouched of ammunition around their waist.

We can also see a sniper armed with  a telescope keeping an eye from a building. All these men have the authority to kill and the American establishment does not order judicial probes as do our government. I remember that a great scholar of South east Asian Archaeology, Dr Roxanne Brown was killed in prison solely on the unfounded suspicion of being involved in a art case. I am giving these examples only to show that in spite of the situation in India with its crude theatrics and corrupt officialdom, something like what happened in Ferguson, USA is well near impossible.

Arming the police with military equipment is against any principle of civilian governance. The police can carry weapons but its use must be strictly controlled. In USA the police carry arms and can open fire in self defence. And if self defence is claimed, there is no argument because it is assumed that everyone is armed and dangerous. The police are expected to open fire first and then engage. This kind of training has led to the unavoidable tragedy in Missouri.

Like their counterparts in India, the US police are not above inventing a "narrative" to justify the deed. In the case of the killing of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department has released video footage to suggest that Brown was involved in a hold up in a convenience store. What did he allegedly steal, : a few cigars. In any even, the Officer Wilson was unaware of the hold up when he shot the young man dead.

It is time for USA to make its police force a civilian force and not use it as a Military auxiliary unit.